The world returning to Paganism? Perhaps a good thing, said C S Lewis

A representation from the 1500s of the Muses d...

The Muses dancing–an image from the 1500s.         (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, Lewis really did think, in this post-Christian world, that it would be a step forward if we returned to at least some forms, some values, of Paganism. A Classicist by temper and training, he argued this in some writings with great seriousness, but in the following poem with a wink:

Cliche Came Out of its Cage


You said ‘The world is going back to Paganism’.
Oh bright Vision! I saw our dynasty in the bar of the House
Spill from their tumblers a libation to the Erinyes,
And Leavis with Lord Russell wreathed in flowers, heralded with flutes,
Leading white bulls to the cathedral of the solemn Muses
To pay where due the glory of their latest theorem.
Hestia’s fire in every flat, rekindled, burned before
The Lardergods. Unmarried daughters with obedient hands
Tended it By the hearth the white-armd venerable mother
Domum servabat, lanam faciebat. at the hour
Of sacrifice their brothers came, silent, corrected, grave
Before their elders; on their downy cheeks easily the blush
Arose (it is the mark of freemen’s children) as they trooped,
Gleaming with oil, demurely home from the palaestra or the dance.
Walk carefully, do not wake the envy of the happy gods,
Shun Hubris. The middle of the road, the middle sort of men,
Are best. Aidos surpasses gold. Reverence for the aged
Is wholesome as seasonable rain, and for a man to die
Defending the city in battle is a harmonious thing.
Thus with magistral hand the Puritan Sophrosune
Cooled and schooled and tempered our uneasy motions;
Heathendom came again, the circumspection and the holy fears …
You said it. Did you mean it? Oh inordinate liar, stop.


Or did you mean another kind of heathenry?
Think, then, that under heaven-roof the little disc of the earth,
Fortified Midgard, lies encircled by the ravening Worm.
Over its icy bastions faces of giant and troll
Look in, ready to invade it. The Wolf, admittedly, is bound;
But the bond will break, the Beast run free. The weary gods,
Scarred with old wounds the one-eyed Odin, Tyr who has lost a hand,
Will limp to their stations for the Last defence. Make it your hope
To be counted worthy on that day to stand beside them;
For the end of man is to partake of their defeat and die
His second, final death in good company. The stupid, strong
Unteachable monsters are certain to be victorious at last,
And every man of decent blood is on the losing side.
Take as your model the tall women with yellow hair in plaits
Who walked back into burning houses to die with men,
Or him who as the death spear entered into his vitals
Made critical comments on its workmanship and aim.
Are these the Pagans you spoke of? Know your betters and crouch, dogs;
You that have Vichy water in your veins and worship the event
Your goddess History (whom your fathers called the strumpet Fortune).

Clive Staples Lewis

2 responses to “The world returning to Paganism? Perhaps a good thing, said C S Lewis

  1. While I would agree that God can use almost anything to point us toward Himself, I don’t think that’s Lewis’s point here. He seems to be saying that certain kinds of paganism (those alluded to in the poem, at least), with their disciplines, their recognition of Man’s limitations and his place in the universe would, relatively speaking, be an improvement over the godless modernism he saw gathering around him. These are represented by those who “worship the event” or, as we might say, those who are preoccupied with being on the “right side of History” (as though History took sides or only ever moved in one direction).


    I’m afraid I don’t understand this. A fondness for mythology, this I understand in Lewis and this I see present in both the Narnia books and the Space Trilogy. But what does any of this have to do with Christ? Did Lewis believe pagan religions pointed to Yahweh?

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