Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Fire and Water

Many previous posts have explored Alvin Boyd Kuhn's assertion that the central theme of the ancient scriptures and sacred stories of humanity is the message that we are beings of spirit, mysteriously infused into a body of matter -- "fire plunged down into water" -- and inhabiting a universe which itself appears to be material but is at every point intertwined with, and even projected from and constantly sustained by, an invisible realm of spirit.

Most recently we examined this vitally-important theme in a post honoring a famous personage born of the admixture of parents from the planet Vulcan (named for an ancient god of fire) and from the planet Earth (a planet famous for its great oceans of water), a personage who is perhaps best known for pronouncing words of blessing while holding up his hand in a gesture that recalls a specific symbol associated with divine fire.

The fact that specific symbols which we call "letters" or "glyphs," designed to preserve words and thoughts in written form (whether lined or brushed onto paper, or carved into stone or wood or metal) can themselves be designed to convey that central message regarding the nature of human existence and the nature of the dual physical-spiritual universe we inhabit is most remarkable, and most worthy of further consideration. Alvin Boyd Kuhn, in fact, explored that very aspect of the symbolic vessels of written language in an essay he gave entitled The Esoteric Structure of the Alphabet, which was published as a book and is still available in hardcopy version here (a facsimile of the original imprint), and online in its entirety here.

There, we find some of Kuhn's clearest statements of this theme, that "the vast body of ancient Scripture [by which he means the sacred wisdom found in all the world's sacred myths and teachings] discoursed on but one subject -- the descent of souls" (20), "the old basic story of divine fire plunging down into water" (30), "the immersion of fiery spiritual units of consciousness in their actual baptism in the water of physical bodies" (34), all for the purpose of undergoing experiences which would serve their "continued growth through the ranges and planes of expanding consciousness" (20).  

In addition, he argues that this essential message can be found "not only in the scripts of religion, however, but also in a wide variety of other modes of expression [. . .] -- in ancient art, in architecture, in myth-making, secret society ritual, dramatic scenario, music, mathematics, anthropological science, logic, rhetoric, philosophy, astronomy, astrology, semantics, psychology, festival ordinances, social ceremonies and throughout the warp and woof of life generally" (4).

Then he reflects on one other supremely important way in which the ancients conveyed this central theme of our dual spiritual and physical nature:
Now, perhaps the strangest of all the channels through which it was given expression, comes the momentous revelation that the sagacious genius of antiquity had even insinuated a form of its basic outline into the very structure of that ground-base of all literature, -- the alphabet. 4.
He then proceeds to unpack the ways that the actual form of the letters in the Hebrew, Greek, and especially the Latin alphabets (the latter being the one used, for example, on this blog to convey these thoughts) remind us that we are divine fire plunged down into physical bodies for the purpose of expanding consciousness.  

In this way, Kuhn argues, our own familiar letters, which we typically regard as nothing more than random shapes (when we even think about them at all) are actually pictures, depicting invisible ideas in symbolic form: symbolic metaphors, reminding us of spiritual reality in a world that often conspires to obscure it. 

"They are," he writes, "true ideograms" (5). 
Amazingly, there is an extremely ancient form of writing, still in use to this day by billions of people around the world and even (in slightly modified forms) across many different cultures and languages, which is well-known to be composed almost entirely of "true ideograms" -- the Chinese characters which remain one of the most widely-used systems of writing in the world today.

As most readers are already aware, in this system of writing and its close relatives, each complete character stands for a complete word or thought, rather than for a sound or "phoneme" the way the letters in alphabetical systems do (it is logographic rather than phonologic).

Amazingly enough, there is some evidence that the assertions Alvin Boyd Kuhn made about the alphabetical systems of writing may apply to the characters of Chinese, which after all are extremely ancient and were in use when the other systems he writes about were in use further to the west.

Most remarkable, perhaps, is the Chinese character for the word "fire" itself, shown at top, above. The symbol for "fire" consists of the symbol for "person," shown immediately below and clearly symbolic of the human form, with two added "sparks" on either side, in the form of small strokes that (like flames) are nearly vertical:



The connection of the symbol for "fire" with the symbol for a person would appear to be conveying very much the same message that Alvin Boyd Kuhn finds encoded in the very shapes and "ideograms" of the letters of the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin alphabets.

It is a message that reminds us that we ourselves, as well as every single person we meet, are like stars who have come down to this lower realm of earth and water for a time: even though we cannot see it, we are each in contact at all times with the divine infinite and are constantly connected to the infinite realm, even though we are prone to forget it. This is the message and the reminder conveyed by the expression Namaste, and it is the heart of the blessing accompanied by the hand-gesture of the Hebrew letter shin, associated both with fire and with the sound of fire plunging into water.

But what of this "plunging down into water" -- why would spirit be subjected to immersion in this physical world of incarnation, and what purpose could it serve?

It would seem to be a question in which we all can be said to have some interest or personal involvement, seeing that it is probably (probably) safe to assume that all of us who are looking at this page are presently in an incarnate form.

And as it turns out, Alvin Boyd Kuhn has ventured to explore that difficult question as well. In his 1940 book Lost Light, he argues that this is in fact the very question with which Paul wrestled in his famous seventh chapter of the epistle to the Romans. We come down from the invisible realm of spirit into the incarnate material body ("the body of death," as Paul says) because of something which he calls "the Law." This has been reinterpreted very differently by traditional (literal) Christianity, but Kuhn argues that it is the mandate which brings us into the body for our own spiritual growth and blessing, as well as for the ultimate blessing of others and of all the material creation.

Beginning on page 170, explaining his argument that Paul was indicating concepts which go far beyond those taught by literalist Christianity when using the words "Law" and "sin" and "death," Alvin Boyd Kuhn writes of Paul's seventh of Romans:
In this chapter Paul concatenates the steps of a dialectical process which has not been understood in its deep meaning for theology. It is concerned with the relation of the three things: the law, sin and death. He asks: "Is the Law equivalent to sin?" And he replies that sin developed in us "under the Law." What is this mysterious Law that the Apostle harps on with such frequency? Theology has not possessed the resources for a capable answer, beyond the mere statement that it is the power of the carnal nature in man. It is that, in part; but the profounder meaning could not be gained without the esoteric wisdom -- which had been discarded. This Law -- St. Paul's bete noir -- is that cosmic impulsion which draws all spiritual entities down from the heights into the coils of matter in incarnation. It is the ever-resolving Wheel of Birth and Death, the Cyclic Law, the Cycle of Necessity. As every cycle of embodiment runs through seven sub-cycles or stages, it is the seven-coiled serpent of Genesis that encircles man in its folds.
Now, says the Mystery initiate [he means by "the Mystery initiate" none other than Paul himself], by the Law came sin, and by sin came death. [. . .] Sin is just the soul's condition of immersion or entanglement in the nature of the flesh. And happily much of its gruesome and morbid taint by the theological mind can be dismissed as a mistaken and needless gesture of ignorant pietism. [. . .]
[. . .] Paul even says that at one time he lived without the law himself; this was before "the command" came to him. And what was this command? Again theology has missed rational sense because it has lost ancient cosmologies and anthropologies [that is to say, "ancient understanding of the nature of the universe, or cosmologies," and "ancient understanding of the nature of human existence in this universe, or anthropologies"]. The "command" was the Demiurgus' order to incarnate. It is found in the Timaeus of Plato and Proclus' work on Plato's theology. Then the Apostle states the entire case with such clarity that only purblind benightedness of mind could miss it: "When the command came home to me, sin sprang to life, and I died; . . ." He means to say that sin sprang to life as he died, i. e,. incarnated. And then he adds the crowning utterance on this matter to be found in all sacred literature: "the command that meant life proved death to me." He explains further: "The command gave an impulse to sin, sin beguiled me and used the command to kill me." And he proceeds to defend the entire procedure of nature and life against the unwarranted imputations of its being all an evil miscarriage of beneficence: "So the Law at any rate is holy, the command is holy, just and for our good. Then did what was meant for my good prove fatal to me? Never. It was sin; sin resulted in death for me to make use of this good thing." 170 - 173.
In order to understand the above explication, remember that by death, Kuhn avers, Paul is referring to incarnation in this body. When Paul speaks of the "command" that was given "to kill me," Paul means "the command -- the Law -- by which I incarnated in this body." That is to say, the Law which plunged him down into this human body, composed as it is of seven-eighths water: the Law that submerged his undying soul of fire within a material form.

And note that Paul expressly declares that this Law which impels us into incarnation is a good thing (a point he makes very strongly, and in a manner which shows that he anticipated that his listeners or readers would be wondering if such an impulsion might not be a very bad thing, rather than a blessing). But, as Kuhn explains in other parts of his book, and especially in a discussion on pages 573 and 574 regarding Paul's letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains that "What you sow never comes to life unless it dies" (i.e., "unless it incarnates") -- and that our incarnation in these physical bodies of death is exactly parallel in terms of being necessary for our growth: "What is sown is mortal, what rises is immortal; sown inglorious, it rises in glory; sown in weakness, it rises in power; sown in an animal body, it rises in a spiritual body" (574).

Note that we previously saw compelling arguments offered by Gerald Massey which suggest that Paul was not teaching the same thing that the literalists were teaching and that they would later claim he was teaching as well -- and that in fact he seems to have been teaching almost the exact opposite.

It is worth re-reading the above-quoted passage in light of this new understanding of the terminology, for the concepts Kuhn is exploring (and that the writer known as Paul may have been asserting, so many centuries ago) are of tremendous importance.

In fact, it is worth going to Lost Light itself and reading the entire chapters surrounding the cited passages above. However, since the scope of this particular discussion is actually about the fact that the very elements of writing contain this same message of spirit-fire submerged in incarnation as if in water,  let us examine one more Chinese ideogram which seems to beautifully express its meaning in its symbolic composition: the character for "Law" itself (shown below).


image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The Chinese character for "Law" is a composite, with a compressed or abbreviated version of the symbol for "water" on the left-hand side, and the symbol for "to go" on the right (the symbol for "water" is here rendered as only three small individual strokes, almost three "dots").


On even a non-esoteric level, the fact that the character for "Law" is composed of the characters for "water" and "go" is worthy of remark, for it seems to express the idea of the "law of nature," the law that causes water to seek the paths along which it "goes" or flows. To create laws out of harmony with such a concept would be to make laws that would attempt to go against "the flow of the universe" -- and thus the symbol seems to embody a message that law is part of nature and cannot really be altered by artificial constructs which people try to pass-off as "law" (a concept which was forcefully articulated by "natural law" proponent Lysander Spooner in the nineteenth century).

But, even beyond that message, this character for "Law" would appear to incorporate the teaching that Kuhn believes Paul (whom Kuhn calls "the Mystery initiate," the participant in the knowledge passed on from remote antiquity through the various Mysteries) was articulating: that it is the Law of the universe which sends us along our Way, into this body of incarnation -- the Law which plunges fire into water.

That which Paul calls "the Law" is none other than the "Way of Water," beautifully contained in the Chinese character for "Law" as well: Water-Go.

It is most remarkable to consider that our familiar alphabet is in fact composed of ideograms, and what's more of ideograms which express the same central truth that was conveyed by the myths and sacred texts of antiquity, and by the symbols of ancient architecture and the ancient understanding of the meaning and message of the stars.

It is even more remarkable to consider that the actual ideograms of the ancient Chinese characters appear in at least some significant cases to be expressing the same profound concepts.

It is a message which we are prone to forget, and that we must therefore remind ourselves, which may explain why it was incorporated into everyday greetings (such as Namaste) and into the sacred forms of writing.

Indeed, in many ways, writing itself is a metaphor, in that it is in a real sense invisible thought taking physical form -- and thus it pictures the truth of who we are and of what this entire physical universe is, at its heart: a projection or embodiment in physical form of beings and realities which actually exist or have their origins in the invisible world of spirit.