Friday, July 13, 2007
Jesus in the Garden
Traveling in Denmark in my late teens, I met an Indian guru there. I wondered how I could have possibly ended up in Denmark to start my spiritual journey, but this was how it began. I found a postcard of the statue of Hans Christian Anderson and mailed it to my friends with the quote: “What is the sound of one Hans Klapping?”. Now, nearly 3 decades later, I am out of silly questions. The crazier the experiences, the more it all makes sense.
This group of people from around the world that I met in Denmark were not unlike myself - loosely affiliated around a simple spiritual path apparently unfettered by any particular religion. Over the next decade I would witness the group fall gradually into cult like behavior as it started to adopt religious or faith based characteristics and shun the experiential aspects of a spiritual path. For me it was like watching hundreds of years of the early Christian church slowly loose its purity and innocence, only this was over a period of two or three years.
When I left this budding cult, I was able to begin to re-familiarize myself with Christianity, far better prepared to see through the centuries of myth creation, selective scripture transposing, land and power grabbing, and dilution of the basic message, as I had seen it all in this organization I had just left.
My 13 year old son recently pointed out the most basic distillation of Christianity in the popular book “Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, it went something like this:
“two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change”
There’s plenty of deception in all formal, organized religions. Some need the community and support, some choose to be secular humanists, some choose to forsake all religion and take the elitist, pure spirituality approach.
As I explore Christianity in my own experience, I am also genetically inclined to explore my Native American heritage as well. To mix things up further, I discovered leaving the cult, that the spiritual practice I did for over 10 years was far closer to Sufism, than traditional Raja Yoga - which caused a 3 year stint exploring the Sufi connection to my cult past to learn if there was anything there for me to latch onto.
Despite what the Catholic Church would have us believe, Jesus was a mystic, visited at birth by a group of Magi mystics who followed the stars to find him. His ministry began with a water purification ritual performed by a man whose description fits that of a Shaman, living in the desert on honey and locusts, performing purification rituals with water and proclaiming the coming of a prophet who would purify humanity with the holy spirit and fire. After Jesus’ purification ritual, he was thrust into the wilderness on nothing less than a spirit quest where he was tempted by evil spirits and ministered to by angelic spirit guides. When he returned he had transformed into a healer and prophet and spent 3 years traveling the land teaching, healing and performing amazing feats. In the 2002-03 Harvard Divinity Bulletin, John Aston describes Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness as nothing less than a Spirit quest and the biblical description of his healing strikingly similar to the healing traditions of the shamans of North America and Eastern Europe.
This all culminated in a blood sacrifice to purify all of humanity. The subsequent act of resurrection was described as proof of eternal life. The ascension was described to indicate a world beyond this one...
So why does the Church water down these few mystical facts, in a manner that disconnects them from any mystical traditions? Yet, at the same time, Christianity grew mainly because it adopted other traditions to gain popularity with the cultures being recruited.
I personally believe that, while the missionaries may have believed that they were using a manipulative recruiting technique to grow their numbers, the truth is that Christianity does have its roots in the ancient Pagan and Shaman traditions, whose rituals Christianity adopted in during its aggressive recruiting campaigns in Europe and Latin America.
My cult experience taught me why a religious organizations seek exclusivity by distancing themselves from their history and origins. What I find astonishing about Christianity, is that over the centuries, it adopted traditions, apparently in a haphazard manner, from the very mystical roots it had attempted to erase in its early years.
I suspect this occurred because the message was so simple, it became a sponge, attracting the very aspects that resonated with it in the cultures it was introduced to. This in spite of the more or less malicious intentions of many of the missionaries involved in cramming the message down the troats of the natives.
As I explored the Magi history, I find a mystical community that seems to be embraced by or adopt literally every religion throughout history. Sufism, while associated with Islam, resulted from a group of mystics, living in the days of Mohammed, that were embraced by that religion. There are Sufis in India who are Hindu, and a growing community of Sufis who claim to be affiliated with Christianity. In fact, Sufism can be linked to the same mystical tradition as the Magi, that links Judaism, Christianity, and likely has links to ancient Vedic traditions. According to Shelagh McKenna, the Magi likely were involved in the early formation of the Christian Church. McKenna also indicates that the Druidic Priests who converted to Christianity also had their roots in the Magi tradition. The old testament book of Daniel, describes the life of a Chaldean Magi who translated the dreams of kings yet maintained his purity in spite of temptations of wealth and privilege. He survided banishment to the den of lions. Somehow, the Magi are rarely mentioned again until baby Jesus is visited by three of them, then conveniently forgotten again in the scriptures.
There is one clear message in this whole mixed up journey, Religion is simply a shell. It is a structure where a community can exist, and interact with the world. The real journey occurs in spite of any organized religion. Jesus, being who he was, transitioned humanity from a spiritual journey reserved only to the priest class, carefully bred from bloodlines of biblical kings, to a path available for all humanity, regardless of bloodlines.
Shamanism, to me appears to be a tradition that attempts to reclaim what was lost in Eden, when humanity was banished from the garden. It seeks to reconnect humanity with the wisdom of earth that was lost when humanity chose not to live in harmony with the garden. The Mystical traditions of the Yogis, Magi, Sufis, etc., is the same journey only internalized, as one seeks to connect with God on a personal internal level, by connecting with the “internal garden”. That both traditions seem to be present in the history of Christianity is likely not a coincidence.
Decades after my silly question in Denmark when I began this journey, and a twisted path leading me here, this patchwork of traditions and beliefs that I have absorbed appear less random that I had ever would have expected.