The Misunderstanding of Paganism

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In order to illustrate some of the points made recently, we have invited an old friend, Tony Ciapo, to provide translations, with commentary, of some of Evola’s works from Sintesi di dottrina della razza,Defesa della razza, and Evola’s commentary on the Fascist movements of the first half of the 20th century. By exploring certain movements from the perspective of Tradition—which are far from any modernist misunderstandings—, we expect to point who are in Solidarity with the few remaining men of Tradition left today and which viewpoints are in Continuity with Tradition itself. Tony will continue this task as long as interest is expressed and intelligent discussion ensues. The initial section is the fourth in the chapter “La razza aria e il problema spirituale”. His commentaries will appear inside boxes or between square brackets. There is no implication that either Evola or myself would have accepted all such. (Cologero)

The Misunderstanding of the new racist Paganism

Having made the problem clear in such a way, it is perhaps appropriate to point out the misunderstanding—a misunderstanding of no small moment—characteristic of those contemporary extremist racist currents that believe that have resolved it in terms of a neo-paganism. Such a misunderstanding, in truth, is already apparent precisely in the use of terms such as “pagan” and “paganism”. We ourselves had at one point adopted them and sincerely regret it.

This section follows the section “Ex Occidente Lux – The Religious Problem” (to be translated next), which is alluded to in the first sentence. There he discusses Catholicism, in particular its teaching of a primordial revelation of the Fathers. Attentive readers of Gornahoor will recall that Catholicism regards itself as the latest manifestation of the primordial religion. Evola digs deeper to the pre-Christian religion of the Ancient City, whose lineaments we have been at pains to point out. In order to avoid the ambiguities and attendant misunderstandings of the term “paganism”, we will henceforth refer to it as the “Old Religion“. It should be obvious that the “contemporary currents” he opposes include the amalgam of racism and neo-paganism associated with the theoreticians of National Socialism. There is no need to name names, as Evola means all of them. The book he sincerely regrets is Pagan Imperialism.

Certainly the word, paganus, appears in ancient Latin writers such as Livy with no special purpose. But this does not alter the fact that with the arrival of the new faith, the word paganus took on a decidedly pejorative meaning, adopted for use in early Christian apologetics. Paganus derives from pagus, meaning a village or slum, so that paganus means what is characteristic of a country hick or an uncultured, primitive man. In order to profess and glorify the new faith, a certain Christian apologistics, following the the vice of overvaluing themselves through the discrediting of others, proceeded to a systematic and often conscious disparagement and misrepresentation of almost all the earlier doctrines, forms of worship, and traditions, which were made to correspond to the combined and pejorative designation “paganism”. Naturally, with this goal, it took care to highlight everything that, in the pre-Christian religions and traditions, lacked any normal or primordial character, rather than the clear significance of degenerate and decadent forms. Such a polemical animus then led, in particular, to attributing indiscriminately an anti-Christian character to everything that, prior to Christianity, could also simply be non-Christian and could not constitute an irreducible antithesis.

Evola is making the point that the Old Religion, much older than Christianity, was not, and could not be, explicitly anti-Christian. Therefore, we have to distinguish the former from the paganism prevalent at the beginning of Christianity. By then the Old Religion had been largely forgotten and even when its rites and traditions were followed, it was done with little understanding. The Roman priesthood had been reduced to a formalism, while the aristocrats were more likely to adopt one of the many prevalent Greek philosophies or dabble in the so-called mysteries. As was recently pointed out, it was the plebs, initially without a religion, who were the “pagans” of the era. The first Christians came either from among the Hellenized Jews or the Romans who had converted to Judaism whether formally or by adopting their beliefs and ways. (Note that the Judaism at the time was quite different from the contemporary religion that goes by that name.) These would have been predominantly the third caste working as artisans, traders, and other pecuniary occupations.
Of course, the neo-pagans, following Nietzsche, now return the favor, by claiming it was really the Christians who were the “hicks”. Such mutual name-calling is unhelpful and pointless. Instead, pace the early apologists and neo-pagans, we follow Valentin Tomberg ‘s Hermetic maxim, we must love our pagan past, provided we understand by that the Old Religion.

On such a basis, it is therefore necessary to think that there is a “paganism”, meaning something essentially and tendentiously constructed. That is, it lacks any true correspondence to historical reality. We mean, correspondence to what the pre-Christian and especially Aryan world always was in its “normal” forms, and not only in decadent aspects or that were refashioned from the degenerate residues of older civilizations or inferior races.

Recommended background material:
Fustel‘s The Ancient City is, by his own admission, indispensable to understanding what Evola means by the pre-Christian Tradition.
For the history of the Early Christians and Jews, I rely upon the works of Ernest Renan.

8 thoughts on “The Misunderstanding of Paganism

  1. Tradition is lived in a specific time and place, but some treat it like existing in a vacuum outside real societies, humans and events, without which it becomes just another mental construct blocking our view. This is the instance of a mind that only goes backwards but not forward. A fault in the “thinking” of modern people is that they start with the effect, and then try to work out which cause lead to it which means they have to make it up, rather than to start at the beginning and align ourselves with that which is given.

  2. Pingback: Neopaganism and Naturalism | Gornahoor

  3. “As far as ‘racism’ and ‘true Christianity’ go, the bottom line is that Evola would have sent M L King to a death camp without a second thought, so what have you proved about his “sophisticated” versions of racism, paganism and state power?”

    James, this is not true. Evola was firmly and consistently against violent treatment of political enemies and ideological opponents. This is something that made him un-popular among some high ranking fascists and nazis of the social darwinist type, who believed in the “Nietzshean” myths of the blond beast of prey etc. It is true that he would have made and accepted all serious efforts to remove the kinds of ML King from places of influence and (political) power, but he would not have suggested a death camp or execution for them. This is not because he had felt any humanistic empathy for them, but he could see where such actions would inevitably and objectively lead – to disaster and ruin.

  4. Consistently a Nietzschean? Pas de tout! Evola writes [in Cininabar] regarding the early influence of Nietzsche:
    “He fed a basic tendency, even if in confused and partly distorted forms, therefore a mixture of positive and negative.”
    Evola also refers to the “ambiguous character of many view of Nietzsche”.
    Regarding Nietzsche’s personal life, Evola attributed it to the “awakeing of the elemnt of transcendence without its conscious and active assuption.” Evola refers to the ideal of the Superman as the “worst of Nietzsche.”
    So that is the worst of Evola, that he tries to be “hip” with references to Nietzsche, while admitting what a mixed bag he really is. Evola’s position was to critique the false ideals of his time and Nietzsche served that purpose. That task having been accomplished, we at Gornahoor are delineating the characteristics a the Tradition to follow, where there is no need or room for Nietzsche. As for “intellectual integrity”, a “scholar” needs to take into account the entire corpus of an author. We have access to thousands of pages of Evola that few “Evolians” bother to familiarize themselves with. Hence, we try to make them available via translations and commentaries. Those with intellectual integrity will appreciate these efforts. As for the others, perhaps we can straighten them out.

  5. Goodness James, bit negative, are we not?

  6. It takes considerable effort, James, to provide original translations and context to the masses. You could take the high road and thank us.

  7. So, Evola rejected the crude “paganism” of an Alfred Rosenberg. Apart from already knowing that, what does all this effort provide me with? Even Hitler agreed [“When the Greeks built temples, we were living in mud huts. Why does Himmler insist on digging all this up?”]

    Evola collaborated with Nazi pagans, which the modern PC types will never accept, no matter what “distinctions” you can find. As far as ‘racism’ and ‘true Christianity’ go, the bottom line is that Evola would have sent M L King to a death camp without a second thought, so what have you proved about his “sophisticated” versions of racism, paganism and state power?

    AS for “Evola regretted his book Pagan Imperialism,” well, yes, he was unable to influence Mussolini so he turned to the Nazis, hoping to “rectify” [Path of Cinnabar] their crude racism and paganism. Again, Rachel Maddow isn’t going to ‘friend’ him, so what’s the point?

    As for your sneers [I won’t call it a ‘critique’] against Nietzsche, Fred spoke about ‘intellectual conscience.’ Anyone with an intellectual conscience would point out that while Evola may have ‘regretted’ Pagan Imperialism, his last book, Ride the Tiger, is based on the idea that all honest modern thinkers [‘intellectual conscience’ again] will take Nietzsche as their starting point. Since he lists Nietzsche as his most profound teenage influence, we can see that Evola was consistently Nietzschean from age 16 to his death. Now there’s integrity!

    BTW, my own reflections on Nietzsche, the Greeks and the function of religion can be found here:

  8. Great stuff! Look forward to reading subsequent installments.

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