Sunday, 21 July 2013

Caves and the Image of the Universe

Caves are associated with the gods and the way that souls of mortals originate in each generation.  Here are excerpts from Melek's book 'On the Cave of the Nymphs', which is talking about a scene from Homer's Odyssey, from Book 13, describing the cave of the Naiads or water-nymphs in their cave on the island of Ithaka in Greece.  I have added some of my own commentary.

"Caves, therefore, in the most remote periods of antiquity were consecrated to the gods, before temples were erected to them. Hence, the Kouretes in Crete dedicated a cavern to Zeus; in Arcadia, a cave was sacred to the Moon, and to Lykean Pan; and in Naxus, to Dionysos. But wherever Mithra was known, they propitiated the god in a cavern. With respect, however, to the Ithakan cave, Homer was not satisfied with saying that it had two gates, but adds that one of the gates was turned towards the north, but the other which was more divine, to the south. He also says that the northern gate was pervious to descent, but does not indicate whether this was also the case with the southern gate. For of this, he only says, 'It is inaccessible to men, but it is the path of the immortals.'"

Here, he describes some caves which are associated with the divine, and goes on to say that these existed in ancient times before people learned how to build temples for the gods.  There are a few examples on Kaphtor and in Greece itself, as well as Mithra in Persia.  The northern gate of Homer's Ithakan cave is allowing for mortals to pass through, but the southern gate is divine and inaccessible to mortals.

"It remains, therefore, to investigate what is indicated by this narration; whether the poet describes a cavern which was in reality consecrated by others, or whether it is an enigma of his own invention. Since, however, a cavern is an image and symbol of the world, as Numenius (a Greek philosopher who spent a lot of time in Apamea in Syria, who was a Neopythagorean and forerunner of the Neoplatonists, interested in the doctrines of Platon and Pythagoras, along with the mysteries of the Brahmins, Magi, Jews, Chaldeans, and Egyptians) and his familiar Kronios assert, there are two extremities in the heavens, the winter tropic, than which nothing is more southern, and the summer tropic, than which nothing is more northern. But the summer tropic is in Sartan (Cancer), and the winter tropic in Gadjo (Capricorn). And since Sartan is nearest to us, it is very properly attributed to Yarikh (the Moon), which is the nearest of all the heavenly bodies to the earth. But as the southern pole by its great distance is invisible to us, hence Gadjo is attributed to Kewan (Saturn), the highest and most remote of all the planets. Again, the signs from Sartan to Gadjo are situated in the following order: and the first of these is Aryeh (Leo), which is the house of Shapash (the Sun); afterwards Bethulah (Virgo), which is the house of Kothar (Mercury); Moznayim (Libra), the house of Ashtart (Venus); Akrab (Scorpio), of Resheph (Mars); Kesheth (Sagittarius), of Hadad (Jupiter); and Gadjo (Capricorn), of Kewan (Saturn). But from Gadjo in an inverse order Deli (Aquarius) is attributed to Kewan; Dagim (Pisces) to Hadad; Taleh (Aries) to Resheph; Shur (Taurus) to Ashtart; Thaumim (Gemini) to Kothar; and in the last place Sartan (Cancer) to Yarikh."

Here, he lists some astronomical information, including the planets and their houses, and which constellations fall into those houses.  There are also two tropics, a summer tropic in the north and the winter tropic in the south.  These are evidently connected to the northern and southern entrances to the divine cave, which is in the image of the universe.  The cosmos itself is in the image of a cave, or a cave is in the image of the cosmos.  That is what those gates represent, or are connected to.

"Theologists therefore assert, that these two gates are Sartan and Gadjo; but Platon calls them entrances. And of these, theologists say, that Sartan is the gate through which souls descend; but Gadjo that through which they ascend. Sartan is indeed northern, and adapted to descent; but Gadjo is southern, and adapted to ascent. The northern parts, likewise, pertain to souls descending into generation. And the gates of the cavern which are turned to the north are rightly said to be pervious to the descent of men; but the southern gates are not the avenues of the gods, but of souls ascending to the gods. On this account, the poet does not say that they are the avenues of the gods, but of immortals; this appellation being also common to our souls, which are per se, or essentially, immortal."

Now again we hear of the cave's gates being connected to the northern and southern tropics and their ruling constellation, Sartan and Gadjo, respectively.  The northern entrance is now connected to human souls descending into the universe, into physical birth and into the world, just as humans could descend into Homer's cave through the northern entrance.  The southern gate, though, is not the gate through which the gods go.  Instead, it is the gate through which human souls go, once they have (within the cave of the universe) become liberated from the realm of the senses, matter, and earthly becoming.  These souls then are renewed and ascend to the gods, to divine ecstasy and liberation from the matter.  But did not Homer say that the gods go through this way?  No.  He said 'immortals'.  In this he was referring to the immortality of the human soul, and not to the gods.

"It is said that Parmenides (a Greek philosopher born in the Greek city-state of Elea in Italy, and founder of the Eleatic school of thought) mentions these two gates in his treatise 'On the Nature of Things', as likewise that they are not unknown to the Romans and Egyptians. For the Romans celebrate their Saturnalia when the Sun is in Capricorn, and during this festivity, slaves wear the shoes of those that are free, and all things are distributed among them in common; the legislator obscurely signifying by this ceremony that through this gate of the heavens, those who are now born slaves will be liberated through the Saturnian festival, and the house attributed to Saturn, i.e., Capricorn, when they live again and return to the fountain of life. Since, however, the path from Capricorn is adapted to ascent, hence the Romans denominate that month in which the Sun, turning from Capricorn to the east, directs his course to the north, Januanus, or January, from janua, a gate."

Here he talks about how the Romans have a festival called the Saturnalia, when slaves and masters switch roles in memory of the golden age of Saturn.  This is around the time of the winter solstice, when the Sun is in the constellation of Gadjo, or Capricorn, in the winter tropic of the south.  This is here connected by Melek (and through Parmenides) with the southern gate (as the Sun is in the southern/winter tropic at the time of the festival), and it is through this gate that the liberated souls pass after becoming free from physical senses and matter (in Melek's Neoplatonism, this is accomplished through study and learning, and living a near-ascetic lifestyle).  Therefore, Saturnalia is a festival of liberation.  Capricorn is also the house assigned to the planet Saturn, associated with the Roman god Saturn.  The month following the period in which the Saturnalia takes places is called January in the Roman calendar, because it is associated with gateways through the Roman god Janus (who is associated with gateways and doorways, as well as new beginnings).  This is another connection to the gates of the cave, ascent and descent, renewal and rebirth.  It can be found in many different forms throughout many different cultures, showing its true divine origin.

"But with the Egyptians, the beginning of the year is not Aquarius, as with the Romans, but Cancer. For the star Sopdet, which the Greeks call the Dog (Sirius), is near to Cancer. And the rising of Sopdet is the new moon with them, this being the principle of generation to the world. On this account, the gates of the Homeric cavern are not dedicated to the east and west, nor to the equinoctial signs, Aries and Libra, but to the north and south, and to those celestial signs which towards the south are most southerly, and, towards the north are most northerly; because this cave was sacred to souis and aquatic nymphs. But these places are adapted to souls descending into generation, and afterwards separating themselves from it. Hence, a place near to the equinoctial circle was assigned to Mithra as an appropriate seat. And on this account he bears the sword of Aries, which is a martial sign. He is likewise carried in the Bull, which is the sign of Venus. For Mithra as well as the Bull, is the Demiurgus and lord of generation. But he is placed near the equinoctial circle, having the northern parts on his right hand, and the southern on his left. They likewise arranged towards the south the southern hemisphere because it is hot; but the northern hemisphere towards the north, through the coldness of the north wind."

Now we move onto the Egyptians, whose New Year, Wep Ronpet, is celebrated with the arising of the Dog-Star Sopdet, to signify the coming Nile floods.  This is a different New Year to the Roman one.  This is in summer.  So it is associated with the northern gate.  Therefore, the gates can be associated primarily with summer and winter, as opposed to autumn and spring, the seasons of the equinoxes, or mid-points between summer and winter.  Most sacred caves are aligned to east-west, but the Homeric cave is different.  However, the Persian god Mithra is associated with the equinoxes, carrying the sword of Aries (the spring season, and a martial symbol) and slaying the Bull (Taurus).  This is because he in Persian religion is the Demiurge, or the physical creator of the matter.  He also introduces the idea of the northern and southern hemispheres, and the northern and southern winds.

"The ancients, likewise, very reasonably connected winds with souls proceeding into generation, and again separating themselves from it, because, as some think, souls attract a spirit, and have a pneumatic essence. But the north wind is adapted to souls falling into generation; and, on this account, the northern blasts refresh those who are dying, and when they can scarcely draw their breath. On the contrary the southern gales dissolve life. For the north wind, indeed, from its superior coldness, congeals (as it were the animal life), and retains it in the frigidity of terrene generation. But the south wind, being hot, dissolves this life, and sends it upward to the heat of a divine nature. Since, however, our terrene habitation is more northern, it is proper that souls which are born in it should be familiar with the north wind; but those that exchange this life for a better, with the south wind. This also is the cause why the north wind is, at its commencement, great; but the south wind, at its termination. For the former is situated directly over the inhabitants of the northern part of the globe, but the latter is at a great distance from them; and the blast from places very remote, is more tardy than from such as are near. But when it is coacervated, then it blows abundantly and with vigour. Since, however, souls proceed into generation through the northern gate, hence this wind is said to be amatory. For, as the poet says,
'Boreas, enamour'd of the sprightly train,
Conceal'd his godhead in a flowing mane.
With voice dissembled to his loves he neighed,
And coursed the dappled beauties o'er the mead;
Hence sprung twelve others of unrivalled kind,
Swift as their mother mares, and father wind'.
It is also said, that Boreas ravished Orithya, from whom he begot Zetis and Kalais. But as the south is attributed to the gods, hence, when the Sun is at its meridian, the curtains in temples are drawn before the statues of the gods; in consequence of observing the Homeric precept: 'That it is not lawful for men to enter temples when the Sun is inclined to the south, for this is the path of the immortals'. Hence, when the god is at his meridian altitude, the ancients placed a symbol of midday and of the south in the gates of the temples, and on this account, in other gates also, it was not lawful to speak at all times, because gates were considered as sacred. Hence, too, the Pythagoreans, and the wise men among the Egyptians, forbade speaking while passing through doors or gates; for then they venerated in silence that god who is the principle of wholes (and, therefore, of all things)."

The cold north wind and the hot south wind are associated with the different seasons and hemispheres.  Melek lived in Tyre, which is the northern temperate zone as it was known to geography of the time.  Everywhere, from Britannia and Gaul to India and China, was located within this northern temperate zone.  That means that it is possible for life to flourish there, because it is neither too hot nor too cold, but temperate.  There is a warm half-year (summer) and a cold half-year (winter).  But go far to the north, beyond the realm of the northern temperate zone, and you end up in an eternal winter, and will freeze to death.  Likewise, go far south and into the equatorial zone, and you will boil to death in the eternal summer.  There is a southern temperate zone below that, and then another cold zone at the bottom of the earth (by this time, the earth was known to be spherical, and not flat).  Life is possible in the southern temperate zone, but nobody in the northern temperate zone can go there, because they will have to cross through the equator and will boil to death.  This is how geography was known in late antiquity.  Melek here says that the cold and harsh north wind is associated with life, and the descent of the soul into the physical through the northern gate.  This is because it ravages and you can feel its physical effects on your body.  It is animalistic and primal, and so very much associated with the physical and with the northern gate.  The warm and gentle south wind is associated with the south gate and with the spiritual, because it is through its gentleness and heat that souls are dissolved of the physical and ascend towards the gods.  This is why the south is associated with the gods, and why the Pythagoreans and the Egyptians forbid speaking while passing through doors or gates, because these gates are associated with the gates of the divine cave and with the gods (particularly in the south).

"Homer, likewise, knew that gates are sacred, as is evident from his representing Oeneus, when supplicating, shaking the gate:
'The gates he shakes, and supplicates the son'.
He also knew the gates of the heavens which are committed to the guardianship of the hours; which gates originate in cloudy places, and are opened and shut by the clouds. For he says:
'Whether dense clouds they close, or wide unfold'.
And on this account these gates omit a bellowing sound, because thunders roar through the clouds:
'Heaven's gates spontaneous open to the powers;
Heaven's bellowing portals, guarded by the Hours'.
He likewise elsewhere speaks of the gates of Shapash, signifying by these Sartan and Gadjo, for Shapash proceeds as far as to these signs, when she descends from the north to the south, and from thence ascends again to the northern parts. But Gadjo and Sartan are situated about the galaxy, being allotted the extremities of this circle; Sartan indeed the northern, but Gadjo the southern extremity of it. According to Pythagoras, also, the people of dreams are the souls which are said to be collected in the galaxy, this circle being so called from the milk with which souls are nourished when they fall into generation. Hence, those who evocate departed souls, sacrifice to them by a libation of milk mingled with honey; because, through the allurements of sweetness they will proceed into generation: with the birth of man, milk being naturally produced. Farther still, the southern regions produce small bodies; for it is usual with heat to attenuate them in the greatest degree. But all bodies generated in the north are large, as is evident in the Celts, the Thracians and the Scythians; and these regions are humid, and abound with pastures. For the word Boreas is derived from Βορα, which signifies nutriment. Hence, also, the wind which blows from a land abounding in nutriment, is called Βορρας, as being of a nutritive nature. From these causes, therefore, the northern parts are adapted to the mortal tribe, and to souls that fail into the realms of generation. But the southern parts are adapted to that which is immortal, just as the eastern parts of the world are attributed to the gods, but the western to demons. For, in consequence of nature originating from diversity, the ancients everywhere made that which has a twofold entrance to be a symbol of the nature of things. For the progression is either through that which is intelligible or through that which is sensible. And if through that which is sensible, it is either through the sphere of the fixed stars, or through the sphere of the planets. And again, it is either through an immortal, or through a mortal progression. One centre likewise is above, but the other beneath the earth; and the one is eastern, but the other western. Thus, too, some parts of the world are situated on the left, but others on the right hand; and night is opposed to day. On this account, also, harmony consists of and proceeds through contraries. Platon also says that there are two openings one of which affords a passage to souls ascending to the heavens, but the other to souls descending to the earth. And according to theologists, Shapash and Yarikh are the gates of souls, which ascend through Shapash, and descend through Yarikh. With Homer likewise, there are two tubs,
'From which the lot of every one he fills
Blessings to these, to those distributes ills'.
But Platon in the Gorgias by tubs intends to signify souls, some of which are malefic, but others beneficent; and some which are rational, but others irrational. Souls, however, are (analogous to) tubs, because they contain in themselves energies and habits, as in a vessel. In Hesiod, too, we find one tub closed, but the other opened by Pleasure, who scatters its contents everywhere, Hope alone remaining behind. For in those things in which a depraved soul, being dispersed about matter, deserts the proper order of its essence, in all these it is accustomed to feed itself with (the pleasing prospects of) auspicious hope."

The northern people of the world are adapted to the physical descent, while the southerners are adapted to the spiritual ascent, just as the eastern parts of the world are attributed to the gods, while the west is attributed to demons.  The Sun is the gate through which the souls ascend to the spiritual, and the Moon is the gate through which they descend into the physical.

Now that we have examined the cave of the cosmos and the two gates of the souls, we can move on to look at the rest of this work next time.

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