Monday, June 1, 2009

9 The Death of Yitzhak 2

The following fragments or parenthesis within the panorama of the greater story is to restate some of the themes of these blogs.

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I ] Because Yitzhak died defending the goats of a small community of which Abraham was an elder, the community came to know itself as the tribe of Yitzhak. One might say that the tribe identified itself with Yitzhak, and through his spirited defense of the community’s herd of goats came to know itself.

However, seeing that Yitzhak is a cognate of John, and Ivan, Juan, Isa, Jesus, etc., we may expect a similar story to have developed throughout the world.

The necessity for a similar story is the result of but one reason: every community needs a similar event to establish itself as a self-consciousness, moreover a consciousness that founds itself on non-violence. One of the base themes of the story is how one individual (though sometimes many—like in the Japanese story known as “Chushingura”) employs consciousness to sacrifice his-her life so that the community may—through heightened self-consciousness—achieve greater cohesion. Only through acts of self-sacrifice may a community coax from itself achievements impossible for a passive intelligence.

The inspiration for the stories of self-conscious sacrifice is in the nature of consciousness. If fifty million years ago weaver ants evolved to a point where they were able to structure their behavior in such a way that they would make their livelihood as agriculturalist (and give evidence of intelligence at work), momentous as their achievement may be, they have not moved on to become individuated creatures.

In other words, an ant colony regardless of its social achievements continues to act as one organism, its “workers” dedicating their bodies to the bio-mass of a single queen. The ants remain bound to an unconscious life form (and in a profound state of mind inhibition), because a sudden rise in individual consciousness would result in an immediate and chaotic dissolution of their community.

The break-through to individual consciousness was destined for tree-dwelling apes. After lightning ignited the forest (after a disastrous drought), the apes were forced to flee onto the plain. On the plain, as mentioned in an earlier blog, they were shocked to have to face their shit (which they had been able to do while living in trees) and the red of their rear ends. The mental shock to a nascent consciousness apparently was profound enough to cause them to try walking upright and teaching themselves toilet training.

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II ] Among the Indo-European tribes the name John was ubiquitous. Undoubtedly, this phenomenon has everything to do with the importance of self-sacrifice and the appearance of the name in a story such as the one of John-Yitzhak and Abraham.

Another knot that binds the stories of self-sacrifice is one’s loss of head. This may be due to a long ago recognition of the head as the seat of thought. Also, the appearance of the severed head may be a thread that leads to some now long forgotten original version.

Beside the decapitation of John the Healer (Baptist), another well known decapitation occurs at King Arthur’s court during the Winter Solstice or Yule celebrations. As the story tells it, the celebration arrives at a point where everyone has had a little too much to drink and the women are becoming increasingly more tempting. Suddenly, the door to the banquet hall springs open and in rides the Green Knight (another name for John). John challenges the merrymakers to chop off his head.

Everyone sits dumbfounded. No one takes up the challenge. At last, King Arthur himself rises. After all, the challenge is a challenge to the legitimacy of his kingdom. However, just as the king rises, his right hand man, Sir Gawain (Yawain, another variant on the name of John) says he will do it. Gawain then walks up to the intruder and cuts off his head.

The Green Knight picks up his head, puts it under his arm, and the head then addresses Gawain and the merrymakers thus: “I see that you and the king’s court are brave men. Continue your feast. However, you, Gawain, come next Yule must come to my castle and offer me your head. I did not mind giving you mine [for you have proven yourself worthy of it], but I expect you to reciprocate. If not, the day may come when the heads of everyone here will swing in a tree as an ill wind’s apples.”

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III ] While almost everyone today thinks of Sophocles play “Oedipus Rex” as a story of a son’s sexual affair with his mother (and vice versa), it actually is a story of what happens when a king fails to offer himself as a self-sacrifice to his community. If one reads the play from a perspective that is different from a Christian-Jewish and Freudian view, one will discover that because of Oedipus’ failure, altogether ten people lose their lives. [For a rewrite of the play see “Tiresias’ Revenge” at ] Oedipus is none other than an unconscious traitor vis a vis the community.

Among Latvians, the celebrants of Midsummer Eve know themselves by tradition as Children of John (Jāņu bērni). Today no one remembers who John or the Children of John were. Nevertheless, there lingers a subconscious memory of a time when John suffered betrayal. Indeed, the Latvian John (Jānis) suffered betrayed a number of times. Not that all betrayals are known. John was often killed, but no memory of the event remains, because either he was no longer agreeable to the mind of westernized Latvian intellectuals or his supporters were killed with him.

The intellectual betrayal of John occurs in the years between 1873 and 1888, a twelve year span. In 1873, a number of Latvian intellectuals in Berlin design the first Latvian flag. The flag shows John as a priest of the Festival of Johns officiating at an altar on Midsummer Eve. In 1888, Pumpurs, a Latvian poet residing in tsarist Russia, writes a pseudo Latvian epic, which replaces Johns with a Superman-like character called Bear-Jawbreaker (Lāčplēsis). In 1905, seventeen years later, Rainis, another Latvian poet, seconds Pumpurs in his choice by featuring Lāčplēsis as the main hero in his play “Uguns un Nakts” (Fire and Night). It is obvious that the neo-Christian church plays a role. By early 20th century, the Latvian Jānis disappears as a religious-political figure from the public mindset.

Johns betrayal by Latvian intellectuals and artists turned the native spirit into wormwood. The consequences of the betrayal became glaring in 1940, when the occupation of Latvia by the Soviet Union revealed to just what an extent the political leadership and citizenry of “modern” Latvia had abandoned the spirit of self-sacrifice. The Latvian dictator, K. Ulmanis, refused to offer resistance, not even a symbolic one (with himself substituting for the nation), and Latvians woke up to mass deportations by the Soviets. This was soon followed by “liberation” by the Nazis, who took advantage of the helpless rage of the people over their surrender to the Soviets by Ulmanis. Without intellectual and political leadership of their own, a large number of Latvians joined SS divisions created especially for them by the Nazis.

The failure to give public acknowledgement to the several betrayals of their culture and history has resulted in a tragic passivity in the face of the collapse of the Latvian community.

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