Sunday, August 5, 2012
Okay, so, let's get to it: The pagan origins of (aspects of) Christianity. To be more specific, I will be looking at the origins of Christmas and Easter, specifically. Then the question of whether or not any of this disproves or casts doubt upon the veracity of the religons' claims is (very ) briefly examined.
Christmas has its origins in paganism. The ancient European pagans celebrated the midwinter festival (Winter Solstice) and a number of other festivals long before Christianity ever existed. Babylonians celebrated the feast of the Son of Isis with gluttonous eating and drinking, and gift giving. God were honoured at this time, including The Persian god Mithra, the Syrian sun god Elah Gabal, the German Sol, the Greek Helios and the Mesopotamian Sham ash. The law courts and schools were closed. No public business could be transacted. These celebrations make up the origins of the modern Christmas celebration.
The following facets of the Christmas celebrations are pagan in origin:
-Christmas candle (Wax tapers were given by the more humble to their superiors)
-Christmas carolling (In Rome groups of costumed went from house to house to entertain)
-Statue of mother and son (Statues of the Mother and lover or Mother and son were paraded through the streets not only in Italy but also in Africa and Scandinavian countries which celebrated Yule honouring the god Thor)
-The 12 days of Christmas (In Germania they celebrated midwinter night followed by 12 wild nights of eating and drinking)
First of all, Easter cannot represent any one date. The church under Pope Julius I declared that Easter is set by the first full moon after the vernal equinox. This is the one day in the year when day and night are roughly equal, and this date varies by more than a month over the years and so it simply cannot represent the date of a particular death.
Easter is in fact a combination of several pagan festivals, most notably the spring festival (the spring equinox).
The name Easter comes from “Eastre” an Anglo-Saxon pagan goddess. Also the Norse goddess,Ostara who took her name from the Teutonic lunar goddess Eostre.
The following facets of the Easter celebrations are pagan in origin:
-Easter Eggs (painted eggs were used as a gift for the goddess of fertility, to encourage rebirth, a concept associated with the coming of spring. Also, the ancient Zoroastrians painted eggs for their New Year celebration, which fell on the Spring equinox. The name of this celebration was Nowrooz)
-Easter Bunny (the mother goddess Semiramis was symbolized by a hare (rabbit). Rabbits are known for their fertility, and the concept of a bunny was used to represent fertility in rituals that were meant to bring on the onset of the period of rebirth (springtime) and of course this was a part of the same rituals that happened at the onset of the spring equinox)
The Reason Pagan rituals were absorbed into Christianity:
The Christian church absorbed Pagan practices when it found that, during the time of transition into Christianity, the population was unwilling to give up their customary festivals. Therefore, in order to ease the transition, these practices were folded into the Christian holidays. This was first noted by the Venerable Bede, an early Christian writer.
Do the pagan roots of certain facets of Christianity prove that Christianity is nothing more than the amalgamation of prior religions?:
I can recall asking my parents, even at an early age, just what the hell bunnies and eggs had to do with Jesus, as it made no sense to me even then. I could not reconcile the story of the death and resurrection (something I never believed even then) with painted eggs and chocolate bunnies. When I finally learned of the true meaning it was a bit DUH moment. Eggs and bunnies=fertility and giving thanks for said fertility.
This information brings to mind a question: Do the pagan roots of certain facets of Christianity prove that Christianity is nothing more than the amalgamation of prior religions (ie, a fabrication of sorts)? I'd have to say no, although it does lead one to wonder just how much of it was appropriated, warped, processed, remade, etc. It does not mean that the central tenets of Christianity are therefore invalid. I of course believe them to be just that, but my coming to realize the pagan roots of some aspects of Christianity was not a part of that (I was always an atheist as it was, my parents and schools' attempts to indoctrinate me into Catholicism failed).
I believe that some people overstate the case when it comes to pagan influences. I'm not an expert in this area (about as far from it as one could be) but I feel reasonably comfortable in saying that those who say Christianity is nothing but a mix of pagan rituals and beliefs (including the astrological basis for Christianity) are probably incorrect. I don't believe it to be true, certainly, but I don't think this line of reasoning is the big “aha, gotcha!” that some people seem to think it is.