image: Wikimedia commons (link).
The preceding post examined evidence found in the treatise on the Therapeutae, written by Philo of Alexandria sometime prior to AD 40 or 50, which suggests that -- in addition to pursuing an ascetic lifestyle characterized by a vegetarian diet, daily intermittent fasting, regular periods of longer fasting, long periods of meditation and prayer, simplicity of dress, lack of material possessions, and participation in a community of others who practiced the same lifestyle -- the Therapeutae studied ancient sacred writings with an eye to their esoteric content and message, and that at least some of the Therapeutae were able to enter a state of ecstatic trance in which they spoke messages which came from the realm of non-ordinary reality.
In that post, we also examined the arguments of Gerald Massey (1828 - 1907) regarding the importance of the many similarities between the ancient descriptions of the beliefs and practices of ascetic communities such as the Therapeutae and the doctrines described in many of the New Testament texts.
Massey points out that early literalist Christian authorities such as Eusebius (c. AD 260 - c. AD 340) would sometimes try to argue that these similarities are evidence that the Therapeutae were very early communities of literalist Christians, but that in doing so those writers make a revealing error, because in doing so:
- these writers admit the undeniable similarities between elements of the Therapeutae descriptions and the sayings attributed to Christ or taught in the New Testament Epistles, but that . . .
- because the Therapeutae and other such communities -- and their teachings -- were in existence long before the time of the New Testament, this shows that they are part of a stream which is far more ancient, and which thus refutes the historical framework advanced by literalist polemicists such as Eusebius.
In other words, one way of expressing this thesis would be to say that surviving descriptions of ancient communities such as the Therapeutae contain evidence that places these ancient communities squarely within the current of the rest of the world's ancient wisdom traditions -- traditions which can also be shown to be founded upon esoteric sacred texts or mythologies, and to be founded upon a worldview which included ecstatic trance and which can be described as essentially shamanic -- but that the literalist-historicist system advanced by Eusebius and others during the subsequent centuries rejected both the esoteric and shamanic aspects and consciously and deliberately cut itself off from that same current of the world's ancient knowledge.
Rather than representing a new and different teaching, the texts of the New Testament can be shown to be based upon the same system of celestial metaphor common to the rest of the world's sacred traditions, and to contain clear parallels to other systems of myth going back thousands of years (some previous posts discussing aspects of this evidence include "The shamanic foundation of the world's ancient wisdom," "Namaste and Amen," "Epiphany: revealing the hidden divine nature," "The Angel Gabriel," and many others).
And, rather than representing an early example of a new Christian faith built upon a literal and historicist interpretation of these ancient scriptures, communities such as the Therapeutae can be shown to be part of a very ancient wisdom tradition, and one with strong parallels literally around the world. In other words, it fits into a stream which appears to connect humanity both across the distances of time and of space: one which not only flows back across time through millennia, but one which also appears to flow across vast stretches of geographical space, across continents and seemingly very different cultures.
And, when the literalists self-consciously cut themselves off from this stream, it can be said that they also in a way cut themselves off from a deep connection to the universe, insofar as their insistence on approaching the sacred texts as descriptive of literal, historical events which took place on planet earth can be seen as a deliberate repudiation of the celestial basis underlying all the stories of the Biblical scriptures, from Adam and Eve and the Serpent, to the story of Noah and his three sons, to the sacrifice of Abraham, the crossing of the Red Sea, the adventures of Samson, the horrible oath of Jephthah, the Judgement of Solomon, the events in the life of Elisha, the Vision of Ezekiel, and all the rest -- including the stories in the New Testament as well.
One important message conveyed by all of these stories is the connection between humanity and the wider universe -- the stories themselves depict stars, planets, constellations, and the sun and moon as human beings walking on earth and going through all "the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to" (as Hamlet says). In doing so, they implicitly suggest that we ourselves and our "motions" in this mortal life are in some way connected to and reflective of the motions of those heavenly actors.
Indeed, as many previous posts and the book The Undying Stars discuss at length, the deeper esoteric message of the Star Myths found in the Bible and in the rest of the ancient sacred traditions and scriptures around the world may involve a view of the universe in which there is an unseen spirit realm in addition to the visible material reality with which we are familiar, and the message that the material realm is in fact connected to, interpenetrated by, and even projected from the unseen realm.
By cutting themselves off from this understanding, the literalists were in effect cutting themselves off from and setting themselves against not only all the other cultures and sacred traditions of the rest of humanity but also the very "flow of the universe" itself -- that concept which is expressed in Taoism as the eternal Tao.
The details of the Therapeutae described by Philo, and the attempts by later literalists such as Eusebius to co-opt them into literalist Christianity, provide an invaluable window through which to observe this important concept in action. For the literalist system advanced by Eusebius and his colleagues can be seen to have strongly rejected what are arguably the most vital aspects of the Therapeutae way as described by Philo: their allegorical and non-literalistic hermeneutic with regard to sacred texts (which, as I have argued above, convey an esoteric message involving a deep connection between our lives on earth and the motions of the heavens and of the earth on its course around the sun, and to the spirit world which interpenetrates and thus connects everything in this visible universe), their high regard for knowledge obtained while in a state of trance (which is a form of direct and unmediated revelation to the individual, and which provides immediate confirmation of the invisible connection just described), and even their decision to abstain from the eating of flesh (which evinces a sense of connection to the other creatures of our planet, rather than the belief that animals are created for humanity's exploitation, which has led to the situation today in which animals in the food industry are regularly treated in the most inhumane manner imaginable, a situation only possible in a society in which large numbers of people feel no connection to these animals at all).
All of these aspects of the Therapeutae can be seen as belonging to the family of teachings which seek to align with what we could describe as the flow of the universe, or the Tao -- and they are the very aspects of the Therapeutae way which were not incorporated into literalist Christianity, which is in keeping with the above observation that the literalist approach to the scriptures almost of necessity represented a self-imposed isolation not just from the rest of the world's wisdom traditions but also from the flow of the universe itself.
And here is where another insight from Gerald Massey opens up a whole new vista of evidence to support this assertion. Beginning most explicitly in the fourteenth paragraph of the treatise entitled "Gnostic and Historic Christianity" which was discussed in the preceding post, Massey argues that the Therapeutae seem to be part of a tradition stretching back to the Pythagoreans, and that this connection was indeed advanced by at least one important ancient author.
The reader may remember that the Pythagoreans were strongly associated in ancient times with the practice of a vegetarian diet (see discussions here and here, for example), as well as the fact that the Pythagoreans practiced a deeply esoteric approach to number, with the study of number and geometry functioning very much as an ancient "text" from which they derived profound truths regarding the nature of the universe and of human existence, in exactly the same way that other esoteric communities derived the same understanding from written texts or sacred myth. Thus, the possibility of a continuity of tradition between the practices of the Pythagoreans and those described by Philo among the Therapeutae appears to be well-founded. It obviously argues that the practices of the Therapeutae are part of a stream that is much older than the literalists such as Eusebius would have us believe.
There is also the abundance of ancient texts which declare that Pythagoras was an accomplished healer, and that he believed and taught the healing power of music, rhythm and vibration -- and that he in fact "tuned himself up" every morning with a period of singing, dancing, and playing the lyre! This connection provides yet another support for placing the Pythagoreans and the Therapeutae within the same ancient stream, because as we have seen from Philo's description, the Therapeutae also placed great emphasis on the importance of harmonic and rhythmic singing, and of course their very name has come to be associated with healing the body -- a very important aspect of this group which connects them not only to the Pythagoreans but to many other similar groups found in other cultures as well (and see also this previous post).
Whether of not Pythagoras was a literal and historical human figure is actually open to debate, but the traditions surrounding his life state quite clearly that much of his knowledge came from Egypt, where he is said to have traveled in order to gain access to the ancient wisdom kept by the Egyptian priests.
Massey then offers some linguistic connections which lead to some frankly mind-blowing possibilities. He argues that the root of the name Pythagoras most likely stems from the ancient Egyptian god Ptah, which can also yield Putha and Put, and which may in fact be the original source of the name of the Buddha, and even of the Therapeutae!
Now, this is truly a revolutionary insight. Because, as noted in the preceding post, some of the features Philo describes regarding the Therapeutae -- such as the abstention from eating meat, the simplicity of dress, and the giving away of all possessions -- are not really features associated with the literalist Christianity advocated by Eusebius and his colleagues, but they are indeed features strongly associated with many expressions of "Eastern" traditions including Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and others.
And, previous posts have made note of the parallels (which have been noted by other researchers as well) between some aspects of ancient Egyptian priests and priestesses (of Isis, for instance) and elements of Buddhist monasticism. Also, I believe Patricia Awyan in correspondence with me has mentioned the importance of the Ptah connection as well.
Taking the ball from Massey at this point and running with it a little further, so to speak, it can also be argued on linguistic principles that the word Tao could be said to have connections to the name of the invisible Ptah as well. And thus we see that the name of the Egyptian Ptah can be argued to have connections to Buddhism (if we insert a vowel between the first two consonants, which also leads to the connections to the name of Pythagoras) and to Taoism (if we do not).
Further, while some may protest such a connection, it is linguistically feasible to suggest a connection to the sacred name JAH along these same lines as well, which is the version of the divine name used in Psalm 68 and verse 4.
Additionally, we might also argue that there are sound reasons to suggest a connection between the name of Ptah and the Egyptian name Sahu, which was associated with the constellation of Orion.
The likelihood that Orion was associated with the Egyptian god Osiris is well-known, has been argued for over a century by many researchers, and is I believe well-established by the evidence offered by researchers such as Hertha von Dechend and Giorgio de Santillana in Hamlet's Mill, and Jane B. Sellers in Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt (see also the discussion in previous blog posts including "Dawn of the Golden Age," "Precession = the Key," "Hamlet, Hamlet's Mill, and Astro-Theology," and "Capella, precession, and the end of the Golden Age").
However, there are strong connections between the characteristics associated with Osiris and many of the characteristics of the god Ptah, who was also anciently depicted as being swathed in mummy-clothes as was Osiris, and who fulfills a role very similar to that of Osiris within some aspects of ancient Egyptian theology, particularly that associated with Memphis which is sometimes known as the "Memphite theology." Further, in ancient depictions of Ptah, he is regularly shown holding a Djed-column scepter, which is a symbol that is also strongly associated with Osiris and with Orion.
Thus, the possible connection between Ptah and Sahu -- already defensible on linguistic grounds alone -- appears to have further evidence to back it up.
It can also be noted at this point that Osiris (and other "Osirian" figures in other myth-systems, including Saturn and Kronos) was a deity associated with grain, and with teaching humanity how to cultivate the fields for food (and, in some myths, with teaching humanity to refrain from eating one another as food -- he was a "civilizing" figure in many ancient myths, dwelling on earth and presiding over a Golden Age of peace). Thus, the fact that the Pythagoreans and the Therapeutae were practitioners of vegetarianism suggests that this proposed connection to Sahu in addition to Ptah is defensible from multiple angles.
We can even go so far (although this is, admittedly, wandering rather "far afield") and suggest the possibility that the word Shaman itself may somehow connect back to these shared sounds of Sahu, Tao, JAH, and Ptah.
It is true that the word Shaman is of Tungusian origin, from a land and a people very far removed from ancient Egypt. And yet, it is equally true that one of the most essential characteristics of the Shaman, in cultures around the world, is his or her role as a healer. That this healing technique almost always involves singing, chanting, and the playing of harmonic flutes or rhythmic drums seems to argue some kind of parallel with the practices attributed to the Pythagoreans and the Therapeutae, and hence the possibility of a linguistic connection between these names is not too outrageous to make.
It is also well-attested that Shamans around the world express their voyages to the spirit world in terms which are frequently celestial in nature, and in fact the evidence of possible shamanic aspects of ancient Egyptian sacred tradition and of some kind of connection between ancient Egyptian knowledge and shamanic technique found around the world is abundant, and worthy of careful consideration (some of it is discussed in previous posts such as this one and this one).
And so, what we are seeing is that there are strong arguments to be made for a connection between all of these different expressions of ancient wisdom, and of a consistent stream which stretches back deep into the time of ancient Egypt, and which can already be seen to potentially unite some aspects of Taoism, Buddhism, and Shamanic culture. The Therapeutae described in Philo's text appear to be squarely within that ancient stream, and the fact that their sacred texts sometimes express the sacred name in the form JAH can be seen as a connection to PTAH, TAO, and even BUDDHA.
The chart below shows one way of outlining these connections:
This chart, following the argument of Massey, depicts the different linguistic permutations as being descended originally from the ancient Egyptian name of Ptah, and there are certainly good reasons to decide that ancient Egypt's incredible antiquity argues for Egypt as the original source and fount of all the others. After all, Ptah may be an even more ancient god than Osiris, and Osiris and his myth-series was already fully developed by the time the Pyramid Texts were inscribed, some of the most ancient texts known to history, some of which were written as early as 2300 BC (which argues that the Osiris myths are even older than that, and the Ptah myths may be older still).
However, it is also certainly possible to posit that all of these different names descended directly from some still more ancient source, and that they all resemble one another only because they all resemble some original name from this now-unknown original source.
The diagram below shows this possibility, and adds yet more names from the world's sacred traditions which may serve to show how widespread and indeed universal this ancient stream really may be:
Here, in addition to the names already discussed, are added several more whose linguistic connections may be disputed, but which are certainly defensible as possibilities under the generally accepted principles of linguistic transmutation of related sounds.
In the first line we see the names PTAH, TAO, JAH and PUT, which have already been discussed. Below these are Pytahgoras, Buddha, and Therapeutae, but also Manitou, which is a name from the Native cultures of North America which can be used to describe both the denizens of the spirit world (the Manitous) but also when singular is used to indicate the Great Spirit.
In the next line below that, we see listed Sahu and Shaman, but also the Native American sacred name Ta-Iowa or Taiowa, which is a name which the Hopi elders used when they passed on their sacred traditions to Frank Waters and Oswald White Bear Fredericks in order to ensure that their ancient wisdom was not lost or forgotten, and which can be found in written form in The Book of the Hopi. The linguistic connections of this name to the sacred name of JAH can hardly be disputed. It is also difficult to ignore the fact that this name has been preserved as the name of one of the United States: the state of Iowa, discussed in this previous post.
These examples from the Native American sacred traditions shows that this stream not only stretches across millennia but that it also spans the globe. It is the stream within which the Therapeutae can be seen to be firmly planted, but from which the literalists such as Eusebius were consciously separating themselves.
That previous post on Iowa and the sacred name also discusses the likelihood that the names of Zeus and Jupiter (or Iu-Pater or Zeus-Pater) fit within this same family of names and can be shown to be linguistically connected to JAH and TA-IOWA.
The implications of all this apparent connection between the sacred myths and sacred scriptures of the world (to include those which ended up in the Bible, but which were radically reinterpreted by the literalists) are indeed profound.
This analysis would suggest that, although they have superficial differences, there are important fundamental connections between the worldviews that are expressed around the globe and across the ages in the messages of the Tao, of the Buddha, of ancient Egypt, of the Pythagoreans, of the Biblical texts esoterically understood, of Greek myth, of Native American spiritual teaching, and of shamanic cultures in general.
It also suggests that all of these traditions emphasize an interconnectedness of all creatures as well as an interconnectedness between individual men and women, and between humanity as a whole, and the rest of the earth and indeed the entire universe, including the invisible realm which flows through the entire universe and every being within it.
We can also see in many of the specific descriptions and practices of groups such as the Therapeutae, the Pythagoreans, and many expressions of this spiritual stream in Buddhism and Taoism an emphasis on the importance of living in harmony with the invisible flow and energy of the universe, or with the Tao (to use the name given to this concept in one of these related traditions). The knowledge of ways to preserve or restore health to the human body which is obviously very central to many of these related traditions can be seen as a direct and logical aspect of this emphasis on trying to align with and remain in harmony with the energy of the universe or the Tao.
And, indeed, this emphasis can be clearly seen in the stories contained in the New Testament Gospels themselves.
However, although some literalist Christian writers try to argue that groups such as the Therapeutae represent early members of their literalistic system, the similarities are only superficial, and it is clear that the literalists rejected the most important features of the Therapeutae approach, the features that connect the Therapeutae to the wider and deeper current which flows also through the Pythagoreans, the ancient Egyptians, and connects even further to Buddhism and Taoism and to shamanic cultures around the globe.
In setting themselves against this ancient stream, the early proponents of literalism may or may not have realized that they were setting themselves against all of these things. And yet it is quite evident from the above analysis that this is in fact exactly what they did do.
Because of this, and because of the fact that "western culture" can be seen to be directly descended from and most powerfully influenced by the heirs of Eusebius and the system that they put into motion, it can be clearly demonstrated that modern western civilization today is directly at odds with the flow of the universe in numerous important and world-threatening areas.
Additionally, it can even be said that modern western society discourages harmony in many ways, and that it contains powerful structures which seem almost purpose-built to hinder individual men and women from aligning themselves with the Tao, and even some which seem purpose-built to actually act to the detriment of the health of their physical bodies in many ways -- the opposite of the goal of healers and healing communities such as the Pythagoreans or the Therapeutae.
And, it can certainly be said that modern western society is built around principles which are basically the exact opposite of the practice attributed to the Therapeutae of giving away their possessions and living with very little "stuff."
If we examine the scriptures themselves, we might ask ourselves which approach seems more in line with those ancient texts: that which resulted from centuries of literalist influence, and which we see manifested in modern western civilization today, or that pursued by the Therapeutae and other communities who lived prior to the rise of literalism, or who were far enough away from the Roman Empire to avoid falling under its sway in the subsequent centuries.
The good news is that, as the analysis above demonstrates rather conclusively (I think), it is really the divisions between us that are artificial: all cultures and all people (including those whose connection to the ancient wisdom was stamped out by the rise of literalism in Europe during the Roman Empire and in subsequent centuries) are actually connected by this ancient stream, which exhibits different surface characteristics in different places and different time periods, but whose core practices or teachings can almost always be shown to share a few important common features.
And, whether we recognize it or not, we are all actually connected one to another, as well as to the earth and to the infinite universe, and to the invisible realm which may in fact be the most important element which connects it all.
It is the self-imposed separation initiated by the literalists from the rest of the world's traditions, and from what we could hardly do better than to refer to as "the Tao," which is really the artificial separation, and indeed the illusory separation.
Even the very names show that this separation is an illusion, and that JAH, TAO, PTAH, TA-IOWA, BUDDHA, and all the rest reveal that we are all part of the same stream which flows around and through us all and connects us with one another and with the universe.