Misc: The Great Dream
The Great Dream: Casting Off A 2,000 Year Spell Of Forgetfulness
by Nathan Cate (author of Sanctuary of the Gods)
He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout,
But Love and I had the wit to win
We drew a circle that took him in.
(Edwin Markham, Outwitted)
History is written by survivors, but sometimes the question of who survived is not so simple as it at first seems, and history has its different variations.
For example, consider the Christian view of the last 2,000 years and more.
There is and was only one God, the God of the Jews. He created the earth, and humanity lived in ignorance, believing in many gods until He showed them the error of their ways. Everywhere was sin, until He sent his son Christ to earth, half divine, half man. It was a new and original thing which gave humanity the chance to live for ever in the presence of God. The old Pagan faiths withered in the light of Christianity, for its superiority was evident to all but the most stubborn, ignorant and evil among us. Paganism essentially vanished in the European lands. Satan, a spirit of the Christian cosmology, was the guide for all who rejected the true Christ: one followed either Christ or the devil, and there was no other option.
There is another variation which grew up as Christians ceased to be the sole voice in Western civilization. For modern historians who have inherited the mainstream in the last century or so, generally speaking the existence of one true god and his son is either doubted or considered irrelevant. Christianity is viewed as a new faith offering qualities to its followers that competed well against the old Pagan faith in the marketplace of ideas. Paganism faded and died out because it could not compete with the new paradigm of individual salvation, and the unifying hierarchical structures and exclusivism of the new faith. The old Pagan centers crumbled into dust as the believers melted away, while elements of the old religion were adopted to keep the converts happy. Christianity served the psychological, social, political and economic needs of people living in that age.
For modern Pagans there are different ways to view this same history, but most have to do with the success of an intolerant oppressor that feared spiritual freedom and nearly destroyed it. Such Pagans look to centuries of persecution and to the countless Pagans, real and imagined, who perished at the hands of an ignorant and brutal church.
What these three perspectives have in common is that for whatever reason, mainstream Paganism was gutted and largely supplanted by a new faith. Who would doubt that this is so? And yet at one time there were people who had another view, and it may be that their perspective will again find supporters in the modern age.
If these long-silenced people were alive today, they would look over the last 2,000 years of Christian-dominated history with calm approval. It is not that they found the Christians' intolerance and violence likeable, nor that they thought the Christian view of history and religion true: indeed to them the conversion of the Roman Empire was a mark of barbarism and doom, but yet they embraced it--and their own apparent demise. Strange though it seems, the advocates of this outlook were the Pagan leadership in the closing years of the Pagan age.
Stranger still perhaps, for them Christ was a Pagan God, working with the other Gods in concert to cast a spell of forgetfulness and confusion over the minds and hearts of those who adopted the Christian faith. Why would such a thing have been done by their gods? It was an extraordinary and apparently absurd way to look at things, but these men and women were not fools--far from it--and they had their reasons. Perhaps, at long last, it is time for us to try to understand them.
Ancient Paganism was a religion much taken with the transformations wrought by time. The seasons of agriculture were the same in essence as the seasons of individual men and women: birth, maturity and death; Spring, Summer and Winter. These three were a fact that could not be avoided. They expressed a basic law of the universe, which ancient Pagans called Justice. As it was with the seasons, so it was with all things in the world. Greco-roman civilization followed the same law: it saw its Spring in the days of ancient Greece and grew to maturity in the Roman Age. The death of that civilization was inevitable, and it was Just. No pious and informed Pagan could rightly resist it, harsh though the consequences of such an end would be.
Wisdom, for ancient Pagans, grew from an understanding of the seasons, of Justice. Wisdom could not foil the inevitable movement of time in this universe, but it could allow for the embrace and transcendence of the parts so that they became a single whole. Spring and summer were times of light, but winter was the time of death and darkness, unless wisdom existed, wherein the essential oneness of the three was understood. In such a case, the light of wisdom entered into death and from its mystery brought forth new life. This was only possible for one who followed a kindly God.
The God Dionysos had a special area under his control: death and rebirth, as when the seeds enter the ground and are reborn with the coming of spring. Although the idea may seem rather novel at first, after a little reflection it should be obvious to all but the most obtuse observers that Christ appeared to be Dionysian in every aspect of His nature. He was and is, to all intents and purposes, Dionysos.
Both Christ and Dionysos were sons of the sky god. (Dionysos' father was Zeus.) Both had mortal mothers who were said to have been saved from death by their sons. (Dionysos was the son of the mortal woman Semele, impregnated by the sky god.) Both were killed by men and entered the underworld for a period of time that evokes the mystic three: Christ for three days, Dionysos for one of the three seasons recognized by ancient Pagans. Yet as Gods, in another sense, both were immortal. (Most notably Dionysos' murder and rebirth were celebrated at the Alycionian lake at Lerna in ancient Greece, where he was recalled from the underworld by the salpinge: trumpets of His priests--and the Pagan origin of the last trump.) Both offered their followers wisdom of the nature of life and death, and the hope of eternal life. (The Orphic mysteries of Dionysos being one variation of this.) Wine was sacred to both, and was used to evoke them. (Dionysos was celebrated as the god of wine, while Christ had his Eucharist.) Both were said to hang from the tree of life, and through its mystery to offer humanity the chance to be free of death. (The vine was Dionysos' tree of life, where Christ had a cross. The cultivated vine of Dionysos had wooden cross pieces that spread the vine's tendrils, so it too gave significance to the shape of the cross, many centuries before Christ was said to have been executed on one.)
Most other "Christian" symbols, festivals, and rituals are clearly of Pagan origin. Even the sacred Trinity of the Godhead--Father, Son and Holy Ghost--were in the pattern of the ancient three. (For reasons beyond the current level of discussion, these were equivalent to Summer, Winter and Spring, and made use of symbols taken from the Gods Zeus, Dionysos, and Zeus' wife Hera.) Pagan cults all differed in myth and ritual from one another, and Christianity was well within the normal range of beliefs of the other Dionysian cults of those days. The big difference between the Christian and other Pagan cults was the Christians were utterly ignorant of the symbolism and origins of their religion, relying exclusively on blind faith, where high level initiates of the other Dionysian cults relied on insight and observation. In addition, the Christian fear and revulsion for the other expressions of their faith as celebrated by other cults made them unique. Which is to say Christians also differed by their intolerance.
Oddly, this parallel has not been widely recognized. When Christ was compared to ancient gods, it was generally to Prometheus who actually had little in common with Him. The ancient Pagan leadership considered this natural, and evidence of a divine purpose. They believed that in their historic age a spell was being cast over the minds and hearts of humanity, which could be expected to last for many centuries. The targets of this spell imagined they had escaped the power of the ancient gods even as they followed them, and in this way they would be lulled into entering death willingly. In due course, this divinely guided death would give rise to a rebirth. In keeping with the ancient style of his guidance, the true nature of Christ (a name which means "The Anointed One", that is: "The Chosen One") was to be concealed by the Gods until the time was right. Dionysos had been chosen to lead civilization into the darkness of death.
What follows, then, is the ancient esoteric Pagan view of what has happened.
In the heyday of Greco-Roman civilization, the Gods met in counsel to consider what was to come. Would civilization be allowed to die utterly, or would it be granted rebirth? Death was inevitable, but whence it led was subject to their wills. In their wisdom, the Gods decided the fate of civilization in the West would be Rebirth.
For the one who enters death alone, death is oblivion. For the one who enters death guided by a God, death leads to rebirth. But not just any sort of rebirth: a rebirth into wisdom so that the following life is greater by far than the one that came before. That is the destiny the Gods decided for European civilization. That the Gods chose Dionysos was hardly surprising, since he had done this kind of thing many times before.
For readers who find this difficult to wrap their minds around, there is a play written four centuries before the birth of Christ which describes exactly what Pagans would witness happening to civilization almost a thousand years later. The play details how Dionysos often works His will in this world. It is called The Bacchae, and it was written by one of the greatest of the religious playwrights of ancient Greece.
The Athenian Euripedes wrote the play in exile at the Macedonian court, just before his death. It describes King Pentheus who has been marked for death by the operation of Justice. He is to enter death in the company of Dionysos, but he is afraid and seeks to outwit the God and be free of His will. Dionysos casts a spell of madness over Pentheus, for divine will cannot be thwarted--whether he likes it or not, Pentheus is to enter death under the benevolent guidance of the God. This will happen not just for his sake, but for the sakes of all mortals who are to follow.
In the events leading up to his death, Pentheus unwittingly plays his ritual role as symbol of the thyrsus (or more specifically, of the pine cone which served as the tip of the thyrsus, the magic wand of the Bacchae). Blinded by confusion, Pentheus imagines he has escaped the God's will even as he brings about his own death at the hands of the Bacchae, in this way ensuring his own rebirth. The will of the Gods seems harsh to mortal men but serves a greater good. It seems avoidable, but it is not.
At the time the play was written, Athens had been at war with Sparta for a quarter of a century. Generations of young men had died, and both cities had suffered terribly. In the previous decade, Athens had fared badly, and to any sane man it appeared to be facing total destruction at the hands of the Spartans. In the course of the war, both sides had obliterated entire cities and left empty ruins in their wake. Yet again and again the Athenians lost opportunities to make peace with the Spartans who would have agreed to it, so weary were they of the war.
Euripedes despaired, like any intelligent person of his time. Going further, he saw in the events of the times that a kind of madness had seized hold of his city, and that it's people were marching to destruction, deluded by the Gods into believing they would escape the very thing they brought upon themselves. Since he knew that the Gods had always favored his city for its art and reason, he found it hard to understand how such a thing could happen. It was then that he had a flash of insight, realizing destruction was inevitable, but with the blessing of the Gods it would be temporary, and rebirth to greatness would follow. Dionysian madness was a well known pattern in myth, and so was Dionysos' greater kindness. The Bacchae was Euripedes' expression of what he had realized.
Counseling defeat in time of war, indeed looking forward to it, would clearly be seen as an act of betrayal by those whose minds were clouded into believing victory was possible, and that is almost certainly why Euripedes thought it expedient to flee his beloved city when it came time to write his final masterpiece. Those whose minds were clouded by the God would react violently to the idea that they served Him while he called them to their doom.
As history would later prove, Euripedes was right. Athens was defeated, but rose again to even greater cultural heights, and despite the vagaries of history it continues even to the present day.
And if the same pattern is applied to Western civilization, it would seem that once again Euripedes was right. Christianity had barely time to dominate the empire before civilization crumbled in the West, and a dark age began. The great urban centers of the empire, including Rome itself, became mere towns and villages of peasants and savage warriors, and the cultured and educated way of life ceased entirely. The priests of Dionysos (called "Christian monks" by the Dionysians of that age) kept alive the tiny spark of what had been, carrying it through the long centuries of cultural death. And as the great wheel of the seasons turned, a rebirth occurred which we know today as the renaissance. At first it was a time of confusion, as the preceding dark age had been, but eventually tolerance returned, and a level of knowledge unprecedented in the world. Science (which from its birth was considered an integral part of the Pagan religion--even though many of its developers preferred not to speak of Gods at all, and instead spoke of other primal forces) grew by leaps and bounds. Following the rebirth of civilization in the West, a new age rose from the ashes, and we are its inheritors.
What does this all mean? Simply this: if our ancient ancestors are to be believed, Paganism never died. It continued unabated in the unconscious reaches of our individual minds, finding its expression in collective Christian faith and ignorance, in poetry and folklore, in the European languages themselves, and eventually in the rebirth and its flowering of the sciences. Furthermore, even today we are all Pagans, some of us consciously, some not; and we are just now entering upon the late spring or early summer of our civilization. Thanks to the guidance of Dionysos in the season of death, greatness has been given to us.
This, in essence, is the Pagan history of our world for the last 2,000 years and more. Whether the ancient Pagans are to be believed or not, it is time at least for their view of history to be heard.
Readers who are interested in this brief outline will have many questions which for reasons of brevity could not be answered here. For these people, it is recommended that Euripedes' play The Bacchae be purchased, or downloaded off the Net. (To find a site with Classical texts, check out the links page.) Then too, Nathan Cate, the author of this short introduction, has recently published a book which ties together the relevant facts, and reaches beyond mere conjecture to an extraordinary body of evidence validating what has been written here. Sanctuary of the Gods by Nathan Cate is currently only be purchased via the Net and at certain select bookstores in Vancouver, B.C.. For more information, you are invited to visit the book's web page at http://nathancate.tripod.com, or to write to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.