Sunday, October 24, 2010

Eliade on Celestial Archetypes

Alice C. Linsley

Plato conceived of transcendent ideals or archetypes according to which all things in reality are patterned.  He didn't invent the idea. He borrowed it from the ancient Egyptians. Here we find the assertion that real things are perceived by the mind, not by sensory perception.  In this view, the material world resembles, participates in and aspires to these immanent Forms. To understand the ancient world, we must begin from this assumption, which is contrary to the prevailing materialism of western society. 
Mircea Eliade,
the brilliant Romanian
historian of religion

Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) was a Romanian historian of religion who observed that for archaic man “real” objects and events are those that imitate, repeat or are patterned upon a celestial archetype. He believed that “the man who has made his choice in favor of a profane life never succeeds in completely doing away with religious behavior.” (The Sacred and the Profane) It is impossible for humans NOT to aspire to eternal life because we were made to enjoy such life. Surely this is an aspect of what it means to be made in the Divine Image. 

Eliade also noted that "from the beginning, religious man sets the model he is to attain on the transhuman plane, the plane revealed by his myths. One becomes truly a man only by conforming to the teaching of the myths, that is, by imitating the gods." (The Sacred and the Profane, p. 100)  St. Paul understood this and urgesd the early Christians to imitate Christ by putting away the old man in baptism and putting on Christ, the True Man.  John exhorts believers in Christ to "not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God." (3 John 1:11) All the New Testament writers encourage us to imitate the faith of our spiritual father Abraham, who, according to the author of Hebrews, looked forward to the coming of the Son of God.

Eliade is one of the thinkers who significantly influenced my anthropological research. In particular, I wanted to test his hypothesis that the ancient pursuit of perfection meant honoring received traditions.  I was sure that such was the case with the Afro-Asiatics of Genesis who clearly regarded the celestial archetypes of blood, water, mountains, and sacred centers with trees and serpents as ontologically real. Further, it appears that Abraham's expectation of the Son who was to be born according to the central myth of his people was what prmpted him to take his son to the top of the mountain to offer him as a sacrifice to God.

However, prior to testing Eliade's thesis, I had to identify the characteristics of the central myth of Abraham's people: the Horus Myth. Then I could investigate whether the artifacts, kinship pattern, gender roles and symbolism of Abraham's Horite people corresponded to the celestial prototype.  In this essay I will examine artifacts only, and in particular, the pattern of the Horus temples and water shrines.
Pillars of Petra 

Petra had hundreds of underground cisterns and water was piped into the city. Petra was in the heart of Horite territory. The Horites were a caste or ruler-priests known as Habiru (Hapiru) in Akkadian inscriptions and as Shasu in ancient inscriptions found on temples in Nubia.

Eliade wrote, " On Mount Sinai Jehovah shows Moses athe 'form' of the sancturary that he is to build for him: 'According to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of al the instucments therefor, even so shall ye make it.... And look that thow make them after their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount' (Exodus 25:9, 40). And when David gives his son Solomon the plan for the temple buildings, for the tabernacle, and for all their utensils, he assures him that 'All this... the Lord made me undersatnd in writing by his hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern" (I Chronciles 28:19). Hence he had seen the celestial model." (The Myth of the Eternal Return, p. 7)

The tabernacle and the temple on Zion were built according to the tradition of the Horite ruler-priests.  This should not surprise us since both Moses and David, of the Horite settlement of Bethlehem (1 Chronicles 4:4), are descendents of earlier Horite ruler-priests. They were responsible for furthering the pattern/tradition which they received. This meant constructing these temples with three  near water and with pillared entrances and courtyard.  The tabernacle entrance had 4 pillars and the courtyard had 56 pillars, totaling 60 pillars. 

Pillars of the Horus Temple on the Nile

The pattern is first found in the Horus temple (c. 3400 BC.) at Hierakonpolis (Sudan or ancient Kush). It was a large structure, fronted by huge wooden timbers, and it became the prototype for Afro-Asiatic temple architecture for millennia to follow.  How can this pattern have lasted so long and been diffused so far geographically? Because the Afro-Asiatics respected received tradition and honored the celestial pattern.  In a 5,000 year old text, the Egyptian scribe, Ptah Hotep, states: "Don’t modify anything from your father’s (ancestor’s) teachings/instructions—not even a single word. And let this principle be the cornerstone for teachings to future generations."

Related reading: The Mighty Men of Old; The Nubian Context of YHWH; Afro-Asiatic Rulers and Celestial Archetypes

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