Old school syncretism

27 10 2010

See link here. (“Copyright issues”, apparently)



16 responses

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28 10 2010
The Shepherd

Sometimes our mistakes make for the greatest ideas…

28 10 2010

The article is a too-typical example of the graceless, cutesy trivialization of Christian sanctity that passes for sophisticated scholarship among agenda-seeking bullshit artists. Even a casual perusal of St. Helen’s role in establishing the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14 New) would cause one to conclude that Christians viewed the pagan Aphrodite quite differently than St. Aphrodite.

To all St. Expeditus fans, Hodie!

27 10 2010

I’m slightly amazed by the stupidity of this article (look at the “references” section for a chuckle) and I’m surprised it was put here so uncritically.

27 10 2010
Sam Urfer

Fair point; but I think this has less to do with the ancient cult of saints and syncretism in Christianization, and more to do with this: http://philologos.org/__eb-ttb/

27 10 2010
James Kabala

In a way this article would have fit in in the Middle Ages, when folk etymologies for saints’ names were common (albeit for very different motives). That may be why it appeals to Mr. Vasquez. In reality, however, the article is almost entirely nonsense.

The author seems not to realize that real people in ancient times commonly were named after pagan gods. Thus, the fact that a person’s name is similar to or based on that of a pagan god is no reason to doubt his historicity. As already noted, St. Lawrence and St. Martin are well-authenticated historical figures. St. Nicholas and St. Demetrios are a bit more doubtful, but they bear real names that many ordinary Greeks also bore. (I believe Demetrios was the Number One most common male name in the Hellenistic world.)

St. James, of course, has a name derived from the Hebrew Jacob, not the hypothetical god Yama.

27 10 2010

Also, I may add, that we Slavs have a monk s.Świerad/Sverad, which can be translated as St.All-Knowing. I wonder if this was not a Slavic pagan god.

On the funny side, most people do not know that pieróg the singular of pierogi is probably a name of an ancient Slavic demon. This is just my thesis, because words ending in -og in Polish are things associated with the pre-Christian gods and the root -pier- is the foundation of many curse words or “fighting words” in Polish. Also, one of the names for the main Slavic god was Twaróg but now that is the modern Polish term for cottage cheese.

27 10 2010

The reason I talked about historical accuracy was because your source states that “Many Greek goddesses became Christian saints” and because, as you state, Christianity is based on real historical events. What I was trying to point out was that there really were historical figures named Martin, Lawrence, Mark, etc., and they did not originate as pagan gods. What happened later–the assimilation of these historical figures to pre-existing cults–is a distinct story, which deals not so much with Christianity itself, but with the process of Christianization. (It’s not always easy to distinguish between the two, but I think there is a distinction at some level.)

27 10 2010

No. I was only addressing the topic of this post, which is the early years of Christianity.

27 10 2010

Stephen, should I take your introductory comment to mean you do not see syncretism as a feature of Christianity beyond the “early” years?

27 10 2010
Arturo Vasquez

I think we can take the historical accuracy thing a bit too far. Christian metaphysics is based on history, and we are always inclined to ask, “but did it actually happen”, but that sort of parsing can make us miss the forest from the trees in these questions.

To delve more into this, one has to cite how certain popular saints are employed within traditional devotional discourse. There is, of course, local favorite St. Expedite, whose only statue in the United States is down the street in the mortuary chapel at the edge of the French Quarter. His popularity is due precisely to a false etymology, as a saint who “expedites” one’s requests. In the Spanish speaking world, great devotion is shown towards San Alejo and Santa Librada, the former because “Alejo” relates to “alejar”, which means to make flee (in the sense of making a pesky neighbor leave or to separate a lover from his beloved); and “Librada” would relate to “librar”, which means to free (as in a criminal fleeing from police or a pregnant woman praying for a good birth).

Indeed, in the latter case, we have this rhymed risque prayer concerning praying for a safe childbirth:

Santa Librada,
Santa Librada,
que la salida
sea tan dulce
como la entrada!

Santa Librada,
May the way out
Be as sweet
As the way in!

In other words, I don’t disagree with the criticism of the Latin etymology or the historical scholarship. I merely think that neither of these helps to explain why a saint may become as popular as he is, and that false etymology may have had something to do with it.

27 10 2010
Robert Hiyane

This seems to be poor research and fact checking.

27 10 2010
Sam Urfer

So, reading this stuff, and the Egregores blog, reminds me greatly of Baptist Landmarkism, in terms of reading history. The main difference seems to be whether perceived pagan accretions in Catholicism are good or bad.

27 10 2010
john burnett

yes, highly questionable. There’s no doubt that a lot of people in early christian times were named after pagan deities— think of Apollos, the companion of Paul— but that doesn’t mean that they were pagan deities who were somehow syncretized into christianity. And ‘Mardi Gras’ means ‘Fat Tuesday’, not ‘great Mars’.

I mean, come on! Is this from some wiccan coffee-table book??!

27 10 2010

I have questions about a few of these. No doubt there was syncretism in early Christianity, but I don’t think your source is very accurate.

For example, St. Lawrence. Your source derives his name from the lares, the name for Roman household gods. But, I don’t believe that’s a proper derivation. “Lawrence” in Latin is Laurentius, and I’m pretty sure that a –> au was not a common change in Latin, or in Latin’s evolution into the early Romance languages. Moreover, from what I understand, there really was a St. Laurence of Rome. Perhaps the story of his martyrdom was embellished later, but that doesn’t mean his cult originated in syncretism.

The same goes for St. Martin of Tours, who according to all accounts really was a bishop of Tours. Lots of spurious stories (or “popular devotions” or “superstitions” or what have you) sprang up later, but that doesn’t change the fact that there was a bishop of Tours named Martin who was revered for his holiness. And the fact that his name comes from the name of the Roman god of war simply means that his pagan parents named him after Mars. Is St. Mark a fictional figure merely because he had a relatively common name which he didn’t change after he became a Christian?

I also noticed that your source said that St. Martin’s principal feast was celebrated on “Mardi Gras,” which he translates as “Great Mars.” Really? St. Martin’s feast day is November 11. Again, lots of later, perhaps syncretic or pagan customs became associated with St. Martin’s Day–like, why do Germans traditionally eat goose on that day?–but your source is clearly wrong on this point. (But I’m sure there’s plenty to say about syncretism in connection with Mardi Gras…)

And another linguistic point where your source is clearly wrong is with St. Venera. Yes, the -us ending in Latin is usually a sign that the noun is a masculine noun of the 2nd (e.g., equus) or 4th declension (exercitus), but it some nouns in the 3rd declension have that ending in the nominative, and they are either feminine (as in salus) or neuter (as in opus). In this case, Venus is obviously feminine, but the genitive is Veneris, which then becomes the stem for the other cases, and when Latin was in the early stages of evolving into the Romance languages, it was common for the stem, rather than the nominative, to be used, when they differed. A good example is the Latin word opus (as in your favorite group “Opus Dei”) becoming obra in Spanish (as in “la Obra”).

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