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Origen – Early Christian thinker often associated with celibacy

Origen (allegedly) castrating himself before a nun – via Wikipedia

Origen (185-254) was a religious scholar, intellectual and ascetic born in Alexandria who tried to synthesize Greek philosophy and Christian belief.

He believed that all souls existed prior to birth, an idea condemned by the Church in the 6th century and rejected by St. Thomas Aquinas.

Origen may have proposed a type of reincarnation but his surviving texts are too fragmentary to be sure.

His orthodox contemporaries believed that he favored a form of universal salvation stipulating that all souls are ultimately admitted to heaven, even the Devil’s. But he, himself, denied that Satan would be saved.

A fierce ascetic, for many years the accepted story was that Origen castrated himself. But in light of recent scholarship and the dissemination of information through the internet, this claim seems dubious today.¹

Carl Jung and others wrote about Origen’s alleged castration. For Jung, Origen did the deed to get closer to his God. But I remember reading this and thinking that Jung was way off here. Most religious traditions demand celibacy for advanced mystics and contemplatives, not because sex is perceived as bad, per se, but because the proverbial seed is said to contain power that facilitates connection with the deity.²

Hence saint Paul said, to paraphrase:

If you can’t be like me (celibate), get married and have regular sex
1 Cor 7 ³

“Universal Man”, an illumination from a 13th-century copy of Hildegard von Bingen’s Liber Divinorum Operum (“Book of Divine Works”, c. 1165) via Wikipedia

Arrested in 250 CE under the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Decius, Origen suffered prolonged torture before dying two years later from his ordeal.

Once deemed an important Church Father, he is still regarded as an important theologian. His ideas continue to influence philosophers and Protestant theologians.

¹ For more on this and universal salvation, see my highlights at LINER.

² I don’t know about the physiology of women and how female celibacy relates to spirituality. Spirituality is variously defined, so this is a complicated topic, any way you look at it. See for instance, Elizabeth Abbot, A History of Celibacy. For Abbot, celibacy combined with spirituality seems to mean she gets more out of her creative life from abstaining. But for deep contemplatives, the meaning seems more esoteric, having to do with the value of contemplative intercession.

³ Like so much in the Bible, this seems a rather general statement. As if all human sexual needs can be boiled down to two types! In reality, I think we see a continuum of needs, often changing over time as individuals not only age but also evolve.

Related » Anathema, Church Fathers, Excommunication, Universalism



Sri Ramakrishna – Hindu spiritual figure claiming to have practiced different religions

English: Ramakrishna Paramhansacommons:Image:R...

Ramakrishna (Photo: Wikipedia)

Sri Ramakrishna (1836-86) began life as an obscure, unschooled village boy, Gadhadhar Chatterji. His first major religoius experience came at age six.

Ramakrishna describes his first spiritual ecstasy…while walking along the paddy fields, a flock of white cranes flying against a backdrop of dark thunder clouds caught his vision. He reportedly became so absorbed by this scene that he lost outward consciousness and experienced indescribable joy in that state.¹

In the years to come, he became a prominent Hindu holy man, emphasizing unity among all religions.

Ramakrishna says he practiced all faiths and discovered that they all lead to the same spiritual place. Just how thoroughly, however, one can effectively rid oneself of one’s cultural and religious biases remains open to debate. My sense is that he viewed other religions through the lense of his own biases, even though he claims all thoughts of Hinduism vanished while, for instance, someone read the Bible to him or while he recited the name of Allah.²

To me his exploration of non-Hindu religions seems superficial and, perhaps, even delusional. He bases his analysis on visions had while practicing some of the outward measures of different religious faiths, including Chritianity. But for most mystically inclined Christians, religious visions only strenghthen and reassure. They are not the measure of faith. Faith is about putting your religion into practice, day in and day out. It’s about finding God through selfless serving, while sweeping the floor or maybe cleaning a toilet. It’s not about a brief and, I would suggest, questionable vision that comes after a few days of external practice. Anyone on drugs or with a hepped up brain can have that. Moreover, it is not about wanting to be exalted as a holy man that everyone should liken to God.³

This issue aside, biographers say Ramakrishna often fell into extended ecstatic raptures. These trances were extreme to the point that even Ramakrishna himself sometimes wondered if he’d gone mad. At such moments the Hindu Blessed Mother, Kali, apparently would appear in a mystical vision and console him with her graces.

English: This is a pencil sketch of the holy m...

Sketch of the holy mother Sri Sarada Devi (Photo: Wikipedia)

Before marrying Sri Devi, Ramakrishna prayed that Kali would “root out” all of her sexual tendencies. Not surprisingly, their marriage was never consummated. While this may seem strange to many who can’t see beyond our materialistic, techno-sexual culture, the two reportedly were united in a purely spiritual sense, making sexual union redundant, perhaps even distasteful. Considering she was much younger than him, this is surprising. But most Hindu accounts don’t talk too much about female sexuality, focussing on the male gurus’ ‘great victories’ over their male sexual urges.4

To help overcome his male sexual urges, Ramakrishna often dressed and behaved as a woman. Again, to me this seems quite crude, not in the sense that I am against cross-dressing (I’m not) but in the sense that it is such a materialistic, clunky approach. I would think that a deeply spiritual person, someone revered as holy, would be able to inwardly experience a “subtle body,” as the Hindus put it, of the opposite sex without having to go through all the laborious externals of cross-dressing.

The Gospel of Ramakrishna, based on the writings of his direct disciples, is widely available in the West. Essentially a wisdom book, it is full of pithy sayings and examples. In one analogy Ramakrishna notes, for instance, that bad tomatoes rot faster when bashed up and thrown into a garbage heap. This alludes to the idea that the soul may be purified of ungodly attitudes (bad tomatoes) through holy suffering (for more on this dynamic, see » Bhagavad Gita, Alchemy).

With regard to the idea of karma transfer, which for most people sounds alien and difficult to grasp, an Indian biographer writes that Ramakrishna:

had a vision of his subtle body…[with] a number of sores on the back. He was puzzled by the sight, but it was made clear…profane people had caused the sores on his body. They themselves had been purified, but they had left the suffering arising from their own sins with him.5

English: Photograph of Ramakrishna, taken on 1...

Photograph of Ramakrishna, taken on 10 December 1881 at the studio of The Bengal Photographers in Radhabazar, Calcutta, India. (Photo Wikipedia)

This illlustrates some core beliefs about the dynamics of Hindu mysticism. Similar but not identical beliefs can be found in Christian mysticism, In Catholicism souls closer to God suffer for the salvation of less pure souls (see » Faustina Kowalska). Further to this point, the worldly critique that “prayer does nothing” might, from the perspective of a bona fide saint, be seen as an unfortunate misunderstanding perpetuated by ignorance or sin.

Having said that, the idea that we can pick up bad vibes from other people is nothing new. And I think some religious people sensitive to this dynamic make a kind of grandiose career out of being “special” and “holy” when really, they are just sensitive—probably at least partly due to some physiological predisposition. The grandiosity, I think, comes from an underlying inferiority complex or from some other complication.

On the social level, Ramakrishna’s disciples founded the international charity organization known as the Ramakrishna Mission. And his most beloved disciple, Swami Vivekananda, became another pivotal Hindu religious figure.


² Ibid.

³ Non-Christians, of course, accuse Jesus of this. But it’s pretty clear that Jesus didn’t personally want to go on the cross, a symbol which has lasted through the centuries.

4 We also see this with Gandhi, who apparently in the platonic sense slept naked with his grand-neice and married women to overcome his sexual urges, which seems a little weird from a Western perspective. See >>

5 Swami Tejasananda, A Short Life of Sri Ramakrishna, Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama [Publication Department], 1990, p. 92. PDF (downloadable) version:, p. 105.

Related » Brahman, Contemplation, Hinduism, Mental Prayer, Spirit, Vocal Prayer



His Holiness Bhaktiratna Sadhu Swami Gaurangapada – “My Sannyasa Gurudeva Shrila Bhaktikumunda Santa Goswami” via Flickr

Sannyasa is the fourth Hindu asrama (Vedic stage of life) in which the male attains spiritual liberation (moksha).

At this stage the Indian sannyasin practices celibacy, renounces all worldly trappings, and pretty much acquires the legal status of a dead person. He either travels about freely, helping others to grow in spiritual matters, or enters a monastery.

Typically a sannyasin is either a follower of Vishnu (or one of Visnu’s incarnations such as Krishna) or Sankara.

Traditionally the sannyasin was predominantly male but today the situation is changing, with women sannyasins increasing in numbers.

The following excerpt from “Arsha Vidya Gurukulam’s Response to “Hinduism Here” and Michele Moritis’s Paper” outlines several important points concerning the evolution of Hinduism.

Except for the role of the priest, women participate equally in all the activities at the gurukulam. As in all religious traditions, there are stipulations for those who officiate at religious ceremonies. In the Hindu tradition, one of these is that the priest must be a Brahmin male and cogent reasons are given for this. However, the status of a sannyasin (a renunciant) is higher than that of a priest, and women are allowed to be sannayasins, as Michele’s report illustrates in her interview with a white American female sannyasin. And these female sannyasins can assume the role of a guru to a male Brahmin priest.

The precedent for lack of gender discrimination is embedded in the iconography of Hinduism. Most deities, including the deity at Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Lord Daksinamurti, are ardhanarishvara, half male and half female, since the Lord is looked upon as both male and female. In the Vedas, though there are certainly fewer women than men, they are not absent. In the Upanisads there are dialogues on Brahmavidya with women (Maitreyi and Gargi) and there are female rishis (Visvavara and Romasa) composing Vedic hymns (rks).¹

¹ Arsha Vidya Gurukulam’s Response to “Hinduism Here” and Michele Moritis’s Paper

  • “Bhakti Nrsinga Swami receives sannyasa initiation at the Durban Rathayatra 2008”

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Vestal Virgins

Vestal Virgin by Morin 1791 Terracotta by mharrsch via Flickr

The Vestal Virgins were a priesthood of virgin women in ancient Rome, probably of patrician class.

The Vestals apparently were instituted by the Roman King Numa and were thought to be the symbolic or perhaps spiritual daughters of the earliest Roman Kings. Wikipedia nicely sums up their crucial role to the well-being of ancient Rome.

In ancient Roman religion, the Vestals or Vestal Virgins (Vestales, singular Vestalis), were priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth. The College of the Vestals and its well-being was regarded as fundamental to the continuance and security of Rome. They cultivated the sacred fire that was not allowed to go out. The Vestals were freed of the usual social obligations to marry and bear children, and took a vow of chastity in order to devote themselves to the study and correct observance of state rituals that were off-limits to the male colleges of priests.¹

Statues in the House of the Vestal Virgins, Fo...

Statues in the House of the Vestal Virgins, Forum, Rome (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Vestals served for a minimum of 30 years, with a maximum of lifetime service. They answered to the head priest (pontifex maximus) and lived in a building near the Forum called the Atrium Vestae.

Ancient Rome had no separation of church and state, so the Vestals were maintained at public expense. They were pretty and pure looking, in keeping with ancient Roman aesthetic and moral ideals. Chosen by lots among eligible girls aged 6-10 years, the Vestals guarded the sacred flame at the temple of Vesta, near the Forum.

Constantin Hölscher Im Tempel der Vesta

Constantin Hölscher Im Tempel der Vesta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Their ongoing purity was essential. If found unchaste, a priestess could be buried alive as punishment. In 83 CE, for instance, Domitian executed three Vestal Virgins on charges of immorality. In 90 CE the chief Vestal, Cornelia, was buried alive.

It’s hard to know if these charges had any truth to them, or whether they were simply trumped up by the PTB, for whatever warped reasons.

The concept of the Vestal Virgin has inspired artists through the ages.


Related Posts » Romulus and Remus



Several religious traditions regard celibacy as a requirement for advanced spiritual progress and healthy premarital relationships. And married seekers primarily concerned with God realization are often counseled to practice celibacy or, depending on their psychological makeup and related calling, sexual moderation.

In contrast to Sigmund Freud‘s theories about so-called normal psychosexual development¹ and C. G. Jung‘s advocacy of a mind/body holism, some celibates claim that unspent sexual energy is transmuted to higher forms of psycho-spiritual awareness.

Aspects of popular culture and many ordinary people tend to characterize celibacy as something odd or deviant but the devout monastic, saint or guru and many non-denominational spiritual persons say it’s essential not only for personal development but also for the universal work of spiritual ‘liberation’ or, depending one one’s path, ‘salvation.’

This spiritual work is said to be just that—work. But it’s not the kind of immediately visible work that everyone can easily understand. Rather, it’s arguably more subtle and inwardly demanding. The work of salvation is said to involve meditation, contemplation and intercession. These practices apparently facilitate others’ ability to recognize and respond to God as an active force of love in their lives.

In Catholic and Hindu mysticism, the transpersonal connecting principles are, respectively, the ‘taking of sin’ and ‘karma transfer.’

Celibacy combined with higher forms of contemplation is said to elevate all concerned individuals, but this is probably a best-case scenario. In actual practice it seems that some individuals react in a hostile manner toward deeply spiritual persons, this being a possible explanation for the well-known phenomena of religious persecution, scapegoating and martyrdom.

And while some contemplative celibates may seem like socially inept or repressed “losers” to those predominantly concerned with worldly rewards, the celibates themselves often say they are regularly in touch with helpful spiritual powers (e.g. The Holy Spirit, The Goddess), intermediaries (e.g. angels, deceased relatives and saints) and other saintly living people—i.e. those whose inner relationship with God invisibly reaches out to others.

For a discussion on the notion of healthy vs. unhealthy types of celibacy, see “Celibacy, Sex and Spirituality.”

¹ From the entry “Cathexis” at

Freud never considers the possibility that pent up libidinal energy could be redirected to the spiritual life. On this score, many saints and mystics attest to the importance of celibacy. Without it, they say, their spiritual work (e.g. intercession) just can’t get done. Many go even further, describing chastity not as a kind of unavoidable necessity but as a great gift and virtue. This positive attitude lead St. Frances de Sales to say

Chastity is the lily among virtues and makes men almost equal to angels.

Sadly, many people still on a materialistic level of consciousness find this difficult to understand. As a result, some predominantly spiritual people may suffer ridicule and persecution, even by their apparently religious peers. Even more sad, it seems that some potential spiritual sensitives are, themselves, duped by the status quo viewpoint. So instead of flowering into sainthood, they may end up in psychiatric wards.

Related Posts »  Chakras, Kowalska (St. Faustina Helena), Ramakrishna (Sri), Tantra