In my last post on this topic I briefly outlined the topic of humanity's yearning for a utopian spiritual experience. This "nostalgia for paradise," (a term coming from Mircea Eliade's landmark book on Shamanism, more recently used as a book title by Orthodox writer Dr. Alexander Kalomiros) reaches out to the histories, experiences, and myths of religions across the vast landscape of human experience. In religious revival after religious revival, in culture after culture, and in spiritual ecstatic experience after spiritual ecstatic experience humanity continues through the centuries to exhibit a deep yearning.
Among the stories which spark the hope for paradise, and gather people together in communities of faith, which exhibit this search for something better an oft repeated theme is a hero's ascent into the heavens.
The ultimate expression of heroic ascent into the heavens is found in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. The repetition of this theme both prior, and following 1st century AD highlights the importance of a spiritually superior human having the capacity to access heaven either physically or spiritually and thereby guarantee a path toward paradise, or a potential from bring paradise down to humanity. Though ascension themes do not always entail bringing paradise down - as in the case of often turbulent Greek, Roman, and Nordic Pagan dieties, seeking a blessing or discovering a paradise still often remains a part of the search in the heavens.
The stories of Mohammed relate his ascension on a winged horse in the year 621. This ascension dream was filled with words from Allah declaring the truth and integrity of the messenger Mohammed. The winged horse ascension was used as a verification of Mohammed's position as a restorer of true, and unadulterated religion.
The story of Zoroaster/Zarathustra may include his ascension into the heavens to receive the law, and an ascension in the great flame.
The more recently developed mythology of the Ascended Masters includes a list of ascensions by numerous historical personages whose ascensions were marks of holiness, and supposed evidence of the restoration of true spirituality they brought during their time on earth.
There is debate about the place of ascension in the stories of the Siberian Shamans. Ronald Hutton suggests that Eliade placed a Christianized interpretation of the Siberian Shaman's ascents. Yet, the spiritual movement upward upon the world tree, or the ascent of the Cosmic Mountain (descent elements of these symbols will be addressed later) to communicate with a great god, or any number of spirits still speaks to the idea of ascent upwards and outside the realm of this visible world into the "heavens" for lack of a better word.
In this particular symbolic element of Shamanic journey Christ's story is of unique dramatic power. Beyond the ascent of the tribal Shaman, Christ goes on to be seated at the Throne in Heaven. His ascension follows the brutal death, and victorious resurrection story as Jesus shows Himself to be the conqueror over the greatest physical enemy of humanity - death. The ascent takes place in before the eyes of his followers, and He promises a return with paradise in his wake.