ANAMNESIS . The close tie of philosophical inquiry with theological and religious thinking points to a wide realm of meaning to which the term anamnesis ("recollection") could be applied. In many ways anthropogonic and cosmogonic theories everywhere can be interpreted as recollections of a communal group about its origins, the origins of the universe, the existing world, and the role of humankind in it. We find mythical tales of this kind in social groups everywhere, along with related ritual action. Both forms of recollection, the recital and the dramatic performance and re-creation of events in the beginning of time, can be seen as forms of the mythology of remembering. In order to be able to use the term anamnesis for such commemorative and re-creative acts, a careful analysis of the connotations of recollection in Plato's philosophical system is indispensable.
Plato's Epistemology of Remembering and Its Theological Basis
Plato's doctrine about the nature of the soul and its connection to the notion of the realm of ideal forms are both intertwined with the key concept of recollection. The Greek term anamnēsis achieves its specific meaning of "recollection" in the dialogues of Plato as that particular faculty of the soul that enables it to remember those things that it has seen when residing in the realm of eternal forms or Ideas; it is, as Plato formulates this vision, "recollection of the things formerly seen by our soul when it traveled in the divine company" (Phaedrus 249b). However, through repeated incarnations in new bodies (metempsychosis, "soul migration," or, rather, metensomatosis, "reembodiment") the soul forgets most of the things it has seen or contemplated in the divine sphere, as mortal bodies with their imperfections, base desires, and passions dull the sensibilities of the soul that is chained to, and thus takes on a portion of, the nature or characteristics of the material bodies. As Plato puts it through the voice of Socrates in the Phaedo, forgetting begins because the soul is "nailed to the body through pleasure and pain" (Phaedo 83d).
Thus the true knowledge of the things seen by the soul between different incarnations or materializations in consecutive bodies is never quite lost; it is hidden but still latently there, and it can be regained, recovered, brought to consciousness. It is at this point that the true vocation of the philosopher comes to the fore, because it is through his methodical questioning that the philosopher can recover such eternal truths that are beyond the varied sense experiences and thus lead the intelligent soul away from the world of varied opinions (doxa ) to that form of true knowledge (noēsis or epistēmē ) that is beyond the empirical world and that concerns the very essence of things, which is eternal, indivisible, and pure, being removed from birth and decay, from becoming, and from the temporal and spatial contingencies of all matter. The philosopher, who in Plato's thought has special abilities and is gifted through his search for eternal truths (a giftedness that, as shall be seen, has specific implications for the forms that the reincarnation of philosophers takes, thus setting him apart from the rest of humankind), can make people aware of their divine ancestry through his method of questioning, the art of midwifery (maieutic art) referred to by Socrates in the Theaetetus. Plato starts his reasoning with the analogy of the normal working of our memory when the mind is "pregnant" or "in labor with" a thought that presses to awareness or "birth." The philosopher as midwife merely brings the thoughts to full consciousness; he does not put into the mind anything that was not there already. We therefore do not learn new things about this world from the investigations of existing matter through reflection about sense experiences, arriving at generalizations (as Aristotle would later teach); we only recollect what we always knew.
Plato thus puts humankind in a middle position between the category of all-knowing gods (after all, Zeus had swallowed Metis, intelligence personified, as the theogony of Hesiod relates and as diverse Orphic theogonies were to mythologize about the nature of the gods later) and the category of animals who have souls but do not participate in intelligence. Plato thus also answers the logical dilemma posed first by the Sophists who had maintained that either we know what we are looking for, and thus we do not need to search, or we do not know what we are trying to find and we are therefore doomed to eternal ignorance. Plato rejects the "either-or" of ignorance versus complete knowledge to which humankind would be condemned; he deals in degrees of knowledge. For Plato the device of anamnesis therefore becomes the cornerstone for the two major assertions that he puts forward in the Phaedo dialogue: one is the assertion that humankind has the ability to know the essence and form of things in their true reality of divine origin and that there are essences behind the contingent things of the world of the senses; the other is that there is an indivisible soul substance that participates in the divine sphere, a soul that descends from that sphere into embodiment and returns to that divine realm after death.
Before entering into a discussion of the reasoning that Plato employs to prove the existence of the metaphysical, eternal kingdom of forms or ideas, it is useful to remind ourselves of the main aim of his philosophical enterprise. It has often been assumed that the main purpose of Plato was to establish a tightly reasoned scheme for the foundation of knowledge, a knowledge understood as the theoretical justification for science. However, as Romano Guardini (1943) and others have pointed out, Plato does not look for an idealist (or rather realist) epistemology for its own sake. Rather, Plato's whole endeavor is aimed at a reality that goes beyond the knowledge that can be gained through the analysis of material forces. Furthermore, the knowledge he is aiming for is that knowledge that is a virtue, namely wisdom, and this implies the search for the original constitution of things beyond their shifting and variable appearances. The knowledge that is wisdom, being aware of its divine origin or model of which the material representations are but mirror images, would lead ultimately to the virtue that becomes the foundation stone for an ethics of action in this world, namely the knowledge of truth.
What appears at first sight as a specious argument about the reality of generalizations such as those about values or virtues (justice, goodness, truth) that are not tangible in this world of the senses becomes finally a guide for action for those who have achieved the vision of the eternal forms, in particular of the ultimate virtue, wisdom, through divine inspiration. As Plato expresses it in the Meno, virtues are not that kind of knowledge that can be taught (as the Sophists had argued) but a knowledge that is inherent in the soul and can be recovered through recollection (these are the implications of the conclusions in Meno 98d–e). Knowledge does start with experience, but it does not derive from it, particularly not that knowledge that concerns the virtues. It is rather a knowledge, as Plato puts it, "which we own from our background" (oikeia epistēmē; Phaedo 75). We see again that the foundations of such ultimate knowing are put into the sphere of the divine through the still unproved hypothesis about the nature of the soul, its origin and fate before and after death of the earthly body.
Taken from this vantage point, the suggestion put forward by Guardini (that Plato's notion about the immortality of the soul and the concomitant notion that the soul is only passing through the stages of corporeal incarnation in order to arrive at its true home denigrate historicity and the uniqueness of the individual's existence) seems not quite as pronounced when the ethical orientation of Plato is taken into consideration. If a person through recollection can find the insight and vision of the ultimate foundations of virtues, he would, so Plato repeatedly argues, strive to fulfill the requirements of a virtuous life. Besides, as we will see, Plato also holds out different fates for each soul, according to its conduct in this life, in regard to the form and duration of reincarnations.
We thus see that in the dialogues of the middle period (from the Meno and Symposium to the Phaedo, Phaedrus, and Republic ) the search for the foundations of the knowing subject (the soul with intelligence and possessed with a drive to find its home) as well as of the known things (the objects in the tangible world as well as the generalizations of the mind, namely the virtues), of the subject and object of the epistemological equation, are but the tools for establishing the truth about the reality of the divine sphere and the grounding of subject and object in it. When this has happened and when the total structure of reality is known, action would be informed by this insight. For Plato the proof of the ability and effectiveness of anamnēsis as a faculty of the soul and mind of humankind therefore becomes the key for the proof of the kingdom of ideal forms and of ultimate truth.
The focal point, where the argument about the immortality of the soul and its reincarnations is joined to the proof through the notion of anamnēsis, occurs in the dialogue that is set around the occasion of the imminent death of Socrates, the Phaedo. Socrates has just proved by analogy that the soul is immortal, everlasting, and reincarnated in successive bodies: in much the same way, as the unity of the personality is still there through the various stages of sleep and waking, the soul must be a unifying principle surpassing birth and death. It just participates for a while in the life of mortal matter but discards the body like a worn garment and returns from where it came.
Socrates uses the further analogy that if there were only a movement from birth to death, all life would come to an end. There must be a countermovement from death to life, and this is the reincarnation of the soul after death into new bodies (Phaedo 70c–72a). Plato reformulates here insights that were common stock since the teachings of Empedocles and Heraclitus about the impermanence of things, of the constant change of conditions and aggregates, and about the cyclical repetition of natural processes, an impermanence of the world of experience that, however, has an underlying unchanging structure. While Ionian nature philosophy looked for the underlying permanency in the laws of matter, Plato makes the radical change by asserting that what is permanent is the perceiving subject and at the same time the ideal form behind the empirical reality. Since matter is perpetually dying and being reborn in different form, Plato declares that a permanent reality can only be an immaterial one that is only accessible to pure thought.
It is now up to Plato, through the words of Socrates, to prove these assertions. Kebes, one of the dialogue partners, gives him the entry by referring to Socrates' often-used adage that "learning is nothing but remembering" (Phaedo 72e). This refers to the previous experiment, where Socrates had an untutored slave arrive at the proof of a Pythagorean mathematical paradigm (Meno 82ff.). The objects of mathematics are similar to the moral forms, the virtues, and it is indeed these that Plato recognizes as having the necessary attributes. As Cornford pointed out, this implies that memory, which contains such knowledge, cannot be a personal or individual memory but must by necessity be an impersonal memory: all individuals can potentially arrive at the same truth, the only difference being to which extent the latent knowledge has been recovered (Cornford, 1952, p. 56). This might imply that Plato's notion of the soul as perceiving agent is akin to the Hindu proposition (of the Upaniṣads) that the ātman (personal soul) and brahman (universal soul) are identical. As shall be shown, there are some reservations with this view, as Plato also has recourse to the myth of retribution after death and to the karmic notion of the influence of the conduct in the present lifetime upon the form of reincarnation, as extolled in the Phaedrus.
Before embarking upon that discussion, I shall return to the Phaedo, where Socrates now resumes his proof about the latent memory of the soul: he states that our ability to discern equal things (and contrasts as well) presupposes the idea of equality itself (or of sameness and difference). In the same way as there is no empirical equivalent to a geometrical form (as proved in the Meno ), there are no two things in our empirical world that are exactly the same. But the sight of approximately equal things revives the thought of perfect equality, the knowledge of which must be inborn, be previous to sense experience (Phaedo 75c–76d). This part of the discussion of anamnesis ends in the assertion that the essence of the soul is of the same kind as the essence of the object of thought processes, the idea. True knowledge surpasses the empirical in two ways: from its object, it is the idea; from its subject, it is the pure thought of the soul, both being nonempirical, immortal, indivisible, and indestructible (Phaedo 79a–c).
Gnosticism, Manichaeism, Sufism, and Qabbalah
Plato's thought system underwent various modifications in the following centuries that cannot be followed here in a systematic manner. Under the impact of Oriental religions and influenced by Christian soteriology, Hellenistic thinking brought forth a number of doctrines that occupied themselves much with the question of the nature of the soul and its relation to the body as well as with its fate after death. These various doctrines, which in the first few centuries after the beginning of the Common era were considered by the Church Fathers as a dangerous challenge to Christian orthodoxy, are generally labeled the Gnostic movement. The aim of this many-sided movement of speculative thought was cogently summed up in the following statement: gnosis is "the knowledge of who we were, what we have become, where we were, into what place we have been thrown … what is birth, what is rebirth" (Clement, Excerpta ex Theodoto 78.2).
Although the term gnōsis connotes "knowledge," the Gnostics meant by it not the intellectual process but rather wisdom gained through mystical insight or enlightenment by an immediate vision of truth. For the Gnostics, this knowledge was designed to help to liberate as well as to redeem mankind from its confinement in a material world. For those men who possessed the knowledge of the true nature of the world and of the soul, the knowledge itself is the redeeming factor, or as one of the tractates found at Nag Hammadi expressed it, if anyone has gnosis, he knows from where he comes and where he goes, and, so the Gospel of Truth continues, "he knows like someone who was drunk and has become sober from his drunkenness, and, restored again to himself, has again set his own in order." The same text refers to ignorance as forgetfulness and annihilation. The Gnostics believed that there were three diverse classes of people: the elect (the pneumatics or "spirituals") had divine inspiration; a second class were the psychics, who possessed soul but as yet no insight; the third class, the carnal ones, were beyond redemption.
Without delving deeper into the often contradictory tales of cosmogony and anthropogony that the diverse Gnostic schools developed, the basic doctrine is one of the fall of parts of the light through error, variously attributed, into the world of matter and coming to rest in primordial man. The whole soteriology of the Gnostic movements is then concerned with the reascent of the light to its original source. However, the soul, which is the light particle lost in the world of matter, cannot achieve this ascent unaided, because she is drunken or asleep, as the abundant metaphorical images put it. To this purpose the godhead sends out the redeemer, identified with Christ in Christian circles.
It is the prerogative of the adherent of the Gnostic movement to be awakened, to have insight into the process of the fall of the light and the redemption attempt of Christ. However, he has to prove his mettle in the fight in this world, in his fight with matter, in particular against the snares and traps of bodily passions. The purpose of all the ascetic practices with which Gnosticism abounds is the training of the spiritual or pneumatic aspects of oneself for the final ascent to the divine light (Gr. plērōma ). One of the major doctrines of most Gnostic schools was the strong reliance on self-redemption through the insight that the soul of the elect had gained through instant revelation. It seems clear from the sources that the concept of self-redemption of the man of superior knowledge and the redemption through a helper, the redeemer sent by the deity, remained one of the points of contention between different Gnostic schools (and remains also a problem for modern research into Gnosticism).
The mythology of remembering, waking up from sleep or drunkenness, is put into different terms in the doctrines of the Manichaeans, who start from the primordial dualism of two forces, light and darkness, spirit and matter (due to Iranian-Zoroastrian influence, no doubt; see Widengren, 1961). Matter in this system desires to engulf the light, and after succeeding in the battle, light has to send out various messengers and emissaries or mercenaries who, however, get trapped by the forces of darkness. One of these emissaries is primordial man, Adam, who, when put into sleep or unconsciousness by engulfing matter, is wakened by a call from above. Here the strategies of light are finally victorious, as matter that has partaken of light and thus has the powers of light, its own enemy "ingested," as it were, is defeated from inside. But before this plan of light can succeed, matter has established its rule by creating the figure of libido or concupiscence, which through constant copulation binds the light particles to bodies (the cannibalistic and sexual stigmata that remain with humankind as reminders of their beastly descent from demonic powers). But light now sends out further emissaries to free the divine spark that is indestructibly present in Adam and humankind from the world of demons by reminding Adam and humankind of their own true essence (see Widengren, 1961; Puech, 1937).
Although the Manichaean system appears generally more clear in its exposition than other Gnostic movements, all of them are often intellectually and ritually contradictory; they remained hybrid systems due to their tendency of syncretistic merging of various religious and cultural traditions, ranging from Greek philosophy, Jewish biblical traditions, Christian eschatology, and Persian dualism (a variability reflected in the many languages in which the documents of these traditions have come down to us, from Greek to Uighur, Coptic, and Chinese). All Gnostic traditions are artificial mythologies and are a far cry from the intellectual enterprise of Plato. This was clearly perceived by the late follower of Plato, Plotinus (third century ce), for whom the world was, if not perfect, at least beautiful, and man a complete vessel, though needing perfection. The whole atmosphere of the doctrine of forgetting of the Gnostics seems often contrived and complicated as well as convoluted beyond logical needs and far indeed from the splendid vision of the power of the mind as taught by Plato, for whom the world with its beauty of bodies was after all the instigator of the drive of Eros to strive for perfection.
A far more consistent religious principle arose with the emergence of Islamic mysticism, or Sufism (taṣaw-wuf ), in the eighth century. The original core of Sufism is the asceticism of a life in poverty through which man is better able to meditate on the Qurʾān and so to draw near to God through prayer or repetitive chanting of religious formulas. (This process is called dhikr, lit., "remembrance.") The formulas were accompanied by a variety of rules about body posture and breathing techniques. All these techniques aim to empty the mind so that it can be filled with the presence of God.
For most of Islamic history, the Ṣūfīs were anathema to orthodox theology, as they stressed inner qualities more than outer action, the practical example more than strict adherence to the letter of the law propounded by theologians, and the spirit of the principles of Islam more than the strict observance of ritual.
This tendency led to statements that outraged traditionalists, such as that of al-Ḥallāj, crucified in 922, who proclaimed: "I am the truth." In the same spirit, Ibn al-ʿArabī, whose work influenced the later development of Qabbalah considerably, once stated: "My heart has become capable of every form … a temple for idols, and the pilgrim's kaaba, and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Qurʾān. I follow the religion of love" (trans. Reynold A. Nicholson). While al-ʿArabī's statement may be interpreted as simple universalism or pantheism, in connection with the disdaining of bookish knowledge, sayings of this kind are more akin to the jolting of the mind as practiced by Daoists and Zen Buddhists, who also seek through the disorientation of habitual thinking to open the mind to ultimate truth. It is in this vein that we have to take the following statement by Abū Saʿīd of Nishapur: "Books, ye are excellent guides, but it is absurd to trouble about a guide after the goal has been reached"; or again, "I practiced recollection [dhikr ] uninterruptedly … only after all these trials do we realize self-conceit" (Nicholson, 1921, pp. 15, 21). Such utterances of paradox align the Ṣūfīs squarely with the Greek Cynics; their varied expressions of the yearning for unification with the divine through love show their Platonic affinity.
The techniques of dhikr were intended to induce a form of ecstasy or trance in which the soul would then be able to conduct a dialogue with God (the final aim of "the search for the real [al-Ḥaqq ]," as al-Ghazālī called it). As an alternative there exists the technique of fikr, meaning contemplation and reflection. The whole idea of recollection appears most clearly in poetic formulations such as the following by Ibn al-Fāriḍ (1181–1235): "In memory of the Beloved we quaffed a vintage that made us drunk before the creation of the vine." The commentator Nābulusī says that this means nothing but that the soul was intoxicated with the wine of divine love during its existence before the creation of the body (Nicholson, 1921, pp. 184ff.). Ṣūfī brotherhoods can be differentiated as to their final aim: some aim for ilhāmīyah, or inspiration by God, others for ittiḥādīyah, the mystical union with God.
Many Ṣūfīs were definite adherents of a theory of transmigration of souls (tanāsukh ), though there were exceptions. The doctrine of metempsychosis was also adhered to by other Muslim groups, such as the Nuṣayrīyah, the Kurds, and the Druze, as was reported by the historian of religion al-Shahrastānī, from Khorasan (1076–1153). The Ṣūfīs adhered to the theory of the transmigration of souls because they believed that before the creation of bodies the souls were illuminated by divine light; therefore affinal souls can smell each another out, as was formulated by Abū Saʿīd (Nicholson, 1921, p. 56). This notion appears clearly also in the poetry of Ibn al-Fāriḍ, who like many other Ṣūfī mystics accords great importance and proof for the preexistence of the soul to dream states: "In dreams the soul knows itself as it was in the state of preexistence" (v. 669), or again, "In the world of reminiscence the soul has her ancient knowledge" (v. 759; Nicholson, 1921, pp. 265).
In any case, the aim of the Ṣūfī is the unification with God and a cessation of transmigration and, by total absorption into the deity, the extinction of existence (fanāʿ ). Some of the most evocative lines of poetry combining the idea of fanāʿ with that of tanāsukh have come down to us from Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, who founded the Mevlevī order in Konya in the late thirteenth century: "I died as mineral and became a plant, I died as plant and rose to animal." This poem ends in the rapt cry "Oh, let me not exist!" (The Ascending Soul, trans. Nicholson, 1964, p. 103).
The mystical tendencies of Islamic Sufism—such as its emotional and inner devotion to the divine agency, contemplative and prayerful, together with a strong ethical orientation that could almost be labeled pietist—passed relatively early into the developing Jewish Qabbalah. One of the most influential works in this connection was the Ḥovot ha-levavot (Duties of the heart) by Baḥye ibn Paquda in 1080, translated into Hebrew in 1161. The underlying theme of this work finds its strongest expression in the later Lurianic movement as well as in the Hasidic tradition in Spain and in central and eastern Europe. For Paquda there are two kinds of duty: one that relates to the body and that concerns man's overt actions, and the other that relates to the heart and concerns man's inner life. To the first belong the ethical commands of the Torah, the observance of the Sabbath, prayer, and charity. To the latter belong the belief in the existence and singleness of God, the fear and love of him as well as the trust in him.
Paquda warned against overemphasis on the duties of the body, thus advocating a countermovement against halakhic orthodoxy. The aim of life is spiritual perfection and ultimate union and communion with God. The way to this is through the ten gates, such as sincerity of purpose, humility, repentance, self-examination, asceticism, and love of God. In accordance with Platonic principles, the soul is of celestial origin, placed into material bodies where it begins to forget its nature and mission. The soul receives great help from the intellect, since in it all the duties of the heart are grounded. There has to be a perfect correspondence of behavior and conscience. Paquda is far from advocating asceticism but opts for the middle way: live in temperance but fulfill your duties in social life (see Scholem, 1954, 1965).
There are considerable differences between Sufism and Qabbalah, in particular in regard to the strong reliance on exegesis among Jewish thinkers and in regard to the downplaying of ascetic practices. However, Qabbalah took some notions of metempsychosis, which play a great role in the later movement in Safad, from Sufism. Early Qabbalah of the twelfth century is more restrictive in the use of the term: it uses the notion of gilgul or haʾataqah ("transference") as a translation of the Arabic tanāsukh (which in turn is also a translation of the Stoic concept of aposakatastasis ) for certain, mostly sexual, offenses. The decisive turn occurs in the sixteenth century, when a system of moral causes and physical effects, similar to the Hindu karman, takes root. The other very specific Jewish notion concerns the metaphorical equivalence of the exile of the soul from its divine spiritual abode and the exile of the chosen people from its homeland.
Behind the Jewish idea of transmigration stands the doctrine of the creation of the world as a series of emanations from the godhead (Ein Sof), which is symbolized by the ten sefirot that contain as vessels the divine light. In particular the tenth sefirah, the female Shekhinah, is responsible for receiving and distributing the divine light-essence to earth. It is through man's sinful nature and his fall from grace that the energy flow was interrupted, leading to disharmony as well as evil in the world. The deed is traced to primordial man, Adam Qadmon, whose fall brought about the breaking of the vessels, so that the divine essence became dispersed in innumerable fragments as light particles, which are contaminated with matter (the closeness to some Gnostic notions is noticeable). This basic system was further elaborated by the Palestinian qabbalist Isaac Luria (1534–1572) but also flourished in Italy.
It is with the thirteenth-century founder of Ashkenazic Hasidism, Elʿazar of Worms, that we find one of the strongest reminiscences of the doctrine of transmigration and Platonic anamnēsis. In an interpretation of the Midrash on the Creation of the Child, he expostulates that after the guardian angel has given the newborn child a tap on the upper lip, it forgets all the infinite knowledge it had acquired before its birth in the celestial house of learning. And why does the child forget? asks Elʿazar. Because, he answers, if the child did not forget, the course of the world would drive it mad in the light of what it knows from its former existence in divine grace. (The relation to Job is evident.)
The whole purpose of man's existence on earth is the restoration of the ideal order and the collection of the pure divine light in the vessels. Salvation thus means nothing but restitution or reintegration of the original whole (tiqqun ). In Lurianic Qabbalah, transmigration, as for some Ṣūfī brotherhoods, is not just a result of evil or of the sinful nature of man, but it is actually one chance, a boon, to achieve the goal of self-emancipation, defined here as being freed from transmigration. The souls of the emancipated ones then wait, each in its blessed house, to be reunited with the soul of Adam, the first man.
However, and here we also get a unique variation of the theme of transmigration and redemption, while the purpose of reincarnation is always purification or atonement for the sins of mankind, the role of the suffering of the righteous is of the greatest importance, because they help with the restoration of the universe. Here the universal effect of good deeds and thoughts, of a devout life in the pietist sense, is combined with the ancient notion of the efficacy of ritual to restore the proper functioning of universal forces and energies. The notion of metempsychosis, also called "impregnation" (ʾibbur in early Qabbalah), is taken to its furthest extent when it is stated that a soul, in particular that of an ethically advanced person, can enter, even temporarily, another man's body and thus help his soul come closer to perfection. The universe can only be restored to its original purity when all people have reached perfection. In spite of this seemingly unified system, we find in Qabbalah the same major splits of interpretation as in the Ṣūfī tradition. Two basic aims are given as the highest goal for the life of man: Maimonides advocates the knowledge of God, while his son opts for union with God. We thus find in all traditions so far discussed the same split between knowledge and devotion as the main aims of life.
Australian Aboriginal Beliefs in Ritual Action and Rebirth Processes
In most systems discussed so far we find a tendency to identify the realm of the spirit with the notion of essence or form, abstracted from all material discrete reality: the bodies of humans and other animate beings are perceived as prisons for the divine element, life force, or soul. Matter is thus seen as inimical to the soul's attainment of its true state, in which it is a part of, or is united with, the godhead.
The religious systems of the Australian Aborigines developed a different, almost diametrically opposed, notion. Here the divine element is embodied in a diversity of material objects, ranging from features of the geographical landscape to such items as bull-roarers. Man himself is a divine being and agent, either as an individual or as a member of a social group; and particular social groups as much as particular individuals are identified or correlated with features in the landscape. The social groups such as clans are themselves sacred corporations in perpetuity. The sacred nature of material items such as bull-roarers is made clear through their use: they are efficacious for the continued fertility of all nature, including humankind, because they are thought of as endowed with the power of the culture heroes of the Dreaming.
In a similar fashion, the whole earth and all its features, such as rocks, indentations, but especially waterholes, are considered sacred substances or emanations of the creative thoughts of the ancestral heroes and divinities. The creator ancestors walked the earth in primordial times and created every animate and inanimate object through externalizing, objectifying, and materializing their thoughts in the act of dreaming. Man is the paramount agent who either through ceremonies or dreaming guarantees the continuation of these creative acts.
Aboriginal religious thought thus perceives a very intimate relation between man and environment in what has become known as a totemic thought system, where each individual and each group becomes closely linked to a feature of the external world (landscape, plants, animals). While these features of the external world are the self-manifestations of the creator deities of the Dreaming, man has to identify through ritual and through dreaming with these features and internalize them. The continuation of the visible reality depends on the meticulous performance of rites at the ceremonial centers of the diverse totemic ancestor beings; individuals and groups are thus (as reincarnations of the supernatural beings) guardians and connective links to the eternal order that, though once established in its final form, needs the constant renewal in the present. This belief explains also the frequent handling of sacred objects (for which the Aranda term tjurunga has become synonymous) by young initiates, who through this action try to keep in touch with the essence of that being of which they are the spiritual double themselves (see Elkin, 1954, p. 186).
There exists in Aboriginal thinking no clear delineation between eternity and temporality, between now and the past: the eternal order is not only the basis for the re-creation through ritual in the present, as laid down by the law of the ancestor deities, but is inseparably linked with the present through the sacred agency of humankind, which carries within its individuals and groups the spark of life derived from the original creative beings through constant reincarnations. In short, in ritual action, eternity is here and now and merging with the present. The cosmic dimension of the maintenance of the world through ritual finds its correlate in the notion of the constant reincarnation of a personal soul-entity. In most Aboriginal systems of thought the spiritual essence enters man through dreaming at a totemic center. These totemic centers are the places into which the ancestor spirits disappeared when they had finished creation and to which the souls of the dead depart and become deposited, there to await rebirth. When a man sleeps at such a place, the spiritual essence or soul that has been deposited in these centers enters him through dreaming, and the male transfers the new soul to his female partner during procreation.
The self-identification of the living persons and groups of Aboriginal society with the ancestors and their spiritual essence is thus achieved through dreaming at the very places where the divine entities externalized and materialized their own thoughts in dreaming in very concrete and substantial form. This identity of substance of the living world and of man is often expressed by Aborigines when they refer to the sacred totemic places as "my dreaming there." Thus dreaming, life essence or soul, and the supreme creator deities are sometimes called by the same term. This self-identification of the individual and of groups with the externalizations of the ancestral heroes, be they features of the landscape or living creatures in nature, is expressed through the concept of the birth and rebirth at particular centers and, more pointedly, through initiation rituals. The aim of initiation rituals is not only to remind the young initiand of the significance of the sacred landscape but even more to teach him his own lost knowledge, to actually make him aware of his own sacredness (females are in some parts of Australia considered sacred by nature).
As each individual represents the reborn ancestor, he is thus learning what he always actually knew but forgot when he rested in the spirit places after death in his last incarnation. As T. G. H. Strehlow put it about the understanding of this process among the Aranda: "At the time of birth the totemic ancestor who has undergone re-incarnation is totally unaware of his former glorious existence. For him the preceding months have been a 'sleep and forgetting.' If he is born as a boy, the old men will later on initiate him and reintroduce him into the ancient ceremonies which he himself had instituted in his previous extence" (Strehlow, 1947, p. 93).
We would scarcely find anywhere else a stronger resemblance to the Platonic notion of anamnēsis, yet in Australian Aboriginal thought the living human is even more pronouncedly part of the divine, being, if not the divinity, at least the ancestor hero. When a grown adult performs the increase ceremonies as laid down by the ancestor deities, he is reperforming his own law, for he, in his former incarnation as ancestor, had a part in devising the law.
It is from this vantage point that the merging of the present and the past—of concrete reality and actions within it with the original and therefore not only past but ever-present essential foundations of reality—can be understood. As Strehlow has it: "The whole countryside is his living, age-old family tree. The story of his own totemic ancestor is to the native the account of his own doings at the beginning of time, at the dim dawn of life, when the world as he knows it now was being shaped and moulded by all-powerful hands. He himself has played a part in that first glorious adventure, a part smaller or greater according to the original rank of the ancestor of whom he is the present re-incarnated form" (ibid., pp. 30–31).
At death the immortal part of the human reincarnation returns to the abode of the primordial state, either beyond the sea, in the sky, or under the ground. While the belief in reincarnation is general and widespread among Australian Aborigines, the rebirth is perceived not as that of a previous particular human personality but as one of primordial existence as creative agent. There exists no retribution for activities in this life, though the ancestor heroes were not without fault or blame. But even their deeds that are wrong by the standards they laid down themselves are not judged in an afterlife, nor do they influence reincarnation.
However, present Aborigines realize and express the idea that their ancestor deities may sometimes have gone wrong and may sometimes have been killed for their wrongdoing by the original incarnations of present-day people. Although killed, these ancestor heroes did not die in spirit; as the Berndts note, they remain part of the "Eternal Dreaming stream" (Berndt and Berndt, 1977, p. 418). The religious systems of all Aboriginal groups seem to be what W. E. H. Stanner once called an "affirmation of life" (see Stanner, 1959–1963). There is certainly no trace of asceticism or denial of the body to be found in Aboriginal beliefs. There is no need for such abasement, for the divine eternity is concretely realized in material form in this world and can always be made present through ritual action.
The comparison with the Platonic system of recollection cannot be fully developed (see also Eliade, 1973, pp. 58–59). Yet one point is worth emphasizing: for Aborigines, the manifestations of the ancestor heroes of the Dreaming, such as features of the landscape, become the outward sign to recall the deeds of these ancestors. This comes close to Plato's notion about the efficacy of objects of beauty to arouse in humans the desire of Eros to attain absolute beauty, the desire to attain something that one lacks, in particular to attain immortality.
It might not be too farfetched to extend this philosophical interpretation to the mytho-ritualistic identification that the Aborigine intends when handling sacred objects, performing the ancient sacred increase rituals or learning about his oneness with the Dreaming and its objects or emanations. This, and more, is revealed to the Aborigine in the long drawn-out process of initiation and achievement of adulthood and is regularly made clear in ritual action, when each participant becomes an ancestor. Each, too, will thereby re-create the universe, but none will attempt to change it. The ritual recollection of the Australian Aborigines and of other tribal societies is replaced in Plato's system by the philosopher through the daimōn of Eros. Both forms of recollection seem to share the same aim: through ritual the paradigmatic model is repeated over and over again and made present and efficacious forever; through the drive of Eros the philosopher aims at gaining what he has not yet obtained, namely, immortality and divine status. Both Eros and ritual action are creative.
A member of the Murinbata once said to Stanner: "White man got no dreaming, him go 'nother way. White man, him go different. Him go road belong himself." Our comparison about the notion of recollection from Platonic anamnēsis to Aboriginal beliefs in reincarnation and remembering of their own divine status has shown that a reminder of our own roots might instill in us a sense of humility. Were we to recollect our Platonic heritage, we might perceive the Australian Aborigine as a related soul. We might realize that Europe since ancient times has been working toward the same goal as the Aborigines: only our methods differ.
The most lucid treatment of recollection in the framework of the whole of Plato's middle dialogues is found in F. M. Cornford's Principium Sapientiae: The Origins of Greek Philosophical Thought, edited by W. K. C. Guthrie (Cambridge, U.K., 1952). A careful reading, line by line, of the Phaedo is given by Romano Guardini in Der Tod des Sokrates (Berlin, 1943), translated as The Death of Socrates: An Interpretation of the Platonic Dialogues (Cleveland, 1948). The problem of Plato's notion of beauty in the context of European art theory is developed by Ernesto Grassi in Die Theorie des Schönen in der Antike (Cologne, 1962). For pre-Platonic ideas about soul migration, three authors make a strong case for the existence of Orphic and Pythagorean cult doctrines to be found in Platonic writings: W. K. C. Guthrie, in Orpheus and Greek Religion (1935: 2d ed., rev., London, 1952); E. R. Dodds, the most skeptical of the three, in The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley, 1951); and Ivan M. Linforth, in The Arts of Orpheus (1941; reprint, New York, 1973). A balanced account of Pythagorean-Orphic practices and a meticulous source criticism can be found in Walter Burkert's Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism (Cambridge, Mass., 1972).
Many of the Platonic and pre-Platonic ideas of soul migration have been traced back to shamanistic practices by Karl Meuli in his now-classic interpretation "Scythica," Hermes 70 (1935): 121–176; his line of thought is taken up by Walter Burkert in "Gōes: Zum griechischen 'Schamanismus,'" Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 105 (1962): 36–55, and by Mircea Eliade in Myth and Reality (New York, 1963). For an anthropological notion of possession states and the Greek evidence, see my essay "Individual and Collective Possession: The Shaman as Primeval Healer and Artist in Modern Japan and Ancient Greece," in Under the Shade of a Coolibah Tree, edited by Richard A. Hutch and Peter G. Fenner (Lanham, Md., 1984), pp. 279–321. For the extant sources, Erwin Rohde's Psyche (Leipzig, 1894; Eng. trans., London, 1925) is still useful and readable. The interpretations in Jane Ellen Harrison's Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (Cambridge, U.K., 1903) now appear dated and marred by a too literal application of Frazerian anthropology. For the importance of Mnemosyne, the well-known dictionary of myths of antiquity by W. H. Roscher, Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie (Leipzig, 1897–1909), vol. 3, is still indispensable.
On Gnosticism, the most understandable survey of the sources, with an excellent bibliography and a history of research, remains Kurt Rudolph's Die Gnosis (Göttingen, 1977; Eng. trans., San Francisco, 1983). A full introduction, which opened the way for many new interpretations, such as the separation of a Hellenistic from an Iranian stream of Gnosticism, is presented by Hans Jonas in Gnosis und spätantiker Geist, 2 vols. (Göttingen, 1934–1954; vol. 1, 3d ed., 1964; vol. 2, 2d ed., 1966).
The variety of influences on Gnosticism is excellently shown by Gilles Quispel in Gnostic Studies, vol. 1 (Istanbul, 1974). A stimulating work, although often theoretically speculative, is Richard Reitzenstein's Die hellenistischen Mysterienreligionen, 3d ed. (Leipzig, 1927; Eng. trans., Pittsburgh, 1978). The Manichaean variant of the Gnostic movements is traced to their Iranian roots by Geo Widengren in Mani und der Manichäismus (Stuttgart, 1961; Eng. trans., New York, 1965). For a survey discussion on the Manichaean soteriology in the light of the Turfan fragments, see H. C. Puech's "Erlosung im Manichaismus," in Eranos Jahrbuch 1936 (Zurich, 1937).
On Ṣūfī movements, the works of Reynold A. Nicholson are classics. His Studies in Islamic Mysticism (1921; Cambridge, U.K., 1976) and Personality in Sufism (Cambridge, U.K., 1923) offer interpretations fully embedding the sectarian development in a linguistic and cultural analysis of the whole of Islam; his Rumi, Poet and Mystic, 1207–1273, 3d ed. (London, 1964), displays his skill in poetic translation.
On Qabbalah in its various extensions in Spain, Safad, Italy, and central Europe, the most profound interpretation is that of Gershom Scholem, set forth in his Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 3d rev. ed. (Jerusalem, 1954), and Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition, 2d ed. (New York, 1965).
The earliest comprehensive work on Australian Aboriginal religion is A. P. Elkin's The Australian Aborigines (1938; 3d ed., Sydney, 1954). A more recent survey is Ronald M. Berndt and Catherine H. Berndt's The World of the First Australians, 2d ed. (Sydney, 1977). On particular Aboriginal concepts in various regions, T. G. H. Strehlow's Aranda Traditions (Melbourne, 1947) is a classic of exposition. W. E. H. Stanner's "On Aboriginal Religion," Oceania 30–34 (1959–1963), in seven parts, is also valuable. A complete survey of Aboriginal religious beliefs, with a cross-cultural phenomenological orientation, is provided by Mircea Eliade's Australian Religions (Ithaca, N. Y., 1973).
On ritual processes, an easy introduction is given by Paul Radin in Primitive Religion (New York, 1937). A more recent structural approach can be found in Victor Turner's The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (Chicago, 1969). The application of the notion of anamnesis to an epistemology of cultural translation has been undertaken by Hans P. Duerr in his Traumzeit (Frankfurt, 1978).
Michèle Simondon, La mémoire et l'oubli dans la pensée grecque (Paris, 1982) and Giovanni Pugliese Carratelli, "Mnemosyne e l'Immortalità," Archivio di Filosofia 51 (1983), 71–79, reprinted in Tra Cadmo e Orfeo (Bologna, 1990), 379–389 deal with the Greek idea of memory.
On Platonic and Pythagoric theories of anamnesis see also: C. E. Huber, Anamnesis bei Plato (Munich, 1964); Domnic Scott, "Platonic Anamnesis Revisited." Classical Quarterly 37 (1987): 346–366; Theodor Ebert, Sokrates als Pythagoreer und die Anamnesis in Platons Phaidon (Stuttgart, 1994).
For similar theories in Gnosticism, concerning memory, fate, reincarnation and salvation as return to the self, see Aldo Magris, La logica del pensiero gnostico (Brescia, 1997), pp. 333–429.
On Sufism and Islamic mysticism see some of the numerous works by Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill, 1975); Sufi Literature (New York. 1975); Triumphal Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalaloddin Rumi (London, 1978); Muhammad Iqbal: prophetischer Poet und Philosoph (Munich, 1989); I Am Wind, You Are Fire: The Life and Work of Rumi (Boston, 1992); The Secrets of Creative Love: The Work of Muhammad Iqbal (Wimbledon, 1998); Gesang und Ekstase: Sufi-Texte des indischen Islam (Munich, 1999); Sufismus: Eine Einführung in die islamische Mystik (Munich, 2000).
Avicenna's doctrine of illumination, which follows the Neoplatonic development of anamnesis, is outlined by Herbert A. Davidson, Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Averroes on Intellect: Their Cosmologies, Theories of the Active Intellect, and Theories of Human Intellect (New York, 1992).
See also: Henry Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, translated by Nancy Pearson (Boulder, 1978). Timothy J. Gianotti, Al-Ghazālī's Unspeakable Doctrine of the Soul: Unveiling the Esoteric Psychology and Eschatology of the Ihyā, (Leiden, 2001). Suhraward, The Philosophy of Illumination (Hiqmat al-ishrāq), translation and comment by John Walbridge and Hossein Ziai (Provo, Utah, 1999). John Walbridge, The Wisdom of the Mystic East: Suhrawardī and Platonic Orientalism (Albany, 2001).
Klaus-Peter KÖpping (1987)
"Anamnesis." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 4, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/anamnesis
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