Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain. (Galatians 4:8-11)
The Galatians were in danger of going back to paganism. After all, how can they "desire again to be in bondage" if they were not in bondage in the first place? And surely they had not previously been in bondage to the Jewish law (see Bacchiocchi quote below).
The RSV has an interesting translation of verse 9, translating "beggarly elements" as "beggarly elemental spirits." "Elemental spirits" could indeed refer to Pagan practices of worshipping other gods.
Let me quote Samuele Bacchiocchi, since he is much more the scholar than I: "It is generally agreed that the Galatians' observance of sacred times was motivated by superstitious beliefs in astral influences. This is suggested by Paul's charge that their adoption of these practices was tantamount to a return to their former pagan subjection to elemental spirits and demons...Paul's concern was not to expose the superstitious ideas attached to these observances, but rather to challenge the whole system of salvation which the Galatians' false teachers had devised...by conditioning justification and acceptance with God to such things as circumcision and the observance of days and seasons..." (The Sabbath in the New Testament, page 122.)
He goes on to state that this is works-based salvation dependant on "human achievement." Galatians 5:4 seems to back up this interpretation: "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace."
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