Christianity’s Pagan Roots: Traditions, Practices and Holidays
Someone wise once said to me, “Christianity IS paganism.” I scoffed at the remark, until I began studying the origins of religion. The roots of Christianity are pagan, and so I beg to differ with those who argue you can’t be Christian and pagan. Read on to learn more about Christianity’s pagan traditions, holidays and practices.
Christianity & Paganism: Statistically Speaking
Most people see Christianity and Paganism as two very separate, different religions. Paganism predates Christianity by hundreds of thousands of years. Christianity is the largest religion in the world today, boasting over 2 billion in 2012, alongside of Islam with over 1 billion followers in 2012. In the past five years, those numbers have surely increased. The third largest religion statistically speaking is listed as “secular/agnostic/atheist”, which could also include pagans; however, Neopaganism ranked as number 18 on the list of largest religions, but followed Hinduism, Buddhism, and Shinto which to some are also a part of the Pagan umbrella.
You Want the Truth About Christianity’s Pagan Roots? Christianity IS Paganism At It’s Core
So what does the world’s largest religion have in common with nearly all of the others, including Paganism? Why is the title of this section Christianity is a lot like Paganism? If we do our research and really dive into the often untold origins of Christianity, we will see that much of the Christian religion is in fact pagan at its roots. Many people will bark at this statement and call it heresy, but in this article I will present the facts and show both Christians and Pagans how alike they actually are. How connected we all are, even if we are told that we are different and divided.
So, First, What is Paganism?
First, we must define Christianity and Paganism. Paganism has different definitions, depending on the person you ask. Some say paganism is any religion that isn’t one of the Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, or Judaism), while others say paganism is a religion that follows a polytheistic view and seeks to revive the old ways of our ancestors. Paganism is an umbrella term, meaning it covers a wide range of religions, including: Wicca, Neo-paganism, Asatru, Celtic reconstructionism, Indigenous traditions, Hellenic paganism, Druidry, witchcraft, and more. Still others say paganism is equivalent to satanism, which is incorrect, but as I said before it all depends on who you ask.
Next, What is Christianity?
Christianity is one of the three major world religions and is one of the Abrahamic religions. Its roots are from the Middle East, and its beginnings reach back to the time of Abraham. This religion is loosely based on the Holy Bible, which is a collection of ancient books selected and compiled by various groups of religious officials since the time of Christ. Christianity is also an umbrella term in that there are hundreds of branches of Christianity, including: Catholicism, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Greek Orthodox, 7th Day Adventist, Episcopal, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, Pentecostal, and more. Depending on the branch of Christianity, certain books and sections of the Holy Bible are followed devoutly over the others.
What do these two have in common?
The roots of Christianity are interlaced with ancient pagan traditions and elements, mainly because the Church gained power through conversion. In order to convert the people of Europe (and the world) from their pagan beliefs, the Church felt they had to turn them against their beliefs by fear or adopt the pagan beliefs into the Christian religion. Next, we will dive into these traditions.
Questions of Polytheism vs. Monotheism in the Bible
Most people do not realize in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, there are multiple names for “God”. The first name of God in the book of Genesis is “Elohim” and is used the most throughout the Old Testament. Following, God is called “El” which many claim is just a shortened version of Elohim. These are not the only two, as the name YHVH (said to be pronounced Yah-weh) is also found within the pages of the Old Testament.
The Hebrew Nomadic Tribes Were Polytheistic
There are those who claim these are just different names for the same God, but if we look at the Hebrew people who came before Christ, we see they were nomadic, polytheistic tribes. They had multiple gods, though there were some who tried to eradicate the multiples to focus on the one “true god”. For example, Moses presents the Ten Commandments to his Hebrew tribe stating there’s only one true God and that they should have “no other gods before him”. Moses’ tribe was actively worshiping a golden calf (strangely) referred to as “El”. But, to the point, the commandment actually admits there are other “gods.
The Cult of Ashtart
Let us also examine the mention of the goddess Ashtart (Greek name Astarte), who’s mentioned frequently in the Old Testament. A few of the Hebrew Kings, namely Solomon, tried to instill a cult of Ashtart; though many resisted there were some who supported his endeavors. While some Hebrews believed in the one “true god”, there were still many who followed a polytheistic path…or what we refer to today as paganism.
The Holy Trinity = Polytheism
And what about the Holy Trinity? As a child, it never made sense to me that three gods could be one god. I was told it was an abstract concept and I would understand one day when I grew up. Well, I’m an adult and now I see that multiple gods is multiple gods on any level. When the Council of Nicaea convened in AD 325, one of the main issues they were to decide upon was whether Christ was God and how they would instill belief in him as God. After some dispute, they settled on calling Christ the “son of God” and other writers outside of the Holy Bible made mention of the “Holy Trinity” being made up of Father God, the Son of God (Jesus), and the Holy Ghost (Spirit). THREE gods.
Shekinah as the Holy Spirit
In Rabbinic literature, the Holy Spirit was referred to as Shekinah which meant a dwelling or resting place of God (and interestingly was a feminine term). Was the Holy Spirit once a goddess of the Hebrew tribes now absorbed into the “Holy Trinity”?
Christianity’s Pagan Roots in Catholicism: Symbols, Holy Water, Mother Mary
Within the Catholic tradition, one would be remiss to deny the pagan elements of a Catholic mass. The ritual of taking communion, with the round wafer (or bread), is an ancient practice of worshiping sun gods such as Ba’al and Osiris. The round wafer was a representation of the sun itself. When one ate the round bread or wafer, one was taking the sun into oneself. This tradition seemingly carried over into Christianity as the holy communion and taking the “Son” of God into oneself in celebration of him giving his life. Not to mention the “monstrance” used to hold the blessed sacrament is often gold and resembles the sun.
Sun-day the Holy Day
What other symbols are used in mass and in the Catholic church and have pre-Christian ancient origins? The fact that the Catholic mass (as well as other branches of Christianity) call Sunday the holy day almost confirms pre-Christian sun-god worship being a crucial part of Christianity. Why would Sun-day be the holy day? You might say, well the Old Testament says God took that day as his day of rest after creating the world and man, etc. But God isn’t the one who named that day Sun-day…is he?
Holy Water, Baptisms, Etc.
How about Holy Water? Holy Water is water that has been blessed by a priest or official of the Church. Why is water a part of Christian practice, since nature is often condemned by the Church? Water is one of the basic natural elements that was worshiped in pre-Christian pagan times. Pagans believed that water had a “cleansing” power, not just physically but mentally and spiritually. They would “cleanse” themselves in sacred springs, rivers, and wells.
This practice carried through to Christianity in the form of Holy Water, christenings, and baptisms. Otherwise, wouldn’t the presence of the Holy Spirit be enough to cleanse one of his or her sins? An argument to this is “well, the water is symbolic”. And where did that symbolism originate? We were pagan for thousands of years longer than we were Christian, and these practices are too ingrained in our DNA to erase them with new religion or lack thereof.
Mother Mary and Mother Goddesses
To address the concept of Mother Mary, the Holy Mother – most pagan people worshiped a Mother Goddess (or more). As a main example the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis was often depicted with her son Horus. Horus was a child of the Sun-God Osiris, and Horus took over the sun-god position after the death of Osiris (sound familiar?). Isis was worshiped as a Mother Goddess for thousands of years. This is just one of the many Mother Goddesses from pre-Christian cults, but one of which the Mother Mary-Holy Child concept mirrors.
Ancient Pagan Sites Became Churches
Many of the oldest Catholic churches and monasteries were built on top of ancient pagan sites. These were places where pagans worshiped their gods and ancestors, and when the Church took over, they often knocked down the pagan temples and replaced them with Churches. The idea being that it would make it easier for the pagans to convert if they could still worship at their sacred sites. Some of these pagan statues and symbols can still be seen in the oldest of Churches (i.e. Gargoyles, Mermaids, the Green Man, Sheela-na-gig).
Pentecostalism: Healing with Hands, Speaking in Tongues, Filled with the Spirit
Christianity’s pagan roots run deep. Growing up in the Pentecostal Church, one hears that any other religion outside of Pentecostalism are made up of people who are going to Hell. At least this is what is taught in many of the Assemblies of God churches. Catholics? Going to Hell. Methodists? Going to Hell. Why is this when Pentecostals are doing the same things and using much of the same symbols as the other branches of Christianity? They don’t realize they too carry on pagan traditions of the past, as well as engage in “occult” or “esoteric” practices of which we will examine here.
Healing by the Laying on of Hands and Reiki
One of the beliefs of the Pentecostal Church is Divine Healing. This is the belief that when one is “saved” or “born again” then they will also be healed by God. When this doesn’t happen automatically, there are questions as to why. In addition to Divine Healing, Pentecostals believe in the “laying on of hands” or healing by using their hands on another person to allow God’s healing power to flow. This practice is reflected in numerous healing traditions outside the Christian tradition dating back thousands of years.
A similar, recent tradition is the Japanese relaxation technique known as Reiki. Reiki is the practice of using one’s hands to allow Divine or Universal energy to flow into another person to aid in relaxation, stress reduction, and to promote healing. Reiki originated in the late 1800’s before Pentecostalism. Other “hand healing” techniques and traditions outside of Christianity include: polarity therapy, massage, Qigong, acupressure, shiatsu, and matrix energetics.
Speaking in Tongues and Channeling
One particular practice of the Pentecostals is called speaking in tongues. While evidence doesn’t show a strong relation to pagan practices of similar kind, new age traditions demonstrate a similar sounding practice called “light language”. The Pentecostals see speaking in tongues as one of the “gifts of the spirit”, which means they believe the Holy Spirit “comes upon” them (enters their bodies) and gives them the gift of speaking in another language or in a heavenly language. The connection between the speaking in tongues and new age “light language” is uncanny. They sound identical and both claim to be channeling higher powers to speak in other languages.
“Filled with the Spirit”, Loa Riding and Invocation
Another strong relation between Pentecostals and what they deem a “pagan” religion is the idea of being “filled with the spirit”. Pentecostals believe the spirit of God descends upon them and fills them with its presence, upon which they may dance, laugh, be “drunk in the spirit”, speak in tongues, jump up and down, etc. If you attend a New Orleans’ voodoo ceremony, you will see practitioners allowing the Loa to “ride them”, meaning they allow spirits to enter their bodies. During which they do similar things to Pentecostals – shake, dance, speak in “other languages”, etc. And we also see this concept in the “invocation” of pagan gods (where one invites a god or goddess energy into oneself) in pagan religions today.
Christianity’s Pagan Roots: Holidays = Pagan Holidays
An entire book could be written on how Christian holidays are based on ancient pagan holidays, so I’ll be brief in this section. Christmas, celebrated on December 25th, has roots in ancient pagan holy-days such as Yule (Germanic), the Winter Solstice (which is celebrated in different ways worldwide), Yalda, and more. To make a clear connection between ancient pagan festivals and Christmas, we visit the ancient cult of Mithraism where the sun-god Mithras was born on December 25th. There is no historical evidence to confirm Jesus’ actual birth in the month of December, and scholars believe it was some time in the summer months rather than the winter.
In addition to the date-match between Mithraism and Christianity for the birth of Christ, numerous pagan traditions were carried over into the Christmas season. This includes evergreens: holly, mistletoe, fir trees, ivy, yew, and poinsettias. Evergreens were brought into the homes by ancient Celts and Greeks (among others) to represent immortality and that Spring was around the corner. The tradition of gift-giving, decorating the tree, feasting, caroling, putting on plays, even Christmas lights are all rooted in pagan traditions from ancient European people and beyond.
Easter’s Pagan Origins
What about Easter? Yes, Easter is also based on an ancient pagan festival celebrating the Spring Equinox. The term Easter was the name of a Spring Germanic goddess – Eostre. The Easter Bunny and Easter eggs are pagan traditions as symbols of fertility (new life/Spring). It is likely that the Church tried to stomp out these ancient traditions but the people felt so strongly about them, they continued to be passed down through the generations. You can take the person out of paganism, but you can’t take paganism out of the person.
Conclusion – This Must Be Said.
By no means am I trying to degrade or insult any religion or belief by writing this article. On the contrary, I seek to demonstrate just how connected we are as human beings on this planet. We have been told for centuries that we are different, separate, and to hold to those differences. But in reality, when we examine our roots, our traditions, our most basic beliefs and morals, we see that we are all connected. Just because I am pointing out the similarities between Christianity and Paganism doesn’t mean I believe one or the other is correct or incorrect. I am simply comparing. Many individuals might take offense, but this is not to offend…it is to enlighten and educate. We are not as different as you may have believed.