Sunday, September 15, 2013

Semen/Venom


Part 1: In Egyptian mtwt ("metoot") means both semen and venom. Martin Bernal (2006) in volume three of Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, shows how mtwt in Egyptian means “semen, seed, progeny, the fertilizing Nile flood,” but also “secreted materials from men and from snakes and scorpions.” This may be because mtwt can be read mwtt, which resembles mut, the Afroasiatic word for “man,” and mut  comes from mawut, meaning “to die.” There are a few other reasons I think.

Atum in the Egyptian genesis gives birth to space and time by an act of masturbation: “I had union with my hand, and I embraced my shadow in a love embrace; I poured seed into my own mouth, and sent forth from myself the form of the gods Shu and Tefnut…..” Some of you remember this opening scene from the movie “Shortbus” (2006), where the male protagonist masturbates, ejaculates into his own mouth, and then cries. He is filming the scene for a suicide note dedicated to the love of his life.

If you look at Atum's act in the pyramid text 1248a-d, one of the glyphs is clearly a figure grasping an erect penis in one hand while raising the other high in the air. In Hebrew, the language of God, yad means both hand and penis. Atum ejaculates and then spits out the second stage of existence. Saliva was used in Egypt euphemistically for semen, and this may relate to the anatomical fact that the mouth is at the top of the spine and the penis is at the bottom. It may also relate to the Egyptian association between semen, spinal fluid, and snake venom; mtwt.

Mtwt is mtwt, semen is poison, because semen is life and life is death, but also because Egyptians believed semen, like venom, came from the spine. This conviction may have been based on their understanding of the anatomy of bulls and snakes. However, they were not alone: Onians constructed an image of the prehistoric body according to which the grey matter of the brain, the spinal marrow, and semen are all one substance. Plato characterized semen as “a soft flow from the spine,” Leonardo da Vinci rendered semen coming from the spine in his 1493 drawing, “Copulation.” The Garba Upanishad (5th century BCE) puts it succinctly: “From food blood is born, from blood, flesh; from flesh, fat; from fat, bone; from bone, marrow; from marrow, semen.” Scientists recently created human sperm from bone marrowEgyptian texts also show the close relationship between the backbone, life, and one’s ability to survive after death. That the white bones of a bull would remain on the altar after the purifying fire destroyed the flesh may have been significant. This may be why the ankh is shaped like a bull’s thoracic vertebra, and why Eve, in one version of Genesis, was created from a thoracic bone. In the Jewish midrash, Eve was created from Adam’s tail, “which ended in a sting”. Scorpion venom resembles semen. Talmudist Louis Ginzberg and the Zohar assert that the “almond” bone at the end of the spine fastens the soul to the body and is indestructible. God uses this bone to resurrect decomposed bodies. This may be why the Latin sacrum refers to this holy stone-bone, and why all 72,000 chakras emanate from the root chakra, Kanda. Also, the snake is mostly a living spinal column whose head resembles the glans penis

The snake is a symbol for death and for life and healing. The First Physician, Asclepius, who appears in the opening line of the Hippocratic oath, is symbolized by a snake winding up a staff. Homer places him as the physician in Troy, and his secret healing techniques involve snake venoms. Black mamba venom works as a pain reliever better than morphine. When patients visited an asclepion, they were required to spend the night in a dark “incubation” room with resident snakes and dogs. During incubation they received a dream that would give them the image of their remedy in the form of a snake. Dogs licked their wounds while they slept, spreading good bacteria, and doctors/dream interpreters would help them find the meaning and also administer remedies. It was taboo to give birth or to die in such a place: the modern version is therefore a total blasphemy. The Romans kept great records of these healing temples, and apparently the combination of snakes, dogs and dreams worked well enough. Asclepions flourished and slowly turned into important agents of culture and commerce. To celebrate the miracles, and to increase their rate, Roman emperor Claudius ordered all slaves cured in temples dedicated to Asclepius to be freed. When he died, Asclepius rose into the sky and transformed into the constellation of a serpent. He still visits sick people in a serpent form, and may have also visited the Egyptians, considering Egyptians colonized Greece. The word for dream in Egyptian is oddly enough rswt, which means “to awaken,” and it is drawn with a picture of an open eye. At night we awaken to another world where dreams are dialogues between gods and ghosts.

After the twins Shu and Tefnut are born, Atum is crying. “The one became the three, I united together my generative members, and I shed tears over them, and men and women straightway came into being from the tear drops which came forth from my eye.” Tears, therefore, may be another analog of semen. Avalokiteshvara is said to cry beings because our existence is inextricably connected to the suffering of others. Tears are a kind of mtwt, “the sweat of the soul.”  After the Temple falls, the gates of prayer are locked, but the gates of tears are open. Semen as water relates to rain, “the tears of the sky.”
 

These studies show how semen, as a material fluid, can be many things at once.


Part 2:

Interpretations

The mythology places semen, tears, and autoerotic orgasm at the original metaphor of Genesis. Egyptian paganism lasted relatively unchanged for three thousand years, longer than Greek culture. With the Sumerian masturbation myth, and the popular Judeo-Christian version, it’s safe to say that the semen metaphor has been the leading metaphor for most of history. This may mean something.

Princeton’s Thomas Hare points out the important pun “coming” and how it’s the same in Egyptian. In fact, “Atum” means “coming into being.” Hare: ”The phallus and its seminal trace exist then in a nexus of associations exemplifying, supporting, and extending the power of the father, on the one hand, and promulgating violence, pollution, and danger, on the other. It is, indeed, in this vertiginous pharmacology of the phallus that the Egyptians say the beginning of time.”

Within the “verbal axis” of semen in pyramid text 1248a-d we find the simultaneous birth of time and narcissistic ego. “The genesis of the cosmos in Atum’s masturbation betrays [….] a straightforward phallocentric nostalgia. The reach of male interiority toward the autonomous accomplishment of desire in this most direct corporeal moment has an undeniable elegance and simplicity. But that simplicity cannot hold…”

This myth belongs to the oldest extended body of writing in the world, “and already we see the basic ambivalence about existence in relation to male sexuality and desire.” Atum’s purpose there is pleasure, not parenthood. He acts in complete autonomy of desire, without the need of a partner. “His progeny are accidental, a supplement to the interiority of his autoerotic intent.”

Semen origin myths and male narcissism may relate to the long history of  ignorance of semen’s role in sexual reproduction. Until the time of Egypt and the domestication of animals, it appears civilization did not know about paternity. Moreover, there are virtually no male icons in prehistory. Instead we get thousands of female icons, and a few human-animal hybrids. Gimbutas et al will argue this is evidence for monotheism, intertribal peace, and a gynocentric material culture. It is more likely evidence that women became objects and icons 32,000 years ago, shortly after animals. 

Egyptians bathed four times a day, shaved and circumcised their bodies, and their myths influenced the Hebrew ones. The connection between existence and the fulfillment of male desire may be the archetypal pattern supporting the male gaze and rape culture.

The penis glyph is the determinative for words meaning semen, urine, and “the humors of the body.” It also appears in the words for husband, fetus, offspring, bull, virility, and mother.  Mother and phallus are also involved in the Venus figurines. Hare continues: “Verbs determined with the phallus include “become erect”, “beget” and “impregnate”…. Hereafter, the semiotic network of the phallus glyph becomes more complex. On the one hand, it becomes the index of phallocentric pride in serving as the determinative for a verb meaning “adorn”. But a phallus glyph also determines a word meaning “an evil influence causing disease”, and here our attention must return to the word “semen” quoted earlier…”
“poison”.


Part 3 coming soon. 

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