The pursuit of ancient mystery boxes continues here, with examples from both the Judeo-Christian and Islamic religious traditions.
What's in an Ark
The word 'ark' is derived from the latin 'arca', meaning "box" or "chest" and is also the root of the word "arcane". An entry from Biderman's Dictionary of Symbolism (1994:66) provides some further information:
ARK. chest (Latin cista, Greek kiste) A box-like container, corresponding also to the Latin area (see ARK). The mystic chest of Dionysus (see Bacchus) - probably a basket rather than a wooden chest - was filled with symbolic objects and carried by special priests known as kistophoroi; when the mysteries of Dionysus were celebrated, a snake emerged from it. The image of Demeter (Latin, Ceres) as worshipped in the Eleusinian mysteries shows the goddess seated on a chest. In the Roman period the cista became a general symbol for esoteric mystical religions. The anatomical meaning of the English word "chest" is an extension of this same etymology.
The above resonates somewhat with what is told about the Ark of The Covenant in the Old Testament, where its dimensions, materials and contents are listed in great detail. In the Book of Exodus, the Ark is described as a gold plated, oblong box made of Shittah (acacia) wood, adorned with two golden cherubs. God ordered Moses to construct the Ark at the bottom of mount Sinai, for the purpose of storing the stone tablets containing the ten commandments. But another item that was put inside it was the Staff of Aaron, which is said to have had the ability to turn into a serpent. This proves an interesting link to one of the main themes from my previous post. It is probably not a complete coincidence that the "reptilian" King Cecrops came from Egypt and quite possibly lived during the same time as Moses.
|Erichthonius of Athens depicted in an "ark" ritual, that very likely was "imported" from Egypt. In some way this probably also served as the foundation of the later myth of Erichthonius and the three daughters of Cecrops (courtesy of Ove von Spaeth).|
Theories abound regarding what happened to the Ark of the Covenant. The general, scholarly opinion seems to be that it was lost during the destruction of Solomon's Temple in 587. B.C., if not earlier. Many Jews, on the other hand, believe that the Ark is still in Jerusalem, stored somewhere underneath the city - perhaps under the Dome of The Rock. The plot in Raiders of the Lost Ark builds on the idea that the Ark was stolen from Solomon's Temple and taken to Egypt by a Pharaoh named Shishak, in the beginning of the first millennium, B.C. The Bible does indeed mention a Shishak and his brutal attack on Jerusalem, however, the Ark is not listed among the items he is said to have stolen. This seems like a curious neglect as it would have been considered the greatest of all the Hebrew treasures. Several hypotheses have also been put forward regarding the true identity of Shishak, but most mainstream egyptologists seem to believe that he was really Pharaoh Shoshenq I, who reigned from 943-922 B.C.
One of the most widespread hypotheses about the Ark of The Covenant's whereabouts derives from the 700+ year old Ethiopian text known as the Kebra Nagast. An account within it states that the Ark was stolen from Solomon's Temple but brought instead to Ethiopia - not by Shishak/Shoshenq but by Menelik I, the lovechild of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (known as Makeda to Ethiopians and claimed in the Kebra Nagast to be of Ethiopian descent, although this is widely disputed). The popularity of this particular notion is largely due to Graham Hancock's The Sign and the Seal, in which he investigates and documents the many clues about the Ark's presence in Ethiopia.
What Hancock discovered during his research was something largely unknown outside of Eastern Africa at the time, namely that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church believes it has the Ark of The Covenant (known to followers as the Tabota Zion). It is supposedly kept inside a small sanctuary in the town of Axum where it has been under the protection of a long line of carefully selected guardians for centuries. While it is easy enough to locate the sanctum (adjacent to the Church of our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum), the Ark itself may only be looked upon by select members of the priesthood and its current guardian. Even catching a glimpse of the guardian himself is considered a rarity as he spends almost all his appointed time within the sanctum walls.
|The Chapel of The Tablet in Axum, Ethiopia, where the Ark of The Covenant is allegedly stored and guarded 24/7.|
|A ritual with senior religious authorities of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church carrying a Tabot. |
From Ark to Ark
Intrinsic to the story of the Ark of The Covenant is the story of Moses himself. Many people have an idea about who Moses was, but the full picture goes far beyond the image of Charleston Heston in The Ten Commandments. One of the leading scholars into the life of Moses is Danish researcher Ove von Spaeth, who has spent half a lifetime or more uncovering the occult roots of this enigmatic figure. Von Spaeth has found evidence which suggests that Moses was an initiate of the Egyptian mystery cults pointing, among other things, to the fact that The Ark of the Covenant is very similar to certain ritual chests used by these groups at the time. The chests were especially popular in the main city of ancient Egypt, Thebes. 'Thebes' is derived from the Hebrew tebah and the Greek taibe, both meaning 'ark’, or 'chest". And yes, the Ethiopian word tabot has its roots here too.
|A ritual chest being carried in a depiction of an ancient egyptian religious ceremony in Thebes, very similar in style to that of the Ark of the Covenant.|
The story of baby Moses, who was found drifting along the Nile in a basket has all the traits of a royal initiation ceremony that was consistently practiced in ancient Egypt, as well as in other early civilizations. In these rituals it was common practice to place a young boy inside a floatable container and send it down a river, in order to formally establish them as successors to the throne. But the episode can also be viewed as another aspect of the mystery religions. One of Ove von Spaeth's most interesting findings in this connection, is that the episode with Moses on the Nile was part of an astro-magical ritual, as it happened at a time when both the sun and the moon passed the axis mundi. In the Rabbinic literature Moses is literally mentioned as found floating around inside a chest or a little ship, which correlates with the Carina (Keel of a ship) and Eridanus (river) constellations, that are located at the very root of the axis mundi. Graham Hancock also discusses the etymological link between the words ark and ship in The Sign and the Seal. Furthermore, Hancock mentions the tradition of interpreting the Ark as a symbol of the womb of Mary, adding yet another dimension to the overall picture.
The symbolism of water, birth and change connects the story of the Ark of the Covenant with another ark that plays an important role in the Old Testament. In fact, the word Tebah is used twice here to describe a shiplike container: once in reference to Moses' vessel on the Nile and once in reference to Noah's Ark. Ove von Spaeth also points out a very interesting fact here: that Noah and his family drifted around for 40 weeks (or 9 months, the duration of a pregnancy cycle). Also, in the Babylonian tradition from which the story comes, it was common to use large chests to symbolize the relationship between the earth and the sky.
|Noah and his family in the ark, from a 14th century stained glass panel, originally part of the Marienkirche in Frankfurt, Germany. The image shows the common depiction of the Ark at the time as being more akin to a house. |
A Different Kind of Ark
The main ritual connected with pilgrimages to Mecca is the Tawaf, which is a counter-clockwise procession that visitors make around the Kaaba, performed for 7 successive rounds. The rotation has been likened to that of a moving galaxy, but this idea does have some scientific problems and is also not officially accepted by Islamic scholars. Ove von Spaeth mentions what seems like an interesting parallel to the Tawaf ritual. When the Ark of the Covenant was used to bring down the walls of Jericho it was also carried around the city for 7 days (7 times on the 7th day).
The Black Stone itself was also worshipped by various groups of pre-islamic, Arab tribes and has a long and complicated history. The earliest mention of it within an islamic context is not in the Quran, but in a hadith, where Mohammed talks of it as having come down from paradise. Later, it was revealed to Ibrahim via the archangel Jibril (Gabriel). Over the years there have been many scientific theories about its origin. One of the more popular of these is that it indeed is a remnant of something non-earthly, namely a meteorite. Today, however, most geologists seem to believe that it has a more earthly origin. But there is really no way of knowing for sure without a direct sampling of the stone, which is not likely to happen anytime soon. There are many pre-islamic examples, particularly within the Semitic tradition, of worshipping stones said to have fallen from the sky, too. An extraterrestrial origin has even been attributed to the stone tablets with the ten commandments. So the role of the Black Stone in Islam can be seen as a modification of a much older tradition.
There certainly are a lot similarities between the Kaaba and the Ark of The Covenant when you add it all together. There are even theories floating around that the Ark is hidden inside the Kaaba and that this is why non-muslims arent allowed to enter. It is possible to find several videos on YouTube that are filmed inside the Kaaba, although none of them show anything that looks like an Ark.
Goddesses played an important role in pre-Islamic Arabian religion and mythology. Manat, Allat (al-Lat, "the Goddess"), and al-Uzza are all mentioned in the Qur'an (53:19-22). Manat was worshiped in Qudayd, near Mecca, and in northern Arabia. She was a goddess of rain, health, victory, and destiny and was particularly honored during the pre-Islamic pilgrimages to the Kabah. Allat was popular in Taif, also close to Mecca. There she was represented by a large flat stone and smaller precious stones kept in a wooden box. .(Leeming:2005, 122).
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...and special thanks to Ove von Spaeth.