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Henge Happenings
Issue #86
Beltaine 2010

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  Issue 86
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From the President
My Response to a Blog or “The Blogger Meets the Bear”

From the
Vice-President
,
Greetings All!

The Bard’s Path
Cleary Cut by Autumn Rose
Silver Moon by Karl Schlotterbeck

The Druid’s Path
The Pagan Jesus by Karl Schlotterbeck
The Irish Druidic Creation Story by Searles O’Dubhain

From the Keltria List
Being a Pagan

Reviews:
The Sacred Isle

Review www.keltria.org on alexa.com

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The Druid's Path

The Pagan Jesus

Having brushed against a number of religious and spiritual paths over the years, I have noticed that many people use religious labels to define their personal identities -- but often do so in a symbolic rather than a communicative way. Such labels seem to be used more to mark where one belongs rather than what one is – a form of boundary to set oneself apart from one group and to indicate with which group they want to be identified. In reality, most of these boundaries are imaginary.

One such imaginary line in the sand is the moving boundary between Paganism and Christianity. In my reading of history, such boundaries were not so terribly important, but only became so when certain groups established "purity laws" and endorsed practices that, they claimed, distinguished them from their less-desirable neighbors. Because of its complexity, one can hardly do justice to this topic in a brief article such as this, and any number of books could be written regarding the details of these concepts and their history. I will attempt, however, to present some of the highlights of my reading of history that have led to these conclusions.

Jews and Christians have not been in the only ones, by any means, but they have become our example because of their prominence in our culture. These boundaries were early laid down (as I read history) by the struggle between early Christianity and the Hebrew establishment, as each codified its cannon of scripture, and selected its target audience and requirements for belonging. Similar boundaries were established by Hebrew tribes to distinguish them from the indigenous Canaanites whose lands they took over. Their boundary at that time served to establish their own center of authority and to discourage their tribes-people from being seduced into loyalties to Canaanite deities and practices. In addition, the Hebrew people have gone to great lengths to distinguish themselves from the ancient Egyptian culture from which, by their own history, they emerged.

The teachings of Jesus (whose actual name was something similar to "Yeshua") grew out of his context within Judaism, and apparently intended at first for the Jewish people. (There are legends of his travels in India and in Egypt, but they do not concern us here.) Because of resistance from the religious establishment of that time, the Jewish nature of the Yeshuite movement broke down and it became open to Gentiles, and an eventual drawing of a new boundary between Hebrews and the now-Christians. The followers of Yeshua were then forced to distinguish themselves not only from their Hebrew origins, but also the Pagan Roman and Greek influences of that time -- until Christianity became a tool of the Roman state under Constantine. As they accepted their evolving identity; however, Christians brought with them Hebrew and Pagan concepts of sacrifice, teachings of the earlier Hebrew Scriptures, and the idea of a "chosen" people (among other concepts noted below).

As the Hebrew tribes earlier had done with regard to Egypt, so did Christianity portray itself as something new and special -- even as it carried forward and adopted Pagan practices and mythologies. Let’s look at some of the specifics.
Many of the ideas claimed by Christianity as its special mythos include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Virgin birth
  • The Ever-Virgin Mother of God
  • Baptism
  • Miraculous healings
  • The Son of God on earth
  • A hero's position in a cosmic play
  • Sacrifice of the first born
  • The "scapegoat" that relieves the people of their sins
  • Suffering, three days absence, and reappearance
  • Various holidays, particularly those of Christmas and Easter

Both Christians and non-Christians (or at least most of them) believe these elements to be Christian in nature. However, each of these existed prior to the adoption of them by the early Jews and Christians. In that regard, there have been times in history when various fundamentalist Puritan sects attempted to expunge some of these recognizably Pagan elements from their practice of Christianity. So, let’s look at the Pagan origins of some of these nominally “Christian” motifs.

Son of God: The concept of the Son of God on earth, born of a virgin, is found in the history of the Egyptians who considered each Pharaoh to have been conceived not by a physical father, but by the particular deity that the Pharaoh represented on earth.

The ever-Virgin Mother of God: This was a fairly common concept of matriarchal cultures around the Middle East.

Baptism: Baptism was, according to the scriptures, the central ritual of a Jewish reformer of the time (John the Baptist). What's more, baptism was a fairly common practice among other non-Christians for the purpose of cleansing and initiation.

Miracles: Miraculous healings and "magical" acts were quite common in the time of Yeshua as evidenced by historical and biblical references to others who were perceived as competitors to the "official" disciples.

Sacrifice of the First Born: This often means giving the first born into service to the local temple and not necessarily to death, and was another common concept in the ancient Pagan world. Also related is the ritual of the "scapegoat" in which the sins and troubles of a village were heaped upon a goat after which it was driven out of the village.

Bread as the Body of the God: Grain gods (such as Egypt’s Osiris) were expected to die so that there could be life – as happens with the grain-seed. A communion with bread is in line with Yeshua’s statement that the bread he shared with his disciples was his body. That the wine was his blood also suggests his identification with the elements – similar to the Celtic concept of the “God of the Elements” and the “God in the Elements.”

Cosmic Hero: Nearly every savior-hero of the people is portrayed as playing a central role in some great cosmic play - usually a struggle between good and evil or marking the advent of a new age. One of the early competitors to Christianity was the Roman religion of Mithras. The Mithraic religion - for males only - was popular with Roman soldiers. Largely secret, it appears that they celebrated a communion with round cakes; and they celebrated the story of Mithras’ struggle with a great bull after which he lay as dead in a cave for three days before his re-emergence. This motif of three days of disappearance, common in many myths, has been related to the cycle of the moon.

Holidays: It is fairly well known that the birth of Yeshua was set by the church hundreds of years after his time. Because of the already-existing popular celebrations of the birth of Mithras, the Roman Saturnalia and other heroes “born” at that time, the solstice (Rebirth of the Sun) was chosen for Yeshua’s symbolic birth as well. Similarly, the celebration of Easter occurs when it does because of its connection with the Jewish Passover. But Passover is not tied to a date. Rather it comes after the first full moon after the spring equinox. Traditions of the Easter Bunny, eggs and new clothes are reflections of the rebirth of new life (in the Northern Hemisphere) after the dead of winter – and “Easter” is a derivative of a goddess’s name.

Sunday Services: The tradition of worshipping on Sunday was set by the Roman Emperor Constantine because Sunday was the day for celebration of Sol Invictus – the Invincible Sun. Seventh day Adventists attempt to negate this Roman tradition by insisting that the proper Christian Sabbath is Saturday.

Misogyny and the Spirit-Matter Split: There are additional elements ascribed to Christianity such as misogyny and the imagined split between spirit and matter (with the feminine identified with the "inferior" status of matter). These ideas did not originate in Christianity, but came directly out of the Pagan Greek and Pagan Roman (particularly Latin) cultures. Modern Pagans can see in some of these elements of Christianity a reflection of their own early errors. This does not absolve traditional Christianity from these errors, for it remains responsible for having used them to its advantage.

From a distance, it would be easy to see Yeshua/Jesus as yet another form of the expression of divinity, as well as his mythos as an expression of a particular combination of already-existing Pagan elements. To be fair, we should separate the teachings of Yeshua from the actions and teachings of those who came after him. The core of the Yeshuite teachings – as I read them – included such ideas as liberation from the letter of the law, forgiveness, healing, and his one commandment to “Love one another.” In fact, he taught that their love for one another would show who his followers were.

One could - whether Pagan or Christian - easily celebrate his pristine teachings and practices without becoming entangled in the way many of his followers used him for their own purposes. Similarly the wide range of nominally Christian beliefs and practices is so great that it is not difficult to find Christian groups who have an essentially Pagan orientation to life, as we may still find in some of the Celtic world.

I’ve been deceptively speaking of Christianity (and Neopaganism) as if it was a monolithic, homogeneous entity (violating my own warning about labels). The spectrum of those who call themselves Christians is probably at least as broad as those who call themselves Pagan. There are Christian religions that do not portray Yeshua/Jesus as a “savior,” but as a Great Teacher. They do not separate spirit and matter, but consider the Divine inherent in everything. They are deeply concerned about our violations of the earth. They view mind as a creative force and creation as an on-going “project” in which humankind is a co-creator. Thus, anyone who uses the term “Christian” without defining it is invoking a label-of-belonging rather than communicating substantive ideas.

There are, in our modern world, Christian witches who will long remain hidden because they are subject to bigotry and persecution from both sides of this artificial Neopagan-Christian boundary. These invisible people could be a bridge spanning this unnecessary gulf, but for the world’s attachment to the labels. An irony here is that many Neopagans have taken seriously this line drawn in the sand by the early Hebrews and Christians as if it were real when it was (is) a political move to establish "party loyalty" and the Judeo-Christian myth of separateness. These boundaries belie a common origin and similar mythologies among many of the peoples of the world. In short, the distinction is artificial and unreal.

In the end, I would assert that no sectarian religion can rightfully lay claim to ownership of any of these elements of human experience. They are part of our relationships with each other, with Nature, and with something inside us that ever expresses and reaches toward Divinity.

dp-

 

 

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