The following essay will be elaborated upon in a future issue of VOXHERMES. If you would like to learn more about these ideas and how they relate to your inner journey, and how you can benefit from them, subscribe using the link below:
Mythology and the Tree of Life – Odysseus and Circe
I was recently asked about Greco-Roman mythology and its relation to the Tree of Life. This is a difficult question to reply to because there are several answers and none of them completely satisfactory. First we have to recognize that beyond a connection to the planets – Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, etc. – there is no obvious relationship between the Greco-Roman pantheons and the Spheres, or levels of the qabalistic Tree of Life. Thus, when we have the associations of the gods with the various Spheres as suggested by several schools of thought, they are in many instances only a partial fit or match. Finally, we have the actual stories themselves and the interactions of the characters. Here however, we find some leeway as the stories themselves over time often contradict each other. So for this we must rely on only one thing: our own interpretation based upon our own inner experience.
For example: the story of Odysseus and his crew on the island with Circe has several variations. In one Odysseus is able to withstand the temptation of Circe because of an herb given to him by Hermes. He then stays with her for a year as her lover, and she then shows him the way to navigate through the treacherous waters of the Sirens, between the monster Scylla and the water pool Charybdis, which will take him and his crew home.
For someone who is not versed in these ancient myths, but finds their images – partial or complete – appearing in their dreams or nocturnal states, the interpretation may be more personal in relation to the individual’s path. Some basic symbolism will help each along their way without giving a definitive answer as each person’s path may require modifications to the interpretation.
In the example above we could say that Circe is Yesod, and there it is easy to get trapped as did Odysseus and his crew. The mass of them could not pass on their own and only with the aid of their awakened leader, as he was immune to the drink and charms of Circe thanks to Hermes or the power of his awakened mind. This awakening came in the form of a mysterious herb, which we can relate to Netzach, or the vegetable realm, possibly in the form of a spagyric tincture or infusion.
The crew represents the mass of humanity, easily distracted from the Path, and reduced to the most basic of instincts (they were turned into swine) when introduced to a world where their dreams can become reality. They are for all purposes, asleep once again, and unable to move forward without intervention from their leader for they retain their human intelligence, but are as we have said, pig in form. This is the mass of people: glimpses of the inner world are given to them nightly across their lives, and yet, they are unable to do anything with it and live little better than animals at the end of their days.
Another view of the crew can be that they represent the mass of individuals who set out upon the inner journey but are quickly side-tracked by their own unconscious desires and habits, again putting them at the mercy of their environment – be that a physical or psychic one.
Odysseus’s relationship with Circe is a form of alchemical union, and hints at a sexual yoga of sorts. Herein she is the terrible witch, daughter of the sun god Helios, turned initiator (a true dhakini in both the Indian and Tibetan expressions of the term). She is our own inner energies (shakti if you will), who when resisted will then obey, but this is not immediate. It takes time, and here the time is one year – or a cycle of twelve months. The twelve stages of the path, or labors that must be completed before the work can begin anew on a new level. In Greek mythology these stages are also represented by the Twelve Labors of Hercules. It is often stated that when we encounter a new sphere or sub-level of one on the Tree of Life it will take between six and eighteen months for it to be integrated into our field of awareness.
Circe sends Odysseus to the Underworld – again an initiatic experience of the realm of the dead – to consult the ghost of the seer Tiresias. Tiresias is an interesting figure, not only because he is a seer, albeit a dead one, but because he has been both male and female in life, thereby making him ‘all knowing’ in both worldly and spiritual matters. It is only then, after successfully entering into the Underworld, conversing with the shade of Tiresias, and returning, that the Circe, acting as guardian, initiator, and guide for Odysseus and his crew. This Underworld journey could take place in the form of lucid dreaming, shamanic trance, conversation with the spirits, his daemon, or even be a hint at Odysseus conversing with his ‘Inner Self’ as we like to speak of in modern schools. It is unclear, and may in fact, be all these and not limited to one means or expression of communication between the ‘man in the world’ and the ‘spirit in the Underworld’.
The monster and whirlpool can be interpreted as the extreme of the astral waters, or the Lunar realm that we must successfully navigate on our way to the Solar realm beyond the first Veil. The whirlpool being the desires and distractions of the psychic realms, the monster representing the terrors we encounter – a variation of the Guardian of the Threshold if you like.
Now, I am hesitant to provide the following, lest it be take either too rigidly or dismissed too quickly, but in closing ,we can suggest that this part of the story of Odysseus’s journey reflects what we would call in modern terms a journey through the 32nd, 31st, 30th, 29th, 28th, and 27th Paths of the Tree of Life, in preparation for the 26, 25th, and 24th Paths.
32nd – Encounter with Circe
31st – Herb from Hermes
30th – Year of Cohabitation
29th – Descent to the Underworld
28th – Conversation with the seer.
27th – Instruction in overcoming the extremes of the psychic realms
One can then easily suggest that the 26th and 24th Paths are the encounters with the extremes of the Whirlpool and Monster and the 25th Path their successful navigation.
In an article entitled, “The Moon: Rotations and Reflections” by Lucille Gerbaut, appeared in the November 1994 issue of The Stone, a journal published by the now defunct alchemical society The Philosophers of Nature (PON), in which each of the four paths on the Tree of Life radiating from Yesod are associated with a phase of the moon and one of the Greek goddesses. These attributes are: 32nd Path to Hekate, 30th Path to Selene, 28th Path to Phoebe, and the 25th Path to Artemis.
While it is possible to dismiss this interpretation as not being in line with scholarly understandings of the myth or even some schools understanding of the Tree of Life, it is acceptable as a personal interpretation for personal study and spiritual practice. In this way we share it with you that you might have an example to follow in developing your own understanding of your inner experiences so that they may safely lead you between the extremes as you journey on the Path of Return.
Thank you for reading VOXHERMES, the blog of the Institute for Hermetic Studies, a registered 501c3 non-profit. We encourage you to subscribe to this blog to get all updates sent directly to your email in-box. You will also find information about our mission contained in the link below. Click on it and find out more about what IHS has to offer and how you can participate.