But the ancient and the oriental pantheons are in reality allegories or personifications of the hosts and hierarchies of cosmic powers, divine, intermediate and terrestrial, in uninterrupted sequences. And where an ignorant devotee might address prayers to some of these personifications, the enlightened one, in invoking Jupiter or Mercury, would merely seek to evoke within himself the human power corresponding to the cosmic power, and of which the human is a direct, albeit a feeble reflection. — G. de Purucker
There are few studies which have suffered so much from the imposition of fads, as has mythology; at one time the ancient myths were accounted for according to the historical theory in which the acts of men, half forgotten, have become legendary. Then there was the philological interpretation by which the lost meanings of words were supposed to have resulted in senseless stories. There is also the allegorical explanation which considers myths as symbolic of physical, chemical or astronomical facts, or of moral, religious or philosophic truth.
At one time everything mythological was explained (in many volumes) as being derived from the magic and superstition of savages; at another time the solar myth theory offered a general solution. But whatever the theory, the theorist stood at the summit of human progress and assured himself that these stories were no longer believed by anyone, and existed solely for entertainment.
But the great myths of mankind, distorted though many of them are, have too much in common to be explained away. The breath of the universal flows through them; everywhere we find the golden chain of esotericism linking them together. We turn to them again and again, vaguely and correctly sensing something beyond our grasp.
Pythagoras, Plato, Lucretius and most of the great thinkers of classical times, deplored the ridiculous stories which even then had grown up about the gods, endowing them with all the failings of weak humanity. Many of these great men, knowing the teachings of the Mystery Schools, tried to give hints, as far as they were permitted, of the real significance of the ancient myths. Cicero, who was an initiate in the mysteries of his time, says in his remarkable essay On the Nature of the Gods: "But rejecting these fables with contempt, a divinity is diffused in every part of nature; in earth under the name of Ceres, in the sea under the name of Neptune, in other parts under other names." He goes on to explain that "we should reverence the spiritual forces of nature as is their due, but without superstition."
Disfigured though they often were by poet or theologian, there is still present beneath the garment with which the myths are clothed a center of primeval truth; and while the average Greek of classical times may have considered the gods of his religion much as the devout Catholic regards the saints of his own faith, within the sanctuary of the Mysteries he who proved himself worthy might learn the true nature of the gods and of the stories told about them.
The works of Homer and Hesiod point to an earlier time when the system of Greek mythology was a pure and untarnished expression of theosophic truth. What is known to history is but the latter and downward portion of the cycle of mythology. During this later time the doctrines of hierarchical structure of the universe and the constitution of man, their evolution and destiny, were veiled in myth and allegory. Only in the Mystery Schools were the ancient stories explained openly. Why? You may ask.
A myth is essentially symbolic and depends upon analogy for its meaning. Moreover, symbolism requires different thought processes than those in ordinary use. Word thought develops logically, step by step, each unit depending from the preceding like separate links in a chain. Myths and symbols, on the other hand, develop their significance according to what may be described for comparison as a net pattern; as a language of analogy they reveal universal rather than particular truths. Remember too that the great myths were acted during the Lesser Mysteries and spoke directly to the intuition.
Jupiter, according to the Orphic tradition, represents the Egg of Brahma, or holness of the earth or of any entity thereon; but as the earth has evolved through the series of the three Logoi — the unmanifest, the partially manifest, and the fully manifest — so we find Jupiter preceded by Saturn and Ouranos each in turn spoken of as "Father of the gods and of all things." The same divine principle is thus represented under different aspects and names at different periods of evolution. A man during childhood has the nature of a child; later, that of a youth, followed by that of a mature man. Yet throughout life the individuality continues. Jupiter, then, is that stage of the evolution of our universe belonging to the present Logos. As a symbol it applies to the all-encompassing divinity of any being: an atom, a man, our earth with its surrounding veil after veil of atmosphere, the solar system, or the galaxy. So to think of Jupiter or any other of the gods of mythology is to think here, there, everywhere, at one and the same time; for the principles personified are cosmic, universal.
The universe or solar system in which we live is an organic being in which every part is interrelated and responds to the same vibratory cycle of existence. Therefore every entity, in any aspect of its life cycle, is symbolic of or analogous to the corresponding phase in the cycle of any other entity. The life of a man from conception to old age repeats the characteristics of the life cycle of the world upon which he lives. To express that which is common to the dawn of a day, the spring of the year, the childhood of a man, or the beginning of any cycle, we must use symbol or myth, since these alone represent universal principles.
The universe is composed throughout of hierarchies within hierarchies ranging from the atom to the galaxy, and in each of these systems there is an analogous structure of inner characteristics and series of evolutionary procedure; so that each unit contains within itself something of all that the universe contains. We may compare the hierarchical system to a magnet — it has a N. and S. pole, yet within it each particle has its own N. and S. pole, all oriented the same way. Strike the magnet repeatedly with a hammer, or heat it, and the particles are disarranged, their poles are no longer in harmony; the magnetism is lost.
The structure, origin and evolution of the universe may be studied today in Theosophical literature under a manner and terminology suited to the present age. In ancient times this same knowledge was given veiled in the form of sacred dramas or in the legends of mythology, so that the pantheons of Greece, Egypt or India originally embodied the same knowledge regarding the hierarchical structure and evolution of the universe as do the Theosophical teachings of the present time.
There is a saying attributed to the Roman Emperor Julian:
The sun divides the zodiac into twelve powers of the gods, and each of these into three others, so that thirty-six are produced in the whole, in oration to the sun.
It was anciently believed that the universe was presided over by twelve gods and that this twelvefold structure was repeated in every planet within that universe, so that each of the twelve was represented on every globe. Every planet was thus considered as a microcosm of the macrocosm.
Orpheus calls the divine orders which are above the earth a "golden chain." Homer also, in the eighth book of the Iliad, speaks of a golden chain by which the gods and goddesses, the earth and sea, and all things are suspended from Zeus himself.
Beginning with Jupiter each god or divine principle functions after two manners: first as the architect, second as the builder. Thus Jupiter is found working together with Juno, Saturn with Rhea, etc., the god and goddess together personifying the twofold function of the one divine principle.
Since there are various planes or degrees in the universe, different names are often given to different grades or progressions of the divine principle symbolized by a god or goddess so as to make it plainer which hierarchy or sub-hierarchy is under consideration. To one not understanding the hierarchical structure of the universe, mythology, which is its symbolic personification or dramatization, may be confusing or even contradictory. But considered as the descent and ramification of a stream of creative consciousness the ancient myths begin one by one to reveal an underlying pattern.
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