All Saints Day and All Souls Day.
Humanising invisible companions
Necromantic Bone Cults
Staying with the trouble
Ancestors as a complicated story
This podcast was nearly 1m 10s over length after the first edit. I cut A LOT out. Hope it still makes sense.
But Lesson learnt: 2 essays in 301 seconds is … hard.
Permanently moved is a personal podcast 301 seconds in length, written and recorded in one hour by @thejaymo
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Saints & Souls
The saints emerge from a proto christian tradition. They predate Catholicism by three centuries. Originally being any dead christian or Jew but very quickly evolved into what author of ‘The Cult of The Saints’ Peter Brown calls the Very Special Dead.
The Saints have always produced a certain tension throughout the history of christianity, many early members of the church uneasy with a faith that had incorporated a necromantic bone cult somewhere along the way.
So much so the last pagan to rule the Roman Empire and nephew to Saint Constantine, Emperor Julian the Apostate wrote the following after he abandoned Christianity sometime after 351ad
You have filled the whole world with tombs and sepulchres, and yet in your scriptures it is nowhere said that you must grovel among tombsEmperor Julian the Apostate – Against the Galileans
Some kind of a balance was eventually found by St Augustine in Predestination of the Saints where from about 390ad people began praying TO the saints and FOR the dead.
This was later solidified by complexifying the idea of worship. As pagans would point at early christians and laugh over ‘Thou shalt not have any other gods’ and ask if he was jealous of the Saints. As such, worship was split into two concepts:
- Worship appropriate to human beings.
- Worship reserved for God alone. this may sound unnecessary it’s important as it resolves a great deal of the metaphysics.
All Saints Day originally was on May the 13th. The date also chosen for the dedication of The Pantheon (the temple of all gods) in Rome as a church. It was a movable feast that skipped around the Easter calendar. By the 9th century it was moved from May 13 to Nov 1 with ol’ Bedey telling us (previously on 301 episode 19-10) that Boniface IV had originally said 4 centuries before “that the memory of all the saints might in the future be honored in the place which had formerly been dedicated to the worship not of gods but of demons”.
In the Chrstian worldview both of these things exist: Demons AND Saints
Saints aren’t is the continuation of Pagan Gods (however much to atheist bros wish to claim). What they are, is the very special dead of place and in a landscape. It took nearly a 1000 years before the church took control over the saints lists and canonisation etc. Before then, for a long time, most were only venerated locally.
What the afore mentioned complexification of worship was transform the earlier pagan experience of an invisible companion, guardian, or daimon etc into a human being. Things that people experience every day and have always existed as part of the human experience. The cult of saints and its metaphysics provides a framework to utilise them.
Saints are things exist in our world.
Listen to Fr Seraphim of the Orthodox Monastery on the Isle of Mull talk about it:
I opened the last episode of last year on Saint Andrew’s day with the following:
He is a saint that has always been kind to me. I was Baptized in his church. … the family parish back on the chalk. And now I live on his square in south west london. We hear the bells from the bell tower. He’s just … always been around.
The saints are all around us, if you live in the ‘West’. You probably live under a saints parish, perhaps live on or near a road named after one, maybe a first or middle name and never given it much thought. But it’s all saints day, and I think that you should.
Tomorrow is all Souls Day or ‘The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed’.
All Souls Day is about remembering our ancestors. Many of whom were kind, but others did unfathomably horrible things to people. Some were both. It is important to remember that to commemorate is to recall and show respect rather than celebrate.
In 2019 we face: climate change, anti-racist struggles, de-colonisation, biodiversity loss and many other challenges. These are all also intergenerational issues. Some caused by our forebears, Some caused by ourselves. All are issues that will continue to affect our descendants.
Donna Haraway’s Staying With The Trouble is about exploring new ways of reconfiguring our relations to the earth and all its inhabitants. She posits that learning to stay.with.the.trouble of living and dying together on a damaged earth that will provide the means to building more liveable futures.
Staying with the trouble of our ancestors presents a chance to bare witness to them and All Souls is as good a day as any to do this.
A deep rooted problem of modern western society is that it does not favour bearing witness to its past.
It certainly instrumentalises it, but our wider cultural stories of progress and enlightenment demand that we don’t. The UK government tried to convince us that the economy works like a household over austerity: But our history certainly is. Our culture is like a household that has tried to brush its unsavoury elements under the rug while the cupboards are full of skeletons.
The past was simply a horrible place, it’s only a hop skip and jump backwards that our immediate ancestors were living grim dickensian childhoods. Cut yourself? You died, Got a fever? You died. Pretty much everything was out to kill you. People romanticize the past but I’m pretty sure it sucked more ass than primitivists and reenactment fantasists think.
Everyone’s family no matter how far you go back will repeatedly encounter horrible people.
People who committed all sorts of horrible acts and violations towards (and of) other people.
They helped lay the groundwork for structural oppressions though ignorance or wilful malevolence. You may even have known these people IRL, but I can assure you, there are more. This is true for everyone that has ever lived.
Ancestry isn’t a value judgement, it just is.
And that IS, is that all bodies breathing on this earth today today are a complicated story.
Complicated by those in the past that didn’t survive either by friend or foe. And that is why we must bear witness to them. Everyone that came before us did so with struggle and that is why you are alive to struggle today. A victory that is worth celebrating. But again they also did things you probably don’t agree with and you should stay with that trouble.
All Souls Day for me is about the sometimes tragic, bloodthirsty, sad, and malevolent story. But they all also loved and laughed, danced and sang – and so do you.
That’s why we commemorate the dead.
The above is the original script I wrote for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in audio due to time constraints.