„By steps, not leaps“ Pagan-Christian Religious Syncretism Among the Mainland Germans as a Consequence of the Elastic Christian Mission Strategy
. Teutonic tribes can hardly be said to have been predestined to take up Christianity since over six hundred years passed before all the Teutonic tribes were converted to Christian religion, as opposed to the ancient world, which needed less than half of that time to achieve the same. A determining event in the conversion of continental Teutons was the baptism of Khlodwig and his warriors in 498. The Francs regarded Christ as a new earthly king of heavenly origins, a famous and mighty hero who grants military success to those who believe in him. The conversion of the real German tribes to Christianity was an accomplishment of Charles the Great, whose mission however should not be regarded as completed through the sword only, as he made significant contributions to the establishment of Christian culture as well. Following instructions by the Pope, the Irish and later the Anglo-Saxon missionaries did not destroy the shrines of Pagan cult, but in the spirit of elastic missionary strategy they consecrated them as Christian ones. The idols, however, had to be destroyed. The teachings of Pagan and Christian religions intertwined in the minds of the „new people“ and thus a kind of Pagan-Christian religious syncretism came into being, which can be traced for centuries to follow. Traces of Paganism can be found, although in a harmless form, even today: in myths, folk tales, legends and superstitions. The diffusion of Christianity and the intrinsic, spiritual conversion of Germans were aided by rich and varied missionary literature.
Through their formal conversion to Christianity the German tribes belonged to the community of Christian civilization. In the consciousness of the ‘new people’, however, Christian beliefs existed in combination with pagan myths, thus forming a specific ethos, a kind of pagan and Christian syncretism, which can distinctly be traced in various fields of their culture. Great masses of people retained their magical-mythological view of the world for centuries, although it was gradually extended to include Christian elements. Pagan-Christian syncretism had developed among the Anglo-Saxons earlier and it was transplanted, together with the well-tried methods of conversion, to the Germans. In their healing activities Christian priests and monks had to rival with pagan magicians as a heritage of the past. For a time in the beginning (for centuries!), the newly baptized people regarded their priests and monks as magicians. The magic spells of paganism were turned Christian by clerical leaders of the new religion, who substituted such important figures of Christian religion as Jesus, Maria and a variety of saints for pagan gods and goddesses. The Second Merseburg Incantation was reworded in a Christian spirit and had the Lord’s Prayer as well as Ave Maria attached to it. Thus these prayers lost their original functions and became part of a series of magic texts. Knowing the Lord’s Prayer was an essential condition of conversion to Christianity. Formal representatives of the Christian Church inculcated it in people’s memory by attaching it to earlier incantations, for example the Second Merseburg Incantation. All this took place within the framework of the flexible mission strategy. The pagan-Christian text variations of this incantation existed not only in oral form among the people all over Europe, but were also included in medieval codices and therefore can be collected even today. The present article discusses the pagan-Christian, Hungarian text variations of the Second Merseburg Incantation in their widest context of German culture.