The Cattle of Helios; Odysseus and the Test of Charybdis (Book XII)

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Odysseus (Ulysses) arrived then at the island of Helios (the sun, son of Hyperion), where seven herds of cows and seven herds of fat sheep of fifty heads each grazed.

These animals knew neither birth nor death and were guarded by two goddesses, Phaetousa and Lampetia, daughters of Helios and the nymph Neaera.

The hero had been warned twice. Tiresias had advised him to avoid the island, and Circe not to touch the animals of the god otherwise his return to his country would be very difficult.

Odysseus (Ulysses) informed his companions, but Eurylochos, speaking in the name of all, urged him to let them off to rest one night. Odysseus (Ulysses) consented on the condition that all swear to respect the flocks of Helios, “the god who sees everything and hears everything”. All swore.

But the Notos blew a whole month, thanks to Zeus, preventing them from going back to sea. They quickly ran short of food and they were in the grip of hunger.

While the gods put Odysseus (Ulysses) to sleep, Eurylochos convinced his companions to sacrifice the most beautiful cows of Helios to the gods, which would allow them to eat meat. After the sacrifice, all fell asleep, sated.

Odysseus (Ulysses) awakened and saw the tragedy.

Meanwhile Lampetia alerted his father Helios. The latter asked Zeus and all the immortals to avenge the murder of his animals, uttering the following threat: if he did not get from Odysseus (Ulysses) companions the atonement he was expecting, he would plunge into Hades and radiate for the dead. Odysseus (Ulysses) did not know this threat until later, when Calypso told him what Hermes reported to him.

Then the gods sent signs: the corpses walked and the flesh bawled on the spits. But these wonders did not prevent the crew from feeding on meat for six days. On the seventh day the wind finally dropped and they embarked.

While they were off the coast, Zeus hung a dark cloud over the ship, which darkened the sea. A furious Zephyr blew into a hurricane, pulling down the mast that killed the pilot. At the same time, Zeus struck down the ship which fell apart and all the sailors perished.

Odysseus (Ulysses) tied the mast and the keel together and sat on this improvised raft.

The Notos took over the Zephyr and blew all night, dragging the raft back to Charybdis where the hero arrived in the early morning while the monster was swallowing the bitter wave. Driven by the whirlwind, Odysseus (Ulysses) clung to the branches of the big fig tree and remained suspended all day long over the chasm, unable to set foot or find a more comfortable position by climbing. When at night Charybdis vomited the mast and the keel, he let himself fall, rowed with his hands, and the Father of the gods and men made sure that Scylla did not see him.

For nine days he drifted, and on the tenth night he was thrown on the shore of the island of Calypso, the goddess with the melodious voice.

After reaching the root of mental processes, the seeker becomes aware that he has many powers at his disposal, derived from a non-dual higher plane, related to the illuminating aspect of the Supramental and its innovative aspects received by revelation and inspiration (Helios herds “the one who sees and hears everything”, cows and fat sheep, knowing neither birth nor death). Here we associate the sheep with the “renewal” perceived by the two powers of Intuition: Inspiration and Revelation.

These illuminations and other powers come from the supramental plane and are therefore absolutely true, immortal.

But the seeker should not, under any circumstances, use them for his own benefit. Thus, he had the intuition in two different ways that he had to stay away from them: by the bodily intuition helping the purifying process (Tiresias) and by his spiritual capacity of discrimination (Circe).

These powers were controlled by the Supramental (Phaetousa “the inner light” and Lampetia “the light above”) and could only be used according to evolutionary needs (Neaera “what emerges for evolution”).

The seeker, however, yields to instances of his external being that fear to move forward without seeing clearly. It is “wise caution”, which always argues for the ego, which is the spokesperson (Eurylochos urges Odysseus (Ulysses) to stop for the night, night that is a source of great danger for the sailors).

The seeker then tries to convince all parts of his being that under no circumstances will they use for their own ends the gifts or powers derived from the Supramental that he feels at hand (Odysseus (Ulysses) makes his companions swear that they will not touch the flocks).

But once again, he is tested for a period that seems endless in the uncertainty of the path (Zeus sends Notos – a wind of “confusion” – that shrouds the mountain heights with a mist hateful for the shepherd). Without understanding where he is heading, he is facing the aridity of yoga – the rarity of “experiences” – and wants quietness, to “relax” for a brief moment in front of the difficulty, without thinking that he is harming his yoga (men are stressed by hunger).

While the “will to achieve perfect transparency” leading the yoga is set backwards by spiritual forces (“awakening” is not yet permanent), this aridity leads some parts of the seeker to betray it in the guise of honouring the Supramental, being well aware that they will derive some benefit (men sacrifice oxen to Helios while Odysseus (Ulysses) is put asleep by the gods). When he “wakes up” from this unconsciousness, he sees that it was a test.

This story tells the extreme difficulty for the seeker to keep, against all odds, his determination towards the goal, even though yoga leads him to extreme trials, and the ease with which, probably under the most magnificent pretexts of service to humanity, it can deviate from its consecration and use the powers of the Supramental for its own purposes.

The seeker will understand much later what was being planned in the Superconscious, as he was not ready to use the gifts of the Supramental. As he was forced to ‘cross the desert’ for a long time, he received a revelation of the overmind transmitted by the force that kept him in isolation (Calypso revealed to him what Hermes told her): the illuminating power of the Supramental had required from the powers of the spirit the thorough purification of the seeker (for the pursuit of yoga).

If the purification had not yet been accomplished, the seeker would have been plunged into a terrible night of the spirit, while the forces waiting in the depths of corporal nature would be awakened again: it would not be the realization of a union spirit-matter but the reign of the Shadow Powers in a being deprived of the divine light. (Helios threatened to plunge into Hades and shine for the dead if the companions did not receive the punishment they deserved).

The seeker then has extraordinary experiences – but distorted, because he is not sufficiently purified – where death seems to merge with life, where the two form a single state of consciousness from two points of view, the inside and outside of the same reality: he began to wear out the barrier of unconsciousness that separates the two worlds (Then the gods sent signs: the corps walked and flesh moaned around the spits). (see Mother’s Agenda).

But in this phase of yoga, ignoring the threat uttered by Helios, he continues to use these gifts for some time (the companions fed for six days on the meat of the sacrificed cows).

Then comes the time of the major trial, which leads the seeker to an absolute stripping down and total surrender to Truth.

Having stopped using the gifts of the Supramental, he starts again. Everything then “darkens” in his life, as if he was plunged into a denial of everything, in a great NO to life (Zeus hung on the ship a dark cloud from which the sea darkened). The power of the purifying mind, Zephyr “the great cleaner,” then blew into a hurricane, and the superconscious power broke the last structures of the personality (of the ego) and pulverized the energies and qualities that previously supported yoga (the ship was dislocated and all the sailors perished).

The seeker now has no other support than his ability to surrender to the Divine and to endure. He linked together the two essential things of his yoga, to what was the strongest – righteousness and integrity -, and which were indispensable to reach the heights of the mind and dive into the depths of consciousness (Odysseus (Ulysses) tied together the mast and the keel and sat down on this improvised raft).

Then again, the seeker is bewildered (the wind of confusion takes over from the wind of purification: Notos followed Zephyr). After a gruelling period of wandering in the darkness, he finds himself caught in the whirlwind of a major depression seeking to drag him to the bottom. He can only stand firmly to his “illumined mind”, his “will to survive”, his “stamina”, and suspended in “absolute emptiness”, he must endure, having no other marker his consciousness can cling to (Odysseus (Ulysses) was dragged to the abyss of Charybdis and he clung to the fig tree, suspended above the void).

(The fig tree symbols listed above are of uncertain meaning because the symbolism of the fig tree in Greek mythology is not known to us. In Savitri it seems to symbolize the cosmic manifestation. Note that the Banyan, symbol of immortality, is also part of the fig tree family.)

Some verses from Savitri, The Descent into the Night (end of Canto 7, Book Two), can be compared to this experience:

First of all the stripping down:

Because it had now passed the populated areas”

Then the black chasm:

“Attracted to a kind of giant black mouth,

A swallowing throat, a huge belly of misfortune,

His being disappeared to his own vision,

pulled to the depths, eager for his fall.

However, it is not yet the ultimate test that will lead the seeker to a total stripping down, with no recourse to hope or faith.

When the engulfing threat loosens its grip, he can rely on the last debris of his old structure, happy to escape the total breakup of his being (an attack of the schizophrenic type) (Odysseus (Ulysses) let himself fall on the beams spat out by Charybdis and then moved away, unnoticed by Scylla).

The aspects of deep consciousness described in these pages can be reconciled with the three elements indicated by Mother (see Mother’s Agenda, Volume 8, p 142): a repulsion generating fear to the point of terror, an unspoken perverse attraction and a sense of the inevitable and utter impotence.

A long symbolic period of wandering ensued (after ten days at sea clinging to the wreckage of his ship’s keel, the hero was washed on the island of Calypso).

Next : Odysseus and Calypso (Book VII, 240 sq., Book I and Book V) >>

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