“…we are held fast in the grip of the dead.”

Monotheism as we know it arose out of the wreckage of the Bronze Age collapse, out of the shattered bicameral mind. It first took form in the following Axial Age, but came to fruition in the post-Axial era with Manichaeanism, Rabbinic Judaism, Christianity, etc. Then many centuries later appeared Islam that quickly took over the Middle East.

Islam has been one of the most extreme manifestations of not only monotheism but of Jaynesian consciousness more generally. It’s not only that the bicameral voices went silent but became entirely forbidden, absolutely denied according to doctrine (Islam as Worship of a Missing God; Islamic Voice-Hearing; & Psychology in Religion or as a Religion). Accordingly, voice-hearing is not to be trusted.

Yet there has remained the mystical traditions in all of the monotheistic religions, Islam included. These mystics, as with the prophets, repeatedly ventured back into the territory of heresy. They had the audacity to claim to hear God or the angels or the prophets of old, to know the divine directly. To make such claims typically meant a death sentence. The bicameral voices didn’t die of natural causes but were genocidally wiped out.

The Old Testament describes the official decrees to kill off the last of the voice-hearers,  having gone so far as to have commanded parents to murder their own children. But the bicameral mind exists in all of us and so the voices keep erupting back to the surface, continue to defy church hierarchy. They can’t be denied for they speak with the authority of God or gods, of the divine and otherworldly, an authorization of command that trumps all mere human claims to authority.

These bicameral voices are the voices of the dead, the ancients; of the past, the eternal.

* * *

Catafalque
by Peter Kingsley

It was to show that our ideas of truth, or reality, are just an upside-down illusion. We, among the so-called living, are not in charge of our lives as we think. The real fingers around our necks or on our pulses are not our own. As a matter of fact we are hardly alive at all, here, because the real truth is that we are held fast in the grip of the dead.

This is why [Shihab al-Din Yahya] Suhrawardi’s tradition is, itself, so dangerously alive. It’s able to reach out through and across the centuries, secretly, silently, whenever someone is ready—whoever, wherever, you are. And that aliveness explains the name he gave his Ishraqi tradition: the “eternal leaven”.

Just like leaven or yeast it contains its own living germ, its transformative enzyme, inside. But that also makes it a perpetual source of ferment; of disorder and disturbance, agitation, unpredictable change. And this in turn is exactly why Suhrawardi was killed at the age of thirty-six, put to death by the rigid powers of dogmatism for opening the door to too much life.

Instead of admitting as expected to the Islamic clergy that prophecy was dead, that it had come to an end with Muhammad, when interrogated he gently indicated it was still alive inside him.

But even more threateningly, and offensively, he allowed prophecy to spread unchecked not just forward into the present or future. He also followed it far into the past—openly announcing that his own tradition of the dawn reached back way beyond Muahammad to the earliest Greeks and Persians. That was one of the main reasons for his execution: that he made the mistake of treading in the footsteps of the Ancients.

In fact aside from describing this troublesome leaven or restless ferment as eternal, he had another name for it too. At times he also called it “the leaven of the Pythagoreans”.

And he traced this livingness back not just to the sacred figure of Hermes but very specifically, very explicitly, to somebody else in particular—the philosopher and prophet Empedocles.

Just like some cosmic cycle, the prophetic impulse to find life in death is always going to be met by the deceptive need to turn life into death. Even though his final role as a martyr, not to mention many of the details in his teachings, Suhrawardi was following the traces of one very particular prophetic tradition: the lineage stemming from the great Gnostic known as Seal of the Prophets, Mani. And as is bound to be the case with such sacred traditions, that heretically challenge every cherished collective belief, the most potent threat to the threats it poses is never going to come only from outside.

On the contrary, it’s going to come from the innermost circle—in exactly the same way that it also comes from inside us.

4 thoughts on ““…we are held fast in the grip of the dead.”

  1. I still haven’t finished reading “Catafalque:…” Each section is so big in content (not in the number pages), I need to break from my reading and note-taking and margin scribbling for 1 or 2 days to let all layers of my ‘mind’ absorb and process it– and to correlate it with other the other readings (including of Jung) and life experiences which have prepared me for this book at this time.

    • It was a lengthy project to get through that book. It was slow going. I found myself stopping regularly, taking notes, contemplating. I also needed to take many breaks in between. I finally was able to finish it because it was so quiet and peaceful at work recently. It is worth the effort.

    • In case you want to look at the full context, the above posted passage from Catafalque is found from page 369 to 371. It’s in part four, at the end of the second section and the beginning of the third section. Kingsley is discussing Henry Corbin’s study and translation of Suhrawardi’s writings as part of the tradition of Ishraqi (point of dawn in the East).

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