How much of Christianity was lifted from the pre-Christian world?

Sorry to keep you waiting with this post. I guess I should’ve mentioned that the second semester of my third year at university is now in full swing.

In this post I’ll attempt not just to outline how many of the main points of Christianity are borrowed from pre-Christian/pagan belief systems, but by the end establish what that means, focusing on some of the key points found in popular Christianity as it is imagined today.

 

God himself

We already know that Yahweh/Jehovah, the supreme deity of the Bible, was originally a minor Canaanite deity of war, who ascended in status within the Hebrew pantheon as the chief deity of their people (in other words the God of Israel), the context of which transitioned from that of a merely henotheistic tradition (that is the belief that there are many gods but the practice of worshiping just one; i.e. on the basis of tribalism) to that of a full-blown monotheistic tradition. As time passed, Yahweh also accrued many characteristics associated with other deities such as El or Zeus, and became the far more warlike and supposedly omnipresent and loving version of both. And after the Jews were exiled from Babylon, Yahweh transformed from just the God of Israel to the ruling deity of everything.

Yahweh himself is just another deity in a long line of supreme deities with slightly similar characteristics. Ahura Mazda in Persia, Aten and Ra in Egypt, Ba’al and El in Canaan, Marduk in Babylon, Indra and Varuna in India, and of course Zeus in Greece. And we know that before the ascent of monotheism, Yahweh was in direct competition with other deities. Among his biggest rivals was a deity named Chemosh (or Kemosh), whom the Bible refers to as the “abomination of Moab”, a deity that archaeological evidence points to as being not so different from Yahweh.

Kemosh (aka Chemosh)

Kemosh (aka Chemosh)

 

The messianic archetype

Jesus himself was not stolen from paganism, contrary to what Bill Maher and Peter Joseph would have you believe. However, the role he plays in the Bible is that of an archetype that has been passed down throughout the ages. The archetypal role assumed by Jesus is of course the role of a dying and rising deity, or divine being. One of the most familiar examples of this in Mesopotamian mythology is the deity of vegetation known as Tammuz, the deity to whom the origins of the Christian cross are sometimes attributed. Tammuz was believed to have died at the hands of the spirits of the underworld or his wife Inanna/Ishtar, and descended to the underworld only to rise again every six months. Then there is Osiris, who was killed by Set only to be resurrected by Isis and go on to become the lord of the Egyptian netherworld. Among the deities worshipped by the Phrygians was a deity of vegetation and fertility named Attis, who went crazy and mutilated himself only to, depending on who you ask, either resurrect or reincarnate as a pine tree. In another sense, Ishtar’s descent into the underworld is sort of similar to the descent of Jesus into Hell, except that Ishtar dies and resurrects while in the underworld while Jesus is crucified to death and then goes to Hell in order liberate the souls of the damned. In the case of Ishtar, her mission was to save Tammuz who had apparently been dragged to the underworld by Ereshkigal’s spirits.

There are other aspects associated with messianic archetypes that I’ve covered in my post about the “Divine Individual“.

 

Some familiar public holidays

I’ve talked about this before in the early days of my blog and I plan on covering this subject in greater detail in separate posts dedicated to the eight holidays associated with the Neopagan wheel of the year, but we’ll quickly go through the holidays popularly celebrated in the West. The timing of the Christmas holiday season is based on Saturnalia and other winter solstice festivals and is found nowhere in the Bible, the premise of Easter hinges on a myth that, as was just explained, derives from pre-Christian archetypes and storytelling, and while the modern Halloween is largely shaped by Christian and American tradition, the date of the Samhain celebrated by Celtic pagans is, perhaps coincidentally, near to the date that Halloween is celebrated now, and the theme of monsters and night terrors associated with Halloween was also found in European pagan traditions which hold that time to be either Samhain, Walpurgisnacht or both.

 

Heaven and Hell

The belief in an afterlife divided in terms of a blissful kingdom of light versus a dark nether realm filled with demons or monsters has been traced to as far back as ancient Egypt, as has the basic concept of the individual soul being judged after death. The Duat was the ancient Egyptian version of the underworld, filled with all manner of monstrous figures and daemonic beings and the site of the regular journey of the solar deity Ra. It is even documented within Egyptian lore that a serpent bent on mankind’s destruction slithers through the underworld, waiting for the opportunity to strike at Ra whenever he journeys into the underworld, which is similar enough to the Christian view of Satan as the adversary of mankind who also appears as either a dragon or as “that old serpent” intent on striking down Jehovah/Yahweh. However, for the ordinary Egyptian, being trapped in the underworld was not the main fear, rather the prospect of being annihilated in the jaws of Ammut if the soul was found wanting by Anubis. The equivalent heavenly realm is Aaru, a prestine field of reeds which resembled life in Egypt, which the Egyptians felt was the greatest thing on earth and wanted to continue living for eternity. And if the soul was deemed worthy of passing into such a beneficent afterlife, then it would indeed be allowed to pass on an live forever with loved ones and pets. Does that sound familiar?

Don’t forget that many pre-Christian traditions have their own conceptions of the afterlife, and there are several heavens and hells found in the mythologies of the world. In Greece, for instance, those who lived a good and virtuous life or were heroic in some way would enter Elysium, provided that they were remembered by their peers and their descendants, while more wicked individuals would descend into the dungeon of Tartarus, where the Titans were also imprisoned, and everyone else would go to the fields of Asphodel, a meadow in the underworld where ordinary souls pass on that was neither a heaven nor a hell, all after the judgement of the soul. Oh, and much like how Christians believe that Yahweh reserved a lake of fire for the devil and his angels, Tartarus is the place where deities like Zeus cast down their enemies, such as Typhon.

Fallen angels in Hell by John Martin

Fallen angels in Hell by John Martin

 

Angels and demons

Pre-Christian belief systems all had their own varieties of spirits, with plenty of them falling into either the angelic or demonic categories. Mesopotamia had the Shedim, which were largely seen as demonic beings. Other demonic beings included Gallu, Lamashtu and Pazuzu, the baddest of the bunch. Evil spirits were often viewed as the cause of disease and were sometimes capable of bringing harm to humans and abduct their children, particularly night spirits such as Lamashtu and Lilitu, the latter a precursor, at least in name, to the the Biblical Lilith (we’ll get into that in a future Mythological Spotlight, once I get around to writing one). The closest things to angels in Mesopotamian lore were probably beings such as the Apkallu, who were winged sages or demigods who were viewed as teachers and protective spirits. Egyptian, as was already established, was host to several spirits. What we would could demons were viewed by the Egyptians as liminal spirits, frequently either hostile beings or guardians of the netherworld who could be called upon to protect humans, and thousands of nameless demons have been found in depictions on all manner of items from both religious and mundane items in Egyptian society. The Greeks recognized the term daemon – from which we get the nomenclature “demon” – as a general term for spirit, and often these spirits were seen a guiding forces, though there were of course malevolent spirits in Greek lore (a disease spirit named Aerico immediately springs to mind). Romans had a similar belief and believed in the concept of genii, who often served as the spirits of the household. India and Persia observed the similar divide between good and evil spirits. For the Indians, it was the devas, apsaras and sometimes yakshas on the good side, with the asuras, rakshasas and other ghoulish spirits on the evil side. In Persia the devas were actually on the evil camp, identified as “daevas” and the minions of Angra Mainyu or Ahriman, while the good spirits are identified as the Amesha Spentas in service of Ahura Mazda. In fact it’s in Persia via the Zoroastrians that we encounter one of the earliest clear cut incarnations of the concept of good versus evil personified as God versus Satan in the form of Ahura Mazda versus Angra Mainyu.

 

 

Good old fashioned Christian values

The “family values” platitude that is stereo-typically attached to conservative Christians are not especially new. In fact, at the very least it goes back to the Roman Empire. The emperor Augustus instituted a series of reforms aimed at aligning Roman society towards “traditional Roman values” – values such as monogamy and chastity. He even went so far as to criminalize adultery and imposed financial penalties on people who did not marry and have children, which to be fair seems a tad more extreme than the kind of family values politics that Western societies would have to deal with in the modern world.

The concept of marriage, which is often seen as a Christian institution, has been a recognized social and romantic union for longer than Christianity has been recognized as a religion. Marriage rituals have been known to exist in ancient Greece, Rome and China, and the contract of marriage, and divorce, has even been around in ancient Mesopotamian society. In Mesopotamia, marriage was valued for much the same reason we do now – to ensure the continuation of a given family line. Rome also considered monogamy to be the tradition for marriage in society, just as we do now. Of course, the ancient world had a tendency to value arranged marriage, whereas in the modern world we value the choice of getting married.

Then there are some of the debatably more positive values sometimes ascribed to Christianity, which have been observed as far back as the days of ancient Akkad.

 

The influence of the mystery cults

Greece and Rome were home to a particular phenomenon known as the “mystery cult”, which is basically a religious movement characterized by secretive rituals and the tendency to center around a specific deity (like Mithraism for example). There was an Eleusinian mystery cult centering around the goddess Demeter, based around the story of the abduction of her daughter Persephone, the wrath she wrought upon the earth and its fertility and the resurrection of vegetation and thus life. The re-emergence of Persephone was supposed to be representative of the possibility of eternal life through participation in the mysteries. The exact nature of the ritual performed in the Eleusinian mysteries is disputed, but it is possible that the ritual took place in an underground passage or theater and was intended to convey the whole death and rebirth message. It is also said that the Eleusinian mystery participants purified themselves by bathing in the sea. The cult of Dionysus had its own communion, typically described as a sharing of wine (which would be befitting of the deity of wine). The Mithraic mysteries were also known for featuring an oblation of bread and water or wine, at least for initiates of certain degrees, which may have served as either a reminder of their faith or as a means of giving them the power to resist the forces of evil. The Orphic mysteries stressed that only by following their rites, practicing abstinence from sensual pleasures (such as sex) and devoting yourself to the mystery can you guarantee salvation and join the gods on the fields of Elysium for all eternity. And don’t forget the Egyptian mysteries, including the mystery of Osiris which proclaimed “Be of good cheer, O initiates, for the god is saved, and we shall have salvation from our woes”. The promise of eternal salvation through initiation into the mystery cult and performance of its rites very much strikes accord with the Christian idea that you can be saved by being baptized, receiving communion and following Jesus.

 

So what does that mean, exactly?

I do not consider Christianity to be a complete clone of one single religion, as many critics of Christianity are want to do, instead I consider it to be supported by collection of ideas that existed well before both Christianity and Judaism. It started off as an offshoot of Judaism, which itself emerged out of the henotheistic tradition observed in the land of Canaan, and it embraced many ideas that happened to be observed by the rivaling pagan traditions, but in doing so the Christians essentially repurposed them for their own belief system. Many of these old ideas, it seems, are in fact very ancient, and have been with humanity for a very long time. And as much as the idea that Christianity took over solely through violent conquest is an appealing narrative to people more vociferously anti-Christian than I (and believe me I still am considerably anti-Christian; it practically comes with being a Satanist/Luciferian), I suspect many appropriations of polytheistic teachings and those of the mystery cults were more likely either reflective of the religion as a product of its time – remember that the religion had developed in the Roman Empire alongside the other traditions – or as a means of drawing pagans away from their old belief systems and into the new one. I think that when this is understood when dealing with modern Christianity, you can render Christianity essentially harmless for what it is – a messianic Jewish faith that with synthesized pagan beliefs, sometimes the same beliefs that are also present in Judaism I might add.

 

Just as an aside to close this post, I can’t guarantee that I will post as frequently as I would like to, due to university commitments, but I’ll see what I can do.

A bit on pagan festivals and a request for Halloween advice

Even though I don’t consider myself a pagan these days (I’m probably more like what my good friend Mo called “post-pagan”), and I don’t think I was that much of a practicing pagan even back then or at least I was pretty damned lazy, I have fond memories of the days when I talked about paganism and my attraction to it. I think back to 2012, 2013 or 2014 when I talked about pagan gods, pagan symbols and polytheism, and particularly when I talked about Christmas, Easter and Halloween and I remember my fondness for that sort of work. I think there’s room for some elements of what is generally called paganism in my own path or worldview, and I’m not entirely sure but I think I still retain aspects of that “paganness” in faint ways.

Not to mention, it’s not entirely un-Satanic to participate in pagan holidays let alone adopt them. I should know. I’m still fond of Christmas – or should that be the Yule, Xmas or as I might say the Winter Mass – possibly because of its pagan roots. And though the Church of Satan may be by and large a corporation of Peter Gilmore’s design in its contemporary state, it does still offer some pearls of wisdom for the Satanist on its website. For the Church of Satan, celebrating the days of the equinox and the pagan festivals associated with them is only fitting for the Satanist because of the fact that Satanism embraces Nature. I think few Satanists can argue with that point.

I am considering, probably beginning next year, to actually partake in the gamut of pagan holidays – unless during my esoteric studies I find some kind of Luciferian holidays that I adopt instead – or at least to do a better job of celebrating the actual equinoxes. I’ll probably need to do a bit of reading, perhaps a little revisiting of the “pagan” stuff.

May or may not adopt the festivals of the wheel.

May or may not adopt the festivals of the wheel.

I’d also like to use this post to ask for a little advice on how best to spend Halloween. The reason I’m doing this is because I think it’s likely I might get carried away and busy to do much in the way of preparing for Halloween on my own. There is a lot of work and academic study ahead of me, and it will be time-consuming stuff. In addition, October 31st is a Monday, which means I’ll probably be working for most of that day and will probably not be in a good position to attend any kind of Halloween parties that are out there (unless they happen to be before the 31st). Also, over the course of my lengthy esoteric study I may decide to change my altar but might not do so within just the coming month, so there’s that to keep in mind if you do have any advice to offer.

That time of year

If you’ve been anticipating the holiday season, then chances are you may have been following coverage of what’s referred to as the “war on Christmas”. Every year someone does something that isn’t “festive” enough or too secular for the conservative Christian crowd, and all of a sudden it’s declared a war on traditional values and a war on Christmas. This year is no different. Most famously (or infamously if you will), last month we saw Starbucks unveil their festive holiday cups to signify the approach of the holiday season, but instead of having the cups being decorated with festive imagery, this year’s cups were a simplistic design featuring simply an ombre or red color. The company stated that its intent was to allow its customers to write their own story on the cups in contrast to previous cups telling stories of their own, which I think is somewhat noble but kind of pointless because there is a better way for people to tell their own stories than just write on a coffee cup (then again, this is the same company behind that disastrous Race Together campaign). Anyways, this is all something that nobody made a big deal out of until some guy named Joshua Feuerstein decided to whip up a frenzy about it, claiming that Starbucks wants to ban Christmas from their stores, ban employees from saying Merry Christmas, and hates Jesus.

But of course, Starbucks was not the only example of this madness. Apparently, there was one person on Fox News who tried to suggest that the San Bernandino killings could be a literal war on Christmas, and I think some people are thinking that the killings were a hoax . Then there’s the Nevada lawmaker Michele Fiore (who is also a member of the NRA) releasing her own Christmas card, featuring most of her family facing the camera and carrying guns (which people in the UK probably find chilling but in America not so much) and with a caption saying “It’s up to Americans to protect America. We’re just your ordinary American family”. And then there’s the University of Tennessee being accused of placing a “ban” on celebrating Christmas, or at least referring to the holiday season as Christmas (even apparently going as far as banning Secret Santa). And America isn’t the only one participating. In Italy, the headmaster of a comprehensive school in the town of Rozzano was accused of cancelling Christmas celebrations for fear of offending non-Christian schoolchildren and parents, particularly those of the Islamic faith, provoking outrage from mostly the right-wing.

Clearly, the same old “war on Christmas” malarkey has persisted to this day. But then there’s the other side of it: when I find people commenting on the “war on Christmas”, and the foolishness of asserting that the holiday season should be the exclusive domain of the Christians, I often see the same old malarkey from the pagan point of view. You know, stuff like this:

Putting aside the narrative that all conversion was forced and happened over a short time as opposed to over a thousand years, last time I checked Christmas as we know didn’t come about as a result of violent conversion. In fact, the modern Christmas isn’t one pagan holiday (like Saturnalia for instance), but rather an amalgamation of winter solstice festivals and traditions, among various of customs even including modern commercial traditions. In the case of the Christian holiday, the winter celebration of Saturnalia was assimilated in the Roman Empire when it became Christian, but ultimately the Christian Christmas that people bicker over nowadays emerged as a result of a mingling of folk, Christian, and what were then modern inventions.

The only historical equivalent I can think of for any “war on Christmas” was when the Puritans tried to stamp out the Christmas holiday in the 17th century in England and in the early American colonies. In other words, when Christian fanatics were trying to get rid of a tradition they thought was pagan, whereas other Christians assimilated it instead.

For me the Christmas we celebrate today doesn’t exclusively belong to Christians or to pagans. And even if this was formerly the case, it isn’t anymore. In fact, Christmas is just the Christian name (derived from an Old English phrase literally meaning “Christ’s Mass”) for what we now recognize as a more universal, or secular, winter celebration that some can choose to celebrate and others can choose not to. I even know some people in LHP circles, circles where people can be against anything perceived as having anything to do with Christianity, who plan on celebrating the holidays in their own way. The Christian way is not the only way to celebrate Xmas, and neither is the old pagan way. For that matter, which old pagan way exactly? Anyone who knows about the pre-monotheistic world knows there were many ways to celebrate the winter solstice. Or are we referring to some new, more universal modern “pagan” tradition, aimed at celebrating a purely “pagan” holiday?

My point is, Xmas/Christmas/Yule is not a Christian holiday, but it stopped being a pagan holiday a long time ago, thanks to the mingling of various traditions and cultural forces and the march of cultural evolution into the modern world, and I’m willing to argue the same for all the holidays I’ve previously heralded as pagan holidays (well, maybe except Easter). And because of this, I think no religious group has the right to claim the holiday season for themselves. Shame on those who try to turn the holiday season into a conflict of traditional values versus modernity, or of monotheism versus polytheism.

Detaching from paganism

In recent times I feel I have lost attachment to the label of paganism, and have lost any interest in calling myself a Pagan. Paganism has simply become less emphasized in my personal beliefs, while my interest in Satanism and Luciferianism has basically become the dominant religious influence over time.

An important reason for this is because the Paganism I used to espouse is starting to seem to me as a generalized paganism. In early times I tended to associate paganism with the idea of a religion of nature worship, polytheism, sexual liberty, and celebrating life in an anti-prudish manner. What was I thinking? I may as well have been describing Satanism in part. In fact, the paganism I used to identify with may as well have been an auxiliary of the Satanism I followed, and I think shrunk to that level. In truth, Pagan is such a broad label that refers to all polytheistic non-Christian traditions, but it can also be used to refer to any and all faiths outside the Abrahamic faiths, so as a label Pagan is simply unreliable. The fact is, Paganism is an umbrella term for tons of belief systems that would otherwise be unrelated in terms of their actual substantial philosophy. Paganism, and Pagans, as we know today did not exist until after the rise of Christianity as the dominant religion of Rome and the rest of Europe. Look at the polytheistic traditions of Egypt, Rome, and Scandinavia for instance, and you might find a lot of differences between them in terms of their worldview. There’s a lot of difference between those traditions and Hinduism for matter (despite what I said in one earlier post, which was probably just me trying to find a way to reconcile Hinduism with Paganism and reconcile both with Satanism). How about Shinto? Bon? Tengriism? Taoism? Voodoo? Animism? Shamanism? The Aztec religion? Every primitive belief system across the planet? Is it really a good idea to label all of them under one banner rather than try to look at them as individual belief systems?

Another reason is that I’ve found that I can’t really get attached to the wider world of paganism of today like I can with the wider world of Satanism and the Left Hand Path, mainly because paganism doesn’t seem to appreciate Satanism, or the Left Hand Path, from what I’ve heard. Pagans have often tried to differentiate themselves from Satanists not by positively demonstrating that Satanism has no relation to their religion, but by promoting misconceptions of Satanism, such as the misconception that Satanism is nothing more than a Christian heresy involving the worship of a lord of evil. And the sad thing is this is because Christians have vilified the followers of polytheistic traditions as worshipers of Satan for so long, and I think the pagans have become fed up and thought “we’re not gonna take this anymore”.

The third and final reason is because Satanism and Luciferianism both allow you to fit beliefs from other systems, or even your own personal ideas, into your framework so long as they align with your own feelings and will. For instance, I have an interest in mythological deities, and Luciferianism can allow you to explore the old gods as archetypes that relate to us personally, sometimes parts of our personality and being. In addition, there’s the psyche-centric approach to gods offered by both Anton LaVey and Michael A. Aquino. Anton LaVey posited that Man invents the gods or draws them from the carnal ego, while Michael A. Aquino states that all the gods are ultimately derived from Set, who represents the isolate consciousness, and by his own consciousness Man gives life to the gods, rather than the gods giving life to mankind. Other beliefs I had that I associated with paganism were either already present in Satanism or can be made a part of my own Satanism. Therefore, the label of Pagan is now obsolete.

With Luciferianism I’d still like to read Wisdom of Eosphorus so that I can be more determined about Luciferianism through a clearly defined worldview, because even after declaring my intentions to identify with Luciferianism, I have asked questions and have not always been clear on Luciferianism. That’s why I’d prefer to know more after reading from the best sources.

What’s so satanic about sun worship?

The sun being upheld by the ankh in Egyptian artwork

When I see conspiracy theories involving supposed Satan worship, one thing I tend to encounter, depending on what I chance upon via search terms or what links I find, is the belief among Christian conspiracy theories and theorists that sun worship is the same thing as worshipping Satan (or Lucifer, as some of them still erroneously call him), often as part of conspiracy theories directied at the Freemasons and the Catholic Church. They also claim that Mithras, Baal, Lucifer, and Nimrod (the last two aren’t even deities) were sun gods, and that Ra or Amun-Ra are analogous to Satan for no apparent reason other than they are high sun gods.

It makes me wonder, why do Christians find sun worship so satanic, and what does it have to do with Satan other than they hate any form of worship that doesn’t involve Jesus? I mean I thought for Christians Satan represented darkness not light. And don’t give me anything about Lucifer because he doesn’t have anything to do with Satan. What exactly does Satan have to do with the sun in any context? And of all the things Christian conspiracy theorists pick on, why sun worship?

Easter or Spring?

Easter is basically a Christian holiday, meant to celebrate Jesus, but it’s not based on anything pagan, at least from what I’ve been reading. Easter has basically just taken over from the spring holidays as something to celebrate in spring instead of the pagan holidays. That being said, this actually creates a lot of confusion.

I recently re-examined information on Easter, and from what I’ve read, Easter by itself has nothing to do with paganism. Easter doesn’t even have anything to do with the spring or vernal equinox. I’ve been tempted in the past to use Easter to celebrate Ishtar or Astaroth, but Easter has no actual connection to them. Nor do Ishtar and Astaroth have even a remote connection with the Germanic goddess Eostre/Ostara, a goddess whose name is commonly held to be the source of the word Easter. But even then, Eostre probably has little connection to Easter, and what connection Everything else about Easter is probably more to do with secular commercial tradition and has nothing to do with the Christian Easter, and barely anything to do with paganism except perhaps for the goddess Eostre.

This re-examining has put my plans into shambles. I planned to celebrate Easter by venerating Astaroth or Ishtar, but what’s the point of doing that when it doesn’t mean anything? I’d just be celebrating Easter, when it doesn’t mean anything other than a commercial/secular/Christian holiday. At any rate, I doubt there can be a pagan Easter nowadays. The only thing I can say is that I will just celebrate spring, but I’m no longer sure how.

Happy All Snakes Day to all

I’d just like to wish all of my pagan readers a happy All Snake’s Day, which I admit I only recently found out about in full. May all who hold the serpent in high esteem, in whatever context, be blessed, and all who choose the serpent over the drunken celebration of that other day.

May the serpent be with you in all ways.