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The Grail Quest and The Destiny of Man: Part III: Time

In the present time there is a lot of talk about time because we are rumored to be heading toward the End of Time – and the World itself.

Can this be true? And, if so, what implications does such an idea suggest regarding the nature of our universe?

If this is not true, then where did such an idea originate and why is it so popular?

In working with, and testing, our hypothesis that there was a “former time,” a Golden Age from which man “Fell,” we need to examine carefully this issue of time.

Mircea Eliade and other experts on myth, religions and religious history, propose the idea that religious myths were developed to shield man against the “Terror of History.” But, in our hypothesis, religious myths might be the narratives of an ancient technology and knowledge of the cosmos that far surpasses our present day understanding, as well as a warning to us about some perilous state in which we are living, and some future event toward which we are heading.

If our hypothesis is correct, then we are looking for clues, for evidence, that an original technology existed, and further, that the knowledge of such a system may have been deliberately changed or distorted in order to serve some agenda other than the well-being of mankind.

If we can discover the “tracks” of such activity, we may then be able to decipher what is being hidden from us. In other words: we are, and must be, concerned with the problem of history and its context, time, because it is essential for an understanding of “evil” and the true nature of evil is the foundation upon which eschatology is constructed.

Time: The framework in which we live and move and have our being.

There is the question of BEing and DOing – Free Will – which implies the context of Time. Yes, it is possible to conceive of BEing outside of Time, but in order to DO, one must have a context. This may be an assumption, but let’s work with it for the “time being.”

In numerous tales of the Grail, the description of the castle of the Fisher King includes some interesting time anomalies: it is a place where time slows down or stops altogether. This is also the case with the ancient Celtic legends of the Head of Bran the Blessed, in which presence his warriors feast and make merry with no awareness of the passage of time. This theme occurs with great regularity and suggests a deep and ancient significance that will become apparent as we proceed.

The most ancient conception of time was associated with the “Goddess” and was cyclical – like women. Everything was “real” only insofar as it was connected to an archetypal gesture – illud tempus – from the beginning.

“Every hero repeated the archetypal gesture, every war rehearsed the struggle between good and evil, every fresh social injustice was identified with the passion of a divine messenger, each new massacre repeated the glorious end of the martyrs. …Only one fact counts: by virtue of this view, tens of millions of men were able, for century after century, to endure great historical pressures without despairing, without committing suicide or falling into that spiritual aridity that always brings with it a relativistic or nihilistic view of history.” [Eliade, 1954]

This reflected the idea that the world in which we live was a “form,” or reflection or “double” of another cosmic world that existed on a higher level. These were Celestial Archetypes. Plato gave an explanation that is still unsurpassed in it’s simplicity:

“And now,” I said, “let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened. Behold! human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them over which they show the puppets. …And do you see,” I said, “men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall?

…And they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave… how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads… and of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows …And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them? …And suppose futher that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow? …To them, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

[…] And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive someone saying to him that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision – what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them – will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?

…And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take refuge in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?

…And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he is forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities. …He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?

…Last of all he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is. …He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?

…And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them? …And if they were in the habit of conferring honors among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honors and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer, ‘Better to be the poor servant of a poor master,’ and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?

…Imagine once more such a one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness? …And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable), would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went up and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.

…This entire allegory you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous argument; the prison house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed – whether rightly or wrongly, God knows. [Republic: Book VII, trans. B Jowett]

One of the very ancient aspects of the idea of Celestial Archetypes was the concept of the “Axis Mundi,” or Center. This was a point where Heaven, Earth and Hell met and where passage to one region or another was possible. At any point where there was a convergence of the three realms, a “temple” was considered to exist whether one was constructed there or not. This center was the zone of the sacred – of absolute reality – and was symbolized by trees, fountains, ladders, ropes, and so forth. Interaction with these symbols was considered initiatory and took place in a timeless state. Thus it is thought that religious rituals were developed in an attempt to “connect” to this Divine Model or archetype.

“…All religious acts are held to have been founded by gods, civilizing heroes, or mythical ancestors. …Not only do rituals have their mythical models, but any human act whatever acquires effectiveness to the extent to which it exactly repeats an act performed at the beginning of time by a god, a hero, or an ancestor.” [Eliade, 1954]

We encounter in these myths and rites the idea that man only repeats the acts of the gods; his calendar commemorates, in the period of a year or other longer cycles, all the cosmogonic phases which took place in the beginning or which take place repeatedly at another level of reality. The followers of any given religion repeat ceaselessly the drama of their chosen god. Thus, the bacchant, through his orgiastic rites, imitates the drama of the suffering Dionysos and the Orphic, through his initiation ceremony repeats the original acts of Orpheus. Human marriage recreates the Divine Hierogamy and the generative act, performed ritually, is a hierogamy of cosmic proportions.

One of the most interesting aspects of this archaic ontology was the Abolition of Time through imitation of the archetypes. In this way, a sacrifice was not only an imitation of the original sacrifice of the god, it somehow was seen to be an alignment of the three realms, the creating of a “passage” of some sort along the Axis Mundi. So, for a moment, during the ritual or sacrifice, the supplicant was identifying him or her self with the primordial gesture and thereby abolishing time, the burden of the Terror of History, and regenerating him or herself and all the related participants. There are endless examples of scapegoats and dying gods and sacrificed kings as well as a host of “substitutes” in terms of a variety of animals and other products offered to the gods.

The point is: myths are only a much later formulation of an archaic content that presuppose an absolute reality, or levels of reality which are extrahuman.

Everywhere there is a conception of the end and the beginning of a Cyclical Temporal Period; and, coincidental to this idea is the expulsion of demons, diseases and sins. These ideas are demonstrated by the ubiquitous celebrations of the New Year.

“…This annual expulsion of sins, diseases, and demons is basically an attempt to restore – if only momentarily – mythical and primordial time, ‘pure’ time, the time of the ‘instant’ of the Creation. Every new Year is a resumption of time from the beginning, that is, a repetition of the cosmogony. The ritual combats between two groups of actors, the presence of the dead, the Saturnalia, and the orgies are so many elements which denote that at the end of the year and in the expectation of the New Year there is a repetition of the mythical moment of the passage from chaos to cosmos.” [Eliade, 1954]

At this period, the expulsion of evils and sins takes place by means of a scapegoat, and the cycle is closed by the Hierogamy which initiates the new creation.

The more ancient ceremonies are nearly global in their proliferation among “primitive” societies, and it could be conjectured that it is to these “purer” examples we should look for the more common elements to discover if there is any hidden meaning that might serve as a clue.

For the most part, the beginnings of these rites comprise a series of dramatic elements that represent a condition of universal confusion, the abolition of order and hierarchy, and the ushering in of chaos. There is a “symbolic Deluge” that annihilates all of humanity in order to prepare the way for a new and regenerated human species.

In numerous myths and rites we find the same central idea of the yearly return to chaos, followed by a new creation. The chaos that preceded the rebirth was as essential as the birth itself. Without chaos there could be no rebirth.

In many of the more “modern” versions, the Deluge and the element of water are present in one way or another as either libations or baptism. Baptism is the subjective, microcosmic equivalent, of a macrocosmic level deluge: a return to the formless state.

This formlessness, this chaos, was exemplified in many ways: fasting, confession, excess grief, joy, despair or orgy – all of them only seeking to reproduce a chaotic state from which a New Creation could emerge.

It is also interesting to note that, at the time of renewal, the New Year festival, it was thought that the fate of men was fixed for a ‘whole year.’

“On the night of Nawroz, innumerable fires and lights are to be seen, and purifications by water and libations are performed to ensure abundant rains for the coming year. Moreover, at the time of the ‘great Nawroz,’ it was the custom for everyone to sow seven kinds of seed in a jar ‘and from their growth they drew conclusions regarding the corn of that year.’ This custom is similar to the ‘fixing of fates’ of the Babylonian New Year, a ‘fixing of fates’ that has been perpetuated down to our day in the New Year ceremonials of the Mandaeans and the Yezedia. It is also because the New Year repeats the cosmogonic act that the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany are still regarded today as a prefiguration of the twelve months of the year. The peasants of Europe have no other reason for their universal practice of determining the weather of each month and its quota of rain in accordance with the meteorological signs of these twelve days. We hardly need remind ourselves that it was at the Feast of the Tabernacles that the quantity of rain assigned to each month was determined. For their part, the Indians of the Vedic era set apart the twelve days of midwinter as an image and replica of the year.

“However, in certain places and at certain periods, especially in the calendar of Darius, the Iranians recognized yet another New Year’s Day, Mithragan, the festival of Mithra, which fell in the middle of summer. The Persian theologians, says al-Biruni, ‘consider Mithragan as a sign of resurrection and the end of the world, because at Mithragan that which grows reaches its perfection and has no more material for further growth, and because animals cease from sexual intercourse. In the same way, they make Nawroz a sign for the beginning of the world, because the contrary of all these things happens on Nawroz.” [al-Biruni, quoted by Eliade, 1954]

What is important in the preceding idea is that the end of a past year and the beginning of a new year are predicated upon the idea of an exhaustion of biological resources on all cosmic planes, a veritable end of the world. In this view, the “end” is of a particular historical cycle and is not always occasioned by a deluge, but can also occur through the effects of fire, heat and other causes.

In “Le Probleme des centaures,” Professor Georges Dumezil studies and discusses the scenario of the end and beginning according to a large selection of material derived from the Indo-European world including Slavs, Iranians, Indians and Greco-Romans. He noted several elements from initiation ceremonies that have been preserved in more or less corrupt form in mythology and folklore. Another examination of the myths and rites of Germanic secret societies by Otto Hofler brought out similar relationships. Both of these researches point up the importance of the twelve intercalary days, and especially New Year’s Day.

“…We shall recall only a few characteristic facts:

(1) the twelve intermediate days prefigure the twelve months of the year; (2) during the twelve corresponding nights, the dead come in procession to visit their families; (3) it is at this period that fires are extinguished and rekindled; (4) this is the moment of initiations, one of whose essential elements is precisely this extinction and rekindling of fire; (5) ritual combats between two opposing groups; and (6) presence of erotic elements, marriage, orgies.

“Each of these mythico-ritual motifs testifies to the wholly exceptional character of the days that precede and follow the first day of the year, although the eschato-cosmological function of the New Year (abolition of time and repetition of creation) is not explicitly stated… Nevertheless, this function can be shown to be implicit in all the rest of these mythico-ritual motifs. How could the invasion by the souls of the dead, for example, be anything but the sign of a suspension of profane time, the paradoxical realization of a coexistence of ‘past’ and ‘present?‘ This coexistence is never so complete as at a period of chaos when all modalities coincide. The last days of the past year can be identified with the pre-Creation chaos, both through this invasion of the dead – which annuls the law of time – and through the sexual excesses which commonly mark the occasion.” [Eliade, 1954]

Take particular note of the ideas of “exhaustion of physical resources, invasion by the souls of the dead, and sexual excess” as being indicative of the suspension of time. These are significant in our present time wherein it seems there is a veritable “invasion” of “otherworldly” visitors masquerading as “aliens” as well as a rapid descent of morality into greater and greater sexual excesss; a veritable frenzied “return to chaos,” as it were!

We should note also that, even though we have progressed through numerous calendar changes whereby the New Year Festival is no longer held at the Spring Equinox, as it was in the most ancient times, the rites still mark the abolition of all norms and violently illustrate an overturning of values and a reversion of all forms to indeterminate unity. The very locus of the orgies, when the seed was buried in the ground, demonstrates the dissolution of form into orgiastic chaos. We are in the presence of a very ancient idea: a return to primordial unity, the inauguration of the Grail Consciousness in which limits, contours, distances, no longer hold sway.

What is primordial and essential is the idea of regeneration through chaos, repetition of creation: a time loop.

“In the last analysis, what we discover in all these rites and all these attitudes is the will to devaluate time. …All the rites and all the behavior patterns …would be comprised in the following statement: ‘If we pay no attention to it, time does not exist; furthermore, where it becomes perceptible – because of man’s sins, i.e., when man departs from the archetype and falls into duration – time can be annulled.'” [Eliade, 1954]

This is, of course, Eliade’s interpretation. However, I would like to suggest another interpretation: that these rites represent a message, a warning, a concept: Time is NOT linear; it is cyclical. Further: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it!”

In the third century BC, Berossus popularized the Chaldean doctrine of the “Great Year” in a form that spread through the entire Hellenic world. According to this teaching, the universe is eternal but it is periodically destroyed and reconstituted every “Great Year.” What a Great Year is, exactly, varies from school to school. But, according to Berossus, when the seven planets assemble in Cancer, there will be a Great Winter; when they assemble in Capricorn, at the Summer solstice (clearly an astrological opposition to the Sun is implied here), the entire universe will be consumed by fire. Similar ideas are found in India and Iran as well as among the Maya and Aztec.

Now, what we need to remember about these postulations is the inherently optimistic character of them; the consciousness of the normality of the cyclical catastrophe, the certainty of its meaning, and, above all, that it is NEVER, EVER final!

Just as three days of darkness preceding the ‘rebirth’ of the Moon are necessary, so is the death of an individual and the periodic death of humanity necessary. Any material form, by the mere fact of its existence in time, loses vigor and becomes formless if only for an instant. It MUST return to chaos, to orgy, to darkness, to water; it must be reabsorbed into the primordial unity from which it issued to be reborn. The King is dead: long live the King!

And here we find the cyclical structure of time. Everything begins over and over again at its commencement every instant. The past is but a prefiguration of the future. No event is irreversible and no transformation is final except in appearance during the period of the Great Year, and there is nothing new under the sun. This repetition constantly maintains the world in the “same Auroral instant of the beginnings. Time but makes possible the appearance and existence of things. It has no final influence upon their existence, since it is itself constantly regenerated. …But this repetition has a meaning: it alone confers a reality upon events; events repeat themselves because they imitate an archetype – the exemplary event.” [Eliade, 1954]

And I add, the exemplary event is but the reflections of the higher density realities!

“In such a context, what could suffering and pain signify? Nothing was meaningless. Yes, suffering was an event, a historical fact, but it was not gratuitous nor arbitrary. The archaic man who saw “his field laid waste by drought, his cattle decimated by disease, his child ill, himself attacked by fever or too frequently unlucky as a hunter, [knew] that all these contingencies are not due to chance but to certain magical or demonic influences, against which the priest or sorcerer [possessed] weapons.” [Eliade, 1954]

There was no “unprovoked” suffering. Suffering proceeded from the action of an enemy at another level of reality which utilized the forms and beings of this reality to perpetuate this attack. And, the sufferer could only be made to suffer if he were vulnerable through lack of knowledge of the fault by his lack of knowledge of the will of god. In such a case, suffering is not only intelligible, it is tolerable – at least until the lack of knowledge is discovered and rectified. In this view, suffering is only to teach man to discover the causes of things – the will of god – which then, naturally, leads him to manifest this will as his own – for is he not part of God? Is man not an instrument by which God both acts in, and experiences the material universe?

Thus, the New Year celebrations and other initiations served to remind men that suffering is never final; that death is always followed by resurrection; that every defeat is annulled and transcended by the final victory of return to the Edenic state or the beginning of the new cycle.

In Eliade’s opinion, the drama of Tammuz and other variations of the same archetype, including Jesus, reminded men of the sufferings of the just and thereby rendered them tolerable. Tammuz suffered without being guilty. He was humiliated, flogged until he bled, and then imprisoned in a pit, or Hell. It was there that the Great Goddess visited him, encouraged and revived him. (In later Gnostic corruptions, it was a “messenger” who visited but the essential story has survived in Manichaean and Mandaean prototypes, though with changes acquired during the period of Greco-Oriental syncretism.)

There is, however, another angle to be considered: namely, the Sons of God or, in the Sufi teachings: The Poles of the World; individuals who are a sort of foci of manifestation of the world; those who “support the creation by their very being.” Simo Parpola, Professor of Assyriology at the University of Helsinki, Finland, writes:

“The impact of Mesopotamian religious thought on the evolution of other ancient religious and philosophical thought has never been seriously investigated.”

This is surprising since it is from this area of the world that Abraham, the patriarch of the Jews is supposed to have come. Most researchers go back to the Hebrew bible in their studies and stop there, not realizing that this is drawn from some earlier form. If we could but go further back, to the source, we might find greater clarity. And it seems to be from Assyria that the Hebrew alphabet was derived, and in Assyria that the idea of the Tree of Life originated.

“Take, for example, one small datum: There was a commandment to refrain from work and travel on every seventh day of each month (plus the 19th day). Whether this had any effect on the Israelite commandment to refrain from work and travel on the seventh day, I do not know. It may be simply coincidence. Or there may be some relationship between these prohibitions.

“A more substantial matter is the Mesopotamian sense of the king as the son of God. As we shall see, some of the similarities to later religious concepts are rather striking.” [Parpola, 1999]

Not only are the ideas Dr. Parpola examines among the Mesopotamians significant in relation to the subsequent Monotheism of the Jews, they are more deeply related to the Alchemical and Grail question.

Dr. Parpola continues:

To the Assyrians… their kingship was a sacred institution rooted in heaven, and their king was a model of human perfection seen as a prerequisite for man’s personal salvation.

The heavely origin of kingship is already attested in the earliest Mesopotamian cultures. In both Sumerian and Babylonian mythology, it is expressed allegorically with the image of a tree planted upon earth by the mother goddess, Inanna/Ishtar. The sacred tree, usually represented in the form of a stylized palm tree growing on a mountain, is the most common decorative motif in Assyrian royal iconography. It occurs in imperial architecture, on seals and weapons of the ruling elite, on royal jewelry and elsewhere. The walls of the palace of king Ashurnasirpal II (83-859 B.C.) were covered with more than 400 representations of the sacred tree.

The tree appears under the winged solar disk of Ashur, the supreme god of the empire. The simbol of the highest god hovering over the tree marks it as the cosmic tree growing on the axis mundi and connecting heaven with earth. …This enigmatic tree thus stood in the center of the Assyrian Empire, the middle point of the world from the ideological point of view. The cosmic nature of the tree is implied by its elaborate structure, absolute symmetry and axial balance, as well as by the overall composition of the relief, the flanking figures forcing the viewer’s attention towards the center and thence to the winged disk above.

A cosmic tree growing in the middle of the world and connecting heaven with earth was the best imaginable visual symbol for the king’s pivotal position as the focal point of the imperial system and the sole representative of god upon earth. When seated on his throne, the king… merged with the tree, thus becoming, as it were, its human incarnation. This idea is implicit in the fourth chapter of the biblical book of Daniel, in which the king of Babylon dreams of a huge tree growing in the middle of the earth, its top reaching the sky, and it told by the prophet: ‘That tree, O king, is you.’ (Daniel 4:10-22)

The king’s association with the cosmic tree, while part and parcel of Assyrian royal ideology, was inherited from earlier Mesopotamian empires. Several Sumerian kings of the Ur III dynasty, about 2000 B.C., are referred to in contemporary texts as ‘palm trees’ or ‘mes-trees growing along abundant watercourses.’ In the Babylonian Epic of Erra, the mes-tree is said to ‘reach by its roots the bottom of the underworld and by its top the heaven of Anu,’ thus leaving no doubt about its identification as the cosmic tree.

Representing the king as the personification of the cosmic tree not only emphasized the unique position and power of the king, it also served to underline the divine origin of kingship.

As already noted, the cosmic tree had been planted in the world by the goddess Inanna/Ishtar, who elsewhere figures as the divine mother of the king. In Assyrian imperial art, the goddess nurses the king as a baby or child. The message conveyed was that the king was identical in essence to his divine mother. In keeping with this idea of essential identity, or consubstantiality, the goddess too is identified with the date palm in Assyrian texts.

Since the human king, in contrast to gods, was made of flesh and blood, his consubstantiality with god of course, has to be understood spiritually: it did not reside in his physical but in his spiritual nature… This sounds very like the doctrine of homoousios enunciated at the Council of Nicaea in 325, in which Jesus is said to be ‘of the same substance’ as the Father. According to the Epic of Gilgamesh, the eponymous hero, a ‘perfect king,’ was two thirds god and one third man.

Ishtar, the divine mother of the king, was the wife of Ashur, the supreme god of the empire, defined in Assyrian sources as the ‘sum total of gods’ and the only true god. Ashur was thus, by implication, the ‘heavenly father’ of the king, whild the latter was his ‘son’ in human form. The Father-Mother-Son triad constituted by Ashur, Ishtar and the king reminds one of the Holy Trinity of Christianity, where the Son, according to Athanasius, is the ‘self same Godhead as the Father, but that Godhead manifested rather than immanent.’

The notion of the king as the son of god held true only insofar as it referred to the divine spirit that resided within his human body. In Mesopotamian mythology, this divine spirit takes the form of a celestial savior figure, Ninurta, whose mythological role the Assyrian kings consciously emulated both in ritual and in daily life. The Ninurta myth is known in numerous versions, but in its essence it is a story of the victory of light over the forces of darkness and death. In all its version, Ninurta, the son of the divine king, sets out from his celestial home to fight the evil forces that threaten his father’s kingdom. He proceeds against the ‘mountain’ or the ‘foreign land,’ meets the enemy, defeats it and then returns in triumph to his celestial home, where he is blessed by his father and mother. Exalted at their side, Ninurta becomes an omnipotent cosmic accountant of man’s fates. It is this that the Assyrian kings emulated.

It is not difficult to recognize in this myth the archetype of the Christian dogma of the elevation of Christ to the right hand of his Father as the judge over the living and the dead. The figure of Ninurta also recalls that of the archangel Michael, the ‘Great Prince,’ the slayer of the Dragon and the holder of the celestial keys, in Jewish apocalyptic and apocryphal traditions.

Doctrinally, the perfect king as Ninurta incarnate was the ‘perfect likeness of god,’ who shared all the attributes of the godhead. Like Ashur, he was omnipotent, omniscient, profoundly wise and prudent, perfectly just and merciful, all love, glorious and superbly strong. Like the Pauline Christ, he also metaphysically encompassed the whole universe, symbolized by the cosmic tree. In short, he was god in human form, the ‘perfect man,’ the only person possibly fit to rule the world as god’s earthly representative.

The Assyrian idea of royal perfection is not elaborated in terms of Aristotelian logic but is expressed only through metaphors, allegories and symbolic imagery. In order to understant it, we must see it through the symbols and images by which it is expressed.

…In Assyrian royal idealogy, the king is often referred to as the ‘sun’ or the ‘very image’ of Shamash (the sun god), and the word ‘king’ was commonly written with the sacred number of the sun god, 20.

…The fragility of the human component of the king was duly recognized and accepted as an inevitability. However, it could not be tolerated. The king’s body was viewed as a temple erected by god himself – the worldy residence of the divine spirit. …It was essential that any stains and defects observed in the king’s body and comportment be immediately removed and amended… If not, the divine spirit would depart from the king’s body, leaving behind just an empty shell.

A perfect king, filled with the divine spirit, would be able to exercise a just rule and maintain the cosmic harmony, thus guaranteeing his people divine blessings, prosperity and peace. By contrast, a king failing to achieve the required perfection and thus ruling without the divine spirit, trusting in himself alone, would rule unjustly, disrupt the cosmic harmony, draw upon himself the divine wrath and cause his people endless miseries, calamities and war. The purity and perfection of the king thus had to be maintained at all cost, and it was achieved with the help of god and through the exertions of the king and his closest advisers.

Under this doctrine, godlike perfection was an inherent characteristic of kings, granted to them even before their birth. According to Assyrian royal inscriptions, kings were called and predestined to their office from the beginning of time. …After birth, they were nursed in the temple of Ishtar and raised there ‘between the wings of the goddess,’ being initiated into her sacred mysteries.

Having complete his education and proven his valor, the prince who displayed the greatest abilities was chosen and appointed as crown prince by his father. The choice of the prince was confirmed by consulting the divine will… On an auspicious day, the prince was officially introduced into the royal palace and presented with the royal diadem in a ceremony patterned after the triumphal return of Ninurta to his heavenly father. From now on the prince was considered equal in essence to his father; fit to exercise kingship and assume royal power should his father die.

In the royal palace, the king lived in a sacred space designed and built after celestial patterns and guarded against the material world by deities and apotropaic figures stationed at its gates and buried in its foundations. Colossal supernatural beings in the shape of a bull, lion, eagle and man, symbolizing the four turning points, guarded its gates. These apotropaic colossi marked the palace as a sacred space and thus may be compared to the four guardians of the divine throne in Ezekiel 1:10 and Revelation 4:76, which later re-emerge as symbols of the four evangelists of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; man, lion, bull and eagle respectively.

The royal entourage, too, was organized after celestial patterns. Just as god was imagined to rule and direct the universe through ‘the assembly of great gods,’ the king exercised his rule through a state council composed of eight cabinet ministers, ‘the assembly of great men.’ Each of the cabinet ministers represented one of the central attributes of functions of the ideal king; together they constituted his manifest body, which carried out his will both individually and in coordination, like members of a single body.

To reach the greatest possible perfection in decision making and to eliminate, as far as possible, the element of human error, the king made no important political, military or judicial decision without first consulting his cabinet. The final decision was, however, always the king’s and all resolutions of the council were issued in the name of the king alone.

Over and above the royal council, the safeguarding of royal perfection essentially depended on another group of men attached to the king’s service, namely the royal scholars.

These men, experts in five different branches of Mesopotamian learning, functioned as the spiritual guardians and advisers of the king, constantly monitoring his conduct and health and helping him with their advice and expertise whenever needed. It was believed that the king’s performance was being constantly watched from heaven and that the gods communicated their pleasure or displeasure with him through a system of signs transmitted in dreams, portents and oracles that could be interpreted and reacted to. Any royal error or act committed agains the divine will was a flaw calling for correction and, if perpetuated, divine punishment. However, no punishment was inflicted before the king had been notified of his error and had been given a chance to change his ways. After all, he was god’s beloved son.

Apart from reading and reacting to the signs sent by the gods, the royal scholars protected the king against disease-causing demons, black magic and witchcraft.

Every sin or error committed by the king, however small or inadvertent, was a blemish tainting the purity of his soul. Therefore it was imperative that at any sign of divine displeasure an appropriate countermeasure be taken. It was essential that the king mend his ways. Sometimes it was possible to soothe the divine anger by performing an apotropaic ritual. In other cases, however, the portents were so grave that there was no effective counter-ritual: the king had committed a sin so grave that it could be atoned for only with his death. This required enthroning a substitute king, who would take upon himself the sins of the true king and die in his stead, thus enabling his spiritual rebirth.

This rite is not to be misunderstood simplistically as a cheap way of ‘tricking fate.’ Its rationale lies in the doctrine of salvation through redemption outlined in the myth of the descent of Ishtar into the netherworld, according to which even a spiritually dead soul (in this case, the king) could be restored to life through repentance, confession of sins and divine grace, and could return to a state of innocence and purity by gradual ascent to higher spiritual states. The relevant ritual put a heavy strain on the king, who had to live an ascetic life and undergo a long and complicated series of ritual purifications during the ‘reign’ of the substitute, which often lasted as long as a hundred days. Again, the emphasis of the ritual is clearly on the repentance of the ruler, not just on the mechanical performance of a set of ritual acts.

Fulfilling and executing the ritual aspect of kingship blamelessly was necessary for the maintenance of the divine world order, the primary task of the king. This order of things, embodied in the person of the king and in the Assyrian Empire itself, a true ‘kingdom of heaven upon earth,’ did not exist just for its own sake but served a higher purpose: to provide mankind with a living example of spiritual perfection, the attainment of which would open the way to eternal life. Ultimately, then, the role of the king was that of a savior from sin and death, a role that he shared with his celestial paragon, Ninurta.

The path to this spiritual perfection is outlined in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the famous story of the legendary king of Uruk who sought eternal life. At the beginning of the epic, the author informs us that Gilgamesh has returned from his quest with a hidden secret that he has written down for posterity, but nowhere does he reveal what this secret is. He does, however, give clues as to how this ‘locked lapis lazuli box’ can be discovered and opened. These clues include the literary structure of the epic, intertextual allusions, enigmantic passages and intriguing spellings of names and words to be analyzed with the esoteric interpretive techniques used at the time.

An important clue is provided by the curious spelling of the protagonist’s name, GISH.GIN.MASH, which when broken down into its logographic components can be interpreted to mean ‘the man who matched the tree of balance.’ Another clue is provided by the thematic structure of the epic: each of its 12 tablets deals with a different spiritual theme associated with a particular great god of the Assyrian pantheon. Remarkably, the order of these gods corresponds to the order in which the same gods are distributed in the Assyrian sacred tree, starting from Nergal, the god of the underworld and sexual power at the root of the tree. Once it is realized that the epic is structured after the sacred tree, the narrative can be read as a path of gradual spiritual development culminating in the achievement of supreme intellectual powers, which enabled the hero to meet his dead friend at the end of the epic and retrieve from him precious information about life after death.

Two crucial point mark the hero’s progress towards spiritual perfection: the killing of the monster Humbaba and the felling of the tall cedar tree in Tablet V (which I take to symbolize the victory over ego) and the killing of the bull of heaven in Tablet VI…

Thanks to the perfection that he achieved, Gilgamesh was granted divinity and made the judge of the netherworld – the Mesopotamian equivalent of Egyptian Osiris’s rule – after his physical death. ‘O Gilgamesh, perfect king, judge of the Anunnaki… ‘

…Even though the attainment of perfection is presented in the epic as a process taking place in Gilgamesh, a more attentive reading shows that his perfection is an inborn quality decreed to him at birth; aided by gods, he proceeds towards his goal unfalteringly… Hence, the program of spiritual perfection outlined in the epic actually had no relevance for a king. The true hero of the story, rather, is Gilgamesh’s companion, Enkidu, a primitive man who overcomes his animal nature through divine guidance and becomes the partner and indispensable helper of Gilgamesh in hiw quest for life. The possibility of achieving human perfection is not limited to the king alone.

The scholars who had previously served the Assyrian emperor later found employment at the courts of the Median and neo-Babylonian kings, the usurpers of Assyria’s claim for world dominion. In due course, we find their descendants teaching Daniel the esoteric secrets of the Chaldeans, advising the Achaemenid kings of Persia, transmitting their wisdom to Pythagoras, waiting at the deathbed of Plato, performing the substitute king ritual for Alexander the Great, reading the physiognaomy of Sulla, and finally spreading their doctrines in the imperial court of Rome, as highly valued advisers of the emperors Claudius, Nero, Domition, Trajan and Marcus Aurelius. I venture to suggest that their influence was far greater than is generally believed.” [Parpola, 1999]

And no doubt, inspiring Ezra – the creator of the Hebrew Bible.

This long quote from Dr. Parpola’s paper brings forward a great deal to consider in terms of our study of time, the cycles of time, the ceremonies regarding the cycles of time, and, of course, the Grail Problem.

All of the elements of the Grail story are found in this Assyrian study, as well as the earliest representation of the Kabalistic Tree of Life, not to mention the earliest known representations of the Christ myth. The Epic of Gilgamesh becomes, then, the earliest known alchemical document.

As Dr. Parpola points out, this material was already very old when it was written down by the Assyrians!

The key point is that the chaos or dissolutions of the world, the problems of mankind, are a direct result of the sins of the king, the one who is unified with the “World Tree,” which is, in a sense, synonymous with the Celestial Mother. Healing the king is the cure for the world.

Another fact that stands out is: this mythological scenario presents an extremely ancient structure which derives from Solar/Lunar myths whose extreme antiquity cannot be questioned.

Again, the Solar/Lunar myths provide the optimistic view that everything takes place cyclically and death is always followed by resurrection. In the pit of Hell, man is awakened by the Goddess who brings the good tidings of his salvation and imminent liberation and restoration to the Edenic state of innocence.

So now we must return again to the idea of a Golden Age wherein man experienced a different relation to his environment – and not only that – but a different environment in which to experience a relation!


Eliade, Mircea [1954] The Myth of The Eternal Return, or Cosmos and History; New York; Bollingen Foundation

Parpola, Simo [1993] The Assyrian Tree of Life: Tracing the Origins of Jewish Monotheism and Greek Philosophy; Journal of Near Eastern Studies: 52

Plato’s Republic: Book II, translated by B. Jowett