|PAGAN AND CHRISTIAN CREEDS|
Their Origin and Meaning
|The Edward Carpenter Archive|
by Simon Dawson
Thus we come to a thing which we must not pass over, because it throws great light on the meaning and interpretation of all these rites and ceremonies of the great World-religion. I mean the subject of the Ancient Mysteries. And to this I will give a few pages.
These Mysteries were probably survivals of the oldest religious rites of the Greek races, and in their earlier forms consisted not so much in worship of the gods of Heaven as of the divinities of Earth, and of Nature and Death. Crude, no doubt, at first, they gradually became (especially in their Eleusinian form) more refined and philosophical; the rites were gradually thrown open, on certain conditions, not only to men generally, but also to women, and even to slaves; and in the end they influenced Christianity deeply. (Footnote 1)
There were apparently three forms of teaching made use of in these rites: these were legomena, things said; deiknumena, things shown; and drwmena, things performed or acted. (Footnote 2) I have given already some instances of things said-texts whispered for consolation in the neophyte's car, and so forth; of the third group, things enacted, we have a fair amount of evidence. There were ritual dramas or passion-plays, of which an important one dealt with the descent of Kore or Proserpine into the underworld, as in the Eleusinian representations, (Footnote 3) and her redemption and restoration to the upper world in Spring; another with the sufferings of Psyche and her rescue by Eros, as described by Apuleius (Footnote 4) - himself an initiate in the cult of Isis. There is a parody by Lucian, which tells of the birth of Apollo, the marriage of Coronis, and the coming of Aesculapius as Savior; there was the dying and rising again of Dionysus (chief divinity of the Orphic cult); and sometimes the mystery of the birth of Dionysus as a holy child. (Footnote 5) There was, every year at Eleusis, a solemn and lengthy procession or pilgrimage made, symbolic of the long pilgrimage of the human soul, its sufferings and deliverance.
"Almost always," says Dr. Cheetham, "the suffering of a god - suffering followed by triumph - seems to have been the subject of the sacred drama." Then occasionally to the Neophytes, after taking part in the pilgrimage, and when their minds had been prepared by an ordeal of darkness and fatigue and terrors, was accorded a revelation of Paradise, and even a vision of Transfiguration - the form of the Hierophant himself, or teacher of the Mysteries, being seen half-lost in a blaze of light. (Footnote 6) Finally, there was the eating of food and drinking of barley-drink from the sacred chest (Footnote 7) - a kind of Communion or Eucharist.
Apuleius in The Golden Ass gives an interesting account of his induction into the mysteries of Isis: how, bidding farewell one evening to the general congregation outside, and clothed in a new linen garment, he was handed by the priest into the inner recesses of the temple itself; how he
"approached the confines of death, and having trod on the threshold of Proserpine (the Underworld), returned therefrom, being borne through all the elements. At midnight I saw the sun shining with its brilliant light: and I approached the presence of the Gods beneath and the Gods above, and stood near and worshipped them." During the night things happened which must not be disclosed; but in the morning he came forth "consecrated by being dressed in twelve stoles painted with the figures of animals." (Footnote 8)
He ascended a pulpit in the midst of the Temple, carrying in his right hand a burning torch, while a chaplet encircled his head, from which palm-leaves projected like rays of light.
"Thus arrayed like the Sun, and placed so as to resemble a statue, on a sudden the curtains being drawn aside, I was exposed to the gaze of the multitude. After this I celebrated the most joyful day of my initiation, as my natal day [day of the New Birth] and there was a joyous banquet and mirthful conversation."
One can hardly refuse to recognize in this account the description of some kind of ceremony which was supposed to seal the illumination of a man and his new birth into divinity - the animal origin, the circling of all experience, the terrors of death, and the resurrection in the form of the Sun, the symbol of all light and life. The very word "illumination" carries the ideas of light and a new birth with it. Reitzenstein in his very interesting book on the Greek Mysteries (Footnote 9) speaks over and over again of the illumination (fwtismos) which was held to attend Initiation and Salvation. The doctrine of Salvation indeed (swthria) was, as we have already seen, rife and widely current in the Second Century B. C. It represented a real experience, and the man who shared this experience became a qeios anqrwpos or divine man. (Footnote 10 ) In the Orphic Tablets the phrase "I am a child of earth and the starry heaven, but my race is of heaven (alone)" occurs more than once. In one of the longest of them the dead man is instructed "after he has passed the waters (of Lethe) where the white Cypress and the House of Hades are" to address these very words to the guardians of the Lake of Memory while he asks for a drink of cold water from that Lake. In another the dead person himself is thus addressed: "Hail, thou who hast endured the Suffering, such as indeed thou hadst never suffered before; thou hast become god from man!" (Footnote 11) Ecstacy was the acme of the religious life; and, what is especially interesting to us, Salvation or the divine nature was open to all men - to all, that is, who should go through the necessary stages of preparation for it. (Footnote 12)
Reitzenstein contends (p. 26) that in the Mysteries, transfiguration (metamorfwsis), salvation (swthria), and new birth (paliggenesia) were often conjoined. He says (p. 31), that in the Egyptian Osiris-cult, the Initiate acquires a nature "equal to God" (isoqeos), the very same expression as that used of Christ Jesus in Philippians ii. 6; he mentions Apollonius of Tyana and Sergius Paulus as instances of men who by their contemporaries were considered to have attained this nature; and he quotes Akhnaton (Pharaoh of Egypt in 1375 B.C.) as having said, "Thou art in my heart; none other knows Thee, save thy son Akhnaton; Thou hast initiated him into thy wisdom and into thy power." He also quotes the words of Hermes (Trismegistus) - "Come unto Me, even as children to their mother's bosom: Thou art I, and I am Thou; what is thine is mine, and what is mine is thine; for indeed I am thine image (eidwlon)," and refers to the dialogue between Hermes and Tat, in which they speak of the great and mystic New Birth and Union with the All - with all Elements, Plants and Animals, Time and Space.
"The Mysteries," says Dr. Cheetham very candidly, "influenced Christianity considerably and modified it in some important respects"; and Dr. Hatch, as we have seen, not only supports this general view, but follows it out in detail. (Footnote 13) He points out that the membership of the Mystery-societies was very numerous in the earliest times, A.D.; that their general aims were good, including a sense of true religion, decent life, and brotherhood; that cleanness from crime and confession were demanded from the neophyte; that confession was followed by baptism (kaqarsis) and that by sacrifice; that the term fwtismos (illumination) was adopted by the Christian Church as the name for the new birth of baptism; that the Christian usage of placing a seal on the forehead came from the same source; that baptism itself after a time was called a mystery (musihriou); that the sacred cakes and barley-drink of the Mysteries became the milk and honey and bread and wine of the first Christian Eucharists, and that the occasional sacrifice of a lamb on the Christian altar ("whose mention is often suppressed") probably originated in the same way. Indeed, the conception of the communion-table as an altar and many other points of ritual gradually established themselves from these sources as time went on. (Footnote 14) It is hardly necessary to say more in proof of the extent to which in these ancient representations "things said" and "scenes enacted" forestalled the doctrines and ceremonials of Christianity.
But what of the second group above-mentioned, the "things shown"? It is not so easy naturally to get exact information concerning these, but they seem to have been specially holy objects, probably things connected with very ancient rituals in the past - such as sacred stones, old and rude images of the gods, magic nature-symbols, like that half-disclosed ear of corn above-mentioned (Ch. V.). "In the Temple of Isis at Philae," says Dr. Cheetham,
"the dead body of Osiris is represented with stalks of corn springing from it, which a priest waters from a vessel. An inscription says: 'This is the form of him whom we may not name, Osiris of the Mysteries who sprang from the returning waters' [the Nile]."
Above all, no doubt, there were images of the phallus and the vulva, the great symbols of human fertility. We have seen (Ch. XII) that the lingam and the yoni are, even down to to-day, commonly retained and honored as holy objects in the S. Indian Temples, and anointed with oil (some of them) for a very practical reason. Sir J. G. Frazer, in his lately published volumes on The Folk-lore of the Old Testament, has a chapter (in vol. ii) on the very numerous sacred stones of various shapes and sizes found or spoken of in Palestine and other parts of the world. Though uncertain as to the meaning of these stones he mentions that they are "frequently, though not always, upright." Anointing them with oil, he assures us, "is a widespread practice, sometimes by women who wish to obtain children." And he concludes the chapter by saying:
"The holy stone at Bethel was probably one of those massive standing stones or rough pillars which the Hebrews called masseboth, and which, as we have seen, were regular adjuncts of Canaanite and early Israelitish sanctuaries."
We have already mentioned the pillars Jachin and Boaz which stood before the Temple of Solomon, and which had an acknowledged sexual significance; and so it seems probable that a great number of these holy stones had a similar meaning. (Footnote 15) Following this clue it would appear likely that the lingam thus anointed and worshipped in the Temples of India and elsewhere is the original cristos (Footnote 16) adored by the human race from the very beginning, and that at a later time, when the Priest and the King, as objects of worship, took the place of the Lingam, they also were anointed with the chrism of fertility. That the exhibition of these emblems should be part of the original 'Mystery'-rituals was perfectly natural - especially because, as we have explained already (Footnote 17) old customs often continued on in a quite naive fashion in the rituals, when they had come to be thought indecent or improper by a later public opinion; and (we may say) was perfectly in order, because there is plenty of evidence to show that in savage initiations, of which the Mysteries were the linear descendants, all these things were explained to the novices, and their use actually taught. (Footnote 18) No doubt also there were some representations or dramatic incidents of a fairly coarse character, as deriving from these ancient sources. (Footnote 19) It is, however, quaint to observe how the mere mention of such things has caused an almost hysterical commotion among the critics of the Mysteries - from the day of the early Christians who (in order to belaud their own religion) were never tired of abusing the Pagans, onward to the present day when modern scholars either on the one hand follow the early Christians in representing the Mysteries as sinks of iniquity or on the other (knowing this charge could not be substantiated except in the period of their final decadence) take the line of ignoring the sexual interest attaching to them as non-existent or at any rate unworthy of attention. The good Archdeacon Cheetham, for instance, while writing an interesting book on the Mysteries passes by this side of the subject almost as if it did not exist; while the learned Dr. Farnell, overcome apparently by the weight of his learning, and unable to confront the alarming obstacle presented by these sexual rites and aspects, hides himself behind the rather non-committal remark (speaking of the Eleusinian rites) "we have no right to imagine any part of this solemn ceremony as coarse or obscene." (Footnote 20) As Nature, however, has been known (quite frequently) to be coarse or obscene, and as the initiators of the Mysteries were probably neither 'good' nor 'learned,' but were simply anxious to interpret Nature as best they could, we cannot find fault with the latter for the way they handled the problem, nor indeed well see how they could have handled it better.
After all it is pretty clear that the early peoples saw in Sex the great cohesive force which kept (we will not say Humanity but at any rate) the Tribe together, and sustained the race. In the stage of simple Consciousness this must have been one of the first things that the budding intellect perceived. Sex became one of the earliest divinities, and there is abundant evidence that its organs and processes generally were invested with a religious sense of awe and sanctity. It was in fact the symbol (or rather the actuality) of the permanent undying life of the race, and as such was sacred to the uses of the race. Whatever taboos may have, among different peoples, guarded its operations, it was not essentially a thing to be concealed, or ashamed of. Rather the contrary. For instance the early Christian writer, Hippolytus, Bishop of Pontus (A.D. 200), in his Refutation of all Heresies, Book V, says that the Samothracian Mysteries, just mentioned, celebrate Adam as the primal or archetypal Man eternal in the heavens; and he then continues:
"Habitually there stand in the temple of the Samothracians two images of naked men having both hands stretched aloft towards heaven, and their pudenda turned upwards, as is also the case with the statue of Mercury on Mt. Cyllene. And the aforesaid images are figures of the primal man, and of that spiritual one that is born again, in every respect of the same substance with that [first] man."
This extract from Hippolytus occurs in the long discourse in which he 'exposes' the heresy of the so-called Naassene doctrines and mysteries. But the whole discourse should be read by those who wish to understand the Gnostic philosophy of the period contemporary with and anterior to the birth of Christianity. A translation of the discourse, carefully analyzed and annotated, is given in G. R. S. Mead's Thrice-greatest Hermes (Footnote 21) (vol. i); and Mead himself, speaking of it, says (p. 141): "The claim of these Gnostics was practically that the good news of the Christ [the Christos] was the consummation of the inner doctrine of the Mystery-institutions of all the nations; the end of them all being the revelation of the Mystery of Man." Further, he explains that the Soul, in these doctrines, was regarded as synonymous with the Cause of All; and that its loves were twain - of Aphrodite (or Life), and of Persephone (or Death and the other world). Also that Attis, abandoning his sex in the worship of the Mother-Goddess (Dea Syria), ascends to Heaven - a new man, Male-female, and the origin of all things: the hidden Mystery being the Phallus itself, erected as Hermes in all roads and boundaries and temples, the Conductor and Reconductor of Souls.
All this may sound strange, but one may fairly say that it represented in its degree, and in that first 'unfallen' stage of human thought and psychology, a true conception of the cosmic Life, and indeed a conception quite sensible and admirable, until, of course, the Second Stage brought corruption. No sooner was this great force of the cosmic life diverted from its true uses of Generation and Regeneration (Footnote 22) and appropriated by the individual to his own private pleasure - no sooner was its religious character as a tribal service (Footnote 23) , (often rendered within the Temple precincts) lost sight of or degraded into a commercial transaction - than every kind of evil fell upon mankind. Corruptio optimi pessima. It must be remembered too that simultaneous with this sexual disruption occurred the disruption of other human relations; and we cease to be surprised that disease and selfish passions, greed, jealousy, slander, cruelty, and wholesale murder, raged - and have raged ever since.
But for the human soul - whatever its fate, and whatever the dangers and disasters that threaten it - there is always redemption waiting. As we saw in the last chapter, this corruption of Sex led (quite naturally) to its denial and rejection; and its denial led to the differentiation from it of Love. Humanity gained by the enthronement And deification of Love, pure and undefiled, and (for the time being) exalted beyond this mortal world, and free from all earthly contracts. But again in the end, the divorce thus introduced between the physical and the spiritual led to the crippling of both. Love relegated, so to speak, to heaven as a purely philanthropical, pious and 'spiritual' affair, became exceedingly dull; and sex, remaining on earth, but deserted by the redeeming presence, fell into mere "carnal curiosity and wretchedness of unclean living." Obviously for the human race there remains nothing, in the final event, but the reconciliation of the physical and the spiritual, and after many sufferings, the reunion of Eros and Psyche.
There is still, however, much to be said about the Third State of Consciousness. Let us examine into it a little more closely. Clearly, since it is a new state, and not merely an extension of a former one, one cannot arrive at it by argument derived from the Second state, for all conscious Thought such as we habitually use simply keeps us in the Second state. No animal or quite primitive man could possibly understand what we mean by Self-consciousness till he had experienced it. Mere argument would not enlighten him. And so no one in the Second state can quite realize the Third state till he has experienced it. Still, explanations may help us to perceive in what direction to look, and to recognize in some of our experiences an approach to the condition sought.
Evidently it is a mental condition in some respects more similar to the first than to the second stage. The second stage of human psychologic evolution is an aberration, a divorce, a parenthesis. With its culmination and dismissal the mind passes back into the simple state of union with the Whole. (The state of Ekagrata in the Hindu philosophy: one-pointedness, singleness of mind.) And the consciousness of the Whole, and of things past and things to come and things far around - which consciousness had been shut out by the concentration on the local self - begins to return again. This is not to say, of course, that the excursus in the second stage has been a loss and a defect. On the contrary, it means that the Return is a bringing of all that has been gained during the period of exile (all sorts of mental and technical knowledge and skill, emotional developments, finesse and adaptability of mind) back into harmony with the Whole. It means ultimately a great gain. The Man, perfected, comes back to a vastly extended harmony. He enters again into a real understanding and confidential relationship with his physical body and with the body of the society in which he dwells - from both of which he has been sadly divorced; and he takes up again the broken thread of the Cosmic Life.
Everyone has noticed the extraordinary consent sometimes observable among the members of an animal community - how a flock of 500 birds (e. g. starlings) will suddenly change its direction of flight - the light on the wings shifting instantaneously, as if the impulse to veer came to all at the same identical moment; or how bees will swarm or otherwise act with one accord, or migrating creatures (lemmings, deer, gossamer spiders, winged ants) the same. Whatever explanation of these facts we favor - whether the possession of swifter and finer means of external communication than we can perceive, or whether a common and inner sensitivity to the genius of the Tribe (the "Spirit of the Hive") or to the promptings of great Nature around - in any case these facts of animal life appear to throw light on the possibilities of an accord and consent among the members of emaciated humanity, such as we dream of now, and seem to bid us have good hope for the future.
It is here, perhaps, that the ancient worship of the Lingam comes in. The word itself is apparently connected with our word 'link,' and has originally the same meaning. (Footnote 24) It is the link between the generations. Beginning with the worship of the physical Race-life, the course of psychologic evolution has been first to the worship of the Tribe (or of the Totem which represents the tribe); then to the worship of the human-formed God of the tribe - the God who dies and rises again eternally, as the tribe passes on eternal - though its members perpetually perish; then to the conception of an undying Savior, and the realization and distinct experience of some kind of Super-consciousness which does certainly reside, more or less hidden, in the deeps of the mind, and has been waiting through the ages for its disclosure and recognition. Then again to the recognition that in the sacrifices, the Slayer and the Slain are one - the strange and profoundly mystic perception that the God and the Victim are in essence the same - the dedication of 'Himself to Himself' (Footnote 25) and simultaneously with this the interpretation of the Eucharist as meaning, even for the individual, the participation in Eternal Life - the continuing life of the Tribe, or ultimately of Humanity. (Footnote 26) The Tribal order rises to Humanity; love ascends from the lingam to yogam, from physical union alone to the union with the Whole - which of course includes physical and all other kinds of union. No wonder that the good St. Paul, witnessing that extraordinary whirlpool of beliefs and practices, new and old, there in the first century A.D. - the unabashed adoration of sex side by side with the transcendental devotions of the Vedic sages and the Gnostics - became somewhat confused himself and even a little violent, scolding his disciples (I Cor. x. 21) for their undiscriminating acceptance, as it seemed to him, of things utterly alien and antagonistic. "Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table and the table of devils."
Every careful reader has noticed the confusedness of Paul's mind and arguments. Even taking only those Epistles (Galatians, Romans and Corinthians) which the critics assign to his pen, the thing is observable - and some learned Germans even speak of two Pauls. (Footnote 27) But also the thing is quite natural. There can be little doubt that Paul of Tarsus, a Jew brought up in the strictest sect of the Pharisees, did at some time fall deeply under the influence of Greek thought, and quite possibly became an initiate in the Mysteries. It would be difficult otherwise to account for his constant use of the Mystery-language. Reitzenstein says (p. 59):
"The hellenistic religious literature must have been read by him; he uses its terms, and is saturated with its thoughts (see Rom. vi. 1-14."
And this conjoined with his Jewish experience gave him creative power.
"A great deal in his sentiment and thought may have remained Jewish, but to his Hellenism he was indebted for his love of freedom and his firm belief in his apostleship."
He adopts terms (like sarkikos, yucikos and pneumatikos) (Footnote 28) which were in use among the hellenistic sects of the time; and he writes, as in Romans vi. 4, 5, about being "buried" with Christ or "planted" in the likeness of his death, in words which might well have been used (with change of the name) by a follower of Attis or Osiris after witnessing the corresponding 'mysteries'; certainly the allusion to these ancient deities would have been understood by every religionist of that day. These few points are sufficient to accentuate the two elements in Paul, the Jewish and the Greek, and to explain (so far) the seeming confusion in his utterances. Further it is interesting to note - as showing the pagan influences in the N. T. writings - the degree to which the Epistle to Philemon (ascribed to Paul) is full - short as it is - of expressions like prisoner of the Lord, fellow soldier, captive or bondman, (Footnote 29) which were so common at the time as to be almost a cant in Mithraism and the allied cults. In I Peter ii. 2 (Footnote 30) , we have the verse "As newborn babes, desire ye the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." And again we may say that no one in that day could mistake the reference herein contained to old initiation ceremonies and the new birth (as described in Chapter VIII above), for indeed milk was the well-known diet of the novice in the Isis mysteries, as well as (in some savage tribes) of the Medicine-man when practising his calling.
And here too Democracy comes in - strangely foreboded from the first in all this matter. (Footnote 31) Not only does the Third Stage bring illumination, intuitive understanding of processes in Nature and Humanity, sympathy with the animals, artistic capacity, and so forth, but it necessarily brings a new Order of Society. A preposterous - one may almost say a hideous - social Age is surely drawing to its end, The debacle we are witnessing to-day all over Europe (including the, British Islands), the break-up of old institutions, the generally materialistic outlook on life, the coming to the surface of huge masses of diseased and fatuous populations, the scum and dregs created by the past order, all point to the End of a Dispensation. Protestantism and Commercialism, in the two fields of religion and daily life have, as I have indicated before, been occupied in concentrating the mind of each man solely on his own welfare, the salvation of his own soul or body. These two forces have therefore been disruptive to the last degree; they mark the culmination of the Self-conscious Age - a culmination in War, Greed, Materialism, and the general principle of Devil- take-the-hindmost - and the clearing of the ground for the new order which is to come. So there is hope for the human race. Its evolution is not all a mere formless craze and jumble. There is an inner necessity by which Humanity unfolds from one degree or plane of consciousness to another. And if there has been a great 'Fall' or Lapse into conflict and disease and 'sin' and misery, occupying the major part of the Historical period hitherto, we see that this period is only brief, so to speak, in comparison with the whole curve of growth and expansion. We see also that, as I have said before, the belief in a state of salvation or deliverance has in the past ages never left itself quite without a witness in the creeds and rituals and poems and prophecies of mankind. Art, in some form or other, as an activity or inspiration dating not from the conscious Intellect, but from deeper regions of sub-conscious feeling and intuition, has continually come to us as a message from and an evidence of the Third stage or state, and as a promise of its more complete realization under other conditions.
Through the long night-time where the Nations wander
From Eden past to Paradise to be,
Art's sacred flowers, like fair stars shining yonder,
Alone illumine Life's obscurity.
O gracious Artists, out of your deep hearts
'Tis some great Sun, I doubt, by men unguessed,
Whose rays come struggling thus, in slender darts,
To shadow what Is, till Time shall manifest.
With the Cosmic stage comes also necessarily the rehabilitation of the whole of Society in one fellowship (the true Democracy). Not the rule or domination of one class or caste - as of the Intellectual, the Pious, the Commercial or the Military - but the fusion or at least consentaneous organization of all (as in the corresponding functions of the human Body). Class rule has been the mark of that second period of human evolution, and has inevitably given birth during that period to wars and self-agrandizements of classes and sections, and their consequent greeds and tyrannies over other classes and sections. It is not found in the primitive human tribes and societies, and will not be found in the final forms of human association. The liberated and emancipated Man passes unconstrained and unconstraining through all grades and planes of human fellowship, equal and undisturbed, and never leaving his true home and abiding place in the heart of all. Equally necessarily with the rehabilitation of Society as an entirety will follow the rehabilitation of the entire physical body in each member of Society. We have spoken already of Nakedness: its meaning and likely extent of adoption (Ch. XII). The idea that the head and the hands are the only seemly and presentable members of the organism, and that the other members are unworthy and indecent, is obviously as onesided and lopsided as that which honors certain classes in the commonwealth and despises others. Why should the head brag of its ascendancy and domination, and the heart be smothered up and hidden? It will only be a life far more in the open air than that which we lead at present, which will restore the balance and ultimately bring us back to sanity and health.
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