The Temple City of Prehistoric Anatolia
BY WlLLIAM CARL EICHMAN
INTRODUCTION: Academic studies are not gnosis, but can be used to help chart
the way through the wilderness of the spiritual process. In modern esoteric
practice intellectual study is a necessity; A century ago a lucky person
encountered one esoteric school in their lifetime, today, dozens of schools
advertise their wares, and no quality standards exist to separate introductory
from advanced, gold from dross. ldries Shah, a skilled proponent of Sufi
thought, repeatedly warns that most of what is taught and written about
esotericism is actually the broken, fossilized remains of once-living schools.
We study the bones of the ancient esoteric philosophies; the oral traditions,
and especially the practical, experiential traditions, have been lost, or nearly
This is the reason that esoteric practicioners need to study the ancient
cultures. We are working with the damaged and fragmentary remains of an esoteric
tradition which, stretching back many thousands of years, bas taken
innumerable forms as it was adapted to the needs of culture after culture. The
Vedas and the Sutras, the Torah, Bible, and Koran, cannot be understood out of
context; their true, complex, interwoven levels of meaning are distorted by
translation, and the world in which they were based, the agricultural city-state
civilizations which dominated our planet thousands of years ago, is entirely
foreign to us. We have little hope of understanding the original ideas and
practices of the great spiritual teachers unless we can, at least to some
degree, put ourselves in their place. Thus, the study of the archaeology and
history of spiritual traditions is one of the few ways we can test the quality
of our modern esoteric material. With this in mind, let us turn to the Near
East, the rough northern edge of the Fertile Crescent. the cradle of
civilization. The time is 8,000 years B. C., the place is Anatolia, the
rich central plateau of what is now modern day Turkey For millennia Anatolia bas
been a fountainhead of the Esoteric Tradition. And it all started at Catal Huyuk.
The City at the Center of the Ancient World
Ancient cities, as we find them today, are not impressive sights. All that
remains of Catal Huyuk (Chat-al Hoo-yook), the first city, is a gullied, pitted
mound, floating in a rolling plain of wheatfields. Little is left to show that
this place was a primary source of Western civilization, a nexus of trade and
ideas for two thousand years, the first organized cosmopolitan city-state, and
arguably the source of the Great Mother Goddess religion -- the universal faith
of Europe, the Near East, and the Far East before the great empires of the
Fertile Crescent arose. Sadly, most of the research on this unique neolithic
site has been abandoned, and thousands of pages of analysis remain unpublished.
Only one acre of the thirty-two acre mound has been systematically excavated,
recorded, and reported. Those excavations reveal an almost fairy-tale city of
shrines and temples, of philosophy, luxury, and wealth. This was Catal Huyuk,
the ancestress of all other cities, a unique Temple City that was the religious
center of the first great prehistoric civilization.
The oldest layer of Catal Huyuk yet excavated (virgin soil has not been reached)
is reliably carbon dated to 6,500 B.C,, and reveals a thriving, completely
developed and planned, city. While no traces of a town preceding the city were
found in the excavated areas, it seems reasonable to assume that several hundred
years (and possibly several millennia) before 6,500 B.C. the site was occupied,
found ideal, and then developed from a village into a town, and finally into a
Twelve successive layers of building, representing distinct stages of the city
and reflecting different eras of its history, have been found. The top layers of
the mound, containing the most recent buildings, are dated at 5,600 B.C. The
city was mysteriously abandoned at about this time, and a new city, labeled
Catal Huyuk West, was founded several miles away across the Carsamba Cay river.
While Catal Huyuk West has barely been investigated, the site appears to have
been occupied for another 700 years until it, too, was abandoned. After 4.900
B.C. the entire area was forsaken -- there are no traces of any later buildings
or further occupation after neolithic times. Thus, the full duration of this
early civilization looks as though it should be measured from approximately
7,000 B.C. to 4,900 B.C., some 2,100 years, give or take a century,
"The neolithic civilization revealed at Catal Huyuk shines like a supernova
among the rather dim galaxy of contemprary peasant cultures," says James
Mellaart, excavator of Catal Huyuk and premier authority on the ancient Near
At a time when a "big" town like early Hacilar had ten houses, Catal
Huyuk was a multiracial city of 6,000 people. Mellaart maps out Catal Huyuk-style
village sites stretching out over a trade network of hundreds of miles; the city
appears to have been the central hub of a widespread population. At certain
times of the year this rural population almost certainly congregated at the city
for trade, marriage-exchange, and the religious services offered by the city's
many shrines and temples.
The widespread presence of trade goods and materials from the Anatolian plateau,
found throughout the Near and Middle East, reinforces the notion that traders
must have regularly visited the city. We can imagine the plastered outer wall of
the city's houses, a brilliantly painted natural defensive enclosure, as a
spectacle for the benefit of visiting traders and tribesfolk. Surrounding the
city, perhaps, were courtyards, tent bazaars, stock corrals, carnivals, fields,
craftshops, and unknown marvels of artwork, ritual, and performance. The great,
enclosed, mysterious, sacred city towered over it all -- the first human-made
mountain, the first pyramid.
These days we live in cities of millions, and occupy single buildings that
comfortably hold the population of three Catal Huyuk: it's easy to dismiss the
idea of a city of 6.000 people.
But we can use our creative imagination to visualize Catal Huyuk as its
inhabitants may have seen it: a technological achievement as futuristic as
Disney's Epcot Center is for us, an unmatched concentration of the best and the
brightest. This was a bustling place, the largest concentration of humans on the
planet, and in its time there was simply nothing else like it.
The Great Mother Goddess seated on a throne, her
hands on the heads of leopards. This is a characteristic ceramic statuette from
These are modern Obsidian points. This black
volcanic glass was the economic fuel that powered Catal Huyuk.
The Religion of Obsidian
A remarkable wallpainting uncovered at Catal Huyuk throws an interesting light
on the city's economic and religious foundations. "Painted on the north
and east wall of a shrine... soon after 6,200 B.C .... it represents that rarest
of all genres of early painting, a landscape, and needless to say it is
unique," writes Mellaart. The painting consists of a stylized
portrayal of the terraced houses of the city itself, with a geologically
perceptive rendition of an erupting, twin-peaked volcano, The painting clearly
represents an actual eruption of Hasan Dag, a twin-peaked, then-active volcano
eight miles to the east of the city, which dominated the skyline on a clear day.
Looking at the erupting volcano with the eyes of an art historian, several
features suggest that the painting is not simply a landscape, but is an icon of
the Volcano Goddess.
The contours of the volcano are breast-like and the overall shape of the volcano
closely matches schematized "bison-woman" paleolithic designs and
other goddess representations; it looks distinctly like a body, much more so
than like a mountain. The spots on the volcano's flanks, described as
"glowing firebombs of lava," are very similar to the
"leopard-skin spots" that are a characteristic sign of the Goddess of
Catal Huyuk throughout the city's artwork. The painting is a vivid, nearly
naturalistic rendering, and the spouts of lava pouring from the cone shapes at
its base accurately portray the tendency of volcanoes to erupt from vents at
their base. But the painting is also a shrine mural, an expression of religion,
and clearly a representation of the Mother Goddess of Obsidian, and the city
which was built and consecrated by Her graces.
This mural is from a fairly early period in Catal Huyuk's history, painted as
the city was approaching its prime, and in it we can perhaps see the heart of
Catal Huyuk's economy and the very reason for its existence. The finest
Anatolian obsidian was mined at the base of Hasan Dag. Catal Huyuk, located near
rivers in a flat, game-filled plain, was an ideal trading site for the obsidian.
In "The Time Falling Bodies Take To Light", W.I. Thompson likens the
obsidian to "a dark, cthonic milk which flowed out of the breast of the
volcano, Hasan Dag," and suggests that "Even as far back as the
neolithic, religion was good for business.... The relationship between neolithic
religion and economics may have been as intimate as the more familiar
'Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism," Thus, Catal Huyuk was
perhaps built on religion and obsidian, and very probably on the "Religion
of Obsidian." (note; the suggestion 'built on religion' is based on the
archeological discoveries that as many as 1 in 2 of the rooms excavated were
Obsidian may have been considered a sacred material charged with "mana,"
the power of the Goddess. The trade in obsidian may have been surrounded with
rules, taboos, and risks of all types. A sacred material may require special
treatment -- a blessing, perhaps even a desecration -- before it can be safely
handled by ordinary people. The evidence suggests that Catal Huyuk's dozens of
shrines (along with their attendant priestesses and priests), as well as the
city's artwork, artisanry, and architecture, may have all been inspired and
supported by a religious control of the sacred obsidian trade.
An obsidian arrowhead from Catal Huyuk.
Anatolian obsidian, "purchased" in
Catal Huyuk with an exchange of valuable lumber or Mediterranean seashell, would
wind its way a thousand miles southward to Jericho, another important trading
center near the Dead Sea. Jericho craftsmen, paying for the black volcanic glass
with equally black chunks of bitumen from the shores of the Dead Sea, would work
the obsidian into a variety of stone tools that were sharper and harder than
Jericho, which began as a village in about 9,000 B.C.. is also sometimes called
the first city. A thousand years before people set foot in Catal HUyak, Jericho
was surrounded by walls ten feet thick and fifteen feet tall. But neolithic
Jericho at its biggest was substantially less than half the size of Catal Huyuk,
and it was clearly only an armed trading post and village, a secular place very
different from the unwalled Temple City of Catal Huyuk. Jericho and Catal Huyuk
seem to have formed the two ends of a trading network that made possible the
spread of agriculture, pottery, durable buildings, and metallurgy (and possibly
philosophy, religion. and the crude beginnings of writing, mathematics, and
astronomy) throughout the Mediterranean basin, and eventually into Mesopotamia
to the east. Egypt to the southwest, and Greece and Europe to the northwest.
This trade network, and the ideas and technologies which it spread. may have
been the single most important precondition for the emergence of the monument
building empires of the Tigris-Euphrates and Nile valleys.
What brought the end of Catal Huyuk's culture and the abandonment of the city?
We have no idea. Probably. after a time, the surrounding region was deforested
in the quest for firewood, overhunted, and damaged by agriculture -- a familiar
pattern. Possibly the rivers which supplied Catal Huyuk with timber,
transportation, and trade changed their course, isolating the city. In the later
centuries of the city's existence disastrous fires apparently occurred more
frequently. and the destruction of the community's wealth by these fires must
have hastened the city's end. Clearly the demise of Catal Huyuk cannot be
attributed to war; the fires look accidental. there are no signs of murder or
massacre at burial sites, and there is little emphasis on weaponry. Catal Huyuk
West, the daughter city, also shows no signs of massacre or warfare. The walls
of Jericho did not prevent the frequent destruction of that settlement, while
Catal Huyuk, which had no walls to speak of, was never touched. James Mellaart
attributes this in part to the unusual architecture of Catal Huyuk, which he
described as "inherently defensible," but psychohistorian W.I.
Thompson suggests that it was the city's religious status that kept it immune
As a ceremonial center situated near the routes
of the obsidian trade, Catal Huyuk was an important cultural force, for as a
religious center it could exert an influence to keep trade open and peaceable.
Like a Hong Kong, Geneva, or a Zurich, Catal Huyuk did not have to defend itself
because the need for it was recognized by all concerned in Anatolia and the Near
Catal Huyuk, like so many other great powers and organized religions, may simply
have grown corrupt and self-centered, losing the people's faith. At its peak
Catal Huyuk seems to have boasted one temple for every two houses, but, as
centuries passed, the ratio dropped to one shrine for five houses, and the
houses themselves showed finer burials and more extravagant grave goods.
Religious architecture became less important, and the clergy increased in number
and grew richer. Perhaps, after a time, just as with contemporary religions,
people lost respect for the sacred institution, disillusioned by too much
corruption and too little faith. In its final years, the city may have simply
lost its reputation, its most priceless possession. Perhaps people simply
stopped coming to Catal Huyuk to trade for obsidian; maybe some unknown neighbor
down the road was now offering a better deal. The city-dwellers tried to save
their livelihood by moving to a new site, but Catal Huyuk West never approached
the size or grandeur of her mother. An epoch of civilized achievement came to a
quiet end, the shrines and temples were ritually defaced one last time, and the
mound was given over to the ruin-weed (rue) and the empty sky.
In this wall painting at Catal Huyuk, rows of
hands frame a honeycomb pattern on which are depicted insects and grubs on a
field of stylized flowers.
The Religious Philosophy
of Catal Huyuk
Like Catal Huyuk the temple cave of Lascaux in
France stands head and shoulders above its contemporaries as an example of
the aesthetic heights and spiritual genius of a civilization long past. Painted
in about 17,000 B.C., preserved by the unchanging conditions of its cavern, and
sealed off from entry sometime after 10,000 B.C., Lascaux is perfect, the
Sistine Chapel of Cro-Magnon man. Paleological expert Andre Leroi-Gourhan, using
Lascaux's perfect preservation as the starting point for a complete analysis,
has made discoveries which have caused the re-examination of many of the old
ideas about cave art.
Using statistical models, Leroi-Gourhan concluded that the animal figures were
symbols representing conceptual-religious themes, and that the figures were
related to each other in unvarying pattems, with the shapes of the cave body
itself being used to define the beginning and ends of "phrases" or
"sentences" made up by combinations of animal symbols.
Horse and Bison are always paired, the center of the Holy Story. Deer, ibex,
cow, goat, signs, and partial animals surround the central thesis of Bull-Horse,
which Leroi-Gourhan likens to the sacred couple, with Bison and Horse as a non-
anthropomorphic perfected representation of male and female forces. Camivores
and dangerous animals mark the ends of the Holy Story, the no-man's land through
which none dare pass. Leroi-Gourhan's models and ideas can not yet explain or
define the content of the ancient paleolithic philosophy recorded in these
symbolic cave paintings. The evidence, however, is very compelling for a higher
conceptual philosophy, a teaching story with a definite intent, being concealed
in the animal art of Lascaux.
One of the bull designs on a shrine wall at Catal
I provided the coloring.
Mellaart, W.I. Thompson, Marija Gimbutas, and others have connected the animal
art in Lascaux with the animal art of Catal Huyuk (hundreds of representations
of bulls, rams, leopards, vultures, and other animals). The horse as a sign for
the female Goddess in Lascaux has been replaced by Her anthropomorphic plaster
sculpture, the central icon found in most of Catal Huyuk's temples. But the
bison is still completely present as a non-anthropomorphic symbol of perfect
male virility and energy, although, in keeping with non-ice-age Anatolia, the
extinct bison has been replaced in Catal Huyuk by the aurochs bull (a massive
scythe-horned beast and an ancestor of modem cattle, which was hunted in huge
herds on the Konya plain). The bull is always paired with the Goddess; when bull
heads are found in shrines not apparently dedicated to the Goddess, they are
surrounded by breast-like knobs -- the very walls of the shrine have become the
body of the Goddess, from which the bulls emerge. Other survivals of the
paleolithic sacred animal alphabet can be found in Catal Huyuk's camivore
imagery. Leopards are the ultimate sign of Goddess power, and perhaps represent
the untouchable, unknowable edges of Goddess mystery; on only one occasion is
the traditional Goddess icon replaced with another sign in a Goddess shrine, and
there She is represented by two leopards, facing each other. Perhaps the
paleolithic symbol for "Endings, the dangerous edges of the Sacred World
(carnivores)" was assigned to the unknowable Great Goddess. Breasts are
found, modeled in plaster with the skulls and teeth of boars (a deadly,
unpredictable animal, much feared by hunters), foxes, and weasels (both have
bloodthirsty folk- lores); and the beaks of griffin vultures are molded into the
breasts, the teeth forming its nipple -- all this amounting to a shocking (to
us) combination of Goddess and camivore imagery.
Also, just as at Lascaux, the stag is found in several paintings, properly
painted in at the edges of the main compositions.
Other potential survivals of the paleolithic temple-cave grammar can be
mentioned, but at this time the statistical modeling needed to confirm this
hypothesis has not been done.
The Religion of Catal Huyuk
A very fine flint dagger found as grave goods in Catal Huyuk.
This ancient religion's (note; this refers to the speculation in part 2 that the
animal religion of Catal Huyuk was a survival of the ancient paleolithic animal
religion recorded in cave art.) apparent teaching on matters of life and death
reveals a type of thinking utterly foreign to our own. Our culture displays a
rabid fear of death, fate, and accident, and an especially strong fear of being
forgotten; the people of Catal Huyuk, however, were on intimate terms with death
in ways which would terrify us. A striking example of this difference is Catal
Huyuk's burial customs. The dead were buried in the city's houses, a foot under
the surface of sleeping platforms; one would literally sleep, make love, and
give birth lying atop one's mother's bones. Of course, the flesh was removed
from the body before burial in the traditional process of excarnation. The
evidence gives little impression of any preparation for an afterlife: no
provisions, no food or water vessels, and no figurines of any kind (of either
deities or servants) were buried with the body. Instead, the grave simply
included a few treasured personal luxury items -- necklaces, rouge, and bone
tools for women, and a favorite knife, wooden box, or belt for men. The dead
were buried in a fetal posture, wrapped in cloth.
The impression of imminent popular rebirth, and the mythos of death seen as the
gentle setting aside of a valued old body, seem explicit in Catal Huyuk's burial
Not that death was taken lightly. A number of Catal Huyuk shrines are obviously
associated with a funerary cult, and there are many representations of death or
funeral practices scattered throughout the city's art. The vulture shrines at
Catal Huyuk portray in eerie frescoes the excarnation practices wherein the dead
were exposed, in open funeral houses of strange design, to the tearing beak of
the griffin vulture, who stripped the skeleton of soft tissue. One painting
shows a vulture with human legs, wings outspread over a tiny headless figure; it
is the Goddess in her vulture epiphany, reclaiming what was always hers. The
vulture is also found in the bull shrines, hidden in the clay breast. What
modern Picasso could better represent life and death, so strikingly molded
together in the carnivorous breast?
Catal Huyuk holds another constant reminder of death: the Bucrania, pillars with
the preserved horns of bulls set into their plaster, omnipresent in both the
city's houses and its shrines. Some shrines are filled with them -- horns,
horns, and more horns -- even benches on which the priestess could lay cradled
by the huge, dagger-tipped horns of the giant aurochs bull. When still attached
to the bull those horns could, and certainly did, end the life of many a hunter.
Power and death, ecstasy and danger, the timeless message encoded in the Pit of
the Wounded Man in Lascaux -- all are represented symbolically here by the sign
of the Horn.
The horn is always paired with symbols of the Goddess of Catal Huyuk, and is
usually paired with a unique plaster relief that is repeated again and again on
temple walls during every stage of the city's existence. The Goddess of Catal
Huyuk is humanlike, with a head, two arms, and two legs. but she appears to
float in the void, caught in some yogic spasm of Her own Goddess energy. The
Aurignacian Venuses of 30,000 B.C. represented the Goddess as Fertile Woman, and
the Lascaux artists painted the Goddess as a horse. but at Catal Huyuk the image
of the Goddess transcended the categories of human and not-human and became a
sign, an icon of Goddess Power.
One Goddess in particular stands out far beyond the rest. Her plaster body is
shaped exactly like the many other Goddess relief's, but her hands. feet, and
head are missing, presumably ritually removed by her worshipers when Her shrine
was closed and filled in with rubble. Red, orange. and black diagrams cover her
body and radiate out from her in a brilliant confusion -- even after eight
thousand years the colors of the designs vibrate and seem to leap from the wall.
The whole gives a perfect impression of intense electrical power radiating from
the protuberant belly of the schematized, silent figure. As an image of divine
female power it rivals anything I have ever seen. This unspeakable, impersonal
power was the Goddess of Catal Huyuk.
This striking schist statuette shows two women,
connected back to back. One holds a lover, the other a child.
Tracing the Esoteric Tradition: A Few
By definition, esotericism is a secret philosophy
reserved for highly trained initiates; and it leaves very few clear and
What we call the"esoteric tradition" is
actually a collage of philosophies gathered from many cultures and teachers over
a broad span of centuries.
Eastern esotericism "begins" for us with the Rig Veda, composed
approximately 4,000-3,500 B.C., and the so-called "Western Esoteric
Tradition" (although no dividing line can properly be drawn between Eastern
and Western esotericism) begins between 1,200 and 600 B.C. with Orpheus and the
first Judaic texts. A gap of thousands of years separates the temple rituals and
priestly secrets of Catal Huyuk from the source texts of modern esoteric and
spiritual philosophy. Is there any reason to believe that the roots of the
esoteric tradition reach back to Catal Huyuk? Is esotericism a 'modern'
Or is there a truly ancient, prehistoric body of knowledge handed down orally
from the times of the great cave paintings of Cro-Magnon man? What signs of the
esoteric tradition can be found at Catal Huyuk?
Elements of a culture's esoteric philosophy can be found in its art,
architecture, and burial customs, but those elements have usually been
simplified or encrypted to make them fit into the "popular" religious
philosophy of the time. Suggestions have been made in this article about some of
the underlying magico-religious (and therefore potentially the esoteric) ideas
of Catal Huyuk's people in the previous discussion of the city's religious
philosophy; those types of general suggestions about spiritual philosophy as
reflected in art or religious icons is the best any researcher can do when asked
to define the ideas of a preliterate culture. The silence of the past forces us
Two main schools of thought contend over theories regarding prehistoric
spirituality and philosophy. One school claims that such prehistoric religious
art as found in the cave paintings of Lascaux or at Catal Huyuk is primitive,
magical, and childlike, and it dismisses any suggestion that the idols, symbols,
and folk traditions of these primitive religions have anything in common with
the sophisticated religious philosophies of Christianity, Buddhism, or Islam.
The other school, relying on recent advances in archaeology and anthropology,
claims that we can no longer assume that the ancient cultures were any less
sophisticated than our own; they may have possessed knowledge of the human
psyche every bit as detailed as our culture's knowledge of physics. These two
conflicting schools of thought have shaped recent speculations about prehistoric
Ken Wilber, in "Up From Eden", classifies the religious spirituality
of prehistoric cultures as Chthonic and/or Typhonic, and suggests that the
notion of "Selfhood" or "I-ness," the idea of an Adonai or a
personal, immortal soul, did not exist for these earlier cultures. The Atman,
Wilber seems to argue, is a relatively recent invention, an evolutionary
advancement over the Cthonic-Typhonic Great Mother cults of antiquity. Wilber
claims that Goddess worship represented an immature spirituality proper to young
children and primitives, a necessary predecessor to self-awareness, but one that
lacked essential esoteric teachings about the nature of the Soul. According to
Wilber's thesis, perhaps a few exceptional individuals in the priestly class
experienced a type of esoteric self-awareness, but the general philosophies of
Catal Huyuk's religion were, of necessity, merely crude anxiety-relieving
magical practices of no interest to today's religious philoso- phers.
Riane Eisler, on the other hand, in "The Chalice and the Blade",
proposes exactly the opposite thesis. The ancient cultures, she suggests,
possessed a highly developed "partnership" spirituality that preceded
and possibly surpassed in sophistication the religious and esoteric philosophy
of the literate, historical, monument-building cultures of Sumer, Egypt, India,
and their successors. The philosophies we find in the Vedas and the Torah were
in effect stolen by the invading Indo-Europeans from the earlier, peaceful,
spiritually sophisticated Goddess-worshiping cultures of Old European and
Indus-Dravidian civilizations, she claims. The Indo-Europeans, she suggests,
were a savage, elitist lot that took the best elements of the ancient
"Union with the Goddess of Life" philosophy, tacked onto it their own
concern with personal immortality and spiritual self-aggrandizement as well as
the mythology of their jealous warrior-father Sky God, and passed it off as
their own invention. Eisler speculates at the end of her book that the
"Love thy neighbor as thyself, and love God with all your heart"
philosophy of the teacher-figure Jesus was a survival of the ancient Goddess
"Love and Union" esotericism, and that, in effect, the most modem and
male of our philosophies was actually a reworking of ancient Goddess religion.
She suggests that our spiritual traditions have not evolved but have fallen from
a golden age.
Riane Elsler's arguments as to the ancient Goddess philosophy may have a more
solid basis in current scientific research than Ken Wilber's literary
speculations. but academia considers neither thesis authoritative, and
discussions of the subject tend to devolve into a rhetorical morass of
conflicting ideas on politics, ideology, and sexism. Much research and
discussion is needed on these speculations, but for now students of esoteric
philosophy will find no easy answers. As practitioners of esoteric methods,
however, we can have insight into esoteric philosophies that purely academic
researchers often lack. We have a unique insider's knowledge that enables us to
make intelligent speculations about the religious and mystical ideas of ancient
cultures. What follows is an outline of four areas that immediately attracted my
attention when I compared what we know of the ancient religion of Catal Huyuk to
some modern ideas.
First, when we study the symbolism of the ancient Goddess religion, we discover
that the equation of the divine family for the people of Catal Huyuk was very
different from the kinship formula that characterizes modem civilizations and
philosophies. For modem traditions, both Western and Eastern, the divine family
is patterned after the patriarchal family, and the equation of the divine family
is always similar to the magical Qabalistic interpretation of the divine name,
Yod-Heh-Van-Heh, as 'Father-Mother-Son-Daughter'. Modern Qabalists, such as Dion
Fortune, have taught that this formula is the primary equation, the necessary
pattern, for the creative process in the universe, with the male spark of divine
fire, the Yod or Shiva, always preceding the female response, the Heh or Shakti.
Presumably this process represents an unchanging universal law, yet during the
epoch of Catal Huyuk the divine family had been patterned
'Mother-Daughter-Son-Father', Heh-Heh-Vau-Yod. "The divine family was
patterned on that of man; and the four aspects are, in order of importance,
mother, daughter, son, and father," says Mellaart. Moreover, the Heh-Heh
formula is repeated in a number of sculptures. (illustration above)
What has happened? Which formula is "correct"? Does this possible
conflict in symbolism imply that the sacred, ineffable, and eternal name of God,
the Tetragrammaton YHVH, is as much a political formula for male supremacy as it
is a mystical truth, as feminist theorists have claimed? Or is it, as I believe,
clear evidence that attempting to sex-type psychological or spiritual forces is
merely hubris, and shows just how much further we must go before we have shed
the unconscious prejudices which color our spiritual philosophies. Such
questions about seemingly obscure issues of, and contradictions in, esoteric
religious philosophy constitute an indictment of the authenticity of modem
esotericism's deepest foundations.
The second area of inquiry concerns the implied theme of much of Catal Huyuk's
funeral customs and wall paintings: gentle rebirth, and acceptance of the
necessary cyclicity of death. The people of Catal Huyuk seem to have been almost
Buddhist in their lack of emphasis on the personal ego, and in their ruminations
on death -- omnipresent in the vulture Goddess and the toothed breast of Catal
Huyuk art -- as the great equalizer, the Dark Goddess to whom everyone and
everything returns. Did their doctrine of rebirth pass through the Indus valley
and become the doctrine of reincarnation and transmigration of souls? The idea
of spiritual merit and personal survival after death, so clear in the chieftain
burial practices and lavish tombs of later times, seems entirely foreign to
Catal Huyuk's thought. The notion of a true personal selfhood, found in the
Greek and Christian Mysteries, Hermetic texts, and later thinkers such as
Gurdjieff and Crowley, and which seems to be implied by the Lascaux painting of
the Wounded Man, appears to be missing or sublimated in Catal Huyuk. Is, as some
suggest, the notion of a personal Atman only possible in patriarchal society,
with individuality swallowed up by the collective in "matriarchal"
society? Do we owe our notion of a personal immortal soul to the Kingship myths
of Sumer, Egypt, Greece, and Rome? Another potentially uncomfortable issue,
another Pandora's Box.
And yet there is a third, perennially touchy issue; the possibility that Catal
Huyuk religion utilized psychedelic drugs. Mellaart describes the mound of
Catal Huyuk as being covered by shrubs of the psychedelic plant Syrian rue,
whose seeds contain the compounds harmine and harmaline (the psychoactives in
the South American shamanic brew yage) in very active amounts. Harmine, once
called telepathine because it was believed to cause shared hallucinations, is
well known for causing visions of panthers, leopards, and other large cats. This
curious property has been attested to by dozens of reporters, both native and
presumably immune white ethno-botanists, who consistently describe hallucinatory
adventures with big cats. It is easy to speculate and draw a connection with the
leopard imagery which is extremely important in Catal Huyuk art.
This alone might be easy enough to ignore, but John Allegro, in his disputed
book "The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross", suggests another connection
of the leopard image, and especially the leopard's spots, m the spotted amanita
muscaria mushroom. Both Allegro and R. Gordon Wasson, in his classic "Soma:
Divine Mushroom of Immortality", connects the motif of 'spots' with the
amanita cult. Spots are the ultimate distinguishing sign of divine authority in
Catal Huyuk, whether the spots are on a leopardskin cap, on a statute of a god,
or painted on an erupting volcano goddess.
Catal Huyuk is located in an area where the psychedelic plants of old Europe --
amanita muscaria mushrooms, Syrian rue, ergotized grains, and cannabis -- are
all commonly found. Perhaps we are looking at the trappings of yet another
psychedelic shamanic religion.
Lastly, let us not forget to consider the possible connection of the ancient
Catal Huyuk religion to the Cybele and Attis cult, whose bloody castration
orgies were very popular in declining age of Classical Greece, and
whose ethos of sexless devotion was a powerful shaping force for early
Christians who "out-holied" the pious but scandalous Castrati. The
Cult of Cybele was one of the oldest and most widespread of the Mystery
Religions, and its priesthood, the emasculated Castrati or Galli, had a
reputation for being skilled wonder-workers, prophets, and magicians.
Circumstantial evidence connects the Persian-Phyrgian-Anatoian cult of Cybele
and Attis, especially in its form of the worship of the dying and reborn
Son-God, with the esoteric astrological cults of the Persian Magi, and to other
roots of the Western esoteric tradition.
Attis-Adonis-Adonai-Christ are all versions of the dying and resurrected God
mythos, an omnipresent vegetation deity theme found in agricultural
civilizations. Many scholars have drawn connections between the rather similar
mystery stories of the death and rebirth myth of Attis. who was driven to
self-sacrifice by his jealous mother-lover Cybele, and the death and rebirth of
Christ, driven to self-sacrifice by his father-lover Yahweh. Attis was worshiped
in the form of a cut pine tree in orgiastic rituals that plainly harken back to
an earlier shamanic ecstatic religion, while Cybele, the distant, all-powerful,
incomprehensible Great Mother, watched silently from her Leopard Throne. Traces
of Catal Huyuk religion may still be found in a renewed analysis of this
Anatolian Cult of the Great Mother. Keeping in mind the tendency of religious
traditions to preserve archaic forms, it is very possible that what remains of
our knowledge of Cybele and Attis worship is the last vestige of the first
organized Western religion, the religion of the Temple City of Catal Hayuk.