I got in a conversation with another pagan on Huginn’s Heathen Hof, and he had a different outlook on the whole Christianity versus Paganism argument. It hit me as having some merit, so I’d thought I’d explore it more in depth.
The person who put forth this argument to me was a Heathen and a Gnostic. (Let that sink in a bit before dismissing it outright.) His basic argument was that Christianity at its beginning had nothing — no holidays, no formal sacraments, etc, — so it took from other religions. In fact, it took so much from pagan religions that the pagan religions actually triumphed. I’ve been mulling it over for some days and while I don’t think it’s entirely correct, I think it has some merit to at least think about.
Christianity at its Core
Christianity is, at its core, a death cult. It focuses not on rewards in the here and now, but after one dies. It even focuses on the gruesome torture and death of their god. While I think that knowing where you’re going when you die is important, I think that this life is just as important on how we live. Yes, Christians do focus on how well behaved they should be because they will receive a reward in “heaven,” but honestly, it takes a fear of eternal punishment to behave correctly? Think about that for a bit.
The major holiday that Christians have recognized since its inception would be Easter, that is the day when Christ allegedly rose from the dead. We know that Easter arose from the Passover festival, around which Christ was allegedly crucified. Easter follows Passover. But we know that it took the name Eostre, and it may have borrowed the pagan trappings of festivals during that time, presumably to make it more palatable to the audience.
Yule and Christmas
We do know that Christmas was pretty much taken from pagan midwinter festivals, celebrating the celebrating the god of agriculture for a full month starting a week before the solstice. We know that Christmas wasn’t instituted until the fourth century CE when the Church thought to take those midwinter festivals and sanction them.
return of the sun. While us Heathens can lay claim to Yule, we aren’t the only ones that had midwinter celebrations. The Romans had Saturnalia, which was spent
The Puritans actually banned Christmas (and the saints) because they recognized the pagan origins. For about 25 years England under Oliver Cromwell made Christmas illegal. That joy was brought over with the Puritans who made Christmas illegal. Such was the control of the Puritans that anyone found in Boston exhibiting the Christmas spirit during the years 1659 to 1681 could be fined. What a great bunch.
Incidentally, the Christmas tree came into vogue with Queen Victoria, taking the customs of her husband’s homeland. The Christmas tree popped up around the 17th century in Germany have its, …ahem, roots in paganism.
Plenty of pagans have pointed to Odin’s ride, Slepnir’s eight legs changing into eight reindeer, and other similarities, that suggest Odin is Santa Claus, so I don’t need to go through that argument.
Harvest and Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving, itself, is more of an American holiday that was celebrated in New England for some time before Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday in 1863. George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789, thus putting it on the table, so to speak, when it came to having a national day of thanks. A quote from History.com:
Image by Magickal Graphics
“As an annual celebration of the harvest and its bounty, moreover, Thanksgiving falls under a category of festivals that spans cultures, continents and millennia. In ancient times, the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans feasted and paid tribute to their gods after the fall harvest. Thanksgiving also bears a resemblance to the ancient Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. Finally, historians have noted that Native Americans had a rich tradition of commemorating the fall harvest with feasting and merrymaking long before Europeans set foot on their shores.”
We have our own celebration of Harvest Home, so saying that Americans “invented” a harvest festival like Thanksgiving isn’t truthful. Now, we did put our own spin on it, but in the end, it is the celebration of family and home, as well as harvest.
The Days of the Week
The months are named after Roman months (gods, Caesars, and numbers), but the days of the week were Roman names changed to our gods, with the exception of Saturday because people probably thought Ymirday might not catch on. (Yeah, I know the story is that there’s no German equivalent to Saturn who was an agricultural god slain by Jupiter, but that’s another story for another time.) So, when we say we’re meeting someone on Thursday, we’re meeting them on Thor’s-day.
Saints versus Polytheism
Becoming Polytheistic was easy after being Catholic for me. Any religion that allows veneration of saints actually lost to the polytheism. Even the Episcopalians have the saints and the time I went to an Episcopalian mass proved to me that they’re Catholics without a pope who allow divorces. We know that some saints were actually gods that got incorporated into the ranks of saints to make the religion more popular (such as Saint Bridget). So, yeah, in some Christian religions, we got some of the gods and goddesses in.
Catholics will tell you that they do not worship saints. That is true at the highest level, but the line gets mighty blurred with the veneration of Mary and other saints.
So Did Heathenism Win?
That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? I would argue yes and no. In the long run, we still have the Christian god, complete with all the stupidity that has subjugated women, condoned slavery, and given us plenty of hangups due to the “do this or you go to hell” mentality. I’m not saying that heathens were morally superior as we had slavery and human sacrifice, but most of us are willing to make the change in the right direction.
By the same token, we got our holidays and other pieces infiltrated into Christianity. People who celebrate the holidays are often celebrating the secular holidays rather than what their church would like them to celebrate. Sure, they keep Jesus in Christmas, but seeing as the whole nativity scene is pretty much made up, and seeing we really don’t know much about the historical Jesus, or even if there was one, we can call it a myth and be done with it.
What it does say to me is that Heathens can celebrate those so-called Christian holidays and feel good about putting their own spin on things. At least, that’s how I look at it.
Added for Clarity:
The point the person made was that arguing whether or not to worship Christ was irrelevant because basically Christianity took all the trappings from pagans anyway. We can argue semantics, but that was his point. I was willing to consider his belief and came up with a yes and no observation. I rushed the conclusion, which perhaps I shouldn’t have done, but I wanted to get the piece out, late as it was.
That being said, I think he does have a point. Is it Heathenism under another flavor? No. Our gods are not revered, although one might be able to point out some obscure saints the Church may have created to appease Heathens. Is Christianity the same as it was when it was conceived? No. It is mostly pagan with the foundation of the Abrahamic faith. Depending on your beliefs in Asatru and Heathenism, you can argue that what parts of paganism was added is superficial. Maybe so, maybe not. I just found it an interesting opinion, and one I couldn’t completely dismiss.