During his recent trip to Canada, Pope Francis took part in pagan rites and wore the Indian feather headdress, creating quite a stir. Such an attitude is certainly in line with the doctrines of Laudato Si' and the Synod on the Amazon, but it also has clear precedents in modernist doctrines and the attitudes of post-conciliar pontiffs.
As early as 1907, in his encyclical Pascendi, St. Pius X predicted that modernism would logically lead to a form of pantheism. Since the conciliar document Nostra Aetate, we have witnessed an increasingly open manifestation of this doctrine.
Whether the divine manifests itself in some way in all religions, or whether “Christ” represents the union of God with the whole human race (as argued by Gaudium et Spes and by John Paul II in Redemptor Hominis), can we not continue to say that Christ represents the union of the divine with all creation?
In the 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’, the elements in this direction are very numerous: “The Father is the ultimate source of everything, the loving and self-communicating foundation of all that exists. The Son, his reflection, through whom all things were created, united himself to this earth when he was formed in the womb of Mary. The Spirit, infinite bond of love, is intimately present at the very heart of the universe, inspiring and bringing new pathways” (n. 238).
“For Christians (sic), all the creatures of the material universe find their true meaning in the Incarnate Word, for the Son of God has incorporated in his person part of the material world, planting in to a seed of definitive transformation” (n. 235).
“Christ has taken unto himself this material world and now, risen, is intimately present in each being, surrounding it with his affection and penetrating it with his light” (no. 221).
From such a perspective, for the modernist, if all religions are valid expressions of the vital immanence of the divine in man, paganism is its most valid expression. Pope Francis had already illustrated this principle in his own way.
In his sermon of October 7, 2019, he asks: “What is the difference between the feathers that you have on your head and the headdresses that the officials of our dicasteries wear? In his usual brutal language, the pope expressed the idea of the indifference of the various religious expressions, of all manifestations of the universal meaning of the divine inherent in man.
This joke is the manifestation of an elaborate thought, expressed many times, in more appropriate terms, by modern ecumenism. But if, in order to speak of the cosmos as divinity, Christianity must make the effort to use the image of the Incarnation and to take it as a paradigm of something else, as do Teilhard and Laudato Si' , ancient paganisms do not need such leaps.
Hence the repeated praise of Aboriginal culture contained in Laudato Si' (cf. nos. 146 and 179), for its exemplary union with the divine cosmos, and hence the idyllic image of Amerindian culture presented by the Amazon Synod.
The Instrumentum Laboris (IL) of this synod makes life in union with the “biome” of the Indians an absolute model: not only because they respect nature, but because they live a spiritual concept that allows them to fit into the whole.
The praise of such a concept is very explicit and repeated: in no.104 it is suggested to “salvage myths and update community rites and celebrations that contribute significantly to the process of ecological conversion.”
Indeed “indigenous rituals and ceremonies are essential for integral health because they integrate the different cycles of human life and nature. They create harmony and balance between human beings and the cosmos. They protect life from evils that can be caused by human beings and other living beings. They help to cure diseases that harm the environment, human life and other living beings” (#87).
It would seem difficult to say more clearly that harmony with the cosmos is the result of the spiritual concept of natives and their rituals; but the text goes much further. In number 75 we read: “A cosmic dimension of experience . . . palpitates within the families. … In short, the family is where one learns to live in harmony: between peoples, between generations, with nature, in dialogue with the spirits.”
God Himself, understood as the sense of the divine inherent in man and the cosmos, is at work in all this, He even incarnates Himself there (in a Teilhardian way): “It is a great opportunity for the Church to discover the incarnate and active presence of God: in the most diverse manifestations of creation; in the spirituality of original peoples; in expressions of popular religiosity; in the different popular organizations that resist the mega-projects; and in the proposal of an economy of solidarity, productive and sustainable, that respects nature” (IL n. 33).
The Church has precisely the role of “discovering” this presence of God and inserting it into its own institutions and dogmas, because God reveals Himself precisely in this pantheistic presence and above all in the spirituality of paganism, so revealing of what the modernists think of God.
Christian Pontiffs and Pagan Rites
In light of this brief account, the participation of modern popes in genuine pagan rites can no longer be a surprise. We are not talking about the rites authorized and organized by the popes in ecumenical meetings of the Assisi type, but about those in which they have personally participated.
Everyone knows about the veneration of the Pachamama by the sovereign pontiff and the members of the Amazon synod in 2019; few know, however, that in the summer of 2017, on the occasion of the anniversary of diplomatic relations with Japan, a Noh theater performance took place in the Vatican of the classic drama Hagoromo. An element called Okina, which is a a Shinto ritual, in which actors play deities who dance for peace and prosperity.
The performer of Okina must purify himself before starting. Among the offerings presented at the altar are the Menbako, a chest containing the masks used for the show and the sake used for the Okina. It is therefore a real pagan ritual that took place in the apostolic palaces, on the Vatican hill purified by the martyrdom of St. Peter, the work of Constantine, and of St. Sylvester, many centuries ago.
In July 2022, on the fourth day of his recent trip to Canada, as part of the scheduled welcoming ceremony, a shaman from the Huron-Wendat nation performed a “ritual purification (smudging) in the four directions” in front of the pope, using soft grass and animal feathers to spread a sacred smoke burned in honor of Manitou, the great spirit.
The pontiff was given a turkey feather and some sweet grass, then was invited to participate in a “spiritual circle,” from which “we can visualize a sacred fire.” The sorcerer adds that “the sacred fire unites all that exists in creation.”
“We will honor earth, wind, water, and fire,” the native said in classic esoteric terms. “We are going to honor the mineral aspect, the vegetable aspect, and the human aspect.”
To “open the four directions,” the ancient shaman whistled four times into a bone instrument while pronouncing special invocation formulas. Arriving at the “western door,” he intones: “I ask the western ancestor to give us access to the sacred circle of the spirits so that they are with us, so that we are united and stronger together.”
Everyone present was asked to place their hands over their hearts. Video footage shows the Pope, along with bishops and cardinals, all performing the pagan ceremonial order given to them.
In Canada in 1984, John Paul II had already participated in the same ceremony as Pope Francis: but he had been given an eagle feather dipped in rare essences and blood, in memory of the then recent assassination attempt, to disperse the smoke. An account of this ritual, quite similar to that celebrated with Pope Francis, is given in La Croix of September 8/9, 1984.
The number of pagan rituals in which John Paul II took part cannot be cataloged here in full: in terms of gravity and extent, we only mention here the prayer in the Sacred Forest of Togo, with the invocation of spirits by a sorcerer, and a ritual purification with the active participation of the now-deceased Pontiff (see L'Osservatore Romano of August 11, 1985).
In 1986, in India, the Pope was received with the singing of Vedic hymns (therefore pagan and openly pantheistic) and numerous ceremonies of a very clearly Hindu nature, even mixed with the celebration of the Mass.
As a final note, the first pope to wear the Indian feather headdress was Paul VI, during an audience at Castel Gandolfo in September 1974.