Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sacrifices to Molech

One of the favorite games people like to play with other people's religions is to claim they engaged in regular human sacrifice. Somehow the notion that criminals and prisoners of war being ritualy slain for religion is somehow a lot more distasteful than heretics and murderers being ritualy slain in the name of religion and justice. I started out curious about this notion of sacrifice, and of human sacrefice, and along the way I have learned a few startling facts.

First of all, sacrefice, originally, had nothing to do with virgins being slain on a stone altar. It has nothing to do with giving something up, "sacrificing" for the greater good, or doing without. It has nothing to do with a wealthly environmentalist "sacrifincing" his Prius for the good of the planet (ever wonder where all that lithium for the battery is coming from?). Instead it comes from the Latin "Sacre" meaning something seperate. In this case, something seperated out from the mundane and dedicated or otherwise made untouchable. Something dangerous or "bad" could be sacre. Someone made ritually unclean could be sacre. This is, when you think about it, probably where the idea of giving something up as "Sacrifice". It is no longer available, it is seperate, it is sacre.  Someone who decides to give himself up to his god, is not sacrificed when the knife plunges into his chest, he was sacrificed, made "sacre" when he dedicated his life to his god. He then is ritually killed, feeding his god with his essence, or something along those lines.

It is important to seperate, if you will, out these two elements. First is the dedication of the item, plant, animal, space, time, being to the god, gods, or what have you. Then comes the act: the ritual smashing, burning, slaying, or killing. The sacrifice occurred when the object was set apart, seperated, and dedicated. It is now sacred.What happens next varies. An object can be thrown into a lake, well, or destroyed by burning. It can be given to a temple or utilized by the priesthood exclusively. The animal can be slain and eaten by the priests.

Now come the interesting part. Their seems to be an utter fascination by the part of moderns, to find charge other cultures with human sacrifice. Given the lurid depictions in so many "B" movies, it must feed some sort of need, or have deeper conotations than I am willing to entertain. So we have people wondering if those friendly Indians running the local casino establishment once sacrificed virgins on a buckskin altar. We have historians confident that ancient Druids conducted human sacrifice, despite their being very poor evidence (Caesar wouldn't lie, now would he? Those Romans were so honest! They keep telling us just how honest they are!) We have Spanish testimony to all the depredation those Aztecs committed, including all those lurid details about human sacrifice. We have numerous testimonies from missionaries gossiping about human sacrifice by those awful savages, heard third and fourth hand, at least they did before those earstwhile missionaries saved them from their savagery.

I was astounded when I went looking for primary sources, eyewitness accounts, they seem to evaporate quickly, like the morning mist on a summer's morning. Just like all those "historical" accounts one reads about in the bible. All those dependable accounts of pagans sacrificing, ahem, i mean, ritually killing their children to Molech or some other invisible creature. Maybe their are hard accounts of human ritual killings, eyewitness accounts of Incan priests slaying a young girl, skinning her, and then wearing her skin in a bit of sympathetic magic, witnessess that don't have some political or theological axe to grind. I have been wondering if we have a bit of academic credulity here, a display of ivory tower naivete, than mistakes a tale for a report, a poetic metaphor for a newspaper item. Even Barbara Walker, of "The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets", seem to fall for the King Killing mythology as a literal tale, history wrapped up in myth.

This is the idea, that when the king can longer perform his kingly duties, or when a year has passed, he is killed, either by the priesthood, or by his successor. Now, while I can grant that people, in a bid for some powerful sympathetic and symbolic magic, might try to literally enact their own mythology, I would like some proof of this. It is quite the charge, but I am rather perplexed that intelligent people are quite willing to believe this, given the spotty and flimsy evidence. But then again, we are culturally quite prejudiced when it comes to the religious habits of the "primitives" and their ability to think logically.

In short, it seems the only people I have ever run across that have a tendency to interpret their religion literaly, rather than metaphorically, are those belonging to the tribe of the Christians.  I was astonished when I discovered that my pastor at my Bible College believed in the literal blood of Christ kept in a vessel in a literal Heaven, a literal temple, and that was what was washing our sins away. I guess we had literal sins I was not aware of. Another pastor displayed a "World News" tabloid whose headlines screamed that Russians had drilled into Hell, and a bunch of demons had flown out of the hole! This, he waved the paper, proves Hell exists! Oh my, I slunk deep into my chair.

In short, only those religious practioners who seem to follow the Abrahamic religions, and by extension, all zeus pater derivatives, ever seem to interpret their religion and mythos literally. After all, isn't it the Catholic Priesthood that teaches the Communion wafer and wine become literaly flesh and blood after it is ingested?

It should be clear that probably the root of all this is threefold: one is that story of the Consort of the Goddess who dies (or is slain) and later resurrected are all metaphors for the practice of agriculture. The divine male child who later grows up to be the Goddess's consort is the Wheat, Barley, etc that is slain in the Summer, and Rebirthed in the Spring as the berries (which are "dead") are sown (buried) in the ground. The wild plants seeds, too, have lain, "buried", in the ground over the Winter. I suppose upon reading these stories about the killing of John BarleyCorn we are supposed to believe English killed a surrogate every late Summer. The second reason for all this nonsense, is that Christian are ready to project their own shadow onto these "savages", and thus feel morally superior, since they killed their god once, while these "primitives" have to do it every year or so. It seems lost to them that the core of their religion involves the ritual killing of their god, and every Easter they kill him again  in a thousand passion plays. This, then, is what all the fuss is about. Third, is the habit of intellectuals to think the worst of others outside their hallowed halls, and to accept conclusions that vindicate their prejudices, and not check out citations unless they are intensly jealous of the books author. It is an amazingly  irritating habit to read archaeologists speculating about a culture seperated by a thousand years with a confidence that goes way beyond hubris.

Come to think of it, there is probably a fourth cause, and its the tendency to believe anything in print. Amazing but true!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

In the Hands of an Angry Gaia

I know Barbara Walker's The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets can be controversial in some circles, but I have always enjoyed her writing; at the very least she makes me think. Case in point is the entry found under Doomsday,
 The universal idea of the world's end was rooted in ancient Hindu belief in the cyclic alternation of universes, brought about by Kali.
Why is this topic coming up now? Quite simply, because of all the hoopla surrounding the year 2012, specifically, the winter solstice of 2012, thus marking the end of the Mayan Long Count calender. For those not in the know, the Mayan were accomplished daykeepers, and kept calendars for a variety of purposes. Temples were built, commissioned, and the then decommissioned based on specific calendars. Now, those in the American New Age community, looking for some fresh Disaster to focus their thoughts on, have now focused on the Winter of 2012, each promising a variety of outcomes. The novelty that is seized upon, is that the calendar ENDS! This is a terribly novel thought, since our own calendar doesn't ever really end; it simply rotates among seven different templates, with minor corrections made by astronomers every so often.

What is overlooked is that the Mayans tended to view nature and history as made of a series of cycles. What prevents Mayans from creating another Long Count was, previously, the tragic destruction of the Mayan culture by those villains of history, The Castillian Spaniards. The remnants of this ancient culture were forced underground and out of sight. For all we know, qualified daykeepers have already created a new Long Count, and they ain't telling us! Who could blame them?

It turns out though, the Mayans are not the only ones with this peculiar habit. As we read on in our entry, it becomes clear:
Each successive creation was divided into four yugas or ages: Satya, Treta, Dvapara, And Kali, the fourth and last marking the age when Mother turns Destroyer because the race of men become violent and sinful, failing to perceive deity in the feminine principle.
 So the ancient Indians had the same concept. Not just one Long Count Calendar, but four!
An age was supposed to begin when sun, moon, and planets stood in conjunction at the initial point of the ecliptic and to end when they returned to the same point. By Hindu reckoning the present yuga began in 3102 B.C. The chronology of the Central American Maya began in 3113 B.C., only 11 years later, "a discrepancy probably due to some minor miscalculation in reckoning backward from the observed movements of the heavenly bodies."
By Hindu calculations, the age of Kali has already drawn to a close. But I don't think the Universe moves quite so precisely, down to the nanoseconds of our atomic clocks. It is clear, though, the curtain is already parting, or closing, depending on your point of view. What is this act we all are participating in? Its called:
...Kali's doomsday [and when it arrives]..., the gods would slay each other. Earth would be overwhelmed by fire and flood. The Goddess would swallow up everything and un-make it, returning to her primordial state of formless Chaos, as she was before creation. All beings would enter her, because "She devours all existence." After a time that could not be counted because even Time was destroyed, Kali would give birth to a new universe.
Does this familiar? Something from the Scandinavian side of the aisle? Something called Ragnarok? Curiouser and curiouser:
Northern Europeans drew their myths of doomsday or Ragnorok from the same ancient tradition. They said the world's end would be brought about by the Mutspell (Mother's Curse) when violent gods neglected the old laws of peace and blood kinship. The angry Goddess would become Skadi the Destroyer, a great shadow devouring the world, like her Oriental counterpart Kali. The gods would enter that shadow of Gotterdammerung, literally the Going-Into-the-Shadow-of-the-Gods.
What is fascinating is how this idea gets incorporated into Christianity (via the arch-patriarchs the Persians), and therefore into Western Culture, of which North Americans--for some strange reason--seem particularly smitten by its patriarchal version:
Passing through Jewish-Essenic and Roman-Mithraic sects into Christianity, this Persian doomsday became the familiar one in the west, with numerous details borrowed from the older Aryan paganism. The last Trump played on Gabreil's horn was originally played on Rig-Heimdall's "ringing horn" (Gjallarhorn). The Great Serpent slain by Thor in the final battle became identified with Satan. Like paganism's sacred dramas, the final drama of the earth's dissolution was divided into five acts. Christians even translated the Norse "Mother's Curse" as "Judgement Day" when they found it variously rendered Mutspell, Muspell, Muspelle, Mudspeller, or Muspilli.
Come to think of it, that passage in the Bible about there being a war in heaven and Satan being cast down is now starting to make more sense.

Indeed, many things are starting to make sense. It is also amazing, to see just how twisted and convoluted patriarchy can be. I am coming to believe nothing much in Myth and Religion makes sense until we peel back those patriarchal layers.

But before we take leave of this fascinating entry, it should be mentioned why Kali finds it necessary to wreak so much devastation:
"Due to the limited intelligence and lust of men in the Kali Yuga, they will be unable to recognize women as manifestations of the Shakti." Only a few may escape spiritual degeneration: those who are devoted "to the lotus of their mothers' feet and to their own wives."
So there you have it. You now know how to escape The Wrath of Gaia.

Be well!