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The Adventures of a Modern-Day Heretic and the Skyclad Christ

This article was written by Rev Mark Townsend
posted under Pagan

It was a serious kick in the teeth from my own "tribe" that triggered my adventure. And one that hurt, very much. I’d been a priest within the Church of England for over decade when it happened, and it led to a few years of intolerable pain—yet also to one of the most powerful and liberating revelations of my entire life. I guess you could say that the major theme of my ministry had always been the (tested and proven by experience) notion of beauty/grace/magic that flows through the cracks of life. I’ve been conscious of this for years—the strange and mixed blessing that it is often in the periods of the most intense darkness that slithers of glorious golden light reveal themselves. Or, to put it another way, within the pain and hurt of life (and oh God/dess how we’d rather not suffer at all) are often found the most soul-enriching blessings.

Now is not the time to detail all the events surrounding this particular "kicking," suffice it to say that in June of 2007, just as my family and I were about to move to a new home that accompanied my new position as a rural vicar, I lost my job, home, income, pension, security, and a whole lot more. I also lost many friends and support within the church, and quickly felt as thought I’d been tossed into some metaphorical scrap heap. One minute I was a respectable man of the cloth, financially comfortable and secure. And the next, my family and I were near homeless, penniless, and I was forced into to making a living by working as a cleaner.

Now, as I said above, and as I’ve learned time and time again, light shines most brilliantly through the cracks. What was it Leonard Cohen once sang? "There’s a crack in everything, it’s how the light gets in."

Within just a few weeks of this dramatic change of circumstances the idea came to me to turn what had up until that point been a hobby into a full time job. I’d dabbled in stage magic/prestidigitation for years and had always nurtured a dream (a fantasy, really) of one day becoming a stage illusionist. "Now’s your chance!" my inner voice whispered. And so I got myself a website, and advertised what I decided to call "Soulful Magic"—illusion that is designed to uplift and enchant rather than just dish out tantalizing puzzles. And it worked—so much so that it’s still my primary "job," even five years later. Thus, that was one nugget of gold which presented itself within the battered rubble of my broken priestly career. However, it’s the other nugget of gold that I wish to speak about with more depth.

Late in 2007, I received a phone call from a delightful man who happened to be the Druidic leader (Chief) of around 10,000 Druids within a world-wide Order. His name was Philip Carr-Gomm, and he had called to invite me to speak and perform at the order’s annual winter gathering of The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids at Glastonbury, England.

Well, I’d always worried my contemporaries within the church with my assertion that I had a natural "Pagan heart," so the offer of an opportunity to show off my soulful magic to an enormous group of Pagans was irresistible.

The day came and I stepped forward onto the stage. I was briefly introduced by Philip as "a Vicar who does magic," and then I plunged head first into the Pagan world. I’ve never surfaced!

In short, that evening changed my life. I was not only struck by the depth of spirituality and the sense of life in that place, but what really impressed me was the totally open and non-proselytizing nature of these eccentrically dressed people. I stayed there all night as a visible priest of a different path, speaking to many Druids and Wiccans, and not one of them attempted to talk me into becoming a Druid at all. There was no preaching, no claims of "our way is the truth," and certainly no putting down of me of my own path. So there was no explicit influence, yet the implicit influence was enormous. And so within a few months I’d become a member of OBOD myself.

There are many tales to tell of what went on over the next few years of my Pagan adventures, but none more invigorating and surprising than my re-introduction to the man who was the founder of my own path, yet through a completely new set of eyes. In a nutshell, I began to reclaim the "divine baby" who’d (understandably) been cast out with the church’s dirty bathwater. Over the months of talking to and learning from my new Pagan friends I began to discover something about them and the way they viewed the religion that I represented. I discovered that while most of them found Christianity negative (and some of them even saw it as dangerous) they, on the whole, liked the person of Jesus. It was not him they had any problem with but his church. Who can blame them?

I also began to meet more and more Druids and Wiccans who opened up to me about their own past Christian history (those who’d come from a Church background) and I detected a longing in some of them to hold on to Jesus as a friend, a teacher, an inspired spiritual personality. But they felt awkward doing so—as if it were contradictory to their Paganism.

(I must say that I do find it odd how some Pagans can be so eclectic that they burn incense to Ganesh, light candles to Tara, and use any number of Celtic, Nordic, and Egyptian Deities, and yet feel it inappropriate to incorporate Jesus or Christ or anything from the monotheistic traditions.)

In my discussions I came across many Pagans who still loved Jesus deeply, but could not fit him into their spirituality any more. Maxine Sanders, who I had the privilege of interviewing, put me in touch with an ex-Catholic Alexandrian High Priest whose love for Jesus was still so great that he wept as he expressed how he needed to let go of him and assign him to the spiritual waste basket of the past.

Many of these ex-Christian Pagans still had a deep love for the man they knew as the "god" of their old religion, yet found almost no way of including any reference to him within their newer path or spirituality. This gradually awakened a new dream within me—to create a fresh and dynamic picture of Jesus, but from a Pagan perspective. And so I was handed a new Quest. Three years later, after having had the most extraordinary discussions with most of the leading personalities of the Neo-Pagan world, I am now delighted to offer Jesus Through Pagan Eyes to all those who feel some sort of inner respect for Jesus, yet not as the "god" of Christianity, but rather as a soul friend on the spiritual path.

The book is quite clearly for two groups of people. First of all it’s for Pagans like those I’ve just mentioned, who still long to have some connection to Jesus/Christ yet remain 100% Pagan. And I believe this is possible. Secondly, it’s for the many Christians out there who are interested in how Pagans view their central Christian God-Image, and are possibly open to learning some profound new insights about him from people who’ve traditionally been regarded as "the enemy."

I can’t give away much more here, but I will leave you with this short extract:

Don’t be shocked. We need to begin our journey with a naked Jesus, a Jesus stripped of his Christian clothing! He demands it, and when we’ve done so we must resist the temptation of re-clothing him with a Da Vinci Code imagination. He requires brute honesty at this stage, not fantasy. This book must begin with facts and, as we will soon see, with regard to Jesus of Nazareth, there are not many of which we can be certain. However, once we have uncovered what we can, and disentangled the historical man from the many layers of theological interpretation we can then begin to do two things:
  1. Get to know the man—the real person who challenged the political and religious world around him; a man who lived 2,000 years ago in a Jewish backwater of the Roman Empire, and

  2. Remove the negative layers of literalised mythology that have quenched the spirit of the man himself and, rather, turned him into something he never was. Then we might be better able to create a useful mythology that actually uplifts and inspires rather than burdens and cripples with guilt.

I’m certain that anyone choosing to read Jesus Through Pagan Eyes, which has contributions from many of the most respect Elders within the Druidic, Wiccan, and Heathen worlds, will be shocked, enriched, and maybe even a little overcome when they see Jesus through Pagan eyes—the Skyclad Christ.

Rev Mark TownsendRev Mark Townsend
A former clergyman in the Church of England, Reverend Mark Townsend now leads his own inclusive and ecumenical ministry that nourishes a strong appreciation for the diversity of faith beyond Christianity, and which strives to honor the divine in all...  Read more

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