Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: cosmology

Earth and the Heavens

May 2, 2008

Why were all early temples and sacred places built at the highest point available to the builders? Because this is the place nearest the sky. And why is the most sacred space nearest the sky? Because the sky is the divine opposite of life on earth, home of all that is eternal in contrast to the mortal life of earth. When primitive man looked up at the heavens, he saw a vast cavalcade of divine figures regularly passing before his eyes—the cosmic drama, breathtaking in its eternal order and predictability. Here are the eternal prototypes and models for mortal life; but a great gulf yawns between the two spheres, for the life of the heavens, the life of the gods, is immortal and everlasting, while life in the earthly sphere is mortal, ending in death. For the earliest human beings—the first creatures to look upon the drama of the heavens with comprehension—these insights required little reasoning and no discussion; they were immediate and obvious, self-evident truths. This meditation on the heavens was the aboriginal religious experience. In the words of the preeminent modern scholar of religion Mircea Eliade:

The phrase “contemplating the vault of heaven” really means something when it is applied to primitive man, receptive to the miracles of every day to an extent we find it hard to imagine. Such contemplation is the same as a revelation. The sky shows itself as it really is: infinite, transcendent. The vault of heaven is, more than anything else, “something quite apart” from the tiny thing that is man and his span of life. The symbolism of its transcendence derives from the simple realization of its infinite height. “Most high” becomes quite naturally an attribute of the divinity. The regions above man’s reach, the starry places, are invested with the divine majesty of the transcendent, of absolute reality, of everlastingness. Such places are the dwellings of the gods; certain privileged people (like Lugalbanda) go there as a result of rites effecting their ascension into heaven…. The “high” is something inaccessible to man as such; it belongs by right to superhuman powers and beings; when a man ceremonially ascends the steps of a sanctuary, or the ritual ladder leading to the sky, he ceases to be a man.

As we continue to climb to the sanctuary, the primeval worldview of the people who built the steps we tread becomes ever more evident. The cosmology of the Sumerians was based on perceptions of societies, now irretrievably ancient, that had preceded them; and, with a few adjustments, it would be received as truth by almost all societies that followed the Sumerians, right down to the threshold of modern times. Earth was a flat circle, attached at its perimeter to the dome of Heaven. Between Earth and Heaven was the element of Air, in which, high up, hung the astral bodies passing before the eyes of Earth-dwellers, pictorial projections of the drama of Heaven, which was also of course predictive of life on Earth, itself a kind of weak imitation of the heavenly drama. Just beneath the circle of Earth was the realm of Death—Hades, Sheol, the shadowy hell to which the dead were consigned—a sort of basement of the Sea of Chaos that surrounded the Earth-Heaven on all sides, whence rain fell and flood rose. Each of these great elements was a god: Heaven was father; Earth was mother; Air, which contained the eternal but ever-revolving pictures of the cosmic drama and clues (for the insightful interpreter) to our life on Earth, was mediator between Heaven and Earth and therefore the most important god in the Sumerian pantheon; and the Sea was necessarily an unpredictable and troubling ally, to be treated with caution.

Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews, pp. 40-42

Shamanic Paraphernalia

March 7, 2003

Under the influence of Buddhism, the chaotic forces of nature, variously feared and honored by the shamanic tradition, were made to fit harmoniously into the Indian cosmological model. Old shamanic rites were adopted by the Buddhist clergy and heavily overlaid with Buddhist liturgy and symbolism. Monks adorned their temples with such archaic paraphernalia as the shaman’s divination arrow, his magic mirror, and his precious pieces of fine rock crystal. They appropriated the shaman’s bow and arrow and drum, and the broad, fur-trimmed hat and gown of the “black-hat sorcerer” festooned with shamanic symbols of the cosmic tree (or world mountain), sun and moon, snake-like ribbons and the divination mirror, with trimmings of bone, fur, and feathers.

Roy G. Willis, World Mythology, p. 107

Greek View of the Cosmos

March 7, 2003

In contrast to the earlier Bronze Age view of a serene, mathematically ordered process defined by the rhythm of the planets, to the machinery of which all things are geared and as agents of which they serve, the Greek view suggests an indefinable circumspection, within the bounds of which both the gods and men work their individual wills, ever in danger of violating the undefined bounds and being struck down, yet with play enough—within limits—to achieve a comely realization of ends humanly conceived.

In contrast to the Biblical view, where a freely willing personal god is antecedent to the order of the universe, himself unlimited by law, the Greek gods were themselves aspects of the universe—children of Chaos and the great Earth, just as men are. And even Chaos and the great Earth produced our world not through acts of creative will, but as seeds produce trees, out of the natural spontaneity of their substance. The secret of this spontaneity may be learned or sensed, but is not definable as the will, work, or divine plan of a personality.

The type of scholarship characteristic of both the synagogue and the mosque, where the meticulous search for the last grain of meaning is scripture is honored about all science, never carried the Greeks away. In the great Levantine traditions such scholasticism is paramount and stands opposed to the science of the Greeks. For if the phenominal world studied by science is but a function of the will of God, and God’s will is subject to change, what good can there possibly be in the study of nature?

Joseph Campbell, The Masks Of God, p. 179-80