“Wherever you know of harm
regard that harm as your own;
give your enemies no peace.”
– Havamal 127
DISCLAIMER: The ideas on this blog do not represent all Paganism, just my own opinions.
First of all when I discuss paganism, I have to make clear that I am talking about the modern practice of Pre-Christian religions. This includes a wide-gamut of practices: Neopaganism, Wicca, Druidry, Asatru, etc. Everyone within these groups has different ideas on what makes a pagan, and some of these people don’t even like being called pagans.
But with that aside, I am going to attempt to tackle an important questions about warfare, pacifism, flower power and so on in the practice of modern day paganism.
Much of the interest in neopaganism got activated in the West a little before the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Wicca was introduced to the public by Gerald Garner in 1954. Other similar traditions started to also go public at that time. And as these traditions grew, they — like any other belief system — came to include many of the popular notions of the era.
Since the cultural revolution of the 1960s took place after the tail end of a massive era of war and violence in the twentieth century (after WWI and WWII), people were understandably sick of violence and embraced ideas of peace. And if peace can be achieved over war, it goes without saying that peace is a good solution.
But is pacifism always the answer? Does it represent some eternal truth? If one thinks of paganism as the ideals inspired by the Vikings, the Celts, the Greeks, the Romans, the Hindus — none of these civilizations were pacifistic by any means. The Bhagavad gita was told in the middle of a battlefield. (Not saying all pagans are inspired by Hinduism, but its concepts of Dharma and Karma are certainly key concepts for most). But I’ve heard Westerners try to rationalize this away by saying, “Oh but it was a metaphorical battlefield!” only for Indian Hindus to tell me…”Uh yeah, our Gods fought wars because sometimes war is necessary to defeat evil.”
If anything, some of the ideas of pacifism incorporated into the writings and teachings on modern day paganism may even be influenced by Christianity. And it’s impossible for anyone in a Western culture not to be influenced by Christianity, since that has been the predominant cultural lens for the past thousand or so years. (Not that the broad practice of Christianity has been pacifistic in any means in the West considering the history of genocide, witch hunts, colonialism, inquisition, and so on, but that there are many pacifistic teachings from Jesus in the Bible).
So this article is my response to certain voices in the pagan community who say that the pre-christian world was predominantly peaceful. Or that the ancient Gods value peace above all. Or the Californication of both pre-christian and Eastern religions. There is an attempt to make these views and practices non-threatening, so people will buy into them (literally and figuratively).
First of all, the pre-christian world was not predominantly peaceful. As stated above, the Celts, the Norse, the Romans, these were cultures that had wars, celebrated warriors, told tales of brave warriors, and even had entire gods and goddesses dedicate to war. Part of the reason why the Roman Empire collapsed is because they were having too many damn wars.
In Lawrence Keeley’s War Before Civilization, a book written by a man who lived with modern tribal people, and studied ancient tribes, he discusses how ancient times may have actually been even more violent than today, stating that with tribal people, a greater percentage of their populations participated and died from violence than people do today. Certainly with what the news may show about terrorism and school shootings people may think, “Oh what violent times we live in.” But at least in Europe and the United States, less than 5% of male deaths are caused by warfare. Compare that number to the Jivaro tribe where the percentage is something like 60%.
Human sacrifice was also practiced in ancient times, as I detail in my article about that topic. There is plenty of proof for this. Written accounts. Human skeletons found with the bones of animal sacrifices. Tales of human sacrifice in ancient myths. Historical accounts. Sure, human sacrifice may have been used as a tool of the Christians to smear non-christian people. But the idea that this NEVER happened and is some evil lie propagated by the haters is laughable.
I have read in multiple neopagan sources that paganism is a peaceful religion, based on peaceful cultures in the ancient world where everyone apparently celebrated flower power. But this is a sweeping generalization that oversimplifies a group of people, deletes a large chunk of their history and ritualistic practice, and more than that — is a glaring misunderstanding of basic human nature.
Humans at our core are aggressive and territorial beings. Tell me you’re not territorial when you get a bug infestation in your house and decide to kill hundreds of living creatures for the mere crime of being in your space (even when they’re doing nothing harmful to you).
As a species, we also bare a strong genetic resemblance to chimpanzees, which are one of the most aggressive primates.
The idea that humans weren’t aggressive or territorial until Christianity came along is fallacious.
Like any truth, it is important to understand that aggression is a normal part of human behavior, and should be accepted as such.
Does that mean that it’s okay for people to go around and pick fights and kill each other for no reason? No. Of course, peace and diplomacy should always be the first course of action, with violence being the very last.
But in order to control aggression, the first step is to accept that we have it. In order to control our violence, we must accept that we are violent beings.
And any real spiritual practice that is worth its salt must encompass all aspects of humanity. Peace. Warfare. The Feminine. The Masculine. Earth. Air. Fire. Water. And so on and so forth.
Many ancient traditions had a cult of the warrior, religious practices for warriors, rites of manhood that emphasized learning how to fight, protecting oneself and enduring suffering (as well as rites for women too). Ignoring that violence exists doesn’t protect one from it. It just makes one weak when the time comes to defend oneself. Modern day practices like self-defense and martial arts actually give people discipline, and make them less violent overall because they learn to control themselves and their own aggression.
And some even say that metal-heads are actually less violent and more well-adjusted because they listen to music that explores themes of violence, aggression and warfare.
So I’ll try to post some articles and sources here that can better understand traditions of warriors in the ancient world.
ONLINE SACRED TEXTS
VIOLENCE IN THE ANCIENT WORLD
Genre: World, Spontaneous, Primal
Location: Lyon France
Group Members: Héli Andrea and Quentin Thomas
When Héli Andrea put the first song of her band Olane on the Metal-Gaia facebook, I was pleasantly surprised to find a musical project that reminded me heavily of Dead Can Dance, and somewhat of Wardruna. The song I listed above is their first, but there is more to come.
Below is a discussion I had with Héli about the project.
MG: First of all, what are your influences in your music? And what themes are you trying to convey?
HA: I listen to many types of music, a lot of metal, ambient, classical, jazz… And I love to travel in my imagination when I listen to world music like Indian Carnatic songs, Mongol voices, strong ethnic drums or even Celtics songs. I composed Olane with Quentin Thomas, and we both share a passion for film music too.
What I try to do in Olane is to create spontaneously, without any thought about what it means. I’m not trying to talk about concrete issues. I just want to share a feeling. In Olane I want to spread this feeling of strength coming from the earth under our feet. Like something really deep-rooted in us.
When I sing this song, I feel like I’m traveling somewhere, far away.
MG: Are you influenced by groups like Dead Can Dance?
HA: To be honest, I know Dead can Dance since yesterday! Someone told me that Olane was in the same style, so I checked this out and it’s great! I was not influenced by them, but being compared to their style is really nice.
MG: Haha yes, that’s what your style reminded me of as well. What are you and Quentin’s plans for future songs?
HA: Now we are working on another song which will be maybe more epic. To me, it will be interesting to put other types of voices in this one. We consider this as a musical crash test, everything is possible, we can move from a country to another, from a period to another in our music.
I want to try many types of voices, many instruments. We are like kids who have eaten too much sugar. We don’t think about what we do, but it’s really fun! Plus, for the next song I would love to make a video with “Above Chaos,” who is a talented artist. He made all the visuals for the current project.
To the Mesoamerican people (the people who lived in what is today Mexico) the study of time and space was of extreme importance to their culture. The Mayans and Aztecs built their cities and temples along astronomical alignments. To these people, the events of time and space were connected — just as physicists know today that time and space are connected. And they had extremely accurate calendars and astronomical observations that they made with the naked eye. The calculations of Maya priests were so precise that their calendar correction is 10,000th of a day more exact than the standard calendar the world uses today! (Source)
This article will include information about both the Mayans and the Aztecs, because the two civilizations had similar cultures. Obviously not exactly the same, but just as the Greeks influenced the Romans, so too did the Mayans influence the Aztecs. If you are to study one, it is important to study the other.
DISCLAIMER: This is according to what we know currently. Much knowledge about the Aztecs and the Mayans was lost over time, and a lot of it was destroyed or skewed by the Spaniards who came and conquered the Aztecs. Many written codices of Aztec knowledge were destroyed for containing “pagan information.” (Which is a shame because it is believed these codices included information on astronomy, medicine, culture and ritual). And some of the practices of the Aztec people were exaggerated by the Spanish.
THE MESOAMERICAN CALENDARS
The Mayan Calendar (and later Aztec Calendar) is probably one of the more accurate and complex calendars to exist throughout the history of civilization. The Mayan Calendar involves two inter-locking calendars.
The first calendar is called Haab. It is 365 days and approximates the solar year. The word “Haab” means year in the Yucatec Mayan language. But it wasn’t entirely like our calendar today. Instead of having 12 different 30 day months, they had 18 months made up of 20 days each. These 18 months together equal 360 days. And then they add a last month called Wayeb that is made up of 5 days. Some believe these were considered dark days of bad luck. Others believe that this was supposed to be a time of transition and reflection as the new year approached.
The Haab solar calendar was important for marking and observing weather and the seasons, so farmers could figure out when to grow their crops.
The second calendar is called Tzolk’in. The calendar combines 20 named days with 13 numbers, which results in 260 days. The length of Tzolk’in, the 260 days, matches the nine cycles of the moon and the gestational period of humans. The Tzolk’in is also related to the movements of the sun and the growing cycle for corn.
The interlocking calendars: As I said above, the two calendars are interlocked like gears. In the calendar round, a given combination of Tzolk’in and Haab will not repeat itself until 52 periods of 365 days have passed. (Or in other words, 52 years).
The Importance of the 52 Year Cycle: Astronomically, this 52 year cycle was begun when the “Pleiades crossed the fifth cardinal point or the zenith of heaven at midnight.”
The Aztecs used the same interlocking calendar as the Mayans did. And for them, this 52 year cycle was called the “New Fire Ceremony”, which was probably a once in a lifetime event for most Aztec people. On this evening, priests and a warrior chosen by the king began their 20 kilometer procession to the Hill of the Star. At the proper moment of alignment in the heavens, wood bundles representing the past 52 year cycle were lit, the heart sacrifice of the warrior was enacted, and the “new fire” built on his chest. Watching from afar, the citizens also cut and bled themselves and celebrated as the fire was brought back to the Great Temple at Tenochtitlan. Priests and emissaries from outlying towns came to Tenochtitlan to fetch the fire to bring back to their people, so that all could share in the marking of the time as well as symbolically renewing ties with the capital.
THE FIVE SUNS
The five suns are part of the creation myth of the Aztecs and other Nahua peoples. The central tenet of the creation myth was that there were four worlds or “suns” before the current universe, and that currently we’re living in the 5th era.
The present world is the fifth sun, and it is believed that the Aztec saw themselves as “the People of the Sun,” whose divine duty was to wage cosmic war in order to provide the sun with his tlaxcaltiliztli (“nourishment”).
I’m not going to include all the information about the Aztec creation myths here, because there is a lot to go over that is firmly documented elsewhere. But the basic things to know are the following:
Ometeotl: In the beginning, from the void that is the universe, the first god, Ometeotl, created his/her self. Ometeotl was both male and female, good and evil, light and darkness, fire and water, judgment and forgiveness, the god of duality. Ometeotl gave birth to four children, the four Tezcatlipocas, who each preside over one of the four cardinal directions.
Quetzalcoatl: Over the West presides the white Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, the god of light, mercy and wind.
Huitzilopochtli: Over the South presides the Blue Tezcatlipoca, Huitzilopochtli, the god of war.
Xipe Totec: Over the East presides the Red Tezcatlipoca, Xipe Totec, the god of gold, farming and Spring time.
Tezcatlipoca: And over the North presides the Black Tezcatlipoca, also called simply Tezcatlipoca, the god of judgment, night, deceit, sorcery and the Earth.
What is interesting to me is that they believed the sun has five phases, and scientists today believe that the life-cycle of a star has five phases (life-cycle of a star).
Also, scientists today believe the Earth has gone through five major cycles of extinction, and we are currently approaching a sixth one caused by human beings. While this doesn’t entirely line up with the Aztec mythos (which believes we are in the 5th cycle), it is interesting to me that they were close.
Maya Civilization: The Mayan Calendar (Web.Archive.Org)
Mayan Civilization (Wikipedia)
The Maya Calendar System (Living Maya Time)
The Maya Were Tracking the Planets Long Before Copernicus (Live Science)
Aztec Astronomy and Observation of Nature (Dellerae)
Aztec Astronomy (Inca Mayan Aztec.com)
Pictures of the Aztec Gods (Pinterest)
The Five Suns (Wikipedia)
Black Sun Mythology (Wikipedia)
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Meanwhile, more than half of young adults in the U.S. believe astrology is a science. compared to less than 8% of the Chinese public. The psychic services industry — which includes astrology, aura reading, mediumship, tarot-card reading and palmistry, among other metaphysical services — grew 2% between 2011 and 2016. It is now worth $2 billion annually, according to industry analysis firm IBIS World.”