The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #4716   Message #25937
Posted By: T. in Oklahoma
17-Apr-98 - 03:08 PM
Thread Name: Pagan/Folk/Earth Music Research Project
Subject: RE: Pagan/Folk/Earth Music Reasearch Project
Bert: To assert pagan origins of church ritual is misleading or false unless you make some careful distinctions.

No Christian rite of baptism or the Eucharist known to me has any elements that are clearly "pagan" in any religious sense. The rites as we have them were developed, it's true, partly by converted ex-pagans who brought a number of presuppositions with them to their new religion. But the documentable religious influences are mainly Jewish as far as I can tell. Eucharistic theology may have been influenced by pagan analogies, and eucharistic practice then indirectly, through the theology. But before one could assert that for certain, one would have to examine animal sacrifice as practised throughout the ancient Mediterranean world and see if the Jewish and Pagan outlooks on it were far different. Only then might one be able to distinguish pagan from Jewish influences in the sacrificial component of eucharistic theology.

Certain incidental ritual practices in Christian worship, such as the use of lights and incense, can probably be said to have been influenced by pagan presuppositions.

One must also distinguish origins, external influences, and internal development. Certain calendar customs practiced by Christians may have had their origin in pagan customs, but that does not mean that they were continued unchanged. In their Christian form, I would guess, some customs which had evolved from earlier times continued to evolve, and in ways they might not have evolved in a pagan society. Many Christians hang their churches with greens at their midwinter festival. This practice might (or might not) have its origins in a pagan practice. I would be cautious, without documentation, in assuming the practice had pagan origins at all, and I would be cautious about making assumptions about what the original practice was.

One pagan practice of demonstrable antiquity which continues to be used with little change is the practice of throwing coins into fountains and wells. This custom is practiced now by some Christians as it was centuries ago by pagans. But it has never been incorporated into church ritual in any way.

So it's possible for old practices to continue with little change, old practices to evolve into new practices, and for new practices superficially resembling old practices to be arrived at independently. All these possibilities have to be considered by the originator of this thread and anyone else who is interested in the history of music, dance, or the western religous mind.

To the thread's originator (and any other interested party): Two additional Ronald Hutton works are "Stations of the Sun" and "The Rise and Fall of Merrie England."