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, the trade of the historian of religions is to many laymen an object of envy. Where could one find a nobler or more enriching occupation than one which involves familiarity with the great mystics in every religion, a life surrounded by symbol and mystery, and the ability to read and understand the myths of all nations? The historian of religions, thinks the layman, has an equal comprehension of Greek and Egyptian myth, of the real meaning of the Buddha's message, of Taoist mysteries, and of the secret initiation rites of ancient societies. Perhaps such lay opinion is not entirely at fault in imagining us as constantly confronted by those problems which are the really great and important ones, and as preoccupied with deciphering all the mightiest symbols and loftiest and most complex myths to be found in the mass of material available to us. But we are, in actual fact, far more modest than this, and, I may add, infinitely more humble. There are many historians of religions who are so absorbed in some special study of their own that they know little more of Greek or Egyptian myth, of the Buddha's message or of the techniques of Taoists or Shamans, than any well-read non-expert. Most of us have a good knowledge of only some small, meagre portion of the vast field of comparative religion. And, unfortunately, the treatment of even this small sector is usually of a somewhat external nature. It is a mere matter of deciphering, editing and translating texts, producing studies of chronology and the influences at work, writing historical monographs and accounts of monuments, and so on. Forced to narrow our field of work, we feel that our standards of scientific probity are demanding the sacrifice of that fine spiritual career of which we dreamt when we were young. But, with a few happy and distinguished exceptions, these excessive scientific standards have had the effect, in the long run, of alienating the educated public. These very rare exceptions apart, specialists in comparative religion are not read outside the narrow circle of their own colleagues and pupils. The public does not read our books because they are too technical, or simply because they are boring; the reason being that they are without any spiritual interest. Having heard Sir James Frazer, for example, repeating for some twenty thousand pages that everything that was thought, imagined or desired by man in primitive society, every one of his myths and rites, all his gods and all his religious experience, were nothing but a monstrous collection of stupidity, cruelty and superstition which rational progress has fortunately abolished, and having heard the same thing, more or less, repeated on every occasion, the public has at last come to accept it as true and to lose interest in the objective study of religions. Some members of it try to satisfy their legitimate curiosity by reading extremely bad books on the mysteries of the Pyramids, the miracles of Yoga, " primitive revelations ", lost Atlantis, etc.all the shocking literature produced by dilettante neo-spiritualists and pseudooccultists. We are to a certain extent responsible for this state of affairs. We have made it our aim to present, at all costs, an objective study of religions, without always remembering that what we called " objectivity " was conditioned by the fashion of thought proper to our own time. We have been struggling for nearly a century to establish comparative religion as an autonomous discipline, and we have not yet succeeded; for, of course, it is still involved with anthropology, ethnology, sociology, religious psychology and even
ethnologists. but seldom any interpretations in depth. For there are innumerable fields of historical work. they are in fact often injudicious. positivists. Summing up. and there is considerable dependence on the methods which have been elaborated by modern historiography or sociology (and a failure to remember that historical study of some myth or rite is not exactly the same thing as the history of a country or a monograph on some primitive people). The aim of achieving. It is common knowledge that such use of socio-religious material by psychologists has not always won the support of students of comparative religion. our difficulty today is two-fold: (a) having elected to stand as an objective. universal theories which have been applied to the phenomenon of religion.). which has been won at the cost of excessive specialization to the point of partly sacrificing our vocation (for most of us have become specialists in oriental or classical studies. not one of the general. has been produced by an expert in the field. as some of them still are. This has led them to supply the lack themselves. especially depth psychology. many interpretations made by psychologists and psychoanalysts which now appear to the specialist to be unsound would never have been suggested at all. at all costs. it is also required to meet the challenge thrown down by psychology. anthropologists. Before writing a history of anything. (b) on the other hand. empiricists. sociologists or ethnologists. that if we speak of " the history of religions ". the rank of a " science " has subjected comparative religion to all the internal crises through which modern science has passed: its representatives have been in turn. and accepted one after the other by everyone. This renewal of interest has also been indirectly due to discoveries made by psychoanalysis and depth psychology. but there is only one way to approach the subject of religion. comparative religion is obliged to meet all the objections brought against historicism as such. and whose numerous brilliant publications have reawakened in the educated public an interest in comparative religion. if they had endeavoured to penetrate more profoundly into religious symbolism. One essential fact has been neglected: namely. not one of the " fashions " which have in turn dominated it. especially in the work of Professor Jung. But let it be stated here that if comparative religionists had retained a more spiritual perspective in approaching their subject. They have sprung from hypotheses put forward by eminent linguists. and that is to attend to religious facts. in itself and on its own account. which . including specialists in comparative religion. Psychologists have found excellent material in our books. etc. of the individual and collective psyche as studied by psychologists and analysts. Hence the importance of the work of Professor Van der Leeuw. rationalists and historicists.oriental studies. The present situation amounts to this: there has been a great advance in our knowledge of the material. from the history of technccs to the history of human thought. It has been observed that the vast field of the history of religions represents an inexhaustible mine of material for comparison with the behaviour. the emphasis should not be on the word history but on the word religion. " scientific " branch of historiography. it is well to understand that thing itself. What is more important. and so to take the place of the comparative religionists for the purpose of putting forward universal hypotheses which have sometimes been of over-hasty construction. who has done so much for the phenomenology of religion. We will shortly examine the objections raised against such comparisons.
what you produce may be psychology. in his time-which is not his . but not the true study of comparative religion. speaking a priori. " the days of Tylor. For. can be discerned a crystallisation of the religious notions of the ' Centre'. as an historian of religions. and as an historian of religions I intend to take account of them. Then what meaning can there be in a formula like `the ritual approach to immortality'? You must say at once what immortality you are talking about. religious fear." I regard all these objections as justified. divorced from history and time.has begun to work directly on historicoreligious material and propounded working hypotheses which are more felicitous. and among what peoples? It is only when you have dealt with all these preliminary questions that you will have the right to talk about immortality rites or Centre rites in general. a Taoist or a Shaman. His own authentic existence has its place in history. rites. What is concrete is the religious phenomenon as it appears in history and through history. or at least more stimulating than those current among specialists in the field. Have you. philosophy or even theology. and of immortality. and the ritual approach to immortality. the most widespread human behaviour-like. This statement of principle is a clear indication of the progress made in speculative thought between Kant-who must be considered the precursor of historicism-and the latest historicist and existentialist philosophers. today. His religious message. a comparative religionist has the right to ask me: " What do you understand by such terms? With what rites are you concerned? With what peoples and cultures? What sort of immortality do you mean? For. And the simple fact that it appears in history means that it is limited and conditioned by history. or of any unity in primitive man's reactions to Nature. was conditioned by the past and present history of the Hebrew people. e. Otherwise. in time. more fruitful. The noblest religious message. you know. prayers-must be particularized and delimited as soon as it begins to be. and the fact that they are phenomenathings that manifest and reveal themselves to us-means that they are stamped like a coin with the marks of the historical moment in which they came into being. universal though it was. he had to speak Aramaic. to talk about myths and rites 'in general '. his spoken message would have had to conform to the structure of the Indian languages and to the historic and proto-historic traditions of that assemblage of peoples. Man as a concrete. But I do not think they are insuperable. he could not behave otherwise than as a Hebrew of his own time-and not as a Yogi. " he may go on. we have no certainty that humanity as a whole has had any spontaneous intuition or even desire for immortality. like that of ` primitive man' itself. Then you talk about ` the rites of the Centre '. Mannhardt and Frazer are over. after what historical events. To make the difficulty clearer.. You haven't any right. When I say that my subject is the rites of the Centre. I know very well that we are dealing with religious phenomena. Those general terms are mere abstractions. the most universal mystical experience. the right to do so? Can you make such a light-hearted generalization? It would be better to begin by asking in what culture. How are these notions integrated and validated in the organic system of such and such a culture? In what way have they been propagated. let us turn to the subject of this article. authentic being is in situ. If the Son of God had been born in India. There is no such thing as a " pure " religious fact.g. When the Son of God became incarnate as the Christ. historical.
But the sum total of these conditionings gives no exhaustive account of the spiritual life.father's. In any case. social and physiological. which also form part of the total man. What distinguishes an historian of religions from an ordinary historian is that he is concerned with facts which. He is acquainted.-but they are just as authentic and just as important in human existence as a man's situation in history. and so on. his situation is not always simply historical. In actual fact. These states are not all " historical ". of other " conditionings "-geographical. with melancholy and detachment. it is not always. and especially those of the East. and so on. for instance. are manifestations of behaviour far transcending the ordinary historical behaviour of human beings. Indeed. the rhythm of contemporary history. or to start prayingand at once he has gone out of his " historic present " and rejoined the eternal present of love and religion. is necessarily conditioned by everything which goes to make up a man. conditioned solely by that moment of history which is contemporary with him. man is aware of many temporal rhythms. Man. because it is a human fact. and return to our own problem-the dilemma facing the historian of religions. how can we have the right to speak of man's behaviour in general? This " man in general " is a mere abstraction. meaning by this his own time. not only that of historical time. I was saying that the latter is too ready to forget that he is dealing with a type of human behaviour which is both primeval and integral. while they are historical facts. social man. To take an example: we now know that there are certain myths . as a totality. now regarded as slightly out of date. It has been too readily supposed that authentic existence can only be attributed to what is experienced with historical consciousness. In other words. any spiritual fact must presuppose a human being in his totality: physical entity. Nor is it that of his contemporaries in another continent or even another country. This is not the place for a philosophical critique of historicism and historicist existentialism. Moreover. While it is true that man is always in situ. that critique has already been made by authors more competent than myself. He only has to open a novel or watch a play in order to rediscover a different temporal rhythm-something one might term contracted time. an imperfection in language. economic man. We will only observe in passing that this " historical conditioning " of the spiritual life of man is a re-application. that is to say. the more a mind is consciously aware of itself. All are agreed that a spiritual fact. is aware of other conditions than his historical one. he should try to penetrate more deeply into its meaning and its internal relationships. This being so. the more it transcends its historic limits. with aesthetic beatitude and escape. which is certainly not the same as ordinary historical time. economic. Ile has only to listen to good music. His existence is due to a misunderstanding. the part played in the totality of human consciousness by this historical consciousness is only a minor one-quite apart from any consideration of the areas of the unconscious and the subconscious. and that he should not therefore limit himself to a mere record of the historical events in which that behaviour is revealed. of theories. on a different level and with different dialectic means. We have only to remember the mystics and sages of all times. with dream and day-dream states. from anatomy and physiology to language. II But we will now leave these objections which it is possible to bring against historicism and historicist existentialism. or to fall in love.
it is here that his researches come to meet those of depth psychology and even philosophy. sociologists and philosophers. while others continue to survive? What is it to which these myths and symbols represent a response. 161 E). a man who will be more authentically himself and . so comparative religion may succeed in bringing forth a new man. and furthermore it has already been begun. For its result would be to re-awaken and restore to consciousness the primitive symbols and archetypes which are still living. The comparative religionist can fulfil his task by shedding light on these ultimate situations. whether received from elsewhere or discovered spontaneously. symbols.. for just as Socrates. he should start asking himself further questions: why was it possible for such and such a myth or symbol to be so diffused? What was it that it revealed? Why. but it should not be enough for a comparative religionist. I ventured to use the term " meta-psychoanalysis " because the technique to be employed will have to be something spiritual. myths and symbols. elaborate cultural complex. which were not spontaneously discovered by primitive man. I might also call it a new form of maieutics. But it is already becoming clear what great prospects would open before comparative religion if it could learn to profit from all its own discoveries and from those of ethnology. myths and rites are always a revelation of man in his ultimate situation.and symbols which have been propagated through the world by cultures of a certain type. Once the findings of ethnology have been accepted and integrated. and we shall see what a comparative religionist should be able to learn from them. to make intelligible and coherent what is allusive. that they should spread so far afield? Such questions ought not to be left to psychologists. acted as midwife to the mind. and showed that the spontaneous rediscovery of the archetypes found in primitive symbolism is something generally experienced amongst all men. not in his historical situation. should be enough to satisfy an ethnologist. in the religious traditions of the whole of humanity. I think that a rigorous study of the relations between certain religious syntheses and certain forms of culture. but created by a clearly defined. that is to say. The study of man not only as an historical being but also as a living symbol could make of comparative religion-if we may be excused the use of such a word-a metapsychoanalysis. These creations have travelled long distances from their original home and been assimilated by peoples and societies which would not otherwise have known of them. cryptic or fragmentary. I shall shortly give some examples of such spontaneous rediscoveries. There need no longer be any hesitation in undertaking it. sociology and depth psychology. What they reveal is the situation that man discovers when he takes stock of his position in the universe. delivering it of thoughts it contained without being aware of them. without distinction of race or historical background. for none is better equipped to resolve them than the comparative religionist. or continuing in a fossilized state. according to the Theaetetus (149 A sq. and of the various stages of their diffusion. do certain details-very important details sometimes-get lost. since depth psychology has drawn attention to the survival of mythical symbols and themes in the psyche of modern man. intended to clarify the theoretical content of such symbols and archetypes. It is only necessary to study the problem to realise that. Such a study is possible. in the process of diffusion. embodied in particular human societies.
least of all for the experience of faith. It is a primary. The mere fact of rediscovering the rhythms of the cosmos in the heart of his own being the rhythm of day and night. but will have become aware of the spiritual riches implicit in such behaviour. structurally. making use of religious symbolism. that at least certain classes of symbols show a coherency. But even a Christian mind will find that a maieutic technique of this sort employed by an interpreter of primitive symbolism is something fruitful. and more especially from historicist and existentialist relativism. Again. no believer can be indifferent to anything whatever which-to use Christian terms-is a manifestation in this world of the excellent Glory. A maieutic technique of this sort. We need only remember the position accorded to historical existence in the Judaeo-Christian tradition to realise how. In the measure in which he stands over against the historical process. his very orgiastic impulses are charged with spiritual meaning. which yet in no way abstracts man from his place in history. For it will become extremely plain that man stands over against history even at the very moment when he is engaged in making it. or summer and winter. it is only a question of revivifying it and bringing it up to the conscious level. and with what sense. And finally. especially those of poetry. Christianity. modern man rediscovers his archetypal situation.more complete. though their spiritual meaning and theological bearing were changed. And in the measure in which a man transcends his moment in history and gives free rein to his desire to relive these archetypes in himself. such a study will bring to light a fact which has until now been the object of too little attention-the fact that there is a logic of symbols. Everything is there still. A recovery of the sense of his own anthropocosmic symbolism-which is simply one aspect of primitive symbolism-would give modern man a whole new dimension of existence. even at the very moment when he is claiming to be nothing else but " an historical fact ". Indeed. a logical connection with one another. are insignificant in comparison with what comparative religion could do. Of course there is no question of pretending that the rational study of comparative religion should or can be a substitute for real religious experience. was the heir to very old and very complex religious traditions which survived. he fulfils himself as an integral. a dimension quite left out of account by current forms of existentialism and historicism. In any case. authentic mode of being. these words " glorious " and " absolute " could find their place in history. a bulwark against nihilism and historicist relativism. that they can be systematically formulated and translated into rational terms. the study of comparative religion can help modern man to rediscover the symbolism of that anthropo-cosmos which is his own body. even in modern man. His very sleep. as we all know. within the Church. This internal logic in symbols raises a problem big with consequences: is it that the domain of the logos extends into certain zones of the individual and collective unconscious-or are we here faced with manifestations of a trans-conscious? This is a problem which cannot be . for instance-brings him a fuller consciousness of his destiny and significance. for by the study of religious traditions he will not merely have rediscovered what primitive behaviour was like. universal being. history itself may one day discover its own true meaning and become an epiphany of humanity in its absolute and glorious state. The achievements in this direction of imaginative techniques. will also help to free modern man from the cultural provincialism from which he suffers.
too. death and night. We may observe that the same images are used in our own day to formulate the dangers menacing a certain type of civilization. " darkness " in which " our world " will go down. On one side is that space which constitutes the cosmos. These are all felt as expressions signifying the abolition of an order. outside this familiar space. Gallimard. wolves. has also survived into our own day. What I want to bring out here is that for the primitive world. Pharaoh's enemies were " sons of ruin. But here. Pharaoh himself was identified with the god Re. in grading their material according to its value and the state it is in. If we want to arrive at an adequate understanding of primitive religious symbolism we must select. we are only at the beginning. on the other. It is . larvae. the talk is still of " chaos ".solved entirely by depth psychology. the formless. If we are to grasp the real structure and function of symbols. but because they were incarnations of hostile. if we were wanting to assess the literature of some foreign country we should not. The destruction of an established order. chaotic state. organised territory) is enough to identify the enemy with the demoniac 1 See my Le Mythe de l'Eternel Retour: Archetypes et repetition (Paris. and his enemies with the mythical dragon. Mesopotamia and Egypt. the enemies menacing the microcosm were not dangerous as human beings. or just mediocre. there is the unknown and fearful world of demons. after all. This picture of the inhabited world as a microcosm surrounded by waste lands identified with chaos or the kingdom of the dead survived even in very advanced civilizations like those of China. For much of our material consists of forms which are decadent. amorphous. In many texts. as such. the historians of literature.' The fact that they are attacking and endangering the equilibrium. the abolition of an archetypal image was the equivalent of a regression into chaos. we must turn to the vast mass of material gathered by comparative religion. aberrant. We must hope that some day historians of religion will imitate their colleagues. and indeed the very life of the city (or of any other inhabited. " disorder ". demons and the forces of chaos. destructive powers. which has been built up. But such a problem goes beyond my competence. a cosmos. undifferentiated state which preceded the cosmogony. enemies advancing to attack the national territory are identified with larvae. because the latter is largely concerned with deciphering symbols in a scattered and fragmentary state appearing in minds in a condition of crisis or even of pathological regression. The borders of this closed world represent the beginnings of the unknown. dead men. dogs " etc. 68 seq. and thus re-immersion in a fluid. generally speaking. pp. powers. the conqueror of the dragon Apophis. simply take the first ten or a hundred books we happened to find in its nearest public library. into the unformed. because it is inhabited and organized. strangers -chaos. an incarnation of the powers of evil. III Primitive and traditional societies think of the world around them as a microcosm. which means to suppress it. And even then we must know how to select. The image of the enemy as a demoniac being. Psychoanalysis of such mythical figures still operating in the modern world may perhaps show us the extent to which we project on to these enemies our own destructive desires. for they are trying to re-absorb the microcosm into the state of chaos. 1949).
probable that the defensive systems of cities and inhabited places began in the first place as magical defences. and not with profane. among the Semang pygmies in Malacca: at the centre of the world there rises an enormous rock. 1947-8. vol. as has been recently pointed out. Here. etc. for instance. mythical geography. 315 seq. It was. it is along this axis that it is possible to pass from one region to another. is always the same-ruin. rising up towards heaven. for instance. but an unlimited number of" centres ". pp. Karl Kerenyi. consequently. PP. underneath ' See my Traite d'Histoire Des Religions. Earth and Hell. are laid out so as to prevent invasion by evil spirits rather than attacks by human beings. the Holy manifests itself in some total form. which is the Holy. " Die Bedeutung der Mythen ". the result of their attacks. Festschrift fur Alfred Bertholet (Tubingen. Once there was on Batu-Ribn a tree-trunk. nobody knows. J. W. at the Centre. as the " Centre of the World ". F. R. sacred space is real space par excellence. Eliade. As we shall soon see. a plurality of " Centres of the Earth " within one inhabited region is a matter of no difficulty. India. because. geometrical space. I Hell. which is in a sense abstract and non-essential. ramparts. 350 seq. it may be in the more advanced form of direct epiphanies of the gods. 1948). etc. Payot. every inhabited region. p. Cumaean Gates (Oxford. the only geography which is effectively real-not with profane. of course. vol. 2 Cf. Mid e Leggende (Turin. the World Tree. the walls of cities were ritually consecrated as a defence against the devil. Labyrinth-Studien (Zurich 195o. Since we are here dealing with sacred space. pp. the Centre is the point where the three intersect. labyrinths. the centre of the earth and the " gate " of heaven are thus on the same axis. a theoretical construction of a space and a world where nobody really lives and which. x). Knight. Furthermore. all the eastern civilisations-Mesopotamia. representations of the Divinity. 1949) PP. It may be in an elementary hierophany. Series " Albae Vigilae ". v. In mythical geography. as in traditional civilizations. for these ditches.2 for the primitive world myth is real as recounting manifestations of the true reality. It is in such space that there is direct contact with the Holy-whether incarnate in certain objects (tchuringas. We should hesitate to accept . in the Middle Ages. G. possesses what we may call a " Centre ": a sacred place par excellence.) or manifested in such hiero-cosmic symbols as the World Pillar.-have not merely one. There may be several " centres " for each one of these microcosms. etc. But we must not think of this symbolism of the Centre as having the geometrical implications provided by the western scientific spirit. " Verita del Mito " Studi e Materiali di Storia delle Religioni. etc. it is to be found. I. We have reason to think that the image of these three regions is very old. Batu-Ribn. id. 1936). xxi. every one of them is thought of.' We are here confronted with sacred. China. as defined by a hierophany or constructed by a ritual. and indeed described in so many words. in no way difficult for primitive symbolism to identify a human enemy with the devil and with death. etc.' Even late in history. Pettazzoni. In the last analysis.. 287-93.. 104-16. Paris 1949. " objective " geography. Thus it is the point at which partitions can be broken and communication between the three regions made. disintegration and death. disease and death. Every such microcosm. In cultures which have the idea of the three cosmic regions of Heaven. diabolical or military. totemic centres such as the caves where they bury tchuringas. homogeneous. it is hell. M. Traite d'Histoire des Religions. van der Leeuw. as amongst " primitives " with 1 Cf.
the World Tree. vol. Here we have an allusion to a very wide-spread mythical theme: once. navel. Schebesta. the central Pillar which holds up the three zones of the cosmos. apsu being the name of the waters of Chaos before the Creation. Himmelsberg. The Italic temple was the place of intersection of the upper (divine) world. " link between heaven and earth ". Let us come back to the image of the three cosmic regions linked by an axis running through the " Centre ". Anthropos. All these cities. a " gate of the gods ". communication with heaven and relations with the Divinity were easy and " natural ". 1940). It is told in the Mishna that the Temple stands just above tehdm (which is the Hebrew equivalent of apsu). priests. Innumerable further examples could be given. Amongst the Romans. The rock of Jerusalem reached far down into the waters under the earth (tehom). And just as at Babylon was the " gate of apsu " so the rock of the Temple of Jerusalem closed " the mouth of tehdm ". e. Kien-mou. Haraberezaiti of the Iranians.e. because of a ritual fault. if it were not that we have some reason to think that the same theory had already appeared in prehistoric times . Erdnabel and Weltenstrnme ". We find this same tradition among the Hebrews. 1 P.. Mount Thabor in Palestine (which may be tabbur. I cannot discuss it here. Babylon had a multitude of names. tree or pillar standing at the centre of the world is..2 The fact that a certain territory. the " Mountain of the Lands " in Mesopotamian tradition. shamans. for instance. the communication was broken. Gaerte. 131. but. The Chinese sovereign had his capital near the miraculous tree " Upright Wood ".June 1946. are so many replicas of one primitive image: the World Mountain. because it was there that the gods came down to earth. city. and that only in a transient form and for their own exclusive use . W. We find this archetypal image especially in the ancient civilizations of the east. and Golgotha. . The name of the sanctuaries at Nippur. this Centre of the World. 5-52. " link between heaven and earth ". in fact. temples and palaces. Jan. the mundus is the meeting place between the nether regions and the terrestrial world. Larsa and Sippar was Dur-anki. heroes and kings who are able to re-establish communications.g. Les Pygmies (French trans.. 156 seq. " Kosmische v orstellungen im Bilde prahistorischer Zeit: Erdberg. the terrestrial and the subterranean (infernal) world. PP. Now it is only medicine men.3 The myth of a primordial paradise lost by some fault is an extremely important one.the authenticity of this cosmological theory among the Semang. and the gods withdrew still higher into their heaven. _. We need only remember Mount Meru in Indian tradition. 956-79. ix. in Palestine again. Paris.2 The Semang say that there was a time when the tree-trunk linked the summit of this Cosmic Mountain. extremely wide-spread. the " gate of apsu ". was at the centre of the world. with heaven. etc . We find similar traditions in the Indo-European world. omphalos). pp. 2 Cf. The symbol of a mountain.' Every city of the east. 1914. which is actually called " navel of earth ". then. the Germanic Himingbjorg. where Heaven. temple or royal palace was at the centre of the world-i. Mount Garizim. Babylon was a Bab-ilanii. Earth and Hell met. for the town had been built upon bab-apsi. of course. considered as centres of the world. amongst others " house of the foundation of heaven and earth ". PP. though it does in a sense touch on my subject. But it was also at Babylon that there was a meeting-place between the earth and the nether regions. which Christian tradition regarded as the centre of the world. 3 See my article on shamanism in Revue Historique Des Religions.
and according to a Syrian tradition it was set " on a mountain higher than any other ". in Germanic mythology. the texts in Le Mythe de PEternel Retour. Traiti. PP. According to Mesopotamian tradition. The most wide-spread variant of this symbolism of the Centre is that of the World Tree. According to the Syrian book The Cave of Treasures. 8 Traite. on Golgotha-the blood of the Lord redeems him too. Le Mythe de PEternel Retour. is to be found in Vedic India. 32 seq." " The world was created begin ning at Sion. Adam was created at the centre of the earth. In the mythologies of Central and Northern Asia. We have here a " Rite of the Centre". which is built as an artificial mountain. also took place at the centre of the world. " says a rabbinical text. is of course at the centre of the cosmos.: Le Mvthe. 32 sea." states a rabbinical text. p. man was made at " the navel of the earth ". 323 seq. Paradise. This World Tree. the priest came to the summit of the Universe.' The peak of the World Mountain is not only the highest point on earth. when the pilgrim reaches the highest terrace he breaks through into a new level. " Link between Heaven 1 Cf. Since Adam was buried at the very spot where he was created-at the centre of the world. at the very spot where the cross of Jesus was later to stand. the point at which creation began.3 The very names of the Babylonian sacred towers and temples indicate their assimilation to the World Mountain. p. " As the embryo grows from the navel. 321 seq. at the centre of the world. Judaism retained the same tradition concerning the creation. The ziqqurat was properly speaking a cosmic mountain-a symbolic image of the Cosmos. etc.Cf. which stands in the midst of the universe and is the axis supporting the three worlds. he transcends material space and penetrates into a " pure region ". at the same place as we find Dur-an-ki. PP.2 The creation of man. the centre of the world: " Mountain of the House ". its roots plunging into Hell and its branches touching Heaven. " The land of Israel was not drowned in the Flood. The same symbolism is to be found in ancient India: in the Rig Veda. Le Mythe. as well as in " primitive " religions. so God began to create the world at the navel. mounting up them. 3 1 Texts in Traite. According to Islamic tradition the highest place on earth is the Ka'aba. the "link between Heaven and Earth ". repeating that of the cosmos." says another text. The same symbolism is carried out in the vast building of the temple of Barabudur. the seven heavens of the planets. 323 sea. 3 Cf. and from there it spread in all directions. Ohrmazd creates the first man. pp. the universe is conceived as coming into being from a central point. " Mountain of tempests ". Its seven steps represented the seven heavens of the planets. Gajomard.' What . z Traite. in ancient China. i. '. PP. It is also the navel of the earth. where Adam was created of clay. pp.e. P.at the top of the World Mountain-meant that it was the highest place in the world and hence was not covered by the Flood. 36. its seven or nine branches symbolise the seven or nine zones of Heaven. 324. i. " House of the Mountain of all lands ". The climbing of it is equivalent to an ecstatic journey to the Centre of the World.. on. 30 seq. 33• and Earth ". Le Mythe de PEternel Retour. " The Most Holy created the world like an embryo. We have no space here to linger over the complex symbolism of the World Tree.e. Paradise was the " navel of the earth ". The Judaic apocalypse and the midrash assert that Adam was created at Jerusalem. because " the Pole Star shows that it faces the centre of Heaven ".
As we shall shortly see. I. Or. Setting a ladder against it. let us go up to Heaven! " His wife replies " Let us go up ! " (Sat. and cries. 1 Cf. O Lord of the forest. 236 seq." Here we have the World Tree itself. up this stake which ritual has transformed into the Axis of the World. . i. " the priest makes himself a ladder and a bridge by which the heavenly world can be reached ". 4). .). the sacrificing priest addresses it as follows: " Let not thy top tear Heaven. on the summit of the earth! " it is invoked in the Rig Veda (III. we may say that the majority of the sacred and ritual trees encountered in the study of comparative religion are replicas. So too with the ladder Jacob saw in his dream which touched the heavens. in the seventh the sun. like the wings of a bird. the Supreme Being. They begin to climb the ladder. the priest cries " We have reached Heaven! " (Taittiriya Samhita. or the sun-god. In the sixth heaven he venerates the moon. y. . rising in the middle of the universe.. of the archetype of the World Tree.' The tree is a replica of the World Tree. and offers him the soul of the horse that has been sacrificed. At the top. Finally. 6. I. touching the capital of the column. It has been possible to erect this ladder.. I. and as he climbs up them the shaman declares in so many words that he is climbing into Heaven. 4. This means that sacred trees are considered as being at the centre of the world. 9). " I have reached Heaven and the gods: I have become immortal! " (Taittiriya Samhita. xxviii. alone or with his wife. let not thy centre injure the air . 3). Seven or nine notches are cut in the tree. In general. with thy middle part thou dost fill the air. as he reaches the top. as he climbs up the steps. And " the angels of God ascended and descended on the ladder" (Gen. i I seq. This assimilation of the ritual tree to the World Tree is even more transparently obvious in the shamanism of Central and Northern Asia. Communication between Earth and Heaven is made possible by the mediation of this pillar. he stretches out his hands. imperfect copies. Sat. Traite. The climbing of such a tree by a Tatar shaman signifies his ascent into Heaven. he prostrates himself before Bai Ulgan. The setting up and consecration of this sacrificial stake constitute a " Rite of the Centre ".concerns us here is its role in the " Rites of the Centre". The seven or nine notches in the shaman tree symbolise the seven or nine branches of the World Tree. " Come. pp. 9). in the ninth. Br. " With thy top thou dost support Heaven. with thy foot thou dost make firm the Earth.e. He describes to the congregation everything that he sees in each of the heavenly zones as he penetrates into it. The sacrificing priest does in fact climb skyward. While it is being cut down. 2. at the top is the supreme god. etc. many other ritual approaches to the Centre involve a conquest of immortality. Being identified with the World Tree. We must here be content with a few examples. " Truly ". and the latter becomes a sort of cosmic pillar: " Rise. or bridge.). the seven or nine heavens. From the wood of this Tree is made the sacrificial stake. 2) again. In Vedic India the sacrificial stake (yupa) is made from a tree identified with the Universal Tree. says the Taittiriya Samhitd (VI.. because the place is a Centre of the World. Br. The Indian rite alluded to immortality as being obtained by this ascent to Heaven." proclaims the Satapatha Brahmana (III. he says to his wife. the stake in its turn becomes the axis linking the three zones of the cosmos. 7. V. 8. and the ritual trees or stakes consecrated before or during a religious ceremony are so to speak magically projected into the centre of the world.
1951). For. because he is conscious of being at the very Centre of the World. in ecstasy. etc. is conscious of other mystical links between himself and the World Tree. moreover. When the type of house changes. are for the shaman journeys to Heaven. some remote Indian influence on these Semang pygmies. 16o seq.' The drum has a most important part to play at shamanite seances. Thus both his climb up the ceremonial column with its seven or nine notches. But it is important to distinguish between a borrowed cosmological theory elaborated round the symbol of the Centre-like that of the seven zones of heaven-and the Centre symbol itself. Popov. Now. only in such a Centre is it possible to communicate between Earth and Heaven and Hell . the material and bibliography in my Le chamanisme (Paris. the Four Rivers.2 We have here a mystical journey to the " Centre ". for instance). 29 seq. Materialy po etnografi avamskich i vedeevskich tavgicev (Moscow-Leningrad. 1946. 161-81. A.). It is chiefly by the use of their drums that shamans induce ecstasy. South American (Araucan) and North America (Pomo): cf. As we have already seen. Ethnos. if we remember that these drums are made of the very wood of the World Tree. vol. At the foot of this beam offerings are laid in honour of the heavenly powers. 84 seq. this symbolism is extremely old. As he beats his drum the shaman is projected. the time of his initiation the future shaman is said to approach the World Tree and to receive three branches from it. and ultimately Mesopotamian.3 IV Very probably. to use as the barrels of his drums. we should still have to explain the Centre symbolism to be found in various prehistoric remains (the World Mountain. " Schamanentrommel and Trommelbaum ". 1936). from its presence among the pygmies o£ the Malacca peninsula. In the dreams he has at 1 Cf. pp. When sacrifice is to be offered. 171 seq. see my Le chamanisme et les techniques archaiques de l'extase. z Cf. as we have seen.The shaman. This seems evident from. the but giving place to the yurt (as amongst the pastoral peoples of Central Asia. Tavgijcy. And even if we could assume 'A. Initiatory climbing of a ceremonial tree is also to be found in the shamanism of Indonesia. pp. and so to the highest Heaven. pp. it has been shown (by the Graebner-Schmidt school) that the symbol of the world-axis is already to be found in such primitive cultures as those of the Arctic and North American peoples. amongst these peoples the central roof-tree is assimilated to the World Axis. from the hand of God Himself. iv. for it is only up this axis that they can ascend to heaven. But he is only able to break through from one cosmic level to another. at least in these Central Asian and Siberian religions. we can understand the symbolism and religious value of shaman drum-beats. E. sources. the Tree and Spiral. so as to be able to ascend or fly in ecstasy through the Heavens. the importance of the number seven. Emsheimer. pp. this mythicoritual function of the roof-tree is preserved with the help of the central chimney-hole. and the beating of his drum. my book Le chamanisme. Further. a tree is brought into the yurt.. the Centre symbolism has been influenced by cosmological schemes derived from Indo-Iranian. to the proximity of the World Tree . amongst other things. and set up with its top .
Many myths speak of a tree. for the seven spheres. for it demonstrates a most instructive aspect of the religious behaviour of primitive man. a priest-king in Thrace. represents the sphere of the fixed stars. Contra Celsum. We certainly find it in Mithraic initiation. as we have seen. in popular Uralo-Altaic belief. from ancient Egypt to Australia. " to take hold " is a euphemism for " to die ". This shows that there was in existence a ritual stair. let us pause and consider the " ascension rites " which take place at the Centre. and the Vedic priest goes up a ladder. An important part is also played by the ceremonial stair. " climbed the mountain " and traversed " the high passes " to " show the way to many men " (Rig Veda. 22) speaks of Kosingas. is a way up the mountains. that the king could go up it to heaven. and Kesar. In the Mithraic mysteries the ceremonial ladder (climax) had seven rungs. Death-whether in an initiation or not-is the supreme break-through. But for the moment. or climbs a tree. the first rung was of lead and corresponded to the heaven of the planet Saturn. It is probable that an ascension into heaven by going up a ceremonial stair formed part of one of the Orphic initiations. nn. Thus the house is made one with the Universe. in other terms. or. 22). The ordinary Assyrian expression for dying is " to take hold of the mountain ". each one made of a different metal. or a ladder linking earth to heaven. VII. According to Celsus (Origen. The tree has seven branches. Bolot. and regarded as being at the centre of the world. which was. just as a man could climb to the highest heaven up the seven levels of the Babylonian ziqqurat. meant the death and resurrection of the neophyte. The Tatar or Siberian shaman. the fourth of iron (Mercury). climbs up a tree. or pass through the various regions of the cosmos by climbing the terraces of the temple of Barabudur. or a creeper. who threatened his subjects that he would leave them by going up a wooden stairway to the goddess Hera. 14. the sixth of silver (the moon). Yama. As he went up this ladder. for it was here that a " breakthrough " from one level to another had to take place. It is easy to see in this Mithraic ladder a World Axis. I will give only a few examples: Polynaeus (Stratagematon. there are many funeral rites which utilise ladders or stairways.sticking up through this hole. standing at the centre of the universe.l o chamanisme. The soul of the dead man walks up the paths of a mountain. The eighth rung. both a World Mountain and an imago mundi. In Egyptian too. and that it was believed 1 Q. the initiate passed through the seven heavens and mounted to the Empyrean. That is why climbing is the symbol for it. a liana. X. penetrate into the other . the second of tin (Venus). as we have seen. says Celsus. The way of the dead. I shall return shortly to this symbolic identification of the house with the Centre of the World. In Indian mythical tradition. This idea is to be found practically everywhere in the world. 235 sea. We have seen that there are rites-Shaman tree and Vedic columncorresponding to these myths. the seventh of gold (the sun). the legendary king of the Mongols. the Kara-Kirghiz hero. a descent into hell followed by an ascent into heaven. the third of bronze (Jupiter). VI. I). by which certain privileged beings can really climb up to heaven. a thread of spider's web. Both rites have the same purpose of effecting an ascension into heaven. " Initiation ". the first man to die. for its chimney-hole is set facing the North Star. a rope. the fifth of " the alloy used for coins " (Mars). as we know. to reach heaven.
in their initiatory trials. perhaps something of this has remained with me . ." It is easy to see why he associated the idea of fear with the image of a staircase. dating from some particular period such as that of ancient Egypt or Vedic India.] I am wondering how I can have repeated this effect so often without noticing it myself. A volume in honour of the late Dr. in cosmological terms. through a cave at the top of the mountains. love. . I will here give only one example of a spontaneous rediscovery of this primitive symbol. holiness. But we must not forget that a staircase only symbolizes these things because it is felt as something that stands in the centre. Egyptian funeral texts used the phrase asket pet (asketstep) to indicate that Rd's ladder is a real ladder. it seems that the idea of fear. but quite coherent. Hence the important part played by stairways and climbing in rites and myths of initiation and in funeral rites. and thus makes possible communication between the different levels of being. pp." In many earlyand middle-dynasty tombs. As a child I used to dream that I was being chased on a staircase. It is an image of that break-through from one level to another which makes possible a passage from one mode of being to another. I noticed this yesterday when I was thinking 1 See Traite d'histoire des Religions. " The gods make him a ladder. to say nothing of royal and sacerdotal enthronements. " The ladder is set up for me to see the gods ". My mother had fears of a similar kind when she was young. and marriage rites. makes possible communication between Heaven. thread. attraction and repulsion. metaphysical knowledge are ways by which man passes. any ordinary person approaching such a reality is conscious of an ambivalent sensation-fear and joy. Art and Thought. amulets have been found representing a ladder (maqet) or stair. [He gives references. 1933.= In his Journal for the fourth of April. 2o9 seq. a break in the level of being: love. similarly. death. And each of these aspects of existence represents an abolition of commonplace humanity. says the Book of the Dead. " Durohana and the 'waking dream' ". that he may use it to go up to heaven. Julien Green observes: " In all my books. . " from the unreal to reality ". and why the crises he described in his books -love. World Tree or Universal Pillar which links together the three zones of the cosmos. . pp.world. Now. and liberation. the shaman's descent into hell is through a cave. Climbing. or of any other fairly strong emotion. it is a concrete form of the mythical ladder. creeper. linking Earth and Heaven. The symbol of a stairway carries the ideas of sanctification. Coomaraswanmy (London. symbolise a journey towards absolute reality. V We have just seen that an extremely rich symbolism attaches to the stairway-rich. etc. about the novels I have written . death. and again. and not merely a product of history. . going up steps. is linked in some inexplicable way to that of a staircase. 2 See my study. death or crime-took place on a staircase. 96 seq. Ananda K. Earth and Hell. for instance-place ritual ladders on their tombs by which the dead are to climb up to heaven. in fact. 1947). because. which indicates that we have here a primitive characteristic of the human psyche. it is well known that climbing and step symbolism often appears in psychoanalytical literature. as the Brihadaranyaka Upanisad says. And the use of a ladder in funeral rites is still to be found today: many primitive Asiatic peoples--the Lolos and the Karens.
1948). an imago mundi. 2. from a centre. the neophyte's penetration into the mandala is like initiation by penetration into a labyrinth. 139 seq. 5. 1950). I seq. a creation of the world. or that of the gradual ascent. Gestaltungen des Unbewussten (Ziirich. which is drawn on the ground with coloured threads or coloured rice-powder. any place where the Sacred penetrated into profane space. within a square. in Tibetan usage it is sometimes translated by " centre ". 187 seq. pp. since. Unlike primitive man and Vedic man. We need not linger on the fact that ritual construction of the Centre is of frequent occurrence. Moreover. the man of this Tantric phase discovered the need of a personal experience in order that certain primal symbols should come to life once more in his consciousness. But I will point out one important matter: in proportion as holy places. the construction and function of the mandala. On the other hand.. The various divinities of the Tantric pantheon come and take up their positions within this diagram. Giuseppe Tucci. 185 seq. A mandala in fact consists of a series of circles. but any holy place.). But their construction amounted in a sense to a cosmogony. Teoria e pratica del mandala (Rome. sometimes in an amazing manner. G. 1949). other formulas are discovered and applied-geomantic.. This is why some Tantric schools . feeling the necessity of a more authentic and profound religious experience. 1 See my Techniques du Yoga (Gallimard. some mandalas have. seen from above. a definitely labyrinthine character. This rite of penetration may be considered as the equivalent of the rite of walking round a temple (pradaksina). says the Satapatha Brahmana (I. Jung. and the altar itself was a microcosm. to the " pure ground " of the highest level of the temple. etc. VI. Let us consider. helping him to concentrate. 29. (We should perhaps add that this also implies a construction of cosmic time. The water in which the clay is mixed is the primordial Water. it was not only temples that were considered as being at the Centre of the World. the world was created embryonically. sometimes by "that which surrounds ". Then why make a mandala? What need is there for any new "Centre of the World "? It is simply that certain devout people. But every Indian_ temple is a mandala. The building of the fire-altar. 122 seq.). this same symbolism of the Centre. Psychologie and Alchemie (Zurich. as we have seen. such points of sacred space could be constructed. the construction of the Vedic fire-altar was a reproduction of the creation of the world.1 The term means " circle ". pp. Initiation consists in a penetration by the neophyte into the different zones and different levels of the mandala. see C. but there is no space to treat of this question here: cf. for instance. this is easy to understand. Every Indian temple is both a microcosm and a pantheon. etc. terrace by terrace.As we have seen. found that the ancient ritual had become fossilized. Its function may then be considered as at least two-fold. as an example. Le Mythe de l'Eternel Retour. architectural or iconographical formulas which represent. Thus. on mandala symbolism. the ascent of the terraces of a temple no longer made it possible for them to discover their own " Centre ". indeed. 1944) PP. 9. pp. The mandala is at once an imago mundi and a symbolic pantheon. whether concentric or otherwise. on the one hand penetration into it is equivalent to an initiation ritual. on the other. the sides represent the Air. the clay of the altar's base is the Earth.. it " defends " the neophyte from all harmful external forces. to discover his own " centre ". temples or altars of long standing lose their religious efficacy.
This might be of two kinds: (i) a purely mental construction. though related. suggests that it is the more significant one. to be able. The discovery of the mandala in one's own body indicates a desire to identify oneself as a mystical organism with the microcosm. every temple. Is there no contradiction here? There is a mass of myths. or (2) a discovery of the mandala in one's own body. at the very Centre of the World. the Yogi enters mentally into the mandala and so effects both an act of concentration and a defence against distractions and temptations. explains the unrestricted use made of " centres of the world ". We have seen. the " easy " tradition-is to be found practically everywhere. This is easily understood. And so all houses-like all temples. to a full and conscious realization of the symbolism of the " Centre ". or an act of spiritual concentration. all palaces. above.e. yet every city. and another which insists on the difficulty. preventing dispersal and distraction. for instance. all cities-stand on one and the same spot.renounced the use of the external mandala and had recourse to an interiorised one. is difficult. The World Tree cannot be reached. which is the Centre of the Universe. yet any and every return home is " the same " as the return of Ulysses to Ithaca. i. characterises Centre symbolism in general. In the first case. A more detailed analysis of this penetration. even though unconsciously. and. simultaneously or successively. Pilgrimage to the Holy Places. this capacity for operating on many different. there is this series of myths and rites which affirm that the Centre is accessible. and towards his own Centre. but any visit to any church counts as a pilgrimage.' . would take us too far. The way which leads to the Centre is thick with obstacles. levels. yet it is to be found in any yurt. sustain a concrete ritual. where he can find integral reality-" sacrality ". The sufferings and trials which Ulysses must undergo are fabulous. the condition before the Fall. at the Centre of the World. permanently and without effort. It manifests a particular human situation which we might designate " nostalgia for paradise ". how the house is identified with the Universe. by the techniques of Yoga. or a technique of mystical physiology. to transcend our human condition and recover the divine condition-in Christian terms. This is to be understood as a desire to be. We see that there is one group of traditions witnessing to man's desire to be at the Centre without effort.. of reaching it. The mandala concentrates. The fact that the first-the one that admits the possibility of the Centre's being constructed in a man's own house. towards the Centre. I will only say that the successive re-animation of the chakras-the " wheels " (circles) which are regarded as so many points of intersection of cosmic life and mental life-is identified with an initiatory penetration into the interior of a mandala. This multivalence. I am not here concerned to go into the history of each. and hence the merit. We have just seen that the mandala can. symbols and rituals which all with one accord stress the difficulty that there must be in penetrating to the Centre. The awakening of the Kurdalini is equivalent to a breakthrough between ontological levels. What all this seems to show is that man cannot live except in a sacred place: except in the Centre. for every human being tends. into what one might call one's " mystical body ". playing a " supporting " role in meditation. the hearth or chimney-hole with the Centre of the World. every house is already at the Centre of the Universe. at the heart of reality. This deeply-rooted desire in man to be at the very heart of reality. on the other hand. where he can communicate with Heaven. naturally.
the castle is miraculously restored. but-it is enough simply to put the question of salvation. The animals no longer breed. the problem. For death. Traite d'Histoire des Religions. lack of imagination. Those few words contain the central question. without any preamble: " Where is the Graal? " In an instant. it is enough simply to state the central problem. p. is often only the result of our indifference to immortality.). ed. pp. before Parsifal. gardens. everything around him is falling into ruin and decay: palace. Parsifal's words were enough to bring all Nature to rebirth. the only one which could arouse not only the Fisher King but also the whole Cosmos: where is the supreme reality. the trees do not bear fruit. he goes straight to the King. Nor is it he alone who suffers. His name is Parsifal. and one only-poor. pp. the holder of the secret of the Graal.). 326 seq. knights ride in and ask. Hucher. had thought to put the central Question-and the world was dying of this metaphysical and religious indifference. towers. This detail from a magnificent European myth reveals at least one hidden aspect of the Centre symbol: not only is there a deep solidarity between the life of the universe and the salvation of man. Many doctors have tried to cure the Fisher King-without effect. for news of the King's health. the source of immortality? Where is the Holy Graal ? No one. 2 Perceval. It is a particular detail in the legend of Parsifal and the Fisher King. From Ritual to Romance (Cambridge 1920. and asks. gathers them up and integrates them into a still vaster symbolism. paralysing sickness 1 Cf. as their first care. the brooks and fountains flow again. . Jessie L. ibid. something of a laughing-stock-gives no heed to considerations of polite ceremonial. Regardless of conventional courtesies. plants begin to grow. Day and night.' A mysterious. One knight. unknown. the wells are drying up. The King rises from his bed of sickness. the Holy. approaches him. Weston.I should like to complete this study by recalling a European myth which. has come upon the old King. 466. 12 seq. everything is changed. lack of desire for reality. The same motif appears in the Gawain Cycle (Weston. though it has only an indirect connection with Centre symbolism and rites. this fragment of a myth seems to be telling us. for the life of the cosmos to be forever renewed. the Centre of life.
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