I'm forever bemoaning the fact the most scholars can't seem to get past the Greeks in their studies of philosophy. I constantly point out that they were standing on some pretty stout shoulders, but that usually gets ignored. Another factor, raised by this article, is that we have cherry picked the drier, Air and Water Aristolean parts and rejected the juicier, Earth and Fire-in-the-head Dionysian parts. I blame Aristotle for that, and Plato for not initiating Aristotle into the Mysteries... and in fact, I blame Plato for quite a lot, really... not least for inventing collectivism which leads to religion. I'm sure his teacher, Socrates, who stood on one foot to go into trance and talk to the spirits, had a better feeling for the more individual Dionysian side of the equation and Dionysus has many similarities to the Vedic Shiva. Because of this carving up of the heavens from the Underworld, as this author says:
Our God today is all Light and we wonder why our Darkness is so
I believe this rupture happened when the solar priesthood replaced the serpent with Apollo. Statues of Apollo were placed at ritual openings in the Earth previously used for Underworld initiations, effectively blocking them in life as he does in our consciousness until we're initiated in shamanism.
But anyway, I'll shut up now.... here's the article:
Every age tends to mythologize its origins. The modern West has looked to
Athens as the source of its culture, its particularly "western" values of
democracy, philosophical reason and science. Athenian religion has been
stripped from that list of values, of course, because we look to Jerusalem
for that. But, as my colleague Prof. Christos Evangeliou has conclusively
argued, we look back to a distorted and mythicized conception of Greece thatis mostly made in our own image.1 We think of Greek thought as "Apollonian"and dismiss its Dionysian voice.
The fact is that Greece was never "western" in the sense we have imagined it to be. Greek philosophical,scientific and political thought is very much steeped in the orientaltraditions of Egypt and Mesopotamia, even sharing connections with India.
While this is true of Athens, it is even more so the case with various
non-Athenian Greek colonies, Crete, Turkey and Southern Italy, for example.
Southern Italy was the stronghold of Pythagoreanism. Pythagoras (or
Pitaghora,2 as he was known in India) actually got the Pythagorean Theorem of geometry from the Vedic mathematicians of India. I am not going to expound Pythagoreanism3 here (see Notes, below, for further reading) exceptto point out that it was an integral philosophy which had not dichotomizedreason and intuition, science and mysticism, philosophy and shamanism, asmodern Western philosophy has. The Pythagorean was a philosopher and ascientist and a shaman and a mystic and a healer. This is the kind ofphilosopher I have aspired and endeavoured to become.
One of the "Great Fathers" of Western philosophy is the Pythagorean,
Parmenides, who lived in Southern Italy. Plato tried, illegitimately, to
claim himself as heir to Parmenides and he succeeded, but in this respect he
fooled us because, although he was well versed in Pythagorean philosophy, hedid not make the grade as far as his abilities in healing, shamanism or
mysticism went. That distinction went to Zeno who became the butt of
character assassination by a jealous Plato.4 Parmenides was a Lover of the
Goddess and a priest of Apollo. In line with our mythicized image of
Athens, we think of Apollo only as the God of Reason, but he was also the
God of the Underworld! That juxtaposition is contradictory to the dualistic
modern Western mind, for the Underworld represents the Unconscious (which is why we dropped the Plutonic characteristics from the appelation Apollonian).
Our God today is all Light and we wonder why our Darkness is so
In Southern Italy and elsewhere in the Greek world we often find temples to
Apollo erected at the mouths of caves, conduits to the Underworld. A
Pythagorean practice was to go down into a cave for a vision quest. These
inspirations served as the basis for resolving issues of deepest ethical
significance both for oneself and for the benefit of others. Parmenides
was a master shaman in this practice for he was given the responsibility to
engage in such cavernous "incubation" for bringing forth laws for his city.
He was thus a philosopher-king, an ideal Plato could only conceive as
utopian. Nevertheless Plato did pass on this idea of this tradition in his
Allegory of the Cave, albeit in a reverse way: the ones in the Cave were
ignorant prisoners and he put the Sun outside the Cave. The Pythagoreans,
however, knew that the Sun of Inner Illumination was to be found only in theDarkness. It is possible that Plato's only shamanistic experience came viathe psychedelic ritual of the Eleusinian Mystery School initiation5 and thatthis inspired his famous theory of the Forms.6 His teacher Socrates was
evidently more of a shaman but his shamanism was "underground" in a moresocially alienated sense.
Some scholars have argued that Socrates was anillegal user of the "controlled substance" of the Eleusinian Mysteries and
that this profaning of the mysteries was the real reason (the charge was
impiety and corruption of youth) for his death sentence (first
philosopher-victim of the War on Drugs!).7 These were critical events in
the castration of philosophy.
The Pythagoreans were greatly respected bythe Romans but they eventually succumbed to the tyranny of Christianity andcontinued only in abated form in the Hermetic/occult underground. Somethingof their spirit still influenced Orthodox Christianity, however, as isevident in the more mystical orientation of Greek theology and in suchPythagorean-like brotherhoods as the Erevna in Cyprus.8
1. The Hellenic Philosophy: Between Europe, Asia and Africa by Christos
Evangeliou, Institute of Global Cultural Studies, Binghampton University,
2. Pitaghora in Sanskrit means father (pitr) of fearlessness (aghora) or
"deeper than deep, but illumined"; aghora also refers to Tantric yogis who
worshipped the union of Shiva and Durga/Shakti.
3. See The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library compiled by K.S. Guthrie,
and The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Pythagoras.
4. Based on the research of Peter Kingsley, In the Dark Places of Wisdom The
Golden Sufi Center, 1999.
5. The Road to Eleusis
6. Gordon Wasson, Persephones's Quest, Yale University Press, 1986, p.41.
7. Carl Ruck, "Mushrooms and Philosophers" in Persephone's Quest, ibid.
8. See books by Kyriacos Markides: The Magus of Strovolos, Homage to the
Sun, and Fire in the Heart.
For a good comparison between Western and Greek Christianity see Karen Armstrong's A History of God, Ballantine, 1993
From Pythagorean Shamanism