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Mukasa, the Guardian of the Lake

Mukasa, the Guardian of the Lake

The Ssese Islands, in Lake Victoria, indicated by the red arrow. Google Maps.

Among the Baganda people of eastern-central Africa, whose land in their own language is called Buganda but in the Swahili language is called Uganda, one of the central figures of the spirit world is Mukasa, the Guardian of the Lake.

Of this powerful entity we read in African Mythology by Geoffrey Parrinder (1967) that:

The greatest of the demi-gods of Buganda, Mukasa, was a great giver of oracles, a kindly deity who never asked for human sacrifice. Myths say that when Mukasa was a child he refused to eat ordinary food and disappeared from home, later being found on an island sitting under a large tree. A man who saw him there took him to a garden and lifted him onto a rock. People were afraid to take him into their houses, thinking he was a spirit, so they built a hut for him on the rock. They did not know what to give him to eat, for he refused all their food, but when they killed an ox he asked for its blood, liver and heart. Then people knew he was a god and consulted him in any trouble. Mukasa lived on the island for many years, married three wives, was cared for by priests, and at last disappeared as suddenly as he had come.
His temple was a conical reed hut, which was rebuilt at intervals on the express orders of the king. Originally it is said that Mukasa spoke his will directly to the priests, but later they used mediums who uttered his messages. The medium never entered the temple but had a special hut in front of it. When seeking to know the will of Mukasa she smoked some tobacco until the spirit came upon her, and then she announced in a shrill voice what was to be done. The medium was not allowed to marry, or walk about in the sight of men, or talk to any man but the priest, and once chosen held the office till death. 89-90.

This information is remarkable on several levels, and may immediately ring some bells for readers who have studied the previous two posts in which I presented arguments to support my theory that the details of the story of the Buddha underneath the bodhi tree, as well as the story of Jonah underneath the vine or "the gourd" or the palmcrist or the kikajon found in Jonah chapter 4, are based upon the celestial figure of Bootes the Herdsman sitting with his back to the glorious column of the Milky Way galaxy -- see "The Bodhi Tree" and "The sacred fig tree, continued: Jonah and the gourd."

The general details regarding Mukasa presented above are corroborated in other accounts of the Baganda.

This page from the webiste, for example, discusses the understanding of a spirit world beyond this one, and Mukasa as one of the most important of the Lubaale or "Guardians" who dwell in the invisible realm. There, we see that the location of the oracle where the medium (or mandwa) obtained messages from Mukasa was located on Bubembe island, one of a chain of over eighty islands known as the Ssese Islands (after the tsetse flies which swarm there) in Lake Victoria. 

See the map above for the location of Lake Victoria -- which lake is known in the Luganda language of the Baganda as Nalubaale, or "Lake of the Lubaale" -- and the Ssese Island archipelago in that great lake. Nalubaale is the second-largest freshwater lake on earth, with a surface area of 26,600 miles, second only to Lake Superior in size measured by surface area (the subterranean freshwater lake of

Lake Vostok in Antarctica has a surface area of "only" 4,800 miles although it is so massive that it contains roughly 1,300 cubic miles of water, compared to Nalubaale's 660 cubic miles and Lake Superior's 2,900 cubic miles and

Lake Baikal's 5,700 cubic miles).

It is actually somewhat difficult to find a good detailed map labeling all the Ssese Islands and especially Bubembe island, the location of the oracle and primary temple of Mukasa, but I believe Bubembe is the island that I have indicated with an arrow in the map below, which "zooms in" on the Ssese archipelago from the map shown above:

The details regarding Mukasa given in the quotation above are further supported by accounts found in

The Baganda: An account of their native customs and beliefs, by John Roscoe (originally published in 1911). There, we learn more information regarding the mandwa and her entering into a state of trance or ecstasy in order to receive information from the spirit world:

When she was about to seek an interview with the god, or to become possessed, she dressed like one of the priests with two bark-cloths knotted over each shoulder, and eighteen small white goat-skins round her waist. She first smoked a pipe of tobacco until the god came upon her; she then commenced speaking in a shrill voice, and announced what was to be done. She sat over a sacred fire when giving the oracle, perspired very freely, and foamed at the mouth. After the oracle had been delivered, and the god had left her, she was very fatigued and lay prostrate for some time. While giving the oracle, she held a stick in her hand with which she struck the ground to emphasize her words. 297-298.

Again, these details are extremely significant and noteworthy. First, they provide yet another example of a concept that can be seen to be absolutely ubiquitous around the world -- the understanding of the the existence of a spirit world with which it is possible to communicate and to which it is possible to journey even during this life, and the importance of doing so in order to obtain information or effect change which impacts aspects of this material world, which is intimately connected to and in fact can be said to be "interpenetrated by" and even "projected from" the spirit world in a very real sense. We have examined the importance of this concept in numerous previous posts including:

and many more.

Second, they again demonstrate that the actual techniques with which human beings may enter into a state of ecstatic trance or contact with the invisible realm are incredibly diverse, a fact borne out by the encyclopedic research presented by Mircea Eliade in the landmark text Shamanism: Archaic techniques of ecstasy (first published in 1951), and discussed in the previous post entitled "

How many ways are there of contacting the hidden realm?"

But perhaps most importantly and most strikingly, the details provided above illustrate powerful and undeniable points of resonance with other sacred traditions from different cultures around the globe, and what is more these points of resonance can -- I argue -- be seen to be distinctly celestial in nature, relating very clearly to specific important constellations which are used in other cultures and other traditions to point the way to the importance of the realm of spirit within and around us, just as they do in the sacred traditions of the Baganda.

Let us examine some of those details more closely.

First, we see that Mukasa shares very clear points of correspondence with the story of the life of the Buddha: he seated himself under a tree, he refused ordinary food, he was against sacrifice (in the case of Mukasa, he was specifically against human sacrifice).

Further, the temple of Mukasa is described as a "conical reed hut," and the mandwa herself also dwelt in a special hut near the conical temple or shrine of Mukasa, although she did not enter it herself, even when she communed with the Lubaale  himself, but instead smoked a pipe of tobacco in her hut and sat over a fire, perspiring and even foaming at the mouth. John Roscoe shows an image of one of the conical shrines of the Baganda in his 1911 book, and it looks very much like the image shown below of one of the sacred tombs of the Baganda:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

We also see in the accounts that the mandwa is always a woman, that she begins her contact with the god by sitting above a fire and smoking a pipe, but that at the end she falls down exhausted, and lies prostrate for some time.

All of these details have very powerful correspondences to the specific details of the constellation Bootes the Herdsman and the other surrounding constellations and celestial bodies near Bootes, which the previous posts on the Buddha and the bo tree and on Jonah and the gourd have argued to be the foundation of those sacred stories as well.

The clear celestial connection of the story of the Buddha, the story of Jonah, and the details of the powerful Mukasa of the Baganda is extremely significant, and extremely powerful evidence supporting the actual celestial connection of all of the world's ancient sacred wisdom.

Let's spell out those celestial correspondences (which will be illustrated in the planetarium image below):

  • The sitting figure of Mukasa on the rock, the Buddha under the bodhi tree, and Jonah under his gourd are all related to the constellation Bootes, who can clearly seen to be seated in the sky (and can also be envisioned to be kneeling). In fact, the figure of Bodhidharma who is known as Da Mo in China and who traditional legends describe as bringing Buddhism to China and kneeling in front of a stone wall for nine years without moving, and in some cases to have originated the martial arts as a way of strengthening the monks and giving them a physical-spiritual practice that would function as a kind of "moving meditation," can also be shown to be connected to Bootes, as I have demonstrated in previous posts such as this one.
  • The beautiful tree arching over their heads is the shining column of the Milky Way, which rises up behind the sitting or kneeling figure of Bootes in the heavens.
  • The "conical hut" (or the "booth" that Jonah makes under the gourd) is most likely the outline of the constellation Ophiucus.

The diagram below shows the major players in these Star Myths. The constellation Scorpio is also outlined, latching on to the base of the Milky Way, because Scorpio almost certainly plays the role of the worm who smites the vine that shelters Jonah, and causes it to wither away, much to Jonah's frustration and anger.

Note that in the diagram, the gigantic constellation of Hercules with his raised club is also outlined. This constellation plays a role in the legend of Da Mo (where, I argue, Hercules represents Shen Guang, the faithful follower and first disciple of Da Mo). Interestingly enough, the proximity of Hercules to the seated figure of Bootes provides an important confirmatory piece of evidence that this celestial interpretation is correct for the story of the Buddha as well. 

The image below, from the 2d century AD, shows the unmistakeable figure of Hercules (or Vajrapani) standing behind the seated figure of the Buddha underneath the bo tree, exactly as the constellation of Hercules can be seen to stand behind the seated figure of Bootes in the night sky. This confirms beyond a shadow of a doubt that the ancients knew the connection between the Buddha and the celestial figures of Hercules and Bootes:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

What is perhaps most striking in the sacred Baganda tradition surrounding Mukasa is the way in which the mandwa herself enacts the postures of the celestial constellations when she makes contact with the spirit world: first she sits above the fire smoking a pipe, just as Bootes can be seen to be "smoking a pipe" in the outline shown above, and then she falls down prostrate just as the constellation Virgo (who is located directly below Bootes and whose outline is shown in the image below from the Jonah story) can be said to be "lying prostrate and exhausted" in the way the constellation is arranged in the sky:

Note also that the mandwa carries a stick with which she strikes the ground for emphasis while reciting the message from the spirit world during her trance. The constellation Virgo can be seen to have a distinctive "outstretched arm" (marked by the star Vindemiatrix), which in some legends from around the world becomes a stick (and in other world myths it is a sword, a bow, or another implement connected to the story in question). 

She is thus enacting, in the most direct way imaginable, the concept of "as above, so below," which conveys a number of deep teachings, one of them the fact that every single man and woman embodies within themselves, contains , and connects to the infinite universe itself: that we are each a microcosm which reflects and which in fact is not separate from the infinite macrocosmaround and above us.

It is also extremely noteworthy that the famous Pythia who sat in the tripod at the oracle at Delphi can also be shown to reflect the constellation Virgo, who herself is in a seated position and who is directly above a celestial serpent, the constellation Hydra (corresponding to the dead carcass of the Python who was supposedly entombed deep beneath the temple at Delphi). In other words, the priestess at Delphi also entered into a state of ecstasy and communion with the gods by actually imitating the constellation Virgo, and embodying the concept of "as above, so below" and the microcosm/macrocosm.

Thus, we see that the sacred traditions surrounding the benevolent deity Mukasa of central Africa share extremely close and significant correspondences with the sacred traditions at the heart of Buddhism, ancient Greece, the scrolls of the Hebrew Scriptures and specifically of the prophet Jonah, and the legend of Da Mo in China, and that they thus provide an extremely powerful and significant piece of additional evidence to support the thesis that the world's sacred myths, scriptures, and traditions all share a common celestial foundation.

This fact, if true (and I believe the evidence is overwhelming and nearly beyond dispute; dozens more examples are discussed in other posts and in my previous books, a partial but by no means exhaustive index of such discussions can be found here) is of incredible significance for world history, and for our lives today.

Some of the implications might be:

  • That the sacred myths, scriptures and traditions of the world are not literal but that they are sophisticated celestial metaphors and that they use the celestial realm to convey the reality of the invisible realm of spirit.
  • That we are not in fact separate from the realm of spirit, but that we are intimately connected to it at all times, and that it is also within us at all times (as above, so below: microcosm and macrocosm).
  • That if the various myths and sacred traditions teach that we are "descended" from figures in Star Myths, they are talking about our spiritual nature, and that such stories are not intended to be used to divide people on the basis of ancestry (or supposed ancestry) -- in fact, since they teach the existence and importance of the infinite spiritual nature inside each man and woman, this can be seen to supersede the far less important external distinctions which people have used to set men and women against each other based on external differences.
  • That we are all deeply connected to one another and in fact to all beings and even to the universe itself.
  • That on this basis, it is wrong to kill other beings, and especially that human sacrifice is profoundly wrong -- in fact, Mukasa's ordinance against human sacrifice can be seen as teaching that it is wrong to take the life of another man or woman, and that one cannot even use "religious devotion" as an excuse to harm another man or woman.
  • That the ancients clearly understood these sacred myths to be connected to the constellations over our heads, and that they consciously depicted this understanding in their art and in their ecstatic practices and techniques.
  • That this ancient understanding has been subverted, and that it has in fact been overturned or "stood on its head," such that for at least seventeen hundred years it has been taught that sacred traditions are only meaningful if taken literally.
  • That literalism tends to invert the original meaning of the myths themselves, including all of the points outlined above. 
  • Literalism tends towards creating divisions between different people and different groups based on supposed descent from figures in stories that were originally intended to be understood as celestial metaphor. 
  • Literalism has often been used to "excuse" (or, it should be said, only "supposedly excuse," since it does not in fact excuse) violence against other men and women.
  • Ultimately, all of these sacred traditions point us towards the importance of the spiritual realm, and especially the importance of the spiritual realm within ourselves and within everyone around us: the importance of recognizing and elevating and evoking the spiritual and the divine side of ourselves and of the cosmos, rather than demeaning and debasing and brutalizing and denying the spiritual and the divine in ourselves and in others and in the world around us.

And there are many other implications, in addition to those listed here.


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.

Anastasis, Anabaptists, and Ecstasy

Anastasis, Anabaptists, and Ecstasy

image: Wikimedia commons (composite of images found here and here).

In his remarkably helpful essay Easter: The Birthday of the Gods, discussed previously here, Alvin Boyd Kuhn provides some penetrating observations regarding the Greek word for the Resurrection, which is Anastasis:

The Greek word for the resurrection is anastasis, the "standing up," the "up-arising." It has little if at all been noted that this anastasis is only by a little prefix distinguished from "ecstasis," our "ecstasy." With ec- (ex) meaning "out," the etymology here brings us face to face with an item of unrecognized moment, that our final dissociation of soul from body at the end of our last incarnation will bring us an experience of ecstasy. Human life, a dour struggle, will be measurably buoyed up in spirit if the peregrinating soul knows that at the long terminal his release will come with rapture beyond thought. If, as much religious philosophy has it, man enters into this world of objective existence in tears, his first utterance a cry, he will be strengthened throughout its long and toilsome way by the assurance that he will make his final exist from his "tomb" of the flesh in transports of Edenic bliss. His "up-standing" is also his "out-standing" from his grave of body. 7 - 8.

The fact that the Resurrection is described as an Anastasis in Greek, combining the prefix ana- (again) and stasis (standing, state), powerfully links this symbolic cycle with the cycle of Osiris, and specifically with the symbology of the "casting down" and "raising-up again" of the Djed column of Osiris, a connection which has been remarked-upon previously in this blog, perhaps most specifically here (with illustrations). 

The symbology of the casting down and raising-up of the Djed column is one way that this central concept manifested itself in the sacred mythology of ancient Egypt, but it is a concept which is found throughout the sacred traditions of the entire globe, in many different forms. 

It is also a concept which (as Alvin Boyd Kuhn points out in many of his writings) is linked to the annual cycle of the great cross of the zodiac, formed by the line of the equinoxes (where the Djed column is "cast down" to the underworld at the fall equinox, symbolized as well by the "horizontal bar" on the symbol of the cross found in many ancient sacred traditions) and the line of the solstices (stretching from the "bottom of the year" to the top, and together representative of the raising-up of Djed column, and of the calling forth and elevating of the invisible divine soul or spirit present in every human being and in fact penetrating and animating all of the material universe, and represented in the symbol of the cross by the vertical component pointing towards the heavens).

This vitally important concept through which an invisible reality was powerfully symbolized and allegorized for our gnosis is discussed in previous posts too numerous to list, but which would certainly include:

Equally important is the observation Kuhn makes about the connection between Anastasis and Ecstasis.  While the two are distinguished by different prefixes, they are clearly related. The concept of "ecstasy" describes the transcending of the material state and the powerful connection with everything that is symbolized by the "raised-up" Djed column or the vertical (spiritual) component of the year's great cross.

This previous post (among others) presents arguments that the understanding of -- and entry into -- the state of ecstasy was absolutely central to all of the world's ancient wisdom, left to humanity as a precious inheritance.

This connection shows that the concept of Anastasis / Ecstasis operates on many different levels. It certainly describes the cycle of descent into the material body and ultimate re-ascent to the world of spirit at the end of incarnate life, but it also clearly operates within the cycle of this life, and describes a process that is meant to be part of our life here and now: the connection with the realm of spirit, the raising of the spiritual component inside ourselves and the spiritual-material world around us, and the entry into the state of ecstasy on a regular basis

There is abundant evidence that human beings are absolutely hard-wired with the ability to do this.

Finally, the prefix ana- ("again") in the word Anastasis /Anastasia is fascinating in that it is also found in the name of the religious movement of the Anabaptists -- the "again baptizers" -- so called because they believed in adult baptism by immersion and baptism "again" as an adult even if one had been baptized as an infant (as was common practice for all infants during many preceding centuries in the parts of the "western" world that the Anabaptists were generally operating). 

It can be clearly demonstrated that the symbology of "baptism by immersion" is absolutely connected to the ancient symbolism of the "casting down" and "raising-up again" of the Djed column. I discuss and illustrate this connection in a new video entitled "The Djed Column of Osiris," embedded below.

This clear connection to the mythology of ancient Egypt as well as to concepts found in other sacred traditions around the world (including shamanic traditions) and to other mythologies built on celestial allegories (as are the stories in the Bible) is somewhat ironic, since the Anabaptists in general were (and still are, in their modern forms) very staunch practitioners of the literalistic interpretation of the Biblical scriptures.

Many of them would undoubtedly be shocked and perhaps offended by the suggestion that the same celestial wheel formed by the great cross of the solstices and equinoxes, and further sub-divided by the twelve signs of the zodiac, and embodied in the rest of the world's mythologies can be found to be the absolute bedrock foundation of the collection of texts and sacred stories that came to be included in what today is referred to as "the Bible."

Many historic Anabaptists might also have been opposed to the suggestion that there is in fact a profound connection between the "up-arising" of the Anastasis and the centrality of ecstasy within this earthly sojourn. So might many of their modern relatives who also follow a literalist-historicist interpretation of the scriptures (and who continue to work to actively convert cultures which retain ancient traditions involving ecstasy, such as the world's remaining Indigenous shamanic traditions, along with anyone else who does not share their literalist position).

This opposition does not change the overwhelming evidence which points to the conclusion that the scriptures of the world (including those in the Bible) are in fact esoteric, celestial, and indeed shamanic in nature.

Here is a link to an index of well over fifty examples, with clear diagrams showing the celestial connections. And, see this post and some of the links contained in it for arguments that "The Bible is essentially shamanic."

And it does not change the fact that the concept of Anastasis, as well as the powerful symbolism of the water-baptism ritual, clearly point to the shamanic-ecstatic-spiritual understanding that is symbolized elsewhere by the movement of the sun back upwards towards summer solstice, by the vertical portion of the cross, by the erecting of May-poles and Christmas trees and many other vertical posts seen in other traditions around the world, and that is present in all the deep layers of meaning embodied in the restoration of the Djed column of Osiris.

Whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: Paul, the Gnostic Opponent of Literalism

Whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: Paul, the Gnostic Opponent of Literalism

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

No one can accuse the author of the New Testament letters attributed to the man using the name "Paul" of displaying anything less than an ardent, burning desire to convey what he believed to be an absolutely urgent message.

However, when it comes to what that message actually was, there are some researchers who have built a very strong case which suggests that it may not mean "what you think it means."

They argue that Paul might actually have been trying to urgently and insistently convey an esoteric, anti-literal, broadly gnostic, and even shamanic message: one he identified as "the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began" (Romans 16:25), a mystery which he calls "the hidden wisdom" (1 Corinthians 2:7), and a mystery which was actually the very opposite of the literalistic interpretation of the scriptures that Paul is normally believed to be championing.

It was a mystery which even Paul himself indicated would be opposed by clever and deceitful men, opponents he believed would not be above altering his letters to make them seem to say something different from what he was really trying to say, or even forging letters purporting to be from him, in order to keep the truth that he was urgently trying to teach from getting out.

In the previous post, we explored some of the penetrating insights and connections offered by Peter Kingsley in his 1999 text, In the Dark Places of Wisdom, providing evidence that ancient philosophy actually relied upon inspiration obtained by entering into a state of incubation or trance, contrary to the understanding of ancient philosophy commonly advanced by most conventional academics today.

It was the suppression of such techniques of ecstasy, of the ability to journey to the invisible realm with which we are all in fact inwardly connected at all times, the realm of non-ordinary reality, or non-local reality, along with the suppression of the knowledge of the indispensability of such travel, which ultimately led -- according to Dr. Kingsley's thesis -- to the incessant pursuit of satisfaction through external sources (whether materialistic or spiritual) that became the defining feature of "western civilization."

That preceding post offered a series of what I believe to be some of the most striking and revealing quotations from In the Dark Places of Wisdom, including some of the words with which ancient accounts tried to describe and convey the characteristics of this vitally-important state of coming into contact with the other realm (a concept often described today using the word "shamanic," which Peter Kingsley's book also uses).

As Peter Kingsley (who is a professional scholar in this field) describes it, the ancient inscriptions and texts tell us that those ancients who participated in these journeys reported that: 

they'd enter a state described as neither sleep nor waking -- and eventually they'd have a vision. Sometimes the vision or the dream would bring them face to face with the god or the goddess or hero, and that was how the healing came about. People were healed like this all the time. What's important is that you would do absolutely nothing. The point came when you wouldn't struggle or make an effort. You'd just have to surrender to your condition. 80.

He cites a passage by the ancient philosopher Strabo (c. 64 BC to AD 24) which describes just such a process of entering into deep trance, like an animal in hibernation or in a state that is neither ordinary sleep nor ordinary awareness.

Note the important insight that this deep state was achieved not by struggling after something external, but that it was actually within the individual already, if they would just "surrender." In one of the other quotations cited in the preceding post, Dr. Kingsley explains (on page 67) that the ancient inscriptions seem to indicate that "We already have everything we need to know, in the darkness inside ourselves. The longing is what turns us inside out until we find the sun and the moon and stars inside" (emphasis added: italics not present in the original).

In another significant discussion of this state, Dr. Kingsley says:

If you look at the old accounts of incubation you can still read the amazement as people discovered that the state they'd entered continued regardless of whether they were asleep or awake, whether they opened their eyes or shut them. Often you find the mention of a state that's like being awake but different from being awake, that's like sleep but not sleep: that's neither sleep nor waking. It's not the waking state, it's not an ordinary dream and it's not dreamless sleep. It's something else, something in between. 110-111.

In light of the clear evidence of the importance of this non-ordinary state, and in light of Peter Kingsley's explanation that this deep state was achieved not by struggling after something external, but that it was actually within the individual already, it is most intriguing to examine the passage in one of the letters attributed to Paul, in the New Testament book of 2 Corinthians chapter 12, in which he says:

1 It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.
2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) 
4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful [margin note says "Or, possible"] for a man to utter.

Note the striking similarity here to the ancient descriptions of the trance-state from the tradition Peter Kingsley examines (a tradition of which the profound pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides or Parmeneides was part) and the descriptions given by Paul of his own personal experience of something which certainly appears to be the same type of encounter: one is described as being a state that is "like being awake but different from being awake, that's like sleep but not sleep: that's neither sleep nor waking," and the other is described as a state in which it is impossible to determine whether one is "in the body or out of the body." In both cases, the participant has clearly entered a state which is completely different from ordinary experience, in which normal terms do not seem to apply and normal descriptions fail to capture the condition in which one finds himself or herself.

Note also that a sense of "amazement" appears to be present in the accounts cited by Peter Kingsley and the account as recorded in 2 Corinthians by Paul. Paul specifically says he knows it is "not expedient" for him to glory in this experience, but it was clearly an experience that was most incredible, the wonder of which Paul finds he can barely conceal or contain.

Finally, we can see in verse 2 that in this experience, Paul describes himself (speaking in the third person) as being "caught up" -- it is not something that he caused to happen, but something that just "took him," in much the same way that the participants were described as "surrendering" to the experience (rather than pursuing it or bringing it about by their own efforts) in the ancient texts and inscriptions Peter Kingsley cites.

In an important lecture given by Gerald Massey (1828 - 1907) entitled Paul, the Gnostic Opponent of Peter, not an Apostle of Historic Christianity, Massey seeks to establish that the author of most of what we find in the Pauline epistles of the New Testament was not teaching anything like literalistic Christianity, but rather that he vehemently opposed literalism and in fact taught something quite different.

The full structure of Massey's argument is beyond the scope of this particular post (the interested reader is advised to read the lecture linked above -- preferably several times -- which can also be obtained in published print format here), but Massey ascribes great importance to Paul's clear testimony that he experienced ecstatic trance, preserved for us in 2 Corinthians 12.

Of this ecstatic experience, Massey says in paragraph 24 (as numbered in this online version):

But, we have not yet completely mastered the entire Mystery of Paul for modern use; and it is not possible for any one but the phenomenal Spiritualist, who knows that the conditions of trance and clairvoyance are facts in nature; only those who have evidence that the other world can open and lighten with revelations, and prove its palpable presence, visibly and audibly; only those who accept the teaching that the human consciousness continues in death, and emerges in a personality that persists beyond the grave; only such, I say, are qualified to comprehend the mystery, or receive the message, once truly delivered to men by the Spiritualist Paul, but which was throughly perverted by the Sarkolators, the founders of the fleshly faith. [. . .] Paul, on his own testimony, was an abnormal Seer, subject to the conditions of trance. He could not remember if certain experiences occurred to him in the body or out of it! This trance condition was the origin and source of his revelations, the heart of his mystery, his infirmity in which he gloried -- in short, his "thorn in the flesh." He shows the Corinthians that his abnormal condition, ecstasy, illness, madness (or what not), was a phase of spiritual intercourse in which he was divinely insane -- insane on behalf of God -- but that he was rational enough in his relationship to them.

Note that in the above passage as it is found in almost every online transcription of the original lecture, the word "accept" in the long first sentence is erroneously written as "except" -- the printed text from 1922 linked above shows that this is someone's mistake (which has been duplicated several times on the web) and that the original printed text reads "accept" at that point, not "except." 

Note also that although Massey here uses the term "men" to refer to "humanity in general," he was absolutely not referring to "men as opposed to women." The reader will find that in this same lecture (particularly in paragraph 20) he explicitly acknowledges that what he is saying applies to men and women, and even goes so far as to explain that:

this manifestor of the re-birth might be feminine as well as masculine. In fact, the female announcer was first, and there are mystical reasons for this in nature. [. . .] Some of the Gnostic sects assigned the soul to the female nature, and made their Charis not only anterior, but superior, to the Christ. In the Book of Wisdom it is Sophia herself who is the pre-Christian Saviour of mankind. [. . .] This complete reversal of the Christian belief is to be found in the Hidden Wisdom!

Massey then goes on to make the extraordinary assertion, based upon the phrasing in verse 2, that this condition of ecstasy is what Paul describes as being "in Christ"! Massey writes:

And when Paul says, "I knew a man in Christ," we see that to be in Christ is to be in the condition of trance, in the spirit, as they phrased it, in the state that is common to what is now termed mediumship.

Massey also argues that those who find themselves in "this same spirit" will manifest it in "various spirit manifestations," and that the list Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 12:7-12 is a list of the different manifestations of entering into contact with the realm of spirit (paragraph 26).

Those who are shocked by Massey's arguments, and the basis he finds for his arguments in the New Testament letters themselves, will doubtless point to passages in those same letters, or in other New Testament letters attributed to Paul, which appear to teach the doctrines of literalist or "historic" Christianity (namely, the coming of a literal individual Christ in history, rather than the teaching Massey is asserting that Paul maintained, of a Christ within that was not external or historical). 

But, as Massey points out, Paul himself cautions the readers of his letters that there are those who seek to subvert what Paul is teaching, and who are not above forging letters in Paul's own name in order to suppress Paul's gnostic and spiritual teaching! The second verse of 2 Thessalonians warns the recipients not to be "shaken in mind" or "troubled" even if they hear deceptive reports or even if they receive such reports in a "letter as from us" -- indicating an awareness that adversaries would not be above inserting different teachings into letters actually penned by Paul, or into letters falsely claiming to be from the hand of Paul.

He also makes the insightful point that, since we can clearly find passages today in the New Testament's Pauline epistles which are completely gnostic and anti-literalist, and other passages which are clearly literalist and anti-gnostic, it is far more likely that the literalist doctrines were inserted by literalists than that the gnostic passages were snuck in by gnostics (paragraph 17). 

For one thing, the faction that clearly won out was the literalists, who crushed out virtually all of the gnostic teachers and outlawed their writings (on pain of death for any caught in possession of them) during the second through fourth centuries, and so it is probably they who introduced alterations as they saw necessary to letters which had originally been anti-literalist.   

For another, he points out that many of the "founders of the Fleshly Faith" did not really understand the gnostic teachings, and thus it is far more likely that the literalists added passages and even entire letters supporting literalism, while failing to perceive the full extent of the gnostic teaching that remained, than that the opposite scenario took place.

The striking thing to notice is that we here find very powerful evidence that the same kind of "ancient wisdom" which Peter Kingsley finds in operation during the time of Parmenides (and his long line of predecessors and successors, before such knowledge was somehow subverted and stamped out). And we find that, just as Dr. Kingsley asserts took place with the ancient knowledge that inspired Parmenides and other ancient lovers of wisdom, the teachings of Paul were co-opted and subverted and made to appear to be part of a very different tradition -- one that basically teaches the very opposite of what Paul actually taught!

And there is still more.

Because, as Peter Kingsley makes clear, the ancient tradition of which Parmeneides was a part, and the practice of going deep into an altered state to make contact with the divine spiritual force, was closely associated with the god Apollo, whom we know of as a solar god but who was also associated with the underworld (where the sun appears to spend half its time) and with crossing the boundary into the non-ordinary realm in order to obtain prophetic messages in the trance state, as at Apollo's temple at Delphi. For the discussion from In the Dark Places of Wisdom of the mysterious god Apollo, who has also been "rationalized" and depicted today as something much less than what he was in antiquity, see especially pages 77 - 82.

In fact, in three important inscriptions which were discovered during the twentieth century at the side of ancient Elea (or Velia) and which feature prominently in the mystery-story that Peter Kingsley explores in his text, the three persons commemorated take for their own name one of the names of Apollo himself: Oulis. 

Peter Kingsley writes:

Oulis was the name of someone dedicated to the god Apollo -- to Apollo Oulios as he was sometimes called. 
Apollo Oulis had his own special areas of worship, mainly in the western coastal regions of Anatolia. And as for the title Oulios, it contains a delightful ambiguity. Originally it meant 'deadly,' 'destructive,' 'cruel': every god has his destructive side. But the Greeks explained it another way, as meaning 'he who makes whole.' That, in a word, is Apollo -- the destroyer who heals, the healer who destroys.
If it was just a matter of a single person called Oulis you couldn't draw too many conclusions. But a string of three inscriptions all starting with the same name, this name, isn't a coincidence; and the way each of the men is referred to as Oulis makes one thing very plain. As the first people who published the texts already saw, these were men connected with Apollo not on a casual basis but systematically -- from generation to generation. 57.

Now what is absolutely stunning about all of this, in light of the connections we have just seen from the writings of the New Testament epistles of Paul, is the fact that Paul himself carries a name which refers to the god Apollo!

This is something that the mighty explicator of the celestial foundations of the Bible, Robert Taylor (1784 - 1844) makes quite clear in some of his lectures (which were also published posthumously). The tradition is that this author we call "Paul" was originally known as . . . "Saul"! And of course, as Robert Taylor points out, that word is pronounced just as the word "sol" is pronounced -- the very word that means "Sun" in Latin but which also can be found in the Hebrew Old Testament of course, not only in the character named Saul but also Solomon -- while his new name "Paul" is cognate with the "pol" that is found in both "Apollo" and "Pollux."

And so here we have a rather textbook example if ever there was one which fits the description from the passage just quoted out of Kingsley's In the Dark Places of Wisdom: "these were men connected with Apollo not on a casual basis but systematically -- from generation to generation."

Paul appears to have been part of that systematic, generational line preserving the ancient knowledge.

Which means that it didn't die out with the arrival of Plato or the Platonic school.

But it certainly appears to have come under heavy fire during the period from AD 100 through AD 500, when the literalists crushed out the gnostics and their teachings, so that their work had to go underground for the next seventeen or more centuries.

And note as well that, just as Dr. Kingsley's thesis argues in regards to the suppression of the ancient wisdom known to Parmeneides but later forgotten, those who suppressed this wisdom point to solutions that must be pursued externally to the individual, as opposed to the teaching that we are actually already in deep mystical connection with the divine, if we only learn how to "surrender" to it or be "caught up" by it.

There is much more that could be drawn out from further study of In the Dark Places of Wisdom in conjunction with Massey's enlightening lecture from nearly a hundred years before. But perhaps one of the most important is an almost-offhand remark which Massey includes at the end of paragraph 26 in his lecture. 

There, he says that this destruction of the true teaching which Paul was so zealous to try to pass on to his followers, and its replacement with "historical Christianity," has been "the greatest of all obstacles to mental development and the unity of the human race."

Several previous posts have discussed the reasons that a literalistic interpretation tends to divide men and women from one another -- and to divide them from nature, and even to divide them from themselves and from their true source of "stillness" and satisfaction, so that they must run after it elsewhere, futilely, in an endless cycle of frustration.

The horrible results can still be clearly seen today.

For this reason, it is absolutely essential that we take these matters to heart. 

Please share this information with as many people as you believe might find it to be beneficial.

Peace and blessings.

"The peace of utter stillness . . ."

"The peace of utter stillness . . ."

image: Ruins of the temple of Asclepius, Elea. Wikimedia commons (link).

Special thanks to a reader who recently introduced me to the work of Peter Kingsley, with whom I had previously been unfamiliar. 

I have now read one of Dr. Kingsley's four books, In the Dark Places of Wisdom (1999), which can accurately be described as "momentous in its implications" (in the words one prominent author has used to describe Dr. Kingsley's work).

The momentousness of the implications comes from Dr. Kingsley's discovery that something has been stolen from the culture that we today know as "the West" -- something so essential, that it is in fact the very thing which we each long for in our lives, and which we can wear ourselves out in pursuing and never reaching. 

In the Dark Places of Wisdom describes the problem:

And here's a great secret: we all have that vast missingness deep inside us [. . .] the more we feel that nothingness inside us, the more we feel the need to fill the void. So we try to substitute this and that, but nothing lasts. We keep wanting something else, needing some other need to keep us going [. . .]. 34-35.

Because of what has been stolen in antiquity, he argues, western culture has become "a past master at the art of substitution," but "It offers and never delivers because it can't. It has lost the power even to know what needs to be delivered, so it offers substitutes instead" (35). 

What we are seeking is described by Dr. Kingsley at one point as "the peace of utter stillness" (36), and of course we can never find this by rushing after it, searching for it everywhere -- but ironically there is a way in which it is accessible to every one of us, at all times.

According to his thesis, the knowledge of how to access "the peace of utter stillness" still exists in places outside of western culture, and because of this many moderns have assumed that such knowledge "never took root in the West" (115). "But," he says, "that's not the case." In fact, this knowledge was once at the heart of western culture -- and may indeed lie at the heart of its greatest ancient achievements. It's just that it has been covered over by what may be described as "a conspiracy of silence" (230).

He implies that the blame lies with the invention of a new definition of philosophy, in Athens, under Plato. Plato, the book argues, could almost be seen as a "parricide," who inherited the great ancient wisdom and then betrayed it -- metaphorically speaking, killing his own father. 

And the "father" that Platonic philosophy killed, Kingsley argues, was represented by an actual historical figure, one whose name has survived to this day: Parmenides of Elea.

Based upon new archaeological discoveries of marbles and inscriptions which had lain forgotten at the site of ancient Elea (or Velia, as it was also known and as it is spelled throughout In the Dark Places of Wisdom), along with the body of what had already been known about Parmenides (including the surviving fragments of his own writings), Peter Kingsley shows the reader that Parmenides came from an ancient line of wisdom-lovers who practiced the technique of achieving that "utter stillness" through the entry of a state of consciousness "described as neither sleep nor waking," in which they made contact with "another level of awareness and another level of being" (80).

In other words, Peter Kingsley has found yet another incredibly important line of evidence which demonstrates that what we today describe as "shamanic" (a word which he uses in the book) is in fact the shared inheritance of all humanity -- not least of all that portion which would later come to be known as "the West" -- but that in western culture this inheritance has somehow been lost, or stolen. 

The details are amazing and fascinating, and deserve to be read in their entirety in the book itself. Below are just a few noteworthy quotations, many of which appear to resonate very strongly with material that has been presented in this blog and in my 2014 book The Undying Stars, where similar conclusions have been reached based upon other sources of evidence -- which is just what we might expect to find, if in fact something like the loss posited in In the Dark Places of Wisdom has indeed taken place in western culture (due to font limitations, some diacritical markings over vowels, present in the original quotations, are not included here):

  • "Always we want to learn from outside, from absorbing other people's knowledge. It's safer that way. The trouble is that it's always other people's knowledge. We already have everything we need to know, in the darkness inside ourselves. The longing is what turns us inside out until we find the sun and the moon and the stars inside" (67).
  • "And the fact is that Parmenides never describes himself as traveling out of darkness into the light. When you follow what he says you see he was going in exactly the opposite direction" (51).
  • "The underworld isn't just a place of darkness and death. It only seems like that from a distance. In reality it's the supreme place of paradox where all the opposites meet. Right at the roots of western as well as eastern mythology there's the idea that the sun comes out of the underworld and goes back to the underworld every night. It belongs in the underworld. That's where it has its home; where its children come from. The source of light is at home in the darkness" (68).
  • "There used to be experts at incubation -- masters at the art of going into another state of consciousness or allowing themselves to go if they were drawn there. Sometimes they did this for the sake of healing others, but the point of incubation wasn't really the healing at all. That's simply how it seemed. What was most important was the fact that the healing comes from another level of being, from somewhere else. For these were people who were able to enter another world, make contact with the divine receive knowledge directly from the gods" (101-102). 
  • "The purpose was to free people's attention from distractions, to turn it in another direction so their awareness could start operating in an entirely different way. The stillness had a point to it, and that was to create an opening into a world unlike anything we're used to: a world that can only be entered 'in deep meditation, ecstasies and dreams'" (181).
  • "Ancient Greek accounts of incubation repeatedly mention certain signs that mark the point of entry into another world: into another state of awareness that's neither waking nor sleep. One of the sings is that you become aware of a rapid spinning movement. Another is that you hear the powerful vibration produced by a piping, whistling hissing sound." In India exactly the same signs are described as the prelude to entering samadhi, the state beyond sleep and waking. And they're directly related to the process known as the awakening of kundalini -- of the 'serpent power' that's the basic energy in all creation but that's almost completely asleep in human beings. When it starts waking up it makes a hissing sound" (128).
  • "The recipe is strictly esoteric, only for transmission from a spiritual 'father' to his adopted 'son'" (129).
  • "For us a song and a road are very different things. But in the language of ancient Greek epic poetry the word for 'road' and the word for 'song,' oimos and oime, are almost identical. They're linked, have the same origin. Originally the poet's song was quite simply a journey into another world: a world where the past and future are as accessible and real as the present. And his journey was his song. Those were the times when the poet was a magician, a shaman. [. . .] The words shamans use as they enter the state of ecstasy evoke the things they speak about. The poems they sing don't only describe their journeys; they're what makes the journeys happen. And shamans have always used repetition as a matter of course to invoke a consciousness quite different from our ordinary awareness: a consciousness where something else starts to take over. The repetition is what draws them into another world, away from all the things we know" (122 - 123).

Each of these quotations deserves careful and deep consideration. As does the entire book, and the message it is trying to tell us.

It is fascinating to note that in this ancient tradition of which Parmenides (or Parmeneides) was part, the entry into the condition of being "beyond sleep and waking" was understood to be essential for the "fields" of both healing and of properly ordering society and human activity. This same connection is also found in shamanic cultures around the world, and we have also seen that it appears to have been a central feature of the Therapeutae of the ancient world, discussed in this previous post.

Regarding the thesis that it was Plato (and the mindset of Athens in general) who is responsible for the loss of this ancient wisdom, I would say that it is very clear that Plato himself gives hints that his writing  (and especially his "story-form" writing) is not meant to be understood literally -- that Plato's writing is itself esoteric in nature -- and Peter Kingsley acknowledges that in this book.  

Indeed, he provides many quotations from Plato which indicate that Plato as well believed that the rules for ordering society had to come from the realm of the gods (and specifically from Apollo, who is not only the god of the sun but also of music, of healing, and of laws for the proper ordering of society and one's own life), which seems to undermine the argument that Plato or the Platonic school turned philosophy into an exercise in dead and dry "ratiocination" (to use a 19th-century term) rather than one of ecstatic travel into non-ordinary reality.

And, as I have explored previously, there is an important exchange in the dialogue known as the Phaedrus in which Plato has Socrates point to the temple at Delphi -- the most important oracle in the ancient world, and the place in which the priestess (the Pythia) would "cross over" into that same realm "beyond sleep and waking" in order to receive information directly from the divine (in this case, of course, from Apollo, whose importance is powerfully and insightfully explored throughout In the Dark Places of Wisdom). 

And so I am not so sure that Plato was actually the culprit.

I personally believe that there is strong evidence to support the conclusion that the actual forces that sought to destroy the esoteric and "shamanic" elements at the heart of what would come to be called "western culture" were not the Platonists but rather the creators of literalist Christianity, who spent the years that we (and they) designate as the second and third centuries AD vehemently opposing esoteric interpretations of the scriptures that they held sacred, and especially the various different schools and groups known as the Gnostics, and who eventually maneuvered into the capitol of the Roman Empire itself -- whereupon, during the reign of the emperor Theodosius, they extinguished both the Eleusinian Mysteries and the Oracle at Delphi.

Nevertheless, I am in complete agreement with Dr. Kingsley regarding the answer to the "vast missingness deep inside us," and the fact that we are all designed for and capable of "the peace of utter stillness," and that in fact we are in contact with this infinite stillness of the divine realm at all times, and we can access it through a nearly infinite variety of different techniques of ecstasy.

I am also in agreement that this ability to journey to the hidden realm is part of the ancient heritage of all humanity -- of the "western" part as well -- but that in the West it has been stolen, and suppressed, for well over a thousand years and nearly for two thousand.

This knowledge cannot be hidden forever. It is right there, in each of us, ready to be found.

Many thanks to Peter Kingsley for his work in revealing an incredibly important part of this story, and to Mr. J____ for pointing me to it.

a few additional previous posts with some resonance to the subjects discussed above include:

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

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

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Numerous previous posts, including


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professor Lewis says of this scene:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

below are some other images of oracle bones

. . .

above image: Wikimedia commons (link).

above image: Wikimedia commons (link).

above image: Wikimedia commons (link).

above image: Wikimedia commons (link).



image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The preceding post examined evidence found in the treatise on the Therapeutae, written by Philo of Alexandria sometime prior to AD 40 or 50, which suggests that -- in addition to pursuing an ascetic lifestyle characterized by a vegetarian diet, daily intermittent fasting, regular periods of longer fasting, long periods of meditation and prayer, simplicity of dress, lack of material possessions, and participation in a community of others who practiced the same lifestyle -- the Therapeutae studied ancient sacred writings with an eye to their esoteric content and message, and that at least some of the Therapeutae were able to enter a state of ecstatic trance in which they spoke messages which came from the realm of non-ordinary reality.

In that post, we also examined the arguments of Gerald Massey (1828 - 1907) regarding the importance of the many similarities between the ancient descriptions of the beliefs and practices of ascetic communities such as the Therapeutae and the doctrines described in many of the New Testament texts. 

Massey points out that early literalist Christian authorities such as Eusebius (c. AD 260 - c. AD 340) would sometimes try to argue that these similarities are evidence that the Therapeutae were very early communities of literalist Christians, but that in doing so those writers make a revealing error, because in doing so:

  • these writers admit the undeniable similarities between elements of the Therapeutae descriptions and the sayings attributed to Christ or taught in the New Testament Epistles, but that . . .
  • because the Therapeutae and other such communities -- and their teachings -- were in existence long before the time of the New Testament, this shows that they are part of a stream which is far more ancient, and which thus refutes the historical framework advanced by literalist polemicists such as Eusebius.

In other words, one way of expressing this thesis would be to say that surviving descriptions of ancient communities such as the Therapeutae contain evidence that places these ancient communities squarely within the current of the rest of the world's ancient wisdom traditions -- traditions which can also be shown to be founded upon esoteric sacred texts or mythologies, and to be founded upon a worldview which included ecstatic trance and which can be described as essentially shamanic -- but that the literalist-historicist system advanced by Eusebius and others during the subsequent centuries rejected both the esoteric and shamanic aspects and consciously and deliberately cut itself off from that same current of the world's ancient knowledge.  

Rather than representing a new and different teaching, the texts of the New Testament can be shown to be based upon the same system of celestial metaphor common to the rest of the world's sacred traditions, and to contain clear parallels to other systems of myth going back thousands of years (some previous posts discussing aspects of this evidence include "The shamanic foundation of the world's ancient wisdom," "Namaste and Amen," "Epiphany: revealing the hidden divine nature," "The Angel Gabriel," and many others). 

And, rather than representing an early example of a new Christian faith built upon a literal and historicist interpretation of these ancient scriptures, communities such as the Therapeutae can be shown to be part of a very ancient wisdom tradition, and one with strong parallels literally around the world. In other words, it fits into a stream which appears to connect humanity both across the distances of time and of space: one which not only flows back across time through millennia, but one which also appears to flow across vast stretches of geographical space, across continents and seemingly very different cultures.

And, when the literalists self-consciously cut themselves off from this stream, it can be said that they also in a way cut themselves off from a deep connection to the universe, insofar as their insistence on approaching the sacred texts as descriptive of literal, historical events which took place on planet earth can be seen as a deliberate repudiation of the celestial basis underlying all the stories of the Biblical scriptures, from Adam and Eve and the Serpent, to the story of Noah and his three sons, to the sacrifice of Abraham, the crossing of the Red Sea, the adventures of Samson, the horrible oath of Jephthah, the Judgement of Solomon, the events in the life of Elisha, the Vision of Ezekiel, and all the rest -- including the stories in the New Testament as well.

One important message conveyed by all of these stories is the connection between humanity and the wider universe -- the stories themselves depict stars, planets, constellations, and the sun and moon as human beings walking on earth and going through all "the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to" (as Hamlet says). In doing so, they implicitly suggest that we ourselves and our "motions" in this mortal life are in some way connected to and reflective of the motions of those heavenly actors.

Indeed, as many previous posts and the book The Undying Stars discuss at length, the deeper esoteric message of the Star Myths found in the Bible and in the rest of the ancient sacred traditions and scriptures around the world may involve a view of the universe in which there is an unseen spirit realm in addition to the visible material reality with which we are familiar, and the message that the material realm is in fact connected to, interpenetrated by, and even projected from the unseen realm.

By cutting themselves off from this understanding, the literalists were in effect cutting themselves off from and setting themselves against not only all the other cultures and sacred traditions of the rest of humanity but also the very "flow of the universe" itself -- that concept which is expressed in Taoism as the eternal Tao.

The details of the Therapeutae described by Philo, and the attempts by later literalists such as Eusebius to co-opt them into literalist Christianity, provide an invaluable window through which to observe this important concept in action. For the literalist system advanced by Eusebius and his colleagues can be seen to have strongly rejected what are arguably the most vital aspects of the Therapeutae way as described by Philo: their allegorical and non-literalistic hermeneutic with regard to sacred texts (which, as I have argued above, convey an esoteric message involving a deep connection between our lives on earth and the motions of the heavens and of the earth on its course around the sun, and to the spirit world which interpenetrates and thus connects everything in this visible universe), their high regard for knowledge obtained while in a state of trance (which is a form of direct and unmediated revelation to the individual, and which provides immediate confirmation of the invisible connection just described), and even their decision to abstain from the eating of flesh (which evinces a sense of connection to the other creatures of our planet, rather than the belief that animals are created for humanity's exploitation, which has led to the situation today in which animals in the food industry are regularly treated in the most inhumane manner imaginable, a situation only possible in a society in which large numbers of people feel no connection to these animals at all).

All of these aspects of the Therapeutae can be seen as belonging to the family of teachings which seek to align with what we could describe as the flow of the universe, or the Tao -- and they are the very aspects of the Therapeutae way which were not incorporated into literalist Christianity, which is in keeping with the above observation that the literalist approach to the scriptures almost of necessity represented a self-imposed isolation not just from the rest of the world's wisdom traditions but also from the flow of the universe itself.

And here is where another insight from Gerald Massey opens up a whole new vista of evidence to support this assertion. Beginning most explicitly in the fourteenth paragraph of the treatise entitled "Gnostic and Historic Christianity" which was discussed in the preceding post, Massey argues that the Therapeutae seem to be part of a tradition stretching back to the Pythagoreans, and that this connection was indeed advanced by at least one important ancient author.

The reader may remember that the Pythagoreans were strongly associated in ancient times with the practice of a vegetarian diet (see discussions here and here, for example), as well as the fact that the Pythagoreans practiced a deeply esoteric approach to number, with the study of number and geometry functioning very much as an ancient "text" from which they derived profound truths regarding the nature of the universe and of human existence, in exactly the same way that other esoteric communities derived the same understanding from written texts or sacred myth. Thus, the possibility of a continuity of tradition between the practices of the Pythagoreans and those described by Philo among the Therapeutae appears to be well-founded. It obviously argues that the practices of the Therapeutae are part of a stream that is much older than the literalists such as Eusebius would have us believe.

There is also the abundance of ancient texts which declare that Pythagoras was an accomplished healer, and that he believed and taught the healing power of music, rhythm and vibration -- and that he in fact "tuned himself up" every morning with a period of singing, dancing, and playing the lyre! This connection provides yet another support for placing the Pythagoreans and the Therapeutae within the same ancient stream, because as we have seen from Philo's description, the Therapeutae also placed great emphasis on the importance of harmonic and rhythmic singing, and of course their very name has come to be associated with healing the body -- a very important aspect of this group which connects them not only to the Pythagoreans but to many other similar groups found in other cultures as well (and see also this previous post).

Whether of not Pythagoras was a literal and historical human figure is actually open to debate, but the traditions surrounding his life state quite clearly that much of his knowledge came from Egypt, where he is said to have traveled in order to gain access to the ancient wisdom kept by the Egyptian priests.

Massey then offers some linguistic connections which lead to some frankly mind-blowing possibilities. He argues that the root of the name Pythagoras most likely stems from the ancient Egyptian god Ptah, which can also yield Putha and Put, and which may in fact be the original source of the name of the Buddha, and even of the Therapeutae!

Now, this is truly a revolutionary insight. Because, as noted in the preceding post, some of the features Philo describes regarding the Therapeutae -- such as the abstention from eating meat, the simplicity of dress, and the giving away of all possessions -- are not really features associated with the literalist Christianity advocated by Eusebius and his colleagues, but they are indeed features strongly associated with many expressions of "Eastern" traditions including Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and others. 

And, previous posts have made note of the parallels (which have been noted by other researchers as well) between some aspects of ancient Egyptian priests and priestesses (of Isis, for instance) and elements of Buddhist monasticism. Also, I believe Patricia Awyan in correspondence with me has mentioned the importance of the Ptah connection as well.

Taking the ball from Massey at this point and running with it a little further, so to speak, it can also be argued on linguistic principles that the word Tao could be said to have connections to the name of the invisible Ptah as well. And thus we see that the name of the Egyptian Ptah can be argued to have connections to Buddhism (if we insert a vowel between the first two consonants, which also leads to the connections to the name of Pythagoras) and to Taoism (if we do not).

Further, while some may protest such a connection, it is linguistically feasible to suggest a connection to the sacred name JAH along these same lines as well, which is the version of the divine name used in Psalm 68 and verse 4.

Additionally, we might also argue that there are sound reasons to suggest a connection between the name of Ptah and the Egyptian name Sahu, which was associated with the constellation of Orion. 

The likelihood that Orion was associated with the Egyptian god Osiris is well-known, has been argued for over a century by many researchers, and is I believe well-established by the evidence offered by researchers such as Hertha von Dechend and Giorgio de Santillana in Hamlet's Mill, and Jane B. Sellers in Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt  (see also the discussion in previous blog posts including "Dawn of the Golden Age," "Precession = the Key," "Hamlet, Hamlet's Mill, and Astro-Theology," and "Capella, precession, and the end of the Golden Age").  

However, there are strong connections between the characteristics associated with Osiris and many of the characteristics of the god Ptah, who was also anciently depicted as being swathed in mummy-clothes as was Osiris, and who fulfills a role very similar to that of Osiris within some aspects of ancient Egyptian theology, particularly that associated with Memphis which is sometimes known as the "Memphite theology." Further, in ancient depictions of Ptah, he is regularly shown holding a Djed-column scepter, which is a symbol that is also strongly associated with Osiris and with Orion. 

Thus, the possible connection between Ptah and Sahu -- already defensible on linguistic grounds alone -- appears to have further evidence to back it up. 

It can also be noted at this point that Osiris (and other "Osirian" figures in other myth-systems, including Saturn and Kronos) was a deity associated with grain, and with teaching humanity how to cultivate the fields for food (and, in some myths, with teaching humanity to refrain from eating one another as food -- he was a "civilizing" figure in many ancient myths, dwelling on earth and presiding over a Golden Age of peace). Thus, the fact that the Pythagoreans and the Therapeutae were practitioners of vegetarianism suggests that this proposed connection to Sahu in addition to Ptah is defensible from multiple angles.

We can even go so far (although this is, admittedly, wandering rather "far afield") and suggest the possibility that the word Shaman itself may somehow connect back to these shared sounds of Sahu, Tao, JAH, and Ptah. 

It is true that the word Shaman is of Tungusian origin, from a land and a people very far removed from ancient Egypt. And yet, it is equally true that one of the most essential characteristics of the Shaman, in cultures around the world, is his or her role as a healer. That this healing technique almost always involves singing, chanting, and the playing of harmonic flutes or rhythmic drums seems to argue some kind of parallel with the practices attributed to the Pythagoreans and the Therapeutae, and hence the possibility of a linguistic connection between these names is not too outrageous to make. 

It is also well-attested that Shamans around the world express their voyages to the spirit world in terms which are frequently celestial in nature, and in fact the evidence of possible shamanic aspects of ancient Egyptian sacred tradition and of some kind of connection between ancient Egyptian knowledge and shamanic technique found around the world is abundant, and worthy of careful consideration (some of it is discussed in previous posts such as this one and this one).

And so, what we are seeing is that there are strong arguments to be made for a connection between all of these different expressions of ancient wisdom, and of a consistent stream which stretches back deep into the time of ancient Egypt, and which can already be seen to potentially unite some aspects of Taoism, Buddhism, and Shamanic culture. The Therapeutae described in Philo's text appear to be squarely within that ancient stream, and the fact that their sacred texts sometimes express the sacred name in the form JAH can be seen as a connection to PTAH, TAO, and even BUDDHA. 

The chart below shows one way of outlining these connections:

This chart, following the argument of Massey, depicts the different linguistic permutations as being descended originally from the ancient Egyptian name of Ptah, and there are certainly good reasons to decide that ancient Egypt's incredible antiquity argues for Egypt as the original source and fount of all the others. After all, Ptah may be an even more ancient god than Osiris, and Osiris and his myth-series was already fully developed by the time the Pyramid Texts were inscribed, some of the most ancient  texts known to history, some of which were written as early as 2300 BC (which argues that the Osiris myths are even older than that, and the Ptah myths may be older still).

However, it is also certainly possible to posit that all of these different names descended directly from some still more ancient source, and that they all resemble one another only because they all resemble some original name from this now-unknown original source.

The diagram below shows this possibility, and adds yet more names from the world's sacred traditions which may serve to show how widespread and indeed universal this ancient stream really may be:

Here, in addition to the names already discussed, are added several more whose linguistic connections may be disputed, but which are certainly defensible as possibilities under the generally accepted principles of linguistic transmutation of related sounds.

In the first line we see the names PTAH, TAO, JAH and PUT, which have already been discussed. Below these are PytahgorasBuddha, and Therapeutae, but also Manitou, which is a name from the Native cultures of North America which can be used to describe both the denizens of the spirit world (the Manitous) but also when singular is used to indicate the Great Spirit.

In the next line below that, we see listed Sahu and Shaman, but also the Native American sacred name Ta-Iowa or Taiowa, which is a name which the Hopi elders used when they passed on their sacred traditions to Frank Waters and Oswald White Bear Fredericks in order to ensure that their ancient wisdom was not lost or forgotten, and which can be found in written form in The Book of the Hopi. The linguistic connections of this name to the sacred name of JAH can hardly be disputed. It is also difficult to ignore the fact that this name has been preserved as the name of one of the United States: the state of Iowa, discussed in this previous post.

These examples from the Native American sacred traditions shows that this stream not only stretches across millennia but that it also spans the globe. It is the stream within which the Therapeutae can be seen to be firmly planted, but from which the literalists such as Eusebius were consciously separating themselves.

That previous post on Iowa and the sacred name also discusses the likelihood that the names of Zeus and Jupiter (or Iu-Pater or Zeus-Pater) fit within this same family of names and can be shown to be linguistically connected to JAH and TA-IOWA.

The implications of all this apparent connection between the sacred myths and sacred scriptures of the world (to include those which ended up in the Bible, but which were radically reinterpreted by the literalists) are indeed profound.

This analysis would suggest that, although they have superficial differences, there are important fundamental connections between the worldviews that are expressed around the globe and across the ages in the messages of the Tao, of the Buddha, of ancient Egypt, of the Pythagoreans, of the Biblical texts esoterically understood, of Greek myth, of Native American spiritual teaching, and of shamanic cultures in general.

It also suggests that all of these traditions emphasize an interconnectedness of all creatures as well as an interconnectedness between individual men and women, and between humanity as a whole, and the rest of the earth and indeed the entire universe, including the invisible realm which flows through the entire universe and every being within it. 

We can also see in many of the specific descriptions and practices of groups such as the Therapeutae, the Pythagoreans, and many expressions of this spiritual stream in Buddhism and Taoism an emphasis on the importance of living in harmony with the invisible flow and energy of the universe, or with the Tao (to use the name given to this concept in one of these related traditions). The knowledge of ways to preserve or restore health to the human body which is obviously very central to many of these related traditions can be seen as a direct and logical aspect of this emphasis on trying to align with and remain in harmony with the energy of the universe or the Tao.

And, indeed, this emphasis can be clearly seen in the stories contained in the New Testament Gospels themselves.

However, although some literalist Christian writers try to argue that groups such as the Therapeutae represent early members of their literalistic system, the similarities are only superficial, and it is clear that the literalists rejected the most important features of the Therapeutae approach, the features that connect the Therapeutae to the wider and deeper current which flows also through the Pythagoreans, the ancient Egyptians, and connects even further to Buddhism and Taoism and to shamanic cultures around the globe.

In setting themselves against this ancient stream, the early proponents of literalism may or may not have realized that they were setting themselves against all of these things. And yet it is quite evident from the above analysis that this is in fact exactly what they did do. 

Because of this, and because of the fact that "western culture" can be seen to be directly descended from and most powerfully influenced by the heirs of Eusebius and the system that they put into motion, it can be clearly demonstrated that modern western civilization today is directly at odds with the flow of the universe in numerous important and world-threatening areas. 

Additionally, it can even be said that modern western society discourages harmony in many ways, and that it contains powerful structures which seem almost purpose-built to hinder individual men and women from aligning themselves with the Tao, and even some which seem purpose-built to actually act to the detriment of the health of their physical bodies in many ways -- the opposite of the goal of healers and healing communities such as the Pythagoreans or the Therapeutae.

And, it can certainly be said that modern western society is built around principles which are basically the exact opposite of the practice attributed to the Therapeutae of giving away their possessions and living with very little "stuff."

If we examine the scriptures themselves, we might ask ourselves which approach seems more in line with those ancient texts: that which resulted from centuries of literalist influence, and which we see manifested in modern western civilization today, or that pursued by the Therapeutae and other communities who lived prior to the rise of literalism, or who were far enough away from the Roman Empire to avoid falling under its sway in the subsequent centuries.

The good news is that, as the analysis above demonstrates rather conclusively (I think), it is really the divisions between us that are artificial: all cultures and all people (including those  whose connection to the ancient wisdom was stamped out by the rise of literalism in Europe during the Roman Empire and in subsequent centuries) are actually connected by this ancient stream, which exhibits different surface characteristics in different places and different time periods, but whose core practices or teachings can almost always be shown to share a few important common features. 

And, whether we recognize it or not, we are all actually connected one to another, as well as to the earth and to the infinite universe, and to the invisible realm which may in fact be the most important element which connects it all.

It is the self-imposed separation initiated by the literalists from the rest of the world's traditions, and from what we could hardly do better than to refer to as "the Tao," which is really the artificial separation, and indeed the illusory separation.

Even the very names show that this separation is an illusion, and that JAH, TAO, PTAH, TA-IOWA, BUDDHA, and all the rest reveal that we are all part of the same stream which flows around and through us all and connects us with one another and with the universe.