Apollo, son of Zeus and Leto and brother of Artemis, is the god of the inner psychic light.
Dispute of Heracles and Apollo for the Delphic tripod – Louvre Museum
Poseidon concludes the list of the seven gods originating from Cronos. The five other gods of Olympus are the outcomes of unions between Zeus and goddesses belonging to the lines of descent of other Titan couples. As the children of Zeus, they are incarnations of the highest plane of mental consciousness in view of a development of other modalities of divine Consciousness. They correspond to a series of ‘awakenings’, or re-awakenings if we take into account the reality of past lives, which necessitate a certain level of prior maturity of consciousness. Apollo is the son of Zeus and Leto.
See Family tree 17
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In the lineage of the Titan Oceanos, when the highest mental consciousness, Zeus, ‘fertilises’ the current of cosmic intelligence or supreme wisdom (Metis) within the being, man awakens to the need for an inner quest (Athena).
When he begins to consciously search for Union (marked by Zeus’ union with Dione), the seeker awakens to Love (Aphrodite).
(Here we will only consider Homer’s version of the story in which Aphrodite is the daughter of Zeus and Dione, which is to say the concept of evolutionary love with the participation of mental consciousness, rather than Hesiod’s version in which Love appears with life at the very beginning of creation.)
In the lineage of the Titan Iapetus which includes all the stages of mental development till the boundaries of the supramental, man awakens to Knowledge. He accesses the overmind, symbolised by Hermes, the last to arrive at Olympus, to one day become the equal of this god when the being will be wholly dedicated to and perfectly under the influence of the divine (when the union between Zeus and Maia, ‘consecrated receptive consciousness’ or ‘perfect surrender’, will have been accomplished).
Finally, in the lineage of the Titan Koios the contact of the supraconscient with the psychic being, the divine Leto, produces forces of Light and a Will of realisation or of Integrity represented by the two divine twins Apollo and Artemis.
Leto is in fact the symbol of the psychic being under formation.
Her sister Asteria can be seen as either ‘the soul’ or the ‘divine spark’ around which the psychic being will take form, or as the innumerable experiences of light which lay the foundations for this.
Pursued by Zeus, Asteria flung herself into the sea, transforming into the island Ortygia, ‘the island of the quail’ on which her sister Leto gave birth to Artemis and Apollo. Under the effect of the forces pulling towards the supraconscient (Zeus), the first illuminations or luminous experiences of the seeker (Asteria) establish the foundations of what will liberate dawn from the clasp of darkness.
The word Ortygia does in fact signify ‘quail’, which in the Rig Veda symbolises the liberation of dawn from the clutches of darkness, expressed in the line ‘The quail calls you, O Acvins, when you have freed her from the jaws of the wolf’. Asteria is the symbol of ‘everything which reappears after a voyage into the night’.
Apollo is therefore first and foremost the god who accompanies the dawning light within man. He is given the additional name ‘Lukeios’, built from a very ancient root signifying ‘the light preceding dawn’. In the Vedas he is known as Agni, the mystic Fire guarded by Hestia.
The psychic being has been described on several occasions already as the body forming itself around the divine spark within each one of us. According to the Vedas it is ‘not any bigger than a thumb’, which means that it is still at a very embryonic stage of development in man. It is only in very few individuals that it governs the other planes of the being, the physical, vital and mental. Its first manifestations can be a pull towards beauty, justice and truth, and when we enter into contact with it, it is often perceived as an inner fire.
Unlike our other bodies it is not dissolved after death. In the very rare cases of initiates who have achieved during their lifetime a union between the psychic and mental however, the latter can also be maintained after death.
As the psychic being is an integral part of Unity and an expression of the diversity of the Divine in Unity, it must pull the lower nature along with it. While this aspect of the being is unknown to the vast majority of humankind, the work of yoga is that of coming into contact with it, and then making it come to the forefront of the being and progressively submitting to it everything that we are and that we do. This is to be done untill all attachments are abandoned, till one learns to never use another individual for one’s own means, to be neither a dependent nor a captor and to have neither fears, desires, judgments, aggressivity or the need to please.
Transmitting a light originating from the plane of Truth Apollo utters infallible prophesies, insofar as they are not confused or veiled by the mind or the vital. As a son of Zeus he transmits his will, which is to say that he infuses into consciousness the influences of the overmind that find their origin in the plane of supramental truth. But as long as the seeker has not established a permanent contact with his psychic being – the only part of himself which allows an appropriate putting into action of what is perceived in truth -, his perceptions remain veiled, filtered and deformed by the mind, and so the will of Zeus is revealed through enigmas and riddles.
The seeker must interpret the signs given to him by his daily and nightly experiences, messages of the soul transmitted through the intermediary of other planes of being – hence the need for a figure like Pythia and her priests. One must therefore achieve a state of receptivity not perturbed by mental or vital movements, and have access to a system of interpreting the symbolic messages received.
While it is Hermes who is the god of mental light, Apollo, god of the light shining from the psychic, is therefore also the god of inspiration, poetry, music and the arts in general. For to begin with it is through the sense of harmony, justice and beauty (truth) that man draws near to his psychic being.
As a delegate of a superior harmony he of course watches over healing, which is a result of purification with each element resting in its rightful place.
Some ancient authors seem to have confused him with Helios the Sun, son of the Titan Hyperion, the god of the supramental plane of Truth where all souls find their place. This confusion is understandable, for the nuance was difficult to comprehend for the non-initiated. Helios is the cosmic plane of the soul, the shining of the world of supramental Truth, while Apollo and Artemis are only the manifestations of the individualised psychic being, Leto, which is solicited by the supraconscient and which the soul gathers around herself in her journey across numerous lifetimes.
The psychic being is our real Self, what we are called to become and which grows around the soul and the divine spark present in all living things. When it seizes the reins of the personality Apollo and Artemis are emancipated from the guardianship of Zeus, becoming greater gods than the children of Zeus and Hera, Ares and Hephaestus, and action-perceptions become direct and no longer need to be filtered through the mind. In a much more advanced phase of yoga, perceptions occur at the level of the body, and are symbolically described by the children of Helios; Circe represents the direct power of vision and the organisation of Truth in all its details, while Aietes represents consciousness of the whole and the power of realisation.
Apollo is a god of radiance. The seeker’s first encounter with the psychic being is therefore the result of an opening manifesting itself through a perception of the order of light, an intense emission of light which can occur on a variety of planes. When this light illumines the mind spiritual traditions refer to it as ‘illumination’, and in the heart it causes an experience of universal love.
This initial contact can be accompanied by new capacities in artistic domains, expressing Truth or the Essence of things in a superior harmony.
The psychic being has two essential aspects, one that is the irradiation of light, and the other an integrity or will for realisation. Apollo represents the aspect of irradiating light and is often also known as Phoebus ‘the luminous’, taking after his grandmother Phoebe. Artemis represents the aspect of Will. She is depicted as a female character because the will she represents is no longer that of the ego, but rather that of the psychic being; it is an intuitive knowledge of what must be done, and a right action stemming from a unified will in agreement with the symbolism of Artemis’ bow. It is not a desire resulting from a tensing of the ego, but rather a Will which knows the aim and is an aspiration and determination of the whole being towards its realisation. In this sense the twins are symbols of action, also known as non-action in certain traditions, rather than of ‘doing’. Action is the execution of what is perceived by intuition through the help of the logical mind after these two instruments are purified from all desire and from all deformations of the ego. At this level there is a balance between the masculine and feminine poles, for the twins are equally skilled in archery.
Apollo is also known as ‘he who strikes far’, for the goals of the psychic aim towards the progression of the soul on the long term rather than for immediate fulfillment alone.
Apollo and Artemis – Louvre Museum
The birth of these divine twins was eventful:
Leto was pregnant with Zeus’ children and sought in vain for a place in which to give birth, for none would receive or shelter her, knowing that her son would one day rule over both gods and men. Some say that this was only out of fear of the anger of Hera, who knew that the twins would one day become greater gods than her own children. Only the floating and sterile island of Ortygia, ‘the island of the quail’, was willing to welcome the goddess, under the promise that Apollo would make of it his sanctuary. As a token of gratitude, Apollo would soon after his birth have to anchor the island to the bottom of the sea, giving it the name Delos, ‘the shining one’.
A legend of Delos recounts that at the time of the birth two young girls from Hyperborea – the land which is beyond the one where blows the North wind of asceticism -, brought gifts that their peoples had offered to Ilithyia, the goddess of childbirth, to ensure a smooth birth. The two girls were Hyperoche, ‘superiority, excellence or concentration at its highest level’ and Laodice, ‘seeing and wanting in the right way’ (activities of the higher mind still linked to the ego). They died on the island: this legend insists on the fact that the highest realisations acquired at the beginning of the quest are no longer useful when the seeker enters into contact with his psychic being.
The fact that Leto was not welcomed anywhere to give birth demonstrates that there are always strong resistances in the being against letting in what is New, especially when the seeker intuits that this will overturn his life and put into question all the forms to which he is accustomed to.
We have seen that the quail is the symbol of what ‘liberates dawn’ from the clutches of darkness. If the island of Ortygia was sterile and floating till the time of the twins’ birth, it is because the seeker’s earlier experiences had not allowed him to understand his task, but with the experience of the psychic light he begins to understand it.
Hera strongly opposes the birth of Leto’s children, fearing that they will become greater gods than her own children because the psychic being, once it enters an adult stage in which is seizes control over all the mental, vital and physical planes, will no longer be dependent upon the forms and laws of mental consciousness.
All the great goddesses assisted in the birth except for Hera, who held back Ilithyia, the goddess of childbirth. But after nine days and nights, the other goddesses dispatched Iris to bring Ilithyia, promising her a magnificent necklace to hasten her intervention.
(In Hyginus’ version, Hera had decreed that Leto was not to give birth in any place touched by the sun. The latter was pursued by Python – symbol of decomposition and putrefaction -, and Zeus had to intervene by sending her to Poseidon – god of the subconscious -, who ensured that she could give birth under the protection of the dome of the waves. This legend completes that of the delayed birth, for it indicates that the psychic being is born in the darkness of the subconscious.)
According to some sources Apollo was born in Delos, and Artemis on the island of Ortygia. At the precise moment of Apollo’s birth sacred swans flew over the island, flying in seven circles over it.
The island’s new name, Delos, means unity and freedom (Δ+Λ), freedom from all attachments, and consciousness and experience of the fundamental unity of all things.
As the goddess who ensures that nothing is left behind in the process of development Hera symbolically delays the birth, for every part of the being must be ready.
Certain authors considered that the work of purification and integrity was more important than the experience of light for the contact with the psychic, and therefore recorded the birth of Artemis as having occurred first. It was at times said to have taken place on Ortygia, the island having maintained its previous denomination. Apollo’s work could only begin after this purification.
Then Zeus offered his son a miter of gold, a lyre and a chariot drawn by swans.
The miter is the symbol of mastery and of the connection to the worlds of the Spirit, and therefore of inspiration and dedication to the One. The lyre is a symbol of rhythm and harmony, and therefore of mastery over the vital (Λ+Ρ). The chariot drawn by swans represents the movement of life guided and pulled forward by the psychic being.
According to the Hymn to Apollo the god was not breastfed by Leto; it was Themis who fed him nectar and ambrosia. Themis is a Titanide, the mother of the Horae and the Moirai and an incarnation of divine laws at the highest level. This version of the story therefore demonstrates that the psychic being grows through the submission of the seeker to divine laws.
Then Apollo declared that he would announce the infallible will of his father Zeus, and set out on a quest to find a place for his oracle. He halted in Boeotia at the spring where the nymph Telphousa as well as horses and mules would gather to drink. But the latter advised him to go till Mount Parnassus, for she feared that Apollo’s brilliance would throw her into obscurity.
As the children of Zeus and Leto, Apollo ad Artemis represent manifestation of the psychic being revealed by the supraconscient. The seeker must learn to distinguish their voices from amongst those which rise from every plane of his being.
If the nymph asks the god to continue on his path, it is because the place of worship of the latter, symbolising both a conscious contact and a regularity, must not be confused with the seeker’s first attempts, Telphousa, ‘the spring which gives birth to the will of accomplishment’ in Boeotia, the country of those beginning the path.
When the young god reached the vicinity of mount Parnassus and found in Delphi the ideal location for his cult he understood the hidden intentions of Telphousa, for the site was guarded by a terrible female dragon, known a Python in later mythology, who slew all those who drew near. The god killed the dragon, and then retraced his steps to punish Telphousa. Hiding her springs beneath a hill, he subordinated her cult to his.
When the light of the psychic being emerges it jostles the seeker’s previous conceptions about the path and subordinates the means and energies that sustained the quest till that point, placing them under his control. The psychic being places under its own authority ‘that which pushes towards accomplishment’, the complete development of the potentialities of the being which replace those of the ego (the cult of Telphousa) become dependent on the psychic light.
With the death of the dragon, marking the first contact with the psychic being, the seeker crosses a threshold in his evolution.
This myth specifies that it is a female dragon so as to avoid any confusion: the initiates of ancient times highlighted a force of opposition, or even of perversion, by inverting the usual sex of a symbol. As the force of evolution is represented by a male snake, a female snake is consequently a symbol of the blocking of evolution. In the same way, in opposition to the Sphinx, a symbol of wisdom, we will find the Sphinge of Thebes, the perverted wisdom which Oedipus will have to confront.
The name Python signifies ‘putrefying’, and through its structuring letters represents ‘an arrest (Π) of that which grows within (θ) ‘, which confirms the interpretation of it as a force blocking evolution.
The psychic being is the first tool to manifest itself in opposition to ‘putrefaction’, and is therefore the first instrument needed to reach immortality. The discovery of the psychic being is therefore the first contact with the reality of the soul’s immortality and the unreality of death.
The region of Delphi took on the name Pytho, which also became used as a surname for Apollo. According to the initiates of ancient times his change of name originated from the fact that the dragon putrefies or decomposes at Delphi. In later Hellenistic tradition, it is the dragon itself which is called Python.
In other traditions Python is like all other monsters the offspring of Gaia, which is to say a manifestation of the executive force of Consciousness, and therefore a necessary and transitory principle in a phase of evolution preceding the conscious union of man with his psychic being, the soul.
The Pythian Games were instituted to commemorate Apollo’s victory over the dragon. These were one of the four great celebrations of ancient Greece in which the Panhellenistic games were honoured, the others being the Isthmian, Nemean and Olympic games. As Apollo slew the dragon Python soon after his birth, it would seem that the Pythian Games can be associated with the first conscious contact of the seeker with his psychic being.
Once the period of childhood has been surpassed, a conscious contact with the psychic being remains difficult for a long time. The seeker then needs ‘aids’ to on the one hand receive his messages, a role which is fulfilled by Pythia, and on the other hand to interpret them, a task undertaken by Apollo’s priests (Pythia and the priests were also elements of the external cult).
Contact with the psychic being is rendered difficult by the impurities, mixtures and perturbations caused by ego, fears, desires, etc. It is therefore essential for the seeker to be able to rest on a healthy development on the three lower planes of the mind (physical mind, vital mind and intellect). These three planes are symbolised by the tripod on which is seated Pythia. (Readers interested in knowing more about the Delphic Oracle can also refer to Sri Aurobindo’s poem Savitri, Volume I and to the already cited work of Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.)
Through the intermediary of Pythia, the seeker receives, both internally and externally, messages from the psychic which symbolically emanate from the Divine within matter, the inner fire. Symbolically, the oracle takes place over a gulf from which emanates ‘the fire of the earth’, for it is only this fire at the centre of matter which can put an end to the process of putrefaction and death. (In fact, there has never been such a gulf in Delphi and the fire may have been simulated with smoke.)
The interpretation of the messages received (events, signs, dreams, etc.) must be carried out by elements of the being (the priests of Apollo), which do not allow lower or external planes to interfere. We must therefore expect from the latter a minimum level of dedication and of purification and organisation in the being, for ‘a still heart, a clear mind and untroubled nerves are the first requirement for our Yoga’ (Quotation of The Mother as recorded by Satprem in Mother or the Divine Materialism).
When the seeker draws near to the highest plane of the mind, the overmind, it will become extremely difficult for him to determine the origin of his progress and experiences and he will tend to attribute to the overmind what actually comes from the psychic being. This is why we will see Hermes appropriating Apollo’s herds for himself.
For a long time the seeker will therefore have to decipher the signs given to him by supporting himself on the symbolic knowledge at his disposal. Exterior and interior being two aspects of a same reality, he will have to progressively learn to decipher the teachings of his inner being through the events filling his days and nights.
According to a very ancient poet, following his victory over the dragon, Apollo left for Hyperborea through the skies, riding the swan-drawn chariot offered to him by Zeus. He remained there for a whole year, and subsequently for a part of each year.
For the ancient Greeks, the land of rigorous asceticism was Thrace, where blew the North wind Boreas. The winds are the divine aids later known as ‘angels’ in Christian tradition. Boreas is the wind of asceticism, an aid which incites the ‘process of incarnation in accordance with the true movement’, and which is another formulation of the spiritual path. Hyperborea is therefore the place ‘beyond asceticism’, arrived at when the Absolute within us begins to direct our yogic process through the intermediary of the psychic being. In this land Spring reigns perpetually and nothing casts a shadow: the perpetual Spring symbolises the eternal Newness, and the fact that objects do not cast shadows means that here the psychic, or the soul, do not belongs to duality. Preparing the work of the supramental, the new consciousness must be able to pierce through the being without finding the least obstacle.
This is also the land in which life is free of all labour and conflict. It is the place in which ‘action’ is submitted to the Will of the soul, in contrast to ‘doing’, which depends on the will of the ego. It is also the land of the consciousness of unity, the end of the feeling of separation which puts an end to all possibility of internal conflict.
For the soul, Hyperborea is the ‘fulfillment of the process of incarnation’, and therefore the land which marks the end of duality and ego and prepares the advent of the light of Truth.
Apollo was raised in Delphi (Δ+ΛΦ), ‘the penetration of consciousness in the individualised being in view of the realisation of Union’ located at the centre of the world in a place known as Omphalos, ‘the navel of the world’ or ‘the divine voice which leads to freedom’.
Let us note that while Delphi is the place of Apollo’s oracle, his other place of worship is Delos, where he was born (Δ+Λ), the place of ‘union and liberty’ or of ‘liberation leading to union’.
According to some sources, Omphalos, the exact centre of the earth, had been discovered by Zeus; from the outer confines of the earth the god had freed two eagles which met over this point. Using its two tools at the highest level, the logical mind and intuition, consciousness had found the place of their right equilibrium, beyond which ceased all mental functioning for the sake of the ego.
Apollo’s anchoring point and his place of consecration could not in fact be anywhere but at the centre of man within his symbolic heart, and at the centre of creation.
Through its structuring characters – the same as those of Athena’s surname, Pallas – the name Apollo, Π+ΛΛ, could mean an equilibrium and a great liberation carried out on the mental and vital planes.
Twice, Apollo had to subject himself to being a slave of mortal men. Mortals represent impermanence and what is transitory in the world of duality. The action of the psychic being which brings light and clarity must therefore serve the growth of all the aspects of the being and all evolutionary paths, even those which must be surpassed, such as the one represented by the Trojans, or which have come to a dead-end.
Some symbolic elements linked with Apollo:
He is the protector of herds, rainfall and grain; he protects all the ‘fruits’ of the quest and everything which nourishes and works towards it.
His primary emblems are the swan and the laurel. The kite, the vulture, the crow, the wolf and the dolphin are also sometimes symbolically attributed to him.
The whiteness of the swan indicates its purity, and in the Vedas this bird is a symbol of the psychic being (the line of its neck could illustrate the exchange of energy between what is higher and lower without any perturbation and in accordance with the supreme order, just as the circulation of energy in the Caduceus).
In ancient Greece, the laurel leaf, which remains green throughout the winter, was both a symbol of prophetic capacities and of immortality, characteristics of the psychic being.
Apollo’s other emblematic symbols, birds of different kinds, are linked to intuitive psychic capacities: the flight of the crow, the vulture and the kite can be interpreted and act as omens.
The symbolism of the wolf is linked to a very ancient root, Λυκ or Λυγ, which designates ‘the light before dawn’. Apollo is therefore often qualified by epithets such as Lukeios and Lykogenes, ‘he who is born to the light’.
The dolphin, a symbol animal of Poseidon as well as of Apollo, seems to have been considered since the Cretan period as a symbol of divination and wisdom facilitating the access to other realms.
Another less frequently used epithet of Apollo and Artemis is Hecaergos or Hecarge, signifying ‘one who has come out of action’, or ‘non-action’.
Like his sister, Apollo is armed with a bow; the soul knows its aim, and all the forces of the soul reach towards it.
Apollo within us
Apollo is represented by the consciousness of the psychic being which awakens and grows, the vision of Truth which progressively ‘illuminates’ the being. These first manifestations are without a doubt what make us uneasy about the contrast of facing the outer world.
As this consciousness grows it generates a keener sensitivity, but one naturally devoid of any trace of mawkishness. It is a call to the truth of being, a receptivity of what is true, harmonious, good, just and beautiful, no matter under what form it may be. It gives us the inspiration at the foundation of true art which finds its source in a superior harmony and not in the mind or in the vital. It manifests itself through sudden and fleeting illuminations, giving the sense of an inner fire and a contact with a point of certainty, and imparts a wisdom which can appear to be madness in the eyes of men. But these differ widely from the flooding over represented by the Bacchantes and resulting from states of Dionysian ecstasy.