Odysseus (Ulysses) arrived on the island of Aeaea where Circe with the beautiful hair lived, a fearsome goddess endowed with voice. She was a daughter of Helios and the nymph Perseis, and thus a sister of Aietes, the king of Colchide.
A god led the hero to the end of the anchorage. After two days of recovery, he climbed a hill from where he saw the smoke coming from Circe’s mansion. However, he decided to have a meal with his crew and send scouts before going there. On his way down, he came across a huge deer with magnificent antlers, killed him and brought it back to the ship.
The next day, he addressed the crew with these words: “We do not know where the sun set is, where is dawn rising, or where the sun that shines on mortals goes under the earth, or where it comes back and we cannot make any real plans”. He divided his men into two groups of twenty-two, the first under his command, the second led by Eurylochos, with the face of a god. Fate appointed the latter group to venture to Circe. When they got there, they found lions and mountain wolves all around the manor, which welcomed them. They had been bewitched by the drugs of the magician who sang inside her house and weaved a divine canvas.
Polites, the most sensible of the troupe, invited his companions to show their presence. The goddess then appeared and invited them in, which they did with the exception of Eurylochos, who smelled a trap. She offered them a drink to which she had added her drugs. As soon as they finished drinking, she struck them with her wand and locked them in her pigsty, for they now had the appearance of pigs, though they had kept their spirits.
Eurylochos returned to the ship and reported that he had not seen anyone coming out from the house. At these words, Odysseus (Ulysses) decided to go there too, despite the entreaties of Eurylochos who refused to accompany him.
Along the way, he met Hermes “with the golden wand” who had taken on the traits of a young man to whom the beard grows for the first time. The latter tells him that without the powerful, beneficent drugs he was going to provide him, the hero would not be able to return from Circe’s house. Then he told him what to do: knowing that this drug was making the goddess inoperative, he had to pretend to kill her after she touched him with her wand. And when she offers to share her bed, he had to accept after making her swear that she would not harm him or deprive him of his strength and manhood.
Then Hermes pulled from the ground a herb whose root was black and the flower white like milk, and taught the hero its properties. The gods called it “Molu” and the mortals had great difficulty in pulling it.
The hero went to Circe’s house and everything went according to Hermes.
The goddess guessed that he was the famous Odysseus (Ulysses) whose coming Hermes had told her.
She had four nymphs at her service who prepared the hero’s bath and set the table. But Odysseus (Ulysses) could not eat because his stomach was knotted. So he begged the goddess to free his people, which she did without delay: the pigs became younger, more beautiful and taller men again. Circe then invited the hero and his entire crew to stay at her home.
Odysseus (Ulysses) returned to the ship where the men on board wept with joy to see him again. He sent them the goddess’s invitation, welcoming them to join their fellow companions feasting. All agreed with the exception of Eurylochos, which the hero threatened to kill before he finally decided to follow them.
They stayed at Circe’s home for a whole year. As the desire to return was pressing, the goddess informed the hero that he was to go to Hades’ house to seek advice from the soul of the soothsayer Tiresias, a blind soothsayer, whose intelligence did not falter; though dead, Persephone had given wisdom only to him, for the other souls fluttered like vain shadows. He would teach him the road, the measurements of the path, and tell him how he could return on the fishy sea. She told Odysseus (Ulysses) what he should do for such an expedition.
Circe and Aietes are children of Helios, himself son of Hyperion, and thus manifestations of the power of radiation of the Supramental. We have already mentioned that Homer mentions only these two children, Perses and Pasiphae having been added by later authors. (See Genealogical tree 4)
If Helios-Panoptes “who sees everything” represents the power of Knowledge in Truth of the Supramental, his children Aietes and Circe are two complementary aspects, respectively that of “the vision in Truth of the whole” and that of “the vision in Truth in detail.” Aietes “A higher consciousness” is “oloophronos, with a fearsome spirit,” with a likely pun with “olo” (ολος), total. We have already met him during the study of the Argonauts’ quest.
Circe is therefore the symbol of a manifestation of the supramental consciousness, “the discerning vision of Truth in all details” in matter, whereas Aietes is rather a global vision of Truth from the heights of the Spirit.
It can probably be compared with the “penetrating vision” (Vipassana) of Buddhism, without being able to establish with certainty an identity. The latter is defined as a clear perception of the intrinsic nature of things: knowledge of all things in and through their ultimate depth and spiritual essence, without any distortion, in their oneness and identity.
The “penetrating vision” includes the realization of the Five knowledges: that of the totality of things in and through their essence, that of all things exactly as they are, without any subjectivity (the Knowledge of the Mirror), that of their absolute identity, that of their difference in oneness, that which accomplished in exactitude.
In The Life Divine, Chapter 54, Sri Aurobindo mentions four powers of the Intuition plane that precede that of the overmind and come from the supramental: a power of vision revealing the truth, a power of inspiration or hearing of the truth, a power to touch the truth or to immediately grasp its meaning, and a power to detect the orderly and accurate relationship between one truth and another. According to our understanding, on the plane of Intuition, these powers must be related to Idas and Lynkeus because they still belong to duality. On the other hand, what is in Circe’s domain refers to Unity and the supramental.
We can also make the connection with the talk recounted in Mother’s Agenda, Tome 1, dated December 21, 1957 in which Mother explains her different ways of “seeing”:
“At the very top, a constant vision of the will of the Supreme. (= HELIOS)
In the world, an overview of what needs to be done. (= AIETES)
Individually, at every moment and in every circumstance, the vision of the truth of that moment, of this circumstance, of this individual. (= CIRCE)
In the outer consciousness, impersonal and mechanical recording of what is happening and of what are people and things, which constitute both the field of action and the limitations imposed on this action. The recording is deliberately automatic and mechanical, without any appreciation of any kind, as objective as possible. »
This manifestation is linked to the body because Circe remains on the island of Aeaea “the consciousness of the earth (of the body).” It is intelligible because the goddess is “gifted with voice.”
Thus, this episode of Odysseus (Ulysses)’ journey evokes the experience of the seeker’s first contact with some manifestations of supramental power, just as in the myths devoted to theory, we saw Heracles “irritated” by the heat of the sun Helios towards whom he shot his arrows.
To reach this point, the seeker needs the help of the spiritual powers (a god piloted Odysseus (Ulysses)). But he could not have achieved this if he had not achieved a great purification of his mind so that his intuition would be free from any disturbance (the hero met a deer with splendid antlers, killed him and offered him as a feast to his companions. Remember that the deer is linked to the goddess Artemis, a symbol of active purification, and that very developed antlers express a great accomplishment in this regard).
The seeker first understands his ignorance of the path to contact the supramental light, nor where/how it appears or where/how it disappears, and that he completely ignores what yoga can lead him there “we don’t know where the sun setting is, or where is the dawn, nor where the sun that illuminates mortals goes under the earth, nor where it returns, and we cannot make any real project”. However, as this should not prevent the seeker from acting, he entrusts the Divine with the task of choosing the means to progress (Odysseus (Ulysses) lets fate decide which group will go to Circe).
Eurylochos “a great withdrawal”, the companion of Odysseus (Ulysses) who leads the first group and later tries to hold him back, seems to symbolize a reluctance of the being, a certain caution in the face of the manifestations of the supramental, something in the being which does not want to see. With the structuring letters this is what stops the process of liberation (Λ+Χ). Homer, however, called him “like a god” and “with a big heart.”
This “cautiousness”, confronted with the results of the power of vision in Truth, sees only that what was previously perceived as dangerous or terrifying, has opposite characteristics (Eurylochos sees lions and wolves from the mountains that were tamed under the influence of Circe’s drug). This could be the “change of vision” as described by Satprem in chapter VIII of ‘On the Way to Supermanhood’. And this change of vision brings the seeker to realise he is as much shadow as light, and to fully accept these two aspects of himself, this absolute solidarity with the whole of humanity:
“The human deity with stargazing eyes
Still co-exists with the beast of origins.”
Circe’s weaving work involves, like those of Calypso and Penelope, slow progression, great patience and a real presence in the moment. Her singing expresses the harmony achieved, the exactitude.
“The intelligence governing the path” then decides to come into contact with this unknown power, despite the reluctance of what in him recoils from this new experience (Polites, appreciated by Odysseus (Ulysses) for his common sense, entered with his men while Eurylochos remained at the door).
Under the influence of the supramental Truth, the most hidden aspects of the being come to the foreground in their raw truth, with no mask or false pretences, but the ability to understand and integrate this truth persists (under the effect of Circe’s drug, the companions turned into pigs but retained their spirit). The Greek word used here refers to a pig as well as a wild boar.
The “cautious” part of the being, which refused to see itself in Truth, can only know that half of the being has had the opportunity to reveal itself as it is in Truth. It again refuses to reveal itself while the evolutionary need cannot be curbed (Eurylochos, who does not know what happened to his companions tries to restrain Odysseus (Ulysses) and begs him not to take him back to the mansion).
The seeker is then “warned” by an intuition from the overmind that his vision of himself in truth can be his undoing if he does not take the precaution to oppose an intelligent understanding from the highest levels of the mind (Odysseus (Ulysses) must oppose the drug of Circe, the one Hermes will give him).
The seeker’s access to the overmind is still unsecured (Hermes appears as a young man to whom the beard grows for the first time).
Seeing oneself in Truth – and therefore the world – can indeed be terrifying and drive the one who is not ready to madness. In other words, a seeker who does not have access at a minimum to the overmind should not attempt to force the incursion into the depths of his being, because he would not be able to bear it. If he were to engage anyhow in the process, including his aspiration to achieve the spirit-matter union, he would risk abandoning yoga out of “disgust of the Divine’s action”, the aspiration having its counterpart in the world of duality.
Therefore, according to the ancients, at this stage of yoga, the development of the mind to its highest levels is essential. When the right relationship is established between the overmind and the vision of Truth, it can direct into the depths of bodily consciousness the aspiration for spirit-matter union (when the union of Odysseus (Ulysses) and Circe is realized, the goddess provides the essential knowledge for the hero to descend safely into Hades).
The protection offered by the overmind is the complete understanding of the association of a perfect incarnation and a fulfilment in purity, of the possibility to confront the naked Reality with the realization of his own divinity (the Molu, whose root is black and the flower milky white). This Molu (ΜΩΛΥ μωλυ) seems to indicate “hard work,” “exhausted by effort” or, with the structural letters, “receptivity and liberation in matter”. According to Homer, “it is difficult to uproot, at least for mortal men; but the gods can do all things.” This plant can be compared to the Lotus, symbol of Sri Aurobindo.
The seeker must first show that he can give up the vision of Truth before letting it come to him naturally (Odysseus (Ulysses) must pretend to kill Circe who will then offer him her bed). He must ensure that this vision will not hamper his yoga, that it will not divert him from action in the incarnation (Odysseus (Ulysses) must ensure that Circe will not take away his strength or manhood).
Then he can rediscover the energies participating in the yoga, those that, under the effect of a new action of the vision of Truth, have undergone a transformation, being more adaptable, truer and more powerful (Circe, using a second drug, returns his men younger, handsomer and taller-looking).
The mere vision of the shadow is therefore not transformative. But the union of the discerning power of vision (Circe) and the will to achieve the perfect transparency in the being to the action of the divine forces for the divinization of matter (Odysseus (Ulysses)) – a will protected by the overmind that offers the possibility of digging in the mud, to confront the naked Reality – allows this transformative action.
It is the process explained by Sri Aurobindo according to which the purification-liberation leading to the psychisation of the being, and the spiritual transformation from the overmind to the body, precede the action of the supramental forces that will transform from the top the outer being.
Then the active elements of the yoga benefit for a long time from the implementation of this process (Odysseus (Ulysses) and his companions stay at Circe’s place until the end of the year).
If the goddess Circe, daughter of the sun, is the symbol of the vision in Truth that allows us to see the intrinsic nature of things, then she is also the one who knows the paths of the ultimate Reality that is lodged in the depths of bodily consciousness, in the kingdom of Hades “where the unity spirit/matter is realized.” Therefore, it can provide the hero with all the necessary indications for him to find in the body consciousness what in turn will give him the knowledge for the continuation of the path (Odysseus (Ulysses) must go into Hades to find the shadow of the soothsayer Tiresias who would show him the route, the necessary steps and tell him how he could accomplish his return).
As Tiresias was the soothsayer of Thebes, this implies a thorough purification-liberation. And since it is his “shadow,” it is the body that must give the indication. But this is only a preliminary knowledge, not the experience itself.
One can better understand that Circe agreed to purify the Argonauts who went to conquer the Golden Fleece but refused them her hospitality: the seeker was then absolutely not able to bear and realize “the vision of the naked Reality”, as Sri Aurobindo writes in Savitri, Book Two, end of Book Seven:
“With his lone spirit without veil he faced Hell laid bare.”