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In Peter Kingsley's newly-released series of lectures entitled The Elders, one of the central messages running through all of the lectures is the assertion that the west has lost its connection to the real world which is behind this material facade, and has thus lost its connection to its ancient set of "original instructions."
The consequences are as obvious as they are tragic.
The consequences are also extremely grave: because, as the ancient myths of humanity make very clear, the invisible world -- the realm of the gods -- is in fact that true fount or origin of all life and blessing in the visible, material world.
Elaborating upon a theme which he returns to in many of his talks, he explains that the role of the prophet or shaman in cultures which have not lost their connection with the sacred realm was not necessarily to "predict the future," (a common misconception) but rather to uncover the often-hidden point in the past which led to a divergence from the pattern given to us from the Other Realm, and which is the source of whatever grievous problems we are now as a result experiencing in the present.
In one of the lectures, he illustrates this concept using the voyage to the realm of Persephone, queen of the underworld (pictured above [possibly], from an ancient sculpture thought to date to about 470 BC), described by the ancient seer Parmeneides (discussed in depth in Dr. Kinglsey's 1999 book, In the Dark Places of Wisdom), and also using a very relevant example from the Iliad:
And if you want to have a very simple example, a very good example, of what a prophet is (many of you are familiar with my books), it is there in Parmeneides' poem, where he goes down into the underworld, he is taken to meet the Goddess, she gives him all of this extraordinary teaching, and then she says, "Take it away -- carry it away. Just speak it on behalf of me. Don't change anything -- don't mess with it. Just speak on behalf of me." That is what prophecy is.
And then this issue about telling the future. Very, very interesting -- because we have one almost definition, in ancient Greek, about what prophecy really is. It was one of the very rare moments where Aristotle actually had a spark of understanding about something.
Prophecy is not about the future. Prophets don't talk about the future. What they do is: they talk about the past -- which has been hidden. Things which have happened -- that have been covered over, and no longer clear. That is what the real prophets do: they speak about the past, but the past that has been forgotten.
And you can see this if you look: you can see, say, with Empedocles -- this man I'm so connected with. As a prophet, he tries to point out to people what they have forgotten, what has gone wrong, what is missing -- why they don't function in the world anymore, why there is so much suffering, disease, disharmony, misery: because we've forgotten our divine source. He traces it all back.
And you can see it also at the very beginning of Homer's Iliad, when there is a whole plague. The soldiers are devastated, by sickness and plague. They're suffering; they're dying. And what happens, in this case? They find a prophet, and they ask him what's going wrong. And he says: "Apollo -- these are the arrows of Apollo. He's shot these arrows of plague, into the troops, because you did something wrong, you offended Apollo." And then it all becomes very simple. Because you see, once you know what's wrong, then you can sort it out -- you can make amends. It's very, very precise. That is what prophecy is.
And if you look at this process -- I've just said a little about it -- if you look at this real process of prophecy, you see that this is -- or this used to be -- the corrective element in human life. This is what brought people back into connection with the divine.
But, Peter Kingsley explains, the west at some point in the very distant past jettisoned the connection with that invisible realm, the real world that is behind this material realm, and the source of all life and all blessing, and deliberately cut off the corrective element of prophecy: the process of going into the other world to find out what is wrong.
Where and when that "break in contact" -- that terrible disconnection from the real process of prophecy -- actually took place is a matter worthy of careful consideration. I would argue that it is one of those "things which have happened" that Peter Kingsley talks about in the quotation above "that have been covered over, and no longer clear."
I believe that there are a number of such "things from the past which have been covered over" that we urgently need to uncover and deal with if we are going to have a hope of "sorting it out" and "making amends," as Dr. Kingsley puts it in his talk.
I would suggest that the shuttering of Oracle at Delphi and the cessation of the Eleusinian Mysteries, during the reign of the emperor Theodosius is probably an important place to look, in what we today label the fourth century (in AD 390 and AD 392, respectively).
That was a very decisive and revealing step in the history of literalist Christianity -- in conjunction with the power of the Roman Empire -- which represented the first of a long series of moves to shut down the channels by which certain specially attuned men and women could go directly to the invisible world to gain insight and affect changes that could be achieved in no other way, and for the benefit of the society.
What began there at Delphi and Eleusis -- the deliberate blockading of the doorways given to humanity, by which we can access the other realm -- would then be repeated over and over, with all the other avenues of connection to the divine world which had been given to other cultures as well. The campaign continued throughout other parts of Europe (where the Druidic and the Celtic and the Norse and the far-northern shamanic traditions of people such as the Sami were systematically stamped out) and then on to other parts of the world, including the Americas, the Pacific, and on into the lands far to the west of the Americas and far to the east of the Mediterranean.
That is the legacy that has brought us to this particular point in history -- a point in history which must be understood in light of that ancient disconnect that took place in the early centuries of the cultures that became what today we call "the west." This is the ancient disconnect which Peter Kingsley argues is at the heart of the very serious problems we see around us right now.
I would humbly suggest that a part of the solution is the very solid and very abundant evidence that can now be shown which proves quite beyond a reasonable doubt the scriptures of the Bible are built upon the very same system of celestial metaphor which is found in virtually every other culture on earth.
This is evidence which proves, in other words, that the very scriptures that the literalists have been using as a justification for shutting down the channels of communication with the invisible realm are in fact teaching the very same worldview that is taught by the myths of ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, ancient Scandinavia, ancient Gaul, ancient Ireland, ancient Sumer, ancient Babylon, ancient Persia, ancient China, ancient India, ancient Japan, and preserved in the sacred traditions of the cultures of Africa, Australia, the Americas, the Pacific, and the vast steppes and plains and forests and deserts of Asia.
As the vignette Peter Kingsley offers from the Iliad makes very clear, the ancients understood that when the invisible realm is disregarded or (even worse) disrespected, the results are inevitably catastrophic. If the infinite realm -- the realm of the gods, the "seed realm," the realm of pure potentiality -- is in fact the fount or source of everything which manifests itself here in the material realm, then it is the source of life and vitality and health and blessing.
Thus, when Agamemnon chooses to disregard the order of the universe by insulting and disrespecting the priest of Apollo (and, in doing so, disrespecting Apollo himself), the Achaeans assembled under the temporary command of Agamemnon are visited with plague and death by the Sun God (the destruction of health, and the destruction of life).
As Peter Kingsley also points out in the quotation cited above, the Achaeans cannot by themselves figure out how to stop this deadly problem. The answer cannot be found in the material world alone.
But, they know what to do: they summon Calchas, whom the poem calls "the clearest by far of all the seers who scan the flight of birds" (I. 80-81).
Calchas is, in fact, a follower of Apollo -- and Calchas brings back the answer from the divine realm: "The god's enraged because Agamemnon spurned his priest, and refused to free his daughter, he refused the ransom" (I. 111-12, both quotations from the superlative translation of Professor Robert Fagles).
It is worth noting that this example of prophecy is not a matter of "trying to have success in battle" (the entire text of the Iliad indicates that war itself is an aberration, even an abomination) -- the issue at hand is one of life itself, a question of survival.
If the source of the problem, located in the realm of the gods, is not understood and addressed, then the entire culture is in very real danger of being completely wiped out.
This matter that Peter Kingsley is bringing to our attention is a matter of life and death.
That is why he says, at a different point in the very valuable lecture series linked above, regarding this very specific definition of the prophetic tradition (which I would argue has much in common with what is also referred to as the very broad "shamanic tradition," since it was in the often geographically-distant shamanic cultures that this prophetic tradition escaped the tender mercies of the "western cultures" for the longest, even into recent centuries and in some places into the present day):
Prophecy -- prophetic tradition -- is life. And if you don't understand, or I don't understand, what prophetic tradition really is, we don't understand what life is. We have a concept of what life is, but we do not understand what life really is. If you understand what life is, you understand prophetic tradition. If you understand prophetic tradition, you understand what life is. And you realize, that all of human existence hangs from the thread of prophecy. Because the prophets are those who keep the connection alive between this world and reality.
I believe that Peter Kingsley is absolutely right about the central importance of the connection between this material world and the real world that is behind this one -- and that he is absolutely right that the central problem which absolutely must be addressed in the west is the covering over of history: the history of that very disconnect, and its unaddressed consequences.