Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Holydaze - the Origins of the Holiday Season Part 4

hol·i·day  /ˈhäləˌdā/
Origin: Old English hāligdæg ‘holy day’

Other Pagan Holidays

The winter solstice is very important in many pagan religions because it is the darkest day of the year. Paganism is often based on the concept of duality in constant flux, dark and light, male and female, abundance and scarcity, yin and yang if you will.

In ancient Egypt, the god Horus was associated with the Sun and his birthday was on the winter solstice. Plutarch writes:

Thus we shall attack the many boring people who find pleasure in associating the activities of these gods with the seasonal changes of the atmosphere or with the growths, sowing, and plowing of crops, and who say that Osiris is being buried when the corn is sown and hidden in the earth, and that he lives again and reappears when it begins to sprout. For this reason it is said that Isis, when she was aware of her being pregnant, put on a protective amulet on the sixth day of Phaophi, and at the winter solstice gave birth to Harpocrates (from the Egyptian title Hor-pa-khered, or Horus the Child), imperfect and prematurely born, amid plants that burgeoned and sprouted before their season . . . and they are said to celebrate the days of her confinement after the spring equinox. (On Isis and Osiris, 65 BC)

Macrobius writes:

…at the winter solstice, the sun would seem to be a little childlike that which the Egyptians bring forth from a shrine on the appointed day, since the day is then at its shortest and the god is accordingly shown as a tiny infant. (Saturnalia, c. 431 AD)

Horus is the child of Isis. They are often seen together in images of mother and child. The statuette shown in the image here is from the 6th century BC.

A Harvard study in 2008 concluded that Egyptian temples were constructed with precise and purposeful alignments to the star Sirius, the winter solstice and the cardinal points (N, S, E, W). In comparing this with the religious practices of Egypt it is clear that much of the symbolism is the same as in many other cultures when it comes to the winter solstice. Just before and during the Ptolemaic period (305-30 BC), Egypt syncretized quite a lot with the Grecco-Roman culture and vice versa. This is due largely to the influence of priests who deified Alexander the Great.

The idea of duality is also seen in the Germanic traditions of the Holly and Oak Kings who are personifications of winter and summer in continuous battle.

The common belief that these myths are based on is that the sun wanes in the winter and is almost conquered by the dark, yet it rises again, reborn from the struggle. That is why the Romans also called their god Sol (who became a syncretization of Apollo, Helios and probably Mithra) by the title, “Sol Invictus” or “Unconquerable Sun.” According to the Philocalian calendar of 354 AD they held a celebration on December 25th called “Natalis Invicti” meaning “Birth of the Unconquerable One” who is arguably Sol. The celebration was a prerequisite to the festival that occurred on the 6th of January honoring Kore (known as Persephone in Greece), the virgin maiden who gave birth to Aion at that time of year. Sound familiar?

Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis (c. 310–320 - 403AD) says that at Alexandria (Egypt) Aion's birth from Kore the Virgin was celebrated January 6: "On this day and at this hour the Virgin gave birth to Aion." The date, which coincides with Epiphany, brought new year's celebrations to a close, completing the cycle of time that Aion embodies... In Ptolemaic Alexandria (305 BC-30 BC), at the site of a dream oracle, the Hellenistic syncretic god Serapis was identified as Aion Plutonius. The epithet Plutonius marks functional aspects shared with Pluto, consort of Persephone and ruler of the underworld in the Eleusinian tradition. Wikipedia (Aion)

The reference to the Virgin giving birth at this time of year should strike you as too coincidental. Every December billions of people celebrate the Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus. The Catholics celebrate Epiphany, their revelation of “God incarnating as Christ,” on January 6th. It’s very unlikely this is an accident. In fact, the quote above is from a bishop in the church admitting that the pagan tradition preceded the Christian one.

Furthermore, as early as the 4th century BC the Eleusinian tradition taught that Persephone (aka Kore) was taken to the underworld in the winter months, causing her goddess mother, Demeter, to withdraw her blessing on the land so that it would get cold and nothing would grow. Nothing but the evergreen, mistletoe and holly, of course, which are symbols in ancient Germanic cultures of life persisting even in the dead of winter. Let us not suppose that the Germanic peoples did not have any exchange of tradition or influence with their Roman neighbors. If we turn again to Tertullian, we see that Christians were putting lamps and wreaths on their doors during certain pagan festivals.

But “let your works shine,” saith He; but now all our shops and gates shine! You will now-a-days find more doors of heathens without lamps and laurel-wreaths than of Christians. What does the case seem to be with regard to that species (of ceremony) also? If it is an idol’s honor, without doubt an idol’s honor is idolatry. If it is for a man’s sake, let us again consider that all idolatry is for man’s sake; let us again consider that all idolatry is a worship done to men…
“Then,” do you say, “the lamps before my doors, and the laurels on my posts are an honor to God?” They are there of course, not because they are an honor to God, but to him who is honored in God’s stead by ceremonial observances of that kind, so far as is manifest, saving the religious performance, which is in secret appertaining to demons.
Tertullian, On Idolatry, Ch. XV, c. 190 AD

Do people today not decorate their doors and windows with lights and wreaths, even bringing evergreen trees, holly and mistletoe into their houses? “It’s just a tree!” you might say, innocently. Is it really, or are you unwittingly participating in paganism without even realizing it? Don’t be so quick to claim innocence. We’ve had a mountain of information at our disposal for centuries now, far more than enough to convict even the least discerning of us of the true spirit behind the holiday season. If no other authority will convince you, nor evidence staring you in the face, then take the Bible into account, which will confirm many of these correlations you might doubt.

Trees were an essential part of worship in Canaan too, where there existed several different variations of the god Baal. Jeremiah lived in the 7th century BC when the Israelites were worshiping Baal and Ashtoreth regularly. Note, though, that Baal worship was first mentioned in Numbers 22:41, where Balaam taught Balak on the high places of Baal how to corrupt the Israelites. This was probably sometime around the 14th century BC. 700 years later Yahweh was prophesying through Jeremiah about this very thing, and trees were clearly central to their idolatrous, backsliding worship.

“Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot. And I said, after she had done all these things, ‘Return to Me.’ But she did not return… So it came to pass, through her casual harlotry, that she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah has not turned to Me with her whole heart, but in pretense,” says Yahweh…
Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against Yahweh your God,
And have scattered your charms to alien deities under every green tree,
And you have not obeyed My voice,’ says Yahweh.
Jeremiah 3:6-13

Pretense is defined as a claim made or implied, especially one not supported by fact, or an inadequate or insincere attempt to attain a certain condition or quality. Much of the time people don’t even know they are being pretentious or that they are doing evil. Consider what God prophesied to Israel through Jeremiah:

When you tell these people all these things, they will ask you, ‘Why has Yahweh pronounced all this great disaster against us? What is our guilt? What is the sin that we have committed against Yahweh our God?’ Then you are to answer them: ‘It is because your fathers have forsaken Me, declares Yahweh, and followed other gods, and served and worshiped them. They abandoned Me and did not keep My instruction. And you have done more evil than your fathers. See how each of you follows the stubbornness of his evil heart instead of obeying Me.
Jeremiah 16:10-12

The Israelites didn’t even know they were doing anything wrong! Jeremiah goes on to elaborate on the Israelite use of trees, describing a winter ritual celebration:

Hear the word which Yahweh speaks to you, O house of Israel.
Thus says Yahweh:

    “Do not learn the way of the Gentiles;

    Do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven,

    For the Gentiles are dismayed at them.

    For the customs of the peoples are futile;

    For one cuts a tree from the forest,

    The work of the hands of the workman, with the ax.

    They decorate it with silver and gold;

    They fasten it with nails and hammers

    So that it will not topple.

    They are upright, like a palm tree,

    And they cannot speak;

    They must be carried,

    Because they cannot go by themselves.

    Do not be afraid of them,

    For they cannot do evil,

    Nor can they do any good.”


    …But they are altogether dull-hearted and foolish;

    A wooden idol is a worthless doctrine.

    Silver is beaten into plates;

    It is brought from Tarshish,

    And gold from Uphaz,

    The work of the craftsman

    And of the hands of the metalsmith;

    Blue and purple are their clothing;

    They are all the work of skillful men.


    …Everyone is dull-hearted, without knowledge;

    Every metalsmith is put to shame by an image;

    For his molded image is falsehood,

    And there is no breath in them.

    They are futile, a work of errors;

    In the time of their punishment they shall perish.

    The Portion of Jacob is not like them,

    For He is the Maker of all things,

    And Israel is the tribe of His inheritance;

    Yahweh of hosts is His name.

                Jeremiah 10:1–16 

This passage illustrates several important points for us, including a description of idolatry and a winter tradition resembling Yuletide, a Germanic pagan tradition that later became popular in England and America. In the passage there is the worship of nature (often in the form of pantheism, the concept that God is in everything, so everything should be worshiped) and the works of man’s hands, which is the very definition of idolatry. In the Old Testament there are many references to idolatry being described as the works of man’s hands. Often times it is also associated with silver, gold, abundance and precious possessions. Also notice that idols usually take the shape of a man. This is because man is essentially worshiping himself, whether he realizes it or not. The sin at the tower of Babel in Genesis 11 was that men desired to build a tower to heaven so they could, by the works of their own hands, be united as one people and to make a name for themselves. As one people they grew very powerful and could accomplish great things. What is so bad about that? The problem is they weren’t doing it because God wanted them to. They were doing it because they wanted to. It is believed by many scholars that they built a ziggurat of 7 tiers, and it most likely served as an astrological temple. Although this is likely because they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” It is not conclusive they were building an astrological Ziggurat, but I think it is implied. We do see a number of warnings against worshiping the sun moon and stars in the Bible, the first occurrence being this:

And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which Yahweh your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage.
Deuteronomy 4:19

It wasn’t just the astrological implication that was an act of defiance against God. In fact, the Bible does elaborate on that. The problem was their will to unify and do things that were against God’s will. In drawing from the rest of Scripture I believe it is obvious they were building a humanist religion based on the worship of the sun, moon and stars, ie; the creation over the Creator. Yahweh responded by saying, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.” (Genesis 11:6) Then He scattered them, dividing them into languages and nations. Even though He did that so long ago, this same spirit lives in the heart of man to this day. It is why the book of Revelation contains the imagery of Babylon the harlot riding the beast. They are symbols of an apostate, humanist religion controlling a single world system of government. People are still trying to build that tower. It is the spirit of conquest, yet the conquest of God is just as different from the conquest of the world as the Gospel of Yahshua is different from the Roman gospel.

Keeping in mind the Eleusinian tradition of Greece mentioned earlier, recall also what the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament said above: “Doom is feared because the gods have withdrawn from earth.” You can see this in the tradition of the Germanic Holly King and the Oak King as well. Even after the Germanic peoples were Christianized trees continued to play a significant role in their folk beliefs. That is why Prince Albert brought his Tannenbaum tradition into the palace of England in the 1840’s. It may seem to be merely an innocently decorated tree with no intent to worship it, but it certainly doesn’t bring any glory to God whatsoever, regardless of how much you try to relate the symbolism of the lights to the light of Christ or the angel at the top to Gabriel. It makes no sense to hang biblical imagery on a pagan idol and call it Christian. It also makes no sense to bring a tree indoors period, let alone make believe it has some significance to your faith.

Although much of the knowledge of Germanic ancient traditions is only speculative for lack of indigenous documentation, we get enough glimpses into their cultures through Tacitus and Macrobius, among others, to make solid, educated guesses at what they were about. Many diverse resurgences of these customs throughout the centuries assert and confirm the same beliefs and practices. One such peculiar, but similar celebration is Calennig, a Welsh New Year’s tradition where children decorate apples with holly or evergreen branches and cloves or dried fruit, then go from house to house singing for goodies and presents. Often the decorated apples were brought to other people’s houses as a good luck gift. "Machen traces the Calennig to the Roman Saturnalia and suggests that the custom was brought to Caerleon by the Romans" (see Calennig on Wikipedia).  The Romans were present in Britain from 55BC on and so were Germanic and Norse peoples. That’s plenty of time for their traditions to influence and syncretize with the cultures there. I would speculate that it was a combination of Roman and Germanic traditions. The word Calennig derives from the Roman “kalends” which is the first day of the month on the Roman calendar. There is a particular emphasis placed on the first kalends of the year.

Comparatively, the first “Christmas” trees were decorated with apples, candles and holly. The use of holly was a part of Germanic customs, being symbolic of fertility and protection. The word holly is a Middle English alternate spelling of the word holy, meaning sacred, which came from the Old English holen and is cognate with the German hulst.

Strangely enough, there was a Medieval German custom in churches where a tree was set up, hung with apples and wafers, symbolizing the forbidden fruit and the Eucharist, respectively. It was called the “tree of paradise.” At that time there was question as to whether the Tree of Life in Genesis 2-3 and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil were the same tree. Clearly, they cannot be, for sin is death and Christ is life. The two do not exist in one. Plus, God took the Tree of Life away from Adam and Eve after they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I’m not sure how one could come to such a conclusion, but Christians are always trying to impose some strange new idea on Scripture, so evidently, they decided to put Christ and the commonly accepted symbol of sin on the same tree. We might as well also note that there is no evidence suggesting the forbidden fruit was an apple. Man, with his overly curious nature, decided to give this fruit an identity.

If we look broadly over time, we can see from the time of Jeremiah 10 to the Holiday Season today that pagan winter traditions were long-standing, even more than 2700 years ago and they have not gone anywhere. They have merely morphed and adjusted to the cultures in which they reside. Now, they are becoming one massive, world-wide holiday. I’m reminded of the Two Witnesses in Revelation 11:


When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.

Revelation 11:7–10


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