When Christianity arrived in Europe, there was not the immediate mass conversion that is sometimes suggested. Christianity had not evolved naturally over thousands of years. Instead, it was a man-made religion, one that took a great deal of time to reach the masses. Sometimes, entire countries would be classified as Christian when, in fact, only the rulers had converted, and often only superficially. For the first thousand years of Christianity, the pagan religions of early Europe were still highly prominent.
Attempts at Mass Conversion in Europe
One attempt at mass conversion was made by Pope Gregory the Great. He ordered the building of Christian churches on the sites of older pagan temples and groves. He instructed that all idols were to be smashed, and the sites sprinkled with holy water prior to construction to purify them of ‘unholy’ energy. To a large extent, Pope Gregory appeared to have been successful in his attempt to convert most of Europe.
Appearances can be deceiving, however. When these early churches were being constructed, the best artisans were from pagan religions. These artisans incorporated much of their own symbolism into the holy sites, symbolism which can still be seen today in churches from that era. In this way, pagans could easily go to church and worship their own deities. It was the essence, not the form, that was important to the pagans.
Claims of Devil-Worshiping in Early Europe
Christianity was gaining in strength, but slowly. It still was in its infancy, and perceived the pagan religions as a threat. It’s only natural to want to eliminate a threat. The Church had an effective way to attempt to do that, as the gods of the old religion often become the demons of the new. In the case of paganism, the God of the Hunt served well enough as the Christian Devil. He had horns and to someone who knew no better, he could appear quite frightening.
By drawing this parallel, the Church was able to brand all pagans as devil worshipers. Eventually, this label was applied to anyone who worshiped a god or gods different than the Christian one. In this way, the Church was able to justify its attempt at converting innocent people. This old stereotype has endured, and today, practitioners of many pagan religions, including Wicca, are accused of devil worship.
As Christianity grew in strength, it slowly pushed the pagans to the brink. By the time of the Witch Trials, many pagans had moved out of polite society to take up residence in the country. Though the pagans of Europe presented no threat to the Church, it wasn’t long after the claims of devil worship that the beginnings of the Witch Trials started to emerge.