Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Blood Anxiety in Archaic Communities

Alice C. Linsley

The conception of blood as the substance of life is very ancient. Based on their experience and observation, early humans came to think of blood as the substance of life. Life required blood. This is what stands behind Leviticus 17:11: "For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life."

The earliest humans noted that animals and humans bled when wounded. If a human bled out, he/she died. The spirit left them. There was anxiety that the one who killed would be haunted by that spirit. This is why humans felt anxiety about shedding blood. They regarded blood as having supernatural power. You will recall that the blood of Abel cried to the Creator from the ground.

The one who shed the blood of another human carried blood guilt. They knew it deep inside and it troubled them. They needed a mediator to stand between them and the Creator to restore them by ritual absolution of the blood guilt. This is the likely origin of the priesthood.

Cain, Nimrod, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David were men with blood on their hands. Cain killed Abel. Nimrod was a mighty hunter and a kingdom builder who forged his territory through conquest. Abraham killed in combat. Moses took the life of an Egyptian slave driver. David killed Goliath and arranged for the death of Uriah, Bathsheba's husband. The Bible does not sanitize the lives of these men. They bore blood guilt and they acutely felt the necessity of priestly absolution.

There is evidence in Genesis that a very early designation for the human was the word blood. Adam is likely derived from ha-dam, meaning "the blood." Ha-adam means "the man" or the "human" but also suggests that the earlier word for human was "blood."

Reddish-brown Nubians (Image: Arthur Brack)
These Nubians resemble the red Nabatean warriors
who had long wavy hair and wore feathers.
The terms dam, Adam, and Edom all refer to the color red and have an African context. They are related to the Hausa word odum, meaning red-brown. This is the skin tone of the peoples who lived along the Nile where red-brown clay deposits accumulated after rains washed red silt down from the Ethiopian highlands. This is the region of the world where Abraham's Kushite ancestors lived and it is from them that we receive the story of Adam and Eve as the first created human beings.

Adam was said to be made of the dust of the earth (Gen. 2:7) and this narrative comes from a region where the soil is red or reddish brown due to the high levels of chromic cambisols which produce a strong brown or red color. We may conclude that Adam was a red man.

Blood is the complex and somewhat mysterious transport system that allows communication and coordination between different parts of the human body. It nourishes organs and muscles. Without it, life as we know it could not exist. This is the meaning of Leviticus 17:11: "For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life."

By extension, blood is connected to bone since blood cells develop from hematopoietic stem cells and are formed in the bone. By extension, Eve's being is described as coming from Adam's rib bone. Upon seeing the woman for the first time, Adam declares, "This is now bone of my bones..." (Gen. 2:23).

Blood anxiety was associated with the shedding of blood in hunting, war, and in child bearing. Archaic communities made a distinction also between the blood work of men in killing and the blood work of women in birthing. The two bloods represent the binary opposites of life and death. The blood shed in war, hunting and animal sacrifice fell to warriors, hunters and priests. The blood shed in first intercourse, the monthly cycle and in childbirth fell to wives and midwives. The two bloods were never to mix or even to be present in the same space. Women did not participate in war, the hunt, and in ritual sacrifices, and they were isolated during menses. Likewise, men were not present at the circumcision of females or in the birthing hut.

The mixing of life-giving substances with the blood shed in killing was absolutely forbidden among the Afro-Asiatics. This is why the Israelites were commanded never to boil a young goat it its mother’s milk. It also places into context the Judeo-Christian teaching against abortion, which mixes birth blood with killing blood, thus perverting the binary distinction between male and female to a point of desecration.

It is also significant that among tribal peoples, brotherhood pacts are formed by the intentional mixing of bloods between two men, but never between male and female. The binary distinctions of male and female are maintained as part of the sacred tradition.

Early man had an intuitive anxiety about blood. We see this in the belief that the blood of Abel cries to God from the ground (Gen. 4:10). Anxiety about the shedding of blood is universal and very old. The Priesthood, verifiably one of the oldest known religious institutions, likely came into existence the first day that blood was shed and the individual and the community sought relief of blood anxiety and guilt.

Related reading:  Blood and Binary Distinctions; Blood Guilt and Christ's Priesthood; Why Women Were Never Priests; Ethical Concerns of Archaic Communities; Water and Blood

No comments: