Index: On the cosmic food chain – On the term Agape - Supper, the primitive mass - The totemic banquet - The agape today
On the cosmic food chain
In the Universe everything is built according to a unique plan; this is the reason for the great correspondence between the organisms of the various kingdoms of Nature. The latter lives in a dynamic balance and it is ruled by unchangeable Laws which allow to re-arrange any state of chaos in that plan. The closest example to us is the complexity of the human organism, which is able to synthesize the processes of different organs into a coordinated system in the life of a body, expressing with disease the tensions generated by the unbalance that undermine its integrity.
This is true both for the micro and the macrocosm.
Nourishment is implicit in the vital process of any form, although the kind of ‘food' varies, depending on which plane of manifestation we consider. Here we will only consider the planet we live in and its kingdoms of nature, in order to give a brief idea that we will need later on, in order to deal with the topic at the center of our reflection.
When the balance between give and take is missing, breaking the links of the food chain existing between kingdoms of nature and inside them, chaos is generated. This inter-relation, according to which nothing is separated, is the reason why there isn't any action that doesn't produce effects on other planes as well; in the subtle world this is even truer, so much so that the initiatory Teaching insists on the quality of the thought that has the power to ignify the space and purify it or pollute it in the opposite instance.
It is taught that each plane takes its nourishment from the one below. In short we might say that above the material kingdoms there is the kingdom of Light (an exoteric metaphor) whose descent produces the mineral kingdom, crystallized light, viz. mineralized cosmic energy. The vegetable kingdom feeds on the previous one; the animal kingdom feeds on the vegetable kingdom and as a consequence on the mineral one. The human kingdom is partly made of animal nature, but also of a psychic part and the embryonic form of a spiritual one. It is peculiar how man is the medium between matter and spirit, between physical and subtle world.
In the food chain, then, it would follow that man feeds on the previous kingdom. Nevertheless in the process of evolution the animal-man leaves more and more room to the psychic-man which, when he actually manages to manifest it, is essentially thought. From its own inner plane the latter feeds on its own animal; in other words the mind gets its nourishment from its own physicality which has an animal nature, absorbing energy from its physical body. Nourishment is the Alchemy of the Body, accompanied by the Alchemy of the Mind and the Alchemy of the Spirit.
The esoteric knowledge mentions the consecration of the matter , by which, through abstract thoughts, the initiate transforms the material food (the body of the planet) that he takes in, into pure energy.
Finally, the spiritual kingdom gets its nourishment from higher thoughts and feelings of the human kingdom.
What we have said above allows us to better place the meaning of the ceremony called Ritual Agape.
On the term ‘Agape'
The term agape is a biblical term – very rare in Greek literature – that indicates pure love of God, his gratuitous (‘by grace') gift to man. In rabbinic Judaism agape – which previously also meant sexual relationship and blood ties – becomes only the definition for the attitude of God towards man. Later, in Christian texts, it indicates the whole content of faith (Jn. 3-16): For God is pure love, total donation that originates in the believing man a similar response.
The concept of agape is completely opposite to that of eros , since the former excludes any desire and aspiration for what is not owned yet; the agape can only be given by God, whilst eros originates from human egocentrism.
The Christian tradition, under the influence of Hellenism, has looked for a synthesis between these two types of love: caritas means, already in Augustine's texts, the gift (agape) but also the desire (eros). Therefore agape is progressively absorbed by the eros, which subjects it; and Christian love becomes, during the Middle Ages, the search for good, the search for oneself (amor sui); far away from the original idea of the New Testament.
Supper, the primitive mass
The word ‘Lodge' used by Freemasons, who are today's weak heirs of Initiates, has its roots in loga ( loka in Sanskrit), a place and a world; also from the Greek logos , the Word, speech. Therefore the full meaning is that of a place where certain things are discussed.
The meetings of the logos of primitive Freemasons, initiates, were called synaxis , assemblies of the Brothers with the purpose of praying and celebrating the Supper where only the offers free from blood (fruit and cereals) were accepted. Soon these offers were called hostiae or pure and sacred hosts, as opposed to impure sacrifices, since the offers consisted of the fruit of the harvesting, the first fruits of the messis.
The word synaxis for the Greeks had its equivalent in the word agyrmos (a meeting of men, an assembly). It referred to the initiation to the Mysteries. The two words synaxis and agyrmos stopped being used whilst the words missa or mass were kept.
Primitive masses were Suppers (the last meal of the day), the simplest meal for Romans. For Christians these Suppers became meals consecrated to the memory of Christ's last supper.
At the time of the apostles, converted Judeans met in their synaxis to read the Gospels and their letters (epistles). Saint Justin ( 150 A .D.) tells us that these solemn Assemblies were held in the day called ‘God's day), in Latin dies magnus . This day included the singing of psalms, the ‘collation' of baptism with pure water (right to give baptism) and ‘the Agape, or holy supper, with water and wine'.
The totemic banquet
‘In ancient times, the ritual present in many religions consisting of feeding on God was called ‘totemic banquet'; today it is called ‘Sacrament of Communion'.
Not from symbols the initiate must free himself, but from forms of tribal religiosity.' – (The Bible on the Masonic Altar and the Menorah on the Altar – A. A. Altomonte)
[From Totem and Taboo (1913) – Sigmund Freud] W. Robertson Smith in Lectures on the religion of the Semites , London 1894, writes:
‘Certain language elements that survive through time demonstrate with certainty that, at the beginning, the part of sacrifice destined to the god was considered as its real nourishment. Gradually, with the acceptance that the divine nature was not material, this conception appeared quite inappropriate. Only the liquid part of the banquet was attributed to the divinity. Later, the use of fire that dissolved the flesh of the victim in smoke, gave the possibility of a manipulation of human food that was more worthy of the divine essence. At the beginning the blood of sacrificed animals was offered to the gods; it was later replaced by wine. Wine was considered by ancient peoples as the ‘blood of the vine'.
The ethical force of the public sacrificial banquet was due to ancient ideas about the meaning of communally eating and drinking. To eat and drink together was at the same time a symbol and a strengthening of social community and reciprocal duties. The banquet in the sacrifice directly expressed the fellowship of the god and his worshippers and this fellowship implied all the other relations allegedly existing between him and them.
The rule according to which every participant to the sacrificial banquet must eat the meat of the sacrificed animal (totem, Note of the Author) has the same meaning as the prescription where a member of the tribe that has committed a crime must be executed by the whole tribe. In other words, the sacrificed animal was treated like a member of the tribe; the community offering the sacrifice, its god and the animal had the same blood, were members of the same clan.
Despite the fear (taboo, Note of the Author ) that protected the life of the sacred animal as if it was part of the tribe, now and again it was necessary to solemnly sacrifice it, in the presence of the whole community, and to distribute its flesh and blood to the members of the tribe.
The reason that inspired these actions reveals the deepest meaning of sacrifice. We know that in later ages every communal meal, the sharing of the same substance that enters the bodies, created a sacred bond between fellow guests; in ancient times this meaning was attributed to the communal eating of the flesh of a sacred victim.
The sacred mystery of sacrificial death is explained by the fact that it is the only way to establish a bond between the participants and them and their God.
The analysis continues with the description of the origins and ritual of the sacrifice, but the quotations above are sufficient to highlight the concept of sanctification through participation to the communal meal.
These considerations must be accompanied by the psychological reading of the totemic banquet.
‘This totemic and anthropophagic concept of actually feeding on the symbol or the object of desire, of veneration, amorous drive, fear and dread (taboo in its different natures, from sexual to religious) originates from the memory of the motherly bond; whilst the killing is the repression between oneself and the desire for fatherly authority.
This Father-Mother dualism of the human unconscious imagination is reflected in every religious belief which, with its ceremonies, increases in man that childish stage called ‘oral' (the psychological childhood has nothing to do with the physiological childhood). In this stage of egocentric emotions, man doesn't know how to apply speculative or spiritual introflection, he pursues (goes towards) a loved or desired model and he tries to interiorize it by taking it physically, phagocytizing it. By having it inside himself, he thinks that he will also take the qualities that cause the admiration or adoration of the visionary.' – ( The Exoteric path and totemic religions – A. A. Altomonte)
The Eucharistic ritual that the Christian tradition links to the last supper is often referred to as the event from which the Masonic agape comes from, which is also a communion between participants in the name of a shared Principle. This is quite a bold association.
The Eucharistic ritual, as we said, originates from the idea of taking the body of god, in other words of bringing the infinite into the finite. This paradox can also be found in the speculative forms that tend to the anthropomorphization of the Principle not only in the form (see the concept of in the likeness ) but also in the emotional attributes (!) of the divinity, such as revenge, forgiveness, rage, love and so on.
On the contrary, what is taken in the agape, viz. the food, finds its main reason not in the quantity but rather in its essentiality and symbolic projection. It is all functional to the unity with the shared Principle, which is possible only by sharing what is being eaten. And we know that the food in speculative Freemasonry is the quality of thought. The action of breaking and sharing the bread, symbol of the spiritual Teaching, represents this brotherly sympathy in giving others the best part of ourselves.
Another aspect to point out is that whilst the Eucharistic liturgy is the acme in the ecclesiastical ritual, in the Masonic ceremonial the moment of highest elevation is represented by the chain of unity that corresponds to the Law of Evocation/Invocation; this awareness should guarantee its high ritual value to such an extent that its performance during the works is quite appropriate.
The agape today
The banquet, the feast, the agape, the cenacle or simply the supper, are still considered as important occasions for aggregation that serve the same purpose, which is to make the bonds of affinity among members of the same group even stronger.
In the instance of a marriage it states the alliance between the two clans; wedding gifts represent its token and promise. A religious feast or a social occasion would lose, in the eyes of the people, its importance if it was stripped of the rituality of the banquet, dinner or grande bouffe. In other words at the moment of unity and recognition between similes of an important symbolic moment, all the importance and ritual meaning of the totemic banquet is clear. Nowadays during the banquet the drink is not blood any more, but wine. Its ritual performance is today called toast but the emotional conditions that drive the actors (once the chief) and the second leads (followers) are the same; it is also the same kind of hierarchy, although temporary, of authority and power often limited to the event. There is not an occasion of pact and alliance, wishes and religiosity that is not sealed by the ritual elevation of a chalice of wine. Indeed, the alcohol represents the spirit and this drink gives solemnity and sacredness to the action carried out or to the good wish for the celebration.
It is still completely natural for ‘modern' men to feed, in particular occasions, on the animal representing the totem, the sacrifice, atonement or simply convention. The turkey of ‘Thanksgiving day', the lamb, the eel, the bull and many other poor animals are still today sacrificed for the tribal and superstitious thought that we can ingratiate ourselves with the destiny, the unknown and its fury, through ritual food and drink. As we can see, despite the high technology, it seems that all the unconscious fears and conscious superstitions, modestly called popular or ‘forefathers' traditions, that justify the totemic banquet and the sacrificial supper, are still taken into great consideration, they still take up great attention and use of energy.
Spirituality is the inner essence (substance of ‘life') whilst the cult, any cult, is the exterior expression visible to physical eyes (the ‘dead' form).
The inner essence of the Agape is Love, not in the demeaning sense, but true Love, which is creative; the Agape of Greeks doesn't presume indulgence or weakness in front of the error, but care for Justice and Truth.