A brief history of Paganism

According to Oxford University, the modern meaning of the word “Pagan” would be ‘ a person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions’. However, in my opinion, any serious “Pagan” should understand and educate themselves on the fact that Pagan/ism isn’t a religion in and of it’s self, but more over has become something of an umbrella term as Oxford would suggest. For example, a Wiccan would be a Pagan, a Druid would be aPagan, and a “Heathen” would be a Pagan according to modern Etymology.

However, where does the word it’s self originate and how did it become what we as “Pagans” understand today? Basically, a Pagan is someone who doesn’t follow a Christian or Jewish religion. The Word Pagan is actually Latin, and denotes a country dweller. It originates from the word “pagus” (or paganus) and actually means “rural district” Roman soldiers would used the term “Pagan” as some would use the term “hick, redneck, or bumpkin”. Much later, after Rome started to become more of a Christianized culture, the use of the term Pagan shifted some what into and used by city folk to describe someone who continued to worship the old Pagan Idols, this being how the word came to denote one who worships Pagan Gods.

Itwasn’t until the reign of Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus (Constantine I), as it was this reign which would be the turning point for early Christianity from a simple religion, to a state power within the Empire, and from there, from minority, to majority around the year 313 C.E.. Anyone who followed the literally hundreds of the old Pagan Religions of the old Roman Empire werepersecuted by Constantine I relentlessly. The persecuted Pagansincluded the non-Christians of North Africa, the Middle East, andEurope – the area often called the “oikoumene” or the “known world.

As persecution spread around the known world, often Pagans wouldpretend to be Christians as a means of escaping, such as the PaganEmperor Julian for example (who ruled from 361-363), who was borninto a Christian family, and later (no one knows exactly when)converted back to Paganism. Pagans had already begun to practicetheir religions in secret in the mid and late fourth century. Totake this a bit further, there was a famous fellow Pagan authorcalled Libanius who lived at the same times as Emperor Julian andduring his time in power. Libanius also reported in his work “Forthe Temples” that by Julian’s death, there were Pagan’s who notonly pretended to be Christian, but would pray to Pagan gods as theworshiped in the church.

Now let’s fast forward a bit to the Dark Ages, which lasted from about 600 AD to about 1000 AD. Well let’sjust say they’re not called the Dark ages for nothing. Now Pagans not only have Christians to worry about but other Pagans as well. Christians fought Christians, Pagans fought Pagans, Pagans fought Christians, and Christians fought Pagans. Something that was common was the burning of scrolls, books, and other forms of knowledge andancesteral ways of the defeated armies. Very little would ever survive invading hordes and Crusades. However thankfully there were strongholds, places which were from Rome and Athens, such as cityof Timbuktu in central Africa, Irish monasteries, and by Islamic scholars in centers of learning as Baghdad.

Fast forward again to the Middle ages, so much has been lost to “Paganism” already, it is now between 1000 C.E. and 1500 C.E. It is during this time that we begin to see some of the first Inquisitions, known as the Medieval Inquisitions around 1184 C.E., this is the term historians use to describe the various inquisitions which occurred around this date such as the Episcopal Inquisition which raged from 1184 to sometime in the 1230’s, however just as the Episcopal ended, the Papal Inquisition began.

Not a good time to be anyone, Christians, as well as Pagans would be tortured and killed, though more Christians would die than Pagans, it was a dark time for everyone.

Bydefinition an Inquisition is is the judgment of heresy by the Roman Catholic Church. During this time Wicca and Wicce (Male and female practitioners of sorcery and magic O.E.) would become interchangeable with “Pagan”. Fear and sometimes hate would drive priests to focus much of their attention to women, thus the word “Witch” soon evolved from Wicce. This being why much of modern Bible translations focus on women. For example the word from which “Witch” is taken is “Chasaph” which actually means “poisoner”. King James I according to Reginald Scot in his book “The discovery of Witchcraft” had purposely mistranslated the Bible to target women. Some translations saying Witch, some saying Sorceress, I have even heard of one translation which said Woman.

Then there was the Malleus Maleficarum which was first submitted to the University of Cologne on May 9th, 1487 and is translated by Montague Summers to mean “The Hammer of Witches” is the most infamous of all witch hunting instructional books. Written by James Sprenger and Henry Kramer, it remained in use for three hundred years and It had tremendous influence in the witch trials in England and on the continent. This book, should serve as a terrible reminder of what can happen when intolerance is allowed to run rampant. Literally thousands of people were tortured and killed in the name of eradicating Paganism, primarily Christian women. Whether Witch Hunts Driven by King James I or Roman Emperors like Constantine I who was bent on making the world Christian, it should always be remembered that religion is only an excuse for one culture to rule over another. It isn’t religion which teaches us to reign over others, but how we twist said religions. Paganism, like Christianity has endured it’s share of hardships down through the ages.

We as modern Pagans and Christians alike must remember our history, as to never let it be visited back on us. You can no more change what a man holds sacred, than you can change the color of his skin. This is why Paganism has endured, this is why the legacy endures. Let the many paths be opened, let us hear the calling of the ever hidden, let us go to the gathering, and meet at the great Crossroads. Power of the Ancestors be within you!



Past and Present journal No. 136 (Aug., 1992), pp. 186-205 Oxford University Press by “The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe” by Valerie I. J. Flint

Published in: on December 10, 2009 at 11:21 am  Comments (1)  

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