Monday, March 27, 2017

Apple-trees and divinities

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

In 1919, author James Rendel Harris of England (Doctor of Letters, Doctor of Theology, Master of Arts, among other degrees) published a remarkable study entitled Origin and Meaning of Apple Cults, which had previously been published in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library.

In it, the author advances the argument that the gods and goddesses are actually personifications of various trees -- and that there may thus be a connection between the god Apollo and the apple tree, whose name bears a linguistic similarity to that of the deity.

That there are connections between the gods of the myths and the trees of the world cannot be disputed -- the oak, for example, is well-known as the tree of Zeus, and Odin is of course closely associated with the mighty ash-tree Yggdrasil, upon which he hanged himself for nine days and nine nights in order to bring back the secret of the runes. 

Of course, it does not necessarily follow that the associations with the trees came first, or that the trees themselves furnished the archetypes for the gods and goddesses -- but even if we disagree with that aspect of Harris's starting point, his study of the "apple cult" as he calls it, in search of mythological connections within certain folk practices surviving in the British isles until recent centuries, contains numerous fascinating and important insights.

Much of the book consists of a collection of accounts describing the practice of "wassailing the apple trees," also known as "Apple-howling," which apparently lasted until the first decades of the 1800s in several English counties, but which subsequently disappeared and was largely forgotten, even in Harris's time.

In this practice, groups of youths and young women, or of grown men and women, would go out to the apple orchards, either on Christmas Eve or on the eve of Twelfth Night ("Twelfth Day Eve," the night before the day of Epiphany, observed twelve days after Christmas). There, they would perform variations on a tradition involving offering wassail (in this case, made of apple cider mixed with ale and other liquors and containing pieces of baked apple) and pieces of cake or toast to the apple-trees, in some cases dipping the twigs on the branches into the wassail or pouring it over the roots or even throwing it at the trees after drinking some of it, placing the cake or toast upon a bough of the largest apple-tree in the orchard, and singing a special toast to the trees several times.

The words of this toast are recorded by various observers from the 1600s and 1700s. Versions include:
Here's to thee, old apple-tree,
Whence thou mays't bud, and whence thou mays't blow!
And whence thou mays't bear apples enow!
Hats full, caps full!
Bushel -- bushel -- sacks full,
And my pockets full too! Huzza!
Health to thee, good apple-tree,
Well to bear, pocket-fulls, hat-fulls,
Peckfulls, bushel-bag-fulls!
Stand fast root,
Bear well top,
Pray God send us
A good howling crop.
Every twig
Apples big.
Every bough
Apples enow.
Hats full, caps full,
Full quarter sacks full.
Holla, boys, holla! Huzza!
Another version recorded says:
Wassaile the Trees, that they may bear
You many a Plum, and many a Peare:
For more or less fruit they will bring
As you do give them Wassailing.
Several other variations are recorded as well. In all cases, at the end of the singing, the accounts tell us that a huge amount of noise would be made, by shouting and by banging upon metal pans (in some cases the wassail was carried to the trees in metal pans for this very purpose), and even by firing off guns at the trees!

This aspect of the custom, Harris notes, may have been preceded in earlier centuries by the use of bows and arrows or other weapons, before firearms were available. And, indeed, in some of the accounts from the 1700s, it was said that the trees would be struck with sticks and cudgels.

J. Rendel Harris then goes on to make a series of insightful and valuable possible connections to ancient mythology, including the myths of ancient Greece in which Ganymede and Hebe were the cupbearers to the gods and goddesses of Olympus, and as such were sometimes depicted giving drink to the divine birds who perched in the divine trees. He also makes connections to the Soma described in the Vedas, which is simultaneously a drink, a deity, and a plant or a tree.

Most intriguing of all the connections, however, is the connection that Dr. Harris makes to the myth of the god Balder, from the Norse mythology. Beginning on page 43, he writes (quoting James George Frazer beginning in the third sentence):
The story of Balder the Beautiful and of his tragic death by an arrow of mistletoe is well known. He was the darling of the northern gods, and of the goddess Frigg in particular. She, Frigg, "took an oath from fire and water, iron and all metals, stones and earths, and from trees, sicknesses, and from poisons, and from all four-footed beasts, birds, and creeping things, that they would not hurt Balder. When this was done, Balder was deemed invulnerable: so the gods amused themselves by setting him in their midst, while some shot at him, others hewed at him, and others threw stones at him."
But Frigg had forgotten to include the mistletoe among the possible enemies of Balder: so had not the malicious Loki, who fashioned an arrow out of mistletoe and showed the blind god Holdr how to aim it at Balder. So Balder died by the mistletoe, and there was much wailing of gods and goddesses on his account. 44.
Harris argues that the "howling" of the apple-trees, and the attacking of the tree with sticks and stones that are not meant to hurt it (and in later centuries with guns) is an enactment of the Balder-myth, with the apple-tree personifying the god Balder.

Harris then argues, based on evidence he presented in previous lectures at the Rylands Library, that:
Another reason why we say that Balder is the Northern Apollo and the personified apple-tree is that his name invited the supposition. We have shown (in the Rylands Library Lecture on "Apollo") that the word "apple," in its primitive form "abal," had the accent on the second syllable; when suffixes were attached to the word, the forward accent released the initial vowel, and left the syllable "bal."
Now the name for "apple-tree" is found in early charters as a place-name in the form "Appledore," "Apuldre," closely related to which are the forms Apfalter, Affalter, Affolter, in the Middle High Dutch. Upon these names I remarked as follows in the Rylands Lecture on the "Cult of Artemis": --
"It has occurred to me that perhaps the 'apel-dur,' 'apel-dre,' and 'appeldore,' which we have been considering may be the origin of Balder (and of Paltar of Grimm's hypothesis), in view of the occurrence of the corresponding forms mentioned above in the Middle High Dutch. If, for instance, the original accent in apple (abal) is, as stated above, on the second syllable, then it would be easy for a primitive apal-dur to lose its initial vowel, and in that case we should not be very far from the form Balder, which would mean the apple-tree originally and nothing more." 63 - 64.
Of course, I tend to disagree with J. Rendel Harris in his starting hypothesis that the gods and goddesses originated as trees, because I have found so much compelling evidence which points to the conclusion that the gods and goddesses the world over reflect specific constellations and heavenly bodies in the celestial realms. That said, I do not for a moment deny that there are also very real connections between specific gods and goddesses and trees and other beings on our planet -- such as the possible connections between the apple-tree and the god Apollo or the god Balder.

And there is much more of interest in the little study on the "apple cult" written nearly one hundred years ago by Harris. It is a short read, and worth looking through in its entirety (using the link above).

At the end of the book, Harris adds an appendix based the recollections of one Mr. P. G. Bond who contacted him after the main part of the book was written, and who remembers participating as a young boy of eight years old in the wassailing of the apple-trees on a farm in the County of Devon, around 1860. Mr. Bond remembers that "the drink offered was warmed cider in which were placed baked apples. The cake offered was a good currant cake, there was no deficiency of fruit. The health of the household was drunk, and the health of the apple-trees" (49).

Mr. Bond goes on to say that although he himself does not recollect so many details from that custom, he heard it described "from many a source." He says:
My father was born in 1806, my grandfather in 1774, my great-grandfather in 1754, and my great-great-grandfather in 1730, my great-great-great-grandfather in 1697, all on farms; all were farmers, and the account of the old custom has been passed on. I have not heard of it during the past fifty-five years. 
I regret very much the passing away of the old folk-lore and legends of the past. On a winter's evening to sit around the old hearth-fire eating apples and drinking warm cider in the fitful light of the burning wood, and where the conversation became general, dulness did not take hold of the company, and tradition was passed on as in the old Icelandic Sagas. 
How can we resuscitate English country life with all its old charms fast disappearing? 49-50.
It seems to me that the author of the above sentiments, as well as the author of the book in which they appear, are aware that in these old customs, which were already rapidly disappearing a hundred years ago, something important was being lost.

I would hazard to point out a few of these things, among many others that could be mentioned.

  • First and perhaps most important is the understanding implied in the blessing of the trees themselves, and of offering them wassail and toast or cakes -- an understanding that the world of spirit flows through and is present in every living thing on earth, and indeed in all the rocks, stones and streams as well. This understanding is characteristic of the worldview found in the ancient myths and sacred traditions the world over -- myths and traditions to which this particular custom J. Rendel Harris clearly establishes a connection. This understanding, that "every fountain has its nymph" is clearly associated with the worldview of ancient Greek tradition, but I would argue that it is in fact characteristic of all the world's ancient wisdom.
  • Second, it is noteworthy that the various blessings which were offered to the apple-trees are in every case given in the form of songs or of rhymed meter. I believe we can find evidence that group song and recitation of verse was much more common in previous generations than is the case today -- perhaps because of the rise of radio and television and with them a process by which some people become "singers" for everyone else. There is plenty of evidence that in traditional cultures, chanting and singing was considered important for everyone to do. See previous posts such as "Mantras: sacred words of power" and "Your song."
  • Third, it is my contention that by enacting customs with clear parallels to the ancient myths -- such as the connection between the now-forgotten tradition of "Apple-howling" and the myth of Balder which J. Rendel Harris has discovered, those who participate in these traditions are deliberately aligning their motions with the motions of the heavenly realm, the infinite realm: the realm of the gods. It is an incorporation into cultural practice of the meaning of the powerful esoteric dictum, "As above, so below." Traditions in which we align our motions with those of the heavens are becoming scarcer and scarcer. They have in many places been deliberately stamped out (such as by religious authorities), or ridiculed and discouraged (often by "scientific" authorities, who seem to have sprung up to finish off any remnants of ancient culture that were not successfully stamped out by the religious authorities). A few ways in which people still to this day align their motions with the cycles of the heavens include observation of birthdays, observation of celebrations corresponding with the solstices and equinoxes and cross-quarter days, or specific intervals before or after solstices and equinoxes and cross-quarter days, and participation in disciplines such as Yoga or Tai Chi or other traditional arts which incorporate forms that may have precessional numbers in their sequence, for example.
I am grateful to J. Rendel Harris for preserving the record of this now-forgotten folk-custom, a custom which was already barely remembered when he investigated it a century ago. 

Perhaps it will inspire some readers to decide to plant an apple tree near their home, if possible . . . and to "wassail" it on Twelfth Day eve!

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Monday, March 20, 2017

Welcome to new visitors from the Gnostic Warrior Radio show -- and returning friends!

For those who enjoyed the recent essay (and blog post) entitled "Revelation chapter 22 and the Egyptian Book of the Dead," and who want to know how that essay came about, check out my interview with Moe Bedard of the Gnostic Warrior Radio program, recorded on March 16, 2017 and available for listening or downloading here.

If you're having trouble getting it to play, try the "Play in a new window" button -- or "right-click" (or "control-click") on the "Download" link, to save the file so you can listen to it on a mobile device while working in the garden or riding the bus or the train to work.

During that interview, Moe asks specifically about Revelation 22 and verse 16 -- and I'm so glad that he did, because although I had not specifically examined that particular chapter of Revelation in great detail, I promised Moe that I would look into it.

The next day, I wrote the essay linked above, discussing some of the celestial metaphor which appear to be operating in Revelation 22, as well as the clear parallels to the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead (or the "The Book of Coming Forth By Day"), and some thoughts about the themes and wisdom being conveyed to us in that ancient text.

This is another example of a time when I did not know the answer when I started out, but just one day or two later the answers seemed to come out of the text, and out of the Other Realm to illuminate the text. You can listen to the interview and hear for yourself that I clearly did not have all the connections that later came into view when I wrote the essay about Revelation 22 just a day and a half later (the interview was on Thursday afternoon and I wrote "Revelation chapter 22 and the Egyptian Book of the Dead" on Saturday).

I'm very grateful that Moe decided to reach out and invite me on for another visit to the Gnostic Warrior Radio show. Welcome to any new visitors coming to the website for the first time as a result of that interview. Our previous conversation was posted back in October of 2014, discussing the book The Undying Stars, published earlier that year.

Below are some links to previous posts for those who wish to explore further some of the subjects that came up during this most recent conversation:
I hope that you will enjoy the conversation! Thanks to Moe and the Gnostic Warrior community for graciously inviting me over for a discussion of these important subjects.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

At the East of Heaven: Spring Equinox 2017

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The earth is hurtling towards the point of March equinox for 2017, passing through that point less than twenty-four hours from now, at 06:29 tomorrow morning on the east coast of North America (03:29 in the morning on the west coast of North America, and 10:29 in the morning along the Greenwich meridian). 

It is the moment when the path of the sun's arc across the sky matches the line of the celestial equator,  that line in the sky that is ninety degrees from the celestial north pole and the celestial south pole, and the arc of the sun's path will continue further and further north of that celestial equator as we continue towards the summer solstice.

You can visualize the cause of this motion if you envision the earth orbiting the sun while also rotating around its axis. The rotation on the earth's axis causes the "daily cycle" by which heavenly bodies are seen to move from east to west across the sky. Because the axis of rotation is tilted relative to the plane of earth's annual orbit around the sun, the path that the sun traces out to an observer on the rotating earth will either be above or below that "ninety-degrees down" line of the celestial equator, except at the equinoxes. 

This phenomenon is easiest to envision by imagining the earth at one of the solstices, such as the June solstice -- which is the solstice at which earth's north pole axis of rotation is tilted most directly towards the sun, causing the line of the sun's path to be well "above" the line of the celestial equator for observers in the northern hemisphere:

image: Wikimedia commons (link); modified.

In the image, depicting the earth at the point of June solstice, when the north pole is "most directly" pointed at the sun, we can see that an observer in the northern hemisphere (such as one positioned at the tiny red dot located in the region of Egypt in north Africa) will see the sun's arc across the sky traced out by a line indicated by the direction of the red arrow labeled "Sun Path." If that red arrow were a  red laser-pointer, in other words, the rotating earth would cause that laser pointer to burn an arc through the sky that would indicate the path of the sun through the sky on summer solstice. 

Note that the arc would be well above the line of the celestial equator, which can be envisioned as the arc across the sky that is ninety-degrees down from the point of the celestial north pole, around which the entire sky appears to rotate (this is most visible at night, when the stars are visible). The line of the celestial equator is indicated by the blue arrow in the diagram; if the blue arrow were a blue laser-pointer (or a purple laser-pointer, since creating a blue laser is actually very difficult), then the rotation of the earth around its axis would cause that laser pointer to trace out the great circle of the celestial equator.

The above diagram helps us understand why the sun's path arcs so high above the celestial equator at summer solstice, and the reverse is true at winter solstice, when the sun's path arcs well below the line of the celestial equator as the sun traverses the sky. 

Obviously, if the arc of the sun's path gets so far above the celestial equator at one solstice, and so far below it at the other, then there must be times when the sun's path crosses the equator -- and that takes place two times a year, at each of the equinoxes, crossing once on the way down (fall equinox) and once on the way back up (spring equinox). 

Within the incredible system of celestial metaphor underlying the world's ancient myths, scriptures and sacred stories, this annual cycle (along with the many other celestial cycles) was imbued with spiritual significance, to convey truths about infinite and invisible subjects difficult for our mind to grasp except through metaphor. For an in-depth discussion of that system, including the spiritual significance implied by the positions of summer and winter solstice, as well as each equinox, see for example this previous post from 2015.

The sun's crossing back upwards at spring equinox, from the "submerged" position that it has occupied during the "lower half" of the year when its line was below the celestial equator, can obviously be seen to represent a rebirth, a soaring back heavenwards out of the "underworld" condition of the winter months. 

In a very valuable chapter in Lost Light, entitled "At the East of Heaven" (the east being the place of rising and renewal), Alvin Boyd Kuhn explains how these themes come to life in the Isis-Osiris-Horus cycle of myths of ancient Egypt, and how these same themes animate the events described in the New Testament scriptures -- including those in the book of Revelation discussed in the previous post exploring the many parallels in Revelation and the so-called "Book of the Dead," which is more appropriately called the "Coming forth by Day."

As I write in Star Myths of the World and how to interpret them, Volume Three (Star Myths of the Bible):
At the risk of over-simplifying the elaborate explication provided in Kuhn's massive study, he argues that Osiris the god of the underworld in one sense represents the "shattered divinity," sleeping in the realm of the dead -- our very condition in this life -- and that Horus the son of Osiris represents the resurrection force which comes to restore the sleeping divinity, in exactly the same way that Jesus does when he stands at the tomb of Lazarus and shouts "Lazarus, come forth!" Our underworld journey, in which the divine spark of our spirit is joined to the dead matter of our body, is all for the purpose of bringing us to a state that we could never have achieved without experiencing incarnation.
"The soul, by incarnation," Kuhn explains, with reference to a passage in the Pyramid Texts in the pyramid of Unas (some of the oldest surviving extended texts to which the human race has access at this time), "becomes mightier than the virgin deities that have never been wedded to matter. In the texts of unas there is described the terror of the gods when they see Teta (the soul) arriving triumphant. They discover that he is mightier than they."
Horus is the "above the line" counterpart to Osiris, described as the son of Osiris because representative of renewal, rebirth, new life which arises out of the underworld experience of the Osiris journey. Horus describes himself as "the persistent traveler on the highways of heaven" and his job description is to go "wherever there lieth a wreck in the field of eternity," Kuhn explains, citing passages from the Book of the Dead (or the Book of the Going Forth by Day, also known in earlier generations including Kuhn's simply as The Ritual). We ourselves are those wrecks, scattered between the horizons beneath the line of matter -- and Horus comes to re-animate the "shattered wreckage" and reawaken it to spiritual life and resurrection. 706 - 707.
Readers are invited to read the entire original chapter in Kuhn's work for his full explication of this beautiful ancient wisdom.

The soaring of Horus above the two horizons is specifically associated with the spring equinox (where the sun finally leaps upwards out of the underworld), and thus with the "upper half" of the year between the two "horizon-points" of the equinoxes, with the summer solstice at the apex. But, as the quotations in the above-cited passage hint, the "persistent traveler on the highways of heaven" is not only present at one particular point on the cycle, or at one particular point in our lives: the figure of Horus restoring the "shattered wreckage" of the hulks strewn across the plane of incarnation is present and available to us at all times. That is the purpose and mission of his persistent travels upon the highways of heaven.

In reality, the realm of the invisible and infinite is not "somewhere else," in some far-removed "heaven," but present and available at every point in this seemingly-material life: the material realm in fact proceeds from and is sustained by it everywhere and at every moment. 

And, we are working with our spiritual self at every moment even as we go through this incarnate life. As Alvin Boyd Kuhn declares in a passage from the same chapter which was quoted at greater length in the preceding post: 
The ancient Messiah was a representative figure coming from age to age, cycle to cycle. He came "each day" in the Ritual; he came periodically; he came "regularly and continuously." He came once through the cycle; but his solar and lunar natural types came cyclically and in eternal renewal. The Egyptian Messiah was one whose historical coming was not expected at any date, at any epoch. The type of his coming was manifest in some phenomenon repeated as often as the day, the year, or the lunation came around. The constant repetition of type was the assurance of its unfailing fulfillment. [ . . . ] The coming was taking place in the life of every man at all times. 546 (Italics as in the original).
It should be noted that Kuhn explicitly states that he is referring to both men and women in several places in his writing -- his use of masculine nouns and pronouns should not be mistaken to indicate otherwise but rather as a convention from the period in which his writings were being published.

Just as Durga says to Arjuna immediately prior to the battle of Kurukshetra in the Mahabharata of ancient India that "within a short time thou shalt conquer thy foes, O Pandava [ . . . ] Thou art incapable of being defeated [ . . . ]" (Mahabharata 6: 23), so also the ancient sacred texts of Egypt promise that this process of transformation through our cycle of incarnations in the material realm cannot be stopped and will inevitably result in the restoration of the divinity that has been cast down. 

In chapter 84 of the Ritual, the chapter "of making the transformation into a heron," we read: "the light is beyond your knowledge and ye cannot fetter it; the times and seasons are in my body." Kuhn says of this passage: "To know of a certainty that with all our stupidity we can not fetter the light, is a truth that should be republished and pondered by an age intent only upon outward accomplishment and heedless of the light within" (552).    

The inevitable and endless return of the equinox, and the soaring upwards of the sun -- representative of the soaring of Horus upwards to his place between the two horizons -- was anciently seen as "the assurance of the unfailing fulfillment" of these truths. This unstoppability should give us great comfort and great confidence as we toil along through this material incarnation.

However, this same inevitability should not serve to make us complacent. As Kuhn points out at the beginning of the chapter, "At the East of Heaven," the writer who calls himself Paul proclaims that "the body is the temple of the living God, and emphasizes that 'the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are (I Cor 3: 17)." 

Kuhn asserts that Paul is speaking literally at this point, "that Paul was delineating an actual physiological fact" (537). He argues that E. A. Wallis Budge (1857 - 1934), writing in his introductory treatise upon the Egyptian Book of the Dead, was mistaken when he says that the Egyptians conceived "the sahu, or spiritual body, the ka, or double, the ba, or soul, the ab, or heart, the khu, or shining spirit, the sekhem, or vital force, the ren, or name, and the khabit, or shade, all as coming forth into existence after death" (537). On the contrary, Kuhn writes, "these inner bodies are vital to the very existence of the physical, and must subsist with it. Man is on earth to bring these subtle bodies into development" (537).

In this task, the ancient wisdom given to humanity in the world's sacred myths and traditions is here to  help us. And they point us towards that "persistent traveler" who soars across the "highways of heaven," ready go wherever there is a "wreck in the field of eternity." 

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Revelation chapter 22 and the Egyptian Book of the Dead

above: text and illustration from the Papyrus of Nebseny, showing Nebseny and his wife Senseneb. British Museum.

My most recent book, Star Myths of the World and how to interpret them, Volume Three (Star Myths of the Bible), examines hundreds of stories, characters, events and themes in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible to show that they are based on the same system of celestial metaphor which forms the foundation for virtually all of the other ancient myths, scriptures, and sacred stories from around the world.

The book totals 766 pages, with over two hundred seventy full color images, including well over one hundred star charts showing connections between specific constellations and aspects of various episodes in the scriptures. Even so, due to the limitations of space, many important events and episodes had to be left out.

The apocalyptic literature in the book of Revelation is touched upon in one section, which deals specifically with events described in Revelation chapters 9, 10 and 12. An entire book could of course be written about the celestial metaphor present in the book of Revelation alone -- in fact, it would probably take up more than one volume. Therefore, I did not deal with the imagery found in the final chapter of Revelation, chapter 22 -- although it is of course full of important material worthy of study.

Recently, Moe Bedard, host of the Gnostic Warrior podcast and website, invited me back for another interview (you can find the previous interview, which was published in October of 2014, here). Moe asked me about a specific passage in Revelation 22, into which I had not previously delved deeply (as I had selected other parts of Revelation, which have more obvious and unambiguous connections to specific constellations, to study more closely instead, when preparing Star Myths of the Bible).

However, because it is a very important chapter, and because listeners to the podcast might be wondering what my analysis of Revelation 22 would contain, I promised to look into it further and follow up with some thoughts on the contents of the passage in question.

The final chapter of Revelation 22 can be found online in many places; one good resource where you can view this text in various translations is the Blue Letter Bible project online.

The verse in chapter 22 which Moe focused on in his question is verse 16, which reads: "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star." The translators of the King James version, which is cited here, italicize words which they added based on their assessment of the best syntax to convey in English what they felt the text was conveying in the original language -- thus, in the final sentence, the actual text does not contain the word for "and" in between the two titles, but simply declares, "I am the root and offspring of David, the bright and morning star." That's why the final "and" in the sentence is written in italics.

The imagery in Revelation 22, like the imagery in the rest of the book of Revelation, can be shown to incorporate celestial imagery which points to specific regions of the night sky. For examples which support the argument that the text of Revelation consists of celestial metaphor, see this previous post  from 2012 discussing some of the imagery in Revelation 9, or this previous post and accompanying video from January of this year, discussing Revelation 12.

For example, at the beginning of the chapter, the narrator is describing what is being shown to him by the angel described in the previous chapter's ninth verse. The text begins:

"And he showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations" (Revelation 22: 1 - 2).

This river of water of life is almost certainly the shining band of the Milky Way galaxy, which features prominently in many of the metaphors contained in the book of Revelation, and which is described as a river in many other stories in the Bible (including the river in which Jacob wrestles at the time that his name is changed to Israel, in Genesis 32, which is discussed at length in Star Myths of the Bible), as well as in many other Star Myths from other cultures around the world.

For evidence that the Milky Way plays the role of a river in certain ancient myths and stories, see for example the discussion of the story of King Midas in the myths of ancient Greece found in this previous post from October 2014, in which I present evidence that the River Pactolus described in the Midas myths can be identified with the Milky Way band.

The river is described in verse 1 as proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb -- both of which can be identified with specific constellations discussed in Star Myths of the Bible, beside which the Milky Way flows: the constellations Hercules and Aries.

The tree in the midst of the river of water of life, described as being both "in the midst of the street of it" and also "on either side of the river," may well describe the constellation Ophiucus, which can be seen to be "standing" with one foot in the river in the star-chart below. The serpent which is held by Ophiucus, and which stretches out to either side of the constellation, is very frequently associated with a tree in numerous Star Myths from around the world -- especially the upper part of the half of the serpent on the west side of the body of Ophiucus (the "head-end" of the serpent, on the right side as we face the image below, in which the view is taken as though facing towards the south from a point in the northern hemisphere):

Many such examples of the upper part of the western half ("head-end") of the serpent of Ophiucus being associated with descriptions of a tree in various myths can be found in the Star Myths of the World series -- especially in Volumes Two (Greek mythology) and Three (the Bible).

However, as we saw a moment ago, the text of Revelation 22: 2 states very specifically that the tree in the "midst" of the river is also "on either side of the river," and so part of it must be envisioned as being on the east side of the Milky Way (that is to say, the left side in the image above).

If Ophiucus is indeed playing the role of a branching tree which stretches to either side of the river, then what stars in the chart above could represent the branches of the tree on the east of the river? I would propose that some of the stars of the constellation Aquila the Eagle may be envisioned as being connected to the eastern half of the serpent that Ophiucus is holding.

Note that the upper part of the Ophiucus serpent comes very close to the outline of Aquila -- and note that of course there are no actual "connecting lines" between the stars in the sky, which means that we can imagine a line connecting Ophiucus and Aquila if we want to do so, or imagine no line between them. There are many Star Myths which I have analyzed in which an "optional line" appears to have been envisioned by the originators of the ancient myths, such as those in which a connection is envisioned between the "head-end" of the serpent of Ophiucus (on the west or right side of the image above) and the "downward-reaching arm" of the constellation Hercules.

Note also that the rest of the description in Revelation 22: 2 goes on to describe the fruits of the tree as being twelve in number or in type, and to be produced "every month." Any time we find a reference to the number twelve such as this reference in Revelation 22, a possible explanation to consider would of course be the idea that the passage may be referring to the stations of the zodiac -- and indeed, I believe that this is a good explanation for this reference to the twelve fruits of the tree.

The confirmatory detail which the text provides in order to increase our confidence in this conclusion is the statement that the tried "yielded her fruit every month." The earth's annual orbit around the sun causes the sun to move through the twelve signs of the zodiac as we go through the year, spending about one month in each. Thus, the tree's twelve types of fruit, which are yielded each month, are almost certainly a reference to the zodiac band, which stretches out to either side from the base of the tree -- almost like fruit that has fallen down periodically, once per month.

Note in the image above that the zodiac band does indeed stretch outwards on either side of the upright form of Ophiucus. The constellations of the zodiac visible in the chart above are outlined in yellow, beginning with Aquarius on the left side of the image (the east side) and proceeding to Capricorn, Sagittarius, Scorpio, Libra and Virgo. These zodiac constellations, I'm convinced, represent the "fruit" that the tree of life has "yielded" (or "given up") each month, described in Revelation 22: 2.

There are many other examples of celestial metaphor in this chapter of Revelation, many of them using the very same constellations but clothing them in different metaphor. For example, in verse 8, the text tells us: "And I John saw these things and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to  worship before the feet of the angel which showed me these things" (Revelation 22: 8).

In this particular part of the chapter, I believe that the same constellation Ophiucus, which was just a moment before playing the role of the tree of life in the midst of the pure river of water of life, is now playing the role of the angel, before whose feet John says he fell down to worship. Note that just below the feet of the outline of Ophiucus we find the constellation Scorpio, a constellation with a "bowing down" posture, and one which will sometimes play just such a role (of a person bowing down) in the world's various myths.

Immediately after this, the angel tells John not to bow down in this way, and then goes on to make a series of declarations, including the declaration in verse 13: "I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last," as well as the later declaration in verse 16 cited above: "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star."

This series of declarations seems a little confusing, since at its outset it is clearly the angel who is addressing the narrator, but the unbroken series of proclamations then continues to the statement "I am the Alpha and Omega" and the declaration "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify."

However, I believe any difficulty is resolved by the understanding that we are still dealing with the constellation Ophiucus, a constellation which actually does have a few of its stars crossing the ecliptic path of the sun, thus qualifying it as being part of the zodiac band, even though Ophiucus is not normally associated with the twelve signs of the zodiac. For this reason, Ophiucus is sometimes described as being the "thirteenth zodiac sign."

This placement of Ophiucus, above the majority of the constellations arrayed along the ecliptic path, but still crossing with some of its lower stars into the zodiac band, undoubtedly accounts for statements such as "I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last." All of these statements are appropriate for a point on an endless ring or circle, which describes the zodiac itself. Any point on a circle can be described as being both a "beginning and end," or as being both "first and last" in a procession of figures arranged in a great circle.

When the one speaking to John then identifies himself by the specific name of Jesus and gives his descriptions as "the root and offspring of David" as well as "the bright and morning star," I believe we should also look to the constellation Ophiucus.

The constellation Ophiucus can indeed be seen as both "the root and offspring of David," if we understand that the figure of King David in the Old Testament is almost always associated with the powerful outline of the constellation Hercules, located immediately above Ophiucus. The evidence to support this assertion is provided in the lengthy examination of the figure of David found in Star Myths of the Bible, particularly in pages 145 through 157 and pages 515 through 542.

The image below, showing a painting by Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640), shows David in a posture that is almost identical to the outline of the constellation Hercules in the sky (and reveals that the connection between the figure of David and the constellation Hercules must have been known in previous centuries):

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The constellation Ophiucus, being directly beneath Hercules, can be said to be the "root" of that constellation in the same way that a root of a tree is directly beneath a tree, and supports it from under the ground. Alternately, the constellation Ophiucus can also be seen as the "offspring" of the constellation Hercules, in that it is directly below Hercules in the sky and thus "descended" from it, metaphorically speaking.

Thus, the heavenly speaker showing these visions to the narrator in the 22nd chapter of Revelation, who in verse 16 explicitly identifies himself as "I Jesus," is also one and the same with the tree of life, which stands in the midst of the pure river of the Milky Way, and whose "fruit" is yielded up each month and identified with the circular band of the zodiac, and who is both "the first and the last" of that same zodiac ring, and whose leaves are "for the healing of the nations."

But what about the declaration that accompanies the description in verse 16 of the "root and offspring of David," the proclamation that the speaker is also "the bright and morning star"? There certainly do not seem to be any bright morning stars in the constellation Ophiucus, which is a constellation without any extremely bright stars, and one that is not extremely easy to locate (although once you know how, it is not too difficult, but instead extremely satisfying, to locate Ophiucus -- this previous post gives some tips, although you will need to look for Ophiucus during a time when the other constellations in the star chart shown above are also visible in the sky).

For help with this question, I turned to the indispensable Alvin Boyd Kuhn (1880 - 1963), who in Lost Light (1940) argues that this phrase "the morning star" was anciently identified by the Egyptians with the star Sothis -- the Greek version of their name for the star we call Sirius, brightest of all the stars in the heavens (other than the sun itself, of course).

There, on page 545, Kuhn declares:
The morning star (at one time) was Sothis: the watch-dog that barked to announce the coming of the Day-Star from on high, as the ape clicked at the rising sun.
We know from ancient texts that the ancient Egyptians eagerly awaited the first morning re-appearance of the star Sothis or Sirius (the heliacal rise of Sirius) and began their year with it. For some explanation of the "heliacal rise" of Sirius, see for example this previous post from 2011.

The fact that the rising of Sirius in the morning marked the beginning of a new year in ancient Egypt (as well as in some other ancient civilizations), is a strong argument for the possibility that Sirius is indeed the "bright and morning star" mentioned in the text. Not only was Sirius eagerly awaited in the morning, but Sirius is also the brightest of stars in our heavens, and what's more, the heliacal rise of Sirius marked a new year.

It should be quite obvious that the start of a new year can be accurately described as "a beginning and end."

It is also perhaps significant that the constellation Ophiucus and the star Sirius are almost 180 degrees apart from one another in the void of space, meaning that they will rise about twelve hours apart from one another. By saying that he is both "the root and offspring of David" (associated with Ophiucus) and also "the bright and morning star" (probably associated with Sirius), the speaker in this passage is identifying not only with one particular point on the great wheel of the year, but rather with the whole thing (both halves of the ring).

But there is still more significance to the assertion by Alvin Boyd Kuhn that the identity of the morning star is the bright star Sirius, the morning star of ancient Egypt whose appearance marked the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Because the presence of that reference, in a passage in the New Testament which also contains a reference to "the beginning and the end, the first and the last," betrays a clear connection to the sacred traditions of ancient Egypt -- and the possibility that the imagery in this "New" Testament text has roots that are much, much older than is commonly understood.

And, on the very same page that he makes the identification of the morning star with Sothis, Alvin Boyd Kuhn cites a passage from a translation of the Book of the Dead as found on the papyrus of Nebseny (also commonly rendered "Nebseni") which contains clear resonance with verses in Revelation 22.

Nebseny was a scribe and probably a priest of ancient Egypt, believed to have lived during Eighteenth Dynasty of ancient Egypt, which is thought to have stretched from about 1550 BC to 1298 BC and to include famous rulers such as Hatshepsut, Amenhotep I, Amenhotep II, Amenhotep III, Akehnaten, and Tutankhamun, among others. Some scholars believe that Nebseny was probably writing during the period around the time of the reign of Thutmose IV, whose reign is believed to have lasted from about 1398 BC to 1388 BC.

The texts which we know today as the Egyptian Book of the Dead were not actually fixed in number or in order or sequence in ancient times, but appear to have been selected from a larger corpus of possible sayings or spells. The Pyramid Texts found in the pyramid of Unas, for example (who is thought to have reigned from 2375 BC to 2345 BC), which form some of the earliest texts which have been preserved to modern times, are actually versions of this same corpus.

The version of the Book of the Dead which was buried with Nebseny contains illustrations of very high artistic quality. There is some evidence for scholars to conclude that Nebseny might have prepared these extensive texts himself, which makes them especially interesting and poignant. They contain illustrations of Nebseny as well as his wife Senseneb, and three of his children (see discussion on page 279 in Journey Through the Afterlife, edited by John H. Taylor).

The papyrus of Nebseny is now located in the British Museum in London (I wonder what he would have thought about that), and has been since the 1830s. It was one of the first versions of the Book of the Dead to be translated. The first translation by Samuel Birch (1813 - 1885), from the 1860s, can be found online here. A translation into the French language from 1885 can be found online here.

The passage from the papyrus of Nebseny cited in Lost Light on page 545 comes from chapter (or "spell") 149, which can be found in its entirety here. It reads (in the translation by Birch):
Made the day of the month of festival of the Sixth and the festival of the Fifth, of the festival of the Lintel, that of Thoth, that of the birthday of Osiris, of Skhem, and the night of the festival of Haker, the mysteries of the Gate, and of traversing the secret place in Hell, prevailing against the Evil, pawing the secret valleys, the mouth and path of which are unknown, corroborating the Spirit who stretches his legs, to go his journey correctly or making a hole in it to pass through it with the God. No man sees it except a king and a priest, no slave's face looks at it. Every Spirit for whom this book has been made having come and gone round, his Soul comes away on the day with the living, he has prevailed as the Gods do, he is not stopped in true linen for a million or times. The Gods, they approach him, they touch him, for he is like one of them; he lets [them] know what he has done in this secret book of truth. There is not known any such anywhere or ever; no men have spoken it, no eye has perceived it, no ear has heard it, not any other face has looked in it to learn it. Do not though multiply its chapters, or do not thou let any face except thy own [see it] and eat thy heart, doing it in the midst of the Hall of Clothes, it is put forth by the God with all his power. It is a true secret; when it is known, all the providers in all places supply the Spirits in Hades, food is given to his Soul on earth, he is made to live for ever, nothing prevails against him. 
The wording as quoted by Kuhn is slightly different, and comes from a version contained in publications by Gerald Massey (1828 - 1907), who lived before Kuhn and whose work Kuhn held in high regard (though Kuhn differed with Massey on a few important points). I suspect the version cited by Massey and Kuhn might have been Massey's own translation of Nebseny. It reads:
By this book the soul of the deceased shall make its exodus with the living and prevail amongst, or as, the gods. By this book he shall know the secrets of that which happened in the beginning. No one else has ever known this mystical book or any part of it. It has not been spoken by men. No eye hath deciphered it. No ear hath heard of it. It must only be seen by thee and the man who unfolded its secrets to thee. Do not add to its chapters or make commentaries on it from the imagination or from memory. Carry it out in the judgement hall. This is a true Mystery unknown anywhere to those who are uninitiated.
Massey had already noted, on page 726 of his Ancient Egypt, the Light of the World, the startling similarity between the language of this ancient text from the Book of the Dead and the passage in the Apocalypse of John (the book of Revelation included in the New Testament canon), chapter 22 and verses 18 and 19. Alvin Boyd Kuhn adds the further connection to the language of the writer who calls himself Paul in Ephesians chapter 3, and who (Kuhn says): "speaks in quite similar terms of a mystery made known to him 'which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men; as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the spirit'" (545).

Kuhn also should have added that in 1 Corinthians 2: 9, the same writer Paul (citing Isaiah 64: 4) says, "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love them," both passages being clear derivatives from the Egyptian Book of the Dead as cited in the passage above from the papyrus of Nebseny.

It would seem from these connections that the wisdom encoded in the so-called "New" Testament is in fact extremely ancient indeed!

And that is by no means the end of the parallels between the celestial imagery in the book of Revelation and that found in the Book of the Dead. There are many others -- and parallels to other parts of the New Testament as well. For example, in the version found in the papyrus of Ani, an Egyptian priest and scribe thought to have lived around 1250 BC (over a hundred years after Nebseny), the 149th chapter describes the ship which rows in the Field of Reeds, and declares, "I know the gate in the middle of the Field of Reeds from which Re goes out into the east of the sky, of which the south is the Lake of Waterfowl and the north is the Waters of Geese," and also says, "I know those two trees of turquoise between which Re goes forth, and which have grown up at the Supports of Shu at that door of the Lord of the East from which Re goes forth" (translation by Dr. Raymond O. Faulkner, found on page 121 of this version of the complete reproduction and translation of Papyrus of Ani).

This imagery is celestial, and has clear parallels to the celestial explication of Revelation 22 we have just been exploring. The "gate" in the "middle of the Field of Reeds" is the same constellation Ophiucus we see described as standing in the "midst" of the crystal river in Revelation. If you look at the star-chart above, you can see why Ophiucus often plays the role of a gate in ancient myth (many examples can be found in Star Myths of the World, especially Volumes Two and Three). The description of the "Waters of Geese" which are located to the north undoubtedly describe the portion of the Milky Way in which the constellation Cygnus the Swan can be seen to be flying, just a little ways above (that is, just north) of the constellation Aquila in the star-chart. And, "those two trees of turquoise between which Re goes forth" are undoubtedly related to the tree of life described in the vision of John the Revelator, as well as to trees described in the visions in the Old Testament scriptures, such as those of Daniel and of Ezekiel.

What, then, could be the message of Revelation 22? What are all these celestial metaphors trying to convey?

I personally believe that the best approach to the ancient wisdom contained in the scriptures, myths, and sacred stories of the world would be to seek those answers in the myths themselves, rather than to rely upon the interpretation of any individual. I believe that the myths (or our Higher Self) will tell us the answer, if we approach them in the right way (and I also believe it helps if we understand the celestial and metaphorical language that they are speaking).

I also believe that the message has many layers, and may be literally bottomless in its profundity, for any very ancient scripture or myth.

Nevertheless, in order to try to helpfully point readers what I believe to be the right direction regarding the verses found in Revelation 22, I would begin with some of the assertions Alvin Boyd Kuhn makes in the pages surrounding the observations cited in the above discussion.

He says, for example, that:
The Messianic Son came ever as the manifested and witness for the father, who had sunk his life in matter to reproduce himself in his next generation. According to Herodotus (2: 43) the Egyptian Jesus with the title of Iu-em-hetep was one of the eight great gods who were in the papyri twenty thousand years ago! He bore a different name according to the cult [in other words, each different "cult" or culture gave him a different name]. To the sages of old time the coming was a constantly recurring and only typical event. The ancient Messiah was a representative figure coming from age to age, cycle to cycle. He came "each day" in the Ritual; he came periodically; he came "regularly and continuously." He came once through the cycle; but his solar and lunar and natural types came cyclically and in eternal renewal. The Egyptian Messiah was one whose historical coming was not expected at any date, at any epoch. The type of his coming was manifest in some phenomenon repeated as often as the day, the year, or the lunation came around. The constant repetition of type was the assurance of its unfailing fulfillment. [. . .]
The coming was taking place in the life of every man at all times. Each man had his evolutionary solstice, his Christmas; and he would have his Easter. The symbols were annuals; the actual events they typed in mankind's history were perennials. In nature every process is but typical and repetitive. But it is typical of all other process of life in its entirety.
Horus, a form of Iu-em-hetep, was not an individual historical person. For he says: "I am Horus, the Prince of Eternity." Jesus was with the Father before the foundation of the worlds. Horus calls himself "the persistent traveler on the highways of heaven," and "the everlasting one." "I am Horus who steppeth onward through eternity." Here is wisdom to nourish the mind and lead it out of its infantile stage into maturity of view. Horus declares himself forever above the character of a time-bound personage, an indestructible spirit that advances onward through one embodiment after another to endless days. 546 - 547.
All of these themes can clearly be seen to be present in the passages of Revelation 22 we've been exploring, with their declarations of "the beginning and the end" and of the "bright and morning star" which marks the renewal of the year.

It should be quite clear that the book of the Apocalypse is not about a literal "end of the world" but rather about renewal, which is figured or "typed" in all the heavenly cycles,  and that it is not just about the heavenly cycles themselves but about the way in which these majestic and awe-inspiring heavenly motions convey to us truths about our own cycle of descent of the spirit or divine nature into matter (in our incarnation) and its elevation and restoration, which involves transfiguration and transformation (related to the central theme of alchemy).

As Alvin Boyd Kuhn reminds us in a related passage in Who is this King of Glory? (1944):
It is ever to be remembered that the "deceased" in the Egyptian Ritual is the living mortal, not the earthly defunct; and therefore its making its exodus among the living is a reference to its coming to full development in the life on earth. The great Mystery is of course the whole import and reality of life in the cycles, the secret wisdom that the soul picks up throughout its whole peregrination through the kingdoms of organic existence. It unfolds in course as the cycling spiral of experience extends. 408.
Our examination of Revelation 22 has thus furnished yet further powerful evidence that the ancient myths of the world are all closely related, and based upon a now largely-forgotten system of celestial metaphor.

They are designed to impart profound spiritual wisdom for our benefit in this life -- for our soul's uplifting, its renewal, its blessing, and its transformation.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A very noteworthy interview with Marin Spivack 默灵

Here is a link to a very noteworthy interview between Ken Gullette, host of the Internal Fighting Arts podcast, and Marin Spivack 默灵, the senior western disciple of Chen Family Taijiquan Gongfu master Chenyu 陈瑜.

The interview linked above is actually part two of a longer interview, recorded in late 2014 and posted in two separate segments of approximately one hour each (not counting introductory commentary at the beginning of each segment).

While both parts of the entire interview are very worthwhile, it is one particular aspect towards which the discussion in the second part of the interview relentlessly moves that I wanted to call attention to here: namely, the question of the value and purpose of years-long disciplined pursuit of mastery of one of the arts handed down through the centuries such as Taiji (among many others preserved in various cultures around the globe).

Marin Spivack has clearly spent decades in just such a disciplined pursuit of mastery, and has clearly thought deeply about this subject, and as such what he has to say on the question is especially valuable.

Beginning about the 58:00 minute mark in the second segment of the interview, linked above, 默灵 says:
It's for individuals who want to cultivate themselves. They want to cultivate strength, health, maybe some wisdom if they're lucky [ . . . ] and they want to cultivate martial ability. Now, martial ability can be cultivated. Maybe it will save your life, maybe it won't -- that depends on you, how far you want to take that -- but fighting ability can definitely be cultivated. And then, the other part of it, which is the Taiji side, meaning: yin, yang, and the cultivation, the flow that we get involved with, the transformation side of it, okay. There is a qi gong that is part of this gong fu. And so, when you cultivate it to intermediate and to advanced level, then you are cultivating martial arts and qi gong at the same time. And so essentially it's like a practice of cultivating yourself into like a forged weapon, and at the same time as cultivating your balance, so you're not an aggressive weapon but you're this -- you become a stronger person. It's like self-actualization, you know. You become a stronger person. Not just because you can fight and all that, but you will increase your confidence in that area: that's an old tried and true saying in martial arts. But you also just cultivate your actual person -- your character, your strength of character, having gone through something that requires that kind of perseverance -- and you also, you know, if you really cultivate this kind of gong fu, you start to establish a space that is outside of mainstream society and mainstream thought. You're establishing a private place for you to cultivate yourself. And I don't mean your "self" like the one that Buddhism wants to dissolve. I mean just your own existence. You're cultivating that container, that awareness that you exist within, using martial arts as a vehicle for that [ . . . ].
There is much more in the discussion of this important subject that is worthy of careful consideration, including the importance of finding authentic transmissions of received traditions such as the one Marin Spivack is describing (as opposed to commercialized or even we might say "westernized" versions of ancient traditions that have lost their connection to the ancient stream), as well as the pitfalls of ego and "politics" that can develop among groups of individuals who are studying a difficult and demanding art that takes years to pursue (and in which the temptation to compare one's progress or status versus others in the group can become a serious distraction or obstacle to the actual pursuit of the goals described in the quotation above).

I would argue that many of the insights expressed by 默灵 Marin Spivack in the passage cited above resonate with insights that John Anthony West has expressed concerning his analysis of what the culture of ancient Egypt was about -- at one point saying that Egypt's art and culture appears to have been aimed towards "a continuous exercise in the development of individual consciousness" (Serpent in the Sky, page 90).

In that discussion in Serpent in the Sky, John West considers the question of why they ancient Egyptians chose to work their sculpture in some of the hardest and most difficult materials, including diorite and granite, and concludes that "achievement takes place only in the face of commensurate opposition" and that "by forcing artists to work with the most intractable material [ . . . ] the sages of Egypt provided their artists with a challenge that gave them an opportunity to achieve a pitch of mastery they might never achieve left to their own devices" (89).

A few pages later, he reproduces part of an Old Kingdom illustration showing "ritual dance movements" which he notes are "curiously similar to those practiced today in certain groups devoted to 'inner development'" -- in other words, they appear to be an ancient Egyptian form of Yoga, or something related to kung fu and Taiji (page 93).

In other words, the benefits and concepts that Marin Spivack has observed through his own discipline appear to be part of a very ancient stream, one that was central to the cultures of antiquity found in different parts of the world, and one from which modern western society has too often been disconnected.

It is also noteworthy that the motions of arts such as Taiji are often explicitly connected to the natural world, as well as to the infinite realm of the heavens.

The very name of the art of Taiji -- written with the Chinese characters  which is pronounced "tai" (Mandarin) or "taai" (Cantonese) and means "ultimate," "highest" or "utmost," and  (in the traditional characters, or in simplified characters) and means "roof beam," "throne," "ultimate," "highest degree" -- appears to have a possible celestial reference. The second of those two words, indicated by the second of the two characters, which contains the "tree" radical  to indicate its "pole-like" nature, is also used to refer to the North Star (which we call Polaris) -- and thus contains an implicit reference to the great axis of the heavens, the point around which the celestial realms all turn (as a function of our earth's own rotation upon its axis).

Further, as I have noted in numerous previous discussions, the number of motions in some traditional Taiji forms is 108, which is a number filled with celestial significance, related to the longest of all the celestial cycles preserved in the world's mythology: the great and inexorable turning of the ages of precession.

Precessional numbers such as 72 (the number of years it takes for the heavens to be "delayed" by one degree due to the motion of precession), 108, 216, 432, and so on are preserved in the Vedic texts of ancient India, in the Norse myths of Scandinavia, in the Odyssey of ancient Greece, and in countless other myth-traditions from around the globe.

Precessional numbers are also preserved in the specific ratios of numerous ancient stone monuments around our planet -- some of which are separated from one another by 108 degrees of longitude.

Many traditions encourage the repetition of mantras 108 times per chanting session.

And, other martial arts also incorporate the number 108 -- the famous wooden man post  (or "wooden dummy") of Wing Chun is also traditionally understood to contain 108 movements or 108 applications (this tradition is not a secret and can be found in many places on the web using a simple search for the words "wooden dummy 108" or similar searches).

Martin Spivack in his valuable interview also makes reference to the number 108, at approximately the 20:00 minute mark in the same "part 2" interview linked above -- in this case, discussing the different ways that power can be generated, and noting that some people mistakenly criticize Taiji as having "only eight" words for generating power, while their art has 108 or another number.

The importance of these numbers, I believe, is the fact that the celestial realm -- the heavenly realm -- is consistently used in the ancient wisdom (preserved in the ancient myths, as well as in ancient disciplines which have survived in some cultures, such as Yoga in India or Tantra in Tibet or certain arts in China such as those streams of which Taiji and other martial arts clearly are surviving manifestations) as representative of the Infinite and Invisible Realm. I would suggest that the references to numbers such as 108, found in disciplines such as meditation, reciting mantras, and some martial arts are indicative of the fact that these practices are vehicles (in the word used by Marin Spivack in the quotation cited above) for the cultivation of qualities which are beyond the merely physical, and which relate to some of the very qualities he was explaining in that quotation.

I believe that it is truly valuable (in ways that are perhaps impossible to fully express) to connect ourselves to an authentic ancient tradition or discipline such as Marin Spivack has done -- although finding such a tradition is by no means easy (since they have been relentlessly suppressed by various forces over the centuries), and pursuing such a discipline long enough to achieve mastery equally difficult.

Thus, we should be grateful that he has chosen to share some of his experiences and insights in the interview on Internal Fighting Arts with Ken Gullette, and that he is teaching and passing down what he has learned to those who are fortunate enough to train with him.

I also believe that there are other ancient practices (some of which are mentioned above) which one can choose to pursue deeply in a very similar way -- and note that John Anthony West indicates that art such as sculpture and music can serve the same function, although mastery in any of these usually takes years of discipline.

And I further believe that the ancient myths which were given to humanity as a precious inheritance  serve as a valuable guide to assist us in such pursuits.

Note that the web player linked above does not seem to have the ability to "fast forward" to different points in the interview, but that you can download the interview onto a mobile device or onto a music-playing application (such as iTunes) which should allow you to jump to any point in the interview (in order to find the passages cited above, for example), by going to this page and clicking on "download."

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

An important article from Bibhu Dev Misra on evidence of Yoga in ancient Central America

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

For those still not fully convinced of the importance of the ancient art of Yoga, discussed in numerous previous posts including:
check out an article published on the Graham Hancock website and written by researcher Bibhu Dev Misra, entitled "Olmec Yogis with Hindu Beliefs: Did They Migrate from Ancient China?"

In the article, and in his website entitled "Myths, Symbols and Mysteries," the author applies his knowledge and insight to explore evidence of connections between ancient cultures and civilizations which point to the conclusion that important aspects of humanity's ancient history has been overlooked or excluded from the conventional academic narratives and theories.

For example, the article linked above which appeared on Graham Hancock's website presents overwhelming evidence that specific Yoga asanas are depicted in numerous figurines from Central America attributed to the Olmec civilization (1500 BC to 400 BC, with cultural connections stretching back as early as 2500 BC according to some scholars) and to the Western Mexico shaft tomb culture  from the region of modern-day Jalisco, Nayarit and Colima (generally dated to the period 400 BC to AD 300, but with evidence of activity which also stretches back to 1500 BC).

For example, Bibhu Dev Misra identifies the ancient figurine above, from Colima, as demonstrating the Vrschikasana, or Scorpion asana. Readers can find various images of Yoga practitioners performing this asana using a simple web search, and can find the posture discussed on pages 386 to 388 in Light on Yoga by Sri B.K.S. Iyengar, who writes of this asana:
The lungs expand fully while the abdominal muscles are stretched. The entire spine is vigorously toned and remains healthy. The asana has also psychological significance. The head which is the seat of knowledge and power is also the seat of pride, anger, hatred, jealousy, intolerance and malice. These emotions are more deadly than the poison which the scorpion carries in its sting. The yogi, by stamping on his head with his feet, attempts to eradicate these self-destroying emotions and passions. By kicking his head he seeks to develop humility, calmness and tolerance and thus to be free of ego. The subjugation of the ego leads to harmony and happiness. 388.
And there are many more examples in Bibhu Dev Misra's article -- so many, and with such clear correspondence to known Yoga asanas, that to maintain that these surviving ancient sculptures and figurines of Central America do not represent asanas would be ridiculous.

With this article, Mr. Misra has simultaneously established first that Yoga was anciently practiced by cultures separated by vast distances (cultures which conventional academic historical paradigms and narratives will vehemently maintain could have had no contact with one another) and also that the discipline of Yoga as it has survived in India to this day represents a stream of ancient wisdom flowing down from antiquity in a form that is clearly recognizable in extensive artistic representations dating back thousands of years, and in a part of the world undisturbed (until more recent centuries) by the violent suppression of the ancient wisdom which, under literalist Christianity, set about cutting off that stream in centers such as Delphi and Eleusis during the late Roman empire, and then subjugating and forcibly converting cultures and sacred traditions such as those found in western Europe and later continuing under European imperialism and colonialism to much of the rest of the world.

I would argue that this violent interruption of the stream of ancient wisdom given to humanity in extreme antiquity is directly responsible for much of the disconnection that characterizes "modern society," as well as the ongoing manifestations of violence, colonialism and imperialism which plague our world to this day.

Mr. Misra's important article examining evidence of Yogic practice in the ancient Americas also points to artistic and stylistic parallels between specific Central American statues and paintings and elements of ancient Sanskrit sacred texts, such as the conch shells that feature prominently in the action described in the Mahabharata, or the distinctive features of the god Shiva which bear striking correspondence to the Olmec-period cave art at Juxtlahuaca.

That cave painting, as Bibhu Dev Misra explains, shows a gigantic figure with abundant cascading locks of thick black hair, wearing a jaguar-skin garment, bearing a serpent in one hand and a trident-shaped implement in the other, and wearing a head-dress from which emanate wavy blue-green lines -- all of which have direct correspondences to the figure of the Lord Shiva.

I would add that these distinctive features can also be shown to have direct correspondence to ancient depictions and descriptions of the god Dionysos or Dionysus -- and that there are numerous ancient sources which explicitly link Dionysos to India and state that the god came from there, or traveled there ,and had devotees in that part of the world. Links between some of the aspects of Dionysos and the traditional practices of Hindu sadhus (as well as to the Nazarite vow described in the Old Testament, and the Rastafari tradition which has connections to both the Nazarite vow and to the sadhus of India) can be found in a discussion in this previous post.

Mr. Misra presents arguments and evidence that the Yogic influence in Central America may have originated in trans-Pacific contact between Asia and the Americas in ancient times -- and I do not by any means deny that this is a strong probability. I myself believe that overwhelming evidence supports the likelihood of ancient contact across the oceans between various cultures that the conventional academic paradigm vehemently disallows. I have listed just a small sample of such evidence in a blog post from 2011, and many more could be listed -- such as the amphorae submerged off the coast of Brazil, the ancient copper mines of upper Michigan, the inscriptions near Hidden Mountain in New Mexico, or those in Picture Canyon in Colorado, or the inscribed stone carried by Chief Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain (Chief Joseph), and many, many other examples.

However, I would also add that there is evidence that Yoga and similar disciplines were extremely widespread among some of the earliest ancient civilizations -- including the Indus-Sarasvati civilization (see the first image in Bibhu Dev Misra's article, often referred to as the Pashupati seal), as well as the civilization of ancient Egypt as early as the Old Kingdom (see discussion in John Anthony West's essential study Serpent in the Sky, on pages 92 - 93).

In my own discussion of the Pashupati seal and its significance, I also point to evidence for the antiquity and geographic dispersion of Yoga-like disciplines found in texts from ancient China cited by Professor Victor H. Mair which involve development of the "vital breath" and the use of physical movements taking their names from the movements of animals, such as "bear strides and bird stretches."

I believe it is very likely that, like the ancient system of celestial metaphor which can be shown to underlie the myths found around the world (including the stories collected in the Bible), disciplines such as silent meditation and "moving meditation" (such as Yoga and its parallels in other ancient cultures) may also originate with the same extremely ancient and now-forgotten source, possibly predating the earliest known civilizations by thousands of years (and of which the incredibly ancient site of Gobekli Tepe may provide some of the most concrete evidence discovered thus far).

I am also convinced that the purpose of the ancient wisdom preserved in the world's myths, scriptures and sacred stories, and the purpose of ancient disciplines such as Yoga, are very much related -- and that they both involve connection with an Infinite realm, one which (according to the ancient wisdom) is always present at every point and at all times in this finite and material realm, and to which we actually have access at all times (see for instance "The Inner connection to the Infinite" and "Why divinities can appear in an instant").

Finally, although much more could be said about Mr. Misra's excellent article and about the other important and extensive research found on his website, I would also point out that the fascinating connection he has uncovered between the Juxtlahuaca cave painting and the characteristic depictions of the god Shiva can also be shown to have connections to distinctive features of the constellation Ophiucus, a constellation who plays central roles in numerous Star Myths from around the world (and who often plays the role of various gods and goddesses).

Below is a star-chart showing Ophiucus, along with some of the characteristic features of the Lord Shiva which Bibhu Dev Misra lists in his article, and which are also present in the Juxtlahuaca cave art:

image: Juxtaposition of star chart showing Ophiucus and Milky Way (from Stellarium, with added outlines and labels) and the Juxtlahuaca figure (Wikimedia commons: link).

Again, those similarities between the Juxtlahuaca and the characteristics of Lord Shiva pointed out by Bibhu Dev Misra include:
  • A serpent in one hand: this probably corresponds to the left (or east) side of the constellation Ophiucus in the above star-chart; this side of Ophiucus (the Serpent-bearer) is usually envisioned as the "tail" of the serpent the figure is holding.
  • A trident-shaped implement in the other hand: this probably corresponds to the right (or west) side of the constellation Ophiucus in the above star-chart; this side of Ophiucus (the Serpent-bearer) is usually envisioned as the "head" of the serpent the figure is holding, but note that it has three stars and could be envisioned as a "small trident," just as we see in the Juxtlahuaca painting -- and note also that the mighty hero Bhima in the Mahabharata at one time encounters a powerful serpent described as having four teeth -- which is almost certainly the same part of the serpent of Ophiucus, counting the three stars that make up the tines of this "trident" plus the fourth star from which these tines emanate.
  • A jaguar-skin garment: this is not as easy to definitively identify as a distinctive characteristic of the constellation Ophiucus, but note that the short legs of the constellation as outlined could give rise to the hanging-down "tail" of the jaguar pelt (or leopard- or tiger-skin, in other cultures and other mythologies) -- and note also that the Juxtlahuaca figure only shows clearly one of the man's two legs (the other is obscured), plus the hanging-down tail.
  • A head-dress from which emanate numerous wavy green lines, which Bibhu Dev Misra sees as corresponding to the long and elaborate matted locks of the god Shiva, from which the heavenly stream of the Ganga or Ganges river flows down to earth: this celestial stream, identified with the lengthy unshorn hair of the Lord Shiva, is undoubtedly representative of the brilliant stream of the Milky Way galaxy, which can be seen to "flow gently down to earth" from the heavens immediately adjacent to the constellation Ophiucus, in the star-chart shown above.
Despite the attempts of some to suppress or even eliminate the ancient wisdom imparted to humanity, the evidence around the world -- as well as surviving streams such as Yoga which are still connected to that ancient inheritance -- continues to seek to convey the truth to our understanding.

We should all be grateful to researchers such as Bibhu Dev Misra for the insights and knowledge he is sharing in his articles and on his website, which includes knowledge of traditions, artwork, and cultural understanding from India itself which gives him invaluable, unique and essential insights that might otherwise go unnoticed.

And, even if we are not able ourselves (at least at this time) to perform some of the very challenging asanas such as the Vrschikasana (Scorpion asana), we can to whatever degree possible incorporate ancient disciplines such as vital breathing, meditation, other asanas, or related ancient arts, in order to diminish pride, anger, hatred, jealousy, intolerance and malice ("more deadly than the poisons which the scorpion carries in its sting") and "to develop humility, calmness, tolerance and thus to be free of ego."