The twelve Olympian gods are the main powers of the overmind plan that ensure the evolution of humanity in its mental phase of development
Gods attending the birth of Athean – Louvre Museum
Remember that within you reside all the gods of Olympus
Thou hast to learn to bear all the gods within thee and never stagger with their inrush or break under their burden
Sri Aurobindo (Aphorism 287)
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There are two levels above that of the gods of Olympus in the hierarchy of mythological characters: that of the Titans and that of the primordial triad of Gaia, Ouranos and Eros. Even further above these Hesiod describes the very first levels of the emergence of Chaos, but we will leave these aside for the time being as they belong to planes outside “creation”.
It would have therefore been logical to begin the study of the myths with a story about the origins, and to then describe the different branches that were generated from the Titans, powers of creation, before going on to their children, the gods. Nevertheless it has seemed preferable to begin with more easily comprehensible concepts, the gods of Olympus.
Before studying their symbolism in detail we must situate them within the mythological structure to better understand their function.
The level of the supreme trilogy is Existence (Gaia), Consciousness (Ouranos), and Bliss (Eros). The change of meaning from the Consciousness/Existence pair to the Spirit/Matter or Spirit/Nature pair occurs when the Titans, the powers of creation in relation with man consciousness are brought into play.
We shall live aside for the moment the different stages of the development of vegetal and animal planes as well as the corresponding primitive vital life of humanity which are described in the lineage of Pontos.
This creation linked to human consciousness is given shape in the following generation of gods. Each of them represents a law. This does not involve material forms, which appear only at the final level of densification, but rather mental or archetypal forms.
As idea precedes form, the gods they are in resonance with the mental world at its highest level, the overmind.
The gods are therefore not powers of creation. This is why mythology tells us that the universe, nature and men existed before them, or at least outside their influence. There was a time when men lived under the rule of the Titans and their leader, Cronos. This was the time of the Golden Age, the childhood of humanity.
Zeus, the master of Olympus, dwells at the highest mental level, the Overmind, and is an agent of transmission of the higher forces. That is why he is depicted holding thunder and lightning, symbols of the dazzling speed and power of the Supreme Consciousness which were given to him by the Cyclopes, themselves symbols of the omnipotence and omniscience of the Absolute. The source of these attributes is not within him however; he only has access to their use.
The rule of the gods began with the victorious outcome of their fight against the Titans who were henceforth relegated to Tartarus. This victory marks the advent of a new predominance of the mental plane in humanity. But the history of the earth is played out again in each individual. This victory of the gods marks the entry into the Age of Reason at the end of infancy, which is itself a period dominated by vital forces during which the powers of creation express themselves with limited though progressive mental control.
In a future phase of human evolution the gods will in their turn cede their place as rulers. This is the significance of the story of the second child of Metis that Zeus wished to prevent from being born because his grandmother, Gaia the Earth, had foretold that the child would depose him.
This last upheaval of the ruling forces was preceded by a long series of similar events. At the beginning Spirit (Ouranos) ruled over Matter. In Hesiod’s words, ‘Earth first bare starry Heaven, equal to herself, to cover her on every side, and to be an ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods‘ (Hesiod 116, Theogony). This period corresponds to the putting in place of the powers of the Spirit that preceded the gestation of humanity.
Then Ouranos was deposed by his children, the Titans, the powers of creation who dominate the childhood phase of humanity.
Finally the Titans gave their place to their children, the gods, who are responsible for the growth of human consciousness and more particularly of mental consciousness, while Metis, ‘divine intelligence’ and mother of Athena, was confined within Zeus’ breast.
In the same way, in the coming evolutionary process, the order of precedence of the gods will have to first of all be reconsidered; becoming greater gods than the children of Zeus and Hera, Apollo and Artemis will be certain to hold a dominant position when the ‘psychic being’ will become the directing force of the being (the ‘psychic’ designates the fourth body after the physical, the vital and the mind, which develops around the seed of the ‘soul’).
Then at a later time, the gods will have to efface themselves to make place for the ‘child to come’ born of Zeus and Metis.
Not belonging to the creator world, the gods therefore stand on the highest level of the mental plane which Sri Aurobindo refers to as the ‘overmind’. It is a level accessible to man, and it is for this reason that man must conquer all the planes of the mind and become equal to the gods, following in the steps of the great heroes. This is why we will see the gods becoming involved in the battles of the Trojan War and even sustaining injuries and being faced by the greatest of heroes, Heracles.
Before studying each god in detail, we must ask ourselves how much credit must be given to the words of Origen “Remember that within you reside all the gods of Olympus”’, or if, in a more general way, the forces of the Spirit may be either within us or outside of us.
Initiates are in agreement in affirming that the logical mind leads us to separate what is actually ONE. By definition, the Absolute is the totality, because nothing can be outside of It and It therefore cannot be divided. The relationship of man with the gods is then the same as his relationship with the Supreme Truth: there is a tendency to consider the Absolute as external as long as there has not been contact with It. Once this union is realised, the question no longer exists.
In many ways anthropomorphic, the characteristics of the gods were attributed to them to make them more accessible so as to facilitate our integration of their corresponding forces.
As long as man needs fear to curb his impulses and move towards the goal that he calls “love”, then the gods are external powers that govern him and for whom he is a puppet. On the other hand, once he has ascended all the rungs of the mind and reached the overmind, these powers become his servants, within himself.
This is why the greatest heroes who are representative of the most advanced spiritual seekers, such as Heracles at the end of his Labours, faced the gods in combat: this demonstrates that they have reached the same level. This process of mastery can however carry transient errors, as demonstrated by certain gods being wounded by Heracles or during the Trojan War. Ultimately the gods will be powers at our disposal, because each of us is a hero in the making.
If in its early stages humanity was able to approach the Absolute through mastering the forces of nature and supporting itself on those who represented them (the Titans of the Golden Age), then in the present phase of its mental maturation it must experience the world of the gods and surpass the mental plane by learning to master it.
While ‘mortals’ correspond to states of consciousness experienced as ‘ separate ‘ and are most often transitory and without contact with the soul, the ‘ immortals ‘ represent states of consciousness united with the Absolute, or at least evolving in another space-time than ours. For these ‘ immortals ‘ are the children of Cronos, the Titan who, in limiting the power of infinite creation by severing the genitals of his father Ouranos, confined space so that creation could come to be, thus allowing Becoming.
Unlike the heroes they do not represent a development marked by experiences, but rather represent developing forces in man. Consequently man does not have the possibility of annulling them within himself, but can only become their equal and even elevate himself above them.
Their drink and their food, nectar and ambrosia, secure their immortality. In fact when they are deprived of these in cases of perjury they do not die but fall into a profound torpor, which is to say a state without power of expression. The gods do not manifest themselves to the seeker if the force of Truth which the latter has established contact with at the level closest to the body (in accordance with the oath taken by the gods with the waters of the Styx) is abandoned or betrayed.
Their blood is Ichor, Χ+Ρ, because their ‘essence’ and their motive force is ‘exactness’.
Their interventions take on various symbolic, human, animal and even mineral forms (such as a rain of gold), or yet again appear as dreams. These forms are adapted to the life of the seeker and are generally understandable to him. Some gods have the capacity of acting towards a far-off aim, for instance Apollo, ‘he who strikes afar’. They can also unwittingly assist us or put obstacles on our path without our being aware of it.
They listen to the prayers of mortals: if the seeker appeals to these forces with sincerity, he will receive an answer.
The gods therefore represent not only principles or archetypes, but also forces within us and that we can summon. They act within us, sometimes consciously and sometimes subconsciously, creating pressure and calling us to transformation, but they leave us the freedom of choosing our response.
At a certain level of evolution the seeker must learn to balance their influence within himself under the direction of the psychic being.
It must never be forgotten that most of the gods “grow”, which is to say that when the corresponding forces awaken within us they are not fully active, but grow at the rhythm of our experiences. Thus the interventions of Zeus do not in any way signify that at any given stage on the path the seeker has reached the overmind plane, but only signify that he has received its impulse. In a similar way Aphrodite, daughter of Dione, symbolises a love evolving towards Union.
In this study of the gods each reader will be able to feel which one resonates with him. The indications given at the end of the description of each of the gods are of a general nature. The gods which one has the most difficulty in feeling an affinity with are no doubt those forces within oneself that are to be developed.
The meanings and attributes given to the gods by religion, meant for those who consider the gods to be powers external to man will not be explored in depth in this work, for they belong more appropriately to a sociological study of the religion and rites of ancient Greece.
Let us take as an example the god of war Ares, known to be bloodthirsty and bellicose. The religious man fears him and flees from him, very few celebrations are held in his honour, very few altars are raised for him, and prayers are seldom addressed to him.
But for the seeker of Truth he represents the power of the divine movement, which within oneself severs and in the external world destroys when necessary. It is an indispensable force for the practice of yoga, obliging one to choose what is in accordance with inner Truth and to push away all that distances one from it. For the ego this force is a source of suffering, for it challenges our apparent desires and well-being; this is why it is said that Ares delights in the scent of blood. But the further the seeker advances on his path, the more Ares’ presence is appreciated.
THE OLYMPIAN GODS
See Family tree 17
In a general way we can consider that the world of the gods includes all the children of the Titans, which is to say the third divine generation. Most of the Titans bore relatively few children, but it is said that the couple Oceanos-Tethys engendered more than three thousand children, who are symbolised by rivers and streams.
But only some of the gods play a major role in mythology, and amongst them twelve hold a privileged place for they dwell with Zeus on Mount Olympus, the place closest to the realm of the Supermind at the highest of the mind.
The ancient Greeks probably chose this number because twelve is the symbol of perfection in execution and of perfect creation (Mother’s Agenda, Volume 4, pp 139-140).
The number twelve can also be thought of as the alliance between five and seven, these two figures respectively representing the world of forms and the world of creation in the Tree of Life. Their combination produces, for example, the musical range of western music, with seven notes and five half-notes in the known sequence. We will see that the ancient Greeks also used this number to classify the twelve children of the king of the winds, Aeolus – seven boys and five girls – whose lineage includes the conquests of the mental plane.
The canonical list of the Olympian gods includes six gods and six goddesses. However, the ancient Greeks took certain liberties with this list depending on the place and particular cult. For example, in Olympia the list included Dionysus and the Charites or Graces. In this chapter we will only study the list preserved in Athens, and we will discuss the other gods – Hades, Dionysus, etc. – in the following chapters.
However, it must be noted that in primitive tradition, Heracles had never reached Olympus, but had like all other mortals been taken to the kingdom of Hades, the place of “union” of the realm of the material unconscious. The tradition which placed Dionysus amongst the Olympian gods was developed later on.
The twelve Olympian gods and goddesses can be placed within the circle of the zodiac in such a way that the two aspects or complementary polarities of the same energy correspond to each other as pairs. When studying any of the gods, one must therefore keep in mind the symbolism of the corresponding figure across the circle.
See Family tree 18