Paganism vs Christianity in France

Anthropology: Paganism vs Christianity in France

Paganism, also referred to as entailing pagan religions, pertains to the group of polytheistic religious cultures and traditions that were primarily functional within the Classical era. In general, it is deemed to refer to all religious practices, i.e. folk, ethnic or non-Abraham religions. Of vital importance is the fact that while major religions existed based on Monotheism, not all pagan religions were strictly polytheistic in nature. In fact, the majority of these, throughout history, believed in the existence of a Supreme deity. A definitive contrast is that these religious traditions also did believe in a class of existing daemons (subordinate gods), who were symbolic representations of divine emanations. Christianity, as a major global religion, regarded paganism as entailing the lack of worshipping Yahweh – The One True God. Hence, according to this definition, all those who did not prescribe to the aforementioned, i.e. polytheist etc., were regarded as pagans, and hence outsiders to the Church (Owen, 2011).

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Anthropology, as a field of study, studies humankind considering its past and present, with the aim of defining the unknown future. According to Bowle (1999), Anthropology draws and subsequently builds upon the basic knowledge, derived from both biological and social sciences, in addition to the fields of natural sciences and humanities. Thus, the anthropology of religion entails the study of various religious institutions with the focus being on their relation to other prevailing social institutions. In addition, there is an aspect of comparative analysis with regard to cross-cultural practices, traditions and religious beliefs. To be noted is a prevailing idea as entrenched in modern anthropology, where there is an assumption of the existence of a complete continuity between religion and magical thinking. There is also an idea that all religions are cultural products created by the human society, which practices them.

Christianity as a religion is fundamentally rooted in the Monotheistic belief in a Supreme deity – Yahweh/God – as the creator of the Universe and all life in it (Bowle, 1999). As Lang (1990) alludes, it is considered to be one of the Abrahamic religions, thereby being traceable to the early period of Abraham, especially after his trial. God had asked him to sacrifice his only son Isaac as a test of his faith, in which Abraham was able to prove himself worthy in the Lord’s eyes. Consequently, God had promised him that his descendants would fill the earth many as the stars in the sky. This technically does relate to both Christians and Jews, who both believe in God as Yahweh. Europe, as the arena of the modern human civilization, governance and scientific and technological advancement, became the focal point of various conflicts. Majorly so, were the aspects of religious intolerance; resource exploration and consolidation; political expansion and cultural conservation.

Europe, as the main arena of future global politics, governance, ideological inclination and economic growth and commerce, became the focal point of religious expansion and, at times, repression. Fundamental to its growth and development was the over-arching presence of the Catholic Church. Its leadership, under the guidance of the Pope, dominated all aspects of European social life. This is best symbolized by the then prevailing ideal that Kings and Emperors were divinely appointed by God, to rule their people, with the approval of the Pope being vital. France, throughout its various challenges, as epitomized by the various occurrences of the French Revolution, provides a case example of the prevailing tensions. These existed and do currently exist between Christianity and Paganism, in its variant forms (Lang, 1990).

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As mentioned earlier, the Catholic Church was vital towards establishing a sense of peace and tranquility, within the greater European region. This is traceable from the era of the great Roman Empire, to the contemporary era, where the Pope is viewed as a father figure of millions of people. To understand the context of Europe’s religious inclinations, there is a need to delve into the vital aspect of constant conquests and expansion witnessed throughout history. This is with regard to the pre-Christian era, when Greek and Roman deity worship was practiced. French Paganism was and is fundamentally influenced by Celtic and/or Norse pantheons with this being dependent on the region. The Franks, an off-shot of the Nordic German populations, were to expand their control of France, especially under the Carolingian Empire that was present during the Middle Ages.

This was to later on spill into the Holy Roman Empire (a German empire). Initially, the Iron Age witnessed the presence of the formidable Gauls, who controlled a larger regional territory under the name of Gaul. This was a combined region of present day France, as well as other regions, such as parts of Germany, Spain and Austria-Hungary. Celtic pantheons were spread out over a large area. This perhaps may be the reason why these pantheons are divided and different in nature. From the Holy Roman Empire, where the Papal office was, the Roman Catholic Church was able to control the greater European region. This brought into place the age of Empires and Kingdoms, sanctioned under the Holy Church of Rome (Braun & McCutcheon, 2000).

All rulers, whether kings or emperors, had to have the consent and support of the Papal Office, in order to survive and prosper. The lack of support from this crucial organ portended to future conflicts, as people would not accept a leader not divinely ordained by God. Christianity, under the guidance of the Pope, would thereafter control much of all that transpired in the greater European arena.

Paganism, it should be noted, is a mixture of various religions, cults, traditions, customs and forms of worship, which do not prescribe to Abrahamic religious basis. As York (2003) alludes, this is about the Western form of religion, especially that which prevailed from the early Iron Age, into the Middle Ages and current, in our contemporary society. The French did absorb their conquerors adapting to whatever religions and cultural traditions that followed. While the above holds true, the French are unique in that they did not entirely lose their traditions, but rather incorporated new ones as they experienced conquests. They, as a population, hold the distinction of having lost the most wars, battles and to some extent, skirmishes that pervaded the region throughout history (York, 2003).


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However, they did retain some semblance of an identity, having the French Identity as their most distinguishable trait. France, with its unique cultural identity, traces its roots to its early history of a mix of Indo-European traditions and cultures, i.e. Germans, Gaulish Celts and Latin identities. During the early period, when France was the Roman/Gaul Empire, the form of pagan religion was that of Roman or Celtic pantheon. Prior to the advent of monotheism, the West – here pertaining to the larger European region – was dominated by the Roman culture, a highly civilized identity. This was symbolically represented through the Roman Empire and Republic, which were both characterized by a wide variety of religions and cultural traditions.

These were often combined together into a single social entity, often frequently sharing the same geographical areas, as well as places of worship, e.g. temples. The aforementioned era, witnessed the strength of this clearly eclectic synthesis of religious observations and cultures. It is also more similar to its modern form of neo-paganism than to any other type historically known. This, however, was to end after the advent of the fall of the Roman Empire, and the rise of Christian emperors (Vincent, 2004). It is during this era of decline, most probably during 1000 CE, when the first period of Acquisition began. Thus, during this era, paganism, in its various forms, was punished through gruesome torture and ultimately death.

It is during the Inquisitorial period that the Catholic Church exercised its political authority through the Inquisition. As a force, it was useful in various ways towards suppressing heresy, with this pertaining to any other form of religion other than the prescribed Catholic Christian religion. This era of suppression was to unfortunately effectively last for a long period, up to the advent of the Enlightenment period. The purge on other forms of religious inclinations, other than Christianity, as witnessed was to worsen especially during the Renaissance era. With time, however, the inquisition lost its ideological appeal, especially after three centuries. It concentrated more on the agenda of achieving covert, anti-feminist and political goals of the Roman Catholic Church instead. A good example would be the trial of the Knight Templars, especially during the 14th Century (Robert & Scott, 1995).

During this period, those who were deemed as participants in any form of paganism, from witchcraft, sorcery and magic, to lack of commitment and allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church, were viewed as enemies. Thus, common people were often caught up in a political, secularized struggle especially that witnessed between the Pope and the King of France. The result was often mass and routine torture, where the usually prompted confessions were availed. Unfortunately most, if not all were imprisoned and subsequently executed, with the reasons being based mainly on excuses, rather than on the allegations of heresy or on ideology. Furtherance is the fact that subsequent era of The Reformation, where protestant rulers, such as King James and Queen Elizabeth, enacted their own versions of anti-heresy pogroms. It is during this period that the majority of evidence, with regard to witchcraft and sorcery, became annihilated.

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Of importance to be noted is the fact that witchcraft and sorcery accusations were often based on such factors as personal enmity, individual ugliness and poverty amongst other ideals, rather than on the grounds of ideology (Greene, 2013). This was especially true with regard to the later period of Inquisition. Overall, the Inquisition period was a trying time, as various forms of religious worship were stamped out, in favor of the Holy Catholic Church’s form of Christianity. Various populations were effectively influenced and affected by these inquisitions, which often took the form of religious wars. Late inquisition trials and confessions often were consistent in nature, in that they practically dictated imprisonment, torture and eventual execution to their victims. This era was to continue onwards into the era of Reformation, where paganism, in its various forms was incorporated into the general religious observation of Christianity.

It is during the aforementioned era of Reformation, when some aspects of paganism became much more common in Europe, with France being no exception. This period, also referred to as the Age of Enlightenment, from the 17th Century onwards, was more humanistic, as opposed to religious, in nature. It is during this era that the initial application of renewed Greek humanism became widespread. As a counter-Christian current, it ran stronger as more people began to demand equal treatment with freedom from the rigidity experienced during the Era of Inquisition (Vincent, 2004). This rigidity, in terms of both expression and thought that was imposed upon them, by both the Catholic Church and its various affiliated governments, became less observed. It was fundamentally based upon the principles of respect for all individuals, regardless of their religious, cultural and traditional inclinations abate in controlled measures.

There was, however, the aspect of Robespierre’s input, who being an atheist interpreted any opposition to the monarchy as treasonable. With this in mind, he set out on a ruthless campaign of purging existing opposition, as well as deviation, thereby enabling the re-establishment of the Monarchy in France. What followed was the famous period of the Napoleonic wars, where Napoleon Bonaparte strove to dismantle the existing monarchy, which is famously referred to as the French Revolution. This aptly provided both the opportunity and avenue for a resurgence of paganism, whose height of triumph was the 19th century. It is during this time that the neo-classical movement engaged in the explicit devotion of rediscovering virtues associated with the previously existent and highly pagan societies of Greece and Rome. It is perhaps this movement, which was the most dominant force of the time, enabling the application of Humanism in various social contexts (Braun & McCutcheon, 2000).

This was to go as far as to influence and consequently affect the institution of slavery. It was to result in social upheaval and later on war, with the Prometheans as represented by Byron, Shelley and Blake providing good examples of its luminaries. From this time onward, the resurgence experienced was more open, especially with regard to sorcery, magic and witchcraft that were espoused in Christian forms, abate less overtly. This was especially so during the latter half of the 19th century, with many notable adherents being attracted into the fold.

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The publication by Barrett (1801) of ‘The Magus’, lay the foundation for a magical library in English terminology that continues being in existence up to the present day. It borrowed heavily from the work of Renaissance Kabalists, court sorcerers and magicians amongst others. it attempted at applying the principals of psychology, in the existing forms of social interactions with the Theosophical movement delving more on spiritualism based on Eastern forms of allusion. The psychical movement, later on being referred to as parapsychology, traces its roots to spiritualism, which itself was an offshoot of mesmerism. While a resurgence of paganism continues being boosted by the advancement and development of human civilization, the inheritors of this 19th century magical paganism were majorly dogmatized and fragmented. They were often incapable of resolving inherent differences, let alone work together for the good of their societies (Robert & Scott, 1995).

In conclusion, due to the contemporary materialistic populace, as well as the enhanced aspect of increased knowledge, paganism has been growing in strides. This is especially through written books, and currently by way of visual arts. Modern forms of religious paganism have a unique contribution to the religious affiliation of individuals in the current era. Neo-paganism, resurging because of increased knowledge, has made valuable contributions to the divergent nature of human society. Shamanism is viewed as being the basis of all human religions, with covens and lodges being the ideal arenas for further growth and spread of this religion.


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