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Mesotes - Matrix of Animal Powers

The Gnostic Christos and the Interspecies Bond

The fowls of the heavens, and of the beasts whatever is beneath the earth, or upon the earth, and the fishes of the sea, these are they that draw you unto the Divine.
Oxyrhynchus Papyri
(Gnostic fragments in Greek)

 

As frequent visitors to this site will know, the writing on metahistory.org mixes historical research and mythology with some elements of the author's own invention. I extrapolate from proven and verifiable subjects toward imaginative prospects that cannot be verified except by living them out, testing them to see how they work. For instance, in discussing the myth of Sophia, I cite the textual evidence of that myth, the Coptic sources and patristic literature, and I present mythic, literary, poetic, and symbolic parallels to it, but in places I extrapolate on the myth (as carefully and soberly as I can). Doing so, I go beyond the received evidence but without contradicting or undermining it. This is not at all easy to do, by the way. Sometimes I pull it off pretty well, and sometimes not so well. Occasionally, I bog down in the process, like a ballerina on snowshoes dancing in a shallow pond of molasses.

The purpose of my extrapolations is to bring the material to the place where it engages human potential, the place from which it can be lived, here and now. Call this, if you will, dynamic mythology.

In addition to the extrapolations, I also venture to make corrections in the materia mythica, or in the way it is interpreted. This is necessary because some myths have become corrupted over time, and because of the intentional hijacking (co-optation, to use the polite word) of mythic themes and figures to serve ends contrary to their authentic meaning. An example of hijacking is the identification of the winter solstice, a recurring moment traditionally associated with the birth of Pagan solar gods such as Mithras, with the literal birthday of Jesus, the Christian savior. Another instance associated with Christmas is Santa Claus, who dresses in red and white and comes down the chimney, as everyone knows. These folk-loric details are partially corrupted and partially co-opted from shamanic lore in which the shaman who eats the amanita muscaria (fly-agaric mushroom) travels in the sky by magic flight, climbs a ladder to the stars, etc. Santa's sled is pulled by reindeer because these animals are known to eat the same psychoactive mushrooms. The red, white-spotted mushrooms still used in Christmas decor around the world are unmistakable replicas of amanitas.

To correct the popular mythology of Christmas is to restore it to its original values, and reinstate the true references of the motifs and images. Correction and restoration go together. In Gnostic myth, the goddess Sophia plunges from the Pleroma (cosmic center) and morphs into the earth. She becomes the very planet we inhabit. This event is clearly described in the paraphrases of the Church father Irenaeus, but it is largely absent in any surviving Coptic materials. No original account survives of Sophia's conversion (in Greek, epistrophe) into the earth. And what's worse, the received interpretation of the Gnostic myth of the fallen goddess, accepted and repeated by almost all scholars, wrongly states that the Demiurge or lord Archon creates the material world. This is the source of the Manichean doctrine of world-denial, a version of split-source duality. In this site and in my published writings, especially Not in His Image, I attempt to correct this interpretation and restore the genuine, coherent, and self-consistent form of the Sophia myth.

The Spirit of the Wild

When it comes to correcting myths, no topic presents more of a challenge than the Mesotes, the mysterious entity mentioned a few times in the surviving Gnostic materials. The Greek mesotes, also spelled mijotes, is a made-up word, or neologism, found in the Apocryphon of John and some non-Nag Hammadi sources, such as the Pistis Sophia. Mesotes mean "medium, intermediary." The construction of the word suggests "half-joined" or "half-united." But what is half-joined to what?

The Second Treatise of the Great Seth (NHC VII, 2, 66.3-8) says that "we become complete in the inward ineffability by a living code, attaining undefiled union through the Mesotes, the medium of Jesus.” The Coptic MESOTES NTE IS is usually translated “the medium of Jesus.” The Coptic letters IS, written with a line over the top, are a code for something. The scholarly convention to render IS as I(eseu)S, the Greek spelling of the Hebrew name Yeshua, is one way to decode IS, but not the only way... MESOTES also appears without the NTE IS, "of Jesus."

Two questions immediately arise: What is the Mesotes, in and of itself?, and How might it be related to the historical Jesus?

As to the first question, there is a long answer and a short answer. The short answer is, the Mesotes is the Manitou of indigenous shamanic traditions in the Americas. This is a powerful supernatural figure who traditionally appears to people on vision quests in the wilderness. In fact, the vision quest is not complete, and cannot be considered a success, unless the devotee encounters the Manitou or a power animal sent by it. In a sense, Manitou itself assumes the guise of a particular animal. Manitou is the spirit of the wilderness and the matrix of animal powers.

Manitou is a word in the language of the Algonquin (or Algonkin) natives of Manitoba, Canada. In fact, Manitoba is named after this entity. It is the place of the Manitou. Gitche Manitou means "Great Spirit" in Algonquin, but "Great Connection" is closer to the native sense of the term. Note that connection resonates with Mesotes as an intermediary, an entity that connects. The concept of the wild, majestic, connecting spirit is not unique to the Algonquin nations. It is universal in tribal traditions all through the Americas, such as the "Anishinaabe," a self-description used by what was once a vast population of indigenous tribes, including the Odawa, Ojibwe, and Algonkin peoples of North America. (The Ashaninka of Brazil have a name that resembles the Anishinaabe peoples. This name simply means "first or original people.")

Among the Iroquois nations, Manitou was a supreme divinity associated with the healing powers of water. The Iroquois say that healing herbs are found where Manitou has planted them. Among the Lakota Sioux, White Buffalo Woman appears to be a particular female epiphany of Manitou. In other language groups the Wilderness Spirit is more loosely called Wakan, Wakanda, Wakan Tanka, terms which mean "divine, powerful spirit, or medicine spirit." The Iroquois cal the same presence by the name Orenda.

Many non-native people regard Black Elk Speaks, written by John G. Neihardt, to be the classic book on the vision quest in Native America. In this book, Black Elk (1863 - 1950), a medicine man of the Oglala Sioux, recounts the visionary experience of vast scope and power that he underwent at Harney Peak in 1931. He sees many horses in a mandala-like formation, stands before the council of the Six Grandfathers, beholds a spotted eagle, and hears a mighty Voice addressing him from the center of the world. Black Elk's vision has been widely taken as the model of an indigenous vision quest. He does not describe the encounter with a singular supernatural presence, nor does he give a name that might be equated with Manitou. The presence of that entity seems to make itself known in the Voice he hears. (Black Elk on Harley Peak, from Black Elk Speaks.)

Another, less celebrated but (to my mind) more valuable, and perhaps more authentic, account of the Native American vision quest can be found in Lame Deer - Seeker of Visions, written John (Fire) Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes. In the tribal language of Lame Dear, Wakan Tanka is the most sacred force that pervades nature. "The gods are separate beings - but they are all united in Wakan Tanka" (p. 102) He does not put a particular name to the Manitou as such, but he makes a curious correlation: "Inyan Wasican Wakan — the Holy White Stone Man — that's what we call Moses," he says. This odd statement demonstrates how Christian lore absorbed by native peoples can be interpreted in terms of their own spiritual experience, without loss of value to them, although such interpretation displaces the interpreted element from its original context.

For Lame Deer (pictured on right) to understand who Moses might have been, he must imagine the Biblical figure as a supernatural entity already familiar to him. Doing so, he leaves the Christian profile of Moses entirely behind. In other words, Lame Deer corrects the received mythology according to the criteria of his own traditional experience.

The variations of Manitou are too numerous to elaborate. It is important to note, however, that that the Algonquin associate the Wild Spirit with a vast entourage of manitos, lesser spirits, who indwell the stones, plants, and animals of the natural world. Each of the lesser spirits is an organ or instrument of the all-pervading Manitou. The manitos communicate mainly through animals and plants. (John Bierhorst, The Mythology of North America, p. 220 ff.). The sanctos ninos, "sacred little ones," of Mazatec shaman Maria Sabina belong to this class of animistic spirit-allies. Specifically, the sanctos ninos are the talking, guiding, and healing spirits of the sacred mushrooms of the Psilocybe genus. Generally, they are any kind of supernatural intelligence, plant- or animal-identified, that interacts with human beings to foster the connection between humanity and the natural world. The manitos are intermediaries.

In sacred lore far afield from the Americas, Manitou appears in the guise of the Manu, a kind of supernatural guide in Hindu mythology. Theosophical lore derived from Brahminical traditions conflates the Manu with the Biblical Noah and other mythical figures associated with Flood mythology - perhaps echoing the Iroquois notion that Manitou controls the "healing waters." Although the Manu-Manitou correlation is valid in general terms of comparative mythology, it does not hold up in more rigorous application. The Manu is a male hierarchal figure whose function is to guide the human species through the transitions between the Zodiacal Ages or Kalpas, epochs of cosmic time. As such, it does not appear to have much to do with nature or the natural world, but Manitou and its variants always does. The Manu appears to be a Manitou-figure that has lost its indigenous value as the Spirit of the Wild and turned into a source and model of patriarchal order. A figurehead of theocratic authority, as it were.

Do Kamo

The root man- occurs world-wide, always in connection with the notion of spiritual presence or sacred power experienced (not merely conceived) animistically. In Celtic lore, Manannan, the son of the river goddess Danu, is a Manitou-like figure who presides over the dark waters of the Underworld — again recalling the Iroquois motif. The Welsh equivalent is Manawyddan, imagined in human reflection as a sorcerer and poet. In Roman religion, Manes was the general name for the spirits of the dead. The term comes from the Etruscan Mantus, an underworld spirit. (The Romans took a great deal of their lore from the indigenous Etruscans, whom them displaced.)

The term "animism" was introduced by anthropologist E. B. Tylor in his theory of the origin of religion (Primitive Culture, 1871). Tylor found the term mana in the languages of Oceanic cultures spread across Melanesia, Polynesia, and Micronesia. This term denotes an impersonal and omnipresent force or quality that indwells people, animals, and inanimate objects and instills in those who contact it a sense of respect or wonder. In anthropological jargon, mana has come to be the generalized concept for the Sacred understood in animistic terms.

Tylor's generalization of mana put animism on the map, but it tends to obscure the fact that mana is always perceived by indigenous peoples in vivid and particular terms, never in the abstract. Although some Manitou-like figures might be identified in Oceanic cultures, the prevailing tendency in that part of the world is to specify mana by totemic plants and animals. One remarkable example of this trend is the divine maiden Hainuwele, whose name means "frond of the coco palm." Among the people of West Ceram in New Guinea, Hainuwele is a Dema or "virgin spirit" in nature, whose elaborate myth recounts how she became the totemic plant for the people. The tendency to participate in the sacred presence of the Manitou through alimentation is very ancient, predating the Spirit of the Wild as known in the Americas. (See Joseph Campbell, Primitive Mythology, p. 172ff.)

Among the Kanac people of New Caledonia, the presence of the Sacred in animistic and totemic forms is closely associated with the quality of do kamo, "authenticity." In 1947 anthropologist Maurice Leenhardt published Do Kamo - Person and Myth in Melanesian Society, in which he explained this word as indicating the indigenous sense of dignity proper to the human species. According to Leenhardt, who was known as a pioneer of the method of "participant observation," do kamo (pronounced DOE-kah-mo) is the expression in Kanak for what is seen to be genuinely human because it exhibits a gift for clarity and competence, tenderness and timing. The Kanak say you can see authenticity in the way a person holds a yam, or paddles a canoe. (On do kamo, see the essay, Socrates in the Last Days.)

For the indigenous mind, awareness of the presence of the Sacred is required so that we can be authentic in the human sense. Totemic identification, and ritual ingestion, of the Manitou is one form of participation mystique, and the encounter with the Spirit of the Wild during the vision quest is another. In both cases, the Presence of the Sacred wells up from nature and imbues its human witnesses with the right and proportionate sense of humanity. The vision quest of the Americas is a direct encounter with the Spirit if the Wild, the Manitou, that not only confers visionary wisdom on the witness, but imbues him or her with a deepened and compassionately delimited sense of humanity.

Genomic Endowment

If these parallels are correct, we may expect that the right sense of humanity is engendered by the encounter with the Mesotes as well. How true this is, if we read in depth into the Gnostic materials. The Second Treatise of the Great Seth (NHC VII, 2), cited at the top of this essay, says:

We become complete in the inward ineffability by a living code, attaining undefiled union through the Mesotes, the connection of the one who heals (Iasius).

Like so many passages in the awkward Coptic renditions of the presumed "Greek originals" of Gnostic writings, this one contains a string of undetermined referents: "inward ineffability", "become complete", "a living code", "undefiled union." What is ineffable? Complete in what sense? What sort of code? The last term might also be translated "pure unity." But union with what, unity in what sense?

Let's recall that the made-up word Mesotes literally means "half-joined," but it is better rendered as "intermediary." An intermediary joins two things. The Mesotes joins humanity as a species to all other species. This is the "pure unity" that can be realized by encountering Manitou, the Spirit of the Wild. The term "become complete" uses teleios, the adjectival form of telos, "goal, aim." NHC texts, as well as the non-NHC Gospel of Mary which contains teachings attributed to Mary Magdalene, use the term PITELEIOS RHOME, "the perfect humanity." I have argued that "ultimate" is closer to the original meaning of the Gnostic masters than "perfect." Perfection cannot be attained in human terms, but human potential can be ultimately achieved, raised to an optimal level. This is what it means to thrive. Thriving was the goal (telos) of Gnostic education and vocational training based on the initiatory method of the Mysteries.

The potential of our species is encoded in the human genome, "a living code." Each of us carries a share of the genius of the species in a genomic endowment, distinct from the genetic inheritance deriving from the familial bloodline. The genomic endowment, "the inward ineffability," is a phylogenetic transfer from the experience of humanity as large. As such, it transcends and overrides whatever traits we inherit from familial blood-ties. It is connected with the sense of a mission, a vocational calling.

phylogenesis: the long-term process of the evolution of a species, distinguished from the short-term development of an individual member of a species (ontogenesis). Phylogenetic transfer: the endowment in an individual member of a species of skills and intelligence derived from the species' long-term experience, rather than from the familial line of inheritance - i.e., genomic inheritance in an individual.

The Mesotes-Manitou has a double function: to mediate between the human species and all other species, and through "the connection that heals," to engender in us the right sense of humanity, including our personal share in the indwelling genius of our species. The complementarity of these two functions cannot be overstated.

PITELEIOS RHOME is the full or ultimate expression of human potential that can be achieved when we own and evolve the genomic endowment. Gnostics used the term Anthropos for the human genome, the template of our species. They were teacher-seers who used mystical insight and initiated knowledge to foster the genomic endowment of their students. In the indigenous cultures of the Americas, young members of the tribe went on a vision quest for exactly the same purpose: to be taught by the Spirit of the Wild. If the quest was successful, they would return to the tribe with a heightened awareness of the interspecies connection, as well as a deepened awareness of their specific mission in society. With Native Americans, the vision quest produces a sense of responsibility toward the entire tribe or "nation," as clearly demonstrated with Black Elk.

The adolescent who returns to the ordinary society from the non-ordinary rigors of the vision quest is not expected to fulfill the expectations of his or her parents, but to re-enter the community with a wider, transpersonal sense of purpose. No tradition records that the sense of mission acquired in the vision quest conforms to parental and familial duties. If one follows these duties, that is an independent matter, unrelated to what comes from meeting Manitou, the Spirit of the Wild. Phylogenetic transfer overrides any kind of familial or parental obligation or continuity. In the widest sense, it confers solidarity on the individual person in relation to the human tribe, the species as a whole — this is the species-self connection described in Chapter 23 of Not in His Image, with extensive reference to the Mesotes. It must be understood that the species-self connection only makes sense within the all-species connection. The Mesotes consolidates both of these.

Left to our own devices, without an empathic connection to other, non-human species, we cannot even know what it means to be human.

The Power Animal

All the above applies to the short answer to the question, What is the Gnostic Mesotes, in and of itself? (On the long answer, see the end of this essay.) Now, what about the second question: How might the Mesotes of Gnostic writings be related to the Jesus of Christian faith? The Coptic MESOTES NTE IS is translated “the medium of Jesus,” as noted above. This suggests a close correlation, if not identification, between the supernatural presence of the Mesotes and the man Jesus, or possibly the supernatural Christ indwelling the man, according to the conventional view of the Incarnation.

Can the Mesotes legitimately be considered as the Presence of Jesus Christ in our midst? Perhaps something like the expression of the Incarnation in the realm of wild, non-human nature?

It would certainly provide a great boost to Christianity to consider the Mesotes in this way. For one thing, it would broaden Christian faith beyond its constricting frame of anthropocentrism. We could, if we choose to do so, consider Jesus in this way. To paraphrase Lame Deer on Moses: "Mesotes — the Spirit of the Wild — that's what we indigenous people make out of what you call Jesus." But it must be noted that this answer does not necessarily legitimate the Jesus of the New Testament, who is presumed by believers to have actually lived as an historical person, and who may have been the Son of God, a divine incarnation in human form who died a human death on the cross and was resurrected, etc. Rather, it corrects the mythological figure of that name and restores to it an original and uncorrupted value. To follow this correction, we have to establish that IS in Coptic code denotes Iasius, the healer, rather than the presumed historical person, Jesus of Nazareth. That particular person — considered either as a real -life historical figure or a fictional persona invented for moralistic purposes — has to be dissociated totally from the Mesotes in order to recognize the Gnostic meaning encoded in the term MESOTES NTE IS, "the connection that heals."

The Mesotes-Manitou is not remotely related to the divine redeemer of Christian tradition, except by the specious conflation of Iesios-Iasius. The Intermediary has nothing in common with the powers attributed to Jesus, either as a radical Jewish guru and folk-healer, who is fully human, or as the Incarnation, the unique human instrument of the Cosmic Christ. Bear in mind the primary and essential attribute of the Redeemer, the hybrid Jesus/Christ: he is concerned above and beyond all else with the human condition viewed in a totally anthropocentric manner. Christ came into this world to redeem humanity, Christian doctrine states. The program of salvation to be fulfilled by the Redeemer is completely and exclusively human-centered, fixated on the privileged relation of the human species in the eyes of the the father god. The entirety of animal and plant life on earth is categorically excluded from this connection, and so remains outside the program. Other species play no role in the father god's plan for salvation.

It is an erroneous extravagance to grant the doctrinal Jesus Christ any role in the natural world, comparable to the Manitou. Consistent with the factors that define the mission of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer clearly has nothing in common with the Spirit of the Wild. This being so, any conflation of Jesus or Jesus/Christ with the Mesotes engenders false and deceptive notions of the latter. Such conflation will always work to the advantage of the savior — for example, by investing him with the aura of a nature-spirit or nature-lover. Clearly, this is absurd.

There is no textual or mythological material to support such a profile for either Jesus or Christ, or the combo. On the other hand, the Mesotes loses its genuine and autonomous attributes when identified with the Redeemer. Taken out of the context of nature, "the connection that heals" becomes meaningless.

In the tradition of Pagan religion, which was animistic, the nature god Pan was a kind of Manitou-figure, pictured as the matrix of animal powers, or encircled by the animal images of the Zodiac (on left).

But with the rise of Christianity, the Christ was often represented in the place of Pan, and likewise encircled by animal powers. In the attempt to suppress all alternatives that preserved the Pagan sense of divinity immanent in nature, Christian ideologues and their enforcers substituted Christ for a variety of Pagan deities, most notably Pan and Orpheus.

The decorated ceiling of the Domitilla catacomb (Roman, 3 C AD) displays Orpheus as the shaman who tames the wild animals with his chanting and the sound of his lyre (Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology, Figure 1). Among candidates for a Manitou figure in Greek mythology, Orpheus stands at the top of the list, along with Pan. Apollo, on the other hand, represents the intellectual solar deity or male sky god who opposed the autochthonous powers and becomes merged with Christ, as I explain in Chapter 2 of Not in His Image ("Pagan Roots").

Orpheus is a denizen of the Underworld, a healer (Iasius), and tamer of wild animals. The imagery of the Domitilla catacomb ceiling represents the final stage of a millennial tradition of sacred art that goes all the way back to Paleolithic cave paintings. That tradition was broken when the Christian redeemer was substituted for the Manitou-figure. Sacred art from the 3rd century onward puts Christ in the center of the Zodiac, even though redeemer theology clearly denies any significance to the animal world, and ignores the interspecies bond.

In short, the off-planet, anthropocentric orientation of Judeo-Christian faith and redeemer theology exclude the realm of animal powers where the Manitou-Mesotes appears as a supernatural guide who confers those powers. Those who return from the vision quest have identified with a power animal provided to them by the Spirit of the Wild. The Mesotes-Manitou does not involve a connection with a divine world beyond the planet we inhabit. It is instrumental to our species connection to the divine element in this world, Wakan Tanka, right here on the planet with stones, snakes, bugs, birds, plants, and animals.

The fowls of the heavens, and of the beasts whatever is beneath the earth, or upon the earth, and the fishes of the sea, these are they that draw you unto the Divine.

The Oxyrhynchus papyri are a motley collection of fragmentary texts and notes written in Greek, found in a once marshy area about 120 miles south of Cairo, west of the main course of the Nile. The assumption that Coptic-language Gnostic writings were translated from Greek originals was confirmed by this find which produced passages in Greek from the Gospel of Thomas, and other sayings assumed to be Gnostic, such as the one cited here. If scholars are correct about the "Greek originals," we may assume that Oxyrhynchus material such as this phrase brings us one step closer to the core Gnostic teachings. In this case, the fragment supports an understanding of the Mesotes as the matrix of animal powers, rather than a human-centered redeemer.

In the Zuni myth of the Emergence, Posayamo is said to be the" foremost of the people," the first to emerge from the earth and road the surface. He acted as an intercessor for the people, and brought them to a knowledge of the animal powers so that they could survive in harmony with other species. (Posayamo Calling the Food Animals, watercolor by Richard Martinez, San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico. In The Mythology of North America by John Bierhorst)
Interspecies Revelation

The historical Jesus and the associated divine redeemer, Jesus Christ, cannot and ought not be equated with the Mesotes, but there is a sense in which the Gnostic Christos figures into this mythological complex. For Gnostics, Christos was not a redeemer and never assumed human form in flesh and blood. In the Sophia myth of the Mysteries, Christos is often paired with Sophia. They are the two Aeons who encode the singularity of the Anthropos, the human genome, with a range of species-specific potentials. At a critical moment when Sophia has morphed into the earth, and she is overcome by the density and diversity of the life-forms that arise in the biosphere, the Aeons of the Pleroma send Christos to intervene in her behalf. This is the Christic intercession. (See Chapter 14 of Not in His Image, and The Fall of the Wisdom Goddess, on site.)

The long answer to the first question, What is the Mesotes, in and of itself?, is that the Mesotes is the bioplasmic after-affect of the Christic intercession. This is a vast mythological theme that stands distinct and independent from the Judeo-Christian redeemer myth. The answer is long because you have to get into the myth to understand it.

So, it is possible to relate the Gnostic Aeon Christos, but not the Christ of conventional faith, to the Mesotes as matrix of animal powers. In a remarkable feat of mystical anthropology, Linda Tucker has proposed this correlation. In her book, The Mystery of the White Lions, which is reviewed on this site, Tucker presents her drawing of a Manitou figure whom she identifies with both Jesus and Christ. The caption reads: "Jesus, surrounded by the biodiversity of nature. Based on medieval manuscripts illustrating that the figure of Jesus is one with all creation. He is flanked by the lion on one side and the lamb on the other."

Tucker comments on this drawing at some length:

The presence of the original Creator God is manifest in all of original creation: nature. God lives in every living, wild and wondrous creature on this planet.

Nice thoughts, here, but rather unclear in theological and biological terms. In the Gnostic view, the Creator God is not responsible for the earth and does not indwell it: Sophia the fallen goddess does. Strictly speaking, the earth is not created by any god or goddess, for it is the metamorphosis of the divine body of the wisdom goddess, Sophia. When Tucker asserts that "God lives in the White Lions, and manifests His presence through them," she is mixing Christian theology with animism in what is (to my mind) a misleading way. Tucker has certainly had an epiphany with the White Lions, a spiritual awakening that carries enormous importance to the world today, but I would suggest that it is not possible to communicate that awakening in the familiar doctrinal term she uses.

She continues:

Christ was one with Nature. In fact, the word Logos (God's law on earth, the rule of nature) is used as Christ's very title.
We are all familiar with Christ's description as the sacrificial "Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world." Christ himself explained, "I am a good shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me." Yet, while the lamb is the meek and mild image of Christ with which we are comfortable, it should not blind us to his true godlike leonine powers... The truth we should face up to is that there are many occasions in the Bible when God's judgment is likened to a lion's attack. (The Mystery of the White Lions, p. 338ff)

This passage mixes up Biblical language with the animistic revelation of the white lions. If you ask me, the lions lose out in the mix. Is the Christic figure that Tucker imagines "surrounded by the diversity of nature" to be identified with the suffering Redeemer and the wrathful Father God, Jehovah, who judges the world with violence? If so, then why not attach all the theological baggage of the redeemer complex to the mystical animism of the white lions? What then happens to the intrinsic value of the animal powers?

Tucker shows the bias of her Jungian training when she conflates the white lions with the received material of redeemer theology. According to the Jungian view, opposites coincide in the psyche: "The lamb is of course Christ, Lion of Judah, who ultimately reconciles lion and lamb, predator and prey, since in him all are One" (p. 339). This kind of archetypal mish-mash is hopeless for providing guidelines toward genuine mystical experience of the natural world. At worse, it indemnifies redeemer theology and all the horrors it entails. Tucker comes close to saying that the white lions, raised as "canned lions" to be shot by trophy-hunters for a high price, are like Jesus who died for our sins.

As much as I love Tucker's book, and find in the white lions an astonishing epiphany of the animal powers, I cannot go along with her interpretation of the Christ-Lion connection. It risks losing the interspecies revelation coming from the white lions in a reversion to victim-perpetrator ideology. I would suggest a Gnostic interpretation that sees in the white lions the specific form of the Mesotes, matrix of the animal powers. In other words, the white lions appear on earth in an inexplicable way at this moment in history, to serve as a power animal for the entire human species, so that we can learn by connecting with them the reality of our own extinction. Tucker (show here with a white lion cub) relates the lions closely to the coming extinction, the next Ice Age that will be precipitated by global warming. Her anthropological interpretations in this vein are fascinating and far more convincing than the syncretistic and apologetic speculations that conclude her wonderful book.

In a time when many species are becoming extinct, due to the anthropocentric attitude of the human species — an attitude clearly supported by the mandate of the Creator God to propagate and master the earth, and reinforced by Judeo-Christian-Islamic theology that makes only the human species worthy of God and worth saving — the white lions may have come to guide us toward our own extinction.

In terms of metahistorical discipline, it is totally inadmissible to cite a few snatches of innocuous language attributed to Jesus Christ to support the notion that the redeemer and the paternal deity are nature-friendly. Christ and Jehovah are not immanent in the natural world. That is theologically incorrect, and it is rather dangerous to insist so in psychological or archetypal terms. If Father and Son are not conceived in that way by the millions of faithful believers, why pretend otherwise? The point of Gnostic correction demonstrated in this site is not to make Jesus Christ look right, but to look elsewhere.

Equating the Gnostic Mesotes with the Manitou of Native American vision quest is not something I do lightly, but once the equation is made, I believe we can count on the strength of the evidence, the comparative motifs, etc. The Christos-Mesotes-Manitou correlation makes sense and will stand up to scrutiny. The mythographic evidence for the argument could fill ten essays the size of this one...

But the essential thing is that the Manitou-Mesotes correlation would provide corrective guidelines for genuine, firsthand mystical experience.

    In humanity, by contrast to other animals, symbiosis has to be realized by overcoming an inveterate tendency for self-obsession. “We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with all that is not human,” David Abram says. By entering into kinship with all species, we overcome our anthropocentric tendencies, which can be vicious, harming ourselves as much as others. The Christos intercession effected a softening of human boundaries, especially ego boundaries, to allow enhanced empathy with all that lives. In this empathy we find our personal path more easily, because no creature lives by itself. The ultimate function of the Mesotes is a subtle, non intrusive guiding effect. Laurence van der Post, who lived with the San Bushman of the Kalahari, captured the taste of this experience when he wrote (in A Mantis Carol): “We all know more than we allow ourselves to know because of a certain cowardice in face of the inexpressible, and fear of accepting its effect on us as guide to the nature of its reality.”

    Upon encountering the Mesotes, most witnesses do not go with the guiding effect but refer it back to their conditioning, and see it through their conditioning, especially their religious beliefs. Sad to say, the encounter is wasted on people when it leads back to fixation on the historical Jesus and blind beliefs in salvation, sacrifice, the redemptive value of suffering, God’s plan for the world, and so on. The genuine mystical encounter is wholly lacking in these fictions. We are guided by “the living Jesus” into a unique personal experience of kinship with all species. The luminous phantom is the subliminal inner guide, not a “life coach” who fosters self-empowerment or collusion with God. It does not support the gratification of our personal lives, but selfless consecration to all that lives.

    In the range of human instincts there is a drive for self-preservation (including preservation of the ego as well as the body) so strong it can counteract the drive to coevolve, to embrace all life-forms and to love Gaia, the earth itself. We are immersed in Gaian symbiosis, and we always have the choice to override self-preservation in the cause of life at large. The inner guide is a sublime gift endowed in our species from the Pleroma, an insuperable aid to self-correction.

    Without the subtle guidance of the luminous phantom, we would be even more driven by insane egotism than we already are.

    From Not in His Image, Chapter 23, "The Species-Self Connection."

 


Mesotes represented as Christ between the horns of a stag.

 

jll: December 7, 2006

 

 

 


Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2017 by John Lash.