Untitled - Down this rabbit hole

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Untitled - Down this rabbit hole
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Contents
The Origin of Hellenistic Culture
The Origin of Hellenism……………………………………………………6
Greek Creation Myths: Hesiod’s Theogony……………………………10
The Greek Gods and Goddesses:
Aphrodite……………………………………………………………………26
Apollo………………………………………………………………………...31
Ares………………………………………………………………………..…34
Artemis………………………………………………………………….…...37
Asclepius……………………………………………………………………..40
Athena……………………………………………………………………….45
Demeter………………………………………….…………………………..49
Eros………………………………………………………………………...…53
Hephaestus………………………………………………………………….63
Hera…………………………………………………………………………..67
Hermes……………………………………………………………………….71
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Hestia…………………………………………………………………………75
Poseidon……………………………………………………………………...78
Zeus…………………………………………………………………………...82
Prometheus: The Benefactor of Mankind……………………….……..87
Minoan Crete
The Birth of the Minoan Empire……………………………………….100
Minoan Lunar Consciousness………………………………………….116
The Labyrinth……………………………………………………………..132
Legends of the Labyrinth and Minotaur……………………………..143
Hellenistic Folklore
Christmas Goblins: The Greek Kallikantzaroi………………………152
Classical Hades: A Chapter in the History of Hell…………...…….163
The Greek Nymph………………………………………………………..175
The Greek Vampire………………………………………………………185
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Hellenistic Philosophy
Plato, Neoplatonism, and the Renaissance………………………….197
Plato’s Atlantis: Fact or Fiction?.........................................................215
Pythagoras of Samos: Philosopher, Mystic, or Shaman?...............231
Hellenistic Esotericism
The Greek Gods and Goddesses
in Light of Analytical Psychology…………………………..…………244
The Greek Gods and Goddesses, the “Apotheosis of Washington,”
and the Masonic Connection…………………………………………...250
The Ancient Greek Concept of Fate and the Judeo-Christian Notion
of Free Will…………………………………………………………………263
Fate or Free Will: Which Will it be?.....................................................270
Short Biography………………………………………………………….281
Copyright © 2013 by Paul Kiritsis
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any
means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording,
taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written
permission of Paul Kiritsis except in the case of brief quotations embodied in
critical articles and reviews.
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THE ORIGIN OF HELLENISM
Greeks have retained a distinct and very powerful identity over
the millennia, but have you ever wondered how this came about?
Have you ever wondered why the essence of Hellenism is wholly
contained in three unifying principles–family, country and
religious belief?
To understand the idea of Hellenism we must again turn to
the past, to pre-800BCE in fact. This was an exciting time for the
peoples who would later define themselves as Greeks. It was a
time when the Greek gods and goddesses or “archetypes” freely
communicated with their mortal vessels, and thus the era might
be described as both gold laden and fruitful despite the
devolutionary process which unfolded whereby humankind was
taking giant strides towards the frontiers of war, violence,
bloodshed and destruction.
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At this particular time, a Smyrna-born poet named Homer
was busy marrying bits and pieces of historical tradition with his
own personal fantasies of pugnacious heroes to create two epic
poems, The Odyssey and The Iliad. The poems themselves were
quintessentially myths, powerful and all-encompassing in their
extraordinary rendition of the cosmos, and like all myths they
commanded a kind and type of obedience and reverence which
more often than not culminated in socio-political consequences.
Therefore, it would be right to say that when Homer was weaving
together his two masterpieces he wasn’t merely recounting the
biographies and fantastical adventures of lion-hearted heroes like
the demi-god Achilles, King Agamemnon of Mycenae and King
Odysseus of Ithaca or entertaining the imaginatively and
romantically inclined at bedtime; he was unconsciously uniting
the historical traditions of three distinct clusters of Greekspeaking people–Dorians, Mycenaeans and Ionians–who had
evolved independently of one another until then.
There seems to be increasing uncertainty as to whether
Homer actually existed or not. Some scholars have suggested that
the two epic poems weren’t written by a single writer at all, but
are rather the collected striving of a group of writers united by
homogenous intent (quite like the Hermetic or Biblical scriptures).
Their argument is hinged on the fact that two-word descriptions
like swift-footed and lovely-haired appear in the main copy of the
poems time and time again, implying that it was possible for a
wide array of poets to write using the same template and thus
sound like the same writer. Whether it was a single genius who
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wrote them or an entire school of writers is irrelevant to us. The
fact remains–they were written!
The Iliad itself is the first instance we come across the
word barbarophonoi, a term which explicitly referred to the
inarticulate and crude manner in which the Carians spoke Greek.
Although the word was initially used by Homer to demarcate
linguistic differences in the manner that Greek was spoken by its
indigenous speakers and the Carians who fought in the Trojan
War, its creation spawned a predawn glimpse of days that would
see humanity divide itself into Greeks and non-Greeks or
barbarians. What I mean by this is that the word evolved to
denote peoples who spoke languages that were in no way, shape
or form connected to the Greek tongue. From about 800BCE
onwards, the Greek city states had become wholly saturated by
Homer’s ethnological dichotomy and began to act as such.
Lamentably, the Greek city states were sometimes anything
but
morally
and
ethically
superior
to
the
neighbouring
‘barbarians’ they were trying to civilise. It was common for them
to deride one another’s cultural disparities, and they often
pursued political aims and agendas so far removed from a
common aim that bloody wars were inevitable. Take Athens and
Sparta for example, two city states that were almost always
squabbling and at war with one another. The former was a
democracy which cultivated the expression of the psyche through
the visual arts, the written word and crafts, whereas the latter
was a monarchy obsessed with physical conditioning and priming
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its male citizens for battle. They may as well have been chalk and
cheese!
Despite these marked differences, the few similarities they
shared in language and a newfound mythological heritage was all
that they needed to bind together during times of external threat.
The new paradigm of judging people as either Greek or non-Greek
somehow transcended other marginal values competing for selfexpression in the group consciousness of each Greek city state.
The Olympic Games which began in Greek proper between 800
and 720BCE crystallised this newfound identity. Once upon a
myth Agamemnon had united the Greek kingdoms under a single
aegis for the sake of subjugating Troy and reclaiming the
beautiful Helen, showing the Greeks that they could only triumph
if they banded together. And band together they did, for the
Greeks drew inspiration from the Homeric epics and repeatedly
subdued the Persians between 499-449BCE.
If we return to the notion that the cord which bound the
Greek city states together was tenuous at best and that their
marked
differences
Persians,
Romans,
amounted
Arabs,
to
periodic
Venetians,
subjugation
Ottoman
Turks
by
and
Germans, then it defied all odds that a distinct Hellenic
consciousness was able to survive into contemporary times at all!
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GREEK CREATION MYTHS: HESIOD’S THEOGONY
As we have thus far discerned, myths are humankind’s earliest
attempts to explain the phenomena of the universe. Most
primordial cultures did this by unconsciously projecting their
inner psychic terrain onto the suprapersonal powers that
mediated their immediate surrounds and formative environment.
The vital need to ascertain a sense of order in an often chaotic
outer realm led to the creation of stories that personified the
forces and assimilated them into a coherent knowledge system
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accessible to all adherents of a particular culture. Human beings
relate best to one another and to the world at large when they use
the archetypes of the collective unconscious as tools of
perception and interpretation, and our ancient ancestors would
have been no different. As inheritors of a faculty for reasoning,
they would have wanted to make sense out of celestial, terrestrial
and aquatic phenomena as well as to discern how this prevailing
natural order had come to be.
The search for an origin prompted the creation of a
particular sort of mythic narrative known as a cosmogony. This
word is of Greek origin and literally means ‘the birth of order’.
For primitive man the concept of ‘order’ would have no doubt
revolved around the rotation of the heavens and the seasons,
meteorology, and the socio-political mechanisms of the group or
tribe that enables efficient functioning and facilitates a basic
sense of normalcy and wellbeing. Order is essential because it
ensures stability. Stability, on the other hand, is the foundation
stone of longevity, indestructibility, and survival. Over and above
their spiritual orientation towards an animistic worldview, early
human beings were vastly preoccupied with subsisting in a
greater cosmos that would have appeared as mysterious and
dangerous as it was beautiful. But to subsist it was imperative
that they understood the things around them, their inherent
nature, and from where they had sprung. They didn’t know what
had transpired before their arrival, so they had to make do with a
version of events bequeathed to them by their imaginations, and
specifically by the image-forming proficiencies of their mythmakers or mythographers.
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Coincidentally, mythical narratives centred on the birth of
the universe are ubiquitous across all worldly cultures. Whilst
many cosmologists have attempted to explain this phenomenon
in the context of cross-cultural interaction, an even likelier
possibility is that the archetypal contents of the rational psyche
are indigenous to the human condition. Hence any concrete
manifestations that arise from unconscious irruptions like myths,
fantasies, visions, and rituals will differ only in their individual
mode of expression. Moreover, almost all creation myths begin by
dropping their audience into a primeval origin, a cold and dark
dimension without time, space, or created matter that is about to
differentiate through supernatural means. Many cosmogonies,
particularly those from ancient Egypt and Greece, define this
space as a primordial ocean of chaos encompassing infinite
potential. From this primeval slime comes the physical universe
together with the vault of the heavens with the stars and
planetary spheres, the earth together with its chthonic aspects,
the elements, as well as paraphysical and physical creatures,
animals, and human beings. More often than not, this all-defining
moment is preceded by the spontaneous appearance of selfgenerating vortices that spew forth a deity or a series of deities.
Perhaps the most widely recognized of these is the Biblical
Genesis in which the dramatic account of worldly creation is
heeded by an eternal being called Yahweh who hovers in
rumination over the illimitable abyss of the primordial waters.
Water here is a symbol for a rudimentary condition of
amorphousness and action potential that is yet to participate in
the formative endeavours that create time, space, height, depth,
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breadth, consciousness, intelligence, and spirit. We could equate
this chaos with the alchemical prima materia , the basic
substance of which everything in the cosmos is comprised of.
Whatever the case, the infinite potential for dimensions and
worlds evaporates and the primordial sludge condenses into the
one we recognize as our own.
The oldest Hellenistic myth centred on the genesis of the
cosmos and the gods themselves comes to us from Hesiod, a poet
who thrived around 700BCE near the slopes of Mt Helicon in
Boeotia. It is appropriately titled the Theogonia, a Greek name
which translates to ‘the birth of the gods’. Hesiod lived and wrote
at a time when the supernatural undercurrent of mythic
consciousness was still highly integrated with municipal life, and
so the myth transmits an aural and written tradition in which
though processes were fairly unrefined and details about creation
both spiritual and nebulous. In the poem, for instance, the
masculine and feminine polarities of consciousness personified
as Gaia (Earth) and Ouranos (Sky) begin life as a single entity
before the former gives birth to the latter. On one hand they are
the natural elements that have come into being and will wage war
against one another and on the other they are the autonomous
psychic entitles of unconscious and conscious that aim to bring
about the nobility of civilization. This concept is represented
symbolically through the vehement overthrow of an older
generation of deities by a newer one. Representing the first order,
Gaia and Ouranos rule the cosmos for an indefinite period of time
but are steadfast replaced by their children, Rhea and Kronos,
who are significantly more refined. These two are later replaced
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by an even more sophisticated order of divine beings heeded by
Zeus and Hera, the king and queen of the mighty Olympians. The
struggle between generations and the eventual victory of the
younger breed illuminates the evolutionary ascent of human
beings on the cosmic ladder of creation and their subjugation of a
disordered and often volatile phenomenal world through the
imposition of reason and willpower. In subduing the Titans, Zeus
and his Olympian followers distanced themselves from the
barbaric, antiquated, wild, reckless and savage ways of their
immediate predecessors and fulfilled an eternal law whereby
rationality and order will always have the upper hand over the
contingencies of irrational chaos.
As literary devices operating within a cultural context myths
are exceedingly powerful. In fashioning them the earliest
Hellenistic poets (i.e. Homer and Hesiod) were not only handing
down fictitious tales whose primary aim was to amuse and
entertain but also presenting innovative archetypal models by
which
reality
might
be
measured.
In
providing
logical
explanations or hypotheses about the origin and nature of the
world, the mythographers were unconsciously creating a system
of nascent knowledge that would go on to influence the cultural
and socio-political fabric of society. Hesiod’s Theogony gives us
some of the first glimpses of characteristics and qualities that
would eventually form the communal landscape of classical
Greece and Hellenistic societies as a whole. Ouranos (Sky), for
example, abhorred his own children so much that he incarcerated
them in the cavernous depths of Gaia (Earth). The punishment for
this wrongdoing was to be emasculated by his youngest and most
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dreadful son, the Titan Kronos. This violent overthrow of father
by son was repeated again in the next generation. In this instance
Kronos was prevented from cannibalizing his own son, the infant
Zeus by a clever ruse concocted by his mother and grandmother,
Rhea and Gaea, respectively. When Zeus finally came of age he
waged war against his father’s kingdom and order and emerged
victorious. To all intents and purposes, both cases of forceful
overthrow had been readily predetermined.
The Theogony, then, is something like a racial prototype of
what classical Greece would become. In scrutinizing the myth one
can
discern
a
pantheistic
and
animistic
cosmogony
with
patriarchal and aesthetically masculine leanings. Prominent and
implicit in the text is: the complicated power relations between
male personages of father and son; the prevailing martial
sentiment to conquer and subjugate; the repetition of behavioural
patterns and attitudes learned from a guardian; a philosophical
stance that accepts the notion of hiemarmene or fate as a primal
mover of the heavens, the world, and the flowering events
therein; and the eventual subjugation of falsehood and injustice
by truth. It shouldn’t be at all hard to see how all these principles
and their ensuing attitudes eventually became core components
of Hellenistic, Roman, and later Byzantine culture. Having
remained omnipresent in the evolution of Western thought and
civilization, they offer up an original reflection of values,
affiliations
to
family
and
society,
and
innermost
being–
perceptions that subsist and mediate collective consciousness
today.
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From Myth and Knowing: An Introduction to World Mythology by
Scott Leonard and Michael McClure. Copyright 2004 by The
McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. pp. 63-67.
The Beginning (116-38)
The very first to exist was Chaos,
and then Gaia, whose expansive lap
is the ever-safe foundation of the immortal gods
who live on the snowy peak of Olympos;
and then dark Tartaros, deep in the earth with its expansive
paths;
and then Eros, the most beautiful of the gods,
whose power loosens our bones–
who controls the thoughts and decisions
of every god and every man.
From Chaos came Erebos and black Night.
From Night came Air and Day,
whom she conceived and gave birth to
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from her love with Erebos.
Then gave birth to someone her equal,
the starry sky Ouranos, so that he
would cover her whole
and be the ever-safe foundation of the blessed gods.
She gave birth to the high Mountains
where heavenly Nymphs enjoy life
in mountain valleys.
But without the pleasure of love
She bore Pontos, whose stormy waves
are a barren sea. But then she
slept with Ouranos and bore Ocean
with his deep currents; then Koios and Krios;
Hyperion and Iapetos; and Theia and Rhea;
and Themis and Mnemosyne; and Phoebe
with her crown of gold;
and lovely Tethys; and after these
the youngest, most dreadful of her children, Kronos,
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whose plans are crafty
and who hated his powerful father.
Kronos overcomes his father Ouranos (154-97)
All the children that Gaia and Ouranos had
were dreadful and from the moment they were born
their father hated them.
So as soon as they were born
he hid them, not letting them see light,
deep down in Gaia, and Ouranos
enjoyed his evil. But huge Gaia,
confined and groaning from within,
thought of something cunning and evil:
Quickly making a king of grey steel,
she forged a great sickle and showed it
to her children. She spoke to them
to give them courage though her heart was sad:
“My children your father is wicked. But if you’re willing
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to listen to me, we can get revenge
for this evil and outrageous thing your father’s done,
as he was the first to plan these shameful things.”
This is what she said, and her children were immensely scared.
Not one of them uttered a word, but great Kronos,
whose plans are crafty, stood up and spoke these words [mythoi]
to his dear mother:
“Mother, I promise I’ll finish this
Since I don’t give a damn about my father,
as he was the first to plan these shameful things.”
This is what he said, and huge Gaia’s heart
was very happy. So she hid him
by putting him in a bush.
And in his hands she put the sickle,
its blade like jagged teeth,
and told him the whole plan
with all its deceit.
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Bringing on the night, great Ouranos came,
and eager for love, he caught gold of
Gaia on all sides
and she was stretched in every direction.
But from the bush his son stretched out
his left hand with his right,
holding the huge sickle, long and jagged,
quickly cut his own father’s penis off
and threw it back so that it went behind him:
it didn’t leave his hand without purpose
as Gaia received all the drops of blood that haemorrhaged,
and when a year had passed
she produced the powerful Furies
and the great Giants, shining in their armour,
long spears in their hands,
and the Nymphs who are called Melian
throughout the expanse of the earth
and the penis he’d first cut off with the steel sickle
he threw out into the wild sea from the mainland
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and it drifted in the ocean for a long time.
But then from this immortal flesh
a white foam [aphros] grew all around
and from within a girl was born.
Both gods and men call her Aphrodite
as she was born in aphros…
Zeus Overcomes His Father Kronos (453-500)
Kronos subdued Rhea who gave birth
to famous children: Hestia, Demeter, and Hera
with her sandals of gold; and powerful Hades
who with his merciless heart lives under the ground;
and earth-pounding Poseidon Ennosigaios;
and Zeus with all his wise plans,
the father of both gods and men,
whose thunder shakes the expansive earth.
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But great Kronos swallowed them down as each came out
of Rhea’s holy womb and fell on their knees.
He did this so that no other royal descendent of Ouranos would
have the right to his throne.
For he’d learned before from Gaia and starry Ouranos that,
even though he was strong, it was his destiny to be
overcome by his son through the intentions of great Zeus.
So Kronos kept careful watch and swallowed down
his children while Rhea felt a pain
she couldn’t forget. But when she was
to give birth to Zeus, father of both gods and men,
she asked her parents for a plan:
how she might give birth to her child
without Kronos knowing; and how one of the
Furies of her father might get revenge.
They listened to their daughter and agreed,
both of them, to explain just what was fated
for king Kronos and her son
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with his powerful heart.
So they sent her to Lyktos
in the rich land of Crete when she
was just about to give birth to great Zeus,
the last of her children.
And there huge Gaia received him
on the broad shores of Crete
to nurse and raise him.
She brought him there to Lyktos first
under cover of night
and taking him in her hands she hid
him in a deep cave
in the depths of holy earth
on Mt. Aigaion with its thick woods.
She then wrapped a great stone
in baby’s clothes and gave this
to the great lord, the son of Ouranos,
the king of the former gods.
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He took it in his hands,
and put it down into his gut,
cruel god, who didn’t see
that the stone was not his son;
that his son was still alive–not troubled,
unable to be defeated.;
that his son would overcome him
with his bare hands by brute force
and take revenge; that his own son
would be lord of the immortals.
And so Zeus’s strength grew and glistening arms
and legs grew quickly.
And when a year had passed, great Kronos,
whose plans are crafty, but whom Gaia’s
wiser plans deceived, spit up his children.
And first was the stone, the last he’d swallowed,
which Zeus set up on earth with its wide paths
at the sanctuary of Pytho in the valleys
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beneath Mt. Parnassos:
he left it as a sign, a wonder to mortals.
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THE GREEK GODS AND GODDESSES:
APHRODITE
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Aphrodite is the Olympian goddess of love, sexuality and beauty.
In the Iliad, Homer puts forth the hypothesis that she is the
progeny of Zeus and Dione, though in Hesiod’s Theogony and
most other poetic sources she is introduced as the daughter of
Ouranos, the sky, and the sea. In fact, the etymological route of
her name definitely attests to the latter. In Greek, Aphrodite
means “foam-born” or “foam-risen”, alluding to her emanation
from the foam of the sea. According to Hesiod, the youngest of
the Titans, Cronus, conspired with his mother, Gaea, to jettison
his father, Ouranos, from the ethereal realm for the incessant
abhorrence he expressed towards his own children. One night,
whilst the divine couple lay in bed making love, Cronus emerged
from the dark with a razor-sharp sickle and emasculated him. The
god’s ichor spurted from the gaping wound and hit the earth
directly below, giving birth to a horde of gruesome creatures; the
Melian Nymphs, the Giants, and the dreaded Erinyes or Furies. His
genitals, on the other hand, fell into the sea and autogenerated a
far more desirable being, the goddess Aphrodite.
Most writers place the location of her birth just off Cyprus,
although other Mediterranean isles like Kythera and Milos have
also laid claim to being the birthplace of the love goddess.
Foremost of her epithets are Cytherea and Cypris. Given that she
is sovereign of the natural world, myrtles, doves, swans, sparrows
and horses are all sacred to her. In fact, she is frequently depicted
being hauled across the sky in a dove-drawn chariot. Aphrodite is
notorious for the plethora of love affairs she carries out with
gods like the war-loving Ares, as well as handsome men like
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Anchises and Adonis. She is married to the god Hephaestus who
happens to be lame and frequently cheats on him.
Aphrodite is undoubtedly a passionate and empathetic
lover, yet all too often one finds her engaged in treachery, malice
and vindictiveness. In the Judgement of Paris, she bribes the
Trojan prince into giving her the golden apple by offering him the
most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Sparta, as his wife.
Her intimate involvement in the abduction of a princess who was
already married to the King of Sparta, Menelaus, as well as her
ample use of magical incantation to achieve it brands her as the
foremost villain in Homer’s Iliad. In any case her invested
interests are ample and thus she makes a plethora of appearances
during the length of the war. In one particular instance she
intervenes to defend her son Aeneas from an arrow thrown by the
Greek hero Diomedes and wears the consequences herself.
Suffering
a
minor
injury,
she
immediately
absconds
the
battleground for the safety of Olympus. Elsewhere, she senses the
precarious position of her mortal celebrant Paris and comes to
his immediate aid, enveloping his body in ethereal mist before
teleporting him back to his living quarters. Then, in an imperative
attempt to reunite the lovers, she materializes before Helen in the
guise of an old hag to instruct her of his whereabouts.
Aphrodite is usually equated with the Latin Venus, the
Egyptian Hathor and the Babylonian Ishtar.
The Homeric Hymns spin such an enchanting impression of
her:
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Golden crowned, beautiful
awesome Aphrodite
is who I shall sing,
she who possesses the heights
of all
sea-wet Cyprus
where Zephyrus swept her
with his moist breath
over the waves
of the roaring sea
in soft foam.
In their circles of gold
the Hours joyously
received her
and wrapped
the ambrosial garments around her.
On her immortal head
they laid a crown of gold
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that was wonderfully made
and in
the pierced lobes of her ears
they hung
flowers of copper
from the mountains
and precious gold.
Round her delicate throat
and her silvery breasts
they fastened
necklaces of gold
which they,
the gold-filleted Hours,
wear themselves
when they go
to the lovely dances of the gods
in their father’s house.
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THE GREEK GODS AND GODDESSES:
APOLLO
Apollo or Phoebus Apollo, as some like to call him, was the
Olympian god of the arts, but especially light, music and poetry
(Phoebus denotes the condition of “shining” or “brilliant”). He is
the progeny of the mighty Zeus and Leto, a daughter of the
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Titans, and was allegedly born on the Aegean island of Delos. It
appears that Apollo was revered throughout the whole of Greece,
particularly at Delphi and other oracular sites where he was
worshipped
for
his
predisposition
to
bestow
powers
of
precognition upon mortals. It was believed that the Delphic
Pythia, the most reputed of all the classical oracular priestesses,
was able to accurately channel her prophetic visions from aloft a
three-legged tripod because the soul of the god had possessed
her. In fact, when the Pythia gave her predictions in iambic
pentameters her voice would deepen, as if the god were using her
body as a medium. There is no shortage of mythological
discourse vindicating him as a master of prophecy either.
According to legend, Phoebus Apollo became enamoured of
Cassandra, the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecabe of
Troy. He bestowed her with the precognitive talent of prophecy,
among other things. But her unwillingness to reciprocate his
affection incurred the god’s wrath, who cursed her repeatedly.
From that moment on her predictions always met with disbelief
or ridicule.
Apollo was endowed with a plethora of epithets, two of
which were “Delian” and “Pythian”. The latter of the two is
etymologically linked to the title of the Delphic seer, as well as
the name of a serpent that thrived in the caves and forests of
Parnassus. Various classical sources seem to recall Apollo’s act of
slaying the serpent with his arrows to avenge the unrelenting
anguish it caused his mother whilst she was pregnant, hence the
epithet. Apollo took many lovers, both men and women. One of
them, Hyacinthus, met with a lamentable fate, explicitly because
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the West wind Zephyr grew jealous of his fidelity to Apollo. One
beautiful morning, while the two lovers were out exchanging
throws of the discus, Zephyr manoeuvred Apollo’s discus in such
a way as to strike and kill Hyacinthus. Apollo grieved for the boy,
and immortalised him by transmuting some of his blood into the
flower of the same name. In Homer’s Iliad, Apollo is the patron
and defender of the ill-fated Troy. The bow and quiver, the laurel
wreath, the quality of truth, the crow or raven, and the dolphin
were all sacred to him.
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THE GREEK GODS AND GODDESSES:
ARES
Ares is the Olympian god of war, slaughter and bloodshed. He is
the progeny of king and queen of all gods and mortals, the
mighty Zeus and the jealous Hera, respectively. It appears that
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both abhorred him, predominantly because of the debased,
inhumane and rudimentarily based characteristics and qualities
of human nature he came to epitomize. The Greeks fostered an
immense ambivalence towards this Olympian entity throughout
the course of Hellenistic history, and ascribed to him a Thracian
heritage. It goes without saying that the Greek considered the
Thracians barbaric and ruthless in disposition. In contrast to
Pallas Athena, who was intimately connected to military strategy,
leadership and success, Ares came to represent all that was
savage
and
brutal
in
war–cold-blooded
murder,
carnage,
Machiavellian and emotionally-discoloured tactics, as well as lessthan-honourable motives that might serve as precursors to fullfledged battle.
In scrying the realm of classical mythology, one will discern
Ares’ limited role in Olympian affairs. He willingly embarked on
an indecent liaison with the goddess of love, Aphrodite, and the
consummation of their union spawned six children: Eros, the god
of love; Anteros, the god of requited love; Phobos, the god of fear;
Deimos, the god of terror; Harmonia, the goddess of harmony and
concord; and Adrestia, the goddess of revenge and balance. At
one time, Hephaestus, the legitimate companion of Aphrodite,
exposed their duplicity by ensnaring the canoodling lovers
unawares, reducing them into a miniscule knot and then hauling
them to the heavenly mount so that all his fellow Olympians can
witness the adulterous act firsthand and pass judgement upon
the naked couple. He yields a numinous presence in the Trojan
War, but all too often we find the seemingly invincible warrior
reduced to the rabble of a grovelling coward. During the furious
35
struggle between the Greeks and the Trojans, Aries is wounded
and returns to his father on Olympus beseeching a reprise of
compassion and an empathetic shoulder to cry on. Instead, he
receives a verbal lashing:
“Do not sit beside me and whine, you double-faced liar.
To me you are the most hateful of all gods who hold Olympos.
Forever quarrelling is dear to your heart, wars and battles.
…
And yet I will not long endure to see you in pain, since
you are my child, and it was to me that your mother bore you.
But were you born of some other god and proved so ruinous
long since you would have been dropped beneath the gods of the
bright sky."
Appropriately, the ancient Greeks deprived Ares of any
notable tribute or reverence. There were never any cult centres or
temples built to honour his archetype. Both the scavenging
vulture and, perhaps less fittingly, the domesticated dog, were
sacred to him. He is usually equated with the Roman Mars.
36
THE GREEK GODS AND GODDESSES:
ARTEMIS
Artemis is a pre-Greek deity assimilated into the classical Greek
pantheon.
In
her
Olympian
guise,
she
yields
a
strong,
independent, fierce, numinous and powerful presence; sovereign
of the wilderness, the hunt, women, childbirth and defender of all
youth. She was the first of two twins born to Zeus and Leto, a
daughter of the Titans. Of course the other was Apollo. Together
37
with the Hestia and Athena, she was one of three virgin
goddesses:
“Golden Aphrodite who stirs with love and all creation,
Cannot bend not ensnare three hearts: the pure maiden Vesta,
Grey-eyed Athena who cares but for war and the arts of the
craftsmen,
Artemis, lover of woods and the wild chase over the mountain.”
The virgin goddess was known by a great many epithets, two
of the most prominent being “Cynthia” and “Selene”. The former
is a direct reference to her place of birth, Mount Cynthus on the
island of Delos, and the second expounds her personage as the
epitome of absolute feminine energy that is itself encompassed
and embodied by the lunar sphere. According to tradition,
Artemis seems to have enchanted a great many gods and men,
though she herself was seldom enamoured. Even masters of
deceit and transformation failed at their attempt to foil her and
take her unawares. According to the classical poets, Artemis
fooled a river god who entertained thoughts of raping her at
Letrenoi by coating her face with mud. She was immensely
talented in the denomination of archery and hunting, and
dutifully punished anyone who committed sacrilege by unjustly
killing or slaughtering wild animals, or by claiming that their own
adroitness in those particular arts exceeded hers. Adonis, the
lover of Aphrodite, experiences the brunt of her wrath firsthand;
in a late classical myth, the virgin goddess overhears his
38
incessant banter on how good a hunter he is, and sends a wild
boar to gouge him to death.
Artemis was intimately involved in the Trojan War, pledging
fidelity to the Trojans. This should not come as any surprise
given that her own twin brother Apollo was inaugurated as the
patron of Troy. In Homer’s Iliad, she purposely obstructs the
Greek pilgrimage to Troy by instigating doldrums at Aulis on the
pretence that Agamemnon, the commander-in-chief of the unified
Greek armies, had committed hubris by killing her sacred stag
and openly declaring that he was a better hunter. To appease her
anger and hence reinvigorate the winds Agamemnon was forced
to sacrifice all that was dearest to him, his beloved daughter
Iphigenia. During the subsequent clash between the Trojans and
the Greeks, Artemis is wounded by Hera’s arrow. The golden bow
and arrow, the cypress tree, the lunar orb, and wild animals such
as the hunting dog and the stag are all sacred to her. Her Roman
equivalent is Diana.
39
THE GREEK GODS AND GODDESSES:
ASCLEPIUS
Asclepius, the Greek god of healing and medicine, was a son of
the god Apollo and Coronis, a Thessalian princess, and was highly
revered in all of Greece proper. His name denotes the condition of
cutting something open and he is best known for his wand called
the Rod of Asclepius. The latter is comprised of a staff
surmounted by an entwined serpent and occasionally a pair of
wings, mythical symbols which recall elements indigenous to the
divine like knowledge, wisdom, grace, faith, magical power,
authority, the duality of being, and fundamental unity. Unlike so
many other symbols, the Rod of Asclepius s is fittingly associated
40
with this archetype of the first physician. Asclepius is an
Olympian deity who busies himself with the reinstatement of
vitality to the dissipating life force of an ailing mortal patient;
hence it makes perfect sense that he should be armed with the
appropriate antidote (serpent) as well as an obligatory intellectual
capacity for intuition (the wand and the wings) that facilitates
pertinent and ethical use of it.
The ancient myth relating details of the events leading up to
his birth are both fascinating and melodramatic. According to
legend, there was once a son of war-loving Ares named Phlegyas
who ruled the Lapiths, an Aeolian tribe from the region of
Thessaly in Greece. Phlegyas enjoyed fortuitous relations with
many concubines, one of which culminated with the birth of a
beautiful daughter, Coronis. This girl’s physiognomy and charm
were mystifying and magnetic; any male, god or mortal, who laid
eyes upon her fairest beauty fell head over heels in love. In due
course an already betrothed Coronis was unlucky enough to be
sighted by Pythian Apollo, whose instant reaction was to woo her.
She capitulated to his will but made the tragic mistake of keeping
details of the encounter to herself for fear of rejection and
ridicule. She didn’t have the courage to admit her wrongdoing to
Ischys, the Arcadian prince who would soon become her husband,
nor
front
her
divine
lover
with
this
premeditated
royal
arrangement.
The latter was to prove fatal. When Coronis’s day of
matrimony finally came, a white crow standing sentry over the
royal palace overheard details of the intended proceedings and
41
flew straight to Delphi with the intention of breaking the news to
Apollo. Needless to say the consequences weren’t very becoming.
Apollo was so infuriated by Coronis’s deception that he cursed
the poor crow before it could finish its grim soliloquy, turning it a
jet black. Then he ambushed the royal couple with the help of his
sister Artemis; the brunt of his fury was dutifully imprinted onto
the tips of arrows that pierced the heart of Ischys, whilst
Artemis’s impaled Coronis. Interestingly the young Coronis
happened to be pregnant at the time of her death, a hitherto
unknown fact to Apollo who steadfast took the appropriate
measures to ensure survival of the unborn infant. He liberated the
baby boy from the womb of its dead mother by preternatural
means and bequeathed it the name Asclepius before entrusting
its care and wellbeing to Chiron, a benevolent centaur who raised
orphaned
children
in
amorous
environments
and
offered
instruction in the divine art of medicine. Asclepius possessed a
natural flair for detecting illnesses latent in the human body and
ascribing the appropriate remedial therapies, a talent which
propelled him to the frontier of fame in Greece proper. Sadly the
same talent proved to be a hidden curse, for when Asclepius
transcended the corporeal limitations imposed on mortals by
reinvigorating Hippolytus from the dead he exasperated Zeus like
never before. Acting partly out of enmity and partly out of
jealousy, the mighty Olympian conjured a violent tempest and
directed it at the ill-fated Asclepius who was struck down by one
of its many thunderbolts.
Many
classical
myths
attribute
Asclepius’s
ability
to
reanimate the dead to the acquisition of Medusa’s blood through
42
the intercession of Pallas Athena, who managed to collect it in
phials when Perseus was beheading the dreaded gorgon. Word
has it that the blood of gorgons exhibited a dual metaphysical
nature; when collected from the right side it would act as a potent
elixir to ensoul a lifeless carcass but when drawn from the left it
reverted to a deadly poison able to dissolve living tissue.
Asclepius appears to have begun his illustrious career in Greece
proper as a mortal hero, a contemporary physician par excellence
whose immense popularity earned him an illustrious position
amongst the Olympians during the Late Classical Period. He
married a woman called Epione of which little is known and had
six daughters: Hygeia (Hygiene), Iaso (Medicine), Meditrina
(Serpent Bearer), Aceso (Healing), Aglaea (Healthy Glow), and
Panacea (Universal Remedy). Some sources also claim that he had
three sons; Podalirius, Telesphoros, and Machaon.
During the Classical Period, Asclepius’s main cult centre was
Epidaurus, a settlement wedged in the north-eastern corner of the
Peloponnese. As believers in heimarmene or fate would visit the
Delphic Oracle to discover what lay in stall for them in years to
come, so too did the ailing frequent ancient Epidaurus for the
restoration of their health. Healing was sought in enkoimesis, the
practice of sleeping in the innermost sanctuary of the Asclepian
temple (the abaton) in hope that the god would unveil a remedy
through
dream
states.
Non-poisonous
snakes,
the
earthly
incarnations of the god, were sometimes allowed to slither
amongst the sickly as they slept on the floor of the sanctuary. On
the following day priests or priestesses would debrief the
respective patients, offer an interpretation of the visions, and
43
propose an appropriate course of action. Hence it would not be
incorrect to say that the ministers of Asclepius were Hellenistic
shamans–spirit-seers, dream-interpreters, and physicians all in
one. They would frequently recommend, among other things,
recurrent visits to baths and gymnasiums, as well as passive
participation in comedies at Epidaurus’s colossal theatre. The
Greeks believed that laughter was the best medicine for any
illness, and the theatre at Epidaurus was used as a medium
through which that inexpensive and natural mode of therapy
could be trialled.
Asclepius’s sacred animal was the cock or rooster. His Latin
equivalent is Aesculapius.
44
THE GREEK GODS AND GODDESSES:
ATHENA
Athena, or Pallas Athena as she is sometimes called, is the
preeminent Olympian patroness of civilised life, warfare and the
metalworking of weaponry, agriculture, as well as moral virtues
such as justice, balance, orderliness and wisdom (what the
ancient Egyptians called maat). She was also an avid defender and
corroborator of the reputed Greek heroes Perseus, Heracles, Jason
45
and Odysseus. The latter of these was her personal favourite, her
best beloved.
According to the classical myths, Athena was the progeny of
Zeus alone. She was his blood and seed, made in his image alone;
perhaps this is why she was also his favourite child. In one of the
most commonly cited interpretations of her birth, Zeus embarks
on a furious affair with Metis, a daughter of the mighty Titans,
oblivious to an oracular prophecy declaring that any children
sired by the latter would carry a supernatural and omnipotent
fervour more potent than their sire. Realising his mistake, Zeus
swallows Metis in hope that any impending conception would die
with her. But this was not the case. Shortly afterwards, he
experiences an intense and debilitating headache akin to a
migraine, and to relieve him of his suffering a horde of fellow
Olympians cleave his head open with a labrys, a Minoan axe. The
violent blow liberates an ululating Pallas Athena, who springs
forth from atop his head bedecked in a full suite of armour.
Foremost of her epithets is “grey-eyed” or “flashing-eyed”,
most fitting because of the inexplicable, qualitative connection
between the colour grey and the concept of divine wisdom over
which she presides. She was also called “Parthenos,” a word which
denotes maiden or virgin in Greek, and sheds ample light upon
the decision to name her principle temple of worship on the
Acropolis “The Parthenon”. In fact, the virgin goddess was a lot
more than just the principle deity worshipped at Athenian
Acropolis; she was the sole patron of the entire city. In a
renowned local legend, we learn that in a time before this, a
46
frantic
quarrel
unravelled
between
Athena
and
Poseidon
concerning sovereignty over the beautiful city. The unanimous
verdict amongst the Olympians, the city’s residents and the
contestants themselves was that patronage would be granted to
the conferrer of the best gift. Hoping to woo the masses with his
sheer strength, Poseidon generated a pressurised salt spring atop
the Acropolis by striking the bare ground with his trident.
Athena, on the other hand, was much craftier and subtle in her
offering. She jabbed her foot against the earth, and the first
domesticated olive tree sprung from the dirt. The first gift was
impressive but useless, seeing that salt water was undrinkable;
the second appeared much more modest, albeit it hid a triune
potential–wood, oil, and olives–all of which were useful. Wood
could be used in the construction of living quarters, oil and olives
consumed. For these reasons, the victory was awarded to Athena.
In Homer’s Iliad, Athena takes the side of the Achaeans, the
Greeks. To understand why all we need to do is look at the
Judgement of Paris, the prologue to the Trojan War. The Olympian
gods and goddesses were not ones to take knockbacks lightly,
especially when they were of a personal nature. In the same way
Paris’s act of gifting the golden apple to Aphrodite enraged
Athena to the point that she never quite forgot it. Hence, when
the agglomeration of events that followed Aphrodite’s acquisition
of the golden apple flowered into a full-fledged war, Athena
fought vehemently and furiously against Paris and his people, the
Trojans. Athena’s intervention in this nine-year war was pivotal,
for it instilled the Greek forces led by Agamemnon of Mycenae
with the requisite cunning to finally breach the formidable walls
47
of the city and slaughter the inhabitants. Indeed, the conspiracy
to bring down the city by constructing a hollow wooden horse
and presenting it to the Trojans under the pretence of a gift was
exclusively her idea. In the end the horse wasn’t a gift at all, but
rather a ticking time-bomb nursing a horde of dormant Greek
soldiers who would emerge after nightfall and assail the Trojans
unawares.
In the sphere of created Nature, the olive tree, as well as the
owl, the serpent and the horse were all sacred to her. Her Latin
equivalent is Minerva.
48
THE GREEK GODS AND GODDESSES:
DEMETER
In classical mythology, the goddess Demeter is painted into the
cosmological domain as a fundamental aspect of Mother Nature.
She was extremely popular with the simpletons and the rustic
population of the Hellenic lands, presiding over the fecundity of
the earth, agriculture and the cycle of seasons. Her most common
epithets were Thesmophoros and Sito, two Greek-route words
which denote ‘divine order’ and ‘wheat’ and inextricably link the
primordial goddess with the powerful ways and will of Mother
Nature. Together with the Olympians Hestia, Hera, Hazes,
Poseidon and Zeus, Demeter was the offspring of the Titans
Cronus, or Father Time, and Rhea, the Earth Mother. The goddess
49
is ascribed a superficial presence in Homer’s epic poems, the Iliad
and the Odyssey, and remains rather neutral in the Trojan War.
Nevertheless she was reputed for her fierce independence and her
absolute authority over created Nature, traits which evoked envy
and jealousy amidst the other divine inhabitants of the cosmos.
Of course her overt sense of liberation and feminism made
her a primary target for Olympian gods who enjoyed the thrill of
the chase and the many rewards that came afterwards. Poseidon,
for instance, pursued her relentlessly for a long time. In one myth
that predates the advent of classical Greece, Demeter sought to
escape his advances by morphing into a mare and then taking
refuge amongst some wild horses. But the god had foreseen this
trick. He simultaneously morphed into a stallion and took her
unawares as she tried to flee. Their sexual union yielded two
beautiful children, a dark horse named Arion and a daughter
whose name was known only to initiates of the Arcadian
Mysteries.
According to a pre-Hellenic legend, the Olympian god Pluton
(or Hades) was a son of Demeter and a Cretan hero named Iasion.
Demeter had other children too, but it appears the most favoured
was her beautiful, radiant daughter to Zeus, Persephone. An early
Homeric Hymn of the eighth century BCE recounts the passions of
Demeter and Persephone, both of whom would suffer at the
hands of Pluton, Lord of the Underworld. One day, or so the myth
narrates, Persephone embarked on a small pilgrimage to some
nearby meadows for the sake of collecting her favourite
wildflowers. Her grace, elegance and beauty did not go unnoticed.
50
Peering through a small crevice in the earth nearby was Pluton,
who became enamoured with her at first sight. To successfully
abduct her he concocted a conspiracy in which he called on the
assistance of his own brother, Zeus, and their mother, Gaea. The
latter caused a supernal narcissus to bloom from in between a
cluster of rocks, a flower whose form seduced the eye of gods
and mortals alike. When Persephone ventured near for a closer
look a schism formed in the earth beside the narcissus. Within
microseconds the stoic Pluton emerged riding his coal-black
steeds, charging straight towards his abductee. Poor Persephone
didn’t know what hit her; one minute she was perusing the
loveliest flower she’d ever seen, and then next she was being
hauled onto a jet-black chariot that was travelling near the speed
of light.
The goddess’s anguish coursed through the earth, the
mountains and the seas, eventually reaching the ears of her own
mother.
Demeter,
who’d
been
ruminating
on
Olympus,
immediately dropped what she was doing and began searching
frantically for her beloved daughter. For nine days she wondered
about the surface of the earth, peering beneath every stone, in
every rock pool, trench and grotto, but all to no avail. Her
daughter had somehow vanished into thin air. Soon afterwards
she was summoned to the abode of the sun god Helios, to his
bejewelled palace in the mount of the sky, where she learnt of her
daughter’s
lamentable
fate;
Persephone
was
now
Pluton’s
prisoner in the grief-ridden and shadowy Underworld. Hurt by
Zeus’s betrayal and now riddled with vehemence towards him,
Demeter withdrew from communion of any sort and refused to
51
participate in divine or earthly affairs. She inverted her own
nature and turned her own thoughts, feelings and ideas inward,
severing her connection to the environment and to the cosmos at
large. As a consequence the vital life force of the earth was
spirited away, leaving behind only an inert carcass; plants and
animals died and withered away, the soil was purged of its rich
nutrients and skeletons of ghost trees were the only inhabitants
of once vital and animistic forests. Coerced into action by the
imminent devastation of life, Zeus issued a decree for the
immediate release of Persephone from subterranean womb of the
deceased. Pluton, who’d been following the succession of events
from the Great Below, tricked Persephone into consuming
pomegranate seeds before capitulating to the will of his mightier
brother. The implications were that Persephone was now bound
to the Underworld and its master eternally. After much mediation
on Olympus it was eventually decided that each year, Persephone
would spend eight months with her mother, Demeter, and four in
the company of her newly wedded husband, Pluton. Somewhat
appeased by this outcome Demeter proceeded to render the earth
fertile once again.
This tale was an allegory fabricated to explain the rotation
of the seasons, as well as the exoteric totem pole upon which the
pre-Hellenic Eleusinian Mysteries at Eleusis in Greece were based.
Sacred to Demeter was the entire Earth itself, but particularly
plants like wheat, barley, poppy and mint; animals like the gecko,
pig and serpent; and birds like the crane, turtledove and screechowl. Her Latin equivalent is Ceres.
52
THE GREEK GODS AND GODDESSES:
EROS
Scouring the last twenty or so years, I can think of no moment
that was more empowering, satisfying and enchanting for the
contemporary Greek and the Hellenic Diaspora than the Opening
Ceremony of the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. One hundred and
eight years had elapsed since the Modern Olympics were last held
in Athens, a date which also signified their re-induction into a
world whose cultural axis had shifted tenfold since the Classical
Period, and the cosmic eye was now keenly focused on the
53
creative and innovative aptitude of the modern Greeks to
reinterpret a cosmology and resynthesize the theatre of a world
history in which they had taken centre stage as the birthplace of
its principle protagonists. In the end, the creative ingenuity that
had defined their ancient ancestors flashed through modern-day
consciousness like a bolt of lightning, inspiring them to stitch
together an artistic program that was awe-inspiring from both a
visual and conceptual perspective.
For those that may have forgotten, the program was divided
into two primary sections. The first, entitled “Allegory”, offered a
metaphoric recapitulation of the birth of the entire cosmos and of
human consciousness; the second, “Hourglass” or “Clepsydra” in
Greek, set in motion a host of flotillas that circumscribed the
entire history of Greece along with mythologems born of Hellenic
consciousness in chronological order. The latter began with the
Minoan snake goddess, a symbol of fecundity and fertility, and
ended with the contemporary equivalent of a pregnant woman.
Omnipresent from the second portion of the artistic feature
onwards was the soulful and winged Eros, that supernal being of
love, who hovered exuberantly above a linear celebration of Greek
history as it passed beneath him.
Many people would question this central prominence the
modern Greeks ascribed to the God of Love during the artistic
parade; why is Eros, the companion and son of Aphrodite,
standing eternally vigilant over this abbreviated sequence of
historical transmutation? Further still, why is his skin blue? To
answer such questions we must dissect this celestial inhabitant of
54
Olympus historically. For most people today, Eros or Cupid in
Latin is recognized as the progeny of Aphrodite or Venus, a
mischievous, youthful and shrewd winged cherub whose main
pastime involved piercing the hearts of gods and mortals with his
magical arrows:
“Evil his heart, but honey-sweet his tongue.
No truth in him, the rogue. He is cruel in his play.
Small are his hands, yet his arrows fly far as death.
Tiny his shaft, but it carries heaven-high.
Touch not his treacherous gifts, they are dipped in fire.”
As the above discourse vindicates, the wily Eros is like a
small boy who continuously inveigles gods and mortals into
unruly situations for the sake of personal entertainment without
ever having to suffer any vengeful retaliation himself. Indeed, it is
a privileged position that points to a mastery of the art of
deception coupled with a carefree and cheerful disposition that
disarms even the most hateful of creatures. This is the one face of
Eros that has recurrently coloured the perceptions of the artisanal
mind of late antiquity and the Renaissance in its plight to capture
the essence of divinity in painting, architecture, sculpture and
pottery, but it is only a superficial, conventional veneer which
conspires to hide a truer, more profound and all-encompassing
conceptual meaning that has existed in our memes and genes
since our coming to consciousness. The latter can be glimpsed in
the early stories of Eros in which he appears as a solemn, levelheaded and thoughtful youth bent on bequeathing spiritual gifts
55
to humanity. These gifts are offerings of love, and when I say love
I mean an unconditional and innate adoration, respect, yearning
for, and faith in another living being that illuminates the soul,
exorcises any feelings of loneliness and futility from one’s life,
and transcends the carnal chemistry of purely physical attraction
or
loin-bound
and
lascivious
passion.
Nowhere
is
this
understanding clearer than in Platonic discourse, which states
that, “Love–Eros– makes his home in men’s hearts, but not in
every heart, for where there is a hardness he departs. His greatest
glory is that he cannot do wrong nor allow it; force never comes
near him. For all men serve him of their own free will. And he
whom love touches not dwells in darkness.”
In Hesiod, where he is described as being the “fairest of the
deathless gods”, Eros is depicted as a primordial entity beside
Chaos and Gaea (the Earth Mother) on the uppermost tier of the
ladder of creation. “First Chaos was born, the broad, stable and
eternal earth and Eros…” says Hesiod, imbuing the latter with
special significance as the force of mutual attraction that
pervades the universe and binds everything together through
cosmic sympathies, antipathies and correspondences. Its colour
of association is blue and sometimes violet or purple. This
approach to the Eros deity as a universal kind of love not only
underpins Platonic metaphysics as we know it, but implicates love
to have been the motivation for the differentiation of the cosmos
into the duality of heaven and earth, light and dark, male and
female, and so forth. The first cogitation of the divine mind which
brought the majesty of this universe was indubitably an
autogenerative act of love, or self-love if you like. When the
56
overarching entity of this cosmos, the Creator, or any entity in
fact, comes to consciousness it becomes enamoured of its own
form or shape as well as the miracle of being and seeks to
reproduce itself, an act which involves a level of narcissism and
self-love. Did God not self-reflect on the primeval waters of chaos
before proceeding to carve out the oikoumene? Did Narcissus not
glimpse his own reflection upon the limpid surface of a lake
before being overcome by intense autoeroticism?
Humanity’s awakening or coming to consciousness is also
described as having been facilitated by this universal love. In the
first tractate of the Corpus Hermeticum, entitled Poimandres: The
Unity of Knowledge of the World, the Self, and God, the creation of
“Man”
is
attributed
to
a
conjunction
between
God’s
transcendental image and nature under the stellar alignment of
mutual attraction. In this, the marriage or conunctionis of the
eternal spirit and the temporal body in one living human being is
described through a supernal allegory in which the incorporeal
and
hermaphroditic
protohuman
descends
from
the
transcendental to the sublunary realm where He sees the form of
Mother Nature for the very first time. Incidentally, both partake of
the same ethereal and intangible form as two identical twins
might share the same physiognomy, and as a consequence they
fall madly in love with one another and long to unite. The
incorporeal protohuman then crosses the dimensional barrier
separating them and fuses with his desired counterpart in the
sphere of matter, creating the double beings of the human race.
In this beautiful myth one can see the philosophical tendency to
hold in high esteem the like-attracts-like hypothesis of erotic
57
magnetism and reject the commonly held notion of opposites
attracting.
The
former
concept
underruns
the
qualitative
measures intrinsic to the esoteric correspondences of Neoplatonic
thought, a notion which shall not concern us here, and
concurrently illuminates an occult landmine of contextual
meanings in the saying “Love makes the world go round”.
The first instance we have of a critical dissection of love’s
variant qualities in Hellenic culture is Plato’s Symposium.
Composed during the fourth century
BCE,
this philosophical text
proceeds with a number of public speeches given by preeminent
free citizens of classical Athens like Socrates, Pausanias,
Aristophanes and Phaedrus regarding the genesis, entelechy and
teleology of love. In due course, the accomplices succeed in
forming a clear division between desire, jest, jealousy and deceit,
all variant qualities which operate under the umbrella of lust, and
a much higher, noble and virginal form of love centred on the
dignity, integrity and moral perfection of one’s soul. The lower or
corporeal qualities, they claim, are embodied and by the
Olympian figure of Aphrodite Pandemos, whilst the higher or
celestial ones fall under the mediation of Aphrodite Ourania.
Nowhere do we see the negative elementary, caustic and
destructive aspects of the former in full-fledged flight than in the
literary eroticism of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Desire for official
recognition was the overpowering sentiment that led Aphrodite to
promise the objectified and ultimate image of desire (Helen of
Sparta) to the Trojan youth Paris, who, like all mortal men,
succumbed to the impulse of this momentary seduction without
58
fully contemplating the devastating consequences of stealing
away a married woman. Hence in awarding the golden apple of
discord to Aphrodite, Paris managed to sooth her ego, secure the
desire of the most beautiful woman in the world, and indulge the
countless hours of wild love-making that went with it. On the
other hand, his actions had the undesirable effect of churning up
a benthic storm of anger and jealousy for those who’d been
intimately involved. In the end, it was the little rotten seed of
desire, that rusty kernel of corrupt lust that caused the Trojan
War, a battle whereby the lives of gods and mortals, as well as the
rumination of the entire cosmos, was momentarily overturned.
What Homer wished to illustrate with respects to Eros’ carnal
qualities is that while the fulfilment of a desire does evoke
profound
feelings
of
worthiness
and
achievement,
the
detrimental aftereffects that are set in motion soon afterwards
nullify any reward or shallow sense of accomplishment offered by
the former.
Another way of contemplating the original meaning of the
God of Love and what the ancient Greeks understood by him is to
delve into the etymology of the name itself. By modern standards
the Greek verb Eros usually refers to intimate or romantic love,
but in ancient times the name encompassed a much more
profound and dynamic meaning. When an ancient Greek made
use of this verb, he or she was revealing a deep-seated craving, an
aspiration or desire for spiritual and salvific fulfilment through
wisdom and knowledge. From this perspective, the god Eros and
the higher psychic principle of divine love which holds the entire
cosmos together are one and the same thing. His influence is
59
universal and all-embracing because the human psyche suffers
loss of wholeness and interconnectedness with the divine element
when it comes into existence and grows conscious of itself as an
autonomous being. This fragmentation of the soul usually spurs
feelings of disenchantment, emptiness and proceeds to carve out
tributaries void of any meaning until the superconscious or
higher part of the personality awakens and sets the soul abroad
the psychic procession of reintegration.
The latter, usually a painstaking and lifelong process,
involves drawing to one’s inner anatomy conciliatory qualities
that are indigenous to all creatures and express the uroboric
cohesion at the heart of all life. This uroboric wholeness induces
a sense of liberation and an abrogation of mechanical laws that
inhibit beings void of intellect or those who have become
enslaved to hedone, sensual or carnal desires and passions.
Feeling an inherent affinity with these higher holistic qualities
and knowing at once that they’re also a part of the greater
cosmos brings with it a certainty beyond reason that final causes
exist. This revelation is nothing less than the materialization of a
true transformative path back to an eternal realm of meaning and
wholeness. One might describe it as the yellow brick road that
leads back to the Emerald City of Oz, that elusive world of the
immortals, nectar, ambrosia, the Philosopher’s Stone, the Elixir of
Life, and other Godly things. The habit energy that keeps us from
straying from this purpose once we’ve embraced it is divine love;
the love for wisdom, knowledge and courage that has defined
human beings and their relationship to the cosmos since the birth
of civilisation in Mesopotamia. Eros then, or the concept of divine
60
love, enters into time because he mediates over this psychic
process of self-actualization for each human being, but he also
dwells in the timeless and transcendental zone of the cosmos as
the originator of the first cogitation. Hence for the ancients Eros
was a universal force who existed “above” and “without” and was
casually reflected “below” and ‘within”, enabling the proliferation
of species through sexual reproduction whilst simultaneously
pushing conscious life to enlightenment and immortality through
wisdom and knowledge.
Any discussion on Eros and the divine and carnal aspects of
his archetype would remain incomplete if it didn’t draw into the
equation the notion of physical attractiveness. Eros is eternally
captivated by beauty, irrespective of whether his inherent ‘form’
pertains to the body or soul, and he turns towards the supernal
as bean stalks strive to reach pockets of sunlight. In classical
Greece, the qualities that were used to measure or quantify
beauty were balance and proportion, or symmetry of form. If a
person or object exhibited this feature, he, she or it was deemed
beautiful and demanded the veneration, honour and respect of
the masses. This is why the male and female bodies were always
depicted proportionally in art and sculpture and why geometry
played such a fundamental role in the alignment, structure,
position, and the aesthetic embellishments of temples, theatres,
agoras, and other ancient monuments.
At this point, a great many might question the ancient
surmise to view beauty on these terms, like a magical alpenglow
which might appear gorgeous and romantic to the star gazers but
61
means absolutely nothing to the blind. One might find the answer
to this question by looking to the night skies, where the goddess
of love’s celestial equivalent, the planet Venus, traces a perfect
pentagram in sidereal space over the course of eight years and
one day. It is the only celestial body whose orbital movements
create such an elaborate and distinct geometrical dance about the
Sun, reminding us that the delimitation of pentagonal form in the
primeval static of the universe is a signature of cosmic harmony.
As a dialect of beauty, the latter arms the matriarchal situation in
the heavens with cosmological meanings and qualitative markers
that are dutifully reflected on the Earth. If symmetry and
harmony are inviolable characteristics of a celestial beauty that
defines a wholly feminine spirit, then it stands to good reason
that they should also form the nucleus of corporeal beauty. As
above, so below, right?
62
THE GREEK GODS AND GODDESSES:
HEPHAESTUS
Hephaestus was the Olympian god of fire and the artisanal crafts,
particularly metallurgy which involved the smelting and pouring
of metals into casts under searing temperatures. His relation to
fire also connected him to lava and volcanic eruptions. Two of his
major
epithets,
Chalkeus
(Coppersmith)
and
Klutotechnes
(Renowned artificer) like the god with the aforementioned traits
indefinitely. Surprisingly, his most striking characteristic related
to his anatomy; Hephaestus was born lame and ugly. This is
somewhat unprecedented given that the Olympian immortals
63
were all supernal beings of the highest order, free from physical
imperfections or blemishes of any kind. There are variant
opinions regarding the sire of his birth. In some classical sources,
including Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, he is the progeny of the
king and queen of gods and mortals, Zeus and Hera respectively.
In others like Hesiod he is the sole offspring of the latter whose
motivation to give birth was wholly dictated by jealousy of her
husband’s autogenerative act of bringing forth Pallas Athena.
Homer’s Iliad entertains two reasons relating to the god’s
subsequent expulsion from Olympus. In the first and lesser
known, Hera is mortified by her infant son’s abnormalities and
seeks to remedy the problem by unmercifully hurling him from
the precipitous cliffs of Olympus. A second and more commonly
acknowledged version which is far more respectable and forgiving
towards the otherwise unbecoming personage of Hera renders
Hephaestus on the receiving end of Zeus’s fury for attempting to
interfere in a marital quarrel and defend his mother:
“Thrown by angry Jove,
Sheer o’er the crystal battlements; from morn
To noon he fell, from moon to dewy eve,
A summer’s day, and with the settling sun
Dropt from the zenith like a falling star,
On Lemnos, the Aegean isle.”
Having been rejected by his biological parents, Hephaestus
was reared in the element of water by the mother of Achilles, the
64
Nereid Thetis and the Oceanid Eurynome. When he finally came of
age he sought retribution against his mother’s spiteful act along
with reinstalment amongst the immortals on the mount of
Olympus. He proceeds to fashion a magical throne out of gold
and other precious stones, enmesh it with finely embroidered
nets invisible to the untutored eye and delivers it to his mother
on Olympus under the pretence of a gift. Blind to her son’s
conspiracy Hera accepts the gift, foolhardily one might say, and
becomes entangled as a result. Resolution is wrought through
Dionysus, the god of wine, who succeeds in placating Hephaestus
by rendering him drunk and then leading him back to heavenly
Olympus. Mother and son eventually reconcile, if only because the
latter receives a gift he can’t refuse; a bride in Aphrodite, the
goddess of love and beauty.
From that point onwards the god embarks on a more
tranquil mode of being, biding his time by either constructing or
designing edifices, jewellery, embroidery and arms for the gods,
or inventing peculiar mechanical devices. Some of the most aweinspiring and formidable implements used by the Olympian gods
and goddesses were ensouled by Hephaestus’s abyssal and multicoloured imagination. These include, but are not exclusive to, the
grand Olympian palace, Helios’ gilded chariot, Hermes’ winged
petasos and helmet, the girdle of Aphrodite, Eros’s bow and
arrows, as well as the weaponry of famous Trajan heroes like
Achilles and Heracles. More significant feats were the assembly of
automatons
as
personal
assistants,
the
fabrication
of
indestructible and immortal dogs to serve a divine master in
Alcinous, King of the Phoenicians, and the fabrication of a
65
Herculean man of bronze named Talos whom he placed on Crete
to patrol the shore and safeguard Europa, a Phoenician princess
loved by Zeus, from hostile foreign adversaries.
In the Trojan War, Hephaestus sides with the Achaeans, the
Greeks. The motivation for his anti-Trojan sentiments probably
stems from the fact that a Trojan mortal dared to dishonour and
crudely insult his own mother, Queen Hera, by awarding the prize
of the golden apple to foam-born Aphrodite. For Achilles, the
demi-god who’d go on to become a fundamental exponent of the
Achaean forces, Hephaestus fashioned an elaborate shield from
an amalgamation of gold, silver, tin and copper. He also came to
the hero’s aid when the river god Scamandar, a son of Oceanus
and Tethys, attempted to drown him as retribution for a past
offence. According to the Iliad, Scamandar became sentient of the
fact that the Achaeans had set up their camp near his mouth. He
subsequently burst his banks intending to drown the hero, but
Hephaestus came to the rescue, spurring a conflagration that
rapidly evaporated Scamandar’s torrent.
Sacred to the god of fire and metalworking was the hammer,
tongs and the anvil, the metal iron, the donkey or ass and the
salamander, as well as the crane bird. His Latin equivalent is
Vulcan.
66
THE GREEK GODS AND GODDESSES:
HERA
Hera
is
the
Olympian
goddess
of
women
and
feminine
sovereignty, as well as the sanctity of marriage. Her epithets
Akraia (She of the Heights), Basileia (Queen) and Teleia (goddess
of marriage) definitely attest to such. Together with Zeus,
Poseidon, Hestia and Pluton (Hades), she comprised one of the
many children of Cronus, or Father Time, and Rhea, the Earth
Mother. Her intimate relationship with Zeus, sovereign of all gods
and mortals, appears to have existed for time immemorial.
Legend has it that Zeus caught glimpses of Hera as she scrambled
up a mountain slope and decided on mere impulse that he had to
have her. The goddess wouldn’t allow any god anywhere near her,
67
so to trick her he morphed into a cuckoo and immediately
instigated a torrential downpour. Seemingly apprehensive and
sullen, the divine bird proceeded to fly through the rain and land,
as if by chance, on Hera’s knee. Seeing the form of the trembling
bird evoked the goddess’s empathy, who sought to remedy its
anxiety by blanketing it with a corner of her dress. The sign of
acceptance was Zeus’s cue to revert back to his usual form, and
before long the two were enmeshed in an unruly embrace. For a
long time Hera had nurtured countless reservations about making
love with the free-spirited Zeus, but his pledge of allegiance and
proposed marriage soothed her fears of abandon, at least enough
to yield to his ravenous sexual appetite. Hera’s subsequent
marriage to him yields additional titles and privileges, the most
significant being her official recognition as the ‘Mother and
Queen of Gods and Mortals’:
“Golden-throned Hera, among immortals the queen.
Chief among them in beauty, the glorious lady
All the blessed in high Olympus revere,
Honour ever as Zeus, the lord of the thunder.”
In all, the classical poets are barely, if ever, sympathetic to
her plight. She is frequently made out as a malevolent, unevolved
woman who acted out in bitter enmity and cruelty towards those
she felt had wronged her. Furthermore, she had the memory of an
African elephant; a past misdemeanour or insult was never under
rug swept or forgotten. Her invectives became even more ruthless
and calculating when it came to the human subjects and progeny
68
of Zeus’s erotic escapades. Her hatred of her stepson Hercules,
the spawn of Zeus and Alcmene, was profound and unrelenting.
When he was still an infant, she conjured two serpents and sent
them to his crib in hope that they might strangle him to death.
Interestingly though, it was the snakes that drew the short straw.
On another occasion she invokes the serpent Python to pursue a
pregnant Leto unremorsefully to prevent her from giving birth to
Artemis and Apollo, her divine twins to Zeus. Semele, the
daughter of King Cadmus of Thebes, suffered Hera’s wrath for
exactly the same reasons. Hera turned Lamia, a queen of Libya,
into a gruesome monstrosity because she was loved by the king
of gods. She even had the audacity to hurl her own self-generated
infant son Hephaestus off the cliff because she believed
wholeheartedly that she could not have given birth to such an
ugly, handicapped creature.
In Homer’s Iliad, Hera heavily favours the Achaean (Greek)
forces. The motivation behind her anti-Trojan sentiments is
discernible if one peruses the wedding of King Peleus to the
nymph Thetis, where the Trojan prince Paris eventually awarded
the golden apple, a symbol of fairest beauty, to a goddess whose
bribe was far more enticing than hers. For Hera having to submit
to mortal judgement was a painstaking affair, but being demoted
by a mere mortal was sacrilege, a violation of her self-worth. As a
result, she did everything in her power to bring about the fall of
Troy.
Sacred to the mother of gods and mortals was the cow, the
pomegranate and the peacock. In the classical Hellenistic period
69
she was often depicted being drawn across the heavens in a
peacock-drawn chariot. Her Roman equivalent is Juno.
70
THE GREEK GODS AND GODDESSES:
HERMES
In classical myth the god Hermes acts the messenger of the
Olympians, the living, tangible connection between the heavens
and the earth, as well as a psychopomp. His epithets Diaktoros
and Psychopompos definitely allude to the two just mentioned
qualities. As Zeus’s chief emissary, his physical movements were
71
fluid, swift and elegant, effortlessly transitioning between realms
bedecked in beautiful ornaments most recognisable to the
contemporary world: his feet were hugged by winged sandals; his
head by a winged petasos or a wide-winged hat with a conical
crown; and in one of his hands he always grasped the caduceus, a
wing-topped magical golden staff or wand entwined with two
snakes along its entire length. Hermes is a patron of travel,
innovation and the arts, particularly of commerce and athletics, in
addition to a shred master of trickery, appearances, facetiousness
and oratory. As Hermes Eriounios, he also adjudicates over luck
and serendipity.
According to Hesiod’s Theogony, Hermes is the offspring of
the invincible Zeus and Maia, the daughter of Atlas and the
Oceanid Pleione. Like so many other universal deities, his mother
gave birth to him in a secluded grotto. There are many classical
sources that attest to the god’s wily nature, even as an infant:
“The babe was born at the break of day,
And here the night fell he had stolen away
Apollo’s herds.”
In reading these we learn that on a great many occasion
Hermes would resort to mischief and imbroglio whilst his mother
busied herself with daytime choirs. One time, he snuck out of his
quarters and seceded in killing a tortoise before fashioning its
shell into a lyre. After a while, playing the musical instrument had
become mind-numbing so he attempted to muster personal
satisfaction and delight by thieving cows from Apollo’s herd.
72
Hermes’ plan of attack was meticulously planned and executed
for the sake of evading detection; he diffused evidence that might
be gained through reasoning by inverting body mechanics so that
the path traced out by their tracks appeared inverse to what it
actually was, and kept from making any footprints on the earth
himself by binding severed branch stems onto the soles of his
feet. After inciting some pandemonium at Pylos he aborted the
self-serving endeavour and returned to his crib complacent and
jubilant. But Apollo was not to be hoodwinked by the antics of his
shrewd half-brother. After gathering sufficient clues including the
anecdotal evidence of a witness to implicate him, Apollo appealed
to the mighty Zeus on Olympus. After a short deliberation the
latter succeeded in resolving their quarrel and hastening
conciliation with a mutual exchange of gifts. Hermes handed over
his maiden invention–the lyre–an instrument with which the
musically-inclined Apollo was became intensely engrossed. In
turn Apollo chose to part with his beloved shepherd’s crook,
symbolically passing ownership of the herd over to his halfbrother.
In Homer’s Iliad, the crafty Hermes takes the side of the
Achaeans (Greeks). Aside from its evolution into a nine-year battle
between the Greeks and the Trojans, the Trojan War was also the
humus which facilitated the culmination of the gods’ own
unresolved affairs. Hera, for instance, took on Artemis whilst
Hermes was left to deal with Leto, the mother of Artemis and
Apollo. Interestingly Hermes turns down the confrontation purely
out of respect, a moral scrupulousness otherwise uncommon to
his ascribed character. We encounter this unusual sentiment
73
again as the plot thickens; in an act that might be seen as outright
treachery for the banner he was supposed to be flying, Hermes
leads King Priam of Troy to Achilles hut so that he may beseech
the awesome demigod for the rightful return of his son Hector’s
ravaged body.
Sacred to the messenger of the gods was the rooster and
hawk, the ram and tortoise, as well as the crocus and strawberry
plants. His Roman equivalent is Mercury.
74
THE GREEK GODS AND GODDESSES:
HESTIA
Hestia was the Olympia goddess of the hearth, domesticity and
family, the latter being an entirely sacred denomination for the
Greeks. Together with Artemis and Athena, she formed an
exclusive association of virgin goddesses worshipped as the
triune aspect of the Great Mother Goddess. According to some
Hellenistic sources it is alleged that when the Titan Cronus,
otherwise known as Father Time, tried to extirpate his own
children for fear of being overthrown from the mount of heaven
75
Hestia was swallowed first and regurgitated last. For this reason
alone she stands at the helm of the Olympians as the oldest and
youngest child of Cronus and Rhea, the Earth Mother. The others,
as previously mentioned, are Demeter, Hera, Zeus, Poseidon and
Hades. In scouring the annuls of classical mythology one can
discern that she played a minimal role in its melodramatic,
embellished episodes and its procession, though this is in no way
an indicator of nominal influence in culture. In actual fact the
goddess’s central importance to the bucolic conception of home
and hearth is more often than not underrated and rudely
dismissed.
All
sacrifices
and
meals
made
in
a
pastoral
environment were heeded by an offering to the virgin goddess:
“Hestia, in all dwellings of men and immortals
Yours is the highest honor, the sweet wine offered
First and last at the feast, poured out to you duly.
Never without you can gods or mortals hold a banquet.”
She was of a serene, compliant and easy-going disposition,
intensely aware of her immediate surrounds and vigilant in her
relation with others. This is probably why she was seldom
inveigled into partaking of trivial matters and exploits her fellow
Olympians were notoriously known for. Poseidon and Apollo were
both interested in courting her, though she politely repudiated
their advances and pledged allegiance to the unsullied condition
of virginity. Zeus, her beloved brother, honoured her oath and
ensured she never succumbed to the carnal influences of wily
Aphrodite or Eros. Sadly, Hestia’s incompetence in flowering into
76
a full-blooded archetype influenced many classical thinkers in a
way that often resulted in her exclusion from the Olympian
pantheon of major deities, of which there was twelve. With
respect to the latter, some philosophers gave preference to
Dionysus, the god of wine, drunken merriment and sexual
gratification. This uncertainty or vacillation between the two
entities is immortalised in classical Athenian art and architecture.
Hestia appears in the altar of the twelve Olympians at the Agora,
but vacates her position for Dionysus on the eastern frieze of the
Parthenon on the Acropolis.
The goddess of the hearth was inexplicably linked with
everything homely, thus her sacred emblems were the kettle or
pot, the cauldron, the crane bird, as well as the domesticated pug
and donkey. Her Roman equivalent is Vesta.
77
THE GREEK GODS AND GODDESSES:
POSEIDON
Poseidon is one of the mightiest Olympian gods, second in
prominence only to Zeus. Together with a host of other gods and
goddesses that included the latter, Hades, Hestia and Hera,
Poseidon is the spawn of the Titans Cronus, or Father Time and
Rhea, the Earth Mother. An explicit reference in Homer’s Iliad
expounds the notion that when Cronus divided the cosmos up
amongst his children, Zeus received the heavens as his dominion,
Pluton (Hades) the underworld and Poseidon the sea.
Poseidon is a master, a king, an all-powerful magician of the
water element. In fact, one could say that the world’s oceans,
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seas, rivers, lakes, geysers and streams all danced to his changing
temperament and disposition. Given that the Greeks lived on
lands circumscribed by water, their dependence upon the seas
tranquil mode of being was fundamental to their existence.
Because it pervaded nearly all areas of their lives, one was bound
to encounter a deep-seated and profound reverence for Poseidon
wherever
they
ventured.
Foremost
amongst
his
personal
belongings was a bejewelled palace that sprung up from the
ocean bed, a golden chariot and a three-pronged or forked spear
which imitated the wand of the Great Mother Goddess or
medieval and Renaissance witches and wizards. The latter is a
double-edged
blade
of
both
seedy
generation
and
fiery
destruction. With it he could stir up whitebeards and waterspouts
from the depths of the seas or instigate the tranquillity of
doldrums; he could make the sea navigable or unnavigable,
whenever he so wished or desired. Striking the trident against the
ground usually resulted in far-reaching consequences that
included but were not exclusive to the formation of islands
springs and geysers, drowning and shipwrecks, as well as
destructive earthquakes. The latter is the principle reason why he
gained
the
dreaded
epithets
Enosichthon,
Seischthon
and
Ennosigaios, all of which denote “Earth-shaker”.
According to most classical sources, Poseidon wed one of
the fifty daughters of Nereus (and granddaughter of the Titan
Oceanus), the sea nymph Amphitrite and sired a plethora of
children,
both
gods
and
demi-gods.
Many
acquired
a
disconcerting habit of growing into fearsome giants. Titius, his
son by Elara, daughter of Orchomenus, his son Orion by Euryale,
79
as well as the handsome twins Otus and Ephialtes, his sons by
Iphimedeia, daughter of King Triopas of Thessaly, were all
Herculean in stature. By far his most flamboyant and outlandish
children were his progeny by Amphitrite, the sea entities Proteus,
Glaucus and Triton. Proteus was as elusive and enigmatic as the
element under which he was born, possessing an inherent ability
to change his form at will. Glaucus, on the other hand, was a
prominent merman and seer with supernal aquamarine eyes and
tufts of green seaweed for hair. Triton was also a merman who
entertained the horde of sea demons and entities inhabiting the
seas by belting out beautiful melodies on a conch shell, his
version of the modern-day brass trumpet.
In the Trojan War, Poseidon takes the side of the Achaean
(Greek) forces. His anti-Trojan sentiments stem from a bitter
dispute with the king of the gods Zeus in which he emerges
second best. Together with Apollo, he pays his repentance by
agreeing to refashion the walls of Troy as a supplicant to the then
King of Troy Laomedon. The promise of a hefty payment
motivates both Poseidon and Apollo to commit to the task and
perform to the best of their abilities. However a subsequent
change of heart on the part of the king not to award the two
Olympians angers Poseidon beyond reckoning, who conjures a
behemoth of a sea serpent to attack the Trojan infidels. This
single event represents the inception of Poseidon’s implacable
hatred against the Trojan forces and elucidates why his
sentimentalities remained with the Greeks until the great
conflagration that eventually engulfed Troy unfolded.
80
In the ordered scheme of Mother Nature, the horse, the bull,
as well as all forms of sea life were sacred to Poseidon. His
Roman equivalent is Neptune.
81
THE GREEK GODS AND GODDESSES:
ZEUS
Zeus, the principle deity of heavenly Olympus and of classical
Greece, appears to be a primordial entity that has been
worshipped in the Balkan Peninsula from at least the third
millennium
BCE.
His name derives from dyeu, a Proto-Indo-
European word which means “to shine” and connects the god to
the sky, thunder and the heavenly realm in general. Zeus was the
king of the stars and the rain, the conjurer of clouds and
tempests.
This
symbolism
was
82
retained
by
classical
consciousness which ascribed to the magnificent Zeus the
epithets Tallaios, Astrapios, and Brontios to honour his celestial
sovereignty. Hence when the commander-in-chief of the Hellenic
forces, Agamemnon, invokes the god for help he chants, “Zeus,
most glorious, most great, God of the storm-cloud, thou that
dwellest in the heavens.”
In light of this it should come as no surprise that the eagle
was foremost of his symbols and incarnations; the bird’s ability
to ascend towards the cupola of the sky at mercurial speeds along
with its propensity to hone in and dive upon its prey is both
unprecedented and unrivalled by any other living creature. Hence
the other zodiacal beasts (including human beings) that inhabited
the earthly sphere were subject to his changing temperaments
and mercy. Given that Zeus was responsible for weather and
climactic change–themselves a symbol of portents and omens–the
Greeks believed that he was a conspirator of fate or cosmic
heimarmene, and that he could bend it to his personal will.
According to the classical sources, Zeus was the youngest
child of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. In order to thwart an
oracular prophecy which decreed that he would be overthrown by
his own sire, Cronus proceeded to swallow six of his seven
children whole–Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon. Zeus,
on the other hand was saved from this lamentable fate, thanks to
a conspiracy masterminded by his mother and grandmother,
Rhea and Gaia respectively. He is then jostled to the shores of
Crete to be raised by the nymph Adamanthea (or in some
versions a goat named Amalthea) and the Kouretes, omnipresent
83
soldiers who danced about smashing their shields with their
swords as to mask the cries of the infant god. When Zeus came of
age he squared off against his own father in combat and defeated
him. During the violent altercation Zeus was able to inflict an
abdominal wound that liberated his older siblings from the
internal abyss. A violent battle known as the Titanomachy ensued
between the two generations, in which Zeus and his siblings
pugnaciously subdued the gruesome Titans and then hurled them
into Tartatus, the shadowy depths of the Underworld. Atlas, the
son of the Titans Iapetus and the Oceanid Clymene, was to suffer
the brunt of Zeus’ fury, inflicted with the burden of having to
carry the weight of the heavens and the earth on his shoulders for
all eternity.
When the hullabaloo subsided Zeus carved up the cosmos
into three parts; to his brother Poseidon he gave the earthly
waters, the ocean, and to Hades the realm of the deceased, the
Underworld. The sky and the heavens he kept as his personal
fiefdom. Even though he ordained only over a third of the
cosmos, his supernatural powers and talents were many times
superior to those of his fellow Olympians. He shrewdly reminds
his divine brethren of this in Homer’s Iliad: “I am the mightiest of
all. Make trial that you may know. Fasten a rope of gold to heaven
and lay hold, every god and goddess. You could not drag down
Zeus. But if I wished to drag you down, then I would. The rope I
would bind to a pinnacle of Olympus and all would hang in air,
yes, the very earth and the sea too.” With this awesome, sublime
and insurmountable status came responsibility, and the classical
texts frequently mention incidences where Zeus mediated over
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heavenly disputes in the manner that a judge or group of judges
adjudicate over a criminal or civil trial. No matter whether one
was a god, demi-god or mortal, recourse was to be found in
consulting the mighty Zeus.
Like a great many men Zeus was an erotic, promiscuous,
guileful and sexually-motivated individual. Polygamy was deeply
ingrained in his being, in his genes even. There was no way he
could ever be faithful to one person. His indecent liaisons with
other goddesses, nymphs, women and men was a principal
concern for Hera, his lawfully married sister, and much to her
dismay a great deal of his time was spent trying to seduce or rape
them. Without a doubt Zeus probably took as many partners and
sired as many children as Ramses the Great (1303-1213BCE). At
one time Zeus attempted to befuddle his wife and divert her
attention from his extramarital affairs by employing the nymph
Echo to be her divine orator. Echo’s rampant banter worked for a
little while, but when Hera grew sentient of her husband’s
trickery she cursed Echo by decreeing that she should forever
reiterate the words of others. Despite Zeus’s major flaw in
character Hera tolerated and forgave her husband’s unremitting
infidelity. Together they had five children: Ares, the god of war;
Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth and midwifery; Hebe, the
goddess of youth; Eris, the goddess of discord; and Hephaestus,
the god of fire, metallurgy and the artisanal crafts. The latter is
sometimes regarded as the offspring of Hera alone.
Zeus remains impartial in the Trojan War, favouring neither
the Achaeans (Greeks) or Trojans. In fact his chief role during the
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course of the nine-year debacle is to enforce the law of
heimarmene or fate, to bestow deserved honour upon the heroes
irrespective of side and to ensure that none of the other
Olympian deities involved can thwart or abort the predetermined
outcome. Homer assigns him an unwavering, stoic, decisive and
even merciless persona in the epic. For instance, in a mighty
effort to appear impartial and moral Zeus deserts his own son
Sarpedon to his own devices and pays a hefty price for it. During
the battle Sarpedon squares off against a Patroclus decked in his
lover’s armour (Achilles) and is mortally wounded, much to his
father’s dismay. Zeus’s inertia in saving his own son was
necessary, given that it demarcated the guidelines under which
the Trojan War was to be played out; the gods or goddesses were
not allowed to safeguard their vested interests or “pawns” if the
action were to somehow thwart the trajectory of fate.
Zeus was the keeper of the aegis, a much-feared shield or
buckler which could incite earthly pandemonium when rattled.
Sometimes he would entrust this implement to Pallas Athena, his
favourite child. Sacred to the god was the bull, the eagle and the
oak tree. His Egyptian equivalent is Ammon-Re and his Roman
counterpart Jupiter.
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PROMETHEUS: THE BENEFACTOR OF MANKIND
The name Prometheus has cultural associations to creation, theft,
progress, evolution, intelligence, and fore-thinking. In fact, the
etymological route of the name from the words pro (before) and
manthano (learn) links the word in question to the latter and
explains why the Latin Servius claimed that Prometheus was a
man of great foresight. Like many of the other deities, it appears
that Prometheus first appeared in Hesiod’s famed epic poem
Theogony as a son of the Oceanid Clymene and the Titan Iapetus.
He had three other siblings–Atlas, Menoetius, and Epimethius–
none of whom acquired his fame or significance when it came to
human striving, rebellion against established order, and perilous
endeavours like deception which typically generate overwhelming
consequences.
87
Prometheus makes his first appearance in the Theogony,
though it isn’t until Works and Days (lines 42-105) that Hesiod
expounds upon the consequences of Prometheus’s theft of fire
from the gods. According to these early sources, the gods were
pleased when they created humankind and wished to bestow the
noblest of gifts upon them. To do this efficiently and effectively
they sought the help of Prometheus and Epimetheus, a task that
the two brothers aptly accepted. The gifts themselves included
everything from strength, size, and swiftness, to mental dexterity,
flight, and versatility. Being of an impulsive, enthusiastic and
blasé disposition, Epimetheus overcompensated for the animal
kingdom to the extent that when the time to imbue humankind
with gifts finally came, there was nothing left. Prometheus was
immensely horrified when he discovered his brother’s overt
generosity. He spent much time thinking about how this
detriment to humankind could best be corrected.
Finally, he agreed that the best course of action would be to
steal the element of fire from the gods and give it to humans who
could then use it for multiple purposes–keeping warm, cooking
food, defence against dangerous predators, and so forth. From a
humanistic perspective, the act was noble, heroic and dignified
for it put humankind on the highway of scientific progress,
cultural evolution, and the acquisition of knowledge. In many
ways Prometheus was the progenitor of the arts and sciences. His
punishment for this divine transgression was to be chained to a
rock on pinnacle of the Caucasus. There, a hungry eagle would
descend from the skies and tear his liver out with its sharp talons
before devouring it. Prometheus’s immortality offered the winged
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beast innumerable free lunches and dinners; the liver regenerated
overnight, so the eagle would return time and time again until
Heracles finally liberated Prometheus thirty years afterwards with
the consent of the omniscient Zeus.
Hesiod also introduces Prometheus as the ultimate trickster.
In the Theogony he deceives the father of the gods by presenting
him with two sacrificial meals and asking him to pock between
the two. One contained a selection of lean meat inside an ox’s
stomach and the other a blend of fat and bones wrapped in
glistening fat. Deliberately misled by the autosuggestion made by
outward appearances, Zeus selected the package that was
nutritionally poorer. The myth serves as a prototype delineating
why the ancients offered up only the fat and bones of an animal
sacrifice and kept the rest for themselves. If there was one thing
that the Olympians despised, it was being duped by other beings
judged to be intellectually and physically inferior.
Zeus sought retribution for Prometheus’s act but he did it in
a much more discreet and subtle matter. He invited the lame
blacksmith Hephaestus to fashion the external form of the first
woman from clay and the Olympian goddesses to dress her with
their finest aesthetic qualities. This first woman was an
amalgamation
of
seductive
gifts
conferred
by
the
gods
themselves, and so she was given the name Pandora, meaning
“All Gifts”. Once the physical vessel was ready, it was ensouled by
the four winds blowing forcefully from their allotted corners. Her
soul was then instilled with wickedness by Hermes on the
command of Zeus. The inversion of an originally good nature was
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what possessed Pandora to open a pithos (jar) containing
lamentable ills, pains, and diseases that had been entrusted to
her by the Olympians, thus imposing calamity on the human
condition. Pandora rushed to replace the lid and prevent other
evils from escaping but it was too late. In the end, the only thing
that remained trapped inside was Elpis, or Hope.
Myths are carriers of spiritual truths, racial idiosyncrasies,
and the nature of reality as each culture perceive it so there are
numerous ways in which we could interpret the Promethean
insurrection against the twelve Olympians. Personally, I possess a
strong bias towards inwardly-turned interpretations that explain
mythical narratives in terms of the inner workings of the psychic
realm. In this light the Promethean endeavour becomes an
internal battle or war between positive and negatively-charged
forces of the soul. At this point it would be impossible to
continue
without
introducing
concepts
pertaining
to
the
analytical psychology of Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961).
Jung developed a stream of esoteric spirituality whereby
projections of reality onto external matter were understood to be
by-products of the intercourse between two vital components of
the human psyche termed the conscious and unconscious. To
make the terms accessible to an untutored audience, we might
define the conscious as one’s personal sphere of awareness of the
cosmos in which we live and the unconscious as every universal
form, idea, image, concept, symbol, pattern or archetype, if you
like, that exists in the psychic world but has not yet come to light.
If we were to equate the two concepts with something more
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tangible, the conscious would be a sun or star and the
unconscious, or collective unconscious if we were talking about
humanity as a whole, would be the infinite and expanding
universe. During its lifetime, the light of consciousness can travel
and illuminate contents in the darkness of the unconscious,
hence causing one’s ego to inflate and become conscious of a
greater reality, but it can never encompass the sphere of the
unconscious for the obvious reason that the latter is illimitable.
Just as light and dark are inexplicable connected to one
another as active and passive participants in a duality through
which all reality is perceived, so too do the conscious and
unconscious faculties of the psyche interact in such a way that
resembles the eternal battle between water and fire on the surface
of the earth. We might think of subterranean lava as an
unconscious projection that erupts through the ocean of
consciousness to create a little island, the ego’s cosmogony,
bringing hitherto unknown archetypes and thoughtforms to the
forefront. This phenomenon is linked to the process of selfactualization that Jung called individuation, a transformation of
the individual personality where unconscious elements are
eventually integrated with the personal psyche to create a psychic
body distinct from the collective, but it is also a necessary evil
and chaos that strengthens willpower and disassociates personal
consciousness from its roots in the collective unconscious. When
consciousness grows, it inflates like a helium balloon, rising
higher and higher into the supernal skies and acquiring greater
and greater freedom from base instincts, reactions, and impulses
that weigh down and obstruct the primal ego. A natural
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consequence of this condition is that the ego-consciousness is
severed from psychological archetypes whose pedigree belongs to
the variegated constellations of the collective unconscious.
In retrospect, the sweeping ambition of the conscious is
independence from a maternal unconscious on which it is
dependent though in seeking a level of freedom that transcends
its own frontiers it is in effect committing hubris against the
unconscious psychic source from whence it takes its own
nourishment. This can result in an inner turmoil that leads to
pandemonium within ego-consciousness and eventually to its
dissolution and death if the latter remains in a state of suspended
animation without forging new archetypal configurations with the
collective unconscious. The source of consciousness is the
unconscious and the ego cannot perceive the world of matter
without an archetypal framework in as much as an astronomer
cannot see the icy rings of Saturn without the aid of a telescope.
Thus
the
fragmentation
and
reintegration
of
these
two
components of the psyche is a salvific act that liberates the
individual personality from its carnal routes as well as a
transgression against the psychological archetypes personified as
gods on which it was dependent during the rudimentary phase of
its development.
If we chose to interpret the Promethean myth from a
Jungian perspective, it should be blatantly obvious that Zeus’s
vengeful act in chaining Prometheus to a rock of the Caucasus is
an afflicted ego’s inability to reconnect with its unconscious
origins, albeit in a new and meaningful form, after its temporary
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division from the collective unconscious. Proceeding from this
psychological reasoning, Prometheus could also symbolize a
fragmentation of the personality or a neurosis about to flower
into
a
full-blown
schizoid
disorder
or
psychosis.
His
transgression against the Olympians would then become a
situation of inflation in which ego-consciousness experiences a
fierce sense of autonomy, power, and independence, and the
diurnal passions that he suffers as a consequence of his
imprisonment afterwards become the nervousness, confusion,
disorientation, and entanglement in the realm of matter, and
mental poison generated when one wallows in an extreme
conscious standpoint for too long after it has been estranged
from the unconscious. As a more complete and comprehensive
entity, the unconscious possesses formative powers and can
either destroy the ego-consciousness or contribute to its
regeneration and renewal as a new form by integrating new
projections into its cosmogony after it has been swallow up.
Prometheus was eventually saved from his torture by Heracles,
meaning that the psychic friction of the estranged ego finally
experienced reintegration with the unconscious, contributing to a
widening of the conscious standpoint and consequently the
generation of a newer and more sophisticated, in addition to a
more permanent personality.
From Myth and Knowing: An Introduction to World Mythology by
Scott Leonard and Michael McClure. Copyright 2004 by The
McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. pp. 304-307.
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Prometheus, from Hesiod’s Theogony (507-681)
Iapetos [a child of Gaia and Ourano] married one of Ocean’s
daughter’s,
Klymene with her beautiful ankles,
and took her to their bed.
She gave birth to Atlas for him,
a child with strong will,
and then Menoitios with all his fame,
and Prometheus with his many tricky plans,
and Epimetheus who could never get it right
and was from the start something bad for men,
who live by eating bread,
as he was first to get from Zeus, once she was made,
a woman to marry.
But Zeus bound Prometheus and his many intentions
with painful chains no one could break,
strapping him hard with these to a pole.
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And Zeus sent an eagle with beautiful wings
to attack him and eat his immortal liver.
Yet everything this bird with beautiful wings
Would eat during the day would grow back at night.
For the gods and mortal men had had an argument at Mekone.
At that time Prometheus, knowing just when he was doing,
deceiving Zeus, cut up and offered a great ox.
He first set out the ox’s flesh and innards with tasty fat,
hidden in the ox’s stomach.
He then set out the ox’s white bones, neatly and with skilled
deceit
hidden in the glistening fat.
The father of both men and gods addressed him:
“Iapetos’ son, most famous of all the lords,
my friend, you’ve laid these portions our unfairly.”
This is what Zeus said sneering; Zeus with his plans that can’t be
changed.
And Prometheus with his crafty plans addressed Zeus’
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“Zeus, greatest and mightiest of all the everlasting gods,
choose whichever of these you’d like.”
He said this thinking he was being clever.
But Zeus with his plans that can’t be changed
was fully aware of this deceit
and thought up evils for mortal men
intending to see them through.
Nonetheless, with both hands he chose the white fat.
And when he saw the white bones of the ox,
laid out with skilled deceit,
his temper rose in anger.
This is why the race of men on earth
burn white bones on smoking altars.
Greatly
disappointed,
Zeus
who
gathers
clouds
together,
addressed him:
“Iapetos’ son, you who know what the plans are for everything,
my friend, you certainly haven’t forgotten how to deceive with
skill.”
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That is what Zeus said seething; Zeus with his plans that can’t be
changed.
Because Zeus never forgot this trick, he stopped giving the ash
trees
the power of unresting fire to mortals who live on earth.
But the good son of Iapetos tricked him
by stealing unresting fire, bright and clear from a distance,
in a hollow fennel stalk.
This hurt Zeus deeply in his soul; Zeus whose thunder
is heard from the heavens; and he seethed in his heart,
seeing fire among men, bright and clear from a distance.
For the theft of fire he immediately made
something evil for men:
The famous lame-legged Hephaistos,
through the intentions of Kronos’ son [Zeus]
made something very much like
a modest young woman.
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And the gray-eyed goddess Athena
dressed her in silvery-white clothes,
arranged her hair, and applied makeup.
And she put on her head a beautiful veil
–it was amazing to see–
and then a crown of flowers that had just bloomed.
When Hephaistos had finished this beautiful thing,
something evil instead of something good,
he brought her out where the other gods and men were.
Her appearance was delightful, thanks to Athena
The gray-eyed daughter of great Zeus.
The immortal gods and men were amazed
when they saw this perfect trick, this thing
that would leave men at a loss.
So from her come the female sex–
women who live with mortal men
and cause them pain–
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no good at being damn poor
but quite suited to getting more than enough.
And this is how Zeus whose thunder is heard in the heavens
made for mortal men an evil, women,
a sex synonymous with trouble and pain.
So it isn’t possible to trick the mind of Zeus
nor get around it in some way
as even Prometheus, the son of Iapetos, with good meaning,
didn’t evade his deep anger, but necessity bound him,
despite his wisdom, with great chains.
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THE BIRTH OF THE MINOAN EMPIRE
In August of 2007 I revisited Mycenae, an archaeological site in
the north-eastern Peloponnese famous for the instrumental role
its incumbent
Agamemnon played in
the
Trojan War, a
mythological tussle which records the first ever instance the
Greeks successfully banded together for the sake of a greater
cause. Like a great many other ancient ruins in Greece, the
Mycenae of today isn’t much to look at; save for the empty
Treasury of Atreus, its hive-shaped tholos tombs, and some
dilapidated fortifications, the legendary city has been stripped of
its glorious structures and embellishments. Hence to experience
the magnetism of the past one must invariably resort to a random
exercise in active imagination, one which my companion and I
tried from the palatial foundations which offer panoramic views
of the Argolid and Saronic Gulfs.
When Heinrich Schliemann excavated the Late Bronze
settlement at Mycenae, he discerned that the entrance to the
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citadel was by means of a ten by ten feet wide stone gate, called
the Lion Gate for the sole reason that the carved triangular relief
atop the structure depicted a Minoan pillar flanked by two
fearsome lions. Save for their symbolic act of guarding the royal
house, the wild animals appear to be venerating something that
once stood atop the pillar and capped the ornamental design.
Logically, there can be no way of knowing what stood at the
pinnacle of the carved triangular slab, and an educated conjecture
based on artefacts exhibiting homologous features may be the
closest we’ll ever get to the truth.
The entire motif is recapitulated on a ceremonial seal found
in the rubble of Cnossos, the largest and most important of the
Minoan temple-palaces on Crete. Dating to about c.1500
BCE,
the
seal vividly portrays the magic mountain of the world, the
primordial mound of chaos, from which the Great Mother
Goddess sprouts holding what appears to be a wand or sceptre.
Directly behind her, a table stacked with an array of bull horns
alludes to her identification with the luminescence of the moon,
and specifically with the lunar phases which mediate the seasons,
the ocean tides, the menstrual cycle and other earthbound forces.
Thus, she is the fecund energies, the fruitfulness of the Earth. She
is flanked by two lions, an animal which stands at the pinnacle of
the animal kingdom’s pecking order as the ultimate apex
predator. With their forepaws on the mountain, the lions
venerate, protect and salute their Mistress. Watching from a
distance is a Minoan youth, a young man, who shields his eyes
from the blinding luminosity emanating from her presence.
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As a syncretised whole, the image alludes to the emotionally
coloured state of Great Mother worship, a time when the
collective ego of humanity was beginning to differentiate or
achieve a small degree of autonomy from a collective unconscious
state known as uroboric wholeness. In actual fact, the vigorous
psychic exchange with the collective unconscious would have
greatly restricted the development of personality or individuality,
and it would not be a hyperbole to say that human beings of
matri-local cultures would have replicated the psychosocial
patterns which govern bee culture or operated in quite the same
manner that the sea nymphs or vampires did in classical
mythology; as a wholly integrated tribal unit whose common aims
and concerns were mediated and controlled by a matriarch, a
high priestess who could draw to herself and appropriate the
energies of the Great Mother Goddess herself.
The monotheistic goddess is, amongst other things, the
epitome of love, and as an all-pervading numinous life force that
animates created matter, she is the self-love that gives birth to
humanity, to the lower beasts of the heavenly and earthly zodiac,
to the plants, trees and stones, as well as the inhabitants of the
underworld from the dark cavernous recesses of her womb
before subjecting her creations to the cosmic cycles of time, itself
embodied by the triune phases of the lunar satellite. Time also
implies change, and change weaves together the strings of
destiny. On these strings, she plucks tunes that transmute past
into future, sperm and egg into foetus, seed into plant, flower
into apple, spring into summer and water into steam, always
varying the pitch and rhythm as to forge a plethora of marked
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differences between analogous events and homologous pairings.
Thus, as the prime mover of this cycle, which measures the
eternity of time but is in no way subject to it, the Great Mother
Goddess is the creatrix of wisdom and war, life and death, chance
and destiny, as well as prophecy and all forms of extrasensory
perception; as its progenitor she stands at the primordial time
origin of the cosmos, held aloft on her throne by the mightiest of
the terrestrial beasts, the bull and the lion.
When it comes to telling the story of an ancient culture, or
any culture in fact, giving an accurate measure of its cosmology
and how its people may have thought depends on a systematic
examination of its archaeological remains, particularly the
omnipresent rites, myths and symbols. Myths are especially
important, seeing that the narrative and story-telling process has
revealed to us, time and time again, its intrinsic propensity to
reshape and recast the cosmic clay which forms the mould of
knowledge, the cultural attitudes, behaviours, and values of any
society, as well as any political ramifications that may ensue as a
result.
We
might
compare
mythological
discourse
to
a
thermometer which measures and reflects the increment and
nature of our collective consciousness at any one time, a
rudimentary process which acts as a necessary precursor to an
evolutionary leap in critical thinking, inquiry and the way we
process and evaluate information as a whole. While the manner of
transmission is usually oral, the survival of individual pieces of
myth-making across generations has always been precariously
hinged on the written word, and, to a greater extent, whether or
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not the administrative leaders and their scribes decreed them
worthy of transcription onto clay tablets, papyri or paper.
Herein lays the problem with Minoan cosmology. There are
no surviving myths or fragments thereof that could contribute to
a somewhat objectified representation of the cultural canon, or
the central Great Mother archetype of the Minoan peoples. The
cycle of myths which mention the story of the Athenian hero
Theseus and his venture to the Cnossian labyrinth to save
fourteen Athenian youths from the dreaded jaws of the minotaur
is
a
latter
fabrication,
a
classical
piece
of
myth-making
transmitted by the war-loving patriarchs of Mycenae who actively
sought to recapitulate the subjugation of the Minoan templepalaces through allegory and hasten the demythologization of its
Mother Goddess. To add to the virtual absence of myth is the
lamentable silence of the written scripts which has plagued– and
continues to plague–the archaeological establishment. While it is
true that the Linear B script was unveiled by Michael Ventris in
1952 to be an early form of Mycenaean Greek, the language is not
a viable exponent of Minoan culture seeing that its inauguration
occurred after the Mycenaean incursion of Crete. Further, its
confinement to the administrative order of the temple-palaces
and the inability to give voice to the religious and metaphysical
concerns
of
the
people
as
a
result,
further
limits
its
cosmographical scope. The two scripts which will most likely
shed light upon the earlier periods of Cretan cultural history, the
mysterious Cretan hieroglyphic and Linear A, are yet to be
deciphered. With this graveyard silence of written records and
mythologems, our studies of Minoan culture depend heavily, if
104
not entirely, on the universal languages of archaeoastronomy and
psychology, as well as the vibrant intonations of visual art.
We know that the man generally credited for the discovery
of the Bronze Age ruins of Cnossos at Kephala Hill in Crete is the
wealthy Englishman Sir Arthur Evans ((1851-1941
CE),
though it
appears that the idea to dig there may have originated with
someone else. In 1871, German amateur archaeologist Heinrich
Schliemann made a name for himself through a heartfelt
conviction that mythological treatises like the Homer’s Iliad and
Virgil’s Aeneid wove real places and events into their narratives.
Seeing that they recapitulated the Bronze Age world, the
mythologems themselves contained clues of where significant
Bronze Age ruins might lie in and around the Aegean.
Schliemann’s eternal obsession with classical Greece and with the
pugnacious heroes of the Trojan War eventually culminated in the
successful excavation of historical Troy, Mycenae and Tiryns, and
it appears that he had already devised plans to follow the
mythological thread that lead to the mound at Kephala Hill before
he was brought to a halt by the most feared of ancient enemies,
death itself.
Following in the footsteps of his contemporary, Arthur
Evans purchased the mound at Kephala Hill after learning that a
local merchant had unearthed ancient earthenware in the vicinity.
Accompanied by an entourage of indigenous Cretans, he began
digging in March of 1899 and piecing together remnants of the
island’s Bronze Age civilisation as if they were miniscule parts of
a wooden jigsaw puzzle. In all certainty, Evans was probably
105
expecting to find a primitive settlement composed of a few
cobblestone streets, single-storey houses with fundamental
amenities, simple utensils and so forth; instead, he ran into a
highly
sophisticated
three
and
four-storey
temple-palace
comprised of narrow labyrinthine passages, architectural features
like peer-and-door partitioning, flushed sewers and underground
clay pipes that supplied rooms with hot and cold running water.
The walls themselves were decorated with beautiful frescoes
showcasing dolphins, flowers, griffins, and ritualistic activities
like bull-grappling– all of which were painted in celestial blues,
rusty reds and golden yellows, colours which emphasised the
primary and harmonious communion between all creatures, tame
or wild. In amongst the asymmetrical passages and rooms were
gargantuan stone vats and pottery with double-axes, bucrania and
geometrical motifs inscribed onto them, as well as gold or crystal
signet rings and other jewels with depictions of bees, butterflies
and anthropomorphic goddesses with upraised hands in gestures
of epiphany. Other common themes included trees, lions, bulls
and wheat, all images borrowed directly from Nature herself.
Ubiquitous to the Minoan culture were the bucrania, also known
as the Horns of Consecration, and the labrys, the double-headed
axe. These entombed the mysteries of the Great Mother Goddess
in their purest and original form for in the logic of primitive
matriarchy the sacrifice of the bull with the labrys harnessed the
combined energies of both the earth and the heavens, energies
that
renewed
the
eternal
cosmic
cycles.
As
sacrosanct
implements, both were foremost of the paraphernalia used in
procession during religious ceremonies and feasts.
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At this point it would be wise to make the distinction
between the archetypal and historical image or some other
abstraction in visual art. The manner whereby we discern that the
image is of the former is to look for it in cultures contemporary
with the Minoan. In fact, we only need to travel across the Libyan
Sea to Egypt to see that the guise of the Great Mother Goddess,
expressed in her manifestation as bee, butterfly and griffin, as
well as her consort and son-lover in the bull, is not exclusive to
the Bronze Age civilization that thrived on Crete. There, the
heavenly sky goddesses Hathor and Nut sometimes took the form
of cows whose outstretched limbs straddled the four cardinal
points of the earth. Hathor’s headdress of cow horns and lunar
disc implied an astronomic connection; she was the bovine
mother of the celestial bodies. Hence, if the primordial mother
was imagined to be a cow, then the males of the progeny must
without a doubt be bulls or bison. In fact, the god Osiris, whose
cult appears to have originated in the Upper Egyptian town of
Busiris and then spread to encompass the whole of Egypt, was
often depicted as a bull. As the earthly incarnation of the god, the
animal was worshipped at three major cult centres in Egypt; the
Apis bull in Memphis, the Mnevis bull in Heliopolis, and the
Buchis bull in Hermonthis. Further to the east, in Hindustan, the
goddess Parvati arose from the primordial waters in the guise of a
white cow. Being able to trace the homologous nature of these
images across three distinct cultures no doubt entertains the idea
that they are emotionally colored symbols that exist in the
archetypal psyche of humanity, an avenue of logic that this study
will dare to expound upon. Moreover, their implied astronomical
107
origin introduces an obvious historical context, the idea that
these icons found expression at a particular point in time.
Nowadays,
we
like
to
commend
ourselves
for
the
technological and scientific ambiance of the twenty-first century.
The evolution of interactive applications such as iPhones, iPads,
HTC androids, and social networking systems such as Facebook,
Twitter and MySpace, have shortened distances and shrunk our
world considerably. They’ve also contributed to some less
favorable consequences, namely the turning inward of attention
which has stunted social interaction and to a greater extent,
disconnection from the natural cycles of the planet and the larger
cosmos. The aforementioned feats, if you wish to call them that,
have
been
made
possible
through
the
fiercely
resistant
patriarchal mentality of the Iron Age, the greater will to achieve
transcendence through the subjugation of Nature irrespective of
whether or not the enterprise draws to itself the loss of life.
Foremost of this movement were the Mycenaean Greeks whose
endless pursuits of power were epitomized in Homer’s Iliad and
Odyssey and continued by Virgil in the Aeneid.
This masculine aesthetic domination of nature deemed
noble, heroic and glorious garnered expression in the formation
of communities that were underpinned by compartmentalization,
by the induction of hierarchy and conventional marriage. Given
that the masculine or yang-consciousness has always been
connected with territoriality and activity and hence with the fiery
energy of the sun, it makes sense that the early patriarchal
cultures would have adopted a calendrical system with the solar
108
satellite as prevailing mediator. The fundamental aim of this civil
calendar was to order the government administration according
to the diurnal or daytime hours of the twenty-four hour cycle. Its
induction was something of a retrograde step in all respects, for
it jettisoned the lunar and stellar cycles which had mediated the
religious and spiritual affairs of our ancient ancestors and
consequently disconnected us from the celestial movements and
events which stood as great markers on a wheel of time that was
both measureable and eternal.
When the all-powerful priests of Heliopolis introduced the
solar-based civil calendar into Upper Egypt during the first
quarter of the third millennium BC, the lunar chronometer was
retained as the mediator of religious and spiritual events. The
Greeks, whom frequented Egyptian shores, followed in their stead
and devised the administration of their own city states with a
similar calendar. But it was merely a case of prolonging an
indelible and inevitable death, for when the Romans supplanted
the old calendrical systems with the Julian one in 45BCE, the likes
of the tropical or solar year was given comprehensive presence.
Hence the moon and stars, demoted by the Heliopolitan priests as
secondary regulators of the wheel of time, soon found themselves
at the very bottom of the cosmic totem pole, imprisoned within
the dithering shades of human memory.
Foremost
of
these
memories
was
lunar
nutation,
a
vacillating motion in the moon’s axial rotation that causes a
continual shift in the position of ascension along the horizon and
culminates with a return to its point of origin every 18.6 years. An
109
even more significant and dramatic astronomical phenomenon
that was temporally lost recurs every nineteen years and involves
the harmonious alignment of the sun and moon. Known as the
Metonic cycle, the nineteen tropical (solar) years or two-hundred
and thirty-five synodic (lunar) months it takes for the lunar
phases to begin to unravel on the same days of the same months
of each year again would have no doubt impressed the Minoan
astronomer-priestesses and priests. This ever-present and eternal
cycle which repeated at thirty-eight, fifty-seven, seventy-six years
and so forth would have been perceived as a Sacred Marriage, a
Hieros Gamos between the lunar and solar energies and
consequently a renewal of truth and order in what at times would
have probably appeared to be a chaotic and nonsensical universe.
I suppose the contemporary ability to track the habitual
motions of the celestial spheres through computerized telescopes
has drastically simplified what would have otherwise been an
overtly intricate and painstaking task. Impressive as they are,
these sophisticated technologies have appeared quite late in our
evolutionary history, and so we would probably come up short
should we dare to weigh ourselves up against the astronomical
acuteness of any primitive matriarchy. In no way can the
magnanimity of their achievement be diminished, especially when
their observations would have been precariously hinged and
entirely dependent upon the accuracy of the naked eye,
painstaking repetition of the latter and the convenience of some
very simple writing and recording implements. In fact, the scope
and depth of their visual acuity, perceptions and conscious
aspiration was such that it allowed them to descry a cosmic
110
phenomenon known as axial precession, or precession of the
equinoxes.
The sweeping, numinous and all-encompassing cosmic cycle
is caused by a slight wobble in the Earth’s axial rotation, causing
the terrestrial pole to trace out a cyclical path around the ecliptic.
Changes in the earth’s orbital parameters gradually shift the
vernal point (21st-22nd March) in the reverse direction of the sun’s
annual pilgrimage through each of the twelve zodiacal signs,
giving the allusion that the belt of the ecliptic is slowly being
torqued in a clockwise direction. The vernal point moves about
one degree every seventy-two years, and it takes about 26,000
years for it to traverse the full 360 degree revolution mapped out
by the twelve zodiacal constellations. Hence, each constellation
occupies the vernal point for a period of about 2160 years before
forfeiting its position to the next.
We are currently in the Piscean Age, a period marked and
colored by the sacrificial consciousness of Jesus Christ. This
particular Age began around 60BCE, a time when pharaonic Egypt
and classical Greece were nearing the end of their tether and
imperial Rome was on the ascendency. It appears that the
proactive, fiery and restless yang energy which defined masculine
aesthetic consciousness found full expression in the Arian Age
(2220BCE–60BCE). Save for being an extremely productive time in
the cultivation of the arts and sciences, it was this Age that saw
the ram-headed gods of the patriarchal solar cults rise to
prominence and
incarnate through the Amenhoteps and
Ramsesses, Thutmose III, Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.
111
If we were to push further back into the dark and misty recesses
of history we run into the Taurian Age (4380BCE–2220BCE).
Had the astronomer-priestesses of Cnossos looked towards
the predawn skies of the winter solstice at the inception of this
Age, they would have noted that the stream of celestial waters
above them resembled an outstretched female figure with the tips
of her extremities touching the east and west horizon. In time,
they would have observed that the solar orb emerged from the
area around her pudendum in the manner of a child being born
from its mother only to sink back into the oblivion of darkness at
the end of its diurnal journey through the area around the mouth.
Curiously the woman’s pudendum would have also marked the
bucranium of Taurus, with its horns extending westward towards
Aries. Seeing that the sun rose continuously in that constellation,
the priestesses would have probably attributed an entirely bovine
nature to the male consort of the goddess. Alternatively, the
shape of the woman’s mouth would have imitated the double
blades of an axe, giving the allusion that the solar bull-god was
being hacked to death at dusk.
An observer, any observer, standing beneath the cupola of
the predawn skies around 4380BCE in Cnossos would have
witnessed the Great Mother Goddess and the sacrificial state of
her son-lover, the youthful bull-god, reflected in the pattern of
the stars above; a wholly celestial representation of emotionally
coloured archetypal symbols deemed sacrosanct to Minoan
cosmology. The wider point being made here is that the stars give
voice to the inner archetype at work as it draws its psychic
112
contents onto the sky like a connect-the-dot puzzle whilst
simultaneously giving a rough estimate of when it may have
entered the sphere of history. And in speaking through the sound
language of mathematics the stars openly defy archaeological
establishment by estimating a time much older than the accepted
convention. According to the Eternal Ones, the foundation of the
Minoan empire and the inauguration of the cult of the mother
goddess and her bull-god consort occurred in 4380BCE, roughly
seven or eight centuries before the foundation date (the
Prepalatial Period) proposed by Sir Arthur Evans.
Now a great many historians and scientists who adhere to
the conventional chronology which has defined all perception
over the last few centuries would scoff at such an inference. They
would allude to the fact that knowledge of axial precession, or
precession
of
the
equinoxes,
didn’t
enter
our
collective
consciousness until Hipparchus of Rhodes or Nicaea (190-120BCE)
juxtaposed the sidereal and tropical years in the second century
BCE.
But for anyone able to think outside of the square, it makes
no sense at all that the ancient stargazers would have been
ignorant of this great cosmic cycle seeing that they had been
making millennia-long use of the stars to orientate themselves
and navigate the far-ranging seas of the planet. While practicable
devices to measure cycles of precession where constructed, they
were extremely scarce because the level of skill needed to realize
such elaborate craftsmanship was possessed only by a select few.
Most of these gadgets would have been pioneered during the Iron
Age, a time when the creative impetus of the human mind was
working miracles in cities like Athens and Alexandria and adding
113
tiers of meaning to our communal existence. The most significant
examples that have since come to light definitely date to this
period. They include the Antikythera Mechanism, the Gaulish
Coligny Calendar, and the circular zodiac on the ceiling of the
Osirian chapel at the Denderah Hathor temple in Egypt, all of
which demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of lunisolar
cycles and axial precession.
The last of these, the Denderah zodiac, is especially
important to our study. In this ancient planisphere, the
precessional cycle, the thirty-six ten-day periods of the year
known as decans, the signs of the zodiac and the constellations
depicted in the sculpture all unite under the aegis of old and
more
contemporary
Egyptian,
Babylonian
and
Hellenistic
mythological and religious imagery. The result is to proclaim a
philosophical understanding of the ancient past as implicitly
otherworldly,
metaphysical
and
celestial;
not
earthly
and
historical, as the Jewish and Christian monotheistic traditions
later assumed. One of the very first advocates of the former, one
of the first to vouch for a history measured by the fixed zodiacal
ages that characterised axial precession was Rene Adolphe
Schwaller de Lubicz (1887-1961CE). After examining the relic,
Lubicz concluded that a primary intent of the Denderah priests of
late antiquity was to mark up three important dates, the first
being the inception of the Age of Taurus in 4380BCE.
Six and a half millennia ago the heliacal rising of Sirius, or
her fleeting appearance in the predawn skies after a seventy day
absence, would have coincided with summer solstice in Crete and
114
Egypt as well as with the Nile Inundation in the latter. It was a
time when the sun’s rays became scorching hot, tributaries
became torrents and Mother Nature was at the height of her
generative powers. Sirius’s inexplicable connection to and
regulation of the agricultural cycle was deemed so important that
the Minoan astronomer-priestesses inaugurated her into their
first calendrical system to mark the inception of the Cretan New
Year on about the 6th July. Given that Sirius was given prominence
in the heavenly order, it’s no surprise that the earliest templepalaces in Cnossos, Phaestos and other Minoan settlements were
orientated towards this star, allowing its supernal light to
illuminate their inner chambers on a date which marked the
renewal of the annual solar circuit. In 4380BCE, Sirius would have
risen in conjunction with the sun beneath Cancer’s stead, which is
why it appears aligned to Cancer on the North-South axis of the
Denderah zodiac. As Sirius was inexplicably associated with the
regenerative powers of the mother goddess, the Denderah
chronometer serves as a potent reminder of the birth of the
Minoan
empire
under
her
all-omniscient
subordination of its people to her divine will.
115
eye
and
the
MINOAN LUNAR CONSCIOUSNESS
Much speculation surrounds the Minoan civilisation, especially
when it comes to issues surrounding racial identity and sociopolitical concerns hoping to pinpoint the period in which the first
Minoans actually settled Crete. What remains certain is that these
peoples evolved into a highly sophisticated matriarchal culture
and probably reached their apogee during the latter stages of the
Taurean Age (4380-2220BCE).
Sadly, the precessional shift into
the Arian Age brought with it a patriarchal and war-loving
consciousness that was not only alien to, but wholly antagonistic
towards the primitive matriarchies and their tranquil mode of
being. Hence, an unconscious reaction on their part was to
develop natural defences to guard against probable incursions.
116
The Minoans used the wood of cypress and oak trees from the
forests that blanketed the Cretan mountains to build a powerful
fleet, a stealthy thalassocratia (sea-born empire), and proceeded
to fortify their temple-palaces with stone walls. As a Bronze Age
culture, Minoan Crete was to become increasingly marginalised
until about 1645BCE, a date which corresponds with the eruption
of Thera. The paroxysm was an event which brutally crippled the
Minoan defences and left the temple-palaces open to attack.
Baring witness to this crack of doom, it wouldn’t have been long
before the Mycenaean mercenaries set out from the Grecian
shores to invade the island.
The Age of Taurus was a period ruled by the planet Venus
and exalted by the moon. Those born under the stars of this
primordial era would have been communal in their nature, and
the collective thoughtforms of the time would have been entirely
focused upon the night sky and attempting to make sense out of
which celestial events gave rise to wholly favourable or
unfavourable consequences for creatures inhabiting the earth
below.
Therefore
priestesses
of
it
appears
Cnossos
were
that
whilst
marking
out
the
the
astronomer
historical
foundation of their empire in the stars based on a few inwardly
felt archetypes, they were concurrently tracking the motion of
groups of constellations, individual bright stars, planets and
other astral bodies with great interest.
As progenitor of Nature’s waxing and waning metabolic
processes–processes that include the surge of the ocean tides, the
seasons and their microcosmic reflection in the mammalian
117
menstrual cycle and the mental, psychic state of all human
beings–the moon would have been an obvious choice. In fact, if
one observed the nocturnal skies of the winter solstice from the
south entrance of the Cnossian temple-palace, he or she would
see the sphere of the moon rise to the mount of the heaven from
in amongst the horns of the celestial bull. In light of this
information we can conclude that the gargantuan set of limestone
horns that stand in that vicinity of the Cnossian ruins today
weren’t purely ornamental but encompassed a practical purpose,
serving the Minoans in the manner that an anatomical clock built
into a community bell tower serves people of our urbanised areas
today. It measured several cosmic cycles, some of which included
lunisolar nutation, the twelve lunar months and the rising and
setting of the twelve constellations during the length of the solar
year. As a multifaceted chronometer of time, the Cnossian Horns
of Consecration was superior to its artificial equivalent which
remains a morbid construct of human limitation, chiefly because
it appropriated the star-spangled body of the Great Mother
Goddess, or the Milky Way if you like, to ordain communal
activities
and
movements
without
exhausting
any
natural
resources or reserves.
Save for the moon, there is also ample evidence to suggest
that the astronomer-priestesses of Cnossos would have busied
themselves trying to follow the inferior conjunctions of the
Venusian sphere. Like the moon, Venus exhibits phases of waxing
and waning which would have implicated its wholly feminine
spirit early on. One can only marvel at the scintillating light that
comes from this, the brightest of luminaries in the night skies as
118
it appears near the eastern horizon at dawn and then again near
the western horizon at dusk. More so, it is the only sphere to
weave such a distinct and definitive geometrical pattern in its
sidereal dance around our own planet. It takes roughly eight
years and one day for Venus to plait an imaginary five-petalled
rose or five-pointed pentagram about the Earth, with the fivesynodic periods of the eight-year cycle each transcribing the
discernible shape of a love heart.
The astronomer-priestesses who tracked its movements
during the inception of the Taurian Age would have been no less
astounded by the planet’s adherence to this geometrical law, a
celestial ‘signature’ unique in the heavens which not only stood as
an eternal reassurance of cosmic truth and order, but was itself
the
cornerstone
which
imbued
quantitative
value
with
a
qualitative judgement. What is meant by this is that the
astronomer-priestesses
would
have
perceived
beauty
and
harmony in the celestial goddess’s geometrical journey through
space. In hindsight, who could blame them? Could anything be
more beautiful, mystical or harmonious for an unaided observer
of the heavens than an eight-year cycle that unravelled the secrets
of numerical creation (1, 5, 8, etc.) through a sympathetic
association between the five-pointed star or pentagram, the fivepetalled rose, the heart and, dare I say it, the apple.
Whilst the apple is often implicated as an implement of the
goddess in myth, not many people know of its link with the
celestial Venus. It appears that acuity in astronomical observation
was balanced by acuity in agriculture and hunting, and the
119
priestesses that concerned themselves with the latter would have
discerned that the arrangement of the pips enclosed within the
flesh of the apple mirrored the divinely inspired movements of
the
goddess.
multidimensional
Because
tier
the
of
Venusian
intellectual
cycle
added
understanding
a
and
emotional value to geometrical form, the Cnossian astronomerpriestesses went to great lengths to replicate and incorporate it
into their frenzied and ecstatic dance patterns. The movements of
the dance patterns themselves proceeded in spirals, meanders
and other labyrinthine motions and sought to attract to the
intoxicated supplicant the psychic conditions necessary for an
encounter
with
the
numinous
Great
Mother
Goddess.
Archaeological evidence has since revealed that labyrinthine
patterns symbolising celestial events were inscribed onto the
floor of the Cnossian temple-palace. The same motifs appear
again on two Cnossian coins which date to classical Greek period
(350BCE), one of which is adorned with the symbol of a crescent
and the other a rose. Not only do these coins preserve the
memory of celestial dance patterns based upon a primordial
cosmology, they clearly identify the objects of veneration–the
moon and Venus, respectively.
I think the question that remains to be answered is
rudimentary to the study of consciousness; why did the
astronomer-priestesses of Cnossos track the precise movements
of these two planetary bodies with such vigour in the first place?
Was there a living, interactive energy streaming between the
heavens and the earth? Was there a tangible energy between the
planetary forces, the natural elements and human consciousness,
120
a by-product of intuition felt by our ancient ancestors which is
now lost to us? The modern-day orthodox religion of quantitative
analysis that parades under the guise of “science” and critical
inquiry won’t be offering up any answers to those questions any
time soon seeing that any such acknowledgement would
inevitably rock the materialistic foundation upon which its entire
cosmology has been built. Further, it would require a conciliation
of spirit and matter, two qualities that have been divorced from
one another since the time of Rene Descartes (1596-1650CE).
There’s no way that modern science would ever do that. It would
be sacrilege, like reverting to the world of our primordial
ancestors, a world of primitive superstition and irrational fear,
and admitting they were right for perceiving no clear distinction
between the world of spirits and the world of matter.
Hence
if
we
wish
to
recapitulate
the
fruitful
and
multidimensional essence of Minoan consciousness, to delve into
the mists of the past and temporarily experience the world
through the eyes of the Cnossian astronomer-priestesses, it is
necessary to reconcile spirit and matter and base our knowledge
of reality on integral and direct experience rather than draw
inferences from conceptual actions which base all knowledge on
past experience in the manner that our short-sighted orthodox
scientists do today. On an inner level, there can be no doubt that
the Minoans would have perceived the energies of creation that
ordered the anatomy of their own psyche in the outward realm of
metals, properties and other natural markers. Connections that
seem entirely nonsensical, heterogeneous and discordant to our
ego-orientated
minds
today
formed
121
entirely
meaningful,
homologous
consciousness,
and
a
harmonious
holistic
relationships
framework
which
in
Minoan
yearned
for
unbounded wholeness and reunion with the divine.
In this transcendent cosmology, there was an obvious
connection between the metal copper, creatures like the scorpion
and the octopus, the conch shell, the colours green and turquoise,
gemstones like turquoise and emerald, the iridescent hues of a
peacock’s feathers, apples, the mistletoe plant, and the qualities
of beauty, sexuality, desire, harmony, tranquillity and nirvana.
Because the qualitative feature that coursed through and
manifested through these elements was sensual and aesthetically
feminine, the Minoan astronomer-priestesses reasoned that they
had all been stamped by the magical ‘signature’ of that power–the
power of Venus. Likewise, there was a discernible connection
between the metal silver, the element of water, the reproductive
and menstrual cycle, heat, electricity, sound, and human thought
which measured and reflected the conceptual world of an
individual in quite the same way that the moon reflected the
supernal life-bestowing light coming from the progenitor of our
solar system, the sun. Given that the aforementioned manifested
qualitative markers that were passive, pliable and mirror-like in
nature, then it stood to reason that they had all been stamped by
the lunar energy or power.
The implication of an energetic syncretisation between the
planets, the metals and human consciousness falls way outside
the scope of conventionally orientated thought at this point in
time. As preposterous as it may seem at first, the idea begins to
122
suspend disbelief if we proceed along the logical avenue that all
planetary bodies (including the earth) are like magnets and that
each exerts a gravitational pull on the others. If one continued
along this same train of thought–entirely scientific and credible I
might add–he or she would see that the waxing and waning of
this gravitational force is hinged entirely upon the planet’s
relative position to the other heavenly spheres. Indeed, humans
and all living creatures are unconsciously wired to them, though
it appears that only the more intellectually adroit and curiously
inclined ever come to terms with this fact during the course of
their lives. When the Minoans and all other ancient peoples
discerned these living, interacting energies that pervaded the
cosmos, it mattered not that their naked eye could see no further
than Jupiter, or that the sun and moon were erroneously thought
to be planets; the celestial spheres were merely exoteric markers
for the qualitative powers that governed our multidimensional
and majestic universe.
Interestingly, this perceptible association between the
planetary spheres and their rulership over the metals becomes
even more of a reality when we take into account a series of
experiments that were conducted by Frau Lily Kolisko, a follower
and confidante of anthroposophist Dr. Rudolph Steiner (18611925). Kolisko was convinced that the planet-metal relationship
rudimentary to the holistic cosmology of most primordial
cultures wasn’t imagined and illusory at all; it was, on the
contrary, real, observable and quantifiable. She devised a
chromatographical method whereby filter papers were used to
transcribe or record chemical changes that occurred in metal salt
123
solutions
when
their
celestial
constituents
entered
into
conjunctions and oppositions with one another. Under strictly
controlled conditions, Kolisko was able to show that the images
or pictures produced by the silver salt solutions encompassed a
striking resemblance to the crater-ravaged surface of the moon,
and that certain characteristics manifested at the appearance of
each lunar phase, particularly the full and new moons.
In 1978, Agnes Fyfe used a similar filter paper method to
descry whether the annual planetary movements of Venus would
have any discernible effect upon one percept copper acetate
solutions that had been placed inside extracts of plant sap. Just
like the planet enacted its most powerful impression upon human
consciousness when it was allowed to shine in the twilight glow
of early morning as the Eosphoros (Bringer of Dawn) or in the late
evening as Hesperos (Star of the Evening), the metallic reactions
on the filter papers were strongest when Venus assumed
positions in the sky in which it remained unobstructed by the
sun. Kolisko’s experiments using gold chloride and copper salt
solutions to discern changes in filter papers during a solarVenusian conjunction were equally astonishing, revealing a
dramatic precipitation of light green along the plastic films when
Venus was at its highest point in the sky.
A curious observation that came to light during the
experimentation phase of the solar-Venusian experiments was
that the reaction rate varied with the changing of the seasons.
This was, amongst other things, both odd and unprecedented.
How could a chemical reaction vary according to the time of the
124
year? Strange, no? Orthodox science remains curiously silent on
such issues, given that its doctrines decree that chemical
reactions should not vary with seasonal rotation. Kolisko claimed
that the strength of the reactions dissipated and disappeared
between December and January, only to reappear again stronger
than ever between the months of March and May. Save for being
the equinoctial marker for spring, the said months comprise the
premium time in which the laborious processes of the alchemical
Great Work should commence. Astrologically it is the period in
which the sun rises in the constellation of Taurus, a time in which
the Venusian energy becomes most expressive and powerful. As
we can see, the occult connections are plentiful and far too
meaningful to be purely coincidental.
Many of Kolisko’s experiments, particularly those that
traced the Mars (iron)-Saturn (lead) conjunction, were replicated
in 1949 by Theodore Schwenck and again in 1964 by Dr. Karl
Voss of Hamburg. Both scholars successfully reproduced the
same results and dutifully arrived at the same conclusions as
Kolisko, publishing their works in various astrology journals in an
attempt to spur further studies in astrochemistry and eventually
integrate these scientifically demonstrable theories into our
communal knowledge. Sadly, the implications of such were
perceived to be heretical and controversial by the scientific
community, and before long the negative sentiment had spilt over
to the greater community–to the literati, university presses and
media–all of whom ignored them completely. The reception of
silence ensured that, in time, all memory and trace of
experimental data in support of qualitative content and the
125
holistic
cosmology
of
our
ancestors
would
be
forgotten
completely.
Other than adding credibility to the Hermetic tenet of “what
is above is like that which is below”, the said experiments
introduce alchemical esotericism into the cosmological equation
as foremost of the methods through which Minoan consciousness
and its foreign modes of thought might be interpreted. Alchemy
itself remains an entirely holistic and humanistic science which
uses metals, their properties and chemical transmutation to
delineate seven levels of consciousness and the manner whereby
spirit becomes matter. In studying alchemical treatises where
continual cycles of dissolutions and coagulations or a prime
substance (or prima materia) is supposed to produce the
Philosopher’s Stone, two images which continually crop up are Sol
and Luna.
The Sol principle can be heat, red, sun, light, youth, gold,
east and fire; Luna, on the other hand, can be moon, silver, green,
white, ocean, age and ocean. In a labour-intensive process that
involves repeated distillations of the prime matter in the alembic
of the alchemist, the level of refinement attained is revealed
through each union or reconciliation of the Sol and Luna
principles. Hence the form which these two principles assume
changes with each conjunction and reveals in chronological and
ascending order the couplings of hen and cock, dog and bitch, a
red man and white woman, and finally, the Red King and White
Queen. The last of these signifies the culmination of the Great
Work. In a Chinese Taoist text titled The Secret of the Golden
126
Flower, Sol and Luna are vociferously clad as a celestial cloud
demon and corporeal white ghost. Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961),
who spent many years brooding upon the hidden meanings and
apocryphal image-based language of alchemy, interpreted them
as the masculine anima and the feminine animus, the archetypal
contents of the human psyche. It stands to good reason that
Jung’s understanding of alchemy as an unconscious transcription
of the individuation process should not be doubted, but on the
whole it’s slightly one-sided and monocular. Jung was introduced
to alchemy at a time when his theories on the collective
unconscious and the archetypes were instigating a full-fledged
intellectual revolution, a fact which no doubt prejudiced him
towards a purely psychological interpretation and limited his
cosmographical scope.
Hence
if
we
jettison
Jung’s
somewhat
reductionist
perspective, we see that Sol and Luna are merely metaphors for
the concepts of form, the active and spiritual power that seeks
expression,
and
hyle,
the
wholly
passive
undifferentiated
substance that mirrors water in that it is formless yet at the same
time forming. The two principles incarnate as polarities on the
cosmic totem pole, with the latter reflecting the true nature of the
former. Their conjunction or chemical marriage if you like, occurs
at the fundamental and cardinal level of existence from where it
ascends to encompass sentient, conscious and transcendental
modes of being. Let’s proceed with a tangible example, using the
generative forces of Mars and Venus as our prima materia for Sol
and Luna, respectively.
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At the elementary level the energetic Martian red mixes with
harmonious Venusian green to materialise brown, the colour of
earth. When they acquire metal form, they unite to form copperiron pyrites deep in the cavernous depths of the earth’s crust. In
human metabolism, these metallic constituents work in symbiotic
harmony to produce haemoglobin and determine the sex of a
child. In a striking observation reminiscent of the alchemical
opus, the metallic form of the generative powers is sex-linked and
their personalities are best comprehended when juxtaposed.
Evolving onto a more physiological level, they are the male and
female gender yet they are also the two hemispheres of the brain
united by the corpus collosum. Here, in the most complex piece of
matter in the universe, Mars is the dominant sphere, the left,
from where he proceeds to orientate himself to the cosmos
through deductive reasoning and logic. Alternatively, Venus is the
non-dominant hemisphere, the left, and her intrinsic powers of
intuition allow her to experience reality as a fundamental unity.
From what has just come to light the formative forces of
Mars and Venus, a random marker for the alchemical Sol and
Luna, do in fact interact like partners in a marriage where one is
active and domineering and the other is passive and unassertive.
Further still it wouldn’t be wrong to say that this chemical
marriage is eternal and entirely indigenous to all planes of
existence, unable to enter into history or change. If we were to
transpose everything to the psychic level, to the level of thought,
then we would no doubt come to the realisation that the
masculine aesthetic as defined by Sol is the will to differentiate
and dominate Mother Nature whilst the feminine aesthetic, or
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Luna, aches for reunification and wishes to connect with her on
the broadest levels. By quantifying the characteristics that define
the formative, opposing forces of Sol and Luna on the cosmic
totem pole and applying them to the spectrum of human
consciousness and to the inward realm of the human soul, we can
at once see with the eyes of the Minoan astronomer-priestesses
and recapitulate a starry world that was wholly under the spell of
two feminine powers.
Using the law of analogy, we might think of Bronze Age
Cnossos as a deep sea organism like an octopus whose
respiratory system is mediated by a copper molecule instead of
the fiery and restless iron-based haemoglobin, hence enabling it
to enjoy a far more tranquil mode of existence. Had we
disembarked here from the Grecian mainland during the
Protopalatial Period, we would have seen an unfortified Herculean
edifice rising out from the kill of Kephala as a man-made
mountain phosphorescing in opalescent silver when struck by the
rays of the noonday sun. The decision on the part of the
astronomer-priestesses to leave the temple-palaces unfortified
has nothing to do with ignorance or apathy and all to do with a
genuine inability to perceive transcendence through domination,
an entirely masculine aesthetic enterprise and approach to life.
It’s more than likely that the sheer size and scope of the
Cnossian temple-palace would have been mesmerising, if not
overwhelming. Many of its small, narrow rooms would have
served as multi-purpose storehouses for the needs of a living
populace. Logically, the primary values of the aesthetically
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feminine are friendship and love, virtues that reconcile the bonds
between spirit and matter, mind and body, but more importantly
so, strive for the betterment of a communal egregore without
destroying or being detrimental towards other extensions of life.
Extreme focus on communal spirit rather than the transitory and
corruptible state of personality would have drawn their attention
away from the inevitable phenomenon of individual death.
Nowhere among the Minoan temple-palaces do we see remnants
of mortuary temples erected to preserve individual memories or
accomplishments of a royal figurehead or priesthood for the sake
of posterity. There are no tombs tucked away in obscure valleys
intended to preserve material wealth for use in successive
lifetimes either.
There would have been no shortage of stimuli or vivid
iconography at Cnossos either; numerous vestibules would have
been lined with red and black pillars and decorated with frescoes
depicting bulls, oxen, griffins, and other mythological creatures,
all of which would have been painted over with rusty reds, golden
yellows and azure blues. The avid use of the three primary
colours in Minoan visual art delineates a celebration of the vital
qualities and a harmonious orientation of their collective psyche
towards both positive and negative aspects of Nature as to reflect
a complete absence of anxieties. This is the reason why one might
see the priesthood engrossed in activities which to our untutored
minds seem outrageous and life-threatening, as is the case with
the Toreador Fresco which immortalises an acrobatic stunt
enacted during a bull-grappling ritual and adds to the mystique
and elegance which surrounds the Minoan culture. It might also
130
be worth mentioning here that maintaining the cosmic order
through ritual was sacrosanct, taking precedence over individual
fate and the preservation of human life. Any resistance or
attempt to alter the trajectory of a wholly divine enterprise
constituted a rude attempt to alter cosmic justice and transcend
Nature–something which appears to have precluded Minoan
cosmology at all times.
In addition, it should also be noted that the war element on
Minoan frescoes is strikingly absent. There are no depictions of
soldiers, no stern-faced monarchs. This shouldn’t be the least bit
surprising considering the nature of the powers at work in
Minoan consciousness. The lunarized powers working through
human beings and Mother Nature herself warn against the
dangers of transcendence. Much to the detriment of feminine
aesthetic consciousness, these collective thought forms arrest the
evolution of universal brotherhood and love by generating social
hierarchy and conventional marriage, institutions which preclude
the qualities of trust and empathic mutuality. In turn, the
unconscious suppression and distortion of these forms of truth
quickly breed ignorance, prejudice and eventually extirpates life
through the cycle agent of war. Therefore any continued pursuit
that attempts to attract to itself the polarity of vainglory and
nobility through masculine aesthetic consciousness will not only
spur devolution but will continue to devastate the powerful,
spiritual forces of true love and friendship–qualities conductive
to the survival of life itself.
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Having established the Minoan preoccupation with the
mysteries of life in the fullest sense of the word, we can now see
why the astronomer-priestesses of Cnossos imagined their
goddess to be a bee, or a bee-like entity. Bees are, for the most
part, mutually cooperative in their communal habits and tireless
in their striving to recapitulate the process of creation ex nihilo;
like little alchemists they seek out base substances in flower
pollen and transmutate them into syrup or honey without
harming or destroying any other extension of Nature. Honey is
indeed an Elixir of Life for it exhibits medicinal properties and is
the only edible substance known to humankind that doesn’t spoil.
Moreover bees also foment golden honeycombs in hexagonal
patterns, a feat of nature strikingly reminiscent of the celestial
embodiment of the same generative power which weaves a
geometrically sound pentagram in sidereal space around the
earth within an eight year period. As we can see, interlaced into
the lifecycle of the bee was a nexus of meanings that implicated
the creature as a vessel of the Great Mother Goddess–a vessel that
carried along with it a distant memory of the original uroboric
wholeness. The greatest will of the Cnossian astronomerpriestesses, and in fact the entire reason for the existence of the
Minoan vision, was to diligently and industrially reunite the
variant forms of creation under the aegis of ritual and keep that
intuitively felt memory alive through love.
Indeed, everything does return to the divine and sacred
source through the agent of love…
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THE LABYRINTH
The idea of a labyrinth being built beneath the Cnossian templepalace to imprison the likes of a theriomorphic creature in the
Minotaur would, to the rational majority at least, demonstrate
outlandish absurdities that the musings of a hyperactive
imagination can at times come up with when it has little else to
do. Thus to gain a firm grasp or understanding of where the
concept of the labyrinth may have originated or what it might
have initially defined, we will have to delve into a whole nexus of
meanings implicated by both the etymological route of the word
in question and its cross-cultural numinosity.
The story of the labyrinth need not preclude inheritance
from the neighbouring civilisation of Egypt given that the
archetypal forces of the Taurian Age pursued an avenue of
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pictorial expression identical in both Crete and Egypt. There is
evidence to suggest that a labyrinth was constructed in the area
of the Giza Plateau sometime in the nineteenth century
BCE
under
the pharaoh Amenemhat III. It proceeded in S-bends and circular
pathways, tracing out bodies of water that coursed through the
subterranean in an attempt to map out the electromagnetic
anomalies generated by the earth’s formative forces. As a whole,
the meanders imitated the Duat, the Egyptian Underworld, and
initiates into the cult of the bull-god Osiris supposedly induced
altered states of consciousness before dancing along the track in
an attempt to recreate the drama of the soul’s wandering after
death. Perhaps it was vigorous trade that brought the famous tale
to Crete via a sea route which linked the southern port of Kato
Zakros with Avaris, a bustling Egyptian town in the Nile Delta. Or
was it?
Of interest here is that the Egyptian version identifies the
meandering forms of the labyrinth to be one and the same with
the routes delineated by the ancient dances of the astronomerpriestesses of Cnossos which imitated the movements of the sun,
the moon and Venus as they traced intricate geometrical patterns
in sidereal space around the earth. This tenet is vindicated by a
later reference made by Smyrna-born poet Homer in the Iliad in
which he describes an elaborately crafted dance floor at the
temple-palace of Cnossos identical to the one that had been made
by Daedalus for Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos and Queen
Pasiphae. Writing nearly a millennium after Homer, Plutarch
explains that upon having reached the Aegean isle of Delos,
Theseus and his fellow conspirators performed a celebratory
134
dance to commemorate the slaying of the Minotaur. The dance
itself, known as the Kronou Teknophagia or Crane Dance, not
only imitates the winding courses which typify the labyrinth
symbol but recapitulates in whole an elaborate mating ritual
between cranes in which sinuous movements are performed from
left to right and then repeated again in reverse order.
Cranes are migratory birds that desert their meticulously
built nests in the Aegean as the end of summer approaches and
flock across to the African grasslands; there, they spend the
entire winter before returning to the same nests at the beginning
of spring. For the astronomer-priestesses who always sought to
reunify the differing aspects of creation through ritual and
perceive its holistic wholeness through divine epiphany, the
departure of the cranes at the end of winter would have no doubt
constituted a material expression of the soul’s wondering after
death, their prolonged absence a corporeal reflection of the
unseen transformative process, and their return again in spring
evidence of the soul’s eventual rebirth or resurrection. The
epiphany itself, incited through frenzied and orgiastic rites, was
quintessentially an all-encompassing encounter with the wholly
feminine formative powers of the earth and the attainment of
knowledge which underpinned the conception and generation
upon which all corporeal life is hinged. As a result to have an
epiphany was to attract to oneself wholly intuitive knowledge
regarding the soul’s transformation after death and its eventual
resurrection.
135
Thus far, Egyptian discourse and classical Greek myth have
both disclosed that the connection between the meander, the
Underworld and dance patterns would have been made during the
Taurian Age, if not earlier. Even the etiological route of the word
in question seems to suggest this. The word labyrinthos derives
from labrys, a Lydian word which means double-headed axe. In
turn, labyrinthos denotes the ‘place or house of the doubleheaded axe’. Double-headed axes were sacred implements central
to the Minoan culture and were used by the astronomerpriestesses in the ritual slaying of the bull. This said we should
also remember the first cogitation of the implement was never a
corporeal affair; it was entirely celestial. On the star-spangled
body of the celestial goddess, a phenomenon clearly visible to
anybody pondering the night sky during the Taurian Age, the
mouth area in which the double-headed axe was imagined to exist
marked the western horizon. It was the place where the sun’s
diurnal journey came to an end; the place where it was swallowed
by the goddess’s mouth after being hacked to bits by her doubleheaded axe. The sun’s act of being swallowed into oblivion was a
death of sorts, hence the astronomer-priestesses would have
vindicated that the zone in question marked a definitive place of
transition from living to non-living realms. For people whose
collective psyche was celestially orientated to begin with, there
can be no question that the ‘place or house of the double axe’
explicitly connoted the celestial gate which led to the Underworld.
The shape of the labyrinth as a material manifestation of the
intangible Underworld is certainly in synch with the convictions
of our very primitive ancestors, with its dark and obscure
136
passages mimicking the convoluted celestial routes which the
soul was supposed to navigate in its endeavour to reach the
circumpolar stars of eternity and its blind alleys reflective of
anxieties that the uncertainty of death would have no doubt
incited. Just like the ancient Minoans and Egyptians, the
Palaeolithic and Neolithic culture that thrived on Crete envisioned
the abode of the Underworld as a series of water-filled winding
passages
beneath
the
surface
of
the
earth.
The
earliest
representations of this symbol, drawn on rocks, gypsum and
limestone caves by our tribal ancestors, closely resemble the
labyrinth depicted on the spiralling dance floors at the Minoan
temple-palaces of Cnossos and Haghia Triada, on a clay tablet
unearthed in the Peloponnesian town of Pylos, as well as on
ancient coins dating to the classical era (ce. 350BCE) that were
gathered from the hill of Kephala during the time that Sir Arthur
Evans was excavating Cnossos. Therefore it appears that when the
first meanders were being drawn onto the walls of caves, our
primitive ancestors had already envisioned the living, tangible
connection which underran the serpent, underground water,
dancing
and
the
Underworld–an
association
henceforth
exemplified in the labyrinth pictogram.
That the images of serpent, Underworld, ritual dance and
subterranean
water
had
all
been
identified
as
dynamic
components of the same labyrinth symbol as long ago as the
Palaeolithic and Neolithic Periods is curious, for as we have seen
in our investigation of consciousness thus far, our primordial
ancestors developed their cosmogony through intuitively felt
knowledge. They never attributed otherwise heterogeneous
137
concepts or objects to the same pictograms or ideograms unless
there was an intrinsically felt truth to the enterprise. Hence what
remains to be answered is how this connection may have been
established. What phenomenon may have underpropped the said
concepts? The only naturally occurring one which garners an
integrated and holistic understanding of the same four concepts
that I can think of is the earth’s geodetic force, otherwise known
as geodetic lines. In actual fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if
the Minoan temple-palace of Cnossos was constructed on a
geodetic hotspot or at the intersection of such lines (called a node
or energy vertex) by astronomer-priestesses who understood their
significance and could appropriate the energies which emanated
from the paths they traced along the earth.
The general understanding is that geodetic lines, or ley lines
as they have been branded by parapsychological investigators and
occultists nowadays, hypothetically align groups of consecrated
sites in the same geographical region. Alfred Watkins first coined
the term in 1921 to describe these ceremonial pathways, though
it wasn’t until Guy Underwood identified them as markers for an
electromagnetic anomaly that was generated underground that
they acquired the occult significance for which they are famed
today. In his fascinating book titled The Pattern of the Past,
Underwood divulged that the geodetic force originated deep
beneath the earth’s surface, and more significantly perhaps, that
its wave motions were wholly defined by mathematical laws
involving the numbers three and seven. From there, the force
powered up to the surface as an innumerable series of magnetic
currents like a giant tree experiencing its entire spurt growth
138
within the space of a microsecond. Upon having surfaced, its
individual currents or lines proceeded to meander about
vertically– an oddity which recalls the spiralling forms of the
labyrinth motif–and affected the electromagnetic workings of the
mammalian nervous system.
On closer inspection, it became apparent to Underwood that
there were two different types of geodetic lines–track lines and
aquastats. The less powerful of the two comprised a network of
six lines grouped into two triads, whilst the stronger current
comprised twelve lines grouped into four triads, with each triad
maintaining the distance of a third to two thirds of a metre from
one another. Just like the pranic life force, the intangible
electricity coursing through the living body is betrayed by the
sound of a pulse so too did Underwood believe that the geodetic
force was the palpable heartbeat of Nature, herself a giant living
organism.
According to Underwood, areas under which geodetic lines
pass somehow disrupt a positively charged current in the earth, a
phenomenon which is greatly amplified by the presence of
subterranean water. If we concur to this logic, then any
significantly large body of underground water should be able to
magnify existing electromagnetic anomalies to the point that selfcontained energy vortices appear. In inverting the energy flow at a
particular junction, vortices can in effect wreak havoc with
electrical and magnetic currents of the earth and in doing so
manifest anti-gravitational quirks such as those we might find at
Spook Hill in Lake Wales, Florida, at Davelis Cave in the vicinity of
139
Pendeli Mountain in Greece and at the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz,
California. Here, one can witness cars and balls rolling uphill and
streams flowing upwards, experience optical illusions whereby
peoples’ heights vacillate as they walk about, or acquire
paraphysical abilities like walking on a forty-five degree angle, a
bizarre feat otherwise only possible in the world of dreams.
Given that the mammalian nervous system is particularly
sensitive to these geodetic forces and that the latter interferes
with the former, then who goes to say that a conscious
appropriation of these earth forces by the human mind wasn’t the
driving force behind the herculean feats we see on Easter Island
with the erection of the Maoi statues and in England with
Stonehenge? Perhaps our primitive ancestors knew how to
canalise these geodetic energies to facilitate the construction of
megalithic monuments and experience divine epiphany. Both the
talent itself and its memory vanished from our memetic library as
we climbed along the evolutionary ladder for the same reasons
that
all
other
cognitive-based
abilities
of
earth-based
consciousness did–it was not essential to survival.
Nowadays, the “New Age” section of many bookshops and
libraries is abreast with evidence both anecdotal and experiential
in nature attempting to link the electromagnetic anomalies that
occur around geodetic lines with phantom armies, ghosts,
poltergeists, ghouls and a plethora of other parapsychological
phenomena. The theory has fostered a long list of adamant
supporters over the years, some of which include eccentric
classicist John Mitchell, known amongst esoteric circles for his
140
1967 publication The Flying Saucer Vision, and British amateur
archaeologist Thomas Lethbridge, a scholar whose work with the
pendulum contributed to a twentieth century revivification of the
idea that all created matter has a vibrational rate. Another
researcher by the name of Phil Grant has gone so far as to claim
that about nine out of ten UFO sightings and supernatural
experiences reported at Bournemouth in the United Kingdom
occurred near or on geodetic lines. If convictions of such a
provocative nature serve as accurate measures of reality, then any
region
characterised
by
a
combination
of
electromagnetic
anomalies and supernatural occurrences should in effect mark a
geodetic node or hotspot on the earth’s surface. One in Greece
proper is Pendeli Mountain, and the priests and priestesses of the
Athena goddess no doubt knew of the location’s said significance
otherwise there would have been no reason to declare it
sacrosanct or to quarry marble to build the Parthenon from its
heart-centre when the same marble pervaded regions much closer
to their chosen construction sites (i.e. the Acropolis).
While the validity of geodetic energies as the driving and
unifying force behind parapsychological episodes and antigravitational phenomena of a more radical nature might remain
scientifically unverifiable and questionable for some time yet, the
numinous character of the labyrinth motif and its nexus of
meanings does much to vindicate the existence of a primeval
cosmology which regarded the bones of the earth in Mother
Nature as the seat of universal consciousness and life. From this
perspective, the inexplicable phenomena unraveling at the Pendeli
region in Greece proper, at Spook Hill in Florida and at the
141
Mystery Spot in California form the tips of a far greater but
untold story; they are ancient portals beckoning us to walk
through and reacquaint ourselves with the long-forgotten religion
and philosophy of our primordial ancestors.
142
LEGENDS OF THE LABYRINTH AND MINOTAUR
In ancient times, one could gain entrance into the temple-palace
of Cnossos by following the paved Royal Road that runs
143
perpendicular to the east bastion. For a foreigner entering the
open air theatre for the first time, the sheer size of the structure
and its advanced technological feats would have been aweinspiriting and constituted something of an ethereal experience.
Given this, it’s not difficult to see how the temple-palace’s host of
meandering
passages,
its
iconography
of the
goddess
of
innumerable forms and her bull-god consort, the winding
stairwells and the gargantuan proportions of the three and fourstory complex would have conspired with the imagination of a
great many to implicate Cnossos as the seat of unruly and sinister
operations. In fact, I would probably go as far as to proclaim that
the only remaining myth we have relating to the Minoan culture
was synthesised by the more imaginatively inclined and credulous
amongst the Mycenaean sailors who visited Cnossos sometime
after the incursions of the sixteenth century
BCE.
The myth to which I refer, a fantastical tale of a
subterranean labyrinth built to imprison a theriomorphic creature
in the Minotaur, is a leading mythological exponent of the
classical world that anybody with a passing interest in Aryan
Greek culture is bound to run into sooner rather than later. What
most don’t seem to realise is that the story itself is told from the
perspective of the victor, the Mycenaeans, who sought to express
their subjugation of a native culture based on lunar-psychic and
matriarchal sentiments through the instalment of a social
hierarchy underpinned by a line of god-orientated male monarchs
who based their entire cosmogony on solar-spiritual religion. The
inauguration of the masculine aesthetic hierarchy typified by
division into classes is symbolically conveyed by the birth and
144
ascension of King Minos, one of three sons to be born to the bullgod
Zeus
and
his
consort
Europa.
Similarly,
the
myth
unconsciously appropriates sacred matriarchal images in its
attempt to strip the Great Mother Goddess of her numinosity and
reassign this cosmogonic element to a purely male Godhead. By
transposing the Hieros Gamos or Sacred Marriage of the Great
Mother Goddess and her bull-consort to the literal level and remembering or re-creating it into a horrendous bestial act between
a mortal woman and an animal, the narrative degrades the
sanctity of an astronomical affair that was celebrated by the
astronomer-priestesses of Cnossos. In retrospect, it appears that
what probably began as a story told between Mycenaean sailors
stationed at ports to pass the time traversed the centuries as an
oral fabrication before beaching itself upon the Aryan Greek
consciousness of eighth century epic poet Homer, as well as
Hesiod, Thucydides and Pindar, all of whom preserved the
Mycenaean point-of-view in their epic and lyrical writings. The
story itself, as vastly biased, two-dimensional and cosmologically
disfigured as it is, is the only tangible memory of the Minoan
vision that has ever come to light.
According to this classical legend, a beautiful young
princess by the name of Europa was traversing the Phoenician
shoreline in search of flowers one day when she was sighted by
the omniscient Zeus from his throne atop Olympus. The mighty
Zeus, who succumbed to his carnal lusts and desires frequently,
was so taken aback by her dazzling beauty that he went about
devising a cunning machination to seduce her. He proceeded to
morph into a snow-white bull and approached her where she lay,
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convinced that the disguise would lull the princess into a false
sense of security. At first, Europa regarded the creature with
suspicion but the bull’s benevolent and playful disposition soon
put those fears to rest. Before long, she had grown so bold as to
mount him. This was exactly what Zeus had been hoping for. He
took off as soon she’d clambered onto his back, traversing the
Aegean Sea at the speed of a lightning bolt and bringing her to his
island
home
of
Crete.
There,
he
assumed
a
more
anthropomorphic form and revealed himself as the father of the
Olympian gods and goddesses. Their subsequent union produced
three sons–Minos, Rhadamanthus and Sarpedon–all of whom were
destined to become kings. Lamentably, it wasn’t long before the
promiscuous Zeus abandoned Europa for the thrill of another
chase, and the princess of Phoenicia had to make do with a
husband in Asterios, the man who was ruling Crete from the
palace of Cnossos at that point in time. When Asterios died,
Minos succeeded him as king.
The rule of Minos is reputed to have been a prosperous and
peaceful one. Minos married Queen Pasiphae, herself the progeny
of the sun god Helios and the nymphs Perseis, and together they
sired eighth children–Ariadne, Androgeus, Deucalion, Phaedra,
Glaucus, Catreus, Acacallis and Xenodike. As was usually the case
with patriarchal monarchies of Aryan Greek culture, there came a
time when the enmity of his two jealous brothers brought Mino’s
divine right to rule Crete under question. He adjourned the
matter for some time before deciding that the best way to dispel
all doubts was to implore the sea god Poseidon to deliver a
sacrificial bull. No doubt the act of divine cogitation on the god’s
146
behalf would vindicate his supreme right to rule. The magical
incantation ensued in bittersweet consequences. In granting the
wish Poseidon did in fact affirm Crete to be Minos’s personal
fiefdom, but it just so happens that the bull which rose from the
froth of the seas was so supernal, so magnificent, such a brute of
a specimen, that Minos perished all thoughts of ever losing it and
sacrificed another in its stead. In succumbing to a weakness for
beauty so indigenous to the fallacies of the human condition,
Minos incurred the wrath of Poseidon who dutifully punished the
ruling dynasty by inciting within Pasiphae an unnatural lust for
the sacrificial creature.
Desperate to act out her fantasy, Pasiphae went behind her
husband’s back and persuaded the architect of Cnossos,
Daedalus, to construct a wooden contraption in the guise of a
living cow as to facilitate sexual union between the two
disparately related beings. One night, Pasiphae struck an apt pose
so that her hind quarters were hidden inside the bovine legs of
the wooden cow and her pudendum was clearly visible. On the
whole, her many attempts to rouse the bull’s attention and stir
the creature sexually were successful. The fruit of their union was
a theriomorphic beast that was part-human and part-bull. Many
versions of the myth claim that Pasiphae named her progeny
Asterion, though it was more commonly referred to as the
Minotaur. The Minotaur was so frightening in appearance that the
ingenuity of Daedalus had to be called upon once more, this time
to build a subterranean labyrinth in which the monstrosity might
be imprisoned to keep it from the prying eyes of the Cnossian
populace.
147
Minos wasn’t at all fond of the Minotaur. In fact, he
abhorred it because it served as an incessant reminder of his
wife’s bestial act and infidelity. Nonetheless, he was adroit
enough to realise that its carnivorous habits could be put to some
practicable use by terrorising the citizens of nations subdued by
his thalassocracy into utter submission. Hence when Minos
succeeded in a naval campaign against the state of Athens, he
demanded that the newly appointed vassal state pay its dues with
an annual tribute of seven boys and seven maidens, all of whom
would be thrown into the underground labyrinth to meander
about until fate brought them face to face with the fleshdevouring jaws of the Minotaur.
Logically, it wasn’t long before rumours of the bloodcurdling
events unfolding in the man-made maze beneath the palace of
Cnossos reached Athens. The rumours were enough to incite a
hair-raising chill along the spine of any mortal, save for one; the
valiant and noble Theseus, son of King Aegeus. Eager to end years
of tyrannical rule and exorcise the memory of his own mother
having engaged in the same despicable act as Queen Pasiphae,
Theseus willingly steps forth as one of the fourteen youths to
embark on a dangerous voyage from whence there might be no
return. Fortunately his good looks where to make fruitful the
endeavour, for when he disembarked at the port of Amnissos the
muscle-bound, bronze-skinned Theseus caught the eye of King
Minos
and
Queen
Pasiphae’s
daughter,
Ariadne,
conditional offer proved instrumental to his success.
148
whose
Conspiring against the will of her own father, Ariadne
equipped Theseus with a skein of thread which he proceeded to
tie at the maze entrance and unwind as he ventured deeper and
deeper towards the heart-centre, following the serpentine paths
that the labyrinth mapped out. A gruelling combat unravelled
near the centre, where Theseus succeeded in decapitating and
hacking the monstrosity to bits. From there, the action of winding
the thread back up enabled him to find his way back out without
ever losing his bearings. Theseus then frees the Athenian
prisoners and flees to the island of Naxos, taking the love-struck
princess with him. Some versions of the myth have Theseus
forgetting Ariadne on Naxos whilst she slept complacent on the
beach; whilst others claim that the desertion was premeditated
seeing that Dionysus had appeared to Theseus in a dream
demanding that he leave her there.
The most tragic part of the tale is without a doubt the end. It
had been preordained that Theseus would hoist white sails on the
masts of his ship should he return triumphant in having slayed
the Minotaur. An honest oversight on his behalf was to have
catastrophic consequences, for when King Aegeus of Athens saw
the ship approaching the Athenian acropolis from afar decked in
the black of mourning he immediately took the cue to mean that
his son had perished during the encounter. King Aegeus’s despair
was such that he took his own life, hurling himself from the
treacherous cliffs into the sea. The sea was henceforth named the
Aegean in memory of the king’s self-sacrifice.
149
Back in Cnossos things had taken a turn for the worse.
Minos, furious at Daedalus for repeated offences against the
throne that included helping queen Pasiphae consummate her
unnatural lust and aiding and abetting Theseus and Ariadne with
the ball of woollen thread, barred the architect from ever leaving
the fated city. Once again Daedalus turned to the brilliance of his
inventive mind to find answers, just like he’d done numerous
times before. If he couldn’t sail out of Cnossos, he’d fly out. It
was as easy as that. He carried out his remarkable plan with
ample amounts of beeswax taken from the temple repositories
and feathers which he collected from the Cretan shore with the
help of his son Icarus. Using the materials, they fashion two pairs
of wings and strapped them to their backs using elongated
animal skins. Before their maiden flight, Daedalus warned his son
against the inherent dangers of flying too high or low; too high
and the sun’s heat would melt the beeswax, too low and the
feathers would become saturated with moisture from the sea.
Being of an adventuresome and daring disposition, Icarus
snubbed his father’s warning, soaring higher and higher until the
sun’s heat stripped his wings bare of feathers. Powerless to help,
the distressed Daedalus watched on from a short distance away
as his son plunged to his death. The waters in which he fell
became known as the Icarian Sea, and the island on which his
naked body was washed was named Icaria.
Hence the fates of Theseus and Daedalus mirror one
another.
In both cases, their success in reaching the Grecian
mainland was an utterly bittersweet affair, keeping in line with a
150
primordial divinatory belief amongst the Hellenes that the “fates”
never ordained entirely auspicious fortunes to anybody.
151
CHRISTMAS GOBLINS: THE GREEK KALLIKANTZAROI
Christmas has always been a season infused with the spirit of
anticipation, as well as the mutual exchange of well wishes and
presents. Then there are those oppressively opulent Christmas
lunches and dinners in which the vast majority of partakers gorge
themselves as if it were their last day on earth and spend the next
three
weeks
nervously
evading
the
bathroom
scales
and
wondering why they did it. All too often a lack of restraint and
conditioning is reason for one to curse the very celebration he or
she had embraced with fervour only days ago. It goes without
saying that for our children the experience of Christmas is vastly
different; the senseless and meaningless complexities of the ego
haven’t quite developed yet, the burden of responsibility is
altogether absent and the essence of their being is faithfully
152
entwined around a pole of endless feasibility. Nothing and
nobody ever befuddles children in their creative moment of
imagining and role-play, two endeavours that imbue the cosmos
with meaning and purpose and is almost always jettisoned or lost
when one sheds the skins of childhood.
When I was a youngster, I remember waking up to the
pungent scent of sliced bread being roasted in the toaster and the
sight of numerous Christmas presents underlying the tinsel-laden
and star-crowned Christmas tree in the lounge room. Those were
the days when I was mortified by gruesome, malevolent creatures
that went bump-in-the-night and slipped through dimensional
portals to escape into fantastical worlds when reality seemed
bland and lacklustre. Those were the days when I searched
frantically for the tooth fairy that left me money in a drinking
glass as a reward for having shed my first teeth, when I tiptoed
into the lounge room on Christmas Eve expecting to catch Father
Christmas in his philanthropic act of scattering presents beneath
our tree, and when assuming the role of evil characters from fairy
tales and stories was an avenue that led to the enchantment of
Mother Nature herself. Everything was novel, sacred, holy,
magical, enchanting, and mystifying even. Sometimes I’d like to
think that I haven’t lost that spring-morning magic; my childhood
wand is still about, perhaps in a green leather chest somewhere in
the old basement. All I need to do is find it.
I remember, quite vividly in fact, the spirit in which we
celebrated Christmas in my early years. What made the season
soulful and endearing wasn’t the idea of scrumptious and lavish
153
banquets or presents or the notion of Father Christmas
descending into our residence from the charred conduit above
the fireplace. It was the many stories told by my charismatic
grandmother about a species of menacing goblins called the
kallikantzaroi who emerged from their subterranean lairs during
the twelve days of Christmas in order to wreak havoc and lead
the unassuming among us ashtray. For me, the foreboding
presence of demonic minions and their subsequent running
amuck during the same period in which the anniversary of the
birth of the Son of God was celebrated seemed contradictory to a
degree, and on the hand, well, enthralling.
As far as mythographers, folklorists and historians are able
to discern, the folkloristic tradition relating to the kallikantzaroi
are an entirely Greek and Turkish affair. Belief in them was rife in
the Hellenistic lands during the Ottoman Occupation, and it
appears likely the tradition subsisted amidst rustic consciousness
well into the twentieth century. Kallikantzaroi were held by most
Hellenes to be the spawn of evil. They thrived deep inside the
dark, moist womb of the earth and when not in a state of slumber
busied themselves by gnawing at the trunk of the Great World
Tree. Their collective ambition was to annihilate the human race
by undercutting enough bark from the axial giant as to topple the
cosmos. Legend has it that their task neared completion in late
December, a time at which the ethereal gates bridging different
dimensions would be flung open and allow intermingling between
different orders of beings. The gates would remain open between
Christmas day and the festival of the Epiphany on the fifth of the
New Year, allowing the kallikantzaroi to bring their duplicitous,
154
mischievous and homicidal reign of terror to the Earth. On closer
inspection their mingling with human beings wasn’t an altogether
lamentable affair; their temporary absence from the subterranean
was humanity’s saving grace, for it allowed the bark around the
trunk of the World Tree to regenerate and thus continue
nourishing the three tributaries of the cosmos–Heaven, Earth and
Underworld.
Just as we have UFO enthusiasts nowadays reporting variant
species of extra-terrestrial visitors so too were the rustics of
Greece proper convinced that there were two distinct classes of
kallikantzaroi, each with their unique physical characteristics and
temperaments. The first were about two metres in height, lean
and powerfully built, and resembled the ape-like American
cryptid Bigfoot. The list of physical characteristics appears to
vary from place to place, though most are in unanimous
agreement that these types possessed horribly deformed faces,
translucent red eyes and tongues, black skin and shaggy hair, the
ears of goats or asses, the arms of monkeys, razor-sharp talons,
and protruding horns. They were also equipped with oversize
heads and penises. A great many were lame. Their vile
physiognomy was matched only by their tasteless pranks as well
as their heinous and murderous intent. These types prided
themselves in their ability to suffocate their human victims by
sitting on their chests whilst they slept complacent in their beds
or alternatively strangling them outright, slashing their throats
open and then gulping down their oxygen-rich blood. The second
variety was scanter in number, shorter in stature and stayed
faithful to anthropomorphic forms; most tried to imitate healthy
155
six or seven year-old children but differed from the former in that
they exhibited smooth, blackened, and sometimes putrefying skin
in addition to a horde of other physical deformities. It appears
that these smaller types were frivolous, boisterous and somewhat
innocuous when juxtaposed with their much larger cousins. Chief
amongst their concerns was the incitement of pandemonium and
the widespread promotion of social disintegration.
Like a great many other mythological creatures or xotika of
Hellenistic folklore, the kallikantzaroi were confined to a
nocturnal sphere of influence that commenced at dusk and
ceased at daybreak. Because direct sunlight would blind them and
subsequently render them dust, the daytime hours were spent
reposed
in
the
dark
recesses
of
caves
or
windmills.
A
kallikantzaros might bide his time ruminating about how many
households he can bring ruin to in one night, swimming in
subterranean rivers or feasting upon snakes, salamanders, lizards
and other little reptiles to rejuvenate his energies. During this
time the rustic population were raising what they believed to be
incumbent prophylactics to ward off these nocturnal attacks.
Many people would resort to nailing large crosses or the lower
jaws of a pig to their front doors, drawing figures of black crosses
on the main archway of their residences or burning frankincense
and myrrh in an attempt to keep the demonic intruders out.
Others used methods quintessentially pagan in character, like
hanging bits of thistle, asparagus or hyssop on the chimney or
outside
the
door.
It
is
alleged
that
kallikantzaroi
were
cantankerous, stupid and largely void of common sense, so to
dupe them all one had to do was leave a sieve or a bundle of flax
156
on the front porch. Given the ephemeral nature of their
concentration the implements would serve as enumerative
distractions, keeping them busy until the crack of dawn whence
they would be forced to drop everything and flee.
It
was
believed
that
kallikantzaroi
feared
fire
and
encompassed an inherent aversion towards black roosters, hence
townsfolk made every attempt to have one or both around. Fire
proved to be a formidable ally, for it fortified a part of the house
(i.e. the chimney) that would have otherwise granted easy access
to the would-be intruders. During the twelve days of Christmas
householders would keep the fireplace going unremittingly and
leave
the ashes
of the
hearth
untouched. Following
the
purification of waters that typified the ritual of the Epiphany–a
time also believed to signal the return of the kallikantzaroi to the
Underworld–the head of the house would round up the ashes,
now endowed with magical properties owing to a presumed
interaction with the supernatural beings, and disperse them over
his crops to facilitate good produce. In the case that one or all of
these prophylactics failed and one came face to face with a
kallikantzaros during the twelve days, he or she was advised to
disregard their senseless banter and only open one’s mouth as to
recite prayers and incantations. Kallikantzaroi were like the
Nereids; once their presence was acknowledged, their powers
multiplied and they were able to exercise a definitive influence
over the individual. Another didactic piece of traditional
anecdotal
literature
advises
that
the
first
question
a
kallikantzaros is bound to ask any innocent bystander is, ‘Will you
have tow of me or lead?’ to which the one-word response ‘Tow’
157
should be given. The latter renders the malevolent forces
impotent.
Some
of
the
anecdotes
told
about
their
level
of
foolhardiness make for lively home entertainment, especially
during the festive year-end season. One which has remained with
me through the years is the story of how a beautiful young
woman was able to evade the Machiavellian intent of a little
kallikantzaros. On Christmas Eve, or so the folktale narrates, the
woman stayed at home for the sole purpose of preparing a late
night dinner whilst her husband and children attended mass.
After a short while she became acutely aware of something
flitting about behind her. Pivoting on her heels she came face to
face with a blackened misshapen child that seemed to mutate
before her very eyes. The woman knew intuitively that she was in
the presence of a kallikantzaros. It proceeded to scurry about on
all fours like an arachnid, laughing hysterically and defecating
everywhere before granting her his undivided attention. “What is
your name?” the creature asked. Mindful of all that had been
imparted about these flippant but dangerous goblins, she replied
“I, myself”. The kallikantzaros went on scampering about and
upsetting furniture, intensely fascinated and absorbed by its own
ability to break and tear things until the woman finally mustered
enough resolve to launch a counterattack. Angered beyond
reckoning, the woman took a sweltering saucepan off the stove
and hurled it at the kallikantzaros, striking him just below the
jaw. The creature yelped out in pain and rushed outside into the
somnolent darkness, eager to show the burn to his fellow peers
and gain widespread support. When the small kallikantzaros was
158
prompted to disclose the identity of the individual who had
committed this atrocity against him, he blurted out, “I, myself.”
The group broke out in a cacophony of laughter; some mocked
him, others poked and prodded him. In the end the consensus
was that he had behaved like an imbecile and was hence
undeserving of any pity. In this way the young woman evaded any
wrathful retaliation on their part and lived to tell the tale.
Another tale, this one indigenous to the island of Skyros in
the Sporades, speaks of a young man who ran into some
wandering kallikantzaroi whilst returning home from the mill one
night. His gut instinct was to stretch himself out between two
sacks of wheat on his mule’s back in the manner than ‘planking’
enthusiasts prostrate themselves almost everywhere nowadays.
To complete the façade he blanketed himself with a pleated rug
as to fuel the illusion that he was just another sack of wheat. By
their very exposure to the rustic lifestyle, the kallikantzaroi had
learned that wandering donkeys and mules were usually
accompanied by human masters. Soon they had congregated
around the mule, examining the load on its saddle and pulling its
reins some. “Hmm…,” one of them muttered, “there’s a sack of
wheat on either side of the mule, and an even bigger one in the
middle! So, where’s the man gone?” The kallikantzaroi attempted
to solve the mystery by either backtracking to the mule’s place of
origin, the mill, or venturing on ahead, frequently returning to the
animal to vocalise the same concern but all to no avail. Riddled by
this question of how the mule’s master had dematerialized into
thin air took up just enough of their time for the man to arrive
home unassailed.
159
Before the heinous goblins could recover their wits about
them, the man cried out to his wife for immediate assistance. His
wife hurled opens the door and within seconds he and his bags of
wheat were reposing inside the haven of his own home. Realising
at once that they’d been duped, the kallikantzaroi marched up to
the front porch and thumped furiously on the door. His wife, the
shrewder of the two partners, was quick to act; she appeared at
the window near the door and told them that if they could
correctly enumerate the holes in her sieve she would grant them
entrance
without
any
objection.
Oblivious
of
their
own
intellectual incompetency in arithmetic, the kallikantzaroi hastily
accepted her challenge. Elated at this the woman suspended the
sieve from a cord and lowered it to them from a high window.
They snatched it up and proceeded to count, but before reaching
double figures they became puzzled and had to start over again.
Their tribulations went on and on and on, until first light
appeared and they had to flee.
Remarkably the origin of this folkloristic belief remains
shrouded
in
obscurity.
In
examining
the
physical
and
temperamental characteristics of the kallikantzaroi along with the
prophylactics aimed against them one is bound to find parallels
with the traditional lore surrounding the Greek vampire and the
Greek Nereid. Crosses, pigs’ heads and herbs, for instance, were
also used to ward off beings of many different natures in ages
bygone and the notion of denying a supernatural entity power
through the purposeful observance of silence extends to nearly
all classes of xotika. Variant hypotheses have run the gauntlet for
the purpose of gaining conventional acceptance, yet none have
160
fully succeeded. The view, for example, that kallikantzaroi are an
archetypal projection and personification of night terrors has
been criticized as being a simple and one-dimensional view,
dismissive of the fear they were able to strike in the collective
psyche. A much more viable perspective has been offered by
folklorist George. A. Megas, whose academic opinion gravitates
around the idea that the goblins are a memotype relaying the
ancient eschatological belief that Pluton would fling open the
gates to the Underworld for the temporary liberation of deceased
souls on a day of the year celebrated as the Athenian festival of
the Anthesteria. HIs impression would have been more than
satisfying had it not been for the calendrical incongruities
between the two events.
Perhaps the most curious approach is that of Bernhard
Smith, who chooses to descry an origin for the kallikantzaroi
based on the etymological route of the name itself. He argues that
the word for the goblins is comprised of two Turkish route words
which mean ‘black’ and ‘werewolf’, inexplicably linking the
tradition to the shape-shifting transformation of a man into a
wolf known as a lycanthropos. This notion acquires an even
greater viability when one takes into account the shared traits
between the two supernatural entities and the propensity of the
Peloponnese rustics to use these two terms interchangeably in
describing the Christmas goblins. Despite its feasibility there’s
one other theory which issues a much sounder note on the
historiographical scale and overshadows the abovementioned
completely. Put forth by Nicholas Polites the model identifies the
kallikantzaroi as the collective memories of a pagan festival of the
161
winter solstice that was celebrated in antiquity under the aegis of
the Chronia and the Dionysia and involved dressing up in
costume, drinking oneself into a stupor and behaving in frivolous
and counterfeit ways. For Polites, the kallikantzaroi are nothing
more than psychic interpolations ensouled by themes and images
belonging to a primordial pagan masquerade.
162
CLASSICAL HADES: A CHAPTER IN THE HISTORY OF HELL
A great many centuries before Jewish and Christian ideas
surrounding heaven and hell appeared, the progressive and
sometimes
outrageous
poets,
playwrights,
historians,
and
philosophers of classical and pre-Socratic Greece had already
bequeathed to the Mediterranean world a pantheistic religion and
a literary tradition surrounding majestic gods and goddesses
whose behaviours imitated outright those of their mortal
subjects. The twelve primary deities, all of which can be loosely
associated with psychological and cosmic archetypes, ruled the
living world from the mount of heavenly Olympus and were
163
equally
capable
of
virtuous
or
malicious
behaviour.
The
humanistic mirror with which the ancient Greeks perceived their
divinities spilled into more fundamental questions that sought to
address life-after-death and the destiny of the human soul. If the
divine realm and its inhabitants were morphologically and
anatomically comparable to the Earth, then so too must the
Underworld, the subterranean abode of the deceased, be a
shadowy though sullied duplicate of the latter.
According to Hesiod, the oral poet who first mapped out the
mythological terrain as well as the divine and semi-divine family
pedigree of ancient Greece, the first conscious derivatives of the
primordial chaos, the undifferentiated slime of uncreation, were
the physical Earth, Eros or the principle of divine love, the dark
Night, and Hades, an infernal region that could be further divided
into an upper tier called Erebus and a lower tier called Tartarus.
The first was a dimension that welcomed the recently departed,
whilst the second a hellish prison designed to torture evildoers.
In
attempting
literature,
to
many
institutionalize
subsequent
the
religiously
mythographers
of
flavoured
Hellenism
confounded the two aforementioned terms and used either to
designate the Underworld. While proceeding in a logical manner
Hesiod’s account of creation seems to be a bountiful but bloody
and belligerent affair as a prevailing order of deities are
supplanted by a new generation, often their own children. One of
the bloodiest involved the fearsome Titans and the Olympians, in
which the former lost a battle that lasted twelve whole years and
were hurled into the depths of Tartarus as a result. The trajectory
of this absolute lightlessness and silence to the earth was
164
immense, so immense in fact that an anvil being dropped from
heaven would take a whole nine days and nights to get there.
Interestingly, the first account of Hades given by Homer is
painstakingly simplistic and bland. Here, Hades appears as a
preternatural realm ravaged by inertia and an absence of vitality
and force, and it isn’t until much later that the mythographers
give us a clearer picture of its geography and ethereal landscape.
Entrance to this harrowed abode was by various caverns and deep
lakes, with the one most frequently cited being a cave in close
proximity to Marmari in the southern Peloponnese called
Taenarus. The soul or psyche of a recently departed individual
would be guided to an enclosure beyond this spot by Hermes the
psychopomp, whereby he or she would come to the River Styx
(“Hated”) and its tributaries Phlegethon (“Burning”), Cocytus
(“Wailing”), Acheron (“Woe”), Aornis (“Birdless”), and Lethe
(“Forgetfulness”). When describing Hadean terrain, tradition aptly
keeps to the transcription of a quartet though which four
comprise it varies from author to author. Down near the banks of
the delta, a decrepit old man euphemistically named Charon
(“Bringer of Joy”) waited patiently for the arrival of the deceased
individual who would be ferried across the subterranean river
once payment in the form of a single obolus was made. All hope
of a return to the land of the living was quashed once ethereal
footprints were made on black silt abounding on the opposite
side. From here, one had a perfect view of the many-gated palace
of Hades (or Plouton), a single edifice set in a barren and desolate
stretch of fields which brimmed with ashen, wraithlike flowers
like asphodel. Continuing along this path, the deceased would be
165
greeted by a three-headed, serpent-tailed dog called Cerberus and
steadfast escorted through the gargantuan gates that led to the
preternatural meadows. Rulers of this parallel dimension were
Hades (or Plouton), brother of Zeus and Poseidon, and his wife
Persephone, daughter of Demeter. Hades’ second name means
“Wealthy One” and recalls the ripening metals, gems, and semiprecious stones, the expensive and opulent jewellery often
entombed with the deceased, and the condition of fecundity that
possessed the topsoil soon after the spring equinox. The
Underworld was not only a place of death and suffering, but also
a transitional state of gravidity whereby the spirit of life could
once again return to the earth and yield flowers, fruits, and
vegetables. Lest we forget that it was courtesy of Pluto’s tentative
intervention that Persephone was allowed to return to the earth
provisionally, a decision that satisfied her mother Demeter who
then reanimated the rotation of the seasons.
Spending eternity in Hades wouldn’t have been a bland or
uneventful affair. There were enough sights there to please the
eye as there are rides in Luna Park to satisfy the polygonal
curiosity of a ten-year old child. Foremost of the exotic and
bloodthirsty revenants was the Lamia, a malevolent and deformed
female ogre that cannibalized on human babies, and the
Empusae, a vampiric entity that bit the jugular vein of male
sleepers as they slept complacent in their beds and drained them
of blood. Both were thought be daughters of Hecate, the goddess
of witchcraft and magic. Then there were the dreaded Erinyes or
Furies, a chthonic triad of vengeful spirits that severely punished
wrongdoings and those that had violated a solemn oath; the
166
Keres, bloodthirsty death-spirits with wings that helped an
animating life force depart from a severely weakened body; and
the
Alastor,
a
demon
that
tempted
men
to
commit
a
transgression and then dutifully penalized them for it. Medusa,
the snake-haired Gorgon, was also there; unaware that her powers
had been nullified by the unfortunate condition of death, she
stubbornly went on trying to turn every dead creature to stone.
Two residents of the Underworld that differed somewhat from
the rest in that they could flit between upper and lower worlds
were the male twins, Death and Sleep. By far the more flexible and
creative of the two was Sleep, for he could send bits of etheric
radiation up to world of the living that materialized as dreams.
There were two gates through which they passed to reach
animate souls, one made of ivory and the other horn-shaped.
False dreams or psychic garbage diffused through first whilst
premonitions, meaningful dreams, and precognitive visions
tunnelled their way up to the conscious light and erupted in the
reposing mind through the second.
There was also a long list of mythical celebrities pervading
the Stygian regions. All were former residents of the material
plane and all had been damned for offences deemed serious
against the circle of mighty Olympians. Punishments for
violations in Hades were undoubtedly harsh, relentless and
handed down to perpetrators without compunction. Sisyphus, for
instance, was a Corinthian king whose everlasting sentence
involved rolling a large bounder along a steep slope. This rock
would steadfast roll back down before reaching the pinnacle,
prompting him to return to his starting position and repeat the
167
perturbing endeavour. The mythical King Tantalus suffered an
equivalent fate for the barbaric dismemberment of his own son, a
sacrifice which he dared to serve up to the gods at a banquet held
in their honour. He was strung over a subterranean lake for his
crime and left there to wallow in his own misery. The penalty was
perpetuated by the fact that he could not quench his thirst or
satisfy his hunger; reaching out for a clump of fruit hanging on
the tree instigated a breeze that blew it beyond the limits of his
grasp and the action of veering near the surface of the lake for a
sip caused the pool to vanish like a mirage. Attempting to draw
up water from the same lake from sifters are the Danaids, the
fifty daughters of Danaus who attempted to escape the inexorable
condition of arranged marriage by assassinating their husbands
with a shower of hairpins. Elsewhere, the giant Tityus is pegged
out along the Stygian fields whilst vultures devour his liver for an
attempted rape of Leto at the behest of her divine twins, Artemis
and Apollo, and Ixion, king of the Lapiths, is bound to a spinning
solar wheel for attempting to enact the same crime against Hera,
Queen of Olympians.
The original conception of Hades as a spiritual dimension
beyond death was without the ancient Persian and Egyptian
notion of a psychostasia, a final judgement that conferred a
specific destiny to each individual soul depending on the moral
nature and worth of its lifetime actions. An obvious explanation
to this oddity can be found in the cultural presentiments of early
Hellenistic civilization. Unlike both the Zoroastrian, Egyptian, and
Roman cultural milieu which placed great worth in the value of a
judicial mechanism for the resolution of criminal, civil, and
168
administrative affairs, the ancient Greek democratic ideals didn’t
extend their virtues to the development of legal science and a
legal system revolving around the rights of citizens. Nonetheless,
an efflux of cross-cultural exchange eventually influenced
Hellenistic religious ideas pertaining to the afterlife and profound
evidence for it crops up in a Socratic dialogue composed by the
Athenian Plato around c. 380BCE. The preeminent philosopher
narrates that once the dead were ushered into Hades, they were
met by three judges: Aeacus, Rhadamanthus, and Minos. Aeacus,
a mythical king of Aegina born to Zeus and the nymph Aegina,
was bestowed the task of judging the deeds of expired Europeans.
Rhadamanthus and Minos were both sons of Zeus and Europa. It
was believed that Rhadamanthus presiding over the Asian souls
while the renowned Minos, known to the world as the notorious
king of Crete who demanded an annual Athenian sacrifice of
seven youths and seven maidens, was granted an overarching
authority over the other two as the figure responsible for appeals,
imposing sentences, and the implementation of a system of codes
by which all souls were tried. Those cleared of moral fraud and
shown to be of a generally good disposition were allowed entry
into the Elysian Fields, a place where they could delight their
senses with ambrosial gifts like singing, dancing, playing musical
instruments like the lyre, and revelling in the laughter of flowery
meadows. Alternatively those which weighed heavily in favour of
treachery, discrimination, ingratitude, disorder, and malevolence
were ushered to the abyssal dungeon of torment, to Tartarus.
Rulings in which a clear-cut decision could not be made resulted
in the soul being sent to the Asphodel Meadows, an ethereal field
169
which somewhat mimicked the earthly plane in its morphology
but was a less-than-desirable carbon copy of it.
Only a select few individuals ever managed a lateral glance
at the morbid sights of the Underworld whilst they were still
alive. Three that spring to mind are the celebrated heroes
Odysseus, Orpheus, and Heracles. In the Ithacan soldier-king’s
case the witch Circe had advised him that the best way to reach
Ithaca was to consult with the soul of the wise seer Tiresias in
Hades. Tiresias might, according to Circe, be capable of
unravelling the arcanum given that his previous incarnations were
not exclusive to one of the two genders. To get there safety
Odysseus has to follow the course of the river Oceanus until he
arrives at the forked crossroads where the Cocytus and
Phlegethon pour themselves into the Acheron. Standing at the
mouth of a subterranean cave which leads to Hades Odysseus
enacts a ritual that includes pouring a libation to the dead and
sacrificing two black animals, a ewe and a ram. Blood flows into
the subterranean conduit, attracting all sorts of ghosts and
paranormal denizens though Odysseus aptly drew his sword and
prevents them from lapping up the blood until Tiresias can
fumble his way to the mouth of the cave and consume some of
the vital force that empowers the silent dead with speech.
At this point Odysseus is stunned to see the simulacrum of
his shipmate Elpenor emanating from the bloody pit; their ship
had sailed from the isle of Aeaea in such a hurry that nobody was
yet conscious of the fact that the unfortunate sailor had suffered
a fatal tumble from roof of Circe’s residence. Satisfied that his
170
friend will now execute the customary burial rights that will
enable him to reach Hades proper safely, Elpenor spontaneously
vanishes from sight. A short while afterwards Tiresias makes his
anticipated appearance and, after tasting the oxygen-rich blood
that will enable him to speak, gives voice to a premonitory
soliloquy that pinpoints exactly which god is angry (Poseidon),
what has angered him (the blinding of Polyphemus), and what can
be done to appease him (safeguarding the cattle of the Sun).
Tiresias’s imminent departure from the pit allows another more
familiar disembodied spirit to come to light, Odysseus’s mother.
She comes as the bearer of both good and bad news, announcing
that his wife Penelope has remained fiercely faithful to him but
that his father is suffering severe despondency owing to the
disappearance of his only child.
The ghosts continue their coming and going to the pit,
mimicking a disparate chain of pictorial images that come forth
into our minds during sleep entirely of their own volition. Next in
line is his former commander Agamemnon, who tells Odysseus of
the treacherous conspiracy that his scheming wife Clytemnestra
successfully executed to his own detriment after he returned
home. Other vanquished heroes of the Trojan War also emerge:
the mighty warrior Achilles, son of Peleus and the nymph Thetis;
Patroclus, Achilles’s comrade and beloved brother-in-arms; and
Ajax, son of Telamon and Periboea. Achilles’s own gloominess
appears to abate when Odysseus tells him of the marvellous feats
enacted in the living sphere by his son, Neoptolemos, though Alex
is much less receptive to his advances, still somewhat furious at
the post-Trojan tribunal for having awarded Achilles’s armoury to
171
Odysseus instead of himself. Odysseus finds that the ethereal
images appearing, pinching out, and then vanishing swiftly are
dictated by his own willingness to see them. He sees Tantalus
strung beneath one of the branches of his tree, Sisyphus heaving
his rock along a steep hill, Tityus’s liver being picked apart by a
flock of aggressive vultures, the judge Minos issuing a decree
with a golden sceptre in his hand, the shadow of Achilles, the
muscle-bound hero Heracles, and the cheerful Orion. Growing
uneasy of the large number of ghosts now crowding around the
blood pit for a chance to speak, Odysseus flees from the ghastly
site and rejoins his seafaring companions. Together they sail back
to Aeaea, the isle of Circe, rowing as quickly as possible.
Orpheus, the legendary musician from Thrace, also visited
the Underworld. He sought to salvage the life of Eurydice, his
newly-wedded wife, by descending to the Stygian darkness and
charming the ruling inhabitants with heartfelt songs played on
his lyre. Enamoured of his music, Plouton and Persephone agreed
to give Eurydice a second chance at life on the condition that he
lead the way to the living realm without pivoting to see if she was
following until they were both safely out of the deathly shade of
the infernal regions. Orpheus wasn’t able to keep his side of the
bargain and so Eurydice was sucked back through the steep
funnel leading to the Fields of Asphodel, this time for good.
It is most fitting that the strongest man to ever grace the
mythological terrain of ancient Greece managed to sneak a peak
of the dreaded Hadean landscape, though not of his own volition.
The twelfth and most perilous labour assigned to Heracles
172
involved capturing Cerberus, the Hound of Hell, and bringing him
to King Eurystheus of Tiryns. Heracles wasn’t one to shy away
from any task, no matter how daunting or insuperable it
appeared, and he promptly set about his descent to the
Underworld through the familiar cave of Taenarus. Crossing the
Styx didn’t pose too much of a problem either; Heracles merely
struck a frightful pose and frowned, striking terror in Charon
who ferried him across without any objections. There he found
his old friends Theseus and Peirithous mindlessly glued onto the
Chair of Forgetfulness for their hubris in thinking they could
abduct and carry off Persephone, Queen of the Underworld.
Heracles manages to liberate the bulk of Theseus after a whole lot
of tugging and pulling, but heaving Peirithous up proves to be a
far thornier endeavour. He eventually comes to terms with the
latter’s futile situation and sees no choice but to move onto the
task of capturing Cerberus. Scrambling all the way to the Hadean
palace, he finds Plouton and Persephone and pleads for their
permission to capture the Hound of Hell. At first the couple
seems reluctant but they eventually yield to the request when
Heracles agrees to tackle the beast barehanded. Confronting and
seizing the dreaded monster turns out to be child’s play for the
man of steel; he grapples the beast by two of its throats, rolls him
into the magical skin of the Nemean lion, slings him over his
back, and then charges off to find Eurystheus at Tiryns. The king
was so mortified at the sight of Cerberus that he dived into a
pithos (large storage jar), refusing to come out until the threat
had been removed from his quarters.
173
Bold and fearless as he was, Heracles paid the Underworld a
second visit to rescue a Greek princess by the name of Alcestis.
This lady was famed for the fidelity and love she espoused
towards the suitor that was picked to become her husband, King
Admetus. On the night of their wedding Admetus was remiss in
conducting the requisite sacrifice to honour the goddess Artemis.
The goddess’s fury was eventually appeased, however this was
followed by another predicament in which the three Fates
appeared and condemned him to death, a condition that could
only be evaded if someone else stepped forth as a willing
substitute. Without as much as a thought for the worth of her
own life, Alcestis consumed poison and died in his place.
Heracles came to the rescue as soon as he heard of Admentus’s
horrifying misfortunes. Greatly impressed by the kindness and
hospitality expressed towards him when he was an apologetic
visitor to Admentus’s residence, Heracles agreed to advocate on
the king’s behalf. He descended to Hades and pleaded for the safe
return of a cherished soul to the plane of the living. Upon hearing
his story, Persephone agreed with Heracles that a grand injustice
had befallen Alcestis and decided to grant her freedom. The royal
couple enjoyed a stretch of long serendipity from that point
onward, siring a son and daughter, Eumelus and Perimele,
respectively.
In retrospect one would not be incorrect in stating that a
truly Hellenistic conception of the Underworld, the stylistically
branded
“hell”
of
later
times,
did
not
acknowledge
any
disembodied forces of pure “good” or “evil”. As progressive,
poetic and logical as it might have been though, this cosmological
174
outlook did not remain stagnant for very long. By the fifth
century
BCE,
many daimones (demons) born below the aegis of the
classical prototype could easily be mistaken for notions of
Beelzebub fabricated by the Jews or the viperish and scaly
minions lurking in the Christian Purgatory, in Dante’s fourteenthcentury epic poem Inferno , and in John Milton’s Paradise Lost
(1667). The clearest evidence for this is in a fifth-century fresco
painted by Polygnotus of Odysseus’s harrowing sojourn in Hades
that adorned a building at the Delphic shrine sacred to Apollo.
Sadly, the mural has not survived the ravages of time but we
know of it through Pausanias’s painstaking description of
Polygnotus’s work. The keen traveller tells us that Polygnotus
initiated something of a playful and imaginative departure from
the literary orthodoxy of classical Hades in adding personages to
his pictorial transcriptions that Odysseus had not seen and which
Homer had forgotten to describe. One that stands out because of
its petrifying morphology is Eurynomos, a beast-demon with a
bluish black complexion and razor-sharp fangs that sat on the
black banks of the feared Styx and consumed the rotting flesh of
the vilest evildoers. In depicting this demon, Polygnotus was
descrying a dream of the future in which the subterranean strata
of Hades and its familiar imagery would sear in the cooking pot
of
the
Christian
imagination
and
become
an
after-death
fantastical dungeon of brutality, savagery, and rigid torment.
Indeed, the human propensity to yield to temptations of
darkness, to dwell there, to investigate its ever fluctuating
landscapes and inhabitants, and to imagine there has become
something of a self-fulfilling prophecy and, um, well … sinful.
175
THE GREEK NYMPH
176
As we’ve discussed in the opening blog of the “It’s all Greek to
me” series, the ancient Greeks saw their gods and goddesses as
archetypal powers that existed in the world of “being” and
manifested through its conscious extensions (and sometimes
independently of them). The personification of natural forces on
the part of these archetypal powers—forces identified both in the
earth and in the recesses of humanity’s unconscious mind—were
supernatural in that they unveiled a tangible connection between
the earth’s natural cycles, its electromagnetic fields and the
higher Self.
Belief in spirits of nature is probably as old as our coming to
consciousness, for they would have contextualized Mother Nature
in a way that made her accessible, perceptible and entirely
meaningful to the differentiating human ego and the tribal
mentality of Paleolithic times. The spirits confined to the sphere
of nature were the nymphs. These supra-natural forces were
known as dryads when they pervaded the thick woodlands and
forests; Nereids when they inhabited the ocean or the sea caves;
oreads when they wondered ceaselessly across the mountains.
Limoniads presided over meadows, and limniads over lakes,
marshes and swamps. Naiads or water nymphs inhabited village
streams and rivers. In modern-day Greece, one finds many stories
of hauntings near water, particularly streams and rivers. It’s not
uncommon for townsfolk to refer to the Nereid of the village well
or stream by name, as though she were actually part of the
human populace.
177
As with a great many other generative powers, it appears
that nymphs were especially connected with water. In fact, it
wouldn’t be wrong to state that the entire goddess tradition is
hinged upon birth of feminine entities from the volatile element.
The primeval Sumarian Goddess Nammu was represented by the
hieroglyphic figure for water. The Great Mother Goddesses of
Egypt, Nut and Hathor, were originally sky goddesses and the sky
was imagined by the Paleolithic peoples to be the celestial
equivalent of the ocean. Mighty Isis, the most important
sotirological figure of Alexandrian Egypt was born from the
primordial waters of chaos. Aphrodite was born from the froth of
the sea. Even Maria, the feminine representative of the Christian
Godhead, retains memory of the sea in the etymology of her
name. Maria derives from mare, the Latin word for the sea and
links the Holy Virgin of Christian tradition to the Great Mother
Goddesses of other pre-Christian traditions.
In the cycle of myths attributed to the indigenous Inuit
people of Canada and Greenland, the sea was commanded by the
spirit of a woman-turned-goddess called Sedna. Atargatis, a
Semitic moon goddess, was the first feminine deity to assume the
form of a mermaid. She laid the foundations for the folklore
surrounding the Celtic Liban and the Mermaid of Iona which came
thousands of years afterward. The greatest seafaring peoples of
any one time have always been acutely fixated by them. Mermaids
themselves are simply unconscious personifications of the
original connection between the feminine Godhead who created
the entire universe and her watery womb from whence it
emerged.
178
In antiquity, the Nereids were sea nymphs, the fifty
daughters of Nereus and Doris who dwelled in the Mediterranean
Sea. Many people believed they were of friendly disposition and
helped in averting perilous storms. Their growing presence in art,
architecture, and in the psyche of ancient sailors proved
disadvantageous to the plight of the Christian priests, who,
fighting to suppress pagan virtues many centuries afterward,
were unable to eradicate them from popular folklore. One need
only take a good look at the number of water deities in the
classical pantheon of gods to contemplate the extent of this
eternal obsession, one initiated by the Minoan thalassokratia and
inherited by the classical, Byzantine, and contemporary Greeks
who came after them.
Of the four elements known to the ancients, water appears
to be the one that was least understood. How could something
placid and fair one minute, stirring the reverence and admiration
of ancient poets and playwrights, become a wrathful agent of
death and destruction the next? Greeks believed that the pelagic
waters could never be trusted or taken at face value; if anything,
they had to be feared. This idea is entombed in one particular line
of an aretalogy of the Hellenistic Isis: “I make the navigable unnavigable whenever I so desire.” Ultimately, it was this innate
fear, coupled with the adventuresome and often very vivid
imagination of most sailors, that forever impressed upon the
collective psyche of Hellenes their erroneous beliefs that the seas
were haunted by Nereids, giant serpents, and other prehistoric
creatures.
179
One that was distinctly Greek was the legend of the
Gorgona, an overgrown mermaid lurking in the abyssal depths of
both the Black and Aegean Seas. One that was distinctly Greek
was the legend of the Gorgona, an overgrown mermaid lurking in
the abyssal depths of both the Black and Aegean Seas. This
Nereid was the alleged sister of Alexander the Great. During a
time when she was still a mortal woman, she conspired with her
brother to steal a flask containing the waters of eternal life from
a cave that was guarded by a gruesome dragon. Their plot
succeeded, albeit fleetingly. The Gorgona snuck into the cave and
snatched up the flask but dropped it in her haste to get away,
unaware that the fiend no longer posed a threat because
Alexander had slain it. When Alexander saw the flask’s contents
spilled onto the ground, he cursed her repeatedly. His fury was
such that it carried the potency of magical incantation and turned
her into a theriomorph—a creature who was part-woman, partfish and thereafter inhabited the seas. If the Gorgona caught sight
of a passing ship, she would propel herself to the sea surface
holding a trident and appear beside the hull in her guise of
femme fatale, asking the ship’s captain, ‘Does King Alexander
live?’ If the captain replied, ‘He lives and conquers,’ the Gorgona
would become spirited with rhapsody, taming the whirlwinds and
greybeards with her smile and playing blissful tunes on her lyre.
If he made the fatal mistake of telling her that her brother was
dead, she would become wracked by grief, rousing tempests by
convulsing her body and hurling her tail around to capsize the
ship.
180
The story of the modern Gorgona probably emerged during
the first third of the twelfth century in Byzantium, a time when
astrological, pneumatological and alchemical treatises like Secreta
Secratorum were being falsely attributed to Aristotle. The
aforementioned was actually one of the most popular works of
the twelfth century and dealt with the occult properties of metals,
stones and other elements. Aristotle himself was Alexander’s
tutor, and by virtue of association many philosophers of the
Middle Ages were inclined to view Alexander as the legendary
inheritor of arcane knowledge that enabled him to conquer the
known world. Nowhere is this more evident that in the medieval
Hermetic text “The Treasure of Alexander the Great”, originally
written in Arabic. Distinctly operative and alchemical in nature,
the text is a foremost example of the medieval imagination and
its tendency to imbue legendary heroes with magical powers,
particularly those conferred through antediluvian knowledge or
the acquisition of the Philosopher’s Stone. These treatises, as well
as the esoteric fecund of myths like the Golden Fleece imply an
unbroken transmission of classical thought (previously doubted)
bridging the cultural milieus of the Middle Ages with that of the
Neoplatonic-flavoured Renaissance.
There can be no doubt that the legend of the Gorgona was a
Byzantine adaptation of a classical myth of Scylla, given that their
fates are strikingly similar. Scylla, a sea nymph, caught the eye of
Glaucus, a keen fisherman living in the Boeotian city of Anthedon.
In his wonderings, Glaucus had discovered a magical herb with
properties analogous to the Philosopher’s Stone which purged
him of mortality. Handsome as he was, the newly grown lime181
green tresses and fish tail which characterized his transformation
into a merman frightened Scylla so much that she became
indifferent to his affirmations of love for her. To remedy this,
Glaucus sought the council of Circe the enchantress and pleaded
for a potion which would remedy this unrequited love.
In an ironic and unfortunate turn of events, Circe herself
became enamored upon seeing the fine-looking Glaucus and
sought
to
seduce
him
with
compliments
and
charms.
Surprisingly, Glaucus shunned her flirtatious advances and
remained unwavering in his passion for the sea nymph,
professing that ‘trees would cover the sea bottom and seaweed
the mountain tops’ before he ceased to love Scylla. Circe became
so enraged with jealousy that she sought to destroy the woman of
his affections by poisoning the pool in which she bathed. The
potion rooted Scylla to a monolith once she submerged herself,
changed her into a hideous beast with twelve feet and six heads.
From this point forward, her temper grew to match her
appearance and she took out her frustration on unsuspecting
sailors who came within reach.
In the early twentieth century, the classical ‘Nereid’ evolved
to encompass all spirits of place. Like their ancient predecessors,
the Nereids who lived during Christian times were beings of
unsurpassed beauty, more often than not female, who meandered
about mountains, caves, rivers and springs. Nereids would always
appear dressed in white, wearing a crown of feathers atop their
heads and a veil which fluttered behind them in the wind. Masters
in the arts, they possessed such competence in dance and song
182
that anybody who dared bare witness risked insanity. Their
talents didn’t stop there. Nereids enjoyed many supernatural
powers, including riding through the air, slipping through nooks
and crannies and rendering themselves invisible.
Peculiarly, these supra-normal beings never exhibited any
distinct personality traits but acted rather like conscious
extensions of the same psyche. Their reputation as wrathful and
malevolent preceded them, and humans were so terrified of them
that they avoided venturing into their dominions at all costs. In
the unlikely case that a meeting was inevitable, one was warned
against speaking or answering their questions. The implications
of granting a Nereid attention were not favorable; one risked
either falling under magical spells, becoming dumbstruck or even
killed. Despite their prevailing weakness and futility before the
detrimental forces generated by such spirits, humans could avert
misfortune and disaster by stealing a piece of clothing from
them, often their kerchief. This had the effect of not only
dampening their powers but also bringing them under the direct
conscious control of the individual who held the stolen item.
They were not immortal, though their lifespan was theorized to
be one thousand years or thereabouts and unlike humans, their
beauty didn’t fade until the time of death.
Belief in their existence has pervaded the mountainous areas
of Greece, particularly the Peloponnese and Crete, for time
immemorial although there have been many other reports from
regions such as the Aegean, the Ionian Islands, Thrace and Greek
Macedonia. In the succession of events that precipitated the
183
Trojan War, King Peleus won the right to marry Thetis, foremost
of the Nereids, by winning a contest in which he held onto her
long enough as to see her morph back into her original form. As
with all sea nymphs, Thetis could change form at will and predict
the future. Similarly, in contemporary Greece today the rustic and
superstitious believe that the famous Mavromichalis clan (which
dominated the peninsula of Mani in southern Greece for
centuries) owes its hereditary good looks to the marriage of
George Mavromichalis with a rare sea Nereid.
Apart from the earlier conjecture that nymphs are accounts
of real, disembodied spirits, it had also begun to occur to me that
many of the folktales evolving around these beings reflected, to
some degree, true anxieties about the institution of marriage. On
hearing variant accounts of human and nymph interactions, the
message that became patently clear was that married men who
become involved with beautiful women other than their wives are
doomed to suffer dire consequences. The stories may have been
fabricated
by
mothers and
grandmothers as
a
reflective,
subconscious reaction to the will of masculine transgression so
evident in patriarchal consciousness.
184
THE GREEK VAMPIRE
The belief in paranormal denizens called vampires (vrykolakas or
katakhanas in Greek) who subsist in the sphere of the living by
feeding on a pranic, sustaining life force, usually in the form of
blood, may in fact predate the advent of civilization itself.
Contrary to popular twenty-first century thought, folkloristic
conceptions of vampires weren’t introduced into the region of
Greece proper by the Slavic invasion of 587
CE,
but were instead
the product of oral folklore that had evolved independently and
exclusively on the Aegean islands from the time the ancient
Greeks conceived the eschatological lore of Hades. In actual fact,
185
a great many of the permanent inhabitants of classical Hades, or
more properly of Erebus, have been ascribed by scholars as
ancient precursors to the modern phenomenon which reentered
human collective consciousness in the early years of the
eighteenth century.
Foremost of these ravenous predators was the Empusae, a
nonphysical being thought to be the daughter of the witch Hecate.
She often appeared as a woman of sublime beauty and induced
such prurience in young men that none could resist her.
Afterwards, as they slept complacent in their beds, she bit their
jugular vein and drained them of blood. Another rancid ghoul of
the nether regions who exhibited analogous habits was Lamia,
though it appears she preferred the taste of children. Perhaps the
vilest, most despicable of all primeval bloodsuckers were the
lurid Stringles. These theriomorphic creatures resembled Egyptian
ba spirits (personifications of the Western notion of the
nonphysical soul) in that they took the guise of human-headed
birds. But unlike their Egyptian antecedents, the Stringles, preying
on anything with visible veins and arteries, were anything but
benign.
In the annals of classical literature there are numerous
examples of embryonic vampirism, or the necessitation of blood
to regain vitality. When the Ithacan soldier-king Odysseus
descended into the realm of Hades to consult, in the personage of
Tiresias, the wisest mortal to have ever lived, he was required to
sacrifice a young ram and a black ewe near a subterranean cave of
the nether regions. The ensuing river of blood infused the dead
186
with temporary strength in the form of pranic life force, thus
enabling the wise man to speak and deliver his dour premonition
of the future. On the same daunting quest, Odysseus’s dead
mother was able to communicate with him only after she’d
gulped down a few mouthfuls of the life-giving substance.
Also, the repercussion for ancient orators who did not abide
by a sworn oath was either rejection by the multi-headed
guardian dog Cerberus at the gates of Hades, expulsion by the
very earth one was interred into, or resistance to bodily
putrefaction after death. All variants seem to suggest that the
penalty for non-adherence to the moral and ethical codes of the
time was transfiguration into an undead prank of sorts. In
Euripides’
Hippolytus,
the
conviction
is
immortalized
in
Hippolytus’ heartfelt words to his Minotaur-slaying father,
Theseus, ‘In death may neither sea nor earth receive my flesh, if I
have proven false.’
Further
still,
Plato’s
doctrine
of
metempsychosis
or
reincarnation and the multiple incarnations of the soul on earth
drummed a very real fear into the people of antiquity. Retribution
for crimes committed against one’s person during the course of a
lifetime could be sought in subsequent incarnations or even
extorted after death. Consequently, a victim’s return to the
material realm for the sake of justice was not only feared but
anticipated by the perpetrator of the transgression. This may
elucidate why bodies disinterred from pagan burial grounds have
been found horribly mutilated. Often the arms have been severed
at the wrists and legs at the ankles, with the corresponding body
187
parts either tucked under the cadaver’s armpits and between
their thighs or bound tightly to the chest with a noose. The
actions were both a literal and symbolic gesture to thwart the
victim’s return from the dead.
According to the Hellenistic tradition of Byzantine times, it
was possible for a human soul to become trapped in a decaying
carcass, wafting aimlessly between the realm of the living and the
departed. The islanders of the Aegean called these undead
revenants Alastores or Wanderers. It appears that the likelihood
of suffering such a tragic fate increased if one had corroborated
with evil beings during the course of one’s lifetime, if they were
suicide victims, witches or sorcerers, if they were in turn bitten by
a vampire, or if they were unlucky enough to become possessed
by disembodied spirits at the time of their passing. The Byzantine
Greeks unconsciously appropriated many ancient practices to
conform to the eschatological beliefs regarding the dead that
were promulgated by the church fathers during the Middle Ages,
namely the undisputed existence of a Christian Hell and
Purgatory.
Just as their predecessors had at one time placed an obolus
in the mouth of the deceased to discourage demons and other
spirits from taking possession of and utilizing the body to enact
their evil machinations, the Greeks of the Byzantine Empire
buried their dead with a wax cross and a piece of pottery
inscribed with the words ‘Jesus Christ conquers’ to deter
reinvigoration at the hands of Satanael and his minions. Many
alternative methods were conceived and utilized to prevent
188
transfiguration in the centuries that followed. Some of these
included scalding the body with boiling oil, piecing the heart with
an iron spit or black-handled knife, stuffing the mouth with
onions or rocks marked with black crosses, and pouring either
sulphur or seawater over the grave in question before draping a
fishnet over it. The most potent defense against vampirism was
dissolution through cremation, although this method was
implemented only as a last resort, seeing that the incineration of
a body anointed with holy oil was, and still is, forbidden by the
Greek Orthodox Church.
During the Ottoman occupation, the parochial selection
marking those liable to become vampires expanded to include
criminals, the terminally ill, pathological liars, swindlers, the
cursed and those excommunicated by the church fathers for such
scandals as marrying a relative. Other more outrageous notions
were also added to the list of damnation; individuals who hadn’t
receive
mandatory
funerary
or
baptismal
rites,
offspring
conceived on the days of important religious festivities, hunters
who’d
sampled
the
flesh
of
any
animal
that
had
been
overwhelmed by a wolf, and loners were also heavily predisposed
to becoming vampires. Unlike their northern cousins, the
vampiric entities that terrorized the Miloan inhabitants never
coalesced under a unifying physical characteristic: some looked
typically human; some were merely incorporeal and as a
consequence powerless in imposing change in the physical world
of cause and effect; some presented themselves as uncouth and
nominally violent, having long ago surpassed the necessity of
social etiquette; some had purpled or red faces with prominent
189
incisors like carnivorous lions or wolves; some, with glistening
black skin, glowed in the dark; while yet others lurked about on
all fours with more exotic features such as goat skins, elephant
trunks and cyclopean eyes. Just like the primordial Nereids,
nearly all of them encompassed the ability to change shape at
will.
In Greece proper, the mountainous terrain sometimes
formed
impenetrable
geographical
barriers
so
that
village
settlements were cut off from one another, often for extended
periods of time. The implications were that regional folkloristic
tradition concerning vampires and other supernatural beings
didn’t proliferate far and seldom intermingled with anything
analogous in a neighboring area. These independent branches
eventually forged a rich, multifaceted substratum of collective
beliefs around the core concept of what actually defined
vampirism; yet simultaneously introduced the subtle problem of
regional discrepancies. Thus the actual time that these undead
revenants rose from their graves came to be widely disputed. On
the island of Thasos, vampires only rose in the preternatural
world of dreams brought to fruition by sleep itself. Greeks living
on the intermittent plains of the Greek state of Macedonia
believed they arose on the night of the full moon. Alternatively,
the islanders of Samos and Mytilene in the North Aegean Sea
alleged that vampires walked after midnight, but were restricted
to the immediate vicinity of their graves. On Amorgos, the
easternmost of the Aegean Cycladic island group, vampires
enjoyed an existence unfettered by the very circumstances
detrimental to their survival by the northerners, i.e. time and
190
spacial limits. They could walk about by day, unencumbered by
the very sunlight that was supposed to render them handfuls of
dust.
Nevertheless,
quintessential
all
variant
characteristic
traditions
which
defined
agreed
on
the
all
forms
of
vampirism as malevolence. Vampires were filthy, ravenous
predators who nurtured and spread contagion, murdered for the
sadistic pleasure that the heinous act promulgated within them,
incited pandemonium and slathered about amidst the aftermath
of
any
community
depredation.
They
loitered
about
in
inconspicuous areas, vandalizing village churches, defecated on
consecrated ground and busied themselves with mischief until
the first light of dawn. Like the unruly bloodsuckers confined to
the nether regions of classical Hades, vampires periodically fed
on freshly cut jugular blood to sustain their existence. Once in a
while they might also stumble across raw liver, the vampiric
equivalent of rib-eye steak.
The belief in these creatures of the dark became so
pervasive that it evolved into mass hysteria and culminated in
numerous public executions. Despite the doomsday scenario that
the vampiric egregore cultivated during the later Middle Ages, the
Hellenes of Greece proper and the islands were not without
defense. At this time, the ritual and ceremonial magic which had
formed an essential component of the fertility religions of the
pre-Christian world (known as Wicca) had withered from Western
collective consciousness. Foremost in confounding its true
meaning and purpose were the church fathers who implemented
191
their strict doctrines of conventional Christian theology. They
aptly demoted the pagan practice as a denomination presided
over by the Devil and his minions, and consequently declared it a
Christian heresy that both attracted to its practitioner the fate of
eternal
damnation
and
greatly
augmented
the
chance
of
becoming a vampire.
Fearing the implications of practical magic, the superstitious
masses sought to ward off evil by brandishing mundane items or
possessions of deep personal significance. Peasants resorted to
nailing crosses made of reeds behind their doors, sealing their
keyholes with bread anointed with holy water from the local
church and spraying mustard seed onto their roofs. Some went so
far as to spear pieces of a pig’s tongue to their porch door with a
nail from a coffin. Milian sailors and captains from the old
Capitol of Kastro appear to have devised more flamboyant and
inventive forms to deter vampires from harassing them. They
drew insulting open-handed gestures onto their wooden doors, or
alternatively dug a five pointed star onto it before driving a blackhandled knife through the star’s center. According to Miloan
tradition, individuals born on a Saturday exhibited preeminence
over all vampiric entities because their ‘soul spark’ was dual.
Their spirit double could morph into a prodigious dog that would
intimidate and chase them away.
Before the coming of Christianity to the area of Greece
proper and the Slavonic immigration to the Balkan region of
Europe, classical Hellenistic spirituality and eschatological belief
laid the foundations for later vampiric folklore by hinting that an
192
unclean spirit or demon could possess a decomposing body. The
Greeks called these undead ‘revenants’ or Alastores, after the
Hadean demon Alastor who led humans to decadence and sin and
then punished them for it. They were originally preternatural
beings who functioned within the square of reason and logic,
returning from the dimension of the afterlife to enact vengeance
upon those who’d grievously sinned against them during the
course of their lifetime. Herein, a mythological tenet outlines the
psychic mechanism of higher consciousness which delineates the
ways of ethical and moral justice and its eternal inherence within
the whole of humankind. When these supranormal earth spirits
became confounded with Christian demons, any benign or
righteous qualities that rustics had previously ascribed to them
fell away; the undead revenants then became obstreperous and
vengeful tools used by Satanael to further obstruct the Christian
path to redemption. The arrival of Slavic lore concerning
werewolves or were bears and vampires enhanced the pre-existing
Hellenic tradition which extended from the northernmost regions
of Macedonia to the southern Cycladic islands of Milos and
Santorini, as well as distant Crete. In fact, the conviction in
undead revenants was most potent in the southern Aegean, a
region never subjected to Slavonic influence. Thus, it is highly
probable that the Greeks only borrowed the name vampir from
the Slavonic adaptation of a very pagan invention.
These two very separate and distinct traditions, the Slavonic
and the Greek, found a spirited ally in one another and had
completely merged by the seventeenth century under the name of
vrykolakas. After the hybrid entity stitched itself together by
193
borrowing traits from both traditions, it discarded all its milder
ones and paraded in the entrails of predation and hostility.
Vampires were sentient beings but without a slither of human
conscience; they were wholly sinful and irrationally bloodthirsty.
The Greek Orthodox Church saw this outrageous superstition as a
perfect opportunity to tighten the reigns on their religious
monopoly. They become increasingly secular in a bid to
consolidate
terrestrial
authority
over
the
Greek-speaking
Christian population. In the eyes of the church fathers,
disobedience to the law of ecclesiastical doctrine was an evil
heresy and was punishable by excommunication; therefore, those
who transgressed from the divinely appointed role that the
church credited to itself had been corrupted by the Devil, and
were likely to become vampires. Interestingly, the desperation to
maintain popular belief in the horrifying consequence of
excommunication was so great that the church unconsciously
mounted an insurrection against its own teaching. By aiding and
abetting mass hysteria and then repudiating accountability for it,
the institution itself became an incarnation of the same intrinsic
malevolence it was fighting to subdue. Nonetheless, it appears the
belief subsisted until the late eighteenth century.
On the island of Milos, it was predetermined that vampires
went about their mischief during the week and rested on
Saturdays. Similarly, the Biblical creation account of the first
chapter of Genesis (2: 1-3) explicates that Yehovah-Elohim created
the world in six days and rested on the seventh, the Sabbath or
Saturday. This not only juxtaposes but identifies the Hebrew
Yahweh with the amalgam of repugnant and deformed undead
194
that became the very vessels through which the Devil corrupted
and tyrannized over human beings. Harking back to the last
chapter, it was established that the earliest ‘heretical’ Christians,
the Gnostics, had sprouted on Milos as early as the first and
second centuries
CE.
These sects fostered such contemptuous
aversion towards Yahweh and his meaningless laws that they cast
him in the role of an ignorant and conceited demon called
Yaldabaoth. In knowledge of this, there is much credence to the
notion that beliefs pertaining to the sphere of vampiric entities
didn’t arise randomly at all. Instead, they were an unconscious
appropriation of Gnostic mythology so psychically resonant that
relics were preserved in folk memory long after the self-declared
orthodoxy of secular Christianity tried to decimate it.
In 1897, vampires entered the sphere of popular literature
with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a novel in which the protagonist is
none other than a vampiric entity from Transylvania named
Count Dracula. Vampires would go on to enter the literary genres
of horror fiction, invasion literature and the gothic novel. One of
my favorites in this style was The Travelling Vampire Show (2000)
by the late Richard Laymon. (I was a big Richard Laymon fan
when I was a teenager.) When it comes to the evolution of
vampire literature, what most don’t actually realize is that
Dracula was actually influenced by a novella written by John
Polidori, a doctor and close friend of Lord Byron. The novella,
titled The Vampyre, was published sometime between 1817-1819
and set the tone for both James Malcolm Rainer’s Varney the
Vampire (1847) and Dracula, both works that came a great many
decades afterward. Thus it appears that the Greeks played a role
195
in the transmission of oral folklore about vampires to the West
through the early literature of the nineteenth century.
196
PLATO, NEOPLATONISM, AND THE RENAISSANCE
I’ve often wondered about the creative impetus that possessed
Italian art, sculpture and architecture in the beginning of the
fifteenth century in Italy and lasted until the seventeenth. This
was well and truly an exciting time in the history of the human
race for it remembered the incarnations of the numinous, allpervading Great Mother Goddess before her demytholization into
the lesser cultural canon of the Virgin Mary; it negotiated the
reconciliation of heaven and earth after the two had been
rendered incongruent and mutually exclusive by the Middle Ages;
and, without a speck of doubt, reintroduced nudity and sexuality
into the cultural milieus of Europe minus the shame that the
congenital condition became associated with when Adam and Eve
grew conscious of it in the Garden of Eden.
197
Men like Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510CE), Agnolo Bronzino
(1503-72CE) and Raphael (1483-1520CE) who produced the
masterpieces of the era experimented with natural colours and
earth tones, with terra cotta browns, auburn reds and grass
greens which they proceeded to marry with celestial blues and
hermetic greys of wisdom in order to depict lively communion
between the auto-generated spirit of eternity and the everfluctuating realm of matter. It was, among many things, a
welcomed return to the classical cosmology of ancient Greece, a
reacquaintance with the pre-Christian conception of created
Nature as a colossal living organism equipped with its own senses
and feelings, its own intangible awareness and its own soul.
Johannes Kepler, himself an exponent of Renaissance idealism,
captured this holistic and natural science best when he declared
that the Earth was permeated by a vegetative animal force, a level
of consciousness we humans might describe as sentience. This
sentience, subtle and rudimentary to the entire cosmos, allowed it
to respond to the changing aspects and angles enacted by other
planetary bodies and heavenly constellations in geometrical
fashion. No doubt this Pythagorean and Platonic cosmology that
had so come to dominate the thinking and art of the times was
more or less an unconscious insurrection mounted by the
intellectual
elite
against
a
millennia-long
suppression
of
psychological archetypes by the moral righteousness of the third
century Church fathers. But why should materialism suddenly be
supplanted by Platonic idealism, and more importantly still, why
should it occur in the fifteenth century?
198
Anybody with a passing acquaintance with history would
know that the scientific spirit has changed over time. Two
consecutive centuries have rarely, if ever, embodied an identical
epistemological basis when it comes to investigating the nature of
reality. Religion has played a significant and leading role in all of
this, particularly the self-proclaimed doctrine of Christianity
which mediated over the sphere of conventional knowledge for
nearly two millennia. After the progressive, multifaceted and
laughter-loving theatre of late antiquity dropped its curtains
before a shrinking and marginal audience, the localised stream of
thought embodied by the Judeo-Christian tradition appropriated
knowledge and allowed scientific investigation on grounds that it
agreed to define causalities and natural phenomena purely in
abstract and qualitative terms. This faithfully left to God the
manner and method whereby spirit became matter and blindly
entrusted to Him creation through the division of heaven and
earth, as well as the amoebic splitting of male and female.
Occult idealism challenged the authority of the Christian
Church because it refused to submit to the localisation of the
Divine Mind; Aristotelian Scholasticism, on the other hand,
precluded mention of spirit in its material rendition of reality (i.e.
matter is primary and spirit secondary) and provided the perfect
vehicle through which the curious could investigate the nature of
the cosmos without straddling the line between inquiry and
heresy. According to St. Augustine, intellectual curiosity was
nothing more than a ‘lust of the eyes’. The order of the day was to
accept what lingered on the surface the way a herd of sheep
might accept their fate at the hands of their shepherd. Any
199
investigations which sought to per under stones and interrogate
the mysterious ways in which God worked, especially one hinged
on an idealism that ran in a completely opposite direction to
Biblical Genesis, was to attract to its practitioner the enmity of
the church and culminate in excommunication and death.
Contrary to what has previously been thought about Platonic
and Pythagorean idealism, this humanistic and natural science
which spoke of intermingling and interconnected wholes was
never lost to the medieval world, even when the alchemical,
astrological and theurgical tenets associated with it became a
Christian impiety of the highest order. Many scholarly works and
commentaries were transcribed into Arabic after the coming of
the Christian dispensation and preserved by the Moors of the
Iberian Peninsula in an altogether more intellectually favourable
climate up until the Late Medieval Era. Michael Psellos of
Byzantium (1018-98CE) also contributed to the preservation and
spread of Platonic idealism. He promoted the works of esteemed
Neoplatonists of the calibre of Plotinus (204-70CE), Proclus (41287CE) and Iamblichus (245-325CE), reasoning that alchemical
esotericism fearlessly expressed a genuine path that facilitated
reintegration and union with the divine aspect of the cosmos.
Honorius of Aaton, a twelfth century Christian theologian,
encapsulated the complete system of thought indigenous to
Platonic idealism through pictorial renditions of Creation. The
illustrations themselves appear in a work called Clavis Physicae,
or The Key to Nature in English and depict the Divine Mind
projecting itself through the dimensional ladder that descends
200
into the primordial Causes, its constituent daemons and the inert
detritus or matter which lies at the very bottom. Clothed in a
Christian patina, the World Soul or anima mundi that we call
Nature is portrayed as a wholly active and conscious force that
has acquired a life of its own through mercurial contact with the
Divine Mind in the same manner that the moon acquires its
dramatic luminosity in the star-spangled body of the night sky by
means of reflected sunlight.
Thus
in
the
survival
of
fragments
of
Neoplatonic
manuscripts we see that the kernel of Platonic idealism was
passed down through the royal and intellectual elite whilst
waiting for its second inception into the greater community.
Thankfully, the tradition didn’t really have to wait that long. After
a brief absence from the scientific materialism of the Late
Medieval Era, it found voice again when Florentine Cosimo de
’Medici (1389-1464CE) and his court scholar Marsilio Ficino (143399CE) began gathering texts that included the hermetic writings
and the complete works of Plato and translating them into Latin
from their original Greek. Aside from instigating the first leg of
the humanist movement known as the Renaissance, the texts
pointed to the existence of an awe-inspiring gnosis which, when
learnt and applied correctly, culminated in the re-enchantment of
Nature. In truth it was this uncanny ability of a Neoplatonic
magus to bend Nature to his or her will that prompted the
imaginative
Florentine
intellectuals
to
reject
the
soulless
Aristotelian Scholasticism that had dominated the Middle Ages
and embrace Plato as the embodiment of classical virtue.
201
Thus it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that the aspiring
Florentine dictators found an intellectual ally and friend in Plato.
Some
twenty
centuries
beforehand
this
great
philosopher
instructed his disciples that society should be led by a
philosopher-king, for the chances that a learned man would be
self-serving, immortal and wholly malevolent were slim to none.
These sentiments would have greatly appealed to the learned
upstarts of imperial Italy who wished to be perceived as
inheritors of the greatest philosophical traditions known to
humanity. Ficino in particular so identified with Platonic
cosmology as described in the Timaeus and Platonic ethics that
he worked to expand the hierarchical order of daemons and the
doctrine of correspondences intrinsic to Neoplatonic gnosis. On
the whole, the creation of the Florentine Platonic Academy in
1450CE turned out to be a very successful venture.
We might ask how the Greeks developed the two opposing
philosophies of idealism and materialism, the former hinged
upon the emanation of matter from spirit and the latter adamant
in its conviction that consciousness is merely a by-product of
matter acting upon matter. The Greeks have always been a
curious and seafaring peoples, and there is ample evidence to
suggest that they were travelling to Egypt as early as the eighth
and seventh centuries BCE. Their adventures in the land of the
Nile would have brought them face to face with the Egyptian
priesthood, and a great many Greek travellers would have been
entrusted with intimate details of the Heliopolitan creation myth.
The state myth makes use of a dramatic metaphor to descry how
the universe came into being. It speaks of a primeval ocean of
202
undifferentiated mass called Nun which existed for time
immemorial before its self-generated vortices pushed up a mound
of fertile silt. The silt in turn differentiated into a conscious and
self-engendered creator god who proceeded to masturbate and
ejaculate a pair of substances, air and moisture, from whence all
created matter emerged. Being of an overtly curious and
investigative disposition, the early Greeks would have brooded
upon the homogenous substance of un-creation which the
Egyptians defined as primeval chaos (χάος).They would have
wanted to tear aside the metaphoric veil and know its true nature,
an obsession which bamboozled the Ionian pre-Socratics for
centuries on end.
Smyrna-born poet Homer stayed faithful to the Egyptian
conception, describing the primordial substance as “River Ocean,
a deep and mighty flood, encircling land and sea like a Serpent
with its tail in its mouth.” Thales (c. 630-546BCE) visualized a flat
earth floating atop a base substance which resembled a vast and
desolate ocean. He too aligned himself with the view put forth by
the Egyptian creation myths and Homer. Anaximenes of Miletos
(584-28BCE) was the first philosopher to initiate a departure from
the established convention, visualizing the base substance of the
cosmos as a kind of vapor or air but not of the physical type.
Meditating
on
the
problem
at
hand,
he
reasoned
that
condensation of the primal substance produced physical air,
water and earth while its rarefaction formed fire. His emphasis on
transformation of one substance into another formed the
foundation for Aristotle’s theory of matter which was henceforth
absorbed
into
alchemical
symbolism.
203
Of
all
pre-Socratic
philosophers it was a contemporary of Anaximenes in Heraclitus
of Ephesus (535-475BCE) that probably came closest to the truth.
Seeing that the active mover behind the rotation of the elements
is fire, it made sense to him that the underlying cause of all
phenomena must be an ethereal fire of sorts.
In the same period Pythagoras of Samos (570-495BCE) was
placing
an
even
strong
emphasis
on
the
fundamental
interconnectedness of the cosmos and its emanation from the
First Cause, the primordial One. He agreed with Heraclitus in that
the primordial substance or receptacle of matter was probably an
ether or intangible fire, but rendered the aeon-endeavor to
discover its exact nature futile because the human intellect could
only grasp the divine in qualitative terms. In the beginning, a
benevolent and wholly spherical God (a sphere is a perfect shape)
had initiated order and conferred beauty upon the created
elements through harmonious proportions underpinned by
mathematics, a language that was tangible, concrete, measurable
and most importantly, comprehensible to the human intellect.
Numbers could unlock the secrets of creation, and as it so
happens that numbers are inexplicably related to structure and
form. Defining the creative powers and the relationships between
created bodies in mathematical terms turned the focus away from
the exact nature of the androgynous One and onto its geometrical
structure or form, a central concept in Platonic idealism which
speaks of ideals, forms and archetypes that exist in a sphere of
eternal “being”.
204
Anybody who has taken up a university or college class in
philosophy or classics knows about the Platonic Forms–first
patterns or blueprints that exist in an eternal, undefiled and
wholly integrated zone and project archetypal emanations in the
temporal, ever-fluctuating world of Nature. But how did the
genius of Plato (427-347BCE) conceptualise this idealistic marker
of reality? As history will show, spontaneous insights gained
through mysticism are rarely the order of the day. Following in
the footsteps of Mother Nature and her tools of natural selection,
venturesome humans have always tended towards mastering the
art of imitation which is, dare I say, far easier to emulate than the
art of originality and creativity. When it comes to Platonic
cosmology it’s far more likely that Plato would have been
following century-old premises thrown about and brooded on by
the Ionian pre-Socratics in their bid to discover the true nature of
the base substance of which the entire cosmos is hewn.
Thus to create the binocular vision of reality that he has
come to be associated with today, Plato borrowed Anaximenes’s
vision of the First Cause as an ethereal fire or ether of some kind
and married it with Pythagorean mystical insights that defined
the First Cause in strictly qualitative and geometrical terms. If the
uncreated was an undifferentiated, spherical speck of light or fire
which mysteriously took on a plethora of forms when it
differentiated into other substances and qualities, and if
everything that had been created was interconnected and infused
with the same life force which emanated from the primeval time
origin, then the obvious deduction would be to conceive reality as
being two-fold; somewhere out there existed a world of ideal
205
forms or “being” which stood apart from and underpinned the
world of “becoming” expressed by the sphere of created Nature.
In addition, it appeared that a fundamental principle, the law of
time, separated the two worlds. Time set forth the wheel of
change, and change he understood to mean an adherence to the
cycles of birth, growth and death which empowered everything in
Nature with a potentiality and desire to strive for perfection, to
seek its ultimate Form.
If we could somehow build a time-travelling device and
teleport ourselves back twenty-four centuries to a beautiful
Athenian temenos on which Plato conferred upon his disciples his
philosophical dialogues relating to the nature of reality, we would
no doubt materialise beside the genius as he engaged his
audience with this, the most famous of his doctrines. To illustrate
his idealistic conception, he might allude to the blue and crème
bird-of-paradise flower which resembles the feathered yellow
crest of a cockatoo and sprouts from the branches of the bird-ofparadise plant in spring. He would dutifully inform that the blue
and crème flowers of this tropical plant are merely imperfect
copies of a supernal equivalent that exists in the eternal realm of
“being”. Millions of bird-of-paradise flowers sprout from the
stems of their hosts before proceeding to maturity. After a short
time, they begin to wither and die. The process repeats itself over
and over and over again, like the waning and waxing of the moon
and the light cycles of Venus. In the world of “being”, on the
other hand, this same flower remains a fully mature, blue and
white-petalled flower defined by a perfect symmetry of form and
free of any temporal handicap for all eternity. All earthly versions
206
of the flower yearn to replicate their Platonic equivalent in the
realm of “being” but few, if any, actually succeed.
For Plato, the science of multiplication which resulted in the
majestic cosmos with its celestial inhabitants, the stars and
planets, as well as its earthly
counterparts,
the
forests,
mountains, rivers, seas, deserts and caves, was a gesture that
illuminated the benevolence of God. Plato believed that God
existed above and beyond or separate to the world of Ideas and
Forms, a seed of fire that was wholly noble, benevolent and
undefiled because it had remained undifferentiated. When a
being, any being for that matter, loves itself, it seeks expression
in the cosmos. It yearns to generate more of its own essence, to
multiply its essence. If we follow this train of thought then it
would make sense to believe that divine cogitation is an act of
self-love. Closely aligned to the Platonic ideology is the Egyptian
creation myth of Heliopolis, which inverts the esoteric concept
into a literal one and lays it bare for all to see. In the myth the
deity Atum emerges from the primordial soup and brings forth
the entire cosmos from within his own being by masturbating.
Being a miniature replica of the macrocosm, we ourselves imitate
this act of self-love every time we think, prey or ponder
something. Mental activity spurs emotion and generates actions,
and actions themselves are individual shards of a mirror that,
when combined, accurately reflect the nature of the being
enacting them.
The Platonic and Pythagorean conception of Creation
definitely rings true for me. Constructing an inner mental picture
207
and then brooding on it with the unconscious will can, in great
many instances, cause the emerging thought form or desire to
take on a life of its own. These self-generated vortices of psychic
energy are composed of Neotic matter, the prima materia or base
substance of the information universe. To our untutored mindset
this concept may seem bizarre and eerie but in Tibet, where the
invocation of though forms are common, apparition of this sort
are called tulpas. Among many other things, their creation and
destruction was a primary concern for the medieval alchemists
who called them homunculi. Alternatively, thought forms that
have acquired autonomy through the collective brooding of
persons united by common aims, agendas or purposes are called
egregores (ἐγρήγοροι). All such thought-desires, being elementally
psychic in nature, are either positively-charged or negativelycharged; the former includes sentiments like love, lust and
platonic affinity, whilst the latter encompasses the qualities of
envy, jealousy and hatred. Once these entities separate from their
parent-consciousness, they seek out and affect the psyche of their
subject but sooner or later return to their primeval time origin,
that being the individual who created them.
The first person to challenge Plato on his theory of forms
was his student, Aristotle (384-322BCE). Whilst agreeing with the
binocular division of reality into a realm of “being” and a realm of
“becoming”, he rejected his teacher’s conviction that the Divine
Mind or Intellect encompassed an autonomous existence outside
of the Platonic forms, ideas and archetypes. For Aristotle, God
wasn’t separate from the aforementioned qualities, he was them.
Divine contemplation and self-love were one and the same, an
208
activity which set the rotation of the heavenly spheres into
motion and made the world go around. In fact, everything that
transpired in the universe was merely a by-product of God’s
mental activities. Thus, in a way, Aristotle was intimating that
despite being omniscient and all knowing, God himself stood
powerless in enacting change in the world of “becoming” entirely
of his own volition seeing that he could not distance himself nor
transcend the Platonic forms to which all his mental activity was
confined. The same was true for human beings, who were merely
miniature replicas of the greater cosmos. Further still, the
indifference and cold-heartedness with which God probably
regarded his own creation was ominous, for it wasn’t long before
he withdrew his attention from it, leaving everything to the
contingencies of matter acting upon matter. This completely
destroyed
Plato’s
metaphysical
idea
that
humans
could
manipulate the anima mundi (the World Soul) by tampering with
the occult virtues or signatures of inert and animate bodies in the
mineral, plant and animal kingdoms, signatures which united the
intrinsic parts of Nature with the creative daemons and the
eternal fire, the Divine Mind itself.
The schism initiated by Aristotle had the effect of
permanently differentiating two streams of thought, Aristotelian
materialism
and
Platonic
idealism.
Idealism
in
particular
continued to emphasis the path of “knowing” through mystical
insight which gelled well with fundamental streams of religion,
and hence the tradition continued to survive into medieval times.
Strictly speaking, the religious and mystical philosophy known as
Neoplatonism was merely a system of orthodox Platonism. The
209
movement solidified under Plotinus (205-70CE), a Greek-Egyptian
from the Deltaic Lycopolis in Lower Egypt. After eleven years of
critical inquiry, as well as a failed expedition to Persia to acquaint
himself with Buddhist and Zoroastrian wisdom, Plotinus settled
in Sicily and penned the fifty-four treatises of The Ennead, the
core text of Neoplatonic metaphysical writings that greatly
influenced theological doctrine in late antiquity. His closest
disciple and biographer, the Lycian-born Porphyry (232-305CE)
and the pagan philosopher Proclus of Constantinople (410-85CE)
both consolidated and amplified his system of Neoplatonic ideas.
The Neoplatonic world didn’t stray too far from its
Pythagorean antecedent. It was separated into a number of
interconnected spheres with the highest one composed of
absolute ether (spirit) and the lowest of absolute matter. At the
topmost echelon of this multidimensional ladder lay the
Empyrean of the One or God, the primary substance or etheric
fire that made itself known in the mystical experience of
apathanatismos. It was the primeval origin of the anima mundi
(World Soul), the intangible electricity which infused created
Nature with variant degrees of life and sentience. Directly below
that was the primum mobile, the etheric substance which
permeated the heavens and facilitated the rotation of the zodiac
and the sphere of the fixed stars around the mooring post of the
north celestial pole. Then came in descending (Ptolemaic or
geocentric) order the spheres of Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the sun,
Venus, Mercury and the moon, as well as the Aristotelian
elements of fire, earth, wind and water which formed unique
combinations and eventually manifested the mineral, plant and
210
animal kingdoms. Whilst forming the a seven-stop shop whereby
soul-sparks picked up their rudimentary character traits, the
planetary spheres themselves also consisted of qualities like hot,
cold, dry and moist, as well as sweet, sour, soft and hard. These
were all virtues which had been infused into physical matter or
the corpus mundi (the World Body) by the spiritus mundi (the
World Spirit), thus enabling a manifestation of one created
kingdom to seek it’s like or counterpart in another kingdom.
Plato
reasoned
that
the
individual
spheres
of
the
dimensional ladder could be grouped into three distinct clusters,
and that all three are comprehensible to like-natured entities.
Hence, the human body is sentient of material forms, the human
soul is conscious of the psychic world of emotions and feelings,
and the human intellect is able to grasp the Platonic forms. From
this perspective, the geocentric and humanistic rendition of
creation becomes much more credible; even though human
beings suffered the misfortune of coming last in the creational
order of things, their three-fold recognition of reality makes them
miniature replicas of the whole and allows them to rise to the top
of the cosmic totem pole. Hence, what was created last from the
detritus of matter is now first, entirely receptive and in tune to
the zodiacal and planetary energies which mediate their anatomy
from the heavens above.
No longer a slave to the mechanical laws of inert matter,
human beings were in a position to understand the underlying
unity of all things in the One, and how created Nature might be
manipulated. If one looked close enough, he or she might realize
211
that there was something connecting inert forms to the creative
daemons, the human soul to the starry firmament, the said
qualities of matter to the anima mundi (the World Soul) and the
primeval chaos. That something is cosmic sympathy, an allencompassing virtue that might be defined as an immeasurable
and invisible magnetic force that manifests as an external
similarity of sorts between two inert or animate bodies.
According to the legendary Renaissance alchemist Paracelsus of
Hohenheim (1490-1541CE), every stone, gem, metal, plant, tree
and star possessed an outward “signature” that formed part of
the
greater
nervous
system
of
Mother
Nature.
Correct
interpretation of the natural hieroglyph revealed the occult virtue
or inner essence of the object in question and allowed the
knower, usually a practitioner of natural magic, to manipulate its
sympathetic equivalents in the other kingdoms.
Knowing the
sympathetic
connections was,
for
most
practitioners of magic, an entirely intuitive affair. Let’s take a
brief look at objects that fall under the rulership of the moon, the
sphere of the Great Mother Goddess, and see how their qualities
might be connected. The owl, for instance, is associated with the
moon because its phases affect the animal’s visual signaling
habits. So too are women, seeing that their menstrual cycle is
supposedly regulated by the lunar phases. This may be a core
reason why the moon has always been believed to encompass a
wholly feminine spirit. Silver, on the other hand, is the primary
metal the Ephesians used in creating statues and images of the
Great Mother in her guise of Artemis, a huntress equipped with
bow and arrows. No doubt the people of Ephesus would have
212
known that it is connected to the moon for a great many reasons.
It receives light passively, mimicking its celestial counterpart
which shines only by reflecting solar rays. Ample amounts of
silver can be found in the oceans and seas, dominions which have
been controlled by the moon for time immemorial. Silver ions
have anti-bacteria and other therapeutic properties and keep
water fresh, a scientifically verifiable fact which reinforces the
portrayal of the Great Mother as universal healer.
Water, of course, is connected to the moon because of the
tides exerted by the lunar satellite. According to intellectually
rebellious scholars like Jacques Benveniste (1935 -2004), the
molecular structure of water has a ‘memory’ of sorts, as does
silver, which forms an elementary component in photography and
the creation of mirrors; the former a method whereby images of
the past are preserved and the latter forming and light-reflecting
an image of the present. Memories, past and present, as well as
dreams which come under the romantic skies of a moonlit night
are
inexplicably
linked
with
the
sphere
of
fantasy
and
imagination, the ethereal realm in which poets and writers dabble
in excessively. Let’s not forget that the Great Mother Goddess is
the patroness of poets and writers and that a great many of them
(too many for the phenomenon to be purely coincidental) are
born under her astrological sign, Cancer the Crab.
Each of the seven planetary spheres–Saturn, Jupiter, Mars,
the sun, Venus, Mercury, the moon–assert rulership over
particular bodies in the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms and
understanding these laws of correspondence and their subtle
213
energies is vital to both shamanic and magical practice, both of
which attempt to generate quasi-material change in the corporeal
world by intentionally manipulating sympathetically aligned
entities. They were laws that stood at the heart of an objective
reality descried by mystical insight, a mighty vision which we, as
self-proclaimed inheritors of the classical world, appear to have
lost or stumbled over in our endless search for the truth.
214
PLATO’S ATLANTIS: FACT OR FICTION?
Santorini was once a quiescent island composed chiefly of
limestone and schists. It became the Aegean’s protagonist of
periodic cataclysm only after the present Hellenic Volcanic Arc
came into existence some three million years ago, a time when
eruptions began at a depth of one thousand meters on the
adjacent
Aegean
seafloor.
Since
then,
the
volcano
has
reconstituted and dismembered itself eleven times. The last of
these paroxysms occurred in 1520
BCE,
a period in which at least
two Minoan settlements were thriving on the island. It unraveled
as four main phases of activity around a shallow flooded caldera,
lasting about four days and releasing the collective energy of
thirty hydrogen bombs.
The volcano came to life with sulphurous emissions of
steam, gas and smoke from the volcanic cones beyond the South
215
Bay. Subsequently, a fluid ejection of popcorn-like pumice and
basalt fragments from the central vent blanketed the island with
powder white blankets resembling snow. After a momentary
pause to clear its throat, it proceeded to spew an undulating
cloud of superheated ash several kilometers into the sky. The
ensuring darkness hovered above the stratovolcano like a
malignant tumor and soon larger pieces of fine white pumice
pelted back down on the beleaguered island, shrouding it in layer
upon layer of volcanic debris. Little by little, the caldera grew
until seawater entered from the South Bay, creating phreatic
explosions, ground water mixing with ascending magma that sent
lava hurtling in all directions. The incessant convulsion wracked
the wide, funnel-shaped vent with such force that remnants of
shield volcanoes that had accumulated within the pre-Minoan
caldera crumbled completely, their remains shooting out in
horizontal blasts that fleetingly dammed back the sea.
All in all, the volcano spewed its guts out with such urgent
turbulence that thirty cubic meters of magma were expelled into
the atmosphere. The rapidly emptying magma chamber below
Thera formed a gaping chasm hundreds of meters deep which
could no longer support the weight of the island’s heart center. In
one ear-splitting roar, the walls of the disintegrating crater
collapsed vertically into the abyss. Torrents of water rushed in to
fill the gaping fissure, generating further phreatic explosions and
shallow-seated earthquakes that exceeded ten on the Richter
scale. These subterranean earthquakes would have vibrated the
seabed around Thera as the caldera collapsed in on itself,
spawning three hundred and sixty degree tsunamis that would
216
have assaulted every island in the Aegean Sea. For years
afterward, the sunsets would have been a deep, blood red.
The Therans of the day would have interpreted the rumbling
and the emissions of gas, steam and smoke from the volcanic
cones as the divine displeasure of the Great Mother Goddess and
her entourage of lesser deities. Just as with their Minoan cousins
they would have made sacrifices to placate their gods’ wrath,
although as the premonitory tremors increased in frequency and
severity their trepidation would have no doubt have gotten the
better of them. Those not overcome by primitive terror risked
staying and forfeiting their lives in due course. Everyone else
gathered one’s personal belongings and took to the seas in search
of a new home.
What became of them remains a mystery to this very day.
Might archaeological finds in the near future shed light upon
their destiny? Perhaps they colonized some remote corner of the
Aegean and continued their enormously complex matriarchal
civilization elsewhere. Sadly, there is no evidence to support such
a comforting and satisfying conjecture. More likely, the Therans
disembarked on an Aegean island in close proximity to the major
geological convulsion. From there they would have watched the
natural disaster unfold in complete awe and reverence. They’d
have splayed themselves out along the shore in silence, churning
through the possibilities of what might have angered their
gods―until the tsunamis arrived to assail them. Ironically it was
their deserted homes that survived to tell their tale, quiescent
under layers of pea-sized pellets of pumice that preserved them
217
until the forces of erosion brought this forgotten Bronze-Age
world back from the dreaded depths of Tartarus.
It wasn’t until the early twentieth century that Greek
archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos (1901-74
CE)
honed in on the
Aegean folk memory of the disaster. Marinatos had formulated a
clandestine theory that Minoan Crete and Plato’s Atlantis were
one and the same, though what actually convinced him to begin
excavations was a pivotal supposition put forth by seismologist
Angelos Galanopoulos who redefined Plato’s story as the
commemorative fate of two islands– Crete and Thera. In this
plausible reconstruction, he proposed that the first and larger of
the two islands (Crete) may have been the royal state whilst the
smaller one (Thera) was probably the metropolis or Capitol city
and religious center. Late in the same century, archaeological
excavations revealed the opposite; Knossos on Crete had been the
Capitol of the Minoan empire and Thera merely one of its many
outposts. Nevertheless, Galanopoulos’ confounded hypothesis
held no sway over the desired result.
Convinced that the Theran volcano had contributed greatly,
if not wholly, to the demise of Minoan power on Crete, Marinatos
began digging in 1967
CE,
with excavations focused near Akrotiri
in southern Thera. At first he stumbled across stone tools,
pottery, mortars and pestles, but as he penetrated deeper into the
layers of pumice, the remnants of man-made walls, cobbled
streets and cooking utensils came to light. The discovery would
go on to shake the very foundation stone of archaeology itself,
revealing a Bronze Age town with a structured assembly of roads
218
and houses underpinned by a subterranean network of elaborate
land drainage ditches, conduits, and navigational channels. These
were linked to cesspits, and took the waste water and sewerage
from the indoor baths and lavatories of homes by way of clay
pipes cemented within their walls. The archaeologists working
under Marinatos revealed that the indoor lavatories worked in a
comparable manner to the ones in use today. The waste falling
through clap pipes to a chamber below would be flushed into a
cesspit
by
water
from
the
town
drain,
with
the
pipes
interconnecting in such a way that a siphon effect was formed,
drawing repulsive odors down the pipes and into the lavatory.
In the end, what Marinatos thought would be a systematic
excavation of a few primitive cobblestone structures turned out
to be the rediscovery of a Bronze Age civilization whose people
had attained a level of sophistication and advancement equaling
that of Minoan Crete. In actual fact, the architectural features
unearthed at the archaeological site of Akrotiri mimic those that
seen amidst the Minoan ruins of Knossos: masons’ marks, light
wells, peer-and-door partitions, pillared crypts, ashlar facades,
wooden columns on stone bases, adyta and the erection of multistory buildings. Strangely, the destruction of Thera and the
subsequent collapse of Minoan civilization were marked by the
disappearance of these technologies from the face the earth.
From this time forth, evidence of their existence could only be
found in Cycladic traditions which passed orally from generation
to generation. Successive retellings of oral folklore have the
detrimental effect of confounding the story’s elements to such a
degree that the kernel and essence are eventually lost. This would
219
have certainly been the fate of the Minoan super civilization and
thalassokratia had it not been for Plato, the preeminent
philosopher of the classical world who was so impressed by the
rise, the gargantuan feats, and the tragic downfall of this
phenomenal culture that he immortalized in his legend of
Atlantis.
In Plato’s account, Atlantis was a rich and bountiful island
continent in the Atlantic Ocean, with a stunning Capitol of the
same name situated at the extreme southern tip of the island. It
appears that the land mass was oblong in shape, with broad, flat
and low-lying plains in the interior that were well fortified by
towering
mountains that
dotted its coastline
against
the
destructive forces of wind and sea. The land, contoured much
higher and precipitous to the north, leveled out toward the south
in a way that evoked the contrasting landscapes of Greece proper,
with a surface area of about 203,500 square kilometers. Most of
the southern face in which the vast, fertile plain lay was
crisscrossed by subsidiary ditches whose perfect grid pattern
epitomized
Plato’s
love
of
geometrical
form.
The
canals
interlinked and formed major highways through which sea
vessels transported metals, precious stones, timber, and a
copper-gold alloy, orichalcum, across the island.
Lying at the south end of the continent, the city of Atlantis
was a bustling metropolis whose design could only have been
inspired by a lover of engineering, architecture, and mathematics;
one who perceived numbers and fractions as the divine signature
of a universal progenitor. It was comprised of three concentric
220
ringlets of land, each separated by a transport and irrigation
channel. Legend tells that the canals had been hewn out by the
sea god to guard his mortal wife, Cleito. Centuries afterward, the
city’s inhabitants conjoined these rings of land with bridges. The
outermost of these, half a kilometer wide, joined the inner
metropolitan center to the greater city beyond. For residents of
the metropolitan region, admission to the sea was via a wide
canal which branched off from the nether point of the third
concentric island and sluiced through the greater metropolis.
Both the inner and outer metropolis, fortified by a thick stone
wall, covered a total area of about four hundred square
kilometers.
If one were a tourist visiting Atlantis, he’d ply the great
canal that linked the sea with the mighty metropolis in a ship and
dock at a great harbor. Disembarking, he’d walk overland across
the first of the bridges and enter the outermost and largest of the
concentric islets. At once, it would occur to him that the
Atlanteans were master masons, having constructed parklands,
lavish gardens, and civil buildings like stadia and gymnasia that
wrapped around the entire length of land and blended into one
another in an aesthetically pleasing manner. More than likely,
he’d be impressed by the tri-color theme exhibited by the
buildings of the Capitol, a phenomenon wrought by blocks of
stone quarried from local mines that were black, white or red.
The tourist would then traverse a second bridge to a smaller ring
of land on which residential houses and equitation centers were
built. Here it might occur to him or her that the enormous stone
walls surrounding each concentric ring of land are sheathed in a
221
different metal; the outermost brass, the middle tin, and the
innermost orichalcum. The more observant might also realize
that the walls themselves are decked by towers and gates at
points where bridges and tunnels pass through them.
By crossing the final bridge, the tourist would enter the
dreamy realm of Atlantis’ magical metropolitan heart-center. The
structure of Atlantis mimicked that of ancient Athens, built
around a well-fortified acropolis which enclosed a cluster of
palaces, gardens, temples and baths. According to legend,
Poseidon, besotted by the island’s natural beauty, snatched it as
his own fiefdom. He proceeded to carve out three concentric rings
of land at the south end of his island, jabbing his trident onto the
ground of the innermost one so that two natural springs spurted
forth. The two jets, one of hot and one of cold running water,
supplied nourishment to the five pairs of male twins he sired
with his mortal wife, Cleito.
In later times, the Atlanteans commemorated this divine feat
by erecting a megalithic temple to this sovereign of the sea.
Standing at the highest point of the fortified hill, the tourist
would lift his gaze up to a forest of silver-coated pillars; these
bear the laborious weight of a temple ceiling comprised chiefly of
ivory, silver, and orichalchum and embellished by mythical
figures made of ivory inlaid with gold. Astonishingly, the entire
structure is shrouded by silver save for the gilded pinnacles.
Inside, the centerpiece of the temple reveals itself as a golden
statue of Poseidon at the helm of a chariot drawn by six winged
horses. Holding his trident in one hand and the chariot’s reigns in
222
the other, he stands ready to command the winds, gales and
breezes which morph the ethereal face of the sea. The statues of
a hundred sea nymphs riding on dolphins encircle him in a
manner reinforcing his incontestable power over the water
element. For a tourist, the spectacle of lesser sea deities saluting
Poseidon might serve as a blatant reminder to always seek his
blessings before attempting to traverse the pelagic waters.
The fabled continent made its one and only appearance in
Plato’s The Dialogue of Timaeus and Critias, a treatise in which
the pre-eminent father of Western thought performed a critical
dissection on politics, the perfect state, and governing bodies in
general. In all likelihood, the trials and tribulations of Socrates
left such a lasting impression on Plato’s psyche that it motivated
a dissertation of this nature. He held Socrates in the highest
regard, and the realization that any man’s attempts to improve
the prevailing sense of justice through moral and social criticism
could be the cause of his own demise would have fuelled Plato’s
suspicion that the dishonest and uneducated had been allowed
free reign in the political arena. This prompted a subtle and very
calculated inference that only a society governed by a form of
enlightened authoritarianism, perhaps one ruled by an amiable
priest-philosopher or king, would survive and prosper. He used
Atlantis as a plot device to illustrate and bring his philosophy to
life, describing it as an affluent metropolis and kingdom which
rose to eminence. The powers-that-be stepped in and instigated a
natural disaster after it threatened to subjugate the other nations
of the world, sinking the continent to the bottom of the ocean in
one day and one night as punishment for its hubris. In this light,
223
Plato’s legend of Atlantis does much to capture the ideal of how
political theory affects the historical fortune of a state once it has
been put into practice. Further, it also elucidates that the
enlightened authoritarianism best able to facilitate this outcome
was epitomized by the state of Athens, not Atlantis.
What baffles most with this affair is whether Plato based his
vision of Atlantis on prescribed facts alone or whether he
exaggerated details of cities and tales with which a man of his
time would have been familiar. Thus far, the archaeological and
anecdotal evidence churned up is little and inconclusive. The only
thing which remains certain is that an advanced Bronze Age
civilization in the Mediterranean once thrived before Plato’s time
and had been partially annihilated by a volcanic eruption from
the nearby island of Thera—that of Minoan Crete. This is in
complete harmony with the most popular theory in the circle of
archaeology today. Formulated by the combined efforts of
Galanopoulos and Marinatos, it purports that the legend of
Atlantis is merely a confused memory that followed the Theran
eruption which blew the Minoan colony on the small volcanic isle
to smithereens and flattered the Minoan palaces on Crete. There
are uncanny similarities between the topography of Thera and
Plato’s physical description of Atlantis, so it stands to good
reason that the Egyptian priests who propagated the legend may
very well have made a connection between the ash and tsunamis
that visited Egypt after the cataclysmic eruption and the
subsequent loss of contact with their trading partners, the
Minoans.
Consequently,
the
tale
Etelenty―Atlantis—came into being.
224
of
the
great
nation
of
But for Minoan Crete and Thera to be Atlantis one must
discount pivotal details which pertain to dating, time, location
and measurement, and assume that much of the knowledge was
either lost in translation by the Egyptian scribes―who made and
kept multiple copies of the historical accounts―or was mistranscribed
by
Solon
himself
when
entrusted
with
the
information by Sonchis, the chief priest of Sais. Ultimately, the
most problematic discrepancy would be the very notion that,
unlike Atlantis, both Minoan Crete and Thera neither waged war
against Athens nor perished beneath the waves of the sea. To add
to the discord, Minoan Crete held a legacy of its own as both the
cradle of Hellenic civilization and the progenitor of a Golden Age
long since lost. It also possessed an intricate web of folklore and
mythology centered on the labyrinth and Minotaur with which the
other subclasses of Hellenes were already familiar. For that
reason it makes little sense why Plato would have knowingly
confounded ancient Cretan folklore with an antediluvian account
of an entirely different civilization. In retrospect, the plausibility
of the aforementioned theory holds up only if we reject Plato’s
account as a mistaken or wild embellishment of historical truth
and as a worthless theory which must continuously shun
evidence to stay alive.
Atlantean romanticists often claim that Plato always made
use of real historical lore to illustrate his philosophies; never
fiction. In the minds of the believers, this validates the existence
of Atlantis. On the other hand, it can always be argued that
there’s a first for everything because, contrary to variant
misconceptions, Plato wasn’t a historian; he was a philosopher. In
225
all likelihood Plato probably never intended the dissertation on
Atlantis to be taken at face value; it was merely a moral fable,
drawing on true accounts of historical events to illustrate a
philosophical
or
ethical
truth.
A
contemporary times is Phantoms (1983
masterful
CE),
equivalent
of
a supernatural thriller
in which novelist Dean Koontz forges a believable connection
between mass disappearances (Roanoke Island, the Eskimo village
of Akjikuni and many Mayan settlements) and an entity of his
very own vivid imagination called the shape-changer. The latter
was a subterranean creature of amorphous and translucent flesh
which mimicked the god Proteus and the nymph Thetis in its
talent to assume the form of any creature it ingested. Moreover, it
had existed for time immemorial and could morph into life forms
which had become extinct over millions of years ago. As a
metaphor, the shape-changer exaggerated the malevolence and
brutality
that
could
poison
the
personal
and
collective
consciousness of humanity and reflected it back onto the readers
of Phantoms in the manner that Atlantis had done for the
audience of The Dialogues of Timaeus and Critias twenty-four
centuries beforehand.
The most compelling evidence juxtaposing the case for
Atlantis
is
the
complete
absence
of
evidence
altogether.
Archaeology remains curiously silent on the matter as well. No
inscriptions, remains, artifacts or geological traces have ever
come to light to support Plato’s fable, let alone prove it.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t do much to deter believers who argue
that the absence of evidence doesn’t necessarily denote nonexistence. Many academics and scholars remain open to the
226
possibility that tangible ruins of a primordial mother kingdom
may have been lost in the wake of ancient civilizations such as
Sumer, India, and Egypt. Yet such deductive reasoning only yields
more questions than answers. Just as many legendary lands
firmly rooted on the iron-rich, fertile soil of the volcanic
imagination, evidence of winged serpents and griffins has yet to
be found. Logically, that doesn’t mean people should have any
reason to theorize their existence. Why should Atlantis be the
exception?
They say all roads lead to Rome, but for the more eccentric
thinkers among us they seem to lead more to Atlantis. If Plato
were still alive, he’d he undoubtedly be truly amazed and
somewhat disconcerted by the hundreds (if not thousands) of
books in circulation about a wildly exaggerated version of the
same
island
continent
he
penned
philosophical dissertation in 360
BCE.
in
his
half-finished
In retrospect, there is a
double irony that immediately becomes obvious here. Who would
have thought that an unfinished manuscript would go on to
become Plato’s most celebrated work? Stranger still, who would
have thought that the Atlantis he used as a plot device to bring to
life his ideal republic would be the same one cast in a much more
favorable light as the archetype of Utopian ideals thousands of
years after his death?
The revival of Atlantology stretches way back to 1882
the life and times of
U.S.
CE,
to
Congressman, populist writer, pseudo-
historian and amateur scientist
Ignatius Donnelly.
In his
internationally best-selling book, Atlantis: The Antediluvian World,
227
Donnelly popularized a theory that all cultural milestones
achieved by the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, the
Indus Valley and Arabia, as well as Central America and Peru,
could be attributed to a single progenitor. He used cross-cultural
similarities between the myths, religions, and esoteric symbols of
these lands to substantiate his belief in euhemerism, the
conviction
that
folklore
commemorates
true
accounts
of
historical events. His vision incited such widespread national and
international appeal amongst the masses that it wasn’t long
before alternative and controversial views of evolutionary history
arose to challenge the conventional one held by academics and
archaeologists throughout the world.
As unlikely as it sounds, Donnelly’s claims were the catalyst
for the ‘Atlantomania’ that seized human consciousness late in
the
nineteenth,
twentieth
and
twenty-first
centuries
and
underpinned the core beliefs of other literati who concerned
themselves
with
diffusionist
theory.
According
to
Helena
Blavatsky and the Theosophists, Atlanteans had acquired the
wonders of supersonic flight and owed their highly-evolved
spiritual and scientific methods to extraterrestrial visitation.
Others such as Edgar Cayce and Rudolph Steiner built their
versions of the lost continent on the basis of visions they’d
acquired via occult means of astral travel. Claiming to have
accessed the ‘Akashic aether’, these mystics claimed that
Atlanteans were soft and pliable like copper because they didn’t
have skeletons. More so, they exhibited an exceptional command
of the life force within and were thus able to convert the vital
energies of all living things into useable power sources.
228
Ultimately,
the
technologically
advanced
super-civilization
described in painstaking detail by both Cayce and Steiner make
Donnelly’s Atlantis look like an obsolete, Paleolithic prototype by
comparison.
Nowadays, Atlantis is regularly cast as a setting for scifi/fantasy novels that prominently feature dark crystals, flying
vehicles,
pyramids,
psychokinesis,
telepathy
and
other
paranormal abilities. It has even squirmed its way back into the
peripheral vision of academia in the guise of diffusionism, a
school
of thought
influenced
by
Donnelly’s
thesis
which
presupposes that all civilizations owe their inheritance to an
ancient
motherland.
Foremost
of
the
twenty-first
century
proselytes has been Graham Hancock whose book, Heaven’s
Mirror (1998
CE),
is built upon the belief that the advanced
mathematical and astronomical knowledge that enabled the
orientation of all ancient temples to stars and constellation
groups points to a common origin for all peoples. He never quite
names the great mother civilization to which he attributes all
metaphysical, scientific and technological sophistication, though
it exhibits such striking parallels with Plato’s lost continent that it
might as well be Atlantis.
While it remains true that in modern times Atlantis has
been recast as a long-lost Utopia in which perfect union can be
achieved with Divine Providence or the Creator, it may also be
construed as emitting forewarnings of imminent doom. The
moral behind Plato’s story appears to be that even the most
evolved of civilizations can end in calamity, chiefly because the
229
human predisposition for greed coupled with rapid advances in
technology can go by unchecked. Perhaps the modern obsession
with the age-old archetype of Atlantis finds its route in the
environmental crisis facing the earth today. One need only look at
the post-industrialized Western world with its consumerist values
to understand the scope of our predicament. As it stands, the
earth is struggling to cope with such a drastic increase in raw
material consumption because, as well as population growth, the
will of capitalism is to acquire more while paying less, all at a
time when third-world countries are striving to raise their own
standards of living to meet their own needs. Consequently,
problems ranging from global warming, water shortages and
deforestation, along with disappearing biodiversity and soil
fertility degradation, are set to degenerate further in the next few
decades as we flirt openly with resource exhaustion.
Throw the rapid proliferation of religious extremism and
terrorism that have unraveled in the past decade into the mix,
(i.e., the station bombings in Madrid and London and the horrific
events of September 11th) and what you have is a ticking time
bomb. Rapid overdevelopment of the technological and industrial
aspects of our civilization and political instability have also seen
countries like the United States and Iran go into overdrive with
their production line of weapons of mass destruction, tainting
our horizon with the very real possibility of nuclear war. Atlantis
illustrates the consequences of such an outcome, serving as a
flashing beacon to deter our wandering descendants from
marooning themselves onto the fringing reef of our savage past.
230
PYTHAGORAS OF SAMOS:
PHILOSOPHER, MYSTIC, OR SHAMAN?
The time preceding the birth of Pythagoras is marked by
preternatural light, for a legend propagated by the islanders of
Samos centuries beforehand spoke of the coming of a God-son
who’d succeed in gaining knowledge of the Divine or the One
through the Intellect, an evolutionary step away from jungle
instinct and into mystical contemplation which would benefit the
whole of mankind. It is believed that even the Delphic Bee, the
Pythia, had foreseen his divine birth. When the father and mother
of Pythagoras, Mnesarchus and Parthenis, consulted the Oracle on
matters concerning travel to Syria, the ‘voice of Apollo’
disregarded the question posed and instead spoke of the farreaching consequences that would ensue as a result of the beauty
and wisdom of their soon to be born son.
231
When it comes to the great thinkers of this world, it can
sometimes be excruciatingly difficult to separate legend from
history, fact from fiction. More often than not, we find that they
are apotheosised after their deaths, raised to a status above that
of other mere mortals. But Pythagoras differs in that he seemed
to enjoy this luxury whilst he was still alive. A great many sources
claim that he was a brute of a specimen: he was significantly tall
and imposing, and unlike other men, his masculine energy,
personal magnetism and physical prowess appeared to increase
rather than diminish with time. These virtues were well balanced
by a cultivated psyche, an ingenious mind and a nifty, outspoken
tongue that attracted to itself either the reverence and awe, or the
enmity and jealousy of its subjects.
I suppose his disposition was such that it served as a
breeding ground for all sorts of interesting superstitions about
him. Many believed that he was immaculately conceived, that he
had a golden thigh and that he was attuned to the “Music of the
Spheres”, the harmonic sounds that issued from the planetary
spheres as they traversed the heavens. Others went further by
asserting that he possessed magical or hypnotic powers. Merely
by thinking it, Pythagoras could cause a flock of birds to change
their migratory path, tame a wild animal such as a boar or wolf,
cause change in the habitual diet of all any creature and attract to
himself the affinity of a white eagle. Even the elements were
subject to his mighty will. He could call forth spirits inhabiting
other dimensions to cause ripples or vibrations on the surface of
a pond. One time, his meditative prayer to a water spirit was
actually answered with the words, “Pythagoras, I greet thee.” The
232
god-like image and powers of Pythagoras, built upon centuries of
worship, is reminiscent of a Middle Age genius in the physician
and alchemist Paracelsus of Hohenheim. Like the former,
Paracelsus was alleged to have traversed Europe astride a
beautiful white horse, to have regained his youth by sealing a
Faustian pact with malevolent demons and to have stored ample
amounts of the ruby red Philosophers Stone, or the Elixir of Life,
inside the pommel of his sword. Stranger still, many residents of
Salzburg claim that he had returned from the dead on numerous
occasions to bequeath cures for certain untreatable conditions
and diseases. All too often we find that the propensity of the
human imagination to idolise and worship renders myth and
legend far more memorable than the actual lifetime achievements
of the man or woman in question.
The legends no doubt confer something of a superhuman
aura, a man who understood the fundamental unity, mechanics
and the harmonic arrangement of matter in the cosmos and used
divination as to demonstrate its occult principles. But before we
go on to examine Pythagoras’s original contributions to the
growing pool of knowledge, it is important to scour his life and
discern what may have been borrowed from three other
primordial civilisations which lay to the south and east of Greece,
intellectual property which he no doubt would have presented as
his own upon establishing his own secret and esoteric school in
Crotona, a Hellenic settlement in Italy.
We know that he was born in the early decades of the sixth
century BCE, probably in 570BCE, a period in which humanity’s
233
consciousness had ripened just enough to be receptive to the
spiritual teachings dispersed in India by the Buddha, and in China
by Confucius and Lao Tse. What spurred Pythagoras to travel for
a good thirty-four years or so is uncertain, though it’s likely that
it transpired at the bidding of Polycrates, the tyrant of Samos who
took a liking to the metaphysical protégée. The latter’s alliance to
Egypt proved advantageous, for it gave Pythagoras access to
Egyptian esoteric knowledge which would have otherwise been
inaccessible. Pharaoh Amasis, Egypt’s last indigenous pharaoh,
facilitated a safe transfer to Thebes where he was, amongst other
things, circumcised and then initiated into the Mysteries of Isis at
the hands of the powerful Theban priesthood.
That the harmonic arrangements of the cosmos can be
descried through mathematical formulae he would have learned
from the Egyptian priests. Their “sacred science” would have
remained hidden to all but those initiated into the mysteries. It
was an all-encompassing science which syncretised astronomy,
philosophy, mathematics, and music, and taught that all laws,
principles and quantities of nature are fractions of one, the
largest mathematical number. By gaining instruction in the
symbolism, the placement of the bas reliefs, the measurements
and proportions, and the axes and orientations of the Temple of
Amun-Mut-Khonsu in Thebes, Pythagoras gained knowledge of
the equation relating to the square of the hypotenuse which
would later be ascribed to him as well as other mathematical
formulae
supporting
relationships
govern
the
both
notion
the
that
identical
microcosm
(Man)
laws
and
and
the
macrocosm (the Cosmos). This knowledge of the geometrical
234
governance of all of nature enabled the Egyptians to erect
pyramids, obelisks and megalithic temples.
A lamentable turn of fate saw the fall of Egypt at the hands
of the Persians, and Pythagoras was henceforth sent to the valley
of the Euphrates, to Babylon, by the Persian king Cambyses.
Whilst he was there, he was initiated into the Mesopotamian
mysteries. The Persian magi unveiled the anatomy of the heavens
as seen through the kaleidoscope of Chaldean astronomy. In
those times, there was no distinguishable difference between
astronomy and astrology, and the Chaldean school was an astrophilosophical system which aimed to chart, interpret and predict
the movement of planetary bodies and constellations, assign
character and behavioural traits to the latter and unite these two
streams of thought as to create a mutually dependent and holistic
conception of the cosmos linking the heavens above and the earth
below. In this working framework, character and behavioural
traits of each individual could be understood in the context of
their chosen path of descent through a specific constellation at
the time of their birth.
It’s worthy to note here that astrology is the most
experientially viable and investigative of the esoteric traditions.
Those who delve into the primordial practice, one of the first
“sciences” known to man, will quickly come to conclusion that
there is an uncanny truth to its predictions. I, for one, know of a
great many writers, poets and playwrights born under the
astrological sign of Cancer, eminent soldiers and leaders born
under Sagittarius, and mathematical geniuses and quick-witted
235
individuals
born
under
Gemini.
Anybody
with
a
passing
acquaintance with astrology will know that the character traits
mentioned correspond with the nature of their ruling planets; the
moon, Jupiter and Mercury, respectively.
Having penetrated into Hindustan, there can be no doubt
that Pythagoras would have run into the Indian sages who
contemplated Brahman via projection into the invisible realms
and communion with the invisible beings that inhabit them. The
doctrine of reincarnation or metempsychosis (μετεμψύχωσις) which
attempts to demarcate the soul’s destiny appears to have
infiltrated Pythagorean ideology towards the end of his life.
Modern scholars are convinced that it was derived directly from
oriental mysticism, reformulated and then regurgitated with his
own philosophical bent when he began teaching his doctrines and
initiating candidates into his esoteric school at Crotona.
There seems to be some confusion around what Pythagoras
actually was, and how he might have identified during course of
his travels and when he established himself at Crotona
afterwards. While it is true that he immersed himself in
mysticism and divination, his primary aim was to grasp the Prime
Course, the One which pervading and infused all matter with life
through intellectual contemplation. Nowadays we would argue
that intellect alone cannot fully grasp the divine, for the former
mimics the physical senses in that it can only give a flat, twodimensional rendition of a multidimensional, all-encompassing
and
numinous
providence.
Nevertheless
his
practical
and
experiential approach to the intangible divine was original and
236
unique, a method of inquiry into phenomena which he called
philosophy. In fact, Pythagoras was the first man to call himself a
philosopher, a word which transcribes to ‘lover of wisdom’ in
Greek.
Major changes had unravelled on Samos during the years
that Pythagoras was away. He returned to an island on which the
repressive despotism that had rooted itself there decades before
under Polycrates had grown increasingly intolerant of critical
inquiry. Pythagoras cut his losses and moved to Crotona in Italy
where he established Europe’s first philosophical and esoteric
school. Its primary focus was to confer cosmic secrets upon those
he deemed worthy and able to receive them through a threetiered system of initiation. Neophytes were forbidden to ask
questions and had to listen to discourse given by Pythagoras from
behind
a
curtain.
The
grades
themselves–Mathematicus,
Theoreticus and Electus–each cultivated proficiency in arithmetic,
geometry, music and astronomy, denominations of inquiry that
formed the triangular foundation of the cosmos and instilled the
individual with the requisite knowledge needed to facilitate an
experience
of
illumination
or
apathanatismos
(mystical
communion with the divine). He imposed an obligatory oath of
silence to all his students lest this powerful knowledge be
misconstrued or misused by those who had neither the talent nor
the moral compass for it. All esoteric and secret brotherhoods
such as the Freemasons and the Rosicrucians that came
afterwards varied in the style and type of rituals they employed
and in the content of their teachings but all were united under
the aegis of the Pythagorean veil of secrecy.
237
For years, Pythagoras would have mulled over mathematical
formulae and other secrets entrusted to him by the Egyptian
priests, the Persian Magi and the shamans of Hindustan before
stumbling onto the numerical formula which underpinned the
primary
consonances
of
the
diatonic
(musical)
scale.
A
delightfully romantic but unlikely legend speaks of a time when
Pythagoras was brought to a halt whilst casually strolling by a
noisy brazier’s shop because his attentive ears had honed into
the harmonies and discords made by the synthesis of four
different sized anvils as they beat out a piece of metal. Walking
into the shop for a closer examination of the instruments, he was
delightfully
surprised
to
discover
that
they
expressed
a
proportional relationship of 12: 9: 8: 6. He was able to replicate
the sounds at home by constructing an elongated piece of wood,
fastening four identical, equal-length chords along its vertical
trunk and hanging the corresponding weights off them.
Using this contraption, he descried the golden ratios of
harmony. When sounded together, the first and second as well as
the third and fourth chords yielded the harmony of the
diatessaron, with the tension of the former being a third greater
than that of the latter (4:3 or sesquitertion). Alternatively, the
first and third together with the second and fourth chords
yielded the harmony of the diapente, with the tension of the
former strings being a half greater than the latter two (3:2 or
sesquialter). By the same logic, the first and fourth chords yielded
the harmony of the octave, with the tension of the former being
double that of the latter (2:1 or duple). The fractional harmony
within an octave which no doubt represents the numerical value
238
of 1 reveals the laws of the microcosm as bequeathed to
Pythagoras by the “sacred science” of the Egyptian priesthood.
Further, it appears the numbers in the ratios themselves are the
same numbers to be found in Pythagoras’s pyramidal formula,
the tetractys, in which ten dots arranged in four lines of 4, 3, 2
and 1 demarcate the numerical secret of all Creation. But why
should Pythagoras think that the key to all Creation was
encompassed in something as simple as arithmetic, mathematical
formulae and ratios?
Simple really. His ingenuity was such that he was able to
syncretise
what
he’d
learned
about
arithmetic,
geometry,
astrology and mysticism with his own discoveries expressing the
mathematical basis of the musical scale into an original and
holistic conception of the cosmos that answered all the
fundamental questions of existence. His outlook was so groundbreaking that it was to infiltrate the thinking of both Plato and
Aristotle and directly influence the central tenets of magical and
alchemical esotericism. Through his ruminations on the laws of
consonance, dissonance and the musical scale, Pythagoras
reasoned that everything in the cosmos was subject to physical
laws which increased or decreased in number depending upon
the complexity of the matter in question, be it organism, idea,
subject and so forth. Thus astronomy was hinged on musical
theory, music on geometry and geometry on arithmetic. It
mimicked the ecological food chain in that the removal of any one
from the ascending or descending order would in effect
annihilate the denominations above it. All were inexplicably
239
linked and co-dependent upon one another, save for arithmetic
which was rudimentary to all knowledge and could stand alone.
By this logic Pythagoras ascertained that the secret of
Creation must be numerical in nature. It was an art of
multiplication which proceeded in harmonic proportions in the
same manner than a snake might proceed in spirals or S-bends;
one became four, four became ten, the sacred Pythagorean
number, which unravelled to produce the splendour of all things,
living or inanimate. Despite its simplicity and unsophistication,
there is an undeniable and indelible truth to this cosmological
scheme. Take the ordering of electrons in a molecule of water, for
instance. When two atoms of hydrogen bind to one of oxygen to
form the life-giving substance, the former contributes two
electrons as a pair whilst the latter offers up eight. Two and eight
make ten, the sacred number of the Pythagoreans. In cellular
mitosis the DNA replication preceding the division of a mother
cell into two daughter cells follows the aforementioned numerical
laws. We see the harmonious ordering repeated in cellular
meiosis, a more complex form of cell division relating to sexual
reproduction which aims to divide a diploid cell into four
daughter haploid cells. Naturally the forces at work in the
structure of matter and genetics are some of the most intricate
processes known to man, and they too follow the Pythagorean
scheme of harmony proliferation.
Using the tetractys (the ten dots) as a skeletal framework for
his ordering of the cosmos, Pythagoras proceeded to divide it up
in accordance to what he’d learned and what he perceived to be
240
true. No doubt he would have perceived the universe to be a
living organism, entirely conscious, with an invisible monochord
which stretched from Absolute Spirit, or Ether at the very top to
created Nature at the very bottom and passed through the
numerous dimensions that had ruptured from the time origin or
first cause.
The upper three dots of the tetractys or what one might
imagine to be the capstone top of a pyramid symbolised the
Supreme World with its archetypes, signatures and seals. This
was the region of supernal white light, the eternal fire, a state of
being which was undifferentiated, uncreated, undefiled, true and
wholly good. Without it there would have been no cogitation and
there would be nothing to become. Below that are two rows, one
with three and the other with four dots, respectively. These are
the seven creative powers which brought forth the material
universe, known to the Jews as Elohim and to the Egyptians as
neters. Pythagoras envisioned this area of the tetractys as the
irrational sphere or the domains of the Superior (heavenly) and
Inferior (earthly) Worlds. Seeing that numbers are related to form,
the geometrical equivalent of three and four are the triangle and
square, shapes which delineate loss of androgyny and unity, the
separation into male (triangle; active) and female (square; passive)
which leads to the experience of duality and the seven-fold
division of the entire cosmos after the first cogitation. Angels,
daemons, demi-gods, mortals and all created matter–the stars,
the planetary spheres, the four elements of fire, air, earth and
water which combined in unique ways to create the lower
kingdoms–were
all
confined
to
241
this
plane.
According
to
Pythagoras, each planet issued a unique noise as it displaced the
heavenly ether, an occult phenomenon he later branded “Music of
the Spheres” and claimed he could hear. He used his occult
knowledge of homologies and analogies to assign colours, names,
emotions,
character
traits,
geometrical
shapes,
numbers,
harmonic intervals and musical notes to each of the seven
dimensions that emanated from the first cause. Further, he
intimated that everything had been created possessed an inverted
blueprint or signature linking it with its divine prototype in the
Supreme World.
Some sources claim that Pythagoras possessed a wheel of
some sort which he used to divinise and reveal to those initiated
into his school their past incarnations. Metempsychosis or soul
transmigration was more or less a popular ideology due to the
hierarchical division of a society in which most would have been
confined to the lower class. It would have verified the truth of
divine justice in the minds of those who were forced to endure
congenital
misfortunes
such
as
physical
and
intellectual
handicaps or slavery. One may have been born into misery but if
he or she pursued the righteous and honourable path the rewards
would come when the invisible mooring post turned the cosmic
wheel onto the next life. It was a belief that appeared to suite the
eschatological needs of the people at that point in time and
Pythagoras generated favourable conditions for its reception by
claiming to remember his own precious incarnations, four in all. I
guess we can never know whether the claims were a genuine
conviction or just the scheming machination of a swindler,
though what’s certain is that it equipped him with a magnetism
242
that was to have an extremely powerful effect on the sociopolitical climate of Crotona.
Ironically, it was the same magnetism which hastened his
descent towards an untimely and unjust death. According to
Edouard Schure, a rejected candidate by the name of Cyton
became so disillusioned with Pythagoras that he declared war
upon him. Many Pythagoreans perished during this uprising. The
great teacher sought refuge in a cottage on the outskirts of
Crotona with some of his followers, but Cyton managed to track
them down and set it alight. Poisonous fumes from the growing
fire asphyxiated everyone inside, including Pythagoras. No doubt
it was an end tainted with violence and heartache, but I couldn’t
think of a more perfect one for a life that was amorous, fiery and
restless, mirroring chemical neurotransmission because it had
been so full of action potential…
243
THE GREEK GODS AND GODDESSES IN LIGHT OF ANALYTICAL
PSYCHOLOGY
To understand how the ancient Greeks viewed their gods and
goddesses, we first need to return to Plato’s conception of the
universe. He was a philosopher of the metaphysical school,
believing that the cosmos could be divided into an eternal realm
of “being” which encompassed the intellect, the divine forms and
ideas, as well as an ever-fluctuating, temporal and chaotic world
of “becoming”. Everything that existed on the material plane or in
the world of “becoming” was merely a debased and imperfect
copy of its prototype, its first pattern and its ideal which existed
in a permanently flawless and suspended state of animation
within the eternal world of “being”. The metaphysical school of
thought in Greece (i.e. long line of Hellenic mystics and
philosophers including Pythagoras, Democritus, Plato, Bolus of
244
Mendes etc. who formulated many of their doctrines after visiting
Egypt)
recognised
these
behavioural
patterns
and
psychic
imprints as “archetypes”.
The
word
“archetype”
is
Greek,
coming
from
the
syncretisation of the words arche, or first, and “typos”, denoting
pattern. Thus the ancients were well aware of primordial and
universal images which seeped through from the world of being
and manifested in the world of matter. Philo Judaeus alluded to
the archetype when he spoke of Imago Dei (God-image) in man
and Irenaeus conformed to this idea by purporting that “The
creator of the world did not fashion these things directly from
himself, but copied them from archetypes outside himself.”
When psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung came along in the
twentieth century, he took the concept which encompassed the
Platonic forms and ideals and applied it to the anatomy of the
human
psyche.
He
was
certain
that
the
primordial
and
unconscious blueprints which existed in the world of “being”
were all plates which united to form the dynamic, multifaceted
and multidimensional sphere of human personality. It’s more
than fair to say that the concept of psychological archetypes was
developed by Jung.
Plato placed the “archetypes” in the world of “being”; Jung
on the other hand localised them to a level of being that related
exclusively to the basement level of the mind’s triple-storey
warehouse. He called this level the collective unconscious, a kind
of memetic bank, a cosmic memory of sorts which encompassed
energy fields like feelings, attitudes and discarnate personalities
245
that lived inside each and every one of us for the entire duration
of our lives, and which had lived inside every human being from
our coming to consciousness. You might want to think of the
collective unconscious as an intangible and psychic entity that
acts quite like cellular DNA, transmitting the accumulating mass
of psychic content from generation to generation across vast
expanses of time in the manner that physical traits are passed
from parents to children.
Among other things, “archetypes” are also part of this
psychic river of transmission and coexist within all of us at an
unconscious level. They usually surface during periods of
unconsciousness, more often than not when we dream or
daydream and they appear quite prominently in myths, fairy tales
and
all
ancient
religions
as
fully
integrated
functioning
personalities. There are many, many, many archetypes. Some
include love, the Sage, the Devil, the Hero, the Child, the Great
Mother, Father Time and the Trickster. Even “the odyssey”, an
idea which encompasses the ultimate life-altering journey (which
also appears in myth) made famous by mythographer Joseph
Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, is an archetype. So
are Atlantis and Armageddon. The human soul is also an
archetype, manifesting as the opposite sex of the dreamer in his
or her sleep. In men it’s called the anima and in women the
animus.
The ancient Greeks saw their gods and goddesses in much
the same way, but unlike Jung (who believed the forces came
from within) their perceived these forces as powers that existed
246
independent of the human psyche. The Greek gods and
goddesses belonged to an ethereal realm. They were omniscient,
universal and timeless; they could never be touched by the
ravages of time or any other limitations of mortality. Yet they
interacted with mortals and even manifested through them. A
temple maiden who’d suddenly felt the urge to kiss a man might
have been described as a slave to Aphrodite. On the other hand, a
man wanting to kill his wife for having slept with another man
could be described as being overwhelmed by Ares, the god of war.
Alternatively, a child overwhelmed by fits of laughter and
merriment would have been perceived as having become the
mortal vessel of Apollo, albeit fleetingly.
Back then, the cosmos was also perceived to be a an
interdimensional hologram of intermingling and interconnecting
wholes in which there was a powerful connection between
differing conscious and unconscious extensions of nature. Thus,
each god or goddess was connected with a specific metal, planet,
colour, flower(s), animal(s), number(s) and perfume(s), and any
contact, manipulation or acquisition of such would evoke the
essence of that particular deity. For example, Aphrodite the
goddess of love, was inexplicably linked with the colour green,
the number seven, the metal copper, the precious stones of
emerald and turquoise, flowering plants like myrtles, birds like
doves, sandalwood, and the symbols of the five-pointed star, the
apple, the tree, and the serpent.
What can these aspects of nature have in common? Well
Aphrodite is love, and love breeds generation; generation and
247
fertility in Mother Nature appear decked in green. Copper, in turn,
has a very aesthetic feel to it and turns green when it undergoes
oxidisation or verdigris. In addition, copper salts are coloured
green or blue and are connected with water, the element in which
Aphrodite was born. The dove is her bird because it manifests a
more tranquil mode of being, sandalwood her scent because of its
erotic and sensual odour. Seven is a number related to various
cycles and periods of humanity’s development, as well as the
seven obscure points of the body. All these things are connected
to her realm; the realm of matter and generation. You might say
that these material representatives served as talismans to evoke
the essence of the deity. This idea of cosmic sympathies between
different
elements
in
the
physical
world
pervaded
most
philosophical beliefs of late antiquity and forms a central tenet in
Hermetic Art and magical correspondences. Unhappily so, occult
ideas about the cosmos ring true to select individuals able to
think with an open mind and have been rejected, time and time
again, sidelined and forgotten by an orthodox science which has
become increasingly dogmatic in its ways, particularly after the
Middle Age marriage of Aristotelian Scholasticism to Christian
doctrine.
In any case, the fields of energy represented by the
pantheon of Greek gods cannot be contained. If they are we
become ill or unwell. This is why people who freely express
themselves or allow themselves to be freely possessed by select
archetypes working through them at any particular moment or
time end up living far happier, healthier and longer lives than
those who consciously choose to repress them. Psychic contents
248
which are kept from seeing the light of consciousness because of
prevailing social or moral limitations of the times will slowly but
surely tear the human psyche apart, sometimes culminating with
the onset of schizophrenia or split personality. Extreme cases
include poltergeist activity caused by the unconscious will of
sexually repressed teenagers. Let’s not forget the explosion of
visions and folktales relating to nymphs, mermaids and other
vampiric entities in Europe when emerged as an unconscious
reaction to Christian dogma when the church fathers attempted
to subdue sexuality, the side of human nature that was
henceforth perceived to be sinful and shameful.
The
ancient
Greeks
well
and
truly
understood
the
consequences of such, which is why they prescribed sleeping in
the encoemeterions of healing centres like Epidaurus and
Amphiareion in Attica to those riddled by ailments. They were
merely attempting to facilitate the expression of these energy
fields in hope that the god or “archetype” would appear in the
dreams of the ill-fated and bequeath a cure. Believe it or not this
practice continues in Greece to this very day, particularly at the
Church of Panagia Tinou on Tinos Island where innumerable
people suffering from life-threatening or terminal illnesses come
on the 15th August to seek a miracle cure in ekoimisis.
249
THE GREEK GODS AND GODDESSES, THE “APOTHEOSIS OF
WASHINGTON,” AND THE MASONIC CONNECTION
For a country which is predominantly Christian in its religious
sentiments, the United States Capitol exhibits many architectural
features and aesthetic depictions that Protestant fundamentalists
would gladly denounce as heretical and “pagan”. I vividly
remember visiting the city in August of 2005 and being pleasantly
delighted by the “pagan” overtones so fearlessly expressed by
symbols
either
imagined
or
250
real–pentagrams,
obelisks,
mausoleums, Doric and Ionic columns, temples, astrological
zodiacs and so forth. Even one of the holiest areas in Washington
D.C., the oculus of the dome inside the rotunda of the United
States Capitol building, is peppered with “pagan” imagery in the
form of seven Greek gods and goddesses. All appear to be going
through the motions of conferring requisite knowledge upon the
Americans to be used in defeating the British army and acquiring
the necessary increments in consciousness necessary to catapult
them to the head of the international stage. But why should
intellect and wisdom be conferred upon the Americans by Greek
deities? Why should Greek deities surround George Washington at
his moment of his apotheosis, his moment of becoming a god?
Why isn’t the preference given to Yahweh, Jesus Christ or some
other deity more closely related to the Judeo-Christian tradition?
The answer to this question lies entrenched in the religious
and spiritual allegiance of America’s Founding Fathers, men who
endorsed the Declaration of Independence. Fifteen of the fifty-six
who signed were Freemasons, including the likes of Benjamin
Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. The latter two
served as second and third Presidents, respectively. George
Washington, the man who led the Continental Army to victory,
signed the Constitution and took up the mantle of the Presidency,
was also a Freemason. His allegiance to and identification with its
fundamental principles cannot be questioned, for what man
would lay the cornerstone of the U.S Capitol decked in ceremonial
regalia worn
to enact the rituals of an esoteric brotherhood
whose philosophical flavouring he didn’t really believe in? None
really.
251
The Freemasons are an interesting bunch. Much has been
said about the esoteric brotherhood, most of it unflattering and
false. Its affiliates and members have been openly criticised,
harassed and ridiculed over the years and conspiracy theories
have been ample. What haven’t we heard about the Freemasons?
Some allegations are so far removed from reality, so ridiculously
laughable that they’re hardly worth mentioning at all. They’ve
been everything from political factions that manipulate the world
economy through its far-reaching underground connections with
the mafia, organisations that monopolise banks and tamper with
currencies, and cults that have conspired with Satan and his
minions in pulling the wool over mortal eyes and driving
humanity to sin and depredation.
The latter of these is a Christian fabrication, fuelled by the
veil of secrecy with which the Freemasons conduct their periodic
meetings, rituals and rites. Fundamentalist streams of the
Christian faith have fed public fear and superstition by pursuing
an appropriation of reality hinged on the logic that nothing is
ever done without purpose, and therefore there must be a reason
whys secrecy pervades the brotherhood.
Lamentably, the
tendency to keep things from others garners a breeding ground
for ignorance and the projection of fear that comes as a
consequence of this mental instability adds to the growing
momentum of outrageous superstition. This avenue of thinking
usually leads to feelings of unrest and persecution, especially
amongst the religiously inclined, and an unconscious reaction to
such might be to resort to Biblical scriptures (Revelation 2:9)
which speak of blasphemy enacted by the “synagogue of Satan”.
252
But nothing could be further from the truth. The secrecy
pertaining to what goes on inside Masonic lodges has nothing to
do with Satan and all to do with keeping with a longstanding
esoteric tradition which extends back to the sacred mystery
schools of late antiquity. At such schools students deemed
worthy to receive knowledge relating to the true nature of reality
had to take solemn oaths never to disclose the secrets to the
general public. Those that did were brutally punished, tortured
and even killed. When Alexandria grew to become the intellectual
centre of the ancient world in the third century BCE, these
schools were flourishing. The Mysteries of Artemis at Ephesus,
the Eleusinian Mysteries of the Great Mother and her daughter at
Eleusis and the Mysteries of Isis and Osiris in Egypt were all
schools of this type. At all times, Freemasons have believed
themselves
to
be
inheritors
of
these
ancient
traditions,
particularly those that evolved from Egypt. In this light the veil of
secrecy permeating Freemasonry can be attributed to the EgyptoPythagorean ideal of not “flashing your pearls before swine”.
And why didn’t they want to flash them? To answer this
question we must take a brief look at the history of Freemasonry.
The first Masonic document, the “Old Charges”, appeared in the
fourteenth century and localises Masonic heritage to a patriarchal
line of fathers that include the primordial Jabel, the postantediluvian mythical Egyptian figure Hermes Trismegistus,
Nimrod, Abrahamm Euclid and the significant eighty thousand
others that built Solomon’s Temple. The inclusion of the Egyptian
Hermes is significant, for it implies an intimate connection and
253
identification with the philosophical and religious outlook of the
Hermetic discipline.
But before we rush to any conclusions regarding a Masonic
preservation of ancient Egyptian esoteric knowledge and wisdom,
we must take a hard, long look at the facts. Freemasonry claims
lineage from Egypt and Israel, but it most likely evolved from
medieval stonemason’s guilds, an operative craft which became
increasingly speculative and esoteric after mingling with Knights
Templars who had escaped execution and torture at the hands of
the Roman Catholic Church. The Templars posed a threat because
they retained knowledge of metaphysical and occult ideas about
the cosmos that rendered defunct the church’s self-proclaimed
right to rule the world, rights that were hinged entirely on the
shameless appropriation of Biblical Scriptures and exclusive
monopolisation of religious truth. Thus it was only a matter of
time before they were persecuted. That fateful moment was to
occur at the end of the thirteenth century. Those lucky to escape
the massacre took refuge in Scotland, the country in which
Freemasonry originated. Many scholars
believe
that
social
intercourse between the two groups led to a transmission of
knowledge that refashioned the latter into an esoteric current,
and
that
the
knowledge
that
was
passed
down
was
quintessentially Hermetic in nature. I too am in complete
harmony with their opinion.
Occult Hermeticism was never a powerful religious current
in itself, but its pseudepigraphical writings often informed and
complemented Jewish chariot mysticism and the Gnostic currents
254
of Christianity that were flourishing in the first and second
centuries CE. The Hermetic writings themselves allude to a
Golden Age which was lost when “Man” was cast out of the
heavens, the eternal, unchanging realm of “being” described by
Plato as the Noetic cosmos. Before he became subject to the
shackles of mortality and time, “Man” stood beside God as his
brother, his other half, his equal. This is made clear in the first
chapter of The Hermetica called “Poimandres,” which clearly
states that “Man” was “co-equal to Himself, with whom He fell in
love”.
And what exactly was “Man” before he fell from the mount
of heaven and lost his throne beside his God-brother? He was
definitely a lot more than what he’s been reduced to today. A very
long time ago, humans were well acquainted with a way of
knowing that precluded use of the five senses. This sixth sense, if
you like, resided in the right hemisphere of the brain and
appropriated the unconscious mind to enact what people of the
modern world perceive to be god-like feats i.e. extrasensory
perception, psychokinesis, telepathy, projection to other times
and places. (This is definitely my idea of what being God’s
brother would be like!) They even encompassed the requisite
knowledge regarding the potentiality of consciousness to survive
bodily death, an idea as ancient as our coming to consciousness.
The Egyptian mystery schools all carried some form of the
antediluvian knowledge, though it was largely inaccessible to
most and was kept well hidden from the eyes of the "profane".
The best examples of magical god-like feats made possible by this
255
sixth sense I can think of come from the practices of the
autochthonous cultures of the Americas, the Pacific and the
Africas. Their witch-doctors or shamans possessed what many
have termed 'jungle sensitiveness', an ability to communicate
telepathically by entering trance states. The Montagnais Indians
of eastern Canada are known for their ability to locate people via
this method, as are the Hawaiian Kahunas for their equally
impressive ability in
accumulating enough psychic energy
through meditative practice to call a whole pod of dolphins to the
shore. I suppose they do this via a self-induced, active form of
lucid dreaming.
Scientific study of paranormal phenomena also supports the
notion that the unconscious mind, enthroned within the right
hemisphere of the brain can, on a great many occasions, manifest
powers deemed magical by the contemporary "West". It comes
from a kind of turning inward, as the unconscious or subjective
force does encompass an existence that precludes the five
physical senses and somehow attracts to itself energy fields that
the conscious personality alone is completely and utterly unaware
of. In addition, the energies can be drawn on the condition that
there is a complete abeyance of the five physical senses. The
Hawaiian Kahunas, for example, believe that the psyche is divided
into three distinct bodies or entities, one of which has direct
access
to
the
multidimensional
matrix
which
allows
for
extrasensory perception.
If the Freemasons have inherited this Hermetic vision, then
it should be no surprise that in order to become a Freemason you
256
must submit to two beliefs: the existence of a divine being (which
can remain nameless) and the reality of life after death. Naturally,
the Freemasons don’t ever name the Godhead. There are two
good reasons for this. The first is a sign of respect to its members
who come from different religious denominations and secondly,
as a sincere expression of respect towards divinity which in all its
glory and majesty cannot be localised.
The Masonic enterprise believes in an experience of reality
that is much, much closer to that perceived by the mystics and
metaphysicians of ancient Greece, to Pythagorean “Music of the
Spheres’, to the metaphysical doctrines of Plato, the vibrational
unities of Heraclitus and Democritus’s primitive multiverse
theory. These were all experiences of reality in which the
fundamental unity of the entire cosmos was pervaded by force
fields of different vibrational wavelengths, and the force fields
which were the Greek gods and goddesses themselves all
emanated from the same basic substance and expressed
themselves either consciously or unconsciously through human
beings. (Occult philosophy will be discussed in much more detail
in some of my later posts.)
Hence, when Freemason George Washington makes his
appearance beside the Greek gods and goddesses on the dome of
the U.S. Capitol building, we can be more than certain that he’s
jovial and content, for the man finds himself amidst powerful
forces that he believed in, was possessed by and found meaning
in during good times and bad, time and time again.
257
I will conclude this article with a poem I have written about the
fresco in question, also titled “The Apotheosis of Washington.”
(Published in Sensations Magazine, Silver Anniversary Issue, 2011)
From somewhere about celestial gours,
an inch below the dome,
the rays of six aetheric1 powers
brought forth the newer Rome.
She was conceived by Sun and Moon
and carried in Air’s belly,
‘til George he sighted her all hewn
anew from primal jelly.
The gods emerged from Soul’s estate,
they took the form of ravens,
to sing of Columbia’s lively fate
construed through thirteen maidens.
‘Tis true he was the Word aglow,
that man was a begetter,
who rose from Tartarus below
1
The rarefied element formerly believed to fill the upper regions of space.
258
in robes of pure magenta.
At noon the trickster came, the light,
the first of cogitations,
to teach the colonists the plight
and joy of transmutations.
Amongst his gifts a bag of gold,
of saffron and of nectar,
to outwit cunning of the Redcoat mould
and act as chief deflector.
At two the fire it came threefold
within the Blacksmith’s forges,
it melted metals and glass so old
amassed from mainland gorges.
The God appeared, he said, “Look deep
inside your chert-filled mother,
for there hides powder in a heap
your enemies to smother.”
259
“No wait!” the Queen of Wheat will say,
“Your strength is in your tummy,
so hasten and traverse that ley
which renders men all rummy.
Take from my flat-plains plant and weed,
my flowers of deep fuchsia,
ferment its pollen into mead
to halt your men’s inertia.”
At six the tulpa2 springs to life
to fight for liberation,
they’ve had enough of being at strife
with British dispensation.
She’ll spring atop ol’ George’s head
her jewels of War all styled,
in blue and stripes of white and red–
behold the favourite child!
A few doors down some sons of earth
2
A Tibetan word that denotes a thoughtform, or a manifestation of energy, that can at times take on a life of its
own.
260
catch glimpse of an infusion,
in trial and error they find what’s worth
to mimic in profusion.
Athena speaks to them that night,
as dove, as white Maria,
to warn that gadgets suffer blight
without trinosophia3.
From deep within the sea they come
with chariots and horses,
all wet and draped in weeds become
then spew forth shapeless forces.
The Melian4 leads the foam-born herd,
as does the god of dire,
they swim along the floor unheard
and bind the sea’s empire.
At twelve that Man5, he leaves from home,
3
An allegorical account of spiritual initiation.
Epithet of the goddess Aphrodite, or Venus in Latin. Melos Island in the Aegean is sacred to her, thus she is the
Melian.
Capitalised here as it alludes to George Washington.
4
5
261
bedecked in Mason’s gear,
to lay the cornerstone on loam
beneath the Virgin’s bier.
The Immortals gather at his helm
with wands and magic rods,
anon they’ll rise to a newer realm
to ruminate with star-gods.
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THE ANCIENT GREEK CONCEPT OF FATE
AND THE JUDEO-CHRISTIAN NOTION OF FREE WILL
The landscape of ancient Greece as descried by classical myth
and history brims with seers, fortune tellers and oracles. The
most prestigious of these, the Oracle of Delphi, was built in a
deep valley beside the chert-tiered limestone slopes of Mt.
Parnassus in lower central Greece. Its builders expressed the
rugged, raw, imaginative, superstitious and urgently fatalistic
nature that so typified the ancient Greek mind and decreed
Delphi to be the “omphalos”, the naval of the world. Many, many
moons ago, Zeus released two eagles from Olympus, with one
263
circumnavigating the world from the east and the other from the
west. He decreed that the place of their reunion shall mark the
“omphalos”. It just so happened that the two reunited beneath
the star-crossed skies of Delphi, the same place where Apollo hid
in a grotto to evade the wrath of his father Zeus for having slain
the snake god Python. (A retributory act to honour his mother
Leto who’d been pursued by the fiend after she fell pregnant to
Zeus.)
It should come as no surprise to readers that Apollo was the
patron deity of Dephi, for Apollo was the god who bestowed
precognitive powers upon mortals. The god mimicked his
physical, celestial counterpart, the sun, in that he was generally
beneficent and virtuous, though he wasn’t immune from the
shallow-minded and trivial narcissism that found expression
through all the great Olympians. To give an example, Cassandra,
daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecabe of Troy, was so
beautiful that Apollo fell head over heels in love the minute he
laid eyes upon her. He showered her with many gifts, one of
which was the much desired talent of prophecy. Regrettably, the
feeling wasn’t mutual and poor Cassandra suffered the detriment
of his anger. Given that divine gifts could not be retracted once
bequeathed to mortals, Apollo decreed that her predictions
should always beach themselves along the shores of disbelief.
Cassandra correctly predicted the fall of Troy, Agamemnon’s
death at the hands of his scheming wife Clytemnestra, and the
conspiracy to overthrow the city by means of a hollow wooden
horse, but her omens fell on deaf ears.
264
The Oracle of Delphi, itself a place of worship that was
circumscribed by strict procedures and rituals, practiced oracular
divination on the seventh day of each month. Following the
primordial tradition of the Egyptian priests and priestesses who
washed themselves in the sacred pools of temples before enacting
the tasks and rituals associated with the cult of each god or
goddess, the high priestess of Delphi, the Pythia, bathed in the
Castalian Spring before being allowed to sit on the holy tripod of
the innermost sanctuary. The tripod itself was positioned over a
fumarole or volcanic dyke as to facilitate mystical states of
consciousness. Noxious, hallucinogenic gases emanating from the
fissure below would disorientate the Pythia to a degree that
enabled “the voice of Apollo” to possess her. Petitioners never
received clear-cut responses to their questions; the Pythia’s
utterances were painfully cryptic and obscure. To complicate
matters further, she spoke in iambic pentameters.
Despite
the
Pythia’s
vexing
form
of
divination,
her
omniscience was not to be questioned. When Lysander, a Spartan
general who helped defeat the Athenians at the Battle of
Aegospotami in 405BCE consulted the Oracle of Delphi, he was
warned to “guard against a roaring hoplite and a snake, cunning
son of earth, which attacks behind the back.” Lysander was killed
just outside the Boeotian city of Haliartus by a man holding a
shield that was inscribed with the image of a snake. Alternatively,
when the Roman Lucius Junius Brutus and two other men sought
the aid of the Pythia she advised that “he among you who shall
first kiss his mother will hold the highest power in Rome.”
Brutus’s companions took the word “mother” literately; he, on the
265
other hand, understood it as an allusion for Mother Earth. His
companions went home and kissed their mothers whilst he
settled for a cold and brittle kiss with the ground. It wasn’t long
before he was rewarded for his mercurial mind and clever
decipherment, for it was he that formed Rome’s first Council.
Classical literature relates the tale of the Swollen-Footed
Oedipus who was condemned by an oracle at the time of his
birth. A bad omen convinced his father, King Laius of Thebes,
that it was best to desert the child to the fate of the natural
elements,
the
daytime
heat.
Fortunately,
or
unfortunately
perhaps, a shepherd took pity upon the deserted infant and
hastened the infant Oedipus to Corinth where he was raised by
the childless King Polybus and Queen Merope. Upon coming to
adulthood, Oedipus began hearing rumours that he was not the
biological son of the king and queen. All at sea with the mixed
signals his parents gave him, he sought closure through
prophecy. The Delphic Oracle wasn’t kind to him, issuing a rather
ruthless and hostile decree that he should “mate with his own
mother, and shed with his own hands the blood of his own sire.”
These words shocked Oedipus to the extent that he fled from
Corinth to Thebes without having ascertained whether or not he
was the son of adopted parents, a necessary precursor if the
bloodcurdling prophecy was to be fulfilled.
Knowledge of the past, future and things coming-to-be
through divination could be sought through the Delphic Bee, the
Pythia, or any other oracle in Greece. The enterprise so impressed
the blind belief in fate on the hardening lava of consciousness
266
that people often went about their lives passively, willingly
surrendering themselves to the trinity of fates they called Moira,
“the Fate of all Fates.” These all-encompassing, all-omniscient
entities were unwavering in the decrees that they issued. Even the
gods feared them. It was alleged that they would appear on the
third night of a newborn’s birth and bestow a dowry and lifespan
of sorts. They often made their presence felt in dreams, visions
and through other unconscious means. All three shared the same
basic physical characteristics–old in age with wrinkled skin and a
veil made of spider webs that shrouded their facial features. The
first of the triad was Clotho, the spinner, who wove the threads of
each human life together. Lachesis, the apportioner, was the
second and decided on how long the threads should be. The last
fate Atropos, the inevitable, put an end to human life by cutting
individual threads with her scissors. The conviction that all three
worked their invisible hands on human destiny survived well into
the twentieth century, a time when the prevailing religious
current was Judeo-Christian and ran in a completely opposite
course to the romantic fatalism of the ancient Greeks.
Now in order to understand the sentiments of the JudeoChristian tradition, we must
examine the central themes
prevalent in Biblical Scripture. According to the Genesis creation
narrative (Genesis 1-2), it took God or “Elohim” six days to mould
the cosmos from the primordial substance. The use of the word
“Elohim” is interesting, for in Hebrew it denotes “Gods”; not a
single “God”. It was definitely a mistake in translation that would
have enormous socio-political consequences for the disparate
cultures which the three major monotheistic religions of the
267
world–Judaism, Christianity and Islam–were to influence. After
having called forth an entirely benevolent universe, the YehovahElohim of a supplementary creation story proceeded to separate
the earth from the heaven, circumscribe the path of the two great
lights, the moon and the sun, and populate the primeval seas and
land of the earth with living creatures.
The prospect of inhabiting an universe without a fellow
Intellect didn’t appeal to God, so he added “Man” or Adam to his
experimentation list and fashioned him in accordance to his own
likeness. Woman or Eve was a secondary and inferior creation,
having been made from Adam’s rib. Eve’s inferiority also
indicated an overtly sexual and carnal nature that could be
manipulated and easily led ashtray. Thus when Yehovah-Elohim
planted a garden in Eden and commanded Adam and Eve not to
eat of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge which stood at its
very centre, it was the latter that coerced the former to submit to
the temptation generated by the Devil disguised as a tree serpent.
The implications of their “Fall” from Paradise meant that they and
their descendants would forever be marked by an Original Sin
which found expression in the ravages of mortal existence.
Knowledge of the divine was evil and the couple had been rudely
evicted for wanting to “know”.
About fifteen centuries or so later, the early church fathers
of late antiquity built upon the Judaic mythologem in asserting
that the awaited Messiah, the mortal incarnation of God the Son
promised in the Old Testament was none other than Jesus of
Nazareth. The whole purpose of God incarnating in the flesh was
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to redeem the souls of “fallen” descendants whose inherited Sin
was the sole reason why humanity was gravitating further and
further away from the Kingdom of God. Through the selfsacrificial act of Crucifixion, Jesus of Nazareth would shed light
upon the path to a salvation which depended upon self-torment,
obedience, humility, chastity and, among other thing, an absolute
rejection of the part of ourselves that lives and dies like an
animal. Sex, pleasure and anything else that gratified the ego was
out.
This newfound dichotomy paved the way for the human
race. There was the path of God, laid bare through Christ’s selfsacrifice and crucifixion, and the path of Satan, a malevolent
force bent on destroying the souls of God’s favoured creation by
leading them to depredation, sodomy, adultery and other
unashamed pleasures of the selfish ego. Equipped with this dual
knowledge of good and evil from the time of birth, each
individual soul is free to choose their path. Thus, the JudeoChristian
tradition
heavily
stresses
that
choice
is
not
predetermined and that we arrive at salvation or eternal
damnation entirely through our own volition.
269
FATE OR FREE WILL: WHICH WILL IT BE?
Just the other day, I took a walk along the beautiful golf course
opposite my house here in Melbourne to clear my mind from
hours of writing and found myself wondering why the opposing
concepts of “fate” and “free will” have co-existed alongside one
270
another despite the fact that they’re underpinned by opposing
philosophies.
Have you ever climbed to the top of the mountain, growled,
flexed your muscles and felt like you could lift a semi-trailer off
the ground or run with a tonne of bricks on your back without
tiring? Its times like this that we become possessed by springmorning cheerfulness, that sense of wonder that more often than
not convinces us that we are able to actively change the course of
our lives as well as the lives of our family and friends. It’s like an
unexpected adrenalin rush, or a psychedelic drug that activates
serotonin receptor blockade to induce euphoria before smashing
us upon the deflated and weary reef of withdrawal. Suddenly,
we’re not at the top of the mountain any more. Far from it. Now
we’ve “fallen” into the freshwater torrent below, an unrelenting
current of contingencies whose course cannot be diverted. During
this time we feel helpless and victimized. We’re cold, fearful and
ominous, as if we’d magically been transported into the mind of
Oedipus the exact moment the Delphic Oracle decreed that he
should “mate with his own mother, and shed with his own hands
the blood of his own sire.” The further we’re swept along, the
more futile the struggle becomes. We’ve suddenly become victims
of circumstance, of “Moira or fate”, no longer Kings and Queens
of our own destiny.
More often than not, we find ourselves at the foot of the
mountain, struggling against the current, but once in a while
we’re beating our chests at the top of its peak. The optimistic
disposition that the action brings knocks the dark veil from our
271
eyes and reveals a world in which our intellect generates a very
real freedom from the mechanical laws of the universe. And the
few glimpses of it we’ve had on a collective level have changed
the world, sometimes for the better. In the last hundred years or
so, scientific method has invented nanotechnologies, iPods,
computers,
webcams,
artificial
intelligence
in
robots
and
supersonic transport. It has actively engaged research to cure
lethal ailments and understand the nature of the cosmos, as well
as having substantially improved quality of life for the disabled.
All these god-like feats have come about through spring-morning
cheerfulness, and the mere fact that the sentiment is scarce and
discontinuous should validate the reach of its magical powers, its
propensity for both growth and change.
To illustrate a valid and relevant point about the perception
of god-like feats I wish to revisit a moment in Dan Brown’s novel
The Lost Symbol. When Harvard symbologist and superhero
Robert Langdon mentions god-like feats enacted by the Founding
Fathers of the United States, Inoue Sato, the Director of the CIA’s
Office of Security, ridicules him by stipulating that “laying a cable
along the floor of the Atlantic Ocean is a far cry from being a
god”. Of course Sato was merely thinking within the insular limits
of twenty-first century rationalism and could be forgiven her
treason for disregarding the hermeneutics of culture. As we
evolve, our definition of “god-like feats” and “god” changes to
harmonize with the evolutionary step forward. Consciousness,
collective or otherwise, is not constant or motionless; it is fluid
and volatile, like the mercury in a thermometer. Consciousness
272
can evolve, or alternately devolve, at any time. It is not confined
to a one-way street.
Getting back to the issue at hand, the orthodox and
dogmatic scientific method of twenty-first century rationalism
precludes the acquisition of knowledge through foresight; in
other words it decrees that the future is undetermined. But is
science right in making this assumption? Probably not.
For time immemorial, mystics and mediums have insisted
that there is a way of “knowing” that is far superior to any reality
underpinned by knowledge gained from the five physical senses.
They have a way of extracting knowledge from the information
universe that is as easy and simple as switching a light on. It
involves a shift of consciousness facilitated by self-hypnosis in
which the conscious Self inverts itself or is projected into the
non-conscious Self. Requisite to the process is a localization of
energies to the solar plexus region of the body, and the
accumulation of psychic force is what enables the now inwardlyturned ego to inject itself into another dimension; a nonsensical,
atemporal world of abnormal double-vision. I call it double-vision
because it is a realm in which what was, what is, what is comingto-be, and what will come-to-be exist as a single unity. There are
no angles, opposites or conjunctions. This is an entirely curved
world where every feeling, emotion, impression, thought and
image merges into and is expressed through something else. I
believe Peter. D. Ouspensky, the devoted follower of GrecoArmenian mystic George Gurdjieff, described it best when he
said, “The new world with which one comes into contact has no
273
sides, so that it is impossible to describe first one side and then
the other. All of it is visible at every point…”
And what do the mystics and mediums call this One, this
fundamental unity? It has been ascribed many different names
throughout all periods of human history. Some choose to call it
the Astral Light or film upon which everything that has every
transpired is imprinted. Helena Petrona Blavatsky’s school of
theosophy and Rudolph Steiner’s school of anthroposophy both
called
it
the
“Akashic
aether”.
Democritus,
the
laughing
philosopher from Abdera clearly spoke of it in the context of
“eidola” (a type of aetheric radiation). It is alchemical mercury,
Cypriot magus Spiros Sothis’s Noetic plane, and the second plane
of Thomas Charles Lethbridge’s dimensional spiral. Even the
great German philosopher Immanuel Kant acknowledged this
dimension of reality which he called the “noumena”. These were
interference patterns that could be grasped through intuition
alone, and which were henceforth reduced to mere “phenomena”
when transliterated by the subjective scope of the senses. Just
like the mystics, Kant believed that time and space was wholly an
illusion of the senses.
Of the aforementioned, Thomas Lethbridge was the one who
adopted a particularly scientific approach by using a pendulum to
determine a vibrational rate for each object and substance.
Immaterial things like emotions and ideas also had rates, which
spurred him to the realization that everything, tangible and
intangible, must be composed of vibrations. His view definitely
corresponds with M-theory, a fundamental framework for the
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universe put forth by modern theoretical physics in its desperate
attempt to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity.
The model in question was proposed by Edward Witten of the
Institute for Advanced Study and aims to define quarks, electrons
and the fundamental forces of the cosmos in the context of onedimensional oscillating strings that permeate eleven separate
dimensions. According to Lethbridge, the dimension parallel to
ours, the sublunary or timeless zone of the mystics, becomes
accessible to all immediately after sleep and/or just before
awakening. Psychic interchange in this stage of sleep would
provide
a
viable
explanation
for
instances
of
déjà
vu,
spontaneous insights to problems one has been brewing on for a
long time or precognitive visions.
Lethbridge’s assertions seem to sit well with me, for the
most part. Why, you ask? Well roughly ten years ago, I
experienced a bizarre and rather uncanny phenomenon. For a
whole month, I would be ritually greeted by a seemingly real
person
at
the
dusk
before
sinking
into
the
realm
of
unconsciousness and at the gates which led to the dawning of
consciousness.
Intuition
told
me
he
existed
someplace,
somewhere on planet Earth. I knew intimate details about him;
the shape and contour of his facial features; how he moved and
acted; and his virtues and faults. I felt these, I knew them. At first
I thought he was merely some kind of archetypal projection of
the psyche, an angelic guide or a tribal brother-type entity
brought forth by my personal unconscious to guide me through
what was then a very testing time in my life. But he encompassed
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a nature so far removed from any flat, one-dimensional
archetypal figure that he had to be real. And I was right. Whilst
travelling through the United States in August of 2005, I marched
into a suburban bistro in the beautiful state of California to be
greeted by a barman who I’d met so many times before inside the
gates of that otherworld. “Oh, It’s you,” I remember saying as we
made eye contact. For me, it was an experiential validation of
Lethbridge’s theory.
But does the occurrence of precognitive dreams necessarily
denote a future set in stone, a “fate” or “Moira” so to speak? Let’s
face it folks, we’ve all been guilty of seeking out astrologers,
Tarot card readers, those who divinize through psychometry and
psychics at some stage or another. There’s a definite romance to
fatalistic warnings, to premonitions and insurmountable, bittertasting “fates” that map out our paths. For if we’re all controlled
like pawns on a check board by a higher power which has already
transcribed everything with a black feather quill and a little black
book, then we can just purge ourselves of any self-blame and selfpersecution when we are struck by a train of bad luck, selfinflicted or otherwise.
My first experience with a “psychic” nearly destroyed my
faith in extrasensory perception completely. Mid-way through
2008 I saw a woman who went by the name of a well-known seer
in classical mythology (whose name I obviously cannot disclose
for reasons of confidentiality). Sadly, she lacked all of her
namesake’s talents. She kept alluding to my dead grandmother,
who was present in the room, but as far as I knew both my
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grandmothers were still alive and kicking! She did possess a
healthy dose of active imagination though. I very much enjoyed
hearing about my past lives. In the life immediately preceding this
one, I was a handsome French soldier who’d fought at the helm of
Joan of Arc’s army and had fallen madly in love with her. Before
that, I was an Egyptian pharaoh who’d carried out a scandalous
and furious love affair with a commoner who was my friend’s
mother. Hearing all this psychobabble would be enough to turn
the rational and scientifically inclined among us away from the
paranormal forever. Because the occult is a denomination of
inquiry which is by nature speculative and inexact, it has always
attracted a healthy sprinkling of charlatans. Operative alchemy,
astrology and magic have been the worst afflicted over the
centuries, seeing that the short –sighted and less than honourable
among us who seek a short cut to fame and fortune will naturally
be drawn to the overnight quick fix that miracle-working and
gold-making make possible. Despite these shortcomings, my
belief in the occult has always stood firm against the drafts; my
belief in human virtue, on the other hand, has been habitually
tested.
In any case exactly a year later I met a modern-day Pythia of
Apollo. Unlike her ancient equivalent, this woman wasn’t
theatrical at all. For instance, she didn’t sit atop a tripod
breathing in hallucinogenic gases or rolling her eyes in a manner
that suggested she was being possessed by a higher entity. No,
there was none of that. Sara McQ was solemn and simple, a
laughter-lover like the goddess Aphrodite. There would be no
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unwarranted expressions of grandeur, no excessive opulence. Her
lair was a middle-class, cozy Australian home whose earthcoloured furnishings evoked serenity and exerted a soothing
influence on those lucky enough to visit. I vividly recall her
preferences when it came to divination. She didn’t care much for
chairs and preferred to sit cross legged on the ground, habits
which imply a close connection to and affinity with the earth
forces.
The spread of the Tarot deck was her chosen manner of
entry into the Noetic cosmos, something which came as naturally
to her as drinking a glass of water. Speaking with an authoritative
tone which would have marked the visionary ramblings of the
Pythias and Sibyls who revealed the golden Word, Sara spoke to
me about persons, events and situations which she had no way of
knowing about. Most fascinating was the manner in which she
spoke. It was poetry in the truest sense of the word and hit every
major and minor note on my intuitive scale. I was even given the
option of asking five to seven specific questions at the end of the
reading. The answers which she gave were strikingly colourful,
detailed and precise. Everything that she has revealed up until
now has well and truly unravelled. Sara lay bare for me the truth
of extrasensory perception, the reality of the mystics which I’d
intuitively felt but which had not been experientially verified until
then.
So what does the vacillation between the state of springmorning cheerfulness and the state of helplessness, precognitive
dreams, the timeless zone, and the mystics who can correctly
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perceive the future tell us about the “fate” and “free will”? They
basically tell us that our individual paths have been hewn against
the fabric of the Noetic cosmos, though an active, conscious and
controlled effort on the part of the individual can alter the
course. Nothing is set in stone. The catch is that we are inherently
wired to think and act passively. We’re lazy by nature. Day after
day, month after month, we hand off the mechanical and
mundane tasks of the day to our inner unconscious, robot while
our minds “switch off”. It’s only when we encounter something
new and novel, or something that requires a strenuous amount of
mental effort that all receptors in the brain start firing in unison
again, and we ascertain that spring-morning cheerfulness again.
Remember the Hermetic motif “As above, so below?” Well
thoughts and feelings are composed of Noetic matter. The more
we brood on them, the quicker the vibrations generated in the
timeless zone will seep through the material universe and incite
change. As a consequence, any prolonged periods of pessimism
will more than likely attract to the individual bad luck in the
manner than positive thinking will attract serendipity, the feeling
that nothing can go wrong. But the problem for most when it
comes to taking a proactive stance is that it goes against the
ingrained behavioural pattern of following the path of least
resistance, and thus the endeavour might resemble the futile
plight of Sisyphus who kept pushing a boulder uphill onto to
watch it roll back down, time and time again.
So we do, in fact, encompass the freedom to change our
paths, though the habitual leaning towards laziness, fatalism, and
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our willingness to leave ourselves to the contingencies of chance
implies that for most the future has been circumscribed.
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SHORT BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Paul Kiritsis (b. 1979) is the author of over two hundred
articles on meta-psychology, consciousness and transpersonal
studies, and the history of Western esotericism. Currently, he is
attempting to harness a more adequate view of the nature of
mind and is immensely interested in ‘psi’ phenomena and their
manifestation in severe mental illness. Paul holds a Bachelor of
Psychological Science and a Graduate Diploma in Professional
Writing and Speech (Latrobe University); a Master of Western
Esotericism (Exeter University); and a Bachelor of Metaphysical
Science, Master of Metaphysical Science, and Doctor of Philosophy
(Sedona University). Paul also has three poetry collections and
twelve literary awards to his name, and currently holds the
position of Vice Present of the Greek Australian Cultural League.
He enjoys adventure travel, scuba diving, and weightlifting.
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