Renée Spencer is a community mental health practitioner with experience and training in teaching, counseling, art therapy, and psychology. She has a passion for Art, history, mythology, and philosophy. Renee's particular interests lie in investigating symbolism and how metaphors, similes, and allegories can be interpreted in different cultures, timeframes, and contexts.
I spent this morning going down rabbit holes of unexpected learnings. It started by looking at details of the holocaust which made me curious about the “Roma” who were persecuted along side the Jews, some Slavic groups, and people with disabilities. I was initially inspired to explore this due to watching a couple of movies on Netflix yesterday about Hasidic Jews, “Unorthodox” and “One of Us”.
In English, Roma (also known as Romani) are colloquially known as Gypsies. So, at first I was thinking “Okay, so Hilter killed all the nomadic people who were not integrated into society”. Turns out, it was not that simple.
The Romani were an ethnic group that originated from Northern India, therefore have an Indo-European ancestry. Displaced from their original homeland (due to various reasons/theories), they became nomadic, hence Romani have several European “homelands”, one of which is Romania – more on this shortly.
“Did Hilter kill Romani for religious reasons?” I wandered. As it turns out, the simple answer is “No”. Just as the Jews were not killed for their religious beliefs per se, Hilter perceived the ethnicity of Romani to be inferior to native Germans or Ayrans. Hitler supported eugenics to the ninth degree, you could almost say eugenics was Hitler’s religion.
Side note: a lot of world leaders practiced eugenics, including ones in Australia, but Hilter’s genocide programs made his devotion to the ideology much more “effective” than most others who relied more upon sterilisation and other tactics designed to create “utopian” civilisations. In Australia, our eugenics legacy includes the institutionalisation of people mental health issues (and things like being poor could be considered to be a mental health disorder), the incarceration of First Nation people in reserves, and the stolen generation … Australians really have not faced the full impact of our politicians' support of eugenics.
Interestingly, Romani don’t have a unified religion, rather groups practiced a variety of faiths ranging from Hinduism through to Christianity and Islam. Roma are, however, bound by a common language, Rromanës, albeit there are different dialects. Rromanës is a language derived from Sanskrit and is not to be confused with Romance languages that are derived by Roman (Latin) influences.
Whilst Romani groups are tight knit communities who at one point in time originated from the same location, their uniformity has been subject to adaptation to outside influences and/or pressures. Historical derivatives of “follow our religion or be killed” by both Christian and Islamic leaderships can be speculated as being contributing factors to the loss of Hinduism amongst some Roma.
I decided to explore further, in particular I wanted to know the connection between Romas, Romanians and Romans. I soon discovered I was following a typical misunderstanding; while many Romani live in Romania, despite the linguistic similarity of their names, the two groups have very different histories. For this reason, the Romanian government is actively trying to have the term Roma (which was officially instigated in 1971) replaced by the alternative, Tigan. Romanians say it is an insult to both cultures when they are confused as being one (I can understand this sentiment if I imagine Australians being confused with Austrians – there are no kangaroos in Austria, mate).
Romanians, like many European countries, generally have a low opinion of Romani because they are considered to be antisocial, uneducated, and are associated with begging, stealing, and other criminal activity. Having said that, there is currently a shift away from hatred towards more compassion and understanding being given to this persecuted population who have limited access to education, healthcare, etc. Amnesty International actively assists Roma who are subject to poverty and prejudices.
Unlike the Jews who have global representation and the capacity to speak out about their holocaust experiences, the Romani are not so well represented, therefore, they can still experience a lot of unjust discrimination.
Romani essentially have nothing to do with Romania. Further, given Roma come from India, it’s not surprising that they have no connection to Rome, unless their clan accepted Christianity as their religion, as did happen when Romani were nomadic citizens of Christian nations, like Romania. So, perhaps there is a vague connection there? I needed to investigate further.
Above: Map of European/Asia Minor counties in 1CE. Dacia is highlighted by red outline. Areas shaded in pink are Roman territories. Parts of Dacia (that held valuable gold mines) were taken over by Roman powers c.106CE. Image source: Euratlas
A link between Romania and Romans does exist, so my focus switched to this connection.
Many people have asked questions regarding Romanian’s link to Ancient Rome, and there are an abundance of theories out there so I’m not going to go into too much detail (I enough readers to Google information for themselves if they want more precise information). Putting it briefly, the Romans took control of about 30% of what is current day Romania because they wanted access to their gold mines. The existing population, the Dacians, put up heroic resistance but, alas, the Roman military was too strong. According to Quora responses, most current day Romanians have a shared sense of honour towards both their Dacian and Roman ancestors.
The Dacians have a fascinating history, and as per my norm, I wanted to explore their religious beliefs. Much to my surprise, they were mostly monotheistic. Why was I surprised by this? I guess it’s because I’m so used to being told that most religions before Christianity were polytheistic … and yet my research so often reveals elsewise – that’s a rant for another day.
The supreme deity of the Dacians was called Zamolxis.
Zamolxis was Lord of life and death. The Dacians (and their neighbours, the Thracians) believed their souls were immortal and that upon death they’d live on in a blissful afterlife. Death was almost celebrated, as was common in many ancient cults and cultures (the only difference between a cult and culture is the number of people involved, in both instances the terms simply refers to a group of people who have a shared set of values; both cults and cultures can be considered healthy or destructive depending on what values they support).
I’ve long noted that soldiers who are taught the afterlife is better than the physical realm are braver than those who fear death (a classic modern day example being ISIS suicide bombers). In the case of the Dacians, attitudes towards death were exemplified through ceremonial human sacrifices offered to Zamolxis every five years. (Whilst little is known about the Mithras cult which many of the Roman soldiers followed, I suspect giving one’s life in the name of Mithras was a significant component of the belief system – how else could Roman soldiers have been so ruthless? Sorry, I’m getting off track again.)
Some reports say that Zamolxis was a slave to Pythagoras (the Greek mathematician who was born of a virgin), while others say he was Pythagoras’ student. (Modern understandings of terms “slave” and “student” can differ to ancient concepts.)
Plato also had a few interesting things to say about Zamolxis, such as he was a great physician who could heal the body and mind.
Other tidbits about Zamolxis include details of him studying with Egyptians and Babylonians (Zoroastrian priests to be exact), and his teachings revolve around the theme of light overcoming darkness. Herodotus claims Zamolxis was a real man who taught the Dacians about immortality, then disappeared into a cave for three years. When he came back to the Dacians a second time, some interpreted these events as Zamolxis dying and resurrecting.
On a hunch, I decided to look up when Zamolxis birthday was, and guess what? It is mid winter, ie., 25 December … conversely, April fools day seems to have been a popular time for virgins to become pregnant to prophets, deities, nobles, or the otherwise divine (in ancient times a virgin could simply be a reference to a young woman, an it was young women who had babies)
Ancient records are hard to decipher and/or the author’s tendencies to add personal opinions as fact makes precise information difficult to interpret actual events. Consequently, I am hesitant to claim Zamolxis is an archetype of Jesus; the theological foundations of the ancient world are not that straightforward and I’m not comfortable with contemporary definitions of the idea of archetypes. I’d prefer to reserve judgment and practice ongoing learning.
One final learning about Zamolxis that I’d like to share is that of the legend of the werewolf. According to the stories, the first werewolf was a Zamolxis priest who was dedicated to protecting the Dacian people. Ergo, werewolves are a positive symbol of protection … unless of course you are the enemy of the Dacian … What a classic example of how perspective can change everything!
As a final reflection on my morning of self education, it never ceases to amaze me that following a particular issue can lead to such fascinating paths of discovery and new knowledge. When I first started to investigate who Hilter ordered to be killed in gas chambers, I had no idea the quest would end with learnings about ancient Dacia.
Today I watched the following clip of Richard Dawkins debating the validity of the Bible with a panel of theologians. Many things could be extrapolated. What I would like to focus on are the comments made by the Jewish representative, whom unfortunately I don’t know the name of, so hereafter I’ll refer to as “Rabbi”.
In the first 20 seconds of the clip, Dawkins expresses dismay at 40-45% at American people believing Biblical stories of Adam and Eve are literally true. Rabbi is seen in the background nodding her head, presumably in agreement that literal interpretations of the Bible are of concern.
As the clip progresses, Rabbi speaks of the need to argue about the significance of Biblical stories. She acknowledges the messy, and sometimes grotesque storylines – like that of Sodom and Gomorrah – then continues by inferring life is not idealistic, therefore, debating Biblical representations can help one consider the nuances of God and life. Rabbi implies that doing so helps us grow, individually and collectively.
Rabbi’s comments are eloquent. They also succinctly adhered to what a Jewish friend of mine recently told me, that Judaism is all about one’s personal relationship with God, not a system dictated by fundamentalism. “Listen to the voice that is missing” (1:50 into the video) is a theological approach to understanding the Bible not often heard in Christian circles.
Rabbi talks about the Jewish canon developing: “We [Jews] continually developed how we see the Bible, so we continue to develop how we see God” and how we see ourselves. Rabbi continues, “I think there is truth in the messy, horrible stories”. She poignantly points out that the Jewish Bible is not the only reference material Jews use to define and explore their faith. Her words were like fresh air, she is intellectual yet relatable … Christianity began as a Jewish sect, yet somehow, somewhere these insights have been lost … I’ll return to this point shortly.
At the 9:15 minute mark a Christain leader throws in the obnoxious remark “where would ‘we’ be without the 10 commandments?” (because, you know, humans can’t work out morality without being told by an authority, lol! … such sentiments that denude faith in human beings have always amusing to me – through my teaching/learning career I’ve developed a deep appreciation of the innate good in people, but that’s another story best told another time). Rabbi’s response is golden.
Dawkin impressively recites the first few commandments, and he questions the point of these, only to be cut down to size by Rabbi who states: “It means humility”. She goes on to explain the first two commandments (1. I am the Lord your God; 2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain) are about suppressing one’s ego and recognizing “I am a human, but I am not the centre of everything”. Like WOW, this woman is truly amazing, and her insights into the ‘Old Testament’ are relevant to Jews and Christians alike. Her understanding was of the Bible are filled with much humility and grace.
For some time now, I’ve said to anyone who cares to listen, I have great empathy for the Jews. Their writings (known to the broader public as the Old Testament) were abducted by Christians, then (some) Christians had the nerve (and ego) to tell Jews the interpretations of their appreciation of their stories were wrong! As an artist, I fully get that others may interpret my work according to their biases, but for anyone to tell me the expression of my ideas is “wrong” indicates real arrogance. Like yeah, I didn’t know what I was thinking and you *obviously* know me better than I know myself. This is a crime too many Christians make against Jews.
My heart goes out to all Jewish communities, of all places and times. I fear you have been misunderstood on a monumental scale. I have Christian heritage, therefore, I am as much to blame as anyone born into similar circumstances. For what it’s worth, I apologise for my ancestors’ cruelty.
I was raised a Catholic, and yet it is only now, in my fifth decade upon the earth, that I have begun to investigate and appreciate the Jewish basis of the Christianit faith that I was born into. Woe is me and my ignorance.
When I first began deconstructing Christianity, I did so through a very Greco-Roman lens because that is what I was most familiar with. The further I inquire, the more I appreciate Judaism, and I can’t help but wonder if all Christians would benefit from fully embracing the fact that Christianity began as a Jewish sect.
As Rabbi implied, Jews are not necessarily a perfect people. Nonetheless, Judaism does not insist upon dogmatic protocols. I admire this. There is something precious that to be found in the spirit of encouraging a personal relationship between the divine and the individual, without giving into narcissistic tendencies.
Rabbi’s criticisms of Dawkins do not attack his argument per se, but how his voice and language aligns with fundamentalism, which wants to convert people forcefully, thus is of concern. Like, WOW, again! What a powerful insight to a subtle aspect of religious discussions that can so easily be overlooked. Rabbi (I wish I knew your name), your presentation was superb!
Richard Dawkins, I appreciate your work and critical thinking that has led many to question their beliefs. Having said that, if I were to critically appraise the debate I watched today between yourself and theologians, Rabbi won. I concur, the Bible needs to be argued and debated. Further, I can’t help but see the New Testament as being a development of the Old. My convulsions are this: the New Testament is an attempt (by Jews who lived about 200p years ago) to develop the Old Testament according to Greco-Roman values of their time. Rabbi, if by chance you come across this blog, I would warmly welcome your comments and feedback.
In the early hours of 10 February, 2022, last minute changes the bill saw the insertion of clauses that would prevent institutions like schools being able to discriminate against staff and students who are homosexual. Nonetheless, these alterations were rejected in the Senate because the bill still did not address transgender issues, thus the government was concerned transgender staff and students may still be vilified.
Some church groups also rejected the changes because it meant they were not getting what they wanted – the right to discriminate against staff and students on the grounds of gender identity, sexual orientation, and marital status. They argue religions should be allowed to uphold their beliefs, traditions, and values, even if these are prejudicial, because God’s authority should be higher than government mandated laws.
God’s authority in America allows discrimination …
If the Religious Discrimination Bill were to go ahead, one only needs to look at American to see the type of discrimination that could arise. For instance, Hillsong demoted a choir director when it became known they were openly gay. The director’s skills and expertise in leading a choir were never in question, rather, it was a case of not wanted to be seen as supporting LGBTQ+. This is the same Pentecostal church Scott Morrison has affiliations with, which begs questioning the possibility that the Morrison government wants the same sort of discrimination to be legal in Australia?
Castrati, Transgenderism Approved by God’s Authority
Castrati were singers who had their testes and/or scrotum removed before puberty so they produced less testosterone and, in turn, maintained the capacity to sing high notes as adults. The procedure was usually not of the boys choosing, rather poor parents did it in exchange for money and to profit off their child’s gifted singing abilities. The procedures were approved of by the Catholic Church, an institution established on the premise that it is a mediator of God’s authority.
The trend began in the 1500s to enable choirs the flexibility of singing songs with a full range of harmonies. The mutation of boys anatomy was deemed an appropriate solution to fulfil the “need” of producing heavenly melodies. Castrati were “necessary” because women were banned from church choirs. Further, the procedure could be justified using Matthew 19:12 – a Castrato was an eunuch made for the sake of the kingdom of the heavens.
Castrati were popular throughout Europe and highly valued in Vatican choirs. As effeminate men, many adjusted their identity to suit their circumstances, which in some cases involved homosexual relationships. If they could still achieve erections, they could be sort after by affluent women who wanted an affair with a hairless lover who could not impregnate them.
Castrations were made illegal in Italy in 1861, but the practice was not banned by Papal rule till 1903. Italian doctors are reported to have continued making castrati for the Sistine Chapel choir until 1870.
The last Castrato, Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922), followed the centuries old tradition of being the director of the Sistine Chapel choir. It is unclear if Moreschi’s castration was done purely to preserve his vocal range or if it was done to cure an inguinal hernia. Either way, the transgender-like procedure he went through was never viewed as being a threat to the morality of Christendom. He was nicknamed the “Angel of Rome” and recordings of his work are now on YouTube.
Religious Freedom or Religious Abuse?
Christianity’s history of supporting transgender-like procedures on religious grounds – Castrati and eunuchs – is a poignant backdrop for considering modern issues of gender identity and sexual orientation in modern churches. Essentially, when the purpose of altering a male’s anatomy to make them more like a woman suited their needs, Christianity approved transgenderism. Moreover, effeminate men were glorified for their feminine singing skills and any homosexual behaviours were largely ignored. Fast forward to today, and Christians can be discriminated against for exercising their free will to be transgender and/or homosexual.
When governments banned castrations, were they discriminating against religious traditions? Or were they putting the welfare of individuals above cruel religious practices?
So too, if governments prevent religions from being able to discriminate on the grounds of gender identity, are religious faiths being discriminated against? Or are the freedoms of individuals being protected from cruel religious practices?
Freedom of religion that leads to religious abuse was a prime consideration that lead to the development of human rights. Why have a bill that overrides this aim?
Castrati is not the same as homosexuality …
The common tread between Christians historically supporting Castrati choir directors and contemporary Christians discriminating against homosexual choir directors is that both situations represent practices that are supposedly supported by God’s authority. Discerning what is God’s authority ultimately comes down to which version of the Bible one reads and how it is interpreted. Idiosyncratic issues of what is “God’s authority” regarding gender identity and sexual orientation is nuanced by historical and cultural contexts.
It could be argued that Pentecostalism formed as a reaction against the practices of other Christian denominations and their practices, like Catholic Castrati, who supposedly misinterpreted God’s authority. Then again, it could be argued that churches who accept LGBTQ+ Christians are a reaction against other Christians, like Pentecostalism, because they have misinterpreted God’s authority … the circular arguments are endless. Not all denominations of Christianity are equal, and even within specific churches, Christian attitudes can vary.
So, if the Bible is the official document that defines God’s authority, why are there so many variations? … Dear Australians #2.6: the Bible’s authority …
This blog is part of a series that I hope will encourage deep, thoughtful, respectful discussions about issues relating to the Religious Discrimination bill. If you’d like to be kept up to date, subscribe to receive notifications of new posts by email.
The concept of non-binary genders is relatively new, with the term only being coined a few decades ago. Nonetheless, there is ample evidence to suggest humanity has never neatly fitted into two categories of male and female. While some modern Christians oppose non-binary concepts and transgenderism, there is an extensive history of Christians embracing diversity. For instance, Matthew’s biblical reference to eunuchs implies men without penises were socially accepted, moreover, could be glorified:
For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.
If you have troubles locating Matthew's comments on eunuchs, its probably because some contemporary Bibles have altered the wording:
Some people are unable to marry because of birth defects or because of what someone has done to their bodies. Others stay single in order to serve God better. Anyone who can accept this teaching should do so.
Matthew 19:12 (CEV)
The above verse was used by some Early Christians to justify self-castration (e.g., Origen), which could be viewed as a crude form of primitive gender re-assignment. While today’s transgender procedures can be conducted without an individual having a religious rationale, it’s good to keep in mind that pretty much everything in bygone eras was done due to spiritual beliefs. Conversely, in the absence of contemporary attitudes in which individuals can have personal reasons for identifying as non-binary and desiring gender reassignment procedures, antiquity’s social acceptance of eunuchs within religion would have been a valid pathway for non-binary individuals.
In contrast to castrated men, women could be glorified or demonised for growing a beard, as was the case in the fourteenth century legend of Wilgefortis.
Wilgefortis’ father tried to marry her off to a non-Christian, however, she prayed to God to prevent this from occurring and, subsequently, grew a beard and was considered too repulsive to wed. Wilgefortis was accused of witchcraft and sentenced to death by cruxifixction. While demonised by some, others likened her to Christ and prayed to her as a saint.
Christian cults dedicated to venerating Wilgefortis spread throughout Europe. She was particularly popular with women in difficult or abusive marriages. There are several variations of Wilgefortis’ story, however, all focus around the inference of the Latin version of her name, virgo fortis, which means courageous virgin.
The disbanding of Wilgefortis cults coincided with church reformations in the sixteenth century.
From a modern perspective, Wilgefortis was likely to have been non-binary, like the artist mentioned in Dear Australians #2.3: Let’s Talk About Sex. Hirsutism; the term applied to women who grow beards, can be caused by genetics, hormones, or other causes. In the absence of such understandings being known or understood, Wilgefortis was considered a freak of nature and/or a woman blessed by God.
I can just imagine Wilgefortis trying to tell her honest truth – that she was not interested in the man her father wanted her to wed and wanted to remain a virgin. However, given that women had few rights and daughters were considered to be a father’s possession, she had little recourse. Therefore, Wilgefortis did the only thing she could to try to alter the situation by praying to God. Her subsequent “miraculous” growing of a beard is likely to have been because she was a hirsute. From a contemporary perspective, Wilgefortis, being a young girl when her father tried to marry her off, had not yet reached an age for the beard to manifest. Additionally she was probably too young to be interested in sex and/or was asexual.
Our ancestors were superstitious, really superstitious. In the absence of knowledge about chromosomes, hormones, and other biological factors, spiritual theories provided explanations for phenomena that was not otherwise understood. The fact that Wilgefortis was considered a witch by some and a saint by others indicates it all really came down to a matter of belief. Coinciding with lack of scientific knowledge was the enduring perception that there is perfect a “nature” of males and females and failing to meet one of these binaries is sin.
In 1906 a Jesuit priest proposed Wilgefortis never lived and that her legend emerged from a creative interpretation of an artwork of an androgynous looking Jesus. In 1969, when the Catholic Church updated their list of saints, Wilgefortis was stripped of her saintly status.
The “official” rejection of Wilgefortis leads to more questions than it does resolutions. If Christians of the past could be so easily confused and make up stories about a bearded woman, what else has been fabricated? What other miracles and/or answered prayers are nothing but superstitious legends? What other saintly legends are fake? Or, as others have suggested, did the Pope just want to remove evidence of the Church supporting non-binary individuals?
Judaism and Christianity both use the family terms of “husband” and “wife” and/or “groom” and “bride” as symbolic representations of theological concepts. If these labels are interpreted literally, scriptural writings can appear confusing (and sometimes grotesque). Read allegorically, they reveal a whole new dimension of meaning.
Jewish Husband and Wife – Theologically Speaking
The Jews began the trend by likening God to a “husband” with the Israelites being his “wife”; God is the “father” and Israelites the “mother”. Just as real wives were expected to be faithful to their husbands, Israelites were to honour their patriarchal head of the spiritual family.
Ezekiel 16 describes Israelites as being a nation whom God looked after like a King and turned her into a “Queen”. While Isaiah claims Israel was a wife who married too young and was rejected by her husband:
For your Maker is your husband— the Lord Almighty is his name— the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit— a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God.
The allegories of husband and wife follows through to Jews who turned away from God (by worshipping other deities) being condemned as harlots: “You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband!” (Ezekiel 16:32).
Christian Groom and Bride – Theologically Speaking
Christianity, as a continuation of Judaism, maintained the theme of God as head of the family, only with a twist: Christ is the groom and his followers (Christians) the bride. The transference of God as husband to Christ as groom has a logical(ish) sequence that falls in line with trinity theology – God, the Holy Spirit, and Christ are one.
Mark 2:19-20 – And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.
John 3:29 – The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.
2 Corinthians 11:2 – I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.
Revelation 19:7 – the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready.
Revelation 19:9 – “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
Revelation 21:2 – I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
To creatively fill in the gaps between Judaism and Christianity, the Jews were wed to God when they were young and inexperienced with relationships, subsequently, the newly weds encountered conflicts neither could deal with. A separation was needed. After some time on their own, the husband was sure his bride would reflect upon her behaviour.
As a reassurance that a reunion was eminent, God wrote up a renewal of vows, and made himself into a younger more attractive mate (Jesus). The new covenant (the New Testament) was a modernised version of the old; God didn’t want to admit fault for causing his wife to find another man, but his actions suggested he took on board some of the responsibility.
Full of desire to make the second marriage last forever, the groom insisted upon a long engagement. The proposal was made about 2000 years ago but the Trinity insisted the bride had to be fully mature before taking the final plunge. She’s been quite impatient: “Is it time yet? Is it time yet?” all the faithful Christians have chanted for a couple of millennium. They have fasted and fasted as they await the return of the groom. She is sure this time round it will be a match made in heaven.
Ultimately, only time will tell if the lamb intends to keep his promise or if he has deceived his bride and intends on leaving her at the alter forever …
The cultures Christianity emerged from, (Jewish and Greco-Roman, c.30-100CE), were patriarchal and sexist. While women in some spheres could hold positions of power, the mainstream way of life was men had more authority and women were expected to be submissive. Christianity’s saviour, Jesus, overtly and covertly challenged these gender attitudes.
A clear example of Jesus defying culture norms is in the Gospel story Luke 7:36-50. This chapter details a “sinner” woman, usually presumed to be a prostitute, who anoints Jesus feet with oil and begs for “forgiveness”. Pharisees witnessing the event are shocked that Jesus did not shun her as was expected by a Jew.
The narrative does not explicitly state the woman is a sex worker, however, it is broadly recognised that she was. Why? Because she had her hair out. (Disciple Paul confirms values of the period by implying honourable women should cover their hair or have their heads shaved when praying or prophesying; 1 Corinthians 11:1-6).
In Biblical times there were three types of prostitutes:
Women who made a living by sleeping with men. The reason why some women engaged in this occupation is as varied as today’s sex workers with the exception that women in antiquity did not have access to social security payments or a vast option of employment opportunities (women rarely studied and they weren’t allowed to do “men’s jobs”, like being a tax collector, fisherwomen, soldier, politician, etc.), therefore, being a prostitute was some women’s only option if they did not have a man (father/son/uncle) to financially support them.
Sacred or temple prostitutes. Being a temple worker had associations with performing fertility rites that may or may not have included sexual acts. Such traditions go back to old Babylonian days and were a feature of some Roman cults. While there is conjecture amongst scholars about the types of activities that took place in temples (especially of women’s roles), there is also clear evidence that in some instances, ritualised sex was performed to praise and/or appease deities that people idolised. Israelites despised these traditions and clearly stated in their law that such behaviour was forbidden (Deuteronomy 23:17).
Any woman who had sex outside of marriage could be labelled a harlot. Under Jewish law an adulteress could be stoned to death (John 8:1-11). Men could be stoned for adultery too, however, this was considered to be a lesser crime; wives were a husband’s possession, therefore, if she voluntarily slept with another man his “goods” were damaged, but since a wife didn’t own her husband she did not have the same reprieve if her husband was unfaithful.
(Side note: in Greco-Roman societies males could also be prostitutes. Their clients were usually other men. To engage in male prostitution in a brothel, as a sex worker or client, was looked down upon but was also considered an unremarkable aspect of daily life.)
Luke 7 does not tell us what type of “sinner” the woman was, nonetheless, the Pharisees would have looked down upon her because Jewish scripture denounced harlotry in all forms.
Jews hatred of prostitution had gross misogynistic overtones, as evidenced in Judges 19 where women (daughters and virgins) are depicted as being disposable objects that can be raped and abused without men needing to feel any guilt for their actions (it can be argued that the story is not literal, nonetheless, the symbolic imagery of women being objects at men’s disposal signifies cultural values). Moreover, there is a strong message of male entitlement to women’s bodies. Personally, Judges 19 reminds of contemporary online forums run by Incels (involuntary celibates), but perhaps that’s just me.
From a realistic viewpoint, assuming the woman in Luke 7:36 was a harlot, by any definition, I can’t imagine her experiences were pleasurable, absent of abuse, or born of her freely making life choices. Rather, the manner in which she is described – rushing into the house and begging for reprieve from Jesus – suggests she was in a desperate state, in other words, traumatised. Nowadays we know a lot more about the impacts of sexual trauma, coercive control, and victim responses of fight, flight, freeze, and fawn compared to 2000+ years ago.
From a contemporary mindset, the Pharisees’ expressions of judgement about the woman’s sexual interactions reflects arrogance and cruelty. Jesus does not address these issues directly, instead he does so indirectly by giving the woman unconditional positive regard and appreciating her endearing qualities as she anoints his feet with oil. Jesus’ compassion confused the Jewish religious leaders.
The story of Jesus’ forgiving the prostitute is juxtaposed with a parable of two people being granted clemency of financial debts, one owes little money, the other a lot. The moral is that whomever is forgiven the larger debt will be more grateful, which is likened to whomever excessively sins will be more grateful for God’s forgiveness than one who has only sinned a little.
A standard interpretation of the passage is that it is the prostitute who had sinned the most, therefore, she will love God more than the Pharisees who had sinned little. I would like to challenge these assumptions by suggesting it was the prostitute who had sinned the least, and the Pharisees’ discrimination, prejudices, harsh judgments, and absence of compassion were the bigger sins. This proposition is supported by Matthew 21:31 “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you”.
Further, I can’t help but wonder if the seven “demons” Jesus expelled from the woman were shame, guilt, embarrassment, self-loathing, stigmatisation, humiliation, and helplessness.
From a trauma-informed lens, Jesus’ act of forgiveness actively rejected victim blaming and the stigmatising behaviours of the Pharisees. The superstitious pretence of the woman’s so-called demons being the cause of her sexual “immorality” is archaic sexism. The society she lived in was the dis-ease that needed curing (Christianity and Disease).
Overall, Early Christianity offered acceptance to females (even “prostitutes”) in a way that other competing major religions did not: Judaism expected women to be pure and faithful to their husbands/father/other male or else they could be stoned to death. The (Roman) Mithras cult was only for men, and the (Greek) Dionysus cult had orgies, as too did the Roman version, the Bacchus cult.
In a sense Christianity subtly evened the gender score cards, at least in theory it did. Celibacy was encouraged for everyone, otherwise sex was only to occur in a marriage bed.
Moving on to Sensible Sexuality
Early Christianity was not necessarily an egalitarian sect, it did, however, provide women with opportunities of autonomy other religions of the time did not. It adopted the Jewish protocols of sexual relations being sanctified in marriage with the added doctrine of forgiveness being offered to sexual acts that occurred “immorally” – the process of confession and forgiveness could be applied to voluntarily and involuntary sexual behaviour – a great advantage of this practice being the enabling of perpetrators to redeem themselves and victims heal.
While Early Christian ideals were rather prudish and narrow there is also a nobility about them. By drawing a firm line in the sand surrounding sexual etiquette they can be commended for helping to put an end to culturally accepted sodomy and stigmatisations of abuse victims.
Christians gave a level of physical autonomy and respect for personal boundaries that was not necessarily present in other spheres of life. I imagine both men and women (who came from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds) may have felt a sense of liberation that enabled them to move around their communities without adverse social expectations to sexually perform in some way.
The problem with what may have been Christianity’s good intentions is that people are complex, we are not all binary and following strict laws is not always practicable. Further, considerations about sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity as discussed in the previous post were not understood 2000 years ago in the same way as they are today.
As Christianity developed, guidelines for sexual behaviours were accompanied by fear tactics that stipulated deviance from binary protocols would result in spending an eternity in hell. To label people as sinners if they do not abide by rigid definitions of male and female, no sex or only sex in marriage, is very severe to say the least.
I view Christian attitudes towards sexual issues as being a bit like mandatory measures taken during Covid-19 epidemics. Initially, harsh rules were implemented like mask-wearing, social distancing, and lockdowns. Without a cure or vaccine, these things were necessary to curb the spread of the disease, then once science caught up they could be eased back again. The “epidemic” Early Christianity was fighting was culturally sustained sexual abuse. They didn’t have a formal #MeToo movement, nonetheless, sexual abuses did occur, potentially on a monumental scale. To fight this “disease” harsh measures had to be implemented, ergo Christian strict sexual guidelines.
Just like mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing does not completely stop the spread of viruses, mandatory celibacy and/or sex only in marriages does not stop all abuse from occurring. We still don’t have a absolute cure for sexual abuse (or Covid) but we are better equipped to deal with it than our ancestors were. We have scientific evidence of non-binary genders, DNA testing can be used help prove rape, and our culture is working towards making the issue of consent better understood by everyone.
Looking back over Church history, I get the impression Christians of all ages struggled with comprehending defining appropriate behaviours and giving consider to individual circumstances. For example, the fourteenth century Christian, Wilgefortis. Her father tried to marry her off to a non-Christian, however, she prayed to God to prevent this from occurring and, subsequently, grew a beard and was considered too repulsive to wed. She was accused of witchcraft and sentenced to death by cruxifixction. While demonised by some, others likened her to Christ and prayed to her as a saint (more about Wilgefortis is written here).
Our ancestors were superstitious, really superstitious. From Wilgefortis being considered a witch or a saint, to women’s sexual behaviours being blamed on demonic possession, attitudes towards gender identity and sexual behaviours have a long history of being influenced by irrational beliefs and spiritual theories that suppose there is perfect “nature” of males and females. Moreover, failing to meet these standards is a sin.
Faith Versus Knowledge
New Testament verses that refer to sexual orientation and gender identity are virtually none existent because, quite simply, these concepts did not exist.
In summary, Christian attitudes towards sexual orientation and gender orientation are best understood in relationship to the historical and cultural roots in which they came from. Christian traditions may be applauded for striving to end traumatic sexual relations in the form of abuse towards women and the sodomising of young males, however, these strict guidelines do not adequately address nuances of human variation.
A key issue that Christian forefathers missed is consent. Common contemporary thought places consent of all parties (whether they are male, female, or other) as being paramount to sexual experiences. The ancient world didn’t think about consent like we do, rather, entitlement, expectations, and cultural norms precipitated behaviours. And without modern criminal investigation techniques, like DNA samples from rape victims, if abuses took place, perpetrators could more easily get away with their crimes. How then could Early Christians create standards in which appropriate sexual protocols were followed? … It is a circular argument that leads back to what should have the greatest authority, the logic of humans (and modern science) or God? … Dear Australians #2.5: God’s Authority …
This blog is part of a series that I hope will encourage deep, thoughtful, respectful discussions about issues relating to the Religious Discrimination bill. If you’d like to be kept up to date, subscribe to receive notifications of new posts by email.
Issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity emerged from the Religious Discrimination bill as two distinct items. But first, let’s start with the basics so as we’re all on the same page.
Sex refers to a person’s gender, male or female. The distinguishing features are genitalia; a male has a phallus and the female a vagina.
Modern thought acknowledges these two binaries do not adequately suit all people. The range of possibilities between male and female has become known as non-binary or other. A person who identifies as being within this range may have more or less male or female physical attributes. In cases some people are born with duel reproduction organs (intersex), while for others, the non-binary aspect of their identity is more nuanced and is not always easily defined by obvious physical markers.
The term non-binary was invented in the 1990s but it’s only really been in the last decade or so it’s established itself as real thing. When I say “thing” I mean enough scientific studies have been done to give credence to the concept that has allowed it to become part of the fabric of generalised human consciousness. These studies include retrospectively looking back over history and identifying evidence to support the notion that humans don’t always neatly fit into the two discrete categories of male and female.
My introduction to non-binary came about when I was studying Visual Arts at university, in 1996/7, and I was researching a *female* artist who had a beard. I cannot recall this artist’s name, but I distinctively remember learning about their challenges and inner conflicts. They said they felt like a freak of nature. They were raised as a typical girl because that was what their outwards genitalia dictated, however, as they entered adolescence facial growth spontaneously appeared. Needless to say, they were bullied by peers for the “abnormality”. In one of their interviews (recorded on film slides), they spoke of their journey of learning to accept their individuality which included going through a phase of religiously shaving their stubble every morning to avoid judgment. Eventually they came to embrace their uniqueness by keeping their breasts (instead of having them surgically removed) and growing a beard. What a brave soul. Thanks to activists like this artist, children born today with similar physical non-binary gender traits have a better chance of being met with understanding and acceptance.
There are also some people who have no outward physical indicators of being a variant of male or female, however, they have an inward feeling or knowing that these two binaries do not suit them. In some cases, these people can have operations so as to alter their outward appearance to match what they believe is their inner gender. Commonly, these people are called transgender. Other variants can include men dressing as women and vice versa without having operations.
People who openly embrace their non-binary nature are vulnerable to persecution by members of the public who judge them for going against “nature”. Christianity is a group known for being prejudice towards expressions of identity that differ to strict guidelines of masculinity and femininity, however, as discussed in relation to the plebiscite, this is not all Christians. Correspondingly, individuals of other faiths (especially Islam) or of no religious standing can also have discriminatory attitudes.
Classical thought views sexual intercourse as being a reference to the male phallic entering the female vagina. Sex between two binaries has a generalised focus on reproduction that may occur through the male sperm fertilising the female ova.
The degree to which attitudes in traditional sexual intercourse have encompassed an acknowledgement that the act can simply be done for pleasure varies according to culture, customs, social etiquettes, and other variables.
Contemporary thought has a broader version of the sex act. While vagina penetration is still a large focus area, other factors such as arousal, organism, sensual experience, and tactile sensations can also be viewed as variants of intimate relations. By expanding the parameters of sexual intercourse to sexual interactions, acts performed by lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, and queers can be more easily acknowledged. Essentially, love making can look different depending upon individual tastes, preferences, and circumstances. Moreover, the sexual interactions are not depend upon binary genitals or gender. Whatever rocks your boat, as the saying goes.
Sexual orientation refers to a person’s preference for whom they’d like to have intimate experiences with. The two biggest categories are heterosexual (male and female) and homosexual (male and male or female and female). The other major category is bisexual – a combination of heterosexual and homosexual.
Sexual orientation is not dependant upon outer indicators of sex/gender. Kind of like you don’t know what colour a chocolate clinker is on the inside until you bite into it. Okay, maybe that’s not the best analogy. The point is, the gender a person is attracted to has many faucets. I could get all touchy feely about emotions and attractions, etc., but at the end of the day, it’s up to each individual to decide who his/her/they are attracted to. For a lot of people the journey of discovering what feels authentic to them and what they desire in a partner is a windy road. Those who have to change course, take a u-turn, pay speeding fines, mis-read Google maps, etc., sometimes get a little frustrated by those who are able to take a straight and narrow road to their destination … the vehicle (i.e., gender/binary/non-binary/other) one drives can impact how obstacles are navigated.
Discussions of sexual orientation would not be complete without also acknowledging asexuals. These people have little to no interest in sexual interactions with anyone.
The Dark Side of Sexual Orientation
It’s also possible for some people to have sexual orientations in which they desire to have intimate relations with minors, and/or rape and incest. These latter categories are unambiguously forbidden by contemporary laws because they infringe upon human rights and cause physical, mental, and emotional harm. Understanding the impact of abusive sexual relations is a relatively new concept – Freudian theories that persisted for a lot of the twentieth century gave approval to incest, harassment, and sexual violence (i.e., Freud claimed that when a woman says “no” they really mean “yes”, and then there was all that junk about male homosexuality being a condition that needed to be cured by confronting sexual desire for one’s mother. And let’s not forget how Freud called fourteen year old Dorothy a hysteric because she didn’t feel excitement while being harassed by her father’s mate … hmmm, and that was considered revolutionary psychological development ?).
Sex and Sexual Orientation in Antiquity
Antiquity is a big place, filled with distant places and an assortment of beliefs and practices. Some generalisations can be made, but at the same time, there was much variation. I’m primarily concerned with Australian culture and Christianity, which means looking back at our colonial founders in Europe. As is often the case, all roads lead to Rome. Although, the Romans really just laid down the bitumen over the dirt paths made by the Greeks, so that’s where we’re going first.
Ancient Greece is a rather small blot on the modern Australian atlas. Personally, I learned very little about their culture when I was at school, however, as an adult, I’ve come to appreciate that it was a once a great influencer (if they had an instagram they would have been everyone’s friend).
One of the greatest pieces of dirt about Ancient Greeks (in amongst their wonderful achievements) is that adult men sodomised young males over the age of twelve on a regular basis. I’m not going to pretty this up. It was almost a social expectation that older males who mentored young males were privy to sensual intimacy as sideline activity.
It’s also worthy to note that in Greek society, males were not considered “grown men” until they were covered in hair and/or they were about the age of 30. Athenian men would often marry around this age, to girls who had just started menstruating, 12-16. Spartans had slightly different customs, with both males and females usually being in their early twenties when they took marriage vows, although there are still reports that males practiced sodomy prior this, and 30 was still considered to be a bench mark for taking on positions of responsibly in society.
History has a habit of neglecting herstory, so relations between females aren’t well documented. The status quo of married Ancient Greek women was to be kept locked up in the home with their needlework, however, there is also evidence to suggest some women had choice and freedoms. In regards to sexual orientation, the greatest indicator of female and female relationships comes from the poet Sappho. She wrote so many love sonnets about women that the contemporary words “lesbian” is a derivative of Sappho’s home town, Lesbos.
In lieu of insufficient information, the remaining discussion mainly focused on male and male relationships of antiquity.
Greek men did not perceive engaging in anal intercourse young males to be a homosexual act (the Greeks didn’t have a word for homosexuality) because in their society, as described by Paul Chrystal, (author of In Bed With the Ancient Greeks), a man’s phallic was the main focus of sexual acts, as opposed to a boy’s phallic. “Proper” sex involved an active penetrator and someone being passively penetrated, irrespective of gender. Pederastic sodomy met this requirement by the older male being the dominant and the young man being the passive, just like was expected between a man and a woman. Once the youth became a man, the intimate relations were expected to cease because the dominate versus submissive dynamic was no longer present. To summarise: men sodomising men was not okay, but men sodomising young boys was fine because penetrating young boys was similar to penetrating a women … the logic behind these values can be better understood if “spiritual” factors are seen to have predominate Greek thought over physical attributes, i.e., young boys and women had similar soul attributes, that is they were both considered inferior to a man’s soul.
The Greek concept of boys being like women may seem odd to the contemporary mind, however, it was not that long ago this idea completely diminished. All the way up until the 1900s, young males could be called girls without any offence because “girl” simply meant “child”. The differentiation of young people’s gender only gradually began to emerge from the 1300s onwards.
Sex and Semen
Given that males have a long standing history of believing they are superior to women, it’s not that surprising that male semen was viewed as being more important than the “inferior” female cum. In many instances, male semen was perceived as being the next best thing to sliced bread, not wait, not bread, the invention of wine, no that’s not right either, I mean blood; semen was the next best thing to blood, and blood in the ancient world was very important.
What I’m getting at here is that the ancients view of the world was very different to what it is today. For instance, sperm was understood to be made by blood. Aristotle even went so far as saying something about the best sperm being made by the blood that circulated around the eyes … eyes were seen (pun intended) as being really important conduits for supernatural, I mean “natural”, phenomenon, hence Aristotle’s wisdom also included the report that the glance of a menstruating women could make a copper mirror go cloudy. Personally, I have quite a few concerns about Aristotle’s biology lessons but, nonetheless, many have accepted them verbatim …
To summarise, the “natural” order of life in ancient times was no comparison to modern science. Understandings of gender, gender orientation, sexual orientation, and sexual interactions were not the same as contemporary considerations of preferences, consent, etc. And well, if you believe the myths, then the common person’s knowledge of reproduction included the belief that virgins could become pregnant … need I say more?
Romans copied a lot of Greek customs, including the initiation-like practice of men sodomising boys. In some instances, the boy could be castrated to keep them more effeminate. You’re not having sex with a man if they have no penis! Before anyone attempts to declare the pagans were barbarians by enforcing a transgender-like procedures, I’m going to be spoiler and mention Christianity made it’s fair share of eunuchs all the way up to the 1900s (more about that in a future blog).
If interpreted literally, the Torah/Old Testament gives approval to sexual activities such as rape, incest, and polygamy. However, Judaism also carries the previously mentioned traditions of sexual relations only being recognised as valid if done between the binaries of male and female, and are conducted in matrimony for the purposes of reproduction. The question therefore arises, did Jews interpret their scriptures literally or symbolically? I suspect, there were people in both camps, but mostly symbolically. Those who saw Biblical male and female sexual interactions as allegories did not see need to copy such behaviours in real life (see The Big Bang Theory in Egyptian Mythology for an Egyptian based explanation of how allegorical genderism works in literature).
Outside of Ancient Europe other cultures performed sexual acts contemporary societies judge as abomination, for instance the Sambia people of Papua New Guinea perform ritualised homosexual acts as part of their warrior’s initiation process.
Women, Sex, and Hysteria
In many respects, the realities of the ancient world are that it was a brutal place in which sex and sexual orientations do not match contemporary understandings. Sexual acts we consider to cause harm and trauma could be conducted with either cultural approval and/or perpetrators of sexual violence having less repercussions than today. Being a woman made matters even more nuanced because women could be demonised for their sexual behaviour with much greater ease than men.
Presumably, there have always been assertive women who were upfront about their sexual needs, however, these personalities are not well documented in his-stories of Greek, Rome, or Judaism. As a general rule, sex, moreover sexual pleasure, was a man’s thing. Women were expected to be “pure” and virginal. Not only were females expected to be subvert and submissive (once a son had reached manhood, they were also considered superior to their mother), women were expected to be happy about this status.
If women showed signs of depression, anxiety, or emotional distress they would be labelled hysterical. Greek medicine men (i.e., Hippocrates – who is acclaimed as being the father of modern medicine) believed hysteria was caused by the womb being out of place. A common cure for this condition was to recommend intercourse so as to put the womb back in its rightful place. The theory was dressed up with “scientific” explanations that referred to the cold and dry vagina needing a penis’ warmth and wetness in order to balance the “humours” and make the woman happy again. This “natural” order was correlated with the theology of four elements of fire, air, water, and earth. Alternatively, a woman’s hysteria diagnosis could be treated by advising they abstain from sex completely. Either way, curing hysteria was related back to sexual activity.
These types of theories and practices relating to women’s anatomy and emotional wellbeing endured for 2500 years! Christian doctor’s who followed Hippocrates’ textbook were more likely to advise abstinence or have midwives massage a woman’s private parts. The only significant challenge to the notion that women needed sex to cure their dysregulated emotional states (now understood to be trauma responses or PTSD) was that they were possessed by demons – a predisposition men supposedly didn’t have because their soul’s were more spiritually advanced than women’s.
A few months ago, I watched the 2011 movie Hysteria, which is by no means academic reference. Nonetheless, it made me wonder if, for most of history of many men been absolutely clueless about feminine sexuality and pleasure? Or perhaps, as a friend of mine suggested, there was just a period of time and/or certain cultures in which men were so focused on the so-called importance of penises and semen that they overlooked feminine experiences? It is something I leave for further pondering.
Now we’ve got the basics out of the way we can discuss Christian sex … Dear Australians #2.4: Jesus and Women …
This blog is part of a series that I hope will encourage deep, thoughtful, respectful discussions about issues relating to the Religious Discrimination bill. If you’d like to be kept up to date, subscribe to receive notifications of new posts by email.
WW1 and WW2 prompted the whole world to re-evaluate prejudices and the need for equality. In response to Hilter taking racial discrimination to the abominable level of genocide, discussions of basic human rights began to take place.
Australia had direct involvement in the United Nations formation of defining The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The documents contains 30 articles that are designed to ensure peace, liberty, and respect between individuals throughout the world. No single article is supposed to be taken as priority over another. For example, Article 18, which refers to religious freedoms (below), cannot be used as an excuse to attack someone’s honour and reputation, as defined in Article 12 (below). In such cases the right to freedom of religion is restricted so as not to impede other human rights.
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
Australia and Human Rights
Australia’s acceptance of The Universal Human Rights was a great step towards ensuring a peaceful nation, as was desired by the writers of the constitution. Further, as a nation we are party to seven international human rights treaties. However, it wasn’t until 1986 that the government formalised policies through The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).
“All persons have the right to think freely, and to entertain ideas and hold positions based on conscientious or religious or other beliefs. Subject to certain limitations, persons also have the right to demonstrate or manifest religious or other beliefs, by way of worship, observance, practice and teaching. Legislation, policies and programs must respect the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief, unless they clearly fall within one of the permissible limitations”.
Permissible limitations include:
protection against brainwashing or indoctrination
coercion which would impair a person’s freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice
conduct that is required or encouraged by a particular religion or belief that can occur criminal penalties
times when there is a need to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others
the prohibition on advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence
Whilst AHRC defines Australia’s laws pertaining to human rights, specific civil and criminal charges relating to particular breaches are legislated through several other federal, state, and territory Acts.
At a federal level, the balance between religious freedom and acts of discrimination work in conjunction with the following:
Racial Discrimination Act 1975
Sex Discrimination Act 1984
Racial Discrimination Act 1986
Disability Discrimination Act 1992
Age Discrimination Act 2004
Fair Work Act 2009
The Federal Government’s role of protecting people from inequality and harassment overlaps with individual state and territory responsibilities.
State and Territory Legislation
Each Australian state and territories has the capacity to create and enforce its own anti-discrimination legislations. See table below for summary.
Australian Capital Territory
Discrimination Act 1991
New South Wales
Anti-Discrimination Act 1977
Equal Opportunity Act 1977 Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001
Australia has come a long way in overcoming bigoted views and discriminatory behaviours driven by religious beliefs. Nonetheless, tensions between differing belief systems and/or people with no religious beliefs still occur. Gaps in federal, state, and territory Acts resulted in the option being formed that either adjustments to the Sexual Discrimination Act needed to be made or a specifically designed religious discrimination act created. The arguments surrounding religious freedoms versus discrimination primarily hit upon issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. Ergo, the Morrison government chose to try to implement the controversial Religious Discrimination Bill.
Intertwined with the debate were repercussions of the 2017 referendum that allowed same sex marriages to be legally recognised.
80% of eligible Australians voted in the referendum, with results of 61.6% in favour of supporting same sex marriages. Personally, I am one of the 20% who were eligible but did not vote. The reason being that my original voting slip was stolen from my letterbox and I was not able return the replacement slip in time. (I know the original was stolen because it mysteriously turned up in my letterbox several weeks later, coincidentally, following a conversation I had with a neighbour – I think I stirred their conscience.)
40% of eligible Australians voted in the 2017 referendum against same sexed marriages. Given that in the 2016 census 52% of Australians identified as Christians it’s possible they made up a good proportion of the those who objected. Islamics (2.6% of the population) may also have had religious ideologies that persuaded them to vote in favour of only recognising opposite sex marriages.
As a general rule, Hinduism (1.9%), Buddhism (2.4%), and Sikhism (0.5%) don’t have any offical stance on the matter, so their votes could not have been based on faith. Judaism (0.4%) also generally has a progressive view of sexuality, except for fundamentalists, of which there are not many in Australia.
As for any of the 30% of Australians who identified as non-religious or other spiritual beliefs, who may have voted against same sexed marriages, they presumably did so due to personal convictions (or lack of education about sexual orientation).
Based upon the circumstantial evidence of many forms of Christianity having adverse attitudes towards homosexuality and transgenderism, I am quietly confident that it was this sector of the population who predominately objected to same sex marriages.
Of course, not all Christians agree with Biblical inferences that homosexuals are an abomination to humankind. If that was the case, and all Christians voted in the referendum, then the Christian ethos probably would not have prevailed and same sex marriage would not have been legalised. I guesstimate 40-50% of Christians voted against same sex marriages.
Part of Morrison’s selling point of a Religious Discrimination bill was to “bring balance” to religious freedoms. In other words, people who were pissed that the majority of Australian citizens democratically voted in favour of same sex balance, needed appeasing, or more precisely, given the right to discriminate. Somehow, this was going to fill gaps and make things fair for everyone.
Sexual orientation and gender identity issues have an extensive history that extends far beyond Australia’s colonisation and the formation of organised religions like Christianity, and looking at these helps to shed light on current arguments … Dear Australians #2.3: Let’s Talk About Sex …
This blog is part of a series that I hope will encourage deep, thoughtful, respectful discussions about issues relating to the Religious Discrimination bill. If you’d like to be kept up to date, subscribe to receive notifications of new posts by email.
I’m sure many of you are as relieved as I am that the Religious Discrimination Bill (also known as the Bigot Bill) was not passed, thus preventing religious groups from being given the right discriminate against . However, what some people appear to have missed is that the bill was always about much more than giving bigots the right to legally judge, humiliate, and vilify others due to their sexual identity and orientation. Behind the smokescreen of celebrating sexual liberations, the nuances of religious abuse and coercive practices remain unaddressed.
As a therapist, I advocate the practice of not letting issues hide under the metaphorical carpet. While the Religious Discrimination Bill has been shelved indefinitely, the whole saga brought up a few things we best discuss now before things boil over again. Let’s take this opportunity to reflect and have a heart to heart about what has taken place. I’ll start. I’ve got quite a bit to say so I recommend you make yourself a cuppa …
In response to my first letter to Australians, Dear Australians, We Need Coercive Control Laws Not a Religious Discrimination Bill, I received the feedback from someone who said: “I didn’t even know Australia already had freedom of religion laws”. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this. From police officers to common citizens, there is a lack of understanding of current legalisations relating to religious practices which, once understood, provide insights into deceptive government behaviour that should raise everyone’s eyebrows. Three key points are:
The Religious Discrimination bill was an attempt to undermine the Australian constitution.
Historical events in Australia and Biblical times are not well known or understood.
Freedom of Religion cannot be discussed without also considering religious abuse.
As with many complex issues, in order to appreciate how factors interrelate, examining history explains a lot about how we came to current circumstances. I’ll start with Australian history and why we are a secular nation.
Penal Colony and Church Act
Australia began as a penal colony with convicts being sent from the United Kingdom. At the time of the first fleet, 1788, the dominate religion in England was Protestant Christianity, Church of England. The supreme governor was their monarch, King George III. (The current Supreme Governor of the Church of England is Queen Elizabeth II).
Convicts sent to Australia in 1788 were expected to attend weekly outdoor Church services. The first church building established in Sydney Cove, 1793, was Anglican (another way of saying Church of England). The chapel was burnt down in six years later. The arson attack is believed to have been done by disgruntled convicts who objected to being forced to attend; this many have been inspired by atheistic beliefs or devotion to an alternative form of Christianity.
Most of the convicts were Anglican, however, one tenth were Irish Catholics, with smaller percentages of other faiths, like nonconformist Protestants. Angst between Christian denominations began in Europe during the reformation era (c.1517-1648).
When King Henry VIII founded the Church of England in 1534 many Catholics fled to Ireland, thus preceding English/Irish conflicts were often Anglican/Catholic tensions. A cycle of revolts and tensions persisted between English Protestants and Irish Catholics for many centuries.
In 1798, when a major conflict broke out in Ireland, Catholic rebels were transported to New South Wales.
In 1804, Catholics in New South Wales attempted to overthrow British rule. Consequently, Catholics priests were forbidden from practicing clerical rites in Australia for 16 years.
To help ease religious tensions, in 1836 Governor Bourke introduced the first Church Act. This provided subsidies for land and the building of chapels to Anglican, Catholic, and Presbyterian denominations equally. Members of the Anglican Church objected to the Act because they believed the Church of England should have more distinction over other Christians.
Overall, the Church Act successfully brought about a sense of peace, which was further enhanced with later amendments that made provisions for Jewish, Methodist, and Baptist communities. Despite government support for all religions, segregation took place with Catholic-only or Presbyterian-only workplaces. “No Catholics/Jews/Protestants/Other need apply” was not an uncommon on employment ads. Social expectations of marrying within one’s faith remained the norm. Name calling and derogatory remarks about other’s beliefs was commonplace, even amongst children who were echoing their parents prejudices.
Australia Constitution 1901
As Australia moved towards forming a constitution, the men in Commonwealth government roles had varying Christian heritages. Through a conscious awareness of how conflicts can arise from any one religion dominating others, like what occurred in Europe and Australia’s early colonial days, section 116 of Australia’s constitution stated:
The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.
According to Australia’s first census in 1911, 96% percent of Australians considered themselves to be Christian. Thus, it can be assumed that section 116 was aimed at ensuring no “Christian” religion was to be imposed. I highly doubt there was foresight to perceive the great diversity of religion that Australia would have in 2022, nonetheless, its intention come to fruition, mostly.
The high number of Christians in Australia’s early days did not include First Nations people. Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders were viewed as being more like animals than people, let alone communities who deserved to have the right to freely exercise their religion. It was not until 1971 that First Nation People were indiscriminately counted in an Australian census.
Between 1860 and 1870 landowners could acquire indigenous workers then force them to work on sugar fields, as pearl divers, on cattle and sheep properties, and other hard laborious positions. If paid, it was only a fraction of what white workers received; some reports claiming indigenous Australians received 3% of Europeans earnings. (Reminder: Scott Morrison has a very narrow view of slavery looks like.)
Mistreatment of indigenous Australians was commonplace and long standing. All the way up to the 1960s, countless Australian aboriginals were taken from their families and incarcerated. Many were forced to live in (Christian) missions or on reserves with freedoms to move around cities and towns only allowed if they had an exemption certificate. These were dubbed “dog tags” and in order to get one, individuals had to promise to give up their culture, language, family, and religious beliefs.
The secular basis of the Australian constitution was not specifically designed to be tolerant of Eastern faiths like Hinduism, Buddhism, or Sikhism, either. From the time of the gold rush onwards, Asians, particularly Chinese, were the target of racial discrimination. From additional taxes being placed upon them if they wanted a gold mining license, to the first Immigration Restriction Act and Regulations of 1861, racism towards “heathens” prevailed.
The government’s white’s only polices, banning immigration from all non-European countries, came into effect in 1901, the same time as the constitution.
As for those who wanted to follow traditional beliefs, like Celtics, or other paganism, section 116 wasn’t designed for them either. The Christian assumption that such practices were demonic prevailed, as evidenced by state laws that forbade witchcraft, sorcery, and fortune telling. In 2005, Victoria became the last state to remove laws prohibiting paganism and occult-based beliefs and practices.
Christianity has a long history of non-tolerance towards alternative belief systems in a variety of contexts. It’s an attitude that supposes indigenous Australians, Asians, pagans, or anyone other than a Christian, have inferior religious beliefs, therefore they don’t really matter. (As I’ve discussed before, Christian supremacy has significant links to Aristotelian philosophy.) Colonialist Australia inevitably inherited some of its attributes of superiority from its English roots, but our constitution is secular, so perhaps our hearts were in the place and we just need to do a bit of reflection?
Over the coming days I will be publishing more letters to Australians that I hope will encourage deep, thoughtful, respectful discussions about issues relating to the Religious Discrimination bill. If you’d like to be kept up to date, subscribe to receive notifications of new posts by email.
The image of Jesus dying on a cross is a common icon of contemporary Christianity, however, such symbolism is a far cry from how Early Christians depicted their saviour. Evidence in the form of artworks from Early Christian households and catacombs reveal a very different set symbolism to what today’s followers are familiar with. Three examples of lost Christian symbolism include the anchor, peacock, and wand.
Anchor in the the Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome, 2nd Century (Source: Persecution Worldwide)
An anchor suggests being secured to a location, like a boat whose anchor is tied to the shore. It was a metaphor used to infer a Christian needs to secure (anchor) themselves to Jesus Christ, especially when the seas of life are rough and windy. This interpretation is supported by Hebrews 6:19-20 in which anchor is specifically referred to as being “hope”:
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
(Jesus being a High Priest of the Melchizedek order is an issue for another day.)
Sarcophagus of Archbishop Theodoric, marble, 6th century; in the church of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna, Italy.
Ancient legends (which the people of Jesus’ lifetime were familiar with) claimed a peacock’s flesh couldn’t riot. Therefore, the peacock was used as a symbol of Jesus’ immortality. Further, peacocks represent rebirth because each year they lose their feathers and regrow them. Thus the peacock was also a reference to Jesus’ resurrection and annual celebrations of his birth (some sources say peacocks begin regrowing their feathers around December 25 each year, however, I haven’t been able to confirm this information). Coincidentally, symbolising Jesus as a peacock went out vogue around the same time as Christianity became the official religion of Rome.
Early Christian depiction of Jesus performing magic with a wand
Early Christians depicted Jesus as being like a magician who healed people by waving a wand. This symbolism could be a link to Moses’ staff (that he raised to magically part waters). Alternatively, given that Christianity has Greek roots as well as Hebrew, the symbolism could be a transference from Hermes and Athena who both waved wands to perform magic. Either way, the depiction of Jesus with a wand presented an easy to read symbol that denoted magical powers that people living in the first century could understand.
Why the Change of Symbolism?
Christianity did not evolve in a vacuum, it borrowed heavily from the cultures it emerged from, namely Hebrew and Greek. Most people were illiterate, therefore using pre-existing symbols like the anchor, peacock, and wand enabled easy and effective transfer of concepts.
The transformation of Early Christian symbols into alternatives which today’s Christians are more familiar with coincides with Emperor Constantine’s conversion and Christianity becoming the main religion of Rome.
While the essence of Christian faith continued to promote the meanings behind the old symbolism, new iconography that was more appealing to a broader Roman audience developed. In contemporary media studies this is referred to as using codes and conventions that reflect social values.
To the Roman mind, the anchor, peacock, and wand did not evoke the strength of a saviour who was destined to rule the world. To demonstrate Jesus was master of all, He had to be shown as being stronger than pagan Gods. Therefore, the Early Christian’s image of Jesus as a young, shaven, young boy, transformed into a larger than life mature bearded man, not unlike His revivals Jupiter and Neptune. The process of rebranding Christianity from a small fringe sect of believers into a mainstream religion occurred gradually between the 400s – 600s.
One of the wonderful things about the develop of technology is that facts can be checked in an instant. Today, February 14, which is known throughout the Westernised world as Valentines Day has presented such an opportunity.
While casually scrolling through Facebook, I came across a post about the Ancient Roman Festival of Lupercalia and it’s links to Christianity and Saint Valentine. The story was extraordinary, so I decided to check out the facts, and as bizarre as some of the antidotes are, the story rings true, well kind of.
Lupercalia was a she-wolf Roman goddess who nurtured the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus.
Capitoline Wolf (Capitoline She-Wolf), c.1200s, Louve, Paris
Each year on February 15, the Romans partook in a festival that involved animal sacrifice (goat and dog to be precise), dancing, and encouragement of sensual pleasures. Part of the tradition involved two priests running around with sections of the sacrificed animals and slapping the bloody flesh on women. To be hit was an omen of fertility. You could say this was authentic Roman(ce) behaviour.
As the years progressed, and Christianity became the formal religion of Rome (313 CE), the pagan festival lost popularity. In 494 CE it was completely forbidden by Pope Gelasius I. The celebration of St Valentine on February 14 is generally considered to be a Christianised Holy Day designed to take the attention away from the pagan Lupercalia festival. Moreover, the aim was to encourage a more measured, spiritualised version of love. In other words, traditions like poetry and note writing were considered more tasteful than slapping a single women with a hunk of raw flesh. It is times like these I completely agree with Christian values.
How does St Valentine fit into the picture?
Legends says Emperor Claudius II Gothicus (reigned c.268-70) cancelled marriages so as to encourage more men to fight in battle. Apparently, males were hesitant to go out and get killed while trying to kill other men in order for the Emperor to take control of more men, lands, possessions, and everything. Why would men be hesitant? The Emperor decided it was the usual cause of all men’s problems, women. Clearly, it was the wives and girlfriends stopping men from obeying their Emperor. If the men couldn’t get engaged or married then that would surely encourage them to go to war.
If the scenario sounds a bit doggy, then you’re not alone. Concise records (if they ever existed) to confirm these events have not survived. But since when has truth got in the way of a good story?
Popular opinion declares that the Christian priest, Valentine, married couples in secret, thus spoiling Emperor Claudius’ scheme. Subsequently, Valentine was hunted down, put in prison, and killed on February 14. If true, I’m not really sure how to rate it as a romantic gesture, but is it a good example of Christians being martyred for their oppositional behaviour, not their beliefs per se.
Several other stories are also in circulation, such as Valentine falling in love with his prison guard’s daughter and sending her a love note signed “Your Valentine”. Christian priests weren’t forbidden to marry back in those days, so it’s not impossible. Still, not to sure where it ranks on the romance score board. Personally I’d be a bit creeped out if I were that prison guard’s daughter. I mean, the guy was on dead row, was it true love or just opportunity?
There are also reports of Valentine miraculously curing a judge’s daughter of blindness. This swayed the law official into converting to Christianity, and resulted in the release of several Christians from prison. (Saints in those days seemed to be much better at performing miracles than more recent eras.)
The Catholic Online website presents a few more theories about Valentine without giving absolute credence to any of them. It does, however, concede that there is a real St Valentine whose feast day is February 14, despite the Church not really knowing who he really is or why they are honouring him.
Somewhere in the mix of Valentines Day traditions are rumours that Juno Fructifier celebrations took place on February 14. Juno, the chief Goddess of Rome, was celebrated with references to childbirth, and husbands giving wives presents. While this may be accurate, other sources indicate Juno was celebrated on March 1. The dates are close enough to speculate that Juno worship influenced St Valentine’s Day celebrations, albeit, it isn’t a perfect match.
Final Word: Uncertainty
Love is a great thing to celebrate and February 14 is as good a day as any; however, as for the reasons why it has become a tradition, I have a great level of uncertainty about the justifications. Then again, word romance itself refers to imitating the strategies Roman soldiers used to woo women, so maybe the all the legends, stories, and antidotes are appropriate?
Most Christians think of Jesus as being a bearded man. This is not surprising given all the paintings, movies, and other forms of Christian iconography that present him in this manner. Therefore, it often comes as a surprise for people to learn Early Christians had a different image of their saviour, one of a clean shaven youth. To appreciate how Jesus aged and grew a beard, it’s helpful to go back to the basics.
Early Christianity, c.30-313 CE
According to biblical accounts, Christianity began with a person known as Jesus of Nazareth wandering around Galilee talking to crowds. He spoke in metaphors then later explained the symbolic meaning of the parables to twelve devoted followers (Matthew 13:34). Jesus also established some traditions (like blessing bread and wine) and passed on doctrines relating to life on earth and in the afterlife.
After dying on a cross, Jesus rose from the dead, and his disciples were blessed with the Holy Spirit (Pentecost). The disciples then became apostles (Greek for messengers) and wandered the Roman Empire and beyond spreading what was called the Good News.
In some instances, the apostles spoke to crowds, however, this was dangerous because the messages they conveyed were considered to be a threat by some authorities. Further, while some level of religious tolerance existed, failure to honour Roman deities was unlawful. The Jewish community had an exemption from this law and some Early Christians attempted to argue that because Christianity was an offshoot of Judaism they should have the same privilege. However, many were unsuccessful and died as martyrs for refusing to hail Jove, Zeus, Aphrodite, etc.
As an alternative to preaching and practicing the religion in open spaces, Early Christians gathered in private houses. Exactly what took place in these gatherings is unclear. It is generally assumed there was some sort of shared meal (or Eucharist), alongside sharing Jesus’ parables, having theological discussions, and communal prayer sessions.
Churches founded by the apostles and/or affiliates of the apostles were based in Athens, Antioch, Ethiopia, Constantine, Armenia, Milan, and other locations around Europe, Africa, and Asia Minor. Particularly influential Churches were established in Corinth (by Paul), Alexandria (by Mark), and Rome (by Peter). Each Church had an overseer, which in Ancient Greek was called a bishop. The apostles were the first bishops, and they passed on the responsibility of overseeing Churches to others.
One of the original roles of Church overseers was to ensure each developing Christian community maintained a level of unity with others. There was no formal Bible in these humble beginnings, information was mostly passed on through word of mouth, with, of course, supplementary letters that later became part of the New Testament (i.e., the epistles or written communications from overseers to emerging Christian communities, many of which are credited to the apostle, Paul).
The Christian Bible does not contain any detailed account of Jesus’ physical appearance, therefore when Christians started painting his image, they did so in accordance with verbal information or out of their imagination. Potentially the oldest example is in a house Church in Dura-Europos, c.232, modern day Syria.
A fresco painted on the wall of this dwelling depicts the Biblical scene of Jesus healing a paralysed man. The screenshot below taken from a short documentary video shows Jesus as a beardless man.
Early Christains sometimes faced persecution, although this wasn’t necessarily as rampant as some accounts like to give. I imagine the situation was a bit like the number of QAnon believers who get arrested isn’t as high as the actual number of people who follow QAnon theories; similarly, the Early Christians who got persecuted didn’t necessarily experience this because of their beliefs per se, but because they were causing civil unrest. (Please note, I’m not using this example to try to imply any truth or falsity about QAnon or Christianity, it’s just a way of conceptualizing it was rebellious behaviours and stirring up troubles on the streets which led to people like Emperor Nero giving orders for Christian executions.)
On a theological level, some philosophers disagreed with Christianity, like Porphyry of Tyre (c.234–305 CE), wrote treatises Against the Christians. Therefore, considering Early Christians did get a bit of a bad rap, it’s not surprising many tried to stay under the radar.
Emperor Constantine (Reign: 306-37)
Everything changed In 313 CE when Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire. His personal conversion was recorded as being due to having a vision of a cross in the sky and being told “In this sign conquer”. Subsequently, the Roman army’s standard incorporated the Christian Chi Rho, ⳩. (The Chi Rho comprises of the first two letters of the Greek spelling of Christ, ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, superimposed upon one another. X + P = ⳩.)
Constantine’s labarum, with a wreathed Chi Rho from an antique silver medal
With Christianity’s rise to prominence, house Churches gave way to buildings that were funded by the Roman government. Hence, a relationship between Church and State developed.
Constantine ordering a council meeting (the Council of Nicea) to clarify doctrines and unify Christianity. The religion had become fractured with different groups having opposing opinions regarding issues like celibacy (and self castration), the Virgin birth (not everyone believed this was real), and the nature of the trinity (some believed God created Jesus, others believed Jesus always co-existed with God). Once matters were decided, opinions became canonised law. (The underlying assumption was along the lines of, when groups of wise men debated topics their final conclusions are the result of God speaking through them, therefore, must be honoured.) Once Christian canons were formed, anyone who disagreed could be labeled a heretic and sent into exile.
Under Emperor Constantine’s influence, leadership roles within Christianity became more formalised and a ranking system, like that of Roman military, began to develop. Apostle Peter’s leadership, as the overseer of the Church in Rome, was especially honoured. The Bible verse in which Jesus says “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18) justified the successive line of bishops in Rome being distinguished above others. Peter’s lineage was the overseers of overseers, bishops of bishops, in other words, Papal rulership.
The first reference to Roman bishop-hood was Bishop/Pope Siricius (c.334-399), although the title and power wasn’t fully inaugurated till a few centuries later.
Emperor Constantine was the ruler of Rome, and his endorsement of Christianity Romanised beliefs and customs.
Constantine’s cousin and successor, Emperor Julian, tried to revert Rome back to the traditional Gods and Goddesses, for example, by putting funds into restoring pagan temples. However, his efforts were unsuccessful, partly due to having a short reign (361-63). He died due to a spear wound obtained in the interlude of a battle with Persians. It is rumoured the fatal blow was not the enemies (Persians), but a Christian, moreover, a Roman Christian.
Julian was succeeded by Emperor Jovian (363-4), a Christian who detested paganism, thus funds went back into Christian Churches and away from pagan temples.
Emperor Valentinian I (364-75) was the next in line and he too supported Christianity. Valentinian reinstated many Christians into positions of power, like Constantine had done before him. Valentinian also handed the Eastern half of Rome over to his brother, Valens, to rule as co-Emperor while he focused on the West.
Moving on a bit, Eastern Rome became known as the Byzantine Empire and it maintained Imperial authority until 1453 when the Ottoman Empire took control of the capital city, Constantinople. In the West, Rome went through a series of challenges before completely falling in 476. However, this may be viewed as only a political collapse; the role of Bishop in Rome had increased in power by this point, albeit, Papal rulership was not recognised throughout all of Christendom. Many viewed the Byzantine Emperor as head of the Church, and they had a significant say (to say the least) about who sat on Peter’s throne in Rome. Thus, at this point in history it is painstakingly clear that the grass roots of Christianity had subsided and Church leadership positions were held by affiliates of families who were powerful, wealthy, and of nobel status.
Now back to Jesus’ and his beard …
One of the first appearances of Jesus with a beard comes from a Roman catacomb, late fourth century (after Constantine had Christianised Rome). He is depicted with the iconic halo and the Alpha and Omega letters which symbolise his eternal nature from the beginning to end.
Bust of Christ. c. Late 300s. Mural painting from the catacomb of Commodilla.
Another example of an early bearded Jesus, also from Rome, is the Apsis Mosaic, c.410-17CE. Not only is Jesus a mature man, his grand status is emphasised by gold paint and his stature is larger than those around him. This is a far cry from Early Christian depictions of a modestly cloaked young Jesus who blended in with his peers (see images below for comparison).
It’s speculated that the grand new Jesus look was part of a broader propaganda campaign run by Roman leadership to sway pagans towards Christianity. Like todays internet memes, the craze needed time to build some traction before it really took off. The young looking Jesus still featured in some pieces like Baptism of Christ, all the way up to the late 400s/early 500s.
Baptism of Christ. c.late 400s/early 500s, Mosaic in Arian Baptistry. Ravenna, Italy,
In the Italian mosaic above, Jesus is the young man in the center of the image with a halo around his head; he is submerged in water (the River Jordan), while John the Baptist, on the right, gives him blessings. The dove above represents the Holy Spirit coming down. The figure on the left is usually interpreted as being the personification of the river – in the ancient world it was normal to view bodies of water as gods.
I wonder if the inclusion of a Roman God in a Christian scene was a means of appeasing old laws in the event the government decided to revert back to paganism and insisted Roman Gods were honoured? Alternatively, it’s plausible Christians continued to believe bodies of water had spiritual properties that warranted recognition; the fusion of pagan beliefs with Christianity has many nuances.
As an alternative theory to Early Christians depictions of Jesus being based upon eyewitness accounts, his youthfulness as the main icon of the religion, can be interpreted as symbolic of Christianity being a young religion.
Those in the camp who believe Jesus was always a symbolic character can also note his early appearance was similar to the Greco-Roman God, Apollo:
Apollo of the Belvedere, c. 120–140 CE, Vatican Muesum, Vatican City. (Apollo was associated with healing, medicine, light, truth, music, and much more. Apollo was the son of the Sun God, Helios.)
By the end of the fourth century, Christianity was not so young. It had become a major religion, and the leadership of Rome who were promoting the faith were trying to convert citizens on a grand scale. You could say, the youthful Jesus did not pass marketing promotion standards. Jesus needed to be seen as all powerful, a true rival to his opponents, like Jupiter or Neptune (Zeus and Poseidon in Greek).
Below is an example of one of Jesus’ competitor deities, Neptune. Neptune is the central figure, his divine status emphasized by a halo around his head (halos were standard symbol to differentiate the divine from the earthly). Neptune’s left hand holds a trident pointing upwards to the heavens, while his right holds a fish pointing to the sea. He is riding a water chariot with four houses, to the left is a centaur and to the right a goddess. Surrounding the central image are references to the four seasons, as symbolized by women in various states of dress, and in between are farming duties being carried out by male figures.
Triumph of Neptune, c.200s, Roman mosaic Bardo Museum Tunis
The grand status of Neptune being promoted by sporting a beard may be missed on contemporary audiences, but not so to people of the past. To Greco-Roman citizens, a beard indicated superiority and intellect, hence, Zeus, the supreme God of Olympus, also had a beard. (Zeus was known as Jupiter or Jove to Romans.)
Laurel-wreathed head of Zeus on a gold stater, Lampsacus, c. 360–340 BC
Zeus was ether, earth, sky, and everything, so if he had a beard then surely there was truth in the beauty of a beard? Greek philosophers certainly thought so. This line of thinking prevailed all the way up to the 1700s when universities funded studies to ascertain empirical proof of facial hair being a physical indicator of superiority and intellect. Their hypothesis was not supported, but the fact that it was an academic discussion goes to show how far the impression went.
When Christian artists began portraying Jesus with a beard, it can be presumed they were doing so with the knowledge that the facial hair would be associated with superiority, as opposed to showing a beardless Jesus.
Jesus’ beard raised his image from that of a vibrant young person who mingled with commoners to that of an authoritative, wise man.
Christ Pantocrator, c.500s. Jesus as a saviour with a beard, Saint Catherine’s Monastery,Sinai.
In the above example of an early Christ Pantocrator (i.e., pantocrator means “Almighty” or “all-powerful”) it is interesting to note Jesus is holding a book rather than holding a weapon, like Neptune’s trident or Zeus’ thunder bolt. Conversely, the Book could be viewed as a tool which Jesus metaphorically defeats his enemies (i.e., pagans? Jewish? Muslims?)
Arguably, no Early Christian associated Jesus with an authoritative text because none existed. Jesus was the living Word (John 1:1,14). The Christian Bible was a Roman invention.
The Roman Bible, the Vulgate …
In the later part of the fourth century, Pope Damasus hired a leading scholar of the era, Jerome, to get the job done. Jerome worked tirelessly for years translating Hebrew and Greek writings to produce the first full Old and New Testament in Latin. The Bible was completed in about 400 CE and became known as the Vulgate. It was the only legal version of the Bible for several hundred years.
Jerome’s work involved sorting through a multitude of documents and different versions of the Jesus narrative. Some accounts were completely thrown out and labeled heresy, while what remained became canonized. Jerome’s job description included placing the writings in an appropriate order, however, chapters didn’t have names like today’s Christians are familiar with, that came much later.
Much could be said about Jerome’s work, and he’s certainly received a lot of criticisms over the years. To put it briefly, given the Romanisation of Christianity changed the traditional appearance of Jesus from a young, freshly shaved youth with a wand, to an old man with a beard and book, I don’t hold much faith in the authenticity or authority of said book (although the Vulgate’s description of Moses with horns is pretty cool!)
I am by no means the first person to find it oddly ironic that Jesus nominated Peter, the bishop of Rome, to be the head of the Church. This was more than convenient to Constantine (and his predecessors) who wanted make Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Nonetheless, despite a multitude of issues, Jerome’s work is still the backbone of contemporary Christianity.
By the end of the sixth century, depictions of Jesus with a beard were commonplace throughout Eastern and Western Churches. Specifically, the iconography of Jesus holding the Bible in his left hand and giving a blessing with his right was particularly enduring.
Medallion with Christ from an Icon Frame. c. 1100, Byzantine Empire
The transformation of the Early Christian Jesus into the Roman version was more than skin deep. The first believers focused on the Good News of imminent peace on earth. Consequently, they favoured a representation of the Christ as a Good Shepherd who looked after his flock.
The Good Shepherd, c. 300–350, at the Catacombs of Domitilla, Rome
The further one moves into Romanised Christianity, the images become more about suffering than prosperity, as notable in depictions of the crucifixion. No Early Christians depicted the crucifixion, this type of imagery did not come into vogue until appropriately 1000 CE.
A crowded Gothic narrative treatment, workshop of Giotto, c. 1330
As a final twist in the beardless versus bearded Jesus saga, in Christ’s lifetime Jewish tradition required men to have beards, however, the Roman fashion was to be beardless. Therefore, as a Jew, you’d expect Jesus had a beard, and it may have been this assumption that lead to facial hair being depicted (or it was a way to appeal to Jews?). But if that is the case, why did Early Christians depict a shaved face? Is this yet another example of Jesus transgressing against Jewish laws?
Symbolic representations have a way of adhering to the cultural values of their creators, and conversely they shape the values of developing cultures. The young beardless version of Jesus says something about the Early Christians that is not present in the Romanised version of a middle-aged, bearded man. It is as though the Romans killed Jesus twice, firstly in the flesh, and secondly in symbolic iconography.
Stewart, A. C. (2011). The Earliest History of the Christian Gathering: Origin, Development and Content of the Christian Gathering in the First to Third Centuries. By VALERIY A. ALIKIN. The Journal of Theological Studies, 62(2), 732–734. https://doi.org/10.1093/jts/flr062
In response to my open letter to all Australians aimed at raising awareness of the implications of the Morrison government’s legalisation of religious abuse, sorry “Religious Discrimination Bill”, I received a comment stating that Australia was built upon Christian principles and therefore it should continue to do so. Another commenter then accurately pointed out that Australia was secular, not Christian.
Secular politics means our government is supposed to work independently of religious or spiritual matters. Therefore, to have a federal Religous Discrimination bill that overrides all other discrimination acts in each state and territory is a bold move away from nurturing a secular society that is supposed to support all religious and non-religious people equally. I have made my views of Morrison’s apparent biases and hidden agenda to tilt the scales of secularity towards religions very clear, so I won’t flog that horse any more.
Having said that, I think it’s also good to consider the idea of “Christian principles”. Many Australians have some form of Christian heritage, so what are these principles that we supposedly need a law designed specifically to protect them?
Crickey, there so many versions of Christianity: Catholicism, Lutheranism, Methodist, Eastern Churches, Latter Day Saints, Reformed Christian, and many more, including Pentecostal. However, on a theological level, all these variations of Christianity involve believing in one God, who is the creator of heaven and earth, a Nazarene dude who lived 2000 years ago is the saviour, and if you just believe in these two things then you’re on your way to heavenly bliss once you’ve kissed this mortal toil goodbye.
But wait, there’s more. To embody these beliefs you need love. You need to love thy neighbours and you need to love enemies. Everything about Christianity after these factors, I would argue, has more to do with traditions, rituals, rules, guidelines, specifications, and cultural values that have been added on to the core principle of Christianity, love.
Love, in the Christian sense, is supposeded to be non-discriminatory. Jesus set the tone for this standard by hanging out with corrupt tax collectors, the bourgeois of fishing villages, ex-prostitutes, and crowds of everyday people. I’m yet to find a convincing Biblical text were Jesus said we should love everyone but discriminate against the gays (yes they existed 2000 years ago, yawn), and the Jews (Jesus was Jewish, why would he discriminate against them, unless the were pompous hypocrites?), women because they have less superego than men, sorry I mean spirit (Freudian appropriation of Greek theology came much later), or any other criteria. As for those foreigners, especially those with a different faith, I’m pretty sure Jesus said something about being a good Surmaritian. But what would I know? I’m not a religious leader nor a pastor. Maybe I’m just too simple and cannot see all the regulations around loving people like some other Christians can?
Perhaps loving everyone is not the core principle of Christianity? I mean, if it were, why would we need to create a legal document that says a person’s religious beliefs need to be protected? Of course, the Religious Discrimination bill isn’t just about Christianity. The next biggest religion in Australia is Islam (I’m skipping over atheism because it’s not a religion; my apologies to the 30% of Australians associate themselves with this group). I’m not a Muslim, however, I’m aware that Islamics have five pillars of faith. They’re kind of like the Christian theological principles of believing in one God, honouring Muhammad (=/≠ Christian’s honouring of Jesus), and maintenance of traditions, etc. Beyond all that, love of Allah is really important and can be shown by loving others.
The next biggest religion in Australia is Buddhism. This has a very non-attachment kind of philosophy, however, paradoxically encourages love in all scenarios. Kind of like love everyone equally but stay non-attached to expectations and rigidity. Buddhism doesn’t have a supreme God that demands to be worshiped but it is open to the idea that spiritual beings are a thing.
The last big religion I’ll mention is Hinduism. It’s the oldest known religion around the world and recognises thousands of Gods and Goddesses. Crudely, it’s each to his own regarding which ones should be worshiped. (I find it fascinating that Zoroastrianism – an ancient Babylon/Persian religion – can be traced back to the ancient Hindu texts, the Vedas. And subsequently, Zoroastrianism has links to Judaism and Christianity – stories for another time.) Hinduism places love in the same realm as the divine.
I know I’m super simplifying complex religious beliefs here, but the bottom line is that regardless of deity/ies a religion venerates, love for others is a really important component of all major religions (I suspect a lot of atheists also rank love for others as being important).
The issue of sexual orientation and discrimination is an easy one to get lost on when objecting to the Religious Discrimination bill; however, the fact is, the bill goes much deeper than sexuality. Nuances of giving religious bigots of any faith having the right to to express discriminatory statements of beliefs towards others has far reaching ramifications. For example, I know of a Christian group that claims that in order to enter heaven followers must hate their parents. The leader quotes Luke 14:26:
“If any man come to Me and hate not his father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”
To most of the Christian world, the above quote is figurative speech and/or an example of a family system used to symbolise ancient religious hierarchies. To a fundamentalist who interprets the Bible literally, Luke’s words are justification for tearing families apart. I do not wish to give notoriety to a particular religious leader who enforces this doctrine, so I will not mention them by name. Suffice to say, if legislation is passed that overrides other laws, then such people can and will use ancient texts to support their beliefs and discrimination practices. Being discriminated against for being a parent may sound absurd, but this and even stranger beliefs could be upheld if Morrison’s shortsighted bill goes ahead.
The Morrison’s government wants to OVERRIDE ALL OTHER COMMONWEALTH, STATE OR TERRITORY ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAWS!
In other words, if a religious leader wants to claim that it is their belief that all parents are evil, then they can do so as easily as a religious leader can claim homosexuality is a sin. Not all religious beliefs are created equal.
A few days ago, I posted a copy of my Open Letter on my personal Facebook page. In response, an old friend who is a devout Christian sent a personal message in which they said they said they did not agree with everything I said but they had experiences with “crazy Christians”. The correspondence that continued was a wonderful exchange in which it became evident, despite our differing views, we were connected by the common agreement that love for others is what matters above all else. Their words were not empty. “I’ll do what I can to help,” they said.
The term “crazy” is rude and improper. Nonetheless, it aptly captures the problem with Morrison’s Religious Discrimination bill. While most Christians, Atheists, Islamics, Buddhist, Hindu’s, and others would not dream of hurting others through discriminatory and prejudicial practices or beliefs, the fact remains that there are some “crazy” individuals out there who would. Just as there are “crazy Christians” there are “crazy Islamics”, “crazy Buddhists”, “crazy Hindus”, and other “crazy” religious people who take things to a level of radical extremism, sometimes even going so far as to engage in hate crimes. The right to religious freedom should not override other human rights.
Religious freedom cannot be duly considered without also giving due consideration to religious belief. Alternatively, in consideration that love, moreover, non-discriminatory love, is a prime principle of most major religions no new law to protect the freedom of religion is needed. And finally, as a secular society, non-discrimination (aka love) should be the backbone of our laws.
I’m not usually one to take a strong interest in politics, unless of course an issue props up that effects me directly. It is an egocentric mindset that many people can relate to. It is also a dangerous complacency because without active interest in what our politicians are doing, dubious bills can slip pass unnoticed, for example, the Australian Federal Liberal party’s Religion Discrimination Bill 2021.
Last year when researching a group of radical extremists, I became aware of the nuances of Australian’s so-called Freedom of Religion Act. Long story short, despite Australia supposedly upholding all human rights, for some reason, Freedom of Religion has the capacity to overwrite other human rights. In others words, if you want to abuse someone, all you need to do is claim you are acting in accordance with your religious beliefs.
Want to reduce others to servitude and keep them in line with cruel and demeaning punishments? No worries, mate, go ahead if that’s what your God says is the only way to get into heaven. Want to spy on someone and arbitrarily interfere with their privacy and communication with others? That’s also fine, mate, surely nothing can wrong if a religious leader has absolute control over who their followers talk to and interact with. No possible manipulation there at all. Want to arbitrarily deprive someone their of property? If that’s your religion, then go right ahead. For instance, taking quality shoes off a teenager with foot problems and giving them to an adult with no foot problems is a very reasonable religious practice. I’m sure the kid will be happy with those shoes that are two sizes too small which they found in a dumpster. As for those corns and fungal infections they develop due to inadequate footwear, well, that will just help them develop character. I bet God wanted that teenager to suffer anyway, that’s why the leader was guided in a dream to take the shoes off them in the first place. Want to promote suicidal ideation and self harm practices? Ordinary that’s not allowed, but if it’s part of your faith then Australia will provide you with a legal loophole to get away with it. Thus, Australia is becoming a desirable location for spiritual gurus who want form a religion.
I wish I could say the above paragraph was a fabrication of worst case scenarios, but it’s not. This has all happened in Australia. And this is still happening in Australia right now. Why? Because Australian authorities do not have the power to intervene. Freedom of Religion legislation as it currently stands can and does override other criminal offences. The so-called new and improved version of policies that Scott Morrison’s government is trying to get approved will only make matters worse. A snapshot of harmful religious practices currently conducted within Australia can be found on the Cult Information and Family Support website.
Abusive behaviours that are justified, executed, and legalised as religious freedom have a long history dating back thousands and thousands of years. Hitler was just following his religious beliefs too. Many who lived through WW2 swore it should never happen again. The United Nation’s defining of basic human rights was a collaborative effort from around the globe aimed at preventing atrocities occurring by religious fundamentalists with superiority complexes. Perhaps the current Australia government needs a history lesson?
While I have become involved in the issue through dealing with a radical extremist group (who claim to be a minority Christian religion), many others have criticised the Morrison government’s proposal for other reasons. Condemners include legal experts, unions, and civil organisations like LGBTIQA+ communities and women’s rights movement.
A few weeks ago, journalist Dalley-Fisher made the following remarks in The Canberra Times in relation to how the bill could harm sexual discrimination:
“ … it’s great to hear that the federal government is interested in legislating to protect the right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief. [..] It’s therefore extremely frustrating to discover that the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 not only fails to properly implement the freedom of thought, conscience and religion, but it also manages to exacerbate the sort of cultural barriers that the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s reports seek to overcome.
[..] Rather than limiting the right to manifest beliefs to protect the rights of others, the Bill actually limits the human right of others to freedom from discrimination, in order to protect the right to manifest beliefs.”
These sentiments could be aptly applied to other scenarios. The bill places religion and religious practices as more being important than common decency and other forms of discrimination. I’m all for individuals having the right to believe and practice whatever religion they want, but I’m not okay with religious rationales being accepted as a means of excusing abusive practices. The bill itself is an act of coercive control aimed at encouraging Australians to be tolerant of religious abuse.
If the Religious Discrimination bill goes ahead, then, as per the summary of the legislation, discrimination will be prohibited “on the basis of a person’s religious belief or activity in a range of areas of public life, including in relation to employment, education, access to premises and the provision of goods, services and accommodation”. The aim is not to protect individuals who are non-religious and/or who have beliefs that differ to mainstream faiths. The aim is to protect mainstream religions by establishing “general and specific exceptions from the prohibition of religious discrimination” to a point in which “certain statements of belief [will] not constitute discrimination for the purposes of certain specified Commonwealth, state or territory anti-discrimination laws”. Did everybody get that? Religious conglomerates can avoid being charged with anti-discrimination under “Commonwealth, state or territory anti-discrimination laws” for exercising their religious beliefs “in relation to employment, education, access to premises and the provision of goods, services and accommodation”. Organised religions will have more rights than the average individual.
Why in hell (pun intended) would politicians want to create a bill that removes protections of human rights from certain individuals in order to allow other individuals the right to manifest beliefs that are sexist, racist, and otherwise abusive? The motive is clear. The only reason possible, is to increase the power ofreligious groups. What religious group may the Scott Morrison government have in mind? The obvious answer = Pentecostal Christianity. Of particular interest is Morrison’s connection to Hillsong, a Pentecostal denomination of Christianity that was introduced to Australia via American influences in the 1980s.
If Morrison’s aim is to increase privileges of Christianity – in particular Pentecostal versions – then he is being short sighted of the broader implications regarding the bill.
Morrison’s support of religious ideology includes being a close friend of one of Hillsong’s leading pastors, Brian Houston. How close? Let’s just say he’s known him a very long time and the bonds are sufficient for him to put Houston’s name down as a potential guest for an event at the White House. (By the way, Houston is currently facing criminal charges relating to the cover up of child sex abuse.)
Scott Morrison opening Hillsong conference 2019. Source: Wikipedia
Pentecostal religion is relatively new but still has some of the good old medieval beliefs surrounding heaven and hell, Jesus and Satan, and predictions of the end times. Each particular Pentecostal Church and believer may have differing opinions, as is the norm across many versions of Christianity. Of concern are the devout who most vehemently believe you have to follow their version of beliefs in order to secure bliss in the afterlife. Subsequently, many Australians, like me, may be judged as being doomed for hell. That’s fine. What is not fine is putting fundamentalists in a position where others can be discriminated against and then protecting the acts of discrimination with federal laws that supersede state and commonwealth laws.
Belief in demonology and other unseen spirits is also pretty big in some Christian circles. Again, that’s fine. I’m happy to keep an open mind to the existence of fairies and gnomes too (and Allah, Buddha, and any other deity). But why should one ideology have the opportunity to discriminate over another? I don’t know exactly where Morrison stands on these issue, so I can only speculate. Besides, the issue isn’t directly what he believes anyway, the issue is that he is making legislations that empowers faith above rational reasoning. This is especially worrisome in relation to mental health issues when theories of possession are applied to individuals who are struggling with addiction and well-being concerns. Its dark age superstitions of psychology at its best when demons are used to explain conditions like anxiety, depression, and psychosis, while contemporary knowledge of the nervous system and the effects of trauma are ignored.
While most Christians are caring, kind hearted people, who do their best to look out for the needs of others, by creating legislation that it gives blanket approval to religious groups to express their faith, the door is opened for religious groups to use this loophole in such a manner that other human rights are neglected. Not only will it put more power into the hands of mainstream religions, it will also allow destructive cults and radical extremists the capacity to discriminate against others. The marginalised will be atheists, non-religious people, and individuals who do not otherwise have the backing of a religious ideology to justify “certain statements of belief”. Rather than promoting equality, a major criticism of the bill is that gives privileges to certain groups who want to exercise prejudices in the name of religion. The potential repercussions are highly alarming to say the least, especially given that freedom of religion in Australia already favours Christianity over other faiths.
Focus on spiritual principles in relation to work and employment situations is also damning when individuals are expected to work for God, not money. Whistleblower, Nicole Herman, says the Hillsong church is a cult that expects followers to work for free, despite huge annual earnings. This situation is not unique to Hillsong. I have had direct interactions about this subtle form of enslavement with the Australian Federal Police, Fair Work Ombudsmen, and Workplace Health and Safety Commission. If religious groups can conn their followers into forgoing their rights to be given fair pay in exchange for their time, services, and skills then Australian agencies are not in a strong position to intervene. I have personally had this conversation with all three of the aforementioned government agencies in relation to a religious group (not Hillsong) that coerces members into working for the leader for free. Despite it being clear there is an employment relationship and group members are performing work outside of volunteer guidelines, religious leaders can avoid persecution due to, you guessed it, “freedom of religion”.
Moving on, Hillsong has received 42 million tax-free dollars of federal money under questionable circumstances. The church the Morrison’s personally attend, Horizon, received 110K for security upgrades, which some question thenecessary of. And a Hillsong teaching academy is reported to have received 5 million in support packages. Is this the type of education Morrison believes constitutes more learning and less activism?
From slave labour to tax cuts and government handouts, Hillsong is doing so well it was able to recently purchase Melbourne’s Festival Hall for 23 million dollars. I’m not alone in the opinion that the situation highlights financial advantages given to religious organisations that are unfair and need to be addressed by making them pay taxes like everyone else.
But wait, while on the topic of a performing arts theatre venue, let’s not forget that in 2019 Morrison slashed Arts funding and merged the Department of Communications and Arts portfolio into the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications. Is it just me or does Morrison care more about providing support to religions than encouraging a diverse range of freedom of thought, conscience, and belief through artistic expressions? Further, while Hillsong currently say they will maintain the Melbourne Festival Hall as a host venue for performing artists (except on Sundays), who’s to say they won’t censor performances by only permitting artists who align with Pentecostal beliefs to use the facility?
Coercive control can be tricky to identify because you can’t always look at just one instance and call it out. It’s the sum of its parts, not the individual parts them self. Having said that, the Religious Discrimination bill 2021 is a very big part of a broader picture.
Coercive control involves behaviour such as intimidation, threats, humiliation tactics, and other forms mental or emotional abuse. For instance, telling someone they’ll go to hell for being gay, implying God wants all women to be subservient to men, claiming anxiety is caused by the devil tempting their soul, belittling traumatic events as being the result of karma, and so forth.
The harmful toll on mental and physical health caused by coercive control is increasingly becoming known and documented. Likewise, it is well recognised by mental health experts that religion is the perfect breeding ground for manipulative behaviours to flourish, hence terms like spiritual bypassing and religious abuse are becoming more common. Personally, I’d place a lot more faith in a government that wanted to protect its citizens from religious abuse than one that endorses coercive control by empowering religious groups with the ability to forgo human rights.
As reported in several articles (like The Conversation), Morrison believes he was chosen by God to be Prime Minister. I wonder if Morrison thinks he was chosen by God to become Prime Minister so as he could evangelise? Perhaps he views the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 as his holy work?
Am I being too harsh? Too cynical? Perhaps Morrison is really a level headed human who is capable of putting his personal faith in perspective and doesn’t allow it to bias his professional decision making processes? If so, why is the number of Pentecostal Christians in Morrison’s cabinet so high? Pentecostal Christianity represents 1.1% of the population but at least 10% of Morrison’s cabinet are Pentecostal and at least 50% are affiliated with a Christian doctrine. How can a cabinet dominated by one particular religious ideology create fair laws which cater to the diverse climate of Australian culture? Likewise, how can preferential funding practices be scrutinised?
It is beyond disappointing that institutions could be given the option of terminating employment due to clashes of belief towards things like gender equality and sexual orientation (even the Pope has let go of archaic ideas of homosexuality being caused by demonic possession). Such measures means that opportunities for positive connections between faiths, like I experienced when working at an Islamic school, could be lost.
From a big picture perspective, giving more power to religious groups under the guise of protecting the integrity of their faith, may be fine if that religion supports other human rights. However, it also paves the way for smaller religious communities to exercise prejudicial behaviours that diminish human rights. Australia is not immune to radical extremism, and oddly, our anti-terrorist and violent extremism laws can be overrided by freedom of religion rights. (Again, I can confirm this due to direct interactions about the matter.)
In sum, the Morrison government is not promoting policies aimed at cultivating peace and harmony within a multicultural and multi-faith country. His devotion to his faith is a conflict of interest that places the right to freedom of religion above other human rights. While many points can only be speculated, the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 indicates the Australian Federal Liberal party has a lack of integrity.
I propose a formal investigation is conducted into the the use of federal funds to support Hillsong and Morrison’s conflict of interest in making policy regarding religious beliefs and conduct.
Australians, we need to curb discriminatory, abusive, and coercive practices in all sectors so as everyone genuinely gets a fair go.
In February 2022, Australian parliament intends to review the Religious Discrimination Bill 2022. If you do not want to see this bill passed, please share this open letter to others and let the politicians know we will not tolerate coercion and the diminishing of humans rights.
Several years ago, I had the good fortune of being employed as an art teacher at an Islamic school. It wasn’t an experience I actively tried to have, rather I took the opportunity out of necessity. I was unemployed and needed a means of paying the bills which translated into accepting any job interview my employment agency offered. It turned out to be one of the most valuable and enriching life experiences I’ve ever had.
I have not obtained consent from individuals to share specific stories, so in order to maintain confidentially I shall focus on my journey in general terms. The aim of doing so is to break down cultural barriers in the hope that my experience and learnings are of benefit to others.
The interview occurred during a Melbourne heatwave. As per the agency’s instructions, I dressed in clothes that covered me head to toe, including a scarf wrapped around my head, hijab style – I relied upon YouTube tutorials to do this. Naively, apart from my attire, I approached the interview like all others and promptly offered my hand to give a welcome shake to the gentleman who ushered me into interview room. My first lesson: in Islamic communities women don’t shake men’s hands. To ease the tension of my faux pas a female interviewer stepped forward to grasp my hand that was dangling awkwardly in mid air. Somehow, I still got offered the six month position, and in time, realised that Muslim women’s empathy and capacity to accomodate the emotional needs of others is very high.
My whole experience prompted me to look beyond the mindset I was raised with so as I could see the world through a broader scope, a scope that went beyond surface level tolerance of other religions. I was raised a Catholic and with this I had a very western view of life, values, expectations, and assumptions. In other words, I had prejudices. If I were to be completely honest, up until that point, I viewed Muslims as being “others”, not of “my kind”, and dare I say it, “inferiors”. I am now eternally grateful for being humbled by being forced to confront my erroneous attitudes.
I was very guarded when I first began my contract. I was going there to do a job and get paid. End of story. But when does that ever really happen, especially in a school setting? Teaching involves interactions, and interactions lead to bonds being formed and relations developing despite anyone’s best intentions of remaining autonomous.
The first couple of weeks were especially challenging. Not only was there a heatwave, the school was an hour and a half away from home and my car’s air conditioning was broken and I didn’t have the funds to get it fixed. I dressed skimpily to accomodate for the weather then put on coverings in a back street before entering the school grounds. On a personal level, I felt enormous pangs of guilt about abandoning my thirteen year old son at 6:30am every morning. He had just began his secondary education at new school and had to get himself up and to the bus stop without my support. To top it all off, I was going through health challenges and was mourning of the loss of a romantic relationship. I cried to and from work many days. Some days my eyes were still red as I passed through the electronic gates at the front of the school. It took all the strength I could muster to pull myself together and put on my professional teaching persona. I had no allies in this place, no friend to whinge to or unload my burdens onto like at previous employments. The first few weeks were tough, really tough, but that changed as the veil of otherness dissipated and familiarity bred connection.
Each day I turned up to work felt like I was entering into a different world. It was weird, yet there was also something beautiful brewing. Despite my best efforts to look the part, the students all instantly recognised I was not one of “them”. Was it the way I spoke? The style of my clothing? Or was it the way I wore my hijab? After I’d built up rapport with some of the students they informed that it was a combination of all of these and that they could sense my “otherness” immediately. They also kindly showed me how to wear a hijab properly (YouTube had failed me).
I support most feminist ideals, always have and always will. To be placed in a scenario that had an outward appearance of females being treated as inferiors and males as superiors was a thing for me. But my pre-existing stereotypes of Islamic gender roles did not fit what I was experiencing. In the junior high school levels I only taught girls (boys were at another campus). These students displayed a broad range of attitudes typical to any school. Some students were exceptionally concerned about their grades, while others just wanted to use class time to chat with their friends. Initially, I thought that because all the students had to wear hijabs I would not encounter distractions pertaining to appearance like playing with hair, wearing make up, and excessive jewellery, but no, all these issues popped up with exception of playing with hairstyles which was replaced with hijab fashioning.
The daily life experiences of the students did not match my definition of “normal”. However, I had to face the fact that it was my definition of “normal” that was wrong, not the Islamic lifestyle. For instance, how are compulsory hijabs any different to compulsory tie wearing in other schools? (I once worked in a school that required preps to wear ties.) Both are symbols of cultural values. To give another example, I felt like an outsider when I did not know how to respond to certain phrases mentioned at the opening of staff meetings, however, when I thought about it, this was no different to my non-Catholic peers in Catholic schools not knowing how to respond to customs they had not been initiated into.
In the specialty subjects of senior high school, years eleven and twelve, classes were mixed gendered and the expectation was that males and females would sit in different parts of the room. However, I did not know this when I first started. I’d been teaching at the school for at least six weeks when I learned fo this rule. When I realised I hadn’t been enforcing expectations, I apologised to my class for the oversight but the students just kind of smirked and told me genders were allowed to interact in Art classes because of the need to move around and use resources – teenagers of all cultures know how to work around school rules they don’t agree with.
On the teaching front, I thought at first that I could simply repeat lessons I’d given at previous schools, with the exception of portraiture and figure drawing. There were an abundance of other lessons like pattern making and landscapes painting that could be done. Sometimes these activities were successful, sometimes not. I had to stop making assumptions of prior learning experiences and be open trying new approaches that better suited the students before me. I realised that in the past I’d sometimes been robotic with my teaching, like I was in autopilot, but now I had to be fully present.
As time passed, more and more open conversations between myself and the students took place within the boundaries of professional interactions. Some students were devout to Islamic traditions, others not so. There is no one size fits all for Muslims just like there is no one unified Christianity.
I wish I could share some of the specific bonding points and examples of how the veils of otherness fell away, but like I said, due to confidentiality reasons, I cannot. Suffice to say, I was moved by the depth of acceptance that I was embraced with by students and staff.
In regards to the other teachers, in particular my female peers (Muslims), they were as dedicated and professional as other places I’ve worked. Many had Master degrees in addition to their teaching qualifications. Not only were they intellectual, they had a deep appreciation of the Arts. They were strong, kind hearted, and resourceful. On multiple occasions I witnessed female staff putting their back into moving furniture and doing physically laborious tasks. Why was I surprised to see this? Where had I gotten the impression that Islamic woman were meek, mild, and fully dependent upon men in accordance to (western) stereotype roles?
While my initial intention of working at the school was to keep to myself as much as possible, this simply did not happen and, after the first few trying weeks, I found myself looking forward going to the staff room to interact with my fellow teachers for morning tea break even though I could just as easily boil a kettle in my office. The conversations were typical of any work place. What did you do on the weekend? How’s the renovations going? Where are planning your next holiday? And similar topics. And of course work stuff, like did so and so do their homework?
I didn’t realise I was making genuine connections with my colleagues until second term. Some staff members started coming across to the art room (which was an effort due to it being located on the outskirts of the other school buildings) to catch up with me and have idle chatter because they’d missed me in the main staff room. Sometimes they shared stories of personal dilemmas, parenting issues, teaching moments, or the excitement of an up coming event they were looking forward to. In other words “normal” stuff.
Not everything was smooth sailing. I made bloopers, used the wrong phasing in some of lessons, and raffled a few feathers here and there with my unorthodoxy. However, when the principal commended me on the quality of my student’s art works and how refreshing it was to see new types of Art being made, I had no reason to doubt her sincerity. I like to think it was a two way street of learning, a building of an alliance through mutual tolerance and respect.
As I developed more comfortable feelings of being within an Islamic community, I felt inclined to do some shopping at the nearby centre as opposed to going home and shopping in my own familiar neighbourhood. On occasion, I did so still wearing a hijab and without. When I went to the shops without, I had a distinct feeling of being “other” whereas without it, I felt like one of “them”. I even perused the scarf stalls and purchased a couple of that had designs I felt reflected “me”. Doing so encouraged me to reflect upon the “uniforms” I self imposed on myself in other situations. On a philosophical level, I realised that “me” was deeper than my outward appearance and how others may judge what I was wearing.
As the end of my contract neared, it was with joy that I received the news that the school wanted to extend it. I communicated with the principal that I’d like to continue, however, the long drive was tiresome and I felt as though I was neglecting my son. She understood. She said she’d also once worked at a school that she had to drive an hour and half to attend, so in order to keep me she offered to reduce my allotment and rearrange the timetable so as I only needed to go in four days a week. Just days shy of signing the new contract, I was offered a job forty-five minutes from home. It was a tough decision but I decided it was in my personal interest to take the alternative job. My new position was at all boys Catholic school which I’ve written about elsewhere.
As I look back upon my experience of working at an Islamic school, the highs greatly out way the lows. I went there out of necessity and desperation for work, but it turned out to be one of the most rewarding opportunities I’ve ever had. I was an outsider to the culture but I was embraced, welcomed, and made to feel valued, despite my stuff ups. I’m quite certain my positive view of the experience was not a one way street. There were tears in the eyes of at least one student when I broke the news that I was leaving. They had changed me, and I them. Prejudices and misunderstandings were relinquished, perhaps in me more so than anyone else.
Prior to teaching in an Islamic school I had never considered myself to be discriminatory, but I’d also never been confronted with the need to really understand Islam. I had to be honest with myself, I had harboured silent prejudices against the Muslim faith that I may have never faced if I had not forced to do so.
When I told some people of my experiences of wearing a hijab, they questioned why I had to do so if my personal beliefs did not align with the custom. I understand where they were coming from, but personally, I’m glad I was able to put my values aside and respect the wishes of my employer. If I had not done so, I would not have been able to develop a deeper appreciation of life from another’s perspective.
Nowadays, if I pass an Islamic woman wearing a hijab on the streets, I tried to give them knowing smile. I do not know exactly what it is like to be “them” but I’ve had an experience of their culture that is sincere and valued to a point in which my previous “otherness” has been replaced with a sense of “us”. Do Islamic communities have issues of gender equality that need to be addressed? Yes, I do believe they do. But so to does western culture. At the end of the day, whatever culture or religion a person born into, we are all human and our shared humanity far outwards the differences.
One of the reasons I’ve have decided to share my experiences of working in an Islamic school now is because I am highly concerned about the Australian Federal government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill 2021. Presumably, the reason I was employed by the Islamic school was because I was the most qualified person interviewed (I found out later that an Islamic Art teacher had also been interviewed). Under Morrison’s bill, I may have missed out on the opportunity and the position given to a Muslim purely on the grounds of religious background alone, in other words, I would have been discriminated against for my religious background. The legal enabling of segregation practices based on religion is harmful on multiple levels.
My employment at a Muslim school was not a threat to their traditions or values. To think laws need to be made to prevent cross cultural interchanges so as religions can maintain “purity” is ridiculous.
Islam is not my religion, and I’m not about to convert. However, over the years, I have used my experience of working at an Islamic school in other teaching roles to inform my practice. For example, when possible, I interject traditional western presentations of Art history lessons with Islamic insights in a manner that I would not have done so prior to my position at a Muslim school. Surely, the dismantling of stereotypes and the fostering of alliances between cultures and different faiths is a good thing?
I rarely take selfies, however, due the commodity of having to wear a hijab some of my friends asked what I looked like, so I took a snapshot and posted it on social media. To my surprise, I was overwhelmed with responses telling me I looked beautiful. It felt weird. Why was I beautiful? Was it the pattern on my scarf? How could I be beautiful if I was covered? Had I covered my ugly parts? Or were they looking beyond my outer appearance? To this day, I still do know exactly. However, in accordance with my personal definition of beauty as a threefold phenomenon, I would describe my experience of teaching at an Islamic school as “Hera” beautiful! It was not dependent upon outward aesthetics like Aphrodite, nor did it fill me with beautiful emotions due to being triumphant over a challenge in an Athena style of beauty. Hera beauty is the beauty of transformation, an intangible experience not visible to the physical eye; the inner transformations I experienced by working at an Islamic school were definitely beautiful.
Legend tells us that Aeschylus died from fatal wounds caused by a tortoise falling on his head. Apparently, this freak accident was due to the victim’s bald noggin being mistaken as a rock by a hungry eagle who dropped the tortoise in order to crack open the shell and devour the soft inner flesh. Thus, two tragedies in one – Aeschylus died and an eagle was deprived of its dinner.
While it is common practice for eagles to drop tortoises to smash their shells, Aeschylus, the great Ancient Greek playwright, born in 525/524 BCE, is potentially the only unfortunate soul in the history of humankind to have met his end due to being confused with a lump of hard stone. Rocks are still, human heads move. Further, as implied by the saying “to have eyes like an eagle”, eagles have exceptionally good eyesight. How then could an eagle make such a error? Or was Aeschylus an exceptionally still man?
Comparison of bald head (Source: Wikipedia Commons) and round rock (Source: Brooklyn Museum).
The poet Aeschylus’ departure was not voluntary, but the novelty of the occurrence makes it worth mention. He was in Sicily. Leaving the walls of the town where he was staying, he sat down in a sunny spot. An eagle carrying a tortoise was above him. Deceived by the gleam of his hairless skull, it dashed the tortoise against it, as though it were a stone, in order to feed on the flesh of the broken animal. By that blow the origin and beginning of more perfect tragedy was extinguished.
Was Aeschylus sitting as still as a rock? Or did this particular eagle have poor eyesight? It’s not impossible for a person to die from an airborne reptile, but still, I can’t help but speculate if this fateful ending was really the imaginative concoction of a fellow dramatist rather than a freak of nature. Or was it a cover up for something more sinister … I’ll go over the drama aspect first.
Drama. The Ancient Greeks were masters of captivating audiences with their enthralling storylines full of tragedy, double meanings, and allegorical puns. Aeschylus was particularly good at writing plays, as evidenced by his numerous winning of awards (equivalent to today’s Hollywood’s Golden Globe awards). He set the bar so high he’s been dubbed the father of tragedy. In addition to mastering the art of story telling, he innovated stage productions by introducing multiple characters who had dialogues with each other. The standard for theatre plays prior to Aeschylus was to have a single actor presenting a monologue with an accompanying chorus. Aeschylus’ innovation of drama conventions with multiple characters interacting with each other in dialogues is still followed by playwrights today.
The Ancient Greeks were great thinkers and as a society who loved philosophy, their dramas were filled with irony and puns, subtle gestures, multiple storylines, symbolism, ethical references, and moral lessons. Thus it seems more than fitting for Aeschylus’ death to have same elements. Additionally, the Greeks (like many ancients) were staunch believers in prophecy and destiny … and apparently, according Pliny, Aeschylus spent a lot of time outdoors because he’d been told by a fortune teller that he was going to die by a falling object indoors … tragically, this prophecy was half right and/or the laws of destiny found a way to demonstrate their authority despite Aeschylus best efforts to avoid the Gods’ will.
The layers of intrigue associated with Aeschylus’ death are just superb! However, simply recognising similar elements between Greek drama and the circumstances surrounding Aeschylus’ death are not sufficient to suspect the details were purely the fabrication of an astute creative mind. A motive is needed if one really wants to claim a conspiracy was at hand.
Why would anyone want to kill a playwright then lie about how it happened? A potential explanation is zealous devotion to religious protocols. The ancient religion to be put on the stand for this cold case is the Eleusinian Mysteries. On a surface level, this cult worshipped the Goddess Demeter who was associated with the growing of crops, as told in the Homeric poem about Hades’ abduction of Kore (also known as Persephone).
The Eleusinian Mysteries were the dominate cult of the Classical Era. At least once in a lifetime anyone who could speak Greek, whether they be male, female, free, slave, child, or other, were expected to partake in annual festivals that included a walk from Athens to the cult centre in Eleusis; a journey that took approximately nine days. Many who could not speak Greek were also interested in the festival, however, access to the mysteries were denied to all those who did not meet the language requirement. (Several centuries later permission was extended to all Roman citizens.)
The origin of the Eleusinian Mysteries extends back to the grass roots of Greek culture, to what is termed the Greek Dark Ages (c.1100-750BCE). There are few written records of this era, however, there is reason to suspect it had some egalitarian aspects, as evidenced in records of women owning property. Traditionally, Homeric poems were passed down orally, till about c.800BCE when they were penned in Greek (the Greek alphabet developed via influence from the Phoenician alphabet – this point is mentioned to highlight the fact that Greek culture did not evolve in a vacuum).
The Eleusinian temple was built on a shoreline that had an underground cave (this where Hades took Kore). The earliest known building on the ground above the cave was a Mycenaean Megaron, which consisted of a central hall with small spaces attached to the edges (as per the myth it was built to honour Demeter). The style was typical to the region from about 1380BCE to 1190BCE. Over the years, the temple was repaired, replaced, and expanded according to maintenance needs and population increases. In Aeschylus’ lifetime it was a geometric building with a large rectangular hall, most probably constructed with what would later become known as Classical Greek Columns.
The Eleusinian Mysteries were considered to be of up most importance, so much so, that cease fires and temporary peace treaties between conflicting groups were honoured in weeks leading up to the festival to allow pilgrims to travel and partake in the rites without delays or safety fears. To emphasis how important the Eleusinian Mysteries were to the Greeks, I’ll say that again, wars stopped every year to allow the great festival to go ahead without interruption.
Very few precise details are known about the beliefs and customs of the Eleusinian Mysteries. What is known is that it had a hierarchical structure. The ceremonies of entrance level initiations could be witnessed by crowds, however, higher level initiations were done in private, possibly within the caves below the temple.
Secrecy over the rites, ceremonies, and rank of individuals was strictly guarded. Males and females were separated during certain parts of the rites, thus each gender had equivalent leadership in so far as priestesses lead women and priests lead men. The person/s in highest position/s were called the hierophant. The process of obtaining this post is not known. The level of secrecy was so high, it is believed the hierophant had their face covered during rites so as no one knew their identity. Like I said, secrets were strictly guarded. Under Greek law, anyone who disclosed details of the Mysteries to an uninitiated person could be charged as having committed a crime against the state. If found guilty, punishment was death. Which brings me back to Aeschylus.
Aeschylus was accused of revealing Eleusinian Mystery secrets in his plays. Specifically, there are reports of calamity during a production of Prometheus Bound. Members of the crowd supposedly attempted to kill Aeschylus on the spot because the drama contained direct references to sacred knowledge. Potentially, this didn’t eventuate because doing so would make it clear what those secrets were and who had been initiated to a rank of knowing such information. When formally questioned, Aeschylus escaped persecution by claiming he did not know what the mysteries were, therefore any reference to them in his play were done so with ignorance. In order for this defence to be validated members of the law establishment must have had access to the secret records of who was initiated and to what level. Moreover, the accusers and legal teams knew the significance of what may or may not have been revealed in the play.
The situation of Aeschylus’ charges and subsequent acquittal implies the law officials did know the Eleusinian Mysteries and they were privy to knowing the secret doctrines. Conspiracy theorists could have a field day speculating the connections between religion, wealthy families, and the leadership of Ancient Greece. On the outside, their culture and governance had a veneer of democratic rulership, however, beneath this was a web of secret connections that can be affiliated with the Eleusinian Mysteries.
To add insult to injury, not only was Aeschylus accused of revealing religious secrets, he also made cynical references to aristocratic rulership in his play Eumenides that were not well received by all viewers.
Given the common aristocratic desire to maintain power through the status quo, I can’t help but wonder if Aeschylus was quietly disposed of then an elaborate cover up story told? In my imagination, I wonder if “Death by tortoise” was a code name of a mission given to Ancient Greek special agents … a secret operation that needed to be carried out in order to silence a social media influencer … then again, maybe that is just my imagination going wild.
As a sidenote, it is interesting to ponder the premise of absolute secrecy associated with cultic practices. This scenario was by no means unique to Ancient Greece and the Eleusisian Mysteries. Judaism, Orphism, Mithraism, and several other ancient religions, including Early Christianity, all have subtle indications that their faith was cloaked in sacred shrouds of mystery. (E.g., one of the reasons the Pharisees’ wanted Jesus killed was because he dared to educate the masses about hidden codes within the scriptures; Luke 24:27). The question is, how many of these cults perceived the death penalty as being justified if anyone went against group rules by choosing to act openly, with transparent expressions of religious doctrines? Ancient worlds held very different attitudes towards knowledge and education compared to that of today. Time and time again it can be observed that aristocratic structures placed limits on access to education so as to preserve and maintain upper and lower levels of citizens. Keeping “lower classes”, like slaves, women, and manual labourers ignorant of information was a means of elevating “upper classes”, like men, senators, kings, queens, and priests to a divine sphere affiliated with the Gods.
As many have said, knowledge is power. And sometimes those in power will kill in order to maintain their position and keep others ignorant. The use of so-called divine reasoning based upon the authority of the Heavens as justification was more readily accepted in the past than contemporary times.
Through chance or design, in addition to being highly entertaining, Aeschylus dramas presented ideas that promoted thought and expansions of the mind. To share such information may have been deemed threatening to those in power who did not want their status overthrow. As stated earlier, it is possible Aeschylus was killed by a tortoise falling on his head, and personally, I am one to believe that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction … but all the same, an eagle mistaking a bald head for a stone sounds like a tall tale.
Aeschylus’ death is cold case that will probably never be reopened. The evidence for or against foul play has long expired … but still I wonder …
For more research and explorations of ancient religions, the history of education, and mental health topics visit the Renaissance Wellbeings blog page.
Many great minds have attempted to explain the complexities of subjective and objective beauty. Some have focused on principles of aesthetics while others on the emotional arousal a thing of beauty can facilitate. Personally, I find Homer’s explanation, as inferred through an allegorical interpretation of Helen of Troy, to be the most enlightening.
Homer is the name accredited to the Ancient Greek epics of The Iliad and The Odyssey. These are generally believed to have been an aural tradition for hundreds or thousands of years before being written down in the eight century before the common era. There is some dispute over whether or not Homer was a single person or an alias for a group of writers. Regardless, his works are a cornerstone of Ancient Greek culture.
Thanks to Homer’s enduring popularity, the contemporary world is still familiar with the great Gods and Goddesses of the Olympus pathaleon, like Zeus, Poseidon, Demeter, Hercules, Hades, Hera, Athena, Nike, Aphrodite, and Apollo. Other writers who followed (like the Romans, Ovid and Virgil) modelled the Greek’s style and appropriated the legends, kind of like Hollywood remakes of classics with updated social values, modern costumes, altered storyline emphasis, name variations, and so forth. I would argue the original is still the best.
In The Iliad, we’re told Helen (a daughter of Zeus and Leda) is the most beautiful woman in the world. Many men want her hand in marriage. She finishes up choosing the King of Sparta, Menelaus, and the unsuccessful suitors graciously vow to protect the union. The marriage lasts a few years until Helen leaves to marry a guy called Paris. I’ll go over the finer details of how that happened shortly.
To misogynists, Helen represents the epitome of women’s evilness. She is placed as the central cause of blame for the ten year Trojan War between the Greeks and Spartans, which inadvertently means she’s also responsible for the many lives lost, including that of Achilles (Peleus’ and Thetis’ son). Helen’s femme fatale portrayal is archetypal of all beautiful women who potentially have the capacity to spell bound men and cause strife just because they can, because women are supposedly inherently evil and all that junk.
To feminists, Helen represents a prime example of a subculture of men who view women as nothing more than a shallow cull of a body in which external attractiveness is valued above other qualities, like intellect and thinking. Further, women are objects that men feel entitled to own, thus justifying fighting over who owns what female body.
Some view Helen of Troy as a product of pure fantasy, a myth that expresses historical and cultural attitudes and behaviours. Others believe the story is an exaggeration of real events. Potentially, those who take the literal path also reject evolution theory and believe the earth was once occupied by deities who interacted with humans on a regular basis.
None of these interpretations sit well with my understanding of Ancient Greek symbolism.
Ancient Greek Symbolism
The Ancient Greeks were great thinkers. They were meticulous, thorough, and accurate in mathematics, art, and many other spheres of life. They had an impetus for ensuring things were done in accordance with truth, goodness, and justice. From the forms in their alphabet through to the meanings of words, the Greeks strove for clarity and did not leave much to chance. This organised approach can also be identified in how they incorporated symbolism into their prose.
Homer was a poet. The Iliad and The Odyssey are poems. Poetry was really important to the Ancient Greeks. Having said that, their poetry was not like contemporary verse that calls upon creative and imaginative expression for the sake of personal expression. Poetry was a highly intellectualised activity, moreover, to put words down on papyrus was an activity that warranted the utmost respect. If something was written down, it meant it was really important.
Aristotle informs us that the art of poetry was considered a genre that spoke of the universal. Aristotle was wrong about a lot of things but I’m happy to give him the benefit of the doubt that his comments about his eras customs are accurate. So what does Aristotle mean by poetry speaks of the universal? He means it was a language used to describe the nature of life. A somewhat crude comparison would be to say Ancient Greek poems were the scientific literature of antiquity. Except in antiquity, science was religion or, more precisely, religious explanations of the nature of life were considered to be as valid as scientific explanations are to the contemporary era. Just like contemporary scientific journals have a style code that is clearly recognisable to those who have training, so too the ancient writers followed a style guide that not all were privy to knowing. The history of education directly corresponds to religions and cult activities. (I’ve written a full blog series about the history of education in relation to religious cults that begins here.)
All of these considerations come to significance when viewed in relation to Empedocle’s explanation of Zeus, Hera, Persephone, and Hades being personifications of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth respectively. I have written about this before so I will just give a brief summary.
To those who had a high level of education in Ancient Greece, it was thoroughly understood that Zeus was not a real male who had umpteen affairs with numerous Goddesses. Rather, Zeus represented a very high (not necessarily the highest) pinnacle of the element of Fire. In turn, Fire symbolised the Spirit of intellect, the nous or cognitive functioning. Likewise, Hera, Queen of the Heavens, was a very high pinnacle of Air. In turn, Air symbolised the Soul of emotions, a broad array of feelings from anger to joy. Zeus’ “lovemaking” (or raping, as it sometimes described) was symbolic of the intellect interacting with various feelings. Humans have lots of feelings, so it makes sense that Zeus had lots of partners! (See The Big Bang Theory in Egyptian Mythology for about this type of symbolism.)
Persephone, as water, represents the essence of Ether, a life force that could be roughly correlated to the nervous system. And Hades, as Earth, represents the realm underneath the heavens. Humans have a physical body that can only live if “married” to a life force. Homer describes aspects this union in the myth about Hades taking Persephone to be his wife. Overall, human beings’ physical existence comprises Earth and Ether bodies that are permeated by Spirit (Zeus) and Soul (Hera) forces.
Knowing this symbolic code is very useful in interpreting ancient myths from an allegorical perspective, however, it’s not a straightforward task because the layering of symbolism within theological frameworks can be quite complex. The fact that male characters can represent both the Spirit and Earth realms, and female characters can represent both Soul and Ether realms, means there is plenty of room for error. Careful examination of other cues needs to be conducted. With this in mind, I suspect Helen is representative of Ether. The reason being is that she has divine parents but she marries mortals. In other words, her role is symbolic of Earth matter “marrying” Ether, moreover, and aspect of Ether that has links to the Soul qualities of Beauty and Love (Aphrodite).
Other female characters of interest in the story of Helen of Troy, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, are more likely to be representatives of Soul qualities because their characteristics are more complex and have significant emotional components.
The nature of the Soul is potentially the most contentious because, as Plato tells us, it was the most disputed topic amongst philosophers. Variations between versions of myths confirm different sects or cults viewed the nature of Soul life quite differently. On face value it can be difficult to see the squabbling that went on between various schools of thought, especially when contemporary researchers try to harmonise storylines (like psychoanalysis practices) instead of appreciating dissimilarities. It is within the subtle differences in the presentation of characters between authors that differing opinions can be seen. For example, some texts emphasise Aphrodite as a being the personification of platonic Love while others focused more on her as a Love connected to sexual desire. The situation is a bit like various sects of Christianity attributing variations of qualities to God, Jesus, Mary, and so forth.
Getting back to Helen of Troy, how do these insights help to define beauty?
Helen of Troy
The story of Helen begins with a wedding banquet on Mount Olympus. All the Gods and Goddesses were invited to celebrate the union of Peleus and Thetis, that is all the Gods and Goddesses except the Goddess Eris. Annoyed at being left out, Eris arrives and presents a golden apple saying it is for the most beautiful woman present. Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite are key contenders.
Hera, Athena, Aphrodite, and Eris as personifications of Soul, are symbolic of emotional concepts. A simplified explanation is as follows: Hera, as the supreme Goddess, represents all emotions, Athena represents emotional intelligence that has protective qualities, Aphrodite represents both noble love and sensual desire, and Eris represents an aspect of strife. (Empedocles tells us that Strife has many names so Eris may just be one of them.)
The three beautiful Goddesses ask Zeus to decide who is most sublime, but in his wisdom, Zeus refuses to respond. Was Zeus immune to Strife? Or was he using the opportunity to demonstrate a lesson in beauty? Anyway, Zeus selects Paris, a mortal, to decide who was entitled to the prize of the golden apple. Paris is not as wise as Zeus and he doesn’t know Eris has orchestrated this situation as a means of revenge.
When the Goddesses came down from Mount Olympus and to present themselves to Paris, some versions say they undressed. Many artists over the years have enjoyed painting this scene. Paris was overwhelmed, they were all so beautiful!
The Judgement of Paris, Rubens, c.1636
Emotions can be very powerful and sometimes compete with one another for recognition. The three beautiful Goddesses were the same, each one tried to win Paris over. Hera offered the reward of rulership and power over many lands if he chose her. Athena offered wisdom and supreme battle skills, and Aphrodite offered the love of the most beautiful woman on earth. Three beauties and three prizes. Eris’ plan of creating discord by forcing a rigid choice be made by defining the ultimate beauty was about to come into effect.
Paris, of course, chose Aphrodite, and true to her word, he was awarded the most beautiful woman alive even though she was married to another man. Paris got what he wanted but at what cost? Troy was destroyed and Paris died in battle.
Helen of Troy, as a representative of ethereal beauty is a shallow character, her thoughts and feelings are never explored in depth by Homer because she was not a real woman. Her connection to Aphrodite suggests she is the manifestation of beauty that is physically appealing and delights the senses, but is absent of the complexity that Hera’s and Athena’s contributions to beauty can provide.
What would have happened if Paris had chosen Hera or Athena? How would Strife have played out if he took the offer of wisdom that enabled victory in wars? Or if power and land ownership was manifested as supreme beauty? I imagine many ancient philosophers would have pondered on such things at length.
Allegorically, I interpret the story of Helen of Troy to be a moral lesson on why one should not try to define or chase beauty according to rigid guidelines or aesthetics alone. Moreover, beauty that is only skin deep will put a man (or any person with a physical body) in a situation in which their life becomes full of discord, a war within.
The battle at Troy was finally won when the Greek’s turned their ships into a gigantic wooden horse. They pretend it was a victory gift to the Spartans, a gesture of submission, but really it was a trick. Warriors hiding inside the wooden frame snuck out once the horse had passed through the city’s gates, thus giving the Greek’s access to the city which they then proceeded to demolish.
To the ancients, a horse was a symbol of the intellect. Why? Because horses were a very useful and productive tool (you could say horse technology was once viewed in a similar way to how we now view computer technology). Therefore, there is something deeper, almost intangible, associated with the fact that the Greeks aligned themselves with the intellect and the successful destruction of a city over the sake of a shallow definition of beauty. Conversely, the story could be seen as a slur against Spartans, the initial custodians of Helen.
To summarise, Hera is the beauty of having power and ownership over a full range of emotions. Athena is the beauty of transformation and the victorious experience of successfully completing a challenge. And Aphrodite is aesthetics, as can be explored through the elements and principles of art (which I also call the elements and principles of life). Thus, the ultimate beauty is a combination of all three Goddesses being in harmony with each other. If one tries to separate these three aspects of beauty then they will need to use their intellect (the Trojan horse), to overcome Strife, especially if one has fallen for skin deep beauty.
This allegorical interpretation of Helen of Troy, can be put into practical application in a many contexts. In particular, I like to use it when I look at an artwork and I want to assess its beauty on different levels. I ask myself: How does it make me feel (Hera)? How does it change me (Athena)? How does it look (Aphrodite)?
It could also be used as an allegory for assessing the beauty of romantic partners. How do they make me feel? How do they change me? How do they look? … It goes without saying that if an individual bases the beauty of their partner on looks alone they may want to consider what the wise man Homer once said about Helen of Troy …
There are several reasons why some people don’t want to get the Covid-19 vaccine. These often include fear of side effects, uncertainty about the long term validity, and having allergies to inoculation ingredients. I can fully understand these reasons and respect individuals right to make educated choices about their own health. Recently, however, I conversed with someone who had an additional reason for not wanting to get vaccinated. This person expressed a belief that all diseases, including Covid, were the result of karma. As an extension, the interference was that interfering with divinely ordained illnesses was not “right” because if a person was prevented from experiencing a destined illness, then another would take its place.
Unlike other reasoning for not getting vaccinated, I struggle with the “karma” one because there is no evidence to support “karmic destiny”. People have had allergic reactions and experienced adverse side effects to the vaccine, and in a few very sad and unfortunate situations some people have also died from Covid immunisation. Admittedly, these things played on my mind before I comfortably decided the benefits of getting the jab outweighed potential hazards, so I can fully appreciate appreciations people may have. But karma?!? I guess it really depends upon your definition of karma …
Karma, at its simplest, means cause and effect. In Hindu and Buddhist traditions it refers to reincarnation principles of a person’s actions in one lifetime impacting future existences. Someone once explained this to me as being like if a banker moves from London to Boston they will still be a banker. In other words, a banker won’t suddenly become a garbage truck driver or airplane pilot just because they have relocated. If a person wants to change occupation then they will need to re-skill. The same theory applies to the human soul moving from one life time to the next; people don’t suddenly change albeit being born in a different physical form and placement in life will induce learning experiences (which may explain why there are some highly intelligent garbage drivers!) Succinctly, if someone is an arshole in one lifetime, they’ll be an arshole in the next unless they have consolidated learning experiences that facilitate change and they take up the opportunity to make a fresh start.
Somehow, somewhere, at some point in time the idea of karma took on an informal meaning that revolves around the idea that if something good happens it’s because you’ve got “good” karma and if something bad happens it’s because you got “bad” karma. Underlying this sort of belief is the presumption that the world is good and just, and that some divine judge of values oversees a checks and balances system that ensures justice for all. I’m not convinced this is the case; principles of free will and education also need to be considered. Additionally, I do not believe there is some mystical destiny we in which we are playing designated roles in which some people are *supposed* to get Covid or any other horrid disease just because it’s God’s will or everything happens for a reason. To neglect other considerations has the potential to reduce empathy for others, moreover, can lead to victim blaming and bypasses issues, like stress and trauma. Which brings me to the nervous system.
Before going over my understanding of the nervous system and *karmic* diseases, I’d like to add that the person whom inspired this post was by no means being cruel and did not express (nor would they express) any malicious or unkind thoughts towards an ill person. They are a very kind hearted, loving human. If I were to extrapolate on what they were trying express (our conversation diverted to another topic but I am familiar with the ideology they were conveying), it was that diseases can also be a symptom of the body and soul trying to heal. While modern medicine generally views all illnesses and disease as indications of a person being unwell, there are times when the opposite is the case. A simple example being someone who comes down with cold or flu symptoms after doing a detox. Similarly, becoming ill can be the signal to some people to reassess their lifestyle and make changes accordingly. In such cases the karma, or cause and effect, can have a positive outcome. Thus, holistically, suppressing all diseases and labelling them as being bad is not always advantageous.
Nonetheless, the conversation reminded me of some others I’ve met in the past who did hold extreme views of human diseases being the product karmic destiny in a very black and white, good and evil kind of way, hence, this blog. Additionally, I’d like to say that I do not hold any definite opinion about the human soul reincarnating from one life to another, however, for the purpose of this discussion it will be treated as a valid hypothesis.
The Nervous System
Having a disposition to any disease or mental health issue virtually always relates back to the nervous system. On the simplest level, if a person is stressed, run down, over worked, or not maintaining their health in other ways, they are more likely to get sick, especially with a cold or flu. Step up a level and long term stress can wear down the nervous system’s capacity fight off disease or heal from wounds (physical or emotional). Step up another level where long term stress doesn’t subside and/or a trauma experience occurs, and the body’s ability is in a pretty vulnerable disposition for disease, Covid or other. That is cause and effect.
Obvious signs of stress include sleep disturbances, headaches, and low energy. Less obvious signs of long term stress or trauma include feeling overwhelmed, mood swings, and being emotionally numb (which can lead to addictions). Regardless of the symptoms, all signs indicate that sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are not functioning optimally. In an ideal world, our bodies would always revert back to homeostasis after stress or trauma and, if it did, then when we come in contact with a new stressor, like virus, our bodies would be able to fight it off with relative ease (provided other positive variables like nutrition and/or medication, herbal or otherwise, are available).
Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, the human body is not a machine, so dealing with viruses (or other illnesses) is not always easy. Some people can fight off Covid with relative ease, others can’t. Some people may be really healthy, with a well functioning nervous system functioning, but by chance they may come into contact with a really viscous strain or other variables impact their capacity to deal with it.
Getting back to the idea that Covid and all diseases were karma, in a way, yes, they are karma, karma in the sense of cause and effect. Likewise, a person with a dysregulated nervous system may receive the Covid vaccine and then get another disease because their nervous system has disposition towards getting ill. Again, it is cause and effect. How or why someone has a dysregulated nervous system is another matter. It could be due to overwork, school pressures or adverse home or social scenarios. Alternatively, they could have been abused, sexually assaulted, experienced neglect, involved in an accident or natural disaster, experienced transgenderationsal trauma, or other adverse experience. If reincarnation is treated as a valid theory then a traumatic past life could potentially manifest as nervous system dysregulation in their current life. Succinctly, disease of any form, and from any cause, could be seen as a sign that care of the nervous system is needed.
Imagine if someone was brutally murdered or otherwise tormented in a past life, so comes into this life with a need to heal their nervous system of the trauma therefore is susceptible to certain illnesses, but instead of care they get judged as somehow deserving of their disposition due to karma. Such a situation would be unjust. Similarly, in a less esoteric example, studies of stress on parents who were pregnant during the 9/11 attacks indicate that if the mothers experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) then their children were more likely to develop PTSD. Situations like this indicate that trauma responses can be inherited and may extend back several generations. For instance, children born three generations after WW1 and WW2 may have dysregulated nervous systems from a seemingly unseen cause.
Adding value judgments to the scenario of people getting ill like inferring they are weak, deserved to be ill, or are fulfilling fate because the universe wants to make them stronger, are cruel and unkind sentiments, especially if taken as an extreme view.
Our science has not advanced to a point in which we can detect underlying susceptibility to diseases via measuring nervous system functioning. Nor is it easy to distinguish between a disease caused by degeneration or healing (I once had a tumour that appeared abnormal on the scans, therefore, the doctors suspected it was cancerous but once it was removed it was discovered it looked abnormal because my body had begun healing and the tumour was shrinking.) We do, however, have some clear indications of what can help regulate the nervous system, which includes creating environments that ensure people feel safe (physically and emotionally), having choice, working collaboratively with others, establishing trust, and encouraging self empowered.
Potentially, if all humans had an awareness of the importance of nervous system functioning then some diseases and ailments could be prevented. Somatic practitioner, Irene Lyons, discusses this topic at length on her YouTube channel. She presents easy to understand short clips about the complexities of stress and trauma, and how healing at the nervous system level can improve the quality of life. Her work is well worth a viewing.
Lyon is not the only person to promote the link between illness, stress, and the nervous system. Another researcher of interest is Gabor Maté. His book When the Body says ‘No’ provides a thorough scientific explanation of the body-mind connection of diseases like cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and other common ailments. Maté presents compelling information about stress and how certain behaviours like people pleasing and enabling abusive behaviour through being tolerant can cause adverse health effects to “nice” people.
In the western history, about two thousand years ago, there was another a person who preached similar things, albeit in a less technical language than contemporary trauma experts. Their basic philosophy was to love others and be forgiving while still challenging hypocrisy and adverse behaviours. Much to the amazement of many crowds, this revolutionary person was sometimes even able to heal dis-ease by simply being kind to others, in particular, the down trodden and social outcasts. In contrast, the common medical knowledge of this person’s era was based on concepts like the four humours, and a belief that hysteria in women was caused by their womb wandering around their body. To heal the later, it was believed sexual intercourse could put the womb back in its rightful position, as opposed to the elbow or spleen or wherever else the medical practitioners thought it had wandered to.
This magical person was sometimes depicted as a young man waving a wand around. Other times, they were symbolised as a peacock because Ancient legends said peacock’s flesh couldn’t riot. Further, peacocks represented rebirth because each year they would lose all their feathers and then regrow them with anew.
Sarcophagus of Archbishop Theodoric, marble, 6th century; in the church of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna, Italy.
For those who have not worked it out, the peacock was a symbol of Jesus and his resurrection. It may just be a coincidence but the peacock Jesus went out vogue around the same time (sixth century) the Church made a firm stance on reincarnation not being part of the Christian faith. It is within medieval Catholicism that we also see a version of karma being presented that stipulates if a person is evil they’ll go to hell and if they are good they’ll go to heaven.
The extent to which early Christian’s believed in reincarnation is debatable, nonetheless, this year I would much rather raise a toast and say “Cheers!” to the Christmas peacock who could heal dis-ease with love as opposed to celebrating a so-called virgin birth.
A few years ago, when I temporarily moved from Victoria to Queensland, some of my new friends called me a “Mexican”. Obviously, I wasn’t really a Mexican, it was just a jovial way to acknowledge I was new in town, therefore could be forgiven for not understanding things like Rugby *really* was better than Aussie Rules. Queensland and Victoria are both be part of Australia and share federal laws, however, some state laws differ (like U-turns) and the climates lend themselves to particular cultural normalities (like coffee shops being open at 6:00am in Queensland – at least so I heard, being a native of Victoria I never ventured out that early). Overall, it bemused me that an American reference to Mexicans being aliens when they crossed the border had been appropriated by Australians. That’s the power of Hollywood movies, I guess.
Humans are creative creatures who like to play with word meanings by applying them to new scenarios. Once a phrase like “Mexican” gets shared, accepted, and used by many, it can become part of the fabric of cultural expression. Thus, language is in a constant flux of change and it is through learning experiences like the one just described, that we build up an urban dictionary of figurative phrases. Essentially, all words are symbolic of concepts that enable the creative studio in our minds to form perceptions and determine meaning.
Biblical writers were no different to people of today in terms of the fluidity of their language and the use of colloquialisms to quickly covey information about groups of people. For instance, “Babylonians”.
Looking across Biblical references, it becomes apparent that in some instances “Babylonians” simply means people from Babylonia. In other instances, “Babylonians” is figurative speech that conveys iconic features of Babylonians, much like calling someone new to an area a Mexican, albeit, unlike my Queensland friends, when ancient Hebrews called someone a Babylonian, they meant it as an insult. To understand the inferences, Babylonians need to be seen through the eyes of Ancient Jews.
Babylonia was a civilisation that arose in the Mesopotamian region. The Babylonian era (1895 – 539 BCE) begun around the same time that events with the Biblical Abraham started to pan out. Long story short, Abraham and his tribe left Babylon in search of land that he believed God had promised him. They wandered into Egypt, where they were held captive by the Pharaoh (who he believed he was a descendant of Ra, therefore had divine leadership). The prophet, Moses, ushered Jews out of Egypt and into the promised land of Israel. A slight hiccup occurred because Israel was already occupied by the Caananities (also known as Phoenicians). This was overcome by killing nearly everyone (this happened to many Caananities tribes, hence, there are none left today to tell their side of the story). The Jews were content with their kingdom until the Babylonians decided they should rule the Jewish territories. The conflict was nasty; temples were destroyed and the Jews went through periods of Babylonian captivity and exile. The rivalry was indirectly due to religious ideology; the Babylonians believed their rulers a had divine right rule because their Kings were supposedly descendants of the Gods. However, Jews believed G-d was the supreme Lord, and that He had given governance rights. In other words, both sides believed they had a divine right to leadership privileges. This a common historical theme.
Getting back to how the ancient Jews perceived the Babylonians …
The history of Babylonians and Jewish interactions is highly detailed, suffice to say Jews were Babylonians, in that both groups of people came from Babylon. Despite similarities between the cultures, like both having Semitic languages, patriarchal leadership, and they both lived according to codes of law, the resentment Israelites had towards Babylonians was intense. In comparison, Babylonians may have been more destructive and demonstrated more narcissistic behaviours. However, to depict the Jews as being a peaceful, hippyish community would be a misdemeanour. Hebrews were not opposed to physical combat and, according to Christianity, their religious leaders, the Pharisees and Rabbis, were often corrupted.
In a nutshell, it is not surprising that Israelites rejected Babylonian values and perceived them as aggressive tormentors who oppressed the freedom of others, however, criticisms of Jewish culture can also be made. Interestingly, the split between the two nations came about very early in history. Jewish resentment can be seen in the first mention of Babylon, in Genesis 11 and with what is commonly referred to in Christian traditions as TheTower of Babel.
The Tower of Babylon
In the following, I go through the story of The Tower of Babel verse by verse (various versions), fleshing out symbolic references in a historical context with the overachieving aim of explaining how and why “Babylon” became a derogatory term that could be applied used as an adjective to describe unsavoury behaviours.
Genesis 11:1 – 9 says: “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.”
Conventional interpretations of the above verse usually take the meaning of the passage to be literal. The New Century Version of the Bible even says: “and everyone used the same words”. From a historical point of view, ancient Jews and Babylonians (who were the whole world of Shinar) probably did speak the one language.
In addition to the egocentric literal interpretation of one language being spoken, I suspect the story is more symbolic, as echoed in The Kings James Version: “And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech”. The whole earth being of one speech, infers it was not necessarily just the same words that everyone used, rather, it was common communication protocols. Communication is not just words, it can also infer mannerisms, intonations, and visual references, physical gestures. Moreover, a person’s ideology can guide their communication style. For example, therapists strive to listen to others with compassion and try to communicate openly so as to build trust and rapport. Whereas, someone with a criminal mindset is more inclined to communicate in a way that facilitates manipulation through coercive tactics.
Getting back to the Tower of Babel, the story depicts things changing when people settled in Shinar, which is a telling sign of Jewish animosity towards Babylonians. Why? Because Shinar is a Babylonian town. The imputation of the ancient Jewish writers is that life before the establishment of Babylonian cities was more a peaceful experience due to a common speech being used amongst everyone.
Genesis 11:3 “And a man said to his neighbour, Come, let us make bricks and bake them with fire. And the brick was to them for stone, and their mortar was bitumen.”
This shared building project being made out of clay bricks is also ominous symbolism. The evolution of building with bricks instead of stone allowed for ease of construction because it was not dependent upon the laborious task of quarrying. Conversely, clay bricks are not as strong as stone. Hence, it can be surmised that the Hebrew authors were saying right from the start that the building project was not made from the most stable substance.
There is no archaeological evidence to suggest humans around the Earth ever spoke the same language. However, from a psychological perspective, at birth all humans have the capacity to speak any language. By a very early age (about 1-3 years) synaptic connections favour whatever vocal and gestural communication a child is exposed to the most. Young children with limited vocabularies can happily play together and share toys. They can even engage in joined activities like building a tall tower out of blocks, however, it is also common for frustrations to arise because toddlers cannot express themselves clearly and each child may be trying to achieve a different building vision. Without mature communication skills (like compromise and patience), irritably can lead to rash behaviour and brick towers falling. From this level of interpretation, the story of Babel is one of human evolution; a descriptor of early civilisation in which communication between people was like that of children in a school yard in which conflicts arose due to communication barriers between peers.
Genesis 11:4 And they said, “Come, we will build up a city for ourselves and a tower whose top is in Heaven, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered on the face of all the Earth.”
The above verse once again hints at the urbanisation in Shinar beginning with people working together. The shift away from communal living is shadowed by grandiose ambition: “let us make a name for ourselves”.
The aim of the tower, to reach heaven, is potentially a reference to a ziggurat, a pyramid-like structure that ancient Babylonians built for religious purposes.
The building of a temple (even if it was not a ziggurat), suggests Hebrew and Babylonian ancestors were once united in religious ideology. The physical building of a temple to the heavens exemplifies the notion that communication confusion was intertwined with the building of religion ideology.
Genesis 11:5-6 “And Jehovah came down to see the city and the tower which the children of men built. And Jehovah said, Behold, the people is one, and have all one language; and this have they begun to do. And now will they be hindered in nothing that they meditate doing.
The term “children of men” is a symbolic code that suggests humans are the product of a divine race called “men” that doesn’t necessarily mean biological males, but I’ll go over that theology another time. For the moment, I’d like to emphasise that “the people is one” and are “all one language” infers everyone working on the construction of the tower all were united through a Semitic language and a common faith.
Genesis 11:7 Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
Here we see humans moving from an egalitarian coexistence into a state of being at odds with each other. As previously pointed out, confounding language so as people cannot understand one another’s speech is not dependent upon dialects. Potentially, the more important aspect of this sentence is the symbolic shift from people understanding one another, to a lack of understanding being attributed to God’s command. But why would God want humans to be unharmonious? Or was it simply a means of expressing human evolution working in accordance to a divine plan? Or is the word “us” a suggestion that the Jews once acknowledged many deities, therefore indicating that the communication confusion was based upon confusion over which deity was to be followed?
Genesis 11:8-9 So the Lord scattered them abroad from that place upon the face of the whole earth, and they gave up building the city. Therefore the name of it was called Babel—because there the Lord confounded the language of all the earth; and from that place the Lord scattered them abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
To a contemporary English Bible reader, the word “Babel” sounds like it is a reference to babble, as in speech that does not make sense. However, the word “Babel” comes from the Hebrew Bab-ilu (“Gate of God”), which is a reference to the city of Babylon. Contrary to many Christian traditions, The Tower of Babel would be more accurately called The Tower of Babylon.
With the inference of babble being removed from Babel, it becomes even more prudent to interpret the confusion of language as not being dependent upon dialect. Rather, the Tower of Babel is a reference to the establishment of the Babylonian Empire being the beginning of religious conflicts. In terms of whether or not this a true depiction of history, depends upon perspective and keeping in mind that the story is biasedly told by the author/s, ie., the Israelites.
The image of people being scattered due to language confusion while constructing a religious tower, I would argue, needs to be viewed not just in a literal sense, but in the sense that conflict and confusion occurred in the theological construction of a religion. Further, to strengthen the argument, it is worthwhile to consider that the development of “language” often has a sacred history. Alphabets are described in myths as being a gift from them the Gods, words are “spells” as in they can be used for magic, and in Christianity, God is the living Word.
Hence, the story of Babel proposes that everyone on the earth once shared a common faith, further it is a metaphor describing the segregation of people into various religious groups. Following on this train of thought, Genesis 11:6 indicates the belief if everyone on the Earth shared the one faith, the united force would enable anything to be possible. Inadvertently, it appears clear that this did not happen because of the Tower of Babylon, thus, subtle blame is shouldered onto all Babylonians.
Other Biblical References to Babylon
As Biblical stories progress, Jewish hostility towards Babylonians continues and is clearly expressed in verses like Psalm 137:8-9:
O daughter of Babylon, who is to be destroyed, blessed is the one who rewards you as you have done to us. Blessed is the one who takes and dashes your little ones against the rocks.
The verse is by no means a literal desire for a woman’s infants to be killed. Rather, “daughter of Babylon” is a reference to ideology that male leaders of Babylon followed, moreover, the leaders who banished and persecuted the Jews. The desire to take “little ones” and dash them against the rocks is a figurative expression of wanting to all those who follow Babylon protocols to be destroyed.
You could possibly even say that the concept of “Babylonians” is like the concept of contemporary “Nazis”; the Nazis were originally a German political party that initiated wars and subjugated many people, however, the term “Nazi” is now sometimes used colloquially to describe any person who behaves in a militant manner (or simply disagrees with you on Facebook).
In summary, there is a long standing animosity between Babylonians and Jews that can be found in the earliest writings all the way through to the Christian-Judaism era. The appropriation of turning a noun that defines a group of people into an adjective that suggests certain behaviours is not unique to Hebrews. Sometimes when it is done the circumstances are relatively benign, like calling someone a Mexican or saying that all foreign languages sound Greek. Other times, it is done with derogatory intentions, like calling a person a Nazi or … a Babylonian.
Of primary interest is Revelation 17:5 “And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH”. To decipher these words, let’s look at the preceding verses.
Revelation 17 begins with an angel telling John that they will tell him the meaning of the symbolism of “the great whore that sitteth upon many waters” (Re 17:1) to “whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication” (Re 17:2)
To understand what is being revealed in the above quotes, the basic keys to the symbolism are as follows:
Water is explained as being “peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues” (Revelations 17:15).
The “whore” who is sitting “upon many waters” indicates the religious group the angel is referring to will span around the globe, within many countries, and across languages, just as the Catholic Church does today.
Women in the Bible (Old and New Testaments) frequently refer to churches, synagogues, or otherwise religious groups
For example, Justin Martyr explains “Leah” represents the Jewish synagogue and “Rachel” represents the Christian church. Likewise, the Virgin Mary represents the Catholic Church.
The prophecies of the Revelations were written before Christianity had become Romanised. Therefore, it was written “the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast”.
Newton describes the "horns" of Rome as changing over time; as one kingdom fell, another replaced it.
Fornication refers to the interaction or connection, not sex.
Just as electrical components are defined by their connective nature of being “male” or “female”, ancient expression also used this crass symbolism to represent two components that connected with each other. Hence the Kings/Kingdoms under control of the beast are connected to the Catholic Church (the whore).
The uniform of Roman Catholic leaders has not changed since ancient times. Eerily, Catholic priests’ garments are an adaptation of clothes worn by Roman military and royalty.
Artworks throughout the ages, like the painting below by Jan van Eyck, The Ghent Altarpiece, 1432, demonstrate the colours of purple and scarlet have always been worn by Bishops and Cardinals, thus distinguishing from other clergy. This tradition is an extension of the ancient Roman military protocol in which soldiers wore scarlet, and purple was reserved to show high status. Some high ranking generals had a purple sash, however, due to the expense associated with purple dye, it was beyond the average person’s capacity to obtain purple cloth. Purple thus became a sign of wealth and status. During Imperial Rome (27 BCE – 476 CE) it was illegal for anyone except the Emperor to wear purple.
Also notable in van Eyck’s painting is the tradition of Catholic bishops and cardinals being decked with head pieces of gold, precious stones, and pearls. The sceptres are a symbolic of authority, as per their use throughout the ancient worlds; Hebrew (Moses’ staff), Etruscan, Egypt, Babylonia, Persia, and Greek.
For comparison, any quick Google image search of Clergyman demonstrates their clothing has changed little over the years. Moreover, many orders still follow Roman protocols of colour codes and adornments to signify status. Below are a few samples.
Albert Barnes (1798-1870), a Roman born American, and Presbyterian minister, is one of many theologians who identify the “Great Mother of Prostitutes” as being the leader of the Vatican.
Of the great whore – It is not uncommon in the Scriptures to represent a city under the image of a woman – a pure and holy city under the image of a virgin or chaste female; a corrupt, idolatrous, and wicked city under the image of an abandoned or lewd woman […] – that is, as I suppose, papal Rome; and the design here is to represent it as resembling an abandoned female – fit representative of an apostate, corrupt, unfaithful church.
Despite the numerous amount of people who have said similar to Barnes, the significance of women being used by biblical writers as a symbolic representation of cities, nations, and other groups of people has not been disseminated to the masses. Personally, I blame psychology industries for this failure. More specifically, I blame Sigmund Freud and his ridiculous theory of the Madonna-whore complex. Thanks to the popularity of psychoanalysis over the past hundred odd years, misinformation about the symbolism of women in biblical writings has been circulated, thus has effectively been a double-edged sword that has caused harm to how women are perceived as real human beings, and distorting proper history …
Moving on …
I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.
The above verse points towards the Roman Catholic Church being a state of disgrace (drunk) in relation to the true message of Jesus. According to my research, the blood of Jesus is symbolic of Love.
The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.
The above section of the prophecy is potentially the most confusing. To decode the above quote, it helps to recognise the term “hills” is linked to the concept of a “higher place”. In Biblical tradition people would go up to the tops of hills to pray and perform ceremonies, hence, hilltops represent groups of people united by ritualistic practices. Therefore, the “woman” sitting upon seven groups is symbolic of Christian denominations that are somehow linked to the Papal role. Who are these Christian groups of significance? When I first attempted to decide this part of the riddle, I wondered if the “seven” may be representative of church groups as follows: the Eastern Churches (1), the Oriental Churches (2), the Protestant Church (3), the Lutheran Church (4), the Anglican Church (5), the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches (6), and the Roman Catholic Church (7). Thus some have “fallen” from Papal rule; further, the “one is” the actual church the apostle Peter formed while alive, and “the other not yet come” is a foreshadowing of the Catholic Church created in Peter’s name. When Emperor Constantine chose Peter to be the head of Christianity (instead of Paul or another apostle) he blended an authentic impulse of the blood of Christ with Roman culture, thus turning the legacy of Peter into Christianity that can be defined as “The beast who once was, and now is not”. This pattern could be accurate, however, a flaw can be found in that the prophecy says there are “also” seven kings (kingdoms), meaning there are seven “hills” and seven “kings”. My pondering continued …
Perhaps the various broad groups of Christianity only represent the seven heads, and the kings are a reference to something else, like actual kingdoms that the Pope has ruled within: the Roman Empire (1; c.30-400), the Western Roman Empire (2; c.285-480), the Kingdom of Italy, also known Odoacer and Ostrogothic Kingdoms (3; c.476–553), Eastern Roman Empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire and the Duchy of Rome (4; c.395–1453), Papal States (5; c.756–1870), the Holy Roman Empire (6; c.800/962–1806), and the Kingdom of Italy (7; c.1861–1946). It is more accurate to say some of these kingdoms have fallen (1, 2, 4, 5, & 6), than to try to fit that description to various liturgical rites. Further, all seven kingdoms can be identified as being linked by the practicality of their territories including the city of Rome. On one hand, the historical kingdoms of Italy have also fallen (3 & 7), however, by namesake it continues today. However, current Papal rule is not Italian per se, the only “kingdom” the Popes now have complete jurisdiction over is the Kingdom of the Vatican City which became a nation in its own right in 1929. Perhaps the Vatican is the eighth kingdom that belongs to seven, that is, it belongs to the territory of Rome, but it is separate? …
The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast.
These ten “horns” of kingdoms are different to the kingdoms of the “seven kings”. As previously mentioned, Newton recognised the horns as consisting of nations, some of whom still exist today, and others, once having completed their hour, and passed authority onto the beast via their predecessors. Newton’s first listing of the ten kingdoms is as follows:
1. The kingdom of the Vandals and Alans in Spain and Africa.
Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”
I am by no means the first person to recognise the Pope’s authority can defined as “whore-like”, moreover, the role of Pope as a leader of the Catholic Church is a conjugate for the continuation of Roman culture and values that echo the abominations of ancient Babylon. However, unlike so many others who have deciphered the symbolism of the apocalyptic beast (e.g., Newton), I consider myself fortunate to be living in a time in which it is possible for “the woman” ceasing to rule the “kings of the earth”.
The suggestion that the end time of the royal authority of Papal rule has come, is supported by another prophecy. In 1139, a priest called Malachi had a vision of future Popes. Using cryptic phrases he described 112 men, the final entry read:
In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Peter the Roman, who will feed his flock amid many tribulations, after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people. The End
For many years there have been speculations that, if the prophecy is true, then the current Pope Francis, will be the last. One of the standard reasonings is that Francis’ parents were Italian before immigrating to Argentina. Personally, I perceive the prophecy may be true due to alternative reasoning, that is, it shall be globally recognised that whomever is Pope, is a Roman, regardless of personal family heritage. Further, the seven-hilled city, whether they be defined by liturgical rites or kingdoms, will be destroyed simply because the masses have access to education, therefore will not accept false reports of history. Moreover, Christian legacy’s of abominable behaviour that includes bloodshed, racism, sexism, and other tyrannical control methods, will be seen as originating from the Throne of Peter. (See blog series Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education.)
As a final reflection on the ultimate fall of Rome, Malachi’s comment about Peter the Roman feeding his flock amid many tribulations, is a timely reminder that the harlot on the beast is not an individual, nor is it any one specific Pope, rather it is culture that has endured through Papal reigns, through Christian communities, and through any other group of people who behave “abominably”; just as it previously endured through Greek, Persian, and Babylon civilisations. Throughout the ages, many Pope’s and Christian’s alike have worked tirelessly to give charity to the sick, poor, down-hearted, and otherwise in need of support and nourishment (see here for some of my personal observations). History is complex, and the good deeds of many men, women, and others, need not be forgotten or ignored because of the title of Christianity. The Harlot is an attitude, a grandiose sense of self, that anyone can display. To look down upon Roman culture as being “other” is a failure to recognise Roman culture can be in “us”.
If/when the Holy Roman Catholic Church comes to an end, the Judge who judges needs to be ourselves. Letting go of an earthly father figure, means accepting adult responsibilities and recognising that the role of defining love and healing (aspects of what I believe to be authentic Christian intentions) needs to come from within the hearts of each individual. The end of the beast’s reign can only manifest if all humans freely decide to make it so.
When writing the series Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education, I did not set out to demonise Rome as being a cult that grew exponentially. My conclusion developed organically. It was only when I finished putting down in writing the journey of my learnings, that I was able to reflect back and see that the original ideas of Christianity were noble and that the Holy Roman Catholic Church was not evil per se, rather, it was just a conduit for Roman culture. I questioned myself. Had I got it right? Was I the only one who could see the historical chain of negative influence in Roman rulership that extended back further to Greek influence, namely via the promotion of Aristotle? I knew my research was solid, so I stuck with what I knew to be true. After publishing the series I continued to investigate so as to find others who saw the same pattern. Isaac Newton was a key place to start; he left behind countless notebooks detailing his Biblical research.
Most people know Newton to be a renown scientist and mathematician who helped thrust the world out of superstitious thought into the realm of rationality. Namely, he did so through his work in optics, relativity, and calculus. Less known is the work Newton did on deciphering Old and New Testament prophecies. In his lifetime, he had to keep his findings low key because his views would have been considered heresy and, in turn, he would been expelled from his post at Cambridge University. For a thorough background on Newton’s religious standings, I recommend Rob Iliffe’s essay titled Church, Heresy, and Pure Religion.
Putting it briefly, Newton held strong Christian faith in the existence of God and a brotherhood of love based upon teachings of Jesus Christ, however, he was also convinced that Christianity had been corrupted. Mostly, he points to issues that arose in the fourth century when the Church became Romanised through a series of council meetings. Even more fascinating, he perceived Rome to be the great beast of the fourth seal whose name was Death and Hades, as described in the Book of Revelation. Further, Newton surmised the lesser beasts preceding Rome were Greece, Persia, and Babylon.
Newton’s interpretations were the result of copious amounts of time studying Jewish figurative speech. His faith did not completely align with orthodox Protestantism, but he did share some of their views, such as:
the signification of words in Scripture is to be esteemed and taken only according to the Scripture use, though other writers use them otherwise.
Newton took a scientific approach to the Bible and analysed scripture to identify language patterns, allegory systems, and symbols that he believed were known and applied by all prophets:
“The Rule I have followed has been to compare the several mystical places of scripture where the same prophetic phrase or type is used, and to fix such a signification to that phrase as agrees best with all the places . . . and, when I had found the necessary significations, to reject all others as the offspring of luxuriant fancy, for no more significations are to be admitted for true ones than can be proved.”
Isaac Newton, Royal Society, 2015, p. 524
Examples of the codes Newton worked out were: Sun = King; Moon = groups of common people referred to as wife; Darkening of celestial bodies = doom for political groups; and Dens and rocks in mountains = temples. Where Biblical texts referred to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Newton claimed it meant Spirit, Water, and Blood.
Through this process of examining symbology, he identified that the prophecies in the Old Testament Book of Daniel were repeated in the New Testament Book of Revelation written by St John.
In Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John (1733), Newton made the following remarks:
… Daniel‘s Prophecies […] represents a body of four great nations, which should reign over the earth successively, viz. the people of Babylonia, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans.
The first Beast was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings, to denote the kingdoms of Babylonia and Media, which overthrew the Assyrian Empire, and divided it between them, and thereby became considerable, and grew into great Empires.
The second Beast was like a bear, and represents the Empire which reigned next after the Babylonians, that is, the Empire of the Persians. Thy kingdom is divided, or broken, saith Daniel to the last King of Babylon, and given to the Medes and Persians, Dan. v. 28.
The third Beast was the kingdom which succeeded the Persian; and this was the empire of the Greeks , Dan. viii. 6, 7, 20, 21. It was like a Leopard, to signify its fierceness; and had four heads and four wings, to signify that it should become divided into four kingdoms, Dan. viii 22.
The fourth Beast was the empire which succeeded that of the Greeks, and this was the Roman. This beast was exceeding dreadful and terrible, and had great iron teeth, and devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with its feet; and such was the Roman empire. It was larger, stronger, and more formidable and lasting than any of the former. […] And by […] conquests it became greater and more terrible than any of the three former Beasts.
I have found it very reassuring that someone of such elevated standing as Newton saw the same pattern as I, albeit, he came to his conclusions via different means. My investigations of negative influences have predominately been through examining the history of patriarchy, a system that purports men are superior and governance of others should be passed down through male lineages. The crux of patriarchy, however, is not simply a matter of male supremacy, it is an ideology that proposes that some males are superior to other males, thus it encourages war between men, racism, and sexism. Patriarchy is based upon the fallible superstition that males are spiritually superior to females, slaves, children, and some other males. Everyone, except maybe those who hold the positions of power, are victims of patriarchy’s narcissistic traits and behaviours.
It is not uncommon for narcissists to believe they have a divine right to rule others due to a supposed special relationship with a Godhead. Narcissists also set standards for others that are unreasonably high that they do not met themselves, then they employ gaslighting techniques if their dominance is challenged. Patriarchy’s shared traits with narcissistic personality disorder continues with grandiose expectations of entitlement and attention, through to violent and aggressive behaviours. Patriarchy, as a pathological culture normalises abuse and, sometimes, even glamourises it as being divine. Many of these negative tendencies can be found in the people who held leadership positions in Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome.
Babylonian Empire (1895 – 539 BCE)
The Ancient Babylonian Empire was founded on the banks of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, which today is Iraq and parts of Turkey, Syria, and Iran. For about the past 4000 years, the lands of Mesopotamia have been the site of almost constant conflict, with few respites of peace. Unlike other areas of the Mediterranean, such as the Egyptian Old Kingdom, Etruscans, and Greeks of the Dark Ages, the Babylonian Empire emerged as a patriarchal society very early on. The culture before Babylonia, the Sumerians, had some egalitarian customs, however, by the time the Babylonians had their stronghold, the hierarchal governance gave more rights to men than women. It is in Babylonia that we see the first clear examples of females being treated like the are the property of males, with fathers being able to sell their daughters as slaves or prostitutes. Male dominance was maintained by preventing girls from having the same access to education as boys.
Babylon’s Empire formally began with King Hammurabi, who obtained increased power through a series of wars, notably defeating the King of Larsa, Rim-Sin. One of Hammurabi’s incentives was to access the fertile lands around Uruk for agricultural purposes.
The main religious attitude of Babylonia was polytheistic, with many deities being worshipped. Hammurabi believed their creator Gods, Anu and Bel, had called him by name to righteously rule the land of Babylon. His declaration includes a desire “to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak […] and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind.” However, Hammurabi extensive list of law codes also included:
If a “sister of a god” open a tavern, or enter a tavern to drink, then shall this woman be burned to death.
If a man take a woman to wife, but have no intercourse with her, this woman is no wife to him.
If a man marry a woman and she bear him no sons; if then this woman die, if the “purchase price” which he had paid into the house of his father-in-law is repaid to him, her husband shall have no claim upon the dowry of this woman; it belongs to her father’s house.
If a father devote a temple-maid or temple-virgin to God and give her no present: if then the father die, she shall receive the third of a child’s portion from the inheritance of her father’s house, and enjoy its usufruct so long as she lives. Her estate belongs to her brothers.
Kings and rulers that followed Hammurabi maintained these misogynistic values. Further, the Romans used the Babylonian concept of law codes to form their own rules and regulations.
At some point during the Babylonian Empire, the religion of Zoroastrianism began, however, it did not gain popularity until late in the era.
Babylonian architecture was mostly made out of mud-brick, hence, due to is structural weakness and near constant battles between city-states, much hasn’t survived. Their artworks depicted geometric patterns and reliefs on the sides of the buildings that featured animal like lions with wings.
The Persian Empire began in what is modern day Iran. Like many cultures, it began as a small cult that spread its culture far and wide in eastern and western directions. The era is generally noted as beginning with the ruler Cyrus the Great (c. 600 – 530 BCE). He was a Zoroastrian, the major religion of the Persians, however, there was much tolerance of other faiths.
Zoroastrianism faith involves belief in dualistic forces of good and evil that are constantly striving to out do each other. It is here that we see the first clear presentation of the concepts of heaven and hell as being places people may go to in the afterlife. Zoroastrian cosmology references the stars of the Zodiac in what, on one hand can be traced back to Babylonian astrologers, and on the other hand, echos’ sentiments that can be found in the ancient Indian Vedas. The elements of earth, water, air, and fire, were used symbolically in rituals and theology. The importance Zoroastrians displayed towards fire spurred their neighbours (the Greeks) to accuse them of being fire worshippers. To the Zoroastrians, fire was a symbolic means to represent God’s light or wisdom.
Somewhat surprisingly, Persian women received more rights and respect than their counterparts in ancient Babylonia and other cultures (except Egypt). Royal women were involved in military operations, could sign documents, and hold court. Other women could run businesses, own property, receive equal pay, and choose who they married. That is not to say the Persians were, by todays standards, an egalitarian civilisation. Rather, the Persians had prejudices against “lower” classes and foreigners. The situation brings to light the idea that narcissistic traits are not bound by gender.
The great Persian army, dubbed the Immortals, was formed under the command of Pantea Artesbod, a woman. Further, there are several records of female warriors receiving glory and recognition for their skill and bravery in battle, for example, Artemisia of Caria. Artemisia, a name derived from the Greek goddess Artemis, ruled the throne of Caria for a period, however, this was only as a regent because her son was too young to rule; hence despite women demonstrating their capacities to be equal to men, a patriarchal framework endured within Persian culture.
Persian art continued the style of Babylonians, with emphasis on wings and sphinx-like characters. While women received acclaim in Ancient Persia, very few artefacts depicting them have survived.
Capital of a column from the audience hall of the palace of Darius I (c. 510 BCE). Source: BC Campus
Greek Empire / Hellenistic Period (323 BC – 31 BCE)
Ancient Greece has a rich history that has been well documented via their tradition of writing, poetry, dramas, and art. Traces of its unique character can be found in Minoan and Mycenaean artefacts that date to the Greek Dark Ages and earlier, moreover, such findings point towards a monarchical or egalitarian society.
The most well known religion of Ancient Greece is that of the Eleusinian Mysteries. It was an initiation based practice that was open to all citizens who could speak Greek, whether they be free, slave, male, female, or other. The cult centre at Eleusis began in c.1450 BCE with the creation of an underground chamber below a shrine. Annual festivals celebrated the Homeric story of Zeus, Demeter, Persephone, and Hades (who were personifications of the classical elements; see The Four Elements in Theology and Ancient Texts). There is still a lot of mystery surrounding the practices and beliefs of the Eleusinian Mysteries because initiates were bound by privilege codes and subject to the death penalty if they revealed cult secrets to anyone who was not suitably initiated.
The most well known era, Greek Classical Period (480 – 323 BCE), is marked by the works of Plato and Aristotle (it is generally accepted that Plato was an initiate of the Eleusinian Mysteries but Aristotle was not). Leading up to this period, Greece had adopted patriarchal values. It is plausible to infer that this influence came from Babylonian and Persian sources, along with other cultural and religious trading, for example, Zoroastrian astrology. From 499 – 449 BCE, the Greeks were in battle with the Persians; for intermediate periods the Persians ruled parts of Greece, however, ultimately, the Greeks won the final battle.
The Greek era in which Newton refers to as being the third beast, is that of the Hellenistic Period (323 – 31 BCE). In a very short period of time, Alexander the Great (a student of Aristotle) led campaigns from west to east, conquering Persian territory plus more. Alexander did not rule the lands he had conquered for very long. As a result of disease or poisoning he died at the age of 32, which resulted in conquered lands being divided amongst four of his generals: Cassander (Macedon/Greece), Ptolemy (Egypt), Antigonus (Asia Minor/Syria), and Seleucus (Afghanistan/Iran/Iraq/Turkey/Syria/Lebanon/Armenia/Turkmenistan/Uzbekistan/Tajikistan). Thus, Greek thought, customs, beliefs, and writing became dominate across the Mediterranean and Middle East.
It is through the Greek language and lens that most of western history has been passed down, hence, Alexander is called “Great”. To the Persians, however, he was only “great” at destruction; buildings, temples, monuments, particularly those of Zoroastrian significance, were reduced rubble. I once read on a social network comment that Alexander’s destruction was justified because he was purging the regions he conquered of erroneous paganism, moreover, the libraries he created were of great value. Personally, I tend to side more with the Persians on this issue and cannot see how brute force and the killing of innocent lives can be ever be justified. Further, the libraries that Alexander created, like the one in his namesake in Egypt, the Great Alexandrian Library, were biased towards the promotion of Aristotelian racism and sexism based upon a so-called divine order of a man’s spirit being superior to that of a woman’s animalistic soul (see Is Aristotle Overrated?: A look at one of the ways patriarchal systems have used Aristotle’s writings to justify male supremacy).
History is never straightforward. As already indicated, Greece, by the time of Alexander’s time had developed through the assimilation of Babylonian and Persian influences. In turn, Persian cultures developed under Greek influence.
Was Alexandria driven by innate personal narcissistic tendencies? Or was he driven by a cultural destain for Persia that he was taught to him by others, like Aristotle? It is hard to tell. There are records of Alexander grabbing a Delphi priestess by the hair and demanding a prophecy reading after being told to come back another day, thus indicating he had a grandiose sense of self. However, it is also reported that Alexander took up many Persian traits, such as dressing like one of them. When his best friend suggested he should dress more like a Greek, Alexander killed him, however, afterwards he felt remorse. Some speculate that Alexander may have also felt remorse for the damage he did to Persia, and had he lived longer, may have made some amends. Nonetheless, that is not what happened, rather the former Persian lands became Hellenised. (The Greek concept of female figures defining groups of people, e.g, Helen of Troy and Athena, has a correlation to the Jewish concept of women and daughters (see Theology of Early Christianity as described by Justin Martyr: Was he deliberately harmonising Jewish and Ancient Greek philosophy?) that appears to relate back to similar hidden theologies in which the realm of the “soul” is described as feminine.)
Hellenistic art was skilfully crafted using mathematical formulas of perspective and precision carving. It featured grand gods and goddesses that embodied the Greek ideals of beauty, Kállos, which inferred beauty, goodness and truth were combined. The standards set by Greek artisans were adopted by their predecessors, the Romans.
The Roman Empire emerged as an assimilation of Greek, Persian, and Babylonian influences, plus more, like the Etruscans, Phoenicians, and Egyptians. As described throughout Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education, Rome’s rise to being a great superpower took on many forms and is arguably still present today in the lingering authority of the Holy Roman Church and its legacy of defining Christianity.
The Roman Empire’s great take over was progressive, with the final seal of dominance culminating with Julius Caesar (c.100 – 44 BCE). Prior to this time, Rome operated under a patriarchal republic where by citizens (who were male and wealthy, and/or male and practiced a trade) could vote in who they wanted to be leaders. Caesar was not in the running to be leader, however, due to a series of political and tactical manoeuvres (like unauthorised attacks on the Gauls, the Celtic people who lived in modern day France and Germany) he became the temporary leader of Rome. However, once he had a firm grip on Roman power, he made it impossible for the senate to vote him out. Caesar viewed himself to be above the laws of other men and believed his family bloodline extended back to the deities Venus and Aeneas.
In some respects, Caesar made beneficial contributions, like reducing debt, instigating building projects, and revising the calendar (which may have been influenced by Cleopatra introducing him to Egyptian cosmology and mathematics), but his authority was not respected by fellow politicians. Caesar was killed by knife wounds that were administered by about 40 Roman senators on steps of a Republican meeting hall. The act of violence was spurred by not wanting Rome to ruled by a dictatorship, ironically, however, Caesar’s successors became Emperors, some of whom showed more compassion to the masses than others.
What I have written are broad strokes defining what I understand of the four beasts of the apocalypse if indeed, they are Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Newton conducted more refined research on each of these powers with precise records of Kings, specific battles, and other points of reference that can be found here. In summary, Newton describes the “horns” of Rome as changing over time; as one kingdom fell, another replaced it. He predicted that this would continue until “the son of man” came “in the clouds of Heaven”.
Often, the reporting of apocalyptic prophecies is presented hyperbolically, with the end of the world being stated as nigh. This is also true of when doomsday fanatics share Newton’s Biblical interpretations of 2060 being a time of great significance, however, this not true to to his conclusions. The dramatic events Newton predicted were not of Armageddon, rather, the date of 2060 refers to the final ending of the beasts’ reign.
To be clear, the beasts are not representative of all individuals of Babylonian, Persian, Greek, or Roman decent, rather, the beasts are cultures that exist all over the globe that enable and tolerate destructive patterns of behaviour. I state this attitude with sincerity, in the same way that I do not hold all Catholics as being responsible for atrocities committed by individuals within Holy Roman Church, as described in my concluding blog that explores occult symbolism through the history and herstory of education.
To conclude, my research on the history of patriarchal concurs with Newton’s interpretations that when the “beasts'” reigns come to an end, the prophecies are of good news because the “blood of Christ”, otherwise known as Love, will rule all humanity. Or, as Newton says:
a new kingdom should arise, after the four, and conquer all those nations, and grow very great, and last to the end of all ages.
Media codes and conversations refers to written and symbolic tools used to construct or suggest meaning in media forms and products. Media codes include typography, visual composition, and contextual symbolism. Understanding conventions used by producer needs to be grounded in analysing texts within their cultural and historical contexts. Applying considerations raised by media studies to the Christian Bible is a prudent activity if one wants to understand how the scriptures came to be presented in their current formate. The Bible has passed through numerous eras of media codes and conventions, what follows is a brief overview of highlights and associations issues.
The Christian Bible begins with the Hebrew Bible, which began as an oral tradition in the second millennium before the common era.
The earliest written versions of the Hebrew Bible were created on papyrus or parchment, or even leather scrolls that are dated to be from c.900-c600BCE. Old Hebrew was written right to left in a continuous script that had no vowels, capital letters, or chapter numbers. A complete set of writings consisted of 12-20 scrolls.
In the third century BCE, the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek. The work was conducted by scholars in Alexandria, Egypt. The name given to the translation was the Septuagint and it is reported as being the work of seventy-two scholars, six from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Like Hebrew, the Greek conventions of writing was a continuous script that did not have any punctuation, this writing was called Kione.
The translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek was a significant development that enabled people of other faiths and Jews who no longer knew the Hebrew language to become familiar with the stories. Some reports praise the translation while others are critical of details being changed such as variations in timeframes and ages of characters. Additionally, there are instances of names of birds being altered. For example, in Leviticus 11:18 the Hebrew Bible says a type of bird but Septuagint specifies a pelican; other Christianised versions say owl, swan, vulture, or other type of bird. (See Bible Hub for variations.)
In the first few decades of the common era, Philo of Alexandria (c.25 BCE – c.50 CE) rewrote the chapters of Genesis and Exodus with an emphasis on allegories and harmonising Jewish and Greek thought. He wrote in the scholarly language of his era, Greek Koine. Philo’s versions of Jewish stories were favoured by Early Christians, many of whom could not speak or read Hebrew. Alternatively, if they did not have access to Philo’s writings, they used the Septuagint. Having said all that, it also needs to be remembered that most Early Christians could not read or write at all, stories were mostly told and retold through word of mouth.
Early Christians referred to the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testament to distinguish it from the New Testament, that described stories about Jesus. Thus, the Christian Bible is an extension of the Hebrew Bible.
The first Christian writings were letters between Christian leaders and their followers. Most of these are attributed to the apostle Paul, however, whether or not he is the genuine author or a pseudonym is unclear. Once again, Greek Koine was the language used.
Timeline of New Testament events and writings. Created by Renee from various references.
The Christian Gospels differ to other writings in the New Testament because they are not a direct form of communication between people, rather, they are a narrative of the saviour, Jesus Christ.
In Ancient Greek He was known as Iēsūs Christós [Ἰησοῦς Χριστός]. Iēsūs means Son of God and Christós means the Anointed One. There was confusion amongst Romans when they first heard of Iēsūs Christós because they thought Christós was a name, however, in Ancient Greek it was a title that inferred a person was a high priest or initiate. Through the linguistic representation of Christós being applied to all followers in “Christians” it may be inferred that the cult of Christianity did not initially have any formal hierarchical structure; rather, all followers were deemed to be “anointed ones”, a community bound by the premise that they were all “Sons” of God, like Jesus. (The hierarchical structure of Christianity emerged after Constantine Romanised the religion. See Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 5 – Christianity.)
The first Christian Gospel, Saint Mark’s, was written in the first century, in Greek Koine script. Some scholars believe Mark’s Gospel was written by his disciples in Rome, however, it is more probable that it was written in Alexandria, Egypt. Legend has it that Mark travelled to Alexandria where he set up a Church and the Gospel that bears his name was written by his followers several years after his death.
Matthew’s Gospel is credited as being the second narrative about Jesus. Like Mark’s, it was not written by its namesake or by any first hand witnesses. It is generally understood that Matthew’s Gospel was written by a male Jewish scholar, hence, it is in Hebrew. Matthew’s Gospel contains many details about Jesus’ life that are not presented in Marks, for instance, the Star of Bethlehem and wise men who brought gifts to the infant saviour. Such details have strong links to Old Testament symbology.
In Hebrew, the name Jesus Christ is Yeshua Hamashiach. Yeshua means deliverer or saviour and Hamashiach means Anointed One.
The final two Christian Gospels, Luke and John, were written in Greek Koine.
Scholars generally agree that when alive, Jesus spoke Aramaic, the common language of Judea at the time. However, given the descriptions of Jesus’ knowledge Jewish scriptures, it can be presumed he also knew Hebrew. Likewise, stories of Jesus interacting with Gentiles (anyone who is not Jewish) suggest he was familiar with the Greek language.
During the first few centuries of Christianity, writings were copied and collections were gathered at a several locations, most significantly, Alexandria, Egypt.
The convention of writing Christian documents in the codex, parchment that was bound like modern books, began in the second century and completely replaced scrolls in the fourth century.
In recent history, a person hand wrote the bible using a felt-tipped marker and it took them four years, sometimes writing fourteen hours a day to complete. Hence, given the effort involved in producing a bible, it is understandable how precious and special the manuscripts were considered to be.
St Jerome (c.347 – 419/20), a Christian priest, theologian, and historian translated the Bible into Latin, which became known as the Vulgate. Jerome added six additional chapters to the bible which included prayers and stories. The convention of writing in Latin was similar to Old Hebrew and Old Greek, however, some indications of punctuation like spaces between sentences were beginning to be introduced. (For background information about other founders see Who Were the Early Church Fathers?.)
The accuracy in which the Bible was copied and translated is a contentious issue. For instance, did the evolution of grammar impact meaning and symbolism? (See Did the White Horseman have a bow, bow, or bow? for an example.) Did Jerome accurately translate the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts into Latin? Or were there anomalies like what occurred with the name of birds when the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek? For instance, Early Christian art suggests the fruit that Adam and Eve ate in the Garden of Eden was a fig, however, following the Romanisation of Christianity, the apple began being presented as an apple. An explanation for this change is that the Latin word for evil, malum, is similar to their word for apple, malus. Then there is my personal favourite, Moses being depicted with horns (see Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 12 -Renaissance Artists).
Between c.600-995 the Vulgate, was the only version that Christians were allowed to use.
In the thirteenth century, Stephen Langton (c.1150 – 1228), archbishop of Canterbury, England, divided the Vulgate into chapters, numbered them, rearranged the order in accordance with Jerome’s recommendations several centuries earlier. This development represents a significant shift in technical codes of written language. Spaces between words, capital letters, and the presentation of information in columns were the new norm.
Benedictine monks and nuns were significant producers of hand written copies of the bible and other ancient texts. Elaborate pictures and decorations graced the pages giving rise to the tradition of Illuminated manuscripts (see below).
11th century – Gospel Book with Commentaries, Byzantium, Constantinople. Source: Wikipedia Commons
When Johannes Gutenberg (c1400-1468), a German blacksmith, invented the printing press in the 1440s, the bible was the first book that he published. It was written in Latin, in 42-line columns; it had no title page or page numbers, thus resembling Gothic-style hand written copies.
In 1491 the first pocket-sized bible was produced, which was dubbed the poor man’s bible. It was printed in small font, had a subject index, a summary of the books and their contents, and it was illustrated with woodcuts inspired by Durer’s work. (Durer is the first artist who ever had to contend with copyright issues in printed media.)
In the early 1500s, Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) played a significant role in instigating the beginning of the Reformation – a movement of reform arising from accusations that the Roman Church was corrupt. Part of this process was Luther’s translation of the bible into German in 1522. This era also saw a flooding of new iconography that was produced by artists and dispersed via the printing press (for more details see here and here.)
Title woodcut for the 1541 of Martin Luther’s German Bible. Source: Wikipedia Commons
A few years later, an English version of the bible was mass-produced. The main translator was William Tyndale (c.1494–1536) who used Hebrew and Greek references. Tyndale’s translation did not meet a warm reception in England where they were banned and burned. He was accused of deliberately mistranslating scripture and supporting heretical views. For example, he changed the word “priest” to “senior”, “do penance” to “repent”, and “charity” to “love”. Potentially, the most controversial of his word changing was “church” to “congregation”. The Catholic Church had maintained for centuries that there was only one true church, themselves. Therefore, to imply that the church was an invisible structure of people was considered unacceptable. Tyndale was charged with heresy and sentenced to death, he was strangled and burned on a stake – this was often a common fate of anyone who challenged the authority of the Holy Roman Empire.
Despite the initial rejection of Tyndale’s translation, a few decades later, it was referenced, along with Hebrew and Greek, to create the Great Bible that was printed in 1539. Under King Henry VIII, England had split off from Popal rule and was establishing the Church of England. The Great Bible is considered to mark the beginning of Early modern English. Codes and conventions of printed material that we know today are evident in the page layout, numbering of verses, headings, and chapter titles.
The evolution of codes and conventions in the technical production of printing very much coincides with language development and issues of symbolic expression. A Bible printed in 1609 expresses the concerns of people with its title page (which by this stage had become a feature of printed material) that reads:
“THE HOLIE BIBLE / FAITHFVLLY TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH OVT OF THE AVTHENTICAL LATIN / Diligently conferred with the Hebrew, Greece, and other Editions in diuers (different) languages. / With ARGVMENTS of the Bookes, and Chapters / ANNOTATIONS: TABLES: and other helpes, for better underſtanding of text: for diſcouerie (discovery) of CORRVPTIONS in ſome late transſlations: and for clearing CONTROVERIES in Religion”.
Note: During the 1300s to the 1600s “u” was only used in the middle of words, e.g. save was saue; “v” was used for “u” sound, e.g, upon was vpon; and “w” was two “v” joined together so “w” makes a long “u” sound, e.g. new. Printing eventually standardised all of these issues. English is a challenging language to learn because it was developed as a conglomerate of influences from many languages and therefore has a lot of variation in rules which means a lot has to be learned by rote and remembered.
In 1611, the bible was once again produced with an impetus on authenticity by King James who commissioned its production. Its production involved the removal of the chapters which Jerome added in 384 that were considered to be heretical and became known as the Apocrypha (meaning not genuine).
The King James Version of the Bible has become the standard of all modern bibles. While there have been many translations since then, the issues of codes and conventions in its presentation as a media product have become second to the relevance of symbolic codes used in the language.
Alongside changes in presentation formats, the use of figurative speech has also changed dramatically. The retranslation of terms such as “house” into “home” or “household” can have significance repercussions on interpretations. For example, King James Version of Proverbs 14:1 reads:
Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.
The Brenton Septuagint Translation written English in 1844 reads:
Wise women build houses: but a foolish one digs hers down with her hands.
The New Living Translation written 1989 – 1996, reads:
A wise woman builds her home, but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands.
The International Standard Version written in 2011 reads:
Every wise woman builds up her household, but the foolish one tears it down with her own hands
By examining different versions of the Bible (like on Bible Hub) it can be noted that the King James Version and Brenton Septuagint Translation both contain impressions of the tradition figurative speech as it would have been told 2000 odd years ago. On the other hand, versions like the New Living Translation and International Standard Version have been altered in such a way that it appears verses (like above) have been interpreted literally, that is the “wife” or “woman” is not representative of a theological construct, rather, as a real biological female. (Biblical figurative speech is discussed in more detail here and here.)
Given that the Jewish framework of God’s House places “daughters” above “sons” it is not strictly a patriarchal model. Thus, it can be argued that some contemporary interpretations of the Christian Bible are more misogynistic than Early Christianity intended.
Issues could also be raised in the how a “woman” (or “women”) metaphorically pull down their house/home/household via the differing adjectives of plucketh, digs, or tears.
Are contemporary Christian Bibles an accurate replication of the original? Personally, I am amazed at how much has been preserved, nonetheless, it is vital to recognise the impact that the evolution of language, customs, and media production processes have had on the Christian’s Holy Scriptures. The application of media codes and conventions sits somewhere between wanting to maintain a sense of stability so as audiences can connect with what is familiar, and gradual change in accordance with sociocultural values, interests, and technology.
In summary, over the past two thousand years, the Bible has evolved from a document handwritten on papyrus scrolls to a mass-produced book that is organised with features that include, a cover, title page, index, chapters, verse numbers, page numbers, and columed writing. The first editions were created in a combination of Hebrew and Greek Koine script, which were succeeded by Latin. Every translation into another language, including latter versions in German, English, and so forth, have presented many challenges and raise questions about the original authors’ intentions. Contemporary Bibles are now easily accessible in digital forms, which is a far cry from its humble beginnings.
As I’ve said before, the Bible may be the inspired Word of God, but the interpretation of its symbolism is a very human activity, moreover, Bible interpretation is nuanced by cultural and historical contexts of its production.
Dr Roy Murphy provides an insightful discussion about additional Christian writings and Gospels that did not make the final cut of the Holy Roman version of the Bible that can be found here: The Lost Gospels.
Christianity began as a cult in the Mediterranean region in c.30CE. Dr Richard Carrier (author of On the Historicity of Jesus) describes the movement as beginning as a breakaway Jewish sect that incorporated elements from the other cultures, namely, the Greeks. To most Christians, the founder of their religion was Jesus, a man from Nazareth, who preached to crowds and individuals. The evolution of Christian faith then continued via many others who shared Christianity with others. There were many people involved in this process, however, some key personalities who stand out. The following is a snapshot of some of the patriarchs who help mould the characteristics of the Christian Church.
Image by Karyna Mykytiuk, Licence – Creative Commons
Valentinus (c.100 – 160) was an Egyptian born philosopher who studied at Alexandria and is known for his gnostic approach to Christianity. He spent several years in Rome where he spread his ideas about Jesus and Mary being symbolic of spiritual forms, not literal people; his ideas were largely based upon Platonic thought. Valentinus was labeled a heretic, however, his gnostic teachings endured through his disciples who formed Christian groups.
Justin Martyr (c.100 – 165) was born in Rome and raised by pagan parents; prior to converting to Christianity he received training in Stoicism, Pythagorean, and Platonic philosophies. He rejected most Greek philosophy claiming them to be partial truths, whereas Christianity was the complete truth, which most closely aligned with some of Plato’s ideas. Dialogue with Trypho is Justin’s most renown work, in which he relies heavily upon Jewish scripture in an attempt to demonstrate Christianity is the truest philosophy. (More about Martyr’s explanations of Christianity can be found in: Theology of Early Christianity as described by Justin Martyr: Was he deliberately harmonising Jewish and Ancient Greek philosophy?)
Irenaeus (c.120/140 – 200/203) was born in Lyon, France. He went on to become the bishop of Lyon and his theological work focused on refuting gnosticism (i.e., that the story of Jesus was purely symbolic), notably in his work titled Adversus Haereses (Against heresies). His work went on to be highly influential at Nicene council discussions that rejected gnosticism.
Origen (c.184 – 253CE) was born into Christian family in Alexandria and his father was prosecuted for his faith which meant Origen was left to support his mother and younger siblings. He followed a Platonic view in which he perceived scripture to be founded upon a threefold nature of humans as body, soul, and spirit. In early Christianity Origen was a leading figure, however, his following the Platonic view of the pre-existence of souls later become a contributing factor to being labelled a heretic. Origen’s devotion to Christ was great, so much so he is believed to have self-castrated to avoid feelings of lust towards women.
Athanasius of Alexandria (c.296/7/8 – 373CE) was an Egyptian priest who lived by ascetic values. He objected to Arianism, the belief that God existed before Jesus, which caused great tensions amongst other Christians. He attended the council of Niceane and played a prominent role in establishing what would become an orthodox attitude towards the trinity, the belief that God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus were one and always had been. Isaac Newton was highly of Athanasius and suspected he was responsible for forging scriptures to suit his personal beliefs (see: Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 11 – A Return to Aristotle (Or Did We Ever Leave?))
Priscillian (c.335-385CE) was a Roman Christian with strong ascetic values. He became bishop of Ávila (Spain) in 380, however was accused of sorcery in 385 and was executed. Priscillian views were influenced by Gnosticism and Manicheans, and his support of Arianism was looked down upon. Jerome was a harsh critic of his followers, the Priscillianists.
Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430CE) was born in the Roman province of Thagaste, Africa. Prior to fully embracing Christianity, Augustine spent nine years in a cult known as the Manichees which was established by a (charismatic) leader called Mani who preached doctrines that were an amalgamation of Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Christianity. Manichees beliefs included the notion that if a fig-tree was plucked it would cry tears, but if a Manichee ate the fig then the true God’s essence that was bound within it would be free. Augustine mocks himself for believing such foolish things and his writings express a zealous devotion to Christianity once he converted, however, it is worthy to note that Manichaeism theology has strong views about the world being made up of good and evil; themes that were incorporated into mainstream Christianity.
Augustine was particularly influential in refining Christian theology, which is sometimes perceived as being due to adapting Greek thought to Christian teachings. Ironically, in Augustine’s writings titled The Confessions he reports not enjoying learning Greek writing, reading, arithmetic, and the stories of Homer, but he thoroughly embraced learning Latin. Hence, it may be a case that he harmonised Greek thought through the Latin version thereof.
Augustine is classified as Neoplatonic, being more impartial to Platonic thought, as reflected in his theological belief that men and women were created equal in the eyes of god, inclusive of rational soul qualities. Although, Augustine did not completely dismiss Aristotle, and his alliance with Aristotle on some matters was followed by medieval theologians like Aquinas.
Jerome (347 – 419/420) was born in a Roman province, which is now modern day Croatia. He is best known as the translator of the Bible into Latin. Additionally he translated 14 of Origen’s homilies, made pilgrimages through Palestine and Egypt, and he is credited, like Augustine, with transmuting Greek thought to the west.
Pelagius (c.354 – 418CE) was born in the Roman British Isles and died in Palestine. He was educated in Greek and Latin. He was a theologian who advocated free will and asceticism. Pelagius is also reported to have challenged the idea that a man was to be held responsible for Adam’s sin. His beliefs were at odds with his contemporaries, Augustine and Jerome, both of whom criticised Pelagis. Pelagis gained a substantial following, especially in Carthage, however, he was also accused of heresy.
Looking at the above mentioned individuals, it quickly becomes apparent that there is no “pure” or “true” Christian tradition. The cultures, lived experiences, and educational backgrounds of the Church founders were often at odds with each other. Hence, it was through debates and accusations of heresy that characteristics of the Christian faith emerged. Further, Christianity spread via the assimilation of beliefs, rituals, customs, and symbols from various cultures, existing religions, and philosophies.
Alberto Ferreiro. Simon Magus and Priscillian in the ‘Commonitorium’ of Vincent of Lérins. Vigiliae Christianae 1995; 49: 180–188.
The following references is not a complete list of all the sources I used to create this blog series. To include all the reference material I’ve looked at over the past few years would be an exceedingly long list of about a thousand entries. Rather, this reference list is designed more to give a general indication of where others can look if they want to look up some of the key themes that I’ve mentioned. I’ve also listed the sources of images that I used, which are mostly from Wikipedia because that is a reliable source for non copyrighted pictures; I have not relied upon Wikipedia for content.
Dyble, M., Salali, G. D., Chaudhary, N., Page, A., Smith, D., Thompson, J., Vinicius, L., Mace, R., & Migliano, A. B. (2015). Sex equality can explain the unique social structure of hunter-gatherer bands. Science, 348(6236), 796–798. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aaa5139
Jackson, L. (1995). Witches, wives and mothers: witchcraft persecution and women’s confessions in seventeenth-century England. Women’s History Review, 4(1), 63–84. https://doi.org/10.1080/09612029500200075
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Lupo, K. D., & Schmitt, D. N. (2002). Upper Paleolithic Net-Hunting, Small Prey Exploitation, and Women’s Work Effort: A View from the Ethnographic and Ethnoarchaeological Record of the Congo Basin. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 9(2), 147–179. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20177458
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Schiebinger, L. (1986). Skeletons in the Closet: The First Illustrations of the Female Skeleton in Eighteenth-Century Anatomy. Representations, 14, 42–82. https://doi.org/10.2307/2928435
Skoglund, P., Malmström, H., Raghavan, M., Storå, J., Hall, P., Willerslev, E., Gilbert, M. T. P., Götherström, A., & Jakobsson, M. (2012). Origins and Genetic Legacy of Neolithic Farmers and Hunter-Gatherers in Europe. Science, 336(6080), 466–469. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41584659
Tralau, J. (2017). Cannibalism, Vegetarianism, and the Community of Sacrifice: Rediscovering Euripides’ Cretans and the Beginnings of Political Philosophy. Classical Philology, 112(4), 435–455. https://doi.org/10.1086/694569
What I have written in this series is true and accurate to the best of my current knowledge. As I learn more, my opinions and viewpoints may change. Others are welcome to disagree with my conclusions. In such cases, I’m interested in hearing information from additional sources that may help to improve and/or expand my understandings.
As many have said, knowledge is power. I feel empowered by what I have learned through my research into occult symbols. Like my interpretation of Durer’s Melancholia, I once felt overwhelmed and crowded by symbols that I thought I *ought* to know. Now, life feels more like a journey of in which I’m free to create my own path opposed to feeling like I need to discover set milestones and met a specific destination. Feelings. They are important.
For many people, my realisation that teachings of love are at the heart of Christianity will be of no surprise. For thousands of years, people have gathered together, praying, given thanks, and practiced Love. For me the journey has been different. I had to dissect ancient symbols from the Bible and elsewhere. I had to pull them all apart, examine their shape, form, colour, texture, and tone, and see what was inside. I needed to check my psychology books and the latest neuroscience studies. I was convinced that I needed to use my mind to work out the riddles and intellectualise the symbols before coming to a firm conclusion of their meaning. But I finally get it, some symbols can only being understood by emotional experience. Love needs to be felt, not intellectualised.
I’ve come to the conclusion that blending Love with the Creative impulse is what matters most in life. The Bible says God is our Creator and that our Creator greatest gift is Love. The Bible also says we are made in his image. Love and Creation. I think my mind could ponder upon these concepts for a lifetime, maybe more.
Throughout my posts, I have been very critical of the Roman Catholic Church. I have used it as the centre piece to explain patriarchal dominance and the damage it can create (especially if blended with religious ideology), but it is by no means the only cult that encourages misogyny that has become a culture. But it is my culture. It was the cult I was raised in. It is what I can speak about with authenticity. (Scholars of other faiths are better positioned to speak authenticity about their experiences and insights, e.g., Sachiko Murata, author of The Tao of Islam.)
Do I feel like my “parents” lied to me about some of the meanings of symbolic gestures, just like my son felt lied to when he found out Santa Claus was not real? Yes, I do feel lied to. Can the Catholic Church ever be trusted? Yes, I think it can. To explain, I need to first tell of an experience I had when working in a government school over ten years ago.
I was required to teach a woodwork class. This was fine, I have university level training in woodwork (which I was required to show the school’s technology coordinator; note, this is the only school in which I have every been asked to prove my qualifications, and I suspect this coordinator never asked the same of male teachers … in fact I know some of the male teachers in the technology department did not have qualifications in woodwork). The class was all boys, 15-16 years olds. In the second lesson, one of them said: “Shouldn’t we be teaching you woodwork?”
“Why?” I asked him. I knew what he was implying but I wanted to see how brazen he was.
“Because you’re a woman and we are males!” He said with confidence, and the whole class burst into laughter.
I was shocked that he could be so blatantly sexist.
The student was reprimanded by the female vice principal. But the problem didn’t stop there. Sexism never stops at just one comment. The boys refused to listen to me. To them, the fact that I had female genitals seemed to equal no brain or skills in woodwork. It was the toughest semester of teaching I’ve ever endured. I began to question my identity and self worth. Was I being true to my femininity by teaching woodwork? I’d asked myself this question while doing my teacher training but seeing as I was within an environment of twenty or so other female woodwork teachers, it was a no brainer. Further, on my teaching rounds and in other brief wood working teaching roles, my gender had not been an issue. Now, however, I would walk into classes almost shaking because I knew if I made any slip ups, like using the drill without pre-checking the last person hadn’t left in reverse then it would not be seen as simple error that anyone could make, it would be seen as an excuse to ridicule me for being female. I had some support from a few male colleagues, but there were also a couple of staff members who were closet chauvinists who sided with the boys.
A few years later, I was offered a position teaching woodwork at a Catholic boys school. I wanted to take it because it was closer to home than my current position (which was at an Islamic school; I loved teaching at the Islamic school but it was 1.5 hours away from my home), but I feared being subjected to the same abuse I’d encountered at the government school, so I told the agency who offered me the position that I didn’t think I could take the position. I was encouraged to go to the interview anyway before completely rejecting the offer. As soon as I entered the school, which was the first time I’d entered a Catholic school since being a teenage student (I left half way through year nine due to bullying issues), I felt a since of warmth that I was not expecting. The vice principal met me with a grin and said: “I heard you’re worried about teaching woodwork to boys. Don’t worry they are used to it, the woodwork teacher you’re filling for is female. If you have any issues, we’ll deal with it.”
I took the position and I’m glad I did. It was one of the most amazing teaching experiences I’ve ever had. All the staff were supportive, not just to me, but to each other. People listened to each other with compassion and every effort was made to ensure I did not experience any sexist attitudes from the students. I was made to feel welcome every day I entered the buildings. Full truth be told, while I was teaching at the school, I was also dealing with an uterine tumour. A few weeks before the end of my contract I was told the tumour might be cancerous. I contemplated keeping the news from my colleagues, but I didn’t. The technology coordinator on more than one occasion had openly mentioned that himself and many members of his immediate family had faced the challenge of overcoming cancerous tumours. He’d also freely said that a workplace was a person’s main social outlet, therefore, if people weren’t able to open with those they worked with, then most of lives were lived in a state of pretentiousness. When I told him of my predicament, he gave me one of the most sincere hugs I’ve ever experienced. Gone were the hierarchal titles of coordinator and teacher, contract worker and permanent staff. It was a human to human interaction of compassion. I’d finished my contact by the time I’d found out the tumour was benign but he was on the list of people I had to tell my good news to. I learned a valuable lesson: love requires openness, authenticity, and vulnerability in order to be shared. (My studies of trauma confirm this to be true, namely, due to Brené Brown work on shame and vulnerability.)
I loved the experience of teaching at an all boys school so much that I looked for more opportunities to do so. For my second time employed at a Catholic boys school I was required to teach art, however, the school did have a female teacher in their technology department. Once again, I felt like I was in a supportive environment. Likewise, in other Catholic schools I’ve worked at that have been co-educational or all girls, I have been met with what my technical mind would describe as trauma-informed environments, albeit they did not call themselves that. Some of the examples of charity and care that I’ve witnessed in Catholic education are so moving they’ll stay with me forever. For example, I witnessed another staff member having a break down to which the leadership went above and beyond to support them, and at a school with a high number of refuges, we were given professional development about the war and Sudanese culture so as us we could better understand the children we were teaching. None of these schools expected or demanded that the students be Catholic, it was all done in the name of love.
If by chance, my writings reach the Vatican, then I hope that the Pope responds with the word “sorry”. The issues I have brought up, such the hidden sexist Aristotelian influence in theology, not allowing women access to an education, and not being forthright about the meaning of symbols, are all things done in the past but the repercussions are still felt today. Forgiveness is an aspect of love. Forgiveness comes after confessions of transgressions. The Catholic Church knows this. Perhaps the Pope has been waiting for someone to confront the Church about its transgressions before apologising?
As most people know, Catholic schools have had a bad wrap because of historical sexual abuse allegations. In my observations this has been taken very seriously, and great efforts to protect children have been implemented. Specifically, in both boys schools that I worked at I saw explicit and implicit efforts made to ensure history did not repeat itself and that, if necessary, those affected were provided support to heal. In other words, learning from the past has occurred. The Catholic Church is not perfect, nor is it a single person or bunch of doctrines, like all religions, it a group of people.
In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI apologised in Australia for historical sexual abuse by priests and clergymen, and in do so, contributed to the improved culture within Catholic schools which I have been privy to observing. In a similar vein, the Australian government has apologised for the abusive treatment of First Nation People; this did not change the past but it has helped to redirect the future in such away that active measures are being to taken to ensure support is offered to heal the collective trauma. The anecdotal evidence is clear, apologies from leadership help set the tone for followers to re-evaluate their own beliefs, attitudes, assumptions, and behaviours, and prevent further abuses.
Until the atrocities of the Church’s past are recognised and apologised for, moving ahead is challenging. However, it must be made clear that Christianity and/or the Catholic Church are not necessarily the adverse influence. If an “enemy” must be identified, then that entity is Roman culture, a culture that began as a small cult of people who occupied a very small region of Italy, Rome, in 500BC. Most of Ancient Italy was dominated by the Etruscans; a culture that had values that emulated gender egalitarian. In fact Ancient Greeks of the Classical era were shocked that Etruscan women had as many freedoms as Etruscan men. The Etruscans were a fun loving culture with sincere family values that can still be found amongst contemporary Italians. (My research suggests Greeks adopted patriarchy along with many other beliefs from the Persians; the Mesopotamian region has a long history of patriarchal leadership that stems back to the Sumerian era.)
Over the span of a few hundred years, Roman’s took control of western civilisations by rebranding and reinventing many facets of other cultures. A pinnacle point was when they seized a Phoenician boat (Hebrew’s called the Phoenicians Canaanites), took it apart, then rebuilt it with improved engineering. By doing so they were to able to win water battles against the Phoenicians and decimate Carthage. Winning the wars (called the Punic wars, 264 – 146 BC) gave the Romans leverage and paved the way for them to dominate the Mediterranean region. I’m not sure how to feel about this. The people of Carthage were sacrificing children to their Gods, a practice despised by Romans, Greeks, Hebrews, and many others, including myself. But was it necessary to wipe out a culture that demanded human sacrifices? Or was it possible to persuaded the Carthaginians to stop murdering their babies by another means? Anyway, that’s not what happened, and Roman’s went on to slaughter thousands of people, including Etruscans, Druids, Celts, Gauls, and others who may or may not have practiced human sacrifices.
Whenever the Roman’s took over a populated region, they would take apart all that they considered to be of value. Basically, they’d reverse engineer then put things back together with a Roman touch. They did this to physical objects (like Phoenician boats and Greek architecture) and to conceptual objects, like Greek literature, hence, Zeus became Jupiter, Hera became Juno, Poseidon became Neptune, Aphrodite became Venus, and so forth. The Roman versions are not completely equivalent to the Greek; the Greek concepts took on Roman attributes and values, but history doesn’t always make that distinction clear (for example, the myth of Narcissus is often referred to a a Greek myth but it was written by a Roman, Ovid, who studied Greek literature then emulated the style in Latin). Likewise, when Emperor Constantine took over Christianity, the attributes and values of Early Christianity became Romanised.
It is not always easy to pierce through the Roman coating of Christianity; it’s armour is thick but not completely impenetrable. By the way, the tradition of knights, as in Christian knights, with armour and all that stuff, began with Roman equestrian cavalry. Likewise, contemporary ideals of romance also stem from Roman culture, i.e., courting rituals of the Romans were regarded as being perfect, hence, to be “roman”-tic was to behave like a Roman. And, Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, etc.), you guessed it, evolved from the Roman language of Latin.
Roman culture has its merits. Hence, it has endured for over two thousand years. Romans had a knack for reworking the best of cultures, albeit, by adapting and readapting the ideas of others they could be considered professional plagiarisers. Or they could be considered to be innovators, artists or creators who built upon existing knowledge to form new ideas, inventions, and ways of doing things. Whether or not all Roman versions of things are better than the original may come down to matter of opinions and/or a realisation that history is made up of people, and people do not fit into neat categories of absolutes.
The Roman Empire has been crumbling into a slow demise for a very long time – the Western Roman Empire began to fall in 395, sparked by battles with the Visigoths, and Eastern Roman Empire fell in 1453, due to battles with Muslims. The Latin language is a dead but Rome lives on in many other forms
Is it fair of me to lump the majority of patriarchal sins and Christianity’s transgressions upon a a group of people and a culture that has diminished? Maybe, maybe not. Or maybe the Roman Empire has finally fallen because the majority of people, people of all genders who have access to education, no longer support Roman values?
It is very difficult for one to leave the cult that they are born into, moreover, the culture that is most familiar to them. About ten years ago, I was fortunate to be able to do a couple of brief visits to Europe as a tourist. High on my priority list was visiting Catholic sites of significance, like the Vatican and various cathedrals. I wanted to see these places even though I’d officially left my Catholicism behind in 1993 when I stopped attending regular mass services. One of the things that stood out for me while traveling was how at “home” I felt in Italy. I have no Italian relatives and apart from a few Italian words that I learned in primary school, technically I have no connection to the country. Therefore, I suspect my bond had something to do with my of awe of the artworks, artefacts, and architecture that I’d appreciated from a far for a very long time. Then and now, I have an uneasy feeling about how they were funded (indulgence revenue), nonetheless, I cannot imagine a world without the masterpieces of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, Tintoretto, Botticelli, Caravaggio, Donatello, Titian, and many more. When push comes to shove, I do not wish to see the destruction of Catholicism, but I do hope the Church has the courage to look back upon its past and take steps away from hierarchical doctrines and move towards embracing the core principle of Early Christianity: Love.
At the start of this series of blogs I described my passion for art, history, and psychology that drove me to conduct in-depth research. Now, I must make a final confession. I have had an alternate motive. I have a loved one who is ensnared in a destructive cult. They have been told many lies. Amidst the cult leader’s claims, is that they are teaching the doctrines of Early Christians. The cult does not affiliate themselves with any organised order, however, the characteristics of their leader are recognisable in many Christian cults across time and cultures. This particular cult leader claims their interpretation of Biblical symbolism is more true than any others. I can see how they got it all wrong. History is full of examples of people who have done likewise.
How can this cult leader be judged as a false prophet, a wolf in sheep’s clothings? Simple, their theology and associated doctrines cause harm. They do not put love and healing in the forefront of their teachings. Specifically, they interpret symbols too literally, like blood and disease. They think that to honour God, real blood ties must be broken, and they overlook the role of the nervous system in healing. Further, they interpret the Book of Revelation to be about the end of the world because they do not see that the horseman with a cloak dipped in blood is a cloak dipped in love. The Book of Revelation is not an apocalypse, despite the face value of some of the symbols. When the space between the objects are seen then the Book of Revelation is a document of hope, it prophecies love conquering evil.
Loosing my loved one from my life has turned my world upside down and inside out. In my desire to understand how it happened, I was compelled to reexamine things I thought knew but as it turned out, I did not know as much as I thought I did. Above all, I’ve had to re-examine my beliefs and my faith; moreover, where these came from.
To say one must drink blood the blood of Jesus in order to have salvation, is a curious thing. But when I silence my mind and sit in quiet contemplation, I become consciously aware of the sensation of blood circulating through my body and the functioning of my heart, and then I get this feeling that makes me wonder, how else is one supposed to describe the complexities of love?
A human seeing love is saved and their victory that lasts forever.
Appropriation of Isaiah 45:17 by Renée
To my dear loved one, I dedicate all my research and these writings.
As psychologist Terrence William Deacon says, humans are a symbolic species. Across communication forms we use symbols to convey complex meanings. At an iconic level, symbols are easy to interpret, however, at an advanced level, they are difficult and cannot be understood without education.
Woodcut illustration from an edition of Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia, 1582
For most of human history, education has been a privilege only few have had access to. Mostly, but not always, it has been men who have dominated systems of learning. Knowledge was hidden from most of the population, and virtually all women, hence it is no surprise that once literacy levels began to increase there was a surge of interest in what was unknown, forgotten, or occult. The learning of hidden symbols has a mystical quality to it, especially when considered in relation to religious examples.
All religions use symbols to explain theology, perform rituals, and express faith; that is simply human nature. At face value, the term occult is benign, as it reflects the notion that complex symbolism is hidden until an initiate is educated to knowledge; however, over the years the word has picked up negative connotations. The Catholic Church has been one of the main players in contributing to the idea that religious practices that use symbols with hidden meanings are evil; although, this appears to be biased because hidden Church symbols are considered to be Holy.
Ultimately, whether or not a religious group, that is a cult, is destructive or beneficial needs to be assessed in accordance with whether or not practitioners are harmed or healed, not the symbols that they use.
It is only in very recent history (the past few decades) that things have really begun to change, especially in terms of most people of all genders having access to basic education. As time progresses, there is probably going to be a lot of hidden knowledge that is unearthed. For example, a lost city of Egypt has recently been discovered near Luxor and new Greek treasures found at the temple of Artemis. Advanced research technologies and access to information via the internet are facilitating a new form of Renaissance, the likes of which we probably cannot fully fathom until several more years into the future.
Humans have a long history of being fascinated with the supernatural, the unseen, the spiritual. The tenants of such beliefs need to be viewed alongside and intertwined with examinations of symbolism. Contemporary psychology research supports the hypothesis that the meaning of any symbol is only as powerful as that which humans give it. And how much power a person attributes to a symbol needs to be assessed in conjunction with their personal beliefs, cultural influences, and historical context.
Trying to interpret symbols out of the historical and cultural context of their makers is to re-tell a new story. Sometimes it is fine to do so, other times it can lead to great error, like mistakingly thinking that Cleopatra really wore a corset (reference: Giambattista Tiepolo The Banquet of Cleopatra, 1743-1744). In modern media studies, awareness of visual communication often comes under the discipline of Codes and Conventions. To put it briefly, these are written and symbolic devices used to convey meaning. Mass media work by specified codes; artists can use mass media codes and conversations or they may invent their own symbolism.
Symbols have the capacity to unite people and evoke a sense of belonging through their shared meanings. Symbols can also confuse and isolate people if they are not privy to the visual code that others are using. On this note, there is an element of fun and intrigue in cracking so-called occult symbolism.
And lastly, sometimes, the meanings of symbols can appear hidden but really, it could just be a question of Can You See the Turtles?
Up until this point, religious institutions had dominated education, with the exception of Germany which mandated some form of state education be provided to boys from the late sixteenth century. In other places around Europe and Australia, state run education was introduced in a piecemeal fashion throughout the 1800s, albeit, initially boys were expected to attend and girls were not. By roughly the beginning of the 1900s education was mostly mandatory for both genders, however, some subjects (like woodwork and advanced sciences) were solely for boys and other subjects (like needlework and cooking) were solely for girls. As for women entering universities, to do so was still an exception thwarted with challenges. Certain fields of study, like medicine, were specifically off limits. For example, in 1900 Italy, Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952) had to get written permission from the Pope in order to study to become a doctor.
Montessori was Italy’s first female physician. Her speciality area was children with disabilities and in addition to caring for their physical health, she observed that practical craft and art activities helped them. She went on to study philosophy and psychology, then developed an education system based on her scientific-based observations of child development. Montessori believed that lack of support for children was the cause of delinquency. Further, when children were placed in environments appropriate for their age, they developed as individuals with reduced personality issues and a healthy social conscience. Montessori education continues today and is considered to be a holistic approach that recognises a child’s whole being, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Montessori was nominated for a Nobel prize in three consecutive years prior to her death.
It strikes me as odd that women have long been typecast as natural mother’s and experts in raising children, but when a woman trained professionally in that area, her scientific skills and observations went unrecognised by academia. I wonder if that is because universities have a tradition of being boys clubs?
By the 1900s Aristotle based education had mostly been abandoned, however, not entirely. An ex-priest by the name of Franz Brentano (1839-1917) became a Doctor of Philosophy on account of his thesis about Aristotle. Why is Brentano significant? Because amongst his many students who went on to become renowned in the psychology field was Sigmund Freud. Brentano introduced Aristotle to Freud. Freud then went on to appropriate many of Aristotle’s ideas (see Is Aristotle Overrated?).
In Freud, we potentially see the most obscure and outrageous claims of symbols having hidden meanings. Freud, however, was not creative nor did he demonstrate higher order critical thinking skills when it came to giving new meaning to symbols. Instead, he insisted that all elongated objects were references to penises and all objects with an opening were references to vaginas. Needless to say, his interpretations totally lack research into historical and cultural contexts in which symbols were made. To put it mildly, he was equivalent to an art therapist insisting that a small figure in a corner of the page was indicative of low self esteem without giving regard to the art maker’s intentions of wanting room to move.
Despite obvious flaws in his theories, Freud went on to be the founding cult leader of psychoanalysis. Many of his followers were also interested in occultism and viewed Freud’s explanations of hidden meanings in art, dreams, literature, and other creative expressions to be truisms that had been lost in time. Personally, if Freud was a student in one of my Art history classes, I would fail him.
Food for though: In my casual observations as a teacher, I have noted that people seem to view Montessori as being some airy-fairy, new age education system, and conversely, they view Freud as being a man of science. However, when the theories of child development are compared, there is a lot more evidence to suggest Freud was the ungrounded, airy-fairy one, and Montessori was a practical minded scientist.
The industrial revolution brought new challenges to humans. As machines gradually replaced the work once done by village artisans and commercial agricultural methods reduced the need for small farm crops, both genders became displaced. At the same time, middle class men began objecting to not being able to have a say in political matters. In England, in 1780 only 3% of the population were on the electoral roll. Inspired by the French Revolution (1789), men’s suffrage began, however, it was not successful till late in the nineteenth century, and women over thirty were only given voting privileges in 1918. Comparatively, Australia was more advanced with all men having voting rights in the 1850s and women in 1902.
Alongside occupational and political changes was the phenomenon of more and more people moving from rural areas to the cities. In turn, literacy became an issue, especially if a person wanted a blue collar job. By the end of the nineteenth century, about 60% of the population were literate. Within all the social changes, was the Age of Enlightenment (1715 – 1789), a period marked by a cultural shift from superstitions to rationalisations based on scientific evidence. Thus, feminism emerged.
In the art world, Renaissance standards had given way to Mannerism, Barque, Rocco, and Neoclassicism had started. During this time female artists became more accepted. France led the way, namely through Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842) and Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899).
Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun
Le Brun was the daughter of a portraitist painter, Louis Vigée. By the time she was in her early teens, Le Brun was painting portraits professionally, however, she got into trouble at one stage for practicing as an artist without a license, and consequently her studio was seized by authorities. Not realising that they had exhibited the work of a woman, the Académie de Saint-Luc, felt obliged to give her a license.
Le Brun created a name for herself by serving as the portrait painter to Marie Antoinette – The last queen of France before the revolution. She created 660 portraits and 200 landscapes.
In 1787, Le Brun created a social scandal with her painting of Self Portrait with Daughter, Julia.
Le Brun, Self Portrait with Daughter, Julia, 1787
Source: Wikipedia Commons
How could such a seemingly harmless painting create a scandal? Answer: a smile. Le Brun’s rendering of her teeth was perceived as an insult to art’s long standing tradition of not showing teeth in a portrait. One critic claimed: “An affectation which artists, art-lovers and persons of taste have been united in condemning, and which finds no precedent among the Ancients, is that in smiling, [Madame Vigée LeBrun] shows her teeth.”
Seemingly unperturbed, Le Brun continued to paint portraits with teeth.
The Le Brun scandal highlights the notion that art history has many unspoken rules. Given that such rules are unspoken, they are difficult to identify.
Bonheur’s family background may be described as alternative. Her father was a Saint-Simonian Socialist and he believed all wealth should be shared because all people were equal – except personal property – this was mainly directed to hereditary systems such as royalty. He also believed girls were worth as much value as boys and should be raised the same way. They wanted a society based on love, with no war or class distinctions. The Saint-Simonian philosophy also included the belief that a new saviour would come in the form of a woman.
Like Le Brun, Bonheur’s father was a painter and he taught his daughter. Her favourite subject matter were horses and other animals. In order to work in comfort, Bonheur preferred wearing trousers instead of dresses; to do so required getting a permit or else she would be fined.
Enforcing ideals of femininity and beauty through policed dress codes has a long history. For instance, the hiding of women’s faces with veils became vague in Roman times (before Mohammad established Islam). A thousand or so years later, garments of peasant men and women were very similar, however, when witch-hunt mania took hold pockets were taken out of women’s clothing so as they couldn’t carry around their magic potions.
Some patriarchs assert that male dominance occurred due competence not tyranny, but as illustrated by the case of Rosa Venerini (1656 – 1728), it was tyranny not competence.
Venerini made a profound impact on developing education for women and girls in Italy. She was inspired to teach at a young age when she realised that many young women were ignorant, particularly on matters regarding Christianity. After the death of several family members she spent some time at a convent, however, only stayed a few months. A Jesuit priest, who was her spiritual adviser, convinced Venerini that her calling was to be a teacher not a nun. Venerini first opened a preschool for girls and by the end of her life had established forty schools and was the founder of the fraternity of Religious Teachers of Venerini. Initially, she faced a lot of opposition from clergy who believed it was their job to teach Church doctrine but when they saw the positive effects that educating females was having, they gave her support. Other antagonists weren’t so easy to win over and some teachers got shot at with bows and their houses set on fire. Venerini was canonised by Pope Benedict XVI on October 15, 2006.
Venerini’s story is one of great bravery. I wonder how many other women were too afraid to get involved with education because they saw their peers getting shot at with bows and their houses burned? Of course, it was not all men, but the ringleaders most certainly were male.
Source: Catholic Online
In Venice, a woman named Elena Piscopia (1646 – 1684) became the first woman to receive an academic degree from a university, and the first woman to receive a Doctor of Philosophy. Piscopia was bilingual in Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Arabic, and Hebrew, and she knew how to write music, play the harpsichord, clavichord, harp, and violin, and she was a mathematician. Initially, Piscopia attempted to complete a degree in theology, however, when Cardinal Gregorio Barbarigo, the bishop of Padua, learned of this he refused on the grounds that she was a woman and would only allow for her to get a degree in philosophy. Her oral examination required her to speak for an hour in Classical Latin on random topics selected by her assessors from the works of Aristotle; she spoke on Posterior Analytics and Physics. Piscopia was a devout christian and she divided her time between caring for the poor and in education pursuits, either learning or teaching.
It is important to pause upon Piscopia for a moment. Theology is the study of the nature of God. Catholic theology from the time of Constantine onwards was based on Aristotle’s model of men being more spiritually advance, more god-like, than women, who were considered to have a spiritual substance like that of animals (in other words, no intellect). Because of this theology, women were shut out of the discussion about theology. How could women possibly rise up to a rank of equality when there was a potent belief of their so-call inferiority hidden behind an educational glass ceiling? Then again, glass can be seen through, whereas the Aristotelian theology of gender was more like a steel wall that only men were privileged a key to access and see what was on the other side.
Maria Kirch (1670-1720) was a German astronomer who discovered a comet. Approximately 14 percent of German astronomers in the early eighteenth-century were women, however, they were not able to publish their work due to being female.
The second woman in the world to earn the degree of Doctor of Philosophy was Laura Bassi (1711 – 1778). She was an Italian physicist and, therefore, she was also the first woman to have a doctorate in science. At times, she was recognised and depicted as Minerva, the goddess of wisdom. Bassi worked at the University of Bologna where she was the first salaried woman teacher in a university, eventually becoming the first female university professor in the world. When she joined the Academy of Sciences of the Institute of Bologna in 1732 she became the first female member of a scientific establishment. Bassi was the mother of twelve children and she published yearly reports on subjects like air pressure. She was an upper class woman, therefore, childcare was more available to her than poorer people.
Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718-1799) was a Italian mathematician and philosopher of natural science. In 1738 she produced a text on calculus that made her famous.
Cristina Roccati (1732 – 1797) was an Italian physicist and poet who earned a degree at the University of Bologna (1751).
In the mid 1450s, about 30% of the population (mostly males) were literate (it was only around 5-10% who received formal education; some learned to read by other means). This figure was a small increase on previous populations.
The cultivating of new ideas via printed material during the Renaissance birthed a movement called Humanism, an outlook that gave appreciation of what it means to be human based on observations and inquiry, as opposed to looking at religion or theology for answers. Its focus on ancient philosophy centred on human ingenuity and creativity, therefore provided a basis for rejecting the rigidity of scholastic (and Aristotelian) education protocols.
Martin Luther (1483–1546) was an older member of the Humanist movement, nonetheless, he made an impact in regards to rejecting Aristotle’s ethics and challenged the Catholic church’s values, like the exchange of payment for the forgiveness of sins in indulgences and the creation of lavish architecture that housed expensive paintings and artefacts. Luther pinned a thesis outlining all his grievances against the Catholic Church to the door of a little church in Germany and in doing so gave rise to the Reformation of the Church. For over a thousand years the Roman Catholic Church had been the only denomination of Christianity, now slowly at first, many people began rejecting the Pope’s authority. After Lutherism came Church of England, Protestants, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and more.
Luther’s impact on the Church was mammoth, he did not, however, push the envelope on gender equality. A Humanist who did speak up for the plights of so-called inferior women was Sir Thomas Elyot (1490-1546). Elyot challenged the Aristotelian attitude of the feminine in a publication titled: In Defence of Good Women.
Holbein, Portrait of Sir Thomas Elyot, 1532–34
Within this melting pot of change were alterations to the Bible (for full details see History of Christian Bible Publications with References to Media Codes and Conventions). From the 400s through to the 1500s, the Bible was primarily available was the Latin, the Vulgate. The first English translation is credited to William Tyndale (1494 – 1536). Because English , as language, was still forming Tyndale had to invent some words to express ideas, like scapegoat and passover.
By the time the Kind James version of the Bible was printed in 1611, many aspects of the Bible had changed. For example, Moses lost his horns.
The image of Moses coming down from the Mount Sinai with horns on his head, was immortalised by Michaelangelo’s sculpture that was commissioned for the Tomb of Pope Julius II. For thousands of years, most Christians and Jews believed that speaking to God created this fascinating physical transformation, as per the description in the Vulgate that was written by Jerome (c.345 – 420 CE) in the fourth century. However, when renaissance scholars referenced Hebrew manuscripts, they decided this was a mistranslation. Rather than horns, it was concluded Moses came down from Mount Sinai with radiance (Exodus 34:29). The cause of this apparent error was the that in Hebrew word for “horn” was similar to the word for “radiant”.
Michelangelo, Moses, Tomb, 1505-1545
With the benefit of hindsight, the bigger picture of occultism emerging while the Christianity was moving the goal posts of Biblical language is an interesting thing to contemplate. The environment was ripe for wanna be gurus to declare their translations were right and all others wrong, however, it was not that simple. The Roman Catholics (as they became known in order to differentiate them from newer denominations) still held a significant seat of power, and through laws and inquisitions, so-called heretical beliefs could result in a person being imprisoned or put to death. Given this reality of the consequences of disagreeing with the Pope, it’s not surprising that if anyone wanted to explore an alternative belief system they had to do so in secret. Occultism’s tentacles stretched out far into realms of Christian mysticism, the Jewish Kabbalah, the Islamic Sufism, Ancient Religions, Alchemy, and more. Were there groups who turned the Christian cross upside down and prayed to Lucifer? Yes, there probably were. Were there groups who venerated Christ as a being of love and prayed for world peace? Yes, there probably were.
There is little doubt cults of all sorts emerged, led by charismatic leaders, who claimed their interpretations of symbolism, or knowledge of the ancients, or whatever angle they chose to take, was more correct than others. We have plenty of examples of such cults from antiquity through to today. The nuances of human nature include a hardwire desire to belong, and cults achieve this very well.
There is also very little doubt in my mind that one of the approaches the Catholic Church used to suppress more splintering of the Church was to label alternative philosophies as evil or heretical, thus occultism became derogatory. In my opinion, the degree to which any of these were truly evil or true, cannot be measured by doctrines alone. As described in part 2: My personal view is that if a cult prescribes any form of abusive, controlling, or trauma-inducing practices (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually), then it can rightly be defined as a destructive cult. Alternatively, if a group of people who prescribe to a shared belief system encourage positive behaviours like love, non-judgment, kindness, inclusiveness, and trauma-formed healing practices, then it is a positive cult. Within this definition is the capacity for varying degrees of negative and positive traits within cults.
A casual observation of Christianity between about 1450 and 1650 is that men were more likely to be demonised by the Church for their thoughts and beliefs, whereas women more likely to be accused of being witches.
Allegations of witchcraft basically consisted of someone being accused of being involved with supernatural activities that were not approved of by the Church. Ironically, Church history is full of stories about brave men who fought demons and dragons (like St George). But if a woman used their knowledge of herbs to heal, then they were demonised, especially if there was a tragedy like a death in childbirth. Heck, all a woman had to do was give a look of distain and they could be accused of murder, because, you know, a woman eyesight can tarnish mirrors so it’s only logical that their glance could kill someone (see Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Fairest Gender of Them All?). In order to avoid being accused of giving an evil eye, all women needed to do was stay in a perpetual state of happiness and be content in knowledge that their souls were innately inferior to men. To achieve this aim, aspiring to the impossible perfection of the Virgin Mary was encouraged.
By the end of the 1600s, the percentage of people who were literate had risen to about 47% (still mostly males).
The third category, people who explored the potential for Aristotle’s truth without giving defiant allegiance, includes people like Durer, who studied Ancient Greeks with the desire to apply their theories in practical means. His desire to explore mystical symbolism was quite overt, as already mentioned in reference to Melancholia. His representation of Biblical scenes has had profound influence on how the symbolism is interpreted (I touch upon this in Did the Whitehorseman Have a Bow, Bow, or Bow?) Durer is also an often unrecognised pioneer of contemporary iconography, with achievements including the designing of the Times New Roman font which he based upon the mathematical principles of balance and beauty as prescribed by Elucid.
Da Vinci was also driven by a desire to process and conceptualise ancient wisdom, as evidenced in the many sketchbooks he left behind. Further, in his final years, Da Vinci spent hours conversing with the King of France sharing his life time of insights. Michaelangelo also appears to have explored occult wisdom; a small indication of this comes from an entry in one of Da Vinci’s sketchbooks that records a clash the two artists had over how one should interpret Dante’s poetry. In his artworks, Michaelangelo is also reported to have subtly challenged the Church’s refusal to accept scientific knowledge by hiding images of the human brain in some of his works on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, such as Separation of Light from Darkness and The Creation of Adam. Another artist known to be familiar with ancient philosophy, is Raphael, who immortalised the atmosphere of the Renaissance era’s preoccupation with with Ancient Greek in his painting the School of Athens which was commissioned by the Vatican.
Raphael, School of Athens, 1509-11
In addition to deliberately incorporating “hidden” messages into paintings, some artists simply appropriated ancient themes. For example, in Tintoretto’s Bacchus, Venus and Ariadne, we see the depiction of of Ariadne blessing a marriage between Venus and Bacchus.
Jacopo Tintoretto, Bacchus, Venus and Ariadne, 1576-7
From a contemporary viewpoint, we may believe that Tintoretto was trying to portray an authentic rendition of the ancient stories (note: the Roman’s appropriated Greek stories left, right, and centre – the number of authentic Roman stories is minute once copies of Greek stories that had the character’s names changed to Roman deities have been accounted for). However, when it is understood that Renaissance artists were sometimes simply drawing upon ancient stories for inspiration, not imitation, the significance of storylines alters.
I suspect, Tintoretto did not necessarily give a hoot about the theological significance of ancient symbols. Rather, he was a contemporary man of his era who worked with colloquial interpretations of symbols. In Bacchus, Venus and Ariadne, it can be speculated that the average Venetian knew that Bacchus was the God of wine (Dionysus in Greek) and Venus was the Goddess of beauty (Aphrodite in Greek; Plato tells us there are two Aphrodites but that’s besides the point at the moment; see Psychoanalysis and Castration for tongue in cheek interpretation of Venus’ birth). However, the average Venetian did not necessarily understand that Bacchus/Dionysus and Venus/Aphrodite were personifications of spiritual concepts (see The Four Elements in Theology and Ancient Texts). Rather, Tintoretto, and his contemporaries, potentially had a very shallow understanding of these deities. As such, in an almost mocking fashion, the God and Goddess were appropriated to suit their own culture; Venus symbolised the beautiful Venetian waters and Bacchus symbolised the Venetian culture of festivity – the their annual masquerade carnivals included a lot of drinking! In other words, the painting is a cartuniture, albeit executed with refined artistic skill to create the illusion of perspective and reality. In other words, the colloquial symbolism of the waters of Venice being married to culture of Venice has been personified by Venice and Bacchus.
The personification of nations and bodies of water has links to figurative speech. For instance, homelands being known as motherlands or fatherlands - the masculinisation or feminisation of territories can vary according to historical contexts. Similarly, bodies of water have a mixed history of being referred to by male and female phrases and/or deities.
Another example of the personification of groups of people is that of the Hochgurtel Fountain at the Melbourne’s Exhibition Building (1880). The young boys in the sculpture symbolise Melbourne being a young colony.
Tintoretto’s approach to artistic subjects matters, exemplifies human qualities of humour, irony, and repurposing symbols. To appreciate art, one needs more than a serious stiff upper lip.
Psychoanalysts might view paintings like Bacchus, Venus and Ariadne as being representative of so-called universal symbolism that reoccur across time and cultures. Conversely, an occultist might view the representations of deities as being some sort of “proof” of their enduring significance. However, such mindsets do not capture the creative impulse of appropriation, irony, and playfulness. Two quotes from Picasso aptly wrap up the situation. Firstly, Picasso said “Art lies then tries to convince you its telling the truth”, and “Bad artists imitate, the great artists steal”. Thanks Banksy!
Source: Quote Master
As a final point for consideration on the topic of artists not always creating images with a complete seriousness, Raphael is championed with having painted the face of Heraclitus (centre, foreground figure writing on a piece of paper) to be a likeness to Michaelangelo in The School of Athens. Artists of refined skill and intellectual temperaments can be very witty and sometimes insert secretive elements into their compositions just because they can.
When I began my research by pinning notes along my hallway, I did so with an open mind, therefore, it surprised me when I observed that so many of my paths of inquiry lead back to Aristotle.
Volumes upon volumes could be written about influential men in religion, medicine, politics, and other positions of power being guided or repelled by Aristotle’s so-called wisdom. Like a child who does not want to part with their teddy bear at night, western cultures seem to have clung to that which they have known and is familiar to them for so long.
The tides began to change when Aristotle’s ideas were disseminated beyond the few during the 1500s. In this era three broad categories of people emerged. One being those who continued to support Aristotle’s authority, others who rejected Aristotle’s authority, and then those who explored the potential for Aristotle’s truth without giving defiant allegiance. The first category includes countless academics who followed traditions they’d been taught in places like at the University of Paris (Side note: the first university that resembles today’s structure was established in Spain by an Islamic woman, Fatima Al-Fihri). The second category includes people like Galileo Galilei, René Descartes, and Isaac Newton.
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) is most well known for his mathematical skills and his improvements to telescope lenses that enabled him to discover new stars, three moons on Jupiter, the rings on Saturn, and phases that Venus went through. Galileo’s observations supported Copernicus’ theory that the earth rotated around the sun, thereby discrediting Aristotle’s cosmology that claimed the sun and the planets rotated around earth.
From a theological perspective, Aristotle’s cosmology was arguably never meant to be a model of the actual universe. Rather, it was an occult representation of the human being that fell in line with the classical elements. According to Aristotle’s cosmology the earth (the physical body) is the centre, followed by layers of water (life-force or ether), air (soul; can be divided into further layers), fire (spirit or intellect; can be divided into further layers), and celestial fire (aesther or spirit of God). The theology, in its more expanded form, references astrology symbols (see below).
Depiction of Aristotle’s Geocentric Model.
(It’s possible that looking at Aristotle’s model as a human being is what inspired Sömmerring to look for the twelve cranial nerves.)
Source: Achilies and Aritstotle
On many levels, the situation with Galileo is curious. Did he know and understand Aristotle’s model was a theology, not literal? Is that why he put it aside and worked on observing real outer space instead? Or did Galileo, ignorant of Aristotle’s symbolism, just look out into the sky and try to learn more about it because that’s what his passion was? Why did Church leaders insist Aristotle’s model was correct, even when scientific evidence said else wise? Why was maintaining Aristotle’s authority so important to them? Was the Church committed to maintaining Aristotle authority because of its long tradition of doing so through scholastism and works by people like Aquinas that it did not want to loose face? Who in the Church knew that Aristotle’s model was a theology of the human body and who did not? The questioning could go on longer than a Catholic inquisition. However, it was the Church who ran the inquisitions, not the other way around. The bottom line was that the Church disapproved of Galileo’s work and in 1633 he was brought before an inquisition charged with heresy; to spare his life Galileo claimed he didn’t believe his own findings.
René Descartes (1596-1650) demonstrated a sound knowledge of ancient theology in relation to the classical elements:
… we consider, in particular, the nature of the earth, and of all the bodies that are most generally found upon it, as air, water, fire, the loadstone and other minerals.
Rene Descartes, The Principles of Philosophy, 1644, p.15
Hence, it was with a full understanding of Aristotle’s theories and that of the four elements, Descartes broke away from the commonly held assumptions of earth, water, air, and fire. In doing so he came up with apparently new theories of the body, mind, and soul. Then again, upon closer inspection Descartes theorises of different types of thinking, still resonate with some ancient ideas. Plato tells us that the nature of the soul was the most debated topic among philosophers, so perhaps Descartes was just siding with theologies that differed to the Church’s appropriation of Aristotle?
Descartes famously remarked: “[if] I’m thinking, so I exist”, which isn’t too far removed from Plato’s ideas of man’s nous being a conduit that can connect him to celestial forces.
As previously mentioned, both Galileo’s and Descartes’ works were put on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.
Isaac Newton (1643-1727) respected Descartes rejection of Aristotle and embraced Galileo’s focus on mathematics. In addition to the many scientific studies Newton did, he also had an interest in Biblical symbols. Newton took a scientific approach to the Bible and analysed scripture to identify language patterns, allegory systems, and symbols that he believed were known and applied by all prophets:
The Rule I have followed has been to compare the several mystical places of scripture where the same prophetic phrase or type is used, and to fix such a signification to that phrase as agrees best with all the places . . . and, when I had found the necessary significations, to reject all others as the offspring of luxuriant fancy, for no more significations are to be admitted for true ones than can be proved.
Isaac Newton, Royal Society, 2015, p. 524
Examples of the codes Newton worked out were: Sun = King; Moon = groups of common people referred to as wife; Darkening of celestial bodies = doom for political groups; and Dens and rocks in mountains = temples. Where Biblical texts referred to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Newton claimed it meant Spirit, Water, and Blood. Newton also theorised that somewhere early in Christianity, the writings of prophets had been forged. Specifically, he blamed Arianism and Saint Athanasius of Alexandria.
In his own lifetime, Newton did not make a grand public display of his learnings about biblical symbolism and his research into the early Church. He did, however, do his best to avoid taking priesthood vows, as was expected of men who completed a Masters degree. It could be conjectured that Newton was fortunate to have been witness to the beginnings of the unraveling of religious and educational entanglement.
Freud’s protege, Jung, was a lot more thorough in his research of symbols, their history, and their meaning. At the risk of sounding condescending, I am impressed with how well he understood some symbology, like in the following:
The meaning of the “ministering wind” is probably the same as the procreative pneuma, which streams from the sun-god into the soul and fructifies it. The association of sun and wind frequently occurs in ancient symbolism.
Carl Jung, The Concept of the Collective Unconscious, p.102
In the above quote, Jung’s commentary on air (ministering wind and pneuma) and fire (sun-god) shows an understanding of theologies related to concepts found in the classical elements (see The Four Elements in Theology and Ancient Texts). However, his conclusion that this occurred because of a “collective consciousness” is a mystical explanation that overlooks two obvious points. Firstly, as any gardener knows, the sun and the air (or wind) are significance factors (along with water and earth) that effect life on earth, therefore, the ancients’ use of these principles to symbolise esoteric phenomena is not surprising. The fructification of the air by the sun is a natural phenomenon everywhere around the earth. Secondly, besides over looking the indexical level of the symbolism (see The connection between symbolism and mental wellbeing: The basics), Jung overlooked the fact that Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Christians shared symbols and concepts (hence the similarities. (The writings of Iamblicus demonstrates this point well in regards to Egypt and Greece ideologies). Jung’s marvelling of crossovers between ancient civilisations is a bit like marvelling over the similarities in culture between England, Australia, and America without identifying historical links.
The greatest point on which Jung’s theories can be falsified is on account of symbols being universal. He overlooked symbols’ ability to adapt and be appropriated by skilled artisans, like Tintoretto, Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, and many others. He also overlooked artistic traditions (unspoken rules) and the history of art as a series of progressive movements. Arguably, Jung was so focused on trying to work out the mysteries of the so-called occult that he overlooked education and personal experiences as being foundational aspects of man-made symbolism.
It is also possible that Jung, and his supporters, are so indoctrinated into cultures that support Plato’s theory of so-called universality (i.e., the theory of forms) that their “shadow” prevents them from appreciating the infinite capabilities of human creativity. (Jung claimed the Shadow was the unconscious aspect of the ego that could prevent one from seeing the realities before then; in a nut shell, Jung’s theory of the shadow is an appropriation of spiritual concepts found in Ancient Egyptian theology).
Psychoanalysis neglects recognition that creativity is an activity often blended with humour, wit, irony, puns, and various other quaint qualities. The so-called science of psychoanalysis is based on outdated framework of the mind in which creativity is perceived as being a function located in a specific part of the brain, whilst contemporary findings support it is actually a whole brain activity.
Essentially, creativity is a process in which prior knowledge is deconstructed then reconstructed in a new way. In other words, it is a problem solving process. Depending upon the message one wants to convey, the manner in which symbols, words, and gestures are put together will differ. Contemporary neuroscience explanations of creativity is well presented in the Netflix documentary, The Creative Brain.
Photo Source: Nonnaci
Diagram of Jung’s theory of consciousness : all of Jung’s concepts are appropriations of ancient traditions. For example, the terms Anima and Animus are Latin for soul and spirit (Anima = feminine noun and Animus = masculine noun). Therefore, the original Latin meanings are not the same as Jung’s. Similarly, Jung claims the Shadow is the unconscious aspect of the ego, a concept derived but different to the Ancient Egyptian concept of Shuyet, the shadow self.
There is a strong element of irony in the manner in which Jung took concepts, names, and symbols from a variety of ancient traditions and effectively created a new religion.
Jung’s theories are not without worth, however, they need to be viewed in the context in which they were made: a summary and harmonisation of ancient theology. Moreover, his archetypes are stereotypes of symbology created by our patriarchal forefathers.
A genuine archetype, in the ancient Greek sense of the word, is a prototype; a model that can be built upon and diversified. For example, the first bicycle ever invented has similarities to today’s models but there have been many alterations and improvements. From wooden frames with no peddles through to penny-farthings and motorised e-bikes. Most bikes have some similar features in so much as they have two wheels (some have more) and they enable people to move from place to place at a quicker pace than walking. The point is, there is no universal bike, over the years there has been much diversity and improvements. Further, one also needs to question if a bike can be called an “archetype” in the first place. What did a bike evolve from? A carriage? A chariot? The invention of the wheel? A rock rolling down a hill? Or is a bike more like the evolution of horse? That is the way archetypes (prototypes) are supposed to be; they change. Jung’s theory that archetypes don’t change goes against the grain of human nature, namely, the creative spirit. (I explore this concept in The Big Bang Theory in Egyptian Mythology.)
Continuing on a theology level, Abrahamic religions present the symbolic image of the first human as being male (Adam) but elsewhere, like the First Nations people of New Zealand, creation stories depict the first human as female (Hineahuone). If there’s an except to the rule, there is no rule.
People are diverse and our species is constantly evolving. If one wants to dip their toe into Darwinism, one could even ask, what were humans before being human?
My research suggests many of our ancestors perceived a dualistic approach to evolution, i.e., as the physical body ascended from “earth” and “water” and our ethereal essence descended from “air” and “fire” substances. That, however, is a simplistic way to describe and harmonise ancient theology.
To not throw the baby out with the bath water, Jung’s categorisations of archetypes such as ruler, creator, sage, outlaw, explorer, caregiver, and so forth can be of value in certain circumstances. They are relatable, easy to read symbols that have a shared tradition across westernised cultures. They are a language of symbolism that can be used to open up conversations and tease out ideas. The great danger is in taking them to be finite. Moreover, there is the risk that if they are taken as universal truths then they can be used to promote sexism and misogyny, as Jordan Peterson (1962 – ) does.
I do not disagree with everything Peterson says but his conclusions about the meanings of mythological symbolism is a perfect example of how psychoanalytic theories can be detrimental to understanding true history and genders issues. Peterson asserts Jung’s theories of archetypes to be correct and therefore are a means of justifying patriarchal values. I call out some of Peterson’s shallow research practices in No Peterson, Chaos is not a universal feminine trait found across mythology. Even more alarming is Peterson’s mis-telling of myths to support his sexist agenda of promoting the idea that men are naturally supposed to dominate women.
In a YouTube clip in which Peterson is giving a lecture to university students about Egyptian mythology (Jordan Peterson Tells An Old Story About Gods), he states that Osiris ruled Egypt and his partner, Isis, was the Queen of the underworld. He even goes so far as to say Isis is the archetype of a hyena and compares her to the hyenas in Walt Disney’s The Lion King. (FYI, studying ancient theology by watching children’s movies is not an endorsed form of academia.) I suspect, Ancient Egyptians would turn in their graves if they had heard what he was saying. To them, Isis was their much beloved Queen of Heavens and a woman who possessed profound magic and healing powers. She was affiliated with the Pharaoh’s throne, namely because she helped her son, Horus, be a great leader. Conversely, Osiris was Prince of the underworld where he judged the souls of the dead with Anubis, a jackal-headed god who ate the hearts of deceased if they were heavier than a feather.
Throughout the video, Peterson states many eyebrow raising comments which, to my detailed understandings of symbolism through art, indicate a very biased and incomplete view of history and ancient theology. Further, his over emphasis on hierarchies diminishes other life principles, like harmony; at no point does Peterson acknowledge how much the Ancient Egyptians prided themselves on maintaining harmony. While nations rose and fell around them, the Egyptian culture remained stable for about three thousand years. In fact, the Egyptians believed their civilisation was robust and superior to others because they honoured harmony. Peterson’s projection of patriarchal values onto Egyptians symbolism does not reflect what most scholars understand, through the study of hieroglyphs, to be a culture that embraced gender egalitarianism. The further one explores back into the history of Egypt, the more harmony between gender’s can be identified. Conversely, as Egypt became more influenced by other cultures, like Greece, the less gender equality that can be identified (Egypt became Hellenistic following Alexander the Great’s conquering of Alexandria, previously known as Rhakotis or Râ-Kedet).
Peterson’s oversights of theology and history can be further identified by reviewing the writings of Iamblichus of the third century, an Egyptian priest and Neoplatonist. When speaking to a Greek philosopher, Iamblichus explains that the Egyptians understood the Greek’s classical elements, however, where the Greeks arranged the elements of earth, water, air, and fire, into a hierarchy, the Egyptians believed the elements worked in equal proportions, in harmony.
In sum, my assessment of Jungian psychoanalysis is that Jung conducted some thorough research, but he dismissed variables that disproved his hypothesises. Often Jung’s supporters, like Peterson, miss the subtleties of Jung’s research, and in doing so create a situation in which misinformation is shared as being factual. The misinterpretations of Jung’s theories are more alarming than Jung’s theories themselves, ie., Peterson is seen by many to be an authority feature and he has a cult following.
As a final note on psychoanalytic theory, I propose that the “Joseph-Gigolo complex” be brought into formal psychology discussions. It is a condition in which the person believes in the validity of psychoanalytical interpretations of symbolism despite being shown scientific and historical evidence to the contrary. Another key feature of someone, usually a man, with the Joseph Gigolo complex is that they tend to polarise men between the binary qualities of being fundamentally noble and worthy of being selected by God to partner the perfect woman, and father a perfect child, whilst at the same time being entitled to have sex and attention from multiple women at the same time. Men with the Joseph Gigolo complex have misogynistic tendencies; they tend to view women as objects not human beings, ie., they expect females to be like Mary’s or whores.
Perhaps universities could set aside a few hundred thousand dollars to prove the validity of the Joseph-Gigolo complex. Of course, such research groups would have to be run by women because, as we all know, men can get overly emotional and testostical whenever proof of their gender fitting into a Joseph or gigolo category arise.
(Note: this is a satirical commentary inspired by the social media avatar ManWhoHasItAll.)
I have a very dear male friend whom I consider to be aware and sensitive to injustices in society. We often engage in discussions about social issues like patriarchy and other controversial topics. On one occasion, he decided to play the devil’s advocate and suggested that history was male dominated because that was the natural order of things. I then pounced into teacher mode and tried to demonstrate that male dominated leadership was not an inherent trait to humans: “But that’s not the way things were in the Egyptian Old Kingdom” I said, and promptly made sure he was aware that the Old Kingdom was less patriarchal than the New Kingdom.
“But where’s the proof?” he asked.
“What do mean?” I replied.
“Well they had Pharaohs, the Valley of Kings, and a male God-head (Ra), where were all the women?”
“Oh” I said. “You don’t about the power the Pharaoh wive’s had, the women who were Pharaoh’s themselves. And, yes, they had a Valley of Queens, and the Egyptian’s worshipped Isis far more than Ra. Oh, and let’s not forget Ma’at – she was the Goddess of order that all the male Pharaoh’s aspired to be like.”
“They had a Valley of the Queens?”
“Okay then, so who were the female Pharaohs?”
“There were quite a few, like Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, and some others that I can’t recall off the top of my head. And there was Cleopatra, of course.”
“What? Cleopatra was a Pharaoh?”
“Yes. You didn’t know that?”
My friend shock his head, so I continued.
“Cleopatra was forced to marry her brother, so she had him killed and ruled on her own. She then had a son with Julius Caesar which created tensions with the Roman Empire who feared she’d overtake them, so they tried to kill her but she committed suicide first. But before that she had three children with another Roman official, Mark Anthony. One of their children became a powerful Queen of Africa.” I said all this with an eye roll and rude condescending tone, forgetting that not everyone knows historical details like I do.
The conversation changed direction at that point, so I stopped short of explaining the time Cleopatra dissolved a pearl earring, worth a small fortune, into a glass of vinegar then drank the concoction to prove to the men around her how powerful and wealthy she was; Tiepolo’s depiction of this moment in The Banquet of Cleopatra, 1743-1744, is a treasured artwork at the National Gallery of Victoria. It is through Art I have learned history.
A picture tells a thousand words, yet, like Picasso says “Art lies, then tries to convince you it is telling the truth.” Tiepolo’s painting exemplifies this point. He used the finest technical skills of rendering and perspective and the story he is telling really did occur, but Cleopatra would not have been dressed in a tight corset like the one in his painting. Corsets hadn’t been invented in Cleopatra’s day. Tiepolo has done what most artists and media producers do, he superimposed values and symbolic imagery from his own era onto the past. By depicting the image of queen that was familiar to his eighteenth century audience he was increasing the likelihood that they could relate to his masterpiece.
Giambattista Tiepolo The Banquet of Cleopatra, 1743-1744
Source: National Gallery of Victoria
“But what about our brains being different?” my friend asked.
“The brains of males and females are no different to that of other organs like our heart, lungs, and kidneys.” I stated with confidence, quoting one of my favourite researchers, Gina Rippon, author of The Gendered Brain. “Our brains are moulded in accordance with our experiences more than sex differences.”
My friend was not fully convinced, I could tell from the expression on his face that his mind was filled with ideas of what so-called masculine and feminine traits were in accordance with his life experiences. I went on:
“I get it. I have raised both a son and a daughter and they both demonstrated stereotypical behaviours of their gender from a very young age. But I also know that until we have a society in which gender stereotypes are not placed upon children from birth, we won’t really understand how genuine differences between genders is dependent upon physical differences and what is socially imposed.” I then mentioned that at the supermarket a few weeks prior, I had picked up two baby bottles that were on quick sale for $1.20 each. I have no need for the baby bottles but I bought them, perhaps out of intuition that I would need as proof them one day. Both bottles are identical in functionality, however, one is pink with flowers and one blue with trucks. Both were advertised as being for newborns 0-6 months old. It is through items like these, with culturally derived symbolisms of gender, that we consciously and unconsciously teach our child about their gender identity.
I then used another example, inspired by Rippon’s research: “Take maths for example. Regardless of gender (by this stage we’d also discussed and agreed that people could not be confined to binary genders) advanced maths is difficult. Up until early to mid high school, both boys and girls do well with numbers, but once it gets hard a lot want to give up (one of my best friends is a maths teacher and we have discussed this to on a few occasions). Now imagine, if you’ve been raised as a girl and told all your life that boys are better at maths than you, then, mathematics gets difficult you are more likely to give it up. But if you’re a boy whose been raised to believe you have some innate ability to do advanced maths, then you are more likely to tackle the challenges. Now, if you were to study the brains of adults then you may find the areas used most for mathematics is more active in males than females, but that is not because of their gender, its is because how their brains have been trained.”
“Yep, I get it.” My friend said (it was one of those discussions in which there was never any real disagreement in the first place but we were both enjoying going through the paces of exploring perspectives). We both agreed that gender traits were learned, not generic, and pondered on whether what was best for the human race as a whole.
While we were talking, my friend shared that while he was growing up, he felt like feminist messages left him feeling ashamed to a man, at least on some levels. He said he had heard and absorbed so many negative messages about male dominance that he’d gotten the impression his gender was horrible. “Welcome to the club” I replied, and remarked that women had been given that message about their gender for thousands of years. We both agreed that the situation was not fair on anyone. We both wished that no person, of any gender, had to feel like they were better or worst than others. Personally, I believe the solution is education.
Taking a profound philosophical stance, my friend then said: “I think maybe the scales do need to tip in favour of women, at least for a while, until things even out and no person, of any gender, needs to feel ashamed of who they are.”
In the following series about occult symbolism, I have taken the liberty of using my friend’s philosophy and I have unashamedly focused on herstory more than history.
I’m not sure which came first, my love of art, my love of psychology, or my love of trying to interpret symbols. For as long as I can remember, I have also had a fascination in supernatural phenomena without committing to any dogma. I’ve kept an open mind to various theories, beliefs, and practices. In many respects, the research I am about to present is the accumulation of over twenty years of teaching Art, during which time I have learned more about symbolism from every student I have every taught than anything I’ve ever read in books or on the internet. However, it all started really coming together around the same time as the Covid pandemic began.
I had a rough start to 2020 with financial problems and no job security. I also wanted to study a Diploma of Psychology (I’d completed my Masters in Mental Health a few years prior but my thirst for understanding the human mind had not been quenched). I understand that for many people, Covid and lockdowns have been a distressing experience, however, for me, they enabled the possibility of doing the study that I had wanted to do and would not have been possible if it were not for the lockdowns.
As I set up my home learning space, I realised that I needed to make the environment as conducive to learning as possible. I was fortunate to be renting a house that had a long hallway, so I decided to make the most of this by using the space to put up study aids. What can I say? I’m a teacher, putting learning aids on the wall is what we do.
I had two primary aims, one, I wanted to develop an appreciation of psychology history, not just the newest and greatest theories. Two, I wanted to test a theory I’d learned in a teaching professional development several years before hand; that being that the development of human beings as a collective, mirrors that of a child. For example, prehistoric people drew like toddlers, in antiquity their skills were like that of primary school, and from about the Gothic period onwards, artworks begin resembling teenage capabilities. The same theory can be applied to the evolution of language, mathematical skills, and other subjects. Below are photos of what my hallway looked like.
The starting point for my timeline were images of artworks from each era, mainly western, because that is what I have been required to teach for most of my career. I then wrote notes about key features of each epoch, movement, discoveries, and religion, and stuck them in their respective places. When I was sitting at my desk watching online lectures, I had a separate note pad that I could jot down the names of important figures that were mentioned, like Neisser, the father of cognitive psychology, Skinner, who founded behaviouralism, and Spearman, who developed the classical test theory. I’d later do more research to find out who they were in more depth, specifically, what their influences were, and added notes about them too.
Part of the art appreciation process is to examine artist’s influences, so doing the same to scientists seemed natural. By the end of they year, I’d spent a small fortune on stationary and my notes had extended beyond the hallway into other rooms of the house. A example of what I learned through this process was that Samuel Sömmerring (1755 – 1830) did not just make the discoveries of twelve cranial nerves (like we were taught in neuroscience), his investigation into the nervous system also lead him to the belief that the brain’s ventricles were the organ of the soul (he dedicated his paper to one of his best friends, Immanuel Kant). Disappointingly, I could not find a copy of this paper online that had been translated from German into English.
Reading between the lines of Sömmerring’s influences, it’s obvious he hand an interest in occult topics. This lead me to wonder if his occult research alerted him to there being twelve cranial nerves, hence, he did not discover them by chance, rather, he’d gone looking for evidence to support information he’d come across in some mystical format. Twelve cranial nerves, twelve zodiac signs, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles, twelve months of the year, twelve hours in a day … could it be that we’ve misunderstood our ancestors science as being mythology? I keep an open to that being a possibility, as I suspect Sömmerring did too.
If I were to write a list of all great scientists who have made significant contributions to contemporary understanding of life, the universe, and everything, and then subdivide this into two groups, one being for scientists who had an fascination with the occult and the other who did not, to put it mildly, the first list would be exceptionally longer than the latter.
During 2020 I apologised for the seemingly crazy display of study notes throughout my house to the small handful of guests who were allowed to visit. But no one thought I was crazy, most thought it was a good idea. I loved it. When I was having “break time” I’d wander up and down my hall looking at the spaces between the notes, trying to work out how they all linked. Much to my surprise, a lot of the flows of influence came from antiquity, specifically Greece, and specifically, Aristotle. When I first saw this, I thought I must wrong. So I did more research, and it turns out that there others who have seen this pattern but they didn’t piece things together exactly the same way as I was.
Experiments using eye movement monitoring technology suggests that people who are trained in the visual arts look at images differently to those who have no training. Essentially, artists don't just look at objects, their eyes dart back and forth assessing the spaces between the artworks. I hypothesis that if artists do this often enough, we begin to do it constantly, like a habit, in all life situations. Therefore, when I say I wandered up and down my hallway pondering on the spaces, I mean it metaphorically and literally.
Well before any such tests were conducted, the artist Joseph Kosuth developed a whole approach to art based on this idea of looking between spaces. Kosuth is considered to be a master of postmodernism with pieces like One and Three Chairs, 1965, an artwork consisting of a photograph of a chair, the actual chair, and a dictionary definition of a chair. He was not trying to met standardised expectations of beauty in art, rather, he was interested in the conversation that could be had about presenting a chair in three different forms as an artwork. Kosuth believed that was where "art" really was, in the spaces between what viewers saw in front of them. The “thing” between artwork objects can be summarised as being a conversation; Kosuth suggested that the true essence of art is the ideas that images provoke, not the objects themselves. He continued down further down this line as his work matured.
As a young person, I could not stand abstract or conceptual art, I wanted to see pictures that made sense to me, pictures that I could instantly related to. However, as I have matured, the concept behind artworks has become more important to me that classical standards of beauty. When I teach higher levels of secondary art, I love teaching about people like Kosuth. As it slowly dawns on them the significance of what such people were saying, it's like an invisible veil is lifted. To me, watching how art can change people is absolutely beautiful.
I no longer live in a house with a long hall, but that hallway is now etched inside my mind. It is like a room that I can go into and mentally place more postit notes when I discover something new about history. The following blogs are pretty much a summary of that hallway.
One final thing I’d like to mention before I share my hallway journey, is that in February 2020, I had an epiphany. I could dress up the experience and tell it like it was some mystical experience but that would not give it justice. Basically, what happened was, I realised I’d been living with cognitive dissonance; I was holding onto two beliefs that I thought to be true even though they contradicted each other. On one hand, through my appreciation of surrealist art and my training in art therapy, I was under the impression that psychoanalytic theory had merit, that the mind did have pre-set symbols inside it, but at the same time, my experiences as a teacher and therapist had shown me that the human mind is infinity creative, albeit, what it could make was dependent upon the skills a person had (see Reflections on learning how to hold a pencil inspired by Quilty’s work with Syrian refugee children). In that moment of my epiphany, I let go of many preconceived ideas and embraced the notion that people were infinity creative, end of story.
I formulated a metaphor to help me remember this new wisdom that went like this: the human brain is like an art studio. It comes equiped with basic equipment like colour, tone, balance, contrast, texture, movement, pattern, etc. In other words, the elements and principles of art (if you’ve forgotten what your art teacher taught you, look “here” for a quick revision). The elements and principles of art can also be considered the elements and principles of life (two-dimensional life predominantly relies on the visual arts, if you want to consider three-dimensional life you need to add music, poetry, dance, drama, and the elements and principles of other art forms). As a child develops, they learn to use these elements and principles. In my art therapy experiences, I had noted insights into how clients worked was dependent upon their art education that stemmed back to their primary years, for example, how they drew faces or if they had an interest in manga. The differences were subtle but I’ve worked in enough schools to be able to pick up on some of these clues. Conversely, while I could pick educational trends in clients work, I also noted from my teaching experience that no matter how precisely I gave instructions on how to create an artwork, every child created something different, something unique. Metaphorically, there are many different types of trees, but no two leaves on a tree are ever identical.
I contemplated my art studio theory further. Perhaps differences between people’s brain is due to some people, metaphorically, preferring to mix colours with chalk pastels but others liked rendering with pencils? Perhaps neuroplasticity is like if a person’s pencils are broken then they are forced to use chalk pastels instead? Even though everyone’s “art studio” comes equipped with the basic equipment, some variations were possible, as is the case with people who have colour blindness or trichromats (people with extra cones in their retina that results in seeing colours more vividly). I also considered the symptomatology of psychosis being like a creative mind in overdrive; that is the mind creating images that extend beyond the edges of a canvas. Perception is the mind’s canvas. Perception has two sides, one being what is real and the other being what one imagines. In a neuro-typical brain they are present and in someone experiencing a psychosis the boundaries of what is real and what is imagined are blurred; it is as though two sides of the mind’s “perception canvas” are operating as one, hence, symptoms of hallucinatory sounds, visions, smell, and other sensory cues, feel like they are real.
None of my contemplation about the brain being like an art studio provided an easy answer for curing mental health conditions, but if researchers aren’t using the right paradigm then the solutions may never be found. A lot of psychology paradigms assume the brain works like a computer. I suspect this may be accurate for some functions, however, it has limitations. Modern art studios typically have a computer to perform some tasks, hence, the mind’s studio could have some computer-like functions for elements of perception but these need to be viewed in conjunction with overachieving understanding of creative activities.
In my art therapy training, I learned that a healthy mind was a mind had multiple synaptic networks across different regions, likewise, MRIs indicate that when a person is engaged in a creative activity, their whole brain is active. Creativity was not just defined as Art. The creative process could be applied to cooking, writing an essay, and a myriad of other human activities. The inference is clear, to have mental wellbeing, is to be creative. Creativity is life, in each and every moment, humans are constantly creating, nothing is ever an exact replication, unless it is computer generated. Humans are not machines.
Throughout my psychology training, I held this new found wisdom in the forefront of my mind. As each topic was covered, and findings presented, I tested it against my hypothesis. Time and time again, it appeared to be true, moreover, it seemed provable. For example, there is no part of the brain assigned to numbers, as provable by cultures like the Munduruku and Pirahã in Amazonia who do not have names for numbers. They do not count objects with digits in the same way as westerners, instead, they rely upon the elements and principles of scale and proportion, e.g., few, some, or more. Similarly, different cultures name colours differently, albeit, a pattern can be found in how this generally evolves, and much to my fascination, the differences in naming colours across cultures can be identified in brainwaves. (This short documentary introduces the phenomenon well: The Surprising Pattern Behind the Names of Colors Around the World). The names we give colours literal affects how our internal art studio operates; it’s like the brain creates stencils that it can use over and over again in its creative process (kind of like how Banksy reuses stencils to create different artworks; all artists have their schemas that they fall back on.)
My life has been greatly enriched by viewing my mind and the minds of my fellow human beings, as being like a creative art studio. It is through this paradigm that my research is best understood.
I find it very easy to believe that a man wandered around the region of Nazareth 2000 years ago telling people that all they needed to do to achieve bliss on the earth and in heaven was to love one another. However, I find it extremely difficult to believe that such a man was born of a woman who was literally a virgin.
To my understanding, the story of Jesus is somewhat similar to the story of St George. Records indicate there was a man called George who did some marvellous deeds for others, he did not, however, literally slay a dragon. St George was a Christian who lived in the third century, in Lydia (modern day Turkey). He refused to worship pagan Gods, so he was killed. By the tenth century, St George’s story had morphed into him being a knight that slayed a fire breathing dragon. Both of these symbols (knight and dragon) are storytelling devices that people could easily relate to. The use of symbolism to portray themes and evoke emotional responses are classic storytelling devices.
Tintoretto, Saint George Killing the Dragon c.1557
Note: In the above painting of St George killing a dragon by Tintoretto, he was included a depiction of the crucified Jesus lying between himself and the woman who is running away; all elements of the picture are symbolic of theological concepts.
Somewhere, somehow, the simple message of loving one another got mixed up in human traits of confusion, desire for power, jumping to the wrong conclusions, and/or over complicating matters. In other words, some people did not heal their internal wounds, some continued to act out of trauma responses. When I say some, I really mean many. And when many people are acting out of a place of hurt, abusive behaviours can become normalised. We still are not at a point in history in which the majority of people have recalibrated their nervous systems so as a new normal can be set.
As a child growing up under the influence of Catholicism, I never understood how to connect the symbology of the bible with Christian teachings about love. To my mind, phrases like “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God” (Revelations 19:13) have a grotesque imagery. Why would the Word of God need to be dipped in blood? It has been a journey of intellectual inquiry for me to understand that a person to be wearing a robe dipped in blood is not a symbol of violence and death. I’ve needed to put aside my subject reactions in order to come to the realisation that is not how the ancients viewed blood. Rather, they saw it as a symbol of life (see What most Christians don’t know: Christian Faith is Based on Jewish Blood Magic (Extended version)). Therefore, to be wearing a garment covered in blood, in this instance, is to be cloaked in the life-force of God. To drink Jesus’ blood (John 6:54) is to be filled with that life. The heart pumps blood throughout the body, and the heart is a symbol of love, therefore, the association of God’s life force, love, flowing around the body, like blood, makes perfect sense.
If Newton’s analysis of the bible is correct, then the Holy Spirit is another symbol for blood. Therefore, understanding the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, in which God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are One, takes on a new perspective: God, the Son, and Love. (Newton took the Arian perspective God, the Son and Holy Spirit were separate. To me, the whole argument is arbitrary and non consequential to the message of love; it’s like arguing over if the chicken or egg came first.)
When I was a child at a Catholic primary school, long before I could read the Bible for myself, we were taught that we were all sons and daughters of God. We were also taught that we were to strive to be like Jesus, and embody love, just like He did. So it is, I am still left wondering: Is the mystical version of Jesus Christ, as expressed in numerous artworks, a real man who walked upon the earth? If so, was he a young man who carried a wand? Or was he older man with a beard? Or was there a more human version, a man who embodied the Holy Trinity and taught other men (and women) about God’s Holy Spirit? At this point in time, I cannot give a defiant opinion.
My mind wanders upon many paths of inquiry. If the Holy Spirit is love, then that would explain the story of pentecost and how when the apostles received the gift of the Holy Spirit they were able to communicate with all others: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). Love crosses all boundaries, love is a universal language.
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit.
1 Corinthians 14:1-2
At the simplest level, prophecy simply means the will of the Gods, not predictions of the future. Hence, God’s will, as given by the gift of the Holy Spirit, is for all people to speak the language of love. It’s a simple principle. Why then do so many people struggle with it? There are many variables, namely: There is often the look of an angel on the Devil himself (Old Irish proverb).
When people have been abused or traumatised, it often very difficult to hear, feel, and give love. Love heals, but sometimes it takes time.
When I was doing my art therapy training, we were taught the importance of hearing our client's stories, of being witnesses to their pain. To be heard, to be validated, and to be respected, are key principles of any psychotherapy. However, such healing experiences do not need to be clinical. Every person on this planet has the capacity to be that safe space that others may need. Love is simple, yet being loving can be complex. There are guidelines, but there are no definite rules. Sometimes, when a person is sharing their grievance, they need to have their views challenged, other times, they just simply need to be heard and they will work out the rest on their own. As a therapists in training, we were introduced to numerous theories and approaches so as we could build up resource kits that were large enough for us to have an array of options to choice from in the face of unknown circumstances that may arise with our clients. We also needed to learn that not everything that looked like nail needed a hammer to fix it, sometimes, the role of therapist just means holding a safe space.
Ultimately, we are all therapists, to each other.
Personally, I feel very lucky to be surrounded by so many people who may not understand the symbology of the Bible or the principles of trauma-informed care, but they show me the love that I need, when I need it. Like the friend I mentioned in the epilogue, we have known each other for nearly ten years. He has seen me at my best of times and at my worst of times, and vice versa. We've known each other long enough to detect whether the other needs tenderness or loving toughness in which boundaries are acknowledged.
I am tempted to list all the wonderful people in my life and use this opportunity to thank them, but to do so risks accidentally missing some people. I like to think the people who are currently close to me or have been close in the past know who they are. There are also those whose interactions have been brief but nonetheless, they have impacted me and shown me what love is by being their genuine loving selves; I suspect many of these people do not know who they are.
As I look through the Bible with my increased understanding of ancient symbolism, all my past surface level interpretations fade. The book of Revelation that once looked like a horror story, now appears to a book of hope, and the obscure references to virgins make a lot more sense if they are understood to be a colloquial way of saying “daughters”, which in turn means groups of people. Therefore, verses like below is a reference to groups of people who follow love.
All of these are pure virgins, and they follow the Lamb wherever he leads.
Book of Revelations 14:4
My search for understanding ancient symbols is ongoing, but my search for understanding the significance of Jesus, as I imagine the Early Christians saw him, is complete. I do not believe the apostles literally left their families, wives, or children to follow Christ. Rather, they left the metaphorical households of religions that did not put love in the centre of their doctrines. Hence, they preached to not call any man on earth their father (Matthew 23:9).
To me, a lot of Christian symbols have become as tarnished as the Swastika, but love is a doctrine I can commit to.
In my research of so-called occult symbols, it never ceases to amaze me that unlocking hidden codes is as simple as looking up the etymology of words. In many instances, the “hidden” meanings are not hidden at all, rather, it is simply a case of when contemporary mindsets are used to interpret phrases that need to be understood within the time and context in which they were written, confusion arises.
Once literacy issues are accounted for, the synthesis of my research on Early Christianity concludes that it began as a fringe group who opposed other religious orders. Unlike other cults of the time, Christianity did not demand followers had to perform difficult acts of initiation, like the Eleusian, Bacchus, Mithras, Cybele, or Jewish cults (Dr Richard Carrier makes this point well). One simply needed to hear the Word and they could be healed (Luke 6:18-19):
[a large crowd] had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.
In contemporary speech, “disease” suggests ailments like cancer, eczema, Covid, etc. However, the word was not always a reference to physical symptoms. Originally, to be dis-eased meant to be ill at ease, as in stressed, worried, anxious, or depressed.
early 14c., "discomfort, inconvenience, distress, trouble," from Old French desaise "lack, want; discomfort, distress; trouble, misfortune; disease, sickness," from des- "without, away" (see dis-) + aise "ease" (see ease (n.)). Restricted pathological sense of "sickness, illness" in English emerged by late 14c.; the word still sometimes was used in its literal sense early 17c., and was somewhat revived 20c., usually with a hyphen (dis-ease).
mid-14c., disesen, "to make uneasy, trouble; inflict pain," a sense now obsolete; late 14c. as "to have an illness or infection;" late 15c. in the transitive sense of "to infect with a disease, make ill;" from disease (n.). Tyndale (1526) has Thy doughter is deed, disease not the master where KJV has trouble not (Luke viii.49).
Note: The aforemented William Tyndale (1494 - 1536) translated the Bible into English.
In light of this understanding it is apparent that Jesus Christ healed what we would now call mental health conditions. How did he do this with his magic wand? I’ll cut to the chase: Jesus cured people with Love. Love puts people at ease; Love cures troubled spirits.
Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses.
The more people heard the news that love cures, the more crowds came to hear Jesus. Whether or not Mary was a real person is irrelevant in the bigger scheme of the message of love: “Love that was rekindled in Thy womb” (Dante).
If I were to extrapolate upon the premise of Jesus Christ being a figure who preached love as a means of healing, then I would do so through the lens of a contemporary mental health practitioner. Disease begins in the nervous system. If a person is stressed, anxious, or depressed, it correlates with a disruption to their breathing, heat rate, and blood pressure. If sustained, then their parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems become at odds with each other, and in turn can affect digestion, thinking, behaviour, and other variables. Trauma-informed research is increasingly demonstrating that a failure to return to a state of homeostasis can, consequently, lead to physical ailments. Hence, I hypothesise Jesus Christ’s healing capacity relates to curing disease at its core, through a resetting of the nervous system. Trauma-informed care means giving people unconditional positive regard and allowing them the space, resources, and support to process whatever issues they have (this process can vary from situation to situation). In order words, trauma-informed care requires being loving.
Love does not mean an acceptance of non-loving behaviours of others. Love, through a trauma-informed lens means having healthy boundaries. and being prepared to have open discussions - often difficult discussions - with others within a compassionate framework. Further, the practice of self care strategies for therapists and consumers of therapy is paramount to achieving healthy nervous system regulation. My top five favourite trauma gurus are: Brene Brown, Gabour Mate, Peter Levine, Bessel van der Kolk, and Irene Lyons.
In 1216, a Spanish priest called Saint Dominic, set up an order in France that originally was called Order of Preachers, however, is now known as the Dominican order. A key feature of the order is that it is known for its Aristotelian based theology. And it is from the Dominican order in which one of Catholics most well-known theologians and Doctor of the Church was trained, Thomas Aquinas .
Aquinas is credited with cultivating western thoughts, which he did so by embracing Aristotle’s ideas and bringing them into a new era. Aquinas wrote extensively and gave public lectures. Apparently Aquinas could levitate, which, if true, suggests he was not just interested in intellectual philosophies but also the magical arts and/or occultism.
It is through Aquinas that we have clear indications of Christianity’s incorporation of Aristotle’s world views being accepted as fact, right through to his theories of the classical elements (for background information see The Four Elements in Theology and Ancient Texts):
“ … there is order in the use of natural things; thus the imperfect are for the use of the perfect; as the plants make use of the earth for their nourishment, and animals make use of plants, and man makes use of both plants and animals. Therefore it is in keeping with the order of nature, that man should be master over animals”
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, c.1270, p. 800
Aquinas’ understanding of the classical elements (or principles) can be further identify when he references a familial system to symbolically describe concepts:
Now the father is principle in a more excellent way than the mother, because he is the active principle, while the mother is a passive and material principle.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, c.1270, p. 1734
And (italic emphasis provided by myself):
Otherwise; I have come to set a man against his father; for he renounces the Devil who was his son; the daughter against her mother, that is, the people of God against the city of the world, that is, the wicked society of mankind, which is spoken of in Scripture under the names of Babylon, Egypt, Sodom, and other names. The daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, that is, the Church against the Synagogue, which according to the flesh, brought forth Christ the spouse of the Church. They are severed by the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And a man’s foes are they of his household, those, that is, with whom he before lived as intimates.
When Constantine legalised Christianity, beliefs pretty much became Romanised. Women were no longer permitted to have leadership roles (like evidence suggests they did in Christianity’s beginnings) and a hierarchical structure like the Roman military emerged., e.g., allegiance to a Pope, Archbishops, Bishops, Deacons, and priests being consolidated; all of these titles were “Father” positions. Amongst the changes, Constantine outlawed male castration, which some priests were doing to help them refrain from sexually immorality (this practice can also be found in other ancients cults that mandated priests had to be eunuchs, such as the Cybele cult).
Other reforms to Christianity brought about by Constantine included the definitive stance on Mary being a Virgin, and discouraging men from marrying (but this was not enforced; that came much later). There was also a lot of debate about the doctrine of the trinity, i.e., whether or not God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were One or if they were three entities. After several decades/centuries of arguing, council meetings organised by Constantine (the Nicaea council) to put an end to the debate. Consequently, it became canonised law that the Trinity as One was the only acceptable Christian belief. From then on, anyone who disagreed was an outcast, moreover, a heretics who would burn in hell (less dramatically, these people were also called Arians). The “us” and “them” mentality of Romanised Christianity was strong.
Outside of the rigid formal Christian structure were monks, friars, brothers, nuns, and mothers. Unlike men, nuns were not permitted to pledge a lifelong commitment to Christ and become “Mothers” until they were over forty. In other words, when they were beyond child rearing age; it was presumed that if a woman was still unmarried at that age then no man wanted her, therefore, they could be Christ’s brides. (Loose connections between Christian covenants and the Roman cult of Vestal Virgins can be made, e.g., higher social status compared to other women.)
Coinciding with the fall of Rome, was the destruction of Alexandria’s library, several pandemics, and other factors. Formal education across Europe dwindled. Throughout the period, often referred to as the Dark Ages (c.476 – 1000CE), education took a back seat. The emergence of the feudal system created a clear divide between the minority who were of noble status, who ruled over the majority, the peasants. Nobility were viewed as having superior status in an almost God-like fashion that is comparable to the Ancient Greek beliefs that people with education deserved to have control over others (as described by Aristotle). The prospect that if everyone was educated, then everyone would be God-like doesn’t appear to have registered being as a possible reality.
In my imagination, a peasant’s life was one of hard labour, every day. Both men and women had to toil the land and work hard just to ensure food supplies were sufficient to stay alive. Education, for both males and females was done at home and/or community setting. Aside from learning a livelihood, learning consisted of things like songs recitals, dancing, herbal remedies, and hearing Bible stories at Sunday church services, albeit the latter were told in Latin and the congregation may have no idea what was being said, but if they were in a Cathedral or their humble village church had pictures on the wall, then their minds could absorb religious iconography like impressions of heaven and hell. Failure to attend Sunday services could result in being imprisoned. There was zero tolerance on missing Church. Even if an emergency arose like cattle giving birth needing assistance, attendance at Church was mandatory; if the cattle and/or foul died then it was considered God’s will.
It is during this period that images of Jesus as a youthful healer waving a wand disappeared. Instead, we start to see a middle aged man with a beard. As shown below, the Byzantine depiction of Jesus was grand and domineering, more like Zeus (or Jupiter) than Apollo.
Byzantine depiction of Jesus, created with mosaics
Formal education, that was required to become a doctor, statesman, or clergyman was only within the reach of 5% of the population (in regions like modern day Italy it was closer to 10%). From the 5-10% of the population who were educated, most were male. And like in antiquity, education was intertwined with religion.
For most of human history, formal education means to be initiated into some form of theology. It is only in very recent times that attempts have been made to make education non-secular.
Boys who were judged to be too weak, vague, indifferent, or other to be of use in the fields or military, may have been sent to monasteries. Beginning as an altar boy, a priest’s assistant, young males could rise through the ranks of Church-based education/indoctrination. It is also from monasteries that the cliched image of monks meticulously and painstakingly created copies of the Bible with illuminated letters emerges. This practice of being in a semi-meditative state while contemplating the “Word of God” through artistry was a form of education. In some cases, women also copied the bible in covenants. (Stay tuned for a blog dedicated to the history of Bible reproductions.)
Example of handwritten Bible, c.1410
Some people who entered Christian orders did so of their own free will, while others had other pressures that forced them. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is amongst the category who entered of his own accord. In fact Aquinas’ family were highly alarmed about him joining what they considered to be a cult. They tried, but failed, to convince him to live a “normal life”. (More about Aquinas soon).
From about the Middle Ages onwards, Church education became more formalised through a system called scholasticism (from the Latin schola which means school). It was a dogmatic, rote-based approach in which students were educated under the guidance of their teacher who was presumed to be authority on all matters. In contrast, ancient Greek schools, like Plato’s Academy, included lively debates about topics and learning was published in dialogues to demonstrate various points of view had been explored. It is almost as though a belief had been formed that there was no longer a need to debate issues because the so-called truth of all matters had been settled, primarily by Aristotle. That is to say, almost all teachings were based upon Aristotle’s lecture notes. (See Is Aristotle Overrated? for more details.) Scholastic education dominated from the Middle Ages through to the scientific revolution of the late Renaissance.
Exactly what peasants and people without a formal education believed is difficult to form conjecture about. It could be speculated that much wisdom about nature, the rhythm of the seasons, and pagan superstitions continued. If so, then this knowledge could be viewed as being hidden from official historical records and accounts for yet another aspect of occultism.
Following Aquinas, Dante Alighieri (1285-1325) is another example of a learned man educated under the influence of Aristotelian ideas. Specifically, he supported Aristotle’s concepts of some men being superior and therefore having divine right to rule:
I am referring to actions, which are regulated by political judgment, and to products, which are shaped by practical skill; all of these are subordinate to thinking as the best activity for which the Primal Goodness brought mankind into existence. This sheds light on that statement in the Politics that “men of vigorous intellect naturally rule over others”.
Dante Alighieri, Monarchy, Book 1, part 3, lines 10-15
Dante’s education history is not well documented. However, it may be presumed he studied at least one scholastic or scholastic-like institution attached to a monastery. He was politically minded and so to hold a political office he had to join a Guild, so he became a pharmacist and joined the pharmacy Guild. Like many men, Dante was also involved with physical battles due to conflict with other powers.
Florence, Dante’s home town, experienced many conflicts relating to politics, religion, and territory. As destiny would have it, Dante finished up on the losing side. Consequently, when he was in his fifties, he was banished and separated from his family. Dante was angry, very angry, especially towards the Church.
Being an intellectual, Dante took pen to paper to express his views through the art of satirical poetry. Dante’s work, like the Divine Comedy, reveals he was well versed in Ancient Greek philosophy. The epic piece contains a myriad of references to characters such as Apollo, Aphrodite, and Hellen of Troy which demonstrate an understanding of the ancient theology behind their namesakes.
Above all, The Divine Comedy, was just that, a comedy. Dante did not use highly sophisticated language to express his views, rather, he wrote in a crude vernacular of Latin, the language of commoners. His aim was to mock the Church’s stance on a number of issues, hence, his books were banned. The fact that the Church later (long after Dante’s death) retracted their objections and embraced him as a golden boy of Christianity is a curious thing.
I am not an expert on Dante, but looking over his work I found one particular verse in The Divine Comedy that struck me as being profound. The line reads: “O virgin mother, daughter of thy Son”.
“O virgin mother, daughter of thy Son,
humble beyond all creatures and more exalted;
predestined turning point of God's intention;
Thy merit so ennobled human nature
that its divine Creator did not scorn
to make Himself the creature of His creature.
The Love that was rekindled in Thy womb
sends for the warmth of the eternal peace
within whose ray this flower has come to bloom.
Here to us, thou art the noon and scope
of Love revealed; and among mortal men,
the living fountain of eternal hope.”
The line is a confusing mixture of symbolic language; “mother” and “daughter” are both described in relation to the “Son”. How could the biblical Mary be both Jesus’ mother and daughter? While pondering this question, I remembered Justin Martyr and his explanation the Jewish custom of using a family structure to represent groups of people (see: Theology of Early Christianity as described by Justin Martyr). Could this really be? If Leah and Rachel were symbolic of synagogue and church … ? Was Mary … a symbol of the Christian church? Not a church in the modern sense of a physical building but a church in the ancient sense of it being a reference to the soul of a congregation or group of people. I needed more evidence to be sure.
Model of Jewish symbolism using family structure: Father = Godhead, Mother = Church or Synagogue, Daughter = congregation or groups of people, And Son = human beings or individuals.
As I have stated many times throughout my blogs, I do not believe in universal symbolism, however, a reoccurring pattern that I have identified across some theologies (namely, Jewish, Ancient Greek, Christian, and Islam) is that Spiritual realms are commonly referred to as masculine (father), and Soul realms are commonly referred to as feminine (mother). This pattern is tied into gendered languages and does not equate to literal men and women - just as a chair, table, key, dog, cat, boat, etc., are not literally male or female in many languages (e.g., Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Arabic) they can be personified in expressive speech as though they are. Thus, Spirit and Soul aspects in theologies are not literally male or female. Therefore, the Virgin Mary, when viewed as a personification of Soul is not literally a woman, rather, her characteristics are human attributes that anyone can have.
When the Mother of God is understood to be Soul, then it can further be understood why so many Christian theologians (such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Jerome, and Augustine)
referred to Mary as the new Eve. Likewise, Jesus is the new (or last) Adam. Finding
Jewish sources that confirm the allegorical nature of Adam and Eve as personifications of Spirit and Soul is relatively easy. Hence, seeing as Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism, it’s not surprising to see the pattern continued.
The other shoe dropped when I learned in bygone eras, daughters were referred to as “virgins” because, you know, according to patriarchal values, a female’s sexual activity is more important than anything else. Therefore, Virgin Mary = Daughter Mother. It is a play on symbology = Mother and daughter are one, i.e., the soul of a church that sheaths its members.
When Dante wrote The Divine Comedy he was an outcast and rebel of the Church. Could it be that through the creative mocking of satirical poetry Dante was revealing a symbolic secret? If so, it may explain why the Church, in a corrupted state that wanted to maintain power over the masses deemed his work heretical. Who should one believe? A man who rose the ranks of politics and was educated in theology, and was subsequently outcast and angry? Or an institution that claimed poor people could enter heaven if they paid the Church enough money?
(The Catholic Church of Dante’s era practiced indulgences – if a Christian sinned (murder, rape, thief, etc.) they could give money to the Church which would supposedly reduce time in purgatory. The practice of indulgences was one of the fundamental issues that caused rifts in the Church and led to the Reformation a few centuries after Dante’s lifetime.)
It has taken many hours of reflection and further research for me to make the final assessment. My conclusion, to put it bluntly, the Virgin Mother belongs in the same realm of possibility as Santa Clause, the tooth fairy, and Mary Poppins.
There is outstanding scientific evidence that stipulates a woman’s ova cannot produce a child without a man’s sperm. Conversely, there is outstanding evidence from multiple sources that both the words “virgin” and “mother” have purely symbolic meanings that have been used in religious text before, during, and after the formation of Christianity.
It’s plausible that two thousand years ago, without knowledge of DNA, X and Y chromosomes, and other practical elements of reproduction, some people believed it was possible for a woman to fall pregnant without intercourse. To justify that belief today is not so easy.
This is my opinion. It is up to each and every individual to decide for themselves if they believe the the Virgin Mother is real or if her appearance has been made to be as grand as the Emperor’s new clothes.
When considering the Virgin Mary’s symbolic status, it’s also prudent to consider Jewish traditions. Judaism honours the “mother” both symbolically and literally as carrying the bloodline of their religion. If a woman is a Jew, then all her children will be considered Jews (in an ethnical sense), regardless of personal beliefs and/or their father’s religious status. Conversely, if a Jewish father marries a non-Jewish woman, then none of their children will be considered to be of the Jewish race, although they could still be Jewish by way of religious practice.
Understanding the Jewish perspective of succession being a matriarchal continuum passed down from mother to daughter explains why the symbolism for their spiritual hierarchy was father-mother-daughter-son. Further, the personification of Biblical characters as being symbolic representations of concepts and/or groups people is evidential in the Bible itself. (Isaac Newton’s commentaries on this topic are particularly noteworthy, see Reading the Symbols of the Apocalypse According to Isaac Newton.)
The first Christians were Jews. Therefore, they it’s reasonable to assume they honoured the spiritual lineage of father, mother, daughter, and son = God (father), Virgin Mary (mother-daughter), and Jesus (son). How then did this symbolism get buried beneath other ideas?
Early Christian sects argued between with each other over many things. One such conflict was whether or not gentiles had to convert to Judaism before they could become Christians. Those who supported the mandatory requirement emphasised Jewish beliefs and values in the Jesus narrative, while those who believed anyone could be a Christian did not. Thus, over time the significance of Jewish symbolism used by Early Christians subsided. Of note, Greco-Roman influences overlayed the Jewish (see Did Romans Kill Jesus Twice?: The Beardless Versus the Bearded Jesus).
Speculatively, there have always been leaders within the Christian Church who have known and understood the symbolism of the Virgin Mary through a Jewish lens. Dante appears to have been one of those few.
Symbols are complex, therefore the Virgin Mary was not only a reference to a synthesis of mother-daughter being a reference to a group of people, it transcends to the notion of purity and youthfulness. Inferences which I imagine would have felt most fitting to the the founders of the establishing Christian church.
Painting of the Virgin Mother with Child; original dated to the 5th or 6th century, overpainted in the 13th century
In contemplation of the nuances of the Virgin Mary being the personification of a soul that sheaths Christianity, I am reminded of a time when my son was nearly ten. It was a day in February, an ordinary school day, but we got home in the afternoon he was not his usual cheerful self. Solemnly, he took himself to his bedroom and shut the door. When I went to check on him, I found him sitting on his bed, tears streaming down his face. My immediate thought was that something bad had happened at school, perhaps he’d been bullied. At first he refused to speak and just shock his head in response to my questioning that was along the lines “did you and so and so have a fight?” I then moved into a semi-lecturing mode of the need to express emotions. I told him that I could not help him if I did know what was wrong. I made stabs in the dark about how he might be feeling about his father and I breaking up three months early. He shook his head to all again. I took a deep breath and said “Is it something I have done? If so, please tell me so I can make right.” Amid bursts of sobbing, he let out what was disturbing him:
“I know Santa Claus is not real! Don’t lie to me, I know he’s not real!”
Of all the things my son could have told me, I was not expecting that. I queried if a conversation had come up in the school yard that day which prompted the topic, but my son, once calmer, said that was not the case. For whatever reason, that day, he was ready to confront me. As we talked, my son did an exceptionally good job of articulating exactly how he felt. He told me of the clues he’d picked up on, like conversations he’d over heard and poorly hidden presents he’d spotted under my bed that later appeared as Santa gifts. My son made it overwhelming clear that he was not sad because he knew Santa was not real, he distressed because he didn’t know if he could trust anything I said.
I was caught off guard. My elder daughter had breezed through finding out and accepting there was no Santa Clause. She had a different temperament. She was more dreamy, loved to play make believe. My son, on the other hand, was astute, inquisitive, like an mini-engineer who wanted to know how everything worked. I found myself fumbling as I tried to explain that “everybody” lies to their children about Santa but no harm is meant by it. It was supposed to be fun, a game of sorts, a pretend kind of magic. I told him the lie was done with love, not to hurt him with deception. My son said he did not think it was fun to be lied to. I was in a corner. How could I raise my son to be an honest man if I also taught him it was acceptable to sometimes lie?
I started paying extra close attention to my son and what I said to him from then on. Our relationship had been ruptured. I had to rebuild trust. I succeeded.
The following Christmas, we still went through the tradition of Santa but as my son unwrapped the gifts, he said “Thanks, mum! That’s just what I wanted!” Later the same Christmas Day, he did a better job of pretending Santa was real so as to keep the “magic” alive for his younger cousins. To my surprise, I felt a sense of unease. Without conscious effort, ever so subtly, it dawned on me that I’d indoctrinated my son into the cult of Santa Clause. I tried to convince myself that it was important for children to have the opportunity to have fun, use their imaginations, and believe there were magical beings in the world. To this day, I’m not sure if that’s fitting to contemporary times. I imagine in the past, when the tradition of Santa began (around the fourth century, Turkey), the experience of children waking on Christmas morning to find simple gifts of a handmade nature was quite different to the experience children now have of sacks filled with plastic toys and digital devices.
I was born and raised a Catholic. I was always told the Virgin Mary was a real person. Can I trust anything the Church says if she is not real?
Post edit 9/12/21: The following quote from Vatican News supports the notion that Catholicism has a long tradition of viewing the Virgin Mary as the symbolic “Mother of the Church”.
In 1964 […] Pope Paul VI “declared the Blessed Virgin Mary as ‘Mother of the Church, that is to say of all Christian people, the faithful as well as the pastors, who call her the most loving Mother’ …
In the humble beginnings of education, people who engaged in active learning were called philosophers (a word that means lover of wisdom). All genders had access to education, albeit men outnumbered women and one usually had to come from a family of status and wealth in order to enjoy the perks of formal tuition from a philosophy master.
Records indicate Pythagoras had at least seventeen women in his cult, and at Plato’s academy there were two. One does not have to be a master mathematician to see that the number of female learners decreased as time progressed. In turn, it is no surprise that a few decades later, there were no female students taught under Aristotle (see Is Aristotle Overrated?)
Ancient Greece was a mixed bag of philosophical beliefs, however, the dominant group (cult) of the Classical era were men who supported patriarchal values. As told by Aristotle, this was mostly based on the belief that men’s souls were more evolved than women’s (see below).
“… the male rules over the female, or the man over the child; although the parts of the soul are present in any of them, they are present in different degrees. For the slave has no deliberative faculty at all; the woman has, but it is without authority, and the child has, but it is immature”
Aristotle, c.350, Politics, Book 1, part 8.
Neoplatonist's (c.300BCE - c.400CE) follow a harmonisation of Plato and Aristotle’s philosophies. In regards to gender, this is presents as a belief that males have more intellectual spirit and females have more emotional soul. However, it was not an absolute distinction like it appears to be in Aristotle’s thought - but I'm also mindful that perhaps Aristotle did not strictly see all men as being superior and it is only via interpretations and translations (or mistranslations) that it appears he was blatantly sexist.
When Neoplatonist, Iamblichus (c.245 - 325 CE), describes gender he states that some men are more like women and some women are more like men. From this, we can extrapolate two things, firstly, to be described as being like a women had a derogatory inference (i.e., overly emotional, inclined to hysteria, and weakness of mind), conversely, to be described as being like a man inferred positive cognitive traits (i.e., rational, intellectual, and strong). Secondly, the human population has never fit nearly into strict binary gender stereotypes, there has always been variations.
An additional third consideration, is that patriarchal societies that degrade females’ value and treat them as though they are an inferior species is a form of trauma. Contemporary trauma-informed psychological research confirms that all genders are susceptible to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Historically, PTSD was called hysteria and considered to be solely a woman’s disease. It is therefore possible that the patriarchal traditional of viewing women as “hysterics” is proof of constant trauma. Further, it could be possible that all women today carry generational trauma dating back to the beginnings of patriarchal cults. If correct, then it will take several more generations of consciousness healing for the true qualities of “femininity” to be known.
Prior to this time, during the Greek Dark Ages (c.1100 – 750BCE), evidence suggests women had more influence and freedoms. How and why patriarchy flourished throughout the Mediterranean region, is a controversial topic I’ll skim over; suffice to say, a woman’s role became typecast to that of a mother, and records of female philosophers like Themistoclea (c.600s BCE), Theano (c.600s BCE), Myia (c.500s BCE), Aspasia (c.400s BCE), Diotima (c.400s BCE), Hipparchia (c.300s BCE), and Leontion (c.200s BCE) almost disappear completely for hundreds of years. Did female philosophers not exist? Or were records of them not kept by patriarchal historians? Perhaps we’ll never know.
From about the third century BCE through to the third century CE there are almost no accounts of women philosophers. Then, at this point, we have Hypatia of Alexandria who was killed by a mob of Christians in c.415. Evidence suggests Early Christians believed in gender equality but after Constantine this attitude changed. More about this shortly.
The different schools of philosophy that operated in Classical Greece could be thought of as cults. Each one had its particular approach to learning that stemmed from a belief system. These included Platonism, Stoicism, Epicureans, Cynics, and many more. Further, each ideology can be traced back to an initiator, a charismatic leader who defined a belief system that followers demonstrated devotion to. By the way, each of those four examples went against mainstream cultural attitudes by believing, to some greater or lesser degree, that women and men were of equal standing in intelligence and/or soul qualities.
Vignette of women and Ancient Greek schools of philosophy
Hipparchia of Maroneia (c.350 - c.280bce) was a Cynic. Being a Cynic meant giving up possessions, wearing simple clothing, and self-sufficiency. They were concerned with ethics and living by virtue which was believed to be achievable by living naturally, adhering to reason, and being critical of conventions such as materialism, politicians, and temples that focused on money. One of the most famous anecdotes about Hipparchia is that of when she was antagonised by being asked why she was not partaking in the usual female activity of weaving, she confidently gave a reply that inferred she knew her own mind and did not submit to social expectations: ‘do you suppose that I have been ill advised about myself, if instead of wasting further time upon the loom I spent it in education?’
The Cynic’s were the forerunners to the Stoics who also believed in living naturally, although they were not as extreme. The founder of the Stoics, Zeno of Citium, advocated for equality of the sexes, which included coeducational public exercise and training.The Cynic’s historical precedence of equality and denouncing standard conventions for women has been used by feminists to demonstrated that patriarchy is not a ‘natural’ state that women have historically accepted.
According to standardised history lessons, under Hellenistic (c.323 – 32 BCE) and Roman (c.31 BCE – 476 CE) rulership women were almost entirely (often literally) confined to the kitchen and were expected to cook, look after children, and do needlework. Meanwhile, boys could be taught trades, agriculture, and statemenships skills of law, politics, and rhetoric. There is truth in this depiction of history, however, a history recorded solely by patriarchs cannot be viewed as accurate or complete.
For the most part, it was men who had the most access to education in the ancient worlds. Male academics were often also religious leaders and they congregated together in places like the Library of Alexandria to share wisdom (the ancient world’s Harvard or Oxford). This library was created by Alexander the Great (Aristotle’s student) and it was a hub of intellectual activity for Greeks, Jewish, Egyptians, and later, the Romans. Influential men like Euclid, Ptolemy, and Philo are affiliated with the library.
Cleopatra (c.69 – 30 BCE), the Queen and Pharaoh of Egypt, is reported to have frequented the Great Library as well. Further, she wrote several manuscripts that were housed there; sadly, these have not survived.
The previously mentioned Hypatia was a much loved teacher at the library until her untimely murder. Through the example of Hypatia it can be inferred that it was not impossible for a woman to be educated. Hypatia had a lot of support from some males, like her father; however, to achieve such academic heights meant overcoming prejudices that her male counterparts did not encounter. In the end, Hypatia paid the ultimate price for making a stand against patriarchy.
A poignant difference between humans and other animals is our capacity to learn, moreover, our species evolves through collective education; when one human makes a discovery or invents something new, all humans are propelled into new territory. For example, somewhere in the distant past, a single person observed that seeds made plants grow and from that learning, conceived the idea of collecting seeds so as to control the growth of plants. Thus, agriculture gradually developed as more learning occurred through trial and error. The nomadic lifestyle of human beings decreased simultaneously with humans increased learning about the land, weather patterns, and other agriculture issues (like which Gods or Goddesses one should pray to in order to have successful crops). From the development of agriculture came cities, then, political organisation, and so forth. Nomadic clans in which everyone knew each other and survival was based upon harmonious cooperation, became communities in which social interactions became complicated by issues pertaining to authority. With this diversification, education that was once done within a family, clan, or small community, could be outsourced. To put it crudely, education began as a cult activity then moved on to become a commercial commodity.
In regards to the contemporary western world, Pythagoras’ cult is a significant starting point (it operated in southern Italy, which was then a Greek Provence). Pythagoras lived from about 570-490BCE and, as just about any 14-15 year old who knows how to measure the perimeter of triangles could tell you, he was really good at mathematics. What they probably are not aware of, is that Pythagoras also believed knowledge of numbers could help a person connect with the divine. (Apparently, Pythagoras also believed that eating beans were bad for you because they make you fart, and farting took away the “breath of life”, but that aspect of his teachings have not been maintained in mathematical curriculums.) It is widely recognised that Pythagoras received training in Egyptian cults prior to establishing his own cult and he potentially learnt mathematics off them, however, Egyptian beliefs and practices are still largely an enigma so it is not clear how much was borrowed and how much Pythagoras came up with on his own.
About a hundred or so years later, Plato opened a school called The Academy. The fact that educational institutions are still referred to as academies says volumes about how much Ancient Greek traditions still influence western education.
Plato was somewhat of a perfectionist, which is suiting considering he belongs to the Classical Period (c.510-323) of Greece which is known for striving for Truth, Beauty, Justice, and Wisdom in all realms of life. Like Pythagoras, Plato loved mathematics, although while Pythagoras is renowned for working with two dimensional shapes, Plato is better known for his interest in three dimensional geometry. If some accounts of history are correct (which they may not be) then you could even say he was even a little obsessed with geometry to a point in which a sign over the entrance to The Academy read: “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter”. What is known for certain is that Plato was fascinated by geometric forms in which all the faces were equal; we call these Platonic solids (see below). Plato also assigned a classic element to each one.
Five Platonic solids: top left to bottom right – tetrahedron (or pyramid; fire), cube (earth), octahedron (water), dodecahedron (unnamed; or Aristotle’s aether), and icosahedron (air).
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Plato’s love of forms extended from the intellectual/mathematical to into the realms of spirit. To Plato, certain types of thinking were a spiritual experience which, with practice, one could connect their individual mind to a universal mind, in Greek this was called the nous (nous in Ancient Greek more-a-less means the same as what it does in contemporary English; see below).
college slang for "intelligence, wit, cleverness, common sense," 1706, from Greek nous, Attic form of noos "mind, intelligence, perception, intellect," which was taken in English in philosophy 1670s as "the perceptive and intelligent faculty."
Source: Etymology online
Plato believed in a spiritual realm of perfect ideas; we now refer to these as the theory of Platonic forms. In theory, Platonic solids are the building building blocks of the spiritual realm and Platonic forms are the building blocks of all the universe. Such ideas have fascinated many philosophers both now and then. After 2500 years of contemplation, Plato’s hypothesis remains a theory that has not been proven, but nor has it been falsified. (Arguably, Jung’s “collective consciousness” is an attempt to prove Plato’s theory of forms correct.)
When Christianity emerged there were a lot of tensions in the Roman Empire. In previous posts (here, here, and here), I go into detail about Christianity’s development from Greek, Jewish, and other influences so I won’t repeat myself. (It amuses me no end that some people perceive Christianity to have suddenly sprung from nowhere; it’s like thinking flowers naturally appear in vases without consideration given to the environment in which they were grown.) Perhaps, the main point to keep in mind when examining Early Christianity is that its followers did not follow the Gospel stories like most churches do today. Early Christian’s did not have any writings that they followed simply because they wrote the New Testament (see below for timeline). Either that, or they were illiterate. How then did people learn? Answer = stories. Verbal stories.
Timeline of when New Testament writings were created
Source: Image created by Renee Spencer from conventional various sources
Now, the next factor to consider, how does one remember stories they want to pass on to others when they cannot read and write? There are several methods one can use, many of which can be described as mnemonic devices. For instance, Australian Aborigines used features of the landscape as cues. Storytelling could literally be a journey in which one wandered around, with landmarks like old trees, mountains, rivers, and so forth being reminders of what was to come next in the tale. When the English colonised and destroyed the landscape, many stories were lost because the First Nation people did not have their “book” anymore.
Back to the cradle of western civilisation in Europe, it can be hypothesised that prior to the invention of writing, people used the heavens as a mnemonic device for recording stories. Unlike the earth’s features, references in the sky are less likely to be destroyed, hence, the stories could be told and retold for hundreds of years. If correct, it provides a logical premise to explain why so many cultures referred to the Sun as creator and the planet and stars as its offspring (see The Big Bang Theory in Egyptian Mythology). There is a rich and dense supply of ancient stories that incorporated both astrological and human characters, e.g., Jupiter is a planet and a God, Venus is a planet and a Goddess, etc. Modern theories of astrology do not accurately capture past beliefs.
Symbols are complex, with layers of references that require consideration (see The Connection between Symbolism and Mental Wellbeing:The Basics ). For example, at the iconic level, a symbol of the Sun means the Sun. At an indexical level, the Sun is a reference to light and warmth. At a symbolic level, the Sun represents a life sustaining object. Using one’s imagination, a Sun could also be a God, or the Son of God, or something else that somehow relates to its iconic and indexical references. To learn what the Sun symbol means, one needs an education. Like trying to interpret Durer, simply looking at symbols does not give all the answers.
In antiquity, the revealing of hidden meanings of symbols took place progressively, in stages of initiation that can be likened to modern education in which children first learn through being told stories, then progress to learning letters, words, sentences, and eventually they can write their own stories. The stories children hear inform and mould their communication style that is carried into adulthood (like an artists building templates that they can reuse again and again; Banksy uses this process in his/her art making). Logically, the more diverse stories a child hears, the more possibilities for interpreting symbolism they will develop (like an artist who is skilled across multiple mediums). However, it is also plausible that a child will fall back on what is most familiar to them, that is, the symbolic language which is used the most frequently in their homes and society. For example, Eastern cultures untouched by WW2 may learn about Nazi association with the Swastika but they are unlikely accept the negative connotations of the symbol on a personal level.
Early Christians were like preteens in later primary school. Collectively, they drew upon symbols that were used by the cultures around them to tell a new story. The story of Jesus Christ in the four canonised Gospels share a lot of the same symbols, however, subtle differences between them can be identified as being congruent with the culture they came from. For example, Matthew’s Gospel was written in Hebrew, whereas Mark, Luke, and John were written in Greek. The different language means Matthew came from slightly different culture (even though all apostles were living in The Roman Empire) and, in turn, the audience he was addressing valued different symbols, hence, the inclusion of the star of Bethlehem, the wise men, and the phrase “kingdom of God” instead of “kingdom of heaven”. All these features tap into Jewish culture in a manner that the Greek versions don’t.
It is also worthy to consider that when the Gospel stories were being repeated by word of mouth, the storytelling would have been slightly different each time. The written product is the result of a perfected version that relayed the most important parts of the Jesus Christ narrative.
Additionally, Early Christians also made artworks that reflected their cultural backgrounds. For example, paintings on the ceiling of Early Christian catacombs followed the design principles of Jewish catacombs:
Early Christians depicted Jesus with a wand to represent his magical powers. This symbolism could be a link to Moses’ staff (that he raised to magically part waters) or it could be linked to Greek accounts of Hermes and Athena who both waved wands to perform magic. Either way, the depiction of Jesus with a wand presented an easy to read symbol to people living in the first century.
Early Christian depiction of Jesus performing magic with a wand
Source: Biblical Archaeology Society
It’s widely recognised that Early Christians pictured Jesus as a young man, cleanly shaven, with a likeness to the Greek God Apollo.
Early Christian relief carving: Jesus is repeated in all the figures holding a wand.
Source: Biblical Archaeology Society
First and foremost, the first Christians taught each other about Christian faith through verbal storytelling, then through Art, and then writing. The indoctrination process into Christianity was presumably like other modes of education, that is, a person progressively learned what the symbols were and then moved onto more complex or finer points of their meanings – these steps could be taught in a myriad of ways that were either implicit or explicit, and included medications, prayers, rituals, creating pictures in sand, discussions, etc.
To explore how symbols may have been gradually introduced in Early Christianity, let’s look at an anchor. Like many symbols, it’s meaning could be discovered in layers.
Anchor in the the Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome, 2nd Century
Source: Persecution Worldwide
On a simple level, an anchor suggests being secured to a location, like a boat whose anchor is tied to the shore. This metaphor could then be used to infer a Christian needs to “anchor” themselves to Jesus Christ, especially when the seas of life are rough and windy. This interpretation is supported by Hebrews 6:19-20 (below) in which “anchor” is specifically referred to as being “hope”:
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
The comment about Jesus being a High Priest of the order of Melchizedek is curious upon first glance. That is until one learns that Melchizedek is mentioned in Genesis 14:18-19:
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.
Generally, Melchizedek is an archangel associated with atonement. The symbolism is more complex but I’ll leave it at that for now.
By using symbols to describe spiritual concepts, their meaning moves from being purely intellectual, like simply telling someone they need to have hope in Jesus, to evoking emotional responses – an anchor brings to mind visceral associations of water, boats, and security, which add depth to the concept of “hope”.
On another level, hidden within the symbolic representation of christian anchors is the suggestion of a cross, thus, hope is juxtaposed with Jesus’ crucifixion.
Gravestone St. Domitilla catacomb in Rome depicting two fish anchored to the anchor of hope
Source: Early Church History
As per the above two examples of anchors from Christian catacombs, fish were also frequently included. These could be a reference to Jesus being described as a fisherman of men (Matthew 4:19), or it could be speculated that they are a reference to the astrological symbol of Pisces, hence, a reference to time, i.e., the Age of Pisces. The bottom line is that symbols can have multiple meanings.
There were many stories and writings of Jesus Christ circulating in the first two centuries of the common era (see except below). This reality, and the finding of additional gospels in Egypt, 1945, referred to as the Nag Hammadi, leads some to speculate that once Early Christians learned the story of Jesus, they were encouraged (or required) to express their understanding in writing that incorporated learned symbology. (For more details about this theory, see Youtube: Is This Proof That Jesus Christ Never Existed?).
Rejected Gospels and Texts (Written by Hays, 2018)
There were dozens, probably hundreds, of religious texts circulating around at the time the Gospels were written and coming into common usage in the early centuries after the death of Christ. They include The Gospel of Peter , Origins of the World , Gospel of Mary (Magdalene) , Acts of John , Homilies of Truth and The Gospel of Truth . Many were simply written and forgotten. Others were carefully scrutinised by Christian scholars and rejected for one reason or another, in many cases because the doctrines they promoted were regarded as threatening or heretical.
Source: Rejected Gospels of Thomas, Mary, Peter, and Judqs
Early Christianity was not a universal system. Two broad groups emerged: those who interpreted Christian symbols to be mostly literal and those who interpreted them entirely symbolically. Those who viewed Christian symbols entirely symbolically were often called Gnostics and after Constantine, they were declared heretics and their bibles apocrypha, i.e., non genuine. That’s not to say that what became mainstream Christianity was based solely on iconic or indexical understandings of symbols. Rather, it just means one set of interpretations became mandated and others became outlawed. As the heretic interpretations of Gnosticism were suppressed, their ideas slipped into a hidden realm of knowledge that later reappeared in the Renaissance era as a component of occultism.
When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, the first full book he published was the Bible. However, did not make a lot of money because most people still could not read, let a lone read Latin, the language of the Bible. Gutenberg died penniless but his invention prospered and revolutionised the world.
Some wealthy Italian families (they weren’t called Italians back then, rather, they were Venetians, Florentines, Romans, etc.,) already had an interest in old manuscripts, especially those of Greek Philosophers, and were in the process of making copies of old ancient text by hand. They saw the potential to speed up the process by printing, hence, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Germany, became the first major epicentres of book publishing. Unlike Gutenberg, who did not have a ready made literate customer base, families, like the Medici’s, had members within the Church, politics, and military who could read and were eager to maintain superiority over others through advanced knowledge.
Early Printing Press
Source: Wikipedia Commons
I sometimes wonder if the Europeans of the late 1400s who were involved in those early days of printing realised what a monumental role they were playing in facilitating social change? Did they realise that the mass production of literature would increase literacy levels that, in turn, spark revolution after revolution? What is known is that when it became apparent that books and learning were encouraging people to challenge authorities and the status quo, the Pope attempted to censor and control what books were and were not allowed to be published. It became canonised law that books, especially those of a religious nature, had to receive an imprimatur which in Latin means “let it be printed”. A person found to be illegally printing books without the Pope’s approval, or any person in possession of non-approved publications, could be fined, brought before a court, and/or integrated by inquisition panels.
As time went on, it also became apparent that brute force could not prevent people from learning non-Church approved literature, so the control tactics became more emotionally driven. That is, Christians were warned that certain reading material was heretical and if the devout wanted to be assured an eternity of bliss in heaven, then they needed to stay clear of some books, if not, they would burn in hell. Between 1560 and 1948, twenty editions of Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books) were published by various Popes. Many people today would recognise some of the authors who had work on forbidden list: Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and Simone de Beauvoir. Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, and Dante Alighieri had their works banned for a period of time and then later Pope’s removed them from the index.
The Church’s totalitarian approach lead to a kind of underbelly of education. It was probably obvious to many that the Church leaders were keeping secrets, but working out was true and what was false was difficult. Like a person who has been in a relationship with a narcissistic partner, it takes some time to realise the depths to which they have been gaslighted. l have no doubt that many secret societies were established; that is, people gathering in groups trying to put pieces together and/or groups led by people who claimed they knew all the answers. Hence the idea of cults and occultism developed alongside each other.
If the Catholic Church’s version of history is correct, then all groups of people who operated outside of mainstream Christianity were involved in cults. Further, if they did not abide by the Pope’s version of Bible interpretation, then they may be called occultists. Making cults and occultism derogatory, was just par and parcel with trying to maintain control. (See below for discussion on cults.)
The word “cult” comes from the Latin, cultus, which was a reference to the attentive agricultural practices of seeds being cultivated. Like almost all aspects of Ancient Roman life, farming involved an element of religious devotion with growing practices tied to the moon and seasonal cues. Hence, a grower didn’t just cultivate seeds, they had knowledge of the earth and its elements, thus, they cultivated themselves via the obtaining of wisdom about nature. Gradually, over time the symbolic gesture of seeds growing was applied to the concept of ideas growing, hence the term cults became known as a reference to groups of people devoted to an ideology, and culture became a reference to masses of people who shared common ideas, customs, beliefs, and attributes.
Initially, the Latin definition of a cultus did not carry any negativity, it simply referred to groups of people who practiced shared worship or homage to deity or doctrine. When the word transferred over to French, as culte, in the sixteenth century, it began to pick up negative connotations of groups of people who adhered to ideologies contrary to social norms, and this association has remained in the English usage of the term of cult.
In a metaphorical sense, a cult is like a seedling, whereas a culture is a crop that has developed from thereof. E.g., Early Christianity began as a cult then grew so big that it became a culture.
Whether or not a cult deserves to be perceived to be negative or benign can be a matter of opinion. If the cult is at odds with an alternative belief system (particularly if that cult has mainstream acceptance) then it may be judged poorly.
My personal view is that if a cult prescribes any form of abusive, controlling, or trauma-inducing practices (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually), then it can rightly be defined as a destructive cult. Alternatively, if a group of people who prescribe to a shared belief system encourage positive behaviours like love, non-judgment, kindness, inclusiveness, and trauma-formed healing practices, then it is a positive cult. Within this definition is the capacity for varying degrees of negative and positive traits within cults.
Over the years, I’ve read many conspiracy theories about secret brotherhoods (good and bad). The name of some groups pop up more frequently than others, like the Knights Templars, the Freemasons, Rosicrucians, and the alike. (It is my understanding that Judaism and Islam have their equivalent in Kabbalah and Sufism respectively, however, I am not as well versed in their histories.) What I have generally noted is that these theories are not grounded in a deep and sincere appreciation of historical considerations, social constraints, and above all humanness. Suggestions that some groups are associated with supernatural beliefs and practices that extend back to ancient cultures like the Egyptians, don’t capture a very basic life principle: nothing is permanent except change. To modify, reinvent, and appropriate are standard behaviours when the paradigm of humans as creative beings is taken into account.
Movies like The Da Vinci Code romanticise a Holy Grail notion of Christian mysticism (comically, the friend I mentioned in the epilogue recently remarked that they didn’t want to watch The Da Vinci Code with me because they knew I’d constantly be critiquing the misrepresentations of history). Certainly, I would agree there are connections between past and present beliefs, and religious practices, but the weaving of influences and events is a lot more complex and nuanced by various factors than some conspiracy theorists acknowledge.
Personally, I like to take a pragmatic approach that incorporates an understanding of the history religions, blended with contemporary understandings of trauma-formed psychology. Above all, issues relating to cults and the occult are about education.
As an Art teacher and Art therapist understanding visual symbolism is mandatory. Art is a communication form, a visual language; however, unlike written and spoken languages it does not have a concise Webster dictionary that can be used to look up meanings. If, for example, I want to interpret the symbols in Durer’s Melancholia, then I’m faced with the task of contemplating what he’s communicating based on my existing knowledge or I need to do some research.
Albrecht Dürer, Melancholia I (1514)
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The interpretation process begins with identifying symbols on an observation level; there is an angel, cherub, sphere, polyhedron, hourglass, ladder, nails, woodworking plan, saw, numbers in a grid, bell, scales, etc. But what is Durer trying to communicate by bringing all these symbols together? The title of the work gives us a clue: Melancholia = a state of deep contemplation accompanied by a feeling of depression. The theme is reflected in expressions of the heavenly characters. Any number of reasons could be given for Durer’s portrayal of this subject matter, however, in order to fit with the theme of this blog, I am going to suggest that the angel and cherub are depressed because they do not understand the symbolic meanings of all the objects surrounding them.
Did Durer know the significance of all these symbols? Maybe, maybe not. It is relatively safe to infer he had some familiarity with sacred geometry through the presentation of the polyhedron. Likewise, one could assume the ladder is a reference to the Biblical story of Jacob’s ladder, keeping in mind that if I didn’t know Durer was Christian and I was not familiar with biblical stories then I may not make this assumption. One can go on playing the guessing game of identifying individual symbols and marvelling at the refined technical skills Durer applied to create the composition, but doing so does not provide all the answers.
Durer’s personal relationship to these symbols is another matter. Whilst objective, educated guesses of what the symbols meanings can be made, these are not necessarily reflective of how Durer related to them. The interrelationship between symbols and their maker is vitally important in Art therapy contexts. A story one of my lecturers told explains this relationship well. She described a time when a client drew themselves as a small figure on a gigantic piece of paper. Initially, in the role of therapist, the lecturer was concerned their client had a low self esteem, as indicated by how they small they’d drawn themselves. However, the client explained that the reason for doing so was because they desired to have more space around themselves. The client expressed feeling confined by their life experiences and imagining themselves in an open space in the artwork enabled them to envision the freedom to move that they wanted in real life. To extend this train of thought to Durer, perhaps he felt his life was overcrowded with symbols and not knowing what they meant was very overwhelming and depressing?
In sum, symbols can have subjective significance and objective meanings. Objective meanings are not universal, they are informed by the culture in which they are created. For example, a six pointed star in Judaism represents God’s seal of protection, but in Ancient Egypt, Babylon, Zoroastrianism, or more contemporary cults like Wiccan, a six pointed star may be used in ceremonies to conjure spirits that Jews would vehemently object to worshiping. Regardless of context, the common element is a belief that the six pointed star has magical power, unless, of course, you are an atheist, in which case the symbol is just two triangles placed on top of one another.
A Swastika is another classic example of a symbol that has multiple meanings that are dependent upon the time and place in which it is used. Many cultures (mostly eastern) have positive associations with the Swastika but due to the Nazi party’s appropriation of the symbol to represent their group and associated values, most people (in western cultures) have negative associations with the Swastika.
In consideration of the above examples, theories that propose there are universal symbols hard wired in human brains can be easily challenged, if not outrightly falsified. Nonetheless, theories like psychoanalysis are still popular amongst laypeople and academics. There is also no shortage of wannabe gurus, now and in the past, who claim the meanings they give symbols are truer than anybody else’s.
Psychologist, Carl Jung (1875-1961), infamously proposed the idea of a collective consciousness in which so-called universal symbols “lived” in an unseen world that all humans unconsciously tapped into. Jung came to this conclusion by studying ancient religions and noticing similarities between the symbols used across faiths; he called these archetypes (see definition below).
"model, first form, original pattern from which copies are made," 1540s [Barnhart] or c. 1600 [OED], from Latin archetypum, from Greek arkhetypon "pattern, model, figure on a seal," neuter of adjective arkhetypos "first-moulded," from arkhē "beginning, origin, first place" (verbal noun of arkhein "to be the first;" see archon) + typos "model, type, blow, mark of a blow" (see type).
The Jungian psychology sense of "pervasive idea or image from the collective unconscious" is from 1919. Jung defined archetypal images as "forms or images of a collective nature which occur practically all over the earth as constituents of myths and at the same time as autochthonous individual products of unconscious origin." ["Psychology and Religion" 1937]
Source: Etymology online
Jung was especially fascinated with the idea of “hidden” meanings within symbols which lead him to exploring occultism. But what does occult mean? Let’s have a look …
The word “occult” can conjure up many associations that can vary from person to person. Frequently, it is viewed as an ominous reference to supernatural beliefs and practices that fall outside of mainstream religions. It has a darkness to it, as though the word “cult” within its lettering is a synonym. Whilst in some instances there is an overlap between cults and occultism, the two concepts are not the same.
The most literal meaning of occult is something that is hidden, for example, occult symbols are symbols that have a hidden meaning. The word evolved from the Latin occultus (past participle of occulere “to hide from view, cover up”) and it began being used during the late Renaissance era of 1520–30. It’s no coincidence that the word emerged at this point in time, a period when scholars were enthralled by ancient writings that had been re-discovered and made available through book publishing. Up until that point, the Catholic Church had held a monopoly on information flow so when alternative explanations to the questions of life, the universe, and everything, became available, there was some backlash. Basically, any meaning given to a symbol that the Church did not approve of was degraded, hence, “occult symbols” were viewed as unholy, and the term occult took on a derogatory inference. This did not deter everyone and the pursuit of uncovering the meaning of symbols can be seen in the emergence of practices like alchemy. On a physical level, alchemists believed that base metals like lead could be turned into gold (forerunner to chemistry), and on a conceptual level, the symbology of ancient astrology was believed to hold formulas that could transform human ills into human vitality.
Christianity is the most popular religion around the world. It is practiced by approximately 30% of the population yet, surprisingly, many of its devotees are not aware of some of its most basic premises. Lack of knowledge about one’s religion means blind faith, which can lead one down the proverbial garden path. Potential problems include spiritually bypassing issues and being susceptible to manipulation from people who pervert Christianity to suit their own agendas. Knowledge of the historicity of Christianity can overcome naivety and ignorance, and help prevent adverse situations from developing.
In this discussion I am exploring the Christian faith from the perspective of it being a religion based upon the principles of Jewish blood magic. Future topics will include how Jesus replaced Adam as God’s first born; biblical references to daughters, whores, and women rarely (if ever) represent real females; when Moses once had horns; Jesus created in the image of Apollo and Zeus; and the Romanisation of Christianity.
Before digging into details, we need to go over a few basics about Christianity.
The Basics of Christianity
Christianity is a religion that began approximately 2000 years ago based on the teachings of a character known as Jesus Christ, as described in a document called the New Testament. There are (and always have been) many variations on how to interpret Jesus’ teachings, although a generalisation can be made that all Christians are united in the belief that their saviour, Jesus Christ, came to earth (literally, spiritually, or symbolically) to forgive sins so as it was possible for people to enter heaven.
The New Testament consists of several chapters that give accounts of Jesus’ life and that of his early followers. It contains a lot of supernatural themes such as miracles being performed and visions of the future. The New Testament also contains a continuation of themes presented in the Hebrew Bible. The Christians call the Hebrew Bible the Old Testament and these text consist of stories that date back to the first or second millennium; Jews refer to these stories as the Torah. Both Jews and Christians alike believe in the one God who is all powerful, incorporeal, and eternal (this is the same God that Muslims believe in too, but that’s another story). Christian’s believe Jesus was the Son of this God, Jews do not. (Muslim’s believe Jesus was a prophet but not the Son of God, again, that’s another story).
From a young age, Jesus was reported to have a comprehensive understanding of God; on one occasion he became separated from his family and was subsequently found explaining Hebrew scriptures to Jewish elders in the Jerusalem Temple (Luke 2:41-52). The above painting depicts the moment twelve-year-old Jesus was found by his anxious parents, Mary and Joseph. Painting by William Holman Hunt, The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, 1860. Source: Wikipedia Commons
While Christianity has strong links to Judaism, it also has significant influence from Greek culture because a lot of the places where it originally developed were Hellenised areas of the Mediterranean, for example Alexandria, modern day Turkey, and cities such as Athens, Corinth, and Thessalonica. The English title of “Jesus Christ” comes from the Greek Iesous Christós, which is more common than the Hebrew, Yeshua The Messiah. In both cases the names mean the Son of God (Jesus/Iesous/Yeshua) the Anointed One (Christ/Christós/Messiah) but the fact that Christians call themselves Christians, not Messiahians, reflects a veneer of Greekness that dominates the religion. This presentation can sometimes disguise the underlying Jewish theology. Identifying that which has been hidden is vital to understanding aspects of the religion, such as the role that Jewish blood magic has on defining Christian faith …
Christian faith is based upon the principles of Jewish blood magic
Magic is the power to influence events through the use of mysterious forces. To achieve magical outcomes, physical substances or actions are often carried out in a ritualistic manner that symbolically or supernaturally indicate magic is being performed. The use of blood to carry out magical spells is evident in many Jewish traditions, in fact, Judaism was established in reference to blood magic in the form of human sacrifice.
The First Blood Magic Ritual of Judaism
Abraham, the first Jewish prophet, had clairvoyant communication from a supreme God who told him to offer up his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. Abraham was loyal to this invisible God and prepared to carry out the act but at the last minute a new instruction came into his mind saying the sacrifice is not necessary. Abraham and Isaac, joyous that their obedience and loyalty was rewarded, killed a ram and gave thanks to God. Ergo, Judaism may be perceived as having began with the killing of a sheep.
History channel, A scene from “The Bible”, 2012: Abraham (Gary Oliver) prepares Isaac (Hugo Rossi) for the sacrifice. Source: Read the Spirit
The notion of killing a child to get on the good side of the spiritually divine is the antithesis of Judaism; however, it is known to have been a common practice in some ancient and not so ancient cultures. For example, in recent years, a ten-year-old girl in India was allegedly sacrificed to heal a paralysed man, and in the Greek epic, The Iliad, Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia, to appease the Goddesses Artemis and, in turn, achieve victory in the battle of Troy. Other examples of human sacrifice can be found in Inca, Aztec, Ancient China, Nordic countries, and more. Likewise, child sacrifice was a cultural norm within Abraham’s homeland of Mesopotamia, where some (but not all) groups of the Phoenicians (also known as Caananities) routinely offered their children’s souls up to the Gods.
From Abraham onwards, Judaism rejected human sacrifices and denounced them as a practice that was necessary to achieve the favour of deities. Having said that, blood sacrifices were still believed to be important and Jews developed ritualistic animal killings to appease God and influence events.
The significance of blood as a magical substance is, presumably, connected to our ancestors’ understanding that blood carries life, as explained in the Old Testament:
In regards to the specific significance of sheep’s blood, the symbolism is nuanced. One interpretation is that the ram symbolises the zodiac sign of Aries, therefore, they are an indicator of astrological significance. Another interpretation is that the birth of lambs each spring represent new life and hopes for prosperity after long winters. On a pragmatic level, Abraham was a shepherd, hence, a ram was easily accessible from his flock.
Sheep sacrifices emerged as a prominent theme in the Old Testament story of Exodus. Jews, at this point in time, were reported to be living in Egypt and were under the Pharaoh’s oppressive rule. God communicated with a prophet called Moses and gave him instructions for a blood magic ritual. (Backstory to Moses is that he was born a Jew and was saved from infanticide by being placed in a basket that floated on the Nile till he was found and subsequently raised by the Pharaoh’s family. These circumstances were different to Isaac’s but may be seen as a continuation of the idea that when God saves a Jewish first born male from death it means they have an important life mission … in Christianity, God also saves Jesus from infantile death.)
Getting back to the sheep’s blood, Moses received a clairvoyant instruction that all Jewish households were to ceremonially slaughter a lamb and paint its blood on their doorposts and lintels. The lamb’s blood becomes a physical indication that a magical force field is protecting their families from an Angel of Death. Like in the story of Abraham, the sheep’s blood represents a life saving substance; all first born sons in houses with lamb’s blood painted above their door had their life spared while those without were killed. In recognition of this historical event that led to Jews being freed from Egyptian masters, an annual festival involving the sacrificing of a lamb was established; this festival became known as the Passover.
Coincidentally, it was at the time of year when Jews celebrate Passover, that Jesus was crucified and died. Thus, a correlation of sheep’s blood and a first born son being killed in a manner that was coordinated by God has an archetypal significance that flowed through to Christianity. Note, the archetype in this instance is not a Jungian archetype that suggests symbols are universal across time and cultures; rather, the archetypal connection between sheep’s blood, first born males, and God’s saving grace, is an archetype in the Ancient Greek sense that the original form is a prototype that evolved over time. Hence, the Christian significance of sheep’s blood, first born males, and God’s saving grace is different to the initial presentation in the story of Abraham in much the same way that an archetype (prototype) of a car has evolved from being a chariot driven by horses into a mechanical motor that is described in terms and in horsepower.
The New Testament account of the Passover is described as Jesus’ Last Supper. This differs from traditional Jewish celebrations of Passover on account of the emphasis being on Jesus blessing bread and wine:
The Christian reasoning behind the foregoing of a Passover lamb is based on the belief that Jesus was the final sacrificial Passover lamb; a human sacrifice that ended the need for all future animal sacrifices. Dr Richard Carrier, renowned expert on the historicity of Jesus, explains that ancient logic perceived blood, with its life carrying properties, to be the most powerful substance available for magic purposes. Animal blood was good, but not strong enough to make spells last forever, so they need to be repeated, often yearly. Human blood was understood to have stronger magical properties, and Jesus was not just any human sacrifice, He was the son of God! Therefore, Jesus’ blood was the most almighty substance of them all!
Thus we have the transforming of a Jewish tradition into a Christian one. The writings of second century christian, Justin Martyr, further explains that when the Jews anointed their houses with lamb’s blood they were giving an external display of their faith, whereas when Christians anointed themselves with the wine (symbolic blood) of their sacrificial lamb (Jesus) they were displaying their faith internally. By recognising the transformation of physical acts from a real lamb with real blood, through to the symbolic lamb and symbolic blood, it can be understood that Gospel accounts of Jesus saying that his disciples must eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6:51-58) were spiritual concepts. Arguably, anyone of Jesus era who understood Jewish theology would have also understood the Christian adaptation, however, concerns from outsiders that christians were practicing cannibalism were not completely unfounded given some religions literally practiced human sacrifices.
Whether one believes that Jesus was a real human who walked upon the earth or a spiritual character within a mythological tale, the simple fact remains that Jesus’ death is a continuation of faith in Jewish blood magic principles. Christian texts refer to Jesus as being the Lamb of God (John 1:29/36). And the disciple Paul says:
Jesus being God’s Son, moreover, his first and only son, made Jesus’ blood very powerful. How powerful? Powerful enough to take away the sins of the world for an eternity.
The Yom Kippur
Christians claim Jesus’ death represents a magical event that facilitated the forgiveness of sins that could allow faithful followers access to the eternal bliss of heaven when they die. This idea can seem confusing to outsiders. Actually, it can be confusing to insiders too. As a child raised in Catholicism it never made sense to me that someone’s death meant anything I did wrong, from lying to my parents about not eating the chocolate in the cardboard through to maliciously harming another person, could be forgiven if I simply had faith in Jesus. Nor did it make sense that if Jesus didn’t die then I would be spending my afterlife burning in the depths of hell because of my sins, and being born was a sin, so there was no escape. I was told these sorts of things so many times that I accepted that I was supposed to be grateful for Jesus dying for my sins as a truism irrespective of comprehending why. My father once made the flippant remark that Christianity was based on Jewish blood magic, but it was not until relatively recently when I learned of the Yom Kippur that everything really made sense.
The Yom Kippur, is the most important holy day in the Jewish calendar; it translates into English as being “Day of Atonement”. The focus of this festival is to cleanse oneself and one’s community of sins and transgressions. Traditionally, two goats were used to perform the ritual. One goat would be ceremonially prepared to represent the sins of all the community before being set free and driven out of the village (often by being pushed off a cliff). This goat, (the scapegoat) represents the relinquishing of sin and transgressions. Conversely, the second goat would be ceremonially slaughtered and the sprinkling of its blood signified the magical act of God forgiveness; this goat was referred to as the Holy of Holies or the Goat of God.
Illustration of the Holy of Holies from the 1890 Holman Bible. Source: Learn Religions
By referring to New Testament accounts, Jesus’ death can be seen as an enactment of the Yom Kippur in many ways. For instance, Jesus did not try to escape his fate of being turned over to Rabbis and Roman soldiers who charged him with crimes he had not committed. Once in custody, Jesus Christ was trialled in contrast to a person called Jesus Barabbas, a criminal (not all Bible’s state this other man’s name as being another Jesus, but older versions do and it’s an important detail). Jesus Barabbas is set free, thus symbolically representing the scapegoat, while Jesus Christ is condemned to death, thus symbolically representing the Holy of Holies; an innocent man dying to redeem the sins of the world.
As previously mentioned, human blood was more powerful than animal’s, and the blood of God’s Son was the mightiest of them all, therefore, Jesus’ death, as a blood sacrifice, was powerful enough to cleanse the entire world of sin for an eternity … And as an added bonus, it was even powerful enough to retrospectively save all humans who died before Christ’s era (1 Peter 4:6).
Given that Judaism condemned ritualised human sacrifice, it is not that surprising to note that the New Testament deflects the blame of Jesus’ death by placing most of the accountability onto a group of people that most Jews despised the most, the Romans. Further, the Rabbis who were affiliated with the story of Jesus’ death are depicted as being corrupt. These details allowed early Christians to not completely ostracise themselves from Judaism, conversely, the storyline has all the hallmarks and appeal of a classic Greek tragedy.
How could Jesus be a Passover lamb and Holy of Holies goat?
According to Christian theology, the Passover and Yom Kippur are sacraments that Jesus brought to fulfilment. Having said that, Jesus being symbolised as a lamb is more prominent than Jesus being symbolised as a goat. Patricia Kasten suggests a reason for this could be that goats had a tarnished reputation due to their affiliation with pagan deities from rival religions, like the Greek Dionysus and the Egyptian Khum. Kasten adds that while goats and lambs shared equal respect among Jews of antiquity, lambs had more of a broader positive appeal that may have been advantageous to converting Gentiles. Goats could also be seen in more of negative light due to the role of the scapegoat being more prominent within the community context of Yom Kippur celebrations; it was community members who chased the scapegoat to its death, whereas the ritual slaughtering, burning, and splattering of blood from the Goat of God was done in the privacy of the temple by the high priest.
The synthesis of the Passover lamb and the Yom Kippur goats being blood rituals associated with Jesus’ was explained by Justin Martyr as follows:
(Side note, the above passage brings to light several additional points not specifically covered in this article, such as a lamb being “type” of “Christ” and that “Adam” was “a house for the spirit”; these themes shall be picked up in a subsequent articles.)
In our modern era of technology, mass production of goods, fast food outlets, etc., it is easy to be removed from the significance of symbolic gestures that our ancestors more readily interpreted. For instance, Justin’s depiction of a lamb being roasted and roasted, on a skewer that goes through its body from head to toe and across its limbs, as being like Jesus’ body nailed to a cross, does not necessary come to a contemporary person’s mind like it might if a person who was living 2000 odd years ago.
The Significance of Human Sacrifices in Depth
To the modern mind, human sacrifices are an unethical, criminal act; moreover, it is unfathomable that parents would contemplate sacrificing their newborn, only child, first son, or any offspring at all, for the betterment of others (for example, in a magic spell designed to ensure next year’s crops grow well, or to cure a paralysed man, or to facilitate victory in an upcoming battle with a rival village). Nonetheless, to fully appreciate the Christian faith in relation to Jesus Christ being a human sacrifice, one needs to examine how our ancestors’ thought differently.
Nowadays we use scientific methods to explain phenomena, like tracking weather patterns and analysing war strategies with sophisticated technologies, however, up until relatively recently, it was usual for people to believe in the supernatural. To our ancestors, especially those who lived a few thousand years ago, every event was attributed to magical forces and/or spiritual deities, therefore, if one believed they could affect outcomes by manipulating unseen forces, then they may do so. In some cases, sacrificing one’s life to alter these unseen forces was deemed necessary.
Researchers of human sacrifices suggest that because bygone eras had a high child mortality rate, parents may have had reduced emotional attachment that allowed them to give up their children. While complacency towards death may have played a role, personally, I’m not convinced of this theory. If children were perceived as a commodity in which reaching adulthood was a prize, surely parents would have had some hesitancy? Besides, there are reports of Phoenician parents screaming in objection to their children being sacrificed against their will. I wonder if, in at least some cases, mentally ill individuals with no empathy (like psychopaths and narcissists) rose to the rank of religious guru within ancient tribes. Then, once in a leadership position, these cruel-hearted people dictated the murder of children and humans to satisfy their perverted desires? Then in doing so, murder and abuse were made culturally acceptable.
In the beginnings of Judaism, which inadvertently is also the beginning of Christianity (and Islam), Abraham does not call out the atrocity of killing children directly (like later generations of Jews did). Nonetheless, his promotion of animal sacrifice instead of humans may be viewed as an important component towards developing a human consciousness in which socially permitted murders were forbidden. (All of this is assuming the story of Abraham is true, if not then Jewish elders who created the narrative can be credited with successfully promoting the end of child sacrifices.)
Generally speaking, human sacrifices, of adults or children, were not culturally supported in Roman provinces during the era that Christianity was established in (one of the reasons the Romans are reported to have attacked the Phoenicians in Carthage was because they detested their practice of child sacrifices; and, generally, Romans did not view deaths in gladiator sports to be sacrifices to the Gods). Sacrificing animals was another matter. Like in Judaism, it was very culturally acceptable to sacrifice animals to spiritual deities. Other religious groups that are renowned for their ritualised killings are the Dionysus cult (Greek), Mithras cult (Roman), Zoroastrianism (Persian), and numerous others. In the Christian story of Jesus we have a synthesis of these two considerations; Jesus’ death was tragic, therefore, was not a deliberate human sacrifice, nonetheless, it’s effect was consistent with beliefs surrounding sacrificial deaths of animals, namely the Passover and Yom Kippur.
Another aspect of in the history of human sacrifices that is worthwhile to consider is the notion of a soul living after death. In the past, less so than now, many cultures perceived the incorporeal world to be as real as the corporeal world. Physical death was part of life and honouring the soul as a separate entity that could live on in an afterlife was a common. Further, like on earth, it was believed possible for souls to have spiritual missions after death, or they could reincarnate, or something else; for example, in Ancient Egypt servants may have been killed so they could continue working for their Pharaoh in the realm of the dead. In Christianity, Jesus had the spiritual mission of defeating Satan and opening the doors of Heaven to all believers; these were act not deemed possible to achieve while living on earth in a physical body.
Regardless of ethical backgrounds, our shared human ancestry contains many examples of violent acts in which people and animals were ritualistically killed to fulfil spiritual rites and beliefs. Christianity is not the only religion to forgo ongoing flesh and blood offerings, however, the dominance of the religion has contributed to the abolishing of animal sacrifices in many circumstances. The transformation of magical processes that were initially conducted with real flesh and blood, through to magical processes being conducted through the symbolic bread and wine, could be likened to horsepower being used to describe the power of a car even though there are no horses literally pulling the vehicle like in previous models.
The reasoning behind Jesus’ sacrificial death (as opposed to, say, dying of old age) being a symbol of forgiveness and life-saving act for the faithful only makes sense if viewed through the understanding of Jewish traditions, namely the Passover and Yom Kippur. Christian believers typically add to these theologies that in dying, Jesus was able to spiritually descend to lower parts of the world (Hell) and capture an oppressor (Satan) before ascending up to heaven. (These concepts can be viewed as having an alignment with Ancient Greek mystery school doctrines, i.e., Hell was originally called Hades by Hellenistic Christians, but that’s a story for another time.)
Jesus’ death would have been morally condoned by his contemporaries if it occurred as an outright human sacrifice, however, because the circumstances had tragic elements, it was perceived as being a fateful series of events that were ordained by God. Christianity’s approach to Jesus’ death transformed the significance of flesh and blood sacrifices, hence, many Christian denominations symbolically represent Jesus’ through bread and red wine (referred to as the Holy Communion or Eucharist). Instead of animal sacrifices conducted to maintain God’s favour, reverence continues less violently thanks to the power of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice and magical life sustaining blood.
Essentially, in early Christianity we see the theology of Judaism synthesised through the magical acts of Jesus in such a way that difficult rituals that involve real flesh and blood were transformed into symbolic references; supernatural acts became spiritualised:
In turn, this spiritualisation of Jewish theology provided a basis for an intellectualisation of God. Connecting to deities through the mind has strong links to Greek values, for instance, according to philosophers like Plato, the intellect, nous, or universal mind, is the highest of all spiritual components. (Again, the finer details of this connection are best left for another time.)
The relevance of Jesus Christ being a sacrificial lamb that fulfils of Jewish in blood magic purposes is a matter for each individual to decide. For some, the significance adds to their pious faith that Jesus is the true global redeemer of sins whose gift of self sacrifice is wanton of praise and gratitude. For others, understanding the continuum of Judaism to Christianity can insight cynicism that both religions are bogus, built upon fraudulent accounts of clairvoyance. Either way, to believe or disbelieve, full knowledge of the theology that supports faith enables one to live with truth and integrity.
To summarise, Christianity is a religion based upon the premise that a 2000 year old Jewish ritual, that involved a human sacrifice, was effective. Christians today still believe that the blood magic performed by someone called Yeshua in Hebrew, Iesous in Greek, and Jesus in modern English, will ensure they have an afterlife of bliss, and those who don’t will burn in hell until Yeshua/Iesous/Jesus reincarnates. This event is called the second coming … which is a little confusing because modern Christians generally don’t believe in reincarnation … and yet if Jesus is God’s only son and Christians (in particular fundamentalists) also believe that the Jewish creation myth is true, then Adam is also God’s first son … how can God have a first son called Adam and an only son called Jesus? This conundrum brings us to the second topic of discussion: Jesus as Adam, which shall be discussed in my next article.
Agatan Foundation 2018, The Crazy Facts You Didn’t Know About The History of Christianity by Richard Carrier, YouTube.
A common objective of destructive cults is to get complete control over devotees by convincing them to break all ties with family and friends. The indoctrination process is often subtle, with victims not realising they’ve been manipulated till it’s too late. From the perspective of a twisted mind, establishing absolute control over others by eliminating opposing opinions is a logical requirement of initiation. Goodbye logic, hello darkness.
In the case of Christian cults, leaders often achieve isolation by quoting scriptures like Matthew 23:9. The phrasing as expressed in the New International Version is a typical translation of the original Hebrew:
And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.
On face value, it appears cult leaders may have grounds for encouraging the breaking family ties, at least those between children and fathers. However, if the passage is read in the context of the previous verse, it’s not so simple: But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.
And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.
But you are But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.
Contextually, the two sentences are indicating that no one person should be considered spiritually superior to another, that is, there should be no “Father Rabbis” because everyone is a “brother”. Matthew’s application of figurative speech is relatively easy to recognise; it does not literally mean you cannot call your male parent “father”. I imagine ancient political correctness was the last thing on the scribes’ mind. (There is a trend being explored in contemporary midwifery which stipulates it is more politically correct to refer to a “mother” as “the lactating parent”.)
In ancient Jewish and Roman cultures it was normal to call Rabbis, or any older man, in particular one with a higher status, “Father”. It was both a title and a means of showing respect.
In 2 BCE Emperor Augustus was dubbed “Pater Patriae”, which means the “father of his country” (Pater = Father in Latin). Rome was not without adversaries, hence, it’s probable not everyone felt warm fuzzies towards Augustus as a father figure. For example, the Jews, in accordance with the prophecies outlined in the Torah, wanted and expected ruling rights over much of the land that their Roman father had won claim to. In turn, it seems plausible that some Jewish citizens (Early Christians were Jews) could relate to the sentiment no man should be called father. To take that figurative expression and apply it literally to biological parents defies logic, hence, I suspect that is the reason why the caveat is not mentioned in Matthew’s text. (Perhaps Augustus should have been called the “non-lactating parent of Rome”?)
Imagine if every time someone used figurative speech there was an expectation that they explained their symbolic referencing!? For example, a novel that describes a character as being a night owl (not a real night owl, just someone who stays up late at night, like an owl), or a newspaper article that reports of items falling off the back of the truck (the items didn’t literally fall of the back of a truck, they were stolen like they could have fallen off the back of a truck), or historical accounts of Euclid as the father of geometry (there was no mother geometry that Euclid impregnated, he just fathered ideas that were like babies, not real babies but things that grew into bigger things, like babies grow into bigger people). If all writers had to explain their similes, metaphors, or colloquial expressions there would be no point using expressive language in the first place; furthermore, communication would be pretty boring.
Humans have a flair for being creative with words and our cognitive abilities have developed in a manner that enables us to quickly and efficiently identify homophones and their meanings within given contexts. At least that is the case when interpreting contemporary language in cultural contexts that we are familiar with. But perhaps understanding figurative speech from 2000 years ago is different? Afterall, as an Australian I would never imagine calling our prime minister, Scott Morrison, the father of our country! I can’t envision Americans calling Joe Biden their Father either. Hence, perhaps it is due to the differing cultural standards of how and when the term “father” is used impacts Biblical interpretations?
To add a bit of a different spin to the issue, when looking up Matthew’s verses, I was intrigued by the Aramaic Bible in Plain English version to Matthew’s sentences which hat reads:
But you shall not be called “Rabbi”, for One is your Rabbi, but you are all brothers.
And you should not call yourselves “Father”, in the earth, for one is your Father who is in Heaven.
The semantics of this phrasing changes the interpretation previously explored that was based on the New International Version (Bible semantics is thing and a half, as I discovered while researching the“bow” of the white horseman). Instead of the directive being not to call others “father” (presumably with the caveat of there being an exception if you’re referring to your biological father), the instructions are now not to call oneself a “father” as opposed to calling anyone on earth a “father”. In other words, there are to be no Christian “Rabbis” which can be transferred to meaning Christianity initially condemned all leadership positions within the church. I think I could dig (figurative expression, I don’t literally mean I’d dig a hole in the earth) a Christian theology that genuinely supported no leaders and was based upon every individual having spiritual autonomy and a direct relationship with God, aka, the heavenly Father, the One who is the ultimate Rabbi. Alas, whilst that may have been the impulse of Early Christian communities (and there is evidence to suggest in some instances this was the case), Christianity on the whole did not develop in that direction. Ever since at least the second century there are reports of Christian deacons, priests, and bishops, or in other words, “Fathers” and “Rabbis”. Perhaps cult leaders who want to high-jack religions have always been around?
With Emperor Constantine’s legalisation of Christianity came orders to impose structure upon the religion. The