The Theft of Light

By Fred A. Pruyn

One of the most enigmatic and fascinating moments in life is the moment of awakening. There is that razor-sharp edge between unconscious sleep and the first signs from the outside world. A car with a broken exhaust pipe passes in the pitch dark and immediately plays some grotesque role in the last flashes of a dream. But before we take on the Herculean task of a new day and open our eyes to invite its first impressions, we must push these dreamy thoughts away. Are they the last ripples of confusing waves of the "astral ocean" which has receded for a low tide?

This transition — about which hardly anyone can speak with real knowledge — is reminiscent of that great event, many millions of years ago, which woke humanity from its dreamlike existence. We picture this age of Saturn or garden of Eden paradise as a time when every desire was fulfilled and there were no sorrow, pain, obligations, or regrets. We were those long-ago beings, and as we grew outwardly and inwardly, we reached an adolescent stage when our desires became more and more difficult to fulfill. During the third great human cycle or root-race, we arrived at a point where our bodies were fit for a higher duty. Plato reminds us that all learning is remembering, and our maturing brains had slowly become a singular tool for the spirit within to unlock a vast storehouse of ideas from former adventures in an unimaginably distant cosmic past. The end of a great dream-time was at hand, but we could not make the leap to self-awareness unaided.

At last godlike beings came to our rescue. Who were these lightbringers or manasaputras (sons of mind)? The Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary tells us that

From the hierarchy of compassion, the light-side of nature as contrasted with the matter-side, came these semi-divine manasaputras who incarnated in the quasi-senseless, intellectually dormant human race at about the midpoint of the third root-race of this fourth round. By their own spiritual-intellectual fire and flame they quickened the latent mental fires in infant humanity stimulating the thought principle, just as parents teach a little child to think, quickening its mind, by means of books, by precept, by example, and by words. It is the most simple thing to do and yet a glorious achievement. . . .
These manasaputras are a mystery in the human constitution: they are both ourselves and a descent into us of our higher selves.

After our mysterious encounter with these compassionate beings, "Knowledge, more knowledge, and still greater knowledge was required by the maturing humans who looked with gratitude to the godlike beings who had come to awaken them. For many millennia they followed their guidance, as children lovingly follow the footsteps of their mother." As the ages rolled by,

divine instructors succeeded these primeval manasaputras and personally supervised the progress of child-humanity: they initiated them in the arts and sciences, taught them to sow their fields with corn and wheat, instructed them in the ways of clean and moral living — in short, established primeval schools of training and instruction open and free to all to learn of things material, intellectual, and spiritual. At this early period there were no Mystery colleges: the ancient wisdom was the common heirloom of all mankind, for as yet there had been no abuse of knowledge, and hence no need for schools kept hid and sacred from the world. Truth was freely given and as freely accepted in that golden age. — Grace F. Knoche, The Mystery Schools, pp. 3-4, cf. also H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings 14:248-9

This great divine epoch, which transformed mankind as much as a butterfly is from a caterpillar, made a great impression on peoples all over the globe. Noble teachers found beautiful ways to safeguard memory of this singular event, and out of compassion for human weakness cast this knowledge into a great variety of stories. In one of these the Greek lightbringer, Prometheus, stole fire from heaven in a hollow tube and brought it to suffering mankind, who were thereby enlightened. For this theft Zeus chained Prometheus to a rock on Mt. Caucasus, where an eagle devours his liver by day only to have the liver regenerate each night. Eventually he will be released by Hercules or Dionysus, representing perfected mankind.

Since the enlightenment of the human race was a general event, we would expect to find traces of it elsewhere — and we do, even in tales such as Jack and the Beanstalk, the common property of all Western European children. A less well-known version is found among the Tsimshian, a small tribe on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada, who have kept the story of The Theft of Light (related in Tales of the North American Indians by Stith Thompson) alive for thousands of years. Their story centers on Giant, who may represent a new cycle of time for early humanity. His father, a chief, had given him a raven skin: Indians of the northwest coast often depict Raven as a creator, lightbringer, and trickster figure, just as other peoples have chosen the coyote, serpent, or spider. As the Tsimshian tell it, Giant, dressed in his raven skin, flew east for a long time. When he became very tired, he dropped a little round stone, which his father had given him, into the ocean, where it became a large rock. This episode reminds us of a very early cycle of human life which, according to theosophical literature, took place over 30 million years ago. Originally ethereal, then filamentoid and boneless, humankind eventually developed a skeletal frame, becoming the first truly physical human beings during the third root-race.

This episode of the story also parallels in a remarkable way the episode in the Finnish Kalevala where a duck (scaup) features in the creation of the world:

Came a scaup, straightforward bird and it flaps about
In search of a nesting-place
Working out somewhere to live
It flew east, flew west
Flew north-west and south
But it finds no room
Not even the worst spot where
It might build its nest
Take up residence
It glides, it hovers
It thinks, considers:
`Shall I build my cabin on the wind
my dwelling on the billows?
The wind will fell the cabin
The billow will bear off my dwelling'
So then the water-mother . . .
raised out her knee out of the sea
her shoulderblade from the wave [outlines of a human skeleton start to form, perhaps pointing to the birth of the third root-race]
for the scaup a nesting-place . . .
That scaup, pretty bird . . .
Lands on the kneecap
There it builds its nest
Laid its golden eggs:
Six eggs were of gold
An iron egg the seventh [the lowest, most material point in a cycle]. — Keith Bosley translation, p. 6

Returning to the Theft of Light, Giant took off his raven skin and rested on the rock in the darkness that still covered all the earth. The Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary says about these symbols:

In every ancient cosmogony the precosmic generative source of all is denoted by a circle, head, or egg, which because of its abstraction in thought is always associated with darkness or blackness, as dark and night precede light. Hence we find black birds — ravens, black doves, black swans, etc. — associated therewith, on the principle that birds are emblematic of the movements of the peregrinating monads in both time and space, wings being the important point here, in which connection we may include the winged globe of Egypt. Noah sends out first a raven after the Ark has settled; the deluge signifies cosmic pralaya, after which begins the real creation of our earth and humanity.

Perhaps taking off his raven skin indicates that the peregrinating monad had settled into manifested form. The fact that at that early date the whole world was still covered in darkness suggests that all beings lived in a dreamlike, unconscious state. There was a little starlight when the sky was clear, but when it was cloudy it was very dark, and this distressed the people. Then Giant, as a personification of the lightbringer or manasaputras, remembered "that there was light in heaven, whence he had come," and determined to bring that light to earth.

The next day Giant put on his raven skin and flew up until he found the hole in the sky. Flying through it, he "reached the inside of the sky" and took off his raven skin. He walked until he came to a spring near the house of the Chief of Heaven, and then sat down and waited. He remembered that the chief had a box, called ma, hanging in a corner of his house, in which he kept daylight (divine knowledge). As Giant sat,

The chief's daughter came out, carrying a small bucket in which she was about to fetch water. She went down to the big spring in front of her father's house. When Giant saw her coming along, he transformed himself into the leaf of a cedar and floated on the water. The chief's daughter dipped it up in her bucket and drank it. Then she returned to her father's house and entered.

By this process she was inseminated, and in time gave birth to a boy, which greatly pleased her parents. This boy was Giant. Once the child was able to crawl, he began to cry all the time, and nothing would stop him. Annoyed, the Chief called his wise men, and one realized that the boy wanted the ma. The Chief had it brought down and placed near the fire. The boy sat near it and stopped crying. He rolled it around the house for four days, sometimes carrying it to the door. By then the Chief no longer noticed what the boy was doing.

Then the boy really took up the ma, put it on his shoulders, and ran out with it. While he was running, someone said, "Giant is running away with the ma!" He ran away, and the hosts of heaven pursued him. They shouted that Giant was running away with the ma. He came to the hole of the sky, put on the skin of the raven, and flew down, carrying the ma. Then the hosts of heaven returned to their houses, and he flew down with it to our world.

The world was still dark. Giant flew up the Nass River in the dark, carrying the ma, until "he heard the noise of the people, who were catching olachen in bag nets in their canoes. There was much noise out on the river, because they were working hard. Giant, who was sitting on the shore, said, `Throw ashore one of the things that you are catching, my dear people!''' Getting no response, after a while he repeated his request, but the "animal" people were without reason and saw no need to respond; moreover, they were entirely selfish. They scolded Giant, asking, "Where did you come from, great liar, whom they call Txa'msem?" Twice more Giant repeated his request, adding, "or I shall break the ma!" They refused, so Giant broke the ma, and it was daylight. Then

The north wind began to blow hard; and all the fishermen, the Frogs, were driven away by the north wind. All the Frogs who had made fun of Giant were driven away down river until they arrived at one of the large mountainous islands. Here the Frogs tried to climb up the rock; but they stuck to the rock, being frozen by the north wind, and became stone. They are still on the rock. The fishing frogs named him Txa'msem, and all the world had the daylight.

Even today introducing revolutionary ideas is not always appreciated. The frogs — the early humans who could not make the grade — were turned into stone just as Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt (Gen 19:26).

Each morning as we begin afresh, we drive away our idle dreams, the unconscious frogs, with a "fierce northern wind" — the wind of the spirit. We start thinking again and welcome our higher self, which whenever opportunity arises stimulates us from within to conquer another day.

 (From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2002; copyright © 2002 Theosophical University Press)

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