Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


The fleece of the Ram of Aries turned as golden as the sun and launched the fleet of Jason in pursuit. But it must not be thought, by those who seek wisdom, that the Argonauts sought after wealth. For the golden ram that stands upon its hind legs is the symbol for the living soul of Ra, the great god who came to earth as the first divine Pharaoh over humanity. The graceful glyph of Aries depicts the arching horns of a mountain sheep but its curves also describe a bursting fountain of water or the extended arms of a descending being embracing the concerns of the earth, the soul of Ra come into the world.

 Aries has been called the symbol of the creative impulse of spirit at the moment of its inception. It is the ram or lamb of sacrifice, called by the Sumero-Akkadians Lulim or Zue, 'the Messenger.' Its month was named Baraziggar, the time of 'the upright altar of sacrifice' and was marked by the re-enactment - through rituals of oblation - of the descent of the sacrificial lamb of God. The presence of the soul of Ra in the world was believed to be embodied in the sacred rams of ancient Egypt, and priest-kings wore their flayed skins and heads as testimony of their divine communion with the solar source of all life. To kill a ram as an offering to God symbolized the release of the cosmic soul from the confines of matter. To assume its guise indicated that the wearer contained the full potency of solar fire.

 In the fieriness of Aries the sun is exalted and in several languages of the Middle East the sun's name is synonymous with that of the ram. The colossal rams guarding the precincts of the temples of Amon in Upper Egypt were retainers of the solar god and keepers of the flame, their name indicating their link with the sun. In the Egyptian book of the Underworld called Am-Tuat there are twelve divisions indicating the zones of the zodiac through which the soul, as sun, must journey on its way back to its sacred seat. In the first division of Aries the solar boat is shown bearing within its shrine the sun as a ram-headed man. The Book of the Dead describes this as AUF, the Dead Sun who symbolizes Divine Life limiting itself or becoming 'dead' to its powers in the higher worlds. There is a scarab beetle depicted in the same illustration, representing creation and evolution, a theme further reinforced by an inscription announcing 'the coming into being of Osiris.' In these highly symbolic pictograms Osiris is shown swathed and bound in the wrappings of a mummy, and that encumbrance clearly represents the entrance of the living soul into that death which we call life. We are reminded of another 'son of God' who was brought forth and wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. In both cases, the infant vessel of pure eternal consciousness becomes entwined in the trappings of the 'living dead.' For just as we think this world is reality itself, so we are misled by the appearances of all things. Even as we 'see' them with the eyes of the world, they are dead. The real life has moved on to hidden places and leaves behind it a mummified shell.

Scattered and faded now is all the foliage
Which had burst forth beneath the power of Aries
To beautify the world.
The gross is withered.


 The new cycle of growth commenced by the fiery birth of Aries is underway and the world is populated with the symbolic foliage of the tree of life. Even as the fire burst forth, it contained within it the elements that would be swallowed up by the earth. The light of Aja, 'the Unborn,' propelled into birth, would become 'swaddled' in the garments of avidya, and Aries would be the agent through which this initial process of 'being' took place. The constellation of the Ram marks the zone in heaven, the 'aperture' through which this sacrificial emanation commences. This heavenly pattern of stars was called by the Babylonians Iku, and they believed its power to be that of a great archetypal design, a sign of God's manifestation to be emulated on earth. They used the base of four of its stars as the inspiration for the building of the Esagila, the Temple of Marduk. Up to the time of the Christian era, the spring equinox occurred in Aries and festivals of the New Year included creation rituals. On the fourth day of such rites, the high priest would face to the north and intone the words, "O Iku, thou Esagila, likeness of Heaven and Earth." They believed that the stellar temple-body in heaven was reflected in the seven-storied temple-body in the world and that its cosmic design offered the blueprint for the sevenfold levels of manifestation that were to follow. Indeed, Aries was considered by ancient and medieval astrologers to be the platform of that which was to come - the foundation of destiny - and they taught that the presence of a favourable star in Aries boded well for any work initiated. The four cardinal stars of Aries marked the corners of the Esagila in space and in time, the day on which the priest intoned the mantramic ritual of Marduk, the Creator. It is this cardinal nature that lent to Aries the primordial force of the zodiac.

 The regally controlled fire of Leo and the subtly refined fiery energy of Sagittarius are anticipated in the primal fire of Aries. Closely related to Aja, the Cosmic Self, Aries vibrates with the force of its personified ray and on the lower plane of incarnated effects the image of a larger selfhood is strongly reflected. The energy of fire incarnate polarizes and concentrates and is the cause of all separations and reunions in matter. As consciousness, it gathers into a strong sense of self which is limited, its movements manifesting as death and rebirth. The spiritual fire becomes locked in the present personality by the centrifugal and heterogeneously separative force of Mars, whose influence promotes the gathering process of soul involution which will persist through the critical point of Scorpio.

 Aries is masculine, full of energy and very positive. An individual entering life under the influence of this sign is like Archetypal Man upon the scene of matter. He is like a pioneer who looks about at an untamed wilderness and is moved, by his powerfully reflected sense of self, to impose his will upon it. He likes to think he has arrived at his present position by himself, that he is totally self-sufficient and independent. He imagines that there is great merit in getting his way and is often unaware of the feelings of others. In his sense of wholeness and independence, he may suffer from pride and tend to confuse his strong desires with higher will. An Aries dictator could easily believe that his personal ambition was a reflection of divine cosmic will and his delusion would be based upon the almost innocent-seeming avidya or unknowing which characterizes this initial phase of the zodiac. He may persistently mistake obstinacy for strength of character, desire for will, and the unreal for the real but may manifest the characteristics of creation which are conducive to innovation and proliferation. There is promise in Aries for a new beginning, a new opportunity, but there is also the painful loss of cosmic vision which manifests as an inversion of perception and marks the re-entry of the soul into the old cycle of Samsara.

 In Pisces the soul was weighed in the balance and either merged like the drop into the Akashic sea or waited for its inevitable re-descent into matter. Those who did not fully grasp the ultimate opportunity of Pisces through consciously experiencing the death of their personal, separative self, but were, instead, caught in the flood of worldly emotions, were bound to begin the ever-revolving process of births once more. The cord that unites the two fishes of Pisces, which respectively point to involution and liberation, passes under the foreleg of the Ram of Aries and the unliberated soul is caught by that cord just as surely as we are now caught within our bodies. With very few exceptions, the incarnated individual has indeed arrived at his present position by himself, but not through the exercise of his higher will as he may wish to think.

 Plato believed that Aries was ruled by Pallas Athene, the dynamic war-like goddess who created the life-giving olive tree and who sprang fully armed from the head of Zeus. She was the inventor of weaving, and renowned for "her mastery of the spider web" of creation. Of all the arts, weaving is the most symbolic of manifestation, and one can imagine the Dodecatheoi, the twelve gods of the zodiac, establishing upon a vast celestial loom the lines of force through the warp and woof of the world's design. The same idea has been beautifully expressed by Goethe, who says:

Thus at the roaring loom of Time I ply,

And weave for God the garment thou see'st Him by.

 Only the smallest details of texture, colour, and local embellishment would be affected by the actions of incarnated beings, and the struggles of the world would be subsumed within the cosmic weave. The only truly free individuals would be those who understood the design and could move from colour to colour, detail to detail, with effortless ease. Manifesting an Aquarian overview, they would have slowly woven their way in consciousness, knitting up the loose threads of karmic debt until they had synthesized the whole of the cosmic design in their own being. Thus would they come to understand something of the nature of the divine beings that initiate the cycle of Aries.

 The Age of Aries commenced around 2300 B.C., and it was about that time that the ram became sacred to Amon, the solar deity of Egypt. Showing himself to the world in the guise of a ram, Amon, 'the Hidden One,' usurped the role of Shu who, in earlier times, was believed to have formed the world by separating the earth and the sky. Amon, becoming like the wind, stirred up the waters of Nun, and began the work of creation. He is described as emerging out of the primal flood on to the mound of Hermopolis. There, it is said, he was received by his female counterpart in the form of a cow, upon whose back he floated to many shores, giving birth to the various ram-gods of creation. Symbolically, Amon ordered time and the seasons and in this was much like Khnum, whose name meant 'to create.' Khnum, an ancient god of the first cataract of the Nile in upper Egypt, 'controlled' the place of the source of life and was believed to be the creator of gods and men, whom he fashioned of clay on the potter's wheel. He was said to fashion the body of every child born, providing the clay vessel that would hopefully contain the waters of the soul. He was shown as a man with a ram's head whose horns curved out horizontally, indicating that the ideas of early dynastic times were inspired by the appearance of an animal which actually became extinct during the later Middle Kingdom.

 The Hindu counterpart of Amon and Khnum is Daksha, whose activities as 'Chief Progenitor' are described in the Vayu Purana. Daksha, who bears the ray of 'the Hidden One,' is also associated with the wind that stirs up the water. In the act of creating physical man, a great strife broke out among the gods causing Daksha to 'lose his head.' This head was replaced by that of a ram called Kasi-Khanda, whose form is a phallic symbol of generation, marking the era of men engendered by sexual intercourse. Daksha himself represents the early Third Race which was holy and pure and still devoid of individual ego. But the incarnation of self-consciousness necessitated then, as it does now in the individual birth, the separation of the pairs of elements making up the world, the realization of Self in a body requiring a re-ignition of the Fohatic spark between the negative and positive poles of manifested being. This method of procreation was not perfected all at once and it is said that many monsters were created and were all destroyed by Shiva before the five-pointed human form emerged. This progression is described in The Secret Doctrine in archetypal terms, proceeding through the 'Sweat-born,' egg-born, vapour-born, and so forth, until finally man was born from the womb, the microcosmic reflection of the entire manifested cosmos.

 The replacement of Daksha's head with that of a ram is extremely suggestive when related to the fact that Aries is linked up with the head and face. In Hindu esoteric astrology Aries, called Mesam, is considered the reflective symbol of Parabrahm, the undifferentiated whole, and the Original Cause of the thunderbolt which emerges from the Akasa of Pisces. In Egyptian cosmology, it is from 'the Hidden One,' 'the Unknown Force,' that the initial impulse through which the potential becomes active bursts forth to become the Logos, the Heavenly Man who as the manifesting Sun of the Hidden Father, Aries takes on the guise of that symbolic concentration of forces which will in turn rule the brain and head of physical man. Thus the ram governs those centres in man which control both physical and spiritual energies, just as Parabrahm rests at the centre of all potential cosmic forces. Through this reflective process, that which has no being and is pre-cosmic and eternal becomes Being related to darkness and avidya, symbolized in Buddhist tradition by a blind woman who sits beside a lighted lamp.

Avidya is the first of the twelve Nidanas of Buddhism and represents the loss of awareness of one's real nature. Corresponding to Aries, it is the first in a series of causes which bind the soul to the wheel of existence through that sense of ignorance which relates to spiritual awareness. It implies nescience, and though the Transcendent can have no opposite, avidya is truly the antithesis of Bodhi or enlightenment. It is, however, positive as well as negative in that it involves wrong views or Platonic 'double ignorance.' The individual immersed in avidya views the phenomenal as noumenal and the noumenal not at all. He does the same with the conditioned and unconditioned as well as the painful and pleasant. There is a confusion and inversion whereby the non-eternal, impure and evil are taken to be the eternal, pure and good. The ability to perceive that an event occurs because of a certain cause or condition and will not occur if the cause or condition is absent, is obscured. Avidya is that state where endless effects are manipulated in an effort to control causes while the causal plane is totally lost from view.

 This ignorance manifests because consciousness has become involved in matter. That which is boundless is made to assume the limitations of matter. It is deprived of the knowledge of its eternal, self-sufficient nature. This is brought about by a transcendent power inherent in the Ultimate Reality which is called Maya. How and why this happens can only be known by those who come face to face with the Truth that underlies manifestation which, by its very nature, is incommunicable. To know this is the end of the search, not the starting point, and since enlightenment is the goal, the elimination of that which obstructs it should be the methodological beginning of spiritual teaching.

 The fundamental privation of knowledge brought about by Maya at the beginning of an evolutionary cycle is the cause of avidya, and the uninterrupted practice of the awareness of the Real is the means of dispersion of avidya. Discrimination between the Real and the Unreal is possible only when we have experienced Reality. The individual must begin by searching within himself for the spark of the reflected ray of the Real. Once he has discovered it, he must tenaciously cling to its light, ever re-aligning his consciousness to it. Only in this way can avidya be destroyed and rebirth into the cycle of Aries be assumed as a purposeful act of the higher will.

 In Aries, the strongly etched shadow of cosmic will, while manifesting as inverted wilfulness and delusive self-sufficiency, is, nonetheless, suffused with the potency of the creative impulse and can be sharpened like an artist's tool to mould the raw material of life into better modes of expression for the future. It is in recognition of this that Initiates, who worked and created on behalf of man, were portrayed by the Egyptians as ram-headed men. In the Book of the Dead a command is given that a certain chapter should be read in the presence of a "serpent with two legs" whose head is adorned with the discus of the sun and ram's horns, over which are represented the two mystic eyes of Amon. The struggling soul must swim through the miasma of avidya toward the light of that discus which is supported in the world by the ram's horns. He must fasten his gaze upon the pointed glow within his head and, while all around him darkness grows, he may advance slowly and steadily toward the celestial aperture that gave him birth. He may open the Book of Nature and partake of the wisdom writ therein.

Hermes, May 1977