Friday, October 30, 2009

The Emergence of Slavery

The emergence of agriculture and slavery occurred in tandem. A hunter-gatherer society has little use for slaves; those captured from rival tribes cannot be armed to assist in engaging in a hunt, for obvious reasons, nor can they be left with the women and children, for equally obvious reasons. Alive, they are a hindrance and a threat, so they may as well be sacrificed. In times of plenty, captured children, if young enough to be bred into loyalty, may have been adopted on occasion, so a precedent of a kind did exist. However, only the establishment of agriculture, the first labor-intensive means of food production, made slavery both feasible and necessary.

The invention of agriculture as a means of procuring food must have been a result of observation of wild plants, their seeds and seedlings, by women gatherers in consultation with their shamans. To them, that a tiny seed could, when sown on fertile soil and given sustenance, sprout roots and grow into a much larger plant, and later give forth more seeds to perpetuate the process, must have seemed miraculous. A logical implication of such a potent model of growth was to base a social vision of progress upon it, to contemplate a prospect of ever-increasing bounty, with villages and cities as the branches of a tree of life founded upon a divine order to “be fruitful and multiply.” Sustaining such a tree, there are god-kings and priests at the top, representing the sun, admininistrators, aristocrats and merchants, representing water, which mediates between earth and land, and a vast base of slaves, representing the soil, upon which the tree is founded.

How, then, did slavery originate? To begin with, it would seem logical to envision a village society in transition, still in its hunter-gatherer stage but with the beginnings of primitive agriculture. Some prisoners, captured from a rival village during a successful raid, and now bound and guarded, await sacrifice. Given the increased demand for labor, especially during harvest time, it would seem reasonable to put some of them to work, postponing killing them until they’re no longer needed. A slave “hierarchy” is gradually established: initially, the best workers are simply allowed to live longer than the others. Later, as the demand for labor increases with the expansion of agriculture, a more elaborate structure of domination is instituted. The best slaves are made into overseers or house-slaves, and may even, in time, earn their freedom. The most rebellious receive physical punishment and death. It is likely that, as a slave system eclipsed the institution of human sacrifice, conflicts erupted between an established priest caste with a vested interest in preserving the old institution, and a new group representing the agriculturalists, and willing to accept animal sacrifice, which must have seemed a spiritually weakened, less profound substitute. In hard times, it is likely that the “old-way” practitioners sometimes demanded, and were allowed, a temporary revival of human blood sacrifice, to appease the angry gods. Harvest festivals, such as Halloween, and Spring (planting) festivals, such as May Day, reflect some of the spiritual ambivalence that early societies must have felt regarding the changeover. On the one hand, they are days of great freedom, in which a pagan jubilation is felt, reflecting the happiness of those spared from the prospect of sacrifice in order that they may be slaves – on the other, there is a foreboding, especially in the case of Halloween, in which a dread persists that the forces of darkness may now have their day, presumably because sufficient sacrifices have not been made in thankfulness for the harvest. No longer does human blood irrigate the fields, and those outsiders once sacrificed are now accepted as productive members of society, though of inferior status. However, the relaxation of strictures governing blood-appeasement of tribal gods poses risks: the expanded vision of society comes with the cost of greater social complexity, and the benefits of diversity are accompanied by the threat of barbarian contamination. The plant model of the slave empire develops as a strict hierarchy in which all members are, in fact, slaves to the system, though some are more blatantly subordinate than others – from the flowers and leaves down through the branches and trunk, and finally, the vast complex of roots. The familial simplicity of the clan as totemically symbolized predator, hunting, killing, and eating those outside of the group, is replaced by a hegemonic plant model, which seeks to assimilate and enslave all outsiders, thereby eliminating the insider-outsider distinction.

(c) 2009 by A. Rogolsky

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Transition From Cannibalism to Human Sacrifice

To the shaman, fire could be seen both as a fearful symbol of physical annihilation, and also as a doorway and connecting force to the ethereal realms of the dead- a powerful, magical, and dangerous gift of one’s ancestors and also a means by which to reach them. Cooked meat (including cooked human meat) was safer to eat than that eaten raw. If one threw food into the fire, it would sizzle, as if in agony, and then turn to ash and pungently smelling smoke, useless to the living, but perhaps satisfying one’s dead ancestors, or the gods, with an offering of its consumed, transformed essence. What could be more natural than to offer some of the meat to one’s gods after a successful hunt? It is likely that some shamans were among the first to observe that cannibalism could be dangerous, in that serious diseases could be transferred from the eaten to the eaters. Better to eat it cooked rather than raw, and even better to offer it to the gods, and not eat it at all. That realization, combined with a circumstance in which food was plentiful and a tribe might have on hand an excess of prisoners which might normally be eaten, may have provided the opportunity for the next leap in human social and moral evolution – the age of Human Sacrifice and the beginning of organized religious cults. To kill one’s prisoners and throw them onto the fire so that one’s gods or ancestors could eat them, and thereafter reward those making the sacrifice, may seem barbaric now, but it was progressive then, especially if one’s sacrificed enemies were “uncivilized” cannibals. It satisfied a need for “spiritual insurance,” based upon pure speculation, of course- a tribute to the shaman’s genius in exploiting his depth of knowledge in the psychological weaknesses of himself and those around him. In addition, the profundity of the practice and the complex rituals which developed in order to cope with the deep general ambivalence toward it greatly enhanced the authority of the spiritual leader who presided over it, transforming him from a freakishly eccentric, filthy clan medicine-man into a high priest, with a vision of the tribe’s future, sanctified and clarified by blood-sacrifice.

(c) Copyright 2009 by A. Rogolsky

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Confusion as Primal

In a sense, we’re all fools. Confusion is the primal emotion, that which greets our first thought and our first sight of things to come. Confusion is primal, and it never goes away. Many of the great psychological theorists of the past were wrong in choosing differently, but then, they, too, were confused. What lifelong therapy would they design to cope with this primal, evanescent emotion? The shaman may be seen as the authority who addresses this confusion but he is also a jester, or holy fool , and a portion of his function is that of an entertainer. As holy fool, he exemplifies that fool within us all. He is us, in our weakness, our freakishness, and our animality. The shaman and the totem of the tribe represent our beastliness and boorishness, our vulgarity and our wildness. Hence, the shaman plays on our love for him through his knowledge (manifesting his self-knowledge) of our humble position in the face of confusion, our utter ignorance and pathetic weakness, our cravenness - as known of himself in amplified form, by him. He is a fool, as confused as we are, and all that he has is his heart.

(c) Copyright 2009 by A. Rogolsky

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Dialectic of Doubt

Being primarily selfish creatures, humans have always lived based upon their definitions of their self interests. Like each of us, no human living then could know for certain whether his own life was all that he would ever know and experience, or whether there was something of positive value beyond the physical death of the body. There is the possibility that death ends both pleasure and suffering, which might be interpreted as a neutral prospect, but could also give rise to the hope that, in ending suffering, the dead are happier than they were in life, since so much of life involves suffering. However, if all hope, including that of death as a painless nullity, is a delusion, then the individual faces the prospect of a future comprised of an infinite, lonely wasteland, solely real in that all happiness past or falsely present is nothing more than a futile mental diversion, a false memory dreamt by a desolate, longing state of consciousness, unbearable but for the fact that it is unavoidable and immanent, indistinguishable from death, though, again, not the optimistic version of it as a nullity granting relief and release, but death as a constant, painful, and eternal process of entropy – unending diminution and loss. Obviously, there was, and is, no means of proving or disproving any position on this matter. If one knew, beyond any doubt, that this life is all that there is, and that nothing may be done to influence what happens afterwards, then the only sensible course of action would be to enjoy one’s single and solitary life as much as possible, and as selfishly as possible, with one’s own definition of self interest limited to that of a single life. To some extent, many people accept this “one life” idea as a probability and “working hypothesis,” and live accordingly. However, even for most of those who tend to believe that death ends everything, it is impossible to banish all doubt of the idea that existence may somehow transcend physical death, and that, consequently, one’s actions in this life may somehow affect one’s existence beyond the grave. Since it is inevitable that some degree of belief in the hereafter will persist, even in those who take the greatest pride in claiming a personal skepticism regarding transubstantiation, it becomes necessary to purchase a sort of “spiritual insurance.” Of course, the amount that each of us purchases varies, depending upon the degree of skepticism regarding the possibility of a hereafter. The type of insurance purchased also varies in that the purchasers need not be faithful to any given religion, or even outwardly pious and observant of religious ritual. The only commonality in practice is sacrifice to a good beyond one’s individual material self interest, based on the assumption that one’s consciousness may transcend the material self. It is interesting to note that in Greek Mythology, Chronos (or Time) tries to eat all of his children, until Zeus, his son and the founder of the Olympian Gods, kills him. The lesson is clear: Time is cruel and consumes its offspring, and the only hope of escaping the fundamental horror of temporal existence is the belief in something beyond it. There is the possibility that this hope is a false one and that we never truly escape Time- that a Hobbesian world exists in which the future is a wasteland and we are all merely self-deluded cannibals, driven insane by the desperation resulting from the knowledge of our certain destruction. If so, then all is pointless, and it doesn’t matter how selfishly we act or what atrocities we perpetrate. Although one might argue that, if the actual truth is intolerable, entertaining a roseate delusion of transcendence might constitute a “golden lie,” and that it is therefore not a waste of time, no delusion can be sustained as an eternally convincing lie, as it is the truth, intolerable or not, which must be faced. The truth is ineradicable and immanent, though not always self-evident. Since no one can know with any certainty which prospect is real, the mindset of the individual, and of human society as a whole, alternates between pursuing our happiest dreams and surrendering to our ugliest suspicions. The means of engaging in these pursuits evolve in complexity and sophistication as well, as the inventions and benefits resulting from the evolution of our civilized and humane personae are mirrored in our destructive and wasteful abuses of this new knowledge, the logical and contradictory negation of the spirit which created it. The essential dialectical conflict between the outlooks underlying a seemingly dynamic, materialistically progressive process never changes.

(c) Copyright 2009 by A. Rogolsky

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Origin of Shamanism

Once a fire was made, it was a matter of convenience for there to be someone to watch it, feed it, monitor it so that it didn’t become a threat, and re-start it if it died. The most likely candidate for such a job was a either a man who couldn’t hunt, because of physical weakness, deformity, or permanently crippling wounds, a similarly deformed woman, or one who could not mate and raise children. Such a person, considered inadequate as a male or female in so many respects, would previously have been killed. We may speculate that in some instances some such persons were saved by their mothers, and that those mothers who succeeded in convincing the others not to kill their weak children were powerful women within the tribe. The “mother’s helpers” would spend hours upon hours with little to do but stare at the fire and ponder its mysteries. Such “fire-watchers” were the the first shamans. They were physically and socially shunned by the rest of the tribe, yet they came to be at the heart of it. Physically weak, dependent, and fundamentally expendable in times of great need, the shaman justified his existence as the arbiter and nexus between his clan and the realms of mystery. He also became the repository of his clan’s medical knowledge, partly because heat was a necessary element in the preparation of herbal medicines, and the cauterizing of wounds.

These, the physically deformed, the epileptic, formerly outcasts, shunned yet to be edified, were probably the loneliest members of a tribe.

A lonely existence can bear within it some happiness; as one seeks the friend within one’s self, one dreams and deepens, one focuses more clearly on one’s inner visions and outward priorities, one defines. A new way of seeing may emerge, a universe transformed by new observation, the correct action but the union of a thought with its inevitable, quite naturally occurring result.

Through greater acknowledgement of his fears and of his own vulnerability to the many destructive forces around him, the shaman could forge an internal, psychological strength which he could use in his relationship to others because he could better detect and exploit such fears in them. The ultimate fears of all living things, of pain and death, he could comprehend in depth as he contemplated the fire as a microcosmic paradigm of all of the pain- and death-giving aspects of primitive man’s existence. Primitive man was surrounded by destructive forces which often overcame him, including famine, extremes of weather, predators (including other humans), and disease. The phenomena that surrounded him told him nothing about his origin or destination. Things which lived- animals and plants- brought forth young, and then died. Water and air seemed to last forever, and fire also lasted forever, in the sense that was always the same when reborn. Rock and soil might be tranformed, but it didn’t seem to care what form it took, and was thereby dead to death. How did it all come about? Was this short, hard life all that there was?

(c) Copyright 2009 by A. Rogolsky

Sunday, October 18, 2009


The invention of fire-utilization occurred during the Cannibalistic period. Possibly, the discovery of how to ignite a fire resulted from the knowledge that rubbing hard objects together created heat. Cooked meat (including human flesh) was safer to eat than raw, and therefore those who ate it survived longer. Also, fire provided an effective defense against other carnivores, aided in the drying and preservation of meat and in the preparation of other foods and medicines, and made it easier to survive the winter.

Fire was viewed as miraculous, mysterious, and dangerous. It could grow from a small spark into a whole forest of flame, and like something living, it seemed to consume what it burned, and reproduce itself. It constantly and rapidly changed. It could cause great pain and kill. It was difficult and time-consuming to create fire, and it required fuel to sustain it. And the best way to “kill” a fire was with water, which, like fire, was also both creative and destructive, miraculous and mysterious. A fire could be killed, but it would be reborn with each new fire, as all fires were alike. Fire in its apparently “dead” state was not, in fact, dead, but merely asleep, latent and abiding within all that it might burn, as an infinite and eternal potential for both creation and destruction. Hence, fire-worship became associated with the bird of prey, such as an eagle (or later, a phoenix). The bird of prey was a fitting symbol in that it embodied the nexus between earth and sky, was a potentially vicious and cruel animal which nurtured its young, and also because it had a seemingly magical mode of fully realized, active being - flight.

(c) Copyright 2009 by A. Rogolsky

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Cannibalistic Phase

The second phase, the Cannibalistic, was an inevitable consequence of famines, and provided the impetus for overcoming the first phase, since those who best hunted and killed other humans or proto-humans also learned to kill stronger animals. It is interesting to speculate on how our ancestors first came to use weapons. Perhaps, after witnessing the killing of another by an animal, an outraged survivor picked up a hard object, such as a rock or stick, and threw it against another hard object, damaging either the thrown item or its target, and drawing the obvious and necessary conclusion- that a hard object could break when hit by a harder one. The first tools were undoubtedly found weapons, such as rocks, sticks, and bones. The most capable hunters (of both humans and other animals) became the leaders of their clans. Hence, human cannibalism, as barbaric as it seems today, provided the means by which humans abandoned their subordinate role as prey to other animals, and became hunters. The totemic identification of clans with animals began during this period, partly as a means of identifying clans with the strength of particular animals, and partly to assuage the guilt that resulted from the killing. Torture also developed during this period- partly as an experimental method of determining physical weaknesses of humans, thereby to apply them to other animals, and partly as a means by which hunters could be psychologically hardened so as to increase their ability to inflict and withstand pain. Cruelty may be seen as a necessary outgrowth of the natural curiosity which exists in all higher animals, useful in expanding a predator’s practical knowledge of its enemies and prey. This is not to say that cruelty is a universal or absolute virtue, but rather that, at certain early stages of human development, it had greater relative value than at later stages, when it’s value diminished to a point where it was defined as utterly vicious and destructive.

(c) Copyright 2009 by A. Rogolsky

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Evolution of Social Organization

It is useful to examine the extremely gradual evolution of social organization, from the primitive anarchy of our proto-human and human ancestors to the first imperial slave states which arose at the dawn of history. What we now refer to as “history” comprises considerably less than 1% of the period in which we and our proto-human ancestors have existed on this planet. During the prehistoric period, which comprised hundreds of thousands of years, our rate of innovation proceeded at a glacially slow pace, when compared to the constant acceleration of in the rate change which occurred in the historical period. At each phase, the conceptions of Time reflected and influenced the world view of society- its religions, laws, and economic organization, as well as their concurrent evolution to the next phase.

In the first phase, humans hunted smaller and weaker animals, and larger, stronger carnivores hunted us. The conception of Time was that of a “point-instant”- an all-encompassing Present in which all needs and desires were dealt with immediately. During this period, we were closer to other animals, in terms of outlook, then we have ever been since. All primeval paradise myths in which humans live simply and in harmony with nature hearken to this period, partly because such a harmony did exist in the sense that the pace of human mental evolution and the pace of human social and technological evolution were in more closely in tandem than at any later period. Certainly the physical condition of human existence was harder, and more dangerous, and lives extremely brief compared to later times. Modern humans sometimes romanticise Nature, but Nature cannot be tamed: it can be both ugly and brutal. There are innocent victims aplenty in Nature. However, we must not dismiss the possibility that even given the apparent relative harshness of natural conditions when compared to modern times, the human brain, physique, and society of the primeval age was endowed with hundreds of thousands of years during which little changed and an unspoiled natural environment conducive to an ever-increasingly satisfying depth of familiarity. Mother Goddess Cults, celebrating plenitude and the nurturing qualities of the Earth, date from this period.

(c) Copyright 2009 by A. Rogolsky

Monday, October 12, 2009

Celestialism- Introduction

Like our predecessors, most modern humans are complacent in accepting, without justification, the universal and timeless validity of our most deeply held values. It is almost unthinkable for us to even consider the possibility that certain practices and institutions of our primitive past which currently revolt us might once have represented moral progress for human society, given what came before. While few scholars of pre-history credit a naively idealistic and atavistic vision of our distant past featuring a “noble savage” living in harmony with nature, a more subtle delusion predominates- that of believing that those people of earlier times who believed themselves moral subscribed to beliefs and lived in a manner in conformance to modern conceptions of morality. The notion that self-definedly ethical individuals of earlier times perpetrated cannibalism, torture, genocide, human sacrifice, and enslavement strikes us as absurd, repugnant, and alien. Equally discomforting is the implication of such a concept as it might be applied by future scholars of current human society, who might consider actions which to our eyes seem harmless and innocent, such as eating a hamburger, as barbaric, cruel, wasteful, and mindless, when compared to the standards of moral evolution of their society. The question of whether morality is absolute or relative is not at issue here. Rather, there arises the question of whether morality is to be defined as a specific set of universally applicable tenets referring to specific acts and institutions, or whether it is to be construed as an evolutionary process comprising a gradual spiritual progress towards a lessening of suffering and waste, and greater happiness for all.

(c) Copyright 2009 by A. Rogolsky