I have finally, step by step, been forced to realize what I must do. Since I am 74, I must do it now. I have been thinking and learning about our universal madness for 60 years. How much time have I left to describe what might begin to combat it?
I am not overjoyed at having to face this task. What comes to mind is the delightful short story of Jonah, which I will explicate by a paraphrase.
The Lord says, “Jonah.”
Jonah says, “Ah, speaking.”
The Lord says, “Jonah, you will go to the people of Nineveh and tell them that, if they don’t clean up their act, I will destroy their city.”
Jonah says, “Oh, Lord, do I have to?”
The Lord says, “Yes, Jonah. Now go.”
But Jonah does not want to. He does everything he can think of to evade this calling, even taking a sea voyage. When the sailors realize that they are about to sink because Jonah is a jinx, they throw him overboard, where he is swallowed by a Great Fish.
(Yes, knowing that one has been given marching orders does feel a lot like being swallowed by a whale.)
The fish carries Jonah to shore and spits him out. (Notice that Nineveh is way inland in Mesopotamia.)
Jonah finally goes to Nineveh and reads them the riot act. The Ninevites clean up their act; so their city is not destroyed.
Afterward, Jonah is sulking. He complains that after all his preaching, the city was spared.
The Lord says, “Jonah, do you think I would have destroyed those people just to make you look good?”
Fundamentalists read this fiction as being about a miracle. The fundamentalists of all faiths share a trait. They take metaphors literally.
When I was 14, I was Awakened. That’s the term the “Gnostics” used for this sort of experience. It happened in order to save my life. I had been driven to the brink of suicide (and did not know that) by the pathological heresy that sex is evil still being taught by the Roman Catholic church in the 1950s. I provide a detailed description of the experience elsewhere. There are many descriptions of such experiences in William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience and in F.C. Happold’s Mysticism: A Study and an Anthology.
Having had that experience, I know what the Divine feels like, in exactly the same way that I know what a rock or sex or a kitten feels like. My dominant mode of perception is tactile. Hence I knew that almost everything I had been told about the divine was simply wrong. I also knew that I was obligated to find out what would instead be right. Those were my orders to go to Nineveh, where the library of Asshurbanipal was baked into bricks when his palace was burned down in about 600 BCE, thus preserving the writings of the preceding two millennia. I am still trekking.
My life was saved by the Awakening. That is, I was given the hoped-for salvation, free, gratis, no strings attached—except for those marching orders. There is a classic question, somewhat like the one about the chicken or the egg, about whether persons who know they are “saved” will act selfishly. In my experience, no. The Awakening produces a state of invincible humility—in the sense defined by C.S. Lewis, of simply knowing you are not the one who is running the universe—but I did not understand that until long after I got sober in AA. The self-esteem even of the Awakened is definitely not invincible. A “holy life” is the result of the Awakening, not its cause. A person who claims to be saved but harms other, whether by action or inaction, is still deluded and/or a criminal.
I also knew that the belief, that sex is evil, that had almost killed me was not merely my problem. In about 1964 I learned from Wilhelm Reich that it arises from a pathology that continues to sicken humanity in general. As a teenager I thought that pathology was inherent in Christian belief. By 1964 I had learned, at first from Alan Watts, that the pathology is endemic to most societies and is a heresy, in fact, the worst of all heresies, away from the original teachings of the radical rabbi, Yeshua ben Yusef ha-Notsri, commonly known by his Greek name, Jesus the Nazarene.
But in 1955 I was just beginning my search. I wanted to understand what had happened to me, and what healthy beliefs about sexuality might be. Only much later did I grasp that having healthy beliefs about sex depends on having a religion that venerates our sexuality as holy, as being, in fact, the gift from the divine that makes us human.
Detailing my discoveries and experiences during the last 60 years is a task for the “autobiographic theology” I am working on. Here I want to (no, I don’t want to. Oh, Lord, do I have to?) foretell what I will be doing next.
Only a few months ago did I face the fact that my Awakening at age 14 was exactly the same kind of experience as was given to Jesus the Nazarene, to Joseph Smith, Jr. (also at age 14), to Saul of Tarsus, to Siddhartha Gotama, to all the many people quoted by James and Happold, and even, I think, to Gerald Gardner. Religious founders are never what average people think of as “saints.” Their stories are always sanitized afterward by their followers. That is, I have neither more nor less authority to speak as a prophet than they did. Oy veh.
My prophetic diagnosis of the madness of our world, in which Christians, Muslims, Jews, and even Buddhists are slaughtering each other, is that it cannot be cured except by a new and very different kind of religion, one that I hope will be free from their inherent flaws. My helping to create the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn was a sincere experiment to see if the religion created by Gerald Gardner might be adequate as that cure. I think by itself it probably is not, but it has made vast progress toward that goal.When I began my search in 1955, I found Theda Kenyon’s 1928 Witches Still Live. From it I first learned of the Burning Times, especially of the Roman church’s extermination of tens of thousands of Cathar Christians in Provence, one of the worst crimes against humanity of all history, as evil as the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. But since Kenyon began with an able summary of Leland’s Aradia: The Gospel of the Witches of Tuscany, I was given a vision of a religion based on worship of our sexuality, on the concepts of the Divine as a Goddess and of a female Messiah, and on unswerving opposition to the evil that creates holocausts. All that set off my search for the Craft, of course, finding Gardner, Robert Graves, Raymond Buckland, and so many others. But now, what stands out is that the archetype of Aradia pointed me toward grasping the true importance of Mary Magdalene, as many others now have, especially Rosamonde Miller.
There was an earlier holocaust. When the Roman church was given governmental power at the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, it began eliminating all the other varieties of Christianity that then existed. In about 400 CE, some Christians at Nag Hammadi in Egypt buried their library, about three dozen treatises in thirteen volumes, in a jar before the Roman inquisitors could arrive, clearly hoping that some later generation might thus learn what they had truly believed. My friends, we are that later generation. Paper never decays in Egypt. Their library was found in 1948; it took 30 years before it could be translated; it has been studied by scholars, some of whom have been my teachers and friends, for the last 35 years, and has inspired quite a few others. Beyond all that, it is time for us to take those writings seriously.
The great Paul Ricouer once pointed out that, if one wants to understand how and why the scriptures of a faith community are important to members of that community, one cannot approach them with prejudice, thinking that they must be wrong (in terms of one’s own beliefs), or with the hopelessly skeptical attitude of many scholars, thinking, “Oh, what bizarre ideas these quaint natives had.” Instead, Ricouer said, you must read them open to the possibility that what you read may change you forever.
If you read through The Nag Hammadi Library in English while open to that possibility, I guarantee that you will be changed. The writings vary radically in content, style, theologies, and assumptions. What is most important for us is the new information they give us about Jesus and, perhaps even more importantly, about Mary Magdalene, The information is all fragmentary, but combined with the fragments one can glean from the writings of Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Clement of Alexandria, one can piece together a highly probable reconstruction of what Jesus the Nazarene actually taught. Those teachings could, I now believe, begin curing the Emotional Plague (as Wilhelm Reich called it) that continues to cripple most of the world’s societies. Reich used the first line of a quatrain by William Blake as the title of his most important book: “Children of the future age / Reading this indignant page, / Know that in a former time / Love! Sweet Love! was thought a crime.” We are those children.
Jesus’ original teachings are radically opposed to what the orthodox Christian churches have passed off as Christian faith for the last two millennia. Suppose that the Jesus you’ve always heard about is a fake Jesus, invented to replace the real and very human Jesus—because that is what happened. His original followers knew both Jesus and Mary as Awakened prophets, as lovers, as avatars of the Divine Lovers who are the source and ground of our reality, and as preachers of the Good News that in our human ecstasy of bodily love, we are most like the Gods, indeed, at least for a moment, become the Gods.
It will not be easy to persuade people that this is a genuine revelation, a broadcast to all from the divine transmitter at WJOY. Easy? Hah! Close to impossible. But I have orders to try. As Jesus did say, people who actually understand and believe the message will be one in a thousand, two in ten thousand. But I have to look for them. I expect to be attacked. I don’t care, for myself. As has been written, “It’s an ill book that pisses nobody off.” But I will do whatever is necessary to protect my family from harm.
Stained glass shards, marble rubble
of the ravaged cathedral,
of the story, little remains.
I can fill in gaps, as museums do.
I want to know what they said,
Those who fled
to polyglot cosmopolitan Alexandria
before the Roman war, led by Mary
the Magnificent, Jesus’ true successor.
They must have answered
the terrible questions all humans ask.
I knock the alien mortar from each fragment.
Perhaps this gem fit there in the mosaic.
How many pieces from how many pictures
have been scrambled here or lost?
I bend down and begin to sort,
hoping to recreate a hypersphere.
Stay tuned to this station. More will be revealed.