Some Cases of Burial Mounds (Part 3 of 3)

Troy, also called Ilion, is both an ancient historical city and a mythical city, precisely the theater of the Trojan War in the Iliad. However, the Troy of the renowned epic poem is a symbolical 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

Therefoe the Iliad describes the entry in the burial mound/realm of death (i.e. Troy), and the Achaeans fail to breach the walls of the city until they hide themselves inside the Trojan Horse. The horse is a chthonic animal and the dead were often buried with their best horse: a horse would surely gained access inside the grave (i.e. Troy). So the Achaens 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), similarly to Odin that can enter in Hel only if “accompanied” by Sleipnir, his steed. The ritual explained 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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chinese-horse

In the Iliad, the city of Troy represents the burial mound/cave in which took place the initiatory ritual of rebirth. Helen, Andromache and Hecuba are three aspects of the sorceress/priestess who welcomed the initiate in the deeper area of the burial mound, they are the three Moirai who preside over destiny and should be seen – respectively as girl, wife and crone – as a tripartite manifestation of a unique 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 the powers of the Universe, as in heaven so on earth.

Helen of Troy:
helen_of_troy

In the poem the weapons and armor are an essential part of the idenitity of a hero, and the fact that in the poem is recurrent the act of taking possession of the weapons and armor of the defeated enemy to gain honour – especially when they belong to a strong, glorious and honourable enemy – should be compared to the initiated child that inherits the weapons (along with other objects) of his honourable ancestor, at the conclusion of the initiation/rebirth ritual inside the burial mound.

Under this point of view, the Achaens are the descendants/new generations while the Trojans are their 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 which lead me to death: if I remain here to fight around the walls of Troy, I will no longer 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 omen is this: if Achilles (as previously understood, the heroes of the mythologies should be seen, in certain cases, as children/young boys) will not go inside the burial mound/reign 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 rebirths inside the ancestry. If instead Achilles will face the initiation ritual, then his current self will die soon after (when he enters the burial mound, since only the dead can access it), only to be reborn later as one of his ancestors (through the emergence of the memory of the blood, i.e. the memory of his previous lives), in this way obtaining the eternal honour and glory of the ancestry.

The Trojan War lasts nine years and ends during the tenth: nine months of pregnancy and finally the birth (i.e. rebirth/reincarnation at the end of the initiation ritual)…

The triumph of Achilles after defeating Hector:
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Perseus is one of the greatest Greek heroes, famous for having beheaded the Gorgon Medusa: to accomplish this feat he first sought out the three Graeae, old sisters who shared only one eye and one tooth among them, lived in a cave from which neither the Sun nor the Moon could be seen (i.e. the 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, inside the burial mound, the candidate to the initiation, and are all groups of three woman who preside over destiny, in the sense that they decide what will be, on the metaphysical plane, the destiny of an individual.

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They are related 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 [i.e. the burial mound] of Urðr”, i.e. “Well of Destiny”), where they establish the fate of men; near this well live two swans from which descended the race of birds who bear this name. Again in the Norse mythology we find the valkyries (“the ones who chose the fallen”) Svanhvit (“white as a swan”), who 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 and runes (i.e. secret metaphysical knowledge), spinning and the color white are always specific attributes of these figures that we find in the European mythologies. The color white was related with the dead, because they were buried with white clothes, their dead bodies became quickly very pale, and they were 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 the waters (purifying and regenerator element that symbolizes the amniotic fluid), at times indicated in the European mythologies as portals or passages 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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Now let’s go back to Perseus: he steals the eye of the Graeae and, in exchange for it, forces them to reveal the way to kill Medusa and thus the whereabouts of the objects needed for that purpose: the winged sandals (because Perseus is – exactly like Hermes – the divine child/bee who enters 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 knapsack to safely contain Medusa’s head (i.e. the valuables with which was buried the honourable ancestor). We find a similar situation in the Norse mythology, when Odinn is forced to leave one of his eyes as a pledge in Mímisbrunnr (“well [a symbol of the burial mound] of memory”), in exchange for the possibility to drink the sacred water in it contained. We can better understand these mythological episodes when we know that the candidates for the initiation could access to the relam of death (the burial mound) exclusively if they brought with them the body of a dead, because only the dead had the right to enter that sacred place; the children had to possess and show the mistletoe, the dead Sun (i.e. Apollo/Baldr) at the time of the cold season: the gates opened…

The eye of Odinn and the eye of the Graeae stolen by Perseus hide 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 Odinn and Perseus use the mistletoe bough to obtain a metaphysical wisdom through the remembrance of their previous lives: one by means of the vision of the valuables he possessed in a previous life, the other by means of the sacred liquid of memory.

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Finally, Perseus finds and beheads Medusa, avoiding her gaze that turned people to stone, by looking at her reflection on 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 medieval legendary snake with the ability to petrify what meets its gaze), symbolizes the placenta, which calcify 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-caravaggioplacenta-cake-3

The beheading of Medusa symbolizes the sharp 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 (the womb of the earth), without looking back, fatal action that would compromise the entire metaphysical and initiatory 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”, “grave” and “realm of the dead” had the same meaning/symbolism for our ancestors, both referring to the burial mound whose entrance and main channel represented the vaginal channel while the last and deepest zone/chamber symbolized the womb. This sort of “womb of the earth” was the place where was accomplished the initiation ritual that allowed the rebirth inside the ancestry.

Representation of an archaic labyrinth:
trojeborg_nordisk_familjebok

In Greek the verb “muein”, from which derives the noun “mysterion”, referred originally to the reaching of a center: the mysteric initiations that took place in Ancient Greece had their primordial origin 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/burial mound 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” originally a reference to the meanders of natural caves (the prototypes of the burial mounds) and not to the meandering path of rivers.

An example of decorative motif called “meander”:
rhodes_meander_hg

The figure of the labyrinth was in ancient times also used 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 Underworld) 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 as they danced was that of an archaic labyrinth? We can answer to these questions 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 was kept. Fourteen young 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 hostages 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 certain cases, as children/young boys.

Theseus kills the Minotaur:
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The name “ariadne” on the other hand derives from the Cretan-Greek “ari-hagne” that means “utterly pure”, purity being for the Greeks an attribute of Persephone, since death purifies us. Ariadne is nothing else than Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld, and was also called “Lady of the Labyrinth” according to an inscription found at Knossos 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 a gift 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”.

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 symbolizes the umbilical cord that binds the mother to her son, 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/burial mound/labyrinth (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 in the cave of Polyphemus, Odysseus states that his name is “Nobody”: this or because the children that faced the initiation/rebirth ritual didn’t had a real, defined identity, didn’t had a real name and were not yet seen as true human beings, or because his previous self/identity was dead after the entry in the burial mound (Polyphemus’s cave); or for both reasons. The wine offering to the Cyclops – with the intention to soothe him, calm him down – can be compared both with the mistletoe given to the priestess inside the mound and the honey brought to the she-bear in its cave, all having a similar function.

Some of the companions of Odysseus are killed by Polyphemus while others managed to escape from the cave: those who survived are the embryos that the she-bear decided to develop and give birth to, i.e. the children who have passed the initiation. After the escape from the cave Odysseus feels the need to affirm and make known to the Cyclops his true identity and name, that is the new identity that he has obtained after the initiation ritual, reborn in one of his honourable ancestors: he is no longer “Nobody” but Odysseus son of Laertes.

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One of the various tales about the birth of Zeus tells that he was brought up by Melissa (“bee”) and Amalthea, inside a cave. Amalthea had hung the cradle of Zeus (in a way, the clothes [in this case life-force] of an infant are his cradle) up a tree (the sacrificial tree) so that it was neither in heaven, nor on earth, nor in the sea (that is among the dead, as the child inside the burial mound).

With time the sorceress/priestess took the place of the she-bear inside the cave/burial mound, however the child continued to have the task of bringing honey as a gift and this is the reason why the child who faced the initiation was seen as a bee: that’s why the sorceress/priestess inside the burial mound was also considered a bee, and it makes sense when we know that according to another tale the suckler of Zeus were sacred bees. The Homeric Hymn to Apollo describes the three prophetess that teached the art of divination to Apollo as if they were bees and the Pythia – the priestess of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi – was called “Delphic Bee”.

Maybe (I make a guess) our ancestors identified the sorceress/priestess as a bee because they no longer understood or remembered the symbolism/role of the she-bear (the child brought honey to the she-bear to feed her and be chosen, being symbolically one of her embryos: as such he also had to eat some of that honey, similarly to the embryos that are nourished by what the she-bear eats; he is like a fetus inside the womb/cave/burial mound and he must be reborn): at that point, who else could have been the recipient of that sweet gift if not adult bees? And if this was the case, maybe they saw the burial mound as a sort of symbolic beehive where the child/bee had to go with his honey?  Melissa (“bee”) nourished Zeus with honey, that is the same honey that the child who faced the initiation brought as a gift to her.

Cave of Zeus, Mount Ida (Crete):
ideon-antron-andonis-katanos

Part 1: Some Cases of Burial Mounds (Part 1 of 3)
Part 3: Some Cases of Burial Mounds (Part 3 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 Heracles fell into a sleep from which he awoke at the thirtieth day from the beginning of the labor and then he crowned himself with celery. Ancient artists positioned lions on graves, and celery was used to adorn them. Heracles is the child that goes inside the cave/burial mound to face the initiation ritual, his awakening is to mean his rebirth and he adorned himself with celery because he “overcame” death.

London, British Museum

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Tír na nÓg (“land of the eternal young”) is the realm of death in the Irish mythology: a place at the edge of the world, an island located west, where the Sun sets (i.e. dies). It’s hard to reach it if not invited by one of the elves that resides there (that is to say, if not invited to be reborn by the spirit of one of your ancestors). Oisín remains there one year but on the way back finds out that in reality a hundred years are passed in Ireland. It’s a reference to the fact that the mind/spirit of the ancestor is reborn in his descendant: much time has passed from when the ancestor died but little time from when Oisín entered the burial mound to accomplish the initiation ritual.

dunmorogham

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Romulus and Remus, mythical founders of Rome, were the sons of Mars – the god of war – and of the vestal virgin Rea Silvia. After 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 foothills of a fig tree, the “Ficus Ruminalis” (from Latin “ruma”, “breast”), near a cave, the Lupercal. According to the different versions of the tale a she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus in both these places. The she-wolf was originally a she-bear and the cave her lair, symbolically the womb of the earth (i.e. the realm of the dead), while the waters to which the twins are entrusted represent the amniotic fluid. Romulus and Remus must be seen as the embryos of the she-bear, that she feeds to develop them. The fig tree is the placenta, “ruminalis” (“breast”) because the placenta is in fact the “breast” of the fetus as it contains the nourishment useful to the development of the child.

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Part 2: Some Cases of Burial Mounds (Part 2 of 3)
Part 3: Some Cases of Burial Mounds (Part 3 of 3)

We Set Sail!

An interesting and quite always ignored episode of the Greek mythology is the one where the ship Argo, built to carry 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.

They freed a dove to let her pass through the rocks and, while these retreated after having clashed among themselves to kill the bird, the Argonauts made readily and quickly pass their ship through them. They came out unscathed, except for the aplustre – an ornamental appendage made of wood, placed at the stern of a Greek or Roman ship, where was believed to reside its spirit/life essence – destroyed by the following clash of the rocks.

An aplustre:
aplustre_14870_lg

Mostly in fairy tales, but also in the myths, the difficulty in passing through a door or other type of passages (as well as being swallowed by a monster) are images for the entry in the realm of the dead (the grave/burial mound). The same is the case with the Symplegades, which symbolize the border with Hades (i.e. the burial mound). They are simply another version of the various animal jaws that hinder the passage, of the doors with sharp teeth, of the slamming doors, of the doors that bite and of the propelled mountains that threaten and impede the entry to a certain place: all are typical motifs found in traditional fairy tales around the world. The opening and the closing, the crushing and the bite all fall in the same custody function.

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

The realm of the dead:
arnold_boecklin_-_island_of_the_dead_third_version

Finally the Argonauts arrived in Colchis (the grave/burial mound), where Jason has to accomplish the initiation ritual: there are the challenges to overcome, the sorceress/priestess that helps him (Medea), the snake/dragon and the Golden Fleece hanging from an oak.

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Gold is often present in fairy tales and in myths, always connected with events that take place in the realm of the dead/burial mound. Examples are the Golden Bough of Aeneas, the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, the Golden Horns of the Hind (in the European mythologies and in foklore the deer [deer’s antlers were used in the Stone Age to dig the entrance of the graves/burial mounds], the reindeer [like the reindeer that pull the sleigh of Father Christmas], the horse, the swan and the goose [both are migratory birds associated with waters, i.e. the amniotic fluid: the migration is a periodic and regular movement linked to the alternation of the seasons and associated with the cycles of death and rebirth] are psychopomps animals in the context of initiation rituals: they reveal the path to the realm of death) during the labors of Heracles and obviously the Golden Fleece.

In all these cases it is not the object itself that matters but the golden element, connected to the dead and to the grave because it is an element that never oxidizes (or with the passage of long periods of time), therefore being a symbol of immortality/eternal life, a solar and regal symbol, in the context of the rebirth of the memory and knowledge of the ancestor in the grave, reincarnated into one of his descendants. The hero must obtain the golden object in order to conclude his task and return from the place where he found it, just like the child who had to face the initiation was tasked to obtain (in more recent times, compared to the primordial structure of this ritual) the treasures made of gold inside the grave of the ancestor, to accomplish his rebirth and successfully return from the burial mound!

Sumerian Mists (Part 2 of 3)

Let’s continue with the Epic of Gilgamesh.

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

The initiation ritual took place in the burial mound but in our mythologies and fairy tales mountains, waters and forests are initiation sites par excellence and symbolize the realm of the dead/burial mound, or passages to reach it. Kur, “mountain that gives life”, is a clear reference to the grave of the ancestor and to the ritual that gave new life, through rebirth, to the young initiate. Thus, the Kur and the Cedar Forest are an image for the burial mound and its inner chambers.

The burial mounds, which repeat the shape of the hills, just like these symbolize the womb during pregnancy:
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One of the epithets of Humbaba is “god of the fortress of intestines”.

Humbaba:
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Troy Town/Prehistoric Labyrinth:
trojeborg_nordisk_familjebok

The Troy Town/Prehistoric Labyrinth is a symbol that refers to the womb of the earth/burial mound/realm of the dead. You can certainly interchange “fortress of intestines” with the definition you prefer among those I have used above, since they all recall the same concept/place.

So Humbaba is the god/lord of the burial mound and you can easily see him as the dead ancestor of the brave child, who wants to become that ancestor. Gilgamesh decapitates Humbaba, i.e. performs the rebirth ritual. Indeed, as we know, the child had to take the skull (the mind/spirit) of the dead ancestor – at that point reborn in him – and take it out of the grave, by now foreign to the place where he reigned as a king.

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On a totally different perspective you can compare Humbaba to the Jötnar of the Nordic mythology. Humbaba is defined “enormity”, “ferocious giant” and under this light he represents the vices, the passions, the uncontrollability and generally speaking the negative aspects of the human being. That’s why those who get close to the forest are “overwhelmed by weakness” (note: also because to enter the grave you need to be yourself one of the dead, and the dead are much weaker of the living…) and why the giant “never sleeps” (note: sleep is our “little death”, that’s why the ancestor in the grave never sleeps, because he is already living his “great death”; Hypnos [the personification of sleep] and Thanatos [the personification of death] are twin brothers in the Greek mythology), since the negative in men is always ready to manifest itself, if we allow it. Furthermore, “his weapons are such that no one can resist them”, because are required a strong mind and a strong will to never be reached by the Jötnar’s weapons, bearers of degeneration, and “mysterious is his form”  because the negative in man has many and always different shapes, it is misleading and not easily recognizable!

Part 1: Sumerian Mists (Part 1 of 3)
Part 3: Sumerian Mists (Part 3 of 3)