Random Thoughts on May Day, (Neo-)Paganism and “Cultural Appropriatation”

Today is May Day, sometimes known as International Workers’ Day, which is can be a bit of a big deal in the Labo(u)r movement.

But today in the Church is also the Feast of the Apostles St. Philip and St. James … unless you are Roman Catholic in which case the more modern Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

And for (Neo-)Pagans yesterday, 30 April, was also a Feast known in some circles as Beltaine.

This might come as a shock to a few people but for a time I “flirted” with (Neo-)Paganism. In fact, when I originally enrolled in the Canadian Forces in 2004 I explicitly said I was one, and to this day there are people I still call good friends that I had meet in the (Neo-)Pagan Community of Edmonton. Because of this “flirtation” with (Neo-)Paganism I ended up not only coming back to Christianity more historically and liturgically minded but also with an better understanding of the importance of a yearly cycle of festivals.

Depending on what particular flavour of (Neo-)Pagans you run into there are claims that certain Christian feasts, or even traditions surrounding said feasts, were solden/borrowed from ancient Pagan rituals. Now, some of that is true and some of that is historically false.

Neo-Paganism (notice I didn’t include the brackets there) generally highlights a series of festivals called Sabbats that are linked with the year, hence the collective name given to them called The Wheel of the Year. (There are also a series linked with the Moon called Esbats) There are 8 such festivals with four being major, and four being minor. And, they do match up with some festivals on the western Christian Calendar. See table below, and be aware there are a lot of missing asterisks.

 (Neo-)Pagan Christian
 21 Dec Yule  25 Dec  Christmas
 2 Feb  Imbolc  2 Feb  Candlemas
 21 Mar  Ostara  25 Mar  Annunication
 30 Apr  Beltaine  1 May  St. Philip and St. James
 21 Jun  Litha  24 Jun  St. John the Baptist
 1 Aug  Lammas  6 Aug  Transfiguration
 21 Sep  Mabon  21 Sep  St. Matthew
 31 Oct  Samhain  1 Nov  All Saints’

At first glance you might think “Wow! Christians might have stolen a lot of dates from Pagans.” but that can be a bit deceiving.

Generally, (Neo-)Pagans consider the cross-quarter days to have a bigger significance than the quarter days (Solstices and Equinoxes), and I seriously doubt any Christian would view the Feasts of the Presentation (Candlemas), Ss Philip and James, the Transfiguration and All Saints’ Day being more important than Christmas, the Annunciation, or St. John the Baptist.

At the same time some of the points they have about Pagan traditions making there way into Christian ones does have some validity. For example, the decoration of eggs from Ostara, that is the celebration of the Spring Equinox, however that gets used at Easter and not the Annunciation. Others, like the claims that May Poles were used by Pagans in the British Isles for Beltaine and continue to be used in those nations by Christians has merit, but if you know anything about Beltaine it’s a vastly different feast than one for two Apostles.

On top of all that there are other Christian feasts that aren’t on the previous table that don’t have a matching (Neo-)Pagan feast with the same or similar date. This includes Ss Peter and Paul on 29 June, St. Michael and All Angels on 29 September, and the Epiphany on 6 January.

With regards to “Cultural appropriatation” I think it is important that Christians recognize that when the Gospel is genuinely spread to another people the whole of their culture does not disappear. This is clearly shown in the peoples of the British Isles, the First Nations in North America, and the peoples of Africa. Heck, if you look at the two other major religions that cross ethnic boundaries (Islam and Buddhism) you can see this as well.

In closing, I would like to point out that we are now coming to live in a #FakeNews era. Social Media has a way of spreading around a lot of falsehoods with regards to not just what a Presidential candidate said or the list of people who mysteriously died with a connection to them, but also were falsehoods with regards to religion, tradition, and historical facts occur. Because of this it is always healthy to double check what you see online. And, yes, that means this blog post too.

Pax

MA~

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