God and Shadow


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« Van Gogh. Starry Night »

Billions of suns shimmer in the Night, – and all the gods are silent and shine.

The Night, – the immense abyss sucks it up, breathes this dark shroud of blood, this veil of shadow.

A voice cries out in the dark: « O Abyss, you are the only God. »i

Another voice answers, in an ironic echo: « O unique God, you are Abyss! »

All the suns that I know overflow with shadows, are full of enigmas, pierce the night with irruptions, with intestinal fury, pulverize and volatilize the mysteries.

Their deliriums, their burns, their glimmers, their impulses, fill old divine voids, long already there, pierce black matter, streak with dark mists.

See the divine Athena, wise, simple, sure, solar too, – one comes from afar to pray under the radiance of her aegis, and to recollect (relegere) on the threshold of her altar, on her calm Acropolis.

But her very Soul is only shadow, even if her Intelligence is light.

It is said that the dreams of the wise, the hatreds of the people, the tears, the loves and the gods pass.

I prefer to believe that they slide eternally, into nameless oblivion, an endless drift, but no, they will not pass. On the contrary, they grow, and always multiply. Like God Himself.

This God whom, out of faith or fear, fierce monotheists say they want to « unify » (in words only). They vehemently assign to Him a single attribute, the « one », only the « one », – not the « two », or the « three », or the « π », the pleroma or the infinite.

Those who pronounce His plural, intangible name, Elohim, still read in this plural the « One », the unique, alone, singular « One ».

They also assign the defined article to His name: the Elohim. הָאֱלֹהִים. Ha-Elohimii.

« The » God. In Arabic, too : « Al » Lah. « The » Divinity.

Two grammatical temptations : to ‘unify’ God (as being ‘one’)… and to ‘define’ God (by the article)….

And death is promised, surely, to all others, to those who, they say, « multiply Him, » – in word or thought, by action or omission….

A crucified Muslim, a saint and martyr, at the beginning of the 10th century A.D., famously said:

« Who claims to unify Him, multiplies Him.»iii

He paid with his life for this deep and uncomfortable truth.

Is the God, immensely infinite, so much in need of this din around a ‘unity’ that is tired, but certainly threatened, atomized with clamor (of pride and conquest), crumbled with cries (of hatred and suffering), diluted with harangues (of excommunications and fatwas).

The « One », – image, or even idol, of pure abstraction, worshipping itself, in its solitude.

The. One. The One.

The definite and the indefinite, united in a common embrace, against grammar, logic and meaning, – for if He is « One », if He is only « One », how can one say « the » One, who supposes « an » Other, maybe a less or a more than « one » Other, lurking in His shadow?

Only, perhaps, is the path of negative theology worthwhile here.

Maybe, God is neither one, nor multiple, nor the One, nor the Other, nor defined, nor undefined, but all of that at once.

Only one thing seems to be sure: He is nothing of what they say He is. Nada.

How is it possible to attribute an attribute to Him, if He is unity as such? What blindness! What derision! What pride!

They don’t know what they are doing. They don’t know what they are saying. They don’t think what they think.

But if He is not the One, from a grammatical and ontological viewpoint, what sort of grammar and ontolgy can we use to say what He really is ?

The very idea of the One is not high enough, not wide enough, not deep enough, – for His Présence, His Powers, and His infinite armies (tsebaoth) of shadows, to remain included in it.

To move forward, let’s reflect on the concept of ‘reflection’.

The sun, this unique star (for us), by its infinite images, by its incessant rays, is ‘reflected’ in the slightest of the shadows. Some of these rays even dance within us, with in our souls.

The Veda tradition helps to understand the lesson, adding another perspective.

The God Surya, who is called ‘Sun’, says the Veda, has a face of extreme brilliance, – so extreme that his ‘wife’, the Goddess Saranyu, flees before him because she can no longer face his face.

To keep her escape secret, to hide her absence, she creates a shadow, – a faithful copy of herself – named Chāyā, which she leaves behind, in her place.iv

It should be noted that in Sanskrit Chāyā, छाया, indeed means ‘shadow’. The root of this word is chād, छाद्, ‘to cover, to wrap; to hide, to keep secret’.

The word chāyā is also given by Chantraine’s Dictionary of Greek Etymology as having « a definite kinship » with the Greek word σκιά skia, ‘shadow’, ‘darkness, hidden place’ and also ‘ghost’ (a qualifier designating man’s weakness). Avestic and Persian also have a very similar word, sāya, ‘shadow’. The word skia is found in the Gospel several times, for example:

« This people, sitting in darkness, saw a great light. And upon those who sat in the region and the shadow (skia) of death, the light has risen. »v

The God Surya is deceived by this faithful shadow, which seems to be (in appearance) His own shadow. He, then, unites Himself to her, to Chāyā, to this shadow that is not divine, only human. And He generates with her à son, Manu.vi

Manu, – the ancestor of mankind.

Manu, – the Adam of the Veda, therefore!

According to Genesis, a text that appeared at least a millennium after the hymns of Ṛg Veda were composed (and thus having, one can think, some distance from the most ancient Vedic intuitions), the God (named Elohim) famously said:

נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ

Na’oçéh adam bi-tsalme-nou ki-dimoute-nou

« Let us make Adam in our image (bi-tsalmé-nou) and according to our likeness (ki-demouté-nou)« vii.

Then the text insists, and repeats the word ‘image’ twice more.

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ

Vé-bara Elohim et-ha-adam bi-tsalmou, bi-tsélém Elohim bara otou.

Translated literally: « And Elohim created Adam in his image (bi-tsalmou), in the image (bi-tslem) Elohim created him. »viii

Let us note that the third time, this ‘image’ that Elohim uses to create is not the image of anyone, it is only an ‘image’ with which He creates Adam. Perhaps it is not even an image, then, but only a shadow?

This is worth thinking about.

The Hebrew word צֶלֶם tselem, ‘image’, has the primary meaning: ‘shadows, darkness’, as the verse « Yes, man walks in darkness (be-tselem) » (Ps. 39:7) testifies, and as the word צֵל tsel, meaning ‘shadow’, confirms.

The Vedic God generates « Manu », the Man, with the Shade, Chāyā.

The biblical God creates « Adam » as a « shadow ».

Was there an influence of the Vedic myth on the biblical myth of the creation of man? One cannot say. On the other hand, it is obvious that some fundamental archetypes remain, beyond time and cultures, which are properly human, undoubtedly coming from the dark depths, where many shadows indeed reign.

It is not so surprising, in fact, that one of the deepest archetypes attaches precisely the idea of shadow to the deepest nature of man.

Man, a frail shadow, – and image too, or veil, of an abyss within him, without bottom.

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iErnest Renan. Memories of childhood and youth. Prayer on the Acropolis. Calmann-Lévy, Paris, 1883, p.72

iiSee Gen 6.2; Ex 1, 17: Ex 20.16; 1Kings 17.18; Job 1.6 and many other examples.

iiiHallâj. The Book of the Word. Translation by Chawki Abdelamir and Philippe Delarbre. Ed. du Rocher, 1996. p.58

ivDoniger, Wendy(1998). « Saranyu/Samjna ». In John Stratton Hawley, Donna Marie Wulff (ed.). Devī: goddesses of India. Motilal Banarsidas. pp. 158-60.

vMt 4 ;16

viAccording to a later tradition, that of Mahābhārata.

viiGen 1 :26

viiiGen 1 :27