Metaphysics of Sacrifice


« Prajāpati »

In Platonic philosophy, the God Eros (Love) is always in search of fulfillment, always moving, eager to fill His own lack of being.

But how could a God lack of being? How could he fail to be ?

If Love signals a lack, as Plato says, how could Love be a God, whose essence is to be?

A God ‘Love’, in Plato’s way, is fully ‘God’ only through His loving relationship with what He loves. This relationship implies a ‘movement’ and a ‘dependence’ of the divine nature around the object of His ‘Love’.

How to understand such a ‘movement’ and such a ‘dependence’ in a transcendent God, a God whose essence is to ‘be’, and whose Being is a priori beyond any lack of being?

This is the reason why Aristotle harshly criticizes Plato. For Aristotle, Love is not an essence, but only a means. If God defines Himself as the Being par excellence, He is also ‘immobile’, says Aristotle. As the first immobile Motor, He only gives His movement to all creation.

« The Principle, the First of the beings is motionless: He is motionless by essence and by accident, and He imprints the first, eternal and one movement.”i

God, ‘immobile’, sets the world and all the beings it contains in motion, breathing love into them, and a desire for their ‘end’ (their goal). The world is set in motion because it desires this very ‘end’. The end of the world is in the love of the ‘end’, in the desire to reach the ultimate ‘end’ for which the world was set in motion.

« The final cause, in fact, is the Being for whom it is an end, and it is also the end itself. In the latter sense, the end can exist among immobile beings.”ii

For Aristotle, then, God cannot be ‘Love’, or Eros. The Platonic Eros is only an ‘intermediate’ god. It is through Eros that God sets all beings in motion. God sets the world in motion through the love He inspires. But He is not Love. Love is the intermediary through which He aims at the ‘final cause’, His ‘aim’.

« The final cause moves as the object of love.”iii.

Here we see that Aristotle’s conception of the God differs radically from the Christian conception of a God who is essentially “love”. « God so loved the world » (John 3:16).

Christ overturned the tables of Aristotelian law, that of a ‘still’ God, a God for whom love is only a means to an end, abstractly called the ‘final cause’.

The God of Christ is not ‘immobile’. Paradoxically, not withstanding all His putative power, He places Himself at the mercy of the love (or indifference, or ignorance) of His own creation.

For Aristotle, the divine immobile is always at work, everywhere, in all things, as the ‘First Motor’. The divine state represents the maximum possible being, the very Being. All other beings lack being. The lowest level in Jacob’s ladder of the aeons is that of being only in power to be, a pure potency, a purely virtual being.

The God of Christ, on the other hand, is not always ‘present’, He may be ’empty’, He may be ‘mocked’, ‘railed », ‘humiliated’. And He may ‘die’, and He may remain ‘absent’.

In a way, the Christian conception of divine kenosis is closer to the Platonic conception of a God-Love who suffers from a fundamental ‘lack’, than to the Aristotelian conception of God as ‘First Mover’ and ‘final cause’.

There is a real philosophical paradox in considering that the essence of God reveals in a lack or an ‘emptiness‘ in the heart of Being.

In this hypothesis, love would not only be a ‘lack’ of being, as Plato thinks, but would be part of the divine essence itself. This divine Lack would actually be the highest form of being.

What is the essence of a God whose lack is at its heart?

There is a name for it – a very old name, which gives a rough idea of it: ‘Sacrifice’.

This profoundly anti-intuitive idea appeared four thousand years before Christ. The Veda forged a name to describe it: Devayajña, the ‘Sacrifice of God’. A famous Vedic hymn describes Creation as the self-immolation of the Creator.iv Prajāpati totally sacrifices Himself, and in doing so He can give His Self entirely to the creation. He sacrifices himself but lives by this very sacrifice. He remains alive because the sacrifice gives Him a new Breath, a new Spirit.

« The supreme Lord said to His father, the Lord of all creatures: ‘I have found the sacrifice that fulfills desires: let me perform it for You’ – ‘So be it’, He replied. Then He fulfills it for Him. After the sacrifice, He wished, ‘May I be all here!’ He became Breath, and now Breath is everywhere here.”v

The analogy between the Veda and Christianity is deep. It includes the same, divine ’emptiness’.

« The Lord of creatures [Prajāpati], after having begotten living beings, felt as if He had been emptied. The creatures departed from Him; they did not stay with Him for His joy and sustenance.”vi

« After having generated everything that exists, He felt as if He was emptied and was afraid of death.”vii

The ’emptiness’ of the Lord of creatures is formally analogous to the ‘kenosis‘ of Christ (this word comes from the Greek kenosis and the verb kenoein, ‘to empty’).

There is also the Vedic metaphor of ‘dismemberment’, which anticipates the dismemberment of Osiris, Dionysus and Orpheus.

« When He had produced all the creatures, Prajāpati fell apart. His breath went away. When His breath was no longer active, the Gods abandoned Him”viii.

« Reduced to His heart, He cried out, ‘Alas, my life!’ The waters came to His aid and through the sacrifice of the Firstborn, He established His sovereignty.”ix

The Veda saw it. The Sacrifice of the Lord of Creation was at the origin of the universe. That is why, it is written: « the sacrifice is the navel of the universe »x.

Perhaps the most interesting thing, if we can get this far, is to allow to conclude that: « Everything that exists, whatever it is, is made to participate in the Sacrifice » xi.

Quite a hard lesson.

To be put in the very long perspective…

iAristotle. Metaph., Λ, 8, 1073a

iiAristotle. Metaph., Λ, 7, 1072b

iiiAristotle. Metaph., Λ, 7, 1072b

ivRV I,164

vŚatapatha Brāhmaṇa (SB) XI,1,6,17

viSB III,9,1,1

viiSB X,10,4,2,2

viiiSB VI,1,2,12-13

ixTaittirīya Brāhmaṇa 2,3,6,1

xRV I,164,35

xiSB III,6,2,26

Varieties of Ecstasy


Ezekiel’s Vision. Raphael

Man is an « intermediary being » between the mortal and the immortal, says Plato. This enigmatic phrase, rather inaudible to modern people, can be understood in several senses,.

One of these is the following. « Intermediary » means that man is in constant motion. He goes up and down, in the same breath. He ascends towards ideas that he does not really understand, and he descends towards matter that he does not understand at all. Inhaling, exhaling. Systole of the spirit, diastole of the soul.

Ancient words still testify to these outward movements of the soul. « Ecstasy », from the Greek ἒκστασις (ekstasis), means firstly « coming out of oneself ». The spirit comes out of the body, and then it is caught up in a movement that takes it beyond the world.

Ekstasis is the opposite of stasis, ‘contemplation’, — which is immobile, stable, and which Aristotle called θεωρία (theoria). The meaning of θεωρία as ‘contemplation, consideration’ is rather late, since it only appears with Plato and Aristotle. Later, in Hellenistic Greek, this word took on the meaning of ‘theory, speculation’ as opposed to ‘practice’.

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

The words ekstasis and theoria have something in common, a certain movement towards the divine. Ekstasis is an exit from the body. Theoria is a journey out of the homeland, to visit the oracle of Delphi.

These are images of the free movement of the soul, in the vertical or horizontal direction. Unlike the theoria, which is a journey in the true sense of the word, ekstasis takes the form of a thought in movement outside the body, crossed by lightning and dazzle, always aware of its weakness, its powerlessness, in an experience which goes far beyond its capacities, and which it knows it has little chance of really grasping, few means of fixing it and sharing it on its return.

The word ekstasis seems to keep the trace of a kind of experience that is difficult to understand for those who have not lived it. When the soul moves to higher lands, generally inaccessible, it encounters phenomena quite different from those of the usual life, life on earth. Above all, it runs an infinitely fast race, in pursuit of something that is constantly ahead of it, that draws it ever further away, to an ever-changing elsewhere, which probably stands at an infinite distance.

Human life cannot know the end of this race. The soul, at least the one that is given the experience of ekstasis, can nevertheless intuitively grasp the possibility of a perpetual search, a striking race towards an elusive reality.

In his commentaries on the experience of ecstasyi, Philo considers that Moses, despite what his famous visionii, reported in the Bible, did not actually have access to a complete understanding of the divine powers.

But Jeremiah, on the other hand, would testify to a much greater penetration of these powers, according to Philo. However, despite all his talent, Philo has difficulty in consolidating this delicate thesis. The texts are difficult and resistant to interpretation.

Philo cautiously suggests extrapolating certain lines from Jeremiah’s text to make it an indication of what may have been an ecstasy. « This is how the word of God was addressed to Jeremiah”iii. This is rather thin, admittedly. But another line allows us to guess God’s hold, God’s domination over Jeremiah: « Dominated by your power, I have lived in isolation »iv.

Other prophets have also declared to have lived in ecstasy, using other metaphors. Ezekiel, for example, says that « the hand of God came »v upon him, or that the spirit « prevailed »vi.

When the ecstasy is at its height, the hand of God weighs more than usual: « And the spirit lifted me up and carried me away, and I went away sad, in the exaltation of my spirit, and the hand of the Lord weighed heavily on me.”vii

In a cynical, materialistic and disillusioned time, like our time, one cannot be content with just words, even prophetic ones, to interest the reader. Facts, experiments, science, rationality are needed.

Let’s start with a ‘technical’ definition of ecstasy according to the CNRTL :

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

This definition evokes enlightenment, identification or union with transcendental realities. This vocabulary is hardly less obscure than the biblical expressions ‘dominion by power’, or ‘hand of God’.

Moreover, this definition cautiously employs what appears to be a series of euphemisms: ‘to be as if transported’, ‘to be removed from the sensitive world’, ‘to discover a kind of enlightenment’, ‘to participate in an experience’.

If we return to the memories of ecstasy bequeathed to us by the prophets, the true ‘experience’ of ecstasy seems infinitely more dynamic, more overwhelming, ‘dominated’ by the immediate, irrefutable intuition of an infinite, transcendent ‘power’.

Bergson, a true modernist, if ever there was one, and philosopher of movement, paradoxically gives a rather static image of ecstasy: « The soul ceases to turn on itself (…). It stops, as if it were listening to a voice calling out to it. (…) Then comes an immensity of joy, an ecstasy in which it is absorbed or a rapture it experiences: God is there, and it is in him. No more mystery. Problems fade away, obscurities dissipate; it is an illumination.”viii

Can ecstasy only be associated with a moment when the soul ‘stops’, when it ‘stops spinning’? Is it not rather carried away without recourse by a fiery power, which suddenly sweeps away all certainty, all security? Bergson certainly falls far short of any essential understanding of ecstasy, perhaps because he has never experienced one.

Who will report today in audible words, in palpable images, the infinite and gentle violence of ecstasy? Who will say in raw terms the light that invades the intelligence, as in love the whole body? Who will explain the narrow bank from which the pulse of death is measured? Who will tell us how to kiss the lips of infinity? Who will grasp in one stroke the face of which time is but a slice, and the world, but a shadow?

______

iPhilon. De Monarch. I, 5-7

iiEx., 33, 18-23

iiiJér. 14,1

ivJér. 15,17

vEz. 1,3

viEz. 3,12

viiEz. 3,14

viiiH. Bergson, Deux sources,1932, p. 243.

Eternal Birth


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iPlato. Symposium.

iiPhilo. De Monarch. I, 5-7

iiiEx 33, 18-23

ivJer. 14,1

vJer. 15,17

viEz. 1,3

viiEz. 3,12

viiiEz. 3,14

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

The Elsewhere God


 

There are some things it is better to keep quiet about. Whatever we may say, we risk approximation, error, provocation, offense, – or even, more bitingly, the silent smile of the wise men, if there are any.

The psalmist says, addressing Elohim:

לְךָ דֻמִיָּה תְהִלָּה lekha doumiâ tehilâ. » For you, silence is praise »i.

In order to think, it is better to remain silent: « Think in your heart, on your bed make silence.»ii

Silence must be kept, but one can still write. About the highest mysteries, writing is in the same time compass and bearing, mast and mainsail. A wind of inspiration will then come, maybe.

Maimonides himself did not hesitate to face, in writing, the ocean of mysteries. In writing, he even tried to define the essence of true wisdom, and thus that of God.

« The word ‘Hokhma in the Hebrew language has four meanings »iii, he wrote. ‘Hokhma refers to the understanding of philosophical truths that have as their goal the perception of God. It can also be said of the possession of any art or industry. It applies to the acquisition of moral virtues. Finally, it is applied in the sense of finesse and cunning.

Vast spectrum of possible meanings, then. Or structural ambiguity?

« It may be that the word ‘Hokhma in the Hebrew language has (originally) the meaning of ‘finesse’ and ‘application of thought’, so that this finesse or sagacity will have as its object sometimes the acquisition of intellectual qualities, sometimes that of moral qualities, sometimes that of a practical art, sometimes malice and wickedness.”iv

Who can be said to be « wise » then?

« He who is instructed in the whole Law, and who knows its true meaning, is called ‘hakham in two respects, because it embraces both intellectual and moral qualities.”

Maimonides then quotes on Aristotlev and the ancient philosophers to define « four species of perfections ».

The first kind of ‘perfection’ is particularly prized by most men but is really of little value. It is material possession. Mountains of gold and silver are to be possessed, they offer only a passing enjoyment, and at the bottom of the imagination.

The second is the perfection of the body, the physical constitution, beauty, health. This is certainly not nothing, but has little impact on the health of the soul itself.

The third kind of perfection consists in moral qualities. This is a definite advantage from the point of view of the essence of the soul. But moral qualities are not an end in themselves. They serve only as a preparation for some other, higher purpose.

The fourth sort of perfection is true human perfection. It consists in being able to conceive ideas about the great metaphysical questions. This is the true end of man. « It is through it that he obtains immortality, »vi Maimonides said.

Jeremiah had also expressed himself on this subject, in his own style: « Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, nor the strong man glory in his strength, nor the rich man glory in his riches; but whoever wishes to glory, let him find glory in this: to have understanding and to know me, for I am YHVH.”vii

Wisdom is knowledge, – the knowledge of the Lord.

But how to get to know that specific knowledge?

Jeremiah has an answer:

« I am YHVH, who exercises goodness, justice and righteousness in the earth. Yes, this is what I delight in, says YHVH!” viii 

This means that the essence of God is known by His actions, which should be taken as a model. There are three fundamental ones: חֶסֶד , hesed (goodness), מִשְׁפָּט , michpat (law), and ָּצְדָקָה , tsedaka (justice).

Maimonides comments: « He [Jeremiah] then adds another essential idea, saying – ‘on earth’ –, and this idea is the pillar of religion”ix.

Since this idea comes at the very end of the Guide for the Perplexed, it can probably be thought to be its final conclusion.

That simple, conclusive, remark leaves open an immense field of new research. What would be the essence of God, not just on earth, but elsewhere?

And would the answer to that question, if we knew it, be possibly the pillar of another kind of religion?

i Ps. 65,2

ii Ps. 4,5

iiiMaïmonides. Guide of the Perplexed. III. §54, pp.629. Ed. Verdier. 1979.

ivIbid. p.630

vL’Éthique à Nicomaque. 1,8 et sq.

viMaïmonides. Guide of the Perplexed. III. §54, pp.633. Ed. Verdier. 1979.

vii Jer. 9, 22-23

viiiJér. 9,23

ixMaïmonide.Le Guide des égarés. 3ème partie. §54, pp.635. Ed. Verdier. 1979

In the Mire, Drowning Angels.


We humans are fundamentally nomads, – with no nomosi. We are forever nomads with no limits, and no ends.

Always dissatisfied, never at peace, never at rest, perpetually on the move, forever in exile.

The Journey has no end. Wandering is meaningless, without clues. The homelands are suffocating. Landscapes are passing by, and we have no roots. No abyss fulfills us. The deepest oceans are empty. The skies, down there, are fading. The suns are pale, the moons dirty. The stars are blinking. We can only breathe for a moment.

Our minds would like to look beyond the diffuse background, behind the veiled Cosmos. But even an infinitely powerful Hubble telescope couldn’t show us anything of what’s behind. Cosmology is a prison, only vaster, but still finite, bounded, and we are already tired of endless, useless, multiverses, and weary of their aborted drafts.

The worried soul « pursues an Italy that is slipping away », but Virgil is not anymore our vigilante, and Aeneas is not our elder. Rome has forgotten itself. Athens has died out. Jerusalem, we already have returned there, – so they say.

Billions of people live, dream and die on the Promised Land.

They try, every night, to drink the water of the Lethe and the Cocyte, without being burnt by the Phlegethon. When they wake up, they are always thirsty for new caresses, they want again to smell myrrh, to taste nectars.

They try to avoid the icy skin of mirrors. They desperately scan the hairy mountains, the undecided rivers, the bitter oranges. They follow the hard curve of the fruits, the orb of the colors.

But at one point the heart hits, the body falls. At any moment, the final night will cover the sun. Forgetting all will come without fail.

Euripides called life: « the dream of a shadow ».ii

This shadow has two wings, – not six, like Ezekiel’s angels.

Intelligence and will are our wings, says Plato.

With one wing, the shadow (or the soul) sucks in, breathes in. The world comes into her.

With the other wing, she goes to all things, she flies freely, anywhere.

When the two wings flap together, then anything is possible. The soul can evade anywhere, even out of herself, and even from God Himself. As Marsilio Ficino says: « Animus noster poterit deus quidam evadere ».

There is a mysterious principle at the heart of the soul: she becomes what she’s looking for. She is transformed into what she loves.

Who said that? A litany of impressive thinkers. Zoroaster, King David. Plato, Porphyry, Augustine. Paul put it that way: « And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory. »iii

It is indeed a mysterious principle.

The word ‘mystery’ comes from the Greek μύω, to close. This verb was originally used for the eyes, or for the lips. Closed eyes. Closed lips. The religious meaning, as a derivative, describes an ancient problem: how could what is always closed be ever opened?

Zoroaster found an answer, kind of: « The human soul encloses God in herself, so to speak, when, keeping nothing mortal, she gets drunk entirely on the divinity”.iv

Who still reads or pays attention to Zoroaster today?

Nietzsche? But Nietzsche, the gay barbarian, joyfully ripped away his nose, teeth and tongue. After that, he pretended he could speak on his behalf. Also Sprach Zarathustra. Ach so? Wirklich?

There are two kinds of thinkers.

There are the atrabilaries, who distill their venom, their suspicions, their despair, or their limitations, like Aristotle, Chrysippus, Zeno, Averroes, Schopenhauer or Nietzsche.

And there are the optimists, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, or Apollonius of Thyana. They believe in life and in everything that may flourish.

We’ll rely on Heraclitus for a concluding line: “If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail”. (Fragm. 18)

What can we learn from that fragment?

Without hope, everything is and will stay forever mud, mire, or muck. We have to search for the unexpected, the impossible, the inaccessible… What on earth could it be? – Gold in the mud, – or in the mire, drowning angels?

iNomos (Greek) = Law

ii Medea, 1224

iii2 Co 3,18

iv ChaldaicOracles V. 14.21

The Ink in the Sand


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have the tiny traces of ink finally disappeared?

iMysteries of Egypt, I,3.

ii Ibid. I,3

iii Ibid. VII, 2

iv Ibid. VII, 4

vIbid. VII, 4

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

How to Start Fighting the Looming Global Civil War


There are words that are almost completely untranslatable from one language to another.

To give an idea of their meaning, they may require the mediation of several metaphors, and an accumulation of approximations. These words cannot travel easily.

Is it then wiser to let them marinate in their own juice?

Take as an example the Sanskrit word tajjalān in this text of Chāndogya-upaniṣad:

« In reality Brahman is all this. Whoever is appeased must worship it as tajjalān. »i

Sanskrit scholars suggest that the word tajjalān can be broken down into four syllables: tad + ja + la + an ii.

Each syllable embodies a symbolic meaning, related to a Brahman attribute.

Thus the world is tajja: « That – begotten ». Tajja is formed by the assimilation of tad « that » and ja which is related to the root JAN « to be born, to produce ».

But the world is also talla: « That – attached and dissolved » [tad + la = talla], where the root of la is LĪ, as used in words like liyate, « attach » and layate, « dissolve ».

Talla and tajja are then two opposing processes, of « birth » and « dissolution ».

Finally the world is tadana: « That which breathes and lives in it »[tad + an + a], where an has as its root AN « to breathe, to live ».

The word tajjalān thus describes in a dense, concentrated way, the world as having three states (engendering, dissolution, life/breathing), identified with the essence of Brahman.

Through the ambivalence of the root LĪ, the word also evokes the world’s attachment to Brahman, excluding any idea of separation.

One word, four ideas.

If we tried to give a kind of equivalent of tajjalān in English, we could perhaps propose a concatenated series of words like « That-born-dissolved-linked-alive »…

Let’s generalize.

If certain essential words of a particular civilization have no plausible equivalents in another culture, one could conclude that the world of ideas, religions and cultures is fundamentally fragmented, divided into more or less autistic provinces, keeping before them their idiosyncrasies, secret gardens, intimate grammars, gods and codes.

And this would be an argument to highlight the difficulty of a unified conception of humanity.

However, the hypothesis of the looming Balkanization of ideas and cultures does not necessarily exclude other possibilities, such as the idea that man can be defined by a unique ‘essence’.

For example, the Aristotelian idea that « man is a rational animal » could be entirely compatible with the reality of a Balkanized world.

Idea and reality would only be juxtaposed, circulating in two orbits of meaning not intended to meet, and able to ignore each other royally, for a long time to come.

Nor does the idea of an « essence » of man mean that humanity does not conceal, in its thicknesses, in its depths, in its past or in its future, immense and impenetrable areas of darkness, which no « essence » can define.

It is quite possible that Plato’s Ideas, or Aristotle’s reason, may coexist with a world deprived of meaning and internal cohesion, even if in theory this seems to be incompatible, or contradictory.

It is possible that, if translated otherwise, into a language that perhaps does not yet exist, or will never exist, these ideas would then no longer be contradictory, but would appear obviously compatible, and even necessary.

At this stage, it can already be argued that the hypothesis of a humanity less one than divided, less transparent than obscure, less communicative than hostile is completely compatible with the exactly opposite hypothesis, because it is obvious that so much everything is already mobile, diverse, evolving in a world that is both one and multiple.

Anthropology lets us know of the existence of tribal or religious groups, which are defined by exclusion. These tribes or groups decree the principle of their metaphysical separation from the rest of humanity.

They may draw a feeling of absolute singularity from a « principle », revealed only to them, in their own language, or following a « decision », communicated only to them, from a « God » who would only be « their » God.

However, the very idea of religious or ideological exclusion of entire segments of humanity is neither new nor reserved for specific cultures. Paradoxically, it is in fact quite commonplace.

The ideas of exclusion, separation, ostracism, seem as constitutive of the human essence as the opposite ideas, that of union, unity, community, society.

There are « first » tribes that only call themselves « men » in their language, implying that all those who are not of their tribe, all the rest of men, are not really human.

What the genius of these languages of exclusion has been able to do, symbolically, genetic engineering to modify the human genome can do, really, and on a large scale.

The dream of a « trans-humanity », capable of genetically and neurologically modifying itself, and thus gaining access to a completely unthinkable mutation of the human race, is no longer a distant utopia.

This tangible dream is there to remind us of the burning relevance of a project of an « exodus » reserved for a privileged subset of humanity outside human contingencies.

For the time being, this « exodus » seems to be only of an economic, fiscal or political nature, but it could soon become genetic, neural, anatomical and one day perhaps biological.

The Hollywood myth of a planetary « exodus », of a flight of a few mutants from a polluted Earth, irradiated and deeply scarred by a world civil war, is in everyone’s mind.

The general Balkanization and the bantustans imposed by all kinds of apartheids will be the first step.

In such a case, scholarly debates on words « almost untranslatable » would then be very derisory, very useless.

Those who then correctly pronounce the shibboleth of the day will be able to board the interstellar shuttle or take part in the meta-genetic adventure of trans-humanity.

All the others will be condemned to remain in the earthly hell.

While waiting for this perspective, closer than we may want to believe, we must affirm that words count, that they are semaphores.

It is really worth studying the « untranslatable » words, because they are like symptoms, verbal clues to the global separation, the progressive cultural and religious dislocation, in the making.

And it is worth trying to translate these « untranslatable » words, if we do not want a global civil war to happen some day.

i CU 3.14.1

iiCf. Les Upaniad.Trad. A. Degrâces. 2014, p.128