Paganism and Christianity – more short and personal views

Gerald Gardner

Now the thing with Facebook and suchlike social media is that I get exposed to a lot of stuff I would never ordinarily see. Being associated with both the Christian and Wiccan-Pagan communities this is very interesting, as I am constantly being forwarded stuff from one that misrepresents the other. As I wrote to a friend the other day, considering the fact during the same period Gardner that was (re)creating Wicca he was being ordained as Christian Priest by JSM Ward, there really should be no antagonism between the two faiths. Sadly, however there is.

A while back I wrote a post, Short rough and ready thoughts on Wicca and Christianity, to give my perspective on some of the common themes and ideas often missed by either “side” in this relationship. Today I want to briefly outline some further issues I see that limit real dialogue and understanding. Now, I have read little on Christian-Pagan dialogue, and am mainly coming from my own experiences and those shared with me, for what they are worth. Really, this is an opening salvo inviting response. 🙂

First off, as many wiser folk have noted, I discovered as a kid there were and are many different Christianities. Christianity is actually far more diverse than modern Neo-Paganism; its dominant form in any time and place just tends to hide the other forms very, very well.  For instance, did you know there are Christians who still sacrifice animals? Well, there you go. And that many Christians don’t actually think US Republican Mitt Romney is a Christian at all – his membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints puts him well and truly outside the pale of ‘proper Christianity’. There you go.

So when we talk about ‘Christianity’ we are being very conditional as really about the only thing that unites ALL Christians is their use of the name. To say ‘Christians believe… or the problem with Christianity is…’ is like that saying ALL Pagans work in circles, believe in the Great Mother and Horned Lord and have a three degree initiatory system. It is that limiting, and really, that useless. So for the remainder of this post, I am going to adopt St Bob’s suggestion and refer to ‘sombunall’ Christians and Pagans – ‘some but not all’.

The Great Commission

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)

One of the comments that inevitably comes from sombunall Pagans when discussing this topic is some variant of: “I’m fine with Christians; if they leave us alone, we’ll leave them alone”. Now, as I discussed in my previous post, this is a tricky one. A key article of faith for sombunall Christians is what is called ‘the Great Commission’ – where there is a requirement to spread the Good News, even if only through living a good Christian life and staying stum most of the time.

Sombunall Christians really think that unless we are all saved by accepting Christ’s love we have a nasty road ahead of us. They are sharing their faith because they genuinely care about the rest of us. I think we have to accept this, even if we do not understand it or like it. I came to this realisation at 16 watching my ‘Mormon’ friend cycle off each weekend in 35c heat to share his religion in the face of hostility and threats . I was impressed at the commitment and over the years have wondered what it would take for most Pagans, including myself,  to do something similarly active.

Sombunall Christianity is a missionary faith – it sets out to share, proselytise and offer its religious forms and wisdom to all who would take them. This rather annoys sombunall Pagans. Interestingly though sombunall Pagans are not so annoyed by the contemporary superstar missionary faith in the west, Buddhism, particularly Tibetan Buddhism. And from anecdotal experience, I’d say there are far more ex-Pagan Buddhists than ex-Pagan Christians around. So the Pagan community has little to worry about, methinks.

And just some personal experiences: despite the occasional run in with wild eyed loony Christians over the years, on a sheer number basis I have had more problems with other Pagans and magicians than Christians. Sombunall Pagans and magicians think their way is the way as much as sombunall Christians. Christians didn’t break into my old Order’s lodge rooms; Wiccans did. Christians didn’t vandalise my friend’s house for his anarchic views on Wiccan authority; Wiccans did. Christians haven’t abused me up hill and down dale on the internet; magicians have – the naughty, naughty boys 🙂

Christianity as the Way

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)

One the main stumbling blocks to Christian-Wiccan/Pagan understanding is this doozie above. The line seems incontrovertible and very clear, unless we want to go all esoteric on it – like the Golden Dawn does, incorporating it into the wonderful Adeptus Minor initiation. John 14:6 leads many (but not all) Christians  towards a mode of thought expressed well by the Rev Dr Gregory Tillett, someone with plenty of esoteric as well as Christian experience:

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.

However, other mainstream non-esoteric Christian scholars have a different take on the matter. The video here is of Marcus Borg whose Christian credentials are impeccable and if you take the time to watch it all, you’re in for a treat. However, for our purposes, watch from about 41 minutes onward to get a sense of a different, but traditional approach to this stumbling block of a scriptural verse.

Borg emphasises the practice of Christianity as the Way, a term used by the original adherents of any number of religious forms, Taoists, Buddhists, Christians included, to describe their path. When Christ says he is the Way, his indentifying his personhood, his being as the method of living life fully connected to the One (God) – for Christians. As Borg says, the Way is different for different religious forms, but all are Ways to approach the Mystery.

These passages which speak of Salvation being only in the name of Jesus and so forth reflect the centrality and the utter decisiveness  of Jesus in the lives of these early Christians. These statements that Jesus is ‘the only way’ can be understood as exclamations of devotion flowing out of the experience of having found access to God through Jesus…. this language is best understood as the “poetry of devotion and hyperbole of the heart“. … Those statements are a little bit like the language lovers use for each other: when the lover says to the beloved, “you’re the most beautiful person in the world!.

Borg continues with this telling statement, “whenever one makes doctrine out of hyperbole one is creating problems”. This is exactly what has occurred with this passage and its contemporary explanations. I know many Christians who are lovely people and try to be open and loving towards members of other religions, but stumble over this (and a few other) passages which seem to suggest Christianity is the Way for everyone, that there is “no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

It is only by realizing that Christianity was once, and in my humble opinion should still be, about practice not belief, that we can get away from the confines of limited, out-of-context- exoteric translations of passages like these. Taking these passages on face value and developing a doctrine where one can only be saved “in the name of Christ” is, as Borg says, “almost talking about salvation by syllables”. Now of course, there are sombunall Christians who engage openly and honestly in inter-faith dialogues, who are lovely people and who do not agree with Borg – who still think Christianity is the Way in an objective, sense. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 🙂

The Old Religion (and I don’t mean Catholic)

Officially ‘a Good Book’ 🙂

One of the things I find confusing is that sombunall Pagans keep on insisting their religion (and in a few weird cases their practice) is older than Christianity, and somehow therefore better. This does not make for a pleasant inter-faith dialogue, any more than sombunall Christians insisting their religion is better ‘cos the Bible says so. Now the actual facts of the matter are clear: the inspiration for Neo-Paganism may or may not be ‘older than Christianity’ (and in the case of Paganisms like the Church of All Worlds it certainly isn’t) but the religions are new. And, in my opinion all the better for that – which explains why Paganism as a modern religion has no problem with modernity whereas pre-modern religions, like sombunall Christianity does.  If we examine the actual history of the religions themselves, most pre-modern Paganisms would not be attractive to most modern Pagans. The entrails and forced worship of divine Emperors alone would be a drag 🙂

I was fortunate that as I was typing this, the Emissary for the Secret Chiefs (and those who really control the Internet), Morgan Drake Eckstein wrote a great blog post outlining some of the same points: Witch trials and the survival of paganism. So scoot on over and have a look. On a related note, have a look at Wicca and the Christian Heritage: Ritual, Sex and Magic which shows just how much the two religions have in common, in some ways.

Giving to each other

To finish I thought it’d be nice to suggest one ‘gift’ each religion can give the other, among many others for sure.

Sombunall Christianity offers to Paganism a rich history and heritage of religious thought and exploration on divinity, humanity and life. As I’ve watched the Pagan community develop over the last 30 years to include academic courses, chaplains, conferences etc, I often see explorations of territory covered centuries ago by the Church Fathers and Mothers. And it’s all recorded somewhere 🙂

By being a modern manifestation of the eternal Mystery, sombunall Paganism offers to Christianity an opportunity to witness a revelation of divinity in a culture recognisably our own; urban Britain of the early 20th century. It provides a chance for Christians to see the unfoldment and expansion of revelation in real time, with people who are our neighbours rather than ancient gentiles and Jews, and within our own backyard rather than history books, and perhaps a spur to imagine how different Christianity would be if it was revealed today, right here right now.

Thanks 🙂

14 comments

  1. Mike Howard · August 29, 2012

    IMHO this conflict between Christianity and ‘the occult’ and paganism is a relatively new thing. The ‘old school’ occultists like Dion Fortune, Christine Hartley and W.E. Butler combined Christianity (albeit not orthodox) with pagan sympathies. Also dual faith observance is found in some forms of modern traditional witchcraft. What is important is making the difference between Christianity and Churchianity and many neo-pagans confuse the two. I would recommmend Dr Joanne Pearson’s book to modern Wiccans and neo-pagans who are anti-Christian.

  2. Andrew · August 29, 2012

    An elegant overview of a lot of the issues. We can’t get away from the idea of the Burning Times, which I heard cited in a metaphysical store last night; and Christians can’t get away from the Great Commission — which was the core text of the fresco around the principal eastern window in the seminary where I was trained (before I found that the Light can be found in many other traditions, paganism included).

    When I was last in Scotland, the CoS was having their triennial or quadrennial conference, and the “re-paganization of Scotland” was cited as front page news in Edinburgh as a leading challenge to Christianity in the next ten years. I have to say, during that trip there always seemed to be at least one “ye olde pagan shoppe” in business in every town.

  3. Matt Baldwin-Ives · August 29, 2012

    Thank you Peregrin for another thought provoking article !

  4. Tabatha · August 29, 2012

    Great job, Peregrin. This article is soooooo good! As a mystical Christian who has as many Pagan friends, fratres, and sorores as Christian ones, your article should be required reading for everyone in the community!

  5. Peregrin · August 29, 2012

    Thanks, folks 🙂

    @Mike – I agree with you re the difference between Churchianity and Christianity. I am glad ‘dual faith observance’ (as you have noted previously) is still happening in Witchcraft. Do you have a book or article on it? Or have I just sown the seed for one? 🙂

    @Andrew… thanks. Wow, “re-paganization of Scotland” as an actual challenge. I had no idea. This is very interesting… thanks for the info 🙂

    @Matt, thanks for the kind words 🙂

    @Tabatha… you are very kind … I am glad you found something useful… and yes, I would love these ideas to be talked and read about more 🙂

  6. Pingback: Lessons in truth – Muin #ogham #pagan | Seraphimia
  7. Mike Howard · August 30, 2012

    You may well have sown the seed for an article at least on dual faith observance in historical witchcraft and modern traditional witchcraft! There is a book called ‘The Black Toad’ written by a traditional witch called Gemma Gary recently published by Troy Books http://www.troybookc.co.uk that contains some of this dual faith material in the modern context of her magical praxis . If one looks back at the accounts of the witch trials and in folklore the oldtime witches were not calling on pagan gods and goddesses in their spells and charms but the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the Virgin Mary, Jesus and the company of saints. That is why some modern traditional witches don’t regard themselves as ‘pagans’ or following a ‘pagan religion’. Robert Cochrane said that witchcraft was not paganism per se ,but it did contain elements of the old Mysteries.

  8. Peregrin · August 31, 2012

    Thanks, Mike. 🙂 Yes, I have seen this myself. One of my old teachers (originally from the Norfolk-Suffolk border) used the Christian elements exactly as you describe. He never described himself as a cunning man or a charmer (or anything else) but he was certainly part of that tradition. I am curious about the adoption of the Witch identification though. From my understanding, historical cunning folk were clear they were NOT Witches – if only to avoid trouble and problems with the authorities and wot all. That seems to be carried over even to my teacher back in the 80s; he was very careful to dismiss links to Witchcraft and Paganism and displayed an almost antagonist attitude to what he called ‘real Witches’, and found modern Neo-Pagan Witchcraft greatly amusing.

    I’ve looked at the link… thanks, very interesting – definitively something to look at 🙂 THANKS

  9. thefirstdark · September 1, 2012

    Reblogged this on The Darkness in the Light.

  10. Pingback: Review – Paganism & Christianity – A Resource for Wiccans, Witches and Pagans by Gavin Andrew « Magic of the Ordinary
  11. Celtic Fire · September 6, 2012

    Thanks for the compelling and thought provoking posting Peregrin. I like what Mr Howard says on this too! Recently revisited the Boscastle Witchcraft Museum for the first time since the flood and was delighted to find a display on Christian magic. Enlightened!
    There does seem to have been a recurring “baby with the bathwater” issue with many occultists’ attitudes to Christianity recently. In stretching out to grab the prize of a brighter future I can’t help but fear that a number of us risk losing those vital things gifted to us by the great mystical religions of our predecessors. I’ve noticed with many folk in paganism, Wicca and some lines of ceremonial today that there is an almost pack-like tendency to throw out everything associated with the Abrahamic religions irrespective of intrinsic worth and beauty. This “guilty by association” avenue risks a great deal. The awesome beauty of Sufism and the working practicalities of Qabalah are two such treasures which I really hope don’t get lost because of some Aquarian New Age zealots intent on creating their own “Bonfire of the Vanities” or burning of the great library of Alexandria! We are at risk of being left with some beautifully shiny shells that hold little spiritual substance.
    I often ponder the question as to how we can best achieve a new synthesis of past, present and future into a sort of “New Hermetic Paganism”. People who want one often try to deny and decry the other! People who hold one way often despise the other! At times a bit like the “My God is bigger than your God” song on the old Spitting Image show (UK television satirical puppet show from the 1980s).
    Perhaps one way forward would be to develop a philosophical restatement and reframing of the perennial wisdom found in each in terms of more contemporary thought and language? Not sure if anyone is really working on that basis at the moment but would be delighted to hear any pointers. That said, the attempted harmonisation of Paganism and the Abrahamic religions, particularly Christianity, failed to find a solution at least once before. Perhaps this is because in the past, converting and crusading Christianity has rarely seen itself as being just one of the many sides which present the perennial wisdom. In this, the old paganism in its highest aspects was arguably better.
    If we’re going to crack this one, we now have a task before us which will require courage, wisdom and divinely inspired creativity. However, I’d like to think that any resultant philosophy which combines the best ingredients of Christianity and Paganism in a vital, dynamic and progressive manner will be well worth the effort.
    I get a sense that Christian Gnosticism and Sufism might provide some basis for future mystical contacts and could possibly offer an acceptable interface with the pagan systems from which it emerged. Anyone got some spare time to loan me to explore this?
    PS What about Ficino? 🙂

  12. Pingback: Response to Interfaith Services of The Low Country « Magic of the Ordinary
  13. Pingback: Paganism and Christianity « WiccanWeb
  14. Pingback: Why Would A Pagan Need a Bible? - BaedonWebz

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s