Orion the Hunter and Heavenly Shepherd

Cosmos & Logos: Volume II, August 2016

Cosmos & Logos: Volume II, August 2016

This is an excerpt from the article The Heavenly Shepherd: Approaches to a Resurrection Story, in the 2016 edition of Cosmos & Logos.

The Greek Orion was known as the great hunter, and in the most popular Greek telling of this myth Orion boasted that he could slay any animal on earth. Ge (the earth-mother) was offended at Orion’s brash boast and sent up a giant scorpion that stung his foot. Orion died from the wound and was immortalized in the stars as a constellation. The scorpion is the constellation Scorpius, and the two constellations oppose each other in the sky so that as Orion sets below the horizon in the west Scorpius rises in the east. While adapted by the Greeks, this story did not originate in Greece. In China, Orion was a great warrior who was in constant conflict with his younger brother represented by the stars of Scorpius. In Egypt, Plutarch informs that when Osiris was buried in his coffer at sea the sun was passing through the Scorpion (On Isis and Osiris 13). The death of Osiris appears to be an allusion to the setting of Orion as the sun rises in Scorpius.

The myths of Orion are astronomical. The Greek Orion is constantly associated with Helios, Delos (the land of Sun), Eos (the Dawn), and Scorpius. Yet these astronomical associations are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In another Greek telling of the myth Orion served as the huntsman of King Oinopion of Chios. Orion raped the king’s daughter and as punishment the king blinded and exiled him. Orion traveled across the sea to the house of Hephaestus who gave him an assistant named Cedalion. This assistant climbed upon the back of Orion and served as his eyes as the pair traveled east towards the house of the sun. It was with the dawn that Orion regained his sight. Critically, Cedalion was one of the two Cabeiri (ancient underworld gods) who administered the secret rites of the Samothracian mysteries (Kabeiroi, theoi.com). These mystery rites promised initiates some form of blessed afterlife.

Orion and Cedalion

Orion is blinded and must find his way to the House of the Sun to regain his sight. Orion has a guide named Cedalion who aids him.

While not all ancient writers agree, one tradition definitely associated the Cabeiri with the Greek Dioskouroi, the guides of the dead represented in the two principal stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux. Diodorus Siculus relates in his Library of History that when the Argonauts were sailing to the underworld their ship was caught in a great storm. Orpheus was the only person aboard who had been initiated into the mysteries of the Cabeiri, and so he prayed to these gods to abate the storm. At that moment the stars of Gemini appeared overhead and the storm dissipated saving the ship. For this reason, the Caberi (and the Dioskouroi) were known as the gods of sailors and seamen who had power over the stormy sea (4.48.6). This pre-Christian account shows an anointed figure named Orpheus calming the seas from a boat. As is pointed out below, this anointed figure not only had power over the seas but was a savior figure of rebirth and was also analogized with the constellation Orion.

Oral and semi-literate people use the stars as a memory theater to encode their beliefs. In the days that these tales were written Orion rose in the east with the sun at summer solstice. Orion is not a zodiacal constellation. Gemini is, and the two stars Castor and Pollux were right above the horizon before sunrise and “received” the sun at summer solstice (see Figure 5). In ancient traditions around the Mediterranean, the place in the sky where the sun breached on the days of solstice represented a gate of the dead (Lundwall 310-12). Castor and Pollux become a stellar marker that on the one hand announces the summer sailing season, and on the other hand represents an esoteric theology. These stars become the celestial gate that leads to the netherworld. This motif is worth exploring.

Castor and Pollux the Greek Dioskouroi, savior figures associated with calming seas and guiding the dead.

Castor and Pollux are the Greek Dioskouroi, savior figures associated with calming seas and guiding the dead. They were the two stars that received the sun at summer solstice.

The Dioskouroi are the twins Castor and Pollux. One is mortal and the other immortal. They are the offspring of Zeus and are often associated with mystery initiation. Castor, the mortal, is slain while in a tree perhaps signifying the passage of the soul within the axis-mundi. Pollux weeps at his brothers’ death and promises to share his immortality with him. Thenceforth, Castor and Pollux alternate days in the underworld. These stars sit right above the Milky Way and Orion.

Walter Burkert, in his book Greek Religion, identifies these twins as preeminent saviors (213). In Sparta, the Dioskouroi were an integral part of initiations where an encounter with death was involved (213). Their special symbol was the dokana, “two upright supports connected by two crossbeams” (213). This symbol can be seen in the icon for the constellation Gemini. This symbol probably has reference to “a gate in a rite de passage” (213). Modern classicists look to prehistoric tribal initiations as the source for this rite de passage, but the truth is the ultimate initiation is through the celestial gate. The Dioskouroi were the guides that led to one of these gates. It is no coincidence that Gemini is placed in the sky where the ecliptic meets the Milky Way.

The symbol of Castor and Pollux representing a gate. This gate is the gate of heaven.

The Greek Dokana The symbol of Castor and Pollux representing a gate. This gate is the gate of heaven.

The ecliptic is the path of the planets, and anciently the Milky Way was the blessed path of souls. If one’s soul were to rise in the afterlife to the Milky Way it had to pass through a gate. Scorpio and Gemini/Taurus are the two gates in the sky that link the ecliptic with the Milky Way. They thus become associated with the Twin Mountains in Babylonian astrology and the two dominant motifs in the Orion myth.

The dokana of the Dioskouroi may in fact be the very image of the celestial gate. While the symbol is generally shown complete, at times each twin carried one half of this sign when they were separated (O’Neill 245). This is an exact parallel to the Roman tablet called tessera hospitalits. The tablet was parted in two and rejoined when their possessors were reunited. It is a type of symbolon employed by the Greeks where one can verify the veracity of another by matching the token that has been parted. Indeed, John O’Neill suggests that the Greek dokana may relate etymologically to the word token (245). More interestingly, O’Neil points out that in the Chinese stellar charts, at the location of Taurus and Orion in the Greek scheme, resides two constellations called T’ien-tsieh meaning Heaven-tally. The two star groupings are mirror images of each other and in the shape, ironically, of the divided Greek dokana. Their name is related to the Chinese character tsieh meaning a stamp:

“This character and its signification must come from the ancient practice of stamping a knot of bamboo, and then splitting bamboo and stamp down the middle, in order to give one half to an envoy or traveler, as a token, which verified itself on subsequent comparison with the other half, which had been retained. Thus were passports given at the Chinese frontier barriers.” (247)

It is well known that the Dioskouroi were not only initiates at Eleusis but astral guides: “[they] were seen as guiding lights for those hoping to break out of the mortal sphere into the realm of the gods” ( Burkert 213). This is why one was mortal (Castor) and one was immortal (Pollux). They reveal the twin aspects of every human soul doomed to mortal flesh but destined for a new astral garment of immortality. It is the same theme that keeps popping up with other mystery heroes who generally have one mortal and one immortal parent. This aspect must also explain the dokana which is a symbol of the twin natures of humankind. Indeed, when mystery initiates approached the gate of initiation they had to give a proper exchange of information, provide the proper spells, words, dances, and tokens with the gate keeper and guardian. This ritual action was nothing more than uniting two halves of the dokana in an analogical process of reuniting the mortal twin with his immortal half.

Orion and Cedalion become a personified dokana, where Cedalion leads the mortal Orion to the immortal realm of the sun. Indeed, the Dioskouroi were linked with Orion at the celestial gate where the ecliptic meets the Milky Way and where souls had access to the heavens. This explains the presence of Scorpio in the Orion myth, for Scorpio was also a gate of the dead (Gottschalk 99, Beke 17-27). The dead descended into the dark regions of the underworld from the Scorpion gate, just as we see Gilgamesh entering the netherworld guarded by scorpion men (EG 9.32-43). Orion loses his mortal life at Scorpio but regains his immortal heritage on the other side of the Milky Way where his constellation dwells at the cosmic sea from which the dead could arise anew.

Meanwhile, the savior figure Orpheus appears to have represented Orion himself. The Orphic rites promised the initiated a blessed existence in the afterlife. Dionysus was the god of the Orphic rites, and Orpheus-Dionysus are homologous underworld gods who guide the dead in the netherworld. In a vase painting held at Basel, Orpheus is shown playing his lyre and holding a scroll signifying the rites of the mysteries within a tomb of an old man. “What must be called the Orphic hope for the afterlife could hardly be expressed more clearly” writes Walter Burkert, “it is the song of Orpheus, contained in a book, which guarantees quiet happiness for the dead” (Burkert 85-86). Meanwhile, Dionysus repeatedly appears in the Orphic gold plates found buried with the initiated dead. Here, Dionysus presides over the journey of the dead (Cole 200) and is both gatekeeper and judge of the deceased (Cole 211).

More important, in Robert Eisler’s Orpheus the Fisher, Eisler shows that the mythic figure of Orpheus originated as a hunting and fishing figure. Eisler notes that the sacred fish housed in the sanctuaries of Apollo in Lycia were called orphoi, meaning fish, and that the name Orpheus means fisher (14-15). Dionysus himself was called Halieus, the Fisher, and Zagreus, a name not only signifying a Great Fisher but also a Great Hunter (15). Orpheus caught game in his fishing nets. Additionally, Orpheus is often portrayed surrounded by animals who he not only catches with his nets but entices with his music. In this context, as Eisler notes, Orpheus is Eunomos or Euphorbos, the “herdsman” or “good shepherd” (18). Eisler cannot help but to explain, “Orion corresponds mythically to Nimrod, the ‘mighty hunter before the Lord’ of the Bible. Around this constellation we find—and this can hardly be a casual coincidence—all the requisites of Orphic mythology” (25).

Orpheus the Fisher

Orpheus was a god who promised a blessed afterlife if one had been initiated and knew the way through the next world. Orpheus was both the Fisher and Good Shepherd.

 

Excerpt from The Heavenly Shepherd: Celestial Archetypes Behind Orion and Jesus

It is curious to note that Jesus Christ never wrote his teachings down. He taught by telling oral stories. Of course, most of his audience could not read or write so speaking in parables turns out to be the best form of teaching to non-literate peoples. Something is deeply amiss in this practical assessment, however, for Christ himself explained to his disciples “Unto you it is given to know the mystery [μυστήριον] of the kingdom of God, but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables” (Mark 4:11). This statement suggests that the oral stories Jesus told were a metaphor for a mystērion, a secret revealed only to the acolytes who had been ritually initiated. The very word mystery held deep liturgical connotations central to ancient religious practices.

Numerous scholars have scoffed at the notion of secret rituals behind the Christian message, but oral and semi-literate cultures are orthopraxic. In such cultures the “word of God” turns out not to be the written word but rather the spoken and enacted word. Centuries of literate biblical exegesis seems to have blurred the reality that non-literate peoples must perform their religious beliefs as the only real way of conceptualizing them. Why are rituals not prominent in the surviving texts? Problematically, ritual initiation was sacrosanct and there were terrible taboos against writing about sacred liturgies. Clement of Alexandria insists that the most sacred things of deity were kept oral and could never be written down (Lundwall 70). The center of ancient religious practice was never textual. If this was true for early Christianity then the reality is rituals were not only a necessary part of the new religion but most likely the foundation of its very ethos—a part that never makes it into the New Testament.

Of what might these ritual initiations consist of? There is a curious scene in the gnostic text of The Acts of Saint John where Jesus gathers his disciples right before his crucifixion and performs a ritual. The disciples surround Jesus in a ring dance while Jesus himself sings, “Grace danceth. I would pipe; dance ye all. . . . The Whole on high hath part in our dancing. And whoso danceth not, knoweth not what cometh to pass. . . . A way am I to thee wayfarer. Now answer thou (or as thou respondest) unto my dancing. Behold thyself in me who speak, and seeing what I do, keep silence about my mysteries” (Acts of John 95-96). Jesus performs an initiatory song and dance and declares that the heavens take part in the dancing. Furthermore, the grace Jesus offers from the cross is contained in a dance! Somehow this ritual dance held esoteric information for Jesus calls his dance a mystery. One scholar observes of this scene, “This strange chorea mystica, this ecstatic cult dance, . . . is as ancient as the form of the dance mystery itself. In the Mimaut Papyrus we read: ‘Come to me, Thou who art greatest in heaven, . . . to whom heaven was given for a dancing round.’ Enraptured by hymn and dance, the mystai circle through the gates of initiation” (Pulver 174-75).

A very similar scene is found in The Acts of Saint Thomas where this apostle sings about Sophia who makes “signs and secret patterns, proclaiming the dance of the blessed Aeons” and who is herself surrounded by seven bridesmaids who are performing a ring dance around her (Barnstone ed. 467; Backman 16). Lucian states that dance and initiation were wed in every single Greco-Roman mystery tradition, and I have shown that these choral dances allowed neophytes to reenact the passage through the heavens of the pagan cosmos (Lundwall 225-40). Indeed, Sophia’s seven attendants represent the heavenly spheres and in numerous apocalyptic texts the initiate must pass through seven gates guarded by singing and dancing hymnologi (Lundwall 231). The gates of initiation are therefore heavenly gates that lead to the heavenly throne room.

The orthodox and literate Christian will object to these gnostic sources, but these texts find a remarkable parallel in the New Testament book of Revelation. Gottfried Schimanowski notes that in chapters 4 and 5 of that book we are introduced into a heavenly liturgy where the anointed ones, clothed in white garments and wearing gold crowns, circle the heavenly throne while singing hymns.  The purpose of this “ring dance” is “to draw the earthly community into the heavenly praise of God, a liturgy that is closed with the ‘Amen’ sung by the inner circle before the heavenly throne. . . . the liturgy of the throne scene serves to recreate the experience of a ritual of worship common to heaven and earth” (Schimanowski 82). The structure of this song and dance is parallel to the gnostic texts, including a group of seven attendants circling the throne and guardians of the cosmic order proclaiming “Amen” (Revelation 4:5, 5:14)

Dante ascends to Beatrice in The Divine Comedy. Surrounding the heavenly throne is a chorus (ring dance) of angels. Dante was drawing from very old cosmological and religious tradtions.

Dante ascends to Beatrice in The Divine Comedy. Surrounding the heavenly throne is a chorus (ring dance) of angels. Dante was drawing from very old cosmological and religious tradtions.

This cosmic scene may actually depict an early Christian ritual. By modern interpretation the book of Revelation speaks of end-time events. This kind of eschatology does not speak of the end of the world, however, but the culmination of cosmic time. The ultimate end of all things is determined at the very center of the universe that lay at God’s throne. Apparently, one can get there through proper initiation that includes a choral dance. The Good News was not just a written text that spoke of the grace of God, it was a liturgical dance that revealed the mysteries of God.

Although modern Christianity no longer has anything close to a choral dance as part of its liturgy, several writers of the early Church indicate that just such mystery dances had existed. Clement hints at this connection in his Stromata where he writes, “Therefore we raise our heads and our hands to heaven (during prayer) and move our feet . . . . In this way we reach blessedness and deliverance from the chains of the flesh which our soul despises” (Backman 22; italics mine). Backman insists that the phrase “move our feet” is a technical term for dancing (Backman 22). Epiphanius (fourth century CE) hints at the same tradition when he describes the Christian festival held on Palm Sunday, “Rejoice, be glad and leap boisterously thou all embracing Church! For behold, once again the King approaches . . . once again perform the choral dances . . . let us dance the choral dance before the pure Bridegroom as befits the divine bridegroom” (Backman 24).

Saint Gregory offers another picture of early Christian ritual when he describes a cultic dance, “He who had done everything preserved and prescribed by Providence in its secret mysteries, reposes in Heaven in the bosom of the Father and in the cave in the bosom of the Mother (Christ Jesus). The ring-dance of the angels encircles him, singing his glory in Heaven and proclaiming peace on earth” (Backman 22). Gregory states that there were secret mysteries in the Church which included a cave. The word initiate signifies a ritual entry into the earth. In the Greco-Roman mysteries initiation often took place underground in a hypogeum or cave. This sacred precinct was overseen by a goddess whose womb represented the regions of the underworld where the secrets of rebirth were found. In early Christianity the heavenly matriarch was displaced by the Church, and in Saint Gregory’s comment it is Jesus Christ himself who takes the role of the goddess of rebirth. The one who learns the secrets of resurrection is surrounded by a chorus of angels who are wards of the heavenly realm. For Gregory, this was a tradition that dated back to the resurrected Adam, who performed ring dances with the angels as they were “raised up to heaven” (Backman 22).

In many regions of biblical criticism high walls have been placed between the gnostic and pagan mysteries and the practices of the earliest Christians. Proper interpretation of the pagan mystery initiations is also impossible as there are no original written sources that describe them. Most of what we get actually comes from later Christian writers who criticize them. In a point of high irony we do find a second century pagan critic of Christianity named Celsus who discloses one piece of interesting information from early Christianity. Celsus writes, “Now Christians pray that after their toil and strife here below they shall enter the kingdom of heaven, and they agree with the ancient systems that there are seven heavens and that the way of the soul is through the planets” (95). According to Celsus the early Christians ascended to heaven through the seven planetary spheres. Gnostic texts appear to show this ascent was ritually performed in a secret dance that mimicked the heavenly journey. Part of this imagery appears in Revelation where the chosen priests of god and the seven guardian spirits perform a ring dance around the heavenly throne.

Once again we are dealing with circumstantial evidence. This is the only kind of evidence one can obtain when dealing with an artifact of history that was never written down. The truth is the book of Revelation may not be an oddity of Christian tradition, but its central ideology connected with its own version of the mysteries. Indeed, Margaret Barker explains in The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom of God that the word evangelion translated as “good news” really meant “reveal” signifying the revelation that came from the holy of holies or heavenly throne room (77-79). Further, the book of Revelation is the only book in the New Testament that actually identifies itself as a book of scripture “because it is the only one that carries the curse on those who alter it” (88; Revelation 22:18-19). Barker asserts that this self-identifying book of scripture “suggests it was already accepted as Scripture, even before John gave it a written form and its explanation” (88) and that the book of Revelation turns out to be the principal book in the New Testament “best fitted [for] the religious and cultural context of Jesus’ ministry” (83). Nor was this material necessarily an adaptation of pagan material into Christian form. These cosmic mysteries had existed all along within the Jewish faith. In the Old Testament Isaiah is endowed to be a prophet only within the heavenly throne room (Isaiah 6). Ezekiel takes a cosmic journey through the heavens as he is given his own keys of leadership (Ezekiel 1-2). The very founding of Israel occurs only when Jacob encounters the ladder of heaven, passes a guardian angel, and sees the face of god in the “House of God” (Genesis 28:12-17, 32:24-30).

Jacob dreams of a ladder ascending into heaven at the spot called The House of God and Gate of Heaven where he sees the face of the Lord and is given the Covenant of his people.

Jacob dreams of a ladder ascending into heaven at the spot called The House of God and Gate of Heaven where he sees the face of the Lord and is given the Covenant of his people.

What are we to make of this? Whatever the religion of Abraham, Moses, or Jesus, the writers of the Testaments lived in a different conceptual world that was rooted in a cosmological relationship between heaven and earth. This world was not accessed by texts but by rituals. This was all changing by the time of Jesus, where the old cosmological models were slowly being turned into the mechanical spheres of Greek astronomy. This happened with the advent of writing and fully literate consciousness. Science as we recognize it was being born from the fertile world of textual thought. And so was religion. We have forgotten that fantastic cosmos the pre-literate world had imbued upon all of its cultural artifacts. It was this older cosmology that underwrote the theologies of rebirth long before that new star shone in the heavens announcing a resurrecting god. In the context of biblical studies, perhaps the greatest gift from this god was not the secrets of rebirth—but finally a religion of the book.

The Imponderable Size of the Size of Imponderable Things

 

A depiction of the galaxies in the visible universe. It is estimated that there are up to 500 billion galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars, and each star with planets.

A depiction of the galaxies in the visible universe. It is estimated that there are up to 500 billion galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars, and each star with planets.

 

When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity that lies before and after it, when I consider the little space I fill and I see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant, and which know me not, I rest frightened, and astonished, for there is no reason why I should be here rather than there. Why now rather than then? Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time have been ascribed to me? —Pascal

Astronomy is useful because it raises us above ourselves; it is useful because it is grand. . . . It shows us how small is man’s body, how great his mind, since his intelligence can embrace the whole of this dazzling immensity, where his body is only an obscure point, and enjoy its silent harmony. — Poincaré

I don’t know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars, and planets, has a deeper meaning, but at the very least it is clear that we humans who live on this Earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves. — Dalai Lama

The three quotations above show three different attitudes towards the relationship between humans and their cosmos. The first cosmos swallows man into insignificance; the sheer scale of time and space reduces humankind into specks of dust. The second also recognizes man as dust, but makes his mind equal to the immensity of space because it is his mind that dares to imagine within the eternal. The third subordinates such comparisons underneath the utilitarian and even involuntary need to make meaning regardless of size or scale, and to live meaningfully in an infinite cosmos. And the cosmos is that infinite thing that, despite the separate attitudes towards it, everyone must take for granted.

The size of the universe is incomprehensible. No one really knows how many galaxies exist. Currently, scientists estimate that there are a minimum of 200 billion galaxies, though this estimate has been pushed to 500 billion by some. But no one really knows.

Each galaxy contains billions of stars. And in fact no really knows how many stars are in our own galaxy. The low estimate is 100 billion stars. The high estimate is 400 billion stars. But in such wild estimates, what’s a billion stars? Our galaxy, however, is relatively small compared to others. Many galaxies are nearly 10 times the size of the Milky Way. The largest known galaxy appears to be 40 times the size of our galaxy with a mass of 100 trillion stars.

No one knows how many planets are in the universe. No one knows how many planets are within our own galaxy. In fact, we are not even sure how many planets are in our own solar system, judging from a new report of a possible large planet at the very edge of our own system. Planets were once thought to be relatively rare. Now scientists are fairly certain that every star has a planet. Some stars, like our own, will have multiple planets. Others will have swarms of planets orbiting them. In other words, if there are countless trillions and trillions of stars, then there are going to be countless trillions and trillions of planets.

The space between the stars is also unimaginable. Stars are separated by light years of space. A light year is about 6 trillion miles. Most stars have 100 trillion miles of space around them. The closest galaxy to our own Milky Way is the Andromeda Galaxy. This galaxy is over twice the size of our own with an estimated 1 trillion stars. It is 2.5 million light years away, and it just so happens to be heading our way. In about 4 billion years the Andromeda Galaxy will collide with the Milky Way Galaxy. The thing is, there is such vast distances between stars that when the two galaxies collide they will simply “pass through” each other, the gravitational pull of the stars combining the galaxies in a cosmic dance of give and take.

And this is just the macrocosm. Consider the microcosm. No one knows how many cells are in a human body. The best estimate is about 100 trillion. There are 100 trillion cells in a human body, each clustered into their own “galaxies” of relations and functions forming a fantastically rescaled universe within each of us. And further, it is estimated that there are 100 trillion atoms in each cell. Each atom is composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons. And the protons and neutrons are in turn  composed of quarks. Some have suggested that quarks (for convenience sake, the “smallest” known “particle”) may in fact be composed of even smaller energies/vibrations/particles. Furthermore, the relative distance between a proton and its orbiting electrons is greater than the relative distance of stars in our galaxy to each other.

From the above to the below the scale of the universe is imponderable. Such numbers and relations are impossible for the human mind to fathom. In the face of such depthless dimensions and cataclysmic powers separated by an eternal yawn of space, many people have rejected any religious notion of God, or Soul, or a special place in the cosmos for Humankind. We are nothing but specks of dust, goes the thinking, residing on a speck of dust swirling within other specks of dust; neither Earth nor Man is the center of anything, and therefore has no intrinsic meaning or value.

This is a strange conclusion. If the universe is immeasurable, why are we assigning meaning to its measure? In a universe incommensurate to our understanding of size and scale, why do we assign a meaninglessness to our size and scale? To say that we are nothing but specks of dust says nothing about our relationship with the universe. What difference would it make if Man were the size of a stellar red giant? Or Woman the size of a galaxy? If size and proportion are the only things that give meaning, then what is one star or galaxy in a countless sea of galaxies?

Nor is position important. Modern science has shown that the universe seems endless. It should strike one as rather elementary that in the infinite there is no center because there is no perimeter. In the eternal, every point in space is equal. One could actually say that every point is the center. But once again such notions are only reflections on size and scale, and the eternal reduces size and scale to the irrelevant.

Furthermore, consider if you were a “conscious” nucleotide embedded within a strand of DNA. If you looked around you might at first assume that the cosmos you lived in was the cell in which you resided. Over time, however, you discovered that there were other cells, other organs, galaxies of cells and formations stretching . . . well, 100 trillion times beyond your own little cosmos. In such space you might consider yourself utterly insignificant, meaningless, and pointless. But what happens to the cell, or the body at large, if you were to remove a segment of DNA here or there? The entire universe changes, or even collapses.

Looking at the universe as a two dimensional canvas reduces human beings as specks of dust. And if the universe in nothing but “rocks in motion,” as my old friend Lynn Hubbard likes to say, then perhaps such a two-dimensional view is justified. We human beings, however, are conscious. We can imagine, reason, create, and philosophize. That makes us really interesting specks of dust. Like nucleotides, conscious specks may hold an altogether different relation to the universe at large besides the relation of size and scale.

I have always found the idea of a fractal universe more plausible than a universe that is only up, down, left, and right. Here is a dictionary definition and a picture of a fractal:

fractal: a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Fractals are useful in modeling structures (such as eroded coastlines or snowflakes) in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales, and in describing partly random or chaotic phenomena such as crystal growth, fluid turbulence, and galaxy formation.

Fractals are fluid geometric forms that emerge from the replication of the surrounding forms.

The image above shows a large construct of geometric forms that all flow from and reflect the surrounding forms. In fact, if you take one tiny segment of this image (the segment within the red square) and expand it you get this:

Mandlebrot Fractal_002

Fractals are scale-invariant, meaning that no matter what segment of the image you look at, that segment will be a reflection of the whole.

One can truly get a sense of the geometric relations of fractals by watching this video: Mandlebrot Fractals. Madlebrot fractals are named after Benoit Mandlebrot who was a mathematician who created an algorithm that reproduced infinite fractal shapes.

Fractal geometry shows that complex systems can be interdependent, and that the smallest form or portion of that system is not only an integrated portion of the whole, but a fundamental reflection of the whole. This is called scale-invariance. No matter the scale, each part reflects every other part. While there is a vast difference in size, the nucleotide is as invariant in form and function as the liver, which in turn is as invariant as the entire pulmonary system, or the whole body. Scale invariance recognizes that star dust is as essential as galaxies, and that the two are in a very real way a reflection of each other.

This returns us back to the idea of the individual conscious soul and its relation to the universe. We human beings are specks of dust. The fact that we are conscious specks of dust should tell us a couple things about the universe however. First off, and what should seem obvious,  if we human beings are conscious beings, that means matter creates consciousness. The fact that no one has any idea how consciousness came about, or even what it is, should tell us that we still are clueless on very fundamental aspects of matter. If we as little specks of dust are conscious, then does that mean the universe is conscious? What does that mean? What could it mean?

Secondly, what would happen to the universe if all the little conscious specks of dust in it were removed? Would the universe just keep rolling on, as so many insist, or, are we conscious specks like the nucleotides in DNA? Would our removal essentially cause the collapse of the whole system?

I think maybe the latter is the case, and that perhaps we should consider that glittering within every speck of cosmic consciousness is a reflection of the whole cosmic scheme. And when it comes to consciousness, size is irrelevant because the soul is invariant.

And when it comes to consciousness, size is irrelevant because the soul is invariant.

 

 

Prehistory, Megaliths, and Open Questions about Stonehenge

Before the melting of the glaciers during the last Ice Age, sea levels were nearly 400 feet lower than they are today. This means of course that vast stretches of additional coastline were exposed and utilized by this land’s occupants. This also means that structures would have been built on these lands, structures long swallowed up by the slow yet steady rising sea tides. The encroachment of the sea took numerous centuries to unfold, but one may wonder if oral traditions had kept alive the locations of some of the more famous settlements and temples that were now known to be below the sea. Being that the rising ocean levels occurred worldwide, one may also hypothesize that these memories may have helped to develop the ubiquitous flood myth shared around the globe.

As evidence of ancient occupation on this prehistoric shoreline, a 30,000 pound stone monolith dating to about 8,000 BCE was recently discovered off of the coast of Sicily.  No one knows what it was used for, but its existence shows that standing stones of considerable size were being employed at this date. The construction and movement of such stones also implies complex social organization. Additionally, a Stone Age settlement has been discovered on the sea floor in the English Channel dating to at least 6,000 BCE, showing that what is now sea was once inhabited by peoples who were building, organizing, and creating communities well before the supposed “birth of civilization” recorded in our textbooks as occurring sometime around 3,500 BCE with the first established villages and small cities in Mesopotamia. The complex stone ring at Gebekli Tepe dating to at least 8,500 BCE proves that complex building as well as sophisticated social and religious organization existed millennia prior to our outdated models of human cultural evolution.

Remains of a stone ring temple located in modern day Turkey and dating to 8,500 BCE.

Remains of a stone ring temple located in modern day Turkey and dating to 8,500 BCE.

One must remember that many of the earliest stone shrines in Mesopotamia and in Egypt are actually built after models of the nomadic tent. Tent cities leave no trace, and we assume that an ancient nomadic caravan was more interested in catching game and finding berries than in anything else. This assumption is grossly misplaced. One is reminded that when the Lakota Sioux journeyed with their teepees during the Spring, while catching game and collecting berries, they were actually following the sun’s entrance into specific Lakota constellations which had analogical representations on the ground. When the sun entered one constellation, the Lakota migrated to a mountain or hill which was the earthly representation of that group of stars.

Nomadic clans carry with them complex social, philosophical, cosmological, and religious constructs which organize their society. The megalithic rings, clay brick ziggurats, and stone pyramids are new architectural wonders predicated on very old cosmological ideas. We also assume that the nomadic tent predated these grand structures, but when we find giant monoliths and stone temples dating thousands of years before our ziggurats and pyramids, we are given pause to think that the nomadic clan may not be the prototype of civilization, but an afterthought of more complex social forms that had existed millennia prior. The conception of linear history is a product of literacy. Linear progression in history is a projection of a modern evolutionary model. These constructs are metaphysical projections which may or may not have relevance for the monolith builders of 10,000 years ago.

It is now clearly understood that megalithic rings had their architectural precursor in Neolithic wood henges. The structures are called Rondel Enclosures, and hundreds have been found throughout Europe dating to nearly 5,000 BCE. One of the most famous of these henges is the Goseck Circle, constructed in 4,900 BCE within the traditional Rondel design: concentric rings and mounds of earth with wooden palisades holding two or three openings. The openings of the Goseck Circle have been shown to be aligned with the solar cycle and allowed for the measurement of a solar calendar and most likely a lunar one as well.

Typical Neolithic circle predicated on an established architectural design, including a series of ditches, mounds, and wooden palisades. Openings or gates have been shown to be aligned with celestial phenomena.

Typical Neolithic circle predicated on an established architectural design, including a series of ditches, mounds, and wooden palisades. Openings or gates have been shown to be aligned with celestial phenomena.

At least by 4,000 BCE this design had dispersed itself into ancient Britain. Perhaps the most famous stone circle in present day England is known as Stonehenge, first constructed from wood around 3,000 BCE, but then rebuilt with massive stones at about 2,600 BCE. Yet Stonehenge is a late model. Far to the north in Scotland is the Orkney Complex built at least 1,500 years before Stonehenge was constructed. Orkney is a Neolithic masterpiece, with one writer noting:

This is the temple complex of the Ness of Brodgar, and its size, complexity and sophistication have left archaeologists desperately struggling to find superlatives to describe the wonders they found there. “We have discovered a Neolithic temple complex that is without parallel in western Europe. Yet for decades we thought it was just a hill made of glacial moraine,” says discoverer Nick Card of the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology. “In fact the place is entirely manmade, although it covers more than six acres of land.”

Once protected by two giant walls, each more than 100m long and 4m high, the complex at Ness contained more than a dozen large temples – one measured almost 25m square – that were linked to outhouses and kitchens by carefully constructed stone pavements. The bones of sacrificed cattle, elegantly made pottery and pieces of painted ceramics lie scattered round the site. The exact purpose of the complex is a mystery, though it is clearly ancient. Some parts were constructed more than 5,000 years ago.

Orkney shows a massive building program incorporating multiple temples, buildings, walls, shrines, kitchens, and pottery making tools. Surrounding this complex was a sophisticated network of farms and villages interlinked by sacred space and liturgy, for most archaeologists agree that Orkney is a ritual center of some sort, though what was believed or worshipped is a complete mystery.

In the ancient world different sites were linked together. This contextual network is very different from our modern notions of sacred space, where worshippers go to “their church corner” where they worship within their tradition. Other churches have their own traditions. There may be similarities or differences, but the worshipping space is immobile and set. The idea of a pilgrimage is foreign to most modern church goers, unless it means going to some national or amusement park. Not so in the ancient world, where different sites represented different loci between heaven and earth, and where different yet related deities could influence the cosmic balance for those performing the necessary rites. Migration and pilgrimage are often blurred, as in the case of the Lakota whose Spring journey was both.

Every year tens of thousands of Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca. This pilgrimage is called the Hajj, and every faithful Muslim must make this journey at least once in their lifetime. Such notions belong to the ancient world, where different sacred sites were linked to together forming a network of belief and trade.

Every year tens of thousands of Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca. This pilgrimage is called the Hajj, and every faithful Muslim must make this journey at least once in their lifetime. Such notions belong to the ancient world, where different sites were linked together forming a network of sacred space, belief, and trade.

As such, what was once thought of as individual mounds and henges are now seen as connected in a network of sacred “zones.” It has now been revealed, for example, that Stonehenge was part of a massive landscape of standing stones. The original Stonehenge was not a solitary ring in the middle of the prairie, but was connected with colossal avenues of stone which in turn pointed to other related henges. Some scholars believe that the natural landscape was also part of this ritual cosmography, where hills and rivers also represented heaven-earth correspondences. We are dealing with a much greater cosmovision than most recently thought of, as well as a far more connected and complex society who were as sophisticated as any other people, but who were rooted in the Neolithic and Mesolithic cultures and techniques of the day.

Reflecting upon these connections has led me to propose a new theory to one of the great mysteries of Stonehenge. Stonehenge was originally a wooden henge, much like the Rondel Enclosures found throughout ancient Europe. Over the course of 1,500 years the site was rebuilt several times, and large standing stones eventually took the place of standing timber.

Eventually large rocks replaced the original standing timers. Curiously, there are several different kinds of rock utilized in the ground plan, with the larger standing Sarsen stones made of sandstone or sedimentary rock, and the inner “u-ring” of smaller stones made of dolerite or igneous rock.

The outer concourse of standing stones are called Sarsens and are made of sandstone or sedimentary rock. There is an inner semi-ring of stones called bluestones. These stones are made of various kinds of dolerite, which is an igneous rock formed by the cooling of lava. The rock is a kind of “fire-stone.” Recently the exact origin of these stones was discovered. These multi-ton rocks were quarried 160 miles away in Wales and transported to the site. (There are still a few geologists who insist that the blue stones were not transported by humans but by glacier drift.) The skill and labor required to transport the multi-ton stones from so far away has everyone asking, “For what purpose were they needed?” There are no definite answers.

 

Stonehenge was rebuilt replacing wooden timers with large standing stones. Curiously, there are several different kinds of rock used, with the large Sarsen stones being made of sandstone or sedimentary rock, and the inner u-ring of smaller stones being made of dolerite or igneous rock.

This graphic shows the  different kinds of rock utilized in the ground plan of Stonehenge.

The exact ritual or cosmological uses of the site are unknown. We would be remiss to think that the site was not used for rituals within a deep cosmological worldview. Ancient oral religion and cosmology cannot be separated. My own theory as to why the bluestones needed to be transported to the site is one of resonance. Nicholas Campion has pointed out that bronze was used even after the discovery of the much stronger iron because bronze held a symbolic equivalence with the sun. It was the “cosmic resonance” of the material that was prized over its utility. Meanwhile, Schwaller de Lubicz also provides a stunning insight when he mentions that in some Egyptian temples limestone was used in the outer walls but granite was used for the inner sanctuaries.

While granite is stronger, and again we might think of the sheer utility of the building material, ancient oral minds were always considering the types and functions of the materials they were using. Granite is also an igneous rock, and one sees in the Egyptian cosmovision that each temple was a recreation of the world, where sedimentary rock was the outer “watery” world of chaos and the central shrine was the created order of the sun god Ra. Granite was a fire rock indicative of this symbolism.

This is no idle speculation. One is reminded that when Rome was founded a trench was dug circumscribing the city. While in most textbooks we are told that this trench defined the defensive wall that was to be built, in truth the trench held a completely symbolic value as a sacred boundary between the cosmic watery chaos and the new cosmic order of the established city. In the Near East and in Egypt cities were models of the cosmos and were established upon symbolic rules that had descended from prehistory. Many temples were built also as representations of the cosmos, with the waters of chaos signified outside the temple walls and the temple shrine itself representing the ideal established order and the realm of the gods. In the Hebrew temple the holy of holies was constructed as a cube where the fiery throne of Yahweh lay. Beneath the altar was the Well of Souls representative of the apsu, or underworld waters. Here was a symbolic representation of the cosmos. It is no coincidence that Pythagoras insisted that the center of the universe was a fiery cube, or that the Egyptian dead had to sail through the dark underworld waters and arise through several lakes of fire to find eternal life.

So it is with Stonehenge. At least this is my proposal. The bluestones were igneous rocks and they held a cosmological resonance to the overall metaphysical scheme of the temple. The inner ring of bluestones was the realm of fire, the created order, and the domain of the gods. They may have also been linked with similar temples or rites that were located and practiced 160 miles away from where the stones originated. In other words, the bluestones were an absolute symbolic requirement that in some way linked the builder’s vision with heaven and earth and to other sites with similar connections. As one journeyed through the avenue of stones and entered the sanctuary they were making a “cosmic voyage” through the heavens, represented itself by the building materials, landscape features, and connections to other sites.

This theory still does not tell us what they were practicing. It simply provides a functional theory for the absolute necessity of the building material being used. There is a specific reason that the builders transported several-ton-stones nearly 200 miles for the sites’ construction. That reason is, in my view, symbolic resonance with a cosmographic scheme. The builders were reproducing a picture of the heavens in the stones of the earth.

Earth, Sun, and Soul: The Hidden Cosmology that Underwrote the Scientific Revolution

In almost all textbooks we are told that Nicolas Copernicus introduced to the world the idea of a heliocentric or sun-centered universe. We are also told in these texts that Copernicus arrived at his thesis through careful observations of the sky, and was one of the great thinkers who introduced to the world the scientific method of deriving theory from observation. Copernicus was an intellectual giant in his time, but many of our modern assumptions about him are projections from modern narrative.

Nicolas Copernicus (1473 - 1543 CE) theorized a heliocentric or sun-centered universe.

Nicolas Copernicus (1473 – 1543 CE) theorized a heliocentric or sun-centered universe.

Copernicus loved cosmology and astronomy, and had mastered basic cosmological theory early in life at the University of Krakow. He had learned all about the geocentric cosmos of Aristotle and Ptolemy. He also learned that there were problems with it. There were many slight errors throughout Ptolemy’s tables when compared to actual observations. In Krakow Copernicus met Albert Brudzewski, a professor of astronomy who was deeply skeptical of the geocentric system. Copernicus followed the teachings of Brudzewski and started a life long pursuit of astronomical studies.

Despite his passion, Copernicus graduated in law and medicine, and lived a professional life of administrator and physician for his uncle at the Prince-Bishopric of Warmia’s castle at Heilsberg. During his career, he always kept up his cosmological studies. He met the astronomer Domenico Maria Novara da Ferrara who was also testing Ptolemies theories. Copernicus became the assistant to Novara de Ferrara, and together they performed what may have been Copnericus’s first actual astronomical observation to test certain aspects of the Ptolmeic model. In March of 1497, at the age of 24, Copernicus observed the occultation of the star Aldebaran by the Moon, and helped show that the distance of the Moon from the Earth is the same whether the Moon was full or in phase. According to the Ptolemaic model, the epicycles of the Moon would have produced variations in distance.

In 1500 Copernicus also observed a lunar eclipse caused by the shadow of the Earth over the Moon when the Earth lay between the Sun and Moon. The occultation of Aldebaran and the lunar eclipse are the two observations we know he made before he started posing his heliocentric theory. It is clear that these observations in and of themselves were insufficient to prove such a system, or even hypothesize such a system. It should also be clear that there was a community of astronomers who were pushing the Ptolemaic model from every direction, and the work of Brudzewski and Novara de Ferrara must have been highly influential for Copernicus himself.

What is less known is the fact that during his education, Copernicus was calculating his hypothesis of the sun-centered sky primarily from texts and not scientific observations—these would come later. Copernicus collected manuscripts containing the works of Pythagoras, Aristarchos, Cleomedes, Cicero, Pliny, Plutarch, Plato, Philolaus, and Heraclides. He scoured libraries and book collections as he traveled throughout Europe performing his clerical and administrative duties as canon.

Sometime in the first decade of the 1500’s he had a good grasp of his heliocentric theory, but as yet no real idea how to prove it. He published his masterwork, De Revolutionibus in 1543, the year of his death.  Why did it take him so long to publish his work? Copernicus spent over 30 years trying to pin down the mathematical and geometric proofs for his heliocentric model, but never succeeded. In fact, despite brilliant research and thinking, the heliocentric model of Copernicus was a rewritten form of Ptolemy’s geocentric cosmos, with cycles and epicycles of all the planets. Copernicus even added to the number of epicycles in his model, making his new system a little more cumbersome than the old. Copernicus was a perfectionist, and he spent many years working on his tables and observations to make sure what he observed fit his theory. In the end, he could not get the math to fit the model, and he knew it.

The Heliocentric Model put the Sun in the center of the Universe. This novel cosmology would change how everyone thought of God, Self, and the Universe.

The Heliocentric Model put the Sun in the center of the Universe. This novel cosmology would change how everyone thought of God, Self, and the Universe.

This is not a criticism. The genius of Copernicus was tenacity and will. When scientific cosmology is heavily influenced by an empowered religious culture, to change a scientific hypothesis may require more than scientific acumen, but also a great deal of moral courage. He broke out from standard convention and dared to think differently than the accepted norm. This alone should have put him in the history books. But it is clear that his primer for his heliocentric theory was not his astronomical observations, but his preformulated theory. Where did he get that? As already noted, he got it from the influence of his contemporaries, but especially from the writings of ancient texts. In fact, Copernicus admits as much in his own words:

I therefore went to the trouble of reading anew the books of all philosophers on which I could lay hands to find out whether someone did not hold the opinion that there existed other motions of the heavenly bodies than assumed by those who taught the mathematical sciences in the schools. And thus I found first in Cicero that  Hiketas had held the belief that the earth moves. Afterwards I found Plutarch [it is actually psuedo-Plutarch] that others have also held this opinion. But others hold that the earth moves; thus Philolaus the Pythagoriean held that it revolves round the Fire in an oblique circle like the sun and moon. Herakleides of Pontus and Ekphantus the Pythagorean also suppose the earth to move, though not in a progressive motion, but after the manner of a wheel, turning upon an axle about its own center from west to east. (Koestler 207)

Copernicus was convinced that the ancients had known secrets that had not been passed down. This was actually common belief throughout Europe from the days of the Renaissance. One of the ancient thinkers he cites is Heraclides of Pontus, who was a student of Plato. What is known for certain is that Heraclides asserted that the earth rotates on its own axis, just as Copernicus had read. Heraclides also believed that the planets of Mercury and Venus rotated around the sun on epicycles, anticipating the system of Tycho Brahe some two thousand years later (Gottschalk 81-2). Furthermore, several late writers attribute a heliocentric theory of the heavens to Heraclides, but no known fragment or early source explicitly states the case; we must assume that either later theories and ideas were placed upon Heraclides’ science or that there was another tradition that has been lost from our sources.

More compellingly, the Pythagorean Philolaus is cited by Copernicus as one of the early Greek philosophers who believed in a heliocentric system; in fact, the Copernican system was originally called Philolaica after this Greek philosopher (Kahn 26). The problem with the cosmological system of Philolaus is that he makes the Earth orbit not the sun, but a central Fire; all the planets including the sun revolve around this central Fire. In other words, there is a second sun around which the heavenly spheres rotate and from which our own sun receives its light. Aristotle in his On the Heavens articulates this strange cosmology:

As to [the earth’s] position there is some difference of opinion. Most people—all, in fact, who regard the whole heaven as finite—says it lies at the center. But the Italian philosophers known as the Pythagoreans take the contrary view. At the center, they say, is fire, and the earth is one of the stars, creating night and day by its circular motion about the center. [. . .] The Pythagoreans [. . .] hold that the most important part of the world, which is the center, should be most strictly guarded, and name it, or rather the fire which occupies that place, the “Guard-house of Zeus” (qtd. in Temple, Crystal 271)

The System of Philolaus has all the planets AND the Sun moving around a Central Fire; the true source of light for the cosmos.

The System of Philolaus has all the planets AND the Sun moving around a Central Fire; the true source of light for the cosmos.

Many scholars have wrestled over this idea attributed to Philolaus. It is clear that these early Greek thinkers were using mathematics and understood the Earth to be moving in a circular orbit (unlike Aristotle and Ptolemy). Yet disappointingly, the system described by Philolaus does not seem to correspond to any kind of real scientific observation, leaving most commentators on this teaching to acquiesce, “despite the presence of some genuine technical knowledge [. . .] the system of Philolaus taken as a whole seems less like scientific astronomy than like symbolical speculation” (Kahn 26).

This disappointment derives from strictly modern cosmological thinking. This central fire of Philolaus belonged to a very old cosmovision that predated the Greeks. This Central Fire or second sun is the heaven above the heavens and the source of all material manifestation. It is the apeiron; the realm above the fixed stars, the heavenly abode beyond Plato’s cave, the super celestial region of Orphic cosmology. It is called the Guardhouse of Zeus, and this designation was also known by other names: “the Hearth of the Universe, [. . .] the Tower or Watch-tower of Zeus, the Throne of Zeus, the House of Zeus, the Mother of the Gods, the Altar, Bond and Measure of Nature” (Heath 164). And further, “In this central fire is located the governing principle, the force which directs the movement and activity of the universe” (Heath 164). Pindar assigns to this archetypal region of the cosmos the home of immortals and the blessed dead: “But, whosoever, while dwelling in either world, have thrice been courageous in keeping their souls pure from all deeds of wrong, pass by the highway of Zeus unto the tower of Cronos, where the ocean-breezes blow around the Islands of the Blest” (Sandys 25).

Ancient funerary stele showing the deceased holding a drinking cup. Two doves with laurels are overhead. The doves symbolized the soul, and with the sprigs were an image of rebirth. In the Greco-Roman mysteries those who had been initiated ascended to the Islands of the Blessed.

Ancient funerary stele showing the deceased holding a drinking cup. Two doves with laurels are overhead. The doves symbolized the soul, and with the sprigs were an image of rebirth. In the Greco-Roman mysteries those who had been initiated ascended to the Islands of the Blessed.

We are breaching into yet another religious vision of eternity. The Central Fire was the home of the gods and the Blessed Isles where all the good souls dwelt. It empowered the universe. Its light gave the power to the Sun in the sky, for according to the Pythagoreans, the Sun’s light was only reflected light, receiving its luminescence from the true hearth of the universe. This was neither a geocentric nor heliocentric system, at least in purely spacial terms. It was a mythogenic system with one foot planted in celestial mechanics and the other foot pitched deep into the ontology of the soul. This was the cosmology of the mystery endowments of Greece and Rome, as the Roman Emperor Julian hints:

Some say then, even though all men are not ready to believe it, that the sun travels in the starless heavens far above the region of the fixed stars. And on this theory he will not be stationed midmost among the planets but midway between the three worlds: that is, according to the hypothesis of the mysteries. [. . .] For the priests of the mysteries tell us what they have been taught by the gods or might daemons, whereas the astronomers make plausible hypotheses from the harmony that they observe in the visible spheres. It is proper, no doubt, to approve the astronomers as well, but where any man thinks it better to believe the priests of the mysteries, him I admire and revere, both in jest and earnest. And so much for that, as the saying is. (qtd. In Leisegant 202)

This Sun in the heavens was not midmost the planets (interestingly, even in the geocentric system of Aristotle and Ptolemy the Sun was at the center of all the planets); the Sun of this system was at the center of the three tiered cosmos. It was the true center of life, the source of life, the cause and being of life.

Such grand metaphysics was a result of an ontological cosmos that sought to explain more than spacial logistics, but the essence and origin of all things. This was the cosmology that the geocentrists rejected, describing the universe in purely physical terms. Ironically, this spatial, clockwork universe was adopted by the Christians to underwrite their theological cosmovision. And even more ironically, it was the cosmology that Copernicus would use to counter the geocentric universe. It was a metaphysics that conceived the microcosm every bit as important as the macrocosm, and perhaps could be described as the “Hubble Deep Field of the Soul.”

Behind a pinprick of dark space the Hubble Telescope captured an image of countless galaxies extending to the bounds of known space. The image is called The Hubble Deep Field, and suggests that behind every point in the sky lies an infinite cosmos.

Behind a pinprick of dark space the Hubble Telescope captured an image of countless galaxies extending to the bounds of known space. The image is called The Hubble Deep Field, and suggests that behind every point in the sky lies an infinite cosmos.

All cosmologies are philosophies. Even in our hyper-materialist era of positivists and cosmological nihilism, the Big Bang remains a religious cosmovision because it is a metaphysics predicated on social values of its own. The center of the universe has shifted yet again within its confines; specifically there is no center, for it is a relativistic universe through and through. But perhaps the cosmology of Philolaus is not done yet. For the cosmology of Philolaus is first and foremost archetypal, and it speaks to Man’s central role in the transcendent function of creation. As such, the Central Fire has a correspondence in the spark of life in the soul of all living things. Perhaps science will come around again to this cosmology, in a different dress and with different rhetoric, but with the same ideological perspective?

Copernicus published his magnum opus in 1543, the year of his death. His courageous vision opened the doors to further speculation and experimentation. Men like Kepler and Galileo would pick up this torch and further explore the universe with a new vision of the mind. Significantly, both Kepler and Galileo would err in their speculations as well. Kepler believed that the distance of the planets could be described within the geometric relationships of the platonic solids. Curiously, he placed the entire solar system within the figure of the cube representing the planetary sphere of Saturn. Pythagoras, by the way, identified the Central Fire as a cube.

Kepler also figured the mathematical formulas for the planetary movements, and rewrote centuries of cosmological perspective by showing that the planets did not move in circles but in ellipses. Galileo attempted to prove the heliocentric theory using sea tides. Unlike Kepler, who rightly theorized that the tides were caused by the Moon, Galileo believed they were caused by the Earth’s motion as it orbited the Sun. Another failed attempt. But he also used a telescope, pointing at Jupiter, and discovered that it had several moons of its own. Then he discovered that the Earth’s moon was roughly textured, the planets looked different than stars, and that the Sun had spots. All of these anomalies served to weaken the geocentric cosmos, with its perfects spheres, circles, and cycles.

I write more of this cosmology in my forthcoming book, Mythos and Cosmos, Mind and Meaning in the Oral Age, due to be published in the summer of 2015. 

 

Science and Religion, A Brief Historical Tour

Science has become a buzz word. It is now used as a sort of universal adhesive to glue “validity” to almost any opinion, as long as it sounds or looks “scientific.”  That is to say, we can look educated; we can sound educated; we can hold certificates of education; we can obtain rank of office requiring education—and none of it means we are truly educated. In modern secular society, what passes for education is not the grit and hard labor of critical thinking, but the veneer of science. Like “religion,” the word “science” has been co-opted by fundamentalists to coerce opinion. This dynamic has been going on for a long time, and is at the root of the narrative to the secular age.

The irony in the debate between science and religion lies in the total misapprehension of means and ends as applied to both. Science and religion are means to an end. Science is an empirical methodology that seeks to answer “How do we do what we want to do?” Religion is a metaphysical methodology that seeks to answer “Why or Should we do what we want to do?” And the corollary: “Is what we want good, beautiful, and true?” Both address the human condition in substantively different ways, but never have they been natural opposites of each other. On the contrary, the technical How and the moral Why are complements of each other, and science and religion are two complimentary methodologies to address human capacity and potential.

So how did they get to be traditional opposites in our cultural understanding? Well it’s simple: Politics. Politics is the methodology of ends, and in the history of the world, it is Politics that has been the natural enemy to Science and Religion.

The overused and highly imaginative narrative that the Catholic Church and its religious sensibilities were the things that sought to destroy Galileo and his scientific sensibilities has been long discredited. Of course, you wouldn’t know it by listening to pop culture, or even the “educated” pop culture. How  quickly we forget that in the days of Galileo the Church was the State and the University was the Church. This fact has huge consequences which the secular world no longer bothers with. In an era where theocracies reign it is easy to show just how blind religion can be. But mixing religion with politics has always been disastrous. Read Jeremiah in the Bible. His whole argument was that the politics of the State was destroying the faith of Israelite religion. His solution was to give up political gamesmanship and desires for world power and live the authentically religious life. And the King and the Priests killed him for it. It’s pretty much the same story with Jesus. And Ghandi. While the story of Galileo is different, the events exist within the same dynamic.

There were many people in the Catholic Church who supported Galileo’s ideas than just opposed them; who worked to rally his insights into the wider cultural arena than suppress them. Galileo’s most strident opponents were the one’s who stood to lose the most if the old cosmology were diminished. They were the professional cosmologists, and in our textbooks they are called “Priests.” No one seems to bother calling them academics, which is exactly what they were, or the arbiters of science, which is exactly what they were defending. It is true, the Pope and several Church committees eventually came down hard on Galileo, accusing him of heresy. It is also true that the Pope in many ways had more political and economic power than the King, and much to lose politically if Galileo’s abrasive charges were left unchallenged. Meanwhile, the various Church committees were zealously defending religious doctrines while secretly dreading the end of tenure.

When there is no separation between Church and State the Church gets all the blame for what the State is doing. Fair enough, but when the State seeks final resolve over the Church, it must have an authoritative basis to gain control, and in the secular world we have been indoctrinated to think that religion is a crutch and science is the cure. In this indoctrination there is never a demarcation between church and religion, which is very telling. In the story of Galileo, the church was a political structure which used religion as its reason for using its power. The downfall of the church was the politicization of its religion. Just as in the days of Jeremiah, it turns out that church and religion were opposites.

The secular world has not overcome this paradox. Indeed, when Science and State are in bed together, the end result is often disastrous.  The Nazi final solution was rooted in scientific argument: intelligence was a biological function rooted in evolutionary processes. If society eliminated the biologically weak, then the new generation would become the ubermensch. Millions would go to the slaughterhouse in the name of scientific progressiveness. The most talented cadre of intellectuals in the world, the German academics, joyfully marched to the tune of the Nazi ideal while donning the accouterments of the new age—lab coats. Droves of American academics fawned over the rise of the National Socialists, declaring that they were the opening act to the new Age of Reason. Only slowly, and with begrudging despair, did they admit they were mistaken, and this not because of the arguments of science, which they had been using the whole time, but because of the ash falling out of the sky.

Of course, there were a great many German and American academics who were opposed to the whole charade, but the entire episode interrupts the meta-narrative of modernism that science and religion are opposed. On the contrary, when a political system seeks ultimate power at any cost, it will use whatever means it can to achieve its ends. In a theocracy, the State uses religion for the sake of its power. In a secular age, the State uses science for the same ends.

The complimentary proposition holds true. Authentic science concerns itself with authentic religion, because how we do a thing is fundamentally linked to why it must be done. Religion is more than ethics, however, but a philosophy of relationships rooted in the “divine self” or human-being as it ought to be. It is not enough to ask, “Should we do this?” We must also ask, “If we do this, how ought it be done?” In a world of dynamic relationships the cold efficiency of science is often insufficient for its own application. Religious morality is a necessary partner to scientific truth. It is one thing to know how to split an atom. It is another thing entirely to split an atom on another’s head.

The modern tensions between science and religion turn out not to be new. This is a critical point that is also skipped in our history books. The meta-narrative of modernity not only pits science and religion against each other, but also places true science as a completely modern and novel idea breaking forth out of countless millennium of religious superstition. It is a self congratulating point of view that simply does not hold.

In the West, according to our histories, true reason begins around 600 BCE when a man named Pythagoras founded a school in Greece. Pythagoras worked out the mathematical relationships in musical tones, and began describing the world not as the forces of arbitrary gods, but by number. It is a marvelous narrative that entirely skips the fact that the school of Pythagoras was closer to a temple cult than a Western academy. Oh, and that the world had been described by number far before Pythagoras, but such descriptions were veiled behind the mythological tropes of the gods. Irony to be sure.

Still, Pythagoras was an intellectual giant. And so were Heraclides, Plato, Erastosthenes, Aristotle, and scores of other Greek intellectuals, all of which would never consider a natural division between science and religion. For them science and religion were synonymous. Like Isaac Newton, arguably one of the greatest minds in human history, and who wrote more on religious subjects than on all of his works on calculus, physics, and optics combined, all were as interested in religion as science. Modern notions sidestep this reality by asserting that while all these men were great intellectuals and laid the foundations for the Scientific Revolution and the modern age of reason, they were also steeped in a religious world that would take centuries to rise out of. If they had been born today, so the thinking goes, they would have sided with the pro-science and anti-religion crowd. This viewpoint is untenable.

A few generations after Pythagoras and Parmenides the Sophists had taken over education. These were the high intellectuals who traveled around Greece teaching the secrets of the universe to anyone who could pay their high fee. The late Sophists were the “Renaissance Men” of Greece: sophisticated, knowledgeable, critical, elitist, and highly condescending to religion. They were the self-anointed culture-bringers who accused all those who disagreed with them as “flat-earthers,” despite the fact that most of them believed in a flat earth. Indeed, their science looks so childish and pithy to us today, with all their talk of hot and dry, breath and winds, earth, fire, air, and atoms. But this was the high science of the times, and creation could be explained by such things without talking about the gods. Our modern science has changed a great deal, but the dynamic between the materialists and the non-materialists has not changed at all.

Men like Anaxagoras, Hippocrates, and Protagoras, were insistent that there was no such thing as the supernatural, and that religion was a crutch and science was the cure. They were not alone in making these arguments; in fact, they were in the majority. Socrates sums up the spirit of the times when he says, “When I was a young man I was wonderfully keen on that wisdom which they call natural science, for I thought it splendid to know the causes of everything, why it comes to be, why it perishes and why it exists” (Phaedo 96a-b). Socrates hoped that the sciences could explain everything. Yet, after Socrates scoured through all the scientific literature he realized that it was all a front, and that the scientists knew about as much of the real nature of things as the country peasant who still believed in satyrs and cyclopes.

Socrates, however, was one of only a few who were holding the line between religion and science. Plato writes that the common opinion among educated academics was that nature produces creation spontaneously without any intervention of the gods, and that all things could be explained by the natural sciences (Sophist 265c, for example). Classical Greece was filled with atheism, and both Socrates and Plato will have none of it. At the very end of Socrates’ life, he scolds the wisest and most knowledgeable scholars of the day, and declares that when it is all said and done, a life lived as promoted by these scholars, a life without authentic religion, is worthless (Gorgias 527b-e). This was not a reflection, but an accusation against the spirit of his times. Like Jeremiah and Jesus, Socrates was sent to his death by the fundamentalists of his age, accused of impiety. Our modern history books labels these authoritative crowds as religious mobs, but in each case the people sending the high thinkers of the age to their deaths are the academically trained intellectuals promoting not only the best politics of the day, but also the best science.

I have spent some time deconstructing the secular side of this argument because it is the argument that is made in secular culture. It is easy to point out religious fanaticism and fundamentalism, but few people seem to understand that such things are not a product of religion, but of human nature, and the secular crowd does not get a pass. It could be said that fundamentalism is the art of obtaining moral authority in conformity. The fundamentalist wants people to think and act as he does, and often puts up strict punishments for any departure from the official path. One must tow the party line or else.

And this is the point. There is a party line, and it need not be religious. Clearly the church committees railing against Galileo were fundamentalists, but so were the Sophists in the days of Socrates. There are two things one CANNOT do on an American university campus: argue with an evangelical that the Bible contains myth and the earth is not seven thousand years old; or question a secular progressive on the hypothesis and methodology of Climate Change. The irony here is, the first will accuse you of impiety and may suggest that your soul is not saved, but the second will actively seek to silence and banish you from campus. While the first reaction is intolerant, the second is far more similar to the methodology of the late church committees censuring Galileo. And no one seems to get the joke.

The tension then, was never between authentic science and authentic religion. The tension has always been between a socio-cultural point of view embedded in human nature: the material versus the spiritual, the profane versus the sacred. This tension is exasperated by the fundamentalism adopted by both sides of this argument as they try to control the other side. Suffering has always been the result. Meanwhile, a true scientists does not disparage religion lest he turns himself into a theologian who despises only his own caricature of religion . Even as a true disciple of faith seeks out scientific progress at every turn of the scriptural page. Culture and politics are the only things that corrode this relationship.

 

Science and Religion, Bibliography

In the past week I have had two associates of mine ask me about my own take on the tensions between science and religion. I know this subject has been discussed thoroughly from multiple points of view, but these intelligent and highly educated associates still grapple with the tensions between these fields of knowledge. And rightfully so.

I thought I would simply add a reflection on the subject I have had over the past few years as I listen to people discuss the interrelation between these two fields of study. I will do this in a couple of posts. This one presents a bibliography of good books to read. And the next post will discuss the nature of science and religion. The last post will discuss cosmology, which has always been a mixture of both.

First off, I have my own bibliography I have studied in this field. There are many other books and essays one can read, but I suggest the following:

1. Science and Religion, by Ferngren (Editor).  This is a recent compilation of essays by leading scholars and historians of science and religion. It is well written and shows the complexity of historical interpretation between science and religion. Highly Recommended.

2. The Logic of Scientific Discovery, by Popper. This is a dense tome but well worth the read. Popper is one of my favorite historians of science, though often he writes to an audience who is already deeply immersed in scientific language and tradition (and, admittedly, is sometimes over my head). Popper shows what science is, its limitations, methodologies, and products. His argument that a thing that cannot be falsified cannot be called science, and his insights on the highly metaphysical nature of cosmology, is worth the price of the book and the labor of the read.

3. Philosophy and the Real World, by Magee. This is an introduction to the ideas of Karl Popper (above) and is a much easier read. So, if you are new to the subject, read this one first.

4. The Measure of God, by Witham. This is a great overview of the different fields of science and how they interact with religion as revealed in the Gifford Lectures, or series of lectures given by leading scholars. It is more of a history of ideas set within the science and religion debate context.

5.  The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Kuhn. A classic. Kuhn shows that science often evolves very unscientifically, and that the road to scientific consensus is “extraordinarily arduous.” Social, cultural, and philosophical influences walk side by side in the quest for scientific discovery.

6. Darwin, Norton Critical Edition, by Appleman (Editor). So very often the conflict of science and religion falls into the arguments of human identity, and thus biological evolution. This books presents the writings of Charles Darwin, with an absolutely fantastic section of essays from different perspectives about the writings of Charles Darwin. I know this is revealing, but as it turns out, I could not put this book down.

7. The Origins of Scientific Thought, by de Santillana. I read this book twenty years ago and it had a profound influence on me and my view of history. His introductory chapter on the science before the Greeks was the first bit of history writing that challenged everything I had learned about history before the Greeks. I cite him often in my upcoming book Mythos and Cosmos.

If you only have time to read one book, read the first one on the list. If you are interested in the history of science, read the last one on the list. If you are interested in the philosophy of science (which is necessary to understand if one is going to assess it with religion) read any in the middle.

 

Heart, Fire, and Sky: Creation and Renewal within the Cosmic Soul

The New Fire Ritual of the Mexica was a re-enactment of their creation myth. According to this myth the previous world age had ended in a cataclysmic flood: “there was water for 52 years and then the sky collapsed” (Hancock 16). In the midst of this desolation the Mexica gods gathered to reignite the fires of life and begin a new age. Two gods, Tecciztecal and Nanahuatzin stood before the sacred fire, Tecciztecal retreated before the scouring heat of the flames, but Nanahuatzin “made an effort and closed his eyes, and rushed forward and cast himself into the fire” (Hancock, qtd. 16-17). Nanahuatzin was consumed but also transformed through self-sacrifice into the Fifth Sun, which restored light and harmony to the world below.

According to the Mexica cosmovision, every 52 years human sacrifices were made in similar fashion to re-ignite the cosmic fire and stave off world cataclysm. The sacrificial victims were often 52 years old (Read 125). The time leading up to the 52 year mark was filled with insecurity and fear (Read 125). In preparation for the New Fire ritual, “all fires were extinguished, all wood and stone statues of gods kept in people’s homes cast into the water, and all cooking utensils and fire implements thrown away. Everything was swept clean and all rubbish disposed of” (Read 125). All things of the previous order were discarded. Darkness descended upon Mexica civilization in cosmic re-enactment of the end of the previous age: “Everywhere people perched on rooftops in the darkened valley; no one was touching the ground. All watched for the fire to be sparked above on an isolated mountaintop called Uixachtlan” (Read 125).

This mountain was known as the Hill of the Star (Jenkins 82). The star in question is actually a star cluster known as the Pleiades. The priests performing the ritual did so only when the Pleiades reached its zenith at midnight. Were the Pleiades to reach the zenith before or after midnight all believed the world would end (Jenkins 83). At the moment of the Pleiades zenith a sacrificial victim was laid upon an altar on the Hill of the Star and his heart was cut out (see figure 1). In his gaping chest a new fire was built that consumed his flesh. The new fire was started by a fire drill which image is the Mexica representation for the ceremony itself. The victim’s heart was fed back into the flames and once his entire body was consumed a faggot from this fire was taken and distributed throughout “all the regions of Mexica dominion” to rekindle the fire of civilization and to birth a new age (Read 126). The ritual ended with feasting and celebrating, and more human sacrifices, as the communal fires were rekindled from the sacrificial heart bathed in the starlight of the Pleiades.

Aztec Sacrifice

Fig. 1 Aztec Heart Sacrifice

The New Fire ritual is complex and subject to diverse interpretations; according to Read, no theory is sufficient to explain adequately the phenomenon (Read 128). Read herself explains the ritual in terms of a cosmic meal: “Death necessarily is accentuated in an eating environment such as the Mexica’s, because for one thing to eat, another must die” (Read 136). As the Mexica must eat from the resources of nature so also nature required sustenance from the Mexica, allowing a “dynamic exchange to occur in what is an ecological balancing act” (Read 136). In this view, the idea of human sacrifice is an ecological exchange: the cosmos feeds the community and therefore the community must feed the cosmos.

Read’s thesis focuses on the biological cycle of eating a meal: harvesting, eating, excrement. Read compares this cycle with the human sacrifice of the Mexica where the victim is harvested, eaten (by the cosmos) and whose remains are consumed leaving the ash of sustenance. It is an intriguing idea, but it clearly de-emphasizes the essential elements of the ritual: the heart, the new fire, and the Pleiades. All three of these features correspond not only to a Mexica cosmovision about creation and renewal, but to an entire, world-wide body of myth and ritual which also share these three key features. While space does not allow for an in-depth examination of these world-wide “coincidences”, a brief synopsis of some of them will show that the heart, the fire, and astral alignment, in this case with the Pleiades, are all synonymous images reinforcing an idea basic to ancient ritual–not an ecological exchange or biological meal–but a grand cosmology dealing with properties that can only be termed “soul.”

The whole complexity of the New Fire ritual can be symbolized by one salient image: the heart. In the ancient view, the heart was the nexus of all physiological processes, and it appears that ancient cultures understood it’s function of circulating and oxygenating the blood (Young 4-6). The heart creates life, not from ex-nihilo, out of nothing, but from a pumping action that causes the blood to flow throughout the four corners of the body. Blood whose nutriment has been used is renewed with the flame of life by cyclically reentering the chambers of the heart. The heart therefore, was the sacred center which both created and renewed the life of man.

The heart as symbol, however, was not a metaphor for tissue and blood. The heart was a referent for the processes and relationships which existed above (macrocosm) and below (microcosm). Furthermore, these vast realms of above and below were not divided, but as shall be seen, intrinsically connected. The New Fire ritual must be understood in these terms.

Heart as Macrocosm
The grand scope of the cosmos was often represented by the image of a heart (see figure 2). This is so because the human heart had a celestial correlation–an astral heart that served the exact same purposes. This astral heart was generally thought to be the sun. Like the human heart, the sun pumped a celestial blood (universally symbolized as fire) throughout the four corners of the world. It pumped this life-giving fluid through its four revitalizing chambers or cardinal points (equinoxes and solstices) or by its circulatory ascent to the apex of the grand arch of the sky (zenith). Thus the astral heart also created and renewed life over cycles of time. Indeed, its heartbeat was time: days, years, and world ages.

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Fig. 2 In the Kabbalah, the heart was the connection between the macrocosm and microcosm.

Curiously, the Mexica performed their New Fire rite in conjunction with the Pleiades and not the sun, and this is unique amongst so many ritual cosmologies. Perhaps, however, there is another understanding to be had, and as John Jenkins ingeniously observes, by performing the New Fire ritual in November when the Pleiades reached its zenith at midnight, the Mexica could track the true astral alignment they were supposedly reckoning: the sun-Pleiades conjunction which occurred exactly six months after the New Fire ritual (Jenkins 82-84). This conjunction cannot be seen because the light of the sun obscures the entire stellar background, yet it occurs like clockwork nevertheless, and was central to the Mexica zenith-cosmology (Jenkins 83).

Whatever the solar connection, it is clearly seen that the Pleiades zenith and/or its solar conjunction symbolized the heart of the sky continuously pumping the fecundating solar fire into the world, renewing its spin or energy around its center. The New Fire ceremony, therefore, is a rite completely transfixed upon the image of the zenith heart. We cannot ignore the importance that zenith cosmology has in ancient ritual. On the subject Mircea Eliade writes:

Let us dwell for a moment upon this mythological image of the zenith which is at the same time the Summit of the World and the ‘Center’ par excellence, the infinitesimal point through which passes the Cosmic Axis (Axis Mundi)…. A ‘Center’ represents an ideal point which belongs not to profane geometrical space, but to sacred space; a point in which communication with Heaven or Hell may be realized: in other words, a ‘Center’… where the planes intersect, the point at which the sensuous world can be transcended. (Eliade 75)

Many rituals around the world coincided with the New Fire ritual at least in this fact: they were performed on days of equinox, solstice, or zenith, and represented a ritualized renewal of life utilizing the solar fluids (symbolized by fire) which were produced by a pole or fire drill (symbolizing the Center). James Frazer in his Golden Bough records numerous such rituals throughout Europe where cosmic orientation, the extinguishing of lights and fires in the community, re-lighting those lights with a sacred flame, and starting that flame in many cases by a fire drill, or upon a pole or tree around which a wheel was turned letting friction ignite the flames, were performed to renew earth and sky (Frazer 246-293). These ritual elements can be seen across cultures (see figures 3-5).

Fig. 3 Mayan Fire Drill

Fig. 3 Mayan Fire Drill

 

Fig. 4 Hindu Cosmic Drill

Fig. 4 Hindu Cosmic Drill

 

Fig. 5 Egyptian Fire Drill

Fig. 5 Egyptian Fire Drill

By comparison, the Mexica fire drill can be nothing but an image of this axis-mundi, the cosmic pole or tree around which the universe flows and beats. It cannot be coincidence that the Mexica priests placed the fire drill in the place where the human heart had been. What better representation of connecting earth and sky by placing a pole between the hearts of each? The literal fire drill the priests used to rekindle the earthly flame was therefore a representation of the “Center”, above and below, around which the cosmic flames were produced.

Heart as Microcosm
Wherever we see zenith-solar cosmology we could say it is heart-cosmology. As Aristotle observed, the heart is the first organ to form in the embryo. It is the “prime mover of life” from which all things flow (Young 15). The heart is a cosmic center. This notion is to be understood literally. If the heavens have a heart, then the heart of man must contain the heavens.

We are dealing here with a highly metaphysical and mythological paradigm. It begins with the notion that man and the universe are intrinsically bound, especially through the heart of each. Paracelsus, writes:

Man is heaven and earth, and lower spheres, and the four elements, and whatever is within them, wherefore he is properly called by the name of microcosmos, for he is the whole world…know then that there is also within man a starry firmament with a mighty course of planets and stars that have exaltations, conjunctions and oppositions. The heart is the sun; and as the sun acts upon the earth and upon itself, so also acts the heart upon the body and upon itself. (Young 12)

This poetic idea is no idle metaphor, but an essential paradigm of ancient thought. The heart of man was the seat of life which produced a fire that revealed the gods and the cosmos within him. The heart of man was analogous to the sun, that orb which brings light, heat, and fecundation to the earth. Without the sun there is no life; therefore no firmament. Likewise, without the heart there is no life, no vital spark, no soul. Thus it is the human heart that brings the cosmos into view. The one does not feed upon the other, they in fact form a symbiotic relationship comparable to the covalent bond between atoms that share electrons. The cosmos is the hydrogen producing firmament, man is the oxygen breathing heart, together they form the waters of life.

Jacob Needleman remarks upon the same idea using different terms:

In this understanding [of the ancient cosmos], the earth is inextricably enmeshed in a network of purposes, a ladder or hierarchy of intentions. To the ancient mind, this is the very meaning of the concept of organization and order. A cosmos–and, of course, the cosmos–is an organism, not in the sense of an unusually complicated industrial machine, but in the sense of a hierarchy of purposeful energies. (Needleman 18)

This is a strange metaphysics to the modern mind, primarily because we view the cosmos differently than ancient man. The modern view sees the universe as interactions between torrential, impersonal powers through vast, profane space. This cosmovision holds no room for man; in this scheme of things he is viewed as a speck of dust with no purpose nor participation in cosmos at all. He is nothing. But this understanding is a recent invention, not accepted by the cultures of antiquity. Ancient man was a prime participant of the cosmos. He was a fulcrum point of “purposeful energies” placing him in the center of creation. Why? Because the anthropomorphic cosmos pumped its celestial fluids throughout all space until it too filled the heart of man. Man knew his encounter with cosmos when he felt a “burning” in the heart.

This concept is elegantly portrayed in a Sufi text called The Wisdom of the Throne, where cosmic paradise was termed the qalb, a word meaning heart, and whose earthly correlation was the heart of the faithful man. The text reads: “The heart of the man of true faith is the Throne of the Merciful,” and “…the heart of the man of true faith is the House of God” (Tvedtnes, Hauglid, and Gee 511). Here, the heart of man and the Throne of the Merciful are synonymous terms. It could be written: “The heart of the man of faith is the Heart of the Cosmos.” Again, this is to be taken literally.

An old Muslim tradition about Abraham also illustrates this idea and curiously shares many of the elements of the New Fire myth and ritual. Because Abraham would not submit to the idols of Namrūd he was tied to a pole (the fire drill) and set ablaze. In this story, however, the fire does not consume Abraham. Sarah, the king’s daughter, was curious and went to see if Abraham had burned. Coming to the great pyre she perceived Abraham was alive, sitting in the flames and in the heart of an orchard, which flames sent blossoms to the world below. Wanting to enter into this fiery realm Sarah asked how it could be done? Abraham responded, “Just repeat after me: ‘Whoever has God’s name in his heart and on his tongue will be unhurt.’” Sarah repeated the phrase and entered (Tvedtnes, Hauglid, and Gee 461-462; see figure 6).

Abraham-in-the-Cosmic-Heart

Fig. 6 Abraham in the Cosmic Heart

In the Mexica myth, Nanahuatzin is immolated in a cosmic fire, and like Abraham is not slain, but transformed into the macrocosmic heart, the Fifth Sun, sending life (blossoms) to the world below. Nanahuatzin accomplishes this feat because in fact his heart is humble and saintly, unlike Tecciztecal, who is proud and boastful. There is something of Abraham in Nanahuatzin, and vice versa. Just as in the Sufi text, there is something of the faithful man in Abraham and Nanahuatzin. What is their common link? All have access to the heart of the cosmos, and therefore are enabled to bring about renewal of the cosmos, because their own microcosmic hearts are in tune, purified, saintly, burn with the fluids flowing from the heart above.

Anciently, the images of fire and heart through which man is connected with the cosmos keep showing up no matter where we look. Thus, in ancient China the heart’s element was fire, and it controlled the shên, the spirit or “divinely inspired part” that reveals the knowledge of all things (Young 7). In the Upanishad of the Embryo in India the heart is termed an “inner fire” that is the “seat of breath” (Young 9), and the source of life. In Kabbalah tradition, the heart of cosmos is the “vital sparks” which fill all worlds, nations, and creatures (Matt 31, 152). Paracelsus and the old alchemists all represented the heart as the center of the microcosm, source of life and renewal, and portrayed as a burning sun (Hall 151). Additionally, man’s heart was also shown with the universal tree rooted in it, revealing its relation to the great macrocosm above, (see figure 7). In Judeo-Christian literature, the word of god, or the logos, which procured illumination, is revealed as a burning in the heart (Jeremiah 20:9 & Luke 24:32). In Christian tradition, the logos is felt because of the sacrificial act of Christ, who, like Abraham, was tied to a post (again the fire drill), and who, like the Mexica sacrificial victim, had his heart pierced. Christ’s act of atonement thus allowed for his own energies to burn in the hearts of the believers (See figure 8).

Fig. 7 Heart and Microcosmic Tree

Fig. 7 Heart and Microcosmic Tree

 

Fig. 8 Christian Heart Bathed in the Fire of the Holy Spirit

Fig. 8 Christian Heart Bathed in the Fire of the Holy Spirit

Finally, this imagery and symbolism is also found in ancient Egypt, though in reverse terms. According to the Egyptian paradigm the soul of man, upon mortal death, enters the underworld facing challenges which test its very essence. In fact, no soul could endure the challenges unless, like both the Muslim and Christian traditions, it had been ritually purified in mortality by being initiated, and having God’s word written upon the heart. Without such preparation the soul would be outcast into darkness. This drama is portrayed in the Book of Caverns in a curious likeness to the Mexica New Fire ritual. Here, enemies of the sun whose souls cannot endure the cosmic flame have their hearts torn out and blood spouting from their chests (Schoch 106). The Book of Caverns reads: “O you who have fallen, without soul, into the Place of Terror….O you upside down ones, the bloodstained ones, whose hearts have been torn out, in the Place of Terror” (Lubicz 135). Schwaller de Lubicz interprets this passage as a sacred science wherein “the vital organs of the anthropocosmos” are related to “cosmic influences and human organs” (Lubicz 136). In other words, for the soul of man, represented by the Egyptians as the heart, to enter into Paradise, his heart must already be filled with the cosmic fluids, “be pure of heart”, and thereby enabled, like Abraham, to endure the cosmic flame. If he cannot his heart is torn asunder and cast into the “Place of Terror” where darkness and destruction await. This representation is also shown in the Book of the Dead, where the ib was weighed in the scales of cosmic judgement.

In all these traditions the heart of man is a cosmic entity which is the source of life, a place of burning, a receptor for intelligence, the logos, consciousness, and divinity. In other words, a receptor for what Needleman calls a “hierarchy of energies” in which both man and cosmos participate: each share the same heartbeat in an act of cosmic harmony. Simply put, Christ’s atonement is an exchange of soul, just as is Nanahuatzin, Abraham, or the Mexica sacrificial victim.

Problematically, the English language gives us only one word for heart, though even brief introspection recalls that this word has multiple meanings. One’s heart is an organ, but the word is also used in terms of a state of being or a state of action: “You have no heart!” or the opposite, “You have such a big heart!” In ancient Egypt there were two words for “heart”: haty was a term meaning the physical heart, and ib, was the word for the spiritual, emotional, heart-soul (Young 112). In all the traditions above, the heart of man is seen as his soul, and it is man’s soul that shares in the vital energies pumped out from the cosmic heart; just as it is man’s soul that shares in the cosmic nature itself: immortal, eternal, the flame of life.

Conclusion
The New Fire ritual is a creation of an axis-mundi linking the points of the axis to the heart of man and to the heart of the sky. The heart of man is not just a pumping, fleshy, organ, but a “microcosmos” analogous to the sun radiating microcosmic energies–energies of life. The Pleiades is not just a star cluster, but when bound with the zenith and solar conjunction, is the cosmic heart from which flow macrocosmic energies–these too are energies of the soul. Thus, the Mexica’s sacrificial heart is an ecological exchange of soul enacted on a cosmic stage.

Principally, man’s participation with cosmos was always displayed through a ritual re-enactment of cosmic processes: creation, renewal, and orientation to the sky and ground. In turn, cosmic processes were symbolized by the actions of the beating heart; it sent out life giving energies and returned them so that it might renew its potency through fire. This is exactly what the New Fire ceremony represents: it is a creation of cosmos through the sacrifice of a heart, the renewal of a cosmic age by the re-igniting of flame, and a re-orientation of cosmos under the light of the Pleiades. But ritual is always a two way street. And where the Mexica performed their ritual as an act of cosmic prolongation, they too saw it as an act of microcosmic creation. By re-enacting the acts of the gods, they were preparing themselves to become like the gods and to enter into their realm (Read 147).

So, like Abraham, the Sufi faithful, the Egyptian initiate, the enlightened Christian, or the Chinese shên, the Mexica were circulating soul, incorporating the cosmic flames into their souls and at the same time extending their vital energies (heart and microcosmos) to the realm above. According to this cosmovision, balance was preserved in both realms.

 WORKS CITED
De Lubicz, R. A. Schwaller. Sacred Science: The King of Pharaonic Theocracy. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1988.

Eliade, Mircea. Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism. Princeton: Princeton U P, 1991.

Frazer, James G. The Golden Bough: The Roots of Religion and Folklore. New York: Gramercy Books, 1981.

Grof, Stanislav. Books of the Dead: Manuals for Living and Dying. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1994.

Hall, Manly P. Man: Grand Symbol of the Mysteries, Thoughts in Occult Anatomy. Los Angeles, CA: The Philosophic Research Society, 1972.

Secret Teachings of All Ages: Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic & Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy. Los Angeles, CA: The Philosophic Research Society,

Hancock, Graham and Santha Faiia. Heaven’s Mirror: Quest for the Lost Civilization. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998.

Jenkins, John Major. Maya Cosmogenesis 2012. Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Company Publishing, 1998.

Matt, Daniel C. The Essential Kabbalah. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1995.

Needleman, Jacob. A Sense of the Cosmos: Scientific Knowledge and Spiritual Truth. New York: Monkfish Book Publishing Company, 2003.

Read, Kay. “The Cosmic Meal,” Time and Sacrifice in the Aztec Cosmos. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1998.

Schoch, Robert M. Voyages of the Pyramid Builders: The True Origins of the Pyramids from Lost Egypt to Ancient America. New York: Penguin Putnam, 2003.

Tvedtnes, John A., Brian M. Hauglid, and John Gee, editors. Traditions About the Early Life of Abraham. Provo, UT: BYU, Foundations for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2001

Young, Louisa. Book of the Heart. Westminster, MD: Doubleday, 2003.

Bringing the Sky to Earth

I had the opportunity to help a group of young men on a high adventure outing understand the scope and scale of our solar system. While the young men hiked through the rugged and spectacular scenery of Bryce Canyon, Utah, I set up my astronomy gear some 45 minutes away at a Dude Ranch named Rock’n R Ranch. The southern Utah sky is excellent for star gazing, and while the clouds piled up during the day, by about midnight they had dissipated.

One of the things I showed the group was a scale model of our solar system. I followed the same scale that Guy Ottewell had published in The Thousand-Yard Model. Sure enough, the scale takes about one thousand yards to lay out, if each inch represents 100,000 miles of distance, or each step a person takes represents 3.6 million miles.

I placed a basketball representing the sun at the head of a trail, and then walked off the scale. I stepped 10 paces and set down a marker for the planet Mercury. Another 9 paces and I placed a marker for the planet Venus. 7 more paces for Earth and 14 paces for Mars. Then the pacing starts getting quite large. From Mars to Jupiter takes 95 paces. From Jupiter to Saturn another 112 paces. 249 more paces to Uranus, and 281 paces to Neptune, and 242 more paces to Pluto. The total distance is over 10 football fields, or about 1,020 yards.

While I have laid out this system before, this was the first time I did it in lights! My markers were little battery operated LED lights attached to stakes. I knew we would be looking at this in the dark, and fortunately I had a huge field to lay out my ground-plan. Further, I used red lights to represent Mercury, Venus, and Mars; blue lights to represent Earth, Uranus, and Neptune; green lights for Jupiter and Saturn. Because Pluto is so far away I represented it with a white light.

It worked amazingly. The lights were bright and could be seen stretching out into a black landscape whose vastness almost made it look like empty space itself. In the middle of this system was my telescope and equipment. I showed the group the relative distances and make up of each of the planets, and discussed size in space. For example, on the same scale, if we were to walk to the closest star next to our sun, with every inch representing 100,000 miles, we would have to walk over 4,200 miles away.

We then spent the night looking into the sky and viewing Saturn, Mars, and several star clusters and galaxies. With the grandeur of the deep sky overhead, and the twinkling lights of the planets beneath, we seemed suspended in space. It was a very fun night.

“God is dead”: the Plight of World Ages

It has been said that the modern world was defined when a poet-philosopher stood upon a stump and decried “God is dead!” This declaration, whatever its original intent, has been fundamentally embraced by modern, secular culture, from Darwin to Heisenberg, from Freud to Russell, as an underpinning to the very idea of the Age of Reason: humankind does not need God; we can create our own paradise. Indeed, in the 19th and early 20th centuries the popular idea of the scientific community was that the Golden Age was just around the corner–Reason had created industry, technology, modern economy, and science, of its own standing and natural course, and would eventually solve all problems and suffering. This humanistic belief in god-is-dead-ology persists today, in some ranks, ironically, with wholesale blind faith.

Yet, as a rising body of social and scientific critique emerges from the horizon, with such titles as Dark Age Ahead, The Coming Plague, Twilight of American Culture, Twilight of Common Dreams, The End of Education, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, and many more, a new cultural consciousness is emerging which recounts the old words of Marcellus, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (Hamlet 1.4). It seems from circumference to center the Age of Enlightenment is dimming down, and the neo-post-deconstructionist age may well be defined by another poet-philosopher standing on the self-same world stump declaring, “Man is an idiot!”

In the rush towards interminable material progress humankind has stifled their true nature, which has always been inexhaustible spiritual potential (Tillich 104). Living within this contradiction–the material versus the spiritual, gain versus authentic growth–humankind lurches forward, from age to age, raising up as standards of both gain and growth one dogmatic neurosis after another. Religion, science, psychology, ethics, philosophy, or any other epistemological paradigm held as the center axis of being unattached to the universe as it really is can only lead to endless suffering.

Curiously, in mythologic systems the nature of consciousness was well observed, and even tracked in grand cycles of time. Nearly every mythic tradition held a belief in a series of world ages which transcribed these cycles. The very word “world” identifies this ancient eschatology: wer-auld literally means “man-age” and refers to the long cyclical ages of consciousness in which humankind participates.

In mythic time, there are generally denoted four world ages. The Greeks declared that there was a golden age, a silver age, a bronze age, and an iron age. Each age was aligned with a form of consciousness which, in the golden realm of being, was akin to the gods. The iron age, on the other hand, is an age of stifling lust and pride and the current age in which we live. These ideas of time were themselves thought to parallel the rise and fall of civilizations, where each civilization went through four epochs of consciousness–in the Greek terms: olbus, koros, hubris, and ate. As Hugh Nibley notes, olbus means filled and fulfillment, having everything that is needed; koros is taking more than is needed, overeating or over filling; this leads to hubris which is overconfidence in self and a total disconnect from nature as it is, placing self above all else; which terminates in ate or the point of no return, things break down and run out and nothing can stop the entropy cascade of destruction (Nibley 41).

Both Buddhist and Hindu cosmology also express the four world ages. In a treasury of Buddhist teachings entitled The Encompassment of All Knowledge the four world ages are clearly named: “formation, abiding, destruction, and vacuity” (Taye 62). In Hindu cosmology the four ages are Krita, Tretā, Dvāpara, and Kali (Zimmerman 13). These ages in many ways parallel the Greek understanding, for they both address a physical creation as well as an evolution (or de-evolution) of consciousness. As Zimmerman explains, the Hindu ages exist upon Dharma, “the moral order of the world” (13). With each successive age there is a decrease in Dharma until the Kali age, where “man and his world are at their very worst. […] ‘when society reaches a stage, where property confers rank, wealth becomes the only source of virtue, passion the sole bond of union […], falsehood the source of success in life, sex the only means of enjoyment, and when outer trappings are confused with inner religion […]’ then we are in the Kali Yuga […]” (15).

So it is that the so called Age of Enlightenment has proved to be nothing but eye wash and special effects–a spectacular opening act invariably leading to a final culmination of hubris whose closing curtains are cued by a dirge for inner awareness. Despite the vast armada of technical doohickeys with which we append ourselves with great self-congratulations, these accouterments are a horse and pony side-show preventing true awareness of the disproportionate state between man as he is and the universe as it really exists. The greater the distance between these nodal points of consciousness the greater the neurosis that develops. Indeed, the hubris of modern homo sapiens is a neurosis constructed to obfuscate the famine ever growing within the psyche. As Carl Jung observes, “Modern man believes that he can do as he pleases and is perturbed that inexplicable anxieties plague him. True to his rationalistic bias, he has tried all the usual remedies–diets, exercise programs, studying inspirational literature–and only reluctantly admits that he can’t seem to find a way to live a meaningful life” (Sabini, ed. 16).

Not surprisingly, the cycles of the world ages and the forms of consciousness that go with them have been the subject of immense examination by those seeking a way out of the horse and pony show. Leaving this circus is no easy task. It turns out every exit offered by the world leads back on itself in a spinning wheel motif that counterfeits the Dharma of the cosmos. Escape has been replaced by escapism–which is ironically just more of the same.