The reign of Zeus
Then,”when the blessed gods had finished their toil, and settled by force their struggle for honours with the Titans, they pressed far-seeing Olympian Zeus to reign and to rule over them, by Earth’s prompting. So he divided their dignities amongst them.” (Hesiod. Theogony, trans. H.G Evelyn-White, Verse 881)
After having asserted their intention of mastering and moving away the primitive forces which had allowed the vital growth of humankind, the forces of the overmind submitted to the leadership of the highest amongst them “to reign and to rule over them”. Zeus was “far-seeing”, possessing the most extended consciousness: none can surpass him on this plane.
Hesiod then defines the frame of “human evolution” – that of “spiritual progression” for it does not seem that the ancient masters of wisdom differentiated between the two – by giving successively seven wives to Zeus which we have analysed in the preceding chapter. Here we will bring up only Metis and Hera.
Having achieved dominance over the forces in charge of vital development and then over Typhon, the force of ignorance (disorder, incoherence, and the whirlwinds of the emerging mind), Zeus, the consciousness of the overmind, was ready to join with Metis (the goddess of wisdom, daughter of Oceanos, a current of energy-consciousness). This marked the entry into the process of the acquisition of exact Knowledge or Discernment. Then, when Zeus swallowed the goddess, which is to say when the overmind devoted itself completely to the fulfillment of the cosmic intelligence by identification, the time was ripe for the birth of Athena. For from within Zeus, Metis “might devise for him both good and evil.” (Theogony), and their combined action led to “self knowledge”. Henceforth Metis would be present within the consciousness during all of Zeus’ other unions with mortals and goddesses alike: discernment or intelligence is therefore the keystone of the whole. Only Hera united with Zeus well before Metis, even without the knowledge of their parents (Iliad, XIV,295), for her limiting action in the mind intervenes well before the entry into the process of discernment.
The duration of this integration concerns the totality of Greek mythology which developed under the aegis of Athena, “equal to her father in strength and in wise understanding”, for the second child of Zeus and Metis never appears in mythology, “a son of overbearing spirit, king of gods and men” (Theogony verse 886). The latter would seize his father’s throne, ending definitively the reign of mental consciousness.
The other threat menacing the kingship of Zeus over the supremacy of mental consciousness was avoided by the forced marriage of the goddess Thetis with the mortal Peleus, for a prophesy had predicted that her son would be more powerful than his father. Therefore Zeus had to avoid entering into this union at all costs. Thetis and Peleus had a son of wide renown, Achilles, who led the Greeks to victory during the Trojan War.
Finally came the time for Zeus’ definitive marriage with Hera, “the right movement” of limitation. Their children would facilitate the evolution of human consciousness in incarnation through the movement of the renewal of forms (Ares and Hephaestus). Hera was always considered to be the great goddess of Argos, that of the labourers of “brilliance”, “swiftness”, and “non-action”.
Prometheus and Epimetheus
Simultaneously to the establishment of the reign of the mind, a phenomena occurred in human consciousness which was symbolically translated in all mythological traditions by the image of the Fall.
As long as man remains predominantly under the control of his vital (impulses, emotions, feelings), the two fundamental forces of the universe, fusion and separation, are at play with each other in a non-dissociated way as they do in the animal kingdom. There is no moral judgement, error or shame. But there is also no possibility for individuation: according to occult traditions, the animal kingdom is principally constituted of “group souls” governing evolution.
When man enters into the reflective mind plane, the aim of which is to achieve individuation, there begins a process of discernment which implies both a distancing from the object and a knowledge through identity. The movement of separation is carried out by the logical mind or the reasoning mind and that of identification through intuition.
At the end of the process, the truth of action must be perceived by intuition and realised by reason, which leads to the right action. But as we have seen this evolution has been rendered false since the first manifestations of the mental nervous force by an opposing power perverting the natural foundations of life. The initiates of ancient times named this Echidna, “the viper” who introduces the sense of separate existence. For everything in this created world seems to be subjected to opposed forces for the realisation of a higher perfection.
In pursuit of the necessary construction of an individualised centre of consciousness, nature has used the force of separation with all its deviations, mixtures and impurities for the elaboration of an “ego” or a personality which serves as a mask. Under the double influence of fundamental ignorance, Typhon, and of this perversion, Echidna, reason had the pretension of alone accessing Truth rather than serving intuition, which lost itself in the various processes of active divination and lost all contact with Reality. For the fall is actually nothing other than the loss of the inner contact which every child replays at some point before reaching the age of reason (Except for the beings born free and without ego).
However, this process had to be modulated by a fundamental vibratory or undulatory principle of the universe, source of the cycles governing both life and mind. The eagle sent by Zeus, who during the day devours the liver of Prometheus regenerating itself at night, represents the action of this principle in the mind: the alternating influence of the forces of fusion and separation, of intellect and intuition essential for the acquisition of “discernment”.
Although the symbolism of the two can sometimes seem unrelated, the parallel study of the myths of Prometheus and Genesis seems to be an imperative.
The war between the gods and the Titans closed an idyllic period (the “Golden Age” under the rule of the Titan Cronos, or in the Bible the time in which man lived his days in happiness in the Garden of Eden under the benevolent care of Yahweh) and assures a transition under the predominance of the mind.
The story of the ascension of the planes of consciousness in the mind is carried out entirely in the lineage of Iapetus. The name of this Titan, constructed around the characters Ι+Π+Τ, expresses the concept of a link (Π) in consciousness (Ι) with the highest levels of the Spirit (Τ). The name of his wife Clymene, “the Famous or Celebrated”, implies that this is a question of the “victories” of man in this ascension. The initiates of ancient times named this lineage the “Deucalionides” after their grandson Deucalion.
The Iapetus-Clymene couple had four children; Atlas, Menoetius, Prometheus and Epimetheus.
With the children of Atlas, the masters of wisdom have listed the stages to be crossed in the mental plane to regain the lost state of unity, man gaining his “individuality” or “freedom” during this progression.
Atlas “through hard constraint upholds the wide heaven with unwearying head and arms “(Theogony verse 507). Although he thus separates earth and sky he is also the path of their reuniting: when all the stages represented by his children the Pleiades will have been surpassed, the lost unity will be regained. For this to occur his son Prometheus will have to be “released” from the pillar to which Zeus had bound him. (The corresponding account attributed to Aeschylus, Prometheus unbound, has been lost, but it seems evident that Prometheus cannot be set free by Zeus, but rather by the second child that Metis will bear with Zeus.)
Menoetius does not appear in any myth. Hesiod tells us that “Menoetius was outrageous, and far-seeing Zeus struck him with a lurid thunderbolt and sent him down to Erebus because of his mad presumption and exceeding pride”. His name probably means “an insolent mind”.
The long evolutionary period corresponding to this character covers the first two stages of mental growth, that of the physical mind and the vital mind where both arrogance and a semblance of courage dominate, close to the inconscient and born of impulses for flight or aggression. As long as this mental arrogance dominates, the quest cannot really begin.
Through the union of their respective children Deukalion and Pyrrha, the two brothers Prometheus and Epimetheus open the two lineages to seekers who follow an ascension of the planes of consciousness in the mind through Hellen and Protogenia.
The lineage of Hellen, and therefore of the Hellenes, the Greeks, “they who seek a liberation in the spirit”. (Not included here are those who are not yet truly engaged on the spiritual path, generally known as the Pelasgians, they who are “near the beginning” and who are the most ancient people of the Peloponnese pushed out of Thessaly by the Lapiths. Some claim that the impiety and arrogance of the Pelasgians brought about the deluge of Deucalion.)
The lineage of Protogenia, the “avant-garde” of the adventurers of consciousness.
The names Prometheus and Epimetheus are usually translated as “he who thinks first” and “he who thinks after action”, based on the interpretation of the parallel between μηθευς and “μανθανω, to understand”. Thus Prometheus would be able to predict the consequences of actions while his brother who only understand the surface reality would be unable to go against the natural evolutionary current.
This is why the warning given by Prometheus did not prevent his brother from accepting Pandora: the intuitive capacity of man cannot avoid the development of an unavoidable process of distancing.
An interpretation of the character structure supports this first approach. Prometheus – Pro + M + Θ (eus) – would by this analysis be “he who puts at the forefront his submission to what is born and expressed inwardly”, while his brother Epimetheus would be “he who remains at the surface of this submission”, in other words at the level of appearances. This is the primary meaning of Epi: on top, at the surface of.
As the inner being is in touch with Reality, he perceives actions and their consequences simultaneously. On the other hand the personality, the being of appearance, can only correct mistakes after they have occurred.
The nature of the two brothers describe the two aspects of man which come in contact with the mind: an inner being still connected with the Absolute, Prometheus, and a surface personality, Epimetheus, which cannot resist seizing “the fruit of knowledge” symbolised here by Pandora, the woman fashioned for him by the gods.
He therefore represents two aspects of the seeker who embarks on the quest: his inner being and an inferior nature emerging from the evolutionary process and still very identified with illusion, ignorance and external appearance.
It is with this dual nature that he must go forward, not rejecting either one or the other but supporting himself on both. The personality must be progressively liberated from the centralising and capturing movement of the ego put in place by nature for the sake of evolution. A purification followed by a progressive liberation must lead to the doors of transformation. In this book, the “ego” is used to signify the centralising movement coming forth from ignorance by which nature fulfills the process of individuation in a progressive acquiring of self-awareness. The ego, which implies an identification of our existence with our external self, must be firstly developed to then be widened and dissolved into a true personality. Sri Aurobindo, in The Life Divine, (Chapter: Progress to Knowledge), states that “man has to assert himself in ignorance before he can perfect himself in knowledge”.
The centralising movement contributes in the first place to the formation of the ego or the animal self, allowing for a separation from the group soul of the herd. Then when the being becomes sensitive to the mental changes which bring about the acquisition of “discernment”, The Fall is brought about. The process of centralisation which feeds the ego therefore exists before the feeling of “separateness” comes to the forefront in the mental space.
The ego exists only through its limits and perishes when these limits are lost. It is a formation (or deformation) of the mind, the vital and the physical body at the same time. There is therefore a successive liberation of the ego in the mind, in the vital and finally in the physical body.
The myth begins with the story of the partaking of Mekone, when the differences between gods and men were settled, and they separate from one another and stopped sharing their meals, which is to say when the first signs of division appeared.
Prometheus, carving up a large ox, prepared a first appetizing-looking portion by burying the bones in the fat, and then putting the best bits into the stomach of the sacrificed animal he prepared a second portion which looked repulsive. Zeus, not fooled by this trickery and foreseeing the troubles that mortals had in store chose the first portion, though he was filled with rage. He avenged himself on men by depriving them of lightning, which was the source of the fire lighted at the top of the ash trees where men came to seek it.
But Prometheus stole fire and hid it in a hollow fennel stem to give it to men again.
The story begins with the first separation of consciousness seeping into a state of nature close to Reality: the unity of childhood. An inner movement, the centralising sense of the ego through which man becomes inveigled, appears: gods and men cease sharing their meals. The evolutionary impulse manifests itself through Prometheus as through the snake of Genesis. (Some authors write of Proneia, “she who brings evolution forward”, as Prometheus’ wife.) The highest aspect of human consciousness which we can associate with the masters of wisdom is aware that this movement will cause great hardship, but also that it is inevitable, for Zeus is not fooled by the trickery.
The setting for this event is Mekone, “the plane of opium”, which is to say a falling asleep or inconscience: all this happens outside of man’s awareness. In the story of Genesis,”Yahweh caused a deep sleep to fall upon man”, and the first awareness of duality was manifested: Yahweh created woman from one of Adam’s ribs (actually, from a pillar (rib) of the Tree of Life). Actually, in the original text, it is not yet Eve, but only Isha, wife of Ish. It is the acquisition of the awareness of polarity, but without separation. Adam (Ish) and his wife (Isha) were both naked, and they felt no shame : there is neither shame not guilt yet.
(If woman is said to have been created from man, it is only because of the primacy of Being over the Power of Realisation.)
This first stage of the Fall makes man lose his natural proximity to Reality, to what is Divine in nature and with its highest manifestations which man was accustomed to seek at the summits of his vital nature. In fact, before this time Zeus would set alight the tops of the ash trees (the trees most often struck by thunder in ancient Greece), where men would come for fire. This means that the connection with the Absolute used to be established at the heights of the emotional vital being, in a simple and spontaneous way which can be observed in children. The intrusion of the mind with its accomplice doubt into human functioning rendered this direct contact impossible. God no longer strolled in Paradise. It seemed that a dense veil had slipped into the consciousness between Reality and mankind, creating a rupture which was in fact necessary for individuation to occur.
But the link was not completely broken. For without the knowledge of Zeus, Prometheus gave men the seed of fire which he had stolen, “sperma puros”. Hesiod does not specify the origin of fire. In other writings it comes either from Helius the sun or from the forge of Hephaestus: the connection with the Divine will henceforth be established by a direct contact with the soul, the supramental Helius, or by a mental fire (reduced by the phenomenon of alternation for Hephaestus is a lame blacksmith).
It is no longer a lightening fire, but rather a fire which smolders and consumes itself slowly as in a fennel stem: like the fire of the forge this inner fire must be constantly watched over and maintained.
The initiates of ancient time therefore considered Prometheus to be a benefactor of humanity, for he reminds man of his divine origin.
For many, he is also a source of inspiration for the arts, new inventions and for everything which elevates man and distances him from his animal nature.
(In the vital being, the expression of the Absolute can be considered to be the highest level of natural magic, of which some manifestations still live on in shamanic practices in the widest definition of the term. However many of the abilities, such as the intuitive knowledge of the healing powers of plants and crystals, seem to have disappeared.)
The myth continues in this way:
Zeus thought of casting a source of misfortune on men which they would at first cherish and be delighted by. He ordered Hephaestus to create a being made of earth and water, a virgin in the image of the immortal goddesses. Athena taught her the art of weaving and adorned her with ornaments, Aphrodite conferred upon her grace and painful desire, and Hermes gave her speech and instilled her with the spirit of a deceitful bitch.
When the creation was complete, Zeus named her Pandora. He then presented her to Epimetheus, who accepted the gift even though his brother had warned him to refuse any present from Zeus. Till this time, men had lived free from all afflictions.
But nearby was a carefully sealed jar filled with all the ills. When Pandora opened the jar they spilled out over the earth, with the assent of Zeus. By the will of the god only hope remained there in an unbreakable home within the rim of the great jar.
Then the earth and the oceans were filled with troubles, and illnesses were “deprived of the power of speech”.
Pandora carries the same symbolism as the apple of Genesis, the “fruit” of Knowledge: a “gift of the gods” accessible to man when he enters into the mind, but with which he must not identify. For these gifts (or possible realisations) are neither linked to the soul nor to the psychic being, being only attributes granted by the summits of mental consciousness to an entity emerging from matter and life (made of earth and water), an imitation of reality. This is therefore only a passing entity which vanishes with death. It is the personality closely associated with the body with which almost all human beings are identified. It is the symbol of the potentialities of the mind, of the knowledge emerging from below from matter rather than from the Spirit which only Prometheus can access. In a similar way, the tree of Knowledge is anchored in the earth rather than in the sky.
When the part of man which remains on the surface and occupies itself with the outer world identifies itself with Pandora and seizes knowledge for himself, all the ills which spill out of the jar automatically appear: attachment and desire and the suffering which they bring. Thus man will act according to his own law, not that of the Divine. But Prometheus, he who is capable of tying the bond again, as thin as it may be, with the inner fire given to men within the fennel stem, knows that the identification with the surface being dominated by the centralising movement of the ego brings with it a separation from Reality which can only be a source of suffering.
Also, Prometheus had specified that if was to accept a gift from Zeus, he must return it immediately. But Epimetheus “took the gift, and afterwards, when the evil thing was already his, he understood. ” (Works and Days, verse 83).
Even if the inner being, Prometheus, knows that he is being misled, the identification seems inescapable. For his voice is too weak in the face of the control of the mind on consciousness represented by Zeus. Since he defeated the Titans and swallowed Metis, the latter had in fact become the guide of this stage of evolution. Humanity will need to work long and hard to put an end to this identification with the external personality.
Zeus uses the same “trickery” as the snake in Genesis (the ultimate symbol of evolution): seduction.
For man (Epimetheus), the “gifts” with which Pandora was adorned represent the sparkle of what is gained through knowledge. While they represent only images of Reality, they are indispensable intermediaries in the quest for Knowledge which man aspires to: what is “new” (virgin beauty), the capacity to exceed oneself (similar to an immortal goddess), and the variety of paths leading to the Absolute (the woven cloths of innumerable colors given by Athena). But he is also subjected to the counterpart of this: love is submitted to the tyranny of desires and anxieties as well as to suffering (gifts of Aphrodite), a mendacious “sincere will” to submit to Reality, characterising the hypocritical aspect in every man (the deceitful bitch) which puts the satisfaction of its own desires first rather than submitting to the inner being.
Finally Hermès bestowed Pandora with the gift of a voice: the voice is a symbol of true expression, of what “names” in accordance to the Truth of things. In this case however, Hermes “contrived within her lies and crafty words and a deceitful nature at the will of loud thundering Zeus ” likely to seduce Epimetheus. (Ref. “Works and Days”, Hesiod, trans. H.G. Evelyn-White, verse 69).
Thus the cause for the Fall is not Pandora herself, but rather the will of Epimetheus to take ownership of her, just as it is not the tree of knowledge of good and evil which creates a problem but rather the eating of its fruits and keeping them for oneself. This will of appropriation perverts the process of the construction of the ego, which in its time is indispensable to build up individuality, to extract man from his coating of ignorance, free him from the collective “herd” and develop his potential.
The opening of the jar is the automatic counterpart to the identification with the surface personality and the body. It unleashes obstacles necessary for evolution, “countless plagues “. Before this time, mankind instinctively knew “their message”, but when the jar was opened Zeus “took away speech from them”: illnesses, sufferings and death could no longer integrate into the right evolutionary process, for man could no longer understand the meaning behind them. Instead he analyses them from the heights of his mind, and his spontaneous reactions become false. As he progresses into the separative part of the cycle, his perception of Reality becomes blunter. In the end, he accepts falsehood as Truth in all good faith.
In accordance to the will of Zeus, Hope, founded on the knowledge of the participation with Unity, “remained within its unbreakable home within the rim of the great jar” (Works and Days, verse 90). Here what is spoken about is not expectation, a mental projection, but rather Hope, which is of the order of faith and is therefore the inner certainty which in the preceding stage was still instinctive. This knowledge of “Unity” thus remains hidden from man till he can find it again in himself. The lack of hope becomes an evolutionary spur. If Hope had been given along with the rest, ills would not have been deprived of the ability to communicate, and man would have been able to understand the reasons for his suffering. He would then not have been in a position to undergo what is known in Genesis as “the test of liberty” through which he becomes aware of duality, which is to say the operation of a widening of consciousness indissociable with the “liberation” of desires, ego and attachments.
In fact, the myth specifies that Hope remains “within the rim of the great jar”, or in other words accessible to whomever gives himself the means of reestablishing contact with it. At every moment, man is capable of using the obstacle, of “understanding” the meaning of what happens to him. He must simply be able to take a step backwards and not identify himself with his personality and his body: he must transgress the order of Zeus. And this requires a conscious work on the “little things” which, deepened by Achilles, will grant the Greeks victory during the Trojan war. During this endeavor, the seeker is warned of possible false starts by a feeling of inner unease.
A bringing to light similar to this period of evolution is spoken about in Genesis, with an insistence on certain particular points which do not appear in Greek mythology.
In both accounts man lived in paradise-like conditions, in an Eden or Golden Age which was lost to him. He then clashed with an all-powerful god, perhaps an even cruel or sadistic one.
Both myths insistently put forth the notion of “discernment “, ascribing the responsibility for the unleashing of all ills on the desire to possess the “fruits of wisdom” (the apple and Pandora): these are the effects of the first tremors of the mind striving for “understanding” and associated with the separative ego.
At the beginning of this narrative humanity is still in its infancy, in a golden age still unconscious of duality. This time corresponds to the developmental stage observed in children between the ages of 4 and 5, who, although already sexual, display only a spontaneous and natural curiosity for alterity. It is the time of paradise, of the garden of Eden, where Yahweh would stroll about freely. Everything went perfectly in this paradise. Yahweh then placed in this world Adam, whom he built from the dust of the earth (adama). Eve is not yet mentioned. The name of the woman given by Yahweh to man so that he would not be alone was Isha, created from a “rib” or “pillar” of the tree of life and not from a “rib” of Adam as was wrongly interpreted later on. Each of its sides, ribs or “pillars” is attributed to one of the two opposing forces, fusion and separation, and the currents of energy weave themselves around them in an alternating pattern to form the Caduceus. Here duality is a potential, but has not yet come into being. Man is still at the developmental stage of his vital emotional nature.
His relationship with the environment is still of a fusionary and instinctive nature. His thoughts are turned towards the present moment, and are only preoccupied with vital necessities. He reacts to external demands in a more or less impulsive way, and has not yet acquired a capacity for discernment (the movement of stepping back and of separation necessary for a shift in consciousness has not yet occurred). His relationship with the Absolute establishes itself in the highest part of his vital emotional being and therefore through nature, the strongest and purest expression of this as symbolised by the garden and its fruits. In the Greek myths men would seek fire, their point of contact with Reality, at the summits of ash trees. (Melia means “ash tree”. She is the wife of Inachos, “he who is not yet human”, himself son of the Titan Oceanos who begins the lineage of the “evolutionary process in accordance with nature”). This is why in Genesis as well as in Greek mythology men were known to be vegetarians.
But at the heart of this harmony something causes intrigue, a tree the fruits of which man must not eat. Actually there are two trees in this garden: the tree of life and the tree of “the knowledge of good and evil” with its “forbidden fruit”. The first represents the evolutionary process within the consciousness of Unity, and the second represents growth within the process of individuation based on discernment. This tree must not be confused with the symbol of “the tree of life” which we have spoken about previously and which is itself made up of two trees.
Then appeared the snake, a symbol of evolution within the cycles. It is through woman, the intuitive polarity and therefore the first to become aware of the transformation to come, that begins the mutation, the entry into the separative movement aimed at the acquisition of discernment, for “your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good from evil”: There was therefore in man a strong inner impulse of divine nature for evolution.
From this moment only Ish and Isha become Adam and Eve, the individualised couple. Man shouts out the name of his wife, “Eve” (Living-Hava), “mother of all life”. And Yahweh symbolically protects with the flames of a burning sword the access to the tree of life, for it seems that Adam and Eve had no wish to touch it: the vast majority of humankind, dominated by the process of separation necessary for the formation of the ego, does not in fact worry about finding the path of lost unity again. Similarly, Hope remains within the jar in accordance with the will of Zeus.
There is however a noteworthy difference between these two myths: in the Greek myth it was not men who were responsible for the fall but the Titan Prometheus, who payed dearly for his aid to mortals.
Ascribing the original sin to the gods, the Greeks thus liberated themselves from the concept of guilt which still weighs heavily on the western Christian world. In Genesis on the other hand, shame and guilt coincide with the appropriation of knowledge:
Ish et Isha were naked but did not feel shame. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realised that they were naked”: shame.
Then they heard the voice of Yahweh in the garden and hid themselves: guilt.
These two feelings seem to be compensations for the experience of separation. Shame is linked to self image, and allows one to maintain a sense of integrity of this image. Meanwhile guilt is linked to the group and seeks to maintain its cohesion, but without putting in question one’s self image. It is interesting to note that in the East, where the sense of group predominates, much importance has been ascribed to shame, as if in any case the primacy of the group could not be shaken. On the other hand the West is more individualistic, and gave greater importance to guilt as the sense of personal independence could not be put into question. This point should be studied in conjunction with the study of the differences of functioning between the East and the West in accordance with the prevalence of one or the other of the “two brains”.
Shame and guilt appear from the moment when the consciousness of the dividing rupture manifests itself. Actually they seem to be the automatic compensations to the process of discernment when the child (or man) cuts himself apart from his inner being, which is not in fact “separate”. They disappear from the moment in which man regains his sense of unity, whatever the path may be (admitting fault and forgiveness, becoming aware of error and rectifying accordingly, purification and liberation, etc.).
As a centralizing movement, the ego itself cannot reestablish the ruptured connection which it suffers from and makes use of at the same time, and can therefore not free itself from guilt. For this the being must surrender to something wider than himself.
Guilt can seep in when actions deviate even slightly from the sense of inner rightness, but it is especially linked to the presence of the ego. When there is in fact a deviation, it must evolve towards the sole perception “of something jarring within oneself” and towards the immediate will to readjust.
The punishment of Prometheus
Zeus had Prometheus chained to a pillar in the faraway north and send an eagle to torment him. During the day, the eagle fed on Prometheus’ liver, which would regenerate during the night.
The reason for this punishment was not only the theft of fire, but also the numerous instances in which Prometheus “the benefactor” had provided help to mortals in all areas of life.
The account of the punishment given here is that of Aeschylus. It does not appear in Hesiod’s version. According to Apollodorus, the eagle was a son of Typhon and Echidna and therefore the combined result of the ignorance and perversion of evolution. He therefore suggests that it is the identification of Epimetheus with Pandora which brings about the loss of the inner contact.
During his last labour, (or in the before-last labour according to some versions), Heracles killed the eagle in accordance with the will of Zeus.
This myth takes us back to the cycles of the mind which we have already described, marked by the alternating forces of separation and fusion. At the highest level, this is the projection of the Absolute outside Himself followed by his return to Himself symbolised by the character Rho. Expansion/contraction on the material plane and growth/absorption of the life plane. (Cf. the study of the god Hephaestus in the chapter about the Olympian gods.)
As the duration of a cycle is very long compared to the vestiges that we keep of the human evolution, the awareness of the phenomenon by the initiates most probably only occurred at the beginning of a phase of separation. Indeed, if the the writing appeared during a period of fusion, it would not have been necessary to elaborate encrypted myth only in order to keep obvious ideas for all. It was the entry into a period necessary for individuation, and therefore moving away from nature in its essence and from the sacred, which justified the secret preservation of the knowledge of the process.
The cycles in the mind actually do not influence humankind as long as the latter is still in the world of childhood, not because they do not exist but rather because they do not find any resonance in man who lives essentially in his world of feelings and images. There is no resonance.
But the more thought and reflection take their place and the more sensitivity is sharpened and mental consciousness is forged, the more man despite himself lives increasingly under the influence of these forces and their alternation.
Therefore the initiates of ancient times considered that during childhood energy circulates freely between spirit and matter in an harmonious functioning akin to the forces of fusion and separation. For on the vital plane instinct oversees both the perception of what needs to be done and its execution. This is why the symbol which applies itself to this period is the character S “the upright serpent ” of Genesis.
When entering the mental plane on the other hand, the circulation of energy oscillates between the two functions of the mind, reason and intuition, in accordance with the symbol of the serpent which crawls upon its belly, which symbol is the character N. Henceforth evolution does not follow the right movement of the Absolute, but rather develops in accordance with nature. (Ref. Genesis 3.14.) If the “upright serpent” can also be associated with the infinity symbol, vertically depicted as the figure 8, then the “laying down serpent” can be associated with the symbol and the beginning of this movement symbolised by the unfinished symbol alpha . The Bible describes some specific points about the relation between man and evolution in this new phase of progressing in the mental plane as Yahweh tells the snake “I shall put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; it will bruise your head and you will strike its heel.” (Genesis 3.15): while the human mind will act to slow down evolution, the latter will make humankind “limp” just as Hephaestus does, for it still functions only according to one of the poles.
But man was not meant to leave this period of fusion without a deep sense of nostalgia. This ultimate resistance to entering into the separative mental period is recounted in the story of the tower of Babel. Contrary to many interpretations, men in fact chose to remain united and were punished for this. Yahweh came down to earth to see what went on there and concluded that: “they are all a single people with a single language! This is only the start of their undertakings! Now nothing they plan to do will be beyond them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they cannot understand one another” (Gen. 11. 6-7). In fact, it was no longer the time for the group to be of primary importance. It was absolutely necessary for man to become individualised, to remove himself from the hold of the clan and to accept the process of individuation. This is why the Fall was also known as the trial of man’s Freedom.
The punishment of Prometheus is therefore linked to the alternation of forces in the mental plane. The day symbolises periods of distancing and drawing away from, of separation during which the link to Reality becomes distended (the liver diminishes), while the night favors closeness with the Absolute (the liver regenerates itself)
For the seeker, the submission to the cycles of the mind and therefore, during the separative period, the suffering of losing faith (inflicted by the eagle) carry on as long as the intellect has not established its right place as a tool of execution which does not interfere with intuition, which is to say as long as mental silence has not been firmly established. As this realisation is often a progressive and gradual one, it is difficult to situate the liberation of the hero from the influence of those cycles within the Labours of Heracles. In fact, the seeker can realise that he has freed himself from the cycles in certain domains well before he enters a state of union with the Absolute.
The slaying of the eagle by Heracles occurs during one of his last Labours, which is to say when the seeker discovers the secrets which “guard immortality” (the dog Cerberus) or when he becomes “one who knows” (the apples of the Hesperides).
Later on, Aeschylus wrote a version of “Prometheus unbound ” which we know nothing of, but later tradition ascribes the account of the liberation of the Titan to Heracles. Apollodorus mentions an exchange of the boon of immortality between Chiron and Prometheus, but this version is not unanimously agreement upon. This episode will be examined during the third Labour of Heracles.
Deucalion and Pyrrha: the myth of the great flood
Prometheus fathered a son, Deucalion, whose mother is sometimes known as Pronoia, “she who thinks ahead”, or “providence, she who saves”. In other version his mother is Hesione, “human mind”.
Deucalion married his cousin Pyrrha, “the red-headed one”, daughter of Epimetheus. This union indicates a will to realise spiritual union through a development in the highest levels of the mind. (The filiation of Epimetheus is only mentioned by Apollodorus.)
Pyrrha is the first mortal to have been born of a natural union, and thus represents the possibility of a purely human realisation.
The etymology of the name Deucalion remains obscure. It may originate from the words Δευω “wetting” or “not succeeding”, and καλια, “hut or cabin” in relation to the deluge. It could also be interpreted though Δ+καλ : ” he who calls for union”. It would seem that his identification as Noah in the biblical account occurred later on. This myth was first recounted by Apollodorus, a compiler of myths who lived in the first or second century of our era.
Zeus wanted to destroy the brazen race when he witnessed its violence and vice. Following the instruction of Prometheus, Deucalion made a “chest” which he filled with provisions and set sail with his spouse Pyrrha. Zeus then sent forth a deluge which wiped away all men except those who had sought refuge in the high mountains.
Deucalion and Pyrrha then wandered on the waters for nine days and nine nights before reaching the coast of Thessaly.
(In Genesis the calculation of the duration of the flood is much more complex as it includes 40 days of rain, 150 days of floods and the different stages of the receding of the floods; this account therefore calls for a particular decryption.)
Zeus sent his herald Hermes to offer them the realisation of a single wish. Deucalion chose to bring forth a new human race. Following the instructions of Zeus, Deucalion and Pyrrha hurled stones over their heads, thus creating beings of their own gender.
According to exegetes and climatologists, this myth preserves the memory of exceptional floods in Mesopotamia in the third millennium, or more improbably climatic anomalies which marked the entry into the Neolithic 11,000 years ago and caused massive inundations in Egypt of more than eight or nine meters above sea level. (Cf. Midant-Reynes, Beatrix Prehistory of Egypt. Trans. Ian Shaw. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2000.)
Deucalion and Pyrrha had several children, amongst whom Hellen and Protogenia who were at the origin of the two great lineages of this branch.
On the spiritual plane, the flood or deluge symbolises a deep cleansing of beliefs and formations inherited from the past, of which only some essential elements must be kept.
According to Apollodorus it occurred during the evolutionary phase which Hesiod identifies as “the brazen race”, corresponding to the third stage of mental evolution associated with the development of the intellect. (cf. below). When man realises that the latter cannot answer his most essential queries he is faced with an important calling into question.
But the Absolute does not leave the seeker stranded in a desert: it offers him new bases for the nascent spiritual path in accordance with his nature and through his highest capacities (Hermes). It will be the ancient memories of humankind (stones) which will serve as ferment for this emergence. In Ovid’s recounting the stones are associated with “the grandmother’s bones” and carry the same symbolism of physical memory.
The nine days and nine nights of wandering are symbolic of the gestation which leads the seeker to the beginning of the path on the coasts of Thessaly, province of the first spiritual realisations.
The children of Deukalion and Pyrrha, Hellen and Protogenia, open the two main lineages of development in the superior planes of consciousness. The lineage of Hellen includes the ascension through the planes of consciousness outlined by the list of Pleiades, daughters of Atlas. On the other hand, the lineage of Protogenia makes explicit the realisations of the “adventurers of consciousness”, the guides of humanity.
The five “races” of humanity according to Hesiod.
Before proceeding with what could seem to be moral considerations, Hesiod concludes his description of human evolution by defining five stages of mental growth and development.
But while describing the progressive fall by which humankind is gradually distanced from Truth, he highlights by contrast the ascension of a human elite striving for spiritual heights. While reading his description one must therefore keep in mind the image of the play of the ying and yang polarities (as in the symbol of Tao), in which the seed of light grows while at the same time darkness continues expanding unceasingly as well.
As humankind submits increasingly to the forces of individuation and experiences the loss of true direction brought about in the majority of cases by a still all-powerful ego, a dwindling minority keeps feeding their inner fire and strives to pierce towards the summits present beyond the mind. Although Hesiod perceives signs of this in the first stages he seems to have given up all hope in the Iron Age in which he lived.
“Thereafter, would that I were not among the men of the fifth generation, but either had died before or been born afterwards. For now truly is a race of iron, and men never rest from labour and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night; and the gods shall lay sore trouble upon them. But, notwithstanding, even these shall have some good mingled with their evils. And Zeus will destroy this race of mortal men also when they come to have grey hair on the temples at their birth. The father will not agree with his children, nor the children with their father, nor guest with his host, nor comrade with comrade; nor will brother be dear to brother as aforetime. Men will dishonour their parents as they grow quickly old, and will carp at them, chiding them with bitter words, hard-hearted they, not knowing the fear of the gods. They will not repay their aged parents the cost their nurture, for might shall be their right: and one man will sack another’s city. There will be no favour for the man who keeps his oath or for the just or for the good; but rather men will praise the evil-doer and his violent dealing. Strength will be right and reverence will cease to be; and the wicked will hurt the worthy man, speaking false words against him, and will swear an oath upon them. Envy, foul-mouthed, delighting in evil, with scowling face, will go along with wretched men one and all. And then Aidos and Nemesis [shame of wrongdoing and indignation against the wrongdoer], with their sweet forms wrapped in white robes, will go from the wide-pathed earth and forsake mankind to join the company of the deathless gods: and bitter sorrows will be left for mortal men, and there will be no help against evil.”
Such were Hesiod’s complaints 2700 years ago, predicting the sad future of this iron race, ” when they will come to have grey hair on the temples at their birth”, which is to say when they become old before their time and are flooded by fears, when the intellect, naturally tending towards fixity, will have become an all-powerful master on the point of making all life disappear. For this reasoning mind originating from the movement of separation, the only ultimate expression possible is a frozen desert in which each being is fixed in his solitude, cut out from the warmth of life.
Since this myth was recorded, more than three thousand years have passed. Even if there have been brief periods known as “the Middle Ages”, it would require a very attentive observer to descry signs that humankind has truly inversed this movement by a return to what is sacred.
According to the theory of cycles discussed in the previous chapter and considering the succession of generations in the lineage of the Titan Oceanos, we can situate the entry into the process of “rebirth/renaissance” of the great cycle at the end of the Neolithic period, at the time of the first civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. This was approximately six thousand five hundred years ago, at the beginning of the era of Taurus and a thousand years before the first pictographs.
That would place the present day at the very end of the period of separation, at the time of the reversal of energies. In homothety with the secondary cycles of two thousand one hundred and sixty years, we would be on the point of embarking upon a period similar to that of the slow disintegration of the Roman Empire, a new period of six thousand five hundred years which would lead us into the fusionary part of the cycle.
But we must look at the very beginning, at the golden race created by the gods when Cronus ruled over the sky, described thus in verse 109 of Hesiod’s Works and Days:
“They lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: miserable age rested not on them; but with legs and arms never failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all evils. When they died, it was as though they were overcome with sleep. After their deaths, Zeus made of them divine forces, guardians of mortal men.”
This description can be likened to that of paradise, the garden of Eden which we have compared to the state of early childhood. There men lived in complete harmony with the forces of nature, without any mental intervention. They were not conscious of time, and death was not associated with any mental panic. Some say that Athena was still a very young girl at this time, which is to say that the inner quest had just barely begun.
From this period of harmony humankind seems to have retained an inner knowledge, a “sense of lack” which motivates seekers to search for the original state of joy after having acquired individuation (freedom) by a progression through the mental plane.
The Fall came to disturb this harmony, for being called to wider horizons humanity had only attained a provisory summit.
As barbarous as our era may seem however, it must not cause a sense of nostalgia for this golden race, for at that time sensitivity and individuality were but beginning to develop. Man lived in an “animal” harmony, in a mass consciousness of the “herd” with very little mastery over his emotions and impulses.
The second race is that of silver. While the golden race is associated with the physical mind, the silver race can be associated with the development of the vital mind.
According to Hesiod, the silver race was markedly inferior to the first. For a hundred years, the child grew without intelligence and in complete submission to his mother. But having attained adolescence, he did not have much longer to live, being a victim of his foolishness. Abandoning themselves to violence amongst themselves, men refused to honour the gods. However, since their race was buried under earth, mortals named them the “pure spirits dwelling in the earth” (Works and Days, verse 140) and their memory is respected.
These were men governed by their senses, lacking individualisation and still not able to regulate their desires and impulses. As long as he is dependent on his mother, he remains within the innocence of harmony. From the moment that the first steps of individuation occur, he succumbs to the conflicts of the ego.
All the same, as the mind was only beginning to develop the men of this period remained largely under the influence of the forces of nature, which is why they were named the pure but inconscient (“pure spirits dwelling in the earth”)
The third race is the brazen race.
Their only interest was in fighting, and they ate no bread. Their tools and weapons were made of bronze, and “their strength was great and their hearts terrifying and hard as steel. They destroyed each other and went into the vast domain of Hades deprived of glory. As fearsome as they were, death carried them away and they deserted the shining light of the sun.” (Works and Days, verse 140)
In this race is described a deepening of the mind but lacking a refinement of the vital (they did not use flour) Men were not yet very sensitive (hearts hard as steel), but showed a strong vitality. Led by an ego-controlled intellect which always wanted to be right, they were very querulous.
They stopped accepting death as a simple passage and became conscious of duality, losing the inner contact (the light of Helius).
The fourth race also seemed to be a brazen one, although Hesiod dos not specify this. However it was ” nobler and more righteous, a god-like race of hero-men who are called demi-gods, the race before our own, throughout the boundless earth. Grim war and dread battle destroyed a part of them, some in the land of Cadmus at seven-gated Thebe when they fought for the flocks of Oedipus, and some, when war had brought them in ships over the great sea gulf to Troy for rich-haired Helen’s sake: there death’s end enshrouded a part of them. But to the others father Zeus, the son of Cronos, gave a living and an abode apart from men, and made them dwell at the ends of earth. And they live untouched by sorrow in the islands of the blessed.” (Works and Days, verse 156)
This fourth race describes a period of high spiritual realisation, some of which disappeared in time while some aspects remained definitively, the harmony of the first golden race of the time of Cronos having been regained but this time sustained by consciousness. This apparent “abnormality” in the Fall corresponding to the process of individuation can also be put in relation with the Greek Middle Ages (or Dark Ages) extending from 1200 to 800 years before our era. This was a period of closeness with the sacred, the decline of which Hesiod may have observed. He may have thus confused the rhythm of the great cycle with the before-last period of the lesser cycle. This seems to be confirmed by Ovid’s view, as he describes the four ages (gold, silver, brazen and iron), but does not at any point mention an age of heroes.
They were however only “demi-gods”, not having accomplished the totality of the progress through the mental plane.
Then came the iron race, to which, like Hesiod, we belong. This race submerges itself in the night of matter so as to bring consciousness to it, manipulating it in every possible way, sometimes savagely. It must allow some conquerors of Truth to accomplish the miracle awaited for millions of years, that of the joining of spirit and matter so as to open the way for a “divine materialism”.
This succession of races facilitates a condensed illustration of the double movement already discussed: as humankind evolves, sensitivity is refined as well as the ability to investigate the inconscient. But for the past thirteen thousand years and till the present day, humankind has at the same time sunk more and more into darkness under the combined effect of the cycles of the mind and of the ego. It would also be possible to interpret the myth of the five races according to the five successive periods of yoga, which bring the seeker into and increasingly deep exploration of evolutionary memories.