Paganism’s Real Shadow Gods

Check out my two new posts at PaganSquare about some archetypes that might constitute Paganism’s shadow side: In Part 1 about the Eternal Victim and the Terrible Mother, I talk about the victim mentality in contemporary Paganism and question whether, in spite of all of our talk about the death aspects of the gods, we have really come to terms with death as a fact of life.  In Part 2 about the Maddener, I question whether the one-sided devotion to gods like Odin/Wotan and Dionysus is healthy.


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  • The eternal victim-hood isn’t a Pagan problem. It is a problem of the modern West – mostly. That world-view says that no one can get ahead except by hurting someone else. (I hold that folks like Jobs and Gates and Edison and Ford made us all better off – even if they did get rich in the process.)

    As for “origin stories celebrating victimhood….” That is universal in the West. Christians were fed to the lions, and today they have to fight a War to Save Christmas – because so many other religious holidays are becoming national holidays. They forget things like Charlemagne killing 4500 “nonbelievers” or the Inquisition, Olaf the 2nd of Norway, or the Expulsion of Jews from England, the Trail of Tears, US Grant’s General Order 11, the extermination of Native Americans in California after 1850. Everything done by the Klan. It is easier to see yourself as an embattled minority – even if you aren’t. (anybody who wants to tell me these folks weren’t truly Christian should look up the “no true Scotsman” fallacy.)

    The refusal to see the world as neutral-to-hostile, (and deal with death) is also a left-over from Christianity. The Christian god is kind and loving, so creation should be too – unless humans screw it up. Think of the painting “The Peaceable Kingdom” by Edward Hicks. Except it really doesn’t work that way. The lion only lays down with the lamb after it has fed on the lamb. The Spanish flu virus wasn’t interested in getting along. For the most part, life exists off the death of other life. (Even if it is only the death of plants) And eventually the sun will cook this planet. So if you include the solar system (or even just the sun) in that “mother earth” thing, well that isn’t good parenting.

    And if we survive that, then there is always the energy death of the universe to contemplate.

    Mother Earth may not be a “good mother,” but then who anthropomorphized the universe anyway? Sure, we get sustenance from the earth, but it isn’t easy. Even today, farming is hard work, and 200 years or more ago it was a struggle against hunger and famine. It still is in parts of the world. (It doesn’t just “happen,” even if the only thing you do is drive to the supermarket.) The world is not your mother. My mother cared about me. Life in nature – outside of civilization – is, as the man said, “nasty, brutish and short.”

    I don’t think ancient pagans saw the world as a mother-figure, not all of them anyway. Even when they thanked the earth for sustenance, they were engaged in an unending struggle for supplies. Only by the time we get to the high cultures are people divorced enough from yearly threats of famine and hunger to forget about the struggle to survive.

    • True. It’s not *only* a Pagan problem, but it is *also* a Pagan problem. And I think we need to own it. Blaming our own Shadows on Christianity is classic projection.

  • Dhiosdh

    Hi John, I’m pretty sympathetic to the broad concerns you express here. I do wonder though if voicing them through an over-arching intrepretative framework such as Jung’s or Campbell’s really helps get your points across effectively. A lot of the issues you are addressing are ones found among hard polytheists, so citing Jung is a bit like pointing out problems in the Buddhist community by way of Islamic jurisprudence. Communication is going to get messed up. By way of example, take your quotation from Camile Paglia where she says: “The Dionysian is no picnic. It is the chthonian realities which Apollo evades …” Here she seems to be reading the Dionysian through the highly disputed Dionysian-Apollonian dichotomy set out in Nietzsche’s ‘The Birth of Tragedy’. However, although I’m no expert on the subject, I’m pretty sure Dionysus was not considered straightforwardly chthonic by the ancient Greeks – in the way that the Erinyes and others are (the former being largely native while Dionysus was an incomer god from abroad, plus half of Dionysus’ parentage is Olympian) – nor that he is held to be straightforwardly chthonic by all / many / some of the modern hard polytheists devoted to his cultus. This might seem like nit-picking but for those who are interested in what Dionysian religion, for instance, actually wrought / wreaks as opposed to what it might represent, I’m assuming these distinctions potentially matter.

    • Dhiosdh:

      You raise a very good point. But since Jung/Campbell’s interpretive framework is my own, and is the theme of this blog, I can’t help but approach the issue from that perspective, even while knowing that there mere mention of Jung or archetypes sends polytheistic eyes rolling. Rather than abandoning what I think is a fruitful paradigm, I hope to reframe it in a way that would be more acceptable to both hard polytheists and non-theistic naturalists.

      Regarding Paglia, yes, I definitely should have added a disclaimer. The Dionysian-Apollonian is certainly not representative of any Hellenistic cult. But, however Dionysus is understood by his present-day devotees, I think we can agree that he has a strong “Dionysian” aspect (in the Nietzschean sense). And it is that aspect, the “Dionysian” Dionysus, if you will, that concerns me.