One of the very important aspects of mythological thoughts involves its relationship to geographic space and to the symbology of the compass. Physical geography is regarded in that intellectual context as the manifestation or shadow of the mundus imaginalis so that all features of the material world have spiritual dimensions. Thus, East, the abode of the rising Sun is the “Origin”: Orient whence comes light and life but it is also the past in the continuum of time whereas West, the Occident, the sea of darkness where the Sun dies -“occire” is the old french word for killing and a euphemism familiar to various languages equates “going to the west” with dying – enshrines the future.
As we have indicated in passing, access to the western netherworld was said in many mediterranean myths to be guarded by dogs (the three headed Cerberus of the Greeks which evokes a correspondence with the infernal “triple Hecata” and her dogs, and the three Erynnies) and a dog guided the souls of the departed toward their western moorings along the underground river that Egyptians described as the path to Amenli or Ta Dual, the land of the departed. That underworld kingdom was variously described as including the I’isles of the blest” as well as diverse regions of hell and purgatory.
In that very ancient cosmography, we may find the source of the frequent allusion to a westernmost region called the fortunate islands, the green island, the lost empire of Atlantis, the garden of Hesperia or Iberia, Ultima Thule, Scheria, Tartessos or Ogygia, the Tyr na Og or A valon of the Celts, the jezira khalida of the Arabs or the kingdom of Gadir or Gades in which one could find the golden apples of eternal youth and the spring of immortality, watched over by a dragon, Ladon ( equated with Adam in some gnostic syncretistic texts) and tended by the maidens of Paradise, known as the Hesperides or as the nymphs of Calypso.
The legend of a western land of happiness situated beyond the high mountains that circle the Earth, the Atlas or Riphean ranges (of which we find a reminiscence in the Rif of Morocco) reappears for centuries and as late as in Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata as the enchanted island of Armida. It is obviously connected to westernmost Maghrib, Portugal and Southern Spain (whose old name of Iberia has given rise to many a wordplay with Hesperia) but also with the Canary Islands, formerly known as the fortunate islands, whose modern name may be more than coincidentally associated with the dogs of the netherworld.
Let us recall that in Arabic the oranges or golden apples of the Hesperian legends are called Bordugal, even though that particular fruit is known to have been acclimatized from China.
Many mythical symbols are hard to decipher and it is for one not easy to explain why in certain Egyptian religions such as the late syncretistic cult of Horapollo, the East is represented as a wolf opposite the western dog and the central lion which alludes to the Present. Such arcane images appear in hermetic-alchemic iconography as late as the Renaissance and the Classical age and in particular, in a famous painting by Titian.
It is in that region of the setting Sun, at the end of Europe and Africa that we find very early associations with the image of the bull and cow, ever since the Egyptian theogony locates the swampy sea of the cow-goddess Hathor beyond the strait of Gibraltar which the Phoenicians called the pillars of Melkhart. The cycle of Herakles retraces the deeds of the demi-god in Spain from where he herded back the oxen of Geryon who seems to have been a Celtiberic god or hero (perhaps the Gwydion of Irish and British legends).
It is perhaps in an Atlantean rite described in Plato’s Critias (13) that we can find the origin of that archaic pageant characteristic of the Minoan Cretans from which the Iberian corrida is derived, as if Spain and the neighboring regions of Portugal and Southern France, despite all the subsequent invasions, had preserved a living memory of their first l’Atlantean” denizens.
The sacrifice of the bull is a rite shrouded in mysterious Antiquity and we find it at the core of early Vedic religion (in old Samskrt, the host is called go-ghna: the bull sacrificer). It remained central to the Mithraic faith that branched off from the main Indo-lranian cults a f~w centuries before the appearance of Christianity but gradually lost for its remaining practitioners its propitiatory function for cosmic fertility. However some formal elements of the Thesean quest for the Minoan bull remain. The bullfighter dressed in very bright and seemingly feminine colors goes forth into the arena, whose name and circular form evoke both the sand-floored sea and the labyrinth of Crete.
One may see that, faced with the archetype of male power embodied by the bull, the bullfighter adopts certain female features according to a tradition which is quite forgotten so that most toreros and aficionados would be quite shocked to discover that hidden meaning in the ceremonial. However, by facing and slaughtering the untamed descendent of the Atlantean or Cretan bull, the slayer acquires the male characteristics of his victim and becomes an epiphany of the solar god and of the semi-divine heroes who, like Gilgamesh, Herakles, Theseus or Mithra victoriously fought a wild bull.
Before stepping into the ring to fight the dark beast traditionally associated, in the Greek context with the lord of the sky (Zeus often appeared and was worshipped as a bull) and also to the god of the oceans,-just as the horse which is also a major actor in a modern corrida -, the “torero” dedicates himself and his fight to the Virgin Mary , the universal mother goddess but he also has a lady-love in the audience, as in the medieval tournaments, and to her, the mistress of his thoughts who may throw him flowers or a handkerchief as a token, he offers some trophy from the body of vanquished animal at the end of the fight.
The torero is unknowingly a modern Mithraic taurobolos and he personifies the solar force that sacrifices the untamed offspring of the earth and sea to bring forth their power. The maleutic virtue of sacrifice (etymologically I’making sacred”) is shown and that miracle can only be performed through the grace of the feminine principle, both in divinis, as represented by the Virgin mother of God, and in the flesh.
Only by Ariadne’s love could Theseus, guided by the thread she unwound to save him from getting lost in the maze of Deadalus, come out triumphant from his encounter with the minotaurus but Ariadne, whose name shows her connection with the arakne, the spider that spins her thread to catch the hero, Ariadne is the half-sister of the bull of primal energies as she is a daughter of Minos and Pasiphae. As such she personifies, with all her feminine sisters, the chthonian and abyssal passions and yearnings (since the woman’~ primal urge is to trap and swallow the male) that the solar messenger slays in the taurine idol, thereby allowing the primacy of Apollo over Dionysios who by the way marries Ariadne abandoned by Theseus.
The struggle between those two forces, Apollo and Dionysos, which Nietszche has so vividly depicted is ever renascent and a harmonious balance between them must be constantly recreated, short of which Theseus finally falls “for and before” Ariadne’s sister Phaedra, years after forsaking Ariadne at Naxos and thus showing his fear and his weakness of the feminine principle which must be assimilated and reconciled and can never be ignored or fled with impunity.
If the hero, the soul that seeks enlightenment goes eastward, back to the Orient or the Ur, which is also, in some spiritual cosmographies the mystical North: the Cosmic, boreal Pole, he also must plunge inward, westward into the underground world of his self to discover the source of eternal life in the islands of the blest and “die before dying” in order to gain immortality. So did Alexander venture forth into the occidental desert to attain the oasis of Ammon and there assume his divine filiation. The syro- arabic Alexandrian cycle of Alexander describes him going further west upto the legendary fountain of youth, guided by AI Khizr
For the Hermetic arcanes, Egypt has remained the threshold of the occidental realms of death and resurrection, the kingdom where the worship of the departed reigns supreme, the “land of western exile”, the Khemi: the black earth where the seed of life is buried before rebirth and where the soul sinks into the afterlife. The land of the Nile is called Misr in semitic languages, a word which may well bear a relation to the latin word miseria. The world Saviour, according to various hermetic and gnostic traditions in the Middle East that reappear in certain alchemical texts, is the son of Maria Aegyptiaca, the black virgin or black stone that fell from heaven.
Let us not omit to point out that mythical geography is inherently holographic, in the sense that its interpretation is not tied to the identification of specific physical locations because each human being has the universe within himself and myths are meant to be discovered and understood by every one as if they had been created for him alone. It is so that we witness puzzling topographic attributions in the maps of traditional societies where history has not supplanted spiritual tradition. Thus the Iranians call the holy city of the Achemenids Takht e Jamshid (Persepolis) in the belief that their first monarch, the Vedic Yama -god of the otherworld- who is identified with the biblical Noah, ruled there but they also call their mythical holy mountain of Shyz (mount Ushida), located in the mystical center of the world, Takht e Sulayman: throne of Solomon, thereby fully integrating Hebraic sacred history within their cosmogony.
Mythical thought permeates the wellsprings of our languages. religions and social structures and its rediscovery illuminates the world as a magical aurora borealis of the subconscious and conscious mind. We suddenly discover infinite and multiple connections between hitherto apparently foreign domains and the underlying unity of humanity and of the cosmos as a whole strikes us in all its splendor. We may repeat with a novel awareness the cryptic sooth of the initiates: “Et in Arcadia ego”. The multiplication of images and links we discover between them makes us feel that our consciousness is entering a “particle accelerator” of the creative imagination and of the interpretative faculty. We realize that reality. whether physical or mental, is neither linear nor four-dimensional but that it unfolds in an infinite number of “senses” or directions. as some of the more advanced scientific investigations reveal so that linear thinking is indeed, beyond a certain level, as ill-adapted to the poetic and mythical quest as it is to the empirical understanding of nature.
THE ORIGINAL MAN AND THE MICROCOSM
The symbolic meta-history or hiero-history that mythology enshrines necessarily rests on the concept of a metanthropos or hierandros who stands both at the origin (the Orient) and at the acme of the human species, as the highest point is also the source in any transcendental system which describes manifestation as a descent, exile or exodus into the spheres of matter.
That man “par excellence”, or human archetype, Adam of Genesis or Adam Kadmon of the Kabbalah (a mythical relative of Cad mus, the founder of the greek city of Thebes (14), Insan Qadim of the Gnostics, Insan ul Kamil of the Muslim Neoplatonists is the embodiment both of the creator and of creation which he reflects as a macro and micro-cosmic mirror. He is the Purusa of the Vedas and the Gayomart of Iranian theogony. In many mythological traditions, he generates the living world and mankind within it when he is sacrificed and dismembered (like Osiris) by “the gods” or by a particular deity who plays the hallowed role of sacrificer, he who l’liberates” the many contained or implicit in the One: the En to Pan of the Eleatics and Pythagoreans.
Sacrifice is etymologically the sacred deed, id est the deed that sacralizes by freeing the potentialities enshrined in the outer form of Creation. Contemporary astrophysics presents us with a thermodynamic analogy in the image of the “big bang” which explodes and tears asunder the primeval core of the future universe (universus: poured out from the one).
It is notable that in various accounts of the cosmogonic sacrifice, the operator of the deed is equated or identified with the victim as if they were made interchangeable by the virtue of the act which binds them: the sacrificer becomes like unto the sacrificed as is apparent in the traditional commentaries on the Vedas. Thus we see why another Vedic version of the creation of the world describes it as the result of the slaying of the giant Vrtra by the sky god Indra (whose name is formed by the indo-iranian root found in the greek andros: man). Indra inherits the attributes of his victim whose remains make up the universe and he has, by committing the ritual medha, assimilated the powers and the personality of Vrtra whereas his act transforms the chaos into cosmos.
It is possible, incidentally, that this notion inherited from the most primitive societies facilitated and justified the practice of cannibalism in its symbolic dimensions, since the eater becomes what he eats but we must only concern ourselves with the fact that a sacrifice is an action that “makes whole” and therefore “holy” and that the Cosmic human archetype, the Metatron of the Kabbalah, is described as the lord of creation, reborn phoenix-like from his own ritual death in the manner of the vegetation gods of Mediterranean mystery cults, such as Adonis or Atys, and present throughout the Universe.
The universal symbolic value of that first or original man, the Prajapati and the Manu of India, the Yima of Iran, the Adam of the Hebrews, the greek Ouranos (Iranian Verethragna, Bahram), the Pan of Thrace, which also shines through the already evoked figures of Atlas-Hermes and Eli-Henoch, finds its most widespread expression in the icon of the Christ to whom we will dedicate the following chapter. However, a fundamental aspect of that archetypal figure is its implicate, inherent duality which manifests in the appearance of the female aspect, consort or paredra, Hawa or Eva in the semitic context or the manifold Prakrti (“Nature”) or Sakti in the cosmologies of India.
The Primeval Man enshrines the first woman because he himself is the first born of the universal mother, the Italic and Hermetic Magna Mater, the Hindu Maya or the Helladic Demeter. Demeter is also known as Kore: lithe Virgin” in Ancient Greece (Kumari in Samskrt) and the great matrix is always virginal, unfathomable and undiminished like the Pleroma of the Gnostics, like the Sophia or Ain Soph of the Kabbalists. The feminine aspect of existence manifests in the “better half’ of the First Man which at that point reveals its completeness and perfection and hence assumes the highest condition conceivable to man, that is kingship.
The sovereign is indeed the epitome of full realization in power, beauty and greatness. He gathers all qualities and abilities attainable in an individual form and stands therefore as the image of God. In semitic tongues, the king is maJek “master of the treasure” and also angel and god.He may also be the Amir:he who gives the commands from heaven (called amara in Samskrt). In the Indo-european area, the monarch is designated by words based on the roots raj-rag which express solar light and power, or ksa, meaning protection but a samrkrt title of the king is also prabhu: the first being (so in greek, the prince is the archon, the archetype but also the cornerstone from the old semitic triliteral root: rkn or principle and in latin the princeps) because the royal figure is, let us repeat it, both the first-born and the first of humans in the mythological hierarchy which is ontological and not chronological.
The perfect king is also priest (the king of France was ipso facto “eveque du dehors” and all anointed sovereigns in Christian Europe of which the Queen of England is the last, are invested with a sacerdotal dignity like the princes of ancient Israel and Judah and like Melkizedek in Genesis). In that dual rOle, the initiated monarch unifies within himself the two highest functions of human life: orator et bellator, nei sheng wai wang in China, philosopher-king of Plato. He is the earthly reflection of the supreme dyad: Mitra- Varuna or Indra-Agni which is also an aspect of the male-female unity, the Samskrt Sivasakti, the Kabbalistic couple of Metatron-Shekinah and we are thus recalled of the two shoulders or wings of the divine being: mercy and justice (15), benevolence and wisdom, beauty and majesty, the second attribute of each pair being generally regarded as masculine with respect to the first
JESUS AND CHRISTOLOGY IN THE HIEROLOGICAL TRADITION
The spiritual sphere is regulated by laws as precise as those that apply in the physical and biological domains. Every religion is born and grows under the influence of those laws and reflects in its own way, depending upon the ethno-geographic and cultural context, the metaphysical realities it translates in a specific language and form.
Thus, being based on the gospel preached by the Nazarene (from nazer: “ritually pure” and nazirutha: “initiation, consecration” related to nazer: “diadem”, but one should also keep in mind the implicit play on words between the roots nzr and njr, the latter meaning carpenter) and flourishing originally in the intensely syncretistic Eastern Roman Imperium, fertilized over the centuries by the spiritual pollens of the Mesopotamian, Mediterranean, Egypto-Ethiopian, Berber, Indo-Persian and Celtic European civilizations, Christianity could not fail to assimilate and alchemically transmute a myriad symbolic elements into its crucible of mystery, faith and gnosis.
Those who claim that Christianity stands, as the other monotheistic religions of the book, apart from the mythological systems of old which it invalidates by proclaiming the divinely revealed truth, fail to understand the very significance of the hierology they try to discard and they eo ipso ignore the deeper meaning of all the facts and words that characterize the figure of the Messiah whom they unintentionally banish to an anecdotal paragraph of History, especially when they attempt to interpret his miraculous deeds rationally to the point of disbelieving them, thereby robbing his personality of the divine element that brought about the faith they claim to profess.
Even a rapid reading of the synoptic Gospels and of the apologetic literature reveals the full participation of the “Logos made flesh” in the universal symbology of the Philosophia Perennis or Gnosis that evokes the cyclical periplum between earthly mankind and heavenly divinity: the descent of God or Spirit into matter to bring about the divinization of the latter, or as Athanasius of Alexandria pithily said: “God became man so that man may become God”,
Jesus or Yeshua, as a hierophany of the Old Testament figure of Yeshua bin Nun (“Hail, son of the fish”)(16), the heir of Moses who led the twelve tribes into the Promised Land across the holy Jordan river of baptism, is destined to lead the twelve tribes of Israel or mankind as a whole, beyond the water baptism of John the Sabean into the Promised pastures of Heaven. He is a scion of David and Solomon and like his first royal ancestor, he is the good shepherd, like him priest and king. In the likeness of Solomon he is the prince of peace and the master of all wisdom and knowledge.
Jesus is also the son of Mary the Virgin in whose womb he came upon the visit of the good messenger (Ma/ek, Evangelos) Gabriel, the pure divine Intelligence of the sphere of Jabr or Jabarut. For various Sufi schools, Christ is in fact that very Intelligence which is the Messenger of the Most High in the world of manifestation and ‘linspires”, “infuses” and therefore gives birth to Jesus who becomes one with Him (“My father and I are one”).
Mary and Jesus are cared for and protected by Joseph the carpenter who is an hypostasis of the cosmic builder or Great Architect in the ancient theogonies, the Hiram or Hermes of the eternal temple. In that role, Joseph is the earthly father of Jesus like all human fathers are foster-fathers to the immortal souls of their offspring.
Not unlike the double John, there are two Josephs in the Gospel, he who watches over the birth of the child Jesus and the other one, Joseph Ari-Matha or “of Arimathea” who arranges for his burial, also in a cave, and thereby prepares his resurrection or new birth in the glorious body of light. We can see in that allegory the source of the celto-christian tradition of the Holy Grail taken tlto the west” by Joseph of Arimathea. It is al so an echo of the figure of Joseph son of Jakob in Gensis who receives and saves his family and watches over the birth and infancy of his people (the nascent twelve tribes) in Egypt, the land of western exile.
The Son of Man and Son of God is born in a cavern (the khfof semitic and Indo-european esoteric cults) at Bethlehm (the “house of bread” or “house of flesh” which is also the “house of strife”, a clear metaphor for the world of manifestation, the vale of tears) between the red donkey of lower Egypt (Seth) and the white ox (Hapl) of upper Egypt, in the image of the Pharaoh who unifies both realms. He is worshipped by shepherds who recognize in him the Shepherd in divinis as well as the Lamb(agnus-ignis) which is to become the solar ram of Khnum and Ammon, that ram which bestowed upon Alexander the Great the sacred horns that made him known as Ohul qarnain throughout the Middle East.
The holy triune family is made of the father. the son and the eternal virgin mother which manifest the hidden trinity. as certain gnostic Christian texts make it clear when they call the Holy Spirit the holy mother of the Savior or Sophia. The Saviour is indeed the child of the Divine Spirit or Intellect (the Gnostic Christos) and the Virgin Magna Mater, the offspring of Metatron and Shekina.
That epiphany is later visited by the three Magi or wise men from the East, the three muluk (kings, angels, prophets or gods), in a way somewhat evocative of the three angels who were received by Abraham and who announced to him the birth of his son and heir. Like the Buddha who was hailed by the I’thirty three’. gods as Lord of the three worlds, Jesus is given the sacrificial offerings of gold, frankincense and myrrh, symbolizing respectively the realms of the Earth, Heaven and the Netherworld which he was born to rule.
Many scholars have pointed out the strong influence of Persian religion on the Messianic eschatology in post-exilian Hebrew faith, as is made apparent by that tradition of the three priestly kings which faithfully reflects the ancient Mazdean legend of the three great sages searching the sky, from the top of the holy mountain, for a heavenly sign of the advent of the Zoroastrian Saoshyant (redeemer). That astral portent of the Magians has become the Star of Bethlehem in Christian lore.
The Saoshyant, according to certain versions of Zoroastrian theology will be born in a cave, like his Shi’ite Islamic avatar, the Hidden twelth Imam, Mohammed al Muntazer. This is one of various “biographical” or rather mythical features shared by Jesus, the physical twin of the Christos and the cousin (in Aramaic as in many other oriental languages a synonym for brother) of John the Baptist, with the messianic figures of various other traditions.
It has often been remarked that in John’s Gospel, the figure of the Baptist is presented as the human herald and servant of the Logos or Light (the Yawar Ziwa of the Johannites) in a manner wholly consonant with the faith inherited by the Nazareans or Mandeans of Mesopotamia who are devotees of the Prophet Yahya (John) beheaded by the Jews. Furthermore, the Alf Trisar Suialia, a Canonic Scripture of the Nazareans, establishes an opposition between the Father of the spirits (Mara d Rabutha) who signs (baptizes) in the Jordan and the Mother of Life (Tana) who signs (baptizes) with fire or light as Jesus was said to. We have there a theological archetype of the relation between John and Jesus seens as embodiments of the two complementary cosmic principles.
Illustrating the presence of the ageless mythical images throughout the events and parables recorded in the Gospels would take too much space since virtually every sentence uttered by Jesus is a quotation from the Kerygma of the various Essene or Ebionite communities (17) but it should be noted,as an example that one well known and rather mysterious episode of the Synoptic Corpus the wedding at Cana reveals its full meaning when replaced in the context of the liturgic literature of the Mandeans.
One of the raza (mysteries) enshrined in that tradition is that a Nasorean (and Jesus was Nazarene) is a member of the mystical family of souls, in Aramaic the Kana d-rismata, a symbolic wedding of the adept to the Holy Spirit, where he partakes in the lanfa (meal of communion) in which the bread (phta or tabuta) is the emblem of the male seed and also of a bone, while the winecup is the maternal womb and salt (mihla) is the symbol of the soul (“You are the salt of the earth” said Christ). The wine is called hamar, which is the colour red and hence the blood and the “animal” spirit, the ruha, distinct from the “lunar”, white soul (nephesh, nisimta, nafs). The grape from which wine is pressed is ha mar kana and there again we find the deeper meaning of the story of the eucharistic ceremony, incompletely and thus rather misleadingly translated as “Kana wedding”. In that ritual and semantic context the allegory of the better wine, the wine of communion from the grapes of life being miraculously brought out in the end through the mystical action of Christos, becomes transparent.
The events marking the life of Jesus can all be understood in the light of the Haggadah as hieroslogoi and thus replaced in their symbolic cosmological context. A fundamental act in the Synoptic Canon is the investiture of Simon by Christ with the Mission (a word originating in the latin verb “send” that seems related to the semitic misa: the oil used to anoint or “invest” an elect who thereby becomes a messiah or messenger, and also to the noun that has evolved into the english word “mass”).
Simon will henceforth be known as Peter. By saying that on that stone (Tu es Petrus) (18), he will build his church, the Son of Man affirms the universal and perennial essence of his message since the world itself stands on the rock of Qaf according to an immemorial semitic esoteric cosmology. By embodying the axis mundi or qutb, Peter is Atlas, Henoch and Hermes in a new guise and his see, Rome becomes the mystical center or pole, in keeping with the tradition inherited from Romulus, the father of the Eternal City.
A conclusion of this brief and sketchy study of the Gospels should naturally touch upon the death and resurrection of the Saviour as ritually described in the Nazarean-Mandean tradition according to which the deceased are buried in a rock grave that is sealed there and then and reopened on the third day so that the light body – Adakas Ziwa – that has formed in that period may exit the tomb and leave the earth. Then takes place the masiqta (resurrection, also radically connected to the semitic misa and the latin missa).
We can see that through an anagogic interpretation of the Christian texts replaced in their cultural and mystical context and read with an knowledge of etymology, the figure of Jesus and his message recover their cosmological, mythical inner dimensions of which the rationalistic exegesis of the last two or three centuries deprived them, just as Kant likewise discarded the “natural” or cosmological proof for God upheld by the scholastic theologians such as St. Anselm of Cantorbery. To borrow a very apt definition given by Henri Corbin, the story becomes a parable in the light of divine imagination, exactly as happens in the Gospels.
“All visible events are transformed into parables which are therefore the only true history but whose function is to conceal a hidden meaning” (cahiers de I’USJJ; inaugural address 1974).