Martyrs who die fighting for Islam are promised seventy-two virgins in paradise.
Scholars argue over whether this was actually ever promised in sacred texts. They debate too whether there was a correct interpretation of the concept. One scholar, Christoph Luxenberg*, suggests that a more accurate articulation would be something like ‘white raisins of crystal clarity’ rather than delightful virgins.
Of course, the whole idea is a metaphor for the pleasure that awaits the faithful in the after-life.
My own musings on this, deconstructing the patriarchal sexism, have pondered whether the promise of middle-aged, male virgins would be quite so alluring.
Fight the good fight and your reward will be a posse of clumsy, embarrassed and apologetic blokes nervously awaiting your advances.
Like geeks the world over, they might suggest that all your problems could be fixed if you would just switch off the machine, wait a few seconds and then switch it on again. A bit like death and reincarnation.
All of this is a preamble to a spiritual rant against certainty and religious indoctrination. Religious leaders, all leaders, should have higher ethical standards. They should know better than to manipulate insecure people with false promises. Seventy-two virgins!
There are essential tools that everyone should have in their tool bag of spiritual skills and practices. One of these is to be wisely sceptical of snake-oil salesmen, false prophets and spiritual teachers who offer certainty. To put it another way, people on the path of spiritual development need to be comfortable with unknowing.
The path of love, compassion and expanded consciousness, is full of mystery and unknowing.
I was in an enjoyable dialogue recently with a group of Jungian therapists. For me, that is a good mix: Explore archetypes and unseen connections, and care for people.
One very nice guy pondered that the path of spiritual growth seemed to him to be a complete waste of time. You end up, he mused, in this eternal, ecstatic, white light state. That was it. A brick wall. Nothing more. Boring. A waste of time.
I loved the provocation.
No, I responded, it is not like that at all. In my experience, and echoing many other mystics, what happens is this:
On our spiritual journey, we do indeed enter an ecstatic state. But it does not end there.
Using spiritual practices, we repeat being in that ecstatic state.
We develop those practices (usually in meditation) so consistently that the ecstatic state becomes a plateau, a normal experience. It is no longer a peak experience. We have expanded and that altered state of consciousness is now our norm.
Then, from that plateau, we continue to develop and grow. Our consciousness, our awareness of all that is, expands. And so we then, on a higher turn of the spiral, reach a new peak, a new plateau of experience
But that process of consciousness expansion and spiritual growth is always at an edge of mystery. It is a mystery because we are not capable of comprehending what comes next.
That is the essence of consciousness expansion. To repeat, we are not able to comprehend the next state – because it is beyond our current level of consciousness.
We don’t know what we will meet when our consciousness expands. We can only guess at, intuit or imagine, what the next state of consciousness will be like.
It is an unfolding mystery.
So . . . Far from ‘enlightenment’, ‘samadhi’ or ‘nirvana’ being a boring waste of time, a brick wall, the end, there is further exploration of the new — into something even more divine, extra-ordinary and metaphysical. It is an unfolding mystery.
It is essential then that we have that tool in our spiritual tool-bag, that we can be comfortable with unknowing.
It also calls for courage and purpose, wisdom, increased love, compassion and benevolence — as we melt and rebirth in the ocean of cosmic fire.
What could be more exciting?
Ah, asks the martyr, what about the seventy-two virgins?
The middle-aged geeks? I respond affectionately. I don’t think so.
The real reward is far more extraordinary, incomprehensible and enjoyable.
* ‘Die Syro-Aramaische Lesart des Koran’ quoted in The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/books/2002/jan/12/books.guardianreview5
for some reason, this virgin article really provoked me!
EcoSpirituality as the Glue of Choice
As we move towards an interconnected world at all levels, every fragmentation box loses its isolated nature and just becomes part of the whole, an interconnected Field of Reference. This is a Primary Insight.
To deal in Primary Insights, we have to source to origins, the diversity of modern interpretations carrying a personal agenda to include rather than exclude as guiding principles. This creates an inner world of coherence rather than chaos. In old-speak, to make sense of it rather than defer to the popular cop-out: ‘We live in a crazy world’.
Unless, by crazy, what you actually mean is it’s miraculous, marvellous, and mind bogglingly awe-inspiringly beautiful and wonderful. Offering a totality of examples of how-to-be and how-to-be an aligned part of it all. (Shakespeare might point out that we are doing a rather too good job of the ‘how-not-to-be’.)
This, of course, is EcoSpirituality. At this point, we need to gather together the great diversity of global viewpoints. These form the roots of an EcoSpiritual perspective. Show its potential as the Glue of Choice. Of course, we can continue to pursue the dualistic model and mindset in all its forms. Even though it clearly isn’t serving the species homo sapiens very well.
EcoSpirituality is just a word, like any other word. Three times removed from reality on the reality-model-image-picture-word continuum. It’s just another term with no absolute ability, fixed identity. For that, if you want that, go to Nature, experience, personal experience, the best verifiers of all.
To use common-speak, the following are four boxes EcoSpirituality ticks. Why it roots the Field as Glue of Choice for an interconnected world.
1 The science is in on it. Biomimics. It’s essential, in these days of Scientism, to get scientific approval heading up the list.
2 Conflation is the next tool to grab with both hands. EnergySpirit. They are the same thing. Two ways of seeing (before we bring on board chi, prana, the breath, life force,) that have kept science and spirituality opposed as bitter enemies for too long.
3 First Peoples’ Beliefs. We may, sometimes, treat First Peoples better – as we are learning to do with every minority group. But still, it’s a stretch for most to revere First Peoples as the repository of ancient wisdom needing reinvention, reincorporation, on the past-present-future continuum.
4 Culture-of-birth programmes us. If you have ever lived in a closed or isolated community, first hand experience of this ring-fenced mindset proves, over-proves even, the science on child development pre-6 year old. As children, we are programmed long before we are fully conscious.
What’s more, it sticks lifelong, as patterns of thinking, even if the beliefs themselves change.
Placing the multitude of global beliefs within this framework would take a book or more, to fully explore. Suffice it to say the move towards God – the man-like omnipotent deity, with a very small goddess figure alongside, despite the old Mother Earth philosophy, is the most arrogant patriarchal stand the cultures of the last few centuries have thrown up. (GOD as Greatest Overview Divine is the wholistic way to deconstruct, dismantle, this thinking wall.) At its worst, the arch-biased overlord mentality has been flagged up as promoting our secular culture’s real focus of worship – the acquisition of power and money far beyond personal needs. Competition. .With no intent of serving or service to balance it. Co-operation, symbiosis. This is anti-nature’s model. It is not life-serving, life-enhancing or life-promoting.
My personal bias is towards the native American ‘nature as teacher’ with its emphasis on saving enough for the next seven generations. But to go into any sacred space – made sacred by human intention, inspiring humility, love, peace, gratitude, compassion, all the positive emotions, – is always a step in the right direction.
Artists know, more than most, the deep bond that forms between themselves and their creations. Is this not clue enough that energy-into-matter, spirit-into-felt-experience, is the transformational point we can all access, when we open to its potential?
So we come to put human hierarchising in the dock as the culprit who, after long investigation, is revealed as a major force in forming cultural opinion. It’s not immediately obvious of course, only from the position of Primary Insight. When we ask of ourselves the seminal question: ‘What is really important to me?’ Then our own hierarchy shines bright as the sun.
Putting nature ‘on top’ restores its real-life position on Planet Earth. Which I call EarthCentrism https://www.resurgence.org/magazine/article3769-elements-of-existence.html…….. It’s an alternative to Anthropocentrism. Yes, you can see it as setting up yet another duality from the gargantuan list of diversities Earth freely provides. Or choose to put it into the longer time-frame of cyclical behaviour on an evolutionary, upward-spiralling growth path. The place our species started and to which it is slowly moving today through biomimicry or biocentrism, aided by the shifting perspectives across the full spectrum of the development of human understanding.
EcoSpirituality lets us stand in both camps simultaneously – science and spiritual, the EnergySpirit meld, in a non-biased, non-partial, non-prejudiced kind of way. In other words, EcoSpiritulity is worth championing.
Thank you William for putting all that into words, which is not an easy feat.
(Personally, I’m not bothered about middle aged male virgins either.)
Nice! And isn’t the state of unknowing a ‘virgin’ state? In this light the 72 young virgins are 72 mysterious doors before which you stand….. after which follow 72 per door more…..endlessly on…..
Btw, love the idea of a mystery school, would love to be a part of that co-creation!
Ps, how is nr 72 significant? Does someone know?
Well! I had to use ChatGPT and asked why 72. This is its response:
The idea of 72 virgins is not actually mentioned in the Quran, which is the holy book of Islam. Rather, it is a concept that is found in certain Islamic texts and traditions, such as some hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) and tafsir (exegesis) literature.
The origin of the number 72 is not entirely clear, and different scholars and sources have offered different explanations. Some suggest that it is simply a symbolic number that represents a large, indefinite quantity, similar to how the number 40 is often used symbolically in the Bible and other religious texts. Others point to possible numerological or astrological associations with the number 72 in pre-Islamic Arab culture.
It’s worth noting, however, that the concept of being rewarded with virgins or other physical pleasures in the afterlife is not a central tenet of Islamic belief. While there is a belief in paradise (Jannah) as a place of reward for the righteous, the emphasis is generally on spiritual and moral rewards rather than material ones. Moreover, the concept of a physical paradise with earthly pleasures is not unique to Islam, and can be found in other religious traditions as well.
Hi, I would be interested to know more about the modern mystery school related course
You will find the relevant blogs here:
And anyone on William’s eLetter list will be informed when everything is organised and scheduled.
Someone once told me his struggle: he had once an enormous moment of enlightment but asked himself, and now what.
Will there come another moment of that, or happens that just once in your life and how to go on etc.
I once read a wonderful image for this: compare enlightment as a farmer who ploughs the earth and then one day one moment he looks up, gets this enourmous insight, it really splashes upon him, but then he gathers himself again, he rolls up his sleeves even further and continues the ploughing. Not that nothing has changed, everything has changed! but now the real works starts: holding that ultimate mixture of stardust and incarnation we are.
Your words had me laughing out loud. For several minutes. My husband had to come and find out what was going on. I was still laughing later in the shower. “Fight the good fight and your reward will be a posse of clumsy, embarrassed and apologetic blokes nervously awaiting your advances.”
Great post, not only the humour but the message in it.
You always make me smile in your musings William ☺️🙏🏼Those who say connecting with our divinity is boring probably haven’t realised or reached that state of bliss or overwhelming love. I hope one day they can experience this.
Exciting to hear of your new venture and the Wisdom School. Look forward to hearing more.
I actually painted a piece called ” the land of 72 virgins” portraying a kind of lascivious hell state. It’s on my web site, shaalahivory.com
Yikes! I found your painting: https://shaalahivory.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Land-of-seventy-virgins-colour-scaled.jpg
I like to cast this problem in the active rather than the passive voice. So rather than being comfortable with unknowing, I think of it as love of learning. In 1996 the lama Namgyal Rinpoche gave a lecture on the 14 factors of enlightenment. The first two were just this: an inexhaustible, ubiquitous curiosity, and the state of ecstatic absorption that arises when one fiercely pursues the knowledge, the possibility of which sparks that curiosity. (It echoes William James’ “strenuous mood”.)I consider that the blank wall encountered by nihilists, cynics, atheists and sometimes even agnostics is generally constructed by a profound lack of imagination. Just ask any artist!
Interesting, intelligent, funny 💚
Hi William I loved your musings on both male and female virgins. It made me think of what drives people? What do they want to achieve or what is the end goal? Bit like therapy, why are you here? To reach an understanding? Not very often. To not know the answer? Which often happens and is not very well received. We seem driven to find the answers. As I get older I find I know very little these days.
What a joy to read this article.
Being comfortable with the unknown is a great challenge for me. One that life patiently presents me with over and over of course. It is so helpful to embrace this as a concept as spiritual bypassing lures around every corner, never mind the ego/personality construct that always likes to offer an ‘answer’.
Exciting news about the modern mystery school related course. Many blessings for the birth of this new project.