I generally do not read a great deal of fiction but earlier this year I picked up a copy of Paulo Coelho's book "The Alchemist". I forget the reasons I decided to read this book though it must have involved the plot of the book being connected to the Egyptian great pyramids. I can't recommend this book highly enough. The messages within it are very motivating, strike deep into your psyche, and touch on the journey that we are all on called life.
I think this ability of the author to connect with our yearning souls is what makes his books popular. This book talks about everyone having a Personal Legend and when you are serious about discovering this legend Coelho tells us "when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it". The protagonist goes off on his journey to find his treasure located on the Giza plateau near the great pyramids in Egypt and eventually learns that the greatest treasure is the journey in search of the treasure. It's an idea that is an enduring nugget of wisdom, even Miley Cyrus has a song called "The Climb" which is speaking of the same thing. The title of the book is a great choice as it alludes not only to the alchemist in the story but points us to another understanding of the ancient practice of alchemy. I think those in the middle ages that pursued it as a way to change base metals into gold missed the point of the exercise. Esoterically the practice of alchemy concerns your soul and how the process of material incarnation is designed to change your soul into something greater. It is the ultimate form of magic. Anyway because of my enjoyment of that book I decided to read another of Coelho's books. After doing a little research on the other books he has written I chose "By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept: A Novel of Forgiveness".
The descriptions of the book left no doubt that it was a book that was greatly influenced by religion and Coelho's Catholic beliefs. The negative reviews of the book were generally people turned off by the religious aspect of it and how it predominated the story. However I thought to myself it might be refreshing and interesting to read about the author's views on religion and how he incorporates it into this story. I have my own strong beliefs but I am tolerant of other views. I thought I knew enough about the Catholic religion but it turns out I should have long looked into what they believe and what practices they follow. I do realize that what Coelho delves into in this book does go further than mainstream Catholicism would ever care to go though I have been curious for a while concerning its deep Mary reverence and worship. The group that Coelho focuses on are called Charismatics. It is a renewal of faith through the Holy Spirit. This Catholic form of Charismatic renewal features faith healing, glossolalia (speaking in tongues), and prophesy. These attributes figure prominently in the story. It wasn't long into this book that I was struck dumbfounded.
Turns out this book is about Goddess acknowledgement and worship. The male lead in the story has received a gift of healing, a grace from the Lady of Graces and he must reconcile his calling against a woman from his childhood whose love he has never forgotten. I'll stop here as I don't want to give away the story. I was dumbfounded because I have met enough Christians in my life that attribute things that happen to them to God; usually they are all positive. I am sure you know the type and might even be one yourself. Well I couldn't shake the feeling that maybe I was drawn to this book because of the Goddess. Normally I wouldn't read a work of fiction that is a love story intermingled with Christianity. Not really my cup of tea. The reverence shown for the Virgin Mary in Catholicism I started to look into. I had done a little bit of research before and had known about their Mariolatry and Martin Luther's polemics against it. Little did I know the Ave Maria, the Rosary, the Assumption, the Festival of the Madonna, Notre Dame etc. were expressions of this deep devotion to her. From the research I did it seems the history of the Roman Church and its related entities - the Eastern Orthodox and Anglican Church share in this Mary worship with it being very predominant in the Eastern Orthodox beliefs. The Anglican Church, while recognizing the role of Mary, play it down to a degree. The reformers that broke away from the Catholic Church and still splinter today all seem to denounce this form of worship as idolatrous. I guess in a way it is if you have systemically eliminated any role of the divine feminine in what you are preaching. If the female is as divine as the male then it stands that it would not be idolatry at all instead it would be honouring the role of the Goddess in this form of worship. However years and years of persecution of the Goddess by paternalistic misogynists have led Christians to believe there is no room for the feminine in the godhead.
I investigated further the name used for this form of worship, Charismatic, which is describing a revival of faith guided by the Holy Spirit. This confirmed my suspicions. Charismatic comes from the the idea of charisma. A person with charisma is someone who is very compelling and has a gift of being able to persuade and guide another person or group. A successful politician would have this attribute. This word comes from the Greek kharisma which has a meaning of a favour, a divine gift. This is getting pretty close to the idea of the Holy Spirit granting these graces to those asking for favours. The root of kharisma, which is kharis, means grace, beauty, and kindness. Where this gets really interesting from my standpoint is the Greek goddess of love Aphrodite, the Greek iteration of the ancient Egyptian Goddess Hathor, had three attendants called the Kharites who were the most important of the female attendants of Aphrodite and were known as the three goddesses of the graces, graces meaning gifts.
Three Kharite attendants of Aphrodite
Here is a floor mosaic of Aphrodite, Adonis, and the Kharites from Imperial Roman times found in ruins beneath the Church of the Virgin Mary in Madaba, Jordan.
According to Nonnus, who wrote the ancient epic poem called the Dionysiaca, these Kharites were said to have their home in Byblos:
"The soil of Byblos where the Kharites(Graces) have their home, where Assyrian Kythereia [Aphrodite] dances."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 3. 110 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.)
This Nonnus hails from Akhmim (the Greek Panopolis) in Upper Egypt around the time of the end of the 4th century AD. About this time there was still a great pagan influence in the area and the city had a reputation for being home to the greatest magicians and alchemists in Egypt so suffice to say Nonnus would have grown up around much knowledge of the gods and goddesses. I highlight his mention of Byblos because of the Lady of Byblos, the Phoenician goddess Ba'alat.
Byblos, the modern Jebeil in Lebanon, is the city where the body of Osiris, in the coffin Set had prepared for him and nailed him shut in, floated to after Set and his compatriots dumped it in the Mediterranean, giving us an idea of the relationship between the Egyptians and Phoenicians and their gods and goddesses at the time. Ba'alat is also shown on a cylinder seal in Egyptian style with the trademark Hathor hair-do and in one inscription she is said to be "beloved of Hathor".
Okay so it is fair to say there is a connection with the ancient idea of the Greek kharisma, the Greek goddess Aphrodite, the Phoenician goddess Ba'alat, and the ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor. Remember it is said that Hathor had her own retinue of followers called the seven Hathors that were announcers of the fate of a child at the time of his birth and protected the child from evil spirits.
Seven Hathors with the Bull of the West - the Lord of Eternity
Not to step on anyone's religious toes, but I don't see Christianity in its original form as being much different from what was already well known, believed, and worshipped by Pagans. It was repackaged into a new brand that celebrated the divine son and the Goddess while kicking the father upstairs thus minimizing his psychotic tendencies through the intercession of his son.
This deep reverence of Catholics that is shown to Mary really got me thinking about the roles of the two main Mary characters in the New Testament. There is the mother of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and also the female companion of Jesus that he loved more than his disciples - that being Mary Magdalene. The first Mary is representing the pure female who in this state of heavenly purity is tasked with giving birth to the saviour of the world. The second Mary, who Jesus loved so very much, has derogatorily been called a whore and a secret lover of Jesus. Among the disciples of Jesus she is among the most prominently mentioned and in the "Gnostic Gospels" a large cache of which was found at Nag Hammadi, Upper Egypt in 1945, there is much revealed about her importance to Jesus and his story that was left out of the accepted canonized gospels. She was present at the crucifixion and was the first to witness the resurrection of Jesus. Also Jesus had driven seven demons out of Mary Magdalene as told in Luke 8:2 and Mark 16:9. She was known as the "Myrrh Bearer". Magdalene comes from the Hebrew Magdala which is a tower and may refer to the town in which she was born but curiously it is a euphemism in the Talmud for braiding/curling women's hair which in those times designated an adulteress. It is claimed that she is one of the same as Mary of Bethany (the sister of Lazarus and Martha). I'd like to address these attributes that I have detailed above about these two Marys. It is pretty much impossible to prove any of the assertions I'll make so take them or leave them with the understanding they are my beliefs and beliefs that are important to me.
The Virgin is the Goddess that births the latent soul of all men into this world. She is our spiritual mother in the material plane that is to give birth to our soul once awakened. In the Old Testament this idea was in the story of the barren Sarah who eventually conceived a miraculous child, as well as in Rachel who eventually conceived from the seed of Jacob and gave birth to Joseph. Joseph was left for dead in Egypt, Egypt being a metaphor for the material plane in the Old Testament, before experiencing a resurrection of sorts and rising to become ruler of Egypt due to the grace of prophesy he had received. This Virgin Goddess gives birth to the archetypal son of man, Jesus. This story being the story of the soul encapsulated in one man in the New Testament. She is not the mother of all but the womb that carries the potentiality of our greater self that is waiting to be impregnated. In ancient Egypt this was Isis. She gives birth to the re-born enlightened soul Horus. Horus battles with Set, the ancient Egyptian god of chaos and destruction bent on destroying him much like Jesus has his epic battle with Satan. Horus eventually subdues Set and rules over all Egypt. Conversely Mary Magdalene is the representative of the mother of all.
She is the Eve of the Old Testament who is the mother of all life. She is the force present in all women that allow them to create new life and care for them as only a mother with her unselfish love can do. Misogynist men, their religion, and the god they worship deride her as a whore because of her ability to share in and create life which threatens their pursuit of dominance and power. They confuse life and fecundity with whoredom. These types of men are the biggest whores walking the planet and judge others by their own foul ways. In Judaism they recognize the Goddess as a whore who disguises herself as a widow as in the story of Tamar in Genesis 38. Judah had to give her his sons and when he did not commit a third son to her she seduced Judah into sleeping with her and impregnating her. When Judah called her out for her adultery and wanted to burn her she had the goods on him and he had to let her be. To this day Rabbis are forbidden to marry a whore or a widow which seems to them to be one in the same. Their cult of monotheism still fears the Goddess. This cult of monotheism they began carried on into Christianity in order to legitimize Christianity against its Pagan competitors and the Goddess was hushed up and hidden away; however you can still find her. The Pagan converts weren't going to let go of the Goddess. Just like the goddess Hathor in ancient Egypt who is present at all instances of birth and death, Mary Magdalene was present at the crucifixion and subsequent resurrection of Jesus. At Jesus' initial birth in Bethlehem the Goddess was represented by the gifts of myrrh, frankincense, and gold that I detailed in this blog post called Scent of a Woman. The aromas of frankincense and myrrh are burning during services at Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches in honour of Mary "the Myrrh Bearer". One of the most important aspects of goddesses in ancient Egypt was their hair and the role it played in mourning and rejuvenation. The hair of Hathor is iconic in its shape and its braids.
Therefore it is no surprise that Magdala is known in the Talmud as a hairdresser - a braider and curler of hair that is also an euphemism for an adulteress. It is important though to also look at the meaning of magdala as a tower in Genesis 11:1-9. This is the story of the tower of Babel angering the Lord as he was convinced mankind had acquired so much wisdom that nothing they planned would be impossible to accomplish. The idea of the tower connected to Magdalene is the wisdom of the Goddess. Being jealous of this, the Lord scattered people throughout the world and confused their languages. I believe the underlying idea of this passage is that a city with a tower, a migdol, is a place that worships the Goddess thus incurring the wrath of the Lord. Before tackling the seven demons driven out of Mary Magdalene I'd like to mention Magdalene's association with Mary of Bethany who curiously had a brother Lazarus that Jesus raises from the dead as told in John 11:38-44. It is like the mythographer got lazy and decided to coat the tale of Osiris from ancient Egypt being resurrected from the dead in terms of his proper Egyptian name Asar and add the Greek appendage 'us' onto the end of it. It is really quite remarkable. The two Marys in Egypt, Isis and Nephthys (Nephthys being an aspect of Hathor - see this blog post) are present for this raising of the dead of Lazarus. The seven demons driven out of Mary Magdalene by Jesus corresponds to the seven Hathors that follow the Goddess around. It would be considered an act of divination and that's why the story has Jesus purifying her so she would not face condemnation. This cleansing of Mary by Jesus however was conveniently ignored by the writer of the Book of Revelation in his grand polemic against the Goddess in chapters 17 and 18 when he refers to her as the "Whore of Babylon".
The Whore of Babylon
We can see that the idea of Babylon comes from the tower of Babel and the Lord's hatred of mankind acquiring wisdom from the Goddess. The Whore, which can also be translated as idolatress, is described as riding on a beast with seven heads, an allusion to the demons Jesus had already cast out to purify her. This woman is described as being "arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:" which is an obvious allusion to this Goddess. The purple is referring to tyrian purple, the purple made famous by the Phoenicians.
This fornicator is said to sit upon many waters, waters being a metaphor for humanity. Water is connected to the Goddess; water is the healing property of the healing grace of the Goddess. We grow in the womb of our mother surrounded by her water. To this day, breakaway Protestant churches and other non-catholic churches hurl accusations against the Catholic Church accusing it of being the "Whore of Babylon". Little do they know that this Lady, Mary Magdalene, is the Church and the Bride of Christ. The Book of Revelation condemns the Goddess, calling her a witch and allows the beast to burn her. A substitute "new Jerusalem" takes her place as the bride of Christ. These rantings in the Book of Revelation aren't about subduing the beast; no instead it is misogyny writ large. Its condemning of the Goddess along with sorcerers and magicians is a slap in the face to the life and times of Jesus as told in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Jesus was born of a Goddess, cavorted with a Goddess, and practiced magic and sorcery. The Book of Revelation repudiates and condemns all this behaviour and the life of Jesus that had been told. This book frankly belongs in the Old Testament where it can feel at home frothing at the mouth over women and the serpent.
Phew. I guess that had to come out of me at some point especially after my previous blogs have explained my cavorting with the Goddess and sorcerers. Immediately following one ayahuasca ceremony I wrote immediately about what occurred describing it as thus:
At times I experienced some amazing visions with my eyes open. I saw the shaman’s assistant José appear with light enveloping him and he had the appearance of a saint. At points in the ceremony it felt like he was being used as a channel for the goddess. He would be speaking quickly in a hushed religious tone much like a scene from the exorcist. It felt like a presence of the Virgin Mary. I totally see why in people who have these visions nothing can ever shake their faith. They have seen this spirit dimension and it is real.
I'm frankly amazed I got that feeling and wrote about it using those terms when I was watching that healing take place. Another thing I have noted is that this folk healing in the Amazon region has this underlying Catholic feel wrapped up in it. The Church authorities know about it and do not actively encourage traditional shamanism in the region but they also don't go out of their way to discourage it. Furthermore in reading biographies of the shamans of the Amazonian region it is quite startling the amount of them that talk in grand reverence about the Virgin Mary and other Catholic saints that they have mixed into their folk healing practices.
So to get back to the topic of the book "By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept: A Novel of Forgiveness" and the Charismatics, I'd like to explore the place where a great majority of the book takes place and that is the town of Lourdes in the south western Pyrenees region of France. It is where in 1858 young Bernadette Soubrious witnessed multiple manifestations of the Lady known to her as the Immaculate Conception in a grotto (cave) after crossing a small stream to get to it. To this day the Goddess sighting is known as "Our Lady of Lourdes". The waters of the creek have been purported to heal pilgrims to the area, healing being one of Mary's graces. This isn't a one time happening though as in this case she had multiple visions of Mary and if you research the history of these visions you will find them all over the world. This wikipedia entry gives a good overview of the various reported Marian apparitions. This fascinates me because in doing research about the ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor it is surprising to find that she appears as the 'Lady of' many of the places in ancient Egypt as well as faraway foreign towns. She was the patron goddess of the mines in the Sinai giving the impression she appeared in the dug out mountainside. She has a huge connection to the mountain in the Valley of the Kings known as Ta Dehent leading me to believe that this area was chosen to bury the dead royalty due to the presence of the Goddess in the area. Here is a list of Hathor's centres of worship:
el-Ashmunein (Hermopolis Magna, Khnum)
Byblos (Gubla, Jebeil)
Dendera (Iunet, Tentyris)
Edfu (Apollinopolis Magna, Djeba, Mesen)
Hiw (Hut-sekhem, Diospolis Parva)
Ihnasya el-Medina (Herakleopolis Magna)
Kom Abu Billo (Terenuthis)
Kom el-Hisn (Imu, Momemphis)
Medjden (near Assiut)
Medjed (Deir Durunka)
Lower Nubia (Wawat)
The Red Mountain
Rohesa (near Latopolis)
Serabit el-Kadim (Sinai)
Ta-Djeser (The Land of God)
Tihna el-Gebel (Tehne, Akoris)
Upper Nubia (at Kalabsha)
Obviously I cannot definitely say whether these places became centres of Hathor worship because of a sighting but it is interesting to ponder.
In conclusion the point I am making in this blog post concerns the role of the feminine divine in our modern forms of spirituality. For all the talk of family values and values promulgated by the institution of the Church in our society it feels empty and incomplete without any role for the feminine: the wife, the mother, the daughter, to play in the divine sphere. A family consisting of just a father and son do not constitute a role model for human relationships and social units. What is passed down in our western traditions are ideas about women that are thinly veiled misogynistic practices by those who fear the power of the Goddess. Her messages of kindness, love, wisdom, healing, and hope were not welcomed by the power hungry. Women in scripture are depicted as being either pure docile virgins or mischievous plotting whores who practice sorcery. Some societies veil them and treat them like second class citizens. Spiritual communities such as medieval Catholics yearned for connection with the Goddess and the laity resorted to worship of Mary that to pious observers was full on idolatry. In response, the connection to the feminine divine by breakaway Church reformers was pretty much severed. At various times in the history of mankind and his beliefs there have been reformations and renewals of beliefs. As it stands now the role of the divine in our lives is nearly empty and for future generations it will be lost. It is time to look at the damage done by the spiritual persecution of women, make amends, and restore in our beliefs the completeness of family we yearn for.