The image above was drawn by my daughter Samantha Rudolph. It is a copy of an ancient Sumerian seal representing the hieros gamos or the Sacred Marriage. In the seal, the god and the goddess are looking at each other over the World Tree. Notice both the serpents at the bottom of the tree as well as the two serpents rising behind each of the deities.
These symbols are indicative of what Marija Gimbutas calls “the alphabet of the metaphysical.” (Language of the Goddess, pg1).
It is especially significant that the serpent is shown in connection with both the god and the goddess thereby representing both male and female aspects. Remember that the hieros gamos does not mean a marriage between a man and a woman as some religionists would have us believe. The true hieros gamos is the marriage WITHIN ourselves of our own separations, our own oppositions or what has been come to be called the female and male aspects within ourselves.
Because the serpent is seen on both sides, it too, represents the coming together of apparent opposites. In its female aspect, it is associated with the ley lines of the earth. Also for slithering in and out of earthern soil. The umbilical cord has been likened to a serpent. In its male aspect it has been associated with bolt lightning.
The unification of the fires of heaven (lightning) and the waters of earth are the essence of creation, represented and united within one symbol – the serpent.
When the world is created at the beginning of Genesis, God begins by separating out apparent opposites. Heaven/Earth Light/Dark Day/Night Male/Female. The word used is the Hebrew word BEDEL. The root letter for this word are the three letters examined in the previous three blogs: B-D-L.
B or Beit, Beis or Beyt is all that is quintessentially earth, manifest, humanity. L or Lam or Lamed is all that is quintessentially divinity. What is between the two letters? The D which is Dal or Dalet and means door as in a door that swings in either direction.
Traditionally people have come to think of the separation of creation as an iron clad barrier which allows no further contact or communication. But this is not what the word indicates. As a word rebus, it is easy to see that between earth (B) and heaven (L) there is a door which is freely swinging allowing continued movement in both directions.
How does this paradigm shift change our thinking? What repercussions can it have for how we live our lives?
Jerusalem, focal point of the world’s three major patriarchal religions was named for a Goddess. It is a city dedicated to Venus in Her aspect as the evening star.
As viewed from Earth, the planet Venus is special in the heavens because she exists in her twin aspects – morning star and evening star. Deities related to Venus are significant gatekeepers of thresholds. Because Venus appears in the sky at dawn and dusk when the light and dark are visibly blending.
In the land to the north of Israel, Canaan, there is a mythological traditions of divine twins who represent dawn (morning star) and dusk (evening star). Their names were Sahar and Salim. Their three letter roots are Šĥr and Šlm. (Š is pronounced “sh.”)
The modern-day equivalent of Salim, is the Hebrew shalom or Arabic salam meaning “peace.”
Genesis 14:18 has the first extant reference of Salem, a city that is to become vital to each of the three major patriarchal religions on Earth today.And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God
In this passage Melchizedek is meeting with Abram in the city that is to become Jerusalem.
Historian, John Day confirms the name derivation; “It is generally accepted that in origin this denoted ‘the foundation of [the god] Shalem,’ Shalem being the god of dusk. . .” (John Day, Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan; pg 180.)
Note: I used this image which is from Machu Picchu because it is a cave below the mountainous temple. It was common for ancient temples that soared above the earth to be coupled with caves beneath them for ceremonial work. It seemed appropriate in the vein of Jacob’s ladder (see below) as the two aspects of the temple could be seen as a gateway for communication and interplay between underworld and overworld realms.
There is no Biblical record of Jacob going to Egypt, at least before his “initiation” as there is for his ancestor Abraham. Nevertheless he had experiences that were akin to mystery school training and experience. Did he have these experiences because he was a mystic and prophet deeply in tune with nature and the divine energies inherent within? Or was he exposed to formal training? It is impossible to know but what we do know is that his experiences and finally the bestowal of a new name does follow the template of the mystery school.
When Jacob first sets out into the world he has a vision of divinity. This vision is commonly referred to as Jacob’s ladder. In this dream/vision, Jacob drams of a ladder or staircase spanning heaven and earth with angelic energies moving between the realms. This clues us in that something sacred is afoot. After this experience he goes off to find his family. He marries first Leah and then Rachel. Twenty years later comes home again with his wives and children.
Twenty years is a traditionally important time in esoteric studies. It is generally accepted that a student will study the outer mysteries for 10 years, and then the inner mysteries for 10 years. At the end of this 20-year period, the initiate is recognized as a master.[i]
Before entering his homeland, Jacob goes off by himself. In modern day parlance, we would say that he went on a vision quest. To those who witnessed, it appeared that he was wrestling with a stranger.Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. Genesis 32:2
The “he” in the following passage is the mysterious stranger:When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he wrenched Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained. . . . Then he said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.” But he answered, “I will not go unless you bless me.” Said he, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob but Israel. . .” Genesis 32: 26, 27 and 29
Here is my own rewritten shamanic version of this tale:
As the MorningStar rose in the sky (dawn), Jacob was initiated and like all new initiates, like his ancestors Abram and Sarai before him, he was granted a new name, a spirit name. The name he was given was a blend of the gods of Egypt and Canaan. He took the name of the moon goddess of the Egyptians (Isis) and the Egyptian sun god (Ra), along with the Great Bull God of the Canaanites (El). Henceforth his name would be known as Is-Ra-El.
I go into greater detail about Jacob’s experience and discuss who the mysterious stranger was in Chapter 6 of ONE GODS. You can pre-order the book (and help support my work) by clicking on my crowdfunding link at the side of the page.
(Note: Check out the photo carefully. The cave is formed in the image of an eagle. The head is on the ground [roped off so one one steps on it] and the wings can be seen soaring from the rocks above it)
[i] Although these are the traditional times it takes for each of the studies, an individual student’s time may vary given their own spiritual path.
Mystery schools were peppered throughout the ancient world. Renowned schools once existed in Greece, Egypt, and Mesoamerica. Mystery Schools, both ancient and modern, explore the nature of life/death/rebirth as they take their initiates through experiences of spirit. Death and rebirth experiences are especially key to the living a rich spiritual life. Why is this? The answer is fear. We human beings fear what we don’t know and don’t understand. And what is the greatest unknown we face in our lives? Death, our inevitable physical death. For this reason, spiritual teachers and spiritual systems as well as the mystery schools focused specifically on the issues inherent in our mortality. How can we deal with our fears of death? The answer that Mystery Schools give to is provide opportunities for individuals to experience through rites and rituals, death and rebirth in our own lives.
Fundamentally, mystery schools brought the lessons of Nature to the attention of initiates in a very intimate and vital manner. Nature moves in cycles. By following Her rhythms we know how a period of withering and death is followed by a time of renewal and new growth. As an integral element of Nature, we humans follow this rhythm as well. This is why the cross cultural teaching of an “ear of wheat” is so powerful.
The seed of the wheat (or barley) needs to “die” off the living plant and fall into the dark, fertile earth so that it can grow roots and regain life. This lesson given in Egyptian texts as far back as 1700 BCE and was repeated by Jesus and Hippolytus (3rd century Roman theologian) in relation to the Eleusinian mysteries in Greece.Whether I live or die I am Osiris I enter in and reappear through you . . . The gods are living in me for I live and grow in the corn that sustains the Honored Ones, I cover the earth, whether I live or die, I am Barley. I am not destroyed I have entered the Order (Cosmos). excerpted from Egyptian Coffin Text #330 [i] Verily, verily, I say to unto you, Except a corn of wheat falls into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. John 12:24 The Phrygians, the Naasseene[ii] says, assert that God is a fresh ear of cut-wheat, and following the Phrygians the Athenians, when they initiate in the Eleusina exhibit in silence to the epoptai[iii] the mighty and marvellous (sic) and most complete epoptic mystery, an ear of cut-wheat. Hippolytus, Philosophoumena, v, 8[iv]
The image for this post is the entrance to the oracle’s city of Delphi which sits atop an exquisite mountainside. Delphi was one of the locations of the Grecian mystery schools. Next up, more discussion about how the mystery schools operated.
[i] Malkowski, Edward F, The Spiritual Technology of Ancient Egypt, Inner Traditions, 2007; 362-363.
[ii] Greek gnostic sect from ca. 100 CE.
[iii] Eyewitness, likely an initiate. Epoptic comes from a word meaning “secret.”
[iv] Eliade, Primitives; 301.