The Pagan origins of Ash Wednesday & Lent
By Peter Salemi
This ritual of Ash Wednesday and Lent has solidified its place in the Catholic Church and many of the protestant daughters of the Catholic Church like the Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, some Baptists, etc.… The Lent season is a period of 40 days abstinence, beginning on “Ash Wednesday.” What are the Origins of Ash Wednesday and Lent-two events that lead towards Easter?
The Apostate Church & the Introduction of Lent
In the book of Revelation we read of a “woman” which is a symbol of a Church (see Ephesians 5:23-32; Heb 12:22; Gal 4:26; Rev 21:2) decked with Jewels and purple and scarlet, This is a rich church but a “great whore” that has, “committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth.” She is called, “MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” (Rev 17:1-5).
This Apostate Church committed fornication with the pagan gods of the people-spiritual adultery. She took up pagan practices and made them her own calling it “Christian.” Incorporated them into her system of religious worship; but are really the Babylonian Mystery Religion and not the religion of Christianity.
This church was the true church of God, but then went Apostate. The Apostle Paul wrote that, “the mystery of iniquity doth already work” and that the church would “fall away” from the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 7). This is exactly what happened beginning at Rome after the death of the Apostles.
Notice what a Catholic Prelate wrote called Cassian in the 5th century, “As long as the perfection of the primitive church [the inspired New Testament Church] remained inviolable...there was no observance of Lent; but when men began to decline from the apostolical fervour of devotion . . . then the priests in general agreed to recall them from secular cares by a canonical indiction of fasting . . .” (Antiquities of the Christian Church, Book 21, chapter 1, emphasis added).
The 40 day fast of Lent was imposed after the days of the apostles-by the authority of the priests! Lent is not of apostolic origin! It did not originate with Christ! It entered the Christianity of the Roman World in the second century. It entered at the same time that Easter did! Lent is always associated with Easter! Easter was the Eostre, Ostara, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. Lent is merely the introduction to Easter. Easter is the climax to Lent. We read of this ritual in the book of Ezekiel.
100 years after the death of the last of the 12 apostles. Here is what Irenaeus writes to the Bishop of Rome about Lent at this time: “For the controversy is not only concerning the day”-there was a controversy over the time to celebrate Easter “but also concerning the very manner of the fast”-the fast of the Lenten season. “For some think that they should fast one day, others two, yet others more, and some forty,” reports Irenaeus, Bishop from France. “And this variety in its observance,” continues Irenaeus, “has not originated in our time; but long before in that of our ancestors [who were Pagans]. It is likely that they did not hold to strict accuracy, and thus formed a custom for their posterity according to private fancy” (From Eusebius’ Church History, Book 5, chapter 24.) Lent came into the Church through custom-through PRIVATE FANCY, “committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth.” (Rev 17:2) The churches observe Lent, not because the Bible commands it, but because professing Christians adopted the custom from their ancient Gentile customs. Not from the claim today that this commemorates the fast of Christ in the wilderness. Ancient sources reveal a pagan origin to Lent and Ash Wednesday.
And from what city did the celebration of Lent really begin to spread throughout the professing Christianity of the Roman World? The Catholic Encyclopedia records: “In any case it is certain from the ‘Festival Letters’ of St. Athanasius that in 331 [he] enjoined upon his flock a period of FORTY DAYS of fasting preliminary to . . . Holy Week, and second that in 339 after having travelled to Rome and over the greater part of Europe, [he] wrote in the strongest terms to urge this observance of Lent upon the people under his jurisdiction.” Athanasius was influenced by Roman custom. It was at Rome that not only Easter, but also Lent, entered the Christian Church. It was that “great city [Rome], which reigneth over the kings of the earth.” (Rev 17:18) that all of these idolatrous practices flowed!
The day before Ash Wednesday which kicks off the 40 days of Fasting and giving up other things in your life-the Tuesday was known as “Mardi Gras.” Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday,” reflecting the practice of the last night of eating rich, fatty foods before the ritual Lenten (Lent). This ritual goes back to the pagans as this source writes, “Mardi Gras is a tradition that dates back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of spring and fertility… When Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate these popular local traditions into the new faith, an easier task than abolishing them altogether. As a result, the excess and debauchery of the Mardi Gras season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of fasting and penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday…Along with Christianity, Mardi Gras spread from Rome to other European countries, including France, Germany, Spain and England.” (Article: Mardi Gras 2023, by History.com, emphasis added). Again we see the Roman Christian Apostate Church adopting these pagan practices and making them their own!
Apparently some of what goes on at Mardi Gras can be traced back to the god Bacchus-The god of wine and parties. This sources writes, “Even more fundamental to Carnival’s DNA was the ecstatic worship of Dionysus or as he was known to the Romans, Bacchus. The Greek god of wine, Dionysus is also associated with madness, frenzy, theater and ritually induced ecstasy.
“His gift of the viniculture to humankind makes Dionysus both beneficent and potentially dangerous, since wine, if consumed to excess can inflict irrationality if not madness. Ancient Dionysian rites were religious rituals in which the god was said to possess his devotees after they danced themselves into a trance. As The Horizon Cookbook and illustrated History of Eating and Drinking through the Ages says of the revels he and Bacchus inspired, ‘intoxication was thought to wrest the human spirit from the mind’s control. Wine, then, became everywhere in the classical world a medium of religious experience.’
“Great Courses lecture on classical mythology for The Teaching Company, Classics professor Elizabeth Vandiver observes that Dionysus as ‘a god whose domains include possession, behavior inconsistent with one’s normal character - acting out of things that one would not normally do-is an appropriate god to be associated with a theatrical tradition in which the actors wore masks-in which an actor actually put on the face of another character before taking part in a drama.’
“It also makes him the most appropriate god to be associated with Carnival. Because Carnival offers a way to step outside of oneself, to assume personae and indulge alter egos to lose oneself in the moment and revel in collective rapture (Ecstasy is derived from Greek words meaning ‘to stand outside of oneself’) As the mythic personification of the ecstatic experience, of the propensity to seek delight in the here and now Dionysus is, in a sense, the unofficial patron god of Carnival” (Article: Mardi Gras History, by mardigrastraditions.com, emphasis added).
The marking of believers on Ash Wednesday is done in combination with “Lent.” Despite Christ’s command to his followers to abstain from the practice of disfiguring their faces during fasting, (see Matthew 6:16-18) it has become a regular practice. He also told us to wash our faces during a fast.
The practice of putting ashes on one’s forehead has been known from ancient times. “In the Nordic pagan religion, placing ashes above one’s brow was believed to ensure the protection of the Norse god, Odin. This practice spread to Europe during the Vikings conquests. This laying on of ashes was done on Wednesday, the day named for Odin, Odin’s Day” (Article: The Pagan Origins of Ash Wednesday By Craig Portwood). Interestingly enough, according to Wikipedia, one of Odin’s names is Ygg(r). The same is Norse for the Word “Ash.”
The Roman church again incorporated this idea of repentance and protection with Ashes from the Pagans and made it “Christian,” as Durant plainly says that “Christianity DID NOT destroy paganism it ADOPTED IT” (Will Durant, vol. 3, p.595, emphasis mine). Adopting from the Pagans, this ritual of Ashes was closely associated with the 40 days of fasting of the pagans.
Lent is a period of 40 days preceding the observance of Easter, where the observers are expected to fast or cease from having the use of some other “luxuries.” Like the majority of modern, so-called Christian practices, its beginnings can be traced to heathen practices.
In his book The Two Babylon’s, Alexander Hislop discovered this about Lent: “Whence, then, came this observance? The forty days abstinence of Lent was directly borrowed from the worshippers of the Babylonian goddess [Ishtar who became eventually Easter the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring]…Such a Lent of forty days was observed in Egypt… This Egyptian Lent of forty days, we are informed by Landseer, in his Sabean Researches, was held expressly in commemoration of Adonis [Nimrod or Tammuz] or Osiris, the great mediatorial god….Among the Pagans this Lent seems to have been an indispensable preliminary to the great annual festival in commemoration of the death and resurrection of Tammuz, which was celebrated by alternate weeping and rejoicing, and which, in many countries, was considerably later than the Christian festival, being observed in Palestine and Assyria in June, therefore called the ‘month of Tammuz;’ in Egypt, about the middle of May, and in Britain, sometime in April. To conciliate the Pagans to nominal Christianity, Rome, pursuing its usual policy, took measures to get the Christian and Pagan festivals amalgamated, and, by a complicated but skilful adjustment of the calendar, it was found no difficult matter, in general, to get Paganism and Christianity now far sunk in idolatry in this as in so many other things, to shake hands….” (pp.104-105, emphasis added).
This festival of Lent goes all the way back to the time when the pagans “wept for Tammuz” that we find in the book of Ezekiel. God showed Ezekiel what was going on in the temple and called it an “abomination.” God says, “Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the LORD’S house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz….Then said he unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations than these.” (Ezekiel 8:14-15). The ancient myths speak of the Mother of Tammuz after he was slain, and went into the underworld, that through the weeping of his “MOTHER” Ishtar (Easter), her weeping and abstaining from food (fasting) revived her son from the grave.
The Easter Sunrise Service
This so-called “resurrection of Tammuz” was celebrated at the end of the 40 days of weeping and fasting by this ritual God describes, “And he brought me into the inner court of the LORD’S house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east.” (Ezekiel 8:16). Sir James Frazer, author of The Golden Bough states: “The sorrow of the worshippers was turned to joy…. The resurrection of the god [Tammuz] was hailed by his disciples as a promise that they too would issue triumphant from the corruption of the grave.” (Frazer, James, The Golden Bough, p. 350). Tammuz was the sun god! The Soncino Commentary says the worship of Tammuz “came from Babylonia.” And that “...The pagan MITHRAS OF ROME met together at dawn in honour of the sun god” (Mystery Babylon Religion, p.156, emphasis added). Tammuz, Mithra are the same deity-imported into Rome from Babylonia and “... all events [Lent, Ash Wednesday are] connected with the east and sunrise [rituals]...” (History of the Church (Schaff).vol.l, p.373).
Of course the church “adopted” these pagan practices and called it “Christian.” Hislop rightly comments, “It brought into the Church the grossest corruption and the rankest superstition in connection with the abstinence of Lent. Let anyone only read the atrocities that were commemorated during the ‘sacred fast’ or Pagan Lent, as described by Arnobius and Clemens Alexandrinus, and surely he must blush for the Christianity of those who, with the full knowledge of all these abominations…borrowing from so polluted a source;….But at last, when the worship of Astarte was rising into the ascendant, steps were taken to get the whole Chaldean Lent of six weeks, or forty days, made imperative on all within the Roman empire of the West. The way was prepared for this by a Council held at Aurelia in the time of Hormisdas, Bishop of Rome, about the year 519, which decreed that Lent should be solemnly kept before Easter.” (ibid, pp.106-107, emphasis added).
All these events took place in the spring during the time of Easter. What we read in Ezekiel of the men worshipping the “sun toward the east” is what we call today the “Easter Sun rise service” the climax of all these events. “The sunrise service actually stems from the pagan rite of Spring that was held during the vernal equinox to welcome the coming sun. According to pagan tradition, when the sun would rise on Easter morning, it would dance in the heavens, so, those who would congregate, would dance in honor of the sun.” (Controlled by the Calendar p.47).
“Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.”
The Apostle Paul told the gentile church in Galatia (these are people who converted from paganism to true Christianity), “Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.
“But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
“Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.” (Gal 4:8-10). Paul asked them how, now that they are “known” by God, “turn ye again” to the paganism they were saved from? Why were they observing again “days, and months, and times, and years?” Ash Wednesday, Lent, Easter, these-all pagan days, the Apostle warned them to stay away from. Observing these days will only lead to further falling away from the true God and Jesus Christ and into idolatry-which is exactly what happened to the 1st century church after the death of the Apostles!
Is it any wonder that Jeremiah was inspired to write: “Learn not the way of the heathen . . . for the customs of the people are in vain”? (Jer. 10:2-3). Jesus left us an example of what we ought to do--and that example is not Easter or Lent!
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