What Will be Left of Modernity, 40 000 Years From Now?


Aristotle says that happiness lies in contemplationi. Contemplation is for man the highest possible activity. It allows him to reach an otherwise unreachable level of consciousness, by fully mobilizing the resources of his own « noos ».

Greek philosophy places the « noos » or “noûs” (νοῦς ) well above the « logos » (λόγος), just as it privileges intuition over reason.

The νοῦς represents the faculty of vision, contemplation, – of the mind.

The word contemplation comes from the Latin templum, which originally means « the square space delimited by the augur in the sky and on earth, within which he collects and interprets omens ».ii

By extension, the templum can mean the entire sky (templa caeli, literally: « the temples of the sky »), but also the infernal regions, or the plains of the sea.

« To contemplate » initially means, therefore, « to look at the sky », — in order to watch for signs of the divine will.

Christianity has not hesitated to value the idea of contemplation, even though it is borrowed from Greek and Latin « paganism ». S. Augustine proposed a classification of the degrees of growth and consciousness of the soul. In a scale of seven levels, he places contemplation at the pinnacleiii.

Degree 1: The soul « animates » (plants).

Degree 2 : The soul « feels and perceives » (animals).

Degree 3 : The soul produces « knowledge, reason and the arts » (men).

Degree 4: The soul gains access to the « Virtus » (virtue, moral sense).

Degree 5: The soul obtains « Tranquillitas » (a state of consciousness in which death is no longer feared).

Degree 6: The soul reaches the « Ingressio » (« the approach »).

Degree 7 : The soul surrenders to the « Contemplatio » (the final « vision »).

Ingressio implies an appetite for knowledge and understanding of higher realities. The soul directs its gaze upwards, and from then on, nothing agitates it or distracts it from this search. It is taken by an appetite to understand what is true and sublime (Appetitio intellegendi ea quae vere summeque sunt).

At the very top of this ladder of consciousness is « contemplation », that is, the « vision of the divine ».

Modern thought is rather incapable of accounting for this « contemplation » or « vision ». But this does not prevent some “modern” thinkers from being somewhat titillated by the general idea of contemplation.

For example, Gilles Deleuze said a few words about contemplation in one of his courses, -though in a rather clumsy style, which I am rendering here as faithfully as possible: « This is exactly what Plotinus tells us: everything rejoices, everything rejoices in itself, and it rejoices in itself because it contemplates the other. You see, – not because it rejoices in itself. Everything rejoices because it contemplates the other. Everything is a contemplation, and that is what makes everything happy. That is to say, joy is full contemplation. Joy rejoices in itself as its contemplation is filled. And of course it is not itself that joy contemplates. As joy contemplates the other thing, it fills itself up. The thing fills with itself as it contemplates the other thing. And he [Plotinus] says: and not only animals, not only souls, but you and I, we are self-filled contemplations. We are small joys.”iv

“Self-filled contemplations »? Small joys »? Is that it?

Deleuze is far more modest in his ambition than any past auguries, or Augustine! Quite shy of ever contemplating the divine!

From this, I infer that ´modernity´ is not well equipped, no doubt, to take up the thread of a meditation that has continuously obsessed seers since the dawn of humanity.

The shamans of the Palaeolithic, in the cave of the Pont d’Arc, known as the Chauvet cave, painted inspired metaphors by the glow of trembling torches. From which imagined vision, from which cervical lobe, did their inspiration come from?

Feminine Sex. Chauvet Cave

The prophets of the Aurignacian « contemplated » under their fingers the appearance of « ideas » with a life of their own… They also saw the power that they had received, – to create worlds, and to share them, beyond tenths of millennia.

These ideas, these worlds, come now to move us, forty thousand years later.

How many “images” our own “modernity”, how many contemporary “ideas”, I ask, will still « move » humanity in forty thousand years from now?

Wild Herds. Chauvet cave

iAristotle. Nichomachean Ethics, X.

iiA. Ernout, A. Meillet. Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue latine.

iiiS. Augustine. De Quantitate Animae, §72-76

ivGilles Deleuze, Lesson of March 17th 1987 At University of Vincennes

Laughing at the Sea


Epicurus said: « We must laugh and philosophize at the same time »i.

In ancient Greek, the words « laugh » and « laughter » are rendered by γέλᾶν, from which derives the noun γαλήνη, which metaphorically denotes « the calm of the sunny sea », and more generally an aura of quiet brilliance.

It also denotes, by metonymic shift, the « silvery galena » (lead sulphide), but also the « serenity of the soul ».

It seems significant that the Greek language has a precise word, to remind the men that the sea laughs in the sun, calmly, and that the serene soul then resembles it.

By consulting Chantraine’s Greek Dictionary of Etymology, we also learn that γέλᾶν, « laugh », has its origin in the notion of brightness.

In ancient Greek when the earth « shakes », one also says that it « laughs », that it « bursts » (out of laughing ).

The word γέλᾶν, therefore, is ambivalent. It can evoke the calm of the sea, or the fury of the earth, the peaceful smile of the waves, and the chthonian forces that are unleashed.

The ancient Greek name of the earth, chtonos, had no relation to the nourishing land, a cultivable expanse. It was used in a religious sense, to refer to what was felt to be the outer shell of the world of the dead and the underground powers. When the earth trembles, the underworld, the world of the dead “laughs”.

These forgotten words depict a vision of the world. They remind us that when they were spoken, they also were summoning the trace and the deeds of the gods, and they were making them glimmer.

« The gods exist, the knowledge we have of them is clear evidence.”ii

The Epicureans really believed in the gods, and banished all fear of Hadesiii. So did the Stoics, who lived in accordance with the cosmic God.

As for the Skeptics, such as Pyrrho of Elis, Timo of Phlius or Aenesidemus, they believed in nothing. They doubted everything. Indifference, apathy, ataraxy. Detachment. That were their words.

Pyrrho said: « The generations of men are like the ephemeral leaves of the woods.”

Menander said: « Do you want to know who you are? Cast your eyes on the tombs that line the path. There are the bones and light ashes of kings, tyrants, wise men and all those men, who were swollen with the pride of their nobility, their fortune, their reputation or their beauty. This is the last term to which all mortals end. When you see this, you will know what you are. »

Timo of Phlius used the epicurean metaphor of the « smiling calm of the sea » (γαλήνη) to depict the peace of the wise Skeptic.

But Timo’s « smiling » or « sunny calm » was not really similar to Epicurus’ laughing wisdom…

For Epicurus believed in the gods. Timo believed in nothing.

« The end, according to the Skeptics, is the suspension of judgment, which is followed like a shadow by ataraxy, according to Timo and Aenesidemus.”iv

Diogenes Laërtius explained that Pyrrho had gone to India, and that, influenced by Indian gymnophists and Persian magi, he had brought back to Greece this philosophy of ataraxy, acatalepsy and « suspension of judgement ».

He also relates this anecdote:

One day a dog attacked Pyrrho.

He could not help but move backward to protect himself. He was reproached for this inconsistency, – in relation to his stated philosophy of ataraxy. He replied that it was difficult to completely strip oneself of one’s humanity, but that every effort should be made to bring one’s behavior into harmony with the world.

It is better to laugh about that rather tepid answer.

And just contemplate the sea.

Rire de mer

iEpicurus, Vatican Sentence 41 (Gn.V., 41 f.394)

iiEpicurus, Ep III, 123

iiiCf. A.J. Festugière. Épicure et ses dieux.

ivDiogenes Laërtius, Les vies des plus illustres philosophes de l’antiquité, 9,107

Hidden Evidence in Plain Sight


A famous « mystic », possessed by « transcendence », – Ludwig Wittgenstein – , once wrote: « The meaning of the world must be outside it. In the world everything is as it is, and everything happens as it happens; there is no value in it – and if there were, it would be worthless. If there is a value that has value, it must be outside everything that happens, and outside any particular state. For everything that happens and every particular state is accidental.

What makes it non-accidental cannot be in the world, because it would be accidental again.

It has to be out of the world.

That is why there can be no ethical proposals. Proposals cannot express anything superior.

It is clear that ethics cannot be expressed. Ethics is transcendental. (Ethics and aesthetics are one and the same thing).

How the world is, this is for the Superior perfectly indifferent. God does not reveal Himself in the world.(…)

There is certainly something unspeakable. It shows itself, it is the Mystic.”i

Terre, eau, feu

Starting from these radical phrases, I come to aspire to a kind of exit, an exodus of thought from the world, a rush to the elsewhere – not a suspension of belief, like Husserl and the phenomenologists, but a sudden plunge upwards, an incredible angelic leap, a Pascal-like flight (« Fire! Fire! »).

The Unspeakable interests me, like a higher point. Of the Unspeakable, nothing can be said about it. But one can at least say that it cannot be silenced. We can at least say this: « It shows itself ».

It’s meager, but it’s a beginning, tiny, and somewhat tangible.

You have to hold on to this hold, start climbing, initiate the climb, without a guide or a rope.

All religions, all of them, are based in their origin on something that, one day, « showed » itself.

It is useless to prioritize today the ancient outpourings of meaning, which made them so confident in their destiny. It is even more useless to use them, these same outpourings, to justify long afterwards the hatred and the self-stated difference that their followers « show » to “others”.

However, in order to show what was « shown » then, and what is still « shown » now, words are not completely useless.

But words are not enough. To attempt an anthropology of the sacred, which would cover a vast space of time, we must also rely on the clues found in the caves of the Palaeolithic, add to them the concomitant revelations of Akhenaten, Zoroaster, Hermes Trismegistus, Moses, Buddha or Jesus, and integrate in addition the dreams of a universal religion, the intuition of the emergence of a “Noos-sceneii.

If nothing unspeakable is indeed to be found in the world, humanity as a whole has, however, for at least a million years now, been welcoming in its bosom continuous evidence of the subtle monstration of who cannot be designated otherwise than by this epithet.

Reality is therefore not « nothing », it is not « empty », without any « value ». It is, to be sure, very short of its own meaning. But it is also capable, fertile breast, warm belly, of welcoming what is decidedly not speakable. Reality is easily pierced by the presence of an absence, or only its signs.

Karl Barth once had this rather arrogant formula:

« I hold the analogia entis for an invention of the Antichrist.”iii

To refuse the « analogy of being » is to refuse the essential principle of medieval theology, that of believing that an « analogy » between nature and the supernatural, the lower and the higher, is possible.

Karl Barth thus reveals the essence of his own soul: he is a « Gnostic », – like so many other so-called « modern » thinkers, moreover.

A brief reminder: for « Gnosis », the world is separated, divided. The « good », the « evil ». The « chosen ones » who know, and the « rest », blind and doomed to nothingness. No links, no possible analogies. Relentless cut, a metaphysical wall.

I, myself, am not a Gnostic. I don’t believe in Gnosis.

On the other hand, it seems to me as clear as a thousand Milky Ways, as luminous as a million Orions, that if the world does not contain any meaning in it, and does not seem to have any, it nevertheless incarnates, in spite of itself, by its existence and its entirety, a hidden evidence.

i Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus logico-philosophicus (6.41, 6.42, 6.432, 6.522)

ii Cf. The work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

iii Karl Barth. Dogmatique de l’Église protestante. T.1 (1953)

The Divine, – Long Before Abraham


More than two millennia B.C., in the middle of the Bronze Age, so-called « Indo-Aryan » peoples were settled in Bactria, between present-day Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. They left traces of a civilisation known as the Oxus civilisation (-2200, -1700). Then they migrated southwards, branching off to the left, towards the Indus plains, or to the right, towards the high plateau of Iran.

These migrant peoples, who had long shared a common culture, then began to differentiate themselves, linguistically and religiously, without losing their fundamental intuitions. This is evidenced by the analogies and differences between their respective languages, Sanskrit and Zend, and their religions, the religion of the Vedas and that of Zend-Avesta.

In the Vedic cult, the sacrifice of the Soma, composed of clarified butter, fermented juice and decoctions of hallucinogenic plants, plays an essential role. The Vedic Soma has its close equivalent in Haoma, in Zend-Avesta. The two words are in fact the same, if we take into account that the Zend language of the ancient Persians puts an aspirated h where the Sanskrit puts an s.

Soma and Haoma have a deep meaning. These liquids are transformed by fire during the sacrifice, and then rise towards the sky. Water, milk, clarified butter are symbols of the cosmic cycles. At the same time, the juice of hallucinogenic plants and their emanations contribute to ecstasy, trance and divination, revealing an intimate link between the chemistry of nature, the powers of the brain and the insight into divine realities.

The divine names are very close, in the Avesta and the Veda. For example, the solar God is called Mitra in Sanskrit and Mithra in Avesta. The symbolism linked to Mitra/Mithra is not limited to identification with the sun. It is the whole cosmic cycle that is targeted.

An Avestic prayer says: « In Mithra, in the rich pastures, I want to sacrifice through Haoma.”i

Mithra, the divine « Sun », reigns over the « pastures » that designate all the expanses of Heaven, and the entire Cosmos. In the celestial « pastures », the clouds are the « cows of the Sun ». They provide the milk of Heaven, the water that makes plants grow and that waters all life on earth. Water, milk and Soma, all liquid, have their common origin in the solar, celestial cows.

The Soma and Haoma cults are inspired by this cycle. The components of the sacred liquid (water, clarified butter, vegetable juices) are carefully mixed in a sacred vase, the samoudra. But the contents of the vase only take on their full meaning through the divine word, the sacred hymn.

« Mortar, vase, Haoma, as well as the words coming out of Ahura-Mazda‘s mouth, these are my best weapons.”ii

Soma and Haoma are destined for the Altar Fire. Fire gives a life of its own to everything it burns. It reveals the nature of things, illuminates them from within by its light, its incandescence.

« Listen to the soul of the earth; contemplate the rays of Fire with devotion.”iii

Fire originally comes from the earth, and its role is to make the link with Heaven, as says the Yaçna.iv

« The earth has won the victory, because it has lit the flame that repels evil.”v

Nothing naturalistic in these images. These ancient religions were not idolatrous, as they were made to believe, with a myopia mixed with profound ignorance. They were penetrated by a cosmic spirituality.

« In the midst of those who honor your flame, I will stand in the way of Truth « vi said the officiant during the sacrifice.

The Fire is stirred by the Wind (which is called Vāyou in Avestic as in Sanskrit). Vāyou is not a simple breath, a breeze, it is the Holy Spirit, the treasure of wisdom.

 » Vāyou raises up pure light and directs it against the dark ones.”vii

Water, Fire, Wind are means of mediation, means to link up with the one God, the « Living » God that the Avesta calls Ahura Mazda.

« In the pure light of Heaven, Ahura Mazda exists. »viii

The name of Ahura (the « Living »), calls the supreme Lord. This name is identical to the Sanskrit Asura (we have already seen the equivalence h/s). The root of Asura is asu, “life”.

The Avestic word mazda means « wise ».

« It is you, Ahura Mazda (« the Living Wise One »), whom I have recognized as the primordial principle, the father of the Good Spirit, the source of truth, the author of existence, living eternally in your works.”ix

Clearly, the « Living » is infinitely above all its creatures.

« All luminous bodies, the stars and the Sun, messenger of the day, move in your honor, O Wise One, living and true. »x

I call attention to the alliance of the three words, « wise », « living » and « true », to define the supreme God.

The Vedic priest as well as the Avestic priest addressed God in this way more than four thousand years ago: « To you, O Living and True One, we consecrate this living flame, pure and powerful, the support of the world.”xi

I like to think that the use of these three attributes (« Wise », « Living » and « True »), already defining the essence of the supreme God more than four thousand years ago, is the oldest proven trace of an original theology of monotheism.

It is important to stress that this theology of Life, Wisdom and Truth of a supreme God, unique in His supremacy, precedes the tradition of Abrahamic monotheism by more than a thousand years.

Four millennia later, at the beginning of the 21st century, the world landscape of religions offers us at least three monotheisms, particularly assertorical: Judaism, Christianity, Islam…

« Monotheisms! Monotheisms! », – I would wish wish to apostrophe them, – « A little modesty! Consider with attention and respect the depth of the times that preceded the late emergence of your own dogmas!”

The hidden roots and ancient visions of primeval and deep humanity still show to whoever will see them, our essential, unfailing unity and our unique origin…

iKhorda. Prayer to Mithra.

iiVend. Farg. 19 quoted in Émile Burnouf. Le Vase sacré. 1896

iiiYaçna 30.2

ivYaçna 30.2

vYaçna 32.14

viYaçna 43.9

viiYaçna 53.6

viiiVisp 31.8

ixYaçna 31.8

xYaçna 50.30

xiYaçna 34.4

Drunken Love, a metaphor of Divine Love


Soma is a flammable liquid, composed of clarified butter and various hallucinogenic plant juices. On a symbolic level, Soma is both a representation of the living God, the embodiment of the essence of the cosmos, and the sacrifice par excellence to the supreme God.

Vedic hymns, composed to accompany the sacrifice of the Soma, abound in metaphors, attributes and epithets of the divinity. Verbs such as to pour, to flow, to come, to abide, to embrace, to beget are used to describe the action of God.

Many hymns evoke, in a raw or subliminal way, the dizziness of (divine) love. Words such as lover, woman, womb, ardour, pleasure. But here again, they are metaphors, with hidden meanings, which must be carefully interpreted.

The sacrifice of the divine Soma can be summed up as follows: a mixture of oil, butter and milk flows in flames towards the « matrix » (the crucible where the fire blazes with all its strength), then rises in smoke and fragrance towards Heaven, where it participates in the generation of the divine.

The 9th Mandala of the Rig Veda, entirely dedicated to the sacrifice of the Soma, considered as a God, explains the profound meaning of what is at stake and its cosmic effects. Here are a few quotes, which, I believe, capture the essence of what’s at stake:

« The poured Soma flows for the Ardent, for the Wind, for that which envelops, for the Spirits, for the Active.»i

« This golden light, support, flows into that which ignites it; that which crackles flows into the matrix.”ii

« He who is here [the Soma] has come like an eagle to take up his abode, like the lover to the woman.”iii

« This gold that one drinks, and which flows rumbling towards the matrix, towards pleasure.”iv

« That which flows from desire, comes from that which moves away and from that which comes near, – the sweetness poured out for the Ardent.”v

« Those who go together shouted. They made the gold flow with the stone. Take up residence in the matrix where it flows.”vi

« The sound of the burning Ardent, like the sound of rain; lightning goes into the sky.”vii

« Bringing forth the lights of the sky, generating the sun in the waters, gold envelops milk and waters.”viii

« Coming from the original milk, He flows into the hearth, embracing it, and by crying He generates the Gods.”ix

« Soma, as He lights up, flows towards all the treasures, towards the Gods who grow through the oblation.”x

Other mystical traditions, the Jewish for example, share with the Vedic language comparable semantic elements, similar metaphors (oil, honey, milk, entrails, bosom, matrix, water, wine or liquor, pouring out, flowing into, ).

Particularly interesting in this respect is the Song of Songs, composed between six and eight centuries after the Rig Veda.

« Your name is an oil that pours out.”xi

« Your lips, O bride, distil the virgin honey. Honey and milk are under your tongue.”xii

« Myrrh and aloes, with the finest aromas. Source of the gardens, well of living water, runoff from Lebanon!”xiii

« I gather my myrrh and my balm, I eat my honey and my comb, I drink my wine and my milk.”xiv

« From my hands dripped myrrh, from my fingers virgin myrrh.”xv

« His head is of gold, pure gold. “xvi

« Her eyes are doves, at the edge of rivers, bathing in milk, resting on the edge of a basin.”xvii

« Your bosom, a rounded cut, let there be no lack of wine! »xviii

« I will make you drink a fragrant wine.”xix

We can see that the Rig Veda and the Song of Songs, centuries apart, share, despite their distance, a comparable atmosphere of loving fusion with the divine.

This should come as no surprise. There is no doubt that this is an indication of the existence of an extremely profound anthropological constant.

The traces left in the Palaeolithic by prehistoric religions, which show comparable metaphors, bear witness to this.

The Venus of Laussel is 25,000 years old. Naked, she brandishes a horn to drink it. This gesture, always young, reminds us that in the oldest ages of humanity, the divine was already perceived in the guise of love, – and (infinite) drunkenness, a spiritual one of course, but in a strange sort of way, associated to a more mundane one.

iRig Veda. Mandala 9. Hymn 34,.2. For reference, the translation of Ralph T.H. Griffith (1889) gives : « Poured forth to Indra, Varuṇa, to Vāyu and the Marut host, to Viṣṇu, flows the Soma juice. »

iiIbid. Hymn 37,2. For reference, the translation of Ralph T.H. Griffith (1889) gives : « Far-sighted, tawny-coloured, he flows to the sieve, intelligent, bellowing, to his place of rest. »

iiiIbid. Hymn 38,4. For reference, the translation of Ralph T.H. Griffith (1889) gives : « He like a falcon settles down amid the families of men. Speeding like lover to his love. »

ivIbid. Hymn 38,6. For reference, the translation of Ralph T.H. Griffith (1889) gives : « Poured for the draught, this tawny juice flows forth, intelligent, crying out, unto the well-beloved place. »

vIbid. Hymn 39,5. For reference, the translation of Ralph T.H. Griffith (1889) gives : « Inviting him from far away, and even from near at hand, the juice for Indra is poured forth as meath. »

viIbid. Hymne 39,6. Ralph T.H. Griffith (1889) translates: « In union they have sung the hymn ; with stones they urge the Tawny One. Sit in the place of sacrifice. »

viiIbid. Hymn 41,3. Ralph T.H. Griffith (1889) translates: « The mighty Pavamāna’s roar is heard as ‘twere the rush of rain. Lightnings are flashing to the sky. »

viiiIbid. Hymn 42,1. Ralph T.H. Griffith (1889) translates: « Engendering the Sun in floods, engendering heaven’s lights, green-hued, robed in the waters and the milk. »

ixIbid. Hymn 42,4. Ralph T.H. Griffith (1889) translates: « Shedding the ancient fluid He is poured into the cleansing sieve ; He, thundering, hath produces the Gods. »

xIbid. Hymn 42,5. Ralph T.H. Griffith (1889) translates: « Soma, while purifying, sends hither all things to be desired, He sends the Gods who strenghten Law. »

xi So 1,3

xii So 4,11

xiii So 4,14-15

xiv So 5,1

xv So 5,3

xvi So 5,11

xvii So 5,12

xviii So 7,3

xix So 8,2

Death in the Palaeolithic and the Future of Mankind


The world would have been created about 6000 years ago, according to Jewish tradition. However, modern science estimates that the Big Bang took place 13.8 billion years ago. These both claims seem contradictory. But it is easy to retort that the biblical years could just be metaphors. Moreover, the alleged age of the Big Bang is itself questionable. Our universe may have had earlier forms of existence, impossible to observe from our present position in space-time, because the cosmological horizon forms an impenetrable barrier.

Science has its own intrinsic limits. It can definitely not go beyond the walls of the small cosmological jar in which we are enclosed, apparently. What about the meta-cosmic oceans which undoubtedly exist beyond the horizons perceived by current science?

For those who nevertheless seek to contemplate the possibility of origins, there are other ways of meditation and reflection. Among these is the exploration of the depth of the human soul, which in a sense goes beyond the dimensions of the cosmological field.

When Abraham decided to emigrate from Ur in Chaldea, around the 12th century BC, it was already more than two thousand years that Egypt observed a religion turned towards the hope of life after death. Ancient Egyptians worshiped a unique God, Sovereign of the Universe, Creator of the world, Guardian of all creation. Archaeological traces of funerary rites testify to this, which have been discovered in Upper Egypt, and which date from the 4th millennium BC.

But can we go even further back into the past of mankind?

Can we question the traces of prehistoric religions in order to excavate what is meta-historical, and even meta-cosmic?

In the caves of Chou-Kou-Tien, or Zhoukoudian according to the Pinyin transcription, 42km from Beijing, archaeologists (including Pierre Teilhard de Chardin) discovered the remains of hominids in 1926. They were given the name Sinanthropus pekinensis, then Homo erectus pekinensis. Dating is estimated at 780,000 years. These hominids mastered hunting, tool making and fire. They managed to live for hundreds of thousands of years and to face successive periods of glaciation and warming. The successive geological strata that contain their remains and those of animals from those distant times bear witness to this.

The geological earth is like a memorial and trans-generational Noah’s Ark.

Skulls have been found at the Chou-Kou-Tien site, but none of the other bones of the human skeleton. According to some interpretations, these are therefore the remains of cannibal feasts, carried out for religious purposes.

“The bodies had been decapitated after death, buried until they had decomposed, and the heads were then carefully preserved for ritual purposes, doubtless, as in Borneo today, because in them it was supposed that soul’substance resided having the properties of a vitalizing agent. As the skulls show signs of injuries they may have been those of victims who had been killed and their crania broken open in order to extract the brain for sacramental consumption. If this were so, probably they represent the remains of cannibal feasts, organized cannibalism in that case having been an established feature of the cult of the dead in the Mid-Pleistocene in North China in which the cutting off and preservation of the head, skull or scalp was a prominent feature during or after the sacred meal, either to extract its soul substance or as a trophy.”i

This theory takes on more weight if we consider a number of other discoveries in other parts of the world.

In the caves of Ofnet in Bavaria, 33 prehistoric skulls have been discovered, arranged « like eggs in a basket », as one of the discoverers put it. Of these skulls, 27 of them were covered in red ochre and facing west. It has been established that the skulls were detached from the bodies with the help of carved flints.

The manner in which the skulls were detached from the skeleton and the traces of trepanation suggest that the brains were ritually extracted and probably consumed during funeral meals, as a sign of « communion » with the dead.

This cannibalism would therefore not be directed against enemy hordes. Moreover, on the same site, 20 children’s skeletons adorned with snail shells, 9 women’s skeletons with deer tooth necklaces, and 4 adult men’s skeletons were found. This reinforces the idea of funeral ceremonies.

In Jericho, 7 skulls were found whose features had been cast in plaster and then carefully decorated with shells (cowries and bivalves representing the eyelids, vertical slits simulating the pupil of the eye).ii

In Switzerland, in the Musterian Caves of Drachenloch, a set of bear heads looking to the east has been found, and in Styria, in Drachenhöhle, a Musterian pit with 50 bear femurs also looking to the east.

Similar traces of ritual burial have been found in Moustier (Dordogne), La Chapelle-aux-Saints (Corrèze) and La Ferrassie (Dordogne).iii

It can be deduced from these and many other similar facts, that in the Palaeolithic, for probably a million years, and perhaps more, the cult of the dead was observed according to ritual forms, involving forms of religious belief. Certain revealing details (presence of tools and food near the buried bodies) allow us to infer that hominids in the Palaeolithic believed in survival after death.

In these caves and caverns, in China or Europe, Palaeolithic men buried their dead with a mixture of veneration, respect, but also fear and anxiety for their passage into another world.

From this we can deduce that, for at least a million years, humanity has been addressing an essential question: what does death mean for the living? How can man live with the thought of death?

For a thousand times a thousand years these questions have been stirring the minds of men. Today’s religions, which appeared very late, what sort of answers do they bring ?

From a little distanced point of view, they bring among other things divisions and reciprocal hatreds, among peoples packed into the narrow anthropological space that constitutes our cosmic vessel.

None of today’s religions can reasonably claim the monopoly of truth, the unveiling of mystery. It is time to return to a deeper, more original intuition.

All religions should take as their sacred duty the will to ally themselves together, to face in common the mystery that surpasses them entirely, encompasses them, and transcends them.

Utopia? Indeed.

iE.O. James, Prehistoric Religion, (1873), Barnes and Nobles, New York, 1957, p.18

iiKinyar. Antiquity, vol 27, 1953, quoted by E.O. James, Prehistoric Religion, (1873), Barnes and Nobles, New York, 1957

iiiE.O. James, Prehistoric Religion, (1873), Barnes and Nobles, New York, 1957

The « Book » and the « Word ».


The high antiquity of the Zend language, contemporary to the language of the Vedas, is well established. Eugène Burnoufi even considers that it presents certain characteristics of anteriority, which the vocal system testifies to. But this thesis remains controversial. Avestic science was still in its infancy in the 19th century. It was necessary to use conjectures. For example, Burnouf tried to explain the supposed meaning of the name Zarathustra, not without taking risks. According to him, zarath means « yellow » in zend, and uchtra, « camel ». The name of Zarathustra, the founder of Zoroastrianism, would thus mean: « He who has yellow camels »?

Burnouf, with all his young science, thus contradicts Aristotle who, in his Treatise on Magic, says that the word Ζωροάστρην (Zoroaster) means « who sacrifices to the stars ».

It seems that Aristotle was right. Indeed, the old Persian word Uchtra can be related to the Indo-European word ashtar, which gave « astre » in French and « star » in English. And zarath can mean « golden ». Zarathustra would then mean « golden star », which is perhaps more appropriate to the founder of a thriving religion.

These questions of names are not so essential. Whether he is the happy owner of yellow camels, or the incarnation of a star shining like gold, Zoroaster is above all the mythical author of the Zend Avesta, of which the Vendidad and the Yaçna are part.

The name Vendidad is a contraction of Vîdaêvo dâta, « given against demons (dêvas) ».

The Yaçna (« sacrifice with prayers ») is a collection of Avestic prayers.

Here is an extract, quite significant.

« As a worshipper of Mazda [Wisdom], a sectarian of Zoroaster, an enemy of the devils [demons], an observer of the precepts of Ahura [the « Lord »], I pay homage to him who is given here, given against the devils, and to Zoroaster, pure, master of purity, and to the yazna [sacrifice], and to the prayer that makes favorable, and to the blessing of the masters, and to the days, and the hours, and the months, and the seasons, and the years, and to the yazna, and to the prayer that makes favorable, and to the blessing!”

This prayer is addressed to the Lord, Ahura. But it is also addressed to the prayer itself.

In a repetitive, self-referential way, it is a prayer to the yaçna, a ‘prayer praying the prayer’, an invocation to the invocation, a blessing of the blessing. A homage from mediation to mediation.

This stylistic formula, « prayer to prayer », is interesting to analyze.

Let us note from the outset that the Zend Avesta clearly recognises the existence of a supreme God, to whom every prayer is addressed.

« I pray and invoke the great Ormuzd [= Ahura Mazda, the « Lord of Wisdom »], brilliant, radiant with light, very perfect, very excellent, very pure, very strong, very intelligent, who is purest, above all that which is holy, who thinks only of the good, who is a source of pleasure, who gives gifts, who is strong and active, who nourishes, who is sovereignly absorbed in excellence.”ii

But Avestic prayer can also be addressed not only to the supreme God, but also to the mediation that make it possible to reach Him, like the sacred Book itself: « I pray and invoke the Vendidad given to Zoroaster, holy, pure and great.”iii

The prayer is addressed to God and all his manifestations, of which the Book (the Vendidad) is a part.

« I invoke and celebrate you Fire, son of Ormuzd, with all the fires.

I invoke and celebrate the excellent, pure and perfect Word that the Vendidad gave to Zoroaster, the sublime, pure and ancient Law of the Mazdeans.”

It is important to note that it is the Sacred Book (the Vendidad) that gives the divine Word to Zoroaster, and not the other way round. The Zend Avesta sees this Book as sacred and divine, and recognizes it as an actor of divine revelation.

It is tempting to compare this divine status of the Book in the Zend Avesta with the divine status of the Torah in Judaism and the Koran in Islam.

The divine status of sacred texts (Zend Avesta, Torah, Koran) in these monotheisms incites to consider a link between the affirmation of the absolute transcendence of a supreme God and the need for mediation between the divine and the human, – a mediation which must itself be « divine ».

It is interesting to underline, by contrast, the human origin of evangelical testimonies in Christianity. The Gospels were written by men, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. The Gospels are not divine emanations, but human testimonies. They are therefore not of the same essence as the Torah (« revealed » to Moses), or the Koran (« dictated » to Muhammad, who was otherwise illiterate) or the Zend Avesta (« given » to Zoroaster).

In Christianity, on the other hand, it is Christ himself who embodies divine mediation in his person. He, the Anointed One, Christ, the Messiah, incarnates the divine Word, the Verb.

Following this line of thought, one would have to conclude that Christianity is not a « religion of the Book », as the oversimplified formula that usually encompasses the three monotheisms under the same expression would suggest.

This formula certainly suits Judaism and Islam, as it does Zend Avesta. But Christianity is not a religion of the « Book », it is a religion of the « Word ».

iEugène Burnouf, Commentaire sur le Yaçna, l’un des livres religieux des Parses. Ouvrage contenant le texte zend. 1833

iiZend Avesta, I, 2

iiiZend Avesta, I, 2

Hebrew Wind and Chinese Breath


« The earth was tohu and bohu, darkness covered the abyss, a wind of God (וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים , ruah Elohim) was moving over the waters.”i

Tohu means « astonishment, amazement » and bohu means « emptiness, loneliness », explains Rashi, who adds: « Man is seized with amazement and horror in the presence of emptiness.”

Man was amazed and horrified? But how could this be done? Man was only created on the 6th day, when the emptiness had already been partly filled by light, the firmament, the land and the seas, the light fixtures and a multitude of living beings. But this is not necessarily contradictory. It is inferred that Rashi is referring to the « astonishment and horror » that man felt long after the tohu and bohu were created, when man began to reflect on the origins.

However, this reflection has not ceased and is still relevant today.

So there are two kinds of men, if we follow the path indicated by Rashi. Those who feel « amazement and horror » when they think about the hustle and bustle of the origins, and those who are in no way moved by this kind of thinking.

Above the emptiness, above the abyss, above the bohu, « a wind of God » was moving. The word רוּחַ, ruah, is very ambivalent and can mean wind, breath, spirit, soul, depending on the context. Translating here as « a wind » as the Jerusalem Bible does seems to favour a more meteorological or geo-physical approach to these original times. This translation uses the indefinite article (« a wind ») which indicates a certain non-differentiation, a possible multiplicity of other « winds » that God would not have put into action.

The Bible of the French Rabbinate translates ruah Elohim as « the breath of God ». Rashi comments: « The throne of the Divine Majesty stood in the air and hovered on the surface of the waters by the sole force of the breath of the word of the Holy One, and by His order. Like a dove hovering over its nest.”

This comment by Rashi calls for another comment, – from my modest part.

To explain just one word, ruah, Rashi uses four more words. First an expression of three words: « the strength of the breath of the word » of the Holy One, blessed be He, and a fourth word that clarifies its meaning: « by His order ». To this are added two more images, that of the « Throne of the Divine Majesty », and a comparison of the ruah with « the dove hovering over its nest ». The « wind of God » hovering in front of the loneliness of the bohu is thus well surrounded.

It is generally one of the roles of the commentator to multiply the possible outbursts of meaning, and to make promises glimmer. It is apparent from Rashi’s commentary that not only was the ruah not alone in the beginning, but that it bore, so to speak, the Throne of God, in His Majesty, and that it was accompanied by His Word and His Order (i.e. His Power). A curious trinity, for a monotheism that claims to be pure of all kind of trinitarian idolatry.

Now let us change era, and air. Let’s go East.

The same idea of « original breath » is expressed in Chinese by the two caractères元气 , yuánqì. The two ideograms used are: 元 , yuán, origin and 气 , , breath.

The is the vital breath. It is the fundamental principle of life, which animates all beings. After death, the continues to live in the afterlife. The embodies the essence of a universe that is constantly changing. It constantly circulates and connects things and beings.

takes different forms. We can distinguish the original ( yuánqì,元气), the primordial (yuánqì 元氣), the prenatal (jīng 精), the of the mind and the of the soul (shén 神), etc.

Archaeological traces of the character have been found, engraved on turtle shells. It was originally represented by three horizontal bars, supposed to evoke steam or mist. The also appears on a jade jewel dating from the period of the Fighting Kingdoms (-403 to -256), in the form of the sinogram 炁 , composed of the radical 灬, which refers to fire (huǒ 火). During the Han Dynasty (from -206 to 220), is represented by a sinogram combining steam 气 and fire 火.

In the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) the is represented by the sinogram 氣 which refers to the steam emanating from the cooking of rice. It is still used today, and illustrates the material and immaterial nature of the concept. Its key is the pictogram 气 () which represents a cloud.

The lower part of the sinogram is the pictogram 米 (), which represents grains of rice and means « rice ». The character 氣 expresses the idea of rice boiling in the pot.

The sinogram writes as a mixture, immaterial and ethereal (steam), dense and material (rice).

In Genesis, the movement of the divine breath precedes the separation of heaven and earth, and then the creation of living beings; in Chinese cosmology, too, the breath ( 气) precedes the separation of yin and yang, which is itself the origin of the « ten thousand beings » (wànwù 万物), that is to say all beings and indirectly the things that make up the world.

In Chinese thought, is at work in the reign of the living and in the mineral reign. For example, the veins of jade are considered to be organized by just like the veins of the human body. Chinese painting depicts the geological strata of mountains, which are one of the macro-cosmic manifestations of , and the aesthetics of a canvas depends on the capture of this breath.

nourishes thought and spiritual life and has a certain relationship with the divine shén 神, whose deep meaning is etymologically linked to the characters « to say » and « to show, to reveal ». The divine is not in the , that is to say, but the can be used by the divine.

The is ‘breath, wind’, the divine (shén) is ‘word, revelation’.

The divine is not in the ‘wind’ or the ‘breath’, it is in the ‘word’, – far from any materialism of cloudy emanations, or cooking vapors.

Throughout the ages, cultures and languages, the ancient metaphors of wind and breath still inspire us.

Energy comes from the world and brings it to life. But for the Hebrews and the Chinese, the divine is not of the world. The divine is not in the wind.

The Divine, or the Word, may be in the world, but they are not of the world…

iGen. 1,2

A Philosophy of Hatred


Quite early in history, the idea of a « universal religion » appeared in various civilisations – despite the usual obstacles posed by tradition and the vested interests of priests and princes.

This idea did not fit easily into the old frames of thought, nor into the representations of the world built by tribal, national religions, or, a fortiori, by exclusive, elitist sects, reserved for privileged initiates or a chosen few.

But, for example, five centuries before the Prophet Muhammad, the Persian prophet Mani already affirmed out of the blues that he was the « seal of the prophets ». It was therefore up to him to found and preach a new, universal religion. Manichaeism then had its hour of glory. Augustine, who embraced it for a time, testifies to its expansion and success in the territories controlled by Rome at the time, and to its lasting hold on the spirits.

Manichaeism promoted a dualist system of thought, centred on the eternal struggle between Good and Evil; it is not certain that these ideas have disappeared today.

Before Mani, the first Christians also saw themselves as bearers of a really universal message. They no longer saw themselves as Jews — or Gentiles. They thought of themselves as a third kind of man (« triton genos« , « tertium genus« ), « trans-humans » ahead of the times. They saw themselves as the promoters of a new wisdom, « barbaric » from the Greek point of view, « scandalous » for the Jews, – transcending the power of the Law and of Reason.

Christians were not to be a nation among nations, but « a nation built out of nations » according to the formula of Aphrahat, a Persian sage of the 4th century.

Contrary to the usual dichotomies, that of the Greeks against the Barbarians, or that of the Jews against the Goyim, the Christians thus thought that they embodied a new type of « nation », a « nation » that was not « national », but purely spiritual, a « nation » that would be like a soul in the body of the world (or according to another image, the « salt of the earth »i).

The idea of a really « universal » religion then rubbed shoulders, it is important to say, with positions that were absolutely contrary, exclusive, and even antagonistic to the last degree, like those of the Essenes.

A text found in Qumran, near the Dead Sea, advocates hatred against all those who are not members of the sect, while insisting on the importance that this « hatred » must remain secret. The member of the Essene sect « must hide the teaching of the Law from men of falsity (anshei ha-‘arel), but must announce true knowledge and right judgment to those who have chosen the way. (…) Eternal hatred in a spirit of secrecy for men of perdition! (sin’at ‘olam ‘im anshei shahat be-ruah hasher!)ii « .

G. Stroumsa comments: « The peaceful conduct of the Essenes towards the surrounding world now appears to have been nothing more than a mask hiding a bellicose theology. »

This attitude is still found today in the « taqqiya » of the Shi’ites, for example.

It should be added that the idea of « holy war » was also part of Essene eschatology, as can be seen in the « War Scroll » (War Scroll, 1QM), preserved in Jerusalem, which is also known as the scroll of « The War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness ».

Philo of Alexandria, steeped in Greek culture, considered that the Essenes had a « barbaric philosophy », and « that they were in a sense, the Brahmins of the Jews, an elite among the elite. »

Clearch of Soles, a peripatetic philosopher of the 4th century BC, a disciple of Aristotle, had also seriously considered that the Jews were descended from Brahmins, and that their wisdom was a « legitimate inheritance » from India. This idea spread widely, and was apparently accepted by the Jews of that time, as evidenced by the fact that Philo of Alexandriaiii and Flavius Josephusiv naturally referred to it.

The « barbaric philosophy » of the Essenes and the « barbaric wisdom » of the early Christians have one thing in common: they both point to ideas emanating from a more distant East, that of Persia, Oxus and even, ultimately, the Indus.

Among oriental ideas, one is particularly powerful. That of the double of the soul, or the double soul, depending on the point of view.

The text of the Rule of the Community, found in Qumran, gives an indication: « He created man to rule the world, and assigned to him two spirits with which he must walk until the time when He will return: the spirit of truth and the spirit of lie (ruah ha-emet ve ruah ha-avel).”v

There is broad agreement among researchers to detect an Iranian influence in this anthropology. Shaul Shaked writes: « It is conceivable that contacts between Jews and Iranians led to the formulation of a Jewish theology, which, while following traditional Jewish motifs, came to resemble closely the Iranian worldview. »

G. Stroumsa further notes that such duality in the soul is found in the rabbinic idea of the two basic instincts of good and evil present in the human soul (yetser ha-ra’, yetser ha-tov)vi.

This conception has been widely disseminated since ancient times. Far from being reserved for the Gnostics and Manicheans, who seem to have found their most ancient sources in ancient Persia, it had, as we can see, penetrated Jewish thought in several ways.

But it also aroused strong opposition. Christians, in particular, held different views.

Augustine asserts that there can be no « spirit of evil », since all souls come from God.vii In his Counter Faustus, he argues: « As they say that every living being has two souls, one from the light, the other from the darkness, is it not clear that the good soul leaves at the moment of death, while the evil soul remains?”viii

Origen has yet another interpretation: every soul is assisted by two angels, an angel of righteousness and an angel of iniquityix. There are not two opposing souls, but rather a higher soul and another in a lower position.

Manichaeism itself varied on this delicate issue. It presented two different conceptions of the dualism inherent in the soul. The horizontal conception put the two souls, one good and one bad, in conflict. The other conception, vertical, put the soul in relation to its celestial counterpart, its ‘guardian angel’. The guardian angel of Mani, the Paraclete (« the intercessor angel »), the Holy Spirit are all possible figures of this twin, divine soul.

This conception of a celestial Spirit forming a « couple » (suzugia) with each soul was theorised by Tatian the Syrian in the 2nd century AD, as Erik Peterson notes.

Stroumsa points out that « this conception, which was already widespread in Iran, clearly reflects shamanistic forms of thought, according to which the soul can come and go outside the individual under certain conditions.”x

The idea of the soul of Osiris or Horus floating above the body of the dead God, the angels of the Jewish tradition, the Greek « daimon », the split souls of the Gnostics, the Manicheans, or the Iranians, or, even more ancient, the experiences of the shamans, by their profound analogies, testify to the existence of « anthropological constants », of which the comparative study of ancient religions gives a glimpse.

All these traditions converge in this: the soul is not only a principle of life, attached to an earthly body, which would be destined to disappear after death.

It is also attached to a higher, spiritual principle that guards and guides it.

Science has recently taken a step in this direction, foreseen for several millennia, by demonstrating that man’s « spirit » is not only located in the brain itself, but that it is also « diffused » all around him, in the emotional, symbolic, imaginary and social spheres.

Perhaps one day we will be able to objectify in a tangible way this intuition, so ancient, and so « universal ». In the meantime, let us conclude that it is difficult to be satisfied with a narrowly materialistic, mechanical description of the world.

And even less with a philosophy of hatred.

_______

iMt, 5,13

iiQumran P. IX. I. Quoted in Guy Stroumsa. Barbarian Philosophy.

iiiPhilo of Alexandria. Cf. Quod omnis probus liber sit. 72-94 et Vita Mosis 2. 19-20

ivFlavius Josephus. Contra Apius.. 1. 176-182

vQumran. The Rule of Community. III, 18

viB.Yoma 69b, Baba Bathra 16a, Gen Rabba 9.9)

viiAugustin. De duabus animabus.

viiiAugustin. Contra faustum. 6,8

ixOrigen. Homelies on St Luke.

xGuy Stroumsa. Barbarian Philosophy.

Religions of blood and religion of milk


The ancient Jewish religion, from its origin, favored the oblation of blood, the animal sacrifice to God. A lamb, a goat, a heifer or a dove could do the trick. The Egyptologist Jan Assmann argues that the sacrifice of sheep or cattle was conceived by Moses as a way of affirming the symbolism of a « counter-religion », in order to stand out as far as possible from the ancient Egyptian religion. In fact, the ancient Egyptian religion considered the Bull (Serapis) as a divine avatar, which it was obviously a “sacrilege” to sacrifice. Taking the exact opposite side by choosing the sacrifice of blood was an effective way of cutting all bridges with the past.

Much further to the East, in the Indus basin, and long before the time of Abraham or Moses, the even older religion of the Veda excluded any animal sacrifice. On the contrary, the Cow was (and still is) sacred. This is why only the milk of the cow was sacrificed, not its blood.

The Cow was considered as a divine symbol, because it represented the cosmic cycle of life. And milk embedded its essence.

How so?

The sunlight floods the earth, makes the grass grow, which feeds the cow, which produces the milk. In the final analysis, this milk comes from cosmic, solar forces. It is then used in the sacrifice in the form of « clarified butter ». Sôma is composed of this liquid, flammable butter and other psychotropic vegetable juices. By burning in the sacred fire, the butter from the cosmos returns to its origin, in the form of flame, smoke and odor, and embodies the homage paid to the universal Divinity.

The 9th Mandala of the Rig Veda is dedicated to this Vedic worship of the Sôma. It contains hymns and prayers to the Divine Sôma:

« You who flows very gently, perfectly liquid, light up, O Sôma, you who has been poured out as a libation to the Burning One ». (Hymn I,1)

“Burning” or “Ardent” is one of the Names of the Divine.

The Sôma flows to regale Heaven, it flows for « comfort » and for the « voice » (« abhi vajam uta çravah« ). The Sôma is divine. The sacrifice of Sôma is an image of the union of the divine with the divine through the divine: « O Sôma, unite with you through you. »

The sacrifice of the Sôma is a metaphor of life, which is transmitted incessantly, constantly diverse, eternally mobile.

« The daughter of the sun lights the Sôma, which comes out of the fleece and flows around what remains constant and what develops.”

The « daughter of the sun » is a figure of the sacred fire. The « fleece » is the envelope of skin that was used to preserve the Sôma. What is « constant » and what « develops » are metaphors of the sacred fire, or a figure of the sacrifice itself, an image of the link between the Divinity and mankind.

The Sacred Fire is also divine. It is a God, who manifests the sacrifice and transcends it. It flies towards the woods of the pyre, before rising ever higher, towards the sky.

« This undead God flies, like a bird, to the woods to sit down. « (Rig Veda, 9th Mandala, Hymn III, 1)

« This God, who is on fire, becomes a chariot, becomes a gift; he manifests himself by crackling. « (Ibid. III,5)

The liquid Sôma is given to the Sôma that catches fire. Having become a flame, it gives itself to the Fire.

The Veda sees libation, the liquid Sôma, as a « sea ». This sea in flames « crackles », and the Fire « neighs like a horse ». The Fire gallops towards the divine, always further, always higher.

« By going forward, this has reached the heights of the two Brilliant Ones, and the Rajas which is at the very top. « (Ibid. XXII, 5).

The « Two Brillant » and the « Rajas » are other Names of God.

« This flows into Heaven, liberated, through darkness, lit with generous oblations. This God poured out for the Gods, by a previous generation, of gold, flows into that which enflames it.  » (Ibid. III,8-9).

The marriage of somatic liquor and burning fire represents a divine union of the divine with itself.

« O you two, the Ardent and the Sôma, you are the masters of the sun, the masters of the cows; powerful, you make the crackling [the thoughts] grow ». (Ibid. XIX, 2)

The meanings of words shimmer. The images split up. The flames are also « voices ». Their « crackling » represents the movement of thought, which is synonymous with them.

« O Fire, set in motion by thought [the crackle], you who crackle in the womb (yoni), you penetrate the wind by means of the Dharma (the Law) ». (Ibid. XXV,2)

Erotic metaphor ? No more and no less than some images of the Song of Songs.

They are rather figures of thought referring to a philosophical, or even theological system. In the Veda, Fire, Thought, Word, Cry, Wind, Law are of the same essence.

But the yoni also puts us on the trail of Vedic mysticism. The yoni, the womb, is the name given to the stone crucible that receives the burning liquor. The yoni, by its position in the sacrifice, is the very cradle of the divine.

A Vedic Divine, born of a yoni bathed in divine liquor and set ablaze with divine flames.

« This God shines from above, in the yoni, He, the Eternal, the Destroyer, the Delight of the Gods » (Ibid. XXVIII, 3).

God is the Highest and He is also in the yoni, He is eternal and destructive, He is gold and light, He is sweet and tasty.

« They push you, you Gold, whose flavour is very sweet, into the waters, through the stones, – O Light, libation of Fire. « (Ibid. XXX, 5).

Light born from light. God born of the true God.

These images, these metaphors, appeared more than a thousand years before Abraham, and more than two thousand years before Christianity.

Nothing really new under the sun..

The most pathetic verses in literature


The poet was guided in his long quest by Virgil, then by Beatrice, to the threshold of the Empyrean. The supreme vision, he has not yet seen it, however. What appears to him then, in the shape of a white rose, is the « holy militia that Christ espoused in his blood ». And in this great flower, plunges, like a swarm of bees, another army of angels, flying and singing the glory of him who sets them ablaze with love. And all these angels « had faces of bright flame, and wings of gold, and the rest so white that no snow comes to this end ».i

Dante marveled at the « triple light », divine, penetrating, which shines « like a star » in this quiet kingdom, – and he thought back on all the road he had already traveled, from the human to the divine, from time to eternity, from corruption to justice, and on what still awaits him…

« I, who had come to the divine

from the human, from time to eternity,

and from Florence to the just and healthy people,

of what astonishment I should be filled with! »

Mute with stupor, indeed, Dante sees « eyes, inviting to love, shining with the light of another and their own laughter ». He also sees with a single glance « the general shape of Paradise ». He turns to Beatrice, to question her, but she is no longer there! In her place, an old man, dressed in glory.

« Where is she? « asks Dante at once. The old man replies that Beatrice has brought him down in her place, to bring Dante’s desire « to an end ».

But, adds the old man, – who is, in reality, St. Bernard:

« If you look at the third row

from the highest tier, you will see her again.

on the throne won by her merits. »

Dante looks up and sees her, « who made herself a crown of eternal rays reflected in her. »

Beatrice was at an immeasurable distance from Dante; she was very high, far beyond the reach of a mortal eye, – but it was like nothing, « for her image came down to me unmixed ».

From his abyss of remoteness, Dante addresses Beatrice:

« O lady, in whom my hope comes alive,

and who suffered for my salvation

to leave in Hell the trace of your footsteps,

of so many things I have seen

by your power and kindness,

I recognize grace and virtue.

You pulled me from bondage to freedom

by all these ways, by all these modes

that you had the power to use.

Preserve in me your magnificence,

that my soul, which thou hast healed,

is untied from my body by pleasing you. »

The tone is high, the prayer urgent, the love burning. The poet already despairs of his misfortune. He has just been abandoned by his lover at the very moment when he thought he was reaching Paradise, in her company.

What happens then? Three verses say it, – « the most pathetic verses that literature has ever given us », according to J.L. Borgèsii.

« Cosi orai; e quella, si lontana

come parrea, sorrise e riguaradommi ;

poi si torno a l’etterna fontana. »

« I prayed like this, and so far away

that she seemed, she smiled and looked at me ;

then she turned back to the eternal fountain. »

Beatrice smiles at Dante one last time, then turns her back on him to devote herself to the divine vision.

Borgès was so moved by these verses, that he collected comments about them from various authors. For Francesco Torraca: « Last glance, last smile but a sure promise ». Luigi Pietrobono, in the same vein: « She smiles to tell Dante that her prayer has been answered; she looks at him to prove once again the love she has for him. « 

Ozanam goes in another direction and considers these verses to be a modest description of « Beatrice’s apotheosis ». But Borgès is not satisfied. He wants to go further. It is really a question for Dante, he says, to let us glimpse the « nightmares of delight ».

The « nightmare », in the Empyrean, on the threshold of ultimate happiness? What a strange idea, that this Borgesean incision!

At this point, a little biographical reminder is perhaps necessary.

One day, in a street in Florence, Beatrice de Folco Portinari did not respond to a greeting from Dante. Did she only love him? It must be thought that she did not. She had already married Bardi. And shortly after this incident she died, at the age of twenty-four.

Dante had always loved her, but in vain.

And now he had found her again, a little later, in his long literary quest. He even thought he had found her again forever, before the eternity of Paradise opening up to him, in his close company.

Suddenly, « horror »… Beatrice smiles at him but turns around and prefers the eternal fountain of light.

Francesco De Sanctis, for his part, had commented on this passage as follows: « When Beatrice walks away, Dante does not let a complaint escape; all earthly residue has been burnt in him and destroyed. »

But this interpretation is false, says Borgès. Nothing has been destroyed, and all the « horror » of the situation is contained in the expression: « so far away that she seemed ».

The smile seems close, like the last glance, but Beatrice is in fact so far away that she becomes forever inaccessible, once again sending Dante back to his solitude.

I would like to propose yet another interpretation, which has nothing romantic about it, but rather aims at metaphysics. Dante’s love for Beatrice, however high it may be, is only a metaphor, it seems to me. Beatrice died in 1290, and Dante wrote The Divine Comedy from 1307 to 1321. The last pages, the very ones that are commented on here, were therefore written more than thirty years after the death of the beloved.

For Dante, the Beatrice in The Divine Comedy is a figure, an image, a trope, a vision at last, which refers not to the memory of a certain Florentine of the Middle Ages, but to his own soul.

Dante is not guided by the appearance of an imaginary and inaccessible Beatrice, descended from the Empyrean, but by his soul, which brings her back to life and is inspired by her.

Dante’s soul, at the end of his quest, is already burning with divine fire. Suddenly, he sees her moving away. She separates from him. She leaves him! But Dante is not dead. He has crossed Hell, Purgatory and here he is in the Empyrean. He is alive, like Aeneas, Orpheus, and other explorers of the beyond. Not being dead, Dante’s soul is still united to his body. And yet she rises, on the advice of Saint Bernard.

« From this point on my vision went further

than our speech, which yields to vision,

and memory gives way to this excess. »iii

In this strange, intermediate state, Dante’s soul lacks the mobility proper to souls who have actually passed to the other side of the experience of death.

Dante describes Beatrice’s departure as if it were the flight of her own soul. The last smile, the last glance, are not “”promises: they are rather delicate metaphors (of death).

Why does Dante confide such ringing certainties, confronting Florentine cynicism and the indifference of the world, unhesitatingly revealing his secret?

Dante has written a work that is not only the product of his creative imagination, but which also recounts Dante’s experience of death, his journey beyond what can be told.

But which can be somewhat evoked, however.

« Such is he who sees in dreams,

and, the dream being over, the impregnated passion

stays, and he doesn’t remember anything else,

such as I am now, for my vision

almost completely ceases, and in my heart

still flows the softness that was born from her.”iv

The vision almost has ceased. In the light leaves the sentence of Sibyl was lost. But Dante did not forget everything.

« O sovereign light that so much raises you up

above mortal thoughts, repeat a little bit

to my mind of what you looked like,

and make my tongue so powerful

that a spark of your glory

can reach to future people.”v

On the brink of death, Dante was very bold. He resisted. He knew how to « unite his gaze with the infinite value ». He planted his eyes in the eternal fire.

How well I understand these verses! How faithfully I follow Dante in the memory of his journey!

« In its depths I see that is recollected,

lovingly bound in one volume,

what in the universe is disseminating itself :

accidents and substances and their modalities

as fused together, so that

that what I’m saying about it is just a glimmer.

I do believe that I saw the universal form

of this knot, for in saying these words

I feel in me a widening of the enjoyment.”vi

Dante! Very human brother! Discoverer of heights! You have not failed in any way, you have been able to transmit the spark that remained to the people of the Future.

« Thus my soul, all in suspense,

stared, motionless, attentive,

and was constantly on fire looking again.

In this light one becomes such

than to turn away from it for another vision

is impossible to consent to forever.”vii

Like Dante’s, from now on my words will be « short compared to what I remember ».

O how little is enough to say! How the look afterwards laughs! I myself was bound in the night to this eternal view, and « for this flight my wing was too weak ». My wing, yes, but not my soul.

O Dante! Hail to thee through the ages. You have given me the strength to say again, in veiled words, what you proclaim in incandescent verses! Your « high fantasy » has lost none of its power! You have propelled my desire through the ages like a wheel wider than any world!

iDivine Comedy. Paradise, XXXI

iiJ.-L. Borgès. Neuf essais sur Dante. Le dernier sourire de Béatrice. In Œuvres complètes t.2. Gallimard. 2010, p.861

iiiDivine Comedy. Paradise, XXXIII

ivDivine Comedy. Paradise, XXXIII

vDivine Comedy. Paradise, XXXIII

viIbid.

viiIbid.

The Secret Teaching of Hermes


In a short dialogue, Hermes addresses his son Tati to summarize some ancient, and quite essential ideas. We learn that man is made up of separate envelopes, body, mind, soul, reason, intelligence. As he gradually emerges from these envelopes, man is called upon to « know » better and better. His final vocation is « apotheosis », a word that must be taken literally i.e. to go « above the gods ».

Hermes:

– The energy of God is in His will. And God wants the universe to be. As Father, as Good, He wants the existence of that which is not yet. This existence of beings, there is God, there is the Father, there is the Good, it is no other thing. The world, the sun, the stars participate in the existence of beings. But they are not, however, for the living the cause of their life, or the origin of the Good. Their action is the necessary effect of the will of the Good, without which nothing could exist or become.

[My comment: Hermes does not believe in the immanence of the divine in the world. The divine is absolutely transcendent, and only His Will, whose effect can be observed through the existence of His creation, bears witness to this transcendent remoteness.]

Hermes:

It must be recognized that the vision of the Good is above our strength. The eyes of our intelligence cannot yet contemplate its incorruptible and incomprehensible beauty. You will see it a little, perhaps, when you at least know that you can say nothing about it. For true knowledge is found in the silence and rest of every sensation. Whoever achieves it can no longer think of anything else, nor look at anything, nor hear anything, nor even move his body. There is no more sensation or movement for him.

[My comment: There are two kinds of spirits. Those who have « seen » the Good, but cannot say anything about it, and those who have not « seen » it, but who will perhaps one day see it, under certain conditions. Hermes belongs to the first group. He can only express himself by allusion. He cannot say anything about it, which is already a lot …].

Hermes:

– The splendor that inundates all his thought and his soul tears man from the bonds of the body and transforms him entirely into divine essence. The human soul reaches the apotheosis when he has contemplated this beauty of Good.

Tat :

– What do you mean by « apotheosis », Father?

[My comment: Tat’s question is not a lexicographical one. He is waiting for a full description of the phenomenon. The word « apotheosis » is not a neologism, a word invented by Hermes. The word was used, for example, previously by Strabo to describe the death of Diomedes, which he also describes as « apotheosis », but in a sense that seems to transcend the reality of his « death ». « Some authors add to the subject of Diomedes that here he had begun to dig a canal leading to the sea, but having been called back to his homeland he was surprised by death and left this and many other useful undertakings unfinished. This is a first version about his death; another makes him stay until the end and die in Daunie; a third, purely fabulous, and which I have already had occasion to recall, speaks of his mysterious disappearance in one of the islands that bear his name; finally, one can look at this claim of the Henetians to place in their country, if not death, at least the apotheosis of the hero, as a fourth version…. « (Strabo, Geogr. VI, 3,9)].

Hermes:

– Every unfulfilled soul, my son, is subject to successive changes. The blinded soul, knowing nothing of beings, neither their nature nor the Good, is enveloped in bodily passions. The unfortunate soul, unaware of herself, is enslaved to foreign and abject bodies. She carries the burden of the body. Instead of commanding, she obeys. This is the evil of the soul. On the contrary, the good of the soul is knowledge. He who knows is good, and already divine.

[My comment: The body is a veil whose envelope prevents access to knowledge. In the body, the soul is enslaved. Not only can she not ‘see’, but she cannot ‘know’. She can only know her slavery, her enslavement. Which is already a lot, because it is the beginning of her liberation].

Hermes:

– Beings have sensations because they cannot exist without them; but knowledge is very different from sensation. Sensation is an influence that one undergoes. Knowledge is the end of a search, and the desire to search is a divine gift. For all knowledge is incorporeal.

[My comment: The sensation is imposed from the outside. Knowledge is first and foremost a desire for knowledge. To know is first of all a desire to know. But where does this desire come from, if one has no knowledge of what one can desire? « The desire to seek is a divine gift ». But isn’t it unfair to those who are deprived of the grace of this desire? No, this desire is in everyone, in latent form. The desire to know only asks to be born. It only needs to be set in motion, and it grows stronger with every step].

Hermes:

– All knowledge is a form, which grasps the intelligence, just as the intelligence uses the body. Thus both use a body, either intellectual or material. Everything comes down to this combination of opposites, form and matter, and it cannot be otherwise.

[My comment: Form and matter can be considered, as Hermes does, as a « combination of opposites ». One could also say « alliance of opposites », to mean that their whole is more than the sum of their parts. There is also the idea that intellectual representations can be described as having a « body », which itself is endowed with a spirit and perhaps a soul. This leads us to imagine a whole ascending hierarchy, of souls and spirits, up to a supreme root, of all souls and spirits. Two thousand years after these ideas began to be formulated, the Jewish Kabbalah of the European Middle Ages took up exactly the same ideas ].

Tat:

– What is this material God?

Hermes:

– The world is beautiful but it is not good, because it is material and passive. It is the first of the ‘passive’, but the second of the beings, and is not self-sufficient. It is born, though it is always, but it is in birth, and it becomes perpetual. Becoming is a change in quality and quantity – like any material movement.

[My comment: Here the influence of Gnosis is revealed. The world is beautiful, but it is not good. The assertions of Genesis are therefore contradicted head-on: ‘And God saw that it was good.’ (Cf. Gen. 1:4, Gen. 1:10, Gen. 1:12, Gen. 1:25). The first chapter of Genesis even concludes as follows: ‘And God saw everything that He had made, and it was very good.’ (Gen. 1:31). But this Gnosis can be interpreted. The world is not « good », admittedly, but it does not necessarily mean that it is « bad » either. If it is not « good » it is because it is always « becoming », it is always being « born ». Besides, one can argue that ‘Only God is good’, as Jesus said. This Gnosticism is therefore not incompatible with an interpretation of Creation as a living process, as an eschatological aim].

Hermes:

– The world is the first of the living. Man is second only to the world, and first among mortals. Not only is man not good, but he is evil, being mortal. Nor is the world not good, since it is mobile; but being immortal, it is not evil. Man, being both mobile and mortal, is evil. »

[My comment: Here, the vision of Gnosis becomes even more precise. The world is not evil, but Man is. The difference between the world and Man is that the world is always born, it is always alive and reborn, whereas Man is mortal. The only possibility, however, of escaping this fundamental evil is resurrection. If it is possible, then Man is also reborn, again, he escapes death, – and evil].

Hermes:

– It is necessary to understand how man’s soul is constituted: intelligence is in reason, reason in the soul, the soul in the mind, the mind in the body. The spirit, penetrating through veins, arteries and blood, moves the animal and carries it, so to speak. The soul infuses the spirit. Reason is at the bottom of the soul. And it is Intelligence that makes reason live.

[My comment: Man is a kind of metaphysical onion, containing deep down within him, in his inner core, a divine principle, – Intelligence, which is another name for Divine Wisdom.]

Hermes:

– God does not ignore man; on the contrary, He knows him and wants to be known by him. The only salvation of man is in the knowledge of God; this is the way of ascent to Olympus; only by this alone does the soul become good, not sometimes good, sometimes bad, but necessarily good.

[My comment: The ascent to Olympus is another metaphor for apotheosis].

Hermes:

“Contemplate, my son, the soul of the child; the separation is not yet complete; the body is small and has not yet received full development. It is beautiful to see the child, not yet sullied by the passions of the body, still almost attached to the soul of the world. But when the body has developed and holds her [the soul] in its mass, separation is accomplished, oblivion occurs in her, she ceases to participate in the beautiful and the good.”

[My comment: the loss of innocence of the soul begins from the first days of her apprenticeship in the body she has inherited. This loss of innocence can also be interpreted as the first steps in the long « ascent » that still awaits her].

Hermes:

« The same thing happens to those who come out of their body. The soul enters into herself, the spirit withdraws into the blood, the soul into the spirit. But the Intelligence, purified and freed from its envelopes, divine by nature, takes a body of fire and travels through space, abandoning the soul to its tribulations. »

[My comment: These words are a striking summary of the highest wisdom attained over tens of thousands of years by shamans, visionaries, prophets, poets, all over the world. They must be taken for what they are: a naked revelation, destined only to those souls predisposed, by their abysmal and primordial desire, to understand what it is all about].

Tat:

– What do you mean, O Father? Does intelligence separate from the soul and the soul from the spirit, since you said that the soul is the envelope of intelligence and the spirit is the envelope of the soul?

[My comment: Tat listens to his father very well, and he remains faithful to logic itself. His question is a request for clarification. The difference between the spirit and the soul and the difference between the soul and the intelligence may need to be explained more clearly. But how to explain “intelligence” to those who cannot imagine the power of its infinite possibilities? Hermes knows this difficulty well. He will try another way of explanation].

Hermes:

– It is necessary, my son, that the listener follow the thought of the speaker and associate himself with it; the ear must be finer than the voice. This system of envelopes exists in the earthly body. The naked intelligence could not be established in a material body, and that body could not contain such immortality or carry such virtue. The intelligence takes the soul as its envelope; the soul, which is divine itself, is enveloped in spirit, and the spirit is poured into the animal. »

[My comment: The key expression here is « naked intelligence ». What is revealed in these words is that even intelligence, in its highest, most divine form, can still remain « veiled ». Nothing can be said about this here, for the moment. We are only alluding to the fact that the process of ascension, of apotheosis, is certainly not finished, but that it is itself susceptible to other, even more radical forms of spiritual nakedness, unclothing].

Hermes:

– When the intelligence leaves the earthly body, it immediately takes its tunic of fire, which it could not keep when it inhabited this earthly body; for the earth cannot withstand fire, of which a single spark would be enough to burn it. This is why water surrounds the earth and forms a rampart that protects it from the flame of fire. But intelligence, the most subtle of divine thoughts, has the most subtle of elements, fire, as its body. It takes it as an instrument of its creative action.

[My comment: One of the garments of intelligence, described here under the metaphor of the « tunic of fire », is a way of describing one of its essential attributes: creative ability. But there are certainly many others. Other metaphors, other « garments » would be needed to try to account for them].

Hermes:

– The universal intelligence uses all the elements, that of man only the earthly elements. Deprived of fire, it cannot build divine works, subject as it is to the conditions of humanity. Human souls, not all of them, but pious souls, are « demonic » and « divine ».

[My comment: The idea that the soul is « demonic » is an idea that Plato communicated to us through the speech of Diotima in the Symposium. There can be found also another fundamental idea, to which I have been attached all my life – the idea of metaxu].

Hermes:

– Once separated from the body, and after having sustained the struggle of piety, which consists in knowing God and harming no one, such a soul becomes all intelligence. But the unholy soul remains in its own essence and punishes herself by seeking to enter into an earthly body, a human body, for another body cannot receive a human soul, it cannot fall into the body of an animal without reason; a divine law preserves the human soul from such a fall.

[My comment: Here we find the idea of metempsychosis. Since ages, these ideas circulated from the Far East to Greece].

Hermes:

– The punishment of the soul is quite different. When the intelligence has become a « daimon », and by God’s command has taken on a body of fire, she [the intelligence] enters the ungodly soul and is scourged with the whip of its sins. The unholy soul then rushes into murder, insults, blasphemy, violence of all kinds and all human wickedness. But by entering the pious soul, the intelligence leads her to the light of knowledge. Such a soul is never satiated with hymns and blessings for all men.

[My comment: A distinction must therefore be made between light, knowledge and the « light of knowledge ». The latter form of consciousness is the possible source of a meta-apotheosis, – for the moment, this word is a neologism, which I propose, because here it is very necessary].

Hermes:

– This is the universal order, the consequence of unity. Intelligence penetrates all the elements. For nothing is more divine and more powerful than intelligence. She unites Gods with men and men with Gods. It is the intelligence that is the good « daimon« ; the blessed soul is full of her, the unhappy soul is empty of her.

[My comment: intelligence is the « metaxu » par excellence. The Hebrews gave it the name neshamah. But what a name is, it is its essence that we must try to understand].

Hermes:

– The soul without intelligence could neither speak nor act. Often intelligence leaves the soul, and in this state the soul sees nothing, hears nothing, and looks like an animal without reason. Such is the power of intelligence. But it does not support the vicious soul and leaves it attached to the body, which drags it down. Such a soul, my son, has no intelligence, and in this condition a man can no longer be called a man. For man is a divine animal which must be compared, not to other terrestrial animals, but to those in heaven, who are called Gods.

[My comment: Aristotle said that « man is an animal who has reason (logos) ». We can see that Hermes rises several notches above Aristotle in his intuition of what man is, in essence. Aristotle is the first of the moderns. Plato is the last of the Ancients. But in these difficult matters, the Ancients have infinitely more to teach us, with their million years of experience, than the Moderns, really out of their depths in these matters].

Hermes:

– Or rather, let’s not be afraid to tell the truth, the real man is above them, or at least equal to them. For none of the heavenly Gods leaves his sphere to come to earth, while man ascends into heaven and measures it. He knows what is above and what is below; he knows everything accurately, and what is better is that he does not need to leave the earth in order to ascend. Such is the greatness of his condition. Thus, dare we say that man is a mortal God and that a heavenly God is an immortal man. All things will be governed by the world and by man, and above all is the One.

My comment : There is a strikingly equivalent intuition in the Veda. In the Veda, Puruṣa, devanāgarī : पुरुष, means « man, person, hero, vital principle, spirit » but also and foremost : « the Soul of the Universe »…

There is yet another, essential aspect.

The sacrifice of Puruṣa, the death and dismemberment of Osiris, the crucifixion of Christ do share a deep, structural analogy.

iCorpus hermeticum, X.

The knowledge of immortality (Hermes and Moses)


Towards the end of the 15th century, Marsilius Ficinus summed up the whole of « ancient theology » in six emblematic names: Hermes Trismegistus, Orpheus, Aglaophemus, Pythagoras, Philolaos, and Plato. In his mind, these characters formed one and the same ‘sect of initiates’, transmitting knowledge, wisdom and secrets to each other.

The first link in this long chain of initiation was Hermes Trismegistus, « three times very great », of whom Plato himself is only a distant disciple.

Well after Plato, in the 2nd century AD, the Corpus Hermeticum appeared, supposedly bringing back the essence of this ancient knowledge. The first Book of the Corpus is called after Poimandres, a Greek name meaning « the shepherd of man ».

In this Book, Hermes tells of his encounter with Poimandres:

« Who are you then?

– I am Poimandres (the « shepherd of man »), the Sovereign Intelligence. I know what you desire, and I am with you everywhere.”

Poimandres then enlightens the mind of Hermes, who expresses himself in the first person to recount his vision: « I am living an indefinable spectacle. Everything became a soft and pleasant light that charmed my sight. Soon afterwards, a frightful and horrible darkness descended in a sinuous form; it seemed to me as if this darkness was changing into some kind of damp and troubled nature, exhaling a smoke like fire and a kind of gloomy noise. Then there came out an inarticulate cry which seemed to be the voice of light.”

« Have you understood what this vision means?  » asks Poimandres. « This light is me, the Intelligence, – your God, who precedes the wet nature out of darkness. The luminous Word that emanates from Intelligence is the Son of God.

– What do you mean, I replied.

– Learn this: what you see and hear in you is the Word, the word of the Lord; intelligence is the Father God. They are not separated from one another, for the union is their life.

– I thank you, I replied.

– Understand the light, he said, and know it. »

We can deduce from the words of Poimandres that « vision » is only a glimpse of the mystery, not its end. Understanding is not knowing, and knowing is not understanding. This is an essential principle of Gnosis.

At the time when the Corpus Hermeticum was composed, the Roman Empire reached its apogee. The Pax romana reigned from Brittany (England) to Egypt, from Tingitan Mauritania to Mesopotamia. The emperor was considered a god. Marcus Aurelius had to fight against the Barbarians on the Danube front, but the invasions and serious crises of the 3rd century had not begun.

Christianity was still only a ‘superstition’ (superstitio illicita) among many others. The cult of Mithra dominated in the Roman armies, and the influence of the Eastern and Gnostic cults was significant. Hermeticism took its place in this effervescence.

Hermetic formulas undoubtedly originated several centuries earlier, and thus well before the Gospel of John, written at the end of the 1st century AD.

But as transcribed in the Poimandres, these formulas are striking in the simplicity and ease with which they seem to prefigure (or repeat?) some of the formulas of the Gospel of John. According to John, Christ is the Word of God, His Logos. Christ is the Son of God, and he is also « One » with Him. Would John have been sensitive to any hermetic influence? Or was it the opposite, the hermeticism of Poimandres mimicking Christian ideas?

Hermetic formulas do not copy the Johannine metaphors, nor do they duplicate them in any way. Under the apparent analogy, significant discrepancies emerge.

Hermeticism, however heraldable it may be to certain aspects of Christian theology, is certainly distinguished from it by other features, which belong only to it, and which clearly refer to Gnosis – from which Christianity very early wanted to distance itself, without, moreover, totally escaping its philosophical attraction.

Poïmandres says, for example, that the Sovereign of the world shows the image of his divinity to the « inferior nature ». Nature falls in love with this image, an image that is none other than man. Man too, seeing in the water the reflection of his own form, falls in love with his own nature (or with himself?) and wants to possess it. Nature and man are therefore closely united by mutual love.

Poïmandres explains: « This is why man, alone among all the beings living on earth, is double, mortal in body and immortal in essence. Immortal and sovereign of all things, he is subject to the destiny that governs what is mortal; superior to the harmony of the world, he is captive in his bonds; male and female like his father, and superior to sleep he is dominated by sleep.”

Then comes man’s ascent among the powers and towards God. By uniting with man, nature successively generates seven « men » (male and female), who receive their soul and intelligence from « life » and « light », in the form of air and fire.

This succession of « men » is an allegory of the necessary evolution of human nature. Various human natures must succeed one another through the historical ages.

Man must finally reach the stage where he/she strips him/herself of all the harmonies and beauties of the world. With only his/her own power left, he/she reaches an « eighth nature ».

In this eighth stage the « powers » reign, « ascending » towards God, to be reborn in Him.

Poimandres concluded his speech to Hermes with the following words: « This is the final good of those who possess Gnosis, – to become God. What are you waiting for now? You have learned everything, you only have to show the way to men, so that through you God may save the human race.”

Then began the mission of Hermes among Humankind: « And I began to preach to men the beauty of religion and Gnosis: peoples, men born of the earth, immersed in the drunkenness, sleep and ignorance of God, shake off your sensual torpor, wake up from your foolishness! Why, O men born of the earth, do you surrender yourselves to death, when you are allowed to obtain immortality? Come back to yourselves, you who walk in error, who languish in ignorance; depart from the dark light, take part in immortality by renouncing corruption ».

Who was Hermes Trismegistus really? A syncretic entity? A Ptolemaic myth? A pagan Christ? A Gnostic philosopher? A theological-political creation?

Through his ideas, Hermes Trismegistus embodied the fusion of two cultures, Greek and Egyptian. He is both the god Hermes of the Greeks, messenger of the gods and conductor of souls (psychopompos), and the god Thoth of ancient Egypt, who invented hieroglyphics and helped Isis to gather the scattered members of Osiris.

I stand by the interpretation of Marsilius Ficinus. Hermes is the first of the « ancient theologians ».

One lends only to the rich. In the 4th century B.C., Hecateus of Abatea had written that Thot-Hermes was the inventor of writing, astronomy and the lyre.

Artapan, in the 2nd century BC, even saw in him a figure of Moses.

Hermes in fact spoke, like Moses, with God. He too was given the mission of guiding mankind towards the Promised Land, the land that has a name: the knowledge of immortality.

Absent Dream


The Song of songs, at the core of the Hebraic Bible, has accustomed the faithful, in Judaism and in Christianity, to the idea that the celebration of love, with human words and not without quite crude images, could also be a metaphor for the Love between the soul and God.

However, this very idea can also be found in the Veda, – with an anteriority of at least one thousand years over the Bible. This incites us to consider why, for so many millennia, persisted the metaphor of human love as applied to the union of the human soul with the Divinity.

The Veda is the oldest text, conserved for the benefit of mankind, that testifies to the idea of the Divinity’s love for the human soul, – as improbable as it may be thought, considering the nothingness of the latter.

« As the creeper holds the tree embraced through and through, so embrace me, be my lover, and do not depart from me! As the eagle strikes the ground with its two wings, so I strike your soul, be my lover and do not depart from me! As the sun on the same day surrounds heaven and earth, so do I surround your soul. Be my lover and do not depart from me! Desire my body, my feet, desire my thighs; let your eyes, your hair, in love, be consumed with passion for me!”i

A comparative anthropology of the depths is possible. Its main advantage is that it allows us to give some relativity to much later, idiosyncratic and ‘provincial’ assertions, and above all to confirm the fruitfulness of research into the very essence of common human intuition.

This research is one of the bases of the Future Dream, whose’ absence crushed, wounded modernity suffers so much from.

iA.V. VI, 8-9

Cannabis and the Root of Roots


Ayahuasca has always been used as a hallucinogenic drink by the shamans of Amazonia to enter a trance, during sacred divination or healing rituals. This extremely ancient practice was already proven in pre-Colombian times.

In the Quechua language, aya means « spirit of the dead » and huasca means « liana ». Many Amazonian tribes know ayahuasca by other names: caapi in Tupi, natem in Jivaro, yajé in Tukano.

Ayahuasca is prepared as a decoction of a mixture of the bark and stems of a vine of the Banisteriopsis genus and rubiaceae of the Psychotria genus.

The psychotropic principle is due to these rubiaceae. Chemically, it is DMT (the alkaloid N,N-dimethyltryptamine), which is generally inactive when ingested orally, as it is degraded by the monoamine oxidases in the digestive tract. But the bark of the Banisteriopsis vine contains powerful inhibitors of these monoamines. The ayahuasca decoction releases the potency of DMT’s effects on the brain through the combination of two distinct substances working synergistically. It took the first shamans some knowledge of the pharmacopoeia.

DMT is highly hallucinogenic. Its chemical structure is close to psilocin and serotonin. It has been shown that the human body can also produce DMT naturally, through the pineal gland.

Shamanism, the first natural religion of mankind and widespread throughout the world, very early on found a link between certain natural substances, hallucinatory visions and the experience of imminent death. It was not until the 1960s that specialists in brain chemistry were able to objectify this link, identify the neurochemical mechanisms and neurotransmitters involved – without, however, answering the most important question.

Is the brain a purely self-centred organ, entirely immersed in its neurochemical microcosm? Or is it open to a back world, a world above, an elsewhere? Is the brain a simple machine operating locally, or is it also an interface, serving as an antenna, a gateway, a link with a higher universe?

From the facts reported above, two interpretations can reasonably be drawn.

The first interpretation is materialistic. Everything is chemical and electrical in the brain, dreams, visions, life, death. The brain, in its complexity, is essentially made up of a tangle of physico-chemical links, referring only to themselves, and produced by a kind of spontaneous generation.

The second interpretation, the one followed by the oldest religions of humanity, including shamanism and Vedism, is that the brain occupies the privileged place as the frontier between nature and the supernatural.

DMT is only a molecule, but it is also a kind of key that opens the door to the supernatural, and above all reveals the continuity and congruence of the links between the plants of the Amazonian forest, the brain cells, and the vision of the divine.

The materialist vision is content to note that the chemistry of the brain, in its complexity, can under certain conditions provoke extreme experiences.

This would be explained by the powerful affinity between certain molecules and neuroreceptors in the brain. Thus it is established that the active principle of Cannabis, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), has a very high affinity for the CB1 receptor found on the membranes of brain cells (in the hippocampus, associative cortex, cerebellum, basal ganglia), spinal cord, heart, intestines, lungs, uterus and testicles.

But this explanation, all mechanical, does not reveal the link between this neurochemical affinity and the nature of the worlds revealed to the initiates, and also revealed to those who have actually experienced imminent death.

There is a priori no congruence between the experience of orgasmic pleasure, which James Olds showed as early as 1952 that it could be provoked ad libitum by stimulating the septal area of the brain, and the experience of a divine vision, or the certainty of having had a glimpse, however fleeting, of the beyond.

Yet both phenomena can be reduced, according to the materialist approach, to neurochemical mechanisms.

There are many other possible theories as to the origin of the higher phenomena of which the brain is capable, and in particular the appearance of consciousness. In a short, visionary book, the great American psychologist William James proposed a theory of the « transmission » of consciousness, as opposed to the theory of the « production » of consciousness by the brain alone.i

William James likens the brain to an ‘antenna’ capable of perceiving sources of consciousness located in the beyond. Of course, this option may seem fantastical to materialistic minds. It is today experimentally unprovable. But it is a promising research option, it seems to me. It allows us to draw a line, admittedly imprecise, but productive, between the primary forest, the neural interlacing, the galactic depths, and even between all that precedes them, perhaps explains them, and the whole world of phenomena.

Above all, this research option is not incompatible but, on the contrary, perfectly coherent with the immense fund of experiences, resources, testimonies, accumulated by all the religions of humanity since the origins of human consciousness.

All religions have prided themselves on contemplating the most intimate links of the mind and soul with higher realities. This is, for example, the theory of Zohar, which dates back to the Middle Ages, and which explicitly links the root of the human soul to the « Root of All Roots », that is to say, to the Master of all worlds.

iWilliam James. Human Immortality: Two Supposed Objections to the Doctrine. The Ingersoll Lectures. Cambridege, 1898.“But in the production of consciousness by the brain, the terms are heterogeneous natures altogether; and as far as our understanding goes, it is as great a miracle as if we said, Thought is ‘spontaneously generated,’ or ‘created out of nothing.’ The theory of production is therefore not a jot more simple or credible in itself than any other conceivable theory. It is only a little more popular. All that one need do, therefore, if the ordinary materialist should challenge one to explain how the brain can be an organ for limiting and determining to a certain form a consciousness elsewhere produced, is to retort with a tu quoque, asking him in turn to explain how it can be an organ for producing consciousness out of whole cloth. For polemic purposes, the two theories are thus exactly on a par. But if we consider the theory of transmission in a wider way, we see that it has certain positive superiorities, quite apart from its connection with the immortality question.Just how the process of transmission may be carried on, is indeed unimaginable; but the outer relations, so to speak, of the process, encourage our belief. Consciousness in this process does not have to be generated de novo in a vast number of places. It exists already, behind the scenes, coeval with the world. The transmission-theory not only avoids in this way multiplying miracles, but it puts itself in touch with general idealistic philosophy better than the production-theory does. It should always be reckoned a good thing when science and philosophy thus meet. » 

A God with no Name


The intuition of mystery has touched humanity from the earliest ages. Eight hundred thousand years ago, men carried out religious rites accompanying the death of their loved ones, in a cave near Beijing, at Chou Kou Tien. Skulls were found there, placed in a circle and painted in red ochre. They bear witness to the fact that almost a million years ago, men believed that death was a passage.

Fascination with other worlds, a sense of mystery, confrontation with the weakness of life and the rigor of death, seem to be part of the human genetic heritage, since the dawn of time, inhabiting the unconscious, sculpting cultures, knotting myths, informing languages.

The idea of the power of the divine is an extremely ancient idea, as old as humanity itself. It is equally obvious that the minds of men all over the world have, since extremely ancient times, turned towards forms of animism, religions of immanence or even religions of ecstasy and transcendent trance, long before being able to speculate and refine « theological » questions such as the formal opposition between « polytheism » and « monotheism ».

Brains and cultures, minds and languages, were not yet mature.

Animism, shamanism, polytheism, monotheism, and the religions of the immanence try to designate what cannot be said. In the high period, the time of human dawn, all these religions in -isms obviously came together in a single intuition, a single vision: the absolute weakness of man, the irremediable fleetingness of his life, and the infinite greatness and power of the unknown.

Feeling, guessing, fearing, worshipping, revering, this power was one and multiple. Innumerable names throughout the world have tried to express this power, without ever reaching its intrinsic unity.

This is why the assertion of the monotheisms that « God is One » is both a door that has been open for millions of years and at the same time, in a certain way, is also a saying that closes our understanding of the very nature of the « mystery », our understanding of how this « mystery » has taken root in the heart of the human soul, since Homo knew himself to be a sapiens

In the 17th century, Ralph Cudworth was already tackling the « great prejudice » that all primitive and ancient religions had been polytheistic, and that only « a small, insignificant handful of Jews »i had developed the idea of a single God.

A « small insignificant handful of Jews »? Compared to the Nations, number is not always the best indicator. Another way to put the question is: was the idea of the One God invented by the Jews? If so, when and why? If not, who invented it, and for how long was it there around the world?

If we analyse the available sources, it would seem that this idea appeared very early among the nations, perhaps even before the so-called « historical » times. But it must be recognized that the Jews brought the idea to its incandescence, and above all that they « published » it, and « democratized » it, making it the essential idea of their people. Elsewhere, and for millennia, the idea was present, but reserved in a way to an elite.

Greek polytheism, the Sibylline oracles, Zoroastrianism, the Chaldean religion, Orphism, all these « ancient » religions distinguished a radical difference between multiple born and mortal gods, and a Single God, not created and existing by Himself. The Orphic cabal had a great secret, a mystery reserved for the initiated, namely: « God is the Whole ».

Cudworth deduced from the testimonies of Clement of Alexandria, Plutarch, Iamblichus, Horapollo, or Damascius, that it was indisputably clear that Orpheus and all the other Greek pagans knew a single universal deity who was « the One », and « the Whole ». But this knowledge was secret, reserved for the initiated.

Clement of Alexandria wrote that « All the barbarian and Greek theologians had kept the principles of reality secret and had only transmitted the truth in the form of enigmas, symbols, allegories, metaphors and other tropes and similar figures. « ii And Clement made a comparison between the Egyptians and the Hebrews in this respect: « The Egyptians represented the truly secret Logos, which they kept deep in the sanctuary of truth, by what they called ‘Adyta’, and the Hebrews by the curtain in the Temple. As far as concealment is concerned, the secrets of the Hebrews and those of the Egyptians are very similar.”iii

Hieroglyphics (as sacred writing) and allegories (the meaning of symbols and images) were used to transmit the secret arcana of the Egyptian religion to those who were worthy of it, to the most qualified priests and to those chosen to succeed the king.

The « hieroglyphic science » was entirely responsible for expressing the mysteries of theology and religion in such a way that they remained hidden from the profane crowd. The highest of these mysteries was that of the revelation of « the One and Universal Divinity, the Creator of the whole world, » Cudworth added.

Plutarch noted several times in his famous work, On Isis and Osiris, that the Egyptians called their supreme God « the First God » and considered him a « dark and hidden God ».

Cudworth points out that Horapollo tells us that the Egyptians knew a Pantokrator (Universal Sovereign) and a Kosmokrator (Cosmic Sovereign), and that the Egyptian notion of ‘God’ referred to a « spirit that spreads throughout the world, and penetrates into all things to the deepest depths.

The « divine Iamblichus » made similar analyses in his De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum.

Finally, Damascius, in his Treatise on First Principles, wrote that the Egyptian philosophers said that there is a single principle of all things, which is revered under the name of ‘invisible darkness’. This « invisible darkness » is an allegory of this supreme deity, namely that it is inconceivable.

This supreme deity has the name « Ammon », which means « that which is hidden », as explained by Manetho of Sebennytos.

Cudworth, to whom we owe this compilation of quotations, deduced that « among the Egyptians, Ammon was not only the name of the supreme Deity, but also the name of the hidden, invisible and corporeal Deity ».

Cudworth concludes that long before Moses, himself of Egyptian culture, and brought up in the knowledge of ‘Egyptian wisdom’, the Egyptians were already worshipping a Supreme God, conceived as invisible, hidden, outside the world and independent of it.

The One (to Hen, in Greek) is the invisible origin of all things and he manifests himself, or rather « hides » himself in the Whole (to Pan, in Greek).

The same anthropological descent towards the mysterious depths of belief can be undertaken systematically, notably with the oldest texts we have, those of Zend Avesta, the Vedas and their commentaries on Upaniṣad.

« Beyond the senses is the mind, higher than the mind is the essence, above the essence is the great Self, higher than the great [Self] is the unmanifested.

But beyond the unmanifested is Man, the Puruṣa, passing through all and without sign in truth. By knowing Him, the human being is liberated and attains immortality.

His form does not exist to be seen, no one can see it through the eye. Through the heart, through the intelligence, through the mind He is apprehended – those who know Him become immortal. (…)

Not even by speech, not even by the mind can He be reached, not even by the eye. How can He be perceived other than by saying: « He is »?

And by saying « He is » (in Sanskrit asti), He can be perceived in two ways according to His true nature. And by saying « He is », for the one who perceives Him, His true nature is established.

When all the desires established in one’s heart are liberated, then the mortal becomes immortal, he reaches here the Brahman.”iv

The Zohar also affirms: « The Holy One blessed be He has a hidden aspect and a revealed aspect. »

Aren’t these not « two ways » of perceiving the true nature of « He is »? Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhyn affirms: « The essence of the En-Sof (Infinite) is hidden more than any secret; it must not be named by any name, not even the Tetragrammaton, not even the end of the smallest letter, the Yod.” v

So what do all these names of God mean in the purest monotheism?

« R. ‘Abba bar Mamel says: The Holy One blessed be He says to Moshe: Do you want to know my Name? I name Myself after my deeds. Sometimes my name is El Shadday, Tsebaoth, Elohim, YHVY. When I judge creatures my name is Elohim, when I fight the wicked I am called Tsebaoth, when I suspend the faults of men I am El Shadday and when I take pity on the worlds I am YHVH. This Name is the attribute of mercy, as it is said: « YHVY, YHVH, merciful and compassionate God » (Ex. 34:6). Likewise: ‘Ehyeh, asher ‘Ehyeh (I am who I am) (Ex. 3:14) – I name myself after my deeds.”vi

These are very wise words, which invite us to ask ourselves what was the name of YHVH, 800,000 years ago, at Chou Kou Tien, when He saw the sorrow of these men and women, a small group of Homo sapiens in affliction and grief, assembled at the bottom of a cave.

iRalph Cudworth, True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678), quoted in Jan Assmann, Moïse l’Égyptien, 2001, p.138

iiClement of Alexandria, Stromata V, ch. 4, 21,4

iiiClement of Alexandria, Stromata V, ch.3, 19,3 and Stromata V, ch.6, 41,2

ivKaha-upaniad 2.3. 7-9 and 12-14. Upaniad. My translation into English from the French Translation by Alyette Degrâces. Fayard. 2014. p. 390-391

vRabbi Hayyim de Volozhyn. L’âme de la vie. 2ème Portique, ch. 2. Trad. Benjamin Gross. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1986, p.74

viIbid. 2ème Portique, ch. 3, p. 75.

Metaphysics of Butter


The Rig Veda is the most ancient source we can draw from to try to understand what the nascent state of humanity was, – and to grasp the permanence of its dreams. Religion and society, then, were in a childhood that did not exclude a profound wisdom, more original than anything that antiquity could conceive of later, and of which Solomon himself was a distant heir.

For a long time unwritten, transmitted orally for millennia by pure thinkers and ascetics without fail, the memory of the Veda bears witness to a moment in humanity much older than the time of Abraham. When this prophet of the monotheism left Ur in Chaldea, around 1200 BC, for his exile to the North then to the South, many centuries had already passed over the Oxus valleys and the Indus basin. More than a millennium before Abraham, time had sedimented the deep memory of the Veda. Long before Abraham, Vedic priests celebrated the idea of a unique and universal deity. And Melchisedech himself, the oldest prophetic figure quoted in the Bible, is a partridge of the year, if we compare him to the obscure continuation of the times that preceded him, and which allowed his coming.

These ideas must be penetrated if we want to put an end to the drama of the exception and of history, and understand what humanity as a whole has been carrying within it from the beginning.

Man has always been possessed by an intuition of the Divine, and this intuition must be grasped by opening up to what remains of its origin. The Bible is a fairly recent document, and its price should not make us forget its relative youth. Its age goes back at most to a thousand years before our era. In contrast, the Veda is one or even two millennia older.

This is why I believe it is important to rely, even today, on the soul of the Veda, to try to understand the unity of the human adventure. And to sense its possible evolution – so much so that the past is one of the potential forms of the future.

To illustrate this point, I would like to propose a quick review of some of the images celebrated by the Veda, to show its universality and depth.

In ancient times, the melted butter (ghṛita) alone represented a kind of cosmic miracle. It embodied the cosmic alliance of the sun, nature and life: the sun, source of all life in nature, makes the grass grow, which nourishes the cow, which exudes its intimate juice, the milk, which becomes butter by the action of man (churning), and finally comes to flow freely as sôma on the altar of sacrifice to mingle with the sacred fire, to nourish the flame, to generate light, and to spread the odor capable of rising to the heavens, concluding the cycle. A simple and profound ceremony, originating in the mists of time, and already possessing the vision of the universal cohesion between the divine, the cosmos and the human.

“From the ocean, the wave of honey arose, with the sôma, it took on the form of ambrosia. This is the secret name of ‘Butter’, the language of the Gods, the navel of the immortal. (…) Arranged in three parts, the Gods discovered in the cow the Butter that the Paṇi had hidden. Indra gave birth to one of these parts, the Sun the second, the third was extracted from the wise man, and prepared by the rite. (…) They spring from the ocean of the Spirit, these streams of Butter a hundred times enclosed, invisible to the enemy. I consider them, the golden rod is in their midst. (…) They jump before Agni, beautiful and smiling like young women at the rendezvous; the streams of Butter caress the flaming logs, the Fire agrees with them, satisfied.”i

If one finds in ‘Butter’ connotations that are too domestic to be able to bear the presence of the sacred, it is thought that the Priests, Prophets and Kings of Israel, for example, did not fear being anointed with sacred oil, butter and chrism, the maximum concentration of meaning, where the product of the Cosmos, the work of men, and the life-giving power of God magically converge.

igVéda IV,58

The World Garden


Towards the end of the 19th century, Europe believed it dominated the world, through its techniques, empires and colonies. But the poet Mallarmé was already feeling desperate for the crisis of the mind. He noted, bitterly, that “mankind had not created new myths”, and that, for the field that most concerned him, “the dramatic art of our time, vast, sublime, almost religious, is yet to be found.”i

Mallarmé said he was in search of the « pure myth », of « the Figure that None is” (la Figure que Nul n’est ). He believed it was possible to find such a myth, by summoning « the immortal, innate delicacies and magnificences which are unbeknownst to all in the contest of a mute assistance.”ii

He took as his theoretical model, as a perfect paradigm, for this improbable and yet to be found myth, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, and its obscure depth.

Mallarmé saw in Orpheus the creative power, solar energy, and « the idea of the morning with its short-lived beauty ». He recalled that the name Orpheus comes from the Sanskrit Ribhu, the « sun », a name that the Vedas often use to describe the divine, in its various forms. Eurydice, whose name is close to that of Europe, or Euryphassa, means, according to Mallarmé, « the vast gush of dawn in the sky ». The serpent that bites Eurydice and kills her is nothing more than the serpent of darkness that puts an end to the twilight.

The descent from Orpheus to the Underworld is therefore an image of the passage from day to night. “The pilgrimage of Orpheus represents the journey that, during the hours of the night, the Sun passed by to accomplish, in order to bring back, in the morning, the Dawn, whose disappearance it causes by its dazzling splendour.”iii

In this interpretation, the myth of Orpheus probably originally refers to the voyage of Ra in the sacred boat, celebrated by ancient Egypt.

But it must also be recognized that the myth of Orpheus is not meteorological, and that it says something other than the dissolution of the dawn by the morning ray.

Isn’t Orpheus the poet par excellence, in charge of the mystery itself? Mallarmé knows it well, who saw no higher task than poetry.

« Poetry is the expression, through human language brought back to its essential rhythm, of the mysterious meaning of the aspects of existence: it endows our stay with authenticity and is the only spiritual task.”iv

Mallarmé had a religious soul. He had a great dream, that of finding the origin of the Dream. This is evidenced by this text published after his death in an obituary:

« The Theatre is the confrontation of the Dream with the crowd and the disclosure of the Book, which drew its origin and is restored there. I believe that it will remain the great Human Festival; and what is dying is its counterfeiting and lying.”v

Incorrigible optimist, I also believe in the great Human Festival yet to be seen, but we may have to wait. Before its lights and beams, how many more dark periods will humanity have to endure?

What is striking about Mallarmé’s formula is that it establishes in its cryptic way, it seems to me, and this long before Freud’s iconoclastic theories, a hidden link between Egypt and Israel, between Akhenaten and Moses.

I am incited to see in Moses a man of the great World Theatre, a man who admirably and courageously confronted the « crowd », to impose his Dream (and finally to make Akhenaten’s One God live) and deliver his Book.

But, by contrast, it also brings to light the flagrant absence of a Myth today.

Admittedly, some religions, including the three monotheisms, and Buddhism, hold the upper hand from the point of view of international agit-prop, but it would no doubt be an insult to them to consider them as pure « myths ». Having no taste for vain martyrdom, I will not go looking for any leads in this direction, refusing in advance to confront the zealots and other guardians of the sacred dens.

If the myth of Orpheus prefigures in its own way the descent into the Christic underworld, if Akhenaten is the tutelary figure of the Mosaic God, they are also proof by induction of the power of ideas through the ages.

One key question remains: What myth does the whole of modernity, globalized modernity, strangled in a cramped and overpopulated, violent and oh so unequal planet, now need?

The bottom line is that modern religions (which have lost almost all connection with the original meaning of ancient religions) are part of the problem much more than the solution.

Ancient peoples knew that the Gods have many names, but that the mystery remains unique – and this long before Moses decided to export to the Sinai, with the success we know, the « counter-religion » that Akhenaten had failed to impose in Egypt.

A new world myth, tomorrow, will have to put an end to common hatred, general exclusion, and the idolatry of difference. It will also have to go beyond what Jan Assmann calls the « Mosaic Distinction »vi.

The new world myth, tomorrow, will have to blossom into a World Dream, for everyone to see, to hear, to taste, to feel, to smell, – and to imagine.

The World Dream will not be renewed dreams of modern Babel towers, but the Dream of an Adamic ziggurat, – ochre of consciousness, red with human humus. Red, not of blood, but of the flesh and the breathe of the primal Adam.

For the future of Mankind may well be hidden, like a remembrance of its lost paradise, in a new World Garden.

iS. Mallarmé. Œuvres complètes. 1956, p. 717

iiS. Mallarmé. Œuvres complètes. 1956, p. 545

iiiS. Mallarmé. Œuvres complètes. 1956, p. 1240,

ivS. Mallarmé. Propos sur la poésie. 1953, p. 134

vRevue Encyclopédique. Art. C. Mauclair. 5 novembre 1898. p. 963

viJan Assmann. Moses The Egyptian.

Infinite


The idea of an infinite, hidden God, on whom everything rests, was conceived by Mankind long before Abraham or Moses. The Veda testifies that this idea was already celebrated millennia before these famous figures.

« Manifest, It is hidden. Ancient is Its name. Vast is Its concept. The whole universe is based on It. On It rests what moves and breathes. (…) The Infinite is extended in multiple directions, the infinite and the finite have common borders. The Guardian of the Heavenly Vault runs through them, separating them, He who knows what has passed and what is to come. (…) Without desire, wise, immortal, born of Himself, satiating Himself with vital sap, suffering from no lack – He who has recognized the Ātman, wise, not of old age, always young, does not fear death.”i

iA.V. X, 8

Anything May Yet Happen


Sometimes inaction or a wait-and-see attitude pays off. For example, it is written: « Moses and the Ark of the Covenant did not move ». Standing still in the middle of the camp was the best thing to do. Tactical caution was called for. Those who rushed to the top of the mountain were soon « cut to pieces » by the Amalekite and the Canaanite.

Far from the factual, from common sense, Philo proposes two unexpected ways of interpreting this verse: « Either the wise man does not separate himself from virtue, or virtue ignores movement, and the good man changes it.”i

Philo’s method is known. He always looks for the allegorical meaning in words, the hidden movement towards symbolic heights. Phrases seem to move, taking on a higher meaning as they pass by.

By this upward movement, the sentence mimics the non-movement (permanence) of virtue, it embodies the non-change (immutability) of the good man.

Philo explains: « The breath of God joins only one category of men, those who strip themselves of all that is in the becoming, of the innermost veil, of the envelope of opinion »ii.

The future is not in the becoming. Nor in opinion.

Aaron speaks, he is skilful with words; Moses remains in silence, he strips himself of any words. With a few words, the biblical sentence makes the silent and immobile contemplation of Moses heard.

This is a general lesson. Thought must free itself from everything that clutters it, make itself « naked ».

When Moses leaves the camp, he will pitch his tent on the mountain. He goes out of the world. That is to say, he establishes himself firmly on his own judgment, so that he can enter the “dark cloud”, the invisible region. He will need this inner immutability in order to face the mysteries, and to bear witness to them afterwards.

Moses is not only an initiate. He is the hierophant of mystical knowledge, a tutor of divine truths, which are neither of heaven nor earth.

There are men who are from the earth, others are from heaven, but others go even further. Those of the earth seek material pleasures and cherish the body. Those from heaven are the artists, the scientists and the humanists.

And then there are those who, like Moses or other Prophets, are not satisfied with the Kingdom of the universe, and are not satisfied with being citizens of the world. They neglect all the senses. They emigrate. They choose the exodus to the Land of immortal and immaterial ideas. They believe that the Earth is not the future of mankind. Neither are the Heavens. Does man have a future, by the way? Isn’t man essentially transitory, fleeting, ephemeral?

Didn’t God say that He wanted to « blot out man”?

“The Lord regretted having created man on earth, and he grieved within himself. And the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth, every man and beast and crawling creature and bird of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them’.”iii

The Lord « regretted » and then « grieved ».

How can God regret what He has done? Is He not supremely wise? Could He not foresee in His foreknowledge what would become of His creation?

And why these two verbs, « to regret » and « to grieve », in succession? Pleonasm? Unnecessary repetition?

Maybe the first verb translates the clarity of the notion, the second conveys the depth of the reflection. One is thinking at rest, the other is thinking on the move. These are two powers of the mind. They allow us to contemplate creatures as they are, but also as being able to become other than they are.

Rashi comments on this verse.

“ ‘He regretted having created’. The Midrach translates: God took solace in the fact that at least He had created man ON EARTH. If He had created him in heaven, he would have led the worlds above in his rebellion. ‘And He grieved in His heart’. The Targum Onkelos translates: Man (subject of the verb) became an object of suffering in the heart of God. It came to God’s mind to inflict punishment on him. Another explanation of the first verb VA-YINA’HEM: ‘he regretted’. In God’s mind, mercy gave way to justice. He wondered: what to do with the man He had created on earth? The verb נחם always means in the Bible: to ask oneself what to do. It means: ‘What is the right thing to do?’ God is not a man to regret (Num 23,19) « .

The dictionary says that the verb נחם means: « to repent, to change one’s feelings, to allow oneself to be bent, to have pity, to forgive ». These nuances of meaning do not apply indifferently to man or to God.

It can apply to the point of view of man, but probably not to the point of view of God, when it is a question of « repenting », « regretting », « changing one’s feelings ». But it can be applied from God’s point of view, if we translate this word as « to have mercy », « to forgive », « to allow oneself to be bent ».

The nuance proposed by Rashi, « to ask oneself what to do », opens up still other paths, which (tellingly) are not quoted in the dictionary, and which are turned towards the future, towards the unforeseen.

Virtue ignores movement, and the good man ignores change, Philo said two thousand years ago. And, a little less than a thousand years ago, Rashi said that God himself could « change his feelings » and « ask himself what to do ».

There is no end to surprises, yet to come. Anything is possible, definitely. Anything may yet happen.

iPhilo. De Gigantibus. 1,48

iiPhilo. De Gigantibus. 1,53

iiiGen 6, 6-7

The « Highest » and the « Lowest »


In Biblical Hebrew, the word « to descend » (יָרַד yarad) offers a curiously vast range of meanings, including distant semantic universes that are brought closer together, some very simple, everyday ones and others touching on very high notions, including the idea of theophany.

The primary meaning of the verb yarad is “to go from top to bottom”:

« She went down to the fountain » (Gen 24:16)

« My beloved went down to his garden. « (Ct 6,2)

« Abram went down to Egypt. « (Gen 12:10)

« Moses came down from Mount Sinai. « (Ex 34:29)

But the idea of a « descent » invites various metaphors. Here are some examples:

« He will come down like rain on the cut grass. « (Ps 72:10)

« Those who go down into the peat. « (Pr 1,12)

« Let them go down alive into the sheol. « (Ps 55:16)

Some of the metaphors associated with “yarada” broaden the meaning, while keeping the general idea.

« The day was going down. « (Jg 19:11)

« They all burst (yoréd, יֹרֵד בַּבֶּכִי) into tears. « (Is 15:3)

« Those who sail (yoredéi, יוֹרְדֵי הַיָּם) on the sea. « (Ps 107:23)

A second group of meanings is formed around meanings such as: « to fall, to perish, to be ruined ».

« You, you will always fall further and further down. « (Deut 28:43)

The Ritual speaks of a sacrifice that « goes up » and « goes down », that is to say that it varies according to the fortune or virtue of the person offering it.

A third group of meanings, built around the Hiphil form of the verb, increases the strength and intensity of the meaning: « To bring down, to humiliate, to precipitate ».

Finally there is the particular group of meanings associated with apparitions of God, the theophanies.

« The Lord will come down (yéréd YHVH,  יֵרֵד יְהוָה )to Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. « (Ex 19:11)

« The mountain of Sinai was all steamy because the Lord had come down (yarad  יָרַד )there in the midst of the flame (ba-éch בָּאֵשׁ). « (Ex 19:18).

« When Moses had entered, the pillar of cloud descended (yéréd יֵרֵד) and stopped at the entrance of the Tent and God spoke with Moses. « (Ex 33:9)

« The Lord of Hosts will come down to do battle on Mount Zion and its heights. »(Is 31:4)

« The Lord came down to earth to see the city and the tower. « (Gen 11:5)

A theophany is obviously an extraordinary phenomenon. Witnesses who are able to report a godly vision and translate it into convincing words can sometimes contradict themselves, increasing the doubt of the skeptics. But they also strengthen the faith of those who see hidden meanings beyond words.

Let us take the example of a curious verse:

« He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under His feet. » (2S 22,10)

A good Cartesian might object: if God comes down with a thick mist under His feet, how can one see Him from below?

Several answers to this rather naive objection are possible. The phenomenon can be observed from several angles. Or the expression « dark clouds » may be open to interpretation. It may mean that God is indeed descending, but with a kind of reticence. Another verse is an allegory of the cloud or mist:

« Ah, may you tear the heavens apart and come down! « (Is 63:19).

Theophany is sometimes followed by considerable physical effects or, conversely, very subtle consequences.

In the catastrophic genre: « You went down, and the mountains staggered. « (Is 64:2)

In a more subtle genre, there is the dream, like those of Jacob and Moses.

« The divine messengers went up and down this ladder. « (Gen 28:12). There is the idea of a continuous, processional link between the top and the bottom.

God thus addresses Moses in this way:

« I will come down and speak to you and I will take away part of the spirit that is on you and put it on them. « (Num 11:17)

Is Moses threatened with a possible lobotomy? Should part of his mind be removed to benefit his co-religionists?

Philo offers this reassuring comment:

« Don’t think that the removal was done by entrenchment or separation. It’s like fire: one would light a thousand torches in it, but it remains equal to itself and does not diminish in the least. This is also the nature of science. »i

There is a more important issue. Why does God, who in principle is abundantly endowed with it, need to take some of the spirit of Moses and distribute it like at auction?

God takes a little of Moses’ spirit because Moses possesses a unique spirit, without equal. God recognizes this uniqueness and wants others to benefit from it. God wants to multiply (to clone?) part of Moses’ spirit, to share it with the Hebrews.

This is a kind of « communion ».

God has « come down » to distribute to the people what is unique in Moses.

The semantic analysis of the word yarad projects, as one can see, a wide spectrum of meaning.

This word may mean « fall », « decay », « humiliation », but also the « appearance » of God in glory on the mountain or in the clouds, or may convey the intimate operation of a « communion », linking spirit to spirit.

Thus, the idea of a theophany, expressed in the form of God’s « descent » is not, by construction, immune from possible contamination or slippage, coming from more ordinary, much more human acceptances.

From this observation, of a purely semantic nature, a lesson can be drawn about an aspect of the deepest nature of the divine.

The Highest may also descend into the Lowest.

iPhilo. De Gigantibus. 1,22

Nudity and Mystery


There are four kinds of nudity in the Bible.

The first kind of nudity is the proud and innocent nudity of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. « Now they were both naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed. « (Gen. 2:25).

The second kind of biblical nakedness is that of the man who is not fully conscious, for example when he is drunk. This was the case of Noah: « He drank of his wine and became drunk, and laid himself bare in the midst of his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and went outside to tell his two brothers. « (Gen. 9:21-22)

The third kind of (partial) nudity comes from the observance of certain rites, under certain circumstances, for example having one’s head uncovered, one’s face unveiled, or tearing one’s clothes. Thus Moses said to Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar: « Do not uncover your heads or tear your clothes, unless you want to die and bring divine wrath upon the whole community. « (Lev. 10:6)

Sadness and mourning had taken hold of Aaron and his sons because a divine fire had just fatally burned two of his other sons. But Moses did not allow them to express their sorrow according to the agreed rites (head uncovered, clothes torn), because this misfortune that befell them came from the divine anger.

In another episode, it is the unveiled face of Abraham’s wife that is the problem, because it arouses the Pharaoh’s desire and incites Abraham to lie to him about his wife, whom he presents as his sister.

« When he was about to arrive in Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, « I know that you are a woman with a graceful face. It will happen that when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’, and they will kill me and keep you alive. « (Gen. 12:11-12)

The fourth kind of nudity is that of the shameful body. “The Eternal God called the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He answered, ‘I heard your voice in the garden. I was afraid, because I am naked, and I hid myself.’ Then he said, ‘Who told you that you were naked?’”(Gen. 3:9-11)

I propose to interpret these four kinds of nudity as four different allegories of mystery.

They are so many images of the various ways in which man confronts what escapes him, when he approaches what he cannot grasp, trying to reach what is absolutely transcendent.

There are myriads of mysteries, furtive or infinite, subtle or profound. Some are clearly visible, brought to light, but irreducibly incomprehensible, and others seem intelligible, but in reality reserved, elusive, exclusive.

Of all the mysteries that heaven and earth conceal, many are beyond human reach, and many are destined for only a chosen few. As for the common mysteries, they are shared by all, but they can have several levels of unveiling, requiring, to understand them, various qualities.

In principle, the naked essence of the mystery cannot be seen as it is. But there are intermediate cases.

Seeking to lift the veil, to expose the mystery, always implies a risk.

Aaron, respecting the rites, uncovers his head, tears his garments, but against time, against sense, and then risks arousing divine anger.

The nakedness of drunken Noah presents another risk.

Without having looked for it, Ham saw by chance the « nudity » of his father. Ham will be punished not for having « seen » it, but for not having « hidden » it.

Instead of acting immediately, taking the necessary measures, Ham went out to reveal the incident to his brothers Shem and Japheth. Instead, he should have covered up his father’s « nakedness ». One might say, metaphorically, that he should have hidden the “mystery” instead of revealing it to those who were not initially chosen to see it.

In fact, it was his brothers who took the initiative to carefully cover the « nudity », by approaching their father backwards and turning their faces away.

Although they have not « seen » the mystery, they will be rewarded for not trying to « see » it precisely, but rather, out of respect, for giving it back its full aura.

The first nudity, the happy nudity of Adam and Eve, is that of the beginnings. This is yet another image. At the beginning, they saw the entire mystery, without veil. Full revelation, « frontal » nudity, dazzling perhaps? The paradox for Adam and Eve is that they were not fully aware of the profound nature of what was then revealed to them. Everything was unveiled, but it was as if there was nothing special for them to see, as if the mystery actually dissolved in their eyes without really letting itself be seen, although it was actually « visible ». Trap of the visible not intelligible. Ties of an un-exercised intelligence. Laces, corsets, of an untried will to see.

Adam and Eve did not see the mystery that surrounds them, they were not aware of their own mystery. The mystery was indeed there, present in them, around them, but they knew nothing of it.

The fourth kind of nudity is the « shameful » one. Adam then knew and finally saw his nudity as it was, but he was « ashamed » of it. What does this metaphor teach us?

The mystery was revealed to him in an instant. Adam’s consciousness had access to the knowledge of a mystery that was briefly « revealed » to him. But the presence of the mystery was immediately withdrawn, because he was not worthy of it.

Four ways of biblical nakedness, four ways of seeing or not seeing, of fleeing or grasping the mystery.

Four metaphors of the weakness of human consciousness.

Logos and Glial Cells


Originally, the Greek word Logos had two rather simple, distinct meanings: ‘word’ and ‘reason’.

With Plato, the concept of Logos began its extraordinary destiny. The Logos became a Principle. By extension, it was also to represent the whole of intelligible things and ideas, as well as the link that connects all the divine powers, and what founds their unity. Finally, it was to become the Intermediary between man and God.

The Neo-Platonists took up the concept and its rich harvest.

Philo of Alexandria, for example, several centuries after Plato, made the Logos an essential attribute of the God of Israel. In God, the Logos was to incarnate the divine Intelligence, the eternal Thought, the Thought in its eternal potency, the Thought that always thinks, the Thought that can think everything, anything, forever.

For Philo, the Logos could also take a second form, which resided not in God, but in the real world. The Logos was then the Thought in act, the Thought which is realized outside God.

Shortly after Philo, John in turn gave his vision of the Logos, in its Christian interpretation. The Gospel of John says that “in the beginning” the Logos was with God and the Logos was God. And the Logos became “flesh”.

Does this mean that there are three instances of the Logos? The Logos who is God, the Logos who is with Him and the Logos who becomes flesh? Are these verbal nuances, poetic metaphors, or metaphysical realities?

In Philo’s theology, the Logos is double: Intelligence in potency, and also Intelligence in act.

In Christian theology, one may say that there are three kind of Logos, who personify themselves respectively as Father, Son, Spirit.

For the philosopher who always seeks for structures, it is possible to discern a general outline in these various interpretations.

The Logos comes out in three ways, according to what it “is”, to what it “thinks” and to what it “says”.

In theory, Being, Thinking and Saying do converge. But who knows?

These three states are also fundamental states of the human being. And Philo goes quite far in his ternary theory of the Logos, in spite of the putative difficulty that monotheism opposes when one wants to reconcile the unity of God and the multiplication of His appearances.

One way of overcoming this difficulty is to posit that the Logos is the set of all ideas which are ‘living’ in God. All the things that exist in the universe are deemed to derive from an original “idea”, from a « seal ». The Logos is the general seal whose imprint is on the whole universe.i

Divine ideas “act like seals, which when they are brought close to the wax, produce countless imprints without themselves being affected in any way, always remaining the same.”ii

Unlike the Logos of John, the Logos of Philo is not a divine person. It is only the ‘Organ’ of God. It is both His Reason and His Word, — which are manifested in His Creation.

Philo multiplies metaphors, analogies, images, applying them to the divine, human and natural realms. The Logos is creation, word, conception, flow, radiation, dilatation. According to yet another image, the Logos governs, as God reigns.

Philo’s thought about the Logos is quite complex. A 19th century commentatoriii judged that a tremendous confusion was in fact at the basis of Philo’s system, because he indiscriminately mixed up Logos (Word), Pneuma (Spirit), Sophia (Wisdom) and Episteme (Knowledge).

All the difficulty comes down to a simple question: what can one really infer a priori from the nature of the divine Spirit?

Difficult to stay.

Maybe one could start by saying that, in the divine Spirit, no distinction can really be made between what « contains » and what is « contained ».

Consequently, for instance for Philo, the Logos is at the same time the Author of the Law and the Law itself, the Spirit and the Letter.iv

The Logos is the Law, and is also the One who announces it, who reveals it.

The Wisdom of God is the source of the Logos, and it is also the Logos itself. In the same way, the Spirit of God is the source of all the intelligible beings, and it is also their total sum.

Everything which constitutes the Logos is divine, and everything which is divine, apart from the essence of God, is the Logos.

The Logos is, in all the universe, the image of the divine brought to unity. He is also the intermediary between this unity and God.

These difficult ideas have in fact been described by some hasty commentators as a « philosophical hodgepodge », adding that they showed a « lack of rigor »v on Philo’s part.

But, in my opinion, other conclusions may emerge.

On the one hand, Philo and John, independently of each other, and at about the same time in History, about two thousand years ago, just before the destruction of the Second Temple, clarified the contours of a “theophany” of the Logos, with some clear differences but also deep common structures.

On the other hand, what is still striking today is the extraordinary resilience of the concept of Logos, throughout history.

The Logos of the Stoics, the Platonic Noos, the Angel of the Eternal, the Word of YHVH, the Judeo-Alexandrine Logos, the Word made flesh, the Messiah of the first Christian Church, all these noetic figures are more similar in their absolute analogies than in their relative differences.

For the various sectarians of monotheism, however, the main difficulty lies in reconciling the idea of the unity of God with the reality of his multiple emanations, such as the Law (the Torah), or His Wisdom (okhma).

On a more philosophical level, the real difficulty is to think a Thought that exists as an absolute Being, but which also unfolds as a living, free, creative Being, in the Universe, and which finally reveals itself as the revealed Word, in the world.

Today, the « moderns » willingly deny the existence of the Logos, or of the Noos.

The Spirit, as it manifests itself in each one of us, is said by the “moderns” to arise only from biochemical mechanisms, synaptic connections, epigenetic processes, in the midst of glial cells.

The brain would multiply cellular and neuronal networks, and even « viral » ones. By their proliferation, the mechanical miracle of the Spirit coming to consciousness would appear.

But it is only a relative miracle, since we are assured that the “singularity” is close. And tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, it is affirmed, we will pass from deep learning AI to the synthesis of artificial consciousness…

However, another line of research seems possible, in theory.

It is a hypothesis that Kant already put forward, in a slightly provocative way.

“Our body is only the fundamental phenomenon to which, in its present state (in life), the entire power of sensibility and thus all thought is related. Separation from the body is the end of this sensitive use of one’s faculty of knowledge and the beginning of intellectual use. The body would therefore not be the cause of thought, but a merely restrictive condition of thought, and, consequently, it should be considered, without doubt, as an instrument of the sensible and animal end, but, by that very fact, as an obstacle to pure and spiritual life.”vi

Pursuing this line of research, purely intuitive it is true, one could conjecture that the brain, the human body, but also all peoples and Humanity as a whole could figure, in their own way, as immense metaphysical antennas, singular or collective, whose primary mission would be to capture the minute and diffuse signs of a supra-worldly Wisdom, of a creative Intelligence.

The greatest human geniuses would not find their ideas simply by the grace of unexpected crossings of some of their synapses, assisted by ionic exchanges. They would also be somehow « inspired » by the emanations of immense clouds of thinking thoughts, in which all living things are mysteriously immersed from the beginning.

In this hypothesis, who is really thinking then? Just synapses? Or the infinite, eternal choir of wise beings? Who will tell?

Who will say who really thinks, when I think, and when I think that I am?

I am thinking a thought that is born, that lives, and that becomes. I am thinking that thought, which never ceases to let itself think, – and from there, intuitively, I pass to the thought of a thought that would immediately precede and dispense with all thoughts; a thought that would never dispense with thinking, eternally.

Who will say why I pass to this very thought, immediate, eternal? Another shot of ionised synapses, by chance excited, finding their way among a hundred billion neurons (approximately), and twice as many glial cells?

iPhilo. De Mundi I, 5. De Prof. I, 547

iiPhilo. De Monarchia. II, 218

iiiCf. Jean Riéville. La doctrine du Logos dans le 4ème évangile et dans les œuvres de Philon. 1881

ivPhilo, De Migr. Abrah. I, 440-456

vJean Riéville, op.cit.

viEmmanuel Kant. Critique de la raison pure. Trad. A. Tremesaygues et B. Pacaud. PUF . 8ème édition, Paris, 1975, p.529.

YHVH’s Temounah


The Hebrew word תְּמוּנָה (temounah) has three meanings, according to Maimonides.

Firstly, it refers to the shape or figure of an object perceived by the senses. For example: « If you make a carved image of the figure (temounah) of anything, etc., it is a form or figure of an object perceived by the senses. « (Deut. 4:25)

Then, it may describe imaginary figures and thoughts that may occur in the imagination: « In thoughts born of night visions, etc. »(Jb. 4:13). This passage from Job ends by using the word temounah: « A figure (temounah), whose features were unknown to me, stood there before my eyes. « (Jb. 4:16). This means, says Maimonides, that there was a ghost before Job’s eyes, appearing while he was sleeping.

In its third sense, this word means the idea perceived by the intelligence. It is in this sense, says Maimonides, that one can use temounah when speaking of God, as in this passage: « And he beholds the figure (temounah) of the Lord (YHVH). « (Num. 12:8).

Maimonides comments as follows: “That is to say, he [Moses] contemplates God in his reality.”

In this famous passage, God speaks in the first person singular: “I speak to him [Moses] face to face, in evidence, not in riddles.”

Then, immediately afterwards, God speaks of Himself in the third person: « and he [Moses] sees the form (temounah) of YHVH. »

Maimonides comments: « The doctors say that this was a reward for having first ‘hidden his face so as not to look at God’ (Berakhot 7a) ».

Indeed, during the burning bush episode: “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look towards God” (Ex. 3:6)

But Maimonides is silent on the fact that the Berakhot treatise reports opposing opinions on this subject.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korḥa interprets negatively that Moses first hid his face and then asked God to show him His « glory » (Ex. 33:18). Consequently, God denies him this privilege.

On the contrary, Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani and Rabbi Yonatan believe that Moses’ discretion when God appeared in the burning bush was rewarded in three ways. Firstly, his face « shone » when he came down from the mountain (Ex. 34:29). Secondly, the Israelites « were afraid to approach him » (Ex. 34:30). Thirdly, Moses could « see the form (temounah) of YHVH » (Num. 12:8).

It is difficult to say anything new after the doctors of the Talmud and Maimonides. I will try anyway.

The word תְּמוּנָה (temounah) has as its verbal root מוּן, moun, “to furrow, split; to invent, fabricate, lie”i. The letter taw, initial of temounah, gives the word its substantive form. But if one swaps this taw with the teth of the Hebrew alphabet, one gets the word themounah. And curiously enough, the word thamana, טָמַן, means precisely « to hide, to bury ».

I find it very surprising that Moses “hides” (thamana) his face in order not to see the temounah of God. And that by “hiding” (thamana) his face, he was precisely granted the privilege of seeing YHVH’s temounah…

One may still want to ask: was YHVH’s temounah a figure, a vision or an idea?

Admittedly, the etymological root of the word temounah is not very reassuring, as it evokes invention, fabrication or lies…

We may want to re-read Num 12:6-8 with extra attention:

“If there is a prophet among you, it is in a vision ( בַּמַּרְאָה , ba-mar’ah) that I reveal myself to him, it is in a dream (בַּחֲלוֹם , ba-ḥalom) that I speak to him. It is not so with my servant Moses, all my house is entrusted to him. I speak to him face to face, (פֶּה אֶל-פֶּה , pê êl-pê), in evidence, (מַרְאֶה , mar’êh), not in riddles, and he sees the temounah of YHVH.” (Numbers 12:6-8).

It is said explicitly, here, that Moses is not just like other prophets, and that consequently, God did not reveal Himself to Moses “in a vision” (ba-mar’ah) or “in a dream” (ba-ḥalom).

However God revealed Himself as “mar’êh” and as “temounah”. What do these words really mean?

The word מַרְאֶה , mar’êh, means in fact « vision », but also « mirror ». The first meaning is found in Dan 10:7, « They did not see the vision » and in Ez 8:3, « In visions of God » (בְּמַרְאוֹת אֱלֹהִים , be-mar’ot Elohim). The second meaning is found in Ex 38:8, « with the mirrors of the women ».

Given the context, it seems probable that the meaning found in Daniel and Ezechiel (‘vision’) must prevail here, though this meaning still seem to contradict Num 12:6.

The translation of mar’êh by « evidence » is also a possible option, but there still may be an ambiguity, if the « vision » is seen like in a « mirror ».

The King James translation of Num 12:8 gives :

« With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold. »

That translation does not really help to eradicate a doubt about the real nature of the mar’êh and of the temounah.

So, did Moses “see” YHVH “apparently”, or in a “vision”, or like “in a mirror”, or “in evidence” ?

What we just know is that Moses did not “see” the temounah of YHVH ( תְמֻנַת יְהוָה ), “by a vision” or “in a vision” (ba-mar’ah).

We also know that Moses did not “see” but did “contemplate” (יַבִּיט , yabit) “a vision” (mar’êh), – directly, without the preposition בַּ, i.e. without any intermediary.

Moses contemplated a pure and intelligible idea, perceived by his intelligence, his soul.

iCf. Ernest Klein. A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English. Carta Jerusalem & The University of Haifa. 1987

Prophecy and Ecstasy


In the year 16 A.D., under Tiberius, soothsayers, astrologers and magi were expelled from Italy. Divination and magical practices, then, had become a capital crime that was paid for with one’s life.

Several centuries before, Moses prophesied. God sent him dreams. Divine images were communicated directly to his soul. The prophet could see the future, and through his power of ‘enthusiasm’, his capacity for ‘ecstasy’, he was able to be fully ‘possessed’ by divine madness.

During ecstasy, the divine Being introduced into the soul of the prophet a capacity for understanding, for comprehension, without comparison with that of human nature. The prophet directly « heard » the thought of God.

God breathed thoughts into Moses’ mind; Moses in turn breathed them back in the form of words, addressed to Aaron and the tribes of Israel.

The intelligence (or Moses) was the interpreter of God. The word (as spoken to Aaron) represented the prophetic act.

« The soul has an earthly base, but it has its summit in pure intelligence. »i

iPhilo, De Somn. 1. 146

Eternal Birth


Man is an “intermediate being”, said Plato, “between the mortal and the immortal”i. This obscure expression can be understood in several senses.

Man is constantly on the move. He goes up and down. He ascends towards ideas he doesn’t quite understand, and he descends towards the matter he has forgotten and which reminds him of her. Systole and diastole of the soul. Breathing of the body, inhalation, exhalation of the spirit.

The ancients had formed words that can help to understand these opposite movements. The Greek word ἒκστασις (extasis), means « coming out of oneself ». In « ecstasy », the spirit « comes out » of the body, it is caught in a movement that carries it away. Ecstasy has nothing to do with what is called « contemplation », which is immobile, stable, and which Aristotle called θεωρία (theoria).

The meaning of the word θεωρία as « contemplation, consideration » is rather late, since it only appears with Plato and Aristotle. Later, in Hellenistic Greek, the word took on the meaning of « theory, speculation », as opposed to « practice ».

But originally, θεωρία meant « sending delegates to a religious festival, religious embassy, being a theorist ». The « theorist » was the person going on a trip to consult the oracle, or to attend a religious ceremony. A « theory » was a religious delegation going to a holy place.

Ecstasy is an exit from the body. The theoria is a journey out of the homeland, to visit the oracle of Delphi. These words therefore have one thing in common, that of a certain movement towards the divine.

They are images of the possible movement of the soul, vertically or horizontally, as ascent or approach. Unlike the theoria, which denotes a journey of the body in the literal sense, ecstasy takes the form of a thought in movement outside the body, traversed by lightning and dazzle, always aware of its weakness, its powerlessness, in an experience which is beyond it, and which it knows it has little chance of really grasping, little means of fixing it in order to share it on its return.

The word ecstasy is the minimal trace of a kind of experience that is difficult to understand for those who have not lived it. It is not simply a matter of « ascending » to higher or even divine realities. When the soul moves into these generally inaccessible regions, she encounters phenomena that are absolutely dissimilar to anything she has ever observed on earth, in her usual life. She runs an infinitely fast race, in pursuit of something that is always ahead of her, and which draws her further and further away, into an ever-changing elsewhere, and which projects her to an infinite distance of what she has ever experienced.

Human life cannot know the end of this incredible race. The soul, which is given the experience of ecstasy, understands by experience the possibility of such a search. She will always remain marked by her ‘election’, by the gift given to her of a striking flight towards a reality that is forever elusive.

It is interesting to question the texts that report ecstasies that have had the effect of changing the course of history, and to analyze their differences.

In his comments on the experience of ecstasyii, Philo considers that Moses, despite the fame and the power of his visioniii, did not have access to the full understanding of the divine powers.

Philo then sought in the vision of Jeremiah, with more success, the traces of a greater penetration of these powers.

Moving forward in these fields is a random and delicate undertaking. The texts are difficult, they resist interpretation.

“This is how the word of God was addressed to Jeremiah”iv.

This is a restrained way of giving an account of what was, one might think, originally an ecstasy. Reading these lines, one can guess at its hold.

“Dominated by your power, I lived in isolation.”v

Other prophets expressed the marks of their ecstasy in other metaphors. Ezekiel says that « the hand of God came »vi upon him, or that the spirit « prevailed ».vii

When ecstasy is at its height, the hand of God weighs more than usual:

“And the spirit lifted me up and carried me away, and I went away sorrowful in the exaltation of my spirit, and the hand of the Lord weighed heavily on me.”viii

The definition of ‘ecstasy’ according to the National Center for Textual and Lexical Resource (CNRTL) is as follows:

“A particular state in which a person, as if transported out of himself, is removed from the modalities of the sensible world by discovering through a kind of illumination certain revelations of the intelligible world, or by participating in the experience of an identification, of a union with a transcendent, essential reality.”

This definition speaks of enlightenment, identification or union with transcendental realities. But what do these words really cover?

According to other testimonies, ecstasy, of mystical essence, seems infinitely more dynamic, more transforming. It draws its principle and its energy from the intuition of the divine infinite and from participation in its movement.

Ecstasy is more a race than a stasis, more a dazzle than an illumination.

Bergson, the philosopher of movement, paradoxically gives a rather static, ‘arrested’ image of ecstasy: “The soul ceases to turn on herself (…). She stops, as if she were listening to a voice calling out to her. (…) Then comes an immensity of joy, an ecstasy in which she is absorbed or a rapture which she undergoes: God is there, and it is in her. No more mystery. Problems fade away, obscurities dissipate; it is an illumination.”ix

It is not known whether Bergson knows from real personal experience what he is talking about.

One only has to pay attention to the testimonies of Blaise Pascal or S. John of the Cross, to guess that ecstasy cannot be so luminously static. Taken to such an elevation, ecstasy has a fiery power that carries away all certainty, all security, and even all illumination.

Ecstasy dazzles like a primal dive into the center of Light. And the worlds, all the worlds, are then only like tiny quantum hairs emanating from a divine Black Hole.

It is difficult to explain in audible words, in palpable images, the infinite rapture of the soul, when she is given to see her own, eternal, birth.

iPlato. Symposium.

iiPhilo. De Monarch. I, 5-7

iiiEx 33, 18-23

ivJer. 14,1

vJer. 15,17

viEz. 1,3

viiEz. 3,12

viiiEz. 3,14

ix H. Bergson, Deux sources, 1932, p. 243.

A Jewish Trinity


How is it to be understood that a God who is essentially One may also be endowed, as his various Names testify, with multiple attributes?

If God is unique, where does the multiplicity of His attributes come from? How can His essential Unity be so ‘diverse’, from a phenomenological point of view?

Christians think that the Unity of God can also be understood as a « Trinity » (uniting the Creator, the Verb, the Spirit). The Jews absolutely refute that any « trinity » may be “seen” in an essentially One God. Muslims, too, are particularly sensitive to this question of the essential unity of God. They call Christians « associationists », and some verses of the Qu’ran affirm that they deserve death for this reason.

The “unity” of God raises difficult questions, when confronted to the multiplicity of God’s appearances.

A biblical image may help to understand the issue.

Abraham received three guests under the tree of Mamre. He then distinguished three representations of one single phenomenon, which he knew was of divine essence.

According to some, these three guests were “angels”. According to others, they were “Elohim” (“Gods” or « Lords »). According to yet other interpretations, Abraham’s vision was the vision of the One as a unique being, but accompanied by two of his “shadows”, which represented two degrees of divine “knowledge”, which some called, in Greek, the doxa (opinion) and the aletheia (truth).

For Philo, it was indeed the One God, but escorted by two divine Powers, the power of Creation and the power of Royalty.

The « power of Creation » is the power of God as the Creator. This power may also be called « goodness », because God « creates » through His goodness, and it is “good” that the Creator created the world. The power of Creation emanates from God, it derives from Him. One can also say that He « generates » it, like a Father a Son.

The « power of Royalty » is the power of the Lord as a ruler. It is the power of the Law, because the Lord is the one who punishes.

The « power of Royalty » is embodied in the Law. The power of the Law, the power of the Torah, is also the power of the Spirit, and it prevails in the intelligible world. “Listen, listen, and you will understand!”

The power of the Spirit is distinct from God, but it emanates from Him. Likewise, the scrolls of the Torah are not God, yet they emanate from Him, having been revealed to Moses.

God, His Goodness, His Spirit. One and Three.

Much later, the Jewish Kabbalah came out with yet another metaphor, the first three sefirot: Keter, Ḥokhmah, Binah.

Crown, Wisdom, Intelligence.

From a structural point of view, no real difference between the Christian Trinity and the Kabbalist one…

No End to Interpretation


The Arabic word تأويل, ta’wil, means « interpretation », and is used particularly in connection with the reading of the Qur’an, as to its inner, allegorical, mystical meaning.

This word has other meanings, which I recall here because they help to feel how the Arabic language understands the idea of « interpretation ».

Ta’wil may also mean: « vision, spectre, ghost; interpretation of dreams, of visions. »

The root of ta’wil is أول, ‘awal, which means « beginning » and comes from the verbal root أآل , ‘a’al, whose meaning, in its I form, is « to arrive, to reach a place; to return; to be a leader, to command; to abandon someone ». In form II of the verb ‘a’al, the meaning is: « to bring back, to make someone come back to something; to explain, to interpret; to establish, to institute; to define, to determine; to explain ».

Let’s indulge in an impromptu psychoanalysis of the word ta’wil and its verbal root.

It implies fundamentally a ‘return’ to a ‘beginning’. The ta’wil is essentially oriented towards an ‘origin’. The thought of ta’wil seems to be fascinated by an « original place », where it is necessary to « come back » to, in order « to take command », in order to « establish », to « institute », to « define », to « determine ».

But before attempting the ta’wil of any Koranic suras, it might be wise to proceed to the ta’wil of the ta’wil itself.

Perhaps the ta’wil would function more freely, if it were free from any absolute « beginning » and « origin », and if it took into account the complexity of human History, the diversity of beliefs, and the unexpected resources of various wisdoms, — and if it also turned more towards the future, towards the as yet unthought, rather than towards the past.

One of the most ancient meanings of the verbal root ‘a’al of the word ta’wil is « to abandon », as I already mentioned.

Perhaps, in order to make a good ta’wil, it is necessary to abandon clichés, repetitions, mechanical thoughts ?

Perhaps it is necessary to free the ta’wil from any imposed ‘truths’, from any fatwas, from any self-nominated ‘authorities’.

Perhaps it is necessary, for a really critical ta’wil, to finally leave the ossified, stale, dry, dead world of ready-made ideas, hammering heavily their way into human brains.

Shadows of God


The biblical name Bezaleeli literally means « in the shadow of God ». Philo offers this interpretation: “The ‘shadow of God’ is the Logos. Just as God is the model of His own Image, which He has here called ‘shadow’, so the Image becomes the model of other things, as He showed at the beginning of the Law (Gen. 1:27) (…) The Image was reproduced after God, and man after the Image, who thus took on the role of model.”ii 

Man then is only the shadow of a shadow, the image of an image, or the dream of a dream. For the word shadow evokes the dream, the dream, according to Philo, who quotes the verse: « God will make Himself known unto him in a vision, that is, in a shadow, and not in all light » (Num. 12:6).

In truth, this quotation from Philo is a bit approximate.

The King James version says, more faithfully: “If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.”

In fact, in the original Hebrew, we read not the word « shadow » (tsal), but « dream » (halom).

If one renders the translation with this word, the verse reads:

« Listen to my words. If he were only your prophet, I, the LORD, would manifest myself to him in a vision, I would speak with him in a dream. But no: Moses is my servant; he is the most devoted of all my house. I speak to him face to face, in a clear apparition and without riddles; it is the very image of God that he contemplates. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant, against Moses? »iii

Even to a ‘prophet’, God may manifest Himself in ambiguous and fragile ways: through a vision or a dream.

But to Moses, God appeared face to face, clearly, ‘without riddles’. And Moses contemplated God as an « image ».

He had the great privilege of seeing God face to face, but in reality he saw only His image. This image, this « shadow », was the Logos of God, if we are to follow Philo.

Evidently, here, the Platonic theories of the Logos had percolated and sowed some seeds in the mind of a great Jewish thinker.

Born in Alexandria just before our era, Philo appears in history shortly before a certain Yĕhōshúa of Galilea, who was later destined to be granted the name of the divine Logos by his followers.

From Moses to Jesus, one can see some continuity and some difference. Moses talks face to face with the Logos of God, i.e. His « image », or His « shadow ». Jesus also talks face to face with God, but he is himself called Logos.

What is the difference? Maybe a difference in the degree of ‘incarnation’ of the Divine Spirit.

The prophets usually are given visions and dreams. To Moses, was given the image and vision of the Logos. To Jesus was given to be the Logos.

And to the Prophet Muhammad what was given? He was given the Qur’an. As the prophet was notoriously illiterate, this text was first dictated to him in oral form, by an angel. Some scribes then took it upon themselves to transcribe the revealed text for posterity.

Can we say that the Qur’an is an instance of the divine Logos? Admittedly, the Qur’an and the Logos are both different instances of the Word of God.

So what is the (ontological) difference between the experience of Moses, that of Jesus and that of Muhammad?

In all three cases God manifests Himself through His Word.

Three brands of monotheism came out to celebrate these manifestations.

The Jews conserve the ‘words’ that God spoke to Moses. They believe that the Logos can be embodied in the vision that Moses saw, and in the Law that he heard.

The Christians believe that the Logos can incarnate Himself in a Messiah, called « Son of God », and that the (divine) Word is « the Son of God ».

The Muslims believe that the « Uncreated Qur’an » is the Word of God.

In reality, nothing may prevent the Logos to ‘descend’ and ‘incarnate’ in this world, wherever and whenever He or She wishes to do so.

iEx 31,2

iiLegum Allegoriae, 96

iiiNum. 12,6-8

Finding Knowledge in Death


In the Book of Genesis, God creates man in two different ways. Two words, עֲשֶׂה ‘ésêh, « to make » and יָצָר yatsar, « to form » are used, at two distinct moments, to indicate this nuance.

« And God said: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness » (Gen. 1:26). The Hebrew word for « let us make » is נַעֲשֶׂה from the verb עֲשֶׂה ‘ésêh.

And in the second chapter of Genesis we read:

« And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there he put the man whom he had formed. « (Gen. 2:8) The Hebrew word for « formed » is: יָצָר , yatsar.

What does this difference in vocabulary teach us?

The verb עֲשֶׂה means “to make” but has several other nuances: “to prepare, arrange, care, establish, institute, accomplish, practice, observe.” This range of meanings evokes the general idea of realization, accomplishment, perfection.

The verb יָצָר means “to form, to fashion” but also has an intransitive meaning: “to be narrow, constricted, embarrassed, afraid, tormented”. It evokes an idea of constraint, of embarrassment.

It is as if the first verb (« to make ») translated the point of view of God creating man, and as if the second verb (« to form ») expressed the point of view of man who finds himself in the narrow « form » imposed to him, with all that it implies of constraint, tightness and torment.

The Book of Genesis twice cites the episode of the creation of man, but with significant differences.

Firstly, God « places » (וַיָּשֶׂם שָׁם ) a man “whom he had formed « (Gen. 2,8) in the Garden of Eden. A little later, God « establishes » (וַיַּנִּח ) a man there to be the worker and the guardian (Gen. 2,15).

Philo interprets this reference to two different “placement” or “establishment” of “man” as follows: the man who tills the garden and looks after it, is « the man [whom God] has made », and not the man whom he has « formed ». God « receives the former, but drives out the latter.”i

Philo introduces a distinction between the « heavenly » man and the « earthly » man. « The heavenly man was not formed, but made in the image of God, and the earthly man is a being formed, but not begotten by the Maker. »ii

One can understand thusly: God first « formed » a man and « placed » him in the garden. But this man was not deemed worthy to cultivate it. God drove him out of the Garden of Eden. Then He « established » the man whom He « made » in his place.

Philo adds: « The man whom God has made is different, as I have said, from the man who has been formed: the formed man is earthly intelligence; the man who has been made is immaterial intelligence. »iii

So it was just meant to be a metaphor. There are not two kinds of men, but rather two kinds of intelligence in the same man.

« Adam is the earthly and corruptible intelligence, for the man ‘in the image’ is not earthly but heavenly. We must seek why, giving all other things their names, he did not give himself his own name… The intelligence that is in each of us can understand other beings, but it is incapable of knowing itself, as the eye sees without seeing itself. »iv

The « earthly » intelligence thinks all beings but does not understand itself.

God takes up his work again, and endows man with a « celestial » intelligence. He then has new troubles, since this new man disobeys him and eats of the fruit of the « tree of the knowledge of good and evil ».

It can be argued that without this « heavenly » intelligence, man could not have eaten and known good and evil.

Another question: Was this tree really in the Garden of Eden?

Philo doubts it, because God has said: « But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it.”

This is (grammatically) not an order, but just a factual statement. Philo infers that « this tree was therefore not in the garden ».v

This can be explained by the nature of things, he argues: « It [the tree] is there by substance, it is not there in potency. »

In other words, the “tree” is apparently there, but not really its “fruit”.

More philosophically: knowledge is not to be found in life. Knowledge is only to be found “in potency”, i.e. in death.

For the day that one eats of the fruit of the tree of knowledge is also the day of death, the day of which it is said, « You shall die of death » מוֹת תָּמוּת, mot tamut, (Gen. 2:17).

Why this pleonasm, “to die of death”, in the biblical text?

« There is a double death, that of man, and the death proper to the soul; that of man is the separation of soul and body; that of the soul, the loss of virtue and the acquisition of vice. (…) And perhaps this second death is opposed to the first: this one is a division of the compound of body and soul; the other, on the contrary, is a meeting of the two where the inferior, the body, dominates, and the superior, the soul, is dominated. »vi

Philo quotes here the last part of the fragment 62 of Heraclitus: “ Immortals are mortal, mortals immortal, living their death, dying their life ».

He believes that Heraclitus was « right to follow the doctrine of Moses in this », and, as a good Neoplatonist, Philo takes up the famous thesis of the body, tomb of the soul, developed by Plato.

“That is to say, at the present time, when we live, the soul is dead and buried in the body as in a tomb, but by our death the soul lives of the life proper to it, and is delivered from evil and from the corpse that was bound to it, the body.”vii

The Book of Genesis says: “You shall die of death!”. Heraclitus has a formula which is less of such a pleonasm: “The life of some is the death of others, the death of some, the life of others.”

Who to believe? Is death double, that of the body and that of the soul? Or does death herald another life?

We can try to propose a synthesis, like Philo did.

Knowledge is not to be found in life. It is only there “in potency”, and it is probably to be found in “death”, which announces an “other” sort of life.

iPhilo of Alexandria, Legum Allegoriae, 55

iiIbid., 31

iiiIbid., 88

ivIbid., 90

vIbid., 100

viIbid., 105

viiIbid., 106