European Paganism and Christianization

By Jordan Engel /
Jul 1, 2019

In contemporary conversations about decolonization, this is a point which is often overlooked – Europeans are indigenous too. Before the spread of Christianity, Europe was home to a profusion of  religious beliefs, most of which are pejoratively referred to as paganism. The word derives from the Latin paganus meaning ‘of the countryside,’ essentially calling them hicks or bumpkins. Some of these pre-Christian belief systems are listed below.

The Christianization of Europe.png
The spread of Christianity throughout Europe.
Generalized Religious Classifications of Europe Circa 1 CE.png
Pre-Christian Religions of Europe Around the Time of Jesus

A note on the categorization – Indigenous religions are, by their nature, nebulous and dynamic. Unlike the relatively uniform Christian Church, indigenous religions have no codified dogmas and no universally ordained ways to worship. Celtic polytheism, for instance, was less of a religion in the modern sense and more of a spectrum of beliefs and practices. The Celtics tribes in Ireland, Gaul, and Galatia may have had some common rituals and an overlapping pantheon of gods, but they were also influenced by neighboring traditions and their local environments.

Balkan – Dacian (Zalmoxianism), Thracian, and Illyrian polytheism, and Albanian mythology.
Baltic – Latvian (Dievturi), Lithuania (Romuva), and Prussian (Druwi) polytheism.
Basque – Basque mythology.
Berber and Punic – Traditional Berber religion, and Punic religion.
Celtic – Celtic polytheism (the religion of the druids), and the syncretic Gallo-Roman polytheism.
Germanic – Old Norse (Forn Sed), Continental Germanic (Irminism), Anglo-Saxon (Fyrnsidu), and Gothic polytheism.
Hellenistic – The Roman religion (Religio Romana), the Roman Imperial Cult, the Ancient Greek religion (Hellenismos), the Luwian religion, the Eleusinian Mysteries, the Dionysian Mysteries, and Orphism.
Iranian – Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, the Sarmatian religion, the Scythian religion (Uatsdin), the Mesopotamian religion, and the syncretic Zoroastrian-Armenian polytheism.
Sami – Sami shamanism, animism and polytheism.
Semitic – Judaism, Semitic polytheism (including the Canaanite religion and the Nabataean religion).
Slavic – The Slavic religion (Rodnovery).
Uralic – Finnish (Suomenusko), Estonian (Maausk), and Hungarian (Ősmagyar Vallás) polytheism.

Christianity gained converts through the work of missionaries like Saint Patrick, through royal decree like Constantine’s Edict of Milan, and by force as in the Northern Crusades. By the Middle Ages, so entrenched was Christianity in Europe that the continent was commonly referred to simply as Christendom. But the Christianization of Europe was not as absolute as many now think. Pagan traditions survived independently for centuries in some places long after they had been officially Christianized. True to its etymology, pagans found refuge in rural areas. Some of the later attempts to extinguish the remnants of indigenous religion in Western Europe include The Spanish Inquisition and the witch hunts of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. The traditional Sami religion in Northern Scandanavia and the Mari religion in the Russian Plain were never fully eradicated and their practice continues today. For other traditions whose lineages were broken, the new generations that have begun to revive them are collectively called neopagans.

The Christianization of Europe and Generalized Religious Classifications of Europe Circa 1 CE maps by Jordan Engel can be reused under the Decolonial Media License 0.1.

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