Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Bread of Heaven

"Seest thou not what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger."
            —Jeremiah 7:17–18
But the people defended their worship of her, saying,

    "But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, for then we had plenty of victuals and were well and saw no evil..."
            —Jeremiah 44:17

The Temple of Solomon, the first of the Hebrew temples, was designed to be a model of the cosmos. The two most sacred precincts of the temple were called the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. These two precincts were separated by a special curtain that represented the border between the material and immaterial universe. It was woven of colors that represented the four elements of the natural world—air, fire, water, and earth. The Holy of Holies was the most sacred spot in the whole temple. It represented the timeless, immaterial, center of the universe, and was the place where the Presence of God, who was also called the Shekhinah and the Holy Spirit of God, dwelt. The word Shekhinah is from the root shachan/sakan, meaning “to dwell within,” with the additional implication that the dweller was a royal presence.

The Holy Place contained the sacred objects and implements necessary to the rituals of the temple, including the weekly offering of shewbread, or “Presence bread” which sat upon a special golden table. The Presence Bread was called the most holy food, most holy meaning that it had the ability to impart holiness to those who ate it. Twelve loaves of this special bread were baked fresh weekly. They sat on the table for the week, from Sabbath to Sabbath, becoming sanctified with the holiness and Presence of God in the Holy of Holies. On the Sabbath, an invocation of the Presence of God’s Holy Spirit into the bread was performed and the holy bread was eaten by the temple priests.

This weekly ritual of the sacred bread was, according to author Margaret Barker, not so much an offering to God but as a ritual of thanksgiving to God for the gift of the divine presence. (1) The  priests were consuming God’s spirit, God’s presence, and thereby partaking, in some small way, of the nature & divinity of God. This ritual was very like what later became the Catholic celebration of Holy Communion.

The priests performed this weekly ritual because they felt God had commanded it. The bread itself was considered an eternal covenant between the Hebrews and their God; the divine injunction for the priests to eat the Presence Bread was considered an eternal statute. (2) In other words, it was an important and mandatory part of the temple ritual.

Wisdom has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table.
She has sent out her maiden, and she calls from the highest places of the city,
“Let all who are simple come to my house!”
To those who have no sense she says,
“Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed. Forsake the foolish and live; go in the way of understanding.”

 — Proverbs 9:2-6

The divine presence—the Shekhinah, the Ruach HaKodesh or Holy Spirit of God—that resided in the Holy of Holies was a feminine presence; we know this because the words referring to it—Ruach and Shekhinah—are feminine-gendered words. The Divine Presence was also equated with the feminine Biblical figure of Wisdom, God’s first creation / emanation, and his helper in the creation of the rest of the universe. (3)

All of this tells us quite clearly that the Spirit of God, God’s very presence in our world, was considered feminine. So the Divine Presence being ritually consumed by the priests of the temple each Sabbath was that of the feminine aspect of the divine, Wisdom, who, “set out her table” and called in “the simple” who wished to walk in the way of understanding (4) —Wisdom, the Goddess who was known in early Hebrew tradition as the Divine Mother Asherah, consort of El, and later, of Yahweh.

It was Asherah, the Divine Mother, who dwelt in the Holy of Holies. It was to the wise Asherah that the people condemned by Jeremiah were baking their cakes and offering their incense and libations.

Later, when strict monotheism became the order of the day, Asherah’s feminine nature was veiled under the more neutral description of “God’s Presence,” and “the Spirit of God,” or the “Holy Spirit.”

In erasing the presence of the feminine aspect of the divine, reformers, re-writers, and later, translators, have argued that Wisdom was not a Being but an abstract principle -- an aspect of the One God. But the evidence that the ancient Hebrew religion did indeed include the presence of the Goddess is found in the form of the Yahweh-Asherah shrines discovered by archaeologists, the countless small female statuettes that have been unearthed, references to the sacred poles known as “asherahs,” as well as the constant indignation of the monotheistic reformers and prophets (such as Jeremiah) concerning the people’s veneration of the Queen of Heaven. 

In the temple, both blood and bread offerings were made. Margaret Barker tells us that the bread  offerings were considered the most important. (5) So important, in fact, that the Sabbath bread ritual survived the destruction of the temple and became the challah bread that is blessed and consumed in every Jewish home during the weekly Sabbath meal.

The bread offering also survived as part of the Catholic mass in the form of the Holy Eucharist, or Holy Communion. The word “eucharist” means thanksgiving; the term “holy communion” implies a communing with the divine. In the Mass, just as in the Jerusalem Temple, the bread is offered to God and the Divine Presence of the Holy Spirit is invoked (the epiclesis). (6) The bread is consecrated by the power of the Holy Spirit, infused with the Divine Presence, and then is consumed by the priest as a means of communing with the Divine. He then distributes it to the people so that they, too, may share in this communion with the Divine.

Several passages in the Gospels equate Jesus with Wisdom, and many of the early Christian writings do so as well. And while Jesus was a wise being, it was thus that the feminine aspect of Wisdom became conflated with the masculine figure of Jesus. The temple ritual of the sacred bread became one in which the Divine Presence was consumed as his body and blood (7), and the concept of Wisdom as an honored feminine being, as the Divine Presence to whom offerings were made, was lost.

(1) Temple Themes in Christian Worship, pp 209-210
(2) __ , p 211
(3) — , pp 209-210
(4) Proverbs 9: 2-6
(5) Temple Themes in Christian Worship, pp 210

(6) The Roman church has changed this, but it is still done in many of the Eastern churches.
(7) Technically, the wine represent his blood. Wine was used in certain temple rituals and may have been representative of the covenant between God and his people. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

And her months were fulfilled, and in the ninth month Anna brought forth. And she said unto the midwife, “What have I brought forth?” and she said, “A girl.” And Anna said, “My soul has been magnified this day. And she laid her down. And the days having been fulfilled, Anna was purified, and gave suck to the child, and called her name Mary.
(Protoevangelium of James, V 2)

Mary was born of Anna (Hannah), whose name means, in Hebrew, grace or gracious. In Hurrian, a Middle Eastern language spoken in parts of ancient and nearby Syria, Anna means mother. Yet the name is remarkably similar to the ancient Sumerian An or Anu, which  meant the “heavenly one,” or simply, “the heavens.”

The feast of Mary’s birth is celebrated on September 8th, mid-way through the astrological sign of Virgo. We now use the Gregorian calendar, but by the old Julian calendar this date would have been August 29th, which was celebrated in Egypt as the feast of the Nativity of Hathor, and also as new year’s day in the fixed Alexandrian Calendar that was used by the Egyptians from 30 B.C. onward. (James Frazier, The Golden Bough).

September was a time of harvest; the association of the sign of Virgo with harvest time is well known: she is depicted as a winged woman holding sheaves of grain. This woman is Hathor, Isis, other goddesses of the harvest, and for the last couple thousand years, the Virgin Mary.

What is not so well known is that Hathor was associated early on with the Milky Way Galaxy —  she was said to be a personification of the milk that flowed from the divine Heavenly Cow, Nuit.

Hathor’s name means House of (i.e. womb that birthed) Horus. Horus was associated with the sun, as later Jesus would be, and his birth was, like that of Jesus, celebrated at the Winter Solstice. It was also said that Hathor gave birth to Horus each morning, and as he died each night accepted him back into her womb to be born again at the following sunrise.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread.”  Bread is, of course, made of grain, which ties us back into Virgo, the Virgin Mother, and the harvest.

Many of Hathor’s functions were later absorbed by Isis, including her motherhood of Horus and her association with the Milky Way. And, “since Isis was, at the advent of Christianity 2000 years ago, the most popular goddess of the ancient Middle Eastern and Western European world, it is not surprising that her successor, Mary, Mother of the Piscean Age avatar Jesus, should fall heir to many of her titles and attributes.” (Margie McArthur, Lady of the Sea: 2012 and the Mother Who Births the New Age)

As the river of stars that comprised the Milky Way, Hathor represented the earliest expression of the life force of the heavens manifesting itself in the form of stars. The heavens gave birth to the stars –  the light – just as Hathor gave birth to Horus, the light of Sun, and Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Son/Sun and Light of the World.

In addition to being seen as the nourishing starry milk of the Mother Goddess in her form as the Heavenly Cow, the Milky Way was also seen as a river of stars—which is yet another form of nourishment as the lands are nourished and made fertile by the rivers that flow and flood through them. The Nile was seen as the earthly counterpart of the Milky Way. Since Hathor was this heavenly river, this flow of nourishing essence from the sky, the Milky Way, she was also linked to the waters of the earth. Mary’s iconography and lore depict similar resonances. She is Queen of Heaven, Queen of the Angels, Star of the Sea.

The sun is a star, part of that heavenly river of stars that is the Milky Way, and is our very own heavenly messenger.

Why were Hathor and Mary said to be born in the sign of Virgo, the time of the harvest and beginning of the new year?

The harvest marked the end of a cycle. The time just after the harvest/birth of these divine mothers was, in Egypt, the Time of the Inundation – the time when the Nile flooded the lands, leaving the soil fertile. It was also the time of the rains in other parts of the Middle East; the beginning of the Hebrew new year, which celebrated the beginning of creation, was celebrated less than a month later.

In all ways, Hathor and Mary represented the birthing, mothering, and nourishing of the “child” that was life and light.

Mythologically speaking, stars are equivalent to angels, whose very name means “messengers of God.” The stars shine down upon us from above, their brilliance and beauty beaming us the message of light and life from their vast, dark, heavenly source.

In Canaanite and early Hebrew mythology, Asherah was seen as the Mother of 70 sons. These “sons” became the 72 angels of later Hebrew mythology, and were still linked with Asherah till her shrines were destroyed and her cult in the temple ended by the Hebrew reformer, Josiah.

But later on, the divine feminine, in the form of Mary, was hailed as Queen of the Angels and Queen of Heaven, just as her divine feminine predecessors had been....

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mother Night

Here is an excerpt from Chapter One of my forthcoming book,
Lady of the Sea: 2012 and the Mother Who Births the New Age
(c) Margie McArthur, 2002-2011, All rights reserved.


Just as all life on Planet Earth was birthed from Mother Ocean,
So all life in the universe was birthed by the Great Cosmic Mother
Whom we know as the vast dark sea of deep space.
She is the Darkness that gave birth to the Light.
 She is the No-Thing which is full of the potential of All Things
Of old she was known by many names:  
Dame Night, Dame Dark, Dame Nox,
Dame Hell, Dame Wisdom
Mother Night, Mother Darkness,
 Old Fate, Old Veiled One, Old Night,

She is SHE -
The Great One, Darkness.
And from her emerged HE – the Limitless Light.
From their dance of love
Came forth the Many Other Lights -
Elements, Stars, Planets,
Mountains, Plains, Oceans,
Trees, Plants, Animals...

She is the Mother, the feminine aspect of divinity.
The one who conceives, gestates, births, nourishes,
And ultimately, takes life back into herself.

She is the Birther and yet also the Destroyer.
Queen of Life, Queen of Death,
Queen of Day, Queen of Night
The Great Mother of All

* * *

In the beginning was the Darkness. Limitless Darkness. She was vast and full of potential. No empty darkness here, but rather, fullness, unexpressed. She brooded, like the vast sky over the vast sea. Over time she began to feel, and what she felt was a longing, a pulling, a movement. And as she noticed this, became aware of it, it pulled away from her. It moved outward and came into manifestation as another. It was He, her other self, her Divine Twin.

This first movement of energy, this longing, pulling, as well as her awareness of it, constitute the first manifestation—the Other, the He—coming into being. Light, Limitless Light—the Bright One—born from the Vastness of Dame Dark, the primeval and ever-veiled Chaos or field of possibilities.

As HE came into being they became aware of each other, and a longing for reunion occurred. They merged—as separate beings—making love. Their lovemaking created huge waves of energy, from which all life was eventually sparked into being.

Their first children were the clouds of great, beautiful magellanic stardust. These stardust clouds spun and danced with the joy of life—swirling, glowing, spiraling—finally coalescing into stars beings. These star being often clustered together in great star-swirls called galaxies, and sometimes many galaxies clustered together as families. The stardust and star beings also gave birth: to comets, planets—including our own dear planet—and other celestial beings.

Some of these star beings had special tasks given them by Dame Dark and her consort, the Bright One. These particular star beings are those we now sometimes refer to as Angels and Archangels—terms which mean messengers and high messengers. They were messengers because by performing the specific creation tasks assigned to them—in the language of light, sound, and structure—they were carrying forth the message of the Divine Parents. Some call these beings the Lords of Flame and the Lords of Form, though they were, of course, beyond gender, containing both. So perhaps we should call them the Lords and Ladies of Flame and Form. Or perhaps, we should just call them angels.

Angels go by many names and have many very specific jobs. It is said that there were several whose particular job was to assist in humankind’s evolution into beings who possessed the fire of mind. These angels have, in legend, been referred to by many different names - among them the Watchers, the Grigori, the Sons of God, and the Annunaki, a Sumerian/Babylonian word which means ‘heaven and earth.’
But...from the One came the Two...and from the Two, the Many. From Dame Dark came the Bright One, the Light—and then, all other manifestations of life.

Our star, the Sun, gave birth to our planet, our planetary system, and all life within it. Reaching out, its long arms streaming forth light and energy, it enveloped and embraced our planet Earth and its star-sparkling arms of light flashed streaks and streams of lightning. And in a twinkling of stellar time, the body of the Earth responded to this embrace. Microscopic life forms were sparkled into being as beams of starfire touched the Earth’s surface and  reached down deeply into the heart of the planet. Earth’s starry core responded to this touch, reaching upward in mutual embrace.

Life is everywhere in the universe. Beings floated to Earth on comet tails, they came in on the space winds, on the solar winds. The star-children, tiny living beings of all kinds—water vapors, gaseous vapors, starsparks—speeding through space in their tiny arks of metallic ore, vapor, and stardust. They met and mingled with the tiny beings which had arisen on and in the Earth. They joined, and became one family.

From the dance of the elements and the streaming of stars came forth many creatures on the Earth, including, eventually, humanity. And humanity, knowing that all life is born from a mother, recognized both Earth and Sky as Mother. And in the night sky’s thick band of stars, many saw the nourishing milk of the Sky mother, who is also the Star Mother, and so it became known as the Milky Way.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Esther, Mordecai, and the Feast of Purim

Last Sunday was Purim, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the Queen Esther’s heroism in helping save the Persian Jews from extermination at the hands of the evil Haman, viceroy to Esther’s husband, King Ahasuerus. 

Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of the month of Adar, which usually corresponds to some time in March or late February. This year it coincided with the Spring Equinox, which is appropriate since many scholars feel that the feast of Purim may be a commemoration of the ancient Spring festivals of the Middle East -- a Hebrew folktale cast in a quasi-historical setting rather than an actual historical event. The Book of Esther is not mentioned in an authoritative list of sacred writings dated c. 180 BC, so its composition most likely dates to some time beyond 180 BC. 

The story takes place in the Persian empire city of Susa, in the 5th century BC. The Jews had been released from their Babylonian captivity by Cyrus the Great of Persia in 538 BC and some had come to settle in nearby Persia. Among them was a good man named Mordecai. Mordecai later became the guardian of his lovely niece (or much younger cousin), Hadassah (means myrtle, as in myrtle tree), who, for unexplained reasons, is renamed Esther. The beautiful Hadassah/Esther is chosen as bride by King Ahasuerus (thought to be either Xerxes or his grandson Artaxerxes), but he is unaware that she is of the Hebrew immigrant community and she does not enlighten him about it. 

Ahasuerus has a trusted right-hand man named Haman who does everything he can to curry favor with the king and thus become even more trusted and powerful. A decree goes out that people must bow to this highly favored individual but Mordecai refuses to do so. Haman is insulted and becomes angry. Finding out that Mordecai is part of the Jewish community, Haman vows revenge on all of Mordecai’s people; he begins to plot how to kill all the Jews. He starts by getting the king to countenance his plan by convincing him that the Jews refuse to obey his laws. This outrages the king and together they write up the execution order for the Jews and set a date for it. 

Word gets out and Mordecai is distraught for his people. Esther doesn’t know about the decree but she sees that Mordecai is very sad and wonders why. When she finally learns the truth she decides to intercede with the king, heroically defying the king’s decree that no one should ever come to his chambers uninvited. But the king is receptive to her when she arrives, and agrees to a plan she has devised. The truth comes out soon thereafter and Haman’s true colors are shown. He is executed and the Jews are saved.

Or so goes the story. 

People everywhere have celebrated spring festivals and the Middle East is no exception. Spring represents the victory of light over darkness and life over death. It is mythologized and anthropomorphized in many cultures and many ways. During their many years in Babylon the Hebrew people were undoubtedly exposed to the New Year’s Spring festival of Akitu, which celebrated the god Marduk’s victory over the chaos of Tiamat and thus the beginning of creation. This festival took place for 11 days early in the month of Nissanu, which corresponds roughly with the time of the spring equinox. Babylonia’s primary goddess, Ishtar, played a prominent role in these proceedings. While they lived in Persia the Hebrews could not have avoided exposure to the Persian Spring Equinox Festival of Nauroz (also spelled Nowruz, Narooz, etc), meaning “New Light,” which was celebrated as least as far back in time as the Median Empire that predated the Achaemenid Empire—of which Xerxes was the fourth monarch—a time predating the arrival of the Hebrew immigrants by between 10-50 years. 

The name Mordechai is Babylonian and means "servant of Marduk," Marduk being the chief god of the Babylonians. The name Esther is equivalent to Ishtar, supreme goddess of the Babylonians who was linked with the “morning star” planet of Venus. The Talmud refers to Esther as the “morning star.” The Babylonian captivity of the Jews had allowed them approximately 90 years to soak up the religion and culture of the Babylonian empire. 

Even Haman finds his place among the local pagan deities; it is conjectured that Haman is equivalent to the Elamite (i.e. the area around Susa) deity Humman, which is also rendered as Humbar and Khumban. The Elamites and Babylonians were ancient foes; thus Humman was a foe of Marduk, just as Haman was a foe of Mordecai. 

It is quite likely that Purim began as some sort of Spring Festival, but since the Hebrews used a lunar calendar the festival was probably affixed to a full moon and thus the time of its celebration varied.

Jensen, P; as found in The Jewish Quarterly Review, April 1899, A New Commentary on the Five Megilloth,Thomas Tyler, p 519

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Serpent was Telling the Truth

And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:9;

And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. Genesis 2:15-17

We all know the story: God placed our first parents, Adam and Eve, into a beautiful garden in Eden and told them they could eat of anything growing there save the tree in the center of the garden - the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. One day Eve was walking in the Garden and came to the Tree. It was lovely and the fruit looked appetizing and delicious. Just then a smooth-talking “subtil” serpent slithered near and asked her if it was true that God had forbidden her and Adam to eat the fruit of this tree because it would kill them. When she replied in the affirmative, the serpent said:

Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. Genesis 3: 4-5

Eve thought about this for a few minutes. That “subtil” serpent was pretty convincing and Eve, deciding to take the risk that the fruit would bring her wisdom rather than death, took a large bite of the luscious fruit. Finding it quite delicious, she shared it with her partner, Adam.

Eating the fruit opened their eyes in a new way: they suddenly realized they were naked. Not long afterward they heard God taking his usual early evening stroll in the Garden and they panicked, feeling that they must cover their nakedness. Of course when God saw them with their newly made figleaf aprons, he knew immediately what had happened and decided to punish them for their disobedience by banishing them from the Garden—in essence, sending them off to live on their own, without his help or the ease of life in the Garden. He told them it was going to be hard.

He prepared them for their new life with a new set of clothing:

Unto Adam and his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them. Genesis 3:21

Pictures of this part of the story in your average Bible Stories book usually show Adam and Eve walking around looking a bit like cavemen in their new animal-skin garments. But nowhere in this part of Genesis does it say something like,
“And then the Lord God didst whack a deer over the head, killing it, and stripping off its skin, didst make garments for Adam and his wife to clothe their nakedness.”

So I guess we’re meant take this sentence at face value—God made
coats of skin to clothe them. He gave them skin, which implies that up to this point they didn’t have any.

What this really means is that he made them physical bodies.
Genesis 3:21 is about Adam and Eve’s “descent” from the etheric state of being to the material one. Their new skin clothing was to serve as a “container” for their souls—their etheric essence and true being—and were appropriate for the material realm that they would now inhabit.

And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life and eat and live forever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. Genesis 3: 22-24

Even though he was punishing them by casting them out of the Garden—the eternal world of spirit—and into the material world of limits, God was still worried that they might decide to try to eat the fruit of that other tree, the Tree of Life, and thus become immortal, godlike. In
Genesis 2:22-24 he has a talk with himself (actually, himselves – but this is a topic we’ve already discussed) about this potential problem and comes to a decision as to what to do about it. He decides to post an angel and a rotating, flaming sword to discourage their re-entry.

What this means, esoterically, is that they cannot simply shed their new physicality at will and return to the spirit realm, the Garden. If they want to return they will now have to work their way back on the terms of the physical realm. This means working hard,earth, tilling the earth, suffering pain, bearing their children in pain, and in general, enduring the limitations, hardships, and sorrows that go along with life on the material plane.

These experiences cause the soul to learn and grow, to discern the difference between good and evil— a lesson that, over time, bears fruit in the form of wisdom.

So in actuality, the serpent was right. Eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
does open one’s eyes, making one more godlike.

But then again, God was right as well. Eating the fruit of that Tree does indeed cause one to die—to the relative freedom of the spirit world—as one is born into the physical world of time, limitation, and learning experiences.