Earlier today, From the Bodies of the Gods: Psychoactive Plants and the Cults of the Dead by Earl Lee arrived.
I wish to be careful with my initial description of the book, because it largely confirms some suspicions I have had for a long time... And at the same draws off a few sources that I also consider dubious at best. In particular, the author refers to the burial of Father Fancois Berenger Sauniere. The author is drawing off Holy Blood, Holy Grail (which he openly states), but which is also a text that is not considered precisely scholarly. Holy Blood, Holy Grail is probably most notable for both inspiring the idea that Jesus may have been married to Mary Magdalene, and for inspiring The Da Vinci Code by author Dan Brown.
I can, however, forgive this. After all, the author has interesting reasons for using Sauniere's funeral as part of his dialogue about the role of the Blessed Dead in Christianity, and their connection to sacred oils and sacred foods. And while I find myself enjoying his theories, I am not exactly sure of his scholarship. Nonetheless, the second chapter entitled Sacred Oils, Sacred Foods is so fascinating as to be worth the price of the book. I should note, here, that at times the author's tone borders on snark, but that tone is (in my opinion) often quite appropriate.
He opens up by establishing that “Christ” is not a name of Jesus, but a title. This is familiar ground for many in these circles. But bear with me:
“In his popular book The Golden Bough, which was first published in 1890, Sir James Frazer explains that the word messiah was originally used as a title for the one who was anointed. Frazer states that for a person who was anointed, “the application of the holy oil to his head was believed to impart to him directly a portion of the divine spirit. Hence he bore the title of Messiah, which with its Greek equivalent Christ, means no more than 'the Anointed One'.” (1961, 1:21).” (P. 15)
The author goes on to ask why Anointing does not play a more prominent role in the Church, which is a very good question. (It is also one he more-or-less answers later.) He also explains prohibitions against harming one who is anointed, and their role in Judaic religion, which also explains why the Pharisees had the Romans take care of their rather interesting trouble-maker, The Christ.
What is more interesting, however, is his continued discussion points on Anointing. The author points out parts of the Gospels in which Jesus is Anointed, such as by the “sinful woman” of Luke 7:36-38, and the anointing by Mary of Bethany in John 12. He also suggests that as part of his Baptismal rites, Jesus may have been Anointed by John the Baptist (which is a very credible hypothesis in my opinion).
He also emphasizes the importance of Anointing in Luke 4:18:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised...” (KJV)
The author goes on to say:
“This passage in Luke is similar to Matthew 12:18 and John 3:34, and all three passages appear to point to Isaiah 61:1, in which the prophet says: 'The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted...'” (P. 17)
Thus Jesus was supposed by his followers, at least by Mr. Lee's thought process, to be a messiah because he was anointed. And because he was anointed, he was allotted a certain portion of divine power (if you will). As such:
“Some likely believed, based on the passage of 16:10, that Jesus could not remain dead. Yahweh would not permit the Messiah's corpse to rot in the earth, just as Yahweh would not permit the author of Psalms to remain dead. The author of Psalms states: 'For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.' This idea is later affirmed in Acts 2:25-31, in which the exact words from Psalms are directly applied by the apostle Paul in his speech record in Acts 13:35-36.” (P. 20)
It is here that the chapter seems to hit its stride, which at times takes some very weird turns, but at others makes perfect sense and seems to be entirely brilliant:
“Fifty days after his crucifixion his apostles gathered to eat a meal for the Jewish festival of Shavuot. During this meal it's said that they experienced something remarkable. They had been anointed in accordance with the holiday season (as in 1 Samuel 10:1) before they sat down to eat. Then the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles as each one was enveloped in a supernatural fire.
'When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one. And they were all filled with the Holy spirit and began to speak in tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.' (Acts 2:1-4.)
This supernatural experience we call the Pentecost event (pentacost is the Greek word for Shavuot, meaning “fifty days”). As a result of this event, the apostles came to believe that Jesus had, in fact, been the true messiah and that his violent death had ushered in the kingdom of God. This experience at the feast of Pentecost was the beginning of Christianity, and this meal became the model of the Agape Feast: Christians came together for a meal that memorialized the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. At these meals they ate the flesh and drank the blood of Jesus, as he had commanded, and they also anointed each other with sacred oils, according to the Jewish tradition (Logan 2006, p.78). During these feasts people often experienced a state called theolepsy, or “being possessed by God.” From this experience many people received the gifts of the Spirit, which included prophecy, discernment, tongues, healing, and other spiritual endowments. This much, at least, is clear from various historical studies of the early Christian Church, but it's unclear how they came to experience these spiritual gifts.” (P. 21)
He proceeds to introduce the Anointing oils, and what they were shortly thereafter:
“'Take also for yourself the finest of spices: of flowing myrrh five hundred shekels, and of fragrant cinnamon half as much, two hundred and fifty, and of fragrant cane two hundred and fifty, and of cassia five hundred, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and of olive oil a hin. You shall make of these a holy anointing oil, a perfume mixture, the work of a perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil.' (Exodus 30:23-5.)
'The Chrism is superior to baptism, for it is from the word 'Chrism' that we have been called “Christians,” certainly not because of the word 'baptism.' And it because of the Chrism that 'the Christ' has his name. For the Father anointed the Son, and the Son anointed the apostles, and the apostles anointed us. He who has been anointed possesses everything. He possesses the resurrection, the light, the cross, and the Holy Spirit.' (Gospel of Philip, 74:12-21; Robinson 1998, p. 153.).” (P. 21-22)
He then goes on to compare Judaic practices of anointing to those found in Egypt, particularly in relation to the cult of Horus. But I'm actually going to ignore that from now, and focus on when he begins returning his theories regarding early Christians, the powers promised by being anointed by the Chrism or eating a sacred meal, and the potentials therein.
“The sacred oils used in Hebrew christening rites were not ordinary. Typically several drugs were added to them, including hallucinogenic plants and a large amount of cannabis (Godbey 1930, P.222). The book of Exodus describes one of the original recipes for the sacred oil of the Hebrews as containing '250 shekels worth of Kannabosm” (Exodus 30:22-23). Although there has been a good deal of debate on this topic recently, Kaneh Bosm almost certainly refers to cannabis.” (p. 24)
In the footnotes he goes on to add:
“Because of the work of Polish anthropologist Sula Benet, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced in 1980 that her interpretation of Kaneh Bosm (also Kineboisin) as hemp blossoms was essentially correct. Previously it was thought to be calamus, an herb that may have some hallucinogenic properties and was used in North American shamanism.” (p. 24; footnotes).
It is perhaps here I should point out the inclusion of cannabis in Sepher Raziel:
“The third herbe is Canabus [cannabis] & it is long in shafte & clothes be made of it. The vertue of the Juse [juice] of it is to anoynt thee with it & with the iuce of arthemesy & ordyne thee before a mirrour of stele [steel] & clepe thou spiritts & thou shallt see them & thou shalt haue might of binding & of loosing deuills & other things.”
The distinction to be made here is that the anointing is being performed on a magic mirror, presumably like those used in medieval Necromancy within the church, so that the beings within the mirror can be bound or loosed by the Will of the magician. (It is here that I owe another nod to Vitriol999 for first bringing that section of Sepher Raziel to my attention.)
He also goes on to assert that having a sacred oil made from the body of a dead Christian, one of the Christian Blessed Dead, was more important than simply putting on this oil. On this point, I am dubious. But it bears a mention, for it impacts the section I found far more interesting:
“These holy oils were made from the bodies of those who were already part of the Corpus Christi – those who had died in Christ. The theology of the first Christians reflects the belief that their new converts had absorbed the sacred flesh taken from the body of the god, and these converts now possessed and were possessed by the spirit of their god, whom they often called Lord Jesus. They were now “in Christ” just as Christ was a Spiritus Sancti, a “holy ghost” dwelling within them.” (p. 25)
It should be noted that for early Roman Christians, this is distinctly possible with their many gatherings in the crypts and cemeteries of their deceased fellows. This is also part of the author's argument that Christianity was an attempt to restore the rites of the Blessed Dead to Judaism, rites he suggests that had been forced out of the Judaic mainstream by the Cult of Yahweh. It is interesting, but I don't know nearly enough about Judaic traditions and history to be sure of his source material, or if he is stretching his case. Regardless, he ties the two traditions together (Judaism and early Christianity) in an interesting manner:
“As I pointed out in the introduction, throughout the Near East and also among the Hebrews the funeral feasts were called Marzeah. During these feasts the celebrants performed burial rites, consumed specially prepared food and drink, and anointed themselves with holy oils. (King 1988, P.37). According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Agape Feast, used by the earliest Christians to celebrate the death (and resurrection) of Jesus the Christened One, was derived from these ancient Hebrew burial feasts. “This, at its origin, is clearly marked as funerary in its intention, a fact attested by the most ancient testimonies that have come down to us. Our Lord, in instuting the Eucharist, used the words: 'As often as you shall eat this Bread and drink this chalice, you shall show forth the Lord's Death.” (Leclercq 1907.)...” (P. 30)And just as interestingly:
“Through the centuries several rival sects developed within Judaism, including the Nazarenes, who were still loyal to the old cult of the dead. The stubborn Nazarenes eventually formed the mustard seed of what became the new Christian cult (Butz 2010, P. 58). In recent years sever scholars have come to the conclusion that Christianity developed out of the old Hebrew cult of the dead. These scholars include Lewis Bayles Paton, the author of Spiritism and the Cult of the Dead in Antiquity, and more recently the famous Jewish scholar Shalom Spiegel (1899-1984). As Davies notes, “In his quiet way, Spiegel at various points indicates a degree of agreement with the notion that, in Christianity, Judaism gave rise to a pagan cult of the dead, in particular a cult of sacrifice, a return [he implies] to an ancient legacy predating both Judaism and Christianity” (1999, p. 64).” (P. 39)
Honestly, I could go on quoting the book at length, because it contains the seeds of some extremely interesting little tidbits. I would very much like to know what someone like Rufus Opus or Fr. AIT would make of it, and I haven't even waded into the chapters on Greek and Roman necromancy, and how the author thinks they informed the early Christian worldview. I very much look forward to it, for I am already finding myself enormously softened to the idea of working with the Christian Blessed Dead, and the chapter has done more to make me think about certain magical practices (such as anointing oneself before conjuring spirits) than any book I have encountered of late.
I suspect Goetic Magicians, particularly those interested in the works of Jake Stratton-Kent, will love the book. I know that I do already, even if some of his source material may be... dubious, at best.
Be seeing you,