In Hinduism a linga or lingam is a stone pillar or a carving which some say has a phallic shape.
Some scholars associate this with mere sexuality. And the British missionary William Ward forcefully criticized the linga as a sign of a supposedly debauched Hindu religion.¹ For most Hindus, this colonial critique probably would be taken as Ward projecting his own repressed fears and desires onto Hindus and Hinduism as a whole.
Indeed, in Hindu metaphysical thought the linga is said to represent the creative, generative aspect of creation, just as the yoni represents the mysteries of the cosmos and, especially, those of cosmic origins.
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Pantheism (Greek: pan [all] + theos [God] = All is God) is the belief that God and creation are one. This is also known as naturalistic pantheism, meaning that nature and the cosmos are identified with God.
This cosmology finds expression in some New Age theories that proclaim “We-are-the-Universe.”
The term panentheism refers to God as existing within but somehow grander than creation (i.e. the whole is greater than the sum of its parts). This view is often said to be found in Taoism and Hinduism, as well as the works of Spinoza and Hegel.
But important differences among these perspectives are often glossed over.
The scholar of religion R. C. Zaehner suggests another term, panenhenism, for the belief that the universe is a unified whole without reference to any kind of ‘God.’ Zaehner’s term prefigures semiotic and postmodern concerns to ‘deconstruct’ words like ‘God’ and what they connote for various individuals and groups—e.g. women, visible, invisible as well as outspoken and silent minorities.
To critique the idea of pantheism gets complicated because terms like “the universe” or “nature” may mean different things to different people. For some they’re limiting concepts because they don’t include heaven and hell, as well as all the spiritual powers and beings often believed to reside in these places. Others, however, claim that the words “universe” or “nature” “simply mean “all that is,” which would include heaven, hell and everything else.
Although tree symbolism is exceedingly diverse in meaning and form among world mythologies and religions, one of the most common motifs is the World Tree.
With important variants found in South American mythic art, the World Tree in Indo-European lore is said to be located at the center of the cosmos.
The tree’s roots dig deep into the earth while its branches point to the heavens.
David Leeming notes that the idea of the world tree is often linked to that of the world navel.
For the Tartars, a giant pine tree grows out of the navel of the earth and reaches to the home of the supreme ruler in heaven (David Leeming, The Oxford Companion to World Mythology, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 404).
As such, depth psychologists like C. G. Jung say the World Tree is a mythic symbol connecting mankind to the psycho-spiritual powers of the underworld, the earth and heaven.
But this tidy presentation of the notion of the holistic World Tree should not overlook the fact that the process of psychological transformation is not always easy nor without challenges.
Peter Butcher notes that new paradigms, i.e. larger ways of seeing the world, are often born of intense personal crises. While the holistic vision of the World Tree is an admirable ideal and perhaps worthwhile goal for some, others are not so fortunate and seem to be ruined by their inner adventures.
People who have experienced expanded states of consciousness often encounter a period of inner chaos or disorientation. This has been described as a Death, the Dark Night, a Fall into Formlessness, Being Swallowed by a Monster, Entering Hell or the Void, and so on.¹
Butcher says it’s essential for the seeker to “integrate a new way of seeing with old interpretations or constructs.”² In Jungian terms, the psyche must achieve a new balance between unusual inner experiences (as described above) and the demands of the outside world. And after a period of possibly alarming disorganization the self must successfully reorganize into a greater whole.
The notion of the world tree also has links to occult, Runic and Tarot lore because the most important world tree, Yggdrasill, is where the Norse god Odin hung himself upside down for nine days and nights in search of the secret of immortality.
Odin’s self-imposed ordeal is reflected in the Tarot mystery card of “The Hanged Man.” And it has also found its way into commentaries on Kabbalic mysticism.
¹ Peter Butcher, “Art Images Associated with States of Expanded Consciousness: A Study of the Individual Case,” Leonardo, Vol. 16, No. 3, Special Issue: Psychology and the Arts (Summer, 1983: 222-224), p. 222.
² Ibid., p. 223.
On the World Wide Web:
- “History of Ideas – the Hanged Man” » http://www.tarotforum.net/printthread.php?t=94131
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