Author of the Month

Symbols, Keys to the Past and the Future
by Paul Cochrane

There is a common thread that can be seen to run through the sciences, psychology, mythology, and religion. To see it, however, one may need to revise their perspective and view these terms outside their commonly accepted definition.

The word religion, for example, derives from the Latin word ligare, which means to “connect.” Religare, therefore, means to “re-connect.” The term implies the need to reconnect our rational knowledge with the intuitive feelings of our origin and destiny. This union of Western rationality with Eastern introspection helps to illuminate profound new insights.

The term mythology conjures a non-literal aspect that many established churches would find threatening. Dr. Mircea Eliade, professor of religious history at the University of Chicago, spent his entire adult life studying ancient myths and their relevance to the modern world. He determined that, unlike tenets of the recent past, which considered myth to be simple fable, myths are representation of a sacred reality. Not that the stories are necessarily literal, but they represent an allegory of an underlying truth. In his book Myth and Reality, Eliade explains how myths always recount a story of creation: the power of supernatural beings being manifested into the world. One might ask If a common reality is being expressed, why are there so many different mythologies? That question may have been answered indirectly by the United States Government Department of Energy.

The Washington Post reported that Professor Thomas Sebeok, of the University of Indiana, was commissioned by the Energy Department to study communication warnings for nuclear waste storage. The report was titled Communication Measures to Bridge Ten Millennia. It was the first in a series of studies undertaken to deal with waste that will be toxic for 10,000 years. The task is a formidable one. How do you warn future generations of danger, when it is likely existing cultures will have vanished and current languages may be incomprehensible? Many ideas have been suggested, like the placement of large symbolic signs. The Sebeok study recommended creation of a myth and legend,” noting the oldest known human messages were legends passed down verbally.

Is it possible that someone or something has set up a series of mythologies throughout earth’s history to communicate to every culture, perhaps with a specific goal in mind? Myth and legend, believed by rationalists to be false history, may in fact, be a very real part of our perception, a type of map that conditions the ceiling of our capacity to know. Some of that knowledge may be communicated at the unconscious level.

Carl Jung, the famous psychologist, made some interesting discoveries in his study of dreams. He claimed to have studied 80,000 dreams in the course of his career, and traced the dream history of some individuals for many years. Jung thought it likely that people continually dream, but the noise of our consciousness masks its presence. He found the dreams of different people had similar traits that could be categorized. Though this he discovered that the language of dreams, or the unconscious mind, is entirely symbolic. This discovery motivated Jung to spend a good portion of his life studying the symbolism of Gnosticism, alchemy, the Kabbalah, and other traditions in Buddhism and Hinduism. He was particularly fascinated with alchemy.

Alchemy, portions of which are dated to the 5th century B.C., is thought to have originated in China, being associated with Taoism, and in Egypt, where it was practiced at the academy in Alexandria. Some believe it grew out of the Hebrew Kabbalah, and at least one scholar thinks it may have existed from prehistoric times. Regardless, alchemy expanded and regressed at various times and was revived by the Arabs in the 7th century A.D. The Arabic alchemists’ works were translated into Latin around A.D 1150.

Many feel that alchemy was simply a mystical cult of people dabbling with chemicals with the sole purpose of transforming base metals into gold. In reality, Jung discovered that the alchemists were mixing chemicals using a symbolic form of reasoning to discern the ultimate truth. A considerable number of the early scientists were practicing alchemists, including Isaac Newton, who kept his alchemical notes unpublished. Jung noted that alchemical symbols were not only commonly found in the dreams of his patients, but also in works of art and in the great religions. He theorized there was an underlying “psychic reality” being represented, which he called the “collective unconscious.” This was described as a pool of psychic information inherited by all persons. Jung believed the symbols represent certain psychological themes, which he called “archetypes.” He believed the alchemists, in their search for the ultimate truth, had unknowingly discovered a “psychological shadow,” which was opposite to and compensated for the conscious presentation. For alchemists, this was so real that they thought it encompassed the matrix of an eternal substance whose material density could be discovered. Thus, Jung said, “Despite the complete absence of any psychology, the alchemical projections sketch a picture of certain fundamental psychological facts, and, as it were, reflect them in matter.” [1]

Jung believed alchemy was the purest expression of archetypes and thus was the bridge between symbolism and psychology. He summarized it as follows:

The world of alchemical symbols definitely does not belong to the rubbish heap of the past, but stands in a very real and living relationship to our most recent discoveries concerning the psychology of the unconscious. [2]

In a general sense, Jung characterized symbols as being the best way of describing an object that isn’t completely knowable. They communicate on the conscious and unconscious level, transversing culture, language, intelligence level, and time. It is said a picture is worth a thousand words. Symbols thus represent mental images, providing the greatest compression of data into an abbreviated form: a psychic framework upon which other information can relate. They are a means for human consciousness to order and grasp reality. It makes sense that concepts fundamental to our relationship with a Supreme Being would be represented to a prominent degree through symbols.

Jung saw the alchemist’s endeavor to separate and synthesize opposites into a pure substance had a parallel in modern psychology’s approach of integrating the conscious and unconscious mind into a “whole,” or pure, personality. He observed that alchemy, which was the major precursor to nearly all other sciences, always embraced the importance of the psyche, while modern science had divorced itself completely from it. All that changed, however, with modern developments in microphysics.

In May 1997, an experiment performed by a team from the University of Geneva showed that a measurement carried out on one photon particle had an instantaneous and identical effect on another photon, although separated by nearly seven miles! Physicist Nicolas Gisin, the team leader, said it was the equivalent of having two persons seven miles apart flipping coins. Each time one person would grab the coin out of the air, his colleague’s coin would simultaneously stop spinning and always land identically! This was repeated thousands of times in a row! Any connecting force would need to travel faster than light, something thought to be an impossibility. This experiment was actually proposed in 1935 as the “EPR” paradox, by Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen. It was presented as a thought experiment whose paradoxical result was originally intended to show that the “uncertainty principle” was a measurement problem, not a problem of what would actually occur. In 1964, physicist John Bell turned the idea into a testable hypothesis by developing an equation called “Bell’s inequality.” The EPR paradox was first verified experimentally in 1981, although the photon separation in that experiment was only a few meters.

This and other experiments seem to indicate that the act of measurement somehow determines the behavior of matter at the sub-microscopic level. In other words,conscious observation produces the reality that will be expressed from the probabilities available.Carl Jung pointed out how the power of consciousness only became apparent when the experimental apparatus advanced to a stage sensitive enough to measure it.

All the while scientists remained totally unaware of the fact that they were using for their observations a photographic apparatus of whose nature and structure they knew practically nothing, and whose very existence many of them were unwilling to admit. It is only quite recently that they have been obliged to take into their calculations the objective reality of the psychic factor. Significantly enough, it is microphysics that has come up against the psyche in the most tangible and unexpected way. [3]

The modern experimental apparatus may not be as infallible as we assume. The apparent involvement of the psyche in what were previously thought to be completely nonbiased experiments has interesting implications toward our future and to the achievements of the past.

In ancient cultures, it was a commonly held belief that events in life were literally and symbolically related to the cosmos. The process of acquiring knowledge at that time was more of an “inner” experience. The alchemists would explain that their real intent wasn’t the transmutation of gold. Gold symbolically represented the ultimate state of purity and perfection. They believed all things had a spiritual, symbolic meaning, being components of an absolute reality underlying all truth and religion. The quest for this knowledge, which they called the “great work,” was an effort for complete dominion over the person and matter itself. The “older” view of reality common to alchemy and ancient culture has not been entirely lost in modern societies.

Between Borneo and New Guinea lies the island of Sulawesi, home of the Toraja tribe. They are genetically unique from any of the neighboring areas, giving rise to conflicting theories of their origin. Legends tell that their ancestors descended from the stars in “sky ships.” The name Toraja means “the people from above.” Houses are still built in the form of “sky arks,” thought to resemble the ships that brought them to earth. Elaborate funeral arks are intended to launch the soul back to the stars. Such an affinity to the sky is not entirely unique to this tribe.

In Bali, a baby doesn’t touch the ground for the first three months of its life. At 105 days old, the child is gently introduced to gravity in a “foot touching the ground” ceremony, actually being weighted down with anklets to keep it from floating off the earth again. They believe the first human was born from the union of a prince and a “sky goddess” and children are considered to be hovering between the celestial and earthly worlds. When a child cries at night, it is taken outside and shown the stars, whereupon they say, “There is your mother, the place we all come from, and where we will all return to; there is no need to weep.” [4]

These discoveries and many more were made by Lawrence and Lorne Blair, who spent ten years traveling throughout the islands of Indonesia in the 1980s producing the film series Ring of Fire. They described how the pursuit of wisdom here amounts to a national pastime. Some of this wisdom is kept alive through the famous “shadow puppet” rituals.

The “Dalang,” the shaman of the Indonesian community, conducts the shadow puppet stories. He provides voices and movements for as many as 125 different puppet characters, in addition to singing, speaking in several languages, and conducting a full gamelan orchestra with his feet, in a ritual that may last all night! [5] The puppets recount stories of mythological heroes and the challenges they encounter in their quest for enlightenment. Shadow images illustrate the contrasts between light and darkness, good and evil, chaos and order. They represent our own lives as a surface reflection of a greater dimensional reality. The depth of this concept is strikingly similar to physicist Saul-Paul Sirag’s description of matter, which he says has a mind-like quality. Sirag states we are more than three-dimensional people, our “shadow” in three dimensions only being an illusion. [6]

While we seem to excel in mechanical technologies today, one should not dismiss the depth of ancient wisdom. There may be techniques equal or more powerful than the experimental method, which empowered the ancients in ways that defy a modern explanation.

Mircea Eliade made an interesting observation about the history of humanity. He said that man’s discovery of techniques for hunting, agriculture, and metallurgy not only altered his material life but also affected the level of his psyche. This idea could be carried forward to the industrial, nuclear, and computer ages. The transformations brought about through these developments have offered new ways for us to perceive reality. Scientists now believe that all things in nature can be defined in terms of data processing. You could define it as a giant “quantum computer.” The question that remains is, does the system operate independently or is it under intelligent control?

In the last one hundred years, we have witnessed a technological revolution such as the world has never known. Imagine what would happen if the current rate of progress could continue uninterrupted for another million years. Where would we be, assuming we didn’t destroy ourselves? It is likely we would eventually develop a working knowledge of all natural laws. We certainly would know how to keep the cells of our bodies endlessly renewing themselves, so there would be no death. It is likely we could travel to other worlds. Spaceships would eventually become obsolete, as a “beam transport,” which could de-materialize and re-materialize matter, would be more practical for traveling extreme distances. If computers were needed at all, they would probably be very different, most likely designed on an atomic scale, and certainly voice if not thought activated. The topic has intrigued science fiction writers for years, and most would concede such things are possible if not probable. Then why is it so difficult to believe it might have already happened somewhere a long time ago?

What if the being people worship as God is, in fact, a highly advanced human? Has the potential of modern technology allowed us to comprehend this reality?

The idea of an “extra-terrestrial” Deity was expressed a number of years ago by Erich Von Daniken in his book Chariots of the Gods, published in 1970 and made into a movie in 1974. He asserted an advanced civilization anciently visited the earth in spaceships. The legends of those encounters then came to be understood as visitations from “God.” He purported to find evidences of spaceships, landing sites, and other modern developments in the drawings, carvings, and structures of ancient ruins. The idea of “ancient astronauts” became a popular topic in the media for a time.

The fact of the matter is that this perception of Deity has been a commonly accepted belief in many cultures of the past, even within the Christian church!

Origen, who like Augustine, was an influential thinker of the early Christian church, wrote around A.D. 250:

How God himself is to be understood, whether as corporeal, and formed according to some shape, or of a different nature from bodies is a point which is not clearly indicated in our teachings. [7]

He acknowledged that, “The Jews indeed, but also some of our people [Christians] supposed that God should be understood as a man, that is, adorned with human members and human appearance.” [8]

He further stated that nowhere in the Bible is God described as an immaterial being.

The New Testament was written almost entirely in Greek. The Greek word for “immaterial” or “incorporeal,” is asomatos, a term that doesn’t appear at all in the Bible. In the New Testament passage where it says “God is a spirit.” (John 4:24), the word translated as “spirit” is actually the Greek word pneuma. Pneuma literally means “breath” or “air,” which was thought to be one of four elements that comprise matter. (The Greek elemental theory of matter stated it was comprised of earth, water, air, and fire.) Thus, they considered God to exist in a bodily form of highly refined matter.

The debate of who or what God is became so intense within the Christian church, that a counsel was convened by Constantine at Nicaea in A.D. 325. At that time, it was decided that a human-type being could not possibly control the creation, and therefore the Deity must exist in some other form. All contrary doctrines were subsequently suppressed or destroyed. It wasn’t until 1945 that scrolls were discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, which shed light on some of the early Christian teachings, known as Gnosticism. The writings appear to have been hidden by monks sometime around A.D. 390, and show a perspective on God very different than that passed down from the Nicene Creed.

When one considers the possible characteristics of a highly advanced human, it makes sense that they could have capabilities vastly different from our own. Scientists and science fiction writers have theorized that extra terrestrials, or advanced humans, might possess a much larger head in relation to the rest of their body and have other physical modifications. Who is to say that some of those advancements might not go beyond basic shape and function, to include a different configuration of matter composing the body itself? Using this as a reasonable hypothesis, a common thread can be seen in the Nag Hammani writings, the symbols of the unconscious mind, and in the symbols of nearly every culture, myth, and religion. It is the evolution of the human form into something far greater.

Fire has been universally revered as sacred throughout history. Long before nuclear arsenals, nearly every culture believed in a world that was created by and would end by fire. Sir James George Frazer traced the myths for the origin of fire in 18 major cultures. He described the importance of studying the mythology of fire in order to understand the history of philosophy and science:

Mythologyas the philosophy of ancient manis his first attempt to answer those general questionswhich have doubtless obtrudedthe human mind from the earliest times and will continue to occupy it to the last. Thus the task which it sets the inquirer is identical with that which at a later stage is taken up by philosophy and at a still later stage by science. Surrounded by mysteries on every hand, we are impelled by an invincible instinct to lift the veil that seems to hide them, in the hope that, once unrolled, it may disclose the grand secret which generation after generation of seekers has sought in vain to discover. [9]

Most references to Deity involve fire or light. The Greek god “Zeus,” whose different aspects represent all other Greek gods, literally means “light.” Virtually all Hindu rituals begin in the presence of a flame, and many of the ancients believed intelligence came from the stars, which spurred interest in astrology. Nearly all encounters with divine beings recorded in the Bible are associated with fire or an intensely bright light. The apostle Paul declared, “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29).

Ezekiel had a vision of the throne of God which described a bright fire and human-like beings that traveled like a “flash of lightning” (Ezek. 1). Carl Jung said that some of his patients described seeing this vision, although they had never read the biblical account! The Bible also records that, when God first revealed himself to Moses on Sinai, he appeared in a “burning bush.” (Ex. 3:2). Later, he appeared again on the mountain. To Moses’ followers who were camped below, the entire mountain appeared to be on fire— “And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel” (Ex. 24:17).

This wasn’t an isolated incident. As the Israelites traveled in the wilderness, God appeared every night in a pillar of fire that lighted their way (Ex. 13:21). Little wonder the memory of Moses and the God of the Israelites is so ingrained in tradition. It has persisted for 3,500 years!

The God/man/light analogy can be seen in the legend of the Buddha, who was said to radiate light to the entire world. It was this quality, and the report that his skin was gilded in color, that inspired the use of brass and gold in the manufacture of his images. [10]

It is recorded that Jesus’ body possessed certain light generating characteristics.

Six months before Jesus’ death, Peter, James and John accompanied him to a place known as “the mount of transfiguration.” This is thought to be Mount Hermon, a ninety-four-hundred foot high mountain at the northeast end of the Holy Land. After they had climbed to the top of the mountain, the Bible describes that Jesus underwent some type of transformation. The word used in the King James Version is transfigured, translated from the Greek word metamorphoo, indicating a significant metamorphosis. Although there isn’t enough detail to determine exactly what this means, it does say the face of Jesus did “shine as the sun,” and his clothes were “white as the light.” It appears that he was demonstrating the ability to transform his body into a different state of matter! There are other examples in Jesus’ life that would hint at this capability. After his death, Jesus appeared to Saul in a light that was so bright it blinded him! (Acts 9:3-8).

Carl Jung said the sun was a symbol most frequently associated with God in pagan times and in Christianity. The sun god of ancient Egypt was called Ra. The same letter designation is used in the periodic chart for the radioactive element Radium. Jung’s discovery that alchemy had projected psychological characteristics onto physical objects showed that the sun had the greatest association to the human mind.

The most powerful of all human creations, the hydrogen bomb, can be described in terms of an alchemical transmutation based on a marriage of sun and earth. The sun-like energy produced from the fusion of hydrogen, the lightest element, is detonated by the fission of plutonium, one of the heaviest, named after Pluto, Greek mythology’s god of the underworld. [11] Jung said the alchemical sun symbol established an intimate connection between God and the ego, or human consciousness. He said the projection of psychological concepts onto physical objects:

is not a voluntary act; it is a natural phenomenon beyond the interference of the conscious mind and peculiar to the nature of the human psyche. If, therefore, it is this nature that produces the Sun symbol, nature herself is expressing an identity of God and EgoIt is the rooted conviction of the West that God and the ego are worlds apart. In India, on the other hand, their identity was taken as self-evidentThe West, on the contrary, has always emphasized the littleness, weakness, and sinfulness of the ego, despite the fact that it elevated one man to the status of divinity. The alchemists at least suspected man’s hidden godlikeness, and the intuition of Angelus Silesius finally expressed it without disguise [12]

So, one might ask, what was the ultimate quest of alchemy? It was believed that, through the acquisition of knowledge, one could transform the human body into a God-like immortal body of light!”

The alchemist’s end point for human evolution can be found in the symbols of many cultures, even within Christianity. It is the message Jesus was trying to teach all along. John the Baptist, the minister who prepared the way for Christ, said: “I indeed baptize you with waterbut he that comes after me is mightier that I:he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire (Matt. 3:1).

The keys that reveal our origin and destiny have always been among us. They are not often consciously recognized because they reside within the symbols, the representations of the archetype.

Excerpts from The Mind of God, by Paul Cochrane. The book includes such diverse elements as: the shroud of Turin, alchemy, Russian biological studies, Darwinism, chaos theory, biblical passages, modern physics, and the Dead Sea and Nag Hammani texts.

Page 1
  1. Carl Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis (New York, N.Y.: Bollinger Foundation, 1964), p. 106
  2. Ibid., p. xiii
  3. Jung, Aion: Researches Into the Phenomonology of the Self (New York, N.Y.: Pantheon Books, 1959), p. 174
  4. Lawrence and Lorn Blair, Ring of Fire (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), p. 55
  5. Ibid., p. 51-54
  6. Saul-Paul Sirag, Consciousness and Hyperspace, interview by Jeffrey Mishlove, Thinking Allowed Productions, Oakland, California, 1988
  7. Origen, De Principiis, 4:241, in ANF (Ante-Nicene Fathers), 10 Vols. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1951)
  8. Origen, Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, trans. By Ronald E. Heine.( Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1981), p. 90-91
  9. Sir John George Frazer, Myths of the Origin of Fire (London:Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1930), preface
  10. Mircea Eliade, Myths, Rites, Symbols, (New York, N.Y.: Harper Collins, 1976), p. 11-13
  11. Rupert Sheldrake, The Rebirth of Nature (New York, N.Y.: Bantam Books, 1991), p. 40
  12. Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis (New York, N.Y.: Bollingen Foundation, 1964), p. 109

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