This summer was a bit strange, well not strange for me, but strange compared to those who enjoy Summer and perhaps even go outside in it. We did go camping once but other than that I tried to avoid the heat as much as possible. It was a summer of introversion and inner seeking.
I started with the OBOD Order of Bards Ovates and Druids last fall. It is very open to whatever religion you practice, you can even be atheist. But for whatever reason, perhaps due to a renewed interest in the Wisdom teachings, which ended up leading to the sayings of Gospel of Thomas I also had found myself sort of drawn toward progressive Christianity and mysticism. (a practice I had had before)
To support this renewed interest in Christianity, I restarted my Quarters of the Day, read my Thomas Merton and incorporated more meditation and prayer into my life. When I found out that Harvard Divinity School was doing some of their classes online for free via edX I was thrilled. This summer I took 4 classes in the Sacred Scriptures series. General scripture, Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism.
I really enjoyed them. However, the same thing that happened before happened again.
The more I learned about the origins of Christianity, the picking of the Gospels, the personal biasedness of the Church fathers that led to the manner of canonization, and well pretty much all of it.. the more I realized why I had decided before that I just couldn't follow that path. Don't get me wrong, I think that the New Testament has Jesus saying some great things. The problem is, none of the Gospels were written by anyone that knew him. We don't even know if he said the things he is reported as having said. Each Gospel has contradictions, redactions and interpolations.
What if boiled down to (and I mentioned in the blog a few weeks ago when on a rant as to why Thomas wasn't included) is that Jesus was a Jewish guy who may have said some things to gentiles that encouraged them to leave the way of life they were in and walk a new one. The idea of a personal god was kind of unique to Gentiles, and even for the Jewish people (the first Christians were Jews and Gentiles... Christianity did not become a 'thing' til quite some time after Jesus) Jesus the Rabbi or Teacher seemed to have incorporated many ideas of House of Hillel as far as his universal method of trying to teach Judaism to the average person.
So, a Jewish Rabbi teaching one of the versions of Judaism to Jews and Gentiles. Back in that era, Rabbi's argued and debated scripture all the time, they still do - because they don't accept blindly. They read, interpret, study, and fully engage with their texts. So Jesus' teachings weren't really that unusual or strange at the time. The reason perhaps he made more of an impact is because for whatever reason, he had a charisma and teaching ability that appealed to the Gentiles. And of course, he waved the need for circumcision and other things that normally a convert to Judaism would have to undergo.
But somehow, out of that... we got Christianity.
I realized that for me, someone who wanted to connect with Divinity - the God essence that I have had experience with off and on throughout my life - Christianity had based itself on writings that had little to do with God. Rather than being a religion about God, it seemed more like a religion about Jesus. And not even the Jesus that would have actually existed if he had... but a high christological form that I just could not relate to.
Worse is that during the past 2000 years. Christianity in many many forms, has stripped the Jewishness from Jesus. And in fact, the very people that were his community, the Jews --- they came to be called Christ Killers by Christians because redactions in the bible, in some spots put the onus on the Jews for having Jesus killed rather than Pontius Pilate. So many Christians take the bible SO freaking literally, as the ABSOLUTE word of God --- that they focused on those passages to hate the people who birthed Jesus. And the Holocaust happened --- hate propaganda put out against these 'Christ Killers'. In Nazi Germany Jesus was stripped of his Middle East origins and turned into a European with blonde hair and blue eyes.
This made me think --- why do I care? Why do I... someone who is an Eclectic Wiccan-Druid pagany sort care about all this? Why do I even go along these stupid journeys into religion? Well.. because I have had these experiences. Strange, fleeting, life changing experiences. I read of the experiences of some mystics or devotees etc and I think 'Wow! That is my experience also! I can relate to this so much!' and I end of following a path that feels as though it would nurture a stronger connection to deity. Paganism is great - it gives freedom to celebrate in whatever manner feels right - but sometimes some people want some focus. They want to be able to stop writing their own rules and try an established path already there with an established community and see if it works. Sadly it rarely does.
Onward to Judaism - the God in the Tanakh described as Gentle, Merciful, loving Father of All. The God I grew up thinking of as a 'father' sort. I have always had this connection to this Ancient of Days sort of God and would find glimpses of him in the Psalms, distinct from the war-like angry, jealous Yahweh. In Wicca and Paganism I have not found a connection with that same 'presence' that I have known for so long. The changing seasons, chanting, dancing, celebrating, enjoying... all wonderful and good.. but there was a reverence I needed that I couldn't quite find. It was not the El Elyon, or El Shaddai... that I knew as God.
And this is where Cycles come in. Cycles of life... because some time ago, before my entry into the OBOD, I had been studying ancient Israelite religion and the Journey toward Monotheism, I had learned of Canaaite polytheism via the writings discovered at Ras Shamrah. In what was called Ugarit. I had really delved into the lore and stories that were disovered. They are over 3000 years old and speak of El - the Creator of Mankind, El the Bull, the Wise and Compassionate, El the Ancient of Days-- and his wife Athirat (pronouced correctly it sounds more like Asherah) . I had discovered all this and my polytheistic self was thrilled to pieces. For whatever reason though, I had strayed away from it last fall -- I think because the new studies for OBOD were suddenly taking up a large space in my time, and there were new connections made with others and it was quite a new exciting stage of my life.
This summer however, in taking the classes I took - and realizing that no matter WHAT path I have been on, I have been trying to find my way 'home' - I had realized that Christianity would not ever work for me, and had found a renewed interest in Judaism. Partly from the fact that I almost felt as though I was voting for the 'underdog' after realizing all that the Jewish people had gone through, and realizing as mentioned above that Christianity - for a LONG time - worked to rewrite the story of Jesus into a lie (and hey, a myth I'm cool with, Paganism is FULL of myths. If the Jesus story had been PRESENTED as myth it would be okay with me, but the fact that it is presented by the majority of the population as fact, and that the message is taken as the literal word of God and used to destroy others... THAT I can not support) and also tho because when my parents married, my mother converted to Judaism and I did also (at 6 years old) so I actually had this whole religion I could access if I wanted.
Stilll on the fence though about actual 'Judaism' as rabbinical Judaism, compared to the Hebrew Religion pre- rabbinical. I loved that Jewish people don't take their scriptures at face value, nor do they discourage scriptural study as the Church did for so long. Jews are expected to study that Torah and know it. They are expected to learn how to write and use their collective Hebrew language that unites Jews across the globe. That's pretty darn cool. Rabbi's today are still interpreting and analyzing and thinking about stories and origins (Midrash) ...
No matter how much I enjoy the intelligence of Judaism and the focus on God and not just 'church father's ideas of Jesus' words about God, I had to bring my favourite Canaanite deities in. The Tanakh to me is a collection of stories of multiple gods that it does not hide well. El, YAhweh, Yam (god of the sea) Even Asherah, Ba'al, Ashtart --- they are all in there. So other than some of the renewal synagogues etc I would probably be seen as quite a weirdo. In that matter I am more aptly called a Semitic Polytheist.
The OBOD encourages worship of anything, or nothing. For the OBOD it is about personal development spiritually. I can use the myths of Ugarit as allegorical insights into the self. Use the dynamics and climaxes in our pagan story telling rituals and plays. So it actually has turned into a wonderful way to connect to the 'Hebrew' aspect of myself and the Celtic genetics of my dna as well.
The final development in this was discovering AMHA or Am Ha'aretz - the people of the land. The Primitive Hebrew Assembly. I had an amazing two hour long conversation via phone with the Shophet and it blends a perfect Hebrew Pagan/Earth-based with the Canaanite deities I love. Most prominently El and Asherah.
Rather than being a 'one or the other' I find that my practice easily incorporates honouring the Old Ones as well as honouring the divinity found within the earth around me. There are Hebrew seasonal celebrations that do not conflict with the Druidic ones. There is no need to 'make it work'. It is just a freedom of expression and celebration that is quite uplifting. I have finally found the context I had been seeking, in honouring the Deities I had somehow known all my life but never met. Deities that to me ultimately are facets of a Universal energy or motion of sorts. At the same time I am encouraged through AMHA to learn Hebrew and study many books of biblical history, archeology and more. Each person free to interpret what they find in a way relevant to their life's journey.
So as a final ending to this long ramble (what happens when I wait so long between posts) I am practicing Druidcraft with my Pagan groups and am learning within the Primitive Hebrew Assembly a beautiful path that reveres Em Adamah (Earth /nature spirituality), the Ancestors,and the Feminine Divine traditional to Ancient Hebrew Tribes. So now, in closing -- two pictures of the shrine/altar that has been the focus of my practice this past summer.