Wednesday, August 11, 2010

In the Dark Places of Wisdom

Book Review: In the Dark Places of Wisdom by Peter Kingsley (Golden Sufi Center Publishing 1999)

This was a peculiar book – strangely fascinating (which made it read fast). It is about the Greek philosopher Parmeneides and particularly what the author points out are misconceptions about him as a predecessor of Plato or even as philosopher in that sense at all. The author sets out to prove through the poem of Parmineides and through recent archaeological evidence that Parmineides was foremost an initiate of the mysteries of Apollo and also that Apollo was not originally a God of Reason but a God associated with oracles and prophesy. The initiate’s journey was the journey to the underworld to encounter the land of the dead, to visit the unnamed goddess. The method was incubatory sleep and the temples were associated with healing and with the giving of laws (in order to heal cities).

The author makes good arguments well supported by texts and quite recent archaeology that in the 6th century BCE a people called the Phocaeans from the western shore of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) fled the warring Persians and started a city on the Western shore of Southern Italy called Velia. They brought their Anatolian incubatory practices there and their lineage of priests of Apollo – associated with the hero cults of Heracles. This was in the tradition of the Orphic Mysteries – as Orpheus was a priest of Apollo – who underwent the initiations of the Underworld. Oracles, Prophecies, and Healing were apparently revealed in dreams through prolonged stillness and fasting. These healers were called Iatromantis and would like a shaman enter the Underworld on behalf of others. Sometimes too the sick ones would undertake the sleep practices. The four activities of these healers were as prophet, healer, poet, and politician/ambassador.

According to the author Plato and the Athenians wanted to be seen as heir to the great tradition of Parmineides but also to change it into strictly rational interaction with the world. Pythagoras came from the Greek island Samos in the Aegean Sea but ended up here at Velia and according to the author Parmeneides was in the Pythagorean tradition of not philosophers but initiates of the mysteries. Also he thinks that the medical tradition of Hippocrates – based on the God Asclepius (son of Apollo) is based firmly on that of the previous traditions of these Anatolian healers. Other cities on the west coast of Anatolia and newer colonies along the Black sea and in the other direction the early city of Marseilles in southern France was apparently also started by the Phocaeans and/or their neighbors and also spread the practices of Apollo, of the Sun uniting with the darkness (of union of all opposites), of Persephone the maiden, of the healing sleep in particular. The youthful Hero – or initiate candidate was called –kouros- and according to the author some remnants of this practice went to the new city of Alexandria (I assume with the neo-platonists) and eventually to the Arabian alchemists and later to the Sufis – particularly in Persia – as evidenced by similar traditions of the youthful hero. He makes a good enough argument that the original philosophical tradition was an initiatory tradition as well as a priesthood with a well established long lineage. The method was akin to hibernation and the priests were called Lords of the Lair. Also mentioned is the sound of pipes or the hissing sound of the serpent that Apollo has killed in order to appropriate the energies/qualities/abilities of the symbolic serpent. This is the Syrinx.

Anyway – the author presents this interesting data – as if it the most fantastic discovery ever – perhaps among staunch academics it is – but some of us are quite aware that true history can go in several possible configurations and this is likely fairly true but perhaps not so remarkable. In any case – the point I think he wanted to get across is that Plato and the Athenians for all their magnificence wanted to root out the influence of the Underworld Mysteries in order to promote their own agenda – that of reason and science – that of which we – Western Civilization are the heir.

Neat book but I think he could have done it in a magazine article rather than a 250 pg book. He does have another book – Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic that has much praise and sounds intriguing but I don’t know. In any case, perhaps I will look more into trying to decipher some of the details of the so-called Mysteries. What was left of the ancient mystery schools was passed on to some of the early Gnostic sects, to the Alexandrian neo-platonists and early Hermetics, to the Sufis, in remnants of Mediterranean traditions, and eventually into the magical revivals of the the Renaissance and the late 19th century(GoldenDawn/Theosophy/Crowley, etc).

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