ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
One of the most sacred stories of the Dakota is that of Buffalo Calf Woman. According to this story, two warriors encountered a beautiful maiden on the prairie. One lusted after her and was instantly turned into a rotting carcass. The other accompanied her to the village where Chief Standing Horn assembled the people. She presented them with the sacred pipe, and instructed them in its use. Then the woman went back to the prairie where the people saw her turn into a white buffalo calf and then disappear. When the pipe is smoked on the sacred occasions which alone are appropriate, the people commune with Wakantanka, the Great Spirit, which transcends all.
This myth explains how the divine/human relationship began. The smoking of the pipe by people assembled in a sacred manner for that purpose is the ritual enactment of the myth, its realization in the here and now. From the Dakota point of view, the historical identity of Chief Standing Horn and the experiential event which gave rise to the belief is irrelevant. The religious Dakotas accept the truth of the myth as given.
The most familiar form of this myth is the Christian story of the death and resurrection of Christ. The Catholic mass is a ritual reenactment of this myth, the central event of Christianity. (Holy Communion in Protestant denominations serves the same function.) As Eliade asserts, the mass is a realization in the present of the drama of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. To devout Christians, the events of Holy Week are not historical events locked in time, something that happened in the past. Eliade, who is fond of coining Latin phrases, often uses his favorite phrase in illo tempore, meaning literally “In that time” or “once upon a time,” as all traditional fairy tales begin. That which happened in illo tempore was not just an event like the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 132 C. E., but a happening which was on both the temporal and metaphysical planes. It was an occasion in which there was a divine/human encounter, God acting in and through history. Because of that, the event is not bound either spatially or temporally, but can be experienced anywhere and at any time when, as in this case of this myth, a priest performs the rite of Holy Eucharist.
The Priestly Sacrament
Catholicism emphasizes the point that the spiritual condition of the priest is irrelevant to the efficacy of rituals. The Church made this decision during the fifth century, when Donatism was condemned as a heresy. The Donatists believed that the sacraments were only efficacious when performed by a priest who was spiritually worthy. According to present Catholic dogma, the priest may or may not be so. That is a matter between him and God, and he may well pay the price of his immorality or lack of spirituality. Nevertheless, he is fully competent to administer sacraments such as Holy Eucharist because of the authority vested in him by his ordination.
Priesthood probably arose in settled communities during the Neolithic Era which began around 9000 years ago in various parts of the Near East and Europe, and, at later times, elsewhere in the world. The appearance of female