20 December 2013

Yes, Virginia

Santa Claus is real.

I'm serious.

Okay, okay: I'm being flippant, too. But when I assert the reality of Santa Claus I'm not merely kidding around, engaging in some Francis P. Church fancy, or participating in the conspiracy of deceit toward small children. I have a point I want to make.

Santa Claus is as real as I am.

Santa is, in truth, more real than I am. He has a bigger effect on the world.

After all, how many people know Santa Claus? If I walk down Market Street in San Francisco, there's a good chance that a few people will recognize me; I happen to be a distinctive-looking guy. There's a chance that one or two of those people will even know my name and a few things about me, but the odds are greatly against it. But if Santa takes the same walk, everybody (or nearly everybody) will recognize him, know his name, know a number of things about him, even have personal stories about him. So who is more real?

You may roll your eyes and say, “Being recognized is a sort of effect on the world, sure, but it is a weightless, immaterial effect. That does not compare to my ability to do long division, or to chop carrots.”

Or … say … deliver gifts? Each year I deliver and sign my name to one or two dozen gifts under Yule trees. Santa? Uncounted millions.

You may protest that other people bought those gifts, wrapped them, signed Santa's name, and put them under the tree, but I ask you: without Santa, would they have done all that stuff?

Santa Claus was a motive force which made those presents happen, much as I was the motive force who made my presents happen. I may have Santa beat in the chopping carrots department, but what he does well he does vastly better than I could possibly do it.

Santa has an effect on the world, one far bigger than I have. He's been at it since well before I was born and I presume he'll still be doing it long after I'm gone. Santa has a narrower range of things he does than I do, it's true, but in his area of specialty, Santa outdoes me by an enormous margin.

Again you may roll your eyes, and say, “That's all true but Santa Claus is not an ordinary flesh-and-blood human being like you and me. When you said that Santa was real, I inferred that you were claiming that he was a human being.”

Yet I made no such silly implication. Of course Santa isn't a person like you and me. A child knows that. He can jump down chimneys and deliver presents to children all over the world in one night. No ordinary human being could do that. He's a magical creature, a non-human entity.


Once more you may roll your eyes. “Non-human ‘entities’ are not real.”

What, only human beings are real? What kind of ontology is that?

Mount Everest is not real? The Great Red Spot on Jupiter is not real? The Second Law of Thermodynamics is not real? The International Date Line? The Declaration of Independence? Walt Disney Pictures? My memory of my grandfather? The waves crashing on the beach in Waikiki?

There are various kinds of things that are real. How does Santa Claus not qualify among them? He is recognizable, distinct, has observable effects on the world.

Santa Claus is real.

It should be evident at this point that I am using Santa Claus to make a point about how we think about reality, about the limits of simplistically materialist ontology, about what I call the pagan sensibility which recognizes a range of different kinds of forces in the world and honors them. I'm using Santa as a familiar example of the pagan conception of what the gods are like.

I still love the special kind of understanding of the world which only the natural sciences provide. But the question of human experience does not respond to those tools. My own subjective experience is one long un-reproducible result. And what I see when I look at human experience is that we have strange encounters with subtle, non-human forces in the world: The Job Market, The Artistic Process, Morale At The Office, Murphy's Law. The ancients called these bodiless forces spirits, angels, gods, and so forth; they are names for the ways in which humans experience and process these encounters with the forces in the world. And just as the New York Stock Exchange is real — a non-human entity, a pattern in the world, with a certain character, with things we perceive as preferences, intentions, and even moods which a person can interact with — so too the gods of the ancients like Hermes, Thor, or Jesus are real. So too even “made up” entities like Santa Claus or Chtulhu are, in an important sense, real.

We can get clever about how, in our human experience, we interact with these entities: how we think and act to get the response from the world that we want. That process, after spooky old Aleister Crowley's usage, is convenient to call “magick,” because its methods are the things we associate with the word: rituals, symbols, and meditation. If that seems silly — and frankly, there are times when it still seems silly to me — I consider that in college I learned to predict the movements of cannonballs and invisible electrons by meditating on occult symbols drawn on a blackboard. That's magick.

Westerners who take seriously magick and engagement with a range of gods and other entities have a funny name: Pagan. And okay, that's me. I'm now at a point in my life where that funny name doesn't seem too awkward to apply to myself: sure, it's easily misunderstood, and puts me in a category together with some pretty embarrassing folks ... but doesn't any language in talking about spiritual experiences have that problem? Heck, most Christians feel that way, and they have a much bigger propaganda machine than Pagans do.

Santa is a thing that happens when the human frame encounters its own impulse to give gifts: it grows images and stories and names, it takes on a life of its own greater than any person can command.

Santa Claus is real.

Hail Santa! Bringer of gifts! Indulger of children! Herald of the Yule! Spirit of generosity! Elf of good cheer!

Hail and welcome!

Update: In The Santa Template for Pagan Worship, Aaron Leitch looks closely at Christmas ritual and makes the case in even more explicit detail than I have.

It will surely amaze you to find out that Santa Claus is a modern deity who fits each and every requirement of ancient Pagan deity worship. What follows is not about the well-known Pagan origins of the Santa Claus image (aka, Father Christmas — who has close ties to Germanic images of Odin). Instead, this is about the modern incarnation of Santa himself as a Western deity.

The manner in which we moderns deal with Santa Claus, and Christmas in general, is exactly how rites to Gods were performed in ancient times. Knowing this, it can provide an awesome sounding board against which to test our methods of dealing with any God we choose. At the very least, it offers us a glaring contrast to our normal Neo-Pagan methods.

I've been quoted on The Wild Hunt, where there is more commentary on Santa by other Pagan bloggers. And I have a later story about a a Pagan Christmas miracle from LaSara Firefox Allen. And Visions of Sugarplums, a story about a Pagan getting a surprise visit from Santa.


~christina said...

I prefer to worship Sherlock Holmes.

Ember said...

I've had a semi-joke for a long time, imagining how I would go about teaching my future children about Santa Claus.

Upon seeing a man dressed up as Santa at the mall, greeting children.
Me: Now sweetie, what have I told you about priests aspecting Spirit?
Child, as a mantra: Treat the priest as the spirit.
Me: So what do you say to the nice priest of Santa Claus?
Child, sullenly: "Hi Santa."


J'Carlin said...

Santa Claus is one of the few gods of giving and to children no less. Most other gods are in one sense or another takers. Of souls at least, frequently much more than that, takers of the humanity of others. Secular gods are worst of all, but the prevailing Abrahamic god is no slouch, at best an antagonist to secular gods. I can make no comment on Pagan gods. As I am relatively unfamiliar with modern incarnations (if that is the right word) I will leave that to Pagans to comment on.