Yesterday night, I had a dream about traditional knowledge. More specifically, about where it came from, to my ancestors many generations ago, and how to begin writing about it now.
In this dream, I was the man who found a clay jar, clearly centuries old, buried in the desert. I wanted to open the jar, but the clay had expanded in the heat and sealed it shut. I took it home and didn’t try again until after nightfall. This time, with a little torque, the top of the jar opened. I could not see what was inside, enveloped in darkness. So I reached in, and as I did, I felt ancient writings crumbling away at my finger tips.
I took my hand out of the jar, alarmed but not entirely sure why. I took a breath and reached in again, this time grasping a few pages of brittle paper, gently pulling them out. They were intact enough to unroll, and as I did so, I could not recognize the shapes scribbled on them for line after line of illegible records. I don’t know why — perhaps because I was disappointed or angry, even if I didn’t know where the feeling came from — but I threw the pages into the fireplace and used them to start a fire. I put the lid back on the jar and pushed it into the shadows. And that’s when I woke up.
In this dream, I was the man who found a centuries-old clay jar containing ancient writings, buried in the desert. This man actually existed, and so did that jar. Those ancient writings were the only known remaining records (unknown until they were unburied) of gospels censored from the Holy Bible of today, entombed in pottery during the destruction of a Jewish temple centuries ago, and declared heretical by the Roman Catholic Church. I found out that these writings existed on paper so brittle that most of it nearly crumbled at the slightest touch, while watching a documentary on television nearly ten years ago.
I was incensed. I remember feeling instantly angered at the thought that for most of my life up to that point, Christian ministries had been either knowingly attempting to brainwash everyone with an incomplete bible, or had been completely ignorant that this is the effect of their teachings. I knew then and believe now that there is no way Christian ministries could maintain this ignorance, given how extensive our current understanding of religious history actually is. I felt ripped off, and like the church had deliberately spread a fraudulent account of the gospels. I didn’t know how astute this really was, for an atheist of just 18 or 19 years, with only a vague sensation of spirituality remaining after attending church sermons and youth groups for about 3 years (from the age of roughly 12 or 13) for the sole purpose of observation. I had already concluded as a result of that relatively long observational period, finally ending months before my 16th birthday, that much of the activities that go on within the walls of that church (and most others like it) were fraud. I felt not only uninspired by the church and my age-mates’ performances therein, but disenfranchised.
So there I was, emotionally displaced even from the ambiguous sense of faith that characterized what little of my childhood I could remember, when this documentary continued to reveal to me, the deep fraud that runs like a white rapid current through the entire foundation and institutions of Christianity and its hundreds of denominations. The documentary reflected on the context in which these gospels came into existence. They were gospels written either by or about the apostles of Jesus Christ. Gospels that told the story of a characteristically different relationship between these particular apostles and the man believed to be the Messiah. Deeply spiritually inspired writing that stated that the essence of God is in each and every one of us — that to know oneself is to come to know God. The people who taught this spirituality to others during Christ’s (alleged) lifetime on Earth were referred to as The Early Gnostics.
These gospels would have only seen the hands of a few early Gnostics, who would likely only have ever had one of the many gnostic gospels to read to others. Perhaps a few more, of what have since become canonized into today’s Holy Bible. But very few people were literate, and so, the passing on of this spirituality would be characteristically different in every way from the current transmission of religious belief we see today. Soon came the iron fist of persecution and censorship. The Roman Catholic Church declared these gnostic gospels heretical and ordered all records of them destroyed, as what remains of the Holy Bible was assembled and canonized.
I have often wondered since taking the time to study some of the history of the Abrahamic faiths, whether or not Martin Luther was aware of this history — after all, though I attended a Lutheran church as a child, it took me until enrolling in a college course on Occidental Religions to finally learn what exactly a Lutheran church was, and where its namesake came from. More deliberate censorship and brain-washing going as far back into my childhood as I can remember church being a part of it, as far as I’m concerned.
Well in all the time I’ve been engaging with this tension, shifting from anger to grief and back again over the permanent loss of traditional knowledge from part of my ancestry — and the erasure of that loss from the history of that part of my ancestry, as it’s been told to me by so-called spiritual guides and religious leaders — I’ve known vaguely of how Christianity of all denominations appropriated various symbols and mythology from Pagan spiritualities in order to placate the colonized as their power is taken from them. I’ve known vaguely of how this has happened to some of my distant ancestors while others are responsible for doing it. But I’ve only recently learned that the entire New Testament of the Holy Bible is a plagiarism of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which itself was an allegorical personification of natural phenomena to pass on traditional knowledge from one generation to the next.
I’m angry that spirituality and traditional knowledge has become so deeply colonized that while it first became religion, it is now The Westboro Baptist Church and the pro-life movement (a hate movement very thinly veiled as a glorified popularity contest). I’m angry that spirituality and religion are equated as one and the same by atheists, who largely think of themselves as far too rational and elite to fall for the colonization of knowledge, spirituality, and minds.
I’m not skeptical of religion itself. That is a useless exercise that just makes work to accomplish absolutely nothing in the end. I’m skeptical of how people have faith. Do they take the Holy Bible literally, ignorant that it is actually incomplete? Do they take it as an extended metaphor for human flaws and virtues? Do they accept or reject the relationship of the traditional knowledge contained within, to Pagan spiritualities, and to nature itself? It is a subjective experience that I refuse to paint with just one brush, judging and condemning people based solely on their self-identification as devouts of some religious belief, for that is the work of religious institutions, and not a critical thinker.