|Lesson 10: The Role of Evil in Paganism|
SCHOLA AETII·TUESDAY, 7 AUGUST 2018|
While there are extensive writings and debates how the Pagan ideas of Gods and the Good is now widespread and going into interesting and productive directions – see for example the book „On Being a Pagan“ by Alan de Benoist – the idea of Evil is generally a neglected topic so far. On the side of Good, it has been and still is, a difficult path to emancipate ourselves from the Judaeo-Christian concept of Good, as a Divine law, a commandment given, to which men just have to obey. Too many people, in my opinion, still have this Galilean perspective on Paganism, to find or define the “true Paganism”, which as I think is a contradiction in itself. Paganism, its idea of the good, is per se not “the one” definition, it is in itself always a collection of perspectives. The writings of Plutarch are quite enlightening here, when he debates various spiritual ideas with his friends in conversations, and people are free to have differing opinions about the religious ideas. There is never a thought spent on the question which view is the right one. That is a genuine element of the Book Religions. But, in the area of Good, Pagan Religions are already on a good way.
But, what about Evil? Does the term even make sense? For many Pagans, the word itself has something they shy away from. While they tend to see the Gods as Good, there is no real religious model in modern day Paganism that has any explanation for Evil, and that is where the ancients greatly differed from us. Now when Good is not “giving clear commandments”, Evil can in turn of course not be the Galilean concept of “sin”, in the sense of going against the will of the God. A God may advise, he may plan a destiny to unfold, but humans going their own way has in no myth of the Polytheist religions ever the connotation of sin or evil. It may be folly to compete with a greater power, sometimes a God even changes his mind, impressed by the dedication of human action. But it isn't evil or sin to make your own judgment different from the Gods.
To get an insight into the idea of evil in Paganism, we have to take a look at the Creation Myth, especially how it contrasts to the Book Religions. In Christianity the One God is a being outside of creation itself, as Alan de Benoist said, God is the Other, the Stranger to creation, and creation entirely depends on him. So everything coming from a perfect God must be perfect, which put the Galileans into quite an intellectual conundrum how to explain evil coming from a perfect and good God, who literally creates everything that is. In Paganism, the creation myth reveals an entirely different concept.
For Pagans, the World has no real beginning and certainly no end, no telos. In Christianity, the world was made in a perfect state, but somehow that perfect state was ruined by the actions of men, where humanity is not only the focus of the cosmos, he is also the solely to blame party for its fall, and the ending is always the resolving of this crisis. Man goes back to the total obedience towards Yahweh, essentially he becomes a serf, a slave. History ends in the end time, and from there is no longer any change or development, the world comes to a halt. Christian Paradise is total stagnation, since from a perfect good, every change would be evil, a diminishing of good.
Paganism always revolves around the idea of change. For a Pagan perspective, creation exists always, it merely changes its status, and herein lies a hint to the Pagan concept of Evil. There are two different kinds of order, or chaos versus order. The world exists before the Gods, and it exists in a turbulent and chaotic status, titanic forces are competing, giants, monsters, great serpents and dragons, all kinds of powers are lose and in constant struggle. The world before the Gods is the original state of the cosmos as a place hostile to life and to civilization. It is the vast reality of space, all the many planets, solar systems, galaxies – literally titanic forces, most of whom are hostile to life. The Gods now come into being and make a new space inside the chaotic cosmos, a place of order and harmony, wherein life and culture can develop. That is the Act of Goodness which the Gods do, and their primal role in the Cosmic Drama. The titans, serpents, monsters and all the chaotic, dangerous forces are pushed aside, banished away and this precious space, Earth, is set up so we can life and prosper inside of it. From there it is a constant vigilance of the Gods, in most Pagan Myths it is not something that remains so effortless.
While the Gods in the Greco-Roman Religions have a status of being embodiments of ideas, so they are immortal and, if you follow Platonism, essentially pre-existing to Creation, or exist eternal like creation itself, the myths demonstrate that the Divine Order requires effort, work and a will to survive, to struggle. It is not that a good life is granted to you for obedience, as in Christianity, but humans became co-belligerent at the side of the Gods against the chaotic, titanic forces. In the Roman Religion we have the phrase “Do Ut Des”, I give so that you give, the concept that the relation between men and Gods is one of mutual agreement. We seek the guidance of the Gods and they offer guidance in return. But the titanic forces of chaos are not gone, they may be banished away, but they are there, and if we retreat from the Gods, we are alone in the fight against Chaos.
THE SOLAR CYCLE
Nothing demonstrates this eternal struggle more elegantly than the Egyptian Myth of Ra. The Solar Ship of Ra, at the end of the day, goes through the dark passage of the underworld, and every night Ra fights against the dark dragon Apophis. The Priests of Ra then had rites to fulfill at each appropriate hour, so to support Ra in his nightly struggle, so that the Sun would rise again. The cosmic order hinged in part on the contribution of men, through living a pious life and by heeding the rituals and prayers humanity added to the constantly renewed victory of the Gods of Order against the Monsters of Chaos.
So Seth, the God of Chaos and symbol of all that is un-natural, anti-natural has this unidentified animal symbol, the Seth Animal. It has been speculated much what sort of animal it was supposed to be, but I assume it was no animal that exists on purpose. Seth symbolizes the other, the alien, the enemy and the disturbance of harmony, that which is anti-natural, and so it makes only sense to depict him as an animal that doesn't actually exist or is a mishmash of different animal features. His very existence is contrary to the natural order. Seth sheds some light on the Pagan idea of Evil, as he is the non defined animal, like one who would not want to be one thing or another, not decide, while culture and personal development require decision. You decide for one job, for one way to live, if you keep all doors open, you will go nowhere. You will retain the chaotic openeness of the undefined, which means degeneration. To decide means to kill all other options, that is how we grow. Seth stand for the person, who cannot decide what he wants to be, and thus Seth cheats himself an immediate strength, but he pays the price by losing in the long run. (We can very well read this as a symbol of the highest importance especially for our time, where many people want to remain forever like children.)
For many Pagan Cultures evil has this more relative sense of being threatening to the existing benevolent order. Like the chaotic forces in this universe and the wild forces on this planet, evil is the destruction of life and civilization. A volcano that erupts, a hurricane, a flood, an earthquake. When titanic disorder threatens order, life and culture are in danger. This Chaos is a sort of pre-existing different order, an order of things much more dangerous and hostile to the necessities of human life, whose benefactors the Gods are. Since serpents are very dangerous to men, they have become a symbol of these evil, chaotic forces in many cultures, often in giant dimensions as dragon. So the heroic God rises to slay the Serpent-Dragon: Marduk versus Tiamat, Ra versus Apophis, Thor versus the Midgard-Serpent, Zeus versus Typhon and Apollo versus the Python. Often this concept of Evil as Chaos was connected to the Solar Myth, the cycle of the Seasons, the turning of the Wheel of the Year, and also the cycle of Day and Night. In some Pagan cultures this has given an ever more present dominance of Male Solar Dieties, like Ra (often merged with Horus) became a dominant God in Egypt, or Marduk took over the leadership of the Gods from Anu. This development is mostly absent from the more Northern European Pagan religions, even though they also had the cyclic idea of day and year. I presume the different climate contributed to the factor that the Solar Idea never rose to such prominence.
A different in between is the Greco-Roman area, which lies between the Nordic and the Desert Area, both in terms of Geography and in religious spirituality. It seems like a balance between the heroic elements of the Nordic and Celtic Elements, and the elements of Piety and a notion of majesty typical to the religions of the Egyptians, Punic and Babylonian Religions.
On the one hand, with Apollo slaying the Serpent Python, we have a “Solar Son”, the typical Heroic God slaying the dragon in myth, we have in the Eastern Religions, but we never have this step that Apollo replaces Zeus, even though Apollo was one of the most liked Gods in the Roman religion. We know this from the fact that the prayer to Apollo and reverence to Apollo was the last to remain when Christianity spread, and the rise of the Mithras Cult – and in smaller scope the Sol Invictus Cult, show that even the Greco-Roman world had begun a shift towards a Solar Cultus, which typically is the focus where the definition of Good and Evil in Polytheism very often developed into. Even Pagan religions very far away, like among the Middle American Natives, we find this concept of the Solar God fighting against the nocturnal monsters, frequently. Day and Night and the cycle of the year are so powerful realities of our world, that it is a most plausible analogy for our human struggle. The dark powers of the subconscious, the enemies lurking in the dark, dangerous animals hiding – we have good reason to associate evil with darkness, with what is hidden in the dark, and good with light, what we can see, what is clear and visible. In the night or in a dark room we are in danger, we are out of our element, because we are blind or do not see very far. In a dark room, every harmless piece of furniture can become a “monster” over which you stumble and break a leg. (Or even your neck, if you are really unlucky.) So Darkness is literally identical to Danger for human beings.
Darkness is a different order, in a sense. It is chaos insofar, as it escapes our control, our ability to oversee and plan. That is for literal darkness as well as proverbial darkness, i.e. that which we do not know. Or the dark side within us, when emotions take control over our actions and we are no longer in charge. We experience that usually as a darkening, when the monster within us is set free, and we act impulsive, out of instinct, and that can easily get out of hand and destroy our plans and undermine our goals. We are then guided by forces “in the dark”, we do not understand and see, and the result is Chaos.
MYTH AND SPIRITUALITY
Pagan Mythology tells us, that the struggle of the Gods with the Monsters of Chaos continues every day, and it is a cycle that never ends. It is no telos, no end goal where this struggle is solved once and for all, for Chaos and Evil have roles in the cosmic drama. They keep life running. The aim is not for human history to end, but to ever continue. So while we join the Gods to fight against Typhon and Apophis, we know even Seth has his place, we know they are always there and it must always be so. We do not see Evil as something that can or should be forever purged from the world.
We contribute to the fight through spiritual development, and I think this is an important lesson to our days. While we all struggle to find answers in politics or economy – and these are surely important fields of work – I doubt any of these pathways can be fruitful, if we lack the development of our spirituality. Alas, Christianity has greatly contributed to separate the Sacred and the World, by putting God entirely outside of Creation and moving all hope into the far away Afterlife or the End Time. Instead as Pagans we see the Sacred INSIDE of creation, as part of an ever ongoing process or struggle if you will, a struggle were we are partakers, not merely observers. This struggle is inside of us, for our character, our spiritual development. It develops by us improving ourselves, first, and working to improve the character of people, decency and piety, many of the Roman Virtues which describe a Good Citizen: Dignity, Frugality, Honor, Respect, Mercy, Generosity, Authority, Friendliness, Sincerity, Foresight, Self-Control, Honesty. The “mores”, the Mos Maiorum, or “Way of the Ancestors” was the idea of eternal values which to follow and improve oneself in, to better this world. This is ethicality, but also spiritual piety, for otherwise it would be a hollow catalogue of do's and don't do's, which exactly Pagan Ethicality is NOT. That is why the 147 Delphic Maxims, the Sayings of Apollo, are advises, not commandments.
When humanity loses the Way of the Ancestors, the Gods retreat, and the forces of Chaos and Darkness can crawl out of their banishment. Without spirituality we are then at the mercy of these forces, the grow inside of us, inside of our civilizations, and as the necessities of civilization decay - character and religious piety – so gradually the columns on which our culture stands crumble. The Gods retreat, and we are alone, facing the Monsters of the Night. It is a way one may walk a while, but ultimately it is a cultural dead end. Without spirituality there is no culture, no civilization, and humanity devolves into barbarism. Pagan Spirituality is one of this world, it belongs to the world, the SACRED of the Pagan is within the world, whereas the contrary, the Christian HOLY is something OUTSIDE of the world, and thus negates the value of this world, which in the end leads to the death of spirituality itself, when people either move on to Atheism or Nihilism, as in the West, or subjugate themselves to a mindless serfdom, as we can see how Islam developed.
As Pagans we avoid these extremes, as our spirituality belongs to the world, affirms and acknowledges this world and sees the Sacred within it, and thus the struggle of Chaos and Order as integral part of the world, not as something to overcome, pacify or remove. While Chaos is the enemy, the Evil which threatens us, the Monster lurking in the dark, it is also the motor that helps turn the wheel on, against which we grow, for without Monsters to fight, there would be no Hero, no excellence, no human being could rise without challenge. To be Pagan means to accept that the struggle goes on, and we take part in it. Through bettering our character, by learning from the Ancestors and heeding the spiritual piety.