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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.
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.
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.
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