Imagine Jesus Holding Hands with the Goddess

I am not satisfied with any “mainstream” version of Christianity or any particular Tradition within the Craft movement as being an adequate spiritual path for our times. Using Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled as an objective measurement, both fall far short of what is needed.

One cannot talk about both Christianity and the Craft in the same breath IF if one defines them in such a way that they share no common ground at all. Certainly a Christology that defines Jesus as the Lord of Glory, a god who has temporarily taken on a physical body (and that is the theology of the Gospel According to John), cannot easily, if at all, be reconciled with worship of the Lord and Lady of the Craft or any other pair of divine lovers. However, those are not the only possible definitions.

After about 50 years of working on this problem, I see that one of the best ways to redefine Christianity is to use the fragmentary evidence we have about what the original followers of Rabbi Yeshua ha-Notsri believed about him. (By the way, “Notsri” meant and still means “Keeper” [of the commandments], not “of Nazareth”; thank you,  Deborah.)  Basing an argument on fragments is usually a big No-No in serious scholarship, if it is “special pleading,” in which one looks for positive evidence that will support an hypothesis that one wants to be true, while also thinking up reasons to discount any negative evidence. One can convince oneself, and the inadequately skeptical, of the “truth” of almost any proposition by this method, which is also known as “wishful thinking,” is a universal weakness of the human mind, and is the reason why Sir Francis Bacon invented scientific method.

However, that is not the situation for early Christian history. We have only fragments because, as is an undisputed historical fact, the Roman Church, as soon as it was given governmental power at the Council of Nicaea, went about systematically destroying the writings of all the other varieties of Christianity that had existed up to that time. We have the Nag Hammadi library, a collection of Coptic translations of Greek writings found in a jar in a cemetery in Egypt in 1945, only because the monks of the nearby monastery, knowing that the Roman Censorship Committee was coming to burn them, buried them in hopes that some future generation might find them and learn what their beliefs had been. My friends, we are that future generation. Another dozen relevant documents were discovered, usually in monastic libraries, starting about the middle of the 19th century. There are other clues in writings of the second and third centuries CE. Putting them all together, we can see at least the outlines of a very different sort of Christianity. We can deduce that we have not yet found the most important of the documents that once existed.

As Paul Ricoeur said, we cannot understand the scriptures of a different faith community if we read them only to refute them, only to study them as if they were a specimen of a different species. Instead, we must read them with an open mind, open to the possibility that what we read may change us forever.

We have a moral responsibility to look at these “Gnostic” writings with an open mind, to see if they might be as spiritually authoritative as the documents that were later assembled into the New Testament collection. Can we read them as Holy Scripture, not as curious ancient documents to be studied, but as teachings we need to apply to our own lives?

[Let me stipulate that right here there could be volumes of footnotes, citations, qualifiying statements, cautious arguments, about all this, but I will cut to the chase, to give you the highlights of what we can now know, saving the documentation for .some time when I have nothing more interesting to do.]

Rabbi Yeshua’s original followers, comprising his family, friends, and students, who called their faith community the Way, believed that he was the ordinary son of Mary and Joseph, commissioned by God as the True Prophet by his private epiphany after his baptism by John. Apparently he did have some sort of “conversion” experience out in the “wilderness,” of exactly the sort studied by William James, so perhaps on one level of his preaching he was hoping to inspire others to have that sort of experience also, and therefore to get it that surrendering to the will of God makes the impossible possible. Of course, people who have never had such an experience, and who don’t believe such an experience is even possible, will not understand that.

As Rabbi Harvey Falk argued in his Jesus the Pharisee, and as the great Hans Kueng spent the first hundred pages of his To Be a Christian arguing, Jesus was a Rabbi of the House of Hillel and continued preaching the humanistic ethics taught by Hillel. The Rabbis whom Jesus denounced for their lack of compassion.were those of the House of Shammai, long-time enemies of the House of Hillel.

His followers did believe that, after he had been murdered by the Romans, at least one of their number had seen him alive again. They did believe that. There is no other parsimonious way to explain how their community began.

His followers continued to be observant Jews and were not considered to be heretics by other Jews. It was the new version for the Gentiles invented by Paul, whom Jesus’ original followers considered to be an apostate from the Law, that became “orthodox” Christianity.

As I argued in my earlier series of blogs entitled “Aphrodiphobia, the Sistime Heresy, and Ecstasy,” the few statements in the gospels that seem to be negative pronouncements about sexuality have been mistranslated and misinterpreted.

The Gospel of Philip states flatly that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers—that is the only honest translation of the Greek word koinonos.

“Magdalene” did not refer to the town of Magdala, which had a different name at that time. Andrew Smith, the son of my student John Smith in St. Rose, LA, working with his Rabbi looked up the root MGDL for me and found it in a psalm. It meant “towering” or “magnificent.” It was a nickname, like “Rocky” or “Sons of Thunder” or “Twin.” I think the intended meaning was “my tower of strength.” As he walked to Jerusalem, knowing the Romans would kill him—that was just common sense; the Romans were thugs, worse than the Nazis—I can imagine her walking beside him.

The story that Mary was the first to see the risen Jesus at the tomb is probably not historical at all (if she was the first to have that vision, it would have been back in Galilee), but it does show that Mary was far more important in the beginning of the church than one could guess from the gospels as we have them, although one can see that she was the leader of the women students.

Hippolytus states that the Naasenes (probably a scribal error for “Nazarenes”) in Alexandria had many writings that Mary had received from James, Jesus’ brother. That is, they traced their apostolic authority through Mary. Her community believed that it was Jesus and Mary who were married at Cana. (On the other hand, he may not have wanted to marry her legally, because the marriage laws would have made her essentially his property, a concept that he specifically rejected, instead defining marriage as a state of spiritual union, of “making the two into one.”)

The Gospel of Mary and other writings state that Jesus had given her some teachings that he did not give to the men students.

It is clear from Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies, Book III, that the Alexandrian community believed in and practiced sacred sexuality, and it is highly probable that these beliefs do go back to Jesus’ original teachings.

The Alexandrians had a beautiful myth that Sophia, the female creative energy of the divine, became incarnate in Mary Magdalene, that, as the Father sent a Son in the person of an inspired prophet, so the Mother had sent a Daughter in the inspired person of Mary Magdalene.

They also had a myth that creation began with the physical lovemaking of the Divine Male and the Divine Female, and that when we have sex, we are participating in the work of creation. They believed that having sex is the most important act of worship.

If we can see Jesus and Mary as a passionate married couple, then we can see them as divine lovers, like Ishtar and Tammuz, Shiva and Shakti, or other manifestations of that archetype, and thus as a special case of the concepts of the God and the Goddess in the Craft. That is the common ground. This is a concept of a spiritual path quite different from the conventional paths of either Christianity or Wicca.

A central aspect of my Goddess Murder novel is its proposing a theology/myth in which Aradia is the incarnation of Sophia and Jesus has become Lord of the Dead.

Jesus was accused of being a Witch! That’s what the term “you have a devil” meant. Jesus called that accusation an unforgiveable sin of blasphemy because he believed that the spirit he possessed was the Holy Spirit, whom he called his true or heavenly mother, and who had entered him at his baptism.

I know there are already Christo-Pagans who are exploring how to combine the best of both these paths; maybe I’m reinventing the wheel. I have also discovered Mormons who are working on combining their faith with Wicca—which is not as hard as one might suppose. The LDS faith and Wicca share much more common ground than most members of either community are ever aware of.

Let me emphasize again that the belief that sex is evil or even wrong in itself at all was the first and worst of all the heresies that corrupted what I now am pretty sure were Jesus’ original teachings. It will be an immense task to reverse 2000 years of such corruption, but the effort to do so began about 150 years ago and is still gaining momentum.

  • rmmcgrath1975

    “I have also discovered Mormons who are working on combining their faith
    with Wicca—which is not as hard as one might suppose. The LDS faith and
    Wicca share much more common ground than most members of either
    community are ever aware of.”

    That’s not surprising. Both were created by Freemasons and are both heavily influenced by Freemasonry…

  • Soliwo

    Do you think that this reading of early Christianity has anything new to offer to Wicca? And if yes, what? Does it only offer one more example of male/female polarity, or do you truly have an interest in Jesus’ teachings. I am curious to what draws you gnosticism in the first place. I still associate gnosticism with spirit over matter and a distrust of the physical world in general. Is that prejudice on my part?

    Personally I have no interest in Christianity whatsoever, only to the extent that some family members and friends are Christian and I want to connect to them somehow (although usually it seems better to leave out any Christian talk). I am not Wiccan though, and thus this male/female polarity does not really offer any bridge between me and my Christian acquaintances.

  • Eric Devries

    I left the LDS church at 18, went through a Thelemic phase, then Goddess worship and then it gets harder to label. When I started incorporating elements of hoodoo into my daily practice I was able to reclaim Christ and started worshiping him again. I have an icon of him on my nightstand next to Brighid. It works for me and that’s the central thing. I don’t shape my practice in a way wherein I am trying to avoid elements that are shared with Christianity any more than I try to shape it in a way that embraces them. Either way it seems like allowing a religion I’m not involved with to have a say in my beliefs and practices. Remaining open to wisdom from a lot of sources keeps me right spiritually and Christian mysticism and Gnosticism are fascinating to me.

  • Deborah Bender

    My first attempt to post these thoughts disappeared.

    I agree with your first statement. Christianity’s shortcomings are well known. Gardnerian style Wicca was not intended to be a full service religion for families and communities. It is a spiritual path for a select number of highly motivated adults who have already got ethical moorings and have time for a good deal of psychological work. Most people have no interest in traditional Wicca and would not benefit from practicing it.

    Wicca has the possibility of developing in several directions. One development which is well underway is to popularize it by stripping out the mysteries, the systematic work on psychic development and the commitment to a group. The motivation behind pop-Wicca is primarily commercial. I do not expect this version of Wicca to last out the century.

    Your current project appears to be developing Wicca into a mystery school within Christianity, analogous to Hasidic Judaism or Sufic Islam. Such a path would appeal to people from Christian backgrounds. There is some evidence that early Christianity was a mystery religion; the flowering of mystical Christianity in Northern Europe in the late middle ages and early modern period was highly creative, but is a spent force. I don’t see why you shouldn’t give it a go, but it’s not likely to take root unless you have colleagues or disciples who are practicing Christians.

    There are also efforts to broaden Wicca into a religion that can be practiced by entire families and larger groups without sacrificing its mystery elements and coherence. The NROOGD had some ambitions along those lines. I am impressed with one such effort which I came across late last year on The Wild Hunt blog It was a guest post entitled The Gifts of Madame Death, by a man with the last name of Scott. The post was in mid November 2012, I believe on November 16. The group the author is part of is based in multiple families cooperating as a community, and appears to have a depth and intensity equal or greater than that of a typical coven.

    Traditional lineaged Wica is now in its third human generation and looks like it will carry on a while longer, but by its nature can never be meaningful to more than a few.

    • Deborah Bender

      Since this software doesn’t allow edits, the first sentence of the penultimate paragraph should say, “efforts to broaden Wicca into a pagan religion”.