by Molly Hanson
Roman Catholic Church
can be traced back to
pagan cults, rites, and deities...
...graph onto the timeline of pre-Christian fertility festivals.
But did it...?
Here are three Catholic practices that can
be traced back to ancient pagan religions and cults.
One of the more fascinating elements of Catholicism is the ritual cannibalistic consumption of their "demigod" known as Holy Communion or Eucharist.
During Catholic mass, bread and wine are transformed into the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, who is considered the son of God, in a rite called "transubstantiation."
This isn't a symbolic transformation.
Similar rituals were practiced in the underground "mystery religions" of the Greco-Roman world.
In a few of those occult religions, celebrants shared a communal meal in which they symbolically feasted on the flesh and got drunk on the blood of their god.
For example, the Mithraic Mysteries, or Mithraism, was a mystery cult practiced in the Roman Empire in 300 BC in which followers worshipped the Indo-Iranian deity Mithram, the god of friendship, contract, and order.
Mirroring the Catholic Eucharistic rite, the idea of transubstantiation was a characteristic of Mithraic sacraments that included cake and Haoma drink.
But the ritual probably wasn't original to Mithraism either.
In Egypt around 3100 BC, priests would consecrate cakes which were to become the flesh of the god Osiris and eaten.
Holy Days and Carnivals
Photo by Lívia Chauar
The survival of ancient communities was intimately dependent upon the fertility of the land, so their religious symbolism and festivals reflected this fundamental bond between humans and the cycles of nature.
A number of Catholic holidays and myths parallel the timeline and adopt the symbols of pre-Christian fertility festivals.
In Catholicism, Jesus Christ is thought to have been born on December 25, Christmas Day...
Similarly, the Catholic Fat Tuesday, otherwise known as Mardi Gras, is rooted in the pre-Christian Roman celebration of Lupercalia.
When it comes to Easter, celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, the symbolic story of the death of a god (or sun/son) and springtime rebirth is a tale as old as time.
The spring equinox was recognized by various pagan cults as a festival marking the resurrection of light triumphing over darkness and the fresh fecundity of the land.
One such festival was Eostre, which celebrated a northern goddess of the same name. Her symbol was the prolific hare representing fertility.
Speaking of goddesses...
Goddess Worship - The Virgin Mary and Saint Brigid
Photo by Grant Whitty
Though theoretically monotheistic, the Catholic practice of praying to saints has been called "de-facto idolatry" and even a relic of goddess worship.
Rebranded pagan goddesses can be found in the Catholic Church today in forms of Saint Brigid and the Virgin Mary. Mary, the Virgin Mother of Christ, is arguably the most important Catholic icon save for the Holy Trinity.
She's likely the amalgamation of pre-Christian mother goddesses from antiquity whose ranks include,
The cult of the Egyptian goddess Isis may have had a particularly strong influence on Christian myth.
While historical records can not substantiate this entirely, there is physical evidence of statues of Isis cradling Horus that were converted and reused as the Virgin Mary holding Jesus.
Brigid, the beloved Celtic goddess associated with fertility and healing, is perhaps the clearest example of the survival of an early goddess into Catholicism.
Practitioners, particularly in Ireland, pay tribute to Saint Brigid of Ireland who shares many of the early goddess's attributes. Her feast day on the first of February falls around the same time as the pagan celebration of Imbolc.
The appropriation of these pagan practices and symbols by the Catholic Church shows how, as social interests change and new institutions are established, religious myths and practices are not so easily exterminated.
Today, millions of Catholics eating the body and blood of their god, bowing their heads to feminine idols and celebrating natural cycles on the Liturgical Calendar are still worshiping in the ways of the ancient pagans...