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What sacred

shall we
to invent?

A TenStones Game
by Charles Cameron

The great German engraver Albrecht Dürer’s illustrations of the Apocalypse (Book
of Revelation) differ from contemporary televised images of warfare not only in
terms of the armor and weaponry used, but also and more importantly by recording
two worlds, the visible and the invisible, where the television camera records only the
visible. The sky in television reports of war contains missiles and warplanes, and if
anything “invisible” is depicted, it is invisible only by virtue of being viewed in the
infra-red portion of the spectrum via night scope. Dürer’s sky is not merely “sky” but
also “heaven”, and thus depicts that “war in heaven” alluded to in Revelations 12: 7,
with its angels and demons and dragon, its Lady clothed with the sun, the moon
under her feet, and crowned with the stars...

A crucial shift in the way in which we envision “reality” has occurred between
Albrecht Dürer’s time and our own, and that shift has indeed largely deprived us of a
real sense of the existence of an “invisible world” — whether it be the invisible world
of faerie or sacrament, of poetic vision or apocalypse. That great modern prophet
William Blake both predicted and lamented this loss, and his entire corpus of poetry
and paintings can be viewed as a singular attempt to replace in our culture that
visionary quality that our increasing scientism so easily deprives us of.
This shift in our understanding becomes exceedingly important when we come to
consider the awesome potential of weapons now in the human arsenal: and nuclear
weapons in particular. For while the “rational” conscious mind is considering
Hermann Kahn’s Ladder of Escalation and other more recent “scenarios” and “game
plans” in the “theater of war” with characteristic dispassion, the imagination by
necessity views the imaginal... and our dreams, our hopes and fears are filled with
those same ancient forces that John of Patmos perceived in his visions, and which
Albrecht Dürer depicted in the imagery of his own time. As a culture, we are now
largely “unconscious” of the war in heaven — but it has not ceased to influence our

James Mills, who was President Pro Tem of the California State Senate while Ronald
Reagan was Governor, reports that Reagan told him at a state dinner in 1971:

Everything is falling into place. It can’t be too long now. Ezekiel says
that fire and brimstone will be rained upon the enemies of God’s
people. That must mean that they’ll be destroyed by nuclear
weapons. They exist now, and they never did in the past. Ezekiel tells
us that Gog, the nation that will lead all the other powers of darkness
against Israel, will come out of the north. Biblical scholars have been
saying for generations that Gog must be Russia. What other powerful
nation is to the north of Israel? None. But it didn’t seem to make
sense before the Russian revolution, when Russia was a Christian
country. Now it does, now that Russia has become communistic and
atheistic, now that Russia has set itself against God. Now it fits the
description of Gog perfectly.

Part of the interest of this particular quotation, of course, lies in the fact that Russia
has had another revolution since it was made, and presumably no longer fits the “Evil
Empire” image that Ronald Reagan still carried with him when he was President —
and thus Commander in Chief of US armed forces that deployed vast numbers of
nuclear warheads in an array against the Russians...

What sacred games shall we have to invent?
Nietzsche poses this question in his 1882 book, The Gay Science, during the course of
that same notorious “madman’s speech” in which he introduces the aphorism, “God
is dead.” Something has gone horribly wrong, Nietzsche suggests, at the imaginal
level: we have been cut loose, have in fact cut ourselves loose, from our spiritual
bearings. And the imagery with which he evokes this sense of spiritual dislocation is
eerily predictive of the physical realities of man as spacefarer — the image of
ourselves with which we are confronted by contemporary science — as well as of the
“moral relativism” that is its inward counterpart:

What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither
is it moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging
continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there
any up and down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite
nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space?

We are rootless, uncentered, directionless, rudderless, adrift in imaginal as well as in

astronomical space.

We have, Nietzsche’s madman argues, brought this state of affairs down on our own
heads: and the question about sacred games is only one of a series of questions which
the madman poses in his effort to understand what can be done to atone for, reverse,
or triumph over our new situation.

What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of

atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent?

The game that follows is a meditation on apocalyptic nuclear imagery, offered in a
spirit which suggests that we can trust neither a literal minded scientism (excluding
all thought of “apocalypse” from its considerations on the grounds that such thinking
is superstitious nonsense) nor a literal minded apocalypticism (taking for granted that
“we” and “our God” shall be the “winners” of apocalypse)...

If I read it rightly, the act of taking communion at Mass — itself the central ritual act
of our western Tradition — involves the digestion in a metaphorical sense of
godhead and manhood, which is to say of unperturbed radiance and untold suffering.
The host raised heavenwards by the priest is a solar disc — all the warmth of summer
infusing the grain that becomes bread which is flesh of the man who is himself God
— and this radiant self-nature of the divine we must ingest and digest. And the cup
similarly raised is passion — the blood of the man who is himself God shed at his
passion in compassion for all passions suffered by all creatures ever and everywhere...
The pain of the world is our drink, the radiant love that gives rise to creation is our

In some way that parallels this awesome ritual simplicity, this juxtaposition of all
passions with the love that is impassible, we must, I believe, juxtapose the horrible
radiance of the weapons at our disposal and the divine radiance that they have all but
driven from our memories, if we are to begin to understand the predicament in
which we find ourselves. It may seem at first glance as though these two forms of
radiance are so different, so totally opposed to one another not only physically but
metaphysically as to belong to incompatible universes...
The Game

Krishna: Arjuna, I tell you with absolute conviction,
you won’t have a choice between peace and
Arjuna: What will be my choice?
Krishna: Between a war and another war.
Arjuna: The other war — where will it take place?
On a battlefield or in my heart?
Krishna: I don’t see a real difference...

Jean Claude Carriere, “The Mahabharata”

1 ÒJohn Donne, Holy Sonnets XIV: TrinityÓ move 1

I open the Game with John Donne’s poem “Trinity”, from his Holy Sonnets, xiv:
Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,’and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new. in position 1
I, like an usurpt towne, to’another due,
Labour to’admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely’I love you,’and would be loved faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemie:
Divorce mee,’untie, or breake that knot againe,
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you’enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.
It was in honor of this poem that Robert Oppenheimer chose the code name
“Trinity” for the first test explosion of a nuclear device, which took place at
Alamogordo, New Mexico on July 16, 1945, at 5. 29: 45 Mountain War Time.
2 ÒBhagavad Gita 11: 12: light of a thousand sunsÓ move 2

According to later reports, Oppenheimer was clinging to one of the uprights in the
control room when the device exploded, and two passages from the Bhagavad Gita
flashed through his mind. The first of these was Bhagavad Gita 11: 12:

If in the sky the light of a thousand suns were to rise all at once, it
would be the likeness of the light of that great-spirited One. in position 2

The Bhagavad Gita is part of a greater work, the Indian epic known as the
Mahabharata, which describes a great war that took place between the Kurus and
Pandavas. The Gita itself describes the yogic teachings that Krishna, an incarnation
of the supreme Godhead, gave to the warrior Arjuna during the lull immediately
before battle on the field of Kurukshetra.

At a certain point in this transmission, Krishna goes beyond words and reveals his
“divine form” to Arjuna. “It was God himself, infinite and universal, containing all
miracles,” the text says, and “in that body of the God of Gods the Pandava saw the
entire universe centered, in its infinite differentiations.”

It is to this celestial radiance of Krishna in the Gita that Oppenheimer’s mind turned
that day at Alamogordo...
3 ÒBhagavad Gita 10: 34: I am become DeathÓ move 3

but also to a verse with a very different import from the same text:

I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds.

I have quoted this text here in the form in which Oppenheimer perhaps cited it to
friends, and in which it was in turn cited in Robert Junck’s book, Brighter than a in position 3
Thousand Suns, p. 201.

This text (Oppenheimer is very likely to have known it in the original Sanskrit)
occurs in the middle of a long list of Krishna’s “divine ubiquities”, which begins “I
am the self that dwells in all beings”, and continues to say that among the heavenly
lights he is the sun, among mountains he is Meru, among waters he is the ocean,
among weapons the thunderbolt, among wild animals the lion, and so forth... and is
better rendered thus by JAB van Buitenen:

I am all-snatching Death, and the Source of things yet to be.

Factual links between these first three plays, obviously enough, arise from the fact
that all three are spiritual texts which in one way or another contributed to J. Robert
Oppenheimer’s understanding of the meaning of the Manhattan Project, of which he
was scientific director, and of the awesome explosion that day at Alamogordo.

¶ Links for meditation would contrast the sense of radiant fullness implicit in BG
11: 12 with the darker cast of BG 10: 34 as cited by Oppenheimer, and both with the
Donne poem — read first in the way in which Donne intended it, as a devotional
poem, then again with the mind of Oppie, knowing the enormity of the physical
power that he would unleash in the test that he would call “Trinity”...
4 ÒBrahmaastra: a weapon in a class of its ownÓ move 4

In the fourth position, I place the Brahmaastra, letting it represent the various
“daivata” or divine weapons described in the Mahabharata.

Charles Berlitz, who is not perhaps the most scholarly of authors, in his book
Doomsday 1999 cites Oppenheimer as answering an inquiry from a student at
Rochester University thus: in position 4

Student: Was the bomb exploded at Alamogordo during

the Manhattan Project the first one to be

Dr. Oppenheimer: Well — yes. In modern times, of course.

Berlitz goes on to quote a number of passages from the Mahabharata that describe
the impact of a weapon that I suspect must be the brahmaastra, although he neither
names the weapon nor cites those sections of the text from which his quotations are
drawn, while listing Protap Chandra Roy’s translation of 1889 in his bibliography:

...a single projectile

Charged with all the power of the Universe.
An incandescent column of smoke and flame
As bright as ten thousand Suns
Rose in all its splendor... was an unknown weapon,

An iron thunderbolt,
A gigantic messenger of death,
Which reduced to ashes
The Entire race of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas.

...the corpses were so burned

As to be unrecognizable.
Their hair and nails fell out;
Pottery broke without apparent cause,
And the birds turned white.

After a few hours

All foodstuffs were infected...

...To escape from this fire

The soldiers threw themselves in streams
To wash themselves and their equipment...

The brahmaastra had a destructive capability comparable to that of a nuclear

weapon, but unlike the latter could be targeted either very generally or very
specifically. Knowledge of its methods of delivery and retrieval — and of defenses
against it — formed part of the “dhanur veda” or military science, involving a
sophisticated use of mantric sound vibration to render the weapons potent.

It seems that the brahmaastra was a weapon in a class of its own: but many other
highly potent weapons are mentioned in the Mahabharata.

These include the “Pasupata” weapon which Shiva presented to the archer Arjuna
when the latter won his admiration, and other weapons which Arjuna then obtained
from Indra, Varuna, and others. Shiva, presenting Arjuna with the Pasupata, spoke

I shall give you the great Pasupata weapon, which is my favorite...

However, Partha, you must never let it loose at any man in wanton
violence, for if it hits a person of insufficient power, it might burn
down the entire world. There is no one in all three worlds with their
moving and standing creatures who is invulnerable to it, and it can be
launched with a thought, a glance, a word, or a bow.

Then there was the weapon that Asvatthaman received from his father, which he was
at first reluctant to use — because he feared Arjuna would use his pasupata if he did...
When in the end Asvatthaman did fire his weapon, Krishna instructed Arjuna and
the Pandava forces to drop their weapons and lie down as its force passed over them,
not even struggling against it in thought:

The weapon of Narayana! Everybody, tell them not to run, on the

Earth, quickly! No weapons! Do not think of war. If you even fight
against this in your mind, you will die...

In Peter Brook’s extended theatrical presentation of the Mahabharata, there was one
moment that struck me with extraordinary poetic force. This was when Arjuna fired
an arrow, and his charioteer Krishna (the incarnation of God) personally carried it to
its destination.

A scholar who kindly assisted me with many of the details contained in this move
wrote me:

The passage you cited in which Krishna personally carries Arjuna’s

arrow is illustrative of how the weapons underwent a consecration by
mantra, invoking a demigod, or in this case, the Supreme Lord
Himself. Technically this process was called “upamantritva”.
I was fascinated by this explanation, which is clearly grounded in the specifics of that
episode and of the weapon itself. My own point of view as a poet, however, would
naturally lean to a more metaphorical reading of the passage. Without in any way
denying the interpretation given above, I would suggest that this action had in
addition the symbolic import that it is not the human agent who deals death in war, it
is the hand of God. “If we could just slow time down and see far enough into the
invisible,” Krishna’s gesture seems to say, “we would recognize that each and every
bullet, each and every arrow is in reality carried to its destination by that divine
hand.” And indeed this interpretation is to some extent confirmed by another
passage in the Gita, in which Krishna bids Arjuna to kill Drona, Bhisma, Karna and
other “fine warriors” since he, Krishna, has already “doomed them ages ago” — with
these words:

Be merely my hand in this, Left-handed Archer!

¶ The obvious link for meditation suggested by this move would be between the
description of the brahmaastra (“As bright as ten thousand Suns”) and the
description of Krishna’s self-revelation to Arjuna in BG 11: 12 at position 2, (“the
light of a thousand suns”). Compare BG 15: 12:

Know that it is my light that in the sun illumines the entire universe,
the light that is in sun and moon.

[Note that this move in particular is still in draft form: research is needed to verify
and correlate the various passages from the Mahabharata, etc.]
5 ÒAlchemy: a thriving commonplace businessÓ move 5

In the fifth position, I place “Alchemy”, the mother of modern physical science,
because it so nicely represents the fusion of physical and spiritual realms.

The fundamental goal of the alchemists could be described as “the transmutation of

the elements” — by means of which, for instance, lead could be transformed into
gold. The advent of modern science was accompanied by a marked distaste for those in position 5
disciplines that had preceded it, and for centuries chemists disdained the alchemists,
regarding transmutation as the ridiculous conceit of untutored minds. And yet
transmutation was indeed possible, once the secrets of the atom were known. It was
in this sense that Burris Cunningham, who worked with Glenn Seaborg on the first
weighing of a “new” element — named plutonium after the planet Pluto — could

Now, after all these years, it is difficult to recall the psychological

impact of these events. Today alchemy is a thriving commonplace
business. But at that time we, who had been brought up in an older
tradition, saw it as a miracle and just a little bit difficult to believe in.

But there was always more to alchemy than a purely physical transmutation of the
elements, as was signalled in the fact that the word “laboratory” also contained the
word “oratory” — a conjunction that would have been clear to anyone brought up
from childhood on St Augustine’s classic phrase, Laborare est Orare: To Work is to

Alchemy was thus a kind of sacrament, in which “the outward and visible sign” that
caught the attention of kings and was frequently attempted by fraudulent “puffers”
was the transmutation of a quantity of lead into gold, while the corresponding
“inward and spiritual grace” experienced by the true alchemists alone would be the
qualitative transmutation of their own base natures into the refined gold of a
perfected or divinized humanity... a psychospiritual transformation.

¶ A meditative link could be made here between “putrefaction” as part of the

alchemical process and death (BG 10.34 at 3) as the shatterer and source of worlds...
6 ÒFeast of the Transfiguration, August 6th, 1945Ó move 6

In the sixth place, I set the Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6th, 1945. It was on
this day at 8.16 am that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

What is interesting here is the ironic parallelism between the specific nature of the
sacred festival scheduled for that day, and the horrific nature of what actually took
place (Northrop Frye would call it a “demonic inversion” of the celebration). in position 6

The Feast of the Transfiguration (in the Christian liturgical calendar) memorializes
the occasion on which Christ took three of his disciples up a mountain with him, and
“was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was
white as the light” (Mt 17: 2). Put simply, it was the moment when the divine
radiance (the “Godhead” of the Christ) outshone its material form (the body of the
rabbi Jesus).

By the same token, the Hiroshima bomb was the scientific and military
demonstration of radiant (intratomic) energy outshining its material (atomic) form...
As Jim Garrison notes in his book, The Darkness of God: Theology after Hiroshima
(p.␣ 69):

The Hiroshima experience, as well as that of Nagasaki three days

later, was a transfiguration as well, shining “brighter than a thousand
suns,” but its transfiguration was the opposite of the healing and
redemptive light of Christ.

It is interesting to note that the pre-Vatican II introit for this feast was “Illuxerunt

The lightning shone upon the ground; the earth was moved and
shook withal.

¶ The most interesting meditative link here would appear to be between the
Transfiguration of Christ and Krishna’s revelation of his divine form in BG 11: 12 at
position 2, both of which can be viewed as moments when divine radiance outshone
the material form of an avatar.
7 ÒHolocaust: Auschwitz and the Final SolutionÓ move 7

In the seventh position, I set Auschwitz, the first of three moves which carry the title

The word Holocaust itself means “whole burnt offering” and has connotations of
sacrifice. I place it here in reference to Auschwitz because it has come to refer
specifically and in some sense definitively to the Nazi’s “Final Solution” to the in position 7
“Jewish Problem” in the extermination camps of World War II. The term for “whole
burnt offering” has come to mean “wholesale destruction”.

Irving Greenberg, mindful of Exodus 13: 21, characterized Auschwitz as a “cloud of

smoke and a pillar of fire”.

Donald Fasching, The Ethical Challenge of Auschwitz and Hiroshima, p. 29:

Having enemies is a luxury no community on the face of the earth

can any longer afford. If there is a next time, it will not matter who is
right and who is wrong, we shall all perish in the flames. Auschwitz
and Hiroshima suggest that the millennium which brought us the
utopian age of progress threatens to bring itself to an abrupt
apocalyptic conclusion. The age of the bomb seems to have shattered
and restructured the millennial myth...

Elie Wiesel, One Generation After, p. 220, cited in Fasching, p. 347 n. 34:

Without Auschwitz there would be no Hiroshima.

8 ÒHolocaust: pattern bombing of DresdenÓ move 8

In the eighth place I set the Allied pattern bombing of Dresden, which turned that
city into a furnace in which more people burned to death than perished at

in position 8
9 ÒHolocaust: Eucharist as purifying fireÓ move 9

In the ninth position, I set the Eucharist as Holocaust.

This move would never have occurred to me, had I not stumbled across the
following passage in the Foreword to Kadloubovsky & Palmer’s Writings from the
in position 9
Inaccessible to human conception is the inexpressible glorious
Majesty of the most holy, sublime Sacraments and Revelations on
earth of the Divine Incarnation and supreme Holocaust of Love of
our celestial Saviour and God Jesus Christ. They open for us the way
to possibilities that are not of this earth, forming, purifying and
developing the unseen parts of our being, helping us towards
The language of this paragraph is fervent in its faith in a way that is seldom found in
the ironic late twentieth century: but I was particularly struck by the use of the word
“holocaust” to refer to Love — particularly considering that the passage was written
in 1951.

I understand from Deacon John Suhayda that Orthodox theology uses two related
Greek words to describe the Eucharist: “pyr” (fire) and “anthrax” (live coal):

Both are used to convey the idea that the eucharist can either destroy
or purify. It “destroys the unworthy”, yet “purifies the soul”. The
image of the purifying live coal is taken directly from Isaiah before
the throne of God, when the angel touches the live coal to his lips.

What interested me about Kadloubovsky & Palmer’s phrase “supreme Holocaust of

Love of our celestial Saviour” is that same sense of fire at its heart — as radiant light
is at the heart of the Transfiguration.

The imagery of holocaust, therefore, is central to Orthodox eucharistic doctrine,

which understands the eucharist as the offering of the whole world into the purifying
fire of love.

This understanding was memorably expressed recently by Patriarch Ignatius IV of

Antioch, in “A Theology of Creation” — originally published in “Service Orthodoxe
de Presse” 137 (April 1989) pp. 10 ff, then republished in “Sourozh”, issue 38,
November 1989:

“Man is an animal called to become God,” said one of the Fathers of

the Church. And that is why the Word became flesh: to open to us,
through the holy flesh of the earth transformed into a eucharist, the
path to deification. ...

It is the Church as eucharistic mystery which gives us knowledge of a

universe which was created to become a eucharist. ... “Make eucharist
(i.e. give thanks) in all things,” as Paul says. (I Th. 5:18) ...

Man should listen to the cosmic words that God is speaking to him,
and return them to him as an offering, after having marked things
with his creative power. And when I say man, I mean of course man in
communion, I mean humanity in its vocation as a “collective, cosmic

Thus man, for the universe, is the hope of receiving grace and
sanctification. But he brings with him the risk of failure and downfall
as well, for, when he turned away from God, we only see the
appearances of things, the “shadow which passes”, as Paul says....
Blocking partially the radiance of the divine light, we condemn the
world to death and let chaos overcome it. ...
Christ, through his Incarnation, his Resurrection, his Ascension and
his sending of the Holy Spirit, has brought about the potential
transfiguration of the universe. ...

The Lord as a divine Person ... not only lets himself be contained by
the universe at one particular point in space and time, but by
realizing at last the vocation of the person, he contains the universe
hidden in himself. He does not want, like us, to take possession of the
world; he assumes it and offers it up in an attitude which is constantly
eucharistic; he makes of it a body of unity, the language and flesh of

In him fallen matter no longer imposes its limitations and

determinisms; in him the world, frozen by our downfall, melts in the
fire of the Spirit and rediscovers its vocation of transparency.

¶ The meditation here might dwell on the expansion of the Transfiguration (at 6),
via Orthodox Eucharistic theology, to encompass the “vocation of transparency” of
the whole world.
1 0 ÒWallace Black Elk: teasing an atom bombÓ move 10

To close this Game on a somewhat lighter note, and to balance the threads of
discourse from the scholarship of the Mahabharata and from Orthodox Christian
theology with a third and very different tradition, I offer in the tenth place the
following remark made quite casually to me in conversation by the Lakota (Sioux)
shaman Wallace Black Elk:
in position 10
When you tease an atomic bomb, you are teasing fire, you are teasing
Grandpa Great Spirit.
What sacred games shall we have to invent?
A TenStones by Charles Cameron
Copyright © Charles Cameron 1995 <>
Design by David Hughes <>
All illustrations by Albrecht Dürer
I would like to express my warmest thanks to David Hughes, to whom this Game is
dedicated, and also to Gregory Singleton, David A White, Stephen O’Leary,
Geoffrey Chew, Marshall Massey, Deacon John Suhayda, and Chandra Das for their
various scholarly contributions to the ideation of this Game...