Zeus is the youngest of the children of the Titan Cronos.
His grandfather is Ouranos, the infinite sky, Space and symbol of the Spirit, and his grandmother is Gaia, Earth, representing Matter and Nature. They loved one another with an infinite love and enjoyed each other eternally; Eros, Ecstasy, was their indissociable companion at play. They had numerous children, amongst them the six couples of Titans and Titanides, the forces of creation.
But Ouranos “used to hide them all away in a secret place of Earth as soon as each was born” (Hesiod, Theogony); the powers of creation could not be active as long as infinite Space remained unlimited, as long as Spirit did not accept any boundaries. Through its structuring characters, the name Cronos (Κρονος) evokes the concept of “a projection of consciousness (Κ) in agreement with the right movement (Ρ) in an evolutionary process in accordance with Nature (Ν)”. His union with his sister Rhea (ΡΗ) introduces the inversion of this movement, and with this return towards the origin appears a cyclical movement, itself the source of rhythm, which will become the origin of time (Χρονος). This explains why there is at times some confusion between the Titan Cronos (Κρονος) and the word associated with time, Chronos (Χρονος).
It is paradoxical to evoke a succession of events when they occur prior to the appearance of time, but this seems to be the only way for our minds to approach such concepts. For the time of Χρονος lies outside of time, is of an extreme rapidity within perfect immobility in accordance with the rhythm of the Absolute.
Weary of holding all of her children within herself, Gaia asked them to come to her aid to put an end to her torment. Pondering on a way of avenging herself she created a sickle, and revealed her intention to her children. Her youngest son Cronos, who amongst his sibling was the one who hated his father the most, put himself forward to carry out the sinister deed. Taking the sickle given by his mother, he seized the virile member of his father, and severing it flung it far out at sea.
In the following chapter about the Genesis of the world we will see in the succession of generations that Gaia (Existence) will first give birth to Ouranos (Consciousness), Pontos (Life), and the mountains (the link between Existence and Consciousness or Matter/Nature and Spirit). Then, she will unite with Ouranos to engender the twelve Titans and Titanides (forces of creation, themselves at the origin of the genealogical branches of gods and heroes), the Cyclopes (Divine omniscience), and the Hundred-Handed Giants (Divine omnipotence and omnipresence). Here let us simply note that a principle of limitation, Cronos, intervenes to limit the free play of the infinite power of the Spirit, Ouranos, imposing limits so as to make creation possible. This seems to echo the present theory about a boundless universe curved by the force of time. (Refer for instance to A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking).
A soon as he became lord of the sky Cronos wed his sister Rhea. On the earth this time was the Golden Age of mankind, the childhood of humanity taking place several hundreds of thousands of years ago when the forming powers of the mind were still too weak to impose their laws. That is why Cronos, warned by an oracle that one of his children would depose him, would devour his just-born children one after the other. It then seemed to man that the period of gestation of the mind was infinite, reflecting a similar feeling of eternity which we experience during childhood.
At this age, instincts, impulses and emotions dominate; the Titans, archetypes of the forces of creation, exist also in relation with the powerful energies of life which slumber in our depths and sometimes emerge under the forms of predation or destruction. Plutarch recalls that in ancient times the word Titans was used to designate the irrational, violent and demonic aspects of us.
Then with the development of the mind came the learning of life in society. There subsequently came the time when man had to put an end to his childish and unconscious games to enter definitively into the world of the discerning mind. It is at this moment that the gods began to truly intervene.
But Cronos would swallow his children as soon as they were born. Exasperated by their fates, Rhea secretly gave birth to her third son and sixth child, Zeus, under the cover of night on Mount Ida. In his stead she presented her husband with a stone swathed in cloth which he immediately devoured.
Mount Ida predicts the role of Zeus, and thus also that of the mind, of leading humankind towards ‘union’ (Δ) to allow a realisation of unity with the Absolute, the Nature and other human beings.
Modern science has revealed the simultaneously oppositional and complementary functions of the two sides of the brain, non-linear and linear. Through fusion, one of them expresses itself in the mental plane through what we know as intuition. The other is derived from fission and brings about the intellect or the reasoning mind. Together the two form the basis of the faculty of discernment.
In its present state humankind is not generally capable of going beyond the dual process of fusion and fission. It mostly oscillates between opposing poles such as attraction and repulsion, desire and disgust, fusion and independence.
In a life that is not perverted by the mind – in the vegetal and animal kingdoms -, the two poles seem to function harmoniously. But in the mental plane they seem to be irreconcilable, and are submitted to a process of alternation which presides over the formation and functioning of the ego.
Mount Ida invites us to imagine that there exists a position of consciousness above the level of the mind and above the mental and vital ego in which the two movements are no longer antagonistic. The two forces of fusion and fission would co-exist here and operate in synchrony. In this state the logical mind, silent aside from its moments of activity, carries out what is perceived by intuition which can be in contact with the world of Truth to the extent to which the channel of reception is purified.
But as long as humanity works on the construction of the personality and then of individuality through a path of progressive liberation, the influence of the dual movements of fusion and separation must necessarily alternate over time, for man neither can nor knows how to use them correctly. There are therefore cycles which regulate their relationships, insisting at times on fusion and at others on separation. We will return to this in the study of the myth of Prometheus, for these rhythms deeply mark the course of human history and its major civilisations.
Zeus was fed with the milk of a goat belonging to the nymph Amalthea, or in some accounts by the goat itself, also named Amalthea. The goat, the symbolic equivalent of the chamois in Greece, is the animal which climbs the highest in the mountains, which is to say the personality which lifts itself the most towards Spirit. The feeding by the goat indicates that the highest human consciousness, Zeus, develops from an aspiration for growth and from a devotion to Truth.
According to Hesiod, the mountains were borne by Gaia just after Ouranos: they are the place of the attraction of Matter for Spirit. The goat is also known as Аιξ, the ξ illustrating the progressive descent of the Spirit through the lower planes of consciousness.
The word Amalthea is probably formed with the M and the word stem αλθ, which means nourishing, growing, or healing. This name would symbolise “the growth of the devotion to Truth”. It is structurally similar to the word αληθεια, truth.
It is from this consecration that originated the story of the Horn of Plenty.
Having broken one of the horns of the goat during his play, Zeus gifted it to the nymph Amalthea, promising her that it would fill with all the fruits which she could wish for.
As a child, Zeus represents the imperative need and violent aspiration of the seeker for truth and harmony. This aspiration is nourished by the milk of the goat Amalthea, which is to say by a “growth of the devotion to Truth” progressively infused.
As an excrescence of the skull the horn is both a sensor of the energies of the sky and a pedestal as solid as bone. The seeker who is ‘connected’ with the sky and is unshakably consecrated to it will receive its boons abundantly.
One of the attributes of Zeus is his aegis, a little-defined garment which may be a goat’s skin, a piece of armour protecting him, or perhaps a banner with which to frighten his enemies. In the Iliad, Hephaestus gifted it to Zeus so that he would inspire fear. It is also an attribute of the inner master Athena, who hung on her shield or on her aegis the symbol of the ‘need for growth’, the head of the Gorgon severed by Perseus, a symbol of vanquished fear. In fact the victory over fear constitutes an absolute protection for the warrior who sets out on the conquest of his inner being.
The name aegis is from the Greek ‘αιγιδος, shield made of goat skin’, symbolising aspiration, protection and the need for growth (the goat).
This word can also mean tempest or storm; for he who is afraid of God or of the gods, the symbol of their infinite power is like a tempest. By brandishing his aegis, Zeus thus frightens all that in man is still marred by fear in his relationship to what is Real. These seem necessary in the evolutionary process as long as man has not found his inner divinity, or as long as he still needs external laws to direct his life.
In one tradition the goat (Аιξ) was an alarming creature which descended from the sun, Helios. The Titans feared even its appearance to such an extent that Gaia was obliged to hide it in a cave of the mountains of Crete. Later on, when Zeus fought against the Titans, he took its skin as a piece of his armor. He then became known as the bearer of the aegis.
The powers of creation – which impose a just order and allow for a free expression of the vitality of man for as long as his mental consciousness does not dominate – fear the need for growth symbolised by the mountain goat, for they know that they will be deposed. In fact, when basic needs are satisfied, the fundamental aspiration for growth is the first need of the human being; it is a manifestation of the plane of Truth, and this is why some say that the goat is a descendant of Helios, the Light of the supramental Truth.
So that the power which must watch over the growth of human consciousness in the mind (Zeus) could be within the order of things and so as to allow it to develop harmoniously, Gaia arranged for the goat’s best product, its milk, to nourish this power, sheltered from disorder and within the space of aspiration (in the mountains).
Later on, when this power will have been fortified and then identified with intelligence (when Zeus will have swallowed Metis, the mother of Athena), it will be able to dominate man and relegate the Titans into Tartarus.
When Zeus used the goat’s skin as a piece of his armour, the developing consciousness takes on as a protection its power of aspiration, its faith which both protects and keeps at bay that which hinders evolution within ourselves. This interpretation might give the sense of the word Egypt (αιγυ-πτιας, country of the aspiration for the god Ptah), Ptah being the supreme demiurge during the 3rd millennium BC in Egypt.
As Zeus became older he sought absolute power. In fact, evolution spurred on human consciousness towards its full blossoming so that the clan behaviour tied to the animal world and supporting itself on an almost exclusively vital base could be surpassed. Zeus had to therefore overthrow his father, which promised to be an arduous task. Leading an attack on Cronos meant combating the full force of the Titans, for the forces of creation operate on the basis of Unity.
With the aid of Metis, supreme wisdom and intelligence, he began his attack by making his father vomit all his brothers and sisters, bringing to human consciousness the forces which would assist in the crossing and maturation of the mind.
He then battled with the Titans for ten long years, supported by the Cyclopes and the Hundred-Handed giants who he had liberated from Tartarus where they had been thrown by the former.
The Cyclopes and the Hundred-Handed Giants are the brothers of the Titans, begotten at the same time by the supreme couple Gaia and Ouranos. The Cyclopes, the one-eyed giants, belong to the second divine generation rather than that which Ulysses would later combat, and they represent the omniscience of the Absolute. Gifted with remarkable strength, numerous arms and a capacity for simultaneous action on all fronts, the Hundred-Handed giants symbolise divine Omnipotence and Omnipresence.
With our present knowledge we can estimate that this period during which humankind had to learn to bring its instincts and its impulses under the control of the mind to be able to attain a level of socialisation was prolonged for several hundreds of thousands of years, if not several million.
But the war against the Titans was not the last of Zeus’ great battles.
As the lord of the universe he had to first of all face a great monster, Typhon the whirlwind, resulting from the irruption of mental consciousness in vital humanity and translated by a very agitated and disorderly mental activity ceaselessly turning upon itself. It is an extreme form of agitation and disorder at the origin of ignorance.
Like all mythological struggles, this struggle does not in fact conclude as long as Knowledge has not replaced ignorance, and as long as man has not achieved union with the plane of Truth.
Zeus’ third great war was against the Giants, which came to be known as the Gigantomachy. We will discuss it in detail later on, for Heracles took part in it upon returning from his campaign against Troy, for no Giant could be vanquished without the participation of a mortal. This means that even the highest forces of the mind are not sufficient to vanquish this kind of adversary, so that the participation of the conscious lower planes of the seeker, the body and the vital, become necessary for this task. It is therefore a struggle that takes place at a very advanced stage of Yoga.
Zeus’ last great battle, which we will discuss later on in this work, was against the Aloades.
After the war with the Titans, the three sons of Cronos divided the world amongst themselves, agreeing that the earth and Olympus would be in their common possession. Zeus claimed the sky, Poseidon the ocean, and Hades the underworld. The realms of consciousness were thus shared between the three brothers. To Zeus was given the supraconscient world, which is to say everything that is above the current level of consciousness. Here, the supraconscient is limited to the planes of the mind till the overmind plane to which Zeus belongs. Hades was given the kingdoms of the unconscious in relation with the body and its archaic memories. As the god of the underworld, he is the one to fix the destiny of the dead, which is to say that he integrates the experiences in the body – we will see that his kingdom is in no way related to what happens after death or only so far as death belongs to unconscious world. The realm of the mental-vital subconscious, which is to say the world of emotions, sensations, desires, fears, etc. and all the expressions of the mentalised vital fell to Poseidon. This subconscious domain must be considered in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s description as an immense reservoir in which are accumulated all perceptions and sensations, including those which we are not conscious of. As this god is a power of mastering the vital consciousness, he inhabits the kingdom of Pontos, god of the vital plan, in the depths of the seas.
It should be noted that the classification of the planes of consciousness used in this work are those given by Sri Aurobindo, and not those of modern psychology. What the latter terms the unconscious is, in Sri Aurobindo’s terminology, an area which man can without too much difficulty bring into his consciousness, and which therefore belongs to the subconscious. The unconscious is an even deeper layer linked to the body, the exploration of which necessitates a very advanced form of yoga or capacities which humankind cannot yet access. The latter must still be differentiated from Nescience – Tartarus -, which is not a plane of consciousness but its negation, a void.
To aid the gods in their battle against the Titans, the Cyclopes – supramental powers of vision of the totality and of all the details – gifted special weapons to the three brothers.
For Zeus they forged thunder and lightning, symbols of the instantaneity and fulgurating power of the supramental acting through the intermediary of the mind at its highest level, the overmind plane where this god resides.
Poseidon was given a trident, the symbolism of which will be discussed later on.
Hades was given the helmet of invisibility, which rendered his kingdom and his actions ‘invisible’ and therefore inaccessible to the consciousness of man as he is now.
As the Prince of the mental realm Zeus governs all of its manifestations. This is why he is the one to ‘assemble the flocks and swarms’ and is the master of tempests and storms, the ‘winds’ of the mental plane. His power however only extends across the sky, the domain of spirit. The seas, and therefore emotional storms as well, are under the control of his brother Poseidon. It is he who called upon the murderous storms that faced Ulysses and his companions.
Zeus took part in a great number of unions, not only with goddesses but also with mortal women.
Unions with goddesses indicate goals assigned to the evolution of human consciousness, for the realisation of which ‘intelligence’ must attach itself in a first stage (when Zeus swallowed Metis).
According to Hesiod, the chronology of these unions was the following: Metis, Themis, Eurynome, Demeter, Mnemosyne, Leto and Hera. They intervened after the victory of Zeus over Typhon, and just before the birth of Athena. It is probable that these unions also correspond to stages of human evolution over the course of historical time and express the relationships of man to divinity, appearing when humankind, or the seeker, is ready.
Homer adds to this list Dione, who he considers to be the mother of Aphrodite. In the Iliad he also mentions that Zeus and Hera united without the knowledge of their parents, thus establishing the primacy of an evolution according to “the just divine law” in accordance with the symbolism of Hera (even before what is represented by the other unions – divine intelligence, submission to the inner law, etc.). But for Athena ‘the inner master’ and ‘the movement of Truth’ in its own terms to be able to be definitively put in place, all the unions are indispensable and all the corresponding movements must be initiated.
According to some legends, this precocious union occurred in southern Boeotia on the mount Cithaeron, the mountain of the harmonious equilibrium of consciousness (the zither, Κιθαρα, the instrument of Apollo, transmits the music of the soul and is a symbol of a superior harmony). For those who are at the beginning of the path, this mountain represents the first ‘aspiration’ for harmony during the preparation for the quest, which the seeker has not yet identified as a quest, for it is in this place that Heracles will slay his first lion prior to the beginning of the twelve labours.
Zeus first unites with Metis. He swallowed her when she was pregnant with Athena, just before her pregnancy came to terms.
Metis is the goddess of Intelligence, Prudence and Wisdom, the ‘cunning wisdom’ of the serpent of Genesis which pulls man in the direction of evolution, often without his awareness. Let us note that this serpent addresses woman first because she is the intuitive capacity of man (Genesis 3.1).
The ‘intelligence’ alluded to here is that represented by Metis, symbol of the ‘submission to the plane of the Spirit (Μ+Τ) ‘. It is not that of the logical mind, but rather of the highest mental form which brings reason to the service of intuition, and which is sometimes known as ‘discernment’. In fact Metis helps Zeus “to discern between good and evil”, evil being understood as what is no more of any good for evolution.
If Zeus represents the capacity for an indefinite extension of consciousness, then Metis represents the adaptation to the movement of becoming. Her name is associated with ‘measure’, which is to say the appreciation of what is just, and also with ability, efficacy, ruse, calculation and exact knowledge, all of which make her the goddess of artisans.
Zeus, standing at the highest plane of the mind accessible to human consciousness, the overmind – the plane of Man when he will have established in himself an identity linking the higher and lower, the Spirit and the Matter – therefore works towards the perfecting of man’s ‘intelligence’ throughout the period in which Metis is contained within him. We are still in this period.
This discernment between good and evil must be considered from an evolutionary standpoint rather than from a moral or morally virtuous one. What is ‘evil’ is what restrains, what is no longer conducive to evolution and slows it down to the extent to which this slowing down is not a necessity for the progress of the whole. On the other hand, what is ‘good’ are the new elements which seeks to instate themselves. But there is actually no ‘evil’, only ignorance and unconsciousness.
It is this discernment and exact knowledge which applied to oneself becomes ‘self-knowledge’, as in the message engraved on the face of the temple of Delphi, “Γνωθι σεαυτοντι, know thyself”.
The overmind is the highest level of the mind, and is the plane in which reason and intuition are in their right place. The first implication of the union of Zeus and Metis is that it obliges the seeker to contact and allow his psychic being, the inner Divine, to grow. This is the meaning carried by the first child of the couple, Athena, the power which assists in ‘the evolution of the growth of the inner being’.
While Metis was still pregnant, Zeus was warned by Gaia and Ouranos that their second child would depose him. This was why he hurriedly swallowed Metis when she was on the point of giving birth to Athena.
There is however a long period, the duration of gestation, between the first movement of consciousness turning towards ‘discerning intelligence’ (the fertilisation of Metis), and the moment in which this consciousness identifies completely with the process of discernment (when Zeus swallows the goddess). This marks the real beginning of the quest. During this period of gestation and till the moment in which Athena emerges already fully adult, the preparation for the quest is therefore not conscious.
Athena was born already ‘dressed and armed’ from the head of Zeus because the consciousness of the guiding inner master is sudden rather than developing; it is either present or not present, but it cannot be only partially present.
The second child that was to be borne by Metis in a future time not specified by mythology will mark the end of the supremacy of the mind – not its complete destruction, but its correct use. The mind will no longer act as a tyrant, but rather as a servant who through reason perfectly executes what is perceived by intuition. When the inner being will have developed sufficiently this second child will manifest ‘the right thought, the right word and the right action’.
Drawing his strength from a point of inner certitude under the direct influence of the plane of Truth, man will act with power and determination.
It would seem that this child yet to be born represents an intermediary phase between the mind and the supramental, a future phase in which man, at the level of humankind as a whole, would be able to begin putting into action within the realm of life the capabilities of the psychic being. Satprem, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo and the confidant of the Mother, describes this future stage of humankind in his work On the Way to Supermanhood.
Zeus’ second union was with the goddess Themis, a Titanide who represents ‘the superior divine laws’. The structuring characters of her name, Θ+Μ, indicate a ‘submission to the inner being’, and as a goddess of Justice she presides over the order of all things.
She is the mother of the Horae, a name which originates from the Greek Ωραι and is built around the first character Rho (Ρ), ‘ the right movement of Reality ‘. (The name Horae is a faulty translation of the Greek term which do not relate to time.)
It defines three essential ‘qualities’ of the overmind, the plane of the right action and the right time and thus of the exact perception of what must be, not according to our virtues and moral codes but according to divine laws.
The Horae, Eirene (Peace or Serenity), Dike (Justice), and Eunomia (Order), are in yogic terms ‘equanimity’, ‘exactitude’ and ‘purity’.
Eirene, Peace, is not the absence of war, but rather a state beyond that which we call war and peace, which is the serenity induced by mental calm and obedience to what is received from above, the inner mental and vital stillness which Sri Aurobindo calls ‘equality’. It is a state beyond ‘equanimity’, a term reserved for emotional equality. This ‘equality’ is achieved when no external event in any domain is able to shake one’s inner peace. Through a similarity in the construction of their names, Eirene is in some aspects Eros (Divine Joy), which unfolds in the manifestation governed by the overmind.
Justice, Dike, is ‘the right way of acting’ and ‘precision’. This is not human justice founded on reason and virtue as we understand it, but the exact movement originating from the intuition which leads each being towards his perfection through the shortest path best suited to his nature. If it is also a punishment in certain myths, it is in the sense that everything – thought, word and action – has a consequence which returns to the one who has generated it, as do the movements of the Absolute. The Greek word for Horae is in fact formed from the same root as Eros or Hera and brings the concept of a two-way departure and return.
Order, Eunomia, or ‘the correct allocation’, is what we refer to here as Purity; each thought, each feeling, each word and each act has its right place. This is the basis for Harmony.
Thus what we think of as trouble, misfortune of injustice are only the results of disorder, of elements which are not yet in their correct place in evolution. Evil or wrong is only an appearance, for it only prepares for a greater good. What has been necessary in the past must often disappear in new phases of evolution, and consequently becomes ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’.
Themis presided over the Delphic oracle before Apollo did; it is the submission to the divine laws, the first approaches to equanimity, precision and purity, which allow the quest to begin before the light of the psychic being can begin to manifest.
In the Iliad, the Horae are the divinities of climate, and with the help of the clouds they guard the gates of Olympus; no seeker can claim to equal the gods (to access the supramental) if he has not realised perfect equanimity, perfect precision and perfect purity.
As the daughters of Zeus and Themis Hesiod also mentions the Moirai (also known as the Parcae), the famous sisters who hold in their hands the threads of life. They are Clotho, ‘she who threads’, Lachesis, ‘destiny’, and Atropos, ‘the inflexible’. But in another passage of Theogony they are described as daughters of Nyx, Night. This relationship expresses that most men do not know the meaning of their life, which is to say the task that the soul has chosen for its present incarnation, and can thus not rebel against what can sometimes seem like a premature ending. The Moirai will appear again in the next chapter.
Zeus then united with Eurynome, who bore the famous Charites, the Graces. They are Euphrosyne (Joy or Cheer), Thalia (the overabundance of life or fullness) and Aglaea (Radiating Splendour).
In the Orphic tradition, Eurynome was the great goddess who ruled over the world with the great serpent Ophion even prior to the appearance of the Titans. She symbolises ‘the right order’ followed by evolution (the snake is a symbol of evolution) which ruled at the origin of manifestation even before the appearance of the powers of creation and implies a complete submission to what is Real. The influence of her union with Zeus can sometimes be felt from the beginning of the path. In the Iliad, the Charites weave the dress of Aphrodite, giving to ‘live in evolution’ the task of spreading joy, plenitude and radiating splendour. Their graces are also lavished when they take part in the procession of the gods, when the latter manifest themselves in the life of the seeker.
Homer only mentions, without indicating her descendance, one of the younger of the Graces, Pasithea, whose name signifies ‘total vision’, which is to say ‘complete awakening’. This meaning is obtained by drawing a parallel with the episode of the Iliad in which Hera promises to give Pasithea to Hypnos (sleep) if he agrees to put Zeus to sleep.
Then Demeter, his sister, gave him Core, who adopted the name Persephone following her marriage with Hades and forged the link between the conscious and the physical unconscious. Thus the realisation of the union of spirit and matter depends on the participation of the highest plane of the mind. We will return to this during our study of Demeter.
Zeus then united with the Titanide Mnemosyne, who bore the nine Muses. The name of this goddess evokes a work on memories. It means ‘she who remembers everything at once’, the reunification obtained by a ‘complete’ rediscovered memory of the past, present and future. Hesiod recounts how the Muses blessed him with the gift of singing of times past and future, or gladdened the heart of Zeus by singing the histories of gods, men and giants.
According to Pausanias, there were initially only three muses: Aoede (song), Melete (practice of meditation), and Mneme (memory). The names of the nine muses discussed here are taken from Hesiod’s Theogony. In itself, the name Muses could signify ‘that which is accessible to the human spirit’.
Hesiod also recounts that Mneme was the mistress of the hillside of Eleuthera, which means ‘liberty’; she therefore controls the access to liberty, and her children watch over the right progression of the seeker.
The ancient Greek initiates considered them to be harbingers of Wisdom and Knowledge; they knew what the poet was to say, how he must say it and in which way he had to find inspiration at the source of consciousness.
Homer invokes the Muses before recording his lengthy Catalogue of Ships, which suggests that the latter is not just a matter of a simple enumeration of men and troops. In fact, this catalogue enumerates everything that must be accomplished before the beginning of the Trojan War, before the occurrence of the first great yogic reversal which marks the end of spiritual systems rejecting matter and incarnation.
Hesiod only records those names which express in a general way inspiration, the action of grace, joy, plenitude, harmony, the right time, the right action and the right word – in other words, that which is in agreement with the superior planes of Truth. (Here we will only be considering the primitive tradition, and therefore the nine muses mentioned by Hesiod.)
Calliope ‘of the beautiful voice’ (she who utters the Truth), or ‘of beautiful vision’ (she who sees the Truth).
Clio, ‘she who celebrates, who names’ (she who knows the essence of things).
Erato, ‘she who loves’ (the right attraction between Spirit and Matter (Ρ+Τ), she who aspires for the Absolute in the right way).
Euterpe, ‘she who expresses joy and plenitude’.
Melpomene, ‘the song of the soul’.
Polyhymnia, ‘she who sings many hymns’.
Terpsichore ‘the fullness of dance’ (the right time and movement).
Thalia, ‘the fullness and growth’ of inner freedom, Θ+Λ.
Urania, ‘the extension of consciousness’.
Their particular attributions of the arts came later and do not concern this study.
Daughters of Zeus, they dwell on Mount Olympus according to Homer; they are realisations of the highest mental plane, the overmind.
According to Hesiod they dwell in Pieris, the place of abundance, or on Mount Helicon, ‘which traces a spiral’. In the latter case they are the artisans or the supports of the spiritual progression of humanity in a helical movement, expressions of a progressive growth through the cycles of life and mind.
Other authors believed that they were the children of Gaia and Ouranos, ‘supreme consciousness’, or, so as to reconcile differing traditions, speak of ‘the ancient Muses’, daughters of Ouranos, and the ‘last-born Muses’, daughters of Zeus. In other words, they are divine expressions already manifested in the vegetal and animal kingdoms, and man could also contact them at these levels within himself.
The Muses intervene in mythology during the weddings or deaths of heroes or to punish those who dare to compare themselves to them, those who claim to have attained their level of realisation. The most famous punishment was that inflicted on Thamyris, whose father was the second cousin of Laertes, the father of Ulysses.
They also make appropriate mothers for musicians and singers such as Orpheus or Linos, Heracles’ music master who incarnates ‘the evolution in freedom ‘Λ+Ν’, and taught through rhythm (the right time) harmony and purity, in the sense of everything finding its right place.
Zeus also united with Leto, who became the mother of the divine twins Apollo and Artemis. These two divinities express manifestations in consciousness of the shining splendour and action of the psychic being, the body that grows around the divine spark.
This union indicates that mental consciousness must work for the growth of the psychic being till the latter comes to forefront and all the inferior planes submit to it, for Zeus’ wife Hera knows that the children of Leto are ‘destined to become greater gods than her own children’.
Finally Zeus made Hera, who represents ‘the right movement according to the absolute’, his legitimate wife. The game of the expansion of mental consciousness (Zeus) and of limitation (Hera) could then dominate evolution so as to sustain the growth of humanity in its ascension of the mental planes. Let us remember that human evolution had in fact set itself the task and had identified itself with ‘intelligence’ since Zeus had swallowed Metis.
Homer also mentions the love of Zeus with the goddess Dione, ‘evolution in union’, who bore Aphrodite. Love is thence considered to be a process of evolution aiming at the realisation of a union with the Supreme through the work of the highest mental consciousness (see below the study on Aphrodite).
Zeus had numerous adventures with mortal women, all of which express an impulse originating from the spirit and reaching consciousness through the highest planes of the mind. While his unions with goddesses mark stages of evolutionary growth which remain inscribed, his unions with mortals especially express the necessary asceticisms at pivotal moments on the path and are not meant to last. In either case, neither can intervene as long as the seeker is not ready.
Each of them can also be considered to be a help from the Absolute. In fact all of the heroes are descendants of Zeus in one way or the other. Each time, the god manifests himself under the most appropriate form. To offer himself to Europa he transformed himself into a seductive white bull, symbol of a great power of realisation through the luminous mind; he inseminated Danae under the form of a golden rain, symbol of flashes of illumination, and turned himself into a swan, symbol of the psychic being, to unite with Leda.
Amongst his unions with mortals, the one which concluded with Maia holds a special place. The latter is in fact the mother of Hermes, the only son of a mortal to have dwelled on mount Olympus since his birth, being the youngest of the gods and the last to have arrived there. This birth therefore established a bridge between the world of men and that of the gods.
Although she is described as a nymph in later literature, there is no indication that Maia was ranked as a goddess. She is one of the seven Pleiades, symbols of the stages of the mind and transitory elements of evolution in duality, and therefore a ‘mortal’ a priori.
As he allows Hermes to grow within him, the seeker progressively accesses Knowledge and can lift himself to the summit of the conscious mind, the plane of the overmind in which the gods are found.
To summarise, Zeus is the force closest to the world of the Titans, which is a world of Truth. He is the highest expression of divine principles in the mental plane. It is in this role that he united with supreme wisdom or intelligence, Metis, and with infallible justice, Themis. For man to become the equal of the gods, he will one day have to reach the state of wisdom, saintliness and precision which they represent, which will however only be a stage in evolution.
Zeus and his spouse Hera are in a denser plane expressions of the superior principles represented by their parents, Cronos and Rhea, and in a more subtle way by their grandparents Ouranos and Gaia.
Ouranos is the infinite space of Consciousness, and Cronos introduces to this the principle of limitation. The Zeus-Hera couple thus represent, on the mental plane, a tension between the forces of expansion, Zeus, and those of limitation, Hera.
Let us note that there is an inversion of the direction of movement in each generation during the progressive densification of the same force. Thus Ouranos is infinite Space and Cronos the principle of limitation, while Zeus is again the expression of a principle of expansion and a need to surpass limits.
Zeus is then also the symbol of the surpassing of limits. He reminds us to surpass the limits of the mind while being wary of it, for he knows that it will bring about his downfall, as predicted by Gaia. His bird symbol the eagle is the one that flies the highest, and therefore the furthest in mental space. It is through it that Zeus manifests his action, as for instance when he sets the eagle to devour the liver of Prometheus.
In Ionic script Zeus’ name is written ΕΥΣ. He is therefore the link between the higher planes of the spirit, the supramental, and the lower planes of the mind and body.
When the seeker attains this level of the gods, the overmind, the Truth of the plane of the Spirit is perceived by intuition in a continuous flow, and reason acts as a tool of execution with a complete adherence between the vital and the body.
Zeus therefore represents the highest level that a human being can currently attain in the mind in a stable way.
As we witness Athena, Poseidon and Hera’s attempts at usurping power, let us also note that Zeus does not at all encourage a shrinking of life, on the contrary; he is the symbol of a spirituality which seeks to develop and perfect all the potentialities of the being. As Sri Aurobindo in The Renaissance in India reminds us, ‘It is a great error to suppose that spirituality flourishes best in an impoverished soil with the life half-killed and the intellect discouraged and intimidated. The spirituality that so flourishes is something morbid, hectic and exposed to perilous reactions.’
As seven other Olympian gods are his children – Hephaestus, Ares, Aphrodite, Athena, Apollo, Artemis and Hermes – Zeus is also the source of what the gods represent. From him also originate several other divinities, including the Muses and the Moirai whom we have just discussed, as well as Persephone, his daughter by his sister Demeter, symbol of the exploration of the kingdoms of the corporeal unconscious.
Zeus within us
Within us, Zeus is first and foremost what aspires for growth, for surpassing ourselves and going beyond everything which limits and confines us. He is an insatiable lover, the force which calls for the development of all potentialities. For yoga must not be a shrinking or narrowing of life, but a work of perfecting all of our capacities, whatever they may be, in view of the accomplishment of the divine work.
It is the call to realise the union of the sky and the earth, which implies exactitude, equanimity and purity.
He also represents that which in ourselves can know ‘in flashes’ and receive flashes of the highest knowledge (Metis) and of what is right according to the order of the Absolute, Themis. Zeus is also the father of the most elevated of human experiences, the Muses.
He is that redoubtable energy which through its lightning forcefully and unhesitatingly strikes when we must destroy our inner enemies, but most often his martial aspect is his son Ares.
As the master of tempests Zeus can cause mental or emotional storms, the latter being put into motion by his brother Poseidon. The Homeric epithet ‘gatherer of flocks’ suggests that the overmind is perhaps a place of unification of all mental ideas and forms beyond all contradictions.
Finally he is the symbol of the transition towards Unity, for the genitive of his name is Διος, delta being a symbol of regained union. He therefore also puts an end to the feeling of separation within us, a feeling which is responsible for condemning the Titan Atlas to carry the sky on his shoulders, symbolising the separation of Spirit and Matter.
He is principally called upon during the most advanced battles of yoga, such as the ones described in the Gigantomachy.