Wriggling Fry

In a short, strange, visionary book, « Bible of Mankind », Jules Michelet wrote in 1864 about the future of religions, considered as a whole. His angle? The comparison, in this respect, between East and West.

« My book is born in the sunlight among the sons of light, the Aryas, Indians, Persians and Greeks”, says Michelet.

Goodbye fogs, goodbye dark clouds. The light! The light!

It’s all about returning to the dawn of the world, which is perhaps best celebrated in the Vedas. It is about evoking a « Bible of light », not a Bible of words.

For Michelet, who was stuck in a colonialist and imperialist century, it was above all a question of escaping as far as possible from the conceptual prison of stifling ideas, of escaping from too many conventional clichés.

« Everything is narrow in the West. Greece is small: I’m suffocating. Judea is dry: I am panting. Let me look a little at the side of high Asia, towards the deep East.”

Michelet, panting!

He was, though, a man who had a lot of breath. But no more. His ode to light came from an asthma of the soul.

One hundred and fifty years after Michelet, his naive cry is still moving. His panting signals a deep shortness of breath, for our entire era.

One hundred and fifty years after Michelet, we too are panting. We too are suffocating.

We would like to breathe. To fill our retinas with light.

But where are the sea winds? Where are the promised dawns?

The West is today, much more than yesterday, in crisis. But the East is probably not much better off. We are more or less persuaded of the absence of an enlightened horizon west of Eden. But one does not believe either in the supposed depths of Asia.

One may only be sure of the thinness of the earth’s crust, under which a sun of lava roars.

Everything is narrow in this world. The planet is too small. And we are all suffocating. The West? The East? Eurasia? Old-fashioned clichés. Simple and false slogans.

Where are the thinkers ? Where are the prophets?

We are suffocating. The breathing of the people is wheezy, hoarse, corseted… Everything is dry, cracked, dusty.

Water is lacking, air is scarce.

No depths in the crowded pools, where the crocodiles kindly bite themselves, while the fry wriggle.

A Smell of Putrefaction

Scars c4@Philippe Quéau2017

« Already long before 1933, something like a scorching smell was in the air », recalled Carl Gustav Jung shortly after the Second World War, when a collection of his texts from the 1920s, 30s and 40s was republishedi.

A scorched smell? What a euphemism!

In the trenches of the Great War, smells hovered over the dead and the living, but to smell the air then was to die.

Human memory is short and long. Short, in its race to the immediate, its fascination for the event of the moment. Long by its roots in the humus of cultures, in the unconscious of peoples, it even penetrates the memorable, un-forgetting DNA.

All the horrors in History, all the massacres, all the wars, all the infamies committed in the world, leave deep, mnemonic traces in the soul of the species and in the DNA of each man.

Jung attests to this: « An ugly thing generates something vile in our soul. We become indignant, we cry out for the punishment of the murderer, all the more vividly, passionately and hatefully, as the sparks of evil bawl more furiously within us.

It is an undeniable fact that the evil committed by others has quickly become our own vileness, precisely by virtue of the formidable power it has to ignite or fan the evil that lies dormant in our souls.

In part, the murder was committed on the person of each one of us, and in part, each one of us perpetrated it. Seduced by the irresistible fascination of evil, we have helped to make possible this moral attack on the collective soul […].

Are we morally outraged? Our indignation is all the more venomous and vengeful as the flame lit by evil burns more strongly within us.

No one can escape it, for everyone is so steeped in the human condition and so drowned in the human community, that any crime secretly causes a flash of the most intimate satisfaction to shine in some fold of our soul, with her innumerable facets… and – if the moral constitution is favorable – triggers also a contrary reaction in the surrounding compartments.”ii

When hundreds of thousands of dead, in the recent wars, begin to haunt the unconscious consciousness, the terrible soil of horror slowly prepares future germination.

When, day after day, migrants, chased away by wars waged elsewhere, drown in the blue waters of the Mediterranean or in any other of the Seven Seas, in deaf and blind indifference, a deleterious mutation operates its silent and deep chemistry in the stuffed souls of the weighed down peoples.

Yet the world migrants will arrive, whatever happens, and they will camp forever in the collective memory, – and no Styx will be wall, or barbed wire for them.

A wave of impotent pessimism has been sweeping the Western world since the beginning of the century. There is nothing to be done. TINA. « There Is No Alternative”, they say. The fall of confidence, the corruption of minds, the betrayal of politicians, the pursuit of lucre, the absence of meaning, are killing people’s souls, ill-informed, lost in complexity, deprived of light.

There is no national solution to global problems. But nationalist populism proliferates. The planet is too small, and they want to make it even smaller, to strangle it with partitions, with narrow stacks.

During the last centuries of the Roman Empire, paganism began to decline, along with virtues. A strange ideology, coming from the East, occupied people’s minds. The Gnostics preached the end of the ancient world. They proclaimed themselves « a chosen foreign people », they claimed « foreign knowledge » and wanted to live in a « foreign », « new » land.

The Epistle to Diognetus evokes the « strangeness » in a world that is coming to an end: « They reside each in their own country, but as foreigners in their own land, and every foreign land is a homeland to them, and every homeland is a foreign land.”

O prophetic words! And Rome was on the move, soon to succumb.

There is no more Rome now, nor virtues to destroy. Only smells, deadly, putrefied.

And the whole world is plugging its nose, thinking that it will pass.

i C.G. Jung. Aspects du drame contemporain (1947).


World Circumcision

A French, self-styled “philosopher”, Michel Onfray, affirmed recently that « the Judeo-Christian civilisation is in a terminal phase.”i

His statement is ruthless, definitive, without appeal: « Judeo-Christianity has reigned for almost two millennia. An honourable length of time for a civilisation. The civilization that will replace it will also be replaced. A question of time. The ship is sinking: we still have to sink with elegance »ii.

Onfray uses the metaphor of « sinking ». The ship “sinks”. This is not, I think, a good image to depict « decadence ». The sinking is sudden, rapid, terminal. Decadence is long, soft, indecisive, and sometimes it even generates rebirths.

It is precisely the possible rebirth of our civilization that deserves reflection. History is teeming with « decadent » periods. Rebirths are rarer, but possible, and merit attention.

A century ago, Oswald Spengler famously glossed over The Decline of the West, a two-volume book published in 1918 and 1922.

In the previous century, Nietzsche had powerfully erupted against the « decadence » of Western culture. He had a piercing vision, and according to him, Euripides was the first to detect the premises of this, with the « decadence of the Greek tragedy », which was a sign of what was to follow.

The metaphor of decadence, as we can see, easily flourishes under the pen of « thinkers ».

But what seems more interesting to me, assuming that decadence is effective, is what may happen afterwards. After the darkening of the misleading suns, is a new dawn conceivable? After the general collapse, what renewal is possible? Where to find the forces, the energy, the resources, the ideas, to invent another world?

Onfray, a convinced atheist, and aggressively anti-Christian, thinks on this subject that Islam has a role to play. « Islam is strong with a planetary army made up of countless believers ready to die for their religion, for God and his Prophet.”iii

Alongside this strength, what Jesus represents is only « a fable for children », says Onfray.

In Moscow, when I lived there, on assignment for UNESCO, I sometimes met real tough Russians, of the kind FSB or ex-KGB, who spoke directly :  » You Westerners, you are like children.”

Is Russia herself decadent? I don’t know. What is certain is that Russians are proud of their history and geography. They stopped the Mongol invasions, beat Napoleon, resisted at Stalingrad, and hunted Hitler down in his bunker. And their country covers eleven time zones, giving meaning to the political and philosophical utopia of a « Eurasia » of which Russia would be the soul.

The West, condemned by Mr. Onfray to its impending demise, also has some occasions for pride. It has a number of inventions, several masterpieces, and social and political institutions, which are apparently healthier and more « democratic » than elsewhere. And yet, decadence is on the horizon, says Mr. Onfray.

That may be possible. There are some worrying signs. But the world is changing fast, and it is shrinking rapidly, as we all know. The metaphor of decadence, because it is a metaphor, is not very original. What is most lacking today is not to shed crocodile tears over the past, but to propose new ideas, a new breath of fresh air, not for the benefit of the « West », but on a whole human scale. The world needs a « great narrative », a global vision, and a credible utopia, for urgent global issues, such as that of a world union of governments, and finances fair taxation, on a global scale. “Childish dreams” as would say FSB guys?

Planet Earth is overpopulated, in a state of accelerated compression. Massive urbanization, climate change, and the phenomenal impoverishment of the world’s fauna and flora deserve a reflection of planetary scope.

The challenges are also economic and social. The 4th industrial revolution has begun. Massive unemployment due to the ubiquitous applications of artificial intelligence, to large-scale robotization, to deficient or misguided policies based without shame on misinformation or systematic lies, to sidereal inequalities: all the components of a global civil war are there, in potency.


Unless an astounding, superior, unheard of idea emerges, bearing a common vision for Humankind as a whole.

Yesterday, socialism, communism, the idea of equality, fraternity or solidarity could make the « masses » dream for a few decades. On the other hand, conservatism, individualism, capitalism, entrepreneurial freedom, have played their cards in the world liar’s poker.

What does the future hold? More and more conservatism, capitalism and individualism? Or openly fascist forms of social control? We know today more than yesterday the limits, the deviations, the diversions and excesses of the old ideals.

Threats are rising on all sides. The old ideologies have failed. What can be done?

Humanity must become aware of its nature and its strength. It must become aware of its destiny. Humanity has a vocation for ultra-humanity, surpassing itself in a new synthesis, a new emergence, a mutation of world civilization.

General unemployment, for example, could be excellent news: it signals the assured end of the current model, the establishment of a universal income, and the end of predatory capitalism. Billions of unemployed and increasingly educated people cannot be ignored. They will not let themselves starve at the doors of banks and ultra-rich ghettos. There is bound to be a reaction.

The immense and global massa damnata, created by a lawless capitalism, will necessarily regain « common » control over the world’s wealth, which is immense but now monopolized by the 0.01%, and will find a way to distribute it equitably in order to provide a human income for all.

The enormous amounts of time freed up by the « end of work » will then be able to be mobilized to do everything that machines, algorithms and capital cannot do: better educate, care for people, freely invent, really create, humanely socialize, sustainably develop, obviously love.

The promiscuity of religions, races and peoples will impose – by force – a new ultra-human, meta-philosophical, meta-religious civilization.

Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, will have to move together to a higher level of understanding of their respective doctrines, to reach their essential and already common core, the unique core of what still stands as the “mystery” of the universe.

All this will happen in the coming decades. Let there be no doubt about it. Not that men will become wiser. But the osmotic pressure of necessity will make the eyes open, make the scales fall off, will circumcise the minds.

iMichel Onfray.Décadence. De Jésus au 11 septembre, vie et mort de l’Occident. Flammarion. 2017



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

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

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 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.

Loving Word

« In the beginning was the Word » (Jn 1,1)

More than thousand years before the Gospel of John, the Veda was already considering the Word as having a life of its own, a divine essence. The Vedic Word was a Divine Person. The Vedic Word was a prefiguration of the Psalms of David where, as in the Veda, Wisdom is personified as a female figure associated with the One God.

The Word (vāc) is the very essence of the Veda. « More than one who sees has not seen the Word. More than one who hears does not hear it. She has opened her body to him as she did to her husband, a loving woman in rich attire.”i

The Word, or Wisdom, or Vāc, is like the loving Sulamite of the Song of songs.

Those who know will understand.

iṚgVeda X,71

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

Metaphysics of Hair

Hair is one of the oldest metaphors ever devised by the human brain. It is also a metonymy. The hair, is on the head, at the top of the man, above his very thoughts, also links with the divine sphere (this is why the Jews cover themselves with the yarmulke). But the hairs also covers the lower abdomen, and announces the deep transformation of the body, for life, love and generation. Finally, the fertile earth itself covers itself with a kind of hair when the harvest is announced. Here again, the ancient genius combines the Divine, Man and Nature in a single image.

A hymn from the Veda combines these images in a single formula: « Make the grass grow on these three surfaces, O Indra, the head of the Father, and the field here, and my womb! That field over there, which is ours, and my body here, and the head of the Father, make it all hairy!”i

But hair has other connotations as well, which go beyond the simple metonymy. Hair, in the Veda, also serves as an image to describe the action of God himself. It is one of the metaphors that allow us to qualify it indirectly, as other monotheistic religions would do much later, choosing its power, mercy or clemency.

“The Hairy One carries the Fire, the Hairy One carries the Soul, the Hairy One carries the worlds. The Hairy One carries all that can be seen from heaven. Hair is called Light.”ii

igVéda VIII,91

iigVéda VIII,91

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.


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 Poisonous Death of the Prophet

The prophet Muhammad may have been poisoned, according to Hela Ouardi, a Tunisian academic. In her book, « The Last Days of Muhammad » (2017), she takes a cautious and documented look at the last hours of the Prophet. He died in a few days from a strange illness. Yet he was a man in his prime, robust and even corpulent.

« Muhammad was a lover of tayyibât, a delicacy celebrated in the Koran: women, perfumes and food.i The prophet is a gourmand, fond of meat, honey and sweetsii. Muslim traditionalists describe the strong appetite of the Prophet in gargantuan scenes such as the one where he is seen swallowing half a sheep aloneiii. »iv

The famous Boukhâri, quite an illustrious authority on Islamic chains of tradition, reports two theories that can explain such a quick death, pleurisy and poisoning.

But pleurisy is excluded from the outset, at least if one believes the words of the Prophet himself. « In his Tabaqat, Ibn Sa’d relates that the mother of Bisht, Muhammad’s companion, visiting the Prophet, said to him: ‘I have never seen anyone suffering from a fever like the one that overwhelms you. – God multiplies suffering to multiply the reward,’ he replies. – People say that you are suffering from pleurisy, » she said, to which he replied: « God will never inflict it on me; it is a satanic disease; in fact I am suffering from this meal I have had with your son and I feel that this dish [of goat] will rupture my aortav. »vi

Muslim tradition reports that « the Prophet’s entourage, convinced that the Prophet was suffering from pleurisy, administered against his will a remedy suspected of being a poison that only accelerated the end; this remedy was given to the Prophet on Sunday, the day before his death.vii»viii

This could all be found in a novel by Agatha Christie. All the more so as the sudden death of the prophet did not fail to redistribute the political cards.

« Two men then played a leading role: Abû Bakr and ‘Umar who had to improvise and set up a new political institution based on the idea of replacing the Prophet: the Caliphate. The Caliphate still nourishes the collective Muslim imagination, which sees it as an infallible political institution. »ix

And Hela Ouardi pushes the point of the argument even further, in a politically sensitive direction: « After the death of the Prophet, Abû Bakr and ‘Umar will thus make a decisive entry on the stage of history. Are they not finally the true founders of a new religion that they must rebuild on the ruins of a primitive belief that suddenly collapsed the moment Muhammad died? »x

These two men will soon be murdered themselves, by the very people on whom they had sought political and religious ascendancy.

Today, Islam is still paying a heavy price for the endless excesses of this original conflict.

iTabaqât 1/410

iiTabaqât 1/391 ; Muslim 4/185. His favourite meal was tharîd, a kind of « ratatouille » with bits of bread (Tabaqât 1/393). Muhammad often compared his wife Aisha to his favourite meal (Bukhâri 3/1252 ; Dârimî Sunan 2/144 ; Muslim 4/1886 ; Ibn Mâjah Sunan 2/1092 ; Tirmidhî 4/275 ; Hâkim Mustadrak 4/129 ; Muttaqî Kanz 12/33)

iiiTabaqât 1/393 ; Ibn Hanbal Musnad 45/172

ivHela Ouardi. Les derniers jours de Muhammad, Ed. Albin Michel, Paris, 2017, p.164

vTabaqât 2/236 ; Balâdhuri Ansâb 2/221

viHela Ouardi. Les derniers jours de Muhammad, Ed. Albin Michel, Paris, 2017, p.171-172

viiWâqidî Maghâzi 3/1119 ; Tabaqât 2/190 ; Bukhâri 5/2159-2160 ; Ibn ‘Asâkir Tarîkh Dimashq 2/56 : Muttaqî Kanz 10/573

viiiHela Ouardi. Les derniers jours de Muhammad, Ed. Albin Michel, Paris, 2017, p.172

ix Hela Ouardi. Les derniers jours de Muhammad, Ed. Albin Michel, Paris, 2017, p.233

x Hela Ouardi. Les derniers jours de Muhammad, Ed. Albin Michel, Paris, 2017, p.233

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.

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

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.

Unspeakable Suns

« And the evening and the morning were the first day.”i

« And the evening and the morning were the second day.”ii

« And the evening and the morning were the third day.”iii

However, the sun was not created until the fourth day of the Creation! During the first half of the six days of the Creation, there was no sun, yet there was light and darkness…

What were those « mornings » and « evenings » really like, when the sun was not yet created? Were they only metaphors? Symbols? Images?

One could speculate that these « mornings » (without sun) could be a colourful, metaphoric, way of describing the dawn of things, their principle, their idea, their essence.

And continuing on this train of thoughts, the « evenings » – which came before the « mornings », in the Book of Genesis – could then represent the knowledge that precedes principles, ideas, – the obscure knowledge that precedes the dawn of the understanding, the dawn of the essence of things.

The « evenings » would then confusingly embody all that announces things yet to be created, in advance, all that prepares them in secret, makes them possible and compatible with matter, life, reality.

The « evening knowledge » may represent the knowledge of things as they subsist, latent, in their own nature, immersed in a slowly emerging consciousness, that is still formless.

And when the « morning » comes, then appears the « morning knowledge », the knowledge of the primordial nature of beings, their true, luminous, essence.

A lion, an eagle or a squid, live their own unique life in the steppe, the sky or the sea. Who will tell the unique experience of this particular lion, this singular eagle, this specific squid? Who will bundle them with ‘sensors’ from birth to death, observe their entire life, grasp all their perceptions, understand the full range of their emotions, their fears, their pleasures, and acquire their grammar, their vocabulary?

Plato invented the idea of “the idea”. We may then imagine that there is such a thing as the “idea” of the tiger, its very essence, the “tiger-dom”. But even if we could grasp the essence of the generic tiger, what about the essence of a specific tiger?

To access the « morning knowledge » of the tiger, one would also have to be capable of abstraction, to penetrate its essence, to understanding the paradigm at work.

But, even more difficult maybe, one would also have to be a very zealous observer, endowed with empathy, sensitivity, and encyclopedic patience, to claim the « evening knowledge » of this or that particular tiger.

One should ideally strive to be able to grasp at the same time, not only the “tiger-dom” in general, but the unique “tiger-dom” of this or that particular tiger.

In a sense, a specific tiger may well represent its species. But from another perspective, an individual tiger remains deeply immersed in its own, opaque, singularity. It can never represent the sum total of the life experiences of its fellow tigers of past and future times. One tiger virtually sums up the species, one can admit, but is also overwhelmed on all sides by the innumerable lives of other, real tigers.

During the first days of the Genesis, and before the sun was even created, three evenings and three mornings benefited from a non-solar “light”, a “light” without photons, but not without enlightenment, – a non material “light”, but not without “ideas”…

During those first three days and nights, in the absence of the sun, we can infer that were crated many other (unspeakable) “suns” that were never before seen, and many other unheard-of and unspeakable “moons”.

iGn. 1, 5

iiGn. 1, 8

iiiGn. 1, 13

Bitter Angels of History

Klee’s painting, Angelus novus, has a catchy title. It gives the painting an air of mystery. Angels, however, are so many, there are billions of them, on every pinhead, it is said. Every boson, every prion even, could have its own angel. In this immense crowd, how can we distinguish between « new » and « old » angels?

Are not angels, by nature, essentially timeless, pure spirits?

Klee’s angel is curiously static, even motionless. There is no sensation of movement, either backwards or forwards. No wind seems to be blowing.

His « wings » are raised as if for an invocation, not for a flight. And if he were to take off, it would be upwards rather than forward. His « fingers », or « feathers », are pointing upwards, like isosceles triangles. His eyes look sideways, fleeing the gaze of the painter and the spectator. His hair looks like pages of manuscripts, rolled by time. No wind disturbs them. The angel has a vaguely leonine face, a strong, sensual, U-shaped jaw, accompanied by a double chin, also U-shaped. His nose is like another tiny face, whose eyes would be his nostrils. His teeth are wide apart, sharp, almost sickly. It even seems that several are missing.

This ailing, stunted angel has only three fingers on his feet. He points them down, like a chicken hanging in a butcher shop.

Walter Benjamin made this comment, expressly metaphorical: “There is a painting by Klee entitled Angelus novus. It depicts an angel who seems to have the intention of moving away from what his gaze seems to be riveted to. His eyes are wide open, his mouth open, his wings spread. This is what the angel of History must necessarily look like. His face is turned towards the past. Where a sequence of events appears before us, he sees only one and only one catastrophe, which keeps piling up ruins upon ruins and throwing them at his feet. He would like to linger, awaken the dead and gather the defeated. But a storm blows from heaven, so strong that the angel can no longer close its wings. This storm is pushing him incessantly towards the future, to which he turns his back, while ruins pile up as far as heaven before him. This storm is what we call progress.”i

It seems to me that Benjamin has completely re-invented the Klee painting, for his own purposes. No storm, no accumulated progress, no past catastrophe, seem – in my opinion – to accompany the young angel of Klee.

Why, moreover, should History have only one ‘Angel’? And, if it were so, why should this Angel of History be ‘new’, when History is not?

Angelology is a very imperfect science, like History, it seems.

Isaiah said: “The angels of peace shall weep bitterly.”ii

In the Book of Daniel, we read that an archangel appeared and said: “The Prince of the Persians resisted me for twenty-one days.”iii According to a classical interpretation, this archangel was Gabriel, and the « Prince of the Persians » was the angel in charge of guarding the Persian kingdom.

S. Jerome added that Daniel prayed for the liberation of his people. But the Angel-Prince of the Persian kingdom opposed his prayers, while the archangel Gabriel presented them to God.

S. Thomas Aquinas commented the commentary: “This resistance was possible because a prince of the demons wanted to drag the Jews brought to Persia into sin, which was an obstacle to Daniel’s prayer interceding for this people.”iv

Isn’t this here a quite convincing indication, based on the Scriptures, that there are definitely several angels playing a role in History, and that, moreover, they are sometimes brought to fight each other, according to the interests of the moment?

According to several sources (Maimonides, the Kabbalah, the Zohar, the Soda Raza, the Maseketh Atziluth) angels belong to various orders and classes, such as the Principalities (hence the name « Prince » that we have just met for the angel of Persia), the Powers, the Virtues, the Dominations. Even better known are the Cherubim and Seraphim. Isaiah says in chapter 6 that he saw several Seraphim with six wings « crying out to one another ». Ezechiel speaks of Cherubim he had a vison of, and according to him, each of them had four faces and four wings.v

The Kabbalists propose ten classes of Angels in the Zohar: the Erelim, the Ishim, the Beni Elohim, the Malakim, the Hashmalim, the Tarshishim, the Shinanim, the Cherubim, the Ophanim and the Seraphim.

Maimonides also proposes ten classes of angels, but he arranges them in a different order, and groups them into two large classes, the « permanent » and the « perishable ».

Judah ha-Levi (1085-1140), a 12th century Jewish theologian, distinguished between « eternal » angels and angels created at a given time.

Where, then, should we place Klee’s Angelus novus, that « new » angel whom Benjamin calls the « Angel of History »? Is he permanent or perishable? Eternal or momentary?

If Benjamin and Klee are right, we should believe that History is guarded just by one ‘new angel’, who therefore must be probably perishable and momentary.

But if they are wrong, History is guarded not by one, but by many angels, and they may be eternal, imperishable.

They then may also cry out to each other like seraphim with multiple wings, and in the confused battles of the angels furiously mixed up, over the centuries, progress might be hard to perceive.

There is one thing, however, that we can be assured of: the most beautiful, the most brilliant of these seraphim (though not the most powerful apparently), – these angels of « peace » keep crying out, bitterly.

iWalter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History. 1940

iiIs. 33, 7

iiiDan. 10,13

ivSumma Theologiae I, Q. 113 a.8

vEz. 10,14-22

The Lion and the Ashes

« If a lion could speak we could not understand him », wrote Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations.

This remark is worthy of consideration… and of generalization. What if it were a tuna, — or a rattlesnake nest, or a flight of starlings? Or a pile of dust, a block of granite, a cluster of galaxies? Or a prion, a plasmid, a proton? An angel, a seraphim, — or even God?

If God would speak, now, could we understand Him, more than a virus?

Is there any serious chance, after all, that we could just figure out, or somewhat understand, in any way, what is not human?

To start with, do we even understand what it really means to be human?

Pessimism usually prevails in this sort of metaphysical questioning. Leonine grammar is probably simpler than the Greek or the Sanskrit ones.

But these are probably much simpler than a seraphic one.

What is the worldview of the lion ? The crushing of the jaws ? The raw smell of blood, the subtle scent of the steppe?

What about the unfulfilled dreams of the fly, or the vulture, over the corpses? What about the ontological worries of the photon, lost in (relativist) translations?

What about the angel’s sorrow? And what about cherubinic rejoicing?

Isn’t all this, irremediably, out of syntax, out of any human lexicon?

If a million future Champollions tried to decipher, during one million years, the roar of the feline, or to decrypt the vibrato of the lizard, would there be any hope of breaking new grounds? Could we not, one day, find some Rosetta Stone translating equivalences among all the living entities, here on earth, and beyond?

Perhaps one day, we will find such powerful, universal, paradigmatic Babelian stones. Who knows? Who can tell?

Let’s make it simple. We should start by simply trying to understand men and women when they speak, or when they keep silent.

If we could really understand their silence, then perhaps we would better understand things that we still do not understand in the universe, — and perhaps we would get an unhinged glimpse at its core, silent, meaning?

Human speech is continuously made of virtual palimpsests. But these are ignored, — and they stay buried, hidden, impotent, powerless.

Human words have dark or shiny reflections, shimmering with a latent, interior, fire, — sometimes striken by an unexpected, unhoped-for, light of meaning, yet vigorously smouldering under the ashes.

Breath and Word in Veda and Judaism

The Vedic rite of sacrifice required the participation of four kinds of priests, with very different functions.

The Adhvaryu prepared the animals and the altar, lit the fire and performed the actual sacrifice. They took care of all the material and manual part of the operations, during which they were only allowed to whisper a few incantations proper to their sacrificial activity.

The Udgatṛi were responsible for singing the hymns of Sama Veda in the most melodious manner.

The Hotṛi, for their part, had to recite in a loud voice, without singing them, the ancient hymns of the Ṛg Veda while respecting the traditional rules of pronunciation and accentuation. They were supposed to know by heart all the texts of the Veda in order to adapt to all the circumstances of the sacrifices. At the end of the litanies, they uttered a kind of wild cry, called vausat.

Finally, remaining silent throughout, a Brahmin, a referent of the good progress of the sacrifice, guarantor of its effectiveness, supervised the various phases of the ceremony.

These four kinds of priests had, as one can see, a very different relationship to the word of the Veda. The first murmured (or mumbled) it, the second sang it, following a melody, mingled with music, the third proclaimed it, concluding with a shout. Finally, silence was observed by the Brahmin.

These different regimes of vocal expression can be interpreted as so many possible modalities of the relationship of the word to the divine. They accompany and give rhythm to the stages of the sacrifice and its progression.

The chant is a metaphor for the divine fire, the fire of Agni. « Songs fill you and increase you, as the great rivers fill the sea » says a Vedic formula addressed to Agni.

The recitation of Ṛg Veda is a self-weaving narrative. It can be done word for word (pada rhythm), or in a kind of melodic path (krama) according to eight possible varieties, such as the « braid » (jatā rhythm) or the « block » (ghana rhythm).

In the « braid » style, for example, a four-syllable expression abcd was pronounced in a long, repetitive and obsessive litany: ab/ba/abc/cba/bc/cb/bcd/dcb/bcd

When the time came, the recitation finally « burst forth » like thunder. Acme of sacrifice.

The Vedic word appears in all its successive stages a will to connect, an energy of connection. Little by little set in motion, it is entirely oriented towards the construction of links with the Deity, the weaving of close correlations, vocal, musical, rhythmic, semantic.

It is impregnated with the mystery of Deity. It establishes and constitutes by itself a sacred link, in the various regimes of breath, and by their learned progression.

A hymn of Atharvaveda pushes the metaphor of breath and rhythm as far as possible. It makes us understand the nature of the act in progress, which resembles a sacred, mystical union: « More than one who sees has not seen the Word; more than one who hears has not heard it. To the latter, she opened her body as to her husband, a loving woman in rich finery.»

The Vedic Word is at the same time substance, vision, way.

A comparison with the divine Word and Breath in the biblical texts can be interesting.

In Gen 2:7, God breathes a « breath of life » (neshmah נשׁמה) so that man becomes a living being (nephesh נפשׁ ). In Gen 1:2, a « wind » from God blows (rua רוּח). The « wind » is violent and evokes notions of power, strength, active tension. The « breath » of life, on the other hand, can be compared to a breeze, a peaceful and gentle exhalation. Finally, God « speaks », he « says »: « Let there be light! ».

On the subject of the breath and wind of God, Philo of Alexandria comments: « This expression (he breathed) has an even deeper meaning. Indeed three things are required: what blows, what receives, what is blown. What blows is God; what receives is intelligence; what is blown is breath. What is done with these elements? A union of all three occurs. »

Philo poses the deep, intrinsic unity of breath, soul, spirit and speech.

Beyond languages, beyond cultures, from the Veda to the Bible, the analogy of breath transcends worlds. The murmur of the Adhvaryu, the song of Udgatṛi, the word of Hotṛi, and its very cry, form a union, analogous in principle to that of the divine exhalation (neshmah, נשׁמה), the living breath (nephesh, נפשׁ ), and the wind of God (rua, רוּח ).

In all matters, there are those who excel in seeing the differences. Others see especially the similarities. In the Veda and the Bible, the latter will be able to recognize the persistence of a paradigm of speech and breath in seemingly distant contexts.

The Aryan Veda and Semitic Judaism, beyond their multiple differences, share the intuition of the union of word and breath, – which is also a divine prerogative.