The Argonauts and the birds of the island of Ares

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The heroes then approach the island of Ares. It was populated by birds whose feathers fell from the sky like sharp arrows, causing serious injuries. The Argonauts were reminded of the strategy that Heracles used at the Stymphalian Lake: resorting to the clattering sound of bronze pieces striking together to drive away the birds.

So they began striking on their shields while shouting out with wild cries. The frightened birds fled and the Argonauts were able to land without any further risk.

The birds are symbols of mental movements and The Argonauts’ quest being at this point at its beginnings, these birds represent destructive thoughts of judgment, hatred, contempt, etc.

The birds that Heracles fought at the Stymphalian Lake were more related to the process of purification which should be carried out deep into the layers of the vital being down till the physical mind. In the case of this great hero what is needed is the identification and segregation of the mental movements from the purely vital processes. An example of this is the layer of the self-defeating physical mind which keeps the body at the grasp of disease and prevents it from getting cured by its own forces.

The work is carried out here on the island of Ares where the force acts on the level of mental forms and destroys what no longer has its place. This island is also the place of dual thoughts.

Apollonius describes a strategy that is inspired by Heracles’ use of the clattering sound of bronze. “What concerns mastery” (Amphidamas) is what advocates discipline:  although the technique of Mantra does not appear to be clearly described here Apollonius recommends to fight these harmful thoughts by preventing them from penetrating the consciousness (by using a shield) and by fighting them with the flame of aspiration (the tossing of the blood-red helmet crest) combined with a strong determination supported by powerful expression (prayers, mantras, etc.).

It was at this moment that the heroes met the sons of Phrixus who had left the kingdom of Aeetes to reclaim the inheritance of their grandfather Athamas. Soon after their departure they had endured a fierce storm. Their ship had foundered and they had been hurled on to the island’s shore. They agreed to accompany the Argonauts till Colchis, but not without warning them of the great dangers they would be exposed to.

It must be recalled that Phrixus, “the shiver”, had escaped death by fleeing with his sister Helle on the back of the Ram with the Golden Fleece. In Colchis King Aeetes, son of the sun god Helios and thus a specific expression of the light of the supermind, gave him in marriage one of his daughters, Chalciope “inflexibility” (the mark of the soul that does not compromise) who bore him four children. (Since Phrixus does not appear again in the rest of the myth the authors give him a long lived old age in Colchis.)

The meeting of the sons of Phrixus and the Argonauts indicates that the seeker revisits this very first experience and establishes the link with what he will be searching for henceforth. The sons of Phrixus are symbols of a kind of nostalgia, a call for rediscovering the disposition and the means which had led to the first “contact with what is Real” (they wanted to reclaim the inheritance of Athamas). They are the ones who will guide the seeker till the point of recovery of a corresponding sensibility (they would guide the Argonauts to Colchis).

But these forces cannot join hands till the quest has not made adequate progress and thus the timely shipwreck compels them to be patient.

In addition when the forces join hands the seeker receives specific signs which warn him that an important experience of the same nature as the first stirring awaits him.

Then the heroes sailed close to the island on which Cronus, deceiving Rhea, united with Philyra, the nymph who bore him the “good” Centaur Chiron.

We have come across the “good” Centaur Chiron at the beginning of this chapter. It must be recalled that he represents the abilities of concentration, harmonisation, mastery and purification which should be acquired before starting out on the journey. Chiron is the highest realisation of one who has not yet purified his lower nature. However it is an exceptional realisation since he is immortal, which is to say that he does not belong to the field of duality. This ability to harmonize must nonetheless be abandoned when it comes to the yoga of the body so that it does not interfere: Chiron, suffering terribly from an incurable wound at the knee, exchanged his immortality with Heracles according to some ad Prometheus according to others.

The fact that the heroes only sail close to the place where Chiron was conceived indicates that the seeker temporarily comes close to the highest healing science, the source of methods with which he can be a simple channel for the powers arising from the worlds of Unity.

Next they caught a glimpse of the Caucasian mountain peaks on the horizon and heard the tearing cries of Prometheus. The latter was chained to the mountain and his liver was devoured by day by Zeus’ eagle and regenerated overnight.

In this episode the seeker becomes aware of the phenomenon of cycles in the mind as is illustrated by the end of the myth of Prometheus, “he who gives priority to his aspiration for the growth of his inner being”. Let us remember that these cycles also regulate mental functioning according to very long periods in which there is an alternating predominance of the forces of separation on the one hand and the forces of unity or fusion on the other. The more thought and reflection become important in humanity, the more strongly is mental consciousness formed and the more man lives under the alternating influence of these forces whether he wants it or not.

This principle is demonstrated in the history of civilisations by the succession of humanist periods which place man at the centre and Middle-Ages periods in which it is the Sacred that occupies this central place. The mode of mental functioning is very different in each period, and one must understand that even independently from evolution, thought processes in the Middle-Ages were not at all as they are now.

Day symbolises periods of remoteness, detachment and separation in which the connection with what is Real loosens and faith decreases while night encourages closeness and intimacy with the Absolute and restores faith. The eagle of Zeus symbolises the action of the forces at the level of the gods, the highest of mental consciousness, the overmind. It oversees the said alternation necessary for allowing individuation without letting humanity irreversibly distance itself from Unity. When the seeker enters the non-duality of the mind (starting at the illumined mind level) and becomes a “knower” he liberates himself from these cycles and the eagle of Zeus can then disappear. This is the symbolism of the labour of Heracles dedicated to the quest of the Apples of the Hesperides.

Apollodorus mentions an exchange of immortality between Chiron and Prometheus, but this version is not agreed upon unanimously. Eschylus wrote a version of “Prometheus Unbound” which we know nothing about but the late tradition confirmed that Heracles freed the Titan.

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