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The pagan origins of three Catholic practices
A few traditions in the Roman Catholic Church can be traced back to pagan cults, rites, and deities.
- The Catholic rite of Holy Communion parallels pre-Christian Greco-Roman and Egyptian rituals that involved eating the body and blood of a god.
- A number of Catholic holidays and myths, such as Christmas, Easter, and Mardi Gras, graph onto the timeline of pre-Christian fertility festivals.
- The Catholic practice of praying to saints has been called "de-facto idolatry" and even a relic of goddess worship.
By the fourth century, the Christian Church had established itself as the official faith of the Roman Empire through a successful grassroots campaign to dominate, and almost exterminate, paganism. But did it?
In reality, the early Church had to merge itself with pagan practices and beliefs in order to blend into Roman society. In the rites and symbols of the Roman Catholic Church, we can find surviving, though rebranded, pre-Christian myths, deities, festivals, and rituals. Here are three Catholic practices that can be traced back to ancient pagan religions and cults.
Photo by Debby Hudson / Unsplash
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. A core teaching of the Catholic faith is the belief in literal transubstantiation. Practitioners eat the body and blood of Christ to become one with God.
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
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. In pre-Christian Roman religions, the Winter Solstice was a core sacred event that took place on December 25 at the time of the Julian calendar. The best known custom was the Roman festival of Saturnalia, which was celebrated similar to Christmas with drinking, fires, gift-giving, and tree worship.
Similarly, the Catholic Fat Tuesday, otherwise known as Mardi Gras, is rooted in the pre-Christian Roman celebration of Lupercalia. A February holiday honoring the Roman god of fertility, its customs involved feasting, drinking, and "carnal behavior." Today, the same can be said of Mardi Gras, when Catholics (as well as non-Catholics) eat festival foods and party before abstaining for 40 days during Lent.
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 / Unsplash
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 Artemis, Demeter, Diana, Hera, Isis, and Venus. 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.
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- According to a 2017 study led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, psychopaths have reduced connections in the areas of the brain that control fear, anxiety, empathy and sentimentality.
- Psychopathy is typically diagnosed using a 20-item checklist called the Hare Psychopathy Checklist.
- Psychopathic tendencies could be considered "warning signs" of psychopathy, but it's important to note that not everyone who shows psychopathic tendencies becomes a psychopath.
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Psychopathy is typically diagnosed using a 20-item checklist called the Hare Psychopathy Checklist.
Photo by FGC on Shutterstock<p>Psychopathy, like many other conditions, is a spectrum. Common traits of psychopaths can include things like superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, manipulation, lack of remorse or guilt, lack of empathy, behavioral problems in early life, impulsivity, and shallow affect (reduced emotional responses) to name a few.<br></p><p>Psychopathy is typically diagnosed using a 20-item checklist called the <a href="http://www.clintools.com/victims/resources/assessment/personality/psychopathy_checklist.html" target="_blank">Hare Psychopathy Checklist</a>. This list features questions that gauge common traits such as a lack of empathy, pathological lying, and impulsivity (among many others). </p><p>Each question on this scale is then scored on a three-point scale: The item doesn't apply (0), the item applies to a certain extend (1), or the question fully applies (2). The bar for "clinical psychopathy" is 30 points on this test. </p><p>For reference, here are some of the scores of notable evaluations: </p><p>Ted Bundy - 39/40<br>Richard Ramirez - 31/40<br>Brian David Mitchell - 34/40</p><p><strong>Differentiating psychopathy and sociopathy </strong></p><p>The terms "psychopath" and "sociopath" are often used interchangeably but they aren't the same - and the <a href="https://psychcentral.com/blog/differences-between-a-psychopath-vs-sociopath/#:~:text=Psychopaths%20tend%20to%20be%20more,much%20of%20a%20normal%20life." target="_blank">difference is quite important</a>. A sociopath is someone with antisocial tendencies that are specific to social or environmental factors. A psychopath is someone whose traits are more innate.</p><p>A psychopath will be more manipulative but can be seen by others to lead a charming, "normal" life - whereas sociopaths tend to be more erratic, rage-prone, and are unable to keep up the facade of normality. </p>
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A psychopath may be able to create a seemingly typical personality and life to fool others. Psychopathic tendencies don't always extend into psychopathy.
Photo by FGC on Shutterstock<p><strong>What causes psychopathy?</strong></p><p>Brain anatomy, genetics, and the person's environment may all contribute to the development of psychopathic traits. However, it's important to note that not all psychopathic traits and tendencies mean the person will grow into a psychopath.</p><p><strong>What are psychopathic tendencies? </strong></p><p>Psychopathic tendencies could be considered warning signs of psychopathy, but it's important to note that not everyone who shows psychopathic tendencies becomes a psychopath. Some, with the intervention of various therapies and strong, nurturing relationships, can assimilate to a relatively normal way of life. </p><p>The most well-known case of this would be the case of Beth Thomas. The subject of a 1990 documentary entitled "Child of Rage," Beth began to show psychopathic tendencies extremely early in life after suffering physical neglect and sexual abuse at the hands of her birth father before the age of one. </p><p>Later moved into an adoptive family where she could get the help she needs, the documentary (<a href="https://www.bitchute.com/video/pr3tmwyZAn0f/" target="_blank">which you can view here</a>, be warned, this footage may be disturbing to some) showed the disturbing thought process of a young 6-year-old girl struggling with an attachment disorder that led to psychopathic tendencies. </p><p>However, Beth, with the help of her adoptive family and professionals, became a <a href="https://www.bitchute.com/video/pr3tmwyZAn0f/" target="_blank">relatively typical young woman</a> who works as a nurse and has co-authored a book called "More Than a Thread of Hope" with her adoptive mother.</p><p><strong>Psychopaths' brains show differences in structure and function</strong></p><p><a href="https://www.med.wisc.edu/news-and-events/2011/november/psychopaths-brains-differences-structure-function/" target="_blank">According to a 2017 study</a> led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, psychopaths have reduced connections in their brains between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and the amygdala. </p><p>This is noteworthy because of the functions of both parts in play - the vmPFC is responsible for sentimentality, empathy and guilt and the amygdala mediates fear and anxiety. </p><p>Not only did the research here show there were differences in how these parts of the psychopathic brain functioned, but this was the first study of it's kind to show physical (structural) differences in the brains of psychopaths. </p><p><strong>How common is psychopathy? </strong></p><p>While there may never be a specific answer to this, there have been several studies that can give us insight into how common psychopathy is. <a href="https://www.livescience.com/16585-psychopaths-speech-language.html#:~:text=Psychopaths%20make%20up%20about%201,profoundly%20selfish%20and%20lack%20emotion." target="_blank">According to most research</a>, psychopaths make up about 1 percent of the general population. <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201602/5-traits-actual-psychopaths#:~:text=While%20about%20one%20percent%20of,the%20criteria%20for%20being%20psychopaths.)" target="_blank">Additional research</a> claims up to 15 percent of the U.S prison population may meet the criteria for being psychopaths. </p>
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- This scenario is of particular concern for potential "generation ships".
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