Thinking Otherwise: Anatolian Days and Nights:
and the Cultural Evolution of Spirituality
In their journey to discover the “Divine Mother” a subtext through much of Anatolian Days & Nights, A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses and Saints, Joy Stocke and Angie Brenner are not simply writing anecdotal travel literature, but exploring a more profound evolution of culture that is holding out new roles for men and women.
First Stage: Great Mother.
Neolithic cultures express the shift from shamanism to religion with a priesthood and ceremonial sites. In Cayonu in Turkey, not far from Gobekli Tepe, there is strong evidence of infanticide as a form of human sacrifice.i Since the female expresses the enduring mode of time in the Eternal Return of the lunar and menstrual cycle, and the male expresses the vanishing mode of time as embodied in the rise and fall of the phallus, it is probably the male that is the sacrificial victim.
A sacrifice is a performance of the mystery of time. The male, either as the involuntary victim in infanticide as we see at Cayonu–or as the voluntarily self-immolating adult aspirant–as we see in the case of the Patristic Christian Origen who Christianized the ancient practice of offering the testicles to the Goddess Cybele by offering up his testicles to the new Goddess, Holy Mother Church, the male is the sacrificial victim in the Great Goddess religion.
“Many-Papped Diana of Ephesus”–as Angie Brenner points out on page 230–is actually not a many-breasted Goddess. Those breasts are really the testicles of males decorating her body and represent the sacrificial offering up of their sexuality by aspirants seeking to serve in the eunuch priesthood of the Great Goddess–be she called Cybele, Artemis, or Mary the Mother of God.
2. Second Stage: The Patriarchal Reaction.
In the religious iconography of the Ice Age, one can imagine how menstruation was seen as the holy mystery of the wound that healed itself. The Goddess figures, like the Venus of Laussel pictured above, were daubed with red ochre. But in the age of animal domestication and stock breeding by nomadic herdsmen, paternity could be more clearly discerned and understood. In the rise of the Abrahamic religions, one observes a transvaluation of values in which menstruation became seen as foul.
As it says in the Jewish Zohar: “for there is no defilement in the world greater than that of menstruation.”i The Abrahamic religions present the Goddess cultures of the Middle East as evil and seek to contain and restrict the power of women. With the shift from villages to city-states, priests and warriors become the new powers, and the traditional mystery of blood in menstruation is replaced by the priests and warriors’ ability to take blood. Orthodox Judaism and Islam go to extremes in the effort to devalue and control women, but Catholicism’s refusal to recognize women as priests can also be seen to be part of this pattern of culture in which the male appropriates the power of the female through a Holy Mother Church composed only of celibate (eunuch) male priests.
In spite of its astonishing development of philosophy and the study of consciousness in the Upanishads, India is not immune to this process of the appropriation of the feminine. In Medieval Tantra Yoga, the woman is looked upon as a mere storage battery of prana. So the male is counseled to withhold his semen to use the penis to suck up the generative power of the female as a source for his yogic transfiguration. This is the esoteric side, one that Gandhi invoked by trying to maintain his health by sleeping chastely with nubile virgins—just as King Solomon had done. The exoteric side of this cultural formation is seen in arranged marriages, sati, and strict controls of women by their fathers and brothers. We see this pattern of culture also in China in Taoist sexual-religious practices, and as well in the Confucian ethos where the woman is looked down upon, as is expressed constantly in the Confucian I Ching.
3. Third Stage: Modern Tantra.
Americans, as products of a consumer society, think that Tantra Yoga is a kind of advanced Kama Sutra that is simply a way of having better sex and more intense orgasms. Actually, Tantra—with its literal meaning of stretching the thread and weaving the cloth–is about the stretching of the personality-formation that is precipitated by the blocking of the simple satisfaction of desire. This frustration of desire, expressed in the Tantric sutra: “the woman you love you must not possess” precipitates the original formation of psyche in the infant’s birth experience and bonding with the mother. In this original mind, one experiences both the Mother as benevolent—Uma or Parvati–and malevolent and terrifying–Kali. Sexual bondage and obssessive fascination with a dominatrix is an expression of an infantile psychic formation of the frightful mother.
As the male in Tantric practice passes through this zone of infantile-formed psychic turbulence, he becomes ready to perceive the Feminine as more positive–as Shakti and not Kali. Medieval Tantra seeks to co-opt this stage in the terms of a patriarchal culture. Modern Tantra is one in which the couple are Tantric Consorts to one another, but not owned by the other. This stage often requires a spiritual being as sponsor in what becomes an emergent Triad. In Buddhist terms, this sponsor would be called a bodhisatva—a spiritual being who overlights a practicing sangha. In Judeo-Christian terms, this sponsor would be called an angel. In the medieval Jewish Cabbalistic Zohar, there are discussions about how the married couple through sexual intercourse can invoke the feminine face of God, the Shekhinah.
In medieval Tantra, the focus is on the etheric body as the vehicle of illumination, the system of cerebral-spinal chakras that are closely linked to the physical body and maintains its life and health. Consequently, the aspirant’s mystical experiences will have a strongly marked physiological basis, such as feelings of bliss or visions of light, the elevation of kundalini and its consequent experience of the opening of “the third eye.”
Modern neuroscience would seek a strictly physiological basis for these experiences and talk about endorphins for bliss and the stimulation of the pineal gland, which is the ancient light sensing organ associated with sensing the circadian rhythms of day and night. Cognitive science, however, is not of a single mind on these issues, and some scientists are quite reductionist and speak in terms of linear causation and brain-based triggers for these so-called mystical experiences. These scientists are, not surprisingly, often either in the employ of the Big Pharma corporations or have their research funded by them. They are in search of new mood-changing drugs and cures for manic/depressives . Other cognitive scientists, in contrast, are more independent and involved in philosophical studies as well as laboratory research–such as the scientists associated with Richie Davidson at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and the Mind-Life Conferences sponsored by the Dalai Lama and the Zen Brain seminar organized by Joan Halifax-roshi at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe. These scientists and philosophers speak less in reductionist terms but more in the ideas of complex dynamical systems.ii
Illumination, however, is not Enlightenment, as the Zen and Tantric Buddhists or the followers of Sri Aurobindo will be the first to point out. Illumination is a strong physiologically-based process, but Enlightenment is an experience of higher and more subtle bodies than the etheric body with its elevation of kundalini. One can have experiences of illumination, but still be subject to pride and expressions of spiritual cruelty or manipulation—as we saw with all the gurus and Zen masters who were involved in sexual and financial exploitation of their disciples.iii
Whether one calls this higher spiritual experience of Enlightenment “the Descent of the Supramental”—as Sri Aurobindo does—or the “wisdom heart of universal compassion,” or “rigpa,” as the Dalai Lama does, depends upon the culture into which one has been immersed.
Any serious contemplative practioner can see that illumination energizes the body and expands the personality to the breaking-point. This period is characterized by states of psychic inflation and god-like or guru pretensions that one saw expressed everywhere in the 1970s. This stage, in traditional Vedic terms, is called “the boiling of butter to make ghee.” As the personality is raised to the boiling point, the ugly globules of white fat are to be removed to achieve the clarified golden elixir of ghee. Obviously, help is needed here to aid the aspirant in gaining an objective perspective of what is fat and what is gold, and this can be provided by a teacher or guru, but if the guru himself or herself is suffering from psychic inflation–one that is encouraged by the hierarchical structure of most monasteries and ashrams–then the whole spiritual community gets into trouble.
In medieval Tantra, the Shakti as the female consort is dominated by the male, but in modern Tantra the initiatic couple are compassionate consorts to one another and are more like partners in a contemporary dance than archetypal figures in a traditional ballet’s pas de deux. In the Tantric Triad, the choreographer for this dance is the bodhisatvic or angelic being that overlights the initiatic couple. In fact, the very definition of “initiatic” means the presence of such a being in the practice or sadhana. The focus of this practice, in yogic terms, is not so much onPranamayakosa, or the etheric sheath, but the higher sheaths fromManomayakosa through Vijnamayakosa to Anandamayakosa.
In the explanation of this form of contemplative practice, there will always be two opposed models, the mechanistic and the mystical. As the quantum physicist Niels Bohr said in his explanation of the complementarity of wave and particle: “The opposite of a fact is a falsehood; the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth.” So contemporary neuroscience presents a brain-based explanation of mystical states. From this reductionist point of view, what the Buddhists call Enlightenment is simply the achievement of the default setting of mind when one subtracts discursive thinking and perceptual-motor processing through staring at the wall through endless hours of zazen. This state of awareness is not a thought, an image, or a sound, but a space-like Samadhi of light that the aspirant’s culture has mythologized as Enlightenment. And the perception of bodhisatvas or angels is simply the experience of the mind in the hypnagogic state of lucid dreaming.
From my point of view, one that is determined by my own immersion in the culture of music, art, and poetry, these visions experienced in meditational trance states are one of the highest forms of art. Instead of going to the theatre or the opera, one experiences a personal and highly interactive art form. As an adolescent my mystical experience of bliss and the opening of the third eye came as an aesthetic one as I was listening to a Beethoven string quartet. If cognitive scientists wish to explain away Bach and Beethoven, or dismiss love as a matter of pheromones and neurotransmitters, then let them live on with their lives dismissed. But I shall persist in my folly with love and beauty. As William Blake said, “If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise.”
This new Tantric Triad expresses an emergent stage of culture for women and men, and is a transformative vessel that differs from sacramental marriage. Marriage is the Immanental mode of being, one needed to create children and the cultural continuity of tradition through the family. The new Tantra expresses the Transcendental mode. In vigorous yogic practice, the menstrual cycle of the woman can stop, indicating she is now giving birth not to the ovum but to her higher self; for the man, the seminal fluids are transformed into the cerebral-spinal fluid, and this indicates that the yogi is generating not children but his higher self. Neither the Immanental nor the Transcendental modality of self-realization is superior to the other, but they are archetypally different, and married couples do not express the same spiritual dynamic as Tantric consorts.
Perhaps one can appreciate this cultural process of the evolution of spirituality if one looks at Tantra through the magnifying lens of Jean Gebser’s five structures in the evolution of consciousness: 1. the Archaic, 2., the Magical, 3., the Mythical, 4., the Mental, and 5., the Integral.iv
The Archaic structure of consciousness lays down the very basic formation of sexual dimorphism in the hominization of the primates, such as the shift from olfactory to visual dominance, and from oestrus to menstruation. The Magical emphasizes the numinosity of the body fluids of blood and semen in ritual. In Borborite Gnostic rituals their heretical eucharist was an ingestion of bread with menstrual blood and semen on it—a heretic’s pizza, if you will. In Indian Tantric rites, there was also a mixing of Red and White essences,v or a left-handed path in which cultural norms were violated in ritual practices, such as having intercourse with a woman during her period, or ingesting the mixed sexual fluids of male and female in the Tantric kiss.
The Magical and Mythical often overlap, but the Natural Drift of the Mythical is to shift the emphasis away from the body fluids and ritual to meditation and a sublimation in which the Yab-Yum posture of ritual intercourse is seen to be symbolic and not to be taken literally—a marriage of wisdom and compassion. This symbolic shift is seen on the gloss on the Song of Songs in the Bible in which an erotic Near Eastern marriage poem is reinterpreted to signify the marriage of Christ and his Church.
This process of sublimation and refinement continues in the Mental structure in which the relationship between the male and female is raised to a level beyond sexual expression. One familiar form of this would be the Mentor and Muse relationship in which the couple does not have intercourse, but the relationship inspires intellectual growth and artistic creativity—as, for example, in Nietzsche’s frustrating relationship with Frau Lou Andreas-Salomé.
A less tortured form of pas de deux can be seen in ballet, in the Mentor/Muse relationship between George Balanchine and Suzanne Farrell. The partnership between Dame Margot Fonteyn and gay Rudolph Nureyev expressed yet another form of artistically reconstructed sexuality. They were not lovers, but their dancing was archetypally sexually dimorphic. In the case of Balanchine the relationship was a sad love affair, but not a sexual one, since Balanchine was married, 59, and Farrell was 19 and a devout Catholic for whom adultery was a mortal sin. Nevertheless, their relationship was enormously charged with longing and desire that became the creative Triad of Dance, choreographer, and dancer. Suzanne Farrell inspired Balanchine and he created several ballets for her.
The Mental Structure of Tantra, however, need not always be expressed in a sublimated form of Mentor and Muse, as the careers of such famous lovers/muses like Frau-Lou and Alma Mahler indicate. Let us use the language of complex dynamical systems to suggest that there are certain “basins of attraction” that exert a pull on couples into one form over another. Frau Lou, for example, might express one form of relationship with Nietzsche in her twenties, but quite another with Rilke in her thirties. And it was much the same with Alma Mahler with Gustav Mahler, Gropius, Klimt and Kokoschka.
The psychology of these sorts of creative/erotic relationships—perhaps more characteristic of a Romantic era than our own—would make for a wonderful series of films if American and European filmmakers were up to the task, which judging by the recent film When Nietzsche Wept in which Frau Lou is presented as a blond bimbo Valley Girl, they decidedly are not.
We Americans especially seem to suffer from an eternally adolescent understanding of sexuality in which we oscillate between the pornographic and the Puritanical. Although we are immersed in an advertizing Umwelt of female breasts—from the Huffington Post’s photo column on side-boobs and nip slips to Mad Men’s profiling of Christina Hendricks—a mother nursing in the park is considered obscene. To expect us to understand the psychological relationship between blocked desire and imaginative creativity is to look for the wisdom of old age in a subteenager.
The Tantra of the Integral Structure of Consciousness is only now emerging. Whether Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, as an Avataric couple, expressed the non-sexual level of the Mental Structure, or the transformed carnal of the Integral Structure, only they would know. The Integral does require revisiting the physical and biological foundation of consciousness and lifting up in Hegel’s sense of aufheben all the earlier stages. It is not the sublimated form of the Mental Structure, and revisits elements of the Magical, Mythic, and Mental within it, but takes them to the next level in the Maithuna of the higher subtle bodies beyond the physical, etheric, and astral levels of the historically earlier stages of spiritual development.
But even before the stage of yogic practice in which the Triad and Integral Tantra emerges, there must come the stage of the cultural liberation of women. The reactionary efforts to contain women in the Abrahamic religions can, therefore, be seen as evil. Evil is that which is out of timing. If Godzilla takes a walk in the Jurassic, there is no problem, but if he takes a walk in modern-day Tokyo, it is evil, and all hell breaks loose. For those committed to the past of the Abrahamic religions, the present emergence of women in our new prophetic emanation is evil, but as I have argued in my books like Imaginary Landscape, “evil is the annunciation of the next level of organization.” For those of us living in this emerging future that is already present for us, the liberation of women from the control of men in the Abrahamic religions is an expression of the prophetic spirit of the New Enlightenment and Integral Tantra is one way for men and women to embody this spirit in the world.
Note that by picturing themselves with the iconic leopard skin of Shiva behind them, this couple is signaling that they are to be perceived as an emanation of Shiva/Shakti.
i The Wisdom of the Zohar, ed. Isaiah Tishby (Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK, 1991), Vol. III, p. 1202.
ii See Evan Thompson, Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA: 2007).
iii See Michael Downing, Shoes outside the Door: Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center(Counterpoint Press; Washington, D.C., 2001) and Geoffrey D. Falk Stripping the Gurus: Sex, Violence, Abuse and Enlightenment (Million Monkeys Press: Toronto, CA, 2009).
iv See Jean Gebser, Everpresent Origin, Trans. Noel Barstad with Algis Mickunas (Ohio University Press: Athens, OH, 1984).
v See Miranda Shaw, Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tantric Buddhism (Princeton University Press,Princeton NJ: 1994), p. 158.
William Irwin Thompson (born July, 1938) is known primarily as a social philosopher and cultural critic, but he has also been writing and publishing poetry throughout his career and received the Oslo International Poetry Festival Award in 1986. He has made significant contributions to cultural history, social criticism, the philosophy of science, and the study of myth. He describes his writing and speaking style as “mind-jazz on ancient texts”. He is an astute reader of science, social science, history, and literature. He is the founder of the Lindisfarne Association.
His book, Still Travels: Three Long Poems was published in 2009 by Wild River Books. Order a copy from Amazon.
Works by William Irwin Thompson
Memoir – Farewell Address at the Lindisfarne Fellows Conference
Memoir – Pilgrimage to Lindisfarne: 1972
Memoir – The Founding of the Lindisfarne Association in New York, 1971-73 – Part I
Memoir – The Founding of the Lindisfarne Association in New York, 1971-73 – Part 2: A Community in Fishcove, Long Island
Memoir – Building a Dream – Part One: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – My Dinner with Andre Gregory: Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan, 1977-1979
Memoir – Building a Dream/The Shadow Side Part Two: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – Building a Dream/The Cathedral Part Three: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – Conclusion: The Economic Relevance of Lindisfarne
Memoir – Raising Evan and Hilary: Reflections of a Homeschooling Parent
Memoir – Sex and the Commune
Memoir – Raising Evan and Hilary
Memoir – With Gregory Bateson’s Mind in Nature
After Heart Surgery: Hokusai’s Great Wave
A Lazy Sunday Afternoon
Nancy Grayson’s Bookstore
On Reading “The Penguin Book of English Verse”: on my iPad and Exercise Bike
Wild River Books/Poetry – Nightwatch and Dayshift: Cezanne
Anatolian Days and Nights and the Cultural Evolution of Spirituality
And the Votes are In: The American Elections of 2010
Avatar – When Technology Displaces Culture
Bedtime Story for a Civilization
The Big Picture: Reflections on Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines
The Big Picture, II
Child Abuse and the Catholic Church
The Digital Economy of W. Brian Arthur
From Shamanism to Religion, Part Two
From Religion to Post-Religious Spirituality, Part Three
From Religion to Post-Religious Spirituality: Conclusion
January 1, 2011: Reflections on the Philosophical Notions of Republicans
January 6, 2011 – Part Two: The Etherealization of Capitalism
Nature and Invisible Environments
Of Culture and the Nature of Extinction
On Nuclear Power
On Religion – Part One
On Religion and Nationalism: Ireland, Israel, and Palestine
On Transnational Military Interventions
A Pagan Ur-Text of the Lebor Gebála Érenn
Part 1 – The Shift from Industrial to a Planetary Civilization
Part 2 – The Shift from an Industrial to Planetary Civilization
Part 3 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – The Recovery of a Cosmic Orientation
Part 4 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civlization – The Global War for Drugs
Part 5 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – The New Jerusalem
Part 6 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Catastrophes as the Spur to Institute Tricameral Legislature
Part 7 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Complex Dynamical Systems and Tricameral Legislatures
Part 8 – The Shift from a Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Israel and Palestine: Sic transit gloria mundi
Part 9 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civlization – On Sarah Palin and the Technocratic Society
Part 10 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – On Conspiracy Narratives as Expressive of the Transition from the Nation: State to the Noetic Polity
Part 11 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Global Awareness and Personal Identity
Part 12 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Conclusion: The United Nations
Political Meditation for the Fourth of July, 2011: Can We Shift from Empire Back to Republic?
St. David’s Day, 2011, Technology and Social Change
Saint Patrick’s Day, 2010: Us and Them: Identity and the State
Some Reflections on Hurricane Sandy and an Outline for a New Civilization
Technical Hubris: and the Sinkhole of Obama’s Centrism
Television and Social Class
Thanksgiving Day, 2010: The Uses and Abuses of History
The Elections of 2010
Thoughts on My new Kindle App: on My Mac iPad