Initial Writing Systems. Thought of the Day 84.0

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The discovery of the Sumerian civilization marks the culmination of the systematical exploration of the subsoil in the Near East, which got started in the late nineteenth-century. In the middle of that century, it was possible to spell and read the documents made with clay and covered with strange cuneiform or wedge-shaped signs, which had been found in the territory of Iraq a long time ago. This fact brought about the proliferation of excavations in the ancient Mesopotamia, just as it occurred in the Valley of Kings when the hieroglyphics were deciphered. Since these excavations were made in depth, they caused the vestiges or traces arranged in parallel layers to outcrop.

After having gone through layers with Arabian, Greek and Persian traces, the excavations got to testimonies dating from the middle of the first millennium B.C. The exploration thus reached the layer that stored the vast majority of the cuneiform documents. Consequently, were discovered the palaces, statues, treasures and weapons of the great Assyrian kings, who are mentioned in the Old Testament due to their conquests. In this way, the Assyriology was born as a scientific discipline from the cuneiform texts and the archeology of Mesopotamia.

Under that layer, other layers were discovered, which led to conclude that the apogee of the bellicose Assyrians proceeding from the north had been preceded in about one millennium by a people possessing a higher culture. These people originating from southern Mesopotamia were based on the Babylonians, whose code of laws (Hammurabi) symbolized their great cultural development and political equilibrium.

It was found out that the aforesaid code along with documents of that time were identical with the Assyrian annals and tablets, but with differences which determined that the Assyrian and Babylonian dialects came from an only language known as Akkadian. The Akkadian language is related to the Arabian, Aramean and Hebrew languages, and it is classified as a Semitic one. Then, the conclusion was that the empires of Babylon (in the early second millennium B.C.) and Nineveh (in the early first millennium B.C.) were of Semitic origin.

At the time that those archeological excavations were made, the cuneiform writing represented an enigma. This writing is composed of a large quantity of signs or characters (300 at its height), consisting of wedge-like strokes engraved on raw clay.

Initially, these linear drawings stood for concrete specific objects. In a second stage, each of the signs of this writing can be read in a text in two different ways:

  1. As the name of the object which originally was represented by that character.
  2. As the mark of a sound (syllable), but never an elemental irreducible sound like, for instance, those of the Latin alphabet.

Therefore, the cuneiform writing is ambivalent (both ideographic and phonetic). Thus, the drawing of a spike (e.g. a spike of wheat) within a cuneiform text can be read, according to the context, as the names of “grains” or the syllable “she”. In the same way, the engraving of a bird was ideographically interpreted as “volatile”, o else phonetically as the syllable “hu”.

The cuneiform signs were initially just a reproduction of objetcs. With time, they noticed that by means of such a rudimentary procedure as this, just a limited quantity of all that is possible to express in articulate language could be expressed. Only concrete typical objects could be depicted, but not actions or abstractions. For that reason, the solution was to disassociate in the character its reference to the object which reproduced, on one hand, and its pronunciation (phonetic value), on the other hand. So, the creators of this writing could write all that the spoken language expressed.

For example, the abstract word “vision” in Akkadian language is “shehu”, which could be represented by the drawing of a spike (i.e. a spike of a grain) followed by that of a bird (she + hu), but neither characters is related to a grain or something volatile in this case. Notwithstanding, in a different part of the text, those two characters might be directly translated as cereal and bird. This fact causes the decipherment of the cuneiform signs to be greatly difficult.

Because the Akkadian and Semitic name of the objects indicated by the cuneiform signs never corresponded to the phonetic value of those characters, it was inferred that the people who invented the cuneiform writing could not be Semites. The existence of another different and more ancient civilization prior to the Semitic Akkadians was then presumed.

The archeological excavations offered new cuneiform inscriptions, which, unlike the Babylonian and Assyrian texts, were written with ideograms only used due to their objective value, without any possibility of representing direct phonetic reading in either Akkadian or Semitic languages. Finally, the people who lived in southern Mesopotamia, whose monuments and cities underlying the Babylonian traces (2000 B.C.), were identified with the people who invented the cuneiform script.

As the ancient texts designated that zone of Mesopotamia adjacent to the Persian Gulf by the name of “Country of Sumer” (from the Akkadian term “shumerum”), it was agreed to call the predecessors of the Semitic Babylonians “Sumerians”. In the course of time, the investigations advanced until it was possible to reconstruct the Sumerian language, which had been lost for thousands years. Besides, this language had never could be classified within the well-known linguistic families.

The Sumerian language is really strange as far as its vocabulary (mostly monosyllabic) and even more its grammar (reconstructed in the most part) are concerned. In it, a big portion of the linguistic categories, which are indispensable according to our own way of viewing and expressing the things, is absent. As it was above mentioned, the Sumerian world is a finding of the nineteenth-century. It is the first civilization of the world, with the complexities this fact implies, namely: social and political organization, foundation of cities and states, creation of institutions, laws, organized production of assets, regulation of commerce, monumental artistic manifestations, and the invention of a writing system that would let knowledge be fixed and propagated. The appearance of this civilization dates from the fourth millennium B.C., in low Mesopotamia, between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, to the south of Baghdad.

Two very ancient civilizations such as the Egyptian one and the Protoindian civilization of the Indus valley, are several centuries later than that of Sumer. Unlike Egypt and its pyramids, which reminds us of the glories of that civilization, or Israel and Greece, which built monuments that reminds us of their golden ages, in Sumer no testimonies of its past splendor were left. All that we know about Sumer at present, comes from the archeological excavations. All knowledge about this civilization has been extracted from clay tablets containing plenty of tiny cuneiform characters. These texts that are so difficult of being deciphered and understood, have been extracted by the hundreds of thousands, and they cover all aspects related to the writers’ lives: government, justice administration, economy, everyday life, science, history, literature and religion.

The Womb of Cosmogony. Thought of the Day 30.0

Nowhere and by no people was speculation allowed to range beyond those manifested gods. The boundless and infinite UNITY remained with every nation a virgin forbidden soil, untrodden by man’s thought, untouched by fruitless speculation. The only reference made to it was the brief conception of its diastolic and systolic property, of its periodical expansion or dilatation, and contraction. In the Universe with all its incalculable myriads of systems and worlds disappearing and re-appearing in eternity, the anthropomorphised powers, or gods, their Souls, had to disappear from view with their bodies: — “The breath returning to the eternal bosom which exhales and inhales them,” says our Catechism. . . . In every Cosmogony, behind and higher than the creative deity, there is a superior deity, a planner, an Architect, of whom the Creator is but the executive agent. And still higher, over and around, withinand without, there is the UNKNOWABLE and the unknown, the Source and Cause of all these Emanations. – The Secret Doctrine

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Many are the names in the ancient literatures which have been given to the Womb of Being from which all issues, in which all forever is, and into the spiritual and divine reaches of which all ultimately returns, whether infinitesimal entity or macrocosmic spacial unit.

The Tibetans called this ineffable mystery Tong-pa-nnid, the unfathomable Abyss of the spiritual realms. The Buddhists of the Mahayana school describe it as Sunyata or the Emptiness, simply because no human imagination can figurate to itself the incomprehensible Fullness which it is. In the Eddas of ancient Scandinavia the Boundless was called by the suggestive term Ginnungagap – a word meaning yawning or uncircumscribed void. The Hebrew Bible states that the earth was formless and void, and darkness was upon the face of Tehom, the Deep, the Abyss of Waters, and therefore the great Deep of kosmic Space. It has the identical significance of the Womb of Space as envisioned by other peoples. In the Chaldaeo-Jewish Qabbalah the same idea is conveyed by the term ‘Eyn (or Ain) Soph, without bounds. In the Babylonian accounts of Genesis, it is Mummu Tiamatu which stands for the Great Sea or Deep. The archaic Chaldaean cosmology speaks of the Abyss under the name of Ab Soo, the Father or source of knowledge, and in primitive Magianism it was Zervan Akarana — in its original meaning of Boundless Spirit instead of the later connotation of Boundless Time.

In the Chinese cosmogony, Tsi-tsai, the Self-Existent, is the Unknown Darkness, the root of the Wuliang-sheu, Boundless Age. The wu wei of Lao-tse, often mistranslated as passivity and nonaction, imbodies a similar conception. In the sacred scriptures of the Quiches of Guatemala, the Popol Vuh or “Book of the Azure Veil,” reference is made to the “void which was the immensity of the Heavens,” and to the “Great Sea of Space.” The ancient Egyptians spoke of the Endless Deep; the same idea also is imbodied in the Celi-Ced of archaic Druidism, Ced being spoken of as the “Black Virgin” — Chaos — a state of matter prior to manvantaric differentiation.

The Orphic Mysteries taught of the Thrice-Unknown Darkness or Chronos, about which nothing could be predicated except its timeless Duration. With the Gnostic schools, as for instance with Valentinus, it was Bythos, the Deep. In Greece, the school of Democritus and Epicurus postulated To Kenon, the Void; the same idea was later voiced by Leucippus and Diagoras. But the two most common terms in Greek philosophy for the Boundless were Apeiron, as used by Plato, Anaximander and Anaximenes, and Apeiria, as used by Anaxagoras and Aristotle. Both words had the significance of frontierless expansion, that which has no circumscribing bounds.

The earliest conception of Chaos was that almost unthinkable condition of kosmic space or kosmic expanse, which to human minds is infinite and vacant extension of primordial Aether, a stage before the formation of manifested worlds, and out of which everything that later existed was born, including gods and men and all the celestial hosts. We see here a faithful echo of the archaic esoteric philosophy, because among the Greeks Chaos was the kosmic mother of Erebos and Nyx, Darkness and Night — two aspects of the same primordial kosmic stage. Erebos was the spiritual or active side corresponding to Brahman in Hindu philosophy, and Nyx the passive side corresponding to pradhana or mulaprakriti, both meaning root-nature. Then from Erebos and Nyx as dual were born Aether and Hemera, Spirit and Day — Spirit being here again in this succeeding stage the active side, and Day the passive aspect, the substantial or vehicular side. The idea was that just as in the Day of Brahma of Hindu cosmogony things spring into active manifested existence, so in the kosmic Day of the Greeks things spring from elemental substance into manifested light and activity, because of the indwelling urge of the kosmic Spirit.

The Occultic

The whole essence of truth cannot be transmitted from mouth to ear. Nor can any pen describe it, not even that of the recording Angel, unless man finds the answer in the sanctuary of his own heart, in the innermost depths of his divine intuitions. — The Secret Doctrine

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How are those “innermost depths” to be sounded, so that knowledge of reality may be won? Through training, discipline, and self-born wisdom. Such training and soul-discipline is the distinguishing mark of the Mystery colleges, which since their inauguration have been divided into two parts: the exoteric form commonly known as the Lesser Mysteries, open to all sincere and honorable candidates for deeper learning; and the esoteric form, or the Greater Mysteries, whose doors open but to the few and whose initiation into adeptship is the reward of those whose interior nobility enables them to undergo the solar rite.

Universal testimony of stone and papyrus, symbol and allegory, cave and crypt, tells of the twofold trial of neophytes. Jesus the Avatara spoke to the multitudes in parable, but “when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples” (Mark 4:34). The Essenes had their greater and minor Mysteries, in the former of which Jesus of Nazareth is believed to have been initiated.

The Chinese Buddhists hold to a well-loved tradition that Buddha Gautama had two doctrines: one for the people and his lay-disciples; the other for his arhats. His invariable principle was to refuse no one admission into the ranks of candidates for Arhatship, but never to divulge the final mysteries except to those who had proved themselves, during long years of probation, to be worthy of Initiation.

Intensity of purpose marks the Hebrew initiates in their shrouding of inner teaching. To the multitude they taught the Torah, the “Law,” but to the few they taught its unwritten interpretation, the “Secret Wisdom” — hokhmah nistorah — “in ‘darkness, in a deserted place, and after many and terrific trials.’ . . . Delivered only as a mystery, it was communicated to the candidate orally, `face to face and mouth to ear.’ ” The Persian and Chaldean Magi also were of two castes: “the initiated and those who were allowed to officiate in the popular rites only” (Isis Unveiled).

Eleusis and Samothrace are limned in exquisite silhouette against the blue-black sky of history. Classical scholars tell us that the Lesser Mysteries were conducted in the springtime at Agrai near Athens, while the Greater Mysteries were celebrated in the autumn at Eleusis. In the Lesser Mysteries the candidates who experienced the first rites were called mystai (the closed of eye and mouth). In the Greater Mysteries the mystai became epoptai (the clear-seeing), who participated in the mysteries of the Divine Elysion — i.e., communion with the divine.

Similarly, the Hindu arhat, the Scandinavian skald, and the Welsh bard guarded the soul of esotericism with the sanctity of their lives and the discipline of their sacred tradition:

Belonging to every temple there were attached the “hierophants” of the inner sanctuary, and the secular clergy who were not even instructed in the Mysteries. — Isis Unveiled.

Further, in all ancient countries “every great temple had its private or secret Mystery-School which was unknown to the multitude or partially known,” and which was attached to it as a secret body. A Mystery school is not necessarily a school of people situated at some specific place, with definite and fixed locality throughout time, and with physical conditions of environment always alike. Wherever the need is great, work must be done; and the “mistake of all scholars and mystics is to put too much emphasis upon places as Mystery-Schools” (Studies in Occult Philosophy).

A Mystery school is not dependent on location; rather it is an association or brotherhood of spiritually disciplined individuals bound by one common purpose, service to humanity, a service intelligently and compassionately rendered because born of love and wisdom. It is a fact, nevertheless, that certain centers appear to be more favorable to success in spiritual things than others. Why, for instance, were the ancient seats of the Mysteries almost invariably in rock-temple or subterranean cave, in forest or mountain pass, in pyramid chamber or temple crypt? Because the currents of the astral light become quieter, more peaceful, cleaner, the farther removed from the madding crowd. Rarely will one find a seat of esoteric training near a large metropolis, for such are “swirling whirlpools . . . ganglia, nerve-centers, in the lower regions of the Astral Light” (Esoteric Tradition).

Hence the locations of the Greater Mysteries were usually carefully chosen and their schools were those which paid no attention to buildings of any kind, mainly for the reason that buildings would at once attract attention and draw public notice, which is the very thing that these more secret, more esoteric Schools tried to avoid. Thus sometimes, when the temples were mere seats of exoteric ritual, the Mystery-Schools were held apart in secret, conducting their gatherings, meetings, initiations, initiatory rites, usually in caves carefully prepared and hid from common knowledge, occasionally even under the open sky as the Druids did among the oaks in their semi-primeval forests in Britain and in Brittany; and even in a few cases having no permanent or set location; but the Initiates receiving word where to meet from time to time, and to carry on their initiatory functions. — Studies in Occult Philosophy

It is the places of quiet, of peace, of strong silence, where the Adepts find themselves drawn, and where the secret or Greater Mysteries can most effectively function. There in the recesses of their initiation chambers the forces and currents are those of the higher astral light, the akasa, the tenuous substance which responds to the higher currents of spirit and intellect. In this way does the Brotherhood transmit its potent spiritual vitality to the initiation halls, and the candidate whose seven-rayed soul is attuned may receive the divine imprint.