I Went to Church and I Liked It

As you may have noticed in the past, I’ve never had any qualms visiting churches or attending Christian festivities. I know, these churches haven’t been exactly welcoming to pagans (or other versions of the unsaved “Other”) in the past two millennia, but they’ve also been responsible–albeit unknowingly–for preserving some of our ancestral traditions.

Many of these Christian festivities are a lot of fun, too! I visited our local Catholic church over Easter and I truly enjoyed the experience. I didn’t stay long to hear the priest’s sermon–why would I want to, anyway–but I stayed long enough to witness flocks of people, early in the morning, singing to the Risen Christ and his joyful mother. We call this tradition, Salúbong, literally meaning “the meeting”, and it is beautiful to witness.

The people come to meet their risen lord. Χριστὸς ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!

The people come to meet their risen lord. Χριστὸς ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!

Dawn breaks and the Queen of Heaven comes to meet her son, back from the dead. Her mourning veil is lifted.

Dawn breaks and the Queen of Heaven, with her mourning veil lifted, comes to meet her son, back from Hades.

Taken from outside our 400-year old cathedral. The only time churches are full is when there are celebrations like this.

Taken from outside our 400-year old cathedral at daybreak on Easter Sunday. The only time churches are full is when there are celebrations like this.

Now, I may not be Christian (anymore), nor have I ever been a big fan of the Church’s hateful doctrines and policies, but I do care for some of their traditions. A lot of people, mostly Protestants, talk about stripping away traditional Christianity of its “pagan” rituals and ceremonies, and establishing a simple church based on radical love and compassion.

Whilst I do consider it a noble cause (especially around the love and compassion part), it isn’t very realistic. One, because most churches have never been crazy over that idea, rituals or no rituals; and two, because rituals are the reason people still come to church.

I’ve never really cared about what the bishops and pastors thought about god or morals, even as a young Christian. I don’t need a church to tell me what’s right from wrong or how to live my life. We’ve tried that for hundreds of years, and it hasn’t worked. All we’ve gotten from it are a bunch of repressed, self-righteous, holier-than-thou nutters who try to run our lives for us.

You know what we need? Rituals. Beautiful ceremonies rich in relevant symbolisms that speak to the soul of a society. That’s why I still come to church, even as a pagan. Maybe even more so as a pagan.

When a pagan meets the gods of his childhood (or his neighbour’s god, or a foreigner’s whole tribe of gods), he doesn’t shun them or turn them away. He welcomes them with open arms as one would do with an honoured guest or an old friend. And then, they have tea together. There’s a reason we call it polytheism, after all‬: it’s ‪‎inclusive.

But perhaps the Protestants are right: Orthodoxy and especially Catholicism, with all their saints, idols, and rituals, could very well be ‪‎pagan. Is that a bad thing? Of course, it isn’t.

Okay, fine, it’s bad if you’re a bible-thumping, evangelical literalist, but if you’re just a regular layperson who’s mainly concerned about your life as it is, those pagan hold-overs and heathen hand-me-downs are exactly what’s keeping your pre-Protestant Christianity from being a stale, boring old relic.

Of course, we shouldn’t stop calling out the Church’s on her outdated values, but I’m all for relishing the common people’s jubilant fiestas, gritty traditions, and awe-inspiring acts of devotion.

Fiesta

Well, that is, when Christians are in their more jovial, inclusive mood.

Fuck them when they’re being self-important, oppressive bastards.

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PS: Happy Ishtar-is-not-Easter Week!

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Have a Happy, Merry, Joyous Season of God-Births, Thanksgiving, and Good-Natured Merriment

Whoever or whatever you’re celebrating this season, I wish you only the best of fun this season to jumpstart the New Year. So far, everything’s been quite merry around here, and we’ve only just begun. Here’s to more! I wish you luck, love, and a long life to enjoy the first two!

A thanksgiving party for our landwights in the name of Hermês and Dionysos on the full moon.

A thanksgiving party for our landwights in the name of Hermês and Dionysos on the last full moon of 2013.
The little boy is my Indophile friend’s baby brother. And yes, there was a marvelous rainbow and it rained a little. It was beautiful.

The four Sundays of Advent and our Tannenbaum: as each Sunday passed, a candle was lit and an ornamental gift was 'given' to the tree in anticipation for Dies Natalis Solis Invicti cum Christmas.

The four Sundays of Advent and our Weinachtsbaum: as each Sunday passed, a candle was lit and an ornamental gift was ‘given’ to the tree in anticipation for Dies Natalis Solis Invicti cum Christmas.

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Solstice Morn and the first day of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti. All four candles of Advent have been lit.

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Sights and smells of the ultra syncretic holiday season here at the House of Two Trees.

To good food and good company and the Goodly Gods!

To the Great Mother of Wild Dances

Sorry for the delay, it’s been a very busy October so far. (Well, actually, it hasn’t been un-busy for me since Wep Ronpet!) But, yes, we did dance to two great mother goddesses the past week (well, technically, one goddess and one saint, but you get what I mean).

Whether you see these two ladies as different forms of one ‘Goddess of ten thousand names’ or two distinct personalities (one divine and the other human, or both divine!) isn’t important. The non-Catholics who couldn’t help but dance to the Señora’s brass band didn’t seem to mind their religion’s prohibitions against deifying the mother of Christ nor did the Sikhs at the Hindu temple hesitate to join their polytheistic brethren in celebration despite their staunch monotheism. I suppose all is fair in fiestas and pujas. After all, who can resist the rattle and the drum, and swaying hips in praise of the ‘Great Mother’, Durga or Mary be her name?

¡Viva Señora del Pilar! Jai Durga Mata!

PS: As these things are better seen than read, I uploaded a few clips over at my YouTube channel. Although watching them doesn’t compare to actually being there, I hope you can still enjoy what I could afford to capture!

¡Viva! Jai!

F is for Fiesta

Bah! I totally forgot I was participating in PBP! Well, F is for fiesta, and what better time to write about fiestas than today, the 28th of May, as my hometown celebrates its 115th anniversary. It commemorates the Battle of Alapan, an historical battle that took place just a few days before the first Philippine Declaration of Independence.

In a more folk religious setting, though, our fiesta mainly celebrates the return of the Magdalena. She is the superstar of our fiesta. I mean, it’s good to remember what our valiant predecessors did for the country two or three generations ago, but people need something to hold on to that’s more “everyday”. This is where everyday folk figures such as Santa María Magdalena play an important role in the celebratory religion that is “Folk Catholicism” (the more inclusive, more fun-loving, participatory twin of “Church Catholicism”).

As with many other Christian saints, our Magdalena is not quite identical to her biblical counterpart as, here, her graces are strangely tied to agricultural fertility. Every year, the people of Alapan carry the Magdalena on their backs in a 7-hour processional dance called karakól, dancing all the way from her shrine in Kawit to the rice paddies of Alapan, in order for the Magdalena to usher in the rainy season and bless the fields. For a farming community, it’s no wonder why we love her so much.

Sayaw

She is quite heavy, so it takes heavy built men to carry her.

Halimuyak

It is customary for the ladies to spray her dress with perfume as she did with Jesus in the Gospels.

Buhat

Pretty deity, walking down the street…
Pretty deity, the kind I’d like to meet…

Palayan

Soon, little rice babies shall spring here.

Kanluran

Kanluran (Tagalog for “west”) is where most of our farms are and is the place where the Magdalena dances last.

Takipsilim

The sun will not set until the Magdalena comes to dance.

Senyora

Tonight she rests for tomorrow is another 7-hour dance to her hometown.

Tomorrow, I shall upload a video of her dance. Wait and see!