The conversation born out of my last post has been, by far, one of the most stimulating dialogues to take place on Bishop In The Grove. My mind is a flurry with thoughts of Gods and Goddesses, mysticism, my own need for a deeper and more engaging practice, and — for the first time in several years — Jesus.
The “J” word may freak out some Pagans. In fact, I know it does. Jesus is a trigger. He brings up a lot of old hurt for many in our community. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is. I relate to those feelings, for I’ve experienced a great deal of alienation and discrimination in the name of Jesus. Often it’s his followers that make him so unsavory to Pagans.
So, it seems amazing to me that our dialogue about conversion from Christianity to Paganism would lead me to feel more at ease in talking about Jesus. I’m not rushing back to the Church — don’t get me wrong. But, I am willing to talk about theological subjects that were the mainstay of my previous religious life without feeling like they’re infringing on my identity as a Pagan. It’s liberating, really.
In the midst of this dialogue, I read a post on the Patheos Pagan Portal called “Is There Salvation in Paganism?,” which was timely, considering our conversation. In the post, Star Foster writes:
Religion provides the solution to something. It identifies a problem, prescribes a method by which to resolve that problem. That resolution in religious terms is known as salvation. While the concept of salvation is almost exclusively identified with the Christian religion in our culture, it actually predates it. Savior is an epithet given to many old Gods, such as Hecate. Salvation from death was the main purpose behind rites such as the Eleusinian Mysteries.
As I’m trying to absorb Gregory Shaw’s Theurgy and the Soul into my incredibly dense brain, I’m finding this ancient Pagan preoccupation with the salvation of the soul troubling. I think what it is I find troubling about it explains the clearest and most obvious difference between ancient and modern Paganism.
When I read the post, I paused at the line, “I’m finding this ancient Pagan preoccupation with the salvation of the soul troubling.” Something about it struck me as curious, and somehow connected to our dialogue about conversion. I found myself asking, why would this be troubling and not inspiring?
Many modern Pagans shout “Syncretism!” whenever Christians talk about Christmas (which is actually Yule), the concept of a Jesus as savior (who is, himself, actually just one of many sun/son gods to have been sacrificed) or any number of modern Christian practices and beliefs which are actually something other than what they’re portrayed to be.
But in this instance, when salvation may actually be a Christian tenet with Pagan origins, the response is discomfort. I can only deduce that this discomfort comes from our own inability to disassociate salvation from its Christian definition. The connection between the word “salvation” and the belief in “original sin” is so deeply engrained in our individual and collective psyche that we can’t conceive of the former existing apart from the latter, even if our Pagan ancestors could.
Now, I’m not a reconstructionist, but I do find myself wanting to explore what salvation may have meant before and outside of the Jesus paradigm. I want to know how we can conceive of salvation, as Pagans, and not feel as though we’re participating in a religion to which we do not belong.
But more than that, I want to know what this revelation says about the possibility that salvation may be more of a universally human experience. If the idea of “salvation of the soul” pre-dates Christianity, and it shows up in multiple cultures and time periods, we Neo-Pagans may want to explore what our ancestral Paleo-Pagans thought on the matter, and to reflect for a moment on what it might already mean to us.
So I turn to you, my insightful and very bright readership. I want to know what you think.
What does the word “salvation” bring up for you? Is there a way to conceive it as a return to wholeness instead of a solution to the problem of sin?
For example, do you think you could describe your affinity for the natural world, and your movement toward it, as a kind of salvation? For many people who commented on my last post, it was through nature that the Gods spoke, so if that is how you feel could you also say that it is through a return to nature that you experience salvation? Perhaps salvation, in this context, is something that has to do with this world, and this life.
The forum is open, friends. Please share your thoughts and ideas, and be kind enough to share the post on Facebook, Twitter or your social network of choice.