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