The Spear of Life

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


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

The Bleeding Lance:


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



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

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


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

Odin and Yggdrasill:

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:

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”:

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:

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:

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!

The Syllable “Delph”

The syllable delph/delphy/delphys means “womb”. That’s why the dolphin (Greek “delphi”), sea creature (the waters were associated with the amniotic fluid) provided with a womb, was seen by the Greeks as a symbol of the female principle and of the womb from which life is generated. Poseidon, if seen as the god of the “watery abyss of the sky” (the Universe), has the dolphin as one of his symbols, because the Universe is the eternal and infinite womb that contains all the forms of life that have been, that are and that will be, the womb from which new life is unceasingly and eternally generated.

Art from the Minoan civilization:

Tile from Ancient Greece:


Delphi (originally “Delphoi”), the Greek city in antiquity known as “navel of the world”, was mostly famous for the presence of the oracle of the god Apollo (that, by the way, had among his epithets the one of “Delphinius”, since in certain occasions he took the form of a dolphin, animal that was sacred to him), the Oracle of Delphi (the most important of the archaic Greek religion).

Ruins of the Oracle of Delphi:

Under the flooring of the oracular temple was located the Omphalos (“navel”), the sacred stone that indicates the center of  the world.

The Omphalos resembles a beehive with a web of bee symbols (the child who went inside the burial mound/beehive – bringing honey to face the initiation – and the sorceress/priestess who was inside it, were seen as bees):


We find here the same symbolism: delphi, the name of the city, means “womb”, and the city was defined “navel of the world” because the navel was archaically symbol of the labyrinth, i.e. the burial mound that represented also the “womb of the earth”. There is then a symbolical connection between the name of the city and its epithet.

Representation of an archaic labyrinth:

The Oracle of Delphi was originally a cave (the cave of the she-bear, later replaced by the burial mound), a stomios (term that indicated both the mouth and the female sexual organ, i.e. an opening [in the ground]), guarded by the serpent/dragon Python, or by the dragoness Delphyne (again a name connected with the ancient syllable meaning “womb”), as it seems from the most archaic version of the myth. The serpent/dragon symbolizes the umbilical cord, therefore, in the case of Delphyne, we would have a symbolism that includes both the womb and the umbilical cord. Python/Delphyne gets killed by Apollo (the divine child that accomplishes the rebirth ritual: in the mythologies the killing of the serpent/dragon symbolizes the resolute and violent conclusion of the maternal phase of existence, by means of the “killing” [i.e. severing] of the umbilical cord that unites the mother to the child), who later creates in place of the cave the Oracle of Delphi, presided by the Pythia (the Priestess called “Delphic Bee”).


The serpent/dragon is the obstacle that the heroes of the mythologies encounter during their search of the source of immortality (i.e. rebirth/reincarnation), and is often the guardian of the Tree of Life (i.e. the placenta).

The Cup of Hygieia and the Caduceus of Hermes/Mercury: both represent the Tree of Life, entwined with one or more serpents (that is, a placenta with the umbilical cord):

Immortality (i.e. rebirth/reincarnation) is hard to obtain, and a necessary condition is always the reaching of an almost inaccessible place (that always symbolizes the realm of death, i.e. the grave/burial mound), where a serpent/dragon guards a tree whose fruits, or an object hanging to it, will grant immortality if obtained. The heroes of the mythologies must fight with the serpent/dragon, and prevail, to get access to the tree. This fight must be seen as a test, as an initiation ritual. We can find a scheme of this type in numerous myths, like the one of Jason and the Golden Fleece, the one of Heracles and the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, the one of Sigurd and Fafnir (in this case the dragon guards a treasure – i.e. the goods of the divine ancestor in the grave – and the hero becomes invulnerable and omniscient [thanks to the awakening of the memories of his previous lives] after the fight with it) and the one about Adam and Eve in Paradise.

Heracles fights against Ladon, the serpent/dragon that protects the Golden Apples of the Hesperides:

The fight of the hero with the serpent/dragon isn’t always of the physical type, and sometimes the hero is defeated: the myth of Adam and Eve and the myth of Gilgamesh prove it.

Gilgamesh, after the death of Enkidu, decided he wanted to obtain immortality: he headed toward the dwelling of Utnapishtim, a man to which the gods conferred the gift of immortality. Gilgamesh overcomes every obstacle and meets the wise old man, but fails the tests that the latter imposes on him. Gilgamesh definitely wasn’t worthy of the immortality of the gods. At that point appeared the wife of Utnapishtim, who convinced her husband to reveal the existence, in the bottom of the ocean (the amniotic fluid, the waters of death), of a plant full of thorns, difficult to access. That plant would have extended indefinitely the youth and the life of those who would have eaten it. Gilgamesh manages to obtain it, but during the return to his own land he stops near a water source and meanwhile a serpent approaches and grabs the plant, renewing its skin after eating it. Gilgamesh, as Adam and Eve, has lost immortality because of his naivety and of the astuteness of a serpent.

The snake steals the plant of immortality from the hand of Gilgamesh:

Note: we should not forget the other symbolism related to the serpent/dragon, that is the figure of a serpent/dragon that eats its own tail, also known as Ouroboros. This figure expresses the concept of cyclical eternity, infinite time, circularity without beginning or end and eternal rebirth.

Egyptian art depicting an ouroboros, maybe to symbolize a womb:


The Omphalos (“navel”) could therefore be a womb during pregnancy: it has a central opening which widens towards the base (vagina-womb during pregnancy) and has engraved on the surface a knotted net, the net that “imprisons” the child to the mother until birth, or better the umbilical cord that “binds” the placenta to the fetus, through the navel (“omphalos”).