Eve, the Mother of All
© Robert Lentz 1995 (courtesy of Trinity Stores --formerly Natural Bridges):
[Link updated 6 February 2002]
"She holds in her hands an opened pomegranate, whose Hebrew name, rimmon, comes from the word rim, to bear a child. The pomegranate is an ancient middle-eastern symbol of the womb, because of its red juice and its numerous seeds or offspring. It was carved on the pillars of Solomon's Temple as a symbol of fertility. In this icon it represents all the descendents of Eve, the human race, and our debt to her and all our fore-mothers. Eve was said to have lived for more than nine centuries. . . . she is celebrated each year on the second Sunday before Christmas in the calendar of the Eastern Orthodox Church." [© Robert Lentz 1995]
Some web-categories drop great links into my lap like ripe fruit -- Ancient Greece, Egypt, Ireland, Arthurian tales, medieval Europe and many more. Others require long patience. When I first structured my website in April 1998, I placed "Crones & Sages" in my Western Europe category. My hope was that I would find great links that would explore the wisdom of female and male elders -- Kundrie of Wolfram's Parzival, for example (who is nothing like Wagner's version); Merlin, that tricksterish sage; Hecate, Baba Yaga. I was in no way denying the cross-cultural ubiquity of the theme -- aging wisely, or not, is a universal phenomenon. Nevertheless, I wanted Eurocentric sites honoring the elders because the Eurocentric obsession with immature heroes has brought so much tragedy to the world. If I could keep the issue within that context, I hoped it might prove compensatory.http://www.hakomagazine.net/english/hakoengl7.html
More than a year passed and no Eurocentric links concerning crones and sages fell into my lap. I began to wonder if I should drop the category entirely. Yet, as a crone myself, I was reluctant to do this. Then the summer of 1999 a small handful of links suddenly appeared, but, except for Ashliman's (see below), all were from Native American sites. With this, I saw that I must shift the category from Europe to the rest of the world. Thus, it is now in my COMMON THEMES section. Perhaps in collecting links from this enlarged perspective, my original goal will nevertheless be furthered....
"Woman between the Wind"
© Charles Frizzell
Although respected as a source of wisdom, old age has been influenced by Greek fear and despise, deeply rooted in our Western soul. . . . [From the opening editorial]Italy's online Hako Magazine offers this rich, fascinating article (actually, a series of small essays by various writers) looking at Native and Meso-American attitudes towards the elderly:. . .Since old age was the evidence of one's own experience and ability to avoid death, the elders were feared and respected for their spiritual powers, even if skeletal remains, mummies, myths and pictorial representations depict a picture of Indian old age not precisely idyllic from our modern point of view. . . .A wide number of tribes are covered. Especially interesting is the connection between the elderly and the Firegods, who are known as the "Old Gods." There is also a beautiful essay by Francesco Spagna, "Velma Wallis: from Myth to Novel," about a famine-stricken band of Athabaskan Gwich'in who abandon two elderly women in Alaska's cold (see below for reviews of this book).
[Link updated 11/13/09]: This is amazon.com's page on Alaskan Gwich'in author, Velma Wallis, and her novel, Two Old Women, an Athabaskan tale of two useful but complaining elders who are left behind by their hungry tribe during a bitterly cold winter. How the two women pull together and eventually save their people makes for fascinating drama. (Scroll down amazon.com's page for reviews of the book from various sources.)http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/aging.html
Rembrandt's Homer (1663)
[Excerpt added 13 November 2009]: This is a lengthy collection of tales and proverbs from folklore specialist D. L. Ashliman on "Aging and Death in Folklore." Although you'll find mostly European tales of chillingly cruel treatment of elders, there are also tales in which protecting elders results in unseen benefits for all. The page is very long but loads quickly and has a table of contents for those who wish to jump to specific topics or stories. Ashliman's commentaries as well as his selections are superior. Here is an excerpt from his "Other primitive cultures" section:http://fullhomelydivinity.org/articles/cross.htmAbandonment of the sick or the aged by primitive peoples, especially those with a nomadic culture, is well documented and reflects the harshness of life endured by many of our forebears. An Eskimo story, for example, can begin, in a matter-of-fact tone: "One Winter there was an old woman who was left behind ... with only a few insects to eat." Similarly, a Chiricahua Indian myth tells how tribal members concluded that a certain old woman was "good for nothing" and hence decided to abandon her. Alone, she wept to the Mountain Spirits, and they performed a ceremony that cured her of her ailments. She returned to her people and shared with them the healing ceremony, which became a part of their culture. The myth thus explains the origin of a certain healing ritual, but it does not directly criticize the practice of abandoning an old, infirm tribal member to certain death.
Sage Watering the Tree of Life
(The original is an icon over a gateway in the orthodox
Monastery of the Cross in the Valley of the Cross, Jerusalem.
Artist & date unknown -- I apologize for the poor quality of the image: it resists changes!)
Courtesy of Physicians for Global Survival [Link updated 6 February 2002 - image page gone, however]
Update, 12 November 2009: for a lecture she gave recently, my friend Rebecca Armstrong tracked down the following splendid version of the above ikon. It turns out that the "sage" is actually Lot, and there are rich legends connected to him and this tree. I'm keeping my original version (above) but adding new data to this far superior version (below). Why would I keep the old version? It's a metaphor. Many elderly experience their own crone/sage images as diminished, of "poor quality." The sudden appearance of a new version/perspective from a friend reminds us that wonders can still appear magically -- overnight! -- and that we too can hope to come into full, vibrant view for all to enjoy.
"Lot watering the Holy Tree"
Located at the western entrance to the 5th century Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Cross in Jerusalem
(You'll find history & great photos at that link -- unfortunately, artist, if known, and date still not given)
(Also see directly below)
This image is found on a handsome page from an Anglican website, Full Homely Divinity ("The title of our website derives from the writings of a 14th century Englishwoman, Lady Julian of Norwich"). This particular page honors Holy Cross or Holyrood Day (i.e., Roodmas), celebrated on September 14th. About this ikon:http://csymbol.com/china/tibetan_artist_nyima_tsering.html...There are two different traditions about the origins of the wood of the Cross. The more familiar, Western, tradition relates that as Adam lay dying he instructed his son Seth to go the gate of Garden of Eden and to ask the cherubim guarding the entrance for a seed from the Tree of Life. This seed was placed in Adam's mouth after he died and was buried with Adam. The seed germinated and grew into a great tree which gave shelter to creatures of all kinds....This is a wonderful legend because of its sense of balance and ultimate harmony. Here, despite being exiled, an elderly Adam, originally created from Eden's soil and the Divine Breath, has come to understand and deeply trust that underlying harmony. Perhaps that's why he dares to ask for a seed from the Tree of Life, from whose presence he was driven long ago when he and Eve ate from the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The cherubim willingly give the seed to Adam's third son Seth, who in Orthodox Jewish tradition is considered the reincarnation of his slain older brother Abel as well as the earlier incarnation of Moses (who will himself encounter the divine in another tree-form, that of the Burning Bush). To this karmic lineage, Louis Ginzberg's classic seven volume Legends of the Jews adds that Abel/Seth/Moses will one day reincarnate as the Messiah [Vol. V: 149].
The cherubim could have refused Adam's request. The Tree of Life, after all, belongs to the pure, unblemished, primal world of Eden. In the eyes of their Creator, Adam and Eve had shown themselves unworthy of that luminous dimension and had been sent instead into a world of suffering and pain (a more self-reflective Creator might have questioned his competence as a craftsman, resolved to start taking a more active role in their upbringing, and let them stay). Why would a seed from the Tree of Life be allowed to take root in the soil of the inferior, distorted "mirror-world" outside the gates of Paradise? Yet, seemingly without hesitation, the cherubim give the precious seed to Seth.
One might expect that Seth would plant it on his father's grave. Instead, he places it in his dead father's mouth, the very mouth that had eaten the forbidden fruit. This goes far beyond a simple metaphor for Life emerging from death. It should be noted that in Hebrew tradition Creation itself comes through divine speech, beginning with the Creator's words, "Let there be Light." God speaks directly to Adam; he will later speak indirectly to Moses through the tree-form of the Burning Bush. Christianity's Word-made-flesh or Logos-theology follows in the tradition of this sacredness of God's Word. Since humans are said to have been formed in the Creator's image, the mouth that shapes human speech sometimes also tastes, touches, whispers, hums, breathes, and partakes of divine inspiration. By placing the seed in the dead mouth of Adam, some mysterious union, some deeper harmony, is being restored, for otherwise this daughter-seed from the Tree of Life could never have "germinated and [grown] into a great tree which gave shelter to creatures of all kinds....." Perhaps, in a sense, that seed of the Tree of Life, born from Eden's soil and placed in the dead mouth of Adam, also made from Eden's soil, was then, by spreading out its vast root system, slowly hallowing the exile-world, interlacing it back into Eden.
Continuing the narrative from the Anglican site:In time, the origin of the tree and even the fact that it had grown over the grave of the first human being was forgotten. When the time came for Solomon to build the Temple in Jerusalem, wood was needed and he directed that this great, sturdy tree be cut down to be used in the construction. This was done. However, the wood from the tree was never suitable for the places it was needed. A board was either too short or too long, no matter how carefully it was measured. At last, the wood was discarded....Here, a disturbing element has entered the story and it's not the fallibility of human memory. The tree isn't ailing -- she's still "great, sturdy," vibrant with her own vast, ancient network of life. But for Solomon, the construction of his temple is more important than a living tree. Solomon could be forgiven for not knowing the origins of this tree, but how could he fail to honor her for her own beauty and life-force? Instead, he orders the tree slain. One might think that building a temple to honor one's God would be a worthy reason to cut down a tree. But did Solomon's God ask for such a temple? Might not rituals celebrated under the majestic tree have been even more pleasing in God's eyes? So it appears that Solomon's temple was really more about Solomon than God.
And the tree knows it, will have no part in it, and protects her integrity by shapeshifting back and forth so that no one can turn her wood into any man-made, ego-driven project. Solomon is said to have been a wise sage, but perhaps a man who has forgotten the sanctity of God's own creation cannot be said to be wise.
Eventually, the discarded wood would be used in building an entry-bridge into Jerusalem. Later, in visiting Solomon, the Queen of Sheba would cross that bridge, hear a voice (again, the speech theme), and report its message to Solomon:...She told Solomon that the wood of this bridge would be the means by which a new kingdom and a new order would be established in Jerusalem. Fearing that he would be overthrown and his kingdom taken from him, Solomon had the bridge torn down and the wood thrown into a cistern outside the wall of Jerusalem....Less and less does Solomon seem like a wise sage. He's just a typical politician protecting his power-base. He's what I call a "wrinkled puer" -- i.e., an aging, powerful, but hopelessly immature male. At first I found it strange that this legend would have him throwing the wood into a cistern -- an underground reservoir for rainwater, which would be especially precious in this dry region. How could anyone, especially the king, be so careless? But when one thinks of our own contemporary politicians, who also think nothing of trashing earth's seas, lakes, and waterways, the story takes on a quasi-prophetic ring. Not surprisingly, since the wood was still usable after a thousand years, the cistern must have soon stopped functioning and gone dry....There it lay for nearly a thousand years until it was once again put into service in the making of a cross for the execution of a man who claimed to be King of the Jews and became again what it had always been: the Tree of Life....So now the wood has become again the Tree of Life but in the form of a cross? What an appalling interpretation! The wood of the one-time daughter-seed of the Tree of Life has been turned into an instrument of brutal execution. Period. After nearly a thousand years, was the wood too exhausted to fight back? Could she not have kept shapeshifting her measurements between dimensions and slipped her passenger Jesus through to safety? Apparently not.
Jesus, precocious even in childhood, seems to have been aware that he was destined to be sacrificed in a horrific manner. He would later tell his followers, "Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's...." But he was God's, so why was he given to Caesar? Jesus knew that generations earlier, God had sent an angel to rescue Abraham's son Isaac from being a human sacrifice, but that same God let Jesus live from childhood onwards knowing he would have to endure the agony of crucifixion with no hope of rescue (by me, sorry, but that's child abuse). On the night before his death, that same God let a horrified, sickened Jesus sweat blood in a sanctuary of sorts -- a garden, but Gethsemane's, not Eden's, and that same God then turned a deaf ear to Jesus' plea, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me." God didn't lift a finger to save Jesus -- instead, he apparently planned, or at least willed it all.
The Anglican site eloquently discusses the early history of the cross in Christianity. Initially, the cross was not glorified as an object of devotion -- the mode of death was simply too ghastly:...In the earliest years of the Church, the Cross was not depicted at all artistically. Through a combination of horror at the sheer brutality of crucifixion, which was still employed as a method of execution, and fear of persecution for openly professing Christianity by displaying obvious symbols associated with it, the Cross was rarely, if ever, used as a symbol of any sort by Christians in the first few centuries. Even when scenes from the life of Jesus were portrayed artistically, the Crucifixion was not. The vision at the Milvian Bridge, wherein Constantine saw a cross and heard the words, "In this sign conquer," began to change this attitude, for two reasons. First of all, the conversion of the emperor removed the threat of persecution. Secondly, out of reverence for the Savior, Constantine outlawed crucifixion as a method of execution. As a result, people began to lose their sense of the outrageousness of this form of punishment: they did not see people suffering in this way and had no experience of its personal impact. Crucifixion was known as an idea, not a reality, and was, to a certain degree, sanitized in the public mind. Even so, the first common representations of the Cross were of an empty cross, sometimes stylized and even decorated, which helped to remove the harsher aspects of it even more from the mind....In contrast, the Buddha was enlightened under his own Tree of Life and lived into old age. Abraham and Moses also lived to be wise elders (the Old Testament offers numerous examples of sages and crones). Mohammed (c. 570-632 AD) lived into his early sixties. How different Western civilization might be today if Jesus too had lived to be an elderly sage instead of dying such a violent, gruesome death -- a death that continues to foster what many view as a pornographic obsession with death, cruel military prowess, unceasing war, and the ceaselessly morphing attributes of economies built upon military/industrial might. At the risk of oversimplifying, let me point out that, like victims whose helpless terror drives them to identify emotionally with their oppressors (e.g., Stockholm, Muloccan Hostage, and Patty Hearst syndromes), the West has largely identified with the harsh, imperial role of ancient Rome instead of with a gentle, brilliant, compassionate man who chose stories instead of weapons to change the world. Did Jesus' approach work? No, not really. As one of my Pacifica colleagues, Dr. Lionel Corbett, once said, "Christianity is a sane, beautiful, caring religion. Too bad it's never been tried."
Le Bouddha (The Buddha), c. 1905
Musee d'Orsay, Paris
Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
In graduate school at the University of California in the 1980s, I came across a study comparing statistics on warmongering among adherents of the world's major religions. The top two were Christians and Moslems. Hindus were rated fairly low and the least warlike of all were Buddhists (it should be noted that Buddhists are non-theists, focused on cosmic process instead of deities; their statistics worsened after British occupation -- they still remain the most peaceful, but not to the same degree as before). Since the top two warmongers are monotheists (Jews didn't appear in the study because, until 1948, the other two monotheisms savagely scapegoated them), can we blame monotheism for breeding belligerence? In a sense, yes, but it's not that simple.
On the one hand, a toxic mix of Christianity and European nationalism got us into two World Wars. Additionally, for centuries, despite some wonderfully rich cooperation on both sides between artists, musicians, poets, physicians, herbalists, scientists, saints, philosophers, and others, Christian/Moslem military conflicts always seem to be lurking in the background, like putrid cesspools stinking up the world.
On the other hand, polytheists are just as sneaky, brutal, fierce, and ruthless as monotheists. One crucial element is missing, however: polytheists aren't reared with an arrogant holier-than-thou attitude. War is bad enough but when one makes the inflated claim that The One True God is on one's side, then everything gets much nastier. It then becomes a conflict between Absolute Good and Absolute Evil. And in that sense, we can -- and should -- blame monotheism for its tendency to foster intolerant, viral aggression, and further, to turn the very act of murder into a virtue when fighting in a "religious war," by whatever name.
Again, I will be oversimplifying exceedingly complex dynamics but one way to approach this issue is to go back to medieval times, that crucible of so much of the ethnic and religious hatred we're still dealing with, and ask a basic question: how do we deal with "evil" when we find it in other people? Where a medieval Buddhist on the other side of the world would become compassionate in the face of "evil" (which in any event he would define very differently), a medieval Christian would become homocidal -- although this is usually called "heroic." The Christian tortures and kills evil, makes war against it, burns heretics and witches, slaughters Jews and Moslems, and unites all of Europe in a long series of Crusades to free the Holy Land. Jerusalem becomes a lightning rod for horror. Whole populations are turned into disposable things and eliminated.
Of significance here is the concept of evil held by the participating armies -- or to be more specific, in their ability to demonize their enemy into evil, godless fiends who deserve to die, whose death will bring you a reward from your One True God, which is how most Crusaders viewed their Saracen enemy. To consider your enemy a truly diabolical thing, rather than a soldier who's just trying to do his duty, much like you, and who has fears, dreams, and a family at home, much like you, is a crucial psychological shift (see my discussion of Simone Weil's views on being turned into a thing on my 1999 Kosovo/Serb page); also, for two chilling 19th century examples of this dynamic, see lyrics to: Onward Christian Soldiers, a popular 19th century English hymn -- or the Battle Hymn of the Republic, from the American Civil War). Thus, by "enabling" demonizing, monotheism makes killing easier. Warriors who aren't taught to demonize will still want to kill an enemy before he kills them, might even consider the enemy a thing, but at least not a demonic one. At some level, they'll be aware that they're killing a fellow human being, not a godless, diabolical thing. To kill a fellow human being is harder -- nightmares come from that, and PTSD.
All three monotheisms have survived into modern times -- and two of them top the statistics in warmongering. If they didn't keep putting their monotheistic beliefs up on pedestals as superior examples to be emulated by everyone else, their hypocrisy wouldn't be so glaring. But they do, and one wishes they'd matured more wisely. Perhaps part of the inability in the West and Near East to deal with the "other" in a humane way lies in the fact that monotheism lacks a psychological container for holding the opposites of good and evil. Good is welcomed. Evil is shunned and repressed, becoming what Jung calls "the shadow." Thus, monotheists tend either to repress what they can't handle or to project it elsewhere and then assault it.
Similarly, their One True God has to be all-good. He has no shadow because by definition there can be no taint of evil or shadow in him -- just pure, eternal Light (interesting in this context that Jesus, who might more appropriately have been born at dawn or even high noon, emerged out of a magnificent "O Holy Night"). Faced with the fact that, despite an all-good God, we nevertheless find "evil" all around us, Christian theologians were forced to posit an Evil One (Devil, Lucifer, Satan, etc) to explain the contradiction. To their credit, the other two monotheisms refrained from going that far. Despite popular belief, Christians, not pagans or anyone else, gave us the Devil.
To express this psychologically instead of theologically, the Christian God does have a Shadow, but it's been split off and given, among other names, the name of Lucifer, which means "Light-Bearer" or "Light Bringing" (from the Latin lux, lucis, "light" + fer from the verb, ferre, "to bring, bring forth, bear"). A Shadow who brings forth light? What a strange phenomenon! This leads me to a brief digression: George Lucas (surname from lux) obviously played with these themes when he named his Star Wars hero Luke (also from lux)Skywalker. The Shadow, the "God," from which this Light Bringer emerged is of course his powerful father, Darth Vader. Further, I just discovered in my dictionary today (23 November 2009) that lucifer -- "light bringing" -- was originally not a name but a poetic attribute given to Venus as the Morning Star, who, like a Skywalker, could be said to "walk" out of the night skies bringing light. In writing of light-bringing Venus, Ovid, a pre-Christian Roman poet (43 BC - c.17AD):...describes how each new day begins when 'Lucifer shines brightly in the heavens, calling mankind to their daily rounds. Lucifer outshines the brightest stars.' [See Luther Links's The Devil: The Archfiend in Art From the Sixth to the Sixteenth Century, pp.22-27, for a brilliant historical exploration of the Lucifer-name.]Lucifer and Venus? Yet psychologically all this fits: the Trinity of medieval Christianity is already top-heavy with male energy in the Father and the Son; the third member is genderless. Absent, is any female energy. True, the non-divine, carefully circumscribed Virgin Mary could be said to represent the feminine dimension, but since the early Church Fathers meticulously "virginized" her body (eventually theologians would even "assumpt" her physical body into heaven as soon as she died, lest earth contaminate it), she's not anchoring a genuine, deep feminine energy. In locating the divine Shadow in lucifer, however, we find a hidden, yet fully, richly, exuberant feminine anchor: Venus herself.
The Lucifer-name came without Venus' female gender but the mysogynistic hatred of all the sexual abominations that Venus stood for, at least in the minds of the Church Fathers (then and now), conclusively confirms her "unholy" shadow-presence in this restored "Quaternity." Lucifer, as the earthy female Light-bringer, is what Jung would call the "inferior 4th function," which, as Irene Claremont de Castillejo explains in her Knowing Woman, is the blind spot, the point at which both good and evil enter one's world. I haven't come across any Jungians who have added Venus/lucifer as a Quarternity and interpreting Venus as the Inferior Fourth. I wouldn't have taken this route myself were it not that when I was adding this material today (23 November 2009), I couldn't remember if fero's infinitive form had one "r" or two; I looked up "Lucifer" in a dictionary, found ferre, and also found that lucifer = Light-Bringing (which I knew) = Morning Star/Venus (which I did not know). Once I saw that the Morning Star/Venus belongs to the Lucifer motif-cluster, it was immediately clear how perfectly the pieces fit together.
So, one might ask, why didn't Christian theologians simply call the Evil One "Venus" and be done with it? They were obsessed with sexual sins anyway, so why not put the blame squarely on her? But how could they possibly turn the lovely, charismaticVenus into a Devil! She's too beautiful, too desirable, too full of life itself, too irrepressible -- even flowers spring up from the ground where she walks! There was no way they could make such a goddess ugly and fearsome. So "Lucifer" needed to be male, grotesque, horned, surrounded by damned souls in a sulfurous hell. The theologians were still denying the earthy richness of life, but they were doing it through a distorted male demon.
Rigid life-denying projections also exist in Hinduism and Buddhism but the East at least holds the tension of opposites without trying to control it through pernicious shame and guilt. Look at Kali gloating over her necklace of skulls, or at Shiva, who's both preserver and destroyer. Polytheism has no need to split the shadow from the divine -- light and dark co-exist in a creative tension. Monotheism, on the other hand, is torn apart by it. Archetypal psychologist James Hillman writes that the major problem for the West is that we're living with polytheistic psyches in a monotheistic world. No wonder so much doesn't work for us.
Thus, turning people into monstrous demons, forcing them to bear the projections of our own unexamined evil, is the result of a theology that splits good from evil, making the one totally good and the other totally bad -- and in the battle betweem them, God's homocidal warriors are redefined as heroes. In the sane and gentle conclusion of her book, The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics, Elaine Pagels discusses just these issues:Many Christians, then, from the first century through Francis of Assisi in the fifteenth century and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the twentieth, have believed that they stood on God's side without demonizing their opponents. Their religious vision inspired them to oppose policies and powers they regarded as evil, often risking their well-being and their lives, while praying for the reconciliation -- not the damnation -- of those who opposed them.With this, I return to my sense of regret that Jesus was denied the opportunity to live into old age. If we assume for the moment that there is only one true God, and that the mystics are correct when they say time doesn't exist for God because past, present and future are equally open to him, then I have to say that it would have been nice if he'd been humble or caring enough to take a peek into the future and read what Freud would write about humanity's death wish and what Jung would write about the Shadow and how god himself evolves along with the growing consciousness of humanity. Then God might have had second thoughts about that sacrifice-thing. Jesus would have made a great sage. It would have been such a kinder, more effective, and much more fruitful path. But it didn't happen that way. Instead, Christians got an abusive god who let his son be conceived only to die. Not a very good example for humans.
For the most part, however, Christians have taught -- and acted upon -- the belief that their enemies are evil and beyond redemption.... [This] struggle within Christian tradition [is] between the profoundly human view that "otherness" is evil and the words of Jesus that reconciliation is divine .
From the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Cross: Room of the Holy Tree
The left panel shows (from left to right) Lot and his daughters escaping the destruction of Sodom
(his wife is now a pillar of salt); Abraham giving lot the triplet seedling; and Lot planting the tree.
To return to the Anglican website, we now consider the Eastern tradition behind the Lot ikon. I have to say that I really miss the wonderful connection with Adam, Seth, cherubim, and a seed from the Tree of Life. Instead, now we have an elderly Lot, a strange choice, I think:The Eastern tradition of the origins of the wood of the Cross is much simpler and rests on the interpretation of a prophecy in the Book of Isaiah: "The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, the cypress, the plane, and the pine, to beautify the place of my sanctuary; and I will make the place of my feet glorious." (Isaiah 60:13) According to this tradition, after Lot fled from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, his uncle Abraham gave him a triple seedling, consisting of a cypress, a plane, and a pine. Lot took the seedling and planted it in the wilderness, where the three trees continued to grow together. Lot, badgered by the devil who wished to prevent the tree from growing, traveled back and forth to the Jordan River to get water for the tree.I said that I found Lot a strange choice. He had led an eventful life: traveling with his uncle Abraham; parting from Abraham to live near cities with unsavory reputions; being kidnapped by Mesopotamian kings; rescued by Abraham; entertaining angels who would save him and his family from the destruction of Sodom and other immoral cities; losing his wife during their escape when she's turned into a pillar of salt; hiding in a cave with his two desperate daughters (who got him drunk and seduced him to preserve their bloodline, making him the father of sons from whom the Moabites and Ammonites would come). Near the end of a life filled with so much tumult, simply tending a Holy Tree seems an unlikely occupation for such a man. On the other hand, perhaps it was a great relief.
The center panel starts from Lot who waters the Holy Tree from the waters of the Jordan river.
From the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Cross: Room of the Holy Tree
Note: biblical scholars recognize that Lot attracted folklore elements not necessarily connected to him. The University of Chicago's John L. McKenzie, S.J., for example, writes in his Dictionary of the Bible:The stories of Lot contain a large admixture of folklore from various sources, and their heterogeneity suggests very strongly that they have been grouped artificially around a single figure....These factors support the hypothesis that Lot is a native Canaanite figure of folklore who has been accepted in Hebrew tradition because of the recognized kinship between the Israelites and the Moabites and the Ammonites ["Lot" entry, p.516].
From the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Cross: Room of the Holy Tree
Many years later it is cut down.
After Lot's death, according to the Eastern tradition, which here meshes with the Western, the tree is cut down and used in building Solomon's temple. There's no bridge as an entryway into Jerusalem -- Herod plays a role instead. When he later rebuilds the temple:...this wood was taken out and discarded, and was later taken up again to be used for the Cross of Jesus. The first part of the verse from Isaiah refers to the three different woods being used in the building of the Temple. The interpretation of the final phrase, "I will make the place of my feet glorious," is that it is a reference to the footrest to which Jesus' feet were nailed on the Cross....It seems a painfully forced interpretation that was contrived to fit the demand for an origin-narrative at the 5th century monastery built on the Jerusalem site where the tree tended by Lot had once allegedly grown. That footrest interpretation is especially macabre.
From the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Cross: Room of the Holy Tree
The wood is brought to the crucifixion site, and Jesus is hammered to the cross,
with the Roman soldiers watching on the left side and Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene on the right background.
In both the Western and Eastern traditions, we seem to be dealing with early folkloric material that has been awkwardly pried out of its original matrix and forced into an alien context in order to account for the wood of the cross upon which Jesus was slain. That's how folklore is used, of course -- old wine in new bottles. But in this case, especially given the somber beauty of the ikon of elderly Lot watering the lovely tree, I wish those early Christians had left well enough alone. Despite my dislike of Solomon for cutting down the daughter-seed of the Tree of Life, at least he built something handsome and useful -- a temple. To take that same wood and glorify the act of turning it into an instrument of execution is grotesque. We should be sorrowing that the wood was forced to play such a terrible role, that it was too tired to spit out those Roman nails, shapeshift, and transfer Jesus to a place of safety where he could have lived many years and died peacefully.
I tend to think that the ends never justify the means. If the means are brutal, as they are here, how can the ends not be contaminated by that dark energy (or by a culture-wide PTSD, if nothing else). But what exactly are the ends here? If over the past 2000 years, Christians as a whole had become respected worldwide for their kindness, wisdom, tolerance, sanity, generosity, and compassion, and if they had patiently, gently used those qualities to inspire similar qualities in other cultures, then I would have to admit that, yes, through some illogical but divine mystery, the ends have been worth it. One of my graduate students, for example, told me some years ago that an Aboriginal woman she met in the Australian Outback told her that Jesus was revered among her people because they had once been involved in constant warring. Jesus, however, had opened a new songline and when missionaries brought his message to her people, they had changed and become peaceful.
I like that: a new songline. It gives me a sense of a shimmering, radiant pathway running between the worlds, weaving disparate realms into a balanced harmony. But in the Christian West, I see no sign of such a songline. On the contrary, many white Christian settlers did their best to eradicate the Aborginal peoples just as they did in the Americas (and wherever else they've colonized others). Thus, after 2000 years, the results remain dismal. Yes, great saints have arisen from the Christian matrix but they are the exceptions, and if they hadn't had a Jesus, Virgin Mary or a Blessed Trinity upon whom to focus their spiritual longings, would it have been such a loss if they had focused instead on Demeter, Kuan Yin, Shiva, or other deities? Great music and art also emerged from the Christian matrix but, again, would it matter that much if Palestrina had composed a "Mass" (by whatever name) for Persephone or Pan instead of the Virgin? -- or if da Vinci had painted a shamanic vision from circumpolar peoples instead of God creating Adam?
So, on a planet still torn by war, poverty, and injustice, it does seem as if none of it was worth one drop of blood -- or one moment of agony -- from that good man, that should-have-been sage.
...14 November 2009, Closing Thoughts: Abraham bequeathed a three-in-one seedling, like the three monotheisms themselves, to his aging nephew Lot, trusting Lot to water it. All three monotheisms worship the god of Abraham. All three have behaved badly on the world stage, oppressing one another whenever they had the chance and oppressing everyone else along the way. All three have followers who now possess enormous wealth and power, not because their god has personally blessed them but because they have shown more ruthless greed and cunning than most other peoples.
May they be reminded that even their often ruthless god intervened and spared Abraham's son Isaac from being slain as a human sacrifice. Their god also intervened and spared Abraham's son Ishmael (and his foreign slave-mother Hagar) from dying of thirst in the desert (for details, see my page on Abraham/Sarah and Hagar/Ishmael).
Perhaps it's time for monotheists to show a similar compassion to each other and to the foreign peoples around them. Perhaps it's time for monotheists to become inspired sages and crones, competent to restore this world to the paradise it was meant to be. After their long and tumultuous history, perhaps it's time for monotheists to nurture something worthy and fine, as Lot finally did -- and to start demonstrating that all of us eventually need to become sages and crones watering the Tree of Life.
MORE CRONES AND SAGES
FROM AROUND THE WORLD
"...an old Tibetan mother planting a tree
in the red dirt of a harsh and barren environment"
Tibetan Artist, NyimaTsering
(See link directly below)
[Added 13 November 2009]: Staying with the theme of wise elders tending a holy tree, but now moving to Tibet, this powerful painting, "Life," is by contemporary Tibetan artist, NyimaTsering:http://www.pitara.com/Talespin/folktales/online.asp?story=8: [Link found broken 6 February 2002 -- I've emailed for an update. Update, 13 November 2009: they never got back but I tried searching under "Mango Charm" and got the new link.]In "Life," Nyima Tsering portrays an old Tibetan mother planting a tree in the red dirt of a harsh and barren environment. The tree is a symbol of life and the spirit of the Tibetan people. The artist reveals the Tibetans' aspirations of bringing life into the world however hard the environment may be. In the painting, every stroke is soaked with the painter's deep feelings for his ethnic people....
[Excerpts added 13 November 2009]: This is an illustrated tale from India, "The Mango Charm" by Manoj Das. It is about a lower caste man who can work miracles and a young student who cheats to gain access to such power. The miracle-worker isn't called "old" or a "sage," yet as a teacher of the young, he embodies the best qualities of a sage. Here are some excerpts:A wandering youth once met Bholu, an illiterate villager, who knew how to perform a miracle. Everyday Bholu would go into the forest, stand under a mango tree and utter a charm. The tree would immediately become heavy with fruit. The next moment the mangoes would ripen and then they would fall to the ground. Bholu would collect them, eat some and distribute the rest among his neighbours who were poor.When the king hears about the youth, he summons him and asks who taught him the mango charm. The boy doesn't want the king to know his teacher was lower caste so he lies, claiming he studied with "great scholars in a famous far away university."
Keshav the youth fell at Bholu’s feet, even though the latter belonged to a lower caste, and begged him to teach him the charm. The man reluctantly agreed but warned him, "You must never use the charm to satisfy your greed. Moreover, the charm will only work as long as you do not tell a lie."
As soon as Keshav was back in his village he repeated the charm several times daily and got large quantities of delicious mangoes. These he sold in the market and in few months he became very rich......."Well, perform the miracle in front of us," ordered the king. The king, his family and a crowd of ministers and officers followed the youth into the royal orchard. Keshav selected a big mango tree and recited the charm. But nothing happened, for he had told a lie.
Greatly humiliated, Keshav confessed the truth to the king. The king said, "You have been ungrateful to your teacher out of vanity. Go and apologise to him and perhaps the charm will work again."
The young man did so. But the charm did not work ever again because he had misused it to satisfy his greed.
Baba Yaga: an Essay by an Anonymous Author
[Added 9 March 2000, when I finally found a good paper with a more Eurocentric focus]:http://web.archive.org/web/20020221185150/http://www.sacredspiral.com/Database/babayaga/2209.html
James Hillman argues somewhere that the senex (wise old man) and puer (eternal boy) are not separate archetypes but, rather, two different manifestations of the same archetype -- that of man's ever-changing relationship to Time. In a similar vein, the unknown author of this essay looks at the crone (in the person of Russia's old bony goddess, Baba Yaga) and the maiden (in the person of Vasalisa), and argues that both are manifestations of the same Divine Feminine archetype. She spins her topic in a different direction from Hillman's, but it's quite interesting and hopefully of benefit, especially to those who might have a negative attitude towards the crone and aging. I found the lengthy essay on an e-mail list and felt it was worth saving as a work by "Anonymous" -- I've illustrated it with many wonderful images of Baba Yaga from Russian lacquer boxes. (Note: I searched for weeks without success for the original author -- if anyone knows who the essay's author is, please let me know!)
[Added 10 March 2000]: From The Book of Goddesses and Heroines by my friend Patricia Monaghan comes this fine but very brief piece on the Baba Yaga in Russian folklore.http://web.archive.org/web/20000708144036/http://www.sacredspiral.com/Database/babayaga/obaba.html
[Added 10 March 2000]: "Thoughts on Baba Yaga" from Sacred Spiral is a brief, sensitive essay by Eliza Yetter on Baba Yaga's dried grain, her oven, and death.[Content added 13 November 2009]: Here is Web Archive's copy of what I read in 2000:http://www.sacredspiral.com/articles/ab/babayaga.htmIn the book, "A HISTORY OF PAGAN EUROPE" by Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick, it states that Baba Yaga was a goddess of the dead. She lived in a hut which was surrounded by a bone fence topped off with skulls.[March 2000, Note to me: I saved this to my Misc. html files, just in case it ever vanishes.] For more on Baba Yaga, including two traditional tales (in which, unfortunately, Baba Yaga is portrayed as the villainess), go to Sacred Spiral's Baba Yaga page at: http://web.archive.org/web/20000816171418/http://www.sacredspiral.com/Database/babayaga/. [13 November 2009: changed link to Web Archive.]
When reading all these tales of Baba Yaga, it becomes clear to me that she was a sort of goddess of the dead, a goddess of dried grain. Nearly all the tales involve an oven, which is a symbol of the womb and baking. It reminds me of baking bread and also how, when we die, we go back into the womb only to come out as something else. And yes, our bodies are essentially food that the earth will feed upon.
How many earth mounds have been found filled with bones of our ancestors? Whenever I read of these, I think of Baba Yaga and her oven. She bakes us and feeds upon us, she puts us back into the womb and disposes of our material form. She is the ending part of the life cycle, not the creative part. She is neither good or bad, but she provides a service. For us to move on to the next realm/life, we must be finished here. She cuts the ties for us so that we can move on.
Since our ancients, we gained a phobia for death. We're frightened of it, wondering what will happen to us, our families, unsure of where we will go, if anywhere. Some are afraid of hell, or having to finally face up to the "wrongs" that we may have done in this life. Whatever the case may be, I strongly believe, that this is why we hear of these horror stories about Baba Yaga. We're afraid she will come and take us away. She'll grind us in her mortar and pestle and make us into food.
I am uncertain what the solution is to our fears. Perhaps it is time once again to embrace Baba Yaga, not as an enemy or someone to be feared, but as a dear friend who is helping us on our way. Our grandmother who makes sure we are leaving nothing behind when we leave this reality and head off to the next.
[Added 13 November 2009]: Eliza Yetter has greatly streamlined her site, removing pages I'll miss (but as you'll see from the above, they're still on Web Archive). Her "brief" essay from 2000 has now been changed and somewhat expanded. It is followed by a lengthy retelling of "Wassilissa the Beautiful" by Post Wheeler. It concludes with good data on Baba Yaga as both goddess and witch.
Z Budapest's "Crone Genesis"
Grandmother of Time:
Anna Perenna Crone
© Z Budapest
(see directly below)
[Added Beltane, 1 May 2000]: Eliza at Sacred Spiral [see above] sent me this delicious essay penned by famed Hungarian author, crone, and witch, Z Budapest, about Z's personal reflections on croning in the '70's as well as Z's own role in making croning rituals so well known to the rest of us today. Z Budapest has graciously given me permission to share this essay on a special Myth*ing Links page.
http://www.birthingthecrone.com/: [Link updated 11/13/09]It is important to know that the word Crone, often used pejoratively to mean "old hag," has noble origins. Hag used to mean "a holy one," from the Greek hagia. I am consciously learning to love my old woman, my old hag, to reframe and re-enchant this ancient archetype.
[Added 9 September 2000]: This is "Birthing the Crone" from Helen Redman, an extraordinary cyber-journey through one artist's rich and multi-textured experiences, first with menopause and hot flashes, then with croning. It's a wise, funny, deep, and splendid passage. Each page features one of her vibrant, alchemical paintings as well as her beautifully written thoughts on the process. She asks that viewers go from page to page in the order in which she presents them -- I honored her request, spent about 30-40 minutes doing this, and found it a moving, evocative trip, especially in the paintings of her later work where old age merges mystically with the on-going cycles of birth. Don't miss this one.http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=25241&id=1040543168&l=27bbf96988
Here's an excerpt from her home page [added 13 November 2009]:Aging is a natural process. It is also very much a women's issue. Resisting the cultural phobias about growing older begins right at home -- within our own bodies. How each of us sees our own aging process can in turn influence how the culture sees it.
Today, those of us who choose to name ourselves Crone do so to raise consciousness around issues of aging. Paradoxically, at the beginning of the 21st century, the ancient Wise Woman Crone archetype is emerging within women all over the world. We are beginning to realize that this third and crowning stage of female life (the one our culture throws away) is more authentic, creative, outrageous, powerful, funny, healing and profound than we ever imagined.
Turtle Doves, February 2008
(see below for link to larger versions of her turtles)
[Added 13 November 2009]: Here is Helen Redman's recent droll, wonderful work, "Turtle Diaries." It's delightful -- here are some excerpts about how and why she turned herself into a turtle:http://www.birthingthecrone.com/pages/hands.htmlIdentifying my current slowness and introversion with the image of a turtle, I decided to morph myself into one in my art. Any outreach seems to be followed by contraction as I find my elder pace and place. The turtle wins the race in the fable, but being out of step in our speedy culture makes one feel old and left behind.
I started my turtle art by drawing on the backside of a wood panel because it was stressed and worn like the shell of a turtle; the structural backing then became a frame for me to reach beyond. The metaphor of going outside the box was so appealing, I repeated it with each turtle, finding a different way to expand its limbs....
The second turtle in the pond is my husband Kenny. At first, he enters tentatively; then we slip/slide, bump, snuggle, criss-cross, expand and contract together in the new/old rhythm of our lives.
Turtle medicine includes a connection with the center, navigation skills, self-reliance, tenacity, patience, the ability to respect the boundaries of self and others, and develop new ideas. Originally created with humorous intent, I unknowingly chose an ancient symbol of nurturance, mother energy, determination and longevity.
[Added 29 November 2009]: Here is another page of Helen Redman's recent work, "Hands and Leaves," that I keep thinking about over the past few weeks since I first saw it. She writes:http://web.archive.org/web/20060826064200/http://www.birthingthecrone.com/biblio.html: [I added Web Archive link on 11/13/09 -- this 26 August 2006 page is the latest one available; if you want to check data from earlier years, try here.]Why is the beauty of old not seen? Why is my aging hand any different from that of a tree or a piece of driftwood?She writes about crones, yet includes her sage-husband, and her insights actually transcend gender. This is really remarkable work.
... Our bodies are touched by time and sunlight and have their own textures and lines. I think of age being recorded in my hands just as in the rings of trees. I am drawn to forms and textures that are furrowed, decayed, faded, autumnal.
... I see that my work has become a meditation on the metaphorical imprint of age as it cycles through time. Weathered leaves, branches, roots and hands gesture and touch each other in a sign language of their own. Mute fingers point to what is beyond our grasp—the art itself struggles to articulate an experience of passing into another dimension.
[Added 9 September 2000]: Again from artist/writer Helen Redman's site comes this page full of bibliographic sources on crones. It's impressively comprehensive.http://macaroo.com/shelinks.htm
[Added 9 September 2000; annotated updated 2/9/02]: This is She-Links, Gifts of Spirit, and Searches of Interest for Reluctant Crones from "Mac," one of my e-mail friends. It is a crone-"clearinghouse" devoted to news, webrings, and great links on Cronehood (I found the Helen Redman site -- see above -- on Mac's site). The page is just beginning but given Mac's passion and drive, her page will grow. Check checking back for her updates.http://web.archive.org/web/20011217225415/http://shoga.wwa.com/~callison/AGE.html: [I added Web Archive link on 11/13/09]
[Added 9 September 2000]: This is "The Second Half of Life," Tracey A. Callison's very brief bibliography on crones & sages with 4 books linked to amazon.com.
"Winged Old Man with a Long White Beard"
Musee d'Orsay, Paris
Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
...Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival, based on an Athabaskan tale by Gwich'in novelist, Velma Wallis.
Mentioned on This Page
..This is Luther Links's 1996 The Devil: The Archfiend in Art From the Sixth to the Sixteenth Century, which includes an historical exploration of how the devil came to be called Lucifer. He mentions the connection to Venus/Morning Star, but doesn't speculate on the anti-goddess aspect, as I have. Regardless, the book is fascinating and beautifully illustrated.
...Irene Claremont de Castillejo's splendid Knowing Woman. I have used her work in my personal life as well as in countless lectures. I have found it of immense, on-going, profound value.
...The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics, by Elaine Pagels (cited above in the section on "Lot Watering the Holy Tree").
...The Legends of the Jews (complete 7 volume hardback set) by Louis Ginzberg. This is a fabulous reference work but it's expensive -- $240 for the complete set. You can also buy paperback volumes separately for less money (they're published by a wide variety of publishers but no one is currently offering the full 7 volume set as a single entitity). Vol. 7, the Index, is a necessity for finding your way through a maze of overlapping topic-threads -- it is detailed and thorough. In checking for legends connected to Seth (including Adam's death), the Index sent me to Volumes I, III, V, and VI; legends connected to Lot are in all six of the preceding volumes. Ideally, to cover everything, just those two personages would require the complete 7 volume set.
I should mention, by the way, that I did check Ginzberg for the Adam/Seth/Seed and Lot/Tree of Life legends. I found only a few hints -- Seth and a branch of the Tree of Life, for example, and Adam sending Seth to ask the cherubim for healing oil from "the tree of God's mercy" (which, in this case, is denied him, for he sought it to be spared his death and the cherubim knew that dying was now part of earthly existence for all life forms). This doesn't mean that other Jewish variants didn't exist in sources not used by Ginzberg. Folklore is malleable and always sending out new shoots; each village might have its own version.
...Dictionary of the Bible by John L. McKenzie, S.J. I bought the 1965 paperback edition (which has a far nicer cover than this glaring 1995 edition, by the way) when I was researching and writing my historical novel on Moses. Over the years, I have found it a meticulous, invaluable resource, offering far more data than such books normally do. See above in my lengthy section on Lot for a quote from McKenzie on Lot and folklore. (Note: I also value the tiny-fonted 1967 Pyramid paperback edition of the 1863 Smith's Bible Dictionary by William Smith, LL.D. Smith provides more descriptive richness, literary value, and obscure details that interest me -- that Lot had two sisters, for example, one named Milcah (married to Nahor) and the other named Iscah, by some, Smith tells us, "identified with Sarah" -- that intrigues me: why would Lot's sister be identified with their uncle Abraham's wife Sarah? But then Milcah's husband Nahor is the name of the grandfather of Abraham as well as a brother of Abraham, and these might be two different people but they might also represent confusion in the remembered genealogy. It seems impossible that Milcah could be married to her uncle Abraham's grandfather, but if she is married to another of her uncles -- i.e., a brother of Abraham's, perhaps both girls were married to their uncles, which would explain why the second sister might be identified with Sarah herself. McKenzie mentions the two vs one Nahor names, but he doesn't mention either sister.)
...The New Book of Goddesses & Heroines by Patricia Monaghan. (Note: I loved Patricia's luminous work long before we became friends after she visited me in Michigan shortly after I moved here.)
Crones & Sages
Dragons & Serpents
Earth Goddesses & Gods
Floods, Storms, Rainbows, & Other Weather Wonders
Food: Sacrality & Lore
Landscape: Sacrality & Lore (Mountains, Wells, Springs, Pools, Lakes, Caves, Labyrinths, Spiral Mounds, Crop Circles, Stone Circles, Feng Shui)
Music: (in Life, Lore, Ritual, & Science)
Nature Spirits of the World
Rituals of Puberty
Sacred Theatre, Dance & Ritual
Sky Goddesses & Gods
Star Lore & Astrology
Symbols, Signs, & Runes
Time: (Calendars, Clocks, Natural Temporal Cycles, Attitudes toward Time, & Millennium Issues)
Trees & Plant Lore
Tricksters, Clowns, Magicians, Jesters & Fools
Weaving Arts & Lore: (Cosmic Webs, Spinning, Spindles, Clothing)
Down to Geographical Regions: Africa
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Text and Design:
Copyright ©1998 - 2009 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
Latest Updates: Lammas, 1 August 1999;
9-10 March 2000;
Beltane, 1 May 2000; 4 May2000 (Nedstated);
9 September 2000 (checked all links & added new ones);
15 September 2000;
6 February 2002 (did a link-check; minor format updates); 9 February 2002 [Mac's update].
12 November 2009, 3pm-ish to 9pm: began working with
a far superior version of "Lot Watering Holy Tree" from Rebecca.
Only meant to add a few lines -- instead it's turning into a major addition, still not finished.
12-13 November 2009, 10pm-3:05am: finally finished the essay, after eleven hours.
13 November 2009: added links to books mentioned on this page; did complete links-check/update;
added excerpts to some links; added more art to Lot/Tree section.
14-15 November 2009, 1:30am: still need to do some final proofing, but am putting this online
because the current online version is a mess.
19 November 2009: more clarifying, polishing, cutting, & adding to the Sage/Tree of Life essay.
23 & 24 November 2009: continued proofing plus adding Lucifer/Venus portion to Sage/Tree of Life.
28 November 2009: still proofing -- these issues are so sensitive and complex; it's so easy to slip into a muddle.
29 November 2009: deleted all the data on Trojan War vs Crusades, either/or vs both/and, and warring polytheists vs monotheists.
Everything I wrote kept triggering a new series of "Yes, but's." It was driving me crazy and also skittering way off-topic.
Added Luther Link data; finished proofing at last.
Siberia's Taymyr Region: Dolgan Nenets People
(From the now-defunct Russian Sunbirds site)