Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: religion

Compelling Deities To Yield Their Boons

August 4, 2022

The means by which the priestly caste in India gained the mastery over the nobles—gradually, perhaps, but surely and securely—was the awe that they managed to inspire in all around them by the chanting, and apparent power, of their Vedic charms. In the earliest period the gods were implored. But when it was reasoned that since the gods could be conjured to man’s will the power of the conjuring rites must be greater than that of the gods, the deities were no longer implored but compelled to yield their boons to the warrior clans; and the magic of the Brahmins, the knowers of the potent spells, became recognized as the mightiest, and most dangerous, in the world.

The Masks of God: Oriental Mythology, p. 189

Terrifying Initiation Ordeals

May 17, 2022

…But Zarathustra escaped from prison and also from attempts to murder him. He lived to fight many battles against the forces of evil, battles where he pitched his magic powers against the powers of evil sorcerers. Later he became the archetype of the wizard, with a tall hat, cloak of stars and an eagle on his shoulder. Zarathustra was a dangerous, somewhat disconcerting figure, prepared to fight fire with fire.

He led his followers to secluded grottoes, hidden in the forests. There in underground caverns he initiated them. He wanted to provide them with the supernatural powers needed to fight the good fight….

Zarathustra prepared his followers to face Ahriman’s demons, or Asuras, by terrifying initiation ordeals. He who fears death, he said, is already dead.

It was recorded by Menippus, the Greek philosopher of the third century [B.C.E.], who had been initiated by the Mithraic successors of Zarathustra, that, after a period of fasting, mortification and mental exercises performed in solitude, the candidate would be forced to swim across water, then pass through fire and ice. He would be cast into a snake pit, and cut across the chest by a sword, so that blood would flow.

By experiencing the outer limits of fear, the initiate was prepared for the worst that could happen, both in life and after death.

The Secret History of the World, Chapter 10

Author’s emphases are in italic. Mine are in bold.

The American Spiritual Temper Is Unconsciously Calvinist

May 13, 2022

[The] American spiritual temper is…uniquely oriented toward the will. Our soil produces more magicians than mystics. We inherited part of this strong will impulse from a source that most of us now find repellant: the Calvinist religion of the early settlers. According to Calvinism, God likes some people better than others and expresses his approval through earthly gifts. Health, wealth, and happiness are proof of God’s favor. Poverty and suffering are telltale signs of sin. Whether people will be favored or rejected by God is already decided before they are born. Some are predestined to be saved, and some are earmarked for damnation.

Contrary to what you might expect, this peculiar doctrine didn’t plunge its believers into despair or stop them from making an effort. On the contrary, it spurred them on. By working hard, amassing wealth, and keeping their lives in good order, they could prove to themselves and others that they were among the elect. This was the source of the Protestant work ethic.

Nowadays, you don’t find many card-carrying Calvinists. I’ve never met one personally. But I have known many who pursue yoga or Buddhism or even paganism in a Calvinist way. The Calvinist impulse has broken free of its Protestant origins and entered the collective unconscious of Americans. When I spell out its doctrine explicitly, you probably think it’s the dumbest spiritual teaching you ever heard. Yet, at some level, you are almost sure to be influenced by it. Rare is the American who isn’t.

You might say that you don’t believe in predestination, but if you are fond of the phrase “meant to be,” you’re leaning in that direction. If you think that an unhappy marriage, poor health, or money troubles are a sign that you’re on the wrong spiritual track, or that spirituality will fix it, you are making a Calvinist assumption.

In medieval Europe, people looked to the impoverished and emaciated for spiritual teachings. Austerity was the mark of a saint. In America, the prerequisite for any spiritual teacher is a life that works. We don’t turn for guidance to someone who can’t pay their electric bill. Consciously or unconsciously, we assume that the spiritually accomplished lead healthy, prosperous, and well-ordered lives….

On Becoming an Alchemist, pp. 149-50

Blood Sacrifice Was the Central Religous Ritual

April 16, 2022

Ritual sacrifice is the most clear-cut instance of violence made sacred. When the victim is nonhuman, the central act of violence is essentially a familiar and understandable one: the slaughter of animals for food. The fact that the simple act of butchery has so often been sacralized hints at a sinister side to the deities so honored and is suggestive, as we shall see, of an anxiety far older than either religion or war, and possibly central to both.

Few religions today openly practice blood sacrifice…. But contemporary historians of religion remind us of what religious practitioners often prefer to ignore or forget: that blood sacrifice is not just “a” religious ritual; it is the central ritual of the religions of all ancient and traditional civilizations. For thousands of years, the core religious ritual from the highlands of the Andes to the valley of the Ganges was the act of sacrificial killing. The temple that housed the altar, or the raised platform or stone circle that constituted a holy place, was also an abattoir….

Animal sacrifice…was an all-pervasive reality in the ancient world.” Hebrew sacrificial ritual resembled that of the Greeks, which in turn resembled that of the Egyptians and Phoenicians, the Babylonians and Persians, the Etruscans, and the Romans. The names of the gods who were the recipients of the sacrifices varied from culture to culture, but the main elements of the ritual were everywhere recognizable and familiar to the ancients: the procession, the climactic throat-slitting or beheading, the butchering, the examination of entrails, the ritual uses of the fresh blood, the burning or cooking of the remains.

Blood Rites, pp. 23, 28

Emphases mine.

Athena Was Not Always a War Goddess

April 10, 2022

In the Minoan days of Crete an unprecedented flowering of learning and the arts was cultivated by Athena. Dynamic architecture rose to four stories, pillared and finely detailed, yet always infused with the serenity of the Goddess. Patiently Her mortals charted the heavens, devised a calendar, kept written archives. In the palaces they painted striking frescoes of Her Priestesses and sculpted Her owl and ever-renewing serpent in the shrine rooms. Goddess figures and their rituals were deftly engraved on seals and amulets. Graceful scenes were cast in relief for gold vessels and jewelry. Athena nurtured all the arts, but Her favorites were weaving and pottery.

Long before there were palaces, the Goddess had appeared to a group of women gathering plants in a field. She broke open the stems of blue-flowered flax and showed them how the threadlike fibers could be spun and then woven. The woof and warp danced in Her fingers until a length of cloth was bom before them. She told them which plants and roots would color the cloth, and then She led the mortals from the field to a pit of clay. There they watched Athena form a long serpent and coil it, much like the serpents coiled around Her arms. She formed a vessel and smoothed the sides, then deftly applied a paste made from another clay and water. When it was baked in a hollow in the earth, a spiral pattern emerged clearly. The image of circles that repeat and repeat yet move forward was kept by the women for centuries.

As the mortals moved forward, Athena guided the impulse of the arts. She knew they would never flourish in an air of strife, so She protected households from divisive forces and guarded towns against aggression. So invincible was the aura of Her protection that the Minoans lived in unfortified coastal towns. Their shipping trade prospered and they enjoyed a peace that spanned a thousand years. To Athena each family held the olive bough sacred, each worshipped Her in their home. Then quite suddenly the flowering of the Minoans was slashed. Northern barbarians, more fierce than the Aegean Goddess had ever known, invaded the island and carried Athena away to Attica. There they made her a soldier.

Lost Goddesses of Early Greece, pp. 99-101

Everyone Is Religious

April 9, 2022

The world is a dangerous place, full of death and chaos. What little people have been able to figure out about it they’ve passed down to their children and grandchildren. Societies that discover the right way to live might prosper; those that don’t are doomed to fail.

This hidden knowledge of the ages isn’t something you can afford to ignore. It’s folklore and science and culture all wrapped into one. This is religion.

In our present day, there’s a rift perceived between religion and science, two areas of life set at odds against each other. To many, religion is something you do in private for vaguely “spiritual” reasons or to “be a better person”. Science (like its aft-facing counterpart history) is seen as a proper area of learning and study, where useful knowledge can be obtained.

With that mindset, it’s easy to forget about religion. …[Everyone] is religious, in one way or another.

  1. Religion is ancestral. It’s been passed down from generation to generation, a tangible link to the ancestors who came before you. You might not own anything your great-great-grandmother once had, but you can still practice her religion and know her story.
  2. Religion is cultural. If all our people do things the same way, that way identifies us as a people and shows who belongs to our group.
  3. Religion is political. When religion determines identity and prescribes conduct, religious authority becomes political power.
  4. Religion is knowledge. The ancestors did things this way for a reason. We’ve lost a lot since the apocalypse; following their ancient rule may save us from dangers in ways we don’t even understand.

Religion That Can’t Be Avoided – Signs in the Wilderness

Author’s emphases.

The Reason for the Seasons

April 2, 2022

Demeter’s hair was yellow as the ripe corn of which she was mistress, for she was the Harvest Spirit, goddess of farmed fields and growing grain. The threshing floor was her sacred space. Women, the world’s first farmers (while men still ran off to the bloody howling of hunt and battle), were her natural worshipers, praying: “May it be our part to separate wheat from chaff in a rush of wind, digging the great winnowing fan through Demeter’s heaped-up mounds of corn while she stands among us, smiling, her brown arms heavy with sheaves, her ample breasts adorned in flowers of the field.”

Demeter had but one daughter, and she needed no other, for Persephone was the Spirit of Spring. The Lord of Shadows and Death, Hades himself, the Unseen One, carried her off in his jet-black chariot, driven by coal-black steeds, through a crevice in the surface of Earth, down to the realms of the dead. For nine days, Demeter wandered sorrowing over land, sea, and sky in search of her daughter, but no one dared tell her what had happened till she reached the Sun, who had seen it all. With Zeus’s help, the mother retrieved her daughter, but Persephone had already eaten a pomegranate seed, food of the dead, at Hades’s insistence, which meant she must come back to him. In the end, a sort of truce was arranged. Persephone could return to her sorrowing mother but must spend a third of each year with her dark Lord. Thus, by the four-month death each year of the goddess of springtime in her descent to the underworld, did winter enter the world. And when she returns from the dark realms she always strikes earthly beings with awe and smells somewhat of the grave.

Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, p. 3

Prayer for Forgiveness

March 20, 2022
Ahmed ibn Fahdlan:
For all we ought to have thought, and have not thought;
For all we ought to have said, and have not said;
For all we ought to have done, and have not done;
I pray thee, God, for forgiveness.

— “The 13th Warrior” (1999)

Magical Practice Required Specialist Knowledge

November 28, 2021

Magic was accepted without exception by all strata of society, but its practice required considerable specialist magical knowledge; amateur dabbling with such powers was generally disastrous. In the official rhetoric of these times magic is a powerful but ambiguous quality, sometimes practised by specialists or charismatic individuals, and also by priests and rabbis drawing on religious lore. Magic is intimately bound up with religion for the Greeks and Romans, somewhat more removed for Jews. It is by turns valued, contested, debated and deemed dangerous; it is a variable quality but still central to social and cultural forces, as well as being a good diagnostic of them. Magic is as important for the historian in the present as it was for contemporary people millennia ago, and in order to understand it we must briefly sketch out broader cultural traditions and histories, many of which also provide the foundations of the world in which we live today.

Chris Gosden, Magic: a History, p. 240

Religion, Socializing, and Gods

September 18, 2021

…So in real life, Ancient Greek sacrificial practice was like a cool barbecue, people got together and hung out while singing and eating the fleshy bits the Gods didn’t want (which just so happened to be the bits that taste the best to humans). People would come from all over to honor the Gods and have cook-out. It sounds like it was rad….

Religion, Socializing and Gods – Tabletop Curiosity Cabinet

Kings Glorify State Gods by Conquering

June 18, 2021

The Assyrian king, like other Mesopotamian kings, was expected to glorify the god of the Assyrians—Ashur—by conquering for him as much territory as he could and by bringing back to his temple (and his kingdom) as much loot as he could. In the 300 years of the ninth, eighth, and seventh centuries [B.C.E.], the Assyrian kings could pride themselves on how much they had pleased Ashur—they were the supreme power of the Near East.

Alfred S. Bradford, With Arrow, Sword, and Spear, p. 41

Achieving Life After Death

November 17, 2020

The Maya believed that there really is continued existence beyond the grave. They also knew what the earliest Christians once knew as well—that “many are called, but few are chosen.” The only important question for the ancient Maya, as for the most insightful in all religions, was, “What do I need to do to be ‘chosen’?” As we’ve seen, for the Maya shamans, the answer to this question was: Embrace death from a condition of intensified Being.

The Shaman’s Secret, pp. 194-95

Emphasis mine.

Shamanism in Ancient Maya Life

November 17, 2020

Shamanism—the powerful psychological and spiritual process for re-creating the cosmos and turning death into life in all the dimensions of Reality—was the driving force behind every aspect of ancient Maya life. It always required that the shaman-creator sacrifice himself or herself, allow himself or herself to be struck by the terrible lightning of the gods, descend into the Abyss, and die in the Black Hole at its center. Death in its many forms—emotional, spiritual, and physical—was the price all creative individuals paid to become “Lords of Life.”

The Shaman’s Secret, p. 117

Snakes Carry Out Divine Demands

September 1, 2015

Early inhabitants of Crete may have believed that the kingdom of snakes enjoyed a special affinity with the gods; they seem to have known, for instance, that snakes, when called upon by the gods, carried out demands. Snakes came to people with messages; they stood as portents, executed miscreants, or indicated actions to be taken or avoided. In due time, gods were known to take the form of snakes in order to inflict good or evil upon mortals, and mortals were careful in dealing with snakes.

Lee Hall, Athena: A Biography, pp. 27-28

The Act of Sacrifice

September 10, 2012

The act of sacrifice occupies an important position in every religion, but our present day conception of it appears to be a modification of its original meaning which has gradually altered over the centuries.

For the word sacrifice actually derives from sacrum facere which means “to make sacred” and was used to describe any act of self-transcending through which the individual sought to attain the divine. It has now come to denote very little more than the killing of an animal or a man as an offering to the divinity either by way of supplication or thanksgiving; and Christianity has further devalued the word by associating it with notions of austerity and self-denial.

To regard sacrifice as a synonym for mortification is a serious error, since it totally alters the nature of that spiritual process by which the Ancients sought to fulfil their destiny. Ritual sacrifice was never intended to deprive creation for the sake of the creator. The Gallic chief Brennus gave a lucid and accurate account of its real meaning during the Celtic expedition to Delphi when he uttered the supposedly impious comment that “The gods had no need of treasures since they showered them upon men.”

Sacrifice was first and foremost a psychic procedure in which the sacrificial “victim” threw off the burden of earthly dross and rose through a series of stages in his attempt to reach the divinity. This divinity might be the Perfect Being, the Great Mother, an objective god or some concept of the ideal which was inherent in the individual….

The original act of sacrifice…was a process of self-identification with the divinity. It is this act which the Catholic priest performs during the mass. As Plutarch points out in his treatise on the E of Delphi, however, wise men seek to hide the truths from the masses and resort to fable as a means of preserving a tradition accessible only to the initiate. For the truths are not always to be lavished upon the common herd, and the means used can be both positive and negative in their effect. They may lead those who use them thoughtlessly and clumsily to unforseeable disasters. The way to hell is paved with good intentions….

Jean Markale, The Celts, p. 224

Emphasis mine.

Polycentric, Polytheistic, Polyphrenic, and Polyocular

August 24, 2012

How different indeed was the psychological world of these Greeks from our own. We in the present day persist in looking for cause and effect and remain monotheistic (having one god or supreme principle), monophrenic (having one personality), and monocular (having one way of seeing) in our epistemology. We tend to think that everything can be known in a straightforward, linear fashion. All we need do is accumulate enough facts and look at them rationally and the truth—of which there is only one—will reveal itself….

But the Homerically-inspired Greek mind, which found its finest flowering in the Athens of Pericles, was polycentric (having many centers), polytheistic (having many gods), polyphrenic (having many selves), and polyocular (having many ways of seeing), conceiving of many different causes—all of which provided a rich weave of explanation. They viewed reality as a field of unity in diversity with the One, deriving its Oneness only from the interconnecting patterns of the many.

Jean Houston, The Hero and the Goddess, pp. 55-56

Ancient State of Consciousness

August 10, 2011

Whole dimensions lie glistening on the dark side of even the most dull and commonplace thought.

The wise men and women of the ancient world knew how to work with these dimensions, and over many millennia they created and refined images which would perform just this function. As taught in the Mystery schools, the very early history of the world unfolds in a series of images of this type.…

Therefore let us now [try imagining] ourselves into the mind of someone about two and a half thousand years ago, walking through woodland to a sacred grove or a temple such as Newgrange in Ireland, or Eleusis in Greece.…

To such a person the wood and everything in it was alive. Everything was watching him. Unseen spirits whispered in the movements of the trees. A breeze brushing against his cheek was the gesture of a god. If the buffeting of blocks of air in the sky created lightning, this was an outbreak of cosmic will—and maybe he walked a little faster. Perhaps he sheltered in a cave?

When ancient man ventured into a cave he had a strange sense of being inside his own skull, cut off in his own private mental space. If he climbed to the top of a hill, he felt his consciousness race to the horizon in every direction, out towards the edges of the cosmos—and he felt at one with it. At night he experienced the sky as the mind of the cosmos.

When he walked along a woodland pathway he would have had a strong sense of following his destiny. Today any of us may wonder, How did I end up in this life that seems to have little or nothing to do with me? Such a thought would have been conceivable to someone in the ancient world, where everyone was conscious of his or her place in the cosmos.

Everything that happened to him—even the sight of a mote in a sunbeam, the sound of the flight of a bee or the sight of a falling sparrow—was meant to happen. Everything spoke to him. Everything was a punishment, a reward, a warning or a premonition. If he saw an owl, for example, this wasn’t just a symbol of the goddess, this was Athena. Part of her, a warning finger perhaps, was protruding into the physical world and into his own consciousness.

Mark Booth, The Secret History of the World, pp. 38-39

Author’s emphasis in italics. Mine in bold.

Shamanic Initiation Is a Journey Into Chaos

May 30, 2011

[The] plunge into the twilight of the psyche obliterates the normal categories of perception, replacing them with a vision that is unique and personal. The shamanic candidate, led by elders, encounters spirits that are part animal and part human, men dressed as women and vice versa, and monstrous shapes and forms that represent the ambiguous forces of the universe that are frightening to the human ego. From that moment on, the universe will be wider and grander, more mysterious, and yet (and this is the point of being a shaman) more manageable. The old social boundaries and mental constructs that the new shaman formerly accepted as immovable and inviolable are revealed to be socially conditioned, arbitrary structures. Like a mask, the everyday world of family and clan conceals amorphous realms of spirit, nature, beauty, and terror that defy categorization. And during the perils of initiation, the new shaman learns how to remove this mask.

The shaman develops a fluid, malleable worldview that is not as brittle as most people’s. Shamans know that the real and the unreal are merely opposite ends of a continuum on which reality can be stretched to include what is normally considered unreal. Even better, the continuum, like a flexible rod, can be bent, curved, and shaped into a circle where the end points of reality and unreality meet and become the same point. To the shaman, the universe is truly the Uroborous, the serpent holding its own tail in its mouth, uniting what appears to be the beginning and end. Depending on your point of view, the serpent is either devouring or disgorging the universe of its own body. To the shaman, it may appear to be doing both at once; and the shaman is not confused by this.

The shamanic initiation is a journey into chaos, a plunge into the primal realm where things are not what they seem, where rules and guidelines governing conduct and belief fail and are no longer appropriate. The shaman-to-be is initially terrified of what appear to be hostile spirits, even while being conducted safely through the ordeal by friendly spirits who may appear as ancestors or animal powers. In the process, shamans acquire a new self. Their mental universe is unraveled and rewoven, their physical bodies are dismembered and reintegrated or replaced with spiritual bodies. Finally the shaman re-enters ordinary reality as a “wise woman” or a “man of knowledge,” an interpreter of the spirit world, one who has seen reality demolished and reconstructed. The shaman begins to understand the ambiguous nature of the universe and the unending law of change by which it operates.

Tom Cowan, Fire in the Head, pp. 51-52

Emphasis mine.

Trickery Is Part of the Shaman’s Craft

May 29, 2011

The Trickster or Foolish God teaches us that we often deceive ourselves. Beneath the ego and its mask of order and reason lies an untamed, wilder, lawless self as genuine as the masks of respectability we present to society. By embarrassing us, the Trickster teaches us deeper truths about ourselves. Not only does the Trickster confront us with the multiple nature of the universe, he shows us the multiple nature of ourselves, a truth the shaman learns through the tricks and deceptions of his initiating spirits. Indeed, trickery is part of the shaman’s craft, for he or she understands that often the mind has to be tricked for the body to heal. Some shamans relied so heavily on trickery and sleight-of-hand that Western observers misunderstood their motives and dismissed them as mere charlatans. They failed to appreciate the purpose of trickery and illusion as a means of “performing” in ordinary reality the transformations that were occurring on the psychic or spiritual plane.

Tom Cowan, Fire in the Head, p. 60

Emphasis mine.

The Gods Are Not Ends in Themselves

November 20, 2010

The gods as icons are not ends in themselves. Their entertaining myths transport the mind and spirit, not up to, but past them, into the yonder void; from which perspective the more heavily freighted theological dogmas then appear to have been only pedagogical lures: their function, to cart the unadroit intellect away from its concrete clutter of facts and events to a comparatively rarefied zone, where, as a final boon, all existence—whether heavenly, earthly, or infernal—may at last be seen transmuted into the semblance of a lightly passing, recurrent, mere childhood dream of bliss and fright. “From one point of view all those divinities exist,” a Tibetan lama recently replied to the question of an understanding Occidental visitor, “from another they are not real.” This is the orthodox teaching of the ancient Tantras: “All of these visualized deities are but symbols representing the various things that occur on the Path“; as well as a doctrine of the contemporary psychoanalytical schools. And the same metatheological insight seems to be what is suggested in Dante’s final verses, where the illuminated voyager at last is able to lift his courageous eyes beyond the beatific vision of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, to the one Eternal Light.

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, pp. 180-81

Emphasis mine.