21 Oct 2012

Fictitious Saints and Hidden Gods

One of the great mysteries of Christianity is why there are so many saints. In the Catholic church there are said to be over 10,000, with even more in the Eastern churches. Which ever way you think of it, the numbers seem excessive. Part of the reason is that many of these saints were created to provide a Christian focus for a local pagan god or religious tradition. Without a saint in place, the local customs would have continued in their original pagan guise and the local gods would have retained their pagan identity. The reason so many saints were created was to prevent this.

Saints, as extensions of a corporate and totalitarian pseudo-religious regime, are always false and never actual in the sense that there is nothing magical or divine about them. They are mere men and women, and often quite evil men and women. But, even more interestingly for those of us interested in paganism, saints were sometimes not even based on actual people, but were simply made up like characters in a novel to sit astride the previous pagan tradition. Many saints simply do not have any historical or biographical basis. Such saints represent a mere renaming of pagan deities. These falsest of the false saints, in other words, are hidden pagan gods.

One example is St. Walstan, a saint connected with several sites in Norfolk, who is mentioned in Jennifer Westwood's Albion. Although dates are given for his birth and death (965-1016) he seems to be purely mythical. His legend is preserved in a 15th-century verse life based on an earlier Latin account, but there is no historical verification for the details of the story, in fact quite the reverse. According to the legend he was the son of a king of East Anglia, a kingdom which effectively disappeared around a hundred years before his birth.

The details of the legend suggest a Christianized version of a pagan fertility god. It is written that when he was dying at Taverham near Norwich, he was laid in a cart pulled by two oxen which were allowed to roam freely
a very pagan way of finding one's final resting place! The oxen made their way to Costessey Wood, resting twice on the way. At each resting place springs burst forth from the ground. The second of these became known as St. Waltan's Well and became famous for the cure of sick animals. The third and final stop was at Bawburgh, where the saint was buried and a church built over his body.

Bilious Bale in his English Votaries (1551) says that Walstan was believed to restore the lost genitals of both animals and men and that he "became after the maner of Priapus the God of their Feldes in Northfolke...al mowers and sythe folowers sekynge hym ones in ye yeare."

In keeping with a hidden fertility god, his festival was held in Spring on the 30th of May.

The pre-Christian pagan tradition in the area would have been dominated by the Germanic Angles, who settled the area in the fifth century, perhaps with some remnant of the earlier Celtic tradition. Is it possible that St. Walstan was in some form the Nordic god Freyr, associated with virility, good weather, and prosperity, and often depicted as a phallic fertility god.

Colin Liddell
A Pagan Place
21st of October, 2012

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