Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Gospel of Philip and the Zodiac Wheel

images: Wikimedia commons link 1; link 2; link 3.

The previous two posts have attempted to demonstrate that ancient texts buried beneath a cliff near modern-day Nag Hammadi, likely placed there during the second half of the fourth century AD after authorities promoting what can generally be called a literalist approach as opposed to a gnostic approach had declared these texts to be heretical and suppressed their teachings, can be shown to be using esoteric metaphors to convey the very same ancient wisdom found in other myth-systems the world over.

In particular, the preceding posts argued that specific metaphors in the Gospel of Thomas, an extremely important text found in Codex 2 when the Nag Hammadi codexes were unearthed in the twentieth century, after spending perhaps sixteen centuries beneath the ground, are conveying the same message found in the ancient Sanskrit scriptures of the Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata concerning the nature of human incarnation, the constant interplay between the material realm and the realm of spirit, and the reality of each individual to have inner access to the infinite -- the higher self, the supreme self, the Atman -- at all times.

For those discussions, please see the previous posts entitled 
These discussions can be seen to be related to the larger pattern of the world's ancient myths, all of which can be shown to be very deliberately and intentionally using the celestial cycles to convey profound spiritual truths, most often within the framework of the great wheel of the zodiac and the great solar cross formed by the "horizontal" line running between the equinoxes (which generally relates to the "casting down" of the spirit into material incarnation in this life) and the "vertical" line running between the solstices (which generally relates to the "raising up" or "calling forth" of the spiritual aspect present -- though often hidden or forgotten -- in ourselves and indeed within every aspect of the apparently physical universe).

Numerous previous posts have discussed this overall pattern -- often relating it to the ancient Egyptian metaphor of the "casting down" and the "raising back up" of the Djed column: see for instance previous posts such as "The Zodiac Wheel and the Human Soul," "The Djed column everyday: Earendil" and many others.

Very significantly, there are passages in the Nag Hammadi texts which I would argue can be shown to explicitly declare the major outline of this very same mythological zodiac metaphor: the metaphor which forms the foundation for Star Myths from virtually every continent and culture around the globe.

In another important text from the same collection, the Gospel of Philip, which was also contained in codex 2 of the texts buried in the large jar beneath the cliffs near Nag Hammadi along the Nile River in Egypt, there is a specific passage in the subsection labeled (for ease of reference) as "Sowing and Reaping" by translator Marvin Meyer, which plainly tells us:
Whoever sows in winter reaps in summer. Winter is the world, summer is the other, eternal realm. Let us sow in the world to reap in summer. 
This passage is completely consistent with the metaphor-system which previous posts have alleged can be seen to be operating in myths literally around the world, stretching across time from the civilizations of ancient Egypt and Sumer and Babylon, all the way up through the present day in cultures where the connection to the ancient wisdom remains to some degree intact.

The system uses the "lower half" of the cycle of the heavenly bodies (from the daily cycle created by the rotation of the earth on its axis, to the monthly cycle of the moon and the yearly cycle created by earth's annual path around the great cross of the year, as well as some other cycles which are even longer than these) to describe our incarnation in "this world" -- that is to say, in the familiar, visible, material realm. 

The system uses the "upper half" of the same cycles to describe "the other, eternal realm" -- the invisible realm, the realm of spirit.

Each day the turning of the earth causes the stars (including our own sun, the Day Star) to appear to rise up out of the eastern horizon and arc their way into the celestial realm: the realm of the air, the realm of celestial fire -- a perfect metaphor for the realm of spirit, the invisible realm. But the same turning of the earth also causes the stars (including the sun) to plunge down again into the western horizon, disappearing into the "lower elements" of earth and water -- a perfect metaphor for this "lower realm" of matter, in which we find ourselves in this incarnate life.

And, using the annual cycle of the year (which has certain advantages over the daily cycle, because it is conveniently broken up into much smaller sub-sections which can be conveniently discussed using the twelve subdivisions of the zodiac signs which precisely indicate very specific parts of the annual cycle) we can use the same general metaphor. This time, the "lower half" of the year -- the half which runs from the autumnal equinox down through the winter solstice and up to the crossing point of the spring equinox -- represents the same thing that night-time represents for the daily cycle: the incarnate realm, the material realm, the imprisonment in a body of earth and water, plowing through the "underworld" of the physical universe. 

The "upper half" of the year -- the half which runs from the spring equinox up through the summer solstice and down again to the autumnal equinox -- represents the realm of spirit, the invisible realm, all that is eternal, unbounded and infinite.

The ancient Egyptian myth cycles depicted this same principle using the gods Osiris and Horus. Osiris, god of the dead, ruler of the underworld, represents the sun in the "lower half" of the cycle: when it is plowing through the lower realm of incarnate matter, "cast down" into incarnation. Horus represents the "upper half" of the cycle, when the sun soars upwards "between the two horizons" into the celestial realms of air and fire -- the realm of spirit.

Here in the Gospel of Philip, buried for those long centuries among the other texts in the Nag Hammadi collection, we find an explicit confirmation of this pattern: "Winter is the world, summer is the other, eternal realm." 

It could hardly be more clear if the text were to tell us: "The lower half of the wheel represents this world: this material realm -- the upper half, or the summer months on the annual circuit, are used as a metaphor for the other realm, the invisible realm, the eternal realm, the realm of spirit."

This in itself is remarkable, and it has tremendous implications for our understanding of the scriptures included in what today is called the Bible, but all of it might still be (mistakenly) dismissed by some as being of limited practical value. 

"So what?" they might ask. "How does this matter to my daily life?"

The answer, according to the Nag Hammadi texts themselves, is: plenty.

Because, just as we have seen in the previous examinations of the Bhagavad Gita or the Mahabharata, and just as Peter Kingsley has argued in his powerful book In the Dark Places of Wisdom, the ancient texts which were literally "driven underground" and buried in the urn at Nag Hammadi tell us something remarkable about the location of this eternal realm, and where we need to go in order to have access to it.

In section 3 of the Gospel of Thomas, for example, we find another explicit statement which can perhaps be profitably juxtaposed with this "zodiac wheel explanation" from the Gospel of Philip. There, giving the words which "Thomas" the twin has heard from his divine counterpart Jesus, the scripture tells us:
Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look, the kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is within you and it is outside you. 
Notice how this passage can be interpreted, in light of all we have discussed above, as telling us that both halves of the cycle -- the upper half of the "sky" and the lower half of the "sea" -- are talking about something that really has nothing to do with physical location (neither sky nor sea). What is being discussed is the invisible realm with which we already have intimate contact, right inside of us. 

And, this same invisible realm with which we already have contact (within) is also present within and behind every single molecule of the seemingly physical realm all around us as well -- it is both "within you" and it is "outside you," the Thomas Gospel tells us.

And this is knowledge with absolutely world-changing implications for each of us. Because, as Peter Kingsley explains so powerfully in the beginning sections of In the Dark Places of Wisdom, western civilization has somehow been cut off from that truth (very likely, I would argue, by ancient events that were part of the very same chain of events which led to the burying of the Nag Hammadi texts that we have just now been considering), and because of being cut off from that truth has spent the better part of the past sixteen or seventeen centuries trying to find external substitutes for something that is already internally accessible, right now, in "the peace of utter stillness" (and see further discussion of this concept in the previous post entitled "Two Visions").

The previous posts and accompanying videos exploring the significance of the invocation of the goddess Durga in the Mahabharata (immediately prior to the Bhagavad Gita) and the significance of the relationship between Arjuna and his divine charioteer, who is none other than Lord Krishna whose form is shown to be without limits, impossible to define or delineate or describe or bound with words, also indicates the practical impact that this ancient wisdom can have on our daily lives. 

Because it would argue that we can have access to this divine higher self literally every day, at any time (and the passage in the Mahabharata containing the Hymn to Durga specifically advises making the calling upon her divine presence a daily habit -- first thing each day, in fact). For more discussion of this subject, see previous posts such as "Self, the senses, and the mind" and "The Bodhi Tree."

Below is a famous statue from ancient Egypt of the king Khefren or Khafra (who probably reigned for over two decades around the year 2560 BC), showing the king with the falcon-god Horus spreading his wings over and behind his head.

It is a powerful image, and one which can be interpreted as depicting the very teaching conveyed by the Gospels of Thomas and Philip above, as well as by the section of the Mahabharata dramatizing invocation of Durga or the Bhagavad Gita's dramatization of Arjuna and Krishna in the chariot, prior to the battle of Kurukshetra.

It appears to indicate the state in which we are in contact with, in communion with, in harmony with, and under the guidance and protection of the higher self, the supreme soul, the infinite and unbounded principle which both Durga and Krishna declare themselves and reveal themselves to be, and which the Gospel of Philip plainly says is symbolized by the "upper half" of the great annual wheel: the summer half, the Horus half.

The infinite to which we each have access, within ourselves, in the peace of utter stillness, without going anywhere.

This is the truth of which the world's ancient scriptures and myths all testify.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).