Get your Christmas out of Sol Invictus! (That time again.)

Originally posted on December 20th 2011, then again last year. As I mentioned last year, I think I’ll probably repost this every year. It’s worth reading if you don’t know and worth a reminder if you do. It’s fun to learn about our culture, kids! This blog is concerned with stories and these cultural myths are the greatest stories of all. Everything we know is built on them. Off we go then…

We’re nearly at that time again. It should be stated from the outset, and really doesn’t need to be for regular readers, that I hate Christmas and everything about it. I do love being able to spend time with friends and loved ones, enjoy good food, exchange gifts and all that malarkey. But you don’t need a special day for that. Just like you should tell your partner that you love them all the time and not only on February 14th. But what really pisses me off is all the Christians who think it’s okay to berate people who leave Christ out of Xmas. Given that the whole thing is stolen and shoe-horned into a medieval fantasy in the first place, it’s a bit rich.

I’ve also taken to responding to, “You can’t have Xmas without Christ!” with, “Then you can’t have Thursday without Thor! Where’s your celebratory hammer?” There’s history with all these things, and it behoves the modern mind to know it.

Evil SantaIf you get off on the whole Christ mythology, then bully for you. Why you pick one crazy mythology out of hundreds and insist it’s the truth absolutely mystifies me, but if that’s your wagon, then giddy up. And the Western world has certainly jumped on board the whole Xmas lunacy and subverted it into a materialistic circus of misery and one-upmanship. So I can understand the desire to suggest that people look past the crass commercialism and look for what Xmas is really about. But you know what? It’s not Christ. Sure, it’s been hijacked to be about Christ, but if these people were really honest with themselves, they’d admit there’s more to the story. Then again, as that great physician Gregory House said, “Rational arguments don’t usually work on religious people. Otherwise there would be no religious people.” – (Season 4 Episode 2, The Right Stuff.)

The Christians, since some decades after the death of Christ when the Christians began (thanks to the cult set up by Paul), have always been keen on appropriating something popular, pretending it’s theirs and then using it to further their own agenda. They’re like a virus, chewing up holidays and spitting out Christian rhetoric. But it’s not only the Christians who have pinched things for their aims.

Over the years we’ve merged and melded many things into our modern culture and, while the Christians always shout the loudest at Xmas, there are many other influences that have survived the Jesus takeover.

Burning candles, mistletoe and holly berries, for example, are originally from Yule, the Pagan celebration of the sun god, Mithras. Who is also a very clear blueprint for the myth of Christ himself:

“Both Mithras and Christ were described variously as ‘the Way,’ ‘the Truth,’ ‘the Light,’ ‘the Life,’ ‘the Word,’ ‘the Son of God,’ ‘the Good Shepherd.’ The Christian litany to Jesus could easily be an allegorical litany to the sun-god. Mithras is often represented as carrying a lamb on his shoulders, just as Jesus is. Midnight services were found in both religions. The virgin mother…was easily merged with the virgin mother Mary. Petra, the sacred rock of Mithraism, became Peter, the foundation of the Christian Church.”

Gerald Berry, Religions of the World

Mithras (from the Persian god, Mithra, adapted to Greek as Mithras) allegedly has many features Christians might find familiar:

– Mithra was born on December 25th of the virgin Anahita.
– The babe was wrapped in swaddling clothes, placed in a manger and attended by shepherds.
– He was considered a great traveling teacher and master.
– He had 12 companions or “disciples.”
– He performed miracles.
– As the “great bull of the Sun,” Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace.
– He ascended to heaven.
– Mithra was viewed as the Good Shepherd, the “Way, the Truth and the Light,” the Redeemer, the Savior, the Messiah.
– Mithra is omniscient, as he “hears all, sees all, knows all: none can deceive him.”
– He was identified with both the Lion and the Lamb.
– His sacred day was Sunday, “the Lord’s Day,” hundreds of years before the appearance of Christ.
– His religion had a eucharist or “Lord’s Supper.”
– Mithra “sets his marks on the foreheads of his soldiers.”
– Mithraism emphasized baptism.

Funny old list, that, eh? I said allegedly above as there’s often about as much evidence for these things as there is for the mythology of Christianity; that is to say, not much at all. Though the vast majority of it is backed up by archeological evidence well predating Christian times.

Repoussé silver disc of Sol Invictus, Roman, 3rd century, found at Pessinus (British Museum)The Roman emporer Aurelian first instigated Dies Natalis Solis Invicti in 274 CE, which is the birthday of Sol Invictus, the sun god, often considered to be one and the same as Mithras. This birthday festival was celebrated with a huge party and feast on December 25th, a date I’m sure you’ll find familiar. It was Constantine who decided, for mostly political reasons, that Christianity would be the state religion, though he did release an edict in 313 CE proclaiming religious tolerance of all faiths. But there were still enough adherents to the Mithraic tradition that even in the 5th century, Augustine preached against them as Christianity continued its takeover.

Incidentally, it was also Constantine who made Sunday a day of rest. Not because of Christ myths, but for Sol Invictus. In March, 321 CE he decreed:

On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country however persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits because it often happens that another day is not suitable for grain-sowing or vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost.

But I digress. Going back to Christmas being a Sol Invictus celebration, even the Syriac bishop Jacob Bar-Salibi wrote in the 12th century:

“It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day.”

Ernest Renan, in 1882, pointed out how things could have been when he said, “if the growth of Christianity had been arrested by some mortal malady, the world would have been Mithraic” (Renan, E., Marc-Aurele et la fin du monde antique. Paris, 1882, p. 579)

And the whole celebration of the sun god idea can be taken back to well before Roman times. There is much evidence — including many ancient monumental alignments — to demonstrate that the event of the winter solstice, and the return of the sun through longer days, was celebrated hundreds to thousands of years before the common era in numerous parts of the world.

When “the people” are really into something, the worst thing to do is try to tell them they can’t enjoy it any more. The best option is to co-opt it into your own agenda over time. So the Pagan sun worship was Borged (resistance is futile) by Mithras and Sol Invictus celebrations, and those in turn swallowed by the Christians; not as biblical doctrine but to compete with Pagan cults.

Regardless, in the end the effect is the same: “Christmas” is not the birth of the “son of God” but the birth of “the sun”. The deity Mithras and the celebration of Sol Invictus, inextricably intertwined, also ended up drawing in the Christian mythologies and the Christ myths gathered the most adherents and strength and swallowed up those things that birthed them.

Then combine into this Saturnalia, described by the poet Catullus as “the best of days”, which was a big old party in honour of the Roman deity, Saturn. There was a huge banquet followed by gift-giving and partying, where social norms were put aside in the name of hedonism and good times. Which sounds damned fine to me. This festival was originally held on December 17th, but subsequently extended right through to the 23rd. After all, why party for one day when you can get your groove on for a week? And many of those practices were also taken into the Christmas celebration and made a part of the whole thing.


Saturnalia

And everything I’ve written here only touches on the depth and complexity of the history of our culture. So the next time some twat says, “You can’t have Xmas without Christ!” you can respond with, “Yes, you can, actually. Just ask Mithras.”

Enjoy the things that make you happy. Be nice to each other, have fun and indulge yourselves. Give gifts, eat too much, drink too much, and don’t forget to spare a thought for those less fortunate and try to do something to help them as well. But don’t be wilfully ignorant. It’s never been easier to explore truth and history, to understand yourself and your culture. Get out there and expand yourself.

And blessed Solstice to you all.

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The Esperanto Twitter storm

My friends on Twitter @keikomushi and @IronMan1176 were having a conversation and languages came up. IronMan said he was studying a bit of Spanish before bed. Keiko said: “I tried to learn Esperanto a few times, but I have always had trouble with languages.”

I opened my virtual mouth and caused a bit of upset. (Yeah, it happens quite often.)

You see, I’ve always been mildly amused by Esperanto. Essentially it’s a language invented as an attempt at a global standard. Here’s some of the Wikipedia entry:

Its name derives from Doktoro Esperanto, the pseudonym under which L. L. Zamenhof published the first book detailing Esperanto, the Unua Libro, in 1887. The word esperanto means “one who hopes” in the language itself. Zamenhof’s goal was to create an easy and flexible language that would serve as a universal second language to foster peace and international understanding.

Now that’s a fairly noble ideal. But it never took off. Why would it? There are already enough languages around. The idea that everyone would learn their own language and Esperanto and then communicate across borders in Esperanto and use their own language at home is a very romantic notion, but completely untenable. Communications develop organically, following the growth of empires and global politics. The language spoken by your neighbours is learned so that you can understand each other. People travel and take their languages with them. There’s cross-pollination and the most widely used (or most strictly enforced) languages rise to the top. That’s why the real international language, whether people like it or not, is English.

English speakers are notoriously lazy at learning other languages because of this. A lot of people for whom English is not their first language are understandably pissed about it. Why should they have to learn a second language (English) while native English speakers just talk loudly and slowly everywhere they go until someone understands them? It’s a reasonable position to be hold, but it’s just the way it is.

I think everyone should learn other languages, to help them better empathise with people that have to learn English as a second language. It also helps to understand other cultures and it can be a lot of fun. Personally, I speak a little French, Polish and Cantonese. French because it was compulsory in my early school years in the UK, Polish because my wife is Polish and Cantonese because I study and teach a martial art that came from the Guangzhou (Canton) region of China. I speak all of them very poorly, but I enjoy languages and always have a stab when the opportunity arises to use them.

And they’re useful because other people already speak them. This is where the Esperanto concept falls down. It would be great if everyone learned it, but they won’t because no one uses it. Meanwhile, the unofficial global language is English. Everybody that needs to (world leaders, business leaders, religious leaders and so on) learn English if possible to help them communicate globally. Why would they also learn Esperanto in the hope that it some day becomes useful? It’s had more than 120 years and hasn’t caught on yet. And they can’t afford to learn Esperanto instead, in some ideological push to get Esperanto global, because everyone else is learning English.

So, as you can imagine, I got myself in trouble on Twitter. When Keiko said:

I tried to learn Esperanto a few times, but I have always had trouble with languages.

I said: Esperanto turned out to be a real misfire though, eh!

I was referring to the fact that it was designed to be the new global language but never took off. Of course, the Esperanto lovers, with an almost religious fervour for their chosen hobby language, got straight onto me. The first was a Twitter user actually called @esperanto

So… if someone can not learn X after several attempts, then X is a “misfire”? Your logic is very poor. 😛

meNo, that’s not what I said. Whether you can learn it or not, who speaks Esperanto anywhere? A hobby language at best. = Misfire.

esperantoLet’s see what my followers say about it.

I thought, Oh dear, here we go. Turns out he doesn’t have many followers. (I know, I know, but let’s not be mean!)

Subsequently he reposts my words: Whether you can learn it or not, who speaks Esperanto anywhere? A hobby language at best. = Misfire.

In an attempt to clarify my position I said:

It was supposed to be the new int’l language. A tiny % of people know it. Misfire. I’m not having a go, just an observation. :)

esperantoInnovations like Esperanto take time, especially if people and media keeps misinforming and spreading prejudices about them.

meIt’s had 120 years! How much time does it need?

Then a new Esperanto fan stepped in. His name is @omgitsbrandonn – his Twitter bio describes him as: 15-years old, musician, gay, Esperantist, artist, and so much more. So, he’s only 15 and we should forgive him his naiveté. He said (over several Tweets):

I speak Esperanto, and I know many others who do too. It might not have caused perfect global harmony but it’s brought millions of people together in a way not many other languages have. It’s even used by Iranians to communicate without being caught by their oppressive government. If that hasn’t created peace and a sense of internationality, I don’t know what has. And it’s growing very rapidly. There have been around 9 positive articles about it by mainstream media in the last month. plus, more people speak Esperanto than welsh :b

meWorld population: 6 billion. Wales population: 2.9 million. Hardly a good comparison!

omgitsbrandonnit just provides a comparison to a more commonly known language. No comment on the previous tweets?

meEverything has its niche followers. In more than 120 years Esperanto hasn’t become global. It’s not going to.

omgwell in 120 years Esperanto has increased its number of speakers by 200000000% if I’m correct. Are you going to be around for the next 120?

meTwo hundred billion percent?! [Typo on my part there, his figure was two hundred million, and I’m still not sure of the maths there!] What does that even mean? English is the int’l language.

esperantoThe metric system originated in the 17th century and there are still countries that have not adopted it! (Myanmar, Liberia, USA)

meNo, but all their world leaders speak English. :)

omgand think about this. Since the inception of modern english, how much time did it take it to become the de facto international language? Way, way more than 120 years.

meHow long have we been an international community? Way, way less than 120 years.

Then I said to them both: You know, you’re both big esperanto fans. Fair enough. No problem with that. But you’re not going to convince me that there’s any chance of esperanto becoming a global language. But let’s wait and see. :)

I went on to talk about the organic development of English as the international language. They argued that that was geopolitical in nature. I said, Same difference! It was a natural development along with geopolitical power.

Then I asked:

How many world leaders, business leaders or religious leaders speak Esperanto? Your answer lies there.

esperantoNot enough… yet. How many leaders would speak in Esperanto if people spread the idea instead of saying that its useles because only few uses it?\

meNone. Why would they learn it? They already learn English from childhood in most countries. Why learn another language as well? It’s not like people will be able to do without English in the meantime.

Then a new Esperanto fan jumped in:

@Babilfrenzoat least one business leader speaks Eo: George Soros world’s 29th richest man. The Pope makes X-mas and Easter greeting in Eo.

omgMany world leaders speak no English either. The point is to -get- them to speak Esperanto. The biggest deterrent is the pessimists *coughcough*.

me to BabilfrenzoOne business leader out of millions, and the Pope twice a year. Compare that to how many speak English.

me to omgNo, the biggest deterrent is that hardly anyone speaks it.;)

I could see that arguing the point further would be like arguing with a fundamentalist Christian about the literal truth of the Bible, so I said:

This argument is circular, I’m done with it. You guys really want Eo to grow global but you’re in a tiny minority. It never will. But if you ever manage to prove me wrong, well done!

The thing is, I don’t think they ever will prove me wrong. The number of Esperanto speakers is probably not that much more than the number of Klingon speakers, and both are tiny in comparison with the other big global languages (particularly English, but also Spanish, French, Chinese, etc.) Esperanto is certainly an interesting idea and probably a fun hobby, but outside the niche group of other Esperanto fans it’s pretty useless.

In fact, I went to check on that previous statement before posting and this had me laughing out loud: While web searching around I came across this article in the National Review Online talking about the rise in numbers of Klingon speakers. What had me laughing? This part:

Indeed, the hip culture says that traditional stuff is worse than old-fashioned, it’s boring. And boredom will drive people to do all sorts of strange things (“like write this stupid column,” my couch just yelled).

And that’s why people are fabricating their own ethnicities. How else do you explain the fact that Esperanto and, you guessed it, Klingon are growing in popularity around the globe? Despite the fact that the linguist Mark Okrand created Klingon only about a decade and half ago, many experts estimate that more people speak Klingon today than Esperanto, which was launched over a century ago.

Oh my goodness, how I laughed.

What do you think? Am I being unkind? Is Esperanto ever likely to become the global language? Leave a comment with your thoughts.

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Black magic versus prayer in Islamic Indonesia

Talk about appealing to the lowest common denominator. I was both amused and disappointed when I read about this in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald. It’s one of those strange crossovers between real life and fantasy novels.

Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous nation (with around 237 million people) and it has the largest Muslim population in the world. It also has an incredible range of cultural and religious diversity across its 17,508 islands. (I know, that’s a lot of islands!) And yet the current president and almost certainly returning incumbent is playing into the basest of superstitions in a bizarre display during the elections.

President Yudhoyono claimed on Friday that black magic spells had been cast against him and his campaign team. Antara, the official Indonesian news agency, quoted him as saying, “Many are practising black magic. Indeed, I and my family can feel it. It’s extraordinary. Many kinds of methods are used.” I wonder what he’s feeling exactly, and what those many kinds of methods actually are.

yudhoyono
President Yudhoyono, perhaps indicating how much black magic he’s felt today.

So how does someone deal with such a thing in the modern world?

“I have come to the conclusion that only prayers can defeat black magic attacks. For instance, last night I kept praying all the way to the venue of the [candidates’] debate along with my wife, aides and driver.”

Right. Remember, this is the current (and almost certainly returning) president of the fourth most populous nation in the world.

Another smear campaign during the election process has been to portray the wife of Mr Yudhoyono’s running mate, Boediono, falsely, as a Catholic. Look out! The wife of the running mate is *gasp* a Catholic! You can’t trust them, you know. You know where you stand with superstitious Muslim black magic shamans, but you can’t trust a Catholic. Which she’s not anyway, apparently.

It remains unclear whether this so-called “black operation” was launched by supporters of Mr Yudhoyono and attributed by them to rival party Golkar, or actually carried out by Golkar or its associates. But whether he was responsible or not, Golkar’s candidate, Jusuf Kalla, has run an extensive advertising campaign featuring his wife and the spouse of his running mate proudly wearing the traditional Islamic headscarf. It’s the “No Catholics Here” platform of the opposition.

Seriously though, who cares? What about some actual political policy? Are we still in the dark ages? According to the Herald, “The President… has campaigned on his record of bringing economic stability to Indonesia, crushing terrorism at the same time as attacking the country’s endemic culture of corruption.”

Maybe he’ll take on those pesky black magicians if gets another term in office.

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Bloggers Unite For Hunger And Hope

hungerToday is Unite For Hunger And Hope day. It’s a simple concept that bloggers everywhere post about global hunger to raise awareness of the situation. From the Unite website, here are a few facts and figures:

• Right now, more than 500 million people are living in “absolute poverty” and more than 15 million children die of hunger every year.

• World Health Organization estimates that one-third of the population is underfed and another third is starving.

• Even in the United States, 46 percent of African-American children and 49 percent of Latino children are considered chronically hungry.

There is enough money and enough food in the world right now to end global poverty and hunger, if countries would pull together and make it happen. First world countries are greedy and full and that makes it hard to recognise what it must be like to not know where your next meal is coming from. I’m very late to this party and don’t really have much to add of any substance, other than putting my hand up to be a part of a solution. Try to be aware of the food you buy and eat and see if you can only buy from your own country’s production, instead of buying produce that’s been stolen from the mouths of starving families and shipped around the world. Awareness is the beginning of solutions.

(Hat tip to Michael for this one).

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