Descent

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Many religious traditions express the cyclic initiation associated with the vernal equinox as a descent into the underworld. Jesus, for example, is said to have spent three days in Hell at this time. A similar story concerns the journey of the Norse god Hermod, son of Odin, through the black mists of Niflheim into the underworld. His brother Balder, the sun god, had been slain with a twig of mistletoe by the blind god Hoder, guided by Loki, and Hermod undertook to free him from the realm of Hel, Loki’s daughter.

On his journey Hermod rode nine nights astride his father’s remarkable eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, through the inky darkness of a deep valley that bordered the frigid region of Hel’s domain. As he crossed the mighty river Gjoll, he was confronted by the warden of the bridge, who knew immediately that Hermod belonged among the living. But, determined of purpose, he passed her and rode without pause to the massive gates leading to Hel’s hall.

Because he was still alive, Hermod could not open the gates or penetrate the hall’s icy walls. Refusing to give up, he spurred Sleipnir toward the gates and with a mighty leap he bounded over. Passing the horrible shore of corpses, Hermod dismounted at Hel’s doors and walked boldly into the huge hall. Thousands of faces, millions of eyes, stared at him — he knew these to be the despairing dead trapped within the hall of the underworld. He soon saw his fair brother sitting quietly on a high seat at one end of the fog-filled room.

Hermod waited patiently in silence all night until at last Hel herself entered the room to greet him. Half of Hel’s face and body were those of a living woman, but her other half was that of a putrid, moldering corpse. Hermod told her that all Asgard mourned for his unfortunate brother, and asked if she would agree to let Balder return with him. She slowly replied that she did not agree that Balder was missed by all, and offered Hermod a test: “If everything in the nine worlds, dead and alive, weeps for Balder,” she promised with a sly smile, “let him return to Asgard. But if even one thing demurs, Balder must remain in Niflheim.”

Hermod rode without rest back to the heavenly Asgard, and word of the promise of Loki’s daughter went quickly to all the nine worlds. Soon everything was weeping. As messengers from Asgard were returning, convinced of the success of their mission, they came across a giantess sitting by herself in a cave. She alone refused to weep for Balder: “I have no use for him,” she answered to all their pleas. “Let Hel hold what she has.” Thus Balder was destined to remain with Hel. On hearing this despairing news, the gods knew that the giantess was none other than the shape-changer, Loki.

The tale of the slaying of Balder is typical of “dying gods” such as Tammuz, Adonis, Attis, and Osiris. It is the story of a divine one descending into a lower plane or sphere of existence. Many of these gods return again, resurrected like the vegetation in the spring. But some, like Balder, remain in the lower realms, to return to their rightful place only after “everything in the nine worlds, dead and alive, weeps.”

In Buddhism such a one is called a bodhisattva, and the underworld is this very earth. However, a bodhisattva is not a god, but a spiritually enlightened human being. Just as some gods descend into the underworld, so some enlightened ones, from time to time, are said to descend into material manifestation to be born into our world to keep truth alive among mankind and to help all living beings in whatever way they can. The true bodhisattva takes a solemn vow to incarnate in the world as long as even a single being needs his help.

Metempsychosis of the Ancients’ Veritability

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The impenetrable veil of arcane secrecy was thrown over the sciences taught in the sanctuary. This is the cause of the modern depreciation of the ancient philosophies. Much of Plato’s public teachings and writings had therefore to consist of blinds or half-truths or allegories, and just as Jesus spoke in parables, so the Mysteries were ever reserved for special groups of neophytes – and, needless to say, they did not reach the Church of the days of Constantine, which never held the keys of the Mysteries, and hence can hardly be said to have lost them.

The ancient philosophers seem to be generally held, even by the least prejudiced of modern critics, to have lacked that profundity and thorough knowledge in the exact sciences of which a couple of last centuries and present are so boastful. It is even questioned whether they understood that basic scientific principle: ex nihilo nihil fit. If they suspected the indestructibility of matter at all – say these commentators – it was not in consequence of a firmly established formula, but only through intuitional reasoning and by analogy. The philosophers themselves had to be initiated into perceptive mysteries, before they could grasp the correct idea of the ancients in relation to this most metaphysical subject. Otherwise – outside such initiation – for every thinker there will be a “Thus far shalt thou go and no further,” mapped out by his intellectual capacity, as clearly and unmistakably as there is for the progress of any nation or race in its cycle by the law of karma. Much of current agnostic speculation on the existence of the “First Cause” is little better than veiled materialism — the terminology alone being different. Even so a thinker as Herbert Spencer speaks of the “Unknowable” occasionally in terms that demonstrate the lethal influence of materialistic thought which, like the deadly sirocco, has withered and blighted most of current ontological speculation. For instance, when he terms the “First Cause” — the Unknowable — a “power manifesting through phenomena,” and an “infinite eternal Energy,” (?) it is clear that he has grasped solely the physical aspect of the mystery of Being — the energies of cosmic substance only. The co-eternal aspect of the ONE REALITY — cosmic ideation — (as to its noumenon, it seems nonexistent in his mind) — is absolutely omitted from consideration.

The doctrine of metempsychosis has been abundantly ridiculed by scientists and rejected by theologians, yet if it had been properly understood in its application to the indestructibility of matter and the immortality of spirit, it would have been perceived that it is a sublime conception. Should we not first regard the subject from the standpoint of the ancients before venturing to disparage its teachers? The solution of the great problem of eternity belongs neither to religious superstition nor to gross materialism. The harmony and mathematical equiformity of the double evolution – spiritual and physical – are elucidated only in the universal numerals of Pythagoras, who built his system entirely upon the so-called metrical speech of the Hindu Vedas.

Role and Nature of Religion in Thomas Hobbes

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Hobbes’ three presentations of political philosophy may be with less justice called theological-political treatises. Hobbes with dual intentions becomes an interpreter of the Bible, in the first place in order to make use of the Scriptures for his own theory, and in the second place in order to shake the authority of the Scriptures. When Hobbes grants the theological motivation of political philosophy a last refuge in the discussion, which treats of the natural State, he indicates the connection between theology and the natural State in particular. As the natural State becomes less and less important to Hobbes, the theological arguments also become less and less important. Originally, when he had not yet conceived the idea of an artificial State, he was incomparably more under the spell of the theological tradition.

The space devoted to the criticism of religion increases considerably on the way from the Elements of Law to Leviathan and is accompanied by the deepening of the criticism. The fundamental question: On what authority does one believe that Scripture is the word of God? Is answered differently in different presentations. In the Elements of Law: On the authority of the Church, the successors of the Apostles. In De Cive: Not on the authority of the Church, but on that of Jesus. In the Leviathan: On the authority of the teachers whose teaching is permitted and organized by the sovereign power, i.e. one confesses verbally, for thoughts are free, that Scripture is the word of God, because secular authority commands this confession. But in all three presentations, Hobbes contends that all that is needed for salvation is the belief in Jesus as Christ. In earlier presentations, the belief in the immortality of soul belongs to these premises; whereas in the later works, the resurrection of the body is tacitly substituted for the immortality of the soul. The Leviathan finally openly opposes the resurrection of the body to the immortality of the soul and admits only the first as grounded in the Scriptures. Hobbes declares that unconditional obedience to the secular power is the bounden duty of every Christian. His question: is the Christian obliged to obey the secular power when that power forbids him the profession of his faith? is answered in the earlier presentations with the finding that the right and duty of the Christian in such a case is only passive resistance and martyrdom, while the Leviathan denies the obligation and even the right of martyrdom to the ordinary Christian who has not the special vocation of preaching the Gospel. In the De Cive it is a Christian dogma that Christ’s Kingdom is not of Earth but that of Heaven; in the Leviathan on the other hand, the Kingdom of God under the Old and also under the New Covenant is to be understood as a purely earthly Kingdom. In the Elements of Law, Hobbes defends the Episcopal constitution of the Church, whose rightness is proved by the fact that Christ in virtue of his sovereignty enthroned his Apostles. He also denies that in the Christian hierarchy there was a high priest to whom the individual bishops were subordinate. In the later presentations he rejects the Episcopal constitution, even the view that officials of the Church can be instituted by any ecclesiastical authority which is not in every respect dependent on the secular authority. The apparent contradiction of the general tendency of the Elements of Law on the one hand and of the later presentations on the other, is explicated by the fact that in the later writings, Hobbes attaches much less value to conformity with the teachings of the Scriptures. That Scripture vouches for priestly rule is from now on not an argument for priestly rule, but an argument against Scripture. Thus the single apparent exception is in reality the strongest corroboration of the assertion that on the path from the elements of Law via De Cive to the Leviathan Hobbes drew farther and farther away from the religious tradition. One may say, that Hobbes kept pace in his way, which was not very edifying, with the development from Anglican Episcopalianism to Independentism.

In the earlier presentation of his political philosophy, Hobbes is relatively close to Anglican Episcopalianism. Hobbes’ personal attitude to positive religion was at all times the same: religion must serve the Sate and is to be esteemed or despised according to the services or disservices rendered to the State. This view may be seen as early as the introduction to the translation of Thucydides where Hobbes defends his author:

In some places of his History he noteth the equivocation of the oracles; and yet he confirmeth an assertion of his own, touching the time this war lasted, by the oracle’s prediction. He taxeth Nicias for being too punctual in the observation of the ceremonies of their religion, when he overthrew himself and his army, and indeed the whole dominion and liberty of his country, by it. Yet he commandeth him in another place for his worshipping of the gods…So that in his writings, our author appeareth to be, on the one side not superstitious on the other side not an atheist’.

The fact that Hobbes accommodated utterances of his unbelief to what was permissible in a good, prudent subject justifies the assumption that in the decades before the Civil war, Hobbes for political reasons hid his true opinions and was mindful of the maintenance of theological convention. He says:

‘I long infinitely to see those books of the Sabbaoth, an am of your mind they will put such thoughts into the heads of the vulgar people, as will confer little to their good life. For when they see one of the Ten Commandments to be jus humanum merely, (as it must be if the Church can alter it), they will hope also that the other nine may be so too. For every man hitherto did believe that the Ten Commandments were the moral, that is, the eternal law’. It is noteworthy that Elements of Law defend a much more conservative ecclesiastical policy than do other writings.

As for the natural religion, he was skeptical originally and throughout which is more than the maintained its skeptical outlook. He considered any natural knowledge of God, which is more than the knowledge that a First Cause exists, completely impossible. Thus he systematically excluded revealed and natural theology from philosophy. To keep up an appearance that he attacked only scholastic theology and not the religion of the Scripture itself, Hobbes fought his battle against natural theology in the name of strict belief in the Scriptures and at the same time undermining that belief by his historical and philosophical criticism of the authority of the Scriptures. An apparent progress in his Biblicism indicated of his real progress in his criticism of natural theology, and thus was a proof that he originally judged natural theology more favourable than revealed theology. According to the Elements of Law, the binding force of natural law is based on natural knowledge of God; according to the later presentations it is based on revelation. The Elements of Law bring forward the proofs of the existence of God more emphatically and in more detail than does the Leviathan; for if one compares the formulation of these two works, one positively begins to suspect that in the Leviathan the argument is not seriously meant. The connecting link in this case as so often is in De Cive, where Hobbes says that without revelation atheism is almost inevitable. The traditional arguments for the supremacy of the monarchy, which are atleast mentioned in the earlier presentations, rest on assumptions of natural theology. Finally: in the elements of Law, there is a remark countering the ‘supernaturalists’ hostility to reason, to, which there is practically no parallel in the later works. Hobbes also fought his battle against supernaturalism with his weapons of materialism. At all events, as early as in 1641 in his correspondence with Descartes he defends the conclusions of his materialism with reference to God and the Soul. Before the complete elaboration of his materialism and particularly during his humanist period, when he had not yet freed himself from the authority of Aristotle, he in principle recognized natural theology.