"The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record."
December 17th marked the beginning of the Roman holiday Saturnalia in ancient times. Traditionally it was celebrated from the 17th to the 23rd, though multiple attempts were made by the Emperors over the years to shorten the length of the festival. And for good reason, as the festival was noted for the absolute decadence and license it inspired amongst the multitudes. Legendary mythological scholar James Frazer notes:
"...many peoples have been used to observe an annual period of license, when the customary restraints of law and morality are thrown aside, when the whole population give themselves up to extravagant mirth and jollity, and when the darker passions find a vent which would never be allowed them in the more staid and sober course of ordinary life. Such outbursts of the pent-up forces of human nature... occur most commonly at the end of the year... Now, of all these periods of license the one which is best known and which in modern language has given its name to the rest, is the Saturnalia. This famous festival fell in December, the last month of the Roman year, and was popularly supposed to commemorate the merry reign of Saturn, the god of sowing and of husbandry, who lived on earth long ago as a righteous and beneficent king of Italy, drew the rude and scattered dwellers on the mountains together, taught them to till the ground, gave them laws, and ruled in peace. His reign was the fabled Golden Age: the earth brought forth abundantly: no sound of war or discord troubled the happy world: no baleful love of lucre worked poison in the blood of the industrious and contented peasantry. Slavery and private property were alike unknown: all men had all things in common."
(The Golden Bough, pg. 630)
To those of you familiar with Greco-Roman mythology this description of the age of Saturn may seem a bit off as this god, as well as his Greek counterpart Cronus, had a rather bloody image in antiquity. Frazer states:
"Cronus certainly bore a sinister reputation in antiquity. He passed for an unnatural parent who had devoured his own offspring, and he was regularly identified by the Greeks with the cruel Semitic Baals who delighted in the sacrifice of human victims, especially children. A legend which savours strongly the infant sacrifice is reported of a shrine that stood at the very foot of the god's hill at Olympia; and a quite unambiguous story was told of the sacrifice of a babe to Lycaean Zeus on Mount Lycaeus in Arcadia, where the worship of Zeus was probably nothing but a continuation, under a new name, of the old worship of Cronus, and where the human victims appear to have been regularly offered down to the Christian era."
(The Golden Bough, pg. 640-641)
In Roman culture, the observance of Saturnalia on the 17th had originally begun as holy day in which the Romans offered sacrifice, and only later was added a festival, according to this website:
"In the Roman calendar, the Saturnalia was designated a holy day, or holiday, on which religious rites were performed. Saturn, himself, was identified with Kronos, and sacrificed to according to Greek ritual, with the head uncovered. The Temple of Saturn, the oldest temple recorded by the pontiffs, had been dedicated on the Saturnalia, and the woolen bonds which fettered the feet of the ivory cult statue within were loosened on that day to symbolize the liberation of the god.Frazer speculates that in earlier times these sacrifices to Saturn were typically human:
"It also was a festival day. After sacrifice at the temple, there was a public banquet, which Livy says was introduced in 217 BC (there also may have been a lectisternium, a banquet for the god in which its image is placed in attendance, as if a guest). Afterwards, according to Macrobius (I.10.18), the celebrants shouted "Io, Saturnalia!" at a riotous feast in the temple."
"Yet the bright tradition of his reign was crossed by a dark shadow: his altars are said to have been stained with the blood of human victims, for whom a more merciful age afterwards substituted effigies."Frazer further elaborates on his theory by giving an example of how Saturnalia customs were observed by Roman legionaries in several of the more far-flung provinces of the Empire where festivals remained closer to their origins:
(The Golden Bough, pg. 630)
"Thirty days before the festival they chose by lot from amongst themselves a young and handsome man, who was then clothed in royal attire to resemble Saturn. Thus arrayed and attended by a multitude of soldiers he went about in public with full license to indulge his passions and to taste of every pleasure, however base and shameful. But if his reign was merry, it was short and ended tragically; for when the thirty days were up and the festival of Saturn had come, he cut his own throat on the altar of the god he personated."
(ibid, pg. 632)
Over the years many comparisons have been drawn between Saturnalia and the later Christmas holiday and aptly so -It seems beyond a doubt that many Saturnalia customs were preserved in Christmas. For instances, firs decorated with red berries were frequently used as decorations during Saturnalia. While the Christianized version of Saturnalia associates it with the birth of Christ, it is the crucifixion, according to Frazer, that it most closely resembles.
"...the remarkable resemblance between the treatment of the mock king of the Saturnalia by the Roman soldiers at Durostorum; and he would explain the similarity by supposing that the soldiers ridiculed the claims of Christ to a divine kingdom by arraying him in the familiar garb of old King Saturn, whose quaint person figured so prominently at the winter revels."
(The Golden Bough, pg. 666)
The obvious problem here is that Christ was crucified at Passover, in the midst of spring. This led Frazer to speculate the Saturnalia may have made its origins in the spring and was later moved to the winter. I do not, however, agree with this view. As Frazer had earlier noted, many similar winter festivals existed in Europe at the time that possessed the same carnival-like atmosphere. Further, the festival Saturnalia falls in the midst of the Winter Solstice, which is typically held on either December 21st or 22nd, and was generally one of the two most important festivals in European paganism next to Midsummer. Finally, there's the two dates that have traditionally marked the beginning and end of Saturnalia: the 17th and the 23rd.
Many readers of this blog are likely aware of the 23 enigma. To briefly recap: in the mid 1960s Robert Anton Wilson, William S Burroughs, and the authors of Principia Discordia began to address numerous odd synchronicities revolving around the number 23. Wilson elaborates in this old article:
"In conception, Mom and Dad each contribute 23 chromosomes to the fœtus. DNA, the carrier of the genetic information, has bonding irregularities every 23rd Angstrom. Aleister Crowley, in his Cabalistic Dictionary, defines 23 as the number of 'life' or 'a thread', hauntingly suggestive of the DNA life-script. On the other hand, 23 has many links with termination: in telegraphers’ code, 23 means 'bust' or 'break the line', and Hexagram 23 in I Ching means 'breaking apart'. Sidney Carton is the 23rd man guillotined in the old stage productions of A Tale of Two Cities. (A few lexicographers believe this is the origin of the mysterious slang expression '23 Skiddoo!'.)
"According to Omar Garrison’s Tantra: The Yoga of Sex, in addition to the well-known 28-day female sex cycle, there is also a male sex cycle of 23 days.
"Burroughs, who tends to look at the dark side of things, sees 23 chiefly as the death number. In this connection, it is interesting that the 23rd Psalm is standard reading at funerals.
"Through various leads, I have become increasingly interested in Sir Francis Bacon as a possibly ringleader of the 17th-century Illuminati (Some evidence for this can be found in Francis Yates’s excellent The Rosicrucian Enlightenment). Bacon, in accord with custom, was allowed to pick the day for his own elevation to knighthood by Elizabeth I. He picked 23 July."
Interestingly, July 23rd is the beginning of the 'dog days' of summer. Presumably this label stretches back to ancient Egypt when the priests began a series of rituals to Sirius, commonly referred to as the Dog Star, on July 23rd that lasted till September 8th.
The number 17 has closely been associated with 23. In fact, Wilson originally referred to the 23 enigma as the '23/17 phenomenon.' However, the number 17 has much older occult significance, which also dates back to ancient Egypt. In the Mystery traditions, the death of Osiris occurred on the 17th of Athyr in the ancient Egyptian calendar. In our own calendar, the date falls roughly on November 13th. Strangely, this would have been mere days before the Romans chose an honorary 'King Saturn' to be sacrificed on December 17th, if the 30 day period is to be believed. Is it possible that the dates may have been confused?
A potential clue may lay in a passage from the Gospel of John that was quoted in the beginning of this article. 12:17 deals with the resurrection of Lazarus by Christ. According to Christopher Knowles in his outstanding article on the number 17 Lazarus may have been a Christianization of Osiris:
"Incidentally, Lazarus, whom many Biblical scholars believe was an adaptation of Osiris (Lazarus coming from El Ausur, Hebrew for "the god Osiris") was raised by Jesus in John 12:17."
To recap: In myth Osiris was murdered on the 17th of Athyr, which corresponds to our November 13th. In some versions of Saturnalia festival a man was selected on November 17th as a stand-in for King Saturn, given a month of license, and then sacrificed on the god's altar on the 17th of December. In the Gospel of John passage 12:17 refers to the resurrection of Lazarus by Christ, which in turn may be a sly reference to Osiris. Finally, there's odd appearance of Robert Anton Wilson's '23/17 phenomenon' several centuries the synchroncities were (publicly?) revealed. I don't know what it means, but it certainly is interesting.
And now I wish to hesitantly broach a topic that may potentially come off as being extremely pompous, for which I wish to apologize in advance. However, I feel that I cannot do full justice to this topic without discussing my own bizarre synchronicities surrounding 17 and 12/17 especially.
For starters, my birthday happens to fall on December 17th, the beginning of Saturnalia. My father's birthday is on November 13th, which as I mentioned above, corresponds to the 17th of Athyr on which tradition holds Osiris was murdered. If that were not odd enough, I also happen to share the same birth date as my great-grandfather, who obviously I never met but who I seem to have inherited much from. Amongst the inheritance would include his shotgun, his tools (he was a carpenter by trade), strong doses of his personality (according to my father), and an obsession with secret societies.
The later was something that I was not aware until a few a months ago when I was having a conversation with my mother about my plans for starting a blog that would tackle various aspects of the occult and secret societies. It was at this point that she told me to ask my father about my great-grandfather, who had been a high ranking Freemason.
She wasn't kidding. Great-grandfather had been a 32nd degree Freemason, in addition to being a member of the Shriners and the Ku Klux Klan. I acquired his Masonic ring the last time I visited home.
Needless to say, I find the 17 phenomenon in my family to be most strange.
So, from my family to yours... A happy Saturnalia.