mind burp about paganism and the church, esp in Britain

Christianity spread across Europe by, amongst other things, co-opting local customs and syncretizing with local religious traditions. What is less recognised is the way that local religious traditions happily co-operated with this and co-opted the language, philosophies and structures of christianity.

Most dramatic amongest these is probably the appearance of Jesus in a smattering of late Norse myths (rather like a DC / marvel crossover), but more significant for me is the development of Christianity in Britain through a monastic tradition which built directly on the druidic colleges.

The early church approach to Britain (conversion of nobility, noble sponsorship of monasteries even before conversion) depended on local nobles’ respect for the Druidic tradition of scholarship. There’s evidence that some Druidic colleges mutated into monasteries: at the end of the Roman occupation, these monasteries were very well placed to continue without the direct support of the church of Rome. British (celtic?) christianity developed as scholarly, monastic and focussed on the nobility, indeed operating in a way consistent with what evidence we have of the druidic priesthood’s modus operandi. So much so that it bred some of the more succesful and humanist early heresies (pelagianism, frex), and formed a resistance to Augustine’s more dogmatic and populist “reconversion” of the Saxon lands when they reached the celtic fringe.

If we also factor in the “Pagan” influences on the peoples of the old testament (a fairly nonsensical statement, given it’s teleological nature: paganism here can only be defined retrospectively), and the appearance of many of the teachings of Jesus in pre-christian, and in many cases non-Jewish, works, the idea that there is a christian tradition separate from a pagan tradition, especially in British culture, is a false artefact. Early British culture was formed from a synthesis of these, and the Christian ethos was itself informed by other “pagan” traditions in it’s formation.

I see this as a very good reason, as a pagan, to keep a healthy interest in the whole history of Britain without prejudice of the “bad church” opressing the “good pagans”; quite apart from anything else, if the church was as objectively hostile as it is sometimes painted, it would not have been succesful. The “good pagans” were just as adept at exploiting and co-opting the structures and systems of the “bad church” for their own ends. British culture is as much a product of pagan virtues as Christian, whether they are Celtic or Saxon: the mix of these has produced the British character, which, as a product of such, I take an honest pride in.

What British, specifically English virtues are, we’ll get on to later.


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