The Mythic Christ

 by the Institute for Gnostic Studies

That the Christos represents the solar power reverenced by every nation of antiquity cannot be controverted. If Jesus revealed the nature and purpose of this solar power under the name and personality of Christos, thereby giving to this abstract power the attributes of a god-man, He but followed a precedent set by all previous World-Teachers. This god-man, thus endowed with all the qualities of Deity, signifies the latent divinity in every man. Mortal man achieves deification only through at-one-ment with this divine Self. Union with the immortal Self constitutes immortality, and he who finds his true Self is therefore “saved.” This Christos, or divine man in man, is man’s real hope of salvation - the living Mediator between abstract Deity and mortal humankind. As Attis, Adonis, Bacchus, and Orpheus in all likelihood were originally illumined men who later were confused with the symbolic personages whom they created as personifications of this divine power, so Jesus has been confused with the Christos, or god-man, whose wonders He preached. Since the Christos was the god-man imprisoned in every creature, it was the first duty of the initiate to liberate, or “resurrect” this Eternal One within himself. He who attained reunion with his Christos was consequently termed a Christian, or Christened, man.

Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages


Who was Jesus ? Seems like such a simple question. Yet the more we study the Life of Jesus the more difficult it becomes, there are so many opinions, so many interpretations and bluntly, so little historical fact. Yet the question which must be asked is whether the historical Jesus is of that much importance. If we were to discuss the power of the image of Osiris, Dionysius even Krsna, the immediate question is not where are they located in time or what is the proof of their historical existence. No, we examine them as mythic qualities, as images and icons, tales and legends which embody principles rather than history. This is not to deny that the historical element behind mythic figure is not interesting, intriguing, even important, but that it is SECONDARY to the mythic quality. Much the same needs to be applied to Jesus, the Jesus of history will never to truly found. The evidence is there, but is so fragmentary that every interpretation is possible. It is only when we enter into the mythic Jesus, the Cosmic Christ, that we can begin to interpret what the scant elements of history many mean.


It is quite clear that the New Testament accounts are flaky, they are not history. They are myth written in the form of history. While many elements could be correct, it is clear that they were moulded, edited and reformed to reflect certain traditions about Jesus rather than being a historical record of his life.  It is much the same with any figure of importance, the stories of their lives become woven into myth and legend and what results has little or nothing to do with the historical reality. In terms of Jesus he fulfilled the mythic characteristic of a Solar god of “rebirth” and hence his life was woven with images which reflect the stories of Osiris, Buddha, Krsna and many others. There is much debate about whether underneath the legend there is any history at all. On one side we have authors such as Timothy Freke who wrote the Jesus Mystery (Random House, August 2000), who argue that what we have is a perennial motif, a living mythic quality which has no reality in a historical sense. Others ranging from the conservative to the liberal would argue for a historical Jesus who was the foundation from which the mythic quality developed. There have been countless books written comparing the life of Jesus to Attis, Dionysuis, Buddha, Krsna and so many others, yet the key fact is ignored. There are similarities not because they are copying one another but because they are all part of a continuos perennial motif. Rather than disproving the value of the Christ myth by comparing with another, it actually proves its great mythic significance.


For the Gnostic it is the mythic that matters. When a divine principle manifests through the emanations which make up the hierarchy of the spiritual worlds, it doesn’t really matter whether it only manifests in the mythic (the mental worlds) or in the physical. What matters is that it has manifest. Jesus then was a conflux of many legends, tales, myths, images and icons and brought together many different cultural forms of the “solar spirit”. This mythic quality and its ability to evoke resonance from many cultures and traditions is the unique power of the Christ.


This mythic quality is rooted in the perennial motif of the Solar Logos and the God of death and rebirth. It is echoed through many culture forms and is not isolated to the supposed “Judaic” origins of Christianity. Indeed, many would argue, that Christianity in its mystical and Gnostic heart owes more to the Greek mystery traditions than to Judaism.


The radical nature of Jesus’ message is that it offers us the power to “live the myth”. We can follow his example and become part of the myth and hence achieve liberation (Deification). This lifechanging message is at the heart of the Gnostic and mystical tradition, however, it is one that the “Church authorities” would rather ignore.  The reason for this can be traced back to a fascinating debate early in Church history over what was called the Arian controversy.


The Arian Controversy


The Arian controversy arose from the teaching of the Alexandrian priest Arius, c.256-336. Arianism spread and was condemned by the First Council of Nicea (325). The conflict however continued and several bishops and emperors sided with Arius. The Catholic tenets of Rome finally triumphed, and the First Council of Constantinople (381) upheld the decrees of Nicaea.


The essential Arian debate was over the nature of Christ. On the Church side we had the position that Christ was eternally God, that he simply incarnated into the flesh, died, resurrected and returned to the father. While the Church had to accept that he became human, it was a difficult decision and one framed in carefully defined theological terms. While he may have been human he was also always divine. From this model, the only accepted form of spiritual practise was worship. We could not become like Jesus, since he was eternally God, even when human. We must approach him from “outside” and worship him as separate from us. The ramifications of this was that the Church, representing Gods presence on earth, also could demand obedience and could take a position of control.


The Arian position was radically different. The Arians believed Jesus was human and only became “divine” at his baptism. Accordingly, many esoteric sects argued that Jesus had developed through many lives and hence achieved a moment of awakening which allowed him to become divine. In this model we can become like Jesus, we can do the training, achieve development and hence also become part of God. This model emphasizes emulation of Jesus over worship. Since Jesus achieved Christhood, we can achieve Christhood, it is a state not a “item of worship”. The Church has in this model only a guiding role, it cannot demand obedience. Christ is a state in potential within us and hence we can achieve a state of union, separateness is temporal and hence Jesus role exists in the mythic rather than within historical and literalist interpretations. Since the Christ exists beyond history and manifested in Jesus, then other “Christs” are possible and the continuum of the myth is welcomed rather than rejected as heretical or worse as heathen.


It is clear from history that the literalist model won and since that time the Church has suppressed the Arian position. But there are strange contradictions. While the Church rejects the Arian position most mystics (including Loyola, father of the Jesuits) insist on our emulation of Christ and yet give it convoluted theological explanations. The central question is why emulate a being unless you want to become like it, and if you want to become like Christ you must become Christ. (If Christ is pure God then we have no hope of being like him only if Jesus was a man can Christhood be attainable)


In the Orthodox traditions while Arianism is still rejected, the doctrine of Theosis or Deification is taught. This doctrine, rejected by Roman Catholics and Protestants, is that through our life in the Church and mystical practise we can become part of God. While framed in abstruse theology it is basically the original Gnostic message.


Other strange contradictions is the use of December 25th as Christ's birthday, a time for pagan festivities associated with the Roman customs. This practise continues with the Churches use of pagan festivals, sites and traditions. While these may be associated with the practise of assimilating dominated cultures during the Churches conquest period, it may also show an emphasis within some mystical sectors of the Church on the mythic Christ over and above the historical Christ (hence other traditions within the continuity of the Mysteries are welcomed and used accordingly).

How much the date of the festival depended upon the pagan Brumalia (December 25th) following the Saturnalia (December 17th-24th), and celebrating the shortest day of the year and the 'new sun'...cannot be accurately determined. The pagan Saturnalia and Brumalia were too deeply entrenched in popular custom to be set aside by Christian influence...The pagan festival with it's riot and merrymaking was so popular that Christians were glad of an excuse to continue its celebration with little change in spirit and in manner. Christian preachers of the West and the Near East protested against the unseemly frivolity with which Christ's birthday was celebrated, while Christians of Mesopotamia accused their western brethren of idolatry and sun worship for adopting this pagan festival.

New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge


The Emulation of Christ


The radical teaching of Jesus is that we may emulate him. It is that through mystical and spiritual practise we can transform into Christ. Christ then is the Solar Logos, the Christos, the power of awakening, in Buddhist terms, Buddhahood. It uses the historicity of Jesus but is mythic and comes from beyond history. It cares little for enforcing morality, obedience is for children. Since all of us have lived for thousands of lives and committed thousands of acts, good and bad, morality is essentially irrelevant. While certain ethic structures are suggested, beyond this it is for the individual to negotiate with his or her indwelling Christ (the True Self), not for some external Church or authority to enforce.


Jesus hung out with tax collectors, prostitutes and the lower strata of society because he knew they would be willing to give-all to be transformed. Those with money, prestige and class would never be willing to give up their “earthly perks” to achieve liberation. To those who desire wisdom, he gave it. Liberation is achieved through emulation. And to emulate the life of Christ is not to live an ascetic or puritan existence, the New Testament model of Christ is an emasculated Christ, while the Christ of the Church sounds like a middle class bourgeois country parson !  However, the real Christ is our True Self, our Indwelling Light and hence works through the normal functions of the body, emotion and mind. Certainly they must be refined and purified to work as suitable vehicle for the Christ Self, but this Self is not repulsed by the “bodily” experience. Our bodies with all their functions are natural, as is sexuality and the Christ of the Gnostic tradition is as much human as divine. Indeed, true spirituality and awakening brings a new vitality not a rejection of the things around us.


At the same time don’t think it is easy or simple. The path to Transfiguration, the path of emulating and becoming the mythic Christ is a demanding one and one very few follow the path to its  conclusion.


For many are called, but few are chosen.

John 22:14

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