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" A good traveller has no fixed plans,

and is not intent on arriving "

Lao Tzu

The Event That Did Not Take Place

July 28th, 2015

Islam, Christianity and Judaism – the three Abrahamic religions – all tell the story of Abraham being told to sacrifice his son as a test of Abraham’s obedience to the will of God. At the last moment, as he raises the knife, he is told he has passed the test and should slaughter a sheep instead.

It’s a horrific story, which some believe is echoed in the New Testament, when a son is killed – hence: “Behold the lamb of God” which refers to Christ.

Is this a story that holds the key to a great mystery, or is it indicative of an awful pathology that affects all the Abrahamic faiths?

When the devil urged Abraham to protect his son and not kill him, was he really ‘the evil one’ or the voice of Compassion?

Stephanie and I have just returned from Berlin. There we visited an art installation that takes up 15 rooms in the Jewish Museum. It’s entitled ‘Obedience’, and has been created by the artist Saskia Boddeke and film director Peter Greenaway. It combines film, dance, music, installations and artwork. I cannot overstate the impact this installation had on us both. It was devastating – deeply emotional and powerful.

‘Obedience’ is art that shakes you to the core, touches the soul and cracks open the heart. I would encourage anyone who is concerned about the way we as humans seem to cause so much bloodshed on this Earth to visit this exhibition, which closes on September 13th. Unfortunately I cannot find plans for it to be shown elsewhere, and the representations on the web do not adequately convey its extraordinary nature.

If you can’t get to it, you can get a sense of it (but only very partially sadly) by watching the following three videos in sequence. In a meditative mood, imagine you are walking through fifteen rooms, with the music in the clips playing, huge screens showing films like this, and the whole room being painted and decorated, with installations in each room. If you are interested in the story itself and how it can be interpreted, you can find a pdf that discusses it here.

5 Responses to “The Event That Did Not Take Place”

  1. I greatly appreciate this look at the Abrahamic religions. I had not considered this story of the sacrifice to be other than a documentation of the transition from human sacrifice to animal sacrifice. The myth of Iphegenia, from Greece, is a similar story. The princess Iphegenia is saved from being sacrificed by the Goddess Diana, who substitutes a deer. Human sacrifice is acknowledged by anthropologists, unfortunately. Apparently, the social change to using animal victims shows up in our myths.

  2. I remember the first time my 5 yr old son attended Religion in Schools he came home with a picture which he had coloured in of Abraham standing over his son, who was on an alter, with a knife in his hand. He never attended from that day on and neither did any of my other children.

  3. In my opinion, the problem lies in the tendency to literalize or myths, which are meant to be outrageously heroic examples of our inner processes. The truth is we are often called upon to sacrifice something that we hold dear in order for transformation to take place. Rosemary’s 5 year old could have just as easily come home with a picture of Ceridwen standing over a baby with knife in hand, but as druids we are taught to look beyond the images of our stories and connect with the energies they convey. Sadly, far too few of the followers of Abrahamic religions are taught to do the same.

    • I think you’re right Kevin. Luckily the Ceridwen myth doesn’t involve a knife, but granted she does eat Gwion….but he is a grain of wheat at the time! 🙂

      Sadly the literalism that you point to feeds Fundamentalism with such awful consequences.

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