The Pattern of Time II
The Golden Age; Most Ancient Church; the Palaeolithic (Old Stone) Age; the Age of Adam, or Eden; "Infancy of humankind'; the time of 'Savagery', Kronos or Saturn, a 'Celestial' age when God was conceived as the Father/Creator. (Pre 8000 BC)
Officially the Golden Age is not taken seriously these days, and many have dispatched it, along with God and religion, to the realms of mythology, which are considered no more real than fairyland. Yet, on the other hand, we are taking mythology (even fairyland) with increasing seriousness. We are accepting it as a plane of consciousness that has a deeper reality than the material sciences are capable of understanding.
But even on the material plane the Golden Age - and the Most Ancient Church (or the 'Oldest Religion' as I would prefer to call it) - are becoming more and more plausible as Archaeology and Anthropology sift through the ever increasing evidence that is becoming available about our pre-historic past.
The Golden Age! What a dream-like picture it calls to mind. Consider the Roman Poet Ovid's description in his Metamorphoses'.
In the beginning was the Golden Age, when men of their own accord, without threat of punishment, without laws, maintained good faith and did what was right. .... Never had any pine tree, cut down from its home in the mountain, been launched on ocean's waves, to visit foreign lands: Men knew only their own shores. Their cities were not yet surrounded by sheer moats, they had no brass trumpets (for alarms).... no helmets and no swords. The peoples of the world, untroubled by any fears, enjoyed a leisurely and peaceful existence, and had no use for soldiers. The earth itself without compulsion, untouched by hoe, unfurrowed by any ploughshare, produced all things spontaneously and men were content with foods that grew without cultivation. They gathered berries and wild strawberries, cherries and blackberries.....or acorns fallen from Jupiter's spreading oak. It was a season of everlasting spring, when peaceful zephyrs, with their warm breath, caressed flowers that sprang up without having been planted. (From the Penguin Classics translation by M M Innes.)
In many ways this is not unlike the Biblical description of the Garden of Eden. It may have a fictitious ring, but most of it is true. Early Archaeological discoveries may have suggested that 'stone age' men were only wild cave dwelling hunters, but continuing research is showing that Palaeolithic people did happily 'gather' most of their food. Thus Ovid, and also Swedenborg, who said that his 'most ancients' lived in tents, are justified. If you live off the land, gathering the fruit of the trees etc., you soon exhaust local supplies and so have to move on. Hence you do not build houses. You make tents to carry with you or build disposable shelters from branches and large leaves, which are also very tent-like and might equally have prompted Swedenborg to use this term.
Archaeologists are discovering the faint traces of these shelters; they are usually found in small groups of rarely more than a dozen. The social structure of the Golden Age was the extended family, as Swedenborg also records (AC 471). This is still the case in hunter/gatherer society today. Children nevertheless marry outside the family and so a network of kinship is built up. Many Australian aborigines can readily recall relationships running into hundreds of cousins.
Archaeologists working on the frugal evidence of Palaeolithic times can tell us little about the mental characteristics of early man, but they do note with mild surprise that there was no difference in the size of, or the quality of ornaments etc. found in, male and female graves. In later ages graves or monuments of male kings and chieftains would become the bread and butter of archaeology, but both archaeology and anthropology seem to support Swedenborg's reports that the Golden Age was a time of sexual equality; a time when Swedenborg says Conjugial Love was common. Anthropologists, studying the most 'primitive' peoples report that women are valued and respected and monogamy is the usual norm. It was a time when children were loved, valued and accepted into, rather than separated from society.
More psychological traits are not apparent in the archaeological record; although the decoding of aboriginal painting and 'so called' ornament may have much to reveal. Anthropologists are, however, much impressed by the 'psychic awareness' of primitive tribes. You can never creep up on them unawares, they always know you are coming and they seem to communicate with one another over long distances.
This would not have surprised Swedenborg who tells us in Arcana Caelestia 607
It has been assumed that by 'internal breathing' Swedenborg was referring to a strange kind of respiration unknown to science, but the above quotation is obviously about 'speech'. In Swedenborg's day before the discovery of oxygen, and its part in fuelling the body, it was assumed that the primary purpose of breathing was to enable speech. Respiration as we know it had not yet been conceived, though Swedenborg came close to doing so in Divine Wisdom 121.
To use a modern word ancient peoples were telepathic. But they also used other means:
They were able to express ideas by means of countless alterations in their facial expressions and in their looks and especially by the lips, where there are innumerable threads of muscular fibres which are all knotted-up nowadays, but which had freedom of movement in those times. (AC 607)
Look at photographs of the faces of aborigines or bushmen and you will probably be struck by numerous wrinkles. But are they the wrinkles of old age or of muscular development? Do they not manifest faces that have spent much of their time communicating by facial expression?.
Awareness of Heaven
As well as these special ways of communicating with each other Swedenborg says they were also in communication with the angels, and were instructed by them. Certainly belief in future life and the practice of contacting spirits is and was more or less universal among 'primitive' people, though we have generally dismissed it as 'magic' and denigrated it. In time as Swedenborg and all religious traditions emphasise, the people of the Golden Age fell from grace and the spirits they contacted were probably correspondingly imperfect. Nevertheless there is evidence of a time when this heavenly intercourse was pure. The Australian Aborigines have a concept of the 'Dreamtime'; a happy period which has now passed away. Many generations ago, however, their ancestors were one with the people of the Dreamtime and they believe that they will go to join them at death.
There is no record of angelic instruction such as Swedenborg speaks of, but recourse to oracles has long been a habit which might lead back to times when we and the angels were on the same wavelength, and it would seem that such a time may be returning.
Correspondences and Symbols
Another characteristic that Swedenborg claims for his most ancients is an understanding of 'correspondences'. This is plausible enough, as all 'primitive' peoples have stories about natural objects and creatures that attribute to them human, or even superhuman qualities, hence suggesting that these objects or creatures are being used as symbols.
Less credible is Swedenborg's contention that his most ancients wrote on wooden tablets (CL 77) and yet Australian aborigines do use wooden tablets called tjuringa on which they carve symbols, thus creating maps and diagrammes. Shown a newly found tjuringa an aborigine may have difficulty is in explaining it to a
European, but will nevertheless study it with interest and become excited by its message. At one time it was considered that only civilised man could write, but the study of the evolution of writing is showing that symbolic pictogrammes have been used long before the dawn of civilisation as we know it.
It has been said of early man that he had no religion, yet also, that everything he did was religious. The paradox arises from the holistic approach of the Golden Age where nothing was put aside and separated into small compartments, but everything, both natural and spiritual, was part of one glorious God given unity.
Certainly there was no 'formal worship' in the Golden Age, no need of priests or temples. Man was in direct contact with heaven and needed no intermediaries. Such places as springs or hilltops (closer to 'heaven'), might acquire symbolic significance however. Nevertheless as the Age began to decay 'shamans' and tabooed sacred places did evolve.
Early reports suggested that early man was polytheistic, believing in many gods, but most tribes nevertheless do have an original father/creator God. Many Australian aborigines still attribute power to Baiame, the god in the sky (heaven), but other more earthbound gods representing more specific qualities may have superseded him.
Swedenborg has said that in time a church will 'fall' and must be 'vastated' before another is founded, so what we can find out about earlier churches in their purer classic form will be limited. Whereas love was characteristic of Most Ancient man, today fear seems to continually haunt many primitive tribes. 'Change and decay' must be expected. Nevertheless there is evidence enough to show that the Golden Age was not a myth.
There was an Eden-like time when God, man and creation were at one, living in harmony. When it began it is a matter too complicated to discuss here, but it lasted for thousands of years. It was not a large culture compared with later times, however. Only ten million
people were able to live 'off the land' on our planet at any one time, so its heavens, although higher and more perfect, may be no larger than those of the later ages.
The Five Churches and the Universal Church
I should, however, admit that Swedenborg, probably unconsciously influenced by Biblical concepts, locates the most ancient church in Canaan (the land between the Nile and Euphrates). If the purpose of creation is a heaven of angels, the limitation of the church to a particular area would seem strange. Swedenborg does, however, talk of the church being "specifically' where the Word is and perhaps, although a 'word' was not needed then (because angels could instruct men anywhere in the world), those angels in contact with the people of Canaan may have been more enlightened, so functioning as the 'Church Specific' did in later times to people all over the world.
Perhaps the religion of the 'Most Ancient Church' was something 'specific', but it nevertheless seems highly probable that the men of the Golden Age, of Palaeolithic times and the Most Ancient Church, all shared a similar Celestial culture and psychology which prepared them to join the angels of the Celestial heaven if they so desired.