WE ARE NOW at last in a position where we can look back and see the history of mankind on this planet in its proper values for the first time and understand some of the chief features of the last three millennia as vestiges of a previous mentality. Our view of human history here must be that of a furthest grandeur. We must try to see man against his entire evolutionary background, where his civilizations, including our own, are but as mountain peaks in a particular range against the sky, and from which we must force ourselves into an intellectual distance so that we see its contours aright. And from this prospect, a millennium is an exceedingly short period of time for so fundamental a change as from bicamerality to consciousness.
We, at the end of the second millennium A.D., are still in a sense deep in this transition to a new mentality. And all about us lie the remnants of our recent bicameral past. We have our houses of gods which record our births, define us, marry us, and bury us, receive our confessions and intercede with the gods to forgive us our trespasses. Our laws are based upon values which without their divine pendancy would be empty and unenforceable. Our national mottoes and hymns of state are usually divine invocations. Our kings, presidents, judges, and officers begin their tenures with oaths to the now silent deities taken upon the writings of those who have last heard them.
The most obvious and important carry-over from the previous mentality is thus our religious heritage in all its labyrinthine beauty and variety of forms. The overwhelming importance of religion both in general world history and in the history of the average world individual is of course very clear from any objective standpoint, even though a scientific view of man often seems embarrassed at acknowledging this most obvious fact. For in spite of all that rationalist materialist science has implied since the Scientific Revolution, mankind as a whole has not, does not, and perhaps cannot relinquish his fascination with some human type of relationship to a greater and wholly other, some mysterium tremendum with powers and intelligences beyond all left hemispheric categories, something necessarily indefinite and unclear, to be approached and felt in awe and wonder and almost speechless worship, rather than in clear conception, something that for modern religious people communicates in truths of feeling, rather than in what can be verbalized by the left hemisphere, and so what in our time can be more truly felt when least named, a patterning of self and numinous other from which, in times of our darkest distress, none of us can escape ? even as the infinitely milder distress of decision-making brought out that relationship three millennia ago.
There are many things that could be said at this point ? many. A full discussion here would specify how the attempted reformation of Judaism by Jesus can be construed as a necessarily new religion for conscious men rather than bicameral men. Behavior now must be changed from within the new consciousness rather than from Mosaic laws carving behavior from without. Sin and penance are now within conscious desire and conscious contrition, rather than in the external behaviors of the decalogue and the penances of temple sacrifice and community punishment. The divine kingdom to be regained is psychological not physical. It is metaphorical not literal. It is ‘within’ not in extenso.
But even the history of Christianity does not and cannot remain true to its originator. The development of the Christian Church returns again and again to this same longing for bicam318 Vestiges of the Bicameral Mind in the Modern World eral absolutes, away from the difficult inner kingdoms of agape to an external hierarchy reaching through a cloud of miracle and infallibility to an archaic authorization in an extended heaven. In previous chapters I have often paused to point out various parallels between ancient bicameral practices and modern religious ones, and I shall not labor such comparisons here.
Also beyond the purview of the present book is a full exploration of the way that the more secular developments of the last three millennia are related to their emergence from a different mentality. I am thinking here of the history of logic and conscious reasoning from the Greek development of Logos to modern computers, and of the spectacular historical pageant of philosophy, with its efforts to find a metaphor of all existence in which we may find some conscious familiarity and so feel at home in the universe. I am thinking too of our struggles toward systems of ethics, of attempting with rational consciousness to find substitutes for our previous divine volition which could carry with them that obligation which at least could simulate our earlier obedience to hallucinated voices. And too of the cyclic history of politics, the gyres of our wavering attempts to make governments out of men instead of gods, secular systems of laws to perform that formerly divine function of binding us together into an order, a stability, and a commonweal.
These larger questions are the important ones. But here, in this chapter, I wish to introduce the issues of Book III by considering a handful of more ancient topics of lesser importance that are precise and clear carry-overs from the earlier mentality. My reason for doing so here is that these historical phenomena shed a needed and clarifying light back into some of the darker problems of Books I and II.
One distinguishing characteristic of such vestiges is that they are more obvious against the complexity of history the closer we are to the breakdown of the bicameral mind. The reason for this is quite clear. While the universal characteristics of the new consciousness, such as self-reference, mind-space, and narratization, can develop swiftly on the heels of new language construction, the larger contours of civilization, the huge landscape of culture against which this happens, can only change with geological slowness. The matter and technic of earlier ages of civilizations survive into the new eras uneroded, dragging with them the older outworn forms in which the new mentality must live.
But living also in these forms is a fervent search for what I shall call archaic authorization. After the collapse of the bicameral mind, the world is still in a sense governed by gods, by statements and laws and prescriptions carved on stelae or written on papyrus or remembered by old men, and dating back to bicameral times. But the dissonance is there. Why are the gods no longer heard and seen? The Psalms cry out for answers. And more assurances are needed than the relics of history or the paid insistences of priests. Something palpable, something direct, something immediate! Some sensible assurance that we are not alone, that the gods are just silent, not dead, that behind all this hesitant subjective groping about for signs of certainty, there is a certainty to be had.
Thus, as the slow withdrawing tide of divine voices and presences strands more and more of each population on the sands of subjective uncertainties, the variety of technique by which man attempts to make contact with his lost ocean of authority becomes extended. Prophets, poets, oracles, diviners, statue cults, mediums, astrologers, inspired saints, demon possession, tarot cards, Ouija boards, popes, and peyote all are the residue of bicamerality that was progressively narrowed down as uncertainties piled upon uncertainties. In this chapter and the next we shall examine some of these more archaic vestiges of the bicameral mind.
The most immediate carry-over of bicamerality is simply its perpetuation in certain persons, particularly itinerant prophets, which I have discussed in 11.6, or those institutionalized as oracles, which I shall describe here. While there is a series of cuneiform tablets describing Assyrian oracles1 dating from the seventh century B.C., and the even earlier oracle of Amon of Thebes in Egypt, it is really in Greece that we know this institution best. Greek oracles were the central method of making important decisions for over a thousand years after the breakdown of the bicameral mind. This fact is usually obscured by the strident rationalism of modern historians. Oracles were subjectivity’s umbilical cord reaching back into the sustaining unsubjective past.
The Oracle at Delphi
Coincidental with my metaphor is the fact that at the most famous oracle, that of Apollo at Delphi, there was a queer conelike stone structure called the omphalos or navel. It stood at the reputed center of the earth. Here presided on certain days, or in some centuries every day throughout the year, a supreme priestess, or sometimes two or three in rotation, selected so far as we know on no particular basis (in Plutarch’s day, in the first century B.C., she was the daughter of a poor farmer).2 She first bathed and drank from a sacred brook, and then established contact with the god through his sacred tree, the laurel, much as conscious Assyrian kings are depicted being smeared by treecones in the hands of genii. She did this either by holding a laurel branch, or by inhaling and fumigating herself with burnt laurel leaves (as Plutarch said), or perhaps by chewing the leaves (as Lucian insisted).
The replies to questions were given at once, without any reflection, and uninterruptedly. The exact manner of her announcements is still debated,3 whether she was seated on a tripod, regarded as Apollo’s ritual seat, or simply stood at an entrance to a cave. But the archaic references to her, from the fifth century on, all agree with the statement of Heraclitus that she spoke “from her frenzied mouth and with various contortions of her body.” She was entheos, plena deo. Speaking through his priestess, but always in the first person, answering king or freeman, ‘Apollo’ commanded sites for new colonies (as he did for presentday Istanbul), decreed which nations were friends, which rulers best, which laws to enact, the causes of plagues or famines, the best trade routes, which of the proliferation of new cults, or music, or art should be recognized as agreeable to Apollo ? all decided by these girls with their frenzied mouths.
Truly, this is astonishing! We have known of the Delphic Oracle so long from school texts that we coat it over with a shrugging usualness when we should not. How is it conceivable that simple rural girls could be trained to put themselves into a psychological state such that they could make decisions at once that ruled the world?
The obdurate rationalist simply scoffs plena deo indeed! Just as the mediums of our own times have always been exposed as frauds, so these so-called oracles were really performances manipulated by others in front of an illiterate peasantry for political or monetary ends.
But such a realpolitik attitude is doctrinaire at best. Possibly there was some chicanery in the oracle’s last days, perhaps some bribery of the prophetes, those subsidiary priests or priestesses who interpreted what the oracle meant. But earlier, to sustain so massive a fraud for an entire millennium through the most brilliant intellectual civilization the world had yet known is impossible, just impossible. Nor can it gibe with the complete absence of criticism of the oracle until the Roman period. Nor with the politically wise and often cynical Plato reverently calling Delphi “the interpreter of religion to all mankind.”4
Another kind of explanation, really a quasi-explanation, still busied about with in the popular and sometimes professional literature, is biochemical. The trances were real, it says, but caused by vapors of some sort rising from a casium beneath the floor of the cave. But the French excavations of 1903 and more recent ones have shown distinctly that no such casium existed.5
Or else there might be a drug in the laurel that could have produced such an Apollonian effect. To test this, I have crushed laurel leaves and smoked quantities of them in a pipe and felt somewhat sick but no more inspired than usual. And chewed them as well for over an hour, and very distinctly felt more and more Jaynesian, alas, than Apollonian.6 The glee with which external explanations are sought out for such phenomena simply indicates the resistance in some quarters to admitting that psychological phenomena of this type exist at all.
Rather, I suggest a quite different explanation. And for that purpose, I shall introduce here the notion of
The General Bicameral Paradigm
By this phrase, I mean an hypothesized structure behind a large class of phenomena of diminished consciousness which I am interpreting as partial holdovers from our earlier mentality. The paradigm has four aspects:
– the collective cognitive imperative, or belief system, a culturally agreed-on expectancy or prescription which defines the particular form of a phenomenon and the roles to be acted out within that form;
– an induction or formally ritualized procedure whose function is the narrowing of consciousness by focusing attention on a small range of preoccupations;
– the trance itself, a response to both the preceding, characterized by a lessening of consciousness or its loss, the diminishing of the analog or its loss, resulting in a role that is accepted, tolerated, or encouraged by the group; and
– the archaic authorization to which the trance is directed or related to, usually a god, but sometimes a person who is accepted by the individual and his culture as an authority over the individual, and who by the collective cognitive imperative is prescribed to be responsible for controlling the trance state.
Now, I do not mean these four aspects of the general bicameral paradigm to be considered as a temporal succession necessarily, although the induction and trance usually do follow each other. But the cognitive imperative and the archaic authorization pervade the whole thing. Moreover, there is a kind of balance or summation among these elements, such that when one of them is weak the others must be strong for the phenomena to occur. Thus, as through time, particularly in the millennium following the beginning of consciousness, the collective cognitive imperative becomes weaker (that is, the general population tends toward skepticism about the archaic authorization), we find a rising emphasis on and complication of the induction procedures, as well as the trance state itself becoming more profound.
By calling the general bicameral paradigm a structure, I not only mean a logical structure into which these phenomena can be analyzed, but also some presently unspecified neurological structure or relationships between areas of the brain, perhaps something like the model for the bicameral mind presented in 1.5. We might thus expect that all of the phenomena mentioned in Book III in some way involve right hemispheric function in a way that is different from ordinary conscious life. It is even possible that in some of these phenomena we have a partial periodic right hemisphere dominance that can be considered as the neurological residue of nine millennia of selection for the bicameral mind.
The application of this general bicameral paradigm to the oracle at Delphi is obvious: the elaborate induction procedures, the trance in which consciousness is lost, the ardently pursued authorization of Apollo. But it is the collective cognitive” imperative or group belief or cultural prescription or expectancy (all of these terms indicating my meaning) which I wish to emphasize. The immensity of the cultural demand upon the entranced priestess cannot be overemphasized. The whole Greek world believed, and had for almost a millennium. As many as thirty-five thousand people a day from every part of the Mediterranean world might struggle by sea through the tiny port of Itea that snuggles the receptive coast just below Delphi. And they, too, went through induction procedures, purifying themselves in the Castalian spring, making offerings to Apollo and other gods as they persisted up the Sacred Way. In the latter centuries of the oracle, more than four thousand votive statues crowded this 220-yard-long climb up the side of Mount Parnassus to the temple of the oracle. It was, I suggest, this confluence of huge social prescription and expectancy, closer to definition than mere belief, which can account for the psychology of the oracle, for the at-once-ness of her answers. It was something before which any skepticism would be as impossible as for us to doubt that the speech of a radio originates in a studio that we cannot see. And it is something before which modern psychology must stand in awe.
To this causative expectancy should be added something about the natural scene itself. Oracles begin in localities with a specific awesomeness, natural formations of mountain or gorge, of hallucinogenic wind or waves, of symbolic gleamings and vistas, which I suggest are more conducive to occasioning right hemisphere activity than the analytic planes of everyday life. Perhaps we can say that the geography of the bicameral mind in the first part of the first millennium B.C. was shrinking down into sites of awe and beauty where the voices of gods could still be heard.
Certainly the vast cliffs of Delphi move into such a suggestion and fill it fully: a towering caldron of blasted rock over which the sea winds howl and the salt mists cling, as if dreaming nature were twisting herself awake at awkward angles, falling away into a blue surf of shimmering olive leaves and the gray immortal sea.
(It is, however, difficult for us to appreciate such scenic awe today, so clouded is the purity of our response to landscape with our conscious ‘inner’ worlds and our experience with swift geographical change. Moreover, Delphi today is not quite as it was. Its five acres of broken columns, cheerful graffiti, camera-clicking tourists, and stumps of white marble over which heedless ants crawl indecisively, are not exactly the stuff of divine inspiration.)
Particularly recommending such a cultural explanation of Delphi is the fact that there were similar if less important oracles throughout the civilized world at the time. Apollo had others: at Ptoa in Boeotia and at Branchidae and Patara in Asia Minor. At the latter, the Prophetess, as part of the induction, was locked into the temple at night for connubial union with her hallucinated god that she might better be his medium.7 The great oracle at Claros had priests as mediums whose frenzies were visited by Tacitus in the first century A.D.8 Pan had an oracle at Acacesium, but it became defunct early.9 The golden oracle at Ephesus, famous for its enormous wealth, had tranced eunuchs as the mouthpieces of the goddess Artemis.10 (The style of their vestments, incidentally, is still used today by the Greek Orthodox Church.) And the abnormal dancing on the tips of the toes of modern ballerinas is thought to derive from the dances before the altar of the goddess.11 Anything opposite to the everyday can serve as a cue for the engagement of the general bicameral paradigm.
The voice of Zeus at Dodona must have been one of the oldest oracles, since Odysseus visited it to hear whether to return to Ithaca openly or by stealth.12 It was at that time probably just a huge sacred oak tree and the Olympian voice was hallucinated from the wind trembling in its leaves, making one wonder if something similar took place among the Druids who held the oak holy. It is only in the fifth century B.C. that Zeus is no longer heard directly, and Dodona has a temple and a priestess who speaks for him in unconscious trances,13 again conforming to the temporal sequence the bicameral theory would predict.
Not only the voices of gods, but also of dead kings, could still be heard bicamerally, as we have earlier suggested was the origin of gods themselves. Amphiaraus had been the heroic prince of Argos who had plunged to his death in a chasm in Boeotia, supposedly at the nudge of an angry Zeus. His voice was ‘heard’ from the chasm for centuries after, answering the problems of his petitioners. But again as centuries passed, the Voice’ came to be hallucinated only by certain entranced priestesses who lived there. At that later time they did not so much answer questions as interpret the dreams of those who consulted the voice.14
In some ways the most interesting, however, from the hypothesis of the bicameral mind is the hallucinated voice of Trophonius at Lebadea, twenty miles east of Delphi. For it is the longest lasting of the direct Voices’ without intermediary priests or priestesses. The locale of the oracle even today bears some remnants of its ancient awesomeness, a meeting of three soaring precipices, of murmuring springs easing strongly out of the solemn ground and crawling submissively away into stony ravines. And up a little, where one ravine begins to wind into the heart of the mountain, there was once a carved-out cell-like pit in the rock that squeezed down into an ovenlike shrine over an underground flume.
When the collective imperative of the general bicameral paradigm is less, when belief and trust in such phenomena are waning with rationalism, and particularly when it is being applied not to a trained priestess but to any suppliant, the induction is longer and more intricate to compensate. And this is what occurred at Lebadea. Pausanias, the Roman traveler, described the elaborate induction procedure that he found there in A.D. 150.15 After days of waiting and purification and omens and expectancy, he tells us how he was abruptly taken one night and bathed and anointed by two holy boys, then drank from Lethe’s spring to forget who he was (the loss of the analog ‘I’), then made to sip at the spring of Mnemosyne so as to remember later what was to be revealed (like a post-hypnotic suggestion). Then he was made to worship a secret image, then was dressed in holy linen, girded with sacred ribbons, and shod with special boots, and then only after more omens, if favorable, was finally inserted down an impassive ladder into the devout pit with its dark torrent where the divine message grew swiftly articulate.
The Six Oracular Terms
As the Greek mind moves from the universally bicameral to the universally conscious, these oracular vestiges of the bicameral world and their authority change until they become more and more precarious and difficult to obtain. There is, I suggest, a loose pattern in all this, and that over the thousand years of their existence, oracles were in a continuing decadence which can be understood as six terms. These can be regarded as six steps down from the bicameral mind as its collective cognitive imperative grew weaker and weaker.
- The locality oracle. Oracles began simply as specific locations where, because of some awesomeness of the surroundings, or some important incident or some hallucinogenic sound, waves, waters, or wind, suppliants, any suppliants, could still ‘hear’ a bicameral voice directly. Lebadea remained at this term, probably because of its remarkable induction.
- The prophet oracle. Usually there then occurred a term where only certain persons, priests, or priestesses, could ‘hear’ the voice of the god at the locality.
- The trained prophet oracle, when such persons, priests, or priestesses, could ‘hear’ only after long training and elaborate inductions. Up to this term, the person was still himself and relayed the god’s voice to others.
- The possessed oracle. Then, from at least the fifth century B.C., came the term of possession, of the frenzied mouth and contorted body after even more training and more elaborate inductions.
- The interpreted possessed oracle. As the cognitive imperative weakened, the words became garbled and had to be interpreted by auxiliary priests or priestesses who themselves had gone through induction procedures.
- The erratic oracle. And then even this became difficult. T h e voices became fitful, the possessed prophet erratic, the interpretations impossible, and the oracle ended.
The oracle of Delphi endured longest. It is striking evidence for its supreme importance to the god-nostalgic subjectivity of Greece in its golden age that it lasted so long, particularly when it is recalled that in almost every invasion it sided with the invader: with Xerxes I in the early fifth century B.C., with Philip II in the fourth century B.C., and even in the Peloponnesian Wars, it spoke on the side of Sparta. Such the strength of bicameral phenomena in the forces of history. It even lived out its sad, hilarious, patriotic mocking by Euripides in the amphitheaters.
But by the first century A.D., Delphi had come to its sixth term. Bicamerality having receded further and further into the unremembered past, skepticism had overgrown belief. The mighty cultural cognitive imperative of the oracular was played out and shattered, and the thing with increasing frequency would not work. One such instance at Delphi is told by Plutarch in A.D. 60. The prophetess reluctantly attempted a trance, the omens being dreadful. She began to speak in a hoarse voice as if distressed, then appeared filled with a “dumb and evil spirit,” and then ran screaming toward the entrance and fell down. Everyone else, including her prophetes, fled in terror. The report goes on that they found her partly recovered when they returned, but that she died within a few days.16 As this was probably observed by a prophetes who was a personal friend of Plutarch’s, we have no reason to doubt its authenticity.17
Yet even with these neurotic failures, Delphi was still consulted by the tradition-hungry Greece-haunted Romans. The last to do so was my namesake, the Emperor Julian who, following his namesake Julianus (who had written down from hallucinated gods his Chaldaean Oracles), was attempting to revive the ancient gods. As part of this personal quest for authorization, he tried to rehabilitate Delphi in A.D. 363, three years after it had been ransacked by Constantine. Through his remaining priestess, Apollo prophesied that he would never prophesy again. And the prophecy came true. The bicameral mind had come to one of its many ends.
The Age of Oracles occupies the entire millennium after the breakdown of the bicameral mind. And as it slowly dies away, there appear here and there what might be called amateur oracles, untrained and uninstitutionalized persons who spontaneously felt themselves possessed by gods. Of course some simply spoke schizophrenic nonsense. Probably most. But others had an authenticity that could command belief. Among such were those few but unknown number of weird and wonderful women known as the Sibyls (from the Aeolic sios = god + boule = advice). In the first century B.C., Varro could count at least ten at one time around the Mediterranean world. But there were certainly others in more remote regions. They lived in solitude, sometimes in reverenced mountain shrines that were built for them, or in tufaceous subterranean caverns near the groan of the ocean, as did the great Cumaean Sibyl. Virgil had probably personally visited the latter around 40 B.C., when he described her frenzied laboring with a possessing Apollo in Book VI of the Aeneid.
Like oracles, the Sibyls were asked to make decisions on matters high and low up to the third century A.D. So gristled with moral fervor were their replies that even the early Christian Fathers and Hellenistic Jews bowed to them as prophets on a level with those of the Old Testament. The early Christian Church, in particular, used their prophecies (often forged) to buttress its own divine authenticity. Even a thousand years later, at the Vatican, four of the Sibyls were painted into prominent niches on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. And even centuries later, copies of these muscular ladies with their oracular books open used to look down on the wondering present writer in a Unitarian Sunday school in New England. Such is the thirst of our institutions after authorization.
And when they too had ceased, when the gods no longer would inhabit living human forms in prophecy and oracle, mankind searches for other ways of taking up the slack, as it were, between heaven and earth. There are new religions, Christianity, Gnosticism, and Neo-Platonism. There are new orders of conduct to relate god-shorn men to the enormous conscious landscape of a now spatialized time, as in Stoicism and Epicureanism. There is an institutionalization and elaboration of divination beyond anything in Assyria, divination built into the political state officially to generate decisions on important matters. As the Greek civilizations had been anchored into the divine by oracles, so the Roman now is by auspices and augurers.
A Revival of Idols
But even these cannot fill the need of the common man for transcendence. Following the failure of oracles and prophets as if to replace them is an attempted revival of idols similar to those of bicameral times.
The great bicameral civilizations had, as we have seen, used a wide variety of effigies to help hallucinate bicameral voices. But when those voices ceased in the adjustment to subjective consciousness, all this was darkened. Most idols were destroyed. Late bicameral kingdoms at the behest of their jealous gods had always smashed and burned the idols of opposing gods or kings. And the practice accelerated when the idols were no longer heard and worshiped. King Josiah, in the seventh century B.C., ordered all idols in his domain destroyed. The Old Testament is full of the destruction of idols, as well as imprecations on the heads of those who make new ones. By the middle of the first millennium B.C., idolatry is only here and there, fitful and unimportant.
Curiously, there is at this time a very minor cult of hallucinating from severed heads. Herodotus (4:26) speaks of the practice in the obscure Issedones of gilding a head and sacrificing to it. Cleomenes of Sparta is said to have preserved the head of Archonides in honey and consulted it before undertaking any important task. Several vases of the fourth century B.C. in Etruria depict scenes of persons interrogating oracular heads.18 And the severed head of the rustic Carians which continues to ‘speak’ is mentioned derisively by Aristotle.19 And this is about all. Thus, after subjective consciousness is firmly established, the practice of hallucinating from idols is only sporadically present.
But as we approach the beginning of the Christian era, with the oracles mocked into silence, we have a very true revival of idolatry. The temples that whitened the hills and cities of decadent Greece and ascendant Rome were now crammed with more and more statues of gods. By the first century A.D., the Apostle Paul despairingly found Athens full of idols (Acts 17), and Pausanias, whom we met a few pages ago at Lebadea, described them as being simply everywhere on his travels and of every conceivable sort: marble and ivory, gilded and painted, life-sized and some two or three stories high.
Did such idols ‘speak’ to their worshipers? There is no doubt that this sometimes occurred, just as in bicameral times. But in general in the subjective era, it seems very doubtful that this happened spontaneously very often. For otherwise there would not have been the rising attention to artificial means, magical and chemical, for obtaining hallucinated messages from stone and ivory gods. And here again we see the entrance into history of the general bicameral paradigm: collective cognitive imperative, induction, trance, and archaic authorization.
In Egypt, where the breaking point between bicamerality and subjectivity is far less sharp than in more volatile nations, there was the development of the so-called Hermetic literature. This is a series of papyri describing various induction procedures that came into being at the edge of bicameral certainty and spread over the conscious world. In one of them, there is a dialogue called the Asclepus (after the Greek god of healing) that describes the art of imprisoning the souls of demons or of angels in statues with the help of herbs, gems, and odors, such that the statue could speak and prophesy.20 In other papyri, there are still other recipes for constructing such images and animating them, such as when images are to be hollow so as to enclose a magic name inscribed on gold leaf.
By the first century A.D., this practice had spread over most of the civilized world. In Greece, rumors broke into legends over the miraculous behavior of public cult statues. In Rome, Nero prized a statue which warned him of conspiracies.21 Apuleius was accused of possessing one.22 So common were hallucinogenic idols by the second century A.D. that Lucian in his Philopseudes satirized the belief in them. And Iamblichus, the Neo-Platonist apostle of theurgy, as it was called in his Peri agalmaton, tried to prove “that idols are divine and filled with the divine presence,” establishing a vogue for such idols against the fuming execration of Christian critics. His disciples obtained omens of every sort and distinction from idols. One hallucinator boasted he could make a statue of Hecate laugh and cause the torches in her hand to light up. And another feels he can tell whether a statue is animate or inanimate by the sensation it gives him. Even Cyprian, the good gray Bishop of Carthage, complained in the third century of the “spirits that lurk under statues and consecrated images.”23 The whole civilized world, in this effort to recall the bicameral mind after the failure of oracles and prophecy, was filled with epiphanies of statues of every sort and description in this remarkable revival of idolatry.
How was all this believable? Since this is well into the subjective era, when men prided themselves on reason and common sense, and at last knew there were such experiences as false hallucinations, how was it possible that they could actually believe that statues embodied real gods? And really spoke?
Let us recall the almost universal belief of these centuries in an absolute dualism of mind and matter. Mind or soul or spirit or consciousness (all these were confused together) was a thing imposed from heaven on the bodily matter to give it life. All the newer religions of this era were allied about this point. And if a soul can be imposed on so fragile a thing as flesh to make it live, on a hurtable carcass that has to have vegetable and animal matter stuffed in one end and stenchfully excreted at another, a sense-pocked sinful vessel that the years wrinkle and the winds chafe and diseases cruelly hound, and that can be sliced off in a trice from the soul it holds by the same act that stabs an onion, how much more possible for life, divine life, to be imposed by heaven upon a statue of unbleeding beauty with a faultless and immaculate body of unwrinkling marble or diseaseless gold! Here is Callistratus, for example, in the fourth century A.D., writing about an ivory and gold statue of the god Asclepius:
Shall we admit that the divine spirit descends into human bodies, there to be even defiled by passions, and nevertheless not believe it in a case where there is no attendant engendering of evil? .. . for see how an image, after Art has portrayed in it a god, even passes over into the god himself! Matter though it is, it gives forth divine intelligence.24
And he and most of the world believed it.
The evidence for all this would be much more obvious today, had not Constantine in the fourth century, even like King Josiah in Israel one millennium earlier, sent his armies of Christian converts out with sledge hammers through the once bicameral world to smash all its physical vestiges in sight. Every god is a jealous god after the breakdown of the bicameral mind.
But even this destruction could not abolish idolatrous practice, so vital is it to have some kind of authorization for our behavior. Medieval Italy and Byzantium believed in enchanted idols who had power to avert disaster. The notorious Knights Templars were at least accused of taking orders from a gold head called Baphomet. So common had hallucinogenic idols become in the late Middle Ages that a bull of Pope John XXII in 1326 denounced those who by magic imprison demons in images or other objects, interrogate them, and obtain answers. Even up to the Reformation, monasteries and churches vied with each other to attract pilgrims (and their offerings) by miracle-producing statuary.
In some epochs, perhaps when the cognitive imperatives for such neo-bicameral experiences began to wither under the sunlight of rationalism, the belief in statue animation was occasionally sustained by the use of fraudulent contrivances.25 In one instance of many, a life-sized medieval rood of the crucified Jesus at Boxley, which rolled its eyes at penitents, shed tears, and foamed at the mouth, was found in the sixteenth century to have “certain engines and old wires with old rotten sticks in the back of the same.”26 But we shouldn’t cynicize too deeply here. While such artificial animation often functioned as chicanery to fool the miracle-hungry pilgrim, it may also have been meant as an enticement to the god to body itself in a more lifelike statue. As a fourteenth-century tract on the matter explained, “God’s power in working of his miracles loweth down in one image more than in another.”27 Animated idols in some contemporary tribes are explained by their worshipers in the same way.
Idolatry is still a socially cohesive force ? its original function. Our parks and public gardens are still the beflowered homes of heroic effigies of past leaders. While few of us can hallucinate their speech, we still on appropriate occasions might give them gifts of wreaths, even as greater gifts were given in the gigunus of Ur. In churches, temples, and shrines the world over, religious statues are still being carved, painted, and prayed to. Figurines of a Queen of Heaven dangle protectively from the mirrors of American windshields. Teen-age girls I have interviewed, living in deeply religious convents, often sneak down to the chapel in the dead of night and have mentioned to me their excitement at being able to ‘hear’ the statue of the Virgin Mary speak, and ‘see’ her lips move or her head bow or ? sometimes ? her eyes weep. Gentle idols of Jesus, Mary, and the saints throughout much of the Catholic world are still being bathed, dressed, incensed, flowered, jeweled, and launched shoulder-high and glorious out of bell-bellowing churches on outings through towns and countrysides on feast days. Placing special foods in front of them or dancing and bowing before them still generates its numinous excitement.28 Such devotions differ from similar divine outings in bicameral Mesopotamia 4000 years ago mostly in the idol’s relative silence.