The Spear of Life

In its most archaic sacred symbolism, in the context of an inititory ritual of rebirth, the spear is a representation of the umbilical cord: in this journey into the past I will try to unveil this image, through a brief examination of three episodes from the Arthurian cycle, the Irish mythology and the Norse mythology.

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In the Arthurian literature the Bleeding Lance is a sacred object, often bloodied but it can also give rise to a bloody stream: it is the nourishment in the form of blood that from the placenta arrives to the fetus, passing through the umbilical cord. The King feeds on the blood of the Bleeding Lance, in order to heal from his mysterious infirmity (i.e. to be reborn).

The Bleeding Lance:
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The Gáe Bulg (often known as Gáe Bulga) is the spear of Cúchulainn, a hero of the Irish mythology. The name of this particular weapon may mean “belly spear” (the umbilical cord is a “spear” inside the belly/womb) or “notched spear” (the umbilical cord is the intermediary thanks to which the nourishment of the placenta reaches the fetus, allowing him to grow, so in a sense it is the “mouth” and the “teeth” of the fetus). The word “bulga” seems to derive from the Proto-Celtic compound *balu-gaisos meaning “spear of mortal pain/death spear”, maybe in reference to the potential death of the mother after the childbirth. Note that the use of the Gáe Bulg requires a preparation that can be made exclusively along a water current, holding it between the toes: the water current is the amniotic fluid while the strange position is a reference to the position of the child in the womb before birth, upside down with the feet near the umbilical cord.

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In the Hávamál there is a section where Odin describes his initiatory sacrifice:

“I trow I hung
on that windy tree
nine whole days and nights,
stabbed with a spear, offered to Odin,
myself given to myself,
high on that tree of which none hath heard
from what roots it rises to heaven”.

-Hávamál

In this case I will try to unveil also the other symbols: Odin (one of his epithets is “lord of the spear”) is symbolically a fetus and is hanged on Yggdrasill (the tree of life [i.e. the placenta] whose branches are said to be wet by the Norns with water [i.e. the amniotic fluid]), and at the same time is stabbed by Gungnir, his own spear (the umbilical cord). The nine days and nights are the nine months of the pregnancy, and the same is the case for the “nine worlds” sustained by Yggdrasill (the function of the placenta sustains the development of the child during the nine months inside the womb), every “month” being a “world”, in the sense of a definite and complete cycle. Moreover, as you may know, our ancestors used to let grow a tree (i.e. the placenta) above the burial mounds (i.e. the womb of the earth). The time will come when Yggdrasill will fall, in other words the time of the birth, the event that decrees the end of the life-giving function of the placenta, its “death” and “fall”. Odin sacrifices himself to himself, because his symbolical death is a prelude to his own rebirth, after which, will emerge in his consciousness the memories of his previous lives.

Odin and Yggdrasill:
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The Universe in Flames

Giordano Bruno was an Italian philosopher, burned at the stake in 1600 after being declared guilty of heresy by the Roman Inquisition, in consequence of his criticism of Christianity and the cosmological conclusions he had reached in his search for truth through philosophy. Bruno considered Christianity as a degenerative process that reached its climax during the Counter-Reformation, however what actually interests me is to expose briefly his cosmology, because it makes sense and is very similar to the vision of the cosmos that the Europeans had during Prehistory and Classical Antiquity.

According to Bruno the Universe is eternal (indeed for something to begin there must already be a space in which such a beginning can manifest itself) and infinitely extended (if it was spatially finite, in what would be contained? Remember that all that is spatially finite is inevitably contained in a larger space), whereby motionless and without a center. It is a unitary and vast living organism, animated and endowed with intellect, a homogeneous and indivisible whole governed by the interdependence of all its parts, which are in relation to the organism in its unity (i.e. an organism made up of organisms), unity that coincides with the concept of divinity: consequently the divine resides in the multiplicity that exists in the Universe, throughout Nature and, therefore, also in ourselves. For Bruno everything is matter, that is life, and the Universe consists in infinite matter that changes perennially, able to transform itself continuously in an incessant becoming, passing from one extreme to the other, from an opposite to the other. The universal matter is infinite energy provided with intellect, unity in which lies a multiplicity, multiplicity in which lies a unity!

“Perhaps you pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it”.

-Giordano Bruno

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Related posts: Words of Wisdom #51Eternal Regret (Part 1 of 2)Eternal Regret (Part 2 of 2)The Harmony of Opposites

The Book of Coming Forth by Day

The Book of the Dead is an Egyptian funerary text, consisting in a numerous series of chapters intended to reveal the initatory process through which a deceased person could come back to life.

The Weighing of the Heart:
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In this context, I will try to interpret some brief quotes that have caught my attention.

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“I am the Today.
I am the Yesterday.
I am the Tomorrow.
Through my numerous Births
I subsist young and vigorous”.

-Chapter LXIV

Through his numerous rebirths the honourable dead has lived in the past, is living in the present and will live in the future, returning periodically to be young and strong.

“He aspires to eternal life
As it is the Sky, without end and without limits.
Because, in truth, to the Sky belongs your Soul,
But the Earth possesses its bodily form”.

-Chapter CLXIII

The honourable dead aspires to live for all eternity, through endless rebirths. The soul (i.e. the spirit) is associated with the Sky since they are both eternal and immutable entities, while the body is associated with the Earth since they are both temporary and mutable entities.

“May my Soul dwell in my Body,
My Body unite with my Soul!”.

-Chapter CLXIII

The deceased aspires to rebirth (i.e. reincarnation), that takes place necessarily through the reconciliation of the soul (i.e. the spirit) with the body.

“Know this, your head will be saved!
It will not be kidnapped from you, for all eternity!”.

-Chapter CLXVI

For our ancestors the head was the emblem of the mind and memory, and therefore of the identity of a person. The skull of the deceased had an essential role during the initiatory ritual of rebirth (i.e. reincarnation) and the text assures to the deceased that his head will be preserved and that his identity will belong to him by means of future incarnations.

“In truth, you are the same Horus
shining in the center of your Cosmic Egg”.

-Chapter CLXX

Horus is the child that attempts to fulfill the rebirth/reincarnation ritual, the descendant of the noble ancestor inside the grave: they are the same person. The deceased inside the burial mound is like a fetus inside the womb: both are waiting to be born from their cosmic egg.

The cosmic egg wrapped by a snake symbolizes the womb during pregnancy and the umbilical cord:
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“Horus himself puts you erect
Like many times has already done, with the sanctified”.

-Chapter CLXX

The child puts in the upright position (a prerogative of those who are alive) the skeleton/mummy of the deceased, like many times his previous incarnations have done in the past. The vertical position is synonymous with life and return to life.

“Behold, I arise from the Bowels of the Universe,
And for the second time I come to the world…
I return little child, without father, a new-born…
Nobody can stop me, when the time will come,
From answering to the questions that I will be asked…”.

-Chapter CLXX

The deceased in the grave is reborn, in the body of his young descendant who has completed the initiatory ritual of reincarnation. The noble ancestor is back in the world of the living and he will be able to answer to all the questions concerning his previous existence.

“Your navel is the Reign of the Dead.
Where Light and Darkness are balanced”.

-Chapter CLXXII

The concept of “navel” (as well as the “navel of the earth/world”, the “center of the earth/world”, the “center of the cosmos” or the “cosmic mountain”) symbolized the realm of the dead, namely the burial mound. Life and death are in equilibrium inside the grave, the deceased is not alive but not even quite dead: he is in an intermediate state between these two, awaiting for his rebirth.

“In truth, at the moment when I was born in the world of the Afterlife,
Was born a new deity: and it was me!
Now, with my own eyes, I can see…
I look around me; I exist.
My vision is clear and piercing.
Erect, I resume the broken thread of my existence…”.

-Chapter CLXXIV

The deceased is reborn as a deity, inside the burial mound. He returns to see with his own eyes and becomes aware of his renewed existence. Alive again, he takes up the thread of his existence, interrupted only by a temporary death.

“The Yesterday has generated me.
Behold, Today
I create the Tomorrow”.

-Chapter CLXXIX

He who becomes aware of his own cycle of rebirths owns the past, the present and the future!

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