In the study of Grecian Mythology or the religion of the ancient Greeks and Romans, we have no living professors or exponents of this belief, as is the case with most of the religions of the world. Yet as a system of religion and thought, and that one existing at the birth of the Christian religion and immediately preceding its advent, it is most important as a system. It is not only without living exponents, but it has no great bibles, vedas, shastras, or puranas as other religions have, and we must judge it by the few poems of the ancient Greeks, those of Hesiod, Homer, and the Orphic poems, and as we may find the powers and attributes of the various Gods symbolized in the statuary and gems of ancient times preserved or brought to light in these latter years, dumb yet speaking witnesses. It is an error to call the religion of our forefathers a mythology and attach to this word the meaning we usually attach to the word Myth or Fable, — that of something mythical, that is, untrue, imaginary, having little or no basis in fact, of the fancy. Quite the reverse is the truth; that there is no myth but what there is behind it and for it a true basis in fact. Myth is not of the imagination, no more than is the image or the shadow without the original producing the shadow, the image. Myths and fables in all ages have concealed the whole truth, and have been the external husk, generally made attractive, for covering and keeping the deeper truths and secrets of Nature.
In all ages it seems to have been necessary for the greater part of mankind to look upon knowledge veiled, both because he could not understand the whole of the deeper truths of Nature, and because he could not be trusted with the knowledge. If possessed, he would destroy himself and all others with the power conferred.
Myth and Allegory were the code, the cypher, in which the initiated transmitted to each other and their successors their own deep and perfect knowledge. We are told that these myths, legends, and allegories are to be read in at least seven different ways, and that as many correct readings may be had, all depending upon the key taken to unlock the hidden mysteries. According to the understanding, there is that for the plodding ignorant and for the most spiritual philosopher.
In a study of ancient Mythology we may take only one of these keys and may use it for only a very partial glimpse into the deep past. In this study we cannot take the interpretation of any one translator or student, for we see each one biased to a considerable degree by his previous thought, his education, moral and religious, and by what he desires to prove. It is only by taking many interpretations and comparing these with the silent carvings of the sculptor, observing the love and passion, the hate or tenderness expressed, dress, implements, attitude depicted by those who chiseled a religion into stone, that we may approach a correct understanding of the religion of our Grecian forefathers.
It is well to remember that Philology now proves that with few exceptions our present civilization is descended from the Aryan Race, the Fifth Race of the Fourth Round of Theosophy, and that it is well proven that the Greek and Roman people by their language were closely connected with the Aryan race and one of its direct sub-races, coming from that land of Northern India whence have traveled by slow marches many sub-races as they scattered westward from that land where the Masters keep their watch today. Why should They not live in the original home of our Race? This intimate connection shown between the Grecian and Aryan Races, we should expect to find traces of the earlier Secret Doctrine in Grecian Mythology, and as names of Gods and heroes are shown to have a common derivation, we are warranted in using that which is known of one in explanation of the other and more obscure.
As in all other religions, we find the later expression of Grecian Mythology far removed from its earlier grandeur and simplicity. In the most ancient, we' must seek the clearer and purer ideas.
The limit of time assigned to this subject this evening will only permit pointing out in a general and assertive way on one or two lines the deep and pure Theosophy to be found in the religion we are considering.
We read most of Zeus and Jupiter, of Father Jove who alone had power over all men and mortals, but Zeus was by no means the beginning of Grecian Mythology, although worshipped as the All-Father.
As in Theosophy, the first fundamental proposition is that of an Omnipotent, Eternal, Boundless, Immutable Principle on which all speculation is impossible, an Infinite and Eternal cause which cannot be described, but is the Root, the Container, and Essence of All, so we find with the Ancients, before all else, Chaos, — not Chaos in the usual sense of a heterogeneous mass, or a mixed state of matter in which manifested things exist in a disordered state, but as that state which contains all that is unmanifested, that which can only be described by negatives, and as the Absolute, holding and being itself Absolutely All. From Chaos are born all later manifestations, and as in all religions the one becomes the Trinity, or Three, so in the earliest Grecian cosmogony we find a primeval Trinity, Chaos, Gaea and Eros, answering to the Boundless All. In the unmanifested Universe, for while in later times Gaea becomes the physical earth, it originally is that aspect of the Absolute which we must think of as matter, and while Eros later becomes the brilliant winged Cupid, or passionate love and desire, in the first awakening out of Chaos he is that propelling force, the active power which causes the One to divide and to appear on the Cosmic plane of Manifestation. From this first primeval Trinity is said to be born Erebos and Nux, or, in other words, over all is Darkness and Night, and from Darkness springs the light, or Aether, the superior light, and Hemera, the light of the terrestrial regions. With light, Heaven is made manifest, and over all is Heaven, or Ouranos. From Ouranos with his consort Gaea, or matter, are born first the Twelve Titans, six male and six female. Now these, while named, were not personages, but stand for various elementary forces in Nature, and we see their correspondences described in Theosophy as aspects of the one Fohat, the Universal force.
From Ouranos and Gaea are also born the Cyclops, three in number, — Brontes, thunder; Steropes, lightning; Arges, sheet-lightning; and three Centimanes, the Hundred Handed: Coltus, the earthquake; Briareus, the tempestuous sea; Gyes, the storm wind; other manifestations of this one same force prevailing and co-existing with Matter and Consciousness. Still, we have not come to the Gods over mortals, and we find that the earlier manifestations retire into darkness and silence, while from one pair of the Titans, Chronos (Time) and Rhea (Succession), are brought forth again six children, five of whom as they are born are swallowed by Chronos, this myth standing for the Ancients as expressing the fact that as all manifestation was in time and as all things which have a beginning also have an ending in time, Chronos may be said to devour his own offspring. The sixth child, or Zeus, is saved by the mother, Rhea, and becomes in time the slayer of his father, Chronos, taking away from him the creative power, after first compelling him to give up or reincarnate his first-born children.
We now have Zeus, the Sky Father, or Father over All; and in the name itself we have a proof of the descent of the Grecian people from the Aryan race, carrying with them the ancient and original religion, for the Sanskrit word Dayus meaning Sky becomes the Zeus of the Greeks, as fully shown by Prof. Max Muller, and with the addition of another Sanskrit word, Pitar or Father, becomes Zeus Pater, or Jupiter of the Romans.
We cannot consider the entire Grecian pantheon, but we take up one line only, and in a rapid way will endeavor to show how the idea of Karma of Theosophy is most fully incorporated in Mythology. Zeus had at different times several wives. He is united with Themis, one of the Titans, and her statue is familiar to all of us as the figure of the noble, majestic woman with bandaged eyes, balance and sword in hand, standing for Justice and Law.
She is more than administrative law. Themis is the source of all Law as Karma is Law and action of every kind and on every plane. Themis represents the reign of law among Gods and Men, and from her union with Zeus are produced deities and gods, which are but aspects of the one Great Law, acting on different planes, cause and effect in their inter-action. First may be mentioned that group of their children called the Horse, whose office it was to promote Equity and Justice, whose stand was about the throne of Zeus, and who were as well the Seasons, representing the regular and orderly march of Nature in the changes she ever effects. While they stand for the higher workings of Universal Law, they also preside over law and order in human affairs.
A second group of the children of Zeus and Themis was the Mont, or Parcae, by some called the Daughters of Night. The sacred Three, the Fates, dark and inexplicable powers of fate, and yet they are represented as beautiful females spinning and singing the song of the Sirens. As we have Karma, past, present, and future, so the Parcae represented these divisions of time, yet all three are represented as seated together, connected with the one thread of Life passing through each of their hands, first Clothe spinning the thread, the action taking place, while Lachesis with parchment made the record, and Atropos with balance and shears determined and assigned the result.
While they were Fate, yet they really denote the boundary of Man's own making as well as that portion of his life which is determined by his birth, for this is but the expression of his former life or lives.
Another daughter of Zeus and Themis born of Law was Nemesis, and when we look upon that aspect of Karma which is retributive justice on this our plane, we have the idea pervading the minds of most persons of Nemesis. She was not only this, but more. Harsh, cruel only when Karma demanded it; equally she was loving, just, giving true deserts, and specially adjusting all that which was not deserved. She was the Goddess of Equality, as Karma is, watching over the equilibrium of the moral universe, seeing that happiness and misfortune are allotted to man according to merit. From this arose the idea of Nemesis as an avenging deity, visiting punishment upon the crimes of mankind. As such avenger she is shown with wings, in a chariot, with sword and whip.
Again, however, she is the just judge, a kindly, gentle Goddess who dispenses that which he is entitled to who has sown wisely, and again as a young woman of grave and thoughtful aspect, holding in her hand the cubit, the bridle, and rudder, emblems of control, as Karma calls her to act as the one who controls, for Karma rewards and controls all action and effects of action. . . .
To the student of Theosophy there seems to be but one truth underlying Grecian Mythology, and this truth is the jewel hidden in the Secret Doctrine, that Divine Wisdom which appears on every hand, in every religion, in every age.
He who would be a better occultist will study the loves and hates of the Gods and Goddesses, and underneath the chaff will be found the rich kernel of true spiritual knowledge.
1. Read before the San Francisco T. S., by E. B. Rambo. (return to text)
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