Pagan religions and heresies didn’t stand a chance against the Catholic Church

By Dr. Mike Magee | 19 August 2005

(Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The Pagan religions and the heresies were always at a disadvantage. They were never centralised and could not fight back adequately against a Catholic Church strongly centralised despite its regional variations and arguments over practice and doctrine. The very polytheism of Paganism left it open to one-sided attack by Christianity. Pagans were ready to accept the Christian god as one of their Pantheon. They were always respectful to gods in case they got angry. The Christians however were not ready to accept the gods that were already there.

Liberals have the same weakness today. Freedom of speech is all right as long as everyone accepts it, but should the liberal let those speak who want to suppress free speech? Plurality depends on its general acceptance and as soon as some group is unwilling to accept it, then plurality is endangered. If Paganism had had a rule which decried any god as a demon that would not accept the gods of the pantheon, perhaps Christianity could not have succeeded. Free speech should only be the privilege of those who accept it.

Once Christianity became the state religion, it was in a position to steamroller its Pagan and heretical rivals, but even a steamroller does not crush the hardcore to nothing—just to finer particles. The official adoption of Catholic Christianity was not its final victory. Like the African slaves, many Europeans did not accept it, and many of those who did, did so only because Christianity took the important parts of their own beliefs into its body.

The intolerance of Christianity eventually drove the Pagan religions and then the heretical ones underground. For a long time after the Christian victory, and necessarily mainly passively, Pagan religions resisted the steamroller might of the multiform but centralised Church. But, they were harassed and hounded until they spallated into mere atoms of the old beliefs with no structural content—superstitions. So, despite its best efforts, the medieval church could not suppress Pagan thoughts absolutely.

The new religion took over a millennium to enter the hearts of the people, and then it was only done by inhuman tortures and by the Church accepting in Christianised form Pagan customs within the religion or tolerating Paganism outside it as folk-lore and superstition. After all, what more than magic is consuming a blessed wafer and what is its purpose other than stave off misfortune, even if the misfortune is putatively after death? Even in the midst of the Dark Ages, the Church found it impossible to stop people thinking and even practising in an enfeebled way, the Paganism it had aimed to destroy.

Though Pagan wisdom and practices were marginalised and made socially damaging because people could be severely punished for them, some survived throughout the medieval millennium. Only latterly have they more or less vanished as old wives’ tales or foolish superstitions, killed, not by the Church but by science and scientific method. A few even still survive and even thrive despite the Church and science. Soothsaying is banned in the Old Testament and the casting of horoscopes was banned by the Church in 1310 AD yet today a Christian US president with a finger on the nuclear button decided world wide policy based on the advice of astrologers! Reagan, before Bush, was the favourite of the Evangelical Right.

In truth, the Middle Ages were largely Pagan even though Christianity officially dominated. Aspects of Paganism which the Church rejected were categorised as manifestations of evil. Old gods and goddesses became demons, incubi and succubi. Those who continued to revere them, and many who did not, were called heretics and witches. Anyone who met in groups outside church were covens, anyone who made medicines out of roots and berries were sorcerers, witches or warlocks. The Old Testament states that witches should be killed. Before long the Church was saving us all from the devil by burning old women who talked to their cats. So much for the good Lord and the guidance of the Holy Ghost.

Some modern witches say the Old Gods never died altogether and they continue the Pagan legacy. If there is any truth in this—that Pagan ideas have survived underground and unloved by officialdom for 1700 years—they must have had some merit. Curiously, though, the witch hunts were Christians hunting primitive Christians, rather than Pagans, although the primitive form of Christianity believed by the heretics was Pagan enough, in that it was much closer to the original solar beliefs of the Jews and Gnostics than the form that evolved under state patronage.

The Pagan Origins of Christianity

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