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Why divinities can appear in an instant: The inner connection to the Infinite

Why divinities can appear in an instant: The inner connection to the Infinite

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Why do the deities in the Mahabharata often appear instantly, upon the recitation of a mantra, the singing of a hymn, or even simply upon being remembered? 

I believe that this characteristic was included in the ancient scriptures in order to show us that we have access to the infinite at all times -- and indeed that in a very real sense we can and should avail ourselves of that access on a regular basis, in this life.

Many previous posts have explored the critically important assertion of Alvin Boyd Kuhn which is in many ways a key to our understanding of the ancient myths, scriptures and sacred stories of humanity, in which Kuhn (addressing the stories of the Bible in particular) declares:

Bible stories are in no sense a record of what happened to a man or a people as historical occurrence. As such they would have little significance for mankind. They would be the experience of a people not ourselves, and would not bear a relation to our life. But they are a record, under pictorial forms, of that which is ever occurring as a reality of the present in all lives. They mean nothing as outward events; but they mean everything as picturizations of that which is our living experience at all times. The actors are not old kings, priests and warriors; the one actor in every portrayal, in every scene, is the human soul. The Bible is the drama of our history here and now; and it is not apprehended in its full force and applicability until every reader discerns himself [or herself] to be the central figure in it! [For full quotation and source with links, see this previous post].

Now, what Kuhn asserts in the above paragraph is just as true for the world's other myths. Let's see how it applies to the specific aspect of the Mahabharata mentioned above (the ability to summon the gods and goddesses at a moment's notice). 

If we apply this paragraph directly to the Mahabharata, we can paraphrase some of these assertions as follows:

The episodes in the Mahabharata in which men or women are depicted as summoning powerful deities through the recitation of a mantra, the singing of a hymn of praise, or even by simply thinking upon that deity and wishing for him or her to appear, are in no sense a record of what happened to a man or woman long ago in a more magical (or imaginary time and place). As such, while they might be tremendously entertaining, they would have little significance for our lives today. They would be the (miraculous and extraordinary) experience of a people not ourselves, and would not bear a relation to our life. But these events are actually recorded in these myths to provide us with a vivid picture of something that is in fact a verifiable reality of a situation that is present in your life and in mine -- indeed, a reality in all lives. They mean nothing as outward events: the beautiful wives of Pandu, for instance, did not summon gods outwardly. Nor was Arjuna's invocation of the goddess Durga an outward event. These are picturizations of truths which are part of our living experience at all times. We indeed are in contact with those same mighty supernatural powers -- with Krishna and Durga and the heavenly Twins or Ashvins -- right at this present moment. The actors in these myths are not beautiful wives or powerful warriors: in every single episode, these actors are none other than the human soul possessed by each and every one of us. The Mahabharata (and all the other myths and scriptures and sacred stories) is a drama of our lives -- our lives right here, right now, in this modern life, in the city where you live, in the situations you experience -- and it is not apprehended in its full force and applicability until every reader discerns himself or herself to be the central figure, present in every single scene!

In the previous post, we discussed some of the unusual marriage activity recorded in the Mahabharat, in which the two wives of Pandu take five different divine gods to be the fathers of the five powerful sons who collectively become the heroes of the story, the Pandavas (a name which means descendants of Pandu). The summoning of the five different gods is done through the recitation of a mantra: immediately upon its recitation, the desired god appears. 

Elsewhere in the Mahabharata, as we saw, Arjuna (one of the Pandavas) recites a hymn of praise to the goddess Durga, at which the powerful goddess appears and blesses him, telling Arjuna that he will be victorious and that in fact it would be completely impossible for him to be defeated in the upcoming battle.

At other points in the epic poem, such as in Book I and section 3, the celestial Twins called the Ashvins are summoned by a disciple named Upamanyu, who has consumed some leaves of a tree that made him blind, causing him to stumble into a deep well, where he was trapped until he called upon the Ashvins for succor. 

And there is also a powerful sage or rishi named Vyasa or Vyasadeva who is the mythical author of the Mahabharata itself and who also appears as a character who weaves in and out of the various scenes, appearing when he is needed before retreating again to his contemplation and disciplines in the remote mountains. Vyasa also has the characteristic of being able to appear whenever he is thought upon: at his birth (recounted in Book I and section 63) he tells his mother "As soon as thou remembers me when occasion comes, I shall appear unto thee." 

What are we to make of these wondrous episodes in the Mahabharata, each one of which is surrounded by all kinds of memorable action and human drama? These depictions of the gods and goddesses  (and, in the case of Vyasa, this epic poet and bringer of inspired verse) appearing at an instant when a human man or woman concentrates upon them are not to be understood as outward events, in Kuhn's argument, but rather as an inward reality, as a depiction of our experience in the here and now.

If Kuhn is right, then what (oh what) could these specific episodes be depicting?

I believe the answer is hinted at in yet another earlier post exploring the powerful teaching contained in the Mahabharata -- an examination of the Bhagavad Gita, which is a section within the Mahabharata itself. There, we saw compelling evidence that the conversation between the semi-divine bowman Arjuna and his companion and divine charioteer, the Lord Krishna, relate to the "metaphor of the chariot" found in other ancient Sanskrit scriptures. 

In that metaphor, the chariot helps us understand aspects of our incarnate condition. The war-cart itself is our body, and the mighty horses which pull it are our senses and our desires (both of which can easily run completely out of control, and threaten to wreck the entire enterprise). The reins in the metaphor, we are told in another Sanskrit scripture, are our mind, through which the horses can be controlled.

But obviously, there must be someone or something else behind and above the reins in order to direct the chariot: behind and above "the mind" itself, that is. This concept of a someone or something else, standing apart from the mind and above it, was discussed in the first blog post of this series, entitled "Self, the senses, and the mind." This higher self is referred to by many names, among them the True Self, the Supreme Self, the Lord in the chariot, and (in the Sanskrit text cited for this metaphor) the Atman. In other cultures and other traditions there are many other names to refer to the same concept.

But in all cases we are dealing with a Higher Self who is in some sense and to some degree connected to the infinite and the ultimate. This is the infinite, the ultimate, the un-definable: the divine charioteer who is beyond the "chattering" and the "endless transforming" and the "labeling and defining and delineating" of the mind (and again, the mind is not a negative or bad tool, any more than the reins on the chariot are a bad tool -- it is an essential tool, but it is not the one who should be driving the chariot).

We get in contact with this infinite aspect by standing apart from our mind, our senses, and our desires (not by getting these to somehow "go away" or "stop" being what they are -- the horses on the chariot will not go away, nor will they turn into something other than horses -- but we can stand apart from and above them in order to see that we are not them and we do not have to go wherever they want to pull us, that in fact we can tell them where we want them to take us). 

Practices we have at our disposal for getting into contact with the infinite include mantras, chanting or singing of hymns, prayer, meditation, yoga, rhythmic drumming, and more.

The gods and goddesses in the stories show up quite suddenly and instantly because they are, in a very real sense, already there. We are already connected with them. This does not mean that they are simply "our imagination" or "not real" (as if our "imagination" is not connected to the very same vital flow of infinity that is completely unlimited in its potential and its power). As we see in Kuhn's quotation above, which is so valuable that we can and should return to it in analysis like this, just because the myths are depicting inner realities as outward events does not mean that they are not "real" if they do not take place in the outward space. These myths are dramatizing truths about our living experience at all times. You and I are in contact with Krishna and with Durga right now: if we do not realize it, that is only because we are allowing the chatter of our minds or the horses of our senses to keep us from connecting with the power of the unbounded, the undefined, and the infinite (unbounded aspects of which Krishna and Durga show themselves to be in the Mahabharata).

It is also noteworthy to point out that divinities who can appear at a moment's notice are also found in other esoteric mythologies and scriptures around the world. The Norse god Thor, for instance, was notable for being able to appear whenever his name was called by the other gods, in time of need (which they had to do on more than one occasion). The other gods usually had to call on him when they were being bested by a powerful jotun, and thus Thor usually appeared in a fighting rage (or, if he wasn't in a rage when he appeared, one glance at the menacing jotun usually caused Thor to go into battle mode).

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

But, it should be noted that Thor's ability to appear in an instant means that he, too, is somehow representative of that divine charioteer who is above mind and above even the physical world, and yet somehow available to us at all times, if we just learn how to direct our focus in the right direction.

It is also not inappropriate, I believe, to point out that the risen Christ in the stories of the New Testament also displays the ability to simply appear out of nowhere amongst the disciples, sometimes when they are least expecting him to do so. 

In the preceding post, which looked at the two wives of Pandu who used a mantra to call upon divine gods to appear, we also saw that the pattern of five husbands in the Mahabharata appears to have an echo in the New Testament episode of the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well, who likewise is said to have had five husbands. In that encounter, the previous post points out that Jesus tells the woman that she can have everlasting water, living water, springing up unto everlasting life -- and that this living water is somehow "within." 

I believe that this again is a "pictorial form" (in Kuhn's words) of something that is in fact a "present reality" in the life of each and every human soul. This "picture" is one of an unbounded, an infinite, and a life-giving stream, available for the asking because it is already "within" us. We already have access to this living water, but we need someone to tell us that it is something that we can actually get in touch with. That is what the ancient myths and scriptures are there to do.

By his demonstrated ability to simply appear out of nowhere and disappear again at will, the risen Christ in the gospels would also, under this interpretation, be pointing us towards connecting with the infinite within ourselves. And this, according to some analysts, is exactly what Paul in his epistles declares to his listeners, using the strongest language possible in some cases:

O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you [. . .]? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3)

Gerald Massey (1828 - 1907) and others have argued that the writer who calls himself Paul is pointing his listeners to a spiritual truth, not an external flesh-and-blood individual. He is pointing them to what he elsewhere declares to be "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). 

This is not to say that Paul did not believe what he was talking about to be "real" or that he did not believe it to have life-altering power: on the contrary, the tenor of his letters indicates that he knew what he spoke of to be absolutely real, and absolutely earth-shaking in its ability to transform. Nowhere in the above discussion should anything be taken to indicate that the infinite, the ultimate, the un-limitable and truly un-bounded divine power -- which the Bhagavad Gita describes as the Lord Krishna and which the Hymn to Durga addresses as Kali, as Maha-Kali, as Uma, and as "Durga, who dwelleth in accessible regions," and as "identical with Brahman" -- is in any way not real

But, as the quotation from Alvin Boyd Kuhn tells us, these are not stories about ancient events that happened to someone else: these are aspects of our life, right here and right now. They are telling us about a divine aspect to which we have access right here and right now, and with which we are already internally connected in some mysterious way.

As the verse in the Old Testament wisdom-book of Proverbs tells us, "There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24). 

Even closer than a brother, because not external to us at all.

The Bodhi Tree

The Bodhi Tree

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The Buddha is traditionally said to have attained enlightenment while sitting and meditating underneath the bo tree, or bodhi tree.

The term bodhi is one word for enlightenment, and does not mean a specific type of tree: however, the bodhi tree itself is traditionally understood to have been a ficus religiosa or "sacred fig," also known as a pipal (in Hindi) and an ashwanth  (in Sanskrit). Buddhist monasteries in parts of the world in which this tree can prosper will almost invariably have one as one of their most sacred treasures

Additionally, in order to be designated a bodhi tree today, a tree is supposed to be descended from that original tree by direct propagation from it or one of its descendants. There are several such bodhi trees said to be descended in a direct line from the original bodhi tree under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment; one of those is pictured above.

The sacred fig or ashwanth has a distinctive heart-shaped leaf, clearly visible in the statue of the Buddha under the tree shown below (from the first century AD):

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The shape of this leaf is so deeply associated with the achievement of this blessed state, and so imbued with meaning in Buddhist culture that this shape appears in stylized form even with no additional "explanation" necessary:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Now, what I find extraordinarily interesting and significant is the fact that the ashwanth or sacred fig, the very tree associated with the bodhi tree under which the Buddha achieves enlightenment, is associated in the ancient Vedic tradition of India with a specific celestial pair of stars, designated together by the name Pushya. 

You can see this ancient association between certain important Nakshatras (stars) and specific tree species attested to in various texts, for example in the scholarly publication of the Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of Ethnobiology  for 2002, and particularly on page 90 of that collection, shown here

Now, you might be asking yourself which specific star or stars are associated with the Nakshatra known as Pushya! Self. . .

Astonishingly enough, Pushya is associated with two stars: the Northern and Southern Colts, Asellus Borealis and Asellus Australis, which flank the beautiful Beehive Cluster in the zodiac constellation of Cancer, and which we have already seen to have been associated with the Manger in which the Christ is born and also with the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem in the New Testament scriptures.

We have also seen that the zodiac sign of Cancer the Crab is located at the very "top of the year" on the zodiac wheel, beginning immediately following the point of summer solstice, and that it is thus associated with the upraised Djed column and all that that powerful symbol was intended to convey, including the "raising up" of the invisible and divine spirit within the individual and within all of the material-spiritual cosmos through which we sojourn in this incarnate life. 

Due to this positioning at the "top of the cycle" which the great zodiac wheel symbolizes in its entirety, the upraised arms of the Crab (visible in the constellation itself) were associated in ancient symbolic art and in ancient myth with the upraised arms of the sacred Scarab, with the upraised arms of the ancient Egyptian god of the air (Shu), with the upraised arms of Moses when signaling victory, and with the upraised arms depicted on the sacred Ankh above the vertical Djed column, such as in one famous image from the Book of the Going Forth by Day (also more commonly known as the Egyptian Book of the Dead, or in previous centuries sometimes referred to simply as the Ritual) found in the Papyrus of Ani.

Now, the association of the bodhi tree of the Buddha with the stars of the zodiac sign of Cancer the Crab thus becomes incredibly important, and powerfully resonant with all the other manifestations of this same concept in the ancient wisdom of the world -- the concept which I usually refer to as the "raising of the Djed" with all of its myriad layers of significance. 

This association means that, in addition to all else that this "vertical element" in the great cross of the year represents (all that is "vertical" or spirit-elevating in our individual journey and all that brings forth the invisible spirit world that infuses and animates everything in the universe around us), it is also directly related to the concept of enlightenment, of transcendence of the "cast down" condition we experience when we enter into incarnate form and of profound connection with the infinite.

The bodhi tree can thus also be seen to have connections to the World Tree which Odin ascends and upon which he must hang until he is suddenly granted a vision into the invisible realm of the infinite, and to the tree which the shaman ascends literally in cultures around the world as part of the ecstatic journey.

Ultimately, this is a journey undertaken not just by Odin or the Buddha but in fact by every single human soul. I believe (and have quoted Alvin Boyd Kuhn on this specific point several times in the past) no ancient myth or cycle "is apprehended in its full force and applicability until every reader discerns himself or herself to be the central figure in it!" 

One need not journey to a specific location where an external Buddha is said to have achieved his enlightenment, nor visit a specific tree reputed to be descended from the very tree under which he sat when he achieved this union with the infinite (although there is nothing wrong with doing so, and it would indeed be a beautiful experience to be in the presence of one of the sacred ficus trees revered and lovingly tended by so many generations of fellow-journeyers through this vale of tears). The bodhi tree, and enlightenment, are in fact inside us at all times (see the tremendously helpful perspective shed upon this concept by Peter Kingsley, discussed here).

We can each sit under that very tree at any time, no matter where in the universe we happen to be.


(Note the two "small celestials" to either side of the Buddha, each of which I have indicated by a red arrow. I believe the Buddha and the bodhi tree in this image clearly relate to the "vertical line" running up from the winter solstice through the summer solstice, while the two flanking figures represent the two equinoxes and the horizontal line between them: the line of being "cast down" into incarnation, which the Buddha and the enlightenment under the fig tree overcome with the "raising back up" of the Djed. In this interpretation, the two flanking figures thus play the same role that Isis and Nephthys play in the Papyrus of Ani image linked before, while the Buddha and the Tree play the same role as the Djed column and the Ankh with upraised arms in that Papyrus of Ani image. This role is also played by Cautes and Cautopates in the Mithraic symbology discussed here).

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Bodhidharma, Shen Guang, and the Shaolin Temple

Bodhidharma, Shen Guang, and the Shaolin Temple

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The historicity of many aspects of the famous Shaolin Temple* of China can be, and has been, a subject for study and debate.

As with many such debates, particularly those in which deep reverence or personal beliefs are involved, examination of this subject can sometimes become contentious.

Without entering directly into the "deep water" of such disputes or debates, we can at least agree that the tradition of the Shaolin Temple is itself indisputably connected with two very important traditions: Ch'an Buddhism (which is often spelled Chan Buddhism, and which is the direct predecessor of Zen Buddhism in Japan), and the martial arts.

Previous posts have explored the importance of the connection between these two, in that training in the use of force can cause us to fall into the error of "turning a person into a thing" (in the words of Simone Weil in her famous 1940 essay on The Iliad: or the Poem of Force), but meditation upon the spiritual content and value of every being we encounter and cultivation of the attitude of blessing others and wishing to see their spirit elevated has the exact opposite tendency and acts as a counterbalance, with the goal that what could be misused to "lower spiritual awareness in one's self and in others" (as engaging in the use of force in ways that violate the rights of others will inevitably do) is instead transformed into a practice which "elevates spiritual awareness in one's self and in others" (by reducing the practitioner's need to use force inappropriately, while enabling him or her to use force to protect one's self or others if necessary and thus prevent violence). 

Through this focus on spirit and blessing, the martial arts are (ideally) transformed into a spiritually uplifting discipline analogous to yoga and other practices designed to elevate spiritual awareness and bless and regenerate the world.

I would argue that the emphasis on the invisible world of spirit is coded into the traditions of Shaolin Temple through references to the celestial realm, used throughout the world to convey deep teachings regarding the spiritual component of human existence and of the universe in which we live, and their dual material and spiritual composition. 

For example, precessional numbers such as 72 and 108 are deeply embedded in numerous Chinese martial arts, and in the traditions of the Shaolin Temple. For example, Shi Yan Ming -- who grew up in the Shaolin lineage --  has written about the fact that the Shaolin Temple traditionally contained 72 rooms or chambers. Other traditions assert that in order to graduate as a Shaolin monk, a candidate had to pass through an elaborate hall containing 108 mechanical dummies which would each launch a different unexpected attack upon the candidate at a different point on the journey down the hall.

Some might argue that the incorporation of these numbers, 72 and 108, do not necessarily indicate an esoteric celestial aspect to these traditions. They might argue that, although these same numbers are found in the sacred texts and rituals of India, or in the dimensions of the pyramids at Giza in Egypt and in Egyptian myth, or in the Norse sagas, their presence in China could be attributed to mere coincidence, and that since those ancient cultures are separated by such vast distances, the use of 72 and 108 in China might be referring to something else entirely.

However, I believe there are additional very powerful reasons to believe that the very same celestial codes operating in the myths and traditions of cultures such as ancient Egypt or ancient India (or across the oceans in the dimensions of the monuments in Central and South America) can be shown to be operating in the esoteric traditions of Chan Buddhism as well, and that the conclusion that these numbers are a celestial and hence a spiritual code is well-founded.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The ancient connection between Chan Buddhism and the practice of martial arts as a form of spiritual elevation and blessing can be traced directly back to the texts and traditions surrounding the figure of Bodhidharma, also called Da Mo in China, who according to tradition brought both to China.

Stories of the life of Da Mo can be found in early texts, most notably in the text known as the Ching-te Chuan Teng-lu (ways of spelling this text in English vary), or the "Transmission of the Lamp," which is itself a collection of various earlier traditions regarding Da Mo. The expression "Transmission of the Lamp" refers to the passing down of dharma or the ineffable teachings of Chan, which supposedly originated with Da Mo. 

Da Mo is often said to have lived between AD 470 and AD 532 (or 528). The Chuan Teng-lu was collected later, around the year AD 1000. See for some discussion of the compilation of the Chuan Teng-lu page 155 in this text entitled Zen Canon: Understanding the Classic Texts.

In the account of Da Mo given in the text itself (for instance, beginning on page 150 of this translation), we read the famous story of the transmission of the dharma from Da Mo to his first disciple, Shen Guang, in which Da Mo knelt motionless in meditation (in some accounts for nine full years), while Shen Guang stood guard over him in hopes of being noticed:

Staying at the Shaolin Temple on Mount Song, there he sat in meditation facing a wall, a whole day in silence. People couldn't understand it so they called him 'the wall-gazing Brahmin'. At that time there was a monk named Shenguang who was deeply learned and had lived for a long time near Luoyang by the Rivers Yi and Luo. A scholar well read in many books, he could discourse eloquently on the Dark Learning. Sighing frequently, he would say, 'The teachings of Confucius and Laozi take rituals as the Practice and customs as the Rule, while in the books of Zhangzi and The Changes the wonderful principle is still inexhaustible. Now I have heard that a great master, Damo (Bodhidharma), is residing at Shaolin. I must pay a visit to this peerless sage living not so far distant.' Then he went, visiting morning and evening for instruction. Master Damo was always sitting in a dignified posture facing a wall and so Guang heard no teachings nor did he receive any encouragement. Then Guang thought to himself, 'Men of old, on searching the Way, broke their bones to extract the marrow, let their blood flow to help the starving, spread hairs on muddy roads [to allow people to pass], or jumped off cliffs to feed a tiger. In days of old it was still like this, now what kind of man am I?' 150.

Finally, after a great snow fell and Shen Guang still stood motionless guarding Da Mo, the master spoke to Shen Guang and asked what he wanted. In some versions of the story, Shen Guang hurls a large block of snow and ice into the cave or chamber in which Da Mo was meditating, in order to get his attention. In any case, Shen Guang finally pulls out his sword and cuts off his own left arm in order to demonstrate his tremendous devotion and desire to learn what Da Mo has to show him (in some versions, Da Mo says he will only teach Shen Guang when red snow begins to fall from the sky, and so Shen Guang waves his own severed arm around his head and Da Mo finally relents and decides to take on this devoted disciple, who afterwards took on the name Hui-k'o). 

You can read some of the other aspects of this story, and the other adventures attributed to Da Mo and Shen Guang, in the account here on Shi Yan Ming's website, as well as in other texts in books or on the web, such as the version given in Thomas Hoover's 1980 book The Zen Experience, available on the web here through Project Gutenberg. See pages 28 and following of that online file.

Concerned readers can be comforted by the fact that I personally believe no arms were literally severed and waved around anyone's head in order to pass on the teachings of Chan Buddhism in the time of Da Mo and Shen Guang, but believe that this story -- like so many other sacred spiritual traditions around the globe -- can be convincingly demonstrated to be based squarely upon celestial metaphor, as are many of the other incidents and episodes in the traditional account of Da Mo.

The fact that this story is probably not literal is indicated by some of the other traditions surrounding the kneeling meditation of Da Mo, such as the detail that he remained in the kneeling meditation for nine full years without moving, facing the wall of the cave, until his image was actually transferred to the wall itself. Another aspect of the tradition (cited in Thomas Hoover's book above) states that when his eyelids became heavy and he felt he might be drifting off to sleep, Da Mo ripped off his own eyelids to continue his meditation. And another aspect of the story has him kneeling there so long that his legs actually fall off. 

Clearly, these aspects of the story can probably not be taken literally, and I don't believe the severing of Shen Guang's arm should be, either.  

In fact, I believe that familiarity with the constellations who take on similar roles in other myths and stories around the world will immediately suggest the probable celestial identities of both Da Mo (who kneels, meditating, endlessly until his very image or shadow is transferred to the cave wall) and Shen Guang (who stands silently guarding Da Mo, until at last in desperation he cuts off his own arm and waves it around to make the snow red and prove his devotion).

The diagram below shows the important constellation of Bootes, whom we have met in numerous other myths (see this index of stars and constellations and blog posts which discuss them). As you can see, the outline of Bootes resembles a kneeling figure -- and in fact the tiny "leg" which is drawn in this outline based on the system suggested by H.A. Rey is very faint, and the stars themselves could alternately be envisioned as a robed, kneeling figure with a bald head, as Da Mo is often drawn in art stretching back centuries.

Above the kneeling figure stands the vigilant figure of Shen Guang, played in this case by the celestial actor of the constellation Hercules, who appears to be brandishing an enormous sword, in his right hand (which is probably why it is his left arm that he cuts off in the story):

As for the bloody arm itself, I believe a good case can be made for the constellation Coma Berenices, or Berenice's Hair, in the role of the bloody arm. It consists of a vertical line between its two brightest stars, and then a myriad of "droplets" fanning out from one end of the vertical line (this constellation is described on pages 36 and 37 of H. A. Rey's essential book on the stars and constellations, The Stars: A New Way to See Them). In this case, it appears that the bloody arm is being waved right in front of Da Mo, in order to really get his attention.

There are, in fact, many other clues in the traditions of Da Mo which indicate to me that the above interpretation is very likely the correct celestial origin of the Da Mo story. One of the most well-known and oft-depicted episodes in his life is Da Mo's famous crossing of a wide river upon a broken reed, which is given to him in most accounts by an old woman at the near side of the river before he ventures across on the unlikely reed. 

As can be seen from the diagram above, the "bloody arm" in this case probably represents the broken reed in that aspect of Da Mo's mission, and the woman who provides the reed to him for this occasion is none other than Virgo, who can be seen with her arm outstretched, giving the reed to Bodhidharma for his crossing. 

Another episode from the story of Da Mo and Shen Guang has the impertinent Shen Guang taking his  won string of Buddhist beads from around his neck and flicking them at Da Mo, knocking out some of Da Mo's teeth in the process (the imperturbable Da Mo acts as though nothing untoward has happened, and walks away). In between Hercules and Bootes is the necklace-shaped constellation known as the Corona Borealis, or the Northern Crown. We saw that it almost certainly represents the gorgeous necklace of Freya in Norse myth, as well as a necklace in a famous Japanese myth about Amaterasu the sun goddess. 

In the star chart above, the Northern Crown is outlined in purple, and marked as a "Sandal (?)." This is because there is yet another tradition about Da Mo, depicting him as carrying a staff over his shoulder with a single sandal hanging from one end of the staff. In The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, we read on page xiv:

In his Transmission of the Lamp, Tao-yuan says that soon after he had transmitted the patriarchship of his lineage to Hui-k'o [that is, Shen Guang], Bodhidharma died in 528 on the fifth day of the tenth month, poisoned by a jealous monk. Tao-hsuan's much earlier biography of Bodhidharma says only that he died on the banks of the Lo River and doesn't mention the date or cause of death. According to Tao-yuah, Bodhidharma's remains were interred near Loyang at Tinglin Temple on Bear Ear Mountain. Tao-yuan adds that three years later an official met Bodhidharma walking in the mountains of Central Asia. He was carrying a staff from which hung a single sandal, and he told the official he was going back to India. Reports of this meeting aroused the curiousity of other monks, who finally agreed to open Bodhidharma's tomb. But inside all they found was a single sandal, and ever since then Bodhidharma has been pictured carrying a staff from which hangs the missing sandal.

If you note from the above diagram that Bootes has a long "pipe" that he seems to be smoking, you can instead imaging this pipe as a staff, and if it continues over his shoulder, then it would be perfectly positioned to imaging that the semi-circular arc of the Northern Crown is the other shoe or sandal hanging from the staff. In fact, the depictions of Bodhidharma's staff often seem to have a "crook" or bent part at the end -- in other words, depicting the staff as shaped somewhat like the pipe of Bootes with its wide end (see here or here or here, for example, and older art depicting him often uses similar symbology). 

So, I believe that the purple arc which functions as the Buddhist beads in the episode in which Shen Guang flicks beads at Da Mo may also function as the single shoe or slipper or sandal in the episode of Da Mo walking the hills with one shoe hanging from his staff after he was supposedly dead and buried.

All of this celestial metaphor within the story of Da Mo and the founding of Chan tradition and of the Shaolin Temple, I believe, serves as an esoteric pointer to the realm of the spiritual. The realm of the stars, for reasons discussed in other posts and in the book The Undying Stars, functions in myth around the world (including the stories in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible) as a pointer to the invisible world of spirit (just as this lower world of earth and water, into which the stars plunge as they sink down in the west, represents the realm of matter and incarnation).

I believe that this clear evidence of celestial metaphor also serves to validate the assertion that the celestial numbers 72 and 108 in many Chinese martial arts originally associated with the Shaolin Temple are serving a similar function (just as they do in so many other myths and sacred traditions around the globe).

And, finally, it points to a very important truth, which the ancient keepers of the traditions of both Chan Buddhism and the martial arts wished to impart to us: that while activities such as physical training and discipline and even the effective use of force may be a very important aspect of our time here in this physical realm of incarnation, we must not forget that we and everyone else we meet are also spiritual beings, and that ultimately our actions should serve to elevate the spiritual aspect of ourselves and others, rather than to put it down. 

Ultimately, these arts are about recognizing who we are, in a world which often seems to do everything possible to keep us from remembering or recognizing the truth.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

* The characters usually translated "Shaolin" are

少  林

and mean "small forest."

In Mandarin this is xiăo lín and in Cantonese it is  síu làhm both of which mean "small forest" (in that order). 

You can see the characters in the image above (top), on the sign posted over the door, although they are written right to left, such that the symbol for "small" is on the right and "forest" is in the middle.

The symbol for "temple" (on the left as you look at the photo on the page) is:

Shang oracle bones: more evidence of humanity's shared shamanic heritage

Shang oracle bones: more evidence of humanity's shared shamanic heritage

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Numerous previous posts, including


have advanced the position that what may be broadly termed the shamanic worldview belongs as a precious inheritance to all the world's people, and can be conclusively demonstrated to be the foundation of the nearly every ancient sacred tradition on our planet.

This thesis would include those cultures whose scriptures and sacred traditions are built upon the common system of celestial allegory seen operating in the myths and sacred stories used from very ancient times right up to the present day -- including those which form the basis for the sacred texts of the Old and New Testament of what today is called the Bible. For an index of previous posts discussing several dozen of these myths and sacred stories from around the world, see the list in this "Star Myth Index."

Although the definition of the term "shamanic" can be profitably discussed, and some may argue that its broad use is inappropriate for a term which has very specific and even "technical" applications, and which employs an actual Tungusic word originally used only in one particular part of what is today Siberia and Manchuria, I believe the word in its broad application does have value, in that there are in fact clearly-identifiable characteristics of what can be called the shamanic worldview which can be found in shamanic cultures around the world, and which can also be identified operating in the myths of (for instance) ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, the Norse myths, and many others.

In some of the posts linked above, the defining characteristics of this worldview have been summarized as:

the awareness of "the other realm" or "world of the gods" in addition to the world of ordinary reality, and the practice of techniques for actually traveling between the realm of ordinary reality and the realm of the gods in order to obtain knowledge or effect change not possible to obtain or effect through any other method.

Why would it be possible (and even necessary) to make contact with or journey to that invisible realm in order to gain information or effect change for this material realm? I believe the answer almost certainly relates to the view, expressed in many shamanic cultures which survived into recent centuries, as well as in shamanic scriptures and texts from ancient times, that this material world at all points is connected to and interpenetrated by the spirit world, and that in fact in some very real sense the material world is generated or projected from the invisible world.

In The Undying Stars, I also explore at some length the likelihood (suggested by other researchers as well) that the invisible or spirit world is closely related to the state of "potentiality" described by many modern theoretical physicists in response to the extraordinary results of certain experiments which led to the revolution in thought that is quantum physics. If so, then this would also help to explain why contact with that invisible realm could enable us to obtain information or effect change which impacts this ordinary or material realm, information and change not possible to obtain or effect through actions in this material realm alone. 

I believe that the evidence that the sacred traditions of the world's cultures were founded upon just such a shamanic worldview is overwhelming. So much of this evidence was already available by the end of the eighteen-hundreds for Gerald Massey (1828 - 1907) to declare (in a text linked and quoted in this one of the above-linked previous posts) that all of the ancient wisdom of humanity included a deep knowledge of entering "trance-conditions" in order to make contact with or even travel to the spirit realm, but that somehow this knowledge was interrupted and lost prior to the modern period in many parts of the world. 

In 1899, evidence not previously recognized (and which Massey probably never heard of) was added to the existing pile of evidence supporting such a claim: the recognition of the oracle bones of the Shang period of ancient China, which was the second-oldest ancient dynasty of China, following the Xia Dynasty of the near-mythical past (the benevolent "Yellow Emperor," Huangdi, whose story has many elements in common with "Saturnian" myths around the world was part of the Xia Dynasty). 

The Shang (traditionally dated 1766 BC to 1122 BC) were once thought by some scholars to have been mythical themselves, but in 1899 a scholar and chancellor of the Imperial Academy and collector of antiquities named Wang Yirong of Beijing recognized the script on bones which were being ground up and ingested as medicines as ancient script similar to that seen on Bronze Age antiquities, a discovery which led over time to the recognition of the oracle bones of the Shang, which now number in the many tens or even hundreds of thousands, but which had remained unrecognized and largely unknown for over three thousand years.   

The  techniques for crossing to the "other realm" or the "invisible world" and bringing back information are widely varied across different cultures, climates, and time periods -- almost as widely varied as human culture itself. A previous discussion of some of the many different "techniques of ecstasy" -- many of which are found in Mircea Eliade's landmark 1951 discussion of the subject of shamanism and ecstasy --  entitled "How many ways are there to contact the hidden realm?" suggests that the fact that humans seem to be able to find ways of contact with and even travel to the spirit world using whatever their local environment provides to them may indicate:

a) that we are designed or "hard-wired" to be able to access non-ordinary reality,
b) that this ability resides with us as human beings and is not dependent on access to specific external elements or implements, and
c) that this ability to access the hidden realm is absolutely essential to human existence itself. 

In his encyclopedic examination of the myriad techniques of communicating with the spirit world, Eliade does not appear to directly discuss the oracle bones of the ancient Shang, although he does discuss the use of oracular bones among shamanic cultures which survived to the present day, such as the Koryak of the Bering Sea / Kamchatka region, the Oirat / Kalmyk of western Mongolia and the lands to the east of the Caspian Sea, and others.

He also notes that some scholars in the past have suggested intriguing parallels between ancient Shang art and designs and those used by Native American tribes of Alaska and the northwest coast of North America, those found on monuments in Borneo, Sumatra, and New Guinea, and that some have also pointed out the fact that "the drawings on the Lapp drum are astonishingly reminiscent of the pictographic style of the Eskimo and the eastern Algonkin," suggesting the possibility of some very interesting correspondences between shamanic cultures from very different parts of the globe and across many millennia of human history (page 334 and also footnote on page 334).

In addition to their importance as evidence of very early contact between the material realm and the invisible world in ancient China, the oracle bones are also tremendously important as extremely early examples of Chinese script, and scholars have determined that many characters still used today are directly descended from those used by the Shang. The Wikipedia entry on the subject states that scholars today believe the Shang writing to be directly ancestral to the Chinese system still in use, and that the oracle bones constitute the earliest significant corpus of ancient texts through which to study the origins and evolution of the Chinese characters.

It is fascinating to consider the origin of the Chinese characters for "eye" and "king" from characters which can be seen on surviving oracle bones, or to note how the traditional character for "tiger" still has a tail which corresponds to the image used for "tiger" on the Shang bones, in which the figures were generally drawn as though "standing" on a surface which runs "up and down," or upon which (in other words) animals which would be facing to the left if the ground were imagined running horizontal or "left to right" are in the ancient inscriptions rotated so that their noses are upwards, their feet are to the left, and their tails are towards the bottom as we look at the bones.

It is also extremely significant to pause and consider that this fact of the oracle bones constituting the earliest examples of Chinese writing appears to indicate a very close relationship between writing and contact with the invisible realm -- just as the story of the origins of the Norse runes through Odin's self-sacrifice by hanging on the World Tree demonstrates in northern European myth and sacred tradition.

The method by which the oracle bones were used is described in many places on the web and in books about ancient Chinese history. Here is the description from A Concise History of China, by J.A.G. Roberts (1999):

Much of the information available on Shang society comes from inscriptions made on the shoulder-blades of oxen (scapulimancy), or less commonly on the shells of turtles (plastromancy). At one time such items were described as 'dragon bones' and ground up for medicine. In the late nineteenth century the bones and their fragments were recognized for what they were. Over 150,000 fragments of Shang oracle bones have now been identified and these provide a major source of evidence about the Shang state. Many of the inscriptions refer to future events and they have been translated as questions addressed to an oracle. Recently it has been argued that the inscriptions are not questions but statements or predictions and that the divination process formed part of a sacrificial rite. Once the bones had been inscribed, a heated bronze tool was applied to them and the cracks which appeared were interpreted as a response to the question or prediction. Some of the inscriptions relate to the actions of the king and his allies and from these information may be gleaned about the organization of the Shang state. Others refer to the weather, to the planting and harvesting of crops and to the siting of buildings. The inscriptions use a vocabulary of more than 3000 different glyphs and they include a dating system based on a 10-day week and a 60-day cycle. 5.

The video below does a fairly good job of presenting the outlines of the importance of the oracle bones and their initial discovery (or recognition) in 1899:

Other videos, some of which focus more on the question of how exactly Wang Yirong first recognized the importance of the inscriptions on the bones in 1899, and how scholarship regarding the bones has proceeded since then, can be found in this video (which appears to be part of a larger series), and in this video which is basically a podcast and contains some interesting discussion of the oracle bones.

The text from J.A.G. Roberts above continues in its discussion of the Shang, noting the presence of "very sophisticated" bronze vessels and implements from the Shang period which are remarkable because there is no evidence "of an earlier and more primitive stage of bronze work" (5), and then goes on to say:

From the evidence of the oracle bones and bronze vessels, and from the burial practices followed, some understanding may be obtained of Shang religion. The Shang people worshipped many deities, most of whom were royal ancestors, some were nature spirits, and others perhaps derived from popular myths or local cults. The veneration of ancestors was practised by much of the population, and it has remained an essential part of Chinese religious practice until modern times. It has long been assumed that Shang religion also had a single supreme deity, referred to as Di, who was part ancestral figure, part natural force, who presided at the apex of a complex Shang pantheon. A recent study has rejected the idea of Di as a high god, and has claimed that in Shang religion di was the term used to refer collectively to 'the gods,' and that it was only under the Zhou that the idea of a supreme god emerged. From the evidence of the tombs it is clear that the Shang believed in an afterlife, and divination may have been addressed to departed ancestors. The Shang court may have been attended by shamans, and the king himself was perhaps a shaman. 6-7.

Further evidence which appears to argue quite strongly that ancient Chinese culture exhibits elements of the shamanic worldview is explored by Stanford Professor of Chinese Culture Mark Edward Lewis in The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han (2007), part of a series of books called the History of Imperial China edited by Timothy Brook as general editor. Discussing the overarching understanding that our world consists of a visible and an invisible realm, and the points of contact and communication between them, Professor Lewis writes:

Religion in imperial China dealt with the realm of "spirits" (shen) and shadow (yin). From earliest times, the Chinese offered sacrifices to a spirit world that paralleled the human. The two realms -- the visible and invisible -- were roughly parallel, and the dying moved from one to the other. 178.

He then explores some of the many categories of contact between the visible and invisible realms, which he explains were "sometimes personalized (as in divination, dreams, or trances), sometimes localized (as in sacred places or shrines), and sometimes generally visible as omens but subject to disputed interpretation (as in prodigies such as comets, eclipses, droughts, or the raining of blood)" (178).  He quotes an evocative poem written by one of the consorts of the Emperor Gaozu, the founder of the western Han dynasty, who reined as emperor from 202 BC to 195 BC:

Floating on high in every direction,
Music fills the hall and court.
The incense sticks are a forest of feathers,
The cloudy scene an obscure darkness.
Metal stalks with elegant blossoms,
A host of flags and kingfisher banners.
The "Seven Origins" and "Blossoming Origins" music
Are solemnly intoned as harmonious sounds.
So one can almost hear
The spirits coming to feast and frolic.
The spirits are seen off to the zhu zhu of the music,
Which refines and purifies human feelings.
Suddenly the spirits ride off on the darkness,
And the brilliant event concludes.
Purified thoughts grow hidden and still,
And the warp and weft of the world fall dark. 179.

Professor Lewis says of this scene:

The sacred space blurred ordinary sense perceptions with smoke, incense, music, and the forest of banners. The chief sacrificer prepared for his contact with the spirits by fasting and meditation. This extended deprivation not only cleansed the body but also induced a mental state more susceptible to perceiving uncanny phenomena. In the atmosphere of the ritual scene, the carefully prepared participants could hear the spirits come to feast with their living kin and then see them depart before the world settled into blackness. Such scenes are described in some of the songs of the Zhou Canon of Odes (Shi jing), where spirits grow drunk on sacrificial wine. 179.

Finally, Professor Lewis provides the important insight that "Chinese divination was usually regarded more as a guide to action than as the report of a fixed fate. Divination provided not knowledge of a preordained future but understanding of trends so as to act upon events with the greatest efficacy" (183).

As something of an aside, we should note that this understanding of the spirit world, which Professor Lewis asserts characterized the ancient Chinese understanding of the spirit world, appears to harmonize quite well with the assertion made earlier that the realm of spirit may correspond in some way to what quantum theory describes as "superposition," in which very small particles cannot be described as having an "actual position" independent of its observation: in which they exist in a sort of world of "potentiality" until they are observed, at which time they "manifest" in a particular place (see the discussion, for example, in Quantum Enigma by UC Santa Cruz physics professors Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner, beginning on page 84 in the 2nd edition).

All of this evidence from China's ancient period speaks to a worldview which can be broadly included in the definition of the shamanic worldview as articulated above: a worldview which perceives the existence of an invisible world of spirit, and which understands the importance of communication between the two realms and which possesses techniques to effect such communication.

This evidence also argues that the concept of the shamanic is not restricted to pastoral or nomadic or hunter-gatherer societies, even though it is in such societies where shamanic practices appear to have survived most clearly into recent centuries.

Previous posts have noted the convincing arguments put forward by Dr. Jeremy Naydler and others, based upon extensive evidence, that the pharaonic civilization of ancient Egypt was built upon central principles and a worldview which also conforms to the broad definition of the shamanic.

The implications of the oracle bones of ancient China are actually quite profound for modern civilization here in the twenty-first century AD, over thirty-eight centuries after the start of the Shang civilization.

First, as has been hammered-upon throughout this post, the oracle bones provide still more evidence to the growing mound of evidence from around the world that the ancient wisdom of the human race was shamanic in nature, aware of the vital importance of the spirit world and of the need to contact and communicate with what has been called the realm of "non-ordinary reality" -- just as real as our ordinary mode of consciousness, but differing radically from our ordinary experience -- and which may be related to the state of "potentiality" described in the basic principles of modern quantum physics.

Second, the oracle bones yield important avenues for further examination when they are compared to other ancient cultures which themselves could be described as exhibiting a shamanic worldview. It has already been noted that the story of the "Sacrifice of Odin," in which Odin gains the spiritual vision needed to see the runes and thus obtain the gift of writing through the process of hanging upon the great tree Yggdrasil, suggests to us that writing itself -- an inherently symbolic activity -- has strong connections to and even origins within the invisible world.

We can now bring up another parallel from another well-known ancient point of contact with the invisible realm: the famous Oracle at Delphi. There, supplicants (including, according to the ancient texts, many kings and heroes) would present their questions to the priestess of Delphi, who was known as the Pythia, and she would enter into a state of ecstatic trance in order to convey a message from the other world. The parallels to the use of the Shang oracle bones should be quite evident.

What is extremely noteworthy in this regard, I would submit, is the fact that the Oracle at Delphi was associated not only with crossing over the barrier to the invisible realm, there to obtain messages and information not available through ordinary means alone, but also with the admonition "Know Thyself," traditionally held to have been inscribed prominently at the Delphic temple and referenced in that connection by many important ancient texts and authors, including notably by Socrates himself (at least as depicted in the dialogues of Plato) when discussing the origin and role of mythology!

What could it mean that in this most sacred point of this extremely important ancient culture we find juxtaposed a tradition of crossing over to the invisible world and an admonition to "Know Thyself"?

Could it not be that the command to "Know Thyself" entails the command to "understand our dual material/spiritual nature" and the simultaneous "dual material/spiritual nature" of this universe in which we dwell (and which we in fact reflect and embody, in the "macrocosm/microcosm" philosophy which can be seen to have been operating in the sacred teachings of ancient Greece, and in the scriptures of the Bible, and indeed in Chinese culture as well, where traditional Chinese medicine has from ancient times recognized a correspondence between the motions of the sun, moon, stars and planets and the internal organs and flow of energy within the human body -- and see here for more on that subject going back to ancient Egypt).

If so, then the growing evidence of the universality of the worldview and the practice of techniques which we might label "shamanic" has profound implications for our own self-knowledge and even for our own fulfillment and sense of completeness as human beings. There is a powerful quotation from Mircea Eliade, made during a discussion of the ecstatic journeying undertaken by the shamans of the Inuit, Inupiak, and Yupik peoples of far northern regions of North American continent (whose name for a shaman was angakok or angakut) in which he relates the assertion based the accounts of the angakok themselves that:

It is above all during trance that he truly becomes himself; the mystical experience is necessary to him as a constituent of his true personality. Shamanism, 293.

Such an assertion is very much in keeping with the foregoing observations of the near-universality of shamanic practice at the foundation of the world's various cultures and sacred traditions, with the great diversity of methods by which people around the world have found ways to make contact with the other world, and with the fact that it was at the Oracle of Delphi where the ancient Greeks chose to inscribe the grave command, "Know Thyself."

In light of such findings, we must ask ourselves whether there might not be negative consequences of a serious nature for a society which marginalizes and even criminalizes the universal human impulse to contact the realm of non-ordinary reality? For some discussions on that front, see previous posts such as "Outlaw drums," "Graham Hancock identifies war on consciousness," and "Literalists against the shamanic."

And, as we contemplate these subjects, we can be thankful for the recognition attributed to Wang Yirong of the significance of the inscriptions found upon the ancient bones which were being dug up from fields in which they had lain for so many centuries, silently proclaiming the shamanic worldview practiced during one of the earliest periods of Chinese history.

We can only wonder what other evidence of ancient shamanic practice around the world has disappeared into the dust of history without leaving a record which we can today read or examine.

And we can gaze at the ancient writings on the shoulder bones and tortoise plastrons, placed there by those wishing for a message from the other world, and ponder our own need for the same -- which connects us to them across the great gulf of centuries, and speaks to a universal human need which is every bit as real today as it was in the days of the Shang.

below are some other images of oracle bones

. . .

above image: Wikimedia commons (link).

above image: Wikimedia commons (link).

above image: Wikimedia commons (link).

above image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The Angel Gabriel

The Angel Gabriel

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

In the ancient scriptures preserved in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, one of the most important heavenly messengers is the angel Gabriel. 

Gabriel is the angel who appears to the Virgin Mary to proclaim that she would conceive a child who would be called the Son of God, an event known as the Annunciation described in the first chapter of the Gospel According to Luke.

Only a few verses earlier in the same first chapter of Luke, Gabriel is also described bringing a proclamation to Zacharias, the husband of Mary's cousin Elisabeth, that Elisabeth will bear a son who will be called John (this son is John the Baptist). 

And, in the Hebrew scriptures of the Book of Daniel, Gabriel appears as a messenger in chapters 8 and 9, to explain to the prophet Daniel the meaning of a vision which appeared to Daniel.

Previous posts have discussed the evidence which suggests that the angelic beings known as the cherubim and seraphim may correspond to the brightest stars in the sky: there is certainly evidence which would argue that the cherubim described in the Vision of Ezekiel correspond to the four first-magnitude stars in or near the zodiac constellations of Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius.

Does the angel Gabriel, then, also correspond to a bright star, in the same way that the cherubim seem to correspond to specific first-magnitude stars?

Actually, although the passages describing Gabriel in the Old and New Testaments are fairly brief, I believe there are enough clues included in these texts to conclude that Gabriel is not one of the fixed stars, but rather corresponds to one of the five visible planets -- and that in fact Gabriel corresponds to the planet Mercury, who is of course "the messenger of the gods" in ancient Greek and Roman mythology.

Previous posts have discussed the extensive evidence that the names of the gods were derived from the motions of the planets, rather than the other way around. This is what we would expect, if the world's ancient myths and sacred stories are actually built upon a system of celestial allegory, encoding the motions of the heavenly actors in order to convey esoteric meaning to us about the nature of this universe and the nature of our human experience in it (a message which is in fact shamanic and holographic in nature, as many previous posts have discussed and as future posts will examine further).

Beginning with this understanding, it should be fairly obvious why the planet Mercury appears in mythology around the world as a heavenly messenger: Mercury is the closest planet to the sun, and makes the fastest orbit of any of the five visible planets, completing the journey in only 88 earth days. I believe that this fact may well account for the number of legs attributed to Sleipnir, the fantastic eight-legged steed of Odin, a Norse god who exhibits attributes of Hermes or Mercury (and who gives his name to Wednesday in English, the same day of the week named for Mercury in many Latinate or Romance languages).

The fact that Mercury's orbit is closer to the sun than that of the earth also means that for an observer on earth to see Mercury, he or she must look towards the sun. Mercury, and Venus for that matter (which also has an orbit closer to the sun than that of the earth), can only be seen if we are looking in the general direction of the sun, and this means that these inner planets are generally only visible to the naked eye when the sun is either just dipping down below the western horizon at sunset and in the hours immediately afterwards, or just getting ready to appear above the eastern horizon at sunrise and in the hours immediately preceding it. 

Venus, being farther from the sun than Mercury, can range up to almost fifty degrees ahead of or behind the sun (this distance is referred to as the planet's elongation), while Mercury never achieves elongations greater than thirty degrees, and is thus always seen in the bands of the sky that are bathed in the partial glow of the morning dawn or the evening twilight (see discussions and calculations on this and this website, for example, or the helpful diagram and discussion on Wikipedia here).

This proximity to our sun, the most important star in the heavens and the giver of all life on earth, is another important reason why mythical figures associated with the innermost and fastest planet are depicted in myth bringing the message or the tidings from the divine realm to humanity. This role may also explain why gods in various mythologies who are associated with this planet -- including Thoth in ancient Egypt, Hermes and Mercury in ancient Greece and Rome, and Odin in Norse mythology -- are associated with the mysterious science of writing and letters, the systems of esoteric symbols which enable us to preserve knowledge and to convey hidden wisdom across great distances and across the millennia, and which themselves are seen as messengers from the hidden world and intermediaries between the invisible realms and our ordinary reality.

There is an extremely revealing passage in the first chapter of Luke, in which Gabriel brings the announcement to Zacharias that his wife will bear a son, and Zacharias responds with a reaction of doubt, citing his and his wife's advanced age (Luke 1:18). Gabriel then says:

I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. Luke 1:19-20.

Here, the angel explicitly states that Gabriel is the angel who stands "in the presence of God" -- a most apt description of the planet which is the closest to the fiery orb of the sun, and which can only be seen very shortly before sunrise or very shortly after sunset, and always in a sky which is at least partially lit by the warm glow of our central solar orb.

The fact that Gabriel describes himself in these words is a very strong indicator that his character represents this planet in the Biblical texts.

Mercury-figures are also associated with speech in addition to writing, of course (as befits their status as the bearers of divine wisdom), and so the emphasis Gabriel places in the passage above to the fact that he is sent to speak unto Zecharias, and to reveal to himglad tidings, as well as the punishment Gabriel gives to Zecharias for not accepting the message (temporary loss of speech until the words are fulfilled in their season) are also important indicators that Gabriel represents Mercury.

The iconography and art created down through the centuries showing the angel Gabriel often depict this figure with many characteristics shared by Hermes and Mercury, including some type of wand (sometimes composed of flowers) corresponding to the caduceus typically carried by Mercury. Below are several examples, each one depicting Gabriel carrying a short wand of some sort in the left hand, although you have to look closely in some of the images in order to see the wand (continue reading below for a bit more discussion):

above image: Wikimedia commons (link).

above image: Wikimedia commons (link).

above image: Wikimedia commons (link).

above image: Wikimedia commons (link).

above image: Wikimedia commons (link).

above image: Wikimedia commons (link).

above image: Wikimedia commons (link).

above image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The similarity of many of these artistic depictions of the angel Gabriel to ancient depictions of Hermes should be readily apparent, including of course the slender wand, the wings, and the running posture. 

Another very important shared aspect of the imagery of both Gabriel and Hermes/Mercury is the slightly (or even strongly) hermaphroditic characteristics of their depictions in art. This aspect is very readily apparent in many of the images shown above. It can probably be explained by understanding how the position of the orbit of the planet Mercury contributes to the behavior of the planet in the sky.

Previous posts have demonstrated evidence that conjunctions of planets in the sky are often depicted in myth as sexual dalliances. One of the best examples of this interpretation can be found in the illicit liaison of the goddess Aphrodite (played by the planet Venus) with the god Ares (played by the planet Mars), described in numerous ancient Greek sources including the Odyssey, and interpreted even by ancient writers as an episode which corresponds to the conjunction of those two planets (see discussion here).

As discussed above, the planets Venus and Mercury are interior planets to observers on earth: their orbits are interior to the path followed by earth because they orbit closer to the sun than does our planet. They will always be seen fairly close to the horizon, because they appear above the eastern horizon prior to sunrise when they are ahead of the sun, or above the western horizon after sunset when they are trailing the sun. They will never be seen arcing independently across the middle of the midnight sky, because if we on earth are turned away from the sun (as we are at midnight) we are looking out into space away from the interior planets, where we could expect to see Mars or Jupiter or Saturn but never Venus or Mercury.

Because of this, the planets whose orbits are exterior to earth's orbit (the so-called superior planets Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) can often be seen much further from the horizon than Venus and Mercury, who are "tethered" to the sun, so to speak (Mercury being tethered even more closely than Venus). Thus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn can sometimes be seen steadily approaching Venus (for example) from the wider sky, as if those farther wanderers were approaching or "pursuing" a more modest maiden who waits for their advances. There are many myths in which Ares and Zeus pursue sexual liaisons with Aphrodite, and Hephaestus (who exhibits attributes of Saturn) is actually depicted in Greek myth as Aphrodite's husband (although she seems to prefer the swifter and more athletic Ares or Mars). See for example the previous post entitled "Dangerous liaisons: Jupiter, Venus and Mercury."

Because Mercury is actually interior even to Venus, it is Venus who can "range" further from the horizon (and from the sun) than can Mercury, and therefore when conjunctions take place involving Mercury and Venus, it is Venus who often seems to be "pursuing" Mercury -- and this fact is also reflected in myth, with Aphrodite being lured by Hermes rather than pursued by him. There are also many myths in which Aphrodite or Venus is depicted as pursuing a shy and unwilling youth, such as in the story of Venus and Adonis, a pattern which has numerous important mythological parallels, and which is almost certainly related to this quality of the planets Venus and Mercury. Because, metaphorically speaking, approaching is a "masculine" attribute, and receiving or being approached or pursued is a "feminine" attribute, the poetic allegorization of the planets in the stories of the myths depict Mercury or Hermes as possessing some feminine aspects, even though he is typically understood as a male god.

For this reason (and perhaps for other reasons as well), Hermes or Mercury and all the other manifestations of this heavenly actor in the world's ancient mythology are boundary-crossing deities, and hence Hermes/Mercury is a transcendent being (more discussion here). The angel Gabriel embodies this aspect of transcendence, because Gabriel crosses easily between the realm of the unseen, the realm of the divine, and the realm of incarnate men and women whose general experience is characterized by "ordinary reality." 

The message that Gabriel bears is a transcendent message as well: a message of a profound miracle, of a manifestation of the invisible Spirit, of the human birth of one who is divine. 

Ultimately, as I have tried to explain in many previous posts such as this one and this one, I believe that this message from Gabriel, the one who "stands in the presence" of the divine, is a message to each one of us as well. These ancient myths, which encode the cyclical motions of the sun, moon, stars and planets, convey to us that our universe is composed of both the physical realm which we can see, and the invisible realm of spirit which we normally cannot. 

Further, they convey to us the urgent message that we ourselves can be seen to be beings -- transcendent beings -- from the other world who have taken on flesh and been born into the physical incarnation: we each contain the invisible spark of divinity, even though it is easy for us to forget it (or even, like Zacharias, to deny it or refute it or reject the message for a time, which of course can have negative consequences for us).

We should be very grateful for the ancient wisdom of our planet, preserved in the world's ancient myth, and which still streaks across the void and across the millennia like a messenger from the invisible realms to speak to us, and which continues to pour forth good tidings through the circling motions of the awesome celestial actors in the universe above our heads, and of which we are an important part.

The heron of forgetfulness

The heron of forgetfulness

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

In the previous post entitled "How many ways are there to contact the hidden realm?" we saw the breadth and variety of the techniques which human beings have used around the world, across different cultures, and across the centuries to achieve a condition of ecstasy: of freeing their consciousness temporarily from the material anchor of the body and its normal senses.

While many of the techniques employed do indeed make use of substances including cannabis, tobacco, mushrooms and others, it is also notable that many of them do not. While many of the  consciousness-altering substances used in traditional shamanic cultures to induce ecstasy (including mushrooms, peyote, cannabis, and ayahuasca) have been outlawed over the years, it is similarly noteworthy that possession of "consciousness-altering drums" has also been widely and vigorously persecuted for centuries -- probably even more widely and for longer periods of time than have the consciousness-altering plants and mushrooms. 

Interestingly enough, in the Poetic Edda, where the account of the shamanic self-sacrifice of the Norse god Odin is described, the same section containing the account of Odin's vision-quest to obtain the knowledge of the runes (the Havamal) also contains a warning against intoxication (in this case, by drinking too much mead or beer). Beginning in stanza 13, we read:

13. Over beer the bird of forgetfulness broods,
And steals the minds of men;
With the heron's feathers fettered I lay
And in Gunnloth's house was drunk.
14. Drunk I was, I was dead-drunk,
When with Fjalar wise I was;
'Tis the best of drinking if back one brings
His wisdom with him home.
[. . .]
19. Shun not the mead, but drink in measure;
Speak to the point or be still;
For rudeness none shall rightly blame thee
If soon thy bed thou seekest.

The above lines can be found by scrolling down to the page marked [31] in the online version of the Elder Edda (Poetic Edda) linked above. That online version is not the easiest to navigate, but by looking for the bracketed "page-numbers" the above verses can be found.

These verses, coming as they do in the same section of the Edda in which the shamanic ordeal is mentioned, seem to establish a fairly sharp contrast between the idea of becoming intoxicated (discussed in primarily negative terms, and as a condition to be generally avoided) and traveling out of the body (the result of which, in Odin's case, is presented as positive, and the methodology of which is presented as necessary).

The image of the "bird of forgetfulness" brooding over the beer, repeated a couple of lines later as a heron which traps the intoxicated with the "fetters" of its feathers (perhaps we might call these the "fettering feathers of forgetfulness") is pretty unforgettable. It's powerful imagery, coupled with delightful alliteration (Norse poetry, as also Anglo-Saxon poetry, made much use of alliteration), and causes a pang or two of regret among those of us who have met that heron a few too many times.

Notably, however, there is within the warning lines (which generally present drunkenness in an entirely negative light) a reference to the mead of Gunnlod, when the speaker switches to first-person in stanza 14, indicating that it is now Odin who is speaking, and that the quest to obtain the mead of poetry (which has many aspects of a shamanic journey, especially the transformation into an eagle but also the descent into a hole in the mountain and the retrieval of hidden knowledge that could not be obtained in any other way) did involve intoxication as part of the process.

This tension between the consciousness-lifting process of crossing over to the other realm, and the generally consciousness-deadening condition of becoming "drunk, dead drunk" and imprisoned by the feathers of the bird of forgetfulness (forgetfulness being pretty much the polar opposite of the usual purpose of the shamanic journey, which is to obtain knowledge rather than forget it) is found in other cultures as well -- to the point that it is worth exploring further.

In Mircea Eliade's encyclopedic 1951 study of shamanic culture and practice (Shamanism: Archaic techniqes of ecstasy, also mentioned in the post cataloguing shamanic technique), some representatives of shamanic cultures seem to indicate that the need to use of mind-altering substances to induce ecstasy is seen in a somewhat negative light, at least in some cases and in some cultures. Eliade points to the existence of opinions and attitudes that: "Narcotics are only a vulgar substitute for 'pure' trance [. . .] the use of intoxicants (alcohol, tobacco, etc.) is a recent innovation and points to a decadence in shamanic technique. Narcotic intoxication is called on to provide an imitation of a state that the shaman is no longer capable of attaining otherwise" (401).

This attitude (part of a pattern Eliade finds stretching across numerous shamanic cultures of a belief in the "decadence of shamans," in other words, a belief or tradition in the shamanic cultures themselves that shamanic technique and capability had decreased over time) is extremely interesting: there appears to be some recognition that, while the use of intoxicating substances may be a path to the shamanic state of ecstasy, their use can also be a crutch -- and even worse, can lead to an imitation of shamanic ecstasy and not the real thing.

This tradition, from some of the shamanic cultures that Eliade and his other sources examined, would seem to be an important warning to those of us coming from "Western cultures" where knowledge of the shamanic was largely hunted down and violently suppressed for centuries. The danger posed by those offering "imitation" shamanic journeys, based more in intoxication than in the travel to the actual realm of the spirits, is one that we may want to keep in mind. 

It is also notable that the great Sioux leader Crazy Horse, whose own personal vision was recounted in this previous post, was known for his refusal to drink alcohol (as Stephen F. Ambrose points out on page 220 of his 1975 book about Crazy Horse, which is linked in that previous post).

And it is perhaps also worthy of noting that in the Ghost Dance movement, which used dancing and drumming late into the night on multiple nights in a row in order to enable participants to achieve a state of ecstasy, alcohol was similarly discouraged. It might even be worth pointing out that in Rastafari practice, while ganja is revered, alcohol was also traditionally frowned upon.

All of this is not to suggest that one method of achieving contact with the hidden realm is "good" while others are "bad," or to "privilege" one method over another -- far from it. In fact, the whole point of examining the incredibly multifarious array of methodologies utilized around the world and across the centuries was really to point out that men and women appear to be inherently designed to be able to make contact with the other realm by methods that will be available no matter what type of climate or environment or culture they happen to find themselves in. 

However, the fairly widespread evidence of a clear tension between paths that lead to "intoxication" or "forgetfulness," and paths that lead to what Eliade called "pure" trance (putting "pure" in quotation marks himself) suggests that we should carefully ponder the warning that these voices from traditional shamanic cultures are giving us, to be careful of shortcuts, "imitation ecstasy," and the feathers of that dreaded heron of forgetfulness.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Humanity's shared shamanic heritage

Humanity's shared shamanic heritage

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

When considering the subject of shamanism and shamanic experience, many "Westerners" (that is to say, those who have grown up in the parts of the world that were actually ruled by the Roman Empire, specifically the western empire, as well as those parts of the world that the later European states descended from the western empire influenced heavily, and in particular those areas which were deeply committed to literalist forms of Christianity for many centuries in a row) may find the subject to be uncomfortable or even threatening.

This discomfort may be due to a variety of factors. 

Some of it may be due to the complete unfamiliarity of the entire landscape of the shamanic, and a feeling that the concept is so alien as to be almost completely inaccessible to those coming from any of the cultures encompassed by "Western culture" as broadly described above.

Some of it may be due to the heavy stigma which the literalist forms of religion that have dominated Western culture for at least seventeen centuries have placed on forms of human experience involving contact with spirits or the spirit-world -- a stigma which retains some of its force even among descendants of Western culture who no longer accept the literalist interpretation of ancient scriptures or one of the various forms of literalist Christianity which opposed such experience based on specific and overt doctrines or teachings.

And some of it may be due to the idea that there is a deep and nearly impassible divide between different cultures, and especially between "Western" cultures and those retaining some aspect of the shamanic worldview, to the point that it is seen (perhaps by descendants of cultures on both sides of the divide) as "inauthentic" or "invasive" or in some other way "wrong" for anyone from a primarily Western background to wish to explore and especially to practice aspects of shamanic experience.

These barriers to the investigation of shamanic teaching and experience are unfortunate -- especially if it turns out that the outlines of the shamanic world-view are in fact accurate in their description of our universe! That is to say, such rejection of the relevance of the shamanic to everyone in the world (including those from a primarily "Western" background) would be unfortunate indeed if it turns out that there is in fact a realm corresponding to that realm described in various shamanic cultures as the Other World, the Spirit World, the Invisible World, the Dreamtime, or the Realm of the Gods, and if that other realm actually connects to and "interpenetrates" the more familiar or ordinary or material realm in which we spend most of our waking hours, such that changes in one realm can have real and lasting impact on what takes place in the other.

As I explore in The Undying Stars, there is indeed evidence that this situation is in fact the case:  that is to say, that the universe we normally experience and think of as "reality" is in fact interpenetrated by an invisible world, or that the "explicate" world we inhabit somehow "unfolds from" an invisible "implicate" realm of pure potentiality. Modern theoretical physicists have been forced by the outcomes of various experiments conducted since the end of the nineteenth and especially during the twentieth century to radically reshape their models of the universe, and frameworks have been proposed including the "holographic universe" model which closely resemble the shamanic worldview in nearly every detail, other than the labels given to the two different realms of existence (or the two different modes of the "expression of information" or data).

The fact that shamanism anticipated this modern "discovery" by many thousands of years, and that, in addition to understanding it, shamanism has a rich tradition of techniques for actually moving between these different realms of existence in order to gain knowledge and make changes which cannot be effected in any other way, should alone be enough to recommend a careful reconsideration of the profound value and pertinence of shamanic thought and practice for all humanity.

But even more important, perhaps, to breaking down the unfortunate potential sources of "Western discomfort" with the shamanic that I listed above would be the understanding that in fact the shamanic worldview appears to have been deeply ingrained in ancient sacred tradition in all the places we think of today as "the West" and that this knowledge was deliberately stamped out only as recently as the fifth century AD within the Roman Empire -- and even later in other parts of Europe and the West.

In other words, what today we label as "the shamanic" is part of the heritage of all peoples -- but there has for centuries been a deliberate and very effective campaign to steal this heritage from humanity! 

The very fact that we label the worldview broadly described as shamanic with an adjective derived from the Tungusian word shaman reinforces the extent to which this worldview was hunted to near extinction within the regions conquered or heavily influenced by the western Roman Empire and its successor western European states, and only survived in areas outside of that influence (such as eastern Europe, very far northern Europe, most of Africa and Asia -- including the region of modern-day Siberia where the Tungus peoples live -- as well as the continents of North and South America and the islands of the Pacific Ocean including the island-continent of Australia).

In fact, as I labor to demonstrate in The Undying Stars (and many of the posts here on this blog), it can be shown that nearly all the world's sacred myths, teachings and scriptures share a common underlying celestial foundation which actually unites them rather than divides them, and that the purpose of the esoteric celestial allegory employed in all these cases was to convey a vision of the universe and of human experience that is essentially what we today would call shamanic. For more on that possibility, see for example this previous post containing an index of links to posts detailing the celestial aspects of over fifty different myths from different world cultures (including myths in the Old and New Testaments), and also some of the previous posts which have discussed the possible shamanic purpose of these "star myths" such as "Shamanic-Holographic," "The shamanic foundation of the world's ancient wisdom," and "The ancient torch that was lighted for our guidance," among others.  

Although this shamanic worldview took on different forms in cultures such as ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, or the cultures of the Druids, Celts, Norse, and others, it was nevertheless characterized in all of these different cultures by features that are essentially and specifically shamanic:

the awareness of "the other realm" or "world of the gods" in addition to the world of ordinary reality, and the practice of techniques for actually traveling between the realm of ordinary reality and the realm of the gods in order to obtain knowledge or effect change not possible to obtain or effect through any other method.

Previous posts have described, for example, the important work of Dr. Jeremy Naydler in demonstrating that what we would call shamanic travel or shamanic journeying was an integral part of ancient Egyptian civilization, and that the pharaoh appears to have regularly and deliberately undertaken out-of-body travel to the realm of the gods or neters in order to provide benefits for the entire society by doing so: see for instance this post, this post and this post. During the 1960s, the authors of Hamlet's Mill also outlined a strong case for a shamanic connection in the myth and practice of ancient Egypt: see for example this post and this post.

Other posts have demonstrated evidence for similarly shamanic worldviews in operation in ancient Greece, including at the oracle at Delphi, and in the long-standing Mysteries of Eleusis, both of which appear to have reinforced the necessity of acknowledging the invisible world and of crossing to the other side even during this life in order to obtain knowledge or make change which could not be accomplished any other way. 

The shamanic aspects of the Norse myths are clear and compelling, and are especially evident in the central sacrifice of Odin, in which knowledge is shown being obtained through a ritual that is essentially shamanic -- knowledge that can be obtained by no other method. And, while Odin's ascent on the World-Tree is perhaps the most obviously shamanic episode in Norse mythology, there are many other Norse myths which can be convincingly shown to contain clear shamanic elements, including the myth of Odin and Gunnlod and the mead of poetry (as well as the many stories of Freya and her ability to transform into a falcon, and of the Valkyries who are also able to ascend to the heavens and who wear garments of feathers in some cases, a characteristic of the shaman's costume the world over).

It can be demonstrated that this shamanic worldview, and the practice of crossing over to the other realm in order to obtain knowledge or effect change, continued in what would become the "Western world" right up through the fifth century AD within the Roman Empire, during the period in which the hierarchy of literalist Christianity was actively suppressing esoteric -- we might even say shamanic -- interpretations of the texts that became the Biblical canon.

In fact, this previous post entitled "The centrality of ecstasy, according to ancient wisdom," cites the analysis of Gerald Massey (1828 - 1907) who concluded that the distinguishing hallmark of all ancient wisdom was "knowledge of trance conditions." This knowledge was found in all the ancient scriptures and cultures in "the West" prior to the advent of literalist Christianity, and this knowledge survived into the modern period in those cultures that were outside the areas that literalist Christianity stamped it out during the ancient period and up through the middle ages. 

Elsewhere in his work, Massey puts forward the important theory (which he backs up with compelling evidence), that the author of the earliest Pauline letters in the New Testament was clearly teaching a worldview we would today call shamanic, including an emphasis on individual experience and direct revelation, and even out-of-the-body travel. Massey believes that this original intent was subverted by later literalist teachers and by the creation of letters (such as the "Pastoral letters") not written by the original author, and which taught an opposite worldview.

This information turns conventional understanding on its head, and should go a long way towards overcoming the three main areas of discomfort or objection cited at the beginning of this post. 

It suggests that what we think of today as the shamanic is actually the heritage of all humanity -- but that this heritage was deliberately stolen from a large segment of mankind many centuries ago, and that the campaigns against other shamanic cultures that took place in more recent centuries may in fact be part of the same "stamping out" that took place in the West long before.

It also suggests that the hunger for the exploration of the shamanic among people descended from Western cultures may represent a longing for something that was once part of their own heritage, but from which they are now separated by long centuries of isolation from such experience.

It further suggests that shamanic practice can and does take on many different cultural forms, even as it retains some central features which characterize the shamanic worldview. The external trappings of that worldview looked very different in ancient Egypt, for example, than it did in Eleusis in ancient Greece, or in northern Europe among the Norse and Germanic peoples -- and these external differences are real and undeniable. However, the core understanding that there is a spirit world or realm of the gods (or realm of the "implicate order," in terms of modern holographic universe theory) and that deliberate travel to that realm is both possible and at times very necessary and potentially very beneficial, is common to all of the pre-Christian "Western" cultures just mentioned, just as it is common to the many different cultures where the shamanic worldview survived to the present or closer to the present day. 

There are real and undeniable differences between more recent shamanic cultures, for instance between those found in the Amazon and those found in Siberia, but there are core similarities as well -- especially the core belief in the possibility of such shamanic travel, its potential benefits, and its necessity in some circumstances.

We might also conclude that, given the number of centuries that have intervened between the time that this worldview was stamped out in "the West" and the present day, anyone coming from a primarily Western culture who wants to investigate traditions where this kind of knowledge has survived is of necessity forced to do so among the knowledge that survived in non-Western cultures. This does not mean that someone who does so is trying to "appropriate" or "steal" from the culture where that knowledge has been preserved, or trying to turn into someone that they are not: it is more a case of  someone from a culture where long generations have now elapsed since this ancient light was put out going to someone where that flame was preserved right up to recent memory.  

We might say it is also like someone from a boat or a ship that has been blown to pieces, and who is now floating in the ocean, paddling over to boats or vessels that may on the outside look very different from the one that they were originally from, but that were also designed with the same primary purpose in mind. Recreating the old boat is pretty much out of the question at this point: Eleusis went silent so many centuries ago that there are now none living who can say with any certainty what techniques were used in their mysteries.

When these refugees learn the techniques that have been preserved in other cultures and other places and then head out to try to navigate the waters of this life using what they have learned, their "boats" and methods of sailing may and probably will have a different look and feel. That fact should not lead to their being criticized or rejected as somehow being inauthentic or counterfeit. The evidence presented above shows that the broadly "shamanic worldview" is the heritage of all humanity, even though it is and probably indeed must be expressed differently by different cultures living in different parts of the world or different centuries and using different technologies. The fact that it will be expressed differently by practitioners in our modern day who have their own different cultural backgrounds and baggage should not be cause for division or criticism or rejection of the desire to follow this ancient path in the circumstances of today's world.

In fact, given some of the evidence touched on above, it could be argued that we do not have the luxury of declaring the pursuit of shamanic experience to be "off limits" to any group or family of humanity. It is clear from evidence stretching all the way back to the Pyramid Texts (and perhaps much further back even than that) that the knowledge of and the ability to enter into altered states of consciousness and in doing so to travel into non-ordinary reality (the other realm, the implicate order) in order to gain information or to effect change that cannot be accomplished any other way is absolutely essential to individual health and to the health of society at large.

If "Western society" and the world at large is dangerously off-track or imbalanced, then this fact itself would argue that the recovery and active practice of that shamanic worldview which was lost (and, it could be argued, deliberately stolen) must be given the highest priority.