Pagan and Christian Creeds HTML version

2. Solar Myths And Christian Festivals
To the ordinary public--notwithstanding the immense amount of work which has
of late been done on this subject-- the connection between Paganism and
Christianity still seems rather remote. Indeed the common notion is that
Christianity was really a miraculous interposition into and dislocation of the old
order of the world; and that the pagan gods (as in Milton's Hymn on the Nativity)
fled away in dismay before the sign of the Cross, and at the sound of the name of
Jesus. Doubtless this was a view much encouraged by the early Church itself--if
only to enhance its own authority and importance; yet, as is well known to every
student, it is quite misleading and contrary to fact. The main Christian doctrines
and festivals, besides a great mass of affiliated legend and ceremonial, are really
quite directly derived from, and related to, preceding Nature worships; and it has
only been by a good deal of deliberate mystification and falsification that this
derivation has been kept out of sight.
In these Nature-worships there may be discerned three fairly independent
streams of religious or quasi-religious enthusiasm: (1) that connected with the
phenomena of the heavens, the movements of the Sun, planets and stars, and
the awe and wonderment they excited; (2) that connected with the seasons and
the very important matter of the growth of vegetation and food on the Earth; and
(3) that connected with the mysteries of Sex and reproduction. It is obvious that
these three streams would mingle and interfuse with each other a good deal; but
as far as they were separable the first would tend to create Solar heroes and
Sun-myths; the second Vegetation-gods and personifications of Nature and the
earth-life; while the third would throw its glamour over the other two and
contribute to the projection of deities or demons worshipped with all sorts of
sexual and phallic rites. All three systems of course have their special rites and
times and ceremonies; but, as, I say, the rites and ceremonies of one system
would rarely be found pure and unmixed with those. belonging to the two others.
The whole subject is a very large one; but for reasons given in the Introduction I
shall in this and the following chapter--while not ignoring phases (2) and (3)--lay
most stress on phase (1) of the question before us.
At the time of the life or recorded appearance of Jesus of Nazareth, and for some
centuries before, the Mediterranean and neighboring world had been the scene
of a vast number of pagan creeds and rituals. There were Temples without end
dedicated to gods like Apollo or Dionysus among the Greeks, Hercules among
the Romans, Mithra among the Persians, Adonis and Attis in Syria and Phrygia,
Osiris and Isis and Horus in Egypt, Baal and Astarte among the Babylonians and
Carthaginians, and so forth. Societies, large or small, united believers and the
devout in the service or ceremonials connected with their respective deities, and
in the creeds which they confessed concerning these deities. And an
extraordinarily interesting fact, for us, is that notwithstanding great geographical