The Theosophical Forum – November 1936



Noahs's Ark and the Ark of the Covenant will at once occur to the mind of those who have read their Bible: different things, yet akin and almost identical in symbolism. Both were sacred vessels, and in that definition we may find the key to their identity. But those who think it necessary to believe that the Bible is unique will be disconcerted if they chance to discover that the story of a deluge and an ark is world-wide, being found in the mythologies and religions of every people from China to Peru and from the Arctic Circle to the islands of Polynesia; so that it is necessary to go back very far indeed into antiquity to find the common source whence all these diverse peoples derived a story so uniform in all its essential features as is this universal deluge myth. In all these stories a people grown old in wickedness is destroyed by a flood; an ark is built, whereon are saved a select few, who land after the waters have subsided and form the origin of a new race.

The ancient history of our earth is written in indelible characters on the rocks that compose its crust, so that the humble geologist with his pick can read it. The stratigraphical record tells of periodic cataclysms which have overwhelmed large continental areas; of the rising and sinking of the land; of the pouring forth and drying up of waters; of widespread havoc wrought by the belching of subterranean fires. The searching eye of the astronomer learns to read the same record in the heavens, and to connect the story of vast cyclic displacements of the earth's axis with the tale of the geologic cataclysms. The past records itself automatically in books that he who runs may read; but it also records itself indelibly in the astral light, where it can be read by Seers as other men read the printed book or the Braille script, according to the extent of their visual capabilities. Hence Nature's picture book tallies with the Secret Doctrine, that traditional record of cosmic evolution and the drama of man, preserved in the myths and allegories and symbol language of the world's faiths.

We have said that a symbol condenses a world of meaning in small compass; so that, if several different interpretations are given to the same symbol, there is no contradiction but only amplification. We shall give several meanings to the Ark symbol. It refers to deluges in general, and the passing of old races and the birth of new ones; it refers in particular to the last great flood, when the Fourth-Race continent of Atlantis sank and the first sub-races of the Fifth Race took their rise, in new lands, from the saved remnants of the old race. Thus far we have geophysical applications of the symbol. But the Ark in its widest significance means the Womb of Nature, the Great Mother, the World-Soul, the container of all that is. This great feminine potency stands at the head of every theogony, as its masculine counterpart, the Sun or Circle, is the All-Father, the active creative principle. But in using these terms we have to be careful not to give them a literal sense according to their analogies on the lowest planes of physical generation. For the Ark was Isis, Moon, Venus, Diana, chaste emblems of eternal bounty, and in the seven principles of man would be Buddhi. We have said something of this in the article on Sun and Moon (July number).

Prescott tells of the surprise of the Jesuit missionaries on finding that the Peruvians already had the Flood story; and in Daniel Brinton's Myths of the New World we find a large number of versions of the Flood story among Indians of North, Central, and South America; it is among the ancient Scandinavians in the north and Polynesians in the south; in India, China, Africa. What theory can explain such universal diffusion, such uniformity in particulars? Only the theory of a common tradition, very ancient, reaching back to times when peoples now scattered were one; when there was a universal body of knowledge — the Secret Doctrine. In Greek mythology we have the story of Deucalion and Pyrrha, which tells how Zeus determined to destroy the world on account of its wickedness, and these two were saved on account of their piety; and how they repeopled the earth by throwing behind them stones which became men and women. Refugees from sinking Atlantis settled in various places, bringing with them traditions of the great cataclysm.

But, as said, the Ark symbol refers to more than geological cataclysms; for it signifies a sacred vessel which preserves the seed of a new growth after the destruction of the old. There are many tales of infants being consigned to vessels and set afloat on the waters whence they are rescued to become the founders of new races; the story of the infant Moses is a case in point. The Ark is the symbol of the womb of nature, represented by the crescent of the moon, by the Solar Boat of Egypt, the horns on the head of various female deities. The Spirit of God broods over the face of the deep; the seeds of life are scattered in the great receptacle of primordial matter. The Hebrew Ark of the Covenant signified the same idea, for it was the sacred vessel of Deity; but in later times this original sublime meaning became corrupted into anthropomorphic conceptions.

The Theosophical Forum