Monday, June 18, 2007

The Secret Symbolism of the Creation Myth

This ancient creation myth has always intrigued me, since I first read about it in Robert Graves book on the Greek myths. Here is a summary of it from Wikipedia:

"The Pelasgian Creation Myth [1] is one of the ancient religious stories of the origin of the world. It is a matriarchal, monotheistic system, in which one goddess dominates man, and predates other deities. The goddess gives birth to all things, fertilised not by any male opposite but by symbolic seeds in the form of the wind, beans or insects. The myth predates the Hellenistic era and survives in fragmentary sources amongst ancient greek literature. The account given here is based on Robert Graves' Greek mythology.

Eurynome was born from Chaos at the start of time. The first problem she encountered was that nothing existed for her to exist in or on. The first goddess, Eurynome split the waters from the air, and lived among the seas. As Eurynome headed south she noticed the North Wind on her back, and discerned this as a new, separate entity. Eurynome caught the North Wind, and worked it up between her hands to create a third new thing - Ophion the Serpent. The North Wind, combined with Ophion, curls around Eurynome and sex between them creates a child of hers. Eurynome becomes a dove. In this form, amongst the seas, she broods over and finally lays her egg. She commands Ophion the snake to curl seven coils around her egg until it hatches in to two parts. All things are born from the egg, and they include the sun, moon and planets, the land and all its flora and all its fauna. Ophion and Eurynome inhabit Mount Olympus until, when Ophion claims credit for creating all things, his mate molests him. Eurynome kicks him in the head. Eurynome knocks his jaw so his teeth fall out. Eurynome condemns him to imprisonment in caves below the land. In place of Ophion, Eurynome assigns the powers of the universe to a series of couples, each of a he and she Titan. For the Sun, Theia and Hyperion, Moon, Phoebe and Atlas, Mercury, Metis and Coeus, Tethys and Oceanus for Venus, Dione and Crius for Mars. Also, Themis and Eurymedon look after Jupiter, and Saturn is overseen by Rhea and Cronus. On Earth meanwhile Eurynome creates Pelasgus, first of the first Pelasgians, sprung from the soil of Arcadia. Under the guidance of Pelasgus, his people learned to make shelter, to survive on acorns and to clothe themselves from the skins of pigs, of the type still worn by the people of Euboeoa and of Phocis in the time of the writer Pausanias."

Portions of this ancient creation myth are quite similar to the creation myth of Genesis. The serpent entwining with Eurynome is comparable to Eve and the serpent in the garden of Eden, perhaps entwined around a tree. The first creation is followed by a series of division: the sea from the air, and the egg breaking into two. In Genesis creation begins with a division of light from darkness, the waters below from the sky above, and the land from the sea. Whereas in Genesis we have the seven days of creation, the Pelasgian creation myth assigns the seven planets to a male and female Titan. At the end of the seven days Adam is created from the dust of the earth, and after the seven planets are assigned Eurynome creates Pelasgus from the soil of Arcadia.

So why all the parallels? The Greeks received their teachings from the Middle East, in many cases from ancient Phoenicia. Before the Judaic religion was formed, there was a more ancient monotheistic religion, which became corrupted by idolatry. This ancient religion was universal among the nations of the area, thus we find common elements in their myths. Whereas today a "myth" has the meaning of a story that is untrue, in ancient times myths were ways of teaching, by way of parable and symbolism. One teacher once told me:

"Myths are lies that tell the truth".

Myths make use of symbols, and many modern religions based on the occult ("occult" simply means hidden), or New Age systems of thought, try to discern their meaning with no systematic thought in place. The keys to the meaning of these symbols have been lost. We are so clueless as to what these myths mean, that many do not even realize that the creation myths I just mentioned have nothing to do with the creation of the world. The western world is so literalistic in thinking, it does not know what to do when confronted with symbolic language. It is a different way of thinking, and it is a way to hide spiritual truth from those who don't care to see it.

That there was an ancient monotheistic religion that became so corrupted that its teachings became lost, was seen in the visions of Emanuel Swedenborg. These teachings were given to the ancient Greeks, who then turned them into fables:

"From what is told in the books of Moses it is manifest that worship by sacrifices was known, and that men prophesied from the mouth of Jehovah before the Word was given to the Israelitish nation through Moses and the prophets. ....Do you suppose that the ancient wise men, such as Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, and others, who wrote about God and the immortality of the soul, obtained this knowledge primarily from their own understanding? No; they obtained it from others by its having been handed down from those who first knew of it from the ancient Word....It was not from themselves nor from their own intelligence, but from the ancient Word, and afterwards from the Israelitish Word, that from the most ancient times religion has existed, and the inhabitants of the earth everywhere have had a knowledge of God, and some knowledge of a life after death. From these two Words religious systems spread into the Indies and their islands; through Egypt and Ethiopia into the kingdoms of Africa; from the maritime parts of Asia into Greece, and from Greece into Italy. But as the Word could be written only by representations, which are such things in the world as correspond to and thus signify heavenly things, the religions of these nations were turned into idolatries, and in Greece into fables; and the Divine attributes and properties were turned into as many gods, over whom one was made supreme, whom they called Jove, possibly from Jehovah. It is known that they had a knowledge of Paradise, of the flood, of the sacred fire, and of the four ages, from the first or golden age, to the last or iron age (as described in Daniel 2:31-35)." (True Christian Religion, 264, 273, 275).

This would explain the parallels between the Pelasgian Creation Myth and Genesis. From that we know myths are not just "fairy tales", and they may in fact carry hidden spiritual knowledge. Returning to the two creation myths, what about that Cosmic Egg, around which the serpent coils seven times? It seems to be absent from the Genesis account. Or is it? It is there, and it is quite hidden:

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void;
and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." (Gen. 1:1-2)

The word for "spirit" is the same word for "air", thus Eurynome first creates things from the "north wind". But what about that Hebrew word for "moved"? It also means "to flutter, to hover". It is mentioned two other times, and one of them is quite revealing:

"For the LORD'S portion is his people;
Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.
He found him in a desert land,
and in the waste howling wilderness;
he led him about, he instructed him,
he kept him as the apple of his eye.
As an eagle stirs up her nest, flutters over her young,
spreads abroad her wings, takes them, bears them on her wings:
So the LORD alone did lead him,
and there was no strange god with him." (Deut. 32:9-12)

The word for "move" is the same one used for "flutter", and it is used for birds brooding over their young - thus an egg! Not only that, but the word for "waste" is the same word translated as "without form" in Genesis. The entire world, over which the Spirit of God flutters, is actually in the shape of an egg. This is known as the Cosmic Egg in myth, and the egg of the Pelasgian myth was adopted as a symbol in the Orphic mystery religion of ancient Greece.

The Orphic egg is usually represented as an egg surrounded by a coiled serpent. The egg smbolizes the belief in the Greek Orphic religion that the universe originated from within a silver egg. The first emanation from this egg, described in an ancient hymn, was Phanes-dionysus, the personification of light:

"ineffable, hidden, brilliant scion, whose motion is whirring, you scattered the dark mist that lay before your eyes and, flapping your wings, you whirled about, and through this world you brought pure light."

The serpent that coils around the egg is known as the Cosmic Serpent, described in an article from Wikipedia, showing how widespread the symbol became:

"The serpent, when forming a ring with its tail in its mouth, is a clear and widespread symbol of the "All-in-All", the totality of existence, infinity and the cyclic nature of the cosmos. The most well known version of this is the Aegypto-Greek Ourobouros. It is believed to have been inspired by the Milky Way as some ancient texts refer to a serpent of light residing in the heavens.

In Norse mythology the World Serpent (or Midgard serpent) known as Jörmungandr encircled the world in the ocean's abyss biting its own tail.

In Hindu mythology Vishnu is said to sleep while floating on the cosmic waters on the serpent Shesha. In the Puranas Shesha holds all the planets of the universe on his hoods and to constantly sing the glories of Vishnu from all his mouths. He is sometimes referred to as "Ananta-Shesha" which means "Endless Shesha." In the Samudra manthan chapter of the Puranas Shesha loosens Mount Mandara for it to be used as a churning rod by the Asuras and Devas to churn the ocean of milk in the heavens in order to make Soma (or Amrita), the divine elixir of immortality. As a churning rope another giant serpent called Vasuki is used.

In pre-Columbian Central America Quetzalcoatl was sometimes depicted as biting its own tail. The mother of Quetzalcoatl was the Aztec goddess Coatlicue ("the one with the skirt of serpents"), also known as Cihuacoatl ("The Lady of the serpent"). Quetzalcoatl's father was Mixcoatl ("Cloud Serpent"). He was identified with the Milky Way, the stars and the heavens in several Mesoamerican cultures.

The demi-god Aidophedo of the West African Ashanti is also a serpent biting its own tail. In Dahomey mythology of Benin in West Africa, the serpent that supports everything on its many coils was named Dan. In the Vodun of Benin and Haiti Ayida-Weddo (a.k.a. Aida-Wedo, Aido Quedo, "Rainbow-Serpent") is a spirit of fertility, rainbows and snakes, and a companion or wife to Dan, the father of all spirits. As Vodun was exported to Haiti through the slave trade Dan became Danballah, Damballah or Damballah-Wedo. Because of his association with snakes, he is sometimes disguised as Moses, who carried a snake on his staff. He is also thought by many to be the same entity of Saint Patrick, known as a snake banisher."

In addition to the symbol of a serpent coiled around an egg, another common symbol is a serpent coiled around a staff or tree, again from Wikipedia:

The Sumerian god Ningizzida accompanied by two gryphons. It the oldest known image of snakes coiling around an axial rod, dating from before 2000 BCE.
The Sumerian god Ningizzida accompanied by two gryphons. It the oldest known image of snakes coiling around an axial rod, dating from before 2000 BCE.

"Sometimes the Tree of Life is represented (in a combination with similar concepts such as the World Tree and Axis mundi or "World Axis") by a staff such as those used by shamans. Examples of such staffs featuring coiled snakes in mythology are the caduceus of Hermes, the Rod of Asclepius and the staff of Moses. The oldest known representation is that of the Sumerian fertility god Ningizzida. Ningizzida was sometimes depicted as a serpent with a human head, eventually becoming a god of healing and magic. It is the companion of Dumuzi (Tammuz) with whom it stood at the gate of heaven. In the Louvre, there is a famous green steatite vase carved for king Gudea of Lagash (dated variously 22002025 BCE) with an inscription dedicated to Ningizzida. Ningizzida was the ancestor of Gilgamesh, who according to the epic dived to the bottom of the waters to retrieve the plant of life. But while he rested from his labor, a serpent came and ate the plant. The snake became immortal, and Gilgamesh was destined to die.

Ningizzida has been popularised in the 20th C. by Raku Kei Reiki (a.k.a. "The Way of the Fire Dragon") where "Nin Giz Zida" is believed to be a fire serpent of Tibetan rather than Sumerian origin. Nin Giz Zida is another name for the ancient Hindu concept of Kundalini, a Sanskrit word meaning either "coiled up" or "coiling like a snake". Kundalini refers to the mothering intelligence behind yogic awakening and spiritual maturation leading to altered states of consciousness. There are a number of other translations of the term usually emphasizing a more serpentine nature to the word— e.g. 'serpent power'. It has been suggested by Joseph Campbell that the symbol of snakes coiled around a staff is an ancient representation of Kundalini physiology. The staff represents the spinal column with the snake(s) being energy channels. In the case of two coiled snakes they usually cross each other seven times, a possible reference to the seven energy centers called chakras."

The serpent is quite widespread in myth, and can have several meanings, but what about the serpent coiled about the Orphic Egg? Or the serpent coiled about a tree? Or two serpents coiled around a staff in the form of a double helix? These myths have nothing to do with the creation of the world. These myths are describing the incarnation of the soul in a human body, when the seed of man (the serpent) achieves union with the female egg. These myths are quite close to describing the conception and birth of a human being, both in a human's natural development, as well as a human's spiritual development. It is this creation that is being described, not the creation of the world. Thus the egg floats in the waters, formless and void, as the embryo does in a woman's womb. The serpent coiling about the egg is the sperm that surrounds the female egg. And once the serpent coils about the egg and achieves union, the egg breaks open, and the world is created in a series of divisions that build upon each other, just as an embryo is formed by cell division. And within each cell is the DNA code, formed in a double helix, just like two serpents around a staff:

As for the four code elements that make up a DNA strand, could those have been represented by the four elements of earth, wind, fire and water that the ancients once thought composed all of creation? Well it is a thought. Consider this passage from Genesis, where God curses the serpent:

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. (Gen. 3:15)

This one verse encapsulates many of the Greek myths described in the constellations of the zodiac. It is also a prophecy of the Messiah, how he would incarnate into a human body. When man, woman, and serpent are cursed, they are banished from the garden of Eden, and man must toil to bring forth fruit from the ground. Could this in fact describe the banishment of the soul from its heavenly paradise, to toil here on earth until our lesson is learned? The four rivers of Paradise are also widespread in myth, and people look in vain to find its geographic location. It is not here on earth, it is in the spiritual world from where we all came. What of the bruising of the heel of the seed of the woman, and crushing the head of the serpent? That statement could be reflecting that when the sperm achieves union with the female egg, it "bruises" it by breaking through, and in the process the head of the sperm is crushed and its tail breaks off. At this point a human soul incarnates, "banished" from its heavenly realm. Here is an interesting image of an Orphic bowl:

The image of this Orphic bowl shows eight males and eight females, with their feet touching the coiled serpent around a hidden egg. Not only do the myths seem to model the natural process of the creation of a human, but also in the secret teachings of Orpheus, the development of the human soul:

"Orpheus, the poet-Argonaut, is also said to have come on earth to purify the religion of its gross, and terrestrial anthrophomorphism. He abolished human sacrifice and instituted a mystic theology based on pure spirituality. Cicero calls Orpheus a son of Bacchus."
- M. P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled

"I am parched with thirst, and perishing,
But drink of me, the ever-flowing spring on the right, (where) there is a fair cypress.
Who are you? Where are you from?
I am a child of Earth and of starry Heaven, but my race is of Heaven (alone)."
- Orphic Lamella from Thessaly

"To the Orphics, the soul is of celestial origin and divine; man is a child of earth and starry heaven; his body of the earth, but his soul, as a late Orphic line expresses it, is 'rooted in the celestial element'. Each soul had lived in the society of Gods, and was in fact a God.

"This godly soul however sinned and ended up in a body. We are told by Aristotle that in the Orphic verses the soul was said to be carried to and fro by the winds, and drawn into the body by respiration. The cause of the soul's descent was sin, and its imprisonment in the body has a penitentiary purpose."

"...As soon as a soul got into the body, the doors of the prison-house close around her. The soul has entered upon what the Orphics call the 'circle' or 'wheel of generation', a long and weary circuit of birth and death."
"While present in the body, the soul is therefore a fallen angel who is doing penance for her sins and her ultimate aim is to be released from her chains and recover the inheritance she has lost."
- "Orphism, Return to the Gods" in Advance, Issue 119

"The followers of Orpheus turned the Dionysian method on its head, seeking ecstasy through abstinence and rites of purification, denying the senses rather than using them as vehicles for bliss."
- Search for the Soul

"Associated with the Orphics was a myth. Dionysos was killed and devoured by the Titans; his heart was rescued and a new Dionysos born from it. The Titans were destroyed by Zeus' thunderbolt, and mankind formed from their ashes. Man is thus compounded of a Titanic element, the body, and a Dionysiac element, the soul, and his aim is to purify himself of his Titanic element."
- John Ferguson, An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Mysticism and the Mystery Religions

"...The purer their lives the higher will be their next reincarnation, until the soul has completed the spiral ascent of destiny to live forever as God from whom it comes."
"Their methods of purity were mainly in the form of living a clean life according to their rules, which included several rules of abstinence, such as the rule against eating animal food, prohibition against beans and eggs. There were also a great variety of elaborate and complicated rites and ceremonies to accelerate the soul's release from the bodily prison."
"Various kinds of life were thought to form a graduated scale, with plants being lowest, followed by animals and then human bodies. When fully purified, one would rise up to Gods, sharing the same hearth and table with other immortals."
- "Orphism, Return to the Gods" in Advance, Issue 119

In the Mithraic rites, there were seven stages of initiation. In the visions received by Emanuel Swedenborg, he was shown that the "seven days" of creation represented seven stages of spiritual development of the human soul. It is not a story concerning the creation of the world, it is the story of how God creates a newly formed spiritual being, destined to become an angel of heaven.

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