About the Author
My name is Assi Meshullam. I am a visual artist, an art professor and a lecturer. I have a BA in Art and Archaeology, and an MA in Biblical Studies. As an artist and a teacher, I deal a lot with the connection between contemporary artistic practices and topics like ritual, myth and religion.
The preoccupation with these subjects in art came from a personal attraction to them, which I have experienced from a very young age, and that was always accompanied by intense skepticism and severe conflicts with the "rational half" of my personality.
I come from a cultural background of monotheistic Judaism, which never completely satisfied me ideologically and emotionally, but always intrigued me, especially in its darker and more mysterious areas. From childhood, my attraction to religion always came to light on its more physical and expressive levels: I was moved by the shouts and cries of the worshipers in the synagogue, the blowing of the Shofar, the act of kissing the Torah scroll passing between the audience of the synagogue, the famous "Birkat HaCohanim", the blessing of the priests, in which the priests pray with their faces covered, while spreading their hands towards the crowd. Ever since I was a child, all of these have been for me the most appealing things in religion, but also the ones that most aroused my skepticism, and the slightly sarcastic attitude to the matter.
On the one hand I could not understand how these people believe in an existing and real divine being, and on the other hand I was drawn to it like a butterfly drawn to fire. The mystery gripped me despite my doubts, and made me feel I had to understand it. I must understand these phenomena, and must understand my own attraction to them.
When I reached university age, I applied to Art studies, alongside Archaeology. I have found that in archaeology I can learn a lot about the physical aspects of religion - burials, idols, inscriptions and works of art, temples, altars and the like. It was important to me to understand how mythical thinking is realized and embodied in matter, through ritual. Intellectually it was quite satisfying. The more "spiritual" aspect was provided to me by the study and practice of art, in which I could express my desires for these very themes.
But that was not quite enough. I was looking for more, and the monotheistic, constitutional, patriarchal and so streight faith did not interest or satisfy me. My attraction to physical, corporeal ritual, and the need to feel a connection to something greater than myself, sharpened as I was exposed to various movements of returning to the polytheistic structures of ancient cultures, which have been thriving greatly in recent years.
Yet I have found myself struggling with some core ideas of these movements, especially with the theistic aspects of them, where the belief is in true, actual gods, who have a life of their own and real control over the world, independent of their believers. I had a hard time understanding how people living at the beginning of the third millennium (and under the special circumstances of the Anthropocene era), who know, for example, what we all know today about the moon, can still see it as a deity with its own consciousness and will. This view seemed to me too simplistic, insufficient, a result of living in a constant denial of scientific, rational reality. I could not connect to it, and yet, something was missing from me. Thus I found myself conceiving my most ambitious artistic-textual project to date, the Order of the Unclean.
The Order of the Unclean, as I noted on the introductory page to this site, was an attempt to create a religion without gods, or at least one that treats the various deities as symbolic and metaphorical arrays, rather than as actual beings. I developed a complete philosophical and theological lexicon, which presented ideas of "atheistic" ritual, designed to satisfy those torn between attraction to mysticism and religion, and their rational skepticism. For several years this project has helped me (and hopefully others as well) to satisfy the strange hunger for religious thinking and experience. It influenced my artistic endeavors, my teaching, and also my private life. But even there, something was not enough, and I kept searching (a search, which I wish for myself to never end).
I enrolled in a master’s degree in Biblical Studies and Archaeology, and this time I found myself delving into the most extreme phenomenon of mythical thinking manifested in ritual acts - the practice of human sacrifice. I have studied this practice deeply. In the process, I greatly enriched my knowledge of the history of the region in which I live, which is considered the cradle of civilization (Middle East), but has also always been plagued by extremely bloody religious conflicts (until today). The polytheism of the cultures that lived in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Canaan among them, fascinated me. At the same time, I also continued to study the mythologies of other cultures, mostly European and Native American.
While studying and delving into ancient myths and religions, I was exposed to many theories about interpretation of myths, and also to comparative theories (such as those of William James, Emil Durkheim, Mircea Eliade, Mary Douglas and others), and to how myths were taught as expressions of mind and spirit, through the psychoanalytic works of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan, and more. Now, to the contents I wrote as part of the Order of the Unclean project, new layers were added, and the worldview they expressed became increasingly complex and cohesive. In recent years, I have realized that the body of knowledge that has accumulated so far, transcends the niche boundaries of the Order of the Unclean, which also had a somewhat dark attitude, and not the most inviting character.
Thus, the word Heterosophy came to my mind as an appropriate name for the new developing theology that continued the Order of the Unclean project and in some ways branched off from it. The texts on this website actually explain my worldview and personal experience. The urge to share is not very clear to me, but it does exist. It may be related to me being an artist and a teacher, or to my basic aspiration for a better, more interesting, intriguing, and compassionate world, especially in light of the days we live in.
I hope you will enjoy and find interest in the materials collected and presented here.