Christianity: The Origins of a Pagan Religion [NOOK Book]

Overview

RELIGION / CHRISTIAN STUDIES This extensive study of the Christian mythology that animated medieval Europe shows that this mythology was primarily inspired by pagan beliefs and that very little of it comes from the Bible. The fact that Christianity grafted itself onto earlier pagan worship was part of the design of the Church Fathers. Pagan elements were incorporated into the Christian faith on the advice of Pope Gregory the Great, who told Saint Augustine of Canterbury that rather than tear down the pagan ...
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Christianity: The Origins of a Pagan Religion

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Overview

RELIGION / CHRISTIAN STUDIES This extensive study of the Christian mythology that animated medieval Europe shows that this mythology was primarily inspired by pagan beliefs and that very little of it comes from the Bible. The fact that Christianity grafted itself onto earlier pagan worship was part of the design of the Church Fathers. Pagan elements were incorporated into the Christian faith on the advice of Pope Gregory the Great, who told Saint Augustine of Canterbury that rather than tear down the pagan temples in Britain, he should instead add existing pagan rituals into the mix of Christian practices, thus providing an easy transition to the new religion. It would then be a simple matter to convince the populace to slightly redirect its focus to include Jesus. In this scholarly work, Walter shows which major calendar days of the Christian year are founded on pagan rituals and myths, including the high holidays of Easter and Christmas, when many pagans prepared for the coming of spirits who would leave gifts for those who honored them. Indeed, the identities of saints and pagan figures were so intermingled that some saints were even transformed into pagan incarnations, and vice versa. Mary Magdalene, for instance, became one of the ladies of the lake of Celtic legend. Walter explores how the hagiographic accounts of Christian saints reveal the origin of these symbolic figures to be the deities worshiped in pagan Europe for centuries. PHILIPPE WALTER is a professor of medieval French literature at the Université Stendhal in Grenoble. He has published numerous books on the Middle Ages and has overseen the editing and translation of the Grail romances for the prestigious Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. He lives in France.
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Editorial Reviews

Patricia Monaghan
"Those seriously interested in the survival of pagan beliefs under the cloak of Christianity will find in these pages the most comprehensive and scholarly work on the subject to date."
Cauldron Brasil
"This amazing little book is a must for any serious student of paganism, witchcraft, and the more mystical strains of Christianity. . . . There is simply too much to say about this excellent work and its truly well-researched basis. This book should be in your library and be read with interest and delight."
Galina Pembroke
"Anyone with an open, curious mind will cherish this book."
From the Publisher
". . . Walter marries the pagan and Christian calendars in great detail by examining ancient myths, saints and celebrations. . . . this volume makes a strong scholarly contribution to understanding the evolution of belief."

"Anyone with an open, curious mind will cherish this book."

"This amazing little book is a must for any serious student of paganism, witchcraft, and the more mystical strains of Christianity. . . . There is simply too much to say about this excellent work and its truly well-researched basis. This book should be in your library and be read with interest and delight."

"Those seriously interested in the survival of pagan beliefs under the cloak of Christianity will find in these pages the most comprehensive and scholarly work on the subject to date."

May 2007 Cauldron Brasil
"This amazing little book is a must for any serious student of paganism, witchcraft, and the more mystical strains of Christianity. . . . There is simply too much to say about this excellent work and its truly well-researched basis. This book should be in your library and be read with interest and delight."
publisher of New View Galina Pembroke
"Anyone with an open, curious mind will cherish this book."
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594776809
  • Publisher: Inner Traditions / Bear & Company
  • Publication date: 8/23/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 414,490
  • File size: 874 KB

Meet the Author

PHILIPPE WALTER is a professor of medieval French literature at the Université Stendhal in Grenoble. He has published numerous books on the Middle Ages and has overseen the editing and translation of the Grail romances for the prestigious Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. He lives in France.

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Read an Excerpt

Christianity: The Origins of a Pagan Religion


By Philippe Walter

Inner Traditions

Copyright ©2006 Philippe Walter
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1594770964


from Chapter Two

November 1, Samain

Saint Martin (November 11)

Forty days before Christmas is the feast day of Saint Martin (November 11). Saint Martin, "the apostle of the Gauls," played an essential role (perhaps one more symbolic than real) in the conversion of France to Christianity. His actual historical role is no doubt much less than the one attributed to him by his posthumous legend. It is undeniable though that this figure gives us a key to understanding the occultation of paganism by Christianity starting in the first centuries of evangelization.

The Goose of Saint Martin
Of all the saints, it is Saint Martin to whom the largest number of French churches are dedicated (close to four thousand) whereas the place names that start with Saint Martin or include Saint Martin are beyond count. This kind of celebrity cannot be the work of chance.If we are to believe the official legend of Martin, this son of a retired legionnaire, who was born in Sabaria in Hungary, offered half of his cloak on one particularly harsh winter day to a vagabond who was wandering the streets of Amiens. On his return to the barracks with only half his cloak, he had to endure the gibes of his fellows, but this gift definitively associated his name with an almost legendary charity.

The memory of Saint Martin is combined with that of the donkey (âne), but the form of the word seems to have been preserved here almost independently of its content. As we have seen earlier and as this will be confirmed even more solidly with the study of other legendary and mythical figures, the word ane can have two meanings in ancient French. Not only does this term designate the equine creature (âne, from the Latin word asinus) that is well known for its whims and stubbornness, but it also designates the duck or goose (ane) from the linguistic line of descent of the Latin word Ianas. Hence the ritual goose at the feast of Saint Martin would find the beginning of an explanation: it forms one with the ane [donkey/duck].

Here it is helpful to add a fact of folklore to this linguistical observation. In Alsace, in the Munster Valley, there is a kind of female Father Christmas, a "Christmas Lady" who distributes sweets to children in the company of an âne à bec [a donkey with a beak]. This beaked donkey is nothing other than a duck, a fairy tale creature from the Other World, a woman-bird like the others one will find in the mythic tales of Celtic origin or in the folk tales they have spawned.

On November 11, Saint Martin on his donkey distributes gifts to children in certain regions of Germany, Austria, and Belgium. In other regions it is Saint Nicholas, also on a donkey, who fills the hearts of the younger residents of Germany, Holland, and Lorraine with joy. We should also note that in Wales, there is a mythical horse that makes the rounds of all the houses on Christmas and New Year's Day. In Welsh this horse is called Aderyn bee y llwyd, meaning the "bird with the gray beak." This figure is readily reminiscent of the beaked donkey from the Alsatian valleys. All of these intercessors would be eventually be replaced by Father Christmas, himself the heir of the Anglo-Saxon Santa Claus, whose name is linked to that of Nicholas and who also has a donkey when his sled is not pulled by swans or reindeer. In fact, these figures are linked to a consort, an ancient woman-bird figure bequeathed by the Celtic Great Goddess, a provider of sovereignty and wealth, who symbolically arrives to offer her presents at the time of the gift-giving and festive season, that is to say at the time when time is renewed, the dawn of the new year.

The very official hagiographic texts concerning Saint Martin confirm this obscure connection of the saint with the Other World as well as with the fairy-like world of the bird-women or the Great Goddess of the Celts. Sulpicius Severus relates how Saint Martin took refuge for a time on Gallinaria Island--gallinaria means "henhouse" in Latin. From this it would seem that Martin's contact with geese/ducks (or anes) was recalled quite clearly but carefully hidden. In reality, the theme of Martin's consort, the Bird-Goddess of the Other World, is truly central to the understanding of the mythical pre-Christian figure overlaid by the saint.

A rereading of the Amiens episode of the cloak cut in half can confirm the presence of coded mythological motifs. Here it is necessary to take a detour through folk tales. Folk stories, in fact, offer many instances in which a scenario comparable to the "Charity of Saint Martin" occurs. A young man who has nothing but is extremely generous gladly does a favor for someone who begs his aid. Most often, the person disguised is Christ himself or the Virgin (in the hagiography); in the folk tale this person who is given charitable assistance is most often a fairy in disguise. Now, to reward her benefactor, the fairy (Christ or the Virgin) will give this individual a magic object. This is often a talisman (a chain, a wand, and so forth) or an animal (a golden goose). For example, three collected versions of this archetypal story are entitled The Golden Goose. In other words, the charitable young man (like Saint Martin) can own a goose (an ane), which will earn him eternal riches (or eternal life in the case of Saint Martin). The theme of the shared cloak would thus belong to a mythical series partially concealed by the idealized story but perfectly transparent in the context of the Celtic myth and folklore.

Continues...

Excerpted from Christianity: The Origins of a Pagan Religion by Philippe Walter Copyright ©2006 by Philippe Walter. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1 Carnival, the enigma of a name 19
2 November 1, Samhain 35
3 Christmas and the twelve days 52
4 February 1, Imbolc 73
5 The transitional period of Easter 95
6 May 1, Beltane 113
7 Saint John's Day 130
8 August 1, Lughnasa 147
9 Saint Michael on Mount Gargan 165
App. 1 History of Normandy, Book 13
App. 2 The baying (or questioning) beast
App. 3 A short index of saints
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