Blood

Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


BLOOD


Yea, specially that mortal man hath toiled for service
of the gods,
Who quickly hath brought near Mitra and Varuna
to share his sacrificial gifts.
Supreme in sovereign power, far-sighted, chiefs and
kings, most swift to hear from far away.
Both wondrously, set them in motion as with arms,
in company with Surya's beams.
The rapid messenger who runs before you, Mitra-Varuna,
with iron head, swift to the draught. . . .
The true red treasure they have sent, one only son
born of the three.
They, the immortal ones, never deceived, survey the
families of mortal man.

Rig Veda, Hymn XC

 In the hymns of the most ancient Vedas, Varuna is praised as the most lofty sovereign of the Three Worlds. As he breathed, so breathed forth into being the universe. As he ordained, so the stars and planets took their places in the firmament. It was he who caused the solar orb to shine forth. He opened out the boundless pathways for its radiant fire just as he hollowed out the channels on earth for the rivers that would flow by his command. It was said that no creature in the universe could wink without him, and his messengers beheld all worlds as they sped forth at his bidding. None other than Varuna instructed the Sage Vasishtha in the mysteries, but his secrets were not to be revealed to the foolish, and only those familiar with his realm could tap his hundred thousand remedies for evil and sin. For he was extolled as a barrier against falsehood and as one who seized transgressors with bonds and nooses and restored all who reached him to harmony and balance.

 In later times Varuna's position in the Hindu pantheon of gods was reduced in importance, and his cosmic sovereignty was largely usurped by gods whose names became the focal points of the reverential awe felt by the vast streams of people that meandered and moulded the races of the Indian subcontinent. But the clues of Varuna's former greatness can be found in his continuing association with water, for water is the designation of space and, on earth, of the electric flow of the blood of life. This is why the ancients could claim that "it takes earth and water to create a human soul" and that blood was connected with the initial generative power of the gods. Thus the gods Brahmā, Adam-Jehovah and Mars are the 'red' gods who work for the purpose of human procreation. In the Hindu tradition Mars is Karthikeya, son of Shiva, who is "born of his sweat" (Shiva Gharmaja) and of the earth. He is the god of bloodshed (war) only as a secondary idea which flows out of a primary cause associated with the "shedding of blood in conception for the first time".

 Spilt blood is the symbol of sacrifice, the most precious offering of all. Even in earthly battle or human conception there is an element of sacrifice which echoes the greater act of the gods. Among human beings the intuitive understanding of this truth has often been inverted in rituals, wherein men attempt to appease or curry favour with the gods by offering them the blood of living creatures, sacrificing upwards to encourage renewed sacrifice downwards in the form of rain, bountiful crops or material gains. One can recognize in this a persistent attempt to manipulate the laws of Nature for limited ends. Sacrifice by proxy is a grotesquely diluted form of magic. Involuntary death in battle or participation in conception is scarcely capable of mirroring the Divine Will operating through the fiery life-giving streams of the sun. The legendary Red Knight in the Arthurian tales provides a truer reflection of the idea, for his colour expresses the passionate will of one who has mastered both steed and monster. But it is through Perceval that the critical force of the heart comes to play a dominant part in the knight's quest. The very sword which he must find and wield is lodged in a slab of red marble afloat in the watery sea. He must grasp its power from the heart in order to slay the monsters (within) that lie between him and the Grail used by Christ to share with his Apostles his own blood. Faint but haunting traces of the Red Knight can be found in Thomas Hardy's reddleman, who wanders and watches and silently endures. From the labour of his trade he is red from head to foot and cast outside the circle of common human life. But his heart knows the truth that courses through others' lives and compassion is his guide in defining his part in the revelation of its complexities.

 There is a language of the blood of which people speak but it is also held that blood speaks for itself. In its continual coursing through every crook and cranny of the body, the blood contributes to and takes from all parts of the whole. This, together with the fact that men have long conceived of the blood as bearing the essential impress of the conditions of countless ancestors, has caused many to believe that the blood was capable of revealing truth. Thus it was thought that the wounds of a murdered man would bleed afresh in the presence of the murderer. Sir Francis Bacon recorded that when King Richard (the Lion-Hearted) was made to stand before his father's (Henry 11's) corpse, the wounds bled and confirmed the suspicion of many that patricide had been committed. But a deeper and perhaps unconsciously held reason for the belief lies in the analogy, perceived since the most ancient times, between the sun and its rays and the heart and blood in living beings. The penetration into all parts of the living whole is represented in the Rig Veda as Varuna, and in man this is seen as that which will never accept a partial view of things but continually seek the Truth in which all conditions and perspectives can be accommodated. The wise have taught that "so long as man does not attain to the largeness of Varuna's truth, he is bound to the posts of the world sacrifice by the triple bonds of mind, life and body as a victim and is not free as a possessor and enjoyer".

 Partial and skewed views of 'truth' cause one to be 'hot' or 'cold' blooded and to act in ways unworthy of human beings. Productive of the 'bad blood' which often arises between people, such views can result in a kind of cardiac arrest on the mental plane or in practices even as benighted as blood feuding or drinking the blood of one's fallen enemy. Behind the most abysmal acts of man's inhumanity often lies a superstitious awe of the power of blood. To drink another's is to steal his or her life-essence. To kill a member of an enemy clan is to 'get back the blood' and increase the power of one's own family. The term 'blood' is mentioned in the Bible more than five hundred times, a testimony to the centrality of its importance to what was initially a tribal religion. It is often spoken of as a covenant and in connection with atonement and sacrifice. In Christian as well as other cultures a sign of blood serves as a pact or seal, like that made between American Indians who cut their thumbs in order to release and mingle their blood and become 'blood brothers'. The example of the pact between Dr. Faustus and Mephistopheles has proved to be of enduring fascination to writers in the Christian world, where the use of blood in acts of necromancy has been as plentiful as in primitive cultures. The abhorrence and fear of menstrual blood is also universal, causing many people to observe remarkable rituals of avoidance during periods when it was necessary. Pliny referred to this cast-off blood as "a fatal poison, corrupting and decomposing . . . depriving seeds of their fecundity, destroying insects, blasting garden flowers and grasses, causing fruits to fall from branches [and] dulling razors".

 The passionate quality of the colour red pervades the symbolism of blood, and the vital character of blood informs the significance of the colour red. Among most people of the earth red symbolizes blood and indicates health, courage, fertility, growth and life itself. Chromatically, the colour red represents the end of a series which begins with sunlight and the colour yellow. The intermediate stage is expressed in the green colour so dominant in vegetable life, and with the movement from yellow an increase of iron marks the progressive involvement of light and electricity in matter. The advent of the colour red, then, symbolically represents the furthest extent of sacrifice from the ethereal to the material realm, and blood itself becomes a pulsating reminder of that profoundly archetypal process. More than one hundred thousand times a day, the human heart (pumping more than two thousand gallons or tens of millions of gallons in a lifetime) reminds us of this. The blood rushes out of the heart, travelling about one foot every second, following the same laws that apply to ground water flowing through the layers of the earth or electricity flowing from the sun through the vastitudes of space. Just as doubling the pressure doubles the flow and doubling the resistance halves the flow of water, so too these factors modify the flow of electricity and blood.

 From its entrance into the right ventricle from the veins to its exit from the left ventricle into the arteries, the passage of blood requires two-and-a-half seconds when the body is at rest, and one second or so when it is being exercised. The heart's beating drives it into the narrowest capillaries, forcing the exchange of oxygen for the dead weight of carbon dioxide seventy times a minute. Its passage is swift and powerful despite the fact that only a little more than half of its constitution is liquid. Many of its more solid substances float in a rich sea of hormones, vitamins, enzymes and proteins that are found in the plasma which, composed largely of water, is the blood's solvent. Plasma contains compounds uncannily like those of the ancient Cambrian seas that covered most of the globe over five hundred million years ago. It was from these seas that life forms first emerged. The first single-celled residents had circulatory systems as vast as the ocean itself. Oxygen diffused effortlessly into the cells, and, just as easily, the seas absorbed the wastes. The evolution of forms from more ethereal types involved a collective participation in breath and circulation. The higher sparks of conscious intelligence waited in abeyance while this vast process of generalized physical exchange took place. The forms would evolve for millennia, becoming increasingly complex and inwardly oriented while they waited for a vesture capable of reflecting the individuating mind.

 When the correct form evolved, it possessed an individual circulatory system similar to that of other animals, but one whose rhythm and pattern of movement, relative to its centre, reflected a cosmic design. As this microcosmic form evolved, the blood that gave it life developed various specialized factors associated with race and long chains of causation hidden in the forgotten complexities of man's past. Human blood groups with their various factors bear a simple one-to-one correspondence with the genes that are transmitted each generation. These are constant within individuals and not influenced by environment or diet or any other external factor. Two parents both carrying the M factor will unavoidably produce a child having the M factor, whilst one type A blood parent together with another type B blood parent may produce a type A or B or AB child. But there are over sixty different factors and four major blood types known in the world, and the chance of two people being identical in regard to all of them is astronomically improbable. There are what have been called human 'blood prints', which are as unique as fingerprints and characterize an aspect of a particular individual, a particular karma which speaks, as the blood can speak, of the history and condition of the indwelling soul whose body it sustains.

 Great movements of human beings, unknown to history, can be charted by the geographical increase and decrease of blood factors. The fact that blood type A is frequently found in western Japan (opposite Korea) and diminishes as one moves towards Hokkaido corresponds with a movement of mainland people onto an archipelago once completely populated by another and much older race of people. Some races possess blood factors which others do not possess at all, and some instances of their occurrence seem to be part of a crazy-quilt design that does not readily fit in with broader patterns of migration. Much mystery continues to surround the study of man's physical ancestry and the complexities of all the meanderings and matings that have produced the billions of bodies of the dead and the living. An old English proverb has it that "all blood is alike ancient" and there is much truth in this saying. The blood of our forgotten ancestors is as vast as time extended back along the ages to the shores of the primordial Cambrian seas. The hot and cold blood, the bad blood, the blood of sacrifice, that of the heart's wisdom and that of life's passions flows down along those infinitely tangled courses of animal and human history to circulate in myriad combinations through the bodies of the living. But it is the human ancestors, forgotten and remembered, who have impressed it greatly with the stamp of their lives, for the blood of animals is little marked by hopes or perversions. Man can affect the quality of blood and its circulation through thought and cause it to run as a pure river of sacrifice or as a stream clogged with impurities. Oddly, it is in man's treatment of animals that he has often muddied his nature most foully. This is particularly true in regard to vivisection and blood sports. Oscar Wilde once referred to the institution of fox hunting as "the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable", a witticism which points to the cruelty as well as the absurdity of such a practice. The hostility and fear towards humans that pervade the animal kingdom is a sad result of the actions of human ancestors who lived millennia ago as well as only yesterday. As folk belief would have it, "the blood itself never forgets where it has been".

 The primary function of human blood is to supply oxygen daily to the sixty trillion cells in the body. Besides this it transports food, wastes and hormonal messengers. It cools when there is overheating of the system and warms when it is cold, and it destroys alien invaders while at the same time mending and repairing its own vessels. Blood maintains the balance of Nature and homeostasis in man. It is the medium through which the continual re-establishment of this balance takes place and it thus binds the internal nature harmoniously to the world outside. The pressure of the systemic circulation is originated by the heart as the blood is pumped into the large arteries. From there it courses to smaller arteries and arterioles which control the flow to the tissue. From the arterioles it passes through the metarterioles to the sphincter valves, and thence into the capillaries, which radiate out in minutely distinguished dendritic fans resembling great coral fans along some exotic submarine reef. The oxygen and food brought to the capillaries pass through their walls and enter the interstitial fluid that surrounds all of the body's cells and then into the cells themselves. As this occurs, the carbon dioxide and other waste material in the cells leave and cross over into the blood in the capillaries in an exchange which causes the blood, which then makes its return journey through the venules and veins to the heart, to take on a dark purple colouration.

 The blood, passing through the heart, then enters into the pulmonary phase of its circulation. It is 'breathless' as it comes along the right and left pulmonary arteries leading to the lungs. There it courses along arteries that divide into smaller and smaller vessels, threading for hundreds of miles around and about the millions of tiny air sacs called alveoli which form the respiratory membranes of the lungs. Molecules of oxygen diffuse through the tiny membranes of the alveoli into the blood in a homeostatic response resulting in the equalization of pressure. At any one time the three ounces of blood in the lungs are distributed throughout this network so thinly and evenly that the oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange can take place in a quarter of a second. Air is drawn into the lungs in concert with the blood rising from the heart, and they meet in perfect timing at the tiny membrane stations where diffusion takes place.

 Excessive carbon dioxide in the blood causes the breathing and heartbeat to quicken in order to flush it out. Another regulating factor is dictated by the need of tissues and the subsequent signals carried in the blood which cause the arteries and veins of various sizes to contract or dilate. The passageways contain nerves connected to the vaso-motor centre in the brain, which then signals the nerve fibres to secrete a vaso-constrictor or dilating agent. Like the systole and diastole of the heart, the quickness of the breath, the pressure of the blood as it flows and the rate of the exchanges during the phases of circulation, so too, the vessels through which the blood passes reflect a universal centrifugal and centripetal rhythm to which all forms of life, like revolving wheels within wheels, continually adjust themselves.

 The Sun is the heart of the Solar World (System) and its brain is hidden behind the (visible) Sun. From thence, sensation is radiated into every nerve-centre of the great body . . .

                        The Secret Doctrine, i 541

 If the plasma in blood is its solvent, the red blood cells endow it with its 'functional essence', carrying, as they do, ninety-nine percent of the oxygen distributed throughout the body. Constituting only forty-five percent of the blood, the red blood cells are, nonetheless, the most abundant cells in the body. They are sturdy and highly flexible sacs that can squeeze through the narrowest passages without rupturing. Like plasma, they are partly composed of water, but their characteristic constituent (which gives blood its crimson colour) is haemoglobin, which they possess in so highly concentrated a form that it is almost crystallized. In addition to the transport of oxygen, blood has the power to heal. Unlike any other fabric, it can seal rent tissue, magically making its own thread to weave the torn parts together again. The fibrous threads literally 'weave themselves into being' at the site of an injury. Tiny platelets rush to a cut or rupture and swell into sticky, irregular shapes to create plugs as backup, and if their abilities to seal the wound are inadequate, they signal for the clotting process to begin. So dependable is the blood's complex electrochemical potential that the signals are continually and faithfully transmitted, releasing the exact chemicals capable of adjusting and mending countless times within a human life. It is only in rare circumstances that the system fails to respond, the most publicized of these being the effects caused by the condition known as haemophilia, which term, in a sort of cruel irony, means love of blood'. One of Queen Victoria's everlasting claims to fame lies in the fact that she transmitted this disease to a good many of the crowned heads of Europe and Russia.

 Another important element in blood is composed of a small but active army of white blood cells (leucocytes), whose job it is to engulf, swallow, 'explode', break down, digest and neutralize any parasites or viruses that invade the system. Their production in the bone marrow and lymph glands immediately increases upon such an intrusion, and a devouring horde is released to engage 'the enemy'. They pull themselves along the capillary walls like foot-soldiers, their tiny pseudopods stretching out with each step as they advance along and through the tissue. Billions may perish in an all out battle but, with the assistance of the antibodies which destroy particular antigens they have latched onto, they are usually victorious. But the 'army' of leucocytes must always serve the greater function of the blood. If, abnormally swollen with power, they multiply and accumulate unnaturally, they can clog the body's arteries and prevent the bone marrow from producing vital red blood cells. Such an army out of control can result in tragic diseases such as leukaemia or lupus.

 They were going to look at war, the red animal – war, the blood-swollen god.

                        The Red Badge of Courage
                        STEPHEN CRANE

 The god of war reigns in the Iron Age. Forgotten is his primary role associated with ideational sacrifice. His distorted and crippled image is red with lust for conquest and yet can preside over a disease that strips the body of its life-bearing crimson cells. The causes and result of an age whose hallmarks are greed and selfishness are often deceptive in their outward appearances. Iron lies at the very 'heart' of the blood's functional essence. It is the 'soul' or 'jewel' that rests in the centre of haemoglobin molecules responsible for the continual oxidation of the body's cells. As always, the body shows its 'wisdom' by producing this vital substance in the protected surrounds of bone marrow (largely that of the skull, ribs and spine). When tissue in the body runs short of oxygen, a messenger hormone called erythropoietin ('one who makes blood') travels to the marrow, where it signals a 'primitive' cell to come out of its dormancy and to begin to grow and produce red blood cells. Haemoglobin molecules multiply within them until a saturation point is reached and the nucleus of the cells is released in an act of self-sterilization demonstrative of the blood's sacrificial character. Looking like a pinched disc, the red blood cell will live one hundred and twenty days and then die, forming part of the waste to be transported out of the body. Like the biblical creation of the world, the time required for the production of the cells is six days, but with no rest on the seventh!

 Once produced, each red blood cell contains two hundred and seventy million haemoglobin molecules, each of which loads oxygen at the surface of the lungs and unloads it precisely when and where needed. The molecules are made up of four chains of amino acids which form little tangled wheels circling single atoms of iron at their centres. Sheltered in the rings of the chains (made up of hydrogen, nitrogen and carbon), the iron is heavily involved in interacting with them (especially the nitrogen). This dissipates its attraction for the individual oxygen molecules which will attach themselves to the iron, so that the binding is only a temporary one and the oxygen is easily released at its destination.

And if our blood alone
Will melt this iron earth,
Take it. It is well spent
Easing a saviour's birth.

            CECIL DAY LEWIS

 The iron binds only temporarily but it must have the power to do so. The earth may be a magnet, dark as iron, which we must melt away to let the spirit shine forth, but have not those who daily greet the sun called it Great Magnet? Just as the spectrum, passing from yellow through green to red, corresponds with an increase of iron, so too does the sun, passing from its hidden spiritual essence to the manifest orb in our solar system. Therefore, iron, in its physical form, owes its power to magnetize both matter and mind to an essential spiritual magnetism which (along with Fohatic electricity) lies at the heart of the substratum of being. It is a central actor in the centripetal and centrifugal pulsation that takes place in the spiritual, astral and physical realms. This is why the god Varuna, who set in motion Surya's beams and gave the "true red treasure", is called Iron-Headed' and identified with Hephaestus of the iron forge.

 Like little suns in the centres of wheels of planets, the four iron atoms preside over the world of the red blood cell. The elements they work with are the four fundamental building blocks of all manifest life: hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and carbon. In occult terms, these provide the basis for the Tetrad, which combines within itself all the materials from which cosmos is produced. From the magnetic point in the centre of the boundless Circle, to the Duad and the Triad, the One is ultimately involved in the Tetrad, whose symbol is the fourth or visible sun as well as the four tiny iron atoms in the haemoglobin molecule. In the macrocosmic process the astral realm lies between the noumenal Tetraktys and the phenomenal Tetrad. At this level it is Akashic, whilst in its lower expression it corresponds with the linga sharira of the phenomenal world and its chemical analogue, nitrogen. One perceives the significance of the iron atom's involvement with nitrogen, which acts to dissipate the binding of oxygen to it. For on the gross material level oxygen represents prana and must be free to fly out from the little sun' and carry out its vital role in the sacrifice of life.

 Someone once asked H.P. Blavatsky if prana was produced by the lives' of the human body. She responded that the opposite was true, that prana was the parent of the lives'. She asked the enquirer to imagine the body as a sponge submerged in water. The water inside the sponge would be prana, whilst that all around it would be Jiva. When the sponge is removed from the water, it dries up (dies) and loses prana. She went on to explain that every principle is a differentiation of Jiva, but the life motion in each is prana, without which there would be no kama. Prana wakes the kamic germs to life; it makes all desires vital and living. Thus the Great Breath which breathes out the universes exudes the vital Jivas which course through the electrical channels of ethereal space and ultimately bring life to the very air we take into our lungs.

 The vessels within the human organism are channels for prana as it continually informs the body. Jiva becomes prana when a child is born and first begins to breathe, enabling the divine life-spark to become an individual spiritual presence. Entering the blood as oxygen, it causes it to become bright red, thus bringing the solar spark to its ultimate expression on the spectrum. A delightful myth in the Puranas explains how this came about through the Sage Vasishtha, who requested the sun to come to Satya Loka. Surya said that if he left his place, the whole world would be destroyed. So the Rishi offered to put his red cloth in the place of the sun's disc, and it is this that we now see in the sky. So also, the golden streams of Fohatic electricity which inform ethereal space become red within the body of living creatures. The vast ocean of Jiva finds an analogue in the plasma of the blood, which bears in its currents the ghostly remnants of dead cells much like the bhuts that float in the astral realm. Like the ancient Cambrian seas, it is an archaic matrix in which the individuating solar design gradually incarnated.

 Man is the pivot where the Great Breath which breathes out is breathed in. The little suns' of iron then magnetize it before ^breathing it out', so to speak, into the microcosm of the body. At this point, the Red God Karthikeya reigns, for his is the kingdom of the manifest world. Worshipped as Murugan, Subramania or Mars, he is the hope of those who court fertility and the champion of those in whom rajas predominates. But he is born of the 'sweat' of his father, Shiva, who, beyond the limits of form, precipitated out watery globules (worlds) much in the fashion that the 'primitive' cell within the marrow would come to be activated to produce red blood cells in man. It is these globules which are the realm of the 'red sun', the red son and offspring of the Highest Spiritual Will.

 In this way, the 'interior work' of the Spiritual Sun manifests forth. The 'sweat' of Shiva, transmitted by his fleet-footed son, becomes the vital fluid that circulates through our solar system. Every year the blood of the visible sun passes through its auricles and ventricles before washing the lungs' and passing into the arteries and veins of the system to complete an eleven-year cycle. This is a reflection in a very limited time of much vaster cycles pertaining to the third and second and most Spiritual Sun. In man the cycle requires a tiny fraction of solar time but it is, in essence, the same cycle of circulation, demonstrating more powerfully than any other physiological pattern man's position as microcosm of the macrocosm. On earth the solar cave of the heart, in which the Buddha of sacrifice resides, lies in the mountain peaks. It is from these heights that the sacrificial streams of blood (water) course forth to bring life to the waiting world. They stream along endless canals and cross over interstitial seas to be returned to the lungs of the atmosphere and recleansed. But it is the heart centres in the world which keep the waters flowing. If it were not for their conscious participation in the whole sacrifice of life, there would not be adequate canals to carry its fruits, and they would sink in the chaos of the great seas long before reaching other shores where the needy wait and hope.

 Without the conscious participation of those who make of their existence a heart centre, the 'cells' of the world could not be adequately nourished and the global body would begin to dry up like the dying sponge when it is denied its life-giving environment. Living in the world, we are not submerged in the waters of Jiva, and we are dependent upon the extension and maintenance of channels capable of spreading the spiritual currents with which man's immortal soul is enlivened and encouraged to incarnate. These rivers of Truth are brought to us by those who act as extensions of the Rays which stream forth as the Jivas emanated by their Logoic Solar Source. The Great Lord Shiva is all these Jivas combined, and those who attempt to diffuse their spiritual sparks in the world are followers of his example. They sacrifice through their 'sweat' that which they have garnered through the innermost penetration of the heart and brain. Those who follow these Rays will eventually move towards their heavenly prototype until they are drawn into the highest Ray of the Sun.

 Varuna guides them because he is the Ether of Divine Truth that leads from the fiery Son to the Invisible Father beyond. He strikes down evil and delivers from illusion, like a vast sea in which all is ultimately purified or thrown up. Much like the leucocytes which engulf and destroy invaders into a harmoniously operating system, Varuna ensnares and demolishes the "Sons of Darkness [who] serve self-will and ignorance". But those who seek after Truth through sacrifice are delivered from bondage to sin, like a calf released from the rope or a victim set free from the slaying-post. From within their highest spiritual centres (shielded by the skull, the ribs and the spine), such seekers tune their most sensitive receptors to catch the signal of the erythropoietin, the call of humanity's spiritual needs. They watch and listen and willingly give forth the living blood of Truth on whose vast sea they have set their course.

Do not pass that long sought cup
Away from my parched lips.
Too great the pain that filled it up,
Too sweet its ruby sips.