The Perfumes of the One


At the beginning of our ‘Common Era’, several « discourses » about the “One” were competing: there was the Jewish “One”, the Greek “One”, the Christian “One”, and possibly a fourth “One”, « that we could call mystical », says Alain Badioui.

What is the Jewish “One”? It is the “One” of the prophet, who demands for signs. It is « a discourse of exception, because the prophetic sign, the miracle, the election, designate transcendence as being beyond the natural totality ».ii

What is the Greek “One”? It is the “One” of the wise, who appropriates « the fixed order of the world », and matches the logos to the being. It is a « cosmic discourse » that places the subject in « the reason of a natural totality ».iii

The Jewish and the Greek discourses on the “One” seem to be in opposition.

“The Greek discourse argues for the cosmic order to adjust to it, while the Jewish discourse argues for the exception to this order to signal divine transcendence.”iv

But in reality, one also could say that they are « two sides of the same mastery figure », says Badiou. This is Paul’s « deep idea ». « In the eyes of the Jew Paul, the weakness of Jewish discourse is that the logic of the exceptional sign applies only to the Greek cosmic totality. The Jew is an exception to the Greek. The first result is that neither of the two discourses can be universal, since each assumes the persistence of the other. And secondly, both discourses have in common the assumption that we are given in the universe the key to salvation, either by direct mastery of the totality (Greek wisdom) or by mastery of the literal tradition and decoding of the signs (Jewish ritualism and prophetism). »v

Neither Greek nor Jewish discourse is « universal ». One is reserved for the « wise », the other for the « chosen ». Paul’s project is to « show that a universal logic of salvation cannot be accommodated by any law, neither that which links thought to the cosmos, nor that which regulates the effects of an exceptional election. It is impossible that the starting point should be the Whole, but just as impossible that it should be an exception to the Whole. Neither the whole nor the sign can be appropriate. We must start from the event itself, which is a-cosmic and illegal, and does not integrate into any totality and is not a sign of anything. »

Paul cuts short. He just starts from the event, unique, improbable, unheard of, incredible, incredible, never seen before. This sole event has nothing to do with the law, and nothing to do with wisdom. What it introduces into the world is absolutely new.

Paul breaks the discourse, the secular and the millennium.

« Therefore it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will destroy the understanding of the intelligent’. Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where’s the fighter of the century? (…) But God chose the foolish things of the world to confuse the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to confuse the strong; God chose the vile things of the world and the most despised, those who are not, to destroy those who are.  » (1 Cor. 1, 17 sq.)

It cannot be denied that Paul’s words are revolutionary, « scandalous » for some, « crazy » for others, undoubtedly subversive.

And then comes the fourth “One”, the mystical “One”. The allusion in Paul is as brief as lightning, veiled, lapidary: « I know a man (…) who heard ineffable words that a man is not allowed to express. » (2 Cor. 12, 1-6)

The ineffable is a brother to the inaudible.

Plutarch reports that there was a statue of Zeus without ears in Crete. « It is not fitting for the sovereign Lord of all things to learn anything from any man, » explains the Greek historian.

The One has no ears. Does he have eyes, a tongue, a nose?

Badiou provides four answers to this question. Two of them are not universal. The third is, because it includes (among others) the mad, the weak, the vile and the despised.

About the fourth One, one can’t say anything.

A special point of view would be to make theses four visions compatible, to connect together these specific opinions, finding their possible hidden coherence.

This ‘special’ point of view could also be the point of view of the One.

How to represent this Unique Point of View?

Maybe we need to change our metaphor, to change vision for smell, colors for fragrances, contemplation for breathing.

The subtle scents of the divine aromas, the sacred perfume elaborated by Egyptian priests gives an idea of it.

This antique perfume, called Kyphi, was composed of sixteen substances: honey, wine, raisins, souchet, resin, myrrh, rosewood, seseli, lentisk, bitumen, fragrant rush, patience, small and large juniper, cardamom, calami.

There were other recipes, which can be found in Galen, Dioscorides, Edfu’s text or Philae’s text.

Effluences. Emanations. Inspiration. Let’s exhale.

Baudelaire takes us further on this path:

« Reader, have you ever breathed

With intoxication and slow greed

That grain of incense that fills a church,

Or a bag of musk?

Deep charm, magical, with which we are grey

In the present the restored past!

So the lover on a beloved body

Remembrance picks the exquisite flower. »

A Mystique of past flowers, and future fruits.

iAlain Badiou. Saint Paul. La fondation de l’universalisme..PUF , 2014

iiIbid.

iiiIbid.

ivIbid.

vIbid.

The Egyptian Messiah


Human chains transmit knowledge acquired beyond the ages. From one to the other, you always go up higher, as far as possible, like the salmon in the stream.

Thanks to Clement of Alexandria, in the 2nd century, twenty-two fragments of Heraclitus (fragments 14 to 36 according to the numbering of Diels-Kranz) were saved from oblivion, out of a total of one hundred and thirty-eight.

« Rangers in the night, the Magi, the priests of Bakkhos, the priestesses of the presses, the traffickers of mysteries practiced among men.  » (Fragment 14)

A few words, and a world appears.

At night, magic, bacchae, lenes, mysts, and of course the god Bakkhos.

The Fragment 15 describes one of these mysterious and nocturnal ceremonies: « For if it were not in honour of Dionysus that they processioned and sang the shameful phallic anthem, they would act in the most blatant way. But it’s the same one, Hades or Dionysus, for whom we’re crazy or delirious.»

Heraclitus seems reserved about bacchic delusions and orgiastic tributes to the phallus.

He sees a link between madness, delirium, Hades and Dionysus.

Bacchus is associated with drunkenness. We remember the rubicond Bacchus, bombing under the vine.

Bacchus, the Latin name of the Greek god Bakkhos, is also Dionysus, whom Heraclitus likens to Hades, God of the Infernos, God of the Dead.

Dionysus was also closely associated with Osiris, according to Herodotus in the 5th century BC. Plutarch went to study the question on the spot, 600 years later, and reported that the Egyptian priests gave the Nile the name of Osiris, and the sea the name of Typhon. Osiris is the principle of the wet, of generation, which is compatible with the phallic cult. Typhoon is the principle of dry and hot, and by metonymy of the desert and the sea. And Typhon is also the other name of Seth, Osiris’ murdering brother, whom he cut into pieces.

We see here that the names of the gods circulate between distant spheres of meaning.

This implies that they can also be interpreted as the denominations of abstract concepts.

Plutarch, who cites in his book Isis and Osiris references from an even more oriental horizon, such as Zoroaster, Ormuzd, Ariman or Mitra, testifies to this mechanism of anagogical abstraction, which the ancient Avestic and Vedic religions practiced abundantly.

Zoroaster had been the initiator. In Zoroastrianism, the names of the gods embody ideas, abstractions. The Greeks were the students of the Chaldeans and the ancient Persians. Plutarch condenses several centuries of Greek thought, in a way that evokes Zoroastrian pairs of principles: « Anaxagoras calls Intelligence the principle of good, and that of evil, Infinite. Aristotle names the first the form, and the other the deprivationi. Plato, who often expresses himself as if in an enveloped and veiled manner, gives to these two contrary principles, to one the name of « always the same » and to the other, that of « sometimes one, sometimes the other ». »ii

Plutarch is not fooled by Greek, Egyptian or Persian myths. He knows that they cover abstract, and perhaps more universal, truths. But he had to be content with allusions of this kind: « In their sacred hymns in honour of Osiris, the Egyptians mentioned « He who hides in the arms of the Sun ». »

As for Typhon, a deicide and fratricide, Hermes emasculated him, and took his nerves to make them the strings of his lyre. Myth or abstraction?

Plutarch uses the etymology (real or imagined) as an ancient method to convey his ideas: « As for the name Osiris, it comes from the association of two words: ὄσιοϛ, holy and ἱερός, sacred. There is indeed a common relationship between the things in Heaven and those in Hades. The elders called them saints first, and sacred the second. »iii

Osiris, in his very name, osios-hieros, unites Heaven and Hell, he combines the holy and the sacred.

The sacred is what is separated.

The saint is what unites us.

Osiris joint separated him to what is united.

Osiris, victor of death, unites the most separated worlds there are. It represents the figure of the Savior, – in Hebrew the « Messiah ».

Taking into account the anteriority, the Hebrew Messiah and the Christian Christ are late figures of Osiris.

Osiris, a Christic metaphor, by anticipation? Or Christ, a distant Osirian reminiscence?

Or a joint participation in a common fund, an immemorial one?

This is a Mystery.

iAristotle, Metaph. 1,5 ; 1,7-8

iiPlato Timaeus 35a

iiiPlutarch, Isis and Osiris.

Jihad, Beheading and Castration.


Can post-modern philosophy say anything of substance about the religious passions of societies?

I don’t think so. Since Western philosophy decreed the death of metaphysics, it has put itself out of shape to think about the state of the real world.

It has de facto become incapable of thinking of a world in which endless and merciless wars are waged in the name of the God(s), a world in which religious sects slit men’s throats, reduce women to slavery and enlist children to become murderers.

Philosophy is unable to contribute to the intellectual, theological-political battle against fanaticism.

It deserted the fight without even trying to fight. It convinced itself that reason has nothing to say about faith, nor legitimacy to express itself on this subject. Scepticism and pyrrhonism stand in sharp contrast to the assurance of the enemies of reason.

Fanaticism has gone wild. No thought police is able to stop it. Philosophical critics have in advance acknowledged their inability to say anything reasonable about belief.

In this philosophical desert, there remains the anthropological path. It encourages us to revisit ancient religious beliefs, in search of a possible link between what people living in the valleys of the Indus or the Nile, the Tiger or the Jordan, believed thirty or fifty centuries ago, and what other peoples believe today, in these same regions.

How can we fail to see, for example, the anthropological link between the voluntary castration of the priests of Cybele, the dogmas of the religion of Osiris, and the faith of the jihadist fanatics, their taste for decapitation and slaughter?

Castration is one of the anthropological constants, translated throughout the ages into religious, perennial figures. In its link with « enthusiasm », castration projects its radical de-linking with common sense, and displays its paradoxical and unhealthy link with the divine.

On « Blood Day », the priests of Atys and Cybele voluntarily emasculate themselves and throw their virile organs at the foot of the statue of Cybele. Neophytes and initiates, taken by divine madness, fall into the fury of « enthusiasm », and imitate them, emasculating themselves in their turn.

What is the nature of this « enthusiasm »? What does it tell us about human reason and folly?

Iamblichus writes in this regard: « We must seek the causes of divine madness; it is lights that come from the gods, the breaths sent by them, their total power that seize us, completely banishes our own consciousness and movement, and makes speeches, but not with the clear thought of those who speak; on the contrary, it is when they « profess them with a delirious mouth »i and are at their service to yield to the only activity of those who possess them. That is the enthusiasm. »ii

This description of « divine madness », of « enthusiasm », by a contemporary of these orgiastic scenes, of these visions of religious excessiveness, strikes me by its empathy. Iamblichus evokes this « total power that seizes us » and « banishes our conscience » as if he had experienced this feeling himself.

It can be hypothesized that this madness and delirium are structurally and anthropologically analogous to the madness and fanatical delirium that have occupied the media scene and the world for some time now.

In the face of madness, there is wisdom. In the same text, Iamblichus evokes the master of wisdom, Osiris. « The demiurgic spirit, master of truth and wisdom, when he comes to become one and brings to light the invisible force of hidden words, is called Amoun in Egyptian, but when he unerringly and artistically executes everything in all truth, he is called Ptah (name that the Greeks translate Hephaistos, applying it only to his activity as an artisan); as a producer of the good, he is called Osiris.»iii

What is the link between Osiris and castration? Plutarch reports in great detail the myth of Osiris and Isis. It does not fail to establish a direct link between the Greek religion and the ancient Egyptian religion. Zeus’ proper name is Amoun [derived from the root amn, to be hidden], an altered word in Ammon. Manetho the Sebennyte believes that this term means ‘an hidden thing’, or ‘the act of hiding’.

It is to affirm a link between Zeus, Amoun/Ammon, Ptah and Osiris.

But the most interesting is the narrative of the Osirian myth.

We remember that Seth (recognized by the Greeks as ‘Typhon’ ), Osiris’ brother, killed him and cut his body into pieces. Isis goes in search of Osiris members scattered all over Egypt. Plutarch specifies: « The only part of Osiris’ body that Isis could not find was the manly limb. As soon as it was torn off, Typhon (Seth) had indeed thrown it into the river, and the lepidot, the caddis and the oxyrrinch had eaten it: hence the sacred horror inspired by these fish. To replace this member, Isis made an imitation of it and the Goddess thus consecrated the Phallos whose feast is still celebrated by the Egyptians today.  » (Plutarch, Isis and Osiris)

A little later, Seth-Typhon beheaded Isis. It seems that there is a link, at least metonymic, between Osiris’ murder, Seth’s tearing off of his virile limb and the beheading of the goddess Isis by the same man. A relentless effort to tear, to section, to cut.

Seth-Typhon didn’t do so well. The Book of the Dead tells us that Horus in turn emasculated him, then skinned him.iv Plutarch also reports that Hermes, the inventor of music, took Seth’s nerves and made them the strings of his lyre.

We can see it well: decapitation, emasculation, dismemberment are ancient figures, always reactivated. They are signals of a form of anthropological constancy. Applying to the ancient gods, but also to the men of today, the reduction of the body to its parts, the removal of « all that exceeds » is a human figure reduced to the inhuman.

In this context, and in a structurally comparable way, the swallowing of the divine penis by the Nile fish is also a figure dedicated to continuous reinterpretation, and its metaphorical transformation.

The prophet Jonah, יוֹנָה (yônah) in Hebrew, was also swallowed by a fish, as was Osiris’ penis before him. Just as Osiris resurrected, Jonah was spit out by the fish three days later. Christians also saw in Jonah a prefiguration of the risen Christ three days after his burial.

The belly of the fish is like a temporary tomb (or is it a womb?), from which it is always possible for devoured gods and swallowed prophets to rise again.

Beheading, dismemberment, castration, weapons of psychological warfare, have been part of anthropological equipment for thousands of years. Resurrection, metamorphosis and salvation too. For the Egyptians, everyone has a vocation to become Osiris N., once dismembered, castrated, resurrected, this Osiris whom, in their sacred hymns, the Egyptians call « He who hides in the arms of the Sun ».

Western modernity, forgetting the roots of its own world, cut off from its own heritage, emptied of its founding myths, now without any meta-narrative, is suddenly confronted with their unexpected re-emergence in the context of a barbarism that it is no longer able to analyse, let alone understand.

iHeraclitus DK. fr. 92

ii Iamblichus, The Mysteries of Egypt, III, 8

iii Ibid. VIII, 3

iv Cf. Ch. 17, 30, 112-113

Bloody Religions


Christians do celebrate Christmas on December 25. But why this particular date? It was borrowed from the cult of Mithra. The date of the Christian feast of Easter also coincides with that of another pagan feast, the cult of Atys and Cybele, which took place at the time of the spring equinox. This great Phrygian celebration began on March 24. It was called « Blood Day ».

For their part, Jews celebrated the feast of Pessah (or Passover) in early Spring by sacrificing a lamb in memory of the Exodus. More than a thousand and a half millennia later, Muslims took up the symbolism of the sacrifice of the sheep at Eid el Kebir, in memory of the sacrifice of the son of Abraham, asked by God.

It seems that there is a non-unimportant disagreement on the identity of this son. Muslims believe that it was Ishmael (the son of Abraham’s concubine Agar) whom God had asked Abraham to sacrifice. The Jewish Bible indicates that it was Isaac, the first-born son of Abraham and Sarah. Muslims, arrived quite late in the history of religions, accuse Jews of falsifying the Scriptures on this subject.

In any case, the blood of an animal (bull, lamb, sheep) must flow among the followers of Atys and Cybele as well as among Jews and Muslims.

It can be seen that various religions, pagan and monotheistic, found Spring to be very conducive to their devotions, apparently, and that they also shared a certain attraction for the symbolism of the blood shed.

Blood is flowing, but the meaning is different.

The « day of blood » of Atys and Cybele was the day when incoming and neophyte priests had to emasculate themselves voluntarily. « They threw these cut off parts of themselves on the statue of the goddess Cybele. These fertility organs were buried in the earth, in underground chambers dedicated to Cybele. « explains James George Frazer.

Initiation ceremonies were held after the event. « The faithful man crowned with gold and surrounded by bands went down into a pit covered with a grid. A bull’s throat was slit. The hot and smoking blood was spilling in streams over the worshipper. »

The initiate spent the night, alone, in the bloody pit. The next day, on March 25 then, was celebrated the divine resurrection.

The castrated priests of Atys were called « galls », in reference to the Gallus River in Galatia. Nothing exceptional about the castration of priests. Artemis in Ephesus or Astarte in Hierropolis in Syria were also served by eunuch priests. Atys, a Phrygian goddess, is both Cybele’s son and lover. This situation can be compared to that of Adonis, associated with Aphrodite-Astarte or Tammuz, Ishtar’s paredre.

Mythology tells us about the origin of this bloody cult. Zeus gave birth to the hermaphrodite Agdistis, by letting his sperm flow to the ground, thus sowing Gaia, the Earth. But the other gods frightened by this strange hermaphrodite, both man and woman, emasculate her. Deprived of his male sex, Agditsis then became Cybele.

According to Pausanias, the almond tree was born from the blood that flowed from the wound of the emasculation. Then, with a kernel from this tree, Nana, daughter of the river god Sangarios, conceived Atys. Atys became a handsome young man. Cybele, who was in a way his progenitor, by interposed almond, fell in love with him. But Atys was to marry the daughter of the King of Pessinus. Jealous, Cybele struck him with madness. So Atys emasculated himself too.

Regretting his act, Agdistis-Cybele obtained from Zeus that Atys’ body never decomposes.

It is quite tempting to make a connection (purely analogical) between the myth of Atys and Cybele, the sacrifice of the lamb during the Jewish Passover, and the sacrifice of Christ followed by his resurrection among Christians.

The sacrifice of the bull in the cult of Atys and Cybele (itself inherited from traditions certainly much older, as the Veda testifies) causes blood to flow over the neophyte who must spend the night in a tomb-like vault, to symbolically resurrect the next day as an initiate to the mysteries.

Christ, « the Lamb of God », was put to death on the first day of the Jewish Passover, his blood was shed, then he was put in the tomb to rise again on the 3rd day. The analogy seems obvious. Differences abound too.

The cult of Atys and Cybele did not require the sacrifice of man, but only that of his parts, with the sacrifice of the bull as a complement.

There is an undoubted commonality between the mysteries of Atys and Cybele, the ancient Passover feast of Judaism, the Easter of Christianity and the Eid el kebir of Islam: the blood always flows, really or symbolically, from the bull, the lamb or the sheep, the blood of the severed sex of priests, or the blood of Christ.

Why does God seem to need some much blood?

Why would such a supreme God accept appearing as a thirsty Vampire?

Or is it just men who seem to enjoy believing that?

Three sorts of God.


In an essay published in 1973, Jacques Lacarrière violently attacked Christianity, that of the first centuries, and that of our time. « Christians, with their compensatory and castrating mythology, have totally evaded the daily problems of their time and perpetuated to this day the acceptance of all social injustices and submission to established powers.»i

This harsh judgment does not accurately reflect the history of Christianity, but the intention is elsewhere. Lacarrière’s real aim is to give strong praise to Gnosticism, in contrast. « The Gnostics, on the other hand, have consistently advocated insubordination towards all powers, Christian or pagan, » he explains.

By taking up the cause of the Gnostics, he poses himself as a « reincarnated Gnostic, two thousand years later », and emphatically adopts their fundamental thesis: « All institutions, all laws, all religions, all churches, all powers are only jokes, traps and the perpetuation of a millennial deception. In short: we are exploited on a cosmic scale, the proletarians of the executioner-demiurgist, slaves exiled in a world viscerally subjected to violence.»ii

For the Gnostics, the world is a « prison », a « cloaca », a « quagmire », a « desert ». In the same vein, the human body is a « tomb », a « vampire ».

The world we live in was not created by the true God. It is the work of the Demiurge, a god who ‘simulates’ the true God. The Gnostics reject both this ‘evil’ world and the ‘false God’ who created it — a God that they call ‘Jehovah’.

Where and when did the Gnosis appear?

According to Lacarrière, it was in Alexandria in the 2nd century. This town was then « a crucible, an hearth, amortar, a blast furnace, where all the skies, all the gods, all the dreams are mixed, distilled, infused and transfused (…) All the races, all the continents (Africa, Asia, Europe), all the centuries (those of ancient Egypt which keeps its sanctuaries there, those of Athens and Rome, those of Judea, Palestine and Babylonia) are discovered there. »iii

In theory, such a place of encounter and memory would have been ideal for generating an inclusive and globalizing civilization. But the Gnostics had no use for these utopias. They deny the very reality of this world, which is from the beginning entirely dedicated to evil.

All signs are reversed. The Serpent, Cain, Set, symbols of evil and misfortune in the Jewish Bible, are for the Gnostics « the first revolts in the history of the world », and they make them « the founders of their sects and the authors of their secret books ».

The Gnostic sects, listed by Epiphanus, are very diverse. There are Nicolaitans, Phibionites, Stratiotics, Euchites, Leviticus, Borborites, Coddians, Zachaeans, Barbelites, etc. These terms had an immediate meaning for Greek-speaking populations. The Stratiotics meant « the Soldiers », the Phibionites are the « Humbles », the Eucharists are the « Prayers », the Zachaeans are the « Initiates ».

Lacarrière is fascinated by the Gnostics, but he also admits having great difficulty in discovering their « secrets », in finding « their veiled paths », in understanding « their hermetic revelations ».

There is in particular the question of ecstatic ceremonies, with their frenetic music, using the Phrygian mode (flutes and tambourines), their orgiastic dances, the consumption of drinks causing phenomena of transes and collective possession, and « horrible bacchanals where men and women mixed », as reported by Theodoret de Cyr.

The Gnostics, according to Lacarrière, had understood that the world was « a world of injustice, violence, massacres, slavery, misery, famine, horrors ». This world had to be rejected, contrary to what Christianity advocates. « It takes all the impudent hypocrisy of Christian morality to make the dispossessed, exploited, hungry masses believe that their trials were enriching and opened the doors of another world to them. »

Lacarrière concludes by claiming the need for a « new Gnosticism ». The Gnostic of today must be a « man turned towards the present and the future, with the intuitive certainty that he possesses above all in himself the keys to this future, a certainty that he must oppose all reassuring mythologies. »

These martial and hammered sentences are half a century old, but they certainly appear outdated. Today, the thousand-year-old debate between Christianity and Gnosticism seems to have lost its meaning. Current events seem to be more interested in the relationship between religion and fundamentalism, and in the issue of terrorism.

In the Bardo Museum of Tunis, where the memory of ancient Carthage still lives, in ancient Palmyra, on the shores of the Bosporus and the Gulf of Sirte, and in so many other places, blood has abundantly been shed.

Fanatics willing to give their lives to destroy a world order they consider vitiated to the very roots now occupy the headlines.

Can democratic states defend themselves against determined men or women who despise life, the lives of others like themselves?

The radicality of the Gnostics of the past, the war they had waged against the pagans, Jews and Christians at the beginning of our era, has found a successor. The jihadists embody it today vis-à-vis the Western world, the world of democracies and their allies.

History is on the lookout, and no one knows how things will turn out. The fact that the extreme right is now growing so much in countries that were vomiting it just yesterday is perhaps a sign of future disasters in preparation.

And what about God in all this? Is He even aware of all the misery, proliferating down this world?

Marguerite Yourcenar wrote in her Œuvre au noir: « Suffering and consequently joy and consequently good and what we call evil, justice and what is for us injustice and finally, in one form or another, the understanding that serves to distinguish these opposites, exist only in the world of blood and perhaps sap… Everything else, I mean the mineral kingdom and that of the spirits if it exists, is perhaps insensitive and quiet, beyond our joys and sorrows or below them. Our tribulations are possibly only a tiny exception in the universal factory and this could explain the indifference of this immutable substance that we devoutly call God. »

Blood flows, seemingly in God’s indifference.

But which God? The God of the Book? The One God? The God of Jihad? The « universal », « Catholic » God, or the God of the « Chosen Few », whether they are Calvinists, Gnostics or fundamentalists?

The heart beats, the sap and blood flows. God stays silent. Why?

It may be that this indifference comes from what God does not exist.

It may also be that God being immutable, his indifference follows from it, as Yourcenar suggests.

There is a third possibility. God’s mutity may only be apparent. It is possible that He speaks with a very low voice, that he whispers, like an uncertain zephyr. To perceive and hear, one must be a poet or a seer, an initiate or a mystagogue, a shaman or an ishrâqiyun.

So we are left today with tree options to choose from:

A non-existent God, an indifferent (or absent) God, or a very discreet God, speaking with an extremely weak voice?

What’s your bet?

iJacques Lacarrière, Les gnostiques. 1973

iiIbid.

iiiIbid.

Bound to Build the Collective Unconscious of Humanity


Several centuries before Abraham left Ur in Chaldea, the Zend-Avesta religion revered in ancient Iran a ‘Lord of Lords’, a ‘supreme God’, named Ahura Mazda,which translates, in Pehlevi, or Middle Persian, as Ormuzd. Ahura Mazda has also other names, such as Spenta Mainyu, literally: « the Holy Spirit ».

Ahura Mazda reigns unique over all other, lower ranking, divinities, called ‘Gâthâs’.

Ahura Mazda being a supreme God, far beyond human reach or understanding, the prayers of the Zend-Avesta are addressed to the Gâthâs, rather than to Ahura Mazda, though they are only ‘intermediate divinities’, or more exactly ’emanations’ of Ahura Mazda. The Yasna says about the Gâthâs: « All the worlds, the bodies, the bones, the vital forces, the forms, the consciousness, the soul, the Phravaṣi, we offer them all and present them to the Gâthâs, Saints, Lords of time, pure; to the Gâthâs who are for us supporters, protectors, a food of the spirit.»i

In Avestic, which is the ancient Iranian language, Ahura means « lord ». Mazda means « highly learned », according to the eminent Burnouf, who breaks down the word mazda into maz – dâ. Maz is a superlative, and means « to know ». In modern Persian, dânâ means « learned ». There is also an equivalent in Sanskrit: « mêdhas« .

When asked by Zoroaster about the meaning of his Name, Ahura Mazda declared, as reported in the first Yast:

« My name is the Sovereign, my name is the One who knows ».

Zoroaster did not stick to this answer and continued to question Ahura Mazda. He urged him to reveal what is most powerful, most effective against the Spirit of Evil, Aṅra Mainyu (in Pehlevi: Ahriman), and against all the demons.

Ahura Mazda replied that what is most powerful is the names he bears.

And he added:

« My name is the One to be questioned; my second name is the Head of the flock; the Propagator of the law; the excellent Purity; the Good of pure origin; the Intelligence; the One who understands; the Wise; the Growth; the One who increases; the Lord; the One who is most useful; the One who is without suffering; the One who is solid; the One who counts the merits; the One who observes everything; the Helper; the Creator; the All-Knowing (the Mazda) (…). Remember and pronounce these names day and night. I am the Protector, the Creator, the Suspender, the Savior, the Most Holy Celestial Being. My name is the Auxiliary, the Priest, the Lord; I am called the One who sees much, the One who sees far away. My name is the Supervisor, the Creator, the Protector, the Connoisseur. I am called the One who augments; I am called the Dominator, the One who should not be deceived, the One who is not deceived; I am called the Strong, the Pure, the Great; I am called the One who has good science.

Whoever remembers and pronounces these names will escape the attacks of demons. »ii

In passing, we note the obvious analogy of these lines with comparable, but much later, texts of Judaism, and even later texts of Islam.

Avesta has all the characteristics of a revealed religion.

First of all, it was God (Ahura Mazda) who initially revealed himself to the Mazdaites.

Then, the Avesta refers to a great prophet, Zoroaster, who boasts of having served as an intermediary between God and man, and who was the great reformer of Mazdeism. The most recent scientific work shows that Zoroaster lived before Abraham, between 1400 and 1100 BC. He was the prophet who transformed the initial dualism of Mazdaism and the multiplicity of the various Gâthâs into an absolutely transcendental monism, after having discussed it directly with Ahura Mazda.

The interaction between Ahura Mazda and Zoroaster is not without analogy with the encounter between God and Moses, several centuries later.

From this strident comparison we may derive the following rough alternative.

The Materialistic Hypothesis :

The « world from above », the world of the divine, whose variations, analogies and anagogies, similarities and echoes one tries to identify in the long history of religious ideas, simply does not exist. The ‘spiritual’ world is really empty, there is no God, and it is the materialists who are 100% right. So the wars of religion, the sacrifices, the martyrs, the passions of belief, and all the blood shed today, yesterday and tomorrow, are all facets of a sinister farce played by scoundrels or Machiavellian policies at the expense of the unfathomable naivety of peoples, victims of their credulity and superstition.

This farce is continually developed and rewritten over the millennia by the so-called ‘enlightened’, the mad, the deranged, the cynical and the war criminals, all contributing to making this Earth a place without meaning, without past and without future. In this hypothesis, the world would be condemned to self-destruction, moral suicide and absolute violence, as soon as the trickery is finally blown up.

The Spiritual Hypothesis:

The « world from above » does indeed exist, in one way or another, but it escapes our perception, our understanding and intellection. It’s a Mystery, or the Mystery. In this case, there is a good chance that religions that have appeared since the dawn of time, such as Shamanism, the ancient Egyptian religion, Veda, Avesta, Mazdeism, Zoroastrianism, Chaldaic magic, Orphism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, far from being able to claim an elective singularity, are as many instances of various perceptions and intuitions of the divine by man, as many testimonies of the plurality of possible approaches to the Mystery.

Each one of these religions represents a unique and special way of understanding the divine emanation, more or less adapted to the time and the peoples who receive it.

It would then be futile to rank or classify religions among themselves. It would be more productive, particularly from a forward-looking perspective, to examine the systemic relationships between a given era and the way in which religious fact is inscribed, at that moment in history, in the social, cultural, political and economic fabric.

Let us add that the general state of the world today, unfortunately suggests hat none of the religions mentioned above is now in a position to claim a monopoly on the ultimate truth or the final revelation on the fundamental questions that humanity keeps asking itself since millennia.

If such a « world from above », inaccessible to human reason, does in fact exist, it also implies that something extremely important, vital, and also beyond human comprehension, has been at stake for thousands of years at the core of Mankind, with the active but hidden and (most of the time) silent complicity of the Divine.

It should be assumed that since the dawn of humanity there has been a kind of cosmic, sidereal « great game », whose meaning and purpose are clearly beyond our grasp, but in which men are invited to take part, within the limits of their limited means.

Humanity is composed of generations that fleetingly pass through the earth like insects in the light on a summer evening. It is therefore very likely that these successive generations can only apprehend in a deficient way, the unspeakable challenge of this super-natural arrangement.

But it is possible to assume that successive human generations may from time to time generate in their midst enlightened spirits capable of intuitively perceiving, imaginalement (‘imaginally’), as Henry Corbin would say, the grandiose stake of this divine part.

All we can do in an era like ours, where materialism seems to pervade everything, is to refuse to let ourselves be caught up in the trap of preconceived ideas, to refuse sectarianism, dogmatism, the prisons of thought and imagination. We can actively contribute, soul by soul, to the slow, fragile and ungraspable building of the immanent Noosphere, the collective Unconscious of all humanity.

iYasna, ch. 54

iiQuoted by Abel Hovelacque, Avesta, Zoroastre et le mazdéisme. Paris, 1880.

A Good News for Our Dark Times


A thousand years before Abraham, and twelve or fifteen centuries before the drafting of Genesis, Sanchoniaton cried out: « The Spirit blows on darkness ».

The Phoenicians, a people of merchants and travelers, invented the alphabet, but they left almost no written record. The only written monument they have left is a fragment attributed to this Sanchoniaton, priest of Tyre, according to Philo of Byblos. Sanchoniaton lived before the Trojan War, and more than 2000 years BC.

The name ‘Sanchoniaton, according to Ernest Renan, comes from the Greek word Σαγχων, « who lives ». In ancient Coptic Koniath means « holy dwelling », or « place where the archives are kept ». ‘Sanchoniaton’ would therefore mean « the one who lives with the holy college », or « the archivist »…

The quoted fragment of Sanchoniaton is precious, because it is one of the few remaining testimonies of a fabulous era, where elite human minds were able to converge, despite harsh cultural and linguistic differences, around strong ideas.

In those times, the Veda, the Avesta, the Genesis, the theogonies of Hesiod and the ‘Sanchoniaton’ could appear as different and complementary phases of the same history, and not as separate claims of peoples seeking for themselves an original proeminence.

The « sacred fire » was revered among the Egyptians, Greeks, Hebrews and Persians. The idea of a Unique God was present among the Hebrews, but also in the Orphic religion, in Mazdaism, in the religion of Chaldean magic.

The Unique God had also already been celebrated by the Veda and the Zend Avesta, more than a millennium before Abraham left Ur.

According to the most recent research on the archaeological field, monotheism did not settle in Israel until the end of the monarchical period, in the 8th century BC.

In the verses of Homer, who lived in the 8th century BC, more than a thousand years after Sanchoniaton, we find reminiscences of the universal intuition of the priest of Tyre. Gods abound in the Homeric work, but their plurality is only an appearance. The most important thing to understand is that Heaven and Earth are linked, and connected. The human and the divine merge. Men are descendants of the gods, and heroes are made of their fabric.

There are other traces of the long memory of this region of the world. Under Ptolemy Philadelphia, Manethu, a priest of Sebennytus, compiled the history of the thirty-one Egyptian dynasties, from Menes to Alexander, and traced their origin back to 3630 BC.

Champollion, according to indications collected in the tombs of Thebes, dates the institution of the 365-day Egyptian calendar back to 3285 BC.

It can be estimated that the astronomical knowledge of this ancient period was therefore already much higher than that of the nomadic peoples who still counted per lunar month.

The Phoenician of Tyre, Sanchoniaton, lived four thousand years ago. He left as his legacy, for centuries, some fragments, overturning in advance some preconceived ideas about the god Thoth, who would later be identified with Hermes, Mercury, Idrîs and Henoch.

Sanchoniaton calls him Taut, and gives this brief description: « Taut excites the Elohim, El’s companions, in battle by singing them war songs. »

Sanchoniaton also claims that Taut was the son of Misor, in other words Misr or Misraim, a term used to name the Egyptian colonies of the Black Sea, the main one being Colchis.

Moreau de Jonnès explains that Taut (or Thôt) received the name of Mercury, ‘Her-Koure’, the Lord of the Koures. « This name derives from Kour, the sun. The Coraitis and Coraixites lived in Colchis. The Kour River, Dioscurias, Gouriel remind us of this generic name. Her-Koure was the God of traffickers and navigators (emblem of the fish), ancestors of the Phoenicians. According to Strabon, the Corybantes (Kouronbant) were native to Colchis. »

In Colchis, located on the Black Sea coast, now called Abkhazia, and recently torn from Georgia, the magnificent villas of the Russian oligarchs and the silovniki of the FSB flourish today…

Eusebius of Caesarea reports that the beginning of the ‘Sanchoniaton’ was translated by Philo as follows: « At the beginning of the world there was a dark air and the Spirit – or the Breath – was dark, and there was the Chaos troubled and plunged into the night. »

These words were written a thousand years before the first verses of Genesis.

What did the priest of Tyre really want to say? He said that the Spirit has been blowing on darkness since the beginning of the world, – thus fighting against Chaos and Night. He said that the Spirit was Light, and breathed Light…

That’s pretty good news in our dark, troubled times. Isn’t it?

The Sad Fate of Oriental Theosophy


In Aleppo, Syria, on July 29, 1191, Saladin had a philosopher, Sohravardî, killed.

Why? He was too subversive. Rulers do not like ideas that do not comfort them.

Sohravardî had been searching all his life for what he called the « True Reality ». He recorded the results of his investigations in his book: Oriental Theosophy. Henry Corbin wrote that he had « resurrected the ancient wisdom that the Imams of India, Persia, Chaldea, Egypt and the Ancient Greeks up to Plato never ceased to take as their pivot, from which they drew their own theosophy; this wisdom is eternal leaven. »i

This short sentence, full of names, has immense implications. It summarizes the dream, the common aspiration of many minds, that fly from century to century, leaping through space and time, or creeping in discreetly, invisibly, in a few chosen minds.

It evokes the idea of a shared intuition, a unique wisdom, a common thread linking the Indus to the Aegean Sea through the Oxus, the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Jordan and the Nile.

These rivers have been irrigating the nations that crowd their shores for thousands of years. The roads that cross them from East to West never ceased to transport words, cultures and ideas.

But today, the dream of a common wisdom shared by all humanity seems more chimeric than ever.

Nothing has been learned.

Dead is the idea of a common wisdom, spread among countless peoples.

Diverse religions, during millennia, Vedism, Avestism, Mazdeism, Zoroastrianism, Chaldean Magism, Hermetism, Orphism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (be it Sufi, Shi’ite or Sunni), all bear witness in their own specific and unique way to the fundamental unity of the human spirit. They are as many yeast in the same dough.

But they all failed, in their own way, since none of them succeeded in bringing real peace and lasting wisdom in the minds of men.

A universal cradle of ancient visions, the Middle East is still or again devastated by war.

Universal hatred, encouraged by specific interests, seems unabated.

We need to reassert what Sohravardî pointed out in Aleppo, eight centuries ago.

But the Powers, the Rulers, and their diplomats, the Sykes, the Picots, or the men of the day, have been playing their own Great Game in this vast region all over again. They laid the groundwork for today’s suffering. New corrupt leaders, men of little meaning and wisdom, have brought more harm on this part of the world, but they will not be judged by some International Court for all the suffering they have inflicted, after deliberately provoking endless disruptions, wars and mass migration.

i Henry Corbin, En Islam iranien. Aspects spirituels et philosophiques, t.2, p.35

The God of Israel had a Wife


« It is difficult to admit, but it is clear to researchers today that the people of Israel did not stay in Egypt, that they did not wander in the desert, that they did not conquer the Promised Land in a military campaign, that they did not share it among the twelve tribes of Israel. More difficult to digest is the now clear fact that the unified kingdom of David and Solomon, described by the Bible as a regional power, was at most a small tribal kingdom. Moreover, it is with a certain unease that we will have to live, when one knows that the Lord, the God of Israel, had a wife, and that the ancient Israelite religion did not adopt monotheism until the end of the monarchical period, and not on Mount Sinai. »

These provocative lines, not devoid of a kind of transgressive jubilation, were published in the Haaretz newspaper, on 29 October 1999 by Israeli archaeologist Zeev Herzog, professor at Tel Aviv University.

Archaeology is a discipline that requires a lot of rigor, both in the treatment of discoveries in the field and in the interpretation that makes them.

It is interesting to analyze the way in which this archaeologist prioritizes his conclusions. What seems to him « the most difficult to digest », among the revelations he is entitled to make, is that the kingdom of David and Solomon was not a « regional power » at that time, but only « a small tribal kingdom ».

Why is this more difficult to « digest » than, for example, the revelation that the account of the Exodus has no historical or archaeological basis? Would the political power of the moment be more important than the symbolic power of the myth and epic guided by Moses?

Or does this imply that the « Great Story » that Israel gives to itself may vary according to time and circumstances?

Now that Israel has at least two hundred nuclear warheads, a huge qualitative and quantitative leap has been made in terms of ‘regional power’ since the days of David and Solomon. On the other hand, with regard to the « Great Story », it remains to be seen whether the progress made since that distant time has been comparable.

As for the very late adoption of monotheism by the people of Israel, around the 8th century BC, the period corresponding to the end of the Kingdom of Israel, it is worth noting that, more than a millennium before, the Aryas of the Indus basin already worshipped a single God, a supreme Creator, Master and Lord of all universes.

In ancient Iran, the Zend Avesta, a religion that derives in part from the Veda, professed the same belief in a good, unique God in the second half of the 2nd millennium BC.

With regard to the alleged « wife of God », it should be pointed out that in the ancient religion of Israel, this « wife » could be just be interpreted as a metaphor, and assimilated to Wisdom (Hokhmah). In another interpretative configuration, this « wife » was Israel itself.

It should also be noted that in the Veda and Zend Avesta, metaphors such as « the spouse of the Divinity » were widely used since very ancient times.

Conceptually, then, it is legitimate to argue that a form of Vedic or Zoroastrian monotheism existed long before Abraham left Ur in the Chaldea.

But it must also be noted that Israel’s faith in one God is still alive today, after three millennia.

The Veda or Zend Avesta have apparently had less success in the long term.

But these religions have left a huge memory, which still irrigates the minds of entire continents today, with Buddhism and Hinduism.

Life is proven by life, like the cake by the eating. This is true of life as of ideas. And the memory of what was « life » also has its own « life », from which we can expect anything to be born, some day.

The ‘God of the Gods’ and the’ Idolaters’


Secrets are to be kept untold, and to remain so. But what about their very existence? The owners of essential (or even divine) secrets, though not allowed to reveal any of their content, sometimes give in to the temptation to allude to the fact that they are the custodians of them.

They cannot and will not reveal anything, of course, but they maybe inclined to leak that they know ‘something’, that could be revealed some day, though it has to remain secret, for the time being.

Of course, this attitude is childish, and dangerous.

Exciting the curiosity of outsiders brings problems, and can turn sour.

If a secret is a secret, then it has to be absolutely kept secret, and its very existence has also to be kept hidden.

Voltaire points out the problem that those claiming big, ‘magical’ secrets may encounter: « Let us see some secret of your art, or agree to be burned with good grace, » he writes in the article « Magic » of his Philosophical Dictionary.

Secrecy, magic and religion have had, over the centuries, chaotic, contradictory and confrontational relationships. Those who openly claimed knowledge of higher levels of understanding, but who refused to share them, were exposed to jealousy, anger, hatred and ultimately violence. They could be accused of fraud or heresy, so much the vaunted knowledge of ultimate secrets could be a source of cleavage, of suspicion.

The famous Magi kings came from Mesopotamia, or present-day Iran, to pay tribute to a newborn child, in Bethlehem, bringing gold, incense and myrrh in their luggage. Undoubtedly, they were also carriers of deep secrets. As Magi, they must have known the mysteries of Mithra, the achievements of the Zoroastrian tradition and maybe some other teachings from further East.

In those days, ideas, mystical traditions and mysteries were traveling fast.

There is no doubt for instance that the Latin word ‘deus’ (god) came all the way from the vedic ‘deva’, which is a Sanskrit word.

According to Franz Cumont, a ‘deva’, in the Veda, is first and foremost, a « being of light », and by a metaphorical extension a « god ». One also finds, in Avestic texts of Zend-Avesta, attributed to Zoroaster, the very similar term of ‘daêva’, but with a very different meaning.

« Daêvas » are not « gods », they are « devils », evil spirits, hostile to the beneficial power of Ahura Mazda, the Good and Almighty God of Zoroastrianism. This inversion of meaning, « gods » (deva) being turned into « devils » (daêva), is striking.

The peoples of ancient Iran borrowed their gods and much of their religion from the neighboring people in the Indus basin, but reversed the meaning of some key words, probably to better distinguish themselves from their original tribes.

Why this need to stand out, to differentiate oneself?

Jan Assman in his book, Moses the Egyptian, points to the fact that the Hebrews reportedly borrowed a number of major ideas from the ancient Egyptian religion, such as monotheism, as well as the practice of sacrifice, but then « inverted » the meaning of some of these fundamental ideas.

Assmann calls this borrowing followed by an inversion, the « Mosaic distinction ».

For example, the ‘Bull’ stands for a sacred representation of the God Apis among Egyptians, and the bull is thus a ‘sacred’ animal, just as in India cows are.

But, following the « Mosaic distinction’, the Hebrews sacrificed without restraint cattle and sheep, which were considered sacred in Egypt.

The Veda and the Zend Avesta keep track of the genesis and decadence of almost forgotten beliefs. These texts form an essential milestone for the understanding of religions that were later developed further west, in the Chaldea, Babylon, Judea-Samaria. The clues are fragile, but there are many avenues for reflection.

For example, the Avestic god Mithra is a « God of the Hosts », which reminds us of the Elohim Tsabaoth of the Hebrews. He is the Husband and Son of a Virgin and Immaculate Mother. Mithra is a Mediator, close to the Logos, the word by which Philo of Alexandria, Jewish and Hellenophone, translates Wisdom (Hokhmah), celebrated by the Hebrew religion, and also close to the Evangelical Logos.

As such, Mithra is the Intermediary between the Almighty Divine Power and the created world. This idea has been taken up by Christianity and Jewish Kabbalah. In the cult of Mithra, sacraments are used, where wine, water and bread are the occasion for a mystical banquet. This is close to the rites of the Jewish Sabbath or Christian Communion.

These few observations indicate that there is no lack of continuity in the wide geographical area from Indus to Oxus, Tigris, Euphrates, Jordan and Nile to Greece and Rome. On this immense arc, fundamental beliefs, first intuitions, sowing seeds among peoples, intersect and meet.

The Vedic Mitra, the Avestic Mithra are figures that announce Orpheus and Dionysus. According to an etymology that borrows its sources from the language of Avesta, Dionysus must be understood as an Avestic name : div-an-aosha, that is: « the God of the drink of immortality ».

The Jews themselves, guardians of the tradition of the one God, bear witness to the antiquity of the belief, common to all the peoples of this vast region, in the God of the Gods. « As our masters note, the Name of the God of the Gods has always been a common tradition among idolaters.»i

The prophet Malachi also said: « For from sunrise to sunset, my Name is great among the nations. »ii

One can assume that ‘monotheism’, whatever the exact meaning given to this relatively recent concept, therefore has a very long history, and extremely old roots.

The intuition of a God of the gods has undoubtedly occupied the minds of men for thousands of years, long before it took on the monotheistic form that we know today.

iRabbi Hayyim de Volozhin. L’âme de la vie

iiMalachie 1, 11

The Ink in the Sand


Iamblichus thought that humanity is composed mainly of fallen souls, but that the gods have sent some wise men like Orpheus, Pythagoras, Plato, or Hermes here to help them. Iamblichus also boasted being knowledgeable about theurgy.

What is theurgy? It is the idea that the human can unite with the divine through special practices. The soul is called, by means of intense religious gestures, initiation rites, sacrifices, invocations aimed at ecstasy, to unite degree by degree with beings of a higher nature, heroes, « demons », angels and archangels, and ultimately with the One, the ineffable God.

In the Mysteries of Egypt, a book devoted to Chaldeo-Egyptian wisdom, Iamblichus evokes the idea of a progressive « degradation » of man, of his fall from the divine plan. The hierarchy of this fall includes divine beings, archangels, angels, demons, heroes, archons. Human souls are at the end.

Iamblichus also describes two kinds of ecstasy, analyses the causes of evil, the theurgic power of sacrifice and presents the symbolic mystagogy of the Egyptians as well as hermetic theology and astrology. Every soul is guarded by a « demon » who helps it to reach its goal, happiness, union with the divine.

Unity is possible, but not through knowledge. « Actually, it is not even a knowledge that contact with the divinity is. Because knowledge is separated by a kind of otherness. »i

The contact with the divine is difficult to explain. « We are rather wrapped in the divine presence; it is it that makes our fullness, and we take our very being from the science of the gods. « ii

Iamblichus uses well-documented Egyptian metaphors and symbols, such as silt, lotus, solar boat. These are effective images to explain the background of the case. « Conceive as silt all the body, the material, the nourishing and generating element or all the material species of nature carried by the agitated waves of matter, all that receives the river of becoming and falls with it (…) Sitting on a lotus means a superiority over the silt that excludes any contact with it and indicates an intellectual kingdom in the heavens (…) As for the one who sails on a boat, he suggests the sovereignty that rules the world. » iii

Through the magic of images, the silt, the lotus, the boat, the whole order of the universe is revealed. Why go looking elsewhere for distant and confused explanations? Just look at the Nile.

Where does the anaphoric, anagogic power of these images come from? They are the equivalent of divine names. « We keep in our souls a mystical and unspeakable copy of the gods, and it is by the names that we lift our souls to the gods. »iv

Names have this magical, mystical and theurgic power because they have the ability to touch the gods, even if only in a tiny way, in a language that is their own, and that cannot leave them indifferent. « As the entire language of sacred peoples, such as the Assyrians and Egyptians, is suitable for sacred rites, we believe we must address to the gods in the language known to them, the formulas left to our choice. »v

All the religions of the region, from the Nile to the Indus, the religion of ancient Egypt, the Chaldean religions, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Vedism, have multiplied the names of God.

Each of these names represents a unique, irreplaceable way of knowing an aspect of the divine.

Men use multiple invocations, prayers, formulas. Religions give free rein to their imagination. What really matters is not the letter of prayer. The important thing is to place yourself on the field of language, the language « connatural to the gods ». We don’t know this language, of course. We only have a few traces of it, such as names, attributes, images, symbols.

Of these minute traces, we must be satisfied. In the early 1970s, an archaeologist, Paul Bernard, headed the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan, and conducted research in Ai Khanoun, at the eastern end of the Bactria River, near the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

This city, located at the confluence of the Amu Darya River (the former Oxus) and the Kokcha River, had been nicknamed « Alexandria of the Oxus » by Ptolemy. The archaeological team uncovered the ancient Greek city, its theatre and gymnasium.

In a room of the great Greco-Indian palace of Ai Khanoun, invaded by the sands, Paul Bernard found « the traces of a papyrus that had rotten, leaving on the sand, without any other material support, the traces of ink of the letters. Wonderful surprise! The traces of papyrus fragments were barely visible in the corners, but the text in Greek could still be read: it was the unpublished text of a Greek philosopher, Aristotle’s disciple, who had accompanied Alexander on his expedition! »vi

The communist coup d’état, supported by the Soviet army, ended the archaeological work in 1978. The result of the excavations, deposited in the Kabul Museum, was heavily damaged by successive bombings, and a little later was vandalized by the Taliban.

Have the tiny traces of ink finally disappeared?

iMysteries of Egypt, I,3.

ii Ibid. I,3

iii Ibid. VII, 2

iv Ibid. VII, 4

vIbid. VII, 4

viCf. P. Bernard, Fouilles d’Ai Khanoun I, Paris, 1973. Qoted by Jacqueline de Romilly. Petites leçons sur le grec ancien.

Luther, Resurrection and Black Holes


In his History of Hermetic Philosophy, Father Lenglet Dufrennois described the genesis of Hermetic ideas in a remote, fragmented and diverse Orient. He traces their origin back to Noah, and follows their trace to the Egyptians (with Thoth, son of Osiris, and Siphoas, the « second Thoth », known as « Hermes Trismegistus »), then to Moses, the Greeks, the Arabs (Avicenna), the Persians (Geber, who is considered to have been the first « chemist » in history).

In Europe, from the Middle Ages to modern times, many scholars, philosophers and theologians have dealt with these same questions: Morien, Roger Bacon, Albert le Grand, Arnaud de Villeneuve, Thomas d’Aquin, Alain de Lisle, Raymond Lulle, Pope John XXII, Jean de Meun, Jean de Rupescissa, Nicolas Flamel, Jean Cremer, Basile Valentin, Jacques Cœur, Bernard Trevisan, Thomas Northon, Cardinal Cusa, Tritme.

From the 16th century onwards, the hermetic tradition continued with Jean Aurelio Augurelli, Henri Corneille Agrippa, Paracelse, Georges Agricola, Denis Zacaïre, Edouard Felley, Jean-Baptiste Nazari, Thomas Erastus, Blaise de Vigenère, Michel Sendivogius.

This litany of names, eclectic and far from being exhaustive, has a kind of phatic, incantatory poetry.

Some of them are famous, and rightly so.

Albert the Great (1193-1280) was called a « magician ». Above all, he was a great philosopher and an even greater theologian: « Albertus fled Magnus in Magia, Major in Philosophia and Maximus in Theologia. »

But most of these names smell like library dust, and don’t mean much anymore.

Hermeticism has fallen, if not into complete oblivion, at least into discredit.

In 1854, Louis Figuier could write: « Was Alchemy the most insignia of the madness of men, his study would not yet be to be neglected. It is good to follow the activity of thought down to its strangest aberrations. »

At the beginning of the 3rd millennium, hermeticism remains a fertile ground for the anthropological study of the « secret » and its quest.

Seekers of occult truth used to carefully maintain the darkness of their science and intentions. It was necessary to remain impenetrable to the uninitiated. It was no secret that we wanted to keep the mystery alive. The light was suspicious, the shadow propitious.

« When philosophers speak frankly, I distrust their words; when they explained themselves in riddles, I think, » says Guy de Schroeder.

Arnaud de Villeneuve has much harsher words: « Hide this book in your womb, and do not put it in the hands of the ungodly, for it contains the secret of the secrets of all philosophers. This pearl should not be thrown to the swine, because it is a gift from God. »

The famous Roger Bacon had as a principle « that all the secrets of nature and art that we discovered should be kept hidden, without ever revealing them, because those to whom they would be communicated could abuse them, or for their own loss, or even to the detriment of society. »

Basile Valentin, in his Char de triomphe de l’antimoine, confides: « I have now spoken enough, I have taught our secret in such a clear and precise way, that to say a little more would be to want to sink into hell ».

The fundamental idea, the unique intuition, which has brought together for centuries all these shadow researchers, whether chemists, alchemists, philosophers, theologians, poets, is that there is a « wisdom of the world », which remains to be discovered.

This is a belief still shared by many « modern » people, even those who are most reluctant to think metaphysically.

It is the idea that there is a hidden, deep, difficult to understand, or even unspeakable order that keeps everything together.

If the world « holds together », it is because it has an inner « glue ».

What is this « glue »? What is this hidden « order »? Einstein also believed in the existence of an immanent order. God doesn’t play dice.

This internal order « holds together » the infinitely small and the largest cosmic units. Without this order, the world would not last a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a second. It would disintegrate from the very first moments of the Big Bang, physicists say.

Long before Einstein and modern physicists, Hermeticism said something similar, with the language and forms of another age: « Hermetic Philosophy is nothing other than the Knowledge of the General Soul of the World determinable in its generality and universality »i..

Alchemists have long searched, without apparent success, for the famous « philosopher’s stone ». This « stone » was only a metaphor, or a mirror in which one hoped to see the « wisdom of the world », its « General Soul », which is perhaps another name for the « glue » of the universe.

The philosopher’s stone is a metaphor for the laws of the world. « The stone of philosophers brings help to everyone in need; it strikes man of vain glory, hope and fear; it removes ambition, violence and excess desire; it softens the most severe adversityii « , writes the English alchemist Thomas Norton, towards the end of the 15th century.

Humanist program if ever there was one!

Shortly afterwards, Martin Luther himself gave his approval to « hermetic science » because it offered, he said, magnificent comparisons with the resurrection of the dead on the last day.

In any image, we can find the trace of a desire. To better speak to the people, Luther thought it would be useful to compare the resurrection to an alchemical operation. Hermeticism was still at that time, in all minds, the science of fundamental transmutations, and a vast reservoir of spiritual metaphors.

Today, alchemy is derided, as is the resurrection.

Did our times lose all intuition of the mystery, and the taste of the ultimate secrets?

The anthropology of the secret and the mysteries is linked by a thousand fibers to the litany of the millennia, it is linked to the history of terror and the hopes of the human soul.

We are living in a curious era, which has almost lost the intuition of the last ends, the desire for vision, the sense of excess, even hope.

Would Luther today look for a metaphor of the resurrection in black holes, in dark matter or in dark energy?

i M.I. Collesson. L’idée parfaite de la philosophie hermétique (Paris, 1631)

ii Thomas Norton. Crede mihi

The sacrifice of Puruṣa, the dismemberment of Osiris and the crucifixion of Christ


The Rig Veda is without doubt the most sacred text of ancient India.

It has been translated into several Western languages, but with significant differences of interpretation, that may reveal different worldviews, within the West itself.

Focusing here on one of the most fascinating hymns of the Rig Veda (RV, X, 90), dedicated to Puruṣa (i.e. the Man or the Supreme Being, depending on the interpretations), it is interesting, I think, to try to retrieve these points of view, as they are revealed by how they understand the role of the Supreme God’s ‘Sacrifice’.

A. Langlois, the author of the first French translation of Rig Veda in the beginning of 19th century, translates the first two verses of this Hymn, in this manner:

« 1. Pourousha has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet. He kneaded the earth with his ten fingers, and formed a ball of it, above which he dominates.

2. Pourousha, master of immortality, strong of the food he takes, has formed what is, what was, what will be. »i

H. H. Wilson, a professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford (1888) translates:

« 1. Purusha, who has a thousand headsii, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet, investing the earth in all directions, exceeds (it by a space) measuring ten fingers.iii

2. Purusha is verily all this (visible world), all that is, and all that is to be; he is also the lord of immortality; for he mounts beyond (his own condition) for the food (of living beings)iv. »

A famous German scholar, active in the first half of 20th century, Karl Friedrich Geldner, proposes:

« 1. Tausendköffig, tausendaügig, tausendfüssig ist Puruṣa; er bedeckte vollständig die Erde und erhob sich noch zehn Finger hoch darüber. »

2. Puruṣa allein ist diese ganze Welt, die vergangene und die zukünftige, und er ist der Herr Unsterblichkeit (und auch über das), was durch Speise noch weiter wächst. »

Finally, here is another translation of the same verses by the famous French Indianist, Louis Renou:

« 1. The Man has a thousand heads. He has a thousand eyes, a thousand feet. Covering the earth from side to side, he still exceeds it with ten fingers.

2. The Man is none other than this universe, what has passed, what is to come. And he is the master of the immortal domain because he grows beyond food.»v

We see that Renou translates the word पुरुष Puruṣa, as « The Man ».

Langlois, Wilson, Geldner, prefer not to translate the word Puruṣa (or Pourousha in the 19th century spelling), but to keep it as a proper name. Why?

Maybe they thought that this word was too ambivalent or too complex to be rendered by an apparently too simple equivalent like « the Man »?

Huet’s dictionary defines Puruṣa as « Man, male, person; hero ». In a philosophical sense, this word means « humanity ». According to Huet, Puruṣa can also be understood like a proper name, and it then translates into: « the Being; the divine spirit; the macrocosm ».

In effect, the spectrum of Puruṣa’s meanings is quite wide.

In Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit dictionary, which may be the most complete one that we have in the West, we find the following explanation for Puruṣa: « The primaeval man as the soul and original source of the universe; the personal and animating principle in men and other beings, the soul or spirit; the Supreme Being or Soul of the universe. »

Let us now look at verses 6 and 7, which are rather singular.

Renou translatess:

« 6. When the Gods offered the sacrifice with Man as an oblation, spring served as butter, summer as kindling wood, and autumn as an offering.

7. On the litter, they sprinkled the Man – the Sacrifice – who was born at the beginning. Through him the Gods made the sacrifice, as well as the Saints and the Seers. »

Langlois gives:

« 6. When the Devas with Pourousha sacrificed by offering the offering, the butter formed the spring, the wood the summer, the holocaust the autumn.

7. Pourousha thus born became the Sacrifice, accomplished on the (holy) lawn by the Devas, the Sadhyas and the Richis. »

Wilson has:

« 6. When the gods performed the sacrificevi with Purusha as the offering, then Spring was its ghí, Summer the fuel, and Autumn the oblation.

7. They immolated as the victim upon the sacred grass Purusha, born before (creation); with him the deities were Sadhyasvii and those who were Ṛishis sacrificed. »

Geldner gives:

« 6. Als die Götter mit Puruṣa als Opfergabe das Opfergabe vollzogen, da war der Frühling dessen Schmelzbutter, der Sommer das Brennholz, der Herbst die Opfergabe.

7. Ihn besprenten (weihten) sie als das Opfer auf dem Barhis, den am Anfang geborenen Puruṣa. Diesen brachten die Götter, die Sādhya’s und die Ŗși’s sich zum Opfer. »

One can see here a serious divergence of interpretation of verse 6:

Langlois is the only one to place (ambiguously) Pourousha alongside the Devas, the all of them apparently sacrificing together: « the Devas with Pourousha sacrificed by offering the offering ».

On the contrary, Wilson, Renou, Geldner, present Puruṣa as the very object of sacrifice, the unique (and divine) victim of oblation: « the gods performed the sacrifice with Purusha as the offering » or « the Gods offered the sacrifice with Man as an oblation ».

The verse 7 offers another significant difference of interpretation.

For Langlois, « Pourousha thus born became the Sacrifice », as if his birth happened at this moment, and this « (re-)birth » allowed him to « become the Sacrifice ».

For Wilson, Geldner, Renou, Puruṣa is treated like the very material, the essence of the Sacrifice: « They immolated Purusha as the victim upon the sacred grass ». « On the litter, they sprinkled the Man – the Sacrifice – who was born at the beginning. »

In a recent article discussing the « self sacrifice in Vedic ritual » and commenting the same hymn, one can read these lines about Puruṣa’s sacrifice :

« By immolating the Puruṣa, the primordial being, the gods break up the unchecked expansiveness of his vitality and turn it into the articulated order of life and universe ».viii

By immolating Puruṣa, the primordial Being, the gods break the uncontrolled expansion of its vitality, and transform it into the articulated order of life and the universe.

The same article cites verse 6 as particularly significant: « With sacrifice the gods sacrificed sacrifice, these were the first ordinances « ix

What a strange formula! « With the sacrifice, the gods sacrificed the sacrifice. »

This verse presents itself as an enigma, it is an incentive to research.

Man is the sacrifice. The gods sacrifice Man, and in doing so they « sacrifice the sacrifice. »

What is the meaning of this?

This formulation is irresistibly reminiscent of another divine sacrifice, which happened more than two thousand years after the Rig Veda was composed, — the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, « the Son of Man », in order to save Man.

The similarity of the sacrificial structures suggests the hypothesis of a trans-historical permanence of a trans-cultural « myth » or « paradigm », establishing a sacrificial link between God and Man.

However, it is also interesting to underline that this sacrificial structure (in the Veda and in Christian sacrifice), is the exact opposite to the one represented by the sacrifice that the Biblical God asked Abraham to perform with his son Isaac.

Let’s continue with verses 11, 12, 13, 14

Renou translates:

« When they had dismembered the Man, how did they distribute the shares? What happened to his mouth, what happened to his arms? His thighs, his feet, what name do they get?

His mouth became Brāhman, the Warrior was the product of his arms, his thighs were the Artisan, his feet were born the Servant.

The moon was born from his consciousness, from his gaze the sun was born, from his mouth Indra at Agni, from his breath the wind was born.

The air came out of his belly button, from his head the sky moved, from his feet the earth, from his ear the orients. Thus were the worlds settled. »

Through the magic of metaphors, we seem to move from the Indus Valley to the Nile Valley. These verses of the Rig Veda evoke formulas from the Book of the Dead. The dismemberment of Man is reminiscent of the dismemberment of Osiris.

Plutarch reports that after Osiris’ murder by his brother Seth, the latter tore Osiris’ body into fourteen pieces and dispersed them. « His heart was in Athribis, his neck in Letopolis, his spine in Busiris, his head in Memphis and Abydos. And Plutarch concluded: « Osiris rose again as king and judge of the dead. He bears the title of Lord of the Underworld, Lord of Eternity, Sovereign of the Dead. »

The sacrifice of Puruṣa, the killing and dismemberment of Osiris, the crucifixion of Christ and the communion of his Body and Blood, share a deep structural analogy.

It is the idea of a God, primordial, supreme, sacrificed and then dismembered. In India, Egypt and Israel, God is sacrificed on the altar or on the cross, and its « dismemberment » allows universal communion.

iA. Langlois. RV Lecture IV, Section VIII, Hymn V: « 1. Pourousha a mille têtes, mille yeux, mille pieds. Il a pétri la terre de ses dix doigts, et en a formé une boule, au-dessus de laquelle il domine. 2. Pourousha, maître de l’immortalité, fort de la nourriture qu’il prend, a formé ce qui est, ce qui fut, ce qui sera. »

iiWilson comments: « As one with all creatures, Purusha or Viraj may be said to have a thousand, or thousands of heads, eyes, etc., a thousand being put for an infinite number. »

iiiWilson explains in a footnote: « Mahídhara gives the same explanation as Sáyaņa, but adds that it may also mean that the human soul, extending from the navel, takes up its abode in the heart — a doctrine to be found in the Upanishad. Hence Colebrooke renders it ‘stands in the human breast’; compare Burnouf’s version, ‘il occupe dans le corps de l’homme une cavité haute de dix doigts qu’il dépasse encore.’ All, however, that seems intended is that the supreme soul, having animated the universe, is moreover present in man, either in a minute form or of definite dimensions, a doctrine taught in the Upanishads and by the Vedántists. »

ivWilson adds here in a note: « Literally, ‘since he rises beyond by food.’ This may well admit of different explanations. Colebrook has ‘he is that which grows by nourishment’. Muir, ‘that which expands by nourishment.’ Burnouf has, ‘Car c’est lui qui par la nourriture (que prennent les créatures) sort (de l’état de cause) pour se développer (dans le monde)’; which follows Sáyaņa rather closely. Sáyaņa explains annena as práņinám bhogyenánnena nimittabhútena, and lower down adds, ‘Inasmuch as he assumes the condition of the world in order that sentient beings may enjoy the fruit of their acts (práņinám karmaphalabhogáya), that is not his true nature.’ The notion is that the supreme spirit, which in its own state is inert and undiscernible, becomes the visible world, that living beings may reap the fruit of their acts; and inasmuch as they may thereby acquire moksha, or final liberation, the supreme spirit is the lord or distributer of immortality. The word anna, ‘food’, which constitutes the chief difficulty here, is used in the Upanishads in a very vague and mystical sense; see, for example, the Muņḍaka, I. 8 [where it is translated ‘matter’ by Max Müller, Sacred Books of the East, vol. XV, p.28]. »

v In French : « 1. L’Homme a mille têtes. Il a mille yeux, mille pieds. Couvrant la terre de part en part, il la dépasse encore de dix doigts. 2. L’Homme n’est autre que cet univers, ce qui est passé, ce qui est à venir. Et il est le maître du domaine immortel parce qu’il croît au-delà de la nourriture. « 

viAccording to Sáyaņa, the sacrifice here was imaginary, or mental (mánasam).

viiWilson notes: « Sadhya, meaning ‘competent to create’, i.e. Prajápati and the rest ».

viii Cf. Essays on Transformation, Revolution and Permanence in the History of Religions (S. Shaked, D. Shulman, G.G. Stroumsa)

ix Cf. Essays on Transformation, Revolution and Permanence in the History of Religions (S. Shaked, D. Shulman, G.G. Stroumsa)

The Black God


Alphonse Constant, aka Eliphas Levi, gave a precise description of the « mysteries of Eleusis », of which this is the final scene:

« When the initiate had triumphed through all the trials, when he had seen and touched the holy things, if he was judged strong enough to bear the last and most terrible of all the secrets, a veiled priest came running towards him, and threw this enigmatic word into his ear: ‘Osiris is a black God’. Words darker and brighter than jet! »

André Breton, in his book Arcane 17, quotes these same words, ‘Osiris is a black God’, which he describes as a « magic formula » that « works ».

« So, every time an association of ideas treacherously brings you back to that point where, for you, all hope one day has been denied and, from the highest point you then hold, threatens, soaring in search of the wing, to rush you back into the abyss, testing myself the vanity of every word of consolation and holding any attempt at diversion as unworthy, have I convinced myself that only a magic formula here could work, but what formula could condense in it and instantly restore to you all the strength to live, to live with all the intensity possible, when I know that it had returned to you so slowly? The one I decide to stick to, the only one by which I find it acceptable to remind you to me when you suddenly lean towards the other side, is in those words of which, when you start turning your head away, I just want to touch your ear: « Osiris is a black God ». »

What is actually behind the name of this « magic », and whose help Breton invokes?

What do these words really mean: « Osiris is a black God »?

Anubis, funerary god, reigning over the necropolises, one of Egypt’s oldest deities, dates back to the pre-dynastic period, more than 5500 years ago. Anubis is usually represented as a large black canid. Is it a wolf? A jackal? A wild dog?

Being a hybrid, it has the ears of a fox, the tail and head of a jackal, and the silhouette of a greyhound.

Anubis is the adulterous son of Osiris, according to the version of the myth transmitted by Plutarch in his Isis and Osiris.

« Osiris rose again as king and judge of the dead. He bears the title of Lord of the Underworld, Lord of Eternity, Sovereign of the Dead. »

In some manuscripts Osiris is also represented with a black face.

It can be noted that the cruel death of Osiris murdered by his brother Seth, the dismemberment of his body and his resurrection are irresistibly reminiscent of an analogy, at least in form, between the faith of the ancient Egyptians and the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection in Christianity.

But why a « Black God »?

I propose the following down-to-earth explanation.

The flooding of the Nile (in its part called the « white » Nile) brought a black silt each year, allowing to cultivate its banks.

In those days, this phenomenon remained mysterious and unexplained for a long time.

It is from this black silt that Egypt’s ancient name, Kemet, comes from, which means « the black land », that is, the « arable land ».

Osiris is a « Black God » because he brings life, every year, covering land with black silt.

The three colours of the Egyptian flag, black, white and red, still bear witness to this mythical belief long after. These three colours are a reference, respectively, to Osiris, Isis and Set, Osiris being the black God, Isis the white goddess, and Set, bound to the desert, being symbolized by red.

Black is the colour of life, of eternal life.

The Metaphysics of the Lotus


In Biblical Hebrew, some letters of the alphabet can be swapped, i. e. replaced by phonetically close letters.

For example, the ninth letter, Teth, ט, corresponds to the t of the Latin alphabet. Teth means « snake » because of its shape. This letter can be switched with the sibilant ז (z) or צ (ts), and with the letter Taw, ת (th), which is the 22nd and last letter of the alphabet, and which means « writing sign ».

Permutation allows word games, which then generate other word games, giving rise to new meanings or altering those already known.

Let’s give an example.

The word תֵּבֵב, tevah, means « box », but also « ark ».

Noah built a tevah out of gopher wood (Gen 6:14).

And it was in a rush tevah that Moses, a newborn child, was placed (Ex. 2:3).

With the letter צ (ts), tevah gives tsavah, צָבָה, « to gather to fight », and again « to swell up ».

Noah’s Ark, by a slight shift of meaning, can thus embody a general assembly of the life forces fighting the flood. It also evokes a kind of belly that swells, as living beings destined to be saved penetrate into it…

By switching with the letters ז (z) and ט (t) things get tricky. The verb טָבַח tavaha has the meaning « to sacrifice, to kill cattle ». The word טַבָּח tabah means « the one who kills ». The verb זָבַח, zavaha, means « to cut, immolate, sacrifice » and the word זָבַח tavah: « victim, sacrifice ».

By simple permutation, the ark then evokes a huge oblation. We know now that this whole noachical affair turned out well. But the ark could have been shipwrecked. It would have been a disaster, the ultimate sacrifice: all the eggs of life in the same wooden basket.

We can also cut the last and weak letter of the word, ה. Then we get טָב, tav, « good », as in טָבְ אֵל « God is good ».

A rich assortment of meanings, convergent or contrary, through the magic of permutations. Language conducive to innuendoes, or even misunderstandings, depending on the attention, acuity available.

In Latin, it is the word arca that is supposed to translate tevah, and which gave in French « arche ». Arca means first of all « chest, wardrobe ». Hence the adjective arcanus, « hidden, secret », and the name arcanum, « secret », which is found with the French « arcane ».

Arca also means « coffin, prison, cell, cistern, tank ». But, strangely enough, it never means « ark ».

Arca refers to the verb arceo, « to contain, to confine, to retain ». But also: « to keep away, to divert, to spread ». This double meaning can well apply to Noah’s Ark.

Coerceo means « to contain, to repress ». Exerceo: « to tame, to exercise ». The adjective arctus, « locked, tightened, tightened » is part of the same family as is the verb arto, « tighten, press, reduce ».

« The world encloses (coercet) and encloses everything with its embrace (complexus) » said Ciceroi. Complexus is embracing, kissing, embracing. This word means ‘struggle’ as well as ‘love’, the hand-to-hand combat and the carnal embrace.

For anyone interested in the mysteries of the world, it is useful to start with the words that carry them, hide them and transport them.

These words are also like an arch, an arch of meaning, floating and precarious, through the flood of nonsense, or sometimes, a prison or a tomb.

To translate Tevah, the Septuagint translators chose to take a Greek word borrowed itself from Egyptian. They translated tevah by the word κιϐωτός, « cash register, box ». This word refers to κιϐώριον: « water lily flower », but also « cup », and even « tomb ». The word « ciborium » comes from there.

The word chosen by the Septuagint to embody both Noah’s Ark, the cradle of Moses and the Ark of the Covenant, then comes from a very ancient botanical and religious metaphor, the lotus flower (the « Egyptian water lily »).

The seeds of the sacred lotus hold the record for longevity (dormancy). A team of researchers successfully germinated a seed about 1,300 years old from the dry bed of an ancient lake in China.

Some words also germinate long after their dormancy.

In ancient Egypt (3500 BC), the lotus was a symbol of the creation of the world and an allegory of rebirth after death. The lotus flower was worthy to be offered to the God who had overcome death, Osiris.

In India, and also in China, the lotus is considered worthy of offering to the gods.

The lotus grows in the mud, which feeds it. It does not float on the water like the water lily, it emerges clearly out of the water. That is why it is an allegory of the resurrection.

The tevah floats on the flood. The lotus stands really above the water.

Times are changing. We now need a new Noah, and a new ark. This new ark will not just be a tevah (i.e. a big box). It will not just help a (very limited) subset of mankind to « float » in order to survive, like the old Noah’s Ark did.

This new ark will be more like a lotus, and it will help raise all of mankind above the water, like a wind of God did, a long time ago…

i « Mundus omnia complexu suo coercet et continet » (Nat. 2, 48).

Leaving aside Joy and Sorrow


All religions, all beliefs, play their part in this world.

They are all quite different in a sense, But they all play a role in the current global, political and moral crisis.

Whether Vedic, Egyptian, Zend, Chaldean, Jewish, Buddhist, Hinduist, Christian, Islamic, all religions have something essential in common: they all have some kind of responsibility for the misfortune of the world.

Whether they say they are « outside » the world, or « inside » the world, they are responsible for what they say or let say, for what they do or let do on their behalf.

They are part of the world, taking on the most eminent place, that of judge, master and sage.

How could they not be linked to the actions and speeches of their followers?

How can we not judge them as much on what they say as on what they don’t say?

How can we not bring their great witnesses to the public arena and ask their opinion on the state of the world, as we would on election night or on a day of disaster?

We don’t really know where the chain of prophets began or when it will end.

Is the seal of the word sealed for eternity? Who will tell?

Will the Messiah return? Who will see that day?

Will eschatology come to an end? Who will hear the final Word?

If ten thousand years is not enough to lower the pride of the presumptuous, let us give ourselves a hundred centuries or a million millennia, just to see what will remain of the dust of words once tables, once stones, once laws.

Lists of names can be listed, to stimulate memories. How far back do we go?

Agni, Osiris, Melchizedek, Zoroaster, Moses, Hermes, Buddha, Pythagoras, Isaiah, Jesus, Muhammad…

In a few million years, we will see that they all shared their differences, their aspirations, their visions, their breaths, their ends.

What does the « religion » of these prophets have to do with « entities » now called Palestine, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United States, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt, India, Greece, China, France, Germany?

Will History teach us some day the essence of the difference between the « religion » of the Khârijites, the Zaydites, the Imâmites, the Ismaili Shi’ites and the Sunni ‘majority’ of Islam?

What was really the origin of the « religion » of the Nizarrians, and that of Hassan ibn al-Sabbah’s Assassiyoun?

What is the « religion » of the Taliban?

These questions are pointless, useless, apparently. There are better things to do, as it seems, such as fighting, killing people, bombing cities, beheading bodies, murdering children.

The religions of the past illuminate the wanderings of the present and those of the future with a special light, a premonitory aura.

Their slow epigenesis must be observed.

Their (implicit, slow) convergence must not be excluded, in the long run, beyond their differences.

Memory is necessary for understanding the present, as time takes its time.

But who still has time to remember?

Religions highlight, with words, curses and targeted blessings, much of the world’s misfortune.

They reveal the fragility, weakness, instability, irreducible fracture of Man.

They encourage us to take a long and global perspective, to observe the events of the day, to understand them, to anticipate their consequences, and to overcome pain, anxiety, fatigue and the desire for revenge, the drive for hatred.

For more than fifty-five centuries, several religions have been born and deployed in a limited geographical area, it is worth noting.

This privileged area, this node of beliefs and passions, extends from the Nile Valley to the Ganges basin, via the Tigris and Euphrates, the Oxus, and the Indus.

Geography changes more slowly than the hearts of mortals….

Between the Indus and the Oxus, which country best reflects today the past millennia, the erased glories?

Pakistan? Afghanistan?

How can we forget that Iran and Iraq (like Ireland) take their names from the ancient Aryas, attesting to the ancient Indo-European ties of Persia, Elam and Europe?

The Aryas, long before they even received their « Aryan » name, founded two major religions, the Veda in India, and the Zend Avesta in Iran.

Colossal forces! Immaculate memories!

Antoine Fabre d’Olivet reports that Diagoras de Melos (5th century BC), nicknamed « the atheist », a mocking and irreverent character, discredited the Mysteries by disclosing and ‘explaining’ them. He even went so far as to imitate them in public. He recited the Orphic Logos, he shamelessly revealed the Mysteries of Eleusis and those of the Cabires.

Who will dare to unveil today, like Diagoras, the actual mysteries of the world to the amazed crowds?

« Religion » is a prism, a magnifying glass, a telescope and a microscope at the same time.

« Religion » is above all an anthropological phenomenon.

Dogma bring nothing to this debate, or rather ignite it without benefit to the heart or the mind.

A global anthropology of « religion » could possibly reveal some constants of the human mind.

These constants do exist. Thus, the latent, impalpable or fleeting feeling of « mystery ».

This « mystery » is not defined. It escapes any categorization. But implicitly, indirectly, by multiplying approaches, by varying angles, by accumulating references, by evoking the memory of peoples, their sacredness, perhaps we sometimes manage to see the shadow of its trace, its attenuated effluvium.

There is also the idea of a unique, principal, creative divinity. It is found in various forms, in ancient times, long before Abraham’s time, before the Zend, even before the Veda.

Constant again is the question of origin and death, the question of knowledge of what we cannot know.

What breath then goes through the pages of the Book of the Dead, the manuscripts of Nag Hammadi, the hymns of Ṛg Véda or the Gāthās of Zend Avesta? What breath, even today, runs through the world, in a time so different from the origins?

This breath, it is still possible to perceive it, to breathe its smell.

A world of ideas and beliefs, distant, astonishing, serves as a foundation for today’s world, filled with violence and lies, populated by « saints » and murderers, wise men and prophets, fools and crooks, death cries and « divine winds » (kami-kaze).

Who, today, thinks the world’s destiny?

When reading the Upaniṣad, let us also think of the « masters of the world », the « gnomes » enslaved to the banks, the political « dwarves » governing the peoples, perched on the shoulders of centuries?

« Those who are agitated in ignorance consider themselves wise. They run wildly around like blind people, led by a blind man. »i

It is a fact that we often observe, at the highest level, hypocrisy, lies, baseness, cowardice, and much more rarely wisdom, courage, truth.

But it is also a fact that anything can happen, always., at any time.

Anything is possible, on principle. The worst. The best. The mediocre. The unspeakable. The unheard of.

The world is saturated with ideas from all ages. Sometimes, from nowhere, new forms are born, shimmering above the rubble and catacombs, relics and hypogoria, crypts and hidden treasures.

Who will see these incredible visions, yet to appear?

Those who will be able to « meditate on what is difficult to perceive, penetrate the secret that is deposited in the hidden place, that resides in the ancient abyss ».

Those who « leave aside the joy and sorrow. »ii

i KU. 2.5

iiKU. 2.12

Why are souls locked in earthly bodies?


« If the soul were not immortal, man would be the most unhappy of all creatures, » writes Marsile Ficin in his Platonic Theology of the Immortality of the Soul. In this treaty, which dates back to 1482, this argument is only mentioned in passing, as a matter of course. No need to insist, indeed: if one had absolute, irrefutable conviction, apodictic proof of the mortality of the soul, then the feeling of unhappiness of being nothing, the despair of a pitiful WTF, the assured evidence of the absurd, would invade the soul and suffocate it.

Questions about the origin and the end follow one another over the centuries, with strange resonances. There is no need for fine hearing or sharp eyesight. It is enough to visit the remains of sacred traditions, to connect them, and to place them side by side, to consider them together, with sympathy, in what they indicate in common, in what they reveal to be universal.

Marsile Ficin, a humanist and encyclopedic conscience, was interested in the beliefs of the Magi of Persia and Egyptian priests, the certainties of the Hebrew prophets, the visions of the Orphic, the truths of the Pythagorean and Platonician philosophers, the dogmas of the ancient Christian theologians and the revelations of the Brahmins of India.

Let’s look at the big picture, let’s breathe wide. The feeling of mystery is a stronger, more established, more significant anthropological constant than any of the truths hardly conquered by Gnostic and schizophrenic modernity. Among all peoples, the men most remarkable for their love of wisdom have devoted themselves to prayer, notes Porphyry.

For his part, Ficin, probably one of the remarkable men of his time, asked himself questions such as: « Why are souls locked in earthly bodies? »

Ficin proposes six answers to that question:

To be able to know the singular beings.

To unite the particular shapes with the universal shapes.

For the divine ray to be reflected in God.

To make the soul happier (the descent of the soul into the body contributes to the happiness of the soul itself).

For the powers of the soul to act.

So that the world may be embellished and God may be honored.

These answers can be summarized as follows: the soul unites what is a priori separate. The top and bottom. The world and the divine. The same and the other. It needs mediation, and it is itself mediation. It is in the process of becoming, it must increase, grow, mature, rise, to act, even if to do so it must first descend, to the point of becoming tiny like a germ again, remain for a very short time, decrease as much as possible, in order to observe better.

Why does such an infinite God bother with all these little supernumerary souls? Mystery, tsimtsum.

There are some leads, however, some indications, in the vast history of the world, that can be gleaned from the dismemberment of the body of Osiris, the Orphic hymns, the Book of the Dead, some verses from Homer, Virgil and Ovid, the fragments of Nag Hammadi, the cries and songs of the Vedas, the brevity of Heraclitus, the folds of Plato, the lengths of Kabbalah, the words of Christ, the figures of the shamans, – and in many other places…

A Jewish « Kenosis »


How could an Almighty God, creator of the worlds, let himself be put to death by his own creatures? Mystery. To designate this lowering, this humiliation, this annihilation of the divine, Christianity uses the word kenosis, from the Greek verb kenoô, « to empty oneself, to strip oneself, to annihilate oneself ». This word was first used by the Epistle of Paul to the Philippiansi.

But the idea of God’s death is much older. It can be found in the centuries preceding Christianity in quite different forms, it is true, for example among the Greeks with the death of Dionysus killed by the Titans, but also among the Egyptians with the murder of Osiris and his dismemberment by Seth, his own brother.

Among Jews, with the concept of tsimtsum (from the Hebrew צמצום, contraction), there is also this idea of a « God who empties himself ». It is a concept of late appearance since it is due to Isaac Louria in Ari Zal (Safed, 16th century), who uses it to explain a point of Kabbalah :

Before the creation of the worlds, God was everything, everywhere, and nothing was without Him. But when God decided to create the worlds, he had to give them a place so that they could be. God withdrew his original light, or qadoum. In the void thus created, called reshimou (« imprint », from the verb rashama, « write ») a light emanated from God, or néetsal. This emanated light constitutes the olam ha-Atziluth, the world of Emanation. Then are generated the olam haBeryah or world of Creation, the olam haYetzirah or world of Formation and the olam haAssiya or world of Action, – which contains our world. The light emanating from it therefore undergoes several contractions, compressions, or « dissimulations », which are all tsimtsum.

This word comes from the verb צָמַם tsamam, which has a wide spectrum of meaning: « to put an end to, exterminate, silence, annihilate, compress, contract, squeeze, veil, hide, observe closely, define exactly, certify », which is described in Marcus Jastrow’s Dictionary of Targumim Talmud and Midrashic Literature (1926). From this rich range, the word tsimtsum probably brings out the harmonics.

Here are some of them, taken from a Kabbalah lesson by Baruch Shalom Alevi Ashlag. The reason why the emanated Light cascades through the four created worlds, Atziluth, Beryah, Yatzirah and Assiya, is that the « desire to receive » must at each step be increased accordingly. For there can be no divine creation without an equally divine desire to « receive » this creation.

In the beginning, there is an abundance of Light created, emanating from the divine essence. Correlatively there must be an abundance of desire to receive this light. But this desire to receive cannot appear in the world ex nihilo. Desire is itself created. It is called Kli ְכְּלִי , a word whose primary meaning is: « thing done, thing made ». It is also called, less metaphorically, Guf (« the body »). The Kli must « receive », « lock », « hold » the light in him (as the root verb כָּלַא indicates).

Here, a little aside. The Kli can be said to be a piece of furniture, a vase, a garment, a suit, a ship, an instrument or a weapon. Here again, all the harmonics of these various senses can undoubtedly be applied to make the Kli resonate in its role as a receptacle of light, – in its role as a soul, therefore. Sander and Trenel’s dictionary says that Kli comes from the root verb כֶּלֶה (kalah), a close word to ֶכָּלַא (kala’), already mentioned. The verb kalah offers an interesting spectrum of meaning: to be made, completed, ready; to be resolved; to disappear, to miss, to be consumed, to perish, to languish; to finish; to consume, to exterminate.

Believing that words serve as a memorial to millenary experiences, I would think that all these meanings apply in one way or another to kli in its possible relationship with light.

Divine light, falling into the different worlds, spreads and at the same time contracts, folds, or veils itself, to let the desire to be received by the Kli grow, by this receptacle, this desire, this soul or this « body », this Kli which is at the root of the created creature. The Kli, who was previously part of the Light, must now distinguish himself from it in order to receive it better; he must separate himself from it in order to desire it better. He desires it as Or Hokhma (the Light of Wisdom) or Or Haya (the Light of Life), or Or Hassadim (the Light of Mercy). The Kli is therefore determined according to the degree of expansion of the Light and also according to its degree of exit from it.

Wise men commented on these questions as follows: « There is crying in inner dwellings ».

This means that when the Light arrives in the lower worlds, and it does not find a Kli wishing to receive it, it remains « interior », unrevealed, and then « there is crying ». But when she finds a Kli who desires her, she can reveal herself on the outside, and then « vigour and joy are in His place », and everything becomes visible.

i Ph. 2, 6-9 « Lui, de condition divine, ne retint pas jalousement le rang qui l’égalait à Dieu. Mais il s’anéantit (εκένωσεν) lui-même, prenant condition d’esclave, et devenant semblable aux hommes. S’étant comporté comme un homme, il s’humilia plus encore, obéissant jusqu’à la mort, et à la mort sur une croix !  Aussi Dieu l’a-t-il exalté et lui a-t-il donné le Nom qui est au-dessus de tout nom. »

Devouring the dead God


 

Orpheus, who went down to the underworld, has an amazing resumé. He invented poetry, which is no small thing. He called Apollo « the living eye of Heaven », and « the one who shapes everything in the world ». He also saw with his own eyes the primordial Chaos dominated by Love.

The main sources on Orpheus are two poets, Virgil and Ovid. Referring to some Christian and Neoplatonist authors, he was also recruited to embody a kind of pagan image of the Word.

The name Orpheus, has no recognized etymology but Chantraine believes that it can be linked to the Indo-European *orbho, « separate, remove », hence the Latin orbus, « deprived of ». This refers, of course, to Eurydice.

The myth of Orpheus dates back to before the 6th century BC since a statue of Orpheus playing the lyre was found dating back to 560 BC.

Orpheus gave his name to a mystical current, orphism, known by hymns, and various texts and archaeological inscriptions including the Golden Lamellae. The general idea is that the soul, soiled from the beginning, must undergo a cycle of reincarnations from which only initiation into the mysteries of Orpheus can bring it out. Then she is allowed to join the Gods.

Orphism has never been a socially organized religion. On the contrary, orphism challenged the established order, rejected the values of the Greek cities and their cults. One became orphic by personal choice, after initiation.

Onomacrite was responsible for the writing of the first compilation of poems and orphic hymns. This singular character had been commissioned by Pisistrate, around 525 BC, to prepare the first complete edition of Homer’s poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. He was also a diviner, an initiate in mysteries, who traded in oracles. Herodotus tells us that Greek tyrants, dethroned and refugees at the court of Persia, the Pisistratids, called upon his talents to invent oracles in order to incite Xerxes I to start the second medieval war in 481 B.C.

Religion and politics were in close alliance. The city of Delphi and its Pythia, oracle of Apollo, had also taken the side of the Persians. The battle of Salamis proved them wrong. After the Greek victory, Delphi claimed to have been protected by divine intervention. Herodotus attests it: « As the Barbarians approached the temple of Minerva Pronaea, lightning fell on them; rocky quarters, detaching themselves from the top of the Parnassus and rolling with a horrible noise, crushed a great number of them. At the same time, voices and war cries were heard coming out of the temple of Minerva Pronaea. » i

Aristophanes makes fun of Orphic sects in The Birds. He denounces its charlatanism. Plato and Theophrastus present them as gyrovagal priests, selling cheap purifications to a gullible public.

 

However, the Orphic ideas were conscientiously taken up by neo-Pythagoreans and Neo-Platonists.

The main myth of orphism is the killing of Dionysus by the Titans, who cut him into pieces and then devoured him. Furious, Zeus struck down the latter, and from their ashes were born humans.

Men therefore have a double ancestry. They descend from the Titans, but also from the Gods, through the flesh of devoured Dionysus, also being part of the ashes from which humans are derived. There is an analogy, if not obvious at all, with Christian communion.

Christ was put to death, and his followers share his flesh and blood in memory of him.

Let’s go back to the Dionysian myth.

Persephone, Dionysus-Zagreus’ mother, never forgave the murder and devouring of her son. She then condemned man to wander unceasingly, from incarnation to incarnation. How could offspring from the ashes, from the corpses of the Titans, these eaters of God, be allowed to enter the divine world?

The gold or bone slides found in various tombs indicate that the Orphic and Pythagorean sects gave the initiates hope of deliverance upon their arrival in the afterlife. But on one condition, not to go the wrong way. If one turns left, it’s the fatal mistake. One falls into the spring of Lethe, which plunges the soul into oblivion. If you turn right, it’s the right choice. You find the source of the goddess Mnemosyne who reminds souls of their memory and reminds them of their divine origin.

The golden slice that the deceased initiate takes with him to his grave is a kind of reminder:

« You will find a spring to the left of Hades’ house,

and near her, standing up, a white cypress tree:

from this source, stay away from it.

You will find a second source, the cold water that flows

of Lake Mnemosyne; in front of them stand guards.

Say: « I am the son of the Earth and the Starry Sky;

my race is heavenly, and you know that too…

I am dried up from thirst and I will perish: give me therefore

quickly the cold water that flows from Lake Memory.

And they themselves will give you something to drink from the divine source;

and from that moment on, among the other heroes, you will rule.

And from that moment on, with the other heroes, you will be sovereign. » ii

iHérodotus, VIII, 35-38

iiLamelles d’or orphiques. Instructions pour le voyage d’outre-tombe des initiés grecs, lamelle de Pétélia ( 5th century BC), Ed. by Giovanni Pugliese Carratelli, Les Belles Lettres, 2003, p. 61.

Sunk by the Sweetness


 

The Book of the Dead is a must for anyone interested in the « mysteries » of death.

Its chapter 125 is entitled: « To enter the truth room and separate man from his sins so that he may see the face of the gods.  » There is an invocation addressed to the forty-two « assessors » of Osiris, who represent so many names of God.

It is important to memorize them, and to assimilate their meaning. The soul of the deceased, of any deceased, whether pharaoh, scribe or slave, rich or poor, virtuous or sinner, young or old, is presented after death to the assembly of the gods. To be saved, she must declare before them that she wants to « take possession » of her names, including this one: « I am the Osiris N., growing under the flowers of the fig tree.»

There are many other names that the « Osiris N. » must know in order to be admitted to the divine dwelling.

The late N. adopts the divine name, Osiris, and proudly claims it before all the gods of the Egyptian Pantheon.

Osiris N. is not an alias, acquired once and for all, affixing a face closed by death. It is the new name of a soul, now placed before the Gods, under the flowers of the fig tree, to continue to grow forever.

This religion does not believe in the end, but in the restarting of growth.

Osiris N. has many names, and the God Osiris himself has many more, myriads of them. In chapter 17 of the Soutimès funeral papyrus we find several of the names given to him such as: « Amen-ran-f », « Mysterious is his person », or even « Nef-u-f-m-set », « His breath is of fire ».

Great is the ancient Egyptian civilization. It would take a long anabasis to go back to its original sources, to relive the vision that made it possible and kept it alive for over 5000 years.

But a katabasis can be just as successful. Close to us, Pierre Reverdy, in his book Le chant des morts (The Song of the Dead), has written a few verses, which are neither Vedic, nor Egyptian, nor avestic, nor Chaldean, nor Jewish, nor Christian. But which could bring these traditions into a sort of harmony, it seems to me.

I only remember one, – I wish it could be a sign of a possible common source of inspiration:

« Of those naked faces sunk by the sweetness. »