Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Language, Religion and Slavery (Part 2)

In Regione Caecorum Rex est Luscus
(In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.)

And so I see that I must say something also of the eloquence of the Prophets, greatly cloaked as it is in a metaphorical style.  The more, however, that they seem obscure by use of figurative expressions, the more pleasing they are when their meaning has been made clear.
                            St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine

     The founding fathers' of the United States of America used the ancient empires of Greece and Rome as models for their democratic experiment; and this should come as no surprise because the Americans found themselves in a similar situation to that of the Ancient Greeks and Romans – a wealthy elite minority ruling over an impoverished servant majority. As a result, democracies are inherently divided into masters and servants; owners and owned; and, initiated and uninitiated.  Friedrich Nietzsche noted in The Genealogy of Morals that the language used to describe these binary pairs distinguished one’s class and suggested a typical character trait. The word the Greek aristocracy used to describe themselves was esthlos, meaning one who has “true reality.” This is in contrast to the lying plebeian.[i] In such a system, metaphor and irony work in conjunction to communicate information that assumes a dual audience, consisting of one group that only understands the literal meaning, and another group that understands the literal and symbolic meanings.  Consider too that the word irony originates from the Greek eironeia, which means “feigned ignorance.”
     By use of figures of speech with more than one level of interpretation, a writer could incorporate ironic schemes into their works.  The effect is the slaves understand the literal message, whereas the literal and deeper meanings are known to the esthlos, or those who know truth.  The truth they know is the real image behind the metaphor. According to legend, the Greek philosopher Pythagoras taught on a stage from behind a curtain.  On stage with him, behind the curtain were his most adept students, called the Mathematika.  Those outside of the curtain, the exoteric, can hear all of what is being discussed, but they lack any visual context—no gestures, no access to visual teaching aids.  Meanwhile, the esoteric or inner circle sees the ironic smile, a physical gesture indicating something unsaid, or maybe even a physical teaching aid.  Those on the outside are not getting the complete context of the discourse; it is like reading Plato’s Republic as opposed to hearing him expound his ideas at the Academy, or reading the Gospel of John rather than hearing him preach in the wilderness. 
      In A Rhetoric of Irony, Wayne Booth suggests that some metaphors are fixed or stable.  These stable metaphors are not infinite ambiguities, but specific covert references intended to be reconstructed with meaning different from on those on the surface.  Once a reconstruction of meaning is made, the reader is not invited to undermine it further.[ii] Perhaps nowhere in Western culture is this more evident than in scriptures of the Holy Bible.  The authors of these texts know exactly what they are writing about, but phrase the information in a way that obscures its meaning to those outside of the intended audience.  Consider that the followers are not are not even allowed to speak their god’s name.  Instead, they refer to their god as Yahweh, a substitution for the god’s real name (a symbol for a symbol).  To obscure Yahweh’s image even more, the second commandment makes it a crime to fashion an image of the god.  Therefore, the identity of Yahweh remains a secret; and the tradition of secrecy continues in Christianity. 
     Jesus says to his disciples, “To you has been given the secret of the Kingdom of God, but for those outside—everything is in parables.”  According to scholar Frank Kermode, “a parable could be translated as “comparison”, “illustration”, or “analogy”, but in the Greek Bible it is the equivalent to Hebrew mashal, which means “riddle” or “dark saying.”[iii] According to the Oxford English Dictionary, riddle means both: “a question or statement intentionally worded in a dark or puzzling manner…a coarse-meshed sieve, used for separating chaff from corn, sand from gravel, ashes from cinders, etc.”.  Furthermore, riddles from Africa are unlike European models in that “they are often cryptic statements, of a poetic or philosophical character, which do not contain the question element,” and kings and holy men used riddles to test one’s wisdom.[iv] Even by Jesus’ admission that he speaks in parables—it should be clear the language is figurative and meant to be obscure.  In this case, literally a “riddle,” whose purpose is to separate those “who know” from those “who do not know.”  By examining the figurative language used to describe Jesus, one could argue that there is a fixed ironic meaning or secret code encrypted into the tropes of Christ.
     The New Testament authors used metaphor to refer to Jesus. Here is a short list: I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25), The Word was made flesh (John 1:14), The Lamb of God (Jhn 1:29), The Way (Jhn 14:6),  The Door of the Sheep, (Jhn 10:7), The True Vine (Jhn 15:1), The Tree of Life (Rev 2:7), The Corn of Wheat (Jhn 12:24), The True Bread from Heaven (Jhn 6:32), The Living Bread (Jhn 6:51),  The Hidden Manna (Rev 2:17), The Light (Jhn 12:35), The Rock (Mat 16:18), The Builder (Hbr 3:3), The Foundation (1Cr 3:11), An Elect Stone (1Pe 2:6), The Truth (Jhn 14:6), The Resurrection (Jhn 11:25).  Is it possible that all of these descriptions are of the same thing and that the writers purposely obscured them to be hidden from the vulgar masses?
     The Gospel of John is most mystical of the New Testament Gospels in terms of its vagueness.  In one passage, Jesus encourages his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood, and that doing so will give a person eternal life.  Consider the following quote from the Gospel of John:

   I am the bread of life.  Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died.  But here is the Bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world (6:48-51)...Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (6:54). 

When Jesus claims to be the true bread of heaven, he is saying that he is the manna.  However, this is only an allusion to another riddle. 
     In Exodus, Moses leads the tribe into the wilderness, where they run out of food.  The people complain to Moses, who petitions the lord with prayer. The lord informs Moses that he will rain down bread for the people to eat.  On the given day, there is dew on the ground, and there is what appears to be “a small round thing” (King James' Version) on the ground.  Moses tells the Israelites that this is bread from the lord and to gather as much as they can, but not to keep any overnight.  However, some did not pay attention, and the next day they found their bread stinking and laced with maggots.  “Each morning each person gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away” (Exodus 16:21). 
     As a riddle—what edible thing appears on the ground as “a small round thing” in conjunction with dew? It melts in the sun; and if you keep it overnight, it breeds worms and stinks?  Mushrooms! No other life form on earth meets the criterion so conveniently.               Mushrooms are small round things that seasonally appear on the ground in conjunction with moisture.  They are edible.  Fungus gnats lay their eggs on mushrooms, and newly hatched maggots eat their way into the mushrooms.  Many species of mushroom melt away through out the day—what mycologists refer to as deliquescing.  Furthermore, dried mushroom caps can resemble a round loaf of bread. Further still, is the mushrooms’ ability to reproduce without copulation; they appear miraculously overnight, they are gone by noon, and the next morning are they miraculously return.  However, the most interesting aspect of the mushroom is that some of them contain psychotropic alkaloids causing hallucinations or what some refer to a mystical experience.  These psychedelic or magic mushrooms may provide deeper insight into the Mystery of Jesus.
     Many verses of the Gospel of John translate the Greek logos into “word”; however, another interpretation of logos is “reason.”  Consider the following quote from John 1:14, “and the word [logos] was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”  In The Great Code, Northrop Frye notes that metaphorically, logos is used metonymically to convey the sense of rational order.[v] In this way, you eat the flesh of Jesus (mushroom) and experience reason or logos.  Consider a personal account of the mushroom ecstasy from mycologist Gordon Wasson:

The visions came in endless procession, each growing out of the preceding one.  We had the sensation that our humble house had vanished, that our untrammeled souls were floating in the empyrean, stoked by divine breezes, possessed of a divine mobility that would transport us anywhere on wings of thoughts…At last I was seeing through the eye of my soul, not through the course lenses of the natural eyes.  Moreover, what I was seeing was impregnated with weighty meaning; I was awe-struck.[vi]

From a current field guide on Mushrooms:

the principle effects are on the central nervous system include: confusion, mild euphoria, loss of muscular coordination, profuse sweating, chills, visual distortions, a feeling of greater strength and sometimes hallucinations, delusions, or convulsions.  An inordinate amount of trippers mistake themselves for “Christ.”  The effects last for several hours and there are no hangovers.[vii]

Now, compare that to the effect that Socrates (as logos) has on Meno:

they told me that in plain truth you [Socrates] are a perplexed man yourself and reduce others to perplexity.  At this moment I feel you are exercising your magic and witchcraft upon me and positively laying me under your spell until I am just a mass of helplessness….My mind and lips are literally numb.[viii]

     Perhaps another way of interpreting the psychedelic experience is-- it is a way of realizing the truth beyond the binary of good/evil.  In Genesis, Adam and Eve eat of the tree of knowledge, and they become aware that they are unclothed; signifying that ingesting the fruit promotes self-awareness beyond one's perceived identity.
     God created Adam and Eve and put them in the Garden of Eden to work.  God tells them they are “free” to eat anything in the garden—except “from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  For when you eat of it you will surely die.”  The serpent implies that God is a liar, and tells Eve that she will not die.  Satan says, “For God knows that your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good from evil” (Genesis 3:4).  When Eve sees the fruit she cannot resist seeing that the fruit was “good for food,” “pleasing to the eye,” and “desirable for gaining wisdom.”  She shares the fruit with Adam and “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked” (Genesis 3:6-7).  Consequently, for not following directions the primordial pair are banished from Eden, with an aside by God, “The man has now become like one of us knowing good from evil.”  Eating this fruit has put Adam on Eve on equal footing with God and his angelic court. They do not die as God implies, but become like gods—knowing the difference between good and evil, as the snake implied.
    In essence, the Tree of Knowledge represents a drug, or what the Greeks called a pharmakon. And the Serpent represents the effects the pharmakon has on one's mind. The pharmakon is a philter, which acts as both a remedy and poison.[ix] As the pharmakon affects the individual, so the individual affects culture.  The Serpent, Moses, Jesus and Socrates are social pharmakons who vaccinate their respective cultures with their drug-inspired revolutionary discourse. Their discourse challenges the current tradition, or rather disrupts the current of tradition, but even revolution is part of the tradition.  Therefore, if you are in a position of authority (political, economical, scientific, art) figures like Socrates and Jesus undermine that authority. Their inspired discourse represents a virus that must be contained before the whole culture can be infected.
    Psychedelic mushrooms are a gateway to cosmic consciousness, a door to the Kingdom of Heaven; however, the door is locked and there is a No Trespassing sign nailed to it.  In the United States, it is a felony to possess mushrooms containing the psychoactive alkaloids psilocybin or psilocin, and for a first time conviction punishable by loss of federal benefits, forfeiture of personal and private property, up to a year in prison, fine not more than $100,000 (21 USC §844, §862). According to Robert Graves, the ancient Israelites practiced something similar.  He writes:

The Hebrews held the mushroom holy, and reserved them for the priests, kings and other privileged classes; and to prevent the underprivileged from eating a sacred mushroom, a general syeg or taboo was put on mushroom eating and reinforced by treating all mushrooms as poisonous.[x]

     By indoctrinating a culture into regarding mushrooms as poisonous—the whole culture is ignorant of this god-derived knowledge, and fears the mushroom as deadly.  Meanwhile, the priestly caste develops scripture as a way to preserve this culture.  A tradition that goes back to Moses and the second version of the Ten Commandments .
     Moses is coming down the mountain with the two “stone tablets” of testimony inscribed by god, when he discovers that the tribe has abandoned his precepts. Furthermore, they have resorted to their former ways by dancing ecstatically around the image of a golden calf.  He throws down the tablets breaking them, and smashes the golden calf.  Then Moses says “whoever is for the lord, come with me.”  To those who come with him, he instructs, “Each man strap a sword to his side.  Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other each killing his brother and friend and neighbor,” Exodus 32:27.  With the camp free of malcontents, Moses goes back to the mountains and in secrecy craves out a new set of tablets.  The first set of tablets broken by Moses were created by the Lord, “When the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the Testimony, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God,” Exodus 31:18.  However, the tablets that the people receive are carved out by Moses, “And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments,” Exodus 34:28.
     The original tablets were the mushrooms.  This is a secret Moses is about to share with his people, until he realizes his power has been displaced in his absence.  Moses kills off all the opposition to his party, and then substitutes his “stone tablets” for the Lord’s tablets.  In a sense, he replaced the divine logos with the human logic of the written word, even setting it in stone.  Moses as the builder of Judaism has rejected the stone tablet given by god, and settles on his own version—the Ten Commandments.  By rejecting the mushroom, the exoteric see mushrooms as revolting and a sign for death, while the esoteric know the mushroom is a sign of God. Hence, it is the control of and manipulation of this mushroom knowledge that provides the foundation for Western culture—teeming ignorant masses. Now that’s ironic.
  The world’s major religions are institutions of slavery used to imprison one’s mind.  While the etymology of the word religion is vague, the Oxford English Dictionary suggested it means, “to bind.”  Even Jesus refers to his teachings as a yoke in Matthew 11:29, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…”   Consider the word the Greeks used to for their slaves—anthropoda, meaning “two-footed stock.”[xi] Some interpret this yoke to mean a spiritual submission to God; however, to the Romans, Caesar was God; to the Egyptians, Pharaoh was god. Historically, god was a man; and religions taught people (colonized) to submit to these Lords (colonizers). 
     Western literary tradition is essentially derived from this model of allegorical stories with hidden messages encrypted in the text.  Readers perceive stories and poems as allegorical because they use Biblical symbols and references; however, the master scribes knowingly embed the Biblical mushroom motifs into their texts.  For example, many people think that John Milton’s Paradise Lost is ironic because Satan appears to be the hero, but that is entirely the point!  Satan was the first Christ figure, or mushroom trope.  Not only that, but also many of the gods that Milton chooses to trope into devils were likely ancient names of mushrooms. Milton uses Beelzebub, which means Lord of the Flies; and consider Amanita is also called Fly agaric. He describes Belial as a “manna” tongued devil whose only principle is “peace at any price,” and he “could make the worse appear the better reason, to perplex and dash the maturest counsels: for his thoughts were low.”[xii] This is exactly what Socrates and Jesus do and why they are murdered.  Their discourse is revolutionary, anti-authoritarian, and appeals to the common man.  This is the major reason that the discourse is obscure, it represents a conspiratorial challenge to a power structure, and those conspiring must be secretive.
    If you think this model is ancient and no longer prevalent—think again. The United States of America was founded on similar principles. The founding fathers were outcasts from heavenly Europe. They imported slaves to tend to their fields; and used the Bible to rationalize the slavery to themselves and the slaves. They would go on to conspire and rebel against their Lord, King George. To insure their place of power, they would write the Constitution in secret, and in such a language, that would mystify the indentured servant class. Fast-forward to the 1980’s, the American Sybil, Nancy Reagan, put a syeg on all drugs when she told people to “Just say ‘no’ to drugs.” Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan's administration was working hard selling crack cocaine in black ghettos to generate funds for the Contras in Nicaragua. The effect: “There are now [as of 2000] more than 450,000 drug offenders behind bars, a total nearly equal to the entire US prison population of 1980.”[xiii] The rock the builder refused has become the cornerstone; the lord did this and it is marvelous.
    Rhetorically speaking, it is not what is true that is important, but what is believable.  I may have bitten off more than I can chew resulting in a thesis that’s hard to swallow, but my discourse is an acquired taste.  In an effort to make this discourse more palatable, I will sweeten it with one last drop of honey—a model of this scheme drawn from the natural world.  A similar situation occurs in the honeybee colony.  While still larvae in the honeycomb, the larvae destined to be queen are fed a special food called Royal Jelly.  Royal Jelly is secreted from the worker bees’ foreheads. This food enables the queen bee to live thirty times longer, grow two times larger, reproduce, but more importantly release pheromones allowing her to control the behavior of the hive.  There is no distinction from a worker bee and a queen bee, except that the queen bee eats the Royal Jelly.  If another bee eats Royal Jelly, the bee will develop the queen bee qualities.  When this happens, the two queens either: fight until one is killed, or one queen may induce her “followers” to make an exodus from the hive to start a new colony where process repeats itself.



[i] Nietzche, pg. 163
[ii] Booth, pg. 5-6
[iii] Kermode, pg. 23
[iv] Crystal, pg. 62
[v] Frye, pg. 18
[vi] Stafford, pg. 268
[vii] Arora, pg. 895
[viii] Derrida, pg. 118
[ix] Derrida, pg. 70
[x] Cavendish, pg. 1905
[xi] Kick, pg. 262
[xii] Bizzel, pg. 1606
[xiii] Kick, pg. 234