22. The Great Year


and Aión (Greek) = ´Olam (Hebrew).

“Where every where and every when is focused...” Dante, Paradiso XXIX. 12


The West-semitic highgod is “from eternity to eternity”. He may be described by means of the typical symbols of mysticism as “total simul", all ages united, all life forms united into one. This cherubical form makes him one of the LIVING creatures who, together with the source of LIFE and the tree of LIFE, are part of the paradise and its eternity and eternal LIFE-renewal-symbolism. As the “Father of years”, “The Ancient of days”, the “Father of eternity” El ("God") is standing above the cycles of time. He is the one that “was, is and will come" and by the end of the cycle of time he is born again as a small child. In Greek he is called Aión or Chronos, and it is this god we meet as light reborn at midwinter when the darkness is deepest. (The birth of Aion in Alexandria, Dusares in Seir and Marna as Zeus Cretagenes = "Born in Crete" in Gaza.) The child is born among people returning to the state of untouched nature, a bucolic environment, Is. 7,15ff., Virgil's 4th eclogue.

In Gen.1,1ff creation is seen as creation of time and limits/borders in primordial limitless eternity. This eternity without limits and divisions is the first principle in the cosmogony of Anaximander who has his wisdom from Eastern sources (Phoenicia, Mesopotamia). Limitless eternity is also the first and highest principle in the cosmogony of Philo of Byblos. Behind early Greek philosophy there is an all-encompassing God who is the mystic God, experienced in the mystical vision of the "eternal now", first met with by Parmenides.

 The God of the Apoc of John is a god whose name (Jhvh) is interpreted as "being in the eternal now, in the unity of past, present and future". M.Boyce[1] has tried to show that the Iranian god of time, Zurwan, as well as the Indian Kala, goes back to a Phoenician god who is the personification of "Time".

In the mystical experience everything is coming together into one, including time. In other parts of the literature written under the name of John, Jesus is described as at the same time youth, man and old man. The key to these odd descriptions is mysticism.

The Hellenistic god Aión  has sprung from the symbol of the cherub and the West-semitic highgod as world pillar (kvn) and Ulomos/Ólam ("Eternity"). His son and epiphany is the sun hero. In the mysteries of Mithras, Mithras is the young god and Aion the old god.

The old god is ´Abi-´Ad ="Father of Eternity". The young god is ´El-Gibbor = "God-hero". In Is 9,5 the divine child is called with both names: the old and the young god are one.

Like Resheph in Byblos (identical with El Cronos and the world pillar Kvn) Aiôn in the mysteries of Mithras has a lion's face, a coiling snake mounting to the top of the scull of the god, and, like an Egyptian uraeus, putting its head as a third eye on his forehead.

El is the name of the highest God, both in the Bible and in Phoenician religion.  What is the difference?  The difference is that a certain technique of ecstasy and a group of symbols expressing this technique play a major role in Canaanitic religion, but is not to be found in biblical religion. Exactly the same symbols which, in the history of religion, are connected with left-hand-tantra: the raised snake, the lion (in India the personification of kundalini, Kali, is riding the tiger), the left hand and a normless, even incestuous, promiscuous behaviour for the purpose of creating contact with the spirits of darkness and the netherworld to get yoga-power. Yoga has the same meaning as the English word "yoke", and in fact we find the phrase "put in Yoke with Baal Peor" as a result of promiscuous behavior. The same promiscuous behaviour is found in early gnosticism, and here also with the Greek word syzygia (= “partner  under the same yoke”) used about the spiritual wedlock between the human soul and a spirit of light.

In Syrian religion the inner union between masculinum and femininum is reached by the male ecstatic wearing female dress and by self-castration. The female ecstatic will cut off her hair or cut off a breast (the amazons). In the Pauline epistles we also find the mystical symbol of unity, but with a more ethical content as the unity of love between husband and wife, slave and free, Jew and Greek, and unity seen as a unity in Christ created in the sacraments to be lived out in daily life.

But there is also another important difference. In Ugarit El is called Tr El = “Bull god”. As shown by the incident with the “Golden Calf”, the God of Israel could not be submitted to any physical form or visible icon. And it was strictly forbidden to use or abuse his name in any kind of magic or oath. The violation of the second and third commandments are obviously different aspects of the same crime. The original purpose of the bull-symbol is to actualize the symbolism of hunting and killing. Later it was the spiritual hunt for the ultimate experience. But still the “hunter” was forcing his way into the heavenly temple of the bull, and forcing the bull into submission, like Pharao Unas slaughtering and eating the gods. Led by the Lord of Demons the believer wants to be god himself. The Near Eastern mysticism culminates in the theurgical practices of late Neo Platonism, where supernatural powers are put into submission to the magician.

We have interpreted “knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 3) as all encompassing knowledge. It can also stand for human conscience moving from a resting in divine and primordial totality to the day-to-day world of duality, becoming aware of the opposites of good and evil, man and woman. The god Aion is a symbol used both in Mithraic & Gnostic mysticism, and in Hellenistic-Semitic cosmogony where he stands for the primordial situation as eternity without limits, a situation where everything is united in mystical unity without division and duality, a situation reexperienced in ecstasy and ritual.

An aion can also be seen as Annus Magnus starting with sun & moon & five planets meeting. Samuel Stuart has proved that this happened around the 14th of Jan. 66.780 B.C.[2] But it seems more likely that the reason for this belief in Annus Magnus is the mystical vision where all light is coming into one mystical unity.

In the Chaldaean astronomy a Great Year is 360 times 12 times 100 = 432 000 normal years[3]. The first week is given to Saturn. The Persian Bundahishn makes the two planets, Juppiter (Ohrmazd) and Saturn (Kewan), the main factors in the world horoscope[4]. If Kewan-Saturn was identified with the God of the Jews, this is an explanation of the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem, and gives new life to the old theory of Johannes Kepler: that the star of Bethlehem was a conjugation between Juppiter and Saturn in the year 7 B.C. A Sassanidian astronomical handbook is very keen on Juppiter-Saturn conjugations[5].

The teachings of the Magi, acc to the famous book by Bidez-Cumont, were mostly speculations on the Great Year. When sun and moon and 5 planets met in the Zodiac sign of winter, the result would be a flood, when they met in the sign of summer, the result would be cosmic fire (ekpyrosis). The Great Year was finished when all the seven wandering lights returned to their starting point. As they were the dictators of destiny, everything would then start all over again in eternal repetition. It is a well-known fact that this eternally revolving cycle was not taken over by Christianity.

But it is interesting to see that already in the Ugarit epos about the struggles of Baal, the god first has to fight the flooding of winter (Jam), and after building his palace (a symbol of cosmos and balance), has to fight the summer heat (Mut). And all this is described as the cosmic fight about “kingship”. This leads us to the final chapter on Near Eastern religion.

[1] A History of Zoroastrianism II, 1982, pp.150-2

[2] Journal of British Astronomical Assoc.vol.9,1900

[3] B.L. Van der Waerden, „Das Grosse Jahr“, Hermes 80, 1952, p.129-55

[4] R.Reitzenstein-Schaeder, Studien zum Antiken Synkretismus, pp.222f

[5] E.S.Kennedy, “The Sasanian Astronomical Handbook Zijri-i Shah”, Journal of the American Oriental Society 78, 1958, pp.246-62