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Subject: Re: that Pat, & Padraig thread
From: Raymond Turner <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:CELTIC-L - The Celtic Culture List.
Date:Thu, 6 Apr 1995 16:25:38 -0400
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Hi, all. My text editor won't let me quote from more than one message at
a time, so I'll have to paraphrase.
 
As Ms. kenedy points out, many more than two saints were sainted for
something other than "mass murder." And many of the irish and Welsh
saints were originally preChristian deities. the most famous example of
this adaptation is Saint Bridget, also known as Bride. there are numerous
other examples.
 
I have also read that Saint Columba was a great advocate of preserving
the druidic tradition. I have a very clear recollection of reading about
a letter, or series of letters, between him and another early church
father about the whole issue of incorporating druidic practices and
training methods into church training. However, my recolection of the
source for this information is not as clear.
 
What needs to be done in any discussion of the relations between
Christianity and the preChristian indigenous religions of Europe is clear
defintions of terms. What the early church fathers defined as "pagan" is
not how people on this list use the term. they were decrying Roman and
Greek religion, which was a political threat even more than a religious
one. There is a discussion of this in Marc Drogin, Medieval Calligraphy:
Its history and technique, which goes into why Roman styles of script
were abandoned, because of their "pagan" connotations, and Uncial was
adopted as the first truly Christian script.
 
The terms Pagan, witch, even Christian and Religion need to be defined
before we can discuss this topic and make sense to one another. The early
Protestant writers accused medieval Christianity of being "pagan" in
observance, and by some defintions, medieval Christianity as actually
practiced, was a whole lot more "pagan" in practice and custom than most
modern Christians, or pagans, would be comfortable knowing.
 
Some friends of mine have done considerable research into early Celtic
Christianity, and have found a great deal of evidence of the survival of
pre-Christian belief and practice in early Christianity. These friends
are, by the way, devout Christians. And they ahve no problem accepting
this. many of the differences between the Celtic church and the Roman
church can surely be traced back to pre-Christian times. There is
probably as much evidence about pre-Christian beleif in a study of the
early church, as about Christian belief and custom.
 
The evidence that I'm aware of does not support an intellectual belief in
the systematic persecution of an indigenous pre-Christian religion in the
Middle Ages by the Christian church. Yes, we can cite individual
instances, such as Patrick lighting a fire on Beltane and upsetting the
status quo. But one swallow does not a summer make, as the saying goes...
 
There is also considerable evidence of the survival of pre-Christian
symbolism and beliefs, as wellas practices, into Christian times.
However, to my mind, this does not conclusively indicate that there was
an underground religious movement that was consciously and deliberately
non-Christian.
 
The dates of Christmas, Easter, All Hallows Eve, and Mayday are not based
on the Bible, and are examples of pre-Christian customs adopted into
Christianity. the cult of relics, which was so pervasive and influential
throughout medieval Europe has no Biblical justification that I'm aware
of, and is extemely animistic and even shamanistic in many ways. There is
also no evidence to support the ntoion that "magickal" thought or
practice declined during the Middle Ages or under the jurisdiction of
Christianity. Quite the contrary. See Valerie Flint, the Rise of Magic in
Early Medieval Europe, and Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of
Magic, for thorough examinations of this.
 
The pagan Romans despised witchcraft, and had a legald efintion of it, as
did the pre-Christian Anglo_saxons. The beliefs of the accuser or the
accused didn't enter a charge of witchcraft. The persecution of witches
that we associate, erroneously, with medieval Christianity were not begun
until the beginnigs of the Reformation. The Malleus Maleficarum was
published in 1480 or thereabouts.
 
There are a number of vaguely defined bliefs, which Margot Adler
described as the Myth of Wicca in her book Drawing Down the Moon, that
have found their way into popular culture. When Adler's book was
published, the idea of an ndigenous nature religion that survived
unchanged into the Middle Ages to be systematically persecuted by
Christianity was not especially well-known in the general public, but
since then, has spread like wildfire. Most well-read pagans don't buy it,
but a lot of people who are what we could call pagan wannabees buy into
it without even articulating what they believe in. And the thing is, it
makes a great story. It's a genuine myth, i the fullest sense of the
word, and answers many real and valid emotional and spiritual needs.
 
But it's not supported by the evidence, unfortunately.
 
I'm glad to see such open debate, most of it good-natured, on this forum,
and I think this is what the Internet is all about. But at the same time,
i don't think our spiritual growth, as individuals or as a planet, is
furthered by an assumption of antagonism between paganism and
Christianity. i also believe, based on what I've discovered in my own
research, that the notion of such a wide chasm would be incomprehensible
to people of the period we're discussing. I don't think "the church" was
anything like the totalitarian, monolithic institution some assume it
was, or that what we define as paganism and what we define as Christian
were as neatly-packaged or mutually-exclusive as we might think.
 
Regards,
JoAnn Turner
[log in to unmask]

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