Odysseus and Scylla (Book XII)

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Circe had given Odysseus (Ulysses) the choice of two routes after his encounter with the Sirens.

On one side were the two overhanging rocks against which the great swells of Amphitrite were breaking. The gods called them Planktai “unstable rocks” or “wandering rocks”.

No bird could touch the first, not even the shy doves that brought ambrosia to Zeus. At each flight, the smooth rock took one of them and the king of the gods had to replace it.

Never had any ship of men been able to cross the second. Waves and devastating fires carried away the debris of the ship and the bodies of the sailors. Only one of the great ships of the sea could escape, the Argo that the stream had thrown against these gigantic stones, because Hera saved it for Jason’s sake.

When Odysseus (Ulysses)’ ship approached, they saw the vapour of a great swell and heard its crash. Terrorized, the men stopped rowing. The hero ordered the pilot to steer away from the rocks.

But he had not yet said anything to his men about the monsters Charybdis and Scylla that Circe had described to him and that they would find on the second route that passed between two reefs.

The summit of the first reached the sky, covered in a dark cloud in summer as in winter. The rock was smooth and halfway up there was a dark cave which on the western side opened to the Erebus. This cave was the hideout of Scylla, an inevitable plague. This frightful monster had the voice of a small bitch, twelve stubs as feet and six long necks, each with a horrible head with three rows of teeth. Half stuck in the rock, she darted her long necks to fish for dolphins, sea dogs, sometimes one of the thousands great monsters fed by the screaming Amphitrite, or to seize the sailors on the boats.

The other reef was within reach of the first and carried a large fig tree. Just below, the divine Charybdis engulfed the black waters three times every day with a terrible noise, then vomited it, causing the foam to spurt out and cover the top of the reefs. When the water disappeared, you could see a bottom of blackish sand (or dark blue).

Circe had warned Odysseus (Ulysses) to avoid Charybdis in particular and to sail towards Scylla, for he had to prefer the death of some sailors to total drowning.

She had also told him that Scylla was immortal, “an eternal evil,” that Odysseus (Ulysses)’ taste for fighting would be of no use, and that his only resource would be to seek help from Crataïs, Scylla’s mother, who would put an end to the monster’s attacks.

As the boat entered the pass, he forgot Circe’s advice and put on his weapons.

Seized by the terror of the chasm of Charybdis, he saw only too late the mouths of Scylla who seized six sailors and devoured them.

The seeker having to render his nature “transparent” in order to let the divine forces penetrate, he must purify the deep areas of the subconscious and unconscious, until the roots not only of mind out of life, but also of life out of matter. It is these two aspects that are illustrated here, on the one hand with Charybdis and Scylla, on the other hand with the Planktai.


The Planktai


Circe begins by presenting to the hero the risks of the purification at the root of life, because the danger of dying is immense. (It is a yoga that cannot be done without the action of the supramental forces.) Amphitrite is a daughter of the “old man of the sea”, Nereus, the first son of Pontus “life”. In this very archaic plane, the great waves of life hammer the matter (against the overhanging rocks, broke the great swells of Amphitrite). They are governed by the subconscious, because Amphitrite is united to Poseidon. Their son is Triton, a god half-man – half-fish, expression of the emergence of humanity out of the pure vital.

The “overhanging rocks” designate, in the Tree of Sephiroth, the parts of the veil that extend on both sides under the Sephira Yesod, boundary of dense matter and life.

They are “unstable” or “wandering” rocks which make you “stray from the right path”. The overhang suggests that it cuts off contact with the spiritual powers.

This is a test that the seeker has already encountered at the beginning of the road, but from which he escaped thanks to the intervention of the overmind powers (see the quest of the Argonauts). Here, the seeker will go afar, probably because it was not the time to dissolve such a knot.

The first “rock” symbolizes a knot in the body unconscious which does not offer any grip (a smooth rock). No pure thought can approach it because it would be swallowed up instantly, even the purest barely emerged from bodily life (the shy doves). Moreover, the power that reigns over the overmind is compelled to restore at each attempt of mental purification the fragile connection with the roots of life, a link essential to its survival (Zeus must restore the number of shy doves which bring him the ambrosia because at each trip one dies at the contact with the rock).

The second “rock” marks the ultimate barrier to the investigation at the roots of life that no one has ever been able to consciously cross; because one must step with eyes wide open into death (no ship of men could cross it). The seeker must be able to endure the fire hurricanes of body cleansing by the forces of the spirit (the devastating fires). For the one who is unprepared it is an experience that can be very dangerous, even deadly, because it completely disrupts energy structures and destroys them (especially the etheric body that leaves the being without any protection) (the waves and devastating fires carried away the debris of the ship and the bodies of the sailors).

It is an experience of which the seeker had a vague glimpse at the very beginning of his yoga, during the first major experience of opening to the higher planes (the temporary experience of illumination), as if to warn him of the risks on the path. But at that time, without even being aware of it, he was totally protected by the forces watching over the yoga (during Jason’s “return”, Hera saved the Argo for his sake).


Charybdis and Scylla


If Homer, through the mouth of Circe, presented to Odysseus (Ulysses) the possibility of a choice between two routes, the passage through the second seems inevitable.

Here, the pitfalls are not related to the root of life itself but to those of evolution of mind in life, to the raw expression of fusion (Charybdis) and splitting forces (Scylla) acting at the base of mind.

The genealogy of Scylla differs according to the authors. Homer mentions only her mother, Crataïs “the Force (of the Absolute)”. Other authors give her as father either Phorcys, son of Pontus, who, united to Ceto, marks the point of emergence of the animal ego, Phorbas “who carries evolution forward”, or Typhon united to Echidna, “ignorance” acting within the framework of an “interruption of evolution in unity”.

Legend has it that Scylla was originally a beautiful girl and then became a monster, either because Amphitrite was jealous, or under the influence of the drugs of Circe who was jealous of the love of Glaucus “what is bright”. Both versions show that the distancing process from unity was necessary for the acquisition of supreme freedom. This is why Scylla is immortal, “an eternal evil“. But the intrusion of the “twisting” mind into ignorance has transformed surrender to the Divine into a will for a separate existence (which, developed to the extreme, leads in our societies to the isolation of beings fragmented in themselves and unable to perceive even a little unity outside themselves.)

This is the reason why Crataïs, mother of Scylla, is the “Force (of the Divine)” that brings forth the manifestation, the other being the spontaneous return to unity which is expressed at the root of life as fusion, absorption or dissolution (Charybdis) and therefore cannot uphold any individual form or structure (the monster destroy the ships and rejects their parts).

If Odysseus (Ulysses) does not have to put on his weapons, it is because it is no longer a personal yoga but a surrender to the divine action. The seeker cannot use the yogas working in duality but on the contrary, he must call the Divine Force for help, which implies a letting go and surrender to the Real.

The name Scylla can be understood as “what tears, separates”.

The action of this “power of separation” concerns the entire height of the mind. The seeker cannot even see the end and has no hold on it (the top of the rock is drowned in clouds and the stone is smooth). This separation is rooted in the primordial Nescience (it opens to the west on the Erebus).

The energy that inhabits this rock is deeply rooted in its centre (the cave of Scylla is halfway up and the monster is buried in it to the waist). As vigilant as the seeker is, he cannot see her coming (Scylla has the voice of a puppy and she takes away the sailors without Odysseus (Ulysses) noticing it, his attention being then caught by the chasm of Charybdis). She is not connected at any point to the Real, but is everywhere active (She has stumps instead of twelve feet). Her three rows of teeth “filled with the darkness of death” are signs of the deadly separation on three levels. She feeds on all the primitive vital forces, maintained by the power ruling at the base of subconscious life (the sea monsters fed by Amphitrite).

In the language of psychiatry, Scylla could be associated with schizophrenic-like disorders.

The other rock being very close to the first one, the seeker may collide with one or the other if he is not careful.

This rock could illustrate the symptoms that we associate today with bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive). For it manifests itself in a double movement, one that absorbs life and forms, the other that rejects these same forms after dislocation (the one that engulfs the black wave and any ship that approaches, the other which rejects it in a stream of foam, rejecting at the same time the pieces of dislocated ships).

The shizo-paranoid position has been theorized by Melanie Klein, who considers it the most archaic stage of human development, followed by the depressive position considered more integrative. It is characterized by maniac defences, projections and introjections, projective identification, the cleavage of objects and an object lived on the dual mode of idealization and envy. Everything is governed by the dialectic (in the Kleinian sense which is different from the Freudian meaning) of life and death drives. It presupposes a self and a superego capable of feeling anguish (annihilation, etc.).

The meaning of the name Charybdis is not clear.

It is interesting to note that Homer never describes Charybdis but only the consequences of his action, as if the monster itself did not exist. In other words, the seeker cannot attack anything and cannot discern anything except the swirling movement driving him.

From the purely spiritual point of view – which alone enables one to orient oneself since one sees consciously the coming process – the seeker is warned internally that he will be much better off if he chooses the separating side, the side of his fears, rather than that of depression. The first option may destroy some structures of one’s personality and yoga and weaken one’s energies, but “the vision in Truth” sees that the other option is infinitely more dangerous.

However, yoga does not allow avoiding any test: soon, the seeker will be sucked into the chasm of Charybdis and will come out only by clinging to the branches of the large fig tree overhanging the rock.

During this first passage, the seeker avoids the worst although he is seriously affected (he loses only six sailors out of the forty-five still on board).

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

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