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.


Mythological Spotlight #3: Melek Taus

MELEK TAUS by Stuart Littlejohn


Melek Taus, or Tawuse Melek if you prefer, is the central figure of the religion of the Yazidis, an ancient Kurdish religious and ethnic community who are mostly based in Iraq. According to the Yazidis, Melek Taus is the chief of all the angels and/or holy beings, or even the creator and ruler of the world and the universe, and is usually represented as a peacock, hence his nickname The Peacock Angel. In Yazidi myths, Melek Taus is a servant or emanation of God, but it is also believed he rebelled against God by refusing to bow down to Adam. This, along with his other name apparently being Shaitan, led to him being confused with the Islamic figure Shaitan or Iblis, which in turn got him confused with Satan and Lucifer. But unlike Satan, Lucifer, or Iblis, Melek Taus repented and not only restored his status as a high angel, he also became a demiurgic figure who created the world. It is said that after his repentance, he wept for 7,000 years, and these tears are believed to have filled seven jars with which he quenched the fires of Hell.


The religion of the Yazidi people is considered to be a branch of a religion known as Yazdanism. Yazdanism is a pre-Islamic religion practiced by the Kurdish people, and is influenced by Zoroastrian theology and other Mesopotamian religions, though Yazdanism is also considered a name for a group of ancient Kurdish monotheistic religions rather than simply one whole religion. A key belief of Yazdanism is that God (in the traditional sense) is an absolute and transcendental being that encompasses the whole universe, and manifests himself through seven divine beings, one of which is Melek Taus (who is also the chief of these beings), in order to sustain universal life. In the Yazidi tradition, Melek Taus was the first of these angelic beings to emerge from the light of God in the form of a rainbow, which bifurcated to form him and the six other angelic beings, who together now represent the seven colors of the rainbow (Melek Taus representing blue, the color of the heavens). It is also believed that these angels occasionally incarnate in this world as humans. Melek Taus, for instance, is believed to have incarnated as a man named Sheikh Abi Idn Musafir, who is credited as being the founder of Yazidism.

Melek Taus is traditionally represented by the peacock, but the peacock is not native to Iraq. It’s believed that the peacock symbolism originates with the early Christians, who thought peacock represented immortality and/or resurrection because of the belief that the peacock’s flesh did not decay after death.

The myth of the fall and repentance of Melek Taus has often been conflated with the myth of the fall of Iblis as defined by orthodox Islamic belief. In the Islamic myth, Iblis was a being created by “God” (or rather Allah as he is called in the Quran) who refused to bow down to Adam unlike the angels, so he rebelled against “God” and his angels and was defeated, and afterwards he became known as the leader of the djinn or demons. This itself parallels the Christian myth of Satan’s fall from grace. In the Yazidi myth, Melek Taus also refused to bow to the first human and was punished for it, but unlike Iblis, Melek Taus repented and went on to create the world. This myth, along with their particular theology concerning God, frequently leads to the Yazidis being judged as devil-worshipers and denounced accordingly by Muslims and Christians. The identification of Melek Taus with the name Shaitan may also be part of why it is considered forbidden in the Yazidi tradition to speak the name Shaitan out loud. It is important to remember that, although Melek Taus ostensibly defied the will of God, he is still very much seen as a high-ranking angel and an emanation of God rather than as a fallen angel or devil, and is very much in God’s good graces. Melek Taus simply became attached to Iblis, and Satan by proxy, by Muslims. In this sense, Melek Taus is as related to Satan as Santa Claus is related to Jesus. It’s also worth noting that some believe Melek Taus was ultimately rewarded for refusing to bow to the first human rather than punished, because it meant upholding the monotheistic worship of only one God and not Man, an outlook in some interpretations (mustly Sufi) of Iblis refusing to bow down to Adam out of love and devotion to God.

Quick side-note: I’ve noticed that members of an organization known as the Joy of Satan relates a number of deities from various mythologies to their interpretation of Satan, and one of these is Melek Taus. This is obviously based on the supposed connection Melek Taus to Satan, which, as was previously stated, is simply a construct of Islamic and Christian interpretation and doesn’t have any real bearing on the character of Melek Taus. Because why would an angel tied to the monotheistic God have anything to do with Satan?

Anyways, because of their particular beliefs and theological ideas, the Yazidis have frequently met persecution by Islam and other religious traditions, and are deemed as falling outside the protected category of “People of the Book”, which refers to members of religions who follow monotheistic scriptures related to Islamic teachings. This has led to the Yazidi people facing threats of genocide and massacre many times, and their culture facing threats of extermination. The Yazidis have been considered devil-worshippers since the late 16th century, but organized violence against them actually dates back to the Ottoman Empire’s campaigns against the Yazidis during the 19th century. In the 1970s, the Yazidis also suffered under the regime of Saddam Hussein, who razed Yazidi villages and communities and forced them to relocate into his cities, which disrupted their rural mountain communities and their lifestyle. More recently, last year the Yazidis were the victims of a brutal campaign conducted by ISIL, who have brutally killed, enslaved, or forcibly exiled members of the Yazidi community and captured their territory. It could argued that this is because of the perception that they are devil-worshipers, but with ISIL anyone who falls outside their religious views is considered fair game to them, so to them the Yazidis being accused of worshipping Satan probably doesn’t matter as much as them not being extremist Sunni Muslims. ISIL’s brutality against the Yazidis is ongoing, but nowadays it is sadly not getting a lot of attention anymore. Outside the Middle East, the Yazidis are also misunderstood as devil-worshipers, even in fiction, but his reputed connection to Satan and the mysteriousness of his religion has gained Melek Taus some fame within occultism, and sometimes he crops up in Left Hand Path circles.


All I can say is that it’s weird how Melek Taus came to be seen as a Satanic figure when by all rights he is more like the the archangels of Jewish and Christian lore or the Zoroastrian yazatas. Given one of his names is Shaitan, his reputation as a Devil figure is almost literally a case of mistaken identity, and people choosing not to look past the veneer of the myth of the fall from grace. If you’re interested in angels and holy beings, mind you, you might find Melek Taus to be a very interesting and captivating figure.


We often think of angels as heavenly versions of humans. They usually look like us, have gender (though not necessarily genitals), have a sweet, kindly, caring nature, and act in the best interests of human beings. In popular culture, they are used as the good genie, to represent doing the “right thing”. But what some us of either don’t know or forget is that this is not how angels are depicted in the Bible and other Judeo-Christian texts. That depiction came from European Medieval and Renaissance era artists as an artistic liberty designed to distinguish angels from other human figures, especially in paintings full of human figures. In traditional lore, angels are usually not shiny human-like beings, but are mostly eldritch in their appearance, and they often get weirder as you go up the orders. But most importantly, they are sexless, they usually don’t have free will, and serve God without question. In traditional Jewish lore, there is no such thing as an evil or rebel angel and even Satan works for God and carries out his orders. They are essential robotic supernatural beings, which is how I’ve always thought of them.

This leads me to think of the term angelization, which I thought I had come up with originally. As I imagine it, it means to convert a supernatural being into an angel, which would mean to transform a supernatural creature into a robotic, passionless, desireless creature with no free will. I even think this is an alternative story to Lucifer’s fall from heaven. In this version of events, Yahweh wanted to turn the demons into robotic angels, and Lucifer fought against it, thus the conflict between Yahweh and Lucifer begins. Since the Bible is written from Yahweh’s point of view, he would have you believe that Lucifer was an angel who stood against God and lost. The reality could be different, as Yahweh is not who he says he is.

The equivalent of angelization in human terms is like a kind of  spiritual lobotomy, the removal of free will, passion, desire, free thought, self, and even sex and gender if possible. Thus, becoming angelic is not an admirable or desirable outcome.

Is there no real distinction between angels and demons?

This image should give an idea of what I’m talking about. They both have similar things going on, including fire.

Whenever I think of angels and demons, and heaven and hell, in the Judeo-Christian context, I think of fire and light in the same place, and maybe lava/magma, and other sublimeness. That’s one of the few things with Judeo-Christian mythology I can appreciate, it’s kinda sublime, especially from the point of view of imagery and art. The image above really connects the separate traditional images of the angel and the demon. Actually, to the point that I think they’re the same.

In Christian theological tradition, demons were once angels, beings created to serve God who somehow went against their nature to serve God and rebelled against him, only to be cast out of heaven. Effectively, demons are the same as angels, just that they are against God and are “fallen”. But if we don’t look at from the Bible’s point of view, maybe we reach a different conclusion. To me, angels are the same as demons. They’re the same spirit, but with different allegiances. You might even call back to the Greek concept of demon, or daemon, which I talked about in a previous post.

So the way I see it, angels and demons are really the same kind of being, though on different sides. We just separate them so that we have something to associate with pure good and pure evil, neither of which truly exist in any being. Perhaps the Christian tradition towards these beings was their way of splitting the same being into good and evil, just like their splitting of reality. I might even be a representation of isolating of “animal nature” as opposed to “higher nature”. But really, that’s not really what matters here.

Deconstructing angels

A traditional depiction of an angel, from Angels in America.

The traditional image of an angel is quite recognizable, and quite cliched. They are also depicted as very caring, merciful, compassionate, and innocent beings. We even call very saintly and innocent people, especially children and young girls, “angels”. I’m here to deconstruct two things about angels.

  1. Their common depiction in coventional media.
  2. Their image as such saintly beings.

As you probably know, the image you see above is a conventional depiction of an angel. This depiction originates not from the Bible, or Judeo-Christian sources, but rather the work of Renaissance artists. This was probably done to distinguish them from regular human figures, or to make them more humanlike, and thus more appealing to human eyes than what they actually look like. Though to be fair, regular angels in the Bible did look humanlike, but some of the angels look like things that would make you scream “AHHH! KILL IT! KILL IT!”


A depiction of the Biblical cherubim.

Other than the Cherubim depicted above, we have Seraphim, which are six-winged burning angels with faces hidden behind the wings, and Ophanim, which are fiery wheels with eyes.

Now, the image of angels being nice and saintly. In Abrahamic lore, they are merely servants of the Abrahamic god. Their benevolent image probably cames from the idea that the Abrahamic god is omni-benevolent. Except that, really he’s not.

Benevolent? All-loving? Really?

We already know that the god of the Bible is quite far from his benevolent image. A god whose plan for humanity endorses genocide, rape, and persecuting those who don’t believe him, and who poses as a highly moral character but is actually a hypocrite. And for some of things he didn’t do in the Bible, he would most likely have had his angels do it for him. And that’s just what they do: serving the god of the Bible, ergo helping him carry out his plans, all of them, including the many less than savory aspects. Therefore I submit that angels are thus nothing more than the heartless enforcers of the will of the god of the Bible, who are for the most part completely subservient (Lucifer being the obvious exception), and unworthy of being compared to the innocence of children.