Saturday, October 23, 2010

Mary, the Mound and the Bread of Life

This Nativity icon shows Mary with the Christ Child (the Bread of Life) in a mound.
The mound is shaped like an ancient clay bread oven.

Alice C. Linsley

The mountain image for the Nativity of Christ follows verses such as Habakkuk 3.3 - "God came from Mount Paran" and the clay oven shape relates to the claim that Jesus is the "bread of Life."

In observation of the Heavens it is evident that the Sun always rises in the east and appears to journey across the sky to the west. The only time when there are no shadows is high noon, so in terms of the solar day, this is the temporal sacred center. The spatial sacred center is between Heaven and Earth, on the mountain top. Abraham, Moses and other biblical figures climbed to the tops of mountains to encounter the Creator.  Jesus, who "came down from Heaven", was revealed on Calvary and on the Mount of Transfiguration.

The sacred center is temporal and spatial, halfway between East and West as measured by the Sun's movement to high noon, and halfway between Heaven and Earth. This is the place of encounter between God and Man, the place of both judgment and redemption. 

The mountain image as a celestial pattern is very old. It is the safest place to be when the chaotic waters rise. Te-hom (Hebrew: תְּהוֹם‎), the chaotic deep,  is the opposite of te-hut, divine wisdom and order. (The oldest known moral code is the Law of Tehut which dates to about 5,000 B.C.) According to the ancient Afro-Asiatics, when God spoke the creation into being He also fixed boundaries which those who honor God are not trespass. Trespassing divinely established boundaries invites chaos (tehom) to return like a great flood to the world. So tehom and tehut are binary opposites, but tehut is the greater of the two because it preserves order and life.

The victory of tehut (order) over tehom (chaos) relates to the annual inundation of the Nile and helps us to understand the Egyptian concept of creation. One of the oldest creation myths envisioned the first place in the world as a mound emerging from the waters of a universal ocean. Here the first life form was seen as a lily, growing on the peak of the primeval mound. The ancient Egyptians called the mound Tatjenen, meaning "the emerging land".

In Hindu and Buddhist mythology the mound that emerged from the primordial seas at the beginning of time is called Mount Meru. It emerges from the center of the Cosmic Ocean, and the Sun and seven visible planets circle the mountain. Mount Meru in Hinduism is a mythological mountain. However, there are two mountains called Meru in Africa, one in Kenya and the other in Tanzania. Meru, spelled Meri in Egyptian, is Mary in English. Meri is sometimes spelled Meni, with the n taking the place of the r, as in the Southeastern Asian languages (like Siamese), which call Mary "Mania."

The Virgin Mary, whose womb swelled with the Son of God, is sometimes portrayed in icons as the mountain of God. The Prophet Daniel saw a mountain, from which a stone was cut by the hand of God (Dan. 2:34, 45). This is the stone which the builders rejected and which has become a stumbling block, even Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The Virgin Mother of God is also called the "Mother of Life" as in the following Toparion (Tone 1):

In giving birth you preserved your virginity,
In falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos.
You were translated to life, O Mother of Life,
And by your prayers, you deliver our souls from death.

This conception of Earth emerging from a universal ocean likely originated in the Upper Nile region where stone pillars and mounds of earth were erected. In the Lower Nile region small pyramids were carved from a single block of stone. These were known as a bnbn (benben), from the root, bn, meaning to "swell forth". The image of the sun resting at, or swelling forth from the peak of the pyramid or mountain is represented in the sign of tnt and in the Agadez crosses made by the Inadan metalworkers of west central Africa. The Egyptian word for the rising sun is wbn, which comes from the same root as benben.

One can't help but think of Noah's flood and how his ark landed in Ar-menia, which could mean "mount Meni". Godfrey Higgins, in his 1874 monograph Anacalypsis: An Inquiry into the Origins of Languages, Nations and Religions, noted that "Armenia" could mean "mount of Meru… that is, Ar or Er-Meni-ia, the country of mount Meru or Meni." This leaves open the possibility that Noah's ark landed on Mount Meni in central Africa, about 230 miles from the present limits of Lake Chad, and the most likely site of Noah's flood.

Higgins noted the conflation of the names Meni and Meru. Here is another indication that the legend of Noah was carried to the eastern extension of the ancient Afro-Asiatic Dominion by the ruler-priests of Abraham's people.

The sacred center is the place where the Sun rests at the peak of the day (noon). This is why the Sun is shown at the top center of many cross-like images such as the Agadez Cross, the sign of TNT, and the Egyptian Ankh.  For the individual the inner shrine is the sacred center. This notion of the inner shrine as the sacred center where God may dwell is evident in Hierakonpolis as early as 3200 B.C., when personal piety involved facing the rising sun and inviting the Deity to dwell within. The Pharaoh was called “son of Re,” whose emblem was the Sun. Egyptian king lists never mention the king's earthly father. Each Pharaoh was called the "son of Re" because kingship was a manifestation of the solar deity’s overshadowing of noble women.  So Mary is the one by whom both Jesus' kingship and His sonship are traced back to the Father.

Related reading:  Sacred Mountains; Peaks and Valleys; Baba: Earthen Bread Oven

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