Thursday, December 27, 2012

Birth in the Cave

“The motif of birth in a cave is . . . very ancient. This symbol is associated particularly with the winter solstice, when the sun has travelled to its farthest point away from the tilted earth and the light is in the nadir of the abyss. That is the date of the birth of the god Mithra, who is lord of light. He was born—we recall that his mother is the Earth—holding a rock-hewn weapon in his hand. Mithra was the principle competitor with Christianity, in the period of the first three centuries. The Christmas date was placed on December twenty-fifth, which was the solstice time, in order to compete with The Lord of Light, Mithra. No one really knows when Christ was born. It was settled on December twenty-fifth for mythological, not historical, reason.” …………Joseph Campbell

It is not to refute any tradition that this post is done, rather to illustrate the rich fabric of mythology in which many a deep spiritual wisdom are embedded. Mythology is the bedrock of spiritual insights. It is a format for ease of communicating spiritual mysteries. As Joseph Campbell explains the cave birth signifies the emergent phenomenon of Divine light.
It is important that the burial of Christ takes place in a cave to rise again in three days.
In her article “Mithra – The Pagan Christ”, D. M. Murdock writes:
“..the cave shown at Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus was actually a rock shrine in which the god Tammuz or Adonis was worshipped, as the early Christian father Jerome tells us; and its adoption as the scene of the birth of our Lord was one of those frequent instances of the taking over by Christians of a pagan sacred site. The propriety of this appropriation was increased by the fact that the worship of a god in a cave was commonplace in paganism: Apollo, Cybele, Demeter, Herakles, Hermes, Mithra and Poseidon were all adored in caves; Hermes, the Greek Logos, being actually born of Maia in a cave, and Mithra being "rock-born."………”

All sacred texts must be read as sacred history and not should not be subject to historical critique or analysis.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa compares the birth in the cave to the spiritual light which abolished the darkness of death that ruled the world.  The incarnation of Christ has humility as its beginning and its end.  His death is prefigured in the manger:  the swaddling clothes foretell of His burial clothes.

In the 2nd century, Justin Martyr stated that Jesus had been born in a cave outside the town, while the ‘Protoevangelium of James’ described a legendary birth in a cave nearby.

In the “infancy Narrative of James” which is an apocryphal text, witness of the midwife at the birth Christ is explained in the following passage:
“And the light, when it was born, multiplied, and it obscured the light of the sun itself by its shining rays. The cave was filled by the bright light together with a most sweet odour. The light was born just as the dew descends from Heaven to the earth. For its odour is fragrant beyond all the sweet smell of ointments.
I, however, stood stupefied and amazed. Awe grasped me. I was gazing intently at the fantastically bright light which had been born. The light, however, after a while, shrank, imitated the shape of an infant, then immediately became outwardly an infant in the usual manner of born infants. I became bold and leaned over and touched him. I lifted him in my hands with great awe, and I was terrified because he had no weight like other babies who are born. I looked at him closely; there was no blemish on him, but he was in his body totally shining, ……….”
It is very important to understand that this is not a historical narrative but rather a deep mystical experience of the evangelist expressed in common language.

In the same text we witness another symbolical reference to the three day waiting before emerging from the cave; “On the third day after the Lord's birth, Mary went out of the cave; she went into the stable and placed the child in a manger, ………….."

The rich mythology in the nativity narrative should prompt us to understand the spiritual significance of these writings.

May the blessing of Divine light eradicate the darkness of narrow views and free us from the slavery of ordained belief systems.

Love to you all

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