The Departure from the Island of Circe and the Invocation of the Dead (End of Book X and Book XI Nekuia)

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Following Circe’s advice, Odysseus (Ulysses) prepared himself to descend into Hades in order to question the “psyche” of the blind soothsayer Tiresias, for Persephone wanted that only he would retain his ability to think, even in death.

Before departure, Elpenor died after falling from the roof because of his drunkenness. He was the least brave in combat and the least wise in counsel.

Then Odysseus (Ulysses) informed his companions of their next journey and all of them sobbed while tearing their hair out.

The hero let the wind Boreas bring him to the edge of the Ocean and bypass the Little Promontory. He ran aground on the shore, where the currents were deepest, near the sacred woods of Persephone. It was the land of the Cimmerians, a people who lived in the mist the sun never pierced and on which weighed a night of death. 

He then went on through the marshes to the places where the Acheron receives the Pyriphlegethon and the Kokytos whose waters come from the Styx (which is only an arm of the Styx). The two noisy rivers converge in front of the “Stone”.

He then made the sacrifices indicated by the soothsayer. As the shadows rose in droves, he prevented them from approaching in order to choose the ones he wanted to see.

The first that came to him was that of Elpenor, whose body was left abandoned without burial at Circe’s home. She begged Odysseus (Ulysses) to arrange a funeral according to custom and to erect a monument to her memory when he returns to the goddess.

Then came Anticlia, the daughter of Autolycos and mother of Odysseus (Ulysses), whose death he did not know.

Then Tiresias appeared, holding the golden sceptre. He told the hero about Poseidon’s grudge because he had blinded his son, the Cyclops Polyphemus. He informed him that he could reach the goal if he could control his “desire (θυμος)” and that of his companions. He announced their passage by Trident Island, where the herds of Helios, cows and fat sheep, grazed. The crew had to respect them, otherwise all the men would die and he would return on a borrowed ship to find misfortune at home. After punishing the excesses of the suitors, he would have to leave again with the oar on his shoulder and walk so far that in the end he would meet people who ignore the sea, eat without salt and do not know about ships and oars. Then he would come across a traveller who would ask him why he was carrying a grain shovel on his shoulder. He would then have to plant the oar in the ground, sacrifice to Poseidon and then return to his dwelling to sacrifice to all the Immortals. There he would live a happy old age surrounded by wealthy people.

At Odysseus (Ulysses)’ request, Tiresias informed him that in order to communicate with the shadows and obtain the truth from them, the hero had to let them approach and drink the blood of the sacrificed animals.

With Tiresias retiring, his mother Anticlia came to drink from the steaming blood. She spoke to Odysseus (Ulysses) of his wife, son and father filled with sadness on the island of Ithaca. She also told him that maternal anxiety had caused her own death.

Odysseus (Ulysses) wanted to take her in her arms but seized only a shadow, an evanescent dream.

The hero saw then the shadows of Tyro, Antiope, Alcmene, Megara, Epicasta, Chloris, Leda, Iphimedeia Phaidra, Procris, Ariadne, Maia, Clymene, Eriphyle and many other heroines.

Then came the shadow of Agamemnon who recounted the murder perpetrated by Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra. He advised Odysseus (Ulysses) “not to show himself” on his return. He also asked for news of his son Orestes, but Odysseus (Ulysses) knew nothing about him.

Then came the shadows of Achilles, Patroclus, Antilochus and Ajax.

In the eyes of Odysseus (Ulysses), Achilles should have been happy to exert his power over the dead, but the latter disabused him, claiming that he would rather be the servant of a poor farmer than rule over the dead who are nothing. Again, Odysseus (Ulysses) could not give any recent news, neither of his father Peleus, nor of his son Neoptolemus. However he praised the latter, who fought fearlessly during the last battles of Troy, no one equalling his strength and only Memnon surpassing him in handsomeness.

Then Odysseus (Ulysses) tried in vain to reconcile himself with the shadow of Ajax who still didn’t forgive him for having won the weapons of Achilles in court.

He then saw Minos who was ruling over the shadows and the great Orion who continued hunting in the Asphodel meadows the fawns he had already killed during his lifetime in the lonely mountains. He also saw Tityos, whose liver was devoured by two vultures, Tantalus in torment and Sisyphus rolling his stone.

Then he saw Heracles, but it was only his shadow, for he was in fact staying with the immortals, united to Hebe. Around his shadow, the dead fled, “like birds.” With a frightening look, he sought the goal, an arrow resting on his bent bow. No craftsman would have been able to reproduce his incomparable harness. He told Odysseus (Ulysses) that Hermes and Athena had given him their support when he was facing an unparalleled risk by going to pick up Cerberus.

Although Odysseus (Ulysses) wanted to see heroes such as Theseus and Pirithoos, countless tribes of dead beings had gathered and he feared that Persephone would send him Gorgon’s head.

He then returned to the ship, went down the course of the Oceanos River and left with the breeze.

The ancients distinguished the “nekyia” from the “catabasis“, making the former the only “evocation” of the dead that allowed the “shadows” to come forth, while the second expressed a “descent” into the underground worlds.

The nekuia would then essentially be a description of the integration – or deep understanding – of the nature of past experiences with only brief indications for the future of the path. It is made possible by the experience of the “vision in Truth.” The catabasis would be an experience of descent into bodily consciousness when the seeker progresses in the yoga of the body.

The seeker follows the path indicated by his penetrating vision, his “True vision of details” (Odysseus (Ulysses) did exactly what Circe advised him). In order to pursue yoga, he must draw on the sources of intuition that directs and organizes the purification process, one that knows “the road and the steps.” Tiresias is indeed the soothsayer of Thebes, a city symbolic of the path of purification-liberation of which Oedipus and his descendants are the heroes. But now it is a bodily intuition because Tiresias is in the kingdom of Hades.

It is no longer intuitions of the mind or heart that will now lead the quest but bodily perceptions. Yoga occurs now in the body.

This intuition related to the path of purification is the only element of ancient yoga that can still inform in advance the seeker when yoga descends into the body, according to the laws imposed by the process of investigating consciousness in the depths (Persephone has allowed only Tiresias to retain his ability to think in death). Perhaps this comes from the fact that he is the only one among the soothsayers to have the necessary flexibility, because his father is Eueres.

Before engaging in this investigation, the seeker must definitively abandon the “hope” that things will be different or even the expectation of any result: Elpenor “the man of hope” died. This expectation prevents the right work of yoga and deceives discernment because Elpenor was the least brave in combat and the least wise in counsel.

Some commentators say that the verses regarding these characteristics of Elpenor were added later. They evoke a passive expectation, whereas it seems to us that Homer is referring rather to the pursuit of the Heavens of the Ideal, what Sri Aurobindo calls “illusory hopes”, since the remains of Elpenor will be honoured.

When the seeker acquires the vision in Truth, he sees that everything is “as it should be”, that everything goes according to evolution, a divine perfection of realization at every moment in every detail and for everything. It is therefore the end of all hope of refuge in the paradises of the spirit, in this life or after death. The hopes of paradise beyond Earth, raised by divine drunkenness, are brutally recalled to Reality (Elpenor was drunk when he fell from the roof).

The perfect acceptance of “what is” implies perfect equality for all things, including the cessation of all rejection, revulsion and distaste at the Divine’s action in nature. Only the aspiration to be a perfectly transparent tool for the action of the divine evolutionary forces must remain. As long as the will to change things on one’s own was maintained, even a little, it created a handicap for the right action and thought.

This loss of hope must not interfere with the involvement in the world: although everything is as it should be, divine perfection must be achieved in matter.

But the seeker must recognize that hope has long been useful along the way (Odysseus (Ulysses) must promise to honour Elpenor’s remains). 

When the seeker decides to dive into the depths of his being, he is in the grip of fear in certain parts of his being (when Odysseus (Ulysses) informs his companions of their next journey, all tear their hair, sobbing).

But nothing can stop his progress. Continuing his yoga without weakening (driven by the breath of Boreas), he is led to the origin of the currents of consciousness-energy that drive evolution (Oceanos), the most archaic currents of consciousness-energy, where the exchanges between the unconscious and the conscious, between the body and the mind takes place (he reached the far end of the ocean, where the currents are deepest, near the sacred woods of Persephone).

Perhaps the land of the Cimmerians can be understood as “a very strong surrender” (to the laws of nature),” a deep consciousness that the powers of the supramental never penetrated (to this day) and who lives in a kind of resigned despair (a people who lived in the mists never pierced by the rays of the sun and on which weighed a night of death). We must refer to the Mother’s Agenda for the proper understanding of this “despair” of the cells.

The seeker then descends even deeper into nauseous marshes at the source of which are the two currents of consciousness that feed the evolutionary process, that of the burning fire of aspiration and that of the descent into the incarnation subject to the laws of nature (or considered as such).

(He then progressed through the marshes, to the places where the Acheron receives the Pyriphlegethon and the Kokytos whose waters come from the Styx (which is only an arm of the Styx).

This “distress” or “cell despair” (Kokytos) is fuelled by the energies (or is part of the energies) erecting the barrier of consciousness between matter and mind, the Styx.le styx

Let’s recall here some elements that appear in Chapter 4, Volume 1 of this study :
The Styx, the one who inspires “horror and fright” or the “hateful, abhorrent” is the symbol of the ultimate barrier to prevent the realisation of union in the body. This is the oldest consciousness-energy stream, because Styx is the “eldest daughter” of Oceanos, father of the rivers. He “straightens everything according to the Truth” (ΣΤ+Ξ), or symbolizes “rectitude (or integrity) on all the planes of being”. This absolute putting in order is the fundamental necessity for the one who ventures into the yoga of the body at the cellular level.

The waters of the Styx feed Pyriphlegethon “the fire that burns within” and the “lamenting Cocytus” and also ΚΩ+Κ+Τ, a “widening of consciousness towards spirit and matter.

These last two rivers flow in turn into the Acheron, “the right movement in the centre (of matter) Χ+Ρ “, which is the foundation. These two rivers which “flow in opposite directions” are in relation to the two currents of the Caduceus. They meet deep in the consciousness, in front of the “black basalt rock”, the Vedas, Sri Aurobindo, Mother and Satprem say, which renders inaccessible to man the tremendous divine powers in the depth of matter.

In A God’s Labour, Sri Aurobindo, we read:

A voice cried, “Go where none have gone!

Dig deeper, deeper yet

Till thou reach the grim foundation stone

And knock at the keyless gate.” 


Or again in “On the Way to Supermanhood”, Satprem: “Basically, deep down, it is a knot of microscopic pain, something that is afraid of the sun and joy, something that chokes and is afraid of the vast. It’s hard as stone …” (The two rivers with resounding noises meet in front of the “Stone”).

According to Hesiod, the Styx is made up of one-tenth of the Oceanos River, while the nine others “roll in silver swirls around the land and the vast back of the sea”. This description confirms that it is a current of consciousness immediately in contact with the body. (Hesiod, Theogony, 789.)

(The Styx corresponds to the energies that flow through the tenth Sephira, the densest energies in the Tree of Life – Malkut – feeding the body.)

Firstborn of Oceanos, it testifies that the cessation of the “true functioning” was the first disruptive element that manifested in the evolution and thus the Styx constitutes the ultimate barrier on the way back to the “liberation” of the body, after those of the mind and the vital.

The seeker integrates then the real meaning of the loss of hope, the end of restlessness, and promises to honour the memory of the former yoga that was based on this hope: this yoga has been and remains essential to reach this point (Odysseus (Ulysses) promises to the shadow of Elpenor to bury him according to custom and to erect a monument on which was to be planted his oar, a sign for the men of the future).

The seeker sees then where the path of purification in the body will lead him (Tiresias informs him of the future trials). First, he understands that to deprive himself of his powers of perception-vision from the subconscious (the blindness of Polyphemus) will lead to many difficulties, but that an absolute control of “desire” or “vital energy ” (Thumos) should nevertheless allow him to reach the goal (Odysseus (Ulysses) will suffer the wrath of Poseidon, but will reach the goal if he manages to control his “desire (θυμος) ” and that of his companions). This ultimate control of the thumos can most probably be associated with the control of the gunas (see the chapter on the last six Labours of Heracles).

He then perceives that he will soon experience a great “temptation” when he reaches the root of the vital, near Trident Island (literally: the island of the three summits, Trinacria), perhaps symbol on the Sephiroth Tree of the paths issued from the Sephira Yesod.YesodThere, he will be able to see that many powers directly derived from the supramental are accessible to him, but then he must not entertain the least trace of ego, the least desire of appropriation, even if the goal is service to humanity.

If he has not achieved total transparency, he will have to undergo the necessary tests to achieve it. After a complete annihilation of his little “me” that would force him to use another mode of functioning of his external nature, he would realize that the most beautiful realisations of ancient yoga – wisdom and holiness – present now an obstacle to the new one (Tiresias announced the passage of the hero on Trident Island where the herds of Helios were grazing, cows and fat ewes which the crew had to fully respect, otherwise all the men would die. Then he should go back on a borrowed ship to find misfortune at home where he should punish the suitors.)

He has the intuition that he would have to start a very difficult yoga of which we will examine the few elements given here by Homer, at the end of this chapter, with the study of Book XXIII (he would have to start again with the oar on his shoulder…).

The seeker proceeds then, following the indications of his vision of Truth, to a vast recapitulation of the past movements of yoga. He must let the past experiences be revivified by the essence of life and organize what comes back in disorder to consciousness (he must let the souls drink from the blood of sacrificed animals, but also prevent them from rushing towards him all together).

The one that comes first is the realization without which this last phase of the quest would not have seen the day, symbolized by his mother Anticlia: “humility”.

Let us recall that she is a daughter of Autolycos “who is guided by his own light”, and therefore a granddaughter of Hermes “Knowledge of the overmind”.

Autolycos could also be understood as “the one who radiates light”. Indeed, in the Mother’s Agenda, Volume 3, dated September 15, 1962, Mother explains that things observed in the overmind (and not in the real world) are bright in themselves. This humility would then be the result of the complete disappearance of the ego and an inversion of the directions of energies which, instead of absorbent become radiant.

But when the seeker approaches the yoga of the body, he must clear a new path. Humility, which was linked to the ego, has no more reason to be (he learns that his mother died, aware of her own uselessness).

Although he seeks support from this “humility”, it escapes him since it has finished its work (his mother Anticlia informed him but faded like a dream when he wanted to hug her three times). However, she is able to inform him of the progress of yoga and his progress in the path of union, if we admit that Laertes descends from Deion (Anticlia spoke to him about Penelope “the vision of a more complete freedom” and his father Laertes “total commitment of the whole being”).

Then many heroines appear in his consciousness; they indicate the pursued goals or steps that have been accomplished:

Tyro “right evolution to the highest mind”, Nestor’s grandmother “evolution of sincerity”: the beginnings of conscious yoga and sincerity (integrity or rectitude).

Antiope “the reversal of consciousness”, mother of Amphion and Zethus in the lineage of Thebes: the beginning of the process of purification-liberation.

Alcmene “a strong soul”, mother of Heracles: the theoretical understanding of the stages on this very path of purification-liberation.

Megara, “right movement in great things”, the first wife of Heracles who killed her children: the first achievements of the seeker in the outer life.

Epicasta “who is close to purity”, both mother and wife of Oedipus: the origin of the purification of the consciousness-energy centres (chakras).

Chloris “what is new”, Nestor’s mother: she is a woman of beauty, the very “true” goal that gave birth to the work of sincerity (integrity or rectitude).

Leda “union by liberation”. She belongs to the lineage of Protogenia, “those who walk forward” and she is the mother of Helena, Clytaemnestra and the two Dioscuri Castor “the power that confers mastery” and Pollux, the best of the warriors by “total gentleness”.

Iphemedeia “that which dominates forcefully”, wife of Aloeus, father of the Aloads who wanted to compete with the gods, symbols of the material liberation and the will for power.

And also came Ariadne and Phaedra (daughters of Minos), Procris (daughter of the king of Athens Erechtheus), Maera (daughter of Proetus), Clymene (mother of Iphicles), Eriphyle (daughter of Talaos) and many more women.

We do not come back here to the elements given by Homer which were examined during the study.

After reviewing the ancient goals and means of yoga, the seeker takes stock of his realisations.

“The powerful aspiration” which still wanted to improve man and from now on became an aspiration of the body itself, incites him to not reveal itself immediately in front of the old yogas who want to continue (Odysseus (Ulysses) is informed of the death of Agamemnon and the shadow of him encourages him not to reveal himself immediately to the suitors). Neither the movement of the new yoga nor this old aspiration can know how the latter evolved (Odysseus (Ulysses) cannot give Agamemnon news of his son Orestes).

Then the seeker lets the results of the various labours of yoga come to his consciousness: the completion of the process of purification-liberation by working on the tiny movements of consciousness in the depths of the vital up to the matter, the mind-based achievements, the vigilance and development of the higher consciousness (Achilles, Patroclus, Antilochus and Ajax).

What has brought about the reversal of yoga by a meticulous work in the depths of the vital and which was the most important in all the ancient endeavours, complains about the work in the body which is endless and without glory and for which the old yogas are no longer useful (Achilles complains of his situation and tells Odysseus (Ulysses) he would rather be the servant of a poor farmer than reign over the dead who are nothing anymore). In the Agenda, Mother emphasizes the fact that, compared to this work in the body, the yogas on the planes of the mind and vital are child’s play.

Once again, the seeker cannot make the necessary connections to evaluate the progress made in the purification of the depths of the vital or the evolution of the new battles to be fought: Odysseus (Ulysses) could not give any recent news either of Peleus or of Neoptolemus “the new fights”. However, he was aware that they had participated in the great reversal of yoga, and that only the “need” was essential, the most true (Odysseus (Ulysses) praised Neoptolemus, mentioning that only Memnon was handsomer than him).

The seeker tries then to make the higher consciousness acting in the depths on the tiny movements of body consciousness (Ajax, the Myrmidon working now in the kingdom of Hades) to work together with the spirit-matter reunification (Odysseus (Ulysses)).

But the practices to purify the depths of the vital and which had been used for the final reversal of yoga, are henceforth used primarily for the work of spirit-matter unification, which, being deprived of tools, the higher (mental) consciousness deplores, (Odysseus (Ulysses) tries to make up with Ajax who is still unhappy to have been defeated in their dispute to obtain Achilles’ weapons).

In other words, the highest consciousness regrets not being able to act for the purification; the Divine alone has to operate the transformation. Priority is therefore given to the achievement of total transparency for the undistorted action of spirit in matter.

Then the seeker notes that some yoga movements continue almost identically in the body consciousness and realizes that many of the achievements in the mind and vital must now occur in the body.

Thus, Minos “the purification of discerning intelligence”, a great legislator in his lifetime, gives justice to the shadows: the evolution of consecration in the body allows the ordering of the movements occurring there. It is no longer a question of consecration of the mind or even of the vital, but of the cells themselves.

Orion pursues in Hades the beasts already killed in his lifetime: the right work of the consciousness that has rejected the false movements from the mind and vital tracks those same movements that have “taken refuge” in the body. Indeed, a movement driven out of the consciousness, lodges itself in the subconscious, and if it is rejected, descends into the bodily unconscious.

Tityos is the movement of “tension” (in the aspiration) resulting from the feeling of “being separated”, who wanted to forcibly conquer the psychic realization. He is still very powerful at the level of the body despite the hard work of yoga (Tityos wanted to violate Leto; in Hades he spread over several acres and vultures devoured his liver). It is a tension in the cells convinced that it is absolutely necessary for their survival. It is only a long and laborious work that can overcome this belief of the body (the liver), in order to provide the relaxation necessary for the action of the supramental forces of transformation.

Tantalus is the symbol of the fundamental “need” at the base of any evolution, the aspiration to grow. In the yoga of the body, the seeker can never enjoy the fruits he feels within his reach, unlike the previous yogas, where Tantalus shared the table of the gods. On the contrary, he has to face a progressive aridity (a black earth dried out by a god).

Sisyphus, in his lifetime symbol of the effort and constructions of the intellect that enabled the struggle against illusions, continues his work in Hades, in the unconscious of the body. It is no longer a mental task, even if the ultimate goal is to remove the fundamental illusion of separation permeating the cells themselves. Sisyphus did not make a mistake, and his punishment consists of exhausting himself with a seemingly endless work. As usual he tries to lift a rigid form to the heights in order to make “a truth” out of it, but it collapses under its own weight. In the yoga of the body, the feeling is indeed that of incessant labour with the impression of having to start over and over again. However, as in the other yogas, it is about expansion, relaxation, adaptation and transparency.

We have seen that Heracles, after his apotheosis, remains among the Immortals, as he is the symbol of the “living liberated” having attained non-duality in the mind and vital, while his eidolon (his double) is in Hades because the work of liberation must continue in the body.

Among the Immortals assembled on Olympus, united with Hebe, goddess of “eternal youth,” he marks the settling of the seeker in the moment and “the incessant adaptation to the movement of becoming.”

In Hades, he prepares himself for new goals to conquer: “the arrow is resting on his bending bow, his gaze seeking the goal.”

The seeker then realizes that he cannot overcome “the guardian of the threshold” of the corporeal unconscious without the assistance of spiritual powers, those who contribute to the realization of the overmind, and of the master of yoga (Heracles warns Odysseus (Ulysses) that the help of Hermes and Athena was indispensable to bring back Cerberus).

The seeker would have liked to make a more complete assessment, but feeling countless memories arising and fearing to be swept away by the terror lurking in the depth of the body, he puts an end to the experiment (the hero, fearing that Persephone will send him the head of Gorgon, returned to the vessel and followed the course of the Oceanos river).

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