Flying Without Wings

Minding one’s own mind is a difficult art. One must juggle with the uncontrolled power of ideas, the tyranny of imagination, the empire of reason, the excesses of imitation, and the probable (in-)adequacy of the mind to reality.

One must also consider the conformation of the soul’s desire to her true end. The soul is basically a mystery to herself. How could she unravel mysteries far from her attainment, when she is evidently unable to understand herself, or to escape the grip of her drifting imagination?

The myth, it seems, may be for the soul an alternative path of research. It is one way to escape the tyranny of the déjà vu and its consequences. A way to set her free, while giving in to her vertigo.

Here is an example.

In the Timaeus, Plato describes the power that the soul exerts over the body, and in the Phaedrus, he deals with the soul liberated from the body.

On the one hand, the soul is in charge of the body into which it has descended. On the other hand, the soul freed from the body travels through the heavens and governs the world. So doing, she binds herself to celestial souls.

Her liberation is accompanied by frankly enigmatic phenomena:

« Where does it come from that the names of mortal and also immortal are given to the living, that is what we must try to say. Every soul takes care of everything that is devoid of a soul and, on the other hand, circulates throughout the whole universe, presenting herself there sometimes in one form and sometimes in another. However, when she is perfect and has her wings, it is in the heights that she walks, it is the whole world that she administers. »i

The soul « has her wings » and is called to administer the « whole world ». What does that mean?

By commenting on this passage, Marsilio Ficino brings it closer to another text by Plato which states in a rather obscure way:

« The need for intelligence and the soul united to intelligence exceeds all necessity. »ii

This comment requires an explanation.

When the soul is liberated, that is, when she leaves the body, she takes advantage of this freedom to unite herself « necessarily » to the intelligence. Why « necessarily »? Because in the spiritual world there is a law of attraction that is analogous to the law of universal attraction in the physical universe. This law is the law of the love that the free soul « necessarily » feels for the (divine) intelligence.

When she unites with the ‘intelligence’, the soul becomes « winged ». She can do anything, including « administering the whole world ».

This explanation doesn’t explain much, actually.

Why is the « perfect » soul, « winged », called to « administer the whole world »?

In reality, the mystery is thickening. The Platonic myth only opens doors to other, more obscure questions.

Two thousand years after Plato, Marsilio Ficino proposed an interpretation of these difficult questions:

“All reasonable souls possess an upper part, spiritual, an intermediate part, rational, a lower part, vital. Intermediate power is a property of the soul. Spiritual power is a ray of higher intelligence projected on the soul, and in turn reflected on the higher intelligence. The vital power is also an act of the soul reflecting on the body and then repercussions on the soul, just as sunlight in the cloud is, according to its own quality, a light, but as it emanates from the sun, is ray, and as it fills the cloud, is whiteness.”iii

The thicker the mystery gets, the more images multiply!

Ray, light and whiteness represent different states of intelligence mixing with the mind (the ray becomes light), and of spirit mixing with the world and matter (light becomes whiteness).

We may also understand that the « ray » is a metaphor of the (divine) intelligence, that the « light » is a metaphor of the power of the (human) spirit, and that whiteness is a metaphor of the vital power of the soul. These images (ray, light, whiteness) have a general scope, – which applies to the world as well as to the mind.

So is the myth.

The myth is like a « light », generated by a « ray » striking the mind, and generating « whiteness » in it (i.e. revelation).

The « ray », the “light”, the “whiteness” are images, metaphors, for the Word (Logos), the Myth (Mythos), and Reason (Logos, again), as various degrees of illumination.

Is this explanation enlightening enough?

If not, you will have to learn to fly, without wings, radar and GPS, in the nights and fogs of the world.

i Phaedrus 246 b,c

iiPlato. Epinomis 982 b

iiiMarsilio Ficino Platonic Theology, 13,4

The Vedic Skandalon

« Mirror neurons » are activated in our brain when we observe particular movements or behaviours in others. They then allow us to actually reproduce them, after having virtually mimicked them in neural networks.

This is the neurobiological basis of a much larger anthropological phenomenon, imitation, – at work within societies, cultures, civilizations, religions. René Girard, who worked on mimetic mechanisms, identified the figure of the scapegoat as essential to the foundation of the first human institutions. The programmed sacrifice of the victim creates the conditions for religious and social identification.

In some of the oldest religions, such as the Vedas, the notions of victim and sacrifice take on such a central value that they reverse their relationship with believers. It is no longer the believer who makes the sacrifice, but the sacrifice that creates the believer, and even the world. It is the sacrifice that creates men, gods and demons. The sacrifice ultimately reveals itself to be the Creator God himself, Prajâpati.

This is one of the highest mysteries of the Veda. Bhagavad Gita devotes its chapter IX to the « Yoga of the Sovereign Mystery of Science ». The text proposes to reveal « sovereign science, the sovereign mystery, the supreme purification graspable by immediate intuition ». Verses 16-18 deliver it, in this form:

« I am the Sacrifice, I am worship, I am the offering to the dead; I am the herb of salvation, I am the sacred anthem; I am the anointing; I am fire; I am the victim.

I am the father of this world, his mother, his husband, his grandfather. I am the doctrine, the purification, the mystical word Om; the Rig, the Sâma, the Yajour.

I am the way, the support, the Lord, the witness, the dwelling, the refuge, the friend. I am birth and destruction; halt; treasure; immortal seed. »

Let us note in passing the rhetorical form consisting of the enumeration, one after the other, of countless divine names. The long series of these names points to the existence of a mystery, which none of these names claim to capture, but which their accumulation attempts to evoke, or at least to symbolize.

In these Vedic verses, God identifies himself successively with the Sacrifice, the fire, the hymn and the victim. In the Veda, God is everything in everything.

This is a far cry from simplistic dichotomies, built on exclusion or inclusion, such as: « The myth is against the victim, while the Bible is for it. »

The word « Veda » means « knowledge ». The association of the idea of knowledge with the religious universe evokes the role of « Gnosis » in the Mediterranean area. But the « knowledge » revealed in the Veda differs fundamentally from the « Gnosis » that Basilides, Valentine or Marcion tried to adapt to the Hellenized world of the first centuries of Christianity. To summarize: the Veda unites, the Gnosis separates.

Gnosis opposes on principle the good god to the bad god. In this, it brings to the world of the gods the unlimited violence that lies in the hearts of men.

The Gnostic idea, although ancient, is still alive. It is even possible to argue that the modern era is fundamentally Gnostic.

In fact, modern times are not very capable of understanding what the Veda sings in these hymns, namely that the victim of sacrifice is God, and that God is the victim.

A ‘crucial’ question, though. A stumbling block for intelligence and character. A Skandalon, the Greeks said, in the Christian context.