The Theosophical Forum – February 1941

ANCIENT MYTHS AND SYMBOLS — Ginevra Munson

The wisest among early mankind, in order to hand down their knowledge for future generations of those aspiring to higher things, imbodied their store of wisdom in myths and symbols. The keys to these symbols were kept secret from the uninitiated, hidden in caves and vaults and secret crypts.

The Tree-Myths were the most popular for explaining how the spirit of Life descended into physical matter. We find the Aswattha Tree of the Hindus, "whose roots grow above and its branches below, and the leaves of which are the Vedas." And there is the Yggdrasil of the Scandinavians, the eternal sacred tree; the Zampun of the Tibetans; Gogard, the sacred Tree of the Avesta, the Persian sacred scripture. In ancient Egypt the initiates into the Mysteries were even called "trees."

In the Eddas is described how "the first root of the Yggdrasil ran under the fountain of Life, the second root was under the well of Wit and Wisdom, the third reached into heaven."

The ancient Akkadians represented a tree in the Garden of Eden: "it grew in the center of the earth, its roots went down into the watery deeps, where the god of wisdom had his seat; it became green and teemed with fertility; its leaves formed the couch of the primeval mother. Into the heart of its holy house hath no man entered. There is the home of the mighty mother who passes across the sky," wrote an ancient scribe.

It is the most beautiful of all myths, the Universal-Tree! It was beneath the sacred Bodhi Tree that Gautama attained to Buddhahood in spite of all the tempters that assailed him. Here he overcame all the powers of darkness by his own enlightenment and his love for all mankind.

Then there are other symbols. The bird, the dragon, the serpent, the fish, the crocodile, all were much used in esoteric teaching.

The American Indian myths and symbols were all drawn from the forces of nature and the elements of water, fire, air, and earth.

The clouds, winds, rain and lightning were all thought of among them as agents of the Great Spirit. The four winds were identified with the four cardinal points, north, south, east and west. The four ancestors of the human race were supposed to come from the four winds. Michabo of the Algonquin tribe was their highest deity, called Light or the Dawn, the Sun in the East. The peoples of South America, the Peruvians, the ancient Toltecs and Incas had their God of Light who came from the East.

All the American tribes of both continents had their flood myths, in striking similitude with the religious records of all nations in which cosmic and terrestrial events are recorded. And this fact in itself seems conclusive proof that the Ancient Wisdom was the heritage of, and was known to, all primitive races of mankind from pole to pole.

The myth of the golden Egg laid by the Swan of Eternity, Kala-hansa, tells the story of the origin of universes and all forms of life within them, born of the invisible essence that is within every atom of space. And there are more elaborate series of symbols which tell the full story of evolution. H. P. Blavatsky, in I sis Unveiled, (I, 348) describes a picture telling of the doctrine of the cycles, which covers "a whole inner wall of a subterranean temple in the neighborhood of a great Buddhistic pagoda, . . ." To quote in full:

Imagine a given point in space as the primordial one; then with compasses draw a circle around this point; where the beginning and the end unite together, emanation and reabsorption meet. The circle itself is composed of innumerable smaller circles, like the rings of a bracelet, and each of these minor rings forms the belt of the goddess which represents that sphere. As the curve of the arc approaches the ultimate point of the semi-circle — the nadir of the grand cycle — at which is placed our planet by the mystical pointer, the face of each successive goddess becomes more dark and hideous than European imagination is able to conceive. Every belt is covered with the representations of plants, animals, and human beings, belonging to the fauna, flora, and anthropology of that particular sphere. There is a certain distance between each of the spheres, purposely marked; for, after the accomplishment of the circles through various transmigrations, the soul is allowed a time of temporary nirvana, during which space of time the atma loses all remembrance of past sorrows. The intermediate ethereal space is filled with strange beings. Those between the highest ether and the earth below are the creatures of a "middle nature"; nature-spirits, or, as the kabalists term it sometimes, the elementary.

This, picture is either a copy of the one described to posterity by Berosus. the priest of the temple of Belus, at Babylon, or the original. We leave it to the shrewdness of the modern archaeologist to decide.

This is a wonderful symbolic picture and quite in agreement with the Secret Doctrine teaching about the formation of the earth and its inhabitants in evolutionary development.


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