The Ark

Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


The Ark


 The ark floating upon the waters of the deep is a symbol to be found in the traditional wisdom of peoples all over the world. The marks of great floods are embedded in the stratigraphic records of buried cities in all lands, and their elements have been combined in myriad ways with ancient seed ideas handed down like the flame in the ark from the earliest days of the human race.

 In ancient Sumeria, Xisuthrus escaped the destruction of a great deluge in an ark. After seven days and nights during which the flood raged over the land and the huge boat was tossed on the waters, the Sun-God arose, shedding light on heaven and earth. Seeing this, Xisuthrus made an opening in the side of the great ship and let in the light. In ancient Greek mythology, Deucalion, son of Prometheus, built a chest or ark in which he floated for nine days during a flood sent by Zeus to destroy the men of the Bronze Age. The Biblical flood describes Noah building an ark in which he placed animals two by two, the progenitors of future animal life. After unceasing rain for forty days and forty nights, the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat.

 Different elements are stressed in these myths: the idea of the ark transporting the Sun-God, Deucalion's flood referring to the fall of Atlantis, and the Biblical tradition conveying the concept of preserving life. Taken singly, these accounts focus attention upon the drama of the hero and the great flood. But in examining the meaning of the ark as a symbol and as a word, a deeper meaning emerges.

 In Egyptian mythology, Isis set her son Osiris afloat in an ark or chest which was called argo. The cyclic pattern of birth, death and revivification is symbolized by Osiris floating within the ark upon the abyss of the world - the Nile. Osiris represents the soul or sun cyclically manifesting to the world. The Nile, flooding and subsiding every year, symbolized the cyclic pattern of the emergence of the earth between periods of submersion into non-manifestation or night. Argo is also the name of a constellation which signified for the ancient Egyptians the infant Osiris floating in the Ocean of Space.

 The sun in Egyptian symbolism was depicted as sailing upon a solar barque called the 'Barque of Millions of Years' or the Boat of Ra. Ra arose from the East each morning and began his journey through the watery abyss of the sky. This Manjet-Boat was manned by a number of gods who acted as crew, the personifications of various aspects of the sun's power. On his night voyage, Ra sailed in another barque, the Mesektet-Boat, which was a serpent with a head at either end. He was again accompanied by a crew of gods and confronted always by the hostile serpent Apep who lived in the celestial waters. During the night Ra would pass the barque through twelve dangerous provinces where the souls of the dead were tried on their journey to a new life. The night of the soul is the night of death between light, lives and worlds. The 'Barque of Millions of Years' is the vehicle of the daily sun, but also the ark which carries soul-wisdom across the waters of cyclic manifestation and non-manifestation.

 The ark also represents the moon, the argha or symbol of Diana. In the Hebrew Kabbalah it is in the crescent argha that "the germ of nature and of mankind floats or broods on the great abyss during the intervals which take place after every great mundane cycle." The name given to the city of Thebes or Th-aba is another word for the ark as a vessel of mankind. Kartha or Tyre, Astu or Athens, Urbs or Rome, are all names of cities reflecting this same idea. In more mystical language, arghya in Sanskrit refers to the libation cup, and Arghya Varsha is the Land of Libations or the place of the gods which stretches from Mount Kailas to the Schamo Desert. This sacred place is the birthplace of lo, the mother of physical humanity. It is the same place that is indicated by the Greek Argos which, in its deepest sense, does not refer to a place in Greece but to the birthplace of a Kingly Race, presumably that from which the tenth or Kalki Avatar will issue. The word also refers to arg or arca, the female generative power symbolized in the moon. lo, which also means moon, indicates the Divine Androgyne symbolized by the number 10. Ark is the mystic name of the divine spirit of life which broods over chaos; the Holy of Holies, the Ark of the Covenant.

 In ancient Egypt the ark was a beautiful and chaste sarcophagus, the symbol of the matrix of nature and resurrection. During initiation in the King's Chamber of the Pyramid of Cheops, the Candidate, representing the Solar God, descended into the sarcophagus, re-enacting the entry of the Life Ray into the womb of nature. The Candidate emerged on the third morning as the resurrection of life after death. This magnificent mystery was intimated in the Sumerian myth where the Sun-God penetrated into the ark.

 In Isis Unveiled the ark is related to the survival of life and the supremacy of spirit over matter through the conflict of the opposing forces in nature. The name Noah or Nuah, The Secret Doctrine tells us, indicates spirit falling into matter. Nuah descends upon earth, plants a vineyard and becomes drunk with life. Thus pure Spirit becomes intoxicated as it is imprisoned in matter. The flood itself represents the Old Serpent or the Great Deep of matter over which the ark passes on its way to the Mount of Salvation. Often the flood is called the Dragon over which the Lunar Goddesses reign. The water is the feminine principle, and as the deluge is chaotic, unsettled matter. The word 'ark' also refers to the navel, the umbilicus connected with the receptacle in which are fructified the germs of the race. The mountain is the sacred place of new birth where the ark finds refuge at the center of the world. In Hindu tradition it is known as Mount Meru, the navel of the world. Clearly the cycle of the ark indicates the process of transmission of life and wisdom.

 The mysterious crew of the ark are variously referred to as gods who are manifested powers of the sun or as seven great Rishis who are the spiritual progenitors of specific animals. Both ideas are blended in the person of Noah as the Seed Manu, "or the power which developed the planetary chain, and our earth, and the Seed Race (The Fifth) which was saved while the last sub races of the Fourth perished." Noah as a solitary figure represents the septenary Hosts of the Elohim (the Rishis) and is, therefore, the Creator and Preserver of animal life. In Hindu teachings, the seven Rishis surround Manu in the ark and represent the seven principles which became complete in man only after he had separated out and become human. This sacred event was ushered in by Vaivasvata Manu over eighteen million years ago.

 That is depicted in the haunting dream of Ravan, the king of the Rakshasas, the Titans of the Fourth Race.

The coppery glow of the horizon deepened upward into a dark, inky purple – the low murmuring of the wind gradually swelled to a roar; red and blue flashes of light shot athwart the gloom, amid sharp crashes of thunder – and all nature seemed returning again to chaos, darkness and whirlwind. Above, blackness, tempest, red lightning, and waterspout; below, the river and ocean roaring along, and covering the earth – the Maha-Pralaya, or great dissolution of all things, was at hand, and escape appeared hopeless.

As Ravan watched from atop a lofty temple he discerned an object looming through the darkness. To his great relief, it appeared to be a ship coming towards him. "There was something supernatural in this dim, phantasmal ship. Its outline was nowhere sharp and firm but more like that of a cloud's. There was neither helm nor sail but it appeared to move at will. There were human figures on board, shadowy, almost transparent. They did not move or speak but seemed to be wrapped in samadhi. " Ravan recognized the figure of Satyavrata of Vaivasvata Manu seated in the middle. Surrounding him were the seven Rishis who are preserved with Manu at the time of the dissolution of all things. In Ravan's dream the phantom ship or Manu's ark was pulled by a rope fastened to the horn of a divine fish . . . . the first Avatar of Vishnu.

 Vishnu, in the form of Matsya, the golden fish with one horn, guides the ark of Vaivasvata Manu during the period of universal chaos. In towing the ark he advised Manu to allow the vessel to descend slowly with the waters rather than wait out the flood atop the Mount of Salvation. Thus Vishnu, the Preserver, became involved in the Cycle of Avatars to save mankind. It is significant that Vishnu's heaven is Vaikuntha, which some call Mount Meru, and that as Preserver, Vishnu is often depicted as Narayana, the Spirit moving in the waters.

 Mount Meru, the navel of the world and the home of Vishnu, is the center of preservative forces in the cosmos. It is the "Sacred Land" – "the only one whose destiny is to last from the beginning to the end of the Manvantara throughout each Round. It is the cradle of the dwelling of the last divine mortal, chosen as a Sishta for the future seed of humanity." It is Arghya Varsha, connected with Arghyanath, the mysterious Lord of Libations, the sacred Keeper of the precious vessel in which the essential wisdom of manifested life is preserved and passed down through the ages by the Masters of Compassion. It is through this ark-like umbilicus, this universal Antaskarana, that the salvation of humankind lies. All of the varied threads of the legendary arks and floods and saviors of humanity are brought together in this idea of the eternal, invisible bridge which links the germinal truths of Being through cycle after cycle during countless ages.

 The entire meaning of human existence lies in the decisive encounter of each man in welcoming the necessary dissolution of his personal self and in striking out across the stormy waters of chaos within him in search of the Sacred Land. Every man must come to see himself as the Sun-God entering into the sarcophagus to be born anew. He must seek within himself the antaskarana bridge in order to manifest his spiritual light without drowning in the intoxicating sea of matter. He must hold fast to the ark and mirror in an undistorted manner the seven rays of the Rishis within the ark. A whole man, a Master of the Day, is a shining synthesis of the Seven Great Rishis. When he comes into the world as a Magus-Teacher to serve the Lord of Libations, he is truly an 'ark of salvation' for his epoch and for all humanity.