Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


From father plow descend the Furrow-Sons,
Thro ' whose rich loins a num 'rous issue runs.
From parent blossoms, daughter's fruit succeed;
As Phorcus comes before his numerous breed.
Thy laws personified still rule the whole,
Of which thy Minos is the life and soul.

  Neither the elegance of his sculpted throne, the fullness of his grain stores nor the loyal villages that graced the slopes descending from his palaces were enough to arrest the doubts of the Minoan king. So deep was his uncertainty that Minos prayed to Poseidon to send him a sign of his true sovereignty. The myths tell of distant times when bull-leapers performed along lofty parapets beside walls decorated with graceful dolphins. This ancient tale reaches us through the mists of old harbours lapped by the waters of Poseidon who sent to Minos the proof he sought in the form of a mighty and beautiful bull. Surging across the dark waters, the magnificent animal ascended to the royal palace and entranced its inhabitants. The bull from the sea symbolized man's kingly right and the responsibility of his reign. He embodied the material that had floated as foam upon the water's current, fragmented and semi-dissolved just a moment before. Now, gathered together, that matter was solid and powerful, and stood before Minos as a concrete answer to his searching question.

  Like the Bull of Minos, Taurus represents impressed matter, agglomerated from the strata of past thought and desire and thrust into the present like the topsoil of the earth. Taurus emerges as the gathering dark cloud, giving form to the precipitation of latent cause against the shapeless sky. It is related to the second Nidana, Samskara, and reflects the results of former states of being, the karma upon which the soul will work. Samskara etymologically suggests the improvement and refinement of impressions left upon the mind and form. It carries the germs of propensities cultivated in previous lives to be developed in this and future births. Linked to Vach, Taurus establishes the key note and basis for subsequent activity. The ancient Akkadians recognized this in the name they bestowed upon the celestial bull - TE, 'the Foundation Stone.'

  The forces of Taurus are those of virgin matter, the vehicle of becoming. They are like clay to be moulded by the skilled potter who can discern the texture and consistency needed for sculpting a water-tight vessel. The earth itself offers up material which will eventually form a vessel capable of containing the most ethereal fluids of manifested life, but the potter must select, refine and mould this material upon the wheel of karmic existence. The entire process of becoming reflects the relation of the manifest to the unmanifest intimated in The Voice of the Silence: "Before the Soul can comprehend and may remember, she must unto the Silent Speaker be united, just as the form to which the clay is modelled is first united with the potter's mind." Taurus is both the plastic earth which bears form and the causal force which penetrates and vivifies it. If Aries, whose ruler is Mars, can be seen as the father, Taurus, ruled by Venus, can be seen as the mother, "the web upon which is woven the garment of the soul." Being an earth sign, there is a feminine aspect to the symbol of the bull even though its nature is masculine. However, the Eddie god Thor, the Egyptian Osiris, and several Hindu sky gods are also identified with the bull, suggesting that Taurus is related both to Purusha and Prakriti. Hymns in the Rig Veda describe heaven and earth as a closely united pair, one a prolific bull, the other a multi-coloured cow. As productive and generative powers in nature, they represent the merging of firm soul-awareness with the plastic power of consciousness, the birth of Viraj out of Vach.

  In the Puranas, Viraj is described as the Logos, the male Manu created in the female portion of Brahma's body by Brahma himself. "Having divided his body into two parts, the lord became with one half a male and with the other half a female; and in her he created Viraj." Thus, the cow is the symbol of creative nature, while the bull is the spirit which vivifies nature and renders 'the Word' into manifest sound. The Egyptians symbolized this by the light of the sun which, as a bull, hid in the body of a cow each night to be born anew at every morn. They called the sun 'the Bull of his Mother,' a symbol of the penetration of the humid by the fiery. Taurus is related to the moon as well as the sun, and its zodiacal glyph depicts a crescent over a full moon, symbolizing the waxing and waning forces of natural life. The Babylonian lunar deity was the god Sin, whose emblem was the bull. Just as there were successions of lunar and solar cults in the East, so there were lunar and solar aspects attributed to the Heavenly Bull. Despite the shifts of religious emphasis, there was an intense and constant interest in the stars of Taurus, which included the earliest astrological significators connected with agriculture.

  Taurus is the first of four signs in the zodiac which, as equinoctial points, mark the beginnings of yugas. Representing the four elements, they are points in a wheel which seems to undulate, relative to the earth, like the track of a winding serpent. This serpentine motion is related to Fohat, and its phases may be seen in the curves of the glyphs belonging to Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius. Fohat, latent in Taurus, stirs into activity in Leo, fully awakens in Scorpio and is synthesized in Aquarius. Phoenician cylinder seals depict the lion devouring the bull, the commencement of a progression which culminates in the total synthesis of the man-lion. Fohat conceals motive powers in Taurus. When tamasic, this engenders an asuric secretiveness, but in its positive aspect, it indicates a profound capacity for assimilation. The earthly forces of production associated with Taurus need not be dispersed but may be contained and ruminated upon slowly and steadily. The unrefined earthy potential of this sign is reminiscent of the rough soil of primitive man before the dawn of civilization, a pristine condition symbolized by the Sumerian hero Enkidu. He was depicted as a bull with a man's breast, arms and face, whose visage was adorned with bovine ears and horns. This was man before his acquisition of the 'soul of life,' which the Sumerians believed to have coincided with the creation of goddesses of flocks and grain. The connection between such bull-men and the feminine principle in nature is intimated in myths about monsters which arise from the sea and must be conquered by the masculine principle. They represent morphological cul-de-sacs of evolution, or premature graftings of the divine on unrefined matter. Like Jason and his crew on the Argo, who met and conquered the Cretan Bull, the soul must cross this celestial bosporus (bos = bull) in order to cultivate the fields of life.

  The bull is the paramount symbol of the fecundating sky. Its blackness links it with the lower heaven of death, while, as thunder, its bellow conveys the voice of the unmanifest. The Egyptians spoke of the 'heavenly wild bull' whose black colour represented the depth of the sky which, though remote, was full and therefore finite. The transformation of his nature from the solar to the lunar is strongly suggested in Cretan ritual where the sun was represented as a bull. The labyrinth was an orchestra formed in a solar pattern in which the dancer imitating the sun masqueraded as a bull. The myth of Minos provides a clue to this transition when it describes how the king found the Bull from the Sea so beautiful that he could not kill it as a sacrificial offering to Poseidon as he had been instructed. The Bull, roaming about freely, attracted the unnatural love of Queen Pasiphae, who eventually gave birth to the anthropotaurine monster called the Minotaur. Pasiphae was not only the wife of a man who desired assurance of his divine right to rule but also a daughter of Helios. As an offspring of the sun, she became the agent through whom brutal nature grossly manifested due to the failure of Minos to sacrifice the bull. Her fascination with the Bull is parallelled by the worship of Dionysius in bovine guise, a practice perhaps related to an unconscious urge to escape into 'pre-time,' a realm of primitive expression. In the Minoan myth, the bull is a necessary element in the deeper quest of King Minos, who through vivifying passive nature precipitates the necessity of the conquest of brute nature by the man who would be king.

  Taurus governs the throat and the voice, projections of 'the Word made flesh.' In the Vedas and Upanishads the Heavenly Bull is called Rsabham, and is related to Pranava or AUM. Dyaus, the Hindu equivalent of Zeus, is called the Bull "who bellows downward, his thunder penetrating the lower heavens and striking the earth." Thus Indra releases Vach in the form of the captive cows. The Babylonian Enlil, "whose head rivals the Heavens, whose foundation is laid in the pure abyss, who reposes in the land like a furious wild bull, whose horns gleam like the rays of the Sun-god," hurls down the thunderous 'Word' which echoes through the world. Nandi, the sacred bull of Shiva, was brought from Bharata to Sancha to meet Rsabham every kalpa, but when the Atlanteans became black with sin, then Nandi remained forever in 'the White Island,' and those of the Fourth World lost the AUM. Here the role of Taurus as the agent of the manifesting Word is compounded in the guise of two bulls, one of which is white and attends the transcendental dance of Shiva in Chidambaram, while the other is black and watches over the races of the world.

  Taurus wears an adornment of pearls shining with great beauty, the Pleiades, the central group in sidereal symbolism, the septenary applied to space, sound and action. They are identified with the Assyrian Bulls, the Seven Kabiri, and the Seven Rishis who govern the Seven Races of man. The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades begin the great precessional cycle and around them "our universe of fixed stars revolves, the focus from which the divine breath, MOTION, works incessantly during the Manvantara. Hence in the Occult philosophy and its sidereal symbols - it is this circle and the starry cross on its face, which play the most prominent part." The Egyptians depicted the circle and the cross as the sun and Tau between the crescent of the bull's horns, indicating the vehicle through which the divine breath audibly breathed. The Kabbalah speaks of the Pleiades as being born from the first manifested side of the upper triangle, the concealed triangle. The manifest side is described as Taurus, whose symbol is the figure I or the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph (bull or ox), whose synthesis is ten (10) or Yodh, the perfect letter and number. The plane above is No Number or Zero while the plane below becomes One. Milton's account of creation in Paradise Lost poignantly captures a moment in primordial manifestation beheld by the unseen witness:

Dawn and the Pleiades before him danc'd,
Shedding sweet influence.

  As if to echo the bright sphere of No Number on the plane below, Aldebaran, 'the Eye of Taurus,' shines forth with a brilliance of the first magnitude. It is the guide that marks 'the Furrow of Heaven' and the herald of Kali Yuga. Seekers of mystery are told to "go forth at night, and talk with Aldebaran, where he flames in the cold forehead of the winter sky." He is Dil-gam, 'the Messenger of Light' and was called by the Latins Palititium, 'to proclaim.' Thus the star that brings the 'message of light' is linked with the proclamation of sound. Both signify the point in the ecliptic from which men in ancient times measured longitude, regulated their calendar, and navigated ships at sea. In these, as well as in other hidden ways, Taurus sets the 'tone' which governs the manifestations of the mathematics of Karma.

  In The Epic of Gilgamesh the hero weeps when he learns that his friend Enkidu is fated to die, though the destiny of the valiant bull-man is necessary in the progress of Gilgamesh, who then searches for the plant of immortality. Minos, in failing to kill the Bull from the Sea, ensured the prolongation of evolutionary trials. The hero Mithra, however, destroyed the bull created by Ormazd, recognizing that it was the 'germ of sorrow' and that he had to "kill the finite seed so that the plant of immortality might grow." The bull was the first animal created by Ormazd, the Supreme Being, and it was the task of Mithra, the Soul, to capture and tame it. The bull escaped, whereupon the Sun commanded Mithra to slay it, and when this was done, plants sprang from the fallen body of the great beast. "The seed of the Bull, gathered and purified by the moon, produced all the different species of useful animals. . . and all the useful herbs and plants that cover the earth with their verdure. From the spinal cord of the animal sprang the wheat that gives us our bread, and from its blood the vine that produces the sacred drink of the mysteries - and from the death which he had caused was born a new life more rich and more fecund than the old."

  In the history of humanity, the birth of agriculture and animal husbandry through the demise of the wild bull symbolizes the beginnings of the ascendancy of man over animal. The domestication of flora and fauna represents the entry of man into an age of complex cultural expression far beyond the nomadic life of hunting. But the bull did more than sacrifice its life for this development. It gave its crescent-shaped horn as inspiration for the plough. Just as the Babylonians said of Enlil, "He has caused the ploughshare to impregnate the earth," so throughout the Mediterranean world the horns of the bull symbolized the plough which opened mother earth, that she may be impregnated with seed. Cultivation of the earth became the reflection of the hidden and deeper development symbolized by Taurus.

  'Cultivation' and 'culture' spring from the same Latin root, cultus, 'care' or 'adoration,' derived from the Greek kyklos or 'circle of becoming,' and the Sanskrit chakra or 'wheel' and char, 'to move.' 'The Word' reflected in the human power to symbolize through language is the crux and foundation of culture, enabling man to grow in awareness through complex mental and cultural relationships within a geometric or cumulative process. Human nature itself depends upon the development of this ability to impress matter by thoughts and deeds and to respond to impressions with a dialectical ability to transcend the limits they present. Man may potentially grow from generation to generation, from life to life, but he must learn what Taurus has to teach. The strength of the forces emanating through the constellation of Rsabham is based upon the capacity to assimilate and digest, to ruminate slowly like the bull, ever refining the clay of future moulds. The whole force of Taurus encompasses an archetypal process of fecundation, proliferation, assimilation and refinement. The dark bull with the crescent horn manifests in the realm of death and must be conquered in the search for immortal life. But if one "goes forth at night" and meditates upon the Eye of the Bull, one may intuit the Zero beyond the One. For the Eye of the Bull is Aleph, whose synthesis is ten, the perfect number, the sum of all, involving and expressing the mysteries of the entire Kosmos, and manifesting itself in 'the Word' or generative Power of Creation.

Hermes, May 1977