According to certain mythologies, humanity once lived in Paradise and since leaving it has been trying to return. This can be interpreted as referring to the natural state of feeling our interconnectedness with all existence, which humans lost once we began to develop our own individual self-awareness, as society became more complex, language developed and the incredible variety of human cultures emerged.
All religious, magical and spiritual rituals and practices are designed to help bring us back to union with All That Is.
The most ancient written sources on the planet record humanity’s efforts to restore connection with its divine source:
GILGAMESH (c. 3000 BCE) is an epic tale from Mesopotamia of love between two men which turns into the hero’s search for the meaning of life. Gilgamesh is a part-mortal, part-divine, king out of control – the people of the city of Uruk appealed to the Gods for help because the king was claiming the right to sleep with all of their sons and daughters. Enter Enkidu, a wild and free man so strong and attractive that Gilgamesh pairs up with him. When the Goddess Ishtar later demands Gilgamesh become her consort he declines: She sends the Bull of Heaven to attack him. With Enkidu’s help the bull is killed – but this leads to divine punishment, and Enkidu gets sick and dies. From that point on the inconsolable Gilgamesh goes searching for the meaning of life and immortality – and almost achieves his goal. He is given a plant with the power of rejuvenation but leaves it by the shore where it gets eaten by a snake, thus explaining why the snake can shed its skin!
The EGYPTIAN BOOK OF THE DEAD (Book of Emerging Forth into Light, is a more accurate title translation) is a collection of spells and prayers written over thousands of years designed to give mystical knowledge of the afterlife, find safe passage through it and harness the powers available there for one’s own use after death.
The book tells us: “In the womb before the world began, I was a child among other gods and children who were, or may be, or might have been. There in the dark when we could not see each other’s faces, we agreed with one mind to be born, to separate, to forget the pact we made that we might learn the secrets of our fraternity. We agreed to know sorrow in exchange for joy, to know death in exchange for life. We were dark seeds of possibility whispering. Then one by one we entered alone. We walked on our legs, and as we had said, we passed in well-lit streets without recognizing each other; yet we were gods sheathed in flesh, the multitude of a single spirit. Gods live even in darkness, in the world above your heads, in the crevices of rocks, in the open palms of strangers.”
DISPUTE BETWEEN A MAN AND HIS BA (SOUL) dates from Egypt’s Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BCE) and features someone struggling to come to terms with life’s struggles. The soul encourages him to pursue his spiritual practice in the hope of attaining the afterlife, but to enjoy the experience of being alive, and not rush to end it.
Ancient pagan faiths developed out of shamanistic cultures of the Stone and Bronze Ages and took union with spirit as granted, as our natural state of being. There was no need to philosophise about the meaning of life until we became aware that we had forgotten it, you simply went to the temple to make offerings to the deities that would help and empower you here on earth. As civilisations emerged and rulers sought to bring order to society and a sense of cohesion and belonging, they understood that the way to achieve this was to manipulate and control the spirituality of the masses, using tools such as fear, doubt and shame.
The 8th to 3rd centuries BCE, known as the ‘AXIAL AGE’, was a period when, as put by German philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) who birthed the term, “the spiritual foundations of humanity were laid simultaneously and independently in China, India, Persia, Judea, and Greece. And these are the foundations upon which humanity still subsists today”. During this period, cultures were established and settled enough for deep thinkers to emerge and the long journey back to reconnection with our natural state of union with all existence began to be written about. The widespread existence of tombs, sacred stones and other evidence from several millennia preceding the Axial Age show that rituals to affirm and strengthen belief in and experience of the holy state of union were a central feature of our ancestors’ lives – the earliest Greek philosophers looked to the Druids of western Europe and Shamans of Eurasia as their forbears, but from this Age the quest to unite everyone under structured and defined religious banners came to the fore, leading to the religious age.
In PERSIA, Zoroastrianism became the world’s first state religion, and remained so for over a thousand years until the rise of Islam in the 7th century CE. Its roots go back to the 2nd millennium BCE, but Zoroaster is generally reckoned to have lived in the 7th or 6th century BCE. With a monotheistic take on God, a clear duality between good and evil, messianic and apocalyptic themes and emphasis on judgement after death, Zoroastrianism had a profound effect on subsequent religious cultures.
ANCIENT GREECE birthed an exploration of philosophy. Greece was where the relationship between philosophy, the heavens and love between men was deeply explored, providing models that influenced Arabic and later European Renaissance cultures. The Greeks worshipped a vast number of gods and goddesses, yet also appreciated that all deities were divine powers ultimately coming from the same source, be that seen as Mother (as it was in the vast majority of ancient cultures) or Father (as among the ancient Celtic peoples, who saw Dis Pater, a Plutonic underworld figure, as the Source of all, and by the Hebrews who were the first to make efforts to eradicate the worship of the Goddess, and Her gay/queer priests the Qedesha).
Some of the earliest Greek philosophers wrote lines that can speak to us clear and loud today.
Lyric poet Pindar, (518-438 BCE):
“Creatures of a day! What is anyone?
What is anyone not? A dream of a shadow
Is our mortal being. But when there comes to men
A gleam of splendour given of heaven,
Then rests on them a light of glory
And blessed are their days.”
“Pindar makes all men akin to gods if they realize their full potential: their innate gifts are divinely bestowed, and even then success still depends on the gods’ active favour.” Wikipedia.
In INDIA, Hinduism also teaches that the potential in humans is nothing less than divine. “Atman (the individual soul) is Brahman (the god soul)”. During the Axial Age a synthesis of many ‘Vedic’ teachings developed over the millennia formed the roots of Hinduism in the form of the Upanishads. During these centuries Jainism and Buddhism were both born – the Buddha’s teachings focus on transcendence of the individual ego to attain Nirvana, a state of reunion with the Source which ends the cycle of death and rebirth. Buddhism spread throughout Asia, and continues to grow globally today, a truly world religion. Jainism and Hinduism also teach that ‘moksha’ (liberation) is the goal of life, though for most people the recommendation is to create good karma in order to achieve a good rebirth which will bring liberation closer.
In JUDEA, Judaism also took a more regulated and formalised structure during these centuries, revitalised by prophets such as Isaiah and forced to reorganise during the time of Exile from the homeland. The Torah took shape and influences from Zoroastrian thought took hold. It is from this point that Judaism drops its associations with Goddess Asherah, once seen as wife of Allah, and monotheism takes a firm hold. The universe starts to be seen in absolute terms of right and wrong, and an elaborate depiction of the afterlife gradually develops, filled with judgement and punishment, while previously the ‘land of Sheol’ was just a place of dust where souls went for a brief period of time before rebirth.
In CHINA the period of the Zhou dynasty (11th to 4th centuries BCE, the longest lasting Chinese dynasty) brought the birth of the spiritual philosophies Confucianism and Taoism. Confucianism does not separate the spiritual from the earthly, instead seeks to find the sacred in the normality of everyday life. Taoism teaches how to attune to the Tao, the Way of Heaven, and both paths affirm that humans are capable of attuning themselves to the ‘Law of Heaven’ by being compassionate and doing good deeds.
SO WHAT WENT WRONG?
WHY DID ALL THE CLEAR TEACHING OF THE ANCIENTS TURN INTO THE LIFE DENYING, MISOGYNIST, PLEASURE PHOBIC, HOMOPHOBIC MIND CONTROLLING AUTHORITARIAN WORLD RELIGIONS OF CHRISTIANITY AND ISLAM?
BECAUSE OF POWER-HUNGRY, GREEDY MEN
FIRST THEY INVENTED SIN
THEN THEY CAME UP WITH SHAME
THEY NAMED THE HOLY LOVE OF MEN FOR MEN UNNATURAL
AND FOR LIFE’S TRIALS GAVE WOMEN THE BLAME.
THEY TOOK UP THE SWORDS OF BATTLE
AND BELIEVED THE END WAS NIGH
THEY BROUGHT DESTRUCTION AND DEATH
TO GOD’S PEOPLES
TO GOD’S CREATURES
TO MOTHER EARTH.
THE AIR IS POLLUTED
THE SEAS ARE SICK
FIRES ARE RAGING
AND THE LAND IS SUFFERING
THE LIES OF MEN HAVE BROUGHT ABOUT THIS END
YET THE LIGHT OF TRUE SPIRIT CAN HELP US TRANSCEND
THE DELUSIONS THAT ARE CLOUDING OUR MINDS
THE DIVISIONS THAT FUEL HURTS OF MANY KINDS
UNION IS OURS TO RECLAIM
THERE’S ULTIMATELY NO FAULT AND NO BLAME
WE ARE ALL INVOLVED IN THIS DIVINE GAME
THE DARK AND LIGHT TWO SIDES BUT THE SAME
UNION IS OURS TO RECLAIM.
“… human consciousness is a monitoring system with almost the sole function of calling attention to unusual changes and disturbances in the environment. It has, therefore, an extremely superficial, restricted, and, shall we say, one-sidedly anxious apprehension of all that is going on in the organism-environment field. In particular, it is ignorant of the unbelievable harmoniousness and perfection of our constant and basic psychophysiological functions, and of their exquisitely complex ties and balances with the outside universe. It is possible, then, that any method of turning the senses back upon themselves will restore awareness of this ignored aspect of life, for consciousness is thereby led back to its own organic roots. The extreme subtlety and beauty of these processes thereupon invade consciousness like a vision from heaven.”
—Alan Watts, The Two Hands of God, ‘Dismemberment Remembered’
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thanks, Shokti, for your insights and amazing research!