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On Pagan Martyrs
I had originally intended for this post to continue the Elements series (books about Earth, Air, Fire, and Water). However, after an uncomfortable experience this morning, I changed that focus.
In deference to devoutly Catholic family who are visiting this week, I opted to attend Easter Mass with them. For the most part, it was fine. The church was lovely, filled with incense and spring flowers, the stained glass windows glowing in the sunlight. Then it came time for the homily, in which the priest spoke on the meaning of the gospel. I was a bit startled -- and quite dismayed -- when he stated that Christianity must be right and true because people were willing to die for it, that even the first generation of Apostles must have seen and experienced something real (not a myth or a made-up story) if they were willing to lay down their lives for it.
"After all," he said, "you never hear about martyrs for Zeus or Jupiter or Thor."
My eyes bugged out. I clasped my hands tightly in my lap, bit my tongue, and spent the rest of the service silently fuming.
I'm still at a loss as to how I should have responded. Stood up and yelled? Stomped out? Pulled the priest aside after the service and corrected him? Should I write him a letter?
Because he is, quite simply, wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. There were people who died for their native beliefs during the expansion of Christianity. Lots of them. People are still being harassed and oppressed and mistreated today for their refusal to embrace Christianity (or Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism, or a particular sect of one tradition or another). People who honored and served and experienced and are devoted to Thor and Gabija and The Dagda and Spider Woman and Pele and Isis/Au Set and Tlaloc, and so many thousands upon thousands of other Gods and spirits and ancestors and heroes.*
Just consider, for example, the Baltic Crusades. Or the actions of Olvir of Egg and Radbod of Frisia. The Saxon Martyrs slaughtered by Charlemagne. Raud the Strong. Iyazabal (better known as Jezebel**). Yana. The people of Goa. Or those who died doing their duty to the Gods, such as Mbah Maridjan. (Wikipedia has a fairly good article on forced conversion, but there are plenty of books that go into much greater depth on the subject; a few are recommended below. Please post other recommendations in the comment box.)
People don't just believe in the Gods. People know the Gods. And serving those Gods unto death is not unique to Christianity, or to Islam, or Hinduism, or to any single tradition. And no practitioner of any tradition has the right to claim as such. Do not claim that your tradition must be right and true and the one and only way because only your tradition has martyrs, because only your tradition inspires that level of devotion. Do not dare to demean the memory of so many who loved and worshipped and prayed and served and even died.
A Chronicle of the Last Pagans by Pierre Chuvin
Contemporary Paganism: Listening People, Speaking Earth by Graham Harvey
The Death of Classical Paganism by John Holland Smith
The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology by Jordan Paper
The Earth, the Gods, and the Soul: A History of Pagan Philosophy From the Iron Age to the 21st Century by Brendan Myers
Faith and Magick in the Armed Forces: A Handbook for Pagans in the Military by Stefani E Barner
God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism by Jonathan Kirsch
Her Share of the Blessings: Women's Religions Among Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Greco-Roman World by Ross Shepherd Kraemer
The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate and the Death of the Ancient World by Adrian Murdoch
One True God: The Historical Consequences of Monotheism by Rodney Stark
On the True Doctrine: A Discourse Against the Christians by Celsus
A Pagan Testament: The Literary Heritage of the World's Oldest New Religion by Brendan Myers
People of the Earth: The New Pagans Speak Out by Ellen Evert Hopman
Sigdrifa's Prayer: An Exploration and Exegesis by Galina Krasskova
A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry Into Polytheism by John Michael Greer
* A good place to start is Galina Krasskova's Our Pagan and Heathen Heroes and Martyrs. If you would like to see any names added to the page, please email her.
**Tess Dawson has an excellent post on Iyazabal here.
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