A Comparative Study Of Greek And Celtic Pagan Religions, The Variations Between Them And Their Demise Through The Christian Movement

3023 words - 13 pages

Variations exist within all religions. These variations are formed as a result of a number of influences experienced by not only individuals but the society as a whole. Throughout history religions have developed, diminished as well as formed the basis for many contempory religions, notably Christianity. It is the latter however which caused the downfall of Paganism, in particular ancient Celtic and Greek belief and which resulted in the church gaining ultimate power and authority over a majority of the world.For hundreds of years prior to the birth of Christ, religions existed in a polytheistic nature, meaning they worshiped a number of gods. This is opposed to not only Christianity but also Islam in which monotheism, the worship of a singular god, is practiced. In contrast to modern belief and stereotype however, paganism, a term which has developed in meaning to that of devil worship, is in fact, when used in correct context, that of a 'country dweller'. Nevertheless, as Christianity spread throughout various countries, a widespread inclination occurred, being that in urban areas as opposed to rural, the new religion was generally better accepted. A reason for this is that country dwellers, due to their conservative nature, were more resistant to the new ideas and the implications Christianity held. Therefore the word for a country dweller (pagan) became one and the same with someone who was not Christian in belief, resulting therefore in the modern meaning of paganism being established and developed further to produce negative connotations.The Celtic people are thought to have originated in central Europe from areas now known as Germany, Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary. They expanded across Europe before settling specifically to the British Isles. Their religion, practiced from the time of their divergence from the proto-indo Europeans (a hypothetical group of people thought to have existed from 4000 BC), was consistently that of polytheism. Through their migration across Europe and encounters with such countries as Greece and Italy, Celtic religion, after final settlement, had inevitably been influenced by the previous cultures. It must be noted however that while the ancient religion is thought to have derived and evolved as said by the writings of ancient Greek and Roman historians, their portrayal of the ancient people may well have been biased. This is a result of the fact that Celts held an oral tradition with the belief that writing, rather than remembering, weakened the mind. Therefore all written evidence is based on the previous cultures portrayal and may well have been altered or distorted over time.Contrary to this, a great deal of knowledge is known of Greek religion and its origin due to their insistence on written records. The first European civilization was developed on Crete, the largest of Greek islands. Although flourishing at around 2000 BC, there are no written records of the society, known as the Minoans. Rather, information is derived from their paintings, pots and statues. This civilization however diminished around 1600 BC following what was thought to be the result of a series of natural disasters. From this time onwards mainland Greece was occupied by a peoples known was Mycenaean's. From artifacts found in royal tombs, archaeologists have concluded that their religious beliefs were similar to that of the Minoans. Both believed in life after death which is evident from their burial methods of placing food and possessions in tombs for, as well as the belief that goddesses and priestesses were in a higher position of authority in comparison to their male counterparts.This culture however too declined and Greece experienced a period known as the Dark Ages of which very little is known. However the period from 500 BC to 336 BC, known as the classical period in Greek history, holds similarities with both previously mentioned civilizations and encompassed dozens of gods and goddesses as well as many spirit figures and half gods. Mythology became extremely significant with religion being its practical counterpart with religious practices varying enough that one might speak of Greek religions rather then as a singular term.Beliefs are particular to that of the culture in question and coincide with that of their morals, social manner and that of which or whom they are influenced by. Unlike modern society, ancient Celtic and Greek life was governed entirely by their religious beliefs. Both were of a polytheistic nature and while their gods had different names, similar functions were thought to have been performed by them.However Celtic belief and religion in itself, held a great deal of variation in local practices due to a lack of political unification and no central source of cultural influence. While over three hundred gods were referred to throughout the recorded Celtic history, many of these deities were local gods and few were widely worshiped by the civilization as a whole. There were three major gods in one particular trinity, the latter of which was very common in most pagan cultures including Greek. This trinity was known to have comprised the following gods-Teutates, "god of the people". He was the god of war and healing, fertility and protection and in this sense possessed qualities of Roman gods, Mars and Mercury. As ancient Celts have been found to have practiced human sacrifice, the victims of the above god were required to be drowned in sacred pools or wells.Esus, the second god, although equal in power was strongly disliked in Celtic culture as he required his victims to be hung or stabbed. His cult was associated with the bull, he is portrayed with one and is often said to have been referred to as Lord or Master.The final god in the trinity was known as Taranis (thunder) and is equivilant to Roman god Jupiter. He was symbolised by the wheel which was either of lightning or a solar symbol and required prisoners of war to be burnt in wicker cages (extremely large wooden human shaped cages).In addition to gods and godesses, early Celts considered particualr trees to have religious significance, with the word for their religious leaders, Druids, thought to have been derived from the welsh meaning for 'oak'. As the Celts believed that the course of nature was led by their gods doing, their dieties were found amongst shrines in springs, rivers, lakes and woodland. Whilst still maintaining sacred trees and votive pools thought to have housed various gods, ancient Celts also built temples of varrying size and shape. These temples however were converted, like many sacred sites, by the romans during the Christianization period.The Celts placed great emphasis on natural aspects of the Earth hence their gods being named after natural things. They believed in different gods being responsible for different aspects of life, similar to Greek belief. Examples of this are evident in Celtic artefacts of wooden carvings depicting various body parts which were placed in the pool the god of healing was thought to reside. It was belived that through this practise, the body part would be fixed.Distinct differences between Celtic and Greek belief however, lie in the fact that Celts passionately believed in their gods, rather than only to further their lives as the Greeks did. They believed the gods exercised authority over the fortunes of human beings and demanded recognition as a condition for salvation . Most greeks did not pray to their gods for "goodness, patience and understanding" but for more control over their own lives and affairs. In this sense, although the Greeks were very religious they did not, as modern religions often do, follow a strict set of rules and people therefore worshipped the gods they found to be most useful.Myths and Legends were extremely significant in Greek society and were known by all. Unlike in Celtic culture wherein such a philosophy as the origins of the world were taught only by religious leaders, ancient Greek mythology and the knowledge of such, differed. Many of these myths were tales of the lives of their gods and their dealings with humans as well as justification of natural phenomena, for example, day becoming night, changing seasons and as previously mentioned, how the world came about.Another factor differenciating Greek religion from Celtic is that, at times the Greeks did not take their gods seriously. Such examples are seen in mythology wherein the gods were portrayed as behaving similar to humans; they feasted, fell in love and cheated. Likewise there is a known event in Greek mythology during which the ancient Athenians demanded money from the island of Andros and told the Andrians that they had to pay because they had two powerful gods in Athens, "Please" and "You'd Better". They replied that their island was so poor that the only gods they had were "Flat Broke" and Terribly Sorry". Examples such as these were unheard of in Celtic religion as they respected their gods and, being a violent society, feared the gods and what 'wrath' they may impose as a result of a lack of decency towards them. Nonetheless, Greek gods too were believed to be "cruel and jealous trouble makers", therefore explaining pain, disease and disaster.Some distinct parallels however do exist between Celtic and Greek religion. This can be seen through the example of greek god Artemis, daughter of Zeus, the father and leader of the gods, and Celtic goddess Brigit, "The exhalted one", daughter of The Dagda, also known as Father of the gods.Not only do various religions hold similarities in belief, both ancient Celtic and Greek religions respectively infiltrate the use of their authority figures in such a way which influences the majority of worshipers. Celtic religion for example encompasses a collection of three main roles for their religious leaders; that of the Bards, Ovates and most importantly the Druids. The Bards were the keepers of tradition and through their poetic abilities were responsible for the memory of the tribe. They were required to partake in at least nine years of training prior to their recognition as a Bard, during which they had to memorize thousands of poetic verses. The following class in Celtic religion and society was the Ovates or Vates .They are described by ancient historian Strabo as "interpretation of sacrifice and natural philosophers". They specialized in conversing with ancestors and prophesizing the future. The final and most significant rank within the society was the Druid and Druidesses. Following a training period of up to twenty years, Druids performed the functions of contempory priests, acted as teachers, ambassadors, genealogists, musicians, astronomers, judges, scientist's, theologists as well as philosophers. Unlike ancient Egyptian religion in which the highest mortal rank was Pharaoh, The Druid did not act as a mediator between god and man but more so as a director of ritual, guiding and containing the ancient rites.However, while Celtic religion posed a triad of subdivisions in their leaders, ancient Greek religion differed. Agreeably, the religion had a number of priests each performing various ceremonies in temples scattered amongst all towns in the country. However these priests lacked the integrity and vast knowledge of ancient religious aspects which notably the Druids were respected and acknowledged for. The Greeks instead had various minorities who specialized in the fields of philosophy, teaching and astronomy, each of whom however posed no religious status. There were however specific priest knows for their special abilities and it was they to whom the average person went in search of advice. The priest or priestess was responsible for an oracle; a shrine at which people wrote questions for the gods on lead tablets while the gods were thought to have replied through the voice of the priest or priestess. Additionally the priests, like Celtic Druids, were responsible for presiding over religious ceremonies and duties alike.The rise of Christianity brought about tremendous changes in all religions. It began as a small Messianic movement in Galilee occurring from approximately 20 AD onwards. In the 1st Century AD, there wasn't an organised attempt to convert the British pagan beliefs to that of Christianities monotheism. Rather, it began with Roman traders and artisans spreading stories of Jesus along with stories of their Pagan deities. Originally it was a cult much the same as others in the era, pagan and non pagan alike however it demanded strict policies of allegiance from followers and intolerance of other gods, which originally resulted in early Christian persecution by the Romans. Nonetheless, the theory of monotheism attracted current roman Emperor Constantine (306-337 BC), his motivation being that Christianity could be used as a means to unite the Empire and achieve military success. During the 4th century, Christianity was slowly rising however still overpowered by pagan beliefs. It was not until the Dark Ages of British and European history that the monotheistic religion became a power equal to that of Pagan beliefs, with the latter gradually diminishing. It is believed that initial and continuous attraction towards Christianity is a result of its portrayal as 'loving and forgiving', the belief that this one singular God cares about each human and that salvation and eternal life can be gained by becoming such a christian.The Christian Church absorbed a great deal of Celtic religion, through which many pagan gods and goddesses became Christian saints; sacred springs and wells were preserved and associated with these saints and many pagan temple sites became the location of cathedrals. As the Roman Empire held high power due to their military strength, regions under Roman rule adopted Christianity along with the rest of the Roman Empire, with unconquered areas of Scotland and Ireland changing from Celtic polytheism to Celtic Christianity due to missionary work in other parts of Britain and central Europe.In the late 4th century, the Imperial courts were predominantly Christian. During this period as mentioned above, Christian emperors such as Constantine closed pagan oracles and temples, through a series of decrees. Apart from building great monuments to Christianity, Constantine now became openly antagonistic toward the pagans. Pagan sacrifice itself was forbidden and pagan temples had their treasures confiscated and given to the Christian churches instead. It was during this time also that the public practice of the Greek religion was made illegal by the Emperor Theodosius I and enforced by his successors. Followers of the Greek pagan religion were punished and killed by Christian governors and early Christian citizens with those caught worshipping or making sacrifices to their gods being first imprisoned and tortured. As the ages progressed, Paganism gradually met an ultimate downfall while Christianity became the accepted religion in a majority of countries and still today exists equally.Religions, as is evident, vary according to the era in which they came about as well as the influences which shape their outcome. While Christianity is widely accepted as a religion in modern society, the belief that paganism is devil worship is untrue and only through research of both can an undersanding and judgement be passed.BIBLIOGRAPHYWEBSITES-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_Ancient_Greek_religionhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/history/historyuk1.shtmlhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/history/index.shtmlhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PaganismThis website was particularly useful as it provided me with a general overview on my chosen topic and was a good starting point. It contained relevant information as well as links to further reading on the subject. However it isn't as reliable as other sites or books due to the fact that anyone can edit it and add or delete certain facts. Therefore while it did act as initial starting point, other references were definitely needed.http://www.crystalinks/shamanism/paganism.htmlhttp://library.thinkquest.org/28111http://www.meta-religion.com/World_Religions/Ancient_religions/Europe/a_brief_history_of_celts.htmhttp://www.religioustolerance.org/druid.htmThis website was useful because it covered all aspects of Celtic paganism such as origins as well as leaders. It provided thorough explanations of the latter as well as various opinions of the author and their interpretations rather than simple information. However, as the site was made by someone who believed in the religion, the source may well have been biased and particular facts may have been altered. It was necessary to then follow up the statements with further reading.http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/history/historyuk1.shtmhttp://www.roman-empire.net/religion/religion.htmlBOOKS-Littell, F, (1976) Illustrated History of Christianity, ContinuumThis book assisted my research as it described in detail various aspects of the Christian up rise, not only in regards to Paganism and the suppression of such, but the initial stages before its pinnacle of power. This, in contrast to a website provided me with thorough information without evidence of bias and was supported by other websites such as, http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/history/historyuk1.shtmBeresford, P (1994), The Druids, Constable and Company Limited.Chisholm, J; Miles, L; Reid, S; (2002) Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece, Usbourne Publishing LTD.King, J (1994), The Celtic Druids Year, BlandfordGreen, P, (1973) Ancient Greece-A Concise History, Thames and HudsonDineen, J, (1991) The Greeks, Heinemann EducationalDOCUMENTARIES-The Road to Ancient Greece, Thomas S. Klise Company.Greek and Roman Mythology, Reference Library.Histories Great Civilizations Vol.1, Reference Library.

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