From WILLIAM EDELEN (1983)
The Contrary Minister
“On the third day he rose again from the dead”… You may think I am quoting the Apostles Creed still recited in so many churches, but actually I am quoting from primal religious liturgies that are referring to the resurrection of the moon after the third night of darkness.
“As the moon dieth and cometh to life again, so we also, having to die, will again rise,” declared the Juan Capistrano Indians in ceremonies celebrating the resurrection of the new moon, after three nights of darkness and death. Basically the moon was “she,” but in some cases “he.”
For more than 100,000 years it has been believed that death had no finality and that there was more.
A boon to archaeologists has been the discovery of graves in the Neanderthal period with both artifacts and flower remains, combined with the sensitivity of the burial.
What phenomenon played a vital part of their imagining a life after death? It was quite simply… observing the moon. The sun is always the same. The moon, on the other hand, is born new, grows to maturity, dies and is then resurrected. The period of the new moon, the resurrection of the moon, became one of the most important religious celebrations in many cultures.
Even as late as 600 B.C. in the Hebrew culture of Old Testament times, the new moon demanded special and generous offering and sacrifices. Wrote Ezekiel in the Old Testament, “On the day of the new moon shall be offered a young bull without blemish and six lambs and a ram which shall be without blemish.”
The Hebrew Sabbath was originally a new moon celebration. As the moon is reborn at the end of the third day, so shall the dead be reborn to a new life. Even church father St. Augustine, writing within the framework of 4th century Christianity, still used the cycles of the moon as proof that there was a resurrection from the dead. Little did he dream that someday we would walk on the same moon.
Other beliefs, in such developed countries as India, Greece and Iran, were that the dead went to live on the moon. In India, souls lived on the moon while awaiting reincarnation. In Persia, only the very good went to live on the moon where after a short stay they received the beautiful blessing of being allowed to graduate on toward the infinite light, Mazda. So there developed an almost universal belief based on the cycles of the moon. Death is not final, for the moon’s death was not final.
Other beliefs add to life after death concepts. In Egypt, there is a body of religious texts known as the Pyramid texts, dating around 2500 B.C., although they incorporate much older material, describing how the dead shall go before Osiris with their declaration of innocence. In the resurrection of Osiris, Egyptians saw the pledge of a life everlasting.
For centuries the Jews believed with the Babylonians that all the dead lived in the shadowy nether world called Sheol, a world of silence, and that it was located under the Earth.
Finally, a belief in the immortality of the soul entered into Jewish thought from Hellenistic philosophy through the teachings of Plato. Plato in turn was greatly influenced by the Orphic and Eleusinian mystery religions. In New Testament times of Judaism, the Sadducees denied that there was any resurrection, but the Pharisees affirmed a belief in life after death long before Jesus was born.
In Islam, Muhammad conceived of the afterlife in terms of a weighing of souls, saying, “We shall place the balances of justice on the day of resurrection and no soul shall be wronged, even to the extent of a grain of mustard seed.”
In Taoism and the North American Indian religions, death is approached with no fear as it is a part of the natural rhythms and cycles of the universe. And how could anything as natural as death, which follows birth, be feared?
As elderly member of the Taos pueblo used these beautiful thoughts: “Today is a very good day to die. Every living thing is in harmony with me. Every voice sings a chorus within me. All beauty has come to rest in my eyes. All bad thoughts have departed from me. Today is a very good day to die. My land is peaceful around me. My fields have been turned for the last time. My house is filled with laughter. Yes, today is a very good day to die.”
The truth of death… and whatever truth is beyond could only be a part of the beauty of the nature and rhythm of things; of harvest and springtime; of birth, and death, and rebirth…