Virgin Spring is a 1960 film directed by Ingmar Bergman. Loosely based on a medieval Swedish legend, Bergman develops it into an examination of the relationship between the new Christian religion and the old Norse religion which it was supplanting. We are not interested in the many moralistic interpretations of this story, but rather in what it reveals about the struggle in the consciousness of the Western mind between two opposing world views or spiritual impulses. This struggle continues unresolved to this day and repeats itself in various formulations, often expressed polemically with a strong emotional element. Its partial resolution in the Western world unfortunately embodies the worst aspects of each impulse.
Tore was a prosperous landowner with an estate that supported his wife Mareta and beautiful daughter Karin, as well as Ingeri, a young woman under his care. Tore was a Catholic, of noble birth, strong character, with a commanding, yet paternal, presence. Karin was blonde, pretty, outgoing, devout and virginal. In short, they were the perfect family.
In contrast, Ingeri was private, dark, and bitter. She was pregnant with a bastard child and was resentful of Karin. Ingeri was a witch, using a frog to cast a spell on Karin. On the occasion of a feast day to the Virgin, Karin and Ingeri set out on a trip to the village church. Along the way, Ingeri met a practitioner of the pagan religion and joined him in a ritual. Karin continued alone. Passing by some goat herders, she offered them some of her food. They broke bread with her, then raped and murdered her. When the crime was discovered, Tore killed them all, in revenge.
Tore and his family exemplified what we would call “solarity”, that is, solar characteristics; nobility, strength, beauty, virtue. They represented the Christian consciousness.
On the other hand, the pagans were seen as unsophisticated country bumpkins, driven by resentment, lust and greed. In this story, the pagans represent the lunar element.
The obvious objection is that the legend was slanted by its Christian originators. But this makes no sense for three reasons:
- It implies that the Christians understood solarity and consciously sought it.
- The story would make absolutely no sense if the roles were reversed.
- But the most damning is that the neo-pagans of today actually embrace the values of the pagans in the legend.
- To be fair, the neo-christians of today would not see Tore in such a positive light. They would embrace the goat herders as the underclass needing assistance programs, and would reject the justice exacted by Tore.
Herein lies the criticisms of Evola against the neo-pagans: rather than embrace an authentic solar paganism, they adopt the Christian caricature of pagans. Their lustiness simply results in the unwed motherhood of Ingeri. Their intellectual isolation keeps them away from the centers of power, as was the case of the Odinist in the country hovel. The goat herders embodied an amoral “might makes right” policy that seems to be popular among neo-pagans. And the final irony is that the pagans — Ingeri and the goat herders — were drive by a resentment that a Nietzsche ascribes to Christians.
This perspective is obviously far from the best of the pagan past. Instead, we need to understand this as a battle for the soul of Western man, although its true nature has been obscured by many masks over the course of history.
In the Middle Ages, a balance was established, more or less, between the two tendencies. The pagan and Christian elements were kept in balance. In practice, this shows up in the Traditional conception of the doctrine of Two Powers: Spiritual authority and temporal power. Spiritual authority can be experienced in one of two ways:
- As a call to transcendence, to life on a higher and creative level
- As an obstacle to the complete fulfillment of animal appetite – sex, greed, lust and so on
Temporal power, therefore, must either adhere to or reject spiritual authority. Man is driven by three forces: the drive to the transcendent (nous), spiritedness (thumos), and appetite. Thus thumos can be the motive power to a transcendent life by sublimating the appetites. Or else, it can focus on the Sisyphean task of satisfying the appetites while forgetting the transcendent.
The Reformation was the rejection of the Medieval synthesis. Thinking it could purge the pagan element, it overemphasized the transcendent, making it effectively an unreal factor in the world. It brought back the uneasy tension of the ancient Gnostics: Either an unrestrained libertinism, since all sins are forgiven for the saved. Or else a rigid asceticism, that served to demonstrate one’s salvation rather than to serve as a means to it.
To the neo-christians (which includes Vatican II Catholics), we quote Tomberg: “Love your pagan past.” To the neo-pagans, we say “Honor your father and mother.” This is a task that requires integration, not a pitched battle. For example, despite his many references to and appreciation of the pagans, Carl Jung still claimed that a man’s task was the creation of a Self, an archetype that is represented by the Christ figure.