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Tag: Paul

Ancient Animism

” … The memorable sermon preached by Paul to the Athenians when he stood “in the midst of Mars’ hill,” could have been addressed with equal appropriateness to the ancient Sumerians and Akkadians.

“I perceive,” he declared, “that in all things ye are too superstitious…. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things … for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.”

Babylonian temples were houses of the gods in the literal sense; the gods were supposed to dwell in them, their spirits having entered into the graven images or blocks of stone.

It is probable that like the Ancient Egyptians they believed a god had as many spirits as he had attributes. The gods, as we have said, appear to have evolved from early spirit groups. All the world swarmed with spirits, which inhabited stones and trees, mountains and deserts, rivers and ocean, the air, the sky, the stars, and the sun and moon.

The spirits controlled Nature: they brought light and darkness, sunshine and storm, summer and winter; they were manifested in the thunderstorm, the sandstorm, the glare of sunset, and the wraiths of mist rising from the steaming marshes.

They controlled also the lives of men and women. The good spirits were the source of luck. The bad spirits caused misfortunes, and were ever seeking to work evil against the Babylonian. Darkness was peopled by demons and ghosts of the dead. The spirits of disease were ever lying in wait to clutch him with cruel invisible hands.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Fish Symbolism Spanning Cultures and Eras

“For those who hold that the Grail story is essentially, and fundamentally, Christian, finding its root in Eucharistic symbolism, the title is naturally connected with the use of the Fish symbol in early Christianity: the Icthys anagram, as applied to Christ, the title ‘Fishers of Men,’ bestowed upon the Apostles, the Papal ring of the Fisherman–though it must be noted that no manipulation of the Christian symbolism avails satisfactorily to account for the lamentable condition into which the bearer of the title has fallen.” 2

[ … ]

So far as the present state of our knowledge goes we can affirm with certainty that the Fish is a Life symbol of immemorial antiquity, and that the title of Fisher has, from the earliest ages, been associated with Deities who were held to be specially connected with the origin and preservation of Life.

In Indian cosmogony Manu finds a little fish in the water in which he would wash his hands; it asks, and receives, his protection, asserting that when grown to full size it will save Manu from the universal deluge. This is Jhasa, the greatest of all fish. 1

The first Avatar of Vishnu the Creator is a Fish. At the great feast in honour of this god, held on the twelfth day of the first month of the Indian year, Vishnu is represented under the form of a golden Fish, and addressed in the following terms:

“Wie Du, O Gott, in Gestalt eines Fisches die in der Unterwelt befindlichen Veden gerettet hast, so rette auch mich 2.”

The Fish Avatar was afterwards transferred to Buddha.

In Buddhist religion the symbols of the Fish and Fisher are freely employed. Thus in Buddhist monasteries we find drums and gongs in the shape of a fish, but the true meaning of the symbol, while still regarded as sacred, has been lost, and the explanations, like the explanations of the Grail romances, are often fantastic afterthoughts.

In the Māhāyana scriptures Buddha is referred to as the Fisherman who draws fish from the ocean of Samsara to the light of Salvation. There are figures and pictures which represent Buddha in the act of fishing, an attitude which, unless interpreted in a symbolic sense, would be utterly at variance with the tenets of the Buddhist religion. 1

This also holds good for Chinese Buddhism. The goddess Kwanyin (= Avalokiteśvara), the female Deity of Mercy and Salvation, is depicted either on, or holding, a Fish.

In the Han palace of Kun-Ming-Ch’ih there was a Fish carved in jade to which in time of drought sacrifices were offered, the prayers being always answered.

Both in India and China the Fish is employed in funeral rites. In India a crystal bowl with Fish handles was found in a reputed tomb of Buddha.

In China the symbol is found on stone slabs enclosing the coffin, on bronze urns, vases, etc. Even as the Babylonians had the Fish, or Fisher, god, Oannes who revealed to them the arts of Writing, Agriculture, etc., and was, as Eisler puts it, ‘teacher and lord of all wisdom,’ so the Chinese Fu-Hi, who is pictured with the mystic tablets containing the mysteries of Heaven and Earth, is, with his consort and retinue, represented as having a fish’s tail 2.

The writer of the article in The Open Court asserts that “the Fish was sacred to those deities who were supposed to lead men back from the shadows of death to life 3.”

If this be really the case we can understand the connection of the symbol first with Orpheus, later with Christ, as Eisler remarks:

“Orpheus is connected with nearly all the mystery, and a great many of the ordinary chthonic, cults in Greece and Italy. Christianity took its first tentative steps into the reluctant world of Graeco-Roman Paganism under the benevolent patronage of Orpheus.” 1

There is thus little reason to doubt that, if we regard the Fish as a Divine Life symbol, of immemorial antiquity, we shall not go very far astray.

We may note here that there was a fish known to the Semites by the name of Adonis, although as the title signifies ‘Lord,’ and is generic rather than specific, too much stress cannot be laid upon it.

It is more interesting to know that in Babylonian cosmology Adapa the Wise, the son of Ea, is represented as a Fisher. 2

In the ancient Sumerian laments for Tammuz, previously referred to, that god is frequently addressed as Divine Lamgar, Lord of the Net, the nearest equivalent I have so far found to our ‘Fisher King.’ 3

Whether the phrase is here used in an actual or a symbolic sense the connection of idea is sufficiently striking.

In the opinion of the most recent writers on the subject the Christian Fish symbolism derives directly from the Jewish, the Jews, on their side having borrowed freely from Syrian belief and practice. 4

What may be regarded as the central point of Jewish Fish symbolism is the tradition that, at the end of the world, Messias will catch the great Fish Leviathan, and divide its flesh as food among the faithful.

As a foreshadowing of this Messianic Feast the Jews were in the habit of eating fish upon the Sabbath. During the Captivity, under the influence of the worship of the goddess Atargatis, they transferred the ceremony to the Friday, the eve of the Sabbath, a position which it has retained to the present day.

Eisler remarks that “in Galicia one can see Israelite families in spite of their being reduced to the extremest misery, procuring on Fridays a single gudgeon, to eat, divided into fragments, at night-fall.

In the 16th century Rabbi Solomon Luria protested strongly against this practice. Fish, he declared, should be eaten on the Sabbath itself, not on the Eve.” 1

This Jewish custom appears to have been adopted by the primitive Church, and early Christians, on their side, celebrated a Sacramental Fish-meal. The Catacombs supply us with numerous illustrations, fully described by the two writers referred to.

The elements of this mystic meal were Fish, Bread, and Wine, the last being represented in the Messianic tradition: “At the end of the meal God will give to the most worthy, i.e., to King David, the Cup of Blessing–one of fabulous dimensions.” 2

Fish play an important part in Mystery Cults, as being the ‘holy’ food. Upon a tablet dedicated to the Phrygian Mater Magna we find Fish and Cup; and Dölger, speaking of a votive tablet discovered in the Balkans, says, “Hier ist der Fisch immer und immer wieder allzu deutlich als die heilige Speise eines Mysterien-Kultes hervorgehoben.” 3

Now I would submit that here, and not in Celtic Folk-lore, is to be found the source of Borron’s Fish-meal. Let us consider the circumstances. Joseph and his followers, in the course of their wanderings, find themselves in danger of famine. The position is somewhat curious, as apparently the leaders have no idea of the condition of their followers till the latter appeal to Brons. 1

Brons informs Joseph, who prays for aid and counsel from the Grail. A Voice from Heaven bids him send his brother-in-law, Brons, to catch a fish.

Meanwhile he, Joseph, is to prepare a table, set the Grail, covered with a cloth, in the centre opposite his own seat, and the fish which Brons shall catch, on the other side.

He does this, and the seats are filled–“Si s’i asieent une grant partie et plus i ot de cels qui n’i sistrent mie, que de cels qui sistrent.”

Those who are seated at the table are conscious of a great “douceur,” and “l’accomplissement de lor cuers,” the rest feel nothing.

Now compare this with the Irish story of the Salmon of Wisdom 2.

Finn Mac Cumhail enters the service of his namesake, Finn Eger, who for seven years had remained by the Boyne watching the Salmon of Lynn Feic, which it had been foretold Finn should catch.

The younger lad, who conceals his name, catches the fish. He is set to watch it while it roasts but is warned not to eat it. Touching it with his thumb he is burned, and puts his thumb in his mouth to cool it.

Immediately he becomes possessed of all knowledge, and thereafter has only to chew his thumb to obtain wisdom.

Mr Nutt remarks: “The incident in Borron’s poem has been recast in the mould of mediaeval Christian Symbolism, but I think the older myth can still be clearly discerned, and is wholly responsible for the incident as found in the Conte du Graal.”

But when these words were written we were in ignorance of the Sacramental Fish-meal, common alike to Jewish, Christian, and Mystery Cults, a meal which offers a far closer parallel to Borron’s romance than does the Finn story, in which, beyond the catching of a fish, there is absolutely no point of contact with our romance, neither Joseph nor Brons derives wisdom from the eating thereof; it is not they who detect the sinners, the severance between the good and the evil is brought about automatically.

The Finn story has no common meal, and no idea of spiritual blessings such as are connected therewith.

In the case of the Messianic Fish-meal, on the other hand, the parallel is striking; in both cases it is a communal meal, in both cases the privilege of sharing it is the reward of the faithful, in both cases it is a foretaste of the bliss of Paradise.

Furthermore, as remarked above, the practice was at one time of very widespread prevalence.

Now whence did Borron derive his knowledge, from Jewish, Christian or Mystery sources?

This is a question not very easy to decide. In view of the pronounced Christian tone of Borron’s romance I should feel inclined to exclude the first, also the Jewish Fish-meal seems to have been of a more open, general and less symbolic character than the Christian; it was frankly an anticipation of a promised future bliss, obtainable by all.

Orthodox Christianity, on the other hand, knows nothing of the Sacred Fish-meal, so far as I am aware it forms no part of any Apocalyptic expectation, and where this special symbolism does occur it is often under conditions which place its interpretation outside the recognized category of Christian belief.

A noted instance in point is the famous epitaph of Bishop Aberkios, over the correct interpretation of which scholars have spent much time and ingenuity. 1 In this curious text Aberkios, after mentioning his journeys, says:

“Paul I had as my guide,

Faith however always went ahead and set before me as food a Fish from a Fountain, a huge one, a clean one,

Which a Holy Virgin has caught.

This she gave to the friends ever to eat as food,

Having good Wine, and offering it watered together with Bread.”

Aberkios had this engraved when 72 years of age in truth.

Whoever can understand this let him pray for Aberkios.”

Eisler (I am here quoting from the Quest article) remarks, “As the last line of our quotation gives us quite plainly to understand, a number of words which we have italicized are obviously used in an unusual, metaphorical, sense, that is to say as terms of the Christian Mystery language.”

While Harnack, admitting that the Christian character of the text is indisputable, adds significantly: “aber das Christentum der Grosskirche ist es nicht.”

Thus it is possible that, to the various points of doubtful orthodoxy which scholars have noted as characteristic of the Grail romances, Borron’s Fish-meal should also be added.

Should it be objected that the dependence of a medieval romance upon a Jewish tradition of such antiquity is scarcely probable, I would draw attention to the Voyage of Saint Brandan, where the monks, during their prolonged wanderings, annually ‘kept their Resurrection,’ i.e., celebrate their Easter Mass, on the back of a great Fish. 1

On their first meeting with this monster Saint Brandan tells them it is the greatest of all fishes, and is named Jastoni, a name which bears a curious resemblance to the Jhasa of the Indian tradition cited above. 2

In this last instance the connection of the Fish with life, renewed and sustained, is undeniable.

The original source of such a symbol is most probably to be found in the belief, referred to in a previous chapter, 1 that all life comes from the water, but that a more sensual and less abstract idea was also operative appears from the close connection of the Fish with the goddess Astarte or Atargatis, a connection here shared by the Dove.

Cumont, in his Les Religions Orientales dans le Paganisme Romain, says:

“Two animals were held in general reverence, namely, Dove and Fish.

Countless flocks of Doves greeted the traveller when he stepped on shore at Askalon, and in the outer courts of all the temples of Astarte one might see the flutter of their white wings.

The Fish were preserved in ponds near to the Temple, and superstitious dread forbade their capture, for the goddess punished such sacrilege, smiting the offender with ulcers and tumours.” 2

But at certain mystic banquets priests and initiates partook of this otherwise forbidden food, in the belief that they thus partook of the flesh of the goddess. “

Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance, 1920, pp. 118-26.

More From the Naassene Fragment, Jesus Says “I am the True Door”

“Lift up the gates, ye who are rulers of you, and be ye lift up ye everlasting gates, and the King of Glory shall come in.” 1

This is a wonder of wonders.

“For who (H. he says) is this King of Glory? 2 A worm 3 and no man, the scorn of men, and the contempt of the people. 4 He is the King of Glory, the Mighty in War.” 5

By “War” he 6 means the “[war] in the body,” for the plasm is compounded of warring elements, as it is written (H. he says):

“Remember the war that is [warred] in the body.” 7

This (H. he says) is the Entrance, and this is the Gate, which Jacob saw, when he journeyed into Mesopotamia. 8

C. Which is the passing from childhood to puberty and manhood; that is, it was made known to him who journeyed into Mesopotamia.

J. And Mesopotamia (H. he says) is the Stream of Great Ocean flowing from the middle of the Perfect Man.

And he 9 marvelled at the Heavenly Gate, saying:

“How terrible [is] this place! This is naught else than the House of God; yea, this [is] the Gate of Heaven.” 10

C. On this account (H. he says) Jesus saith:

“I am the True Door.” 11

J. And he 12 who says these things is (H. he says) the [one] from the Inexpressible Man, expressed from Above—

C. —as the perfect man. The not-perfect man, therefore, cannot be saved unless he be regenerated passing through this Gate.

(21) S. This same [Man] (H. he says) the Phrygians call also Papa; 1 for He calmed 2 all things which, prior to His own manifestation, were in disorderly and inharmonious movement.

For the name Papa (H. he says) is [the] Sound-of-all-things-together in Heaven, and on Earth, and beneath the Earth, saying: “Calm, calm” 3 the discord of the cosmos.

C. And: Make “peace for them that are far”—that is, the material and earthy—“and peace for them that are near” 4—that is, the spiritual and knowing and perfect men.

(22) S. The Phrygians call Him also Dead—when buried in the body as though in a tomb or sepulchre.

C. This (H. he says) is what is said:

“Ye are whited sepulchres, filled (H. he says) within with bones of the dead, 5 for Man, the Living [One] 6 is not in you.”

And again He says:

“The dead shall leap forth from their graves” 7

—that is, from their earthy bodies, regenerated spiritual, not fleshly.

This (H. he says) is the Resurrection which takes place through the Gate of the Heavens, through which all those who do not pass (H. he says) remain Dead.

S. The same Phrygians again call this very same [Man], after the transformation, God [or a God]. 1

C. For he becomes (H. he says) God when, rising from the Dead, through such a Gate, he shall pass into Heaven.

This is the Gate (H. he says) which Paul, the Apostle, knew, setting it ajar in a mystery, and saying that he was caught up by an angel and came to the second, nay the third heaven, into Paradise itself, and saw what he saw, and heard ineffable words, which it is not lawful for man to utter. 2

These (H. he says) are the Mysteries, ineffable [yet] spoken of by all,—

“—which [also we speak, yet] not in words taught of human wisdom, but in [words] taught of Spirit, comparing things spiritual with spiritual things. But the psychic man receiveth not the things of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness unto him.”3

And these (H. he says) are the Ineffable Mysteries of the Spirit which we alone know.

Concerning these (H. he says) the Saviour said:

“No one is able to come to Me, unless my Heavenly Father draw him.” 4

For it is exceedingly difficult (H. he says) to receive and accept this Great Ineffable Mystery.

And again (H. he says) the Saviour said:

“Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord! shall enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens, but he who doeth the Will of My Father who is in the Heavens” 5

—which [Will] they must do, and not hear only, to enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens.

And again He said (H. he says):

“The tax-gatherers and harlots go before you into the Kingdom of the Heavens.” 1

For by “tax-gatherers” (τελῶναι) are meant (H. he says) those who receive the consummations 2 (τέλη) of the universal [principles]; and we (H. he says) are the “tax-gatherers” 3 [upon whom the consummations of the æons have come” 4].

For the “consummations” (H. he says) are the Seeds disseminated into the cosmos from the Inexpressible [Man], by means of which the whole cosmos is consummated; for by means of these also it began to be.

And this (H. he says) is what is said:

“The Sower went forth to sow. And some [Seeds] fell by the way-side, and were trodden under foot; and others on stony places, and they sprang up (H. he says), but because they had no depth, they withered and died.

“Others (H. he says) fell on the fair and good ground, and brought forth fruit—one a hundred, another sixty, and another thirty.

“He who hath (H. he says) ears to hear, let him hear!” 5

G.R.S. Mead, Thrice-Greatest HermesVol. 1, 1906, pp. 171-4.

From Hippolytus, Philosophumena; or, Refutation of all Heresies.

Naassene Fragment Continued

” … (4) S. Now every nature (H. he says) yearns after Soul—one in one way and another in another.

For Soul is cause of all in Genesis. All things that are sustained and grow (H. he says) need Soul. Indeed, no sustenance (H. he says) or growth is possible without the presence of Soul.

Nay, even stones (H. he says) are ensouled; 1 for they have the power of increase [or growth]; and growth could not take place without sustenance; for it is by addition that things which increase grow; and addition is the sustenance of that which is sustained. 2

(5) Now the Assyrians call this [Mystery] Adōnis (or Endymiōn). And whenever it is called Adōnis (H. he says), it is Aphroditē who is in love with and desires Soul so-called.

H. And Aphroditē is Genesis according to them. 3

But when Persephonē (that is, Korē) is in love with Adōnis, Soul becomes subject to Death, separated from Aphrodite (that is, from Genesis).

But if Selēnē is impassioned of Endymiōn, and is in love with [formal] beauty, 1 it is the Nature of the higher [spaces 2] (H. he says) which desires Soul.

(6 3) But if (H. he says) the Mother of the Gods emasculate Attis—she, too, regarding him as the object of her love—it is the Blessed Nature Above of the supercosmic and æonian [spaces] which calls back the masculine power of Soul to herself. 4

H. For Man, he says, is male-female. According, then, to this theory of theirs, the intercourse between man and woman is exhibited as most mischievous, and is forbidden according to their teaching.

J. For Attis (H. he says) is emasculated—that is, [Soul is separated] from the earthy parts of the creation [tending] downwards, and ascends in quest of the Æonian Essence Above—

C. —where (H. he says) is “neither male nor female,” 1 but a new creature, a new man, who is male-female.

H. What they call “Above” I will explain when I come to the proper place. And they say that this theory is supported not simply by [the myth] of Rhea, but also, to put it briefly, by universal creation.

Nay, they make out that this is [even] what was said by the Word (Logos): 2

C. “For the invisible 3 things of Him [God]—namely, His Eternal 4 Power and Godhead—are clearly seen from the creation of the world, being understood by His things that are made; so that they [men] are without excuse. Because that, though knowing God, they glorified Him not as God, nor did they give [Him] thanks, but their non-understanding heart was made foolish. 5

“Professing themselves to be wise, they convicted themselves of folly, and changed the Glory of the Incorruptible God into the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and of four-footed beasts, and creeping things. 1 . . . 2

“Wherefore also God gave them up to passions of dishonour; for both their females did change their natural use to that which is against nature—

H. And what the natural use is, according to them, we will say later on.

C. —“and likewise also their males, leaving the natural use of the female, burned in their lust for one another, males with males working unseemliness 3

H. And “unseemliness,” according to them, is the First and Blessed Formless Essence, the Cause of all forms for things enformed. 4

C. —“and receiving in themselves the recompense of their Error which was meet.”

H. For in these words which Paul spake is contained, they say, the whole of their hidden and ineffable Mystery of the Blessed Bliss.

For what is promised by the [rite of the] bath 5 is nothing else, according to them, than the introduction into Unfading Bliss of him who, according to them, is washed with Living Water, and anointed with the Chrism that no tongue can declare.” 6

 G.R.S.Mead, Thrice-Greatest HermesVol. 1, 1906, pp. 151-4.

From Hippolytus, Philosophumena; or, Refutation of all Heresies.

The Fate of Solomon the Wise

Chapter 35



SOLOMON’S COMPANIONS INCENSED. Seeing him so deluded, the most eminent among his retinue, such as Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, were greatly incensed, protesting before heaven and earth that they would have no part in such abominations and admonishing the whole company to leave such vanities and follies. But because not a few still followed Solomon’s example, they grew more zealous in their denunciations and thundered still more fiercely: especially Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, Stephen, and Paul. Besides, Moses began to gird on his sword, Elijah to call fire from heaven and Hezekiah to order the silly idols to be destroyed.

2 THEIR DISREGARD FOR FLATTERY. When those who had been sent out to seduce Solomon, Affability, Craftines, and Delight, saw this, they associated with themselves a few philosophers, such as Mammon and others, and confronting the denunciators, exhorted them not to forget themselves, and to act with greater moderation; since the wisest of men, Solomon, submitted his mind and accommodated himself to the customs of the world, as all could see, why should they stand apart and insist on playing the wiseacre? The protesters paid no heed; but seeing that Solomon’s example continued to seduce and delude many, they became still more zealous and ran about, shouting and shrieking; which caused an immense uproar.

3 PUBLIC UPRISING AGAINST THEM. The Queen, having been notified by her emissaries, sent out proclamations by which she instigated a public uprising. Then naming her bodyguard Force her commander-in-chief, she ordered, as a spectacle for all, the seizure and punishment of those rebels. The alarm was sounded and a multitude quickly gathered, ready for the combat, they were recruited not only from among the soldiers but also from among the ruling class, officials, village elders, judges, craftsmen, philosophers, physicians, jurists and even the priests, indeed, even women who were clad in a great variety of costumes and were armed with different kinds of weapons; (for they said that against such public rebels who threatened the world, everybody, whether young or old, must assist). Seeing the rushing armies, I inquired of my interpreter: “What will happen now?” “You will learn what happens to those who by their philosophizing stir up riots and storms in the world!” my interpreter answered.

4 BATTLE, SEIZURE, MURDER, BURING AND OTHER TORTURES. All at once the armies fell upon the company, attacking one here, another there, then a third, a tenth; they struck and cut, felled, trampled, seized, and bound, according to the particular fury of each assailant, and dragged them off to prison: at which my heart almost burst with pity. But fearing their ferocity, I refrained from uttering the slightest sound, and trembled all over. I saw that some of those captured and fallen stretched out their clasped hands, and begged forgiveness for their deeds: but others, the more cruelly they were treated, the more firmly they held to their convictions. Some of them were cast into fire before my very eyes, others were thrown into water, or hanged, beheaded, stretched on a cross, torn with pincer, sawed asunder, pierced, hacked, roasted on gridirons. Nor am I able to enumerate all the gruesome kinds of death which they suffered, while multitudes of worldly people exulted and shouted with glee at the sight.

–John Amos Comenius, Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart

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