Paganism, Dual Faith and the Christianization of the Croats

A couple of days ago, fate decided that I should come across an article by Deniver Vukelić entitled "The Problem of Dual Faith as the Croatian Cultural Identity Factor". I really can't remember why it was precisely this article that caught my attention, but I am glad it did because the topic of the essay intrigued me so much that I just had to write something on it as well.

The central theme is obviously dual faith and I was surprised to find out how many meanings and implications this notion can have. I didn't expect dual faith to play a large role in Croatian history but I was once more surprised. This is why I am first going to bore you with a bit of history.

The Christianization of the Croats

Our story begins a long time ago in my home town - Split. I say "long ago" because we could say it has its origins even before emperor Diocletian who was a famous persecutor of Christians. But, I would like to begin with the 7th century because this is when the Christianization of the Croats is thought to have begun. Up to this century, Croats are believed to have basically been Pagans. What changed the course of events was the downfall of Salona which was the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia (the remains of which are in a small town called Solin right next to Split). It is usually said that Salona feel in 614, but it would be much more accurate to say that it slowly decayed (which can be proven by archaeological evidence).

I'm not sure if you're familiar with the fact that in this century (more precisely from 640-642) the papal throne was occupied by a Dalmatian - Pope John IV. He obviously cared very much about his people and wanted them to be baptized so he sent John of Ravenna (in Croatian: Ivan Ravenjanin) who was soon to become the first Dalmatian archbishop and the protagonist of our story.

A map of Salona from 1571 (Salona is
at the top, and the cluster of buildings
in the bottom left corner is Split
inside of Diocletian's palace).
At the very beginning of my college education, I learnt about John of Ravenna and how he was the one who turned all the Pagan temples in Split into churches. Keep in mind that I pass by these buildings every day...I still can't believe that the same forces I worship today used to be worshiped in them a long time ago. So, John of Ravenna turned the mausoleum of emperor Diocletian (who ordered the building of Diocletian's palace, a Roman emperor from the end of the 3rd century and who introduced the tetrarchic system of rule and who was also opposed to Christianity and a persecutor of Christians) into a cathedral. Imagine the irony of his final resting place not being turned into a church (!) but into a cathedral no less! Just across from his mausoleum, there were three temples dedicated to three different deities: Cybele, Venus and Jupiter. Venus' temple was destroyed, what is left of Cybele's temple is just the base (and is not situated in the basement of a building right next to the mausoleum and is not open for the public). Jupiter's temple has since been turned into St. John's church.

The entrance to Jupiter's
temple (now St. John's
church), Split
Therefore, by systematically cleansing Pagan areas and turning them into Christian sanctuaries, John of Ravenna began the process of Christianization. The first to convert were the leaders and other important political figures of the age (keep in mind that being Christian was a question of prestige back then and by converting, you got a ticket into the world of political, religious and economic tycoons such as the Pope and the rules of other countries). Some common people converted out of pure formality in order to facilitate certain jobs (e.g. trade), while those to which these factors meant nothing stayed loyal to the old religion (by the way, the term "Old Religion" is also used to refer to Wicca and I would say it is applicable to Paganism in general). So the peasants (lat. pagani = people of the land/farmers, look it up under "Paganism" in the glossary) converted much later than those who lived in cities. There is a logical explanation for this so let me please translate what Deniver Vukelić says in his article:
"...the Christian idea of the Kingdom of Heaven didn't mean much on an every-day basis to the Slavic and thus the Croatian peasant whose primary concerns were livestock and agriculture. The former rituals 'guaranteed' much more important things for a man's life: survival in this world, germination, growth, health, rain, sunshine and other necessities of the rural way of life which coexisted with the earth. To the peasants, their 'Pagan' beliefs i.e. their old natural rituals and traditions and Christian beliefs were complementary and not competitive regimes."
The relief on the
baptistery in Jupiter's
temple, Split (11th cent.)
Even though Christianization started in the 7th century, it was actively implemented throughout the 8th century (when the Croatian leaders converted) and in the 9th century. Christianity didn't spread everywhere equally as fast because of geographical reasons and because of the resistance of the common people in certain areas. For example, the region of Pagania got its name because the people of that region refused to accept Christianity all the way up to the end of the 10th century.

This leads us to the next subtitle but before I go on, I would just like to emphasize one more fact and that is that not all traces of Paganism were erased from the temples in Split (for example, obvious architectural forms of classic temples visible on the mausoleum and Jupiter's temple and also certain symbols which were later added such as the relief depicting a pentagram in Jupiter's temple which is actually a pre-Romanesque baptistery).

Dual Faith as a Result of Gradual Christianization

In this context, we are talking about dual faith as accepting two faiths which is only one possible interpretation of this notion.

It is obvious from the previous paragraphs that the Croats weren't converted in a day but that this was a long process during which overlappings, fusions and vanishings of certain beliefs occurred (a formal name for this would be syncretism). Even though Christianity had already arrived among the masses and many people had been baptized, this didn't mean that they had all suddenly changed their views on life because this takes a longer period of time. These people were only Christian on paper, but they hadn't yet fully converted mentally. Some even still practiced the old traditions which really were traditions in their own right; they were alive in every sense. As Vukelić says, the Church and the people "met halfway". The two systems of belief which make up dual faith in this case are Christianity and Slavic Paganism. If you are able to read Vukelić's article, you will find out a lot about the same situation in Russia and, as it seems, in Poland, Serbia and basically among all Slavs. Vukelić covers this topic very nicely and summarizes it in the following few sentences:
"The Christianization of the Croats was a one-off action which was performed by a priest using holy water which was poured onto a person or which a person was immerged into (various principal baptisteries exist from the earliest national dynastic period). This act signified the conversion from 'Paganism' to Christianity, from a pre-Christian life of the person to a Christian one. But one thing which is even more important than the ritual itself in the eye of Christianity is the actual transformation of a person who 'converts' and lives a different life according to Christian principles until the end of his life. This is why we differentiate these two things; baptizing as a one-off act and Christianization as a process of appropriation. Because a baptized person isn't necessarily converted."

The Domination of Christianity 

During and shortly after Christianization, two faiths were equally valid. This whole story wouldn't be nearly as interesting if one of the two faiths hadn't felt the need to be the dominant one and that was Christianity. 

In the beginning, Pagan temples were cleansed, adopted and adapted in order to be fit for Christian mass. This was a way of making the new faith more approachable to the Pagan masses. These were still the same buildings, the same sculptures and even the same/similar dates and traditions surrounding holidays just with a different background story. All of this existed to ease the devotee's acclimatization. The first thing that comes to mind is Yule i.e. the winter solstice and a Pagan festival which is celebrated between December 21 and 23. On this festival, we celebrate the rebirth of the Sun and thus the God (as the Sun is a symbol of the God) and also the return of spring and fertility. The Christian variation is Christmas which is held only two days later (December 25) and which also celebrated the birth of a divine figure - Jesus Christ. Even the Christmas tree originates from the Yule log (although this happened much later; in the Victorian period which you can read about here). The tree itself is a symbol of fertility which is once again connected to the aforementioned meaning of Yule.

To sum up this chapter, I was delighted by the thoughts of one person who was interviewed in Vukelić's article. He said this: "Well, probably the belief in two...accepting two religions as the truth. I'm not sure what dual faith is...probably something you use just to save your ass...haha so you basically publically believe in something everyone around you believes in, but inside, your believe what you feel." This really brought a smile on my face. :)

The Concept of Dual Faith

We have finally come to the main topic of this post and that is discussing dual faith in a Pagan context. I have already said something about one interpretation of this concept, that is dual faith in the sense that one accepts two faiths. Since this notion has remained linguistically undefined (i.e. its meaning has yet to be precisely define), it has several meanings which I would like to summarize. So, dual faith can refer to:
  1. the simultaneous acceptance of two faiths
  2. dualism in the sense of one's belief in two supreme deities (can be a side effect of the previous meaning)
  3. ditheism (the belief in two equally powerful divine forces which are completely opposed to one another e.g. good/evil or light/dark, which connotes rivalry, competition and the opposition of the two forces)
  4. bitheism / duotheism (the belief in two equally powerful divine forces but which work in harmony e.g. the God and the Goddess in Wicca)
It is worth noting that both ditheism and bitheism/duotheism fall under the category of dualism and that many forms of dualism exist. But since I don't want to bore you with the many subgroups, you can read more on dualism here

Dual Faith and Wicca

I have been asked questions about the possibility of the coexistence of Wicca and Christianity several times so far. So is it possible for a person to be Christian and Wiccan at the same time? Wicca doesn't forbid dual faith in this sense just as long as good intentions are at the base of things and while nobody and nothing is harmed. This is why you will often find people who combine Wicca and other spiritual paths in order to create their very own system of beliefs which makes complete sense to them and which they truly enjoy. These sorts of adaptation would be referred to as eclectic in Wicca (Greek eklektikos = to choose the best, if refers to the "borrowing" and combining of beliefs form various traditions/faiths in order to tailor one's own belief system which is adapted to the individual's needs). Of course, I can't talk about all the possible combinations of faiths because that would take up too much time, but I would definitely recommend you research what the other tradition/spiritual path/religions says about this topic and to which extent it accepts dual faith as an option.

However, when we talk about dual faith in Wicca, we usually don't think of its previous interpretation but mainly on the concept of bitheism (also called duotheism) and in some cases even ditheism. I would like to elaborate on this.

Bitheism in Wicca

Bitheism is a type of dualism which accepts the existence of two deities/divine forces which are not in opposition to one another. On the contrary, they work in harmony and have defined forms. Even though they usually take the male-female form, a situation can occur in which one deity is actually a collection of forces (e.g. all the forces of good) and the other deity a collection of the opposed forced (in this case, all the forces of evil) as is the case with Zoroastrianism. 

Duotheism, which I already mentioned in a previous post on Wiccan beliefs, is most commonly used as a synonym for bitheism because the focus is still on the two deities/divine forces. But there is a slight difference; in the case of duotheism, the two forces are almost always male and female while bitheism doesn't have to imply this male-female relationship. Also, these two deities (the male and the female) are usually equally as powerful. 

The most important thing to remember here is that bitheism doesn't necessarily imply the male and female forms of the two main deities while duotheism does. But don't worry, these two terms are used synonymously because the differences really are minor.

According to this, Wiccan could fall under both categories, although duotheism would be a slightly more acceptable term. The aspect of Wicca which best depicts this is the relationship of the Horned God and the Mother Goddess who, apart from their fitting into this male-female form, really do work harmoniously with one another and are equally powerful. Their perfect  harmony is usually shown through their sexual act such s the one in this figurine of the Great Rite (a part of the Wiccan rituals which symbolizes the sexual unity of the Goddess and the God. More on it here). 

Ditheism in Wicca

A depiction of the Horned
Ditheism is the belief in the existence of two divine forces which are usually independent (i.e. they work separately). This notion implies that the two deities are opposed to one another and that they are conflicted and in rivalry. The most common form of ditheism is that in which one deity is good and the other evil, although it can also be a light/dark relationship (note: good and evil don't mean the same as light and dark!) or perhaps winter/summer.

A depiction of the Green Man
There is an aspect of Wicca which fits wonderfully into this definition too and that is the relationship of the four aspects of the God in two myths. The first myth states that the God has two "faces", that is that he takes on the form of the Green Man during spring and summer and the form of the Horned God during winter and autumn. These two faces are contrastive because they symbolize two completely opposite aspects of the year and of nature; one symbolizes greenery and plants while the other symbolizes animals etc.

Depictions of the Oak King (left) and
the Holly King (right)
The second myth connected to the God is the battle of the Oak King and the Holly King. Once again, this is a symbolic battle between winter and summer (the year used to be divided into just summer and winter; summer covering what we now call spring and summer and winter covering what we now see as autumn and winter). On the two solstices, these two deities battle for supremacy and also the Goddess' hand. But the winner is already known. On the summer solstice (June 21-23, known as Litha/Midsummer in Wicca), the Holly King defeats the Oak King which symbolizes the fading power of the Sun and the oncoming cold months (recall the symbolism of holly, winter and Christmas). On the winter solstice (December 21-23, knows as Yule in Wicca), the opposite happens so the Oak King defeats the Holly King in battle. This symbolizes the return of the warm period of the year when the Sun (and thus the Oak King) is stronger and the days grow longer. 

The myth of the two aspects of the God
is often reinterpreted as a part of
rituals in which two men (who
play the roles of these aspects) really
battle (of course, all of this is
Nevertheless, this ditheism isn't complete because even though these four aspects of the God contrast each other, they also complete each other and bring about balance. The Horned God brings the cold and a time for the earth to regenerate itself with the autumn rains, while the Green Man brings warmth and pleasure but also a time of tireless work, drying of the land and so on. All of the aspects are necessary for there to be balance. We have to ask ourselves whether this relationship really is ditheistic if we are dealing with two halves which complete each other and which are necessary for one another.

I believe that it is these dilemmas which give Wicca as well as other Pagan paths their charm because they leave room for individuals to think about certain things independently, without dogmas and lets them find the most logical explanation for themselves.

The intention of this post was to cover the topic of dual faith in a historical and recent context while referring to Deniver Vukelić's article which really was a great inspiration to me as well as a source of new discoveries. You don't have to agree with either of our opinions and if you don't, by all means, leave a comment explaining why. I would love to hear what you have to say. :D

I also wanted to emphasize that syncretism really is a natural occurrence which shouldn't offend anyone. Cultures mix, languages affect one another, so why wouldn't it be the same with religions? Abstract notions such as religion or spirituality don't have fixed boundaries and I believe that the world would be a much nicer place if people understood this. "Ours" and "yours" don't exist. In nature, on this planet, the only thing that exists is "collective". 

I hope that you enjoyed the post! :)
Witch's Cat

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