Judges, Part II: Gideon

Gideon is another antitype of the Israelite religious hero. In another chapter of Jewish history the Midianites threaten to overrun Israel. An angel (living by a tree) seeks out Gideon and promises him victory if he leads his tribe against the foreign host. Gideon declares that he is from the tribe of Manasseh (the least of the tribes) and that he is from the poorest family in the tribe and he is the poorest member of his family (Judges 6.15). In other words, Gideon is the last person anyone would suspect as a tribal chief let alone a military hero.

The Lord shows Gideon a couple of signs and this highly hesitant protagonist relents and leads the Israeli army against the Midianites. But God cautions Gideon, saying that he leads too many men into battle and if they are victorious they will take the credit and not give it to the Lord (7.2). So God tells Gideon to take his army to the waters, and every soldier who gets on his hands and knees to drink will be exiled from the military campaign, while every soldier who kneels and drinks with his cupped hands will accompany Gideon to the battlefield. Through this winnowing, Gideon’s army of 10,000 is reduced to 300 soldiers.

Through stratagem Gideon defeats the Midianites. He arms each of his soldiers with a horn and a pot containing a lamp. His army of 300 men enter and spread throughout the Midianite encampment during the night. At a given signal, each man breaks his pot revealing his lit lamp, and then blows his horn. The sleeping Midianites awake confused and alarmed and mistake each other as the enemy, and thus they slay themselves whilst Gideon’s men retreat. The Midianites are defeated and Gideon, the least of all the warriors, overcomes a massive enemy host without raising a single sword.

There are both religious and literary themes throughout this tale. The interesting thing to me, however, is that it parallels the episode of Samson and his 300 fox-tails in curious ways. Later, another war chief named Samson will battle the Philistines by lighting 300 foxtails on fire and sending them through the ripe fields burning them down. In response, the Philistines gather an army and march against Samson, who uses the jawbone of an ass to slay 1,000 warriors. Defeated, the Philistines retreat, while Samson, thirsty from a hard days work, seeks out water when a hollow within the jawbone opens pouring forth water (Judges 15.19).

Curious images to be sure, but the fact that Gideon procures 300 men at the waters and then sends them out into the fields with lit lamps is to close a coincidence to Samson’s escapade that includes 300 burning foxes in the fields and a miracle at the waters. What are we to make of these parallels?

No explanation is forthcoming. These images may be allusions to some military strategy used in antiquity. They may be allusions employed in the secret myth and cult of the Israelite temple order. They maybe shorthand for cultural or linguistic idioms whose original meanings have been long lost behind the veil of history. In the least, we can see that Old Testament history is not constructed like literate histories, but have contained within them oral historical patterning. Mythic motifs are employed within historical narrative to create an oral history easy to remember. Repeated motifs of the inexplicable 300 helpers in the fields with their fires belong to oral tradition. Perhaps this tradition was already lost when the literate scribes first wrote it down?

Judges, Part I: Deborah

According to traditional accounts, Israel was led by a series of judges after the deaths of Moses and Joshua (approximately 1200 to 1000 BCE). The Hebrew word shofetim translates as “judge” or “magistrate” but in earlier times meant something closer to “chief.” The Biblical judges were a series of tribal chiefs each ruling over their own clan. Each of these chiefs arose to power not through divine right or bloodline, as in the case of kings, nor through priesthood lineage, as in the temple priests from the tribe of Levi. On the contrary, these tribal chiefs came to power based off of their strength, wit, or through divine intervention. They are thus more closely aligned with the Greek tyrants than the Hebrew prophets.

Clear demarcations on political and religious rule in early Judaism are obscured by the narrative of Deobrah found in Judges chapters 4 and 5. According to the text, “Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Beth-el in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgement” (4.4-5).

According to our text, the Israelites faced a formidable foe in Hazor where a general named Sisera led a Canaanite host of 900 chariots against Israel. Deborah calls forth Barak to lead the Israelite forces against the Canaanite army. Barak declares he will only go to war if Deborah accompanies him.

We are left with a series of interesting relationships and questions. Is Deborah the tribal chief or is Barak? Deborah is clearly called a prophetess. The fact that she dwelt under the tree of Deborah proves that she was the head of a religious cult or order. Cult sanctuaries were located by trees and in groves, and often the idea of “tree” and “cult image” were synonymous. In Judges 3.7 we read “And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and forgat the Lord their God, and served Baalim and the groves.” The word for groves is asheroth, who is the wife/consort of Baal (and many scholars believe also to be the wife/consort of Yahweh.)

In any case, the fact that Deborah dwells by a tree in a grove shows that she is part of a cult precinct. She is specifically labeled as head of that order. She has so much prestige that Barak, the assumed military chief of the tribe, will not engage the enemy without this woman at his side. We have here a representation of a matriarchal priesthood which is foreign to traditional readings of the patriarchal Jewish tribal and religious hierarchy. From whence did it come and where did it go? No one really knows.

The story finishes in fine fashion, as Deborah and Barak route the Canaanites and Sisera flees for his life. He comes upon a tent and a woman, who promises him safety and nourishment but who instead kills him with a tent peg (or beating stick, depending on how one reads the Hebrew). Here we have the most fierce opposition to Israel since Pharaoh led his armies against Moses. In ancient days, a chariot was like an Abram’s tank. 900 chariots is an invincible force against which Israel has no hope for success. Yet victory is theirs, led by a woman prophetess on the front lines and ratified by the slaying of the enemy general by a woman on the back lines.

The story of Deborah is a brief glimpse at the power of women in Biblical history. For a brief moment two women rose to eminence and glory by their wits and strength. No man had or could accomplish what they had done. In the the case of Deborah, she held actual religious and political authority as a chief in Israel.

Old Testament Posts

When 2014 began I made a goal to read the Biblical Old Testament by the end of the year. It’s been many years since I’ve put this text in front of me for a serious study. Once again I am reminded that “reading” and “studying” are two different things, as I have already had to reset my goal: here it is the end of May and I have just finished Deuteronomy, but only after skipping Leviticus and Numbers. I spent three months in Genesis alone.

As I read the text I cross reference my reading with some valuable scholarly commentaries I have collected over the years. While this might not be for everyone, I will list here some very interesting reads which help explicate Old Testament culture, language, philosophy, and religion:

  1. Man is Not Alone, by Abraham Heschel
  2. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, by John Walton
  3. Lost World of Genesis One, by John Walton
  4. The Bible and the Ancient Near East, by Cyrus Gordon and Gary Rendsburg
  5. Myth, Legend and Custom in the Old Testament, Vol. 1 & 2, by Theodore Gaster
  6. Old Testament Parallels, by Victor Mathews
  7. How to Read the Bible, by James Kugel
  8. Occidental Mythology, by Joseph Campbell
  9. The Five Books of Moses, by Robert Alter
  10. A History of the Jews, by Paul Johnson

Of course I am not reading all of these in conjunction with my Old Testament study this year. I have read all of these and I use them as study aids and cross reference material as I read the Old Testament. #1 is a beautifully written philosophy of religion written by an acclaimed Jewish scholar. #2 through #6 are excellent study aids which give context to Hebrew culture and language and their surrounding cultural milieu throughout the Near East. #7 and #8 are excellent overview’s of the Biblical text. #9 is one of the best literary analysis of the Pentateuch I have ever read. #10 is a great overall and general history of the Jews.

There are of course many more books one could read, but the most important is the Old Testament text itself. I grew up on the KJV of the Bible. It is poetic but clunky at times. I read this version, but on verses I want to study I also cross-reference the NIV and the RSV versions. If I am picky, I also look up the Hebrew and Greek forms of the verses from various websites and my Strong’s Concordance.

Being that I have put this as a focus for the year, several of my posts will relate to this study. Next year I have in mind to pick up some wisdom texts such as the Analects of Confucius and the Tao Te Ching, and cross reference those with wisdom texts in other religions.

Myth, Mind, and Theory

The greatest strength in a Jungian interpretation of myth lies in the fact that psychological archetypes can cogently explain the origins of all myth. This strength is also its greatest weakness, for if every ancient myth is a product of the unconscious, then the next logical step is to describe all narrative as a projection of the unconscious. One can no longer differentiate the material; the Epic of Gilgamesh is qualitatively no different than Mary Poppins.

Still, one can believe in a collective unconscious and psychological archetypes without making the definitive move to describe all of myth as mirroring those archetypes in the direct manner in which Jung positions his theory. Jung writes, “The collective unconscious […] appears to consist of mythological motifs or primordial images, for which reason the myths of all nations are its real exponents. In fact, the whole of mythology could be taken as a sort of projection of the collective unconscious” (Segal ed. 79). For Jung, mythemes were components of psychological constructs which “arise autochthonously in every corner of the earth and yet are identical, because they are fashioned out of the same worldwide human unconscious” (Segal ed. 61-62). Thus myth is not a product of a conscious, synthesized system: “The widely held view that mythologems or myth motifs are always connected with a tradition proves untenable, since they may reappear anywhere, at any time, and in any individual regardless of tradition” (Segal ed. 64).

The truth is scholars of all stripes have had great difficulty in explaining the commonalities shared between myths around the globe independent of time and tradition. There are two camps of thought which attempt to explain these common mythemes: the diffusionists, who believe that a myth system began in one place and time and slowly spread around the globe; and the inventionists, who believe that mythemes can spontaneously generate in different places and times because the human psyche is the same everywhere and will produce similar products when faced with similar psychic and experiential inputs. Among these two camps are sub-groups, as in the case of the inventionists where many scholars believe in the autochthonous nature of myth without believing in Jung’s archetypes. Joseph Campbell himself took portions from both theoretical camps, stating that both diffusion and psyche play a part in the spread and formation of myth.

Without going into alternative explanations as to the universal nature of myth motifs around the globe, my chief complaint against the Jungian interpretation of myth, which also happens to be my chief complaint against almost all modern or older theories of myth, takes a different tack. Often, the modern interpretations of both history and myth are projections from modern thinking. With so little material at our disposal, we align the bric-a-brac of archaeological and anthropological debris into dot to dot constructions which supposedly try to make sense out of the amalgam historical conglomerate. Yet what is the mortar by which we build these bricks of the past to form the edifice of our choosing? Some will say that mortar is the theory one employs while compiling the historical or mythological bricks. While true, I say that such an insight is already in mid-stride, for there is already an a priori assumption at work within almost all the modern theories of myth, and it is this a priori assumption which I find untenable.

In order for Jung to propose his theory he relies heavily on an evolutionary model of the human mind, which is in step with the evolutionary model of the biological organism. Yet one can believe in Darwin’s Theory of biological evolution without ever applying such a theory to the mind. Here is where I part company from almost all myth theorists, who like Jung, believe that ancient civilizations were mythopoeic because ancient man had not evolved mentally or consciously to the point of modern man. Repeatedly we are told that the Greeks were the first to introduce Reason and Science, and that before the Greeks there was only Myth and Religion. Jung explains, in part, this view:

In the individual, the archetypes appear as involuntary manifestations of unconscious processes whose existence and meaning can only be inferred, whereas the myth deals with traditional forms of incalculable age. They hark back to a prehistoric world whose spiritual preconceptions and general conditions we can still observe today among existing primitives. Myths on this level are as a rule tribal history handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. Primitive mentality differs from the civilized chiefly in that the conscious mind is far less developed in scope and intensity. Functions such as thinking, willing, etc. are not yet differentiated; they are pre-conscious, and in the case of thinking, for instance, this shows itself in the circumstance that the primitive does not think consciously, but that thoughts appear. The primitive cannot assert that he thinks; it is rather that “something thinks in him.” The spontaneity of the act of thinking does not lie, casually, in his conscious mind, but in his unconscious. Moreover, he is incapable of any conscious effort of will; he must put himself beforehand into the “mood of willing,” or let himself be put–hence his rites d’entrée et de sortie. His consciousness is menaced by an almighty unconscious; hence his fear of magical influences which may cross his path at any moment; and for this reason, too, he is surrounded by unknown forces and must adjust himself as best he can. Owing to the chronic twilight state of his consciousness, it is often next to impossible to find out whether he merely dreamed something or whether he really experienced it. The spontaneous manifestation of the unconscious and its archetypes intrudes everywhere into his conscious mind, and the mythical world of his ancestors–for instance, the alchera or bugari of the Australian aborigines–is a reality equal if not superior to the material world. (Segal ed. 83)

It never occurs to Jung or a great many other scholars that the Australian aborigines might not be the correct model upon which to compare prehistoric man. The various primitive tribes in existence around the world today are assumed to be vestiges of the earliest state of the species, but this is due to the fact that with Darwin not only did our sense of the biological organism change but so did our entire cosmos, and with it out sense of Time. Moderns think of time linearly. Ancients thought of time cyclically. Either way, our conceptions of time are nothing but mental projections upon the cosmos whose actual frame of time and space are as yet inscrutable. The aborigine or tribesman, under ancient, cyclical thinking, may not represent a parallel with early humanity, but may only resolve as an offshoot, a disjecta membra of a once more sophisticated era. This seems counter-intuitive only because modern assumptions on this issue are firmly entrenched within linear lines.

Poignantly, however, accurate comparisons between the aborigine and prehistorical man remain insoluble. This has a great many consequences. Which came first: civilization with its temple cults, mythological systems, and priesthoods? Or the individual Shaman with his magic stick, sacred tales, and cosmological maps? Modern thinking favors the latter, though the truth is the Shaman might be a descendant or cultural outcast from some high off time when an entire system of cult and myth was in place for millennium. Regardless of where one comes down on this issue, definitive answers remain unproven and unprovable.

Further, the very idea that the ancient mind did not think consciously, and in this pre-conscious state invented a world of magic and gods; of totems, fetishes, and taboos; of animism and myth, is a speculative notion indeed. One certainly can cite all sorts of modern text books and find totems and fetishes at every turn, but I remind the reader that these constructs are categories of the modern imagination and as such are often modern inventions. I personally consider much of this theoretical conglomerate nothing but highly inventive thinking, informed as it is, by an a priori assumption rooted in an unproven metaphysic.

I therefore ask, what happens if one pulls this mental evolutionary peg out of the theoretical stick pile? What if the human mind and with it the psyche remain the same in all eras, albeit operating under a different context, that is, the nature and structure of orality? Being that this stick is the first one in the pile, its removal has large consequences for a great many theories of myth. It is not just Jung who relies heavily on the mental-evolutionary metaphysic: Freud, Frazer, Tylor, Müller, Lévy-Bruhl, Malinowski, Durkheim, Lang, Cassier, Campbell and a great many other theorists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries all follow suit in varying degrees. Even Mircea Eliade, in his conceptions of sacred time and sacred space as experienced by prehistoric man relies upon an evolutionary universality.

Billions and Billions of Planets

Carl Sagan was famous for using the phrase “billions and billions of stars” when he referenced the vast immensity of space. Some decades ago, the word “billion” meant something different today. It was a bigger number; actually the biggest number within the cultural horizon. Today we toss the word “trillion” around as if it is no big deal. The truth is no one really understands the scope of either.

In Sagan’s day, scientists believed that the universe was filled with about 100 billion galaxies each containing 100 billion stars. This number is in doubt today, as it also seems too small, and we might be using the word “trillions” in the near future.

This same phrase “billions and billions” and even “trillions” can now be accurately applied to the planets orbiting all those innumerable stars. Currently, scientists have discovered 1700 planets outside of our solar system. A recent article, however, confirms that scientists are now aware that our own galaxy contains at least 100 billion planets. Most stars have planets orbiting them. If our own galaxy contains 100 billion planets, than the universe is really filled with “billions and billions” and even “trillions and trillions” of worlds. Big ones and small ones. Gas giants and rocky midgets. The universe has these in spades.

It was not that long ago when scientists were speaking of our own Earth as a singularity; a unique speck of blue. No one could prove other worlds existed. Now every time we look up and look at the stars we can also perceive that many of these stars are solar systems. How many of these innumerable planets have life? No one knows. Of course, the answer to that question also depends on how we define “life”?

Still, I have no doubt that one day we will look up into the sky and quip, “Billions and billions of lives, big and small.”

Infinite Tree and Eternal Spring

In December of 1995 NASA chose a dark and uncluttered pin-point of sky in Ursa Major and directed the eye of the Hubble Telescope towards it. Over a period of ten days or approximately 150 orbits NASA photographed this pin-point of sky, layering the images as they went. The goal was to peer into the deepest well of space in hopes of glimpsing farther than science had ever seen before; perhaps to see even the distant rim of the universe? The image that the Hubble Telescope slowly produced astounded even the most prosaic and skeptical of minds. First bright swirls and globs appeared: galaxies! Then, innumerable dots began to fill in the dark spaces, until a grand canopy was painted by a telescopic lense. Each dot was not a star, but a galaxy containing billions and billions of stars. The image is called the Hubble Deep Field. In it NASA did not find the edge of the cosmos, but glimpsed an unexpected and mind-numbing view of an eternal cosmos.

Hubble Deep Field

Hubble Deep Field

Eternity is an uncomfortable idea for modern science. Numerous theories are afoot predicting the size, mass, and shape of our universe. Surely there is an end, a perimeter, something that can be seen and measured? Until recently, the estimated number of stars in the universe was thought to be about the number of grains of sand on one earth-bound beach. But a recent study by Dr. Simon Driver, an Australian astronomer, has pushed this number to at least 70 sextillion (a seven followed by 21 zeros) or more than ten times the number of sand particles in all the beaches and deserts on our world. Even this number, Driver admits, might be a drop in the bucket: “The actual number of stars could be infinite” (CNN.com July 23, 2003). To date, the whole grand architecture of the cosmos–its size, mass, and shape, and how it works–is still mired in profound mystery.

As incomprehensible as these images and numbers are, it is perhaps even more astounding  that in the ancient past a few inner-searching minds had already intuited the deep fields of cosmos–above and below. In ancient mythology this grand and apt understanding was represented by the Cosmic Tree, often called the World Tree or Tree of Life. Eliade traces the ancient and mythic image of the Cosmic Tree to every continent on the planet. He writes:

The most widely distributed variant of the symbolism of the Center is the Cosmic Tree, situated in the middle of the Universe, and upholding the three worlds as upon one axis…. It may be said, in general, that the majority of the sacred and ritual trees that we meet within the history of religions are only replicas, imperfect copies of this exemplary archetype, the Cosmic Tree. Thus, all these sacred trees are thought of as situated in the Center of the World. (Eliade, Images 44).

According to Eliade the Center is the mythological space that is the sacred point of orientation for a society–its axis-mundi. The sacred center is the point in which a “break-through from plane to plane [heaven and earth] has become possible and repeatable” (Eliade, Sacred 30). This ancient notion was fundamental to culture and civilization, thus every act of settlement or new founding was a cosmogonic act, a planting of a new World Tree in the garden of cosmos. Eliade describes that the Scandinavian colonists, for example, viewed the cultivation of new land as “only a repetition of a primordial act, the transformation of chaos into cosmos by the divine act of creation” (Eliade, Sacred 31). Furthermore, it appears that the ancient state itself was sacral in nature, and every city, town, and village was built around a sacred Center–a temple, an altar, a grove or tree–in cosmological repetition of the mythological structure of the universe.

The Cosmic Tree was a symbol of the universe–not just the visible universe of which the Hubble Telescope attempts to reveal–but of all the planes and possibilities of existence. The Tree thus represented the underworld by its roots, the material world by its trunk, and the heavenly world of gods and powers by its branches. The Tree also represented the point of creation, the place where all energies meet to transform thought into form. In this light, the Cosmic Tree was also compared to the “Divine Egg, Hidden Seed, or Root of Roots”, the “Pillar or Pole” and the “Cosmic Mountain or primeval mound” (Cook 9).

Numerous pages and volumes could be written about the Tree symbolism in ancient civilization, but what concerns use here is the fact that the Cosmic Tree in ancient myth is often associated with a spring, well, or source of living waters. These two images are oft times synonymous, or are analogous in space and time; thus the Tree is often growing over the top of a well, or is literally planted by a spring or river.

Egyptian TOL

Egyptian Tree of Life

The World Tree of the Norse was named Yggdrasil and had at its base a stream and surrounding it a river. Zeus’s oak tree was planted on Mount Olympus and had the same water features; likewise the tree atop Mount Meru of the Hindus; as well as the tree in the Hebrew Garden of Eden. The Cuna Indian’s Saltwater Tree could be added to the list, as well as the sacred cedars and palms of Egypt growing forth from the Nile; or in the Book of the Dead, the great life-giving lotus rooted in the eternal well underneath the throne of Osiris. Wherever we look in myth the Tree and the Spring are wedded.

Not only in mythology are these cosmic images bound, but in the mythological requirements of mortar, stone, and sacred space of ancient temple architecture. Lundquist writes that ancient temples are “often associated with the waters of life that flow forth from a spring within the building itself… or as having been built upon such a spring” (Parry, ed. 98). This is so because the temple is most often associated with either the primordial hillock or the Cosmic Tree, both of which rise out of the waters at the primal cosmogonic moment. The great Eninnu Temple built by Gudea is called the “foundation of the abyss”, and this is similar to the Jewish temple on Moriah, which too was built over the abysmal waters (Parry, ed. 83-91).

Moses Standing at the Well Before the Temple

Moses Standing at the Well Before the Temple

According to Varner this practice dates as far back as the megalithic age. Varner notes that a well or water source is found many times in stone circles (Varner 14), and Janet and Colin Bord in their landmark study of sacred wells in the British Isles quote Burl: “Wherever an avenue of stones is associated with a stone circle it almost invariably leads from a source of water, indicating the importance of water in the ceremonies that took place in the rings” (Bord and Bord, qtd. 11). Varner also observes that the standing stones of circles or sacred avenues are themselves symbolic representations of trees (Varner 14).

These associations are no coincidence. The Cosmic Tree is the archetypal paradigm for both the structure and potentiality of all cosmic processes. Wherever there is a moment of creation, a point of creation, there is an organization of form (the Tree) predicated upon cosmic laws, rules, and energies which endlessly bubble up from the depths (the Waters). Perhaps, and ironically, these associations also intuit the leading edge of modern physics and Chaos Theory, which posits that wherever there is chaos there is also an underlying geometric pattern. This understanding is revealed through fractals. In other words, chaos is not just disorder and particle bedlam–but rather a non-harmonic field of possibility (the Waters) which, due to the Mandlebrotian nature of chaos, finds nodes or spikes of energy in which harmonic forms can be created (the Tree).

Ancient mythology is not finished with these images, however. The Cosmic Tree and the Living Waters certainly represent an understanding of the material world and of mythological relationships within that world. Perhaps more surprising, is the fact that these images were also used to describe man! Whatever can be represented in the macrocosm is also reflected in the microcosm, for both share the same roots.
The universe was the macrocosm. Man was the microcosm. What existed in one existed in the other, as the ancient mysteries explained, “As above, so below.” Macrocosm and microcosm were linked in what Jacob Needleman calls a “hierarchy of purposeful energies” (Needleman 18) which ordered the cosmos from the cosmic tree branches to the primordial waters. In this hierarchy man was a fulcrum point, both created and creator. This concept of microcosm is no idle metaphor, but an essential paradigm of ancient thought. Paraclesus 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. (Young, qtd. 12)

If the cosmos has deep fields like the Hubble telescope reveals, and is always associated with the primordial waters of creation and chaos through the fount, spring, or well, then man too has these features (exaltations), shares in this structure (conjunctions), and participates in these energies (oppositions). This notion is not lost upon Carl Gustav Jung, who was an avid reader of Paracelsus. Jung writes, “Not only is the image of the macrocosm imprinted upon him [microcosmic man] as a psychic being, but he also creates this image for himself on an ever-widening scale” (Jung, Undiscovered Self, 43).

Jung understood that man as microcosm meant that there was a cosmic correspondence, metaphorically speaking, between the tree and the spring or well within him. Like Needleman, Jung sees man at the fulcrum point of this cosmic picture. Jung explains, “In my picture of the world there is a vast outer realm and an equally vast inner realm; between these two stand man” (Jung, Modern Man, 122). Jung sees these realms as polarities: man can only view one realm at a time at the sacrifice of the other. Yet as polarities, both rely upon the energies of each other in the form of tension. This tension is beautifully illustrated through the metaphor of cosmic processes. Thus Jung deliberates that the psyche is a “star-strewn night sky, whose planets and fixed constellations represent the archetypes in all their luminosity and numinosity. The starry vault of heaven is in truth the open book of cosmic projection, in which are reflected the mythologems, i.e., the archetypes” (Jung, Psyche, 125).

Here Jung lays out the diagram of inner man. There are both “planets” and “fixed constellations” that move upon the firmament that is man’s psyche. It is helpful, in fact, to know a little astronomy when interpreting such language. The night sky is a place of grandeur, to be sure, but also a place wherein it is easy to get lost. To help define all those blinking dots a band of sky called the zodiac was created by ancient civilizations and divided up into constellations. These constellations are fixed groupings of stars along the plane of the ecliptic. This is important because the plane of the ecliptic is that band in the sky where all the moving luminaries transit, i.e. Jung’s “planets”. In fact, the sun, moon, and inner planets could all be tracked along this plane and their movements measured against the background of fixed constellations or zodiac.

Jung uses this metaphor of both moving and fixed luminaries in the midst of the firmament in microcosmic man to describe what is occurring within him. The fixed constellations are the ever present deep well of space from which the transiting “planets” are measured and moved towards man’s psyche. In other words, the zodiac in man is the collective unconscious–that communal realm from which the moving luminaries emerge.

The Hubble Deep Field is an analogous image which posits every galaxy is a Tree, yet behind every pinpoint of darkness exists a deep well, an “ever widening scale” of possibility, beyond which science has not the ability to measure or even understand. Meanwhile, inner man is also such a place. Every harmonically integrated point in consciousness is a microcosmic Tree, yet behind every pinpoint of darkness within the psyche there also exists a grand stellar firmament from which fixed constellations and planets conjunct and move in an ever flowing current of archetypes and energies. In elegant yet efficient symbolism, the Cosmic Tree and the Spring or Well remind us of the connections within ourselves; connections which share so much with what is above and below.

The Sympathetic God

In many mythologies the idea of God and the reality of human suffering are wedded. Elohim commands Adam and Eve not to partake of the fruit of good and evil lest they enter a world of suffering; yet it is Elohim who forges the tree of this fruit and provides the impulse for its consumption. Generations later, Jehova trades a sacrificial ram for the sacrifice of Isaac as both a symbolic but more especially symbiotic gesture of God’s own sacrifice and suffering which is inherent in the affairs of humankind. The fruit and the ram belong together. Even so, Osiris participates in the cosmic suffering of man as he is slain and cut into pieces so that he may become Lord of the Underworld and King of deification. Attis and Dionysus suffer and are sacrificed and each in turn provide a path for the suffering wayfarer’s ascent into blessedness. Nanahuatzin, the disfigured one, immolates himself and through his sacrificial suffering transforms into the Aztec Fifth Sun and restores light and harmony to the mundane world. Jesus is nailed to a cross.

The realization that the divine is willfully sealed to the suffering being of humankind led Henry Corbin to characterize this aspect of deity as an innate σὺμπαθεîν:

In contrast to the deist God who had paled to an empty concept, or the ethical God, guardian of the moral law, it sets forth, with penetrating vigor, the notion of a pathetic God, that is, a suffering and passionate God, a notion which has at all times been a dreaded stumbling block to the rational theology and philosophy of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism alike. The notion of a God who is affected by human events and feelings and reacts to them in a very personal way, in short, the idea that there is a divine παθοϛ in every sense of the word (affection, emotion, passion) […]. (Corbin 108)

Not only does man seek conversion to his God (the traditional Christian, Islamic, and Judaic theology) but also and especially God seeks conversion to man. The affairs of God are the affairs of man and the affairs of man are the affairs of the divine, pathetic God.

This relationship between God and man bears direct correspondence to the state of affairs of the modern world. Man cannot escape his religiosity. Carl Jung notes that religion is “incontestably one of the earliest and most universal activities of the human mind” (Jung 1). Jung contends that the religious aspect of the human psyche cannot be a product of physical processes as they are not created by the individual, but happen to him (2). Modern man, however, has sought the death of God, interpreting the old religious dogmas and creeds as what religion is and as who God is. Severing the old creeds from human conscience and consciousness, modern man has also wholly replaced this crippled idea of God with scientific rationalism–which is to say that man and reason are the sympathetic nodes of creation. Jung insightfully observes:

To a certain intellectual mediocrity, characterized by enlightened rationalism, a scientific theory that simplifies matters is a very good means of defense [from direct psychic experience], because of the tremendous faith of modern man in anything which bears the label “scientific.” […] The [religious] dogma is like a dream, reflecting the spontaneous and autonomous activity of the objective psyche, the unconscious. Such an expression of the unconscious is a much more efficient means of defense against further immediate experiences than a scientific theory. The theory has to disregard the emotional values of the experience. The dogma, on the contrary, is most expressive in this respect. A scientific theory is soon superseded by another. The dogma lasts for untold centuries. The suffering God-Man may be at least five thousand years old and the Trinity is probably even older. (55-57)

Both Corbin and Jung understand that the homo sapien is not a Cartesian product of simplistic cause and effect processes. Much more is going on in this clockwork universe. The human psyche that wills towards reason is also a field of consciousness that penetrates an energetic substrata that permeates all of creation. For Corbin, this interaction links the human being to a sym-pathos of the highest order and gives rise to a deity who seeks to experience His own sub-quantum field of consciousness through suffering in the mundane world. For Jung, these relationships are categorized as consciousness, unconscious, and the collective unconscious, but the relationships remain nearly the same: God and man have need of each other. In fact, there is no other form of existence or experience.

Modernity has declared war on God. If God and man are sympathetic, than this state of affairs is nothing short of a catastrophe of consciousness. God’s suffering is man’s psychic katharsis. Remove this sympathetic relationship and man is left bare in a counterfeit Cartesian wilderness with only his bare wits to face the never ending and unyielding metaphysical cosmos. Meredith Sabini makes note of this in Jung’s writings:

According to Jung, [modern man] suffers from the disease of knowing everything; there is nothing he cannot pigeonhole. He is ‘extraverted as hell’ and shows a ‘remarkable lack of introspection.’ he thinks that the gods and demons have disappeared from Nature and does not notice that they keep him on the run; hence, his restlessness and need for alcohol or tranquilizers. 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. (16)

In other words, the death of God is the birth of meaninglessness. God has been replaced by Self, and God and man’s sympathetic suffering has transformed into Self and man’s sympathetic neurosis. Perhaps never before in the history of the species has man needed a divine sympathos as much. Unfortunately, this is a dangerous need, for history has shown that for the God-less any god will do.

Moses and Thebes

While Christians are celebrating Easter, traditional Jews are celebrating Passover. In the Jewish calendar, Passover begins on the 15th day of Nisan and lasts for seven days (or eight days in some traditions). The month of Nisan is said to be in the Spring, and thus corresponds to March or April in the Gregorian calendar. According to various Jewish customs, the world was created in this same month; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all born in this month; Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt in this month.

The story of Moses is of course foundational to the Jewish faith. The birth of Moses and the liberation of the Jews from Pharaoh is recounted in Exodus, chapters 1 through 14. In my most recent reading of this material I made several notes specifically on the birth narrative. Moses is placed in an ark of bulrushes (Ex. 2.3) and sent down the river. He is found by the daughter of Pharaoh and is raised as her own son as an Egyptian prince (Ex. 2.5-10).

The motif of a hero of destiny being drawn from an ark out of the river is widespread. Sargon the Great is also placed in an ark and sent down the river where he was found, raised, and eventually made king. The Hindu hero Karna is likewise placed in an ark at birth, as is the Greek hero Perseus. This motif has ancient mythic roots related to kingship. The original context cannot be known.

Remarkably, Oedipus, the famous king of the Boeotian Thebes, is depicted sailing in a chest or an ark on a Boeotian cup of the first century BCE. This image represents a part of the Oedipus myth that is unknown to us. The founder of the mythic Thebes is Cadmus. In one variant of the myth Cadmus places his daughter and grandson, Semele and Dionysus respectively, in a chest and casts them out to sea. Semele perishes but Dionysus lives, and this most famous of mystery gods is thus also drawn from the waters. Finally, the mythical builder of Thebes is Amphion. Amphion is so talented with his musical lyre that as he plays stones move and form the seven gated walls of Thebes. Amphion, like Oedipus, is exposed as an infant and left for dead; he is found by a shepherd, and eventually becomes king.

The great city of Thebes is thus associated with several kings who share in the motif of the exposed infant and an ark which delivers the infant to his destiny. Of course, one cannot help but to notice that one etymology for the word “Thebes” is têboh or tâbût, referring to an ark. Is this coincidence? Perhaps, but it is also curious that the Greek writer Armenidas informs us that the acropolis or temple of the city was named Μακάρων νήσοι, “The Isles of the Blessed.”  These Fields or Isles were the Kingdom of Heaven. One entered these blessed lands on an ark. It only makes sense that the hero king is related with this cosmic imagery by being delivered from an ark.

The narrative motifs of Moses and the Exodus follow a pattern. Moses goes through a series of Labors (the ten plagues). The last task is to overcome the angel of death itself. Moses flees Egypt with the aid of his guide and god Jehova. He crosses a pillar of fire and a body of water and leads his people to the mountain of the Lord. Moses ascends the mountain and sees god face to face. Moses establishes order and incorporates the revelations on Mount Sinai by erecting a temple. Of these motifs Margaret Barker, in her book The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom of God, observes, “Scholars have also long suspected that the account of Moses receiving the Law on Sinai had been merged with memories of Solomon’s temple, and that a temple ritual had been the original framework of the story” (38). Barker poses a very interesting question, “Had there been a temple ritual, where the god and king [i.e. Moses] received revelation in heaven among the angels and brought it [back] to earth?” (38).

Our various motifs suggest that the original ark story belonged to a cosmic liturgy dealing with kingship. The narrative fragment that survives in the Moses story is part of a very old and lost oral tradition. Then again, the entire Passover narrative may belong to this same ancient and oral storehouse of thought which once regulated the hieratic city. The king ruled by celestial mandate. He obtained his authority by his ritual journey through the heavens. Part of this ritualized journey was the harrowing birth of the king himself.

Ring Out Easter Sunday

All the old French towns have a church, and all the churches have bells. In the old days, when worship and tradition were part of the pastoral culture, these bells would ring three times a day. At sunrise, for morning prayers. At high noon, for afternoon prayers. And at sunset, for evening prayers. The bells would also ring for special occasions, such as weddings, funerals, or holidays.

On the Thursday before Easter every bell in every Church rang throughout the French countryside. Then there was silence for three days. Not a sound, not a vibration, no matter the occasion. As the sun rose on Easter Sabbath the silent bells rang out once more, echoing throughout the land and announcing the miracle of the resurrection of the Christian Savior.

The liturgy of ringing bells may seem quaint by today’s standards. Scholars have long shown the similarities between Christ and the saviors of the pagan cults, including Attis and Mithras. Historical exegesis of the New Testament text has sought to strip the stories of their miracles, placing the drama of Christ and his resurrection squarely in the realm of folklore and tradition.

The miracle of Spring, however, is just outside the scholar’s grasp. Despite excellent explanations by modern definitions of process, the power of the Cosmos to reignite life on this speck of blue in a sea of billions is as astonishing as the very first breath taken on it. Like the church bells of France, the universe rings in a new season out of stillness and decay. It did not have to be so. But it is. And no one really knows why.

In a cosmic context, the ringing bells are a call from the darkness. It is not a repetition of the previous tolling, but something unexpected and new. In the words of Joseph Campbell, “Only birth can conquer death–the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new” (Hero 16). Central to the Christian tradition is the death and new birth of God. Resurrecting God is not a process of repackaging the old, stale forms of religious icons or ideology. God is not a doctrine, just as Spring is not a mathematical formula. The fact the new birth of Spring takes place in a regular cycle that can be measured, numbered, and predicted, does not in the least diminish its wonder. The annual celebration of the new birth of God is an attempt to rediscover this wonder.

Like Cosmos, a meaningful God comes only by way of genesis. If dead, only a new birth will do. All over the world Easter Mass is celebrated, in many forms, under different names, within varying ideas, but every where the celebration of the new from the old is the same. Whatever one’s religious affiliation, the time of Spring is the best time of all to consider the reverence and beauty of life; with its gains and losses; with its hopes and failures; with the birth of a new thing overcoming the old. Here is a mystery no science can ever really solve. The mystery of life, death, and rebirth. All the greatest truths are the ones we have to take for granted. The ones that ring out just beneath the soul.

April 2014 Lunar Eclipse and a Flat Earth

I sat on my back patio past midnight. It was a frigid twenty degrees, and I had my winter jacket zipped to my chin. Next to me was a small table holding a hot chocolate mug, a box of crackers, and a digital camera. My 70 mm binoculars were mounted on a tripod and positioned at eye-level in front of my cold but comfy chair. Bach and Vivaldi strummed beneath the starlight. I was ready for the five hour show.

Before me was the canvas of light that I have come to call my home. The full and glorious moon radiated her grandeur in Virgo, with the bright blue and sparkling Spica just to her west. Above her blazed the copper throne of Mars. Towards the western horizon glittered another white jewel, Jupiter, standing between the Twins. And to the the east, like a pearl balanced in the Scales, lay Saturn.

Not long after midnight the true spectacle began. The full and brilliant moon was touched by a shadow. Within minutes the touch had become an impression. Moments later a cosmic fingerprint had marked the Moon, as if some invisible daemon had reached across the expanse to pluck a pearl out of the waters and imbue it with a new order. Fiat Lux had become Sit Visum.

The dark curved shadow of the Earth slowly drifted from east to west across the Moon. As the dark shadow encompassed the celestial orb the color of the Moon transformed into a reddish-amber. They call it a Blood-Red Moon. In reality, the sunlight refracts through the Earth’s atmosphere spinning the celestial glass of a thousand sunsets onto the lunar sphere.

A total lunar eclipse is a marvel to behold. One needs to sit and watch through the several hours that the Moon passes through the Earth’s shadow to see first hand what modern people take for granted. Light and shadow follow the rules of physics. As the Moon became completely enveloped in the Earth’s shadow I became aware of a light display on the surface of the moon that has, I believe, reaching implications.

If one draws or paints a three dimensional object such as a ball or sphere, placed on a table underneath a direct light source, the object displays the light across its surface in zones. Here is one example:

Light and Shadow on a Sphere.

Notice that on the back edge of the sphere there is a thin lighter area. Why isn’t this portion the darkest, as it is deepest into shadow? Because a small amount of light is actually reflected from the table surface onto the back edge; this is called reflected light. During the lunar eclipse I noticed for the first time that as the Moon passed through Earth’s shadow it displayed a very similar texture of light and shadow. The moon showed brighter on part of its surface, with its eastern end in shadow, but with a sliver of lighter area at its edge, as if there were reflected light.  Moreover, as the moon passed through the Earth’s shadow the highlighting and shadow on the moon changed over time, and it was visually clear that the Moon was a sphere:Lunar Eclipse

This may seem elementary. It begs the question however, in antiquity, how many people actually believed the Earth was flat? Clearly, ancient man understood the Moon was an orb. It moved in a circular orbit. The sun is also an orb moving in a circular orbit. Moreover, the shadow crossing the Moon during an eclipse is curved, and it is from the Earth. Oral peoples viewing the skies would have understood the pattern: the spherical nature of the celestial bodies, including the Earth.

Plutarch tells us that the Egyptians had a great celebration when the Sun and Moon were in a straight line (Isis and Osiris 52.1); that is on the day of an eclipse. They understood that the Earth was between the Sun and Moon and that the eclipse was caused by the Earth’s shadow.

As I sat watching the lunar eclipse these were some of the thoughts floating through my mind. How much of those ancient cosmologies do we really understand? I think very little. Like the splendor of the Moon, the greatest things in history are in shadow, and reveal themselves in little slivers of light.