I recently blogged about reading Jesus Through Pagan Eyes: Bridging Neopagan Perspectives with a Progressive Vision of Christ by Reverend Mark Townsend, a former C of E priest now Christian priest and Druid. Whatever your beliefs, be they Christian or Pagan, Muslim or Jewish, I believe you can learn something by reading this book.
This book has really given me reason to think not only about Jesus, but other prophets, holy men, and ascended masters from religions around the world.
There are many of these people who have lived, but a tendency across the board is to discount as “non-truth” those things which were said by someone outside of our belief system while promoting as “absolute truth” those things which were said by someone within our belief system. Never mind that they are all saying essentially the same thing! Be kind to each other. Take care of those who need taken care of. Feed the hungry. Heal the sick. Love your fellow man.
Now, I have openly stated I am not searching to become an enlightened human being, so this next statement may sound a bit strange. I do believe that there are people who have lived and who are now living who have achieved a state of Divine Enlightenment. These aren’t the people shouting it out over the rooftops. “Look at me! Look how much better I am than these other less developed humans. ”
Nope, these are people quietly going about their lives. Living each day fully, with all of its ups and downs. They sometimes have doubts, and fears. Sometimes they question. But always, at their core, is an inner strength that comes from feeling a heart-to-heart connection with Spirit. And that strength doesn’t have to be verified through others, it doesn’t have to be compared or contrasted. It. Just. Is.
In Theosophy, they are called Ascended Masters. In Buddhism, they are called Boddhisattvas. In Catholicism they are called Saints. Most though have no special title at all.
Jesus was one such person. So was Mohammed. So was Buddha. So was Confucious. So was Mother Theresa and St Hildegard of Bingen.
So too, I think, are some people you’ve probably never heard of. I think my cousin, Amanda, is one such person. Amanda holds within herself a strong connection through Jesus, the Christ figure, to the Divine Spirit. She doesn’t post up cute pithy memes declaring her faith on Facebook. She doesn’t try to convert. But, every day, in her actions and her comments, she demonstrates her love for her fellow human being and she does her best to follow the teachings of Jesus.
She doesn’t do what she does because she wants people to found a religion around her. She doesn’t expect that others to emulate her and she doesn’t hold herself up as being above others. She, just lives her life. And there is much to be admired in that.
But, back to this book.
In the third section Mark conducts interviews with several big names in the Pagan communities (I say this plural because there is no single cohesive Pagan community), many of whom I have heard and several others who were new to me. These are not people I would consider across the board to be the most representative of Pagans, but they are the ones who have perhaps been the most visible.
I thought I would put my own hand to answering some of the questions these people were asked.
What is your spiritual tradition?
Mine is a combination of the whole of my life experiences. These days, if I try to name what I follow at all I call myself a first generation, fam-trad Pagan. I consider my religion to be Pagan. Witchcraft by itself is not a religion by my definition.
I was initiated as a third degree High Priestess in the Blue Star Tradition back in 1998 and when I do religious ritual with my family this is the format I use, with a few personal modifications.
My spiritual beliefs are also strongly influenced by the work I do as a healer. I have received training to master-teacher level in Reiki and also training and experience in shamanic healing methods. I consider myself more to be an Energy Healer than anything else.
Pagan is not something I do, it isn’t a coat I can take on and off when the mood fits. Pagan is one of the pieces that serves to create the whole which is Me.
As a Pagan, I believe that the Divine is all things. Not that is is present in all things, not that it surrounds all. It is All. Note the similarities between this and what nursing theorist Martha Rogers, PhD had to say about Energy Fields in her Theory on the Science of Unitary Human Beings.
Energy Field constitutes the fundamental unit of the living and the inanimate. The energy field is infinite. Rogers discusses two in particular. The first is the human field. Human beings do not have an energy field but rather they are energy fields. The environment is also an energy field. Neither field can be reduced any further.
I believe that both are attempting to give word to the same thing. The Divine energy which we call God, or Allah, or Spirit, or Soul is this Energy Field which creates everything.
Was Jesus a part of my upbringing as a child?
I was raised for the most part in the Methodist Church. The town I grew up in had only 2 churches and everyone either went to the Methodist Church or the Baptist Church on the other side of town. My grandmother was active in the church for most of her life, teaching Sunday school and going to Bible study groups. Religion was not something she preached though, it was something she tried to live. While I don’t always agree with everything she did, I have found a lot to admire in her convictions.
Christianity was never something that was forced upon me and it wasn’t something that was lived. It was something you did. On the other hand, it wasn’t something that was used to get good behaviour. I didn’t hear messages of “God is gonna get you!” inside my childhood home.
The God of the Old Testament Bible in my mind was a God of jealousy and retribution, a God who tested his followers in somewhat unfair ways at time (Job spring to mind), setting them up for failure and then punishing them for it. This wasn’t a Being I could envision myself ever following or worshipping.
Jesus taught another side though. His was a God of love and compassion, of forgiveness, of acceptance. This was a God I could get behind, if not for all of the followers who came afterwards.
Is Jesus important to me at all today?
Not particularly. I greatly admire the teachings which Jesus gave, but feel they have been perverted and twisted by Christian religions today. There are a lot of people proclaiming to be doing things in Jesus’ name which completely contradicts his original message of love for all and tolerance and acceptance, and I have to wonder what Jesus would think about it. I cannot help but think he would be as angry as he was when he turned the money lenders out of the temple!
I also don’t think that what Jesus taught is unique. At their core, the prophets and poets of every religion taught the same message .
Do you think of Jesus as a historical person?
Yes, I do believe that this person ages ago did live and walk around on this Earth. I also believe that he did great things. I also believe that what he did is something that all people can do.
Part of my proof comes from historical records which have been found that corroborate the books of the New Testament Bible. Things like the 20th century discovery of the 1st century writings now called the Gnostic Gospels. Things like the writings of contemporary writer Josephus.
Other of my proof comes from past-life memory. I have a single vague knowing of memory that tells me in a previous lifetime, I was one of the women who lived and followed the man, Jesus during his 3 years of teaching. Not proof that I can produce and point to and say “There! This is absolute proof!” But, it is sufficient for me.
Do I see any different between the terms “Jesus” and “Christ”?
The first is a man’s name. The second is a title bestowed upon him by others. I do not think that Jesus would have ever called himself an enlightened man. This was something that was placed upon him by others after his death.
Jesus, the man, was a living breathing human being who once existed. Christ is a mythological creation.
Jesus was one person, with all of the greatness and failure that comes from being fully human. Christ is a seeking for perfection, something that cannot be reached because the goal has been put so far out of reach to be unobtainable. It is another way of trying to explain and describe the Divine Source which imbues the Whole. It is something that All can find if they look within their own Soul.
Are the historical Jesus’s teachings reflected in the modern-day church?
Sadly, no. It isn’t churches as a whole I see trying to live a life that is more “Christ-like” it is individuals. There is a phrase, which unfortunately became trivialised “What would Jesus do?” It is used as a reason for hating and rejecting, but it’s meaning is so much more. Individuals who actually stop and think- what would Jesus do in this situation, who look not at what church dogma tells them but at what Jesus actually taught. These are the people who are following Jesus. These are the people are trying in their own humble way to live as Jesus asked them to live.
Do any Pagan traditions or concepts reflect the spirit of Jesus better than the church?
I wouldn’t say there are Pagan traditions or concept that reflect this better than the church, but I would say that there are such that reflect the teachings of Jesus in a similar way. In the same way that there are teachings from other religions which reflect the sirit of Jesus’s teachings.
In Doreen Valiente’s ‘Charge of the Goddess’ we are told to seek the Divine within ourselves.
“From Me all things proceed and unto me all things return. Beloved of the Gods and men, let My worship be in your Heart. Rejoice, for all acts of love and pleasure are My Rituals. Therefore, let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you. And for you who are seekers, know that your yearning and seeking will avail you not unless you know this mystery. If that which you seek you find not within yourself, you will never find it without.”
Compare this to what Jesus said in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas:
“If those who lead you say, ‘See, the Kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea”, then the fish will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.”
And from the teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama ” The Buddha”:
“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”
From a Sufi Muslim:
“The Sufis also say that only when man comes to a realization of himself and dives deep within the inner Qur’an, drinking from its essence, will the truth of Muhammad be revealed to him in his meditation. Only when he reaches the state where he speaks to Allah alone, can he be said to truly exist in Islam. When he attains that state of communion with Allah, he will understand that the Qur’an and the holy books are his own body, the inner mystical form of a true human being. Such a man will understand the inner meaning of al-hamdu lillah, which is the praise of the inner form of man.”
And this from Muslim traditions:
There is a tradition that once a person came in the presence of the Prophet (S) and told him that he wished to ask certain questions. The Prophet asked him whether he wanted to listen to the answers, or if he wished to ask questions first. He asked the Prophet (S) to give the answers. The Prophet (S) told him that his question was concerned with the meaning of virtue and goodness. The man affirmed that he intended to ask exactly the same question. The Prophet gently knocked the man’s chest with his three fingers, saying: “Put this question to your own heart;” then he added: “This heart is so made that it is harmonious with virtue; it is put at ease by virtue and piety, but disturbed by vice and villainy. In the same way, as presence of an alien disharmonious object in the human body causes uneasiness and discomfort, and disturbs its order, the human soul is thrown off its balance and ease on account of faulty behaviour.” What is commonly called the pain and torment of the conscience, is the same state of inconformity and alienation of the soul:
- [For an honest insight] ask your own heart, though the masters may have their own (different) opinion.
What feelings or thoughts does the Christmas story conjure up in you?
Christmas for me has always been more a secular holiday than a religious holiday. Even so, I actually enjoy reading and watching nativity plays which commemorate the mythology around the birth of Jesus. Knowing at the same time that theses myths have their origins in earlier mythologies of the region. This does not make the inspiration which people find in the myth of Jesus’s birth any less meaningful for them. Because at heart it isn’t the myth that is important, it is the message that came with the myth. Here was born a child who became a great man, who taught us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves, who taught us to give without expectation of reward, who taught to seek God not in physical structures and not as something that is “out there”, but as something that is found within.
I associate Christmas with being with family, for good or for bad, sharing love and acceptance with others.
I celebrate Christmas today as a secular holiday and I celebrate the Winter Solstice as a religious holiday. Though both are somewhat intertwined. Really, I see little difference in saying that I am celebrating the rebirth of the Son of God and saying that I am celebrating the rebirth of the Sun God.
And the same for Easter?
Easter has a holiday really holds no particular meaning for me. In my mind it is this over focus on Jesus death which makes most of Christianity for me little more than a death cult. I would much rather focus on what he did when he was alive. The myth of Jesus coming back to life is for me just that, a myth, Reflected over and over again in the mythologies of the surrounding cultures – Mithras rose from the dead and so did Osiris.
In the Northern Hemisphere in which I live, Spring is a time of rebirth or growth of renewal. It is a time to celebrate the reawakening of the earth as Winter’s mantle is shaken off. It isn’t a time to be celebrating death.
Do you have a favourite story, arable, or teaching of Jesus?
Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.
Jesus put himself between an unruly mob holding rocks which they were going to throw at a woman who, in their mind, had committed a great sin. The culture of that time made that mob judge, jury, and executioner. That woman had disobeyed a rule of that society and been caught. By rights, they were going to put her to death.
We’ve all seen images of mobs caught up in an action. These were the people who stormed The Bastille and executed the prisoners within. The people who take to the streets calling for the death of Muslims in the wake of 9/11 and most recently after the killing of an army soldier on London street. There is no mind, no thinking. And to put yourself between this headless creature and the object of their focus is an act of extreme bravery, or possibly stupidity.
But, Jesus did just that. He stood between that group and that woman. And he told them – Let the one among you who is without sin, be the first to cast judgement upon this woman.
And none could throw that first stone. None could in his heart state unequivocally that he had not sinned.
Another story which has stuck with me perhaps because of the work I do as a healer, is that of the leper who reached out and touched the coat of Jesus and was healed. That man’s faith in the healing work Jesus could do was so great that he did not need to even be healed directly. All he had to do was touch the hem of Jesus’s clothing.
Now, I don’t know if it was touching the clothing that brought about healing, or if it was just being within the healing Energy Field which Jesus projected about his person. This was but one of many acts of healing which Jesus did, acts which He himself said could be done by any man who believed strongly enough. While I may or may not fully believe the actual event happened, as an Energy Healer, I fully believe that it could have happened. I absolutely believe that we each and every one of us have the ability to use the Energy which is us to heal, and to do “magic”.
Who do you suppose Jesus was? Was he a Jewish teacher, a divine prophet, a miracle worker, or what?
I believe that he was all of the above.
Jesus, the man, was a teacher and a healer. Jesus the Christ was a divine prophet, channelling the word of God. He performed what we call miracles because we don’t understand how he did them.
I also believe that he did nothing that we, as mere, human beings, are not also capable of doing. A recent meme I shared on Facebook says “I am realistic, I expect miracles.”
To which I say:
“In a special effects world, too many expect that miracles will come with flashes of light and a great musical fanfare in the background. They don’t see the quiet, simple miracles happening every day around them, or attribute them to coincidence.”
What lesson do you feel the modern-day Church needs to hear from Jesus the person?
Love one another.
Not, love those who believe like I do. Not love only those from my tribe, my church, my belief system. Just, very simply put, love.
Love your neighbour as you love yourself.
Of course, this also includes loving yourself.
Is it possible to be both Pagan and Christian?
No, I don’t think so. It would be akin to being a Jewish Christian, or a Buddhist Muslim. There are similarities between these religious beliefs, but each is a different path to the Divine. I do not hold that one is better than any other, but one who tries to follow two at once will find himself being too many times conflicted and confused.
However! There is nothing at all to say that someone who is Pagan cannot also honour the Christ-figure within his practice.
Jesus is an important figure in 3 separate religions – Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. I see no reason why he cannot also be an important figure within a Pagan practice.
And a second however! I do think it is possible for someone to be a witch and a Christian. This is because witchcraft is not a religion, it is a magical art. Spells can be just as effective if they are invoked in Jesus’s name as if they are invoked in the name of any of the hundreds of Gods or Goddesses found in the Pagan pantheons. I see no difference at all between using prayer and using spells to create change in our world.
What, if anything, can modern-day Pagans learn from the message of Jesus?
Look beyond the dogma within the churches to the words that were spoken by the man and the deeds he did. Here is where you will find wisdom.
What can Christians learn from modern-day Pagans?
I believe that there is an imbalance in the modern Christian religion because it has for so long ignored and stifled the Divine Feminine. It has eliminated the Divine Mother completely and this is reflected in modern societies in their unequal treatment of women. Paganism can teach Christians how to see and how to honour the Divine in both male and female aspects of the whole.
I would encourage you to think about these questions for yourself. And if you feel so compelled, please feel free to share some of your personal answers here or in your own blog.
- Why Pagan? (writingsofapaganwitch.wordpress.com)
- Pagan origins of the “son of God” saviour (gift2christians.wordpress.com)
- Revd Mark Townsend
- Mending My Relationship with Jesus (part 2) Spiritual Orkney – A Place of Pagan Pilgrimage