First Week of January
The New Year and the Suffering King
The celebration and traditions of the New Year have been so prevalent throughout history that it is amazing more scholars do not wonder at the significance of the elaborate ceremonies. The similarities between the ceremonies of the ancients should make one think there is something to all of this instead of bundling them all into a pile to discard. The meaning of the New Year is not something we can deal with in one month and since it is all about the ascension process, we will often refer back to these rites in order to expand our understanding and make further attempts at enlightenment.
The New Year rites and the Atonement are linked by traditions stretching back to the dawn of history. We will look at the reason for this connection. Next we will touch on a few of the traditions of the king who suffers either personally or by proxy, in order to bring forth new life each year. Also a part of the tradition in most ancient societies was the ritual Sacred Marriage which they believed would ensure an abundant harvest. Finally, there will be a correlation made between the ancient rites of the New Year and how to apply it to our day.
Cutting Through Space and Time
In many ancient New Year rituals, a reenactment of the creation, the battle between good and evil, and coronation of the king were the usual fare. As will be shown throughout the this article, Hugh Nibley taught that what goes on in our temples should be viewed as happening at the New Year, as it symbolizes the beginning of all things.
"The first thing which emerged from the primordial waters was the temple, from which point creation spread in all directions, specifically this earthly creation, for the temple was actually transplanted from a preexistent world created long before."1 This statement by Nibley explains how so many truths from the temple have found their way into very ancient traditions. Constant accusations are made by scholars that the teachings and Atonement of Christ were stolen from more ancient sources. These truths have existed since the beginning of time and were taught to Adam so it is no wonder they have been found in fragments throughout history.
Why was the temple believed to mark the exact center of the universe?
At hundreds of holy shrines, each believed to mark the exact center of the Universe and represented as the point at which the four corners of the earth converged [the middle omphalos] - the navel of the earth [the umbilicus] one might have seen assembled at the New Year - the moment of creation, the beginning and ending of time - vast concourses of people, each thought to represent the entire human race in the presence of all its ancestors and gods.2
The creation of earth followed the pattern that began with the creation of the universe, beginning with Kolob. The center spot, like an altar, was where it all began, but it did not happen without the participation of the faithful. Nibley wrote that the function of the New Year was to repeat and continue this cycle. He repeatedly made the point in his writings that this was associated with the birth of the sun when all things were put into motion. Since our sun was lit by Christ,3 it is clear that Kolob came first. What we do in the temple is a crucial part of the continuation of the ordering process of the ongoing creation: ".we must all participate in the revival of a new year, and a new age, in bringing things to life again, and make our new oaths and covenants for a new time."4 Since time as we know it is only relevant to this earth, and because we also understand that space is not a barrier to higher beings, it will be helpful if we can see the integral message in Nibley's book Temple and Cosmos: the temple can overcome time and space to bring us symbolically back to the point of all creation, the beginning of time itself. He wrote "The New Year was the birthday of the human race and its rites dramatized the creation of the world; all who would be found in the 'Book of Life opened at the creation of the World' must necessarily attend."5
Nibley wrote often of the treasury where all knowledge is found, 'the treasury of light', which can be approached only by those who have passed through all the eons and all the places of the invisible God. We return to obtain it, bringing a lot of experience."6 No wonder so many prophets make it sound as though heaven is all about a prayer circle and constant hymns to God who is at the center. These prophets, taken to the treasury of all knowledge, are brought to not only the place, but also the time where it all began. It is this experience that the temple and the New Year rites repeat and continue.
Temple comes from the word 'templum' which is an instrument that cuts. If an instrument cuts through space and time, it can facilitate the movement from one place to another. Nibley equates the Feast of the Tabernacles of the Hebrews, that we have explored in past articles, to the temple. "It's the same thing as the outer court of the Greek temple, the temenos, which means 'temple,' 'to cut' - the point at which the two lines intersect. All space comes together at this absolute, theoretical, perfect point. It is the center of everything.it puts us into the picture of time and space."7 So what made the cuts necessary to bring us to the time and place for the rituals? Nibley taught that Christ opened the way. "That's why we call him 'the way, the road, or the gate.'"8 Since the cross ties together heaven and earth and is the symbol of the Atonement, the center of the cross would be significant. Yet, hopefully we will not make the common mistake of thinking it is the cross itself that holds the significance, but will recognize that the Man on the cross would be the focus.
We have mentioned the orphic bowl before but feel it is important to describe it again. This ancient alabaster bowl depicts God as "a winged serpent coiled around the World Egg. The praying figures encircling it are witnessing the miracle of creation. Whatever the form, the powerful idea of a tangible sacred center to the cosmos always fascinated the ancient world."9 The men and women in that prayer circle, shown in a very sacred pose, assist the process happening in the center point where the serpent is shown in death around the egg. His sacrifice was not in vain however, for creation was now in motion. The Babylonian hymn of creation, the Enuma Elish, that was celebrated each New Year means "as once above".10 In this hymn, when the Lord of Life was challenged by the monster Tiamat, Marduk was sent to slay the evil one. The Three major Gods then helped Marduk begin his own creation.11
Repeating the pattern of the creation is certainly instructional, but why is it necessary for us to continually do the same thing? Nibley quoted the poet Yeats in explaining that: "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world". Nibley goes on: "Our civilization is collapsing, falling apart, because there is no center, everything is loosened."12
The early apostles had the knowledge of how to continue to bring order out of chaos. This gnosis was partially revealed and understood from the beginning but the full package was given to the twelve. Nibley wrote that these things were "given to them as a special blessing to make that dispensation complete.13 He went on to say that those ordinances were described in great detail and that we could almost go through the whole temple ceremony from the writings scattered throughout the ancient world. The difference, he said, was that "the authority remains in one church." Many church members reject a further understanding of these sacred things because they feel other sources are polluted and they do not want to receive knowledge from anywhere other than the Church. That is very sad since this is the dispensation of the fullness of times and so many wonderful things are being uncovered that have been hidden. If the source is evil that is one thing, but if it is only misunderstood by its adherents, then we can benefit by sifting the good from the bad. The early Gnostics in the Christian Church became confused about matter being evil, but they also recorded many truths. To reject what we can learn from them because of their errors would be short sighted. Nibley told us where the term gnosis came from: "That's what gnosis is: the knowledge of what the Lord taught the apostles after the resurrection."14
It all begins with the Atonement: "Adam in the presence of God is the quintessential atonement."15 Since Adam and Eve experienced spiritual death, which was separation from God, their purpose after being cast out of the garden was to return to God's presence. The atonement makes that possible. The temple, a symbol for the Body of Christ, is the organizing force for the eternities that makes it possible to return to the Father and become joint-heirs with His Son. The Egyptians believed the temple was the primeval mound from which the sun god emerged to begin cosmogony (the creation of the universe). It is all about sacrifice and rebirth of the individual, and the unity and organization of the eternal community, the Church of the Firstborn. It always comes back to the Atonement and being born of God:
For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fullness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace. And now, verily I say unto you, I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn; And all those who are begotten through me are partakers of the glory of the same, and are the church of the Firstborn. Ye were also in the beginning with the Father; that which is Spirit, even the Spirit of Truth.
Doctrine and Covenants 93: 20-23
As we discussed in Winter Solstice and Saving Christmas, "the goal [of the ancient civilizations was always] to restore the primal community of Gods and men, or as we would say, to achieve atonement."16 The New Year Rites of most of the major ancient societies was all about enthroning and empowering the king so he could bring about a state of organization and oneness in the community he ruled, but before the foundation of a community can be stretched out, a center place has to be established. In February we will look more closely at Facsimile 1, the lion couch scene, which gives the story of the establishment of the center place. Facsimile 2, fig. 1, illustrates another aspect to that same principle of the beginning of a new creation through sacrificial death and rebirth. Anciently, before the new kings could complete their coronation, they would have to symbolically go through the sacrifice that brings about life.
Druids, Romans and other cultures looked upon the year as a complete age, beginning with the winter solstice. This is when the king would be symbolically born along with the sun. The baby would grow fast since his complete life cycle would be over in one year. As we have outlined in earlier articles, the sun appears to stand still for a few days after the solstice, some cultures believed it would not move for twelve days. These were days that needed united celebration, prayer circles and gift giving to bring about the energy necessary to help get the sun going. This would also be the time that the Egyptian goddess, Isis, would hide her new son Horus in the swamp until he was old enough to defend himself.
Eight days after a male Jewish child is born, a circumcision is supposed to take place.17 Joseph Smith was born at the tail end of the solstice, on December 23rd, and eight days later, the New Year began. We will discuss the Abrahamic Covenant and circumcision further in February, but for now we need to mention a different kind of circumcision spoken of in Ezekiel 44:9, the circumcision of the heart. With the new covenant after the coming of Christ, it was time for the Church to move to a higher state. They no longer needed the circumcision of the flesh. It was time for the higher rebirth, being born of fire and spirit in the heart (Fac. 2, fig. 1), which is the circumcision of the heart. The seed planted in the heart grows out of the old seed of the dying year. The seed cannot be planted in a stony heart, but only one that has been broken. Christ was bruised for our transgressions. His terrible suffering at the hands of the Pharisees and then His death were somehow necessary. With His stripes we are healed because the old husk is broken down and softened so the new seed (new life) can burst forth at the New Year.
At the New Year in many ancient societies, the creation and the atonement would be re-enacted. As the suffering King, the ruling monarch would be slapped, usually until the tears ran. Some traditions went so far as to have the high priest put the king in a coffin-like hole in the ground, cover the hole and leave him there for three days. During that time the people would mourn. The cave was an Egyptian symbol for the womb of Mother Earth.
In Egypt, when the king was brought forth during the New Year's rites, the people would celebrate as the king was re-enthroned and the coronation and sacred marriage would take place. Each year would mark a new beginning and so these things would have to take place for each new round of creation. This ceremony was believed to bring about the renewal of life, the growth of all life in the coming spring.
The king was considered a new king every year. He was the star, born from the top of the Christmas tree. That Urim and Thummim would be the foundation of the new round. We thoroughly explored the foundation in the article Peter the Great Fisherman. Peter being lifted from the water by the Lord was a wonderful type for that foundation stone with Jesus as the chief cornerstone. If He is not the chief cornerstone of every new foundation established by the ordinances of the temple, there will be no substance to the work in the eternities. Brother Nibley wrote: "Without the ordinances therefore, there is no foothold or foundation to anything in this life."18 Brother Nibley made it clear that the New Year rites would not happen without the concept of truth represented by the Egyptian goddess Maat. She is the new star born from the top of the tree, the Urim and Thummim that became the foundation stone for the new creation, the stone of truth from which all new life springs:
The tendency of Maat to emerge in the first place as the female lead is due to the peculiar ease, already noted, with which she can substitute for any other deity and to the fact that she has a place not only in the coronation rites but in all ordinances, where her presence is necessary to vouch for the correctness, legitimacy, and authority of all that is done; she is not only wise and farseeing, but she is the unfailing sense of rightness and justice. Hence when the pharaoh ritually dramatizes the creation, or rather performs 'the repeating of the creation,' doing what his father Re did in the beginning, 'everything he does is creation, therefore his planning must be Maat: everything must be according to Maat.' She is still the Stone of Truth, the green symbol of Maat that hangs at the throat of the king.19
The Enuma Elish As noted above, the Babylonian creation epic, the Enuma Elish, is one of the most well known and ancient of New Year's traditions. Their festival would last for twelve days. It was a period of purification which would also renew all vegetation. Participants would give a reenactment of sacred rites including the creation, the battle between good and evil, and the Sacred Marriage. Their king would begin his reign on New Year's Day.
Marduk is the name the Babylonians gave to the first king of the earth. He is the god who was given the charge to lead the forces of good. Many of his traits would seem to indicate he was Adam. Again we can see where cultures always go wrong when they begin to worship the prophets instead of the God they represent. At the New Year, the king would enter the shrine of Marduk and allow the high priest to remove his scepter, ring and crown. He would then sit on a chair before the statue of Marduk. The priest would then strike the king on the cheek and force him to his knees before the statue.20
Afterward, the priest would restore the king's instruments of office and then he would strike the king on the cheek to try to make tears flow. Nibley wrote that the king had to disappear each year in order to show that he could overcome death. He would disappear in an underground vault, where he would be humiliated. A priest would slap his face until the tears ran down; he would be clothed in a mock robe and crowned with a crown of weeds. A reed would be put in his hand. Then the lord of misrule, the false king, took his place for three days."21 After three the king would come forth from the tomb triumphant to show that he had overcome death and now he was fit to rule for a new year. To assist him in coming forth, the people, representing all the inhabitants of the earth, would sing the great hymn, the Enuma Elish. Nibley wrote that "they were repeating what had happened elsewhere, before - the pattern on which this particular earth was founded."22 Since Nibley makes it clear that this is the pattern established when the universe was created, and also for this 'particular' earth, one is left to wonder if there is something different about the history of this earth compared to other creations. Many points of science and mythology lend credence to the idea that the conflict at the beginning of all creation in this universe was repeated and is still ongoing on this, the Atonement earth.
The following paragraph is loaded with symbolism that, hopefully, those who have read all the previous articles will recognize:
|At sunset, the urigallu [priest] tied together forty straight reeds of three cubits in length bound together with a palm branch, dug a hole in the courtyard and planted therein with honey, cream and oil of the best quality. A white bull was placed before the trench, and the king kindled a fire in the middle of it. They both recited a prayer, the contents of which are lost apart from the opening lines addressed to the bull of Anu as the shivering light illuminating the darkness.
Also on this day, the people on the streets began to turn their eyes upward to the ziggurat, the great mountain in which the lifeless god Marduk is imprisoned; their mourning will strengthen him.23
How easy it was through the centuries for the ancient societies to lose the knowledge that their kings were only enacting the atonement and creation. They knew their king was only a representative of God, but they lost sight of the need for an actual sacrifice of the Creator Himself having to open the way for redemption. Everywhere we see the fragments of the Three Pillars of the Gospel, but without the foundation of Christ and the sacred ordinances He established to give efficacy to the actions. There is an interconnectedness between Christ and Adam involved in the temple that also creates confusion. The Lord sent ordinances to Adam to save him from the fall. As we noted above, Adam in the presence of God is the Atonement. It is all about saving the first man and woman and establishing their kingdom. If we want to take part in those blessings, we have to consider ourselves as Adam or Eve as we progress through the ascension. By going through that process, Adam was confused with Christ and was believed by many ancient societies as the one who brought about the redemptive process, however, no one but Christ was pure enough to enter heaven. The white bull which the Sumerians and the Babylonians sacrificed denoted purity, but Adam was only made pure through the blood of the Savior.
The one crucial point that was understood anciently was that the New Year festival gave a sense of stability in an unstable world, "inasmuch as it was celebrated annually in many places with the same rites and theme enacted for the same purposes, whether the divinity was Tammuz, Marduk, Ashur, or any other vegetation god. This continuity in the myth and its ritual established a harmony with nature in perpetuity, when the renewal of life was the most urgent need of the moment." It is always so fun to see the gospel woven throughout history. For more on the Enuma Elish tradition from a non-LDS viewpoint, go to the following footnote.24
Although the titles of the gods were fluid and should be thought of as stations or offices more than people, it is clear that Horus the hawk (or falcon) has many traits in common with Adam, as does Marduk in Babylon . Father Adam leads out in the celebration and the organizing work of the temple. He does this under the direction of the Godhead. The new star as the highest form of fruit birthed from the Christmas tree (see The Christmas Tree of Life) becomes the new foundation for this world. The star is Adam and the whole thing is put in motion by the Four Sons of Horus for the new creation. Those four sons represent the four quarters of the earth as they bring the world together for the prayer circle of creation. When that star is put in motion, time begins. The three pillars of the Gospel; creation, fall and atonement, are not three separate concepts but are interconnected like legs on a stool whose seat goes round and round as does the hypocephalus (Facsimile 2). The Plan of Salvation is all about the temple as Nibley says:
Almost always when the plan is mentioned something is said about its glad reception, 'when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy' (Job 38:7). The great year-rites, common to all ancient societies, are a rehearsal of the Creation, usually presented in dramatic form; invariably the rites end with a great and joyful acclamation: so all the gods and all the spirits came together to hail God upon his throne.and they rejoiced before him in his temple, the source of all good things.The word poema, meaning literally creation, owes its prominence, as Walter Otto has shown, to the circumstance that the first poets were all inspired people who sang one and the same song, namely the Song of Creation.
The whole purpose of the book of Jubilees is to show that the great rites of Israel, centering about the temple and the throne, are a celebration 'which had been observed in heaven since the creation'.The thing to notice here is that man shares fully in these heavenly jubilations; the poet is simply intoxicated with the assurance that man, a mere speck of 'wet dust,' is allowed not only to know about the secret councils of the beginning, but actually to share in them, not only as a participant but as one of the directors!25
We normally think of beginning our creation far in the future, but the seeds of that creation are begun here for those who have the opportunity of receiving the ordinances and living up to those promises. Each one of us can follow Christ, as Abraham has shown us, and begin a center point, a foundation, and an eternal family. That was what the ancient kings were doing, symbolically going through the atonement, assisted by the faith of his people who considered him their father. The king was given rebirth and then assisted his people to achieve rebirth, to become a feather in his cap, a jewel in his crown, a star on the evergreen tree of life; a Urim and Thummim which then becomes the foundation for the new god's creation. This was all done through the power of Christ and without His priesthood, the forms mean nothing.
|Like the offering table and the lotus flower, the Savior has offered His all on the altar and through that offering, new life has burst forth like the seeds from the pod of the lotus plant to take root in new soil, 'a tree springing up unto everlasting life.'26
The Sacred Marriage
Indeed, the renewal of nature in spring, at the New Year's festival, was conceived as the marriage of the Goddess with the liberated god. Their union took place in the temples, and the change in nature and the temple ritual constituted the Divine Union, being the two events inseparable and equivalent. The king was then made the Divine Bridegroom, and the High Priestess as his Divine Consort, the Goddess incarnate.27
In Celtic beliefs, the king in myth is 'married' to his kingdom in a ceremony, at which a libation is offered him by his bride, Sovereignty. The Sovereignty of Ireland may appear as an ugly hag, symbol of the desolate and bloody kingdom. However, when kissed by the rightful claimant to kingship, she becomes a beautiful girl who reveals herself as a goddess.28
We can easily see the parable of the Bridegroom and the ten virgins. This parable is so important in a legal sense. The Church of the Firstborn is the bride of Christ by law so that those who participate in the symbolic Sacred Marriage can receive all the rights that would pertain to Christ by being His legal spouse. Thus we become joint-heirs and can receive all that the Father has to offer.
The king had to suffer in order to be planted as the foundation of his people but he did not have to suffer to the degree the Chief Cornerstone of that foundation did. Nibley quoted from the Acts of John:
You must see Me as I suffer, what I suffer, who I am, and then ye shall know that I go hence. Then he gave them certain signs, and he took their hands and said, 'Know my suffering and thou shalt have the power not to suffer. I will be crucified so that you won't have to be. You will merely be in token,' he says. 'That which thou knowest I myself will teach thee.'29
We do not have kings today. Is there a correlation between the ancient New Year rites and our dispensation? Brigham Young taught that the resurrection of those who lived in the last days would come under the direction of Joseph Smith. President Young taught:
If we ask who will stand at the head of the resurrection in this last dispensation, the answer is -- Joseph Smith, Junior, the Prophet of God. He is the man who will be resurrected and receive the keys of the resurrection, and he will seal this authority upon others, and they will hunt up their friends and resurrect them when they shall have been officiated for, and bring them up. And we will have revelations to know our forefathers clear back to Father Adam and Mother Eve, and we will enter into the temples of God and officiate for them.30
Joseph Smith holds the keys that organize this last dispensation, as Brigham taught. As we explored in Into the Wilderness, Joseph was rooted in as the center point in Liberty Jail in Missouri . He is established as the one who holds the keys in D&C 138, to unlock the Spirit Prison and release the prisoners. He is in charge of the resurrection for this dispensation. He is like the suffering king of the dispensation who had to go into the ground, suffer for his people and come forth. Having that authority was what it was all about. Joseph knew it, and the ancient pharaohs knew it. Those rulers were desperate to prove their authority as a son of heaven.31 We can thus see that heads of dispensations are rooted in to create at-one-ment for their people as a representative of Christ. This same concept continues to filter down in smaller circles as we apply gospel truths to ourselves:
And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by the blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.32
The cycles of the seasons teach us about death and resurrection. Hugh Nibley teaches that in ancient civilizations the New Year rites included the symbolic slaying of the king and his returning to life to begin another round of creation. This practice seems to be rooted in truths regarding the redemption of the Savior who was to come. Here the mountain becomes the symbol of these things:
Crowned with sun disk
yellow as September aspen,
the dying mountain
bleeds crimson leaves
across its back.
Red flows down
canyons and ravines
to valley floor where we
glean golden fields.
In fading light
we build a hedge against
dark winter nights
dreary as Golgotha, grateful
for Nature's annual offering
that guarantees us spring.
Sharon Price Anderson
His Dwelling Place
How far is Kolob,
that holy place so near
the majesty of God?
Measure the distance
you imagine in
years of light.
Multiply miles from
Earth to Sun and
number your days
a million times.
Then within these walls
feel His breath
on your cheek as
He says your name
and listen to the Peace
only your contrite
heart can hear.
Sharon Price Anderson
1T&C p. 72
2Ibid p. 156
4T&C p. 156
5Ibid p. 157-8
6Ibid p. 234
7Ibid p. 144-5
8Ibid p. 294
9Ibid p. 160
11Ibid pp. 160-161
12Ibid p. 140
13Ibid p. 296
15Ibid p. 383
16Ibid p. 400
18T&C p. 283
19JSP p. 287
21T&C p. 161
On the evening of the fourth day, the Enuma Elish, or the Epic of Creation, was recited in its entirety, for each New Year shared something with the beginning of times, when the world was created and the cycle of seasons started. A recital of that triumphant achievement increased the power of all favorable forces to overcome the hazards which had led to the incarceration of the god of natural life. In later stages of the festival, Marduk´s battle with Chaos was actually represented in the ritual, but on the evening of the fourth day the recital of the Epic was only an interlude in the general preparations for the atonement.
In the city, people were disturbed. The king, the shepherd of the land, had been robbed of his splendor, of the protection of the royal insignia and reduced to a minimum of power which corresponded to the low ebb in the life of nature, to the "captivity" of the god and also to the state of chaos preceding creation. Five days of sacrifice, atonement and purification culminated in the king´s degradation and reinstatement.
The commentary says that "Marduk was confined in the mountain", and it is a Mesopotamian formula for the death of a god, characterizing the point from which the festival took its start. Death here means the suffering of the god, and here we have a clear allusion to the Descents of Inanna/Ishtar, who descended, were wounded, died and were reborn. Similarly, it is said of Marduk at the New Year´s festival that "Into the house of bondage, from the sun and light, they caused him to descend".
And more: "people hasten in the streets, they seek Marduk saying, ' Where is he held captive?'" We assume then that much of the commotion centered around the temple tower, the ziggurat, the man-made mountain that links the Underworld to the Realms Above.
With these words, the gods put all the power of which they dispose in the hands of Marduk. Marduk´s destiny is now declared to be unequaled, for he actually commands the consolidated power of all the gods. It is in the Epic that this power is given so that Marduk can command all threats of annihilation to existence, and this is also the meaning of the ceremony of First Determination of Destiny. All gods´ powers are conferred to the liberated god, who then is ready to lead the battle against all powers of darkness, death and chaos that could affect Babylon in the coming year.
25T&C pp. 192-193
26A Study Guide to the Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham p. 81
28WM p. 186
29T&C p. 315
30Journal of Discourses, Vol. 15:138-139
31A in E p. 233