The stories associated with Masters often have elements of the hero's quest about them. Often divinity is involved with their birth, and miracles abound. Buddha has his time of wandering and his testing under the Bodhi Tree. Jesus also has his (supposed) travels and his testing in the desert. Krishna deals with demons.
With those Masters who did not found religions, there are elements too, like the wanderings of Pythagoras or the mysterious powers of the Theosophical Savants.
In this post we will consider the relevance of heroes to our own spiritual journey today.
In the recent post on Masters, we looked briefly at the life of Orpheus. His story rests somewhere between myth and history, as it is very likely there was an individual called Orpheus, and there was an Orphic School. However, his life story follows the pattern of that of a hero, complete with the (almost) obligatory visit to the Underworld or Land of the Dead.
He fits the pattern of a hero, because like so many he has to cope at some point with the Underworld. In our earlier consideration of the story of the Soul and Persephone, we saw how that myth indicated the Underworld was - in fact - this world, the Mundane, or in some cases Mundi. The great love of Orpheus, Eurydice, running from the amorous advances of a Satyr, dies through a snake bite. Orpheus, inconsolable, travels (safely, because the Gods love his music) to the Underworld to retrieve her. Hades and Persephone whose hearts are softened by his music, take pity on the couple. He is allowed to return with her following him, to 'the upper world' but only if he does not look back. But when he is safe, he looks back and she is lost to him for ever.
The full story is given here.
Meaning of the myth
Myths can be considered to have layers of meaning and are always worth thinking about as they reveal their treasures slowly. One way of considering this myth is seeing Orpheus and Eurydice as different aspects of the Soul. Orpheus is in touch with the harmonies of Apollo; he is the spiritual soul. Eurydice (whose name means 'wide justice') is that aspect of the soul that descends into time and space. She, entangled with baser desires (the satyr) receives the deathly bite of a snake and so enters the underworld (in other words the Mundane realm of 'dream existence').
Orpheus, the heroic aspect of the soul, is unable to sustain the divine law (the interdiction to 'not look back') and indicates the soul that is not yet ready fully to 'ascend'. So part of the soul (Euridyce) remains under the rule of Hades and Persephone.
Jason and the Argonauts
Jason, raised by a centaur (half man half horse), returning to his home, carries an old woman across a river. But she is Hera, Queen of the Gods, and gets heavier and heavier. He struggles and loses on gold sandal.
Later he travels with other heroes (the Argonauts, who include Orpheus and Herakles. to recover the Golden Fleece from Colchis. If he is successful, he will gain his father's throne.
On the way he has various trials, which he largely succeeds in overcoming. Herakles leaves them along the way (having lost his lover, Hylas). He copes with the Harpies, and like Odysseus, learns how to manage to get past the clashing rocks. When he arrives at Colchis, where the Golden Fleece is to be found, he is seen by Medea, the beautiful daughter of the king, but one who has the powers of a sorceress.
She helps him with the task of dealing with the dragon's teeth that turn to soldiers, and the yoking of two great bulls; Medea guides him in dealing with the dragon that guards the fleece. Her price, in his success, is to escape with Jason, and to marry him. She does this when they reach the land ruled by Alcinous.
Later, when Jason is unfaithful, Medea wreaks destruction on Corinth, where he rules, igniting the city with her fire breathing dragons.
A fuller version of the myth can be found here
Meaning of the myth
Each element of a story like that of Orpheus or Jason, or indeed Herakles and Odysseus, can be seen to have symbolic significance. The hero's journey is the journey of the Soul.
We will consider just a few of the elements.
The Golden Fleece
The golden fleece of the ram travels from West to East, and can be seen as representing the knowledge pre-dating both Egypt and Greece (some would say from the – Druids – of Ireland. This will be the subject of another post in due course.)
Jason, cannot carry Hera as he crosses the river (moving from the spiritual reality of the centaur to the ordinary world) and he loses one golden sandal. In other words he has not sustained all his youthful spiritual power and strength, but must now prove himself. To gain his throne by right - from his uncle who has usurped it – he must find the lost wisdom (Golden Fleece). His uncle Pelias who has stolen his throne represents ignorant power,
Jason gathers many talents in his ship the Argo. But in time he loses Herakles, whose lover, Hylas, has been abducted by a river nymph (Hyle = illusion). The loss of Herakles, who represents a Soul who has mastered all twelve challenges of the Zodiac, indicates Jason still has not overcome the illusions of this transient world.
Medea, (a sorceress like Circe who beguiles the sailors of Odysseus), loves Jason and is prepared to help him, provided he takes her with him. She – like Circe – has enormous power, for she can be seen as representing the power and knowledge of Nature. She therefore provides Jason with the wisdom to deal with the dragon's teeth, the two bulls and the dragon that guards the Golden Fleece.
As long as Jason is in right relationship with Medea, he is safe. he marries her when they reach the realm of Scheria and King Alcinous. The name of the King has the suffix 'nous'. The meaning of Nous as Highest Mind has been discussed here. Jason, in reaching Scheria, has attained the power of reason. He marries Medea there, meaning the powers of Nature are under the control of reason, and are safe.
When, later, he is unfaithful to Medea (unreasonable) then she wreaks havoc, using her chariot driven by two (duality) dragons. Like Circe, she is a goddess and cannot be destroyed.
Relevance of the Hero Myth
Murray Morison is a novelist living in Crete
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