Preparing for Parousia 2
The Birth of the Gods
The period in the human story we call the Paleolithic lasted for possibly as long as 300,000 years. Our place in the cosmos was stable and integrated with life. We were part of nature and not over and against it. We lived within nature. We experienced ourselves, our inner worlds, and the world around us as one reality. Altered states of consciousness were entered into readily, worked out between the over-arching transcendence of the night sky and the total darkness of the great caves. Consciousness was spirituality. Everything was in some sense alive.
This state of homeostasis began to slowly change in the period we call the Upper Paleolithic, from about 45,000 years ago. There is evidence of a period of creativity that eventually led to the great cave art that marks this period. Toward the end of this time, the small hunter/gatherer groups began to settle in growing communities. They remained hunter/gatherers but settled in one place.
It has long been believed that agriculture eventually grew out of this settling in larger groups, and this in turn allowed religion centred in local gods to become established. But an extraordinary archeological find in the 1990’s has completely reversed this. It is now believed agriculture, the planting of crops and the domestication of animals, happened as an outcome of people gathering for religious and spiritual ritual. This great find is known as Gobekli Tepe (Potbelly Hill). It was built some 6000 years before the start of Stonehenge which began in 3000 BC. It marks an extraordinary shift in human consciousness. We human beings are beginning to separate ourselves from the cosmos and look at it differently. We are now seeing ourselves as above and over animals and nature, very aware of ancestors and death, the male and the female.
But why did this happen? What brought about this shift in consciousness and spirituality that led to agriculture? The answer is, we don’t really know. But one famous archeologist has linked the beginning of agriculture with the birth of the gods, and one famous cultural critic has linked the birth of the gods with murder, scapegoating murder. Earlier than this, Sigmund Freud had suggested that murder was the foundation of civilisation. But much earlier than that the writer of the 4th chapter of the Book of Genesis had made the same claim. Was murderous violence the reason for the agricultural revolution, out of which many, many local gods were born that helped to order and sustain larger groups of Neolithic people?
The serious possibility is that religion and spiritual life in the Neolithic was centred in ritual sacrifice and the structures necessary to support ritual activities. We know human sacrifice was widely practised. It had the powerful effect of holding communities together. The ritual associated with it had both a transcendent function and a containing, controlling function. It was not until animal sacrifice largely replaced human sacrifice that its effect and potency began to wane. But we do know it lasted a long time, and was practised in some cultures virtually into the beginning of the modern period. Archaic religion after the Paleolithic is centred in ritual sacrifice, ancestors, death, and the tension between the male and the female. And there were many, many gods. Life and security depended on them.
The Garden of the Paleolithic had been well and truly left behind for at least some human beings. They went on to build civilizations. Separating from the cosmos had truly begun.