Poseidon, the second son of Cronos, is the god of the waters, but not of all waters, for he only rules over the seas, lakes and springs. Rivers, images of currents of energy, depend on the Titan Oceanos and are controlled by other gods.
Deities linked to the watery worlds, for which the ancient Greeks used specific terms, are to be attentively differentiated.
Pontos, known as ‘the sea stream’ or ‘the sea of sterile floods’ in mythology, was brought to life by Gaia without the intervention of a male power, as was Ouranos. He belongs to the first divine generation and is a symbol of Life coexisting with Matter and Spirit, one and indivisible: hence the qualifier ‘of sterile floods’. He precedes the Titans, and therefore precedes human consciousness. His five children borne by his mother Gaia represent evolutionary stages of the development of the vital. The eldest is Nereus, “the old man of the sea”, who represents the very first stage of animal evolution with the appearance of the first cells.
Pontos is associated with the high seas, for he is linked to the ‘depths of life’ and its deities and monsters.
As the subconscious is closely related to vital manifestations, Poseidon, brother of Zeus and master of the subconscious, is the ‘Ποντο-μεδων, the king of the sea’. The term Pelasgian or Pelasgus (πελαγος) is also associated to him, at least in Hesiod’s works, for it suggests a dimension of depth and danger.
The second term which we could erroneously attribute to the world of water is Oceanos. A Titanic deity of the second generation, Oceanos is a force of creation, a symbol of the currents of energy-consciousness which run through the entire universe as well as our bodies, present in both the macrocosm and the microcosm. To make the suggested images and the natural elements coincide, the initiates of ancient times assigned rivers and streams to his influence. His children are therefore too numerous to be calculated.
In later periods of Greek history his name was associated to the ‘outer sea’, the Atlantic Ocean, but this word was never used in that sense in primitive mythology.
The third term used to designate the sea is Thalassa, Θαλασσα (Θαλαττα Thalatta in the Attic form), the root of which is thal, Θαλ, which signifies ‘pressing forward or growing’. It is linked to evolution, and therefore to the journey of the seeker. But Homer also speaks of ατρυγετοιο Θαλασσης when Zeus, upon triumphing over the Titans, banishes Cronos under the earth and the sterile sea, which is to say to a place in which the evolution of life comes to a standstill. We will therefore come across this term in the myths of the great epic voyages across the seas.
Finally, two other terms are used to describe the sea: ‘als’, which designates both salt and sea, seems to be associated with the essence of life, liberty (vital fire liberated from all sentimentality), and ‘nau’, which is used in the context of navigation and therefore in the context of the orientation and progress of the quest.
Poseidon is the second son of the Titan Cronos, following Hades and preceding Zeus. He belongs to the third generation of gods, that which rules over the world of forms. Let us remember that in the division of the world of consciousness between the three brothers, it is to him that was assigned the subconscious, the vast reservoir that registers the slightest phenomenon of the mind and vital and the slightest of sensations. And as the sea is both a symbolic expression of life and the place which preserves the memories of evolution, Poseidon is its master.
Poseidon is not the subconscious itself, but rather the power of the overmind which strives towards its transformation.
Complementary to Demeter, his name could be understood as ‘the master (Ποσει) of union (Δ)’. While the goddess maintains the tension necessary for the aim of perfection, Poseidon ensures that nothing is left behind. His action is not always justly appreciated, for he brings issues to light through emotional, mental and physical shocks which are the psychological distortions and imperfections of the seeker.
As vital manifestations most often remain outside the control of the intellect, he is the god of stormy seas more than the one of calm waters. As emotions have strong psychosomatic repercussions on the body he is also known as the ‘shaker of the earth’, or the ‘support of the earth’, earth being in this case associated with the body.
As the master of vital energy he can set off storms as well as save sinking ships by appeasing raging waters. At times he also causes bulls surge into existence, the latter representing the ‘power of the luminous mind’ which we must master and put under the yoke to sacrifice to the Divine. In the case of Minos he made a magnificent bull to emerge from the sea, bull which the hero could not resolve to sacrifice, leading to the origin of the Minotaur.
But it is his association to the horse that is primary, for the latter is a symbol of vital force which can be or has been disciplined, and therefore a symbol of vital power. When he strives for mastery Poseidon is known as ‘the tamer of horses’, and sometimes assigns to the seeker the horse corresponding to his particular stage of development and progress, as in the horses of Idas, Pelops of Adraste.
Uniting with Medusa he fathered Chrysaor, ‘the man of the golden sword’ and Pegasus, ‘the winged horse’ or ‘liberated vital energy’ at the service of the mind.
He coupled with Medusa, one of the Gorgons and granddaughter of Pontos, a symbol of the fear which man needs for his evolution. Fear is therefore under the control of Poseidon. But when fear ceases powerful forces are liberated (symbolised by the severed head of Medusa): then appears a dauntless warrior, Chrysaor, and a powerful vital force able to elevate itself to participate in the yogic process, Pegasus. The Mother states that a very important stage in the yogic progression is surpassed when the vital freely accepts to collaborate.
The inferior planes of Poseidon’s kingdom are the home of impulses, desires, sensations, emotions, passions, anger, fear, greed and covetousness and the possessive instinct.
At the lower frontiers skirting the realm of Hades the seeker broaches the planes of the vital most deeply rooted in matter, which is why Homer describes the horses of Poseidon’s chariot as having brazen hooves.
We have already described the division of the kingdoms of consciousness between the three brothers on several occasions. It is however useful to return to this point and add some details regarding the realm of Poseidon, as the terms of modern language used to discuss consciousness are not necessarily used in the same way in this work. I have used the definitions given by Sri Aurobindo, which correspond to those of Greek mythology (given in Sri Aurobindo’s Letters on Yoga, part II, Chapter ‘Planes of the Being’).
Consciousness, or waking physical consciousness, represented by the surface of the earth, is the shared domain of the three brothers. Its boundaries are not the same for every individual as each person has a different experience of the planes surrounding it.
The kingdom of Hades, the inconscient, is a consciousness closed upon itself and evolving within itself, which contains everything but in which nothing is formulated or expressed.
The subconscious, the kingdom of Poseidon, is the part of our being in which there is neither will nor consciously awakened feeling, and which receives and stores every one of our impressions and experience. It contains all the primitive reactions of a life striving to emerge from matter. Everything that is repressed sinks and remains lodged there, ready to manifest itself at every opportunity. From this area, unresolved things resurface through dreams or in the waking condition in a mechanical, repetitive, obstinate way, often without any relation to current situations. These are largely responsible for our illnesses.
This subconscious belongs to the three planes of the mind, the vital and the physical, and is universal as much as it is individual.
Although it is one of the primary obstacles to yogic progress, Sri Aurobindo advises that one should only engage with it to reject it as something distinct from our essential nature, and only as a result of the action of ignorance. But focusing on this imperfect aspect of our nature causes depression and must therefore be avoided.
Outside of these three planes and far lower than the kingdom of Hades is the realm of the negation of Spirit, Tartarus, which Sri Aurobindo refers to as Nescience. Its name is composed in the classical form x+Ρx, here Τ+ΡΤ, ‘spirit + reversal (of spirit) in accordance to the plane of truth’. In Hesiod’s words, it is a region as far away from Hades as the earth is from the sky, and ‘a brazen anvil falling from earth nine nights and days would reach Tartarus upon the tenth’. (Hesiod, Theogony 713)
Finally, above the three lower planes of consciousness is situated the supramental. In mythology, it is represented by the plane of creation of the Titans and of some of their children.
In the first phase of yoga, the seeker is mostly in relation with the world of Zeus and his children. As he moves forward he descends progressively into the layers of the subconscious and is faced with the challenges of Poseidon with increasing frequency, as is Ulysses for example. Finally, the ‘adventures of consciousness’ which form part of the yoga of the body and in some individuals reach the cellular level penetrate into the kingdom of Hades, as they do in the cases of Heracles and Ulysses.
Like Demeter, who induces a coming and going from the kingdom of Hades with Persephone as an intermediary, Poseidon too dwells in his golden palace beneath the sea during certain periods, and on Mount Olympus during others.
His palace is named Aegae, ‘the beginning of consciousness’. This explains its mythical location off the coast of Samothrace, the site of Mystery Schools preceding those of Eleusis. Orpheus initiated the Argonauts to the mysteries of Samothrace during one of the initial periods of the path.
It is also said that Aegae was situated off the coast of Euboea, ‘the place of incarnation’.
Poseidon’s temperament is akin to the qualities of emotional tempestuousness which he elicits within us; he is said to be ill-tempered, baleful, jealous and always unsatisfied.
But in what concerns this god, his characteristics do not only point to the necessary work of mastery over these same forces within the seeker, but also to the attitude that must be adopted in regards to the quest; if Poseidon is ill-tempered it is because we cannot satisfy ourselves with false appearances or half-hearted engagements, as broaching the deep layers of consciousness is a difficult process. If he is irritable and baleful it is because tepid feelings are not suitable, and the transformation of our vital nature cannot be carried out without undergoing intense storms. If he is resentful, it is because the memories lodged in the subconscious will one day or the other return to the surface to be appropriately addressed.
As the ‘master of horses’ and thus of vital power, Poseidon offers the best amongst them to those heroes who have accomplished great feats in the domain of mastery over the vital. He gifted winged horses to Pelops, who wed Hippodamia, ‘she who masters horses’, for the former had succeeded in mastering vital energy without repression or rejection. He also presented Peleus with the famous horses Balios ‘the swift’ and Xanthos ‘light golden yellow’, who later became the horses of Achilles.
As a deity he is therefore strongly present in the advanced phases of yoga, during which one must fulfill the difficult equilibrium of a mastery over the energy of life whilst ensuring its full development, for the latter is for a long time the motor force and the source of enthusiasm of the quest.
This aids in surpassing all propensity for judgment, bringing one face to face with the impulses of life beyond attractions, repulsions and disgust.
However, man’s vital does not cooperate spontaneously in the yogic process. Originating from an evolution within ignorance, it is naturally ridden with emotions, agitation and vital exchanges, and in its higher layers with art and beauty, and must be transformed rather than repressed. This makes for a form of yoga more arduous that the yoga which aims at perfecting the mind, for it demands much greater perseverance in facing increasingly deeply rooted and repetitive patterns.
Poseidon competed with the other gods to become the patron guarding deity of certain great city-states of ancient Greece representative of particular stages of the quest, but without success; Zeus won Aegina, Dionysus Naxos, Hera Argolis, Apollo Delphi, Helios Corinth and Athena Attica.
He only obtained a partial victory in Trezenia, where he shared the role of patron deity with Athena. In fact, in the conscious organisation represented by a city Poseidon could only engender confusion, as he did not have a counterpart. Trezenia is the native city of Theseus, whose divine father is Poseidon, and the ‘return to order’ of the path undertaken by this hero had to be assisted as much by the subconscious, Poseidon, as by the conscious, Athena.
Logically, Poseidon married one the deities of the greatest depths of the vital, Amphitrite the daughter of Nereus, “the old man of the sea”. She bore him a son, Triton, half of whose body was that of a fish and the other half that of a man. It is said that Amphitrite was reticent in uniting her life to her husband’s, preferring to remain a virgin in the company of her sisters and parents as had done the other Nereids.
Nereus, “the old man of the sea”, symbolises the first level of development of life emerging from matter and is associated to the cellular level. The name of his daughter Amphitrite signifies ‘everything that concerns the third’’, which is a rather obscure indication. We can only suppose that this refers to the most archaic level, the corporeal vital beneath the mental vital (Phorcys-Ceto), and the pure vital (Thaumas) (Refer to diagram 2). If Amphitrite preferred to remain a virgin in the depths of the sea in the company of her sisters and parents instead of living by the side of her spouse on Olympus, it is probably because at that level of archaic consciousness the subconscious elements are very resistant to evolution (such as the evolution incarnated by Poseidon, the master of union), and they prefer to remain within what is known.
Triton, the son of Poseidon and Amphitrite, translates the work of penetration and transformation of the archaic layers of life. It is said that he is familiar with the deep-sea monsters who are often part of his following, and represent the archaic impulses of life in the body. This is why he ‘evokes fear’.
Despite having a similar morphology to that of the later popular image of the Sirens (half woman, half fish), he is in no way related to them since these symbol belongs to northern Europe mythology. In primitive Greek mythology, the Sirens were winged beings with a morphology closer to that of birds.
Also related to the figure three, the trident is an attribute of Poseidon. It was offered to him during the war of the gods against the Titans by the Cyclopes, ‘they who possess the vision of truth’ and symbols of divine omniscience. It could be linked to the Tree of Life, in which three ‘paths’ branch out in an upward direction from the sphere of Yesod (The Sephira of the vital world), with one path branching out in the downward direction, the whole creating the image of a trident (refer to the chapter about the Tree of Life and the Caduceus at the end of this study.)
During the Trojan War Poseidon granted his support to the Greeks against the Trojans. In fact, the latter refused to consider a mastery over the vital and its voluntary participation to the yogic process which were the only concern of the god.
It was to ‘purify’ Ulysses’ vital that Poseidon lashed out against the hero.
In addition to his legitimate son, Poseidon fathered numerous other children. This paternity signals a subconscious beginning to the process symbolised by the hero (Theseus, Neleus, Belos and Agenor). Some became violent men, originating from the memories of the vital subconscious and needing a corresponding force for being vanquished. Others were indications of subconscious evolutionary processes, or are linked to the emergence of special subconscious capacities on the progression of the path, as is the case for the Cyclops Polyphemus.
Poseidon within us
He is the instigator of the storms indispensable for our evolution, but is also the one to bring a mastery over the vital.
He teaches us that obstacles are levers and allies, generating the necessary conditions for our freedom and teaching us endurance.
When we progress towards an equality of soul he can be sensed as a joyful enthusiasm, irrespective of the external conditions. Once his work is accomplished, a perfect equanimity is established in the vital.