What Is Pre-Christian?

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Most cultures had a pre-Christian religious structure. Image by Russell Kaye/Sandra-Lee Phipps/Image Bank/Getty Images

Sometimes, here at About Paganism/Wicca, you’ll see the term “pre-Christian” used in various contexts. But what does that actually mean?

There’s a common misconception that anything happening prior to the year 1 c.e. (common era) is automatically pre-Christian because it occurs prior to the advent of Christianity, while anything taking place after that year is automatically considered post-Christian.

This, however, is not the case, particularly when looking at academic or scholarly sources of information.

Long after its beginning, Christianity was still unheard of in many parts of the world for centuries. There are some tribes in remote regions today that have never been touched by Christian influence - that means those tribes are living within a pre-Christian culture, despite Christianity having been in existence for some two thousand years.

In parts of Eastern Europe, Christianity didn’t make any headway until around the twelfth century c.e., so those areas would have been considered pre-Christian up until that point. Likewise, other areas such as the Scandinavian countries began converting around the eighth century, although the Christianization process wasn’t really complete until a few hundred years later.

Keep in mind that just because a society or culture is considered "pre-Christian" does not mean it is "pre-religious," or absent a structured spiritual system.

Many societies - the Celts, the Romans, the tribes of the Scandinavian countries - enjoyed a wealth of rich spiritual practices long before Christianity made its way into their regions. Many of those traditions continue today in some places, where modern Christianity is blended with older Pagan practices and beliefs.

In the United States, many Native American tribes practice their original pre-Christian rituals, despite the conversion of many tribe members to the Christian faith.

In general, the phrase pre-Christian refers to not a specific universal date, but the point at which a culture or society became so touched by Christianity that it was in fact the dominant influence over previous religious and societal beliefs.