Monday, January 5, 2009

58. Latvia’s Profound vs Shallow Traditions [8]

The following series (not exactly serials) concern the importance of self-sacrifice in the creation and maintenance of a community. Do not be put off by the name "Latvia", the name of the country where I live, because you can probably replace the name with that of your own country. I believe self-sacrifice is "religion" without you or me necessarily having to believe in God.

There is a complicated history behind the friction between the Roman Catholic and the Russian Orthodox churches , but the one that interests us here is that before the Russian Orthodox Church became what it is today, its predecessor was the Church of John of The Great Original Empire.

Why do we not hear of the Church of John? The answer is simple: because of its ubiquity, it had no name. John the Holy Man (Hindu sādhu may also be read sā-dju, sa-jew or sa-john ) was everywhere. That is why the Latvians know their midsummer festival as Johns Eve. Latvians write “Johns” in plural, because once upon a time there were many Johns and Janes or Joanns. Unfortunately, few Latvians name their sons John (Jānis) anymore.

This (2008) winter solstice, for example, the neo-Christian church in Riga claims to have discovered that Martin Luther started the Christmas tree tradition in Riga (about 1500). The truth is that Luther saw the Latvian peasants decorate their rooms during the summer solstice Johns Days with birch tree saplings and during the winter solstice with spruce trees. In the 16th century and earlier, Riga was a German city, and Latvians were but artisans living in hovels. Since the tradition of cutting birch and spruce tree saplings arrived with Latvian woodsmen and women leaving the forest to become farmers and artisans, the new tradition of bringing spruce trees into the room at winter solstice arrived at the same time—at the farm and at the urban hovel, both.

This is a good moment to reclaim for Christmas its original name. If in English (Anglo-Saxon) speaking countries the name that precedes Christmas is Yule or Yule’s Day (still remembered by the Yule log), the Latvian name for the winter solstice most probably was Y(J)andahls, the Great (Sun-)Dance. The word “Y(J)an” is from John (Jānis), which long ago could mean “giant”. To trace the etymology is a complex undertaking. Nevertheless, let me try: if we assume that the Slavic vel- (meaning large, earthy) leaves its trace in such words as William (Wil+yan, in Latvian Vilis + Jānis), then the Yan of Yan-dahls is to be read as “great” + dahls. Dahls is another way to pronounce diet, to dance (to turn in circles). Thus Yandahls = the Great (Sun) Dance, a fitting name for the winter solstice. This does not preclude dahls being related to the word dial.

In any case, the name of the Slav folk epics byliny (from byl, a word which signifies a story of real happenings), may perhaps also be pronounced bilyini and reconstructed as vil-yini or vil-yani. In this event, vil means real (earthy) and iny is not only an inflection that gives us the plural, but suggests endearment, thus great + (dear short) tales.

To return to the present and politics of religion. At this time, there is no real difference between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, except in terms of who has the last word in the space under its sway. This is so at least since the Orthodox Church accepted the Scaligerian chronology of history introduced by the Vatican, which necessarily puts its interpretation on events. On the other hand, the schism between the two churches is so deep in terms of underlying traditions, that it gives rise to the suspicion that something far more profound hides behind the seemingly superficial conflict. What might this be?

This is where the Latvian Children of Johns, Byzantine Bogomils, and Albigensian Cathars come in. Though we know nothing about the theology of Johns (except as suggested in these blogs) and scholars believe the Bogomils to have been Manicheans, we know that neo-Christian (Catholic) theology turned the Johns (by way of the written word) into one individual. The neo-Christian story then had John killed, had the successor John-Jesus also killed, but then had the latter resurrected and sent from Earth into the Beyond. The removal of John-Jesus by the Catholic Church from Earth constituted an existential theological change. While it left the Johns (the Bogomils, Cathars and others) on Earth, the militarily powerful neo-Christians, backed by secular kings and princes, were free to call the arch-Christian theology heretical.

[More to follow.]

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