Poets and paganism

Feeling a little byoki...wonder if allergies are kicking in? Anyway, Friday night, gotta go out (especially since I've got to be good tomorrow night, to make it out to Nara in good shape in the early afternoon to observe Kaz's Shinto class. Went for dinner at Slices, where I ran into Liz, with two of her English students, mother and son, about 10 years old I'd guess. Hung out with them a bit, got dinner free for playing assistant Eigo sensei. Went with them to Babylon, the body mod/goth bar (yes, took the the kid) was interesting to see their reaction - actually interested, they talked to the owner (who's is heavily tattooed, pieced, and implanted) and looked at photo albums of tattoos and even a suspension. Then over the Chopstick Tattoo to see Ben, who talked with them some more (all in Nihongo) and gave the fifty cent tour.

I stopped over at the Cellar, caught the last few songs from the band playing tonight - classic rock, "Pinball Wizard" and "Tommy" and "Long Live Rock" being sung phonetically. Now down to Cinquecento.

Anyway. Finished reading the Bukowski collection I packed. He could have done ok in the bars over here I think.

I've also been reading some Whitman and Emerson, catching up on the Transcendentalists. They, and the Romantics who proceeded them, are I think a big and overlooked part of the history of this whole pagan thing. (The connection with the British Romantics was brought to my attention by Ronald Hutton's book The Triumph of the Moon; much of the information that follows comes from that tome.)

Most accounts of the history of Neopaganism either postulate an ancient unbroken chain reaching back to pre-Christian Europe (not much good evidence of that, though some "kitchen magic" sort of stuff probably can be honestly traced back that far), or pick up with Gardner or Crowley and say they pretty much made the whole thing up.

But in the work, of the British Romantic poets, we see a strong streak of Paganism. It comes up out of the Renaissance attempt of writers like Dante to resolve their European Christianity with the classical pagan roots of their civilizations. The Enlightenment then did much to weaken the Christian side of things, seeing the triumph of patriarchal monotheism over more natural religions as a regrettable thing.

By around 1820, Keats and Shelly were invoking the Goddess. (The idea of a single Goddess as opposed to a multiplicity of ancient goddesses is mostly a Romantic creation, at least in contemporary Western civilization.) Shelly had published The Necessity of Atheism (which was explicitly targeted at a creator-god notion, leaving alone pantheistic notions) and wrote to a friend talking about raising an altar to Pan.

Indeed, Pan became a big name thanks to the Romantics. Apollo had long been seen as the patron of poets, but his restraint and moderation didn't fit well with the ideals of the Romantic period, with their rebellion against the coldness and hyper-rationality of the "Enlightenment". In 1891 Hazlitt wrote "our poetry has more of Pan than of Apollo" and "Pan is a God, Apollo is no more!"

Not bad for a little rural god who was considered comic at best, grotesque at worst by the ancient Greeks. The Romantics made him an incarnation of the natural world, until by the end of the 1800s Hewlett could have him say, "I am Pan and the Earth is mine."; in Kenneth Grahame's 1908 The Wind in The Willows Pan would appear as a protector of the innocent woods.

It's worth noting that it's during this time that the image of Satan takes on the goat-horned and goat-legged appearance we know today; prior to this Lucifer was portrayed more bull-horned and bat- or dragon-winged, or had dog-like or snake-like attributes. This re-imaging of Satan may well have been a reaction (conscious or unconscious) against the resurgence of Pan.

This pro-pagan attitude would find its way across the Atlantic, to where the Transcendentalists where looking to break away from the dominant European culture and establish a genuine American way. In the U.S. though, the Pan and Goddess imagery would be filtered out (for the moment at least) leaving a more pure infatuation with Nature - a Nature more of the woods than of the English countryside. The Transcendentalists would combine the influence of the English Romantics with the first connection of the West to Eastern spirituality - it was in Thoreau's Transcendentalist journal The Dial that the first English translation of a Buddhist sutra (the Lotus Sutra) appeared, and Emerson and Whitman both were influenced by Hindu writings.

(A century later, Kerouac would be influenced by Walden to seek out Eastern works, and looking for Hindu writings would "accidentally" make a strong connection to Buddhism for 20th century America.)

Meanwhile back in England, in 1866 Algernon Charles Swinburne causes a sensation with his anti-authoritarian, Shelly-imitating poetry collection Poems and Ballads. His work would be admired and quoted by Crowley, Fortune, and Gardner.

It all comes down to the poets - on both the Zen and the Pagan side of this thing.

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