Circle of Fire: A Lament and Lesson for Europe

1818, in a dusty, dawn-cast attic of a stately home, a statue begins to turn from the grey of shaped limestone to the radiant gold of marble. It is a copy of a very old Roman copy, of a Greek sculpture: “The Dying Gaul”, as commissioned by Attalus I of Pergamon while celebrating his victory over the Celts of Turkey in the 3rd Century BCE. In the dusty room, at daybreak, an amber light shines on the torque tightly clasping the statue’s neck, a circle somehow proud, yet broken, beneath his downcast brow. The “Dying Gaul” is depicted as so dismal, so dejected a thing that many observe an inherent sadness in him. Admiring the skill of the artist, even Lord Byron himself writes about the pathos engendered by the scene. However, he dubs him The Dying Gladiator, and so even as an art piece, this lost, false picture of a man is, like his race, truly forgotten.  

Many miles away, in Lahore, modern-day Pakistan, a Sikh wears a “Chakram” as he prepares for a wedding ceremony. These metal rings recalling the mythological weapon of the Hindu god Krishna, the disc-bearer. Despite having lost their practical functionality after the British arrived, “chakrams” retain their symbolic importance. Even in a Punjabi wedding, Indo-European Vedic traditions remain, as a bride to be wedded has her feet painted in Mehndi by a woman older than herself and already happily married.

So telling, how these traits of myth may endure, even through the ages.

The role of mythology, of all “divine poetry”, is to act as superlative verse to the layman’s consideration of the passing day, to act as sacred words which fill colour into the profane of our world. In fact, we might see our culture itself as a sort of divine consort, as a partner to our existence, and determine that an individual divested of culture is lonely. Our cultural identity is, therefore, our spouse and it is given to us by our heritage. Ultimately, the only thing which separates one group of people from another is the place they are situated in, and religious beliefs are formed dependent on the surroundings of said people. You would only pray for the sorts of things your lands made plentiful or precious.

Therefore, what follows is this: all mythology encompasses the relationship of a people with their geological environment. This makes all religion, all cultural heritage an ontological understanding of one’s surroundings. We process the existence we know. That is the truly pagan way of being in oneself, that is the truly human way. Nature will teach you; it will teach you everything. Nature has many faces, but one voice and we must remember that Mother Nature has no obligation to be fair to you. Neither do natural forces. But you can try to understand them. Even, dare I say, try to communicate with them.

All religion serves to reconcile the distance between the earthly and the heavenly, and it seems one patch of Earth, lived upon by one people in opposition to another, becomes a different Earth. And the force which marries us to our geographically-defined culture, religion, etc., is the same which would bind one person to another. Once, what was called Sati in one place was observed in different forms in others. Accounts from Ibn Fadlan and the verses from the Sigurðarkviða hin skamma assert that Norse people would offer up a wealthy Chieftain’s thralls or slaves, to his funeral pyre after his passing, and Julius Caesar says the same of the Celts in De Bello Gallico. This Roman account is the origin of the ‘Wicker Man’ stereotype, where beloved ‘dependants’ of the deceased are given up along with other offerings to be purified into something others would call Agni, the sacred fire.

It might be more virtuous to plaster all discourse pertaining to such things with comments on the barbarous vestiges of a less appropriately enlightened past, but it might be more useful still to understand why people would do such things. And so go from “ignorance to truth, darkness to light, and death to immortality,” as per that enigmatic mantra echoed in Hindu Yagna rituals, it would seem. If truth could be light. If that light could be immortality, it would take the shape of a fire fed by and specified by one’s very beliefs.

This is how our belief ties us to our people, to our lands. We live and die by them. We do not simply have our culture follow us into the fire. We go because of it. And whether that is ethically speaking without blemish or not, it is certainly powerful. We do things which seem illogical, which other animals do not do. A culture is a truth, it is an understanding of the world. In such a way, it considers rules and identifies what is to be prized in this understanding of the world, and what is to be deemed more unsightly. And this is the nature of our identities, as humans, as ethnicities. This is how we are married to our cultures, not in bondage, but in heritage, as per a hypernatural, proto-legal contract. This is us. Alive.

But Europe is becoming even less alive itself, because it is becoming less Christian, which in and of itself would not necessitate unfortunate circumstances, if only it did not entail the rise of Atheism. As a consequence, Europe becomes ‘more lonely’. It manages the extraordinary feat of being somehow formed of so many countries which remain so impossibly isolated from each other. Yet, indeed, it is natural that this continent should have no faith, and no faith in itself, for such things were bored out of it by the Romans and Christianity.

It is my customary finding that things usually succeed in doing what they were designed to do, and Christianity was designed to make the European people complacent and easy to control. No wonder that as it falls, as the Church awakens to every nightmare about paedophilia accusations in this hypocritical bed it has made for itself, Europeans are not only impossible to control, but they are directionless.

Christianity is more impactful from a cultural perspective than a spiritual one; it served as a device of enforcing the Roman rule and extending the duration of their Empire, supplanting an enduring (arguably militant) presence in their lands as an oppressive crushing of culture on a local scale, imposing a single identity-defining dogma. It was applied to control, and now the people are uncontrollable, and inconsolably unruly since the Roman rule has decayed. Yet, it is the state of the dominated to retain their chains after their master has met their demise. It is surprising Europe has taken so long to throw off the very yoke of Christendom in the first place. Albeit, Christianity had been unknowingly preserving truly European, pagan culture. And, as it falls, so does its inherited identity. Atheism has come and it brings with it a cold, stark divestment of the European spirit from the European body. This makes every man and woman less than human, for all different world cultures, all at least have a notion of the spirit, and a cornered animal lashes out because it is afraid, outnumbered, perhaps. Alone.

This is a time of division. Even as we speak, conversations are cracking open about the consequences of Brexit in regards to Ireland’s relationship with Northern Ireland, and while a united Éire may seem like a step forward, it also indicates the breaking down of a much older order. One thing upon which we all can agree is that changes are afoot. For better or for worse, it seems this great and old continent will never be the same again. The end of individual difference, so surely the end of our differences altogether, no? Ultimate unity through ultimate, violent equity. Of course, it is rather beneficial for Church and State alike to have its people be without identity; they are so much easier to pra(e)y upon! And so, behold the touted saviour: Socialism. It is at the heart of globalisation, but socialism was purely and only an advent of chaos, a machine designed to destroy. Karl Marx did not want to help the working classes, but he did want to make them kill people, often each other.  

Marx believed a great change was on the horizon, but the problem with his ideas was that he believed the change could only and must be reached via great conflict. He believed society was on the verge of collapse, he never incited peaceful resolution or the empowerment of workers and always sought only to arm them rather than communicate with them. When he visited the German Workers’ Education Society of London in 1845, he found self-educated, self-made men. They were anti-liberal, anti-bohemian and practically-minded, and he saw them as lowly for not sharing his apocalyptic ambitions for the future. They engaged in practical discussion, though without academic training in philosophy (which is why he disliked working men and thought them beneath himself). This was not what he wanted. He wanted revolution and chaos, for as he stated: “Socialism cannot be brought into existence without revolution”. When his father died in 1838, he spent much of his inheritance of 6000 ₣ on arming Belgian workers with guns.

Certainly, the violent revolutions of the country I grew up in, France, have a long history indeed of upheaving everything and distracting from the country’s problems until they go away, but they ultimately benefited slightly wealthier men seizing power, only to be deposed by men slightly less wealthy than themselves. Every time, it is the slightly less hard-working man who gains leadership at the expense of the slightly harder working man. The same can be seen in the French-backed American Revolution, a systematic upheaval which allowed wealthy English landowners in the New World to detach themselves from their colonial control of ‘The British’ under the new identity of ‘The American’, and they profited and suffered immensely.

Again, marrying oneself to a new culture, a new identity, will dictate one’s destiny. And so come into focus the fires of modern-day Paris, lit by the Gilets Jaunes. Fire once more presides the times of chaos, the times of change. So how, I ask, can this, revolution, be the answer? I cannot agree that Marx was right in the larger sense that it is necessary, but I must wonder as to his related belief that it is inevitable. Visions of fire, revolution and chaos, and one must think of the Wheel of Fire, a Greek mythological image originating in the punishment of Ixion after his lusting for Zeus’s divine consort, Hera. It signifies a torturous chain of events leading to dire consequences, in result of personal actions or flaws which are ultimately the victim’s fault. It provides a caveat to be considered, in matters of want and misplaced ambition. It is the fall from grace, and it is engendered by the foreboding betrayal of a sacred matrimony.

As I attend a concert by the folk-rock band Faun, at the end, a skaldic lutist/mandolin player speaks as a grandiose orator, transforming from the humble, weaselly man he has been every other time we hear him speak into something approaching the divine musician we have seen play, as when he performs, as when he sings. His band’s spectacle reaches an emotive pinnacle as he speaks, almost preaching now, but with such zeal the likes of which a hurricane could not bring any modern Christian priest to muster, with the passion not seen since they were not merely excused by the burning of our wise women but corralled it. The kind of power not seen unless truth and conviction bolster the rightful in their unextinguished focus; he says we must remember who we are. Remember nature. Our own nature.

As he speaks in his complete form, finally, but only once, is mentioned the creature who is the namesake of the band, the faun, the Pan figure, who just like Krishna plays the flute and sits surrounded by the animals, a Master of Beasts. And then he says how it was known by another name to the Celts, as Cernunnos. Thus begins the cycle. A vision of a devil. A vision of nature, personified. A herald of flame to come.

And so I contemplate this apple of my eye which I see on the horizon. Knowledge of paganism is the knowledge of how to live and connect with our environment of Europe, and so I say that, for the West, to transcend Christendom via the produce of the trees of knowledge is the only way that we will be able to live in this garden.

The serpent penetrates the apple. Perhaps, it is to be seized, like the Snake-Witch Stone shows, perhaps it is to be defeated like the biblical Leviathan. But it is no primitive return to nature which will save us now, but a mature and learned taking into oneself the ways of yore. We must make of ourselves ergonomic beings. A form of cultural bio-mimicry will be observed in ancient lore, and this will tell us how to be.

Simply put, there are philosophies and facts to be observed in the natural world, echoed in mythology, which can inform us on how to live our lives, so we can be healthier, but also on how we should think, so we can be holier.

As I think on this vision, I must wonder what ‘true spiritual sun’ will be unveiled to us, ‘hidden by a disc of golden light’. What truth will be known, what duty done? What sacred feet, anointed now?

Looking to the future, for Europe, for the world? Fire. But will it be a wheel or a dawn? This will depend on the nature, the aspect and, I fear, upon the reception of this, the Truth.

These tales of myth and history weave in and out of each other, they remind us of our inherent shared heritage defined not as humans, but as people. For, in commiseration with history, mythology serves not only to grant us stories from the past where we may learn how to rise, but also stories of the soul, that we may learn not to fall. And what these similarities do tell us is that Europe should be united under common ground, regardless of any Union - so long as it remains European. As such, it is time Europe decided to whom it would be married and what is to be the philosophical companion to its destiny, what identity will accompany it towards an uncertain future. Some would say we look outside, or without. I merely say we look within.


Morgan Black

Singer, musician and comparative mythologist essentially interested in modernising European Pagan religions and cultures to provide a sense of true identity for future generations.

The Pangean does not condemn or condone any of the views of its contributors. It only gives them the space to think and write without hindrance.