Non-Death and Breath

Who can tell us today the smell and taste of soma? The crackle of clarified butter, the rustle of honey in the flame, the brightness, the brilliance, the softness of the sung Vedic hymns? Who still remember the sounds of yesterday, the lights, the odors, the flavors, concentrated, multiplied, of the sacred rita?

In any religion, the most important thing is its living, immortal soul. The soul of Veda has crossed thousands of years. And it still inhabits some whispered, ancient words.

« Thou art the ocean, O poet, O omniscient soma… Thine are the five regions of the sky, in all their vastness! Thou hast risen above heaven and earth. Thine are the stars and the sun, O clarified soma!”i

As of today, scientists do not know if the soma was extracted from plants such as Cannabis sativa, Sarcostemma viminalis, Asclepias acida or from some variety of Ephedra, or even from mushrooms such as Amanita muscaria. The secret of soma is lost.

What is known is that the plant giving soma had powerful, hallucinogenic and « entheogenic » virtues.

Shamans all over the world, in Siberia, Mongolia, Africa, Central America, Amazonia, or elsewhere, still continue to use the psychotropic properties of their own pharmacopoeia today.

The « entheogenic » dives are almost indescribable. Often nothing can be told about them, except for some unimaginable, distant, repeated certainties. Metaphors multiply and stubbornly try, vainly, to tell the unspeakable. To poetry is given the recollection of past consciences so close to these worlds.

« The wave of honey has risen from the bosom of the ocean, together with the soma, it has reached immortal abode. It has conquered the secret name: ‘language of the gods’, ‘navel of the immortal’. »ii

One should believe it: these words say almost everything that can be said about what cannot be said. It is necessary to complete what they mean, by intuition, experience, or commentary.

For more than five thousand years, the Upaniṣad has been trying to do just that. They hide nuggets, diamonds, coals, gleams, lightning.

« He moves and does not move. He is far and he is near.

He is within all that is; of all that is, He is outside (…)

They enter into blind darkness, those who believe in the unknowing;

And into more darkness still, those who delight in knowledge.

Knowledge and non-knowledge – he who knows both at the same time,

he crosses death through non-knowledge, he reaches through knowledge the non-death.

They enter into blind darkness those who believe in the non-death;

and into more darkness still those who delight in the becoming (…)

Becoming and ceasing to be – the one who knows both,

he crosses death by the cessation of being, and by the becoming, he reaches non-death. » iii

These words were thought, quoted and contemplated more than two thousand years before the birth of Heraclitus of Ephesus. They must be read and spoken again.

Now it the time to drink the soma again, in a novel way, and to stare at the clear flame, which fills the air with new odors. The wind will then stir up the flame.

It is time to praise again the Breath! Breath is master of the universe, the master of all things. Breath founds the world. Breath is clamor and thunder, lightning and rain!

Breath breathes, Breath breathes in, Breath breathes out, Breath moves away, Breath moves closer!

Words also breathe, pant, keep moving away and coming closer.

And then they open up to other escapes.

Breath caresses beings, like a father his child.

Breath is the father of all that breathes and all that does not breathe.

i Rg Veda 9.86.29

ii Rg Veda 4.58.1

iii Īśāvāsya upaniṣad, 5-14

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 Egyptian Messiah

Human chains transmit knowledge acquired beyond the ages. From one to the other, you always go up higher, as far as possible, like the salmon in the stream.

Thanks to Clement of Alexandria, in the 2nd century, twenty-two fragments of Heraclitus (fragments 14 to 36 according to the numbering of Diels-Kranz) were saved from oblivion, out of a total of one hundred and thirty-eight.

« Rangers in the night, the Magi, the priests of Bakkhos, the priestesses of the presses, the traffickers of mysteries practiced among men.  » (Fragment 14)

A few words, and a world appears.

At night, magic, bacchae, lenes, mysts, and of course the god Bakkhos.

The Fragment 15 describes one of these mysterious and nocturnal ceremonies: « For if it were not in honour of Dionysus that they processioned and sang the shameful phallic anthem, they would act in the most blatant way. But it’s the same one, Hades or Dionysus, for whom we’re crazy or delirious.»

Heraclitus seems reserved about bacchic delusions and orgiastic tributes to the phallus.

He sees a link between madness, delirium, Hades and Dionysus.

Bacchus is associated with drunkenness. We remember the rubicond Bacchus, bombing under the vine.

Bacchus, the Latin name of the Greek god Bakkhos, is also Dionysus, whom Heraclitus likens to Hades, God of the Infernos, God of the Dead.

Dionysus was also closely associated with Osiris, according to Herodotus in the 5th century BC. Plutarch went to study the question on the spot, 600 years later, and reported that the Egyptian priests gave the Nile the name of Osiris, and the sea the name of Typhon. Osiris is the principle of the wet, of generation, which is compatible with the phallic cult. Typhoon is the principle of dry and hot, and by metonymy of the desert and the sea. And Typhon is also the other name of Seth, Osiris’ murdering brother, whom he cut into pieces.

We see here that the names of the gods circulate between distant spheres of meaning.

This implies that they can also be interpreted as the denominations of abstract concepts.

Plutarch, who cites in his book Isis and Osiris references from an even more oriental horizon, such as Zoroaster, Ormuzd, Ariman or Mitra, testifies to this mechanism of anagogical abstraction, which the ancient Avestic and Vedic religions practiced abundantly.

Zoroaster had been the initiator. In Zoroastrianism, the names of the gods embody ideas, abstractions. The Greeks were the students of the Chaldeans and the ancient Persians. Plutarch condenses several centuries of Greek thought, in a way that evokes Zoroastrian pairs of principles: « Anaxagoras calls Intelligence the principle of good, and that of evil, Infinite. Aristotle names the first the form, and the other the deprivationi. Plato, who often expresses himself as if in an enveloped and veiled manner, gives to these two contrary principles, to one the name of « always the same » and to the other, that of « sometimes one, sometimes the other ». »ii

Plutarch is not fooled by Greek, Egyptian or Persian myths. He knows that they cover abstract, and perhaps more universal, truths. But he had to be content with allusions of this kind: « In their sacred hymns in honour of Osiris, the Egyptians mentioned « He who hides in the arms of the Sun ». »

As for Typhon, a deicide and fratricide, Hermes emasculated him, and took his nerves to make them the strings of his lyre. Myth or abstraction?

Plutarch uses the etymology (real or imagined) as an ancient method to convey his ideas: « As for the name Osiris, it comes from the association of two words: ὄσιοϛ, holy and ἱερός, sacred. There is indeed a common relationship between the things in Heaven and those in Hades. The elders called them saints first, and sacred the second. »iii

Osiris, in his very name, osios-hieros, unites Heaven and Hell, he combines the holy and the sacred.

The sacred is what is separated.

The saint is what unites us.

Osiris joint separated him to what is united.

Osiris, victor of death, unites the most separated worlds there are. It represents the figure of the Savior, – in Hebrew the « Messiah ».

Taking into account the anteriority, the Hebrew Messiah and the Christian Christ are late figures of Osiris.

Osiris, a Christic metaphor, by anticipation? Or Christ, a distant Osirian reminiscence?

Or a joint participation in a common fund, an immemorial one?

This is a Mystery.

iAristotle, Metaph. 1,5 ; 1,7-8

iiPlato Timaeus 35a

iiiPlutarch, Isis and Osiris.

Careful! Logic is misleading

« The most characteristic feature of the mystery is the fact that it is announced everywhere »i.

It is announced, but not revealed.

It is presented, but not disclosed. It is reported, but not visible.

« What is hidden is what is revealed »ii

I assume that « what is hidden » points not to the invisible but to the ineffable.

What is revealed is ineffable.

Between myth and mysticism, there are as many differences as there are between the invisible and the unspeakable.

Buried caches, deep caves, dark cellars, distant Hades, these are the founding places of the myth. Esoteric thinkers promise the vision of these secret places to the initiate, when the time comes.

Mysticism goes beyond myth in this: it claims to reveal nothing of the « mystery », which remains unspeakable, inexpressible, incommunicable. What mysticism teaches is not what cannot be said, but what testifies to it, what by signs takes the place of it.

« The god whose oracle is in Delphi does not reveal, does not hide, but gives a sign. « iii (Heraclitus)

You have to get used to thinking like crabs, to drifting towards the sea, running sideways, going sideways. Think by allusions, by paradoxes. « God exists, but not by existence. He lives, but not by life. He knows, but not by science » iv (Leibniz).

Words, syntax, grammars, are teeming with false leads. The researcher must look for other stars, to cross the unknown seas of the world.

Logic itself and its laws are misleading. It is better to follow Leibniz: « The more we succeed in abstracting ourselves from demonstrating God, the more we progress in His knowledge. »v

iS. John Chrysostom

ii Ignatius of Antioch, Ad. Eph. 19,1

iii Heraclitus, Frag. 93.

ivCf. Observations de Leibniz sur le livre du Rabbin Moïse Maïmonide intitulé le Guide des Égarés. §C57

v Ibid. §C59

Why are souls locked in earthly bodies?

« If the soul were not immortal, man would be the most unhappy of all creatures, » writes Marsile Ficin in his Platonic Theology of the Immortality of the Soul. In this treaty, which dates back to 1482, this argument is only mentioned in passing, as a matter of course. No need to insist, indeed: if one had absolute, irrefutable conviction, apodictic proof of the mortality of the soul, then the feeling of unhappiness of being nothing, the despair of a pitiful WTF, the assured evidence of the absurd, would invade the soul and suffocate it.

Questions about the origin and the end follow one another over the centuries, with strange resonances. There is no need for fine hearing or sharp eyesight. It is enough to visit the remains of sacred traditions, to connect them, and to place them side by side, to consider them together, with sympathy, in what they indicate in common, in what they reveal to be universal.

Marsile Ficin, a humanist and encyclopedic conscience, was interested in the beliefs of the Magi of Persia and Egyptian priests, the certainties of the Hebrew prophets, the visions of the Orphic, the truths of the Pythagorean and Platonician philosophers, the dogmas of the ancient Christian theologians and the revelations of the Brahmins of India.

Let’s look at the big picture, let’s breathe wide. The feeling of mystery is a stronger, more established, more significant anthropological constant than any of the truths hardly conquered by Gnostic and schizophrenic modernity. Among all peoples, the men most remarkable for their love of wisdom have devoted themselves to prayer, notes Porphyry.

For his part, Ficin, probably one of the remarkable men of his time, asked himself questions such as: « Why are souls locked in earthly bodies? »

Ficin proposes six answers to that question:

To be able to know the singular beings.

To unite the particular shapes with the universal shapes.

For the divine ray to be reflected in God.

To make the soul happier (the descent of the soul into the body contributes to the happiness of the soul itself).

For the powers of the soul to act.

So that the world may be embellished and God may be honored.

These answers can be summarized as follows: the soul unites what is a priori separate. The top and bottom. The world and the divine. The same and the other. It needs mediation, and it is itself mediation. It is in the process of becoming, it must increase, grow, mature, rise, to act, even if to do so it must first descend, to the point of becoming tiny like a germ again, remain for a very short time, decrease as much as possible, in order to observe better.

Why does such an infinite God bother with all these little supernumerary souls? Mystery, tsimtsum.

There are some leads, however, some indications, in the vast history of the world, that can be gleaned from the dismemberment of the body of Osiris, the Orphic hymns, the Book of the Dead, some verses from Homer, Virgil and Ovid, the fragments of Nag Hammadi, the cries and songs of the Vedas, the brevity of Heraclitus, the folds of Plato, the lengths of Kabbalah, the words of Christ, the figures of the shamans, – and in many other places…