The Silver Age
The Pattern of Time III
The Silver Age; Ancient Church; the Neolithic (New Stone) Age; the Agricultural Revolution, the Age of Noah, or the Childhood of Mankind; the time of 'Barbarism', or Zeus, a 'Spiritual' Age when God was conceived as a Lawgiver or Teacher.
Approximately 8000 BC - 4000 or 3000 BC.
History has been punctuated by numerous revolutions, in Russia in 1917, the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution, the Urban Revolution, each of which was to a greater or lesser extent a turning point for mankind, but there can be little doubt that the most significant was the Neolithic or Agricultural Revolution. It was also the time of a spiritual revolution when Swedenborg says the 'Ancient Church' began.
For thousands - millions of years - people had shared with the animals the simple life of gathering or hunting for food, which the Lord seemed to provide in adequate, if not unlimited quantities. But round about 8000 BC, perhaps when there was a shortage of food, or an increase in the population, people seem to have felt a need for more productive or reliable food resources. No longer were they willing to accept only what God or nature could provide, they began to grow their own food, herd their own animals.
How this fundamental change came about is anyone's guess, though some primitive tribes give clues. For instance Laplanders no longer hunt reindeer, but live with a herd which accepts them, but goes where it wants to, the Laplanders having to follow. Around the world sheep vary from the original completely wild, through various stages of domesticity, to those who today are penned and given modern 'feed' not grass.
There is a similar variety now with cereals. Once people would just collect a few seeds to chew as they passed by certain grasses, then they might gather them in a bag and take them home. They would probably drop seeds near their camps and so concentrations of seed bearing plants would grow up around camps, and over centuries these patches would develop into 'fields' and the camps into 'farms'.
A change in attitude
So was all this just one big accident? The dogmatic evolutionist might be happy with such an answer, but most would accept that it was an accident people 'nurtured'. The people of the Silver Age were developing a different psychology, like the infant passing into childhood, they were growing more independent, wanting to do things their own way. They were losing their complete and innocent trust in God, and their intimate identity with nature. Something that God, the perfect parent, was willing to accept.
We in the New Church know the reason for this change. It has been revealed to us that when, towards the end of the Golden Age, people's hearts became full of hatred, the Lord moderated their evil tendencies by separating their wills from their understandings, so that the understanding could operate as a 'conscience'. Thus they were able to think twice when temptation assaulted their wills. When in late autumn Palaeolithic man saw food he consumed it all without a second thought. Neolithic man, however, would put half, even all of it, aside for the winter.
This difference is apparent when we compare Adam and Noah. The story of Noah and his ark is typically Neolithic in spirit. Noah is the prudent man who puts everything into the Ark against the rainy day that is to come, just as farmers do as winter approaches. Genesis 9:20 identifies Noah as a farmer and the first man to plant vines. Some mythologies such as the Celtic flood story identify their 'Noah figures' as the first farmer. (Cain and Abel also represent the progression towards the Ancient Church and are therefore a farmer and shepherd respectively. Noah's father Lamech was descended from Cain, as well as Adam's third son Seth, who represented the purer strain of the Most Ancient Church.)
The spiritual lesson of the flood story corresponds to the natural. Adamic man had perception and when he wished to do something the truth of the matter was immediately clear to him, but Noachian man had to learn truth. The animals and birds in the Ark are the affections and truths that we should learn and store away for future use when our conscience needs them.
But how was the truth to be provided, now that there was no longer contact with the angels, as in the Golden Age? It seems that during the later stages of the Golden Age, the angels teaching had been gradually encapsulated into collections of myths and fables that would be easily remembered, and that these were passed on to the Silver Age peoples. They were very much like the fairy stories we used to tell to children - indeed teachers and parents still read their children Greek, Red Indian or Maori myths because they are so well adapted to the mind of children who, psychologically, are passing through the Silver Age themselves. Part of that body of myths was the early chapters of Genesis.
A religion of the soil
The literal words of Genesis 9:20 (mentioned above) are that Noah was a 'man of the soil'. The correspondence of soil is 'the church' (as in the parable of the sower); which is also why Noah grows wine, representing the doctrine of the church. Swedenborg says that the people of the time understood correspondences and so it is not surprising that the soil or earth came to be particularly revered by Neolithic people and led eventually to the worship of 'The Earth Mother'. It is sometimes claimed she was the supreme or only god, but in most mythology, although perhaps central, she is wedded to the rain god, who is derived from the 'sky god' of more ancient times, who originally embodied the one true God. Thus the marriage of (he Lord and the Church was symbolised in the 'sexual intercourse' of rain and soil to produce the fruits of the earth. Early Sumerian poetry, which may date back further thousands of years, is often addressed to the 'Bridegroom', a happy concept that was sadly to be lost in the paternalistic religion of Judaism. (Although they did preserve the romantic Song of Songs for us, which Swedenborg attributes to the Ancient Church.)
The Neolithic Culture
The social structure of the Silver Age was that of the village, typically of a few hundred inhabitants, although they could grow much larger, particularly in areas where irrigation was possible and food production high as a result. Each village was economically independent, although trade did slowly develop and large religious monuments such as Avebury, in Wiltshire, suggest cooperation between many villages.
Though this agricultural or Neolithic culture was established in the Middle East in 7-8000 BC, it did not appear in Egypt until 5000 BC and was slow to move westwards into Eastern Europe, only reaching Britain in 6000 BC. At the same time if either spread eastwards, or evolved independently, in India and China, while a maize based culture began in Mexico around 5000 BC. But agriculture took several centuries to reach other areas and never reached places such as Australia until the 19th century.
It must be observed, however, that Chapter 10 of Genesis, often called the 'Table of Nations' listing the descendants of Noah, is a list of middle eastern and Mediterranean countries, which could be taken as defining the limits of the Ancient Church. On the other hand Swedenborg also suggests a more extensive geographical coverage for the church covering most of Asia and all of Africa (e.g. Coronis 39 ).
With the spread of agriculture seemed to go a body of myths, such as I mentioned above, (creation stories; flood stories; trees of life and so forth) which, though widely spread today, still have remarkable similarities. Though appearing to have an earthly sense - albeit often highly improbable - it seems fairly obvious that they have deeper symbolic meanings within, which may share even greater similarity. Swedenborg confirms such an impression and says that the 'ancients' had a revelation written in correspondences, which he calls the Ancient Word.
The Ancient Word
One's initial idea on hearing of an ancient word is to think of a book like the Bible. One has only to think more deeply about the Bible, however, to remember that it was written by many men, on innumerable and frequently revised rolls of parchment, so this Ancient Word would also have been made up of many fragmentary parts. As noted above Swedenborg says the Song of Songs was part of the Ancient Word, and also The Book of Job and the early part of Genesis were too. He also often quotes from the Greek Myths and. had there been a wider knowledge of mythology in the early 18th century, he might have quoted from the Norse myths of his own homeland, or the Rig Veda.
Swedenborg talks of the Ancient Word as if it had been literally 'written down', which is rather worrying as cuneiform, the earliest form of writing, only dales from 3100 BC. I would suggest that nevertheless these ancient myths were 'written', not on parchment, but on peoples' memories. One has to remember that although (he Norsemen had no writing, there is good evidence that the Norse Myths existed as early as 1000 BC; many centuries before they were first written down by Christian monks about 1300 AD. Even races that had writing, such as the Persians and Indians, refused to commit their sacred writings (o material paper, as to do so would be a profanation of something sacred. Still today practicing Islam pays scant respect to the written word and every Iman has to recite the Koran from memory in their services. And so I expect the Ancient Word was written, and lived in the minds of man; but we will return to this subject in our next chapter.
The Silver Age was more external than the Golden and formalised worship began to develop. Little sanctuaries can be found, or rooms set aside, in larger houses. They are small, however, and suggest private devotion, not group ceremonies. But buildings were not necessary. Swedenborg says that mountains and groves of trees were commonly used as sanctuaries, which is borne out by archaeological evidence. Indeed later buildings were based on such 'natural' sanctuaries; the Bronze Age Mesopotamian zigurats being artificial mountains, and (he Iron Age Greek temples, with columns on all sides, being artificial groves of trees.
But the Neolithic structures which impress us most today are probably their tombs. Swedenborg says that the 'ancients' saw death as the gateway to heaven and therefore celebrated it with elaborate tombs. They could be large structures, such as the communal 'passage graves' (long barrows) of western Britain and could contain beautiful tools and ornaments, though not as rich as those of the later more superstitious Bronze Age, when funerary practice got rather out of hand.
For better or worse?
So we have the Silver Age, a step down the spiritual ladder or an evolutionary advance? World population rose from 10 million to 200 million; material for a bigger, but perhaps not a better heaven? If heaven is perfected by variety, however, perhaps larger groups opened up more space for individuality? People had permanent roofs over their heads, but were probably more dependent on rainfall for their harvests. They could save corn or rice through the winter, but their diet lacked the variety of the hunter/gatherer peoples.
Spiritually people had begun to take control of their own destinies, rather than place complete trust in the Lord. It might seem a dangerous option; but if people were to be free individuals, capable of returning his love openly and willingly, it was an option they must be allowed to take. In his wisdom the Lord had allowed them to follow this path; but had provided guidebooks, in the form of the myths they were able to commit to memory, to lead them down that path towards the heaven that he hoped they would share with him throughout eternity.