Last week the Supreme Court legalized marriage for gay couples with all the rights of hetero couples. HOO-RAH! It is well past time. In some “religious” strongholds people are resisting saying that the tradition of marriage between one man and one woman goes back to the Bible. Adam and Eve, they say, created the template which makes only hetero marriage acceptable. Actually, this is not the case. The name Adam means “red earth” and the name Eve mean “life.” So the template of marriage is actually between the earth and life itself. In other words creation.
In ancient times there was the teaching of hieros gamos which meant sacred marriage. These teachings often occurred within the ancient mystery schools. This was not an external marriage but an internal one that each human – each human with a divine spirit – needed to experience to live a complete life. It is the marriage of opposites within ourselves. The marriage of the aspects of ourselves which we identify as feminine with the aspects of ourselves which we identify as masculine. The marriage of the light and dark WITHIN ourselves. The marriage of heaven and earth WITHIN ourselves. The marriage of spirit and matter WITHIN ourselves.
The secret sacred lesson is that all things which may appear to be opposites are in truth, different aspects of ONENESS.
The serpent is an excellent symbol of oneness because it can be seen as both earthly and heavenly, as well as male and female.
Notice that in the sacred marriage there is not the dysfunctional focus that we stress in our own culture of the shape of one’s genitals and the performance of the sexual act. True, sex is the foundation of human creation, the coming together of opposites. But the true lessons is that the coming together of opposites has many forms and functions and that is part of the Great Mystery of our lives.
Bet the Supreme Court didn’t take any of that into consideration in their decision!
What are the mysteries that Moses and Aaron perform “in the sight of the people?” According to Exodus Chapter 4, they are three bits of magic; throwing his staff on the ground which turns into a serpent and then back again to a staff, turning his hand leprous and healing it, and taking water from the Nile and changing it to blood.
All of these “miracles” actually occur within the story thread of the Burning Bush.[i] It is the Burning Bush which represents the true mystery and magic of creation. The Burning Bush is the first historical record of the nature of true oneness. It is a symbolic representation of what I have come to call inter-arching oneness[ii]. The Burning Bush contains two element: Fire and Bush. As the Holman Christian Standard Bible says, “Fire is frequently associated with special displays of God’s presence.” In other words, fire represents divinity and all heavenly aspects. The bush represents the earth and all earthly aspects. If the fire and the bush were next to each other, in separate spaces, the symbolism would have been one of duality; spirit and matter as separate. But that is not what happens. The fire and the bush occupy the same space. This represents nonduality or the essential oneness of all spirit and all matter; all creation. Here are visual representations of this using circles.
If each circle stood by itself merely touching edges, they would be a representation of duality:
But the Burning Bush teaches a different lesson. It teaches how the elements (the circles) interpenetrate:
To use the paradigm of the Burning Bush with the visualizations of the circles. With the circles touching but not interpenetrated, the message is one of duality. The fire and the bush are in different spaces:
But the message that Moses brings is one of inter-arching oneness. The interpenetration of the two aspects is where the fire and bush exist in the same space:
From these stories and happenings, it becomes clear that Moses brought to the world, the message of “all-oneness.” In each of the three magics that Aaron performs “in the sight of the people” a change of physical state occurs. What he is actually doing is peeling back the illusion of the material world to show that the world we can see with our eyes is fluid. Snake/rod, clean hand/leprous hand, water/blood. All are one and the same. All are one. Only the magician/prophet/wizard/shaman who understands the nature of true oneness can perform such seemingly miraculous acts.
What this tells us is that Moses didn’t just bring a message of a one god but he brought the message of the oneness of all creation.
[i] The basis for my understanding of these teachings come from my former teachers, Rev. Dr. JC and Rev. Sherry Husfelt. I thank them for their many insights. They teach “interpenetrative radical nonduality” as the essential oneness of all creation.
[ii] overarching would indicate something above or a separation, intra-arching would indicate a turning inward, also a separation
There are clues in the Bible that Moses had knowledge of mystery school teachings:
The first clue comes from Delphi at Apollo’s temple (photo above). Inscribed at the temple were the words “know thyself.” This is a hallmark of mystery school teachings. A crucial part of “knowing thyself” is recognizing and honoring ones ancestors. Moses was adopted by the pharaoh and so, presumably, did not grow up knowing his earthly lineage. But as a member of the pharaoh’s household he would have had access to the finest education available in his day. That would have certainly included both military and spiritual training. But then one day, he went out to learn of his ancestry . . .And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand. Exodus 2:11-12
What happened “after Moses had grown up”? What changed his outlook? Why did he suddenly yearn to “know thyself” so urgently that, with no prior inducement, he went “out unto his brethren”? And when he did, he was filled with so much emotion that he actually ended up slaying an Egyptian in defense of his ancestral kin.
Egypt was known for having the most renowned and ancient mystery schools in the world, existing from long before the time of Moses. How could their spiritual message not be an integral part of its culture and thusly a part of Moses’ education? This story was set in motion because Moses, at some point in his life, felt a burning desire to “know thyself” and set off to learn of his ancestry. This is a primary lesson of mystery schools.
Another clue to Moses and his possible knowledge of the mystery school is his use of the Mystery Play. The mystery play is a tool of mystery schools used to ripen the initiate for the transformational experience.
Performing one or even viewing one is designed to be just such a transformational experience. Experiencing a mystery play entrains one to grasp knowledge not only with the mind, but with the heart. Their themes deal with issues of life, death, rebirth, and the potential of seeds. Perhaps the most famous of the ancient world is the Greek story of Persephone traveling to the underworld. Her story was enacted at the mystery school in Eleusis. The crux of the story lies in the fact that Persephone ate six pomegranate seeds while in the underworld. The result is the mythic foundation of the cycles of the seasons stressing the themes of cycles and fertility.
Egypt, too, had its mystery plays, often involving the story of Osiris, his journey to the underworld and ultimate resurrection which was enacted by the raising of a sacred pillar called a Djet column. I discuss one such play in my book ONE GODS: The Mystic Pagan’s Guide to the Bile.
And lest you think this is an older paradigm that is no longer applicable today, ponder this. There is one special mystery play that is still regularly performed in modern times, in spring, the season of rebirth. It is the familiar passion play of Christianity that relives in detail the life story and final days of Christ. The themes are familiar mystery school themes; life, death, and rebirth.
And turning back to the Bible, Moses performed a play, a mystery play, “in the sight of the people.” Although some of the underlying themes are different on the surface, it was performed so the people witnessing it would experience a transformation. The phrase that the King James bible translates to “did the signs” is often translated as “performed,” linking Moses’s and Aaron’s actions to the mystery play.And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel: And Aaron spake all the words which the LORD had spoken unto Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people. Exodus 4:29-30
Next up: What mysteries was Moses performing and why they are so important and so unique to history.
The Bible explains the root of Moses’ name. “She” is pharaoh’s unnamed daughter:She named him Moses, explaining, “I drew him out of the water.” Exodus 2:10
According to Exodus, the Egyptian pharaoh’s daughter drew Moses out of the water then bestowed a Hebraic name on him – mashah from the root M-S-H meaning “to draw out.” However, this biblical explanation makes no sense. It is unlikely a pharaoh’s daughter would look for a Hebrew name, thus a slave name, for her foundling. In fact, it is improbable that an Egyptian royal would have even bothered to learn a slave language at all.[i] It is equally dubious that she would have given him a Hebrew name in an Egyptian court where his very presence would be a constant reminder that he was under the order of death by the Egyptian king.[ii]
There is another explanation for the M-S-H root that comes not from Hebrew but from the Egyptian language. In Egyptian, the term moses or mosheh means “born of” or “son.” So for example, Thutmose and Ramses would respectively be “son of Thoth” and “son of Ra.” Thoth and Ra are both Egyptian Gods. It is entirely possible that Moses was simply named “son.”[iii] Certainly there is precedent in other spiritual systems for message bringers to carry the appellation of “son.” And it surely would not have been out of the character of the scribes to deliberately change the explanation of his name in order to obscure Moses’ Egyptian roots.
Who was this man, “this son” who liberated his people? There is no dispute among scholars that Moses was born and reared in Egypt or that his parents were Levites:A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. Exodus 2:1
Amram took to wife his father’s sister Jochebed, and she bore him Aaron and Moses. Exodus 6:20
But other details of his life remain a mystery. For example, whom did Moses marry? The Bible mentions two wives; Zipporah (Ex 2:21) and “an Ethiopian” (Numbers 12:1).[iv]
Who was his father-in-law? The Bible mentions three; Jethro (Ex 3:1, Ex: 4:18, Ex 18:1, Ex 18:5), Reuel (Ex 2:18-21) and Hobab (Judges 4:11, Numbers 10:29).[v]
Where is the Midian that Moses fled to? The Bible never gives its location. Most common tradition places it in the Sinai Peninsula but there are traditions placing it in the Sudan or in Ethiopia.[vi]
Even the dates of the Exodus out of Egypt are unclear. There are proponents of many dates, most cluster around the 16th– 13th centuries BCE. And even though a great deal is known about the Egyptian pharaohs and when they ruled, scholars have varying theories for which Pharaoh ruled during the time of Hebrew oppression and which one ruled during the Exodus. As historically important as they are, the entire timing of Moses’ life and experiences are not definitively known.
Next up: More about Moses and the mysteries of his life.
[i] Asimov, Isaac, Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, Avenel Books, 1981; 128.
[ii] Greenberg, Moses; 204. All male babies born to Hebrew mothers were to be killed according to the law of the Pharaoh.
[iii] Asimov; 128.
[iv] Some versions of the Bible say Moses married a Cushite woman and others identify his wife as Nubian. Some have argued that these two descriptions are of the same woman.
[v] There are schools of thought that these three names refer to the same person. Further confusing the issue is that the Hebrew term for father-in-law and brother-in-law was the same.
[vi] Osman, Ahmed, Moses and Akhenaten, Bear & Company, 2002; 23.
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.
What experiences led Abraham and Sarah to become the matriarch patriarch of a new religion? Led them to beginning a cultural thread which culminates in a whole new vision of religion? There were many experiences but the focus today is looking at their possible initiation into the Mysteries. In spiritual systems throughout time and throughout the world, when an initiate has experienced the Great Mysteries, they are initiated in ceremony. One mark of this experience is to earn a new name. In this thread, I am are going to look at two definitive cases of new Biblical names, and one speculative one. The first is Abram (Avram) and Sarai from Ur.
Look at where they travel to in the course of their lives: EgyptThere was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there. Genesis 12:10
As discussed in my previous blog, Egypt had the most ancient and most prominent of all mystery schools. Even through there is no record of it, it would make sense that Abram and Sarai had some contact with the ancient Egyptian mystery schools during their time there. further evidence that they had an experience of the Great Mystery is that soon after this sojourn, Abram has a personal conversation with divinity or Biblically speaking, forms a covenant with God:No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. Genesis 17:5
Changing a name changes the course of one’s life.And God said to Abraham, “As for your wife, Sarai, you shall not call her Sarai, but her name shall be Sarah.” Genesis 17:15
What is the significance of adding the “ha” sound to Abram’s name and its variation, “ah” to Sarai’s? The Kabbalah speaks about Abram’s name change; “From under the Throne of Glory, God took the letter ה [pronounced “hey” or “ha”], with which the world was created, and crowned Abram by implanting it in his name, which became Abraham.”[i]
This is the same breath of life, already discussed as the “wind of divinity.” Here is the thread: http://themysticpagan.com/breath-vibration-song-and-creation/
It is surely conceivable that Abram and Sarai went through an initiation process and ceremony. When Abram became Abraham, and Sarai became Sarah, it was the breath of life “with which the world was created” that was incorporated into their core being. The addition of the power syllable made palpable their connection to all of creation through the agency of breath.
After receiving her new name, Sarah learns she will give birth:she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her Genesis 17:16
Abraham and Sarah with their awakened, renewed interconnection to the power of breath, are about to create new life or in a Biblical context, become the matriarch and patriarch of “nations.” As above so below; creation as it occurred in the heavens when god’s breath blew over the waters. This is reflected in human life. Ha, the seed of creation, is an outward manifestation of their inward spiritual journey.
Next post: Another Biblical name change.
[i] Munk, Rabbi Michael L, The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet, Mesorah Publications, ltd, 2009; 87. From Yalkut Reuveni, a Kabbalistic work written in 1660.
Arguably the most famous Mystery School came from Greece; the Eleusinian mysteries. But the Egyptian mysteries were far older. According to Plato, Solon, a Greek statesman, met with Egyptian priests in the sixth century BCE. One of the priests said to Solon, “O Solon, Solon, you Greeks are never anything but children, and there is not an old man among you.” When Solon asked what he meant, the priest answered, “I mean you are all young in mind.”[i] In other words, the Egyptian mystery schools were considered ancient, while the mystery schools of Greece were still in their initial stages.
Don’t forget the people of the Bible, according to the Bible itself, came out of Egypt.
One can only imagine what it must have felt like to live at that time period and in that desert with the dry beige sand stretching as far as the eye can see in almost all directions. Only in one direction, facing the waters of the Nile was there any greenery, any lushness of life at all.
When the Nile flooded her banks, the life-giving waters with its treasure of moist, fertile silt would spread out on earth transporting life to land and people alike. Then as the growing season ended, the desert would reclaim its land returning it to dryness and aridity. Season after season, year after year, century after century, the cycles of life and death would be present at one’s doorstep. It can be seen how important the Nile’s waters would have been to both the physical well-being, and the spiritual well-being, of the people. How joyously they must have welcomed the Nile’s season of flooding. How obviously it would have been part of the collective imagination of their society.
In fact, over the course of hundreds of miles, the long banks of the Nile contained a system of temples and initiation centers, all connected with the mysteries of Isis and Osiris.[ii] These are the same mysteries that taught the lore and invoked the cycles of life/death/rebirth. In Egyptian mythology, Osiris is cut up and strewn throughout the world by his brother Horus. Isis finds him, in some versions by gathering his pieces together and in others by finding him within a wooden pillar. In one particularly beautiful telling of the myth, she uses her wings to pump air (breath) into his body, thereby reviving him.
Because Moses was raised as Egyptian royalty for the first 40 years of his life, it is reasonable to assume that he participated in the religious rites of the country and possibly even experienced the mysteries of the most ancient teachings.And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds. Acts 7:22
In upcoming posts, I will discuss how Moses and some of the Hebrew patriarchs (and one matriarch) could have easily been influenced by the Ancient Mystery School. I will argue that this can be seen both in their life stories and in the teachings they bring to the world.
[i] quoted in Naydler, Jeremy, Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts, Inner Traditions, 2005; 40. The quote comes from Plato’s Timateus.
[ii] Temples such as Dendera, Kom Ombo and Karnak.
What are the Mystery School lessons? Below are the words of those who experienced it for themselves, witnessed the initiations, or heard about them from first-hand accounts.
What does it mean to experience the lessons of a mystery school? As I discussed in my last blog, one of the primary lessons is to overcome fear. Below are the words of those had personal experience with a Mystery School, witnessed the initiations, or heard about them from first-hand accounts.For among the many excellent and indeed divine institutions which your Athens has brought forth and contributed to human life, none, in my opinion, is better than those mysteries. For by their means we have been brought out of our barbarous and savage mode of life and educated and refined to a state of civilization; and as the rites are called “initiations,” so in very truth we have learned from them the beginnings of life, and have gained the power not only to live happily, but also to die with a better hope. Cicero Laws II xiv, 36[i] Thrice happy are those of mortals, who having seen those rites depart for Hades; for to them alone is granted to have a true life there; to the rest, all there is evil Sophocles, Frag 719[ii]
Beautiful indeed is the Mystery given us by the blessed gods: death is for mortals no longer an evil, but a blessing. Inscription found at Eleusis[iii]
The soul at the point of death has the same experience as those who are being initiated in great mysteries. Plutarch[iv]
The Great Mysteries focus on experiences of life and death and how we as mortal beings perceive them. Notice also that initiates who have experienced the mysteries, speak about knowing a peace that is presumably not possible otherwise. As described above, the mysteries involve gaining a fuller, happier life by living without fear of one’s inevitable death.
The image used for this post is at the entrance to Machu Picchu. Next up: How some of the mystery school teachings were experienced and where they show up in the Bible.
[i] http://www.san.beck.org/Eleusis-Intro.html consulted March 2013, quoted by Sanderson Beck in The Divine Mother and the Veil of Death The Mysteries of Eleusis.
[ii] Eliade, Primitives; 300.
[iv] Naydler; 54.
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.