Sunday, March 17, 2013


As regular readers of this blog know I'm quite obsessed with the number 17 and have had it on my mind quite a bit lately. It all began when rumors started to emerge surrounding the findings of a Papal investigation into the so-called 'Vatileaks' scandal. Supposedly the results of this investigation were so shocking (with the grapevine saying that evidence of a 'gay faction' within the Vatican was uncovered) that upon being presented with a dossier air containing the results Pope Benedict XVI opted to resign hours later. Of these allegations Slate reports:
"Pope Benedict XVI is less than one week away from beginning his retirement at the Castel Gandolfo, but his final days as head of the Catholic church don't look like they're going to be quiet ones. Unsourced reports coming out of Italy suggest that the pope decided to call it quits not because of his old age but instead to avoid the fallout that could come from a secret 300-page dossier compiled by three cardinals he tapped to look into last year's leak of confidential papers stolen from his desk. 
"Those papers, widely known as the 'VatiLeaks,' raised questions of financial impropriety and corruption at the Vatican. The investigation that followed, however, may prove even more uncomfortable for church officials. 
"The secret dossier allegedly details a wide range of infighting among various factions in the Vatican's governing body, known as the Curia. But the headline-ready takeaway from today's report from La Repubblica concerns the existence of one faction in particular, a network of gay church officials. Just in case that weren't enough to pique international interest, the Italian newspaper also reports that some of said officials had been blackmailed by outsiders. According to the report, the pope got his first look at the dossier—'two folders hard-bound in red' with the header 'pontifical secret'—on Dec. 17, and decided that same day to retire."

December 17 was an important date in some ancient pagan calendars, most notably among the Romans where it was celebrated as the beginning of the  winter festival known as Saturnalia from which much of our modern-day Christmas holiday derives. I've written much on Saturnalia and December 17 here but for our purposes now here's a brief overview from the legendary mythologist James Frazer writes:
"... 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)  

Some have speculated that this Golden Age that Saturn reigned was in fact a time of matriarchy and that goddess worship dominated. Thus, Saturnalia was a kind of celebration of this bygone era.
"The divine names Bran, Saturn, Cronos must also be referred to this primitive religious system. They are applied to the ghost of Hercules that floats off in the alder-wood boat after his midsummer sacrifice. His transit, or other self, appearing in Greek legend as Poeas who lighted Hercules' pyre and inherited his arrows, succeeds him for the second half of the year; having acquired royal virtue by marriage with the queen, the representative of the White Goddess, and by eating some royal part of the dead man's body --heart, shoulder or thigh-flesh. He is in turn succeeded by the New Years Hercules, a reincarnation of the murdered man, who beheads him and, apparently, eats his head. This alternative eucharistic sacrifice made royalty continuous, each king being in turn the Sun-God beloved of the reigning Moon-goddess.

"But when these cannibalistic rites were abandoned and the system was gradually modified into a single king reign for a term of years, Saturn-Cronos-Bran became a mere Old Year ghost, permanently overthrown by Juppiter-Zues-Belin though yearly conjured up for placation at Saturnalia or Yule feast."
(The White Goddess, Robert Graves, pgs. 126-127)

Needless to say, it would be quite a striking coincidence that Benedict XVI would opt to resign on the first day of Saturnalia if the rumors are in fact true. It is even more striking that his successor, Francis I, just happened to be born on December 17, 1936, a synch that I recently addressed here.

Pope Benedict XVI (top) and Pope Francis I (bottom)

At the time of writing that post I had forgotten that another holiday revolving around the number 17 was fast approaching: St. Patrick's Day. St. Patrick's Day has a most curious history that Christopher Knowles has recently written an excellent account of. Knowles believes that St. Patrick's Day had its origins in the Roman spring festival known as Bacchanalia, noting:
"Modern Saint Patrick's Day shares both a date and a mandate with a far, far older holiday:
St. Patrick's Day is also frequently a time for drinking. It used to be that this tradition was strung out for at least five days, the so-called seachtain na Gaeilage or "Irish week."

That may stem from Roman times, when March 17 started the festival of the Bacchanalia, a celebration to the deity Bacchus, to whom wine was sacred. In olden years long gone by, the Irish drank mead, made from fermented honey. You might do better today with a stout Guinness, preferably dyed green.
"• The Bacchanalia are well-documented in the historical record:
The bacchanalia were wild and mystic festivals of the Roman and Greek god Bacchus. Introduced into Rome from lower Italy by way of Etruria (c. 200 BC), the bacchanalia were originally held in secret and only attended by women.

The festivals occurred on three days of the year in the grove of Simila near the Aventine Hill, on March 16 and March 17. Later, admission to the rites was extended to men and celebrations took place five times a month. According to Livy, the extension happened in an era when the leader of the Bacchus cult was Paculla Annia - though it is now believed that some men had participated before that.
"• The Bacchanalia underwent an evolution from their early celebrations. From The Secret History of Rock ' Roll:
Historians today don’t put a lot of stock in Livy’s overheated accounts of the Bacchanalia, and generally write them off as politically motivated hysteria. His story of a massive cult that sprung up out of nowhere and took the country by storm is an historical fiction, meant to titliate his audience.
The Bacchic cult had been around -and been tolerated- for some time in Italy, and many believe that the witchhunt was whipped up more for political reasons than moral or criminal ones. But Romans were known to take their boozing and screwing to extremes the more sober Greeks would not, so it’s not hard to imagine these blow-outs getting out of hand.

But since the most serious charge leveled against the Bacchanalia was of conspiracy against the Republic, it’s certainly possible the moral charges were simply propaganda meant to turn the people against the Mysteries. The fear among the elite was that “another people were about to arise” and supplant the existing order.

The greatest boogieman to the Roman aristocracy was the Demogogue, meaning anyone who could rally women, slaves and other non-citizens against the landowning families who controlled the Senate. Given the incredible socioconomic inequities even in the fabled Republic, rebellion was always a clear and present danger that could be whipped up at any time.

But contrary to Livy, the Bacchanalia weren’t prohibited and its shrines weren’t destroyed but rather tightly regulated and controlled by law. And though they never again reached the fever pitch of the Republican era, the Bacchanalia would be revived by Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

Renamed the Liberalia, the new Bacchic holiday would be a more family-oriented kind of street fair, with honey cakes and sweet meats replacing boozing and screwing. Various rituals and entertainments made it a very popular holiday. The boozing and screwing snuck back in along the way, but in a less scandalous fashion.

The Liberalia are still very much with us - in fact, our modern version is celebrated on the very same day that the Romans did. In our modern version, people still march and drink and stuff themselves and play flutes and drums and all the rest of it. We still pig out on beer, beef and cabbage, which dates back to the Osirian blowouts in Egypt...

I find it most interesting that  two major Roman festivals associated with drunkenness, fornication and other types of license both revolved around the 17th day of December and March, a three-month gap. Is there a connection between the two ancient festivals? Famed mythologist Robert Graves seems to indicate that that is very much the case:
"The eventh tree is the ivy and its flowering season. October was the season of the Bacchanal revels of Thrice and Thessaly in which the intoxicated Bassarids rust widely about on the mountains, waving the first-branches of Queen of Artemis (or Adriadne) spirally wreathed with ivy --the yellow-berried sort --in honor of Dionysus (the autumnal Dionysus, who must be distinguished from the Dionysus of the Winter Solstice who is really a Hercules), and with a roebuck tattooed on their right arms above the elbow. They tore fawns, kids, children and even men to pieces in their ecstasy. The ivy was sacred to Osiris as well as to Dionysus. Vine and ivy come next to each other at the turn of the year, and are jointly dedicated to resurrection, presumably because they are the only two trees in the Beth-Luis-Nion that grow spirally. The vine also symbolizes resurrection because it's strength is preserved in the wine...

"Dionysus had two feasts --the Spring Anthesterion, or 'Flower-uprising'; and the autumn Mysterion, which probably means 'uprising of toadstools... was known as Ambrosia ('food of the gods')....

"(The rivalry mentioned in medieval English carols between holly and ivy is not, as one might expect, between the tree of murder and the tree of resurrection, between Typhon-Set and Dionysus-Osiris; instead it represents the domestic war of the sexes. The explanation seems to be that in parts of England the last harvest sheath to be carted in any parish was bound around with Osirian ivy and called the Harvest May, the Harvest Bride, or the Ivy Girl: whichever farmer was latest with his harvesting was given the Ivy Girl as his penalty, an omen of ill luck until the following year...But ivy and holly were both associated with the Saturnalia, holly being Saturn's club, ivy being the nest of the Gold Crest Wren, his bird; on Yule morning, the last of his merry reign, the first foot over the threshold had to be that of Saturn's representative, a dark man, called the Holly Boy, and elaborate precautions were taken to keep women out of the way. Thus Ivy Girl and Holly Boy became opposed; which gave rise to the Yule custom in which 'holly boys' and 'ivy girls' contended in a game of forfeits for precedence, and sang songs, mainly satirical, against each other.)"
(The White Godess, pgs. 183-184)

Thus the Bacchanalia can be seen as a remnant of the old goddess worship (highly likely considering that the god that the festival is based around, Dionysus/Bacchus, is of the vegetation/fertility variety) while Saturnalia can be seen as a celebration of this era after the rise of the patriarchal-centric Olympian deities. Incidentally, I've argued that Saturnalia was based around the murder of Osiris while Knowles believes that it was actually the Bacchanalia (and thus St. Patrick's Day by default) that celebrated this important Mystery tradition. Osiris was supposedly murdered on the 17th day in the Egyptian month of Athyr (also known as Hathor), commonly linked to the modern month of November but sometimes placed in the spring. But I digress.


So, Pope Francis comes to sit upon the Chair of Saint Peter four days before St. Patrick's Day, a holiday that likely has its origins in the decadent Roman festival of Bacchanalia celebrated on March 17, as a result of events that possibly transpired on December 17, the traditional start date for the equally decadent Saturnalia. What's more, this St. Patrick's Day will apparently feature a stellar curiosity. MSNBC reports:
"On Sunday evening, revelers can cap their St. Patrick’s Day by enjoying a view of a rendezvous involving two of the brightest objects in the night sky: the moon and the planet Jupiter.  
"About 45 minutes after sunset on Sunday, the eye-catching celestial duo will be visible in the southwest sky, roughly two-thirds up from the horizon to the point directly overhead (called the zenith).   
"The moon will be a wide crescent at the time, 34 percent illuminated by the sun, and will sit below Jupiter. At its closest pass — which will occur at around 10:30 p.m. local daylight time along the U.S. East Coast, and around 7 p.m. local time for the West Coast — Earth's natural satellite will be just 2 degrees from the giant planet. (For reference, your clenched fist held at arm's length measures about 10 degrees...) 
"Even without the moon, Jupiter readily attracts attention. It’s the brightest "star" of the night, coming into view high in the southwest during the early stages of twilight. The first-magnitude star Aldebaran flickers into view next, about 5 degrees to the lower left of Jupiter, its orange color helping it to stand out from the deepening dark-blue sky. 
"Last to appear are the famous Pleiades and Hyades star clusters as the sky darkens from purple to black. The entire array of the moon, planet, bright star and star clusters sits within the constellation of Taurus (The Bull)."
the moon and Jupiter

There is some incredible synchronicity here. Of course the moon has long been associated with the Great Mother goddess of numerous matriarchies of the ancient world and which originally dominated Europe. This all changed with the arrival of the Indo-European horseman who made patriarchy the dominant form of religion and political organization. Their chief deity was Zeus, known to the Romans as Jupiter.
"Wherever they went, and despite the different notions they had picked up along their way, they retain a feeling for male superiority and for the freely-roaming life they had followed in their homeland, so many centuries ago. They brought with them also their deities.
"Chief amongst these was a male, a great father. The Greeks called Zeus. Zeus pater, As they often said, 'Father Zeus.' The Romans called the same god Jove, or Jupiter, which is actually the identical name, a dialectical variant, with the epithet of 'father' no longer separable in Latin, as in Greek. He was so much the supreme God amongst the other gods that his name was also responsible for the word for 'god,' itself, in Latin, deus."
(The World of Classical Myth, Carl A.P. Ruck & Danny Staples, pg. 20)

Apparently the constellation of Taurus (the Bull) will also be visible. Bulls have a possible connection to the ancient origins St. Patrick's Day. Of it Christopher Knowles writes:
"And what of the corned beef and cabbage? In late antiquity the Apis bull was identified with Osiris. The Apis bull would be sacrificed and eaten in ritual feasts. Cabbage is grown in the winter months in Egypt and was used to control intoxication at feasts."

With all of these things unfolding I can't help but think that 2013 St. Patrick's Day may be even more eventful than usual, especially as far as the Papacy is concerned. The stage is certainly set as far as twilight language is concerned.

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