This page offers an interpretation of the myths related to Dionysus. This character belongs to the lineage of Cadmos and Harmonia, and therefore to the the process of purification-liberation. It is a symbol of ecstasy or divine enthusiasm in the first sense of the term “he who is in god”.
To fully understand this web page, it is recommended to follow the progression given in the tab Greek myths interpretation. This progression follows the spiritual journey.
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Dionysus holding a crater – British Museum
In the lineage of the Titan Oceanus, the previous chapter dealt with the progeny of Europa and therefore with the evolution of the discerning intelligence as a result of the widening process of the consciousness or the “extension of the vision” obtained by acquiring a “discerning intelligence.” The main point was to go beyond the limits imposed by the lower nature and the purification of the higher intelligence from the mixtures of functions.
We address here, in the lineage of the same Titan, the descendants of Cadmus, brother or uncle of Europa depending on the sources, who does not deal anymore with the purification of intelligence, but with the processing of evolution’s memories. (We adopt here the genealogy where Europa and Cadmus are brother and sister, in the lineage of Agenor and Telephassa.)
See Family tree 21 and Family tree 22
We have already mentioned in the previous chapter the genealogical uncertainty regarding the two characters of Belos and Agenor, sons of Libya and Poseidon (see T. Gantz, chapter VI). According to an early tradition (Pherecyde), Agenor had two wives. By Damno “mastery (in the incarnation)” he was the father of Phoenix (Phoinix) “purple” and two daughters, Isaiah and Melia, who contracted unions with Aegyptus and Danaus respectively. This Phoenix is probably the one to whom Homer attributed the paternity of Europa. We suggested that this first union described a preliminary stage of the path, namely a “mastery” achieved by the will of the outer personality. The liberation process really begins with the two girls, ancestors of Heracles. From a second wife, Argiope “who expressed herself in a luminous and pure way”, Agenor had a son, Cadmus. This version establishes him as the uncle of Europa.
In another tradition, Cadmus and Europa are brother and sister, children of Phoenix.
Finally, with Apollodorus and Hygin, Cadmus, Europa and Phoenix are children of Agenor and Telephassa, “the purity (dove) in the far”, or Argiope, “who expresses herself in a luminous and pure way”.
The symbolism of the name Phoenix, “purple”, is obscure. It is perhaps related to the inner fire that is growing with the expansion of consciousness.
The marriage of Cadmus and Harmonia initiates the purification process leading to the liberation of nature. Indeed, let us remember, this path wants to speed up evolution by purification and the liberation from the subjection to nature and its processes in the lower layers of the self. It is not so much about discovering new horizons as clearing the dross of evolution so that the New can act in us.
A number of processes described here are recurring because they tackle successive layers of memory knots. The spiritual path is indeed a series of ascensions and integrations, of conquests on increasingly higher planes that bring us down to more profound obscurities, into the archaisms of our unconscious nature. As the yoga advocated by the myths dismisses processes that would only lead to personal liberation in the worlds of the Spirit or an escape into some paradise, it aims at the divinization of the lower nature, requiring a profound transformation of the latter.
The process studied here implies that the seeker already had a first experience of the Real, even fleeting (Epaphos, who has received the “touch” of the Absolute). He makes inroads in the higher mind, accepting intuition as an aid on his path. He engaged more or less consciously in a purification process (awareness of the inner movements, distancing from the outside world and vigilance to untangle mixtures and other sources of impurity).
Agenor, not seeing his daughter Europa come back, sent his wife Telephassa and all his other children to search for her, not allowing them to return until they found her. Their search was in vain and they settled in Thrace where Telephassa died. (Some say that only Cadmus was sent looking for his sister.)
Cadmus decided to consult the oracle of Delphos. The oracle told him to stop his search because he would not find his sister, but to follow a cow that he would meet on his way. Where she would lay down (or collapse from exhaustion) he had to found a city.
Cadmus followed the instructions of the oracle. He wandered through Phocis where he found a cow which led him across a large part of Boeotia (a province named Aonie at that time) before stopping.
Prior to the laying of the first foundation stone, Cadmus decided to sacrifice the cow in honor of Athena. As he required lustral water, he sent his companions to draw water at a nearby spring. It was dedicated to the god Ares and guarded by a terrifying dragon-snake, who put to death those came near. His companions were wiped out. Finally Cadmus went himself to the spring and killed the dragon. Then, on the advice of Athena (or Ares), he sowed the dead Dragon’s teeth from which dreadful warriors with weapons came out, the “Spartoi” or ‘”Sown men’ who, according to some, killed each other deliberately, involuntarily according to others. According to some authors, Cadmus threw stones at them, which provoked their fratricidal fight, each one believing he was attacked by the others.
Only five of them survived, and they established the foundations of the future city. (We are not taking into account Hellanicus’ version that excludes the fratricidal war of the Sown men.)
For killing the Dragon who was a protégé of Ares, Cadmus was forced to spend a year in the service of Ares. Cadmus then proceeded to the construction of the Cadmea, which later took the name of Thebes.
Cadmus fighting the dragon – Louvre Museum
The meaning of the name Cadmus is not clear. With the Greek letters this could be “the opening of the consciousness to mastery or service”. The root ΔΜ is indeed related to the idea of the tamer (mastery) or to the slave (service).
One can also mention that the root καμ (derived from the aorist of the verb καμνω “to work”) would give with the insertion of delta “the work towards union”. This would be more in agreement with the notions of purification and liberation for union conveyed by the heroes of this branch.
The symbolic reason why Telephassa and her children could not find Europa is unclear. Perhaps this is simply to mean that the expanding process of consciousness and that of purification will develop in parallel while ignoring each other.
Parallel to the expansion of consciousness and the refinement of the discernment through participation in the world, the seeker must undergo an active purification of his nature’s knots in order to gradually establish a perfect equality. In Thebes, “the incarnation of the inner consciousness”, the most important city of Boeotia, Cadmus is the founder of this path.
However, before reaching Thebes, Cadmus and Telephassa settled first in Thrace, the province of asceticism, which marks the beginning of the quest. Telephassa “purity in the distance” died there, which we can understand as an indication of the end of the preparatory period.
The beginning of yoga is then marked by a period of uncertainty. Although his inner voice (the Apollonian oracle of Delphi) asked the seeker to resume his journey until he is guided by “a higher light” (the meeting of the cow), the wandering continues for some time.
Indeed, Cadmus travelled first to Phocis whose name is associated with the “seal”. This animal is the symbol of vital elements, perhaps subconscious (Proteus, one “of the old men of the sea” watched over Poseidon’s seal herds). It evokes the idea of a transition (it’s an animal both of land and water). We can therefore probably associate this crossing of Phocis with a period of wandering and subconscious experiences during which the seeker ignores the direction to follow in the quest.
Cadmus then met the aforementioned cow that led him across Boeotia: in the beginning of the path, after the period of wandering, the seeker is guided by a “light” and he is only asked to “follow” it. In practice, this translates into openings that take different forms: unexpected meetings, readings, etc.
Then, by the sacrifice of the cow to the goddess Athena, the seeker realizes that the “light” that guided him during the previous phase prepared his entrance on the path.
To mark the beginning of this commitment, he must purify himself. (Although this is not specified, one can suppose that water was necessary for the purification of the officiant.)
But this first purification is not without difficulties, because the movement of evolution (the dragon-snake) opposes it. Indeed, when one seeks to speed it up, all the old laws are opposed.
This dragon was a protégé of Ares (or even his son): it is therefore a “gatekeeper” that ensures the right evolution of forms. If the seeker is not ready, if he has not developed enough individuality, he cannot appear before “the doors of the temple”.
Also a number of aspects of the surface personality must be transformed or some attachments have to stop (some companions of Cadmus killed by the dragon). This purification can undoubtedly be linked to the preparation of Heracles, especially the murder of Megara’s children and the death of the lion of Cithaeron. It concerns mental arrogance, complacency and other shortcomings that we have described in the first chapter. The priority is no longer the assertion of the ego in the world, but the contact with the inner being.
When the purification is sufficient, it is the symbolic entrance on the path: Cadmus himself killed the dragon.
The seeker can then “lay the foundation stones” of the process that will lead him to “equality” by purification, opening and radiance of all the centers (chakras).
In the primitive tradition, the city of Thebes was first named Cadmea. It was founded by Amphion and Zethos, the sons of Antiope and Zeus, who we will discuss further, and then rebuilt by Cadmus. According to another tradition that combined the two versions, Cadmus erected only the citadel or upper town of Thebes “the Cadmea”, while Amphion and Zethos built the lower town.
On the advice of Athena “power directing the evolution of the inner being” (or of Ares “the power watching over the right evolution of forms”), Cadmus had to sow the dragon’s teeth. According to some authors, the teeth would have been sown by Athena and not by Cadmus. This would be rather an automatic consequence of the commitment to the path than a movement of the ego under the influence of the higher consciousness.
In the process of purification-liberation that should make the forms receptive to the action of the Spirit’s powers, the seeker must then accept to let the evolutive knots emerge to consciousness, even facilitate their manifestation. Sowing the dragon’s teeth is to initiate this process by involvement in the incarnation. These teeth represent the crystallized memories of evolution resulting from non-assimilated experiences. Uprooting them (“sowing” them), gives them the opportunity to resolve themselves.
To make the parallel with the other major path, some authors (including Apollonius of Rhodes in his account of the quest for the Golden Fleece) claim that half of the teeth were preserved to be sown by Jason in Colchis. In the first steps on the path of ascension of the planes of consciousness, dealing with certain memories would then be imposed at a specific moment on the path by the higher planes of the soul as the condition for the experience of enlightenment. But with Cadmus, it is rather the acceptance of a process (to be renewed many times) which is “recommended” by Athena and is therefore an integral part of yoga.
One wonders, however, if Apollonius has not adapted the older myth of Cadmus.
If a number of elements have some similarity (the order given to Jason by Aietes and the advice given to Cadmus by Athena, the work of preparation and purification in the form of the ploughing of the field or the quest of lustral water, etc.) we can nevertheless identify some major differences.
In the quest of Jason, the seeker must prove that he is capable of mastering “the powers of realization of the luminous mind” (to put under the yoke of the bulls snorting fire) before allowing the emergence of the knots and accessing an experience of high “sensitivity” (the Golden Fleece). He must also work on himself (“ploughing the field” is a common metaphor for the “work on oneself”). Then he must participate to some extent in the destruction of the “spartoi” by mowing those “who were still half buried and the latecomers who left for battle”. However, the myth takes an idea proposed in the other path, namely the cancellation of the knots when they are faced with reality (the stone thrown by Jason in the middle of the warriors and for which they kill each other).
Conversely, in the story of Cadmus, the quest begins with a period of wandering during which the seeker does not let out of his sight the light that was given to him (Cadmus follows the cow). Then after an act of commitment, he is led to a necessary purification, preparing the processing of memories. He also discovers the fundamental laws of energy (the surviving Sown men), what prevented the quest for the Fleece. Finally, and above all, the myth of Cadmus suggests the possibility of a choice, which is not the case with Jason.
It is important to note that Cadmus is not fighting against the Sown men, but only against the Snake-Dragon of Ares. Indeed, according to traditional teaching, the seeker should not fight with his “shadows” but only “shake up” the unchanging forms. These are guarded by the Serpent who watches over the right evolution of forms (the Snake dedicated to the god Ares) because they allowed the necessary stabilization.
When the myth describes a fratricidal war between the “Sown men”, it is only to say that some knots cancel out each other when they are placed together. This confrontation may be deliberate, but sometimes also unintended when they are the result of life events.
At the end of the fight of the “Sown men”, there were only five survivors left.
Five characterizes the world of forms. These five surviving “Sown men” would then be the symbols of the fundamental forces supporting the evolution of life forms. This is why they are described as “the foundation of the future city” or “the founders of its military caste”. They should therefore not be considered as unresolved traumas, but as guardians of forms that would only disappear with the descent of the Supermind.
These are very powerful energies that can be considered obstacles and destructive forces as long as they are in the form of teeth, unconscious energies, and, on the contrary, as powerful supports of the quest when they are brought to consciousness.
Common translations bring little information about their nature. Indeed, the five Sown men are called Chthonios “the Earth (the body)”, Oudaios “underground or emerging from the earth”, Hyperenor «proud of his strength”, Pelorus “prodigious or monstrous (of enormous size)” and Echion “the snake or the viper”, i.e. the progressive force of concentration of the consciousness or its interruption, perverted or not.
With the structuring letters, we can better apprehend their meaning: Echion “ΧΙ, the interruption of evolution of consciousness, what keeps us away from the Divine”, Oudaios “Δ+Ι the union of consciousness, what brings us close to the Divine”, Chthonios “ΧΘ + ΝΙ the evolution of consciousness from the body”, Hyperenor “Υπερ + ΝΩ a powerful evolution from matter” and finally Peloros “root Πελ + ΩΡ the movement of the shadow in matter”.
To close this chapter of the founding of Thebes, Apollodorus and a scholar of Hellanicus mention that “as punishment for killing the Dragon who was protected by Ares, Cadmus was forced to spend a year of the gods at his service”.
The god Ares is the great “controller” of the evolution of forms and cannot allow premature movements. It is therefore not enough to loosen the knots, to release the energy, but one must immediately keep it in the right forms, hence the need for the seeker to strictly control its use.
The processing of “memories” is one of the foundations of the spiritual path; it fills the whole life of the seeker, from personal, family, clans, nations and race knots, down to the memories of the corporal, physical and cellular nature. The more his consciousness is developed, the more the seeker will have to confront powerful archaic knots. These are encysted in man at the mental, vital and physical level, right down to the most archaic symbolic structures and densest legacy of animal life, the bone and teeth.
It should be noted that in this process, it is always an influx of light (the cow) that calls the corresponding shadow (spartoi) so that it is dissolved. It corresponds to the process of ascension-integration described by Sri Aurobindo.
The myth gives no indication about the exact nature of these memories, simply because they are countless, and initially, specific to each person.
That the body retains memories from past evolution is now a scientific fact. The memory of life traumas is only one aspect of this general memory which also includes trans-generational memories.
The topic of the so-called “karmic” personal memories is beyond the scope of this book. However, we can imagine every human being as a beam of light that sometimes “solidifies”. He then preserves the memory of all these “incarnations”, at least everything that has contributed to the maturation of his “psychic being”.
A particular incarnation could then imply the solving of a number of problems that revolve around a “major impossibility” already encountered. The conditions would then be put in place to provide the obstacle, the opportunity and the capacity to solve it.
However, we can also imagine that the psychic being chooses to experience a situation having nothing to do with his past.
The marriage of Cadmus and Harmonia
The “knots” manifest on each of the planes of our nature as all kinds of dis-harmonies. To make a knot disappear means to recover the fundamental “harmony” of this point; it is to engage in a process of “exactness”, “accuracy” or “rightness”.
Taking the path of the “just” is so important that the marriage of Cadmus and Harmonia will be one of the only two unions of a mortal with a goddess attended by the gods (with much later the one of Peleus and Thetis) even though they disapprove of any union of this type.
After Cadmus had spent a year of servitude at the service of Ares for killing the dragon, the gods gave him as wife Harmonia, the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares. As the bride was one of them, the gods came down from the Olympus to attend the wedding. The bride received a famous necklace as a gift from Cadmus, the work of Hephaestus, the same necklace that Zeus gave to Europa in Crete. (Diodorus says it was a gift from Aphrodite or Athena who also offered a dress.)
From this union were born five children: a son, Polydoros, the great-grandfather of Œdipus, and four daughters, Autonoe, Ino, Semele and Agave.
At the end of their lives, Cadmus and Harmonia were transported to the “Isles of the Blessed” (The Fortunate Isles).
According to Euripides and later authors, Dionysus made the prediction ‘”they would be first transformed into snakes and at the head of a large army, they would ransack many cities until they were eventually defeated the day they would attack the oracle of Apollo”.
The name Harmonia means both an “adjustment” and a “fair proportion”, i.e. the quality of elements that are exactly in their place, not mixed – what we call here “purity” (at its primary level) – and in just relation to each other, “the just”. (With the structuring letters, it describes “an evolution of surrender to the just law of perfect balance”.)
Harmonia is daughter of Aphrodite and Ares, fruit of “love in evolution” through the process of “transformation of forms.”
Born from two major deities, she should also be among the recognized immortal deities. Obviously, this isn’t the case and the reason is probably that Homer considers Aphrodite “love in evolution” (as the daughter of Zeus and Dione). On the other hand, it must be remembered that Ares is the lover and not the husband of Aphrodite, who is Hephaestus. One would think that belonging to the fifth generation of gods would automatically cancel his status of god, but this is also the case of Hermes.
Harmony would then be a symbol of an evolving state which, in its ultimate perfection – a state of perfect accuracy and equanimity, is very far from the common acceptation of the term harmony. She would therefore represent a state that could be described as “trust (in the Divine)” related to the current evolution in duality (she is daughter of Ares) which implies the existence of its opposite related to fear, her brothers Deimos and Phobos, “Terror” and “Fear”. That would explain why she can unite with a mortal with the approval of the Olympians.
The marriage of Cadmus and Harmonia would be a symbol of incarnation for the inner being (Thebes) by which “the work of purification for the union” (Cadmus) takes as a goal the trust in the Divine and equanimity (Harmonia).
The gods offered gifts of all kinds, but only a dress and a necklace were of importance which was subsequently confirmed.
The dress, the symbol of the function, was given by Athena.
The necklace was offered, according to the sources, by Athena, Aphrodite, or even Cadmus who would have inherited it from his sister Europa, herself having received it from Zeus when she met the god in Crete. At the same time it “contains” (by analogy with the belt) and adorns. So it can be associated with the mastery or the truth (beauty) of the word.
Perhaps it also establishes a link with the one who offers it, as a sign of belonging.
In many traditions, sound defines the essence, the Truth of all things, and it is creative. If man wants to take his place as creative power, it is therefore essential to master his speech, then to make it true. The word allows one to “name” truthfully.
This necklace will go from hand to hand and we will find it on several occasions.
At the end of their lives, Cadmus and Harmonia were very logically led to the “Isles of the Blessed”, the place of accomplishment of “truthfulness”.
However, many authors following Euripides mention their prior transformation into snakes, meaning in evolutive processes which have to undo a number of personality structures (they plundered many cities), before the “word” of the psychic being leads the quest (before having to confront the oracle of Apollo). The work of purification/liberation must bring the psychic being to the foreground (the psychisation of the being).
The children of Cadmus and Harmonia
The children of Cadmus and Harmonia illustrate different ways by which the work of purification/liberation towards “truthfulness” (purity, accuracy and exactness) can be accomplished. In this regard, let’s not forget that the path of purification must always be considered in parallel with the process of liberation described in the work of Heracles, because Agenor and Belos are twins.
Five children are named: a son Polydoros, and four daughters, Autonoe, Ino, Semele and Agave.
Three girls represent realizations evolving in wrong directions: Ino, Agave and Autonoe.
Polydoros and Semele represent the two directions of “aspiring” and “consecration” in order to achieve truthfulness.
Ino or the excessive asceticism of the beginners
During the study of the first children of Aeolus we have already mentioned Ino, symbol of the beginning of the quest. Let’s recall here the essential elements of her story.
She was the second wife of Athamas “who enters a certain consecration (to Reality) for his inner evolution”, king of Boeotia. She had two children, Learchos “the quest subjected to principles” and Melicerte “who labors forcefully”. Jealous of the children of a first marriage, Phrixos and Helle, she represents the mistake of beginners who follow a path according to strict, sometimes excessive, rules, and rely on the will of the ego to find their first “luminous experiences.”
Struck crazy by Hera, Athamas killed their son Learchos with his arrows while Ino sank into the depths of the sea, their son Sisyphus in her arms. The latter was then renamed Palaimon “the wrestler.” Ino became Leucothee “the white goddess”, a sea goddess that the sailors in distress could now implore.
Submission to strict rules must disappear and the “forceful labour” must be transformed into a “zeal to fight” that draws its force and energy from a harmonized vital (Learchos dies and Melicerte must now act as Palaimon, a sea deity).
Likewise, Ino, symbol of the quest turned towards the incarnation, must transform into Leucothee, the White Goddess expression of a quest for purity or inner truthfulness. She will then come to the rescue of the sailors in distress and in particular of Ulysses: when the seekers face the difficulties of yoga, they will receive help from this inner “truthfulness” and the strength it generates to overcome them.
The third wife of Athamas must redirect the quest in the right direction: “the law of what is right, just”: Themisto, i.e. “just movement of evolution” (in yoga).
The Ino myth therefore marks the end of misdirection and the entry on the “narrow path” of the quest. This passage is confirmed by the first of the big four games, the “Isthmic Games” or the “narrow passage” games instituted by Sisyphus, and by the migration of Athamas of Boeotia in Thessaly.
We should also remember that Ino raised together with her children the small Dionysus, son of her sister Semele. She took him with her when the latter was consumed by the brilliance of Zeus, who appeared at her request in all his magnificence. Regardless of the extent of imperfections at the beginning of the path, it is indeed a period of strong aspiration that makes the inner fire grow under the aspects of consecration and transforming joy.
Autonoe or the deviance of the “too perfect” seeker
The second of Cadmus’ daughters, Autonoe, illustrates another mistake on the path. This time it no longer concerns the beginners who go astray by the letter rather than by the spirit and demonstrate stiffness rather than rigor, but the fairly advanced seekers who fall into the trap of spiritual pride and rely on their own comprehension of the path rather than on the messages of the inner being. They consider the end of an advanced stage as the ultimate goal.
Cyrene (the sister of Themisto, the third wife of Athamas) was the daughter of the Lapith king Hypseus, himself son of the river god Peneus.
She liked hunting wild animals. While she fought a lion with her bare hands, Apollo fell in love and took her to Libya to unite with her. She gave the god a son, Aristaeus. He was entrusted to the Horae, fed with nectar and ambrosia, and soon excelled in all human activities: he knew how to heal, prophesize, hunt and drive herds, breed bees, grow olive trees and prepare wool.
He united with the daughter of Cadmus, Autonoe. She bore him a son, Actaeon, who created a famous pack of 50 dogs and became a great hunter.
But the latter offended the goddess Artemis, either pretending to be a better hunter, or even by catching her naked while she was bathing in a spring. According to another source, he made himself a competitor of Zeus by courting Semele. This provoked the anger of the god who then asked Artemis to put an end to the misdeeds of the impudent.
The goddess punished Acteon by transforming him into a deer so that his dogs, not recognizing him, would devour him.
For Stesichore, the goddess merely covered him with a deer skin because “her purpose was to prevent him from marrying Semele'”.
The three generations concerned with this myth describe the process by which the seeker, as advanced as he may be, goes astray.
The grandmother of Actaeon, Cyrene “sovereign authority” symbolizes a “very great mastery”. She is the sister of Themisto “law of what is right, just” who was the last wife of Athamas who we just spoke about. Both are daughters of Hypseus “who is at the top”, a Lapith king, i.e. a seeker who reached an advanced stage of yoga.
Let’s recall that the Lapiths and the Centaurs are the people of Thessaly (the province of committed seekers) issued from the river god Peneus “evolution of a right balance or mastery” in the incarnation, because Peneus was married to Creusa “the incarnation”. Hypseus had two sisters who were both loved by Apollo, Stilbe “who shines with beauty” and Daphne, “the laurel”. The latter is the symbol of true spiritual victory, the psychic realization.
Cyrene “a great mastery” represents the stage of a seeker fighting his ego by using his own nature “in truth” as a weapon (she fights the lion with bare hands under the same conditions as Heracles during his first labour). This means without using any special practice of yoga but through sincerity, want for progress and bringing consciousness into inconscient.
This mastery brings to the foreground the psychic light, Apollo. The union of the god with Cyrene occurred in Libya, where the liberation is incarnated. The mastery in yoga is then sufficiently incarnated to produce fertilization by the psychic being and the apparition of a yoga work for the “best”, Aristaeus ‘he who holds the first rank, the best’.
And the best continues as long as the seeker follows “the just law of consecration”. So the child is fed with what is needed at the highest levels of the being, the overmind, the nectar and ambrosia, the food of immortality usually reserved for the gods: the seeker is nourished by the powers of the spirit, with what supports the state of non-duality.
Themisto brings the sense of high rectitude, because she is the daughter of the Lapith Hypseus “who is elevated”. The Horae who raised him are Eirene (Peace or Serenity), Dike (Justice), and Eunomia (Order), which are in terms of yoga, “equanimity”, “accuracy” and “what puts everything in its right place” or “purity”.
After some development (when Aristaeus became an adult), the seeker knows how to harmonize the energies (the art of healing). He developed intuitive abilities (the prophecy), acquired endurance, patience and determination turned towards the goal (the art of hunting). He knows how to orient the energies in the same direction, including the stubborn ones (he knew how to lead the herds, to “bring together on a single path, in a flowery grazing land, rebellious, slow or roving bands of sheep by putting in front a goat that stimulates and regulates the pace” ; Nonnos, Dionysia, V 229 and following). He realized that nothing is separated, that everything is divine (because “he wrote the pastoral song of Pan, the host of the mountains“; Cf. the study of the god Pan at the end of the chapter). He works for the mastery of the mental-vital and uses for that purpose mantras (he struck against the other the brass that threatened the bees frightened for their swarm; finally, while they buzzed incessantly in the vaults of their hives he increased with his noisy hand a loud sound). He also knows how to work for his purification (produce olive oil). Finally, he prepared for his function (the future dress) by a labour of putting in order and refinement (carding and spinning of wool that precedes the weaving).
Then comes a moment when deviance starts to appear, when the seeker relies on his own mind to move towards equality and perfection: Aristaeus unites with Autonoe “she who is directed by her own will” or “she who is herself her own intelligence of the path or her own spiritual authority”, the daughter of Cadmus. He hopes or realizes a partial identification with the Divine while his ego lives on.
Initially, the deviance does not appear. The son of Aristaeus and Autonoe, Acteon, symbol of an “opening to the heights of the spirit”, inherits his father’s realizations. He is a great hunter, accompanied by a pack of 50 dogs: the seeker has developed a “totality” of tools or intuitive abilities in the pursuit of the goals of yoga (fifty dogs).
But the ego still wants to retain its grip and assert itself as the best guide of purification rather than what comes from the psychic being (Acteon pretends to be a better hunter than Artemis). The seeker believes that he has reached the goal. All his “intuitive skills” in yoga (his dogs) then turn against him because the seeker must go to the end of his mistake.
The many variations about the reason of Actaeon’s death indicate that the seeker believes he has realized union and total identification with the Divine insofar as he thinks he has achieved total purification of his being or “liberation” (he thinks he’s worthy to see Artemis naked and compete with Zeus). In fact, being himself the judge of his experience, as high as it may be, he is unable to recognize that his realization is just an intermediate step where ego got mixed in. He left the path of right consecration.
This realization can create illusion in the eyes of the world.
If Actaeon is devoured in the form of a stag or a deer, it is probably to indicate that his consecration is still too much of an ego-trip.
At this level, realizations, even offered to the Divine and of whatever nature they are, cannot in any case replace this “self-giving”.
The first two daughters of Cadmus, Ino and Autonoe, describe the mistakes that can continue throughout the path, with all the intermediate shades that are not described: in the beginning, a formal and sometimes excessive asceticism based on principles and the will of the ego (Ino), and for the advanced seekers, a deviance that results from a lack of consecration. The myth therefore calls for vigilance all along the way.
The other two daughters of Cadmus relate more to the nature of purification that must happen in a state of consecration.
Semele, also named Thyone “who desires with ardour”, embodies an intense aspiration to “see”, i.e. to “know” the Divine. This knowledge, even if it consumes the being initially, would lead, after maturation, to the experience of mystic joy in union or ecstasies (Dionysus is the son of Semele).
As for Agave, she represents the way that combines the path of purification/liberation with suffering (or at least an “adherence to its inevitability”) which finds its source in the memories of evolution.
Semele and Agave can most probably be linked to the “dark path” and “the sunlit path” mentioned by Mother and Sri Aurobindo, the first being the path of arduous effort while the second is an “enthusiastic” surrender.
The conflict between Pentheus (son of Agave) and Dionysus (Semele’s son) illustrates therefore the inner struggle of the seeker inheriting the culture of arduous effort and suffering and doubting that a path practiced in relaxation, joy and devotion can lead faster towards the goal.
Agave and her son Pentheus, or the attachment to effort and suffering (the dark path)
The third daughter of Cadmus is called Agave. She united with one of the “Sown” Echion and bore a son, Pentheus.
The latter usurped the throne of Thebes then occupied by his grandfather Cadmus and made the city a perfect model of a Greek city.
But the Maenads were, according to him, a source of disorder and trouble. Taking the new god Dionysus for an imposter, Pentheus was opposed to the introduction of his rituals despite the warnings of the diviner Tiresias (according to Euripides, he was even ready to eradicate his cult).
The mother of Pentheus, Agave, also refused to believe that Zeus was really the father of Dionysus, which upset him a lot. This is why Dionysus struck her and all the women of the city with madness and sent them wandering in the mountain with his Maenads. Then, taking the appearance of one of his devotees, he let himself be imprisoned in the stables and escaped immediately, thus demonstrating his powers. Then he caused an earthquake.
He then persuaded Pentheus to watch the women who celebrated his mysteries in the mountain. The king was to disguise himself as a woman to avoid attracting attention. He climbed then on top of a pine tree to watch the women “in a frenzy”. They spotted him immediately and tore him to pieces, imagining they were chasing a lion. His mother Agave even proudly brought back to Thebes his head stuck on a pike.
Before the 5th Century BC there is no mention of the marriage of Agave nor the existence of her son Pentheus. The more complete version that came to us is the one of Euripides, repeated by Nonnos in the 5th Century of our era.
The essence of this myth coming from Euripides, we have to accept the usual reservations regarding its interpretation.
The third daughter of Cadmus, Agave, means “noble, worthy of admiration”. But it can have multiple other meanings based on the root “αγ”(to lead, or to be pure) or the prefix “αγα”(very), with the upsilon as structuring letter (state of receptivity). It conveys therefore ideas of purification and receptivity. It’s the idea of purification in a state of passivity that we will use, consistent here with the path of purification-liberation.
This approach to purification by suffering, embodied here by Agave united to Pentheus, is often linked to the idea that the atonement for fault is essential for the growth of the vital-mental man. This conception must undergo a mutation. The Yoga of Sri Aurobindo never takes suffering as a basis or purpose. It does not confer any merit and is in no way pleasing to the Divine. On the contrary, it indicates a resistance to the transformation. It must never be encouraged
But it will happen only gradually because his first cousin Labdacos (son of Polydoros and grandfather of Œdipus) who perished after Pentheus,”thought pretty much like him”.
The initial purpose of purification is deflected when a perversion issued from the memories of evolution takes it as purpose. Indeed, Agave unites with one of the five “Sown” survivors, Echion “the Viper” or “stopping the consciousness in the incarnation (ΧΙ + Ω)”. (The name Echion can be compared with Echidna, with khi taken in its negative sense, i.e. “stop”).
There arises then a desire for purification without consciousness, i.e., without discrimination. It leads to an adherence/identification with the effort and the induced suffering, based in part on guilt and embodied by the son of the perverted couple, Pentheus. This name means “suffering, weeping” and with the structuring letters “a halt to inner evolution, Π + ΝΘ”.
We can better identify the type of deviance introduced in this path of yoga by Echidna in the light of this sentence of Sri Aurobindo in A God’s Labour:
“For man’s mind is the dupe of his animal self;
Hoping its lusts to win
He harbours within him a grisly Elf
Enamoured of sorrow and sin.
The grey Elf shudders from heaven’s flame
And from all things glad and pure;
Only by pleasure and passion and pain
His drama can endure.”
Reference is made here to a deviance unrelated to masochism. Rather, it is an adherence to suffering that has been stored in our archaic memory during the formation of the animal self (with Phorcys and Ceto, children of Pontos). It is a stage where the vital feeds itself in equal parts with pleasure and pain.
In one way or another, what predominates in this difficult path is the effort and suffering as a principle of purification and liberation. As a result, any manifestation of joy and devotion becomes suspicious and questionable: not only does Pentheus become the king of Thebes (Nonnos tells us he usurped the throne while Cadmus was still alive) but still he sought to eradicate the cult of Dionysus.
The seeker organizes his mental constructions perfectly on the basis of this unity of purification with suffering, making it a perfect model of a Greek city. He rejects the path of “enthusiastic” devotion, its practices and its expressions (the cult of Dionysus, its rites and the Maenads).
A note on “Eumenides”, lost play by Aeschylus, mentions that the women of Thebes went with the Maenads on Mount Cithaeron, which situates this deviance at the beginning of the path (cf. the Lion of Cithaeron killed by Heracles.)
The seeker refuses to consider that expressing “enthusiasm” for the Divine, a path of mystic ecstasy, could be a right path in line with the principle of evolution of the highest consciousness (Agave and her son Pentheus refuse to consider that Dionysus might be a son of Zeus).
However, the warnings of the diviner Tiresias suggest that the seeker feels that it is wrong to refuse this mystical ecstasy. Moreover, all the attempts to shake his certainties are in vain: the attempt to win over the intuitive parts (women of the city), or the “signs” presented by life and that the seeker cannot ignore (the “demonstrations” of the god) or still, the vital and physical upheavals, i.e. psychological breakdowns and physical illnesses (the god frees himself from his chains and causes an earthquake that makes the stables collapse).
The seeker is then led to observe more carefully, from the point of view of the highest occult knowledge, putting himself in tune with the energy he refuses, in a state of receptivity (Pentheus is invited by Dionysus to watch the Bacchantes and the delusional women of Thebes from the top of a pine tree, disguised as a woman).
(Remember that the Dionysian Thyrsus as well as the Caduceus of Hermes have at their tip a pine cone, symbol of occult Knowledge.)
But the Bacchantes, including his mother, see him as a lion and kill him (according to Nonnos, they are “the killer of lions” and therefore killers of ego): the consecrated parts of the being “see the truth”, and put an end to the error of orientation, whereas the ego clings to its knots and suffering.
These are the attributes of the “mystical madness” that can detect the fake and upset it at its roots. This can be compared at a higher level, to the role played by the “court jester”.
To ensure that the process is followed through, a profound change is necessary. The seeker must isolate the principle that made him deviate (Agave must dissociate herself from Echion).
This is the part that returned first to the right path (Agave), which removes the mental support that endorses and organizes this deviance (Agave cuts off the head of her son Pentheus). What has brought about the error is best able to correct it.
For us, the version of Euripides which orients the myth towards the repressed sex drive of Pentheus and actually makes him a voyeur, seems to induce a serious deviation from the meaning of the myth.
Agave is the path that chooses effort and suffering as the price to pay for victory. Sri Aurobindo admits, however, that each ordeal encountered on this path can be an opportunity of significant progress: “often they appear to show in ourselves the difficulties we have to overcome, and tell us: this is where you have to conquer. However, it is a too dark and difficult path that no one should follow if not compelled by necessity” (Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Volume 6).
Semele and his son Dionysus
Semele, on the other hand, represents the opposite way of absolute trust in the Grace. She asks to let herself be carried in relaxation, without fear, without grieving over anything, in the tranquillity of the mind and vital, and especially in a joyful acceptance of everything that comes. On this path, subjective pain is low or non-existent and objective pain cannot deeply affect the being.
Semele was beautiful. Zeus fell in love and took her as lover. He came every night to meet her in secret, which aroused the jealousy of Hera. She congratulated Semele for having such a high placed lover and suggested that she asks for proof that he was actually the one he claimed to be and that he really loved her. (According to some, she introduced herself to Semele in the form of her old nurse Beroe or one of her friends). Others say that Semele felt scorned and asked Zeus to appear to her like his wife Hera.
The god went then into the house of his lover, mounted on his chariot, wielding thunderbolt and throwing lightning. Semele died of fright and was consumed. However, as she was pregnant with the child of her divine lover, she gave birth prematurely before dying and Zeus installed the newborn in his own body – in his thigh for some authors – until the due date. (In another version, Zeus himself pulled out from the dying body of Semele the six or seven months premature baby. When the time came, the god gave birth to Dionysus on Mount Nysa, at the foot of Mount Helicon.
Later, thanks to the intervention of Dionysus who brought her back from the Kingdom of Hades, Semele rose to immortality and took her place on Olympus under the name of Thyone.
Before going into the details of this myth, it is necessary to have an overall view because it presents the beginning of a right path, a deviance and its recovery all at the same time. It addresses the relationship of the contemplative paths to the paths of mystical ecstasy, and among the latter, the good and bad ecstasies.
Initially, the relationship of the seeker to the Divine is correct, since Zeus fell in love with Semele. Some say that this happened while Semele bathed in the Asopos, the river-god, ancestor of Achilles, and therefore the sign that this myth is about an advanced stage on the path.
The connection to the divine, at the level of the Overmind, is effective but the seeker, while being aware of this connection, ignores its exact nature and especially its potential power (Zeus comes every night to Semele, but not in all his glory). It’s an experience that renews itself for some time, Zeus visiting Semele during the symbolic six or seven months that their relationship lasted.
Up until then, everything is going well and the purification process is going on.
The meaning of the name Semele is not clear. It is usually accepted that it is a deformation of the Thrace goddess Zemelo, but that association seems hardly plausible.
She is the daughter of Cadmus who belongs to the lineage of Oceanus and Harmonia, the latter being the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares: she represents therefore an expression of “accuracy” in the process of love’s growth, towards which the seeker must strive through the path of liberation and purification. With the structuring letters, we can understand that this is both a progress in the flow of energy and consecration towards liberation (Σ + Μ + Λ).
Semele is beautiful (therefore true), otherwise Zeus wouldn’t be able to take her as lover.
But “the power of limitation that ensures that nothing is left behind” finds a flaw: the impatience of the seeker who wants evidence that the Divine is with him/her. It instils doubt in his/her mind and persuades him/her to ask for confirmation of what s/he feels to be a contact with the Divine (Hera persuades Semele to ask Zeus to manifest himself in his full power).
At this point, a part of the seeker still demands or at least expects to receive from the Divine in return for his requests. But this demand seems inevitable on the way; so it can be said that Semele doesn’t really commit a mistake – unlike Minos who refused to sacrifice the bull – because it is Hera who incited her.
With Hygin and Ovid, Hera took the appearance of the old nurse of Semele, Beroe “the embodiment of the right movement”: the old woman representing wisdom, this doubt manifests itself in a misleading aspect, a familiar form in which the seeker has put his complete trust.
The seeker expects proofs and therefore “pulls” prematurely the spiritual forces.
In absolute terms, the Divine knows better than us what is good for us and we shouldn’t bother about it. The right attitude is to accept everything that comes with joy, never blame the outside, but to consider it as an opportunity, all the while fighting what must be. But human nature is such that under the pressure of the aspiration to evolve and the need for knowledge, man asks for signs.
According to Sri Aurobindo, the right attitude is to want “the Divine with total confidence and the will to surrender to him so that he does the work in us; to rely on him more than on one’s own efforts. This attitude of the being develops when the mind and the vital enter peace, when the mind receives the light and the pacified vital lets in the calm and joy of the Divine”.
For all the authors, Zeus answered the request of Semele; to any sincere request, even one which is rooted in an imperfection of the nature of the seeker, there is a response from the Absolute. Some authors say that Zeus promised Semele to fulfil all her prayers; the seeker would have acquired the certainty that the Divine would never abandon him and would always do the best for his/her evolution.
To this request uttered with force and insistence, the Divine responds with a powerful mystical ecstasy, a divine fullness possessed by the soul. The seeker is possessed by the Divine, but cannot bear the intensity; he’s literally “consumed” by a “divine intoxication.”
This can lead to psychological illnesses, at least by excesses which will be illustrated by some authors of the later tradition by the Maenads or the Bacchantes. Probably these excesses have only appeared in the texts starting with Euripides who we rank among the uninitiated authors, because initially the Maenads, the ‘Inspired’ are the nurses of the young Dionysus, and thus right expressions.
The Maenads are spirits of nature (nymphs). They were initially called Thyades “inspired”, and therefore carried the same sense as the Maenads. With the Greek letters ΘΥ they mean “those who operate from the inside.” They were later depicted as women in the grip of mystical delirium.
But whatever is the apparent initial damage, this first experience of taking possession of the soul by the Divine is not lost, because Zeus “retrieves” the premature baby.
However, there can be from that moment on ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ecstasies.
‘Good’ ecstasies would be those in which the seeker masters fully his vital nature and does not give in to any excesses.
‘Bad’ ecstasies would be due to vital excesses in a seeker who cannot contain the erupting forces in him.
If the seeker resists excesses and continues on his path of purification with perseverance, patience and endurance, then he is sure to reach the goal, to “possess” the Divine and be “possessed” by Him. This maturation is undertaken by the highest of the Overmind, who puts the result of this enthusiasm at a place of great strength (Zeus puts the premature baby, the future Dionysus, in his thigh).
When the time is ripe, a “joy”, a “divine inebriation” or ecstasy of oneness is manifested in a controlled and purified nature, and without excesses, because Dionysus was born immortal, therefore in a state of unity. In our view, it is necessary to distinguish “the psychic realization” which is the permanent union with the inner Divine from the possession of the soul by the Divine. This possession could be closer to the second phase, the spiritual transformation, as described by Sri Aurobindo.
However this possession of the soul by the Divine confers unusual abilities revealing the actions of the ego, in oneself and outside.
Dionysus will later search for his mother in Hades who took then the name of Thyone “the enthusiast”, accessing immortality on Olympus. This name conveys ideas of “what aspires with ardour”, of “possession or inspiration by the Divine” and “sacrifice to the gods”. It has the same structuring letters as Athena, Θ (Υ) + Ν, “the evolution of the growth of the inner being or inner Divine”, but incorporates also the idea of responsiveness and dedication given by the upsilon.
The myth of Dionysus does not describe an experience of ascending the planes of consciousness, or an experience of the Self – of union with the Divine in spirit, when any identification with the body, vital and mind ceases, a union that ignores evolution – but a soul possession of the seeker by the Divine, a response of the Divine to an “enthusiastic” aspiration that initially “pulls” often too violently. The power of the Divine, instead of entering a state of balance and equanimity, causes then instability and dementia.
As Semele is a daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia, it represents a goal of accuracy on the path of love’s growth through the work of purification of impatience.
The myth of the Minotaur pointed out the risk of confinement in a rigid mental structure that threatens the seeker in the yoga of Knowledge. However, the way embodied by Europa seems to have been the recommended path of yoga, the one of accuracy whose bearers are Minos and Rhadamanthus, “the kings of justice.” The myth of Semele is more about the yoga of Devotion and draws attention to the absolute need of patience and a sufficient maturation of this devotion in the power of the highest mind. That is why Sri Aurobindo insisted on the need for purification of the higher mind (Buddhi) as a preliminary step.
What could best summarize the myth of Dionysus, as well as the relationship of Agave and her son Pentheus with Dionysus, is the following aphorism of Sri Aurobindo (Thoughts and Aphorisms, 93):
“Pain is the touch of our Mother teaching us how to bear and grow in rapture. She has three stages of her schooling, endurance first, next equality of soul, last ecstasy. » The gestation of Dionysus in Zeus would be the learning of endurance and his adventures the maturity of equanimity.
Birth and youth of Dionysus
Zeus gave birth to Dionysus (by taking him out of his thigh) on mount Nysa to protect him from the hatred of Hera. Then he asked Hermes to entrust him to the nymphs who lived there. But as Hera had discovered the hiding place, he was entrusted to his aunt Ino and her husband Athamas who raised him (unless, according to other authors, it was the other way around, and the child was entrusted to the nymphs only after the death of Ino).
This episode of the second birth justifies the nickname attributed sometimes to Dionysus, “the twice born”. We could draw a comparison with the second birth, that in Spirit or “spiritual marriage.” Semele’s vision of Zeus in his glory would be the symbol of the first contact foreshadowing this union, the time of “spiritual betrothal”.
Homer mentions Dionysus, “joy for the mortals”, only very briefly, but he stresses his divinity starting from birth, although he is the son of a mortal. So this isn’t a hero born as a man and progressing towards divinization, but directly a god; this is therefore an experience of non-duality that will develop with the yoga. Hesiod also speak of him as an immortal (a-thanatos) (Theogony, around 942).
Mount Nysa doesn’t correspond to a known mountain and many assumptions have been made by the Ancients regarding its location. For us it is purely symbolic and might be there only to confirm the meaning of the name of Dionysus that has the same structuring letters). Ν + Σ, refer to “the evolution of human consciousness” in a state of receptivity-surrender (with the upsilon Υ). Dionysus would be the symbol of the way leading “human evolution to the conscious union with the Divine (ΔΙ) “who gives a sense of “Presence”. For the experts, the name Dionysus is of obscure origin.
For Homer and Hesiod, the primitive form of the name is Διωνυσος which extends the idea of the word’s formation from the genitive of Zeus insisting with the omega on “the incarnation” of the path, the descent into the body. (Which leads to what Satprem called “Divine materialism”.)
Dionysus has many other names, including Iacchus and Bacchus which was taken over by the Latins. We find the first references of this name in the 5th century. Iacchus is the symbol of “the consciousness which opens at the centre of the Being” while Bacchus is the symbol of the same movement penetrating matter. Both have as structuring letters ΚΧ, “the opening of consciousness at the centre”.
For Dionysus we keep the idea of an ‘opening capacity’ to the divine influx.
Dionysus is probably one of the mythological characters around which a lot of complexity and confusion developed, to the point of transforming the god who brings the joy of ecstasy into a god of drunken orgies.
Because there has been over time a progressive diversion of the symbolism of Dionysus which made out of this son of Zeus an orgiastic god in the derogatory sense of the word, whereas “the Dionysian orgy” is first of all a celebration inspired by the mysteries. Indeed, all what is related to “orgies” in the primitive myths is absolutely independent of wine.
Orphism, by appropriating the god to put him at the service of its own theology of dismemberment and regrouping of a god, has certainly contributed to this confusion.
If Homer calls him a “delusional” (μαινομενος), one must rather understand it according to the saying of St. Paul “May nobody fool himself’! If anyone among you thinks he is wise according to this world, he should get crazy to become wise; because the wisdom of this world is foolishness for God” (First Epistle to the Corinthians, 3.18). The devotees of Dionysus become “ενθεος, in the Divine”, the “enthusiastic” or “amazed”.
Athena and Dionysus are the only two gods who experienced a period of maturation inside Zeus. They share a privilege that differentiates them from the other gods. The fight of the warrior for the spiritualization of the mind and the growth of the inner being represented by Athena continued their development, not by a specific method of yoga, but by joining the cosmic flow of intelligence developed in man (gestation of Metis in Zeus). It is only when Athena appears from the head of the god as an adult, already armed, that her participation in the yoga becomes an integral part of the path.
Dionysus, however, only began his gestation by joining the sunlit path of consecration (in Semele), but it is the supraconscient which led him to the end (the response of the spirit and the end of gestation in Zeus). And unlike Athena, he appears as a fragile being in his youth. His power and “intransigence” will thereafter keep growing.
If some post-Homeric authors made him appear among the Twelve Olympians, it is not only because of his immortality, because then many other deities with the same status could also qualify.
In order to belong to the inner circle of the twelve, several conditions have to be met for which we can only make a number of assumptions.
First of all, the deity has to be immortal by birth, i.e. participate in a non-dual state.
Then, it must be a descendant of the Titan Cronos: either a brother or sister of Zeus, or a child of Zeus and an immortal goddess. That is, it must find its origin in the highest human supraconscient, the Overmind. (Aphrodite is here considered to be the daughter of Zeus and Dione according to the Homeric filiation, but not of Hesiod where she is issued from the sea froth; Maia, the mother of Hermes, is a full-fledged immortal because her father Atlas is considered to be a Titan.)
But all the deities who meet these two conditions do not belong to the Twelve Olympians, such as, for example, the Kharites, the Muses, the Horae and the Moires or even Hades, even if they are sometimes mentioned by some authors as residing on Mount Olympus.
Therefore, at least a third essential condition is needed: an active participation in human evolution of which the seeker can be aware. This would explain that neither Hades, god of the deep unconscious, nor the Moires, for example, are among the twelve.
The divinized mortals, such as Herakles and Ganymede, cannot belong to this circle because they do not meet the first condition.
In order for Dionysus to figure among the twelve, it was therefore necessary that Semele had an immortal status. That’s why Dionysus had to descend into Hades to find his mother and give her this status. Some authors could then make him appear among the overmind powers participating in the yoga, as an alternative, of course, to another god.
In general, the episodes about the maturity of the god are explained by the specialists of the Greek world as a refusal of the Dionysian cult. In this study, it would rather be a warning for the seekers who are encouraged to avoid “pulling” spiritual powers and be wary of the ecstasies occurring in natures lacking purification and mastery.
Dionysus and Lycurgus
Lycurgus, son of Dryas, pursued Dionysus and his nurses to the bottom of the sacred mountain Nysa (or Nyseion) by hitting them with a cattle prod, which caused such a fright to the small Dionysus that he plunged under the sea where he was rescued by the goddess Thetis. Zeus then deprived Lycurgus of eyesight and the latter died shortly after this, because he was hated by the immortal gods.
The version of the myth of Lycurgus presented here is that of Homer. (The one of Apollodorus puts the episode at the time when Dionysus is already an adult.)
His interpretation can vary, depending on the meaning of the name Lycurgus.
Lycurgus is a son of Dryas “the tree” or “the oak”. The green oak, symbol of strength, is the tree dedicated to Zeus. Big oak trees grow in the forest of Dodona in Epirus, where the oracle of this god takes place. Dryas is therefore a movement issued from the highest of the vital nature which “chases” what provides for the growth of this possibility of penetration of the Divine in the being (the nurses).
In many versions, Lycurgus is a king of Thrace. He represents an obstacle that arises among seekers on a powerful ascetic path (such as doubt, established tradition, etc.).
In a first interpretation, Lycurgus would mean “who rejects the nascent light, λυκ+eργω”. However, this meaning seems contradicted by the myths, including homonymous Lycurgus.
For Sophocles, Lycurgus is king of the Edonians. It would then be an expression of the “highest pleasure, enjoyment” which prevents the penetration of the Divine in the being.
In the opposite interpretation, Lycurgus would express “the passionate desire for light, λυκ+οργη ” and therefore, here also, a too “vitalistic” movement. Son of Dryas, he would then symbolize a too powerful vital desire to be possessed by the Divine, a desire that would become in the same way an obstacle.
In any case, it is an incompatibility between the descent of the Divine in the being and the non-regenerated vital. Pherecydes agrees by saying that the nurses are the Hyades, sisters of the Pleiades, symbols of the steps that fill the separation in the vital. This descent can only be fully achieved when the seeker has gone beyond the vital dualities, attraction and disgust, the “I like / I don’t like”.
The requirement of a complete surrender is impossible for beginners and even for those much further along the way; this “opening capability” must grow in contact with pure life forces (Dionysus seeks refuge at the roots of life, where the vital joy is pure, with the goddess Thetis, mother of Achilles and daughter of Nereus “the old man of the sea”).
The highest in the consciousness of the seeker forces him then to turn inward (Lycurgus is deprived of sight by Zeus) so that he understands why this new state has temporarily vanished (Dionysus took refuge in the vital subconscious).
In a well-directed yoga, in a just effort without constraint, this opposition of the non-purified vital cannot last long, because it cannot resist the forces that support evolution (the gods hated Lycurgus who had a very short life).
Post-Homeric tradition tells us that Dionysus made Lycurgus crazy, who, taking his son Dyas for a vine, cut off the ends of his limbs; Lycurgus, through his son, became unable to act.
Dionysus and the pirates (The version considered here is that of the 7th Homeric hymn)
This myth concerns the opposition which rises when the “opening” becomes significant. Somehow it is the counterpart of the Minotaur, as it also expresses a desire of the ego to appropriate the benefits of growth.
Pirates captured Dionysus who had appeared on the shore in the form of a beautiful young man. Seeing that they could take advantage, they tried to tie him up, but the ties immediately fell off. The pilot of the ship then sensed the true nature of the prisoner and tried in vain to convince the others to release him, but the captain refused. Then fragrant wine spread throughout the ship, and a vine with fine fruits invaded the masts. These signs terrified the sailors. Then Dionysus changed into a terrible lion and then made a bear appear to demonstrate his power.
The lion devoured the captain and the other sailors, except the pilot who was saved by the god; they threw themselves into the sea and turned into dolphins.
When the inner opening and joy become manifest, egotic elements in the being want to benefit from it (the pirates wanted to hinder the freedom of “teenager” Dionysus). Only the pilot, who directs the yoga, sensed the origin of this growing joy and tried in vain to convince his rebellious nature. He was called Hecator, which can be compared with Hecate “who aims at distant goals” or “who is beyond the self-deception of the mind”, first cousin of Apollo and Artemis by Asteria, sister of Leto.
To counter these movements, “the opening to Divine possession” uses the ego (Dionysus turns into a lion) before demonstrating his power (the bear).
Only the pilot was saved by Dionysus.
Dionysus and the Minyades
This story treated in chapter two (the first five children of Aeolus) gives an account of the dispute between those who prioritize virtues or ascetic exercises and those who are wary of the paths leading to expressions of ecstatic devotion. What is presented here as an external conflict can also be an inner opposition.
This story especially concerns Westerners who have a kind of instinctive recoil in front of external manifestations of devotion.
Remember that the Minyades refused to follow the mysteries of Dionysus, denying even the divinity of the god. Praising the work of Athena, they disapproved of the wanton conduct of the Bacchantes, whom they accused of leisurely celebrating a chimerical cult. While working on their looms, they were telling uplifting stories.
A similar story of refusal to follow the rites of Dionysus has been studied in the first chapter with the madness of Proetus’ daughters. It pointed out the risks of disruptions caused by spiritual experiences or constructions in the worlds of the spirit while the seeker refuses to include more devotion in the yoga.
Dionysus and Icarios
Under the reign of Pandion I, Dionysus visited Icarius and offered him wine. The latter lived near Athens with his daughter Erigone who was not yet married. Wanting to spread the blessings of the god, Icarius distributed this new beverage to the shepherds who found it pleasant and drank it without adding any water. Drunk, they believed themselves poisoned and killed Icarius. His daughter hanged herself and her dog died with her.
This story takes place during the reign of the king of Athens, Pandion I, which means at the beginning of the quest where the seeker who gives himself to the Divine has a strong tendency to work forcefully to obtain mastery. The character of Icarius must be compared with Icarus ‘clever intelligence’ at the service of self-mastery and no longer purification. It warns of the risk that this “skilful mental consciousness” (Icarius) wants to use divine Ecstasy for elements that are not ready to receive it pure (the shepherds). And the disruption introduced into these basic mental structures destroys this clever intelligence (the shepherds killed Icarius), the development of its goal (his daughter) and intuition (his dog).
Dionysus and Ariadne
According to the Theogony of Hesiod, Ariadne, rendered immortal by Zeus, married Dionysus.
Pherecydes adds that she was abandoned on the island of Dia by Theseus on the order of Athena as they returned to Crete after the death of the Minotaur. The goddess told her that she would become the bride of Dionysus, which occurred shortly after the god appeared on the island.
Homer presents a much different version than other authors as he does not unite Dionysus and Ariadne. A passage of the Odyssey tells the story thus:
“Ulysses met Ariadne in the kingdom of Hades. Theseus had formerly abducted her in Crete and taken her to the hill of holy Athens, but he could not enjoy his abduction. In fact, Ariadne was denounced by Dionysus and perished, struck by Artemis on the island of Dia surrounded by the waves.” (Odyssey XI, around 325).
Dionysos and Ariadne with satyrs and Hermes – Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ariane is a daughter of Minos “evolution of consecration” and Pasiphae, “who shines for all”, herself daughter of the sun Helios. Granddaughter of Europa “large vision” or “wide opening of consciousness”, she represents “the right movement of consciousness for the evolution towards union”, which enables one to get out of imprisonments.
In the Homeric tradition, the Dionysus-Ariadne union cannot happen in ordinary yoga for lack of purification (Ariane is killed by Artemis). It therefore takes place in Hades, according to Hesiod: at the level of the physical yoga, the ways of devotion and divine works converged towards the same realization.
But the latter must have first reached non-duality (made immortal by Zeus to become the wife of immortal-born Dionysus).
The golden crown offered by the latter represents the most perfect opening of consciousness to the higher levels of the spirit.
The children of Dionysus
In the archaic sources, Dionysus has no children. According to later traditions, Ariadne gave him several children including Oinopion “joy in the incarnation”, Thoas “impetuosity” or “interiority”, Staphylus “bunch of grapes (which announces ecstasy)”.
Finally, Apollodorus makes Deianira, “detachment”, the daughter both of Oeneus “drunkenness” as human father in the line of Protogenia (Iapetus) and Dionysus “ecstasy” as divine father, which would suggest that true “detachment” is found at the convergence of two great mystical unions, the one in the true Self and the one in the Divine who takes possession of the soul (the psychic and spiritual transformations).
Attribute of Dionysus
Dionysus and his Maenads are carriers of the thyrsus. It’s a stick topped with a pine cone, symbol of the essence of secret knowledge which attests that the one who is possessed by the Divine has access to true Knowledge.
(The word “thyrsus’ would mean with the structuring letters “right inner movement in a state of receptivity”.)
If the daughters of Cadmus and Harmonia can be associated with the awareness of some goals to achieve in this path seeking harmony, Polydoros represents more the directly active part. All should realize “accuracy”, i.e., to bring “the right vision in the mind, the right impulse and right feeling in the vital, the right movement and the right habit in the physical.” (Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga)
His name most probably means “who gives himself a lot, self-giving” without dismissing completely the sense of “many gifts (which is received)”, gifts that can be spiritual gifts including new creative capacities, mainly in the field of the arts.
There is nothing which indicates with certainty that, in the primitive myths, Polydoros had an offspring. It is only at the end of the 5th century that the relationship with Œdipus is established, in the writings of Herodotus and the Tragic poets (Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides). However, as this last hero is associated with myths dealing also with purification and re-harmonization – the War of the Seven against Thebes and the one of the Epigones – the filiation seems coherent.
On the other hand, the connection of Antiope to Polydoros is more complex to grasp, because two separate filiations are given, leading to two different chronologies of the foundation of Thebes which mark the entry into the active purification process.
In the next chapter, with the lineage of Polydoros, we will examine the stories about Antiope and her sons, Amphion and Zethos. Let’s only mention here that the beginnings of the process are marked by an orientation error in the yoga represented by Lycos and his wife Dirke. The latter mistreated Antiope for many years: the seeker already sees glimmers of truth (Lycos), but takes a wrong direction (the name Dirke indicates a reversal compared to Dike “right way to act”). At the same time, the bases of the purification process are laid down relatively easily while the seeker begins to experience “the night”. Polydoros, united with Nycteis “the night”, sister of Antiope, who bore him a son Labdacos, father of Laius and grandfather of Œdipus.
Appendix: The God Pan, the Satyrs and the Silens, the Curetes, the Corybantes, the Cabiroi and the Telchines.
These minor deities who intervene in the great myths are described in conflicting and often obscure sources. To follow the evolution of their symbolism over time would therefore require a special study that goes beyond the scope of this book.
The god Pan
We are dealing here with this god because he is often cited as belonging to the retinue of Dionysus. He is often compared to the Silens and Satyrs as his appearance is close to theirs. However, contrary to them, Pan is a god. He also has no affinity with drinking which favours the emergence of the unpurified vital. His horns, ears and legs of a goat must therefore have a different symbolism: the attributes of the goat which accesses the Spirit through the highest of the vital, and not by a raw life force. (Let’s recall that Zeus was nursed by a goat, Amalthea).
He is almost unknown in archaic time, because only the Homeric hymn to Pan composed in the 6th century attests to his existence. His influence became stronger in the classical period, and he seems to have gradually become an important deity of Orphism. Indeed, he is often represented in the retinue of Dionysus.
According to the Homeric hymn, he was born in Arcadia on Mount Cyllene, from Hermes and a Nymph with whom the god fell in love.
According to other sources, he would be the son of Penelope and Odysseus, or even Apollo.
Whatever his parentage, it always refers to very advanced experiences on the path: either to the most advanced seeker (Ulysses), the Overmind (Hermes), or to the radiance of the psychic being (Apollo).
Son of Hermes, he represents a realization of the Overmind, the ability to descend into the deep layers of the vital and/or reach its heights. The father is in no way disturbed by the boorish appearance of his son, because only the highest of the mind can integrate the totality of the shadow.
His mother, a nymph daughter of Dryops, expresses “the consciousness or vision in the vital” at a very archaic level of human development. It corresponds to the energies of nature that enliven “the tree”, and even the most advanced of them, the “oak” (Dryas). Arcadia, province in which the town of Olympia is located, is also the symbol of a very advanced region of the quest.
Pan is thus the expression of a force or a plane that the seeker encounters in the later stages of the quest, a plane at the roots of life where everything is considered and integrated, in keeping with the name of the God “Pan (Παν, everything)”. He expresses the integration of the shadow inherent to diving into the layers of the archaic vital and the revelation of the “true vital” or “cosmic vital (Pan)”. That is why, at his birth, Hermes introduced him to Zeus and the other gods who, without exception, rejoiced. Because even if Pan had a somewhat worrisome appearance that could cause some “unspeakable panic ” (which overwhelms the seeker)”, he was “happy at the bottom of the heart”: only a seeker who reached the Overmind can meet Pan without being destabilized by what this goat-god represents and find joy beyond all fear.
Symbol of the profound overmind-vital junction and the joy that accompanies the discovery of the true vital, he became a great god of Orphism.
Pan has also a piercing eyesight that reveals him to the seers (with the addition of discernment) who look at the world “from above”, because he watches his sheep from the summits.
Like his father, he plays the flute beautifully (Syrinx), late authors attributing the invention to him (although in the classical tradition the inventor was Hermes, after the latter had given the zither to Apollo.) He is therefore the expression of a certain capacity of adherence to “rhythm” and “harmony” (accuracy and purity).
Expression of the Overmind, he was able to intervene with his father Hermes to get his grandfather Zeus out of trouble after the latter defeated the Giants (during a fight occurring at a very advanced stage on the path and which we will have the opportunity to study further). According to Apollodore (I.6.3) Typhon had wings on his whole body, his size was so excessive that he overshoot all the mountains and often even his head touched the stars. The upper part of his body was just an intertwining of snakes. During the battle, he cut the nerves of the hands and feet of Zeus (or its tendons) and hid them. Hermes and Pan stole them and placed them in the body of the god, which allowed his final victory.
In the most advanced struggles of yoga, the process of consciousness expansion (Zeus) loses its faculty of action (cut tendons) and cannot overcome the fundamental ignorance (Typhoon) if the Overmind (Hermes) does not intervene with its capacity of integration of the shadow that opens up on the true vital or cosmic vital (Pan).
Late literature, under the influence of Christianity, gave a distorted image of this god who was, apparently, very honoured in Orphism. It shows him pursuing nymphs in the countryside, most of the time unsuccessfully.
The Satyrs and the Silens
The oldest sources make the Satyrs and Silens (who are the older Satyrs) descendants of Phoroneus. They describe them as worthless and unfit for work and do not mention any link with Hermes or Dionysus.
The first figurative representations depict them as half-human, half-goat, half-horse accompanying the procession of Dionysus.
Then they evolve into human with only a few special animal features, first of horses, then of goats (tail, ears, horns). Then they were equipped with thyrses and Pan pipes.
Most often mentioned as the sons of Hermes and the participants in the procession of Dionysus, they would be in this case the joyful expressions of the Overmind associated with the path of divine enjoyment.
The Curetes, Corybantes, Dactyls, Telchines, and Cabiroi
We do not study them here in depth because they are hardly involved in the great myths.
Their places of residence could give a first indication. The Dactyles of Mount Ida, “union”, may concern the realization of non-duality in spirit (Zeus was born on this mountain). The Telchines of the Isle of Rhodes, “pink”, are linked to the development of the psychic being while the Curetes and Corybantes “the inspired” of Phrygia “to burn” concern the growth of the inner fire, like the Cabiroi.
The name Curetes means “young warriors”, symbol of the seekers who take the path. Or with κουρος and the structuring letter T, they represent a help for seekers “who begin to aspire”.
By indulging in loud warrior dances, they allowed the growth of Zeus, sheltered from the searches of his father Cronos. In some legends, Zeus came out of their head which would have allowed the emergence of mental super-conscious “human consciousness”. They existed during the Golden Age, under the reign of Cronos, during the vital development of humanity.
It is said that they invented the art of working metal (the making of the first effective tools for ploughing, hunting, etc., i.e. the first tools for working on oneself and the quest), the rearing of herds (concentration, conservation of experiences and realisations, etc.), the art of hunting (vigilance, witness consciousness and discernment) and that of bee-keeping (development of the psychic being) i.e. the preliminaries of the spiritual path.
The Cabiroi are related to the mysteries of Samothrace, an initiation place probably reserved for small Mysteries. In a lost drama of Aeschylus, they would have welcomed the Argonauts. They were called “the great and powerful gods.” They were supposed to protect the initiates from all dangers, especially those coming from the sea, the dangers of the vital plane.