Dedicated with loving gratitude to Joanna Harcourt-Smith
Mystic Jesus: Hanged Man and Dancer
Gnostic Heresy in the Paris Eadwine Psalter
Among its many splendors and surprises, the Paris Eadwine Psalter contains an image of the crucified savior inverted, hanging upside down:
This arresting figure appears on folio page 56 in a supposed allusion to Psalm 33, consisting of 22 verses of typical praise for "the Lord" with no reference to a messiah or crucifixion. Although passages from the Psalms are inscribed on many of the first 100 pages of the psalter, I find little or no connection between the Biblical verses and the illustrations, especially when the latter are highly embellished with entheobotanical imagery.
The inverted crucifixion is not an entheobotanical illustration, but the full page of folio 56v does bit contain mushroom imagery. If the Eadwine designers wanted to hint at an Allegro-type mushroom cult with the savior as the personified fungus, they might have done so here. But the MS on the whole contains nothing to suggest a straightforward savior/mushroom identification (basic to the Allegro thesis, which I oppose). Jesus Christ appears among the mushrooms on many pages, and might well be considered as offering them for a sacrament in some cameos of the twelve-section panels, but it is a stretch to assume that the savior himself was the sacrament: i.e., Jesus was a mushroom.
The obvious objection here is that the messianic command, "Take, eat, this is my body, my blood," attributed to Jesus at the Last Supper, clearly identifies the body of the savior with the sacrament: so if the sacrament is a mushroom, the savior must be as well. Or so it seems. This interpretation can easily be reinforced by the fact that the Aztecs called psychoactive mushrooms teonanacatl, "flesh of the gods." In my unpublished book on the Wasson thesis, I indicate what I call the "diabolic reflection" between Aztec religion and Christianity, noted even by Cortez:
The catch is, what the Aztecs understood by the gods cannot be equated with the Judeo-Christian concept of the savior god. For indigenous peoples, the mushroom sacrament is a medium for communication with the spirits of nature—that is, animistic modalities of Gaia, the planetary entelechy—not a special permission to contact a paternal off-planet deity such as Yahweh and Jesus. Jesus/mushroom/divinity is a false conflation as long as Jesus continues to carry the attributes of a salvationist messiah, the divine victim sent by the off-planet creator. Jesus Christ as the cosmic figure who reveals the enlightening power of mushrooms to humanity, offering a sacramental tool to reach higher consciousness and attain hyperception—this version works, but again only as long as the distinctive elements of the Palestinian redeemer complex are excluded from the profile of the mystic mushroom guru.
In short, the Paris psalter suggests that the Biblical Jesus Christ may disguise a "mushroom avatar," but only if considered as a mystical and mythical figure, not an historical messiah with a sacrificial mission. Might this have been precisely the point of including the inverted crucifixion on the psalter? To turn the whole Son of God story on its head and refute, or at least defy, the doctrine of messianic sacrifice? The history of the use of inverted religious imagery by so-called satanist and heretical cults supports my view that inversion is a way to defy a received doctrine and present an opposing position. The inverted pentagram is the most obvious example of this tactic. Point up, it signifies (among other things) the Holy Guardian Angel, an astral guardian who fits comfortably into Christian celestial hierarchies. Point down, with two points uppermost representing the horns of a goat, it signifies the chthonic powers of this world, especially Pan, the archaic goat-god whom Christian ideologues perverted into the figure of the Devil.
Inversion of symbols and signs always accompanies inverted or heretical behavior: case in point, the Adamite cults of late antiquity, which may be considered as Gnostic variants, rejected the notion of original sin and asserted in its place the opposite, original innocence (a notion adopted by the cult guru Rajneesh, to great affect among American youth in the 1970s). Second case in point: in the Neo-Adamite movement that arose in the thirteenth century in the Netherlands, Bohemia, and elsewhere in Europe, members regarded the nakedness of Adam and Eve as a mark of divine election rather than shame, and consequently they practiced group nudity, and performed sexual orgies (vividly described in The Abyss, an historical novel by Marquerite Yourcenar). Such groups were not allowed to co-exist with other Christians. They were opposed and annihilated in a series of religious wars whose scars still pain the European collective unconscious. Historical guilt over religious oppression and brutal suppression of minorities accounts, in part, for the passivity exhibited by many people in the face of the Islamification of Europe.
Writing on the difficult subject of the Mesotes elsewhere in this site (The Gnostic Christos and the Interspecies Bond), I cited an extremely rare fragment in Greek that reveals the pantheistic Gnostic view of Divinity in nature:
Were we to imagine the cosmic archetype Christos as an avataric projection of the Pleromic Aeons into the terrestrial habitat (as described in the Sophia Myth, episode eight), it might be possible FINALLY to purge our minds of the specious association that makes Jesus/Christ the ideal model of humanity, the Anthropos. This would clear the way to seeing the Christos-Mesotes figure as the Manitou (Spirit of the Wilderness), a kind of interspecies mediator and guide in the planetary vision quest. With this correction made, and Christos relocated in the mythic imagination, we could look elsewhere than Jesus Christ for an ideal exemplar or model of generic humanity (Anthropos, the species-identity. ). The identification of the Anthropos is, as I have noted in NIHI and on this site, the paramount unresolved issue we face due to the destruction of the Mysteries.
The Hanged Man is the 12th major trump of the Tarot. A search on Google images will bring up many renderings of this archetype, including one from the deck designed by Aleister Crowley and painted by Frieda Harris:
Volumes have been written on the meaning of this image. In Tarot readings, The Hanged Man can signify anything from merely being hung-up, i.e., stressed and neurotic or hung on a dilemma, to self-sacrifice of a cosmic or esoteric nature. If martyrdom appeals to you, this card is part of a winning hand. Whatever its many connotations, the Hanged Man unquestionably raises the notion of inversion and suggests that all is not as it appears, and what is really so may be opposite to what we think.
The blue used by Frieda Harris recalls the pronounced blue of the robes of the inverted crucifixion in the Eadwine psalter, which in turn recalls the blue stain of the mushrooms, a chemical reaction indicating the presence of psychoactive tryptomines. In Hindu myth, both Krishna, the love god, and Shiva, the shamanic yogi, are depicted in this hue, which might, due to its many associations, be called mystic blue. In James Cameron's Gaia-fi epic, Avatar (200), the indigenous people of Pandora, the Ha'vi, are blue-skinned.
Among students of certain esoteric traditions and gurus, such as Swami Muktananda, "experiences of Blue Light, Blue Pearl, or Blue Person, in Siddha Yoga are considered very auspicious and important steps on the spiritual path" (Stan Grof, When the Impossible Happens). This remark applies to the path of Siddha Yoga which Grof and his wife Christina entered under the guidance of Muktananda, but to numerous other spiritual traditions as well.
Does the inverted crucifixion of the Eadwine psalter represent the Blue Person or some related mystical epiphany? Perhaps it does. It is not beyond possibility that the originators of the psalter wanted to exhibit something that was a confirmed mystical reality for them, but forbidden by religious control. Whatever the intention was, I believe that this image is entirely unique and cannot be compared to anything else in the religious art of that era, or any other era.
The inverted crucifixion in MS 8846 carries a strong impact due to its incomparability, if nothing else. It is the perfect emblem of Gnostic heresy asserting the Christos over the Christian Messiah.
Other possible heretical connotations coded into this image come to mind when we trace the the hanged man archetype back to its earliest known origins. I have done this in three essays on site, under the title Tree Nymphs and Tree-Hung Shamans. Also, in Not in His Image, I pointed out that "the Jews introduced crucifixion only to find it adopted by the Romans and used against them"—how's that for inversion? Close study of the Old Testament side by side with Canaanite mythology suggests that crucifixion became an issue for the ancient Hebrews when they had to confront the native shamanic practice of hanging in trees—not hanging as execution, but as a mystical rite. Tree-hung shamans are known around the world from Peru to the Urals to Scandinavia."Monotheism begins with a god who hates trees" (NIHI, Ch. 17, The End of Patriarchy).
Jews who followed the command of the paternal deity were forced to regard the shamanic practice of tree-hanging as an abomination, and it was soon written into law as such, recorded in Deuteronomy 21: 22-23; "And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree; His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day (for he that is hanged is accursed of God)." Among the ancient Hebrews, the first sin worthy of death by hanging on a tree (crucifixion, not hanging by the neck) was the shamanic practice of hanging in a tree, usually overnight, to divine secrets of nature. The sight of the hanged man is accursed to God because it recalls a shamanic rite of Goddess worship (specifically, of Asteroth, the Canaanite tree goddess) that defies pious submission to the paternal deity.
Crucifixion among the ancient Hebrews was a cruel parody of the tree-hung shaman, and originally applied to tree-shamans or devotees of Asteroth. The practice of crucifixion for other purposes did not occur until after the Deuteronomic era, i.e., after 400 BCE; but when it was so applied, it was done on a brutal and spectacular scale. Alexander Jannaeus (reigned 103-76 BCE) quelled the Jewish revolt by crucifying hundreds of his enemies, fellow Jews, all at once in front of their wives and children, while he banqueted lavishly with his whores. The terror of this spectacle was so effective that the Romans imitated it to repress the slave revolt (73-71 BCE) led by Spartacus. Kubrick's film of that story shows the long line of crucified men erected on the road to Rome, as it actually happened.
Inversion has a vicious kickback. The condemnation of shamanic tree-hanging by the hard-line Zadokite priesthood worked like a curse on the Hebrew people themselves, for their messiah ended up a hanged man. The plaque nailed over Jesus's head read "King of the Jews." Inversion operating over the long term in religious and historical developments often produces what Marcuse called "the return of the repressed." It generates all manner of psychodramas of diabolical projection, the extrajection of the shadow, scapegoating, etc. But the inverted crucifixion of the Eadwine psalter exemplifies how heretics and survivors of repressed causes use inversion in a different way, as a conscious technique to reclaim denied and forbidden values.
If we allow that the original, archaic form of the tree-hung shaman was represented in such images as the birth of Adonis (below), then we can regard the crucifixion of the divine messiah as an inversion of the indigenous archetype. It turns ecstasy into suffering. Following this logic, the inverted crucifixion of the Eadwine psalter may be regarded as a re-inversion or correction to the original archetype: a refusal of the glorification of suffering and a return to the rapture of natural pleasure.
But is there other evidence in the Eadwine psalter that would support such an heretical view, elevating ecstasy over suffering, or link its hanged man in yet other ways to repressed shamanic traditions and rites?
Among the things that shamans do beside hang in trees—mainly for the purpose of divination: consider Odin who acquired the nine runic formulas in a tree-hung ordeal—is dance. Ecstatic movement lies at the heart of shamanism and all archaic religion. Even in the Old Testament, David, who became a King of Israel at age thirty, dances in reverence to the Shekinah, the Divine Feminine. When shamans dance they may use musical instruments, mainly, the drum and the pipe or Pan-pipes.
Fine, but what do such practices have do with the image of the crucified savior, inverted or otherwise?
The Acts of John is a Greek Gnostic text in the category of New Testament Apocrypha, material left out of the New Testament. It is pre-Nag Hammadi, having been discovered some time in the 19th Century, I believe. It was translated into English in 1924 by an Oxford scholar. It contains anecdotal material about the betrayal and death of Jesus, weird demonstrations of shapeshifting (another shamanic practice), and the account of a woman, Drusiana, who discovers not Jesus but John in the empty tomb. As for John himself, he is represented as a disciple with exceptional mystic or paranormal gifts. His experience of what happens to the crucified Jesus turns out to be quite different from what others around him attest.
The Acts of John states that at the gathering of the Last Supper, which took place in the upper room on Maundy Thursday, Jesus performed a mystic dance. He announces to the gathering, "Thou that dancest, perceive what I do, for thine is this passion of the humanity, which I am about to undergo." In short, he invites those attending to enter into his forthcoming (presumed) act of sacrifice with a different view of its meaning. As he leads the "round dance," he sings an antiphonal hymn composed of opposing or inverted phrases.
John describes how he fled Golgotha, unable to bear the scene, and went to the mountain cave where Jesus's body was later to be entombed. Then, at the very moment that Jesus appeared before the bereaved crowds in the agony of crucifixion, he revealed his experience to this solitary disciple in an entirely different way:
Jesus now guides John to a different vision of the crucifixion, not the bloody melodrama of the hanged man, but a numinous cosmic mandala. Instead of the man nailed to the Roman torture instrument, John sees a radiant cross of light extending to cosmic dimensions. This vision Jesus shows to John and John alone: "It is needful that one should hear these things from me, for I have need of one that will hear." The mystic revelation, which is nothing less than an alternative vision of the Crucifixion, needs a unique witness. The Mystic Jesus explains:
So, instead of the message of divine sacrifice and the glorification of suffering, typical enforcement of the victim-perpetrator bond, the Mystic Jesus presents a vision of wisdom and harmony. I would bet my Gnostic spurs that this passage was derived from a Mystery School discourse on the Pleromic Aeons. In Gnosticism, the cross is a boundary symbol (stauros) for the outermost limits of the Pleroma. I would call what the Mystic Jesus showed to John the Pleromic Cross.
The Alabaster Urn
MS 8846 contains numerous New Testament scenes: fol 12 v (Psalm 7) shows Jesus changing water to wine at the marriage in Cana:
Fol 3v shows a vignette of the Last Supper, without mushroom imagery:
Of the five round dishes or urns on the table, the central one, directly in front of Jesus, is covered with a mushroom-like top. Now, an urn could have such a top without allusion to anything mycological. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, not a phallic symbol. The same could be said for the mushroom-like helmet worn by the man at Jesus's feet, in front of the table. I don't consider either urn or helmet to be mycologically symbolic. Who is the supplicating man? One possibility would be Joseph of Arimathea, who is said to have gathered the blood of Jesus when he hung on the cross into a cup or grail. This legend is the source of the Christian version of the Holy Grail found for the first time in the writings of Robert de Boron of the 12th Century.
So far, it seems that the Eadwine illustrations follow the traditional and orthodox version of the New Testament. In other words, strictly along party lines. However, another heretical element shows up on folio page 12v, linked to Psalm 7. This page features a twelve-section panel of cameos, including the baptism in the Jordan, the marriage at Cana (pictured above), and the temptation in the wilderness. It also includes two sections with vivid mushroom imagery. On the bottom tier of the panel, next to one of the mycological images, is a second cameo of the last supper. It is almost identical to the one we considered above, except that instead of a man kneeling at the feet of Jesus, in front of the table, there is a woman:
It takes no guessing to know who this woman is: Mary Magdalene. She is the marginal character in the gospels, who turns out to be the central character in the Gnostic treatment of the Jesus story. The above cameo illustrates what happens on the evening of Maundy Thursday at the last supper: Magdalene anoints the feet of Jesus with holy oil from an alabaster jar.
There are many odd, anomalous details in the Eadwine illustrations. For instance, the preceding version of the last supper (fol 3v) with a patriarchal figure kneeling at Jesus' feet, actually shows his feet, and the kneeling man touches one. In the version with Mary Magdalene, who is especially remembered for anointing the feet of Jesus, they are not shown. In folio 3v, the figure to the left of Jesus points markedly to the covered urn—to suggest that it contains something that cannot be shown openly? In the panel of folio 12v, this same figure dips his finger into the urn upheld by Magdalene. Neither of these gestures relates to any Gospel incidents, as far as I know. It is certainly going to be impossible to work out all the illustrative details of the Eadwine psalter and know what the mean.
No matter, though, because the outstanding messages of the psalter are shown in broad, explicit terms. MS 8846 is not a coded document that demands we squint, speculate, and prevaricate, like so much of the material cited to support the Da Vinci Code fantasia. Rather, it is an open book of illuminated heresy.
In my own efforts to re-vision the last supper and the crucifixion over the years, I dared to suggest that Jesus was anointed, not to be the sacrificial lamb or martyred messiah, but to perform the mystic dance described in the Acts of John. The anointing of the feet is a sensuous act that confers on the dance a sacred character. To the Church Fathers who sought to legitimate the dominator game of the Roman Empire by the superhuman authority of the sacrificial Son of God, this heretical spin on the last evening of Jesus' life was extremely offensive. The Acts of John was one of the most condemned books of all time. As Elaine Pagels noted in The Gnostic Gospels, Pope Leo V, who reigned some three centuries after this text was written, found it necessary to reinforce the anathema of his pious predecessors and condemn it rigorously to the flames, along with anyone who might possess a copy.
Pope Leo did not get his way, however. One copy survived down into our time, and fell into the hands of some diehard Gnostics, including myself. Upon reading it the first time, I wondered: After she had performed that consecrating act, did the mysterious red-headed harlot, she who anoints, join the anointed one, the Mystic Jesus, in the sublime dance of the Pleroma?
I had not found any evidence, textual or otherwise, to support this heretical fantasy until the day I sat in the microfilm booth of the manuscript room at the National Library of France, in December 2006. When I scrolled down to folio page 12v, this is what I saw:
The Round Dance Hymn in the Acts of John (JLL trans.)
jll: April 11, 2008 Andalucia
Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2017 by John Lash.