Midwinter Celebrations – Pagan and Christian Traditions Collide

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In the two sessions which I witnessed, one in London, and one in Medina Rajneesh, (which at that time was Bhagwan’s Hertfordshire base), loud music was played, whilst the participants were encouraged to move their bodies in any way they wished, and to express and release their emotions with a complete lack of inhibition. What followed looked and sounded chaotic. Some tore their clothes off and danced naked – a little like worshippers of Dionysus in Ancient Greece, who rushed up into the mountains in an ecstatic state to worship the god of wine, as shown in Euripides’ play ‘The Bacchae’. Others gave way to the grief that was locked inside them, curling up in a foetal position and sobbing as if their hearts would break. All of this was christian mysticism meant to serve a cathartic purpose. Some of the group simply danced; some curled themselves into tight balls; and others writhed across the floor like snakes. This overwrought situation depends upon the skill of the group leader in controlling it, and upon his sense of responsibility in bringing things to a conclusion should this be necessary for the safety of all.

When the session had run its course, the group leader turned the music off, plunged himself into a lotus posture, and apparently into a state of deep meditation. Meanwhile, the participants lay around weeping or working out their distress in whichever way seemed best, or emerging slowly from hysteria. The group leader allowed stillness to reign for several minutes at the end of session. The consensus of opinion by all participants afterwards was that they felt thoroughly ‘cleansed’.

What may be learned by Christians from this account? Some may believe it is our task to suppress all our bad emotions as ‘sin’ and when we meet other people we must be ‘nice’ to them. I don’t believe this is what God intended for us. Jesus himself expressed strong emotion, including anger, frustration, and grief. For us today, some of these apparently bizarre techniques may have value – along with certain risks. I believe the lesson for us lies, at the very least, in being ‘real’ with each other, and honest about our struggles. Although many may answer, ‘Fine, thank you’ to the question, ‘How are you?’ I believe we must challenge ourselves to be more sensitive to the reality of who we are as human beings. I am not making a plea for emotional release therapy in the church hall (unless it has good locks on the door and thick curtains at the windows). But I am advocating that we create and take more opportunities to be ‘real’ with each other.