Ancient Religion and Christianity
O virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son. (Dante, Paradiso)
Many people today have rejected the symbols of Christianity along with the religion itself because they no longer find inspiration there. This is understandable, although such people are depriving themselves of a rich heritage of symbolism. The Christian Church took over much of the symbolic heritage of the ancient world and degraded it by turning these symbols into signs denoting historical events. To take the ancient and rich symbol of the cross, for example, and make it refer simply to a place to hang their dying savior on destroys centuries of accrued wealth of symbolism. As Plato had said centuries earlier,
The Creator stretched the soul of the world onto the body of the world in the form of a cross. The duty of mankind is the release of that crucified soul.
If the cross is simply the place to hang the dying Christ, what meaning would Plato’s statement have? Hence, to reject the symbols which the Church has degraded is, as you see, a rather foolish act. By undoing today what the Church has been doing for centuries, we are being heretical and even diabolical in the eyes of Christian fundamentalists. We are here relativizing the Scriptures and denying the uniqueness of the Christian message. Jung put it rather forcefully:
The insistence on the uniqueness of Christianity, which doesn’t even allow it a mythological status conditioned by history, renders the gospel unreal; all possible points of contact with human understanding are abolished, and it is made thoroughly implausible and unworthy of belief, and empties the churches. It is very convenient because then the clergyman doesn’t have to bother about whether the congregation understand the gospel or not but can comfortably go on preaching to them as before. Educated people would be much more readily convinced of the meaning of the gospel if it were shown them that the myth was always there to a greater or lesser degree, and moreover is actually present in archetypal form in every individual. Then people would understand where, in spite of its having been artificially screened off by the theologians, the gospel really touches them. Without this link the Jesus legend remains a mere wonder story, and is understood as little more than a fairy tale that merely serves to entertain.
A religious tradition severed from its archetypal roots, its mythologic grounding, becomes a set of signs or rituals without depth. Rather than rest everything on the uniqueness of a religion, one might better argue for the ways in which it taps the same mythic sources that undergird every other religion. This is the best antidote to bigotry.
The beginnings of Christianity are not to be found in the life and teachings of a single founder such as a historical Christ. But everything impossible as history is not only possible as myth, but can be the creative cause of the history! Only the mythical origins can explain the birth of the child that was begotten without the father; the virginity of the mother being the natural status of the most ancient genetrix in mythology, who was far earlier than God the father. The virgin mother is nothing if not divine, and being a divinity she cannot become humanly historical. The most ancient, gold-encrusted Byzantine pictures of the virgin and child represent the mother as Isis, not a human Mary. Only the mythical origins can explain why there are two Marys, both of whom are described as being the mother of Jesus. Only the mythical origins can explain why Jesus was rebegotten as the anointed son at 30 years of age, the time of full adulthood according to Egyptian reckoning. Only the mythical origins can explain why there is no history furnished from the time when the child was about 12 years of age to that of adulthood of 30 years. Only the mythical origins can show how the Word, as Manifester, could be made flesh. The dogmas of the incarnation, baptismal regeneration, transfiguration, transubstantiation, resurrection, and ascension were all Egyptian mysteries. These included the mystery of the ever-virgin mother as well as the mystery of a boy of 12 transforming suddenly into an adult of 30 and then becoming one with the father, just as it had been earlier in the mysteries of totemism.
There was the mystery in which the dead body of Osiris is transubstantiated into the living Horus by descent of the holy spirit; the mystery of a divine being in three persons, one of whom takes flesh on earth as the human Horus, to become a mummy as Osiris in Amenta, and to rise up from the dead as spirit as Ra in heaven. Amenta corresponds to the Christian Purgatory, and was the source for the Christian doctrine of Purgatory. All of these, and other miracles of the Christian religion, were already part of the Egyptian mysteries. But the Egyptians did not pervert the meaning by literalizing them since there was no fall of man to deal with, so there was no need for a redeemer. Horus was the justifier of the righteous, not of the wicked. He did not come to save sinners from taking the trouble to save themselves. He was an exemplar, a model of divine sonship — but his followers must conform to his example — and do in life as he had done — before they could claim any fellowship with him in death.
Except ye do these things yourselves, there is no passage, no opening of the gate, to the land of the life everlasting.
The doctrine of the incarnation is Egyptian, too, as the word was made flesh in Horus, who was the logos of Mother Nature as the Child-Horus. He was the word made truth in the adult phase of his character, the paraclete and direct representative of the father in heaven. The real origin of the doctrine, like those of other Egyptian doctrines, was purely nature. It was pre-historical and non-personal, and as the mystery of Horus and his Virgin Mother, it had been the central mystery of the Egyptian faith for at least 4000 and possibly 10,000 years. It was so ancient that the origins have been forgotten or obliterated except among the gnostics, who preserved their fragments of the ancient wisdom and its symbols. These are only now being rediscovered.
By Jesus performing his miracles with a word, in being the Word incarnate, in wielding a magical power over the elements, in casting out devils, in giving sight to the blind, in transforming and transfiguring himself, in walking on the sea, in his conflicts with Satan, in raising the dead, on rising up on the third day; in all these and other things as well, Jesus is accredited with doing just what was attributed to Horus in the Egyptian mysteries, this taking the phrase “as above, so below” and making it literal. But these miraculous things are otherworld occurrences related to reality through myth. All of these things were effected by Horus in a divine world, not in our world of time.
Scenes have been found engraved upon the innermost walls of the Temple of Luxor, built around 1400 BC by Amenhotep III, which depict in four stages the Annunciation, the miraculous Conception, birth, and adoration of the Messianic infant. Queen Mutemwiya impersonates the Virgin Mother. Her son, Amenhotep, is the child to whom she has just given birth. The following is a quote from Egyptian Mythology and Egyptian Christianity by the Rev. Samuel Sharpe, published in 1863.
In this picture we have the Annunciation, the Conception, the Birth, and the adoration, as described in the first and second chapters of Luke’s Gospel; and as we have historical assurance that the chapters in Matthew’s Gospel, which contain the Miraculous Birth of Jesus, are an afterthought and not in the earliest manuscripts, it seems probable that these two poetical chapters in Luke may also be unhistorical, and be borrowed from Egyptian accounts of the miraculous birth of their kings.
The child whose birth is depicted is Amenhotep III, the builder of this temple, and was the father of Akhnaton. Thus we can see that the miraculous birth of the Son was an early step toward the shift toward the religion of the Father now confronting the older religion of the Mother. It was not until Akhnaton, however, that this religion broke out into the open because, as Clement of Alexandria, an early Church father, said:
The Egyptians neither entrusted their mysteries to everyone, nor degraded the secrets of divine matters by disclosing them to the profane, reserving them for the heir apparent of the throne and for such of the priests as excelled in virtue and wisdom.
The sign given by the angels for the shepherds and the Wise Men to know that the Savior was born in Bethlehem was “Ye shall find the babe lying in a manger.” The manger is the actual birth-place of the Messiah in the mythology of the Egyptians. It was designated Apt from which comes the current name of Abydos. Ap in Egyptian means to manifest or expose to view, also to guide. Apt is the place or person, Apt as person was the ancient genetrix who first brought forth from the waters the fish or Pisces. Apt as place was the Piscina of Pisces. The Christians thus chose the moment of the beginning of the Age of Pisces as the birth of the Savior. The Star hanging in the heavens as guide resulted from the heavens and the earth both coming to a stop s the old age ended and the new one began. This too was in the Egyptian myth. The pool or piscina, the fish, uterus, or crib are all called apt when they refer to a birthplace and the apt is also a manger. The manger is a sign of the birthplace in Aptu, now called Abydos. Thus the hieroglyphs explain why the divine child as Ichthys (Gk. for fish, L.piscis) was born in a manger.
The Egyptians not only consecrated the Nativity of the babe born of the virgin mother, but also had the custom of exposing the child in a crib for the adoration of the people. When King Ptolemy (a Greek king who followed Alexander the Great) asked why this was done, he was told that it was an ancient mystery.
December 25 was the date assigned to the birth of the sun-god Mithra, the invincible one. He was born in a cave and wherever Mithra was worshiped, that cave was consecrated to him, just as the cave was sacred to the sun god in Egypt. In the gospel of James, the child was born in a cave. The gospel of Matthew says Mary entered the
cave below a cavern in which there was never any light to bring forth the light of the world, and on the third day she went out of the cave, and entering a stable, put her child in a manger.
The cave of Mithra was that of the sun born at the winter solstice and continued as the birthplace of Christ after it ceased to be applicable to the solar god.
In Egypt the boy or girl wore the Horus-lock of childhood until twelve years of age. Thus childhood ended about the 12th year, although full adulthood was not attained until 30 years of age, just as it was in the Roman Empire.
In the transformation scene of the baptism in the Jordan, the voice of the Father authenticates the change into full adulthood with the voice from heaven:
This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.
The spirit of the youthful Christ is represented by the descending dove called the Spirit of God. This is in exact accordance with the Egyptian allegory of the double Horus. The dove was continued as a feminine type of the Holy Spirit in Rome, as it had been in Greece, Babylon, Syria, and Egypt. In the Golden Legend, at the Assumption of Mary, the Christ addresses his mother as his dove, and says,
Arise, my mother! my dove! tabernacle of glory, vase of life, celestial temple.
and thus identifies the genetrix with the dove. But in the 10th or 11th century the Holy Ghost began to appear in Christian art as a little child, next as a youth, and lastly as a man. The female nature, which had been first, was finally excluded from the Trinity.
In the Gospels, Jesus is prepared by John in his baptism for the conflict with Satan in the wilder-ness, on the pinnacle, upon the exceeding high mountain. It was only after he had entered spirit life that Horus could grapple with Seth in Amenta. When Satan seized upon Jesus and bore him bodily up the mountain, Jesus had just risen from his baptism and was led up “of the Spirit.” In other words, he had made his transformation to the status of a spirit, so the transaction is in the spirit world, for as it points out that when Jesus was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil, he had already fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. This contention in the wild-erness was one of the great battles of Seth and Horus, or, in the other version of the myth, of Seth and Osiris. Forty days was the length of time in Egypt that was reckoned for the grain in the earth before it sprouted visibly from the ground. It was a time of scarcity and fasting in Egypt, which gave a natural significance to the season of Lent, with its mourning for the dead Osiris, and its rejoicing over the child of promise, the germinating green shoot from the earth.
We find this represented in the Gospel as a fast of 40 days and nights during which Jesus wrestled with the devil and was hungry. This is a repetition of the conflict between Horus and Seth in the desert of Amenta, on the mount and on the pinnacle of the temple in Annu, the place of bread. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means the house of bread. During the 40 days that Osiris was buried in the nether-earth as seed, from which the bread of heaven was made, the struggle was continued by Seth and Horus on the mountain. This is repeated in the Gospels as the contest of Christ and Satan for the mastery on the mount. The conflict is between the powers of light and darkness, of fertility and sterility, between Osiris or Horus the giver of bread and Seth whose symbol of the desert is a stone. The fasting of Jesus in the desert represents the absence of food that is caused by Seth in the wilderness during the 40 days of burial for the seed of the grain, and Satan asking Jesus to turn the stones into bread is playing with the sign of Seth, for whom the stone was a special symbol of Seth as adversary.
Without Satan there is no Christ Jesus, nor any need for a redeemer. The Lord and Satan are twins. In the mythology, Horus was the lord of light and Seth was the adversary. As there is no Horus without Seth in the myth, so there is no Jesus without Satan in the history. The twinship of Horus and Seth the betrayer is repeated in the canonical Gospels, despite the denials made when the film The Last Temptation of Christ was released. Both are mythical, although the conflict is repeatedly regarded as history in Christianity.
In the earliest Christian iconography of the catacombs no figure of a man on a Cross appears during the first six or seven centuries. You may find it interesting that the earliest known form of the human figure on the Cross is the crucifix presented by Pope Gregory the Great (560-604) to the Queen of Lombardy.
The first cross found in Egypt belonging to the Christians is not the cross of later times but the Crux Ansata, the Ankh-sign of life. This is the same cross found in the sepulchers of Osiris, and numerous inscriptions headed by the Ankh are preserved to this day on early Christian monuments. The Ankh-sign demonstrates that the Christians belonged to the Osirian religion, the Christ of which was Horus, continued by the Gnostics. When the Christian iconcoclasts about 390 AD were engaged in the work of destroying the monuments and effacing the telltale past, they came upon the Ankh-cross, which they were astonished to find in Egypt. So ignorant were they of the age, origin, and significance of the symbol which they had adopted, that the native Christians had to explain to them that it was the emblem of life to come, and had been so for thousands of years. Therefore the cross was placed in the hands of the dead, and bound to their bodies as the sign of the life to come. It was often figured on the back of the sacred scarab as the image of life to come. The Ankh-cross signifies life and also means to duplicate. The Horus of the resurrection is portrayed with the Ankh in his hand in the act of raising the dead body from the bier. The Cross, not the Crucified, is the primary symbol of the Christian Church, as the Protestants still insist. The Cross is the essential object of representation in its art, and of adoration in its religion. The whole growth and development of Christianity can be traced to the cross, which itself is pre-Christian, as you know from Plato’s statement mentioned above. Indeed, to study the history of the cross as a symbol would provide one with a thorough understanding of the history of religion itself, not only Christianity. In its very essence, one can see in it the bringing together of the opposites, the vertical and the horizontal, and just go on from there.
It was decided at the end of the 7th century that the lamb on the cross, which had been a symbol of the savior in Egypt and Persia since 2400 BC, also all the other many symbols which got in the way of a belief in the personal Christ, should all be replaced by Christ in his human form. He was to be shown as Christ Triumphant with head erect and eyes fully open. This image of the crucifixion, however, was changed in the 11th century to that of the suffering Christ with his crown of thorns and lowered head that you see here. According to Joseph Campbell, this was a reflection of the changing times and likely acted as a compensation for the increasing belief that through manipulation of the natural world, we could achieve our heaven on earth without the need of a future salvation.
Isis and Nephthys mourn Osiris. The dead body was smeared over with unguents, and thus glorified. During the process, it was said.
O Osiris, the thick oil which is poured upon thee furnishes thy mouth with life.
To embalm the body was thus to turn it into an embodiment of spirit, called karas, and the anointed one was karast, in English Christ. Therefore the mortal Horus was invested with the glory of the only God-begotten Son, since his father, Osiris, was now a god. This Egyptian ritual is also apparent in the Gospels. When the woman brings the alabaster cruse of precious ointment to the house of Simon and pours it on the head of Jesus, he says:
In that she poured this ointment upon my body, she did it to prepare me for my burial.
She was making the Christ as the anointed mummy previous to interment. But then after the crucifixion, it says that Nicodemus came and brought
a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pound, and they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices as the custom of the Jews is to bury.
This again denotes the making of the karast mummy or the Christ. Moreover, it is the dead mummy in the Egyptian version, and the living body in the Christian which is anointed, just as Horus was anointed with the precious Antu ointment or oil that was poured upon his face to represent his glory.
The two sisters, Isis and Nephthys, are the watchers over the dead Osiris. They are also the mourners who weep over him when he is anointed and prepared for burial. The sisters both watch and both weep over the dead body. In the depictions of the ritual one of the two stands at the head and one at the feet of the body on the bier. These two mourners, anointers, or embalmers, appear in the Gospels as two different women. According to John’s Gospel, it was Mary, the sister of Martha, who anointed Jesus for burial. And as these are the two divine sisters historically presented, we ought to find one at the head of the victim and one at the feet, as in fact we do find them. In the account furnished by Luke, it was said that the woman who stood at the feet of Jesus “began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head.” No name is given for the woman who was ‘a sinner’, which seems to denote the other Mary called Magdalene. Matthew also omits the name of the woman with the alabaster flask. In keeping with the myths, this other one should be Martha, but the point is that the woman with the flask does not anoint the feet of Jesus. According to Matthew, she poured the ointment “upon his head as he sat at meat.”
Thus we see that there are two different women who anoint Jesus, one at the head, one at the feet, even as the two divine sisters of Osiris, called Watchers, stand at the head and feet of Osiris when preparing him for his burial, or watching in tears like Isis, who is the prototype of the woman who never ceased to kiss the feet of Jesus since the time he had come into the house.
We can identify the other sister, Nephthys,the mistress of the house, with the housekeeper Martha, and as Nephthys also carries the bowl or vase upon her head, this may account for the vessel of alabaster that was carried by the woman who poured the ointment on the head of Jesus, whereas Mary, the sister of Martha, poured it on his feet. Martha is one of the two Watchers. In the Egyptian myth, the two Watchers are Isis bowed at his feet and Nephthys mourning at his head. It is the women in the Gospels who announce the resurrection and proclaim that Jesus has left the tomb. In all the Gospels, Mary Magdelene is specifically mentioned. This is as it should be according to the Egyptian ritual. When the deceased comes forth from the tomb, he exclaims:
I rise as a god amongst men. The goddesses and the women proclaim me when they see me!
Usually the women and the female deities are identical as the two divine sisters who are represented in the Gospels as the two Marys, but in some of the scenes, there are two women in attendance as well as the two sister-Watchers. As the two Marys are originally goddesses, we have the same group of goddesses and the women as in the ritual, and both agree in proclaiming the resurrection and hailing the risen Lord with jubilation. The Egyptians saw in the resurrection of Osiris the pledge of a life everlasting for themselves beyond the grave. Since it was the same with the Christians, in early Christianity the nativity and crucifixion were played down and it was only in later centuries that the Christ figure on the cross became paramount, perhaps at least partly for the reason suggested by Joseph Campbell.
In the opening century or two of their existence as a religious community, Christians lacked any distinctive cultural qualities which would set them off from the other religions which they looked upon as inferior. They lacked a distinctive drama, painting, sculpture, music or dance — all arts which served the older faiths richly. They lacked arts of play and celebration that other faiths enjoyed, They had almost no special language of symbols in which to express their feelings toward the divine which the pagans had developed, nor were they sure just how to address those superhuman powers acknowledged in their world: the souls of the dead, heroes or holy men, angels or prophets, to say nothing of the gods themselves. Powers beyond the human they had none to turn to, although pagans did, and resorted to them constantly. Some pagans responded to deep-felt impulses generated by reflecting on the big old questions: how to understand fortune, death, cosmogony, or the spark of self through attending the mysteries or by taking up a life of self-denial in a temple or solitarily. But any Christian with such a temperament had no particularly Christian way of meeting these needs.
Also those of opposite temperament, gregarious and joyful in worship, were equally ill served. For one thing, the requirement that one believe that the myth was not metaphorical but rather that it all took place in history had a seriously pathological but unexpected result. It meant that the world was now independent of the spirit and was no longer considered a metaphor of the spirit. Even our most revered scientists now find the question unanswerable. Here is Stephen Hawking:
Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the questions and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?
It was Mme. Blavatsky who said that matter is spirit at its lowest vibration. The quantum theory may seem to support that view. Myth was the veil which prevented Truth from blinding us by its use of metaphor. Christianity, through its need for historicity, removed that veil which caused science, as Hawking implied, to simply put up another one. After all,we all know that going to church isn’t what makes you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car. But what is it that makes one a Christian? Accepting a set of beliefs that the myth actually happened and that Christ died on the cross so that those who believe in him do not have to worry about being punished for whatever they have done or are about to do. I suspect that the addition of a moral code is largely what made Christianity popular, so that people would now be able to blame others for being immoral and thus people would no longer have to blame themselves for their failures.
And so the church grew in membership and even gained a measure of wealth. By the beginning of the 4th century, it could claim a substantial minority of the population in the eastern provinces though only a small minority in the west. As greater diversity of members grew, so did demands and expectations. These were increasingly supplied by paganism, partly unopposed by the church, but also partly against the leadership’s wishes, but necessarily because of the numbers of the newer converts and the impossibility of entirely reeducating them.
As time went on, conversions were made because they could only be made through intimidation, or so the authorities judged. The level of resistance reflected Christianity’s deficiencies. It could not appeal to a wide range of religious preferences, even though it did attract those who could accept the historicity of the savior and certain other values. However, it could not provide the forms of expression developed by pagan communities over many centuries who had a very long time to incorporate the arts and pleasures of life into worship. In the pagan worshipper’s address to any immortal being — to the lord of the skies, or a divinized hero, or the goddess mother, even one’s own ancestors — place could be found for the deepest thoughts and feelings, or the lightest, in awe-filled solitude, or among one’s dearest neighbors, friends, and family. All these, church leadership demanded that converts surrender.
We must remember, however, that , as both pagan and Christian spokesmen pointed out, forced conversion did little to actually change people’s religious attitudes. Such considerations as currying favor or getting a rich wife, or keeping one’s job or even one’s life, diminished the meaning of conversion. It is true that after Constantine, there was a greater sense of triumph and conviction, but everything also encouraged hypocrisy. We cannot doubt that there was still much loyalty, expressed or not, to the old ways. The bishops certainly thought so, and complained often enough. This surge in recruitment, however, brought about a dynamic phase in church history in which the deficiencies previously mentioned were made good. Christianity became a ‘full-service’ religion. Converts brought into it many of those characteristics which they had considered important before.
Foremost was the cult of the dead. Its beliefs and practices were to be found in most pagan religions in every region of the empire and they now flowed into Christian communities and their cemeteries. This was gradually replaced by the cult of the honored heroes of Christian history, the martyrs. Prayers, offerings, and thanks had been offered by pagans and now also by Christians to living or dead men (not women, at least for some centuries) whose habits of life expressed an extraordinary concentration on the divine. Martyrs, divine men, and certain angels were the saints, some of whom had been worshipped as gods but were now converted, with some of their myths being appropriated into the Lives of the Saints, while others were reduced into the status of devils. The worship of certain prophets constituted the chief point of growth, drama, and interest in the church throughout the period of pagan conversion.
Ecclesiastical authorities declared, while they deplored, the identity of the routines and their pagan character: their feasting, drinking, singing, dancing, and staying up all night; the joyful and abandoned spirit. Among strict Christians, of course, there should be nothing of a party mood in worship. The down-turned mouth, the sorrowing eyebrows or Byzantine or medieval piety should replace the smiles of paganism — should, if the bishops could persuade their congregations. But they were not able.
The creed which as you know was very ancient, with the added insistence on its historicity, was unchanged by the inflow of its new members after Constantine. Church organization, too, showed no effects, but many ideas and rites new to Christianity began to appear. Augustine called the sum total of imported paganism among his congregation their ‘mother,’ while what he himself would teach them was ‘the father.’ They must choose; or he hoped they would. But he could not make them do so, and they ultimately got both. He conceded that they must be permitted some latitude in their manner of worship. At about the same time, in the early 5th century, Jerome made the same acknowledgement: better to worship the saints in the pagan manner than not at all. He was speaking of the saints’ cult festivities, but at many other points in the calendar the festivities drew in even bishops. It was religion as communal rejoicing and social intercourse acted out in the company of the divine that converts were used to and could not do without. That same need forced the acceptance of many celebrations during the year, since Christians’ attendance at pagan events proved too much for the church leadership to control except by competition, and many of these survived vigorously into the 16th century and later, east and west alike until the rise of Protestantism as I shall explain later. A 12th century Syrian bishop wrote:
The reason, then, why the fathers of the church moved the January 6th celebration of Epiphany to December 25th was this, they say: it was the custom of the pagans to celebrate on this same December 25th the birthday of the Sun, and they lit lights then to exalt the day, and invited and admitted the Christians to these rites. When, therefore, the teachers of the church saw that Christians inclined to this custom, figuring out a strategy, they set the celebration of the true Sunrise on this day, and ordered Epiphany to be celebrated on January 6th; and this usage they maintain to the present day along with the lighting of lights.
By similar inventions other popular pagan celebrations were directly confronted with a Christian challenge. St. John’s Day, also the festival of St. Peter’s throne, also the Robigalia of April 25th in protection of the crops against blight, today St. Mark’s Day. There are so many examples of this process that by the High Middle Ages that, counting Sunday, there were 150 days out of the year in which it was forbidden work! It was Protestantism that dethroned all those saints and installed Work in their place! However, the church did fail to change the pagan names for the days of the week which they wished to call by plain numbers. That did not work, obviously. In the same way, the choice of where to build shrines for Christian worship was dictated by the location of the antecedent pagan ones. They must be re-sanctified if not destroyed. It is really no wonder that so many worshipers continued to flock to them, being constantly reminded of their traditions. They continued bringing their offerings as they always had. In due course, holy images, first of Jesus and John the Baptist, then paintings of saints and angels decorated the walls.
Such representations had of course always been familiar in paganism but ecclesiastical authorities, fearing idolatry, were divided about their desirability. This fear of idolatry has caused the Orthodox community in the East to forbid images in more than two dimensions. These images, even in three dimensions, came to be displayed, addressed, and paraded in processions, now with Christian names but with little change otherwise.
The favor most in demand was by far the traditional one of healing, whether mental or physical; but prediction, advice in one’s personal crises, or punishment of the wicked was also sought still in the old way. Divinity was still expected to chastise the oath-breaker. But in contrast, it was the priesthood that sought to direct the focus of prayer, of worship, and belief overall. Their teaching was that God Himself and no one else granted salvation from hell-fire. This belief went unchallenged. Baptism taught it, sermons reinforced it, and as you know, in the early days baptism was for adults; infant baptism with its naming came only later. But everything outside of salvation itself was in the gift of saints, angels, and prophets — everything else including those desirables in everyday life. People seemed unwilling to give up a personal relationship with the spirit, even with the fairies, elves, and gnomes who inhabited the local environment. An occasional bishop might protest, even while authenticating it in saints’ day celebrations. Even the language used toward superhuman powers remained borrowed from paganism. Candles, bells, the marking of objects used in addressing them with special signs and letters, all but the cross were a part of the pagan tradition, although it was far from being a recent symbol. A propitiating kiss bestowed on the doorpost of a temple was just as well given to a church; likewise the honorific bow in the direction of the rising sun, offered, says the pope, “partly in ignorance, partly in a pagan spirit” by worshipers pausing as they climbed the steps of St. Peter’s. The custom can still be observed in Greece.
In turn, the language used by the spiritual powers toward mortals continued in use with little change — not simply visions and dreams familiar in every religion, nor the augurs and divining by reading entrails or natural phenomena in the ancient Roman style, which could not be dispensed with by the civil authorities until the 5th century, but other forms of communication continued also. Whom one first met as one stepped out the door, or where thunder was heard, how the flame flickered on the altar when incense was dropped on it, what children were heard to say at play, which page one turned to in revered texts, these and other chance events were known as intelligible signs communicated from above. The bishops generally consulted them; most of their flocks did so as well.
In addition, because they were surrounded by superhuman beings of evil intent, Christians made use of various devices to protect themselves. These devices, all except signing with the cross, derived from non-Christian practices. Holy water and holy dust were used both to prevent and to cure afflictions of the body; likewise the blood of holy persons or of persons who died by violent or premature means. Phylacteries were popular, little bags tied around the neck with spells inside written on papyrus. These all continued as a vital part of daily life. Even today, garlic necklaces can ward off witches.
It was in the countryside that the need was most felt to be able to communicate with nature, and the spirits that inhabited nature. Wonder-workers, male and female, who gave hope of protection against hail or drought, had their place in the countryside, all the more importantly after resort to temples had been forbidden. A church which had for so long had its essence in urban settings and whose spokesmen enjoyed the ease and position of the bishops might forbid recourse to wise women or spells; it might forbid precatory fillets tied to trees, or coins or little lamps or other offerings dropped into lakes and springs in pagan fashion. Nevertheless, these suppliant messages continued to be directed to whatever powers might be, by Christians as by pagans, regardless of warnings from the pulpit, because the realities of life demanded relief, and the teachings of the church did not suffice to fill the demand. Hence the continuation of ancient beliefs, some later reduced, a part reluctantly allowed, and a part heartily embraced within official Christianity. Even dancing in churches still persists in Egypt, Germany, and France, and tourists still flock to see the dancing before the altar on Easter Sunday at the cathedral of Seville in Spain.
I think that we can all agree that the triumph of the church was one not of obliteration, but of widening embrace and assimilation, although some may prefer the term ‘shotgun marriage.’ But to use Augustine’s metaphor, the pagan mother and the Christian father. As Carl Jung said:
Christianity is a profound teaching, a gigantic attempt to master the secrets of the soul, the last historic theory is the Christian theory, and as long as we know of nothing better, we have to stick to the thing as it is.
So I think you can see that Christianity served, at least in one sense, to fulfill the needs of a changing world, needs which could not have been filled by an earlier religion such as the Egyptian. The Egyptian religion did adapt in at least one area, the acceptance of Horus as a savior god, which occurred somewhat later in the development of their religion, but the need for a savior god later became so great that salvation became the chief function of Christ. This may have been at least partially a result of the adoption of a code of morality which did not exist in the earlier polytheistic religions. The existence of this code created a situation in which breaking the code meant severe punishment after death, since such punishment seems rarely to occur in one’s lifetime. (Note use of present tense) A savior god was necessary in order to avoid this punishment after death, a salvation provided by Christ’s having been crucified thus releasing believers from sin and its consequences. Earlier religions included morality within their bailiwick, but it was more personal. One did or did not do what one believed was right in the given circumstances, which, as we know, change; but as you know from the Oedipus myth, this can cause serious mistakes which must be then dealt with according to one’s own conscience. The hell these mistakes cause exists here on earth, and, though the gods may help us bear the pain, they can not be depended upon to either cause it or release us from it. Perhaps this may help you see why these plays were written for and exhibited at ceremonies celebrating Dionysus. This was their religion. The ancients did not need a savior — they knew they must bear the results of their mistakes themselves. By the time Christianity came along, this was no longer possible.
In line with this, I would like to end with one symbol which Christianity has expanded and intensified beyond any previous religion. It is the symbol of Gethsemane, whose meaning we can find in some of the Psalms of David, but as described in the Gospels we find a basis for contemplation which can truly open the heart and the mind. It demonstrates better than any other the mortality of Jesus and also reminded the ancients of the striking parallel between Christ and Dionysus who, alone of all the gods in the Greek pantheon, was born of a mortal woman.
Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane and saith unto the disciples, “Sit ye here while I go and pray yonder.” And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them. “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful and very heavy, even unto death. Tarry ye here and watch with me.” And he went a little further and fell on his face and prayed,saying, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” And he cometh unto the disciples and findeth them asleep and saith unto Peter, “What, would ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that ye not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” He went away again the second time and prayed, saying, “O my Father, if this cup may not pass from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” And he came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. And he left them and went away again and prayed the their time, saying the same words. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly. And his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
The 13th card of the Tarot, Death, illustrates this type of initiation. It shows the skeleton wielding the scythe to the left. The ground is strewn with human remains but they have the appearance of living human beings — heads keep their living expression, hands emerging from the ground seem ready for action. Everything tends to ambivalence, underlining the fact that if life is closely bound up with death, death is also the source of life — not only of spiritual life but of the resurrection of matter as well. It is unfortunate for Christianity that in order to be considered Christian one must be required to believe in the historicity of this moment in the Bible, for it is an extraordinary myth which describes metaphorically the initiation process leading toward individuation. To believe that it exists only in reality is to deprive it of its real value.
At this point Christ faces fully the terrible realization that he is destined to be crucified. This is symbolized by the image of the cup of Yahveh’s wrath. Christ’s willingness to drink from this cup has the effect of ‘digesting’ this wrath thereby transfiguring Him into a loving God. This theory of a God evolving with each advance of human consciousness is also implicit in the Book of Job. It is also reflected in the individuation process where the consciousness of the Self is increased by incorporating the shadow, by withdrawing all projections of evil from the outside world. This always brings suffering, but also an increase of consciousness. Here the ego — Christ in his human nature — must accept the shadow aspects of the Self. That means accepting his crucifixion. This is necessary for wholeness. The Self must accept its own malevolence, as shown in the scene in the temple with the money-changers. Jesus must accept Satan in God, something he failed to do in the encounter in the desert. Here God and man, the Self and the ego, are perceived as inter-dependent. The Self realizes itself through the ego while the ego can only find its right place within the Self. This implies that at Gethsemane God depends on Jesus if He is to keep His divine nature. He needs Jesus to accept its totality, as did Job. In this way, the Self may fulfill its true function. Hope must be abandoned before the miracle can occur. Hope is but a distraction. It is also a magnifier, and as such is inevitably short-sighted. Jesus knew this — hence his despair.
At the climax of his suffering, he is said to have called out Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!, or “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” In one sense, this might be said to be the final step in his individuation process. Hear what Meister Eckhardt had to say about it:
For to die, properly understood, is nothing other than the cessation of all that is. I do not mean that the being of the soul falls into mere nothingness, rather we should understand this cessation to be the eradication of possessing and having. Here the soul forsakes all things, God and all creatures. Of course, it sounds astonishing to say that the soul should forsake God, but the soul must exist in a free nothingness. That we should forsake God is altogether what God intends, for as long as the soul has God (in a possessive way), knows God (as a concept) and is aware of God (as an object), she is far from God. This then is God’s desire — that God should reduce Himself to nothing in the soul.
The Gethsemane experience is plagued by sleepiness. Three of the four figures sleep through the whole event even though Christ pleads with them to stay awake and watch. This indicates that the issue at stake is consciousness. Any person experiencing the ‘awakening’ tries to bring into consciousness the conflict of opposites which had been underlying the sense of guilt and of wasted energy in his/her life, why even the victories had brought no satisfaction, why even the view from the top of the ladder only shows that you are against the wrong wall. The fact that others slept also emphasizes that this is an experience one must go through alone if one is to find what it is that supports us when we can no longer support ourself.
These are the lessons one cannot learn if one accepts this symbol as merely a sign of a historical event. The idea that Christ died for our sins, understood as a historical event, implies that we have no responsibility for our wrongdoings since punishment for them has already been received by Christ so we need not fear retribution for immoral acts. What the experiences of the Passion actually mean, however, is that this is a process which we must all go through unless we learn from the example provided us in the Scriptures that there is something available to us which will lend us support if we but seek for it there. They are an aid to individuation.
The experience of aloneness is something all of us feel at one time or another and Gethsemane shows us we can use it in seeking support. One woman recently, however, concretized it as the Church unfortunately teaches us to do, and therefore received no support whatsoever and had to learn her lesson from the US Postal Service. She, in her suffering, wrote a letter to her Lord and addressed it: Jesus Christ, Gethsemane. It was shortly returned to her with the stamped message: Not known at this Address.