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Often, salvation is brought about by the supernal light principle or a part of it descending from above in order to redeem the particles of light for example, souls from the realm of darkness into which they have fallen and in which they are imprisoned. The idea of an inferior nature of the material, which had made its first appearance in Orphism and probably from here entered the Platonic tradition, was intensified by the mythic imagery of a fall that had not been foreseen in the original plan of the creation.


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This dramatization of the subsequent downward movement of the light rays or particles, which became impure only because of the distance from their source, led to an approximation of the Greek conceptualization of the light-darkness polarity to the Iranian type of glaring dualism in Gnosticism.

Thus, the monism of the light, which was philosophically perceived as one substance of different qualities, could very easily turn into a dualism of two irreconcilable substances in Gnostic mythology. It must be stressed here that this kind of light-darkness dualism is not genuinely Iranian. It resulted from a fusion of Greek speculations about light and darkness and the Zoroastrian overall dualism as the structure of the cosmos.


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Gnostic texts present a wide range of interpretations of the light and darkness theme. Some of the myths are heavily dualistic, while other Gnostic treatises in a more philosophical style stress the homogeneity of light and darkness. In Mandaeism and Manichaeism, a fundamentally dualistic structure in conceptualizing the world was prevalent, but this does not mean that light and darkness were consequently subsumed under it.

According to Mandaean myths, the sun, the moon, and the seven planets are evil beings, yet the splendid appearance of the King of Light is compared to the sun.

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In Manichaeism, too, light symbolism was strongly emphasized, but there were also lights of the cosmos that belonged to the reign of darkness. While the sun and the moon were very important light beings and played a considerable part in the salvational processes, the stars were considered evil. This shows that the opposition between good and evil in Mandaean and Manichaean religion was expressed by the light-darkness dichotomy, but good as light and evil as darkness could be attributed to different phenomena.

Particularly in Manichaeism, light and darkness became abstract qualities rather than appearances in the natural world. Similarly, there is no indication that the "King of the Darkness," who attacked the "Hemisphere of Light" and thereby initiated the Manichaean cosmogonic drama, represents the material world or any particular realm of the universe; rather, he seems to be opposed to any imaginable mode of existence.

The "Father of Greatness," on the contrary, is the lord of the world as it is known and experienced by human beings, even though it is infiltrated with particles of darkness in a metaphorical sense. This observation confirms that the Manichaean kind of symbolism does not generally correlate to the appearances of light and darkness in the cosmos. Paradoxically, Manichaeism turned the strictest kind of dualism and light-darkness dichotomy ever developed in the history of religions into a positive attitude toward nature and the cosmos. It is notable in this context that the same elements, namely fire, water, and wind, occur under the reign of light as well as under the one of darkness, while only air under darkness is corrupted as smoke.

Of all the gnostic-type religions, Manichaeism emphasizes the light symbolism most. Since Manichaeism also penetrated Central Asia and even farther east, as far as China, it is not impossible that certain forms of Buddhist light symbolism were influenced by it. Certain aspects of Manichaeism have analogies in Christianity, but the exact nature of these analogies and of the relationship between Christianity and gnosticism in general are still a matter of scholarly controversy.

Surprising analogies with the gnostic systems can also be found in the medieval Jewish Qabbalah, especially in the form that it assumed in the sixteenth century. The Hebrew Bible begins with an account of the creation of light, followed by the creation of the sun and the celestial bodies, but it has no original light or solar mythology.

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In due course, however, light became a symbol of divine presence and salvation: "The Lord is my light and my salvation" Ps. The association of light and sun is preserved in many other biblical passages, especially Malachi "The sun of righteousness shall arise. Early Christianity inherited both the biblical and the contemporaneous Hellenistic philosophical as well as religious light symbolism.

Christ was the sol iustitiae see Mal. In the Roman Catholic rite, the paschal candle is carried into a pitch-dark church with the thrice-repeated exclamation "Lumen Christi. Paul's experience on the road to Damascus was a typical light experience. The Jewish Qumran community had already divided Israel into "children of light" to be ultimately saved and "children of darkness" doomed to eternal damnation — a distinction that was subsequently taken over by Christianity.

The expectation of the advent of Christ was like "a light that shineth in a dark place until … the daystar arose" 2 Pet. Practically all religions give symbolic expression — in mythology, worship, and iconography — of their valuation of light as a symbol of blessing. Even when light and darkness are not diametrically opposed as two hostile principles but are conceived as complementary cosmic modes and creative agents the Chinese yin and yang , there is a marked preference for light.

Thus, yang is light, heaven, active, constructive, masculine, while yin is the opposite. Chinese religious history, too, has its goddesses of light as well as its sects and religious movements including secret societies in which light symbols play a role. There even was a women's sect — officially classified as a "heterodox sect" — called the Light of the Red Lamp, which gained some notoriety through its connections with the Boxer Rebellion around The significance of light is also illustrated by the ritual use of lamps or candles in temples, on altars, in or near tombs, near holy images, or in processions, and by the lighting of fires on special occasions.

Light symbolism is also conspicuous in religious iconography: saints or divine figures have a halo surrounding their head or their whole body or a flame above their head. Amida is easily identifiable by the halo of "infinite" rays emanating from his head. For many Buddhist sects, such as the Japanese Shingon, he is the supreme reality. With the assimilation of Neoplatonic philosophy into Islam after the ninth century, light began to be identified with the divine light principle that is, the intellect, according to some philosophical thinkers emanating into this world, a process corresponding to the elevation of the human soul to the divine light.

The ultimate goal of the mystic is to behold the pure light and beauty of God. Light speculations can be found among orthodox Muslim theologians, mystics, and gnostics including those that were suspected of gnosticizing heresies. Enough has now been said to indicate the special role of ideas and experiences of light illumination, photismos in mystical systems. It seems that mysticism almost automatically resorts to a terminology of light. Greek Orthodox mystical theology emphasizes the doctrine of the divine, "uncreated light" through which the mystic achieves union with God.

The New Testament account of the transfiguration of Christ Luke 9 supplied the basis for this mystical theology, and hence Mount Tabor is one of its central symbols. This doctrine, rejected as heretical by the Roman Catholic Church , exhibits some interesting analogies with the qabbalistic doctrine of the sefirot.

While mysticism of light and illumination cf. That is the doctrine of mystical darkness, variants of which can be found in many religious traditions.


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  4. A comparable concept becomes already apparent as the concealment of god in the Ramessid theology during the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt thirteenth century bce. The idea can be interpreted as a mystical translation of the mythical night. The Christian doctrine of mystical darkness appears first in the New Testament as Kenosis. Kenosis is mentioned in Philippians and presumably goes back to a pre-Pauline source. It designates Christ's negation of divine power in order to take up the sufferings of humans and the whole world in his own person.

    The concept of mystical darkness was then taken up and elaborated in the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite probably c. His influence, mediated to the medieval West by John Scotus Eriugena c. Philo Judaeus c. For Dionysius, God is so utterly unknowable, and his essence so utterly beyond our reach, that all our knowledge of him is perforce "negative.

    It is not light but, from the point of view of human understanding, utter darkness. This doctrine reappears in the famous fourteenth-century English mystical treatise The Cloud of Unknowing. The sixteenth-century Spanish mystic John of the Cross similarly describes the path of the soul to total union with God as the ascent through two "dark nights": that of the senses that is, loss of all discursive thought, feeling, and images and that of the spirit. In other words, mysticism is not the enjoyment of charismatic graces, illuminations, or supernaturally infused higher knowledge. Using an Old Testament image, it is not the Pillar of Fire that went before the camp of the Children of Israel at night, but rather the Cloud of Darkness.

    In this tradition, we do not, however, deal with an option of darkness as opposed to light in the ordinary sense but rather with a dialectically paradoxical response to the traditional and commonplace "mysticism of light," which is here represented as totally inadequate to describe the nature of the mystical union with the utterly unknowable absolute divine transcendence.

    Apart from the entries "Light and Darkness" by J. MacCulloch et al. Volume 18 of the German journal Studium Generale provides a number of separate articles on light and darkness in ancient Egyptian religion, ancient Iranian traditions, Greek poetry, and alchemy. Aalen, Sverre. Oslo, Bultmann, Rudolf. Cumont, Franz. Lux perpetua New York , Zurich, Goodenough, Erwin R.

    New Haven , Izutsu, Toshihiko. Essays in Islamic Mystical Philosophy , pp. Ashland, Ore. But when the telescope hits a glitch and an alarm on their laptops sounds, they have to figure out what the problem is—fast. More than most sciences, astronomy depends on the sense of sight; before astronomers can reimagine the universe as a whole, they first have to figure out how to perceive the dark parts.

    Knowing what dark matter is would help scientists think about how the structure of the universe forms. Knowing what dark energy does would help scientists think about how that structure has evolved over time—and how it will continue to evolve. Scientists have a couple of candidates for the composition of dark matter—hypothetical particles called neutralinos and axions. One way to study it is to measure so-called baryon acoustic oscillations. When the universe was still in its infancy, a mere , years old, it cooled sufficiently for baryons particles made from protons and neutrons to separate from photons packets of light.

    This separation left behind an imprint—called the cosmic microwave background—that can still be detected today. The peaks of those oscillations represent regions that were slightly denser than the rest of the universe. And because matter attracts matter through gravity, those regions grew even denser as the universe aged, coalescing first into galaxies and then into clusters of galaxies. Another approach to defining dark energy involves a method called gravitational lensing.

    If two clusters of galaxies lie along a single line of sight, the foreground cluster will act as a lens that distorts light coming from the background cluster.

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    This distortion can tell astronomers the mass of the foreground cluster. By sampling millions of galaxies in different parts of the universe, astronomers should be able to estimate the rate at which galaxies have clumped into clusters over time, and that rate in turn will tell them how fast the universe expanded at different points in its history. If a photon from the latter interacts with hot gas in a cluster, it experiences a slight increase in energy. Detecting this energy allows astronomers to map those clusters and measure the influence of dark energy on their growth throughout the history of the universe.

    That, at least, is the hope.

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    The SPT team focuses on galaxy clusters because they are the largest structures in the universe, often consisting of hundreds of galaxies—they are one million billion times the mass of the Sun. As dark energy pushes the universe to expand, galaxy clusters will have a harder time growing. They will become more distant from one another, and the universe will become colder and lonelier.

    Yet all these methods come with a caveat. They assume that we sufficiently understand gravity, which is not only the force opposing dark energy but has been the very foundation of physics for the past four centuries. Twenty times a second, a laser high in the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico aims a pulse of light at the Moon, , miles away. Photons from the beam bounce off the mirror and return to New Mexico. Total round-trip travel time: 2.

    Even so, astronomers know that they take gravity for granted at their own peril. They have inferred the existence of dark matter due to its gravitational effects on galaxies, and the existence of dark energy due to its anti-gravitational effects on the expansion of the universe. What if the assumption underlying these twin inferences—that we know how gravity works—is wrong? Can a theory of the universe even more outlandish than one positing dark matter and dark energy account for the evidence? To find out, scientists are testing gravity not only across the universe but across the tabletop.

    All sorts of other things may be exerting a gravitational influence. So far, they do. He spent the last 30 years of his life trying to reconcile his physics of the very big with the physics of the very small—quantum mechanics. He failed. Theorists have come up with all sorts of possibilities in an attempt to reconcile general relativity with quantum mechanics: parallel universes, colliding universes, bubble universes, universes with extra dimensions, universes that eternally reproduce, universes that bounce from Big Bang to Big Crunch to Big Bang. Adam Riess, an astronomer who collaborated with Brian Schmidt on the discovery of dark energy, says he looks every day at an Internet site xxx.

    For all its advances, astronomy turns out to have been laboring under an incorrect, if reasonable, assumption: what you see is what you get. Yet cosmologists tend not to be discouraged. Richard Panek wrote about Einstein for Smithsonian in His book on dark matter and dark energy will appear in Subscribe or Give a Gift. Sign up.

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