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"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:

The Crossing of the Red Sea

The Crossing of the Red Sea

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The response to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled "How Did Moses Part the Red Sea? The science of tides may have saved the Israelites from the Egyptians" has been quite interesting. 

Since its publication on December 5th, it has been the "most popular" story listed in the right-hand column for several days in a row, and only today slipped to the "second-most-popular" position. Further, the story has stirred up an often-contentious train of reader comments now over six hundred in number. 

Clearly, the subject of the historicity of this story from the ancient Hebrew scripture, as well as the possible "mechanics" of this particular miracle, remains extremely compelling to many men and women to this day.

The article in question was written by Dr. Bruce Parker, former chief scientist of NOAA's National Ocean Service, now a visiting professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology, and author of a new book on The Power of the Sea: Tsunamis, Storm Surges, Rogue Waves, and Our Quest to Predict Disasters. The hypothesis he presents in his article, in short (please read his actual article for full details), is that Moses used his knowledge of the tides to spring a nature-based trap on the pursuing armies of Pharaoh:

Moses had lived in the nearby wilderness in his early years, and he knew where caravans crossed the Red Sea at low tide. He knew the night sky and the ancient methods of predicting the tide, based on where the moon was overhead and how full it was. Pharaoh and his advisers, by contrast, lived along the Nile River, which is connected to the almost tideless Mediterranean Sea. They probably had little knowledge of the tides of the Red Sea and how dangerous they could be.

Dr. Parker even speculates that Moses might have used the observation of the dust clouds thrown up by Pharaoh's army and their chariots, and used their progress to time his springing of the trap. He posits that Moses could have gotten all the people across to safety in advance, and then "sent a few of his best people back onto the temporarily dry sea bed to entice Pharaoh's chariots to chase them."

("It's a trap!")

As Dr. Parker is someone whose professional interests involve awareness and prediction of the powerful ebbs and flows of the sea, such an explanation would certainly seem to appeal to him, and his expertise in the area would make him capable of assessing the possibility that tides changes could have been involved. Predictably, however, his hypothesis has raised a chorus of protests from a wide variety of readers, many of them upset that he is suggesting a natural phenomenon to replace direct supernatural intervention, and many others upset at the suggestion that there is any history to the story at all, or that he is discussing the Red Sea as the body of water that Moses and the Israelites crossed in the Exodus story, rather than some other body of water such as the Nile delta.

Having just completed a series of posts arguing that critical analysis should include consideration of every possible explanation, and the examination of evidence in order to help determine which explanation best fits the evidence, I believe that Dr. Parker should be commended for offering a hypothesis and for bringing his professional knowledge and experience to bear on the question (those previous posts on the importance of analysis include "Analysis: Against mind control, for human consciousness" and "Thomas Jefferson and Immanuel Kant on reason, analysis, and mind control," plus my recent interview with Professor James Tracy of MemoryHoleBlog in which the same important subject was a topic of conversation).

While I don't believe this particular explanation is the best fit for the body of evidence available, I do not believe it should be rejected out of hand as some of the comment-writers seem to be doing, simply based on  commitment to a prior dogma, whether literalistic Biblical dogma, "ideology of materialism" dogma, or some other.

I believe that it can be demonstrated that the overwhelming bulk of the evidence strongly argues that the stories of the Old Testament and New Testament are esoteric metaphors built upon the motions of the sun, moon, stars and planets through the sky, and the daily, monthly, yearly, and even multi-year cycles created by these heavenly bodies.

Previous posts have outlined the numerous, detailed points of correspondence between the celestial actors and specific stories in the Old and New Testaments, including the story of Adam and Eve, the birth in the manger and the visit of the Magi, the events foretold in Revelation chapter 9, the story of Elisha and the two she-bears, the Ark of Noah and the dove, the episode Noah's sons Shem, Ham and Japheth, the episodes in the life of Samson, the sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter, the near-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, and many, many more.

Further, it can be demonstrated that myths from around the world also appear to follow the very same pattern of celestial metaphor!

This index lists many of those, along with links to previous posts discussing them -- and it is by no means exhaustive but merely scratches the surface of the available stories which could be examined and found to be built upon the motions of the heavens.

This evidence is absolutely astonishing. It suggests that the conventional paradigm of the ancient history of the human race may be grievously incomplete. It also suggests that the stories recorded in the Old and New Testaments -- like the sacred myths and legends from the other cultures around the globe -- are not a record of literal, historical events enacted by human actors upon the earthly terrain, but rather poetical, metaphorical, esoteric stories describing the stately motions of the majestic celestial actors upon the infinite stage of the heavens.

In other words, we do not actually need to get too narrowly-focused upon the details of Professor Parker's theory which tries to fit the events of the Red Sea crossing described in Exodus into the tidal mechanics of our terrestrial oceans and seas, if the overwhelming bulk of stories in the Bible contain abundant clues indicating that they are celestial in nature. We need not point out that the "tidal trap" theory requires the armies of Egypt to show up at almost the exact perfect moment to venture out into tidal flats and then get swallowed up by the incoming tide -- a rather unlikely scenario -- or that the region uncovered by the low tide would probably have been fairly uninviting for masses of chariots and horses in the first place. Such details do seem to argue against Dr. Parker's hypothesis, but they are actually quite tiny details once we "zoom out" to survey the much wider landscape composed of Bible story after Bible story after Bible story which each testify to their celestial foundation. To argue that this one story, the crossing of the Red Sea, was an historical event which somehow managed to be preserved in scrolls filled with celestial metaphors on either side of it as far as the eye can see would appear to be a bad fit for the majority of the evidence.

Further, the fact that we can find very compelling evidence within the Red Sea crossing narrative itself pointing to its own celestial nature provides even more conclusive proof that this crossing is a heavenly and metaphorical event, and not an earthly and historical-literal one.

In order to explore some of this evidence within the Red Sea episode, we must understand the important "zodiac wheel," which depicts the cycle of the year using the background of the twelve zodiac signs within which the sun successively appears to rise each morning on the eastern horizon as we progress throughout our annual circuit (for some visual discussion of what causes this, see the "dining room table" analogy depicted in this video I made some years back).

This annual circuit, with its backdrop of the twelve zodiac signs, is conveniently divided into four quarters by the important "station points" of the two solstices and the two equinoxes (numerous previous posts have tried to illustrate the mechanics behind these four points using various metaphors -- one metaphor I find to be helpful is the "earth-ship metaphor" described in this post).

Previous posts have already discussed the evidence that this ancient world-wide system of celestial metaphor often depicted the equinox points, where the sun's ecliptic path crosses back above the celestial equator during the day (initiating the half of the year in which days are longer than nights) and back down below the celestial equator during the day (initiating the half of the year in which days are shorter than nights) as places of sacrifice -- see for example this postthis post, and the discussion of the sacrifice or near-sacrifice of Iphigenia discussed on pages 34 through 37 in the online preview chapters from my book, The Undying Stars).

In those stories of sacrifice, which contain clues to indicate that they pertain to one or the other of the equinoxes, there is almost always a direction mentioned: the sacrifice is at a crossing going up (the spring equinox) or at a crossing going down (the fall equinox). Is it possible that the crossing of the Red Sea, in which the ancient scriptures tell us that Moses led the children of Israel up out of Egypt,* also represents an equinoctial crossing? I believe there is good evidence to suggest that this is the case.

Below is the zodiac wheel, with the two crossing points of the equinoxes marked with a red "X" at each equinox point. The horizontal dividing line separates the "lower half" of the year -- from the fall equinox through winter and then back to the spring equinox, the half of the year when days are shorter than nights -- from the "upper half" of the year, which stretches from the spring equinox up through the summer solstice and then back down to the fall equinox at the other "X":

It can be demonstrated rather conclusively that the start of the year among many ancient cultures, including the ancient Hebrews, was associated with the point of crossing of the spring equinox (the "X" located on the left side of the wheel as laid out above). Thus, the zodiac sign that metaphorically could be said to "lead" all the other signs (the zodiac sign at the "start-point" of the circular train of signs) would be the one who was "leading" across that "starting line" at the spring equinox (the "left-side X" in the diagram).

In the wheel above, which depicts the Age of Aries, that leader is the zodiac constellation of Aries the Ram (you can see that it is the first sign "above the line" at the left of the diagram, at the equinox crossing-up point).

This is the sign who leads the "children of Israel" (the other eleven signs) up "out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage." In this version of the metaphor, the lower half of the year, the wintery half of the year, the half of the year in which the forces of darkness oppress the forces of light, is allegorized as the land of Egypt, "the house of bondage." In other myths, this lower half is allegorized as Hades, or Tartaros, or Sheol, or the land of Troy in the Iliad of Homer, and many other depictions in many different cultures.

Thus, Moses can be seen as playing the role of Aries the Ram in this particular story, leading his people up out of bondage (the lower half of the wheel) and making the upward crossing at the spring equinox over to the other side, where there is much rejoicing (days once again becoming longer than nights). Further evidence to support this reading can be found later, at the incident of the golden calf (Exodus 32), when Aaron the brother of Moses makes the idol of a bull-calf and tells the people that "These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt" (Exodus 32:4). Moses is furious at this declaration: Taurus the Bull is not the leader of the zodiac band: the precessional Age of Taurus preceded the Age of Aries, but it is over and now the declaration that the bull led them up out of Egypt is infuriating to Moses.

Further confirmation that this entire episode is metaphorical and based upon the zodiac wheel comes from an examination of the chariots and horsemen that the Exodus account is very careful to describe as being destroyed by the sea. The actual crossing of the Red Sea is described in Exodus 14, and in verses 18 and 19 the Egyptian army is twice described in identical terms, as consisting of "Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen," as if we are to be very clear that horses are present. But this emphasis on the host of chariots and horsemen, as the Reverend Robert Taylor (1784 - 1844) points out in his Astronomico-Theological Lectures (see especially 393-394), creates a significant problem for those who take the Exodus account as intending to depict literal terrestrial events, because in Exodus 9 just a few chapters before, God declared in no uncertain terms to Moses to tell Pharaoh that the next plague visited upon Egypt would be upon "thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep" (Exodus 9:3), and that on the next morrow "all the cattle of Egypt died: but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one" (verse 6).

It is possible, of course, to argue that the plague promised only sickened the horses of Egypt and did not kill them all, but even so it is rather astonishing to see the mighty armies of Pharaoh which pursue Moses and the children of Israel so full of chariots and horses -- unless the entire story is describing the celestial cycles involving the zodiac wheel and not a literal and historic event that took place on the earth.

Also, the following plague described in Exodus 9:19 and following -- the plague of hail -- would seem to be designed to kill off any remaining beasts from Egypt that were not killed by the previous plague just described. There, God tells Moses to have the children of Israel bring their beasts out of the fields, because when the plague of hail comes, "every man and beast which shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die" (Exodus 9:19). Between these two plagues, it is difficult to argue that many horses would be left in Egypt, and even if there were some left, they would hardly be in a condition to swell a mighty army to pursue Moses.

Again, however, this is only a problem if the event is not a metaphor -- and the evidence outside of this story, from many, many other stories within the Bible itself and from myth around the globe all argue that it is.

Now, we might ask ourselves: if the event actually is a heavenly metaphor, then why would there be such an emphasis upon there being horses and chariots in the army that is "left behind" to be buried at the bottom of the sea, when the children of Israel led by Moses "cross over" (or up) to the other side?

Following the analysis of Robert Taylor, I believe the answer can be found if we look again at the zodiac wheel, and at the very bottom of the lower half of the year (the half which I believe -- in this particular metaphorical telling -- represents the oppressive forces of Pharaoh) you will see the sign of Sagittarius, positioned at one side of the winter solstice point, the very lowest point on the entire zodiac wheel.

Sagittarius is a horseman, and archer (sometimes a centaur) -- and just as the Ram is crossing up over the horizontal line towards the "promised land" of longer days and the rule of light over darkness, Sagittarius is left below at the very bottom of the year: in fact, at the very bottom of the sea.

Further support for this interpretation is provided by the actions of Miriam the sister of Aaron, after the safe crossing is accomplished. In Exodus 15:20 and following, we are told that she "took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and dances," and sang that the LORD had triumphed gloriously, and "the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea" (Exodus 15:20 - 21). The text is here giving us a very strong hint that Miriam in this case is played by the important zodiac constellation of Virgo, whose constellation actually includes a faint circular disc of stars which is allegorized in ancient myth in many ways, but sometimes as a "timbrel" or "tambourine" (see discussion here).

If you look again at the zodiac wheel, you can see why Miriam is the one who "answers" the song of Moses (also presented in Exodus 15): she is the other constellation located "just above the line" which separates the "upper half" of the year from the "lower half," if she is indeed associated with the constellation Virgo (as her timbrel indicates that she is). If you look at the zodiac wheel diagram, you will see Virgo located across the wheel, just above the horizontal line and just before the "X" on the right-hand side of the diagram as we look at it on the page. Thus, she and Moses are "above" the line (they have "crossed the Red Sea," and escaped from Egypt) -- and both of them are glorying in the fact that the "horse and his rider" are "cast down" in the depths, below the line. They are almost certainly referring to Sagittarius in these verses.

Thus, I believe that the efforts to try to find "natural" explanations for the events of Exodus, including this episode of the crossing of the Red Sea, are misguided. In fact, the Greek philosopher Plato made much the same argument against the kind of explanations that Dr. Parker is pursuing in the article mentioned above, in the dialogue known as the Phaedrus (circa 360 BC).

In that dialogue, Plato has Socrates gently ridicule such efforts to use natural phenomenon such as unusual weather in trying to explain the myths (in this case, of course, Socrates discusses Greek myth and not Hebrew scripture). And, in doing so, Socrates also drops a hint as to what these celestial metaphors are actually to be used for instead.

In the Phaedrus, as discussed in this previous post, the young Phaedrus is walking with Socrates along the banks of the river Ilissus, and Phaedrus asks: "Tell me, Socrates, isn't it somewhere about here that they say Boreas seized Orithyia from the river?" Phaedrus then presses the question further, and gets to what he really means to ask, which is: "pray tell me, Socrates, do you believe that story to be true?"

Socrates gives a most revealing answer:

I should be quite in the fashion if I disbelieved it, as the men of science do. I might proceed to give a scientific account of how the maiden, while at play with Pharmacia, was blown by a gust of Boreas down from the rocks hard by, and having thus met her death was said to have been seized by Boreas, though it may have happened on the Areopagus, according to another version of the occurrence. For my part, Phaedrus, I regard such theories as no doubt attractive, but as the invention of clever, industrious people who are not exactly to be envied, for the simple reason that they must then go on and tell us the real truth about the appearance of centaurs and the Chimera, not to mention a whole host of such creatures, Gorgons and Pegasuses and countless other remarkable monsters of legend flocking in on them. If our skeptic, with his somewhat crude science, means to reduce every one of them to the standard of probability, he'll need a deal of time for it. I myself have certainly no time for the business, and I'll tell you why, my friend. I can't as yet 'know myself,' as the inscription at Delphi enjoins, and so long as that ignorance remains it seems to me ridiculous to inquire into extraneous matters. Consequently I don't bother about such things, but accept the current beliefs about them, and direct my inquiries, as I have just said, rather to myself [. . .]. From the translation of Reginald Hackforth (1887 - 1957), found in this edition of Collected Dialogues, page 478.

Note that Socrates, in Plato's telling of it, offers up a theory that he imagines might be current among "clever, industrious people who are not exactly to be envied" and who are in fact wasting their time. Instead, Socrates says it is better to just accept the stories and concentrate on the enjoinder of the famous inscription of Delphi: "Know thyself."

I believe it is entirely possible that this is Plato's way of telling us that the actual message and purpose of the myths is to help us to pursue that very command from the temple at Delphi: "Know thyself." The message of the myths has to do with understanding who we are, a curious mixture of spirit and matter, like stars cast down from the proper realm above (the spirit realm) to be plunged into this "underworld" of incarnation in the physical and material realm of earth and water (imprisoned in bodies of "clay," as Genesis describes it). This is the "house of bondage" below the horizontal line of the zodiac wheel, where we toil towards the point of ascent again into those "upper realms."

And, as we do so, we are in fact "crossing the Red Sea" -- we are toiling along as spirit-sparks encased inside a material body: a material body animated by the pumping tides of our own internal Red Sea. Alvin Boyd Kuhn elaborates on this interpretation at great length in his 1940 masterpiece, Lost Light.

This, at least according to Plato and Socrates, may be the real message of this story -- and naturalistic explanations involving "gusts of wind" may be superficially attractive, but ultimately they lead us off the trail. Unfortunately, this is what I suspect Socrates might say about the theory of Dr. Parker.

However, if we read the final lines of Dr. Parker's article in a more metaphorical sense, rather than the apparently literal sense in which they are written, perhaps they contain a profound message for us after all. He says: "If the tide was indeed involved in Moses' 'parting' of the Red Sea, it has to qualify as the most dramatic and consequential tide prediction in history."

In fact, Alvin Boyd Kuhn would argue that this "crimson tide" does indeed qualify as "the most dramatic and consequential" concept of them all, for he says:

It can indeed be said that the one sure and inerrant key to the Bibles is the simple concept of fire plunging into water, the fire being spiritual mind-power and water being the constituent element of physical bodies, -- as well as the symbol of matter. Soul (spirit) as fire, plunged down into body, as water, and therein had its baptism. Hence soul's incarnation on earth was endlessly depicted and dramatized as its crossing a body of water, a Jordan River, Styx River, Red Sea, Reed Sea. Since the water element of human bodies is the "sea" which the soul of fire has to cross in its successive incarnations, and it is red in color, the "Red Sea" of ancient Scriptures is just the human body blood. Esoteric Structure of the Alphabet and Its Hidden Mystical Language, 20.

And so, although this Red Sea is "just" the human body blood, it is indeed the "most dramatic and consequential tide" of them all, and the question of the meaning of this "crossing of the Red Sea" is the question of the meaning of our human existence here in these material bodies! And that is indeed a question that merits the kind of intense attention that this article by Bruce Parker has been getting this week, and that the question of the crossing of the Red Sea has commanded for millennia.


* Examples of verses in which the motion of the children of Israel out of Egypt is described as a motion up abound in the scriptures: see for example Numbers 32:11 ("Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt . . ."), Amos 2:10 ("Also I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and led you forty years through the wilderness . . ."), and Joshua 24:17 ("For the LORD our God, he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage . . .).

In a Brazen Cauldron (13 months)

In a Brazen Cauldron (13 months)

I'm really enjoying the way that online planetarium apps such as that created by Paul Neave at can be used to illustrate the star myths of the world's ancient sacred traditions.  

Previously, we examined the well-known story of the love affair of Ares and Aphrodite, and the night that Hephaestus contrived a cunning net to descend upon them from the ceiling, catching them in the act for all the gods of Olympus to witness.  By observing the planets in motion among the background of stars, the unmistakeable celestial details of the myth become quite obvious, and it is very difficult to argue that such correlations between the story and the sky could be accidental or coincidental.

That examination of the celestial elements in the love of Ares and Aphrodite is only one of literally hundreds that could be presented in order to establish the theory that the world's ancient mythology from around the globe is built almost entirely upon a common system of celestial metaphor. This assertion holds true for the stories in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as much as for the mythology of the so-called "pagans."

For a list of links to previous posts examining twenty other star-myths and explaining their celestial significance, see here.  

Those previous discussions, however, don't all use the planetarium app, and so in this post we will examine together another Greek myth whose celestial details are particularly evident when discussed in conjunction with a planetarium's ability to present the moving backdrop of the starry sky: the imprisonment of the god Ares in a brass jar by the giants Ephialtes and Otus, and the rescue of the hapless war-god by the trickster-god, Hermes.

To follow along at home, set your planetarium to 02/10/2013 (you can also go back to this previous post from early February of 2013, written when the conjunction was actually taking place in the sky over our heads). Turn your field of vision towards the west, where we will watch the setting sun sink down, and dial the time to about 16:43. You can set your location to somewhere between 30 and 35 degrees north latitude (I'm using the area of San Luis Obispo, California, along the California coast in between San Francisco and Los Angeles).

The above video shows the heavenly drama, in which the planet Mercury is actually in a "superior" position to the flagging red planet Mars as the two sink down towards the western horizon. This is a fairly unusual occurrence, because if you think about the location of Mercury relative to earth, we can only see it by looking towards the sun, and hence Mercury is always seen to be very close to the sun, visible either in front of the sun before sunrise or trailing the sun after sunset (as in the above video), while Mars is free to roam across the entire night sky (within the band of the ecliptic), since that planet's orbit is outside that of earth.

In that previous post from February 2013, I argued that if the thesis of Hertha von Dechend and Giorgio de Santillana in Hamlet's Mill is correct (a thesis they support with mountains of evidence, as well as quotations from ancients who put forward the same thesis, including Aristotle), then there should be a myth in which Mercury is somehow depicted in a "superior" position to Mars. And, in fact, after not too much thought, one suggested itself: the episode in which Ares was imprisoned in a brazen jar and had to be rescued by Hermes. 

I have never seen this particular myth linked to this particular heavenly conjunction, but I believe it can be amply demonstrated that the specific conjunction shown in the above video (and on your own planetarium app, if you go to 02/10/2013) does in fact correspond to the details of the ancient Greek myth to a remarkable degree.

The imprisonment of Ares in the jar is recounted by many ancient authors, but perhaps the highest authority we can consult in this regard is the Iliad itself, in which the myth is recounted by Dione as part of a speech she gives to Aphrodite, when Aphrodite visits the battlefield, only to be wounded by the Greek warrior Diomedes:

"Patience, oh my child,
Bear up now, despite your heartsick grief.
How many gods who hold the halls of Olympus
have had to endure such wounds from mortal men,
whenever we try to cause each other pain . . .
Ares had to endure it,  when giant Ephialtes and Otus,
sons of Aloeus, bound him in chains he could not burst,
trussed him up in a brazen cauldron, thirteen months.
And despite the god's undying lust for battle
Ares might have wasted away there on the spot
if the monsters' stepmother, beautiful Eriboea
had not sent for Hermes, and out of the cauldron
Hermes stole him away -- the War-god breathing his last,
all but broken down by the ruthless iron chains." V. 432 - 445.

Thus the translation by the late Professor Robert Fagles (1933 - 2008).

Below is a screen-shot of the situation from just after sunset on February 10, 2013, when a dim Mars is situated below a brighter Mercury -- just as if the messenger-god is rescuing the fading war-god:

The fading corona of the sun can be seen disappearing below the western horizon. The large, star-like "dots" that are not part of constellations are planets. Just above the sun's corona is Neptune, which is not visible to the naked eye, but above Neptune are two more bright planets close to one another: Mars (reddish in hue) and above him Mercury. Much farther up is Uranus (also not visible to the naked eye).

But, some readers may object that it seems to be a bit of a stretch to identify this particular conjunction with that particular myth about Ares being rescued from the brazen jar by Hermes. True, Mercury (Hermes) is seen above Mars (Ares), as if pulling the war-god from a jar or otherwise rescuing him from some sort of a trap, but what right do we have to confidently assert that this really corresponds to the myth being related in the Iliad's Book 5?

Well, it just so happens that there are other clues within the myth itself which correspond to the details in the heavens. The constellation through which Mars and Mercury (and Neptune as well, even though that planet is not a "visible planet") are passing in the above screen-shot may be difficult to recognize, but that is partly because the outlines used for the constellations on this and other free planetarium apps (including the excellent stellarium) leave something to be desired. I believe the outlines suggested by the beloved author H.A. Rey are much more useful, and are the outlines that everyone should study and learn in order to help locate the actual constellations when out star-gazing in person.

The constellation that is indicated by that zig-zag atrocity in the diagram above is none other than Aquarius, and if you want some tips on locating this important zodiac constellation in the sky, see this previous post. That post uses the outline of Aquarius as imagined by H.A. Rey and presented in The Stars: a New Way to See Them. Below is a screen-shot of the heavenly drama we are discussing (in which Hermes rescues Ares), from before sunset, in which I have labeled the constellations (which can be seen during daytime on the Paul Neave planetarium app) and drawn in the outlines for Aquarius and Capricorn based on the H.A. Rey method. The screen-shot is first presented without my additions, and then below that with labels and H.A. Rey-inspired outlines:

In the above diagram, you can see Capricorn the Goat, who would not have been visible back in February of 2013 but who is visible this time of year, although late at night along with Aquarius, rising in the east around ten in the evening beneath Cygnus and Aquila (who can be seen to the right side of the above screen-shot and who are very important and identifiable constellations, mentioned in many previous posts such as  this one). 

Also identified in the above diagram is the Southern Fish, containing the bright star Fomalhaut, which is located rather low in the sky for viewers in most northern latitudes, but which is very bright and can be helpful in getting a fix on the location of Aquarius, who can be seen pouring streams of water down towards Fomalhaut and the Southern Fish.

This previous post gives some tips on finding Fomalhaut.

But most important in the above diagram, of course, are Mars and Mercury themselves, indicated by two arrows. The lower, reddish arrow points to Mars, and the upper, white-outlined arrow points to Mercury. 

Please note what the two are directly next to in the sky: the mighty water-urn of Aquarius.

Could this have anything to do with the fact that Ares was described as being imprisoned in a brazen jar?

I maintain that it could. In fact, I would argue that the evidence is conclusive, and here is why. As explained in the Iliad passage cited above, Ares was stuffed into that brazen cauldron by two giants, Otus and Ephialtes, two preternaturally strong sons of Poseidon who were threatening to climb all the way to Olympus (and who were piling mountains on top of mountains in order to get there).

This article on the web describes the adventures of the two giants, and cites some other ancient sources including Pindar and Apollodorus or Pseudo-Apollodorus who give further details about the two. 

Note carefully how some myths account for the death of these upstart giant rebels: Artemis turned herself into a stag and ran between them, whereupon the giants each hurled a spear towards the stag but missed, impaling one another and ending the threat to the order of the universe.

Now look again at the diagram of Aquarius above, and see if that giant figure does not seem to have what appears to be a spear impaling him as he runs forward. This detail should clinch it for even the most skeptical critic of the star-myth theory: the giant who captures Mars inside an enormous jar is one of those giants who met their end by being skewered with a spear.

But just for good measure, it is worth pointing out that the location of the zodiac sign of Aquarius would seem to give added confirmation to the identification of these upstart giants with that constellation. Below is the zodiac wheel which has been discussed in numerous previous posts about the ancient system of celestial metaphor which was in operation in the mythologies around the globe. Note carefully the location of Aquarius, after the "turn" at the bottom of the year, on the upswing towards the spring equinox and ultimately the summer solstice (Aquarius is in the lower-left quadrant of the circle below, and is depicted as a sort of "mer-man" holding a canteen-shaped urn or jar, from which are flowing two streams of water):

Previous posts have presented extensive evidence to support the assertion that the "upper half" of the zodiac wheel was allegorized in ancient myth as heaven, or a high mountain, or a "shining city upon a hill" (see for example here and here). We now see that that high-point of the year corresponded as well to Mount Olympus in ancient Greek myth, because the two young giants Ephialtes and Otus are described as trying to reach Olympus themselves (in order to wage war on the Olympians), and doing so by piling lesser mountains on top of one another in order to reach those heights.

If we look at the location of Aquarius, the constellation who has the characteristics described in the myths about Otus and Ephialtes, including a jar in which he can imprison Ares and a spear which played a role in the myth about the death of the two upstarts, we see that Aquarius is definitely in a position to be "heading up" the mountain, but is still nowhere close as yet. He may be "aiming" at the top of the zodiac wheel (and Olympus), but he is just an "upstart" -- he is just at the start of the journey up wards for the annual cycle.

It is also worth pointing out that the "lower half" of the zodiac wheel corresponds in many ancient myth-systems as the "watery" half, or the "deep" -- and that Poseidon (the father of these two particular upstart giants) is of course the god of the seas.

Based upon these details, I believe it is more than evident that the myth of Ares being rescued by Hermes from the giants Otus and Ephialtes and his imprisonment in the brazen jar is describing just such a heavenly convocation in the constellation Aquarius as the one depicted in the screen-shots above and in the movie of the planetary motions from February 10, 2013.

Note also that this myth, along with the details in many others, indicates a rather sophisticated understanding of astronomy and the heavens, especially when we realize (as pointed out in my previous examination of this particular myth) that the orbit of the planet Mars causes the planet to grow brighter for 13 months and then grow dimmer for 13 months (becoming brightest at the time of the planet's opposition every 780 days, as discussed in this excellent website from Nick Anthony Fiorenza; 780 days is about 26 months, during half of which time Mars is growing fainter in brightness, and half of which time the planet grows brighter to observers on earth). This no doubt accounts for the mention of thirteen months in the passage from the Iliad cited above.

Finally, note that just as in the previous discussion of the myth of Ares and Aphrodite and their binding in the weblike net of Hephaestus, Hermes features prominently in discussions about binding and loosing, just as we would expect him to do based on the argument put forth in the powerful talk delivered by Jon Rappoport this year at the Secret Space Program conference in California.

This is because one of the profound messages that all these celestial myths were intended to convey was the message that each and every man and woman is connected to and embodies the infinite cosmos that we see over our heads each night, and ultimately cannot be contained, constrained, chained, or circumscribed against his or her will. This message was also brilliantly articulated by the philosopher Giordano Bruno, who wrote an entire treatise on "binding" and "loosing" and "of bonds in general," available online here (in Latin). Because Bruno was a hermetic philosopher, we can assume that he understood the role of Hermes in the overcoming of bonds and binding.

Thus we see that an episode which seems to be just a minor and amusing myth, the imprisonment of Ares in a bronze jar, is actually full of profound import, and insight into the message which the world's sacred traditions were intended to bring to men and women throughout the ages.

The horizon and the scales of judgement

In ancient Egyptian texts, such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead, there is much usage of the symbol of the horizon.  In the Book of the Dead, for example, the Sun-God Ra is often described as rising on the horizon, and sinking to rest on the horizon.  

In the "Hymn of Praise to Ra When He Riseth Upon the Horizon, and When He Setteth in the Land of Life" (which can be found in this online transcription of E. A. Wallis Budge's translation of various Book of the Dead texts contained in the British Museum, a bit more than half-way down the very long web page, in a section entitled "APPENDIX (from the Papyrus of Nu, Sheet 21)" we read:
Those who have lain down in death rise up to see thee, they breathe the air, and they look upon thy face when the disk riseth on the horizon. 
Immediately before that, in "Another Chapter of the Coming Forth of a Man by Day Against His Enemies in Khert-Neter" which can be found on the same web page in the "APPENDIX (from the Papyrus of Nu, Sheet 13)" we read:
I have divided the heavens.  I have cleft the horizon.  I have traversed the earth in his footsteps.  I have conquered the mighty Spirit-souls because I am equipped for millions of years with words of power.
These are obviously very important and moving passages, but what do they mean?  Conventional academia teaches that these passages, along with the rest of the Book of the Dead, express the Egyptian hope for the soul in the afterlife, that the souls of those who "have lain down in death" will somehow rise up to see the sun again and breathe the air again, and that this hope is somehow connected with the knowledge of "words of power."  

Alvin Boyd Kuhn, however, (whose work has been discussed in previous posts such as this one, this one, and this one) gives a very different interpretation, and one which he backs up with hundreds of pages of evidence from these and other ancient sacred texts.  He argues that the conventional reading just described falls into the trap of literalism -- of reading as literal a piece of literature which was never meant to be understood literally, but which instead attempts to convey profound and nearly-ungraspable truths in the form of symbols and metaphors through which those truths can in fact be apprehended.  The Book of the Dead, he argues, is not talking about those who are literally dead, but rather those on earth right now, who are metaphorically passing through the underworld, who can be described as "the dead" because they are in fact immortal spirits who have taken on the physical mortal flesh of material existence. 

Using this understanding, the metaphor of the horizon becomes, in Alvin Boyd Kuhn's reading, a wonderful symbol of human existence, because it depicts the union of the spiritual realm (the sky) and the material realm (the earth beneath).  It symbolizes the human condition, because in our incarnate state we are a union of soul and matter.  In Lost Light, Kuhn writes:
And the horizon is half way between heaven and earth, typing, as always, spirit and matter, the two ends of being.  The momentous information, then, which is vouchsafed to man in this recondite fashion is that he, as a creature in a stupendous cyclical evolution, stands at the point exactly midway between the beginning and end of the complete area to be traversed.  [. . .]
[. . .] this fateful line would at the same time mark the boundary between the two natures in man's constitution, the earthly and the heavenly.  449-450.
Kuhn goes on to explain that once this metaphor is understood, all the imagery in the ancient Egyptian texts referring to a great battle which is fought "on the horizon" can be understood to refer to the great metaphorical battle which each individual must wage during his or her time in this material realm in which the spirit is enmeshed in earthly matter.  This world in which we find ourselves, composed of "the earthly and the heavenly," is the place where we must learn to reconcile the two natures.  Kuhn declares:
Straight and clear is Egypt's proclamation of this sterling truth: "He cultivates the Two Lands; he pacifies the Two Lands; he unites the Two Lands."  Man is "the god of the two mysterious horizons," and the glowing pronouncement of his final evolutionary triumph is given in the words: "Thou illuminest the Two Lands like the Disk at daybreak."  451.
Closely related to the symbology of the horizon is the symbology of the Judgement Hall in the Egyptian scriptures.  Here again, the conventional interpretation of the famous Judgement Hall scenes in the Book of the Dead is that the text refers to a judgment which takes place over the soul in the afterlife, but Kuhn demonstrates that, like the metaphor of the horizon, the Hall of Judgement symbolizes the soul's journey in this life, during which our daily actions and experiences, our "living activity and expression," is measured and recorded as if in a book (451).  Below is an image from the famous Hall of Judgement vignette in the version of the Book of the Dead found in the Papyrus of Ani.

In fact, as Alvin Boyd Kuhn demonstrates in Lost Light, our judgement in the horizon of this life and in the scales of the Hall of Judgement are closely related.  For one thing, the Judgement Hall in the Book of the Dead is also referred to as the "Hall of Two Truths," and we have already seen that the symbology of the horizon depicts the "two truths" of mankind's human condition -- that we occupy the boundary between the realms of the earthly and the heavenly, and that we embody and encompass both aspects in our human nature (Lost Light, 483).  Also, the scales of judgement are often described as being located upon the horizon, or upon a hill or mount, which is a terrain feature which suggests the horizon.

Intriguingly as well, the zodiac sign of the Scales of Judgement -- Libra -- is located upon the "horizon" of the zodiac wheel, for Libra begins just at the border formed by the September equinox, where the ecliptic path of the sun crosses below the celestial equator again after the summer months in which the sun's daily ecliptic path has been above that line (see diagram below).  As Alvin Boyd Kuhn writes about this symbology:
And this at once opens the way for the introduction of the whole range of symbolic values connected with the sign of Libra, the Scales of the Balance, and the Scales of Judgment.  And precisely at the horizon's western terminus stands the Libra sign!  The Judgment is a corollary aspect of the horizon typism and will be treated in a following chapter.  451.

We can now see that there are plenty of cogent reasons for interpreting the passages in the Book of the Dead, including those cited at the beginning of this essay, as describing the condition of the individual soul in this life, and not in a life hereafter.  But what are the implications of the Book of the Dead's teachings which declare our earthly incarnation to be a "battle at the horizon," or a "weighing of the heart" in the scales of truth?  And what does the Book of the Dead mean to tell us when it depicts the triumphant soul declaring that it is "equipped for millions of years with words of power"?

We have already seen in a previous meditation upon the Hall of Judgement scenes in the Book of the Dead that the texts surrounding the scene put a great emphasis upon the soul "telling the truth" or "not going about with deceitful speech while upon the Earth."  And, we have seen in our examination of the famous command inscribed in stone at the Oracle at Delphi that "Know thyself" appears to have been understood by Plato and by other philosophers including Plutarch as a command to realize that we are immortal souls enfleshed in a body during successive incarnations which each have an important purpose.  If this is the case, then the Book of the Dead's emphasis upon "declaring the truth" and on "not going about with deceitful speech" while we are here between or upon the horizons -- while we are being weighed and measured in the balance-scales of the Hall of Two Truths -- may also be telling us that an important part of our activity in this life includes first learning (or, more precisely, remembering) the truth of our true human condition, appreciating all the ramifications of this truth, and then speaking and acting in a way that acknowledges this truth about who we are.

Acting deceitfully (or "going about with deceitful speech") would then include efforts to deny or obscure the truth that, as Kuhn eloquently describes it:
this life is the period of its [the soul's] trial and testing.  The soul is drawn here to exercise her undeveloped powers, as Plotinus has so well told us.  Without such a testing she would remain forever ignorant of her own latent capacity, or would never bring it to expression.  Here is where she is thrown into the scales of balance, in Libra on the horizon, and here is where she is being weighed.  485-486.
One way this truth is obscured is by those who insist that ancient scriptures such as the Book of the Dead were anciently understood literally and woodenly, describing a fantastic judgement scene in an afterlife-world: an interpretation which obscures all the teachings we discover when we see that these texts employed exquisite metaphors to convey profound truths about our human condition in this life itself.  It is this knowledge, Alvin Boyd Kuhn tells us, that the ancient Egyptians believed to be the touchstone for the soul during the daunting passage through the material life in each successive incarnation.  He writes:
The Ritual [that is to say, the Book of the Dead] speaks of the secret knowledge of the periodicities and cycles of incarnation as requisite to render safe the passage through all the trial scenes in the Judgment Hall [that is to say, the trials of this life here on earth].  The salvation of the deceased depended on his having the facts treasured up in his memory.  As the soul walked through the valley of the shadow of death, his security depended upon his knowledge that he was a divinity threading his way through the dark underground labyrinth of matter.  His memory of his intrinsically deific nature would be his safeguard; and this memory was his book of life and character, for it was his own self, come hither to purify itself of dross.  489-490.
These, then, constitute the "words of power" which equip the soul "for millions of years."  That is to say, it is the soul's memory of its eternal, divine nature that equip it for the long journey through successive incarnations over vast stretches of time, and which safeguards the soul from being swallowed up in the animal nature of the physical body, forgetting where it came from.

We should all be grateful to Alvin Boyd Kuhn for illuminating the esoteric truths contained within the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and for demonstrating the importance of approaching those texts esoterically, rather than literally.  And, we should be grateful as well to the ancient sages who composed those incredible texts, and passed on their understanding of the human condition to generations who would live thousands of years after the kingdom of Egypt had been buried beneath the sands of time.

Plotinus and the upward way

Plotinus and the upward way

A recent post discussed the well-known myth of the Judgement of Paris, and the fact that the second century writer Apuleius (born c. AD 125) somehow saw the "damnation of mankind" as connected to Paris' selling of his vote in that contest for the "lucre of lust."

The philosopher Plotinus (c. AD 204 - AD 270) may be able to shed some light on this interesting comment from Apuleius.  We last heard from Plotinus in the post entitled " giving forth, without any change in itself, images or likenesses of itself, like one face caught by many mirrors," after a line from the First Ennead of Plotinus (Enn.I, 1:8).

This idea of a mirror was clearly central to Plotinus' teaching on the nature of human existence.  Later, in Ennead IV, 3:12, he writes:

The souls of men, seeing their images in the mirror of Dionysus as it were, have entered into that realm in a leap downward from the Supreme: yet even they are not cut off from their origin, from the divine Intellect; it is not that they have come bringing the Intellectual Principle down in their fall; it is that though they have descended even to earth, yet their higher part holds for ever above the heavens.  translation by Stephen MacKenna and B.S. Page, 148.

Thus, Plotinus is teaching that the mirror is a good metaphor for the relationship between the Intellectual Principle and the souls of men.  In an essay entitled "Judaism, Judaic Christianity, and Gnosis," Professor Gilles Quispel explains:

The mirror is a powerful symbol in Greek and Gnostic religion.  Narcissus is said to have jumped into the water and to have embraced his own shadow and to have drowned, when he looked into the water and saw his own shadow and fell in love with it.  This is not true.  For he was not suffocated in the water but he contemplated in the transient and passing nature of his material body, his own shadow, namely the body, which is the basest eidolon of the real soul.  Desiring to embrace this, he became enamoured with life according to that shadow.  Therefore he drowned and suffocated his real soul and a real and true life.  Therefore the proverb says, 'Fear your own shadow.'  This story teaches you to fear the inclination to prize inferior things as the highest, because that leads man to the loss of his soul and the annihilation of the true Gnosis of ultimate reality.  Thus the Anonymus de incredibilibus IX.   
Nonnus tells us that the young Dionysus was looking in a mirror when the Titans tore him into pieces [. . .].  57.

Professor Quispel notes that French philosopher Jean Pepin (1924 - 2005) points to the Plotinus passage quoted above as the first conflation of the mirror myth of Dionysus and the reflection myth of Narcissus, which Plotinus combines in Enn. IV, 3:12 to illustrate the condition of the souls of men and women in this world.  Certain ancient traditions appear to have taught that the fall of mankind could be understood through the metaphor of Narcissus (or Dionysus), becoming enamored with a reflection in a mirror.

It is important to note that Plotinus does not teach that love of beauty is bad -- quite the contrary.  In his discussion of "the Upward Way," he notes that there are three paths which lead to the upward way: that of the musician, that of the "born lover," and that of the metaphysician (the philosopher).  In his description of the born lover, Plotinus writes:

The born lover, to whose degree the musician also may attain -- and then either come to a stand or pass beyond -- has a certain memory of beauty but, severed from it now, he no longer comprehends it: spellbound by visible loveliness he clings amazed about that.  His lesson must be to fall down no longer in bewildered delight before some, one embodied form; he must be led, under a system of mental discipline, to beauty everywhere and made to discern the One Principle underlying all, a Principle apart from the material forms, springing from another source, and elsewhere more truly present.  Enn. I, 3:2.

Thus, Plotinus seems to teach that love of beauty is an entry-gate to the upward way, but that the "lesson" for the lover of beauty is to learn to disentangle from being enamored with one specific embodied form (whatever form that lover of beauty is enamored with) and to see that specific form of beauty as a pointer to "beauty everywhere" (this being the very opposite of Narcissus, who could only see beauty in himself), and ultimately to the "One Principle underlying all."  Plotinus says that from there, "thence onward, he treads the upward way."  

In other words, although enrapture with the reflection of beauty led to the fall ("a leap downward from the Supreme," Plotinus calls it), love of beauty can lead back upwards, if the process can be somehow reversed (directing the gaze from love of the specific image back to the underlying One Principle).

These passages from Plotinus appear to shed light on the work of Apuleius, and help us to understand what he meant when he said that the Judgement of Paris was somehow the fall of mankind. 

Precession in the Nag Hammadi Gospel of Philip

(mobile readers please scroll down to read the post)
Previous posts have discussed the vitally important discovery of the "Nag Hammadi library," a group of ancient codices which were probably buried shortly after the the Festal Letter of Athanasius was published in AD 367, condemning "heretical texts" that were not included in the list of "canonical texts."

One of those long-lost texts, rediscovered in 1946 (and taking a rather circuitous route to the awareness of the academic and scholarly community, who took decades to get around to really studying them in earnest) was the Gospel of Philip

Marvin Meyer, in his 2005 book The Gnostic Discoveries: The Impact of the Nag Hammadi Library argues that the Gospel of Philip is a Valentinian text, displaying characteristics of the system of understanding developed by Valentinus, who was born in Egypt around the year AD100 and lived to the age of about 75.  Meyer tells us:
The Gospel of Philip is a Valentinian anthology of meditations on a variety of gnostic themes.  Philip is referred to by name once in the text, and that may be the reason the text is attributed to him.  The arrangement of meditations in the Gospel of Philip seems to be more or less random, though it is possible that sometimes they may be connected to one another by catchwords or the sequence of similar themes.  We do not know where these meditations originated, but presumably they come from different sources.  Layton guesses, "It is possible that some of the excerpts are from Valentinus himself."  [. . .]  Still, through the juxtaposition of ideas and the repetition of themes, this anthology of meditations is able to communicate a Valentinian message of mystical oneness and sacramental joy.  128.
In one of the sayings, the text declares:
God is a dyer. As the good dyes, which are called "true", dissolve with the things dyed in them, so it is with those whom God has dyed. Since his dyes are immortal, they become immortal by means of his colors. Now God dips what he dips in water. 
[. . .]
The Lord went into the dye works of Levi. He took seventy-two different colors and threw them into the vat. He took them out all white. And he said, "Even so has the Son of Man come as a dyer."
translation by Wesley W. Isenberg, available here.
The prominent mention of the number seventy-two here appears to be very significant.  As discussed in previous posts, and in greater detail in the Mathisen Corollary book, the number seventy-two is a close approximation of the precessional constant, the number of years that it takes the background of stars to slip by one degree (see for example the illustrations and discussion in this previous post).  The actual rate is one degree of precession every 71.6 years, but for ease of transmission through ancient myth and sacred tradition, that number was usually rounded to 72 years (it is not too easy to tell a story about 71.6 evil murderers, or 71.6 different colors).

What is remarkable about this appearance of 72 is the fact that detecting and then calculating the precessional constant is extremely difficult -- so difficult that even Ptolemy in his Almagest could only guess at the exact rate of precession and state that it was some number less than 100.  He was not able to pin it down to the actual rate of 71.6 years, or even to the nearest whole number of 72 years.  But many other ancient scriptures and traditions, some long before Ptolemy, use the number 72 in myths that clearly contain strong precessional themes (such as the Osiris tradition), as do many ancient monuments of extreme antiquity (the Great Pyramid is full of precessional numbers).  Clearly, the Gospel of Philip in the Nag Hammadi collection falls into this category of ancient writings.

What is also striking about this passage from the Gospel of Philip is the clear connection between this precessional number and a profound teaching about the human condition.  We are told that "God is a dyer" and that the process of dying makes "those whom God has dyed" immortal.  The image of a "dye works" has something to do with the immortality of the human soul.

We are then told that "The Lord went into the dye works of Levi.  He took seventy-two different colors and threw them into the vat. He took them out all white."  What this teaching is trying to tell us can certainly be vigorously debated.  It is possible that the "dye works of Levi" (who is described in other sacred traditions as a "tax collector") refer to our solar system, where human psyches come to labor under a kind of "taxing" system, but one that apparently causes them to come out a dazzling pure white.  But other interpretations are of course possible.  It may well also have something to do with the concept of "differentiation" and a return to "undifferentiated one-ness" or "unity."

What is so significant about this text, I think, is the fact that the process of purification is linked to a celestial number associated with a celestial or astronomical function (precession).  This clearly illustrates that to the keepers of the ancient wisdom traditions, the knowledge of the subtle astronomical mechanism of precession was far more than simply an amazing piece of scientific understanding (although it was certainly that as well).  The motions of the heavens were perceived as having an intimate connection to a process that was essential to the human soul, purification, and immortality 
This passage all by itself establishes beyond a doubt that the authors of the Nag Hammadi texts possessed subtle and sophisticated scientific astronomical knowledge.  It also appears to establish the fact that they possessed a subtle and sophisticated spiritual understanding as well.

The Year of the Snake

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Happy Chinese New Year!  The new moon (when the moon passes most directly between the earth and the sun -- explained in numerous previous blog posts, such as this one) takes place in about an hour from now (as this is published), ushering in the first day of the Chinese lunisolar calendar for this year.

This year is the Year of the Snake.  

In his definitive examination of symbolic Egypt, Serpent in the Sky (discussed in previous posts here and here), John Anthony West discusses some aspects of the profound significance of the serpent as a symbol in the ancient esoteric traditions of the world.  Elaborating on the work of R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz, who in Sacred Science wrote "The snake is the symbol of duality: it separates the right and left sides of the brain" (151), Mr. West explains:
At first glance the serpent was the symbol for duality or, more accurately, for the power that results in duality.  And that power is itself dual in aspect; it is simultaneously creative and destructive: creative in the sense that multiplicity is created out of unity, destructive in the sense that creation represents the rupture of the perfection of the Absolute. 70-71.
Interestingly, the reverent examination of the symbolic power of number is most commonly associated with the Pythagorean school (a central topic of Mr. West's Serpent in the Sky), and as Ross Hamilton discusses in his outstanding book probing the amazing Great Serpent Mound in Ohio, Mystery of the Serpent Mound, Pythagoras' name is probably connected to Python, the great serpent or dragon slain by Apollo at Delphi.  In a section of his book entitled "The Python of Protagoras," Mr. Hamilton writes:
Few people know that the proto-philosopher, Pythagoras, is believed so named for the reason that his parents, Mnesarchus and Parthenis (later Pythasis) were deeply impressed by the words of the Delphinian Oracle.  It was prophesied to them that they would have a son who would surpass all other men in beauty and wisdom.  He would be a great benefactor of the human race, and his service would be recognized for generations and generations.  111.
Mr. Hamilton explains the important connection between the serpent Python and the Oracle at Delphi in the previous section, entitled "Apollo and the Python."  He recounts the myth that the god Apollo, wishing to create an oracle, found the perfect location at Delphi, where the formidable serpent Python lived in a deep crevasse or cave in the rock beside a sacred waterfall.  Mr. Hamilton's additional commentary on the well-known myth are very revealing:
It was believed that the Great Serpent had always lived in the "womb" of Gaia and was in fact the mother goddess' original mouthpiece before any formal oracle had been considered.  The Python had survived the great flood or cataclysm from the previous age and was thus the sole transmitter of knowledge to the kings of the world.  Python, however, was not accommodating to the majority of visitors seeking advice and wisdom. [. . .]
In accord with the traditional myth, after the death of the beast, Apollo let the body rot in the sunlight for a while.  He then removed the skin, and carefully slicing the body into a number of parts, threw it down the abyss from whence the serpent came.  Over this entry to the underworld he erected his famous golden tripod, covering it with the skin of the creature like a drum.  Within the tripod, he placed the sacred bones of the Python.  [. . .]
Once this Great Serpent (the Universal Word) was slain and sliced, it fell literally into many distinct "vowels" and "consonants."  Through the interment of the bones beneath the Oracular Seat, the Pythia was able to utter the prophetic truths once reserved only for those bold enough to petition the living Python itself.  109-110.
From the above analysis by Mr. Hamilton, it is clear that the ancients saw a profound connection between the serpent and the giving of wisdom to humanity.  

Later in the same book, Ross Hamilton also muses on the connection between the serpent and the phoenix, in that the mythical phoenix was said to grow from a worm that remained in the ashes of the self-immolating and self-renewing phoenix.  In an important passage, he writes: "The worm, serpent, dragon, and phoenix all appear to be linked as successive stages of an ideal belief that the ordinary man and woman may transcend the lower worlds of matter, overcoming all to reign supreme in the principle of the Divine" (134).  In other words, the phoenix may be another embodiment of the concept of the "winged serpent" found in other traditions from other parts of the world, most notably the Quetzlcoatl of the high civilizations of the Americas.  

In an inset quotation on the page discussing the importance of the serpent symbol, John Anthony West cites this sentence from page 387 of Peter Tompkins' 1976 book Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids: "To Sejourne, Teotihuacan was the place where the serpent learned miraculously to fly, that is 'where the individual, through inner growth, attained the category of a celestial being'" (71).

One could go on and on exploring the central importance of the serpent, a symbol which clearly carries a vital connection to revelation, wisdom, and enlightenment.  But, to conclude this short exploration of this profound being, we can return to Schwaller de Lubicz (whose quotation started us on this journey) for a clue as to where this mystical serpent with the power to enable "the ordinary man and woman" to "transcend the lower worlds of matter" may reside. Immediately after telling us that the "snake is the symbol of duality," he says that "It separates the right and left sides of the brain" (151).  He then goes on to say, "Likewise, the nervous system is dual: sensory or motor, active-solar through the sympathetic, or passive-decontractile through the vagus or parasympathetic" (151).  

These insights hint to us that this celestial serpent is in fact inside us as well as "in the sky."

Gung Hay Fat Choy!  Happy Chinese New Year!