A meditation on mythological psychology reveals that the relationship it assumes between mankind and godhead brings about an in-depth understanding of the very nature of humanity. It may also induce us to abandon the long-held opposition between initiation, dear to “neolithic”, cosmological religious systems, and revelation, favoured by the younger prophetic or messianic faiths. If revelation is indeed a sudden or gradual appearance of divinity upon the earth or into the soul; an anacalypteria or apocalypsis or the Arab kashf which also implies the removal or tearing apart of the veil or seven veils of appearance, the breaking of the seals which hide the ultimate being, initiation conversely implies a rise of the person towards transcendent knowledge, an integration or re-integration with the supreme self which in final analysis could not be if there had not been a prior revelation of the existence of that ultimate truth. The gnomic sooth: “Thou wouldst not seek me if thou hadst not already found me” expresses that evidence well and the final step, the acme of any initiation is bound to be .that revelation that was being sought all along and that would probably remain imperceptible and unreal, as materialistic agnosticism demonstrates so well time and again, to the unprepared soul.
The history of religions records almost without exception that they have involved a twofold intellectual exercise. A numinous message or an empirical wisdom are derived either from a mystical experience or from the ageless contemplation of Nature and consciousness. That message will then be put into a relatively abstract, didactic or gnomic form, as in the Hindu sastras and agamas, in the Buddhist sutras or the Hebraic Law but the kernel of revealed or traditional truth is subsequently wrapped into many layers of illustrative commentary that generally takes a mythological format and hides the original doctrine or collection of precepts beneath a cloak of fabulous symbolic tales, generally borrowed in part from the old lore, the cultural substratum or Orgrund.
That often encountered process of “mythification” corresponds to the need for an esoteric gnosis that is best preserved in a legendary or epic garb. Hiding or disguise is the complementary counterpart of revelation as night is to the day. In the Buddhist case, the lavish and intricate literature of the Abhidharma and the Jatakas superimposed itself on the austere teachings of the Sakyamuni and the tropical efflorescence of the Mahayana blossomed on the lean pillar of the Theravada doctrine. The core teachings of Christ were gradually wrapped in a vast and wide-ranging symbolic iconography and hagiology while Judaism and Islam both developed elaborate esoteric, neo-platonic and hermetic schools of thought illustrated through sapiential tales and gnostic parables, in the likeness of earlier mystery cults of the Middle East. For Jews the Kabbala and for Muslims the Sufi Tariqa and the gnostic Haqiqa and Ma’rif are derived from the anagogical interpretation (ta’wil in Arabic) of the canonic texts.
Likewise, a teaching as abstract and moralistic as that of Confucius does not escape that irrepressible urge to “mythologize” as is shown by the advent of the self-styled “old text” school which harks back to a secret corpus inherited from the founder and manifestly rooted in the magical lore and mythical cosmology of ancient China.
Finally, the aporetic, introspective reflection practiced by the Socratic School was buried beneath the neo-pythagorean theories that Plato personally espoused and that gradually turned his doctrine, especially with some of his followers such as Speusippus and Philippos of Opus, into another mystery cult, giving rise to the mystical and cosmological systems of Plotinus, Proclus, Porphyry. lamblichus, Apuleus, Macrobius and the Gnostics among others, both Christian and pagan.
The tendency we have just described, which leads to weaving a rich tapestry of tales and images on the loom of spiritual insight is always balanced by a centripetal urge to synthesize and encapsulate that diverse and confusing collection of allegories and illustrations into a nutshell of spiritual wisdom. That drive is analogous to the scientific striving for clarity, logic and elegance We observe its effects in the great intellectual edifices built by religious scholars such as the authors of the Upanisads and the creators of the Samkhya and the other darsanas of India, but also by certain Church Fathers and doctors, particularly Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and by Muslim theologians like Avicenna, Ghazali and Averroes.
Thus the inquiry of the soul moves back and forth between the one and the many, between depersonalized abstraction and the mythical imagination. In India both the Vaisnava and the Tantric Sivaite philosophic traditions point beyond the somewhat dry apophatic non-duality of pure Vedanta, to the mysterious power of the living divinity in which human beings partake. They take us beyond impersonal Brahman, respectively to Bhagavan Sri Krsna or Sakti. In so doing, these subtle and refined ontological systems vindicate and lend full dignity to the ancestral mythologies and they underline the conclusion most religions come to, echoing James Jeans’s statement that the universe is not a great machine but a great thought, and adding that it is indeed a great being as well, which is itself “full of beings” in the sense of the greek word “hylozoon” applied to the Ionian pre-socratic cosmological systems.
Hence, according to the cosmology of the tantras, the warp and woof of reality: maya is not mere inexistant illusion as a misinterpretation of certain schools of Vedanta would lead one ot believe but it is truly, in its original vedic sense, the mother and the measure of all things and the mind (somewhat like the Platonic Active Intellect) that conceives and underlies them. Maya is a semantic ancestor of the greek mala, the midwife or wise woman (“sage-femme” in french) who makes the mother give birth, through the science of maieutics whose moral equivalent is taught by Socrates.
We cannot fail to see the parallel between maya and mithya, both of which are held to be delusional and unreal while they in fact enshrine the ultimate imaginal truth as Aristotle emphasized when he equated the philomythos to the philosopher. Maya is the great mithya or the web of mythos. All cosmic reality is the enactment of mythology and that awareness is further confirmed by the conclusion of the Madhyamika school of Mahayana Buddhism: “Maya is Nirvana” and “Sam sara is Sunya”. The relative and the absolute are two different perceptions of the one same thing: “that” or “suchness” (bhutathata).
FROM POLYTHEISM TO MONOTHEISM – THE PENDULUM: gods. angels and saints
We have anthropological evidence, following the researches of Marcel Griaule and the Vienna School among others, that the most primitive civilizations had an awareness of a supreme, unlimited deity encompassing all other beings, including the many gods that personified the natural forces and ruled certain regions and lifeforms.
The concept or at least the name of that paramount god was always evolved from one of the tribal or regional deities and it kept some traits of its primitive “ancestor” so that it retained strongly personalized features, save for those mystics who worshipped him as an indefinable, wholly transcendant and all-encompassing power.
Thus, lahweh the ineffable tetragram of the later Hebrews originates as the I’Lord of the mountain”: El Shaddar of Abraham and the mysterious El Elyon adored by Melkizedek king of Sichem. That first Abrahamic god was a baal: a warlike ruler like Malek or Moloch: the King, the protean palestinian idol who became the Hebrew Adona’j’s evil rival in the hearts of many Jews. As all Baalim, Alohim (which is a plural name, as if hinting at the “polytheistic” roots of all monotheism) sat on a high peak, like the Cananean godheads he dethroned from the many sacred mountains, the Sinai, the Garizim and its twin the Hebal, the Thabor and the Carmel among others and in the later theology of Judaism, influenced by the cosmologies of astrolatrous Mesopotamia and Magian Iran, he came to rule the hierarchy of angels and archangels whose hebrew name is malak a word that designates both gods and kings but also the messengers of the Most High since that function characterizes the angels and therefore maleakh became a synonym for nabi: prophet.
Though it appears obvious that the seven archangels of post-exilian Judaism owe much to the amesha-spenta of Zoroastrianism and to the seven planetary rulers of the Chaldeans, it is also true that the many angels acknowledged by the talmudic theologians are new avatars of the officially discarded gods of pagan ages. The transition between henotheism and monotheistic angelology is gradual and blurred because the minds of the worshippers remain attached to the mythical images and stories that have over millenia been associated with religion and cosmogony. Hence the Kerubim of the Bible are the “fiery winged dragons” of Babylonian mythology as their very name shows.
The permanence of mythological figures in religious history is also evidenced in the mostly forgotten or unnoticed resurgence of ancient idols and their symbols in the hagiology of fundamentally monotheistic creeds such as Islam and Christianity. Many christian saints are the epiphanies of ancient gods, such as Saint Gervase, patron of the stone-masons and architects who is esoterically and etymologically a “re-incarnation” of the Egyptian hawk-faced god Horus, son of the widowed Isis and the totem of . temple building guilds in the kingdom of the Nile. Horus son of Osiris is Hor or Hur and that root connects him to both Hiram (“son of the widow” too), the legendary Tyrian builder of the temple of Solomon and Hermes, the lord of divine gnosis to whom it must be pointed out, an occult tradition connects the pyramid of Cheops at Gizeh, also known as the “tomb of Hermes”(9).
Another example culled among many is provided by the icon of Saint Christopher who is represented in some romance and early gothic churches with a dog’s head. That primitive symbology connects him clearly with the dog-headed psychompus of the Egyptians, Anubis who led the defuncted soul to her final abode like Christophorus carried the child Jesus across a river. Was that analogy derived from a confused interpretation of the graphic depiction of a forgotten myth or did it result from the intentional transmission of an esoteric allegory within the context of the new faith? From different points of view, it may be said that both explanations are valid, because the adoption of primeval myths involves a process that lies at once above and beneath the conscious mind.
Yet another case of a pre-Christian deity having become a saint is that of Sa~t George, the dragon-killing, equestrian Indo-Aryan solar fertility god of the Georgians whose popularity made him the patron of Russia, England and a few other countries. Georges (“he who makes or impregnates the earth”) is evidently an avatar of the Vedic Indra killer of the dragon Vrtra and also of Varuna, the thundering sky and water (“celestial waters”) god of the ancient Hindus who became Ouranos for the Greeks, Wodan for the Germans and Perun for the Slavs and is semantically the vir or baro, from the indo-european root meaning “manliness and leadership” which has survived in the title of baron.
The frequent if very slow passage back and forth between divinity and humanity finds illustrations in all eras and civilizations. The Britannic Arthur is also Boötes the cowherd (a title also given to Sri Krsna in India while in the sheep-grazing middle-eastern regions, the perfect or divine king, from Abraham and David to Christ is generally called the Good Shepherd) or the bear that sits on top of the northern skies and enshrines the pole star. It is very difficult to determine whether the legendary ruler of Camelot was originally a pagan god or a tribal chieftain in Cornwall but the advent of Christianity in his native land made it necessary for his survival that he become a heroic christian monarch. On the other hand his sister, Morgan la fee remained a much more shadowy and ambiguous figure and retained many of her original attributes as the lady of the dark and stormy seas: mor gwyn ( 10), sharing some of the pagan treachery of Arthur’s evil nephew Mordred.
Similarly, the Nordic gods whose deeds are staged in the sagas appear to have been Germanic princes in remoter times and, also under the influence of Catholicism, they turned back into superhuman heroes in Medieval times. At the end of that process of humanization we find the great god Wodan, the forefather of the first lineages of German kings and god of the sky reduced to the rather pathetically forlorn role of an old horseman (who is also the Thracian Rider or “le roi des aulnes”) galloping in the forest on stormy nights astride a black charger (formerly the heavenly seven-Iegged mount Sleipnir), wearing a large dark hat and tailed by a pack of familiar wolves, a mythical relic turned into a character of folk tales repeated for children by the fireside on winter evenings.
Remote history is enacted for us on the foggy borderline that separates legendary biographies from cosmogonic myths. Thus Semiramis may well have been an early Babylonian queen before assuming the status of daughter of the dove-goddess and of Belus (Baal) as well as divine mother and consort of Ninus. The same could be said of Nimrud and Orion, those fabulous hunters and King Solomon has acquired, in the legendary lore of Asia, the status of a superhuman figure, lord and master of all wisdom and magical power. Closer to the Christian Era Alexander was deified allover the Middle East as the horned ram-god Skandha, Iskandar or Ohul Qarnain and he was made the hero of the eternal initiatic quest in the romance of the Pseudo-Callisthenes. Julius Cesar was raised by his successors to the status of imperial divinity so that not only did his name equate with universal power but he also became, as Gesar a conquering hero and the war god of the Tibetans. The fabulous swan-riding Lohengrin to whom the Minnesingers attributed the celestial home of Montsalvat, probably alluding to a Cathar stronghold, was originally the violent and bloody knight Garin le Lorrain in the gest composed or at least compiled by Jean de Joigny from earlier sources.
In the semitic context, we may refer to the third son of Adam and Eve in Genesis, Seth (or Sithil for the Mandeans) who was regarded as an ancestor of all men by the Jews but whom the Egyptian pantheon described as the ass-headed or donkey-riding red-haired god of lower Egypt, the lord of the delta infested by nomadic semites whom the native, pure-bred Upper Egyptians came to resent to the point that their god Seth became a hateful, malevolent and treacherous figure, the slayer of Osiris. Similar studies may be made of the evolution of such well known but elusive figures of the Old Testament as are Enos, Henoch I Eli or Elijah and Abel or even Kain, all borrowed from the underlying turf of semitic-egyptian mythology and also present in other cults originating in that area, such as the Mandaean and Ebionite traditions.
Indeed, the Mandaeans or Nazareans seem to regard Henoch and Enos as one person: Anus whose name means “mankind” and who is the third son of Adam and Eve, after Abel and Seth. That Anus or Enos is their patron and the protector and baptizer of John the Baptist.
The figures of Eli and Henoch, mysterious as they are in the Bible where they are said to have been ravished to Heaven without knowing death, have given rise to a wondrous pluri-cultural tradition as both those personalities are of composite origins. Thus Eli the miracle-making prophet born in Gilead from amongst the Toshabi metal-working and desert-dwelling nomadic clans was quickly identified by popular piety with the semitic godhead El from wllom he took his name and he became somewhat unaccountably known as the “Green One”: AI Khizr in Arabic. AI Khizr is sometimes referred to as his constant companion, master or hidden double but generally the Middle Eastern tradition identifies AI Khizr with Elijah, as the Qur’an shows in the AhJ AI Kahf sura, and credits him with the highest wisdom and power. If AI Khizr is esoterically regarded as the occult “persona” of Elijah, he is also sometimes said to be one with Idris which is the Arabic name for both the Henoch of the Torah and the Atlas of Berber-Greek fame. He also seems to be behind the hebraic religious expression translated as the Elder of Aeons (“Ancien des jours” in French).
There are of course secret analogies between Henoch and Idris. Both are regarded as the Qutb, the polar column which supports the universe in semitic cosmology and whose capitel is the lodestar. They may also be seen together as the two pillars that surround the Holy of holies in the Tabernacle, to the east and west, or the two Persian-Arab angels Harut and Marut (Haurvatat and Amertat in Pahlavi, meaning “totality” and immortality”) who, according to a very ancient symbology are the two “shoulders” or arms of the supreme divinity: wisdom and power or knowledge and mercy or beauty and majesty Uml, jll are the twin semitic roots) .In the physical world they are the columns of Hercules, Calpe and Abyla, that close or open the mare nostrum or oikoumene to the netherseas of the beyond, toward the setting sun, at the meeting of the two oceans, forbidden to all but the elect or initiate by the famous warning: “ne. plus ultra”.
Idris is Atlas (from the semitic root tls, a name for the starry sky and Atlas as such is often identified with his father Ouranos); he is the Titanic king of Arcadia: the land of origin, wherever it may be, who supports the globe on his shoulders on the western confines of Africa and gave birth to the seven Pleiades and to the Oceanids. One of his grandsons is Hermes-Mercury, child of his daughter Maïa (Mar kurios: the young lord) but Atlas himself is often equated with Hermes-Ptah and with the Hellenistic-Ptolemaic Trimegistus in North African and Near Eastern magics and gnosis so that the great pyramid is known in various occult treatises as the mountain of Idris, the Oaf on which the world rests and a symbolic analogy may have been drawn by esotericists from the name of Pharaoh Khufu.
Atlas-ldris, first king of Atlantis according to Plato and son of Poseidon and Cleito seems to be born to a Berber or Ethiopian (Ethiopia extended to West Africa for the Ancient Hellenic geographers) father-god, perhaps the great West African sea deity – Olokun for the Yoruba -that Leo Frobenius identified with the Graeco-Roman Neptune but other legends make Atlas a child of the Titan Japet who is also known as the semitic Japhet and the metalsmith Hephaistos. In any case, his association with the ocean and with the mountain is always reaffirmed.
DUALITY AN DUALISM
The advent of Christianity resulted in a near universal phenomenon within the old initiatic religions that it supplanted or rather absorbed. The manichean-Iike separation between “good”and “evil”, common to all later semitic creeds and manifestly inherited from the Mazdean light-darkness dichotomy, brought about a seemingly taxonomic classification of the ancient deities according to whether they personified or were associated with the diurnal and heavenly half of the armillary sphere or whether they hailed from the nocturnal, chthonian side. As a result, antagonistic oppositions were highlighted between figures that ancient mythologies saw as closely related and complementary. Thus Arthur became the Christic figure of the lord of Paradise (Avalon) and host of the Grail while Morgan came to be regarded as the rather maleficient witch of the reptilian realm of the seas.
Likewise the egregore of the Morning Star, Lucifer, was interpreted as the fallen archangel lord of Evil by Augustianian theology, under the influence of hellenistic gnostic beliefs. It is interesting however that the Virgin Mother of God, the Greek Theotokos, is also called the Morning Star (stella matutina) as well as the Star of the Sea. In that she shares the attributes of her eternal foe Lucifer-Satan (whose head she crushes in the Visio Johannis) and also of the great Istar-Aphrodite, the quasi-universal fertility goddess of the Middle East, much of whose iconography she inherited. That seeming ambiguity betrays the impossibility of separating darkness from light in any divine allegory since duo sunt in homine et in universo.
The bi-polarity of all manifestation is made manifest in the hoary and universal myth of the heavenly-earthly twins who are best known to our European civilizations under the names of Castor and Pollux, the dioscuri begotten by Leda and the swan, a frequent symbol for the divine Spirit (as the samskrt ham sa which is a metaphor for the divine soul). These twins, recorded as the gemini of the zodiac, are originally the Asvins of Indo-lranian theogonies, who ranged from India to Central Asia and the Hittite and Mittanian Near East and were regarded as the bringers of medical and pharmaceutical knowledge to mankind. Those youthful divine healers ride one horse (as the symbolic twin knights of the Templar armorial seal) and they dispense both spiritual and physical cures. Thence comes the distinction between the human brother (Castor) and his divine alter ego (Pollux). They also appear as the sons of Asklepios, emblematised as the two snakes coiled around the caduceus and, in Christian hagiology, as the Syrian brothers and martyrs Cosmas and Damian, patron-saints of physicians and apothecaries who are at the origin of the name given to the famous Roman Papal hospital of the Gemelli.
The twins Core also alluded as twin fishes, probably owing to the very ancient emblematic link between the fish and the act of healing, illustrated in the Biblical story of Tobit (11 ). Baptism and spiritual purification by water may have something to do with that association, vividly pictured in the oft-recurring allegory of the fount of eternal youth in which fish of immortality swim. Certain kinds of fish, in particular the carp and the salmon are endowed in many civilizations, from China to Europe, with deep esoteric significance.
Apart from their zodiacal significance the two fishes are a constant symbol of good fortune and bliss in the spiritual iconography of the Indian religions. They fly on the banner of the god king Ramal father of the Solar Race and grace even now the shield of his realm, the Indian province of Oudh. They are also a popular Buddhist talisman in Mongolia, China and Central Asia. In the Near East, we find them in the divine phoenician pair of Dagon and Atargatis, in their obscure Sumerian forebear Ea and his female counterpart (Ea is also known as Oannes, a name that survives in the double Janus of Etruscan-Latin mythology and the two Christic Johanneses -the Baptist and the Evangelist: the majesty and the beauty of the Lord (12) in reference to the dichotomy presented in the previous chapter) and in their remote Hellenic relatives Ino and Melicertes.
Without anticipating too much on a subsequent sub-chapter we dedicate to the mythology buried in Christology, it is important to record that many of the “apocryphal” gospels refer to the “twin” of Jesus who is often described as the Christ or as his heavenly Self. Certain versions of the first appearance of the Crucified Nazarene to his disciples after his resurrection describe his immaterial form coming up to Thomas (thauma means twin in greek) “his brother in the flesh”. A number of early Christian traditions record that Thomas was a brother of Jesus, one of those to whom more than one reference exists in the Synoptic Gospels. If we recollect that Christ is the Healer of spirit and body as the chronicle of his miracles demonstrates, it should come as no surprise that he has been associated, in the Essene and gnostic cultural context in which he flourished, with the myth of the divine twins, at once human and divine (“two hypostases in one proposon”, to borrow a definition from Theodorus of Mopsuestes and other oriental patrologists), whether or not there was a biographical basis for that tradition and that might help to explain some of the early controversy or confusion about his death and resurrection.