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.)
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 influe