12. Reading Tea Leaves

Picking up some threads. 

Recall that Vico imagined the beginning of society as a consequence of the giants, degenerate humans in the aftermath of the Flood, first encountering thunder and lighting.  This encounter terrified them and motivated the institution of marriage and burial.  The god of thunder, of the sky, was the first god.  Alongside these institutions, and I didn’t mention this in my previous post, the practice of divination also came about as a consequence of the transformation of consciousness engendered by the storm.*  Since, the giants communicated by signs, they took lightning and thunder to be signs of the sky god to be physical words, and that nature, therefore, was the language of the god.**  Sacrifice follows on the institution of divination, “which were offered to ‘procure’ the auspices, that is, to interpret them correctly.”

Departing from a summary of Vico and into my own imaginative interpretation of the truths embodied within, thunder and lightning bring awareness, and therefore fear, of death to the giants.  Only in becoming aware of our death do we become truly aware of our lives, our selves, and, just as in history, it is only in view of our end that we can being to find meaning within.***  Yet, because our death is the threshold upon which we cross into dissolution, into not-us, we enter into the sphere of mystery here.  Our meaning is discerned in view of that which lies beyond us. 

It is necessary, then, that awareness of death and the awareness of life that accompanies it serves as a motive for companionship, marital and civil, because we form our selves in communion.   

Necessary to is that the awareness of life as meaningful and the awareness that this meaning lies outside ourselves leads to an attempt to divine the expression that mystery in nature. Divination is an attempt to read meaning out from the world, rooted in a recognition that meaning is present therein and expressed through the material.  Reading, which necessarily requires a separation from the thing itself (three levels: being–>word signifying that being–>word as present within the reader), because Being is not fully legible in beings, we must interpret.  Hence the possibility of mistaking, or missing, the oracle.****

Sacrifice, as Vico writes, is a mode of securing interpretation.  Is this because it is a sort of offering back of a meaning-bearer to the source of meaning?  The choice of an animal rooted in a recognition of life as a more complete expression of Being (the order of being as a hierarchy, rocks, etc. –> plants –> animals –> humans)?

The sacrificial ritual itself is symbolic act, the union of sign and signified in the victim enables the penetration of the veil of beings into the mystery.  The victim’s body sanctified by contact with the divine, no longer simply a meaning-bearer but a mystery-bearer, which can then be communicated through ritual consumption.  We participate by the incorporation of the mystery-bearer into our own being, you are what you eat, and thus our ability to read is ensured, if only for a moment. 

Poetically expressed:

The Reader

The mask was gone now, burned away
(from inside)
by God’s gaze

There was no
I, there

was no he–

there was no text, only
what the words stood for;
and then

what all things stand for

Franz Wright

*Civil society is then founded upon these ritual acts.  The foundation of society, therefore, is religion and, interestingly, fear (shades of the conclusion of the Oresteia here). 

**Worth noting, Vico takes the Old Testament prohibitions on divination to be a sure sign that Christianity is the true religion. 

***Awareness of death is also the mark of our greatness and the cause of our despair.  Great, because we know ourselves as significant.  Despairing, because we cannot penetrate the sign.

****This morning there was a white fawn in the park behind my house.  What might it signify?


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