Rex Quondam Rexque Futurus

Only by setting the Sun can rise, only by becoming dry, as if they were dead, the majority of seeds can germinate: death is a mill that grinds life. Similarly, in archaic times, the children had to undergo a temporary initiatory death before being able to be reborn to a renewed and more mature form of existence.

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In this article I will focus on a series of themes and symbols that can be found within the so-called Arthurian cycle:

King Arthur (from Welsh arth, Celtic *arto-, Proto-Celtic arthos*, from the PIE root *rtko, always with the meaning of “bear”) is the “Bear King” (the constellation of Ursa Major in Gaelic was called Cerbyd Arthur, “Arthur’s Wagon” [the symbolic function of the wagon is exactly equivalent to that of the horse and the ship, it is the cornerstone that sustains and gives shape to life understood in a higher meaning]), son of Uther Pendragon (from Celtic -penn, “mount” [a symbolic image always referring to the burial mound understood as matrix of rebirth] and “dragon”, maybe with the meaning of “mount of the dragon”): both the bear and the serpent (in Greek “dràkon” means both “dragon” and “serpent”) are archaic symbols of initiation and eternal rebirth, the first in relation to its cyclical apparent death and rebirth during the period of hibernation inside the den, the second in relation to the cyclical renewal of its existence when it hides inside a narrow natural cavity to do the molt; in myths and folklore the gaze of the dragon has the power to petrify, immobilize or paralyse its victim, characteristic attributable to the etymology itself of the word “dragon” (stemming from Greek “dérkomai”, “to gaze intensely”) and comparable to the petrifying power of Medusa’s head: it’s the calcification process to which may incur both the placenta and the child inside the maternal womb, therefore the power of the gaze is synonymous with death.

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Arthur and Uther are therefore two initiates that have accomplished in their youth a ritual process of reincarnation within the ancestry, but their kinship suggests that they may actually be the same identical figure; the medieval sources at our disposal indicate the 26th of November as date of Uther’s death, fifteen days after the anniversary of Saint Martin: Uther dies in the period of the year when the bear begins its hibernation, and simbolically reincarnates in his son Arthur (“bear”), who, as his father, will come into possession of the sword Excalibur (forged in Avalon, the burial mound, and obtained by the legitimate descendant or by extracting it from a stone [i.e. the burial mound] or by taking it from the arm of the Lady of the Lake that comes out from the water wielding it [the symbolism of the water is substantially equivalent to that of the burial mound, it fulfills at the same time a function of grave and matrix and is, especially in reference to the amniotc fluid, a generator and life-giving element), the object with which was buried the divine ancestor and in which his identity is poured and materialized, solemn guarantee of a regal destiny: only the legitimate and predestined descendant can take possession of it and make sure that his own immature and fragmented identity reintegrates with that of the deceased reborn in him, he himself in a previous life.

For what concerns Melin, master of initiation and prophet, it will suffice to remember that according to the tradition he was conceived by a daimon and a mortal woman, his second name was Ambrosius (“he who possesses ambrosia”) and used to prophesy while sitting under an apple tree.

It can be said that, by means of the initiatory process of reincarnation, our ancestors took the responsibility of altering the regular flow and at the same time the intrinsic nature and self-awareness of children; the reincarnation of the spirit, identity, memory and knowledge of a divine ancestor was accomplished in the short period of time in which the initiate resided in the telluric depths of the burial mound. The intuition, realisation and inner possession of the metaphysical truth that allows us to integrate our individual identity within the totality of time is the fundamental purpose of the initiatory process: the eternal flow of time consists in the eternal restoration and reintegration of the same identical living matter, for which reason we have always been and we’ll always be, we are made of the substance itself of eternity and immortality, yet yoked to a temporal and mortal perspective, being no longer able to attain and innerly possess this metaphysical truth.

In relation to sacred kingship is relevant the theme of the “painful blow” that wounds and weakens the Sacred King, called Fisher King, whose indecipherable infirmity is described in terms of a disability in the legs, more specifically in the thigh, with consequent lameness and difficulty of movement (in the Mabinogion, similarly, Brân the Blessed is wounded in the thigh by a spear, wound that results incurable and an inscrutable obstacle to the fulfillment of the regal function; also the hero Celtchar undergoes a very similar destiny): this refers to the recurring symbolism of the femur as a synonymous of movement and life; therefore this enigmatic weakness and infirmity, from which the Sacred King awaits to heal (on the symbolic level “healing” always equals to “rebirth”) while residing in his castle (i.e. the burial mound, the place where the deceased reigns supreme) in a state of symbolic “sleep” (state of being that I will examine further down), consists precisely in a symbolic and temporary apparent death, which has as immediate consequence the sterility of both kingdom and nature, manifesting itself in the symbolism of the “Terre Gaste” (“Wasteland”) and the “Arbre Sec” (“Dry Tree”); the Sacred King is therefore arrived at the conclusion of his annual function, in correspondence of the temporary death of the Sun during Winter, and exclusively the Graal will be able to heal him, the search of which, in this interpretative context, can be understood in terms of a selective competition aimed at restoring and pass down the sacred kingship.

TRAMONTO-X-LOC.-LORETTA

Note: archaically the states of sleep and death were placed in reciprocal equivalence (Hypnos [the personification of sleep] and Thanatos [the personification of death] are twin brothers in the Greek mythology), indeed a sleeping man and a dead man are outwardly very similar, and both the bed and the grave have always served as a place of rest; these associations led to believe that as well as sleep and night are inevitably followed by awakening and day, death would have been fatally followed by rebirth, that’s why our ancestors often placed the dead in fetal position (position that, significantly, we tend to assume, intentionally or not, during sleep) inside the burial mounds, so that they would become, simbolically, embryos waiting to be reborn from the womb of the earth, source of life.

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At the end of the Battle of Camlann (during which Arthur is mortally wounded by Mordred) occurs an ambiguous episode, the one in which Arthur embraces Lucan, one of his last knights still alive, and by doing so suffocates him causing his death; it has been hypothesized that Lucan may be a figure equivalent to the god Lugh, which was christianized by the Church in Luke the Evangelist: their names would share the same etymological meaning, “bright, shining”, from the PIE root *leuk-, “light, brightness, shininess”, from which also come the Latin lux and the Greek leukos, both with the same meaning; one of the epithets of Lugh is indeed “lámfada”, “of the long arm”, in reference to the solar rays, which arrive everywhere despite coming from the immeasurable celestial heights. The legendary Battle of Camlann took place in coincidence with the festivity of Samhain, celebrated between October 31st and November 1st and today known as Halloween, which from the initiatory side marked the beginning of the ritual of rebirth, whereas from the merely seasonal side marked the beginning of Winter: therefore Lucan, the Sun, must necessarily die, and Arthur, the bear that hibernates, renounces possession of Excalibur and allows himself to be taken to Avalon.

ARTHDEAT

Avalon (etymologically “isle of apples”, from Welsh afal [pronounced “aval”], Breton aval, Celtic *abal-, Proto-Celtic *aballo-, always with the meaning of “apple”; in the Vita Merlini of Geoffrey of Monmouth, Arhtur is taken in the Insula Pomorum), is a legendary isle simbolically located in the west, where the Sun sets: it is the land of the dead, i.e. the burial mound.

Beetween Gavrinis (a small isle – situated in the Gulf of Morbihan in Brittany – where there is a prehistoric burial mound) and Avalon there is no difference:
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Avalon is therefore related to the apples of immortality or eternal youth, as in the case of the red apple picked by Eve from the Tree of Life and given to Adam, solemn promise of future rebirth and symbolism that refers to the placenta, which looks like a tree and sustains the life and development of the fetus thanks to the nutrients present in the noble blood that flows in it. In certain versions of the legend Arthur goes to Avalon escorted by three ladies (tripartite manifestation [past, present and future: time] of a single figure symbolizing the circularity of existence), and there nine fairy sisters (personifications of the nine months that make up the symbolic pregnancy) take care of him, so that he can “rest” and “heal”, waiting for the propitious time to return, i.e. to be reborn, and assume kingship.

“Some say, in many places of England, that king Arthur is not dead, but by will of Our Lord carried elsewhere. They also say that he will return…I don’t affirm this, but rather that somewhere in this world his life has undergone a transformation. But many say that in his grave is written this verse: HIC IACET ARTHURUS, REX QUONDAM REXQUE FUTURUS”.

-Thomas Malory

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Sacred Ambulation

What represent the innumerable mythological figures marked by monosandalism, lameness and other types of afflictions and vulnerabilities to the lower limbs? Several clues indicate an indeterminate state of existence, in the balance between life and death, in the context of an initiatory ritual of rebirth.

Some examples taken from the Greek myths:

Jason (monosandalism).
Perseus (monosandalism according to a version of the myth in which Hermes gives him only one sandal).
Theseus (he retrieves the sandals and the sword of his father Aegeus by lifting the boulder [i.e. the cave or burial mound] under which they had been hidden [i.e. buried]).
Hephaestus (lameness: soon after being born his mother Hera throws him into the sea from the top of Olympus, and he remains for nine years [time frame that indicates the symbolic gestation that will be followed by the initiatory rebirth] inside a cave [i.e. the burial mound] surrounded by water [i.e. the amniotic fluid]); other lame smiths are Trébuchet (“the limping”) of the Arthurian cycle and Völundr (to which are severed the tendons of the legs) of the Norse myths.
Zeus (in a myth his tendons of the feet are severed by Typhon).
Achilles (vulnerable only to the heel).
Dionysus (he experiences a double birth, the physical one from the body of Semele, his mother, and the initiatic one from the thigh of Zeus, his father).

Theseus lifts the boulder:
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Achilles hit at the heel by the deadly arrow:
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They are all figures symbolically devoid of the femur (strictly associated with movement and thus with life) of the divine ancestor that will reincarnate in them, the bone that every child, during an ancestral initiatory ritual, had to retrieve from the deepest chamber of the cave or burial mound, the throne hall where was located the skeleton of the predecessor.

The Trinacria, symbol equivalent to the swastica, portrays Medusa’s head and three bent legs to suggest the concept of movement, synonymous with life:
Risultati immagini per trinacria vespri

To note the fact that in Crete and Delos was celebrated a dance called “crane” (in reference to the habit of cranes to stand upright on one leg) to which participated young boys and girls: the movements of the dance had to evoke the path of the labyrinth from which Theseus came out after killing the Minotaur, labyrinth from which the hero himself went out dancing its figure.

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Why not remember also the famous lameness of the Devil, the result of the intentional distortion applied by the Christians to the divine figures of the legitimate descendant and the reborn ancestor?

Lastly it is necessary to mention some children’s games: the Game of the Goose consists in a labyrinthine and initiatic path, in which is destiny, in the form of dice, that moves the pieces on the squares, which are composed by figures symbol of initiation such as the death, the skeleton, the labyrinth, the well, the prison and the bridge; the Hopscotch consists instead in a numbered path that must be completed hopping on one foot, in which the first square is called earth and the last sky (respectively the entry threshold of the womb of rebirth [i.e. the female principle] and the reaching of the burial chamber of the ancestor [i.e. the male principle], a path of there and back from the earth to the sky.

Comparison between the court of the Hopscotch and a typical burial mound seen from above:
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“Children continue to play the game of hopscotch without knowing of giving back life to an initiatory game, whose purpose is to penetrate and manage to come back from a labyrinth; by playing the hopscotch the children descend symbolically in the underworld and return on the earth”.

-Mircea Eliade

Risultati immagini per mircea eliade

About Zeus and Typhon

For our ancestors the femur was a symbol of movement and thus of the life force, especially in relation to the prehistoric burial mounds – inside which have been found cases of femurs missing or replaced with bear’s femurs – and the initiatory ritual of rebirth that took place inside them: in this article I will try to unveil the symbolic relation between these archaeological finds and the myth of the battle between Zeus and Typhon.

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Typhon is a monstrous creature described in different ways by the various ancient sources, but generally speaking he was a gigantic winged monster with an at least partially serpentine shape.

Typhon:
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In the mythical tale Zeus figths against Typhon and tries to kill him, but the monster manages to immobilize the god by severing the tendons of his hands and feet. The key in this context is to understand that the tendons fulfill the same symbolic function of the femur in relation to the ability to move and the life force of an individual: the tendons perform in the myth the same role that the femur performs in the ritual. Zeus is immobilized, alive but at the same time symbolically dead, awaiting to regain the ability to move (i.e. awaiting to be reborn), exactly like the divine ancestor inside the cave or burial mound.

It will not surprise the fact that at that point Typhon will bring Zeus inside a cave (i.e. the burial mound), where he will hide the tendons of the god inside a bearskin, an extremely archaic symbolism that comes directly from the primordial Bear Cult practiced by the Neanderthals long before the end of the last Ice Age. The cave, i.e. the womb of the earth, is the Korykion Antron (“cave of the leather sack”, from korykos, “leather sack”) and is protected by the dragoness Delphyne (from delph, “womb”).

The Korykion Antron:
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The korykos (“leather sack”):
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But finally Hermes (name that etymologically means “stone”: it is interesting to notice that the Greek word “hermaion” described both a pile of stones [originally in reference to dolmens, cairns and menhirs, which, over time, among the Greeks took the form of the sculptures significantly called “herms”] and a fortunate man) manages to enter the cave (he is a psychopomp god with the privilege of being able to access and return freely from the realm of death) and to recover the precious tendons: immediately Zeus regains the ability to move, i.e. returns to life after an apparent and symbolic death, and defeats Typhon once and for all. The divine child, i.e. Hermes, has found the femur of his ancestor inside the burial mound, and by means of an initiatory ritual has achieved a higher and transcendent spiritual state: he remembers and is aware of his previous existences and consciences, which now are, at the same time, distinct and unified realities in the shape of this reborn divine individual (in the sense of “undivided”, i.e. whole, integral, not fragmented).

Some Cases of Burial Mounds (Part 3 of 3)

Troy, also called Ilion, is a mythic city, precisely the theater of the Trojan War in the Iliad, however the Troy of the renowned epic poem is a symbolic city and it represents the burial mound, i.e. the realm of death.

Since ancient times the name “Troy” has been associated with labyrinths, and the prehistoric European symbol of the labyrinth is a figure that symbolizes the grave of the honourable ancestor. For example, several turf mazes, structures shaped like a labyrinth, in England were named “Troy”, “Troy Town”, “The City of Troy” or “The Walls of Troy”. Caerdroia (“City of Troy”) is the Welsh name for Troy and in medieval times a Caerdroia was a turf maze: several similar turf mazes in Scandinavia have names such as Trojaborg, Trojaburg, Trojborg, Tröborg and Trojienborg, which can all be translated as “City of Troy”.

It follows that the mythological Troy is closely connected to the prehistoric labyrinth, burial mound, realm of death.

Comparison between the representation of a Troy Town and a typical burial mound seen from above:
trojeborg_nordisk_familjeboknewgrangeplan1

In the famous oenochoe of Tragliatella, an Etruscan jug, the image of the archaic labyrinth compares with the inscription “TRUIA”:
Risultati immagini per truia tragliatella

Therefore the Iliad describes the entry in the burial mound or realm of death, and the Achaeans fail to breach the walls of the city until they hide themselves inside the Trojan Horse; the horse symbolizes the placenta (which sustains the development and life of the fetus, like Yggdrasill [“Odin’s steed”] that sustains the nine worlds [i.e. the nine months of the symbolic pregnancy]), it is a chthonic animal and the dead were often buried with their best horse: the soldiers hidden inside the Trojan Horse represent the sum of our ancestors, the sum of their wisdom and knowledge, indeed the placenta is almost exclusively composed of the father’s genes. Therefore a horse would have surely gained access inside the burial mouns, i.e. Troy, and the Achaeans can pass through the gates of Troy only if “accompanied” by the Trojan Horse, equivalently to the Argonauts that could reach Colchis only by means of the ship Argo, that in terms of symbolic function is identical to the Trojan Horse, and similarly to Odin that can enter in Hel only if “accompanied” by Sleipnir, his steed: the ritual revealed through these myths is the one of the child that enters the prehistoric cave to accomplish the initiation ritual, and walks inside it “accompanied” – among other animals – by the horses portrayed in the cave paintings.

Prehistoric cave paintings portraying horses:
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Inside Troy there are Helen, Andromache and Hecuba, which represent the three aspects of the sorceress or priestess that welcomed the initiate in the deeper area of the burial mound, they are the three Moirai (“moira” means “destiny, fate”) who preside over destiny and should be considered – respectively as girl, wife and old woman – as a tripartite manifestation of a single figure, similarly to the waxing moon, full moon and waning moon, three aspects of the same entity: together they symbolize the eternal cycles of death and rebirth that occur in all that exists in the Universe.

Helen of Troy:
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In the poem the weapons and the armor are an essential part of the identity of a hero, and the fact that is recurrent the act of obtaining honour by taking possession of the weapons and armor of the defeated enemy – especially when they belong to a strong, glorious and honourable warrior – should be compared to the initiated child that inherits the weapons, along with other objects, of his honourable ancestor, at the conclusion of the initiatory ritual of rebirth inside the burial mound: under this point of view the Achaeans are the descendants, whereas the Trojans are the ancestors.

At a certain point of the poem, Achilles reveals the prophecy that hangs over him:

“My mother, Thetis with silver feet, speaks to me about two destinies that lead me to death: if I stay here to fight around the walls of Troy, I will never return but eternal will be my glory; if instead I return home, in the fatherland, for me there will be no glory, but I will have long life, it will not reach me soon the destiny of death”.

-Achilles to Odisseus in the Iliad

The meaning of this sort of prophecy is this: if Achilles (as previously understood, the heroes of the mythologies should almost always be seen as children) will not go inside the realm of the dead to face the initiation ritual, his current self will remain as it is, incomplete, formless and without a definite identity, until his natural death, and he will live without honour and glory, excluded from the cycle of reincarnations inside the ancestry; if instead Achilles will face the initiation ritual, then his current self will die soon after, when he will enter in the burial mound, since only the dead can access it, to later be reborn as one of his ancestors, through the surfacing of the memory of the blood, i.e. the memory of his previous lives, in this way obtaining the honour and glory of the ancestry.

The Trojan War lasts nine years and ends during the tenth: nine months of symbolic pregnancy and finally the rebirth at the end of the initiation ritual.

The triumph of Achilles after defeating Hector:
triumphant_achilles_in_achilleion_levelled

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Perseus is one of the most important mythic heroes of the Greeks, famous for having beheaded Medusa the Gorgon (the word “gorgon” literally means “subterranean prison”, “tunnel” [i.e. the burial mound understood as matrix of rebirth]: it is significant that in the archaic iconography the Gorgons were portrayed with a mare’s body): to accomplish this feat he first sought out the three Graeae, old sisters that shared the possession of only one eye and one tooth, lived in a cave from which neither the Sun nor the Moon could be seen, i.e. the cave or burial mound, and were described as “virgins similar to swans”, i.e. dressed in white.

The Graeae and the Moirai of the Greeks are equivalent figures, as well as the Parcae of the Romans and the Norns of the Nordics: they are the sorceresses who welcomed the candidate to the initiation, and all are groups of three women who preside over destiny, in the sense that they contribute to decide what will be, on the metaphysical plane, the destiny of an individual.

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They are associated with the color white and therefore with the swan: in addition to what we have already learned, in this context, about the Graeae, we know that the Moirai are described as “dressed in white”, while the Norns live near Urðarbrunnr (“well of Urðr”, “well of destiny”), where they establish the destinies of men; near this well live two swans from which has descended the race of birds who bear this name. The Sirens of the Greek mythology are another group of three women with the same characteristics: they are Parthenope (“the virgin”), Leucosia (“the white”) and Ligeia (“with a clear voice”). Again in the Norse mythology we find the Valkyries (“the ones who chose the fallen”) Svanhvit (“white as a swan”), which offers a sword to Ragnarr and urges him to accomplish great deeds, and Alvitr (“omniscient”), her sister, which spin the linen after having laid their “shape of swan”; another relevant Valkyrie in this context is Alruna (from Proto-Germanic *aliruna, composed by runa [“secret”] and the prefix -ali): omniscience, runes (i.e. secret metaphysical knowledge), spinning and white color are always specific attributes of these figures that we find in the European mythologies. The white color was related with the dead, because they were buried with white clothes, their dead bodies became quickly very pale, and their personality was purified by death (white being also the color of purity and purification): to get access and remain inside the burial mound the Graeae/Moirai/Parcae/Norns had to be dressed in white, as well as the dead and to be symbolically dead. The swan was seen as a chtonic and psychopomp animal, because it is completely white and lives in water (purifying and regenerator element that symbolizes the amniotic fluid), at times indicated in the European mythologies as portal or passage to reach the realm of death, and it is also a migratory bird, the migration being a periodic and regular movement linked to the alternation of the seasons and associated with the cycles of death and rebirth.

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So Perseus steals the eye of the Graeae and, in exchange for it, forces them to reveal the way to kill Medusa and thus the location of the objects needed for that purpose, i.e. the personal objects with which was buried the honourable ancestor: the winged sandals (because Perseus is, exactly like Hermes, the child-bee that enters in the burial mound-beehive), the helm of invisibility (another object that allows access to the burial mound since invisibility is synonymous with death), the harpe sword, the mirrored shield and the leather sack to safely contain Medusa’s head.

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We find a similar case in the Norse mythology, when Odin is forced to leave one of his eyes as a pledge in Mímisbrunnr (“well of memory”), in exchange for the possibility to drink the sacred liquid, mead according to the Völuspá, in it contained. We can better understand these mythological episodes by knowing that the candidates to the initiation could access the realm of death, the cave or burial mound, exclusively if they brought with them a key: the children had to possess and show a mistletoe, an evergreen plant symbol of immortality, the life force of the Sun throughout the cold season.

The eye of Odin and the eye of the Graeae stolen by Perseus conceal precisely this symbolism, because the Sun is the eye of the Sky (Homer describes the Sun as “the all-seeing eye of Zeus”, in the Egyptian mythology the Sun is the eye of Ra, in the Hindu mythology Surya [“the supreme light”] is the eye of Varuna, in the Persian mythology the Sun is the eye of Ahura Mazda, in the Japanese mythology Amaterasu – the goddess of the Sun – is born from the eye of Izanagi, the Sun is the eye of the Indo-Iranian god Mitra): both Odin and Perseus use a mistletoe bough to obtain a metaphysical wisdom through the remembrance of their previous lives, one by means of the vision of the personal objects he had owned, the other by means of the sacred liquid of memory.

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In conclusion Perseus finds and beheads Medusa, avoiding her gaze that turned people to stone by looking at her reflection in the mirrored shield. Medusa’s head, with snakes instead of hairs and whose eyes had the power to petrify every living creature (an equivalent figure is the Basilisk, a legendary medieval snake with the ability to petrify what meets its gaze), symbolizes the placenta, which calcifies after a certain time, causing the death and calcification of the child, who literally becomes stone if he stays too long in the womb.

Medusa’s head and the placenta:
medusa-caravaggioImmagine correlata

The beheading of Medusa symbolizes the sudden and violent severing of the bond between the reborn divine child and the maternal phase of existence, i.e. the severing of the placenta: at that point the initiate must get out as soon as possible from the burial mound (i.e. the womb of the earth), without looking back, fatal action that would compromise the whole initiatory and metaphysical process.

“Perseus with the head of Medusa”, masterpiece of Benvenuto Cellini:
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Part 1: Some Cases of Burial Mounds (Part 1 of 3)
Part 2: Some Cases of Burial Mounds (Part 2 of 3)

The Mystery of the Labyrinth

The concepts of “labyrinth” and “realm of the dead” had the same symbolism for our ancestors, both referring to the burial mound or initiatic cave whose entrance and main channel symbolized the vaginal channel, while the last and deepest chamber symbolized the womb of rebirth. This sort of “womb of the earth” was the place where was accomplished the initiation ritual that allowed the individual to be reborn inside the ancestry.

Representation of an archaic labyrinth (the word “labyrinth” may derive from “labra” [“cave, mine”]); the labyrinth of the Chartres Cathedral is composed of 274 stones, the average pregnancy days of a woman:
trojeborg_nordisk_familjebokRisultati immagini per labirinto di chartres

In Greek the verb “muein”, from which derives the noun “mysterion”, originally referred to the reaching of the center: the mysteric initiations that took place in Ancient Greece had their primordial function in the reaching of the center (the symbolism of the “center” always refers to an initiatory process) inside the labyrinth/burial mound, where lies its “mystery”.

This relation between the labyrinth and the cave or burial mound (Virgil, in the Aeneid, refers that at the entrance of the cave of the Cumaean Sibyl is engraved the image of the labyrinth) is clearly revealed by the decorative motif – common in ancient Greek and Roman art – known as “meander” (but also “greek”) and defined brilliantly by Károly Kerényi with these words: “the meander is the figure of a labyrinth in linear form”. My opinion is that the name “meander” was originally a reference to the meanders of natural caves (the prototypes of the burial mounds).

An example of decorative motif called “meander”:
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The figure of the labyrinth was in ancient times used also in relation to ritual plays and dances: according to Livy, during a festivity dedicated to Proserpina (the Roman equivalent of Persephone, the Queen of the Dead) virgins danced the “Chorus Proserpinae” following a figure and holding in their hands a rope (the Greeks too used ropes during certain ritual dances), necessary in a spiral dance.

What symbolized the rope? Are we sure that the figure followed by the virgins while they danced was that of an archaic labyrinth? We can answer to these questions by examining a known myth: the one about Theseus, Ariadne and the Labyrinth.

Homer in the Iliad talks about a place for dance that Daedalus built for Ariadne: it is not appointed but can only be a reference to the Labyrinth built by Daedalus, the one where the Minotaur had been imprisoned. Fourteen boys and girls were periodically sended inside the Labyrinth to be devoured by the Minotaur, but Theseus joined the third sacrificial group, killed the Minotaur and returned dancing the path of the Labyrinth together with the children he saved. The children sent inside the Labyrinth are those who had to face the rebirth/initiation ritual, and Theseus is the one who accomplishes it and slays the Minotaur: another proof that the heroes of the mythologies should be seen, in many cases, as children.

Theseus kills the Minotaur:
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The name Ariadne on the other hand derives from the Cretan-Greek “ari-hagne” that means “pure”, purity being for the Greeks an attribute of Persephone, because death purifies us all. Ariadne is nothing else than Persephone, the Queen of the Dead, and was also called “Lady of the Labyrinth” according to an inscription found at Knossos and dating back to the Mycenaean Bronze Age: she is the sorceress/priestess inside the burial mound. According to the same inscription the “Lady of the Labyrinth” received as gift some honey, that as we know was brought by the child who had to face the initiation ritual, to appease the sorceress/priestess (originally to appease and nourish the she-bear). I want to remember that the very first nourishment of the gods was not ambrosia but honey, that not casually the Greek word with the meaning of “appease the gods” derives from the word “honey”, and again not casually that particularly the underworld deities were regarded by the Greeks as “honeyed” and “sweet as honey”.

Zeus Meilichios (according to a popular etymology the epithet “meilichios” would mean “sweet as honey”) was often portrayed in the form of an enormous serpent:
Immagine correlataImmagine correlata
Immagine correlata

Originally the structure of the labyrinth was unicursal, with a single path leading to the center: there was no way of getting lost. Then what symbolizes the ball of thread that Ariadne gives to Theseus, so that he will be able to find the way out? Ariadne’s thread (in the ancient Basque language “hari” and “agna” mean respectively “thread” and “nurse”, whereby, alternatively, the name Ariadne would refer to the thread that feeds) symbolizes the umbilical cord that binds the mother to her child, who is in a state between death and birth (or rather, rebirth). Theseus enters the womb of the earth/burial mound (i.e. the labyrinth), symbolically becoming a fetus with the umbilical cord (Ariadne’s thread), that will be necessary to him until the moment when he will come out from the womb/labyrinth/burial mound (i.e. until he will accomplish the initiation ritual), reborn: by that time it will not serve anymore.

Theseus takes Ariadne’s thread:
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Returning to the “Chorus Proserpinae”, we can now clearly understand the meaning of the rope they held as they danced following a spiral, in honour of Proserpina/Persephone, the Lady of the Labyrinth!

Some Cases of Burial Mounds (Part 2 of 3)

After being imprisoned by Polyphemus in his cave, Odysseus states that his name is Nobody: this or because the child that faced the initiatory ritual of rebirth didn’t had yet a real, concrete and defined identity, had not yet inherited a name that identified him within the ancestry and therefore was not yet considered a proper human being; or because his previous self, his previous immature and shapeless identity, simbolically died following the entry in the cave or burial mound: in reality both the hypothesis complement each other. The wine offering to the Cyclops with the intention to placate and subjugate him can be compared both to the honey offered to the she-bear inside its cave and the mistletoe shown to the sorceress or priestess inside the burial mound, both having an analogous and symbolic function relating to having been chosen in a higher sense. Many of Odysseus’s companions are devoured by Polyphemus whereas some manage to escape from the cave: the survivors are the embryos that the she-bear has decided to develop and give birth to, i.e. the children that have accomplished the initiation. After escaping from the cave Odysseus feels the need to affirm and make known to the Cyclops his true identity and name, obtained after having incarnated the identity of one of his honourable ancestors, i.e. of himself in a previous life: he is no longer Nobody but Odysseus son of Laertes.

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One of the tales that describe the birth of Zeus claims that the infant god was nursed inside a sacred cave by the nymphs Melissa (“bee”) and Amalthea (“goat”), which nourished him respectively with honey and milk, i.e. the melikraton, a drink that was compared to the very essence of life: with the passage of time the sorceress or priestess took the place of the she-bear inside the cave (and it is significant that according to another version of the tale were two she-bears, Helike and Kynosura, that nursed the infant Zeus inside a cave), nevertheless the child continued to have the task of bringing honey as a gift (the child brought honey to the she-bear to nourish it and be simbolically chosen: he was compared to an embryo and as such he also had to feed himself with that honey, analogously to the embryos that develop thanks to what the mother eats) and this is the reason why he was simbolically compared to a bee, as indeed the sorceress or priestess (the three priestesses that teached the art of prophecy to Apollo were described as if they were bees and the Pythia was identified as “delphic bee”) that received him inside the cave or burial mound, the symbolic beehive where the child-bee had to go with his sweet gift; the nymph Melissa (“bee”) – whereas in another version of the tale the nurturers were a group of huge sacred bees – nourished the infant Zeus (which was worshiped in Crete with the epithet of “Melissaios”) with honey, the same that the child brought her as a gift in view of the accomplishment of the initiation.

Cave of Zeus, Mount Ida in Crete:
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Part 1: Some Cases of Burial Mounds (Part 1 of 3)

Some Cases of Burial Mounds (Part 1 of 3)

During his first labor Heracles descended in the cave where resided the Nemean Lion; after killing it the hero fell into a sleep from which he awoke at the thirtieth day from the beginning of the labor and then he crowned himself with some celery. The ancient artists positioned both the lion and celery on graves to adorn them: Heracles is the child that goes inside the cave to face the initiation ritual, his awakening symbolizes his rebirth and he adorns himself with celery because he has “won” death.

London, British Museum

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Tír na nÓg (“land of the eternal young”) is the realm of death in the Celtic mythology, a place at the edge of the world, an isle located west, where the Sun sets, i.e. dies. It is difficult to reach it if not invited by one of the elves that reside there, that is to say if not invited by the spirit of one of your own ancestors. Oisín stays there for a year but on the way back finds out that a hundred years have actually passed in Ireland; it’s a reference to the fact that the mind and spirit of the ancestor are reborn in his descendant: many years have passed since the ancestor died but only one year since Oisín entered the cave or burial mound to accomplish the initiation ritual.

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Romulus and Remus, the mythic founders of Rome, were born from Mars and of the vestal virgin Rea Silvia. After their birth they were placed in a basket and entrusted to the waters of the Tiber river: the basket ran aground in a puddle at the foot of a fig tree, the “Ficus Ruminalis” (from Latin “ruma”, “breast”), near a cave, the Lupercal, the two places where, according to the different versions of the tale, a she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus. The she-wolf was primordially a she-bear and the cave her lair, symbolically the womb of the earth (i.e. the realm of death), whereas the waters to which the twins are entrusted symbolize the amniotic fluid. Romulus and Remus should be seen as the embryos of the she-bear, that the latter nourishes so that they can develop and be born; the fig tree is the placenta, “ruminalis” (“breast”) because the placenta is in fact the “breast” of the fetus, since it nourishes him during all the pregnancy.

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We Set Sail!

An interesting and often ignored episode of the Greek mythology is the one where the ship Argo, built to lead the Argonauts to the conquest of the Golden Fleece, passes through the Symplegades, the clashing rocks. The characteristic of these rocks was to clash each other when someone or something tried to pass between them, killing or destroying everything in their grip.

The Argonauts freed a dove to let it pass through the rocks and, while these retreated after having clashed to kill the bird, they made readily and quickly pass their ship in the space that for a short time would have separated them. They came out unscathed, except for the aplustre – an ornamental accessory made of wood and placed on the stern of a Greek or Roman ship, where was believed to reside its life force – destroyed by the following clash of the Symplegades.

An aplustre:
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The difficulty in the passage is a symbolic image that always represents the entry in the realm of the dead, i.e. the grave or burial mound, and falls into a custody function. The same is the case with the Symplegades, they are just another version of the obstacles that threaten and impede the entry into a sacred place.

In any case only the dead could have free access to the realm of death, you had to be one of them to gain access to that sacred place and this is the reason why the ship Argo loses the aplustre, the part corresponding to the life force: in this way the ship “died” and gained the right to enter in the realm of death.

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Finally the Argonauts arrived in Colchis, where Jason has to accomplish the initiation ritual; there are the challenges to overcome, the sorceress or priestess that helps him and the Golden Fleece hanging from an oak guarded dy a dragon.

Gold is often present in fairy tales and myths and it is always related with events that take place in the realm of the dead, i.e. the cave or burial mound: some examples are the Golden Bough of Aeneas and – during the labors of Heracles – the Golden Apples of the Hesperides and the Golden Horns of the Hind.

Note: in the European mythologies and folklore the deer (deer’s antlers were used in the Stone Age to dig the entrance of caves), the reindeer (like the reindeer that pull the sleigh of Santa Claus), the horse, the swan and the goose (both are migratory birds connected with waters, i.e. the amniotic fluid, and the migration is a periodic and regular movement associated with the alternation of the seasons and the cycles of death and rebirth) are psychopomps animals in the context of initiatory rituals: they reveal the path that leads to the realm of death.

In all these cases it is not the object that matters but gold itself, being connected to the ancestors as it is an element that never oxidizes with the passage of time, thus being a symbol of eternal life, as well as a solar and regal symbol, in the context of rebirth of the identity and wisdom of the ancestor buried in the cave or burial mound. The hero, i.e. the legitimate descendant, must obtain the golden object in order to conclude the challenge and return from the place where he found it, just like the child that had to face the initiation was tasked to obtain – in more recent times compared to the primordial structure of this ritual – the golden treasures inside the burial mound of the ancestor, in order to accomplish the rebirth and successfully return from the realm of death.

Sumerian Mists (Part 2 of 3)

At a certain point of the epic Gilgamesh and Enkidu make their way into the Cedar Forest located in Kur (“mountain that gives life”), to kill Humbaba, the guardian of the forest.

The initiation ritual took place in a cave or burial mound but in the mythologies and fairy tales mountains, forests and waters are initiatory places par excellence that symbolize the realm of death, or passages to reach it. “Kur”, “mountain that gives life”, is a clear reference to the grave of the divine ancestor and the ritual that gave new life, through rebirth, to the young initiate.

The burial mounds reproduce the shape of the hills and, just like these, they symbolize the womb during pregnancy:
cerveteri_1Immagine correlata

One of the epithets of Humbaba is “god of the fortress of intestines”:
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Representation of an archaic labyrinth:
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The archaic labyrinth is a sacred symbol that refers to the womb of the earth, at the same time realm of death and matrix of rebirth: the “fortress of intestines” mentioned above is simply a variation of the same concept.

Humbaba is therefore the king of the cave or burial mound, the divine ancestor of the child that will be his reincarnation. Gilgamesh decapitates Humbaba and performs the rebirth ritual: the child had to take the skull, i.e. the mind and spirit of the ancestor reborn in him, and take it with him out of the grave, fundamental gesture that marked the return to life of the deceased from the place where he reigned as a king.

Part 1: Sumerian Mists (Part 1 of 3)