Sunday, 11 October 2009

What is a Christo Heathen?

At first, Christo-Heathenry sounds like a contradiction of terms. Surely you are either a Christian or a Heathen - you cannot be both? Can you? And for some readers, the question will be 'what is a Heathen'?

Well I consider myself to be a Christo-Heathen and I am not alone.

The aim of this blog is to map out what I think Christo-Heathenry is all about and what it means to me. Other Christo-Heathens will look at some things differently to myself - but will share many more things in common.

From the outset, I think it is important to point out that the 'Christo' part of the title means following the Christos or the 'Spirit of Truth'. I do not see the Christos in the same way as most orthodox christians who simply equate the word with Messiah and extend the original meaning of this title into the redeemer who died as a sacrifice to atone for our sins. This is not what I mean by believing in and following the Christos.

So what do I mean. Well firstly, I believe in a God who has ordered the known world though does not pull the strings of every day events like a puppet master. But God's Spirit is at work in our world and like the ancient Greeks, I call God's Spirit the 'Christos', the Spirit of Truth. Like the ancient Greeks, I also call God's divine mind, creative power and communication the Logos. Spirit and mind are part of the same oneness of God. I regard the doctrine of the Trinity as a human way of explaining these concepts - but I do think that humans have tended to over complicate things and tried to define precise doctrines for things we do not fully comprehend. I am therefore happy to accept the doctrine of the Trinity - but on the understanding that it is but an imperfect attempt to explain how God works within and beyone our world.

I believe that the Christos - the Spirit of God - took on human form in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Now you can believe this happened in terms of the traditional nativity story (which is only supported by two of the four Gospels - both different). Or you can believe it in more esoteric terms as I tend to. There was a great deal of debate about this - with just about every possible permutation of Jesus being human and God being put forward. For instance, Marcion believed that Jesus just appeared in adulthood and only appeared to be a man but was really some form of spirit or angel. Arianism held that Jesus was born of Mary and Joseph and was physically entirely human - but that His spirit was that of the Angel of Great Counsel.

I think the Church has tried to hard in some respects to define a precise doctrine on this issue - mainly because of a perceived need for clarity and homogenity as a means of organisational strength. the problem is that in our modern age, this doctrine is seen by many as unrealistic and at best mythical. What was once a strength for Christianity is now becoming a major weakness.

To me, this is a pity because the key message of the doctrine of the Trinity is that in the person of Jesus, God dwelt amongst us. How this came about is of secondary importance to me - and to be honest is speculation.

So, for me, being a Christo-Heathen does not mean having to believe all the doctrines of established Christianity or the mainstream Christian Churches. Mainstream Christianity, whether Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox, is probably not consistent with Christo-heathenry. So it is a fairly eclectic Christianity that I follow - not the Churchianity based on rigid dogmas mostly invented by human minds.

For me, Jesus of Nazareth was a great and holy man through whom the Spirit of God, the Christos, came into our world and spoke to us. This is the central message of Christianity for me. That the Christos came into our world through Jesus of Nazareth and lived amongst us. Quite how this happened I do not get too worried about. I do not feel a need to believe in the literal truth of the Virgin birth and, whilst I do believe that the Christos rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, I do not claim to know precisely what happened or how it happened.

Neither do I believe that ever lasting life is simply achieved by believeing that Jesus was the Son of God - whatever that means. For me, ever lasting life comes through spiritual perfection and Jesus was all about teaching us how to walk the right path towards that. This said, I do believe that spiritual perfection is ultimately a 'gift of God' - Christians call this Grace.

Then there is the question of what I mean by Heathenry. Most people probably don't know what this means and equate the word 'Heathen' with a barbarian or uncouth person. Nothing could be further from the truth! It was certainly used by Christians as a insult to the country dwellers who stuck to the old ways of dark superstition and magic rather than embracing what they saw as the new sophisticated and urbane Christianity. The term literally means dwellers of the heath. As such, it is a north European equivalent of 'Pagan' which meant country dweller - or country bumpkin!

Modern Heathenry is the re-establishment of the ancient pre-Christian religion of my Anglo Saxon forebears - indeed of all the peoples of Germanic descent. This was a polytheist religion with Gods and Goddesses well known to many of us. Our days of the week are named after some of them!

Sunday is named after Sunna
Monday is named after Moona
Tuesday is named after Tir (or Tiw) - a name probably just meaning God)
Wednesday is named after Woden - or Odin as He is often known
Thursday is named after mighty Thunnar - better known as Thor
Friday is named after Frey, Freya and Frigga

Saturday does not appear to be named after the Germanic Gods!

I need to say from the outset how I view the gods and goddesses - as it is different to mainstream Heathens. I tend to use a small 'g' to distinguish them from God. I do believe that at the heart of all reality that there is a single divine essence we can call 'God'. God is the source of all things and through God are all things created, including the folk gods and goddesses. I tend to see them more as Angels for want of a better word, though I shall expand on this later. The folk gods and goddesses are created beings just as we are - but ofa higher order. They were, as were we, created through God's Logos (Mind) and are animated through God's Christos (Spirit). Thus, through the Logos and the Christos, the folk gods are inter-connected to God as we are ourselves to a lesser extent.

There was no one single pre-Christian folk religion. Whilst there was a clear tradition which held many ideas, practices and gods/goddesses in common, there was no single institution with a defined belief system set in stone. Things changed a bit over time and between different tribes.

Ancient pre-Christian European religions have common origins with Hinduism, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism which emerged from Indo-European or Aryan folk religions. The Greek pagan philosophers were part of this tradition, reflecting a particularly European development of Aryan folk faith. Now you wouldn't call Plato, Pythagoras or Aristotle country bumpkins would you!

These religions, especially Zoroastrianism heavily influenced Judaism and Christianity and resulted in sects within both of these traditions that were heavily influenced by them. Some of these sects are called the Gnostics - a catch all phrase covering several different groups.

In modern times, many people are seeking to connect to their past - to their ancestors and ancestral ways. To their folk culture and folk ways. Different forms of heathen revival are taking form. In England it is often known as Odinism or Heathenry. In North America and parts of Europe it is more often called Asatru (true to the Gods). Some times it is known as Fyrnsidu or the old ways. Some tribal reconstructionists call their form of heathenry 'Theodism' after the Anglo Saxon word Theod meaning Tribe.

For me, Christo-heathenry is an attempt to reconcile positive aspects of not just Christian thought into a reconstruction of our old folk religion, but also of the great thinkers of similar traditions (the Greek philosophers for instance). Even of modern thinkers, such as the Deists. Christo-heathenry is an attempt to reconstruct our old folk religions but with the richness of the thinkers and prophets who were themselves rooted in our Aryan tradition but who have gon on to develop ideas.

Heathenry must be relevant to the modern age and the modern person. That is not to say that it should reflect all modern values - but it needs to speak to the modern age in the right language and have something relevant to say. It is not a museum piece or a historical re-enactment game. It is a real religion for our modern world. Unfortunately, Heathenry was not allowed to progress or develop over much of the last 1500 years and so has some serious catching up to do! Neither do I personally wish to ditch every aspect of the last 1500 years of religion. Like it or not, Christianity has moulded me and the Englishness I grew up with. I see it, or at least elements of it, as having a future within a revived English folk faith. That Christianity may not be recognisable to many Church Christians but it will draw from Christ no less.

Christo-heathenry is a little like Christo-paganism which has been around for longer - but it is aimed very specifically at the Germanic pantheon of gods and goddesses.