The Sacred Fire, by B.Z. Goldberg, , at sacred-texts.com
In his own image
THERE is a sacred corner in every dwelling—even the humblest—in the East. Whatever the hut may lack—and it will be lacking in most modern comforts of the home—it will not be without its little shrine. There is sure to be an icon, an image of a saint, graven or in paint, standing on a plain triangular piece of board which is set in between two walls of the house.
Before it there is ever a light burning. The woman of the house will not fail the shrine. The last morsel of bread may be gone from the larder, but never the last drop of oil or piece of tallow to keep the fire burning before the eyes of the saint, who, in turn, will never fail the family of the house. Times may be hard, life scarcely bearable. Starvation, illness, death itself, may stalk within, but dark as it all may be, the family is never without the consolation and hope that the graven image brings. In the humblest dwelling of the East there is always a light—a light that never fails, physically or symbolically.
There is an eternal light ceaselessly burning before the Holy Ark of the synagogue, there is a light over the altar
of the church, there is one illuminating the crescent of the mosque. Similarly, there was a light upon the hearth in ancient times. Whenever man had a light within him, he lit a fire outside of him. So long as there is faith in the world, so long will the light kindled many thousands of years ago never fail.
The universal, eternal light is symbolic of universal, eternal life. Primitive people seem to have felt it, somehow. It dawned upon them as they produced their fire, rubbing together two pieces of wood, one laid upon the ground and the other held vertically upon it. This action being so suggestive and the result analogous to life, the two sticks have been associated with the two life forces and their use has almost universally received a sexual interpretation.
Somewhere, somehow, life began. Whether it was by the word of God: "Let there be" and it was; whether it came flying across space from another planet; whether it began as an accidental chemical mixture; however life came into the world, it has never ceased to be. Living objects perish, life never dies. The life of an individual comes to an end; families die out, tribes, races; but the human species lives on, the stream of life never stops. It flows on and on forever, from its inception in the formative period of our planet, through its tributaries of the countless species of living forms—plants or animals.
When living things were small, consisting of a single microscopic cell, life was continued by growth. The amoeba grew so big that it split in two; it exchanged its single old age for a double life of youth. An amoeba could be destroyed but it would never die.
This tiny bit of life grew larger and, in time, when it
split, the two parts stuck together instead of separating. It was no longer unicellular; it became a group of cells working together. Then specialization set in. Some parts of the animal undertook its locomotion, others did the digesting, still others concerned themselves with continuing the life that was in the living being. These were the sex
Click to enlarge
Venus and Cupid fulfilling their mission of love
cells. Their function was to perpetuate the light of life so that it might never fail.
At first, their work was simple; they merely grew into another being. Again specialization set in—the sex cells developed variously, becoming male and female. They must now be united before a new creature could come into existence. But they still grew on the same body. In time,
the organism had only one kind of cell, either male or female. So it was that out of sex emerged the sex cells and out of sex cells came the sexes.
Prometheus stole the fire from the gods and brought it down as a gift to mankind. That fire is still kept burning and will ever go on warming and enlightening the world. Venus sprang from the foam of the sea and is forever serving those who are in love; so life sprang from among the streams and mists of the deep, when the earth was in its formative state, and is now being continued to the end of time by the agency of sex.
When Old Anthropology Adam let his mind speculate on sex, he did not see it as the continuity of life. This latter idea is of more recent date, having been borne in on the waves of evolution. It is still rather new to the man in the street. To Old Adam, sex was a force bringing new life. A baby was born in the tribe, an offspring came to an animal in the herd, new blossoms appeared upon the branches of the tree, presaging new fruit. There was someone behind all this, some mysterious force giving life. Like all great forces in nature it was a god—a god unseen—the god of sex and birth.
How did primitive man conceive of this new god? His concept of the sex divinity follows a course similar to the course of the development of sex in nature. This new god was originally neither male nor female, but just sex. It was the generative force, not the generator or reproducer. He conceived it as the sex organs, the lingam and yoni in union, minus the bodies. There was little or no regard as yet for the individuals who bore these organs.
In India, a smooth, round stone, rising out of another formed like an elongated saucer, suggestive of the lingam and yoni in union, represented the powerful divinity, Siva. A favorite god in Southern Celebes is Karaeng lowe. He is a powerful spirit figured under the form of the lingam and yoni in union. In Celebes, too, images of the generative organs are found on the posts of houses raised in honor of the fallen warriors. The Brahmans represent this union by a cylinder hanging from a vase which is set into a pedestal. The vase represents the goddess, the yoni, and the cylinder the god, the lingam. Cakes kneaded in the form of the lingam and yoni were eaten at the marriage rite of the Greeks. The Bayanzi in the Congo basin mold these images out of clay and adorn them with feathers.
Representations of the lingam and yoni were current all over Europe. As late as the sixteenth century these figures, made of wax, were offered to Saint Foutin at Varailles in Provence, France. They were suspended from the ceiling of his chapel and were so numerous that when the wind stirred them, the lingam struck against the yoni, to the apparent disturbance of the faithful at their devotions.
A Phallic amulet
Later, man came to seek his god of generation, not in the union of the sex organs, but in these organs themselves. He deified the male or female in man and animal. An old Egyptian legend offers an explanation of how the lingam came to be worshipped: Isis and Osiris were powerful gods of the Egyptian hierarchy. They were brother, and sister. They were also husband and wife. When Osiris was murdered by Typhon and his body cut up and scattered in all directions, Isis went about collecting the parts. She found all of them except his lingam. For a long time she continued her search, but never did she come upon a trace of it. So she finally caused a wooden lingam to be made and this image she held as very sacred. That is how the lingam, in wood or stone, came to be so common in Egypt.
Now, man has always sought to elaborate his house of worship. Pyramid, pagoda, or steeple, do not primarily serve a utilitarian purpose. They are there to lend glory to the divinity and to impress the onlooker with the sacredness of the place. In like manner, Old Anthropology Adam elaborated his figures of lingam and yoni, not only with artistic decorations, but with bodies of tremendous proportions and striking appearance. The lingam and yoni remained the miniature representations of the generative divinity; the male and female figures came to be the full images of the gods of fertility.
Here again the evolution of the generative god followed the development of sex in nature. As man came to clothe his sex god with the human form, he had one individual contain both sex organs. Janus of the Greeks was not only double-headed, but also double-sexed, hermaphroditic,
like a plant that produces both stamens and pistils in the same floral envelope. Siva, the great god of India, is the
Click to enlarge
Brahma created himself double, both male and female
[paragraph continues] Reproducer. He was originally a single substance; but of his own free will he divided himself into male and female.
We find a similar development in the story of Purusa, the Soul of the Universe. At first, Purusa was alone. "He did not enjoy happiness, he desired a second being. So he caused himself to fall asunder in two parts. Thence arose a husband and a wife. From them men were born. But she reflected, 'How does he, after having produced me from himself, cohabit with me?' So she became a cow, but he became a bull; from them kine were produced. Then she became a mare and he turned himself into a stallion. From them the whole family of animals with undivided hoofs were produced. In this manner, pairs of all creatures, whatsoever, down to ants, came into the world."
But the hermaphroditic gods were only a transition in the development of the individuals, male and female gods, and, as such, they were short-lived. They persisted into classical times, but only under the veil of mysticism for exotic natures. Creating his gods in his own image, man began to conceive of them as male or female, like the men and women serving them. We now have male and female gods.
The Ewhe of West Africa make an image of red clay which rudely represents the human figure. "It is generally male, rarely female, and always entirely nude. It is always represented as squatting down and looking at the lingam, which is enormously disproportionate. When female, the figure is provided with long pointed breasts and the necessary adjuncts."
In the Babar Archipelago, there is a festival, Upu-lero, in honor of the sun. "An emblem of the generative force of the sun is erected in the form of a standard flying a pennant of white cotton almost five feet long. The pennant is cut in the form of a man, and fastened to it, a lingam
and scrotum, an apt suggestion of the orgies enacted below."
At every turn, we run into more of these male and female gods. In the forests of central Africa, there are little rustic temples made of palm-fronds and poles. Within them male and female figures, nearly life-size, with overemphasized sex organs, represent the generative principles.
The Roman god, Priapus, was represented in passion, and every bride of Roman aristocracy was supposed to sacrifice her virginity to him. To quote Saint Augustine: "This custom was once regarded as very honest and religious by Roman women, who obliged the young brides to come and sit upon the masculine monstrosity representing Priapus." The Babylonian goddess, Mylitta, or the Greek Aphrodite was represented as a naked woman, the acme of allurement, according to the tastes and standards of the times in art and love.
There is a beautiful legend symbolic of the evolutionary way in which man created his god of generation: The sky was the father and the earth was the mother; the two were forever lying in union, the sky weighing down upon the earth. Whatever offspring resulted therefrom were smothered by the weight of the father. But one day, one of the sons managed to work his way out, so he pierced the sky with his spear, raising it high above the earth. The pair were separated, but they were no longer fruitful. Another son, realizing the cause of the parents' sterility, carne and married them according to the rite of the tribe.
Once primitive man conceived birth and generation as a divine process, he naturally looked upon the male and female gods as its joint agents. Consequently, when he was desirous of regeneration, it occurred to him to marry
these gods, so that universal birth might follow the divine union, just as the birth of children follows the union of man and woman.
Testimony of this survives. At Calah, the old Assyrian capital, the marriage of the god Nabu appears to have been annually celebrated on the third day of the month Iyyar, which corresponds to May. The marriage of Zeus and Hera was performed annually in various parts - of Greece. Among the Bambara of the Niger Basin in West Africa, the male and female idols are believed to couple at the time of the annual sacrifices offered before the rainy season. This marriage of the gods may have been accomplished by imitative magic. Without appealing directly to them, or participating in their life, man could perform an act which would be a suggestion the gods were bound to take. In other words, he could marry the gods by marrying himself. Human copulation would bring about copulation of the generative gods, wherever they might be, and thereby bring fertility to the world.
Suggestion was also resorted to by the people of Central America even to the time when the white men first visited them. When planting time came, they were extremely anxious that the sowing of the seed be done in a most auspicious hour for generation. Four days previously, therefore, the men separated from their wives in order that on the night preceding the planting they might indulge their passions to the fullest extent. This intercourse was even enjoined upon the people by the priest as a religious duty, in default of which it was not lawful to sow the seed. Certain persons are even said to have been designated and appointed to join in sexual union at the very moment when the first seed was deposited in the ground.
Even today in some parts of Java, when the season of the blossom on the rice is at hand, the husbandman and his wife visit their fields after dark and unite for the purpose of promoting the growth of the crop. It is a form of mana, a magical way of getting the generative divinities to do likewise and to bless the world with fertility.
Sometimes the suggestion is extended through persons who seem already to be in favor with the generative gods.
Click to enlarge
At the altar of Priapus
[paragraph continues] Having received the blessing of the fertility divinities, they are in themselves fertility gods in a small way. Among the Baganda of Central Africa, the birth of twins is the sign of a godlike power of fertility. Some little time after the twins are born, a ceremony is performed which is supposed to transfer the fertility powers of the parents to the plantains. In this ceremony the mother lies down in the thick grass near the house and places a flower of the plantain between her legs. Then the husband comes and
brushes the flower away with his lingam. After this, the parents may go through the country, performing dances in the gardens of friends and favored people, spreading the abundance of their fertility powers.
If man arranged the marriage of the gods we should not be surprised to find him inviting himself to the wedding and participating in it. A ceremony of this nature survives among some of the tribes of Africa. The inhabitants believe in the sun as the male god and the earth as the female. Once a year, at the beginning of the rainy season, the marriage of the two takes place. On this occasion, pigs and dogs are sacrificed in profusion; and the men and women indulge in saturnalia. During the ceremonies the sun is supposed to come down into the holy fig tree to fertilize the earth. To facilitate his descent, a ladder with seven rungs is considerately placed at his disposal. It is set up under a tree and adorned with carved figures of the birds whose shrill clarions herald the approach of the sun in the east. For all that, the marriage of the sun and earth is too abstract for the primitive mind. Consequently, this mystic union is dramatically represented in public by individuals taking the parts of the divinities, amid song and dance and by real union of the sexes under the tree.
The Oraons of Bengal celebrate the marriage of heaven and earth by remarrying their village priest and his wife. After the marriage ceremony, all eat and drink and make merry; they dance and sing frank love songs and finally indulge in the wildest orgies with the sole object of making mother earth fruitful.
Similarly, long ago the marriage of the sky god Zeus to the grain goddess, Demeter, was represented by the union of a priestess of Demeter and a hierophant. The torches were extinguished and the pair descended into a murky place, while the throng of worshippers awaited in anxious suspense the result of the mystic union, upon which they believed their salvation depended. After a time the hierophant reappeared and, in the blaze of the night, silently exhibited an ear of corn—the fruit of divine marriage. However, their intercourse was only dramatic and symbolical, since the hierophant incapacitated himself by the application of hemlock.
Sometimes only one of the gods needed to be thus substituted as the other one was already concretely represented in animate or inanimate form. When the natives of Bengal marry their male god to the goddess of water, they make an image of the male in wood and immerse it in the water. In this way the two are united and the well which has been thus consecrated will ever be an abundant source of water.
The Indians of Peru had a god in human form done in stone. This idol they would wed to a beautiful maiden of fourteen years. All the villagers took part in the ceremony, which lasted for three days and was attended with great revelry. The girl thereafter remained a virgin and sacrificed to the idol for the people.
Not always, however, did the consort of the god remain untouched in her marriage. The Akikuyu of British East Africa even today worship the snake of a certain river and, at intervals of several years, they marry the snake god to women, especially to young girls. For this purpose, huts are built by order of the medicine men who consummate
the sacred marriage with the credulous female devotees. If the girls do not repair to the huts of their own accord in sufficient numbers, they are seized and dragged thither to the embrace of the deity. The offspring of these mystic unions are fathered by the god, and there are many youngsters among these people who pass as children of the divinity.
In the temples of Egypt, a woman slept near the image of Ammon as his "divine consort" and was said to have no intercourse with a man. It was the queen herself usually, since the kings of Egypt were actually begotten by Ammon, who cohabited with the queen in the assumed form of the reigning pharaoh. In Babylon, a woman was kept in the lofty temple of Bel as his wife. This is how the temple priestesses came into being. In India today, where prostitutes are attached to a temple, they are first married to a god.
It is not altogether unusual for a priest to represent the god in his conjugal activities. In tribes where virginity is sacred, it is the god who is to deflower the maidens. He operates through his priests, who charge a fee for this divine service. Poor girls who cannot afford the fee may grow into spinsterhood, since no one will marry them unless they have been deflowered in the temple. A vestige of this rite we could find in Europe down to quite modern times in the so-called jus primae noctis, the right to the bride for the first night, which belonged to the lord of the manor. Every maiden living on his land was to offer herself to him before she joined her husband. Sometimes he would relinquish this right for a price; at others, he would insist upon it.
Not every marriage of a human with a god ended in
happiness. Sometimes it was fatal to the maiden--like the bee, once he mates with the queen, he must die. So it is in the Maldive Islands, where the Prince of the Sea is worshipped. On the shore, close to the water, there is a temple with a window looking out upon the sea. Every month lots are drawn and he upon whom the lot falls must give up his daughter to be married to the prince. She must be a young virgin. After being adorned in many ways, she is taken into the temple and left there for the night. When she is found in the morning, she is a maid no longer—and dead.
The substitution of an image or a human in the marriage of the gods for one of the partners served to separate the divinities by sexes in the minds of the people. If the human being was married to a god, it was, to be sure, to represent a divinity; the emphasis, however, was not upon the god present by human surrogate, but upon the one that remained in its full mystic glory. When a woman was married to a god, it necessarily became a worship of the god. When a man was married to a goddess, the emphasis was naturally on the latter and the services by degrees came to be the worship of the female principle.
In time there grew up a multitude of gods of fertility, representing the male and female principles. At first, the same fertility god may have served the purpose of all living beings, plants, animals, and man. In time, even here specialization set in, although the boundaries were never clearly drawn. There were gods that brought the spring and saw to the fertility of the fields. There were those that looked after the reproduction of animals. Others
were concerned with fertility among humans, while still others fanned the flames of passion and love.
As the custom of marrying the gods became universal, coloring the entire religious experience, other divinities also assumed, in time, a sexual meaning. Gods sprang up out of the sexual experience of man or were sexualized with all the erotic paraphernalia carried over from the worship of the generative divinities. Faith became love.
Old Anthropology Adam long walked in the darkness. When we first hear of him we find him already carrying a torch of light to blaze his way. It is a torch of light and fire, the eternal fire, the fire that never fails—the fire of love. Within this flame the base metal of crude religious belief has been refined and forged into the beautiful institution of the present day, and this same refining process has, in turn, purged the fire itself.
Just as sex deepened the religious emotion, added joy to the religious experience, and lifted it up to ecstasy, so did religion add to the crude sex experience the element of spirituality, adoration and devotion, that made love the great erotic and overwhelming spiritual experience that it is today.