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Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen - Istoriato scho...

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen – Istoriato schotel: de maaltijd der Goden op de Olympus (Istoriato dish: the food of the gods on Olympus – Photo credit: MicheleLovesArt)

Ambrosia (from Greek ambrotos = immortal) is the otherworldly food or drink of the Ancient Greek Olympians, sometimes given to mortal heroes and mankind as a salve but usually reserved for the gods. Said to confer the boon of immortality, mortals were punished if they took it uninvited.

Some scholars believe that ambrosia prefigures the Christian Eucharist. It remains unclear as to whether ambrosia has an earthly parallel (i.e. an actual substance found in nature), as does the Soma of the Hindu Vedic pantheon. Some say it’s based on the alleged healing powers of honey, others suggest it may be traced to the hallucinogenic mushroom.

Mythographer Joseph Campbell puts forward an interesting view:

…the drink of the gods, and the distillate of love are the same, in various strengths, to wit, ambrosia (Sanskrit amrta, “immortality”), the potion of deathless life experienced here and now. It is milk, it is wine, it is tea, it is coffee, it is anything you like, when drunk with a certain insight-life itself, when experienced from a certain depth and height.”¹

The Greek epic poet Homer made a clear distinction between ambrosia (food) and nectar (drink). But usually it’s not clear if ambrosia is food or drink. In ancient art it is usually administered by a nymph called Ambrosia.

¹ Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Creative Mythology. New York: Penguin Books, 1962: The Masks of God: Creative Mythology, 1976, p. 80.

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Martin Buber

Martin Buber (1878-1965)

Martin Buber (1878-1965) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Martin Buber (1878-1965) was a Viennese-born Israeli-Jewish theologian, best known for his 1922 classic, Ich und Du (I and Thou).

Buber has been described as a modern representative of a heterodox form of Jewish mysticism called Hasidism. His work is often mentioned in university philosophy and religion courses, mostly for his description of relating to others and to God in terms of an “I – Thou” (Ich‑Du) relationship. This, for Buber, is the only authentic way to relate.

Ich‑Du (“I‑Thou” or “I‑You”) is a relationship that stresses the mutual, holistic existence of two beings. It is a concrete encounter, because these beings meet one another in their authentic existence, without any qualification or objectification of one another. Even imagination and ideas do not play a role in this relation.†

Buber contrasts the “I – Thou” relationship to an “I – It” (Ich-Es) relationship. “I – It” relationships involve the intellect, concepts, projections, etc of another person instead of their authentic source.

The Ich-Es (“I‑It”) relationship is nearly the opposite of Ich‑Du.[25] Whereas in Ich‑Du the two beings encounter one another, in an Ich‑Es relationship the beings do not actually meet. Instead, the “I” confronts and qualifies an idea, or conceptualization, of the being in its presence and treats that being as an object. All such objects are considered merely mental representations, created and sustained by the individual mind.†

100th day of birth of Martin Buber (1878—1965)...

100th day of birth of Martin Buber (1878—1965) :*Graphic designer: Gerd Aretz :*Ausgabepreis: 50 Pfennig :*First Day of Issue / Erstausgabetag: 16. Februar 1978 :*Michel-Katalog-Nr: 962 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Buber believes that “I – Thou” relationships are quite rare. In reality most of us oscillate between seeing others in “I – Thou” and “I – it” terms.

When applying the “I – Thou” model to the way we relate to God, this stance may be contrasted to religious systems that advocate the ego becoming lost, engulfed or absorbed in God. Buber never eradicates the individual. It’s always about relationship, either respectful, loving and reverent (authentic) or cold, distant and opportunistic (inauthentic).

Unlike some so-called intellectuals who don’t practice what they preach, Buber resigned from his teaching post in Frankfurt when Adolf Hitler came to power. He left Germany in 1938 to settle in Jerusalem, where he continued to try to put his philosophical ideals into practice.

† For these quotes and their relation to other philosophers like Immanuel Kant, see

Related Posts » Joseph Campbell, Inflation, Mythic Dissociation, Mythic Eternalization, Mythic Identification, Mythic Inflation, Mythic Subordination, Projection


Joseph Campbell

English: Joseph Campbell, late 1970

Joseph Campbell, late 1970 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) was an influential American scholar and educator in world religions and mythology.

Campbell’s books and PBS videos (hosted by Bill Moyers) have enjoyed worldwide acclaim. With other innovators like Mircea Eliade, Otto Rank, and Carl Jung, Campbell championed the syncretic study of psychology, myth and spirituality.

Campbell was ahead of many of his peers by seeing the film Star Wars as a contemporary variant, par excellence, of the age-old hero myth.¹ Campbell’s interest in the hero archetype can be traced to the works of Rank and Jung.

Campbell learned several original languages, and had an impressive knowledge of textual data from a wide variety of interconnected fields.

Pedantic and dogmatic critics, however, still entirely dismiss his pioneering attempts. His critics that say his opinions are simplistic. But it’s possible that he’s dumbing things down for a general audience not familiar with the specifics of world myth and religion.

A more serious charge could be that, and contrary to Campbell’s dictum of “follow your bliss,” every once in a while he seems a bit autocratic, particularly in reference to his beliefs about orthodox Catholicism. This isn’t just a problem with Campbell. Many Gnostic,  Fundamentalist, Protestant, New Age, Humanistic, scientific and even environmental thinkers arguably lump “The Church” into one big personal projection of The Big Bad Wolf (as if the Catholic Church is supposed to be perfect here on Earth, which is entirely unreasonable).

ep_greek_man_clr.gifCampbell, himself, was a fallen away Catholic, which may have had some bearing on his somewhat negative treatment of Catholicism. He does seem to highlight the Catholic Church’s past mistakes without fully appreciating its positive aspects—e.g. how the Eucharist enriches the lives of present-day believers.²

Another difficulty in Campbells’ analyses of world religions echoes difficulties found in Jung’s work. At times Campbell seems to say that the various paths in world mysticism evoke identical mystical experiences and lead to the same afterlife abode.

This may be a politically correct view and, for all we know, could be true. But ultimate claims about the afterlife cannot be made with any certainty (unless you believe you have a pipeline to God, as so many zealots do).

These shortcomings aside, Campbell’s contribution to the study of myth, religion and culture is noteworthy (some might say remarkable). His popular PBS lectures, taped just months before his unfortunate death due to cancer, reveal that, in his own dignified way he was just as heroic as a Heracles or Luke Skywalker.

It’s not surprising that his name has become almost archetypal among students of world myth and religion.

Related Posts » Mythic Dissociation, Mythic Eternalization, Mythic Identification, Mythic Inflation, Mythic Subordination

¹ Star Wars creator George Lucas says Campbell’s work was influential for the mythic structure of the film. Lucas had the insight to realize that his sci-fi story would work better if it had an authentic mythic feel. By adapting Campbell’s ideas, Lucas hoped that the Star Wars epic would resonate with the masses, which, of course, it did.

² Creative thinkers like Campbell are rarely one-dimensional, however. He also says that one of his peak experiences came when entering Chartres Cathedral in France.

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Death and Resurrection

The Earliest fresco of the Virgin Mary, in the...

The Earliest fresco of the Virgin Mary, in the Catacomb of Priscilla from the middle of the 2nd century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Countless scholars, depth psychologists and writers point out that the motif of death and resurrection is found throughout world religion, mythology, literature and the arts.

The death may be symbolic, involving a hero who undergoes a psychological or societal ‘death’ by leaving everyday life for the underworld. He or she typically encounters unusual friends, foes, adventures and battles, only to return utterly transformed.

This kind of symbolic death and resurrection is championed by the depth psychiatrist C. G. Jung and also by the mythographer Joseph Campbell. But it need not be a single, big event. As a friend of mine said quite a few years ago, she’s been through several symbolic deaths and resurrections.

At the time I thought my friend just didn’t get it because I’d been through a pretty big change, which my ego told me was way more significant than what she was talking about. But I came to see that she was right. At least, she was right in that we can all go through many symbolic deaths and resurrections according to who we are and what we need so as to grow in life.

As Sonia Neale beautifully puts it from a Buddhist perspective, and in the context of leaving her therapist:

It is normal to grieve and mourn. This non-attachment is difficult because every breath of warm wind, every flower and tree, in fact almost everything reminds me of someone I love dearly and have to let go.  Even being alive reminds me of what I have lost.  But I now believe that when you lose something, it is replaced with something of equal value or better.¹

The mythic theme of death and resurrection also takes the form of an actual death, as we find in sacred accounts of the Hindu Siva and Kali, the Egyptian Isis and Osiris, the Greek Persephone and Demeter, as well as in the story of Jesus and The Virgin Mary.

We also find many accounts where archaic societies sacrificed human beings to appease their gods or spirits. And it was generally believed that the sacrificial victims were generously rewarded in the afterlife. Such practices were found in Greece, Rome, India, China, Celtic and Viking Europe as well as Mesoamerica.

¹ Neale, S. (2011). Death and Resurrection Through Therapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 28, 2012, from


Mircea Eliade

Stamp of Moldova; Mircea Eliade

Stamp of Moldova; Mircea Eliade (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) was a Romanian scholar, fluent in eight languages, who authored seminal works on the history of world religions and mythology. He is perhaps best known for his studies on shamanism, yoga, and alchemy. Eliade also edited the multi-volume Encyclopedia of Religion. And The Eliade Guide to World Religions (1991) offers a concise summary of his scholarly publications.

While some critics of Eliade’s work say it’s overly selective, it’s difficult to find a researcher who isn’t selective. Critics also say that Eliade superimposes grand theory on his research data. This seems a more reasonable charge, but the inevitability of subjectivity arguably lessens the impact of this criticism.

Eliade also wrote works of fiction, saying that he had no choice when the artistic muse struck him. He simply had to follow, alternating between the international scholar and budding author. With this kind of outlook it’s not surprising that Eliade was on good terms with C. G. Jung, Joseph Campbell and others of like mind.

Eliade’s scholarly views, however, sometimes differed from those of Jung and Campbell, a fact that he handled quite diplomatically, always politely disagreeing and never alienating them within the scholarly circle that met annually at the Switzerland Eranos conferences.

Related Posts » Abyss, Alchemy, Castanada (Carlos), Comparative Religion, Dyaus, Evil, Exodus, Numen, Numinous

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Sir James G. Frazer

J. M. W. Turner's painting of the Golden Bough...

J. M. W. Turner's painting of the Golden Bough incident in the Aeneid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sir James G. Frazer (1854-1941) was a Scottish anthropologist best known for his classic study of magic and religion, The Golden Bough.

His work had a tremendous effect on Joseph Campbell, among others. And many see him as one of the founders of modern anthropology.

Related Posts » Comparative Religion, Diana



Swami Kriyananda offering sweetmeats to Yogananda.

Swami Kriyananda offering sweetmeats to Yogananda via Wikipedia

In Hinduism a guru is an esoteric spiritual teacher. It is believed that the guru instructs and purifies disciples with the help of God’s grace and other spiritual elements.

In many cases, the mechanism of purification is said to be karma transfer, where the karmic impurities of the disciple apparently fly from the disciple to the teacher, who then spiritually ‘cleanses’ him or herself through intense devotion or meditation. A similar, although certainly not identical, mechanism is described among Catholic saints when they speak of spiritual intercession and the taking of sins.

Critics of the guru system often claim that gurus try to transform disciples into a carbon copy of the guru—or perhaps into mindlessly accepting the type of spiritual powers mediated by the guru, which arguably are not suitable for everyone (or perhaps only suitable for a certain period in an individual’s lifelong journey of becoming).

Moreover, Rabbi Allen Maller argues that spiritual experience and practice should bring one back to one’s social, interpersonal and personal duties with enhanced spirituality instead of creating recluses and ascetics, as we often find with Hindu gurus. This view of ‘genuine’ spirituality being intimately wedded to worldly action may, however, be critiqued from both Christian monastic and Hindu meditative perspectives.

As politically incorrect as this might seem today, both C. G. Jung and Joseph Campbell suggested that Westerners might lose their unique sense of individuality under the influence of an Eastern guru. Along these lines, some gurus have been accused of brainwashing and manipulating their disciples, usually by concerned family members of the disciples who don’t share guru’s religious beliefs

According to Bishop Kallistos Ware:

There are many false guides. There is no automatic way of discovering a true guide, but there are certain criteria. First, the spiritual father, if genuine, does not automatically impose himself. He doesn’t necessarily hide, but he waits for the others to come. The true spiritual father helps us to develop our own freedom. He does not impose his way on us, but helps us to discover our own way. The true spiritual guide does not promise instant success. In the spiritual life there are occasionally shortcuts, but ones provided by God. In general, what is asked of us is fidelity and the willingness to go deep. Those spiritual teachers who claim to offer us the higher gifts of contemplation through a few simple exercises should be treated with great caution.¹

In religions like Sikhism, the term guru may refer to a great spiritual figure recognized by everyone within that tradition, such as Guru Nanak.

¹ “Image and Likeness: Interview with Bishop Kallistos Ware” in Lorraine Kisly (ed.), The Inner Journey: Views from the Christian Tradition, Parabola Anthology Series, Sandpoint ID: Morning Light Press, 2006. p. 160.

Related Posts » Ashram, Aurobindo (Sri), Celibacy, Da Free John, Fasting, Lama, Levels of Knowledge, Mythic Eternalization, Paramahansa Yogananda, Pollution, Ram Dass, Saint, Seer, Yoda

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English: God Saman

God Saman by Freelk via Wikipedia

There are at least three main and possibly interrelated ways of conceptualizing God, as well as three main ways of relating to the deity.

Conceptualizing God

First, in monotheism, God is generally seen as an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good transcendent but immanent (God dwells in creation but is also beyond it) being that created and rules over all of creation (e.g. Christianity, Judaism and Islam).

Second, one form of pantheism also known as polytheism boasts many gods, often ruled over by a master deity (e.g. the Greek Zeus).

Some non-Catholics say that the Catholic saints degrade Christianity with a form of polytheism. But this is a misunderstanding. Catholic saints mediate through contemplative prayer, not unlike people living on Earth who pray for one another.

Also, some say the Christian Holy Trinity is polytheistic. But this, too, is a misrepresentation because Christians generally agree that the three persons of the Trinity share a unity of substance which is One.

Meanwhile, some say that the Hindu gods and goddesses are polytheistic. But most Hindus point out that they are manifestations of the Brahman, an unmanifest ground of All That Is.

The third main way of conceptualizing God is expressed in naturalistic pantheism. Here, the forces of nature (and usually the cosmos) are identified with God. Some believe that monotheism and polytheism may coexist within a hierarchy of value. On the individual experiential level, that would mean progressing through a belief in The Many to discovering a (usually described as higher) level of monotheistic worship.

Stamp description / Briefmarkenbeschreibung De...

Stamp commemorating the 100th day of birth of Martin Buber (1878—1965) via Wikipedia

Relating to God

The monotheistic approach to relating to God is aptly described by the Jewish theologian Martin Buber as an I-Thou relationship. This is experienced as a

  1. feeling of awe
  2. healthy fear of offending the deity
  3. keen sense of personal humility

Another way of relating to the deity is seeing oneself as potentially identical to God. This second way is divided into three types:

  1. mythic identification
  2. mythic eternalization
  3. mythic inflation

A third way of relating to God is more about phenomenology, that is, about a person’s unique experience. Michel Henry (1922–2002), for instance, talks about God as the “essence of Life” experienced by the individual. His view of God doesn’t go much beyond that because phenomenologists believe we can’t really know much (if anything) beyond ourselves.

Related Posts » Agnosticism, Atheism, Deism, Mythic Dissociation, Mythic Subordination, Ontological Argument, Panenhenism, Panentheism, Panpsychism, Theism



Isis giving milk E11878 mp3h8710

Isis giving milk, Musée du Louvre, photo by Rama via Wikipedia

Isis was the central goddess of ancient Egypt, wife of Osiris and mother of Horus.

Her cult spread throughout the ancient Greek and Roman world, where she was linked with many mystery cults that were popular at the time.

In sculpture she’s often seen suckling the infant Horus. From this, Isis is regularly (and arguably wrongly) equated with the Virgin Mary and Kwan Yin by writers like Joseph Campbell and others who believe it’s valid to lump together different mythic beings on the basis of a few similarities in artistic representation. (In this case what’s similar is a woman suckling an infant, which is hardly unique considering many women have done this through the ages after having a baby).

Some feminist and New Age writers also subsume the different figures of Isis, Mary and Kwan Yin into a general idea of The Goddess.

In the Star Trek mythos, Isis is the name of a telepathic black cat and female partner of a time traveler, Gary Seven, who travels to 20th century Earth to prevent nuclear war.¹

¹ For more on this, see

Related Posts » Death and Resurrection, Dismemberment, Goddess vs. goddess, Great Mother, Juvenal, Osiris, Theosophy

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Statue c. 1792 - 1750 BC that represents an an...

BritishMuseum | Old Babylonian, probably 1792 - 1750 BC. The Queen of the Night represents an ancient Babylonian goddess, probably Ishtar or Ereshkigal. It might also represent Lilitu, called Lilith in the Bible - via Wikipedia

Ishtar is a Mesopotamian goddess of fertility, ‘sacred’ prostitution¹ and war, later associated with the planet Venus as a goddess of love.

In the Gilgamesh epic, Ishtar journeys to the underworld in an attempt to rescue her brother and lover Tammuz.

If thou openest not the gate to let me enter,
I will break the door, I will wrench the lock,
I will smash the door-posts, I will force the doors.
I will bring up the dead to eat the living.
And the dead will outnumber the living.²

As she enters each successive door in her descent, she is commanded to take off a specific piece of jewelry or clothing item. By the time she reaches the abyss she stands entirely naked.

Joseph Campbell points out how this story has obvious Jungian implications. To attain knowledge of the inner self, one must dispense with (or, at least, gain a new perspective on) all the trappings of worldly life. Unfortunately, Ishtar does not succeed. The evil underworld queen Ereshkigal imprisons Ishtar and she becomes ‘one of the dead.’

¹ Rightly seen as abhorrent today, the idea and practice of  ‘sacred’ or temple prostitution was widespread in the ancient world:

² Parallel myths and different scholarly interpretations of Ishtar’s descent to the underworld shed more light (or perhaps create more ambiguity) on this ancient mythic theme:

Related Posts » Nergal


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