The portraits, of more historical than artistic interest, had gone; and tapestry, full of the blue and bronze of peacocks, fell over the doors, and shut out all history and activity untouched with beauty and peace; and now when I looked at my Crevelli and pondered on the rose in the hand of the Virgin, wherein the form was so delicate and precise that it seemed more like a thought than a flower, or at the grey dawn and rapturous faces of my Francesca, I knew all a Christian's ecstasy without his slavery to rule and custom; when I pondered over the antique bronze gods and goddesses, which I had mortgaged my house to buy, I had all a pagan's delight in various beauty and without his terror at sleepless destiny and his labour with many sacrifices; and I had only to go to my bookshelf, where every book was bound in leather, stamped with intricate ornament, and of a carefully chosen colour: Shakespeare in the orange of the glory of the world, Dante in the dull red of his anger, Milton in the blue grey of his formal calm; and I could experience what I would of human passions without their bitterness and without satiety. I had gathered about me all gods because I believed in none, and experienced every pleasure because I gave myself to none, but held myself apart, individual, indissoluble, a mirror of polished steel: I looked in the triumph of this imagination at the birds of Hera, glowing in the firelight as though they were wrought of jewels; and to my mind, for which symbolism was a necessity, they seemed the doorkeepers of my world, shutting out all that was not of as affluent a beauty as their own; and for a moment I thought as I had thought in so many other moments, that it was possible to rob life of every bitterness except the bitterness of death; and then a thought which had followed this thought, time after time, filled me with a passionate sorrow.
Allegorical stories of saints battling with giants, monsters and demons may be interpreted as symbolizing the Christian's fight against paganism. At Bwlch Rhiwfelen (Denbigh) St Collen fought and killed a cannibal giantess, afterwards washing away the blood-stains in a well later known as Ffynnon Gollen. In Ireland, the tales of saints slaying giant serpents may have the same meaning; alternatively they (or some of them) may refer to early sightings of genuine water monsters. St Barry banished a serpent from a mountain into Lough Lagan (Roscommon), and a holy well sprang up where the saint's knee touched the ground.
Four days before my mother's funeral there was a pouring of rain, and if it continued, as was usual in July in Changchow, the city would be flooded, and there could be no funeral. As most of us came from Shanghai, the delay would have meant some inconvenience. One of my relatives - a rather extreme but not an unusual example of a Christian believer in China - told me that she had faith in God, Who would always provide for His children. She prayed, and the rain stopped, apparently in order the a tiny family of Christians might have their funeral without delay. But the implied idea that, but for us, God would willingly subject the tens of thousands of Changchow inhabitants to a devastating flood, as was often the case, or that He did not stop the rain because of them but because of us who wanted to have a conveniently dry funeral, stuck me as an unbelievable type of selfishness. I cannot imagine God providing for such selfish children. There was also a Christian pastor who wrote the story of his life, attesting to many evidences of the hand of God in his life, for the purpose of glorifying God. One of the evidences adduced was that, when he has got together 600 silver dollars to buy his passage to America, God lowered the rate of exchange on the day this so very important individual was to buy his passage. The difference in the rate of exchange for 600 silver dollars could have been at most ten or twenty dollars, and God was willing to rock the bourses in Paris, London, and New York in order that this curious child of His might save ten or twenty dollars. Let us remind ourselves that this way of glorifying God is not at all unusual in any part of Christendom.
And for those who seek for me, know that seeking and yearning shall avail you not unless you know the mystery; that if that which you seekyou find not within, you will never find it without. For behold, I have been with you from the beginning; and I am that which is attained at the end of desire Doreen Valiente, Charge of the Goddess
Yet rather than calling the earliest religions, which embraced such an open acceptance of all human sexuality, 'fertility cults,' we might consider the religions of today as strange in that they seem to associate shame and even sin with the very process of conceiving new human life. Perhaps centuries from now scholars and historians will be classifying them as 'sterility cults.
I admit at the beginning that 'popular religion,' 'demotic religion,' the pieties of the common folk, tends to sink to the lowest common denominator, be it in syncretizing saints with old, half-forgotten pagan godlings, or in preferring the nasal whine and the revivalist shoutin' to solid sense and learning, regarding intellect as positively inimical to the workings of the Holy Ghost. But it is in American religious life, especially Protestant American religious life, that things bottom out completely.
On the conversion of the European tribes to Christianity the ancient pagan worship was by no means incontinently abandoned. So wholesale had been the conversion of many peoples, whose chiefs or rulers had accepted the new faith on their behalf in a summary manner, that it would be absurd to suppose that any, general acquiescence in the new gospel immediately took place. Indeed, the old beliefs lurked in many neighbourhoods, and even a renaissance of some of them occurred in more than one area. Little by little, however, the Church succeeded in rooting out the public worship of the old pagan deities, but it found it quite impossible to effect an entire reversion of pagan ways, and in the end compromised by exalting the ancient deities to the position of saints in its calendar, either officially, or by usage. In the popular mind, however, these remained as the fairies of woodland and stream, whose worship in a broken-down form still flourished at wayside wells and forest shrines. The Matres, or Mother gods, particularly those of Celtic France and Ireland, the former of which had come to be Romanized, became the bonnes dames of folklore, while the dusii and pilosi, or hairy house-sprites, were so commonly paid tribute that the Church introduced a special question concerning them into its catechism of persons suspected of pagan practice. Nevertheless, the Roman Church, at a somewhat later era, reversed its older and more catholic policy, and sternly set its face against the cultus of paganism in Europe, stigmatizing the several kinds of spirits and derelict gods who were the objects of its worship as demons and devils, whom mankind must eschew with the most pious care if it were to avoid damnation.
Only hinted at in some of these tales, and clearly stated in others, it is apparent that there was a long and continuing conflict between paganism and Christianity in the early centuries A.D. This may also be the explanation behind other well creation tales, such as the slaying by St Barry of a 'great serpent' in County Roscommon. The saint thrust his crozier at it before it disappeared into Lough Lagan, and where his knee touched the ground, a holy well, Tobar Barry, sprang up. Although the serpent may represent paganism, and the saint's victory is therefore the victory of Christianity over paganism, we cannot entirely ignore the possibility that some of the serpents in similar Irish tales may have been real water monsters, which are still seen from time to time in the lakes of Ireland and Scotland. These eerie, ugly monsters, with their aura of primeval mystery, appropriately symbolize the uncouth savagery which the Christians attributed to all non-Christian beliefs; but that is not to say that the monsters were totally symbolic and did not have a reality of their own.
I had fallen into a profound dream-like reverie in which I heard him speaking as at a distance. 'And yet there is no one who communes with only one god,' he was saying, 'and the more a man lives in imagination and in a refined understanding, the more gods does he meet with and talk with, and the more does he come under the power of Roland, who sounded in the Valley of Roncesvalles the last trumpet of the body's will and pleasure; and of Hamlet, who saw them perishing away, and sighed; and of Faust, who looked for them up and down the world and could not find them; and under the power of all those countless divinities who have taken upon themselves spiritual bodies in the minds of the modern poets and romance writers, and under the power of the old divinities, who since the Renaissance have won everything of their ancient worship except the sacrifice of birds and fishes, the fragrance of garlands and the smoke of incense. The many think humanity made these divinities, and that it can unmake them again; but we who have seen them pass in rattling harness, and in soft robes, and heard them speak with articulate voices while we lay in deathlike trance, know that they are always making and unmaking humanity, which is indeed but the trembling of their lips.