Christmas Catch-up, 2015

On Lucifer, Hymns, Churches, Myths, Words, etc.

The Christmas season is here, and with it some of the oldest “pagan” myths dressed up in the elaborations of two millennia of Christianity. The story of the birth of Christ is welcome here. It’s an occasion for reflection upon the meaning of the season, as some folks like to say.

It’s also a season of reflection upon events of the past year, which some people will encapsulate in form letters. These will arrive folded inside of Christmas cards, and range from charming, witty, and wise epistles to offensive, humorless, clueless celebrations of ego.

I confess that I have sent a couple of these end-of-the year form letters myself. They were expedient in certain busy, overwhelming seasons in the past when a hand-written note inside of each card was not feasible. I was able to avoid the self-trumpeting aspect of the thing thanks to one I received long ago from some intensely upwardly-mobile acquaintances touting their attainment of membership in a very exclusive Horse Club.

I vaguely recall the over-all grating snobbishness of the entire letter, but only that particular part about the horse club remains clearly in memory. I remember thinking that I would like to find a nice, stout horse club and work them over with it until they drank some water from the fountain of Christmas. That sentiment faded with time, however, and we are friends now.

I will reserve personal reflections of events of the past year for a later post because now, on the run-up to the end of 2015, I find that part of the season involves a bit of catch-up with things my friend Louis has recently posted on his blog, Ralston Creek Review. I enjoy Louis’ reflections there a lot and highly recommend the site. It is a trove of scholarship and humanity, and Louis embodies both.

If you are a discerning reader you may now be becoming aware that what is coming up is a brain dump of sorts, a stream-of-consciousness purge of odd bits roiling around in my head which have found their way to various incomplete, unpolished pages in my personal archives.

All I can say about that is this: I am old, and getting older every day, and I have seen and thought about so much (whether it is relevant to anything or apropos of nothing) that I have no room left in my head for unfinished thoughts which won’t vacate their space until I put them somewhere else. This is that place. I am looking forward to reclaiming the space they have taken up in my head.

-*-

Lucifer, the Fallen Angel

NOTE: This is a follow-up to my comment on Louis’ song of the week “Prince of Darkness.” I said I might follow through on my comment about Lucifer. Here’s a link to the comment, but you will probably need to read the entire blog post for continuity’s sake: http://ralstoncreekreview.com/song-of-the-week-prince-of-darkness/#comment-16037

-*-

If you get all puffed up with yourself and get too big for your britches, you’re going to start showing your butt. When that happens you’re going to be an object of ridicule, the opposite of the object of worship you thought you were. This is called the Fall, and it’s not a good thing. So the best thing is to wear the pants the good Lord gave you, and leave off of that notion that you’re bigger than anyone else.”  (Anon)

(Or my Grandmother. I forget which.)

In the past I’ve referred to the allegorical myth of Lucifer in regard to how hubris and pride are the sources of the fall from the grace of spiritual union into separation. My friend Louis over at  Ralston Creek Review mentioned in one of his posts that Lucifer was once considered to be a “bringer of Light” rather than the Prince of Darkness. I was interested in how history accounted for that development. I found out, and now I’m tired of etymological excavation, and here it is:

Lucifer, the fallen angel now also known as Satan, was not in the original Hebraic texts of Isaiah 14:12. Lucifer first began to take shape when the Hebraic phrase “helel ben shahar” in the original Hebraic text of Isaiah was translated as “lucifer” in St. Jerome’s translation of Hebraic texts into the Latin Vulgate scriptures.

In the time of the prophet Isaiah the linguistic connection between the ancient Babylonian god Shahar (bringer of morning light) and the Judeo-Christian Lucifer (morning star, bringer of light, sun of the dawn ) did not exist. The metaphor of a fallen morning star that the original Hebraic text of Isaiah 14:12 applied to an evil and fallen king of Babylon received the Latin word “lucifer” in place of “morning star” in the Vulgate translation, which then morphed into the proper name Lucifer in the later Christian tradition, giving rise to the anthropomorphic angelic figure who fell from grace into evil.

So, basically, the figure of Lucifer appeared in the early Latin Vulgate translation of the old Hebraic scriptures by St. Jerome. It happened as the result of an over-reaching translation of the early texts which combined literal linguistic translation with interpretive “flourishes” into the Christian text. One of the results became the link between Isaiah 14:12 and Luke 10:18 (“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven”), interpreting the passage in Isaiah as an allegory of “Lucifer’s” fall from heaven. Thus “Lucifer” became linked with “Satan.” Before that, Satan and Lucifer were unrelated terms.

-*-

RE: “Hymn”

NOTE: This is a follow-up to Louis’ song of the week “Hymn,” which addressed word origins, religions, churches, and the varying forms of belief systems which all have roots in human spirituality. Here’s a the link to that blog post (and Amy’s comment referenced herein): http://ralstoncreekreview.com/song-of-the-week-hymn/  Amy, by the way is Amy Putkonen, who authors the blog “Tao Te Ching Daily,” another treasure trove of wisdom and humanity which I also highly recommend. I run a poor third to both Louis and Amy, and often piggyback my own thoughts on theirs.

-*-

Churches and religion and words are always an interesting topic, Louis.

As far as the etymology of the word “religion” goes, it seems that while starting out with Cicero as “relegere,” meaning literally “to read or think again,” it later morphed in popular usage to having a meaning indicating an organized, social form of spirituality. It started out denoting “respect for what is sacred; reverence for the gods; conscientiousness, sense of right …” and quickly became welded to and inseparable from concepts denoting “moral obligation; fear of the gods; divine service, religious observance; a religion, a faith, a mode of worship, cult; sanctity, holiness…” This fusion led modern writers to reinterpret the origin of the word as not being “relegere” but instead “religare,” meaning “to bind fast.”

So the word started out signifying a personal regard and individual consideration – and reconsideration, employing an open mind and the returns of later experiences – of the intrinsic, inalienable structure present in the universe and the spiritual aspects humanity  assigns to it. The idea being that human beings can form thoughts which reflect the true nature of the universe we have arisen from and live within.

Words are tools used to create facsimiles of things beheld; words are not the things they behold. Words apprehend those things. When we begin to use words as the building blocks of stories, myths, and songs to create a coherent, balanced  equation of equivalency – a story denoting an observed truth or effect or process, the most efficient viral form of information exchange from generation to generation – words serve us well. So long as the words themselves are coherent, balanced, and proven.

In this instance the word “religion” has an evolved meaning which equates being “bound fast” to institutionalized spiritual systems with human spirituality. It’s pretty obvious to me that there is a difference between spirituality and spiritual systems.

The difference can range from comical to antithetical depending on how much weight is given to the “system” and how coherent, balanced, and proven their interpreted version of any given story is. Does the story point to the object of its source? Or has it become twisted into a local parody and obscured the meaning of the story?

A lot of this is old ground for most people. Principles from the “divine ground,” the source of all religions, become socially tailored to fit a societal context. Those principles become expressed in interpretive translations. Over time social contexts change,  translations occur, interpretations change, interpreters change, and far down the line we find religions galore, all stemming from the same source, all with layer upon layer upon layer of historical, interpretive, personality-infused contexts in their words and stories.

Why, then, do people overwhelmingly choose to approach their spiritual nature in an institutional environment in spite of the confusions inherent in those organizations? It’s because of the satisfactions afforded by a system. A system can lead an adherent back to the immaculate source, so long as it points to that source and not itself.

Amy, in your reply I think you identify another one of the major benefits of organized religion. Community. It is a true benefit to connect with those who sincerely seek, and those who have found and embody, the principles of the spiritual life.

Yet belief-focused religion can also mislead adherents into some extraordinarily non-spiritual thoughts and actions based on protecting the community. They become Eric Hoffer’s “True Believers,” people subverted from the essence behind the form, conscripted and then compromised by it until the essence is lost and only the form is considered true. And there’s the rub.

The way I figure it, the only way to avoid being subverted, distracted, or even completely diverted from the personal spiritual path back to the godhead is to personally find the truth evident in each system without being co-opted by the systemic interpretations of those truths. I’d say the earliest definition of “religion” indicates a very good way to approach and apprehend the spiritual life – to use personal regard and individual consideration and reconsideration, employing an open mind and the returns of later experiences, whether it be in church or society or the universe at large.

Churches and religions, and an early atheism which evolved into a more open-minded agnosticism which led me into deeper explorations of faith and belief, have helped me on my own path immeasurably. Lenore and I have attended many churches of many faiths. Our own experience in each was preceded by our own personal explorations of faith and spirituality. Over time we developed a familiarity with the common spiritual principles which every faith shares, principles which are subsequently incorporated into the particular beliefs and expressions of many faiths.

In churches we found ourselves often having to sort out principles from beliefs in order to find the core of truth inside the layers of the personality of a church and the faith it embraced. It could be an exhausting process, listening carefully for principles sometimes hidden deep under layers and layers of history and dogma and cant, but usually the inspiring source could be found at the core of those expressions.

It was a very beneficial part of our path. One of the most satisfying things about it was meeting people who had arrived at an understanding of the principles underlying their faith through their particular religion’s  practices. And one of the more enlightening but not necessarily satisfying things we learned was that people can embrace religious beliefs and practices without ever apprehending the principles behind them, and can become blindly “bound fast” to literal, personality-driven, corrupted interpretations of those principles which actually produce beliefs and actions which are not reflective of those principles at all but “feel right” in the context of the church – even though they are not reflective of the greater context of the Tao, or the universe, or creation.

For myself I have to say that my time in various churches was well-spent. “Church” provided the initial contextual matrix in which I could form and place and express the spiritual discoveries I experienced on my path. As I grew I realized that the framework of that matrix was based on the oldest myths and stories and songs and visual arts of the human race, which were perpetuated in oral and artistic traditions long before the printed word became common. Stories conveyed through those basic mediums of expression are “word pictures” which easily convey information and make it memorable with visual and aural and emotional elements.

Those ancient common stories, those reflections of the nature of humanity, the universe, creation – indeed every thing which human consciousness encounters in its existence – were the first occurrence of what the human mind has been using to express itself ever since. We translate the pure, objective, inexpressible reality of facts before us into a form which can be expressed in our own context. And what serves us best is word pictures and stories containing metaphors, allegories, similes, analogies – simulacrums reflecting the universal source material of things which are absolute and yet subject to being compromised by our expressions simply because our expressions have limits and are “bound fast” to our local experiences and personal matrices of understanding.

Sidebar: “Simulacrums”

Jean Baudrillard in “The Precession of Simulacra,” defines a simulacrum as a representation which “substitutes signs of the real for the real.” Baudrillard contrasts this with the techno-contemporary development which extended human usage of simulacrums into “simulations,” observing that the current stage of the simulacrum has become characterized as a perspective which is derived from references with no referents, a hyperreality.

I personally don’t think this is a new development in the human process. Every thought we form is a symbol, derived from a beheld object, thought, event, etc. etc. I do agree that there is a process which becomes so derivative that it is only derivative of derivatives. This resultant “hyperreality” can be far removed from any original, natural source. Religion, for example, often becomes derivative of derivatives, and the reality of the simple observed source-fact is lost beneath layers of interpretation super-imposed over it.

Fredric Jameson provides a similar definition: the simulacrum’s “peculiar function lies in what Sartre would have called the derealization of the whole surrounding world of everyday reality.”

Churches and words are helpful. It’s nice to be able to express our spirituality in such a way that others understand it, and connect with us there on that divine ground. After all, we are at the heart of things a community, and the simulacrums which express that fact are nice to have around.

In my own experience, which is no more and no less unique than every other person’s experience, I personally found the highest worth in churches in the moment they conveyed me to – the moment when I realized they were not necessary.

We do not need to seek God. We are God.

We do not need to go to church. We are in church.

We do not need to wait for heaven. Heaven is here.

-*-

There, that’s better. My mind has some room in it again.

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