The Stone and the Tree
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea
COLERIDGE, Kubla Khan
THE GROUND, indeed, is not only sensitive but difficult and shifting as well. If the whirlpool turns up in the theory of the Cross, it is certainly without the consent of theologians. Yet the instances so far given are not isolated ones. It is necessary to deal with material which may appear suspicious to the trained historical reader, who is bound to be wary of omne ignotum pro magnifico. One should, therefore, preface this chapter with a small case history, which may show the infrangible tenacity of certain kinds of transmitted material, fragments of a sort official memory is prone to dismiss or neglect.
In the Gospel of Mark 111.17, the "twins" James and John, the sons of Zebedee, are given by Jesus the name of Boanerges, which the Evangelist explains as meaning "Sons of Thunder." [n1 Kai epetheken autois onoma Boanerges, ho estin hyioi brontes]. This was long overlooked but eventually became the title of a work by a distinguished scholar, too soon forgotten, Rendel Harris. Here the Thunder Twins were shown to exist in cultures as different as Greece, Scandinavia and Peru. They call to mind the roles of Magni and Modi, not actually called twins, but successors of Thor, in Ragnarok. But to quote from Harris:
We have shown that it does not necessarily follow that when the parenthood of the Thunder is recognised, it necessarily extends to both of the twins. The Dioscuri may be called unitedly, Sons of Zeus; but a closer investigation shows conclusively that there was a tendency in the early Greek cults to regard one twin as of divine parentage, and the other of human. Thus Castor is credited to Tyndareus, Pollux to Zeus. . . The extra child made the trouble, and was credited to an outside source. Only later will the difficulty of discrimination lead to the recognition of both as Sky-boys or Thunder-boys. An instance from a remote civilization will show that this is the right view to take.
For example, Arriaga, in his "Extirpation of Idolatry in Peru" tells us that "when two children are produced at one birth, which they call Chuchos or Curi, and in el Cuzco Taqui Hua-hua, they hold it for an impious and abominable occurrence, and they say, that one of them is the child of the Lightning, and require a severe penance, as if they had committed a great sin."
And it is interesting to note that when the Peruvians, of whom Arriaga speaks, became Christians, they replaced the name of Son of Thunder, given to one of the twins, by the name of Santiago, having learnt from their Spanish (missionary) teachers that St. James (Santiago) and St. John had been called Sons of Thunder by our Lord, a phrase which these Peruvian Indians seem to have understood, where the great commentators of the Christian Church had missed the meaning . . .
Another curious and somewhat similar transfer of the language of the Marean story in the folk-lore of a people, distant both in time and place. . . will be found, even at the present day, amongst the Danes . . . Besides the conventional flint axes and celts, which commonly pass as thunder-missiles all over the world, the Danes regard the fossil sea-urchin as a thunderstone, and give it a peculiar name. Such stones are named in Salling, sebedaei-stones or s'bedaei; in North Salling they are called sepadeje-stones. In Norbaek, in the district of Viborg, the peasantry called them Zebedee stones! At Jebjerg, in the parish of Cerum, district of Randers, they called them sebedei-stones . . . The name that is given to these thunderstones is, therefore, very well established, and it seems certain that it is derived from the reference to the Sons of Zebedee in the Gospel as sons of thunder. The Danish peasant, like the Peruvian savage, recognised at once what was meant by Boanerges, and called his thunderstone after its patron saint [n2 R. Harris, Boanerges (1913), pp. 9ff.].
This might have given pause to later hyperscholars like Bultmann, before they proceeded to "de-mythologize" the Bible. One never knows what one treads underfoot.
Conversely, it shows that some misunderstanding beyond the knowledge of the experts must be accounted for before one deals with the whole information. Thus, there is no intention to dismiss the abundant legends and runes dealing with the wood of the Cross. Lack of time, however, does not allow for a proper investigation [n3 For a rich collection of material see F. Kampers, Mittelalterliche Sagen vom Paradiese und vom Hotze des Kreuzes Christi (1897).], and permits only some remarks on Finnish and Russian notions about the "Great Oak," which is the nearest "relative" of Sumerian trees. Says one of the Finnish runes: "Long oak, broad oak. What is the wood of its root? Gold is the wood of its root. The sky is the wood of the oak's summit. An enclosure within the sky. A wether in the enclosure. A granary on the horn of the wether." [n4 K. Krohn, Magische Ursprungsrunen der Finnen (1924), p. 192.]. The next version boldly puts "the granary upon the top of the cross." According to a further version, in the crown of the oak is a cradle with a little boy, who has an axe upon his shoulder. More stunning notions occur in a Russian Apocryph where Satanael planted the tree in the paradise intending to get out of it a weapon against Christ: "The branches of the tree spread over the whole paradise, and it also covered the Sun. Its summit touched the sky, and from its roots sprang fountains of milk and honey." [n5 Krohn, p. 197.]
This latter idea in its turn fits the medieval tradition according to which the rivers of Paradise gushed forth from under the Cross. There will be other bewildering "trees" in the chapter on Gilgamesh, but there also no attempt will be made to exhaust the huge and ambiguous evidence.
But with the caveats distilled from the Sons of Thunder, and similar instances, it is possible to deal with more outlandish data. First, there is in the Atharva Veda, a whole hymn dedicated to what may be called the world pillar (a highly multivalent pillar), called the skambha from which—see above, p. 111—the Finnish Sampo is derived. At this point only one verse will serve, in which the fiery monster of the deep is mentioned [n6 To prevent relentless experts from pointing to "fundamental" investigations which are, no doubt, unknown to us: the chapter on yaksa in Paschel and Geldner's Vedische Studien is not unknown to us; there are several momentous reasons why we prefer to stick to the "obsolete" submarine "monster."]:
AV 10.7.38. A great monster [yaksa] in the midst of the creation, strode in penance on the back of the sea—in it are set whatever gods there are, like the branches of a tree roundabout the trunk.
Or, to take a testimony from "late" astrological sources, these statements given by the Liber Hermetis Trismegisti which became so famous in the Middle Ages, to the degrees of Taurus (Gundel, pp. 54f., 217ff.):
18-20 oritur Navis et desuper Draco mortuus, vocatur Terra
rises the Ship, and on it the dead Dragon, called Earth
21-23 oritur qui detinet navem, Deus disponens universum mundum
rises he who keeps (or detains) the ship, the God that orders the whole universe. [Disponere corresponds to Greek kosmeo.]
Whatever it is that rules "below" seems, indeed, a truly omnipotent entity: There are, after all, very few, if any, characters who are simply said to "order the whole universe."
This remarkable "kosmokrator" will be dealt with; the fiery creature deep down in the sea, however, has to be banished into an appendix. That it is relevant to the whole scheme can be seen from the fact that "Vainamoinen in the mouth of the whirlpool boils like fire in the water" [n7 M. Haavio, Vainamoinen, Eternal Sage (1952), p. 196.] (appendix # 19) .
The words of Hermes-Three-Times-Great, cryptic as they sound, are part of the highly organized technical language of astrologers; we mean not those who cast people's fortunes for pay, but those who speculated on the traditional system of the world, and made use of whatever there was of astronomy, geography, mythology, holy texts of the laws of time and change, to build up an ambitious system. Abu Ma'shar and Michael Scotus were later dismissed as triflers, false prophets, and magicians, but Tycho and Kepler still held them in high esteem: they represented whatever there was of real science in the 13th century, and produced many daring thoughts. The ignotum may conceivably turn out to be magnificum.
The few disconnected sayings quoted may be called lacking in sense and method. They will be shored up with more material. Actually, we had to sentence this chapter—once "swelling" enough to burst every seam—to the most meager of diets until it shriveled to its present state of emaciation and apparent lack of coherence. But first, one should understand what the latent geometrical design can imply, as it broke through, time and again, in the past chapters.