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Pagan Jesus

I started reading a book yesterday called Contemplative Practices in Action: Spirituality, Meditation, and Health. It’s an academic volume which seeks to demonstrate that contemplative practices have positive affects on the lives of those who engage in them. It’s of personal interest to me for a number of reasons.

First, I would like to see an emergence of a contemplative stream of Pagan practice. I would like to see Pagans, through the lenses of their traditions, build and develop contemplative practices that are both true to their community identity, but also examples of how the Pagan ethea is relevant in the modern world. To some whose tradition already incorporates contemplative-style activities in their group work this shouldn’t seem like much of a stretch. But I’m not sure if they’re identifying what they’re doing as “contemplative practice.”

But aside from my conviction that the modern Pagan movement needs more contemplatives, I was drawn to this book because I feel a need to enrich my own contemplative practice. My writing in recent days has been centered around my own inquiries and doubts, but the current running underneath all of it is a desire to have a deeper and more fulfilling contemplative life.

For an academic text rich with footnotes and references, I was surprised at how quickly I started in on this book. The second chapter, Similarity in Diversity? Four Shared Functions of Integrative Contemplative Practice Systems spelled out a few ideas that immediately made me think about ADF and my Dedicant Path studies (which, truth be told, have all but been ignored over the past long while). The author, Doug Oman, looks at a variety of systems, including The Eight-Point Program of Passage Meditation, Centering Prayer, and Mantra Repetition and outlines four elements or themes present in most of them. A practice system, he asserts, could be considered an integrated contemplative practice if it contains these four common elements:

1. Set-aside time–time that is set aside regularly, usually daily, for a disciplined activity or exercise that has a comparatively powerful effect on training attention.

2. Virtues and character strengths–qualities of character and behavior, such as compassion, forgiveness or fearlessness. … Typically, the recommended qualities involve subsets of six cross-culturally prevalent classes of virtues recently identified by positive psychologists–wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence.

3. Practices for centering/stabilizing that are usable through the day–such as during occasions of stress, anxiety, or unstructured time.

4. Spiritual models–attending to the individuals whose behavior reflects desired spiritual qualities–provide a unique resource for spiritual growth. … Attending to spiritual models’ words and actions can motivate sustained practice, and guide or inspire implementation of other spiritual practices. (Oman 8)

(emphasis mine)

This last one, spiritual models, caught my attention.

We don’t have those, I though. Or, at least, I’m not sure there is one particular spiritual model set forth by my tradition to look to for inspiration or guidance. In fact, I’m sure that there isn’t.

I posed these questions on Facebook:

Are Pagan traditions offering the kind of “spiritual modeling” that you might find in, say, Buddhism or Christianity? Do we have spiritual figures — either from history or from myth (or in the fuzzy place in the middle) — that we regularly look to for examples of how to act in the world? If so, who are these folk?

Who do *you* look to for “spiritual modeling”?

The responses were interesting.

Some look to figures like Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, or Hypatia. Others see Crowley and Doreen Valiente as figures to look to (both in a historical and in a magickal sense). MLK was mentioned as was Malcolm X, the current Archdruid of ADF, and the heroes of Celtic legend.

Michael York asked, taking us to an archetypally pagan place, “Is not our ultimate spiritual model nature herself?”

All of these things were relevant to the people who offered them, but as I sit with these ideas now I realize that — for me — I need my #4 to be connected more closely to my #2: I need a spiritual model that demonstrates the virtues and character strengths that are meaningful to me.

In my time as Pagan, I’m not sure I’ve found that model.

As a Christian, Jesus was that model for me. While I was always a little uncomfortable by some of the language that accompanied the act of “following Jesus,” especially anything that ascribed to the person of Jesus attributes that seemed little more than projections of the follower, himself, I was still influenced by the example of this man. He was something concrete to look to, even if his life was represented in an incomplete and biased fashion. It was a point of reference, and that was valuable. He wasn’t important because of the “saved soul” factor; he was important because he made it easier for me, personally, to connect my actions to a system of values.

Some people who responded to my questions don’t look to anyone other than themselves. They are their own example; their own spiritual model.

While I respect everyone’s right to develop their religious and spiritual life as they see fit, I don’t think I can serve as my own best example. I need something to look to that is outside of myself, even if in the form of a character in a story or myth, in order to help me better understand the nuances of my own humanity.

The question is, who’s going to by my Pagan Jesus?

 

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  • Seba O’Kiley

    You’ve answered your own question, methinks. Pagan Jesus. I mean, we have many leaders, many good and fine and inspiring leaders and none of whom (at least, none of whom who are sane) claiming to be the Pagan Messiah. Because it doesn’t work that way, does it? During his lifetime, Jesus was followed by few, adored by few loyal, serious subjects comparatively speaking. It is only in his death that he becomes the *all* savior, the living, fleshly model for a sustained spirituality. For all we know, our “Pagan” Jesus is, well, not dead yet. Not a martyr yet. But it certainly does not mean that she/he doesn’t exist. It is in the primal thump of an almost *call and response* moment–that perfect cave echo of one spirit to another–that we find our “Jesus” in this time.

    And walk on water for that feeling, as did his followers.

    I fear that most of us are too cynical, too jaded, too technological to experience that kind of Jesus today.

    But does that mean that you haven’t already incorporated that motif from your prior tradition into your current faith system? Why not Pagan Jesus? Here’s what I’m pondering: why not the more fundamental, human Jesus that we uncover in anthropological, historical studies rather than the institutionalized plastic one on a rope? Why not claim such a profoundly adept Jewish/magician/philosopher as your model? You know, that groovy guy before all that politicization that he firmly warned against. To be truly *a Jesus* requires a mythology of the past. Reclaiming? Hmmm. Digging this train of thought. It’s a brave one. Batten down the hatches.

    Thinking with you,

    Seba

    • Thanks for the comment, Seba.

      In some ways I wasn’t thinking of Jesus as messiah, but rather Jesus the man. Introducing messianic themes into the discussion about a modern “Pagan Jesus” creates a lot of complications (i.e. the need for salvation), and that isn’t somewhere I think we need to go. That would feel like a distraction.

      Perhaps connecting/reclaiming Jesus in a Pagan context could work, but then I wonder if that would be too easy. I would kind of like us to look at the stories born out of our own traditions to examine if we have these “spiritual models,” like Jesus, that we could use to inform our lives. And if we discover that we don’t, perhaps it would be better for us to ask ourselves, Why not?

      • Seba O’Kiley

        Yes, I think that “why not” is exactly what we need to start asking ourselves. Thank you for this blog. Anything that makes us think, rethink and turn everything inside out in the search for something spiritually tangible is worth it. BB

      • James Foster

        Teo, this sounds a lot like how the Roman Catholic Orders use their Founders – it sounds like what you’re looking for is charism.

  • Tasha Danner

    I wonder if this is a similar question that yogis ask in respect to “who is going to be my guru?” I am more of the school of “the guru in within,” though I do see the benefit of having an external teacher or guide on this sometimes uncertain path. I have used historical models as teacher (Patanjali, Jesus, MLK, Krishna, Isis, etc.), as well as living examples (Iyengar, Jai Uttal, my yoga teachers). I am not sure I need the “archetypal hero/Jesus” in my practices quite yet, as I’m still sorting through all the muck I have posed this to my Hermetic and Pagan friends though, and I look forward to reading other people’s responses, to help guide my own thoughts and emotions around this topic.

    • I look forward to their responses, too, Tasha, and I’m grateful for yours.

      I thought about whether this search for a spiritual model is the same thing as the search for a guru. When I responded to one of the comments on yesterday’s FB post I said that,

      “I wonder … if there’s a way to look at humans for “spiritual modeling” rather than looking to humans *to be* spiritual models. Perhaps taking some of the emphasis off of the person and placing it more on their character would allow us to see more healthy “spiritual modeling” in people like the ones … mentioned here.”

      • Tasha Danner

        P.S. I got an amazing reply about this from my friend, mentor and fellow Hermetic (and author of Isis Magic, with tons of devotional, rituals, contemplative practices towards her chosen female diety), Isidora. I encouraged her to put her comments on this blog, as I thought you might find them very helpful and interesting, from someone who has been doing this for many many years and has a wealth of knowledge so broad, it’s almost intimidating! 🙂

  • Dick Goodyear

    Pagans traditionally admire many spiritually advanced entities. Sometimes it’s just the philosophy and not the teacher, that is revered. Jesus taught tolerance. His followers, however, teach exclusivity. So, like The Buddha, it feels awkward invoking him if you’re not a member of the club. I think, you could step back and admire your own personal pantheon. If you climbed the steps and and entered the temple of your mind, who is honored enough to have their likeness immortalized in stone. Who is in your inner circle of heroes and teachers.
    I think you will not be able to replace the spot Jesus occupies. A good analogy is that Christianity was your “first”. You can have many, bigger and better, but you only get to have one “first”. I think you’re trying to replace the crutch of having a personal savior and role model.
    A Pagan, should emulate their surroundings. They should strive to be examples of the structure and magnificence that is themselves and their universe. You have to become your own Jesus. Someday, somebody may place you in their temple. How do you get from here to there? It’s not about having a Messiah, it’s about being one.

    • “It’s not about having a Messiah, it’s about being one.”
      Being, or becoming? I think the point he’s making here is that *becoming* your own Messiah, or guru, or whatever you call your spiritual model, you need to know what one looks like. That’s where having someone who embodies the virtues you want to emulate comes in handy.
      I would like to become my own spiritual model, but I can’t just declare myself one right now because I’m not there yet. I’m lazy, selfish, angry, and short-sighted. It doesn’t work. For better or worse, I need to look at somebody else and go “I need to get more of *that* going in my life.”

      • Sophia Catherine

        Yes. Very much this.

    • Thanks for the comment, Dick.

      As I wrote about in another comment, it isn’t about needing a messiah or a savior; it’s about wanting to look to a particular “spiritual mode” as an example for right/virtuous/ethical behavior. The stories we tell about these figures are how we transmit to one another the truths of our spiritual paths.

      So, when you suggest that I step back and admire my personal pantheon, I still think the emphasis is being put too much on looking to a god instead of looking to a human. Joshua is correct in his response that what I’m asking about is the idea of a model *outside of one’s self* that one can look to as an example.

      When you say that “a Pagan should emulate their surroundings,” do you mean that the natural world should serve as this example for us? Is nature sufficient as a spiritual model?

      • Dick Goodyear

        Teo, thank you so much for the great conversation. I wish I had more to offer.

        • I appreciate what you’ve offered, Dick, very much. You provided the inspiration for questions that I think warrant greater consideration. Thank you for that!

      • Teo wrote:
        Is nature sufficient as a spiritual model?

        YES!

        Be like the Oak: Place deep, unshakeable roots within the earth. Stretch to the sky! Yield to the wind, and let it flow past you, knowing it is ephemeral.

        Be like the Waves: Yielding, but determined. Supple, but strong.

        Be like the Fire: Let your inner fire burn as bright as the Sun! Let your flame kindle the flame in others, let it ignite passion in what you do!

  • I think this train of thought you’ve been on for the past week or two is fantastic. I’ve been interested in paganism in its various forms for a while now, and you’re touching on a lot of things that have been causing me to keep it at arms length. One of those things is this lack of a noticeable contemplative tradition. What little spiritual side I have desires the mystical/contemplative side of religion more than anything else (seriously, I could fill a book listing the problems I have with Christianity, but I still frequently find myself wanting to go to a Benedictine monastery to chant Psalms with the monks). I’m so glad that you’re talking about this, and I really, really need to check out this book you’re reading.

    Your observations about a lack of “spiritual models” in paganism is interesting as well. I’m sitting here waffling back and forth over whether I think it’s a good thing or not.

    • Thanks for the comment, Joshua. I’m glad to have a kindred spirit in all of this, and I’m eager to read about any ideas you uncover as you consider the need for a “spiritual model.”

      It can feel somewhat bewildering sometimes to feel drawn to (or even a part of) something like Paganism, and yet also feel this strong sense of lacking. I share that feeling you have of craving for a monastic experience. In fact, it was in the daily and evening prayer services at the Episcopal church I used to attend that I felt most spiritually connected.

      Perhaps these kinds of conversations are the first step towards a more clearly defined, contemplative Pagan practice.

      • I’ve mulled it over and here’s what I’ve come up with: having a spiritual model is a good thing. Not a necessary thing, but a good thing.
        The fact that paganism, broadly speaking, lacks a definitive or easy choice of who counts as a spiritual model is also a good thing.

        In Christianity, your choice is pretty simple: you follow Jesus. Jesus is God, and God is perfect, so Jesus is worth emulating in every way. In fact, he’s the only one you should be emulating, and that even gets tied into worshipping him. This, of course, doesn’t mesh well with paganism, where gods are typically seen as being imperfect and where worship doesn’t entail a desire to emulate behavior. You can give respect to your pagan gods while still identifying areas of their personality that you think could stand some improvement; doing the same with Jesus can get you shut out of the orthodox setting pretty quickly.
        Free from the kind of constraint where you must pick only one model you must copy them in every way, you can think about what makes particular behaviors virtuous and see how they fit in with your life and ideals and identify which of them needs to change. This is a struggle unto itself, but it’s the kind of struggle that promotes critical thinking and growth.
        This also means that finding a spiritual model doesn’t in any way compromise your individuality or self-reliance. They aren’t “saving” you, you’re choosing them. And you’re not trying to lose yourself by becoming them; you’re trying to become a better you by improving areas where you’ve identified your own shortcomings.

  • Tressa Belle Disney

    The Pagan gods and heroes have mostly a different philosophy from Jesus. But that would be suitable for someone Pagan, not Christian. My first thought is “Why not Odin?” He left plenty of guidelines for life in the Hávamál.

    • Perhaps so, Tressa. Maybe I need to search out more stories.

      I wonder — how does Odin serve as a spiritual model for you? Aside from specific guidelines, can you look to the mythology and see examples of how you’d want to live a contemplative life?

  • Peter Dybing

    I wonder if in our seeking of something to venerate or follow the example of, we are falling into the patterns of major religions. “Wait until they are dead, so no one can impinge their character with their humanity.” I would argue that we can advance a more realistic model that seeks to identify in our contemporaries that which deserves to be emulated or venerated while at the same time holding recognition of their status as an individual along a path, perhaps fully devine in a moment or action but not in life. I think my “Pagan Christ” surrounds me in community all the time, personified by so many wonderful community members.

    • Thanks for the comment, Peter. Glad that you’ve voiced your ideas here.

      I don’t think there’s something inherently virtuous about *avoiding* the things done in other religions simply because they’re in the “big 3.” In part, this exploration is about trying to find something that works, and the writer in this book has identified that having a spiritual model works for many people. I think it may work for me.

      I think altering the term “Pagan Jesus” to “Pagan Christ” falls in line with what you’re talking about, which is similar to “seeking out the Christ” in all people. That’s a valuable exercise for many people, and a noble way to live. It still seems to be something slightly different than what I’m looking for. (And, to be clear, I don’t think there’s value in holding up a human being as something other than human. I’d like my spiritual model to be a little bit rusty… like everyone else I know.)

  • Sam Carranza

    I’m not sure there’s a need for a Pagan Jesus, Teo. The term seems to be somewhat of an oxymoron, since Jesus is the product of a religious system that stresses relative “unity” rather than the relative “chaos” of deities we have as Pagans. Christianity stresses the need for someone (Jesus) to take responsibility for our failings, whereas Pagans assume responsibility at a personal level. Pagan deities lay their foibles, faults and attributes on the line for all to see, whereas there are only a few references to Jesus showing a human side, other than inhabiting a mortal body.

    We have many triple Goddesses (Brighid comes to mind, though there are others) and some dual Gods. If someone really needs a Pagan Jesus, they could see him as one part of a “triple God,” though our Christian brothers and sisters would cringe at that notion even though they don’t seem to have problems calling their Deity a Trinity. It might be a bit of a stretch, but from this, a Christian hearth culture could be seen as just another pantheon of deities in the scope of the Universe.

    • Thanks for the comment, Sam.

      When I ask, Who will be my Pagan Jesus?, what I’m really asking is who in my current system — ADF Druidry/Neopaganism — could fill the role of “spiritual model” that was outlined above? Perhaps it could be Brighid, but that would require a body of literature and a tradition of teaching that explains who she was *in the world*. I have a few CR friends who might be able to point me in the right direction for those books.

      It’s less that I want to try to make a Christian hearth culture (one might as well go ahead and be a Christian if that’s what they’re looking for), and more that I think there’s a good reason to ask if there could be any person (fictional or otherwise) who might fill the roll of “spiritual model” for Pagans.

      Does that make sense?

      • Sam Carranza

        Yes, it does make sense, but I’m not sure that role can be found in Paganism considering the very nature of earth based spirituality! From an old Elton John song, it’s “like trying to find gold in a silver mine!” All the best…

  • Jason Ash

    The spiritual are certain elders in my tradition whose life shows commitment to the faith, integrity and maturity of practice. While I think solitary practice is helpful and necessary, it may not put you in touch with people who model spiritual values.

  • C.S. MacCath

    I’m also drawn to contemplative Pagan practice and appreciate your thoughts here. I don’t necessarily feel that I need a Pagan Jesus, but I do believe contemplative practice (of all stripes) can help us address the deeper questions of our lives. Because of this, and because I look to Buddhism for contemplative instruction, I hope Paganism comes to develop similar teachings that endure long enough to weather commentary by Pagans of future generations.

  • Teo –

    I find a lot of inspiration in Morehei Oeshiba, the founder of Aikido. As he wrote in the Art of Peace:

    Study the teachings of the pine tree, the bamboo, and the plum blossom. The pine is evergreen, firmly rooted, and venerable. The bamboo is strong, resilient, unbreakable. The plum blossom is hardy, fragrant, and elegant. (Art of Peace 19)

    and

    Contemplate the workings of this world, listen to the words of the wise, and take all that is good as your own. With this as your base, open your own door to truth. Do not overlook the truth that is right before you. Study how water flows in a valley stream, smoothly and freely between the rocks. Also learn from holy books and wise people. Everything – even mountains, rivers, plants and trees — should be your teacher. (Art of Peace 14).

    that being said, as a henotheist who follows Odin, I follow the All-Father because He embodies what I would like to be – wise without being a know-it-all; careful without being timid; powerful without being a bully; firm without being harsh. The Havamal contains much good advice (as one should expect from a father), as well as tales of His own foolishness (i.e. “I messed up, learn these lessons without following My example”).

    • eelsalad

      I’m pleased to see O Sensei mentioned here! I used to carry a pocket edition The Art of Peace pretty much everywhere. My go-to quote has long been:

      “You do not need buildings, money, power, or status to practice the Art of Peace. Heaven is right where you are standing, and that is the place to train.”

      O Sensei is definitely one of my role models, as are my two main teachers, T. Thorn Coyle and Havi Brooks.

  • Cat C-B

    So many comments here are responding to the connotations of the phrase “Pagan Jesus.” I’m not sure you could have framed this question more controversially, Teo! And yet, I don’t believe you are actually talking about what that phrase is evoking in the minds of many of your readers– You can say, you are interested in figures who would also make it “easier for me, personally, to connect my actions to a system of values,” but I think what people are hearing is that you’re looking for a savior, regardless of your saying quite explicitly that’s not it.

    That name has such a powerful web of associations to it. It is very hard for people to hear what one is actually saying, once that word is in a sentence.

    I flatter myself I am hearing you, though. That what you are looking for is models of how walking the Pagan walk can develop the virtues and depth of relationship with gods and/or nature that are the goals of a contemplative Paganism. How does a lifetime of serious Pagan practice reshape the heart and a life?

    In spite of our fanatical Western individualism that makes us suspicious of all models–calling them gurus, and identifying guru worship as pathological–it really is easier to develop depth and virtue with a few human exemplars to study. Elders, in a spiritual sense that goes beyond simply attainments in a degree structure, or even years lived on the planet.

    In the years that my husband and I were coven leaders, we did our best to model what a Pagan life, rightly lived, would be. But our own spiritual growth and deepening was hindered by the lack of strong models of Pagan elders around us. I know many, many Pagans whose knowledge I admire, but far fewer whose wisdom is seasoned enough to offer me guidance as I try to deepen my own. It can be frustrating–for those who even hold out hope that there might be more wisdom among us than is contained in our own individual hearts! And while it sounds good to say we don’t need to look beyond ourselves for wisdom, because we don’t need to enslave our spirits imitating others, studying the virtues of an exemplary man or woman does not enslave us, and believing that others may have developed greater depth in their practice, and that we can learn from them, does not imply imitating someone else.

    It was a great relief, upon becoming a Quaker, to discover wise elders who were genuinely wiser than I was–and kinder, more daring, and more deeply loving. I realize that this may sound arrogant on the one hand (implying I’m so wise that few Pagans have anything left to teach me) and also sycophantic toward Quakers on the other (implying that Quakers are inherently wiser than Pagans.) I don’t mean to be either: I do know wise Pagans and foolish Quakers, beyond a doubt.

    But my life among Quakers has me surrounded by people who do extraordinary things on a daily basis, without self-promotion or self-importance. My Quaker community and my Pagan community are about the same size. But, while I know of a few examples of selflessness and powerful service among Pagans, I know of too many examples among my Quaker kin to even begin to inventory them. In my time among Friends (Quakers) I’ve shared my life with dozens of people who have made great sacrifices in order to relieve poverty, oppose war, train prisoners in conflict resolution, end carbon-fuel dependence… and so much more. I can point to some Pagans whose lives are similar. But, I wonder, who do our Thorn Coyles and Patrick McCollums look to for inspiration? It is not enough to have some individuals whose lives are exemplary. We need a way of nurturing, recognizing, and encouraging the growth of similar gifts among us so that our exemplars can continue to grow and get encouragement from one another–rather than going it alone, or almost alone, in their communities.

    With the help of Quaker models, I’ve become more peaceful, more generous, and happier. I’ve developed connections to specific communities in poverty, undertaken some major environmental witnesses, been inspired in my work with impoverished and behaviorally challenging teens, and my husband has led a group of students to study third-world health care through a trip to Kenya. Many of the things we’ve done would have seemed unusual to us, if we hadn’t found models outside the Pagan community. Some of them, we might not have followed through on if we had not had models of how commonplace such actions can be among those with practice in their practice.

    We didn’t need Jesus. (Nope, for those who don’t know us, we’re NOT Christians, and yes, we ARE still Pagan as well as Quaker.) And I’m not at all trying to say being Quaker is the answer.

    But 350 years of working together has given Quakers a head start on us. The Pagan community does not yet have an abundance of the sort of models that allow a contemplative to understand that, yes, what we’re seeking to do IS possible.

    And that makes it harder. We are still growing the traditions and customs that will allow us to nurture, not just a few outstanding individuals, but a whole tradition of depth and compassion, which will allow our Pagan virtues to be seen–by ourselves, never mind others–as normative, and not actually exceptional at all.

  • Interesting ideas, as always! I wonder about the need for a pagan ‘Jesus’, and I’m honestly glad that there isn’t one. I think we can take lots of inspiration from lots of different people in different fields (science, spirituality, poetry etc) and don’t have to follow any one person as a holy exemplar. I think setting anyone up as a Christ or guru is a mistake, simply because humans are not perfect and will screw up from time to time. I tend to think that ideas are what matter, not the person who has them.

  • Chef Ette

    I think, personally, that setting up to be a “Pagan Jesus” or other role model is setting yourself up for disappointment. As we see all our role models fall from grace eventually and we are disappointed to find that they have feet of clay and are no better than we are. I think it’s better to stop over thinking the Pagan Path and just follow your inner voice and do what’s right for you. Leave the other role models behind and be your own role model and lead by example. Be joyful in what you do…. Others will follow. Blessings always. June

  • magicmary

    Why can’t Jesus be your pagan Jesus?

    I also don’t follow the pattern of wanting to have a sole spiritual model for the values I hold dear. Life itself gives me those models every day in many different ways. Could come from a plant in my yard, the rabbit under the full moon, a rock and roll lyric, an ancient Hermetic text, or yes, Jesus or a number of other deities. I’m a seeker. That doesn’t mean I’m looking. It means I find answers everywhere I look.

  • Phae

    I think that the idea of a “Pagan Jesus” or even a guru is fraught with problems that may not be immediately apparent. Even if you look to what Jesus the Man taught, you must keep in mind that any human is just that – human.

    They are just like you and me. They are prejudiced sometimes, angry sometimes, they make stupid choices, say and do hurtful things that they may later wish they could take back – it’s a part of being human. If you want someone ascendant, who doesn’t have these flaws, then you are looking for a god.

    For me, what I most love about stories that feature heroes and martyrs is their humanity. Their flaws and mistakes are what make them beautiful to me. And it doesn’t need to be anyone person – the story of the human spirit is enough to make me feel connected to those who essentially are just like me – but in some circumstance took a stand or made a change or just tried to do what was right (even if they had done things that were wrong before).

    For me, rather than looking for a spiritual mentor to model ourselves after, I think we need to be looking for connection. And not just to other Pagans, but to all humans on a basic level.

    We all know the legends. There are heros scattered through every corner of our collective cultures. We know the qualities we want to embody. I don’t think we need to put any one person on a pedestal. No matter who it is, they will always eventually fall off.

  • I held off commenting on this one, but if I thought about it for two seconds, I would realize that I am most closely devoted to a god who (of all the Norse pantheons) is actually a really good moral model.

    This god is Njord, and I really wish he was more “popular” in the heathen/pagan world! He fought his way all the way into the stronghold of Asgard against Odin and his warriors, so his people could have an equal share of rulership, and once he was there and the Vanir were proven unkillable ~he proposed peace~, and then he himself sacrificed some of his freedom and happiness for that peace. It’s as a hostage he becomes acclaimed as the wisest mediator, and in his association with ships – little worlds in which it is impossible to exile or shun that guy you don’t like, because you need each other – he reminds me of an alternative to the modern heathen love of drawing infinite us vs them lines in the sand.

    I think it is potentially problematic to look to the gods as moral models because 1. when depicted as humans they have the full compliment of positive and negative attributes, and its easy to follow the wrong example (emulating – for example – Odin’s ruthlessness without his wisdom, or Eir’s compassion without her discernment.) But I think the virtues are there, and can be understood as stars to navigate by.

    I think 2. looking to gods for moral modeling is problematic because the tendency is there to start comparing yourself against that standard. It’s not a problem in Christianity because that god is infinite and therefore full of paradoxes and impossible requests, but ~because~ of those Christian-culture assumptions most of us are programmed with, it’s easy to start to feel unworthy because you can’t be as infinitely enduring as Sigyn or Thor.

    I lean towards the idea that people should really have literal human models in their literal lives – to strive to be as attentive as so-and-so, or as welcoming as this guy, or as well-rounded as this other one – and to know that those people value you for your own particular contributions. but that’s something that comes with interconnected community that everyone doesn’t necessarily have right now/will have in this lifetime.

    You found a tough one 🙂