Category: Religion, Astrology and Sprituality
The conflict in Syria has taken a critical turn. Alawites, who have long rallied behind their co-religionist president, now want to execute his cousin for killing an Alawite army officer August 7 in an apparent road rage incident. It is rare for them to speak against the ruling regime publicly, but activists are now voicing their protest.
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, one-third of young Alawite men have died, mothers are hiding their sons and many men are fleeing the country. It seems that solidarity between Bashar Assad and the Alawites is weakening. Although Assad keeps the sectarian threat boiling, his fall would mean a hell for the Alawites by Sunni extremists, and many Alawites no longer doubt they are fighting a losing war.
With the Islamic State group advancing closer to the Alawite heartland, the next genocide will be of the Alawites, regardless of whether they stand with Assad. Their faith will bring them a worse nightmare than that of the Yazidis: Alawites are not only considered heretic, but also an enemy on the battlefield.
According to common understanding, Alawites became a Shia offshoot a thousand years ago. However, some scholars find this a problematic claim. A deeper understanding of the nature of this secretive faith will shed light on the complexity of the sectarian insecurity and manipulation that Assad has been using to sustain his power by the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians since 2011.
The sect was originally called Nusayri, named after Muhammad ibn Nusayr (A.D. 859) who, after the death of the 11th Imam Hasan al-Askari, claimed he was the imam’s intimate messenger. The core of Nusayrism is the concept of God in triad, with God himself being manifested through Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. Nusayris believe that God is Ali in the flesh, who created Muhammad from his spirit, who in turn created Salman al-Farisi, a Persian companion and evangelist. These three form a triad — Mana (Meaning), Ism (Name/Veil) and Bab (Gate).
Nusayrism is also cyclical. Nusayris believe that there have been seven times that God manifested in seven different trinities. The first was of Abel, Adam and Gabriel; the last in Ali, Muhammad and Salman. In all, the meanings, or manifestations, of God seem to be subordinate figures while the name/veil appear to be superior ones: Jesus is the name but God manifestation is actually Simon Peter; Muhammad is the name but God is manifested through Ali.
With this trinity concept, it is tempting to conclude that Nusayrism derives from Christianity. Nusayriyya is similar to Nasara, which means “Christian” in Arabic. Some scholars and observers have even accused Alawism of being a secret Christian proclivity because Alawites celebrate some Christian holidays and honor many Christian saints. In 1903, Jesuit scholar Henri Lammens believed that Nusayris were actually lost Christians.
For Nusayris, salvation goes through a succession of divine emanations. This shows its root in Gnosticism’s cosmogonies, which pre-date Islam. The concepts of transmigration of the soul and reincarnation after death were most likely borrowed from Hinduism through Manichaeism. Greek influences can be seen in the way Nusayris believe each soul is a star, the sinful will be reincarnated as inferior beings through nine levels of human existence and nobility. This mysterious religious cocktail then added elements from Zoroastrianism, Phoenician paganism and Mazdakism, thrown in for good measure.
Nusayris’ religious duties are also interpreted on the basis of gnostic cosmogony. Because people sin, they are no longer splendid stars and must redeem themselves by knowing God through ma’rifa — inner knowledge from one’s own direct experience of reality, something not possible through books. Consequently, traditional ritual and literal reading of scripture are not essential and can even lead to perdition.
With “inner knowledge” as a goal, the pillars of Islam are radically reinterpreted with “inner meaning.” For example, the five daily prayers are understood to be five members of the holy family, including Fatima (Muhammad’s daughter), despite the paradox that Nusayris regard women to be inferior and therefore unable to be reincarnated. Ramadan is allegorized and applied to speech, such as taking a vow of silence rather than abstaining from food.
It is very likely that the Shia principle of taqiyya (religious dissimulation) was the base for this interpretation. For Nusayris, revealing religious secrets to outsiders can lead to severe punishment. Their holy books and rituals are restricted to a few people who pledge to keep the secrets of the faith (Kitman); they are called Khassah while the ignorant majority are Ammah. The syncretic and mythical belief is a secret, even to its own believers.
Religious symbolism is the use of symbols, including archetypes, acts, artwork, events, or natural phenomena, by a religion. Religions view religious texts, rituals, and works of art as symbols of compelling ideas or ideals. Symbols help create a resonant mythos expressing the moral values of the society or the teachings of the religion, foster solidarity among adherents, and bring adherents closer to their object of worship.
Symbols are a quick way to communicate often complex ideas. Religions usually employs a large amount of symbolism to represent their beliefs. Religious symbolms has a long history that is over 100,000 years old.
The Bahá’í Faith is a monotheistic religion founded in Persia, emphasizing the spiritual unity of all humankind.
There is no one official religious symbol representing the Bahá’í Faith, but some symbols is commonly used.
The simple nine-pointed star is generally used by Bahá’ís as a symbol of their Faith. The number “nine” is significant for Bahá’ís for several reasons.
The number nine has significance in the Bahá’í Revelation. Nine years after the announcement of the Báb in Shiraz, Bahá’u’lláh received the intimation of His mission in the dungeon in Teheran. Nine, as the highest single-digit number, symbolizes completeness. Since the Bahá’í Faith claims to be the fulfillment of the expectations of all prior religions, this symbol, as used for example in nine-sided Bahá’í temples, reflects that sense of fulfillment and completeness.The Arabic alphabet can be used to represent numbers, attaching a numerical value to words. The numerical value of Bahá is 9.
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha.
Wheel of Dharma
The wheel of Dharma is one of the most important religious Buddhist symbols. The symbolises the Buddha’s turning the Wheel of Truth or Law. The wheel refers to the story that shortly after the Buddha achieved enlightenment, Brahma came down from heaven and requested the Buddha to teach by offering him a Dharmachakra.
The eight spokes of the wheel symbolize the Noble Eightfold Path set out by the Buddha in his teachings.
The wheel also represents the endless cycle of samsara, or rebirth, which can only be escaped by means of the Buddha’s teachings. And some Buddhists regard the the wheel’s three basic parts as symbols of the “three trainings” in Buddhist practice: The hub symbolizes moral discipline, which stabilizes the mind. The spokes (usually there are eight) represent wisdom which is applied to defeat ignorance. The rim represents training in concentration, which holds everything else together.
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as presented in the New Testament.
The cross symbol, which is today one of the most widely recognised religious symbols in the world is the earliest used Christian symbol. In the most broad sense it symbolizes the religion of Christian. More specifically, it represents and memorializes Christ’s death.
Hinduism is a conglomeration of religious, philosophical, and cultural ideas and practices that originated in India.
Om or Aum
The Om is one of the most important religious symbols to Hindus. It is made up of three Sanskrit letters. The syllable Om is composed of the three sounds a-u-m (in Sanskrit, the vowels a and u coalesce to become o), which represent several important triads: the three worlds of earth, atmosphere, and heaven; the three major Hindu gods. Is a Hindu sacred sound that is considered the greatest of all mantras.The aum symbol is often found at the head of letters, pendants, enshrined in every Hindu temple and family shrines.
Islam is a religion that began in Arabia and was revealed to humanity by the Prophet Muhammad. There are no official religious Islam symbols, but several symbols have a special place in Islam.
The Star and Cresent
The star and crescent is the best-known symbol used to represent Islam. The symbol is not Muslim in origin, it was a polytheistic icon adopted during the spread of Islam, and its use today is sometimes controversial in the Muslim world. The crescent and star are often said to be Islamic symbols, but historians say that they were the insignia of the Ottoman Empire, not of Islam as a whole.
Jainism is an ancient dharmic religion from India that prescribes a path of non-violence for all forms of living beings in this world.
The religious Ahisma hand symbol with a wheel on the palm symbolizes the Jain Vow of Ahimsa, meaning non-violence. The word in the middle is “Ahimsa.” The wheel represents the dharmacakra, to halt the cycle of reincarnation through the pursuit of truth.
Judaism is a set of beliefs and practices originating in the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Tanakh, and explored and explained in later texts such as the Talmud.
The six-pointed star of David, It is the best known religious symbol of the Jewish faith. The sign is based on the shape of Davids shield or the symbol on his shield. The David star is a relatively new symbol of Judaism, becoming popular only in the last 200 years. It is named after King David, whom legend tells us had a shield with this star on it.
Shintoism is the term for the Indigenous religion of Japan, based on the worship of spirits known as kami. Founded in 660 BC, at the time of Buddhism, it was Japan’s state religion until 1945.
The Torii gate reliligous symbol, mark the entrance to sacred space. Representing the transition between the finite world and the infinite world of the gods.
Sikhism is a young religion founded in the 15th Century with followers mainly in India and Pakistan. The principal belief of Sikhism is faith in waheguru – represented using the sacred symbol of ik ōaṅkār, the Universal God.
The special Sikh religous symbol is made up of three images: The Khanda, which is a double edged sword. This represents the belief in one God. The Chakkar, like the Kara it is a circle representing God without beginning or end and reminding Sikhs to remain within the rule of God. Two crossed kirpans representing spiritual authority and political power.
Taoism refers to a variety of related philosophical and religious traditions that have influenced East Asia for more than two millennia.
Yin and yang (Taiji)
The most well-known Taoist religious symbol is the Yin and Yang symbol, a circle divided into two swirling sections, one black and the other white. The symbol represent perfect harmonic balance.
Dreams have fascinated philosophers for thousand years, but recently the dream became subject for empirical research and for focused scientific studies. It’s likely to be aroused often trying to solve the mystery of dream or perhaps we wonder why we dream…
Let’s start by answering a basic question – What is a dream? Dream includes the amount of images, thoughts and emotions experienced during sleep. Dreams can be extremely intense or very vague; full of positive emotions or frightening representations; focused or easy to understand; clear or unclear.
Why do we dream? What is the purpose of dreams? While many theories have been advanced, none has reached a consensus. Since most of us spend time dreaming, the researchers still don’t understand the purpose of these dreams. It is important to be aware that science has not yet discerned the exact purpose and functions of sleeping.
Some researchers suggest that dreams don’t serve specific purposes, while others believe that dreams are essential for mental, emotional and physical well – being. Ernest Hoffman, director of the Center for Sleep Disorders Newton Wellesley Hospital in Boston, suggests that “…a possible (not proved) function of dreams would be to weave a new material for their new central system to reduce both emotional stress and to help us to cooperate better with future trauma or stressful events”.
Psycho – Analytical Theories About Dreams
According to psycho-analytical perspective, the Freud’s dream theory suggests that dreams are a representation of desires, thought and motivations of the subconscious. According to psycho-analytical vision of Freud’s personality, people are ruled by aggressive and sexual instincts, which are suppressed by our consciousness. In Freud’s conception, forbidden desires lose control on conscious during awaken state and take control during dream thus seeking to enter consciousness.
In his famous book “The Interpretation of Dreams”, Freud wrote that dreams are “… disguised fulfillments of repressed desires”. He describes also 2 different components of dreams: manifest and latent content. Manifest content is what the subject remembers upon awakening. There is a latent content that causes the dream. The manifest content is the result of labor, a process that engages the emotions and unconscious impulses.
Freud distinguishes three types of dreams that are based on differentiation depending on the degree of rationality and the reliability of the content. In the first category lay simple or clear dreams which are specific for children and inspired by physiological needs. In the second category are located reasonable dreams that have some logical coherence, in the third category are located obscure dreams, incoherent and absurd, which psychoanalysts are interested in.
Freud’s theory has contributed to increase popularity of dream interpretation, which remains popular today. However, research has failed to demonstrate that the manifest content hide real psychological significance of a dream.
Many other theories have been developed in order to make clear the appearance and significance of dreams. Here are some:
A theory suggests that dreams are the result of our brain trying to interpret external stimulus during sleep. For example: sounds from radio can be incorporated into the content of a dream.
Another theory uses a computerized metaphor to analyze dreams. According to it, dreams serves to “clean” clutter of our minds, like a cleaning operation of a computer, up-dating mind and set it ready for the next day.
Another model proposes that dreams function as a form of psychotherapy. In this theory, the dreamer is able to make connections between different thoughts and emotions in a safe environment.
A modern theory of dreams combines elements of previous theories. Extensive connections between brain activation create thoughts and ideas, which are guided by the emotions of our dream.
The Celtic Cross meaning as a Gaelic symbol is worth exploring. There are hundreds of examples still in existence. Sometimes known as a Celtic sun cross, there are also thousands of memorials in the form of a Celtic cross headstone to be seen in many cemeteries around the world.
It is important to learn that there are differences when talking about Celtic High Crosses and the Celtic Memorial Crosses you see in many cemeteries or other locations.
What is a Celtic Cross?
The basic Celtic Cross is a symbol comprising a conventional cross with a ring around the intersection of the stem and the arms (as per the more elaborate example above). While these crosses are associated with all Celts, their origin is in Gaelic Ireland and they were probably introduced to Scotland, Wales and parts of England by Irish Christian missionaries. I say probably because despite what you may read elsewhere, nobody can say with certainty.
What does the ring on the Celtic cross mean?
That’s an even harder question to answer and very much disputed. Some believe that the ring on the Celtic cross means the Roman sun-god Invictus. As a result many people often refer to the the cross as a Celtic Sun Cross.
A more Christian theory is that the ring is a halo and that the cross represents Jesus Christ. It is also thought that the Christian monks combined the sun-god idea with the christian cross to broaden the appeal to Irish pagans.
However, I am going with the less elaborate but more practical and plausible idea that the craftsmen who shaped and sculpted stone to make celtic crosses were just trying to find a solution to the problem of the vulnerability of crosses to breaking. The ring simply makes the crosses much sturdier and better able to resist harsh weather.
What are the Celtic or Irish High Crosses?
These are a version of a Celtic cross but the stem is longer. They are particularly associated with Christian Ireland and probably originated in Ireland around the 8th Century, a few centuries after the arrival of St. Patrick. These represent Ireland’s biggest contribution to European Art in the Middle Ages.
The Irish High Crosses were usually erected to mark a holy or religious place such as a monastery or church. Outdoor religious ceremonies were also likely to have been celebrated around or near these crosses. Though the High Crosses which have lasted are of stone, they earliest ones were of metal or wood.
Sometimes Irish High Crosses were erected to mark other important non-religious places such as a market, or in memory of someone famous or important. Initially the crosses were simpler and did not sport the elaborate and intricate designs we most often associate with many Celtic Crosses.
The majority of High Crosses were built in the 9th and 10th Century with early examples in County Kilkenny and Co Tipperary, one the more famous ones being at the monastery of Clonmacnoise in County Offaly (Ireland).
Irish High crosses were no longer popular by the end of the 12th Century.
When we talk about Celtic or Irish High Crosses there are three design types: ancient Iron Age Celtic culture based crosses, scripture based or bible based crosses or a combination of these two (only a few of these in existence).
Of the scripture based crosses, the one known as ‘Cross of the Scriptures’ or ‘King Flann’s Cross’ at the monastery at Clonmacnaoise, County Offaly (Ireland) is the most famous. Now housed in the town’s Interpretive Center to protect it from the weather, a replica stands in its original location. The cross is beautifully decorated with the Last Supper, the arrest of Jesus Christ, the Crucifixion and the Guarding of the Tomb among other scenes.
There is a good example of a Celtic High Cross which combines both celtic culture and scripture at Castledermot, County Kildare (Ireland).
Celtic Cross Headstone
While anything less than 850 years old could not be considered a true Irish High Cross, there are many memorial crosses built in high cross style, in cemeteries and other locations.
Around the period of the Gaelic Revival in the 1850’s, memorial High crosses became fashionable as headstones or monuments. They can be seen in many cemeteries in Ireland and there are many now around the world. However, the reason these cannot be considered true High crosses is because they mark the resting place of an individual and do not essentially denote a sacred location or exist to spread the Christian message. Nonetheless, they still honor the High Cross heritage.
Capricorns are loners by nature and they don’t look for love out of need. This makes them both daunting and highly desirable, to those who fall for them.
The Goat is earthy and reserved, and won’t usually rush into romance. Theirs is a seasoned sign of Winter, and they don’t leave things to chance, since you never know when you could be snowed in.
The emotionally cool Capricorn goes through his own mini Ice Ages, when he puts pleasure or fun “on ice,” to pursue goals that will bring real stability. Some Cappy’s deal with intense loneliness, and come across as hard to reach, even to those they love.
Capricorns are attracted to qualities like dignity, and even something as seemingly old-fashioned as “good breeding.” They might opt for the radical path of tradition, rather than the modern norm of YOLO (You only live once) debauchery.
Starry-Eyed and Sensible
Some Capricorns admire those high in the social pecking order, like the high achievers or popular ones, or the alpha male or striking beauty. They’re attracted to the successful, resourceful and physically voluptuous (or solidly-built).
The Goat is known for being cautious, because she has “been there, done that,” and wants to be sensible this time around. She isn’t going to lean on her mate, nor does she want someone who will vampirize her energy, money or time. She’s wise like that, and will take her time when it comes to commitment.
The Love Investment
Capricorns are alarmed by those that seem reckless, or too eager to merge lives. That comes from a strong instinct for natural law, and in particular, cause and effect.
If your Capricorn crush seems distant, even if you’ve made a move, be patient. They could be open to it, but need time to prepare for possible “costs.” Capricorns can have a fatalistic attitude about love, that it involves sacrifice and burdens, but that it’s worth it.
Many have, if they’re lucky, strong family roots, that for them are anchors going back generations. Getting together with a Capricorn could mean someday gaining a clan or tribe along with it.
Like their polar opposite sign Cancer, Capricorns have a very strong sense of ancestry, and actually are similarly homebodies.
A paradox of earth sign Capricorn is that they’re libidinous, with an uninhibited attitude to carnal desire, but super discriminating about going further into a “real” relationship. They don’t mind waiting for what they want, since they’re so self-contained.
This could be heartbreaking if you give yourself bodily to them, but then realize you’re not being considered marriage material. Capricorn has a hedonistic side that opens them to pleasure, but they’re not casual about commitment.
Capricorn’s turn offs are loose morals, shady ethics and those who are all talk and no substance. They’re also irked by insecurity, especially if it’s used to gain sympathy or as a victim ploy. They’re worldly, yes, but don’t admire those that relentlessly toot their own horn. They themselves prefer to slowly demonstrate their mastery, talents and capabilities, until it’s obvious to everyone.
The Goat is attracted to a lover who has a quiet dignity, and reaches into their wintry loneliness in a way that’s respectful. It helps, too, if you get their dry humor, which a lot of times has in it parables of life, with all its harshness and light.
The decisive turn in the history of astrology occurred Iate in the Greek era, paralleling the metamorphosis of the human spirit in general. The Orient al redemptionist religions began to flourish. There arose profound conceptions of god and devil, good and evil, paradise and hell. A feeling of portenteus changes impending was expressed in apocalyptic visions of the end of all things, of Last Judgments, of coming Messiahs, and in the concept that history had a deep meaning; and represented a process of salvation for all humanity.
Persians, Jews, and Chaldeans were the peoples who promulgated this new kind of religion. The Chaldeans, carriers and heirs of Babylonian culture, contributed their astrological beliefs to the new amalgam. Astrology now parted company entirely with its astronomical base, and became mystical speculation. Thus a third and most highly systematized type of astrology came to the fore around A.D. 300.
To determine the full influence upon human beings of the planets and the signs of the zodiac, the astrologer must obviously consider more than the rising and setting planet or constellation at birth. Rather, he must take into account the total radiation impinging upon the newbom child. The Chaldeans thought to accomplish this by introducing a unique device: the twelve zones of influence.
How they hit upon this we do not know. The scherne no longer had the slightest connection with astronomy, nar with any empirical facts. As far as we know, intermediate stages of the idea did not exist. It was simply there one fine day, all complete-a flash of mystical insight.
A circle was conceived, carved into twelve equal zones of influence: a zone for death and a zone for health, for martiage and money, friends and foes, religion and travelin short, for all the subjects concerning which a person might wish to ask a fortuneteller. This division had no reference to anything in the heavens or on earth; it was purely geometrical, without any demonstrable relatianship te anything real.
The planets and the signs of the zodiac radiated upon these twelve zones. The constellation at the hour of birth, the “nativity,” could be represented pictorially if the position of every planet were entered on a celestial circle, and the eircle depicting the twelve zones were placed underneath.
Thus the celestial disc was superimposed on an immovable circle divided into twelve compartments. The Greeks gaye this contrivance a thoroughly geometrical twist. The angles the planets formed with one another were of prime importance. The signs of the zodiac each occupied thirty degrees of are, no matter what their true extension in the sky-which happens to be different for every signand in spite of their long-since-recognized movement due to the wavering of the Earth’s axis.
These paper circles constituted the horoscope, the crown of all the astrologers’ efforts. Out of the ominous signs, the roaming eyes of the gods, and the picture writing in the sky, there ultimately evolved this abstract scheme, a pure geometry of fate. it provided the Greeks with endless opportunities for profound speculations. In the horoscope influences and counterinfluences erossed one another to such an extent that there was ample room for interpretation. ‘A science developed which could rival any theological system in its complications. Schools with. sharply opposed doctrines sprang up. it was centuries before a unified dogma crystallized out of the conflicting tenets.
A prime subject for controversy was whether the horoscope at the time of conception rather than the horoscope of birth was the true one. Moreover, the Greeks took a view of the zones of influence which dillered radically from that of the Chaldeans. They divided the signs into regions, each of which belonged to a. specific planet. Even the orbits of the planets were divided into wet, warm, dry, and hot sectors.
Two dillerent types of more precise fortunetelling were derived from the horoscope-the so-called “directions.” One of these was so difficult that it was scarcely ever applied in practice, and even the other system could be mastered only by formidable mathematicians.
A historical incident suggests how strongly the Greeks believed in their geometry of fate. The tale is that the doctor and astrologer Nektanebos took steps to delay artificially the birth of Alexander the Great until an especially favorable constellation of the planets had come about.
Astrology persisted as the most successful intellectual movement of all epochs. it infected every culture, no matter what the prevailing religion; it infiltrated all levels of education. It penetrated into dying Egyptian civilization and into the vital, mature life of the Greeks, the Hindus, and the Chinese, into the flowering Arabic culture and the budding culture of the Occident during the Middle Ages.
Believers in Christ and Mohammed, in the Platonic Eros and the wisdom of Confucius, paid tribute to it. It affected equally those whose goal was Buddhistic contemplation and Roman organization. It captured the minds of superstitious fellahin and sophisticated mandarins, mystics in monks’ cowls and Stoics in togas, Caesars of the second century and popes of the sixteenth, the visionary who wrote the Apocalypse and the mathematical genius Ptolemy.
lts conquest of the Greeks was swiftest and most complete of all. That this should have been so runs exactly contrary to one’s notions.· The Greeks of all people would seem to have been immune to such beliefs. They were a daylight people who saw all things concretely, who cast abstract ideas into tangible form.
So humanized were their gods that a savage fetish would arouse mystical ideas more easily than such gods. Their cult of heroes erased the boundaries between god and man, and ended by building temples for the living. Nothing could have been further from the minds of the Greeks, it would seem, than viewing the night sky as ruler of man’s soul and destiny.
Of course, the Greeks shared the universal human dread of the wrath of Heaven, which comets and eclipses patently proclaimed. But Pericles showed his soldiers that they had nothing to fear from an eclipse by giving them a scientific explanation; he held a cloak in front of a lamp to demonstrate what happened during an eclipse. General Nieias was despised by the public for abandoning a siege because of an ill omen. Aristophanes called the Moon and Sun “gods of the barbarians.” And yet these very same Greeks developed astrology into a rigid system of dogma. The stages by which this earthiest of cultures paradoxically arrived at a form of celestial mysticism can be traced step by step. It began with Plato.
His universal spirit was open to all suggestions from other realms of the mind. Plato had one Chaldean as a friend, and one as a disciple. Perhaps influenced by them, he took up the idea that hitherto had only been hinted at in the Orphic mysteries: that the stars possessed a divine nature. The stars, Plato went on to teach, consisted of the four elements plus a soul. This wholly un-Greek conception opened wide the gates to Babylonian astrology. Aristotle, ordinarily so critical, spoke with enthusiasm about the stars as animate beings. The Stoic philosophers, in their turn, attributed to them emotion, understanding, and will.
Babylonian astrology became a second celestial religion; but it was quite unlike the first, that of ancient China. In China the stars became gods; in Babylon the gods became stars. To the Chinese the mysteries of the cosmos were so sublime that they degraded their traditional popular divinities to demons and created a cult of the stars without priests, myths, or dogmas.
The Babylonians, on the other hand, placed their native divinities one after another in the heavens, and transferred the mythic traits of these divinities to the stars. Here was an amazing evolution: for the first and only time a civilized religion rendered the divine beings visible and calculable by identifying them with the seven wandering stars.
The cuneiform script itself expressed that impulse, for its sign of divinity was a star. An age-old Babylonian legend related that the lord of the Earth, Bel, appointed the three gods Shamash, Sin, and Ishtar guardians of the firmament, which they thereafter patrolled as the Sun, the Moon, and Venus. When four more wandering stars were found in the firmament, the Babylonians made bold to repeat the act of Bel.
The city-god of Babylon, Marduk, became the planet Jupiter; the god of death, Nergal, became the planet Mars; the god of war, Ninurta, became Saturn; and the god of knowledge, Nabu, became Mercury. Mars was called Star of Judgment upon the De ad. The Tower of Babel, which was simultaneously a sanctuary and observatory, was called tersely the Temple of the Seven Transmitters of Commands from Heaven to Earth.
Thus in Babylon divine worship became equivalent to astronomy, astronomy equivalent to searching out the will of the gods. In observing the movements of the planets and their relationships to one another, the priest was performing the highest rite of his religion. That fact accounted for the enormous power of the priestly class. They did not pray to invisible beings; they associated with them face to face, so to speak.
Out of this belief sprang the extraordinarily frank reports of the astronomer-priests to the king, and the king’s meek queries as to whether he might end his fast. Moreover, these priests prophesied with a sense of absolute certainty-for they did not read the future from deceptive signs; they read it in the eyes of the gods themselves.
The light rays sent forth from the planets were magical glances by which the gods guided activities on Earth. Their influence was predetermined beyond the possibility of doubt by the special traits of the particular god. The system of interpreting the stars no longer depended upon observation and empirical rules amassed in the course of centuries; interpretation flowed simply and directly from the very names of the planets. Each planet’s name carried with it the entire body of legend which the old religion had attached to the god…
The transposition of divine characteristics to the wandering planets is the essence of astrology. That is why the position of the planets was held to influence the destiny of individuals. If a child were born while the Moon was rising, his life would be resplendent, long, and happy. if a child were born while Mars was rising, he would be sickly and soon die. if two planets wielded their influence simultaneously, the rising planet operated with greater force. Thus, if Jupiter were rising and Venus setting at birth, a man would have luck in later life, but would abandon his wife. If Venus were rising and Jupiter setting, the man would be ruled by his wife.
Thus the astrological rule was early established that opposition of the planets mutually weakened their influence. Contrarily, in conjunction they strengthened one another, with the higher of the two planets being the stronger. Soon further refinements were added: angles of 60 and 120 degrees, triangles, and hexagons, were considered favorable, squares unfavorable. These various “aspects,” multiplied by seven, yielded a complicated doctrinal system which laid the groundwork for a comprehensive craft of prophecy. The aspect of the planets could be consulted for any event in life, for births and the founding of cities, business negotiations, travels, political treaties, battles, harvests, sickness.
Elaborations were added by the Greeks, and in the Middle Ages the Book of One Hundred Rules spread knowledge of the arcane science far and _wide. Everyone knew his ruling planet. Those who were born under Jupiter presumably possessed a “jovial” character. The children of Mars considered themselves hot-tempered, bold, bellicose, destined for evil deeds.
Even physical appearance was supposed to be governed by the planet. Every planet also had certain natural objects attributed to it, and special periods of influence. Fire, iron, hematite, jasper, the color red, the taste of bitterness, the male sex, the liver, gall, kidneys, veins, and the left ear-all belonged to Mars. Mars also dominated the years of life from 42 to 57, Tuesdays, and the night from Thursday to Friday.
Some of these rules go all the way back to the Babylonians, but most of them only to the Greek astrologers. Like the Chinese, the Greeks connected the principal aspects of thought with the stars. But the relationship which was, for the Chinese, an intellectual pattern, a magnificent synthesis of ideas, became in the West a web work of tangible causes and effects. The difference can be strikingly demonstrated by two quotations.
The Chinese Book of Changes declares: “The heavens reveal ideas; the holy man takes them as his model.” The other conception is formulated in the Talmud: “Everything that is found upon Earth is found also in the heavens; nothing is so trivial that it does not have its correlation in the sky.” According to this latter view, it was necessary only to read the celestial sign aright in order to unravel all earthly mysteries.
Such readings, however, would have called for .a highly developed craft in observation, which the Middle Ages lacked. But the Greeks apparently foresaw this and established a dogmatic scheme which could be applied in lieu of observation. Every hour of the day was placed under the dominion of a planet. In fixed succession the seven governors of the hours followed one another through an entire week, and then repeated their turns. The system was primitive, but practical. An individual’s birth-planet could be determined without consultation with an astronomer.
This arbitrary method also went back to a Babylonian model: the planetary week. Originally the week had had five days because five divided neatly into the thirty-day month. But once the seven planets had been discovered, the number seven became sacred. Babylonian observatories were made seven stories high; state documents were sealed with seven seals. There were seven colors, seven musical notes, seven parts of the body; human lives were supposed to consist of seven-year periods.
In the sky, Orion and the two Bears had seven stars; the Pleiades were called the Seven Sisters, though with the best will in the world only six tiny dots of light could be distinguished. The week was given seven days, awkward as this unit was. And each day was named after and presumably dominated by a single planet.
To this day the names of the days retain the system: Sun-day, Moon-day, Tiu/ Mars-day, Woden/Mercury-day, Thor/ Jupiter-day, Freya/Venus-day, Saturn-day. Although the names of our days derive mainly from Norse mythology, the system can be considered a gift from Babylon, reminding us of the eyes of the gods which once governed the days, the hours, and human destinies with their magical glances.
At one point, Job isn’t realistic enough. He asks what he thinks is a hard question: “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14: 14). But the real question is, “When a man dies, shall he live again?” We know that we shall die, and unpleasant as that fact is, we cannot avoid it. So the question keeps cropping up, Is death the end, or shall I live again?
It is amazing how many people hold the “Row, row, row your boat” attitude without realizing that the boat goes down the stream until it topples over a waterfall and everybody gets killed. It is the realization of this fact that often pushes thoughtful people over into the “sound and fury” attitude.
There is something very honest about the “let’s-face-it” response, when the people who hold it do not try to cover up the fact that it implies that we live in an alien, hostile universe, in which our most cherished ideals and values are ultimately of no significance. Work for a good world, if you wish, but do not expect your work to have any ultimate meaning, for even if your ideal lingers for a few generations after you die it will soon pass away, for in the end everybody dies and there is nothing left.
This view of life has been compared to a road built of the ground-up bones of previous generations; soon your bones will be added to the road and it will be a little longer, but the time will come when there will be no more bones to add to it and the road will have no more travelers. Everything perishes along the way, until finally nothing is left. History is merely a row of tombstones.
The “pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die” option
A second false answer, adopted by many people who are afraid to be stark and stern, is characterized by the words of the old song: “You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.” In other words, things may get pretty tough here on earth, but take heart because after you die you’ll get your reward. Eternal life is like the lollipop Mummy promises little Junior if he sits in the nasty old dentist’s chair without screaming while he has a tooth filled.
Life is pretty grim and ugly, but everything will get smoothed out in the end, and “in the sky” everything will be peaches and cream (in case you don’t like pie). There is, of course, a kind of minimal truth in this view, namely, the assumption that there is something more ultimate than the here and now, but the notions that living on earth is simply a process of gritting one’s teeth (thus making things harder for the dentist) against unpleasant things, and that there is some sort of automatic reward for “being good” — these are highly dubious, as we shall later see more clearly.
The “living-on-in-the-memories-of-others” evasion
Other people say that eternal life is nothing more than the “immortality of influence.” We do live on in the memories of others, because our influence, our ideas, our personality, are perpetuated in those who remember us. Abraham Lincoln, for example, is “as alive as he ever was” because his influence is still felt in America, and he lives “enshrined in the hearts of his countrymen.”
What is Jesus’ relationship to the new Christian community? Did he leave any provision for its development? To answer these questions we must look at one of the most controversial verses in the New Testament. Jesus says, at Caesarea Philippi:
I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it ( Matt. 16: 18).
One of the most fundamental differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics hinges on how this verse is interpreted. The Roman Catholic says: Here Jesus gives Peter unique power as the head of the Church; Peter is the rock on which it is built. Peter transmits this power to his successor, and that successor to his successor, and so on in unbroken succession, right down to the present pope. Only where the pope is honored as the vicar of Christ on earth does Christ’s Church truly exist. Any Church that does not so honor the pope is not part of the true Church.
The Protestant way of putting it will take a little longer:
1. Some Protestants feel that the words did not come from the lips of Jesus, but were added later. It seems clear to them that if the whole future of Christendom depended on the idea this verse expresses, it would have been mentioned more than once (the other Gospels all omit the verse). This, of course, is only negative reasoning from silence and is not conclusive by itself.
2. Many more Protestant scholars will grant that Jesus spoke the words. But remember, they go on, the context of the statement. Jesus has asked, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter has replied, “You are the Christ.” So the crucial question is: What is the “rock” upon which the Church is to be built? The Protestant holds that the “rock” is Peter’s declaration that “Jesus is the Christ.” Where that faith is present, there is the Church. Thus the verse is to be interpreted, “You are Peter, and on this rock [of your faith in me] I will build my church.”
3. But even, the Protestant continues, if the meaning were that Peter himself were the rock, there would be no ground for assuming that Peter’s power was passed on to his “successors.” The Protestant claims that the apostles, rather than bequeathing some unusual powers to their successors, bequeathed their testimony, their witness, which was contained in the pages of the New Testament. The Church is thus found where men maintain fidelity to the truth proclaimed in the New Testament that “Jesus is the Christ.” It is that faith which distinguishes the Church today, just as it distinguished the Church nineteen hundred years ago.