Overview

paganism


Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

In the late Roman world a paganus was a ‘rustic’, and the word's shift to mean ‘non‐Christian’ reflects a period when Christianity had spread among the upper classes and within towns, but not to the rural peasantry. Pagans need not share any common ground, but in Britain the Anglo‐Saxons and Vikings recognized the same major gods and goddesses, but with slight variations in name (e.g. Woden/Odin), and although the native British had different deities these had responsibility for similar aspects of life such as warfare and fertility. The Romans had no trouble in assimilating the deities of either group with their own pantheon.

One should not envisage either Celtic or Germanic paganism as having structures or doctrines comparable to those of the Christian church. The building of temples and existence of a professional class of priests seems to have been more a feature of Celtic than Germanic practice. What may have mattered far more to the majority of people were localized guardian spirits who might be honoured at natural sites such as a spring, a grove of trees, or a hilltop.

Christianity saw off the major pantheons of gods and goddesses without too much difficulty and major festivals of the pagan year such as midwinter could be replaced with appropriate Christian celebrations like Christmas. What was harder to eradicate was the attachment to local holy places, though healing springs, for instance, were sometimes absorbed into local saints' cults.

Subjects: History — Religion.


Reference entries

See all related reference entries in Oxford Index »


Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.