Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Tomte are cute, now. They have their own catalog, and in the yearly Luciadag festivals, are played by pre-K's in Swedish costume. In our version, they are referred to as "mischievous little creatures who can be bribed with food." Which is mildly amusing. We have them up in church, even though they are deeply pagan, because we have drawn all the danger out of them over the last century or so.

Originally, they were the souls of the original builders of a farm, which can perhaps have a positive, protective spin put on it, but holds hints of something grimmer.

We miss the power of the paganism because we no longer understand the power of poverty and hunger. If offended, the tomtegubbe might take revenge by curdling the milk, goes one example. That sounds like a minor inconvenience, an "oh, darn" moment now. In a context of ongoing hunger, with the storage of most foods a chancey thing because of mice, leakage, or rot, the loss of any food was frightening. One might well turn to whatever gods or spirits one knew in order to stay alive.

I wrote more on this over a year ago in the series on Wyrd and Providence.

1 comment:

Dubbahdee said...

I suppose I shouldn't be, but I am shocked to hear that tomte figures are in a church.

I'm not an anti-halloween freak (my kids go trick-or-treating), but along the same lines, I would loudly object to putting jack-o-lanterns into a church sanctuary. True, the symbol is mostly a dry lifeless husk of what it once was, but it is still a symbol. It does not belong in a Christian house of worship. I get that it is swedish, but sentimental tribal ties don't excuse such things.

Religious symbols especially always carry at least a piece of the reality they represent. They are at once both semantic and real, bridging the gap between the two realms. This is part of the power of bread and wine in the eucharist.

OK, so let's talk about co-opting symbols. Yeah, I have a Christmas tree in my house, but I'm not too crazy about Christmas trees in church either. I draw a line between such customs in the home, and doing such things in the church. It says something about what/who you WORSHIP that a home custom does not.

If the Venerable Bede were present today, would he march into your church and smash them with a hammer, then stand upon the shards and preach the gospel to you all?

Again, along the same lines, it has always made me crazy that the ECC insists on calling the summer Pastoral gathering an Ashram. Can't we think of a word with stronger CHRISTIAN roots?