A Country “Under Christian Occupation”

The BBC profiles some Hellenes — modern Greek Pagans — with minimal snark.

Tryphon Olympios leads many of the ceremonies (BBC).

[The summer solstice is] the most important annual festival for followers of The Return of the Hellenes – a movement trying to bring back the religion, values, philosophy and way of life of ancient Greece, more than 16 centuries after it was replaced by Christianity

These people consider Greece to be a country under Christian occupation.

(Not to mention nearly four hundred years of Muslim occupation as well.)

The followers are an odd mix. There are New Age types who revere ancient traditions, leftists who resent the power of the Orthodox Church, and Greek nationalists who see Christianity as having destroyed everything that was truly Greek.

As the modern-day ancients relax in their camp at the base of the mountain, a few sell philosophy books, CDs, food and jewellery. Some wear modern clothes, others togas [sic], and a few sport a wreath.

No, Matthew Brunwasser, every ancient garment is not a “toga.”

Francis of Assisi: From Radical Monk to Garden Ornament

The real-estate supplement of the Taos News this week carried an article titled “Five Must-Haves for a Beautiful Backyard.” Oddly enough, four of the five items* were available at the store owned by a person interviewed for the story.

“Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, is one of our most popular statues,” said Char Austin, who works at Camino Real Imports. “People like the air of serenity that he brings in, more so when the statue is surrounded by trees, and birds can nest around. El San Francisco definitely contributes to create a peaceful environment.”

The real St. Francis of Assisi was anything but serene. He was more like “Occupy Rome”  AD 1204 — an upper middle class young man angry at the establishment, demanding radical change in the Roman Catholic Church. But history has turned him into a bird bath — and perhaps that metamorphosis was inevitable.

St. Francis as a bird bath with the wolf of Gubbio.

St. Francis as a bird bath, with the wolf of Gubbio.

Growing up as a Forest Service brat, with an agnostic father and a devoutly Christian mother, I noticed that Christianity seemed to end at the edge of town. Relations with the other-than-human world were not discussed in church. The Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer contained a prayer for rain, as I recall, and that was about all.

For the rest, I was offered the secular gospel of conservation: scientific forestry, soil and water conservation, state-regulated hunting. At least that was better than what had gone before: cut-and-run timber cutting, market-hunting that wiped out species, the Dust Bowl . . .

Pope Innocent III has a dream of St. Francis of Assisi supporting the tilting church (attributed to Giotto).  Francis was more concerned with church reform than with nature itself. (Wikipedia.)

His Franciscan order grew to where it too was a bureaucratic organization, and some of the monks who clung too hard to Francis’ peace-and-poverty ideals (the “Spirituals”) ended up condemned as heretics. (The conflict between hard-core Franciscans and the Vatican appears briefly at the beginning of The Name of the Rose. Most viewers probably don’t get it.)

Yes, he wrote the “Canticle of the Sun,” in which all creation, including animals, the Sun and Moon, etc., is invited to praise God and is depicted as manifesting the divine. And he supposedly preached to birds — but he preferred to preach to people, even to the Muslim sultan of Egypt, who was enough of a sporting gent to let him live. In the story of the “wolf of Gubbio,” he saves the wolf from persecution by the local pastoralists, but at the price of giving up its wolf-ness. There is nothing in the canticle about the ecological role of predators.

Fast forward to 1967, when the journal Science published an essay by the historian Lynn White, Jr., “The Historic Roots of our Ecologic Crisis” (PDF), still widely read and anthologized today. In it, White blamed the crisis on the dualistic creator/created thinking fostered by the monotheistic religions, among which he included Communism, given the environmental crises created by Communist Party policies in the Soviet Union, China, and Eastern Europe:

Our daily habits of action, for example, are dominated by an implicit faith in perpetual progress which was unknown either to Greco-Roman antiquity or to the Orient. It is rooted in, and is indefensible apart from, Judeo-Christian theology. The fact that Communists share it merely helps to show what can be demonstrated on many other grounds: that Marxism, like Islam, is a Judeo-Christian heresy.

Christianity (and its parallel faiths) did not just end at the edge of town, it ended at a strip mine. Here is an interesting slide-show summary of the essay.

Casting about for an alternative to the “domination” model within the Christian tradition, White settled (rather half-heartedly, I always thought) on Francis, even though Francis’ view of non-human nature was thoroughly Catholic. To quote the Wikipedia entry,  Francis taught “that the world was created good and beautiful by God but suffers a need for redemption because of the primordial sin of man.” Contrary to the slide show linked above, this is not particularly “closer to Eastern philosophy.”

With the environmental movement growing, religious officialdom had to respond. Some Protestant Christians started talking “eco-justice,” while in 1979, Pope John Paul II named Francis “patron of ecology,” urging Catholics to be like Francis and take care of nature. Francis, said the pope, “offers Christians an example of genuine and deep respect for the integrity of creation” — as long as we understand that it is human-centric and required to praise God the creator, who is outside of creation, for letting it exist.

Of the hundreds of officially canonized saints, Francis was the only candidate for patron of ecology, even though the Vatican had squeezed all the radical ideas out of the Franciscan order within a century of his death.

Maybe as a medievalist Lynn White, Jr., was unaware of how nature, parallel to scripture, has served as  source of spiritual value in America.

We could see Bird Bath Francis as an attempt to bridge these traditions, to consecrate a safe, protected, and  cultivated nature — if not the self-organizing wolf-ridden wilderness. Followers of what Bron Taylor calls “dark green religion,” which may not be at all theistic, might not be so easily persuaded by the monk of Assisi, were they to meet him on the path.

*Wood carvings of saints, giant metal flowers, concrete animals, small water fountain, and ceramic Sun and Moon faces

‘She wanted to come to America and eat bacon’

Cara Schulz has written a tribute to Yana, a young Syrian Pagan woman (yes, there are a few) tortured and killed by Islamic militants.

Trying to make something positive of this sickening story, she has created a donation page for the group Doctors Without Borders in Yana’s name.  You can read the whole story there. I donated, you should too. The campaign has almost reached its goal.

Oh, and Yana’s brother, you will pay in another currency. So much for Syrian family values.

“Sheikhs against shakes”


Nine years ago I wrote a post about Islamist reaction against popular Middle Eastern singers such as Haifa Wehbe. For some reason, I kept working in references to Sappho.

The process continues. Now a court in the new, improved Islamist Egypt has ordered al-Tet, a television channel devoted to belly dancing, shut down.

The channel was also accused of airing advertisements that “arouse viewers,” sell sexual-enhancement products and promote matchmaking, according to the court’s statement.

According to [Baleegh] Hamdy, the court ruling was not based on accurate evidence. “The judge was supposed to check the facts present in the lawyer’s allegations.”

There is not much the court can do about the the owners’ YouTube channel, however.

“Yana Dropped Off First”: Vanishing Pagans of Egypt and Syria

To begin with, there were just a handful of them. And some are going silent, as Cara Schulz writes for the Pagan Newswire Collective:

The situation in Syria appears to be more grave, according to the last messages I received from the five Pagans I chat with regularly.  They spoke of the fighting and how places looked like Beirut,  buildings just shells of themselves, rubble blocking the streets.  They detailed neighbors going missing.  Islamic fundamentalist patrols that monitor behavior and took violent action against people who violated rules and customs. They debated fleeing, worried about being outed as a Pagan, and started destroying or burying altars.  Three began attending local mosques to show their devotion to Islam.

I would bet that in a generation, even the Egyptian Christians will be gone, off to North America or somewhere else. I have even met a few in my area — and we see very few Middle Easterners. In this case, it was the family coming to visit their daughter who had married an American and then moved with him to this area — and then I heard that they were still in the United States. Trying for political asylum?

Eating Tomatoes Makes You a Christian

Salafist Muslims proclaim that eating tomatoes might lead you down the false path to Christianity.

The group posted a photo on its page of a tomato – which appears to reveal the shape of a cross after being cut in half – along with the message: “Eating tomatoes is forbidden because they are Christian. [The tomato] praises the cross instead of Allah and says that Allah is three (a reference to the Trinity).

[God help us]. I implore you to spread this photo because there is a sister from Palestine who saw the prophet of Allah [Mohammad] in a vision and he was crying, warning his nation against eating them [tomatoes]. If you don’t spread this [message], know that it is the devil who stopped you.”

Silly fundamentalists. Eating tomatoes will lead you to worship Coatlicue.

Necrophilia: An Ancient Egyptian Tradition?

This may be the worst sort of environmental determinism, but what is it with Egypt? Is there something in the Nile water?

For centuries Egyptian Paganism seemed to function—on one level—as as sort of post office of the dead. All those mummified cats, ibises, crocodiles, etc. neatly stacked in little p.o. boxes. What’s with that?

And of course there was the elaborate bureaucratic ritual that accompanied the mummification. The Greek historian Herodotus (a bit of a gossip) commented,

The wives of men of rank are not give to be embalmed immediately after death, nor indeed are any of the more beautiful and valued women. It is not until they have been dead three or four days that they are carried to the embalmers. This is done to prevent indignities from being offered them. (Link is to a different translation, but quite similar.)

Then, for several centuries, Egypt was mostly Christian. Christians liked to store the body parts of saints in their churches, which is why the Emperor Julian (PBUH) referred to them as “charnel houses.” What went on in the funeral business I do not know.

Today, in majority-Muslim Egypt, the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television network reports that Egyptian women’s rights campaigners (there are some) are protesting two laws proposed in the “Islamist-dominated parliament”:

She was referring to two laws: one that would legalize the marriage of girls starting from the age of 14 and the other that permits a husband to have sex with his dead wife within the six hours following her death. . . . . Egyptian prominent journalist and TV anchor Jaber al-Qarmouty on Tuesday referred to [cleric] Abdul Samea’s article in his daily show on Egyptian ON TV and criticized the whole notion of “permitting a husband to have sex with his wife after her death under a so-called ‘Farewell Intercourse’ draft law.”

Because nothing expresses grief over losing one’s spouse quite like that.

UPDATE: Another source says that no such law was proposed. Was Al-Arabiya fooled?

World Religions versus the Blue Bra Revolution

Washington Post writer Sally Quinn looks at photos of Egyptian soldiers beating an abaya-shrouded Muslim woman, and a light bulb goes on for her about major religions:

Why would men, particularly under the guise of religious belief, want to keep women down? Because they understand that women’s sexuality is something that they cannot live without, it is something that renders them powerless. Women can have babies, women can breastfeed, women are the lifegivers.

Sounds like much of the Pagan discourse beginning in the 1970s, if not earlier! Read more about her hoped-for “blue bra revolution.”

In related news, Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority is nervous.

For decades Copts have suffered attacks by Islamists who view them as “kafir”—Arabic for nonbelievers. But there is now a sense among Middle East experts that they have become more vulnerable since the revolution.

This year, mobs have looted and attacked Coptic churches, homes and shops throughout Egypt. Churches have been burned down, and one Copt had his ear cut off by a Muslim cleric invoking Islamic law.

Strong gains by Islamist parties in the recent elections have further raised fears among the Christian minority that they won’t have a place in the new Egypt.

An acquaintance of mine is married to an Egyptian Christian woman. Her parents recently came for what he said is a month-long visit — I see them around town with their daughter now and then. I am starting to wonder if they actually plan to go home or to seek asylum. Maybe they are weighing their options.

Last Yuletide News Bits

Re-purposed Santa figure, Pueblo, Colorado

• This is your brain. This is your brain on Christmas.

• “How the Lawyers Stole Winter”  — are we raising kids who can’t cope? No, it’s not Yule-related, directly. Indirectly, yes, I would argue. You have to embrace all of the wheel.

• No matter how “imagistic” it may be, Iraqi Christians are afraid to celebrate Midnight Mass. The current bunch of Islamists may succeed after 1,400 years of effort in chasing the last Arab Christians out of the Middle East. Expect them all in North America soon. (I have already met Egyptian Christians in a tiny town near me.)

• I was watching a re-run show hosted by travel writer Burt Wolf in which he reported that Christmas trees were promoted by 16th-century German Protestants who considered images of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and the saints to be idolatrous and who wanted to replace them with something else. That is counter-intuitive enough that it might be right, and it matches what was going on elsewhere, such as England in the time of the boy king Edward VI. In that case, the Christmas tree does not qualify as a “Pagan survival,” at least not directly.

• And don’t forget Krampus coming to town.

Those Wacky Muslims

We keel you! (Part 241).

French magazine fights back after firebombing. Cartooni-jihadis also swarmed its Facebook page, leading the group Reporters Without Borders to call on Facebook to “renounce censorship” and let the editors access their own page.

I give them credit for guts: They plan to republish the “guest-edited by Muhammend” edition.

• Arab spring? Let the killing begin! Coptic Christian high school student murdered  by his own teacher (with help). Does teacher-education in Egypt include a course on strangling and bludgeoning, or is that learned in continuing-education classes? This sheikh perhaps inspired him.

I expect that we are going to see a whole lot of Coptic Christians in North America very soon, the ones who survive.

• Toy guns made in China are part of an anti-Islamic plot.

Refresher: Aisha  was the prophet’s 9-year-old wife. And he consummated the marriage right away. But, hey, it’s a different culture, and who are we to judge?

An Islamist group whose name means “Western education is forbidden” kills 63 people in Nigeria.