3. Many Celtic deities survived as Christian saints.
Combining with Roman gods wasn’t the only way many British Celtic deities survived changing times, for many survived the Christianization of Britain- as Celtic saints. The goddess of crafts, poetry and healing, Brigid or Brigantia, is just one example. The root of the goddess’s name, ‘brig’ means ‘high’ or ‘exalted’ one, indicating the goddess was an important deity. Clearly, this was the case for variations of Brigid/Brigantia’s name appears across the Celtic world. Although many primarily associate her with Ireland, the goddess gave her name to the northern British tribe of the Brigantes who particularly venerated her and the River Braint on Anglesey and River Brent near London.
As a saint, Brigid kept most of her divine attributes. As St Bride or St Ffraid in Wales, Brigid was a goddess of midwives, the household hearth and fertility. People had long associated Imbolc, the festival of first milking with Brigid. This feast became the Christian festival of Candlemass, which appropriated and Christianized many of the earlier pagan traditions that were designed to purify crops and animals to ensure fertility for the coming year.
2. Britain’s time as part of the Roman Empire saw it exposed to many new religions
From the mid to late imperial period, towns in Roman Britain was exposed to many new up and coming cults that originated in the eastern Roman Empire. These mystery cults offered both worldly and otherworldly benefits to their adherents. Christianity was just one of those cults. No physical evidence- such as public churches and iconography- exists for Christianity in Britain before the fourth century. This lack of evidence is most likely because, before this time, the religion was illegal and adherents needed to be discrete. However, this aside, it seems Christianity had stiff competition from a variety of other eastern cults.
One of these was Mithraism, a Persian cult that had become particularly popular with soldiers and merchants across the empire. Numerous Mithraea, the semi-subterranean halls were the cult’s initiations took place, have been found around Roman forts and major Roman settlements such as London. Archaeologists discovered the London Mithraeum in 1954, in what would have been the heart of Roman Londinium. First constructed in the mid-third century AD, by the time Christianity had legally establishing itself in the fourth century, it was still going strong. Christianity, it seems, had plenty of competition for the hearts and souls of the Romano British.
1. There is a theory that Buddhism may have established itself in British before Christianity
Two thousand three hundred years ago, the Mauryan king, Ashoka became a Buddhist convert and zealously began to practice his new faith. The previously warlike king abandoned conquest and began to establish free water, aid and hospitals to his people- a fledgeling welfare state. However, Ashoka was also determined to spread the message of Buddhism. So he began to send out missionaries-some of whom made it to Ireland and Britain.
According to David Mackenzie, Ashoka’s missionaries reached Britain before even Julius Caesar. The religion did not dominate the island as Ashoka may have hoped. However, this was probably because it blended with pre-existing druidic beliefs. The Celtic god, Cernunnos absorbed certain attributes of the Hindu Buddhist god Virupaksha – such as the horned snakes both gods are depicted holding. In addition, both religions held the common belief in reincarnation.
In this way, Buddhism could have survived in Britain. Its legacy may even have been felt in Celtic Christianity. Celtic Christianity was a moderate Christianity, more concerned with compassion than winning theological arguments. Until Rome banned it in the seventh century, Celtic Christianity was the Christianity of the surviving Romano British population, successfully blendingthe old religious beliefs and the new.