Friday, January 21, 2011
Book Review: Archaeology & Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins
by Colin Renfrew (Cambridge University Press 1987)
This was an interesting book by a renowned archaeologist. However, in this book his main hypothesis is considered controversial and is not accepted by most scholars but may be partially accepted by a minority. He surveys all the main arguments regarding Indo-European origins and language developments and criticizes them in various ways. For the whole first part of the book one gets the impression that the book is mainly a critique of
methods and arguments in both archaeology and linguistics. He criticizes both techniques and conclusions and does point out some circular arguments.
The most accepted conclusions of Indo-European history and development place the original Proto-Indo-Europeans somewhere on the steppes of Southern Russia from which they migrated west and southeast in a series of migrations beginning around 4500 BCE and by the process of elite dominance (military takeover)- in this case due to superior warfare abilities attributable to horse and chariot warfare developed as a result of the demands of a life a nomadic pastoralism – were able to subdue indigenous populations thereby spreading the language. Renfrew does point out some interesting counter-arguments to this generally accepted hypothesis.
Professor Renfrew’s Hypothesis A, as he calls it, is quite different. He traces the commonly accepted spread of farming from Anatolia around 6500 BC across the Aegean Sea to Greece in 6000 BC and from there across Western Europe to Ireland and Scotland by about 4000 BC. Also a possibility is that farming spread eastward to Baluchistan just west of the Indus Valley culture areas as similar grain farming evidence has definitely been found there in Mehrgar dated to 6000 BC. Actually, based on modern distributions of domesticated einkorn and barley one might put the origin of grain farming as a larger area including Anatolia, Syria and the Levant, and stretching well into Iran perhaps all the way to Baluchistan. In any case, the early crops involved in the Neolithic farming revolution in the Near East and Europe were emmer wheat, einkorn, and six-row barley. Renfrew’s Hypothesis A involves early Proto-Indo-European language spreading along with farming. The mechanism given for population spreading via farming has to do with succeeding generations moving out just a little in order to farm new land. The establishment of agriculture led to more static population and also to a vast increase in population (according to theory) since a smaller amount of land can sustain way more people than in hunting and gathering societies. This wave-model is given as the most likely for the spreading of population in the Neolithic due to agriculture. Renfrew gives many arguments against mass migrationist theories popular in past archaeological circles and he says now rejected by most archaeologists. The elite-dominance model of one culture dominating another through warfare is applicable he says in some situations but again he suggests that this mechanism has been over-used in past archeological analyses to account for culture and language dispersals. Things like the appearance of new pottery styles and even burial types were once thought exclusively to be explainable by migration of new cultures into an area usually by warfare. However, the explanations now more favorable among scholars have more to do with one culture learning a new pottery or art style from another. Burial types are more debatable. The transference of pottery, art, and artifact styles may have had more to do with stature in societies becoming more and more socially stratified. As so-called nobles were buried with these artifacts, this may tie in with burial styles as well.
Renfrew favors a different type of approach to past peoples, what he calls the processual approach which concentrates on the processes taking place at the time perhaps with less definite assumptions being made about movements of people and new cultures dominating old cultures. He seems to favor that the Indo-Aryans and their languages may have been more indigenous to India at least in Indus Valley Culture times. Most scholars seem to think that Proto-Indo-European as a language was developed between 4500 sand 2500 BC and spread along with nomad pastoralist warrior bands from the Southern Russian steppes to Western Europe, Iran, and India through several different waves as proposed in the Kurgan invasions depicted by Marija Gimbutas. The continuity of culture from Mehrgar (6000 BC) to Indus Valley (3100-1900 BC) to historical India is one apparent argument he gives for the possibility of Neolithic Aryan culture. One weak point in this argument is the lack of Indo-European loan words in Sumerian and other Mesopotamian languages.
He gives the basic argument of what he calls Hypothesis B – where mounted nomads of the steppe invade. He concedes that this may have happen but says that Indo-European languages may have already been spoken in several of the areas invaded. Regarding the development of nomad pastoralism he notes that this type of economy developed among people who also traded with agriculturists and likely farmed some as well. He suggests that the earliest pastoralists came from the peoples of Eastern Europe just west of the Russian steppes bringing some of the domesticated livestock with them. So the pastoralists would have migrated initially from west to east. He notes several stages in the domestication of the horse: first used as pack animals which increases mobility of the population; next came wheeled carts which further increased mobility; development of the war chariot (1800-1600 BC); horse riding and military horsemanship (common from 1200 BC but earlier near steppes to 2000 BC suggested.) The development of the bit made horse riding much more common. Later around 400 AD in China, the development of the stirrup made warfare on horseback much more powerful as warriors could stay on their horses much easier. The main argument of Hypothesis B is that with the advent of chariotry and mounted warfare an elite dominance can be effected which would result in cultural and language displacement. Renfrew thinks that the languages of the Cucuteni and Tripolye cultures in the Eastern Balkans was already Indo-European before the nomadic-pastoralists presumably split off from them eastward to the Ukrainian-Russian steppes. This is not at all an unreasonable assumption. The appearance to the present day of non-Indo European languages in the Caucasus region suggests a barrier there to language development and so to any migration through that region. The Andronovo culture of the Iranian steppes also seems to have stepped out from Neolithic farming communities but now with nomadic pastoralist features. Anyway, basically Renfrew’s Hypothesis A is not entirely at odds with the more acceptable Hypothesis B as one may easily combine the two. However, he does assume that the PIE language spread initially with farming much earlier and only later with the elite dominance of warrior-nomads.
He gives a short chapter about Indo-European mythology which is basically a critique and refutation of mythic similarities well noticed among different IE cultures such as Dumezil’s tripartite social structure. Here I think he gives weak arguments as he suggests that these similarities are just natural divisions of societies in general and that many of these can be discounted. After reading Dumezil and some others I would have to disagree strongly with that assessment. The similarities are just too uncanny and to exact in detail to be coincidental, not to mention the linguistic similarities. According to Renfrew the separation of say Celts and the Indo-Aryans would have been for way longer than the other models and so similarities in myth and social functions should theoretically be less apparent and that may not be what we see. However, it is possible that some migrations came later bringing the mythic components and the initial language structures were already there. However, if one notes something like the Irish kingship horse sacrifice similarities to the Vedic horse sacrifice – one would assume something like that would have had to have been with the common ancestor to both cultures well after 6000 BC and likely after 4000 BC – so much favors later migrations of both peoples and mythic components in my opinion.
The book as a whole was worth reading and does point out several problems in methodology in both linguistic and archeological studies. The early history of farming I found to be interesting and I can’t help but think that the early language dispersal associated with it could have been PIE or at least have something preserved about it in later languages. More may be discovered in the future about languages to shed light on these issues. The Hittite and other IE Anatolian languages may hold clues. Deciphering the Indus Valley script – as IE, proto-Elamite, or Dravidian would help. A better idea and decipherment of the early Mycenean languages would also perhaps be helpful. More archeological discovery in India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Russia may help too. He gives a long chapter about the Celts and their development as a series of tribes, as associated with art styles and cultures – Urnfield, Hallstat, and La Tene. He notes that an ethnicity, an art style, a cultural style, and language may or may not be the same and may overlap in various ways as to be difficult to define. Celtic art style, he says represents a major style of a fairly good-sized part of Western Europe. Certainly though there was travel and trade, long-distance trade as well especially through sea routes that may have influenced language and perhaps ideas and mythic notions more than current scholarship allows. Perhaps as he suggests the stratifications of society and even mythic structures passed from peoples to other peoples more so than just from within the tribe or ethnicity. So much is unknown but the early history of myth and various mythic ideas seems worth pursuing. Renfrew’s ideas are not easily acceptable but certainly are worth perusing.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Book Review: Uranus: The Alchemist of the Age by Sri K. Parvathi Kumar (Danishta 2009)
I bought this book as a result of a dream I had. It is by a teacher who follows another teacher of the Ascended Master, Discarnated Wisdom Master type, called Master CVV, or the Aquarian Master. The philosophical type is a mixture of Theosophy but is also strongly infused with yoga philosophy, Vedic and Hindu knowledge, astrology, and new age teaching. So there is a whole esoteric system and cosmology reflected in these series of teachings. He notes a spiritual astrology that was re-configured by the Aquarian Master and perhaps others near the end of the 19th century right around the time of the founding of the Theosophical Society in 1875. The author says that Madame Blavatsky was given three keys: astrology, etymology, and time. These are presumably to Vedic knowledge. According to the author there are three more: grammar, the metrical system in nature, and utterance.
According to the teaching Uranus is the ruling planet of Aquarius and since we are entering the Aquarian Age the influence of Uranus is being felt in various things such as the acceleration of scientific understanding of space, consciousness, the atom, and radioactivity. Uranus is the manifestation of the activity of Varuna, who is termed a supra-cosmic being concerned with root-matter, the spaces between things, and the ability to penetrate. The similarities of Uranus and Varuna have been noted by those examining Indo-European religion so the connection may be on this basis as well. The great secret of Varuna, he says, is that of manifest creation itself, or apparent creation from seemingly nothingness. The Master CVV called this the Aquarian Passage and also gives it a place in man as a sort of thread-fire-river-bridge from the ajna chakra at the third eye to the sahasrara chakra above the crown. This passage he says is guarded by the Gandharva Narada mentioned in the Vishnu Purana. Narada is considered a Wisdom Master. In the Purana he was given special status by Vishnu for his devotion.
Much of this book speaks about the attributions of Uranus and how it is supposedly manifested in the world of today. Uranus is associated more with the indivdualist, non-herd mentality person who does not follow trends and fads. So it is said that Uranus bestows originality. Uranus is friendliness and originality. He is the homeless wandered. His activity is that of Synthesis. So that is the Alchemy of Uranus. Here is a characteristic quote:
“Uranus stands for higher intuition, and it is this which is being brought about by the science of impression by the Masters.”
He refers to the disciples of the Hierarchy who developed themselves to be on the threshold of the buddhic plane in order to receive the teachings from the Masters. Uranus is associated with a shift from religion to science. He equates Uranus with the development in man of an etheric existence where the myth of death disappears. Uranus is anti-oppressive and anti-suppressive. He says Uranus advocates homeopathy and holistic types of healing. He speaks of Uranus as a bridge from the mundane to the supra-mundane and notes that astrologically the energies of all the planets are channeling the Uranian energies. There is given the notion of the Seven Rays – given as the Vedic names of the seven horses who pull Surya’s chariot – Will, Love-Wisdom, Intelligent Activity, Harmony, Concrete Science, Devotion, and Ceremonial Law & Order. This is equated to the seven rays of the sun – or colors of light as ROYGBIV. There is a whole series given here of correspondences of Seven related to these rays, planets, chakras, planes, glands, numbers, minerls, gems, food, days, colors, symbols, and asanas. Uranus is said to function through the nadis and governs the human aura. In terms of Mitra-Varuna he says the spirit is Mitra and the body of the spirit as soul is Varuna. So Mitra resides in Varuna. Here Varuna is termed Mother Varuna, or Varuni.
The originality of Uranus is equated to that of stories of Krishna who was so original that he does not dwell in any sort of patterns, or patterned consciousness, but in an enlightened spontaneity. He talks slso about the fundamental dualities of Siva and Shakti as consciousness/mind and energy and the triplicities of Mitra, Varuna, and Aryaman as well as Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva or as atma (spirit), manas (matter), and buddhi (consciousness). He compares them to the scientific model of th e atom where, “The neutron can be seen as the centre from which there is a moving out of energy which revolves around the centre. This is electron. When electron emerges, the neutron becomes proton to counterbalance the activity of electron.” Thus the positive energy is seen as stable and the negative energy as always in motion like the Shiva-Shakti scenario. The heart center and the buddhic plane are said to be where spirit and matter unite or attain a state of equilibrium.
There is a rather curious statement attributed to Master CVV that man will besome radioactive when he attains the buddhic plane. ‘The work of Uranus is ably assisted by radium and polonium. It is interesting to note that radium and polonium are found in the uranium ores and also that the atomic number of polonium (84) is also a number of Uranus. Indeed it takes the planet Uranus 84 years to complete its orbit around the sun making a typical human lifetime about 1 cycle. Also 84 is a rather convenient product of two of the foremost astrological numbers 12 and 7. Many symbologies can come from this. One given in the book is a division of the human lifetime into 12 cycles of seven years with prescribed behavior for each.
The author notes the Uranian method of awakening kundalini with sound. The Gayatri mantra was apparently, selected by the Masters as well as the sound CVV (see vee vee???) V is for VAM, the seed mantra of Varuna. The author notes that there are two currents of sound awakening – a lunar hierarchy current based on music through Neptune called Soma and presided over by the Grand Master Narada. The other is presided over by Varuna and is based on the science of sound. He says humanity is stuck in Libra and is planned to be lifted up to Gemini in the throat center through the sound activated kundalini. The Master CVV inaugurated it as May 29 – called the May Call early when the sun is in Gemini. Here is an interesting quote regarding yogic unfolding a la kundlaini:
“Chakra is a conditioning energy, for it works in circles. Lotus is an unfolding energy. As the unfoldments happen from the base to the throat, the chakras become lotuses and the soul moves freely within through a cord called Sushumna. In other words, through the thread of Sushumna the flowers are all interconnected and this is called Varna Mala, which is translated by Sir John Woodruff as the ‘Garland of Letters.”
After this he recommends Woodruff’s book – The Serpent Power – another book recommended several times is – A Treatise on Cosmic Fire – which I think is by Madame Blavatsky.
The final chapter notes some interesting symbological yogic contemplation in reference to my dream. There is mentioned a Gandharva called Vena who exists as a fiery river in the Palace of Varuna and is the essence of this Aquarian Passage. He is able to move freely from states of apparent pure energy to states of apparent pure matter, from a condition of existence to non-existence. The Gandharva Narada is said to guard this passage and to bestow entry to sublime beings:
“The Purana therefore recommends to the Yoga students (disciples) to regularly meditate upon the sevenfold palace of Varuna in the seventh plane and the flow of the fiery river Vena daily in the morning and the evening.” A retreat of 3 days and nights fasting and meditating is also recommended. He refers to the fasting as – sitting on the threshold of consciousness – so that hunger and thirst do not come. One contemplates the bridge between Ajna and Saharara chakras as a visualization with a mantra.
The weapon of Varuna (also of Uranus) is the pasa, or noose, and according to the author represents comprehension. In the more material or gross planes comprehension is typically narrow. The higher planes are said to engender wider fields of comprehension.
There is a final short paragraph on the function of Gandharva Vena being that of the neutralization of Karma. The binding of Varuna is also equated to the binding of karma and really if you think about it what is more binding than habitual action?
As a meditation one is instructed by Master CVVto think as follows:
“Vena, the Gandharva, is wiping off the pictures of the subconscious mind on the walls of my nature with the hieroglyphs of sounds from his seven stringed lyre.”
OK it was a good book and I think the philosophy is generally positive being generally devoted to becoming more spiritually aware and geared towards helping others and lifting up humanity. I must admit though that some of the theosophical BS and mish mashing of different spiritual ideas of different cultures and the various planetary hierarchies and cosmological assumptions one is faced with is a little hard for me to deal with. But other than that I enjoyed the book and learned from it. I have practiced the meditation and will continue to do so as I contemplate various hypnagogic and hypnapompic yogas and yogas of transitional states in general. I have another book of Sri K. Parvathi Kumar that equates the twelve deeds of Hercules to the energies of the zodiac and will likely read it in the future.
Book Review: Shambhala: The Fascinating Truth Behind the Myth of Shangri-La by Victoria LePage (Quest Books 1996)
While this book was quite thought-provoking and filled with unusual and fascinating information it somehow left me a little unsatisfied as to conclusions. The myth of Shambhala in its modern form is rooted in several cultures: Vedic notions of the cosmic mountain (Mt Meru) and various other Vedic symbolisms; the Tibetan Bon and Buddhist cosmologies in terms of legends and secret tantras; Central Asian Shamanism in terms of the world tree; Sufi Lore of Central Asia; and both Western and Eastern (including Chinese) legends of hidden civilizations (Agartha, Aryavarsha, Atlantis, Hyperboria, Shambhala, Olmolungring, Lemuria, etc.)
The author examines the work of many researchers and travelers. Those who wrote on Shambhala: Madame Blavatsky of Theosophical tradition, Rene Guenon, J.G Bennett, and G. I. Gurdjieff regarding Sufic and Mystery School lore, and the traditions of the Kalachakra Tantra as told by Tibetan lamas and researchers. Travelers looking for evidence of a secret Central Asian kingdom included Nicholas Roerich and Andrew Tomas. They also collected much local lore from Tibet, Mongolia, and among the Buriat and shamans of the Altai region.
Theosophists and Gurdjieffians have emphasized a common origin for all the famous esoteric schools. Their doctrines tend to combine esotericism into a unified form across cultural traditions. Often the origin of the traditions are cosmic super beings of enlightened stature called Ascended Masters or Wisdom Masters. Typically famous world teachers of religion and esotericism are set up as part of the same overall system. Many think that Shambhala represents the secret place of these ascended ones, beings of light and wisdom.
She goes into detail about the structure of the city of Shambhala given in the Kalachakra Tantra and compares it to Vedic notions of Mt. Meru and the four continents as well as to the structure of Troy towns and Atlantean legends. The threefold world: spiritual, psychic, and physical is said to be represented by the three regions (in the Bon mandala) as the Shambhala King is said to rule over the three worlds. The Kalachakra Tantra is said to have three levels of meaning (as are many of the Buddhist teachings): inner, outer, and secret. The outer has to do with the natural world, the inner with kundalini yoga, and the secret has to do with non-humans and their non-human realms. The cosmic mountain is also discussed as Mt Kailash, Mt Meru, the Kun Lun and Nan Shan Mountains of China, and various Mountains in the Altai range. Some authors also place the early Vedic homeland in the region of the Pamirs which is a plateau that drops off on all sides and suggest that may be the original notion of Mt Meru, aka. Mt Sumeru. Also of interest are the notions of Ural-Altaic shamans who also speak of a legendary Mt. Symery, or something similar. There is also mention of a Mongolian legend of seven civilizing shaman blacksmiths relating to the seven stars of the Great Bear possibly related to the Seven Rishis of the Vedas and connecting the Vedas to a much more ancient Altaic Bear Cult. In any case, all speculative but much to ponder.
She talks about religious variability, tolerance, and mixing tucked away in the hidden places of Central Asia. I am sure that has been the case off and on in some places but there is much evidence that there is and has been just as much bigotry and cruelty there as anywhere. It is no doubt that the Silk Road areas were a melting pot of peoples, philosophies, and religions. Certainly a factor of the Kalachakra Tantra is the notion of bringing forth an enlightened society of harmony and spiritual power, where religions work together in a more united form to stop practices of cruelty and barbarism. The Kalachakra Tantra was the last of the great Buddhist Tantras and goes into much detail. Some have suggested that it was a last ditch effort to get people to join together with the Buddhists as a more unified society in order to stop the Muslim invasions that were systematically wiping out Buddhist practice in particular along the line of invasions. Thus we see a military purport to be vigilant against barbarian doctrines and there is also a notion of esotericists of other faiths joining the cause. This may or may not be the case but it has been suggested by some authors.
The notion of this area of Central Asia as some sort of spiritual World Axis is examined. There is, of course, an axis at the North Pole (also imaginary if you think about it). There is the magnetic Axis. She suggest that there is a third Axis here which links the symbolism back to the World Tree and Polar cults. This World Axis would be the Shushumna, or Central Channel, in Yogic terms, of the Earth, that carries the Kundalini of the Earth. Indeed in the Kalachakra Tantra this notion may be examined as Kundalini Yoga is a part of the tradition. There is another notion of the chakras of the Earth – of various power spots frequented by initiates. Indeed many cultures throughout the globe practice a kind of geomancy or feng shui regarding different places and so the idea of the kundalini of the earth is actually fairly common. However, seeing this as one system the world over, does not seem evident. She also mentions the legend of the Chintamani Stone, possibly a meteoric stone, said to have great powers and to be stored in Shambhala. It is compared to the meteoric black stone of Ka’aba in Mecca and the meteoric black stone of Cybele.
Prophesy is another notion of Kalachakra. The similarities with some of these and the return of Vishnu as the Avatar Sri Kalki is examined and found to be very similar. Sri Kalki is even referred to in some Kalachakra texts. Vedic Astrology is also a mainstay of Kalachakra Tantra. To the Buddhists it is King Rudra Chakrin and to the Mongolians it is Gesar-Khan that will return to rule justly in the unjust and uncertian times of the Kali Yuga. These are sort of messianic prophesies that many or most cultures seem to have. There is a notion of a final victory over the barbarians and over inherent evil in the world at large. Some folk have compared this to the Islamic Mahdi prophecies and even have suggested Shambhalic lore as a secret fascist military form of Buddhism that wants to rule the world. There is a rather scholarly sounding book on the subject called something like – The Dark Side of the Dalai Lama – that tries to depict the Dalai Lama as a fascist power-hungry religious fanatic. It is utterly ridiculous of course but speculative legends open up the possibility of these aberrant interpretations.
She examines the idea of – the Hidden Directorate – where a group of adepts sort of runs the world. Again, one can get rather deep in conspiracy theory here. According to J.G Bennet and his teacher Gurdjieff there is a secret Sufi school of enlightened adepts hidden in the mountains of Afghanistan. Higher than that there is a hierarchy headed by the Kuth-i-Zaman, or Axis of the Age. Alice Bailey calls them ascended Masters, Idries Shah referred to them as Guardians of the Tradition. They have many other names. Essentially they are Secret Chiefs. There are other names and manifestations of them according to conspiracy theorists and UFO-based mythologies. This inner circle of humanity is asserted by the theosophists, gnostics, sufis, and most of the esoteric traditions of the world.
Regarding the Axis Mundi she goes through much World Tree lore and makes the important observation that the World Tree/Axis Mundi is very often associated with initiation and access to otherworldly knowledge. She notes a connection of Shambhala with the constellation Orion and ties this in with the Egyptian connection of Osiris with Orion. She notes that the guardians of Shambhala are called Azara and ties this word with the Aesir, the Etruscan Aeser, the Coptic Os (thus Osiris aka Asaru), and although she does not mention it here perhaps the Vedic Asuras as well. She identifies these notions as indicative of the ‘pillar lords’ and sees the ancient pillar/polar religion of the Paleolithic reflected here. Osiris is associated with Underworld initiation as is Odin sacrificing himself to himself on the World Tree. She discusses some interesting lore of the Volute – a shape like scrolled wings at the top of a pillar of which the Old Saxon Irminsul is a well-known form. She notes this form among many diverse cultures: Egyptian, Hebrew, Germanic, etc. She makes further connections with Cabalistic-Masonic lore of the two pillars of the temple, the black and white Jachim and Boaz and the Djed pillar of Egypt and the Pillars of Hercules. I do not think her arguments are particularly enlightening here. Humans utilize pillars as symbolic of initiation (and also of creation as phallic symbols). Initiation may involve a return to the creation-time. That is the basic shamanic cosmology that may have been practiced by many cultures in varying ways but it is hard to see it all connected as one big systematic whole. That is I think the main problem I have with the book and perhaps with some of the notions of esoteric unification professed by theosophists and new age philosophies. I do not particularly disagree that these things were seen in similar ways by different cultures in their psychological/symbological aspects. I just do not see it as a deliberate system propagated from the same source where all the meanings are completely transferable. That being said I do think there is great merit and great possibility working with cosmological principles such as Theosophy. However, I think one needs to be able to sort out the nonsense and unification-deliberate system dogma that seems to pervade.
The Sufi orders inherited much Neoplatonic philosophy regarding the spherical universes and the notions of sacred geometry and the sacred geography that came out of it. I am guessing that perhaps later on the Central Asian Sufis may have combined the Neo-platonic notions with the Vedic and Tantric Buddhist notions of sacred geography.
She spends a chapter talking about Atlantis and the Hyperboreans of the northern lands. There is much to suggests that they were the same people to the Ancient Greeks, although legendary even at that time. She suggests the appearance of Hyperborean Apollo as one who brought shamanistic practices from the north and east. Other legends recounted are those of the Order of Teutonic Knights (heirs to the Knights Templar) regarding a power center in Central Asia and a similar Christian legend of Prester John which talked of a pious community of Christians existing somewhere in the east.
Next she discusses implications of alternative sciences where man has mystical powers and unification with our empirical science tradition. Of course, the most elusive variable is that of consciousness. The interchangable-ness of energy and matter suggested by quantum theory is also examined with regards to yogic light bodies and particularly the Tibetan Yang-Ti, or rainbow body into which great practitioners of Dzogchen are said to transfer at death leaving only hair and nails or nothing at all behind. She also talks a bit about UFO phenomena being a sign of Shambhala in the sense that the so-called alien intelligences have advanced technologies and mental powers. This is all very speculative of course.
Lastly she talks about the future and the possibility of spiritualizing humanity and the search for a new metaphysical model for the world. The Kalachakra texts speak of a future Golden Age where the realm of Shambhala will spread over the whole Earth and Wisdom will dawn. This is supposed to occur when the king of Shambhala changes his residence.
The author pretty much combines legends of all hidden lands and hidden directors of human destiny into the Shambhala myth as a whole. Here is an overview statement she gives:
“Shambhala has had many locations, many names, many forms; over the ages it has beem known as a taboo region of Paleolithic magic, a vast Megalithic sanctuary, a sacred kingdom, an underground Wisdom center, a modern complex of ashrams and training-schools. It has sometimes been accessible to the outside world, sometimes hidden; but no one knows what its real nature is, and Tibetans say no one can reach it except those whose karma is ripe. Shambhala seems to have drawn about itself a cordon of invisibility that no ordinary force can breach, yet it can always be found by the soul’s radar.”
Overall, this was an interesting book with much to ponder but for some reason it left me unsatisfied. Perhaps assuming a unification of esoteric doctrines across vast spaces and times seems a little far-fetched to me. Certainly esoteric schools in the past unified doctrines of differing origins but I do not think to the extent implied here. I know there is much more to the Kalachakra lore that she did not go into and perhaps I was wanting more of that as well.
Friday, January 14, 2011
Book Review: Mitra-Varuna: An Essay on Two Indo-European Representations of Sovereignty by Georges Dumezil (transl by D. Coltman) Zone Books 1988- orig 1948
This was a fascinating account of comparisons of various Indo-European linguistics, myth, and social functions. Various comparisons of Roman, Vedic, Celtic, Germanic, Iranian, Greek, and Slavic notions of kingship and social function as revealed through myth and tradition are undertaken. The chapter headings are all couplet deities or heroes that display the contrasting yet complimentary styles of kingship. The idea was that kingship was kind of alternated between magician-warrior, binding, creative, wild, fem, dark, chaotic aspect represented by Varuna, Romulus, Wotanaz, Odin, Lugh, Jupiter, the Gandharvas, the Kentaurs, the Luperci, and the one-eyed god in general – and the other sovereign aspect was that of the more rational judge, legislator, orderly, contractual form represented by Mitra, Numa, Tiwaz, Tyr, Nuada of the Silver Arm, Fides, the priesthood (Roman flamines, Vedic brahmins) and the one-armed god in general. Mitra was the lord of contracts and Varuna was the enforcer, or binder of the contract (thus he carries the noose). The binding aspect is yet another association of Varuna with the titan Ouranos – not to mention linguistic similarities and many other aspects in common. Anyway, it seems that in these myths there was often an alternating power scheme of the two couples where one dominates for a while then the other.
The first comparison is of the Luperci – or wild wolf men in Rome associated with the wild king Romulus, who slays his brother Remus, and founds Rome. Later there was a festival one day a year where the Luperci effectively rule (as chaos) where the women were whipped with strips of goat skin to make them fertile just as Romulus and the Luperci originally did in the myth to the women of a conquered tribe. The chaotic rule of Romulus is followed by the very ordered rule of Numa, a judge-like character who makes laws, moral rules, and contracts. The Roman senate comes about by this style and Numa is in league with the priesthood (flamines). The Luperci as a wild gang of men who exhibit animal-like behavior are compared with the Kentaurs (Centaurs) of Ancient Greece – the wild horse-men and the Gandharvas of India (note the linguistic similarities). The Gandharvas (male) and Apsaras (female) are erotic spirits associated with music and sexuality. They are the celestial musicians mentioned in Buddhist texts. There they are said to be fed by smells. The Gandharvas are said to follow Varuna as king. The kentaurs are also educators of heroes, of Asklepios and of Achilles. The Gandharvas, Kentaurs, and Luperci often appear naked while for the priests nudity is often forbidden. He compares the statutes of the Roman priesthood and the brahmins. Both had many taboos. Avoiding funeral pyres, horses, battle, and drunkeness, to name a few. In any case, Dumezil shows that the Romans and Vedic society probably had a similar origin somewhere back in time. The whole juxtaposition of sacred disorder and sacred order is strangely complimentary. In times of war the strength of wildness becomes valuable so that madness needs to be accessible through occasional worship. The Roman festival of the Lupercalia took place for one day a year where the mad men were in charge and the priests and judicial officials were out of sight. Earlier it was probably celebrated longer. The Gandharvas are considered monstrous demons in an Iranian Avestan text. In any case, Dumezil shows without a doubt that they have many exact similarities to the Kentaurs and Luperci and many habits that are taboo to flamines and brahmins. He also equates the Indian Manu with the judicial Numa and Manius of Rome as well as the more obvious Mannus of Germanic peoples. These are all early ancestors of these people, likely as well of common mythic origin. Manu is associated with the idea of faith, or sradda as Numa is associated with the god Fides, from which comes the words confide, and confidence – very similar to sradda as faith. Confidence in the laws and in the performance of proper sacrifice are what is portrayed as leading to a successful and meaningful life. Confidence in the laws between gods and men is akin to religious faith.
Vedic society was separated into priest, warrior, and herdsman-cultivator. Then there is a new synthesis of priest and warrior to make a pact of power. Mitra-Varuna is given in the Vedas several times as a single deity and in that order. In the Mitanni-Hittite treaty recorded around 1400 BC in Assyrian, Mitra-Varuna is invoked to seal the deal (as are Indra and the Ashvin twins). In the Avestan texts we see Mitra-Ahura, where Ahura Mazda is assumed to be developed from Varuna as an asura. Mitra is the friendly king while Varuna is the terrible king. Mitra is the lord of contracts and friendship. Friendship was sealed with the exchange of gifts. In the Satapatha Brahmana, Mitra and Varuna are contrasted as intelligence and will, as decision and act, and as the waning and waxing moon. Traditions also equate mitra with day and Varuna with night, Mitra with right and Varuna with left. They each receive different types of sacrifice according to their nature. Mitra receives milk and Varuna receives soma. Some of these notions may also apply to Zeus and Ouranos, to Jupiter Summanus and Dius Fideus. The wife of Manu, Ida, teaches him the bloodless sacrifice. Manu is said to be a descendent of the sun. Manu’s daughter Ila joins with the son of the moon god and gives birth to Pururavas, the first Gandharva king. So Manu heads the solar dynasty and Pururavas heads the lunar dynasty. Pururavas, like many of the wild kings had an chaotic nature, died a violent death, and was scorned by the rishis. Ila communicated between the solar and lunar dynasties and was said in some myths to alter from man to woman, changing sex monthly.
Dumezil makes an interesting case equating the Persian festivals of the spring and autumnal equinoxes with the sovereignty forms of Mitra and Varuna. He notes that the Mazdeans changed much of the pre-Mazdean Vedic dogmas but that changing seasonal traditions is more difficult to effect. Mihragan in spring is associated with Mithra and the end of the world and Narouz in the fall is associated with Ohrmazd (Ahura Mazda – or Varuna) and the beginning of the world. Since many animals couple (creativity and mating associated with the wild gods) in the autumn and cease coupling in the spring, this matches the pattern. The circle of the year then is complimentary. Varuna is the waxing moon and Mitra is the waning moon. Yim, or Yima instituted Nauroz. He is said to be in the bloodline of the Gandharvas. Yama in India is said to be the son of a Gandharva and to be the first man to experience death. Mihrjan was instituted by Faridun, the law abiding hero who establishes justice after the tyrannical reign of a monster.
Dumezil does make an observation that Indra had an ability to bypass the strict observance of the sacrifice and perhaps this represents mere special circumstances or a reform of earlier rules, as Indra seems to eclipse the power of Varuna in what have been interpreted as later parts of the Vedas. Also of similar interest is the depiction of Iranian Mithra in warrior manifestation, armed with none other than the vajra (Ir. vazra) which is the weapon of Indra. Dumezil notes the word denoting hammer or axe (likely borrowed) in Finno-Ugric languages as vasara, or vaecer in Lapp. In the Vedas, Indra alone wields the vajra but Indra is also amalgamated with the fighter Vtrahan as Indra-Vtrahan. In Persia it was apparently Mithra who merged with the fighter as Vrthragna, lord of offensive victory. This represents an evolution, or reform and so the Iranian Mithra does not wholly follow the pattern. Dumezil also notes that the relationship between Zeus and Ouranos is different from that of Mitra and Varuna. Zeus is the luminous day sky and Ouranos the night sky. Ouranos was hurled away after his defeat to far beyond space and time. The Indians say, “Mitra is this world, Varuna is the other world.” Zeus was probably influenced by deities from the Aegean area but obviously he is the thunderbolt warrior as well. Dumezil sees the pantheon of Zeus, Poseidon, and Pluto as different from the Indo-European models. So he sees a lot of Ancient Greek tradition as a combination of Indo-European and Aegean forms.
Dumezil sees the tripartite formula in Scandinavian as Odin – magician-king, Thor – champion-warrior, and Freyr as the peaceful producer. This denotes the same social structure noted in Indian society. Odin rides the wild hunt at night while his co-ruler Tyr represents the more rational form of day. The Romans referred to Tiwaz as Mars Thincsus, noting he had some military connections but his main function was to preside over the assemblies, called Thing. These assemblies were convened to make tribal decisions and enact laws. He is a law god and associated more with the rules of war than war itself. The Scandinavian Berserker-warriors clad in wolf-skins and bear skins are connected with Odin, and are not unlike the Gandharvas, Kentaurs, and especially the Luperci. Caesar mentioned that the Germanic tribes thought that prolonged habitation would cause them to lose the taste for war, succumb to peasant greed, get too used to comfort, get too attached to wealth, and to see as unfair a system that was depicted as fair and equal. Probably for these reasons land was re-distributed annually and this arrangement kept the tribes closer to the wild war god motif than the judicial one although the judicial god king was no less important.
In Celtic tradition, both Irish and Welsh, there is King Nuada of the Silver Arm also called Nodens. He loses an arm in battle and is then pronounced unfit to rule until a silver replacement arm is made for him. A king not possessed of all body parts is said to be unfit to rule. Tyr loses his right hand while tricking the dangerous wolf Fenris so that he can be bound. The weaponry of Tyr/Tiwaz is the manipulation of the law to which all are bound and must accept. He tricked Fenris but he did it legally and so Fenris was obliged to accept his binding. His placing his hand in the wolf’s mouth is the pledge or wager that must be accepted according to law. Other one-armed heroes include the Roman Mucius the Left-Handed who had a similar function.
The One-Eyed god Odin is referred to as the inspired magician king. The one eye refers to the second sight or inner sight, India has a whole series of info on this as the third eye of Shiva and the enlightened ones in Buddhist works. In Celtic terms there is the Fomorian Balor who battles with his powerful eye and his grandson Lugh of the Long Hand who smites magically as well by bulging out one eye. There is a one-eyed Roman hero called Cocles as well. The eye is the preferred weapon of the mad warrior type. Shiva also smites a few demons with his third eye. The Irish hero Cuchulain is another that produced a smiting grimace – no wonder as he was said to be fathered by Lugh himself. There are many-eyed deities and thousand armed deities in the Buddhist traditions also but these can be seen as practical manifestations evolved to envision deities with more power to aid others in their Bodhisattva aspects. Thus Chenrezik has eleven heads and a thousand eyes to see the suffering of all beings and a thousand arms to better alleviate the suffering of beings.
Dumezil then gives some interesting reasons why there were two battles of Mag Tured in Irish myth. He says it is because there are two types of warrior to be made supreme hero. Nuada loses his arm in the first battle. The magic eye of Lugh wins the second battle. After the first battle there is a uneasy compromise based on law and a Fomorian (Bress) is king for a while. In the second battle the victory is total as it is won with magic. So in the 2nd battle they avenged the legal blackmail that resulted from the first.
The last section compares the deities Savitr and Bhaga who appear in Vedic/Iranian and Bhaga as Bogu early Slavic contexts. These two deities are typically twinned in the Vedas. Savitra animates and creates as a solar deity and Bhaga distributes. Bhaga lost his eyes and Savitr lost his hands. They each got replacements given by the gods. They were mutilated in the context of sacrifice, the sacrifice which Savitr normally propels and Bhaga apportions. After their mutilations and replacement parts they were set up to preside over sacrifices offered by men. It is the first fruit of the sacrifice that cut off the hands of Savitr and then the eyes of Bhaga. Then they offered it to Pusan and it knocked out his teeth. When they offered it to Indra, he made it gentle using the magic formula called brahmana. This first sacrifice is equated to the sacrifice of Prajapati by Rudra’s arrow – for marrying his own daughter, but also to the sacrifice of Daksa, also equated to Prajapati. In some versions it is the wrath of Rudra that causes the mutilations. Here again is the danger of the wild god. There is a custom of saying, “I look on you with the eye of Mitra” when receiving the sacrifice to tame its danger.
The Cyclops and the Hundred-Handed Giants in Greek myth are other manifestations of arms and eyes that have relevance. The Hundred-Handed Giants are the first children of Uranus and Gaia and the Cyclops are included s the second wave of their children. Uranus imprisoned their monstrous forms but much later Zeus frees them and they help him overcome the titan Kronos, another son of Uranus. Zeus does unbind those bound by Uranus/Ouranos in a similar way to that which Indra supercedes the sacrificial rules regarding the functions of Varuna. The magician Wodhanaz and the combatant Thor may have a similar relationship. In Rome it is the priesthood that unbinds the bindings ordered by Romulus. He notes that the sovereignty of Zeus is helped to become established by the one-eyed and hundred-armed ones descended from and victimized by Uranus.
The concluding section compares the contrasting yet complementary sovereignty couple to ideas like the yin and yang of China which pervades not only government but all sorts of things as the two poles or extremes of all fundamental qualities. Perhaps it is in this way that the rhythm of the two extremes balance each other out as in the early Roman kings alternating between the two styles. In my own opinion there is also a resemblance to the American political system where two differing styles of government seem to alternate in a fairly regular pattern. In comparing the yang and yin to Mitra and Varuna he does note the commonly held notion of Varuna representing a fundamenytal female quality. Mitra and Varuna were basically joined into one form to perform their functions as gods to men. In the Satapatha Brahmana it is said that “Mitra ejaculated his seed into Varuna.” He notes that Varuna/Ouranos is heaven and Mitra more so represents earth. This would be opposite to the Chinese version where Heaven is yang and male while Earth is yin and female. Dumezil even suggests that this may have influenced Indian philosophy in the Samkya system where there is the male Purusha (Spiritual self) and the female Prakriti (Matter). In Vedanta a similar antithetical yet complimentary couple appears as Brahma and Maya. In some Vedic texts Mitra is regarded as the brahman. Maya is the great illusion made by the great magician – Varuna. He also notes that the Mitra-Varuna couplet is not to be seen like the Asvin twins as they are more or less identical and perform together a single function.
Wow, this was a really cool book by one quite scholarly in his comparisons. It shows rather without doubt that the Indo-European myths are all related. But there were changes, reforms, and even some likely reversals of functions. Reforms in the Iranian versions are very notable and some reversals of functions in the Celtic and Germanic forms are evident as well. The Greeks seem to be more syncretistic with other Mediterranean traditions and perhaps the Persians with other Middle Eastern traditions. The Romans seem to be very similar to the Vedic in these analyses but there are differences as well as each culture developed in different ways. I would love to read his book on Ouranos-Varuna written before this one in the 1930’s but I do not think it is even available in English. I heard a strange story about Dumezil when reading a review – that he once maimed a horse to see how long and where it would go before dying – in imitation of the horse sacrifice. If true it is rather disgusting but perhaps it is not true.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Book Review: The Forge and the Crucible: The Origins and Structures of Alchemy
by Mircea Eliade (Harper Torchbooks 1971, originally 1956)
This was a nice read. Eliade is famed as a master of anthropology and comparative myth. His vast knowledge and ability to compare many myths, ethnic traditions, textual sources, and psychological effects, shines through. The book is chiefly about the rites associated with metallurgy, mining, smithcraft, and alchemy in various cultures. It is about – Homo Faber – the notion of man controlling the environment through tools.
The book begins with notions of the source of metals being the sky. In some places, especially where there is little or no mine-able iron known, early man made iron tools from meteorites, which they knew were sky stones. I guess this implies that they saw them fall. So perhaps there were times in the past where more meteors fell than nowadays. Indeed, these observations probably led to notions of a sky-vault made of stone or metal. Meteorites as black stones have been venerated as well in the Middle East. The black stone of the Goddess Cybele is said to have been a Phrygian meteorite as well as the famous Ka’aba stone of Mecca. Meteoric iron was used for tools before the discovery of ores and metallurgy. The place where a meteor struck was thought to be a site of the union of heaven and earth, of the Storm God and the Earth Goddess. Of course, meteorites are rare and then were considered more precious than gold. The true Iron Age began when man discovered smelting of magnetite and hematite. It is said that between 1200 and 1000 BC in the mountains of Armenia was the first known industrial scale smelting. (as of this book 1962 edition). It was worked before that like copper and bronze but smelting, especially in the high heat of furnaces made better weapons and implements possible. With smelting was the smith born. Although Eliade does not mention this – if smithing begins with smelting then the myths of the smiths in various cultures may not be as old as one normally thinks. For instance, if Prometheus stole fire from the forge of Hephaestus, then Hephaestus would have had a furnace before man had fire. Knowing that man used fire many millenia before the Greek Gods were conceived – anyway I speculate – mixing myth with reality, just a weird thought. But copper smelting dates back to 4000-3500 BC in Sumeria (but not widespread) and use of copper in Neolithic Europe a few thousand years before that.
Next we come to the mythology of the Iron Age. Iron is considered sacred in many ancient cultures. Iron, as well as the smiths who work it, sometimes has an ambivalent character where smiths are revered and despised, or revered in some places and despised in others. The tools of the smith: hammer, bellows, and anvil, also retain magical qualities in many traditions. Smiths forge tools that aid and weapons that destroy. In some places the smith is a civilizing hero. The Tibetan smith-deity Dorje Legpa (related to Dantsien San – the storm god) rides a goat and is associated with agriculture. The West African Dogon smith god brings grain from heaven for the people. The Buriat Siberian heavenly smith Boshintoj taught metallurgy to the people and all smiths are said to descend from his family. Muslim tribes in the Pamirs elevate the prophet David as the source of smithing and the smithy is sacred and used as a polace of worship when a mosque is not available. There is another famous smith associated with the first dynasty in Iran that I read about in the Shah Nameh: The Persian Epic of Kings. His leather apron was affixed to the end of a spear as a symbol of unity to those gathered to fight an evil king. Eliade here gives the sequence of mythical images related to the storm god:
“the storm-gods strike the earth with the ‘thunderstones’; their emblem is the double axe and the hammer; the storm is the signal for the heaven-earth hierogamy. [sacred marriage] When striking their anvils smiths imitate the primordial gesture of the strong god; they are in effect his accessories. All the mythology woven around agrarian fertility, metallurgy, and work is, moreover, of relatively recent origin. Of later date than pottery and agriculture, metallurgy is set in the framework of a spiritual universe where the heavenly god, who was still present in the ethnological phases of food-gathering and small-game hunting, is finally ousted by the strong God, the fertilizing Male, spouse of the terrestrial Great Mother.”
Eliade relates these traditions to ritual marriage and blood sacrifice. Creation myths frequently involve the world created from the sacrifical body (usually a giant or monster) – Ymir, Tiamat, Purusha, Chaldean Bel etc. Thus he notes that in myth, creation is sacrifice. And based on this formula, humans sacrifice both humans and animals in order to reify the original sacrifice of the god or giant. There is an ancient Greek legend of the origin of iron being through sacrifice by two brothers of a third brother who was buried in the ground and became iron. In ancient Egypt iron was referred to as the bones of Horus.
Next there is some interesting discussion about myth and gender. Things are named male or female typically by the obvious looks and/or function. In terms of metals, iron is typically male while copper is usually female (also often associated with Venus and goddesses). Sometimes certain types of iron are male – usually hard and black and other types female – usually softer and red. There is some interesting discussion as well about the rituals associated with early citrus tree grafting and artificial fertilization of date trees in the Middle East. It seems that any time man stepped into the creative process there were associated rites and taboos. Anyway the smelting kiln or furnace as female is rather obvious as is the Vedic fire altar as female. The triangle as symbol of the vulva may stretch back to Paleolithic times. The cave or mine into the earth was seen as the uterus. The ore was thought to be embryos. Mining involves bringing the embryos out early to hasten their development (by smelting in the furnace). Here man is taking things from the earth before they are fully developed so that he can speed up the development as their natural development takes much longer. Apparently, many cultures had notions of metals gradually transforming into other metals – usually from less valuable to more valuable/rare – ie. from lead to gold. This suggests the birth of alchemy. Men born from stones occur in many myths. Stones can be considered the bones of the Earth Mother. There are notions in Indian gemology of quartz crystal being unripe while diamonds are ripe. So again we have the natural ripening of the stones in the belly of the earth. There are rites in many cultures where metals and precious stones are planted and watered, or otherwise ‘fed’ (as in Cherokee quartz). So we see that Alchemy involves the ritualized ripening of metals. Traditional associations of metals with the planets are fairly intuitive. Bright Gold to the Bright Sun; Shimmering Silver to the Moon; Hard Iron to the war god Mars; Soft Copper to the Goddess Venus; Heavy Lead to the Enslaving Saturn. The conjunction of very ancient earth fertility traditions and Babylonian cosmology and astrology in early times in the city of Alexandria may well have sparked the early alchemical traditions.
Subterranean spirits exist in many ancient cultures. There is also much lore associated with early mining. Where to find deposits may be revealed magically. In China there is the story of the happy miner, Yu the Great, who heals the earth. Dwarves, some faeries, and great master-smiths often live under the earth.
The marriage of metals as well has a long history. Early it was copper and tin to make bronze. There are stories where sacrifices are needed to get metal to fuse properly to forge swords. The living human, or a suitable substitution such as an animal or body parts like fingernails and hair, ritually enables the fusing of metals in several ancient cultural paradigms. My son informs me of a similar myth in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition where a bell of seven metals is being forged and the gold is having trouble fusing, whereby a woman leaps into the forge to affect the transformation. This likely derives from very similar Chinese legends regarding the forging of a sword. Tempering a sword is considered a union of Fire and Water. Perhaps this is equivalent to one of the refining processes in Alchemy as well.
Guilds and secret societies built up around smelting, forging, and smithery in many cultures. This is true among the West African traditions as well as the Mesopotamian traditions. The Mesopotamians are noted for sword development. The smith, (or builder, potter, and agriculturist for that matter) intervenes in the cosmic rhythm of creation, and so must do it according to mythic tradition in order to be successful. The magical transformations of ores and metals into exquisite tools and weapons led naturally to ideas of the transformation not only of matter, but of the spiritual qualities of man, along the same general principles. Fire is the transformative agent. Magic power is described in many cultures as heat. So mastery of fire can be on the outer, material sense, or in the sense of inner spiritual experience. So we see that smiths are sometimes seen to be on the same magical level as shamans. There is a custom among the Buriat smiths and shamans where a person representing the smith-god Boshintoj would take in his hands a piece of iron being smelted. This is done even today. I know a Bon lama whose father or uncle was a shaman and did a similar thing (without getting burned if I recall). Siberian shamans wear metal on there costumes made by smiths. The metal is said to repel evil spirits but is also representative of man’s mastery over fire. In Africa, the craft of metallurgy is presided over by secret societies. Sometimes the smith doubles as town chief. Among the Yoruba, Ogun, the war god, is also the first smith, and founder of the secret society. In many myths (Canaanite, Egyptian, Indian, Babylonian, Greek, etc.) the divine smith forges weapons so that the civilizing god (Baal, Horus, Indra, Marduk, Zeus, etc.) can defeat the chthonic dragon mother power (Yam, Set, Vritra, Tiamat, Typhon, etc). Some say that the Cyclops are one-eyed because they were smiths and lost an eye at work. Thor slays a magic serpent power with his hammer forged underground by dwarfs, who Eliade says are equivalent to the Cyclops (as well the Japanese smith-god is said to be one-eyed). It is thunder and lightning that are the weapons forged by the smith gods. So the storm powers, the sky powers, become venerated after this series of mythologies in the early Iron Age. In Ancient Greek lands there were secret guilds associated with smithery that later became the secret groups guarding the Mysteries. The Telchines, Cabiri, Kuretes, Corybantes ,and Dactyls all had legends as originators of iron-craft. Some of these became the priests of Cybele, others were guardians of the child Zeus. These groups were often far off in secretive places in the mountains. The dwarf master-smiths of Scandinavia lived inside the mountains. A smith race among the Dogon in West Africa were also said to have retreated to live within the mountains. The mastery of fire is also a motif of the warrior as well as the shaman, smith, magician, and yogi-ascetic. All enter initiation by fire, or healing through the fire of initiation. Even in some Christian imagery (especially in Gnostic versions of baptism by fire) we have Jesus, as well as the Devil, as a master of fire.
Next he investigates Chinese Alchemy and Taoism. The legends of the attainment of immortality here are tied strongly to alchemy and have many parallels to Alexandrian and the Alchemy of the Middle Ages. Early Taoist alchemists kept recipes and plant and mineral lore. The Herb of Immortality, or elixir of eternal youth, is a common theme and quest. The Taoist immortals are said to dwell in their grottoes within the calabash, or gourd, ie. the furnace/forge. Taoist yogic practices utilize the forge in the body center, dan tien. Gold and immortality were equated in Chinese Alchemy as in the West. Jade and cinnabar are also very magical in the Taoist versions. There are detailed relationships between Chinese Alchemy, Chinese Medicine, and Taoist Yoga. In the Yoga, the central region, the dan tien below the navel may be equated with the mystical mountain Ku Lun where the cinnabar fields dwell as embryos, in the earth, in the body – to be transformed in the furnace within. There is an idea of a – return to the matrix – or the materia prima – the primal material – into the ‘chaotic state’ – through meditation. The return to the matrix state is associated with embryonic breathing, or breathing by imitating the fetus in the womb. Stopping of the breath was also practiced, often as a method to immobilize the semen, a practice said to increase longevity. This is very similar to Indian yogic methods and who developed them first or influenced one another, if at all, is rather unknown.
Next we come to Indian Alchemy. Yoga and Tantra are intimately entwined with it. Alchemists and siddhas go hand in hand in India. The many yogic methods involve the transmutation of the body-mind. According to the famed Buddhist Alchemist and Mahayanist Nagarjuna, transmutation of matter (and mind) can be effected by both herbs and Samadhi (perfected yoga). Some researchers have tried to say that Indian Alchemy was influenced by the Middle Eastern Alchemy of the Arabs which derived from the Alexandrian tradition but Eliade and others refute this as Nagarjuna’s texts far predate contact with Arabs. Many Hindu Tantras talk about transformations with mercury and sulfur. Some of those may have been affected by Western or Arabian Alchemy. But in most all cases alchemy is associated foremost with yogic transformation more than the transmutation of matter.
Eliade talks a lot in the book about equating the transformation of the initiate of the mystery school to that of matter – in that matter itself becomes the initiate and is transformed by the same methods, both chemical and magical. He notes also some of C. J. Jung’s notions of alchemy as a psychological initiation process. The development of Alexandrian Alchemy involved a mixing of traditions, Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, and those of shamanic antiquity. Later, in the Middle Ages and Rennaissance, the Christian symbolism was added (or possibly even earlier in 3rd to 5th century CE times in Alexandria) to culminate in the traditions of the Freemasons and Rosicrucians who preserved much alchemical lore. The lore of the death and resurrection of Christ joined the lore of the Alchemists long ago coming from much earlier traditions of the dying and transformed god. The negredo, or black phase, in alchemy refers to the initiatory death, the reduction to the materia prima in the body of the mother – the embryo to be re-born. Apparently, Jung has done much work with the parallels between the resurrection of the Christ and the attainment of the Philosopher’s Stone. Like the state of Samadhi, the Philosopher’s Stone is imbued with the ability to transmute base metals into gold. The Arabians were reputedly the first to ascribe health giving properties to the Stone.
Next Eliade investigates a more modern equivalent to the myth of Homo Faber, or man improving on nature. Here he talks about the Industrial Age. Nowhere is the acceleration of time more prominent than in industrialization. He notes rather interestingly that all sacred notions regarding the work of manufacture have been stripped in the scientific age. He compares the beginnings of agriculture as the previous great upheaval in man’s way of life. The next great one he sees is that of industrialization of work. Both he regards as spiritual crises:
“The secularization of work is like an open wound in the body of modern society. There is, however, nothing to indicate that a re-sanctification may not take place in the future.”
Regarding the implications of the discovery and use of metals he says:
“Not only did the manipulation of metals contribute considerably to man’s conquest of the material world; it also changed his world of meaning. The metals opened for him a new mythological and religious universe.”
Of course, he says, agriculture was an even more profound change. Regarding Alchemy and mystical traditions he notes:
“Everywhere we find alchemy, it is always intimately related to a “mystical’ tradition: in China with Taoism, in India with Yoga and Tantrism, in Hellenistic Egypt with gnosis, in Islamic countries with hermetic and esoteric mystery schools, in the Western Middle Ages and Renaissance with Hermetism, Christian and sectarian mysticism, and Cabala,”
Finally in the book he goes through additional material in the form of relevant new papers and books written since the making of the 2nd edition of the book. This is a great book and it was fun to read from the works of the acclaimed master and I plan to read more from Eliade. Since my son is really into blacksmithing we are also having some good discussions and I intend to get him to at least read this review I have penned.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Book Review: Vedic Deities by M. P. Pandit (Lotus Light Publications 1989)
M. P. Pandit is in the tradition of the famed Sri Aurobindu, who was a remarkable yogi and western-trained scholar. This is a short book which focuses on some of the lesser-known deities of the Vedas. Instead of the more common deities of Indra, Agni, Varuna,
Vishnu, Soma, and Mitra – there is information about Aditi, the mother of the gods, or Adityas. She is equated with infinity and the mid-realm of the sky between heaven and earth. She is said to be she “who embraces the Vast.” Aditi is said to be horseless, or without a vehicle, as other Vedic gods have vehicles. The author emphasizes (using Vedic passages) that she is more of a personal mother goddess than an abstract concept as she has been depicted by scholars. He points out that Aditi is often addressed as Varuna or Agni. Several of the Vedic deities seem to share this notion of sort of being one another. This may have been a strong factor in Max Mueller ( a western scholar of the Vedas) referring to the notion of henotheism, where various deities are aspects of one main deity concept or godhead. There is also a section on Surya, the sun god, and two sections about the rather mysterious. There is much conjecture about the Maruts, or howlers, associated with wrathful Rudra and life-energies or thought-energies. They are sometimes considered to be storm gods as well.
Sri Aurobindo advocated a metaphorical interpretation of the Rig Veda and posited what he thought were some keys to metaphors. For instance, the cow is thought to refer to the rays of the Sun or Light. Thus there is the term, ray-cows, interpreted in the texts. With their different hues they are also rather obviously associated with the primary colors of light as the ROYGBIV. In the section on Surya, the Vedic sun god there is the observation that Surya is not merely the deified Sun but the Sacred itself as the Truth-Sun that illuminates and nourishes the consciousness of the universe. Since the Vedas are considered to be Shruti, or revealed literature, derived from the Rishis (seers) through their interpretation of the cosmic-truth sounds, then metaphorical meanings are likely. They are even strongly suggested in the hymns themselves. So the deified aspects of nature of a very long-ago people make up only a part of the intended meaning. Inner growth is definitely hinted at and comes out as the main feature f the Upanisads that followed the Vedas. We all seem to intuit the idea of the - Light of Truth, or the Light of Knowledge. That is certainly suggested in the hymns to the solar deities – Surya, Indra, Savitri, Vishnu, and in the Gayatri Mantra which venerates the solar power as divine. The seven horse who bear the chariot of Surya are seen as the seven cosmic rays of creation by some Vedic-derived philosophies.
There are a couple chapters about the Maruts, sons of Rudra and of Prishni – the dappled cow, and members of Indra’s warrior band. Aurobindo seems to equate them with both the physical and mental energies of spiritual awakening. Indo-European scholars have made the rather logical correlation of Maruts with Mars – since as Indra’s warrior prowess-energies. So they are thought of as martial spirits of sorts. But here the metaphorical aspect is emphasized. They are perhaps more like the energy of enthusiasm or mindfulness associated with awareness. My own feeling is that they are more like energies of hyper-alertness associated with the battle-state and by comparison to the energy of spiritual practice – where in the Vedas – the ascetic practices – tapas – are said to make heat. The Maruts are associated with wind. Interestingly, there are wind spirits in Polynesia called maru and in Estonian called maro, or marutu. The Estonian may come from a nearby IE language or as a loan word, who knows. The rishi-sage Vasistha says that only a rishi can even know of the mysterious maruts as they arise from the illumined mind. Here is a quote describing the Maruts from Sri Aurobindo:
“... luminous and violent gods of the storm and lightning, uniting in themselves the power of Vayu, the Wind, the Breath, the Lord of Life and the Force of Agni, the Seer-Will, are therefore seers who do the work by the knowledge, kavayo vidmana apasah, as well as battling forces who by the power of the heavenly Breath and the heavenly lightning overthrow the established things, the artificial obstructions, krtimani rodhamsi in which the sons of darkness have entrenched themselves and aid Indra to overcome Vritya and the Dasyus. They seem to be in the esoteric Veda the Life-powers that support by their nervous or vital energies the action of the thought in the attempt of the mortal consciousness to grow or expand itself into the Immortality of Truth and Bliss.”
Aurobindo also refers to the Maruts as the Thought Gods. In the hymns they are referred to among other things, as heroes that make the Heaven and Earth grow and increase, and as “Creators of speech,” and as “doers of happy deeds.” They can be associated with battle-energies, consciousness-expansion-energies, and as healing energies. They are also known as sanctifiers of the rites.
In the Vedas, sacrifice, is basically a pact/relationship between humans and the gods. Agni, the god of fire, carries the sacrifice to the gods – just as the gods offered Agni as a sacrifice to humans to bear up their sacrifices to the gods. Sacrifice may be considered a
The final chapter is about the Vratya Kanda section of the Atharva Veda which consists of 220 prose mantras by the seer Atharva where the deity is Vratya. Normally, the word vratya refers to an outcaste, or one who lives on the fringe of society as a non-Vedic. However, in this context it may well refer to the supreme being as Paramatman, being outside the confines of conceptuality and definition. The text describes the birthing of the cosmos out of the Being of Brahma, the Vratya. This is the well-known Hindu creation story of the Prajapati coming from the Mind of Brahma, who creates the universe and all of its inhabitants out of the cosmic truth substance. The author praises a commentary book on the text by Sri Sampurnanand called – The Athyarveda: Vratyakanda. Here
Satya and Rta, so-called cosmic truth and cosmic order, are said to arise from the Tapas, or heat, of spiritual practice. Sri Sampurnananda sya that Satya refers to the immutable law of nature, while rta (from which comes our word – right) refers to the equally immutable law of morality.
Overall, this book was a little difficult for me as I did not seem to click with some of the explanations. I did not find many of the passages real inspiring. Sri Aurobindo is certainly very insightful but I think the subject of some of the Vedic hymns can be difficult in that they are often cryptic. I could not help but feel that the author and some of the Aurobindo quotes were sort of reaching in to pull out the deeper interpretations – quite well in some cases and perhaps not so well in others. Of course, most of the epic IE literature is cryptic and rather difficult to catch with the mind at times so I am not really faulting the authors here.