The woman at the door is trying to push a pamphlet into my hand. I deftly avoid this and politely ask her what it’s about.
‘It’s your personal invitation to the memorial of Jesus Christ’s death.’
Genuinely, for a brief moment, I think ‘Gosh, an anti-Christian group!’ Then I remember Easter, and that it starts with a dead body.
I’ve always found Easter a bit morbid. Yes, I know the main celebration is about Jesus coming back to life, but we take a bank holiday to celebrate a good man being mocked, spat on, tortured and crucified. Whether you believe in Jesus or not, the story can’t help but make you wince; the crown of thorns, the cross; dying believing his father had forsaken him. Grim stuff.
Christians believe that Jesus died for them, for their sins, but if you read Matthew 27 Jesus doesn’t sound very happy about dying at all. At the end he rails against it, and shouts that his God has abandoned him. Of course, he still goes on to be resurrected, along with several other holy people who are unnamed by Matthew.
I think about the story, and wonder if there is a historical equivalent for Pagans. Certainly for witches like myself, we don’t need to look too far into the past at all to find persecution. As early as the 15th century, ‘witches’ were being tortured and executed (murdered) because of the threat to honest, god-fearing folk. Today, the equivalent is found in Africa, with people regularly being murdered in horrific ways for the crime of Black Magic. Compounding this, there are witch doctors in Africa who believe they need specific ingredients for their craft, and this has recently led to the murder of an albino woman, as her body parts were required for muti, a kind of traditional medicine. On the one hand we have people who want to burn the witches; on the other we have the odd ‘witch’ making it worse for everyone through murder and mayhem.
So many traditions and religions that purport to be peaceful and compassionate have a history that is tainted with blood, gore and betrayal. Many Pagans are quick to decry Christianity for this, shouting about the crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and war after war after war. But it’s a sad truth that our own paths are not exactly as tidy and clean as we might wish. The difference with Paganism is we are fighting a battle against a few individuals who are immoral. The media, of course, tends to pick up on these few who behave appallingly and say, ‘This is Paganism’. Which of course, turns those ‘God Fearing Christians’ (and others) right back against us. Ok, they can’t take us to the stake like in the 15th Century but they can make life awkward for us; no-one wants to experience bigotry in their day to day life and it can really hurt.
In March 2015, ‘White Witch’ Redvers Barnard was jailed for 22 years for various acts of child abuse; a terrifying story of a monstrous man. Not one paper reported it without highlighting the fact that he was a Pagan or a Witch. The Pagan community being what it is, this person was actually known to some of my friends. You may think they would stand by him, or give him the support of his community, as we have seen happen in the Catholic community in similar cases. But no; as soon as it was clear he was guilty, he was condemned by all. As he should be. He tried to use his self-made title of white witch to prove his innocence, but by being proven guilty despite being a ‘white witch’, he not only smeared the entire Pagan community, but the title of Witch, white or otherwise.
On any religious or spiritual path, it’s vital to have the awareness that there may be those walking a similar path who are not what you would consider good people. We must be self-aware enough to realise that whether we are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu or any one of the myriad Pagan paths, that does not automatically make us moral or good or even, and this is very important, correct!
It’s up to each of us to keep our own morals in check; to ensure that we are behaving according to our values. If our values veer away from those of our chosen religion (think of a devout catholic who wants an abortion), then perhaps it is time for a change. Or perhaps, we simply accept that religion doesn’t dictate morals.
Jesus may have died for his followers’ sins, but I think he would have been appalled at the nature of the ‘sin’ performed in the name of religion since his demise. To me, it seems he died for nothing, until the day when we can all, each and every one of us, accept the responsibilities for our own actions.
I avoid the pamphlet the well-meaning lady is trying to force into my hand, and I wish her a blessed Easter, but advise that I won’t be attending the memorial of Jesus’ death. I’d much rather celebrate my life right now, and living it as well as I know how.
*Originally published on the Moon books blog.
About the Author:
Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.
She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways.