N. , Death and the West


N. is no one in particular. N. is everyone. He/she is the peasant of the Nile, the builder of pyramids, the daughter of Pharaoh, the soldier of his army. Or Pharaoh himself.

Everyone must go through this: the door of death.

N. just died. He/she is placed in the presence of God. He/she speaks and addresses Him.

« Tribute to you who has come, God Atum, creator of the gods. Tribute to you, King of the Gods, who makes your ‘tuau’ shine with your beauty.

Tribute to you who come in your splendors, around your disc. »

At the same time, the prayer of the officiants accompanying the ceremony rises:

« O Sun, Lord of light, emerged from the East, shines on the face of the deceased N.!

May the soul of the deceased N. be at your side in your boat as you cross Heaven (…)

Your perfume is not known. And incomparable is your splendor. »i

The « Great Egyptian Papyrus » of the Vatican Library gives an idea of how the dead are introduced before God, to plead their cause and be admitted to divine transformation.

The funeral ritual of the ancient Egyptians was highly sophisticated. Traces of the prayers accompanying each phase of the « manifestation to day », and of the « luminous transformation of the soul » have been kept.

Emmanuel de Rougé translated in 1864 an Egyptian Funeral Ritual that includes more than a hundred chapters. Each one corresponds to a prayer adapted to a particular action in favour of the soul of the deceased. Together they form a subtle gradation, reflecting the stages of the soul’s journey into death:

« Take the form of the divine sparrowhawk » (Ch. 78), « Take the form of God » (Ch. 80), « Open the place where Thoth is and become a luminous spirit in Ker-Neter » (Ch. 96), « Sit among the great gods » (Ch. 104), « Receiving happiness in the dwelling of Ptah » (Ch. 106), « Advancing into the manifestation of the gate of the gods of the West, among the servants of Ra, knowing the spirits of the West » (Ch. 107), « Knowing the spirits of the East » (Ch. 109).

Ker-Neter is the Sheol, Atum or Tem is the Sun of the Night, Ra is the Sun of the Day.

Egyptology, an evolutionary science, has proposed guiding ideas for finding one’s way in this ancient world:

1) Every soul is admitted before the supreme God, and can plead his/her cause.

2) The deceased N. is called to be admitted to « cross Heaven » in the company of the God Atum himself.

3) The deceased N. can undertake a long spiritual journey involving more than a hundred distinct and successive stages.

4) Achieving the « happiness of Ptah’s dwelling place » is only one of these many steps, and it is not the highest. The final stages include the knowledge of the spirits of the West, then the knowledge of the spirits of the East.

In essence, the religion of ancient Egypt is generous, open to all. It promises after death a great journey of the soul, described with great detail in advance, for the benefit of the living.

In contrast, subsequent religions, which appeared more than two or three thousand years later, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have really little to say about what awaits the soul after death.

In contrast, and in the face of this void, poets from different periods, such as Homer, Virgil or Dante, wanted to fill the latent demand.

Today, « modernity » has no use for these old aspirations, these pictorial descriptions. Death is no longer a dream.

But fifty-five centuries ago, the future dead dreamed of « knowing the spirits of the West and the East ».

i Il grande papiro egizio della Biblioteca Vaticana, édité par Orazio Marucchi, Rome 1888

The Unique Liqueur


It is often said that the civilization of ancient Egypt was centred on death. Less well known is its deep fondness for love. This is reflected in the Papyrus of Turin, which contains a collection of original love poems.

Three trees successively take the floor to sing of the love of lovers.

It’s the old sycamore tree starting. « My seeds are the image of her teeth, my wearing is like her breasts. I remain at all times, when the sister was wrestling [under my branches] with her brother, drunk with wine and liqueurs, dripping with fine, perfumed oil. Everyone passes – except me, in the orchard (…) »

Then the fig tree opens its mouth and its foliage says: « I come to a mistress – who is certainly a royal like me – and not a slave. I am therefore the servant, prisoner of the beloved; she has made me put in her garden; she has not given me water, but on the day I drink, my stomach is not filled with a common water ».

Finally,  » the young sycamore tree, which she planted with her hand, opens its mouth to speak. Its accents are as sweet as a honeyed liqueur – of excellent honey; its tufts are graceful, flowery, full of berries and seeds – redder than carnelian; its leaves are variegated like agate. Its wood has the colour of green jasper. Its seeds are like tamarisk. His shadow is fresh and windy (…). Let us spend each day in happiness, morning after morning, sitting in my shade (…) If she lifts her veil under me – the sister during her walk, I have my breast closed and do not say what I see – either what they say. « (G. Maspéro, Egyptian Studies, Volume I, 1886).

The Papyrus Harris No. 500 also has preserved a poetic, passionate, powerful, and precise love song:

« Your love penetrates into my womb as the wine spreads in the water, as the perfume amalgamates with the gum, as the milk mixes with the honey; you hurry to run to see your sister as the runner who sees the stallion, as the hawk (…). My sister’s belly is a field of lotus buds, her udder is a ball of perfumes, her forehead is a plate of cypress wood (…) I have no mercy for your love. My wolf’s berry, which generates your intoxication, I will not throw it away so that it may be crushed at the Vigil of the Flood, in Syria with cypress sticks, in Ethiopia with palm branches, in the heights with tamarisk branches, in the plains with forks. I will not listen to the advice of those who want me to reject what I desire (…) »

« Let my sister be during the night as the living spring whose myrtles are similar to Phtah, the water lilies similar to Sokhit, the blue lotuses similar to Aditi, the[pink lotus] similar to Nofritoum (…) My sister’s villa has its basin right in front of the house: the door opens, and my sister leaves angry. Let me become a doorman so that she may give me orders and I may hear her voice (…). »

I find a strikingly similar tone in the verses of the Song of Songs. This famous text was composed around the 5th or 4th century BC, seven or eight centuries after the Egyptian love poems that have just been quoted.

It is difficult not to feel some subliminal correspondences between the Song of songs and the Egyptian poems. Lo!

« Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee. « Ct 1,3

« A bundle of myrrh is my well beloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts. « Ct 1,13

« Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green. The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir. « Ct 1:16-17

« Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant? « Ct 3, 6

« Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them. »Ct 4.2

« Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon. A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. » Ct 4,11-12

« I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved. « Ct 5,1

« I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof: now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy nose like apples; dnd the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved, that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak. « Ct 7,8-9

One is struck by the frequency of similar words in the Egyptian and Hebrew texts: Sister, breast, spring, garden, perfume, myrrh, cypress, palm tree, teeth, wine, milk, honey, oil, breeze.

These words belong to a cultural and geographical area that extends from the Nile to the Tigris, including Israel… They were part of an age, several thousand years old, when love was perfume, sweetness, taste.

It is an irresistible lesson!

The power of softness! The only liqueur!

The Hidden God


In Judaism, the idea that God is ‘hidden’ is deeply embedded. God transcends all conception. The Holy of Holies is empty.

The prophets repeat:

« Truly You are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, the Savior. » (Is. 45,15)

« Why do You hide Your Face?  » (Ps. 44,24)

But in reality, this notion of a ‘hidden God’ was not specific to Judaism. The ancient Egyptian civilization had had, long before Judaism, a similar conception of a ‘hidden’ Supreme God.

Ra hides Himself in His own appearance. The solar disk is not the God Ra, and it does not even represent the God. The solar disk is only the mysterious veil that hides the God.

This is also true of the other Gods of the Egyptian pantheon, who are in reality only multiple appearances of the one God. « The outer forms which the Egyptians gave to the divinity were only conventional veils, behind which were hidden the splendors of the one God. « , analyses F. Chabas, in his presentation of the Harris Magical Papyrus (1860).

In the language of hieroglyphics, the word « hidden » (occultatus) is rendered by the term ammon . This word derives from amen, « to hide ». In the Harris Papyrus an address to the God Ammon-Râ sums up the mystery: « You are hidden in the great Ammon ».

Ra is ‘hidden’ in Ammon (the ‘hidden’), he is ‘hidden’ in the mystery of his (shining) appearance.

Ra is not the sun, nor is he the Sun-God, as it has been often misinterpreted. The solar disk is only a symbol, a sign. The God hides behind it, behind this abstraction, this pure « disc ».

By reading the prayer of adoration of Ammon-fa-Harmachis (Harris Papyrus IV 1-5), one grows convinced of the abstract, grandiose and transcendent conception that Egyptians had of the God Ammon-Râ.

This elevated conception is very far from the supposed ‘idolatry’ that was later attached to their ancient faith. The Papyrus Harris gives a vivid description of the essence of the Ancient Egyptian faith, flourishing in Upper Egypt, more than two millennia before Abraham’s departure from the city of Ur in Chaldea.

Here are the invocations of a prayer of adoration:

« Hail to you, the One who has been formed.

Vast is His width, it has no limits.

Divine leader with the ability to give birth to Himself.

Uraeus! Great flaming ones!

Supreme virtuous, mysterious of forms.

Mysterious soul, which has made His terrible power.

King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Ammon Ra, Healthy and strong life, created by Himself.

Double horizon, Oriental Hawk, brilliant, illuminating, radiant.

Spirit, more spirit than the gods.

You are hidden in the great Ammon.

You roll around in your transformations into a solar disk.

God Tot-nen, larger than the gods, rejuvenated old man, traveler of the centuries.

Ammon – permanent in all things.

This God began the worlds with His plans. »

The name Uraeus, which is found in this text as an epithet of the God Ra, is a Latinized transposition of the Egyptian original Aarar, which designates the sacred aspic, the royal serpent Uraeus, and whose second meaning is « flames ».

These invocations testify to a very high conception of the divine mystery, more than two thousand years before Abraham. It is important to stress this point, because it leads us to the conclusion that the mysterious, hidden, secret, God is a kind of ‘universal’ paradigm.

Since the depths of time, men of all origins have spent millennia meditating on the mystery, confronting the hidden permanence of the secret divinity, inventing metaphors to evoke an unspeakable, ineffable God.

These initial intuitions, these primeval faiths, may have prepared the later efflorescence of the so-called « monotheism », in its strict sense.

But it is worth trying to go back, ever further, to the origins. The prayers of ancient times, where did they come from? Who designed them? Who was the first to cry:

« Ammon hiding in His place!

Soul that shines in His eye, His holy transformations are not known.

Brilliant are His shapes. His radiance is a veil of light.

Mystery of mysteries! His mystery is not known.

Hail to You, in Goddess Nout!

You really gave birth to the gods.

The breaths of truth are in Your mysterious sanctuary.»

What strikes in these short prayers is their « biblical » simplicity. Humble, simple words to confront with high and deep mysteries…

Premonitions, images, burst forth. The « brightness » of God is only « a veil of light ». This image, of course, leads us to evoke other mystic visions, that of the burning bush by Moses, for example, or that of the shamans, all over the world, since Paleolithic…

Moses, raised at the court of the Pharaohs, may well have borrowed one metaphor or two from the Egyptian culture. No one can claim having a monopoly of access to the mystery. Many years before the time of Moses, and according to the Book of Genesis, Agar, an Egyptian woman, met four times with either God or His Angels, – said Rachi, the great Jewish commentator. Sara, Abraham’s wife and Isaac’s mother, was not endowed with such a feat…

What really matters is that from age to age, exceptional men and women have seen ‘visions’, and that these ‘visions’ have transformed in a deep way their lives and the lives of those who followed them.

For thousands of years, humanity has accumulated a rich intuition of what is hidden beyond all appearances, it has perceived the probable existence of incredible depths beyond the shallowness of reality. Some men and women have at times been able to lift a corner of the veil, and to see, as if through a dream, the unbearable brilliance of an ineffable light.

It is necessary to consider the essence of what was ‘seen’ by these chosen pioneers, the depths of their experience, in the interest of Humankind as a whole. Their collective knowledge constitutes a general, universal, massive, plurimillennial, anthropological fact, anchored (then and now) in a number of living human souls, at the very bottom of the cortex.

But these fundamental experiences have not really succeeded in connecting all men of faith around the Earth. Why? Why, today, such a spectacle of religious hatred, the continuing desolation of endless violence, the proliferation of despair?

How long still will the God stay ‘hidden’?

A Jewish Osiris


The God Osiris was murdered by his brother Seth, who then cut him into pieces, which he distributed throughout Egypt. The papyrus Jumilhac says that the head was in Abydos, the jaws in Upper Egypt, the intestines in Pithom, the lungs in Behemet Delta, the phallus in Mendes, both legs in Iakémet, the fingers in the 13th and 14th nomes, an arm in the 20th nome and the heart in Athribis Delta.

Plutarch, who later told the story of Osiris, gave a different distribution. The important thing is that Osiris, a God who died and rose again, embodies the heart of the ancient Egyptians’ belief in the resurrection of the dead and in eternal life.

The idea of a dead and risen God is a paradigm, whose analogy with the figure of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, cannot be overlooked.

Several precious papyrus tell the story of the God Osiris, his many adventures. Murders, tricks, betrayals, magical transformations abound. To read them today, in an era both disenchanted and eager for misguided religious passions, can be conceived as a dive back several millennia, a dive into the dawn of an emerging, deeply religious feeling, in all the meanings of this ambiguous term.

The papyrus Jumilhac, kept in Paris, tells the story of the revenge of Osiris’ son, Anubis, who went after Seth, his father’s killer. Knowing that he was threatened, Seth took the form of Anubis himself, to try to cover his tracks, before taking many other forms.

« Then Imakhumankh walked at the head of the gods who watch over Osiris; he found Demib and cut off his head, so that he was anointed with his [blood]. [Seth] came looking for him, after he had turned into an Anubis (…) Then Isis dismembered Seth with her own teeth, biting him in his back, and Thoth pronounced his spells against him. Re then said: ‘Let this seat be attributed to the « Tired »; look as he regenerated himself! How beautiful it is! And that let Seth be placed under him as a seat. That’s right, because of the harm he did to all the members of Osiris.’ (…)

But Seth fled into the wilderness and made his transformation into the panther of this nome. Anubis, however, seized him, and Thoth said his magic spells against him again. So he fell to the ground in front of him. Anubis bound him by his arms and legs and Seth was consumed in the flame, from head to toe, throughout his body, east of the august room. The smell of his fat having reached the heaven, it spread in this magnificent place, and Re and the gods held it for pleasant. Then Anubis split Seth’s skin, and tore it off, and put his fur on him. (…)

And Seth made his transformation into Anubis, so that the gate-keepers should not be able to recognize him (…) Anubis pursued him with the gods of his retinue, and joined him. But Set, taking on the appearance of a bull, made his form unrecognizable. But Anubis bound him by his arms and legs, and cut off his phallus and testicles. (…)

After that Anubis entered the Ouâbet to check the condition of his father, Osiris, and he found him safe and sound, with firm and fresh flesh. He turned into a falcon, opened his wings behind his father Osiris, and behind the vase that contained the aqueous humors of this God (…) he spread the wings as a falcon to fly, in search of his own eye, and brought it back intact to his master. »

As we see, Seth is constantly transforming himself into anubis, then into a panther, finally into a bull. But Anubis always follows him, with Thot’s help. Then Seth is transformed into Osiris’ « seat » or Anubis’ « fur ». But it is the final transformation that is most pleasing to the supreme God, Re. Seth is consumed in flames and in the smell of fat, and he spreads himself into the magnificent Heaven.

It is interesting to compare the final transformation of Seth into flames and odours with that of Anubis, who takes the form of the falcon. This falcon, Horus, is one of the oldest, most archaic deities in the Egyptian pantheon. In the Osirian context, Horus represents the posthumous son of Osiris and Isis, who flies over his dead father in search of his eye and helps to restore his life.

The papyrus Jumilhac evokes the legend of Horus in chapter XXI, and compares it to a vine.

« As for the vineyard, it is the frame that surrounds the two eyes to protect them; as for the grape, it is the pupil of Horus’ eye; as for the wine that is made, it is Horus’ tears. »i

Wine stands for the tears of the son of the God Osiris, himself likened to a « vine ». How can we not think of this other ‘wine’, the blood of Christ, the sacrificed son of the living God?

iPapyrus Jumilhac. XIV,14,15, Paris. Copy consulted in Bibliothèque Ste Geneviève. Paris. Translation Jacques Vandier.

A Jewish, Greek, Indo-European and Exotic Rabbi


Jews pythagorized a lot in Alexandria, several centuries before the Christian era. Philo and Josephus are excellent examples of Hellenizing Jews, belonging to the high class of this city, and sensitive to ideas flowing from elsewhere. Pharisaism and Essenism, which flourished at the time, can be interpreted as effective outcomes of Pythagorean and Alexandrian Judaism.

The Pharisees, the « Separated », indeed constituted a « separate band », they wanted to distinguish themselves from traditional Jews, and even to innovate with regard to the Law. Josephus says that the Pharisees imposed rules on the people that were not enshrined in the Law of Moses.

Death and resurrection occupied the minds a lot, then.

The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead. So did share this belief Rabbi Joshua ben Youssef, better known as Jesus, while still finding Pharisees « hypocrites », and « bleached graves ».

By contrast, the Sadducees, faithful to the letter of the Law, were « Old Believers » and they denied the resurrection.

The core idea of the resurrection was indeed not Jewish. It was widespread in Hellenism, pythagorism, with palingenesis and metempsychosis. All this originated in a more distant East. Iran. India. The vast world had many different views on these difficult subjects.

But the Pharisaic belief in the resurrection was undoubtedly « a decisive innovation, which made Pharisaic and Talmudic Judaism a religion quite different from that of the Law and the Prophets, » wrote Isidore Lévyi.

Pharisaic Judaism has adapted and modified the concepts of resurrection and palingenesis: the resurrection is not as a recurring opportunity offered to migrant souls, but a singular, unique event, which occurs once and for all on the day of Revelation.

As for the Essenes, another sect of Judaism, they are called Hassa’im, the « silent » ones. Josephus describes them as follows: « No scream, no tumult ever defiles the house; everyone in turn is given the floor. To people outside, the silence inside gives the impression of a frightening mystery.»ii

They are also fanatics, » adds Josephus. « They swear not to reveal anything about the members of the cult to strangers, even if they were to be tortured to death.»iii

It was already, let us remember, Pythagoras’ oath: « Rather die than speak », as reported by Diogenes Laertius (VIII, 39). And it also reminds us of Jesus’ obstinate silence before Pilate.

Flavius Josephus summarizes the belief of the Essene sect: « The soul is eternal. Freed from its carnal chain, the soul, as if liberated from a long servitude, joyfully takes off towards the heights.» iv

Other sects still competed with them in this troubled period: the Zadoqites, the Nazarenes, the Dositheans, the disciples of Johanan Ben Zakkai, those of Hillel…

In this world open to the influences of many heterodox cultures, the parallel between the birth of Jesus and that of Pythagoras is worth to be underlined.

There is more. Pythagoras in Crotone refused to be called a son of Apollo, just as Jesus in Capernaum does not want to be known as the son of God. Another similarity: Pythagoras and Jesus knew how to talk to women. Jesus had several of them as unconditional followers, three of whom are named: Mary Magdalene, Mary Mother of James, and Salome. This sole fact is in itself extremely remarkable, if we take into account the context and the time. Only Pythagoras has had a similar behaviour in the past.

Pharisaism, born in Alexandria in the midst of a maelstrom of cultures, religions, political, economic and migratory movements, tried to reconcile the ideas of Moses and Pythagoras. The time aspired to forms of syncretism, to conjunctions of points of view.

If Judaism was then influenced by Pythagorism, how can we not see that Christianity too was influenced by its aura? Long before Jesus, Pythagoras had been known as the God-Man of Samos, while being the son of Mesarch and Parthenis. He embodied on earth the manifestation of Apollo. Through him, shone in Crotone, the torch that saved happiness and wisdom.

I. Levy interprets what he calls « the enigmatic fact of the triumph of Christianity » in this way: « Of the religion which under the Caesars left Palestine, the essential had only been introduced to Jerusalem a century earlier. The Gospel conceals under an oriental garment the belief system which, as we know from the writings of Virgil, Plutarch and many others, from the careers of Apollonius of Tyana and Alexander of Abonutikhos, captured the most diverse spirits on the Greek and Latin shores of the Mediterranean. It seduced the ancient world because it brought it, imbued with the most penetrating exotic charm, a product of Greek thought, heir to an Indo-European past. »v

All this sounds curious in the 21st century, used to the strangest extrapolations, and sensitive to the most improbable reinterpretations, never without putative provocations.

Jesus, a slandered rabbi, condemned as « king of the Jews », now may reappear in the collective consciousness as an « oriental », « exotic » product, an heir to « Greek thought » and to an « Indo-European past ».

In the Jewish world, trying to survive after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD, it was probably not desirable to allow the seeds of heresy to develop. It was necessary to gather minds, after the political, symbolic and moral disaster. Yet Jesus was Jewish, as were the Pharisees, Sadducees or Essenes who occupied the field of Jewish thought at that time. More Jewish than Indo-European, we might say.

It is certainly not indifferent, today, to want to see in Christianity only an « oriental », « exotic », « Greek » and « Indo-European » non-Jewish heresy, rather than the sucker of the Jesse trunk, – that Judaeo-Christians celebrated then.

It might be more significant, from a very long-term perpective, to consider Christianity being, at the same time, and without contradiction, an interesting innovation: a Jewish-Greek-Indo-European and exotic religion, – transcending in its unique way cultures, borders, classes, sects, centuries.

i in La Légende de Pythagore de Grèce en Palestine, 1927

ii Bellum II, VIII, 5, §132

iii Bellum II, VIII, 5, §132

iv Bell. II, VIII, §155-157

vIn Op.cit.

How to Found Romes of One’s Liking


Pythagoras, Enoch, Moses, Orpheus, Siosiri, Mithrobarzan, Aeneas, Jesus do have something in common: they all went down to the Underworld, and then came back from it.

Admittedly, they were not very talkative about what they saw there. They were probably required to keep a certain discretion about what they had discovered in the Other World.

But by collating their testimonies, we can draw some general lessons.

All those who have visited the depths of Time share common features. Their birth was miraculous, their intelligence lively and early. One day, they go down to the underworld, make discoveries, return to the world, in an apotheosis, realize very significant achievements, and then they disappear again.

It is tempting to assume that they are conforming, in doing so, to a type, a paradigm. In their apparent diversity, their infernal journeys are essentially similar. All you have to do is mention one, to find them all.

However, perhaps the most poetic of these descents into Hell was that of Aeneas, narrated by Virgil.

It all begins with a visit from Aeneas to Cumae, in the cave of the Sibyl. This high priestess of Phoebes and Hecate exclaimed: « It is time to question the destinies. The God, this is the God!”. Aeneas begins a prayer, while the prophetess still resists the embrace of God: “She struggles in her den like a wild bacchanal, and seeks to shake the Almighty God out of her chest. »

Aeneas insists. He wants to go down to the underworld. He wants to see his father there again. It is indeed an exorbitant privilege, but he has the ability to do so. « I too am of the race of the sovereign Jupiter », he says.

The Sibyl replies that it is in fact easy to descend to the Avern. It is to retrace one’s steps, to go back up to the light from above which is difficult, which is the hard test. There are the mud of the Acheron, the black waters of the Cocyte, the waves of the Styx, the dark Tartarus, the silent night of the Phlegeton with its torrents of flame. These obstacles must be overcome twice, on the way to and on the way back.

Aeneas and Sibyl then sink into the depths of the earth. « They went like shadows by the deserted night, through the darkness and the vast dwellings of Pluto and his kingdom of simulacra. »

After many adventures, Aeneas meets his father Anchises. Contact is not easy. « Three times he tried to surround his neck with his arms; three times, in vain, the shadow ran down his hands like a light breath, like a dream that flies away. »

Aeneas asks him a question. He wants to know why there are so many souls « who yearn again to enter into the thick bonds of the body ». Anchises then starts to explain « all these beautiful secrets » to him.

« And first of all, the sky, the earth, the liquid plains, the luminous globe of the moon, the Titanic star of the sun, are penetrated and enlivened by a spiritual principle: spread in all parts of the world, the spirit makes the whole mass move, and transforms it by mixing with this vast body.”

It is from this principle that men, animals, birds, and monsters of the Ocean are born. All the germs of life owe their vigour to their celestial origin. Despite this, souls know fears, desires, pains, joys, and they remain trapped in their darkness and blind jails, when life leaves them.

It takes thousands of years of suffering and punishment for the soul to, one day, recover its purity, the initial spark of the fire that has been granted to it.

Anchises accurately describes the fate that awaits the descendants of Aeneas and what Rome will become. That’s all said and done.

Without transition, the return to light is almost instantaneous. Anchises led Aeneas and Sibyl back to the « bright ivory » gate, which Manes only use to send « illusory ghosts » to the World from above.

It is through this door that Aeneas passes, « cutting as short as possible ».

Aeneas had just succeeded to come back to the World. Then he founded Rome.

Who can claim to have had a similar experience? As I said earlier: Pythagoras, Enoch, Moses, Orpheus, Siosiri, Mithrobarzan, Jesus, all did go to the Underworld, they came back, and then they founded “Romes” of their liking, kingdoms of their kind.

Why is that so?

Moses and Zoroaster. Or: A Descent to the Underworld and into the Virginal Womb


The angels « trembled » when Moses ascended into heaven, writes Baruch Ben Neriah in his Book of Apocalypse. « Those who are near the throne of the Most High trembled when He took Moses near him. He taught him the letters of the Law, showed him the measures of fire, the depths of the abyss and the weight of the winds, the number of raindrops, the end of anger, the multitude of great sufferings and the truth of judgment, the root of wisdom, the treasures of intelligence, the fountain of knowledge, the height of the air, the greatness of Paradise, the consumption of time, the beginning of the day of judgment, the number of offerings, the lands that have not yet come, and the mouth of Gehenna, the place of vengeance, the region of faith and the land of hope. »

The Jewish Encyclopaedia (1906) states that Baruch Ben Neriah was a Jew who mastered Haggadah, Greek mythology and Eastern wisdom. The Apocalypse of Baruch also shows influences from India. This is evidenced by the reference to the Phoenix bird, companion of the sun, an image similar to the role of the Garuda bird, companion of the god Vishnu.

In chapters 11 to 16, the Archangel Michael has a role as mediator between God and men, similar to that of Jesus.

Baruch was undoubtedly exposed to the Gnostic and « oriental » teachings.

In the first centuries of our era, times were indeed favourable for research and the fusion of ideas and contributions from diverse cultures and countries.

Judaism did not escape these influences from elsewhere.

The elements of Moses’ life, which are recorded in the Apocalypse of Baruch, are attested to by other Jewish authors, Philo and Josephus, and before them by the Alexandrian Jew Artanapas.

These elements do not correspond to the biblical model.

They are inspired by the Life of Pythagoras, as reported by the Alexandrian tradition. There is a description of the descent of Moses to the Underworld, which is based on the descent of Pythagoras to Hades. Isidore Lévy makes the following diagnosis in this regard: « These borrowings from the Judaism of Egypt to the successive Romans of Pythagoras do not constitute a superficial fact of transmission of wonderful tales, but reveal a profound influence of the religious system of the Pythagoricians: Alexandrian Judaism, Pharisaism (whose first manifestation does not appear before Herod’s entry on the scene) and Essenism, offer, compared to biblical mosaicism, new characters, signs of the conquest of the Jewish world by the conceptions whose legend of Pythagoras was the narrative expression and the vehicle.»i

The multi-cultural fusion of these kinds of themes is manifested by the strong similarities and analogies between the legends of Pythagoras and Zoroaster, and the legends attached by Jewish literature to Moses, to the « journeys in the Other World » and to the « infernal visions » that were brought back.

These legends and stories are obviously borrowed in all their details from the « pythagorean katabase » whose adventures Luciano and Virgil described.

Isidore Lévy reviewed it. Moses is led through Eden and Hell. Isaiah is instructed by the Spirit of God on the five regions of Gehenna. Elijah is led by the Angel. The Anonymous of the Darké Teschuba is led by Elijah. Joshua son of Levi is accompanied by the Angels or by Elijah, which reproduces the theme of the Visitor of the Katabase of Pythagoras.

These cross-cultural similarities extend to divine visions and the deep nature of the soul.

In the language of Zend Avesta, which corresponds to the sacred text of the ancient religion of ancient Iran, the « Divine Glory », the very one that Moses saw from behind, is called Hravenô.

James Darmesteter, a specialist in Zend Avesta, reports in detail how the Zoroastrians described the coming of their prophet. This story is not without evoking other virgin births, reported for example in the Christian tradition:

« A ray of Divine Glory, destined through Zoroaster to enlighten the world, descends from near Ormuzd, into the bosom of the young Dughdo, who later married Pourushaspo. Zoroaster’s genius (Frohar) is trapped in a Haoma plant that the Amshaspand carry up a tree that rises on the banks of the Daitya River on Ismuwidjar Mountain. The Haoma picked by Pourushaspo is mixed by himself and Dughdo with milk of miraculous origin, and the liquid is absorbed by Pourushaspo. From the union of the depositary of Divine Glory with the holder of the Frohar, who descended into Haoma, the Prophet was born. The Frohar contained in the Haoma absorbed by Pourushaspo corresponds to the soul entered into the schoenante assimilated by Khamoïs (=Mnésarque, father of Pythagoras), and the Hravenô corresponds to the mysterious Apollonian element »ii.

The spiritual being of Zoroaster has two distinct elements, the Hravenô, which is the most sublime, and even properly divine, part, and the Frohar, an immanent principle contained in the Haoma.

It can be inferred that Hravenô and Frohar correspond respectively to the Greek concepts of Noos and Psychè. « Intelligence » and « Soul ». The Hebrew equivalents would be Nephesh and Ruah.

What do these comparisons show?

It shows the persistence of a continuous intuition, spanning several thousands years and covering a geographical area from the Indus basin to the Nile valley. This intuition seems common to the religions of India, Iran, Israel and Egypt.

What common intuition? That of the « descent » to Earth of a being, « sent » by a God, – differently named according to different languages and different cultures.

i Isidore Lévy. La légende de Pythagore de Grèce en Palestine, 1927

iiJames Darmesteter, Le Zend Avesta, 1892-1893

Brain Neurochemistry and Mystic Visions


The birth of Dionysus is worth telling. There is a precise description of it in the Imagines of Philostratus the Elder.

“A cloud of fire, after enveloping the city of Thebes, tears on the palace of Cadmos where Zeus leads a happy life with Semele. Semele dies, and Dionysus is really born under the action of the flame.

We can see the erased image of Semele rising towards the sky, where the Muses will celebrate his arrival with songs. As for Dionysus, he starts from the mother’s womb, thus torn, and shining like a star, he makes the brilliance of the fire pale with his own. The flame opens, sketching around Dionysus the shape of a cave[which is covered with consecrated plants].

The propellers, the berries of ivy, the vines already strong, the stems of which we make the thyrsus cover their contours, and all this vegetation comes out of the ground so willingly, that it grows partly in the middle of the fire. And let us not be surprised that the earth lays on the flames like a crown of plants.”

Philostratus ignores the fact that Semele had wanted to see the face of Zeus, her lover, and that this was the cause of her death. Zeus, kept by a promise he had made to her to fulfill all her desires, was forced to show his face of light and fire when she made the request, knowing that by doing so he would kill her, in spite of himself.

But he didn’t want to let the child she was carrying die, which was also his. Zeus took Dionysus out of his mother’s womb and put him in the great light, in a cloud of fire. However, Dionysus himself was already a being of fire and light. Philostratus describes how Dionysus’ own fire « makes Zeus’ own fire pale ».

It should be noted above all that the divine fire of Dionysus does not consume the sacred bushes that envelop his body at the time of his birth.

In a different context, Moses sees a burning bush, which is not consumed either. The Bible gives little detail on how the bush behaves in flames.

Philostratus, on the other hand, is a little more precise: a « crown of plants » floats above the fire. The metaphor of the crown is reminiscent of an aura, a halo, or the laurels surrounding the hero’s head. Except Dionysus is not a hero, but a God.

The idea of plants burning without burning in a « fire » of divine origin is counter-intuitive.

It is possible that this idea is a hidden metaphor. The inner fire of some plants, such as Cannabis, or other psychotropic plants, is a kind of fire that affects the mind, burns it indeed, but does not (usually) consume it. This inner fire, caused by plants capable of inducing shamanic visions and even divine ecstasies, is one of the oldest ways to contemplate mysteries.

This is one of the most valuable lessons from the experiences reported by shamans in Asia, Africa, or America.

What explains the powerful affinity between psychotropic plants, human brain neurochemistry and these ecstatic, divine visions?

Why is brain chemistry capable of generating a ‘vision’ of God from psychotropic stimuli?

Why is the active ingredient of cannabis, THC (Δ9 – tetrahydrocannabinol), capable, by binding to the CB1 and CB2 receptors, of delivering man to ecstasy, and to the vision of the divine, under certain conditions?

New ways of investigating the brain should be able to be used to detect the brain regions activated during these visions.

There are two main categories of assumptions.

Either the psychotropic mechanism is entirely internal to the brain, depending only on neurobiological processes, which can get out of hand when they are somehow looped around themselves.

Either these neurobiological processes are in reality only a façade, more or less shaped throughout the evolution of the human brain. They hide or reveal, depending on the case, our direct perception of a world that is still mysterious, a parallel world, generally inaccessible to sensitivity and consciousness.

The neurochemical processes disinhibited by THC release the brain, and during ecstasy give it the opportunity to access a meta-world, usually veiled, but very real, existing independently of human consciousness.

In that assumption, the neurochemistry of cannabis does not then generate « visions » by itself; it is only a key that opens the consciousness to a world that is inaccessible, most of the time, to weak human capacities.

The Land of Death and Resurrection


In ancient Egypt, Death was the key moment, – the moment when took place the transformation of the soul of the dead into the “Ba”, the divine principle of Re.

Neferubenef’s Papyrus identifies the « Ba » with the « divine ram of Mendes, the city where the mystical union of the two souls of Re and Osiris is made, »i according to Si Ratié, who translated it.

The religion of ancient Egypt used to bring hope to everyone. The hope for eternal salvation. Every human soul was given the possibility of carrying out an ultimate, divine and royal ‘mutation’ at the moment of death, – under certain conditions. The soul had the power to transform herself into a « Horus of gold », whose flesh is of gold, and the bones of silver, to speak metaphorically.

The origin of this belief goes back to the dawn of time. Archaeological evidence of a funeral cult in Upper Egypt dating back to before the first dynasty, around 3500 BC, has been found.

Today, Neferoubenef’s Papyrus makes us hear the voice of the faithful as they prepared for this decisive test.

« Hail to you who is in the holy necropolis of Rosetau; I know you, I know your name. Deliver me from these snakes that are in Rosetau, that live from the flesh of humans, that swallow their blood, for I know them, I know their names. May the first order of Osiris, Lord of the Universe, mysterious in what he does, be to give me the breath in this fear that is in the midst of the West; may he never cease to order the directives according to what has existed, he who is mysterious within the darkness. May glory be given to him in Rosetau! Master of the darkness, who descends and orders food in the West! We hear his voice, we don’t see him, the great God who is in Busiris! (…)

I come as a messenger from the Lord of the Universe. Horus, his throne has been given to him. His father gives him all the praise, as well as those in the boat. Lord of fear in Nut and in the Douat! I am Horus. I have come to be in charge of the sentence. Let me come in, let me say what I saw. »ii

These ancient words strike us by their mysterious echoes, later reverberating in other, subsequent, religions, such as Judaism or Christianity.

Several millennia before Abraham left Ur and gave tribute to Melchisedech, some high priests in Egypt used to sing psalms such as :

« We hear His voice, we don’t see him, the great God. »

« I come as a messenger from the Lord of the Universe. Horus, His throne has been given to Him. His father gives Him all the praise, as well as those in the boat. »

And there is this even stranger, prophetic, formula:

« The fear that is in the middle of the West ».

The West has always been for the Semites, as evidenced today by the Arabic language, which calls it « Maghreb », literally the “place of exile”, a “place of danger”.

For the ancient Egyptians, the West was indeed the place associated with “death”. But it was also the place of “resurrection”.

The deep, collective, memory, embodied in minds and in the unconscious for thousands of years, has undoubtedly cultivated this fear. Maybe it still exists in a latent form. That could explain a hidden connection between the ancient myth of the Golden Horus, the revelation of the great God who is in Busiris, and the fear many people of the ‘Esat’ resent about the ‘West’ today?

« The fear that is in the middle of the West » is several thousand years old.

It is a strange paradox, completely devoid of any “modern” rationality, but still worth considering, with all its overtones: for the oldest religion ever appeared in the “East”, the “West” is the « Land of Death », but also as the unique place for “Resurrection”.

If there are still ears to hear, there is an interesting lesson to be learned here.

i Si Ratié, Le Papyrus de Naferoubenef, 1968

iiIbid.

Going Beyond Migration.


Angels, powers, virtues, dominions, seraphim, cherubim, and many other supernatural envoys and agents of the Jewish or Christian traditions, do not always confine themselves to their supposed rankings, to their orders of precedence, because of their subtle and incessant ascents, their internal movements and connections, and their continuous descents.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar, for instance, sees their endless interpenetration as a metaphor and a possible illustration of the process at work within the Trinity, a process which he names the “conversation”. Each divine Person sees the Face of God in the Other Person, a Face of a God greater than any total understanding, eternally worthy of worship, even for a divine Person. The « Trinitarian conversation » is like an image of the « original prayer ».

This « Trinitarian conversation » could be imagined as a supreme metaphor, far above the entanglement of sephirotic whispers, the murmurs of the zephyrs, the atonal choirs of angels, their distant echoes, their evanescent evocations, their systemic symphonies.

In these elevated and delicate realities, the metaphors we are bound to use are only an invitation to journey. We have to move, always again, always further, we must always “go beyond”.

“To go beyond”in Hebrew: Habar, עָבַר. The English word ‘Hebrew’ was coined precisely from the Hebrew word – habar. Does it still convey its original meaning?

We may generalize this semantic intuition. The destiny of man is that of a never ending migration, possibly continuing, after death, in a future life. Men have been created as eternal migrants, en route for an infinite discovery.

Where does the soul go when she migrates?

We don’t know. But between “being here” and “being gone”, we may think of a continuity. We may dream that there is a way, a path. We may cherish the eventuality of a path leading to some place of unexpected interest, where to look after hidden gates, opening on new horizons.

Of course, this is a « fantastic » idea, in the sense that Plato gave to the word « phantasmos » in the Sophist.

Why consider it? As migrants, on our faces, we bear metaphysical scars. Under the scars, a rift. Under the rift, another face, yet hidden. We migrate within our scars.

Lightning, thunder, zephyrs, whispers. Metaphors invite us to navigate even further, to leave behind the grammatical ports, the security of our roots.

The next mutation will be yet another migration. Man is changing. The self-transformation of the human species is underway. A new language, visionary, is needed, beyond grammar, beyond roots, beyond migration.

Silent Fire


The “wryneck” is quite a strange bird. It has two fingers in front and two fingers in back, according to Aristotle. It makes little high-pitched screams. it is able to stick its tongue out for a long time, like snakes. It gets its name, « wryneck », from its ability to turn its neck without the rest of its body moving. It is also capable of making women and men fall in lovei.

But more importantly, the “wryneck” is a divine « messenger », according to the Chaldaic Oraclesii.

There are, admittedly, many other divine “messengers”, such as the Platonic « intermediaries » (metaxu) and « demons » (daimon). Among them, there is the « Fire », which is a metaphor for the « soul of the world ». All souls are connected to the Fire, because they originated from it: « The human soul, spark of the original Fire, descends by an act of her will the degrees of the scale of beings, and comes down to lock herself in the jail of a body.» iii

How does this descent take place? It is an old “oriental” belief that souls, during their descent from the original Fire, clothe themselves with successive ‘veils’, representing the intermediate planes they have to cross through.

Every incarnating soul is in reality a fallen god. The soul strives to come out of the oblivion into which she has fallen. She must leave the « flock », subjected to an unbearable, heavy, somber fate, in order « to avoid the brazen wing of the fatal destiny »iv. To do this, she must succeed in uttering a certain word, in memory of her origin.

These « chaldaic » ideas have greatly influenced thinkers like Porphyry, Jamblicus, Syrianus and Proclus, inciting them to describe the « rise of the soul », ἀναγωγη, thus replacing the more static concepts of Greek philosophy, still used by Plotinus, and opening the possibility of theurgy, the possibility for the soul to act upon the divine.

Theurgy is « a religious system that brings us into contact with the gods, not only by the pure elevation of our intellect to the divine Noos, but by means of concrete rites and material objects »v.

Chaldaic theurgy is full of signs, expressing the unspeakable, in ineffable symbols. « The sacred names of the gods and other divine symbols raise to the gods.”vi Chaldaic prayer is effective, because « hieratic supplications are the symbols of the gods themselves »vii, wrote Edouard des Places.

“Angels of ascension” make souls rise towards them. They remove the souls from the « bonds that bind them », that is, from the vengeful nature of demons, and from the trials human souls suffer: « Let the immortal depth of the soul be opened, and dilate all your eyes well above! ».viii

Many challenges await those undertaking the spiritual ascension. The Divine is beyond the intelligible, entirely unthinkable and inexpressible, and better honored by silence.

It’s worth noting that, in Vedic ceremonies, silence plays a structurally equivalent role in approaching the mysteries of the Divine. Next to the priests who operate the Vedic sacrifice, there are priests who recite the divine hymns, others who chant them and yet others who sing them. Watching over the whole, there is another priest, the highest in the hierarchy, who stands still and remains silent throughout the ceremony.

Hymns, psalms, songs, must yield to silence itself, in the Chaldaic religion as in the Vedic religion.

The other common point in these two cults is the primary importance of Fire.

The two traditions, which are so far apart, transmit a light from a very old and deep night. They both refer to the power of the original Fire, and contrast it with the weakness of the flame that man has been given to live by:

« [Fire] is the force of a luminous sword that shines with spiritual sharp edges. It is therefore not necessary to conceive this Spirit with vehemence, but by the subtle flame of a subtle intellect, which measures all things, except this Intelligible Itself. » ix

iIn his 4th Pythic, Pindar sang Jason’s exploits in search of the Golden Fleece. Jason faces a thousand difficulties. Fortunately, the goddess Aphrodite decided to help him, by making Medea in love with him, through a bird, the “wryneck”. In Greek, this bird is called ἴϋγξ, transcribed as « iynge ». « Then the goddess with sharp arrows, Cyprine, having attached a wryneck with a thousand colours to the four spokes of an unshakeable wheel, brought from Olympus to mortals this bird of delirium, and taught the wise son of Eson prayers and enchantments, so that Medea might lose all respect for her family, and the love of Greece might stir this heart in fire under the whip of Pitho.» The magic works. The « bird of delirium » fills Medea with love for Jason. “Both agree to unite in the sweet bonds of marriage”.(Pindar, 4rth Pythic)

iiChaldaic Oracles, Fragment 78

iiiF. Cumont. Lux perpetua (1949)

ivChaldaic Oracles, Fragment 109

v A. Festugière. Révélation (1953)

viCf. Édouard des Places, dans son introduction à sa traduction des Oracles chaldaïques (1971). (Synésius de Cyrène (370-413) énonce un certain nombre de ces noms efficaces. Άνθος est la « fleur de l’Esprit », Βένθος est le « profond », Κολπος est le « Sein ineffable » (de Dieu), Σπινθήρ est « l’Étincelle de l’âme, formée de l’Esprit et du Vouloir divins, puis du chaste Amour » : « Je porte en moi un germe venu de Toi, une étincelle de noble intelligence, qui s’est enfoncée dans les profondeurs de la matière. » Ταναός est la « flamme de l’esprit tendué à l’extrême », et Τομή est « la coupure, la division », par laquelle se produit « l’éclat du Premier Esprit qui blesse les yeux ».Proclus s’empara de ces thèmes nouveaux pour éveiller la « fleur », la « fine pointe de l’âme ».)

viiÉdouard des Places, Introduction. Oracles chaldaïques (1971)

viiiChaldaic Oracles, fragment 112

ix Chaldaic Oracles, fragment 1.

A Very Long Journey


A Jewish historian, Artapanus, living in Alexandria under the Ptolemy, more than 2300 years ago, affirmed that Moses and Hermes Trismegistus were one and the same person. This provocative thesis is obviously controversial. But from the point of view of cultures quietly assuming their « symbiosis » (such as the one prevailing in the vibrant Alexandria of this time), this idea has the merit of being a pungent symptom.

Whether or not he was in fact Moses, the man named Hermes Trismegistus was a remarkable character. Almost two thousand years before Blaise Pascal, Hermes struck a famous formula, quoted in the Asclepius: « God, – a spiritual circle whose center is everywhere, and the circumference nowhere. »

His Poimandrès is also moving by his scope of vision, and the prophetic power of his intuitions. Here are the first lines.

« I was thinking about beings one day; my thoughts hovered in the heights, and all my body sensations were numb as in the heavy sleep that follows satiety, excess or fatigue. It seemed to me that an immense being, without defined limits, called me by name and said to me: What do you want to hear and see, what do you want to learn and know?

– Who are you, I answered?

– I am, he said, Poimandrès, the sovereign intelligence. I know what you want, and everywhere I am with you.

– I want, I replied, to be educated about beings, to understand their nature and to know God.

– Receive in your mind everything you want to know, » he said to me, « I will instruct you.

At these words, he changed his appearance, and immediately everything was discovered to me in a moment, and I saw an indefinable spectacle. »

There is something divine in Hermes, just like in Moses. Why hide it? Today, there are few men of this calibre. Does this make the world more difficult to live in? Less open to wisdom? This can be believed if we stick to Plato’s description of the philosopher.

« This is why the philosopher’s thought is the only winged one; for those higher realities to which he is constantly applied by memory to the extent of his forces, it is to these very realities that God owes his divinity. However, it is by straightforwardly using such means of remembrance that a man who is always perfectly initiated to perfect initiations, becomes, alone, really perfect. But as he departs from what is the object of human concern and applies to what is divine, the crowd shows him that he is disturbed in spirit; but he is possessed of a God, and the crowd does not suspect it! »i

Today, as in the past, the opinion of the crowd often prevails over that of the wise man. But the latter does not care. He is « possessed ».

There is nothing better, in order to understand an era, than to look at the forms of “possession”, of « disturbance », the ways of « delirium », which it condemns or recognizes.

In Poimandrès Hermes gives crucial indications in this regard on the concerns of his time. He describes his own transport in an immortal body, and the ecstasy of his soul.

In the Symposium, Plato recounts the dive of purified souls into the ocean of divine beauty. In the Epinomis, he explains how the soul can be united with God, then living through Him, rather than by herself.

It is difficult not to be struck by the incredible distance between the experience of these ancient thinkers and that of most intellectuals and other publicists at the beginning of the 21st century.

Few, it seems, can still get the faintest idea of what the experience of ecstasy was really like for Moses, for Hermes, or for Socrates.

« Modern thinkers » have almost completely severed the links with these multi-millennial experiments. We see in the media professionals of the sacredness, spokesmen for faith X, religion Y or spirituality Z, parading on stages, pulpits, platforms, or screens, proclaiming themselves guardians of divine laws, imposing sermons and homilies, launching anathema or fatwas.

The modern domain of the « sacred » forms a noisy, blurred, confused scene.This confusion hides a more substantial opacity. The untouched, unsuspected mystery still lies in the depths, much deeper than the spiritual night that surrounds us on all sides. Marsilio Ficino, one of the Renaissance thinkers who best resisted modern desiccation, then in genesis, described an interesting phenomenon, the path of the mind captured by the object of his research:

« By ardently loving this light, even if it is obscurely perceived, these intelligences are completely engulfed in its heat, and once they are engulfed, which is the hallmark of love, they are transformed into light. Strengthened by this light, they very easily become by love the very light they previously tried to follow with their eyes.»ii

Ficino, who seems to have experienced the thing for himself, believes that there are nine possible degrees of contemplation of God. Three are related to his goodness, three are related to his wisdom, and three are related to his power. But these approaches are not equivalent.

“We fear the power of God, we seek his wisdom, we love his goodness. Only the love of his goodness transforms the soul into God.”iii

Why all these ways, then, if there is only one effective? The symbolism of the number 9 is to be taken into account. Virgil used it, too. « The Styx, interposing itself nine times, locks them in. »iv

Ficino quotes Hesiod, Virgil, Ovid, Hermes Trismegistus, Plato. In the middle of the Renaissance, he dreams of the golden age, during which the mysteries had been contemplated.

The intelligence of men is bound and weak. To dream today of a new golden age is to believe once again in a possible leap, a huge leap, from this weakness, towards the vision of the high mysteries, or even their understanding.

The testimony of the great elders on this subject is invaluable. They say the leap is possible. They suggest that this experience is always open to anyone who undertakes this journey with determination. We must rely on the general strengths of universal symbiosis to help us through the difficult stages that await the Argonauts of life. Orpheus warns: « It is impossible to force the gates of the kingdom of Pluto; inside lives the people of dreams.»v

But these doors can be opened, as if by magic. How? Orpheus entrusts his method: « Daughters of Mnemosyne and Jupiter, O famous and illustrious Muses, goddesses who will generate all the arts, nourish the spirit, inspire right thoughts, wisely rule the souls of men and have taught them divine sacrifices; Clio, Euterpe, Thalie, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Erato, Polymnia, Urania and Calliope, come with your august mother; come to us and be favourable to us, bring us the Almighty Glory and Wisdom.»vi

For those who would have a sensitivity to immanence, Orpheus proposes to invoke the « universal substance »:

« I invoke Pan, the universal substance of the world, of the sky, of the deep sea, of the earth of various forms and of the imperishable flame. These are just scattered members of Pan. Pan at the feet of goats, wandering god, master of storms, who drives the stars and whose voice represents the eternal concerts of the world, god loved by herdsmen and pastors who love the clear fountains, fast god who inhabits the hills, friend of sound, dear god of nymphs, god who generates all things, procreative power of the universe.»vii

For those who prefer to put themselves under the shadow of the Law, Orpheus also has a sign:

« I invoke the divine Law, the genius of men and immortals; the heavenly goddess, governing the stars, the common sign of all things, the foundation of nature, the sea and the earth. A constant Goddess, keeping the eternal laws of heaven and faithfully carrying out her immense revolutions; you who grant mortals the benefits of a prudent life and govern all that breathes; you whose wise counsel directs all things according to equity, goddess always favourable to the just, but overwhelming the wicked with severe punishments, sweet goddess who distributes goods with delicious largess, remember us and speak our name with friendship.»viii

The journey has only just begun. It has no end. Any vessel will do, to the one who knows the bearings, even fuzzily. Only imagination and hope are likely to be in short supply. And courage.

i Phaedrus, 249, c-d

iiMarsilio Ficino, Th. Plat. 18,8

iiiIbid.

iv Georg. IV, 480

v Argonaut., 1142

vi Argonaut., 1142

vii Orpheus, Hymns, X

viii Hymns, LXI

The Absurd Reason


The prophet Daniel speaks as a seer: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. » (Dan. 12,2-3)

This saying refers to the « wise » and to the “righteous”. It is not just a question of knowledge, but of justice, of a wisdom that is less human than divine. How to reach it? How to access these high places?

Many are those who doubt their own divinity, those who have never turned their eyes to the splendour of intelligence, of wisdom. There are even more who prefer the mist of the senses, the thickness of the bodies, to the thin acuity of the soul.

How would they achieve the wisdom and justice that Daniel is talking about?

Plato, who was not a prophet, but no less a seer, advises us to meditate unceasingly on death.

“Either in no way can we ever acquire knowledge, or it is for us only once we have passed away.”i

The way to be as close to divine knowledge as possible is to have as little trade as possible with the body. Going to the limit, we deduce that death only is the kingdom of true knowledge. This is the « immense hope » that Socrates joyfully shares with his afflicted friends, shortly before drinking the hemlock.

What is this hope based on? It is based on an idea as anti-modern as possible: « We are divine beings ». How can such a statement be made? “Because, momentarily deprived of our heavenly abode and homeland, that is, as long as we are on earth God’s substitutes, we are constantly tormented by the desire of this heavenly homeland and no earthly pleasure can console in the present exile the human intelligence desiring a better condition.”ii

This immense hope, without reason, is based – it is a paradox – on the sole activity of reason.

Marsilio Ficino gives this explanation:

“The hope of immortality results from a surge of reason, since the soul hopes not only without the help of the senses, but despite their opposition. That is why I find nothing more admirable than this hope, because, while we live incessantly among ephemeral beings, we do not cease to hope.”iii

These unreasonable ideas have been shared by thinkers as diverse as Zoroaster, Hermes Trismegistus, Orpheus, Aglaopheme, Pythagoras, Plato… They have created schools of thought, their disciples have proliferated: Xenocrat, Arcesilas, Carneade, Ammonius, Plotinus, Proclus…

On a philosophical level, Socrates’ argument seems to have a certain scope. Reason says that there are only two hypotheses: either knowledge is not possible at all, or it is only possible after death.

If we decide to ignore the Socratic, resolutely optimistic point of view, absolute horror would therefore resemble this: to see clearly with the eyes of pure reason the absurdity and inanity of a human condition, capable of reason, and capable of drawing from it the most crazy, most absurd hypotheses.

iPhaedo, 66 e

ii Marsilio Ficino, Platonic Theology Book XVI

iiiIbid.

Adolf Hitler, Theodor Herzl and their « kitsch romanticism »


The most famous men want to leave traces, legacies. What’s left of it? Often few things.

History is full of ex-post celebrities, whose memory is judged with harshness, irony or indifference by subsequent generations.

Tacitus reports: “Calvus appeared to Cicero exsanguinated and overly exhausted, and Brutus idle and struck; conversely Cicero was criticized by Calvus, who found him relaxed and without muscles, and by Brutus, on the other hand, who said he was ‘soft and with no balls’. If you ask me, everyone seems to have been right.”i

More recently, Victor Klemperer was not afraid to depict Adolf Hitler and Theodor Herzl in similar, offbeat ways. « Both Hitler and Herzl live largely on the same heritage. I have already named the German root of Nazism, it is narrow-minded and perverted romanticism. If I add kitsch romanticism, then the intellectual and stylistic community of the two Führer (sic) is designated as accurately as possible. »ii

Comparing Theodor Herzl to a « Führer » may be daring. But Klemperer’s method of analysis favours the understanding of shifts in the meaning of words. The German language changed in many ways after the advent of the Third Reich.

The word Führer could, it seems, be applied without problem to Herzl in 1896 or 1904, but also, though with a different nuance, to Hitler between 1933 and 1945. It is a testimony to the fragility and transience of the meaning of words through time, a sign of the volatility of their resonances.

Klemperer reports another example of these shifts of meaning, through the words « to believe » and « belief », during the rise of Nazism. He sees it as a symptom of a quasi-religious phenomenon caused by Hitler’s ascension into German consciousness: « The Führer has always stressed his particularly close relationship with the divinity, his « election », the particular bond of filiation that links him to God, his religious mission. »iii

If Klemperer’s hypothesis proves true, one would have to question the meaning of the words « divinity », « election », « filiation », « religion » and the extent of their derivations.

While we are at it, we could propose a generalization of Klemperer’s corrosive analysis.

It could be especially rewarding to make a comparative “spectrography” of all the words relating to the « divine », the « sacred », the « mystery », the”spirit”, the “soul”, etc., in all the languages of the world.

Such a linguistic “spectrography” would lay a fruitful foundation for a global anthropology of religious sentiment.

And who knows, we may find new interpretations of the meaning of the word “god”.

iTacitus. Dialogus de Oratoribus, XVIII,5-6

iiVictor Klemperer, LTI, La langue du IIIème Reich, Ch. 29, Sion, p.274

iiiIbid., ch. 18, « I believe in him ».

The Peregrination of the Universe


According to the Jewish Bible the world was created about 6000 years ago. According to contemporary cosmologists, the Big Bang dates back 14 billion years. But the Universe could actually be older. The Big Bang is not necessarily the only, original event. Many other universes may have existed before, in earlier ages.

Time could go back a long way. This is what Vedic cosmologies teach. Time could even go back to infinity according to cyclical universe theories.

In a famous Chinese Buddhist-inspired novel, The Peregrination to the West, there is a story of the creation of the world. It describes the formation of a mountain, and the moment « when the pure separated from the turbid ». The mountain, called the Mount of Flowers and Fruits, dominates a vast ocean. Plants and flowers never fade. « The peach tree of the immortals never ceases to form fruits, the long bamboos hold back the clouds. » This mountain is « the pillar of the sky where a thousand rivers meet ». It is « the unchanging axis of the earth through ten thousand Kalpa. »

An unchanging land for ten thousand Kalpa.

What is a kalpa? It is the Sanskrit word used to define the very long duration of cosmology. To get an idea of the duration of a kalpa, various metaphors are available. Take a 40 km cube and fill it to the brim with mustard seeds. Remove a seed every century. When the cube is empty, you will not yet be at the end of the kalpa. Then take a large rock and wipe it once a century with a quick rag. When there is nothing left of the rock, then you will not yet be at the end of the kalpa.

World time: 6000 years? 14 billion years? 10,000 kalpa?

We can assume that these times mean nothing certain. Just as space is curved, time is curved. The general relativity theory establishes that objects in the universe tend to move towards regions where time flows relatively more slowly. A cosmologist, Brian Greene, put it this way: « In a way, all objects want to age as slowly as possible. » This trend, from Einstein’s point of view, is exactly comparable to the fact that objects « fall » when dropped.

For objects in the Universe that are closer to the « singularities » of space-time that proliferate there (such as « black holes »), time is slowing down more and more. In this interpretation, it is not ten thousand kalpa that should be available, but billions of billions of billions of kalpa…

A human life is only an ultra-fugitive scintillation, a kind of femto-second on the scale of kalpa, and the life of all humanity is only a heartbeat. That’s good news! The incredible stories hidden in a kalpa, the narratives that time conceals, will never run out. The infinite of time has its own life.

Mystics, like Plotin or Pascal, have reported their visions. But their images of “fire” were never more than snapshots, infinitesimal moments, compared to the infinite substance from which they emerged.

This substance, I’d like to describe it as a landscape of infinite narratives, an infinite number of mobile points of view, opening onto an infinite number of worlds, some of which deserve a detour, and others are worth the endless journey.

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 ebriated

In the present by 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.

Ancient Iran’s influence on Judaism


Henry Corbin wrote more than fifty years ago a vibrant tribute to the spirituality and philosophy of Iranian Islam, considered in its historical depth. The Ayatollah regime was not in place at the time. Taking a certain distance from the immediate history, Corbin analyses the difference between Iranian shî’ism and sunnism which generally prevails in Arab countries, in a book dedicated to Sohravardî and the Platonicians of Persia.

« Unlike the majority Sunni Islam, for which, after the mission of the last Prophet, humanity has nothing new to expect, the shî’ism keeps the future open by professing that, even after the coming of the « Seal of the Prophets » something is still to be expected, namely the revelation of the spiritual meaning of the revelations made by the great prophets. (…) But this spiritual intelligence will only be complete at the end of our Aiôn, during the parousia of the twelfth Imâm, the Imâm now hidden and mystical pole of the world. »i

Corbin also reviews the exceptional adventure of a « brilliant young thinker » from northwestern Iran, Shihâboddîn Yahyâ Sohrawardî.

This « brilliant thinker », who died in 1191 in Aleppo, Syria, at the age of thirty-six, as a martyr of his cause, had dedicated his young life to « resurrecting the wisdom of ancient Persia » and « repatriating the Hellenized Magi to Islamic Persia, and this thanks to hermeneutics (ta’wil) whose Islamic spirituality offered him the resources. »ii

Corbin’s works shed light on the ancient pendulum movement between East and West, and their intersecting influences over the centuries.

Sohrawardî wanted to celebrate the wisdom of the Hellenized Magi in Islamic Persia. What this Chaldaic Magic refers to? Greek Philosophy?

In any case, Sohrawardî was taking a certain risk, considering the context of his time. But he was also a visionary, from the point of view of the long history.

And Sohravardî paid for his vision with his life.

More than a millennium earlier, the Jewish, Essenian, Qumran sects had recognized their spiritual debt to Iran.

Almost intact texts, the Qumran manuscripts, have been found in caves near the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1956.

Drawing on the texts of Qumran, Guy G. Stroumsa, a Jerusalem-based researcher, raises the question of the influence of Iranian spirituality on Judaism in his book Barbarian Philosophy.

He reports on the words of the famous religious scholar Shaul Shaked: « It may be imagined that contacts between Jews and Iranians helped in formulating a Jewish theology which, though continuing traditional Jewish motifs, came to resemble fairly closely the Iranian view of the world.»iii

It seems to me fruitful, in our troubled, fanatical, over-informed and under-educated times, to recognize the richness of the cross-fertilization accumulated over the centuries, which has structured the spiritual geography of this immense area, ranging from the Greek West to the « near » and « middle » East, via Egypt and Israel.

iH. Corbin, En islam iranien, p. III.

ii Ibid. p.IV

iiiS. Shaked, Qumran and Iran : Further considerations (1972).

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 Paroxysm of Absence


Martin Buber wondered in the early 1950s how the survivors of Auschwitz, whom he called the « Job of the gas chambers », could understand the verse with which Psalm 118 begins and ends: « Pay homage to the Lord, for he is good, for his grace is eternal ».

Emil Fackenheimi noted that Buber did not actually answer the question.

Jean-Christophe Attias adds that this question can never die and will always haunt the descendants of the survivors and that « it is always possible to account for the genocide in any way, and to see in it a punishment or the effect of a voluntary veiling of the divine Face, leaving man totally free from his acts, and therefore free to accomplish absolute evil ».ii

If a silent or absent God deliberately gives man the most total freedom, and allows him to deploy « absolute evil » in the « irreducible singularity » of a historical event, then that same God could, in the future, allow this same « total freedom » to be deployed again in other equally singular historical events, setting free the possibility of paroxysmal evils in the future.

Job’s misfortunes could in no way prefigure or announce those of the Holocaust. Yet Martin Buber chose the figure of Job to ask a question that transcends the millennia.

The « singularity » of absolute evil in a certain historical context in no way prevents its repetition or aggravation in measures that exceed any human imagination.

Today it is necessary not only to live with the question posed by Buber, that of God’s silence or voluntary absence from the world scene, for reasons that are completely incomprehensible to us, but also to imagine the man capable of doing much worse.

In an overpopulated planet, deprived of a decidedly absent God, how many hundreds of millions of dead will the next « absolute evil » instigated by man cause in the apparent indifference of Heaven?

Can we then, in a devastated world, sing with faith: « Pay homage to the Lord, for he is good, for his grace is eternal »?

Again, Buber did not answer this question.

There are limits to human speech and intelligence that cannot be overcome. But absolute, paroxysmal evil, can quite easily surpass itself ever more easily.

And the Face of God can always become ever more veiled, ever more opaque.

Between this paroxysm and this absence, human intelligence falters.

iEmil Fackenheim. The Jewish Bible after the Holocaust. A Re-Reading. Manchester, 1990, p.26

iiJean-Christophe Attias, Les Juifs et la Bible, Paris 2014, p. 245

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

Artificial Intelligence and Resurrection


In the 2nd century AD, the Roman Empire was at its height and dominated much of the ancient world. On the religious level, the era was one of syncretism. For its part, the nascent Christianity began to spread around the Mediterranean and reached Carthage. But it already has a lot to struggle with the Gnostic sects and other various heresies.

It was better not to mix religion and politics. The Empire did not tolerate claims of autonomy or religions that could encourage them.

The second Judeo-Roman war (132-135), triggered by Bar-Kokhba, ended with the expulsion of Jews from Judea. Jerusalem was razed to the ground by Hadrian, and a new city was built on its ruins, Ælia Capitolina.

Judea was renamed and called Palestine, from the word « Philistine » referring to one of the indigenous peoples, which is quoted in the Bible (Gen. 21:32; Gen. 26:8; Ex. 13:17).

Emperor Hadrian died three years after the fall of Jerusalem in 138, and these verses, of which he is the author, were written on his grave:

« Animula vagula blandula
Hospes comesque corporis
Quæ nunc abibis in loca
Pallidula rigida nudula
Nec ut soles dabis iocos ».

Which can be translated as follows:

« Little soul, little vague, all cuddly,

hostess and companion of my body,

you who are now going to places

livid, icy, naked,

you won’t make your usual jokes anymore. »

Around the same time, Apuleius, a writer and Roman citizen of Berber origin, born in 123 in Madauros, Numidia (now Algeria), came to complete his studies in Carthage. Apuleius was to become a famous speaker and novelist. His neoplatonism led him to believe that direct contact between gods and men was impossible, and that there had to be « intermediate » beings to allow exchanges between them.

To dramatize the question of contact between the divine and the human, Apuleius detailed the loving, direct and fusional relationship of the god Eros (divine love) and the princess Psyche (human soul), in a passage from his famous Metamorphoses. This meeting of Eros and Psyche received an extraordinary welcome and entered the pantheon of world literature. Since then, it has been the subject of countless repetitions by artists of all time.

But Metamorphoses is also a novel, picaresque, erotic and metaphysical, with a good layer of second and third degrees. There are several levels of intertwined reading and comprehension, which have ensured its modernity for almost two millennia.

The end of the novel focuses on the story of Lucius’ initiation into the mysteries of Isis, carried out at his request (and at great expense) by the high priest Mithras. Lucius can reveal nothing of the mysteries of initiation, of course.

The only concession to the curiosity of profane intelligence, Apuleius places in Lucius’s mouth a few cryptic verses, just before the hero walks into the sacred building, dressed in twelve priestly robes, in order to be presented to the crowd as « the statue of the sun ».

Lucius said then:

« I touched the edge of death, after crossing the threshold of Proserpine, I was carried through all the elements, and I came back. »

For sure, it seems like it was a descent into the underworld, a real one.

The descent into Hades was the ultimate adventure of the initiate. There had already been in the literature some prestigious predecessors, such as Orpheus, or in another order of reference, less literary and certainly less known in the Greek-Roman world, such as the descent of Jesus into Hell.

The time was fond of travelling to the land of the dead. At the same time, around 170, under Marcus Aurelius, a curious text appeared, the Chaldaic Oracles, presenting itself as a theurgic text, with a much more serious tone:

« Do not lean down towards the world of dark reflections; it is underpinned by an eternal, shapeless, dark, sordid, ghostly, devoid of Intellect, full of precipices and tortuous paths, constantly rolling a mutilated depth »i.

Nineteen centuries later, where are we now? Should we look at the depths or should we not talk at all about them?

The main religions of the moment offer a confusing picture of the problem, and seem to have little ability to formulate a solution.

But popular culture remains fascinated by the issue. In Battlestar Galactica, Humans are in total war against the Cylons, revolted robots that have evolved rapidly, reproducing in particular in the form of clones with a biological body, similar in appearance to that of human beings.

Humans are adepts of a polytheistic religion. They pray to the « gods of Kobol » and wander through space in search of a mythical planet called Earth, of which no one knows exactly if it exists or where it is located. They are guided by their President, who has visions, and who already knows that she will die without seeing the Promised Land. They are mercilessly pursued by the Cylons who have already exterminated almost the entire human race.

The Cylon robots profess, with great energy, their faith in a single god, whom they call « God ». The Cylons are very intelligent. They are not afraid to die, because they say (to the Humans who threaten them), that if their bodies are destroyed, then their minds will be « downloaded » into this « God ».

However, there is a problem. Intergalactic communications can be very weak in the event of a crisis. What happens to the spirit of a Cylon being downloaded, wandering through space without being picked up by a communication relay?

Battlestar Galactica. The Chaldaic Oracles. The Gospel of Jesus. The Metamorphoses of Apuleius. Hadrian’s epitaph.

There are those who wander endlessly in the icy night (Hadrian, the Chaldaic Oracles). And those who, after descending into Hell, return from the kingdom of the dead (Orpheus, Lucius, Jesus).

Between these two options, Battlestar Galactica‘s Cylons, these very intelligent and religious robots, have resolutely chosen the most promising one.

The transhumanist movement promotes similar ideas. The downloading of memory and consciousness is for tomorrow, says Ray Kurzweil.

Let’s do some science fiction. Imagine that ubiquitous networks and memory silos, supported by futuristic artificial intelligence techniques, will one day record and process all the thoughts and actions of all humans, from birth to death.

Then future generations would have at their disposal a kind of constantly evolving memory of humanity as a whole. And from this interactive memorial, from this human mine, they could permanently extract pearls of wisdom, sweet madness, unfulfilled dreams and fantastic projects.

Perhaps they would even come to consider this living memory as a kind of divine incarnation.

We would plunge into it, as Lucius once explored the ends of death, in order to live a new life.

iOracles Chaldaïques. Fr. 163 (tr. fr. E. des Places, Belles Lettres, 1996, p. 106).

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 24-letters Names of God


Apocalyptic and esoteric books have a definite taste for the ‘names’ of God and for His multiple ‘attributes’.

These ‘names’ are supposed to embody aspects of the divine essence.

You might think they are immutable by nature, but human language and human-made names are not immutable, by nature, so the names keep changing.

Philo of Alexandria devoted a whole book (De mutatione nominum) precisely to the question of changing names in the Bible.

Examples abound. Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai is renamed Sarah, and Jacob Israel.

In this book, Philo dealt with the important question of the names that God gave to himself.

About the specific name that God revealed to Moses, « I am that I am » (Ex 3,14), Philo has this comment: « It is equivalent to : my nature is to be, not to be said ».

In the original Hebrew, Ex 3,14 reads: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה « Ehyeh asher ehyeh« .

A literal translation might sound like: « I am who I am », — or « I shall be who I shall be », since « ehyeh » is the 1st person of the present-future of the verb to be, — if we want to somewhat preserve the Hebrew idiosyncrasy of the original text.

We could also simply focus on the word ehyeh that doubly expresses the notion of « Being », in two different modalities: « I am ‘I AM’ « .

We could then assume that God’s name might be ‘I AM’, which may be confirmed by the fact that God also said to Moses, just immediately after:

« Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: I AM hath sent me unto you. »i

In the Exodus, God clearly affirms a key aspect of his essence through his Name. This essence is « Being ».

In John’s Gospel, another aspect of the essence of God is given: Word, or Logos.

« In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. »ii

But can this Word be His Name?

It does not seem so, at least if we consider what John quotes about Jesus addressing God:

« I have manifested thy name (onoma) unto the men, which thou gavest me out of the world. Thine they were, and thou gavest them to me; and they have kept thy word (logon). « (John 17, 6).

Clearly, here, the Word (Logos) is not the Name (Onoma).

The Name is ‘manifested’. The Word is ‘kept’.

What does that mean?

The Name embodies the very ‘presence’ of God, it « manifests » his presence.

In many texts, the Hebrew word Shekhina is used to celebrate God’s Presence’.

But the Word is something else entirely. It is neither the Name nor the Presence.

What is it then?

It is what was « in the Beginning », — and what was « with God », — and what was « God ».

More complex, admittedly.

Something else entirely than ‘just a Name’.

Logos is not God’s Name, and Logos is not God’s Shekhina.

Jesus also said to God: « And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name (onoma) whom thou hast given me, so that they may be one, as we are. « (John 17, 11)

According to John’s original text (in Greek), Jesus asked God to « keep » the men through His Name (onoma).

Jesus, who is the Logos (Verb), asks God to « keep » men through His Onoma (His Name).

This indicates that Logos and Onoma play indeed a different role.

What are these different roles?

The Logos « is with God » and « is God ». The Onoma is a ‘Name’ and is not God.

The men « keep » the Logos. The Onoma « keep » the men, « so that they may be one ».

The Logos is said to be « one » with God. The Onoma can make the men be « one »with God.

Though obviously not synonymous, ‘Onoma‘, ‘Logos‘ and ‘God’, are however somewhat converging into ‘oneness’.

Let’s add that any ‘Name’ of God has therefore to be considered to have a formidable power.

Any ‘Name’ of God potentially includes all the other Names, those that are revealed and those that will remain ever hidden.

In all likelihood, Hidden Names abound.

To speak metaphorically, there are as many Names as there are angels, and conversely, each angel « bears » one of God’s Names.

The Babylonian Talmud teaches on this subject: « The Archangel Metatron, who is said to bear the Name of God » (« Metatron che-chemo ke-chem rabbo) » (Sanhedrin 38b).

All these (infinite) Names are not just names.They are divine beings, or rather they are figures of the divine Being.

A text belonging to the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, the « Gospel of Truth », composed by Valentine in the 2nd century, specifies it in this way:

« The Name of the Father is the Son. It is He who, in the Principle, gave name to the one who came out of Him, who was Himself and begot Him as Son. He gave Him his own name. (…) The Father. He has the Name, He has the Son. We can see him. But the Name, on the contrary, is invisible, because it alone is the mystery of the Invisible destined to reach the ears which are all filled with it (…) This Name does not belong to words and it is not names that constitute its Name. He’s invisible.»iii

The same idea is expressed in a slightly different way in the Gospel of Philip, also from the Nag Hammadi manuscripts: »‘Jesus‘ is a hidden name, ‘Christ‘ is a manifested name »iv.

But if ‘Jesus’ is a hidden name, how can he be known?

Irenaeus of Lyons gives a possible answer: « Iesous is only the sound of the Name, not its virtue. In fact, the entire Name consists of not only six letters, but thirty. Its exoteric (or pronounceable) composition is IHCOYC [Iesous], while its esoteric composition consists of twenty-four letters.»v

The exoteric name IHCOYC consists of six Greek letters. The full Name contains thirty of them.

Simple arithmetic: 6 (exoteric letters) + 24 (esoteric letters) = 30 letters of the full Name

But Irenaeus of Lyons does not reveal what are the 24 esoteric letters. if he had done so, would they have stayed ‘esoteric’?

It is up to us then, to try figuring them out.

Knowing that the Greek alphabet includes precisely twenty-four letters, the first one being ‘alpha’, the last one being ‘omega’, we could imagine that this esoteric Name is not a fixed name, but that it is constantly woven from the infinity of all their possible combinations, like this one:

βαγεδζηκιθλμονξπρστυφωχψ

or this one:

ΞΟΠΡΥΣΤΨΩΧΦΑΓΒΕΖΔΗΚΘΛΙΜΝ

There 2424 such names…

Here is a selection of names that I like a lot:

ΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞ

and:

ΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏ

and:

ΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧ

and :

ΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙ

and:

ΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔ

We could also try with Hebraic letters such as:

יייייייייייייייייייייייי

and:

שששששששששששששששששששששששש

and:

ןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןן

and :

הההההההההההההההההההההההה

A lot of research ahead of us!

iEx 3,14

iiJn 1,1

iii Quoted by Guy Stroumsa, Ancient Christian Magic : Coptic Texts of Ritual Power. Princeton, 1993.

iv Gospel of Philip 58, 3-4

vIreaneus of Lyons .Adv. Heres.I. 14, 1-9. Trad. A. Rousseau. 1979

Christ’s Laughter on the Cross : Caricature and Religion


In his book Christ‘s Laughter (2006), Guy Stroumsa recalls that the Gnostics of the first centuries of our era represented Christ « laughing » on the cross. What was he laughing at? « At the stupidity of the world, » they said.

In the Gospel of Judas, an apocryphal text composed in the 2nd century, Jesus also laughs.

Another Gnostic text, found in 1978 in the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, the 2nd Treatise of the Great Seth, gives this explanation: « It was another, the one who carried the cross on his shoulder, it was Simon. It was another one who received the crown of thorns. As for me, I rejoiced in the height, above all the domain that belongs to the archons and above the seed of their error, their vain glory, and I mocked their ignorance. »

This explanation is based on the thesis of heresy called docetism. According to this thesis, Jesus would not have really suffered on the cross. His nature being divine and spiritual, his physical body was detached from him, simple appearance, simple clothing. He would have remained « impassive » (impassibilis), nailed to the cross.

The fact that God could laugh at men, kings, peoples and nations was not absolutely new. There is this verse from David’s Psalms: « He who sits in heaven amuses himself, YHVH makes fun of them » (Ps. 2:4): Yochev ba-chammayim yitzhaq.

Yitzhaq. « He laughs. » Abraham gave this very name to Isaac. For Christians, Isaac is a prefiguration of Christ. Isaac, led by his father Abraham who intended to slit his throat, carried the wood necessary for the sacrifice himself, just as Christ carried the wood of his cross.

Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish and Neo-Platonic philosopher born in 25 B.C., evokes the history of Isaac’s miraculous conception, in order to draw, as he often does, an anagogical lesson. His thesis is that Isaac was miraculously born of God himself and Sarah, then a very old woman. Sarah says: « The Lord has made laughter for me » (Gen. 21:6).

Philo comments: « Open your ears, O mysteries, and welcome the most holy initiations: « Laughter » is joy, and the word « he has done » is equivalent to « he will beget » so that these words mean this: the Lord will beget Isaac; for he is the Father of perfect nature, who in souls sows and generates happiness. « Legum Allegoriae III, 219

Christ nailed to the cross laughs, – while derided and ridiculed by the soldiers.

Sara affirms at Isaac’s birth, the birth of « He laughs », that it is the Lord who generated the laughter in her.

Christ dying and laughing, Sarah conceiving « laughter » through the divine operation.

Humanity’s closeness to the divinity can be sensed in nakedness, death, conception.

This is one of the fundamental problems faced by religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. How can we reconcile divine transcendence with historical, material, immanent reality?

If God is absolutely transcendent, how can He generate Isaac in the womb of an old woman?

Isn’t the simple fact of asking the question, based on the letter of the Scriptures, already a « caricature »?

Is not the fact that Jesus is a naked God, who died on the cross, in humiliation and derision, not in itself susceptible to being caricatured in a thousand ways?

The prohibition of the representation of the Prophet Muhammad testifies to the same problem. How can we reconcile the prophet’s humanity with his divine mission? The difficulty of the question seems unrelated to the simplicity of the answer: the outright prohibition of any representation.

Let’s take a step back. Isn’t any critical, distanced, and sometimes even a little ironic question a form of caricature – for those who don’t ask questions, and don’t ask themselves them, either?

When it comes to religion, it is so easy to fall into caricature, or to be accused of it.