Comparing Pre-Christian Religions to Modern Christianityby Rit Nosotro
What similarities do pre-Christian European religions have with modern Christianity?
Modern day Christians received much of the traditions and holidays they celebrate from the pre-Christian Celts of Ireland and the pre-Christian practices of the Romans. Ireland, which was the only major area of Europe that was free from Roman control, was home to the Celtic people and religion. Romans, who believed the Celtic religion was a horrible, wicked, and rowdy religion, practiced their beliefs right up to the beginning of the spread of Christianity.
The Celtic religion was a Pagan religion that had high priests whom they called “Druids.” The name Druid originated from two separate things. The word “druh” is a Sankskrit word for oak and the word “wid” means “to know.” Combining the words gives us, “The knowledge of the oak.” Considering the “trees of knowledge” and “trees of life” are very symbolic in the Celtic religions, this definition makes sense. Druids were men who were in charge of the worshipping of the gods, monitoring sacrifices, and answering people’s religious questions. Holding the position of a druid was seen as a very high honor. Also, a druid was required to memorize all of the religious teachings, history, laws, and folklores of their people.
One of the Druids main jobs was too help with the four major celebrations of the Celtic religion. The first festival of the year was called “Imbolc.” Imbolc, which is a feast of renewal and purification, was celebrated on February 1st in honor of their goddess Brigit. Following the spread of Christianity, the goddess Brigit became called Saint Brigit. Second of the Celtic celebrations was Beltaine. Beltaine, celebrated on May 1st, was a celebration that included prayers for a good farming season. Lugnasad, the festival of fertility, is celebrated on August 1st. Finally, the fourth festival is Samain. Samain, celebrated on October 31st, is a festival in which all gods of the Celtic religion are celebrated. Few people realize that Halloween evolved from Samain. Christians later changed the name Samain to “All Saints Day” and “All Hallows Eve.” Aside from Halloween, we also receive our tradition of the Christmas mistletoe from the Celts. People would pay the druids in order to receive pieces of mistletoe; they believed the mistletoe would protect them from witches. Later, Christian priests ordered that mistletoe not be allowed into the church. However, mistletoe still found a place inside of churches regardless of the priest’s commands.
Druids had the power and ability to ban people from sacrifices. This was the strictest punishment one could sentence a person too. People who were banned from the sacrifices were considered wicked, godless people. Unfortunately, these sacrifices were human. Though we now think of human sacrifice as an animalistic act, back in the times of the druids, few people thought anything about sacrificing humans. It was actually considered an honor to be chosen as a sacrifice to the gods.
The Roman people also had an interesting, pre-Christian religion. Although the Romans looked down on the Celts for their beliefs, the Romans had their fair share of odd beliefs. The Romans had two triads of high gods. The first was made up of Jupiter, Mars, and Quirimus. The second triad, which was the main focus of Roman veneration, had Jupiter as the central figure with the goddess Juno and Minerva on either side of him. Mars, the Roman god of war, is where the calendar month of March received its name. Besides these main gods, the Romans worshipped countless other gods as well. Gods took on interesting forms in the Roman religion. One god, Junus (January was named after this god), was believed to take the shape of a gate inside of the forum. Numerous animal sacrifices were made unto the god Terminus, god of boundaries. He was believed to keep neighbors at peace with each other. The Romans believed in these gods (and many more—the Romans had a god for just about everything) right up until the beginning of Christianity.
Modern day people have gathered several practices and beliefs from the Celts and Romans. As was mentioned earlier, our present day calendar bases several of its months from names of Roman gods. Holidays such as Halloween and Christmas evolved from Celtic festivals. Halloween evolving from Samain and Christmas evolving from the celebration of the winter solstice. Around the 25th of December both Romans and Celts celebrated and worshipped the sun. Desiring to make others come to Christianity, Constantine “Christianized” these pagan holidays. By taking a holiday that was familiar to the people and changing it into something related to Christ, Constantine thought he could convert more people. Therefore, as a result of Constantine’s changing of this holiday, we now celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th instead of the sun. Interestingly, we also received the beginning of our new year from the Celts. On the winter solstice, they would worship the sun in hopes for the sun to not desert them. They did this because they noticed the days getting continually shorter. After approximately a week, they would notice that the days were, once again, getting longer, therefore they would start a new year. Though many traditions and celebrations have changed throughout the years, pre-Christian religions of the Romans and Celts have definitely shaped the current beliefs and practices of Christians.
The most obvious influential pre-Christian religion that exsisted in Europe was Judaism. Rome saw early Christianity as a Jewish sect which followed a Jewish religious teacher that had been crucified. The Apostle Paul, a Jewish theologian, taught the that the resurrected Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the Sacred Scriptures. Of all the customs synthesized into Christianity, Judaism is the tree onto which Christianity has been grafted.
1. What Celtic holiday became later known as Halloween?
2. Which religion regularly practiced human sacrifices?
A. The Romans
B. The Early Christians
C. The Celts
3. Which Roman leader changed the Pagan’s celebration of the Winter Solstice into Christmas?
C. Julius Caesar
4. Which Roman god was the god of war?
"Should a Christian Celebrate Christmas?” Bible Discernment Ministries,
November 21st, 2003
Duffy, Kevin. “Who Were the Celts?” New York, New York: Barnes & Noble books 1999
Editors of Time-Life Books “What Life Was Like Among Druids and High Kings” Alexandria, Virginia: Time Life Books 1998
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