The other day a friend’s daughter asked if I was a Christian. I explained (in words suitable for an intelligent seven year old) that though I worshipped and communed with Christ I did not call myself a Christian, as I felt my relationship with Him was not deep enough. My friend, who knows me very well, empathically interjected – she thought I was indeed a Christian.
It was an odd and unexpected touching moment. Christ and I have danced a very strange dance over the years and to be called a Christian moved me deeply for some reason. As a wee lad in Scotland I was denied the opportunity of Sunday school and thus I developed my own idiosyncratic understanding of Christian religion. This could explain a lot 🙂
Christianity, as no one needs telling, is a very mixed bag and often a very big problem. No one sensible can deny the vast amount of abuse and suffering engendered in the name of Christ or the Churches. Also, many of the tenants of exoteric Christianity range from, on the good side, ‘unskilful presentations of eternal truths’ right over to ‘you want me to believe what?”
For example, on the outer level Christianity starts with a requirement of faith. Most Churches would agree that Christianity is the religion centred on the teachings and life of JC as contained within the New Testament. However, JC’s teachings and the later words about Him/them in the Bible are all based on the assumption that God actually exists. If one does not share this assumption or has had an experience that may be labelled as or stemming from “God”, Christianity leaves one high and dry.
And this is just God, let alone the rest of it: Jesus as the only son of God, the Holy Spirit, sin etc.
Compare this for example, with the starting point of Buddhism, which basically says:
“(1) existence itself, your life, is suffering, (2) yours and everyone’s suffering is caused by wanting things, (3) the end of suffering comes about with the cessation of wanting things, (4) the way to cease wanting is X…dot…dot…dot.”
These are simple, direct teachings that exist on their own, that can be tested and found true or wanting by anyone, without reference to another article of faith, an older Testament, the assumed existence of God etc.
For these and for many, many other reasons I have never formally committed myself to a Church. No matter how I try and swallow it, the exoteric Christian pill will not go down. And these are some of the reasons why, in a post-faith secular society, Christianity continues to crumble whilst Buddhism continues to climb.
However, the western esoteric tradition is essentially Christian in form, feeling and function. There is no other way of cutting it, and for all the Pagans out there, I am sorry, but this is the way it is. The Romans won and they destroyed most European pagan religions as they expanded their Empire(s). Exoteric Christianity came a little later, moved in and made Europe its home. Goodbye Paganism.
There were virtually no Pagan survivals of substance. There were no hidden Witch meetings or Pagans giving each other the nod in Church before scooting home to an evening of hidden celebrations and rustic sex under the hedgerow. We only have to look at the English Reformation and the acts of Henry VIII to see how quickly the religious fabric of a nation can be altered and virtually erased when the supreme authority decides to ‘make it so’.
The bedrock of western consciousness, mysticism and esotericism has for centuries been Christian. Early in my esoteric life I denied this truth, identifying as Pagan. However, as I moved through the esoteric path I, like millions of others focused on Christ and not the religion.
So for many years my relationship with Christ was private and not very deep, and I still cringed when discussing religion with most Christians; we were just not in the same book, let alone the same page. However, in 1992 I was invited to present at a weekend camp on the work of activist, Witch and all around good woman, Starhawk. The camp was run by the Creation Spirituality Network and here I met Christians who were on the same page; some in fact were in the same sentence and more Pagan than the Pagans I knew 🙂
Creation Spirituality has flowered due to the work of Fr Matthew Fox, whose vision of Christianity is so different to what is bandied around in most Churches and schools we can hardly call it the same religion. Naturally this has led to a little friction between Matthew and the Churches. He was investigated for heresy by the now Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger (none was found) and eventually, as he says “given a pink slip by the Pope”. I won’t go into his vision and ideas here; if you’ve not read his books, please do, especially Original Blessing.
So through Creation Spirituality, though the network never held any Christian events, JC and I became a lot closer.
Matthew though, for all his greatness and brilliance, is a visionary, a dreamer, and inspirer of practice, not a teacher of mystical experience. For this I had the good fortune a few years later to come across the works of Neil Douglas-Klotz, particularly his work on the Aramaic Jesus. Now here was something that resonated and drew from the same sources as the western esoteric traditions, that was in essence a modern version of them.
Neil is a mystic, a writer, a dancer, an embodied teacher of the Blessings of the One. If you have not delved into his work, again, please do. If you ever get a chance to Dance the Lord’s Prayer as composed by Neil, you must take it. When we helped to host Neil on his first trip to Perth in the mid 90’s I gained a deep and lasting appreciation of the mystical roots of the Western traditions and their focus through Jesus. My relationship with Him changed, expanded and is still receiving the blessings of that contact with the living Aramaic tradition of Christ.
Having established a deep and mystical connection with Christ my esoteric unfoldment naturally expanded considerably: after all the Inner Order of the Golden Dawn is a Christian Order. Secure in my connection, I ventured out into the real flesh and blood world of Churches.
There is probably not much to say here that has not already been said. One of the saddest moments was my attendance at lunchtime communions at St George’s Anglican Cathedral in Perth. Israel Regardie once complained how his Adept initiation was ruined by an officer reading out the ritual like a shopping list, without feeling or energy. That is good compared to how the Priest and Deacon doled out the Body and Blood of Christ. The liturgy was rushed through, spoken as fast a possible with an obvious desire to get it over with. There was no reverence, no love, and no presence of Christ. I am amazed they continue to bother.
However, the Anglican Communion lived up to its reputation in providing extremes within the same Church. I once attended the most glorious and profound experimental Eucharist with Rev Evan Pederick, consuming the Blessed Sacrament to strains of the Eurthymics, The Miracle of Love, which is of course what it is all about.
However, in my cynical moments I am still with that anonymous Bishop who once said that the only good thing about being Anglican was that it didn’t interfere with your religion or your politics.
For a number of years I attended regularly at the Liberal Catholic Church in Perth. Wishing to partake of full sacramental communion, and not wishing to be Confirmed, my options were very limited and the LCC allows anyone who seeks the Blessing of Christ to take communion with them. I enjoyed my time there, the services being very varied. Mostly I attended the small spoken services held early mornings by Fr David. These were very simple, very touching and full of the presence of Christ, due largely to the faith, prayers, inner work and love of Fr David and the few members of the community who attended.
Now the LCC is a particularly funny beast, started largely by and for Theosophists. You can read all about it on the net of course. What I found interesting was the continuing reverence given to one of their former presiding Bishops, C.W. Leadbeater. He was spoken about with utmost veneration and never once was it doubted he was saintly, noble, honest and completely accurate in all his clairvoyant visions. This is despite ample evidence and proof that he was active sexually with young boys under his charge, likely to have been engaged in homosexual sex magic and woefully inaccurate in his predictions and descriptions of the inner side of matter (for example see the Elder Brother). I stopped attending the Church after Fr David left, as it was very hollow without him.
Outside of my little temple the tension between modern esotericism and Christianity is very noticeable. Many contemporary magicians are anti Christian not in any overt Satanic way, but mostly as a reaction to the perceived wrongs of Christianity both on a personal and social level (and as for the Pagans…). Sadly, there is a lot of this reactive force in the western esoteric traditions (and as for the Pagan paths…)
One personal example: there is a brilliant Golden Dawn ritual, the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram which is one of the most effective daily practices in the Western tradition. Over the years I have seen many lives changed, healed and enlarged through this ritual. It is however based on the Jewish and Christian mysteries. Every time I teach it, there is at least one person who has a problem with it, either with asking for Archangelic blessings or the form of the Cross or even saying ‘Amen’ (some Pagans use Aum or ‘Amenti’ – to so avoid staining their precious lips, I guess).
This resistance has resulted in the creation of many ‘Pagan’ lesser pentagram rituals most of which are as near to ritual rubbish as you can get, as they totally miss the point that it is through connection with the Jewish and Christian mysteries the ritual works. Those people who, despite initial problems with Christianity, engage in this ritual often also find their religious outlook broadening and their reactive issues with Christianity falling away. Such is the love of Christ, even for those who don’t actually like Him:)
Esoteric Christianity itself however poses a number of problems. Mostly these centre on the exclusivity of the Christian Revelation. Take for example the point of view espoused by Fr Greg Tillett in his New Age or Old Faith. Now Greg probably has forgotten more about western esotericism and occultism than I know and is reported to hold several magical lineages. However, for him the Christian message is simple:
“Christianity makes a number of exclusive claims: it does not represent itself as one religion among many, as simply a better alternative, let alone an equal option. Jesus declared: No man comes to the Father except by me. One can accept or reject that claim, but the claim is clear and unambiguous.”
What is the non-Christian to do with that? However much I admire the boldness of the statement it remains an issue of concern.
Gareth Knight, one of the wisest Christian magicians around simply declares that Christianity is the best religion, not the only true one, just the best revelation. He is of course comparing Christianity only with other revelations…(as for the Pagans…). Naturally we all think our system is the best (or equal with the best); otherwise we would do something else.
Some Christian occultists go the other way, relegating Christ to another Master among many, but remaining focused on Him as a personal preference.
My own way out of this impasse was found years back when reading about a guy visiting William Blake (don’t ask me for a reference, this was when I was 17 or so, and I remember only this). This guy, a committed Christian, tried to ‘trap’ William by asking straight out if he accepted Jesus Christ as the only Son of God. To which William replied, “Oh, definitely He is. But, then so are you, and so am I”.
This reality, this eternal truth, can only be experienced not discussed. The best and most direct way I know of is extensive meditation on this phrase from St Bonaventure, used in Christian based Golden Dawn Orders the world over:
“God is the circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere”.
This meditation also holds the key, along with the Holy Qabalah for the reconciliation of Theistic esotericism such as esoteric Christianity, monist esoteric schools and non-theistic esoteric Buddhism like the Vajrayana. Through this reconciliation Christ is, was and always shall be, and like all, is empty of intrinsic existence. Again experience only here and I am blessed to have received teachings, Christian and Tantric, to help me slowly and stumblingly gain this experience. This mystery is, of course, present in the Eucharist instituted by Christ Himself and re-enacted every day throughout the world 🙂