Category Archives: christianity

All that Lies Between: From the Centre to the Margins (and back again)

“…all that lies between the lamp-post and the great castle of Cair Paravel…”

The shrine at Healy Pass, Co. Cork, Ireland (which overlooks quite a view...) Photo by Meredith Desmond

The shrine at Healy Pass, Co. Cork, Ireland (which overlooks quite a view…) Photo by Meredith Desmond

The Healy Pass, built to transport food across the  mountains between Cork and Kerry during the famine. Photo by Dulaman.

The Healy Pass, built to transport food (and coffins) across the mountains between Cork and Kerry during the famine. Photo by Dulaman.

There are the people who seek the centre.

And then there those who are happiest on the margins, out in the wild.

In my re-exploration of Christianity, I’m making an on-again off-again attempt to understand the Christian story from a new viewpoint, from the light of the wild places on the edge. There are many problems I’m having with this, as a polytheistic Pagan. In Christian theology, the Christian God is shown as owning all things and drawing all things to himself. There’s really no other way to see him, except at the Centre.

There are echoes of the margins in the Christian story/ies too. But I’m still thinking that a lot of these are found in the lived-out stories of those who sought the wild Christ, more than in the story of God himself.

Statue of St Brendan the Navigator, Bantry Bay, Co. Cork

Statue of St Brendan the Navigator, Bantry Bay, Co. Cork

St Brendan leaves Ireland in a little boat, and the myth echoes back after him: he reached America, pushed onwards by faith, courage and the other members of his small community who came with him. Is this a tale based on the older Irish myths of imramma, or was a real Brendan inspired by those stories to go out to sea? Does it matter? He is a patron of the margins. This is a man who, if he didn’t personally know my wild goddess, was driven forward from the edge of her land by her wild spirit. For the love of his own wild God.

Jonathan Woolley has been talking on Gods and Radicals about reclaiming the story of Narnia, from the edges and the margins, from the ordinary world, not the great hierarchy of Lewis’s obsession. Like him, I’m not looking for some great castle of Cair Paravel – the institutions and the ordered religion and the power of the state. I seek the magic on the margins, out in the wild woods. Trees my only companions, a dim lamp-post my only light. Out where my wild goddess brings snow and storms across the mountains. I can keep trying to house myself in a church, but I find myself called out to the shore again soon enough. I can keep trying to live in a castle, but I’m always drawn back into the woods. Is there a wild Christ here too? I’m not sure yet. But if I ever find him, it will be out here, where I live.

Mist that hangs like silk
Soaking in the rain
Trees that rise like ghosts
Bearing people’s names
And a sea that takes me
Where I do not know
But I gladly go

Shrouded in the sweetest grass
I’ve ever known
This my earthly bed
My beloved home
But the voice that calls me
To the far away
I can only trust every word you say

And here I am
Out on the edge of the world
With You, With You

– Iona, ‘Edge of the World’, song based on the story of St Brendan’s voyage


That Damned Christian Story

“I will sing the wondrous story…
Sing it with the saints in glory
Gathered by the crystal sea”

I don’t tell the story like they do.

I don’t sing “of the Christ who died for me”. I can’t relate to that God. Maybe it’s my Asperger’s, or maybe it’s just who I am, but that isn’t my Story.

I sing the story of Liberation. The Liberator God, who frees his people from slavery and from oppression.

I am the oppressor and the oppressed. I am the prisoner and I am the chains that bind her. I am the problem and the solution.

There is no Pagan story I have ever found that matches this one. The gods I honour are powerful and fascinating, and Beara will always be my deity. But her stories, while wonderful and valuable for many other reasons and purposes, don’t give me freedom.

Gnosticism is a mighty story from that perspective. God creates Sophia, the incarnation of his wisdom. Sophia, in her fallen confusion, births the Archons, false rulers who create greed and fear and oppression. Sophia is liberated by the incarnated Creator, and with her, we are liberated from the Archons.

It’s only a story. But it’s one I can work from.

Here’s another version of that story. God’s people are slaves in a foreign land. He liberates them. And then he does it again, and again, and again. But in the end, it’s all one Story, all one Liberation. Sophia is lost and enslaved. Christ finds her and frees her.

There are other, related stories I love. The beautiful Avatars of Sophia, like the Marys – the Mother and the Follower. Loyal saints (a saint: someone freed from liberation), like Catherine of Alexandria, my patron, liberated from a life she did not want. (Ironically, Catherine is partly known for converting from Paganism to Christianity and refusing to convert back. I think my gods and spirits like irony.) St Patrick the Celtic hero, who finds God in all the elements of the earth. St Francis, the friend of the animals, who shows us a gentler way to live in freedom. Mother Julian of Norwich, hermit and lover of Christ. St Anthony of Padua, who freed prisoners and preached to the fishes in the sea. St Catejan, who worked for freedom for the poor. Martin Luther King, a saint to me and to many. Great ancestors. Great liberators.

All of them looking to the Great Story, to Christ the Liberator.

Does this mean I’m a Christian? I don’t know. I don’t know if labels matter. I don’t know if it matters that I am also a polytheist, trying to understand this story from the perspective of a very different worldview from most Christians. Maybe, like the chaos magicians, I can move from one perspective to another, when I need to. A human being is a complex thing who needs many stories.

“My chains fell off and I was free
I rose, went forth and followed thee…”

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