For eons before Constantine the First converted to Christianity in 312CE, the indigenous peoples of Europe: Latins, Kelts, Slavs and Germans, practiced the universal treatise of polytheism, or the belief in numerous gods. Whether the god was named Zeus(Greeks), Jupiter(Romans), Odin(Germanic tribes) or Svarog(Slavs), they all shared the same basic philosophies; The gods were fallible, freedom was an enduring right, and nature was the basis for all life and sustenance. In these beliefs, the ancient peoples of Europe founded the Greek States and Roman Empire, both pushing the way forward for the shaping of modern philosophy and technology.
The question remains; how can the various European peoples have accepted a religion as foreign to them as the the palm tree that epitomizes the Christian faith? Those of European descent have nothing in common with the desert, or palm trees, or the servitude required to bow down before a deity. The gods of the ancient Europeans had human characteristics; they lived, breathed, loved; were sometimes angry, jealous, or joyful. They were close, reachable and wonderfully flawed. They did not require servitude; did not require a person to lay prostrate at their feet. They fed life into a person’s body, giving them the strength and courage to overcome the obstacles of everyday life. They had names like Odin, Thor, Aries and Mercury. The oak tree was sacred, and winter was forever abysmal and deadly. How could the Christian concept of Hell have made a believer of a hardened Northerner, who could in essence see the ‘fires of Hell’ as more welcoming than a frozen eternity?
The parallels between the Christian concept of Hell, and their environment, can not be ignored. For the Peoples of the Book (Christians, Muslims and Jews), eternal damnation to fire directly relates to their natural habitat: desert, and the usual heat that accompanies it. For a European of the ancient world, especially in the frozen North, heat was a welcomed commodity.
So what happened to change the hearts of the ancient European to accept a foreign god who judges harshly, and promises eternal ‘hell’ for some deeds considered honorable among ancient Europeans?
The answer: After Constantine I’s conversion, and after the Edict of Milan recognizing Christianity as an official language of the remnants of the Roman Empire, mass conversion took place among the general populace. As the centuries wore on, and the priests of Christianity pushed forward throughout the countries of Europe, monarchs of the various nations found it more politically acceptable to convert, thus forcing their peoples to convert. The threat of baptism or death was very real. Nowadays we don’t understand that; we have never been given those options. Centuries have gone by, and the gods and folklore of our ancestors are all but myth now. But where Christianity prevails, a person will also see the images and ideas of the ancient European prevalent in it’s content. Christmas (based on the Winter Solstice), Easter (based on the Spring Equinox), All Saint’s Day (based on Samhain), Satan as a horned being (based on the pagan god Pan), Mistletoe (the most sacred plant of the Druids), and Fachwerk (the timbered designs in Germanic houses, based on the Futhark, or Runes). Those crafty men of the past have found some ways to keep the signs of the ancestors in everyday life, even in the year 2007.