A Pagan Walking Tour of Paris – Day One: Garden Nymphs, Hero-Poets, and Divine Allegories (oh my!)

We arrived in Paris on Tuesday after many, many hours of travel and very few hours of sleep.  We’re staying with a friend on L’île Saint-Louis, the little island in the center of Paris, on the Seine and next to L’île de la Cité (where Notre-Dame is located).  We’re about a block away from the tiny apartment we lived in from 2000-2005.  This is my first trip to Paris since Wildstar’s big art show in 2007, but that was a really short trip (and our entire focus was the art show), so I feel like I haven’t really had a chance to experience this beautiful city since we lived here seven years ago.

And yesterday I experienced The City of Lights as I best remember it from our starving Bohemian artist days – by walking.  And walking.  And walking.  I must have walked at least 12 miles yesterday, maybe more (it’s no wonder we were so much thinner when lived here).  Wildstar and I began the day by crossing La Seine (aka Sequona, our beloved River Goddess and one of this city’s patron deities) to the Right Bank and Le Marais (the gay/Jewish neighborhood), where we had our morning coffee with fresh croissants.  There’s nothing like sitting in a Paris café and watching all the people walk by, and there couldn’t be a bigger contrast to our quiet life in our remote woodland cabin in the Northwest.  I love this city, but I definitely don’t miss the stress and the struggle and the constant activity.  That being said, Paris is still such an amazing place to visit.  In my opinion it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

We walked all over the old neighborhood to regain our bearings and prepare for the upcoming walking tour we’ll be leading.  We traversed the same old passageways, passed the same Gothic architecture, and despite the sudden proliferation of Starbucks (there were *none* in Paris when lived here before, now they’re everywhere), we were pleased at how many of our favorite old shops and restaurants are still in business.  This was even more clear when we walked back to L’île Saint-Louis.  It’s almost like nothing has changed.  The same shops, the same two women at the bakery, the same butcher, the same guy making crêpes at our favorite crêpe stand, even the same old woman (who vaguely resembles Quentin Crisp when he was in his 90s) sitting at the same desk looking out onto the street while she works.  It was all very surreal, like walking through a memory . . .

[Note: None of the photos in this post came from me, I found them on the web.  I am a terrible photographer so these will have to do.]

On the island we had to pay our respects at three important places:

1) The benches on the riverbank, where we once spent many days and nights, making many offerings to La Seine/Sequona.

2) The gilded balcony that was once home to the Club des Hashischins, a private club in the 19th-century that was attended by many cultural luminaries, including many of our poet-heroes:  including Charles Baudelaire, Gérard de Nerval, Gustave Flaubert, Alexandre Dumas, Honoré de Balzac, and especially a poet by the name of Théophile Gautier, who wrote an incredibly surreal story about this club (containing a hallucination of a man with screaming mandrake roots for feet, and which inspired the name of the Rozz Williams album, Daucus Carota).  This place is significant to us because I once had an elaborate and vivid dream about the club, and the name Théophile Gautier, long before I’d ever heard of either of them, and before we’d even moved to Paris.  I spent years trying to understand the dream, and one day I found out about the story, and the club, and that this club was located on the exact block of Paris where we were then living, just a few doors down on the other side.

3) Square Barye, which features a monument/memorial to one of my favorite sculptors, Antoine-Louis Barye. When we first moved to Paris, I fell in love with the work by Barye at the Musée d’Orsay, especially a beautiful series of allegorical figures (who happen to be male, which is rather rare as far as allegories go). I became somewhat obsessed with Barye, started seeing his work all over Paris, and it later turned out there was a full-scale monument to the man in a park about two blocks from our apartment, which included two of those allegorical figures, Order and Force:

We then went over to the Left Bank, stopped by Shakespeare & Co. (the American bookshop and one of my old hangouts), walked through the Latin Quarter and over to the St. Michel fountain, which I have *always* associated with Hermes despite the overtly Christian imagery:

At this point, a severely jet-lagged Wildstar needed to go back to the apartment and rest, but I decided to continue my walking tour and visit a few old haunts.  I headed a long way down the Seine to the gorgeous Jardin des Plantes, a huge botanical garden and park where I would often sit for hours and write.  This also gave me a chance to revisit one of my favorite neoclassical statues, Amour captive (Love Captured) by Felix Sanzel, which stands in the middle of an incredible rose garden:

Another statue, though, which has no title or attribution, has always puzzled me.  Perhaps someone reading this might be able to help me out. The following statue is clearly a classical philosopher, but which philosopher would be portrayed holding an egg?  Any ideas?

There are so many amazing plants and flowers and quite a few very ancient trees which I also spent time communing with.  I daresay there are more dryads and other nymphs (garden nymphs? park nymphs?) in the Jardin des Plantes than almost any other park in Paris I’ve visited.

I then walked to the Fontaine Cuvier (dedicated to the zoologist Georges Cuvier) – a fountain with an allegorical statue representing Natural History, and which features a stern-looking goddess figure surrounded by animals.  I’ve always found something particularly numinous about this fountain and another tiny fountain across the street, so I paid my respects to the fountain nymphs here:

Nearby are the Arènes de Lutèce, the Arenas of Lutèce (Lutèce was the Roman name for Paris, hence “City of Lights”), which are a Gallo-Roman gladiatorial arena and amphitheater from the 1st century CE that is now a public park.  Years ago I remember a bunch of young football/soccer players running around, beating their chests and exclaiming “We’re the lions now!”  I loved to sit in the amphitheater and read or write while the “lions” rampaged below.

The park was packed on this beautiful sunny afternoon, and beneath me were about 50 guys in a tournament playing the jeu de boules (that game so popular in France where metal balls are thrown into the sand . . . I have no idea how it’s played).

After the Arenas, I felt a strange compulsion to stop inside an old church I had never visited before, St. Etienne du Mont.  In the United States I never set foot inside a Christian church unless I absolutely have to for some reason (usually for a funeral).  But churches in Europe, especially in France, are different.  They’re aesthetically far superior to their counterparts in North America, they’re often built on pagan sites and frequently contain many pagan elements. I’ll talk about this more when I discuss Notre Dame in a future post, but yesterday I heard a voice calling me to stop in and pay a visit.  And sure enough, I was immediately led to a side chapel containing a beautiful allegorical statue of Esperance (Hope) holding an anchor. This lovely statue was made in 1826 by one S.-J. Bru (I cannot find a photograph on the interwebs).  Divine Allegories were everywhere yesterday, and so I paid homage to the Goddess of Hope and moved on.

I headed to The Panthéon, (which became the Temple of Reason during the French Revolution), where many French cultural heroes are buried, including  Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Toussaint Louverture, and Marie Curie:

Outside I poured libations to the Goddess of Reason, as well as my poet-heroes Voltaire and Victor Hugo (I was reading Les Miserables on the plane . . . such a wise and beautiful book).  I then sat for a while beneath the temple columns and read a few favorite passages of Plato’s Timaeus in the cool shade.

My next stop was the Luxembourg Gardens, which were originally built at the behest of Marie de’ Medici.  The park is filled with over a hundred different statues and fountains, including many of my poet-heroes (George Sand, Charles Baudelaire, Stendhal, Paul Verlaine, Leconte de Lisle), a series of Classical Goddesses, and many others.  Below are a number of those statues, starting with one that is particularly interesting in terms of hero-cultus – Le Marchand des Masques (The Merchant of Masks) by Zacharate Astrue.  It depicts a trickster-like lad holding up a mask while surrounded by a ring of masks depicting the actual (rather creepy) death masks of a number of 19th-century writers, artists, and composers – Hugo, Balzac, Dumas fils, Delacroix, Corot, Berlios, Fauré and others:

Dancing Faun by Eugène Louis Lequesne

Le Triomphe de Silene (The Triumph of Silenus) by Aime Jules Dalou

Monument in honor of Leconte de Lisle

Musicien by Jean Valette

The Medici Fountain (above) is a particularly numinous spot and a great place to sit in a chair and read or write.  The fountain portrays Polyphemus Surprising Acis and Galatea, and there’s this uncanny mirror-like effect in the water that photos can’t really convey.  It’s surrounded by some particularly large and beautiful trees.  I honored the fountain nymphs and the dryads before I left.

My final stop was the Musée de Cluny, which is primarily known for being a Museum of the Middle Ages, with a lovely medieval Jardin d’Amour and, most famously, The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.  However, what few pagans realize is that the Musée de Cluny sits on top of an ancient Roman bath-house, and is home to one of the two statues in Paris of our beloved Emperor Julian, who is a hero to most pagans I know.  If you’re a pagan and you’re visiting Paris, you should definitely stop by the Musée de Cluny and pay homage to the last pagan emperor of the Rome.  (The other statue of Julian used to be at the Louvre, where I would visit him often, but the Louvre statue has unfortunately either been in storage or on loan since at least 2005!)

And speaking of the Louvre, I spent many hours immersed in the Greek & Roman antiquities section(s) today, which will be the subject of my next post!

The Survival of Paganism – Honoring Our Pagan Precursors

Much of my post yesterday dedicated to Thomas Taylor, “The English Pagan,” was inspired by an anonymous article I stumbled across, published in Fraser’s Magazine in November 1875.  The full text of the article can be found here.  While the article is rather lengthy, and at times condescending towards some of the figures it describes, I find it fascinating that an article published at the height of the Victorian era could contain so many interesting anecdotes about post-classical historical figures who defended paganism/polytheism and/or actively identified as pagans themselves.  Here are some further highlights that may be of interest to contemporary pagans (keep in mind this was published in 1875):

“Throughout the middle ages we meet with the most earnest sermons against idolatry; and indignant diatribes, like those of Eligius and Peter of Blois, show how much even of the ancient ritual still lingered in the popular observances which it was their object to destroy. In the darkest of the dark ages, the student of mediaevalism who penetrates beneath the crust of that singular literature of myth and legend which had gathered round the Christian story will find sufficient evidence that the divine fire of Hellas, although hidden and dim, was still alight, ready when the hour arrived to leap out, as leap out it did in that wonderful fifteenth century, to fill the world with a flood of light and beauty. From the Renaissance downwards the old creed has never been without hierophants or disciples.”

Gemistus Pletho [George Gemistus Plethon] (1355-1452)

“It was at Florence that we find the ancient learning brought face to face with the ideas of modern civilisation; and here amongst the distinguished scholars whom Cosimo [de’ Medici] gathered around him arose the first Academia Platonica of the revival. Of this institution, founded for the purpose of encouraging the study of Plato, the famous Gemisthus was for many years the great luminary. Only a few fragmentary remains of his works have come down to us, and we are indebted almost entirely to his enemies for what we know of his opinions; but it is evident that he was one of those enthusiasts who, like the Alexandrian eclectics, dreamed of a universal religion which should harmonise in one philosophical worship the varying religious instincts of all mankind. According to George of Trebizond, he entertained most of Plato’s opinions concerning the nature of the gods and the necessity of sacrifice.

‘I have heard him myself,’ said George, ‘when we were together at Florence, say that in a few years all men would embrace with one consent a single and simple religion. And when I asked him if it would be the religion of Jesus Christ or that of Mahomet, he answered: ‘Neither one nor the other; but a third, which will not greatly differ from Paganism.’ . . .

The principal work of Gemisthus was a treatise On Law, burnt after his death by Scolarius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, who reports that it taught a plurality of gods, some eternal and others of late development, under the presidency of a supreme being whom he called Zeus.”

Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) [and Luigi Pulci (1432-1484)]

“Ficinus, the next principal of Cosimo’s academy, was a worthy successor of Gemisthus. He is said to have cherished an almost idolatrous veneration for Plato, whose bust he kept in his chamber with a lamp burning constantly before it. In his writings we find that strange mixture of things, Pagan and Christian, which is so characteristic of the period of the Renaissance. . . . Although a priest, and holding valuable preferment, he proposed that preachers should expound the Parmenides and the Philebus [of Plato] alternately with the Epistles and the Apocrypha in the churches. It is the opinion of some of the best Italian critics that Ficinus assisted Pulci in the theological and metaphysical part of that very remarkable poem the Morgante, and that the bold arguments against Christianity which are put into the mouth of the fiend Aztaroth are especially his. Pulci’s conception of the Deity is essentially pantheistic, and in more than one place he ventures to predict the approaching extinction of the Christian religion. The publication of this book and the escape of Ficinus from any active persecution are striking instances of the freedom of thought which existed in Italy during the fifteenth century.”

Hemon de la Fosse (c. 1603) [and his companions]

“In the time of Louis XII, a young scholar of Abbéville, named Hemon de la Fosse, became so enamoured of the Olympian deities that he conceived the greatest hatred to Christianity. On the 25th of August, 1603, being at high mass in the cathedral of his native town, he suddenly snatched the host from the hands of the officiating priests, and dashed it to the ground, exclaiming, ‘What, always this folly!’ . . . The unfortunate Hemon was immediately cast into prison, but no persuasion or threats could induce him to abjure his opinions. He maintained before the priests who were sent to convert him that Jupiter was the sovereign Lord of the Universe . . . Language like this could have but one result. He was burnt alive in the market-place of Abbéville, after having both his hands cut off, and his tongue bored through with a hot iron. His last words were, ‘C’est ce que je ne puis faire; j’en suis bien fâché.’ [‘I am very angry and this is what I can do about it.’] Nor was this case a solitary one. We are expressly told that many of the Spanish students held similar opinions, and quitted Abbéville to avoid the fate of their companion.”

Voltaire (1694-1778)

“It is reported that when Voltaire first visited the ruins of the Coliseum, he was observed to make a profound obeisance before the great head of Jupiter, and being questioned as to his reason for this strange act of devotion by the scandalised ecclesiastics who accompanied him, is said to have replied, ‘I pay my court to him now in the day of his adversity, in the hope that he will remember me when his turn comes round again.’”

David Hume (1711-1776)

“He [David Hume] tells us in one of his essays that the Olympian system was too supremely beautiful, and too well adapted for the needs of man to have ever finally perished; and gives his opinion that even in these degenerate days it must still prevail in some part of the world.”

John Fransham (1730-1810)

“Another English Pagan of the last century was John Fransham, a poor scholar of Norwich, who had arrived at many of [Thomas] Taylor’s conclusions, while the latter was yet a child. In 1769 he wrote, but did not publish, a worked called The Oestrum of Orpheus, in which he openly avowed his belief in a plurality of gods. Bayle had said that a consistent Spinozist who carries out his principles to their logical conclusions must infallibly end in polytheism, and Fransham held himself to have proved the truth of the proposition. With Spinoza, he held that the first cause is uncreated and indestructible, but not intelligent–is no other indeed than the entire, eternal, and finite mass of matter composing the universe; but he refused to believe that this chaos was shapened and animated by a single co-eternal mind, but, on the contrary, held that nature through a thousand voices proclaimed the existence of innumerable, intelligent powers or forces, ‘plastic and designing,’ who ruled all sublunary affairs, and may most fitly be designated by the nomenclature of the Hellenic theology. He wrote a collection of hymns addressed to Jupiter, Minerva, Venus, and Hercules . . .”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) and the German Romantics

“In recent times the Pagan spirit has been greatly diffused. In Germany for a century past it has many years in a growing tendency to accept the beautiful creations of the Hellenic cult as a graceful symbolism of the conclusions of modern science. The philosophical side of the revival we find in Heyne and Schelling, the aesthetic in Wieland and Frederick Schlegel, and above all in Goethe, who of all moderns was perhaps the most thoroughly a Pagan. The most singular reports used to circulate throughout Europe about Goethe’s heathenism.

‘It is not surprising,’ said La Liberté de Penser in 1832, ‘that we find the bust of Jupiter placed before his bed, and turned towards the rising sun in order that he may address his morning prayers to him on waking.’”

John Sterling (1806-1844) [and also Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) and Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844)]

“In England, traces of the same feeling are to be found in Shelley, and more recently in Sterling, who looked with a loving and longing eye upon the poetical world of Olympus. In a letter printed in his Life by Archdeacon Hare, he expresses his belief that a time will come when, pedants having ceased to seek either true history or false religion in that beautiful creation, it will become known to all the earth, even to the now gross and suffering multitudes, as an inexhaustible treasure-house of noble joys. He relates also with great zest the story of Thorwaldsen, who one day dining with Bunsen at Rome, and becoming wearied of the theological conversation of his host, threw open the window, which commanded a noble prospect of the city over which the planet Jupiter was shining with great splendour, and filled his glass ‘to the honour of the ancient gods.’”

***

I find this Victorian-era article to be a healthy reminder that throughout history, there are countless “modern” (post-classical) pagan precursors for what we are all doing now.  This article highlights a few of those names, and just off the top of my head I can think of many more . . . Michael Marullus , Mark Akenside, John Keats, Richard Henry Horne, Albert Pike, and Louis Ménard (whose 1876 book, Rêveries d’un paien mystique [Reveries of a Mystic Pagan] was the inspiration for the title of this blog).  These are just a handful of our modern pagan precursors who lived and wrote long before the 20th-century pagan/occult revival. If you know of any others who you’d like to discuss, please feel free to share their names in the comments!

It may not be a single continuous tradition, but these heroes were out there, long before our time, defending the gods, honoring the gods, writing hymns to the gods, and even performing rituals to the gods, in times and places when it was extremely dangerous to be an avowed pagan.

And today, on the birthday of Thomas Taylor the English Pagan, I think we should all raise a glass (or pour a libation) to our modern pagan precursors and remind ourselves, that “[f]rom the Renaissance downwards the old creed has never been without hierophants or disciples.”

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