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

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

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

Of course, this attitude is childish, and dangerous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why this need to stand out, to differentiate oneself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iRabbi Hayyim de Volozhin. L’âme de la vie

iiMalachie 1, 11

The Kundalini Serpent and the Kabbalah Candlestick

The Gods have received many names in history, in all the languages of the earth. The unique God of monotheisms, himself, is far from having only one name to represent his uniqueness. There are ten, one hundred or even many more, depending on the variations of different monotheisms, on this subject.

In Guillaume Postel’s Interpretation of the Candlestick of Moses (Venice, 1548), based on the famous sephiroth, we find listed the ten names of the One God, as they are transmitted by the Jewish Kabbalah.

The first name is EHIEH: « I am ». He is associated with Cheter, the crown, superiority, multitude and power.

The second is IAH, which is found in compound expressions, for example HALLELU-IAH. His property is Hokhmah, wisdom, sapience, distinction, judgment.

The third is JEHOVIH, associated with Binah, intelligence, science, understanding.

The fourth is EL, associated with Hesed, that is mercy or sovereign kindness, and Gedolah, greatness.

The fifth is ELOHIM, which refers to Pashad as fear, terror and judgment. We associate Geburah with it, strength, punishment, judgment.

The sixth name is JEHOVAH, whose property is Tiphaeret, which means the honour and perfection of the beauty of the world.

The seventh name is JEHOVAH TSABAOTH, associated with Netzah, the perfect and final victory, which means the final achievement of the works.

The eighth name is ELOHIM TSABAOTH, whose property is Hod, praise and direction.

The ninth name is EL SHADDAI, to whom the property of Iesod answers, which means the foundation and base of all the perfections of the world.

The tenth name is ADONAÏ, which is accompanied by Hatarah and Malcut, which means « lower crown ».

This seemingly heteroclite list of ten main names calls for comments, the most salient of which I would like to report.

The order in which these names are placed is important. They are arranged in a figure (the « candelabra ») that has a vague body shape.

The first and tenth names (the beginning and the end) are under the sign of the crown, which is well suited to a reign.

The first three names refer to God in the higher world. The next three to God in the intermediate world. The next three to God in the lower world. Finally, the last name is a generic name, which refers to God in all his states.

EHIEH, אֶהְיֶה « I am » (Ex. 3,14). This is the very essence of God, the essence of Him who was, is and will be. It is the sovereign power.

IAH, יה. This name is composed of a Yod and a Hey, the two letters that symbolize respectively the masculine and the feminine. They are also the two letters placed at the beginning and end of the « very high and inexplicable name »: יהוה, the Tetragrammaton. It is associated with Wisdom.

JEHOVIH is the name of God, as it relates to Intelligence. It represents one of the ways to distribute vowels on the Tetragrammaton (supposed to be unpronounceable).

EL is the name of power, goodness and mercy. It is in the singular, and refers in a way to its plural form: ELOHIM.

ELOHIM, plural of EL, is the name of terror, fear and also of strength and resistance.

JEHOVAH, which presents another reading of the Tetragrammaton (another vocalization), is the virtue of the whole world.

JEHOVAH TSABAOTH is the Lord of armies, multitudes and final victory.

ELOHIM TSABAOTH is a similar name, meaning Gods of the armies.

EL SHADDAI which means « Almighty » is interpreted by Kabbalah as « feeding » and « udders of the world ». But it is also logically enough the « foundation », or « base ». Some add that this name of power, is « at the right of the seminal place in the great divine man ».

ADONAÏ is the common name of God. It summarizes and embodies all its properties.

These ten names are arranged to draw the mosaic  »candelabra ». Upon careful observation, it is not unworthy, I think, to propose the idea of a possible comparison with the « snake » of the Vedic kundalini.

In other words, the comparison of »names » with Vedic and Tantric shakras seems stimulating.

Let’s start with the three lower shakras. They can be associated with the three divine names that Kabbalah associates with what she calls the lower world.

EL SHADDAI, which is the « foundation » of the world according to Kabbalah, can be associated with the first shakra, Muladhara (which literally means « foundation support » in Sanskrit). In Veda culture, this shakra is associated with the anus, the earth, the sense of smell and the inciting awakening. As it is at the place of the « seminal place », the name EL SHADDAI can also be associated with the second shakra, the Svadhisthana (« seat of the self »), which refers in the Vedas to the genitals, water, taste and enjoyment.

The names ELOHIM TSABAOTH and JEHOVAH TSABAOTH can be quite easily associated with the third shakra, the Manipura (« Abundant in jewels »), which refers to the solar plexus, sight, fire and life force, which seems to apply to the qualifier of Lord or God of the « hosts ».

The name JEHOVAH, as it refers to the virtue of the world, can be associated with the fourth shakra, called Anahata (« Ineffable »), which is related to the heart, air, touch and subtle sound.

The names ELOHIM and EL, in so far as they relate to power, kindness and mercy, can be associated with the fifth shakra, Visuddha (« Very Pure »), which is related to the larynx, hearing, ether and sacred Word.

The name JEHOVIH, as it refers to Intelligence, can be associated with the sixth shakra, the ajna (« order »), which refers to the forehead, mind, spirit and truth.

The name IAH, which refers to Wisdom, can be associated with the seventh shakra, Sahasrara (« Circle of a thousand rays »), which is associated with the occiput, « vision » and yoga, with the ultimate union.

The name EHIEH will be left aside, not affected by these metaphorical analogies, since it is used as a tautology.

As for the name ADONAÏ, it is the most general name, we said. Therefore, it is not appropriate to involve it in these kinds of comparisons.

I would like to retain from this correspondence between the « kundalinic serpent » and the « mosaic candelabra » the idea that archetypal, permanent forms are sculpted, in the depth of our bodies as well as in the depths of our minds.

These archetypes, the « snake » or the « candelabra », represent a « tree » or « ladder » of hierarchies, and symbolize an ascent towards divine union, from a « base », the most material of all, the « foundation ».

These metaphors in Kabbalah and the Vedas refer to the same intuition: the ascent of man to the divine.

« Le Nom du Dieu des dieux était de tout temps d’un emploi courant chez les idolâtres. »

Le propre d’un secret est d’être tu, et de le rester. Mais faut-il taire le fait même de son existence ? Les possesseurs de secrets importants, essentiels, divins même, cèdent parfois à la tentation de laisser entendre qu’ils en sont les dépositaires.

Ils n’en révéleront rien, bien sûr, mais ils révèlent qu’il y a quelque chose qui pourrait être révélé, et qui doit rester secret.

Cette attitude est dangereuse. La curiosité excitée, non satisfaite, peut virer à l’aigre.

Voltaire dans une formule légère, pointe le problème: « Faites-nous donc voir quelque secret de votre art, ou consentez à être brûlé de bonne grâce », écrit-il à l’article « Magie » de son Dictionnaire philosophique.

Secret, magie et religion ont eu, au long des siècles, des relations chaotiques, contradictoires et conflictuelles. Ceux qui revendiquaient la connaissance de clés supérieures de compréhension, et qui refusaient de les partager, s’exposaient à la jalousie, à la hargne, à la haine et finalement à la violence. On les accusait de fraude ou d’hérésie, tant la connaissance de secrets ultimes, non avouables, pouvait être source de clivage, de suspicion.

Les fameux rois Mages vinrent de Mésopotamie ou de l’actuel Iran, pour rendre hommage à un enfant nouveau-né, apportant dans leurs bagages de l’or, de l’encens et de la myrrhe. Sans doute, devaient-ils être aussi porteurs de savants secrets. En tant que Mages, ils devaient avoir hérité des acquis de la tradition zoroastrienne et des mystères de Mithra.

Cette tradition et ces mystères avaient été influencés par l’Inde védique, mais en avaient parfois pris le contre-pied systématique. Franz Cumont écrit que dans le Véda, Indra est un « deva » c’est-à-dire un « être de lumière ». Dans le Zend-Avesta, en revanche, les textes attribués à Zoroastre en font un « daêva ». Mais les « daêvas » d’Iran, bien qu’ayant le même nom que les « dévas » de l’Inde, ne sont pas des « dieux », ce sont des « diables », des esprits mauvais, hostiles à la puissance bienfaisant d’Ahura Mazda, le Dieu Bon et Tout-Puissant du zoroastrisme. Cette inversion des « dieux » en « diables », pour des êtres qui portent le même nom, a pu être interprétée a posteriori comme une conséquence d’un tribalisme ou d’un nationalisme ombrageux. Les peuples de l’ancien Iran ont emprunté à leurs voisins du bassin de l’Indus leurs dieux et une bonne part de leur religion, mais en ont inversé le sens, sans doute pour mieux se démarquer de leurs origines.

Pourquoi ce besoin de se distinguer ?

Jan Assman dans Moïse l’Égyptien, fait une remarque similaire à propos des Hébreux, qui auraient emprunté à l’ancienne religion égyptienne un certain nombre d’idées majeures, comme le monothéisme, ainsi que la pratique des sacrifices, mais auraient « inversé » le sens de certains d’entre eux pour affirmer ce qu’Assmann appelle la « distinction mosaïque ». Le Taureau Apis représente un Dieu chez les Égyptiens, et l’animal est sacré, tout comme en Inde d’ailleurs les vaches. Mais chez les Hébreux on peut sacrifier bovins et ovins sans remords au Seigneur YHVH.

Les Védas et le Zend Avesta gardent la trace de la genèse et de la décadence de croyances presque oubliées. Ces textes forment un jalon essentiel pour la compréhension de religions qui furent ensuite développées plus à l’Ouest, en Chaldée, en Babylonie, en Judée-Samarie. Les indices sont fragiles, mais les pistes de réflexion abondent.

Par exemple, le dieu avestique Mithra est un « Dieu des Armées », ce qui fait penser à l’Elohim Tsabaoth des Hébreux. Il est Époux et Fils d’une Mère Vierge et Immaculée. Mithra est un Médiateur, proche du Logos, mot par lequel Philon d’Alexandrie, juif et hellénophone, traduit la Sagesse (Hokhmah), célébrée par la religion hébraïque, et proche aussi du Logos évangélique.

A ce titre Mithra est l’Intermédiaire entre la Toute-Puissance divine et le monde créé. Cette idée a été reprise par le christianisme et la Kabbale juive. Dans le culte de Mithra, on use de sacrements, où le vin, l’eau, le pain constituent l’occasion d’un banquet mystique. Cela est proche des rites du Shabbat juif ou de la Communion chrétienne.

Ces quelques observations indiquent qu’il n’y a pas de solution de continuité dans l’ample zone géographique qui va de l’Indus à la Grèce et à Rome, en passant par l’Oxus, le Tigre, l’Euphrate, le Jourdain et le Nil. Sur cet arc immense, se croisent et se rejoignent des croyances fondamentales, des intuitions premières, ensemençant les peuples.

Le Mitra védique, le Mithra avestique sont des figures qui annoncent Orphée et Dionysos. Selon une étymologie qui emprunte ses sources à la langue de l’Avesta, Dionysos doit se comprendre comme un nom avestique div-an-aosha, soit : « le Dieu de la boisson d’immortalité ».

Les Juifs eux-mêmes, gardiens de la tradition du Dieu unique, témoignent de l’antiquité de la croyance commune à tous les peuples de cette vaste région en ce Dieu des dieux. « Comme le remarquent nos maîtres, le Nom du Dieu des dieux était de tout temps d’un emploi courant chez les idolâtres. »i

Le prophète Malachie ne dit-il pas, lui aussi : « Car du lever du soleil à son coucher, mon Nom est grand parmi les nations. »ii

Le « monothéisme », quelle que soit la signification exacte que l’on donne à ce concept relativement récent, a donc une fort longue histoire, des racines extrêmement anciennes.

L’intuition d’un Dieu des dieux a sans doute occupé l’esprit des hommes depuis des millénaires, bien avant qu’elle prenne la forme monothéiste que l’on connaît aujourd’hui.

iRabbi Hayyim de Volozhin. L’âme de la vie

iiMalachie 1, 11