Monday, May 18, 2015

Mukasa, the Guardian of the Lake

The Ssese Islands, in Lake Victoria, indicated by the red arrow. Google Maps.

Among the Baganda people of eastern-central Africa, whose land in their own language is called Buganda but in the Swahili language is called Uganda, one of the central figures of the spirit world is Mukasa, the Guardian of the Lake.

Of this powerful entity we read in African Mythology by Geoffrey Parrinder (1967) that:
The greatest of the demi-gods of Buganda, Mukasa, was a great giver of oracles, a kindly deity who never asked for human sacrifice. Myths say that when Mukasa was a child he refused to eat ordinary food and disappeared from home, later being found on an island sitting under a large tree. A man who saw him there took him to a garden and lifted him onto a rock. People were afraid to take him into their houses, thinking he was a spirit, so they built a hut for him on the rock. They did not know what to give him to eat, for he refused all their food, but when they killed an ox he asked for its blood, liver and heart. Then people knew he was a god and consulted him in any trouble. Mukasa lived on the island for many years, married three wives, was cared for by priests, and at last disappeared as suddenly as he had come.
His temple was a conical reed hut, which was rebuilt at intervals on the express orders of the king. Originally it is said that Mukasa spoke his will directly to the priests, but later they used mediums who uttered his messages. The medium never entered the temple but had a special hut in front of it. When seeking to know the will of Mukasa she smoked some tobacco until the spirit came upon her, and then she announced in a shrill voice what was to be done. The medium was not allowed to marry, or walk about in the sight of men, or talk to any man but the priest, and once chosen held the office till death. 89-90.
This information is remarkable on several levels, and may immediately ring some bells for readers who have studied the previous two posts in which I presented arguments to support my theory that the details of the story of the Buddha underneath the bodhi tree, as well as the story of Jonah underneath the vine or "the gourd" or the palmcrist or the kikajon found in Jonah chapter 4, are based upon the celestial figure of Bootes the Herdsman sitting with his back to the glorious column of the Milky Way galaxy -- see "The Bodhi Tree" and "The sacred fig tree, continued: Jonah and the gourd."

The general details regarding Mukasa presented above are corroborated in other accounts of the Baganda. This page from the webiste, for example, discusses the understanding of a spirit world beyond this one, and Mukasa as one of the most important of the Lubaale or "Guardians" who dwell in the invisible realm. There, we see that the location of the oracle where the medium (or mandwa) obtained messages from Mukasa was located on Bubembe island, one of a chain of over eighty islands known as the Ssese Islands (after the tsetse flies which swarm there) in Lake Victoria. 

See the map above for the location of Lake Victoria -- which lake is known in the Luganda language of the Baganda as Nalubaale, or "Lake of the Lubaale" -- and the Ssese Island archipelago in that great lake. Nalubaale is the second-largest freshwater lake on earth, with a surface area of 26,600 miles, second only to Lake Superior in size measured by surface area (the subterranean freshwater lake of Lake Vostok in Antarctica has a surface area of "only" 4,800 miles although it is so massive that it contains roughly 1,300 cubic miles of water, compared to Nalubaale's 660 cubic miles and Lake Superior's 2,900 cubic miles and Lake Baikal's 5,700 cubic miles).

It is actually somewhat difficult to find a good detailed map labeling all the Ssese Islands and especially Bubembe island, the location of the oracle and primary temple of Mukasa, but I believe Bubembe is the island that I have indicated with an arrow in the map below, which "zooms in" on the Ssese archipelago from the map shown above:

The details regarding Mukasa given in the quotation above are further supported by accounts found in The Baganda: An account of their native customs and beliefs, by John Roscoe (originally published in 1911). There, we learn more information regarding the mandwa and her entering into a state of trance or ecstasy in order to receive information from the spirit world:
When she was about to seek an interview with the god, or to become possessed, she dressed like one of the priests with two bark-cloths knotted over each shoulder, and eighteen small white goat-skins round her waist. She first smoked a pipe of tobacco until the god came upon her; she then commenced speaking in a shrill voice, and announced what was to be done. She sat over a sacred fire when giving the oracle, perspired very freely, and foamed at the mouth. After the oracle had been delivered, and the god had left her, she was very fatigued and lay prostrate for some time. While giving the oracle, she held a stick in her hand with which she struck the ground to emphasize her words. 297-298.
Again, these details are extremely significant and noteworthy. First, they provide yet another example of a concept that can be seen to be absolutely ubiquitous around the world -- the understanding of the the existence of a spirit world with which it is possible to communicate and to which it is possible to journey even during this life, and the importance of doing so in order to obtain information or effect change which impacts aspects of this material world, which is intimately connected to and in fact can be said to be "interpenetrated by" and even "projected from" the spirit world in a very real sense. We have examined the importance of this concept in numerous previous posts including:
and many more.

Second, they again demonstrate that the actual techniques with which human beings may enter into a state of ecstatic trance or contact with the invisible realm are incredibly diverse, a fact borne out by the encyclopedic research presented by Mircea Eliade in the landmark text Shamanism: Archaic techniques of ecstasy (first published in 1951), and discussed in the previous post entitled "How many ways are there of contacting the hidden realm?"

But perhaps most importantly and most strikingly, the details provided above illustrate powerful and undeniable points of resonance with other sacred traditions from different cultures around the globe, and what is more these points of resonance can -- I argue -- be seen to be distinctly celestial in nature, relating very clearly to specific important constellations which are used in other cultures and other traditions to point the way to the importance of the realm of spirit within and around us, just as they do in the sacred traditions of the Baganda.

Let us examine some of those details more closely.

First, we see that Mukasa shares very clear points of correspondence with the story of the life of the Buddha: he seated himself under a tree, he refused ordinary food, he was against sacrifice (in the case of Mukasa, he was specifically against human sacrifice).

Further, the temple of Mukasa is described as a "conical reed hut," and the mandwa herself also dwelt in a special hut near the conical temple or shrine of Mukasa, although she did not enter it herself, even when she communed with the Lubaale himself, but instead smoked a pipe of tobacco in her hut and sat over a fire, perspiring and even foaming at the mouth. John Roscoe shows an image of one of the conical shrines of the Baganda in his 1911 book, and it looks very much like the image shown below of one of the sacred tombs of the Baganda:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

We also see in the accounts that the mandwa is always a woman, that she begins her contact with the god by sitting above a fire and smoking a pipe, but that at the end she falls down exhausted, and lies prostrate for some time.

All of these details have very powerful correspondences to the specific details of the constellation Bootes the Herdsman and the other surrounding constellations and celestial bodies near Bootes, which the previous posts on the Buddha and the bo tree and on Jonah and the gourd have argued to be the foundation of those sacred stories as well.

The clear celestial connection of the story of the Buddha, the story of Jonah, and the details of the powerful Mukasa of the Baganda is extremely significant, and extremely powerful evidence supporting the actual celestial connection of all of the world's ancient sacred wisdom.

Let's spell out those celestial correspondences (which will be illustrated in the planetarium image below):
  • The sitting figure of Mukasa on the rock, the Buddha under the bodhi tree, and Jonah under his gourd are all related to the constellation Bootes, who can clearly seen to be seated in the sky (and can also be envisioned to be kneeling). In fact, the figure of Bodhidharma who is known as Da Mo in China and who traditional legends describe as bringing Buddhism to China and kneeling in front of a stone wall for nine years without moving, and in some cases to have originated the martial arts as a way of strengthening the monks and giving them a physical-spiritual practice that would function as a kind of "moving meditation," can also be shown to be connected to Bootes, as I have demonstrated in previous posts such as this one.
  • The beautiful tree arching over their heads is the shining column of the Milky Way, which rises up behind the sitting or kneeling figure of Bootes in the heavens.
  • The "conical hut" (or the "booth" that Jonah makes under the gourd) is most likely the outline of the constellation Ophiucus.
The diagram below shows the major players in these Star Myths. The constellation Scorpio is also outlined, latching on to the base of the Milky Way, because Scorpio almost certainly plays the role of the worm who smites the vine that shelters Jonah, and causes it to wither away, much to Jonah's frustration and anger.

Note that in the diagram, the gigantic constellation of Hercules with his raised club is also outlined. This constellation plays a role in the legend of Da Mo (where, I argue, Hercules represents Shen Guang, the faithful follower and first disciple of Da Mo). Interestingly enough, the proximity of Hercules to the seated figure of Bootes provides an important confirmatory piece of evidence that this celestial interpretation is correct for the story of the Buddha as well. 

The image below, from the 2d century AD, shows the unmistakeable figure of Hercules (or Vajrapani) standing behind the seated figure of the Buddha underneath the bo tree, exactly as the constellation of Hercules can be seen to stand behind the seated figure of Bootes in the night sky. This confirms beyond a shadow of a doubt that the ancients knew the connection between the Buddha and the celestial figures of Hercules and Bootes:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

What is perhaps most striking in the sacred Baganda tradition surrounding Mukasa is the way in which the mandwa herself enacts the postures of the celestial constellations when she makes contact with the spirit world: first she sits above the fire smoking a pipe, just as Bootes can be seen to be "smoking a pipe" in the outline shown above, and then she falls down prostrate just as the constellation Virgo (who is located directly below Bootes and whose outline is shown in the image below from the Jonah story) can be said to be "lying prostrate and exhausted" in the way the constellation is arranged in the sky:

Note also that the mandwa carries a stick with which she strikes the ground for emphasis while reciting the message from the spirit world during her trance. The constellation Virgo can be seen to have a distinctive "outstretched arm" (marked by the star Vindemiatrix), which in some legends from around the world becomes a stick (and in other world myths it is a sword, a bow, or another implement connected to the story in question). 

She is thus enacting, in the most direct way imaginable, the concept of "as above, so below," which conveys a number of deep teachings, one of them the fact that every single man and woman embodies within themselves, contains, and connects to the infinite universe itself: that we are each a microcosm which reflects and which in fact is not separate from the infinite macrocosm around and above us.

It is also extremely noteworthy that the famous Pythia who sat in the tripod at the oracle at Delphi can also be shown to reflect the constellation Virgo, who herself is in a seated position and who is directly above a celestial serpent, the constellation Hydra (corresponding to the dead carcass of the Python who was supposedly entombed deep beneath the temple at Delphi). In other words, the priestess at Delphi also entered into a state of ecstasy and communion with the gods by actually imitating the constellation Virgo, and embodying the concept of "as above, so below" and the microcosm/macrocosm.

Thus, we see that the sacred traditions surrounding the benevolent deity Mukasa of central Africa share extremely close and significant correspondences with the sacred traditions at the heart of Buddhism, ancient Greece, the scrolls of the Hebrew Scriptures and specifically of the prophet Jonah, and the legend of Da Mo in China, and that they thus provide an extremely powerful and significant piece of additional evidence to support the thesis that the world's sacred myths, scriptures, and traditions all share a common celestial foundation.

This fact, if true (and I believe the evidence is overwhelming and nearly beyond dispute; dozens more examples are discussed in other posts and in my previous books, a partial but by no means exhaustive index of such discussions can be found here) is of incredible significance for world history, and for our lives today.

Some of the implications might be:

  • That the sacred myths, scriptures and traditions of the world are not literal but that they are sophisticated celestial metaphors and that they use the celestial realm to convey the reality of the invisible realm of spirit.
  • That we are not in fact separate from the realm of spirit, but that we are intimately connected to it at all times, and that it is also within us at all times (as above, so below: microcosm and macrocosm).
  • That if the various myths and sacred traditions teach that we are "descended" from figures in Star Myths, they are talking about our spiritual nature, and that such stories are not intended to be used to divide people on the basis of ancestry (or supposed ancestry) -- in fact, since they teach the existence and importance of the infinite spiritual nature inside each man and woman, this can be seen to supersede the far less important external distinctions which people have used to set men and women against each other based on external differences.
  • That we are all deeply connected to one another and in fact to all beings and even to the universe itself.
  • That on this basis, it is wrong to kill other beings, and especially that human sacrifice is profoundly wrong -- in fact, Mukasa's ordinance against human sacrifice can be seen as teaching that it is wrong to take the life of another man or woman, and that one cannot even use "religious devotion" as an excuse to harm another man or woman.
  • That the ancients clearly understood these sacred myths to be connected to the constellations over our heads, and that they consciously depicted this understanding in their art and in their ecstatic practices and techniques.
  • That this ancient understanding has been subverted, and that it has in fact been overturned or "stood on its head," such that for at least seventeen hundred years it has been taught that sacred traditions are only meaningful if taken literally.
  • That literalism tends to invert the original meaning of the myths themselves, including all of the points outlined above. 
  • Literalism tends towards creating divisions between different people and different groups based on supposed descent from figures in stories that were originally intended to be understood as celestial metaphor. 
  • Literalism has often been used to "excuse" (or, it should be said, only "supposedly excuse," since it does not in fact excuse) violence against other men and women.
  • Ultimately, all of these sacred traditions point us towards the importance of the spiritual realm, and especially the importance of the spiritual realm within ourselves and within everyone around us: the importance of recognizing and elevating and evoking the spiritual and the divine side of ourselves and of the cosmos, rather than demeaning and debasing and brutalizing and denying the spiritual and the divine in ourselves and in others and in the world around us.

And there are many other implications, in addition to those listed here.