Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chiasm and the spirit world

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The gematria key proposed by Marty Leeds for the English alphabet, through which he has been able to discover and explore some amazing correspondences such as those discussed in this previous post, seems to have suggested itself to him based upon the abundant "seven-patterns" in the natural world, including the 
  • seven visible heavenly spheres of Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, 
  • seven notes of the major musical scale before repeating in the octave,
  • the seven chakras within the human body,
  • and the seven days described in the Genesis story of creation, which included six days of creating and a sacred seventh day of rest.
Based upon this pattern, Marty created a cipher for the 26 letters of the modern English alphabet which breaks the 26 into two halves, and then assigns numerals of 1 through 6 in an ascending and then descending pattern on either side of a central 7, as shown below:

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

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

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

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

Obviously, Marty's arrangement of the cipher proposed for the modern English alphabet above follows a classic chiastic pattern, with a central pivot at the number 7 and a sort of "reflection" of the numbers 1 through 6 on either side of the central point. Tellingly, author James B. Jordan demonstrates that the seven days of creation depicted in Genesis 1 contain numerous examples of chiasm. In an appendix to his book Creation in Six Days he writes (using language which also invokes the patterns of music):
Not only are the seven days to be understood as a chiasm, but there are other chiastic flows in the passage as well, providing a beautiful "polyphonic" symphony of melodies that harmonize with one another perfectly. [. . .].
The refrain "And God saw that it was good" occurs seven times in the passage, and the arrangement is chiastic:
A. Day 1 Light good
B. Day 3a Both separations good
C. Day 3b Plants good
A' Day 4 Luminaries good
C' Day 5 Fishes and birds good
B' Day 6a Animals good
A" Day 6b Man good
Just as the chiasm of the seven days associates light with the luminaries and with the sabbath, so this chiasm associates humanity with the light and the light bearers. [ . . .]
The refrain "and God said" occurs nine times in the passage, and once again it is chiastically arranged:
A. Day 1 Light
B. Day 2 Firmament
C. Day 3a Dry land appears
D. Day 3b Plants
E. Day 4 Luminaries
D' Day 5 Fishes and birds
C' Day 6a Land animals
B' Day 6b Man as image and ruler
A' Day 6c Plants for man and animals.
As always, the luminaries of the fourth day are central. The D sections link the glorifying plants with the glorifying fishes and birds, as above. The C sections link the land with the land animals. The B sections once again link the firmament with man. The A sections don't seem to correspond, but perhaps we are intended to see a link between the light produced by the Spirit and the life given by the Spirit through the consumption of plants. 220-221.
In the actual text in the print edition of the above book, Jordan has arranged each chiasm so that the indentations become progressively deeper up the central point, and then successively shallower back outwards from the central point, so that they actually form a "left border" that resembles the "left edge" of a letter "X" (the letter which gives the chiastic structure its name, after the Greek letter X or chi -- Professor McCoy notes in the first page of his essay that this ancient pattern was specifically called a chiasm by the Greek rhetorician Isocrates in the fourth century BC). 

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

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

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

In the essay by Professor McCoy linked previously, evidence is presented from various researchers who show that this pattern of chiasmus is present "as early as the third millennium BC in the organization of certain Sumero-Akkadian and Ugaritic texts" and that in fact it was used throughout the ancient Mediterranean world (1, 5). He also cites a researcher who explains that ancient Greek scholars
"were trained throughout their school years to read from the  center outward and from the extremities towards the center," and to conceive of the Greek alphabet from beginning to end, from end to beginning, and from "both ways at once, alpha-omega, beta-psi . . . (to) mu-nu (in the middle)" (5). 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example, in Lakota Star Knowledge: Studies in Lakota Stellar Theology (1992), researcher Ronald Goodman explains:
There is a Lakota family who own a document that combines on one hide, what is usually found on separate star and earth maps. The symbol for the earth sites is ^, and the symbol for the stars is v. These shapes are not to be understood as flat triangles, but as cones, as vortices of light. Thus, the inner shape of a star is an inverted tipi. When earth sites and stars are combined (as they are on this hide), the image looks like this: X. This symbol is called in Lakota, Kapemni, which means "twisting." Thus, what is above is like what is below. What is below is like what is above. 16.
Note that in the above description, the symbols indicated by ^ and v are actually completed triangles (due to the internet formatting options used here, you will have to imagine the third side as being drawn in), and the symbol indicated by an X is actually drawn with two complete triangles (you will have to imagine the top line and the bottom line as being drawn in).

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

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

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

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