I can certainly see that before engines and modern systems of snow-removal, people might have considered a blizzard to be punishment sent by God for some misdeed. There is a common mindset in our world that whenever something bad happens it must be a punishment sent from whatever gods we believe exist. Indeed, it may be that the idea that there were gods emerged to explain why nature does what it does. The beneficent
Earth Mother when it goes along as we expect with cycles of growth and dormancy and new growth. Indeed, when we humans were living in the tropics there were hardly any seasons at all, so dormancy was not perhaps even a part of the Mother’s generous constancy. We transferred our infantile love and trust of our birth mother to a Great Mother, the Earth itself.
But then there came along the Sky Father. If Earth was the Mother, then there was a certain logic in the sky being father because it was rain that fertilized the earth. Oh, yes, in the river flood-plain civilizations, there were variations because in such places the river seemed to be the Great Goddess. The Egyptians even had the sky as a goddess and the earth as a god. I imagine that one’s view depended a good deal on whether the “cowgirl” sexual posture was in vogue. Then it is easy to see the male force on the bottom, and the phallus as the shoot arising from the earth. The Mother’s breasts hanging down from above become the source of nourishing rain. You can do it both ways. But in the desert religions, from which our current set of three big religions arose, the Earth was barren unless fertilized by the rains, and the terrible nature of windstorms, lightning, and its unpredictable destructive power gave the Middle-Eastern Sky Father his bad-boy personality.
The punishment idea can go both ways too. The goddess Earth may be a giver of life, but she can also withhold it. That idea that if we incur mama’s displeasure, she might refuse to feed us, is perhaps the very first anxiety following birth. It isn’t groundless, for after all, she did just reject us in a big way when we were pushed out of the womb so painfully. (I’ve never heard anyone talk about this, but flexible head not withstanding, the infant must experience not only pain but fear in the process — one wonders.)
So, this idea that someone larger than us, upon whom we depend for our sustenance might punish us by withholding her love, that fairly clearly goes back to infantile fears of rejection. Weaning, is of course, another rejection and trauma all of mammals pass through, but at least mum feeds us something else. The young deer learns to graze, the young lion to eat meat. (Humans are like pelicans; they regurgitate adult food from their food processor to feed their young. Probably feeding babies was why the spoon was invented.)
Now you may be saying, “Enough psychobabble already!” But this foundation in the human imagination, the human soul, is important to understand if we are to look at why it is that humans should jump to the conclusion that a god or goddess is punishing them when a natural “disaster” happens. (Did you know that our word “disaster” comes from Latin and means literally “negative stars”? Aster = star; dis- = negation. You are using Latin when you say “He was dissing me.” Dismiss, disrespect, disregard, disaster.)
The Romans said that the Celts worshiped “Dis Pater” which one supposes might have been slang for Pluto, Jupiter’s brother. I suspect that the whole thing might be Roman propaganda to whip up support for the Gallic Wars. Julius Caesar knew how to push the buttons of his Roman popolo. Still, it well might have been a reference to Arawn, as he is called in the Welsh myths. Arawn was King of Annwn, and that realm was a bit like the Roman idea of the Underworld of the dead ruled by Pluto. Anyway, Pluto or Dis Pater, did not have any monopoly on mistreating humans. The Sky Father’s thunderbolt really appealed to people, for some reason. I mean, it was probably because occasionally someone did drop dead from a thunderbolt. And whoever it was, the survivors tried to figure out why that person (or her family) was being punished.
So, Jewish ideas met Greek and Roman ideas in Christianity and seemed to corroborate each other. It was such a powerful explanation for all those inexplicable attacks by the natural world. Disease, accident, disasters, and even death itself might be viewed as a punishment. Thus the doctrine of original sin. Adam and Eve disobeyed in the Garden of Eden, and so humans became mortal and subject to disease. Venereal disease was proof that God didn’t want us to have sex for fun. Plagues were punishments on whole nations or cities for their collective sins. The idea is very thoroughly worked out in the Jewish scriptures that Christianity built upon. With all that punishment going on, it was decided that indeed everyone was a sinner. I’m not sure if Jesus decided that or Martin Luther. But clearly we were up shit creek, as they say.
So, we all need salvation. Not just a political rescue of the old Jewish monarchy in a Messiah, but something much more urgent — rescue from death and punishment. The Greeks, Egyptians, and I suppose a lot of and other cultures got the idea that death was your time limit. If you hadn’t received God’s forgiveness for all your many mistakes and faults, off you went to the Underworld rubbish heap, instead of to the much nicer Celestial Paradise. The poet Dante wrote the definitive description of that idea of different worlds for people based on their behavior in life, but he got it from a long tradition going back at least to the Egyptians. I mean it’s even there in Gilgamesh. You can hardly blame people for taking the idea for granted and never questioning where it came from.
It is one of the biggest gifts of the Age of Science in which we live, that we are no longer taught in school that natural disasters are punishment for our sins; neither is disease, nor death itself. But religious education based on the Bible (and I’m guessing on the Koran too) promote this idea that sin and death are linked. So, whatever one believes today, one is still faced with this pernicious notion. And I say it is pernicious (that is: destructive) because I think it does more harm than good. The notion, for the priestly leaders of societies, was useful because they believed that fear of divine punishment and death would motivate sinners to do better, to obey the Ten Commandments or the Koran or whatever. (Jesus didn’t really give commandments; he gave ironic remarks.)
The world we live in is based on this idea of Commandments from on high and punishments if you disobey. Once that Law and Order party was created, they could justify any sort of torture or punishment by simply saying they were carrying out the Will of God, the Supreme Lawmaker and King of the Cosmos. If you force your kids to accept the Bible or some other Holy Book as the Word of God, then they are going to grow up ruled by fear of divine punishment, and everything bad that happens to them in life will only confirm this fear and make them doubt themselves. Priests can offer penance, absolution, or the promise of Grace through Faith — whatever. The fear is created and then the sins are forgiven or absolved establishing a tight cycle of control. The Messianic and “kingly” language of the Bible was great for kings too, and until the dawn of the Scientific Age, kings were pretty well-considered like priests to get their authority from God, the King of Kings.
Now, among ancient pagans, kings didn’t fare so well. In Persia and Asia and Egypt, yes. But after the Athenians democracy rejected the idea of kingship and the Roman Republic followed in that assertion, the genie was out of the bottle. Even though Rome’s republic fell apart and the rule of emperors was the custom for centuries afterward, those republican virtues and desires lay dormant in Western civilization until the Age of Reason came up with a good rationale against believing everything your parents tell you.
But all this is very recent stuff and the idea of God as King of Kings persists even though the worldly office of absolute monarch has been largely rejected. There is still the idea that we are ruled by a Big Daddy with inescapable powers to punish us. What about Mother? Well, along the way, male priesthoods employed violence and the male monopoly on military might to wipe out her worship and even belief in such a Goddess. They replaced all the pagan goddesses with the Virgin Mary — the idealized mother who never had sex and gave unconditional love. Hmmmm.
The Freemasons Great Architect of the Universe is notably different, and this may be why so many priesthoods and monarchies have despised Freemasons. The Grand Architect is a figure in charge of a hierarchy of skill and mastery. In the legends of King Solomon’s Temple, which is so central to Freemasonry, it is not Solomon who is the exemplar, nor is he the model for God. In fact King Solomon is shown to be helpless when his Grand Architect Hiram is killed before the completion of the temple. This story is pure Freemasonry. That isn’t how the story goes in the Torah. So, as a Mason, I am considering the meaning of the myth. If it is the Grand Architect or “Grandmaster” who is to be our model and ideal, the person to whom we own everything and who we must obey to the letter, obedience becomes something very different from what it is in Christian thought. Disobedience of the architect isn’t about breaking rules, it is about not doing our work properly. Building a temple requires everyone to cooperate and do their part. There may be rewards for some of the workers, in the form of promotions within the Craft. The stonecutters and setters may eventually become masters, but the principal reason for following the Grandmaster’s instructions are to build the temple well.
Nobody on the job site wants to be responsible for the temple collapsing because of negligence or stupidity. The stones have to be square and plumb and the mortar must be mixed and spread exactly right. That story makes us, as human beings, not “miserable sinners” but trained craftsmen. We have been given the tools to do good and continuously improve our behavior. We aren’t servile subjects of a Sky King, nor at the mercy of an Earth Mother. Instead, we are humans with imagination and the ability to learn and together improve our lot. The building of the Temple of Solomon may have been to worship the Jewish God, but Freemasons look at it differently: that using our skills and building something beautiful for the benefit of all is itself the worship of God.
The Grand Architect of the Universe isn’t interested in punishing his workers unless they are simply not doing their work. There is no talk of punishment in the legend, except in the case of workers who engage in conspiracy and murder. And even then, the conspirators who beg forgiveness and make up for their mistake are granted forgiveness. Only violence against another human being is punishable by death. So, within the context of Freemasonry no man is taught to fear death, for death is no punishment if he conducts himself as a conscientious craftsman and builds good things in his life.
The word in the Bible that gets translated as “sin” means “error.” One pastor once told me it meant “to miss th mark” as in archery. If you think of it in that way, it doesn’t seem nearly as horrible as it is usually portrayed. When the zealot speaks of “sin” it usually involves sex and entertaining wrong religious doctrines. Murder and theft and so forth are there in the Ten Commandments, but for some strange turn of history, sin got connected most intimately with sexual relationships outside of religiously sanctioned marriage. It is that sanctioning that makes marriage such a big issue for the opponents of same-sex marriage. Homosexual relations were, until the past few decades, the worst of all sins. I don’t understand why, unless it was just that male homosexuality was seen to undermine the whole system of religious regulation that had been erected around sexuality.
It is also true that until the past century, women were considered by many religious leaders to be much more prone to sin than men, and much more prone to lead men into illicit sexual relationships. Every woman was the Temptress Eve. This notion — that women’s sexuality has to be tightly controlled — seems disingenuous because clearly through this whole time, men were still having illicit sex. In other words, blaming women for sin was just a feeble attempt at scapegoating. Enforced by male violence it wasn’t really so feeble.
The association of extramarital sex with sin and the whole divine punishment notion, has really screwed up Western Man (and women too). Freud was onto this, and his influence on our culture opened up the possibility to see this whole business as a tissue of lies. Or, if not lies, as complete fiction. I blame St. Augustine. He was terribly screwed up. In fact, it is interesting to consider how much of our religious thought was thought up by men who really needed psychotherapy.
One thing you can say for Western religions and their doctrine of sin and punishment is that it has helped to create the vast and lucrative business of psychotherapy and psychological counseling. But don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating extramarital sex. There is no question that sex in or out of marriage often results in emotional trauma, anger, jealousy, and abuse. It just would be interesting to see if this was any different in a society that did not preach that sex was sin outside of marriage. One thinks of old Polynesia. Or France.
A druidic society, one imagines would take a much more “natural” view of the matter. It is the sort of attitude we get from psychologists today. Yes, we have problems with sex and fidelity to a partner, but those are just two among a myriad of problems we can have. And the object is not to feel miserable and repentant about disobeying some ideal of behavior. The object is to solve the problem and so build the Temple. Freemasons see this symbolic Temple as the temple of our very being. Indeed, you could sum up life’s purpose and goal within both Freemasonry and psychology as “be content, be healthy, and take pride in your good work.”
For the modern druid there are no prophets or saviors, and no priests in the Christian sense. There are wise men and women. We’ve had a lot of wise men and women raising their voices in the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st. Those are the voices the modern druid listens to: psychologists, ecologists, biologists, poets. The Greek word “psyche” means ‘butterfly” but refers to the human soul. Psychologists, when they know their business are our “spiritual leaders” today. Unfortunately quite a few of them think they are mechanics.
Trees are so much easier.