To disseminate a new belief system, it’s sometimes necessary to employ the trappings of an earlier system to help followers make the transition. The early Christian church realized that people were unwilling to give up their feasts and celebrations surrounding the Solstices and Equinoxes, so rather than force them, the Church redefined the celebrations to make them relevant to the new religion. Rather than fight someone’s faith, simply alter the terms; use their words, but give the words a new interpretation. Before long, people forget the original definitions and accept that the terms have always meant what they understand them to be.
In a number of Easter hymns I heard growing up, Jesus is said to have been “nailed to a tree” but this wasn’t Jesus, it was Attis. Jesus was nailed to a cross beam. In all probability, the iconography of the crucifix is incorrect, as it makes more sense for the Romans, who were engineers, to employ a reusable scaffolding structure for crucifixions, since they occurred so often. This would explain how Jesus was crucified between two bandits (or insurrectionists). He occupied the space between them on the scaffold. There’s evidence the iconography of the cross predates Christianity by several millennia. Where then, do we get the symbolism of the cross.
The zodiac is depicted as a circle of symbols which rotate in the night sky. If one draws a line between each solstice and each equinox, one finds the heavenly cross. What’s referred to as the “Egyptian cross” is actually the Ankh, depicted in hieroglyphics several thousand years before the Romans employed crucifixion as a form of capital punishment. Early Christianity, which arose at the beginning of the astrological Age of Pisces, used iconography related to fish in its earliest incarnation. “Come with me and I will make you fishers of men.” It wasn’t until the Church was formalized in the fourth or fifth century that the cross became the dominant symbol of the faith. The emperor Constantine is said to have seen the vision of a cross superimposed over the sun just before he scored a significant victory, and this led to his conversion to Christianity.
In his book, The Invention of God, Thomas Römer traces the evolution of YHWH, from a tribal thunder god who dwelled on a mountain to the universal king of heaven followed by post-exilic Jews of the Second Temple period in Jerusalem. His research shows that each time a superior power overran a smaller tribe, those overtaken took that as evidence that the larger tribe’s god was more powerful. The Jews exiled in Babylon came to a different conclusion, that YHWH abandoned them because they failed to obey their God’s commandments. Christian Gnostics believed that God as described by Paul and echoed in the Gospels was separate from YHWH, who they regarded as a demiurge who had imprisoned people in their Earthly bodies, and it was only through specialized knowledge bestowed in Jesus’ teachings that they could break free. Perhaps their beliefs sprang from an unwillingness to believe the wrathful God of the ancient Jewish scriptures had somehow evolved into the loving Heavenly Father spoken of by Paul in his epistles.
The Gnostics were persecuted and driven underground in the early centuries of the Christian era, and later underwent a revival of their own in parts of France and Northern Italy in the 12th and 13th centuries, reemerging as the Cathars. Despite their resurrection of sorts, their beliefs were just as maligned by the Church as before, and were once again driven out of mainstream beliefs. It would not be until the discovery of the Gnostic texts at Nag Hammadi in the 1940s that the world would be reminded of this alternative sect of Christianity. The full significance of this discovery has yet to be realized.