Notes from the Solstice


June 21, 2014 by lucieromarin

Today is the Winter Solstice, and the pagans are out doing their thing. Last week, trad Catholics observed the Ember Days – those three days at the turn of every season, in which we accrue the particular graces necessary for the coming three months. I can’t speak for other people here, but I can say for myself that once I started observing the Ember Days, the change of seasons took on a new meaning; I became more aware of the drop or the rise in temperature, the lengthening light or shadows, and it felt good to pray and fast in union with them.

Someone has written a book entitled ‘The Agricultural Basis of the Liturgy,’ which sounds very dry, but does, in fact, remind us of something important, which is that some awareness of- or connectedness-to nature is not the sole prerogative of witches and primitive tribal religions, and we can make our experience of our faith better for ourselves by recovering some of those practices which were almost lost.

The same goes for the rituals of our faith, and for our sacramentals. I used to belong to a group online for women who veil; it numbered Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and pagans amongst its members. The pagans were, of course, the only group entirely made up of converts, and it was interesting to see (in a tragic kind of way!) how many of the former-Catholic pagans had been led to their religion by a hunger for ritual, of which they had been starved in the 1980s parishes of their childhoods. It’s true that some of them were angry people who Hated Patriarchy, but many were not, and their memories of childhood religious experience were not memories of bad men, but of bad music. It reminded me of ‘A Cave in the Snow,’ the biography of the first Westerner to become a Buddhist nun, in which she remarked that many, like her, were really looking for medieval Western monasticism, and, finding that the post-Vatican II Catholic Church had given it away, they turned to Buddhism instead.

In other words, while paganism as such – being one of the fastest possible ways to get yourself possessed – is a bad idea, the instinct for ritual, and for the ritual use of natural things, is perfectly normal, and someone somewhere ought to be paying attention to what happens when you deprive people of it. Dispensing with blessed oils, salts, herbs, dispensing with the Epiphany blessing of water, gold, chalk and myrrh, the Easter blessing of butter and eggs, or the Assumption blessings of spices and fruit, does not draw Bible-only Christians into the Church; it drives other Christians out of it, in search of a faith that meets the need for body and soul to unite in worship.

Now that I’m talking about paganism, I thought I’d share an odd development in my burnout-recovery spirituality, even though this development is at present inexplicable to me. It is this: obviously, part of recovery from burnout involves a certain reduction of religious activity, whether that’s in a degree of intensity, or hours, or number of projects. This can be difficult at first, because you can’t help wondering if reducing the number of hours you spend At Stuff or Doing Stuff or Serving Stuff is the first step on a slippery slope towards total apostasy and immorality. Well, I’ve noticed that, even though my regime is more fluid than it once was and my disciplines are more relaxed, I’ve become far less comfortable with flippant references to God or casual references to witchcraft or paganism. For example, in my much stricter life I might, say, have joked to a friend who got up early only to have her train cancelled, “See, that was God telling you that you should have stayed home!” Or, getting warm and cosy by a fire, I might have said, “I must have been a cat in a past life,” or joked that my sacramentals appealed to ‘my inner witch.’

These days, I find myself unable to make these jokes or remarks so easily. In other words, a decrease in activity seems to have produced an increase in… well, I don’t what you call it, other than a sense of the holiness of the name of God and the gravity of opposing Him. Truly, who knew that that would happen?

5 thoughts on “Notes from the Solstice

  1. Team Alto says:

    God bless you with your spiritual renewal. Since I’ve become a Catholic, I’ve found a bit more douceur in my heart towards people, even myself, and also that the need for the liturgical year is, I’m surprised to find, built into the DNA.

    • lucieromarin says:

      Thank you, and God bless you, too! I’ve often envied converts their experiences, but I’m discovering more and more the truth of Belloc’s statement, that every cradle Catholic must in time convert to his own religion.

  2. Amanda says:

    Speaking as a historian, I feel obliged to point out that Catholicism is probably two-thirds paganism if not more. Start with the writing of the ‘Christian’ texts in a Jewish/Greek milieu around 50-100 years after the death of Christ (huge influence of pagan neoplatonism among other things), the long winding process through the collapse of Rome, the rewriting of earlier values in order to appeal to the pagans who took over Europe, the emphases on violence and hierarchy, the increasing use of religious authority to exclude, persecute and dominate in the interests of elites who still thought much as they always had; the continuing fascination with magic, astrology, charms, incantations and other ‘pagan’ practices at every level of the church including popes, right into the early modern period… Aquinas couldn’t have written any of his stuff without complete immersion in ‘pagan’ learning, and nor could any other notable thinker in the foundational Catholic canon. And of course the cult of Mary emerged out of the worship of the pagan goddesses of the old Mediterranean – Isis in particular.

    So if involvement in pagan thought and practice leads to *possession*, a heck of a lot of celebrated Catholic thinkers might need retrospective exorcism. Although that might explain their fierce commitment to the dark side of humanity that is Patriarchy 😉

    • lucieromarin says:

      God help anyone who can’t tell the difference between philosophy and witchcraft.

      • Amanda says:

        I bet Hypatia of Alexandria wished the same thing, not to mention all those other poor souls murdered because their pursuit of wisdom was labelled as witchcraft by church authorities…

        However, your post was about paganism, and if by that you actually meant witchcraft, it’s worth being clear, because they’re quite different things. Paganism is a great baggy concept that covers everything from the high culture of the ancient world, the beliefs and practices of the ‘barbarians’ of late antiquity and onwards, through to the neopaganism of C19th romantic nationalists to the contemporary groups that identify themselves as ‘pagans’, and much else besides. As I said, Catholicism wouldn’t exist in its present form without this rich cultural and intellectual background.

        I don’t really know what witchcraft is (and I don’t think any honest person does either, since it’s almost always a fantasy projected on to some people by others), although the term is used both as accusation and, rather less often, as an identity or set of nostalgic practices. I should think it’s as subjective as philosophy, which essentially inquires into the fundamentals of existence, knowledge, etc, by the methods deemed ‘rational’ and innovative at the time (which was why it was not unknown for philosophers to conjure up demons, apparently a source of useful knowledge if you could control them and not be tricked – so really only something to be attempted by a particularly holy and spiritually strong individual).

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