History of Christian Bible Publications with References to Media Codes and Conventions

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.

The Torah, the Jewish Holy Book. Source: Wikipedia Commons

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.

Left image = Hebrew Bible in codex form, source: Wikipedia Commons; Right image = Greek bible in codex form, source: Bible MMS

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?.)

8th-century Vulgate, source: Wikipedia Commons

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

Book of Hours, Bourges, c.1480. Source: State Library NSW


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.


Gutenberg Bible. Source: Wikipedia Commons

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.)

“Poor Man’s Bible”, 1491. Source: Southern Methodist University


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”.

Source: Theological Commons

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).  

Source: Wikipedia Commons

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

In traditional Jewish figurative speech the phrase “house” often inferred the “House of God”. The structure of this metaphorical house included a father, wife/mother, daughter, and son. Hierarchically, the “Father” represents God, the “Wife/Mother” represents the Church, the “Daughter/s” (also referred to as Virgin/s; see Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 8 – Dante Alighieri and the Virgin Mother) represent congregations or groups of people, and “Son/s” represents individuals.

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.

Left image source: Magellan TV; Right image source: Pix4Free

Further Reading

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.

References

An Investigation: Materials Used to Write the Bible, https://www.josh.org/materials-scribes-used-bible/ (2017, accessed 30 November 2020).

Associates for Biblical Research. (n.d.). A Brief History of the Septuagint. Biblearchaeology.org. https://biblearchaeology.org/research/new-testament-era/4022-a-brief-history-of-the-septuagint

Bruinius H. Copying the Bible like a medieval monk. The Christian Science Monitor, 6 May 1999, https://www.csmonitor.com/1999/0506/p19s1.html (6 May 1999, accessed 30 November 2020).

Dines J. The Septuagint. Bloomsbury Publishing, https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=_Gc8CwAAQBAJ (2004)

“Esther, Additions to the Book of .” Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved November 24, 2021 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/esther-additions-book

Gutenberg Bible. Encyclopædia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Gutenberg-Bible (accessed 30 November 2020)

History World. (n.d.). HISTORY OF THE BIBLE – NEW TESTAMENT. Historyworld.net. Retrieved December 13, 2021, from http://historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistoriesResponsive.asp?historyid=aa11

Science X staff. Digitally unwrapped scroll reveals earliest Old Testament scripture (Update). Phys.org, https://phys.org/news/2016-09-digitally-unwrapped-scroll-reveals-earliest.html (2016, accessed 30 November 2020).

Smith, H. (2018). The Case for the Septuagint’s Chronology in Genesis 5 and 11. Proceedings of the International Conference on Creationism, 8. https://digitalcommons.cedarville.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=icc_proceedings

The Orthodox Faith. (n.d.). The Bible of the Early Church. Theorthodoxfaith.com. Retrieved December 13, 2021, from http://theorthodoxfaith.com/article/the-bible-of-the-early-church/

The ‘Poor Man’s Bible’ – SMU, https://www.smu.edu/Bridwell/SpecialCollectionsandArchives/Exhibitions/ProthroBibles/MedievalandRenaissance/PoorMans (accessed 30 November 2020).

University of Helsinki. (2019). The Origins of the New Testament. Helsinki.fi. http://www.helsinki.fi/teol/pro/_merenlah/oppimateriaalit/text/english/newtest.htm

When Did The Letter U Enter The Alphabet?, https://www.dictionary.com/e/theletteru/ (2012, accessed 30 November 2020).

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 19 – Epilogue

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.

PART TWENTY: Reference List

Previous Posts

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 19 – Epilogue

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 18 – Summing Up Symbolism

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 16 – Jung, Freud’s Protege

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 15 -Industry Revolution and Female Artists

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 14 – Female Academics

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 13 – Melting Pot

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 12 -Renaissance Artists

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 11 – A Return to Aristotle (Or Did We Ever Leave?)

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 10 – Personal Declaration of Faith

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 9 – Christianity and Disease

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 8 – Dante Alighieri and the Virgin Mother

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 7 – Dominican Monks & Thomas Aquinas

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 6 – Social Considerations

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 5 – Christianity

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 4 – Gender and Education

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 3 – History of Education (Western Version)

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 2 – Cults and the Occult

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 1 – Introduction

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 0 – Prologue

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 18 – Summing Up Symbolism

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

Source: Wikipedia

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? 

PART NINETEEN: Epilogue

Previous Posts

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 18 – Summing Up Symbolism

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 16 – Jung, Freud’s Protege

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 15 -Industry Revolution and Female Artists

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 14 – Female Academics

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 13 – Melting Pot

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 12 -Renaissance Artists

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 11 – A Return to Aristotle (Or Did We Ever Leave?)

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 10 – Personal Declaration of Faith

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 9 – Christianity and Disease

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 8 – Dante Alighieri and the Virgin Mother

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 7 – Dominican Monks & Thomas Aquinas

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 6 – Social Considerations

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 5 – Christianity

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 4 – Gender and Education

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 3 – History of Education (Western Version)

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 2 – Cults and the Occult

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 1 – Introduction

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 0 – Prologue

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 16 – Child Development

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. 

Children learning in a Montessori school

Source: Britannica

Throughout my psychology training I silently waited in earnest for Montessori’s theories to be introduced during child development classes, but it never happened. We did, however, learn about Freud and were required to consider his physchosexual theories of development to be considered of value (in response, I published an article: Freud’s Oedipus Complex in the #MeToo Era: A Discussion of the Validity of Psychoanalysis in Light of Contemporary Research).

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. 

PART SEVENTEEN: Jung, Freud’s Protege

Previous Posts

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 15 -Industry Revolution and Female Artists

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 14 – Female Academics

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 13 – Melting Pot

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 12 -Renaissance Artists

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 11 – A Return to Aristotle (Or Did We Ever Leave?)

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 10 – Personal Declaration of Faith

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 9 – Christianity and Disease

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 8 – Dante Alighieri and the Virgin Mother

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 7 – Dominican Monks & Thomas Aquinas

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 6 – Social Considerations

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 5 – Christianity

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 4 – Gender and Education

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 3 – History of Education (Western Version)

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 2 – Cults and the Occult

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 1 – Introduction

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 0 – Prologue

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 15 -Industrial Revolution and Female Artists

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.

Rosa Bonheur

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.




Rosa Bonheur, Landscape with Deer, 1887

Source: New Statesman

PART SIXTEEN: Child Development

Previous Posts

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 15 -Industry Revolution and Female Artists

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 14 – Female Academics

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 13 – Melting Pot

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 12 -Renaissance Artists

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 11 – A Return to Aristotle (Or Did We Ever Leave?)

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 10 – Personal Declaration of Faith

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 9 – Christianity and Disease

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 8 – Dante Alighieri and the Virgin Mother

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 7 – Dominican Monks & Thomas Aquinas

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 6 – Social Considerations

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 5 – Christianity

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 4 – Gender and Education

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 3 – History of Education (Western Version)

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 2 – Cults and the Occult

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 1 – Introduction

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 0 – Prologue

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 13 – Melting Pot

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

Source: Wikipedia

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

Source: Wikipedia

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).

PART THIRTEEN: Female Academics

Previous Posts

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 13 – Melting Pot

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 12 -Renaissance Artists

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 11 – A Return to Aristotle (Or Did We Ever Leave?)

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 10 – Personal Declaration of Faith

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 9 – Christianity and Disease

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 8 – Dante Alighieri and the Virgin Mother

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 7 – Dominican Monks & Thomas Aquinas

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 6 – Social Considerations

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 5 – Christianity

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 4 – Gender and Education

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 3 – History of Education (Western Version)

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 2 – Cults and the Occult

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 1 – Introduction

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 0 – Prologue

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 12 -Renaissance Artists

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

Source: Wikipedia

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

Source: Wikipedia

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.

PART THIRTEEN: Melting Pot

Previous Posts

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 12 -Renaissance Artists

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 11 – A Return to Aristotle (Or Did We Ever Leave?)

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 10 – Personal Declaration of Faith

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 9 – Christianity and Disease

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 8 – Dante Alighieri and the Virgin Mother

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 7 – Dominican Monks & Thomas Aquinas

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 6 – Social Considerations

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 5 – Christianity

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 4 – Gender and Education

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 3 – History of Education (Western Version)

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 2 – Cults and the Occult

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 1 – Introduction

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 0 – Prologue

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 11 – A Return to Aristotle (Or Did We Ever Leave?)

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.

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PART TWELVE: Renaissance Artists

Previous Posts

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 11 – A Return to Aristotle (Or Did We Ever Leave?)

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 10 – Personal Declaration of Faith

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 9 – Christianity and Disease

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 8 – Dante Alighieri and the Virgin Mother

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 7 – Dominican Monks & Thomas Aquinas

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 6 – Social Considerations

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 5 – Christianity

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 4 – Gender and Education

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 3 – History of Education (Western Version)

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 2 – Cults and the Occult

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 1 – Introduction

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 0 – Prologue

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 17 – Jung, Freud’s Protege

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.)

PART EIGHTEEN: Summing Up Symbolism

Previous Posts

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 16 – Jung, Freud’s Protege

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 15 -Industry Revolution and Female Artists

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 14 – Female Academics

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 13 – Melting Pot

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 12 -Renaissance Artists

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 11 – A Return to Aristotle (Or Did We Ever Leave?)

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 10 – Personal Declaration of Faith

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 9 – Christianity and Disease

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 8 – Dante Alighieri and the Virgin Mother

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 7 – Dominican Monks & Thomas Aquinas

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 6 – Social Considerations

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 5 – Christianity

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 4 – Gender and Education

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 3 – History of Education (Western Version)

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 2 – Cults and the Occult

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 1 – Introduction

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 0 – Prologue

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 6 – Social Considerations

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

Source: Wikipedia

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

Source: Wikipedia

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.

PART SEVEN: Dominican Monks & Thomas Aquinas

Previous Posts

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 5 – Christianity

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 4 – Gender and Education

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 3 – History of Education (Western Version)

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 2 – Cults and the Occult

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 1 – Introduction

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 0 – Prologue

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 8 – Dante Alighieri and the Virgin Mother

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

Source: Wikipedia

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’ …

Devin Watkins, Vatican News (2018): http://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2018-03/pope-institutes-new-celebration-of-mary–mother-of-church.html

PART NINE: Christianity and Disease

Previous Posts

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 7 – Dominican Monks & Thomas Aquinas

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 6 – Social Considerations

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 5 – Christianity

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 4 – Gender and Education

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 3 – History of Education (Western Version)

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 2 – Cults and the Occult

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 1 – Introduction

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 0 – Prologue

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 4 – Gender and Education

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.
Neoplatonism 

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. 

Depiction of Hypatia’s Death

Source: Smithsonian Magazine

PART FIVE: Christianity

Previous Posts

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 3 – History of Education (Western Version)

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 2 – Cults and the Occult

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 1 – Introduction

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 0 – Prologue

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 3 – History of Education (Western Version)

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). 

nous (n.)

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.)

PART FOUR: Gender and education

Previous Posts

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 2 – Cults and the Occult

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 1 – Introduction

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 0 – Prologue

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 5 – Christianity

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:

Ceiling in Early Christian catacomb

Source: Early Christian Art

Ceiling of Jewish catacomb

Source: Times of Israel

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 Bible, Hebrews 6:19-20
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.

PART 6: Social Considerations

Previous Posts

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 4 – Gender and Education

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 3 – History of Education (Western Version)

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 2 – Cults and the Occult

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 1 – Introduction

Exploring Occult Symbolism From a History and Herstory Perspective of Education: Part 0 – Prologue

Is Aristotle Overrated?: A look at one of the ways patriarchal systems have used Aristotle’s writings to justify male supremacy

Looking at the title of this blog some people may wonder what an Ancient Greek philosopher has to do with mental health? As it turns out, Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE) has a lot to do with how westernised cultures have developed psychological theories, especially in relation to spiritually and gender. Long story short, in arguably Aristotle’s most contentious writing, Politics, he describes men’s souls as being more developed than that of women’s. He claims a man’s soul is closer to being god-like, therefore they are the more rational gender, whereas a woman’s soul is less evolved, more like the soul of an animal, therefore they are irrational beings. Hence, men dominating women has justification because this is supposedly the “natural” order of the universe. In Aristotles’ own words: 

‘Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled; this principle, of necessity, extends to all mankind’

(Politics, Book 1, Part 5)

This above opinion of genders aptly sums up patriarchy. The belief of male supremacy is by no means universal across time and cultures, but it did have a stronghold in Classical Greece so it is fair to say a lot of men in antiquity assumed men were by nature superior. Conversely, many have used Aristotle’s sentiments as proof of man’s “rightful” status above women.

The name “Aristotle” has long provoked the notion that whatever was said by him is worthy of credence, especially in academic traditions. This has continued to be the case in spite of the fact it is now known Aristotle was wrong at least as often as he was right. Additionally, his obvious sexist biases, like claiming that females have less teeth than men, raise the question as to whether he has been chronically overrated? And if so, why? Cynically, I wonder if, historically, patriarchal systems have overrated Aristotle simply because doing so serves their cause?

I’m going to skim over the finer details of systemic sexism and how it impacts the mental health of millions of people, every day. Suffice to say, Aristotle’s philosophies have been used to justify slavery and the oppression of women for a disgustingly long time. In order for the trauma culture to end, I believe the roots of societal conditioning need to be exposed.

The Ancient Philosopher

Aristotle’s influence can not be overstated. He is praised for being an all round genius who wrote treatises on numerous subjects that cover areas of biology, physics, natural history, drama, poetry, ethics, rhetorics, politics, and metaphysics. Aristotle was one of the first “psychologists” to put his theories down in concise written format, as opposed to more traditional forms like poetry. That is if “psychology” is understood in its literal and traditional meaning of being the “study of the soul”, i.e. in Greek “psyche” is “soul” and “ology” means “study of”. It was only in the late nineteenth century that the definition of “psychology” evolved into a “study of the mind” that inferred thinking, feeling, and behaviour.

Aristotle’s psychological ideas are scattered throughout his writings, but most notably in topics dedicated to the soul, memories, the senses, and dreams (Freud was intimately familiar with Aristotle’s work, henceforth it’s no coincidence that parallels can be drawn between Freudian psychology and Aristotle, but that’s a topic best left for another time). In regards to explaining the differences between genders, Aristotle did not use empirical arguments like we know them today. In Ancient Greece, reference to soul qualities to explain phenomena was not only accepted, it was expected.

From Christian theologians through to Renaissance scholars and beyond, Aristotle’s writings have been a source of inspiration for many. In order to appreciate why this influence may be overrated it is useful to know how Aristotle’s work has been handed down through the ages. 

Background to the handing down of Aristotle’s work over the ages

Aristotle never intended for anyone to read his philosophies in the form of the manuscripts we currently have. In his lifetime, he wrote dialogues in a similar fashion to that of his teacher, Plato. There are records of these dialogues being in circulation up until the first few centuries, however, none of these have survived. 

Aristotle spent about twenty years studying under Plato at the Academy (which is credited as being the first university; that is a school which, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, taught “mathematics, dialectics, natural science, and preparation for statesmanship”). Upon Plato’s death, Aristotle left the Academy and went on to be the private tutor to Prince Alexander (later known as Alexander the Great), and from there he moved on to found his own school in Athens that was called the Lyceum. It is at the Lyceum that Aristotle left behind the copious amounts of writings that are credited to his name. These writings are presumed to be lecture notes and/or teaching resources.

Schools back in Aristotle’s day weren’t like that of today. For instance, there were no classrooms and Aristotle is known to have tirelessly walked around the outdoor campus while lecturing. There are reports of his students dutifully following his every step as well as his words of wisdom. Therefore, exactly how Aristotle used his lecture notes is not clear. 

In many respects, Aristotle’s work follows on from Plato’s and other Ancient Greek philosophers, however, the legacy of Alexander the Great is also very much intertwined with Aristotle. It is often portrayed that Alexander spread Greek thought throughout the ancient worlds, and seeing as Aristotle was his primary tutor, it’s reasonable to assume that it was Aristotle’s version of Greek thought that was circulated. However, it was not a one-way streak. Alexander also absorbed influence from the lands he conquered (Egypt through to India). In fact, Alexander’s best friend criticised him for being influenced too much by the Persians, as was notable by him wearing Persian attire instead of Greek clothing. (Alexander’s response to this offence was to kill him, which apparently he had more remorse about than killing his own father, but anyway that’s not the focus of this blog.) The influence of other lands flowed through to Aristotle too, who, in particular, had access to biology specimens of plants and animals that other lovers of wisdom in Greece did not. In light of these circumstances, I can see why Aristotle was considered highly knowledgable.

To add a layer of complexity, technically, neither Aristotle or Alexander were Greeks, they were Macedonians. Calling Macedonian’s Greek is a bit like calling Austrian’s German; in both instances there is a shared language but each have different dialects, customs, politics, culture, and so forth. Referring to Aristotle or Alexander as Greek is a bit like calling Hitler German when, as any German will tell you, Hitler was Austrian.

Basically, the way history panned out, despite the Macedonian monarchy being the ones to take control over Greece, Macedonia inevitably became part of Greece, not vice versa. 

Macedonian’s takeover of Greece during Aristotle’s lifetime was a period of great tension. Ill feelings towards Macedonians resulted in Aristotle being exiled from Athens a few years prior to his death. Aristotle’s colleague, Theophrastus, succeeded him as headmaster of the Lyceum. Theophrastus kept Aristotle’s writings as part of his personal library and is credited for extending Aristotelian logic into an even more refined systematic order. Upon Theophrastus’ death Aristotle’s manuscripts were passed onto another philosopher, and so on. Aristotle’s works were preserved – sometimes in dingy, damp locations where they were exposed to moisture and mould – by a small group of philosophers for a few hundred years. During those years, Plato’s writings had a lot more public attention. By the way, Plato appears to have supported the opinion that all genders had equal soul qualities (albeit, Plato also suggested that “male” soul qualities are superior to “female” soul qualities).

In about 30 BCE, a Greek philosopher by the name of Andronicus of Rhodes published an edited version of Aristotle’s manuscripts that are the basis of what we have today. Sections that were too weather damaged were guessed to ensure no gaps in the pose. Thus, the story of Aristotle’s writings from being lecture notes through to editions that were made available to an audience beyond his school, illustrates that Aristotle never intended anyone who was not a student at Lyceum to read his work. There is not even any evidence to conclude that Aristotle intended for his students or colleagues to see his writings; it may simply have been lack of foresight that he left them behind when he fled Athens.

Over the next few hundred years, versions of Aristotle’s work began being circulated in Latin and Arabic, however, Aristotle’s rise to fame was not instant. In the fourth century, Emperor Julian wrote a Hymn to the Mother of the Gods in which he records an interesting comment by the philosopher Xenarchus who said that Aristotle was absurd when he spoke about metaphysical principles, in particular, the nature of the human soul. Emperor Julian’s personal critique of Aristotle was not as harsh. He believed that if Aristotle’s work was brought into alignment with Plato’s then it had value. It is unclear from this brief reference whether Emperor Julian was referring to Aristotle’s dialogues that may have still been available or if he is referring to the published lecture notes.

Moving on into the next few hundred centuries, while most of Europe was plunged into an era commonly referred to as the “Dark Ages” and/or the Medieval period, Aristotle’s writings were mostly preserved by Islamic (and some Jewish) scholars. Early Christian scholars typically had more exposure to Plato, although individuals such as Saint Augustine (354 – 430), are noted for having Aristotelian influence. Augustine spent time in Persia and he studied Neoplatonism before converting to Christianity so to note Aristotle’s influence in this instance is not surprising.

Exactly how and when more Aristotelian ideas were incorporated into Christianity is a bit fuzzy, suffice to say, that as the Medieval period evolved, Aristotle’s influence on the Church was crystallised through the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274). Aquinas was originally from Italy, studied in France, and was ordained in Germany. He wrote a summary of Christian theology (if you can call a 4000+ page document – modern typeface, PDF format – a summary!) Aquinas’ Summa Theologica quotes Aristotle directly around 400 times. In comparison, Plato only gets mentioned about 150.

Aquinas’ life marks a point in time when education was becoming more formalised through the establishment of universities like those that we know of today, for example the University of Paris that Aquinas attended was established 1160-1250. More crucially, another point to note is that Aquinas and the emerging universities began to have access to Aristotle’s work that had been passed down through Greco-Roman lines and works that had been preserved by Islamic scholars. Thus, rather than a broad range of subjects being covered by numerous philosophers, Aristotelian texts offered the bulk of what was considered a complete education, especially in regards to the liberal arts.

In a nutshell, education of the late Medieval and Renaissance periods was a Latinised version of Aristotelian theories treated as gospel. From Aquinas’ integrating of Aristotle’s metaphysics into Christian doctrine through to biological treaties on plants, animals, and humans, Aristotle was considered to be a genius of all time. Moreover, Aristotle’s focus on logical, rational thinking, and empirical observations were the rhetorics of justifying why his views should be accepted. From the royal palace in Spain to the clergy in Rome, and throughout the Byzantine Empire, Aristotle’s works were a stable curriculum. Having said that, only about 5% of the European population were educated (the statistics are slightly higher in Italian regions where closer to 10% of the population were educated; these places maintained more of the Roman education system than elsewhere. It was also more likely for Italian women to receive a formal education in Italy than elsewhere around Europe, that is until the witch hunts began). 

The educated were predominantly men of privilege. They were priests and anyone of noble birth who were in an elitist position. There are a few references to nuns and women in royal households studying Aristotle but they are few and far between.

As previously mentioned, in Politics Aristotle claims that men are naturally superior to women, and men who can engage with philosophical topics are naturally superior to men who have labouring occupations. Therefore, given that these concepts were standard teachings given to educated men, the system itself was maintained by insisting that women of all classes and men who worked in labouring jobs (i.e., farming, blacksmithing, and other crafts) were unsuited to education. Aristotle taught these discriminating theories based on “empirical” observations. He observed that slaves had more muscle mass than philosophers, who supposedly had more intelligence, therefore he concluded it was only natural that the former should work on tools while the latter tell them how to do the work.

The level of influence Aristotle had on European culture was quaintly captured by writer and poet, Dante, who echoed the sentiment that practical skills were inferior to thinking, moreover, men who used their intellect were considered to be closer to God (God = the Primal Goodness who brought mankind into existence):

‘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 of 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”‘

(Monarchy, Book 1, part 3)

It may be deduced that, for multiple centuries, the average person had no idea who Aristotle was but nonetheless they lived within religious, political, and cultural environments that were formed around his ideas. In other words, Aristotle’s philosophies set the tone for social values, laws, and other areas of life. One can only wonder how different things may have been if another philosopher or a broader range of theories were circulated. I’ve said it once, but its worth saying again, Aristotle’s influence cannot be understated and Aristotle was wrong about a lot of things. His cosmology and physics were not only accepted without question, in some cases, disagreeing with Aristotelian thought could result in retributions from the Church (e.g., Galileo and Copernicus).

In some circumstances, it must have taken a lot of effort to believe Aristotle’s “wisdom” when there was concrete evidence available to easily be demonstrated as false, like both men and women have the same cranial sutures, was as easy as examining the a few skulls. However, there was also a period in time when the Church forbid autopsies, hence, reliance upon Aristotle’s descriptions of anatomy was all people (in particular, physicians) had to go on.

With cultish belief in Aristotle being the norm, it’s not that surprising even more outlandish claims were also believed. My personal favourite in the category Aristotle’s outlandish claims is the one about how menstruating woman could tarnish a mirror by looking simply looking at it. When I mention this one to people in conversation they usually burst out laughing. However, this was no laughing matter to devout scholars like Aquinas. Not only did he believe Aristotle was completely correct about the menstruating women and mirror theory, he followed it up by saying it proved that old ladies could damage the souls of young children simply by looking at them. Hmm, kind of reminds me of the concept of the evil eye that fuelled witch hunts … I’d like to say more about this but it’s better left for a blog of its own (see here).

Interestingly, it was not until Aristotle’s theories were rejected that significant developments took place in science, religion, and, in turn, culture. Some people believe Aristotle held up scientific development for 2000 years, and while this may be an exaggeration, there may also be some truth in it. 

A major game changer was Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) who, in 1517 pinned his thesis to the door of a small church in Germany, thus sparking the reformation. Luther’s criticism of the Church were inevitably rejections of Aristotle’s philosophies pertaining to the nature of a human soul. Further, Luther was deeply concerned about Aristotle being taught at universities. Specifically, as reported by Robert Stan in The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, Luther spoke against the decision made by the faculty of liberal arts at the University of Paris, to include all of Aristotle’s known writings in their curriculum. Whilst the Catholic Church appalled Aquinas for Christianising Aristotle, the Islamic world praised Averroes for Islamicising Aristotle. To Luther, Aristotle was, quite simply, a pagan. Luther fell short of calling out Aristotle’s sexist attitudes, but nonetheless he was a key player in getting the ball rolling.

Sir Thomas Elyot (1490-1546) is one of the first recorded academics to directly oppose Aristotle’s gender assumptions, which he eloquently did in a book titled Defence of Good Women. 

Rene Decartes (1596 – 1650) is another important character who successfully questioned Aristotle’s authority. Descartes is considered by many to be the father of modern science. An examination of his work quickly reveals why. He successfully defined the difference between philosophy and science, and in doing so turned cultural acceptance of Aristotle’s works on its head. From Descartes’ foundational work many other scholars followed, such as Isaac Newton (1643-1727) and François Poulain (1648–1723). 

However, despite the work of many dedicated scholars in search of truth, in the nineteen century, Friedrich Tiedemann (1781-1861) was still questioning why Aristotle’s biology lessons were still being taught even though it was well and truly known he was often wrong. Likewise, from a psychology and mental health perspective I wonder why Aristotle’s philosophies about the human mind, sensations, and emotions are still given credence? 

In many instances it is not a case of Aristotle’s psychology theories being taught “we believe human beings behave/think/feel in such-a-such manner because Aristotle said so” (although I have come across one university lecturer who presented a lesson in that way). Rather, once one is aware of Aristotle’s work it is clear to see the chain of influence. For instance, Freud’s psychology lecturer at the University of Vienna was a Catholic Priest called Franz Brentano; Brentano was a devout fan of Aristotle and introduced Freud to his philosophies. Is it just a coincidence that Freud divided the human mind up into two categories (the id and superego) and Aristotle also referred to the soul as being divided up into two categories (the passionate soul and the rational soul)? Likewise, is it just a coincidence that Freud claimed men had more “superego” compared to women and Aristotle claimed men had more “rational soul” compared to women? I think not. And so the Aristotelian influence on psychological sciences continues in subtle ways through the credence given to individuals like Freud who come from an Aristotelian background. (I’ve written a peer-reviewed paper that can be found here that goes into more detail about negative consequences of following flawed interpretations of Ancient Greek philosophy.)

It is my humble view that the situation is nuanced by Aristotelian influence being so deeply embedded into cultures (namely those with Christian, Islamic, and Jewish heritages) that it is not recognised where certain attitudes and assumptions first came from. In order to rectify the situation, critically revisiting Aristotle’s theories and comparing them to contemporary research is a prudent step to take. Aristotle’s philosophies are a belief system and the fundamental ideology that underpins his writing needs to be recognised in order to see its potential value and harm. 

Big Picture Questions

To conclude, I firmly believe Aristotle was a great man and I find much of his work is utterly fascinating. His works provide a precious insight into a particular type of thinking that existed over 2000 years ago, however, there were many other philosophies from antiquity that are also worthy of admiration and attention. For starters, the Pythagoraean and Epicurean philosophers had some great things to say about mathematics, ethics, and equality of the genders … hmm, I wonder why the 5% of the educated people in the Medieval period neglected their ideas when formalising religious doctrines and education curriculums?

I can’t help but wonder if there is a link between systemic sexism, racism, and other forms of prejudice embedded in contemporary culture that can be traced back to historical support for Aristotle’s psychology? There is probably no simple answer to such a question, but I believe there is sufficient historic evidence to support the need to consider the possibility that Aristotle has been overrated.

Closing Thoughts

While it is tempting to shame Aristotle and berate him for being an arrogant, sexist man who who used illogical premises to justify misogyny and racial discrimination, I don’t believe it is fair to do so. Ultimately, Aristotle never intended his work to be published and we have no copy of the works that he did intentionally publish. As a teacher, I feel a certain sympathy for this man who is a founders of my craft. I shudder at the thought that my teaching notes may be published after I’m dead and that I will be judged according to what is written on them. Never in my life have I written down word for word everything I intend to say in a class. There are always additional points, information I know so well I don’t need to make notes about in my lesson plans, and above all, I always intend to have discussions with my students to flesh out the topics further. I suspect Aristotle may have been similar, moreover, it is my understanding that he, and many other ancient philosophers, were also members of mysteria, that is mystery cults (e.g., Eleusinian Mystery School). Membership into such groups was dependent upon keeping secrets and to reveal knowledge that was considered sacred was punishable under Ancient Greek laws. Therefore, it is not far-fetched to speculate that Aristotle held beliefs that were not recorded in his lecture notes, or if they were then they were, they were written in code. Hence, if Aristotle’s works are lecture notes, they do not give us a full picture about Aristotelian thought. In turn, subsequent ideologies and curriculums based on Aristotle’s works can be considered as products of biased interpretations, as opposed to proof that Aristotle was a genius who deserves to be given a higher rating than other ancient philosophers.

Is Aristotle’s work overrated? I’d say a firm, yes! Ancient Greek philosophy was about debating ideas, not placing one man’s (misogynistic) opinions above all others.

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