Friday, 21 March 2014

Ancient Druids -- part five

 Salvator Rosa, 1662
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
I was married to an exceptional poet for twenty years so, like Pythagoras, I have also travelled to the Underworld and saw, there, the tortured souls of poets. Anyone can do this -- of course, it helps a lot if you are an introvert and understand metaphor and something of either Eastern or shamanistic religions. Being acquainted with quantum physics can also help. Failing all of that, get yourself a good depth psychologist to act as your ψυχοπομπός. Going to the Underworld is one thing -- returning from it in this life is something else.

In writing about the druids, about sixty percent of the classical authors who mention them, refer to to their sharing, with the Pythagoreans, a belief in the transmigration of souls (metempsychosis). I give the link to the Catholic encyclopedia rather than Wikipedia mainly because the latter associates this with reincarnation. In matters of non-Catholic religious information, the Catholic encyclopaedia is more reliable and impartial than many might think -- perhaps due to Jesuit scholarship.

There are more connections between druidism and the spectrum of Greek belief from Dionysian, through Orphic to Pythagorean, and it surprises me that more is not written about it. Perhaps many take such Classical connections between Pythagoras and the druids with a grain of salt, and do not look any further -- but prejudice makes for bad history. It is known that Pythagoras did not allow his teachings to be written down. Caesar (VI,14), speaking of the druidic schools says:
"The students reportedly learn a great number of verses by heart, and for this reason many remain under instruction for twenty years. They regard it as contrary to their religious beliefs to commit their teachings to writing..."
and he then attempts (unsuccessfully) to explain the taboo. We can forgive Caesar as the internal workings of all mystery cults were usually kept to themselves -- most of what we have about them coming from Christian apologists.

Writing poetry is one way to reach into the unconscious levels that appear to be below the dream state. We cannot go deeper than this level as we will part company, not only with language but also with mental imagery. Discussing this problem with C. G. Jung, Wolfgang Pauli (Jung, On the Nature of the Psyche, section 439, n.), concluded:
“It is undeniable that the development of  ‘microphysics’ has brought the way in which nature is described in this science very much closer to that of the newer psychology; but whereas the former, on account of the basic ‘complementarity’ situation, is faced with the impossibility of eliminating the effects of the observer by determinable correctives, and has therefore to abandon in principle any objective understanding of physical phenomena, the latter can supplement the purely subjective psychology of consciousness by postulating the existence of an unconscious that possesses a large measure of objective reality”
I find it paradoxical to the point of irony that a classic extravert with a strong materialist leaning -- the very sort that we find in modern skeptics who frequently use the word "unscientific" are thus further away from objectivism than the average person. A strongly expressed extravert never looks inward (consciously). The compensatory nature of the unconscious, though, means that whenever such a person attempts to judge someone, they merely project their own unconscious states on to that person and they are unable to see themselves as its source. Taken to its extreme, we find the psychopath who cannot really see anyone as anything other than as a projection of their own thoughts (total absence of empathy). Of course, while all psychopaths are extraverts, few extraverts are psychopaths, and extreme introversion also has its own set of problems -- "well-balanced" is a wise term, and most people will fall into this category whether extravert or introvert.

Contacting relatively upper levels of the unconscious where communication of some sort is possible, poetry can act like the shaman's drum or the eastern mantra, and this is often quite a surprise to the poet when their use of archetypes and mythological imagery is pointed out to them. It works best in either highly rigid poetic forms like the sestina, or in free, but obsessive verse  -- the links go to my late wife's (Carin Perron) poems. 

In looking for an actually explained source of the Pythagorean/druidic syncretism from the Classical authors, we find only one, and that is Hippolytus (Pseudo Origen), Philosophumena or Omnium Haeresium Refutatio (Refutation of All Heresies) I, 25 (3rd cent AD):
"Among the Celts the Druids delved deeply into the Pythagorean philosophy, inspired to this pursuit by Zamolxis, a Thracian slave of Pythagoras. Following Pythagoras' death he went there and initiated this philosophy among them. The Celts consider them prophets able to read the future because they predict certain events from computations and calculations using Pythagorean techniques. I shall not pass over in silence the methods of this same technique since some people have even presumed to introduce heresies from these people. The Druids also make use of magic."
The degree of accuracy of this account, and whether Zalmoxis was as described, was real with an assumed name or a deity, or a conflation of the two with the real slave being of a different name is debateable. I think, though, that if the story is true to any degree at all,  Pythagoreanism would have been communicated to the Celts in northern Italy rather than in Gaul. The time might even be right (later Golasecca culture).

Other classical authors can also be a bit of a minefield to navigate through -- I think it is possible that the elder Pliny, in his association between druids and the oak might have encountered some syncretism between the ideas about druids and Zeus Dodona who is depicted wearing an oak wreath on this coin of Pyrrhus. That Pyrrhus used Celtic troops in Italy is also rather interesting. By the way, if you like living, I would strongly suggest that you do not follow Pliny's medical advice either!

After writing about a thousand words, I think this is a good point to pause, so have a great weekend and I will be back with more about the ancient druids on Monday.

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