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.

optimal-foetal-position

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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.

Bruno’s Universe is eternal and infinitely extended (if it was finite, in what would be contained?), whereby motionless and without a center. It consists of a single 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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Words of Wisdom #57

“Who (then), my friend,
Can climb up to the sky?
Only the gods live there,
In company of Shamash, forever!
Men, for their part,
(Have) their days numbered:
Everything they do
Is (nothing more than) wind!”.

-Gilgamesh to Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh

Everything we do is nothing more than wind, but when a strong wind hits us it remains imprinted in our minds and we remember it, because it has challenged and fascinated us at the same time. Then someone among us will try to improve himself, with the aim to be able to oppose to that wind, and ultimately to prevail on it. When this happens, an even stronger wind is born!

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Related posts: Sumerian Mists (Part 1 of 3)Sumerian Mists (Part 2 of 3)Sumerian Mists (Part 3 of 3)

Seneca: about Life, Destiny, Adversity, Willpower and Virtue.

“Gold is tried by fire, brave men by adversity”.

-Seneca

“Has relevance not what you have to endure, but how you are able to endure it”.

-Seneca

“To know yourself is necessary to prove yourself; only in this way a man can know what is his worth”.

-Seneca

“The safe road is followed by the weak and the cowards; the virtue seeks high and steep trails”.

-Seneca

“Is it any wonder that do not reach the summit those who have faced an arduous climb? If you are a man, however, admire the one who attempts great feats, even if you see him falling”.

-Seneca

“Wellness can happen even to the common and modest people; dominate the adversities and the misfortunes is precisely of the great men. Always be happy and go through life without the bite of pain means to ignore half of life”.

-Seneca

“Therefore we accept with serenity all that for law of the universe we have to bear. We are committed to this, to tolerate our mortal condition and not be disturbed in relation to what is not in our power to avoid”.

-Seneca

“The right man differs from the divinity only for his mortal condition”.

-Seneca

The best men are tested by destiny and consequently their existence is studded by adversities, so that they can manifest their virtues before the eyes of ordinary people, so that they can become role models. They are born to serve as examples, to become archetypes and teach to endure and overcome the difficulties of life. From the best we demand more, and destiny acts in the same way!

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Words of Wisdom #54, #55 & #56

“This man was convinced to know while he did not knew, and instead I, as I did not know, so neither I thought I knew. Anyway, I seemed to be wiser than this man, at least in this little thing, namely for the fact that I do not think that I know what I do not know”.

-Socrates

“The knowledge of not knowing is the supreme knowledge.
Not to know believing to know is the disease”.

-Tao Te Ching

“But man is still too much mortal to conquer the knowledge of the immortal things”.

-Seneca

We don’t really know the mystery of life, the mystery of death, the mystery of the universe, the mystery of eternity and the mystery of time. We can only aspire to get closer to the truth, and at best we will be able to discern something that is merely similar to it. Ultimately, we’ll have to accept of not knowing, and give up the presumption of owning a metaphysical knowledge that might give definitive answers to the fundamental questions. This awareness is the fundamental reason that will push us to seek our personal answers to these dilemmas. We are surrounded by a mass of conceited ignorants, sure to know the truth and to have the answers to every question. Ignorants unaware of being such. Beware of these individuals! The best among us are those who know that they don’t really know!

Words of Wisdom #52 & #53

“The body dies, the person disappears, nothing remains alive on the earth, except the memory of the virtue and actions of the deceased”.

-Erwin Rohde

“Be dead but not forgotten is longevity.”

-Tao Te Ching

One of the ways to conquer immortality is to live your life so that your descendants and/or your people will remember you as an example of honourable man or woman. In this way you will become a role model and surely someone will try to live following your footsteps and imitating your deeds. Your name will live on and you’ll have surmounted death!

The Harmony of Opposites in Taoism

Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophical/religious tradition, whose doctrinal foundations can be found in three texts: the Tao Te Ching, the Zhuangzi and the Liezi. I will quote some verses, taken from these works, that expose a doctrine of opposites comparable to that of Heraclitus, also in relation to the concept of “panta rei” (“everything flows”):

“When in the world everyone acknowledges beauty as such,
that’s when uglyness is already present.
When everyone acknowledges goodness as such,
that’s when badness is already present.

Therefore being and non-being are generated at each other,
difficult and easy complement each other,
long and short define each other,
tall and low hang down one towards the other,
before and after follow each other.”

-Tao Te Ching

“What you want to contract you must first expand,
what you want to weaken you must first strenghten,
what you want to refuse you must first exalt,
what you want to take you must first give.”

-Tao Te Ching

“The growing and the decreasing, the full and the empty, when one comes to an end the other has its beginning”.

-Zhuangzi

“Increase and decrease, become full and become empty, finish and start again, here is the cycle of the world. So must be understood the grat task that looms to each one, the universal order presiding over all the beings”.

-Zhuangzi

“Between night and day there is no separation and I don’t know at what moment they end”

-Zhuangzi

“Under the sky everything sinks and resurfaces without ever perish”.

-Zhuangzi

“For those who know the heavenly joy life is a motion according to nature, death a change of form”.

-Zhuangzi

“This unity, dividing itself, forms the beings, and, forming the beings, it destroys itself. So every being has no completion nor destruction, because is reabsorbed in the original unity”.

-Zhuangzi

“The ten thousand creatures (a peculiar taoist expression for the infinite multiplicity of the forms that reside in the universe) are a single thing, but what they find beautiful is the vitality and the individuality, what they find ugly is the stench and the putrefaction. But the stench and the putrefaction turn into vitality and individuality, the vitality and the individuality turn into stench and putrefaction”.

-Zhuangzi

“The ten thousand creatures and I are one”.

-Zhuangzi

“The great wisdom embraces everything, the little wisdom distinguishes”.

-Zhuangzi

“The beginning is the end of something, the end is the beginning of something else”.

-Liezi

“You have fun because things are never the same, without knowing that we also are never the same”.

-Liezi

“What lives can’t not live, what is transformed can’t not be transformed. Eternal life and eternal transformation means to always live and always be transformed, like the yin and the yang, like the four seasons”.

-Liezi

Finally, I would like to talk a bit about the Taijitu, a well known Taoist symbol.

The Taijitu:
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In this symbol, Yin and Yang (the origin of this symbolic duality is ascribed to the observation of the dark side and the sunny side of a mountain) are two necessary and complementary ways of being of the same reality (and in their maximum metaphysical dimension they represent the philosophical concepts of Being and Becoming, that, as a result of the coincidentia oppositorum [“coincidence of opposites”], appear as two ways of being of a single principle, two different manifestations of a same and single reality, the Tao, the Universal Totality, the definitive metaphysical reality where the opposites coincide), their intrinsic interrelation is shown by the fact that at the culmination of each of the two there is a seed of the other. Light and darkness are two subsequent aspects of a unique reality, their apparent distinction and opposition supports the harmony of a cyclical process. When the light energy (Yang) reaches its culmination, then begins to grow the dark energy (Yin), and vice versa, they are transformed constantly one into the other. The opposites are generated reciprocally and each is the other’s shadow!

Words of Wisdom #51

“Remember that you are an actor playing a part in a drama that is how the playwright wants it to be. A short part, if he wants it to be short, long if he wants it to be long. If he wants you to play the part of a beggar, perform this role with skill: or that of a lame, or of a magistrate, or of a private citizen. In fact this is your task: to perform well the role that has been assigned to you. The choice of this role, however, is up to someone else”.

-Epictetus

Maybe it will be useful to remember that the “playwright” referenced by Epictetus is nothing else than the Logos, the Universal Law, the divine essence that flows through all matter in the Universe, the reason, order, logic, necessity and harmony that govern the Cosmos (from Greek “kósmos”, “order”, in reference to an orderly and harmonic system). There is no randomness, everything is in its right place, as in heaven so on earth, as in the macrocosm so in the microcosm, though apparently it may seem the opposite is true. It is not the first time that I propose such a vision of destiny, according to which literally everything that happens during our individual lives was predisposed and “sewn” for us, without there being any real free will and any real possibility of forging our own destiny in the meaning that we usually give to this potentiality. However, even if we assume that this is the truth, i.e. predestination, we can not but acknowledge that we live inside a sort of illusion, of such a power that we can’t live even a day without acting and thinking as if we were the real masters of our destiny. In this perspective the best thing to do would be to see our very being (our external appearance and the way in which we tend to think and act) as the result of our previous lives, of our conduct in a previous existence. So we start with a base, a form that comes from the past but we can choose in which way we should live our lives and act accordingly, affecting in this way – for the better or for the worst – what will be our future existence.

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Other posts about Epictetus: About Stoicism, Words of Wisdom #32

Marcus Aurelius: about Destiny, Time and the Cyclicality and Metamorphosis of the Universal Nature

“Love only what happens to you and that is woven in the great plot of life: there is nothing that fits you best”.

-Marcus Aurelius

“Whatever happens to you was predisposed for you since the time of times, and a dense intertwinement of causes, starting from then, has bound your life to that particular event”.

-Marcus Aurelius

“Don’t live as if you had still thousands of years ahead of you: it chases you, fast, destiny. As long as you live, as long as you can, become virtuous”.

-Marcus Aurelius

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“Many are the superfluous and annoying things that you can eliminate, because they exist only in the opinion that you create about them: so that you can give a wider space to your mind, embrace in thought the entire universe, reflect on the infinite and eternity, note how is rapid the transformation of every single thing, how is short the time that flows from birth to death and which infinite abyss is the one that precedes birth and the one that follows death”.

-Marcus Aurelius

“All the things you see will soon be transformed by the universal nature, that from their substance will give birth to others, which in turn will be transformed into still others and so on, so as to enable the universe to remain forever young”.

-Marcus Aurelius

Observe the course of the stars and participate in their movement, then think intensely about the continuous and mutual change of the elements: you will feel purified of the filth of earthly life”.

-Marcus Aurelius

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About Destiny: Words of Wisdom #12
About Time: Eternal Regret (Part 1 of 2), Eternal Regret (Part 2 of 2)
Quotes by Marcus Aurelius (and Epictetus) about Stoicism: About Stoicism