Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Djed Column every day: Yoga

The past several posts have examined the concept of "raising the Djed" (cultivating and evoking and amplifying the spiritual, invisible, divine spark in ourselves and in the universe we travel through), the possibility that we can in some way incorporate this concept into daily life, and some of the multitude of practices for doing so which cultures from around the world have preserved from ancient times.

Part of the reason for this short survey is to bring the discussion of what may seem at times to be a very esoteric and philosophical topic "down to earth" and suggest that it is actually an intensely practical topic and one which may be tremendously beneficial to our seemingly mundane day-to-day existence.

Another reason to look at some different methods from different cultures is to show that no one method should be considered a "monopoly" -- that there probably dozens or perhaps hundreds of different ways that human beings can choose to pursue in this important area of life, and that although they do share some important similarities they are different enough that they can appeal to different people of different backgrounds or needs.

A third reason might be to familiarize readers with some techniques which may be less well known, such as previous "Djed-raising" disciplines explored in the previous posts on qigong and on Tantra and fong zhong shu. If just one reader who has not previously heard of a certain practice decides to examine it further and it becomes a beneficial part of his or her life for years to come, that would seem to justify the entire "mini-series" right there.

The next daily discipline probably cannot be classified as one that any reader has not yet heard about, because it is a tradition that is so strong and so rich in teachers and followers and the level of ancient wisdom which continues to be passed along in its broad and powerful stream, but it is very clearly related to the concept that the ancient Egyptians symbolized by the raising of the Djed, and by the symbol of life carried by almost all of the gods and goddesses, the Ankh -- which may in fact be linguistically related to the name by which this discipline has been known for millennia.

We're talking, of course, about Yoga -- a subject that could withstand a lifetime of deep consideration without ever exhausting its possibilities.

Previous posts which have touched upon the importance of the ancient wisdom and practical application that is preserved in Yogic tradition include:
While most of us upon hearing the word "Yoga" immediately think of the asanas ("postures") which are undoubtedly the most well-known aspect of Yogic practice, Yoga in fact is a very comprehensive discipline of transformation incorporating meditation, concentration, study of ancient texts and tradition,  true conduct in daily life, nonviolence, freedom from anger, and other practices designed to reawaken and elevate the spiritual, and ultimately to lead to deep contact with the divine and the ultimate. Asanas are an important aspect of Yoga but only one of its many "limbs."

In Light on Yoga, first published in 1966, B.K.S. Iyengar explains:
The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj meaning to bind, join, attach and yoke, to direct and concentrate one's attention on, to use and apply. It also means union or communion. [. . .]
In Indian thought, everything is permeated by the Supreme Universal Spirit (Paramatma or God) of which the individual human spirit (jivatma) is a part. The system of yoga is so called because it teaches the means by which the the jivatma can be united to, or be in communion with the Paramatma, and so secure liberation (moksa). 19 
The letter "s" in the final word, moksa, has a diacritical "dot" underneath it, indicating that the "s" is pronounced more like a "sh," and you will sometimes see the same word spelled moksha.

The video above, entitled Yoga Ruins Your Life, by Richard Freeman of Yoga Workshop in Boulder, Colorado, may make you want to take up Yoga, even if you have never wanted to try it out before (that is, if the above passage from Light on Yoga has not already led you to stop reading and start a search for a Yoga shala in your area).

During the video, we hear the perspective offered by someone who has pursued the path of Yoga for many years and who has dedicated a great deal of energy to passing it on to others and helping others on their own Yoga journeys:
So I've often said that Yoga ruins your life, and by that I mean it ruins your Samsaric life, because once you get a taste of Yoga, you kind of "lose interest" in all the things that are kind of dim reflections of that taste. [. . .] Yoga can also ruin your career, because you feel so nice when you do it that you're less aggressive, and you tend to like people more. And when you practice Yoga, you no longer take political extremes in your mind, and so . . . what are you going to fight about? Or, religious extremes either, because, you get to the -- kind of the root experience that all these different religions are looking for, but in a very generic and very natural, human way, so you don't have to clasp onto the fantastic or the otherworldly. 
There are several important concepts in that short video worthy of careful consideration and further examination -- far more than can be pursued here in one sitting. We will explore just a few here.

One concept which is expressed in the opening sentence (and in the provocative title of the video) is the idea that Yoga "ruins" your Samsaric life, the life of attachment to the physical and the temporary into which we are "cast down" upon our incarnation, what the video's description section calls our "auto-pilot" life. It is a vehicle for transforming and transcending the illusions of the material world -- but doing so in part through the vehicle of our incarnation in this material world.

This idea of being on "auto-pilot" for a certain part of our life in this world, and then beginning to wake up more and more to a higher reality is expressed in the extended passage of a lecture by Alvin Boyd Kuhn quoted previously in "Easter: the Birth-Day of the Gods," in which he traces the cycle of the soul which is "cast down" at the fall equinox (representative of being incarnated in the body) and continues to plunge downward even after that until it finally reaches a turning point at the winter solstice, the very point that creates the "vertical line" of the annual cross of the zodiac which represents the "raising back up" of the Djed column, and the point at which the inner divine is esoterically described as being "born in a manger." Kuhn says of the incarnate soul:
It is born then as the soul of a human; but at first and for a long period it lies like a seed in the ground before germination, inert, unawakened, dormant, in the relative sense of the word, "dead." This is the young god lying in the manger, asleep in his cradle of the body, or as in the Jonah-fish allegory and the story of Jesus in the boat in the storm on the lake, asleep in the "hold" of the "ship" of life, with the tempest of the body's elemental passions raging all about him. He must be awakened, arise, exert himself and use his divine powers to still the storm, for the elements in the end will obey his mighty will.
This "sleeping semblance of life," which Kuhn also says is life "unawakened" and "inert," "dormant," and "dead," is the condition that the video above promises that Yoga can "ruin."

In case you're new to this theory, Kuhn is arguing that the story of Jesus asleep in the boat on Lake Galilee in the storm, or Jonah asleep in the hold of the ship of Joppa bound for Tarshish, are both allegorical or esoteric stories intended to describe a condition which each and every one of us experiences -- the condition of our own soul upon being "cast down" into this life, wedded to a human body like Prometheus nailed to a rock (to use yet another picture from a different set of allegorical myths), and temporarily "unawakened," "inert," "dormant," and "in the relative sense of the word, 'dead'." From this condition, Yoga promises a path that leads to liberation, or moksa -- but in doing so, it "ruins your life" of comfortable dozing in the hold of the ship.

Those stories, Kuhn tells us, are not literal and historical accounts -- and they were never intended to be taken that way (they are, he says elsewhere, "a thousand times more precious" as myths than as supposed histories). They are pointing to a profound truth that is in many ways even more mysterious than any fantastic or otherworldly story -- a truth that you can experience for yourself and a truth that "all these different religions are looking for," in the words of the Yoga video above.

In the words of someone who has walked the path of Yoga for decades, in pursuing that path you get to actually "get to the root experience" that these sacred myths are pointing to. In doing so, you lose the need to "clasp" onto someone else's story about it, because you experience it for yourself -- you know it. This is the concept that was anciently contained in the word gnosis -- first-hand experience of the ultimate, rather than second-hand faith in it.

The same idea was expressed by Gerald Massey (1828 - 1907) in a passage cited previously here and here, when he says:
What do you think is the use of telling the adept [. . .] that he must live by faith, or be saved by belief? He will reply that he lives by knowledge, and walks by open sight; and that another life is thus demonstrated to him in this. As for death, the practical Gnostic will tell you, he sees through it, and death itself is no more for him! Such have no doubt, because they know.
And yet, to make one more observation on the wonderful avenues of discussion that this subject opens up, those stories are not to be disdained on account of their being "fantastic" or "otherworldly" or simply "allegory" -- those powerful metaphors can help us to grasp the meaning of these spiritual concepts which deal with things that by their nature are invisible and which in fact are even beyond the ability of the mind to reason out using ordinary logic.

In fact, in attempting to convey the meaning of Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar himself alludes to the "fantastic" or "otherworldly" story contained in the Bhagavad Gita, which is a portion of the ancient Hindu Mahabharata, in which Krishna expounds upon the meaning of Yoga to the disciple, Arjuna, and calls it a knowledge that the yogi (one who follows the path of Yoga) will experience that is "beyond the pale of the senses which his reason cannot grasp" (Bhagavad Gita 6.21, cited in Light on Yoga 19).

Interestingly enough, in a different part of the same Bhagavad Gita (a passage not, to my knowledge, cited by B.K.S. Iyengar, at least not in the book quoted above), Krishna tells Arjuna:
O Arjuna, now I shall describe different paths departing by which, during death, the yogis do or do not come back. Fire, light, daytime, the bright lunar fortnight, and the six months of the northern solstice of the sun; departing by the path of these gods the yogis, who know Brahman, attain nirvana. Smoke, night, the dark lunar fortnight, and the six months of southern solstice of the sun; departing by these paths, the righteous person attains lunar light and reincarnates. The path of light and the path of darkness are thought to be the world's two eternal paths. The former leads to nirvana and the latter leads to rebirth. Knowing these two paths, O Arjuna, a yogi is not bewildered at all. Therefore, O Arjuna, be steadfast in yoga at all times. Bhagavad Gita chapter 8, verses 23 - 27 (translation online here).
This is very noteworthy. Krishna has just revealed to us that the annual wheel, with its "upper half" consisting of the six months containing the summer solstice ("the northern solstice of the sun") and its "lower half" consisting of the six months containing the winter solstice ("the southern solstice of the sun," both of these expressions being geared towards an observer in the northern hemisphere) are esoteric allegories for two different paths through this life, one of which will lead to reincarnation (the cycle of Samsara) and one to liberation and nirvana.

This is the exact same cycle that we have seen formed the allegory of the "casting down" of the Djed column (into the lower half of the year) and the "raising up again" of the same (on the way back to the upper half of the year, and the summer solstice):

Clearly, Yoga is a discipline designed to "raise the Djed column" (to use the terminology of ancient Egypt) and ultimately to transcend the cycle of being "cast down" into the lower half of the wheel.

Elsewhere in Light on Yoga, and in reference to concepts described in other sacred ancient texts, we see hints that this "transcending of the lower half" involves transcending the "shifting forms" or the "endless changes" that characterize the material half of our dual universe and a reconnection with the realm of pure potential. B.K.S. Iyengar says that the Kathopanishad tells us:
When the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not -- then, say the wise, is reached the highest stage. This steady control of the senses and mind has been defined as Yoga. He who attains it is free from delusion. 20.
Patanjali, Sri Iyengar notes, calls this condition chitta vrtti nirodhah, which means "the restraint (nirodhah) of mental (chitta) modifications (vrtti)," or the "suppression (nirodhah) of the fluctuations (vrtti) of consciousness (chitta)" (20).

And in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna describes this concept to Arjuna thusly:
When his mind, intellect and self (ahamkara) are under control, freed from restless desire, so that they rest in the spirit within, a man becomes a Yukta -- one in communion with God. A lamp does not flicker in a place where no winds blow; so it is with a yogi, who controls his mind, intellect and self, being absorbed in the spirit within him. When the restlessness of the mind, intellect and self is stilled through the practice of Yoga, the yogi by the grace of the Spirit within himself finds fulfillment. Light on Yoga 19, citing Bhagavad Gita, chapter 6 and verses 18 - 20.
This concept appears to be very closely aligned and perhaps even essentially identical to the practice that Peter Kingsley discusses in his 1999 text In the Dark Places of Wisdom, and which Dr. Kingsley believes was being practiced and passed down through a "master to disciple" method of transmission in certain groups of mystic philosophers prior to Socrates and Plato, and including Parmenides (or Parmeneides). It is interesting that Yoga as well is traditionally passed down through just such a master-to-disciple relationship (the Guru, whose name literally means "light out of darkness," and the sisya, or disciple).

Fortunately, unlike so many other ancient traditions for the transmission of such profound transcendental gnosis, Yoga has survived into the present day, and can be followed as a means of daily transformation and "raising of the Djed."

Note, however, that B.K.S. Iyengar tells us that:
All the important texts on Yoga lay great emphasis on sadhana or abhyasa (constant practice). Sadhana is not just a theoretical study of Yoga texts. It is a spiritual endeavour. Oil seeds must be pressed to yield oil. Wood must be heated to ignite it and bring out the hidden fire within. In the same way, the sadhaka must by constant practice light the divine flame within himself. 30.
But, he also quotes the following encouraging passage, from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, chapter 1 and verses 64 - 66:
The young, the old, the extremely aged, even the sick and infirm obtain perfection in Yoga by constant practice. Success will follow him who practices, not him who practices not. Success in Yoga is not obtained by the mere theoretical reading of sacred texts. Success is not obtained by wearing the dress of a yogi or a sanyasi (a recluse), nor by talking about it. Constant practice alone is the secret of success. Verily, there is no doubt of this.  -- Cited in Light on Yoga, 30.
So, that is encouraging, and argues that it is probably never to late to consider this ancient path.

Just beware that it may "ruin your life"!

Below we see Arjuna, in a typical "raising the Djed" posture (compare to the upraised arms on the Ankh in the image in this previous post -- an Ankh which surmounts a "vertical Djed column"):

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Djed Column everyday: Tantra and Fong Zhong Shu

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

If all the world's sacred scriptures and mythology actually consist of stories in which the motions of the celestial spheres take on the personalities of men, women, gods, goddesses, angels, demons, monsters, djinn, and other mystical creatures (and they most certainly do), then we are left with a very important question: Why?

I believe the answer certainly includes as a central feature the profound teaching embodied in the Great Cross of the Year, formed by the solstices and equinoxes, and associated with the concept symbolized in ancient Egypt by the "casting down" of the Djed column of Osiris and the subsequent "raising-up again" of the same: an esoteric concept which depicts the entire nature of human existence as a divine soul thrown down into incarnation, while voyaging through, reflecting and in some mysterious way embodying the infinite universe at the same time -- a universe which is itself composed of both a visible realm and an even more important and subtle invisible realm.

Recent posts and videos which have attempted to outline this critically-important central teaching (found, I believe, in virtually all of the world's sacred traditions in varying depictions and disguises) include: 
and many others.

Those discussions presented evidence that the concept of "raising the Djed" conveys a powerful message regarding the long process of our realization of the infinite divine sleeping within ourselves and indeed within every atom of the living universe around us, a process which takes place during the entire cycle of our earthly existence and perhaps over the course of many successive "existences" -- but it is also (we saw) a message which appears to urge upon us the practice of "raising the Djed" every single day, through the practice of blessing, through the recognition and elevation of the divine in ourselves and others, and through the special form of spiritual elevation leading to the state of ecstasy or ecstatic trance, in which our perception actually transcends the physical body and makes contact with the invisible world (for more on ecstasy and trance-conditions see also herehere and here, among many other previous posts).

And, while the entry into the ecstatic state is perhaps the most intense and most transcendent of the forms of recognizing and reconnecting with and calling forth and raising up the infinite divine spiritual realm which is always present, around us and within us, we have also seen evidence that in addition to incorporating techniques of ecstasy into our lives on a regular basis, we can also practice other forms of "raising the Djed" into our lives as well, even when we are not in the ecstatic state (since it is not possible to exist in a state of ecstasy at all times). It seems likely that consciously incorporating more than one of these into our lives is quite possible and probably beneficial -- and that they are not at all "mutually exclusive" (incorporating one does not require that we renounce all the others, although there is obviously a limit to how many we can choose to really pursue seriously).

In order to simply provide a very cursory pointer towards some practices which have been developed in different cultures from very ancient times, for those who may wish to learn more about them on their own, I started a short "mini-series" of posts discussing a few such practices which seem to fit into the general category of "raising the Djed." The first one we mentioned briefly was the practice commonly called qigong or chi gung, which clearly involves contact with "the invisible" in some way (the "invisible within," the "invisible without," or both), and which enables its practitioners to directly and tangibly experience the fact that we are made of more than just physical substance.

The goal of this little mini-series is not to try to teach these practices, or even to point to specific teachers or resources where people can learn more about these practices, but rather to simply make people aware of the existence of these many different disciplines which fit into the general category of "raising the Djed" and which some readers may find very beneficial if they choose to pursue them. Many of these practices, while extremely ancient, are not well known in "the west" -- that is to say, in the parts of the world in which the ancient esoteric knowledge was largely replaced by a literalistic rather than esoteric understanding of the ancient sacred stories and myths.

Another discipline which clearly falls into this same category is the practice of techniques known in some cultures (especially India and Tibet) as maithuna and usually known in China and Taoism (or Daoism) as fong zhong shu or 
The above calligraphy shows traditional characters, but in simplified characters the final character above is changed to 术 (which is present in the middle of the traditional version of that character) and so the same phrase would be rendered as
In either case, the three symbols stand for "bedroom - within - skill" (pronounced fong zhong shu in Mandarin and fohng jung seuht in Cantonese) and are usually rendered into English using the phrases "bedroom arts" or "art of the bedchamber" and corresponding very generally to what is often referred to in the west as "Tantra" (although apparently that word actually encompasses a much wider landscape of transformative disciplines involving meditation, mantras, mandalas, visualization, and other practices in addition to what most people in the west today envision when they think of Tantra).

In general, these related arts involve transformation through sexual ritual, a practice which can be seen to have been highly developed in ancient China, ancient Japan, ancient India, ancient Tibet, and many other cultures around the world, including some Native American cultures. There is some evidence that the spiritual potential of this aspect of human existence was also developed in "western" cultures in various forms prior to being largely rejected or suppressed with the advent of literalist Christianity.

Although still perhaps not so very widely known, excellent books on Taoist fong zhong shu have been available in English for many years, including the work of Daniel P. Reid and Mantak Chia, among others. 

Additionally, some of the ancient Chinese texts that traditionally formed the foundation for the preservation and development of the knowledge of fong zhong shu have survived in varying degrees of completeness.  

Of these, perhaps the most important, and almost certainly the most often-cited and well known is the Su Nu Jing, or 素女經.

The title is often translated as "Classic of the Plain Girl," but the three characters actually stand for "natural-colored [often used to describe natural-colored or undyed silk]" - "woman" - "classic or canonical text" and because the first word can also mean "plain" as in "unspotted" or "without markings" or simply "white, pure, or undyed," the same title is also sometimes translated as the  Classic of the "Immaculate Woman" or the "Pure Woman."

This figure appears in some aspects to be a goddess or divine figure, who is in some cases associated with grain and hence may connect to the celestial figure of Virgo (this would not be a surprise). Interestingly enough, this would also connect her to the Greek goddess Demeter, whom Plutarch uses as part of his powerful argument against the consumption of animals for food, and the same word and symbol sometimes translated "Plain" that is used to describe her in China is can also be used to mean "vegetarian." She is sometimes depicted as giving instruction to the Yellow Emperor or Huangdi (sometimes spelled Huang Ti), whom Hertha von Dechend and Giorgio de Santillana identify as a Saturnian figure in Hamlet's Mill.

So, Su Nu Jing means "Pure-Undyed-Silk Woman Classic" in Mandarin, and would be pronounced Seuh Neuih Ching in Cantonese, and the last word in the title (Jing or Ching) is the same word found in the title of the Tao Te Ching. It is certainly at least as old as the Sui Dynasty (AD 590 - AD 618) and may be even older, perhaps originating in the Han Dynasty (221 BC - 207 BC) -- and the knowledge it contains may of course have come from an even earlier source.

As explained in Sexual Life in Ancient China: A Preliminary Survey of Chinese Sex and Society circa 1500 BC till 1644 AD, by R. H. Van Gulik (1961), no complete original text of the Su Nu Jing nor of several other ancient Taoist fong zhong shu texts has survived. However, much of the text of the Su Nu Jing was preserved in a different text that quotes large portions of it, which is called the Tung-hsuan-tzu and which may have been written by the scholar Li Tung Hsuan in the 7th century AD.

The text of the Tung-hsuan-tzu begins as follows (as translated in 1961, when conventions were slightly different than they are today -- the modern reader may wish to mentally substitute "humanity" for the general "man," which in previous decades was generally used to mean all of humanity and not specifically men to the exclusion of women; they also seem to have been more tolerant of what is sometimes today called a "comma splice"):
Master Tung-hsuan said: Of all the ten thousand things created by Heaven, man is the most precious. Of all the things that make man prosper none can be compared to sexual intercourse. It is modeled after Heaven and takes its pattern by Earth, it regulates Yin and rules Yang. Those who understand its significance can nurture their nature and prolong their years; those who miss its true meaning will harm themselves and die before their time. 135.
This introduction is extremely significant, and author R. H. Van Gulik notes that most of the more ancient Taoist sexual texts also begin with an expression of the cosmological aspect of human sexuality, which was seen to "model Heaven and [. . .] Earth."

Later, we reach a portion of the text in which the Su Nu Jing is quoted extensively. In the introductory chapter, entitled "The Supreme Significance of the Sexual Act," the Plain Girl declares that in sex:
Woman is superior to man in the same respect as water is superior to fire. [. . .] The union of man and woman is like the mating of Heaven and Earth. It is because of their correct mating that Heaven and Earth last forever. Man, however, has lost this secret, therefore his age has gradually decreased. If a man could learn to stop this decline of his power and how to avoid ills by the art of Yin and Yang, he will attain immortality. 135 - 136.
Here we again see the explicit "macrocosm-microcosm" understanding that the motions of men and women on earth mirror the motions of the great cycles of the heavenly objects, and also mirror the motions of the earth which contribute to our interaction with the celestial mechanics in the heavens above. We are also introduced to one of the central concepts in Taoist fong zhong shu and related disciplines, which is the inherent superiority of the woman to the man, in that she is already capable of multiple, progressive, and basically unlimited orgasms (leading to the raising of chi, prana, or the kundalini, and ultimately to ecstasy), while the man must learn to achieve this capability and does not usually obtain it without the cultivation of fong zhong shu, primarily through the ability to separate orgasm and ejaculation and achieve multiple orgasms without ejaculation. 

Without going any further into the specifics of that subject, which interested readers can pursue for themselves, it is worth noting that in this ancient text, the Natural-Silk Woman or Immaculate Goddess uses the expression "as water is superior to fire." This phrase is loaded with esoteric symbolism, as we have explored previously in the post entitled "Fire and Water," where we saw that the concept of fire plunging into water is an esoteric metaphor for the process of incarnation itself, by which the divine spark of spirit is plunged into and submerged within the physical material realm and a physical material body.

Because of this understanding, we can then gain a better appreciation for the insistence in these ancient texts that human sexuality itself somehow "models Heaven and Earth" and becomes an esoteric symbol for our incarnation itself . . . and for our ability to be spiritually transformed and elevated by our experience in a physical body, an experience which ultimately leads to transcendence of the physical nature. 

Rather than being extinguished by and completely subsumed within the material nature in which we find ourselves, our task is to hold on to the spiritual, call it forth from within this physical world, and ultimately to transform both matter and spirit together -- "raising the Djed." It can readily be perceived that the arts that are often referred to as Tantric are esoterically and experientially involved in just this very purpose as well. 

Just as the myths themselves "bring the stars down to earth" by depicting the sun, moon, stars and planets as human beings and as gods and goddesses walking among humanity, rituals which we undertake that mirror and embody the motions of the heavens and the earth (as the Plain Silk Girl tells us that fong zhong shu most certainly does) connect us to the motions of the universe, and "bring the heavenly motions" down into the human realm, the microcosm reflecting and embodying the macrocosm of the infinite cosmos.

Finally, it is worth noting that here that, as in so many other places where the esoteric ancient wisdom has somehow been subverted, a practice and a body of knowledge which is clearly intended for the elevation and liberation and positive transformation of individual men and women has instead been turned too often into a negative force for degradation, dehumanization, oppression, and powerful feelings of shame, hurt, and alienation. 

The fact that, as we are told by the Immaculate Woman, in the bedroom "the woman is superior to the man as water is superior to fire" can lead to tremendous insecurity and resentment on both sides, when these ancient practices are not known and understood -- but when they are understood and put into practice, they can lead to tremendous security and empowerment for everyone involved.

This subject provides yet another example of how vitally important it is to understand what the ancient texts and the ancient treasures which were entrusted to humanity are actually trying to tell us, and how we can learn to incorporate them into our lives on a very practical level -- and what a great tragedy it is that this ancient inheritance imparted to the human race has somehow so often been turned completely upside down.

Friday, April 24, 2015

New Osiris video, and new "video archive" section

I've just added a new video to help illustrate some of the concepts discussed in the previous post.

The video is entitled "The Celestial Djed: Orion - Osiris" and is about five minutes and fifty-three seconds in length.

This is (I believe) a much clearer and better version than the video that was originally included with the previous post, and it was just posted this morning (Friday, April 24, 2015 in California -- although it is already April 25 in some parts of the globe), so if you have only seen the previous version you may want to have a look at this one (above).

Additionally, I have now added a new "Video archive" where you can find all of the previous "Star Myth videos" I have posted to help illustrate some of the concepts discussed in The Undying Stars. The link to the new video archive can be found in the right-hand column of the blog itself, as it displays in some browsers, and it looks like the image below.

Please drop by the archive and check out the many videos there, when you have a moment!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Djed Column every day: Earendil

Orion rising on the eastern horizon (left), crossing the center of the southern sky (center, directly over the letter "S"), and sinking down into the west (right). (Click to enlarge). Planetarium app:

In the previous post, we took what appeared to be a quick break from the discussion in the preceding posts regarding one of the central foundational themes of all the world's ancient myths: the dual physical-spiritual nature of human existence and indeed the dual physical-spiritual nature of the world / universe / cosmos in which we find ourselves, embodied in the great annual cross of the solstices and equinoxes, and in the "casting down" and "raising-up" of the Djed column of Osiris in ancient Egyptian symbology.

Previous posts explored evidence of that cycle operating in the Easter cycle in the New Testament, beginning with the scenes of the Triumphal Entry, followed by the descent that takes place beginning with the Last Supper through the Crucifixion and ultimately the Resurrection or Anastasis (a word which literally means "standing again"). 

Included in the examination was a video entitled "The Zodiac Wheel and the Human Soul" which attempts to illustrate some of the connections between the celestial mechanics involved in this worldwide mythological metaphor and the spiritual message that I believe it was intended to convey.

During that extended discussion, the assertion was made that this great foundational cycle was intended not only to explain important aspects of the "big picture" of our incarnation in this body (throwing light on central issues concerned with "the very meaning of life," if you will), but also to illuminate the importance of connecting with this cycle within the "shorter cycles" of our life here in this incarnate existence -- in fact, something we can and perhaps should be connecting with every single day, and maybe even throughout our waking and sleeping travels within each day!

One way that ancient sacred traditions around the world reminded themselves of the reality and immediacy of the invisible, divine, spiritual world that is present at all times in every single being and that in fact infuses and animates everything within the visible universe was certainly through the practice of what Mircea Eliade called "techniques of ecstasy" and which other researchers including Gerald Massey called "trance conditions" -- the practice of actually making contact with or entering into the invisible world, of projecting one's consciousness into the other realm. 

There is plenty of evidence that the scriptures that made their way into what we call "The Bible" are no exception (see for instance the previous post entitled "The Bible is essentially shamanic").

And, it is certainly possible to practice such techniques on a regular basis -- even every day. I initially began a "mini-series" exploring some of the methods which cultures around the world have used to enter into such a state, entitled "Ecstasy every day." However, it is not really practical to remain in such a state at all times. Therefore, I have decided that it is actually more appropriate to make a distinction between the concept of what can be called "raising the Djed" (of recognizing and remembering and elevating and evoking the spiritual aspect in ourselves and the world around us) and the practice of entering into "trance" or "ecstasy" itself (which is, in some sense, temporarily "crossing over" the condition of stasis into the realm of the spiritual to a greater or lesser degree). 

Both are important, but it may be that the condition of "ecstasy" is a special form of "raising the Djed," and that the broader concept of raising the Djed can be practiced more often -- even "all the time," while entering into a trance or ecstatic state cannot.

Therefore, I've decided to re-imagine that "Ecstasy every day" title to be a little more "broad" and examine "the Djed every day" instead. The first installment of that examination touched on the practice of qigong (or chi gung).

After that first installment, we took what seemed at the time to be a "quick detour" to explore the wonderful perspectives offered by The Lord of the Rings and the music of The Lord of the Rings. 

But as it turns out, upon further reflection, it wasn't a detour at all, because it can be satisfactorily demonstrated that the same fundamental theme is absolutely operating within Tolkien's story, on multiple levels -- which is not surprising, given the fact that J.R.R. Tolkien himself had a deep connection to ancient myth and was one of the most knowledgeable scholars in the world on certain families of mythology during his lifetime.

In fact, Tolkien's work provides a beautiful window which leads right in to the discussion of the vital importance of the Djed concept.

As some readers are already aware, the Djed column in ancient Egypt was associated with the god Osiris: it was known as the "backbone of Osiris" and the symbol of the Djed column itself was usually depicted with horizontal segments resembling "vertebrae" in a backbone (see for instance the images of the Djed from the Papyrus of Ani discussed here). 

In some ancient Egyptian art portraying episodes from the story of the murder of Osiris by Set and the recovery of the tamarisk tree containing his casket by Isis, such as the imagery discussed in this previous post, the tree with the casket is depicted as a Djed. The Djed column, in other words, was understood as a symbol of Osiris.

Readers are probably also aware that Osiris was strongly associated with the constellation Orion -- the constellation in the night sky with the highest ratio of bright stars to total stars, and one of the most-recognizable figures in the heavens, making it a fitting representation of the "lord of the underworld," if the heavenly realm is seen as a symbol of the incorporeal realms. The glorious nearby star Sirius, the brightest of all the fixed stars, was associated with Isis.

Once we understand that the Djed is symbolically associated with Osiris, and that Osiris is associated with Orion, then we can more readily understand that the motion of the constellation Orion itself illustrates the great theme of the casting down and the raising back up of the Djed. 

In his nightly motion, Orion can be seen rising in the east and tracing an arc across the sky prior to sinking back down into the west, just as the sun does during the day. During different times of year, of course, Orion rises at a different time due to the progress of the earth in its orbit, which means that at some parts of the year he is already far across the sky by the time the sun goes down (as he is now), but just considering his motion in general we can see how he embodies the casting down and the raising up of the Djed.

When Orion is first rising on the horizon, he appears in a nearly horizontal position, as can be seen in the image at the top of this post (in which the view is from the perspective of an observer in the northern hemisphere at about latitude 35 north, similar to the latitude of Egypt and the Mediterranean, and looking towards the south, with due south in the center, the eastern horizon to the left, and the western horizon to the right). As he arcs upwards into the heavens he becomes vertical. Then, as he sinks back down towards the western horizon he becomes horizontal again.

In the image above, the stars of Orion are shown in all three locations: rising in the east, vertical in the center of the sky at the high point of their arc across the heavens, and then sinking down into the west and becoming horizontal again. Readers who are able can go out this very evening after sunset and see the stars of Orion with his distinctive three-star belt sinking down towards the west.

Below, the same image is reproduced, but this time imagery of Osiris has been added, illustrating the way that the stars of Orion himself portray the "casting down" of the Djed (particularly as Orion sinks down into the west) as well as the subsequent "raising back up" (or Anastasis) of the god -- and a vertical Djed column is depicted directly above Orion's head in the central position:

To add further support, if any is needed, to the argument that the nightly motion of Orion was anciently associated with the casting-down of Osiris and the Djed and with the subsequent raising back up of the same, there are many examples of sacred art in ancient Egypt which actually depicts Osiris lying "cast down" on his funeral bier in the same striding posture that typifies the stars of Orion -- see for example here.

Since no one can, as a practical matter, stride around anywhere while lying upon a bier, and since the ancient Egyptians obviously knew that just as well as we do, the fact that they sometimes depicted Osiris in a horizontal position but with his feet apart as if walking purposefully forward is a major clue that these drawings depict the constellation Orion as he looks when he is near either of the two horizons: horizontal rather than upright, but still in the characteristic "striding" posture that Orion always has, whether he is straight up or lying down.

Below is one more set of images I've prepared in order to illustrate the identification of Orion with the celestial Osiris, and with the casting down and raising up of the Djed.

First, a closer "zoom" of the constellation as it appears on the horizon, to show that Orion really does look "horizontal" when he is near the horizons (the images above de-emphasize this fact, because of the fact that they "wrap" the horizon like a planetarium, and so the horizon itself on the left edge and right edge or east and west of the image, as well as constellations parallel to the horizons on the left and right sides of the images above, appear more "vertical" and upright in those images than they do along the actual horizon outside):

In the above image, you can see that Orion really does look as if he is lying on his funeral bier when he is located at the eastern horizon (rising), and the same is true after he crosses the sky and begins to sink back down into the western horizon (setting).

If we superimpose the outline of the "striding Osiris" on a bier as he is depicted in the Dendera Temple relief linked previously, we can see how this celestial figure represents the Djed of Osiris "cast down" (but preparing to rise again):

Below is another version of the "Orion in three positions" crossing the night sky, this time with the horizons left more "flat" (without the "planetarium wrapping effect"):

(Click to enlarge).
And one more time, with the outlines of Osiris added, to assist in locating the constellation Orion for those less familiar, as well as to illustrate the way Orion's motion embodies the "Djed cast down" and "Djed raised back up."

Now, to bring in the Tolkien connection to this subject, we must delve into the mythological traditions discussed by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend in their landmark examination of the celestial foundations of the world's myths, Hamlet's Mill (first published in 1969). There, they cite previous generations of scholars who demonstrate that the myths upon which Shakespeare's Hamlet are based, in which a king is murdered by his brother and must be avenged by his son, existed in northern Europe going back many centuries before Shakespeare, and that in the 12th century version discussed by Saxo Grammaticus, Hamlet's father's name is Horwendil. This same mythical figure also appears in the Eddas and in other myths, under names that are vary slightly but can clearly be seen to be linguistically related, as Orwandel, Orendel, Erentel, Erendel, Horvandillus, Horwendil, Oervandill, Orvandil, and Aurvadil (see Hamlet's Mill pages 12, 87, 95, 155, and especially Appendix 2; an online version of the text is available here).

But the mythological pattern of the Hamlet myth goes back even further, as de Santillana and von Dechend demonstrate: in fact, it is clearly the exact same pattern as the Osiris myth, in which the rightful king  (Osiris) is killed by his malevolent brother (Set) and must be avenged by his son (Horus). Von Dechend and de Santillana demonstrate convincingly (with citations and references to numerous scholars of previous generations) that Orvandil the father of Hamlet represents a manifestation in mythology of the mighty archer in the sky, Orion, in the same way that Osiris does in the sacred traditions of ancient Egypt.

And, as some readers have perhaps already deduced, the name of this lost father of Hamlet -- Orvandil or Erendel -- is very close to the name of Earendil in the saga of The Lord of the Rings. In fact, there is abundant evidence that Tolkien imported this name directly from Old English, where it is found in a poem by Cynewulf, and a poem that Tolkien the premier scholar of Old English had commented upon as a personal favorite as early as 1913, forty years before the publication of the Ring story.

Specifically, Earendil is the spelling that Tolkien used for the very similar name Earendel, which is found in line 104 of Cynewulf's Christ part I (it is a poem which, like The Lord of the Rings itself, is broken into three parts). You can see it for yourself in the Old English on page 5 of the "poem" portion (after the lengthy "Introduction" portion) of this online version of Cynewulf's poem, which is actually page 115 of the online file (use the "slider" at the bottom of the "two-up" version and go to page 114 out of 421, which shows you pages 114 and 115 of the file). 

There, we read:
104 Eala Earendel, engla beorhtast 
105 Ofer middengeard monnum sended
which is translated in Hamlet's Mill as follows:
"Hail, Earendel, brightest of angels, thou
sent unto men upon this Middle Earth . . ." (355).
and which is actually part of an extended section of the poem praising the Christ using many epithets. What is most interesting is that the Old English poet Cynewulf (who lived in either the 8th, 9th, or 10th century AD, depending on which scholarly argument you accept) is here clearly associating the Christ with the celestial figure of Orion, whether Cynewulf knew it or not (and one should not assume that poets of previous centuries knew less about these esoteric subjects than is known today -- in all likelihood, they knew much more).

Cynewulf is thus associating the Christ with a figure who is cast down and who rises again, and we have already seen from previous discussions, including some of those linked in the second paragraph from the start of this essay, that the Christ of the New Testament can be shown to have very clear Osirian parallels.

That Earendel in the poem is also a starry figure is fairly clear from the context -- and in fact this portion of the poem is translated by Charles W. Kennedy on the top of page 4 of the year 2000 translation available online here in unmistakably celestial terms, as follows:
Hail Day-Star! Brightest angel sent to man throughout the earth, and Thou steadfast splendor of the sun, bright above stars! Ever Thou dost illumine with Thy light the time of every season.
In The Lord of the Rings, Earendil is the ancient High Elven king who carried the light of the morning star on his brow to Middle Earth in the high and far-off times. This star is the most beloved star of the Elves, and a portion of its light is given to Frodo to help him in his quest, in the Phial of Galadriel. 

Earendil is also the father of Elrond the Half-Elven, which is extremely intriguing, and makes Elrond something of a Hamlet figure. And indeed, in the story, Elrond is a figure who is often shown as somewhat conflicted, able to see the future but in a way that nearly drives him to despair. He is also shown as bringing his daughter to tears by his harsh words, in much the same way that Hamlet in the Hamlet story drives Ophelia to tears (and worse).

Eventually, Elrond declares that the time of his people is over, and they must disappear into the west (which is exactly what Orion the celestial Earendil does as he sinks down into the western horizon).

So, we see that The Lord of the Rings appears to contain a reflection of the great Osirian cycle of the god who comes down to dwell among humanity (Osiris and other Osirian figures throughout mythology including Saturn, Prometheus, Quetzlcoatl, Kon-Tiki, and others are usually benevolent, civilizing figures credited with teaching men and women how to cultivate grain and in some cases how to stop eating one another) and who then disappears, often into the sea or into a cave beneath the ocean.

And, as has been argued in numerous previous posts, this moving story -- which is found in various forms in myths literally around the globe -- has an incredibly hopeful and uplifting message for us as human beings, in that it speaks not only of our "casting down" but also of our eventual "standing up again," and that it also conveys to us the message that within this life we should be going about the business of remembering who we are, and of recognizing that the visible and physical and material realities with which we are daily confronted are not the only reality or even the highest reality, that there is an invisible and spiritual reality within each and every one of us and that in fact interpenetrates every single molecule and sub-atomic particle of the universe around us, and that we can and should be actively engaged in "raising up" and bringing forward that positive spiritual reality within ourselves and within the rest of creation.

There are many, many ways that we can do this every day -- some of which involve the ecstatic state, and others which may not.

Previous posts have mentioned the practice of blessing and not cursing, the practice of aligning with and not contending with the flow of the universe (or the Tao), the practice of nonviolence on the many levels upon which that concept can be applied, and many more which each can be incorporated into daily life -- all of them related to the concept of "raising back up" as opposed to "casting down" (as opposed, that is, to degrading, debasing, objectifying, cursing, dehumanizing, and brutalizing).

Clearly, Tolkien was aware of this concept on some very deep level, and incorporated it into his beloved literary masterpiece.

Perhaps seeing these connections will cast additional light on the subject for all of us, and help us as well, in our own journey through this Middle Earth.


Below is a short video I made showing the path of Orion across the sky and the connection to Osiris and the Djed, as a supplement to the illustrations included in this post. 

Also, here is a link to a previous post from all the way back in 2011 that discusses Tolkien, Orion, and Earendil.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Lord of the Rings, the Power of Music, and the Stories that Really Matter

(video link).

I'm taking a brief intermission from the "ecstasy every day" mini-series to report on an unforgettable experience I had the opportunity to be part of this weekend with my extended family, at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts where the Symphony Silicon Valley along with the Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale, the Ragazzi Boy's Choir and the Cantabile Youth Singers performed the entire musical score of the Lord of the Rings live, as the movies themselves played on an enormous big-screen overhead (with the original soundtrack from which the musical score had been removed in order to allow the artists to perform it live).

Since there are literally millions of fans of these amazing films around the world (probably tens of millions, and perhaps even hundreds of millions), but only a relatively very few who could attend this amazing musical event (which I believe was only available in the San Francisco Bay Area and in the New York City area), I will try to share some of the impressions that I personally will take with me from that this event.

Naturally, the comments below will focus mostly on some of the concepts and themes that I find most interesting which the films themselves and this event in particular seem to illustrate particularly well. Everyone has their own personal relationship with art, whether that is literature or music or film, and so of course my impressions will be different from those of everyone else, but since there are some ways in which The Lord of the Rings provides some wonderful perspectives on the themes of ancient myth and ancient wisdom and can perhaps provide some helpful insights, I will focus most on those -- there is much more that could be said on a variety of other pathways of discussion that Tolkien's work and this particular film adaptation (and its incredible musical score) can lead us down, but I will leave those for now to other writers or for another day.

The power of music
Most obvious, perhaps, of the thoughts one would have after such an experience is an appreciation for the unparalleled power of music on us as human beings. The music created by composer Howard Shore for The Lord of the Rings project of director Peter Jackson can safely be called a masterpiece, and adds a dimension to Tolkien's creation that now feels like an essential part of the very atmosphere of all the different places and peoples of Middle Earth.  One can hardly imagine the Shire without its evocative leitmotif, and one can hardly not imagine the Shire upon hearing it (anywhere) -- and the same holds true for all the other themes and elements in Howard Shore's brilliant musical interpretation of that magical world. 

The drama of the action in the films, of course, is powerfully amplified by the music -- and while we all know this to be true in general, seeing these films again but this time with a live symphony performing the music and live singers performing the choral music brings that power home in an entirely new way and on an entirely different level.

Below is a video clip from a rehearsal of the music which accompanies one of the most dramatic moments in the entire film trilogy: the Lighting of the Beacons of Gondor. The power of the scenes themselves is immeasurably magnified by the music that accompanies the action:

That's conductor Shih-Hung Young leading the rehearsal, a graduate of the Julliard School and a member of its faculty since 1995, who did a masterful job of bringing out all the dimensions of the assembled artists and the larger whole they created together, and whose energy and palpable good humor and warmth came through the entire performance.

The power of resonating musical instruments:
In addition to the power of the music itself, it bears noting a point which has been made by many before, which is the fact that no matter how far technology has advanced, nothing can actually imitate  or even capture the effect of music which is being produced right there by living men and women using real musical instruments, most of those instruments made of real wood or real brass and vibrating real strings and real columns of air to produce their tones. 

The power of vibrating waves cannot really be doubted, since in a very real sense we ourselves and everything we see around us are actually made up of waves and vibrations. Quantum physics has taught us that even molecules and atoms and subatomic "particles" which we think of as particles rather than waves actually possess the nearly unfathomable quality of existing in "waveform" and exhibiting "wave-like" properties depending upon whether or not they are being observed. Even without delving into the mysteries of quantum physics, we can think of music as a very clear example of the invisible world entering into and interacting with the physical world -- mathematics taking on form and sound, thoughts and feelings traveling through the air and calling forth a response in the listener. 

Music can undoubtedly be said to "put us in touch with" the invisible and spiritual aspect of our dual physical-spiritual nature in this dual physical-spiritual universe in which we find ourselves, and to "bring forward" or "raise up" something inside of us which is invisible and intangible but vital and real. The vibrations of music that are being created right there in your own personal vicinity, through the vibrations of finely-crafted instruments in the hands of master musicians, have an entirely different impact than the recordings of instruments played back through speakers, as wonderful as musical recording technology and musical sound-system technology is. That's why we should all try to experience live music every chance we get, if we are able to do so.

The power of the human voice and the music men and women can produce with the human voice:
As human beings, of course, we ourselves can vibrate with music and produce our own music with the human voice. The power and vital importance of doing so has been explored in previous posts such as "Your song" and "How much time do you spend chanting praises?" and "A brief examination of the importance of chakras and singing praises" (among others).

The beautiful music of The Lord of the Rings trilogy contains many moving choral elements which add immeasurably to the power of the drama in the films. No one watching the live performances this weekend could say that they did not experience a thrill of anticipation when they saw the choir stand up as they prepared to deliver the other-worldly choir music that forms such an integral part of The Lord of the Rings experience. There is a reason that choirs are associated with the music of angelic hosts, and that the whirling celestial bodies are said to sing together the "music of the spheres."

Of course, it must be said that part of the power of choral music in the particular form that it appears in these films and their scores comes from the fact that it has centuries of history of use as "sacred music," associated with worship in formal churches in the literal-historical Christian tradition. This fact opens up a whole series of profitable lines of discussion and reflection, but without pursuing those too far at this particular point, it can perhaps be considered that it is very possible that one need not accept a literal-historical interpretation of any particular body of scripture in order to appreciate the power of such singing and to accept the premise that such singing may have real beneficial and spiritual effects.

It is also possible to contemplate the possibility that such music could have been conceived and offered and loved and preserved as part of spiritual practice down through the millennia, even if the entire literal-historical interpretation had not been promoted in western Europe from the third and fourth centuries AD (not just promoted, but alternative interpretations vigorously suppressed and persecuted). There is, I believe, abundant evidence that the literalistic interpretation was not the interpretation that was intended for these scriptures, and I have written about that evidence in many previous posts (see for instance here and here), but leaving that entire discussion aside, we can probably all agree that the choral music in the score of The Lord of the Rings films is unworldly and extremely moving.

In addition to the choral music in the movies, of course, there are also haunting voice solos, some in English and others in the tongue of the Elves, and these were delivered by virtuoso Clara Sanabras. Everything said about the power of the music of the human voice above in regard to the music of a choir applies again, "and then some," for her incredible solo performances in the score.

Here is a video of Clara Sanabras singing "Gollum's Song" with her own accompaniment on an accordion-instrument (this instrument was not used in the performance this weekend as there was a full symphony there) -- this song of course was sung in its entirety during the credits at the end of The Two Towers, the second film in the trilogy:

The evocation of a lost age:
One of the most powerful aspects of Tolkien's entire magnum opus is his brilliant evocation of the feeling of a lost age, an age that was already going down into the mists of time long before the beginning of the actual events portrayed in his books -- the age of the High Elves and of wisdom that has now been lost or that is only dimly remembered.

Is it possible that this resonates so strongly with us because he is capturing the feeling of something that we can ourselves feel may have actually taken place?

There is abundant evidence on our planet's surface of the existence of someone long before anything known to our written history, who knew things we cannot explain and who could build things we still find impossible to explain or to duplicate (including the Great Pyramid of Giza or the blasted ruins of Puma Punku, for instance). They appear to somehow be connected to the incredible wisdom preserved in the ancient sacred texts and traditions bequeathed to humanity, texts which themselves contain evidence of almost superhuman sophistication and understanding and wisdom.

Tolkien, of course, grew up and lived in England (although he was born in South Africa and lived there until the age of three), a land which is strongly permeated by very ancient monuments whose origins, purpose, and meaning remain disputed to this day. These include of course Stonehenge (see previous posts here, here and here for more discussion), Silbury Hill, Avebury Henge, the famous Ley Lines, and many others -- all of which cannot fail to convey a particularly strong impression that there is something more to the ancient history of our planet than our conventional histories admit.

The very thin fabric which separates the visible world from the invisible world:
The world of Middle Earth is filled with episodes which vividly convey the impression of an invisible world which is always present and contiguous to the visible world, even if all the characters are not equally attuned to it or aware of it at all times. Frodo sees into it when he puts on the Ring (and enters into it himself every time he does so); some of the Elves and especially Elrond and Galadriel can see with a kind of "Second Sight," and know things about the future or at least about the world of "potentiality" which cannot be known through ordinary means; wizards such as Gandalf can and do enter into a kind of shamanic state in order to heal others or to obtain information or effect change which could not otherwise be accomplished; and in several occasions dream-states are a means by which information arrives through "non-ordinary reality."

Below is a link to the episode in The Two Towers in which Aragorn has what we could call a "lucid dream" -- in which he perceives that he is in fact actually dreaming, as evidenced by the first words he speaks when he sees Arwen: "This is a dream" (to which she of course replies, "Then it is a good dream").

While these scenes are of course part of a fictional work, there is plenty of evidence from cultures around the globe (and indeed from modern science as well, although not often admitted) that our world does in fact operate in just this way -- that the visible or material realm of "ordinary reality" is at all times and at all points in contact with, and interpenetrated by, and in fact even projected from the realm of invisible, spiritual, pure potentiality. The realm that the Australian Aborigines call The Dreamtime.

It may well be that this Invisible Realm is "the real world that is behind this one," in the words of the Lakota holy man Black Elk. The way that the entire Lord of the Rings world portrays the invisible world as being present at all times, in contact with and with powerful effects on the visible world, may be yet another reason why it resonates so strongly with so many people.

The many characters who actually embody aspects of our soul's experience in this material life:
As has been discussed in countless previous posts, the great myths and sacred stories which form an important part of the precious inheritance left to the entire human race can actually be seen as profound esoteric allegories which embody in story-form the experience of each and every human soul, in its plunging down into incarnate form, forgetting its real origin and divine nature, and then eventually recovering its identity and increasing in consciousness of the true nature of the universe and of its own spiritual power.

In a quotation that has been cited in several previous posts (see especially this one and this one), Alvin Boyd Kuhn has said that the world's ancient myths (in this case, talking specifically to the collection of ancient myth that we call the Bible):
are a record, under pictorial forms, of that which is ever occurring as a reality of the present in all lives. [. . .] The actors are not old kings, priests and warriors; the one actor in every portrayal, in every scene, is the human soul. The Bible is the drama of our history here and now; and it is not apprehended in its full force and applicability until every reader discerns himself [or herself] to be the central figure in it!
Obviously, Tolkien's story is not an actual ancient myth -- but J.R.R. Tolkien himself was an accomplished scholar with an emphasis on mythology and on language (language itself being one of the purest forms of metaphor or allegory or symbol). The characters he created in The Lord of the Rings often embody the very story which Alvin Boyd Kuhn believed was at the heart of nearly all the ancient myths: the stupefaction of the soul as it "falls into" incarnation and forgets its divine spiritual nature, and the eventual remembrance of its true nature and the "raising back up" of the spiritual force, and all that that entails.

In particular, Aragorn can be seen to embody this cycle -- the king who is lost, the king who has in fact hidden himself for so long that he has forgotten in some ways who he really is, who is wracked by deep self-doubt about his own real identity, and who must slowly "grow into" his true role again.

For more on this theme as it is found at the heart of many of the world's sacred mythologies, see "Amen and Amenta" and "Namaste and Amen," for example, which have to do with the "hidden god" or spark of divinity within each and every man and woman, and see also the many discussions of the "casting down" and "raising up" of the "Djed column" in ancient Egyptian symbology, which takes on different forms in other myths from other cultures around the world, discussed (with a video at the bottom) in this previous post, which also contains links to many others dealing with "Djed-column" themes.

Within the "larger cycle" of Aragorn's return, we can also see the same cycle of the "king who has forgotten" and who needs to be "reminded" in the dramatic recovery of Theoden from the stupefaction that has been foisted upon him by the evil offices of Saruman and by Saruman's agent, Wormtongue. The restoration of Theoden (along with the accompanying music) actually moved the audience to extended applause during the symphony event.

The same cycle can be seen operating within each of the hobbits themselves, who come from the most ordinary and unassuming of all the places in Middle Earth, and who are constantly reminded that they are not heroes or kings or great warriors . . . but who each find within themselves at some point during their adventures something so extraordinary that they accomplish what no one else in Middle Earth can accomplish, and that makes those around them realize that "sleeping within" their unassuming exteriors there is some spark deep inside which is cause for awe and which is capable of moving the world.

And, the same theme of plunging down, being for a time "lost," and then being restored can be seen in the fall and return of Gandalf, who describes his journey in mythical and allegorical language (and which also invokes the concept of reincarnation which can be seen to run through most if not all of the ancient myths as well):
Aragorn: You fell!
Gandalf: Through fire, and water. From the lowest dungeon to the highest peak, I fought with the Balrog of Morgoth. Until at last, I threw down my enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountain-side. Darkness took me -- and I strayed out of thought and time. The stars wheeled overhead, and every day was as long as a life-age of the earth. But it was not the end. I felt life in me again. I've been sent back, until my task is done.
Note the express use of the phrase "fire and water," which has great worldwide mythical significance, discussed in this previous post.

The power of these stories is undeniable, in whatever form they have taken around the world and over the centuries. This is dramatically expressed by Sam in a moving scene at the end of The Two Towers, when he and Frodo are released by Faramir of Gondor, and Sam wonders if their adventures will ever find their way into the stories, the stories that Sam has just evoked while trying to encourage Frodo not to give up hope, in the speech that appears to finally convince Faramir to let the hobbits go to continue their mission.

Frodo has exclaimed, "I can't do this, Sam," and Sam agrees, but then finds strength as he reflects: "It's like in the great stories: the ones that really mattered." Later, they wonder aloud if they will ever be in any stories, which is ironic because of course the audience knows that Frodo and Sam will be the "great stories, the ones that really matter" because the audience is watching one right there.

And this of course proves the assertion cited earlier -- that the ancient myths of the human race are not really about ancient figures who lived long ago: they are about "our history here and now," and they are not fully grasped until each and every reader, or listener (or hobbit) discerns himself or herself to be the central figure in them!


Many thanks to all the 250+ artists who worked so hard to create the incredible musical event of The Lord of the Rings and to convey these beautiful truths as part of the Symphony Silicon Valley event this past week and week-end.

I know that for me those films will never be the same -- they will forever be fuller and richer my for having had that experience.

Below is my first personal encounter with an Uruk-Hai, from 2009: