The Myth of the Fall


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An Exploration of the Soul

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Seminar 3


Consciousness, Sexuality and Guilt
the Doctrine of Original Sin.

©Anne Baring

The Christian separation of matter and spirit, of the dynamism of life and the realm of the spirit, of natural grace and supernatural grace, has really castrated nature…The true spirituality, which would have come from the union of matter and spirit, has been killed. p. 197

Our story of the Fall in the Garden sees nature as corrupt; and that myth corrupts the whole world for us. Because nature is thought of as corrupt, every spontaneous act is sinful and must not be yielded to. You get a totally different civilization and a totally different way of living according to whether your myth presents nature as fallen or whether nature is in itself a manifestation of divinity, and the spirit is the revelation of the divinity that is inherent in nature. p. 99

These two passages from Joseph Campbell's book, The Power of Myth, offer the essence of this seminar on the influence of the Myth of the Fall: This seminar will explore the effects of this myth on the Christian attitude towards the feminine principle in general and, more precisely, towards woman, sexuality and the body. As aspects of the feminine principle, these cannot really be separated from each other

The Phase of Participation with Nature (prior to 2000 BC):

Creation emerges from the womb of the Great Mother. Earth and Cosmos are sacred. Life is experienced through participation in an organic, living and sacred whole.

Myths characteristic of this phase:
The Goddess goes in search of her son or daughter in the underworld (Demeter and Persephone; Ishtar and Tammuz). His or her return brings with it spring and regeneration. We will explore this myth in more detail in the seminar on myths, dreams and fairy tales. In lunar mythology the major theme is death and regeneration.

The Phase of Separation from Nature (2000 BC to 2000 AD):

God is transcendent to Creation
Earth is seen as a place of punishment for primordial sin
Man is no longer part of the Divine Order
Solar mythology replaces lunar mythology: the polarisation of light and darkness

The Polarisation of Opposites in the Phase of Separation
God ------------Goddess
Spirit -----------Nature
Light ------------Dark
Life -------------Death
Heaven ---------Earth
Good --------- --Evil
Order -----------Chaos
Man ---------- --Woman
Spirituality -----Carnality
Mind ------------Body
Thinking ------ -Feeling/Instinct
Conscious ------Unconscious
Science ------- -Religion
Controller ------Controlled
Observer -------Observed
Right hand ------Left hand

Myths characteristic of this phase:
the Myth of Marduk and Tiamat (see seminar 2)

the Myth of the Fall (this seminar)The Myth of the Fall belongs to the phase of the separation from nature when the image of the Great Father replaces the Great Mother and when spirit, mind and man begin to be seen as superior to nature, body and woman - with the first gradually becoming associated with good and the second with evil. It describes the change of state from (unconscious) participatory unity and harmony to separation and estrangement. The Myth of the Fall is one of the most powerful myths describing the feelings of alienation and anxiety arising out of the birth of self-awareness and the separation from nature/instinct. It has had an immense influence on the Judeo-Christian view of life. As a myth that was taught as the literal truth it has largely structured the negative attitude to woman and the relationships between men and women in Christian civilisation. Its negative effects have apparently never been recognised by the Christian Churches, let alone acknowledged by them. In my view it constitutes the shadow aspect of Christian teaching, one that has done immense harm to the human psyche and caused untold suffering, particularly the suffering of women. It could be said to lie at the root of our present mechanistic view of nature and matter.
         In the phase of separation the image of the Great Mother is lost. As we move into patriarchal culture, all earlier goddess and god imagery and mythology is lost to the conscious cultural tradition, including the Greek and Roman goddesses and gods. The Greek Goddesses Gaia, Demeter, Athene, Artemis, Aphrodite, Persephone, and the later Roman Goddesses gave women clearly defined images of different aspects of the feminine archetype. In Christian culture woman has only three role models: Eve, the Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene. The image of the soul is carried by the Virgin Mary, instinct by Eve and sexuality by Mary Magdalene. There is a fundamental split between soul as the immaculate Virgin Mary and body as the carnal Eve and 'fallen' Mary Magdalene. Read Genesis 2 and 3.

The Myth of the Fall and the Doctrine of Original Sin Derived from It.

1. The most important myth describing the experience of our separation from the matrix of nature and instinct..
2. Describes the experience of the birth of consciousness or self-awareness as a fall from unity and harmony.
3. Gives an explanation for the existence of suffering, death and evil as a punishment for primordial sin.
4. Fixes the Christian view of woman and the relationship between man and woman for some 1700 years.
5. Presents a view of human beings as flawed and contaminated by sin through the act of conception (original sin).
6. Mirrors and reinforces the split between spirit and nature, mind and body, thinking and feeling.
7. Ratifies the devaluation of the various aspects of the Feminine Principle: soul, nature, woman, instinct, feeling, and body.

In the last seminar (seminar 2) we explored the influence of the myth of Marduk and Tiamat (where the sun god kills the dragon-mother) and the profound change it reflected in human consciousness.
-----In this one we will explore the long term effects of the belief system that grew out of the myth of the Fall. The Biblical myth has been taken literally as divine revelation and this has fostered a concept of human nature as innately flawed, contaminated by sin and separate from God. The myth stands at the beginning of our cultural inheritance and so powerful is this long mythological conditioning that it is very difficult to become aware of the assumptions derived from it, let alone to challenge and disempower them. The relevance of this myth to ourselves today is that the deeper layers of the soul which for so many thousands of years had known a life of participation with creation through the image of the goddess, and through an instinctual perception of the wholeness and unity of life, were now abruptly deprived of that image. The earlier perception where the whole of life was imagined and experienced as an epiphany of the Great Mother was gradually forgotten; only the underground mystical traditions kept it alive, transmitting the imagery of the divine feminine to the Jewish Kabbalah, to Gnosticism in early Christianity and to the figure of Divine Wisdom in Alchemy. It is partly through their influence that the older image of the sacred marriage and the older wholistic perception of life is re-emerging at the present time.
----- Instead of taking this myth literally and treating it as something sacred and fixed in our religious tradition, could we understand it historically as the expression of some catastrophe endured at a specific time which was interpreted, not unnaturally, as a divine punishment for which the goddess was made the scapegoat? And further, could we understand it psychologically, as an expression of humanity's experience of itself at the moment of initiation into a new phase of evolution? Then it can be read as a description of the breaking of unconscious unity or fusion with nature, and the perplexing awareness of duality. The birth of self-awareness entails the loss of the original unity but in evolutionary terms, is constitutes an advance of consciousness. Guilt and disorientation are the feelings that arise with the experience of loss and separation, and this myth describes them, but there is no-one to blame and nothing to be blamed for. Human nature is not innately flawed or sinful. It is simply that human consciousness has become separated from the root and rhizome of the soul, and doesn't understand what has happened or how to integrate the two dissociated aspects of itself. IThis does not mean of self-conscious creates duality: aware
Since it is deeply destructive to people to tell them that they are flawed, or in a state of sin from the time they are old enough to understand what is taught to them, people will unconsciously try to get rid of this intolerable burden by offloading their unconscious feelings of guilt and projecting these onto other groups or other people. These are then identified and named as something nasty or evil that needs to be got rid of, eliminated. Hence the shadow aspect of Christian history with its persecution of the Jews, Muslims or any group perceived and named as heretical or threatening to the power of the Christian Church or Christian state. Even now we can see how easily negative projections can be activated in our society and are daily reflected in the media (for example, the vilification of homosexuality). There is no awareness of the shadow aspect of our attack - i.e. the conviction that we are blameless and that only the "other" deserves blame.
----- The Myth of the Fall comes originally from the Old Testament and it is possible that it was first imagined after some dire catastrophe had happened to the Jewish people - possibly the ethnic cleansing of the entire population of the northern province of Israel c. 750 BC. We know that in the child, a deep conviction of guilt may be formed when some trauma has been experienced in early life. We can apply this understanding to a specific historical event which gave people the need to explain a catastrophe that had befallen them in terms of a punishment visited on them by God because of some fault or sin.
----- Yet, from another perspective we can also understand it as a myth about the birth of consciousness with all that this entails, for each of us repeats this human experience as we move from infancy to early childhood, moving gradually out of the containing matrix of the mother (the Garden of Eden) into separation and self-awareness and therefore duality (the Fall). If there is a sudden loss of the mother (or the father if a close bond has been established with him) during this time, the catastrophe evokes in the child the feeling that it must have done something wrong in order to have been punished by the loss of the person with whom it had a deep instinctual bond. "Why am I punished by mummy, daddy dying or leaving me? I must be bad."
----- The birth of consciousness brings duality - awareness of oneself and the other, awareness of all the pairs of opposites - most importantly life and death - and awareness of having to choose between alternatives, eventually responsibility for choice. The idea that we have freewill and the possibility of choice stems from this myth so it marks an immensely important stage in the evolution of human consciousness. But it also says that we made the wrong choice, with disastrous consequences.
----- This myth can also be understood as telling the story of a state of original wholeness, which is forgotten in the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. It may tell the story of our movement from one dimension of consciousness into another, from the "Garden of Eden" or primary soul-world into the world of physical manifestation where we enter into bodies that cause us to experience fragmentation, suffering and death. (I will explore this further in seminar 7 on the reunion of body, soul and spirit). But the fruit of the Garden has been ingested and continues to live on inside us as the memory of the former state of union that draws us back towards it.
----- Finally, it can be read as the story of the demythologising of the Great Mother or goddess into a human woman - Eve - who is blamed for bringing suffering, death and evil into the world. It is possible that it was formulated by priests as a means of getting rid of the older religion by defaming the goddess (negative projections!), possibly during King Josiah's purge of the Temple in 623 BC. The title that Adam gives to Eve in this myth is actually the former title of the Great Mother: "Mother of All Living". The Genesis myth takes the life-affirming images of the garden, the Tree of Life and the serpent – all inseparable from each other in the mythology of the earlier era – and weaves them into a story about fear, guilt, punishment and blame. The Great Mother who once held both the living and the dead within her being now, as Eve, becomes the cause of death coming into the world. It really is a complete reversal of the former mythology.
----- Cranach's wonderful painting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Courtauld Institute) gives the feeling of relationship between human beings, animals and the natural world that is henceforth to be lost as a result of Eve's taking the apple from the serpent.
----- The myth of the Fall is essentially a tragic myth, a myth about what it felt like to lose the ancient sense of participation in a sacred earth and a sacred cosmos. Unfortunately, it has been taught and accepted by generation after generation as literal and divinely revealed truth, transmitting the idea that the grief and pain of the human condition came about through a sin of our primal ancestors, principally the sin of a woman, Eve, and that we have all been contaminated by that sin. It has entered the western imagination as having something timeless to say about our nature and the nature of woman in particular. It has been responsible - at least in this tradition - for the misogyny which has inflicted an immense amount of suffering on woman. As the story stands, it is Eve's response to the serpent that initiates the change from unity and harmony in the divine world to separation and estrangement and introduces evil, suffering and death into the world.
        Yet it could also be understood metaphorically as a story about the human response to the instinctive prompting (the serpent being an image of instinct) to move into a new phase in our evolution. We know that in dreams snakes can signify the beginning of a new phase in our life. This new phase (in our evolution) is part of the life process which has brought us from the creative explosion of that first instant of the birth of the universe and will ultimately return us to the source from which we came. In this case, we owe a debt of gratitude to Eve for listening to the serpent and taking the apple from the Tree of Knowledge. One could even imagine that it was God's intention that this should happen since instinct in this context can be seen as the vehicle of divine intention. (for an interesting interpretation of the story in the kabbalistic tradition, see Rabbi David Cooper, God is a Verb).
----- From this perspective, there is no moral guilt. No-one did anything wrong. But there is tragic guilt in the sense of our having to carry the burden of this myth without being able, until now, to comprehend that it is describing a psychic experience rather than a primordial sin. Understanding the myth in this new sense could help to remove the intolerable hair-shirt of guilt and the unconscious need to project that guilt onto others that has been fixed on the Christian psyche by the interpretation given to the myth by the Christian Fathers who developed the doctrine of original sin. Their interpretation deprived the deeper layers of the soul of a life of participation with the natural world and the instinctual perception of the unity of life - a unity which had been experienced for thousands of years through the image of the goddess. It is the beginning of the disastrous fear and contempt for the instinctive dimension of the psyche - the fear and the pathology which led man to treat nature, woman and body as something inferior, unregenerate, far removed from himself, that he was empowered to control and dominate.

* * * *

We need to go back to the Jewish commentaries on this myth to find the root of the negative projections directed at the figure of Eve in Christian writings for this was the foundation on which Christian writers built. In the Old Testament we find this key sentence: "Of the woman came the beginning of sin, and through her we all die." (Sirach 25:24) And there is also this typical passage from another source:

Women are evil, my children: because they have no power or strength to stand up against man, they use wiles and try to ensnare him by their charms…For indeed, the angel of God told me about them and taught me that women yield to the spirit of fornication more easily than a man does, and they lay plots in their hearts against men: by the way they adorn themselves they first lead their minds astray, and by a look they instil the poison, and then in the act itself they take them captive – for a woman cannot overcome a man by force. So shun fornication, my children, and command your wives and daughters not to adorn their heads and faces, for every woman that uses wiles of this kind has been reserved for eternal punishment. (quoted in The Myth of the Goddess in the chapter on Eve - source given there) .         

So deeply embedded are these beliefs about the seductive power of woman in different cultures that we can still find them reflected today wherever religious belief or tribal custom confines woman to the home, denying her access to education and participation in a wider world.
-----The belief that Eve was responsible for the expulsion from the Garden of Eden may have been the justification for making Jewish women subject to their fathers and husbands and this was carried forward into Christian culture, mainly through the influence of St. Paul. In his letters to the different churches, St. Paul instructed women to keep their heads covered, not to teach or speak in church and to be subject to their husbands in all things, "for man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man." (1 Tim. 2:8-14, Eph. 5:22-4, 1 Cor. 14:34-5, 1 Cor. 11:7-9)
----- These ideas, intoned from pulpits all over the Christian world, naturally entered into the mainstream of Christian teaching and were responsible for an enormous amount of suffering as women and men absorbed these negative projections onto woman. Despite the fact that in the Gospels Jesus does not refer to original sin nor equate sexuality with sinfulness but, on the contrary, protects an adulterous woman from death by stoning, this became one of the foundation stones of Christian teaching. The myth became doctrine and deeply programmed the Christian psyche to regard sexuality, instinct and woman in a negative light.
----- The most influential of the early Christian Fathers wrote extensively about the myth of the Fall (Jerome, Tertullian, Origen, Augustine) and so did Luther and Calvin. All were convinced that the sexual instinct was an impediment to spirituality and that woman was a temptation for man. All had a terror of what Tertullian called the "uncleanliness of the womb" and "the parts of shame." Origen, perhaps the most brilliant and prolific writer of them all, castrated himself. St. Augustine, a most passionate and outstandingly gifted man, eventually repudiated his partner of 18 years, whom he dearly loved, and by whom he had had a son, because he believed chastity would be more pleasing to God than the continuation of his long relationship with this woman. His moving Confessions are saturated with a deep distrust of the body and the belief that sexuality was the cause of his temptation to sin. He struggled desperately to understand where evil came from: because he believed that God must be wholly good and "incorruptible" he concluded that evil must come from man, principally from his "corruptible" body.
----- From this belief and possibly from the profound conviction of his own sin and guilt came the doctrine of Original Sin which has been one of the principle tenets of Christian teaching. Sadly, through this doctrine, the love of God and obedience to God were placed in opposition to enjoyment of the instinctive life of the body. Chastity and abstinence were believed to restore the lost unity of the primordial (pre-Fall) state. Naturally men who thought this way would be frightened of and threatened by women and would find their way into Mother Church. The priesthood took on the character of an exclusive 'club' to which only men could belong. The repression or denial of sexuality came to be one of the 'rules of entry' to the club.

Truly by continence are we bound together and brought back into that unity from which we were dissipated into a plurality. (St. Augustine)

The tortuous and tortured reasoning of St. Augustine led to this kind of argument:

By a kind of divine justice the human race was handed over to the devil's power, since the sin of the first man passed at birth to all who were born by the intercourse of the two sexes, and the debt of the first parents bound all their posterity. (p. 221, Bettinson, The Later Christian Father--

St. Augustine said that human nature was fundamentally flawed, that sexual desire and death were a punishment for Adam and Eve's sin. Sexual desire is the proof of – and the penalty for – universal original sin which is transmitted like a virus through the sexual act.
----- Sexual union was to be only for the purpose of procreation, not for the joy to be experienced in the act itself. Infants were infected from the moment of their conception with the contamination of original sin; if they died unbaptised their souls could not be saved. Adam's sin had corrupted the whole of nature itself and made it subject to death. Imagine the effect of this belief on parents who had lost their child.

What we find in the writings of the early Christian Fathers is that woman, because of her descent from Eve, is imagined and described in the following terms:

1. As an inferior substance because Eve emerged from Adam.
2. As a secondary creation because Eve was created second, out of Adam.
3. As the ally of the serpent and the devil because she succumbed to temptation first.
4. As the Devil's Gateway (Tertullian 3rd century CE) through whom the devil is enabled to pursue his aims in the world through causing her to tempt men into sexual relations. (this reasoning laid the ground for the witch trials over 1000 years later) These definitions are taken from Eve, The History of an Idea by John A. Phillips
(see also the chapter on Eve in The Myth of the Goddess)

The end-result of these negative projections or demonisations was that Eve and therefore woman were equated with body, matter and carnality (and the left hand).
----- Adam – who got off relatively lightly as a secondary rather than a primary sinner – and man were equated with mind and rational soul and with spirituality (and the right hand).

The image of God is in man and it is one. Women were drawn from man who has God's jurisdiction as if he were God's vicar because he has the image of the one God. Therefore woman is not made in God's image.        

Not surprisingly, this belief was echoed as late as the thirteenth century by Thomas Aquinas, the great theologian of the medieval church, who wrote: "As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten...the image of God is found in man and not in woman." His conclusion, which echoed that of earlier theologians, provided the intellectual foundation which justified the exclusion of women from Holy Orders.-No wonder it has been so difficult for women priests to gain acceptance in the Christian Church! This belief in original sin and the profound rejection of woman, body and sexuality is still carried in the unconscious psyche of modern man and woman and it has inflicted a devastating and unrecognised wound on the Christian psyche. It is a powerful thought form or complex that has not been addressed and therefore cannot be transformed and dissolved. Sexuality in modern western culture has today become an obsession and this may be a compensation to its former rejection. But we know that obsession is a symptom of an underlying wound or trauma and, until this is recognised and addressed, it cannot be healed.
----- St. Augustine immeasurably compounded a tragic situation that was already well established by the early Fathers of the Church. His doctrine of original sin became the foundation stone of the Churches' teaching, the necessary counterpart of its belief in the redemption of humanity by Christ. It need not have been so. Contemporaries of St. Augustine (followers of Pelagius) taught that we were not born into a sinful state and that we had free will. If these had won the doctrinal battle with St. Augustine, the history of Christianity might have been very different. For one thing, we might have been spared the polarisation of humanity into the saved and the damned and the witchhunts, tortures and executions that went with the belief that it was God's will that the Church should seek out and extirpate sin wherever it could be found. No wonder people were revolted by the fanaticism of religion and turned with relief to science.
----- A modern comment on St. Augustine offers a view of how differently we might have perceived ourselves:

It is one of the paradoxes, and also one of the tragedies, of the western Christian tradition that the man who affirmed so strongly the presence of God in the depths of his own self…should as a dogmatic theologian have been responsible more perhaps than any other Christian writer for 'consecrating' within the Christian world the idea of man's slavery and impotence due to the radical perversion of human nature through original sin. It has been St. Augustine's theology which in the West has veiled down to the present day the full radiance of the Christian revelation of divine sonship - the full revelation of who man essentially is. (Philip Sherrard, The Rape of Man and Nature).

The Long-term Effects of the Myth and the Doctrine of Original Sin
Generations of children sat in church listening to this story. Generations were imprinted with the idea that a woman succumbed to the temptation of the serpent and brought sin and suffering into the world and that her suffering and even her death giving in childbirth was the punishment for that original sin. They also learned that Eve tempted Adam to eat the apple from the Tree of Knowledge and thus was to blame for his fall and his being forced to toil for his living. How would this myth have influenced their view of their mothers and fathers? How did it affect the attitude of boys to girls and girls' view of themselves? Would it not have set up a great conflict in their nature, making them mistrust and feel guilty about their instincts, believing that this vindictive, punishing God demanded the repression and even renunciation of their sexuality?
----- Generations of men and women have sat in church listening to this story, absorbing it as the word of God and divinely revealed truth. How were they affected by it? How has it programmed man's attitude to woman and woman's view of herself and all the negative patterns of behaviour we still encounter from wife and child beating to paedophilia and the sexual abuse of children by parents, siblings and close relatives? Every three days in this country a woman is killed by her husband or former partner (an average of two murders a week). Domestic violence accounts for 23 % of all violent crime. Incredibly, one in five young men and one in ten young women think that violence against women is acceptable.
         The programming of this myth has led woman to tolerate intolerable violence and degradation. What unconscious agenda might woman carry to avenge the long suffering she has endured for centuries because of it?
----- Generations of children had evil beaten out of them lest they fall into the clutches of the devil. Even in the Bulger case (the horrific murder of a small boy by two older boys), there were people writing letters to the 'Times' that children were born evil because of original sin.
----- As a therapist and a woman, I have been made deeply aware of the misogyny in the culture as a whole and the guilt and sense of inferiority that women carry, as well as men's fear of women and women's fear of men and I have often wondered whether these stem at least in part from the psychic burden that has been carried by the Judeo-Christian psyche for some 2500 years but particularly by the Christian psyche after St. Augustine.
----- What comes through in Christian writings is a deep sado-masochism - sadism towards woman in general (which is reflected at the extreme end of the spectrum in pornography which degrades and defiles woman) and masochism because this myth led men and women to cultivate a quite unnecessary sense of sin and self-blame. It is reflected in the belief that physical illness like cancer, or catastrophe like the loss of a child, is a punishment for sin. We find the same belief that a catastrophe like the recent tsunami is a punishment for sin reflected in both Islamic (Sumatra) and Buddhist (Ceylon) communities.There is this sad passage in a letter of St. Augustine (who lost his own much loved son at age 16):

God effects some good in correcting adults when they are chastised by the sufferings and deaths of the children who are dear to them. Why should this not happen, since, when the pain is past, it is as nothing to those to whom it happened? While those on whose account it happened will either be better men if they are corrected by their temporal disasters and decide to live better lives; or else they will have no excuse when they are punished at the future judgement, if they refuse to direct their longing towards eternal life under the stress of this life's pain. (The Later Christian Fathers, p. 202) ----

Imagine the effect of this belief on generations of women who lost their children in childbirth, illness or accident. Or its effect on men who lost their wives (particularly in childbirth), or wives their husbands. Not only did they have to bear the loss itself but on top of that the belief that their supposed sin had brought this terrible punishment upon them and that this was God's way of directing them to the spirit.
----- Can you pick up the unconscious sadism and masochism in the above words? To repeat: one of the most important things to know about the psyche is that the first thing someone does who is carrying a burden of guilt and self-blame at the unconscious level is to off-load it onto someone else by blaming, criticising or attacking or demonising that person. If you look at the blaming that goes on in our culture at every level from the political to the marital, you will realise what a lot of guilt and self-blame is held at the unconscious level. (Whenever you find yourself blaming someone, ask yourself "where am I feeling that I am bad, not good enough" etc. or where have I recently been criticised by someone or, most importantly, by myself? This may help you to be aware of how you may be trying to offload your own unconscious feelings of guilt by criticising or blaming others). This does not mean that others may never merit this criticism and blame!
----- The belief system engendered by the interpretation given to the myth of the Fall justified every kind of persecution of woman from denying her the right to any property and making her subject to her husband, to the witch trials of the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries.

Never in the history of humanity was woman more systematically degraded. She paid for the fall of Eve sevenfold, and the Law bore a countenance of pride and self-satisfaction, and the delusional certainty that the will of the Lord had been done. (p. 162 Zilboorg, A History of Medical Psychology) -----

This pernicious belief system lies at the root of the deep fear and distrust of instinct and the repression of sexuality that has so deeply wounded the Christian psyche. Culturally, it is partly responsible for man's fear of woman, his distrust of her "hysteria and emotionality". It ratified male prejudice which for centuries barred her access to education and an effective place in the world in any of the professions exercised by men, including the priesthood and the medical profession. Not surprisingly, it has also given man a good reason for mistrusting his own feelings and feeling in general.
----- In the religious sphere, we are confronted by the violent history of Christianity which contrasts so strongly with the teaching of its Founder who spoke of love and compassion and our son-ship with God - even of our innate divinity ('Ye are gods'). We cannot disregard the persecution of heretics, the inquisitions, tortures, burnings, the brutal repression of any group that threatened the established one - as reflected in this passage: "Catholics who assume the cross and devote themselves to the extermination of heretics shall enjoy the same indulgence and privilege as those who go to the Holy Land." (Decree of the Fourth Lateran Council 1215). We have to acknowledge the long term effects of the Crusades against the Muslim infidel which are carried right through to our own time in the catastrophe of Bosnia and Kosovo and the current dangerous polarisation of Christians and Muslims. We need to take account of attitudes to the body and sexuality and the belief that a life dedicated to God demanded the sacrifice of sexuality and that this sacrifice was pleasing to God.
----- All this can be described as pathology and all this forms part of the Hedge of Thorns I spoke about in the last seminar because these habits of behaviour are deeply embedded in a belief system that has existed for some 1700 years - since the time of the early Christian Fathers, but particularly St. Augustine. It does not seem to have existed in the early centuries of Christianity. It constitutes an unconscious collective thought form which is extremely difficult to deal with because it is deeply unconscious and it is still being carried wherever Christianity is carried. Although Christianity denies that it has been influenced by Manichaeaism, the dissociation between spirit and body is deeply Manichaean.

To sum up: The greatest sickness in Christian culture has been the fear of sexuality, the denigration and denial of the ecstatic, the repression of delight in life, and the devaluation and demonisation of women. The greatest mistake in Christian teaching has been the belief that in order to cultivate the soul we had to neglect and deny the body and that the body was not part of spirit. The body has suffered terribly from being feared and despised and, in the name of the spiritual life, made to endure every kind of misery from starvation to flagellation and the wearing of hair shirts and other instruments of pain and discomfort such as those used by members of Opus Dei.

While the weakening of the rigidities of Christian morality has led to much more natural and healthier relationships between young men and women today, it is possible that the current obsession with sexuality can be seen as a compensation to the long repression of it — due mainly to the belief that original sin was transmitted through the sexual act. The lifting of the repression of sexuality, due to the diminishing influence of the Church, has led to "the return of the repressed" in the Dionysian swing to sexual excess and the rejection of any form of moral boundaries. Sadly, there has been no insight into or understanding of why this has happened and why it may represent a compensatory attempt by the psyche to free itself from a deeply negative complex. Because sexuality was split off from the sacred, it has never been brought into relationship with spirit. It therefore still has to function autonomously at an unconscious level and is still entangled with the old guilt complex. Hence the sexual compulsions, pornography and sadistic fantasies as well as the lack of sexual responsibility that have taken possession of our culture and are endangering the health and balance of our children.
----- Another effect of the repression of the emotions and the feelings is that they have never had a chance to develop properly. The emphasis on intellect and mind has left the soul without a voice. The instinctual, feeling aspect of human nature has been devalued, equated with what is primitive, feminine and non-rational. As a result people's feelings tend to spill over uncontrollably in all kinds of life situations. Many a woman has said to me, "I don't dare speak in case I lose control and can't remember what I want to say." Fear of being shamed and ridiculed has made it difficult for women to speak up and speak out, to speak in public, to be able to articulate their feelings without guilt or shame. There is still a long way to go. And for many men feelings are so threatening to them that they tend to withdraw to the safety of the intellect where they can be in control. Not surprisingly, both women and men have to fight an internal critical voice which comments disparagingly on what they are doing or what they want to do. Until they learn to become aware of this voice, they may fall victim to it in the same way that a helpless animal falls victim to a predator.
----- The religions of the last two and a half thousand years, both eastern and western, have put the emphasis of their teaching on the rejection of human existence on earth, the rejection the body and natural instincts; the rejection of woman. They have driven a wedge between spiritual life and human life and split the human organism into two irreconcilable parts, mind and body, the controller and the controlled, the part that aspired to be spiritual and the part that was considered to stand in the way of spirituality and that was sacrificed to whatever was conceived necessary to reach the goal of spiritual attainment or enlightenment. Spirit and body were polarised and set against each other. Woman suffered terribly because she was identified with body and believed to be (and believed herself to be) the main impediment coming between man and God. The body suffered because it was subjugated and punished in the attempt to root out desire and delight in life. The "mortification of the flesh" became a phrase dear to ascetics. Woman could not be spiritual unless she renounced the world of the flesh and became a nun. The love of her family, the care of her home, the daily routine of preparing meals, the infinite services she rendered the community and her extended family were not considered spiritual but were simply part of her duty as a wife and mother.
----- No-one can be blamed for all this since, as Jesus said, "we know not what we do." But I feel a deep sorrow when I think the generations of men, women and children who suffered quite unecessarily because of the influence of this myth and the doctrine arising out of it. I hope this seminar has gone some way to heal this wound and to affirm woman's value and her deep spirituality in the care and compassion and love she has demonstrated for thousands of years. To reject or disparage the love of life, the enjoyment of life, the experience of a close relationship and parenthood, the richness, challenge and marvel of life seems to me to be a negation of spirituality. Spirituality is more a rich embrace of everything that life brings, a celebration of the miraculous gift of incarnation on this planet.
----- To end this seminar, I would like to offer a meditation on the body, to restore to it its value and its preciousness as the physical manifestation of the soul and the connecting link between nature and spirit:

Imagine your body as a vessel, a receiver and transmitter of light.

Thank it for everything it has done for you in your life, past and present. Thank it for the miracle of its being. Say to it that you are sorry it was made to suffer in the past and that you will take great care of it in future. Tell it that you love it and feel that love flowing from your heart into every part of it. Recognise your body as the connecting link between invisible spirit and the physical environment all round you: the earth, the trees, the plants and flowers, the food you eat, all the things you make and creatively transform using the raw materials of life.

See it as the finest transparent substance, like a crystal or a beautiful jewel. See that crystal or jewel-like form embraced and irradiated by the healing light of the cosmos that flows through and sustains the whole manifest world.


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