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September 1, 2018

Duality

Photo by Ivan Obolensky

In Eye of the Moon, Alice wrote in her diary:

     To those that come after:

     If you are reading this, I am dead.

     Will I be watching you, reading over your shoulder? Perhaps, I will only be a thought kept alive for three generations until the last person who has seen me and spoken with me is gone, at which point I will have vanished completely from living memory, and I will be no more.

     Take comfort in knowing that in death, I have the answers.

     Today, I have none.

An unnamed character in Songs of Rebellion, a book I am currently writing, says the following:

“Whether by accident or design, no one knows the truth of life or death.

“As for death, even those who claim they have returned from there are destined to repeat the process no matter what they say. Perhaps they took a wrong turn? The next time they’ll likely get it right. In this we are all equal.”

Our ideas about life and death, along with countless other concepts about who we are, weave like threads throughout the course of human history. Ideas shape and form our narratives, just as forcefully as significant incidents we live through change how we think.

In the past, events were cultural and restricted to only a certain group, location, and period. Different areas of the world produced different patterns. For instance, the Western mind is more familiar with dualism, the idea that there is a spirit and a body. The Eastern mind, as reflected in Taoism and Zen Buddhism, claim that the apparent duality is an illusion. There is no inner doer.

Many Buddhists believe in rebirth, while many Westerners don’t. Who is correct?

Like the character in Songs of Rebellion says, “… no one knows the truth of life and death.” Yet, we try and formulate an answer. My approach is to look at where these ideas came from, how they were shaped by those that came after, and how the concepts influenced those who heard them.

Where did the idea of a body and a separate spirit come from?

From what historical research exists, the idea of a body and a separate spirit started with the shamanic practices of Siberia. Part of the healing ceremonies often involved an ecstatic experience that separated the self from the body and allowed the shaman to travel outside the body and rescue souls who had gotten lost, or heal those who suffered from a variety of afflictions.

Such procedures must have been successful to some degree simply because the idea of a separate self not only survived but expanded in influence. The concept made its way into Ancient Greece prior to the period of the Trojan War and into what is now modern Turkey. We find this basic concept later in Pythagoras and formed more intellectually in the writings of Plato, that there were two worlds: the Ideal, and the Worldly. These evolved further into the Sacred and the Profane of the Renaissance.

Numerous mystery religions flourished based on this concept, particularly in Athens during the Peloponnesian War with Sparta (431-404 BCE), when their growth was exponential. Notable among them were The Cybele Cult, followers of Bendis, Thraco-Phrygian Sabazius, and the Dionysian, Orphic, and Elysian mysteries.*

How the Western world embraced the separated self and the impact this concept had on Western thought, I will elaborate on in further posts.

* Cybele was called the Mountain Mother and has a long history stretching back long before recorded time. Bendis was the Thracian (Northern Greece) goddess of the moon and the hunt, similar to Artemis. Sabazius was the horseman and sky father god. Numerous deities existed in the past that are not necessarily accessible to those who studied ancient history on a cursory level. History is ever the flow of ideas, and without many of the details that come to light after careful study, it is difficult to see the patterns, and then extrapolate them into the present so they become relevant and enlightening even in our digital age.

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