The Argonauts at Phineus

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This story deals with the perturbations of intuition and the impossibility of benefiting from expansions of consciousness

The following day the heroes disembark on the land of the Thynians. On the shore dwelled the blind Phineus who was married to Cleopatra daughter of Boreas, sister of the Boreads Calais and Zetes. He had received the gift of prophecy from Apollo. According to some the king of Olympus had taken his sight because he could not bear the slightest restraint in revealing the sacred will of Zeus to men. According to others he preferred to live a long life rather than to see.

But he could not enjoy the innumerable dishes that were offered to him by men in gratitude for his prophecies because the Harpies, “bitches of the great Zeus”, swooped down from the clouds and snatched them away from his mouth and hands with their strong beaks. Not satisfied with depriving him of these delicious treats, they made the remnants reek.

 In sympathy the Argonauts delegated Calais and Zetes to pursue the Harpies to the end of the world till the islands of Plotai, “the Floating Islands” which were then renamed the Strophades, “the swirling/spinning Islands”. On the request of Iris who had sworn that they would never again torment Phineus the Boreads spared the Harpies’ lives and turned back.

According to others an edict of fate (Moirai) wanted the Harpies to die at the hands of the Boreads while the latter in turn would perish if they failed to catch them. According to Apollodorus both parties died since the Boreads failed to catch up with the Harpies who collapsed in exhaustion.

As a token of gratitude Phineus informed the Argonauts of a number of upcoming trials.

This stage marks the entry into the inner world involving the disembarkation on the land of Thynias “evolution of consciousness (of contact with) what is at the centre”. This necessary turning over marks the entry into the journey and is symbolised by the blindness which strikes not only seers like the Theban prophet Tiresias but also Oedipus and a number of other characters in tales of initiation.

From this point onward the seeker must have more concern for the movements of his inner world than his reaction to external events.

Authors have different explanations for this blindness: in one version Phineus had indiscreetly revealed “the intentions of Zeus in all their details; however the will of Zeus was that only imperfect prophetic oracles be disclosed to men so they would still need the assistance of the gods”. That is to say that even if the seeker has some knowledge about the journey which can prove useful to him – for Phineus is a soothsayer who does his work well – this should not prevent him from putting himself in the hands of what is at higher levels of consciousness, for it is not ego that must decide the way.

But to begin with it can only be related to a breakthrough of consciousness since abandoning oneself to Reality (or Truth) occurs very gradually for most seekers. The latter can only gain certitudes ensuing from a vision of Truth at a very slow pace because for a long time, they must depend on higher forces to guide them in their ignorance.

In another version Phineus, obliged to make a choice, had preferred to have a long life rather than retaining his sight: if the seeker had continued the movement toward externalisation of ego he would not have been able to retain his nascent intuitive abilities.

The name Phineus is related to “penetrating consciousness at the lower levels of the being” and symbolises better comprehension and therefore mastery of the journey and the way in which it will unfold. After the initial purification the seeker has the ability to obtain precise visions or perceptions from the inner light (he had received the gift of prophecy from Apollo). Phineus thus stands for a growing ability for non-mental inner perception. His union with Cleopatra, whose name signifies “the renowned ancestors”, also indicates that the seeker tries to find his way according to the accomplishments of the ancient spiritual traditions or according to his own past realisations.

Since he turns inward he can begin to perceive the evolution of some parts of his being on the basis of his new perceptions (for those parts for which he makes predictions). But he cannot benefit from them to improve his psychic vision (the gifts offered) because he is constantly disturbed by archaic and extremely quick mental movements, the Harpies. In the chapter dedicated to the study of The Genesis and Growth of Life we saw that the movements of the nascent mind are simultaneously related to the reversals of balance and the process of homeostasis (movements to return to equilibrium). The reason for their existence is the necessity to maintain or reverse the repetitive or revolving processes on which animal life is built in order to provide the stability suitable for a gradual evolution. Therefore they oppose any profound change in the being or any hastening of his evolution.

The harpies are “abductresses” who kidnap people without leaving a trace:  that is, they make states of consciousness disappear without us understanding how this has happened. These “troublemakers” prevent the maintenance of peace and calm required for intuition to function correctly and for being able to receive influence from above.

The Harpies dwelled on the Strophades islands, “ones that move in circular motion” or the “revolving” or “winding” movements at the origin of life. From the cellular level up the scale of the whole body are displayed such protection mechanisms, for example the mechanism of the cells of enveloping a foreign body with matter. In the animal world repetition is one of the fundamental processes, which is illustrated in man by his habits.

The Harpies are therefore indispensable till a very advanced stage of yoga is attained at which physical transformation begins.

In the initial stages we are concerned with here, doubt is the great troublemaker for the nascent psychic intuition.

The seeker obviously wants to understand the changes in his inner state in order to limit their influence on his life and psychic visions. But it is very difficult to determine their origin: it requires much sincerity, perseverance and patience to track them and reach their root because these are functions which support the very construction of the ego at the animal level and are related to the appearance of the mind in the body (the Harpies are daughters of Thaumas, the second stage of development of life after Nereus, “the old man of the sea”).

To track the Harpies back to this primitive stage of consciousness the seeker must mobilize two of his most efficient assets, the two essential factors for this phase of the quest in the right movement of incarnation: the Boreads, Calais and Zetes, “the call or aspiration” or “righteousness” and “the search”. These movements are essential for the sâdhanâ. They are children of Boreas the north wind and so their orientation is toward aspiration for union in incarnation. Orithyia or Oreithyia is “one who hurls herself onto the mountain”, an Athenian princess and thus one of the goals for growth of the inner being. The Boreads are winged beings and represent honed mental processes. They can pursue these archaic movements of the vital consciousness to the point where the smallest energy condensates at the origin of life have not yet found their point of application (Floating Islands), that is, are not yet consolidated to create disorder and disharmony. Then the seeker can observe and understand how this condensate is transformed into repetitive or obsessive revolving movements (Turning Islands) leading to disharmony, disorder and disease.

It is obvious that the pursuit will be long as the descent into these archaic levels of consciousness requires patience and perseverance. This pursuit could even last throughout the quest because the Harpies are active down to the cellular level. However the active element will no longer be the mind but a higher order of consciousness. That is why the Boreads died once they succeeded in preventing the occurrence of the winding movements (the death of the Harpies).

In the quest of the Argonauts, it is only about a preliminary task, that of fighting doubt.


In another version the Harpies do not die.

Iris, “the messenger of the gods” requests that they be spared and in return guarantees peace for Phineus: the vital-mental processes necessary for the general equilibrium of the being must be maintained but the seeker who has adequately developed his receptivity is no longer perturbed by their action.

At first, it is in the mind that some degree of tranquility can be attained. Since the mind is a place where there is continuous unrest (comparable to a mad monkey jumping from one branch to another), perseverance in continuous asceticism can bring at least some amount of calm, if not mental silence; in fact the Boreads obtain tranquility for Phineus from Iris, that is to say a certain ability to isolate a receptive (intuitive) state from these troublemakers of the archaic vital plane.

When the seeker has succeeded in pacifying his mind and removing the doubt which disturbed psychic intuition he is in a position to intuitively perceive the great challenges to be met as well as necessary evolutions (Within the permissible limits set by the gods Phineus reveals to the Argonauts the trials that they will face before their arrival in Colchis).

However it is only by progressing in love that they will be able to proportionally progress on their journey as Phineus also warns them that the success of their endeavor will depend on Aphrodite.

Doubt is a mental process. In response to it we either refrain from acting or most often make a choice depending on the preferences of the ego. When intellect is growing the mind proceeds through trials and errors and doubt is its assistant. On the spiritual path however we aspire for exactitude in thought, speech, and action which originates from the inner soul, the psychic light, rather than from the mind. Doubt may be useful in building the ego or establishing free thought and developing one’s own identity, but it becomes an obstacle on the spiritual path on where certitude is obtained from the inner being that gains awareness through identity, through the light of the soul (the psychic being). For there is no knowledge in the mind which cannot be doubted, and true knowledge is only obtained by the soul or the psychic being that is one with the Truth. When we act from the mind, we are forced to make choices, but when the psychic governs the being we know the right way. The spiritual experience pertaining to the soul is thus certain and the key to it is the inner perception in touch with the body.

As Mother confirms it:

“All division in the being is insincerity. The greatest insincerity is to carve an abyss between one’s body and the truth of one’s being. When an abyss separates the true being from the physical being, Nature immediately fills it with all the hostile suggestions, of which the deadliest is fear and the most pernicious, doubt ” (The Mother’s Agenda, 17th October 1958).

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