Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Immaculate Conception

Yesterday, December 8th, was the Catholic feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I have a few thoughts to offer on this -- which I should have posted yesterday...but better late then never!

What follows is an excerpt from my forthcoming book,
Lady of the Sea: 2012 and the Mother Who Births the New Age
(c) Margie McArthur, 2002-2012, All rights reserved


The Catholic Church has long held that Jesus had been conceived by divine intervention, without the aid of a physical father. Although born of a human woman, he was declared to be without the “soul-stain” brought about by the Original Sin of Adam and Eve, which was said to be, thereafter, passed on to their descendants—every human being ever born.

But how could this be unless his mother was equally free of such sin?

The great minds of Christianity pondered this for centuries and came to the conclusion that Mary herself must also be free of sin. But how could a mere human be without the stain of the Original Sin?

Several theories were proposed: that her conception was as virginal as that of her son; that God granted her the special privilege of sinlessness at the moment of her conception; that her physical conception had occurred in the normal way, but that her spiritual conception—the infusing of soul into body—was the part that was sinless. As one might imagine, this opened the door to even more thought and theorizing as to the soul condition of her parents, and the part played by normal sexual desire, called concupiscence, which was often equated with sin.

So, at one point in its evolution, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception sought to extend the nature of Jesus’s conception—sex-free and desire-free—to that of his mother as well. This version did not make it into the final and formal doctrine, but it was quite seriously considered and debated for many years.

During the 1830 apparitions to Catherine Laboure, Our Lady requested that a medal be struck with a prayer on it saying. “Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” This may have served to reignite interest in the subject, since the doctrine was finally and formally proclaimed by the Church in 1854, and thus was only four years old when, in 1858, the Lady of Lourdes said with great intensity and emotion to fourteen year old visionary Bernadette Soubirous, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

While the Church obviously took this to mean the concept on which they’d been considering for years—that Mary’s own conception was virginal and asexual—was correct, it is interesting to ponder what this doctrine, and Mary’s statement, mean on a deeper, more esoteric level.

To begin with, the idea of a person being born of a human woman yet fathered by a spiritual power was not a new one. Many other gods, avatars, and prominent spiritual teachers in the ancient world were considered to have been thus conceived. It is not at all surprising to find the Church considered Jesus’s conception to have occurred in this manner; indeed, it would have been surprising had they thought otherwise. But it was quite significant that they decided the same was true of his human mother. This, combined with the fourth century proclamation of Mary as
Theotokos—Bearer (i.e. Mother) of God—quite neatly recognized her inherent divinity without actually committing the sin of blasphemy by calling her a Goddess.

The word
immaculate means very clean, very pure, and without stain. Metaphysically this can be seen to mean the condition of pure spirit—before matter came into being. “Conception” is the first spark in the process of coming into being, into manifestation.

Therefore, the phrase
I am the Immaculate Conception means one who came into material manifestation by purely spiritual means; no physical realm influences playing a part. This is quite profound, as what it really states is that such a being is inherently a being of pure spirit taking manifestation in human form and is thus both human and divine. This places Mary in the same category as her divine son and other divinely conceived—and therefore themselves divine—avatars of other religious traditions.

But this point of view is based on the traditionally Catholic understanding that there is a huge inherent difference and separation between things physical and things spiritual, between human and divine. If one doesn’t accept that position, if one holds that the physical realm is but Spirit in Manifestation, that we are
all pre-existent spirits manifesting in human form, then things begin to look different.

Seen in this light, the Immaculate Conception may mean that Mary is the very essence of pure Spirit in the exact moment at which it sparks into material manifestation, or begins its movement into physical reality. This would mean she is the Void itself, as well as the Void as it births manifestation, bringing energy into being, light into darkness, and ultimately, energy/force into form. Thus, in her simple statement to Bernadette, the Lady proclaims herself the Primal Source and Creatress.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Living Light - Part Two

But there is more......

The Light is not simply alive: it is conscious, it is aware. All life possesses consciousness to one degree or another, although it is hard for humans to imagine, perhaps, what the consciousness of a bacteria might be like.

And this consciousness is, I believe, what the Bible refers to as the “Spirit of God.”

It is interesting how the Bible refers to both God and the Spirit of God, seeming to differentiate between them. The Spirit of God is, of course, the “Holy Spirit,” referred to in Hebrew as the
Ruach Elohim and the Ruach HaKodesh.

Ruach is a feminine word meaning breath, wind, air, and also soul and spirit. Breath is cognate with life, because most living things breathe and move. HaKodesh means the sanctified, the holy. Together they mean the female holy/sanctified (i.e. divine) breath/spirit – i.e. Holy Spirit.

Elohim is an interesting word in that it contains both masculine and feminine elements, and is plural, indicating either “gods,” or a Being which contains both masculine and feminine elements. Thus, Ruach Elohim also means Breath/Spirit of God/ess.

Book of Genesis mentions that before creation began, all was dark, void, and without form, and that the Ruach Elohim brooded over the face of the Deep, the primal waters. This brooding caused a stirring of those waters—a movement—after which God said (the very first, or Primordial, Sound), “Let their be light.” And light came into being, the first thing created.

But the
Book of Proverbs gives a slightly different account of creation. In this account, God’s first creation is not said to be light, but a helper, a feminine helper called Wisdom. She helps God create the rest of the universe.

The Hebrew word for Wisdom is
Chokmah, and Chokmah/Wisdom is also the name of the sephira found near the top of the Kabalistic Tree of Life. Kether is the “crown” or summit of the Tree, the first “state of being” of what will eventually become the manifest world, and it is from Kether that the other sephiroth emanate to form the rest of the Tree. Chokmah is the very first emanation, and is considered to be the initiating force of creative energy, as well as the first power of conscious intellect.

In a sense, this first force of creative energy and conscious intellect after the Primordial Sound actually is light.

So Chokmah / Wisdom / Conscious Intellect / Light comes immediately into existence at the very beginning of things, and plays an important role in the rest of the creation. Although Chokmah is a masculine-gendered word, references to Wisdom in the Hebrew scriptures are most often feminine, particularly in the Book of Proverbs where she is seen to be creative, gentle, friendly, and helpful to humankind.

Wisdom seen as a partner in creation is really another way of stating what is said in Genesis—that the “Spirit of God,” the Ruach Hakodesh / Ruach Elohim / Chokmah / Wisdom, is the primal emanation from the “high place” point of creation’s origin, and is the agent, as it were, of that creation. In other words, the primal Oneness emanated outward, expanding into Two, and from these Two further emanations came forth, flowed into manifestation. Thus Life is One—the divine Life Force and its consciousness stream through all creation; yet Life is also Many, as well, taking on a multiplicity of forms—the mystery of the One in many and the many in the One.

So the first emanation from the first state of being from the great Void was consciousness / intellect / wisdom / light, and it was feminine. The Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit—is Wisdom, is consciousness, is feminine, and is the Mother of the Worlds, who in the very beginning of creation “brooded” over the primal waters of the deep as a mother bird—wings beating—hovers, then settles herself over the clutch of eggs in her nest. Unsurprisingly, the Holy Spirit is often depicted as a dove. Equally unsurprisingly, the dove was a symbol of the Goddess in the ancient Middle East.

The Greek word for Wisdom is Sophia, about whom we are hearing a lot these days.

The Holy Spirit is also said to be the “presence” of God; I do think that the word “presence” here means “consciousness/awareness.” The Divine is omnipresent, but sometimes that sense of presence is turned our way or perhaps enhanced—seeming to come vibrantly to life—because we are paying acute attention, or have consciously invoked it by prayer.

The Bible tells us that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude (i.e. courage, endurance), knowledge, piety, and fear of (i.e. respect for) the Lord. It seems to me that these are virtues that are latent in every human consciousness, but that come truly to life only when, through our learning, feeling and experiencing, we are eventually led to wisdom, and choose to consciously cultivate it and all that flows from it.

Cultivation involves conscious tending and use. Gifts are meant to be used and if we do not use these gifts of the Holy Spirit, they will not grow within us. To use terminology I learned on a Native path, if we do not cultivate these gifts we are given, we remain “two-leggeds,” rather than spiritually growing into “true humans.”

It has been said that the natural cycle of creation and destruction might be looked at as God breathing in and out. The Holy Spirit is the Breath of God. In the beginning was the Void, and all was within, in potentia. When God breathed forth (exhaled), God’s spirit poured forth and creation was begun.

So God’s spirit, the feminine Holy Spirit, is what all creation is made of and filled with. And that Spirit is consciousness—the divine’s awareness of itself, of its emanations/creations and a connection to those emanations/creations.

Our individual portion of it is called the Soul. And it is our job to allow the soul’s memory of its divine nature and origin—its Inner Light, Wisdom—to grow within us, that we may flower into our own inherent divinity.

The Living Light - Part One

 “Let there be light,” the Creator proclaims in the opening verses of Genesis.

The Creator's proclamation is Sound, the first manifestation of the Life Force, and is followed immediately by Light.  Light is the second manifestation of the Life Force and there is no Life without it. Sound is Life. Light is Life.

“Let there be light,” the Creator proclaims. And where previously there had been darkness, there was now light. And thus began the universe....

In the Old Testament, Moses wonders about the name of the God who is addressing him from the burning bush, and God replies, "I Am That I Am" —a simple but definite statement of identity that indicates both beingness and self-awareness.

In the
Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says “It is I who am the Light which is above them all. It is I who am the All. From me did the All come forth, and unto me did the All extend.” These are powerful statements. He is proclaiming his oneness with the Light which is above all—the Divine Source, the All, the I Am.

He continues, extending this identification beyond his personal self, to all of creation, saying, “Cleave the wood and I am there; lift the stone and you will find me there.”

With these words Jesus is telling us that not only is he the Light, but that we—and all of creation—are also the Light; that the Light—that primordial manifestation of the Life Force—is in everything, and is Divine, is God. The Living Light, the Divine Spirit, is in all things. The Living Light is the Life Force as it manifests in all of creation.

"Know ye not that ye are gods, and sons of the most high?" says Psalm 82:6.

The implications of this are enormous. And although we’ve heard this (i.e. in various ways from our various sacred scriptures) for years, we certainly don’t seem to act as though we believe it.

Sad, isn’t it?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Stone of Beginnings: The Shetiyyah Stone and Peter the Rock

In one Hebrew creation myth, God began the creation of the world by casting down a stone into the primeval waters and then building up dry land around it. This stone is referred to as the Shetiyyah stone. This tale is somewhat reminiscent of the Egyptian creation story in which the world begins as an earthen mound that emerged from the primeval waters of Nun.

This story makes use of the motif of a foundation stone or mound as the sacred center around which the world is built at the very beginning of creation. A concept found in many cultures, this sacred center is referred to as an
omphalos (Greek), which means “navel,” hearkening back to an old belief that the very first part of a thing (i.e. the world, human bodies, animal bodies, etc) to come into existence was the navel and that all the rest of the thing is then built up around it.

Roughly 3000 years ago the holiest structure in Judaism, the Jerusalem temple, was built upon Mount Moriah, with the Shetiyyah stone marking the temple’s most sacred precinct—the Holy of Holies. This indicates that the site of the stone, a flat rocky outcropping atop Mount Moriah, was the sacred center of the Hebrew nation both politically and spiritually. Some of Israel’s most important national myths were rooted there: it was thought to be the place where Abraham, ever obedient to God’s command, intended to sacrifice his son Isaac. It was said to be the place where Jacob dreamed of the ladder that ascended to heaven, with angels ascending and descending. It was believed that the Shetiyyah stone was the boundary that separated the Underworld—the Abyss, the Tehom, place of primeval waters—from the surface world. Not only a boundary, it was a “stopper” which held back those primal waters from flooding the land (as they had during Noah's time), and also was a gateway to that realm.

The Shetiyyah stone, also known as the
Foundation Stone, marked the center of the Hebrew nation and culture. Much later in time Islam honored the spot as one of its holiest by building a shrine there, now known as the Dome of the Rock.

* * * * *

Jesus said to Peter —
“Thou are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.”

Just as Hebrew culture and religion was founded upon the Shetiyyah, the Foundation Stone, so also was the Roman Catholic Church founded upon a foundation stone—the apostle Simon, who was also known as Peter.

The above quote, attributed to Jesus, is another example of the use of the ever-important omphalos, or center.

The presence of the Foundation Stone on Mount Moriah marked the place as the center of the (Hebrew) world. Similarly, by Jesus’s proclamation, Peter is being designated as the Foundation Stone or center point of the new Christian world that is about to begin; the physical stone, the center point, is now a person. As such, this particular passage of scripture may well be a later interpolation, planted there by someone aware of the symbolism, in order to add validity to the Papacy.

Although renamed Peter by Jesus in scripture, Peter’s actual name was Simon bar Jonah, which means Simon son of Jonah. This is an interesting name, with many layers of possible meaning and significance.

Besides possibly being the father of Simon, who was Jonah?

The prophet Jonah of the Old Testament is famous for being swallowed by a whale—as he tried to run away from God’s command to preach—and spending three days in utter darkness inside the whale’s belly as it lay on the floor of the sea. This scared him sufficiently to agree to God’s command and pray for deliverance, at which point the whale then resurfaced and disgorged him.

This story is symbolic and most likely refers to the well known classic three day initiation ceremony of the ancient world’s mystery schools, during which the initiate was confined in a dark chamber of some sort for three days before being ‘reborn’ into the light and a new life. It is reminiscent of some of the old Egyptian initiation tales wherein the candidates were taken blindfolded into a chamber of the temple, sometimes placed within a coffin-like stone sarcophagi, and closed in. In some cases they were instructed to find their way out again through pathways beset with poisonous snakes, dead ends, and other terrifying ordeals. The image of Jonah, sitting at the dark bottom of the sea, inside the darkness of the whale’s belly, pretty well fills the criteria for an appropriately terrifying and seemingly dead-end initiatory scenario.

Was the whale that swallowed Jonah the Leviathan, the great dragon/serpent beast of the deep mentioned in Hebrew legends and Bible stories? In nearby Babylon the great beast of the deep was Tiamat, the great dragon/serpent mother who was the great goddess of the Deep, the Tehom, the Void. Being “inside the whale” is akin to being in her womb and is indicative of an initiation process that lead to a spiritual rebirth. Jonah was within the whale for three days before being disgorged to a new life, Lazarus was in the tomb for three days before being raised from the dead, and later Jesus was in the tomb for three days before he arose, just as ancient Egyptian initiates spent three days undergoing their ordeals in the temples before emerging spiritually reborn. The “whale’s belly” is, therefore, symbolic of the same dark underworld testing place as the tomb -- the death that leads to resurrection and new life.

So the Jonah story is most likely an initiation story and the name Simon bar Jonah in the New Testament might well refer to a person who had passed an initiation. The name
Simon means “one who hears,” “he has heard,” or “he hears.” The word bar means “son of.” The name Jonah means “dove.” In Christian iconography, the dove was a symbol of the Holy Spirit. But for many centuries prior to Christianity, the dove was, in the Middle East, an image for the Goddess.

On one level, Simon’s name might simply mean that his father’s was named Jonah. But another possible interpretation of the name Simon bar Jonah might be “He hears/has heard the Son of the Dove (i.e. Goddess).” How appropriate for a disciple of Jesus, the Son of Mary—Mary being the Sacred Feminine figure of the Christian dispensation.

Another possible interpretation is that Simon is himself the “Son of the Dove,” i.e. he has passed an initiation and been found worthy to be called the Son of the Dove/Goddess/Holy Spirit.

The fact that Simon bar Jonah is later called Peter—the “rock” upon which the church (i.e. temple) is to be built—might indicate that he did pass an important initiation, one that allowed him to be designated as the "foundation stone" of the new dispensation.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

God's Name

The 3rd of the 10 commandments enjoins us not to take God’s name in vain. Despite popular belief, “God” is not a personal name; it’s a title, a job description. (Yes, I know....try telling that to Sister Mary Sourpuss, your 5th grade teacher, when she’s just heard you say “God damn it!”)

So what was the personal name of the divine creator being in the ancient Mediterranean/Middle Eastern world—Sumeria, Canaan, Phoenicia, Syria, Judea—an area which has had so much influence on the western religions of today?

To paraphrase T.S. Elliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, “The name of a god is a serious matter; it’s not just a part of your holiday games...”

In ancient times, names were a serious matter. Not just a random combination of sounds, names were meant to convey the nature and essence of the thing named—the unique, specific, vibrational frequency that exemplified the most vital and central core of the thing. From this comes the old belief that to know a being’s name is to have power over it—an illustration of the archaic belief in the power of sound.

In all languages, vowels are what makes sound; it is sometimes said that vowels “ensoul” a word. The commonly accepted vowels in the English language are A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y. Occasionally W is added to that list.

The three major western religions of today’s world—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—all arose in the Middle East. Historically, the ancient Semitic languages, which came to dominate a large portion of the Middle East, did not have letters that indicated vowel sounds in words. Only consonants were written. Later, markings or ‘points’ were inscribed over certain letters in words to indicate an accompanying vowel sound.

But those familiar sounds of A-E-I-O-U-Y-W were certainly known and used in the ancient world, and were, in fact, quite often considered sacred. The reason for this is that, unlike consonants, which are made solely by positions of tongue, lips, and movements of the mouth, breath—more specifically, the movement of breath—is required to make vowel sounds. Vowel sounds are pure sound, unencumbered by consonants.

Since living beings must breathe, breath was seen as akin to life—that sacred and mysterious animating force that seems to move in and out of physical form as it wills. Being is breathing; breathing is being. In the biblical Book of Genesis, in fact, it is the Divine Breath—the wind—moving over the waters of the primal Tehom, or Deep Abyss, which triggered creation.

So it is not surprising to find that many of the ancient names of god were the sequence of vowel sounds such as would be made with the pronunciation of words such as the Hebrew IHVH/YHVH (Yahweh), the Greek IAO, and the Phoenician IEUO—all of which translate to things like, “he will cause to become; he causes to become; he was; he will be; I am the One Who Is, " or simply, "I am that (which) I am." It is the power of breath and sound that brings life into being; it seems logical to suppose that the creator’s name would reflect this.

Related to the Phoenician IEUO and Hebrew YHVY is the Ugaritic YAM/Iahu/IeuoYw/Yawu, a deity whose name—extremely similar to the Hebrew Yahu/Yahweh—means sea, as in the primordial salty sea of creation the Babylonians knew as the creatress Tiamat and the Sumerians as Nammu. Not surprisingly, it was said that Yam often took the guise of a storm or wind god. And Yam, in his turn, would seem to be a manifestation of an even older Babylonian deity, Ea (Aay-ah, Eh-yah, or Ee-yah), who in the much earlier Sumerian era was called Enki. It is interesting that Yam was said to take the guise of a storm or wind god, because Enki had a brother called Enlil— called Ilu in Babylonian and Akkadian times—who actually was the god of sky, air, wind, and storms. The main part of his name, “lil” meant wind. The word Ilu meant “god,” thus equating god with the wind. Ilu seems to be the source of the later Phoenician/Canaanite “El,” meaning God, or Lord, and as a suffix this has attached itself to names of other divine beings (or divine attributes, depending on your point of view) such as Micha-el, Gabri-el, Rapha-el, and the like.

"El" can also mean "the," as in a very specific, and sometimes only, "one."

Both Enlil/Ilu and Enki/Ea are very strong contenders for being the original form of Yahweh. As the Sumerian god of the sea, Ea/Enki was ruler of the element of water, the god of intelligence, wisdom, and the primeval establisher of law and order—all of these being also attributes of the Hebrew Yahweh. Enki, on the other hand, was a very powerful god of sky, air, wind, and storms, as we have said. The Hebrew god Yahweh seems, by his attributes and characteristics, to be a conflation of Enlil/Ilu and Enki/Ea.

It should be noted here that names of the much later-in-time Roman father god Jupiter/Jove (IOVE or IOWE) and the Greek father god Zeus (Ze being equivalent to the I in Iupiter/Jove) come from the same root and have the same meaning and similar attributes as YHVH/IEUO/IAHU. It should also be noted that in ancient Egypt the god HU (Hhhoooooo), whose name, when pronounced, sounds very much like the wind blowing, was said to be a deification of the first sound, the utterance that initiated creation. This brings to mind the first verse of the Gospel of John— “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

In the New Testament, the descent of the Holy Spirit (i.e. the Spirit of God) upon the apostles at Pentecost is marked by a great and loud wind (in addition to the small “tongues of fire” pictured over their heads in medieval paintings). In the second of the creation stories found in Genesis (as in several other creation stories), God “breathed” into Adam, his clay creation, thus bringing Adam to life by an infusion of his own Divine Spirit. In this we can see the ancient belief that breath, life, and the Divine Spirit are all the same.

Breath is life; breath is divine and sacred; therefore life is sacred. To take the “name” of the Lord “in vain” is to violate life/breath. That particular commandment, therefore, might well be a proscription against doing harm to living, breathing beings.

In the desert lands of the middle east where much religion originated, the winds are a very powerful force of nature, one capable of creating changes in the landscape and in life. It’s not surprising that the winds would be considered the divine breath, and their howling or soothing noises to be the words of the divine voice. This is a very animistic/shamanistic perspective, and humanity's earliest spiritual belief was animism -- the belief that all nature was alive.

The wind is everywhere, however, not just confined to deserts. It blows in forests, among mountain peaks, at the seashore, and on the sea—causing things to move and change in all these places. In fact, the movement of wind—the Divine Spirit—over water is the act of creation in more than one creation story. In the Babylonian tales, the creatress Tiamat—the primal watery salty void—is slain by her great-grandson Marduk; his weapon is the power of the winds, given him by his father Ea. From her body the world and its creatures were then created.

If the name of something is a sound which represents its essence, then the most primal name of God is the sound of life—the vowel sounds of spoken language, which often seem to mimic those of the natural world of wind and wave. We can only define or express the divine in terms of what is familiar to us, and what is familiar to us is the world of nature. At their most basic foundation, all religions are nature religions, born of early humans sitting around their campfires at night, listening to the sounds of nature, gazing at the starfilled sky, or perhaps standing on the seashore or mountain top thinking, “All this is so much bigger than me; where did it come from? Where did I come from?”

Wind and wave, fire and earth. Perhaps the question is not really what is the personal name of God, but rather, does God actually have a personal name, like any Tom, Dick or Harry?

Personally, I don’t think he/she/it does. Something as vast as the divine creator spirit fills, or IS, all things and all beings. We know it by its manifestation. To our ancestors the forces of nature were the manifestation of the divine; and the sounds those forces made were the voice of the divine speaking its many names.