Thursday, November 28, 2013

Christianity, Paganism, and the Golden Dawn

by Alpha Omega Imperator
David Griffin

In recent years, the differences between one Golden Dawn order and the other have become more and more clear. The greatest strength of today's Golden Dawn community is our diversity. This same diversity from one order to the other, however, makes the choice for aspirants where to seek training extremely important. All Golden Dawn orders today are not the same today at all.

On the one hand, there are G.D. orders like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the outer order of the Rosicrucian Order of Alpha Omega with the stated mission "to make magicians." In the A.O., we teach Magick from day one and are non-sectarian in our approach. Whereas numerous G.D. orders exclude Thelemites or even all but Christians, in the A.O. we admit and advance Christians, Pagans, Jews, Muslims, Thelemites, etc. - all on an equal basis.

Orders like the S.R.I.A., which admit only Christians, view the entire Rosicrucian tradition as a "Christians only" affair. Christian Sectarian G.D. orders typically suppress Magick to various degrees in favor of Christian Mysticism. Such orders typically also seek to minimize Pagan Golden Dawn elements, dubiously claiming that the G.D. is primarily a "Christian" tradition. In reality the G.D. is not a religion at all, but rather a non-sectarian system of spiritual development.

Pat Zalewski, Chief of the "Order of the Golden Dawn" (co-led by Martin Thibeault) wrote earlier this week:
"When I see people banging on about paganism in the GD it indicates how little they understand of the second order and its sheaths."
"The association to Kether of CRC and Jesus Christ shows a standard association of Rosicrucianism and Christianity which some modern day GDists want to rewrite entirely, along with a few other things. Kether places CRC directly under Christ, so there is no mistake here and that is the highest name. Embedded in the RC manifestos there is certainly enough veiled biblical material to indicate this as well."
"The second order of the RR et AC brings on the concept of redemption through death, and as far as I am aware is not a general pagan concept..." - Pat Zalewksi
Clearly, the above argument attempts to minimize the importance of Pagan elements and influences in the GD. As a practicing Pagan, I am not entirely unbiased in this matter. Still, since my approach to the Golden Dawn is non-sectarian, I remain somewhat objective despite my personal religious faith.

Any interpretation of the entire R.R. et A.C. as "primarily Christian" is, however, in my opinion, a gross oversimplification and even a distortion of the history of Western spirituality.

To begin with, the Secret Chiefs of the Third Order of the Golden Dawn recently shed new, essential light on the true nature of the grades of the R.R. et A.C., which you can read about HERE. This material shows clearly that the themes of Second Order initiations (death, sojourn in the world beyond death, and rebirth) find their roots in the cycles of nature. Although one level of symbolism in R.R. et A.C. initiations is clearly Christian influenced, there are equally profound Pagan levels of symbolism as well. Take, for example, the death of Osiris and the miraculous birth of Horus through the magical power of the Mother Goddess, Isis. This, it may be argued, is the actual myth underlying the initiatic cycle of the Second Order, merely dressed up in symbols palatable to Christians.

Contrary to claims of G.D. Christian sectarians, the initiatic symbols in the R.R. et  A.C. are not at all exclusively Christian.

Dionysos and Cross
Take, for example, the Assyrian Du-zi (Babylonian Tammuz, or Sumerian Dummuzi) the Egyptian Orisis, the Anatolian Mithras, the Syrian Adonis, the Hebrew Tamheur, and the Phrygian Attis, or Greek Dionysus.

Madonna with Christ Child
ALL of these were dying-and-reborn solar-gods. They were all consorts of the Great Mother - All suffered death, sojourned through the underworld, and were reborn. 

Babylonian Goddess mother Semiramis with divine child Tammuz

Although Christian theology certainly add its own twist on things, his universal solar myth nonetheless remains the likely primeval form of the resurrection story as told in the New Testament.

Egyptian Goddess mother Isis with her child Horus

The earliest known celebration of the rebirth of the sun (on Winter Solstice) in ritual was that of the ancient Babylonians of Mesopotamia, who celebrated their “Victory of the Sun-God” festival on December 25th. This Babylonian cult, especially the cult of mother and child (Semiramis and Nimrod and later as Ishtar and Tammuz) spread out from Babylon over the entire world, only the names changed; Nimrod was renamed in Egypt as “Osiris” and Semiramis became “Isis,” long before the birth of Jesus was adored as “Madonna with her child”. . . .

Christmas, the birth of the Son, was transplanted to the pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice, the rebirth of the sun, some 1,600 years ago, centuries before the English language emerged from its Germanic roots. This is probably why the words for the two mythic concepts of sun and son are so similar, because the pagan Winter Solstice and Yuletide was overlaid with Christmas.

Tammuz’s Winter Solstice festival, commemorating the yearly death and rebirth of vegetation, corresponded to the festivals of the Phoenician and Greek Adonis and of the Phrygian Attis, both dying-and-reborn sun gods associated, like Tammuz, with a sacred tree. As already mentioned, the Babylonian myth of Tammuz, the dying god, bears not only a close resemblance to the Greek myth of Adonis, but also links with the myth of Osiris. 

These dying-and-reborn sun gods are all connected to a very ancient cult of tree-worship. It would appear probable that Tammuz, Attis, Osiris, and the deities represented by Adonis and the Celtic Diarmid were all developed from an archaic god of fertility and vegetation, the central figure of a myth which was not only as ancient as the knowledge and practice of agriculture, but had existence even in the archaic hunting period. 

Tammuz Tree
Traces of the Tammuz-Osiris story in various forms are found all over the area occupied by the peoples from Sumeria to the Druids of the British Isles. Some authorities suggest that apparently the original myth was connected with tree and water worship and the worship of animals. Adonis sprang from a tree; the body of Osiris, pursued by Seth, was concealed in a tree, which grew round the sea-drifted chest in which he was concealed. And Diarmid concealed himself in a tree when pursued by Finn. . . .

In mythology, Tammuz, like Jesus, was born on December 25th and associated with a tree. At the time of the Winter Solstice, the past sun god would die, his branches stripped from him and one piece, the seed, would enter the fire on “Mother-night” as a log. The next morning, the new triumphant sun god was born from the fire as a tree, the “Branch of God,” who was celebrated for bringing divine gifts to men. So it looks like Tammuz was the original Yule log. Tammuz is identified with Adonis, the Semitic name meaning “lord.” Here, again we find the same cosmic pair of mother and child, and again the association with a tree. . . .

Pagan Survival in Scandinavia : Rolling a Jul Log
Another Pagan Remnant in Scandinavia: The Julbock (Yule Ram)
Such Rams pulled Thor's Chariot According to Nordic Paganism
The week long celebration of “Saturnalia,” a period of unrestrained or orgiastic revelry and licentiousness from the 17th to the 23rd of December, was the Roman version of this very ancient Babylonian “Victory of the Sun-God” cult. 

The winter solstice fell within the Saturnalia and was referred to as the “Natalis Solis Invicti” (the “Nativity of the unconquered Sun”). Saturnalia was celebrated from December 17th to January 1st in the Roman Empire. The Roman Emperor Aurelian blended Saturnalia with a number of birth celebrations of savior Gods from other religions, into a single holy day: December 25th. In Roman mythology, the sun represents male divinity, and the “Natalis Solis Invicti” was the “return of the sun god” born of the Mother Goddess. 

Deo Sol Invictus

This day represented the hope and faith that from within the darkest and coldest night (the winter solstice) there would be born a “Lord of Light” (“the unconquered sun”). This sun god would die at the summer solstice at the height of his power (the longest and warmest day), from which point the days would get colder and colder until he was reborn again the following winter. This yearly cycle of a “dying and resurrected” sun deity could be found in many of the world’s ancient religions. . . . 

Some historians of religion see the eventual choice of December 25, made perhaps as early as 273 CE. After decades of arguing by Church Fathers about the correct date of Jesus’ birth (was it March 25, April 18, May 20, November 17, or was it January 6?), finally the eventual choice of December 25 was decided upon.

However, this decision reflects a convergence of the theological anxieties of the Origen and other Church Fathers about mythic pagan gods and the Church’s identification of God’s son with the celestial sun. Again, December 25 already hosted two other related festivals: “Natalis Solis Invicti” (the Roman “birth of the unconquered sun,” or “Deus Sol Invictus”), and the birthday of Mithras, the Iranian “Sun of Righteousness,” whose worship was popular with Roman soldiers. (Deus Sol Invictus, “the unconquered sun god,” was a religious title applied to at least three distinct divinities during the later Roman Empire; El Gabal, Mithras, and Sol.)

Thus, after much argument, the developing Christian Church adopted this date as the birthday of their savior, Jesus. The people of the Roman Empire were accustomed to celebrating the birth of a sun god on that day, so it was easy for the church to co-opt the people’s attention to Jesus’ birth. 

Birth of Mithras: Dec. 25
The festival of Saturnalia and the birthday of Mithras could now be celebrated as the birthday of Christ! As one theologian puts it: “What better way to challenge the Pagans than to usurp their holidays?”

Mithras with Shepherds
The Babylonians also celebrated their “Victory of the Sun-God” festival on December 25th. Preceding Christianity by many centuries, the pagan worship of Mithras, the Persian savior, became common throughout the Roman Empire, particularly among the Roman civil service and military. Mithraism is now recognized as a syncretic Hellenistic mystery religion that developed in the Eastern Mediterranean in the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE and was practiced in the Roman Empire beginning in the 1st century BCE.  Mithraism was the prime competitor religious cult to Christianity until the 4th century.

Mithras had many parallels with the Christian god: followers believed that he was born of a virgin on December 25th, circa 500 BCE, his birth in a cave was witnessed by shepherds and by gift-carrying Magi. This was celebrated as the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.” Mithras was known to his followers as “The light of the world,” or “The Good Shepherd,” and exhorted his followers to share ritual communion meals of bread and wine. During his life, he performed many miracles, cured many illnesses, and cast out devils. He celebrated a Last Supper with his 12 disciples. He ascended to heaven at the time of the spring equinox, about March 21st. . . .

Mithras and 12 Signs of Zodiac
Attis, born of a virgin and changed into a fir-tree, was another sun- or vegetation-god whose story bears a striking resemblance to the Christ story. Wherever the Christian worship of Jesus and the pagan worship of Attis were active in the same geographical area in ancient times, Christians “used to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus on the same date; and pagans and Christians used to quarrel bitterly about which of their gods was the true prototype and which the imitation.” 

Since the worship of Cybele was brought to Rome in 204 BCE, about 250 years before Christianity, it is obvious that if any copying occurred, it was the Christians that copied and later co-opted the traditions of the pagans. They were simply grafted onto stories of Jesus’ life in order to make Christian theology more acceptable to pagans in the Roman Empire. 

Thus, in conclusion,  attempts to minimize or suppress Pagan elements in the Golden Dawn, as well as to claim that the grades of the Golden Dawn's Rosicrucian Second Order, the R.R. et A.C., are purely "Christian" may be clearly seen for what they truly are - as merely involving the co-option scenario of the role of the pre-Christian, Greco-Roman dying-and-reborn savior gods by the crypto-pagan dying-and-reborn savior god, Christ.

"When I see people banging on about paganism in the GD it indicates how little they understand"
- Pat Zalewski
Viewing Christ as a crypto-pagan dying-and-reborn savior God is admittedly a bit of an extreme position. Is it, however, any more extreme than sloppy reconstructionists trying to rebuild the Golden Dawn as exclusively Christian according to a purely sectarian agenda?

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  1. Great article! Many people are ignorant of the many vast similarities in Christianity & various older Pagan Traditions. For some reason, they seem unable to accept the obviously correct conclusion that the later religion, that being Christianity, is clearly the one who borrowed from the earlier Pagan Traditions. Logic dictates that this is the only possibility. Thanks for a great read!

    Pax et L.V.X.,
    Frater A.T.L.V.

  2. Many modern pagan practice the cargo effect. They mimic old cults wihtout understanding why. The place of old cults should be in a museum and history books.

    1. I am stunned by the religious bigotry and veiled hatred reflected in this statement. I am reminded once again why I have fought so long and hard for the survival of the Alpha Omega as a non-sectarian order in the Golden Dawn community based on religious tolerance and the equality of all faiths.

    2. Haters gonna hate! Well said, Imperator Griffin.

    3. And Muhammad is not a pagan and all the religions forgot the archangels.......and solomon was the wisest man in the world........

    4. Religions don't just appear in history like Athena popped out of Zeus' head. They are as a rule syncretistic and thus draw from many sources including previous traditions. Often one can't understand religious practices with any depth in fact without knowing those older traditions. To condemn ancient religious practices to the dustbin of history is short sighted and counter-productive for appreciating current religions.

    5. Nobody who is spiritually developed needs to call someone bigoted or hateful just because they disagree. Critical thinkers refute well stated objections with clear reasoning of their own.

      I personally have a deep interest in paganism and the old cults. At the same time I am very leery of modern "pagans" who by and large, do fit the accusation above of mindless mimicry. Anyone who says that is a bigoted statement is reacting out of fear themselves.

    6. You may have a point, Jay, but please note that Mr. Anonymous above didn't just complain that some modern pagans are only mimicking old practices, as you are doing. He made the much stronger claim that the religious traditions themselves should be shelved, because of this modern mimicry.

      I suppose it is clear that that's a poor piece of reasoning and a much different claim than you are making. It would be like me, as a Christian, saying because there are a lot of false Christians, Christianity is false. Or indeed: because there are a lot of false magicians, magic is false. Or because the mechanic who worked on my car was poor, the discipline of mechanics should be put into a museum. Isn't it clear that that's an invalid argument?

      While I don't want to speak for Imperator Griffin, it seems to me that that was his point: you can't logically condemn a religious tradition because there are poor practitioners of that religion. Consequently, if that's the reason you give for your condemnation, chances are some other unspoken motive is brewing under the surface. I don't think the issue is disagreement -- after all, your comment is here, isn't it? The issue is what other motives might be lurking there, since logic can't explain the argument.

  3. Wisdom is the real power and the more you understand everything the more you understand and the more you understand the more you get to gods way

    1. "There is no god but man." --Aleister Crowley

  4. This is fine article, pointing out not only the historical precedents for Christianity but more importantly (to my mind) to the broad similarity of themes that permeates so many major religious systems. Carl Jung would call these themes “archetypal”. Though Jung unfortunately had the tendency to “psychologize” all these themes and thus lose some of their significance and force, he was nonetheless at least able to underline the generality of themes present in religious and symbolic systems and recognize that these are not mere accidents of history but relevant to the development of the human soul: the generality of themes indicates an innate longing in human beings in general for the healing and the personal development embedded in the symbols, myths and so forth.

    I bring this point up also because it seems to me that religious symbols and stories have their power to the extent that they remain symbolic. What I mean is that the symbols are meant to open us up to transcendent mysteries which the symbols only point to, but never exhaust. Consequently, whenever we take one symbolic system as the end-all and be-all of all symbolic systems, it ceases to be symbolic: it rather becomes a set of dogma and ceases to point beyond itself to mysteries – limiting access to the mysteries, rather than expanding our access to them. Mysteries, by definition, cannot be contained in one symbolic system; that’s what their transcendence consists in.

    I have practiced as a Christian all my life, but I cannot imagine thinking that the Christian symbolic system is the only one possible or the only good one. Were I to do so, I would cease to treat the symbols as symbols and turn Christianity into one more fundamentalism – as we see many Christians do in our time. For Christianity to survive and flourish, Christians need to let the symbols be what they are, not turn them into dogmas or, still less, clubs to beat other religions with.

  5. (they) fear the truth because the truth sets YOU free!

  6. Very good article, David. How I see all of this as a Christian. All of these symbolisms point to deep truths or archetypes: as we're all part of the manifest, universe, the eternal laws and symbollism are sort of engraved in our unconscious.

    Actually, even in Christian teachings, there is the concept that the "law of God" in engraved in our consciousness.

    Jesus Christ, in Christian theology, is considered however not just a symbolic character/figure, but a historical one, i.e., "And The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of The Only Begotten of The Father, full of grace and truth."

    If I am not mistaken, this is represented in the tree of life by the sephirot Tipheret, which sort conveys the same message: God made human, or the human God, halfway between Kether (the Godhead) and Malkuth (matter or humans/animals).

    Well, I cannot go deeper than this, but Jesus Christ is associated with Tipheret, in the Golden Dawn tradition, meaning that he is a condition more than human (He ressurected; we die).

    Well, I am quite sure that David Griffin can elaborate more on this better than me, but what I mean is that if Jesus was also a historical figure (God made human), was crucified by Romans and ressurected, than He is the realization of all the symbollism contained in the archetypes of the solar gods.