Within contemporary occulture, one often runs into people who are uncomfortable with the pervasiveness of the Abrahamic god in grimoiric and other magic, and especially with the person of Jesus Christ. Given the familial religious abuse that many of us have grown up with, this is no surprise. (Please, Lord, save us from your followers!) Many people have successfully substituted non-Abrahamic deities and spirits for the Christian variety; but like it or loathe it, the presence of Christian names and thought in Western magic must ultimately be dealt with in one fashion or another.
While I escaped the familial religious trauma so many have experienced, I too have my own ambivalence regarding Christianity and the person of Jesus in the magic that I work. What follows is a bit about my own background, and how I personally reconcile my own religious sensibilities and magical work with the Christian view of God and the person of Jesus.
I grew up in a liberal family in college-town Oklahoma. My parents were non-observant Christians; I don’t recall ever going to church during my youth. After my first religious experience at age 12, I became very involved in the Episcopal Church, and at one point wanted to enter the clergy and become a priest. After several years, however, I started to feel a growing discomfort around reciting the Nicene Creed without being able to fully assent to what it was I was saying. I came to realize that I had very little idea who (or what) this Jesus person was; and given that the concept of animal sacrifice has always violently clashed with my sensibilities, the central idea of Christianity, with its sacrificial death for the remission of sin, has never really worked for me. At age 16, I quietly left the church to pursue my own path.
While I never went through any familial religious abuse, I was still a liberal kid growing up in Oklahoma, which has a large population of fundamentalist Christians. Between school and my extracurricular life, I still had plenty of abuse directed at me. I’ve met Christians who are true to the spiritual journey and model the true values espoused in the Gospels, but they have been fairly few and far between. So despite my relative privilege with respect to abuse trauma while growing up, I still was not left unscathed.
Over time, I came to a different understanding of Christianity that largely works for me, even though I don’t identify as a Christian (instead considering myself a religious adherent of Hermeticism). While I still have few if any answers to the questions that bothered me so much in my teens, in hindsight those new understandings made a lot of the discomfort and cognitive dissonance I had with respect to Christianity dissipate. Nonetheless, I never returned to the church: I had found my own road to travel instead.
It’s not often that explicitly Christian prayers or verbiage enters my magical practice, though I do draw from a variety of Christian sources between the grimoires and my work with the planetary archangels. The archangels in my experience have been pretty neutral with respect to bringing in that Christian lens, though it does happen from time to time–and it’s always jarring to me when it does, because Christianity is neither the lens that I see through nor is it one that I find to be of especial personal significance to me these days. It was observing my own cognitive dissonance in these circumstances, and a desire to engage with it, that inspired this post.
Jesus and the Christ
As mentioned above, a big sticking point for me in my latter teen years with respect to the Nicene Creed was my agnosis regarding who the historical person of Jesus was, and what if any relationship that person had to the mythos that later developed around him.
What do we know about Jesus? There were many apocalyptic movements emerging around messiah figures during the time he lived, in Roman-occupied Galilee and Judea. This is not especially surprising: when an occupier wields absolute power over a marginalized group, the only hope for deliverance comes from religious eschatology. Jesus was likely a revolutionary, and was executed when he gained enough popularity that both the Romans and the Jews who represented the established mainstream began to view him as a threat. Regardless of whether Jesus was indeed the unique incarnation of God on earth, he embraced the symbolism of animal sacrifice to represent himself–the scapegoat of the hegemony–as the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.
But how do we connect the idea of Jesus as a person to Jesus as the Christ? My solution has been to regard them as two separate figures entirely. On the one hand there’s the human Jesus–the historical person, much of whose life has been lost to the sands of time. On the other hand there is the mythic Christ, a cosmic entity only loosely tied to the historical personage, who shares more in common with the other gods than with humanity. When I look at the issue through that lens, it sidesteps a lot of my own discomfort.
Nor is it clear to me that the person of Jesus as the Christ was ever intended to represent the one and only true son of God. The word generally translated from the Greek as “only-begotten” (μονογενής, monogenês) refers to the only member of a kind or kin, but a better translation would be “unique”. And we are all unique children of the Divine, are we not? Consequently, I tend to regard μονογενής as meaning something more like “uniquely special”–just as every human being is.
Additionally, we must look at the words χριστός (christos) and מָשִׁיחַ (moshiach or messiah), in context. Both words simply mean “anointed”, and again it is not at all clear that this was intended to be a singular designation. Anointing in the biblical context was primarily done as a part of the coronation of a new king of Israel, and was itself viewed as the magico-religious act by which a selected individual became king. After the Assyrian invasion and conquest of Israel, there were no more kings to be anointed. The Jewish concept of the messiah then became an eschatological one, the future anointed king of the new kingdom of Israel. Part of the subversive theology of early Christianity was the idea that this new king named Jesus was not a temporal ruler, but rather a ruler in the heavenly realms and in the world to come. Either way, we must bear in mind that Christ is properly speaking a title, and not the surname of Jesus.
Reconciling the Conflicts
Explicitly Christian verbiage very rarely comes up in my own practice and extemporaneous invocation/prayer, but it always weirds me out when it does. That said, I also do my primary spirit work at this point with the planetary archangels, who are a bit more keen on Christianity than the gods or other spirits. So it does come up at times, and it’s a bit jarring. I’ve had to compartmentalize the historical Jesus and the mythic Christ into entirely separate concepts in order to reconcile my own differences.
I still have only the barest idea who and what the historical Jesus was. I’ve largely set aside that question for the last 15 years or so as not especially relevant to my interests. In my case, I found a lot of my own reconciliation through a study of the historical context of Christianity as a religion, and through seeing the mythos of Christianity as one “true” sacred story among many other true sacred stories. When viewed from the perspective of the infinite rather than the human and finite, there is no reason why Christ should be incompatible with any other mythos in that regard.
I confess, Jesus still doesn’t do it for me, and neither does Christ. I resonate a lot more with the Graeco-Egyptian gods. But I’ll form relationships and work with both, and continue to lean into my discomfort and cognitive dissonance with an aim to sort it out and unpack my baggage. As an apocryphal story goes, when a Christian missionary once proselytized to a Native American tribe, the chief listened to the story with interest. At the end, he said, “That is a good story. We will tell that one too.”
Here’s to good stories, and the divine truths they conceal within.