I’ve been wanting to do this post for a while. But one hesitates when writing about overtly ‘Christian’ topics for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is the ever present concern that some folk may see this as proselytizing or positioning ‘Christianity’ as a better path than others. Such is the legacy – even within modern esoterica – of intrusive evangelism and the refusal of some anti-Christian folk to let go of their prejudice. More importantly is the awareness I have limited understanding and qualifications in these areas.
However, I do want to try and be clear here for the simple reason I find it hard discussing the Incarnation with many Pagans, magicians and other folk. They simply do not get it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I personally think most Christians don’t get the Incarnation either. And to be fair it is a mystery, which means we cannot fully get it. At all, at all.
First off and most importantly – and it’s bloody hard to remember this with all these well-meaning literalist Christians spouting off all the time – the Incarnation is a myth. It is irrelevant if it ‘did’ or ‘did not’ occur in space-time 2013 years ago. It is beyond temporal conditions (yet impacts upon and redeems temporality). It is ‘always’ happening; it occurs ‘once upon a time’ – as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Right? :)
A major problem comes along when polytheistic Pagans* approach the Incarnation of Christ and see it as equivalent to the ‘incarnation’ or physical manifestation of various Pagan gods. The most common example is one or more of the various ‘dying and rising gods’ of the Mediterranean basin and Europe, the common underlying mystery of which undoubtedly influenced the Christian myth. Even if we consider this concept a valid categorization, which the consensus of modern scholars do not, Christ has never been seen as an incarnation of a single god out of many within a polytheistic pantheon. He was and is the incarnation of a monotheistic God, the One, the All (to rather haphazardly borrow some Neo-Platonic terms, though the identification is not fully accurate).
Pictorially, let’s have a look at this with one of the gods most equated with Christ, Horus – through the atrocious spectacle of the Zeitgeist internet video and meme. (BTW if you’re gonna take issue with me on this, please do better than Zeitgeist as it has been comprehensively trounced, see this post).
So here’s Horus, and let’s just say he is also a man, like Christ… though the hawk head sorta gives him away…but let’s say. Even if Horus was at some point incarnate on the earth, as a man of flesh and blood like Christ, like Vishnu and other ‘Hindu’ deities… even then, he is but one of many Gods. Who presumably did not feel like slumming it ‘down’ on earth for a lifetime or so. Christ however is God, the big cheese, the whole burrito, the full whizz bang.
Now please be clear, in stating this I am not saying Christ is in anyway more ‘full’, ‘complete’ or ‘powerful’ than Horus (or any god). What I am saying is that Horus exists within, and only makes sense, as part of a polytheistic mystery (unless we see him as a godform). Christ only makes sense as part of a monotheistic mystery, (unless we go all syncretic with saints and candles and skulls and local deities). Comparing the two, Christ and Horus (or any other god) will always produce limited understanding of both, for there are different mysteries at the back of them.
Now of course, we are free to look at the monotheistic paradigm and say, ‘hang on a minute…this is a load of bollocks’. But we are not free to try and understand, let alone engage in dialogue with, good Christian folk without accepting they believe it. There is no point, as a few obnoxious Pagan folk do, coming along armed with ‘correspondences’ between the myth of Christ and other gods. They simply do not fit – unless we insist on seeing Christ as a polytheistic deity, which is NOT how most Christians relate to him at all. At all.
On the other hand, Christians cannot approach Pagans without in some way trying to understand that their Gods are real. Not spirits or angels in disguise. Not imagination. Not precursors or substitutes for Christ, but ‘really real’ Gods.
Now I hope I have not lost too many readers, for this where it gets exciting. In addition to the theological discrepancy between Christ and pagan Gods mentioned above, the main reason we cannot compare the two is the human end of the equation. Christ was, and is, fully and completely human. Like you. Like me.
In Christ the human and the divine meet. He is fully the One, and fully human. He suffered from anger, fear, and other human attributes and was also fully divine at once. Had he not been crucified, he would have lived on, and died a natural death – like we all will, as all humans do. The two, the divine and the human, do not mix or co-mingle but exist in what is technically called Hypostatic Union, two natures in one ‘person’. This is why Christ fully suffered and fully died as he was crucified. There was no use of a ‘get of jail free’ card ‘cos he was also God. Nor did he use his Baby Jesus Power to quell the pain or fear. It was a fully human experience. Yet at the same time he was divine.
Now this, when we think about it fully, kinda does our heads in. For this reason Hypostatic Union is also called ‘mystical union’, where the word ‘mystic’ is shorthand for, ‘Hey, we know this defies human comprehension. Relax. Do your best.’ :)
In orthodox, not – and I stress this – ‘esoteric’ or new age Christology, the import and function of the Incarnation is the transformation of personhood into God – the birth of the divine and undying Self within each of us as our true self ^.The Incarnation, in Christian theology, is what makes us divine and human at once.
In process terms: Perfection and Unity (the One) became imperfection and suffering (Jesus as human) to deliver each of us a path to return to Perfection, for the fulfilment of Love. Or to put it in different language:
For I am (Ehyeh – the One)
Divided (experience as a human)
For love’s sake (the main theme of Christ’s mission)
For the chance of union (the potential of humanity’s entry into ‘Heaven’ – unity with the One).
This little comparison with the words of Aiwass shows both the influence of Christianity on Crowley’s interior world (which I explore a little in this lecture) and also that, at root, all traditions draw from the same truth. Now, of course the Christian understanding of the Incarnation described here is a bit different to what we may find in our local Sunday church. Alan Watts (who was a classically trained Episcopalian priest as well as promoter of Eastern philosophy) writes:
This, however reluctantly and grudgingly admitted by theology, is the actual dogma of the Incarnation, and the dogma is always that which constitutes the authentic form of the myth the rest being individual opinion. (Myth and Ritual in Christianity, p.128).
That is to say, this is authentic Christianity at its core. Moreover, another aspect of the Incarnation is as vehemently rejected by regular Churchianity – the sanctity of the body, of all matter and all flesh. By the Incarnation, our bodies are sanctified and redeemed, become pure and holy. In fact, the Incarnation means we cannot separate humanity from divinity, the body from the sacred. Our body and our divinity are one. To quote words I believe put into the mouth of church father Athanasius, but still summarising his understanding:
When we worship, we do not separate God from the flesh for we know God was made flesh.
‘We do not separate God from the flesh’. Sounds kinda Pagan, eh?
The Incarnation, when properly understood, was unlike any other conception within the various religions Christianity developed alongside. It has certain parallels within a few streams of Vaishnavism, but nothing there is so clearly developed. The Messiah within Judaism is not considered divine in the same way Christ is. The various classical ‘Pagan’ religions and philosophies offered numerous conceptions of divinity and humanity. A few like Stoicism held an essentially Pantheistic view of the universe which is a whole different ball game in and by itself, where all is either divine or not.
A few mystery religions had similar conceptions of the mixed nature of humanity – divine and earthy – but by and large most ‘Pagan’ religions drew clear distinctions and firm barriers between Gods and men. One would approach the Gods through sacrifice and other means which enabled a co-mingling of the two worlds, mundane and sacred, but the two did not exist as one within each and every person by virtue of their own nature. Even Hellenistic and Roman apotheosis rarely raised the status of individuals to the exact equivalent of the Gods, and it certainly was not available to the general populace, let alone the plebeians and the slaves. So the Incarnation concept was, and is, a radical spiritual concept.
However, the most important thing of all is this: a mystery needs to be experienced.
Theology may describe a mystery within intellectual and temporal concepts. Myth points to a mystery. But ritual, prayer, communion, ceremony, enactments – these are required to actually ‘get’ a mystery. And this is where most of us in the modern west fall down. The mystery of the Incarnation, like the related mysteries of the Trinity, the Immaculate Conception and the Crucifixion cannot be understood by simple belief or ascribing to theological doctrine.
No one can understand the Incarnation (or any mystery) without experiencing it interiorly. So when I write, things like “By the Incarnation, our bodies are sanctified and redeemed” I am not referring to any sort vicarious gift bestowed upon us, but rather an invitation to work the mystery and to know its effects in your life. This is the same with all mysteries. So when next a Christian evangelist is annoying you, remember the chances are they have never actually experienced the core of their faith. Harsh, I know, but true. So really, we cannot make judgements about the Christian religions when our understanding of it stems from folk who have never experienced it as mystery. It’d be like crapping on Wicca because of the stupidity of a ‘Wiccan’, who had never been to a Drawing Down, spouting on about the Goddess.
Finally, of course there exists within the world a few blessed souls who can, via art and poetry, love and life express some taste of the mysteries to us. I cannot think of a better way of pointing to the mystery of the Incarnation than this poem from the sainted Symeon the New Theologian. :)
We awaken in Christ’s body
as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.
I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly
whole, seamless in His Godhood).
I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous? — Then
open your heart to Him
and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
we wake up inside Christ’s body
where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly, real,
and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed
and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.
* I know there’s a whole variety of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ polytheistic Pagans, and even those who don’t consider the Gods as real, and it’s all been a bit of debate recently – but that’s another topic, and way too much for me to go into here. Look it up. Google is your friend.
^ If you’re thinking of the RR et AC Adeptus Minor initiation, there’s a reason.