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Ancient Greece, Jerusalem & the Great Pyramid
From Bird Guano to Frogs In the 1970s, my brother Jim married Veronica. In 1993 Jim died of a heart attack. At his funeral in England, his Irish wife, Veronica, was busy calling priests and ordering food when my mother and I walked in. I remember feeling ashamed of myself; I was financially and emotionally drained by litigation I was in, and here I was at my only brother's funeral, and part of my mind was elsewhere obsessing and ruminating over ridiculously mundane things. Veronica had the incredible presence of mind to stop what she was doing and sit down on the back lawn with me. “Well, Jerry, what's happening in your life?” she asked. As I was about to answer and tell her of my inane preoccupations, a bird shit on me. Not a small amount, but a huge tablespoon of white bird dung landed kerplop on my funeral-black shirt. “Jesus Christ!” I exclaimed, and Veronica actually began to laugh_probably the only time she had laughed that year! “Don't you know what that means?” she asked. “In Ireland, it means you are about to receive some good news. It's an incredibly good omen.” Before “Oh, really!” could escape my lips, the phone rang. “Uncle Jerry, you have a call from America,” shouted my niece, Siobhan. It was my wife, Anya, with news that my lawyer had called. The case was over; I had won. I still had bird shit on my shirt when I got the news. Synchronicity, meaningful coincidence, a mystical Jungian concept, started to get my attention. Indeed, if my prankster brother was still around, it would be totally in character for him to have a bird shit on his little brother_just as it would be in character for him to rescue his little brother if he could. After that I started to wonder, more seriously: Is there a soul? Does it go somewhere? Is that all magic and superstition, or is there something to the idea of eternal life? That was thirteen years ago. In the last three years I finished work on a book called In Search of Butterflies: The Quest for the Soul at the Dawn of the Third Millennium, which incorporates virtually everything I ever learned about psychology. Two publishers are reviewing as I write this (fingers “Krothed”). Research on this book led to this trip; I had a few critically important places I had to see and pictures to take for this book_a tight nineteen-day agenda_so I took no prisoners (nor fellow travelers). It begins in Greece: I. Ancient Greece Athens begins in about 800 BC. Its golden age is marked at about 580 BC; by 148 BC it begins a long
series of occupations, plundered by the Romans, Constantine's Holy Roman Empire, the Turks, the English, then the Nazis. One fact gleaned on this trip, for the “things-I-never-knew department,” is that in 1923 Turkey and Greece had some real problems. A mass repatriation of 300,000 Turks living in Greece began, as over a million Greeks living in Turkish areas returned home. Such a huge influx of Greeks caused overcrowding, unemployment and mass famine. Today few Greeks speak Turkish and vice versa. The present conflicts in Cyprus probably have to be seen through these historic lenses. Athens is named after a virgin, Athena, a goddess whose most magnificent monument, the Parthenon, actually means
“virgin” in Greek. Overlooking Athens this mathematically engineered masterpiece is five times older than any building we could find in North America. Built 500 years before Christ, the marble pillars encode incredible mathematics, the “sacred proportion,” and various optical illusions which make up its design. At the same site (the Acropolis or “high city”) that overlooks greater Athens we find the Theater of Dionysius, where the plays of Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes and Aeschylus dazzled sophisticated Athenians. For such a tiny country, just imagine how much Greece gave Western civilization: Homer, Hesiod (The Theogony) Hippocrates, Plato, Herodotus, Aristotle, Pythagoras, Euclid, Demosthenes...and Socrates himself.
Below the Acropolis is the Temple of Zeus, the largest ancient temple on the Greek mainland. Zeus had an notable Oedipus Complex. His father, Kronos, fearing a Freudian takeover, swallowed his children, but protected by mother earth (Rhea, or Gaia) (see Jack and the Beanstalk for a background), Zeus survived to castrate his father, rape his mother, and sire the twelve Olympians plus a few scores of mortal/immortal hybrids. I wanted to go to Mount Olympus to visit Zeus' stomping grounds, but it was 200 miles south...and I no longer a Freudian. I chose a more Jungian destination_the temple of Apollo at Delphi, 120 miles north. It is at Delphi that we come upon the Oracle possessed by a peculiar divine insanity and in touch with the collective psyche's more futuristic functions. The ancient inscribed motto one sees as one enters Delphi is “Know Thyself.” What an appropriate place for a psychologist to visit! There is also a more mysterious inscription: “You Are.” We wonder what that means. Does it mean “We exist, are eternal, have everlasting life, and we should live in the now, as in the Power of Now,” or is it more akin to the Biblical “I am who am”? A Revelation: “Chanteen” I wandered about the temple. It's beautiful, but one's more cynical side says, “Big deal. This is just a view site_a wonderful, pretty place to build something...anything.” It overlooks a lush set of valleys, a body of water, a small city on the water_just a nice place for any ancient land developer with taste. Ah, not so fast, my cynical friend! Delphi is weird. It forms isosceles triangles all over the place. Many cities in ancient Greece are equidistant from each other, so the following made rather perfect isosceles triangles with Delphi: DelphiAthens-Olympia; Delphi-Eleusis-Iolkos; Delphi-Megalopoli-Figaleia; DelphiPella-Corfu [There are more!].
Temple of Zeus
When the oracle spoke (in her heyday her name was Pythia), she went below to sniff some volcanic fumes, got appropriately stoned and spoke in tongues. The priests interpreted her babble to render intelligibility to the famous oracles. All around the temple there are “treasuries,” or ancillary temples where gifts were bestowed by those grateful for the correct predictions which streamed out of the oracle's mouth. Judging by the ancient opulence of these treasuries, the oracle must have been right on quite a bit. Perhaps a hundred sundry tourists were crawling all over this place taking pictures, but none were meditating or trying to contact the oracular source themselves. This is, after all, a symbolic and sacred place, so why not sit, close your eyes, ask a few questions? I did. I wanted to get as close to the oracle's location as I could. I closed my eyes and got one rather definitive answer, but all of my other queries were ambiguous. A guide saw me and said I was the only one who was doing what one should be doing when they came here. That made me feel a bit less strange. I had decided that night would be a great time to try to remember my dreams, so I was prepared with pen and paper. This subjective moment is really the most important moment of my trip, so before we go any further, remember that Delphi is a temple to the sun god Apollo, and that Apollo's major function was to drive four horses that pulled his chariot across the sky. Each morning Apollo would pull the sun across the sky (dusk to dawn), and that made up his major workload: “Apollo shot out arrows which can symbolize the rays of the sun that bring light and insight.” On the bus back to Athens I met a man named David, a professor who worked for thirteen years in Saudi Arabia. A Minnesotan by birth, this rotund expatriate was interesting and articulate, had a unique perception of the world, and liked Vivaldi and Bill Evans. A few times I found myself saying, “What does that word mean that you are using?” I like speaking to someone when their vocabulary is over my head. At the end of our two-hour bus ride, I gave him my email address and said, “Let's correspond. I really enjoyed talking to you.” That night I had probably one of the ten most important dreams of my life. Here it is: David is standing in front of me and says, I just bought some Chanteen stationery to write to you.” I said, “Well, that's a new one,” (referring to the word “Chanteen”). He says, “I thought you'd like that! (as if he intended to choose that word).
I woke up and wrote down the word “Chanteen,” then went back to sleep. The next morning I remembered the dream, but forgot what kind of stationery he said he was going to write me on. However, I remembered that I'd written the word “Chanteen” and said, “Wow, that's weird! I have to look this up.” I went to the hotel computer, checked dictionary.com and thesaurus.com, and there was nothing, so I decided this was just a nonsense word that my frontal lobes tried to make sense out of in the dream (referred to as the “neurophysiological theory of dreaming”). But then I Googled the word and discovered that it really was word in the Navajo language. It appeared in Navajo poetry as “the Chanteen” and the function of the chanteen was, like Apollo, to raise the sun up into the sky. Incredible! Here is the Navajo discovery: They looked up and saw two rainbows, one across the other, from east to west, and from north to south. The heads and feet of the rainbows almost touched the men's heads. The men tried to raise the great light, but each time they failed. Finally a man and woman appeared, whence they knew not. The man's name was Atseatsine and the woman's name was Atseatsan. They were asked, “How can this sun be got up?” They replied, “We know; we heard the people down here trying to raise it, and this is why we came.” “Chanteen [sun's rays],” exclaimed the man, “I have the chanteen; I have a crystal from which I can light the chanteen, and I have the rainbow; with these three I can raise the sun.” The people said, “Go ahead and raise it.” So the “Chanteen” does what Apollo does; it raises the sun into the sky. There are a few things to pay attention to here. (1) I never read any American Indian literature; (2) I certainly never encountered any Navajo poetry; (3) Chanteen is not a nonsense word, but something that comes out of the silt of some other psyche_not mine! That is actually something I talk about in my book. Is our psyche just nothing more than the sum total of our own individual life experiences, or do we have the capacity to tap into a more universal mind (a collective psyche), another symbolic archive to which we have access? David, in the dream, is saying he has some Apollonian stationery, Sun god stationery, and he uses a Navajo word to carry the message. David is a messenger from the collective psyche, the same place the oracles came from. This was bewildering, delightful and confirmatory. This is a large interior chunk of what my journey was about. Back to Athens. Miscellaneous observations: Athens is sometimes grubby, but it is filled with people talking, smoking and living. Restaurants seem to be open and people schmoozing until 5 a.m. I saw very few police, lots of people crossing streets against the light, and through all the apparent chaos there seemed to be an organic lawfulness. People were polite, even to Americans. Women could walk alone along dark alleyways without any thought to their safety. There seemed to be an unseen safety net here. Even in the immaculate marbled subway you just validate your ticket (no turnstiles to stop you) and off you go. There is a sense of trust somewhere
in the air which does not exist in American cities. I saw no homeless people and very few beggars, but apparently the average college graduate earns only about $800 per month. Street food and wine were not memorable, but one souvlaki totally blew me away. Souvlaki is kind of like Greek lasagna. I came on a mission to Greece, a quest to touch the ancient life here, not to understand the present, but I was delightfully surprised by both. This was the navel of western culture, of philosophy, democracy, rational thought and civility. To summarize one author: The magnificence of Hellenic life lasted no more than a century and a half, but this short time was enough to make Greece the holy land of civilization: human thought was born there. This small city changed, in the moral order, the poles of the earth. The East had given birth to wise men, but under them the people were no more than docile flocks ruled by the master's voice. In Greece, for the very first time, humanity became conscious of itself. II. The Holy Land The most famous Jew in the world, and the most famous human being of all time is undoubtedly Jesus Christ. Almost 32% of all the people on this planet consider him God_I'm talking currently! I was raised Catholic from age five to age seventeen, and became angry and resentful over my indoctrination for many years. In my forties, Bill Moyers, Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung reminded me that it is important to try to understand the meta-meanings of the myths into which we are born. (“Did the Virgin Mary have a hymen, or does the virgin birth instead symbolize the need for all human beings to be born from the spirit and not the flesh?”) Norman O. Brown says it similarly: “From literalism to symbolism, the lesson of my life.” Touché, Norman! Jerusalem was astonishing. I never saw so many churches, monasteries, abbeys and cathedrals all in one place. Pilgrims from all over, black Abyssinians, choir-singing Sri Lankans, Russians, and Polish, French and Spanish groups swarming over these temples and stations of the cross. I was in the tomb where Jesus' body came up missing and where they declared him risen from the dead. This is the holiest church in Jerusalem, the church of the Holy Sepulcher. I asked a guy to take my picture at the entrance, and he did. He said he was also an executive Where Pontius washed his hands producer for Good Morning America and asked if I would submit to an of it all and set Barabas free interview. I agreed. The program was supposed to air on November 13, but they ran it without my wonderful comments. Anyway, he asked me “What do you think of Jerusalem?,” and I said “This is a religious Disneyland!” Then he asked me to comment further and I said “Well, if there is no God, then this is the absolute citadel of collective insanity. but if there is, then this is the very epicenter of man's most divine and sacred
connection to God. I mean, look. Jesus resurrected from this very place. A block down the street, Mohammed did the same. This is really a very archetypal and divine place.” That’s probably why it didn’t run. All the religions except Buddhism seem to be here: Judaism, Islam, Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Southern Baptist Convention. There is even a place on the roof of the Holy Sepulcher, which houses a monastery of Ethiopian monks who live in prison-like monastic cells. There is a church for everything. A church where Mary was born. A church where Jesus fell. A church where Mary died. A church where Jesus was whipped (the The room where the Last Supper was held Church of the Flagellation). A church where Veronica wiped his face. (There is no Veronica in the Bible, but it doesn't seem to deter the construction of churches.) If Jesus farted, the spot would be marked by the church of the Holy Flatulence. The old city is really cool. Tiny, ancient streets, some where the slippery marble is even 2,000 years old. This is a place of pilgrimage. People here are making a life journey_like me_and they have tears in their eyes, prayers: Jewish rabbis praying in the center of the street (where they suspect the first temple once stood), Sri Lankans singing in the church of the Virgin Mary, with tears streaming down their faces, obviously swooning that they have finally arrived at this place. This is everybody's hadj, strong emotions here, moments that are cathartic and visceral to everyone from the redneck evangelical from Alabama to more reserved Orthodox priests from the Ukraine. My most emotional moment was inside the tomb where Christ's body disappeared. Looking up through the ceiling of this church (right) you get such a feeling of leaving and ascending. Well done architecturally! But the emotional moment came when I put my hands on the slab where Christ's body lay. I mean that is the place where Jesus' body was. Touch it! Freaky! A billion other people have put their hands there too, sure, but it does something to you_at least to a person with my religious background. (I'm no longer a Catholic, by the way, but that does not seem to diminish the intensity.)
Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The entrance here is the tomb where Christ’s body was placed, then disappeared. To the right is inside the tomb, a slab of stone where Christ’s body was laid after his crucifixion.
Probably the most beautiful church in Jerusalem is outside the old city on the Mount of Olives. It boasts golden Russian cupolas and was built by Czar Alexander III (right) This is where Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection. It was closed on the day I came, but I spoke Russian outside the door and a Russian nun let me in_to the grounds, but not to the church itself. Next door is the Church of the Ascension where Jesus appeared to his apostles after his death (and Doubting Thomas put his finger into Christ's belly). I wanted to get a picture of myself at the most profound mythic site of Christianity, Christmas and the manger. Trouble is the Three Wise Men, the
sheep, all the hay_that's located in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity, and that's in the Palestinian territory. I met a Palestinian cabby who said he could get me into Bethlehem. We drove there. Then I went right into the church, crawled down into a bit of a cave, and had my picture taken right where Jesus was born, where the Three Wise Men presented the Holy Family with frankincense and myrrh (boy, is myrrh strong!!)_and then I split. (My camera was lost, so I lost this picture and had to download it—left). But my driver and I were about to leave when we discovered that he thought I brought my passport, and I never thought I needed it. Here we were in The spot in Bethlehem, in the manger, were Christ Palestinian territory, and I couldn’t get out without was born. They built a church around it called the Church of the Nativity documents. We were turned away at one checkpoint. There I was, stranded with Hamas, Al-Fatah, and no passport. A block away about fifteen Palestinian policemen with machine guns were arguing with Hamas gunmen. I was actually quite scared, but my driver said, “I am your brother. I will get you out of this.” So we went to another exit gate. He told me to pretend I was his relative. They searched the car for bombs, but let us go through without checking my I.D. Whew! On the way out I took a good look at the wall_the recently built 400-mile-long wall now separating Israel from Palestinian territories. I can't tell you how sad it makes you feel to see it. It just elicits a raw, naked emotion of sadness to see this new Berlin Wall. An irrational, unspeakable emotion of total sadness descends on you when you get close to this thing. My politics didn't change from this trip, but one statement kept coming back, from psychiatrist Fritz Perls: The more you resist, the more it persists. I think that is very true for the Israelis and very true for the Palestinians...and it is profoundly sad. By the way, the feeling of hatred in the Palestinian population is, to this naive observer, palpable, seething. You can sense it; you can see it in their eyes.
I was at the Wailing Wall, the Jewish holy site, and watched and listened while I was there.
The Wailing Wall sits very close to the Dome of the Rock. This is the not a mosque, but a shrine to the resurrection of Muhammad. Muhammad made his “Night Journey” here and ascended into heaven in 687 AD. This place has some other historic attributes. It was the original site of Solomon's temple a thousand years before Christ. It was where Abraham sacrificed his son. It was the place where the Ten Commandments were enshrined until about 587 BC when they disappeared. Today it is the third holiest site in Islam (after Mecca and Medina), and it is thought the destruction of this place or its defilement will be the trigger that sets off Armageddon. Security is very tight here.
Miscellaneous and California-tainted observations about Israel: There are no jazz clubs in Jerusalem. It is impossible to find gefilte fish, corned beef, pastrami or matzo ball soup here. Russians are everywhere; there is even a Russian TV channel. No one wears Spandex or seems to jog, exercise or ride bikes for physical health here, in Athens, or in Egypt.
III. The Great Pyramid Just as I didn't go to Israel but to the Holy Land, so I didn't come to Cairo, but to the Great Pyramid. The city of Cairo, however, blew me out of the water. This was my first experience with a great, overpopulated, polluted megalopolis. What a place not to visit! Seventeen million people and counting. Garbage everywhere. People everywhere. Scoundrels and hucksters everywhere. Suffocating. Only on the Nile was there a sense of relief, but even in front of the Four Seasons Hotel right on the Nile there were plastic bottles, garbage and papers blowing around. Cairo runs right into the city of Giza, and that lower upper-class slum (all the buildings seem to be painted brownish gray) runs right up to the very base of the pyramids. But when you see the Great Pyramid (Cheops), you just stand there...in awe...transfixed...and you hear yourself saying, “Jesus Christ, who the fuck built this?!!!”
If the shrines of Jerusalem are 2,000 years old, and the temples of the Golden Age of Greece are 2,500 years old, the Great Pyramid is 4,500 years old! I just looked at it, stunned, for ten minutes. If you ever felt human beings had been influenced by, or contacted by, extraterrestrials, or if extraterrestrials had any influence over human affairs, I think the Great Pyramid is the best example of this. It is awesome, weird, wonderful. One of the Seven Wonders of the World, it absolutely and unequivocally deserves this accolade. I was interested in only Cheops, the largest of the three pyramids. It has the most physics to it. There are enough stones in this structure to build a six-foot wall around France! They are so precisely cut that to this day no one really knows how they did it.
There is no mortar, but fitted granite that has stood, undisturbed, through 4,500 years of earthquakes, floods and volcanoes. It stood so well that today the northern tip of the pyramid points precisely to the magnetic north pole. Its height with respect to its base delivers pi to the second decimal place. If you
multiply its height times 10 to the tenth (a billion), you get the closest point that Earth comes to the sun (the perihelion). The base is not a perfect square but bends in just bit, just enough to compensate for the curvature of the earth, implying that whoever built this knew the circumference of the earth when they engineered it. It was the tallest building on Earth for forty-four centuries, only to be surpassed in the eighteenth century. (Remember: Human beings had nothing to read, that is, no written language, only five hundred years before this mother was built! All the math they thought the Greeks discovered was already here two millennia before the Greeks “discovered” it.) I went inside to the very center of the pyramid. One crawls through a four-foot opening. Only 100 tickets are sold for this. When the vents of the pyramid were eventually opened, a rush of air stabilized the temperature. The King's Chamber, the center of the Great Pyramid where we crawled, is sixty-eight degrees all year long, right in the middle of the Egyptian desert_air conditioned for four millennia. So inside the pyramid is supposed to be the center of healing, with unusual magnetic energies. Even food is supposed to remain unspoiled here. The king's chamber is about 20x20x40 feet, a clean, smooth room with no writing or hieroglyphics at all. As five of us entered, a yoga hippie was in the center chanting “ohhhmmm,” so I thought I'd try my hand at it. I stood in the center of the King's Chamber and started my “ohhhmmm.” For some strange reason, I sang the lowest note that I can sing (G below C), and it was low, strong and overpowering. It just filled up the room. I was amazed at the echoresonance reverberating through my voice...and through me. I did it again, just for good measure, and felt something strange inside me. Not to make a big deal out of it, but since I was in the pyramid I feel a certain absence of fear in my life. (How nice if that lasted!)
On the Nile
Nearby is mankind's first block-long, maximalist sculpture, the Sphinx. The enigma of the Sphinx, solved by Oedipus, is that it represents man. Whatever the interpretation, it is also stunning. You can't get very close, but I had a wonderful Egyptologist guide who was superb in explaining things. These stones are some of the biggest in the entire pyramid complex, many tons, and cut perfectly.
Solid granite cut from a single stone to form a 90 degree angle
I also went to the Museum of Antiquities, where I saw the usual stuff: an 18foot mummified crocodile, a mummified dog and cat, a pharaoh's condom, King Tut's 120-pound solid-gold sarcophagus. I was most impressed by Ramses II. He's in very good shape for 6,000 years of age. I think it is important to be buried in salt and then properly embalmed. I couldn't wait to get out of Cairo. Its suffocating overpopulation and pollution is like Guadalajara to the power of 15. I really felt that twenty years from now this area of the world will be unfit for human habitation. It reminds one of the movie Soylent Green. (Rent it if you haven't seen it!) But the pyramid was a stunning jewel. Awesome! Completing the Circle This journey started in England at my brother's funeral with bird shit. Well, last year his beloved wife, Veronica, died at the tender age of fifty-nine. I came to her funeral, too, and now here I am with their daughter, Siobhan, at the burial site. The stone has been changed. Both Jim and Veronica are now buried in one spot, and the stone reads, “Together again.” I stood there in contemplation and a moment of silence. Then, as suddenly as a bird shit on me thirteen years ago, Siobhan blurted out, “Oh, look at that!” It was a frog. A little frog jumped on top of Jim and Veronica and nestled himself under a leaf. This journey is pregnant with symbols from bird shit to Chanteen, but frogs also have major symbolic meaning. They change from tadpoles to something else. They are symbolic of a change of state, going from form to another, of metamorphosis, as in “Kiss a frog and it will turn into a prince.”
The symbolic meaning of a frog in the textbooks is that it is a symbol of resurrection. How fitting that this symbolic little guy would alight on top of my brother and his wife. This is where my pilgrimage began, where the seeds of my book began, and where my nineteen-day trip ended. Thanks for reading this. Jerry Kroth November 2006
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