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 mythology:

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 burial mound] under which they had been hidden [that is to say buried]).
Hephaestus (lameness: soon after being born, his mother throws him into the sea from the top of Olympus, and he remains for nine years [time frame that indicates the symbolic gestation which will be followed by the initiatory rebirth] inside a cave [i.e. the burial mound] surrounded by water [i.e. the amniotic fluid]).
Zeus (in a myth his tendons of the feet are severed by Typhon).
Achilles (vulnerable only to the heel).

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 hall deeper into the burial mound, the throne hall where was located the skeleton of the predecessor.

To note the fact that in Crete and Delos was held, at night in archaic times, a “dance of cranes” to which participated young boys and girls (the name given to the dance referred to the habit of cranes to stand on one leg): the dance had to imitate the path of the labyrinth from which Theseus came out after killing the Minotaur.

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Lastly, why not remember the famous lameness of the Devil, the result of the intentional distortion applied by the Christians to the divine figures of the child and of the reborn ancestor…

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Some Cases of Burial Mounds (Part 3 of 3)

Troy, also called Ilion, is both an ancient historical city and 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:
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Therefore 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 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), 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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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 (“moira” means “phase”) who preside over destiny and should be seen – 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 the powers of 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 in the poem 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 initiation/rebirth ritual 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 be seen, in many cases, as children) will not go inside the burial mound/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 rebirths 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 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 most important mythic heroes of the Greeks, famous for having beheaded the Gorgon Medusa: to accomplish this feat he first sought out the three Graeae, old sisters who 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 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 all are groups of three women 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 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”, i.e. “well of destiny”), where they establish the destiny 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 choose 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 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 is 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 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 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 leather sack to safely contain Medusa’s head.

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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 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 knowing that the candidates for the initiation could access to the realm 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 a mistletoe (an evergreen plant, thus symbol of immortality), the dead Sun (i.e. Apollo/Baldr) throughout the cold season.

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 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 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 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 medieval legendary 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:
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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 whose entrance and main channel symbolized 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 individual to be reborn inside the ancestry.

Representation of an archaic labyrinth:
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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 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” 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 word “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”.

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 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!