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Happy Pi Day! 03 14 15

Happy Pi Day! 03 14 15

Your humble author, working on pi-cutting skills: West Point, 1987.

Since it is the fourteenth day of the third month (which can be abbreviated 3.14), this day is often playfully referred to as "pi day," in recognition of the fact that the transcendental number pi (which goes on forever and has no discernible pattern to its endlessly-unfolding decimal sequence) begins with 3.14 . . .

And, because this is the year designated AD 2015 (which means that this day in this year can thus be abbreviated 3.14.15), this particular "pi day" is the only one since 1915 that has reflected the "first four digits of pi" after the decimal place (the first 9 digits of pi after the decimal place are 3.141592653 . . .

Mathematically, of course, pi relates the diameter of a circle to its circumference: the circumference of a circle can be expressed as 


d, where "d" is the diameter of the circle.

Because of pi's intimate relationship with the shape of the circle -- a shape with great symbolic significance, representative of the heavens above and hence of the world of spirit -- pi has long been treated with reverential honor and respect.

At the ancient monastic academy of West Point, for example, the act of cutting any pie or cake was once treated as a ritual of tremendous importance, as can be witnessed in the photograph above (which was not staged), in which a circular dessert pie is being inscribed with a knife-line across its diameter, while gentle coaching and advice is offered in order to ensure that the ceremony is done precisely in accordance with tradition.

This level of attention to detail is appropriate, because the act of placing a dividing line across the circular space of the pie is symbolically akin to coming into contact with the infinite.

Mathemagician Marty Leeds, who is very attuned to the symbolic significance of number, and especially of the transcendental number pi, explores the profound spiritual significance of pi in his book The Peacock Tales, reflecting:

I was spellbound by pi's infinite digits, its powerful trinity and its mysterious transcendence. [. . .]
[The] cosmic birth was the act of a great try-unity, first manifesting itself within itself and then releasing that potential by dividing itself; and pi is the ratio and geometric symbol given to us to help us remember and understand this story. God manifesting itself in the beginning of time as the sphere of creation is recognized in the circumference of pi, the division of itself recognized in pi's diameter, and the expansion of our universe recognized in pi's ever-unfolding, infinite digits.
In short, the mathematical constant of pi is a representation of the creation of our expanding universe.
15 - 17. [Italics and boldface type in the original].

Later in the same book, Marty dives deeper and deeper into the profound meaning of pi:

In the study of sacred geometry, the circle represented Heaven and the square represented Earth. This motif is seen within the Freemasonic Square and Compasses (the compass being Heaven and the square being Earth), within the ancient Chinese cosmographic concept known as Gai Tian (the square earth is a chariot, the round heaven its canopy) as well as utilized by the Buddhists in the building of the sacred, mound-like or semi-hemispherical structure known as the Buddhist Stupa. It is important to note for our study that the place where God resides, Heaven, is geometrically symbolized by the circle. If one takes a length of string and makes it a triangle, a square, a rectangle, or any other sort of a polygon, the amount of space that string creates will always be smaller than if one makes it a circle. The circle encapsulates the most amount of space with the least amount of effort. Bringing the circle out into three dimensions to make it a sphere will encapsulate the most volume. This geometric fact is one of high symbolic value. The circle is expressing something about the nature of its own being. It is speaking to you. It is representing, within its own essence and qualities, the limit or sphere or creation. [. . .]
The circle also leads us to the first number in existence, zero. If we were to attribute zero to a geometric form, the most obvious form we could equate it to would be the circle. The number (or non-number) zero expresses the concept of nothing. [. . .] The circle, by encapsulating the most space, yet simultaneously being a representation of the zero, or NO THING, condenses all time and all space into one geometric form. Put simply, the circle represents the concept of all or nothing. As far out into the abyss we wish to go, and as close to nothingness as we may conceive, the circle represents both. 125 - 127.

Pi connects the finite to the infinite, in that it relates a finite linear diameter (or radius, which is half the diameter and which is the distance between the points of a compass used to sweep out a circle, the compass thus being symbolic of the circle which it creates when it is used) to the shape that represents the infinite and the ineffable.

The architects of the Great Pyramid incorporated pi into the very structure of that massive monument, which has a perimeter around the base that is 2π times the height of the pyramid.

Similarly, the monument we know today as the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan in modern-day Mexico has a base perimeter which is 4π times the height of the pyramid.

These structures can thus be understood to symbolically unite heaven (the circle) with the earth (the square) and to act as symbolic link between the finite and the infinite, between the material realm and the realm of spirit.

In the second passage above from

The Peacock Tales, Marty Leeds also mentions the Square and Compasses of Freemasonry, which can be seen to point to the same connection between heaven and earth, material and spiritual, finite and infinite. The right-angle square tool clearly evokes the square, while the compass device evokes the circle: Heaven and Earth.

Interestingly enough, there is an important part of the heavenly sphere which contains two constellations that can be seen as evoking the very same profound concept of connection between heaven and earth, the infinite and the finite. These two constellations are the Great Square of Pegasus and the constellation known as the Triangulum, or Triangle, which is located close by. 

The Great Square, of course, evokes the square which represents bounded, limited, physical space: the earth (which goes around the sun in an annual circuit that is bounded by the "four pillars" or the "four corners" denoted by the two solstices and the two equinoxes). 

The Triangle evokes the instrument of the compass which is used to sweep out a circle. Hence, the two constellations, providentially located in the sky so close together, evoke the connection between Heaven and Earth, spiritual and material, infinite and finite.

The Triangle is actually also located very near to the critically-important constellation of Aries the Ram, whose brightest stars are also three in number (and which in fact are not quite so bright as those of the Triangle, making the Triangle a very useful tool for locating Aries, as discussed in this previous post).

Below is a screen-shot of the sky showing the position of the Great Square (outlined in green) and the Triangulum (outlined in red), both of which are outlined along with Aries (also outlined in red, only the brightest three stars being connected in this illustration).

As you can see from the above diagram, which I created using the outstanding open-source planetarium app Stellarium (available at, on this particularly significant "pi day," the earth is located on the opposite side of the sun from the portion of infinite space containing the stars which make up the constellations of the Great Square and of the Triangulum. 

This means that in order to "look towards" the Square and the Triangulum on this 3/14/15 day, one must look towards the sun itself. You won't be able to see these constellations in the night sky on this day, because when we are on the "night side" of the earth (the side turned away from the sun) we will be facing an entirely different sector of the heavens.

This seems somehow appropriate and even significant, since the calendar day itself that we designate as 3/14/15 is a date on the solar calendar (and the year AD 2015 itself is a year which commemorates the year of the Lord, the Christ, who can be shown to have strong connections to our sun, the enabler of all life on earth and the single most-essential intermediary through which or through whom we relate to the heavens beyond).

Ultimately, one of the most important messages of this mysterious and transcendental number pi is what it tells us about ourselves: that we ourselves, like pi, at once touch both the finite and the infinite, occupy the interstices of Heaven and Earth, matter and spirit. 

Pi day can help remind us of this truth -- a truth which the exigencies of the physical world often work to obscure. 

It is a perfect day to pause and meditate further on these truths.

And, once we become aware of it, pi can continue to remind us of these concepts more than just once a year -- whenever we encounter a circle in the form of a sacred drum, for example, or consider the infinite vastness of the night sky that opens up within the circle of the horizon.

Happy Pi Day!

For those interested in previous posts which touch on the concept of pi, see also:

Also, in light of the photo above, it is interesting to note that the Chinese character for "knife" is:

Chiasm and the spirit world

Chiasm and the spirit world

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The gematria key proposed by Marty Leeds for the English alphabet, through which he has been able to discover and explore some amazing correspondences such as those discussed in this previous post, seems to have suggested itself to him based upon the abundant "seven-patterns" in the natural world, including the 

  • seven visible heavenly spheres of Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, 
  • seven notes of the major musical scale before repeating in the octave,
  • the seven chakras within the human body,
  • and the seven days described in the Genesis story of creation, which included six days of creating and a sacred seventh day of rest.

Based upon this pattern, Marty created a cipher for the 26 letters of the modern English alphabet which breaks the 26 into two halves, and then assigns numerals of 1 through 6 in an ascending and then descending pattern on either side of a central 7, as shown below:

This setup is explained the many hours of teaching videos that Marty has shared on the web here.

Marty's inspiration to arrange a cipher that contains two "mirror-image" patterns on either side of a central "hinge" or "pivot" can actually be shown to have very significant precedent, as mentioned briefly in the previous post, where it was noted that this pattern is called a chiasm  (usually pronounced "KY-asm") or a chiastic structure (or sometimes a chiasmus). 

This excellent discussion of chiasm entitled "Chiasmus: An Important Structural Device Commonly Found in Biblical Literature," by Bible scholar and professor Brad McCoy offers a very succinct definition of this vital literary form "the use of bilateral symmetry about a central axis" (from Robert Norrman), as well as Professor McCoy's own, slightly expanded definition: "the use of inverted parallelism of form and/or content which moves toward and away from a strategic central component" (1).

As an example, a chiasm might follow the pattern A - B - C - B' - A', in which the symbol written


is commonly expressed as "B-prime," and in which the concepts expressed in A and B are expressed again or at least referenced again in A' and B', each of which represents a sort of reflection of the original but elevated or transformed in some way, usually in reference to whatever is expressed at the central point C, which is the pivot or hinge of the entire structure. Most authors on this subject make a distinction between a chiastic structure and a simple "inverted parallel" structure, in that a chiasm contains the central pivot which is not repeated, while other types of inverted parallel structures will simply reflect one another, without the central pivot (for example, in a format such as A - B - B' - A').

Obviously, Marty's arrangement of the cipher proposed for the modern English alphabet above follows a classic chiastic pattern, with a central pivot at the number 7 and a sort of "reflection" of the numbers 1 through 6 on either side of the central point. Tellingly, author James B. Jordan demonstrates that the seven days of creation depicted in Genesis 1 contain numerous examples of chiasm. In an appendix to his book Creation in Six Days he writes (using language which also invokes the patterns of music):

Not only are the seven days to be understood as a chiasm, but there are other chiastic flows in the passage as well, providing a beautiful "polyphonic" symphony of melodies that harmonize with one another perfectly. [. . .].
The refrain "And God saw that it was good" occurs seven times in the passage, and the arrangement is chiastic:
A. Day 1 Light good
B. Day 3a Both separations good
C. Day 3b Plants good
A' Day 4 Luminaries good
C' Day 5 Fishes and birds good
B' Day 6a Animals good
A" Day 6b Man good Just as the chiasm of the seven days associates light with the luminaries and with the sabbath, so this chiasm associates humanity with the light and the light bearers. [ . . .]
The refrain "and God said" occurs nine times in the passage, and once again it is chiastically arranged:
A. Day 1 Light
B. Day 2 Firmament
C. Day 3a Dry land appears
D. Day 3b Plants
E. Day 4 Luminaries
D' Day 5 Fishes and birds
C' Day 6a Land animals
B' Day 6b Man as image and ruler
A' Day 6c Plants for man and animals. As always, the luminaries of the fourth day are central. The D sections link the glorifying plants with the glorifying fishes and birds, as above. The C sections link the land with the land animals. The B sections once again link the firmament with man. The A sections don't seem to correspond, but perhaps we are intended to see a link between the light produced by the Spirit and the life given by the Spirit through the consumption of plants. 220-221.

In the actual text in the print edition of the above book, Jordan has arranged each chiasm so that the indentations become progressively deeper up the central point, and then successively shallower back outwards from the central point, so that they actually form a "left border" that resembles the "left edge" of a letter "X" (the letter which gives the chiastic structure its name, after the Greek letter X or


 -- Professor McCoy notes in the first page of his essay that this ancient pattern was specifically called a chiasm by the Greek rhetorician Isocrates in the fourth century BC). 

Unfortunately, I am not able to create such an indented structure in this online format. Nevertheless, the discussion above should demonstrate conclusively that the chiastic structure is abundantly present in the Genesis 1 account of the six days of creation and seventh day of rest, and hence to provide strong support for Marty's decision to use a chiastic structure for his cipher centered on the central 7 in reference to that creation account (among many other "sevens" in creation).

It is also noteworthy that both of the above chiasms have as their central hinge or pivot the creation of what Jordan calls "the Luminaries" on Day 4 of the creation week: the sun, moon and stars described in Genesis 1:14-18. This centrality of the stars should not be surprising to us, once we realize that virtually all of the sacred texts and teachings of humanity can be said in a sense to be centered upon the motions of the stars and other heavenly bodies, to hinge or pivot upon the Luminaries, so to speak (see here for examples from many different cultures from around the globe and across the millennia). 

Note also that in the first chiastic structure explicated above this central pivot point of the creation of the Luminaries is mirrored on the outer edges by the commanded presence of light at the very beginning and by the creation of men and women at the very end -- which indicates that men and women are in their own way Luminaries who mirror the Luminaries in the heavens, in an "as above, so below" pattern. In fact, the chiastic structure by its very nature seems to invite contemplation of the "as above, so below" pattern and to point towards it at all times.

In the essay by Professor McCoy linked previously, evidence is presented from various researchers who show that this pattern of chiasmus is present "as early as the third millennium BC in the organization of certain Sumero-Akkadian and Ugaritic texts" and that in fact it was used throughout the ancient Mediterranean world (1, 5). He also cites a researcher who explains that ancient Greek scholars

"were trained throughout their school years to read from the  center outward and from the extremities towards the center," and to conceive of the Greek alphabet from beginning to end, from end to beginning, and from "both ways at once, alpha-omega, beta-psi . . . (to) mu-nu (in the middle)" (5). 

He even notes that ancient texts were written on scrolls all the way until the second century AD, which themselves can be seen to invite a kind of chiastic form, in that "a scroll creates a symmetrical perception of overall content and leads to a focus on the content in its center" (5). It is interesting to speculate about the possible significance of Professor McCoy's comment that the replacement of the scroll by the "leaf-form" or "book-style" codex corresponded to the rise of the literalistic Christian church in the second century AD!

The importance of chiasm is stated in the description of Professor John Breck's The Shape of Biblical Language: Chiasmus in the Scriptures and beyond, one of the most-referenced modern examinations of this literary structure, in no uncertain terms: "Written chiastically, the Bible should be read chiastically." In other words, we cannot truly understand its full message unless we are aware of the centrality of chiasm: an assertion with which Marty Leeds, whose numerical cipher is absolutely rooted in chiasm, would no doubt agree! 

And yet, for some reason, chiasm is not widely taught or understood: one could attend church every week for decades and never hear it mentioned. This fact, coupled with the interesting line about scrolls and their "chiasm-like" form being replaced during the very same period that literalistic interpretations of ancient scriptures were on the rise, is most noteworthy. 

This is the exact same time period that the centrality of the celestial metaphors (and the understanding that the ancient Biblical stories were not intended to be taken literally but were instead esoteric Star Myths designed to convey spiritual truths metaphorically) was also being replaced by a rigid literalism -- and a period in which vicious polemics against "gnostics" and their esoteric hermeneutic were proliferating. It is most significant to note that the understanding of the centrality of the Luminaries, which is only revealed in Genesis 1 if we understand the chiastic structure, was thus being stamped out at precisely the same time!

What could this chiastic structure be trying to convey to us? What is so important about it that it manifests itself throughout the ancient scriptures, not just throughout the Biblical texts but also in other ancient literary forms from throughout the ancient world? 

One likely message that this structure may be intended to convey has already been suggested: the form itself reflects the message of "as above, so below." If we look at the shape of the letter "X" from which the chiasm takes its name, we see that the letter itself consists of two triangles, balanced at a central point of contact -- like two worlds, an upper heavenly (spiritual) world, and a lower earthly (material) world. The shape and message of the chiastic literary form, then, appears to teach that this lower world reflects a higher world, that it in fact reflects the spirit world, the heavenly world.

Not only that, but it teaches that the two realms are actually in contact with one another, that they meet and interact.

In other words, it can be argued that the chiastic structure points to a view of the nature of reality, of the universe and of humanity's place in that universe which can be described as shamanic in nature, a term which here is broadly used to describe a worldview characterized by the belief that the material world reflects or is even derived from an invisible spirit world, which is connected to and interpenetrates the material world, and to which it is possible and even necessary to make deliberate journeys in order to obtain knowledge or effect changes which would otherwise be impossible to obtain or accomplish. 

The assertion that the Bible, along with all the other sacred traditions of humanity, may actually be attempting to convey a worldview which we today would characterize as broadly shamanic has been expressed in many previous discussions, such as this one and this one (as well as in greater detail in The Undying Stars).

Given the other independent evidence for such a worldview, it is very likely that the chiastic structure is intended to convey the mutual co-existence of these two realms, the manifest realm of matter and the hidden realm of spirit. What's more, the act of reading a chiasm, or of listening to a chiastic pattern being spoken, inherently involves motion: it moves the reader or the listener from the beginning (at the broad "base" of the double-triangle or "X") towards the central point of contact with the spiritual realm, and then across that central pivot-point into the other realm beyond. In other words, the very nature of  encountering language which is arranged in such a fashion can be seen as a kind of allegorical shamanic journey! 

It is very significant that in some Native American tradition, the imagery of two triangles (or, more accurately, two infinite cones) arranged in the very same fashion as the two triangular regions in an "X" with one inverted above the other, meeting at a central hinge-point or pivot-point of contact, was used to express the mutual co-dependence of the material world and the spirit world.

For example, in Lakota Star Knowledge: Studies in Lakota Stellar Theology (1992), researcher Ronald Goodman explains:

There is a Lakota family who own a document that combines on one hide, what is usually found on separate star and earth maps. The symbol for the earth sites is ^, and the symbol for the stars is v. These shapes are not to be understood as flat triangles, but as cones, as vortices of light. Thus, the inner shape of a star is an inverted tipi. When earth sites and stars are combined (as they are on this hide), the image looks like this: X. This symbol is called in Lakota, Kapemni, which means "twisting." Thus, what is above is like what is below. What is below is like what is above. 16.

Note that in the above description, the symbols indicated by




are actually completed triangles (due to the internet formatting options used here, you will have to imagine the third side as being drawn in), and the symbol indicated by an 


is actually drawn with two complete triangles (you will have to imagine the top line and the bottom line as being drawn in).

The discussion goes on to explain that the Lakota understood the conical tepee as forming the lower vortex which connects with and points towards the vortex of light above, the "stellar world" or the spirit world (for more on the spiritual significance of the tepee, see this previous discussion). The whirling motion of the dancers around the central pole in the sacred Sun Dance was understood to create the same vortex here on earth which opens the connecting vortex of the unseen world (16 - 17).

Thus, there appears to be very good reason to believe that the structure of the chiasm, found throughout the scriptures of the Bible and indeed throughout many other ancient sacred traditions as well, is intended to evoke the awareness of the invisible world of spirit which reflects itself in this world, and to point us towards that point of connection with the spirit world, that point where we can actually make the leap "across the chasm" to the world that cannot be perceived with our five material senses, but which we are in fact equipped to perceive.

There are many more aspects of this chiasm structure which could be profitably explored, and many examples of important episodes and passages in ancient scripture which can be shown to be chiastic in form, and perhaps we can return to this concept and explore some of them in future posts.   

But for now, it is important to return to the pattern which launched the present discussion, which is the chiastic form of the cipher which Marty Leeds, following the inspiration contained in the description of the seven days of creation, has found hidden in the modern English alphabet. Not only does the long ancient history of chiasm lend additional support to the form Marty follows in his cipher, but the fact that the metaphorical aspects of chiasm (a literary structure whose form by its very nature "brings down" the heavens to the earth, and then lifts us back up to the celestial and the spiritual) seem to reflect and embody the very same metaphorical messages we have seen his gematria to embody and to reveal seems to argue that we must acknowledge the existence of yet another layer of simultaneous metaphor which the ancient sacred heritage of humanity employs to point us towards these profound truths about ourselves and our place in this material-spiritual universe.

Black Elk and the sacred circle

Black Elk and the sacred circle

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The sayings of Black Elk, who walked on this earth between the years that we call 1863 and 1950, preserved in the book Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux as told through John G. Neihardt, first published in 1932, have many profound messages of great importance to individuals and society today.

Black Elk's message and his words should be pondered deeply.

This particular essay will examine only one small aspect of his message. Many, many more things are there to return to on another day. Other aspects of his message have been explored in previous discussions (see especially here).

One very important thread running through the words of Black Elk as recorded by John Neihardt concerns the sacred numbers of his people, which often appear in his visions, and which he often explains at the appropriate point in his narrative. Related to this concept is the concept of the sacred shapes which he discusses, and their meanings, especially the shapes of the circle and the square.

As an example of the importance of sacred number, Black Elk often discusses the number six as it relates to all the directions of the world: the four directions in horizontal space (which we might say relate to an X-axis and a Y-axis, as well as to the four cardinal directions of East, South, West and North), plus the two vertical directions of above and below, or up and down (and which we might also describe as including the Z-axis, and thus providing all the necessary referents for any point in space).

In addition to the number six, he also describes the importance of the number four, and relates it to the four stations of the sacred hoop which sustains all life on earth, and which he associates at some points in his narrative with the earth. The concept of the sacred hoop of the Lakotas and other American Indian nations was often expressed as a circle containing the equal lines of a cross, and it can be seen to be closely related to the outline of the zodiac wheel with its horizontal and vertical cross-lines which is discussed in many previous posts, including here and here

Here is a passage in which Black Elk explains these sacred numbers, which appear often in his great vision:

I sent a pipe to Running Elk, who was Standing Bear's uncle and a good and wise old man. He came and was willing to help me. We set up a sacred tepee at the center as before. I had to use six elks and four virgins. The elks are of the south, but the power that they represented in my vision is nourished by the four quarters and from the sky and the earth; so there were six of them. The four virgins represented the life of the nation's hoop, which has four quarters; so there were four virgins. Running Elk chose two of the elks, and I, who stood between the Power of the World and the nation's hoop, chose the four others, for my duty was to the life of the hoop on earth. The six elk men wore complete elk hides on their backs and over their heads. 209.

In another passage, a very poignant passage, Black Elk discusses the difference between the circle and the square, two sacred shapes which each played a very important role in his culture and in his visions. As he explains in this passage, even though the number four is related to the earth's four directions, and has an important role to play in the world, it is the circle which manifests the vitality and power of life. Note, for instance, that in the passage above, he actually associates the number four with the four quarters of the sacred hoop, preserved by the figures of the four virgins, who are connected with our life here on earth. In other words, he connects the number four to a quartered circle, rather than to a square, in the enactment of that particular vision. 

The importance of the circle takes on added meaning as Black Elk explains how it is at the heart of everything in his culture, and how he feels that his people's connection to the circle has been taken away, to their terrible detriment:

After the heyoka ceremony, I came to live here where I am now between Wounded Knee Creek and Grass Creek. Others came too, and we made these little gray houses of logs that you see, and they are square. It is a bad way to live, for there can be no power in a square.
You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace and light, and south gave warmth, the west gave rain, and the north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Everything the Power of the World does is in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our tepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation's hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.
But the Wasichus have put us in these square boxes. Our power is gone and we are dying, for the power is not in us any more. [. . .].
We are prisoners of war while we are waiting here. But there is another world. 195 - 196.

This passage is very profound: it is like a deep pool into which we could dive and go down for a long time without ever reaching the bottom of it. One thing it tells us is that the heavenly realms are associated with the circle, for the sky itself appears round, and the heavenly beings such as the sun and moon are round themselves and also follow cycles that make endless circles: "the sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round."

Black Elk explains that the round shape of the tepee, and the arrangement of the tepees in a circle, is connected to the power of the circle, to the cycles of life, and the connection to nature (expressed in the reference to the round nests of birds). But now his people have been forced to live in squares instead of in circles.

There is much here to consider. One connection which I believe might be of value to draw out is the insights expressed in a recent interview by Marty Leeds, who has thought long and deeply on the significance of numbers and shapes and who arrives at many of the same conclusions about the numbers and shapes expressed above that Black Elk and his people seem to have known.

In this interview with Greg Carlwood of The Higherside Chats

published in August of 2014, Marty explains beginning at about 0:41:35 into the interview:

Heaven is known as a circle: it's a three; and earth is known as a four: it's a square. OK, let's break this down: the circle encapsulates the most amount of space. [. . .] So, really what you have there with the inherent or innate symbolism of the circle is you have the All or the Entirety or the Wholeness, that its you know encapsulating. 
Now, what's important about the circle is that we can never truly find its area! Why? Because we have to use Pi. We have to use Pi. And Pi, at one point, we have to approximate, as we were talking about before. So we can never, ever truly find the area of a circle. Why this is important is: why is itrelated to heaven? Because we can never truly measure the heavens! It's the infinite! Right? That makes sense -- that makes sense that it would be attributed to a circle. 
Because, you know, like I said, Pi is this infinite number, we can't see it's "tail," we look out into the heavens [. . .] where is the edge of the universe? I don't know! You know? But now, look at a square. A square is earth. Well we can measure the earth. [. . .] The square: we can always find the area of a square. Always! Because all we have to do is square something. So if the length of the side of a square is two, well two times two or two squared is four, so therefore we know the area of a square. So this is why heaven is known as a circle, and the infinite, and earth is known as a square.

Marty then goes on to relate the square and the circle to the stupa of Buddhism, which can be seen as bringing the sacred circle of the heavens down to earth, in much the same way that the tepee and the ring of tepees connected to the sacred circles of the sun and moon and cyclical motions in the passage spoken by Black Elk, above.

What I find very interesting in the Marty Leeds passage cited here is the symbolic association of the circle with the "unmeasurable," which Marty finds due to his focus on the transcendental number of Pi. He explains that Pi is a number which goes on forever, and can never be completely known, but only approximated by us, since we must at some point "cut off its tail" and thus use an approximation of Pi rather than Pi itself. Thus the circle in some sense moves beyond this material world and into the other world -- the realm which cannot be actually perceived by the five-senses, or measured with the tools used to measure things in the material realm. Pi becomes a symbol for the transcendental and the realm beyond the material.

And this connection to the realm of spirit -- and the Power that comes from that other world -- is exactly what Black Elk is lamenting when he sees that his people now live in square houses, and are cut off from their connection to the circle. The circle is a symbol of the unseen world, the spirit world: Black Elk often refers to it as the "outer world," as he does in the passage cited above. 

Elsewhere he makes very clear that, although that outer world may be invisible to our normal senses, it is very real -- and it is the source of power for those in this world. 

His message speaks to the critical importance of the spirit world, and of maintaining a connection to the spirit world. It can even be seen as a message of the importance of connecting to the other world in daily life, even in details which might at first seem mundane or unimportant (such as the shape of the dwelling in which we choose to live). 

His message also speaks to the tragedy of being cut off from the power of the other world.

This is something to think about deeply.

The Arabian Nights: can you unlock their celestial metaphors?

The Arabian Nights: can you unlock their celestial metaphors?

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Richard Francis Burton (1821 - 1890) "was one of those Victorians whose energy and achievements make any modern man quail," in the words of the novelist A. S. Byatt in the introduction to Burton's translation of the Thousand Nights and a Night, also commonly known as the Thousand and One Nights, or the Arabian Nights (xv). A partial list of examples ensues, of course:

He lived like one of his own heroes, travelling in Goa, Equatorial Africa, brazil, India, and the Middle East. He took part in the Crimean war. He went with J. H. Speke to find the source of the Nile and discovered Lake Tanganyika. He disguised in himself as an Afghan dervish and doctor and went on pilgrimage to the sacred cities of Mecca and Medina -- a journey where unmasking would have cost him his life. He wrote books on swordsmanship and geology. According to Borges he dreamed in seventeen languages and spoke thirty-five -- other sources say forty. xv.

When he died on October 20, 1890, we are told that, "alarmed by the sexually explicit content of her husband's papers, Isabel Burton burned almost all of his notes, diaries, and manuscripts -- an immeasurable loss to history" (vii -- this quotation from the publisher and not from A. S. Byatt's introduction, which begins on page xiii). That could be what happened, or it could be a convenient cover-story -- we will probably never know.

In any case, Burton's translation of the Nights was begun in the 1850s and finally published in the 1880s in sixteen volumes. The introduction by A. S. Byatt cited above declares that of all the translations of the Nights, "the most accessible complete translation remains Burton's extraordinary translation" along with its "immense apparatus of extraordinary footnotes" (xv). Of the massive work Burton himself said:

This work, laborious as it may appear, has been to me a labour of love, an unfailing source of solace and satisfaction. During my long years of official banishment to the luxuriant and deadly deserts of Western Africa, and to the dull and dreary half-clearings of South America, it proved itself a charm, a talisman against ennui and despondency. Impossible even to open the pages without a vision staring into view [. . .] Arabia, a region so familiar to my mind that even at first sight, it seemed a reminiscence of some by-gone metempsychic life in the distant Past [. . .] air glorious as ether, whose every breath raises men's spirits like sparkling wine [. . .] while the reremouse flitted overhead with his tiny shriedk, and the rave of the jackal resounded through deepening glooms, and -- most musical of music -- the palm-trees answered the whispers of the night-breeze with the softest tones of falling water. xxiii - xxiv.

Burton's translation -- and his voluminous endnotes -- are famous for their extremely sexually explicit nature, especially during the period that they first appeared, as a private printing of one thousand copies to subscribers only. Modern readers will find that their content (and perhaps their translation) also appears on the surface to be highly objectionable in terms of being both sexist and racist -- so much so, in fact, that they may prove difficult or even impossible for some to actually read. 

And yet, as with other ancient tales, I would argue that the tales which made their way into the Thousand Nights and a Night are almost certainly deeply esoteric in nature, and that to read them only on a literal level is as mistaken as reading Herman Melville's Moby Dick as a story about whaling (this concept is discussed in my most recent interview on Truth Warriorwith David Whitehead, beginning at about 0:17:00 and continuing through to 0:24:00, as well as in the essay I wrote for Jacob Karlin's meditation and Selfless Self-Help site entitled "Clothing spirit with matter and raising it up again: How metaphor transcends and transforms the material realm"). 

The themes of the Thousand Nights and a Night ostensibly center around the differences between men and women, and their different "powers," and this is the approach to these fabulous tales that is most commonly employed today (simply search for them on the internet for a host of examples). In the world of the Nights, women appear on the surface to be less powerful in the extremely patriarchal (and violent) society that is depicted, and yet they ultimately prove to be far more powerful. 

In fact, the entire tension of the story is established by the deflation experienced by first one royal brother, Shah Zaman, and then his brother, King Shahryar, when their wives "get the better of them," each of their frustrations being relived in turn only when each successively encounters an example even more egregious than his own humiliation (their humiliation is only relieved by the even greater humiliation of another man by his wife). Their humiliation leads to a predictably (if excessively) "male" response, the rule that sets the stage for the "thousand and one nights," an extreme and violent "solution" which is finally subverted and corrected by the wisdom, patience, grace, charm, wit, circularity, and feminine power of Shahrazad (or Sheherezad in some translations), assisted by her sister Dunyazad.

Throughout the tales, the power of women can be destructive and devouring, or it can be constructive and restorative, but it is almost always ultimately far more formidable than that of men, despite the latter's excessive bluster, arbitrary ultimatums, and readiness to try to solve most problems by immediately swinging at them wildly with a scimitar. 

While the above theme of the "power" of women versus the "power" of men is undeniably present throughout the Nights, I would still argue that to read them on this fairly literal level, or to approach them as a sort of "women's studies" about how women "were treated" in some historical society and how they dealt with and overcame that treatment, is actually a mistake, in that it fails to see the Nights as deeply esoteric and as almost certainly metaphorical, not literal. The same can be said for the extremely racist episodes and descriptions in some of the tales: while the racist elements are highly objectionable and regrettable, and one would prefer that some other metaphor had been employed (the same could be said for some of the sexual content as well), it is likely that the real meaning of the tales is on a level other than the literal, and that the fantastical and often bizarre events and episodes which are related were originally intended to highlight aspects of our universal human condition, or were descended from ancient myths whose original intent was to do so (it is possible that the more racist elements came in later, perhaps during medieval times). 

And this is the key: if the Nights  in all their incredible tales and transformations and encounters with fire-beings such as jinns and janns and ifrits are actually describing a vision of the soul in its incarnations, and a vision of the universe as shamanic and holographic in nature, then they are not primarily about the division of humanity into men versus women, or this "race" against that one. When a wife is depicted as leaving an almost-ideal husband to chase after rag-bound and filthy and abusive adulterous lovers in illicit affairs, this can be seen as an esoteric depiction of our incarnate condition, in which we can so easily forget our innate (but hidden) spiritual or even divine component and embrace too thoroughly our "animal" or physical nature: a metaphor which applies equally to incarnate men as to incarnate women (see the many similar examples in the scriptures of both the Old Testament and the New Testament, including that of the Prodigal Son, who ends up eating husks among the swine before he remembers his true origin). 

In other words, if we read the Nights on a literal level, they will almost certainly appear to divide humanity, along "racial" or "ethnic" or "gender" lines. They will also be quite disturbing and even revolting to many readers, or at least deeply offensive to their sensibilities -- even degrading to the human condition and destructive of human dignity. However, if we read them on a metaphorical and esoteric level, they can actually be seen as teaching a unifying and an uplifting and even a dignifying message -- because they show how our descent into the material realm (the very words




being feminine in connotation, related to the Latin word


or "mother") exposes us to death, to "beatings," to a type of enslavement, to oppressions, to exigencies beyond our control, to transformations, and subjugations, and yet opens the door for exaltation and transformation and even to a transformation that benefits others and enables them to be transformed as well (all of which Shahrazad experiences and demonstrates throughout the Nights).

See this previous post for more on this concept of unifying rather than dividing.

When profound truths put on the garments of metaphor, they descend from the spiritual realm to the material, in order to enable our matter-bound minds to see, through them, that spiritual realm which we have forgotten -- and then these metaphors leap back upwards to the spiritual realms from whence they came, and drag our consciousness along with them. This is what Melville's Moby Dick demonstrates, when deep spiritual subjects come down to put on the rough garments of a whaling vessel, and it is what the Thousand Nights and One Night demonstrate when profound matters of human incarnation and the nature of our spirit-infused universe are clothed in the often gratuitously violent and sexually explicit situations depicted in those tales.

This motion of "metaphor itself" in descending from the "realms of the ideal" into the physical trappings of the vehicle chosen to house or to clothe the metaphor in familiar material form, for the purpose of elevating our consciousness and pointing us back towards the spiritual and helping us to transcend the physical and material can be seen to mirror our own experience in this human incarnation. We descend from the realm of spirit into material and physical vehicles, with the purpose of somehow transforming and transcending and returning with new understanding, and elevating and "dragging along" and reawakening the spiritual which is hidden inside the material world in the process.

This esoteric understanding of the Nights is supported by an aspect of the tales that has rarely, if ever, been explored, and that is the fact that -- like the ancient sacred scriptures and mythologies of the human race, they frequently employ clear celestial metaphor, using the exact same system which underlies other myths the world over.

To demonstrate, I will here offer just two of the many hundreds of possible examples. However, at the request of an extremely insightful and astute correspondent who wrote to me about these interpretations, I will give my interpretation of the constellations underlying these two episodes from the Nights in a future installment of this blog in a couple of days -- enabling you, gentle reader, to work them out for yourself in the interim!

Feel free to post or message your "celestial interpretations" of these two passages, naming the constellations that you believe correspond to each important character (or object, in the case of the second of the two episodes). 

Currently, the best places to post (or message, if you wish to be more private and less public) your interpretations are either Twitter (yes, you can fit your explanation in a single tweet or two -- you can just say "X = this constellation; Y = that one") or Facebook.  If neither Twitter nor Facebook work for you, send me a message on one of those two channels and suggest a better place to communicate. I will look forward to reading your submissions, if you wish to post them, and then I will put up my own interpretations (which I have already formulated for myself -- obviously I'm not going to offer examples which I am not already fairly confident contain clear celestial correspondences which people can work out: that wouldn't be very helpful).

To get yourself warmed up, feel free to check out the many examples of star myths and their explanations listed here. There is also a previous post which discusses many different constellations, with diagrams and descriptions of where to find them in the night sky.

Here are the two episodes from The Arabian Nights, as translated by Richard Francis Burton:

First episode: the adulterous affair that started the whole story.

Shah Zaman, the younger brother of King Shahryar, is invited to go visit his brother after many years of separation (in which each ruled their own domain with great "equity and fair-dealing," but as Zaman begins to go, he returns for something he forgot. Here is how he begins to describe what took place:

"Know then, O my brother," rejoined Shah Zaman, "that when thou sentest thy Wazir with the invitation to place myself between thy hands, I made ready and marched out of my city; but presently I minded me having left behind me in the palace a string of jewels intended as a gift to thee. I returned for it alone, and found my wife [. . .]. 9.

Finding his wife with another, he says, Shah Zaman "drew his scimitar and, cutting the two into four pieces with a single blow, left them on the carpet and returned presently to his camp without letting anyone know of what had happened" (5).

Can you determine which celestial inhabitants might correspond to Shah Zaman, his adulterous wife, her adulterous lover, his scimitar, and the string of jewels that he forgot to take with him?

Second episode: the Fisherman and the Jinni.

This is the first story in which a Jinni comes forth out of a lamp. There is a story prior to this one which features a Jinni (and a beautiful and formidable woman, who proceeds to exercise absolute power over both Shah Zaman and his brother King Shahryar), but that one strides up out of the ocean onto the shore, and does not emanate from an ancient lamp. The Tale of the Fisherman and the Jinni is presented as the very first tale Shahrazad tells to King Shahryar on her first night with him, and it is long and involved and contains many "stories within stories within stories," but the first part of the action involves an old fisherman and his wondrous catch. Listen as Shahrazad begins her tale:

It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that there was a Fisherman well stricken in years who had a wife and three children, and withal was of poor condition. Now it was his custom to cast his net every day four times, and no more. On a day he went forth about noontide to the sea shore, where he laid down his basket; and, tucking up his shirt and plunging into the water, made a cast with his net and waited till it settled to the bottom. Then he gathered the cords together and haled away at it, but found it weighty; and however much he drew it landwards, he could not pull it up; so he carried the ends ashore and drove a stake into the ground and made the net fast to it. Then he stripped and dived into the water all about the net, and left not off working hard until he had brought it up. He rejoiced thereat and, donning his clothes, went to the net, when he found in it a dead jackass which had torn the meshes. 25.

The Fisherman is grieved at this development, but he gets it clear of his net and casts again, but with similar results. After a great deal of effort, he gets the net in a second time: this time we are told "found he in it a large earthern pitcher which was full of sand and mud; and seeing this he was greatly troubled" (26). So he has another go, but only brings up "potsherds and broken glass" (26). 

Finally, he goes through the motions one last time, after first "raising his eyes heavenwards" and imploring "O my God! verily Thou wottest that I cast not my net each day save four times; the third is done and as yet Thou hast vouchsafed me nothing. So this time, O my God, deign give me my daily bread" (26). This time, we are told, he pulls up an old jar or lamp of yellow copper, with a seal stopping its mouth with a leaden cap. Removing the seal with great effort, we watch along with the Fisherman in amazement as:

presently there came forth from the jar a smoke which spired heavenwards into ether (wherat he again marveled with a mighty marvel), and which trailed along earth's surface till presently, having reached its full height, the thick vapour condensed, and became an Ifrit, huge of bulk, whose crest touched the clouds while his feet were on the ground. His head was as a dome, his hands like pitchforks, his legs long as masts and his mouth big as a cave; his teeth were like large stones, his nostrils ewers, his eyes two lamps and his look was fierce and lowering. Now when the fisherman saw the Ifrit his side muscles quivered, his teeth chattered, his spittle dried up and he became blind about what to do. 27.

Can you identify the net, the dead jackass, the "earthern pot," and the magic lamp? If so, you will probably be able to guess at who is likely to play the Fisherman in this tale. How about the smoke which pours from the lamp and spirals upwards? The Ifrit is a bit tricky, and could be one of a couple different figures, but you may want to give him a try as well.


image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Does the Bible teach reincarnation?

Previous posts have presented evidence that the ancient scriptures and sacred teachings of the world are all founded upon celestial allegory -- see for example:

Previous posts have also provided evidence that one of the reasons that the ancient sacred traditions of the world chose to use the motions of the sun, moon, stars and planets to convey their esoteric message is that those motions provide an almost perfect analogy for the successive incarnation of the soul (when they set, plunging into the western horizon and hence into the mire and clay of the material realm), as well as the triumphant exultation of the soul as it rises again at the end of each successive incarnation into the freedom of the heavenly realm of air and fire.  For posts which lay out the evidence for this argument, see for example:
These posts provide plenty of exposition of the metaphors found in the ancient myths to support the thesis that they taught a vision of the human experience which involved the descent and incarnation of a pre-existing soul, the survival of that soul, and some number of repetitions of the incarnation process (i.e., reincarnation).

Those posts, and the new book The Undying Stars, also argue that the scriptures of the Old and New Testament reveal themselves to be close kin to the other sacred traditions of the world, in that they also consist of beautiful celestial allegories, and they also teach the descent and incarnation of a pre-existing soul, the survival of that soul, and some form of reincarnation.  

This thesis, of course, is completely at odds with the conventional teaching that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments differ markedly from the "pagan" mythologies, in that (among other things) they purport to describe historical, literal personages (rather than gods, goddesses, and other supernatural beings who personify forces of nature, which is the way "pagan" mythology is usually described in the conventional view), and in that the Old and New Testament supposedly teach that men and women live only once, and afterwards face judgement followed by an eternity in either heaven or hell (some traditions would argue that the Old Testament does not teach such a doctrine, but it is safe to say that the vast majority of the literalist Christian traditions do teach such a doctrine, and have for centuries argued that the Old Testament scriptures support them in their teaching of that doctrine).

The thesis that the Old and New Testaments are also allegorical, celestial, and meant to convey an esoteric message which includes reincarnation breaks down the wall which the literalists have erected between their literalist faith and the ancient traditions of nearly all of the world's other cultures.

But, is it really possible to claim that the Old and New Testaments can be interpreted as open to the doctrine of reincarnation -- or even that they positively intended to convey such a teaching?

In fact, it is quite possible to support such a claim.  

First, as some of the discussions in the previous posts linked above should demonstrate, the evidence that the Old and New Testaments are built upon celestial metaphor is extremely strong, and almost impossible to deny.  Thus, even if one cannot find any literal expression of reincarnation teaching in the texts themselves, it is possible to argue that the esoteric interpretation of these astronomical metaphors involves the teaching of successive incarnation of the soul in a body, as the second set of previous posts linked above all argue.

Beyond that, however, there are passages in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments which appear to indicate that reincarnation was once an aspect of the message they intended to convey, and that it was only later that the literalist doctrine -- with its full-scale denial of the doctrine of reincarnation, and declaration that such a doctrine constitutes heresy -- arrived on the scene.  

For instance, Chris Carter (author of Science and Psychic Phenomena, Science and the Near-Death Experience, and Science and the Afterlife Experience), points out in Science and the Afterlife Experience that "there are at least two references to reincarnation in the New Testament" (footnote on page 19).  He explains:
At one point the disciples ask Jesus if a blind man sinned in a previous life, and Jesus did not rebuke them (John 9:1-2); at another point Jesus describes John the Baptist as the prophet Elijah reborn (Matthew 11:11-15).  footnote, page 19.
Both of these examples are extremely notable, and worthy of careful consideration. Additionally, there is another passage in the New Testament in which Jesus has an opportunity to denounce the possibility of reincarnation, and again (as in John 9) does not do so, and that is the story concerning the "confession of Peter."  Here is the account as it is recorded in the gospel of Mark, chapter 8:
And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am?
And they answered, John the Baptist: but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets.  Mark 8:27-28.
At this point, if the concept of reincarnation were truly as erroneous and dangerous as the literalist church later portrayed it to be, we might expect the text to inform us that Jesus set the disciples straight by saying words to the effect that the people were way off base with those speculations, and that there is no such thing as reincarnation, and he is very disappointed that anyone would think that he could possibly be Elias (that is, Elijah) or "one of the prophets," come back again in a new incarnation.  

But, the text does not say anything of the sort.  Instead, the next verse tells us that Jesus then asks them "But whom say ye that I am?" and this is answered by Peter in his "confession of Christ," in which Peter says: "Thou art the Christ" (Mark 9:29).

In Lost Light, Alvin Boyd Kuhn points to a very significant verse in the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah -- a book which literalists often argue contains  a series of specific prophecies relating to the incarnation of a literal, historical Christ.  One of the oft-quoted chapters of Isaiah in this regard is Isaiah 53, a chapter which contains the well-known passage: "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed" -- beautiful and comforting and timeless teachings, although perhaps misinterpreted by the literalists these many centuries in some of the applications to which that they put these scriptures and other scriptures.

Later in the same chapter, verse 9 tells us: "And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth."

Strangely enough, the translators of the 1611 Authorized Version (often called the "King James Version") place a textual note here at the word "death" in verse 9, where they are candid enough to inform the reader that the original Hebrew actually reads "deaths" at this point:

If the Hebrew text actually says "deaths," then why would the 1611 translators render it as "death" in their English translation, instead of "deaths" the way the original scriptures say? Isn't strict accuracy of translation of the original texts considered extremely important to many literalists?   

One extremely obvious possible reason that this word is translated as "death" instead of "deaths" (even though the original Hebrew text admittedly reads "deaths") is that such a translation clearly invites a re-incarnational interpretation!  Had the King James Translators used "deaths," the verse would read: "And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his deaths."

Alvin Boyd Kuhn remarks:
Here is invincible evidence that the word carries the connotation of "incarnations," for in no other possible sense can "death" be rationally considered in the plural number.  In one incarnation the Christ soul is cast among the wicked; in another among the rich.  This is a common affirmation of the Oriental texts.  And his body is his grave.  Lost Light, 173.
These prominent examples, from both the Old Testament and New Testament scriptures, strongly suggest that the scriptures as originally taught, and as originally understood, were intended to teach a message of reincarnation, or successive incarnation -- but that later doctrine (literalist doctrine) arose which sought to suppress their allegorical, esoteric nature and to instead substitute a rigid literal interpretation of all the teachings (a literal interpretation such as the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell, which almost certainly has an esoteric and non-literal meaning, if one knows how to read the scriptures according to the system of metaphor which they and all the world's other sacred traditions anciently employed, as discussed here).   

Even more powerful evidence in support of this theory (if more powerful evidence is possible than that described above) can be found in the ancient texts which were rejected by the literalists in the formation of their canon of the New Testament, for example in the various gnostic texts which were declared to be the "invention of heretics" by literalist leaders during their struggle to marginalize and anathematize gnosticism and the gnostic teachers.  

Some of these texts, most of them now completely unfamiliar due to the fact that they were condemned by the literalists in the fourth century and lost to humanity during all the intervening centuries, were unearthed at the base of a cliff near the current Egyptian village of Nag Hammadi in the middle of the twentieth century.  They were probably condemned and rejected from the canon by the literalists because their teachings are either openly gnostic or because some of the stories they incorporate are so bizarre that they cannot possibly be interpreted literally, and must be esoteric in nature.  Some of them rather strongly suggest that a doctrine of successive incarnation was part of early teaching among those that the literalists later suppressed.  

Whatever community cherished these texts in ancient times probably took them to that remote location, sealed them in a jar and buried them some time during the fourth century AD, the same time that the literalists were forbidding "heretical" texts and persecuting those who taught from them or even kept such texts.  Perhaps those who buried them hoped someday to come back and retrieve them, or perhaps they simply could not bear to destroy them.  For whatever reason, they apparently never did come back for the buried library of codices, and they were preserved in their secret location for sixteen hundred more years before coming to light.

For example, in the Apocryphon of John (a title which could also be rendered "The Secret Teaching of John" or "The Secret Revelation of John") -- which is found twice in the Nag Hammadi library, in two slightly different versions (not being literalists, those originally in possession of the Nag Hammadi library apparently had no problem having different versions of a similar story or account).  In this text, the author (taking the persona of John) describes a vision after the teacher has ascended in which the heavens appear to open and a being descends, whom the text says is "the Spirit" but to whom John puts questions, often addressing it or him as "Christ" (or, in some versions of the Apocryphon of John, as "Lord").  This divine teacher at one point expresses a teaching which appears to establish a doctrine of reincarnation.  

Here is the "short version" of the two found in the Nag Hammadi library, which matches a version of the Apocryphon of John which did in fact survive outside of the Nag Hammadi jar and had already been known to scholars (part of the Berlin Codex, BG 8502,2).  In section 23, for example, the text says:
I said, "Christ, when the souls leave the flesh, where will they go?"
He laughed and said to me, "To a place of the soul, which is the power that is greater than the counterfeit spirit.  This (soul) is powerful.  It flees from the works of wickedness and it is saved by the incorruptible oversight and brought up to the repose of the aeons."
I said, "Christ, what about those who do not know the All -- what are their souls or where will they go?"
He said to me, "In those, a counterfeit spirit proliferated by causing them to stumble.  And in that way he burdens their soul and draws it into works of wickedness, and he leads it into forgetfulness.  After it has become naked in this way, he hands it over to the authorities who came into being from the Ruler.  And again they cast them into fetters.  And they consort with them until they are saved from forgetfulness and it receives some knowledge.  And in this way, it becomes perfect and is saved."
I said, "Christ, how does the soul become smaller and enter again into the nature of the mother or the human?"
He rejoiced when I asked this, and he said, "Blessed are you for paying close attention!  
[. . .]"
Clearly, these teachings are conveying something that seems very alien to those familiar with the literalist interpretation of the ancient scriptures but unfamiliar with texts which the literalists long ago condemned.  Although there is much here that clearly pertains to more than just the topic at hand, the passage can certainly be interpreted as teaching the possibility of multiple incarnations.  Note the teaching that the souls of those who do not yet "know the All" after they leave the flesh are described as undergoing "forgetfulness" followed by being "again cast into fetters."  This phrase is almost certainly describing incarnation -- that is to say, "imprisonment" of the soul in this body of flesh and blood.  Following this passage, the divine speaker (Christ or the Spirit) explains the way the the soul which is cast again into incarnation can encounter "another who has the Spirit of Life in it," and can follow and obey and then "be saved," after which "of course it does not enter into another flesh."

There are other ancient gnostic texts which also demonstrate that the concept of successive cycles of incarnation was accepted and taught, prior to being suppressed by those who were promoting a new approach to the scriptures, one which rejected the fact that they are esoteric in nature, and who taught that they must be interpreted literally and not esoterically.  They worked hard to eradicate the teachings and the texts which would show that this literal approach was in actuality the novel approach, but some passages in the New Testament -- and especially the verse in the Old Testament scroll of Isaiah discussed above -- survive to tell the tale of how the original intent of the scriptures was not what we have been led to believe.

The fact that the Bible has clear signs of once containing a doctrine of successive incarnation -- and their employment of the very same system of celestial allegory (albeit with different actors playing the metaphorical roles, in different costumes and upon different "stage") -- shows that the ancient scriptures of the Old and New Testament are very much part of the same continuity of ancient wisdom which flows through the sacred myths of the ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, Greeks, the Norse, the Maya, the Inca, and the Pacific Islands, and which informs the teachings of the ancient civilizations of India, China, Tibet, and many other cultures around the world.

It is the literalist interpretation which is relatively "new" and which seeks to cut the Biblical scriptures off from the rest of humanity -- and that interpretation may not be sustainable based upon the scriptures themselves.

Deep Sea IMAX, astrology, and the cycles of the cosmos

Above is the trailer for a gorgeous film called Deep Sea IMAX, released in 2007. Filmed by the award-winning ocean filmmaker Howard Hall and narrated in turns by Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, the stunning footage highlights many incredible denizens of the ocean, many of which are so unfamiliar to those who spend their lives on land that they might as well be from another planet.

Some of the more memorable creatures include the sunstar, pulling itself across the ocean floor with surprising speed in search of food and scaring up clouds of feather stars and scallops which flee from its blind hunger; the wolf eel crushing sea urchins to bits between its powerful jaws, apparently heedless of their long venomous spines; the aggressive Humboldt squid, which flash like strobe lights in the night as they attack everything in sight including one another and even the camera a few times; the Giant Pacific octopus, curling its tentacles into tight coils as it glides ominously over the sea bottom in search of crabs; the energetic Mantis shrimp, tenaciously fighting off a much larger octopus; the strange and graceful nudibranchs; and translucent jellyfish of all descriptions.  As memorable as the colorful images are the sounds the creatures make as they move about and engage in their activities (often violent).

After watching some of these exotic animals in their natural habitat, it is intriguing to think that even now giant sunstars are creeping across the ocean floor looking for prey, as are many of the other stars of the deep sea.

One of the most astonishing parts of the film comes towards the end, when the cameras capture a coral spawn in the Flower Garden Banks, located in the Gulf of Mexico.  We are told that this takes place every year, eight days after the full moon in August, beginning one hour after sunset.  The imagery is spectacular, as millions of coral polyps release tiny gametes into the water, like clouds of baby spiders floating into the sky -- and the otherworldly music of Danny Elfman enhances the effect.  The narration asks:
How is it that millions of tiny polyps from all these corals choose this single moment on this single night to spawn?  How do animals that have no eyes to see, or brains to think, coordinate this event with such precision?
Apparently, scientists only discovered this stunning aspect of coral's life cycle fairly recently, in the early 1980s, and they are still trying to learn more about it.  This article from the Smithsonian Magazine from 2009 describes the work marine biologists are doing to study the coral and their reproduction habits, as they try to determine ways to protect coral against the serious threats they face from unchecked seaweed and algae growth (running wild due to overfishing of the species that would normally keep them in balance), and from increased acid levels in the water due to pollution (acid acts to dissolve the calcium carbonate that the coral secrete to form reefs).

This article, from an Australian website entitled Deep Sea Divers Den gives even more insight into the mysterious ability of the coral to coordinate their spawning with the full moon.  Citing coral researcher Associate Professor Bette Willis from James Cook University, the article explains that scientists now think that the reason coral wait to spawn for a certain number of days after a full moon is that this period produces a neap tide, in which the swings between tidal levels are much more mild than during a spring tide, giving the coral spawn a better chance to succeed.  Some of the intricacies of the tidal mechanisms caused by the motion of the sun and the moon are discussed in this previous post.

We should certainly be in awe of the ability of these tiny creatures to coordinate their spawn without, as Johnny Depp says, "eyes to see, or brains to think."  It is yet another example of the influence of the moon and the other celestial bodies upon beings here on this planet.  

Is it too difficult to believe that the phases of the moon and the angles of the other planets in our solar system might have an impact on our own bodies and minds as well?   We have discussed this possibility in previous posts such as this one.  It is a concept which was accepted by most ancient cultures, but which is often dismissed as "superstition" or worse by many today.

Perhaps if we were more attuned to the cycles of the world around us and the greater cosmos, we would not have drifted so far out of harmony from the oceans and the rest of nature, and the coral reefs and other vital and incredibly beautiful aspects of our planet would not be in such peril.

Danny Wilten and the Orion Nebula

Above is an example of the astounding analysis by Danny Wilten, in which he demonstrates incredible correspondences between Michelangelo's famous Creation of Adam fresco and the imagery of the Orion Nebula taken by the Hubble Telescope in 2006 (link to the video).

This particular video shows how the patterns of darkness in the Hubble image have unmistakeable parallels to the patterns of shadows and outlines in Michelangelo's masterpiece.  Here is a link to a file of that 2006 Hubble image of the Orion Nebula on Wikimedia Commons, where it was a candidate for "Picture of the Year" in 2006.  The description of that image at the site explains:
In one of the most detailed astronomical images ever produced, NASA/ESA's Hubble Space Telescope captured an unprecedented look at the Orion Nebula. This extensive study took 105 Hubble orbits to complete. All imaging instruments aboard the telescope were used simultaneously to study Orion. The Advanced Camera mosaic covers approximately the apparent angular size of the full moon.
After watching Danny Wilten's video, it is quite clear that the patterns of light and dark in this amazing nebula correspond to the shadows and outlines of many of the personalities depicted in Michelangelo's fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which was painted in 1511 or 1512.  For example, the shadows that make up the woman's face below the crook of the left arm are quite distinctive, and in fact can be easily made out in the Hubble image linked above at the Wikimedia Commons site.  Below is a screen shot from the 8:54 mark in the video above, showing a zoomed-in detail of this portion of the Orion Nebula:

The correspondences to the detail in the fresco are unbelievable.  The woman's face in the image above is located directly below the word "in" along the top of the video frame, looking towards the left of the screen.  Watching the video will make the connection quite clear.

Since the Hubble Telescope did not exist when Michelangelo painted his fresco (and in fact, as far as we know, the first telescope would not be invented until 1608 in the Netherlands), what can possibly explain these uncanny parallels between a piece of art completed in the early 1500s and a high-resolution mosaic created by the Hubble Telescope during the course of 105 orbits in early 2006?

Danny Wilten discussed this and other profound questions during a recent interview on Red Ice Radio with host Henrik Palmgren, who is (in my opinion and that of many others) one of the best and most insightful interviewers alive today.   The first hour of that interview is available to all for free (and is embedded below), and the second hour (also very worthwhile) is available to Red Ice subscribers.

At about 31 minutes into that first hour, Henrik explores the possible explanations for this incredible connection between art and nebula:
HENRIK PALMGREN: Again, I want to go back to the idea of how we explain this.  There's a few different possibilities.  As far as I know, as you said, then, Danny, the Orion Nebula is something that you can't see with the naked eye.  Obviously, you can see the stars of the Orion constellation, but -- if you want to try to explain it there are a few different possibilities and I want to get your take on this.  I mean, either we're looking at ancient technology, and there can be very, very old -- this could literally be a telescope, maybe even more advanced than that -- something happened, major catastrophe, we're smacked back into, you know, kind of a prehistoric state, and we have to do it all over again, and then eventually we develop technology, develop telescopes, and it's now at this point again where we can kind of confirm, if you will, the imagery.  That's one take on it.  Another one is that someone has given the knowledge to some of us humans in the past -- or it's completely subconscious: the Muse, if you will, of these artists have given the imagery to them, for some reason, because this, well, there's a drive here, something important with it, and we're simply tapping into the importance of it.  Or, maybe the fourth option would be that, in the past, people actually went on hallucinogenic trips, and they actually visited, if you will, the area, in spirit if nothing else, and managed to see how it looks, pretty much, and thereby being able to pull it out -- what do you think, when you're looking at all this stuff, Danny?
DANNY WILTON:   Well, based on the evidence that I have found, I would probably go with the last two that you just mentioned there.  I would probably go with either that it was a subconscious thing, or maybe they used plants [. . .]
This exchange illustrates the "due diligence" process of considering all the reasonable possible explanations for a set of data, and it is something discussed in many previous blog posts (for example, there are many possible explanations for geological phenomena that we see on the earth today -- it is important to consider all the possible explanations, and consider each one fairly, examining the strengths and weaknesses of each explanation with respect to the evidence in question; see here and here and here for some previous discussions).

Note that all of the above explanations which Henrik offered have some merit.  There is abundant evidence that ancient mankind possessed extremely sophisticated awareness of the earth, the solar system, and the starry heavens -- including evidence which suggests that they were aware of bodies in the solar system (such as Jupiter's moons) not visible without a telescope.  There is plenty of evidence suggesting the possibility of ancient advanced technology.  See for example discussions here and here and here.

Henrik's second suggestion, that mankind was "given" this knowledge by someone else (perhaps suggesting the possibility of ancient alien contact) has some connections with the topics of other previous posts, such as this one and this one.

The possibility that our consciousness is somehow connected to a sort of "universal consciousness," which Danny Wilten indicates is one of the possibilities that he prefers and which in fact he explores at greater length in his e-book on the subject (which I also highly recommend) ties in with the important and ancient issue of the macrocosm-microcosm, discussed in many other previous posts such as this one and this one.

Finally, Henrik's fourth possibility, that mankind in the past was able to tap into advanced knowledge through some form of "hallucinogenic trips" actually has extensive evidence in the important subject of shamanism (see here, here, and here for instance) and in the connection to the Pyramid Texts and the possibility that the pharaohs of ancient Egypt were taking just such "hallucinogenic trips" as discussed by Professor Jeremy Naydler.  There is also the possible mushroom connection between ancient civilizations and higher consciousness.

There are other possibilities, of course, which should be considered before reaching conclusions on the remarkable evidence presented by Danny Wilten.  One that we might consider is the possibility that NASA is tricking us -- that the Hubble image of the Orion Nebula was purposely created to mimic the fresco of the Creation of Adam!  This seems like a pretty far-out suggestion, but it would be a possible explanation.  We would have to try to consider what possible motive NASA could have for such a deception.  It is also pretty difficult to maintain in light of the numerous other incredible connections in other pieces of art that Danny Wilten examines in his book -- connections that are literally breathtaking.  If the Creation of Adam were the only piece of art that matched the Orion Nebula, then we could entertain the possibility that some NASA scientists were having some fun at our expense, but because Mr. Wilten shows conclusive connections to so many other pieces of art (some also quite famous masterpieces), this possibility becomes very difficult to maintain.

Also, in order to argue that NASA tricked us with that image, we would also have to maintain that satellite imagery of the Nile delta has been altered to fit the Orion Nebula as well, as Mr. Wilten also demonstrates amazing correspondences there as well.  Is it possible that both Google and NASA are part of a larger conspiracy to create imagery corresponding to the Orion Nebula?  That seems difficult to believe, and one of the four suggestions put forward by Henrik Palmgren above seem to be more likely.

The second two of his four suggestions (which Mr. Wilten also indicate are his favorites of the four) also seem to be more likely in light of the fact that the Orion Nebula and the many pieces of art that he examines (including Creation of Adam) appear to have strong connections to the cross-section of the human brain, complete with cerebrum, cerebellum, medulla oblongata, and pineal gland!  Here again, the correspondences are quite compelling -- in fact, Mr. Wilten discusses the fact that neurosurgeons and other doctors have already reached the startling conclusion that the Creation of Adam depicts the structures of the human brain!

All of this appears to mesh with the Hermetic dictum of "as above, so below," as Danny Wilten points out in his book and in the interview.  It also resonates quite strongly with the teachings of Santos Bonacci discussed in previous posts.

The correspondences that Danny Wilten has discovered, without a doubt, contain tremendous significance.  We should all be grateful to him for his work and his analysis, and wish him the best in his ongoing endeavors.