The children of Ouranos are known as the Ouranides and include principally the Titans, while the children of Pontos, younger brother of Ouranos, are known as the Pontides. The descendants of Pontos represent the five stages of evolution of life and the active forces at this level: Nereus ‘the old man of the sea’, Thaumas, Phorcys, Ceto and Eurybie. Among his grandchildren can be found the Nereids, Iris and the Harpies, the Graeae, the Gorgons among which Medusa, Echidna and the winged horse Pegasus.
See Family tree 2
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Harpyes – Archaeological Museum of Rhodes – Detail
Hesiod thus describes the appearance of life: «She bare also the fruitless deep with his raging swell, Pontos, without sweet union of love” (Theogony verse 116) . The sea “of fruitless depth” and the absence of “the sweet union of love” express a principle which cannot be divided in any way and which is generated prior to the appearance of any kind of duality. The process of separation can therefore not be active in life as it is in the mind, because life is one and indivisible. However the force of separation will be expressed in life by a “polarisation”.
The children of Pontos retrace the maturation of life from the cellular form up till the more evolved animal forms, till the “I” or the animal “ego” existing just prior to the appearance of the capacities characteristic to man such as the spoken of speech, a vertical stance and a reflective mental consciousness. While modern science has brought to light numerous evolutionary stages, the initiates of ancient times only defined five stages which they demarcated by different experiences of consciousness. Each therefore includes several levels of the modern classification so that we cannot establish very precise limits.
It would have been more logical to address them in the more advanced phases of yoga as their symbolism concerns archaic levels of consciousness which still act upon man, but which only advanced seekers can allow into the conscious plane. To become conscious of these primitive processes, one must in fact be able to withstand the forces which were at work during their formation. This is indispensable for being able to operate the transformations necessary for the purification and liberation process till the physical level.
But as many figures from this lineage appear in the myths we are discussing, a study of these in the first chapters was indispensable.
Any spiritual undertaking which aims not only at a liberation in the heights of the Spirit realm – which is the case of the quest narrated through the Greek myths – must face the primordial memories of life. Those which imprinted themselves on the unconscious of the body well before the appearance of will and thought restrain or block the evolutionary process. The seeker must work through the layers one by one to be able to dissolve them.
In fact, any spiritual system which aspires for the transformation of man demands a process of cleansing, reordering and widening which can only be carried out by retracing past stages of evolution. Although this work follows a spiraling movement across several planes, we can generally consider that the initial purification and liberation is carried out in the mind: it involves liberating intelligence from the perturbing factors originating in inferior planes and from the identification of the mind with the principle of separation. Then comes the vital: the seeker descends deeper into the layers of consciousness, calming and purifying vital movements on the path towards equanimity and the victory over fear and desire. Finally the process of yoga extends till the most archaic layers of corporeal consciousness, the “memories” held within the cells, where the most challenging battles are fought.
The activity of the reptilian and limbic brain, that of survival and protection-oriented systems and the information which preceded them put in place by nature according to necessity, interfere with a human functioning within “Truth”. If the aim of Yoga is the realisation of “a perfect spirit in a body rendered perfect”, then the old ways put in place by Nature must be transformed. To carry out this transformation in the deepest layers supposes an alliance between man and the Absolute: it cannot be done by Nature or Spirit alone. This is why it has been said that the great Giants ” could only vanquished by an alliance between gods and men “.
Ouranos and Pontos were brothers, and the children of the latter are placed on the same rank as the Titans. Therefore his grandchildren (Echidna, the Harpies, the Gorgons, etc.) are on the same rank as gods and goddesses, and only equivalent forces such as those of gods or heroes born of gods can combat them. We understand from this that access to these planes must be reserved to those in an advanced stage of yoga.
We will now discuss the genesis of the living, not in the order followed by the seeker who clears his way layer after layer, but in the inverse order, beginning from one whom the ancient Greeks named Nereus, “the old man of the sea”. He is a symbol of what occurs at the root of life, or at any rate at what becomes perceptible through a work in the depths of consciousness.
For the initiated of ancient times as well as for contemporary spiritual science this is the cellular level. These, rather that genes or molecules, are now in fact the most elementary level of understanding of the living. (Certain contemporary “adventurers” and thinkers however do bring up an awareness of genetics.)
We will exclude the plant kingdom from our study, not because plant cells differ greatly from those of animals but because plants have followed a different path of development.
As we discover with every passing day, the patterns put in place by nature throughout the evolutionary process still hold a major influence over our minds and our health. Contemporary psychology recognises that an important part of our behaviour arises not from functions of the neocortex, which appeared only 3,6 million years ago, but from the archaic reptilian and paleo mammalian brains (the limbic brain), which appeared respectively around four hundred million and sixty-five million years ago. Furthermore studies regarding the “second brain” located in the digestive system, the origin of which is much more ancient, seem to indicate that it plays a major role in many illnesses.
The theory of the three distinct brains is argued by a number of scientists who prefer to consider the different areas of the brain as interacting parts. It is in fact very difficult to determine with any certainty the origin of a given behaviour or reflex, except in the case of accidents in which specific layers or areas of the brain have been damaged. However, the fact that the brain is the result of successive periods of growth and development is not put into question.
For one who adventures through consciousness, everything occurs as if he was progressively removing the intervention of the superior layers. This explains how the initiated of ancient times were able to give such precise descriptions as those we will see.
We will therefore keep the image of the organisation of the brain in three main layers, each with its associated faculties, as they are usually depicted.
* We can follow the different symbolic stages identified by the ancient initiates on Diagram 2 where appear the five children of Pontos. The number 5 is associated to the world of forms to which belongs the plane of life. (Refer to the chapter about the caduceus at the end of the study.) Sri Aurobindo has taken these up again in poetic form in the epic Savitri, in book II in the chapter “The Kingdoms of the Little Life”, however an exact correspondence cannot be established.
Nereus, “the old man of the sea”: the vital at the physical or cellular level
Nereus is known to be “true and lies not, and men call him the Old Man because he is trusty and gentle and does not forget the laws of righteousness, but thinks just and kindly thoughts” (Theogony verse 233). Like all primitive divinities of the sea, he was able to change forms: he metamorphosed successively into water, fire and a variety of different animals to escape Heracles who was obliged to hold him by force to learn from him of the path that led to the Hesperides. He also possessed a trustworthy gift for prophecy.
He is sometimes depicted as having the tail of a fish instead of legs.
He dwelt in the depths of the sea with his fifty daughters, the Nereids, borne by the Oceanid sea-nymph Doris. Three among them had a particular destiny in mythology:
Amphitrite who married Poseidon.
Psamathe who was united with Aeacus, who by his second spouse Endeis fathered Peleus and was thus the paternal grandfather of Achilles.
Tethys who was for a short time united with the mortal Peleus et gave birth to Achilles. Nereus is therefore the maternal grandfather of the latter.
These two last links show Achilles as a seeker who descends into the depths of the vital aiming at its transformation.
The initiates of ancient times and those who followed in their footsteps discovered through an investigation of consciousness what modern microscopes bring to light today. However, what is perceptible to consciousness is much more representative of the entirety of the movements, habits and states of consciousness of living matter than is the qualitative description given by contemporary science. The two methods are not opposed, but rather mutually inform each other: science sheds some light on myths which would remain a mystery without it, and on the other hand the investigation of consciousness allows for new insights on the modes of nature. In the Mother’s Agenda for instance, we can see that the Mother experienced states of consciousness undergone by others through the use of LSD, and she can then explain these as a rupture of harmony.
If it is possible to descend through consciousness into the archaic cellular processes, it is of course because they are still active today.
From the primitive bacteria to the appearance of chain ganglia and then to the outlining of the sense organs prior to the appearance of a central brain, modern science has identified several stages of evolution which, from the point of view of consciousness, will be regrouped into the “Nereus” stage. Namely the formation of unicellular and multicellular organisms, specialised cells and cellular clusters which announce the first outlines of the nervous system with neural filaments and the first ganglia.
The human body is made up of about a hundred thousand billion cells, and each of them is a world of memories, relations, and adaptive and evolutionary possibilities.
To be able to defend itself and assimilate what is necessary, the cell has implemented a system which permits it to differentiate between what is “good” or “bad” for it. It relies on an internal system of analysis capable of discerning amongst millions of different external elements to be able to make this distinction. Depending on the results, it can ingest, associate with or fight off the intrusive “stranger”. This is the base of the immune system. Unlike the nervous system, this mode of discernment does not originate from a body of stored information, an analysis and a response, but rather from a “recognition” of specific images or “signatures”.
Or, through a specific genetic encoding, the cell lifespan has been programmed depending on its specialisation, and even its self-destructive “suicide”.
Subsequently, clusters of cells are formed and a first stage of cellular collaboration is developed, established on the basis of a differentiation between cells, some of which are responsible for protection and the analysis of the environment, and others which have the function of providing nutrients. A “layered” structure is put in place (there are three types: knowledge, digestion, structure) which brings about the formation of the basic structure: the ring.
Then the first worms are formed through the repetition of structures, the formation of cavities and axes. The most archaic types of worms discovered in the marine depths before similar specimen were found in shallower waters are not equipped with any digestive system, not even a mouth. They are completely hollow and survive only thanks to complex symbiotic interactions with bacteria. Then cellular and ganglion clusters formed around orifices and along the digestive system, completing this stage of the evolutionary process.
Different theories are in conflict over the evolutionary modalities of the cell, of which the most current is the association of the genetic program and the mutation of DNA due to evolutionary pressures. For those who set out on the adventure through consciousness, experience suggests that if the work of purification, liberation and surrender to pure Real is sufficiently advanced, the Absolute can act directly on the cellular and even the genetic levels, modifying their functions and inducing genetic transformation.
For the adventurer of consciousness it is the properties of cells and their primitive groupings which require the most attention, for at this very advanced stage of yoga the seeker must perceive them, keep them in consideration and strive to modify them if they are blocking the evolutionary process.
The most important point seems to be:
A permanent interaction. Within the body billions of processes occur every second, and these result in a miraculous equilibrium.
A resonance between cells and therefore between distant points in the body (a wisdom used in acupuncture for example).
A solidarity or cellular collaboration present since the immune system was put in place.
There is an almost identical similarity amongst related forms of life (only very slight variations in the genes cause differentiation).
A plasticity and adaptability of the form across all levels (to accept and flexibly respond to the modifications of the environment).
A winding movement as a base (the ring is the fundamental structure).
A repetition of the movements and forms undergone and retained by the evolutionary process to ensure stability.
Nereus, the old man of the sea, is the symbol of this primitive vital function. The character structure of his name, + describe “the law of nature which follows the right movement”, the process of evolution within Truth”. The mind has not yet brought in rigidity or deviations into the forms and therefore energy circulates through them freely. This is why Nereus is true and lies not and does not forget the laws of righteousness.
It is interesting to notice that the character structure of this word is the inverse of that of the Erinyes, which impose a return to “the right order” of “the natural evolution”.
The image of the “metamorphosis” and shape-shifting of the divinities of the seas, an expression of plasticity and adaptability, can be understood if we fix our attention on a minute sensation in the body which constantly changes location, form and quality. This is why Heracles, to be able to become conscious of the archaic processes within the bodily form in his adventure towards the roots of Consciousness in conquest of the apples of the Hesperides, had to immobilize Nereus when the latter kept shifting from one animal form to the other to escape him.
This ability for metamorphosis and shape shifting is also characteristic of some of Poseidon’s children and is still part of the deep subconscious: in the Odyssey Menelas had to face Proteus, a god of the sea and son of Poseidon, who was constantly changing form.
At a more fundamental level, it is a question of a change of relations or positions within consciousness. According to Sri Aurobindo’s Aphorism (number 102): “To the senses it is always true that the sun moves round the earth; this is false to the reason. To the reason it is always true that the earth moves round the sun; this is false to the supreme vision. Neither earth moves nor sun: there is only a change in the relation of sun-consciousness and earth-consciousness.”
The gift for “exact prophecy” is a result of the fact that the more the seeker draws near to the origins of life and matter, the more what he perceives pertains to “Truth”, including his own progress.
Nereus wed Doris, “the gifts”, a daughter of Oceanos and a force of evolution in the nature process, and she bore him fifty daughters, the Nereids. The number fifty marks a totality accomplished in the world of forms. As divinities of the sea, they come from the archaic vital plane (their realm is the bottom of the sea) and act within the subconscious as they belong to the kingdom of Poseidon.
They are all of a great beauty, for they are “true”.
They represent both the gifts of Life to man – his “natural abilities” before they were inhibited by the mind or perhaps as they will manifest themselves in the future – and certain modes of being of the present.
The list of the Nereids varies from one author to the other, as each chose those that seemed most important to him. Several of their names can be closely associated with the properties of cells that we have listed above, such as Autonoe, “she who directs herself” or Dione, “the evolution towards union”.
We will analyze them when the time comes. Here are the names of some of the other Nereids: Apseudes, “life without lies”, Eucrate, “great force”, Eunike, “great victory”, and Cymo, “she who swells”.
The most well-known amongst them is Thetis, mother of Achilles, the hero who made the balance shift in favor of the Greeks after ten long years of war when he finally became involved in the conflict. This is the moment in which the seeker accepts clean the deep levels of the vital, up to the bones, and to involve himself with minute processes in his consciousness, for Achilles is the king of the “ants”, the Myrmidons. These processes are brought to light by Thetis, “the highest consciousness at the depths of life, Θ+Τ “.
It is likely that the “mental of the cells” of which The Mother speaks about is a part of this plane of the “material vital” which must not be confused with the “physical mind”. That last layer belongs to man alone (cf. the plate on the planes of consciousness is the annex). From the time of the formation of specialised cells we can therefore say that a kind of mental consciousness was born.
The seeker who descends into the archaic layers of consciousness discovers firstly the “taste for drama” which impregnates the physical mind and then the defeatist attitude of the cells. He also discovers that there are no absolute laws in the body, but only millions of years of habit.
For the transformation of this cellular mind the terrain must be sufficiently purified, liberated from fears, ego and desire and from all attachment so that the supramental consciousness can bring down its force into the body and modify the genetic programming. Others also speak of this process, amongst them Jiddu Krisnamurti, U.G. Krishnamurti and Natarajan.
Sri Aurobindo and The Mother have opened the way for the whole of humanity for the transformation of this cellular mind. It is not impossible that some isolated individuals may have carried out this transformation in the past.
It rests on movements winding on themselves, repeating indefinitely and able to continue for millions of years in a hypnotic manner. The key was to change, by the vibration of aspiration, that which is repeated incessantly by the cells.
Thaumas and his children, Iris and the Harpies: the central vital or the true vital and the “thinking senses”.
The second level is that of the “true vital” as represented by Thaumas.
The previous stage ends with the appearance of cellular clusters. The evolutionary process continues in the second phase of our cross-section of this progression with the emergence of a nervous system with nerve fibres and the first ganglia forming around orifices and along the digestive system, till the complete elaboration of the enteric nervous system. This phase culminates with the formation of a central nervous system and the reptilian brain associated with it.
While clusters of ganglia and neural bodies link to each other to form a “cerebral network”, the senses develop without a central brain by an assessment of the environment through the ganglia situated at the entry of the digestive system, the mouth. The processes used to acquire information are chemical: the ganglia create an image of the surrounding outer world. It is a system of recognition without analysis, the seat of mechanical responses and uncontrolled impulses.
Thus the sense of smell and taste are formed based on olfactory images. The eyes also appeared very early on in evolution, being already present in the worm and the octopus and even in the oyster, which has ten to twelve eyes.
A successful adaptive intelligence is already present: an octopus knows how to remove the cork closing a container to feed on the crab which is inside it but its characteristics are still close to those of matter: inertia, heaviness, apathy, limitation and an extremely slow progression.
The plexuses are autonomous and mutually independent, allowing for the possibility of multiple independent activities: while the female mantis mates, it devours the head of the male mantis.
The senses thus function independent of a centralised coordinating action. This is why Sri Aurobindo has named this stage of evolution “the thinking senses”. It is the first process of mentalisation of life through the senses which allows for the formation of instinct and reflexes.
In the process of a return towards what he calls “the natural state”, U.G Krishnamurti describes this state of the “thinking senses” in the following way: “In the natural state there is no entity that is coordinating the message from the different senses. Each sense is functioning independently in its own way. When there is a demand from outside that makes it necessary to coordinate one or two or all of the senses and come up with a response, still there is no coordinator, but there is a temporary state of co-ordination. (…) When there is no coordinator, there is no linking of sensations, there is no translating of sensations; they stay pure and simple sensations. I do not even know that they are sensations. (…) What functions is a primordial consciousness, untouched by thought.” (The Mystique of Enlightenment: The Radical Ideas of U.G. Krishnamurti U.G Sentient Publications, LLC p.43-44)
Although it is not very easy to find an exact correlation between the stages described in the myths and the different areas of the brain, it is possible to consider that this phase also included the processes controlled by the reptilian brain: the coordination of reflexes, the regulation of the basal vital functions, the conservation of the integrity of the vital and functions used for the reversal of states or inverse homeostasis, represented by the children of Thaumas, the Harpies (see below). Homeostasis is a system’s capacity to maintain a state of equilibrium despite external constraints, and thus it is the movement which maintains the dynamic equilibrium of life within us.
The reptilian brain is not dualist. Within an animal world which was claiming its territory, its primitive function was to ensure the individual and collective survival of the species on the basis of response to stimuli through automatic, repetitive and preprogrammed sequences. Here there was no possibility for adaptation except over immense periods of time compared to the scale of human life, for the reptilian brain only possesses a very short term memory.
Its first function was to ensure homeostasis : the regulation of respiration, the heart beat, arterial pressure, temperature and hydric, gaseous and ionic exchange.
It ensures the satisfaction of primitive vital instincts such as feeding, sleep, reproduction, etc.
It is responsible for the instinct of preservation and for certain defense mechanisms, governs aggression and the primal behaviours tied to the defense and hierarchical organisation of the clan, such as the need for subservience and hatred towards strangers.
The name Thaumas means “admirable, astonishing, marvelous” and that of his wife Electra, “yellow amber”. Amber, before being made to designate a composite made up of 4/5 gold and 1/5 silver, meant “resin”, which is to say the condensed power and “blood” of life.
Thaumas is therefore the vital spiritual power which supports animal life.
Electra is also a symbol of a quality of brilliance and purity.
Thaumas had several children with Electra: the goddess Iris and the Harpies, in who are synthesised the functions listed below.
While the Harpies describe without ambiguity a process of reversal and homeostasis that we are familiar with, the exact role of the “messenger”, Iris, is more difficult to comprehend.
She is depicted as a young woman with golden wings, holding a double-ringed caduceus in her hand.
She transmits messages from the gods to men, but her role also extends to relaying messages between the gods themselves. In the Odyssey, Hermes takes her place as a messenger.
On the caduceus of Hermes the heads of the two snakes are at the level of the abyssal veil, the last stage of Man, whereas on Iris’ herald scepter their heads are at the level of “the veil of the temple” and mark the ultimate level of life, its solar fulfillment. Those two symbols confirm the attribution of the numbers 5 and 7 to the world of forms and to the world of creation respectively.
On the other hand the ancient Greeks associated Iris to the rainbow, which for them linked the sky and the sea, life and consciousness.
Finally if we consider the only character that makes up her name, Rho (Ρ), Iris carries the same energy as Eros, “Joy”. (Here the character Rho can certainly not be taken in its inverse form as in Eris, meaning “discord”.) The Rho preceded and followed by an Iota (I) expresses an operation of consciousness which imprints the just movement of the Absolute.
Iris is therefore an expression in the vital of the spiritual force which underlies all things (Eros) and has not yet undergone with Thaumas any deformation by the mind (the true vital). She is an expression of a direct, instantaneous (golden wings) and harmonious (the rainbow) connection between fundamental bodily processes and the world of Spirit though the intermediary of the overmind (she is the messenger of the gods.)
“A mystic Presence none can probe nor rule,
Creator of this game of ray and shade
In this sweet and bitter paradoxical life,
Asks from the body the soul’s intimacies
And by the swift vibration of a nerve
Links its mechanic throbs to light and love. ”
(Sri Aurobindo. Savitri , Book II, Canto IV)
In the body she stands for the nervous impulses pure of any deformation due to the arrest of evolution in union (brought about by the viper Echidna).
As a messenger, her duty is to bring water from the River Styx when a god is to take an oath. The Styx, river of the underground world, is a current of consciousness immediately in contact with the body and which “returns everything to order in accordance with Truth”. Along with Hermes, the overmind, Iris is the only one to come and go between the roots of the most archaic consciousness found at the limits of the vital and the body and the highest mental consciousness, the overmind (some of the great heroes also make some brief forays). While Hermes makes the journey through “the summits of mental consciousness”, Iris goes more directly through her proximity to corporeal consciousness. The seeker receives her message in his consciousness through an exact perception of minute movements and sensations.
Actually the actions of Iris and of Hermes in regards to the underground world reveal themselves to the seeker at the same moment, when he begins to work on the corporeal subconscious. (Which means that one must have reached at least the plane of the higher mind beyond the intellect to begin the descent into the archaic layers.)
The movements corresponding to Iris and the Harpies are very rapid nervous impulses and are therefore difficult for our conscious mind to detect as it is used to much slower operations, even though it forces itself to a sustained attention. This is why they are described as extremely swift winged beings, Iris as a young woman with golden wings and the Harpies as birds with the heads of women.
It is Iris who leads the gods towards the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, the future parents of Achilles. In fact the seeker, who prepares himself to dive into the darkness (Peleus) of the vital (Thetis), needs the involvement of the higher forces of consciousness, and it is Iris who brings about the union.
It is also Iris who informs Menelaus, “he who concerns himself with freedom”, of the abduction of Helen, “the evolution of the process of liberation, the most beautiful and therefore the truest”: at certain stages of the journey the seeker is warned by extreme feelings and sensations caused by errors in direction.
While Iris is the agent of divine “information”, the vertical movement of the Absolute in life and of evolutionary impulses issued through the highest mental planes with the nervous system as a support, the Harpies on the other hand express a fundamental horizontal movement of nature which slows down the evolutionary impulse and thus guarantees the stability of living forms. At the roots of the vital, they ensure not only the homeostatic function but also that of reversals which are most often incomprehensible, for it is also up to them to ensure that nothing is left behind in the general progression. The character structure of their name, ΡΠ, is a confirmation of this right movement for equilibrium, stability or its overthrow, depending on the value given to the character Rho.
In the inner quest, the Harpies are often experienced as movements of reversal or overthrow: these are the extremely swift and incomprehensible changes of mood that everybody experiences. Everything may be harmonious and at any given moment, without any external change having occurred, we can become sullen, gloomy or depressed or enter into some similar negative state the origin of which is very difficult to determine: a lot of honesty, perseverance and patience are necessary to “track” these states and find their source. This is why the Harpies are nicknamed “the abductresses” who “whisk victims away without leaving a trace”. They are also known for stealing the souls of children and of the dead (the shadows): both are states of transformation which it is their function to oppose. In stealing the souls of the dead, their movements operate till the deep subconscious and inconscient where they erase the traces of certain experiences.
These reversals of balance are also described by Satprem, but in regards to a deeper investigation of consciousness: “A hundred times or a thousand times, the seeker is confronted with those micro-typhoons, those minute whirlwinds that abruptly overturn the whole equilibrium of the being, becloud everything, give a taste of ashes and despair to the slightest gesture, decompose the air he breathes and decompose everything – an instantaneous general decomposition for one second, ten seconds. A hardening of everything. (…) Yet, outside, everything is the same. The circumstances are the same, the gestures the same; the sun still shines and the body comes and goes as usual ” (On the Way to Supermanhood, chapter 11, “The Change of Power”).
These reversals seem to be connected to the fact that when a certain relaxation is attained, the vital or corporeal system returns naturally to its primitive state of retraction, a fear of everything, defeatism, negation and the call of death. For the primitive consciousness of the animal identity has constructed itself around an absolute need for protection in a setting in which everything is a threat. It is here that dominates the enjoyment for drama, defeatism and the will to satisfy the senses either through pleasure or pain, far from the light of the Spirit.
According to Hesiod the Harpies have the winged body of a bird and beautiful hair. They are most often depicted as having the head of a woman. However Apollonius of Rhodes described them as having a beak, which suggests the head of a bird as well.
They are known as “the bitches of Zeus”, for they maintain “with vigilance” new states resulting from Zeus’ orders transmitted by Iris. They are the guardians of the established order for as long as things are not ready for a new stage of evolution.
Their dwelling is on the Strophades islands, “which move rotating “, and refer to elementary structures in “the vital sea”, movements winding-up on themselves at the root of life. From the cellular level there exist such mechanisms of protection, for example that of the cells winding matter around foreign bodies before ejecting them.
Having the conservation of life as their function, they have allowed over the course of millenniums of evolution the perpetuation of the fundamental fear of change which expresses itself in the deep vital by a desperation which brings a “stench” to everything.
However in his recounting of the quest of the Golden Fleece, Apollonius seems to consider the Harpies to be representative of more elaborate mental processes: they cause perturbations of intuition, which is to say expressions of doubt. He tells us that “the Harpies would surge from the sky through the clouds and tear off with their beaks the succulent dishes laid out before Phineus, offered in gratitude by those whom he had helped with his prophesies. Not satisfied with keeping him from enjoying the food, they brought an unpleasant stench to the remains. The Boreads Calais and Zetes were sent to pursue them, but after a very long race till the Strophades islands, they were prohibited to kill them.”
The quest of the Golden Fleece regards the beginnings of the journey. Following the first purification, the seeker is capable of certain exact perceptions originating from his inner light (He had been granted a gift for prophecy by Apollo). Phineus is therefore an expression of a growing capacity for an inner non-mental perception.
But here, in the first steps of the quest, the Harpies, who do not allow the enjoyment of perceptions issued from the light of the soul, are probably representative of doubt which immediately annuls the fleeting perception of what is true.
Quite understandably, the seeker wishes to understand these modifications of his inner state so as to be able to limit their influence on his life and on his intuitive perceptions. But it is very difficult to determine their origin: a lot of honesty, perseverance and patience are necessary to track them and to find their source.
It is Calais, “aspiration, rectitude, sincerity”, and Zetes, “the seeker”, the children of Boreas the Northern wind of asceticism, who will put an end to the torments of Phineus, “he who receives from above”, allowing clear intuitive receptivity again. Here they are symbols of mental activities (winged beings) who can chase doubt as long as what they are resting on is still not anchored to the body (floating islands). The seeker can then witness and understand how he supports himself with repetitive or obsessive movements (whirling islands). At this stage it is not a matter of “rooted islands” which bring disorder and illness.
It is evident that the chase is a lengthy one, for the descent through consciousness at the archaic levels requires patience and perseverance. This pursuit will last throughout the quest, for the Harpies are active even at the cellular level. But then the active element will no longer be the mind, but rather a consciousness of a higher order. This is why the Boreads die when they succeed in impeding the repetition of the whirling movements (at the time of the Harpies’ deaths).
Within the frame of the quest of the Argonauts it is only a matter of a preliminary work, so the death of the Harpies is not necessary.
However, others have said that the pursuers would succumb if they did not succeed in catching up with the Harpies: there is an almost automatic disappearance of these perturbations when the mind’s efforts to destroy them cease due to sheer exhaustion.
When the seeker has succeeded in distancing doubt, he is capable of perceiving the major movements of the yogic process that are to come(Within the limits allowed by the Gods, Phineus outlines for the Argonauts the trials which they will be faced with before their arrival in Colchis ).
However it is only inasmuch as the seeker progresses in love that he will be able to progress on his path (Phineus also warns them that the success of their endeavor depends on Aphrodite).
Doubt is a mental process. In response to this, one either abstains from action or more often chooses according to the preferences of the ego. During the growth of the intellect the mind goes forward hesitantly by a process of trial and error, and doubt is its auxiliary. But on the spiritual path we aspire to a greater exactitude in thought, speech and action which does not come from the mind but rather from the inner soul, the psychic light. While doubt is useful for building individuality and freedom of thought in the construction of the ego, it becomes an obstacle on the spiritual path where certainty must be acquired by the inner being who attains knowledge through identity and through the light of the soul (the psychic being). For there is no indubitable knowledge for the mind; only in the soul or the psychic being which is one with Truth. When we live in the mind we are obliged to make choices, but when the psychic governs the being, we know what is right. The spiritual experience coming forth from the soul thus holds certainty, and it is the inner perception in relation to the body which is the key.
As The Mother confirms:
“All division in the being is an 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 most deadly is fear and the most pernicious, doubt.” (Mother’s Agenda, 17th October 1958).
Here the Harpies steal the enjoyment of the benefits which the seeker could hope to reap from his progress in the field of receptivity to higher consciousness.
In more advanced stages of yoga in which the seeker pushes his inner investigation further to discover the origin of these movements, he will eventually find, at the foundations of his vital processes, microscopic habits and automatic movements curling up for protection.
The Harpies are evidently needed till a very advanced stage of yoga, the physical transformation, for they are necessary for survival. This is why most authors maintained that it was forbidden to kill them. They would be able to progressively give way in the last phase, provided that the cells regain their adaptability to the movement of becoming without aging or destruction, which presupposes that all the layers of the corporeal vital are completely cleared (fears, attachments, etc.)
The Harpies are Aello, “impetuous movement”, Ocypete, “swift flight”, and Podarge, “she with white feet, luminous”. The latter refers to an “accomplished and luminous incarnation”. When she unites with Zephyr, the western wind of purification and transformation that is one of the four spiritual energies which aid in the construction of what is New, the vital energy acquires all its power and splendour. At that point appear the famous horses, Xanthus, “golden yellow” or “the inner evolution towards the equilibrium of matter-spirit”, and Balius, “swift” or “liberation through incarnation”. They were given first to Poseidon, then handed down to Peleus, later on to Achilles and finally to Neoptolemus, “the spiritual battles of the future”.
(Another author attributes the same origin to the horses of the Dioscuri, Phlogeus,” burning, in flames”, and Harpagus, “seizing promptly”.)
Phorcys, Ceto and their children: the Graeae, the Gorgons, Echidna, the Snake of the Herperides, Thoosa and Cratais: the emotional vital and the vital mental.
Without attempting to make an exact correlation, we broach with Phorcys and Ceto what modern science has identified as the prerogative of the limbic brain, the seat of emotion and affection. It governs instinctive behaviour, sets off alarm and stress mechanisms and is the source of long-term memory (flashes of memory were already present in the previous stage but were not long-lasting).
This second brain has allowed animals, which are not yet individualised, to adapt to the herd and to their environment. It rests on the functions elaborated by the reptilian brain (Thaumas). It ensures the conversion of new input into lasting memory. It is made up of two hemispheres, the functions of which can be likened, in the symbol of the caduceus, to the two major currents of force, fusion and separation.
– At the vital level, the left limbic brain would be the instrument of the current of separative force which leads all forms of life towards their fulfillment. Its role is to sort, classify and index sensations, to establish the connections between them and to organise them into perceptions reliably and with perfect detail. It is in this cerebral area that fundamental fears are inscribed. It translates all changes as a source of insecurity. It is thus by essence a preserver.
– The right limbic brain serves the functions of fusion and is responsible for keeping all forms of life in contact with the unity of the universe. It is therefore essentially a receptive and relational tool which seeks harmony, connection and unity. It is more specifically responsible for the formation of instinct, an expression of intuition at the vital level. It functions through visual images.
These two parts of the brain strive to organise social life, working independently from each other.
We will therefore discuss Phorcys and Ceto at the same time, the “emotional vital” and the” vital mental (vital on the way of mentalisation)”. By uniting them – they are brother and sister – the initiates of ancient times, following the example of the two sides of the limbic brain, describe the two energies functioning together, although their children seem to be closer to one that to the other. These two planes probably developed jointly under the alternating influence of the forces of fusion and separation, the influence of which must have also allowed the parallel development of logic and intuition at the level of the cortex.
These planes of energy-consciousness are at the foundation of the make-up of the animal’s sense of self and precede the emergence of the “personality”, a term reserved here to the human ego. Its motor forces are appropriation and possession, and survival is its priority.
The formation of the animal’s sense of self corresponds to the setting up of a center of reaction-perception (like the human ego, the animal ego is the result of a centripetal movement) which feels, suffers, needs and gives an automatic response through empathy, aggressivity, flight or retreat. This animal sense of self is not in any way separate from the group-soul of its species and suffers from its constrains without having the ability of distancing itself and even less of reflecting. Autonomy is limited to movement and to the primary needs of the body.
There is therefore no aspiration for knowledge or elaboration of a meaning or an aim. It is a life made up of habits built almost invariably through generations where the law of the clan dominates. Here consciousness is very rudimentary and sensibility only slightly developed: although the animal world can sometimes seem cruel, as in a cat with a mouse, it is a cruelty lacking the support and refinement of the mind, and therefore not relentless or perverse. (It is supposed that there is a precise reason for this behavior of the cat in order that the meat of his prey is more digest.)
This animal self manifests itself through the rough outlines of preferences, aversions and vanities issued from the dual movement of attraction and repulsion.
Through rudiments of memory it retains the first imprints of the primitive fear of division, engulfment and dissolution. Scylla, the monster which tears apart and renders mad, is in fact the daughter of Phorcys. Linked to these two planes and tackled in the next chapter will be the maniac-depressive and schizo-paranoid states which seem to be at the base of the make-up of the human psyche and which are represented by the two monsters, Scylla and Charybdis. Jason only approaches the proximity of their lairs, but much later on in the path Ulysses will not be able to avoid them and will consequently come close to losing his life, for none can avoid confronting them at that stage.
Ceto, the emotional vital, is the seat of emotions such as love/hate, joy/grief, etc, which cannot last because they lack the support of a persevering mental will.
The vital mental (Phorcys) gives on his side a mental expression to the sensations, desires, emotions, passions and other movements of the central vital and the emotional vital without involving the intelligence in any way.
In a general way, the emotional vital and the vital mental are still very marked by the beginnings of life, with a pronounced tendency for repetition which brings with it the satisfaction and the security of what is known. Their natural tendency is to keep going around in very narrow circles of desires and interests.
In this part of the vital is born the potential for a faculty of distancing and observation, the root of the human being’s reflective sense of self.
The functioning of humanity on these two planes would be quite similar to that of the majority of men today in their vital and emotional life, for the higher layers of the mind proper to man are used relatively little in this field or just to give justifications.
Phorcys (Φορ+Κ) is the movement which “brings about an opening of consciousness” under the influence of the force of fusion which had previously contributed to the development of the rudiments of instinct. On the other hand, Ceto (Κ+Τ) is “the opening of consciousness to the feeling of something surpassing it”, and is therefore, under the influence of the force of separation, the introduction of a distancing break. This word also means “very large marine animal such as whale”. That is to say a maximal maturation on the vital plane.
It is not yet a question of two irreconcilable modes of functioning, as reason and intuition seem to be in the mind, but of a simple polarisation of the force of life without contradiction. We could say that they are only “tendencies towards”. This is why Phorcys and Ceto are not only brother and sister but also a couple.
Like their older brother Nereus, these two divinities belong to the vital plane and are therefore divinities of the sea. But a new kind of functioning of the mind will shape the primitive thoughts based on the rudiments of memory and instinct (intuitive consciousness at the vital level) and automatic reflexes which become habits by supporting themselves on memorisation and repetition.
One must think of this primitive mode of thought more as a reflex-reason than as what we call reason. It arouses a remarkable tension which can be observed in certain domestic animals when they endeavor to understand the will and the language of man.
The level of Ceto is the last plane of the vital preceding the stage of development which we call “man”. It is a state of transition preceding the birth of the human ego, the first level of which is the “physical mental” embodied by the youngest of the seven Pleiades.
The Phorcys-Ceto couple therefore represents the third plane of development of Life. Certain ancient authors have stated that their abode was Ithaca, island of Ulysses, the most advanced seeker, for it is the ultimate point reached by Greek masters in their capacity for intervention on the planes of archaic consciousness, even though their inventory was more complete (with Thaumas and Nereus).
The couple had four sets of children who recapitulate the characteristics of the limbic brain outlined above: the Graeae (there are two or three of them according to different authors), the three Gorgons, Echidna and the Snake of the Hesperides.
The name “Graeae “, ΓΡ+Ι, indicates “the impulse for a correct development of consciousness”. Supporting itself on an elementary nervous system, this impulse is translated by exchanges of information and orders between what feels and what perceives, centralises and organises.
Their name, generally translated as “the old ones”, is only used to describe an archaic movement. In the works of Hesiod they are named Pemphredo and Enyo (in the course of evolution). Later on was added Deino, “she who fears or dances in circles”.
Nothing in the primitive legends claims that they were themselves old, and in the ancient depictions they were magnificently dressed.
From the fifth century BC onwards however, Pherecydes describes them as old women whose essential characteristic is that of having only a single eye and a single tooth between the three of them, which they take turns in using.
This eye and this tooth are symbols of the embryo of intuitive/instinctive perceptive consciousness (the eye) and the embryo of memory (teeth, the most archaic of bodily structures, are representative of the memories imprinted in the body). They are the results of the appearance of the mental plane in life in its dual aspects of separation and fusion. Memory is the tool of the separating mind, while vision, in the sense of “penetrating vision” such as that of the Cyclopes, is a tool of the intuitive mind.
In the myth of Perseus they are the ones who indicate to the hero the path leading towards the nymphs, who in their turn will give him what he needs to defeat the Gorgon Medusa: the seeker must thus go very far back into his archaic memories to find the weapons necessary for his victory over fear.
The Three Gorgons
Gorgon – Louvre Museum
According to Hesiod, Phorcys and Ceto’s second set of children is made up of the three Gorgons.
They live in the Far Occident, near the Hesperides and the “origins of life”.
Their names are Stheno, “strength and vigor”, Euryale, “great impetuous life”, and Medusa, “she who protects”. The first two refer to characteristics of nascent life, the putting into action of great forces inherent to the process of life.
Unlike her two sisters, Medusa is a mortal. This important point signifies that she will be made to disappear in the course of evolution. In the most ancient depictions she appears as a winged being, apparently asexual and with an impressive, fearful head from which snakes spring out.
She is thus connected with a deformation of the energy of life which must probably have been necessary for the evolution of animals, or of the part of man that is still animal-like but which will no longer be necessary for the development of the future Man. We will discuss the symbolism of Medusa in detail in the myth of Perseus.
Neither Homer nor Hesiod describe the Gorgons, but in later tradition they are known as monstrous and frightening beings. Some legends claim that they had gray hair since birth: they are thus rooted in the past and exist only through memory. To encounter them it is therefore necessary to descend into one’s depths.
But Medusa’s most salient characteristic is that anybody who looks at her is turned to stone.
Of course what paralyses (turns to stone) is fear in the vital, and later on, doubt in the mind.
The name “Gorgon” is made up of the characters Γ+ΡΓ which we can interpret as an impulse which returns towards its origin, which interrupts and retracts itself.
On Agamemnon’s shield as described by Homer, Medusa’s head is flanked by Phobos and Deimos, which could be there as evocations of the full range of fear from apprehension to terror.
Certain authors describe the Gorgons as having dragon scales and bronze hands, symbolic respectively of invulnerability and of a powerful hold.
Medusa unites with Poseidon, from whom she has two children, Chrysaor “the man of the two edged golden sword”, and Pegasus “the winged horse”, neither of whom can come into existence while she is living (they surge from her neck after her head has been cut). From a fertilization by the subconscient Medusa also brings about the maturation of the highest level of vital energy: a “power in the vital” liberated from fear and from its subjection to separative ignorance (Pegasus the winged horse), and a purified Will able to utilise it, “inflexible” in its rectitude (Chrysaor, the man of the golden sword).
This Force and this Will can only arise from the repeated and progressive action of the highest mental consciousness: that of Perseus, son of Zeus, who “severs” the roots of desire, fear, attachment, repulsions, lack and suffering.
Chrysaor married Callirhoe, “that which flows harmoniously”, who bore Geryon, a three-headed giant, the most powerful of all mortals. His flocks, made up of crimson beasts, which is to say the divine powers of life, grazed with the flocks of Hades under the guidance of the shepherd Eurytion and his dog Orthros.
In one of his las labours, Heracles will have to bring these flocks to Mycenea.
It is a mythical task which is carried out in the Far Occident, which is to say at the root of life.
We will see that for the seeker it is a matter of defeating the submission to the three modes of nature known as “guna” (we will refer to these modes as inertia, action and equilibrium in our initial discussion). To succeed, the hero will have to borrow the boat of the sun god Helius, means belonging to the plane of the supramental. When the purified Will can act on the deep layers of the being, the seeker can face the last “guardians” and reclaim the “realisations” which will permit him to continue his process of yoga with work in the body.
Echidna, the third child of the Phorcys-Ceto couple, is the force which “blocks or puts an end to evolution in and towards union (Χ+ΔΝ) “, or in other words an evolutionary force oriented towards a wrong direction of separation, which explains the common interpretation of the name “viper”. According to Apollodorus she is a daughter of Tartarus and is therefore a monster originating from the depths of Nescience.
She is often depicted as having the upper body of a dark-eyed nymph and the lower body of a hideous serpent: what seems pleasing is in fact supported by a force that pierces, a perversion that separates.
It is a gigantic monster against which nothing can be done, which resembles neither gods nor mortals and which lives secluded in a cave deep within the earth: The seeker does not understand the reason for its existence or its origin, and cannot fight it with the power of his personality or that of his highest mental faculties. It is a perverse and unintelligible energy.
Described by Hesiod as “eating raw flesh beneath the secret parts of the holy earth.” (Hesiod, Theogony, verse 300): she acts in the deepest layers of corporeal cellular matter, and it is consequently only there that we will be are able to fight her.
We can also quote Savitri Book 2, Canto 7 where Sri Aurobindo seems to give a description of this monster:
“Then from the sombre mystery of the gulfs
And from the hollow bosom of the Mask
Something crept forth that seemed a shapeless Thought.
A fatal Influence upon creatures stole
Whose lethal touch pursued the immortal spirit,
On life was laid the haunting finger of Death
And overcast with error, grief and pain
The soul’s native will for truth and joy and light.
A deformation coiled that claimed to be
The being’s very turn, Nature’s true drive.”
Echidna is joined with Typhon, symbol of “ignorance” and the last born of the children of Gaia with Tartarus, or according to Homer, a son of Hera who Zeus had sent into Tartarus after having given birth to Athena. Typhon was a monster so terrible that standing alone he could threaten the divine order. Thus every time a new state appears on the earth an opposing force is also unleashed.
Made up of perversion and ignorance, the alliance of the two monsters Echidna and Typhon was at the origin of “evil” under the form of the four great monsters (and indirectly of another two still). That is to say that when the reflective mind imposed itself on humanity and the latter became ready for the inner discovery (the birth of Athena), there entered simultaneously into action a force of ignorance, which allied with the evolutionary movement already perverted by a sense of separation. This phenomenon brought about what various traditions refer to as “the fall of Life”: truth became Orthros, falsehood, or rather the inverse of the movement of growth of the inner being, the externalisation of the human ego necessary for self affirmation (the Rho of inversion is inserted in the name Orthos). Consciousness transforms itself into Chimera, illusion. Joy gives way to attachment, desire and suffering, represented by Lernaean Hydra. The consciousness of eternity was negated by death, an obscuring of consciousness of which Cerberus is the guardian. The latter is the last bastion which prevents the meeting of the kingdoms of Unity with what is in the process of evolving in the realm of incarnation.
Then the dog Orthros and his mother Echidna, or Chimera according to some, gave birth to another two monsters, the Nemean Lion, “ego”, and Phyx or Sphinge, “perverted wisdom”.
Great heroes faced these monsters: Bellerophon faced Chimera, Œdipus the Sphinge and Heracles all the others.
Other children of Phorcys: the snake of the Hesperides, Thoosa and Cratais.
According to other sources, Phorcys was blessed with a few other children who express the first stages of emergence and consolidation of the animal sense of self.
The snake of the Hesperides is the positive force of evolution which watches over Knowledge: this cannot be acquired before the seeker has retraced with his consciousness the memories and functions of primitive life represented by the Graeae, the three Gorgons and the viper Echidna, and closer to the origin, the children of the “old man of the sea”, Nereus.
According to Homer, Phorcys has another two children :
Thoosa, “swift”, mother of the Cyclope Polyphemus by Poseidon. Polyphemus, “he who makes many things manifest/become perceptible”, is the symbol of instinctive perceptions, extremely rapid and passing only minimally through the mind.
Cratais, “force, vigour”, mother of Scylla, “she who tears apart (in reference to the primordial movement of separation or breaking up and division)”.
The fifth and last child of Pontos is Eurybia, “great strength or wide life”. It is the plane of life which humanity will only approach once mind has been traversed at the moment of its establishment in the supramental plane, which is to say when will cease the supremacy of Typhon, “ignorance”, and Echidna, “perversion”. Nature is sufficiently wise not to liberate the forces of life before man is capable of using them according to the divine plan, and not according to that of his ego.
Therefore the current stages of life only include the four first children of Pontos: this is why the snakes on the caduceus of Iris, which seems to consist of only two rings, stop at the borderline which separates the current state of life (Phorcys-Ceto) and that of Eurybia.
United to Crius, Eurybia had a large number of grandchildren, the divine “breaths” or “winds” (aids to evolution: Eurus, Notus, Zephyr and Boreas), and the accomplishments of divine life (Zelos, Nike, Cratos and Bia: Glory, Victory, Power and Strength). One of her three children is Perseus, “transformation”, father of the mysterious Hecate who governs the consciousness of future Man, for “she holds, as the division was at the first from the beginning, privilege both in earth, and in heaven, and in sea” (Theogony verse 110), thus linking all the planes of consciousness.
With this we end the description of the planes of life associated with the first two brains. The third and last, known as the cerebral cortex, is the ultimate mental tool, instrument of individuation allowing the fulfillment and then the surpassing of the personality progressively under the direction to the inner being. Amongst other abilities, it brought the capacity for reflection to humanity.
It is the part of the brain which is the most familiar, at least in its separative aspect: the logical or sequential left hemisphere.
As an expression of man’s mental growth, it is not associated with the children of Pontos but with the Pleiades, children of Atlas.