Amid the miasma of western cultural customs, no other festival is as widely and dutifully observed as that of Christmas. We are all inevitably exposed to it, with many an occasion to enjoy/endure its peculiar rites and routines. For some, it is a time of excitement, feasting and merriment. For others, it is a time of reverence and holy worship. For others still, there remains an underlying puzzlement and vague suspicion as to just how on earth this anomalous montage of weird symbolism got to be so all-conquering.
Far from being merely a slice of chic festive cynicism, a brief study into the origins of Christmas serves to illustrate just how rapidly a domineering Empire can orchestrate almost total amnesia in its sequestering of historical events, traditions and personages.
First, we look to that ultimate portly icon of Christmas: the red-suited reindeer-riding parcel-deploying old geezer himself - Santa Claus. Or, Father Christmas, depending on where you’re from.
The figure of Santa derives chiefly from an assimilation of two sources: the Norse god Odin, and the Greek Bishop, Nikolaos of Myra.
Norse spiritual traditions celebrated the god Odin, ruler of the higher plane of Asgard, who was associated with wisdom, magic, prophecy, poetry, victory, war and hunting. In the Old Norse poem Völuspá (part of the Poetic Edda), Odin was instrumental in the creation of the first human beings. This enthralling poem contains many elements common to other creation stories from around the world, including: giants of antiquity, the creation of the human world (Midgard), the world-tree, cataclysmic fire and flood, conflict in the heavens and a re-born paradise earth.
Odin’s name derives from the Old Norse word Od, which means furious, mad, vehement, eager. As a noun, it means mind, feeling, song, poetry. In the Old High Germanic language, Odin was known as Wotan, this from the earlier Proto-German word Wodinaz. Notably, Proto-German is the origin of the modern English language (amongst others). Consequently, in Old English, a day of the week became known as Wōdnesdæg, later becoming Wodnesday, until finally in modern times, we get Wednesday. So the influence of Odin is still with us, at least once a week.
In Germanic traditions, during the Yule festival of December, Odin would lead a hunting party through the air, riding his magical horse ‘Sleipnir’ through the sky. Children would place boots filled with carrots, straw or sugar near the chimney for Odin’s flying horse to eat. Odin rewarded these kind children by replacing their offerings with gifts and candy. Over time, German, Belgian, Dutch and Scandinavian traditions of Odin and his exploits became absorbed into the Christianization process. Much of what follows conforms to the same patterning of cultural requisitioning.
The 4th century Greek Christian Bishop, Nikolaos of Myra (in Lycia, now Turkey), was later transformed into the miraculous Saint Nicholas, as is the want of exoteric Christian magical lore. Nikolaos was said to be a life-long and supremely devout Christian, a secret gift giver and renowned for his generosity towards the poor and vulnerable. In the centuries following his Sainthood, Saint Nick also became the patron saint of children, sailors, merchants, archers, and the cities of Moscow, Liverpool, Amsterdam and Aberdeen, amongst others. We get Santa Claus from the Dutch for Saint Nicholas, Sinterklaas. He sounds like a decent enough fellow, going by mainstream historical accounts, even though there were one or two less than saintly episodes, such as the time he punched another Bishop unconscious and broke his nose, during the first council of Nicaea in 325AD. Odd conduct for the divine personage who would later become the adjudicator of little boys and girls behavior. Perhaps Nikolaos was just a normal guy. In fact, the policies of Roman Emperor Diocletian (a particularly ruthless persecutor of Christians), was responsible for seeing Nikolaos exiled and imprisoned. Diocletian’s diktats were said to have filled the prisons so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, that there wasn’t enough room for the murderers, thieves and robbers.
The image of ‘Santa’s little helpers’ as joyful elves scampering about to help Santa in the jolly business of wrapping and distributing presents, is starkly opposed to actual mythological origins. Santa’s crew were more akin to the Nazi Schutzstaffel, aka the SS. Brutal and sadistic. In fact, so disturbing are some of the traditional European stories attributed to Saint Nick’s helpers, that they have been largely airbrushed out of the US/UK Santa Claus fable, so as not to scare the shit out of our little darlings.
Saint Nicholas’s companions had various different names across the lands of Austria, Germany, Bavaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Switzerland, as they are now known. Figures such as Ruprecht, Krampus, Belsnickel (or Kriskinkle) and Bellzebub regularly featured in local tales, usually appearing as sinister figures wearing dark, dirty robes and sometimes with monstrous features. Unlike their Saintly Commandant, they took a very dim view of misbehaving children. In some traditions, children would be summoned to the door to entertain Santa and Ruprecht by singing and dancing. If they did a good job, they would get gifts. If they did a bad job, Ruprecht would beat the hell out of them with a stick. For particularly uninspiring performances, or for those who had been naughty throughout the year, Ruprecht would bundle the perpetrators into his sack, and then either take them to his lair in the Black Forest and eat them alive, or simply throw them into a river to drown. Merry Christmas.
This is a million miles from the modern Western Christmas tradition, where every kid gets presents regardless of behavior. The feigned threat that they might not get anything if Santa knows they’ve been naughty is rarely enacted. Similarly, the idea that Santa might not show up if they stay awake all night, is of course simply a bit of social engineering to give Mum and Dad a break. Kids know well enough that if they behave reasonably well and actually get a few winks of sleep on Christmas Eve, all will be well. No beating, cannibalism or drowning necessary.
As for the sentimental old Christmas tree, European tribes had been bringing evergreen trees into their homes (to celebrate the winter solstice festivals) for millennia. As they didn’t lose their leaves like deciduous trees, the evergreens represented magic, growth and renewal. Candles were placed on branches to symbolize key gods like Odin/Woden. Even the Romans decorated their trees with bits of metal and statuettes of their fertility god Bacchus, as well as candles for their solar deity.
In 723, Christian missionary Winfrid Of Wessex (later to become Saint Boniface), was said to have chopped down the ‘Donar Oak’ in Germany, a sacred tree that was venerated as a symbol of the god of thunder, Thor. This represented a determined effort by Winfrid, with full Frankish military support, to dissuade northern Germanic tribes from their heretical worship of Norse gods. It is highly probable that this was part of the final Roman deletion of native Druidism, which had been prevalent in Britain and Gaul in previous centuries. After Winfrid had chopped the oak down, a fir tree is said to have grown in its place, and thus became a symbol of Christian triumph over pagan idolatry. Winfrid proudly exclaimed: “let Christ be at the center of your households”.
In the 15th century, the Brotherhood Of The Blackheads, a mysterious Estonian group with both esoteric and exoteric business, would annually erect an evergreen tree in their meeting house. On the last night of ritual celebrations, it was taken to the town square where the Brotherhood would dance around it. One local historian in the area recorded how a decorated spruce would be setup in the town square, whereabout young men and women would sing and dance, before finally setting alight to it. An age-old Burning Man style ceremony. The tree was further leveraged by German priest and Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, in the 16th century. To him, the tree symbolized the Tree Of Life in the Garden Of Eden. From the 18th century onwards, the decorated tree tradition continued to move westward, finally establishing itself as a solid part of the common Christmas tableau.
The transplanting of the Druidic oak with the fir tree, and the sequestering of the sacred Druidic mistletoe (turning it into a whimsical kissing tradition), is typical of the Christianization strategy. Once again, it is worth pointing out that condemnation of Roman/Vatican/Christian Empiricism is nothing whatsoever to do with those individuals who choose to worship within the Christian faith. That is their business, and as with all faiths, there are many fine men and women who do worthwhile spiritual and community work within such systems. What is being criticized, is the shadow administration of these religions at the highest esoteric levels; quite out of sight of exoteric, publicly available religious lore.
Strange European mythology didn’t really gel with the enforced cheerful commercialization of British and American culture. Building on a long tradition of increasingly sanitized illustrations of Santa, in the 1930’s, Coca-Cola commissioned Swedish illustrator Haddon ‘Sunny’ Sundblom to draw advertisements of Santa delivering bottles of coke to the children of the world. Gone were the dark mythological elements - Santa was now a kindly, ruddy-cheeked Grandfather figure. Notably, the red of Santa’s suit was made to correspond with the red of the coke label, for which the Coca-Cola Company held a patent. Early advertisers knew the selling power of feel-good associations: Red = Christmas = Happy = Buy Coke.
Coca-Cola and Sunny didn’t make Santa red. Bishops such as Saint Nick normally wore traditional red Christian attire after all. What Coca-Cola did achieve however, was to make it their red, and to oust all other colourings of green, black and brown, through the extraordinary reach of their advertising dollars. All the while, the undoubtedly talented Sunny was also painting sexually charged ‘glamour pieces’ for calendars, featuring curvaceous ladies posing, pouting and wiggling their bits. One of Sunny’s last illustrations featured a voluptuous woman peeling back her Santa Claus outfit, just about to reveal her naked breasts. It featured on the cover of Playboy’s 1972 Christmas issue, together with a coke-coloured badge that read “Enjoy our gala Christmas issue”, with the word gala rendered in the distinctive coca-cola font.
Such commercial leveraging was not the first time Santa had been exploited. 70 years previous, political cartoonist Thomas Nast illustrated Santa supporting the Unionists over the Confederates, during the time of the American Civil War (1861-1865). The illustration of Santa handing out gifts to Union troops, which featured on the cover of Harpers Weekly, was remarked upon by President Lincoln himself, as contributing to the strategically decisive demoralization of Confederate soldiers. Santa had already been weaponized in 1863.
Cult Of The Sun Gods
Technically, the winter solstice (December 21/22) represents the point where the Earth’s axial tilt is farthest away from the sun. Some of the oldest reference points we have for this observance are to be found in the megalithic sites of Stonehenge in Britain and Newgrange in Ireland. The primary axes of both of these sites was carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the solstice sunrise (New Grange) and the solstice sunset (Stonehenge). Dates of initial construction for both sites are unknown, but commonly thought to be around 3000BC. Certain alternative scholars say they are much, much older. The Amun Temple at Karnak, near Luxor in Egypt, also has precise solar alignments for the winter solstice with similarly ancient dating.
The winter solstice was an important rebirth festival that had been part of European culture for aeons, stretching back to at least Neolithic times (9000BC). The celebratory element of the solstice was on two levels. Physically, it was the final feast celebration of the year. Cattle were slaughtered so they wouldn’t need to be tended to during the challenging winter months. Additionally, any wine and beer made during the year was fermented and ready to drink at this time. Such feasts of fresh meat, wine and ale were a rare treat and greatly anticipated by the majority of rural communities in ancient Britain and Europe. On a spiritual level, the priest class used this important date to acknowledge the birth of a new sun, and the return of heat, light and nourishment to the lands. Deities associated with the sun were honoured, appeased and celebrated as appropriate to the various traditions.
Countless early spiritual traditions have rituals in late December, dedicated to the worship of Sun gods. Sumerian god Utu, Babylonian god Shamash, Hindu god Surya, Egyptian gods Ra and Horus, and Persian god Mithra were such solar related divinities. Indeed, Mithraism was worshipped throughout the Roman Empire, particularly among the Roman civil service and military. The cult of Mithraism was all set to become the official Roman religion until, in the 4th century, Christianity was deemed to be a more strategically useful flagship.
Mithra was one recent blueprint for what we now understand as Jesus. Mithra was celebrated on 25th December, the birth was witnessed by gift-bearing wise men, it was a virgin birth, Mithra performed healing miracles, had a final meal with disciples and ascended to heaven at the spring equinox. Equating Mithra with Jesus was a straightforward piece of politico-religious propaganda. Basically, Emperor Aurelian merged the major Roman festivals of Saturnalia (the festival of Saturn) and Sol Invictus with a number of celebrations of other gods and saviors from other religions into a single special day: the 25th December. Following various theological deliberations, the emergent Christian edifice agreed to adopt this date as the birthday of their savior too, Jesus Christ. As many of the lands that Rome was seeking to absorb were already accustomed to their own festivals on or around 25th December, it was easy for Roman spin-masters to switch people’s focus onto the new son on the block – Jesus.
The Roman vision of Empirical Christianity was not a tolerant one. This can be observed in Emperor Theodosius’ decree in 380AD, enshrined in Roman Imperial law, stating that, “We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since in our judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give their conventicles (religious gatherings) the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of divine condemnation and the second the punishment of our authority, in accordance with the will of heaven will decide to inflict.” This is the principle of “one god, one empire” that was followed by Emperor Aurelian, and to a fuller extent, by Emperor Constantine.
The aggressive historical revisionism of Rome was still fully functional in the High Middle Ages (1000-1300AD). Though rather than the ominous footfall of Roman Centurions, the Empire was conditioning its new lands through the might of the Christian Church. This is typified in the relationship between two 12th century Danes - Archbishop Absalon and historian Saxo Grammaticus. Absalon was a key figure in the territorial expansion of Denmark, closely aligned with the Holy See (the Vatican). His direct sponsorship of Grammaticus, the author of Denmark’s first full history, reveals the portentous bias in the authoring of many middle age historical texts. Absalon wanted Grammaticus to ‘sanitize’ Danish history and align it with Christian dogma. This began with the undermining of Norse mythology and the managed discrediting of any element that The Vatican considered heretical.
In his 13th century work Gesta Danorum, Grammaticus attempts to demote the gods Thor and Odin down to mere human black-magic tricksters. He writes: “There were of old certain men versed in sorcery, Thor, namely, and Odin, and many others, who were cunning in contriving marvellous sleights; and they, winning the minds of the simple, began to claim the rank of gods. For, in particular, they ensnared Norway, Sweden and Denmark in the vainest credulity, and by prompting these lands to worship them, infected them with their imposture … I have expounded this briefly for the general profit, that my readers may know clearly to what worship in its heathen superstition our country has bowed the knee.” This is typical of Rome’s continued positioning of religion to be the main source of scholarly historical accounting.
To keep historical knowledge and illuminating wisdom in the hands of the few, Rome knew that it had to keep the population ignorant - unable to read and write, and unable to gather to discuss matters of a spiritual, philosophical or metaphysical nature (for which they could be persecuted as heretics, criminals or rabble-rousers). Only the elites had access to the education that brought basic literacy, numeracy and historical awareness. For everyone else, information could only be preserved in spoken folklore and song. For this reason, one should be careful not to dismiss folklore and folk music as simple fiction.
The Empire Never Ended
Empires do not rise and fall under the people’s natural demands for freedom, justice and equality. Apparent revolutions and reforms are sheer pantomime; orchestrations to give the appearance of social change. Nothing really changes at the higher level. Behind the municipal charade, there is a meticulously stage-managed ‘changing of the colours.’ The Empire quietly changes its robes, its language, its religion and its territories to accommodate the next phase of its dominion. The real core - the control, the stratification of illuminating knowledge and the esoteric history of mankind - is exclusively retained. As Philip K Dick astutely observed, “The Empire never ended.”
With the dominance of today’s soundbite-driven media, real historical analysis is almost entirely absent from the mainstream conversation. Switch on the TV right now and you get bomb plots, a teetering global economy, Prince William’s wedding plans, football and absurd Christmas songs. Ostensibly historical infotainment portals like The History Channel give a lot of gloss, graphics and confident narration, but not much else. They provide a feeling of history, but without the essential substance. It’s history-lite. There are always exceptional productions that break through, but they get such little airtime and context, that most people never get to contemplate them in any kind of meaningful way.
It’s easy to get cynical in such circumstances. But this is not the way of the spiritual warrior. Cynicism is a luxurious self-indulgence for which we have neither the time nor energy to spare. What we do know is that the media, like the politicians, does not represent the world of felt-experience in any consequential way. What we see on the streets, in the city, in the grocery line, in the coffee shops, in the home and across the table from our friends is what is significant. Real conversations with real perception, should we be lucky enough to know those who value and practice such wonderments, mean infinitely more than just consuming the regurgitations of on-screen experts. A PhD in a fictitious history illustrates only a capacity for information storage and retrieval. In a deeply magickal world, far greater faculties than just the biological computer of the brain are required to grasp true wisdom.
As has previously been noted on The Cleaver, the Internet now gives us no excuse for not having access to quality information. Like all libraries, there are good books, bad books and ugly books. And some books are not there at all. We must exercise balance, discernment and diligence in our studies. Yet the net serves excellently as a springboard for further research. So it all boils down to time. Tolkien put it nicely: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
By examining the official historical record, reading on-line sacred texts, folklore accounts and mythological writings, then cross-referencing these with alternative scholar’s work, independent documentaries and filtering everything through our own individual research - we can now formulate a far higher resolution picture of what has actually occurred in our world. This is unique in the last few thousand years.
Just so long as your google-fu is up to speed, and you know your way around your web browser, substantial amounts of information can be imbibed and distilled in a relatively short amount of time. For issues that require deep study, texts can be neatly bookmarked or taken offline for detailed scrutiny and broader contemplation. Obvious stuff, I know, but I find myself constantly acknowledging the value of this tremendous global library. It is, perhaps, incumbent on all those who have clarity of mind, a little free time and a thirst for what is real, to focus their energies into the issues they really care about.
The Internet is training for what is to come. I get the feeling that learning the underlying structural principles of the net is more important than learning the specifics of its functional operation. The predestined demise of the Internet will herald, if not instantaneously, the remembrance of the real wireless, organic, psychic net. The one we used to use. Direct contact with knowing, inside the Akashic field. The abstraction layer of representative symbolic language is removed and we go straight to the knowing of a thing itself. We should keep this in mind as we surf through the billions of digital symbols that describe a thing, rather than allow actual contact with it. This is the difference between outer technology and inner technology. Representation vs contact. The map vs the territory. But we digress.
In conclusion, the festival of Christmas is an instructive example of ‘elimination by assimilation’. All the redacted historical components are still preserved within it, yet not visible on the surface layer. Energy has shifted from one form to another, though nothing can be truly obliterated. Everything, absolutely everything, is retained in the field. The best the old hierarchy can hope for, is to persuade us that amnesia and apathy are cool. It’s OK to be indifferent to where we came from and what happened. Who cares right? What’s it gotta do with me?
What this essay really illustrates is that only we, as individuals, can determine what is real. Not the experts, the texts, the media, the government, and certainly not popular consensus. Whatever the subject matter, it is only our personal knowing that gives us the essence of a thing. Our knowing comes from direct encounter - and the more direct the better. In this way, feeling is more revealing than thinking. I feel the same way about Christmas now, as I did 20 years ago. I can articulate and appreciate a great deal more about it now, but the essential feeling is the same. Emotional energy penetrates deeper than intellectual energy. Thus, what we feel about a thing, the way it resonates with us at the purest inner level, gives us a truer orientation as to its reality. Feeling is a perception. This is one of the keys to direct contact with knowing.
About The Author
- NEIL KRAMER
- Navigating the ancient pathways of gnosis, esoteric knowledge, consciousness and the divine. Writer, speaker & researcher.