The underlying myth of Western (which means, essentially, Christian) culture seems to be the Garden of Eden story from the Book of Genesis, which I’m sure we’re all familiar with at least in outline.
The standard orthodox interpretation is that the Hebrew god Yahweh (or Iaoue; I’ve given my reasons for the alternative spelling elsewhere on the Forum), the sole Creator of the Universe, planted a beautiful garden “eastward in Eden” and placed the male and female human beings, Adam and Eve, in the garden with strict instructions not to eat the fruit from one particular tree that grew in the centre of the garden, because “in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” Then along comes the wily Serpent, who is the Devil in disguise, who speaks to the woman, Eve, telling her that Iaoue’s prohibition is not true; “God knows ye shall not die, but thine eyes shall be opened.” So Adam and Eve eat the fruit, they don’t die and their eyes are indeed opened, they see that they are naked, are ashamed (for reasons that are never made perfectly clear) and cover themselves with fig leaves. In punishment for their disobedience, Iaoue expels them from the garden and visits various other punishments on them – and also on the Serpent. All their descendants inherit the blame for Adam and Eve’s “sin”, but can be redeemed if they accept Iaoue’s son Ieshua (Latinised into “Jesus”) as their personal Lord and Saviour.
An alternate reading of the myth, popular among Gnostics, is that the real Creator God, who is nameless and unknowable, exists in some ethereal realm far beyond the mundane world most of us mostly inhabit, most of the time, and the lesser god Yahweh or Iaoue is a mere demiurge, or subsidiary deity, who only pretends to be the almighty Creator God (and eventually almost comes to believe it), and because of his incompetence he created a flawed universe where evil seems to be mostly in charge. Acting irresponsibly, he created human beings “in his own image”, but, terrified that they might become intelligent and become equal to him – or even stop believing in him – he forbade them from eating the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, on pain of death, so that they would remain ignorant, and thus remain useful to him as slaves to take care of his garden. In this interpretation, the Serpent took pity on the poor, ignorant humans and urged them to defy Iaoue, eat the forbidden fruit and become intelligent. Despite Iaoue’s dire prediction, they didn’t die, but their eyes were opened. Thus they were of no further use as slaves and he threw them out of his Garden to make their own way in the world. And thus, the supposed “god” Iaoue lied, and the Serpent told the truth – and was, of course, punished for it, as are most truth-tellers, it seems.
This Gnostic view, with human beings as intelligent aware entities capable of asking awkward questions and coming to their own conclusions, didn’t suit the ruling Elites, the Powers That Were – and the Church and State acting in concert condemned the Gnostic interpretation and reverted to the worship of Yahweh as Omnipotent Omniscient Creator God, condemned the Serpent to the role of Devil, and instituted the feudal system whose ruling principle was – and despite regime changes and apparent reforms, today still is – Unquestioning Obedience.
And yet….. What if……
What if there’s yet a third possible interpretation?
What if the last 3000 years of religion, theology and history is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of this primal myth?
Could it be that the Garden of Eden story, based as it is on a much older Babylonian myth, may be a distorted description of an even more ancient, indeed pre-historic, Shamanic initiation ritual?
In Shamanic cultures, a candidate for initiation is often chosen because of a vivid dream (“God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam”) during which he, or she, meets one or more spirit guides (Eve and the Serpent) or deities. He, or she, must undergo severe ordeals, or a serious illness, often as a result of consuming a normally “forbidden” substance (the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge), culminating in a simulated death (“thou shalt surely die”). This causes an enhanced awareness (“Thine eyes shall be opened”) – but his, or her, previous idyllic and peaceful (but ultimately boring) life in the Garden is now no longer possible; the candidate is now a Shaman and must see the Universe as it truly is, ask his, or her, own questions and seek his, or her, own answers. To be a Shaman is an awesome responsibility and is emphatically not for everyone.
Perhaps we can see an echo of this in the initiations into many magical orders or secret societies of recent history, and even today, wherein the candidate must undergo a simulated death – such as the third degree of Freemasonry and indeed of many other initiatory orders. Ritual nudity is also often a requirement, particularly in the various branches of Wicca. And it is a matter of record that many people who report near-death experiences (NDEs) claim to have met spirit guides or ancestors, and also claim enhanced awareness as a result, and no longer fear death. Perhaps they have undergone their own Shamanic initiations. NDEs are dismissed as “hallucinations” resulting from the brain being starved of oxygen, by many who call themselves skeptics, but they would seem to be missing the point. The near-death experience, and the Shamanic initiation, cannot be described in mundane terms – the language to describe it simply doesn’t exist – and certainly no-one who hasn’t had the experience is qualified to talk about it – and definitely isn’t qualified to tell someone who has experienced it that that it’s all their imagination.
This interpretation would seem to present the usurper-god Iaoue in a rather more positive light. Rather than an angry tyrant, he is the Initiator, along with the Serpent; the Garden of Eden story is a heavily garbled account of a shamanic initiation. And the rest of the Book of Genesis, and in fact the whole of the rest of the Bible, not to mention three thousand years of Middle Eastern and European history, is the result of a profound misunderstanding of this ancient account. Iaoue, or Yahweh, is not the mean-spirited, petty-minded, perpetually angry “jealous God” that his followers, of all three of the principal monotheistic faiths, have made of him.
If he exists at all, by now he has undoubtedly been driven insane by the sorry chronicle of atrocities and genocides that have been committed in his name. Was Man made in the image of God, or was it the other way around?
It's only an idea, after all; but what if it's something close to, or at least heading towards, the truth.......?
Blessed Be everyone,