image: Wikimedia commons (link).
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night!"
A Visit from St. Nicholas, Clement C. Moore (1779 - 1863).
In the quotation cited at the end of the previous post, Alvin Boyd Kuhn said in a 1936 lecture that the ancient stories all have as their central character the individual human soul. The sacred story, he argued, "is not apprehended in its full force and applicability until every reader discerns himself [or herself] to be the central figure in it!"
Does this mean that the reader must believe that the actual outlines of his or her life will resemble the storyline of, for example, one of the episodes in the Arabian Nights, or one of the adventures of Odin described in the Norse myths, or the experience of either Penelope or Odysseus whose marriage was interrupted by long years apart but who were finally reunited at the end of the Odyssey?
Notice that in the quotation from Alvin Boyd Kuhn, it is argued that these stories are intended to cast light upon the experience of "the human soul "(emphasis added). It is not in the outward events that our lives resemble the myths, but what Kuhn is arguing is that the adventures portrayed in the myths esoterically convey a truth about the experience of the human soul in being cast down to this "underworld" and undergoing the process of achieving a "crossing" of matter and spirit which will give birth to something new, something transcendent, something miraculous -- and something that was not possible without the descent into matter in the first place.
he argues that the story of the Nativity (or birth of Christ, in the New Testament scriptures) was intended to convey this same miraculous message about the human soul. In saying this, he does not mean that each individual is supposed to "self-announce" his or her "divine Messiahship" and proclaim himself or herself "the cosmic Christ and the Logos of God" -- he expressly says that this is not what he means (page 358). The story of the descent of the divine Logos, he explains, is intended to be illustrative of our human condition:
The entire edifice of theology is built upon and around the central fact of the descent of the Logos into flesh and matter. It is the nub of the entire system. It is the key to the scriptures. 329.
It is illustrative of each and every human being, not some individual or some group to the exclusion of others: "The Christ in each of us is the Word made flesh, which after the analogy of the broken pieces of the loaf, came and dwelt among us, telling us that indeed unless we take and 'eat' of this divine essence, our aeonial salvation will not be accomplished" (329).
The wonderful story of the Nativity, and all the stories of the rest of the scriptures found in the Old and New Testaments, and all the stories of all the sacred myths and traditions around the world, become even more wonderful when we realize that they are telling the miraculous story of the incarnation undergone by each and every one of us. Each and every person you ever meet is a Christ, an Osiris, an Isis, an Odysseus, a Penelope.
Does perceiving the esoteric meaning of the story diminish its power and its wonder? Not in the least. In fact, Kuhn argues specifically that this understanding unleashes the full force and power of every myth -- for without this awareness, our attention is tied down to the symbol itself, and cannot "fly up" to the meaning that was intended. He writes:
What seems difficult to tell an age that has never learned to go beneath or behind the symbol to verity is that exoterism ends with the beauty of the symbol, whilst esotericism only begins with the symbol and goes on from it to the undreamed-of wealth of a whole new world of revelation. The symbol serves but to touch off the release of a flood of luminous conceptions, which would never leap into organic and meaningful array until marshaled into relationship by the symbol's suggestiveness. [. . .] The vigorous force of a symbol or drama is caught in full when the meanings and intimations adumbrated by it can be carried away from the starting point and applied in the deep regions of personal consciousness. This transfer can be effected all the more smoothly for the very fact that the symbol or drama is itself known to be pure fiction. When, however, that which should be mere meaning-vane is alleged to be itself the event about which meaning is to center, itself the thing to which the meaning points, instead of being merely the pointer to a meaning higher and deeper, the native strong force of symbol and drama is choked in its cradle, so to speak. The alleged historicity of the cycle of Christmas pageantry ties the significance of the festival too close to itself. The meaning can not escape its own symbols and fly with main force into the hearts and minds it should be elevating. 346.
In other words, Kuhn is here arguing that the story itself is like a weathervane. He calls it a "meaning-vane," which is an interesting construction that evokes a weathervane (and may be an original word-construction invented by Alvin Boyd Kuhn) but which is designed to point us to some deeper or higher meaning whereas a weathervane is designed to point us to knowledge of the approaching weather. To focus on the vane instead of the thing to which it is meant to direct us, Kuhn says, is to miss the entire purpose.
In describing the symbol itself as a sort of weathervane that directs us to a higher meaning, this passage is very similar to the saying in Buddhism about a "finger, pointing a way to the moon" discussed in this previous post: if we focus solely on the finger, then we will miss "all that heavenly glory." Kuhn warns us that if the force of the symbol becomes the entire focus, the meaning will become chained to the symbol itself ("tied too close," he says), unable to fly. The symbol will achieve a kind of terrible gravity, too strong for the meaning to achieve an "escape velocity," and its transcendent quality will be defeated by its own beauty. It will end up pointing to itself, instead of to the meaning it was designed for. "To stay with the symbol," he says, "was to cut off the soul and mind from the possibility of their soaring aloft into the highest of their capabilities of rapport and rapture" (346).
Kuhn admits the beauty and emotional power of the Nativity story, listing the elements of the scene -- "the Holy Child laid in the manger, the shepherds with their flocks by night, the angel's appearance to announce the birth, the heavenly choir chanting their carol of glory to God and peace on earth, and the halo of holy thrill around the entire event" -- and admitting that "in the whole of literature there is no more exquisite idyll than this" (345).
But he argues that it cannot have been intended to be understood strictly literally, and in fact is full of contradictions when we try to force such a reading on the texts.
The visit of the Magi, for instance, describes them as coming from the east to the west, but being guided by a star which they see in the east, which does not seem to make sense (334). He also notes that "no star [. . .] could by any possibility become or act as a local guide to a given spot on earth. If there is any lingering remnant of protest that perhaps it could be done, let anyone go out under the open sky at night and try to determine at what moment he is exactly under a particular star, or exactly what spot that star is pointing to" (333).
He argues that the visit of the Magi, or the "Three Kings of Wisdom," has an esoteric meaning relating to what we learn through our incarnation in this physical instrument (336).
The visit of the Magi and the directions of east and west make perfect sense when we understand that the drama describes events which take place among the stars of heaven, and that the "Three Kings" are the stars of Orion's belt, setting in the west and looking across the vault of heaven to the east, where "Mary" is rising in the person of the constellation Virgo the Virgin, bearing upon her outstretched arm the Holy Child. At the pinnacle of the arc of the zodiac as it is then seen stretched across the sky will be "the Manger," in the beautiful cluster Praesepe, the Beehive in the constellation of Cancer the Crab, associated anciently with a Manger and also with the pineal gland in the human body. See the discussion in this video (caution: examines evidence that the stories in the Biblical scriptures were not intended to be understood as literal history -- those not comfortable examining this evidence may not wish to view the video).
Note, of course, that these celestial "Three Kings" do indeed come from the east
(the eastern horizon, where they started) -- and that by the time they reach the western horizon and see the rising star in the constellation of Mary, they have been traveling from the east for quite some time!
These motions of the heavenly bodies also describe a story of which the "star" or central figure is always the human soul.
The point of the year at which the sun begins its journey back upwards, after traveling down towards the very Pit of the year at winter solstice, is imbued with deep significance in the sacred traditions found around the world.
We have seen abundant evidence that the annual cycle itself contains a "cross" in which the vertical component can be envisioned as running from the bottom of the year, when days are shortest, all the way up to the top of the year, when days are longest: in other words, from the winter solstice up to the summer solstice.
The horizontal component of this "cross" is formed by the line between the equinoxes: that line which marks the two transition points at which darkness begins to dominate or at which light begins to dominate, one marking the transition from the upper half of the year which has longer days and shorter nights to the lower half of shorter days and longer nights, and the other marking the transition from the lower half of the year back to the upper half.
For previous posts discussing this concept, and its manifestation in myth around the globe, see for instance "Scarab, Ankh and Djed," "Vajra: the Thunderbolt," "The shamanic foundation of the world's ancient wisdom," and "O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, thy Leaves are so unchanging."
The upward turn in the great annual drama was associated with the concept of "raising the Djed-column" in the mythology of ancient Egypt, and with the restoration of Osiris the god who had been "cast down" into the underworld. It is also associated with the Lakota concept of walking the sacred red road as articulated in the vision of Black Elk. There is an abundance of evidence that these concepts relate to recovering the connection with the infinite hidden world of spirit, which our plunge into the "underworld" of matter can obscure from our awareness and from our vision.
In other words, this annual drama is about the annual journey of the sun as seen from the earth, but it is really about our own consciousness, and our own journey to awaken our consciousness: to see or to sense that which cannot be perceived by the physical senses (which are designed to function in the material realm rather than the spiritual realm).
The story of Osiris, plunged down into the underworld is really the story of each human soul, on its long walk through the underworld, the realm of night -- and the raising of the Djed-column is thus a task each of us must undertake, to remember our spiritual nature, and to perceive the non-material realm that is buried within all of us and all of nature, and that is behind everything that we can perceive with our physical senses. This can also be expressed as seeking to walk the good red road.
The story of the Nativity, celebrated at this specific point on the annual cycle, expresses the same thing.
Notice that in the quotation from Alvin Boyd Kuhn, it is argued that these stories are intended to cast light upon the experience of "the human soul"(emphasis added). It is not in the outward events that our lives resemble the myths, but what Kuhn is arguing is that the adventures portrayed in the myths esoterically convey a truth about the experience of the human soul in being cast down to this "underworld" and undergoing the process of achieving a "crossing" of matter and spirit which will give birth to something new, something transcendent, something miraculous -- and something that was not possible without the descent into matter in the first place.
May your Christmas and all the days of the year be filled with miracles!
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night!