Monday, November 16, 2009

Hindus and Pagans: "A return to the time of the Gods"

The views of four prominent Hindu authors

Nota Bene: It almost, but perhaps not quite, goes without saying that no one person or group speaks on behalf of Hinduism. Nevertheless one sometimes hears blanket statements made to the effect that Hindus, as a group, are completely hostile to any suggestion of any association, real or imagined, between Hinduism and Paganism. The following excerpts are all from articulate (and at least somewhat influential) modern Hindus who, in contrast with what one sometimes hears, all express a rather more open and welcoming attitude concerning the relationship between Hinduism and Paganism.

Ram Swarup

"A Pagan renaissance is overdue. It is necessary for Europe to heal its psyche. Under Christianity, Europe learned to reject its ancestors, its past, which cannot be good for its future also. Europe became sick because it tore apart from its own heritage, it had to deny its very roots. If Europe is to be healed spiritually, it must recover its spiritual past -- at least, it should not hold it in such dishonor.

"There is a lot for European thinkers to do. The task won't be easy, and it will require decades of fervent dedication and a lot of introspection as well .... Europe shall have to rediscover its ancient sensibilities about its people, environment, animals, nature. Earlier, the European Renaissance of the 15th century was incomplete. It was revival of Greek and Roman literature and art-forms without Greek and Roman Gods. If the Renaissance had taken its full course, it would also have become aware of its Eastern, its Hindu, links, but it was soon aborted. In fact, an opposite movement started, an anti-renaissance movement, in the shape of Protestantism, a movement of 'back to the Bible,' 'back to the Apostles.'

"I hope that the Neopagan movement will understand the importance and the immensity of the task. In certain Western milieux, Paganism has been welcomed because it was supposed to usher in sensuality and hedonism, sexual freedom. But those Pagans must understand that the ancient Pagan philosophers were great mystics and great moralists, and the European Pagan movement will have to understand Paganism in this way.

"I believe that Hinduism has a very important role in the religious self-recovery of humanity, particularly of Europe. The reason is simple. Hinduism represents the most ancient tradition which is still alive. It has preserved in its bosom the whole spiritual past of humanity. For self-recovery, these countries have to revive their old Gods. But this is a task which cannot be done mechanically. They have to recapture the consciousness which expressed itself in the language of many Gods. Here, India can help them with its tradition of yoga.

"In my book, The Word as Revelation: Names of Gods, I spoke of a new kind of pilgrimage: a return to the time of the Gods. Meanwhile, European scholars can do a lot. They should write a history of Europe from the Pagan point of view, which would show how profoundly persecuted Paganism was. They should compile a directory of Pagan temples destroyed, Pagan groves and sacred spots desecrated. European Pagans should also revive some of these sites as their places of pilgrimage."
[From an interview with Antaios magazine in 1996, reprinted in Hinduism Today magazine in July, 1999]

Sita Ram Goel

"'Paganism' was a term of contempt invented by Christianity for people in the countryside who lived close to and in harmony with Nature, and whose ways of worship were spontaneous as opposed to the contrived though-categories constructed by Christianity's city-based manipulators of human minds.

"In due course, the term was extended to cover all spiritually spontaneous culture of the world - Greek, Roman, Iranian, Indian, Chinese, native American.

'It became a respectable term for those who revolted against Christianity in the modern West. But it has yet to recover its spiritual dimension which Christianity had eclipsed. For me, Hinduism preserves ancient Paganism in all its dimensions. In that sense, I am a Pagan.

"The term "Polytheism' comes from Biblical discourse, which has the term 'theism' as its starting point. I have no use for these terms. They create confusion.

"I dwell in a different universe of discourse which starts with 'know thyself' and ends with the discovery, 'thou art that'."
[from an interview in The Observer, Feb., 2003. The entire interview is in a previous post in this blog.]

Linda Johnsen

1. "[I]t was my Indian researches that led me back to Greece. I learned that a Greek magus named Apollonius of Tyana had visited India in the first century C.E. and that a fairly detailed account of his travels had actually survived. Reading Apollonius' story was a galvanizing experience, revealing astonishing connections between the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Persian, and Indian cultures, which most modern historians neglect. My interest in Greek thinkers was piqued: how did it happen that many of their doctrines and religious practices matched the teachings of Indian sages so closely? Was Apollonius correct when he claimed that the Greeks had learned their doctrines from the Egyptians -- and the Egyptians learned them from India?

"So I returned to the Greeks, reading the portions of Plato my Jesuit professor had advised us students to skip. Sure enough, there was the juice, the living spirituality that so appall academics today but kept the greatest minds of the Western world enthralled for more than a thousand years.

"I went back to the original Greek historians, such as Herodotus, Diogenes Laertius, Diodorus Siculus, and Plutarch, in an effort to learn what the ancients said about their own tradition before modern scholars reinterpreted it form them. I was continually amazed at how similar the long-lost Greek world was to the India I travel through today, where the persepective of the ancients still lives in Bengali villages and Varanasi enclaves and the palm jungles of Kerala. The type of spiritual practices that Plotinus -- perhaps the greatest of all the Hellenistic masters -- describes in his Enneads are as much alive in Himalayan caves today, where Plotinus is unknown, as they are moribund in American and European universities that claim to teach Plotinus."
[Lost Masters: Sages of Ancient Greece, pp. 2-3]

"Hinduism is the world's largest non-biblical tradition, with nearly a billion followers world-wide. It could be called the world's largest non-organized religion as it emphasizes individual spiritual experience, the realization of the higher Self over any religious institution, book, dogma, or savior. It's also the world's largest native or pagan tradition, reflecting the ancient spiritual traditions that once existed all over the world. Like native traditions everywhere, it honors God or the sacred throughout all of nature. It has many insights in harmony with the ecological age, as it affords reverence to the Earth as a conscious and loving presence and asks us to respect our environment."
[The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism, p. xvi]

3. "
Hinduism appeals on so many levels. There is respect for nature and the communion with natural forces that was pervasive in ancient pagan religions but has been lost in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Goddess, whose worship was stamped out throughout the Western world, is still a living force in Hinduism where the depth and inner mysticism of her tradition has been lovingly preserved from prehistory. There is the singing and dancing and worshipping before the images of the Divine where one's love for God and Goddess find full expression. There are the physical and mental exercises that expand one's capacity to directly experience spirit."
[The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism, p. 366]

David Frawley

"This pursuit of finding one’s own dharma drew me to examine the pre-Christian traditions of Europe, notably the Celtic traditions from which my Irish ancestors derived. I don’t see any contradiction between their traditions and Hinduism. Fortunately, the core of their traditions has survived the many centuries of oppression and is flowering anew. With time and help from other native traditions, they may yet reclaim their full glory and splendor.

"Starting in 1996 I came into a contact with Celtic groups and began to discuss issues of history and religion with them. Most of them honor Hinduism and feel a kinship with it. They are looking to Hindu India as a new model of resurgent paganism in the world. They are discovering in the Hindu tradition for what has been lost in their own traditions.

"In contact with my Celtic friends and by their advice this year (1999) I reclaimed my Irish family line for the Celtic religion and its Vedic connections. While I am not specifically doing Celtic practices, I have added a Celtic slant on my Hindu practices. One can see Lord Shiva in the Celtic God Cernunos, who is also the Lord of the Animals. The Celtic Green Man shows the Purusha or Divine Spirit in nature, which in plants is the Vedic God Soma. In time I hope to incorporate a greater understanding the Celtic ways into my work and into my communion with nature.

"This revival of native religions is gaining ground worldwide and is bound to become much more significant in the future. Major conferences of pagan, native or ethnic religions are occurring to coordinate this interest. The Catholic Church in Europe now sees neo-paganism as a real threat to its survival. It has tried for two thousand years to eliminate paganism and has not succeeded. This is because the pagan traditions reflect integral aspects of our eternal spirituality that can never be eliminated, any more than we can live without breathing.

"Such neo-pagan movements exist throughout Europe and America. They are complemented by a revived interest in Native American, Native African, Hawaiian, and Australian traditions. All these groups are discovering an affinity with Hinduism. Hinduism as the best surviving of the pagan or native traditions gives a sense of their great depth and power. Hindu Dharma can be an excellent friend and ally in reclaiming and reuniting all native traditions, which still suffer much oppression and are remain under siege by missionary influences.

"May the pagans return, along with their many Gods and Goddesses, free to reintegrate the Earth once more with the Divine, without any church or dogma to prevent them!"
[From Return of the Pagans, which is a chapter in David Frawley's book How I Became a Hindu]


Nick Ritter said...

The quote from Ram Swarup made me gasp, especially, the last paragraph; I'm doing some of that work now. I will certainly have to find more to read from him. A deep thinker, that one.

fcjimp said...

Yes, Ram Swarup's quotation is just my thoughts. Especially this: “In certain Western milieux, Paganism has been welcomed because it was supposed to usher in sensuality and hedonism, sexual freedom. But those Pagans must understand that the ancient Pagan philosophers were great mystics and great moralists, and the European Pagan movement will have to understand Paganism in this way”. If one doesn't take his religion seriously, one shouldn't expect others to do so.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Nick: I gasped, too!

fcjimp: Both libertines and conservatives need to realize that their personal preferences and proclivities are not inherently "spiritual". Different lifestyles are a reflection of differences in temperament and also in our different life situations (or, more simply, different karma). And the vast majority of serious spiritual seekers lead lives that are neither profligate nor celibate. And, really, who cares?

Breandán said...

I see a lot of mention on here about neo-Pagans and the revival of European religions. However, the neo-Pagan movement is actually very modern, deriving its various forms from Ceremonial Magic, Christianity (yes....Christianity), Hermeticism, Freemasonry, Eastern Philosophy, and so on. The indigenous religions of Europe have little to no resemblence to the neo-Pagan traditions of today.
There are, however, a number of Reconstructionist movements that DO seek to follow the original religions as closely as surviving historical, anthropological, and archaeological information allows us to. The reason I bring the Reconstructionist movements (such as Celtic Reconstructionist religions, Hellenismos, Religio Romana, Romuva, ect.) up is because they rarely (if ever) identify with the neo-Pagan movement of today and are closer to the true nature of their ancestral traditions than that of the neo-Pagan religions.
I am a proud Gaelic Polytheist (of the Fálachus tradition) of four years, and honor my ancestors in a way that I feel is much more intimate than it is within neo-Paganism.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

"The indigenous religions of Europe have little to no resemblence to the neo-Pagan traditions of today."

Breandan, this is a completely false statement that flies in the face of well known and well documented historical fact.

No less an authority than Ronald Hutton, the Pagan Debunker In Chief, has written extensively about the continuities between modern Paganism and the Pagan religions of the ancient world.

See, for example, chapters 4 and 5 of his Witches, Druids and King Arthur. That book was written in 2003 (?) but even in his "The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles", which he wrote before "Triumph of the Moon", Hutton acknowledged that Wicca's "pedigree" (his word) goes back to Hellenistic Egypt.

Please get your facts straight.

Breandán said...

"No less an authority than Ronald Hutton, the Pagan Debunker In Chief, has written extensively about the continuities between modern Paganism and the Pagan religions of the ancient world.

See, for example, chapters 4 and 5 of his Witches, Druids and King Arthur. That book was written in 2003 (?) but even in his "The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles", which he wrote before "Triumph of the Moon", Hutton acknowledged that Wicca's "pedigree" (his word) goes back to Hellenistic Egypt.

Please get your facts straight."

While I do respect Ronald Hutton for much of his work, a number of people, including myself and other Reconstructionists and even neo-Pagans, do not take Ronald Hutton as a sumpreme authority on the subject. Hutton manages to get away with putting forth theories a number of times in his books without backing it up with very concrete supporting evidence, not to mention he rarely refers to scholars of opposing viewpoints, but rather sticks to those who agree with him. A good scholar makes a point of presenting opposing viewpoints, why they have those viewpoints, and then explaining why they disagree with them.

Wicca's origin, sorry to say, does not go back further than the 1950's when it was created from various traditions and systems by Gerald Gardner. While some (VERY few) practices come from older practices, Wicca is a very modern religion and to compare it to the religion of Hellenistic Egypt is stretching the truth more than a little.

Please get your facts straight and do a little more research into the ancient traditions of Europe. Read some valid history books, look at archaeological evidence, and surviving folk traditions. Then please compare the two, seriously, and tell me, really, how in the world neo-Paganism can truly be considered the revival of ancient traditions.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Breandan, you do not cite any sources to support your claims. Have you studied the history of modern Paganism? Do you really claim that this history simply stops cold at the 1950's? Isn't it obvious that whatever folks were getting up to in the 50's was just a continuation of what people had been up to in the 40's, the 30's .....

In fact one can easily trace modern Paganism's roots back as far as one wishes to.

Breandan, do you know anything about the religious traditions of Hellenistic Egypt? If so, what are the sources you rely on. It would be perfectly reasonable for you to not know much about that subject, since your interests are elsewhere. But you have such a strong, sweeping, opinion on the matter, so I assume you can back it up?

Breandán said...

Actually, I was required to read Jean Bingen and Robert Bagnall's book on the subject in an Ancient History class. Even so, a quick glance at both Wicca and Hellenistic Egypt will reveal basically no resemblences. As for Wicca, I grew up in it until I was 14 when I switched to Gaelic Reconstructionist Polytheism.

And no, I do not fall for the idea that Wicca is an age-old religion, nor do most of its adherents. Maybe with Murray's writings (which have been discredited) there was a quickening of interest in the subject of witchcraft and paganism with a couple groups that attached themselves to Murray's history, but I am not convinced that Wicca is older than when it was pieced together from varying existing systems by Gerald Gardner. His influences coming from ceremonial magic, folk magic, neo-Druidism, freemasonry, and probably Eastern philosophy (having been a British civil servant for a number of years in Asia).

But seeing as you are so sure that we can so easily trace "Paganism" as far back as one wishes, by all means, do so. And good luck going any further back than contemporary Romantic forms of "Druidism".

Apuleius Platonicus said...

OK, Bagnall and Bingen are excellent modern sources.

But you're not seeing the big picture. Hermeticism never died. Alchemy never died. Astrology never died. Kabbalah never died. Platonism never died.

If we go back to the Renaissance people were praying to the old Pagan Gods, singing Orphic Hymns, studying Hermeticism, studying Iamblichus and Proclus, studying and practicing Alchemy and Astrology and Kabbalah. And none of this had fallen from the sky in the 15th century -- all of it had a continuous tradition going back to late antiquity and thence back as far as one wishes to trace it.

The Pagan revival of the Renaissance led directly to the Esoteric and "Occult" traditions of Early Modern Europe, which are the basis for most of modern Paganism. Nothing started from scratch in the 1950's -- it was just a continuation.

If you are interested in learning more I have over 60 posts in this blog on "Pagan History", many of them with extensive references to both modern scholarly sources and primary sources. I would suggest two in particular. One that focuses largely, but not exclusively, on the Renaissance:

And one that is more focused on the connection between modern Paganism and late antique Paganism:

Haukur said...

I see we've have had ourselves a little tour on the "reconstructionism vs. Wicca" merry go-round :) I've been on this ride a few times myself so maybe I'll join in with a couple of points.

One: If Wicca is a true religion then it isn't all-important how far back its tradition goes. Same goes for reconstructionist religions. So why should we fight over this? Those who think Wicca is a false religion (e.g. because they think it's an invalid way of interacting with the divine or because they think that its moral precepts are false or because they think it fails to create valuable religious communities) can of course argue that point - but then let's hear the argument.

It seems reasonable to me to regard paganism (or 'primary religions' in the terminology of our host) as something that can appear again and again in a variety of forms under a variety of circumstances - something that can even come into existence out of material that, in retrospect, seems unpromising.

Two: There's often an underlying question of whether we want to hang together or hang separately. In my country (Iceland) we pagans have for the most part managed to hang together in a group that allows for a wide variety of different opinions. And it's a reasonably large group by now and that's helpful in a variety of ways. Maybe we can even finally build a temple in the next few years. Meanwhile, we've watched groups in the other Scandinavian countries tear themselves to pieces over questions of tradition and authenticity. An atmosphere of more-authentic-than-thou with each rival group using 'neopaganism' as a swear-word to describe the other is not the way to build a viable community.

Three: Traditions and ideas that are not intrinsically objectionable should not necessarily be rejected because of guilt-by-association. My wife - no Christian she - always prepares a wreath with four candles for 'advent' and then we light the candles on progressive Sundays. I once thought this was odd but I've come to embrace it. Candles and wreaths are lovely things and we both have fond childhood memories of them. So why should we discontinue this practice? Whatever Christian symbolism was involved can be forgotten (or maybe just never acquired to begin with - looking up 'advent' now I see that it's supposedly meant as a preparation for the Second Coming, I didn't even know that until now - the thing I remember being told as a child was that advent was a time of preparation for Yule and I don't see anything objectionable about that).

Apuleius Platonicus said...

My own perspective is that we should hang together. Definitely. To do this we must learn to recognize the great commonality that exists among all Pagan ways. This is not just some kumbaya routine. All religions are not the same. Some are our natural allies. Some are our natural enemies.

Denis said...

Dear contributors, I find the whole discussion about who is 'real' pagan and who is not, funny, to say the least. Just think, in the time when the Religio Romana was the dominant state religion in the Roman Empire, it was enough to sacrifice to a Roman deity ONCE and/or swear by the emperor's genius to prove that you are 'pagan' (actually, a law-obedient citizen). Now you have to jump through the hoops to prove that you are a 'real' pagan. Why change the standards? If we compare modern paganism with ancient traditional religion, the standards should be those set by the ancient religion, not by some modern self-appointed 'authority'.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Good point, Denis. Although one can go too far in that direction as well.