Posts Tagged ‘quaternity’
Here’s a proposition—a UFOlogical proposition.
UFOs are a human phenomenon. A UFO sighting, therefore, is not bounded by the sky in which it’s appeared, or seems to have appeared. The observer—better, experiencer—is a part of the sighting.
So is everyone who believes in that sighting. So is everyone who invests emotion in debunking it. The Donald Menzels and the Phil Klasses are as much a part of the UFO phenomenon as the Barney Hills and the John Macks and the Gray Barkers—who, in turn, are as much part of it as the bizarre events whose reality they proclaim.
In this proposition, I perceive the crux of what my friend Matt Graeber calls “21st-century UFOlogy.”
(I call Matt my friend, although I’ve never met him. That’s the way it always was among us UFOlogists. As a teenage UFO investigator, I built my “invisible college” of fellow-researchers—most of them teenage boys like me—with a string of four-cent postage stamps. Now I use email. But it feels very familiar.)
Two UFO cases from the 1970s, which Matt published in two articles in the British journal Magonia, illustrate his method at its best.
The earlier of these articles, “The Raefield Affair,” discussed the case of four disk-shaped objects seen by a young man driving to work near Chester, Pennsylvania, on August 26, 1976. “I estimate that they were about the size of a single-engine aircraft—like a Piper cub, about 19 feet long. No noise was apparent. A pale yellowish-white colour emanated from all the UFOs. Also, as they left, a very pale green colour was around the middle of the entire craft from the direction I was coming.”
Matt makes a strong case that the UFOs—or, more precisely, the physical triggers for the UFO sighting—were birds of some sort, probably gulls or terns. The moment I read this, I was ready to say: yes, yes, yes! I’ve never forgotten the evening my wife and I took a walk in the vicinity of a tall illuminated tower in the city where we live, and spotted 6-10 strange lights wheeling over the tower. I was mystified until my wife said, “They’re birds.” And I looked again, and they were birds. In the dark, without depth perception, they gave the impression of being much farther away and therefore much larger than they actually were.
For a Menzel or a Klass, the identification of Mr. Raefield’s UFOs as birds would be the end of the story. Case closed. For Matt—and, I’d think, for 21st-century UFOlogy in general—it’s only the beginning. How was it that this intelligent, level-headed man perceived birds, however distorted their appearance may have been by atmospheric conditions, as four flying disks?
The answer, says Matt, comes from within the observer.
“But, since our witness’s sincerity in filing the report is beyond question and because it is the very ‘stuff’ of so many other UFO reports, we must consider the fact that the mere sight of these strange objects must have been a tremendous psychological shock for Mr. Raefield. In fact, we might even go so far as to suspect that in such a state … he was probably experiencing the event emotionally and physiologically as well.”
Raefield’s marriage, Matt discovered, was disintegrating at the time of the sighting. He was living alone, apart from his wife and two children. He was seeing another woman. Could it be that the four UFOs—three to the left of the road on which he was driving, the fourth to the right—functioned for him as symbolic representations of the three members of his estranged family; and, “on his side” of the road, a fourth, his girlfriend? And that his chance encounter with gulls, or terns, or whatever they were triggered a healing vision, by which his psyche found a path to guide itself through its emotional difficulties?
Well, yes, sure it could. And if you say, “Pure speculation!”, I’ll have to agree. Reading Matt’s discussion, I couldn’t help but think that the fourth was more likely Raefield himself (though the identification of the three with his wife and children still made good sense to me). And that, beyond what the four disks meant to Raefield’s personal unconscious, the archetypal Jungian Quaternity (3+1, the fourth somehow different from the other three) was making yet one more appearance.
But what have we got but speculation, in the current state of 21st-century UFOlogy? Hypotheses need to be advanced, then tested. To hold back out of timidity gets us nowhere.
Matt’s second case is presented in an article entitled “On Down-to-Earth UFO Experiences.” It happens on the night of November 17, 1977, in southeastern Pennsylvania. A woman and her three young daughters see a disk flying low over their car. The disk makes a humming sound “like a motor”; it’s no wild conjecture that what they’re seeing is in “reality” a small airplane. But why do they all perceive it as a disk?
At the time of the sighting the woman was in the process of leaving her husband; she suspected him, reasonably, of molesting their daughters. She was rethinking her relationship with her Roman Catholic faith, which condemned the step she was taking. In the middle of this pain and chaos, she looks up into the sky. And lo and behold! a UFO.
You came to me in motion
I do not know from where
If memory serves me right
You just happened to be there.
You were my childhood dream, come back
On the seventeenth of November
A dream I’d often dreamed
And now always will remember.
It’s not great literature, this poem the lady wrote about her experience. But it’s haunting in its emotional authenticity. What was the “dream” she’d dreamed as a child, now fulfilled by the UFO? It’s a major weakness of Matt’s article that he doesn’t explore this question. But the conclusion seems inescapable. The stimulus for the UFO came from the outside, in the form of a misidentified airplane. The UFO itself came from within.
Says Matt Graeber, on the aftermath of the sighting:
“Mrs. Bailey now expressed the thought that her existence was not mundane but rather exceptional and filled with new purpose (a sentiment often expressed by UFO observers). These remarks were not the kind of ‘ego-inflating’ statement that might signify the lifting of one’s mind from its hinges, but, rather, the kind which bolsters an already battered personality, defending it from more harm.
“Indeed, hers were expressions of an extraordinarily soothing nature, which emerged in her mind in a rapid-fire form of cognition. In them she found refuge, strength, and hope. Was her UFO sighting the modern-day equivalent of a genuine religious experience? Her philosophical and ‘spiritual’ transformation (or conversion) seems to be, at least in part, related to the event.
“She found herself writing more poetry, sleeping and eating much better (gaining ten pounds in one month), most interestingly, a nightly skywatch (UFO surveillance) performed with binoculars borrowed from her brother became a family ritual for about three weeks (nothing unusual was observed during this time). Since then, her situation has improved–all of her children now live with her and she has met someone who is very special and she thinks that he feels the same way about her. She is thirty-nine years old at the time of this writing and has just started to really live.”
Is the UFO experience hallucinatory? I wouldn’t shy away from that word. But we’re used to thinking of hallucinations as pathological. Matt has shown that it’s possible to think of UFO hallucinations as the precise opposite–manifestations, not of disease, but of the psyche’s self-healing. It’s pretty much what Jung intuited a half-century ago; only supported (as Jung’s guesses usually were not) by specific data.
Misperceived reality + healing vision = UFO sighting
Might that equation serve as the watchword of a 21st-century UFOlogy?
by David Halperin
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(Third of a series)
“[T]he physicist’s models ultimately rest on the same archetypal foundations that also underlie the speculations of the theologian. Both are psychology, and it too has no other foundation.”
—Jung, “A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity”
So what have we learned about Magonia, that mystery land beyond the clouds?
(“The facts, Ma’am, just the facts,” as Sgt. Friday used to say on the old “Dragnet” TV show. And although I will not mention UFOs again in this post, the Magonian “facts” have an obvious bearing on them.)
Fact No. 1: Sometime early in the 9th century, a mob at Lyon got hold of three men and one woman who they believed had fallen from the marauding Magonian airships, come to loot the crops of honest peasants. They would have stoned the four to death, if not for the intervention of Archbishop Agobard. (See my post of May 3, “The Mystery Men of Magonia,” for the details.) We don’t know what gave people the idea the foursome had fallen from the skies. Agobard never tells us.
Fact No. 2: Toward the end of the 17th century—5 July 1683, to be exact—the Jewish heretic Abraham Cardozo imagined he saw three men and a woman upon the moon. It was evening, the darkness gathering. The three men proceeded to descend to the moon into Cardozo’s garden. (Details in my post of May 11, “More on the Magonia Men.”) Of course people don’t do that. You can’t just walk down from the moon into a garden by the Dardanelles. What Cardozo “saw” had to have emerged from his own mind. Or soul, if you prefer.
The same men? The same woman? Coming down to earth from the same (or similar) celestial regions?
Direct influence is ruled out; it seems impossible Cardozo had ever read Agobard. That leaves coincidence. Or else that Magonia and its people were (are?) somehow real, visitors from a realm that transcends history.
Let’s try: Jungian archetypes.
That is to say, primordial psychic patterns, penetrating from humanity’s shared unconscious into our individual awarenesses. Of course, it’s pretty controversial that such things even exist. Me, I’m a “believer.” The archetypes correlate and explain too much for me to discard them.
One of the most pervasive archetypes is the quaternity: a group of four, often in the pattern of 3 + 1; three, and a Fourth that’s somehow not quite like the Three. “One, two, three—but where … is the fourth?” Socrates asks at the beginning of Plato’s Timaeus, one of Jung’s key texts for the quaternity. Jung asked Christianity the same question. The Christian Trinity, he suggested, is a Quaternity that’s been mutilated, thereby rendered unreal. Christianity’s error, sin almost, was to have suppressed the Fourth.
Who was that Fourth? Perhaps the devil—for Jung the Christian God was incomplete, even false, because He’d been purged of His evil element. Or the Virgin, the Mother of God. The Christian God is then incomplete in another way—only the male Three acknowledged and honored, the female suppressed. This is the quaternity that Cardozo saw on the moon—and if you’ll scroll to the end of my post for May 11, you’ll see how exact the parallel is.
The same quaternity crops up in Cardozo’s other writings. In one of his essays, he predicts the coming of four Messiahs, three of them male, the fourth female. This pattern was evidently a fixture of Cardozo’s psychic life.
Now let’s go back 900 years before Cardozo, to Agobard’s Lyon. What precisely happened there?
Of course I can’t say for sure. But here’s what I think: The archetype of celestial beings as a 3 + 1 quaternity, three men and one woman, had accumulated such compelling power that it sought, as if on its own, a flesh-and-blood correlate by which it might manifest in the physical world. An element of our collective psychology, it enacted this quest through the collective psychology of the mob. It fastened, for its incarnation, on four real human beings, selected for this purpose on some flimsy pretext—or no pretext at all, aside from their 3 + 1 gender configuration.
So these unfortunates were singled out for the mob’s rage, scapegoats for loss and suffering beyond human control. Loss that could be blamed only on God, for whom the Quaternity is the perfect representation.
(Speculation? Sure. But what else have we got, in these matters? And what does it profit us to refuse to engage in it?)
If Agobard hadn’t been there, to oppose his learning and reason to the eruption of the mass unconscious, they’d have been lynched. Brutally. Unjustly. Outrageously.
And yet, in the Jungian sense, that mass unconscious gave a truer picture of God than all Agobard’s theology.
Four visitors from the skies—three men and one woman. First reported from Lyon, in what’s now France, early in the ninth century. Then from the Turkish Dardanelles, late in the seventeenth century. To reappear like that, after nearly 900 years, would be quite a trick for human beings. Even, I’d imagine, for space aliens.
For archetypal entities, it’s a piece of cake.
Our source for the Lyon “sighting” is a Latin writing of Agobard, Archbishop of Lyon; I posted about Agobard’s story last week. The Turkish episode, we learn from the Hebrew writings of the heretical Jewish magus, theologian, and cult leader Abraham Cardozo (1627-1706).
Cardozo was a heretic, partly because he believed that Sabbatai Zevi—who’d proclaimed himself Messiah in 1665, then converted to Islam the year afterward—really was Messiah. But mostly because of what he believed about God and the Supreme Being, namely, that they both exist but aren’t the same. Rather, God is an inferior entity, dependent upon illumination from the Supreme Being, and now comatose and half-dead through the absence of that illumination. Which is why the world is in the mess it is.
I told Cardozo’s story, and translated some of his writings, in my book Abraham Miguel Cardozo: Selected Writings (Paulist Press, 2001). The following is taken from pages 285-288:
“I lived four years by the Dardanelles. On Tammuz 11, 5443 [July 5, 1683], one hour before nightfall, as I was descending into my garden from my upper chamber, I looked up and saw the moon.
“ ‘I see what appear to be shapes on the moon,’ I said to the people of my household. They looked and said, ‘There are four shapes: Messiah ben David, Rabbi Nathan, Rabbi Isaac Luria, and a fourth shape that looks to be a woman.’ … Now I could see them clearly.”
As in Lyon, nearly a millennium earlier: three men, one woman. The three men speak to Cardozo and his friends from the moon, then step down into the trees of his garden. The next day they visit Cardozo in his “upper chamber.” He thinks he knows exactly who they are: Sabbatai Zevi (“Messiah ben David”), Sabbatai’s prophet Nathan of Gaza, and the sixteenth-century Kabbalist Isaac Luria. All three, of course, are ghosts. Sabbatai, Nathan, and Luria were dead in 1683, when this was supposed to have happened.
Only gradually does it dawn on Cardozo how terribly he’s been tricked.
The three are demons, it turns out, who’ve taken on the shapes of deceased holy men in order to seduce Cardozo into misbelief. They’re ensconced now in his bedroom; he can’t get rid of them. Day after day they torment him with their blasphemies.
The Supreme Being, they hiss into his ear, has stripped God of all His power. The world’s lordship now belongs to Satan. Cardozo takes to his bed, burning with deadly fever. The evil three station themselves by his bed, dressed in black—like the Three Men in Black who came to visit Albert Bender in 1953 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, when Bender discovered too much about flying saucers. (See my posts “They Knew Too Much …” and ” … About Flying Saucers,” Feb. 1 and 22, 2011. Archetypal entities, remember, are immortal.)
“How long will you keep on persecuting me?” Cardozo demands.
The three men’s chilling reply: “Until you are dead. For it is our god’s pleasure to do to you as yours did to Pharaoh.”
Yet Cardozo lived to tell the tale. And the tale is so bizarre as to provoke the question: was this man in his right mind?
Probably not. Or at least not entirely. If you want to tell me the fever came first, and that Cardozo’s memory of having seen the three men descend from the moon was a fever-induced hallucination, I’ll admit that does make sense. Yet hallucinations come from somewhere.
And what about the fourth of Cardozo’s “Magonians”—the woman? She appears at the beginning of the story, on the moon. Then she vanishes. What do we know about her?
Put it another way: what do we know about the motif of a woman on the moon, in the seventeenth century? Specifically, in seventeenth-century Spain, where Cardozo spent the first two decades of his life, having grown up as a Roman Catholic. (For although Cardozo’s ancestry was Jewish, his family practiced Catholicism outwardly, Judaism in secret. He formally converted to Judaism only after fleeing Spain at age 21.)
Answer: we know plenty.
Seventeenth-century Spain was awash in paintings and sculptures of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, depicted as a beautiful young girl standing on the moon. The best known, and in my opinion the most splendid, is this one, painted by Diego de Velazquez in 1619, about eight years before Cardozo was born. Velazquez chose to portray the Virgin standing by herself. Others, like the sculptors Gregorio Fernandez (below) and Juan Martinez Montanes, preferred to show her accompanied by a group of males, usually three, members of her cherubic entourage. (Both of these sculptures are from the early 1630s, when Cardozo was a small boy.)
So there’s the 3 + 1.
How easy it is to imagine tiny Miguel Cardozo standing, open-mouthed with awe, before some such painting or sculpture of the mysterious Lady who rules the night sky! Easily the images lodged themselves in his unconscious. Decades later, when the Christian Miguel Cardozo had become the Jewish Kabbalist Abraham Cardozo, they came bursting forth in a string of feverish hallucinations.
So have we penetrated to the secret of Cardozo’s experience?
Part of it. But there’s more. The Magonian connection still needs to be elucidated.
Dr. Jung, please call your office …
(To be continued, in my next post.)
Three men and a woman, actually. They fell from the sky, it would seem, in the vicinity of Lyon in what’s now eastern France, early in the ninth century. They came from a place called Magonia.
So the local mob believed, as they prepared to stone them to death.
We have the story from Agobard, Archbishop of Lyon (c. 779-840), in a treatise directed against “the absurd opinion of the common folk concerning hail and thunder.” Agobard prided himself on his enlightenment; Scripture, not superstition, was for him the touchstone of truth. Here’s the story he tells, as translated by W. J. Lewis for the Internet Medieval Sourcebook:
“But we have seen and heard of many people overcome with so much foolishness, made crazy by so much stupidity, that they believe and say that there is a certain region, which is called Magonia, from which ships come in the clouds. In these ships the crops that fell because of hail and were lost in storms are carried back into that region; evidently these aerial sailors make a payment to the storm-makers, and take the grain and other crops. Among those so blinded with profound stupidity that they believe these things could happen we have seen many people in a kind of meeting, exhibiting four captives, three men and one woman, as if they had fallen from these very ships. As I have said, they exhibited these four, who had been chained up for some days, with such a meeting finally assembling in our presence, as if these captives ought to be stoned. But when truth had prevailed, however, after much argument, the people who had exhibited the captives, in accordance with the prophecy (Jeremiah 2:26) ‘were confounded … as the thief is confounded when he is taken.’ ”
This is a story well known in UFOlogical circles, for good reason. Forty-some years ago, it inspired the title of Jacques Vallee’s Passport to Magonia (Regnery, 1969), a stunningly original book that set forth the practically unheard-of possibility that it was possible to believe in UFOs without believing them to be visitors from outer space. Vallee noticed, and took seriously, the resemblance of the small humanoid beings who piloted the UFOs to the “wee folk” of European fairy lore. He suggested the two species of alien might have more in common than their small stature.
Not that the fairies and elves were misidentified spacemen, as the UFOlogists might have said. Nor (as the “debunkers” held) that UFOs are the same sort of nonsense as the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny. Rather, both traditions attested to some realm beyond consensus reality, yet co-existing with ourselves through the length of human history. A realm that, for want of a better name, we might call “Magonia.”
Where did Agobard—or the popular beliefs that Agobard debunked—get the name Magonia? Maybe from Greek magos, Latin magus, in which case the mysterious airships came from “the land of magicians.” But Jakob Grimm (of Grimm’s Fairy Tales fame) suggested another etymology, from an old German word for “whirlwind.” So I learn from a fascinating article by Miceal Ross, “Anchors in a Three-Decker World,” which appeared in the 1998 volume of the journal Folklore—and which I’ll return to in a future post, in connection with the mysterious “airship” that haunted American skies in 1896-97.
Agobard’s story provokes another question, even more baffling and much more important. Let’s assume the “four captives,” whom the archbishop rescued from a ghastly lynching, actually existed. And let’s assume, as good rationalists must, that they were ordinary human beings—that Agobard was right, the mob had been led astray by some sort of delusion. But how did the crowd ever get the idea these people were “aerial sailors … fallen from these very ships”? Was it something they’d witnessed? Or something the unlucky foursome said or did?
And why does a quaternity very much like them appear almost 900 years later, in the darkening sky over Turkish Canakkale, by the Dardanelles? There they were spotted by the heretical Jewish magus, theologian and cult leader Abraham Cardozo one July evening in 1683, when he stepped out of his house and looked at the moon …
But that’ll be for next week’s post.
When thy son shall ask thee in time to come, saying …
The Bible envisions different questions, apparently posed by different sons, all to the same effect: why do we Jews do this, that, or the other thing? From the character of the question, one infers the character of the questioner. So, voila, the rabbis who put together the Passover Haggadah came up with a mini-story involving a quaternity of “sons.” One “wise,” one “wicked,” one “simple.” Plus a fourth, “who does not know how to ask.”
The four may once have been three. So many scholars infer from rabbinic parallels to the Haggadah’s four sons. This doesn’t disturb me, at least not very much. A trinity—like the capital-T Christian Trinity—is a mutilated quaternity (says Jung), or perhaps an embryonic one struggling toward perfection in the Four. Yet in the Haggadah, this perfection seems flawed. The four species of “son” aren’t convincingly distinguished from one another. How does the simple son differ from the one who doesn’t even know how to ask a question? Isn’t the latter also “simple,” just a little bit simpler?
This question, and the whole passage of the four sons, came to my mind the first time (or maybe the second or third) I saw the wonderful 1989 comedy “The Dream Team.” Here’s the story:
A quartet of patients from a New Jersey mental hospital, brought to New York City to see a baseball game, have to fend for themselves after their doctor is set upon and beaten senseless by two vicious cops-gone-bad. Not only that: they have to rescue him from the bad guys, who know that the doctor has seen them commit murder and that dead men don’t talk. Who are the four members of this “dream team”? There’s fussy, officious Henry (Christopher Lloyd), addicted to the authority and prestige of the doctor’s white coat. Bad-boy Billy (Michael Keaton), given to mouthing off and lacking in—shall we say, impulse control? Jack (Peter Boyle), a former adman with a Messiah complex. And autistic Albert (Stephen Furst), who doesn’t talk at all except to blurt out slogans he’s heard from the baseball announcers on TV.
You see where I’m headed. A group of four, of whom one is at least would-be “wise,” another at least conventionally “wicked,” and one who can’t or won’t talk. OK—Bible-quoting Jack doesn’t match the “simple son” very well. But three out of four ain’t bad.
Coincidence? Direct influence of the Haggadah on the Dream Team’s creators? Or an archetypal pattern, cropping up in the most diverse places, ancient Jewish ritual and cinematic comedy?
While you ponder this, let me pose another question, probably unrelated. What does the Haggadah’s “wicked son” say or do that’s so very awful?
“The wicked son, what does he say? ‘What does this service mean to you?’ (Exodus 12:26). ‘To you’ and not to him. Since he removes himself from the community and denies God, you must set his teeth on edge: ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came forth from Egypt’ (Exodus 13:8). ‘For me’ and not for him. If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed.”
Of course we imagine the wicked son speaking these words with a contemptuous sneer: “What does this service mean to you?”
But do we have to? Maybe think of the question being asked earnestly, seriously, sympathetically, by an anthropologist to the people whose folkways she spends her life studying. What’s so dreadful about it? How is it different from the questions I posed, to Judaism and to the other religions I studied all my academic life? What does it mean to you?—spoken not with contempt but with scholarly detachment, out of the objective stance we all know is unattainable, but which it’s the scholar’s responsibility to strive for.
I once thought of writing a book on the Passover Seder called “The Haggadah of the Wicked Son,” which would speak up in his defense. Show his question emerging not from malice but from objectivity and integrity.
Now that I’ve left academia, though, I’m not so sure.
Isn’t there something a touch wicked, a touch dishonest, in what we do as academic students of religion, living and believing vicariously through the faith of others, which we’re prepared at any time to disavow and take our distance from? Do we immerse ourselves in others’ creeds because we can’t bring ourselves to declare our own? Or to face the reality that we have no religious beliefs (or perhaps even disbeliefs) that are truly ours, and the implications of that?
Might we not even be—and I know I’m using very extreme language here—a sort of spiritual undead, subsisting on the blood of those who are alive in a way we can’t be?
Questions to ponder, as Passover 2011 fades into darkness.
It’s Passover time again. Which means it’s time, if you’re Jewish and observe the traditions, for that archaic, baffling, weirdly compelling ceremony called the Seder.
For those who don’t know the terminology: the Seder is the ritual meal for Passover eve, performed the first evening of Passover in Israel, the first and second evenings everywhere else. The Haggadah is the manual for the ceremony, written mostly in Hebrew, a little bit in Aramaic. Only it wasn’t exactly written, but rather accumulated, as ritual texts tend to be, over the centuries, the stages of its growth silent, obscure, mysterious. Like so much else about this book and the ritual it accompanies.
Nominally, the Seder is a re-enactment of the Passover meal prescribed in the twelfth chapter of Exodus, for the evening before the Israelites’ departure from Egypt. But you don’t have to be a Bible scholar to see how radically the centuries have transformed it. The drinking of four cups of wine, unmentioned in the Bible, is pivotal to the Seder as we know it. We’re often told that Jesus’s Last Supper was a Seder. But this is based only on the claim that it was a Passover meal; in fact none of the distinctive features of the Seder turn up in the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper. The first clear evidence of a ritual that more or less resembles the Seder is in the rabbinic text called the Mishnah, from early in the third century CE.
From time to time efforts are made to modernize the Seder, to make it more “relevant” and less cryptic. For a few years, when I was a little boy, we recited an addition to the Seder that commemorated the dead of the Holocaust. In the 1960s, progressive-minded Jews devised something called “the Freedom Seder,” which turned the Seder into a vehicle of instruction for social justice. The innovations faded; the Seder remained. Its power lies precisely in its being archaic, dreamlike, only half intelligible, a muffled voice from far back in the communal soul. “Deep calleth unto deep” (Psalm 42:8), that is, from the communal unconscious to the unconscious of the participants, and the unconscious tends not to speak in complete and clear sentences. (Just ask the Delphic oracle.)
“How different is this night from all other nights!” exclaims the preamble to the “four questions” recited near the beginning of the ritual, which aren’t really questions and in any case are never answered. The phantasmagoric jingle of the “only kid” (Had Gadya), sung at the very end, sticks in the mind like the gingerbread house in “Hansel and Gretel,” which like “Had Gadya” makes very little real-world sense and yet speaks to something beyond ordinary reality.
When I was in college, I came under the influence of one professor who was deeply influenced by the theories of David Daube, who saw the Seder as the matrix out of which the Gospels emerged. Later I became fascinated by the idea of the Seder as a survival of the Greco-Roman custom called the “symposium,” the intellectual drinking-party where the amount of wine to be drunk is prescribed at the outset, and a topic for serious discussion proposed and pursued. (Love, in Plato’s Symposium; the exodus from Egypt, in the Seder.) This was a symposium, a la Plato and Socrates, preserved as if in amber down to the twentieth century. And the Passover meal, which in my childhood had taught the lesson that we Jews are different and set apart, became paradoxically a marker of our deeper connection with the cultures around us.
So will history teach us what the Seder is really about? Or do we need to dive deeper, into the murky realms of Freud and Jung, if we’re to get some handle on it—to make the unconscious conscious, the latent manifest? The Seder feeds nicely into the Jungian notion of the “quaternity” archetype. Fours are everywhere: the four prescribed cups of wine, the four “questions,” the four “sons” who are envisioned as asking their questions. Can this be coincidence? I ask portentously. Hmmm …
And the “four sons” are a story unto themselves.
I’ll post about them next week.