In doing research for my book ONE GODS: The Mystic Pagan’s Guide to the Bible I have noticed that many symbols of deep religious meaning are multi-faceted and have several layers of meaning. For some the layers of meaning go deeper as one becomes more adept but for some, the multi-layers are an indication of their depth and importance. The Zohar makes this same point: “Just as God is infinite, so is the word of God infinite, imbued with meanings that transcend any one particular interpretation. It is upon us to drink from the word not as limited from a chalice but as from an eternal wellspring, and to find everfresh meaning in it for each of our life situations.”
This quote comes from The Way of the Boundary Crosser by Gershon Winkler. The reference is Sefer HaZohar (Bamidbar 152a).
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?
Lam or lamed is the twelfth of twenty-two letters meaning that it sits squarely in the center of the aleph-beis. As others have pointed out, this makes lam the heart of the aleph-beis just as our human heart is the center of our own bodies. Lam is also the largest letter, physically, making it the Supreme King.
Lam, as one of the two letters of the name of god, EL, connects it to concepts of supremacy and power.
Fabre d’Olivet in his opus, “The Hebrew Tongue Restored” written in 1921 writes about a beautiful dimension of lam (pg 377): “As a symbolic image, it represents the arm of man, the wing of a bird that which extends, raises and unfolds itself. As a grammatical sign, it is expansive movement and is applied to all ideas of extension, elevation, occupation, possession.”
Lam is the staff of authority, the heart of hearts, the supreme king, the principle of expansion, and not uncoincidentally, the second letter of the two letter name of god – El. It is, in summation the quintessential letter which stands for divinity and the stuff of the heavens.
From my book:
ONE GODS: The Mystic Pagan’s Guide to the Bible is a shamanic exploration of the Bible’s great journeys, struggles, quests, heroes, and heroines. Janet Rudolph’s ground-breaking book is an extra-ordinary look at Biblical mysticism and mystery. In her telling, it was Eve’s birthright to eat the fruit from the Tree of Life for it bears her name – Eve in Hebrew means life.
Drawing on spiritual forensics, she traces the footsteps of legends such as Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob and Moses across cultures and time. The enigmas of healing serpents, burning bushes, heavenly ladders and more are traced from the ancient mystery schools of Egypt and MesoAmerica to the standing stones of the Celts and beyond.
The Bible is represented as a dynamic, living document, guiding the reader in a quest to discover personal answers to age-old questions: Who am I? What is my personal relationship to divinity? Why am I alive? Why will I die?
Unveiling new revelations on the Bible’s earliest teachings, ONE GODS provides inspiration and knowledge as well as concrete tools for readers to embark upon, add a touch of magic to and deepen their own spiritual journeys.
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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.)
The world tree always has a bird in the branches and a serpent at the roots. Look at these two images. The serpent goddess above from the 2nd century CE, perhaps an early image of a mermaid, shows the goddess and the serpent as one. The familiar image of Isis on the right shows her with her wings. The goddess and the bird as one.
As archaeological scholar Marija Gimbutas wrote, “The Snake Goddess and the Bird Goddess appear as separate figures and as a single divinity. Their functions are so intimately related that their separate treatment is impossible. She is one and she is two, sometimes snake, sometimes bird.”[i]
AND, I would add she is all TREE OF LIFE just as the TREE OF LIFE is Her complete with Her feathered wings and Her serpent “legs.”
[i] Gimbutas, Old Europe; 112.
Inanna in Sumerian, from a seal ca 2334-2154 BCE. Artist rendition: Samantha Rudolph
In the last post, I discussed the images of the Egyptian Isis in the tree. Egypt was south of the land of Israel. The land north of Israel also had a goddess who lived in a tree. That land was Sumeria and Her tale is told in the Saga of Gilgamesh.
The great Sumerian Queen of Heaven Inanna finds the tree which had been sprouted from the seed of creation. As it had begun to grow, it was torn from its roots by a great flood. Inanna recovered the tree from the waters and took it to plant in the center of her own garden.
After Inanna planted the tree, she planned to let it grow until it was big enough to chop down to make a bed and a throne. But her plans were thwarted when a “snake who could not be charmed” nested in the roots, an anzu bird built its nest in the branches, and Lilith, generally thought to be an evil female demon, took up residence in the trunk.[i] As the story progresses, Inanna calls upon Gilgamesh, the part human/part god Sumerian hero to come and cut down the tree. When he does so, the snake, bird, and Lilith all escape.
One of the first things to notice about the huluppu tree is that it was planted by one goddess (Inanna) and another is living in its trunk. The goddess in the trunk is identified as Lilith in her only extant appearance in Sumerian mythology. In Biblical times she came to be identified as a demon who stole babies or seduced men to their doom. Her lineage, however, is much older. Words etymologically connected with Lilith’s name are the Libyan lilu (water), Lithuanian liete (to pour) and lyti (to rain). To Ariel Golan these “suggest that Lilith of the Ancient East was a vestige of the goddess of heavenly moisture, older than Sumerian mythology, i.e., the Great Goddess.”[ii]
This is a Sumerian image of Lilith from about 1800BCE.
Look at the “coincidences” between Inanna and Lilith. Both were known as Great Goddesses. Various interpretations of Lilith’s origins name her a goddess of the wind or storms, the “hand or hand maiden of Inanna,” “beautiful maiden,” and as a goddess of fertility. Both are connected with lions, wings, rain, and moisture.
Lilith was once known as a great goddess in her own right. What is she doing inhabiting a tree? Notice that in both the images of Inanna and Lilith, they are shown with wings. Is it any coincidence that a bird, with their most prominent feature of wings, sits atop the very tree in which a goddess resides? That she also, is known for her wings? The same wings that adorn birds? More on this in future posts.
Now that we’ve seen goddesses living in trees in the cultures both north and south of Israel, wouldn’t it make sense for there be a goddess living in a tree in the holy land itself? (Hint: There is). Check out in the Biblical Wisdom section.
[i] This story is from the Gilgamesh cycles; Kramer and Wolkstein.
[ii] Golan, Myth and Symbol, 228.
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.
I used these photos to illustrate this post because the animals are all engaged in play with obvious breath actions. Felines do it really well. The mama lion is playing with her cubs, the gibbon baby is playing with his father, and two baby snow leopards are rough-housing. Breath is about movement, laughter and play. In can also be about crying, release of stress, and sorrow. Breath is all manner of living and life!
When chanting, experiment with different breath patterns.
- Are you breathing into your diaphragm?
- Your upper chest?
- Your pelvic area?
- Your toes?
- Are you breathing with your mouth?
- Your nose?
- Do you draw the syllables out in one breath?
- Or many?
- Do you chant on the breath in?
- The breath out?
Hazrat Inayat Khan was a Sufi mystic who lived from 1882 until 1927. His mission in life was to bring together or “harmonize” the traditions of East and West through the agency of music. In his book, The Music of Life (Omega Publications, 2005; 206) he discusses why a musical meditation using sacred symbols is so powerful; “Breath runs through all three: body, mind and soul. Seeing from this point of view, one will realize that man has never been separated from God that with every breath man touches God. He is linked with God by the current of breath.”
Below, I re-state Khan’s quote, substituting the spiritual concepts of “humanity” for “man” and “YHVH (Ya-hu-ah)” for “God.” The pronunciation I use for YHVH (Ya-hu-ah) is based on the spiritual knowledge of using prominent power syllables to form the name of divinity. Cross-culturally and throughout the ancient world, names of the divine were created by using power syllables. The pronunciation I use is not correct according to rules of Hebrew grammar. Although there is much argument about the correct pronunciation of YHVH, it is generally agreed that according to Hebrew rules it would be something akin to Yah-weh. This is a good example of how manifest earthly knowledge and spiritual knowledge can appear different and yet both be correct.
Here is my restatement, a divergent translation of his words; Breath runs through all three; body, mind and soul. Seeing from this point of view, one will realize that humanity has never been separated from YHVH (Ya-hu-ah) that with every breath humanity touches YHVH (Ya-hu-ah). Humanity is intertwined with YHVH (Ya-hu-ah) through the current of breath.
A Kabbalist axiom expresses this same concept using different expression:
י ח ו ח“He who can rightly pronounce it, causeth heaven and earth to tremble, for it is the NAME which rusheth through the universe.”
In my book One Gods: The Mystic Pagan’s Guide to the Bible I go deeper into these concepts and discuss more chants. You can help me in getting in this published at my indiegogo link at the side of my home page.
(Quote appears on the title page of The Hebraic Tongue Restored by Fabre d’Olivet, Samuel Weiser, Inc. first printed, 1921, reprinted 1976)