D. CATHERINE | 2020
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license are available here.
- Part I: The Totemic Blood-Mother and the Supra-Totemic Pneuma, Nous or Logos
- Part II: Typologies of Time, Periodicity and Number as Related to the Menarche, Menstrual Period and Ancient Rites of Puberty, and Some Examples of Their Typological Adoption-Reorientation in Myth, Folklore and Religion
- Part III: The Totemic ‘Man’ (Human, Person) and the Development of the Mēns (Mind) in Association with Observations Pertaining to the Mēnsēs (Menstrual) and Mēnsis (Lunar) Cycles
- Part IV: The Sacred Tree/Waters of Life and the Forbidden Tree/Waters | A Typological Approach
The following exposition is neither intended to promote any particular religious worldview or stereotype, nor is it offered as any form of ideal hierocosmology or instructional praxis. It is simply a case-based study that explores a foundational totemic ‘type’ and some examples of its adoption and development (or dissociation and polemical distortion) in later allegory, symbolism and mythos. Inasmuch as the article attempts to identify or clarify some of the perceptions, beliefs and history of the periods discussed, as well as to unpack layers of typology*, myth, allegory and symbolism, this should not be viewed as an endorsement or advocacy of those perceptions, beliefs or convoluted layering.
In the interests of comparative typology, the article occasionally revisits and reassesses the typological interpretations of Gerald Massey (1828–1907). Although Massey is a debated figure whose works are at times challenging, particularly his early works, this is part due to the limited sources that were available in the late nineteenth century. As Massey himself noted in his 1907 work Ancient Egypt: “This is but the rough sketch of a pioneering pen;” and it is only as a pioneering rough sketch that his quotes should be viewed and appraised in this present article. The present writer believes that the selected Massey quotes make sense in the context of the article, and it would be a waste of Massey’s often insightful work to “throw the (proverbial) baby out with the bathwater”. Notwithstanding these limitations and Massey’s occasional venture into speculative error, he nonetheless developed a ground-breaking interpretation on early sign language, and the extent to which this mode of representation influenced totemic representation, mythology, uranography (the mapping of the observed celestial sphere), and—by way of typological adoption-reorientation—certain aspects of religious symbolism and allegory. One should also keep in mind that much of the early criticism levelled at Massey’s typological approach—the notion of a comparative typology outside of, functionally related to, and at times foundational to, religious typology (which nonetheless does require context-specific interpretation)—came from the religious and theologically biased Establishment of his time that ironically lacked sufficient ethnographical, paleoanthropological and semiotic education, as well as having an aversion to the historical-critical method that has subsequently proved most valuable in academia. Regarding Massey’s work in general—and the same might be said for this present article—it is ultimately the task and responsibility of contemporary scholars and researchers to review, assess and selectively extract what data is useful; to dismiss or correct where necessary; and to fine tune this otherwise valuable typological approach to interpretation.
On a final note; although metaphysical aspects are briefly discussed in the article, it is not primarily a metaphysical exposition, and these aspects can best be followed in the relevant works of e.g. Henry Corbin, Mircea Eliade, René Guénon, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, Titus Burckhardt, Martin Lings, Algis Uždavinys, Tom Cheetham, Samuel Zinner, etc.
*Typology is the study of the classification and development of various ‘types’ or ‘kinds’ based on the association of similar characteristics. Characteristic types include e.g. prefigurative signs, symbols, motifs or themes (e.g. mythical and religious typology). From the perspective of comparative typology, it can be said that typological development occurs not only across time, within any given tradition, but includes development across different traditions and across different mediums and modes of representation and communication.
Part I: The Totemic Blood-Mother and the Supra-Totemic Pneuma, Nous or Logos
In the Gospels of Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43 and Luke 8:40-56 we read about a woman who had been “bleeding for twelve years” and was miraculously healed when she touched the garment of Jesus. Apart from a literal historical reading of these verses, the present writer will propose another interpretation based on a number of typological signatures which suggest that this episode originates as allegory. Moreover, notwithstanding its explicit faith-based orientation in the Christian canon (faith being the stated reason for the healing of the woman), the underlying typology and symbolism strongly suggest that it derives from a mystical, esoteric or proto-gnostic portrayal of the human:
1. Initially identified with the physical body (the corporeal “flesh”) and its uterine source, primarily in association with the life-giving blood of the mother, which literally provides nutriment for the developing fetus (at the foundation of the human body). It will be argued that the mother-blood or “blood-Mother”, perceived as genetrix and creative source, is to be viewed as totemic; compare “those born of women” in Matthew 11:11, Luke 7:28 and Thomas 46, and partly alluded to in Augustine’s remark (De Civitate Dei, 10.26) addressed to Porphyry: “But you do not believe that this mind [i.e. nous] is Christ; for you despise Him because of the body that He received from a woman, and because of the shame of the Cross.” Further associated with this identification with the blood-Mother are ancient customs, rites and taboos—first established in totemic societies—that originate in a formal recognition of the “coming of age” of the pubescent girl at the arrival of her menarche (first menstrual “period”). In Orthodox Judaism this rite of passage is ceremonially set at twelve years old, and the present writer proposes that this is the typological foundation of what appears to be a garbled reference to the woman “bleeding for twelve years” as per the gospel accounts. In other words, the typical age of the arrival of the menstrual cycle appears to be conflated with an allegorical figure—irrespective of age or sex—totemically identified with the Mother-blood (hence the woman or female ‘type’ as the typical form in the underlying allegory).
2. Yet the bleeding woman is purportedly healed of her supposed physical affliction when she touches the garment of Jesus. Normative Christianity will see in this a medical condition that was miraculously healed in a profound moment of faith. Contrary to this interpretation as per the gospel rendition, we will instead be focusing on the ‘garment’ of Jesus—the evident agency of the supposed ‘healing’—and comparing it with the supersensory “Robe of Glory” as a gnostic vesture and investiture that, for example, we read about in The Hymn of the Robe of Glory from the gnostic Acts of Thomas and in the gnostic Pistis Sophia (where Christ is essentially identified with the Robe of Light and Glory). These in turn can be compared with the “radiant, white clothes” of the transfigured Jesus (Matthew 17:2, Mark 9:3, Luke 9:29), Enoch’s transformative “clothes of [the Heavenly Lord’s] glory” (2 Enoch, 22), as well as the “robes” given to the “Sons of the Light” who are “glorified by those who give glory” in the gnostic Trimporphic Protennoia. All of the above, in their attributes of sovereign light and glory, should be considered ontologically homologous to the Mazdaean Xvarnah/Khvarenah “Light of Glory”, the Manichean “Pillar of Light” or “Column of Glory”, and the Ancient Egyptian “pure garment of the perfect Akh” (i.e. the luminous nous/pneuma).
The allegory of the healing of the bleeding woman is also partly discussed in Andrei A. Orlov’s article “Vested with Adam’s Glory: Moses as the Luminous Counterpart of Adam in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Macarian Homilies” which provides further evidence for the pre-Christian typology of the luminous ‘garment’ as an agency of ‘healing’. Gershom G. Scholem also discusses this mystical garment (ḥaluq) of light or glory in chapter 8 of his work, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition. Given the strong Judaic elements to this typology and its noticeably mystical or esoteric orientation, one wonders if the motif of the healing garment—as presented in the gospel episode—first originated in a form of esoteric or gnostic midrash? Assuming a Judaic typology, one also wonders if the Christian rendition in the Synoptic Gospels was primarily an attempt to counteract the mystical portrayal of the luminous garment (identified with Christ) that heals or saves? The mystical or esoteric (Jewish ‘gnostic’) interpretation makes more sense as a logical development of the Judaic typology than the canonical or normative Christian account where the garment is merely material and perceived as incidental to the event—its established agency and symbolism becoming redundant and ignored. This of course is not to deny the faith aspects of the Christian verses, but to emphasize that these verses are not drawing from literal biographical history.
Before continuing with these two distinctions and associated identities—and their relation to “what some scholars dub the ‘theology of clothing’ or the ‘metaphor of garment’”—it is necessary to first examine one of the proposed origins of totemic culture as related to the mother-blood, menarche and key associated customs. It is hoped that the reader will be patient with this lengthy exposition, as it is integral to our understanding of the underlying typology of the “bleeding woman” and how this contributes to our understanding and hermeneutics of the broader motif as it might have been expressed in the religious context of the first century. Read more