Historically, Did Paganism Really Lose to Christianity?
So in the scheme of history, Christians may seem like the winners. After all, it is currently the world’s most prominent religion, 33% of people in the world call themselves Christians. Check here for more information about religious demographics. Also, the number of people who call themselves pagans is still very low. .2% of the U.S Population.
Yet if paganism included Hinduism and other non Judeo-Christian, Ethno based religions around the world, it would account for 40% of people around the world.
And then I must further ask, what counts, the label or people’s practices?
If you examine the pre-christian holidays people celebrated in Europe, we actually still celebrate these holidays today, 2,000 years after the birth of Christianity.
Halloween or Dia De Los Muertos is the pre-christian day of the dead.
It is said that Jesus was born in the summer, and yet we celebrate his birthday “Christmas” on December 25th, around the Pagan feast days of Saturnalia and Yule.
Easter is supposedly the day Jesus rose from the dead, and yet the day keeps the name and traditions of the Anglo Saxxon Goddess of birth, Eostre. Bunnies and Eggs are two of her symbols, since they represent fertility.
The days of the week are named after the Norse Gods: Thursday, Thor’s Day.
The months of the year and the planets in the sky keep the names of Roman Gods and Goddesses.
Many Catholic saints are merely appropriated pre-christian Gods and Goddesses. Saint Bridget is one of the most famous examples. She was such a popular Celtic deity, that the church couldn’t eliminate her tradition. Eventually they threw their hands in the air and made her a saint. Many of her sacred fires and temples are still around today.
Also, much Pagan lore is alive and breathing in modern day stories. Everything from fairies, elves, gnomes, dwarfs, wizards and dragons are based on Pre-Christian mythos.
When you look at Christianity itself, so much of it has been changed to appropriate pagan traditions, that it’s more Pagan in practice than Christian.
How many Christians follow the 600 laws of Leviticus? How many Christians follow the ancient Germanic tradition of setting up a “Christmas” tree?
Not saying that nothing has changed over the 2,000 years of the world’s forced conversation to Christianity. Certainly much of the original wisdom has been lost.
Yet to me it seems that people may be Christians in name, but Pagan by blood.
I think that is among the most vital info for me. And i am satisfied reading your article. However should observation on some normal issues, The web site taste is ideal, the articles is really nice : D. Excellent task, cheers
April 15, 2012 at 6:23 pm
Well, it rather depends on what you mean by the word paganism. By paganism, do you mean all religions except Christianity as well as atheist positions? If yes, then even though Christianity is the most dominant of religions, it has not won over the entire globe nor a majority of it. But, knowing how the term has evolved, I don’t feel very comfortable calling Hinduism, Native American spirituality, Shintoism, or other polytheist beliefs (INCLUDING reconstructionist polytheism) “pagan.” They are obviously not neopagan and “neopagan” is not a term that is synonymous with “polytheistic.” There is something slightly offensive about trying to include those religions under that umbrella. A person can borrow from them if they must, but I’d hope they’d not claim them as theirs.
Any non-reconstructionist “pagan” religion is not a continuation of the ancient faiths. I find they typically just use the names of ancient deities and really don’t know much about how these deities were worshiped back in those days. In some cases, even archaeologists and historians do not know (and even there, reconstructionist religions have problems). Non-reconstructionist neopaganism is just hodgepodge. It does not seek to understand or learn deeper than the surface. Someone might make an altar to Bastet because they feel an affinity for cats in their life. But they don’t make the extra effort to find out things like how the ancient Egyptians mummified kittens, and bred them for that specific purpose, as offerings to her. Old polytheistic religions were not pretty and there is an undercurrent attempting to make everything pretty in neopaganism. And no, I’m not advocating sacrificing kittens. I just don’t get why people want to marry themselves to ancient faiths that advocated that sort of thing. If you want to worship a feline goddess, why do you need the name Bastet to lend you any credibility? You don’t know her. You don’t know how to worship her. You probably wouldn’t if you did. Why does your feline goddess need an ancient’s name?
That said, I don’t think that you can classify neopaganism as ancient polytheism. And therefore, neopaganism did not win or lose any great battles between it and Christianity. There are none.
And when holidays lose their meanings, how can they still be considered religious? I’m an atheist. If I say “Bless you,” when someone sneezes does that make me a theist? For me, the meaning of those two words are gone. It is just a polite phrase to excuse a person for sneezing and wish them health. Likewise, a lot of holiday traditions are secular in nature and and for most people, are not to honor the gods. They have lost their true meaning. When I was a Christian, I was fully aware of the pagan roots of certain customs. But that’s all they were — roots. Just like a neopagan honoring Bastet today, roots is all they’ll ever be.
For the most part, the old religions are dead, and we don’t know enough to resurrect most of them. I do respect reconstructionist movements for even trying, though.
Truth is important though. There doesn’t need to be some epic battle between Christianity and today’s “Pagans” that pagans win (or that Christians win). Just let there be reality. Conflict is not something you need. It makes a great story, but life is not a story.
April 16, 2012 at 6:54 pm
I don’t know where you got the stuff about neo-paganism from, because I did not mention the term once in my article.
However, I do agree that paganism is a very broad term and can mean a lot of things. Most Hindus, Shintoist and etc. don’t see themselves as Pagans. Most people within an indigenous spiritual tradition don’t classify themselves in general. The reification of spiritual ideas into classifiable chunks is a Western Idea.
However, for the sake of having a conversation about these topics, the term “paganism,” is a broad reference to religions that don’t fall within the (Chrisitan, Jewish, Muslim) dichotomy.
But yes, when I talk about “paganism,” I’m talking about people who are attempting to continue the ancient, indigenous traditions of the land (not wiccans). Time is like a river, it changes and evolves. And so naturally, the religions of the land will evolve too. People will try to reconstruct the ancient faiths, but their attempts will never be perfect. Especially considering that much Pagan literature and artifacts were burned when the Christians took power. Also, many pagan peoples carried their traditions orally. So we will never know about these oral tales. The closest thing we can get is current day folk tales.
I suppose the concept of “winning” is subjective and opinion based. In my opinion though, the fact that the ancient holidays and traditions of Pagan people have survived into modern-christian times is a triumph of sorts. On “Christmas” we don’t celebrate on the actual day of Jesus’s birth. We celebrate on Yule or the Roman Saturnalia Festival. In some ways the Pagans lost because their festival day was given another God’s Name. Yet in some ways they won because the date and traditions of the day remain even thousands of years later. (It was an ancient Germanic Tradition to bring trees inside the home on Yule).
Human Culture is like a complex tapestry, woven over the span of time. Everything we do, everything we are is connected to something else. Culture doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We are a continuation of the genetic code and behavioral traditions of our ancestors. As long as we live and breathe that will never change.
April 17, 2012 at 4:17 pm
Let’s not forget that most Christians are nominal Christians – many even mix other practices, such as voodoo with Christianity. And in actual fact, Christianity spread by accepting the pagan rituals and festivals of others. Most of today’s Christian rituals and customs are pagan in origin, including Xmas (Santa, Xmas trees, Yule Logs), Easter (Easter Bunny, Easter Eggs). In fact, Christianity did not defeat the Roman Empire, it BECAME the (Western) Roman Empire. The Eastern Roman Empire was defeated by the Muslims.
December 11, 2012 at 8:40 am
On Reading your article in full, I see that you have covered a lot of my points. Apologies.
December 11, 2012 at 8:45 am
It’s all good, thanks for replying. Sometimes I wonder if Christianity was responsible for the Roman Empire falling apart. It’s hard to make a direct claim about this because the Roman Empire was already stretched way too thin and falling into corruption when Christianity came along. Yet about 80 years after conversion the whole thing fell apart. I guess an interesting topic to approach for another time.
December 11, 2012 at 10:18 am
Christianity is just a Judaic, monotheistic, and nihilistic strand of dogma that does not belong. It is a foreign religion and a complete bastardization.
Come check out Ôðalism.
Hope you come and check it out!
April 7, 2013 at 9:43 pm
Seems like Christianity stole Pagan ideas, holidays, damn near everything and tweaked a few things, called it Christianity and then decided that Pagans are evil.
August 23, 2013 at 1:54 pm
Yup! Pretty much!
August 23, 2013 at 6:49 pm
Some symbolism from the past still echoing……
November 25, 2014 at 6:20 pm