Archives For Jesus Through Pagan Eyes: Bridging Neopagan Perspectives with a Progressive Vision of Christ

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

  • Nathaniel Rich at the New York Review of Books looks at the story of the West Memphis Three through Damien Echols’ book “Life After Death,” the “Paradise Lost” documentary series, and the feature documentary “West of Memphis.” Quote: “Investigators asked Jerry Driver, a local juvenile officer and self-described “guru” of the occult, to compile a list of local kids involved in cult-related activities. At the top of Driver’s list was Damien Echols, an eighteen-year-old high school dropout who had been hospitalized for depression. […] In his closing statement, district attorney John Fogleman pointed at Echols and said, “There’s not a soul in there.” That argument carried the day.” As always, the story remains a cautionary tale of how a moral panic over “cults” can send innocent children to jail. 
  • Santero Jorge Badillo has filed a complaint against several officials in Monmouth County, New Jersey for civil rights violations after police searched his home (fruitlessly) for a gun belonging to his brother, went through his sacred items, and filed a complaint with the SPCA who proceeded to flood the man with citations with little evidence of wrong-doing. Quote: “Badillo claims Amato issued the tickets without any evidence that any of the animals had been abused. ‘To sacrifice a sick or maltreated animal to the Orishas or to perform the sacrifice in a way that causes the animal to suffer is prohibited in Santeria as this would be an insult to the Orishas,’ Badillo says. Amato then contacted the Asbury Park Press, a local newspaper, and told it about the summons he had issued to Badillo. The Asbury Park Press published an article, in print and online, and included Badillo’s address, he says in the complaint. As a result, Badillo claims, his home and car have been vandalized and he and his family have been threatened.” Badillo claims the accusations ruined his family’s attempt to adopt children, violated their civil rights, and endangered his family. 
  • The latest edition of Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions is out and features an article on Heathenry and two on Otherkin/Therianthropy. At his blog, Pagan scholar Chas Clifton examines the Otherkin articles, noting that both heavily rely on Lupa’s “A Field Guide to Otherkin.” Quote: “To Laycock, Otherkin are perhaps best described as an ” ‘audience cult,’ a movement that supports novel beliefs and practices but without a discernible organization. […] Robertson spends more time explaining the concept of Therianthropes’ self-descriptions of “awakening” to their dual natures…”
Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

A Breakthrough on the Issue of Trans Inclusion? In Friday’s Unleash the Hounds, I reported that questions over transgender inclusion at women-only rituals had become an issue at the then in-progress Pagan Spirit Gathering festival. A situation that echoed incidents at PantheaCon in the past two years. Yesterday, newly returned from the festival, Cara Schulz from PNC-Minnesota reports on what may be a historic press conference held on Saturday, featuring Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, Dianic High Priestess Ruth Barrett, and festival presenter and transgendered activist Melissa Murry.

“Both women said the transgender community is trying to find their voice, similar to the feminist movement in the 60′s and 70′s.   Like the feminist movement, they speak of suffering, pain, and violence.  Murry and Barrett also spoke of the value in claiming mysteries and rituals specific to their sacred journey as women.  “Within my Tradition, which is about the female body and the journey of being born female and the journey through the bloods and birth and menopause,” said Barrett.  “That is a different journey for transgendered women who come to womanhood through a different path.”

Rev. Fox announced that at next year’s PSG they would offer a mystery ritual and rites of passage for transgendered persons if Ms. Murry would lead them.  After Murry agreed to do so, she asked Barrett if she would assist her.  Barrett was unsure if she would be able to attend PSG next year due to changes in her personal life, but said she would help Murry however she was able.”

In a release sent to various Pagan media outlets, Barrett said that she couldn’t “express enough how happy and hopeful I am from the work accomplished at PSG,” and that the work accomplished at this festival will be “a model for other pagan festivals that are dealing with female-born space and trans inclusion/exclusion issues.” While not all concerns about ritual inclusion were solved, there did seem to be some important shifts taking place at PSG, including the acknowledgment that trans women are women by a prominent Dianic leader. You can listen to, and download, audio of the entire press conference, here (note, the PNC is looking for volunteer transcriptionists so we can make the content more accessible) .

Pagan Pride at NY Pride: Earlier this month I reported on the involvement of Christopher Penczak‘s Temple of Witchcraft in the 2012 Boston Pride Parade, now we have a photo from another Pagan group in a LGBT Pride Month parade.

New York City Pagan Pride at Pride (photo: Gary Suto)

New York City Pagan Pride at Pride (photo: Gary Suto)

As you can see from the photo, that’s a contingent from the New York City Pagan Pride Project at the New York City Gay Pride Parade, showing their support for LGBTQ rites. This NYC Pride Parade marked the first anniversary of same-sex marriage becoming legal in New York. Also involved in the parade, carrying their own banner, was the NY Gay Men’s Open Pagan Circle. Zan Fraser, a contributor to The Juggler, was there, and plans to post about his experiences soon.

Songs of the Goddess: The blog Songs of the Goddess, where Draeden Wren diligently reviews Pagan and Pagan-friendly music, has released a free sampler of Pagan music entitled: “A Pagan Music Collection (Volume 1).”

“I am truly a fan of these artists, and I am so grateful they accepted my proposal for them to be a part of this project.  More important than that, I am so happy to be a soundboard for these artists.  They need people to know about them!  We are able to listen to brilliant Goddess/Nature-based/Tree-hugger music because of these creators.”

Artists on the compilation include Sharon Knight, Damh the Bard, Wendy RuleKenny Klein, Deborah “DJ” Hamouris, Amelia Hogan, and many more! It’s a nice round-up of the bigger names within Pagan music, and you certainly can’t beat the price. You can find the download link, here. You can also find Songs of the Goddess at Facebook.

In Other Community News:

That’s all I have for now! Are there blogs, podcasts, or other Pagan news sources you think I’m missing out on? Please leave links in the comments, and if there’s news in your community be sure to share it!

I’m in the process of reading two very different books about modern Pagans, and how they encounter Jesus, the central (and salvic) figure in Christian religion. The nature of the dialog found in these works point to the centrality and cultural power Christianity possesses, despite claims that this dominant monotheism is endangered in any meaningful way. Perhaps there are works underway about how Christians encounter Dionysis, or how best to explain Hekate to Jesus-followers, and I just haven’t heard about them yet? In any case, I think both tomes are revealing and worth examination for anyone interested in how Pagans exist and adapt into a religious world where Jesus is ever-present, and how more sensitive and thoughtful missional Christians consider modern Pagan religions.

The first book is “Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths” by Paul Louis Metzger, Professor of Christian Theology and Theology of Culture at Multnomah University. Readers of my blog may find that name familiar because he co-wrote a guest post here, repudiating a harmful article conflating modern Paganism with witchcraft killings, and aruging that “Christians must learn to show respect for other belief and praxis systems by substantiating our claims and criticisms and arguing for the cogency of our own convictions on level ground also occupied by others.” This is essentially, what “Connecting Christ” does, it discusses Christianity’s relationship to other faiths on “level ground.”

“This book promotes evangelism and dialogue, not one to the exclusion of the other. And as such it also promotes the need for thoughtful, sensitive communication during a time when our nation is reeling from the onslaught of the culture wars. The problem has not been our God or the Bible, but our approach to God and the Bible. As a result of our inauthentic witness, our God has looked all too common rather than as the uncommon God revealed as Jesus Christ. In light of this spiritual and biblical gut check, our witness in the twenty-first century will likely look very different.”

Make no mistake, this is a book where all faiths are ultimately found lacking or incomplete in comparison to Christianity, but Metzger at least engages with what he sees as  positive manifestations of each religion he looks at, and argues that Christians should repent for the sins of the Church. Further, he actually lets representatives from each faith tradition he writes about get the last word. So Unitarian Universalist minister Marilyn Sewell responds on behalf of her church, Prema Raghunath speaks for Hinduism, and Gus diZerega gives a Pagan perspective.

“As we respect and honor Christians who grow from their encounters with their sacred literature and their God, so we request a similar respect in our religions with our text and our Gods.”

“Connecting Christ” is convinced that Christ is the way, but it advocates a far more humble method of spreading the gospel message, one in stark contrast to the ugly smears and triumphal gloating we see from most missionary efforts. The next book begins with a quotation from diZerega, but it’s a very different work, one written by a former Anglican clergyman turned Christian-Druid. “Jesus Through Pagan Eyes: Bridging Neopagan Perspectives with a Progressive Vision of Christ” by Reverend Mark Townsend flips the script to explore how Pagans encounter, work with, think about, honor, and grapple with the figure of Jesus in their lives.

“Reverend Mark Townsend’s remarkable book is truly unlike any other, a thoughtful and deeply moving collection of more than two dozen stories, essays, and interviews about Jesus from today’s most respected Wiccan and Druidic leaders. Contributors such as Maxine Sanders, Christopher Penczak, Janet Farrar, Diana Paxson, Philip Carr-Gomm, Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, and Raven Grimassi explore the historical figure of Jesus in relation to witchcraft, the tarot, goddess worship, and shamanism—while illustrating how this god of the Christian church blesses and inspires many who cannot or will not be part of his “official” family.”

If “Connecting Christ” is important for how it tries to change the way Christians encounter non-Christian faiths in a pluralistic world, “Jesus through Pagan Eyes” may actually be more vital for Christians who seek to understand how our diverse community views their savior. For any orthodox Christian this work will be full of heresies, but it is also paints a portrait of why Christians find it so difficult to “reach” us. Simply put, we encounter Jesus in sometimes radically different ways than they do.

“I see him as a teacher, prophet, miracle worker, and valid deity of the Christian pantheon. Who am I to deny the Christ’s validity?  Although, having known many magicians, Jesus strikes me as far more secure in his being than those magicians.”

The above quote is from Alexandrian Elder Maxine Sanders, who, I feel, encapsulates an important point about both of these books. Townsend asks Sanders what she feels Christians can learn from Pagans, and she replies, “unless they want to, nothing.” I see in these books, an opportunity and a challenge. If Christians want to understand us, and to understand how we view Christians, they have to truly want it first. So many books, with an occasional exception, are essentially lectures by Christians to other Christians about what they believe our religions are about. It’s clear they went in to whatever research or interviews they did wearing blinders, and never took them off. I sense in Metzger a willingness to seriously consider the worldview of other faiths instead of simply knocking down a straw man, and with the release of Townsend’s book, we have a extended meditation from Pagans on the very figure “Connecting Christ” wants us to experience.

I think the two books being released so close together is a kind of kismet, and those invested in a conversation between Pagans and Christians should pick up both and read them together. For my part, I’m trying to arrange a podcast interview with Townsend and Metzger to discuss Jesus, Pagans, and Christianity, and what the path forward from here may be. For the foreseeable future Pagans live in a world dominated by Jesus, while Christians have to increasingly deal with rising religious minorities no longer content to stay on the sidelines, who demand the rights of a pluralistic society. How we converse and understand one another will be vital, and I’m optimistic at the potential dialog created by these two books.