A Sheaf of Cut Wheat
The hologram or holograph theory of consciousness was originally proposed by Karl Pribram and later developed by writers as diverse as Michael Talbot (Mysticism and the New Physics) and David Icke, author of numerous books on alien intrusion. Roughly, it states that the universe is a holographic projection of our minds, or of our brain functions, or some combination of the two, if we hold mind and brain to be distinct, as some proponents of this theory do, while others do not. (For a good summary of brain/mind theory on the context of Pribram's ideas see Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy.) In short, the theory implies that my consciousness itself produces the world of which and in which I am conscious, yet without being conscious of how I produce it. Bear with me for a moment while I do a little goatfooted dance around this tricky notion.
To get going, I will frame the proposition in a different syntax, using the key concept of perception:
If the universe is the result of my perception, then my perception of the universe, which belongs to the dynamic of the universe in toto, including its subjective and objective dimensions, is also a result of my perception. Hence, my perception is a result of, or is created by, my perception. The syntax of the hologram theory of consciousness is clearly redundant: The universe is the result of my perception of a universe that already includes the perception that produces it. This proposition is self-negating and leads nowhere.
Now, if I assume that my perception of the universe is given to me by the universe, through psychophysical operations that both encompass and exceed my awareness, then I can say that my perception comes from the universe, and so my experience of the universe will change if my perception shifts, if I “receive” the universe differently. It may be appropriate, then, to consider a revised syntax that includes perception and reception, and contrasts them, in order to dance (gleefully, I might add) beyond the limits of holographic theory.
The novel syntax yields a couple of deft corollary propositions. One, Reception predetermines perception: we perceive the universe depending on how and what we receive from it, as signals, information, sensory input. Two, Perception filters reception: the way we can receive the universe is affected by the way we perceive it. The perception-reception dynamic clearly equates with known Gaian feedback processes. Following the alchemical rule — “Let thine operations be guided by nature” — this syntax affords a description of consciousness interacting with the cosmos, i.e., the mind/universe coupling, that conforms to the self-evident phenomena of nature.
A shift in my perception changes my relation to the source of my perception, which may be assumed to be the universe, but it does not change the universe itself. The novel syntax permits us to make clear distinctions we would otherwise overlook, or it even spontaneously generates such distinctions. With the stated qualification, “which may be assumed to be the universe,” referring to the source of our perception, we are able to conceive that the source of our perception of the universe could be other than the universe itself. This is one line of inquiry to follow, distinct from the line I am taking here. I would call this variation, assuming that the source of our perception of the universe is not the universe or in the universe we perceive, the Vedantic line. It is typical of Advaita Vedanta, or Hindu metaphysical non-dualism. By contrast, I am taking the Tantric line, called Mayavada Vedanta, which assumes that the source of our perception of the universe resides in the universe perceived, in the ensemble of forces and phenomena (called Maya) that really and truly comprise the cosmos at large.
I would propose Bateson’s mind-nature complementarity as a test frame for developing novel theoretical syntax for the mind/universe coupling. By nature I mean the realm of the senses operative in the biosphere, the planetary habitat. This realm extends to cosmic dimensions because we have direct perceptual evidence of distant stars and one visible external galaxy, M 31, Andromeda. Bateson follows the alchemical rule and often writes as if he were the reincarnated Goethe, taking a second opportunity to develop his theory of morphological perception. Goethe, of course, was also deeply inspired by Western alchemical arts.
The persistent error of hologram theory and related types of theoretic syntax (cf. David Icke and other examples of magical thinking) is the assumption that our perception of the universe originates with us, the percepients. I consider that getting past this assumption is one of the great, genuinely transcendent syntactical shifts that can lead to an utterly different way to encounter the cosmos.
“The Perceptual Implications of Gaia,” an article written by David Abram, was published in The Ecologist in 1985. It is the single most outstanding statement on Gaia theory in terms of cognitive science, Gnosis and noetics. Abram’s article is concise and highly allusive, leaving many points to be developed more thoroughly, as he does, to some extent, in The Spell of the Sensuous. This article is a signal flare that cannot be ignored, for it touches the ultimate revelation of the Mysteries, the sheaf of cut wheat. Abram says that perception is “a reciprocal phenomenon organized as much by the surrounding world as by oneself.” This statement points to the mind/nature coupling and suggests a two-way dynamic, by contrast to a one-way perceiving of a world that does not affect the way it is perceived, but merely offers a spectacle to be observed. Anticipating ecopsychology by a good decade, Abram also says that “the psyche is a property of the ecosystem as a whole,” rather than a distinct and separate entity, “subjective” and disembodied – a wholly denatured entity. Finally, Abram curtly advises that we get beyond “the conviction that one’s mind is anything other than the body itself.”
Abram’s three points are intimately related to the experience of initiation in the Mysteries, especially the entheogenic initiation at Eleusis that culminated in the hierophant holding up before the initiates a sheaf of cut wheat.
Those whose tongues were muted were the mystai (from muein, to speak in a muted voice, through compressed lips), the participants in the rites. By a literary trick, the Homeric Hymn reveals what it says the mystai cannot divulge. Early in the hymn when Demeter, the grain goddess of Eleusis, appears in human guise to queen Metanira, the queen offers her a drink of mead, “wine sweet with honey,” but Demeter refuses it, saying, rather enigmatically, that it was unlawful for her to drink that potion. Instead, she instructs Metanira to make another brew, “of water with barley, and tender pennyroyal.” The barley drink is the kykeon, the entheogenic potion drunk at the Greater Mysteries of Eleusis and elsewhere in the Mystery precincts throughout the classical world.
At Eleusis in ancient times barley grew in the Rarian Fields that bordered the town. Mysteriously, some of the crop was known as “white barley” even though it was colored by the ergot fungus, claviceps purpurea, that infested the kernels and turned them purplish black. Working with G. Gordon Wasson, Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, who discovered LSD, showed that the kykeon of Eleusis, the drink ordered by Demeter, was a psychedelic potion whose active properties derive from the fungal entheogen, ergot.
(Note: Some of the following is from a draft of my book, DREAMING SOPHIA, forthcoming from Chelsea Green in March, 2006. JLL)
Fragments from the pediment at Eleusis present three images
that epitomize the organization, method, and supernatural source
of illumination in the Mysteries. One of these images relates
to the account of the the heresy-hunter Hippolytus, who reports
an eye-witness detail that has baffled
the ages: just at the moment they emerged from the telesterion,
the inner sanctum of initiation, initiates were shown by
the hierophant “a
sheaf of wheat in silence reaped.” In this gesture was
great, the marvelous, the most perfect secret for one initiated
the highest mystic truths” (Refutation
of All Heresies, V. Ch. 3).
Those who can hold attention on this wellpspring of Light
assembly of the Ogdoad, the Eighth,” a Mystery code term
for members of the receiving cell, represented by the eight interior
The Apocryphon of John and The Sophia of Jesus Christ describe
of mystic illumination depicted in their “locked” modality
by the stylized pillar on the Eleusinian pediment. The mystes
in The Sophia of Jesus Christ (115) praises the beauty “the
Light that shines without casting shadow, full of indescribable
joy and ebullience.” The shadowless Light is white and
visible, manifesting everywhere, permeating all things.
It is not a light that shines on material things, but a soft
white substantial luminosity in
which matter floats.
The epopteia, seeing aided by the hierophant, was carefully gauged to meet the capacities of the supplicant. The autopsia, direct and independent seeing of the Divine Light, came in its own time to those who had trained their powers of attention for it. Gnostics called themselves “the standing race” because they were able to behold the Organic Light while standing upright, and absorb the force of the massive telluric currents passing between the earth and the heavens. Standing in the undulant opalescent currents, sober, steady, and attentive, they refrained from hallucination and received a download of Gaian intelligence, an influx of the planetary Mind.
Head of an initiate Hellenstic period. Samothrace Museum.
Instruction by the Light was the perennial method of the Mysteries, and its most closely guarded secret. Initiates taught what they learned from the Light, but they were bound by a vow of silence not to disclose how they had learned it.
The harvesting of the grain — for it was cut grain they saw in the hand of the hierophant — revealed to the mystai the nature of their own cognitive activity, and reminded them as well of their sacred commitment to teach according to the method by which they learned. Technically, this method may be called cognitive ecstasy: the knowing of things in rapturous attention, by deep sentient immersion in the natural world and the bodily senses. This is also a good definition of Gnosis in entheogenic terms.
There is another aspect to this graphic symbolism, if one wishes to call it that. The cutting of the grain was contrasted to the spectacle of the Rarian fields full of golden grain rippling in the first light of day as the initiates emerged from the telesterion. They saw the cut sheaf, and beyond it, the rippling fields of mature wheat (the Greater Mysteries were celebrated in autumn, just before the harvest), and in both perceptions they saw themselves. Because they were “harvested” in being initiated, they could provide spiritual nourishment for many people, even for many generations. Yet the people they were to nourish do not eat the harvested (i.e., infected) wheat, as the initiates did. They just ate bread.
And there is a further dimension of symbolism in the hierophant’s act. By holding up the cut sheaf, he showed the initiates not only who they were but what they had come to know through instruction by the Light, the key illuminist insight: as the wheat is given to us by Demeter, so is our cognition of the natural world, the place where it grows. The moment they emerged from direct encounter with the Mystery Light, the revelation intentionally given to the initiates was the certainty that cognition of the external world is given externally, through the power of the earth goddess, Demeter. In awe and gratitude, they understood that the altered state undergone in illumination was accessible due to the entheogenic mixture they ingested, due to its biochemical properties, and in the same moment they realized that their capacity to perceive normally was likewise given by an external agency, the earth goddess whom we today call Gaia.
They realized where their cognition was grounded, now that they had Her Mind.
The certainty that cerebral cognition, our way of knowing of the world, is given to us externally, is a sublime and rapturous experience, the signature of initiated awareness. This experience cannot be faked, nor can it be desecrated. As the Homeric hymn says, the ancient rites of the grain are “impossible to transgress, or to pry into, or to divulge.” In describing instruction by the Organic Light, I could be said to divulge these ancient mysteries, but not really. Why not? Because I merely describe a learning process, and although I do divulge how the initiates learned—which, as far as I know, no one has ever done before in the course of history: so there it is, folks, you read it first on the Internet—I do not divulge the essential aspect of this experience. Granted, I am saying more than anyone has ever said before, but I am still leaving the sacrosanct truth unsaid.
That perception is “a reciprocal phenomenon organized as much by the surrounding world as by oneself,” was realized directly in initiation, and then some. The mystai in cognitive ecstasy understood that this phenomenon is reciprocal, yes, but rather like the repriprocity in which I give part of my fortune to someone who has nothing, and we spend it together. They realized that the entire cognitive field of human beings, and of all sentient life, is set up and supported by the external world, as a projection of the living intelligence of the planet — in Abram's words,“a property of the ecosystem as a whole.” Coming out of the most sublime experience given to the human species, the mystai realized they were not different from the wheat standing in the nearby fields. The arrogance of knowing what they knew was counterbalanced by the understanding of what they were, seen in Gaian terms. In receiving Her Mind, they became selfless instruments of nature comparable to plants growing from the ground. On top of it all, “the conviction that one’s mind is anything other than the body itself" would not even have been to them a conviction, but a vivid, direct, irrefutable reality. Gnosis is full-body, psychosomatic illumination. You do not see the Organic Light in your head or in your mind, or even in your heart: you encounter it with your entire body, standing upright.
The Mysteries taught a scientific truth that could well serve for the founding proposition of noetic science today: the Magna Mater, the Dea-Meter who is also Maya, supports cognition of the natural world through the instrument of the human brain in a particular, reductive way, but more dynamically and espansively through the entire body/mind complex. The Devi, as Gaia-Maya is called in devotional language, does not merely provide the human brain for cognition, SHE actively reproduces our perception of the world through the brain. Karl Pribram’s holographic brain theory and its correlates attempt to describe this dynamic, but unfortunately without reference to the grounding presence of the Goddess.
Experiential knowledge of the “reproduction” that Gaia effectuates via the brain and body together was the sacred legacy of the Mysteries. Gnostics rejected biological reproduction in favor of this transcendental, yet body-based miracle. Rapture before the Organic Light is intensely sexual, divinely and incomparably sensuous, yet it arouses no desire for carnal union. The body entire and sexually enlightened, to coin a phrase, is the instrument of higher awareness in Gnosis, cognitive ecstasy. The kykeon does not produce this ecstasy. Contact with the Light does it, every time. The entheogenic brew taken at Eleusis does not induce the state of consciousness for encountering the Light, it merely removes what blocks reception to it (recall the novel syntax, above) — namely, ego-fixation, self-concern, and the illusion of separation. Egodeath and rapturous surrender to the living sensorium of the natural world are the hallmarks of Gnostic practice. This is as far from the hype of the God/Self equation as you can get, yet nothing is more divine than standing in the presence of the Organic Light.
Telestai who underwent egodeath and entered full-body trance often represented their experience in serpentive imagery, because the Mystery Light engages Kundalini, the Serpent Power. Gnostic writings refer to the Divine Sophia having serpent form, like DNA. Kundalini is a kind of labile extract of the Organic Light, Sophia's opalescent current deposited in the human organism. In shamanic trance, the initiate often encounters a magical Serpent who can appear externally, an independent entity, as well as internally, a serpentine organism that stretches from head to bowels. “Cecrops, Hero, O King, Thou who at thy feet art serpent-shaped,” intones the Greek poet (cited by Jane Ellen Harrison in Themis, a rich repository of Mystery lore). In a famous image, Demeter hands the “divine child” of the Mysteries to Cecrops, the serpentine man who represents the lineage of male shrine-guardians at Eleusis. Cecrops holds in his left hand the sheaf of sacramental grain, and gestures with his right hand, finger to his lips to indicate the status of the mystes: "a sheaf of wheat in silence reaped."
The dual form of Cecrops, human above and serpent below, represents fusion of the human body with the serpent power of the Divine Mother, embrace of the most exquisite tenderness. The initates of the Mysteries were Serpents of Wisdom, Kundalini adepts and devotees of Gaia-Sophia who must not by any account be confounded with the "reptilians" of planetary folk lore. Initiates were, in fact, humanity's main line of defence against the non-human intruders known to Gnostics as Archons and known today as reptilians, Greys, ETs, EBEs and so forth.
Non-initiates who reported on the Eleusinian Mysteries believed that the rites were intended to celebrate and thank the mother goddess Demeter for giving the know-how of agriculture to humanity. This was certainly not the way the telestai viewed them. In the first place, agriculture was a human discovery, not a divinely inspired endowment. In the second place, non-initiates celebrated the popular image of Demeter, an agricultural deity, and ignored her occult role as the Devi Maya-shakti, the Divine Mother who makes the manifest worlds appear to sense-endowed creatures living in those worlds.
Maya means “to measure, to make appear in increments, to dimensionalize.” Dea-Meter is the exact equivalent to Maya-Shakti in Mayavada Vedanta, the school of Tantra that closely parallels the Mysteries. Tantrikas assert that the universe is manifested physically in a manner that conforms to your capacity to perceive it, sensorially. This is a primary noetic principle common to Gnosis and Tantra Vidya.
The power to dimensionalize is one with the power to make things appear, hence everything in the universe appears in dimensional formats, in a graduated scale of organic and inorganic forms—in internesting fractal scales, if you want to get fancy about it. To risk a pun, these "scales" are facets on the body of the Serpent Mother. Initiates at Eleusis realized how Gaia, the planetary intelligence, scales down her “reproductive” activities to match the modalities that can be cognised by the human brain. She reproduces the world for you — at every moment! — so that it appears to be the product of your perception, an inner-generated construct of your own separate mind, even though the perceptual act is given to you, and sustained, externally.
The gesture of the sheaf of cut wheat is an example of what may be called a functional symbol: an object or image that symbolizes a process in nature and, at the same time, demonstrates the very process it symbolizes. For instance, the alchemical Tree is a functional symbol of the atmospheric sheath of the Earth in which trees effectuate the process of photosynthesis. The Tree both symbolizes the atmospheric sheath and actually functions in the environment it symbolises. The method of teaching in the Mysteries was to explain nature by functional symbols, not by allegories and metaphors that indicate one thing by reference to another.
Holograph theory cannot come anywhere close to doing this.
JLL: July 2005 Flanders
Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2017 by John Lash.