The Left-Hand Path of Pleasure and Power
Volume I: Origins
Imagine for a moment, that you're living about a hundred years from now in the year 2100. You are reflecting back to the 20th century, trying to put this era into some kind of historical perspective. What is it that most stands out in your mind? Do you primarily see a period of astounding scientific achievements with the invention of the automobile, television, and the exploration of outer space? Or do you see world wars, widespread environmental destruction and cities in decay, with ever increasing crime rates?
I believe a hundred years from now our descendants will look back to the last half of the twentieth century and be astounded not so much by our technological success, but by our unprecedented change in consciousness. For I believe we are in one of the most dramatic evolutionary transformations of consciousness the human species has ever experienced. We are globally experiencing a period of change more significant and inclusive than the Renaissance of the Middle Ages, the Scientific-Industrial Revolution and the discovery of the Americas all combined.
For the past 5,000 years, human beings have been on a journey in consciousness which elevated the masculine over the feminine, the intellectual over the intuitive and instinctual dimensions of our being. We have structured our cultures with an emphasis on competition and conquest, rather than cooperation. We have collectively formed a reality in which only the transcendental qualities of consciousness are valued, while the inherent spiritual values of the Natural World have been depreciated and almost forgotten entirely.
As a species, we are now turning a corner in our collective journey. Our paradigm, or world view is beginning to shift and a whole new horizon stretches out before us. VAMACARA TANTRA is about this journey in consciousness. At the most radical level Vamacara doesn't see the Divine as being solely Transcendent or separate from Nature, but rather it perceives The Divine as Nature, or Immanent. As a logical consequence it doesn't see Nature as an obstacle, sex as a problem and desire as an enemy, but rather integrates every aspect of our lives into a spiritual context. This involves the total acceptance of all of Life's experiences: the highs and the lows; the positive and the negative; the light and the dark; the waking and the dreaming self.
It is precisely this process of unfolding integration, that provides the medium through which human beings grow, bursting our localized limitations to embrace the infinite possibilities of further expansion. This process is the ever expanding, evolutionary Spiral of Consciousness that always moves us beyond our narrow preconceived boundaries of Self and Reality. This is the essence of Vamacara Tantra.
In The Beginning
When confronted with the overwhelming amount of information now available from archaeologists, anthropologists and mythologists, in the summer of 1985 I suddenly realized how absolutely ignorant I was of our collective past as a species. And for the most part, I had previously considered myself to be an educated person.
It was a rather humiliating realization then, to find the picture that I had put together concerning our past was so small, narrow and even distorted. But on the other hand I was also elated. For at last I was learning something that put our culture in a perspective that made more sense, because its vision was so much more broad, inclusive and penetrating.
I have come to realize the story of our past is not just a record of external events, even though these are important. But rather, it is primarily a story of our inner explorations, our journeys through the many and varied fields of Consciousness.
To retrace our steps along this winding, evolutionary road is definitely a monumental task, and one that I hope many of you may be inspired to explore. However in this work, I am only presenting a very general outline, with the particular purpose of uncovering the cultural and religious context from which the technology of Yoga, and more specifically Tantra Yoga evolved.
I feel it is extremely important to understand this foundational context, in order to appreciate the original intention of Tantra. The strength in the branches of a tree, are determined by the condition of the roots. And the roots of Tantra Yoga reach far deeper into our past than any one has previously imagined.
Our journey then, back into our collective past is not only one of travelling through time, but also of travelling through mind. This journey does not begin in the seventh century with the appearance of the first recognizable Tantra scripture. Nor does it begin in the second century B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) with the earliest date for the composition of the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, or even with the setting down into writing of the Rig Veda around 1200 B.C.E..
Our journey begins much further back in human evolution than these relatively recent developments. If we really want to examine the roots of Tantra Yoga, then we must go far deeper than what we have come to superficially recognize as civilization. We must travel back into the dawn of human development, into the twilight of pre-history, when Homo Sapiens Neanderthalis still walked the Earth. This is where our journey begins.
The Neanderthal Connection
The earliest physical evidence of Neanderthal Man that we have, reaches back to around 500,000 B.C.E.. This is not some mythological speculation on our part, but something that is very well established by actual physical evidence. The information that has come to light is challenging many of our preconceived ideas of history, as well as religion.
High up in the Alps three caves were discovered, which had once been occupied by Neanderthals. In these caves were found exquisitely crafted stone tools, flagstone flooring, benches and work tables. Not the usual image that comes to mind, when we think of savage ape-like creatures dwelling in caves. Furthermore, they unearthed the graves of several Neanderthals who were ceremonially buried, accompanied by an assortment of shells, flints and flowers, as if these were to be taken along on their journey.
What is particularly interesting, is that all these individuals were carefully arranged in a fetal position, and orientated in an East-West direction to face the rising Sun. Their bodies were sprinkled with red ochre, which is a naturally occurring compound of iron oxide. Surprisingly, Anthropologists have discovered much later grave sites of modern Homo sapiens, who evidently practiced the very same burial rituals - including the use of red ochre.
The Sun's journey is perhaps the oldest religious or mythological symbol of the human experience. Our life was perceived to be similar to the journey of the Sun. It rose like the sun in the East, shinning in the world of physical forms, and then just as dramatically set at the time of death. But just as the Sun, which was perceived to be daily reborn from the Mother Earth, we too, it was believed were destined to rise once again and begin a new day. This hope of resurrection is indicated by burials facing the rising sun. And the practice of burial gift giving was to insure a safe and prosperous journey. The same practice is still being done in many parts of the world for exactly the same reasons.
The use of red ochre in a ritualistic context is another, almost universal practice. The mythology that surrounded this ritual by the Neanderthals, can at this point only be speculative. But the explanations given by their more modern relatives, I believe, can be safely relied on.
The prevailing belief system at one time was that human beings, the animals and the plants were all children of the Mother Earth. And human beings were born colored red. In fact, the root meaning of the word "Adam", is "man or being of red earth".(1) At the time of death then, ochre was used to return the individual back into his original state of redness, returning him or her back to the womb of the Mother Earth. This was to insure or signify a continuity in the Life cycle, and eventual rebirth.
All over the planet, archaeologists and anthropologists have found entrances to caves, temples and tombs colored red with ochre, as a sacred sign indicating that one is about to enter the womb of the Mother Earth.
The continuity of these rituals within the human family is simply amazing, especially when considering the immense span of time they were practiced. But nothing so far had prepared me for the fantastic story concerning the ritual of the cave-bear.
When I first read of this ritual in Joseph Campbell's monumental book, Primitive Mythology, I was deeply effected by it for days. I have reread this particular story many times, still with utter amazement.(2) For there was something else anthropologists found in these early Neanderthal caves. They found stone altars. On these altars were a number of cave-bear skulls carefully arranged, and all the skulls had exactly two vertebrae of the neck attached. Clearly, they indicated some kind of ritual sacrifice.
What is just as strange however, similar skulls have been found in the caves of primitive arctic hunters all over the world. These were not Neanderthal caves now, but those of Homo sapiens, living tens of thousands of years later, long after Neanderthal had disappeared. Surprisingly though, the bear skulls were found arranged in exactly the same manner and in identical condition, as those found in the Neanderthal caves.
The religious context of the cave-bear ritual long remained a mystery however, until the relatively recent discovery of the Ainus people by anthropologists. These people are a semi-nomadic tribe, who lived by hunting and fishing on the northern islands of Japan. The existence of these people itself, was a strange anomaly. For they were not Japanese, nor even remotely related to the Japanese. They were actually Caucasian with white skin, round eyes and wavy hair. The nearest related group of people was more than 5,000 miles away.
What is particularly interesting about the Ainus people, is their religious belief that human beings are much more beautiful than any of the gods. Likewise it is their belief, that the deities consider it good fortune to come to the Earth for a visit. But they always come in the disguise of animals. Their most important deity, the god of the mountains, always appears as a bear.
When a bear cub is caught in the mountains, it is brought back to the village with great joy and celebration, appropriate to a visiting deity. He is suckled by the women of the village, and plays with their children, until he is big enough where such activity might pose a danger. Then he is placed in his own wooden house, which now actually serves as a cage. He is kept there for about two years, fed all the while with sumptuous meals.
One day, it is determined that it is time for the bear to be sent back to his home. Since he is believed to be a visiting deity, his real home is not in the mountains where he was found, but on another plane of existence. The god then, must be released from the body of the bear through a ritual sacrifice called iyomande, which means to "send away".
The bear/god is killed and sent back to all his relatives with a message, describing how the Ainus had been so kind and that he should someday return. He is given various gifts and prayer sticks to take on his journey, so that his ancestors will be pleased.
There is a communal meal, where a portion of the bear is given to each member of the tribe to eat. And the men drink some of his blood for strength. The head is separated from the body with exactly two vertebrae of the neck still remaining attached to the skull and placed on a stone altar among a number of similar skulls from earlier rituals.
Vestiges of this religious sacrifice have been identified throughout the arctic, from Finland and Northern Russia, across Siberia and Alaska, to Hudson Bay; and among many different tribal peoples from the Fins, Lapps, Ostyaks to the Algonquins of North America.
Variations of this ritual have also been discovered in Africa, where instead of the bear being considered the visiting deity, it was the lion, leopard, or the panther. The skulls were all arranged in the same way, and in exactly the same condition. Site after site has been discovered, indicating this belief system was extremely widespread, and spanning an incredible period of time of at least 75,000 years. From a psychological perspective the caves of the Neanderthals can be seen as symbolic of the collective unconscious mind. As a species, we have re-discovered those caves. And entering back into their darkness, we have rekindled the fires of our collective awareness.
What is revealed in this process, might very well be considered the religious and mythic foundation of our species. It is our common scripture written in stone and bone, preaching a gospel that still can be heard today in many different forms and inflections.
It is a story handed down to us from our ancient ancestors who lived on the Earth millions of years before we arrived. Even though they have long ago disappeared, what they have left behind speaks to us of our racial heritage, and forms a bridge of continuity reaching back in time and consciousness to our common origins.
To examine the basic beliefs of this ancient scripture is almost like listening to the voice of our chromosomes, listening to the stories of our cells. For the body has its own wisdom, and our genetic memory forgets nothing.
Just as the cells of our body are set to the rhythms of the rising and setting sun, our mind is set to the cycle of our birth and death. But within that framework there exists strata of consciousness, aware of our continuity beyond the confines of time and space. And all our myths and religions attempt to translate that reality into a temporal and rational story.
These burial rituals of our early ancestors, are the first recorded attempts at just such a story. They tell us that death was not perceived as a final end, but a process of transformation and rebirth. This is perhaps the single most important principle upon which all mythologies and religions rest. And even today, among the majority of aboriginal peoples that yet remain on the Earth, this remains an unchallenged reality.
In the context of this belief structure then, there evolved the special role of the mediator or messenger, one who facilitates communication from this world to the next. The role of the mediator became widespread and still exists even today.
In the case of the Ainus people the bear cub was received as a visiting deity. When he was sacrificed or "sent back home", he took with him the gifts and prayers of the community. His body then became the sacred meal, uniting each member of the community with this divine messenger, and thereby forming a link with the world beyond.
As the role of the mediator continued to develop through the course of human history, eventually a specific member of the community took on the role. This person was set apart to function as the divine messenger, and in some cases even became the sacrificial offering.
We can see this basic theme played out in the stories of all the world's great saviors: Tammuz; Osiris; Adonis; Dionysus; Jesus; and even Buddha in the symbolism of his enlightenment.
Even today, all over the world a continuation of this basic story is ritualistically and symbolically carried out in the sacrifice of the Catholic Mass. All the essential elements remain intact. Instead of the actual sacrifice by death however, the bread and wine are magically transformed into the body and blood of the divine mediator, and then distributed to the religious community as the sacred meal. Each member of this special community then, becomes united with the savior and is assured a place with him in the world beyond. The ancient mythic theme continues.
Just as the physical life of each individual is set off by the events of birth and death, so too the psychic structure must accommodate both these poles of human experience. Mythology is a reflection of this process of accommodation, putting one in accord with the cyclic events of Nature.
Having peered into the caves of our distant past, we have uncovered a mythological theme that like a great river, runs completely through our development as a species. The central core of this great theme is focused on the issues of death, and our journey into the world beyond.
The Great Mother
On the other end of the spectrum of consciousness another great theme was also being played out. This theme revolved around the issues of birth, and the nurturing and sustaining of Life in the Natural World. And standing in the very center of this reality was the image of the Great Mother Goddess.
As early as 30,000 B.C.E. human beings no longer applied their creative energies solely for survival, but applied their tools to carve stone, ivory and bone. Archaeologists have discovered thousands of engravings, reliefs and sculptures across a vast expanse of land stretching from the Pyrenees in Spain to Lake Baikal in Siberia, all images of the Mother Goddess.
On these early Goddess images are various signs and symbols: lines; triangles; zig-zags; circles and spirals. And many of these images have been found stained with red ochre.
At first archaeologists and anthropologists really didn't know what to make of all this. They were at a loss as to how these images and symbols fit in with their current picture of early human development. So they more or less dismissed them as some kind of fetishes related to the erotic. On the other hand, because most of the images were naked, with large breasts, protruding buttocks and pregnant belly, they also interpreted these images to be nothing more than primitive man's projections of human fertility.
It is interesting to notice, that most all of these early archaeologists and anthropologists were men. It wasn't until much later, when an increasing number of women began to enter the field that more serious evaluations were entertained. They began to see these images and symbols in an entirely different light, not as the crude, naturalistic representations of the erotic as formerly thought, but as the symbolic language of the organic and generative process of Nature. It is now commonly understood, these carvings represent the first human attempts to creatively express the great mysteries of birth and sustenance. And quite naturally, at the very center of these mysteries is the Female.
We have to step out of our twentieth century programming, and move back in time and consciousness well before any written history began, back before writing and the wheel were invented, back to a time perhaps when humans were first learning to speak. It is here, that we find ourselves in a world where the Female embodies the mysterious and miraculous powers of Nature. The biological functions of the female body were seen as manifestations of the sacred and magical powers of some greater reality.
What more profound miracle were these people to witness, than the process where one of their own kind came forth from the Female body? The Female was, in the most observable way, the natural mediator between worlds, between the spiritual and the physical dimensions of Life. Through her the invisible suddenly becomes visible. The unmanifest becomes manifest. That which was released at death, now finds a new home in flesh and blood.
Those of you who have participated in or witnessed this awe inspiring event, can begin to appreciate the impact it had on our early ancestors. Their numbers were very small, and life sometimes hung in the balance by a thread. A birth represented in practical terms, the very survival of the new species. And appropriately it was seen as a mysterious and sacred event
Another manifestation of this magical power of the Female, was that from her own body came the food to keep the young alive. She not only brought forth new life, but she became the very source of life-giving nourishment as well.
While attempting to see these events from the perspective of our early ancestors, it becomes very obvious how they came to associate the Female with the life-giving and nourishing powers of the Earth. For the Earth brought forth a rich abundance of life-forms from her own body. The plants, animals and humans all come from the body of our Great Mother Earth. All are nourished from her body, and all eventually returned to her at death.
Given the natural associations between the Female and the living processes of the Earth, it's not surprising then to find these aspects of life-giving prominently displayed in the images of the Female form. For a span of over thirty thousand years, these statues were kept on household altars, in the fields and all places of communal activities.
These primordial images speak to us of a perception of the World as organic and whole. They represent a reality where Spirit and Nature were united, and therefore always manifesting the mysterious and the sacred. Everything was interconnected, woven together in a life-giving, nourishing and regenerating universal form - The Goddess.
One of the earliest and most used symbols for the sacred powers of the Goddess was the vulva.(3) This symbol has been found from Spain to Siberia to India, marking special places of power. It has been found to have seeds and sprouts drawn over or beside it, representing the primal source of Life. The image of the vulva has also been found with indications of rippling movements of water issuing from it, symbolizing the nourishing waters of Life.
At the entrance of many caves - the most sacred places of our early ancestors, the sign of the vulva was carved to indicate the sanctuary of the Great Mother, and the source of her regenerative powers. Caves were seen as the womb of the Mother, a place of not only protection, but a place of initiation where the bond with the Mother was renewed. It was also a place where the individual was returned in death, to be regenerated and reborn.
The vulva has been used as a sacred symbol to indicate a wide range of life-affirming concepts and perceptions for over 30,000 years. And what is truly amazing, is that it is still being used in this context today. From one end of India to the other, one is still able to see this sacred symbol used in its original context in numerous temples.
The concept of the temple itself, evolved as an extension of the primordial womb-cave of the Mother Earth: the two pillars of the front entrance representing the upraised legs; the doorway - the vaginal entrance. The sacrifice was made with the shedding of sacred blood. This blood which contained the powers of Life and regeneration, was then shared by the people as a sacrament. Sometimes the initiates were literally drenched in the sacrificial blood of an animal.
It is interesting to find in the Bible in Paul's letter to the Hebrews an explicit reference to the all encompassing power of blood. In this letter we read that Moses "took the blood of the calves and of the goats, with water and scarlet wood and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying 'This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded for you.' The tabernacle also and all the vessels of the ministry he sprinkled likewise with blood; and with blood almost everything is cleansed according to the Law, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness."
This ritual then is undoubtedly connected to the ancient associations with the powers of the womb and of the Earth. In the earliest writing that we are currently able to translate, the Sumarian, the word AMA meant both the earth and womb. The Aryan root word Mater was used for both mother and measurement, from which we get such words as matter, metric, material, and matrix which originally meant "womb of matter".(4) * * * Illustrations * * *
The Blood Covenant
One of the primary connections between all of our early religious rituals and symbols was blood. We have seen how the Neanderthals some 75,000 years ago used red ochre to symbolize the blood of the Mother Earth in their burial ceremonies. We have also seen the same ritual used by early humans as far back as 40,000 years. In fact, in many of their ancient grave sites not only were the bones of the dead covered with red ochre, but everything in the cave-tomb, including the walls. When the statues and figurines of the Mother-Goddess, were first discovered many of these were also covered with the same red substance.
Anthropologists have found tribal people as late as this century, still using red ochre in their rituals. When they asked Australian aborigines what it was they were putting on themselves and their sacred stones, they replied: "menstrual blood".(5)
We now understand this was the key to a practice and belief system that has continued for over 75,000 years, and spread in cultures all over the globe. It was the belief that the mysterious power of creation and regeneration, resided in menstrual blood.
These early humans knew that unless the Female was empowered by the presence of blood, the magic of birth could not take place. The transformation of a girl into a woman was an awe inspiring event. It was the invisible and mysterious Mother Goddess initiating the Female into the realms of Her creative power. Like the Earth, the Female could now bring new life from her own body. This magic blood was believed to contain the very essence of Life itself, and was considered a manifestation of great spiritual power.
Most words used today for menstruation, have in their root-meanings such concepts as mysterious, supernatural, and sacred. It has been discovered that ancient cultures all over the world, regarded menstrual blood as a manifestation of sacred power.
In ancient Mesopotamia the great Goddess Ninhursag, created human beings from clay and her own "blood of life". The word Adamah, meaning red or bloody clay, might very well be the original meaning to the name Adam.(6)
In India there was a universal belief that the Great Mother formed all of physical creation from her menstrual blood, and all of creation is seen as the living substance of her own body.
Not only was menstrual blood associated with the obvious ideas of birth and the creation of life, but also with the ideas of rebirth and regeneration. At one time it was a widespread belief throughout the world, that if one painted oneself with the life-giving waters of the womb one could not only have Life more abundantly, but it would ensure survival after death. So quite appropriately, we find many burial sites covered with red ochre to ensure the continuity of life into the next world. In the most graphic terms it represented the idea of rebirth from the womb of the Great Mother Earth.
In many cultures throughout the world that later developed the concept of a Male Deity, this idea of the blood bond between the female and the Mother Goddess was so powerful, that we find a strange but corresponding belief: that in order for human males to bond with their Deity they also have to shed blood. Only this shedding of blood was not a natural event as in the case of females. In order to replicate the menstrual initiation, males came up with the practice of genital mutilation.
True to the spirit of this idea is the practice of circumcision: the ritualistic removal of the foreskin of the penis. In the Bible in the book of Genesis 17:11 circumcision is stated to be the "sign of the covenant" between God and his people.
The Semitic tribes however, are not the only people to practice this ritual. Circumcision can be found on every continent and performed in a wide variety of cultures.
It is also interesting to find, that with the early development of the Male Deities, they themselves, somehow had to be associated with the blood of the Mother Goddess in order to acquire their power.
The Norse God Thor for example, gained eternal life by bathing in a river mixed with the menstrual blood of a Goddess. Odin acquired his supreme power by stealing the sacred blood from the cauldron of the Mother Earth. In India, there is a story where the God Indra, gained his wisdom from the "wise blood" of the Goddess Lakshmi.(7)
Associated with this idea of wisdom being associated with blood, was the ancient belief that post-menopausal women were especially powerful and wise. For it was believed they had the capacity to permanently retain their sacred blood.
In ancient cultures both East and West, menstrual blood was perceived as a medium of transmission of power, wisdom and Life. Kings gained the power to rule by being anointed with the sacred blood of the Queen or Priestess. In some of the Tantric scriptures still found today, it is prescribed in certain rituals that the Shakti, or female representing the Goddess, must be menstruating when uniting with her male consort, so that he may be blessed and share in the power of the Goddess.
It is not surprising then, our human ancestors formed communities that were governed by matrilineal succession. For the sacred power of the blood, was believed to be passed down from mother to daughter. This was the original concept of the" blood line". In this context it was most natural that inheritance of material goods be passed on from mother to daughter as well as the family name. In fact, it is interesting that the root word for "inheritance" is Heres, which is the Greek for "female landowner", and also associated with the Greek Goddess Hera.
At one time it was universally believed, that all Females who had been initiated into the power of the Goddess through Her sacred blood, possessed a magical power to make all things grow and multiply. Because of this belief, women were perceived as the natural caretakers of the land and all that it produced.
In many cultures throughout the world, the origins of agriculture are attributed to the daughters of the Earth Mother. Females were seen as the priestesses of the soil. Even today, there are certain tribal communities that still believe it is the sole power of the female to grow food.
The fertility of the Earth and the fertility of the Female became inextricably bound together. The two were linked by the bonds of sacred blood. It was believed that the magic to bring forth food from the Earth was in the power of menstrual blood. Special rituals were performed using menstrual blood to ensure the fertility of the soil. There are variations of this ancient ritual, still being performed today in various parts of the world.
This sacred bond between blood and soil was universally recognized for thousands of years, and was the fundamental principle upon which agriculture rested. For a man to own land was unthinkable, because within the framework of this reality, he didn't possess the power to make it productive.
Much later on in our history, the concept of matrimony arose. Whereby if a man entered into a ritualistic bond with a female, through her he could gain control over her land or property. The real meaning of matrimony is the inheritance of property of the Matre or Mother.(8)
The Universal Culture
When we look back over this culture of the Goddess from about 30,000 B.C.E. to 4,000 B.C.E., we find a continuous theme of beliefs that served as a foundation for many mythologies, religions and institutions we are familiar with today. We have been exploring this foundation in a process that could very well be described as the Archaeology of Human Consciousness.
The ancient scripture that is being revealed here, has been written with stones, bones, blood and soil. And it has almost been completely forgotten. Only in the most remote areas of the planet, do people still remember parts of the story, but even then, only dimly and with many distortions.
This primeval scripture however, remains intact in the cave of the unconscious mind and can be revealed to anyone who remains alert to its symbolic language. In dreams and visions, art and myths, one can hear and see this ancient heritage of our cells. It is our Spiritual Biology which teaches us about wholeness, a reality where Body and Spirit are not separated; Spirit and Nature remain as two sides of one continuum. Life and Death are seen as stages of an on-going journey. The world is perceived as alive and conscious, and everything is Sacred, because everything is connected and a part of the greater whole - as a manifestation of the ever changing Goddess.
This belief system represents a stage in the evolution of human consciousness where there were no Gods, only a universally worshipped Goddess. Her image and symbols have been discovered from Western Europe, Turkey, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, to the Indus Valley and China forming a cultural matrix that covered a vast area of the globe.
The unity of this cultural matrix over such a vast area is astounding enough, but when it is realized that it flourished for over 30,000 years, it is truly amazing. In comparison to such a time frame, the Vedas and the Bible were written only a few hours ago.
Another remarkable feature about this culture is that there are no signs of warfare, or the manufacture of weapons. There are no carvings, pictures or symbols of humans killing or fighting other human beings. Hilltops and mountains that were later used as sites for fortresses, at this period are used for shrines and temples.(9)
It was in the later stages of this universal culture that the first attempts at writing occurred, as well as the appearance of pottery, jewelry and weaving, the domestication of animals, the establishment of grain growing agriculture in the fertile river valleys, and the eventual rise of cities.
There are a number of wonderful books giving detailed information regarding the Neolithic Culture of the Goddess, and I highly recommend that people investigate this period of development for themselves. Some of these books are listed in the Bibliography. It isn't in the scope of this work however, to examine this culture in complete detail, but rather to focus on the origins and evolution of specific religious concepts and beliefs. * Illustrations * * *
The Woman And The Moon
A man by the name of Alexander Marshack, in the 1960's found a piece of bone near the headwaters of the Nile. The bone was close to 30,000 years old. But its age however, was not the most interesting feature. What made this bone particularly unusual, is that it had at periodic intervals, notches carved into it as if to mark a sequence of time. He later found many other such markings on bones, antlers, stones and goddess figures, in Czechoslovakia, Russia, Spain and Italy.
After studying these numerous finds, Marshack was convinced that the lines were not made all at once as if to somehow decorate the object, but were made at different times as one would find with any crude calendar. His theory is that these objects were the first attempts at keeping a record of time, and that these markings were actually indications of lunar cycles.(10)
This idea was quite shocking to his academic friends. For it implied a degree of mental sophistication on the part of our early ancestors, that no one had yet imagined. But then something else turned up, something that uncovered their eyes and pulled back the curtain. It is a solitary carving in rock about 17 inches high, discovered in France. Its age has been estimated between 24,000 to 20,000 years old. It is a female figure standing upright. She is holding elevated in her right hand a bison's horn - crescent-shaped like the New Moon. The horn is notched with thirteen lines.
These mysterious thirteen lines became the center of much discussion. Eventually, they came to be understood to indicate either the thirteen days from the visible New Moon to the Full, or the thirteen New Moons of each yearly cycle.
The most astounding thing about this carving however, is graphically indicated by her left hand. She is resting her left hand upon her swelling womb, showing all to see in no uncertain terms, a relationship between the cycles or phases of the Moon and the cycles of the womb. In this figure, the mystery and power of the celestial realms have become graphically infused and embodied in the Female Form.(11)
This mysterious unity of the celestial and the terrestrial realms personified in the Female, is certainly the most powerful and long lasting religious image ever to evolve in the human species. And in fact, it is still with us today. Go into any Catholic church and look closely at the image of the mother of Jesus. She will be found to be standing on the crescent Moon.
If we take off our glasses of the twentieth century and peer out into the darkness of our past, there is one image that dominates the night as no other - the Moon. Her ever changing phases, yet ever renewing cycles captured the imagination of the human mind like no other image. And with her mysterious motions she wove the fabric of many myths and rituals all over the World.
At some point in our evolutionary journey, the Moon became the universal image of the eternal Goddess. The Moon not only governed the tides of the sea, but also the tides of the womb. The menstrual cycle coincides with the 28 day cycle of the Moon. Even today, in many parts of the world women still refer to their menstrual cycle as being in their "moontime".
It is not surprising then, to find that all early calendars were based on this primary association between the cycles of menstruation and the phases of the Moon. In many languages, the words for Moon, month, measurement and menstruation have either similar meanings or common root words. In Gaelic for example, the words for "menstruation" and "calendar" are the same. Similar associations are seen all over the world.(12)
A month was measured from one New Moon to the next, giving 13 New Moons for each year. Consequently, all early calendars had thirteen months in the year. Every festival was calculated to the New or Full Moons. And in many parts of Europe, people continued observing these ancient festivals well into the Middle Ages.
The calendar then, was not some distant abstraction to these people, but something that gave meaning and structure to their lives in ways we can scarcely imagine. It was a paradigm that was woven with the threads of their own biology and spiritual perceptions. It was a reality that recognized the seasons of increase and decrease, of birth and death as rhythmic phases in a larger, ever renewing cycle. Nothing was perceived in terms of absolute opposites, only as complementary cycles in the spiral dance of Creation.
The ever changing, self-renewing lunar image of the Goddess became the unifying symbol of the Heavens and the Earth, and lent meaning and measure to all things. The three phases of the Moon Goddess were reflected in the lives of all her children: human, animal and plant.
In the Northern latitudes the New Moon became associated with Spring, birth, and the growth of all living things. This image was similarly represented in the life of the Female as the maiden or young girl.
Associated with the Full Moon was Summertime, when all life became fruitful. This phase of the Moon naturally became symbolic of motherhood.
The waning or decreasing Moon was associated with Winter, when the Earth became less abundant. It also became associated with the Female who ceased to flow her life-giving blood. Because she now retained the sacred blood of life, the older woman was regarded to be more powerful and wise. For this reason, in many societies the elder women were always the center of power.
So we find this mysterious relationship between the three phases of the Moon, the seasonal rhythms of the Earth, and the three stages in a woman's life, symbolically depicted in the lunar image of the Goddess. She represented the primary image that influenced nearly all concepts of Deity for at least 20,000 years.
Each of these three lunar aspects eventually became personified as a separate Goddess, giving rise to the more abstract concept of the Three in One, and the One in Three. This was the origin of what much later became known as the Trinity.
In Greece, the three Goddesses were known as Athene, Aphrodite and Hecate. In Ireland they were known as Ana, Babd and Macha; in India: Parvati, Durga and Uma.
Eventually the three Goddesses were replaced by Male Gods, or as in the case of Christianity, three masculine aspects of one God.
One aspect of the Moon we have not examined yet but is perhaps the most important of all. As our early ancestors followed the various changes of their Goddess in the night sky, they noticed as we still do, that after reaching her fullness she began to gradually decrease in size, until she finally disappeared altogether. The impact on these early people was profound. For them, their Goddess had left; the Moon had died. The visible became invisible; and the manifest had died back into the darkness of the unmanifest.
One anthropologist, who lived for a time with the African Bushmen, witnessed a ritualistic dance that lasted the entire night. When he asked them the purpose for their dance, he was told that they needed to show the dying Moon how much they loved her, so that she would again return. The Goddess was disappearing from their world; and with her withdrawal, Life itself was perceived as threatened.(13)
This grand drama that was played out on the celestial screen of the night sky, was none other than the mysteries of Life and Death. As the old Moon weakens and eventually dies, it tells us the story of our own lives, and the lives of all living things: everything eventually returns to the darkness of the creative depths, the impenetrable Mystery of the Creative Source.
But the story does not end here, for in time the light is reborn. After three days, the new crescent Moon rises once again. The darkness was not antagonistic to the light, but the very womb from which the light emerged. The young Goddess returns once again, to grow and reach the fullness of Her power.
This same story was reflected in the seasonal life of the plants, which also had a big impact on our early ancestors. For the majority of their diet consisted of plants.
As they were able to observe on a seasonal basis, the seeds that were buried in the Earth, began to sprout with new life. And as the plants grew, they blossomed and bore fruit. Eventually, the plants fell and disappeared back within the darkness of the Earth. And after some time, the seeds sprouted with new life and the Earth became green once again. Death had given way to Life, as Life eventually returned to Death. Neither one an end in itself, but an aspect of a continuing process.
The cyclic process of birth-death-rebirth that was observed in the changing patterns of the Moon was observed in the organic processes of all living things. As it was done in Heaven, so it was done on Earth. Change was perceived to be an integral part of continuity, while continuity formed the basis of a never ending stream of change. Darkness and Light, Life and Death, Continuity and Change were all perceived as complementary aspects of the one Eternal Goddess.
This then was the Gospel of the Moon. The impact and implications of Her message can still be seen in numerous ways. One particular way is in the root meanings of certain words.
The Ashanti people have only one word for their deity, which is the same word for the Moon. In the Basque language also, the words for "deity" and "moon" are exactly the same.(14) To the ancient Greeks, the word menos meant both moon and power, whereby we derive such words as mensuration (to measure), menstruation, mentality, menopause, menses, and mentor.
One such derivative, mania, at one time had a spiritual definition, whereby the Moon Goddess possessed one in ecstatic revelation. The word lunacy, once had exactly the same meaning.(15)
Through these kinds of associations we are still able to get a small glimpse, of the once universally recognized bond between the concepts of Deity, the Moon and Females. The Moon Goddess was perceived to empower a woman and menstrual blood was a sign of that empowerment. The whole concept of measurement of sequential time was born from this perception. The menstrual and lunar cycles became the basis of all ancient calendars, which in turn became the governing principle for almost all activities of early societies, especially those activities centered around agriculture.(16) Even today in many parts of the world, the cycles of the Moon are considered when planting or harvesting food crops. In this country we have the Farmer's Almanac, which still associates times of planting with the cycles of the Moon.
Because of their mysterious association with the Moon Goddess, women were quite naturally seen to be the leaders of the tribe, clan or social structure. Their biological processes were perceived in a spiritual context, whereby women became the natural power holders, the initiators of the species. * * * Illustrations * * *
|Vamacara Vol. II||History - A Spiritual Analysis||The Cannabis Papers|
|In Her Fields - Poetry To the Goddess||The Adventures of Habu - Stories for Children||Roderick W. Marling Biography|
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