Can one be both a Pagan and a Christian? Are the paths mutually exclusive, or can they be recombined in harmony? And what flavor of Christianity is compatible with Paganism? Should this new growth be encouraged? I hope to answer these and other questions in the course of this writing.
The simple answer to this question is Yes and No. It really depends on your background and approach to your spiritual beliefs. I count two sorts of Christo-Pagans: those who are of mainline Christian backgrounds and have gone Pagan, and wish to hedge their bets by incorporating Christian elements into their spiritual worship. These are Christian Pagans. Then there are the Pagans who have completely laid aside their Christian upbringing and are thoroughly Pagan, but through careful study of Christian history, reclaim those elements of Christianity that have been rejected by the Christian mainstreamers. It is the latter group that I will be primarily addressing, and who I call Pagan Christians.
I have spent many years researching religions of many sorts, including Christianity. It has been almost an obsession with me, that seeking to find the kernel of spirituality that animates faiths of all sorts. In my studies, I have discovered that religions are like facets of a vast gem, one that leads, with diligent study and deep courage and commitment, to a place closer to the Great Unknowable Deity. This is not "God" of the Bible- this is a Be-ing beyond our comprehension. Its very Name speaks volumes, we simply do not have the capability to discuss of understand it. Yet all cultures have within them the religious impulse, because all humans have within themselves a miniscule particle of this Great Mystery. And that particle yearns to return to its origins. Thus, the function of religion: an attempt to explain the unexplainable, and renew our ties with GUD.
If you would have asked me if there could be such a path as Pagan Christianity fifteen years ago, I probably would have shouted "No way in hell!" and shown you the door. You see, I was going through the anti-Christian phase that most Pagans go through on their way to their path. This phase is necessary in many cases, because many Pagans come from religiously repressive backgrounds, and active rejection of their old religion is part of the act of cleansing the negative influences off and making way for the positive ones. Its almost the polar opposite of the born again experience- but instead of snapping into a religious haze, the Pagan snaps out of the confines of old dogma. Anger and resentment and harsh criticism are the hallmarks of this unleashing of the previous faith.
Unfortunately, many Pagans get stuck in this stage, and find great glee in baiting zealots, causing controversy, demeaning other faiths (even when they deserve it), debating True Believers and generally rejecting anything remotely connected with Christianity. Sadly, this is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, many Christian faiths are overwhelmingly dogmatic, and some worship the Bible and fear the devil above God. And many sects mistake the Messiah for God, and worship him as such. And some have painted a picture of the Christ so bizarre and blurry as to be totally incomprehensible.
A mainstream Christian would agree with my early opinion- their dogma has no room for polythestic inclusion. They believe in God, and his son Jesus (the) Christ, and only what is included in the Bible. There is only one way to God, in their eyes. There is no room for compromise, and not too long ago, anyone who tried to do so paid with their lives. Fortunately such ultimate punishment for heresy (choosing) is rare today, except for the self-proclaimed fanatics who practice terroristic tactics.
So, there cannot really be Christian Pagans, but it is possible to be a Pagan Christian. How can this be accomplished? The road back to the integration of Christianity as another religion and the acceptance of its place in the Eclectic Pagan pantheon, as well as the forgiveness of the sins of the various Christian sects must begin with Jesus (the) Christ himself. We already know that "Christ" isnt really his name, its his title. It simply means "anointed" in Greek. In this case, anointed by the Great Unknowable Deity Itself, and given an envoy to bring an important message to mankind.
Yeah, yeah, youve heard it all before, he died for our sins and all that. Did he? Was that his real message to us? "I will die for you"? Or was his real purpose and life buried in a half-mythological dogmatic scam that the ancient authorities decided would be the foundation of the One True Church? Who was the real Christ, and what message did the winners in the dogmatic wars obscure for centuries? Why were certain words of the Christ considered heretical?
Here is where traditional Christian dogma and research part ways, and the road back to integration begins. If you accept the current scriptural interpretation of the Christs life and death as the only true reading of the Christs service, you will find yourself right back in the Pauline trap of sin, repression, dogma, and fear. And that is where the mainstream church authorities want you. They are, after all, doing BibleGods will, and in a few moments, youll see just what that is.
Buried deep in the Biblical exhortations of female submission, dogmatic claims of One True Way, and misquotes put into the Christs mouth by later writers and editors of the Scriptures, is the real message that the Christ was anointed to bring to us. And researchers agree that these are the words of the Christ himself: "The Kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21)
This is echoed again in the Gospel of Thomas- part of the Nag Hammadi codices:
2. Jesus said, "Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all. [And after they have reigned they will rest.]"
3. Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look, the (Father's) 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 (Father's) kingdom is within you and it is outside you.
Compare this to the Charge of the Star Goddess: " for if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without."
What? A Pagan and Christian truth in agreement? Yes! And a very basic truth, too- one with which all the dogma in the world is defenseless. God/dess is within you. You carry within yourself particles of the Great Unknowable Deity Itself. This doesnt mean that you are GUD, it simply means that you came from GUD, and the best parts of you are the tiniest parts of It. Those tiny parts desperately want to return to GUD, but are stuck here. Many ancient stories say that mankind was made in Its image, and must someday return to It; but most current religions want you to forget that, and simply obey their worldly authority. They have no interest in returning your GUD-bits to their origin.
The genuine soul-felt knowledge that God/dess dwells within you is the kernel of Gnostic (which means "to know") wisdom. (Agnostic, on the other hand means to not know.) Christian Gnosticism had many facets, some more ascetic and bizarre than others. But all Gnostic thought and practice was thoroughly supressed and named heretical by the faction of the church that won the battle of the direction Western Christianity would take. By winning and destroying the many Gnostic sects that abounded in Christendom in the first centuries of its existence, the Roman Church set the stage for centuries of repression. The Church authorities of all sects were doing the will of God, and doing a great job. And while not exactly killing the messenger- the Christ- the church authorities did an excellent job of subverting his message to their ends.
But in 1945, a jar of first-century scrolls was found at Nag Hammadi, and their impact, while not yet very widespread, has cracked the façade of dogmatic Christianity and revealed what may have been the Christs true mission and message. The Nag Hammadi codices contained books that did not make it into the final cut of the Bible. They contained words and teachings purported to be by the Christ and the Essenes that would understandably be seen as heretical, since they aimed at the very heart of the dogma promoted by the Roman Church and its many subsects and schisms.
The Gnostic Kernel is this: The Christ came to save us- not from our sins, but from being perpetually recycled by a Demiurge who is suspiciously like the God of the Bible- wrathful, egotistical, unstable, and only interested in mankind for nutritional purposes. We are born, live, die, and our souls are eaten and shat out again to run the course over and over. The layered heavens, angels, archangels and demons, and continual recycling of souls are very similar to the Wheel of Karma and other similar cosmologies of Buddhist and Hindu belief. We are fated to go round and round for eternity as long as we remain ignorant of our origin and the way back to it. Christ was sent by the Great Unknowable Deity, who is beyond our comprehension, to whisper the truth in our hearts and minds, and give us the gnosis that will return us to where we truly came from- GUD/dess Itself.
That is what we are saved from- becoming God-fodder. And that is the knowledge that Christ came to share, but which was blurred beyond comprehension and recognition by centuries of misinformation. Perhaps the Church was right in calling Gnostic thought heresy- the very word heretic means school of thought or to think for oneself; able to choose, which is simply not allowed.
So, how can this fit into Pagan religious practice? By choosing to integrate the Kingdom Within you, you have freed yourself from the chains of dogma that traditional Christianity still wants to wrap around you. Sure, this makes you a real heretic, but in choosing Paganism as your school of thought, you take back this Christian epithet and turn it back into a virtue. You can think and choose for yourself without any help. And you also free the Christ from the same chains, and can welcome him back into your rites and onto your altar and pantheon without feeling you have betrayed your core Pagan beliefs. In essence, you have tossed out the bathwater, but kept the baby. And in understanding the Christs real message, you have learned the "Ultimate God-mode Cheater Code" to keep you from going around the Wheel yet again. So if you do welcome the Christ back into your pantheon, you are not betraying your Pagan roots, because in truth, the Gnostic Christ is as much of an outsider to the traditional Christians as any Pagan.
My exploration of Gnosticism was necessarily brief to accommodate the format of this essay. Its philosophy is much deeper than what I can get into here, but contains elements of mysticism, Hermetic, Kabalistic and Alchemical beliefs. There are many sites and books that give a deeper explanation of the richness of Gnostic thought. I will list some of them for you- while I might be able to show you this path, you will have to make your own way upon it.
"The Gnostic Gospels" by Elaine Pagels
"Hidden Wisdom" by Richard Smoley and Jay Kinney
"Gnosis" magazine- now out of print.
"The Hermetica" Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy
The Gnostic Friends Network http://www.enemies.com/index2.html
Be prepared to stay awhile and have your mind blown- a very readable rundown of general Gnostic thought and belief. Fantastic links, too.
Technology is magick, as many of you may well know. Gnosticism meets "The Matrix".
An Arthurian angle to Pagan Christianity: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Oracle/2310/Welcome.htm
High Magick and the Holy Grail- very beautiful; be patient- this site is slow loading.
The Rosicrucian Order: http://www.amorc.org/
They are not a religion in the traditional sense, but their Mystery School will greatly compliment any path of study, including Paganism. They may not admit it, but they are rather Gnostic in their philosophy. Ive been a member for 17 years.
Another look at Gnosticism: http://www.gnosis.org/
A very scholarly and well laid out website, and it includes the Nag Hammadi Library!
A Little Bio
Sunfell (Lorie A. Johnson) has been a practicing Pagan for 28 years, and has studied with many different Teachers and Traditions. Among these are the Rosicrucian Order, The Silver Triskel Coven (Wiccan Initiators), the British Spiritualist Church, and the Ocali Nations Wolf Clan. She now considers herself an Eclectic TechPagan. A USAF brat and veteran, shes lived in Japan and Europe. She finally settled in Little Rock, where she keeps the Arkansas State Legislatures computers in line. One of these days, she will formulate the Grand Funkadelic Universal Theory of Everything, and this world will vanish in a puff of logic. Or something like that.
ã 2000 Lorie A. Johnson