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Saturn, Christmas and child sacrifice

Sebastià Giralt Font de Saturn, Jardins de Versailles via Flickr

In Roman myth Saturnus was an agricultural god of blight and sowing. The Romans likened him to the Greek god Cronus.

His annual festival was Saturnalia, originally held on December 17th. This popular festival was later held from December 17-23.

The early Christians transformed Saturnalia when arbitrarily setting the date for the birth of Christ—that is, Christmas. Some scholars and theologians say that December 25th was chosen because local and surrounding inhabitants were accustomed to gathering and celebrating at this time, making it a logical and convenient time to inaugurate Christmas.

But this wasn’t entirely based on a sweet and jubilant history. The mythic Saturn was known to devour his children because he was paranoid they would overthrow him.¹ And ancient sources tell us that actual child sacrifice to Saturn was pretty common. The ancients believed that by appeasing the Gods, things would go well for them. So giving up one’s own child (which presumably was highly valued), would bring about the best possible result. The better the sacrifice, the better the result. This kind of primitive, superstitious thinking runs throughout the ancient world, and in the Bible‘s Old Testament as well.²

Fourth-century Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum

Fourth-century Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The sacrifice of children to Saturn is mentioned in the excellent video, “Isaac,”³ and Wikipedia elaborates:

According to Stager and Wolff, in 1984, there was a consensus among scholars that Carthaginian children were sacrificed by their parents, who would make a vow to kill the next child if the gods would grant them a favor: for instance that their shipment of goods were to arrive safely in a foreign port.[24] They placed their children alive in the arms of a bronze statue of:

the lady Tanit … . The hands of the statue extended over a brazier into which the child fell once the flames had caused the limbs to contract and its mouth to open … . The child was alive and conscious when burned … Philo specified that the sacrificed child was best-loved.[25]

Later commentators have compared the accounts of child sacrifice in the Old Testament with similar ones from Greek and Latin sources speaking of the offering of children by fire as sacrifices in the Punic city of Carthage, which was a Phoenician colony. Cleitarchus in his “Scholia” of Plato’s Republic mentions the practice:

There stands in their midst a bronze statue of Kronos, its hands extended over a bronze brazier, the flames of which engulf the child. When the flames fall upon the body, the limbs contract and the open mouth seems almost to be laughing until the contracted body slips quietly into the brazier. Thus it is that the ‘grin’ is known as ‘sardonic laughter,’ since they die laughing.[26]

This reference also seems to clarify that the statue itself was not made to move by the flames, but rather the burnt and shriveled body of the victim was contorted by them.

Diodorus Siculus too references this practice:

Himilcar, on seeing how the throng was beset with superstitious fear, first of all put a stop to the destruction of the monuments, and then he supplicated the gods after the custom of his people by sacrificing a young boy to Cronus and a multitude of cattle to Poseidon by drowning them in the sea[…] in former times they had been accustomed to sacrifice to this god the noblest of their sons, but more recently, secretly buying and nurturing children, they had sent these to the sacrifice

Plutarch in De superstitione also mentions the practice in Carthage:

they themselves offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young bird

These all mention burning of children as an offering to Cronus or Saturn.4

‘Saturn Devouring one of his Children’, 1821-1823. Found in the collection of the Prado, Madrid, Spain.

¹ When some Christians say that the Bible is the “Word” of God, they seem to be oblivious to the personal, cultural and political forces that helped to shape it, as well as the widely accepted theory that multiple authors contributed to many books previously thought to be penned by just one author. For example, not too many mature scholars believe that Moses wrote the Torah, being the first 5 books of the Old Testament. There any many scholarly works on the Old Testament. I’m not an expert but one that I’ve found very helpful is Reading the Old Testament by Lawrence Boadt.

² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturn_Devouring_His_Son

³ Amy-Jill Levine, Lecture 5, “Isaac” in http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/old-testament.html

4 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_sacrifice

Related » Aquarius


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Serpent

The Brazen Serpent, by Benjamin West; among th...

The Brazen Serpent, by Benjamin West; among the overthrown, an unmistakable reference to the Laocoön (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The serpent symbol is found in most mythological and religious traditions around the world—past, present, and most likely future.

Similarities in meaning exist as do important differences.

In Jewish and Christian accounts of Eden, the serpent is the “most subtle” of all creatures that tempts Eve into disobeying God’s command to not eat of the tree of knowledge. Eve then seduces Adam into eating and mankind is expelled from the Garden of Eden and cursed to forever suffer and work.

Cultural studies professors often use this to “prove” that the biblical Garden of Eden story in particular, and the Genesis account in general, are responsible for just about everything bad today, from mankind’s desire to conquer nature (toxic pollution), to man’s domination over women (sexism and gender inequality), to the lack of animal rights and the inhumane treatment of animals. But the biblical account isn’t quite so simple as saying that the serpent always represents evil.

It’s true that God sent “fiery” snakes to punish the Israelites for complaining in the wilderness. But God also instructed Moses to fashion a bronze serpent to heal the afflicted.

In the Book of Numbers, while Moses was in the wilderness, he mounted a serpent of bronze on a pole that functioned as a cure against the bite of the “seraphim”, the “burning ones” (Numbers 21:4-9). The phrase in Num.21:9, “a serpent of bronze,” is a wordplay as “serpent” (nehash) and “bronze” (nehoshet) are closely related in Hebrew, nehash nehoshet

And a vision in Isaiah 6 tells of a fiery, winged serpents that flank God’s throne, symbolizing God’s divine glory and omnipotence.²

The Biblical Leviathan was a great sea serpent, “the dragon that is in the sea” (Isaiah 27:1).

In India, the kundalini (Skt: coiled like a snake) represents serpent power which is awakened by carefully opening a series of chakras (body/psyche points of power).

India also has a naga cult with widespread devotees who worship a demi-god cobra with a human face.

Ancient Egyptian culture had the erect cobra symbolizing the utmost power and authority of the Pharaoh and the gods.³

The snake is also regarded as a healer in some Native American traditions.

calendar-crop1

Serpent devouring a man (Detail from Aztec calendar)

In Mexican mythological art, a giant serpent is often depicted as swallowing a human being, usually head-first. This has interesting psychological connotations, especially for depth psychology. The serpent could be seen as a portal or the powers of the unconscious which can “swallow” the ego, leading to a new kind of awareness and outlook.

Australian aboriginal myths also talk of the serpent “swallowing up people and animals.”4

These mythic images of swallowing might bear a symbolic relation to the Biblical notion that “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). Again, interpreted psychologically to mean that inferior aspects of the human personality must be symbolically devoured, purged or sent to hell for the superior aspect of the self to be realized and eventually flourish.

The logo for contemporary western medicine is a snake coiled around a pole, a symbol derived from ancient Greece, as evident in engravings of Aesculapius, c. 100 BCE, where a serpent is coiled around his staff. This symbol is often mistakenly linked to the Greek Caduceus, displayed in myth as a two serpents wound around a staff, sometimes with wings.

Artwork by Cherie Landa (’15) – Jungian examples often are simple circles, perhaps to conform to Jung’s model of the self. But this is an interesting variation.

The psychiatrist Carl Jung was interested in the Ouroboric serpent, a symbol derived from Gnosticism in which the snake forms a circle by biting its own tail. For Jung this is a mandala, symbolizing his understanding of the self and wholeness.

The above only scratches the surface of serpent symbolism, a topic too diverse to treat adequately here. Nevertheless, J. E. Cirlot suggests that one commonality present among many serpent symbols is the representation of psychic energy. And Philip Gardiner and others say that snake symbolism as a whole is dualistic, containing elements of salvation and destruction. We should point out, however, that this dualism does not necessarily mean that both positive and negative aspects are present at the same time, or that they are of equal power—a point that some New Age, neoGnostics seem to overlook.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serpent and Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary (1987), pp. 926-7.

²  Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary (2000), p. 1188. This is a curious parallel to the serpents that surround some Hindu deities.

³ Ibid.

4 Mythology: An Illustrated Encyclopedia ed. Richard Cavendish, 2003, Time Warner Books, p. 211.

Related » Apollo, Kundalini, Persephone, Shakti


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Sita

The lord Rama portrayed as exile in the forest...

The lord Rama portrayed as exile in the forest, accompanied by his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sita (Skt: furrow) is depicted in the Hindu Veda as an agricultural deity.

In the puranic epic, the Ramayana, she is Rama‘s wife, and the daughter of King Janaka. Abducted by the demon Ravana to an island in the south (which some believe is Sri Lanka), Sita maintains her fidelity to Rama while he and his half brother, Lakshmana, embark on an arduous journey to liberate her.

When Sita is liberated, Rama is crowned King yet bends to popular opinion at home, which wrongly alleges that Sita slept with Ravana. So Rama doesn’t accept Sita because a ruler’s wife must be above suspicion.

As with many myths, there are at least two different endings to the epic. And both of these alternate endings attest to Sita’s fidelity.

In one variant, Sita is banished to the forest for 15 years to raise her two children and is recalled when public opinion at home cools down.

Declaring her innocence, Sita invokes the Earth Mother as witness. The Earth Mother affirms Sita’s loyalty but swallows her whole, much to the distress of the doubting Rama.

Sreerama's court from where Goddess Earth is t...

Sreerama’s court from where Goddess Earth is taking Sita deep down to earth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the other variant of the story, Lakshmana kindles a fire (on the request of Rama) and Sita is ordered into the flames. The fire-god Agni arises from the flames and adorns Sita with a crown, proclaiming her innocence. Rama then enters the fire and he and Sita are transported to a heavenly realm where they’ll remain for 14 years, after which time they’ll return to rule the Earth.

According to a Jain version of the tale, Sita is the daughter of Ravana. Not unlike the twist of fate in the story of Oedipus, Sita is abandoned at birth because it has been foretold that she’ll destroy her father’s kingdom.

In contemporary India, Sita is widely regarded as exemplifying the honorable wife and mother. She is also a symbol of purity.

Apparently Bollywood actor Shilpa Shetty is set to play Sita in her next film, Hanuman. But this story has been floating around the web for several years with no actual production seen. ¹

¹ http://m.indiaglitz.com/shilpas-ambitious-plans-with-s2-productions-hindi-news-33303.html

Related » Abyss, Hero, Mahabharata

  • Modern adaptation under CC license:


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Siva (or Shiva)

Shiva: true2source

Siva or Shiva (Skt: kind, friendly) is a major Hindu god who, according to the dominant theory, evolved out of the mythology of the conquering Aryans in the Indian sub-continent.¹

A bit of a latecomer, Siva nevertheless replaced the earlier Vedic storm god Rudra by becoming part the Hindu Trimurti of Brahma, Visnu and Siva.

In popular folk mythology, Brahma is said to have created the universe, Visnu preserves it and Siva, through his cosmic dance, destroys it. But this is only a general outline, for Siva first created Brahma and Visnu. And instead of merely destroying, Siva also regulates the universe.

In an incident with the Pine Forest Sages, Siva breaks the reclusive sages’ excessive meditation by literally seducing their wives. By sexually enticing their wives, Siva intentionally angers the Sages, disrupts their meditation and diffuses their excessive spiritual power. Otherwise, the tapas (Skt: heat, or spiritual force) generated by the sages’ prolonged and intense concentration would have disrupted the cosmic balance.² So in a sense, we see Siva behaving as something of a trickster.

The Other Side of Siva: Taran Rampersad

The Other Side of Siva: Taran Rampersad

However, Siva is not only a trickster.

With his third eye, depicted vertically on his forehead, he emits deadly rays of fire, not unlike the ‘phasers’ of Star Trek or the energy beams generated by Marvel’s Tony Stark / Iron Man. Siva’s death ray incinerates demonic opponents residing in highly volatile spiritual realms.

But, for Hindus, Siva’s third eye has a more passive aspect, symbolizing the locus of spiritual “seeing” and peace. Siva’s third eye is sometimes, perhaps inaccurately, equated with Jesus’ teaching, “Let thine eye be single” (Matthew 6:22, Luke 11:34).

Siva is often depicted in temple carvings ityaphallically (with erect phallus). His linga (Skt: phallus) symbolizes his control over his divine creative power, just as in Hinduism the female yoni (Skt: vagina) represents the cosmic source or life-giving aspects of the divinity.

Siva also rides the sacred bull, Nandi. And he has a blue throat from partially ingesting poison, which otherwise would have destroyed the universe.

His wife is Parvati and he’s said to reside at Mt. Kailasa in the Himalayas.

Siva Thandavam: Velachery Balu / Balasubramanian G Velu

Siva Thandavam: Velachery Balu / Balasubramanian G Velu

In Hindu devotional cults and Western popular spiritualism, Siva is, perhaps uncritically, identified with supposedly “active male” energy that must be united with the Shakti – “passive female” energy – to effect a union of these complementary cosmic energies within an given individual or couple—that is, balancing the Shiva-Shakti.

To some, this way of thinking is nothing more than archetypal stereotypes, rank with sexist connotations.³ To others, it represents sublime truths accessibly only to those spiritually “advanced” enough to appreciate them. And to others, the entire Hindu pantheon is suspect as some kind of devilish manifestation.4

¹ The fact that the Aryan invasion theory has been disputed and continues to be debated complicates the picture, as with most mythological and religious issues. https://goo.gl/MWzrTX

² Most of my academic understanding of the Siva myths comes from the outstanding Indologist, Wendy Doniger. See https://goo.gl/eS6khx

³ Professor Naomi Goldenberg has critiqued what she sees as archetypal sexism in work of C. G. Jung.

Naomi R. Goldenberg, after reviewing Jung’s idea of archetypes as disembodied Platonic forms and on the damage done to women by the mind-body dichotomy, suggests that “feminist theory radically depart from the Jungian archetype [and] from all systems of thought that posit transcendent, superhuman deities.” See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jungian_interpretation_of_religion

4 https://goo.gl/VjgnTg

English: Sculpture of Shiva in copper alloy fr...

Sculpture of Shiva in copper alloy from India (Tamil Nadu). Dimensions: 30 x 22 1/2 x 7 in. Circa 950-1000. Chola dynasty IXe -XIIIe c. (Wikipedia)

 

Photo – Ari Moore via Flickr

 

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The Square Cross

puxador quadrado: Pedro Dias

puxador quadrado: Pedro Dias via Flickr

The square cross is sometimes called the ‘primordial cross‘ because it appears in diverse cultures and has deep symbolism. Symbologists say the square cross denotes a spatial orientation—a center with forces entering in and moving outward.

The square cross also links the circle and the square. It has been a symbol for the meeting of heaven and earth (China) and for an alleged ‘umbilical chord’ of the cosmos.¹

The square cross has been connected to the biblical idea of Paradise due to the four rivers flowing outward from the Garden of Eden. Moreover, it symbolizes a meeting point between the living and the dead.

But this just touches on countless motifs associated with this cross.

In Christian usage, we find the square Greek Cross and a modified form in the Jerusalem Cross, an emblem of the early Christian Crusaders. The insignia of Godfrey de Bouillon, the first ruler of Jerusalem after defeating the Muslims in 1099, was the Jerusalem Cross, which he wore at all times.

English: Jerusalem Cross in Votivkirche (Wienn)

Jerusalem Cross in Votivkirche (Wienn) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Nor Varagavank monastery, 13th centur...

Nor Varagavank monastery, 13th century, Armenia. Jerusalem Cross on wall of monastery. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

¹ For examples, see http://www.mesoweb.com/features/fabric/textindex.html


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Stoicism

essential works of stoicism: CHRIS DRUMM

Image: CHRIS DRUMM via Flickr

Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants ― Epictetus¹

Stoicism is a Greek philosophical school founded by Zeno of Citium, c. 300 BCE. The Stoics believed that mankind is superior to animals by virtue of our reason. The good life is lived in accord with nature; whereas evil is an unpleasant aspect of nature.

The Stoics felt it important to know about the existence of, and control one’s reaction to, evil. So thoughts and understanding are not enough. The superior person behaves right, which (apparently) makes him or her immune to suffering. This is a slightly different take on the well-known Christian doctrine, Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.²

The Stoics saw the Greek gods in terms of cosmic forces, a view resembling a modern approach to mythology. The afterlife was generally not believed in. However, the Stoics did subscribe to an eternal return, an idea also mentioned in the works of Friedrich Nietzsche.

The philosopher Epictetus, the Roman statesman Seneca and Emporer Marcus Aurelius are usually regarded as Stoics. Wikipedia elaborates:

English: Ancient Greek philosopher Zeno of Cit...

Ancient Greek philosopher Zeno of Citium, depicted in the Nuremberg Chronicle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Later Stoics—such as Seneca and Epictetus—emphasized that, because “virtue is sufficient for happiness”, a sage was immune to misfortune. This belief is similar to the meaning of the phrase “stoic calm”, though the phrase does not include the “radical ethical” Stoic views that only a sage can be considered truly free, and that all moral corruptions are equally vicious.[1]

From its founding, Stoic doctrine was popular with a following in Roman Greece and throughout the Roman Empire — including the Emperor Marcus Aurelius — until the closing of all pagan philosophy schools in 529 AD by order of the Emperor Justinian I, who perceived them as being at odds with Christian faith

¹ http://futurelawyer.typepad.com/futurelawyer/2015/05/stoic-quote-of-the-day.html

² http://biblehub.com/matthew/10-16.htm

Related Posts » Heap of Sand Paradox, Hellenistic, Logos, Suicide

 


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Tammuz

English: Imre Schrammel: Tammuz (deity). Statu...

Imre Schrammel: Tammuz (deity). Statue in National Theatre of Miskolc, Hungary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the Gilgamesh epic, Tammuz is a dead Babylonian vegetation god residing in the underworld. He is adored by his sister Ishtar, and by her counterpart in Syria, Astarte.

According to Babylonian myth, every year Tammuz rises from the underworld for a short while. His yearly return to the underworld was met with mourning and funeral ceremonies.

As with so many dying and rising gods in world myth, anthropologists believe that the myth of Tammuz signifies the agricultural cycle.

But the cyclical myth also invites a psychological interpretation. As hinted at by Joseph Campbell, C. G. Jung and others, residing in the underworld could represent a solitary, contemplative life. And yearly returns to the visible world could symbolize those necessary periods of social interaction.

Gilgamesh by litmuse

Gilgamesh by litmuse

A Tammuz cult also appears in the Hebrew Bible. It’s not entirely clear to scholars how the followers of Yahweh viewed this.¹

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tammuz_%28deity%29