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Chapter 5 : What Agreement Has The Temple Of God With Idols?

Chapter 5
What Agreement Has The
Temple Of God With Idols?

The Druids on New Year's Day

Many of the rituals of the winter pagan holidays are the same customs that make up our modern-day Christmas (Crippen 13). One of these customs is the use of candles.    Centuries before the birth of Christ people lit torches at their pagan winter solstices.  The Persians kindled them in honor of Mithras, the god of light.  The Romans put lighted candles on small trees in respect for Saturn the sun god.  Also, the Druids lit them for their sun god Balder (Barth 33).  

 An American custom has always been to deck our houses with greenery. In early church councils it was considered unlawful to use greenery to decorate the home.  The early church believed it savored paganism and was therefore unlawful and forbidden  (Sandys 11). Christians were recognized by not adorning their houses at Saturnalia (Crippen 13; Hole 21).  Tertullian denounces this pagan ritual by speaking to the Christian, “But thou art a light of the world and a tree that is ever green; if though hast renounced temples, make not a temple of thy own house-door” (Miles, 269).  

Mistletoe was a sacred symbol for the sun. It was known as a sacred plant to the Norsemen, who believed it killed Balder the sun god, the Celtic Druids, and was possibly used in sacred religious ceremonies by the Greeks and Romans (Hole 22). In a ritual performed by the Druids, mistletoe was gathered on the sixth night of the moon.  A priest in a white robe would cut the sacred plant down with a golden sickle and catch it with a white cloth, never letting it touch the ground.  Then the priest would take the mistletoe and two white bulls and offer them as a sacrifice to the gods for peace and prosperity (Coffin 22).  They believed the mistletoe was a spirit or god of vegetation (Crippen 21).  The act of kissing under the mistletoe also came from a Druid practice.  It is thought to be a legacy of human sacrifice or of some form of sacred prostitution, or a sacred gesture of peace (Sansom 36).  

Laurel, also a plant you see around Christmas, came from the Roman Saturnalia.  During this festival the Romans would deck their homes with laurel, sacred to the sun god Apollo (Barth 30).  Ivy was a symbol of the god Bacchus and therefore usually banished to the outside of the house and also worn by the pagans to honor Bacchus (Crippen 15).  In Greece there is a myth that ivy got its name from a girl who danced with great joy at the feet of the god Dionysius until she died at his feet.  Dionysius in turn transformed her into ivy so that she could embrace whatever is around her to indulge her passionate nature (Coffin 20).

Holly, the male mate to the female ivy according to the customs of Saturnalia, was held sacred to the sun god Saturn.  Therefore, at Saturnalia the Romans gave each other holly wreaths and decked images of Saturn with it (Barth 28).  Holly symbolizes the male reproductive urge with its prickly leaves, white flowers and red berries (Coffin 20).  Also connected to the Druidical ceremonies, the Druids wore sprigs of holly in their hair while conducting the ceremony of cutting down the mistletoe (Barth 26-28).

The trademark of Christmas is the Christmas tree.  Trees have long been a symbolic of enduring life (Hole 21).   In pagan cultures trees and groves were an important part of their worship.  The Greeks and Romans “…often associated gods and especially goddesses with trees” (Chuvin 68).  There is an interesting story that took place during the mid 300’s, after the rule of Constantine.  St. Martin of Tours, with the blessing and protection of the government, set out to destroy the pagan groves and idols of the land that were still being worshipped even though it had been banned by the government. In one particular village he had demolished the pagan temple without much protest from the people.  However, when he started to cut down a certain pine tree the people rose up against him. Martin explained to them that because the tree had been dedicated to a demon, it had to be destroyed. The people challenged St. Martin and said “If you have any trust in thy God, whom you say you worship, we ourselves will cut down this tree, and be it your part to receive it when falling; for if, as you declare, your Lord is with you, you will escape all injury.” He accepted their challenge and stood where they requested, which was no doubt where the tree should fall considering its growth in the same direction.  His biographer, Sulpitius Severus, said the pagans joyfully cut down their own tree.  As the tree was falling, St. Martin raised his hand against it in the authority of Jesus Christ, and it began to spin like a top and swept around in the opposite direction (Severus 121-122).

During Saturnalia, the Romans trimmed trees with trinkets and small masks of Bacchus.  

During Saturnalia, the Romans trimmed trees with trinkets and small masks of Bacchus.  They put twelve candles on the trees in honor of the sun god Saturn and placed an image of the sun god on the tip of the tree. The greenery and trees trimmed with lighted candles would be carried in a parade in celebration of the return of the sun (Krythe 61, 45).  Evergreens were used at the Roman Saturnalia to offer winter hospitality to the fairies and spirits that were supposed to occupy the forest (Crippen 13).

 In the book, Chronicle of the Last Pagans, Pierre Chuvin quotes a letter written in 597 by Pope Gregory to Brunnhilda, Queen of the Franks, regarding schisms in the church,

“We equally encourage you to do this also, namely to restrain your other subjects under the control of discipline so that they do no sacrifice to idols, so that worshippers of trees should not exist, so that in the matter of the heads of animals they should not exhibit sacrilegious sacrifices, because it has reached our ears that many of the Christians also meet at churches and – an evil thing to report – do not refrain from instances of worship of demons.”

It is evident from this letter that offerings in trees that was mentioned did not stop because the government banned pagan practices.  The pagans would sacrifice an animal to the god that inhabited the tree and then hang the head of the sacrifice in the tree.  The groves were considered sacred and many could not be entered except by the priests or the sick. Some cultures allowed entrance only at particular times.  Branches removed for religious purposes or leaves made into garlands were considered powerful.  According to Pliny’s record from 50 AD, the druids did not perform any rites without oak leaves.  And Tacitus’ recorded in 98 AD the Germans preformed divination with a fruit bearing branch (Chuvin 108-109). Druid priests also decorated oak trees with apples in thanks to Odin (or Woden) for giving them fruits and with candles in honor of the sun god Balder during their winter solstice (Barth 16).  The Druids offered sacrifices at the sacred oak to their false gods (Krythe 62).

    In the book of Jeremiah this idolatrous custom is spoken of:

Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the heathen are dismayed at them.  For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.  They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not  (Jeremiah 10:2-4).

It is disheartening to think that each time we hang a picture of our children or other ornaments on a Christmas tree we are making offerings to a pagan God.  How this must break the heart of God as we vainly practice idolatrous customs in His name, deceived by Satan through the syncretism of our customs and practices.

Another icon of Christmas is Santa Claus.  Santa is a creature made up of part St. Nicholas and part ancient Yule god (Sansom 103).  Often this gift-bringer is thought of as coming in and out of the chimney, thus associated with fire.  Who else makes their arrival via the chimney?  Early hearth gods of the Yule log and witches, followers of the oldest religion of the horned god, are both associated with the hearth.  Witches used to absorb hallucinatory drugs by way of an ointment containing such drugs as belladonna that gave them the feeling that they were flying. They also carried broomsticks for props.  This accounts for the belief that they ‘flew’ on these broomsticks by way of the chimney, as we have seen, was no more than climbing through a small opening in the roof.  So, Santa comes flying too (Sansom 103).

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A pink carnelian seal from the Neo-Assyrian period in Northern Mesopotamia. It depicts a winged solar disk of Ashur over a sacred tree with worshippers, and the owners name “Belelmuranni,” meaning “Bel has seen me.”

 

He is believed to know the thoughts and the hearts of people just as the ancient pagan gods that he has descended from thousands of years before Christ’s birth it was thought that the Scandinavian god Odin brought gifts or punishment.  He rode on an eight-footed horse called Sleiphner (Hole 43-46).  His son Thor, god of farming, thunder, and war, made his home in the far north (hence the North Pole) and his color was red.  In the book, Holly, Reindeer, and Colored Lights, Edna Barth states “The Christian religion brought an end to such pagan gods, in form at least.  Later as St. Nicholas and Father Christmas, they reappeared in spirit”  (43).

Today’s Swedish children await Jultomter, a gnome whose sleigh is pulled by Julbocker, the goats of the thunder god Thor.  Jultomter comes dressed in red suit and hat and a sack on his back; he looks much like the American Santa (Barth 50). Woden, or Odin, was the chief god in Germany and is characterized as wearing a broad- rimmed hat and a blue cloak; sometimes he preferred to hike, so he carried along a wanderer’s staff (Count 59).  In Switzerland we find Santa Claus accompanied by, and sometimes married to St. Lucy, a uniting of ancient vegetation deities (Sansom 103).  In Holland, Santa comes with a band of strange-looking characters, a black servant, a train of demons and two masked men carrying birches, horned and with a demonic appearance (Hole 46).

A portion of Santa Claus’s character came from a bishop named St. Nicholas, who did good deeds, especially to the poor.  This turned into a worship of the bishop over time.  In the 1500’s when the people of England stopped worshipping St. Nicholas, they assigned the role of gift-bringer to Father Christmas (Giblin 32-33).  Father Christmas wore a holly wreath on his head, achieving an oddly mixed Druidical and Bacchic effect.  Father Christmas is derived from the sun god Saturn; he presided over the feast of Saturnalia and is symbolic of feasting, drinking, and merry making (Giblin 32-33).  Saturn, who ate his own children, is parallel to the Carthaginian god Baal-Hammon, a ram–horned male god who contained a furnace into which children were sacrificially fed. This is also where the custom of giving gifts at Saturnalia came from.  The custom was to give dolls, possibly symbolizing human sacrifice.  There seems to be a connection between children being the gift to these pagan gods and gradually over time the children became the recipients of gifts (Sansom 44, 104-105).

During Saturnalia the Romans used to also give good-luck presents to their friends (Krythe 37).  They also gave one another garlands of greenery from the groves of the goddess Strenia, which was a representation of the fertility of trees (Sansom 81-82).  Because gift giving was such a big part of the pagan celebrations, the early church looked down upon it (Hole 35-36).  However, now gift-giving has become a major part of Christmas.

 Understanding that Christmas has such connections with pagan idolatry should cause a Christian to examine his or her motives behind celebrating this holiday.  Is this holiday glorifying to God and His Son? Can Christians honor God through a pagan holiday?

Much of what is fostered during this holiday revolves around greed and satisfying the cravings of man’s flesh.  Our children are taught that it is okay to covet. They are confused with a Santa who is omniscient and omnipresent, clearly a counterfeit of God’s characteristics.  

Christians are instructed in II Corinthians to be a separate people:

And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?  for ye are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord… (6:16-17).

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