It is a curious fact that those experiences which we know in retrospect to have been the most valuable and salutary in our lives are rarely pleasant to endure. The human mind is prone to paradoxical quirks and an almost universal ingratitude towards any person or event that has given it something of real value. Why is it that a man can hate most implacably those to whom he knows himself to be hopelessly indebted; and love and admire those to whom he has himself been privileged to accord some blessing? This is so common a psychological puzzle that few have troubled to analyze it and apply its principle in the matters that are closest to our soul-life and concern all departments of human evolution.
Every mythology contains among its legendary characters one who stands for a collective host of beings that in the dawn of human life performed an act of sacrifice, the splendor of which can be appreciated only in degree as we study and try to emulate its greatness.
Long, long ago, when human beings were emerging from the misty awareness, the 'Awakeners' merged with their semi-conscious vehicles and brought about a self-conscious state of cognition. From that time until the present the human race has been able to discriminate between self and the surrounding world, utilizing the latter to gain experience for the former, learning to expand and widen the horizons of the soul ever more and more, until at length the human mind will, in the far distant future, be capable of containing, or, more correctly, merging with the universal consciousness, of which each mind is as yet but a separate drop.
It is these 'Awakeners' who have been so cruelly misunderstood and libeled. The greatest blessing that the human race possesses, that which distinguishes us from the animal world of vague and misty instinct, our noble and aspiring self-conscious mind, is not only not appreciated, but often degraded and put to ignoble uses. Without it, we would be drifting along, irresponsible, mutely suffering the results of a sort of hit or miss process of evolution, much as the animals do today, at the mercy of the elements and the stronger brutes. With it we are able to shape our destinies, living with dignity and purpose, conscious of cause and effect in our actions, able to direct the course of life and having an ever growing awareness of beauty, truth and the greatness inherent in human souls.
See how simply the story is told by the wise of all ages. Prometheus, the great-hearted titan, stole from the gods the fire that was their exclusive property, and endowed his protege, Man, with it. The gods on high Olympus resented this encroachment by man on their powers, and by order of Zeus (the jealous god), Prometheus was forced to expiate his crime by remaining throughout the life-cycle chained to the rock of matter. His liberation will come when Herakles, the perfect man, at last makes his appearance and releases him from his bondage and the torture of the perpetual gnawing passions that consume him throughout his imprisonment in the material realm.
Independently of Greek mythology, the Norsemen tell of the theft by Loki of the golden hair of Sif, wife of the thunder-god, which used to delight the gods when she served them the golden apples of immortality after their feasts in Valhalla. For his crime he was chained to the rock of matter and two venomous serpents drip their poison perpetually on his brow. His devoted wife holds a bowl under their dripping fangs, but when she must empty the bowl he writhes in agony until her return, and mighty earthquakes shake the earth. As all such legends have seven keys to their understanding, there is much more contained in these myths than is at first apparent, and they have their cosmic significance, their geological and astronomical, as well as the aspect pertaining to man and his evolution on this globe. It has become customary to attach a stigma of evil to the character of these so-called 'thieves,' but by doing so we actually side with our enemies, the 'jealous gods' whose function ended after the creation of the lower principles of man, and who resented the bestowal upon their creature of a quality that would make man potentially a god of greater caliber than themselves.
In the Bible, the jealous Jehovah is a far cry from the Father in Heaven who is known to none save the Son. This Son is a ray of that ever unknowable divinity, the individualized god in man; actually latent but potentially an active power in the individual human being. And the cross on which is chained the Christ-principle throughout the life-cycle of an entity, planet, sun, or man, is the material realm in which that Prometheus, Loki, or Christ is imprisoned until such time as man consciously takes his heritage of divinity and becomes aware of his godhead.
This could never be brought about but for the great sacrifice of the divine being that enters into the imperfect human animal and makes it potentially divine. The 'temptation' in the garden of Eden, where all was blissful unconsciousness, was the natural and inevitable rebellion against stagnation of an entity at the beginning of a life-cycle, and the choice to live and suffer in order to attain perfection in its own class. The 'Awakener' was the wise serpent, the initiate, who brought to man the inestimable gift of knowledge of good and evil, bringing responsibility and the capacity for progress toward true immortality. Without the devil there can be no god. Without the 'adversary,' what the Hindus call the 'pairs of opposites,' discrimination between good and evil, there can be no growth of consciousness. Static innocence is not perfection. It requires the storms on the turbulent waters of life to bring about understanding of the correlations of all things and a mastery of the laws of life and death. Awakening to knowledge is necessary for attainment to the true, which is compounded of all opposites and a recognition of the fitness of each thing in its place.
Let us therefore not malign Lucifer, Loki, and Prometheus — the bringers of illumination, that Christ in man, to whom we owe the deepest debt of gratitude, but let us recognize the need for a proper use of this divine gift and the dignity of living nobly as human beings possessed of the qualities of the gods. Our gratitude can best be expressed in the hope that we may hasten the perfection of Herakles, our human soul, and thus liberate the great ones from their onerous task, so that in a future cycle we may perform this task worthily for those whose footsteps follow our own.
(From Sunrise magazine, January 1952; copyright © 1952 Theosophical University Press)
It is good to be a Herschel who describes the sun; but it is better to be a Prometheus who brings the sun's fire to the earth. — Phillips Brooks