Jason and the quest of the Golden Fleece

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The myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece describes the first steps on the spiritual journey, the encounter with the spiritual master and the tests until the first great spiritual experience.

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Jason bringing back to Pelias the Golden FleeceJason bringing the Golden Fleece to Pelias – Louvre Museum

An age of Truth, India’s Satya Yuga, or rather, an age of intuition,
preceded the history of our mental humanity. Judging by
the shreds of our traditions, our infancy in the world was struck with an illumination, as is sometimes our brief human infancy before reason tramples on our dreams, or as with the seeker of truth when at the start of his quest, for an instant the veil is rent in a dazzling light, as if to tell him, “Here is where you are going.” Then everything closes again, and we are left to the slow plodding of years or centuries, at the end of which we rediscover a child’s truth.

(The Veda and Human Destiny)


If people in ancient times situated the myth of the Golden Fleece under Iapetus’ lineage and more specifically under Aeolus’ lineage it is because the crowning experience in that  evolution comes more specifically from ascending the planes of consciousness rather than the path of purification and liberation of Oceanus’ lineage, though the psychic being can manifest itself in either way.

In other words it is an experience that arises more from a perfecting, purifying, and expanding of the mental-consciousness rather than from an act of purification and liberation of the vital being, though the two paths can never be completely dissociated.

As related by Apollonios of Rhodes (a disciple of Callimachus who was probably disowned by him) the myth of Jason and the Argonauts retraces the steps of the seeker from the very  moment of his entry into the journey to the point of a major experience of spiritual descent of power and knowledge from the plane of the overmind. This descent first illuminates the mind and then descends toward the centers below, creating a psychic opening in the heart. The light first acts on the mind because descending force is received more rapidly by the higher mind although it is always the heart that recognises the divine essence first. That is why Hermes figures among the ascendants of Jason (it is a descent of the overmind) and why we can consider Cretheus’ lineage to belong to the plane of the higher mind.

To the best of our knowledge the first experience does not generally last beyond a few days or weeks: it only constitutes a temporary rupture of the veil of the mind.

It is due to this that Medea separates herself from Jason upon returning from the quest, destroying even the fruits of their union (she kills her children before returning to Colchis). In fact we see that only realisations are permanent, not experiences.

Yet it would be a mistake to reckon that the experience of illumination is a mandatory passage into the beginning of the journey or that it is the first to appear although it is the most widespread in a civilisation which gives prominence to the mind.

(At least this seems to be the case among men, women live other experiences more intensely. By way of illustration let us cite the contemplative seeker Bernadette Roberts who, in her outline of the different stages of the path stated that she had not lived through significant experiences of enlightenment during the “dark nights” and had experienced her growth in the mental light as a more continuous process. On the other hand the ‘nights’ which are for her as sudden as they are violent seem for men engaged in this contemplative path to be more extended and less easy to clearly be identified. It is as if in the contemplative experience which we associate here with the path of purification-liberation women experience more of a shock with the aim of connecting with the divine within matter by a total annihilation of the mind while in contrast men more often experience these long nights to reach the divine in the realm of the spirit.)

Many other seekers first experience a psychic opening or one of the other innumerable experiences that Sri Aurobindo writes copiously about in the Letters on Yoga.

Although the Elders of ancient times were aware of the absolute necessity of purification and liberation and extolled the labors of Heracles before any other, the quest of the Golden Fleece seems to have gained increasing importance over time. In fact given that the path of purification and liberation is riddled with obstacles that hinder transformation, the experience was highlighted as a first step toward an experience of union with the Self or toward an awakening and considered of paramount in so far as it had not be substituted by the Dionysian path of mystic ecstasy in several schools of initiation.

Although many schools continue to study the union with the Self in our time, Sri Aurobindo emphasizes in particular the process of psychic transformation of the being as a first movement which should be followed by the spiritual transformation to eventually allow the work of the Supreme Power to take place for the transformation of the exterior being. This progression helps to avoid many a trap.

In addition, given that his purpose was to render nature divine for all humanity he wished to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past wherein it was sufficient to attain individual liberation of the Spirit without bringing about a change in any aspect of the external nature of the seeker or in the rest of the humanity.

Following in Sri Aurobindo’s footsteps Satprem in his work On the way to Supermanhood (Chapter 4) goes so far as to suggest that from a certain stage of progress in the ascension of the planes of consciousness the seeker must renounce further pursuit of the path and proceed to a deeper purification and liberation of his nature. According to him the seeker should at some point choose between the path of ascent wherein he can explore the higher planes of the mind “that are like the pure source of everything that occurs here distorted” and the path of the liberation of Nature. He tells us that the first path is so tempting that all the sages of the past and the advanced spirits of today follow it but once they reach its heights they cannot but realise that the ways of the heights have little power here. It is, he says, the eternal story of the Ideal and the realities. For him it is not about rejecting all encumbrances to escape upward, but about an all-encompassing method that would be more of a descent or an unveiling of the Truth present everywhere down to the cells of our body.

Even if we admit that the experience of the descent of lightning flashes of truth from the overmind is only one possible form we should be careful before considering the discourse of Apollonios of Rhodes to be the only approach toward it.

In fact the greater is the relative ease in the theoretical description of the journey when it involves an illustration of its main objectives (for example in the psychic transformation of the being, the abandonment of desire and ego, the battle against illusion and fear, the expansion of knowledge, etc.), the more complicated the problem becomes when it involves experience because it then becomes indispensable to distinguish between the general and the specific.

It is thus imperative to determine to what extent the individual experiences are a mandatory passage for all, whether they belong to a particular yoga or to a specific seeker, whether they always occur in the same order, form part of a repetitive process or mark the end of one.

Although preliminary knowledge of some stages might possibly help the seeker, this should be perfectly defined and universal, and the evolutionary process that leads to them should be clearly identified. Their explanation should not make the seeker worry because he has not had a particular experience, nor establish a hierarchy in progression that would make him fall into the classical trap of the race for spiritual rank.

This was probably the main reason for an absolute prohibition of any kind of disclosure, even partial, of the deeper meaning of myths.

In any case the initiated have always advised seekers to share their experiences only with their guides or at least with utmost precaution to avoid the energy dissipating too rapidly and losing many of its benefits.

Numerous accounts of the myth of the Golden Fleece appear to have existed but we have only one complete Greek version, that of Apollonios of Rhodes from the Hellenistic Age from around the IIIrd century BC. Our study is based on this version. There exists another version by Gaius Valerius Flaccus, a Latin author from I century AD who was greatly influenced by Apollonios.

Every seeker could thus narrate his “own” quest. The progression that we will be examining by means of this text begins at the preparatory stages for the journey. The experience of illumination in the real sense comes only at the end of the tale. Since it is a descent from the Spiritual plane it chooses its time but it seems that the seeker is forewarned that something exceptional is going to occur.

It could thus occur in the midst of everyday life under no particular conditions, but the external circumstances are organized so that the seeker may experience the descent fully.

For seekers who have not worked enough toward the purification of their being the power of the force that descends mostly manifests itself as an exuberant expression that is difficult to control since the force bursts into a non-purified vital being.

It may be noted that the study of the myth here is based on inner experiences but it could be illustrated by external confrontations for every individual, and in this vein Satprem, in By the body of the earth or The Sannyasin, writes that: “All outer roads seem to be doubled by an inner road, and the obstacles, the obscurities, the accidents that we have not overcome on the inner road come back to us on the outer road, but a road infinitely harder, longer, and more relentless, because it swallows up a whole life for one single small experience that makes us say –that is all! “. 

The myth of the Golden Fleece

The background of the myth is set by:

– On the one hand, the major characters in Salmoneus’ and Cretheus’ lineage which we studied in the previous chapter. We will discuss their main characteristics below.

– On the other hand by Jason’s companions, symbolising certain kinds of evolution in specific orientations.

The following finds expression through Salmoneus’ and Cretheus’ lineage:

  • The seeker’s external being, where in a more or less subconscious manner, “forces contributing to evolution in the process of liberation” confront a more mixed force, that of progression in the ignorance of one’s own journey coupled with a vital ambition (Pelias). However the latter creates an aspiration for justice (Pisidice) and a strong righteousness (Alcestis). Among Neleus’ descendants the only surviving dynamism is embodied by his youngest son Nestor who represents “the evolution of rectitude”, “the