Friday, 18 November 2011

A Christmas Carol

To share a slightly different outlook on the Christmas Festival I wrote a short song modeled after Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol but inspired by the earlier Pagan traditions of the Season.
According to historian Ronald Hutton, the current state of observance of Christmas is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday spearheaded by Dickens' Christmas Carol. Hutton argues that Dickens reconstructed Christmas as a family-centered festival... in contrast to the earlier community (and church)-based observations which had dwindled during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Most of our actual British Christmas customs the tree, the turkey, the stocking, the cards and Santa Claus have only appeared since 1840.

This season was always however a time for community, charity and sharing, as the poorest, oldest and feeblest members of a community would become physically vulnerable to hunger and cold. Their morale would take a further dent if they saw their neighbors making merry all round them and were unable to share in any of it. If they then died, this would not be good for the consciences of their survivors; if they lived, they could bear nasty grudges. Hence, from the time that evidence survives, midwinter was a great time for the giving of food, drink or money to the less fortunate. In the Middle Ages people known as Hogglers or Hognels would often volunteer to collect and distribute them. In addition, poor women and children would go from door to door asking for such gifts, a custom known, according to your region, as Thomasing, Gooding or Mumping. The fitter men from the poorer families would visit their wealthier neighbours with plays, dances or songs, and earn the goodies in return; that is why customs such as mummers' plays, sword dances and carols are so important at this time. So when your doorbell rings and you find a choir yelling 'Good King Wenceslas' outside while a collector holds out a tin for a good cause, you are sharing in (a tradition)... thousands of years old.
(Ronald Hutton, Stations Of The Sun;)

Whilst the trappings of the modern Christmas are relatively recent, this festive season has been celebrated since history began. In Ancient Northern Europe the mid-winter Solstice (between 20th/23rd of December) was called 'Modranicht' or 'Earth Mother's Night' and as the shortest day of the year it effectively represents the turning point of the season. In Northern Europe the winter festival was called the Yule (Juul). As the people thought the Sun stood still for twelve days in the midwinter, plunging Mother Earth and all her growing things into the dark, coldness of death, it was thought that spring could not come without their celebration of midwinter.
 More on the Yuletide here.

Of Father Christmas, mythologist Helene Adeline Guerber suggests the Northern traditions indicate Santa as the Norse god Thor. Contrastingly from Iceland the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda poems
describe Odin as riding an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir (Santa originally had eight reindeer, Rudolph was nine) .
 More on the origins of Santa Claus here.

Further, that the three greatest Neolithic monuments of Ireland, Scotland and England the massive tombs of Newgrange and Maes Howe, and Stonehenge itself are all aligned on the midwinter sunrise or sunset, shows how important this festival was even in the Stone Age.

With an eye to current world affairs and the rise of Global Corporatism, I have included a protestors scene, with a call to Occupy Christmas as an opportunity to reconsider what the festival may mean now.
The Occupy movement is an international protest movement against social and economic inequality, its primary goal being to make the economic structure and power relations in society fairer. Local groups often have different foci, but among the movement's prime concerns is the claim that large corporations and the global financial system control the world in a way that disproportionately benefits a minority, undermines democracy and is unstable
In terms of my film the brief Occupy scene both highlights the current movement to challenge economic injustice and inhumanity, as well as to introduce the other themes of my version of this tale, that the Christmas themes themselves derive from earlier pagan and community minded traditions. For any interested in the causes of Occupy, I cannot recommend highly enough Naomi Klein's groundbreaking expose 'Shock Doctrine; The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism'.

✻ ✼ ❄ ❅ ❆ ❇ ❈ ❉ Occupy Christmas ✻ ✼ ❄ ❅ ❆ ❇ ❈ ❉

A Christmas Carol began with Dickens's idea of issuing a pamphlet in response to horrific accounts of child labour in mines and factories. From the orphan begging for more in Oliver Twist to the heartless Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens highlighted poverty and squalor. In his journalism and novels he attacked specific targets - Poor Law legislation in Oliver Twist, the brutal Yorkshire schools in Nicholas Nickleby, the law [Pickwick Papers and Bleak House], government bureaucracy, lethargy and nepotism in Little Dorrit, extremist utilitarianism in Hard Times. The Christmas Carol is perhaps the most dramatic and poignant of these tales "A tale to make the reader laugh and cry – to open his hands, and open his heart to charity...'' it influenced a huge cultural shift towards a more compassionate society, for a time, and resurrected a form of seasonal merriment that had been suppressed by the Puritan quelling of Yuletide pageantry in 17th-century England.

''Arent You Poor Enough Yet??!!''.....
''Two portly gentlemen, pleasant to behold now stood with their hats off in Scrooge’s office. They had books and papers in their hands, and bowed to him.
“At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge.
“Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman,
“ I wish I could say they were not.”
“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge.
“I’m very glad to hear it.”

Dickens' was taking aim at the zero-growth philosophy of Thomas Malthus. Malthus' ideas were still current in British intellectual life at the time A Christmas Carol was written and his ideas have arguably proved more durable than the compassionate view of Dickens..Malthus taught the world to fear new people, he created a theoretical model which allegedly proved that mass starvation was an inevitable result of population growth. His ideas provided fodder for Darwin, and Darwin's lesser mutations used the model to argue for the value of mass human extinction. Hitler's hard eugenics owed a great debt of gratitude to Thomas Malthus. Dickens saw it first, Ebenezer Scrooge was a Malthusian.

I replaced Dickens' Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future with a mischievous Jack Skellington as Sandy Claws who finally gets his Christmas mission right, after a fashion), and instead of the more usual three visits through time in the life of Ebeneezer Scrooge, my character 'Scourge' is given 3 visions instead, to the Three Realms of Celtic mythology;

The Celtic view of the Otherworld consisted of three distinct realms; these being Sea, Land and Sky, their counterparts being Underworld, Earth and Otherworld.

Tir Andomain, Realm of The Underworld and the Sea.
This is the realm of the Ancestors and Gods and Goddesses responsible for the cycle of life, death and rebirth, the realm of the past.

The Meath, Realm of the Land (Earth) represents the present and the physical. We are beings of this realm that we share with the animals and the nature spirits. In my film we see the children Thomasing and Mumping ie asking for money via the medium of Carol singing, for the barest necessities of life...

''Both Ignorance and Want do Cry Out, No more Cup Of Memory here''
In Dickens tale the scene is more explicit; 
'Look, look, down here.' exclaimed the Ghost. They are a boy and girl, "meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish … where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked". Scrooge asks, "Are they yours?"
"'They are Man's,' the Spirit answered. 'This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both … but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is doom.'" Scrooge is so troubled by this that he asks, "Have they no refuge or resource?" And the Spirit answers him chillingly with his own words, "Are there no prisons? … Are there no workhouses?"

By warning Scrooge to beware of Ignorance and Want, forces which can spell doom not only for the marginalized and dispossessed poor but for the whole of society, Dickens was calling for social justice. His call was/is based on the common humanity of all people, and demands that 'those who have' act accordingly towards those who have not. 

In today’s world, economics is separated from, and opposed to, both ecological processes and basic needs. While the destruction of nature has been repeatedly and questionably justified on grounds of improving human welfare, for the majority of people poverty and dispossession have increased. While being non-sustainable it is also economically unjust. While being promoted as ‘economic development’, it is leading to under-development; while projecting growth, it is causing life-threatening destruction....
Dickens moral if you like is that People can have immeasurable financial wealth and be socially impoverished – without love and companionship, without solidarity and community, with an empty soul in spite of overflowing bank accounts.
Amazing how a story written in 1843 still has such relevance today.

The Magh Mor, Realm of Sky and the Otherworld.
This is where most of the Gods and Goddesses dwell, the realm of the future and the place that grants inspiration, creativity and wisdom. The realm of sky is the pathway of the Sun, Moon and constellations, as well as the wind and weather. Many Gods and Goddesses have influence in all three realms, just as the Land has it's influence on the other two realms; caves, burial mounds, wells and springs are entrances to the underworld, while trees which exist in our realm are viewed as linking all three together. Represented here as a Celtic Afterlife peopled by Four Elemental Spirits of Air, Fire, Earth and Water.

As Air; Dian Cecht, Psychic Guardian and Healer of the Tuatha Dé Danann ~ 
The Hawthorn was a symbol of psychic protection due to its sharp thorns. Spirits were believed to dwell in Hawthorn hedges, which were planted as protective shrubs around fields, houses and churchyards. The Goddess Brighid was also associated with the Hawthorn, which is one tree which has managed to breach the divide between Paganism and Christianity and Dian Cecht was Brigid's male counterpart.Hawthorn individuals are represented by a Masculine polarity and the color purple.

As Fire; Aibheaog is an Irish deity who represented fire, and yet she had a magical well which promoted healing. She is associated with wells and the number 5. Rules Over: Healing, Midsummer well rituals.

As Earth; Cernunnos.
Although Cernunnos is a Gaulish horned god, his worship was widespread in the Celtic era, and he was venerated over the channel in Britain in various similar forms.
In appearance he had stag antlers sprouting from his head, wore a torc around his neck, and was depicted with a ram headed serpent. He may have been seen as lord of the animals, and the spirit of the woods, a powerful archetypal nature spirit and male partner of the earth mother. Later, in Christian times his image was transposed on to that of the Devil, who also appeared with horns.

As Water; Coventina, a Celtic river goddess known for healing
, also associated with renewal, abundance, new beginnings, life cycles, inspiration, childbirth, wishes and prophecy. In worship to her coins and other objects were tossed into the wells as offerings for sympathetic magick. These wells represent the earth womb, where the Celts felt her power could be most strongly felt. Her symbols are the cauldron, cup, water, coins, broaches and wells. From Scotland comes her association with the underworld, where she was the Goddess of featherless flying creatures which could pass to the Otherworld. Being a river goddess she is connected the ebb and flow of time.

With a hope that this film may remind us to think of more than just family gatherings and presents, that it may be a magical time to think with our hearts and consider the wider picture.
To focus upon the whole rather than any portion, to live more meaningful lives, we may honor these the Three Realms and each-other throughout our daily lives.

Tis the Modranhit of Midwinter, 

To the Three Realms we will go, 
Through the portal to Tir Andomain, 
Through the Silence beneath the Snow.

Deep within the center, 

With the Ancestors in the past, 
See the Joy of their Yuletide,
 Beyond Time's Oceans Vast.

The Rising of the Sun, 

The Running of the Year, 
The Setting of the Sacred Moon, 
And the Circle is ever clear.

And look now upon the Earth Realm, 

To the Meath beneath the Sky, 
See the people in their families, 
From their community awry.

Hear the Thomasing and the Gooding, 

And the Mumping of the Children, 
Both Ignorance and Want do Cry Out, 
No more Cup Of Memory here....

The Rising of the Sun, 

The Running of the Year, 
The Setting of the Sacred Moon, 
And the Circle now Draws Near....

Come beyond now to the Magh Mor, 

Beyond the graveyard in the Sky, 
To the Afterlife of the Otherworld, 
Once again the Joy does fly...

Be Blessed then by this Vision, 

Of the Three Realms you have made, 
Join the Circle of your past life, 
To your Future, Present saved.....

The Rising of the Sun, 

The Running of the Year, 
The Setting of the Sacred Moon, 
And the Circle has come Here.

c. Celestial Elf 2011.

People don't always remember that Dickens was a great influence in ameliorating cruel Victorian attitudes towards poverty and inspired much social welfare reform. His appeal to the moral, ethical and spiritual in his Christmas Carol and other tales have definitely contributed to the Christmas time holidays and humanitarian values they also carried. In our modern times we again face similar issues of concern, but now however the Christian establishment no-longer seems able to bring much compassion to bear in the face of pressing economic issues. In this view I look to other values to reinvigorate our social heart and care for our common society, to a resurgence of our pagan communal traditions.

Blessed Be Everybody ~

Ho Ho Ho