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Pagan and Christian Creeds: Their Origin and Meaning

Edward Carpenter

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This book provides a systematic and logical approach to the origins of religion. Many common themes are shown to exist between Christianity and earlier Pagan religions that go back in time centuries before Christianity itself. Carpenter makes an effort to get to the very roots of religion in this book. He's trying to uncover where our religious concepts first originated, and reveals an evolutionary sequence which starts with phallic and procreative cults as having the earliest known impact. Chapters include, Solar Myths And Christian Festivals, The Symbolism Of The Zodiac, Food And Vegetation Magic, Magicians, Kings And Gods, Pagan Initiations And The Second Birth, The Saviour-God And The Virgin-Mother, and, The Sex-Taboo.

This book has 243 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1921.

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Excerpt from 'Pagan and Christian Creeds: Their Origin and Meaning'

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 distances and racial differences between the adherents of these various cults, as well as differences in the details of their services, the general outlines of their creeds and ceremonials were--if not identical--so markedly similar as we find them.

I cannot of course go at length into these different cults, but I may say roughly that of all or nearly all the deities above-mentioned it was said and believed that:

(1) They were born on or very near our Christmas Day.

(2) They were born of a Virgin-Mother.

(3) And in a Cave or Underground Chamber.

(4) They led a life of toil for Mankind.

(5) And were called by the names of Light-bringer, Healer, Mediator, Savior, Deliverer.

(6) They were however vanquished by the Powers of Darkness.

(7) And descended into Hell or the Underworld.

(8) They rose again from the dead, and became the pioneers of mankind to the Heavenly world.

(9) They founded Communions of Saints, and Churches into which disciples were received by Baptism.

(10) And they were commemorated by Eucharistic meals.

Let me give a few brief examples.

Mithra was born in a cave, and on the 25th December. He was born of a Virgin. He traveled far and wide as a teacher and illuminator of men. He slew the Bull (symbol of the gross Earth which the sunlight fructifies). His great festivals were the winter solstice and the Spring equinox (Christmas and Easter). He had twelve companions or disciples (the twelve months). He was buried in a tomb, from which however he rose again; and his resurrection was celebrated yearly with great rejoicings. He was called Savior and Mediator, and sometimes figured as a Lamb; and sacramental feasts in remembrance of him were held by his followers. This legend is apparently partly astronomical and partly vegetational; and the same may be said of the following about Osiris.

Osiris was born (Plutarch tells us) on the 361st day of the year, say the 27th December. He too, like Mithra and Dionysus, was a great traveler. As King of Egypt he taught men civil arts, and "tamed them by music and gentleness, not by force of arms"; he was the discoverer of corn and wine. But he was betrayed by Typhon, the power of darkness, and slain and dismembered. "This happened," says Plutarch, "on the 17th of the month Athyr, when the sun enters into the Scorpion" (the sign of the Zodiac which indicates the oncoming of Winter). His body was placed in a box, but afterwards, on the 19th, came again to life, and, as in the cults of Mithra, Dionysus, Adonis and others, so in the cult of Osiris, an image placed in a coffin was brought out before the worshipers and saluted with glad cries of "Osiris is risen." "His sufferings, his death and his resurrection were enacted year by year in a great mystery-play at Abydos."

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