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An Ode to Pagan Days [Dubliner, 10/01]

This Halloween-flavoured column featured in The Dubliner in October 2001.
Perhaps it’s the time of year that is upon us – the ghouls and the pussycats, I mean – but I can’t help thinking what mighty good craic it’d be if this world of ours returned to its pagan roots.

It mightn’t be that long away either. Einstein confessed he did not know what weapons would be used in World War III, but nonetheless remained confident that World War IV would be fought with sticks and stones.

Aye, let’s go back to our roots and forget about prayers and sins and heavens and hells and goodness and badness and the evil that is sometimes all around and sometimes nowhere at all. Let’s go back through the mists and become pagan once again.

In my gentler daydreams, the good life life consists of sunny days and hearty sing-a-longs and buckets of mead and gallopy-laughy-rumpy-pumpy amid the haycocks … all right. I know, it wasn’t quite like that.

Still, how the hell did we go so wrong? When did we abandon the primeval pleasures of mirth and merriment and take to self-flagellation and singing mournful dirges about the coming of apocalyptic horsemen? When did we give up digging tunnels that only light up on summer solstices every 47th leap year? When did we decide that the height of holy architecture should be cross-shaped huts with steeples on top?

Hmmm. Perhaps a back-track is in order. I’m not knocking churches. I genuinely think churches and cathedrals and mosques and steeples are among the best things to have emerged from global divinity since Salomé danced her dance for the head of John the Baptist. I’m knocking modern religion. It’s no use. It’s fascinating and it¹s complex and it’s all around us and it¹s in us all. But modern religion is nothing but a hypothetical pain in the testes, whichever way I look at it.

That’s why I want us to become pagans again. Born again pagans. Only, phut phut phut, we sure do have a long old slog to go because, truth be told, we don’t know diddily squat about what pagans were at in the first place.

This is what I know.

Once upon a time long, long ago, even before the Egyptians had started building those triangular shaped thingys along the Nile, a bunch of Stone Age hunter gatherer types basking under Ireland’s long-gone Mediterranean climate came up with a brilliant new competition, fun for all the family, called “Megalithic”, subtitled ” Let’s Baffle the Grandkids”,and the rules are as follows:

1. Without the use of machinery, because there isn’t any, take a heap of rocks to a random location and dump them. NB: Extra points will be awarded for rocks that are moved which are not possible to move.

2. Next, shape rocks into either a pile, a circle, a table, a corridor or a pillar.
NB: Extra points will be awarded for aesthetic quirks, chiselled spirals, animalist wiggles, or fancy light tricks with the sun, moon and /or and stars.

3. Finally, and most importantly, leave no trace of how or why or who or what you were at. Don’t tell a soul, not your kids, nobody. Don’t write about it. Simply take a few days out to dance gaily around said rocks, roast a bunch of elk on a spit, drink copious quantities of mead and celebrate by fertilising one another repeatedly in the meadows. Then just walk away from it all like it never happened.

I don’t know what became of these people or why they gave up playing “Megalithic”. As far as I can work out, nobody does. Nobody has a clue what happened to them or what they were doing in the first place. The oldest of their stoned legacies has been radio-carbon dated to 4000 BC which, put another way, is six millennia ago. Then again, there’s a heap of folk now insisting that any radio-carbon dates we’ve got should be multiplied by your mother’s birthday and thus the pyramids were built before the Pacific was created. Either way, if three generations are born every hundred years, the blood coursing through your veins right here right has cascaded through at least 120 generations since they first played “Megalithic”. How about that!

Our ancestors didn’t believe in one God. They reckoned there was a whole heap of Gods, “a pantheon of deities” as you might call it. The biggest of them all was the bright shiny yellow gadget that, in those happier days when the sun allegedly dominated the Irish sky for six months of the year, made their crops bear fruit, their skins golden brown, their scantily clad women-folk splash merrily in the clear, warm lakes and rivers …

But they also knew that the sun was somehow connected to the moon and the stars and, by extension, this controlled the tides of the ocean, the shape of the seasons, the rise of the shrooms, the crow of a cock, the fertility of a virgin, the well-being of a tribe and, ultimately, the ability to shape a better, brighter tomorrow.

Paganism is and was a practical philosophy based on astronomy and mathematics, on realities and certainties. Conversely, the basis for modern religion is so enormously hypothetical that, to my mind, it’s doomed to keep spawning more and more fundamentalist whacko tangents until we either blow this planet to shreds or wise up and quit banging on about all this speculative baloney.