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COMMENTARIES by Bernard Katz
YAHWEH THE ASS
There is more than enough evidence throughout the world that our
primitive ancestors regarded animals as gods and goddesses. Ancient Egypt is
a fine menagerie of these human-bodied and animal-headed deities: the
crocodile-god Sebek, the hippopotamus-goddess Ta-Urt, the jackal-god Anubis,
the hawk-headed Horns, the ibis-headed Thoth, to name a few. As they paraded
through the temples in their rituals, priests and priestesses wore the
appropriate costumes and masks to convince the common folk that these animal
deities were real. Such man-animal combinations even persisted into
Christian iconography (symbols and visual images), claiming this lush
profusion of monstrosities haunted Hell. Christians turned these ancient
man-animal gods into demons, into men with horns, tails, and the legs of
One of the commonest expressions of primitive religion is totemism. This is
the identification of a whole tribe with some animal ancestor. This deified
totem was thought to be spiritually immanent in every member of the tribe.
Totemism dates back to the period when men knew nothing of biological
fatherhood. It was thought that clan mothers, by eating, touching or looking
at a certain animal, could become impregnated by the animal spirit and
transmit that spirit to all their descendants.
Totem animals were cannibalistically eaten only on certain ceremonial
occasions, or as a holy communion. In this way the totem animal was believed
to be a savior, giving his life to redeem his people. Early Hebrews and
Israelites avoided pork because the pig was one of their totems. Dying gods
like Attis, Adonis and Tammuz were either sacrificed in boar form or killed
by priests clad in boarskin. The biblical taboo against eating pork is based
on nothing more than the idea that the wild boar was a sacred totem of the
Hebrews seven or eight thousand years ago.
The concept of taboo is the same as for the Latin sacer, both mean sacred or
unclean. We moderns think unclean means something dirty, something that
transmits diseasein the case of pigs, trichinosis. Such a meaning is
meaningless, because no ancient people had any germ theory of sickness.
Exorcisms of all kinds were employed to combat both physical and mental
diseases. According to the Mosaic law, because it does not have a cloven
foot or chew its cud, the ass is unclean. But this merely meant that it was,
like the pig, at one time a totem. Thus the boar or pig had religious
importance as a totem for the Hebrews and Israelites, as it did also in
Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor and India.
>From the pig as a totem, it easily followed that Yahweh became yet another
totemthis time as the ass-god.
Countries in North Africa and the Fertile Crescent bear plenty of
mythological and iconographic proof that the ass was worshiped as a totem.
One of Egyptıs earliest deities was the ass-headed god Set (biblical Seth).
In pre-dynastic times, Set must have been chief of all the gods of Egypt,
because the sign of royalty which all dynastic gods carried was Setıs
ass-eared reed scepter. The cult of the ass-eared Set in southern Judea is
learned from the Jewish general Josephus who, in his Against Apion tells of
the golden ass-mask of Ediomite Dora.
The furka or fork was a cross on which the Egyptian god Set was crucified.
He also carried the reed scepter in token of his sacred kingship and was
wounded in the side, just as Jesus was on the cross. The Christian version
of the sacred king who was sacrificed also copied a number of other aspects
from the archaic worship of Set.
The ass occurs in the early pages of the Bible: Saul is chosen king when in
search of Kishıs lost asses; the ass that was with Abraham when he was about
to sacrifice Isaac; the ass whose jawbone Samson used against the
Philistines; the ass of Balaam, a Midianite magician who set out to curse
the Israelites but ended by blessing them because Yahweh spoke through his
animal incarnation; and the official entrance into Jerusalem of Jesus as a
sacred king riding a young ass.
Under his Roman title of Pales, Palestine was named for the same deity, the
ass. Thus we have a country and its god named after Pales or Set, the
ass-god. And like this, we have another predetermined identification. There
was a long-standing legend that the god of the Jews was an ass, or
ass-headed. And ancient Roman authors accused the Jews of worshiping an
ass-headed god. The legend came about because the ass was the sacred animal
of Seth, the villain of the Egyptian pantheonand the Egyptians commonly
believed that Seth was also the god of foreigners. Being a villain in the
Egyptian sacred menagerie, Seth was given a large role in magic, often
appearing as an ass-headed figure on magical gems.
To offset this embarrassment, when cultures demanded a more spiritual
religion, a later Jewish legend held that an angel slew the ass to make sure
the Hebrews would not worship the totem as they once had worshiped the
Jews were among the largest group of foreigners in Egypt, so their god, lao,
was identified with Seth. lo or Eio in the Egyptian language (Coptic) means
ass, so in this we have a direct connection.
Besides this, the Jews had a great reputation as magicians. A typical
example of this comes from a lead tablet found in a grave in ancient
Carthage: 1 conjure you, whoever you are, demon of the dead, by the god who
created earth and heaven, lona; I conjure you by the god who has the
authority over the subterranean regions, Neicharoplex ... by ... holy Hermes
... Iao ... Sabaoth S the god of SolomonS.
Sabaoth means the biblical Lord of Hosts. The British Museum has such an
example. It has Sabao on the face and lao Sabao on the reverse. And an
ass-headed deity was associated with Adonai (a Jewish substitute for the
name of Yahweh).
On top of this, we have a transitional totem connecting the pig with the
ass: Set was often represented as an ugly pig-like creature with an erect
Since the ass-headed Seth on magical coins was identified as lah, and this
was the equivalent of Yah or Yahweh, the personal name of the Israelite god,
we can only come to one conclusion: Yahweh was an ass.
IS ISRAEL A DEMOCRACY?
Certainly any country that maintains it is a democracy must treat all its
citizens equally. Letıs see if Israel does just this.
Israelıs High Court of Justice is considering whether to allow a womenıs
group to pray at Jerusalemıs Western Wall. An expanded panel of nine
justices convened recently at the request of the state, which had asked the
court to reconsider a ruling it had issued six months ago in favor of a
womenıs prayer group.
In May, the High Court of Justice recognized the right of women to hold
prayer services at the Wall. (Why not? the Wall is public property.) It gave
the government six months to arrange for police protection for the women to
pray at the Wall. The landmark ruling capped an 11-year old battle by women
to pray there. Am I out of line in saying that this is a hell of a way to
run a democracy! Imagine, women not allowed to engage in public prayer in a
public place in a supposed democracy!
These women are upholding tradition. They wear the prescribed prayer shawl
and read aloud from the Torah (the five Mosaic books of the Bible) just as
the men do. Yet the state maintains that the presence of the group
represents a significant shift from accepted prayer ritual at the sight.
Why, when they do what the men have been doing all along?
And thereıs the rub: the state has argued that the womenıs prayer group
could pose a threat to public safety and the sensitivities of Orthodox
The sensitivities of Orthodox worshipers! Yes, because the women services at
the Wall have sparked violent protests from fervent Orthodox Jewish males.
So itıs not the women who cause the riots, itıs the hide-bound reactionary
Am I wrong? Isnıt a democracy supposed to protect the rights of all its
WERE THE FOUNDING FATHERS WRONG ABOUT RELIGIOUS FREEDOM?
At the formation of our country, the Catholic input was nil. During
the course of time, coupled with the First Amendmentıs freedom of religion,
Catholic influence has grown beyond its wildest dreams. Pope John II has now
laid down the law.
Recently the pope told thousands of legislators from nearly 100 countries
that all of their civil laws must be brought into conformity with Godıs
lawas if he, or anyone else, knows what Godıs law is.
The pope emphasized that lawmakers have an obligation to reject all
proposals ³that permit abortion under any circumstance or that elevate
same-sex unions with heterosexual marriages.² He asserted that any law that
does not ³respect the right to lifeof every human being, whatever his or
her conditionhealthy or ill, still in its embryonic stage, elderly or close
to deathis not a law in harmony with the divine plan.²
The pope added: ³Consequently, Christian legislators may neither contribute
to the formulation of such a law nor approve of it in parliamentary
assembly, although, where such a law already exists, it is licit for them to
propose amendments which would diminish its adverse effects.²
Finally, the pope said that the Churchıs teachings are ³a fundamental
approach to understanding the human person and society in light of universal
ethical law present in the heart of every human being, a law clarified by
the revelation of the Gospel.²
Oh, yeah? Iıd like very much to know where he dreamed up this so-called
³divine plan.² The only one thatıs passed itself off as one is called the
Word of God, or the Bible. And in that book there is no such mention of the
kind of ³divine plan² the pope has conjured up.
Ours was a Protestant country founded in part to escape various religious
tyrannies, one of which was Roman Catholicism, thus making the Church
anathema to Protestants. Never mind the affront to many Americans, or to
non-Christians in other countries. Does Pope John Paul II believe that he
has the prestige and power as Christıs vicar on earth to satisfy his
grandiose dreams? Does he believe that Protestants, good Christians that
they are, will follow the fishermanıs footsteps? In his last days upon
earth, does the pope believe heıs making Brownie points with the Lord? Did
the Founding Fathers make a mistake in guaranteeing freedom of religion?
PAGAN DAY: A CELEBRATION WE CAN DO WITHOUT
We are seeing a return of paganism, not only with the increasing
membership in the New Age religions, but with an open acknowledgment of
paganism. The evidence? One important indication is the celebration of the
autumnal equinox, now designated OPagan Day² by the Pagan Pride Project.
This is a nonprofit organization founded in 1988 to educate people about
The name pagan comes from the Latin word meaning rural dweller Christians in the emerging primitive Church used to call non-Christians.
Since the 1970s, however, pagan and neo-pagan have become generic terms for
people who share a spiritual reverence for the earth. Pagans include Wicca
(not the evil but the good witches), goddess worshipers, Druids and those
who revere the deities of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Others are
non-Native Americans who embrace Native American deities and traditions.
This broad inclusion comes about because one of the paganıs guiding
principles is the sovereignty of the individualıs search for spirituality.
This personal relationship with divinity assumes that the spirit is both
male and female. Another attraction for women is that paganism with its
beliefs in goddesses is not patriarchal but matriarchal.
One spokesperson for paganism says that traditional Christianity downplays
the role of women. ³Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a goddess, but theyıve
[the Catholic Church] pushed her out of the way.
Wiccans also believe that ³everything is sacred, and you treat things as
such.² Another core belief is the law of threes, which holds that everything
you do or send out into the world comes back to you threefold. The
spokesperson said that ³many pagans believe in karma. If you do bad, it will
come back to you in this life or the next life.² Although some pagans
believe in reincarnation, others believe in ³Summerland,² a resting place
where oneıs soul goes after death.
Pagans generally observe eight major holidays tied to the solar calendar.
The winter solstice, for example, is celebrated by building bonfires,
encouraging the sun to return. The holiday celebrations ³speak to that inner
self, to the more primal part of yourself.²
The spiritual search of paganism, as the spokesperson continued, can be
compared to a wagon wheel. Different faiths are on different spokes, each
supposedly leading to the same center. ³Whether you call the divinity Gaia,
Diane or God, itıs all the same thing.²
Or is it?
Such a smorgasbord of religions is self-defeating. By their very nature,
conflicting elements are incorporated, resulting in a mish-mash such as we
find in Christianity religions. I should also point out that Judaism itself is also a synthesis
of the paganism it came into contact with as it conquered the peoples of
Modern pagans apparently are suffering from cultural amnesia, or are
purposely ignoring certain aspects of the Catholic Church that would satisfy
their needs for a goddess. To claim that Mary ³is pushed out of the way² is
a comment thatıs simply not true. Thereıs a very important cult of Mary
supported by the Church.
Technically, St. Mary due God alone, but adoration, which is offered to saints. Popularly,
however, this nicety of this distinction is not always observed. Just about
every religion needs its feminine element, and this was the Churchıs. God
was the Father, a male; the Holy Spirit was changed to a male from its
traditional role of female (for how else could another female impregnate
Mary?); and Jesus, the Son of God, was the third male. Since so many pagans
who came into the Church were used to worshiping goddesses, the Church was
forced to make the female addition even though at first it refused to do so.
The Middle Ages saw the development of the Rosary, a form of prayer
dedicated to Mary and the Father, and accompanied by beads. The rosary
consists of a string of beads, and there are five sets of them, with one
large bead and ten small ones in each set. At each large bead an ³Our
Father² is said; at each small one, a ³Hail Mary.² In modern times,
Saturdays have been given to the recitation of the Little Office, and the
month of May is dedicated to Mary. In the early 19th century, the devotion
of the Miraculous Medal began, and the decree of Pious IX in 1854 defined
the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Furthermore, the apparitions at
Lourdes in 1858 have caused the cult to increase significantly. Why pagans
donıt know of this cult of Mary is beyond me.
As I said before, just about every aspect of goddess-religion has been
assimilated by the Church. In fact, itıs assimilated so much paganism that
many a Catholic scholar has written about it because heıs been embarrassed
by these accretions. I have such a book in front of me, titled The Paganism
in Our Christianity. Itıs written by a world-renowned Catholic scholar,
In the beginning of the last chapter, he writes: ³A fact which must be clear
to those who have read the foregoing chapters is that Christianity developed
into a religion in a lurid pagan environment which could not fail to have
its influence upon the new Faith. The minds of its theologians, indeed, were
saturated with the ideas of heathendom; and the doctrines and rites
formulated by them show clearly both the vivid hues of the sacred carnivals
of remote Antiquity, and the stains of that dark and fearful welter of
primitive superstition amidst which the religion was nursed. The blood and
wine of ancient sacraments are spattered across the very face of Christian
theology, and its dogmas carry to this day the tell-tale marks of their
inception amidst the barbaric splendors and the awful shambles of a
forgotten age. Joy and terror mingle in the Churchıs liturgy; the triumphal
shout of the old gods is echoed in its festivals; and the groans of
innumerable incarnate deities slain for the remission of sins are heard like
an undertone in its prayers and its chanting.²
So far, the paganism Weigall confronts is still part of the Church. All the
arguments we Secular Humanists have marshaled against Christianity, and the
Catholic Church in particular, also pertains to paganism. Paganism is just
as flawed, and perhaps even more so, than Christianity. Paganism condoned
slavery, infanticide, the deification of the emperors, belief in a host of
saviors, angels, demons, and devils, shamanism, the efficacy of magic,
fortune telling, animal and human sacrifices, orgiastic celebrations and
fertility rites, temple prostitution, pederasty, male self-emasculation, in
short, the free-fall of the emotions instead of the discipline of reason.
As far as weıre concerned, paganism is just as faulty, false and fictitious
as any other religion, and must be fought with the same vigor we battle all
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