MILKY WAY MYTHOLOGY KEYS
scheme and insert your subjects in order to categorize the different
major Milky Way deities)
MILKY WAY GALAXY
The Milky Way Contours with a common Earth Pole centre. The red
“star” marks the Milky Way Centre, 29 degree Sagittarius, from where
all Creation in our Galaxy is unfolded. (Drawing of an Atlas Star
1. Primary Keywords: GIANTS. Left columns: North/Male Subjects. Right
columns: South/Female Subjects. Secondary Keywords: White; Light; Primary God; Hero; Primary Goddess; Heroin;
Animals; Anthropomorphic Beings; Airy and Winged. Omnipotent power and knowledge of
Male and Female qualities. Swirling symbols. Opposite Figures.
Against each other. Opposite each other. "War against each other".
The full Milky Way Circle is often mentioned as a Serpent or
Ouroboros, and of course the Ship with its many Animals (zodiac
signs) is very well known. Okeanos or Atlantis is the Heavenly
Water; The Milky Way River; the Great Flood.
Movement: The seemingly revolving figures are mythological described
as a cycle of: Rising-Flying-Diving and Dying. That is: You have to
imagine the contours in these 4 directions or positions in order to
understand the full mythological context and interactive
The stories can of course goes clockwise or anticlockwise around in
the Milky Way figure above. If starting in the red centre going
clockwise, the story can be: “The heavenly Mother at the right gives
birth to a Son at the left” – and going further on to the top of the
left figure: “a man is searching for a heavenly maiden” Or, when
using the terms of “oppositional forces”: The Hero is fighting a
Dragon” . The story possibilities are endless!
Dividing the full contour above in 2 halves, this gives a story
telling technique of “opposite (but complementary) forces” fighting
each other, but indeed also searching for each other. For each
others halves or cosmically Twins; for the individual Soul or
individual Twin, and of course: Searching for the Ancestral pathway
of Generations and Knowledge and for the origin of Life it self.
The Creational Story Telling: From the red Swirl on the right Milky Way
figure above, everything is born and has moved out from the Galaxy
Centre. (A telling quite opposite the telling of modern Cosmology
which is wrong on this issue – nothing is contracted inwards in our
Galaxy – it’s the other way around)
The beginning of the Creation Story often takes place in the telling
of “nothing in the beginning” and goes on to tell about the very
elementary interaction between cold water and hot air and the also
interactive forces of soil, water, air and fire.
The Story of Creation often starts of when all these 6 qualities are
hit by a suddenly Light that stirs up all the clouded matter of
molecular dust and gas, creating big right- and left turning SWIRLS
that accelerates and concentrates, swallowing up all matter in a
giant melting pot and spits (explodes) it out again in a creational
discs of Suns, Planets of Matter and Gas – which later on creates
all kinds of Life – all interacting with each other because it ALL
was/is created from equal sources.
Thomas Hobbes wrote that life in a state of nature was “solitary,
poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Ancient legends from around the
world spell out the nature of that state before the beginning of
society and civilization.
The legends are called creation myths because they describe the
beginning of time, of the dividing of heaven from earth, of social
organization, even of the distinguishing between good and evil. They
are told as if the narrator were an eyewitness to the creation
event…and they often tell about a prior state. From around the
world, they converge on a picture of nature that would have appalled
even Mr. Hobbes.
“But in those days we lived where there were thickets and barren
rocks…; we had no villages, no cities, no temples. We lived in
clefts of the rocks and holes in the ground…. We ate roots that we
pulled up out of the ground, or else we fought with the foxes for
the dead things they were carrying away. No one bore rule amongst
us, and we knew nothing of duty or kindness of one to another.”
“Darkness there was: at first concealed in darkness this All was
indiscriminated chaos. All that existed then was void and formless.”
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the
earth was chaos, and there was darkness over the abyss.”
The same themes are repeated in Phoenician and Greek cosmogonies and
in Taoism in China. They appear in the narratives of the tribes of
Oceania and of the Pima of Arizona. The Hopi clarify the question of
just how dark the darkness was by calling it a “dark purple light.”
Other legends relate that something glowed dimly within the darkness
“like a glow-worm” (Linga Purana)—an orb “lit by the reflection of
his own inner self” (Mbayá legend).
Many legends speak of the “waters” or “sea” of chaos that preceded
creation. They say that the chaos “whirled.”
Except for the whirling chaos, nothing moved: There was no Sun, no
Moon, no stars. There was no day or night, no year, no seasons.
There was no way to tell time. There was no reason to tell time.
There was no concept of time. The beginning—the creation—was the
beginning of time and space, of form and change.
It was the beginning of society and civilization. Perhaps it was the
beginning of consciousness. “Before the beginning” stories from
every society exhibit these themes: darkness without Sun or Moon or
stars, whirling chaos, something that glowed, no civilization,
timelessness. The only reasonable explanation for this commonality
is that the stories derive from events experienced in common around
Deities all over the World:
John O`Neill, author of
"The night of the Gods", published in 1893: Cosmic, Cosmogonic Myths
and Symbols - Which all describes my text above and on the whole
The very basics of the Milky Way Mythology
one can easily fall into a variety of mythological black holes.
First there is a
major problem with connecting the different stories to the right
cosmological meaning or to the personal rites of transition.
Secondly there very
often is an amount of “cultural deity overlays” with the same
descriptions and qualities which confuses the original mythological
texts; telling and meaning.
hundreds – even some few thousands of years – human have forgotten the
most important story of them all: The Story of Creation.
Even still living Native People seem to have forgotten – maybe not the
story itself, but the cosmological meaning of the story.
For instants, one can hear from some still living native people, who
worships white living persons – because their ancient myths includes
worshipping of some celestial white divine beings/figures.
READING AND UNDERSTANDING THE MYTHS
It is very important to emphasize that the
Mythological Stories takes place as a telling technique in order to
explain the order of Cosmology and Cosmogony.
The Major deities involved, the Giant
Milky Way deities, describes
their part of the Creation itself, and the Minor Star Constellation deities
describes generally the heavenly directions compared to each other and
as well as to the 4 Cardinal Solar System directions in our Galaxy.
The myths should NOT be read as have taken
place in a historical period and they shall NOT be read as have taken
place in some geographical areas - as for instants with a Hero/Heroin
travelling from one geographical Island to another.
But, as everything is connected, the
Hero/Heroin telling also have a personal implication. Via personal
transition rites adjusted to everybody's actual age, every person can
experience the whole Mythological; Cosmological and Cosmogonic telling
and thereby become an aware citizen in the Creation - and as such become
the Hero or Heroin themselves.
PERSONAL COMPLICATIONS OF EXPERIENCING
NB: WARNING: If someone initially is
invited "by Nature" to go the inner or Ancient Way by a spiritual
awakening trough Meditation; Dreams or Visions, STAY GEOGRAPHICALLY PUT
and arrange yourself in the most personal and social harmonic way - take
even a longer semester off!
- If having any kind of difficulties of
understanding your inspirations via Meditation, Dreams or Visions:
Believe in an on the inner guidance to get it right. Don't force
anything if you are having troubles. Let it rest until it solves it
self. (Because of the lost cultural tradition of the Ancient Way of
education, some of my problems took several years for me to understand just
basically - and I still have some loose ends, of course).
But STAY PUT, because otherwise you can
feel yourself being spiritually urged and chased around in all geographical directions because of
the "mythological directional instructions" implied in the visions.
(Believe me, I have "been there" - on the brink of becoming a
psychiatric hospital inhabitant).
DEITIES AND DIMENSIONS
Deities, i.e. “creative forces in general” play mythologically a
significant role in at least 3 dimensions.
1. Dimension: The Earth/Home for
the Human beings.
2. Dimension: The light
Star Constellations for the minor celestial deities. Including the
Sun, the Moon and 5 planets.
3. Dimension: The Milky Way
Galaxy for white major “great deities” of Giants, Titans, (Norse
How the Ancient Norse
symbolized the 3 Worlds on Rock Art. The 1. Ring/Dot = Home; 2. Ring =
Stars/Constellations and 3. Ring = Galaxy. The right image even could
show planets and moon with the 6 dots.
BETWEEN THE MYTHOLOGICAL LIGHT AND COLOURS
“Light” plays of course a major cosmological and mythological role. But
mythologically “light” have several meanings.
(Night and day symbols)
Fire, Sunlight; Moonlight; Planetary light; Starlight, Rainbow
(Night Symbols): White
Minor deities in Dark surroundings. Moonlight; Planetary light. Gold and Green.
Milky Way Galaxy:
(Night Symbols) White
Major/Giant/Titan deities in Dark surroundings. White; Golden And Rainbow colours.
Great Animals. Anthropomorphic beings.
Symbols: Around the whole Earth =
Ouroboros. Great Serpent. Dragon. Eye Symbol.
2 Hemispheres: Overworld & Underworld
symbols. Divine Pair. Great Father & Mother. Opposite Each other.
Against Each other. War against Each other. Crescent symbols. Great
Animals. Anthropomorphic beings.
The term of “the 4 elements” is very well known for mythologists, but it
needs to be more consciously connected to other dimensions besides the
Fire from the Sun and
from Lightning. Aurora light. (EU and PC Cosmology)
Air from the Atmosphere
Water from the oceans,
rivers, lakes, rain and fog.
Fire as in Stars (and
Lightning) Helium (EU and PC Cosmology)
Air as in Ether. (?)
Water as in Hydrogen.
Soil as in molecular dust
and as matter in planets.
Fire as in the center of
our Milky Way, creating the solar spheres. (Helium). Golden Mound
Center. Central Light. (EU and PC Cosmology)
Air/Ether as in the
Water as in the Milky Way
River(s) and as Hydrogen.
Soil as the Milky Way
molecular dust (and other where) that creates planets from the
central material Mound.
BETWEEN THE MYTHOLOGICAL LOCATIONS
is of course very important to locate a myth in the right cosmological
order of the 3 main dimensions.
Your physical position
(Town) Daytime and Year location = Seasonal directions to the Sun.
Your Night time location =
The Earth Axis celestial Polar Star.
1: The Day symbolshows
both the day and the solar seasonal rhythm.
2: The Night symbolshows
the celestial Poles and the cardinal directions of the Stars; Star
Constellations and the Milky Way directions. (Maybe with a dot added
central in every quarter as a symbol for the Stars)
proper logical testing system
- Is of course paramount in order
to get a hypothesis right. The Logical Testing Scheme below is
used in order to logically either confirm or reject a
tellings and analysis of the Cosmos and the Galaxy
and the Tree
The Frame of
mythologie, dans son origine,
l'ouvrage de la science; la
science seule l'expliquera.
GREEK MYTH, the basic frame of the world is described in the famous
Vision of Er in the 10th Book of the Republic. In
it we find Er the Armenian, who was resurrected from the funeral
pyre just before it was kindled, and who describes his travel
through the other world (10.615ff.). He and the group of souls bound
for rebirth whom he accompanies travel through the other world.
They come to "a straight shaft of light, like a pillar, stretching
from above throughout heaven and earth-and there, at the middle of
the light, they saw stretching from heaven the extremities of its
chains; for this light binds the heavens, holding together all the
revolving firmament like the undergirths of a ship of war. And from
the extremities stretched the Spindle of Necessity, by means of
which all the circles revolve."
Cornford adds in a note: "It is disputed whether the bond holding
the Universe together is simply the straight axial shaft or a
circular band of light, suggested by the Milky Way [n1 Cf. O.
Gruppe, Griechische Mythologie und Religionsgeschichte
(1905), p. 1036, n.1: "probably the Milky Way."], girdling the
heaven of fixed stars." [n2 Plato's Republic (Cornford trans.),
p. 353.] Eisler understood it as the zodiac, strange to say [n3
Eisler, Weltenmantel und Himmelszelt (1910), pp. 97ff.].
Since those "undergirths" of the trireme did not go around the ship
horizontally, but were meant to secure the mast (the
of the ship) which points upwards, we stand, on principle, for the
Galaxy, which, however, had to be "replaced" by invisible colures in
later times [n4 Cf. also the discussion in J. L. E. Dreyer, A
History of Astronomy from Thales to Kepler (1953), pp. 56ff.
Concerning the "chains," which he translates "ligatures," Dreyer
states: "The ligatures (desmoi) of the heavens are the
solstitial and equinoctial colures intersecting in the poles, which
points therefore may be called their extremities (akra)."].
But Er also talks of the adventures of the souls between
incarnations, and in this context we might rely on the Milky Way.
Surely the "model" is far from clear, even, on Cornford's concession,
obviously intentionally so. And indeed, a few paragraphs later,
there comes the complete planetarium with its "whorls," the "Spindle
of Necessity" held by the goddess, by which sit the Fates as they
unwind the threads of men's lives. The souls can listen to the Song
of Lachesis, if they are still in the "meadow," but the chains and
shaft or band are no longer in the picture. Plato refuses to be a
correct geometrician of the Other World, just as he would not be
sensible about the hydraulics of it. But previously in the Phaedo,
Socrates had been ironic about the "truths" of science, and insisted
that the truths of myth are of another order, and rebellious to
ordinary consistency. It is here as if Plato had juxtaposed a number
of revered mythical traditions (including the planetary harmony)
without pretending to fit them into a proper order. And so his image
of the "framework" of the cosmos is left inconclusive. But somehow
the axis and the band and the chains stand together, and this, one
concludes, was the original idea. The rotation of the polar axis
must not be disjointed from the great circles which shift along with
it in heaven. The framework is thought of as all one with the axis.
This leads back to a Pythagorean authority whom Plato was supposed
to have followed (Timon even viciously said: plagiarized) and whom
Socrates often quotes with unfeigned respect. It is Philolaos,
surely a creative astronomer of high rank, from whom there are only
a few surviving fragments, and the authenticity of these has been
rashly challenged by many modern philologists [n5 G. de Santillana
and W. Pitts, "Philolaos in Limbo," ISIS 42 (1951), pp. 112-20; also
in Reflections on Men and Ideas (1968), pp. 190-201.]. In
fragment 12 of Philolaos, there is a brief definition of the cosmos,
very much in the spirit of Plato's "dodecahedron" quoted in chapter
the sphere there are five elements, those inside the sphere, fire,
and water and earth and air, and what is the hull of the sphere, the
fifth." [n6 See H. Diets, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker
(1951), vol. I, pp. 412f.]. Notwithstanding Philolaos' graceless
Doric, the statement is perfectly clear. The "hull," (olkas)
was the common name for freighters, built for bulk cargo, broad in
the beam. It is really more adequate than Plato's slim trireme; and
it is closer in shape to what both men meant apparently: the
dodecahedron, the "hull," i.e., the sphere, the actual containing
frame. It is clear from Plato that the "fifth" is the sphere that he
calls ether which contains the four earthly elements but is wholly
removed from them. Aristotle was to change it to the crystalline
heavenly "matter" that he needed for his system, but it remained for
him a "fifth essence." There has thus been twice repeated the
original "hull," the frame that has been sought. What happened, and
was noted in chapter VII, was that the etymology of Sampo was
discovered to be in the Sanskrit skambha.
abstract idea of a simple earth axis, so natural today, was by no
means so logical to the ancients, who always thought of the whole
machinery of heaven moving around the earth, stable at the center.
One line always implied many others in a structure. So, apparently
one must accept the idea of the world frame a an implex (as
used here and later this word involves the necessary attributes that
are associated with a concept: e.g., the center and circumference of
a circle, the parallels and meridians implied by a sphere), of which
Grotte and Sampo were the rude models with their ponderous moving
the axle of the mill, the tree, the skambha, also represents
the world axis. This instinctively suggests a straight, upright
post, but the world axis is a simplification of the real concept.
There is the invisible axis, of course, which is crowned by the
North Nail, but this image needs to be enriched by two more
dimensions. The term world axis is an abbreviation of
language comparable to the visual abbreviation achieved by
projecting the reaches of the Sky onto a flat star map.
is best not to think of the axis in straight analytical terms, one
line at a time, but to consider it, and the frame to which it is
connected, as one whole. This involves the use of multivalent terms
and the recognition of a convergent involution of unusual meanings.
radius automatically calls circle to mind, so axis must invoke the
two determining great circles on the surface of the sphere, the
equinoctial and solstitial colures. Pictured this way, the axis
resembles a complete armillary sphere. It stands for the system of
coordinates of the sphere and represents the frame of a world-age.
Actually the frame defines a world-age. Because the polar axis and
the colures form an indivisible whole, the entire frame is thrown
out of kilter if one part is moved. When that happens, a new Pole
star with appropriate colures of its own must replace the obsolete
the Sanskrit skambha, the world pillar, ancestor of the
Finnish Sampo, is shown to be an integral element in the scheme of
things. The hymn 10.7 of the Atharva Veda is dedicated to the
skambha, and Whitney, its translator and commentator [n7
Harvard Oriental Series, vol. 8, p. 590.] sounds puzzled in his
footnote to 10.7.2: "Skambha, lit. 'prop, support, pillar,'
strangely used in this hymn as frame of the universe or held
personified as its soul" Here are two verses of it:
whom earth, atmosphere, in whom sky is set, where fire, moon, sun, wind
stand fixed, that Skambha tell. . .
Skambha sustains both heaven-and-earth here; the skambha sustains the
wide atmosphere, the skambha sustains the six wide directions; into the
skambha entered this whole existence.
good old Sampo sounds less pretentious, but it does have its three "roots,"
"one in heaven, one in the earth, one in the water-eddy." [n8 K.
Krohn, Kalevalastudien 4. Sampo (1927), p. 13.] To make a
drawing of a pillarlike tree (let alone a mill), with its roots
distributed in the manner indicated, would be quite a task. Notably
it takes the "enormous bull of Pohja"—obviously a cosmic bull—to
plow up these strange roots: the Finnish heroes by themselves had
not been able to uproot the Sampo.
the case of Yggdrasil, the World Ash, Rydberg tried his hardest to
localize the three roots, to imagine and to draw them.
Since he looked with Steadfast determination into the interior of
our globe, the result was not overly convincing. One of the roots is
said to belong to the Asa in heaven, and beneath it is the most
sacred fountain of Urd. The second is to be found in the quarters of
the frost-giants "where Ginnungagap formerly was," and where the
well of Mimir now is. The third root belongs to Niflheim, the realm
of the dead, and under this root is Hvergelmer" the Whirlpool (Gylf.
15) [n9 We are aware that either Grotte "should" have three roots,
or that Yggdrasil should be uprooted, and that the Finns do not tell
how the maelstroem came into being. All of which can be explained;
we wish, however, to avoid dragging more and more material into the
case. Several ages of the world have passed away, and they do not
perish all in the same manner; e.g., the Finns know of the
destruction of Sampo and of the felling of the huge Oak.].
precludes any terrestrial diagram. It looks as though the "axis,"
implicating the equinoctial and solstitial colures, runs through the
"three worlds" which are, to state it roughly and most inaccurately,
the 'sky north of the Tropic of Cancer, i.e., the sky proper, domain
of the gods
the "inhabited world" of the zodiac between the tropics, the domain
of the "living"
the II sky south from the Tropic of Capricorn, alias: the
Sweet-Water Ocean, the realm of the dead
demarcation plane between solid earth and sea is represented by the
celestial equator; hence half of the zodiac is under "water," the
southern ecliptic, bordered by the equinoctial points. There are
more refined subdivisions, to be sure, "zones" or "belts" or "climates"
dividing the sphere from north to south and, most important, the "sky"
as well as the waters of the south have a share in the "inhabited
world" allotted to them [n10 To clear up the exact range of the
three worlds, it would be necessary to work out the whole history of
the Babylonian "Ways of Anu, Enlil, and Ea" (cf. pp. 431f.), and how
these "Ways" were adapted, changed, and defined anew by the many
heirs of ancient oriental astronomy. And then we would not yet be
wise to the precise whereabouts of Air, Saltwater, and other
summary is an almost frivolous simplification, but for the time
being it may be sufficient.
Meanwhile, it is necessary to explain again what this "earth" is
that modern interpreters like to take for a pancake. The mythical
earth is, in fact, a plane, but this plane is not our "earth"
at all, neither our globe, nor a presupposed homocentrical earth.
"Earth" is the implied plane through the four points of the year,
marked by the equinoxes and solstices, in other words the ecliptic.
And this is why this earth is very frequently said to be
quadrangular. The four "corners," that is, the zodiacal
constellations rising heliacally at both the equinoxes and solstices,
parts of the "frame" skambha, are the points which determine
an "earth." Every world-age has its own "earth." It is for this very
reason that "ends of the world" are said to take place. A new "earth"
arises, when another set of zodiacal constellations brought in by
the Precession determines the year points.
the reader has made the adjustment needed to think of the frame
instead of the "pillar" he will understand easily many queer scenes
which would be strictly against nature—ideas about planets
performing feats at places which are out of their range, as both the
poles are. He will understand why a force planning to uproot (or to
chop down) a tree, or to unhinge a mill, or merely pull out a plug,
or a pin, does not have to go "up"—or "down"—all the way to the pole
to do it. The force causes the same effect when it pulls out the
nearest available part of the "frame" within the inhabited world.
are some examples of the manipulation of the frame, beginning with a
most insignificant survival. Actually this is a useful approach,
because the less meaningful the example, the more astonishing is the
fact of its surviving. Turkmen tribes of southern Turkestan tell
about a copper pillar marking the "navel of the earth," and they
state that "only the nine-year-old hero Kara Par is able to lift and
to extract" it [n11 Radloff, quoted by W. E. Roescher, Der
Omphalosgedanke (1918), pp. 1f.]. As goes without saying, nobody
comments on the strange idea that someone should be eager to "extract
the navel of the earth." When Young Arthur does it with Excalibur,
the events have already been fitted into a more familiar frame and
they provoke no questions.
its grandiose style, the Mahabharata presents a similar
prodigy as follows:
Vishvamitra who in anger created a second world and numerous stars
beginning with Sravana . . . He can burn the three worlds by his
splendour, can, by stamping (his foot), cause the earth to quake. He can
"sever the great Meru from the Earth" and hurl it to any distance, He
can go round the 10 points of the Earth in a moment [n12 Mbh. 1.71,
Roy trans., vol. 1, p. 171.].
Vishvamitra is one of the seven stars of the Big Dipper, this at
least has been found out. But each planet is represented by a star
of the Wain, and vice versa, so this case does not look particularly
helpful [n13 The notion of "numerous [newly appointed] stars
beginning with Sravana" should enlighten us. Sravana, "the
Lame," is, in the generally accepted order, the twenty-first lunar
mansion, alpha beta gamma Aquilae, also called by the name Ashvatta, which stands for a sacred fig tree but which means
literally "below which the horses stand" (Scherer, Gestirnnamen,
p. 158), and which invites comparison with Old Norse Yggdrasil,
meaning "the tree below which Odin's horse grazes" (Reuter,
Germanische Himmelskunde, p. 236). Actually, the solstitial
colure ran through alpha beta gamma Aquilae around 300 B.C., and
long after the time when it used to pass through one or the other of
the stars of the Big Dipper; the equinoctial colure, however, comes
down very near eta Ursae Majoris. Considering that eta maintains the
most cordial relations with Mars in occidental astrology,
Vishvamitra might be eta, and might represent Mars, and that would
go well with the violent character of this Rishi. But even if we
accept this for a working hypothesis, there remains the riddle of
the "second world," i.e., "second" with respect to which "first"
world? Although we have a hunch, we are not going to try to solve it
here and now. Two pieces of information should be mentioned, however:
(1) Mbh. 14-44 (Roy trans., vol. 12, p. 83) states: "The
constellations [= lunar mansions, nakshatras] have Sravana
for their first"; (2) Sengupta (in Burgess' trans. of Surya
Siddhanta, p.xxxiv) claims that "the time of the present
redaction of the Mahabbarata" was called "Sravanadi kala, i.e., the
time when the winter solstitial colure passed through the nakshatra Sravana."].
cosmic event of the first order can be easily overlooked when it
hides modestly in a fairy tale. The following, taken from the Indian
"Ocean of Stories," tells of Shiva: "When he drove his
trident into the heart of Andhaka, the king of the Asuras, athough
he was only one, the dart which that monarch had infixed into the
heart of the three worlds was, strange to say, extracted." [n14 N.
M. Penzer, The Ocean of Story (1924), vol. 1, p. 3.].
plot can also shrink to unrecognizable insignificance when it comes
disguised as history, but this next story at least has been pinned
down to the proper historical character, and even has been checked
by a serious military historian like Arrianus, who tells us the
Alexander, then, reached Gordium, and was seized with an ardent desire
to ascend to the acropolis, where was the palace of Gordius and his son
Midas, and to look at Gordius' wagon and the knot of that chariot's yoke.
There was a widespread tradition about this chariot around the
countryside; Gordius, they said, was a poor man of the Phrygians of old,
who tilled a scanty parcel of earth and had but two yoke of oxen: with
one he ploughed, with the other he drove his wagon. Once, as he was
ploughing, an eagle settled on the yoke and stayed, perched there, till
it was time to loose the oxen; Gordius was astonished at the portent,
and went off to consult the Telmissian prophets, who were skilled in the
interpretation of prodigies, inheriting—women and children too—the
prophetic gift. Approaching a Telmissian village, he met a girl drawing
water and told her the story of the eagle: she, being also of the
prophetic line, bade him return to the spot and sacrifice to Zeus the
King. So then Gordius begged her to come along with him and assist in
the sacrifice; and at the spot duly sacrificed as she directed, married
the girl, and had a son called Midas.
was already a grown man, handsome and noble, when the Phrygians were in
trouble with civil war; they received an oracle that a chariot would
bring them a king and he would stop the war. True enough, while they
were discussing this, there arrived Midas, with his parents, and drove,
chariot and all, into the assembly. The Phrygians, interpreting the
oracle, decided that he was the man whom the gods had told them would
come in a chariot; they thereupon made him king, and he put an end to
the civil war. The chariot of his father he set up in the acropolis as a
thank-offering to Zeus the king for sending the eagle.
above this there was a story about the wagon, that anyone who should
untie the knot of the yoke should be lord of Asia. This knot was of
cornel bark, and you could see neither beginning nor end of it.
Alexander, unable to find how to untie the knot, and not brooking to
leave it tied, lest this might cause some disturbance in the vulgar,
smote it with his sword, cut the knot, and exclaimed, "I have loosed it!
"-so at least say some, but Aristobulus puts it that he took out the
pole pin, a dowel driven right through the pole, holding the knot
together, and so removed the yoke from the pole. I do not attempt
to be precise how Alexander actually dealt with this knot. Anyway, he
and his suite left the wagon with the impression
oracle about the loosed knot had been duly fulfilled. It is certain that
there were that night thunderings and lightenings, which indicated this;
so Alexander in thanksgiving offered sacrifice next day to whatever gods
had sent the signs and certified the undoing of the knot [n15 Anabasis of Alexander 2.3.1-8 (Robson trans., LCL).].
Without going now into the relevant comparative material it should
be stressed that in those cases where "kings" are sitting in a wagon
(Greek hamaxa), i.e., a four-wheeled truck, it is most of the
time Charles' Wain.
Alexander was a true myth builder, or rather, a true myth attracting
magnet. He had a gift for attracting to his fabulous personality the
manifold tradition that, once, had been coined for Gilgamesh.
the time is not yet ripe either for Alexander or for Gilgamesh, nor
for further statements about deities or heroes who could pull out
pins, plugs and pillars. The next concern is with the decisive
features of the mythical landscape and their possible localization,
or their fixation in time. It is essential to know where and when
the first whirlpool came into being once Grotte, Amlodhi's Mill, had
been destroyed. This is, however, a misleading expression because
our terminology is still much too imprecise. It would be better to
say the first exit from, or entrance to, the whirlpool. It appears
advisable to recapitulate the bits of information that have been
gathered on the whirlpool as a whole:
maelstrom, result of a broken mill, a chopped down tree, and the
like, "goes through the whole globe," according to the Finns. So
does Tartaros, according to Socrates. To repeat it in Guthrie's
words: "The earth in this myth of Socrates is spherical, and
Tartaros, the bottomless pit, is represented in this mythical
geography by a chasm which pierces the sphere right through from
side to side." [n16 Orpheus and Greek Religion (1952), p.
is source and mouth of all waters.
is the way, or one among others, to the realm of the dead.
Medieval geographers call it "Umbilicus Maris," Navel of the Sea, or
Antiochus the astrologer calls Eridanus proper, or some abstract
topos not far from Sirius, "zalos," i.e., whirlpool.
W. Makemson looks for the Polynesian whirlpool, said to be "at the
end of the sky," "at the edge of the Galaxy," in Sagittarius.
Dyak hero, climbing a tree in "Whirlpool-Island," lands himself in
generally, one looks for "it" in the more or less northwest/north-northwest
direction, a direction where, equally vaguely, Kronos-Saturn is
supposed to sleep in his golden cave notwithstanding the blunt
statements (by Homer) that Kronos was hurled down into deepest
from those "infernal" quarters, particularly from the (Ogygian)
Stygian landscape, "one"—who else but the souls?—sees the celestial
South Pole, invisible to us.
reader might agree that this summary shows clearly the insufficiency
of the general terminology accepted by the majority. The verbal
confusion provokes sympathy for Numenius (see above, p. 188), and
the Third Vatican Mythographer who took the rivers for planets,
their planetary orbs respectively. We think that the whirlpool
stands for the "ecliptical world" marked by the whirling planets,
embracing everything which circles obliquely with respect to the
polar axis and the equator-oblique by 23 ½ degrees, more or less,
each planet having its own obliquity with respect to the others and
to the sun's path, that is, the ecliptic proper. It has been
mentioned earlier (p. 206, n. 5) that in the axis of the Roman
circus was a Euripus, and altars of the three outer planets
(Saturn, Jupiter, Mars), and the three inner planets (Venus,
Mercury, Moon) on both sides of the pyramid of the sun, and that
there were not more than seven circuits because the "planets are
ecliptic as a whirl is only one aspect of the famous "implex." It
must be kept in mind that being the seat of all planetary powers, it
represented, so to speak, the "Establishment" itself. There is no
better symbol of the thinking of those planet-struck Mesopotamian
civilizations than the arrogant plan of the royal cities themselves,
as it has been patiently reconstructed by generations of
Orientalists and archaeologists.
Nineveh proclaimed itself as the seat of stable order and power by
its seven-times crenellated circle of walls, colored with the seven
planetary colors, and so thick that chariots could run along the
top. The planetary symbolism spread to India, as was seen in chapter
VIII, and culminated in that prodigious cosmological diagram that is
the temple of Barabudur in Java [n17 P. Mus, Barabudur (1935).]. It
is still evident in the innumerable stupas which dot the
Indian countryside, whose superimposed crowns stand for the
planetary heavens. And here we have the Establishment seen as a Way
Up and Beyond, as Numenius would have seen immediately, the
succession of spheres of transition for the soul, a. quiet. promise
of transcendence which marks the Gnostic and Hinduistic scheme. The
skeleton map will always lack one or the other dimension. The Whirl
is then a way up or a way down? Heraclitus would say, both ways are
one and the same. You cannot put into a scheme everything at once.
general conception of the whirlpool as the "ecliptical world" does
not, of course, help to understand any single detail. Starting from
the idea of the whirlpool as a way to the other world, one must look
at the situation through the eyes of a sou1 meaning to go there. It
has to move from the interior outwards, to "ascend" from the
geocentric earth through the planetary spheres "up" to the fixed
sphere, that is, right through the whole whirlpool, the ecliptical
world. But in order to leave the ecliptical frame, there must be a
station for changing trains at the equator. One would expect this
station to be at the crossroads of ecliptical and equatorial
coordinates at the equinoxes. But evidently, this was not the
arrangement. A far older route was followed. It is true that it
sometimes looks as though the transfer point were at the equinoxes.
The astrological tradition that followed Teukros [n18 F. Boll, Sphaera (1903), pp. 19,28,47,246-51. Antiochus does not mention
any of these star groups.], for example provided a rich offering of
celestial locations for Hades, the Acherusian lake, Charon the
ferryman, etc., all of them under the chapter Libra. But this is a
trap and one can only hope that many hapless souls have not been
deceived. For these astrological texts mean the sign Libra,
not the constellation.
"change stations" are found invariably in two regions: one in the
South between Scorpius and Sagittarius, the other in the North
between Gemini and Taurus; and this is valid through time and space,
from Babylon to Nicaragua [n19 The notion is not even foreign to the
cheering adventures of Sun, the Chinese Monkey (Wou
Tch'eng Ngen, French trans. by Louis Avenal ). One day,
"harponneurs des morts"
get hold of him, claiming that he has arrived at the term of his
destiny, and is ripe for the underworld. He escapes, of course. The
translator remarks (vol. 1, p. iii) that it is the constellation Nan
Teou, the Southern Dipper, that decides everybody's death, and the
orders are executed by these
"harponneurs des morts."
The Southern Dipper consists of the stars mu lambda phi sigma tau
zeta Sagittarii (cf. G. Schlegel,
, pp. 172ff.; L. de Saussure, Les Origines de l'Astronomie
Chinoise , pp. 452f.).].
was it ever done in the first place? Because of the Galaxy, which
has its crossroads with the ecliptic between Sagittarius and
Scorpius in the South, and between Gemini and Taurus in the North.
Lactée, soeur lumineuse
blanches rivières de Canaan,
des corps blancs de nos amoureuses,
nageurs morts suivrons nous d'ahan
cours vers d'autres nébuleuses.
Chanson du Mal-Aimé
MEN's SPIRITS were thought to dwell in the Milky Way between
incarnations. This conception has been handed down as an Orphic and
Pythagorean tradition [n1 See F. Boll, Aus der Offenbarung
Johannes (1914), pp. 32, 72 (the first accepted authority has
been Herakleides of Pontos); W. Gundel, RE s.v. Galaxias;
Bouche-Leclerq, L'Astrologie Grecque
(1899), pp. 22f.; F. Cumont, After Life in Roman Paganism
(1959), pp. 94. 104. 152f.] fitting into the frame of the migration
of the soul. Macrobius, who has provided the broadest report on the
matter, has it that souls ascend by way of Capricorn, and then in
order to be reborn, descend again through the "Gate of Cancer." [n2
Commentary on the Dream of Scipio 1.12.1-8.]. Macrobius talks
of signs; the constellations rising at the solstices in his time
(and still in ours) were Gemini and Sagittarius: the "Gate of Cancer"
means Gemini. In fact, he states explicitly (l.12.5) that
this "Gate" is "where the Zodiac and the Milky Way intersect." Far
away, the Mangaians of old (Austral Islands, Polynesia), who kept
the precessional clock running instead of switching over to "signs,"
claim that only at the evening of the solstitial days can spirits
enter heaven, the inhabitants of the
northern parts of the island at one solstice, the dwellers in the
south at the other [n3 W. W. Gill, Myths and Songs from the South
Pacific (1876), pp. 1566ff., 185ff.]. This information, giving
precisely fixed dates, is more valuable than general statements to
the effect that the Polynesians regarded the Milky Way as "the road
of souls as they pass to the spirit world." [n4 E. Best, The
Astronomical Knowledge of the Maori (1955), p. 45.]. In
Polynesian myth, too, souls are not permitted to stay unless they
have reached a stage of unstained perfection, which is not likely to
occur frequently. Polynesian souls have to return into bodies again,
sooner or later [n5 Since so many earlier and recent "reporters at
large" fail to inform us of traditions concerning reincarnation, we
may mention that according to the Marquesans "all the souls of the
dead, after having lived in one or the other place (i.e., Paradise
or Hades) for a very long time, returned to animate other bodies"
(R. W. Williamson, Religious and Cosmic Beliefs of Central
Polynesia , vol. I, p. 208), which recalls the wording of
the case as we know it from book X of Plato's Republic.].
instances of relevant American Indian notions are worth mentioning
without discussion. The important thing is that the tradition is
there, more or less intact. Among the Sumo in Honduras and Nicaragua
their "Mother Scorpion. . . is regarded as dwelling at the end of
the Milky Way, where she receives the souls of the dead, and from
her, represented as a mother with many breasts, at which children
take suck, come the souls of the newborn." [n6 H. B. Alexander,
Latin American Mythology (1916), p. 185.]. Whereas the Pawnee
and Cherokee say [n7 S. Hagar, "Cherokee Star-Lore," in Festscbrift Boas (1906), p. 363; H. B. Alexander,
American Mythology, p. 117.]: "the souls of the dead are
received by a star at the northern end of the Milky Way, where it
bifurcates, and he directs the warriors upon the dim and difficult
arm, women and those who die of old age upon the brighter and easier
path. The souls then journey southwards. At the end of the celestial
pathway they are received by the Spirit Star, and there they make
their home." One can quietly add "for a while," or change it to "there
they make their camping place." Hagar takes the "Spirit Star" to be
Antares (alpha Scorpii).
Whether or not it is precisely alpha, because the star marks the
southern "end" of the Galaxy, the southern crossroads with the
ecliptic, it is at any rate a star of Sagittarius. or Scorpius [8
This is no slip of the tongue; the zodiacal Sagittarius of
Mesopotanian boundary stones had, indeed, the tail of a Scorpion:
but we just must not be drowned in the abyss of details of
comparative constellation lore, and least of all in those connected
with Sagittarius, two-faced as he is, half royal, half dog.]. That
fits "Mother Scorpion" of Nicaragua and the "Old goddess with the
scorpion tail" of the Maya as it also fits the Scorpion-goddess
Selket-Serqet of ancient Egypt and the Ishara tam.tim of the
Babylonians. Ishara of the sea, goddess of the constellation
Scorpius, was also called "Lady of the Rivers" (compare
Considering the fact that the crossroads of ecliptic and Galaxy are
crisis-resistant, that is, not concerned with the Precession, the
reader may want to know why the Mangaians thought they could go to
heaven only on the two solstitial days. Because, in order to "change
trains" comfortably, the constellations that serve as "gates" to the
Mi1ky Way must "stand" upon the "earth," meaning that they must rise
heliacally either at the equinoxes or at the solstices. The Galaxy
is a very broad highway, but even so there must have been some
bitter millennia when neither gate was directly available any longer,
the one hanging in midair, the other having turned into a submarine
Sagittarius and Gemini still mark the solstices in the closing years
of the Age of Pisces. Next comes Aquarius. The ancients, no doubt,
would have considered the troubles of these our times, like over
population, the "working iniquity in secret," as an inevitable
prelude to a new tilting, a new world-age.
the coming of Pisces was long looked forward to, heralded as a
blessed age. It was introduced by the thrice-repeated Great
Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in Pisces in the year 6 B.C., the
star of Bethlehem. Virgil announced the return of the Golden Age
under the rule of Saturn, in his famous Fourth Eclogue: "Now the
Virgin retbrns, the reign of Saturn returns, now a new generation
descends from heaven on high. Only do thou, pure Lucina, smile on
the birth If the child, under whom the iron brood shall first cease,
and a golden race spring up throughout the world!"
Although promoted to the rank of a "Christian honoris causa" on
account of this poem, Virgil was no "prophet," nor was he the only
one who expected the return of Kronos-Saturn [n9 See, for example,
A. A. Barb, "St. Zacharias the Prophet and Martyr," Journal of
the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 11 (1948), pp. 54f., and "Der
Heilige und die Schlangen," MAGW 82 (1953), p. 20.]. "lam
redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna." What does it mean?
Where has Virgo been, supposedly, so that one expected the
Aratus, in his renowned astronomical poem (95-136), told how
Themis-Virgo, who had lived among humans peacefully, retired at the
end of the Golden Age to the "hills," no longer mingling with the
silver crowd that had started to populate the earth, and that she
took up her heavenly abode near Bootes, when the Bronze Age began
[n10 Cf. Al-Biruni, dealing with the Indian ages of the world, and
quoting the above passages from Aratus with a scholion (Alberuni's
India, trans. E. C. Sachau , vol. 1, pp. 383-85).]. And
there is Virgil announcing Virgo's return. This makes it easy to
guess time and "place" of the Golden Age. One need only turn back
the clock for one quarter "hour" of the Precession (about 6,000
years from Virgil), to find Virgo standing firmly at the summer
solstitial corner of the abstract plane "earth." "Returning," that
is moving on, Virgo would indicate the autumnal equinox at the time
when Pisces took over the celestial government of the vernal equinox,
at the new crossroads.
the Precession had been discovered, the Milky Way took on a new and
decisive significance. For it was not only the most spectacular band
of heaven, it was also a reference point from which the Precession
could be imagined to have taken its start. This would have been when
the vernal equinoctial sun left its position in Gemini in the Milky
Way. When it was realized the sun had been there once, the idea
occurred that the Milky Way might mark the abandoned track of the
sun-a burnt-out area, as it were, a scar in heaven. Decisive notions
have to be styled more carefully, however: so let us say that the
Milky Way was a reference "point" from which the Precession could be
termed to have taken its start, and that the idea which occurred was
not that the Milky Way might mark the abandoned track of the sun,
but that the Milky Way was an image of an abandoned track, a formula
that offered rich possibilities for "telling" complicated celestial
this image and some additional galactic lore, it is now possible to
concentrate on the formula by which the Milky Way became the way of
the spirits of the dead, a road abandoned by the living. The
abandoned path is probably the original form of the notions
insistently built around a projected Time Zero. If the Precession
was seen as the great clock of the Universe, the sun, as it shifted
at the equinox, remained the measure of all measures, the "golden
cord," as Socrates says in Plato's Theaetetus (153C). In fact,
apart from the harmonic intervals, the sun was the only absolute
measure provided by nature. The sun must be understood to be
conducting the planetary fugues at any given moment as Plato also
showed in the Timaeus. Thus, when the sun at his counting
station moved on toward the Milky Way, the planets, too, were termed
to hunt and run this way.
does not make very sound geometrical sense, but it shows how an
image can dominate men's minds and take on a life of its own. Yet,
the technical character of these images should not be forgotten, and
it is to prevent this that the verbs "to term" and "to spell out"
are used so often instead of the customary expression "to believe."
the American Plains Indians, the Milky Way was the dusty track along
which the Buffalo and the Horse once ran a race across the sky [11
J. Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee, 19th ARBAE 1897-98 (1900),
p.443.]. For the Fiote of the African Loango Coast the race was run
by Sun and Moon [n12 E. Pechuel-Loesche, Volkskunde van Loango
(1907), p. 135.]. The East African Turu took it for the "cattle
track" of the brother of the creator [n13 S. Lagercrantz, "The Milky
Way in Africa," Ethnos (1952), p. 68.], which is very close
to the Greek legend of Herakles moving the herd of Gerion [n14 See
W. Gundel, RE s.v. Galaxias.]. The convergence of so many animal
tracks along this heavenly way is, once again, not a pointless
conjunction of fancies. The Irawak of Guyana call the Galaxy "the
is confirmed in a tale of the Chiriguano and some groups of the
Tupi-Guarani of South America. According to Lehman-Nitsche, these
people speak of the Galaxy as "the way of the true father of the
Tapir," a Tapir -deity which is itself invisible [n15 O. Zerries,
"Sternbilder als Ausdruck jagerischer Geiteshaltung in Sudamerika,"
Paideuma 5 (1951), pp.220f.]. Now, if this hidden deity turns
out to be Quetzalcouatl himself, ruler of the Golden Age town Tollan,
no other than "Tixli cumatz," the tapir-serpent dwelling in the "middle
of the sea's belly," as the Maya tribes of Yucatan describe him [n16
E. Seler, Gesammelte Abbandlungen (1961), vol. 4, p. 56], the
allusions begin to focus. Finally, the actual scheme is found in
that Cuna tradition described earlier: the Tapir chopped down the "Saltwater
Tree," at the roots of which is God's whirlpool, and when the tree
fell, saltwater gushed out to form the oceans of the world.
Should the Tapir still seem to lack the appropriate dignity, some
Asiatic testimonies should be added. The Persian Bundahishn calls
the Galaxy the "Path of Kay-us," after the grandfather and coregent
of Kai Khusrau, the Iranian Hamlet [n17 Bdh. V B 22, B. T.
Anklesaria, Zand-Akasih. Iranian or Greater Bundahishn
(1956), pp. 69, 71.]. Among the Altaic populations the Yakuts call
the Milky Way the "tracks of God," and they say that, while creating
the world, God wandered over the sky; more general in use seems to
have been the term "Ski-tracks of God's son," whereas the Voguls
spelled it out "Ski-tracks of the forest-man." And here the human
tracks fade out, although the snowshoes remain. For the Tungus the
Galaxy is "Snowshoe-tracks of the Bear." But whether the figure is
the son of God, the forest-man, or the Bear, he hunted a stag along
the Milky Way, tore it up and scattered its limbs in the sky right
and left of the white path, and so Orion and Ursa Major were
separated [n18 U. Holmberg, Die religiosen Vorstellungen der
altaischen Volker (1938), pp. 201f.]. The "Foot of the Stag"
reminded Holmberg immediately of the "Bull's Thigh" of ancient Egypt—Ursa
his penetrating insight he might easily have gone on to recognize,
in that potent thigh, the isolated "one-leg" of Texcatlipoca, Ursa
Major again, in Mexico-the day-sign "Crocodile" (Cipactli) had
bitten it off-the great Hunrakan (= 1 leg) of the Maya Quiche [n19
Going further south, he would have found there again the lining up
of Ursa and Orion and the violent tearing up of celestial figures.
Says W. E. Roth ("An Inquiry into the Animism and Folk-lore of the
Guiana Indians," 30th ARBAE 1908-09 , p. 262; cf.
Zerries, pp. 220f.) of the Indians of Guiana: "All the legends
relating to the constellations Taurus and Orion have something in
common in the detail of an amputated arm or leg." And that goes for
parts of Indonesia too. But then, Ursa Major is the thigh of a Bull,
and the zodiacal Taurus is so badly amputated, there is barely a
half of him left. More peculiar still, in later Egyptian times it
occurs, if rarely, that Ursa is made a ram's thigh (see G. A.
Wainwright, "A Pair of Constellations," in Studies Presented to F.
L. Griffith , p. 373); and on the
round zodiac of Dendera
(Roman period) we find a ram sitting on that celestial leg
representing Ursa, and it even looks back, as befits the traditional
zodiacal Aries. We must leave it at that.].
There is an insistent association here, right below the surface,
which is still revealed by the old Dutch name for the Galaxy, "Brunelstraat."
Brunei, Bruns, Bruin (the Brown) is the familiar name of the bear in
the romance of Renard the Fox, and is as ancient as anything that
can be traced [n20 The notion of the Milky Way as "Brunelstraat"
seems to be present in ancient India: the Atharva Veda
mentions a certain path or road called rikshaka. Riksha is
the bear in both senses, i.e., the animal and Ursa Major (see H.
Grassmann, Worterbuch zum Rig-Veda  s.v. Riksha).
Whitney (in his translation of AV, p.840 ) suggested rikshaka
as a road "infested by bears (?).” A. Weber, however, proposed to
identify rikshaka with the Milky Way ("Miszellen aus dem
indogermanischen Familienleben," in Festgruss Roth , p.
131). Since the whole hymn AV 18.2 contains "Funeral Verses," and
deals with the voyage of the soul, that context too would be fitting.
(That the souls have to first cross a river "rich with horses" is
another matter.)]. It is a strange lot of characters that were made
responsible for the Milky Way: gods and animals leaving the path
that had been used at "creation" time [n21 The shortest abbreviation:
the Inca called Gemini "creation time" (Hagar, in 14th
International Amerikanisten-Kongress , p. 599f.). But the
very same notion is alluded to, when Castor and Pollux (alpha beta
Geminorum) are made responsible for the first fire sticks, by the
Aztecs (Sahagún) and, strange to say, by the Tasmanians. (See below,
chapter XXIII, "Gilgamesh and Prometheus.")]. But where did they go,
the ones mentioned, and the many whom we have left out of
consideration? It depends, so to speak, from where they took off.
This is often hard to determine, but the subject of "tumbling down"
will be dealt with next.
for Virgo, who had left the "earth" at the end of the Golden Age,
her whereabouts in the Silver Age could have been described as being
"in mid-air." Many iniquitous characters were banished to this topos;
either they were thrown down, or they were sent up—Lilith dwelt
there for a while, and King David [n22 See J. A. Eisenmenger, Entdecktes Judenthem (1711), vol. I, p. 165; vol. 2, pp.417ff.],
also Adonis [n23 "Es ton eera," see F. K. Movers, Die Phonizier
(1967), vol. I, p. 205.], even the Tower of Babel itself, and
first of all the Wild Hunter (appendix
assembly of figures "in mid-air" helps to give meaning to an
otherwise pointless tale, a veritable fossil found in Westphalian
folklore: "The Giants called to Hackelberg [= Odin as the Wild
Hunter] for help. He raised a storm and removed a mill into the
Milky Way, which after this is called the Mill Way." [n24 J. Grimm,
TM, pp. 1587f.]. There are other fossils, too, the wildest perhaps
being that of the Cherokee who called the Galaxy "Where the dog
ran." A very unusual dog it must have been, being in the habit of
stealing meal from a corn mill owned by "people in the South" and
running with it to the North; the dog dropped meal as he ran and
that is the Milky Way [n25 Mooney, pp. 253, 443.]. It is difficult
here to recognize Isis scattering ears of wheat in her flight from
Typhon [n26 See R. H. Allen, Star Names (1963), p. 481; W. T.
Olcott, Star Lore of All Ages (1911), p. 393.]. And yet, the
preference of the very many mythical dogs, foxes, coyotes—and even
of the "way-opening" Fenek in West Sudan—for meal and all sorts of
grain—more correctly "the eight kinds of grain" –a trait which is
hardly learned by eavesdropping on Mother Nature, could have warned
the experts to beware of these doggish characters. They are not to
be taken at their pseudo-zoological face value.
everybody and everything has left the course, Wild Hunter, dog and
mill—at least its upper half, since through the hole in the lower
millstone the whirlpool is seething up and down.
volte il fe' girar con tutte l'acque
quarta voltar la poppa in suso
prora ire in giu, com'altrui piacque
Infin che'l mar fu sopra noi richiuso.
DANTE KEPT to the tradition of the whirlpool as a significant end
for great figures, even if here it comes ordained by Providence.
Ulysses has sailed in his "mad venture" beyond the limits of the
world, and once he has crossed the ocean he sees a mountain looming
far away, "hazy with the distance, and so high I had never seen any."
It is the Mount of Purgatory, forbidden to mortals.
rejoiced, and soon it turned to tears, for from the new land a whirl
was born, which smote our ship from the side. Three times it caused
it to revolve with all the waters, on the fourth to lift its stern
on high, and the prow to go down, as Someone willed, until the sea
had closed over us." The "many thoughted" Ulysses is on his way to
immortality, even if it has to be Hell.
engulfing whirlpool belongs to the stock-in-trade of ancient fable.
It appears in the Odyssey as Charybdis in the straits of Messina-and
again, in other cultures, in the Indian Ocean and in the Pacific. It
is. found there too, curiously enough, with the overhanging fig tree
to whose boughs the hero can cling as the ship goes down, whether it
be Satyavrata in India, or Kae in Tonga. Like Sindbad's magnetic
mountain, it goes on in mariners' yarns through the centuries. But
the persistence of detail rules out free invention. Such stories
have belonged to the cosmographical literature since antiquity.
Medieval writers, and after them Athanasius Kircher, located the
gurges mirabilis, the wondrous eddy, somewhere off the coast of
Norway, or of Great Britain. It was the Maelstrom, plus probably a
memory of Pentland Firth [n1 See for Ireland, W. Stokes, "The Prose
Tales in the Rennes Dindsenchas," RC 16 (1895), no. 145: "A great
whirlpool there is between Ireland and Scotland on the North. It is
the meeting of many seas [from NSEW]-it resembles an open caldron
which casts the draught down [and] up, and its roaring is heard like
far off thunder. . ."]. It was generally in the direction
north-northwest, just as Saturn's island, Ogygia, had been vaguely
placed "beyond" the British Isles by the Greeks.
further search this juxtaposition seems to be the result of the
usual confusion between uranography and geography. There is
frequently a "gap" in the northwest ("Nine-Yin" for the Chinese) of
the heavens and inasmuch as the skeleton map of earth was derived
from that of the sky, the gap was pinned down here as the Maelstrom,
or Ogygia. Both notions are far from obvious, as are the
localizations, and it is even more remarkable that they should be
the Norse (see chapter VI) the whirlpool came into being from the
unhinging of the Grotte Mill: the Maelstrom comes of the hole in the
sunken millstone. This comes from Snorri. The older verses by
Snaebjorn which described Hamlet's Mill stated that the nine maids
of the island mill who in past ages ground Amlodhi's meal now drive
a "host-cruel skerry-quern." That this skerry-quern means the
whirlpool, and not simply the northern ocean, is backed up through
some more lines which Gollancz ascribes to Snaebjorn; not that they
were of crystal clarity, but again mill and whirlpool are connected:
island-mill pours out the blood of the flood goddess's sisters [i.e.,
the waves of the sea], so that [it] bursts from the feller of the
land: whirlpool begins strong [n21. Gollancz, Hamlet in Iceland
(1898), pp. xvii.].
localization is indicated here, whereas the Finns point to
directions which are less vague than they sound. Their statement
that the Sampo has three roots-one in heaven, one in the earth, the
third in the water eddy-has a definite meaning, as will be shown.
then also, Vainamoinen driving with his copper boat into the "maw of
the Maelstrom" is said to sail to "the depths of the sea," to the "lowest
bowels of the earth," to the "lowest regions of the heavens." Earth
and heaven-a significant contraposition. As concerns the whereabouts
of the whirlpool, one reads:
the gates of Pohjola,
the threshold of color-covered Pohjola,
the pines roll with their roots,
pines fall crown first into the gullet of the whirlpool.
M. Haavio, Vainamoinen, Eternal Sage (1952), pp. 191-98.]
in Teutonic tradition, one finds in Adam of Bremen (11th
Frisian noblemen made a voyage past Norway up to the farthest limits of
the Arctic Ocean, got into a darkness which the eyes can scarcely
penetrate, were exposed to a maelstroem which threatened to drag them
down to Chaos, but finally came quite unexpectedly out of darkness and
cold to an island which, surrounded as by a wall of high rocks, contains
subterranean caverns, wherein giants lie concealed. At the entrances of
the underground dwellings lay a great number of tubs and vessels of gold
and other metals which "to mortals seem rare and valuable." As much as
the adventurers could carry of these treasures they took with them and
hastened to their ships. But the giants, represented by great dogs,
rushed after them. One of the Frisians was overtaken and torn into
pieces before the eyes of the others. The others succeeded, thanks to
our Lord and Saint Willehad, in getting safely on board their ships.
V. Rydberg, Teutonic Mythology (1907), p. 320.]
Latin text (Rydberg, p. 422) uses the classical familiar name of
Euripus. The Euripus, which has already come up in the Phaedo,
was really a channel between Euboea and the mainland, in which the
conflict of tides reverses the current as much as seven times a day,
with ensuing dangerous eddies-actually a case of standing waves
rather than a true whirl [n5 We meet the name again at a rather
unexpected place, in the Roman circus or hippodrome, as we know from
J. Laurentius Lydus (De Mensibus 1.12.), who states that the
center of the circus was called Euripos; that in the middle of the
stadium was a pyramid, belonging to the Sun; that by the Sun's
pyramid were three altars, of Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and below the
pyramid, altars of Venus, Mercury and the Moon, and that there were
not more than seven circuits (kykloi) around the pyramid,
because the planets were only seven. (See also F. M. Cornford's
chapter on the origin of the Olympic games in J. Harrison's Themis (1962), 228; G. Higgins'
Anacalypsis (1927), vol.
2, pp. 377ff.) This brings to mind (although not called Euripus,
obviously, but "the god's place of skulls") the Central American
Ball Court which had a round hole in its center, termed by Tezozomoc
"the enigmatic significance of the ball court," and from this hole a
lake spread out before Uitzilopochtli was born. See W. Krickeberg,
"Der mittelamerikanische Ballspielplatz und seine religiose
Symbolik," Paideuma 3 (1948). pp. 135ff., 155, 162.].
the unstable Euripus of the Ocean, which flows back to the beginnings of
its mysterious source, dragged with irresistible force the unhappy
sailors, thinking by now only of death, towards Chaos. This is said to
be the maw of the abyss, that unknown depth in which, it is understood,
the ebb and flow of the whole sea is absorbed and then thrown up again,
which is the cause of the tide.
is reflection of what had been a popular idea of antiquity. But here
comes a version of the same story in North America [n6 J. Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee (1900), p. 340.]. It concerns the canoe
adventure of two Cherokees at the mouth of Suck Creek. One of them
was seized by a fish, and never seen again. The other was taken
round and round to the very lowest center of the whirlpool, when
another circle caught him and bore him outward. He told afterwards
that when he reached the narrowest circle of the maelstroem the
water seemed to open below and he could look down as through the
roof beam of a house, and there on the bottom of the river he had
seen a great company, who looked up and beckoned to him to join them,
but as they put up their hands to seize him the swift current caught
him and took him out of their reach.
is almost as if the Cherokees have retained the better memory, when
they talk of foreign regions, inhabited by "a great company"—which
might equally well be the dead, or giants with their dogs—there,
where in "the narrowest circle of the maelstroem the water seemed to
open below." It will be interesting to see whether or not this
impression is justifiable [n7 See illustrations (p.60) showing Mount
Meru in the shape or an hourglass.].
Snorri, who has preserved the Song of Grotte for us, does not
actually name the whirlpool in it, but there is only one at hand,
namely the “Hvergelmer" in Hel’s abode of the dead, from and to
which all waters find their way." [n8 Grimnisma126; cf.
Snorri, Gylf. 15.]. Says Rydberg:
appears that the mythology conceived Hvergelmer as a vast reservoir, the
mother fountain of all the waters of the world. In the front rank are
mentioned a number of subterranean rivers which rise in Hvergelmer, and
seek their courses thence in various directions. But the waters of earth
and heaven also come from this immense fountain, and after completing
their circuits they return thither.
about Hvergelmer and its subterranean connection with the ocean gave our
ancestors the explanation of ebb and flood tide. High up in the northern
channels the bottom of the ocean opened itself in a hollow tunnel, which
led down to the "kettle-roarer," "the one roaring in his basin" (hverr=kettle;
galm=Anglo-Saxon gealm= a roaring). When the waters of the ocean poured
through this tunnel down into the Hades-well there was ebb-tide, when it
returned water from its superabundance then was flood-tide.
the death-kingdom and the ocean there was, therefore, one connecting
link, perhaps several. Most of the people who drowned did not remain
with Ran, Aegir's wife, Ran, received them hospitably, according to the
Icelandic sagas of the middle ages. She had a hall in the bottom of the
sea, where they were welcomed and offered . . . seat and bed. Her realm
was only an ante-chamber to the realms of death.
Rydberg, pp. 414, 421f. Cf. the notions about the nun Saint
Gertrude, patron of travelers, particularly on sea voyages, who
acted also as patron saint of inns "and finally it was claimed that
she was the hostess of a public house, where the souls spent the
first night after death" (M. Hako; Das Wiesel in der europaischen
Volksuberlieferung, FFC 167 , p. 119).].
There are several features of the Phaedo here, but they will turn up
again in Gilgamesh. This is not to deny that Hvergelmer, and other
whirlpools, explain the tides, as indicated previously. (Perhaps it
will be possible to find out what tides "mean" on the celestial
level.) But it is clear that the Maelstrom as the cause of the tides
does not account for the surrounding features, not even for the few
mentioned by Rydberg—for instance, the wife of the Sea-god Aegir who
receives kindly the souls of drowned seafarers in her antechamber at
the bottom of the sea—nor the circumstance that the Frisian
adventurers, sucked into the Maelstrom, suddenly find themselves on
a bright island filled with gold, where giants lie concealed in the
island begins to look very much like Ogygia I, where Kronos/Saturn
sleeps in a golden mountain cave, whereas the reception hall of
Ran—her husband Aegir was famous for his beer brewing, and his hall
it was, where Loke offended all his fellow gods as reported in the
Lokasenna—would suggest rather Ogygia II, the island of Calypso,
sister of Prometheus, called Omphalos Thalasses, the Navel of
the Sea. Calypso as the daughter of Atlas, "who knew the depths of
the whole sea." She, Calypso, has been authoritatively compared [n10
See chapter XXII, ."The Adventure and the Quest."] to the divine
barmaid Siduri, who dwells by the deep sea and will be found later
on in the tale of Gilgamesh.
Mythology, meaning proper poetic fable, has been of great assistance
but it can help no further. The golden island of Kronos, the
tree-girt island of Calypso, remain unlocatable, notwithstanding the
efforts of Homeric scholars. Through careful analysis of
navigational data, one of them (Berard) has placed Calypso in the
island of Perejil near Gibraltar, another (Bradfield) in Malta,
others even off Africa. Presumably it should not be too far from
Sicily, since Ulysses reaches it riding on the mast of his ship,
right after having escaped from Charybdis in the strait of Messina,
in the setting that Homer describes so plausibly. It appears
throughout time in many places [n11 The last learned attempt to
locate it—by H. H. and A. Wolf, Der Weg des Odysseus (1968)—proves
as illusionistic as the previous ones.]. Some data in Homer look
like exact geography, as Circe's Island with its temple of Feronia,
or the Land of the Laistrygones, which should be the bay of
Bonifacio. But most elements from past myth, like Charybdis or the
Planktai, are illusionistic. They throw the whole geography into a
cocked hat, as do the Argonauts themselves.
Without trying to fathom Ogygia, or Ogygos, the adjective "Ogygian"—which
has been used as a label for the Waters of Styx—has also assumed the
connotation of "antediluvian." As for Hvergelmer, "roaring kettle,"
it is the "navel of the waters" but it is certainly "way down," as
is the strange "Bierstube" of Aegir.
when it is found, as it soon will be, that Utnapishtim (the builder
of the Ark, who can be reached only by the road leading through the
bar of the divine Siduri and hence also, one would say, through the
inn of beer-brewing Aegir) lives forever at the "confluence of the
rivers," this might have charmed Socrates with his idea of
confluences, but it will not make things much clearer.
there are some footholds to climb back from the abyss. It is known (chapter
XII) that Socrates and the poets really referred to heaven "seen
from the other side."
has been shown that the way through the "navel of the waters" was
taken by Vainamoinen, and we shall see (chapter XIX) that the same
goes for Kronos-Phaethon, and other powerful personalities as well,
who reached the Land of Sleep where time has ceased. One can
anticipate that the meaning will be ultimately astronomical. Hence,
backing out of fable, one can turn again for assistance to the Royal
there is a whirlpool in the sky is well known; it is most probably
the essential one, and it is precisely placed. It is a group of
stars so named (zalos) at the foot of Orion, close to Rigel (beta
Orionis, Rigel being the Arabic word for "foot"), the degree of
which was called "death," according to Hermes Trismegistos [n12
Vocatur mors. W. Gundel, Neue Astrologische Texte des Hermes
Trismegistos (1936), pp. 196f., 216f.], whereas the Maori claim
outright that Rigel marked the way to Hades (Castor indicating the
primordial homeland). Antiochus the astrologer enumerates the whirl
among the stars rising with Taurus. Franz Boll takes sharp exception
to the adequacy of his description, but he concludes that the zalos
must, indeed, be Eridanus "which flows from the foot of
Orion." [n13 Sphaera (1903), pp. 57,164-67.]. Now Eridanus,
the watery grave of Phaethon—Athanasius Kircher's star map of the
southern hemisphere still shows Phaethon's mortal frame lying in the
streamwas seen as a starry river leading to the other world. The
initial frame stands, this time traced in the sky. And here comes a
crucial confirmation. That mysterious place, pi narati,
literally the "mouth of the rivers," meaning, however, the "confluence"
of the rivers, was traditionally identified by the Babylonians with
the archaeological site of Eridu is nowhere near the confluence of
the Two Rivers of Mesopotamia. It is between the Tigris and
Euphrates, which flow separately into the Red Sea, and placed rather
high up. The proposed explanation, that it was the expanding of
alluvial land which removed Eridu from the joint "mouth" of the
rivers, did not contribute much to an understanding of the mythical
topos of pi narati, and some perplexed philologist supposed
in despair that those same archaic people who had built up such
impressive waterworks had never known which way the waters flow and
had believed, instead, that the two rivers had their source in the
particular predicament was solved by W. F. Albright, who exchanged "mouth"
and "source" [n14 "The Mouth of the Rivers," AJSL
pp. 161-95.]; he left us stranded "high and dry"—a very typical
mythical situation, by the way in the Armenian mountains around the
"source." And though he stressed, rightly, that Eridu-pi narati
could not mean geography, he banished it straightaway into the
interior of the planet.
"source" is as unrevealing as the "mouth" has been, and as every
geographical localization is condemned to be Eridu, Sumerian
mulNUNki is Canopus, alpha Carinae, the bright star near the South
Pole, as has been established irrefragably by B. L. van der Waerden
[n15 "The Thirty-six Stars," JNES 8 (1949), p. 14. "The
bright southern star Canopus was Ea's town Eridu (NUNki dE-a)."], a
distinguished contemporary historian of astronomy. That one or
another part of Argo was meant had been calculated previously [n16
See P. F. Gassmann, Planetarium Babylonicum (1950), 306.].
And that, finally, made sense of the imposing configuration of myths
around Canopus on the one hand, and of the preponderance of the "confluence
of the rivers" on the other hand. This unique topos will be dealt
point still remains a problem. The way of the dead to the other
world had been thought to be the Milky Way, and that since the
oldest days of high civilization. This image was still alive with
the Pythagoreans. When and how did Eridanus come in?
reasonable supposition is that this was connected with the observed
shifting of the equinoctial colure17 due to the Precession. But the
analysis of this intricate problem of rivers will come in the
chapter on the Galaxy [n17 The equinoctial colure is the great
circle which passes through the celestial poles and the equinoctial
points: the solstitial colure runs through both the celestial and
ecliptic poles and through the solstitial points. Macrobius has it,
strange to say, that "they are not believed to extend to the South
Pole," whence kolouros, meaning "dock-tailed," "which are so
called because they do not make complete circles" (Comm. Somn.
Scip. 1.15.14). The translator, W. H. Stahl (p. 151), refers,
among others, to Geminus 5.49-50. Geminus, however (5-49, Manitius,
pp. 6061), does not claim such obvious nonsense; he states the
following: "Kolouroi they are called, because certain of
their parts are not visible (dia to mere tina auton
atheoreta ginesthai). Whereas the other circles become visible
in their whole extension with the revolution of the cosmos, certain
parts of the Colures remain invisible, 'docked' by the antarctical
circle below the horizon."].
thing meanwhile stands firm: the real, the original, way from the
whirlpool lies in heaven. With this finding, one may plunge again
into the bewildering jungle of "earthly" myths concerning the Waters
from the Deep.
The Waters from the Deep
glacier knocks in the cupboard,
desert sighs in the bed,
the crack in the tea cup opens
lane to the land of the dead.
H. AUDEN, "As I Walked
Out One Evening"
THERE IS A TRADITION from Borneo of a "Whirlpool island" with a tree
that allows a man to climb up into heaven and bring back useful
seeds from the "land of the Pleiades." [n1 A. Maass, "Sternkunde und
Sterndeuterei im Malaiischen Archipel" (1924), in Tijdschrift
lndische Taal-, Land, en Volkenkunde 64, p. 388.]. The
Polynesians have not made up their mind, apparently, concerning the
exact localization of their whirlpool which serves in most cases as
entrance to the abode of the dead; it is supposed to be found "at
the end of the sky," and "at the edge of the Milky Way." [n2 M. W.
Makemson (The Morning Star Rises: An Account of Polynesian
Astronomy , no. 160) suggests Sagittarius. For Samoa, see
A. Kraemer, Die Samoa-Inseln (1902), vol. I, p. 369. For
Mangaia, see P. Bue, Mangaian Society (1934), p. 198; and R.
W. Williamson, Religious and Cosmic Beliefs of Central Polynesia
(1924), vol. 2, p. 251.].
this side of the Atlantic the Cuna Indians also knew the basic
scheme [n3 C. E. Keeler, Secrets of the Cuna Earthmother
(1960), pp. 67ff., 78f.], although they, too, failed to give the
accepted localization: "God's very own whirlpool" (tiolele piria)
was right beneath the Palluwalla tree, "Saltwater-Tree," and when
the Sun-God, or the Tapir, a slightly disguised Quetzalcouatl,
chopped down the tree, saltwater gushed forth to form the oceans of
There are three elements here, which combine into a curious tangle:
(a) the whirlpool represents, or is, the connection of the world of
the living with the world of the dead; (b) a tree grows close to it,
frequently a life-giving or -saving tree; (c) the whirl came into
being because a tree was chopped down or uprooted, or a mill's axle
unhinged, and the like. This basic scheme works into many variants
and features in many parts of the world, and it provides a very real
paradox or conundrum: it is as if the particular waters hidden below
tree, pillar, or mill's axle waited only for the moment when someone
should remove that plug-tree, pillar, or mill's axle-to play tricks.
is no newfangled notion. Alfred Jeremias remarks casually, "The
opening of the navel brings the deluge. When David wanted to remove
the navel stone in Jerusalem, a flood was going to start [see below,
p. 220]. In Hierapolis in Syria the altar of Xisuthros [=
Utnapishtim] was shown in the cave where the flood dried up." [n4
HAOG, p. 156, n. 7 ("wo die Flut versiegte").].
pattern reveals itself in the Indonesian Rama epic [n5 W.
Stutterheim, Rama-Legenden und Rama-Reliefs in Indonesien
(1925), p. 54.]. When Rama is building the huge dike to Lanka
(Ceylon) the helpful monkeys throw mountain after mountain into the
sea, but all of them vanish promptly. Enraged, Rama is going to
shoot his magic arrow into the unobliging sea, when there arises a
lady from the waters who warns him that right here was a hole in the
ocean leading to the underworld, and who informs him that the water
in that hole was called Water of Life.
would seem to have won out with his threat since the dike was built.
But the same story comes back in Greece when Herakles crosses the
sea in order to steal the cattle of Geryon. Okeanos, represented
here as a god, works up the waters into a tumult which are the
waters of the original flood; Herakles threatens with his drawn bow,
and calm is re-established.
Neither whirlpool nor confluence are mentioned in these cases, but
they clearly extend to them. This gives great importance to the
Catlo'ltq story from the American Northwest that is paradigmatic. (see
chapter XXII) of the maiden who shoots her arrow into the
of the waters which was a vast Whirlpool" thus winning fire. Some
very fundamental idea must be lurking behind the story, and a pretty
old one, since it was said of Ishtar that it is "she who stirs up
the apsu before Ea." [n6 "Descent of Ishtar to the Nether World,"
obv. l. 27, ANAT, p. 107; see also W. F. Albright, "The Mouth of the
Rivers," AJSL 35 (1919), p. 184.].
strange pastime for the heavenly queen, but it seems to have been a
rather celestial sport. The eighth Yasht of the Avesta [n7 Yasht 8.6
and 8.37 (H. Lommel, Die Yashts des Awesta ).],
dedicated to Sirius-Tishtriya, says of this star: "We worship the
splendid, brilliant Tishtriya, which soars rapidly to Lake Vurukasha,
like the arrow quick-as-lightning, which Urxsa the archer, the best
archer among the Aryans, shot from Mount Aryioxsutha to Mount
Huvanvant." [n8 See for the feat of this unpronounceable archer (Rkhsha)
the report given by Al-Biruni, who spells him simply Arish (The
Chronology of Ancient Nations, trans. E. Sachau , p. 205).
The background of the tale: Afrasiyab had promised to restore to
Minocihr a part of Eranshar (which had been conquered by him) as
long and as broad as an arrow shot. Arish shot the arrow on the 13th
day of the month Tir-Mah, after having announced: "I know that when
I shoot with this bow and arrow I shall fall to pieces and my life
will be gone." Accordingly, when he shot, he "fell asunder into
pieces. By order of God the wind bore the arrow away from the
mountain of Ruyan and brought it to the utmost frontier of Khurasan
between Farghana and Tabaristan; there it hit the trunk of a
nut-tree that was so large that there had never been a tree like it
in the world. The distance between the place where the arrow was
shot and that where it fell was 1,000 Farsakh." (See also S. H.
Taqizadeh, Old Iranian Calendars , p. 44,) Tir or Ira
is the name for Mercury (see T. Hyde, Veterum Persarum et Parthorum
Religionis historia , p. 24: "Tir, i.e., Sagitta. . ., quo
etiam nomine appellatur Mercurius Planeta propter velociorem motum"),
but it is also, along with Tishtriya, the name for Sirius (see A.
Scherer, Gestirnnamen bei den indogermanischen Volker , pp.
113f.), and the 13th day of every month is dedicated to
Sirius-Tishriya (see Lommel, p. 5). We must leave it at that:
Sirius-the-arrow has made more mythical "noise" than any other star,
and also its connection with the ominous number 13 appears to be no
Iranian monopoly.]. And what does Sirius do to this sea? It causes
"Lake Vurukasha to surge up, to flood asunder, to spread out; at all
shores surges Lake Vurukasha, the whole center surges up" (Yt. 8.31;
see also 5.4). Whereas Pliny [n9 9.58. cf. Aristotle, Historia
Animalium 8.15.599B-600.] wants to assure us that "the whole sea
is conscious of the rise of that star, as is most clearly seen in
the Dardanelles, for sea-weed and fishes float on the surface, and
everything is turned up from the bottom."
also remarks that at the rising of the Dog-Star the wine in the
cellars begins to stir up and that the still waters move (2.107)—and
the Avesta offers as explanation (Yt. 8.41) that it is Tishtriya,
indeed, "by whom count the waters, the still and the flowing ones,
those in springs and in rivers, those in channels and in ponds."
[n10 Trans. E. Herzfeld, Zoroaster and His World (1947), p.
is, however, no Iranian invention: the ritual text of the Babylonian
New Year addresses Sirius as "mul.KAK.SI.DI. who measures the depth
of the Sea." mul is the prefix announcing the star, KAK.SI.DI means
"arrow," and it is this particular arrow which is behind most of the
bewildering tales of archery. The bow from which it is sent on its
way is a constellation, built from stars of Argo and Canis Major,
which is common to the spheres of Mesopotamia, Egypt and China [n11
There is strong circumstantial evidence of this bow and arrow in
Mexico also: the bow of the Chichimeca, the Dog-people.]. And since
the name Ishtar is shared by both Venus and Sirius, one may guess
who "stirs up the apsu before Ea."
here is what the "fire" accomplished, according to a Finnish rune of
origin [n12 K. Krohn, Magische Ursprungsrunen der Finnen
(1924), pp. 115ff. See also F. Ohrt, The Spark in tbe Water
(1926), pp. 3f.], after it had been "cradled. . . over there on the
navel of the sky, on the peak of the famous mountain," when it
rushed straightaway through seven or nine skies and fell into the
sea: "The spark. . . rolled. . . to the bottom of Lake Aloe, roaring
it rushed to the bottom of the sea, down into the narrow depression
(?). This Lake Aloe then, thrice in the summernight, rose foaming to
the height of its firs, driven in fury beyond its banks. Thereupon
again Lake Aloe thrice in the summernight dried up its waters to the
bottom, its perch on the rocks, its pope [small fishes] on the
violent spark this seems to have been; yet—is it not also said of
the old Sage: "Vainamoinen in the mouth of the whirlpool boils like
fire in water" [n13 M. Haavio, Vainamoinen, Eternal Sage (1952), p. 196.]? Which goes to show that mythical "fire" means more
than meets the eye.
Actually, the enigmatical events in "Lake Aloe" cannot be severed
from those occurring in lake Vurukasha and the coming into being of
the "three outlets," the first of which had the name Hausravahf/Kai
Khusrau (see chapter XIII, "Of Time and the Rivers," p. 201).
Before we move on to many motifs which will be shown as related to
the same "eddy-field" or whirl, it is appropriate to quote in full a
version of the fire and water story from the Indians of Guyana. This
not only provides charming variations, but presents that rarest of
deities, a creator power neither conceited nor touchy nor jealous
nor quarrelsome nor eager to slap down unfortunates with "inborn sin,"
but a god aware that his powers are not really unlimited. He behaves
modestly, sensibly and thoughtfully and is rewarded with heartfelt
cooperation from his creatures, at least from all except for the
usual lone exception.
Ackawois of British Guiana say that in the beginning of the world the
great spirit Makonaima [or Makunaima; he is a twin-hero; the other is
called Pia] created birds and beasts and set his son Sigu to rule over
them. Moreover, he caused to spring from the earth a great and very
wonderful tree, which bore a different kind of fruit on each of its
branches, while round its trunk bananas, plantains, cassava, maize, and
corn of all kinds grew in profusion; yams, too, clustered round its
roots; and in short all the plants now cultivated on earth flourished in
the greatest abundance on or about or under that marvelous tree.
the benefits of the tree all over the world, Sigu resolved to cut it
down and plant slips and seeds of it everywhere, and this he did with
the help of all the beasts and birds, all except the brown monkey, who,
being both lazy and mischievous, refused to assist in the great work of
transplantation. So to keep him out of mischief Sigu set the animal to
fetch water from the stream in a basket of open-work, calculating that
the task would occupy his misdirected energies for some time to come.
meantime, proceeding with the labour of felling the miraculous tree, he
discovered that the stump was hollow and full of water in which the fry
of every sort of fresh-water fish was swimming about. The benevolent
Sigu determined to stock all the rivers and lakes on earth with the fry
on so liberal a scale that every sort of fish should swarm in every
generous intention was unexpectedly frustrated. For the water in the
cavity, being connected with the great reservoir somewhere in the bowels
of the earth, began to overflow; and to arrest the rising flood Sigu
covered the stump with a closely woven basket. This had the desired
effect. But unfortunately the brown monkey, tired of his fruitless task,
stealthily returned, and his curiosity being aroused by the sight of the
basket turned upside down, he imagined that it must conceal something
good to eat. So he cautiously lifted it and peeped beneath, and out
poured the flood, sweeping the monkey himself away and inundating the
whole land. Gathering the rest of the animals together Sigu led them to
the highest points of the country, where grew some tall coconut-palms.
Up the tallest trees he caused the birds and climbing animals to ascend;
and as for the animals that could not climb and were not amphibious, he
shut them in a cave with a very narrow entrance, and having sealed up
the mouth of it with wax he gave the animals inside a long thorn with
which to pierce the wax and so ascertain when the water had subsided.
After taking these measures for the preservation of the more helpless
species, he and the rest of the creatures climbed up the palm-tree and
ensconced themselves among the branches.
the darkness and storm which followed, they all suffered intensely from
cold and hunger; the rest bore their sufferings with stoical fortitude,
but the red howling monkey uttered his anguish in such horrible yells
that his throat swelled and has remained distended ever since; that, too,
is the reason why to this day he has a sort of bony drum in his throat.
Meanwhile Sigu from time to time let fall seeds of the palm into the
water to judge of its depth by the splash. As the water sank, the
interval between the dropping of the seed and the splash in the water
grew longer; and at last, instead of a splash the listening Sigu heard
the dull thud of the seeds striking the soft earth. Then he knew that
the flood had subsided, and he and the animals prepared to descend. But
the trumpeter-bird was in such a hurry to get down that he flopped
straight into an ant's nest, and the hungry insects fastened on his legs
and gnawed them to the bone. That is why the trumpeterbird has still
such spindle shanks. The other creatures profited by this awful example
and came down the tree cautiously and safely.
rubbed two pieces of wood together to make fire,
but just as he produced the first spark, he happened to look away, and
the bush-turkey, mistaking the spark for a fire-fly, gobbled it up and
flew off. The spark burned the greedy bird's gullet, and that is why
turkeys have red wattles on their throats to this day
alligator was standing by at the time, doing no harm to anybody; but as
he was for some reason an unpopular character, all the other animals
accused him of having stolen and swallowed the spark. In order to
recover the spark from the jaws of the alligator Sigu tore out the
animal's tongue, and that is why alligators have no tongue to speak of
down to this very day [n14 W. H. Brett, The Indian Tribes of Guiana
(1868), pp. 37-84; Sir Everard F. im Thurn, Among the Indians of
Guiana (1883), pp. 379-81 (quoted in J. G. Frazer, Folklore in
the Old Testament , vol. I, p. 265). The italics are ours.]
There are many more stories over the world of a plug whose removal
causes the flood: with the Agaria, an iron smith tribe of Central
India, it is the breaking of a nail of iron whch causes their Golden
Age town of Lohripur to be flooded [n15 V. Elwin, The Agaria
(1942), pp. 96ff.]. According to the Mongolians, the Pole star is "a
pillar from the firm standing of which depends the correct revolving
of the world, or a stone which closes an opening: if the stone is
pulled out, water pours out of the opening to submerge the earth."
[n16 G. M. Potanin, quoted by W. Ludtke, "Die Verehrung
Tschingis-Chans bei den Ordos-Mongolen," ARW 25 (1927), p. 115.]. In
the Babylonian myth of Utnapishtim," Nergal [the God of the
Underworld] tears out the posts; forth comes Ninurta and causes the
dikes to follow" (GE 11.101 f.). But the new thing to be faced is
the appearance of the Ark in the flood, Noah's or another's.
first ark was built by Utnapishtim in the Sumerian myth; one learns
in different ways that it was a cube-a modest one, measuring 60 x 60
x 60 fathoms, which represents the unit in the sexagesimal system
where 60 is written as 1. In another version, there is no ark, just
a cubic stone, upon which rests a pillar which reaches from earth to
heaven. The stone, cubic or not, is lying under a cedar, or an oak,
ready to let loose a flood, without obvious reasons.
Confusing as it is, this seems to provide the new theme. In Jewish
legends, it is told that "since the ark disappeared there was a
stone in its place. . . which was called foundation stone." It was
called foundation stone "because from it the world was founded [or
started]." And it is said to lie above the Waters that are below the
Holy of Holies.
might look like a dream sequence, but it is buttressed by a very
substantial tradition, taken up by the Jews but to be found also in
Finno-Ugrian tradition [n17 L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews
(1954), vol. 4, p. 96; cf. also vol. 1, p. 12; vol. 5, p. 14. We
are indebted to Irvin N. Asher for the quotation, as well as for the
ones from Jastrow that follow. Cf. V. J. Mansikka, "Der blaue
Stein," FUF 11 (1911), p. 2.]. The Jewish story then goes on:
David was digging the foundations of the Temple, a shard was found at a
depth of 1500 cubits. David was about to lift it when the shard
exclaimed: "Thou canst not do it." "Why not?" asked David. "Because I
rest upon the abyss." "Since when?" "Since the hour in which the voice
of God was heard to utter the words from Sinai, 'I am the Lord, your God,'
causing the world to quake and sink into the Abyss. I lie here to cover
up the Abyss."
Nevertheless David lifted the shard, and the waters of the Abyss rose
and threatened to flood the earth. Ahithophel was standing by and he
thought to himself: "Now David shall meet with his death and I shall be
king." Just then David said: "Whoever knows how to stem the tide of
waters and fails to do it, will one day throttle himself."
Thereupon Ahithophel had the name of God inscribed upon the shard, and
the shard thrown into the Abyss. The waters at once commenced to subside,
but they sank to so great a depth that David feared the earth might lose
her moisture, and he began to sing the fifteen "Songs of Ascents," to
bring the waters up again.
foundation stone here has become a shard and its name in tradition
is Eben Shetiyyah, which is derived from a verb of many meanings [18
The verb is shatan; the meanings are given in Jastrow's
dictionary.]: "to be settled, satisfied; to drink; to fix the warp,
to lay the foundations of," among which "to fix the warp" is the
most revealing, and a reminder of the continuing importance of "frames."
Within that "frame" there is a surging up and down of the waters
below (as in the Phaedo myth) which suggests catastrophes
unrecorded by history but indicated only by the highly colored
terminology of cosmologists. Had they only known of a Cardan
suspension, the world might have been conceived as more stable.
Hildegard Lewy's researches [n19 "Origin and Significance of the
Magen Dawid," Archiv Orientalni 18 (1950), Pt. 3, pp. 344ff.]
on Eben Shetiyyah brought up a passage in the Annals of
Assur-nasir-apli in which the new temple of Ninurta at Kalhu is
described as founded at the depth of 120 layers of bricks down "to
the level of the waters," or, down to the water table.
comes back to the waters of the deep in their natural setting. But
what people saw in them is something else again. If David and the
Assyrian king dug down to subsoil water, so did the builders of the
Ka'aba in Mecca. In the interior of that most holy of all shrines
there is a well, across the opening of which had been placed, in
pre-Islamic times, the statue of the god Hubal. Al-Biruni says that
in the early Islamic period this was a real well, where pilgrims
could quench their thirst at least at the time of the Arab
pilgrimage. The statue of Hubal had been meant to stop the waters
from rising. According to the legends, the same belief had once been
current in Jerusalem. Hence the holy shard. But Mecca tells more.
Hildegard Lewy points out that, in pre-Islamic days, the god Hubal
was Saturn, and that the Holy Stone of the Ka'aba had the same role,
for it was a cube, and hence originally Saturn.
Kepler's polyhedron inscribed in the sphere of Saturn is only
the last witness of an age-old tradition.
humble little shard was brought in by pious legend to try to say
that what counted was the power of the Holy Name. But the real thing
was the cube: either as Utnapishtim's ark or, in other versions, as
a stone upon which rests a pillar which reaches from earth to heaven.
Even Christ is compared to "a cube-shaped mountain, upon which a
tower is erected." [n20 In the ninth simile of the "Pastor of
Hermas," according to F. Kampers (Vom Werdegange der
abendlandischen Kaisermystik , p. 53).]. Hocart writes
that "the Sinhalese frequently placed inside their topes a square
stone representing Meru. If they placed in the center of a tope a
stone representing the center of the world it must have been that
they took the tope to represent the world" [n21 Kingship, p.
179 (quoted by P. Mus, Barabudur , p. 108, n. 1).]—which
goes without saying. But it is said otherwise that this stone, the
foundation stone, lies under a great tree, and that from under the
stone "a wave rose up to the sky."
sounds like a late mixture, with no reasons given; the way to
unscramble the original motifs is to take them separately.
first, some stock-taking is in order at this point. There are a
number of figures to bring together. The brown monkey, father of
mischief in Sigu's idyllic creation, is familiar under many
disguises. He is the Serpent of Eden, the lone dissenter. He is Loke
who persuaded the mistletoe not to weep over Balder's death, thus
breaking the unanimity of creatures. Sigu himself, benevolent king
of the Golden Age, is an unmistakably Saturnian figure, who dwelt
among his creatures, and so is lahwe, at least when he still "walked
with Adam in the garden." A ruler who "means well" is a Saturnian
character. No one but Saturn dwelt among men. Says an Orphic
fragment: "Orpheus reminds us that Saturn dwelt openly on earth and
among men." [n22 Orphicorum Fragmenta (1963), frg. 139, p.
186, from Lactantius.]. Dionysius of Halicarnassus (1.36.1) writes:
"Thus before the reign of Zeus, Kronos ruled on this very earth" to
which Maximilian Mayer crisply annotates: "We find no mention
anywhere of such an earthly sojourn on the part of Zeus." [n23 M.
Mayer, in Roscher s.v. Kronos, pp. 1458f.]. In a similar way,
Sandman Holmberg states with respect to Ptah, the Egyptian Saturn: "The
idea of Ptah as an earthly king returns again and again in Egyptian
texts," and also points to "the remarkable fact that Ptah is the
only one of the Egyptian gods who is represented with a straight
royal beard, instead of with a bent beard." [n24 M. Sandman
Holmberg, The God Ptah (1946), pp. 83, 85.].
Saturnalia, from Rome to Mexico, commemorated just this aspect of
Saturn's rule, with their general amnesties, masters serving slaves,
etc., even if Saturn was not always directly mentioned. When this
festival was due in China, so to speak "sub delta Geminorum"—more
correctly, delta and the Gemini stars 61 and 56 of Flamsteed— "there
was a banquet in which all hierarchic distinctions were set aside. .
. The Sovereign invited his subjects through the 'Song of Stags.'"
[n25 G. Schlegel,
(1875), p. 424.].
cube was Saturn's figure, as Kepler showed in his Mysterium
Cosmographicum; this is the reason for the insistence on cubic
stones and cubic arks. Everywhere, the power who warns "Noah"
urges him to build his ark is Saturn, as Jehovah, as Enki, as Tane,
etc. Sigu's basket stopper was obviously an inadequate version of
the cube seen through the fantasy of basket-weaving natives. This
leads to the conclusion that Noah's ark originally had a definite
role in bringing the flood to an end. A interesting and unexpected
conclusion for Bible experts.
of the great motifs of myth is the wondrous tree so often described
as reaching up to heaven. There are many of them—the Ash Yggdrasil
in the Edda, the world-darkening oak of the Kalevala,
Pherecydes' world-oak draped with the starry mantle, and the Tree of
Life in Eden. That tree is often cut down too. The other motif is
the foundation stone, which sometimes becomes a cubic ark.
These motifs must first be traced through. After reading the
beautiful story of Sigu's wonder tree, in whose stump are all the
kinds of fish to populate the world, it needs patience to cope with
the cubic stone which is found in the middle of the sea, under which
dwells a mystic character whose guises vary from a miraculous fish,
even a whale, to a "green fire," the "king of all fires," the "central
fire," to the Devil himself. The chief source for him are Russian
[n26 V. J. Mansikka, Uber Russische Zauberformeln (1909), pp.
184-87, 189, 192.] and Finnish magic formulae, and these "superstition"
("left-overs") are Stone Age fragments of flinty hardness embedded
in the softer structure of historic overlay. Magic material
withstands change, just because of its resistance to the erosion of
common sense. As far as these magic formulae go, they became
embedded in a Christian context as the particular populations
underwent conversion, but they remain as witnesses for a very
different understanding of the cosmos. For example, Finnish runes on
the origin of water state that "all rivers come from the Jordan,
into which all rivers flow," that "water has its origin in the eddy
of the holy river it is the bathing water of Jesus, the tears of God."
[n27 Krohn, Ursprungsrunen, pp. l06f.]. On the other hand,
Scandinavian formulae stress the point that Christ "stopped up the
Jordan" or "the Sea of Noah" (Mansikka, pp. 244f., 297, n. I) which,
in its turn, fits into the Pastor of Hermas, where Christ is
compared to a "cube-shaped mountain" (see above, p. 221).
this it is not strange that the Cross becomes the "new tree,"
marking new crossroads. One need not go as far as Russia for that.
In the famous frescoes of Fiero della Francesca in Arezzo there is "the
discovery of the True Cross." It begins with the death of Adam,
lying at the foot of the tree. The wood from the tree will later
provide the material for the Cross. Later still, St. Helena, mother
of Constantine, sees it in a dream and causes the wood to be dug up
to become the holiest of relics. Fiero illustrated nothing that was
not in good medieval tradition. This is, one might say, sensitive
Time and the Rivers
quibus imperium est animarum, umbraeque silentes
Chaos et Phlegethon, loca tacentia late
mihi fas audita loqui . . .
SOCRATES' INIMITABLE HABIT of discussing serious things while
telling an improbable story makes it very much worth while to take a
closer look at his strange system of rivers.
appears again in Virgil, almost as a set piece. The Aeneid is
noble court poetry, and was not intended to say much about the fate
of souls; one cannot expect from it the grave explicit Pythagorean
indications of Cicero's Dream of Scipio. But while retaining
conventional imagery and the official literary grand style which
befitted a glorification of the Roman Empire, it repays attention to
its hints, for Virgil was not only a subtle but a very learned poet,
Thus, while Aeneas' ingress into Hades begins with a clangorous
overture of dark woods, specters, somber caves and awesome nocturnal
rites, which betoken a real descent into Erebus below the earth, he
soon finds himself in a much vaguer landscape. Ibant obscuri sola
sub nocte per umbram . . . "On they went dimly, beneath the
lonely night amid the gloom, through the empty halls of Dis and his
unsubstantial realm, even as under the grudging light of an
Inconstant moon lies a path in the forest."
beauty of the lines disguises the fact that the voyage really is not
through subterranean caverns crowded with the countless dead, but
through great stretches of emptiness suggesting night
space, and once the party has crossed the rivers and passed the
gates of Elysium thanks to the magic of the Golden Bough, they are
in a serene land "whence, in the world above, the full flood of
Eridanus rolls amid the forest." Now Eridanus is and was in heaven—surely
not, in this context, on the Lombard plain. And here also "an ampler
aether clothes the meads with roseate light, and they know their own
sun, and stars of their own." There is no mention here of the "pallid
plains of asphodel" of Homeric convention. Those hovering souls, "peoples
and tribes unnumbered," are clearly on the "true earth in heaven,"
for it is also stated that many of them await the time of being born
or reborn on earth in true Pythagorean fashion. And there is more
than an Orphic hint in the words of father Anchises: "Fiery is the
vigour and divine the source of those life-seeds, so far as harmful
bodies clog them not. . ." But when they have lived, and died, "it
must needs be that many a taint, long linked in growth, should in
wondrous use become deeply ingrained. Therefore, they are schooled
with penalties, for some the stain of guilt is washed away under
swirling floods or burned out in fire. Each of us suffers his own
spirit." Some remain in the beyond and become pure soul; some, after
a thousand years (this comes from Plato) are washed in Lethe and
then sent to life and new trials.
is exactly Socrates' belief. The words "above" and "below" are
carefully equivocal, here as there, to respect popular atavistic
beliefs or state religion, but this is Plato's other world.
Dante took up Virgil's wisdom, his strong Christian preconceptions
compelled him to locate the world of ultimate punishment "physically
below." But his Purgatory is again above, under the open sky, and
there is no question but that most, if not quite all, of Virgil's
world is a Purgatory and definitely "up above" too. Socrates'
strange descriptions have remained alive.
Virgil offers even more than this. In the Georgics (1.242f.)
it is said: "One pole is ever high above us, while the other,
beneath our feet, is seen of black Styx and the shades infernal" (
sub pedibus Styx atra videt Manesque profundi).
can it mean, except that Styx flows in sight of the other pole? The
circle which began with Hesiod is now closed. [n1 The symmetry of
both polar Zones is clearly in the poet's mind. "Five Zones comprise
the heavens; whereof one is ever glowing with the flashing sun, ever
scorched by his flames. Round this, at the world's ends, two stretch
darkling to right and left, set fast in ice and black storms.
Between them and the middle zone, two by grace of the Gods have been
vouchsafed to feeble mortals; and a path is cut between the two [the
ecliptic], wherein the slanting array of the Signs may turn" (Georgics
Great poets seem to understand each other, and to use information
usually withheld from the public; Dante carries on where the Aeneid left off. As the wanderers, Dante and the shade of Virgil
as his guide, make their way through the upper reaches of Hell (Inferno
VII. 102) they come across a little river which bubbles out of the
rock. "Its water was dark more than grey-blue"; it is Styx. and as
they go along it they come to the black Stygian marsh, here are
immersed the souls of those who hated "life in the gentle light of
the sun" and spent it in gloom and spite. Then they have to confront
the walls of the fiery city of Dis, the ramparts of Inner Hell,
guarded by legions of devils, by the Furies with the dreadful
Gorgon herself. It takes the intervention of a Heavenly Messenger
to spring the barred gates with the touch of his wand (a variant of
Aeneas' Golden Bough) to admit the wanderers into the City of
Perdition. As they proceed along the inner circle, there is a river
of boiling red water, which eventually will turn into a waterfall
plunging toward the bottom of the abyss (baratro = Tartaros).
At this point Virgil remarks (xlv.8S): "Of all that I have shown you
since we came through the gate that is closed to none, there is
nothing you have seen as notable as this stream, whose vapor screens
us from the rain of fire." Those are weighty words after all that
they have gone through; then comes the explanation, a rather far
fetched one: "In the midst of the sea," Virgil begins, "there lies a
ruined country which is called Crete, under whose kin. [i.e.,
Saturn] the world was without vice." There, at the heart of Mount
Ida where Zeus was born of Rhea, there is a vast cavern in which
sits a great statue.
Dante is going back there to an ancient tradition to be found in
Pliny, that an earthquake broke open a cavern in the mountain, where
a huge statue was found, of which not much was said, except that it
was 46 cubits high; but Dante supplies the description from a
famous vision of Daniel, when the prophet was asked by King
Nebuchadnezzar to tell him what he had seen in a frightening dream
that he could not remember. Daniel asked God to reveal to him the
king, sawest, and beheld a great image. This great image, whose size was
immense, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. This
image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his
belly and his thighs of bronze. His legs of iron, his feet part of iron,
and part of clay.
sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands which smote the image
upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. . .
and the stone that brake the image became a great mountain and filled
the whole earth."
this point Dante takes leave of Daniel, and with that insouciance
which marks him even when speaking of Holy Prophets, whom he treats
as his equals, he dismisses the royal shenanigans in Babylon. His
instinct tells him that the vision must really deal with older and
loftier subjects, with the cosmos itself. Hence he proceeds to
complete the vision on his own. The four metals stand for the four
ages of man, and each of them except the gold symbol of the Age of
Innocence) is rent by a weeping crack from whence issue the rivers
which carry the sins of mankind to the Nether World. They are
Acheron, Styx and Phlegethon. We have noted that he describes the
original flow of Styx as dark gray-blue, or steel-blue (perso),
just as written in Hesiod and Socrates that he had never read. It
may have come to him by way of Servius or Macrobius, no matter; what
is remarkable is the strictness with which he preserves the dimly
understood tradition of the lapis lazuli landscape of Styx, which
will be seen to extend all over the world. As far as Phlegethon goes,
the course of the stream follows quite exactly what Socrates had to
say about Pyriphlegethon, the "flaming river." We have seen in the
Phaidon a low-placed fiery region traversed by a stream of
lava, which even sends off real fire to the surface of the earth.
Whereas some interpreters thought it flowed through the interior of
our earth, others transferred Pyriphlegethon, as well as the other
rivers, into the human soul [n2 Cf. Macrobius. Commentary on the
Dream of Scipio 1.10.11 (Stahl trans., p. 128): "Similarly, they
thought that Phlegethon was merely the fires of our wraths and
passions, that Acheron was the chagrin we experienced over having
said or done something, . . . that Cocyros was anything that moved
us to lamentation or tears, and that Styx was anything that plunged
human minds into the abyss of mutual hatred."], but there is little
doubt that it was originally, as Dieterich has claimed [n3 A.
Dieterich, Nekyia (1893). p.27.], a stream of fiery light in
heaven, as Eridanus was. In any case, the flaming torrent, as the Aeneid calls it, goes down in spirals carefully traced in
Dante's topography, until it cascades down with the other rivers to
the icy lake of Cocytus, "where there is no more descent," for it is
the center, the Tartaros where Lucifer himself is frozen in the ice.
(Dante has been respectful of the Christian tradition which makes
the universe, so to speak, diabolocentric.) But why does he say that
the fiery river is so particularly "notable"?
Rabuse [n4 Der kosmische Aufbau der Ienseitsreiche Dantes
(1958), pp. 58-66 , 88-95] has solved this puzzle in a careful
analytical study of Dante's three worlds. First, he has found by way
of a little-known manuscript of late antiquity, the so-called "Third
Vatican Mythographer," that the circular territory occupied by the
Red River in Hell was meant "by certain writers" to be the exact
counterpart of the circle of Mars in the skies "because they make
the heavens to begin in the Nether World" (3.6.4) [n5 See Scriptores Rerum Mythicarum Latini, ed. G. H. Bode (1968 1st ed.
1934) vol. 1, p. 176 : Eundem Phlegethontem nonnulli, qui a
caelo infernum incipere autumant, Martis circulum dicunt sicut et
Campos Elysios . . . circulum Jovis esse contendunt.]. So Numenius
was not wrong after all. The rivers are planetary. Dante subscribed
to the doctrine and worked it out with a wealth of parallel features.
Mars to him was important because, centrally placed in the planetary
system, he held the greatest force for good or evil in action.
As the central note in the scale, he can also become the harmonizing
force. Both Hermetic tradition and Dante himself are very explicit
about it. Is he the planetary Power that stands for Apollo? That
requires future investigation.
the sky of Mars in his Paradise Dante placed the sign of the Cross
("I come to bring not peace but a sword"), a symbol of reckless
valor and utter sacrifice, exemplified by his own ancestor the
Crusader with whom he passionately identified. In the circle of Mars
in Hell he placed, albeit reluctantly, most of the great characters
he really admired, from Farinata, Emperor Frederick I , his
Chancellor Pier della Vigna, to Brunetto, Capaneus and many proud
conquerors. In truth, even Ulysses belongs in it, clothed in the "ancient
flame," the symbol of his "ire" more than of his deceit. Virtues
appear down there with the sign minus; they stand as fiery
refusal, "blind greed and mad anger" which punish themselves: but
their possessors are nonetheless, on the whole, noble, as, in the Nihongi, Brave-Swift-Impetuous-Male, the force of action par
excellence. The meek may inherit the earth, but of the Kingdom of
Heaven it has been written: violenti rapiunt illud. Christ
stands in Dante as the Heliand, the conquering hero, the judge of
the living and the dead: rex tremendae majestatis.
However that may be, the equivalence of above and below, of the
rivers with the planets, remains established. By artifice Dante
brings in at this point the figure of the Colossus of Crete, built
out of archaic mythical material. By identifying the rivers with the
world-ages, he emphasizes the identity of the rivers with Time: not
here the Time that brings into being, but that of passing away—the
Time that takes along with it the "sinful dirt," the load of errors
of life as it is lived.
Men's minds in the 13th century were still very much alive to the
archaic structure. But over and above this, by way of the Circle of
Mars, an unexpected insight appears. Through the solemn Christian
architecture of the poem, through the subtle logical organization,
beyond the "veil of strange verses" and the intention they cloaked,
there is a glimpse of what the author cared for more than he would
say, of the man Alighieri's own existential choice. Poets cannot
guard their own truth. Ulysses setting out toward the southwest in a
last desperate attempt foreordained to failure by the order of
things, trying to reach the "world denied to mortals," swallowed by
the whirlpool in sight of his goal, that is the symbol.
is revealed not by the poet's conscious thinking, but by the power
of the lines themselves, so utterly remote, like light coming from a
"quasistellar object." To be sure, the Greek stayed lost in Hell
for his ruthless resourcefulness in life as much as for his impiety:
he was branded by Virgil as "dire and fierce"; the sentence was
accepted. But he was the one who had willed to the last, even
against God, to conquer experience and knowledge. His Luciferian
loftiness remains in our memory more than the supreme harmony of the
choirs of heaven.
pursue this hazardous inquiry the first source is Homer, "the
teacher of Hellas." The voyage of Odysseus to Hades is the first
such expedition in Greek literature. It is undertaken by the weary
hero to consult the shade of Teiresias about his future. The advice
he eventually gets is startlingly outside the frame of his
adventures and of the Odyssey itself (10.508ff.). It will be
necessary to come back to this strange prophecy. But as far as the
voyage itself goes, Circe gives the hero these sailing instructions:
your mast, hoist your sail, and sit tight: the North Wind will take you
along. When you have crossed over the ocean, you will see a low shore,
and the groves of Persephoneia, tall poplars and fruit-wasting willows;
there beach your ship beside deep-eddying Okeanos, and go on yourself to
the dank house of Hades.
into Acheron, the river of pain, two streams flow, Pyriphlegethon
blazing with fire, and Cocytos resounding with lamentation, which is a
branch of the hateful water of Styx: a rock is there, by which the two
roaring streams unite. Draw near to this, brave man, and be careful to
do what I bid you. Dig a pit about one cubit's length along and across,
and pour into it a drink-offering for all souls. . ."
centuries later, a remarkable commentary on this passage was made by
Krates of Pergamon, a mathematician and mythographer of the
Alexandrian period. It has been preserved by Strabo [n6 1.1.7.
Referring to Odyssey 1l.639-12.3. See H. J. Mette, Sphairophoiia (1936), pp. 75, 250.]: Odysseus coming from
Circe's island, sailing to Hades and coming back, "must have used
the part of the Ocean which goes from the hibernal tropic [of
Capricorn] to the South Pole, and Circe helped with sending the
is puzzling geography, but astronomically it makes sense, and Krates
seems to have had good reasons of his own to make the South Pole the
next information comes from Hesiod in his Theogony (775-814), and very obscure it is. After having heard of the "echoing
halls" of Hades and Persephone, he says:
there dwells the goddess loathed by the deathless gods, terrible Styx,
eldest daughter of backflowing Ocean. She lives apart from the gods in
her glorious house vaulted over with great rocks and propped up to
heaven all around with silver pillars. Rarely does the daughter of
Thaumas, swift-footed Iris, come to her with a message over the sea's
when strife and quarrel arise among the deathless gods, and when anyone
of them who live in the house of Olympus lies, then Zeus sends Iris to
bring in a golden jug the great oath of the gods from far away, the
famous cold water which trickles down from a high and beetling rock.
under the wide-pathed earth a branch of Oceanus flows through the dark
night out of the holy stream, and a tenth part of his water is allotted
to her. With nine silver-swirling streams he winds about the earth and
the sea's wide back, .and then falls into the main; but the tenth flows
out from a rock, a sore trouble to the gods. For whoever of the
deathless gods that hold the peaks of snowy Olympus pours a libation of
her water and is forsworn, lies breathless until a full year is
completed, and never comes near to taste ambrosia and nectar, but lies
spiritless and voiceless on a strewn bed: and a heavy trance [coma]
when he has spent a long year in his sickness, another penance and a
harder follows after the first. For nine years he is cut off from the
eternal gods and never joins their councils or their feasts, nine full
years. But in the tenth year he comes again to join the assemblies of
the deathless gods who live in the house of Olympus. Such an oath, then,
did the gods appoint the eternal and primeval water of Styx to be: and
it spouts through a rugged place.
there, all in their order, are the sources and limits of the dark earth
and misty Tartarus and the unfruitful sea [pontos] and starry
heaven, loathsome and dank, which even the gods abhor. And there are
shining gates and an immoveable threshold of bronze having unending
roots and it is grown of itself. And beyond, away from all the gods, are
the Titans, beyond gloomy Chaos."
is Hesiod's version of the "Foundations of the Abyss." Its very
details make confusion worse confounded, as befits the subject. The
difficult word ogygion, translated often with "primeval,"
seems to designate things vaguely beyond time and place; one might
say, the hidden treasure at the end of the rainbow. It was also the
name for the resting place of Kronos, where he awaited the time of
his return. But the paradoxical piling up of sources, limits, "unending
roots" of earth, sea, heaven, and Tartaros too, remove any thought
of a location at the earth's core, such as the cryptic words were
popularly felt to convey. This "deeper than the deep" must have been
"beyond the other side of the earth," and for reasons of symmetry,
opposite to our pole. The shining gates and the immovable threshold
of bronze are said elsewhere in the text to be the gates of Night
and Day. Two centuries later, Parmenides, taking up Hesiod's
allegorical language, speaks again of those gates of Night and Day
[n7 G. de Santillana, Prologue to Parmenides, U. of
Cincinnati, Semple Lecture, 1964. Reprinted in Reflections on Man
and Ideas (1968), p. 82.]. But his image becomes clearer, as
befits his invincibly geometrical imagination. The gates are "high
up in the aether," leading to the abode of the Goddess of Truth and
Necessity, and in his case too they must be at the Pole for explicit
reasons of symmetry. We once tentatively suggested the North Pole,
but many concurrent clues would indicate now the other one, the
unknown, the Utterly Inaccessible. Hesiod says that Styx is a branch
of Okeanos in heaven, "under the wide-pathed earth"; its dreaded
goddess lives in a house "propped up to heaven all around with
silver pillars," the water drips from a high rock. It can be reached
by Iris coming with her rainbow "from snowy Olympus in the north."
This ogygion region, that the gods abhor, has to be both
under and beyond the earth; this should mean something like "on the
other side of heaven." Homer never spoke of "above" and "below" in
the strict sense. He simply made Odysseus land on a flat shore far
what of the dreadful Styx which seems to be the core of the mystery?
A river of death, even to gods, who can at least expect to come out
of their coma at the appointed time.
is inimical to all matter: it cracks glass, metal, stone, any
container. Only a horse's hoof is proof against it, says the legend
[n8 Pausanias 8.184-6; ed. J. G. Frazer, Pausanias' Description
of Greece 4, pp. 248-56; also O. Waser, Roscher 4, cols.
1574, 1576. Pausanias leaves it open whether or not Alexander
was killed by means of Stygian water, as was fabled.]. It adds that
to men that water is inescapably lethal—except for one day of the
year, which no one knows, when it becomes a water of immortality.
This leads finally to the tragic ambiguity which gives drama to the
tale of Gilgamesh and Alexander.
is clear by now that the rivers are understood to be Time—the time
of heaven. But images have their own logic. Where are the sources?
The Colossus of Crete is Dante's own invention. Before him, there
were many other accounts of the cracks from which flow the
world-ages. Kai Khusrau, the Iranian Amlethus, was persecuted by a
murderous uncle, established a Golden Age and then moved off in
melancholy into the Great Beyond. The bad uncle, Afrasiyab, in his
desperate efforts to seize the holy legitimacy, the "Glory" (Hvarna),
had turned himself into a creature of the deep waters and plunged
into the mystic Lake Vurukasha, diving after the "Glory." Three
times he dove, but every time;: "this glory escaped, this glory went
away": and at every try, it escaped through an outlet which led to a
river to the Beyond. The name of the first outlet was Hausravah, the
original Avestan name of Kai Khusrau. This should make the epoch and
design tolerably plain.
equally ancient story of three outlets comes from Hawaii. It appears
in Judge Fornander's invaluable Account compiled a century
ago, when the tradition was still alive. The "living waters" belong
to Kane, the world-creating Demiurge or craftsman god. These waters
are to be found in an invisible divine country, Pali-uli (= blue
mountain), where Kane, Ku, and Lono created the first man, Kumu
honua ("earth-rooted") or alternatively, the living waters are on
the "flying island of Kane" (the Greek Hephaistos lived also on a
floating island). Fornander describes the spring of this "living
water" as beautifully transparent and clear. Its banks are splendid.
It had three outlets: one for Kane, one for Ku, one for Lono; and
through these outlets the fish entered the pond.
fish of this pond were thrown on the ground or on the fire, they did not
die; and if a man had been killed and was afterwards sprinkled over with
this water he did soon come to life again [n9 A. Fornander, An
Account of the Polynesian Race, Its Origin and Migrations (1878),
vol. I, pp. 72f. cf. Fornander Collection of Hawaiian Antiquities and
Folk-Lore, Mem. BPB Mus. 6 (1920), pp. 77f.]
extraordinary theme has been set, that of the "revived fish" which
will later show itself as central in Mid-Eastern myth, from
Gilgamesh to Glaukos to Alexander himself. And then there are again
the three outlets. These may help individualize the notion of Kane's
"spring of life," which might otherwise sound as commonplace to
folklorists as the Fountain of Youth. But something really startling
can be found in good sound Pythagorean tradition. Plutarch in his
essay "Why oracles no longer give answer" tells us (422E) that
Petron, a Pythagorean of the early Italian school, a contemporary
and friend to the great doctor Alcmaeon (c. 550 B.C.) theorized that
there must be many worlds—183 of them. More about these 183 worlds
was reported by Kleombrotos, one of the persons taking part in the
conversation about the obsolescence of oracles, who had received his
information from a mysterious "man" who used to meet human beings
only once every year near the Persian Gulf, spending "the other days
of his life in association with roving nymphs and demigods" (421A).
According to Kleombrotos, he placed these worlds on an equilateral
triangle, sixty to each side, and one extra at each corner. No
further reason is given, but
they were so ordered that one always touched another in a circle,
like those who dance in a ring. The plain within the triangle is . .
. the foundation and common altar to all these worlds, which is
called the Plain of Truth, in which lie the designs, moulds, ideas,
and invariable examples of all things which were, or ever shall be;
and about there is Eternity, whence flowed Time, as from a river,
into the worlds. Moreover, that the souls of men, if they have lived
well in this world, do see these ideas once in ten thousand years;
and that the most holy mystical ceremonies which are performed here
are not more than a dream of this sacred vision [n10 Plutarch, De
defectu oraculorum, ch. 22, 422BC.].
is this? A mythical prefiguration of Plato's metaphysics? And why
this triangular "Plain of Truth," which turns out again to be a lake
of Living Water?
Pythagoreans did not care to explain. Nor did Plutarch [n11 Proclus
(comm. on Plato's Timaeus 138B, ed. Diehl, BT, vol. 1, p.
454) claimed this to be a "barbarous opinion" (doxe barbarike).
He shows no particular interest in the triangular plain of truth,
alias our "lake" with its outlets, but he has more to say about the
180 "subordinate" and the 3 "leading" worlds (hegemonas) at
the angles, and how to interpret them. To which Festugiere, in his (highly
welcome and marvelous) translation of Proclus' commentary, remarks
(vol. 2, p. 336, n. I):
notera que Proclus donne a la fois moins et plus que Plutarque.
A-t-il lu ces elucubrations pythagoriciennes elles-memes?"].
But here is at least one original way of linking Eternity with the
flow of Time. When it came to geometric fantasy, no one could outbid