Religious Diversity in Sixth-Century Hispania

Catholic State was built in 589 year by king Reccared through the Third Council of Toledo. For Spanish nationalists, it is the starting point of Spanish nation. Also, the Catholic State built in 6th Century was the model for Catholic Monarchy and defending of Catholicism against heresy, fight against Muslims and convert Indians was the political legitimation for Spanish Empire. The ideology of National Catholicism, central axis of Franco’s Dictatorship, was linked with Catholic State building in 6th Century. Nevertheless, there was quite religious diversity in Iberian Peninsula in those times.

Native European Religions

Firstly, we can find a lot of expressions of native European forms of religiosity. This is that is known as Paganism or Heathenism; pre-Christians religions of Europe. Against what is thought, the native Europeans religions were majority in the Early Middle Age. In the case of Iberia, we have the indigenous cults of Celt and Iberian tribes, more or less Romanized. Besides, the Greco-Roman religion, although it was displaced in the cities due to Christianization, was still alive among Hispanic-Roman population and among Byzantines. It was a European spirituality linked with indigenous cults of Iberia, but influenced by Eastern religions and, whereas the indigenous cults were a mainly rural spiritual path, the Greco-Roman religion was urban and civilized religion. Greco-Roman religion had presence in Iberia since Greek colonization in 6th Century BC, but it was developed with Roman conquest.

El espíritu del Lince

ritual a los dioses manes

On the other hand, we have the Germanic Heathenism, which was majority among Suevians and Goths, especially in the countryside. Despite the fact that the Gothic nobility had been becoming Christian, the people still believed in the old gods. The same happened with Alans, who mainly remained themselves Pagans, so we have the Iranian Paganism among Europeans spiritual paths with presence in Iberia too.


blot eslavo

Eastern Cults

Secondly, we have presence of Eastern cults in Iberia since the times of Phoenician colonization. Some of them were very important in the Old Iberia, as Melqart’s temple in Cadiz, associated with Heracles by Greeks and Romans. Furthermore, there are a lot of cities in Spain which were founded by Phoenician or Carthaginians, as Malaga, Cartagena, Almuñecar, Adra or Alicante, and of course there were sanctuaries and temples inside those colonies. The Eastern Cults were still present among Arabs, Syrians, Egyptians or Chaldeans traders in coastal cities. Judaism and Early Christianism themselves were Eastern Cults which arrived Iberia among traders and slaves.

becerro de oro


Thirdly, we have Christianism as the main religion in Hispania. However, there was not only one form of Christianism, but a lot of sects and heresies. Christianity was stronger in the south, and especially in cities, when bishops had replaced the Roman authorities. The majority of Hispanic-Roman nobility was Christian. Nevertheless, in the north of Iberia and in the countryside, far of being majority, Christianity was residual. There were not monasteries in the north until Third Council of Toledo and there was only one bishop in Pamplona. The Northern tribes of Iberia were still Pagans in 6th Century without a doubt.

Among Christianity, we have two main sects. The Roman Christianity, known as Trinitarianism in this time, which was majority among Hispanic-Romans and Byzantines; and the Gothic Christianity, known as Arianism in this time, which was majority among Germanics. Gothic Christianity was in theory the Arian heresy, but the version of Arian Christianity preached by Ulfilas was more in common with the old Germanic religion than Arian Christianity. A part of those sects, we have Priscillianism too, a belief system developed by Priscillian, derived by the Gnostic-Manichean doctrines. Priscillianism was a lot in common with the old Celts beliefs and it had a strong presence in Gallæcia, but was considered heresy by Roman Church. Finally, we have other sects less important.

cristianismo primitivo


Fourthly, Judaism is the other Abrahamic monotheism which had presence in Iberia. We should remember that Islam did not yet exist. Hebrew was one among other nomadic groups in the Middle East. Their religion was similar to Phoenician, Assyrian, Babylonian, Akkadian and other Semitic folks. Atenism or Amarna heresy in Egypt, as well as Zoroastrianism in Persia, influenced in Hebrews, building Judaism as a result. In the Antiquity, Jews was been as one among other religious groups, but a few Romans saw them suspiciously due to their customs. Jews basically arrived Iberia as traders, like other Eastern people. After Jewish-Roman Wars, a lot of Jews established in other places, in a process called diaspora (from Greek διασπορά, “dispersion”). There was suspicion toward them by Romans, which was increased which Catholicism.

In addition, Church of Rome was the heiress of Roman Empire and the Roman hate against Jews was transferred to Roman Catholics. There was not special rejection against Jews among other Christians, like Arians; but for Roman Catholic, Jews were the Christ’s murderers. The first sample of anti-Judaism in Hispania was in the Council of Elvira, in 4th Century. After Third Council of Toledo, a brutal persecution was unleashed by the Crown. Reccared tried to exterminate Jews as well as heretics and pagans. In conclusion, the Jews’ persecution after Catholic State establishment was motivated only for religious fanaticism, as well as would occur later in all Christian Europe, included Spain.

sacerdotes judíos

Demonic Cults

Finally, we have to speak about demonic cults. First of all, the majority of sources speaking about demonic worship o Satanism were ecclesiastical sources. This means that in most cases, demonic worshippers were actually Pagans and demons were actually the old gods. However, is there any truth in the Catholic propaganda? Probably yes. In the Late Middle Age the Devil worship was an anti-establishment reaction among the popular classes, but probably the origin was in the Early Middle Age. On the other hand, the destruction of Pagan wisdom had as a consequence that the old practices were mixed with Catholic propaganda about Paganism. For this reason, a plenty of old gods worshippers became demons worshippers and both spiritual ways were considered mainly as anti-Christian reaction among peasants. As an example of survival of the old religion and its mixing with Satanism or witchcraft we have the trial for witchcraft of Zugarramurdi in 17th Century. This phenomenon of considering Satanism or Paganism only as an anti-establishment reaction in popular culture is similar to the black metal movement nowadays.

Nevertheless, we can difference at least three types of demonic cults in Middle Age. Satanism, nowadays, is seen like a materialist or atheist philosophy, influenced mainly by the Satanic Bible of Anton LaVey, written in 60s years of 20th Century. Nonetheless, before and now, Satanism is actually a primitive reaction against Christianity and against Church. Satanism does not have a complicated philosophy or theology behind it; it is only an esthetical pose for edgy people, mainly teenagers. In my opinion, it was very similar in the past, medieval Satanists were actually primitive rebels showing their hate against Christian society. They mixed probable satanic ideas with old religious practices and popular black magic.

On the other hand, we can speak about Luciferianism, more linked by ruler class than the people. Luciferianism is a belief system that venerates the essential characteristics that are affixed to Lucifer. Luciferianism usually revere’s Lucifer not as devil, but as a liberator, a guardian or guiding spirit or even the true god in opposition to Christian god Jehovah. Lucifer is, for those believers, similar to Prometheus in Greek mythology: the archetype of magician, illuminator, or guide who leads the worshipper to left hand path. Luciferianist does not find salvation, but knowledge and self-transcendence.

By last, we can speak about Demonolatry too. Demonolatry is that we popular call make a pact with the devil. Demoniac worshipper choice the way of evil, he trusts in a demoniac creature, in the forces of the evil. Probably this phenomenon existed since the night of the times. Some individuals, the majority of time lonely, find the easier way or find some gifts in the chaotic or evil (from a Christian point of view) forces. The majority of the people fears these forces and tries to protect themselves against them, but others find them for several reasons. The primordial chaotic forces were represented in plenty of mythologies, for example in Nordic mythology as ettins, jotnar or trolls. These forces represent the atavistic fear in mankind whereas the gods represent the protective Holy Powers. In my opinion, the best examples of this in literature are the Great Old Ones of Lovecraft. The Cult of Cthulhu is an example of how some people pray these chaotic and destructive forces. Demonolatry is linked with this.

Aquelarre (Goya)


As a conclusion, before the building of Catholic State there was a big religious diversity in Hispania, which survived in spite of the brutal persecution. We can distingue between native European religions, Eastern cults, Christianity (and among it Trinitarianism, Gothic Christianity and Priscillianism, apart from other heresies less important), Judaism and demonic cults (and among it, Satanism, Luciferianism and Demonolatry). Probably, the border between different spiritual ways were no clear in popular religiosity, mixing the old practices with the new religion and mixing the old paths with the Catholic propaganda about “demonic cults”.

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Acerca de josemvisigodo

Licenciado en Historia por la Universidad de Granada con un máster en Claves del Mundo Contemporáneo y otro en Profesorado de Educación Secundaria. Apasionado de la Edad Media y en especial de la época de los reinos germánicos de la Alta Edad Media y de los visigodos en particular. También me interesa la historia de las religiones y del pensamiento.
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3 respuestas a Religious Diversity in Sixth-Century Hispania

  1. Nombre Propio. dijo:

    Oye, te han baneado en twitter o algo? Porque hace días que no te veo.

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  2. Nombre Propio. dijo:

    Por cierto, he leido el articulo por encima y parece interesante, no tienes la versión en castellano?

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