The devastating witch trials across the world has ties with religions like Christianity and Paganism. It is hard to say exactly when Paganism was formed but it has been in existence for thousands of years before any branch of Christianity, stemming back to the Stone Age, Ancient Grecian, and Egyptian times.
What is Paganism?
Paganism is an umbrella term meaning it covers a wide range of religions including Asatru (Nordic), Celtic, Indigenous traditions, Druidry, plus many more. Pagan religions are quite often polytheistic meaning that more than one deity is worshipped, and Paganism celebrates both Gods and Goddesses – there are even types of Paganism that only worship Goddesses like Dianic Wicca.
“Paganism is a spiritual path to some, a religion to others that helps people to reconnect with the natural world. Many people currently feel disconnected from the natural world and are seeking spiritual paths that help to bridge that disconnection.”– Damh the Bard, of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD)
Before we go any further I feel like I have to clarify that Satanism is not classed as part of Paganism since none of the Pagan traditions actually believe in Satan, and Satan is a Christian concept!
“Paganism has nothing to do with dark magic rituals or sacrifices – it’s a faith in nature-based deities”– David Spofforth of the Pagan Federation
Paganism has been associated with Satan because Christianity demonised the Horned God, or Cernunnos the Celtic God of the forest, as a way to create Satan and portray Pagan religions as evil. Again, this was done to instil fear about Paganism, since Cernunnos has antlers which are often misinterpreted as horns.
“Accusations of witch-craft in [the 16th and 17th centuries] were often associated with devil-worship and Satanism. Witch-hunts were used to target any heretical (non-mainstream Christian) beliefs.”– Jayne Lutwyche of BBC Religion & Ethics
Christian holidays have roots in Pagan holidays
With the rise of the Roman Empire, Christianity became more popular. Constantine declared the Roman Empire as Christian in 314 C.E. and Theodosius outlawed paganism and Pagan rituals in 392 C.E., which led to murders of those following Pagan religions before the ‘real’ witch hunts and trials began.
Pagans were murdered for refusing to convert to Christianity and their beliefs. The Roman Empire attempted (and succeeded) to take over Paganism by replacing Pagan holidays with their own. This was done to make it easier for Pagans to convert to Christianity, and there are several other days and practices that Christianity celebrates today that had Pagan origins. I am hoping to write in-depth articles about the Pagan origins of different Christian holidays, so these will be explored another time.
As well as adopting Pagan holidays and customs into their own beliefs, the Church destroyed Pagan worship sites and built churches over the top of them. The next step was to destroy and replace Pagan beliefs, especially about women. Christianity at this time taught citizens that women had no souls which made it easier to remove the guilt over killing them.
The witch hunts
Women who were healers and midwives were classed as ‘witches’, and they were persecuted for having knowledge about health. These patriarchal views eventually led to the rise of men dominating the healthcare field as doctors.
Paganism was diminished by the Roman Empire but had a resurgence around the Renaissance era (1500’s) which led to Christianity being threatened once again. Witch hunts took off again during this time as witches were linked to Paganism. The witch trials were key to devaluing women.
“Witches represented a political, religious and sexual threat to the Protestant and Catholic churches alike, as well as to the state”– Barabara Ehrenreich
The devaluation of women
Some key beliefs in Paganism are about women having power and knowledge, and several Pagans worship a ‘Mother Goddess’. Women were often seen as divine because they had the ‘power’ to create life. Celtic Pagans believed in and practiced equality between men and women whereas the Romans devalued women and had a patriarchal society. Christianity adopted the Roman views about women into their belief system because Christianity was rising in power within the Roman Empire.
Other ways that Christianity has devalued women is through condemning several Pagan practices as sin. For instance, Paganism celebrated the sexual union of men and women because they revered fertility and a woman’s ability to produce life, whereas Christianity devalued this ability as simply part of a woman’s role and saw sex as a sinful but necessary act for reproduction alone.
While some Pagan women did look after children, Viking women (Nordic Paganism) ran the household including finances and participated in battle alongside men, and in Druidic/Celtic traditions, women often held high positions in society.
This isn’t a Bible-bash I swear! Although, I think it is important to recognise the ramifications Christianity and the Roman Empire has had on the devaluation of women which are still prevalent in today’s society. Women are no longer valued in society as they once were in old times, we are in a patriarchal society and have been for quite some time.
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