Samhain and the Celtic Pagan New Year’s Day—For All the Saints, who from their Labors Rest


I suppose that it’s the Christo-Pagan syncretism of All Saints Day/Samhain that makes me love this day best among all the holidays of the year.  This was the New Year’s Day when they burned bonfires on the hills of Scotland and Wales and Ireland even after the Anglo-Saxons had conquered the weakened, Romanized Celts of “Britannia”.

And the day of the Saints, the New Year’s Day of the Past, is also great time to reflect on the inherent ambiguity of all things, the Jungian “light” and “dark” elements within all our minds and lives.   If there’s one thing you have to accept by the time you’ve reached 52 years of age it is that absolutely nothing in the world is perfectly black or white except on theoretical physical chart descriptions of light spectrography.

Among my favorite Saints is Saint Joan of Arc, burned at the stake as a heretic in her lifetime, revered by almost the entire balance of history since her death.  Most movingly and appropriately, what is perhaps George Bernhard Shaw’s greatest play ends with the (then recently canonized) ghost of Saint Joan speaking the words, “O God that madest this beautiful earth, when will it be ready to receive Thy saints?”  When indeed will the people of Earth accept God’s saints?  Because who seems good and positive to me seems bad or destructive to you, and so my hero is your devil, and some of my heroes are also my devils, depending on what they were doing at the moment.

In the days when at least some of Christ’s Saints really mattered, their images and names were everywhere.  In Mexico, for a long time, the beautiful, eternally young, and brilliant seventeenth century poet, scholar, and linguist Sister (Spanish “Sor”) Juana Inez de la Cruz, said to be the founder of Mexican literature, was the “saint” portrayed on the thousand peso bill—called “Sor Juanas” by some and “Milagros de Sor Juana” by others, but now she’s been demoted to a mere 200 peso denomination.  Sor Juana, like Saint Joan, was overly mannish, masculine, though not in the sense of her dress or decorum as a lady—Saint Joan was a warrior who dressed as a man and struck fear into the heart of an English King and his Army, while Sor Juana struck fear into the hearts of men of the late 17th century Spanish Empire by her “unnaturally precocious” literacy and mastery of learning—she was presented at the Court of the Viceroy Marques de Mendoza at the age of 17 and examined by the leading scholars of the University who were astounded by her knowledge.

None of the American “Saints” quite have Sor Juana’s dignity and chaste elegance, or Saint Joan’s for that matter, but the banknotes on which their pictures appear have much wider circulation around the world.  Most people will agree that George Washington on the one dollar bill and Thomas Jefferson on the two dollar bill were “pretty good guys” (except of course that they were both Hemp-growing slaveholders).  George Washington’s life and childhood has become somewhat mythologized (recall the “I cannot tell a lie, I cut it with my axe” story about little George cutting down a particularly important cherry tree as a boy).  Jefferson’s once nearly saintly rep has suffered in recent years from scurrilous stories that he fathered one or more children with one or more of his slaves, notably a certain “Sally Hemings” whose descendants are still around today.  But it’s still hard to imagine what would define the United States if it were not for Jefferson’s verbiage in the Declaration of Independence and his purchase of New Orleans and the middle one third of the continent from France in 1803, among many other things.

With Abraham Lincoln on the Five dollar bill we come to more controversial territory.  The short previews for the new movie on the sixteenth president with Daniel Day Lewis in the title role suggest a totally mythologized view of “My Uncle Abe” (he’s not really, not even close on the family tree, but it’s always fun to say it) including a line that runs “no one has ever been so beloved”—and that’s just a catastrophic lie…..   Abraham Lincoln, like Julius Caesar and John F. Kennedy, was highly controversial during his lifetime, and it was assassination that achieved Sainthood for him.  Abraham Lincoln arguably did more to destroy liberty and the original constitution in the United States than anyone else besides Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the two Presidents Bush put together.  Lincoln was hated by Northern Democrats and especially New Yorkers throughout the War, and by the people of the South until the middle-to-late 20th century, who never accepted Thanksgiving as a holiday until Lincoln’s successor in supreme constitutional degradation, Franklin D. Roosevelt made it a national holiday.

Lincoln is largely canonized by American history because of his role in “freeing the slaves”, but it is reasonably clear that his real purposes were in no sense benign or kindly towards negroes, whom he wanted to deport en masse back to Africa, and it is also reasonably clear that emancipation would have happened without bloodshed or economic destruction within another generation or two at the most.  But from Mount Rushmore to Hollywood under the influence of first F.D. Roosevelt and now B.H. Obama (another relatively immigrant to Illinois who made it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in part because of playing “the black card”), Lincoln is considered a Saint—unless you love both Freedom and the original Constitution of limited government in which case he’s your worst nightmare, your Devil….

Abraham Lincoln himself was a devoted follower of Alexander Hamilton, “Saint” of the American Banking System, of Centralized Government, and of Elite Control over the masses.  Alexander Hamilton in fact loved big government so much that he was a quasi-Monarchist at first, advocating either George Washington or some German Protestant prince be crowned King of America.  And like Abe Lincoln was also shot, much to the benefit of his long-term legacy—albeit he was not exactly murdered or assassinated but merely tricked into an unfairly fought duel with the then Vice-President Aaron Burr….
So finally we come to the most ambiguous of all—a man who is truly both my hero (because he was against Alexander Hamilton and big government) and my devil (because he was unfair and unjust to people who deserved so much better, namely the American Indians of the Five Civilized Tribes.
Andrew Jackson is associated with New Orleans, the Hermitage, and Nashville.  I gave my first (and probably my best) academic presentation at the “Slayage” Conference on Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Nashville in 2004, in the shadow of the Hermitage which I visited on that occasion for about the twentieth time.  My paper was called “Buffy’s Golden Bough” and concerned precisely the modern restatement of ancient mythology for modern purposes.
I have such terribly mixed feelings about Andrew Jackson: on the one hand, he won the Battle of New Orleans (with the help of the Pirate Jean Lafitte, of course—another historical persona to whom I feel close personal PSYCHIC connexions through New Orleans, Galveston, Grand Isle, Dzilam Bravo, and the East Coast of Yucatan).  Jean Lafitte is another reason I loved New Orleans, but “Jackson Square….”  I totally celebrate what Jackson did in dismantling the Bank of the United States and protecting States’ Rights.  But I can’t bear to reflect on Andy’s oppression of the Indians, his lifetime war against them all over the South, and of course, “the trail of tears.”
The Cherokee of Georgia, in particular, were mostly Christians, they lived in Western Style homes, their Chiefs had slaves—they were totally integrated.  The old ones danced the Eagle Dance in the Mountains, but their Chiefs were good Southerners and, in fact, Chief Stand Watie was the very last Confederate General to surrender, more than two and a half months after Lee’s April 9 surrender at Appomattox, on June 23.
When the leaders of the Confederate Indians learned that the government in Richmond had fallen and the Eastern armies had surrendered, they convened a Grand Council on June 15 calling for Indian Commanders to lay down their arms.
 Stand Watie, Cherokee Chief, Commanded the largest Indian army.  He was dedicated to the Confederate Cause and was unwilling to admit defeat, so he kept his troops in the field for nearly a month after General E. Kirby-Smith surrendered the Trans-Mississippi on May 26. Watie was in command of several battalion of Creek, Seminole, Cherokee, and Osage Indians.  So even Andrew Jackson’s persecution of the Southern Civilized Indians did not defeat their Southern Patriotism—there were Slaves in Indian Territory for a Full Year after the end of the war in 1865, and the status of the descendants of those slaves is still hotly debated.
Ironically enough, if you consider Andrew Jackson to be the devil, then you would be more likely to favor Chief Justice John Marshall, who ruled in favor of the Indian rights to Northern Georgia in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and the related case of Worcester v. Georgia.   But John Marshall was a Hamiltonian Federalist, the very last of them in fact, who favored the Centralization of Power in the Federal Government and ruled in favor of the Bank of the United States.  John Marshall was the founding father of the profession of law in the United States, and every law student reveres him as a kind of saint, but all those who value liberty must regret a great many of his rulings, especially Osborne v. Bank of the United States and M’Culloch v. Maryland.  So without doubt, John Marshall has given both light and darkness to American history.  On the questions of the Bank of the United States, I would rate Jackson a Saint and Marshall a Devil, on the question of the removal of the Southern Indians, the opposite.
A great irony inheres in the historical “indigestibility”—the real problem with the assimilation of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Creek in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi was just that they rejected ONE (and ONLY ONE) Anglo-Saxon institution—they rejected private property in land.   All North American Indian Nations have in common that land is owned by the Tribe, the Community, rather than by the individual or family tribal members.  Strangely, this was not at all true of the “highly civilized” Indians of Mexico.  The Aztec and the especially the Maya were quite accustomed in prehispanic times to documenting individual or family land title by documentary evidence, and the Colonial Spanish courts were filled with such conflicts.
To think of the conflict between the Whites and Indians crystalizing along those lines, communal property vs. private property, contemporaneous when the years when F. Engels and Karl Marx were a couple of bourgeois teenagers and in their twenties, creates a strange series of Hegelian dialectic conflicts indeed.  And the scale becomes grayer and grayer the closer one looks at the details.
I’ve been reading a lot of Marx recently—his editorial position on things is really no different from the New York Times/LA Times—and his social critique of England is awfully close to that of Charles Dickens’ novels.  All Marxist schemes of cultural evolution were challenged by the events in the first 19th century in the Southern USA—whose financial capital was New Orleans….
Even Marx himself has light and dark sides.  His dark side obviously manifested in creating the communist and socialist party movements which have all but now successfully destroyed Western Civilization.  But he was a brilliant economist and effectively the founder of all modern social sciences, and of the concept of cultural evolution which shapes those sciences.
On these things and so many more I am spending the first day of the Celtic New Year…. and of the ambiguity and uncertainty of Sainthood on All Saints’ Day…..

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