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A meditation on "Some Words with a Mummy," by Edgar Allan Poe

A meditation on "Some Words with a Mummy," by Edgar Allan Poe

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Just in time for Halloween (truly one of the most-important stations on the annual cycle, as discussed in this post from last year at this time), we have the tremendous good fortune to be approaching the 170th anniversary of the publication of one of my favorite short stories from that groundbreaking pioneer of the macabre, the unworldly, and the hauntingly symbolic: Edgar Allan Poe (1809 - 1849).

Poe's story "Some Words with a Mummy" was first published in Broadway Journal (New York) on November 01, 1845.

If you have never had the pleasure of reading it before (and even if you have), please stop whatever you're doing right now and give it a long, leisurely read, without rushing: you'll be glad you did!

The best way to enjoy any great work of literature, of course, is to read a physical text (if at all possible for your particular situation). If you do not have a copy of Poe's complete tales within easy reach, you can easily purchase a good collection here (where "Some Words with a Mummy" will be found on pages 805 - 821), or you might also try your local library.

Barring that, you can also find the complete text of this delightful tale online in various fonts and formats; if you don't mind consuming your Poe tales electronically, you can read "Some Words with a Mummy" in its entirety by following this link to a Project Gutenberg online edition.

Again, please don't go any further until you enjoy the story for yourself -- it is much better to read it first before I spoil it for you by focusing in on just a few of the many fascinating layers of this story, any one of which could lead to hours of profitable discussion and contemplation.

Also, if you have somehow arrived here because you are a student somewhere who has been given an assignment that involves your own interaction with this wonderful story, please don't interfere with your own chance to engage with the mind of Poe by clouding your view with the interpretations that I myself offer below: the observations that I offer below are simply the aspects of this rich story that resonate most strongly with what I feel like talking about at this particular moment in time, based on my own particular views and agendas. 

If someone has assigned this story to you in class, it is probably because he or she really loves "Some Words with a Mummy" and wants you to be able to have the experience of wrestling with it to try to determine what messages you think Poe was trying to send with this tale, or what messages the story itself (which does seem to take on a life of its own) is trying to convey to us, across the chasm and  the cobwebs of one hundred and seventy years. It would be a shame if you were to miss the messages that perhaps only you yourself can hear it whispering, because you let those messages be drowned-out by my own dronings on the subject!!!

All that said (and with the assurance that you have now read the story for yourself [here's that link  again]), let's take just a moment to unpack some of the incredible tidbits of wisdom Poe seems to be packing into this fantastic tale -- all of which are so fresh and so relevant to our situation at this particular moment in time that it is almost unbelievable to learn that they came from Poe's pen one hundred and seventy years ago, rather than just the other day.

The reader will immediately begin to perceive that Poe is poking fun at the characters in his story, including his narrator (who exhibits some of the signs of a classic "unreliable narrator," but who also seems to have participated in the entire encounter as part of an "ecstatic dream" or shamanic vision, which tends to elevate his narrative to another plane and which adds even more layers of complexity to the question of what is really going on in the story), nearly all of whom seem to be blissfully secure in the superiority of their own intellects and in the modern civilization whose distinguished representatives they take themselves to be.

Through a series of comedic comparisons in which the assembled intellectuals try to impress the grandeur of their modern achievements upon the bemused and patient representative from the ancient world -- the charming mummy Count Allamistakeo, who at times can barely contain his laughter at the ignorance of the moderns -- Poe reveals that the current conventional storyline of human history willfully ignores and papers-over the evidence of sophisticated technology and profound wisdom left by the most ancient civilizations (including, of course, Egypt, where some of the most abundant evidence has survived, but to which we could also add some of the stone structures, art and artifacts found in the many other parts of the world, including many sites across Europe, Africa and Asia but also in the Americas and in the vast Pacific, such as in the region of Puma Punku in South America, for instance, or in the islands of Pohnpei and Temwen in the far west part of the South Pacific) in order to maintain (just barely) a complete fairy tale that supports the present societal structure.

It is very noteworthy that Poe appears to have had a very strong sense of the complete inadequacy of modern engines of construction to even begin to replicate the feats of the builders of the vast ancient temples and monuments. At one point, for instance, the narrator (in an attempt to impress the Mummy), relates:

I spoke of our gigantic mechanical forces.
He agreed that we knew something in that way, but inquired how I should have gone to work in getting up the imposts on the lintels of even the little palace at Carnac.
This question I concluded not to hear [ . . . ]. 819.

Another humorous incident takes place when Count Allamistakeo is confronted with the modern condescending opinion of his understanding of the realm of the divine. 

Having informed the assembled nineteenth-century gentlemen that he is from the family of which the Scarabaeus is the insignium -- that is to say, in the Count's way of phrasing it, "of the blood of the Scarabaeus" -- one of the two members of the party who can speak ancient Egyptian addresses the Mummy:

"I thought," said Mr. Gliddon very meekly, "that the Scarabaeus was one of the Egyptian gods."
"One of the Egyptian what?" exclaimed the Mummy, starting to its feet.
"Gods!" repeated the traveler.
"Mr. Gliddon I really am ashamed to hear you talk in this style," said the Count, resuming his chair. "No nation upon the face of the earth has ever acknowledged more than one god. The Scarabaeus, the Ibis, etc were with us (as similar creatures have been with others) the symbols, or media, through which we offered worship to a Creator too august to be more directly approached."
There was here a pause. 814 - 815.

It is really quite remarkable to note that Poe is here, in 1845 (and remembering that the Rosetta Stone was only first deciphered in 1822, after a lapse of centuries during which all understanding of ancient hieroglyphics had been forgotten) making an assertion that the spiritual understanding of ancient Egypt was substantially the same as that everywhere else on the face of the earth -- only the symbols or media varying from one climate or culture to the next.

It is also remarkable that Poe happens to have selected the Scarabaeus as the insignia of the family from which Count Allamistakeo has come -- the family whose members at times submit to mummification while still alive (in the fictional realm of this satirical story, of course) in order to "travel through time" so to speak, surfacing in various periods to correct the errors of the historians (who invariably get it all wrong, all the time, according to the Count).

Could Poe have known that the Scarabaeus was anciently (in Egypt) the symbol of the summer solstice, the top of the year, the symbolic "top of the upraised Djed column" representing our divine nature (buried alive, as it were, in our material body)? See these previous posts for extended discussion of the evidence that the ancient Egyptian scarab was associated with the "upraised arms" of Cancer the Crab, and from there to the entire theme of "raising the divine nature":

"Scarab, Ankh and Djed,"

and "Summer Solstice, 2014."

See also the extended discussion in the previous post entitled "Ambrose and Theodosius" for abundant evidence that the ancients understood this meaning of the symbol of the Scarabaeus, and that early Christian theologians even went so far as to use the term to refer to Christ upon the Cross -- which certainly throws a new light upon the significance of Poe's decision to have Count Allamistakeo declare that he himself (this representative who has come back from the dead) is "of the blood of the Scarabaeus."

In fact, that post cites a direct quotation from the ancient literalist Christian Bishop Ambrose, whose power was so great that he was able to deny access to mass by the Emperor of Rome at the time, in which Ambrose speaking of Christ describes him as: "Him, I say, who, as a scarabaeus, cried out to his Father to forgive the sins of his persecutors" (link to the entire ancient speech from AD 394 here).

It would be quite a stretch to argue that Poe simply used this phraseology of "the Scarabaeus" and the "blood of the Scarabaeus" by coincidence or by accident. In fact, as a young man of seventeen, Poe entered the University of Virginia (which had been founded by Thomas Jefferson only the year before) and earned distinction for his excellence in the study of both ancient and modern languages, according to the biographical notes included in the same volume of Poe tales and sketches linked above, on pages 1455 - 1456.

The fact that Poe is including this reference in a story which centers around the willful ignorance of history among the modern gatekeepers of academic and scientific knowledge, in a story which indeed contains the above-cited exchange in which modern chauvinistic disdain for the spiritual belief of the "pagans" is completely upended and shown to be in error, seems to indicate that Poe knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote "Some Words with a Mummy." 

The story is about willful ignorance of history because, as the story makes quite evident, the evidence is there for anyone who wants to look at it -- the men assembled around the Mummy laid out upon the dining-room table, so secure in their imagined superiority, clearly maintain their contrived narrative of history because it is essential to their maintenance of a society that treats all those deemed "below them" as mere objects to be exploited, experiments to be operated upon, prodded, cut, or electrified as necessary.

They maintain their fairy-tale view because it is useful to them -- not because they lack the evidence to discard that fairy tale.

In fact, throughout the story, the narrator and his companions are shown to grow increasingly uncomfortable as the holes in their conventional paradigm become more and more glaringly obvious, but in each case they seem to succeed in shaking off the body-blows that the Mummy deals to their smug self-confidence (even when those body-blows should be fatal to their conventional paradigm), and they continue to relentlessly "move on to the next question" until they come up with something that they think conclusively proves their superiority, and they can finally take their leave of the anxiety-producing Count Allamistakeo.

As the conversation with the Mummy takes one turn after another "for the worse" (in other words, as it becomes more and more evident that the Mummy's responses are exposing the tissue of fabrications and fictions upon which the gathered group's imagined superiority is supposedly founded), the narrator says that the assembled moderns pulled out what they think will give them the last word:

We then spoke of the great beauty and importance of Democracy, and were at much trouble in impressing the Count with a due sense of the advantages we enjoyed living where there was suffrage ad libitum, and no king. 
He listened with marked interest, and in fact seemed not a little amused. When we had done, he said that, a great while ago, there had occurred something of a very similar sort. Thirteen Egyptian provinces determined all at once to be free, and so set a magnificent example to the rest of mankind. They assembled their wise men, and concocted the most ingenious constitution that it is possible to conceive. For a while they managed remarkably well; only their habit of bragging was prodigious. The thing ended, however, in the consolidation of the thirteen states, with some fifteen or twenty others, into the most odious and insupportable despotism that ever was heard of upon the face of the Earth. 820

Keep in mind, thank goodness, that Poe was writing the above lines in the long-ago year of 1845, and thus cannot possibly have been commenting upon the state of affairs in 2015.

However, the fact that this warning seems particularly relevant to our modern times here in the twenty-first century should cause us to pay very close attention to what is going on in this story from one of the true masters of fiction from the early part of the nineteenth. 

It seems that Poe is expressing very clearly the opinion that the two seemingly-separate subjects of tyranny or despotism and false historical paradigms (and the deliberate ignoring of evidence that is basically sitting right in front of our face) are in fact very closely connected.

One apparently leads to the other (deliberately false history leads to despotism), and in fact it is possible that you cannot maintain oppression and despotism without getting people to buy into false narratives -- buy into them to the point that they refuse to look at the abundant evidence that undermines those false narratives.

It should be noted that Poe does not seem to be saying Democracy itself is necessarily a bad idea, or even that the experiment with democracy or the "ingenious constitution" he describes in the story (obviously referring to the United States of America) were doomed to failure: quite the contrary, he states that "for a while they managed remarkably well." 

Given, however, that this story's central theme clearly revolves around the pitfalls inherent in  stubbornly clinging to an erroneous and self-serving historical narrative, it might be safe to say that Poe is here arguing that our understanding of history is actually a question of critical importance, and that it may even make the difference between the ability to create a world in which everyone can enjoy the advantages of freedom, and one that collapses into "the most odious and insupportable despotism that ever was heard of upon the face of the Earth."

In fact, we can even go further and say that Poe might even be implying that our understanding of ancient history is one of the critical factors between a society that treats others with dignity and respect (as the Mummy in fact seems to do in the story) and one that does not, and ultimately between one that tends towards increasing freedom, or slides into despotism.

In the end, the narrator seems to have been shaken somewhat more than the others, and decides that he has grown heartily sick of life in the nineteenth century -- and that he'd be better off going to get embalmed himself for a couple of hundred years: "I am anxious to know who will be President in 2045," he tells us.

The fact that our own present calendar has now advanced remarkably close to 2045 should cause us to consider this amazing little story from Edgar Allan Poe with renewed interest, and to ask ourselves whether our general view of history and humanity's ancient past are any more accurate today than they were 170 years ago.

The Gospel of Philip and the Zodiac Wheel

The Gospel of Philip and the Zodiac Wheel

images: Wikimedia commons link 1link 2link 3.

The previous two posts have attempted to demonstrate that ancient texts buried beneath a cliff near modern-day Nag Hammadi, likely placed there during the second half of the fourth century AD after authorities promoting what can generally be called a literalist approach as opposed to a gnostic approach had declared these texts to be heretical and suppressed their teachings, can be shown to be using esoteric metaphors to convey the very same ancient wisdom found in other myth-systems the world over.

In particular, the preceding posts argued that specific metaphors in the Gospel of Thomas, an extremely important text found in Codex 2 when the Nag Hammadi codexes were unearthed in the twentieth century, after spending perhaps sixteen centuries beneath the ground, are conveying the same message found in the ancient Sanskrit scriptures of the Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata concerning the nature of human incarnation, the constant interplay between the material realm and the realm of spirit, and the reality of each individual to have inner access to the infinite -- the higher self, the supreme self, the Atman -- at all times.

For those discussions, please see the previous posts entitled 

These discussions can be seen to be related to the larger pattern of the world's ancient myths, all of which can be shown to be very deliberately and intentionally using the celestial cycles to convey profound spiritual truths, most often within the framework of the great wheel of the zodiac and the great solar cross formed by the "horizontal" line running between the equinoxes (which generally relates to the "casting down" of the spirit into material incarnation in this life) and the "vertical" line running between the solstices (which generally relates to the "raising up" or "calling forth" of the spiritual aspect present -- though often hidden or forgotten -- in ourselves and indeed within every aspect of the apparently physical universe).

Numerous previous posts have discussed this overall pattern -- often relating it to the ancient Egyptian metaphor of the "casting down" and the "raising back up" of the Djed column: see for instance previous posts such as "The Zodiac Wheel and the Human Soul," "The Djed column everyday: Earendil" and many others.

Very significantly, there are passages in the Nag Hammadi texts which I would argue can be shown to explicitly declare the major outline of this very same mythological zodiac metaphor:

the metaphor which forms the foundation for Star Myths from virtually every continent and culture around the globe.

In another important text from the same collection, the Gospel of Philip, which was also contained in codex 2 of the texts buried in the large jar beneath the cliffs near Nag Hammadi along the Nile River in Egypt, there is a specific passage in the subsection labeled (for ease of reference) as "Sowing and Reaping" by translator Marvin Meyer, which plainly tells us:

Whoever sows in winter reaps in summer. Winter is the world, summer is the other, eternal realm. Let us sow in the world to reap in summer. 

This passage is completely consistent with the metaphor-system which previous posts have alleged can be seen to be operating in myths literally around the world, stretching across time from the civilizations of ancient Egypt and Sumer and Babylon, all the way up through the present day in cultures where the connection to the ancient wisdom remains to some degree intact.

The system uses the "lower half" of the cycle of the heavenly bodies (from the daily cycle created by the rotation of the earth on its axis, to the monthly cycle of the moon and the yearly cycle created by earth's annual path around the great cross of the year, as well as some other cycles which are even longer than these) to describe our incarnation in "this world" -- that is to say, in the familiar, visible, material realm. 

The system uses the "upper half" of the same cycles to describe "the other, eternal realm" -- the invisible realm, the realm of spirit.

Each day the turning of the earth causes the stars (including our own sun, the Day Star) to appear to rise up out of the eastern horizon and arc their way into the celestial realm: the realm of the air, the realm of celestial fire -- a perfect metaphor for the realm of spirit, the invisible realm. But the same turning of the earth also causes the stars (including the sun) to plunge down again into the western horizon, disappearing into the "lower elements" of earth and water -- a perfect metaphor for this "lower realm" of matter, in which we find ourselves in this incarnate life.

And, using the annual cycle of the year (which has certain advantages over the daily cycle, because it is conveniently broken up into much smaller sub-sections which can be conveniently discussed using the twelve subdivisions of the zodiac signs which precisely indicate very specific parts of the annual cycle) we can use the same general metaphor. This time, the "lower half" of the year -- the half which runs from the autumnal equinox down through the winter solstice and up to the crossing point of the spring equinox -- represents the same thing that night-time represents for the daily cycle: the incarnate realm, the material realm, the imprisonment in a body of earth and water, plowing through the "underworld" of the physical universe. 

The "upper half" of the year -- the half which runs from the spring equinox up through the summer solstice and down again to the autumnal equinox -- represents the realm of spirit, the invisible realm, all that is eternal, unbounded and infinite.

The ancient Egyptian myth cycles depicted this same principle using the gods Osiris and Horus. Osiris, god of the dead, ruler of the underworld, represents the sun in the "lower half" of the cycle: when it is plowing through the lower realm of incarnate matter, "cast down" into incarnation. Horus represents the "upper half" of the cycle, when the sun soars upwards "between the two horizons" into the celestial realms of air and fire -- the realm of spirit.

Here in the Gospel of Philip, buried for those long centuries among the other texts in the Nag Hammadi collection, we find an explicit confirmation of this pattern: "Winter is the world, summer is the other, eternal realm." 

It could hardly be more clear if the text were to tell us: "The lower half of the wheel represents this world: this material realm -- the upper half, or the summer months on the annual circuit, are used as a metaphor for the other realm, the invisible realm, the eternal realm, the realm of spirit."

This in itself is remarkable, and it has tremendous implications for our understanding of the scriptures included in what today is called the Bible, but all of it might still be (mistakenly) dismissed by some as being of limited practical value. 

"So what?" they might ask. "How does this matter to my daily life?"

The answer, according to the Nag Hammadi texts themselves, is: plenty.

Because, just as we have seen in the previous examinations of the Bhagavad Gita or the Mahabharata, and just as Peter Kingsley has argued in his powerful book

In the Dark Places of Wisdom, the ancient texts which were literally "driven underground" and buried in the urn at Nag Hammadi tell us something remarkable about the location of this eternal realm, and where we need to go in order to have access to it.

In section 3 of the Gospel of Thomas, for example, we find another explicit statement which can perhaps be profitably juxtaposed with this "zodiac wheel explanation" from the Gospel of Philip. There, giving the words which "Thomas" the twin has heard from his divine counterpart Jesus, the scripture tells us:

Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look, the kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is within you and it is outside you. 

Notice how this passage can be interpreted, in light of all we have discussed above, as telling us that both halves of the cycle -- the upper half of the "sky" and the lower half of the "sea" -- are talking about something that really has nothing to do with physical location (neither sky nor sea). What is being discussed is the invisible realm with which we already have intimate contact, right inside of us. 

And, this same invisible realm with which we already have contact (within) is also present within and behind every single molecule of the seemingly physical realm all around us as well -- it is both "within you" and it is "outside you," the Thomas Gospel tells us.

And this is knowledge with absolutely world-changing implications for each of us. Because, as Peter Kingsley explains so powerfully in the beginning sections of In the Dark Places of Wisdom

, western civilization has somehow been cut off from that truth (very likely, I would argue, by ancient events that were part of the very same chain of events which led to the burying of the Nag Hammadi texts that we have just now been considering), and because of being cut off from that truth has spent the better part of the past sixteen or seventeen centuries trying to find external substitutes for something that is already internally accessible, right now, in "the peace of utter stillness" (and see further discussion of this concept in the previous post entitled "Two Visions").

The previous posts and accompanying videos exploring the significance of the invocation of the goddess Durga in the Mahabharata (immediately prior to the Bhagavad Gita) and the significance of the relationship between Arjuna and his divine charioteer, who is none other than Lord Krishna whose form is shown to be without limits, impossible to define or delineate or describe or bound with words, also indicates the practical impact that this ancient wisdom can have on our daily lives. 

Because it would argue that we can have access to this divine higher self literally every day, at any time (and the passage in the Mahabharata containing the Hymn to Durga specifically advises making the calling upon her divine presence a daily habit -- first thing each day, in fact). For more discussion of this subject, see previous posts such as "Self, the senses, and the mind" and "The Bodhi Tree."

Below is a famous statue from ancient Egypt of the king Khefren or Khafra (who probably reigned for over two decades around the year 2560 BC), showing the king with the falcon-god Horus spreading his wings over and behind his head.

It is a powerful image, and one which can be interpreted as depicting the very teaching conveyed by the Gospels of Thomas and Philip above, as well as by the section of the Mahabharata dramatizing invocation of Durga or the Bhagavad Gita's dramatization of Arjuna and Krishna in the chariot, prior to the battle of Kurukshetra.

It appears to indicate the state in which we are in contact with, in communion with, in harmony with, and under the guidance and protection of the higher self, the supreme soul, the infinite and unbounded principle which both Durga and Krishna declare themselves and reveal themselves to be, and which the Gospel of Philip plainly says is symbolized by the "upper half" of the great annual wheel: the summer half, the Horus half.

The infinite to which we each have access, within ourselves, in the peace of utter stillness, without going anywhere.

This is the truth of which the world's ancient scriptures and myths all testify.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Pentecost, Gemini and the Scales of Judgement

Pentecost, Gemini and the Scales of Judgement

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Welcome to all new babies born today! Those born at this time of year are born in the sign of Gemini, which is generally understood to stretch from May 21 through June 20.

This time of year is also associated with the Pentecost story described in the New Testament of the Bible: we are going to see that there is a powerful connection between the events of the Pentecost story and the zodiac sign of Gemini. In order to understand this connection, we have to first explore and understand a few aspects of Gemini: the constellation of Gemini (the Twins), its position on the zodiac wheel of the solar year, and some of the ancient mythological connections surrounding the Twins of Gemini.

Some of what follows has to do with "celestial mechanics," but don't be put off by that, even if it is a little unfamiliar to you. It is not that difficult to understand, with a little help (this video may be helpful as an overview). Additionally, it just so happens that right now the stars of Gemini are part of a beautiful display in the western sky, immediately following the setting of the sun behind the western horizon . . .

Because of the "delay" in the background of stars caused by the phenomenon known as the precession of the equinoxes, the sun is actually in the constellation of Taurus presently, with Gemini "behind" Taurus in terms of east-to-west progression across the sky. Gemini has been "delayed" and thus the sun is not "in" Gemini yet: the sun would be in Gemini at this time of year during the Age of Aries, and we are now approaching the end of the Age of Pisces and the beginning of the Age of Aquarius. However, there are good reasons for continuing to understand the signs according to the Age of Aries, and for these reasons if you were born from May 21 through June 20 you are considered to have been born in the sign of Gemini (for more on the "mechanics" of the constellations moving through the sky, and the "delay" caused by precession, see also this video).

If you consult astrological descriptions of the sign of Gemini, you will find that it is considered the third sign of the zodiac (after Aries and Taurus, which shows that the Age of Aries system is still in use, because even to this day Aries is considered the first sign of the zodiac, Taurus the second, and Gemini the third). You will also find that most astrological descriptions of this sign will tell you that one of the traits of Gemini has to do with skill in speech and persuasion. The signs of the zodiac are also associated with parts of the body, and the sign of Gemini is associated with the two lungs, as well as the two arms, and this association with the two lungs logically connects to the association of Gemini as being skilled in speech (it is also a Mercury sign, and Mercury is a god associated with persuasive speech as well, being the messenger of the gods).

Gemini is also what is known as an "Air" sign. The signs of the zodiac are traditionally ascribed to one of the "four elements" of Fire, Earth, Air, and Water (Alvin Boyd Kuhn's Lost Light has at least one chapter dealing with the spiritual significance of each of these Four Elements, and he puts forth the argument that this division was more spiritual in nature than it was scientific). Because there are twelve zodiac signs, the division of the zodiac into these Four Elements means that three signs will be associated with each element. That association, as well as the numbering of Gemini as the third sign of the zodiac, is shown in the diagram below:

So, to summarize what we have learned so far, Gemini is an "Air" sign, Gemini is associated with speech, and Gemini is the third sign in the progression of the zodiac wheel (starting with Aries). Gemini is associated with the period between May 21 and June 20, as the sun enters one of the twelve "houses" of the zodiac in succession throughout the year, approximately one month per sign.

We can also note that Gemini is one of the "uppermost" signs of the year, as it is located immediately prior to the June solstice (summer solstice for the northern hemisphere). The point of June solstice (which falls right around June 20 or June 21 each year, depending on calendar "slippage" which the leap-year days are designed to correct) falls at the juncture between Gemini and Cancer. So Gemini is the sign that marks the approach of the summer solstice.

It is also noteworthy that the Twins of Gemini in traditional representation are often depicted as "seated" in their posture, just as they are in the diagram above from AD 1618. The constellation itself does not really make the Twins look "seated," at least the way it is outlined by H.A. Rey in his indispensable guide to the constellations, but that is the way the sign was often traditionally represented. You can see numerous posts that explain how to find Gemini in the handy "index" of previous mentions found here.

The planetarium image below shows the constellation Gemini with the sun in the constellation Taurus, just "ahead" of Gemini on the east-to-west progression (this image is taken as if facing to the south, with east thus on the left and west on the right, such that constellations will move across the sky from left-to-right as we look at this image, due to the earth's rotation towards the east):

Obviously, you won't be able to see the stars like this when the sun is up in the heavens as it is in this image, but there is a reason for this image showing Gemini at zenith which we will get to shortly. However, as the earth continues to turn and the sun dips below the western horizon (to the right of the image) then you can imagine that Gemini will still be above the western horizon just after sunset, and the two bright stars of Gemini will be seen in the west hanging above the horizon, just as they in fact are right now.

In fact, if you look to the west after sunset, you can see a dazzling lineup of stars and planets and the moon. Venus is just below the two stars Castor and Pollux, the "heads" of the twins in the constellation Gemini (see inside the blue rectangle in the center of the image above). Above them (at an angle) will be Jupiter, and then the moon, all of them heading towards the western horizon in that order. You can see a good discussion and some diagrams of that sunset lineup in Sky & Telescope's weekly discussion notes here.

Again, the point is that the sun is not exactly in the constellation of Gemini right now -- precession has "delayed" Gemini in the heavens over the course of thousands of years -- but Gemini is close behind the sun, and if we were living back in the Age of Aries about 2,200 years ago, the sun would already be "in" the constellation of Gemini at this time of year (that is to say, from our position on the earth, looking towards the sun would be looking towards the "wall" of the dining room where the picture of Gemini is located, in the analogy of the earth going around the sun inside of a dining room, a helpful analogy that I explain here). 

All of this background is a prelude to the examination of the celestial foundations for an important episode described in the New Testament of the Bible -- the Pentecost, found in Acts chapter 2. Pentecost Sunday is celebrated by churches even to this day on the Sunday falling seven weeks after Easter Sunday. Seven weeks is of course forty-nine days, and the word "Pentecost" itself means "the fiftieth," meaning that it falls fifty days after the celebration of the Resurrection -- counting the day of Resurrection as the first of the fifty will end up with seven weeks later.

This New Testament event is closely connected and parallels an Old Testament event celebrated seven weeks after the Passover: the Feast of Weeks (or Shavuot). The Feast of Weeks celebrates the giving of the Law upon Mount Sinai, traditionally taking place seven weeks after the Passover and the episode of the Exodus from Egypt and crossing of the Red Sea (for more on the Red Sea and its zodiacal connections, see this previous post).

Because of the way the date of Easter is calculated, Pentecost will fall between May 10 and June 13 using the Western church reckoning of Easter, and between May 23 and June 26 using the Eastern church reckoning of Easter. In other words, it will usually fall within the sign of Gemini.

Here is a portion of the New Testament account of the episode celebrated at Pentecost, from the book of Acts of the Apostles, chapter two:

1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
7 And they were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans?
8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,
10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya around Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,
11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
12 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?
13 Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.
14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words:
15 For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.

Now, having examined the characteristics of the zodiacal sign of Gemini, in which this "fiftieth-day" event takes place, several specific details in the above passage should fairly jump out at the reader:

  • There is a sound of rushing mighty wind (Gemini is an Air sign).
  • The sound filled the house where they were sitting (the sign of Gemini is one of the twelve houses of the zodiac, and the Twins are traditionally depicted as sitting).
  • The effect of the miraculous wind is the ability to speak with other tongues (Gemini is associated with Mercury, the messenger of the gods, with the lungs and with speech).
  • When some mocked this miraculous ability, and said they were full of "new wine," Peter stands up and his speaking ability is emphasized in the text, which says that he "lifted up his voice," and then declared, "be this known unto you, and hearken to my words" (Gemini is associated with Mercury, the messenger of the gods, with the lungs and with speech -- same as the previous point).
  • Peter then declares that these who are declaiming in various tongues are not drunk, as some suppose, and could not be, "seeing it is but the third hour of the day" (Gemini is the third sign of the zodiac).

The abundance of clues that we are dealing with a "Gemini event" is truly compelling, especially in conjunction with the fact that Pentecost falls within the sign of Gemini.

Added to these clues from the second chapter of Acts is the traditional understanding that the above events took place while Peter and the other disciples were gathered in the Upper Room, most likely in celebration of the Shavuot or Feast of Weeks. In the first chapter of Acts, in the thirteenth verse, the text itself tells us that the disciples "went into an upper room" and there abode in prayer and supplication awaiting the power of the Holy Ghost that was promised in Acts 1:8.

As has been pointed out already, and as can be seen in the zodiac diagram above, Gemini is an "upper room" constellation (for more discussion of the Upper Room, in conjunction with the events of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem described in the four gospel narratives, see this previous post). Gemini is located at the "top of the zodiac wheel," immediately prior to the point of summer solstice, which itself is the very summit of the year, and the highest arc that the sun will make across the sky before beginning its "downward journey" towards winter solstice again.

Some astute readers may be wondering at this point about the famous "cloven tongues like fire" which come down and sit above each of those gathered after the sound of a mighty rushing wind which filled the room where they were sitting. The mighty rushing wind can be confidently connected with the fact that Gemini is an Air sign -- but how can we reconcile the fact that Gemini is an Air sign with the image of tongues of flame coming down in conjunction with the wind and stationing themselves over the heads of each of them, as the text says in verse three? 

The presence of fire would seem to confuse all the previous arguments based on Gemini as an Air sign.

However, the fact that tongues of flame come down and sit on or over each of them, far from being a problem for this argument, turns out to be one of the most conclusive details in this story pointing to the identification with Gemini.

The most prominent aspect of the constellation Gemini in the heavens, of course, is the fact that the two stars marking the heads of the two Twins are very bright stars: you can verify this for yourself by going out tonight just after sunset, where the two bright stars of Castor and Pollux are clearly visible even in the fading glow of the sun and the waxing brightness of the moon. Indeed, the heads of the Twins are so bright in relation to the other stars in the constellation that the Twins themselves are associated with fire -- see for instance the depiction of the Twins as carrying torches in the Roman sculpture below (and see also previous discussions about the Twins as "fire sticks" in myths and sacred traditions literally around the world):

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

It turns out that the episode of a mighty rushing wind and heavenly fire descending to rest above the heads of "each of them" has a history in mythology that precedes the traditional dating of the New Testament cycle of stories -- and that it is in fact explicitly associated with the Twins of Gemini, the mythological heroes named Castor and Pollux (or Polydeuces).

These two mythical Twins were the sons of Zeus by a mortal mother, and traditionally one of them was immortal and the other was mortal. Because they were the sons of the god Zeus, they were also referred to as the Dioscuri (sometimes spelled "Dioscori," although this is not as common today), which means "sons of god" or "sons of Zeus."

Some of the ancient mysteries are thought to have been devoted to the Dioscuri, including the mysteries of Samothrace; the ancient mysteries are very important -- one of the most important of the mysteries of the ancient world took place at Eleusis and is discussed here -- and their significance is discussed in my book The Undying Stars (including some discussion of the mysteries at Samothrace).

In Book IV of the very important multi-volume history written by Diodorus Siculus (who lived and wrote during the first century BC), of which just under half has survived to this day (perhaps the other texts will be discovered someday), Diodorus relates an episode from the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts (who were pursuing the Golden Fleece, a goal that is clearly connected to the sign of Aries the Ram). See if you can spot some elements in this account, which historians believe was published sometime between 60 BC and 30 BC (but which relates mythological details which were certainly much older), that remind you of elements in the Pentecost story:

As for Heracles, after he had been splendidly honoured with gifts and the appropriate tokens of hospitality, he left Hesione and the mares in keeping with Laomedon, having arranged that after he had returned from Cochis, he should receive them again; he then set sail with all haste in the company of the Argonauts to accomplish the labour which lay before them. 
But there came on a great storm and the chieftains had given up hope of being saved, when Orpheus, they say, who was the only one on shipboard who had ever been initiated in the mysteries of the deities of Samothrace, offered to these deities the prayers for their salvation. And immediately the wind died down and two stars fell over the heads of the Dioscori, and the whole company was amazed at the marvel which had taken place and concluded that they had been rescued from their perils by an act of Providence of the gods. For this reason, the story of this reversal of fortune for the Argonauts has been handed down to succeeding generations, and sailors when caught in storms always direct their prayers to the deities of Samothrace and attribute the appearance of the two stars to the epiphany of the Dioscori. [From Book IV, end of chapter 42 through beginning of chapter 43,  translation of C. H. Oldfather, 1933: available online here].

The parallels between the above account from the mythical journey of the Argonauts and the events in the second chapter of Acts are striking: there is a "great storm" which is characterized primarily by wind, because after Orpheus offers prayers to the deities of Samothrace (which deities the text makes clear are the Dioscuri themselves) we read that "immediately the wind died down."

Then, we read that "two stars" fell over the heads of the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux were members of the heroic crew of Jason's ship, the Argo -- a detail that is a little strange, since Orpheus is praying to them, when it seems they should be able to just stop the storm directly, but remember that this is a myth, and these sorts of seemingly contradictory details actually reveal that this myth is in fact very ancient and that even at the late date that Diodorus Siculus was writing, in 60 BC to 30 BC, the myth already involved layers of mythical tradition that had come down through the centuries, to the point that it was already "hoary," or covered in cobwebs and dust).

Finally, we read that "the whole company was amazed" and they went about telling this story everywhere, and handing it down to succeeding generations.

These parallels should absolutely cement the identification of the account in Acts 2 with the zodiacal  house of Gemini, especially when considered in conjunction with the abundance of clues that we have already examined above.

To put it as plainly as possible: the descent of tongues of heavenly fire which came down and rested upon the company in the upper room in Acts 2 is an image anciently associated with Castor and Pollux, the Twins of Gemini, and known to have been described in literature written prior to what is considered to be the time of the New Testament.

Many other important elements of the Acts 2 account, including the powerful wind, are also associated with the Twins of Gemini and can be shown to have been associated with the Twins prior to the appearance of the Acts account.

And yet there is actually even more evidence which supports this interpretation of the Pentecost story, and of the associated Old Testament commemoration of the Feast of Weeks which corresponds to the Pentecost story (and which most interpreters say that the disciples and the visitors to Jerusalem from other lands who are described in the Pentecost account in Acts 2 were there to celebrate -- that is, they were celebrating Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks when Pentecost took place, which is why there were so many visitors from other lands in Jerusalem who could be amazed at the speech of the disciples and who all heard the messages in their own native language or mother tongue).

The Feast of Weeks, as mentioned previously, celebrates the giving of the law

on Mount Sinai, after the crossing of the Red Sea. The previous post discussing the episode of the crossing of the Red Sea gave evidence that this event refers to the crossing of the equinox point at spring equinox, in which the sun (or the earth on its annual orbit, depending on the point of view we wish to use) crosses up out of the lower half of the year and into the upper half of the year (when days become longer than nights again, and continue lengthening on their way to the very summit of the year at summer solstice).

We can see that "going up a high mountain" after crossing into the upper half of the year at equinox corresponds rather nicely to the going up onto Mount Sinai after crossing the Red Sea out of the house of bondage in the lower half of the year. But what about the giving of the law?

The Reverend Robert Taylor (1784 - 1844), whose interpretation of the Pentecost event informs all of the arguments outlined in this blog post so far, gives a very good explanation of why the sign of Gemini is associated with the giving of the law, and the balanced scales of justice. He explains that when the Twins of Gemini are at their zenith point on their arcing path across the sky (as they are in the planetarium screenshot presented above, in which I have outlined the constellation of Gemini with a light-blue rectangle), the two equinoctial guardians of Virgo and Pisces are rising in the east and setting in the west, creating an image of balance and harmony.

You can see that this is the case from the image above: Virgo is rising along the eastern horizon (left side of the image, because we are "facing to the south"), and Pisces is setting towards the western horizon. The head of Virgo and her distinctive "outstretched arm" (marked by the star Vindemiatrix) are above the horizon. Most of Pisces is visible -- only the lower of the two fishes has disappeared under the western horizon, but the "fish-band" that holds the two fishes together, and the other fish, are clearly visible above the horizon.

To understand why these two signs are associated with the equinoxes and with the scales of justice, please go back and read through the arguments and evidence presented in previous posts "Isis and Nephthys: March equinox 2015" and "The horizon and the scales of judgement."

Thus, when Gemini is high in the sky (at its highest point), it basically creates an image of the scales of justice, equally balanced -- with Virgo the sign just prior to the fall equinox on one side, and Pisces  the sign just prior to the spring equinox on the other (during the Age of Aries, the sign of Aries was the first sign after the spring equinox: Pisces was the last sign before it).

And, there are ancient sources which attest to the fact that the Twins of Gemini were associated with the concept of justice. For instance, in the quotations about the Twins collected on this page, we see that in the Nemean Ode of Pindar (an ancient Greek poet who lived from 522 BC to 443 BC), in the second sentence cited on that page, it is said of these two divine twins: "And due regard have they for men of justice" (Nemean Ode 10: 3 -5; italics added here to make the connection).

Again, in fragment 6 of Book VI of the history of Diodorus (also quoted on the page linked in the preceding paragraph) we find the Twins described as follows: "And, speaking generally, their manly spirits and skill as generals, and their justice and piety as well, have won them fame among practically all men, since they make their appearance as helpers of those who fall into unexpected perils" (and at this point, the editor of that page explains, "that is, they appear to mariners in storms"). In the preceding quotation, I have added italics to the word "justice," to make it clear that ancient authors associated the Dioscuri with justice.

Thus, the episode of the giving of the law upon the high mountain of Mt. Sinai, which is also associated in the New Testament with the feast of Pentecost and the descent of holy fire over the heads after the visitation of a divine wind, can be seen to contain details or symbology which connects to the zodiac sign of Gemini, the Twins.

In fact, there are so many points of correspondence here that the association is practically undeniable. And, the fact is that the same kinds of celestial correspondence can be demonstrated over and over again all throughout the stories in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible -- as well as throughout  the myths and sacred stories found in virtually every part of the globe in every culture (see for example some that have been discussed previously, listed in this "Star Myth index").

Now, to those who have been told that the stories of the Bible are meant to be understood literally, as events which happened on earth to historical figures, and who have believed that this is how they are supposed to be understood and for whom such an understanding is an important part of their personal identity and life (and I used to be one who understood them in just such a way, and for whom such a literal interpretation was an important part of my personal life and identity), the discovery of overwhelming amounts of evidence which shows that these stories are in fact clear celestial metaphor rather than literal history can be quite a shock, to say the least.

Such a discovery can lead one to feel as if the entire meaning of the stories has been lost.

However, after long and careful consideration of this very question, I believe that this discovery actually enables us to understand their intended meaning -- while trying to force a literal reading onto scriptures that were never intended to be understood literally will almost certainly force us to misunderstand their meaning, perhaps quite egregiously.

I believe that their true meaning is far more profound than simply "stories that embody the motions of the heavens." In fact, although one might conclude from the foregoing explication that these stories are actually all about the constellations, the zodiac, and the motions sun's progress through the background zodiac stars in the annual cycle of the year, I would argue that in spite of all that has been demonstrated above, in one sense the true meaning of the stories has little or nothing to do with the stars at all!

That's because I believe that in these stories, the entire celestial realm and all the actors in the heavens above (sun, moon, planets, and stars) are themselves metaphors or allegorical pointers towards the spiritual truths that the myths of the world are all trying to convey, using the heavenly actors to convey invisible concepts that are very difficult to grasp directly and must be explained through poetry, comparison, allegory, and myth.

In other words, as many previous posts have explained, these stories are not actually about disciples who were gathered in an upper room, nor semi-divine heroes who were sailing on the ship Argo in the quest for the Golden Fleece, nor even about the glorious sun passing through the glittering constellation of Gemini on its way to the summer solstice at the top of the year. These stories are about the human soul, the condition of the human soul in a physical body, and the condition of the human soul in a universe that is simultaneously physical and spiritual at the same time (a universe which has an invisible component which is not so easy to grasp but which is extremely real, nonetheless, and which is even more important in many ways than the physical and material side of the universe that we more easily see and experience every day).

In other words, in an important sense, these stories are all about YOU.

(For more discussion of that critical assertion, see previous posts such as this one,

this one, and this one).

The story of Pentecost has many important and profound messages which can be incorporated into our everyday life, far more than can be elucidated here, and so just a few will quickly be touched upon, although each could be the subject of much more elaborate investigation and consideration.

For one thing, it shows the connection between the visible and the invisible world -- the immediate presence of the divine or the infinite, which rests upon each person, and which is dramatically depicted in the story of the events in the upper room. Previous posts which have dealt with this subject include "The peace of utter stillness," "Epiphany: revealing the hidden divine nature," and "Amen and Amenta."

Connected to this theme, which is vast in its import, is the related concept of ecstasy, which can be argued to be absolutely central to almost every ancient sacred tradition around the world -- including the scriptures that made their way into what we call "the Bible," as I have argued in previous posts such as "The Bible is essentially shamanic," "The centrality of ecstasy, according to ancient wisdom," "The shamanic foundation of the world's ancient wisdom," and "Whether in the body or out of the body, I cannot tell: Paul the Gnostic opponent of Literalism" (among many, many others).

Certainly the "Pentecostal" event has been associated with the idea of ecstasy and the ecstatic in some interpretations of its significance, although to greater and lesser degrees which have varied widely among different approaches to these texts.

Finally, the above discussion and the clear connections to the concept of law, judgement, and the "celestial scales between the two horizons" shows that while we transit between the "two horizons" in this incarnate existence, we are indeed passing through the scales of judgement, or what the ancient Egyptians called the Hall of Two Truths: the Hall of Judgement. Our actions in this world are in some way profoundly important to the condition of our soul, and they are in a very real sense being "weighed in the balance."

One of the most urgent themes of the Hall of Two Truths scene in the Egyptian Book of the Dead is the admonition to not tell lies, and the "negative confession" by the subject of the weighing that he or she has not told untruth during this life. Taking these scriptures and teaching that they mean something that is virtually the opposite of what they were intended to mean would thus appear to be a grave mistake indeed.

Ultimately, these passages have a very uplifting message about the dignity and indeed divinity of each and every human being, man, woman, or newborn child, and about our connection to the infinite, even as we pass through this incarnate realm of material existence. For although incarnation was allegorized as the "lower half" of the zodiac wheel (between incarnation at the fall equinox and re-ascent to the spirit world at the spring equinox), even so we are connected to the very top, the "upper room," and the world of spirit which is always present, even if not always visible.


Warmest welcome to AJK!!!

Also, special thanks to reader and correspondent Pat B. for sending his own thoughts and analysis on Pentecost and the stars!

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).

The Djed Column every day: Ahimsa

The Djed Column every day: Ahimsa

original image (background): Wikimedia commons (link). "Ahimsa" added by the author.

We've been exploring the concept of "raising the Djed" as part of daily practice, and have been examining some of the different paths from around the world which appear to be related to that idea.

As the preceding post discussed, the practice of Yoga may qualify as one of the most well-preserved of the great "streams" of ancient knowledge which has survived to the present day. It is a practice which contains in its broad current much more than the asanas or Yoga postures which are most commonly associated with Yoga, and it is a practice which has as part of its explicit aims the ultimate transformation of the consciousness and the elevation of the "divine flame within oneself" which is clearly very closely connected to that idea which appears to be so central to the world's ancient sacred traditions, which the ancient Egyptian symbolism described as the "raising back up" of the Djed of Osiris, and which is present in other forms in other myth-cycles, and in the Great Cross of the Year created by the "horizontal line" between the equinoxes and the "vertical line" between the solstices (see here).

While much more can be said about the significance of the Yoga asanas, their very ancient origin (some postures, indeed, being depicted on seals and miniature sculptures dating back to Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, circa 2500 BC, as discussed by Victor H. Mair in the important examination of parallels between concepts in the Taoism and Yoga found on page 158 in the appendix of his translation of the Ma-Wang-Tui texts of the Tao Te Ching, 1990, and other Yoga-like postures depicted in certain artistic representations from ancient Egypt, as discussed by John Anthony West in his indispensable 1979 study, Serpent in the Skyfor example on page 93), and while Yoga itself as a comprehensive system encompasses many important disciplines in addition to the asanas which can each be seen as disciplines for "raising the Djed" in daily life and which are also found in other streams of the ancient wisdom of the human race, we will here focus in on one particular facet of Yogic expression which all by itself can be seen as an essential distillation of the concept of elevating the spiritual aspect in this dual material-physical universe: the concept of ahimsa.

Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word which combines the negative prefix "a-" and the word himsa, which means "to do injury" or "to do harm," and which comes from a root word meaning "to strike a blow." Thus, ahimsa is often translated as meaning "non-injury," "non-violence," "non-harm," and by extension "compassion" and "beneficence towards all." It is often understood to go well beyond the idea of not actually doing physical violence to another, and to encompass also the idea of "not even wishing to do violence" or "not even harboring harmful intent at all."

In an essay on the wider concepts of "Yama and Niyama" published in 1903 (beginning on page 637 of this publication), Yogic and Vedic scholar Hirendra Nath Sinha wrote of this wider understanding of ahimsa:

What appears on the physical plane as an injury to another is from the stand point of spirit, really an injury to one's self. Every act and thought of ours recoils on ourself and affects our prospects. Non-injury has therefore been defined as not injuring another by thought, word or deed. [. . .] There should not be even the least shadow of ill-feeling in the one's mind. We may do a good deed or be charitable on the pressure of circumstances; but if the heart does not concur or the mind hesitates even for a moment we are far away from the realisation of Ahimsa. We generally do greater harm mentally than by words or acts, because our thoughts are not so very easily detectable as our words or acts and capable of being restrained. 645-646. 

Clearly, such an expression of beneficence and non-harm would be very difficult to achieve even for a fleeting instant, let alone for long stretches of the day, and thus the concept of ahimsa can certainly be seen to be a practice we can try to incorporate into the pattern of our lives, without worrying that we will achieve it very rapidly and have to search around for another goal to accomplish once that one's "out of the way"!

In fact, Mahatma Gandhi put a very high value on the practice of ahimsa, positing a symbiotic relationship between the pursuit of ahimsa and the pursuit of Truth, and he himself wrote about how elusive the pursuit of true ahimsa, even for a fleeting moment, was in his own life. He says in his autobiography, entitled The Story of My Experiments with Truth:

My uniform experience has convinced me that there is no other God than Truth. And if every page of these chapters does not proclaim to the reader that the only means for the realization of Truth is Ahimsa, I shall deem all my labour in writing these chapters to have been in vain. And, even though my efforts in this behalf may prove fruitless, let the readers know that the vehicle, not the great principle, is at fault. After all, however sincere my strivings after Ahimsa may have been, they have still been imperfect and inadequate. The little fleeting glimpses, therefore, that I have been able to have of Truth can hardly convey an idea of the indescribable lustre of Truth, a million times more intense than that of the sun we daily see with our eyes. In fact what I have caught is only the faintest glimmer of that mighty effulgence. But this much I can say with assurance, as a result of all my experiments, that a perfect vision of Truth can only follow a complete realization of Ahimsa. 453-454.

Clearly, this concept of ahimsa is very difficult to achieve in this dual physical-spiritual "vehicle," and yet it can undoubtedly be shown to be closely bound up with the concept of "elevating the spiritual" which is expressed in the symbol of the "vertical Djed column" (as also the vertical portion of the symbol of the cross, in contrast to the horizontal element of the cross), and thus with the concept of evoking or re-connecting with the invisible and divine spark that is present but unseen within us and all around us, and thus with connecting to "the ultimate" or with what Gandhi appears to be pointing towards above when he speaks of "Truth" which is also identified with "God."

(For further elaboration on the symbolism of the "vertical component" and the "horizontal component" as they relate to the concept of spiritual and physical and to the concept of the Djed column and to the symbology of the equinoxes and solstices that can be shown to be present in nearly all the sacred traditions, texts and mythologies of the world, see for example this previous post, as well as this video, among others).

We can draw out the connection between (on the one hand) the concept of "raising the Djed" that we have been exploring in all of the recent posts and (on the other hand) the concept of ahimsa by revisiting some of the previous discussions regarding the idea of violence, and the undeniable tendency of violence (whether physical, verbal, or even mental) to "objectify" the target of the violence, to "degrade," to "debase," and to "brutalize" -- that is, to deny or belittle or even to stamp out the presence of spirit and of the invisible and the divine within the object of violence, to reduce to the level of gross matter or to the level of the animal nature (the "horizontal component"), instead of trying to elevate and call forth the "vertical component," the spiritual component, the divine component, the invisible component (all of which is expressed in the "vertical Djed column" as opposed to the "cast-down Djed column").

Ultimately, of course, violence leads to the actual killing of the object of violence, which can be seen as the ultimate in "casting down" or "denying the vertical component," because it reduces the target of the violence to a corpse, a thing, an inanimate object (it seeks to beat down the "vertical" into the "horizontal," instead of lifting up the horizontal to the vertical again, which is the goal described and depicted in virtually all of the world's sacred traditions).

Previous posts which have dealt with the brutalizing or degrading aspect of violence include:

(among many others). Thus, the concept of violence which casts down or suppresses or seeks to deny the spiritual and the divine in others and in the universe itself can be seen to be analogous to the concept of cursing, and the concept of non-violence and even further of compassion and beneficence that is contained in the word ahimsa can be seen to have strong resonance with the concept of blessing, discussed in previous posts here and here.

And, while Mahatma Gandhi and others cited above testify to the elusiveness of the possibility of fully incorporating a spirit of true ahimsa into every minute of our waking life, it is certainly a practice which we can at least pursue whenever we can think to do so, and which would seem to have great benefits to ourselves and to others to the degree we do make it a daily practice in our lives.

Indeed, the Sanskrit epic known as the Mahabharata of ancient India (the origins of which probably stretch back at least as far as 900 BC, and possibly earlier) repeatedly enjoins the practice of ahimsa, saying at one point:

अहिंसा परमॊ धर्मस तदाहिंसा परॊ थमः

अहिंसा परमं थानम अहिंसा परमस तपः

अहिंसा परमॊ यज्ञस तदाहिस्मा परं बलम

अहिंसा परमं मित्रम अहिंसा परमं सुखम

अहिंसा परमं सत्यम अहिंसा परमं शरुतम

सर्वयज्ञेषु वा थानं सर्वतीर्देषु चाप्लुतम

सर्वथानफलं वापि नैतत तुल्यम अहिंसया

अहिंस्रस्य तपॊ ऽकषय्यम अहिंस्रॊ यजते सथा

अहिंस्रः सर्वभूतानां यदा माता यदा पिता

एतत फलम अहिंसाया भूयश च कुरुपुंगव

न हि शक्या गुणा वक्तुम इह वर्षशतैर अपि

ahimsā paramo dharmas tathāhimsā paro damah

ahimsā paramam dānam ahimsā paramas tapah

ahimsā paramo yajñas tathāhismā param balam

ahimsā paramam mitram ahimsā paramam sukham

ahimsā paramam satyam ahimsā paramam śrutam

sarvayajñesu vā dānam sarvatīrthesu cāplutam

sarvadānaphalam vāpi naitat tulyam ahimsayā

ahimsrasya tapo 'ksayyam ahimsro yajate sadā

ahimsrah sarvabhūtānām yathā mātā yathā pitā

etat phalam ahimsāyā bhūyaś ca kurupumgava

na hi śakyā gunā vaktum iha varsaśatair api [17]

which translated means in part:

Ahimsa is the highest religion.
Ahimsa is the highest self-control.
Ahimsa is the highest penance.
Ahimsa is the highest sacrifice.
Ahimsa is the highest friend.
Ahimsa is the highest happiness.
Ahimsa is the highest truth . . .

It should be noted that, while the concept of ahimsa has been interpreted in varying ways by various traditions that look to these ancient texts, and to other ancient texts and traditions which similarly enjoin the supreme importance of ahimsa, the understanding of ahimsa does not always entail what we might term "complete pacifism" -- that is to say, many commentaries (including ancient texts, such as parts of the Mahabharata itself) appear to teach that there is a distinction between not harming another, and using force in order to prevent someone else from harming another.

In other words, the concept of ahimsa or "not harming" does not necessarily teach that one may not use force in order to stop someone from being harmed (including one's self). Indeed, it may be seen to be consistent with the concept of ahimsa to use force to stop a violent intruder who has broken into one's household in order to do harm (although, in fairness, it must be noted that some interpretations of ahimsa would disagree).

Nor does it necessarily follow that anyone pursuing the concept of ahimsa must necessarily renounce completely all debates and discussions of what we might call "politics" -- indeed, it seems to follow rather logically that if one perceives that violence, injury, or oppression is being perpetrated against others, the concept of ahimsa would enjoin us to oppose that violence and seek to bring about its cessation.

It should also be said that such a situation -- the stopping of violence -- is the only "excuse" for the use of force, and that no one gets any special "license to kill" simply by virtue of donning a uniform, or quoting a scripture, or through any of the other forms of mind control used to condone violence in violation of ahimsa, which of course cannot be condoned or excused in reality and in the actual karmic laws of the universe.

Much more can of course be explored on this powerful subject. However, in the scope of this particular abbreviated examination of ahimsa, which focuses in particular on the concept ahimsa as it relates to the concept of the "vertical Djed column" and the "raising back-up" of the "cast-down Djed column," it is perhaps enough to simply say that there are many possible "life disciplines" which we can explore as options for connecting with and elevating the spiritual and divine spark that is always present in ourselves and in everyone and everything around us, and which we can choose to make a daily part of our own walk. The conscious cultivation of ahimsa would seem to be one very fundamental and vital "Djed-raising" mindset that we can consider pursuing more consciously and consistently, and one which is perhaps needed today more than ever.

However, in closing this particular discussion of ahimsa as it relates to the contrast between the "vertical component" and the "horizontal component" (both of which are present at all times in us during this incarnation, and both of which are manifest in the dual-natured universe in which we find ourselves), it might not be superfluous to point out that in our daily practice of ahimsa, as we cultivate not just the practice of not harming others but of not even desiring harm or imagining about harm, that we live in a point in time in which visual entertainment is perhaps more violent than at any time in history up until now.

Certainly it could be argued that the epics and sacred scriptures of the world are filled with descriptions of battle, but it can also be countered that describing a battle, even in poetic language, and depicting it along with copious CGI visual effects of gore and ballistic impacts in the visual medium of film are actually quite different in their impact on the brain (it can also be convincingly demonstrated, I believe, that those ancient epics and scriptures are almost entirely allegorical, and describe the "battles" created by the motions of the heavenly bodies and the cycles of the year, and of the sun, moon, stars, and visible planets -- rather than actual literal-historical conflicts in the vast majority of the cases; see examples of my analysis of a few dozen ancient "Star Myths" listed here, and there are many more such analyses which I intend to publish in the future).

But can one really imagine a guru or a serious practitioner of Yoga or of ahimsa actually enjoying the countless execution-style killings depicted in a television series such as the Walking Dead? Or the frenetic blasting apart of swarms of humanoid robots in movies such as the latest Avengers or its previous forerunners?

I mention these particular series, not to pick on them in particular, but to highlight what I believe is an extremely regrettable -- and perhaps an especially insidious -- aspect of these specific orgies of violence, and an aspect which relates directly to the distinction between the "horizontal" and "vertical" components of the Djed column which we are exploring in this discussion of ahimsa (and of the concept more broadly of "raising the Djed" or the spiritual and divine component), and that is that shows which graphically illustrate the repetitive blowing apart of "zombies" or of "robots" seem to be deliberately removing the spiritual or "divine spark" component from the victims of the violence, and thus reducing them to the status of "all horizontal and no vertical" right from the outset.

This "removal of the human spirit" from the victims can perhaps be argued to "make it OK" -- blowing apart robots (or zombies) doesn't really violate ahimsa at all, does it? A robot doesn't have a spirit at all, it's not even alive (neither is an undead creature like a zombie, I guess), and so blowing them apart with large-caliber weapons fired at close range (or other, even more creative ways of physically removing their ability to move around and cause trouble) is just good fun to watch, right?

The problem I see with this particular genre of cinematic mayhem, which is not just popular right now but practically ubiquitous in visual entertainment being offered at every turn, to viewers of all ages, all the time, is that these supposedly "soul-less" robots and zombies actually resemble human beings rather closely (that's part of what makes them so disturbing, after all). Watching the execution-style killing of zombie after zombie may be argued to desensitize the viewer to the fact that in point of fact there is no such thing as a zombie, and anyone being executed in real life is in fact a human being who does indeed have a spiritual component!

Could it not be argued that watching the super-speed blowing apart of what must be tens of thousands of human-shaped robots in movies such as the Avengers, or the agonizingly slow-speed execution-style "killing" of what must also be tens of thousands of "walkers" by now in that popular (and, it must be admitted, well-written -- from the one episode I did actually watch) series actually desensitizes people to the fact that everyone they will ever meet in this world actually does have a human soul (unlike a zombie or a robot), and that the very real and very horrific physical violence being perpetrated on human beings by artillery shells, high-caliber chain guns, depleted-uranium sabot rounds, bombs dropped from jet aircraft, or "hellfire" missiles fired from drone aircraft (to name just a few examples that have taken place in unspeakably large numbers in recent years, and which continue this very minute in various places on our planet) are actually tearing down the spiritual component in real "dual-nature" men and women and children, and reducing them to horizontal bodies?

In short, to what degree do such repeated depictions encourage us to identify with the protagonists, and view people around us as zombies, or soul-less robots? Doing so, of course, is the opposite of blessing and of ahimsa.

It seems that this argument could in fact be made, and that as entertaining as these films and television shows might appear to be, they are in fact very dangerous for our own souls, not to mention inimical to the "cause of ahimsa" in the world at large.


The Djed Column every day: Yoga

The Djed Column every day: Yoga

The past several posts have examined the concept of "raising the Djed" (cultivating and evoking and amplifying the spiritual, invisible, divine spark in ourselves and in the universe we travel through), the possibility that we can in some way incorporate this concept into daily life, and some of the multitude of practices for doing so which cultures from around the world have preserved from ancient times.

Part of the reason for this short survey is to bring the discussion of what may seem at times to be a very esoteric and philosophical topic "down to earth" and suggest that it is actually an intensely practical topic and one which may be tremendously beneficial to our seemingly mundane day-to-day existence.

Another reason to look at some different methods from different cultures is to show that no one method should be considered a "monopoly" -- that there probably dozens or perhaps hundreds of different ways that human beings can choose to pursue in this important area of life, and that although they do share some important similarities they are different enough that they can appeal to different people of different backgrounds or needs.

A third reason might be to familiarize readers with some techniques which may be less well known, such as previous "Djed-raising" disciplines explored in the previous posts on qigong and on Tantra and fong zhong shu. If just one reader who has not previously heard of a certain practice decides to examine it further and it becomes a beneficial part of his or her life for years to come, that would seem to justify the entire "mini-series" right there.

The next daily discipline probably cannot be classified as one that any reader has not yet heard about, because it is a tradition that is so strong and so rich in teachers and followers and the level of ancient wisdom which continues to be passed along in its broad and powerful stream, but it is very clearly related to the concept that the ancient Egyptians symbolized by the raising of the Djed, and by the symbol of life carried by almost all of the gods and goddesses, the Ankh -- which may in fact be linguistically related to the name by which this discipline has been known for millennia.

We're talking, of course, about Yoga -- a subject that could withstand a lifetime of deep consideration without ever exhausting its possibilities.

Previous posts which have touched upon the importance of the ancient wisdom and practical application that is preserved in Yogic tradition include:

While most of us upon hearing the word "Yoga" immediately think of the asanas ("postures") which are undoubtedly the most well-known aspect of Yogic practice, Yoga in fact is a very comprehensive discipline of transformation incorporating meditation, concentration, study of ancient texts and tradition,  true conduct in daily life, nonviolence, freedom from anger, and other practices designed to reawaken and elevate the spiritual, and ultimately to lead to deep contact with the divine and the ultimate. Asanas are an important aspect of Yoga but only one of its many "limbs."

In Light on Yoga, first published in 1966, B.K.S. Iyengar explains:

The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj meaning to bind, join, attach and yoke, to direct and concentrate one's attention on, to use and apply. It also means union or communion. [. . .]
In Indian thought, everything is permeated by the Supreme Universal Spirit (Paramatma or God) of which the individual human spirit (jivatma) is a part. The system of yoga is so called because it teaches the means by which the the jivatma can be united to, or be in communion with the Paramatma, and so secure liberation (moksa). 19 

The letter "s" in the final word, moksa, has a diacritical "dot" underneath it, indicating that the "s" is pronounced more like a "sh," and you will sometimes see the same word spelled moksha.

The video above, entitled Yoga Ruins Your Life, by Richard Freeman of Yoga Workshop in Boulder, Colorado, may make you want to take up Yoga, even if you have never wanted to try it out before (that is, if the above passage from Light on Yoga has not already led you to stop reading and start a search for a Yoga shala in your area).

During the video, we hear the perspective offered by someone who has pursued the path of Yoga for many years and who has dedicated a great deal of energy to passing it on to others and helping others on their own Yoga journeys:

So I've often said that Yoga ruins your life, and by that I mean it ruins your Samsaric life, because once you get a taste of Yoga, you kind of "lose interest" in all the things that are kind of dim reflections of that taste. [. . .] Yoga can also ruin your career, because you feel so nice when you do it that you're less aggressive, and you tend to like people more. And when you practice Yoga, you no longer take political extremes in your mind, and so . . . what are you going to fight about? Or, religious extremes either, because, you get to the -- kind of the root experience that all these different religions are looking for, but in a very generic and very natural, human way, so you don't have to clasp onto the fantastic or the otherworldly. 

There are several important concepts in that short video worthy of careful consideration and further examination -- far more than can be pursued here in one sitting. We will explore just a few here.

One concept which is expressed in the opening sentence (and in the provocative title of the video) is the idea that Yoga "ruins" your Samsaric life, the life of attachment to the physical and the temporary into which we are "cast down" upon our incarnation, what the video's description section calls our "auto-pilot" life. It is a vehicle for transforming and transcending the illusions of the material world -- but doing so in part through the vehicle of our incarnation in this material world.

This idea of being on "auto-pilot" for a certain part of our life in this world, and then beginning to wake up more and more to a higher reality is expressed in the extended passage of a lecture by Alvin Boyd Kuhn quoted previously in "Easter: the Birth-Day of the Gods," in which he traces the cycle of the soul which is "cast down" at the fall equinox (representative of being incarnated in the body) and continues to plunge downward even after that until it finally reaches a turning point at the winter solstice, the very point that creates the "vertical line" of the annual cross of the zodiac which represents the "raising back up" of the Djed column, and the point at which the inner divine is esoterically described as being "born in a manger." Kuhn says of the incarnate soul:

It is born then as the soul of a human; but at first and for a long period it lies like a seed in the ground before germination, inert, unawakened, dormant, in the relative sense of the word, "dead." This is the young god lying in the manger, asleep in his cradle of the body, or as in the Jonah-fish allegory and the story of Jesus in the boat in the storm on the lake, asleep in the "hold" of the "ship" of life, with the tempest of the body's elemental passions raging all about him. He must be awakened, arise, exert himself and use his divine powers to still the storm, for the elements in the end will obey his mighty will.

This "sleeping semblance of life," which Kuhn also says is life "unawakened" and "inert," "dormant," and "dead," is the condition that the video above promises that Yoga can "ruin."

In case you're new to this theory, Kuhn is arguing that the story of Jesus asleep in the boat on Lake Galilee in the storm, or Jonah asleep in the hold of the ship of Joppa bound for Tarshish, are both allegorical or esoteric stories intended to describe a condition which each and every one of us experiences -- the condition of our own soul upon being "cast down" into this life, wedded to a human body like Prometheus nailed to a rock (to use yet another picture from a different set of allegorical myths), and temporarily "unawakened," "inert," "dormant," and "in the relative sense of the word, 'dead'." From this condition, Yoga promises a path that leads to liberation, or moksa -- but in doing so, it "ruins your life" of comfortable dozing in the hold of the ship.

Those stories, Kuhn tells us, are not literal and historical accounts -- and they were never intended to be taken that way (they are, he says elsewhere, "a thousand times more precious" as myths than as supposed histories). They are pointing to a profound truth that is in many ways even more mysterious than any fantastic or otherworldly story -- a truth that you can experience for yourself and a truth that "all these different religions are looking for," in the words of the Yoga video above.

In the words of someone who has walked the path of Yoga for decades, in pursuing that path you get to actually "get to the root experience" that these sacred myths are pointing to. In doing so, you lose the need to "clasp" onto someone else's story about it, because you experience it for yourself -- you know it. This is the concept that was anciently contained in the word gnosis -- first-hand experience of the ultimate, rather than second-hand faith in it.

The same idea was expressed by Gerald Massey (1828 - 1907) in a passage cited previously hereand here, when he says:

What do you think is the use of telling the adept [. . .] that he must live by faith, or be saved by belief? He will reply that he lives by knowledge, and walks by open sight; and that another life is thus demonstrated to him in this. As for death, the practical Gnostic will tell you, he sees through it, and death itself is no more for him! Such have no doubt, because they know.

And yet, to make one more observation on the wonderful avenues of discussion that this subject opens up, those stories are not to be disdained on account of their being "fantastic" or "otherworldly" or simply "allegory" -- those powerful metaphors can help us to grasp the meaning of these spiritual concepts which deal with things that by their nature are invisible and which in fact are even beyond the ability of the mind to reason out using ordinary logic.

In fact, in attempting to convey the meaning of Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar himself alludes to the "fantastic" or "otherworldly" story contained in the Bhagavad Gita, which is a portion of the ancient Hindu Mahabharata, in which Krishna expounds upon the meaning of Yoga to the disciple, Arjuna, and calls it a knowledge that the yogi (one who follows the path of Yoga) will experience that is "beyond the pale of the senses which his reason cannot grasp" (Bhagavad Gita 6.21, cited in Light on Yoga 19).

Interestingly enough, in a different part of the same Bhagavad Gita (a passage not, to my knowledge, cited by B.K.S. Iyengar, at least not in the book quoted above), Krishna tells Arjuna:

O Arjuna, now I shall describe different paths departing by which, during death, the yogis do or do not come back. Fire, light, daytime, the bright lunar fortnight, and the six months of the northern solstice of the sun; departing by the path of these gods the yogis, who know Brahman, attain nirvana. Smoke, night, the dark lunar fortnight, and the six months of southern solstice of the sun; departing by these paths, the righteous person attains lunar light and reincarnates. The path of light and the path of darkness are thought to be the world's two eternal paths. The former leads to nirvana and the latter leads to rebirth. Knowing these two paths, O Arjuna, a yogi is not bewildered at all. Therefore, O Arjuna, be steadfast in yoga at all times. Bhagavad Gita chapter 8, verses 23 - 27 (translation online here).

This is very noteworthy. Krishna has just revealed to us that the annual wheel, with its "upper half" consisting of the six months containing the summer solstice ("the northern solstice of the sun") and its "lower half" consisting of the six months containing the winter solstice ("the southern solstice of the sun," both of these expressions being geared towards an observer in the northern hemisphere) are esoteric allegories for two different paths through this life, one of which will lead to reincarnation (the cycle of Samsara) and one to liberation and nirvana.

This is the exact same cycle that we have seen formed the allegory of the "casting down" of the Djed column (into the lower half of the year) and the "raising up again" of the same (on the way back to the upper half of the year, and the summer solstice):

Clearly, Yoga is a discipline designed to "raise the Djed column" (to use the terminology of ancient Egypt) and ultimately to transcend the cycle of being "cast down" into the lower half of the wheel.

Elsewhere in Light on Yoga, and in reference to concepts described in other sacred ancient texts, we see hints that this "transcending of the lower half" involves transcending the "shifting forms" or the "endless changes" that characterize the material half of our dual universe and a reconnection with the realm of pure potential. B.K.S. Iyengar says that the Kathopanishad tells us:

When the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not -- then, say the wise, is reached the highest stage. This steady control of the senses and mind has been defined as Yoga. He who attains it is free from delusion. 20.

Patanjali, Sri Iyengar notes, calls this condition chitta vrtti nirodhah, which means "the restraint (nirodhah) of mental (chitta) modifications (vrtti)," or the "suppression (nirodhah) of the fluctuations (vrtti) of consciousness (chitta)" (20).

And in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna describes this concept to Arjuna thusly:

When his mind, intellect and self (ahamkara) are under control, freed from restless desire, so that they rest in the spirit within, a man becomes a Yukta -- one in communion with God. A lamp does not flicker in a place where no winds blow; so it is with a yogi, who controls his mind, intellect and self, being absorbed in the spirit within him. When the restlessness of the mind, intellect and self is stilled through the practice of Yoga, the yogi by the grace of the Spirit within himself finds fulfillment. Light on Yoga 19, citing Bhagavad Gita, chapter 6 and verses 18 - 20.

This concept appears to be very closely aligned and perhaps even essentially identical to the practice that Peter Kingsley discusses in his 1999 text In the Dark Places of Wisdom, and which Dr. Kingsley believes was being practiced and passed down through a "master to disciple" method of transmission in certain groups of mystic philosophers prior to Socrates and Plato, and including Parmenides (or Parmeneides). It is interesting that Yoga as well is traditionally passed down through just such a master-to-disciple relationship (the Guru, whose name literally means "light out of darkness," and the sisya, or disciple).

Fortunately, unlike so many other ancient traditions for the transmission of such profound transcendental gnosis, Yoga has survived into the present day, and can be followed as a means of daily transformation and "raising of the Djed."

Note, however, that B.K.S. Iyengar tells us that:

All the important texts on Yoga lay great emphasis on sadhana or abhyasa (constant practice). Sadhana is not just a theoretical study of Yoga texts. It is a spiritual endeavour. Oil seeds must be pressed to yield oil. Wood must be heated to ignite it and bring out the hidden fire within. In the same way, the sadhaka must by constant practice light the divine flame within himself. 30.

But, he also quotes the following encouraging passage, from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, chapter 1 and verses 64 - 66:

The young, the old, the extremely aged, even the sick and infirm obtain perfection in Yoga by constant practice. Success will follow him who practices, not him who practices not. Success in Yoga is not obtained by the mere theoretical reading of sacred texts. Success is not obtained by wearing the dress of a yogi or a sanyasi (a recluse), nor by talking about it. Constant practice alone is the secret of success. Verily, there is no doubt of this.  -- Cited in Light on Yoga, 30.

So, that is encouraging, and argues that it is probably never to late to consider this ancient path.

Just beware that it may "ruin your life"!


Below we see Arjuna, in a typical "raising the Djed" posture (compare to the upraised arms on the Ankh in the image in this previous post -- an Ankh which surmounts a "vertical Djed column"):

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The Djed Column every day: Earendil

The Djed Column every day: Earendil

Orion rising on the eastern horizon (left), crossing the center of the southern sky (center, directly over the letter "S"), and sinking down into the west (right). (Click to enlarge). Planetarium app:

In the previous post, we took what appeared to be a quick break from the discussion in the preceding posts regarding one of the central foundational themes of all the world's ancient myths: the dual physical-spiritual nature of human existence and indeed the dual physical-spiritual nature of the world / universe / cosmos in which we find ourselves, embodied in the great annual cross of the solstices and equinoxes, and in the "casting down" and "raising-up" of the Djed column of Osiris in ancient Egyptian symbology.

Previous posts explored evidence of that cycle operating in the Easter cycle in the New Testament, beginning with the scenes of the Triumphal Entry, followed by the descent that takes place beginning with the Last Supper through the Crucifixion and ultimately the Resurrection or Anastasis (a word which literally means "standing again"). 

Included in the examination was a video entitled "The Zodiac Wheel and the Human Soul" which attempts to illustrate some of the connections between the celestial mechanics involved in this worldwide mythological metaphor and the spiritual message that I believe it was intended to convey.

During that extended discussion, the assertion was made that this great foundational cycle was intended not only to explain important aspects of the "big picture" of our incarnation in this body (throwing light on central issues concerned with "the very meaning of life," if you will), but alsoto illuminate the importance of connecting with this cycle within the "shorter cycles" of our life here in this incarnate existence -- in fact, something we can and perhaps should be connecting with every single day, and maybe even throughout our waking and sleeping travels within each day!

One way that ancient sacred traditions around the world reminded themselves of the reality and immediacy of the invisible, divine, spiritual world that is present at all times in every single being and that in fact infuses and animates everything within the visible universe was certainly through the practice of what Mircea Eliade called "techniques of ecstasy" and which other researchers including Gerald Massey called "trance conditions" -- the practice of actually making contact with or entering into the invisible world, of projecting one's consciousness into the other realm. 

There is plenty of evidence that the scriptures that made their way into what we call "The Bible" are no exception (see for instance the previous post entitled "The Bible is essentially shamanic").

And, it is certainly possible to practice such techniques on a regular basis -- even every day. I initially began a "mini-series" exploring some of the methods which cultures around the world have used to enter into such a state, entitled "Ecstasy every day." However, it is not really practical to remain in such a state at all times. Therefore, I have decided that it is actually more appropriate to make a distinction between the concept of what can be called "raising the Djed" (of recognizing and remembering and elevating and evoking the spiritual aspect in ourselves and the world around us) and the practice of entering into "trance" or "ecstasy" itself (which is, in some sense, temporarily "crossing over" the condition of stasis into the realm of the spiritual to a greater or lesser degree). 

Both are important, but it may be that the condition of "ecstasy" is a special form of "raising the Djed," and that the broader concept of raising the Djed can be practiced more often -- even "all the time," while entering into a trance or ecstatic state cannot.

Therefore, I've decided to re-imagine that "Ecstasy every day" title to be a little more "broad" and examine "the Djed every day" instead. The first installment of that examination touched on the practice of qigong (or chi gung).

After that first installment, we took what seemed at the time to be a "quick detour" to explore the wonderful perspectives offered by The Lord of the Rings and the music of The Lord of the Rings. 

But as it turns out, upon further reflection, it wasn't a detour at all, because it can be satisfactorily demonstrated that the same fundamental theme is absolutely operating within Tolkien's story, on multiple levels -- which is not surprising, given the fact that J.R.R. Tolkien himself had a deep connection to ancient myth and was one of the most knowledgeable scholars in the world on certain families of mythology during his lifetime.

In fact, Tolkien's work provides a beautiful window which leads right in to the discussion of the vital importance of the Djed concept.

As some readers are already aware, the Djed column in ancient Egypt was associated with the god Osiris: it was known as the "backbone of Osiris" and the symbol of the Djed column itself was usually depicted with horizontal segments resembling "vertebrae" in a backbone (see for instance the images of the Djed from the Papyrus of Ani discussed here). 

In some ancient Egyptian art portraying episodes from the story of the murder of Osiris by Set and the recovery of the tamarisk tree containing his casket by Isis, such as the imagery discussed in this previous post, the tree with the casket is depicted as a Djed. The Djed column, in other words, was understood as a symbol of Osiris.

Readers are probably also aware that Osiris was strongly associated with the constellation Orion -- the constellation in the night sky with the highest ratio of bright stars to total stars, and one of the most-recognizable figures in the heavens, making it a fitting representation of the "lord of the underworld," if the heavenly realm is seen as a symbol of the incorporeal realms. The glorious nearby star Sirius, the brightest of all the fixed stars, was associated with Isis.

Once we understand that the Djed is symbolically associated with Osiris, and that Osiris is associated with Orion, then we can more readily understand that the motion of the constellation Orion itself illustrates the great theme of the casting down and the raising back up of the Djed. 

In his nightly motion, Orion can be seen rising in the east and tracing an arc across the sky prior to sinking back down into the west, just as the sun does during the day. During different times of year, of course, Orion rises at a different time due to the progress of the earth in its orbit, which means that at some parts of the year he is already far across the sky by the time the sun goes down (as he is now), but just considering his motion in general we can see how he embodies the casting down and the raising up of the Djed.

When Orion is first rising on the horizon, he appears in a nearly horizontal position, as can be seen in the image at the top of this post (in which the view is from the perspective of an observer in the northern hemisphere at about latitude 35 north, similar to the latitude of Egypt and the Mediterranean, and looking towards the south, with due south in the center, the eastern horizon to the left, and the western horizon to the right). As he arcs upwards into the heavens he becomes vertical. Then, as he sinks back down towards the western horizon he becomes horizontal again.

In the image above, the stars of Orion are shown in all three locations: rising in the east, vertical in the center of the sky at the high point of their arc across the heavens, and then sinking down into the west and becoming horizontal again. Readers who are able can go out this very evening after sunset and see the stars of Orion with his distinctive three-star belt sinking down towards the west.

Below, the same image is reproduced, but this time imagery of Osiris has been added, illustrating the way that the stars of Orion himself portray the "casting down" of the Djed (particularly as Orion sinks down into the west) as well as the subsequent "raising back up" (or Anastasis) of the god -- and a vertical Djed column is depicted directly above Orion's head in the central position:

To add further support, if any is needed, to the argument that the nightly motion of Orion was anciently associated with the casting-down of Osiris and the Djed and with the subsequent raising back up of the same, there are many examples of sacred art in ancient Egypt which actually depicts Osiris lying "cast down" on his funeral bier in the same striding posture that typifies the stars of Orion -- see for example here.

Since no one can, as a practical matter, stride around anywhere while lying upon a bier, and since the ancient Egyptians obviously knew that just as well as we do, the fact that they sometimes depicted Osiris in a horizontal position but with his feet apart as if walking purposefully forward is a major clue that these drawings depict the constellation Orion as he looks when he is near either of the two horizons: horizontal rather than upright, but still in the characteristic "striding" posture that Orion always has, whether he is straight up or lying down.

Below is one more set of images I've prepared in order to illustrate the identification of Orion with the celestial Osiris, and with the casting down and raising up of the Djed.

First, a closer "zoom" of the constellation as it appears on the horizon, to show that Orion really does look "horizontal" when he is near the horizons (the images above de-emphasize this fact, because of the fact that they "wrap" the horizon like a planetarium, and so the horizon itself on the left edge and right edge or east and west of the image, as well as constellations parallel to the horizons on the left and right sides of the images above, appear more "vertical" and upright in those images than they do along the actual horizon outside):

In the above image, you can see that Orion really does look as if he is lying on his funeral bier when he is located at the eastern horizon (rising), and the same is true after he crosses the sky and begins to sink back down into the western horizon (setting).

If we superimpose the outline of the "striding Osiris" on a bier as he is depicted in the Dendera Temple relief linked previously, we can see how this celestial figure represents the Djed of Osiris "cast down" (but preparing to rise again):

Below is another version of the "Orion in three positions" crossing the night sky, this time with the horizons left more "flat" (without the "planetarium wrapping effect"):

(Click to enlarge).

And one more time, with the outlines of Osiris added, to assist in locating the constellation Orion for those less familiar, as well as to illustrate the way Orion's motion embodies the "Djed cast down" and "Djed raised back up."

Now, to bring in the Tolkien connection to this subject, we must delve into the mythological traditions discussed by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend in their landmark examination of the celestial foundations of the world's myths, Hamlet's Mill (first published in 1969). There, they cite previous generations of scholars who demonstrate that the myths upon which Shakespeare's Hamlet are based, in which a king is murdered by his brother and must be avenged by his son, existed in northern Europe going back many centuries before Shakespeare, and that in the 12th century version discussed by Saxo Grammaticus, Hamlet's father's name is Horwendil. This same mythical figure also appears in the Eddas and in other myths, under names that are vary slightly but can clearly be seen to be linguistically related, as Orwandel, Orendel, Erentel, Erendel, Horvandillus, Horwendil, Oervandill, Orvandil, and Aurvadil (see Hamlet's Millpages 12, 87, 95, 155, and especially Appendix 2; an online version of the text is available here).

But the mythological pattern of the Hamlet myth goes back even further, as de Santillana and von Dechend demonstrate: in fact, it is clearly the exact same pattern as the Osiris myth, in which the rightful king  (Osiris) is killed by his malevolent brother (Set) and must be avenged by his son (Horus). Von Dechend and de Santillana demonstrate convincingly (with citations and references to numerous scholars of previous generations) that Orvandil the father of Hamlet represents a manifestation in mythology of the mighty archer in the sky, Orion, in the same way that Osiris does in the sacred traditions of ancient Egypt.

And, as some readers have perhaps already deduced, the name of this lost father of Hamlet -- Orvandil or Erendel -- is very close to the name of Earendil in the saga of The Lord of the Rings. In fact, there is abundant evidence that Tolkien imported this name directly from Old English, where it is found in a poem by Cynewulf, and a poem that Tolkien the premier scholar of Old English had commented upon as a personal favorite as early as 1913, forty years before the publication of the Ring story.

Specifically, Earendil is the spelling that Tolkien used for the very similar name Earendel, which is found in line 104 of Cynewulf's Christ part I (it is a poem which, like The Lord of the Rings itself, is broken into three parts). You can see it for yourself in the Old English on page 5 of the "poem" portion (after the lengthy "Introduction" portion) of this online version of Cynewulf's poem, which is actually page 115 of the online file (use the "slider" at the bottom of the "two-up" version and go to page 114 out of 421, which shows you pages 114 and 115 of the file). 

There, we read:

104 Eala Earendel, engla beorhtast
105 Ofer middengeard monnum sended

which is translated in Hamlet's Mill as follows:

"Hail, Earendel, brightest of angels, thou
sent unto men upon this Middle Earth . . ." (355).

and which is actually part of an extended section of the poem praising the Christ using many epithets. What is most interesting is that the Old English poet Cynewulf (who lived in either the 8th, 9th, or 10th century AD, depending on which scholarly argument you accept) is here clearly associating the Christ with the celestial figure of Orion, whether Cynewulf knew it or not (and one should not assume that poets of previous centuries knew less about these esoteric subjects than is known today -- in all likelihood, they knew much more).

Cynewulf is thus associating the Christ with a figure who is cast down and who rises again, and we have already seen from previous discussions, including some of those linked in the second paragraph from the start of this essay, that the Christ of the New Testament can be shown to have very clear Osirian parallels.

That Earendel in the poem is also a starry figure is fairly clear from the context -- and in fact this portion of the poem is translated by Charles W. Kennedy on the top of page 4 of the year 2000 translation available online here in unmistakably celestial terms, as follows:

Hail Day-Star! Brightest angel sent to man throughout the earth, and Thou steadfast splendor of the sun, bright above stars! Ever Thou dost illumine with Thy light the time of every season.

In The Lord of the Rings, Earendil is the ancient High Elven king who carried the light of the morning star on his brow to Middle Earth in the high and far-off times. This star is the most beloved star of the Elves, and a portion of its light is given to Frodo to help him in his quest, in the Phial of Galadriel. 

Earendil is also the father of Elrond the Half-Elven, which is extremely intriguing, and makes Elrond something of a Hamlet figure. And indeed, in the story, Elrond is a figure who is often shown as somewhat conflicted, able to see the future but in a way that nearly drives him to despair. He is also shown as bringing his daughter to tears by his harsh words, in much the same way that Hamlet in the Hamlet story drives Ophelia to tears (and worse).

Eventually, Elrond declares that the time of his people is over, and they must disappear into the west (which is exactly what Orion the celestial Earendil does as he sinks down into the western horizon).

So, we see that The Lord of the Rings appears to contain a reflection of the great Osirian cycle of the god who comes down to dwell among humanity (Osiris and other Osirian figures throughout mythology including Saturn, Prometheus, Quetzlcoatl, Kon-Tiki, and others are usually benevolent, civilizing figures credited with teaching men and women how to cultivate grain and in some cases how to stop eating one another) and who then disappears, often into the sea or into a cave beneath the ocean.

And, as has been argued in numerous previous posts, this moving story -- which is found in various forms in myths literally around the globe -- has an incredibly hopeful and uplifting message for us as human beings, in that it speaks not only of our "casting down" but also of our eventual "standing up again," and that it also conveys to us the message that within this life we should be going about the business of remembering who we are, and of recognizing that the visible and physical and material realities with which we are daily confronted are not the only reality or even the highest reality, that there is an invisible and spiritual reality within each and every one of us and that in fact interpenetrates every single molecule and sub-atomic particle of the universe around us, and that we can and should be actively engaged in "raising up" and bringing forward that positive spiritual reality within ourselves and within the rest of creation.

There are many, many ways that we can do this every day -- some of which involve the ecstatic state, and others which may not.

Previous posts have mentioned the practice of blessing and not cursing, the practice of aligning with and not contending with the flow of the universe (or the Tao), the practice of nonviolence on the many levels upon which that concept can be applied, and many more which each can be incorporated into daily life -- all of them related to the concept of "raising back up" as opposed to "casting down" (as opposed, that is, to degrading, debasing, objectifying, cursing, dehumanizing, and brutalizing).

Clearly, Tolkien was aware of this concept on some very deep level, and incorporated it into his beloved literary masterpiece.

Perhaps seeing these connections will cast additional light on the subject for all of us, and help us as well, in our own journey through this Middle Earth.


Below is a short video I made showing the path of Orion across the sky and the connection to Osiris and the Djed, as a supplement to the illustrations included in this post. 

Also, here is a link to a previous post from all the way back in 2011 that discusses Tolkien, Orion, and Earendil.