Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Golden Ass

Some of you may recognize the title of my blog to be the title of a Roman "novel" by a one Lucius Apuleius. The plot consists of a young man wandering around Rome, obsessed with what one might call magic or enchantment, seeking to learn all that he can. In the process he is transformed into a donkey (or "ass"), and is forced to be treated as a "beast of labor", similar to a slave. Fortunately (sort of), he is "saved" by the cult gods Isis and Osiris, and is initiated into their mysteries.

The story, even in brief-synopsis form, is easy to smile with in its comedic aspect. In being able myself, however, to give witness to having lived a similar life (sort of), I have to confess that I find the topic to be heavy. The hilarity of the image of a man as a "golden ass", especially when combined with the background of "animism" and "personification" and/or "figuration" inherent in the attitude of the ancient mystery cults, for me enlightens the mood a bit. In my learning about The Golden Ass, I find it necessary as a Christian to ask, "who's the golden ass here?". Is it me? Or is it some more comedic parallel to "the golden calf", soon to be melted like the wicked witch of the West? Or is the "golden ass" in question actually the one in the story?

See when I say "in my learning about The Golden Ass", I am not just referring to the novel. The book is about salvation of the main character by means of mystical knowledge that, for the author of the book, extends back in history primarily to the infamous Pythagoras (no Pythagoras was not a modern physicists who happened to come across the "Pythagorean theorum" 2,000 yrs. early - the theorum was actually condidered at the time to be "mystical knowlege" that came out of a whole occult way of life). For various reasons I'd prefer not to go into here, involving the de-volution of history (into the figure of a golden ass, one might say), along with the normal dissatisfaction with my current condition that I share with most of my readers, I found myself in college (and in the few years afterwards) to be very attracted to this mystical knowledge rooted in the teachings of Pythagoras (to mixed results). And I persued it in much the same way as the central character in the novel. One might say I learned to turn base metal to gold, but what I may not have realized was that the gold was still in the form of an ass. So yes, I suppose the "golden ass" in question is in fact yours truly - me.

Why do I say that? Well, first of all, keep in mind that it was me who was seeking after this secret knowledge that supposedly brings salvation. Second, let me explain a little about this "secret knowledge" that I was seeking after so fervently, to start with by way of a few quotes (from

"...the Principle of Continuity. It recognizes that there is a continuum or spectrum from one extreme to the other. The proliferating triads are simply finer divisions of the continuum. For example, between North and West we discover North West as a mean term. But applying the Triadic Principle to North and North West reveals another mean term, North North West. The triadic division would continue forever if we didn't recognize that there is a continuum of directions between North and West. The Principle of Continuity should be kept in mind as we explore the structure of Reality according to the Pythagoreans. We will see many triads, but it must be understood that they are simply convenient divisions of a continuum." Ever heard of the "space-time continuoum"? Anyway, it is basically saying that everything is One. Knowledge of which to me doesn't require initiation into a mystery cult.

"By the Principle of Continuity we can see that there must be a connection between the 'highest' and 'lowest' realms, between the One and Matter, and connecting all things in between. These are the divine Seirai (Chords, Chains, 'Processions'), which unite the Orders of Being. Thus we have connections with the Celestial Bodies and are influenced by Them, who in turn convey influences from the Gods; this is the basis of astrology. We are all connected in the 'Great Chain of Being.'"

"Most of what I have discussed so far sounds like philosophy rather than religion, but the Pythagorean tradition is grounded in a number of spiritual practices. One of the best known is the Ascent to the One, in which the practitioner, by contemplative meditation, enters into ecstatic union with the One. This is a kind of Theurgy ('God-work'), by which the theurgist ascends into the God's presence by using symbols, signs, words, sounds, materials, etc. that are supported by the God's Chord, and that are provided by the God for that purpose."

My reader is probably at this point not only asking why I am referring to myself as the golden ass, but in addition is probably wondering why I am using the previous quotes to explain my reasoning. This "Great Chain of Being, the evidence that we are all One and in the One, is a part of what drew me in to the teachings of Pythagoras (not his words about it, but the acutal Chain). Funny thing is this: this Chain is none other than a chain of Fate. It's like the one attached to the feet of Prometheus, bound to eternal punishment for his good deeds. Again, let me provide a quote from the same website to help explain why I refer to this Chain as Fate.

This quote is a Pythagorean teaching on creation (creation being parallelled here with "Emmanation"). "One of the important triads, which defines the structure of Emanation at all levels of Being between One and Matter, is: Abiding (Monê) - Proceeding (Proödos) - Reverting (Epistrophê). It explains how an Essence can emanate into more substantial forms, and yet retain its identity. The Essence, or unchanging nature, of a thing is Abiding or Remaining; it is the Male Pole. Yet it has the Power or Potential (Dynamis) to relate to other things, to move by a continuous flux toward greater "participation," that is, toward more substantial embodiment, the direction of greater Multiplicity; this is the Female Pole. However, this flowing forth would cause it to lose its definition, so it Reverts or "Re-turns" (turns back) toward its origin so that it can mirror its Essence. The result is an Activity or Actualization (Energeia) of the Potential emanating from the Essence; the Offspring constitutes the third Pole."

The ultimate Essence from which all things "Emmanate" and to which all things return is The One. But everything can also participate in some intermediary Essence. For example, an initiate into the mysteries might make an offering of hot spices to the "god" of the sun, who is really not the god of the physical sun but belongs to some Essence of Hotness. To repeat part of a previous quote: "This is a kind of Theurgy ('God-work'), by which the theurgist ascends into the God's presence by using symbols, signs, words, sounds, materials, etc. that are supported by the God's Chord, and that are provided by the God for that purpose." One sign, symbol or material might be a hot spice on an offering plate.

When hotness appears in something that is hot, I am proposing, it is not necessarily some great mysterious and escstatic union with the One (although it is a bit wondrious that there can be the same "hotness" in two separate physical objects), as the cults would have spoken of it, but the hotness is simply participating in and fulfilling the role of the course of nature. Of course a god will be the god that it is. Daahh. Especially if the god is a "nature" god, similar to what Christian traditions would consider an angel. So it is simply "fate" that something hot will be hot. Again, duuh. Just to eliminate any possible doubt or confusion, let me pass on to you what I know to be the definition of "fate" (from: "n 1: an event (or a course of events) that will inevitably happen in the future [syn: destiny] 2: the ultimate agency that predetermines the course of events (often personified as a woman); "we are helpless in the face of Destiny'".

Now let me remind you that "fate" is the root of "fatality". It is inevitable that I will die. So in my great attraction to "The Great Chain of Being" I was really and ultimately attracted to my own Death (I am sometimes attracted to the Rear End of other beings, but it is strange to be attracted to my own). Hence the one half of the expression - "ass". I'd like to hold onto the "golden" half of the expression because I feel that I have in fact learned valuable lessons about the basic fabric of creation and "how things work", if you will.

Interestingly, the placement of the cemetaries in two different peoples' communities is very illuminating to our topic. For the Greeks (Pythagoras was a Greek), the Cemetary was considered sacred ground, and deserved a central place in the city (although not necessarily a geographically central place). For the Hebrews the Cemetary was the model of profanity, and should at all costs have been kept outside the city walls. This is because the Jews believed in a different God. The Monotheism of Pythagoras really is different from the monotheism of the Judao-Christian tradition.

My "God is the God of the living, not the dead". I have found myself in the presence of practices similar to the ones by which a Pythagorean might offer sacrafices to the god of the sun, and, honesly, been a little freaked out. After having been able to think through all of this more completely, now I see why.

Also, as the evidence and means of this Life we are promised, there is Grace. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One primary characteristic of Grace, discussed throughout history by many more folks much more knowledgeble than myself (probably a little less assenine), is its complete shattering of the natural and fateful forces of nature that keep Prometheus (and myself, thank God) chained to his rock (and ties the average Joe to his Kharma - my Dogma ate my Kharma). Grace is a violent interruption of the natural law of the cosmos, the re-establishment of a new Law - a new "Chord" to a new God (of Life) - and a radical redirection of that previously referenced Fate (toward the suffering of the Cross).

When the Grace demonstrated by the Cross and Resurrection becomes the centerpiece of life, and the One who died on the cross and was resurrected becomes the sole and primary object of worship, there is something going on that is other than what is going on when one might offer spices to the god of the sun. There is a higher Law at work. There is a higher connection being forged (than the connection between a "hot spice" and the "hot sun"). This higher Law and "connection" is so world and life altering that it actually shatters and obliterates the previously existing and reigning connections.

We might come away from this shattering wondering what happened to nature. "Where is my Fate?", one might be inclined to ask. "I miss my connection to nature". Interestingly, I think, when it comes to the question of the "golden" half of the expression "golden ass", I was actually "initiated into the mysteries" long before I ever learned the first thing about Pythagoreanism or any of its offshoots. You might say I was given all the secret knowledge of the mystery cults when I came to Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made. "The things that were previously whispered in dark corners will later be shouted from the rooftops" (that was a paraphrase of the words ofJesus).

So, now, I ask again - why did I say that I am a "Golden Ass" (notice I capitalized it this time)? Because I am an ass (like most of us - I do (or have done) dumb shit (such as seek after Pythagoras for salvation)). But thankfully redeemed by the Grace of Christ! Good news indeed.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Arbritrariness of Love

I've often wondered how one person ends up coupled with another. Of all the people in the world, how does this particular person end up with that particular one? I mean, as easily attracted to other beings as we are, how do we end up friends or lovers with that one? And how did they end up with us? It can seem so arbitrary. I ask partially because I'm single, but also partially because the question fills me with a kind of wonder and marvel.

I am currently reading The American Religion, by Harold Bloom. He says that all the religous esctasy involved in big religious gatherings since about 1840 are really just charged with a bunch of sexual energy. Being a "Christian", I'm thinking two thoughts at once. One: yeah, he's right (at least partially). Two: how dare he!? How does he get off? This lead me to sort of an open-ended question with hardly even any formulation. Basically, though - so where does love come from? Rather, how do we end up in love with SOMEONE (rather than ambiguously wriggling around on the ground in "religous esctasy")? Again, I was sort of marveled by thoughts on the whole thing. I had a feeling that my question, the "answer", along with my thoughts on the matter, had something to do with God. But I wasn't sure what exactly.

Then tonight I went to see "Tristan and Isolde", recently out in theaters (1.12.06). At the beginning, as they began to fall in love, I'm thinking, "how in earth did this happen? I mean, besides all the crazy-ass circumstances behind these two peple meeting each other in the first place, much less in this way, why are they choosing to love each other? After all, both could have chosen their duties over the draw of the other's beauty from the beginning. Or they both could have waited in expatation of waiting for and falling on love with another. Anyway, then, at the end, as Tristan is lying there crying on his "death-bed", beside the river, with Isolde crying, I realized how much those questions just didn't matter for them. They were in love, and that was all they knew. Their love comprised their world. And the Love was greater than the Duty or the Death. Spurred by my recent studies of the institution of marriage in the ancient Hebrews, I had the thought that rang so true (ignoring for a moment the other un-mentioned-in-this-blog ways that this movie did not ring true with me), that the only reason two people ever love each other is because God loves us. After all, that's what a God is. Without the "god" of some-thing, that "thing" is not. Without God, there would be no love (nor anything else). And it is from God where comes this wierd and "arbitrary" stuff called Love.

What a thought. All love between people is a glimpse into God's love for us, the world, and all of creation. And God's love for creation is actually what determines all of the seemingly arbitrary love going on around here. The immensity of the world, and all the love going around. And it's all "just" a glimpse, and a revelation. Wow. I pray that I can understand and enter into that relationship of Love (of God for us) better (possibly even through the love between a woman and myself, perhaps?).

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