The Religion With No Name

Every so often I look at the amazing work done by an individual to progress current human understanding, and it’s as if their entire life path unfolded to enable them to bring forth that particular insight. Brian C. Muraresku is one such individual. His study of Latin, Ancient Greek and Sanskrit (how many dead languages can one person carry around?), along with his fascination with ancient texts prepared him to bring forth a unique insight into the writings of Homer and the origins of Western society. I quote:

I will never forget the moment in sophomore year when the line between East and West began to blur, sparking a whole new appreciation for those often-overlooked ancestors who birthed our civilization into being. Up to that point, my afternoon seminar on Homer’s Odyssey seemed out of place for a day otherwise dedicated to obscure breathing exercises and reading about karma, reincarnation and the chakras. One fateful day, I had happened upon a passage from the 5th-century AD philosopher, Proclus, where he makes reference to a “secret doctrine” (αππορητον θεωρίαν) hidden away in the Iliad and Odyssey.7 I was mesmerized! What a crazy idea to associate with the foundation of all Western literature. Why, rather than speaking plainly, would our very first attempt at the written word transmit a covert agenda? And what on earth could that agenda possibly be? Bizarre as it sounds, Proclus was not alone in thinking a surface reading of Homer’s epics would completely miss the point. His tradition, Neoplatonism, arose in the 3rd century AD as an effort to preserve the purest teachings of the godfathers of Western thought, Pythagoras and Plato.8 One of the early stars of this school was Porphyry, who wrote a long and complicated commentary on just a few lines of Book 13 of the Odyssey that, at first glance, are very pretty but easily forgettable.

Classicists label this passage the “Cave of the Nymphs”. The wily hero, Odysseus, after a 10-year journey through a million obstacles in the wake of the Trojan War, is finally homebound to his native Ithaca. Just before his ship touches down on Greek soil, Homer pauses to describe the extraordinary harbor that will, at long last, welcome back its native son. It houses a sacred olive tree and a miraculous cavern populated by nymphs. The hero’s patron goddess, Athena, selects this cave as a hiding place for the gold and bronze valuables Odysseus has just inherited from the friendly Phaeacians, a mysterious but hospitable sea-faring people.9 In a blatant omission that has perplexed scholars for centuries, however, Homer never fully resolves the ultimate fate of this meticulously buried treasure. Mentioned just once more in passing, it seems like a rather superfluous detail, as does the cave itself…

…If Plato had written in Sanskrit instead of Greek, first off – the “secret doctrine” would be indistinguishable from esoteric Hindu or Buddhist scripture. And second, you would never guess this was the father of all Western thought talking…

…As it turns out, the Neoplatonists weren’t just making this stuff up. The idea of a non-physical world that creates and sustains the one we inhabit – accessible only by some kind of extrasensory power, some non-ordinary state of consciousness – was introduced to Western philosophy over 600 years before Plotinus’ Enneads by the godfather himself: Plato. My chance run-in with Neoplatonism had me totally reevaluating how it all began. Sure enough, scattered across a number of Plato’s 4th century BC masterpieces, the “secret doctrine” shines apparent for all to see…

…To awaken Plotinus’ “other sight” or Plato’s “eye of the soul” – our “exclusive means of beholding the ultimate truth” – all signs point to our hippy ancestors engaging the unrivaled technology of the natural kingdom. The psychoactive properties of the many plants and fungi at the Greeks’ disposal did not escape the obsession of these early scientists.29 While Hadot’s “privileged experience” can be cultivated in any number of ways, including meditation, the most reliably fast-acting across the ages has been through psychedelics (a beautiful Greek word meaning “that which makes visible the contents of the psyche”), the significance of which will have to be explored in future discussion.30

I commend this article to you.

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