Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Water and Blood

Alice C. Linsley

According to the oldest written sources water and blood were viewed by the ancients as the primal substances of life. Both substances were related to the sun and had cosmic implications.

Thales of Miletus taught that water was the original substance from which all things took form. He noted that water has many states: liquid, solid, vapor, ice. He reasoned that everything that exists came from water and retains the essence of water.

From reading Sumerian commercial records, the Egyptian Coffin Texts, and the Hebrew Scriptures it is evident that many Afro-Asiatic peoples believed that the earth emerged from a watery chaos. In the Coffin Texts we read, I was the one who began (everything), the dweller in the Primeval Waters. First Hahu emerged from me and then I began to move."

Hahu is the wind that separated the waters above from the waters below and the dry land from the seas. In Akkadian, the wind of God is called Enlil. In Hebrew the wind or breath of God is called Ruach. In Christianity this uncreated force is called the Holy Spirit.

The celestial waters were called Nun, a name that appears among the Horite Hebrew chiefs in the Hebrew Bible. Joshua bin Nun is an example. Nun is found at the Horite shrine of Heliopolis in Egypt and represents the cosmic waters of the firmament above and firmament below (Gen.1:6). In Heliopolitan cosmology the watery realms were connected by the great pillars of the temple of Heliopolis (Biblical On).

In Genesis the primal chaotic waters are called tehom. Tehom was subdued by tehut which went forth from the mouth of God. The Hebrew phrase "formless and void" (Gen. 1: 2) is tohu wa-bohu and is of Nilotic origin. The word tohu in Isaiah 34:11 means "confused" so Genesis 1 evidently refers to matter in a confused state before God set things in order.

The Egyptians envisioned the first place as a mound emerging from a universal ocean. Here the first life form was a lily growing on the peak of the primeval mound. The mound was called Tatjenen, meaning "the emerging land." Anything that springs forth, mounds, emerges represented life and was termed bnbn (benben), from the root bn, meaning to "swell forth." This conception of land and life emerging from a universal ocean was represented by stone pillars, mounds of earth, and pyramids.

The notion applied to the daily swelling of the sun. The image of the sun swelling forth from the peak of the pyramid or mountain is represented in the sign of tnt (tanit) and in the Agadez crosses made by the Inadan metalworkers of Niger and Sudan. The Egyptian word for the rising sun is wbn, which comes from the same root. The swelling of the sun speaks of God's sovereignty over all the earth. In the Arabic yakburu in reference to the sun means “he is getting big” and with the intensive active prefix: yukabbiru means "he is enlarging." Here we identify the biru in ha-biru which is the word Hebrew. For the ancient Ha-biru, the sun was the emblem of the eternal Creator.

The annual swelling of the Nile brought life-giving minerals to the soil. The Nile waters were essential for life, and provided habitats for fish, hippos, crocodiles and many hundreds of species of birds. Without water and blood life as we know it could not exist.This ancient understanding seems modern since today biologists and medical practitioners take this for granted.

In his The Dynamics of World History (p. 128) Christopher Dawson explains, “The great civilizations of the world do not produce the great religions as a kind of cultural by-product; in a very real sense, the great religions are the foundations on which the great civilizations rest.”

Mircea Eliade: “The prototype of all water is the ‘living water’….Living water, the fountains of youth, the Water of Life…are all mythological the same formulae for the same metaphysical and religious reality: life, strength and eternity are contained in water.” (Patterns in Comparative Religion. Sheed and Ward Ltd., London, p. 193.)

Blood as primal substance

In the Babylonian creation myth Ea makes mankind from the blood of Kingu. In Genesis 4:10 we read that the Abel's shed blood has power to cry out to God from the ground. The first human, according to Genesis 3 was formed from the red earth which is the likely etiology of the word Adam, or ha-dam, meaning the blood. The Hebrew word for red/ruddy is edom. The word edom is equivalent to the Hausa odum and to the Hebrew adam, and originally referenced the red clay that washed down to the Upper Nile from the Ethiopian highlands. These soils have a cambic B horizon. Chromic cambisols have a strong red brown color.

Red and black Nubians
Detail from a Champollion drawing

The blood-colored substance that is found naturally around the globe is red ocher or hematite (from the Greek word for blood, haema). When hematite powder is mixed with water is looks like blood.

For 100,000 years red ocher was used in burial as a symbolic blood covering. 
Proto-Saharan nobles were buried with red ochre at Nekhen on the Nile (3800 BC). P.L. Kirk reports that prehistoric Australian aboriginal burials reveal pink staining of the soil around the skeleton, indicating that red ochre had been sprinkled over the body. The remains of an adult male found at Lake Mungo in southeastern Australia were copiously sprinkled with red ocher.

Red ocher is an ancient and universal symbol of blood. Stan Gooch explains:

"Everyone, both heretic and orthodox, and including the present-day users of ochre themselves, agree that it represents blood. A very common interpretation, and one that we can readily accept here, is that just as a new baby comes into the world covered with blood, so the corpse must also be covered with blood to facilitate, or perhaps cause, the re-birth of the deceased in the spirit world beyond. Birth blood is therefore one very probable meaning.

A further significance (borne out also by much other evidence) is given by the Unthippa aboriginal women. They say that their own female ancestors once caused large quantities of blood to flow from their vulvas, which then formed the deposits of red ochre found throughout the world. So we can say that red ochre also represents menstrual blood: in both cases therefore female blood connected with the birth process. (We shall later be able to be even more precise and say that ochre is the menstrual blood of the Moon Mother; or more properly, the placental blood which covered the Earth when She gave birth to it."

For a different interpretation of blood symbolism read "On Blood and the Impulse to Immortality."

John Greenway tells this story concerning the influence of red ocher among Australian Aborigines today:

"The most terrifying physical inquisitors in aboriginal Australia are the little known Red Ocher Men… It is astonishing how little is known by outsiders of the Red Ocher Men. Many whites who have learned about everything else of aboriginal life have not even heard of them, so well enforced is the omerta among even those of the aborigines who wish the whole organisation ended… The cult is nearly universal in aboriginal Australia… In the deserts the Red Ocher cult moves right across the land in the course of a year, carrying its own ceremonies and myths, touching all tribes in its path, and working as a kind of ecclesiastical circuit court embodying all processes of the religious judiciary.

The function of the court is to punish law-breakers — not so much the perpetrators of everyday misdemeanours like spear fights and wife-beating, but those felons who blaspheme the laws incorporated in the myths. If, for example, the young man on trial in Meekatharra had really shown the tjurunga [the law sticks] to women, his only chance to escape the Red Ocher Men would have been to flee from his tribal jurisdiction and live in a city or large well-policed town among other fugitives from their honour and their heritage."

The Red Ocher men are responsible for blood sacrifice to re-establish community/communion. They conduct ceremonies and rituals according to their sacred laws and offer prayers to resolve blood guilt and anxiety. Among primitive peoples blood guilt and anxiety arise from the shedding of blood through killing, hunting, menstruation, and the birth process.

Anthropologists have noted anxiety about blood among every primitive society studied. A principle of anthropology that applies here is: The wider the distribution of a trait, the older it is. Since the use of red ocher as a symbol of blood is virtually universal, we may conclude that it is very old and that the earliest populations regarded blood as a primal substance akin to water.

The offices of the priest and the shaman serve to mitigate against blood anxiety and guilt. These are the oldest known religious offices. Though they represent different worldviews, they serve similar roles in their communities, and for both blood and water are the most fundamental substances of life.

Water and blood speak of Christ

On the cross Christ's side was pierced and out flowed water and blood. These came forth like blooms from the cross as Aaron's rod bloomed, foretelling Jesus the true High Priest in whom there is life.

"Truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him." (John 6:53-56)

Christ's encounter with Photini at Jacob's well speaks of Him as the Living Water given to his bride, the Church.

The blood and water from Jesus' side represent the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist. John Chrysostom wrote, "As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church." (The Catecheses, Cat. 3, 13-19; SC 50, 174-177) This view of the sacraments in their proper order is reflected in Church writings that reverse the order of John 19:31-36. Instead of keeping the Biblical order, this order appeared in Church literature: ‘from His side came water and blood.”

Yet St. Paul gives the blood first place, suggesting that the material world exists by virtue of Christ's blood which is real even before His incarnation. 
Before his incarnation He was eternal God and He continues to be eternal God in His resurrection body. His blood is given for the life of the world... does this have layers of meaning? Most certainly we are faced with a sacred mystery. The mystery is lightly touched upon in the Creed: "Through Him all things were made." Christ was with the Father before the foundation of the world. "He was in the beginning with God." (1 John, verse 2)

Paul grounds what could become gnostic speculation to the historic event of the Cross by frequently speaking of the blood of Christ. The event is a moment in time, but the benefits of His blood are cosmic and timeless.

Paul writes that those who are baptized into Christ "have been brought near in the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). We may enter with boldness into the Most Holy Place "by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is His body..." (Heb. 10:19, 20) In this we follow Christ, our great High Priest, who "did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood..." (Heb. 9:12)

"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times, He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth." (Eph. 1:7-10)

The gathering into one is termed "pleroma" in Greek and for St. Paul, the blood of Christ is pleromic. There is a significant difference between the Gnostic application of “pleroma” and Paul’s application. For the Gnostics, the pleroma was vague and undifferentiated, but for Paul the pleroma is the manifestation of the benefits of the “blood of Jesus.” Jesus Christ is the “pleroma” (fullness) of all things in heaven and on earth, both invisible and visible. The Gnostics used “pleroma” to describe the metaphysical unity of all things, but Paul uses the term to speak about how the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ in bodily form (Col. 2:9). Paul never allows the churches to wander from the blood of Jesus. 

The pleromic blood can be traced through the Scriptures as the scarlet cord that ties all things together. To express this in the simplest terms, all things are gathered in Jesus Christ in whom dwells the fullness of God. By His blood we are made clean and by faith in His blood we receive eternal life.

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