Lightning

Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


LIGHTNING


Want to teach men the sense of their existence, which is the Superman, the lightning out of the dark cloud man.

Thus Spake Zarathustra
Friedrich Nietzche

 Heaven and Earth trembled with fear when Indra struck Vritra with his bolt. With his own great and deadly weapon he smote to pieces Vritra, worst of foes. Like trunks of trees when the axe has felled them, low on the earth lay the limbs and body of the prostrate dragon. Footless and handless, still he challenged. Smote with Indra's bolt between the shoulders, still he fought. But he was overwhelmed by Indra's lightning, burnt and dissevered and brought to his death. There he lay like a bank-bursting river, the waters taking courage flowing over him. Then Maghavan, the Lightning-Wielder, opened the caves wherein the floods had been imprisoned. He, the smiter of his enemies, won back the kine, won the soma and let loose the flow of the Seven Rivers. With his bolt he released the pent-up streams from the udder of the mountain and they flowed like lowing cows to the ocean. With his bolt he dug out the channels for the sacred rivers, releasing moisture from his lightning fire. Like the zig-zag flash of Indra's bolt, the elements of the Rig Vedic myth tumble forth in serpentine fashion, each providing an angled point from whence a swift, fresh stream of symbolic meaning cuts a juxtaposed beam of light upon the complex theme of the mighty duel. Who and what are Indra and Vritra, and why is this dragon foe called the Obstructor of the Waters? What are the waters and what the udder of the mountain? What is the cave and what the lowing kine that pour forth to the ocean? What is the symbolic significance of all these elements and how do they combine to reveal the mythically camouflaged meaning of the lightning-bolt? In most cultures lightning represents spiritual illumination, revelation or the descent of power. It can mean the sudden realization of truth cutting across time and space as the eternal Now which "In the thunder-flash is Truth." It often signifies masculine power which is both fertilizing and destructive and, like the lance of Achilles, can both heal and wound. If these meanings are attached to the weapon of Indra, it would serve to elevate the position of that god himself and eclipse in significance the many stories of his later fallen state. The tales of folly that adhere to the post-Vedic Indra do not pertain to the lofty hero of the Rig Vedic hymns, nor do they suggest the mighty occult power of his lightning.

 In early Vedic times Indra was considered the ruler of our being, the master of Svar, which is the luminous world of the Divine Mind. He represented the power of pure existence, self-manifested as the Divine Mind. He came into our world as the hero with the shining horses, slaying darkness and division with his lightnings and making the sun of Truth mount high in the heaven of our mentality. His arch foe Vritra was an atmospheric demon, having the form of a dragon-serpent and giving off destructive lightning, thunder and hail. His name derives from the root vr, which means 'to cover' or 'encompass'. He obstructed the Akashic waters of the heavens with a great astral coil that sent forth mists of illusion while ensuring drought for all that struggled to live below. Thus the waters can be identified with the bounteous milk of Aditi, mother of Indra and supporter of all. She is the Mistress of the Bright Stall who is invoked to release sin, and her udder is the mountain at the centre of the universe. She is the soma-purchase cow, the pure abstract substance of Mulaprakriti, approachable only through the rich clarity of the ghrta of sacrifice. Through clarity and strength, Indra released her pent-up streams. Through power won by the soma-juice, he struck asunder the mountain fastness, his love for the sacred drink being well known and inextricably bound up with his ability to wield the terrible lightning bolt. Men fear lightning as an unavoidable bolt of fate.

 In the Book of Leviticus in the Old Testament, the sons of Aaron were punished for making strange and unsanctified offerings. "And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord." Publilius Syrus, in his Maxims, argued that "It is vain to look for defence against lightning", an attitude shared by many who concentrate upon trying to avoid the condition that would attract the deadly strike. Tribal people like the Gonds in India believe that sexual immorality will wreak such retribution and, like people in many other cultures, they fear that a child born feet first is extremely susceptible. Peasant people of the Mediterranean will swear by God and seal their vow by inviting lightning to strike them dead if they speak falsely. Stories abound which describe how those who blaspheme God have been struck down on the spot, even while others around them were unscathed. To this day the belief persists that thunder-stones and axes can be hurled down with the lightning's strike. Elsewhere the trident and arrow, along with the vajra and dorje of Tibetan religious symbolism, are actively associated with this mighty celestial power that can flash across the chasm between heaven and earth, flash from above and lay low the sinner, but illuminate the pathway of the ardent devotee. For to be struck by lightning indicates punishment or an immediate translation to heaven, as well as an initiation or sudden realization of the truth which cuts across time and space.

 This brilliant flash was archetypally released by Indra when he shattered the darkness and generated the sun, which is the prize of the conflict. He opened the sky and brought forth the dawn which is said to "open the darkness as the cows their stall" who come forth ready to be milked at the first glimmer of light. This ancient description was echoed by later Greek and Roman philosophers who claimed that lightning was a crack in the dark clouds, revealing for an instant a brilliant heaven beyond. The god wields the weapon and the flash of milky brilliance produced is linked with the symbol of the horse who, like Indra's horse Dadhyanc or Dadhira the Dawn Horse, opens the cow stalls with soma power and represents the lightning form of fire. In the Greek tradition Poseidon was said to have produced the first horse by striking his trident on a dark Thessalian rock. The image of the animal bursting forth to swoop up and down through the heavens evokes a picture strongly reminiscent of the line in the Book of Revelations.

 "And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse." Agni is the fire in lightning and dwells in the waters of heaven. He is called Apam napat, the 'embryo of the waters', and the Son of the Rock, referring to the lightning that issues from the cloud-mountain echoed in the Greek reference to the Thessalian rock of heavenly Olympus. He is the spirit of the waters who drives with great speed and seizes the brightness in the cosmic ocean's depth, the Shoreless Sea of Fire of the Rain-cloud Cow, the mother of the Lightning Calf. It is she who carries the embryo of the aerial fire Agni, who is thus closely associated with Indra and the releasing of the waters. The fact that Indra wished to be born from the side of his mother may be related to lightning breaking from the side of the storm-cloud, or sparks shooting from the mythical fire-drill as it spins in the heavenly matrix. A hymn to Agni instructs, "Here is the Pramantha, the generator is ready. Bring the mistress of the race (Arani). Let us produce Agni by attrition according to the ancient custom." Arani is none other than Aditi, the Rain-cloud Cow, the primordial substance in its first remove from the Unknown. Ages later the epithet is applied to Devaki, the mother of Krishna, the incarnated Logos. At various levels all of these complex mythical ingredients pertain to the mystery of fire and water in terms of fire generating out of chaos as the Lightning Calf out of the mother. The mystery focusses attention upon the positive and negative principles of dual existence and the concealed spirit that rests behind them. Through the primordial mother, the masculine aspect of Sakti springs forth and becomes the active Fohatic potency in Nature, the ceaseless destructive and formulative power.

 Imagine a great embryo cloud hovering dimly over the darkened abyss of the Grand Canyon. All the multicoloured strata of conditioned existence are absorbed into pralaya and only the amorphous suggestion of the mother-substance hovers. Suddenly, great dendritic cracks of searing light explode within the pregnant cloud and illuminate it so that it hangs like a dazzling womb over the darkness, illuminating the pinnacled top of the great Temple of Shiva below. Thus did Indra shatter the darkness and release the Maruts, who are the seven parts of the Lightning Calf born from its laughter. Vedic mythology depicts them as Fires who shine on the mountains. They are self-luminous and 'lightning-speared', sometimes bearing the vajra of Indra in their hands. They are said to be "as great as the sky, surpassing heaven and earth". Milking the unfailing cow, they blow through the two worlds with rain and are identified with the Egos of great Adepts. Shri Aurobindo described them as "powers of will and nervous or Vital Force that have attained to the light of thought and the voice of self-expression. They are behind all thought and speech as its impellers and they battle towards the Light, Truth and Bliss of supreme consciousness." Thus the Maruts are life-powers whose nervous energies support the action of thought when mortal man attempts to grow towards immortality. Their power appears destructive because it helps to break down that which is established and to attain ever new formations. They also represent the passions and storms within the candidate's breast as he prepares for the ascetic life and they conceal their occult potency in the lower regions of Akasa.

 The terrible and even malevolent side of the Maruts is attributed to Rudra-Shiva, and indeed their name comes from the word mar, which means 'to die', 'to crush' or 'to shine'. Actually, half of the Maruts or Rudras are brilliant and gentle while the other half are dark and ferocious, symbolizing the roaring of the imprisoned Ego aspiring to return to its pure deific state. Thus from Indra, the high god of the Rig Veda, one follows the zig-zag lightning-flash as it enters subtle divisions or branches of a great tree of manifestation that has its roots in heaven. Its mystery exists at many levels like the knots of Fohat running through seven planes, and it is only partially revealed in the complicated activity of Indra as well as his Marut host. The limbs and branches of the mystery course through Indra, who shatters the Forty-Nine Forts of Vritra, and they are reflected in the intermittent flashes by the Maruts, who are born in every manvantara (Round) seven times seven. The celestial tree is often depicted in close association with lightning. For the Greeks the ash tree, under whose protection mankind lived during the Golden Age, was believed to have a flaming bough. They thought that a divine bird stole this branch and carried the spark within it to earth. As in the Promethean myth, this was the origin of self-conscious man in the world which was to become, in its fullest flower, a complete expression of the sacred forty-nine fires gathered at each point in the descent through the walls of Vritra's Forty-Nine Forts. The American Indians often symbolized this archetypal idea in the thunderbird, from whose heart pours the zig-zag lines of heavenly lightning. Some tribes, like the Kwakiutl, believed that the great thundering bird carried a Sake upon its back, while lightning flashed from its eyes. In tribal understanding, its voice was regarded as that of the Great Spirit speaking from the clouds and its flash as his divine fire. From the clouds his flaming voice spoke to them as the power behind all thought and speech and they listened with reverence. To them he would appear in dreams and visions as a great bird combining fire and water and, like Prometheus, come to them as a messenger between heaven and earth. Dreamers and sages saw him seated upon the flaming branch of the sacred flowering tree. They saw him there at the mountain-centre of the universe bringing the lightning fire, placing it within the branch of the tree. Like the jointed narthex reed in which Prometheus concealed the heavenly flame, the branches of that tree grow by joints and knots out of one another. They are like the knots of the dendritic pattern of lightning pulsing downwards towards the earth.

 After the formation of a given lightning channel on the physical plane of nature, from three to over forty strokes may flow in the same path. The combined time for all these pulses would be a fraction of a second, but the channel itself may maintain sufficient conductivity to allow a continuing current. Almost as a mirror of this activity, the positive and negative point-discharge currents occurring in tree branches are of a pulsating nature, coursing upwards in such a way as to echo, even as the sky meets the earth, the Hermetic adage, As above, so below. When the lightning channel is formed by the initial flow of the electronic charges of the 'leader', it runs in steps to the ground where it causes an electrical breakdown of the air and completes a channel for the ensuing pulses. When the formation of the channel by the leader is complete, the current from the earth proceeds upwards and produces the intense light flash we see. In trees the conductivity arises from the sap and the point-discharges at the tips of the branches are responsible for the fact that trees often attract lightning and are not safe places to shelter during a storm. They seem to stand like lightning-rods or trident forks in their environment, and the great electrical force of a bolt will crash down their limbs and trunk into the ground. The coursing of electrical impulse from branch to branch is again mirrored in the nervous system of the brain with its neurons that convey information signals through long axions and branching dendrites. The neurons are polarized so that the insides are negative with respect to the outside, achieving a 'resting potential'. They are chemically stimulated to produce short distance signals and polarized to permit a flow of chemicals through the membrane for signals of longer distance. Each time this happens there is a reversal of the membrane potential, segment by segment. This produces a rapid spread of the transient reversal in polarity along the nerve-fibre. When the impulse arrives at the axion terminal, the neuron next in line is affected so that its generating influence is modified to excite or inhibit and determine whether the next step will 'fire'. The completed synapse itself results either from a chemical or from an electrical transmission, but the whole process involves a close interaction of both modes. Excessive or deficient activity of certain chemicals in the synaptic process can produce neurological and mental disorders. Back-up of electrical impulses that fail to complete the crossing of the synaptic juncture can cause 'explosions', an increased sense of nervousness often accompanied by headaches. In such cases the complex changes in the overall polarities of the system have lost their subtle synchronization and the positive and negative are at war. The intricate balance between the fiery and watery poles is at microcosmic odds with the universe.

 Occult science teaches that the vital electricity coursing through the brain or the tree or the sky is under the same laws as cosmic electricity. It states that "the combination of molecules into new forms, and the bringing about of new correlations and disturbances of molecular equilibrium is, in general, the work of, and generates Fohat". The Sons of Fohat are said to be the various forces that have cosmic (Fohatic) electric life in their essence. On the lower Akashic plane these are manifested by the Rudras and the mysterious Maruts, but on the earthly plane they can be found in such material as amber which, when rubbed, will give birth to a 'son' who will attract straws! The Sons of Fohat demonstrate the release of the 'waters' in an electrical spark which answers to Indra's archetypal bolt. Of the physical expressions of electrical fire there is none more awesome than lightning, and it has been the subject of much cogitation since very early times. While modern science knows more about certain chains of effects producing lightning than ancient observers, it still does not, by any means, understand it. Two thousand years ago Seneca classified three types of lightning as the genera quod terrebrat, dissipat and urit. The remarkable bolts that go through soft and loose material without damaging it, while melting the hard substance beneath, constitute the terrebrat class as opposed to that which smashes or that which ignites and blackens. In the eighteenth century Benjamin Franklin's remarkable experiments with lightning led him to observe that electrical fluid agrees with lightning in twelve different ways. He was especially intrigued that electrical fluid, like lightning, was attracted by points and concluded that they were one and the same. Franklin's marvellously descriptive and enthusiastic letters, sent to his friend Collinson in London, were of such interest that each was read at meetings of the Royal Society, stimulating correspondence which flourished all over Europe. Among modern scientists there is no consensus regarding the mechanism by which thunder-clouds are believed to become electrified. Theories tend to support a precipitation-powered process or one involving convection motions of cloudy air that incorporates point-discharge ions from the earth. One of the facts that argues in favour of the latter hypothesis is that tall, pointed promontories on the earth do seem to stimulate electrical activity. Eighty percent of the lightning which strikes the Empire State Building originates from the building itself.

 There are some requirements for electrification which are agreed upon by scientists. It has been observed that the cloud must have a depth of at least three to four kilometres. It seems that strong convective activity as well as the presence of falling precipitation are necessary but not sufficient conditions. A very tall thunderstorm will produce much more frequent lightning, with strong electric fields observable above it. In his eighteenth century experiments, Franklin had established that when a Leyden jar was electrified, the outside was 'positive1 and the inside 'negative' (exactly as in the case of the neuron in the nervous system). He learnt that the shapes of such condensers determined electrical properties and he likened the charged clouds and the earth to one another and compared their interaction with the polarities of his glass plate condenser, which he referred to as a planetary Leyden jar. He was particularly impressed with the importance of points and wrote of "the wonderful effect of pointed bodies, both in drawing off and throwing off the electrical fire". Comparing all these findings to the lightning charge that released the progeny of the celestial Rain-cloud Cow, one can only speculate with wonder about the necessary depth and height of the cloud that produced it! The convective and precipitative activity would have to be the result of a cosmic interplay between the positive fire of the father and the negative ocean of the mother matrix. The cloud of Space would thus be negative relative to the Akashic fire which would bear the seed of the concealed spiritual Source of All. This seed would be the Logoic point that rends the womb like Indra's bolt, though the primordial rending is from within without. Subsequent to this, the bolt is cast from without within, which completes the first phase of a sort of downward dialectic which flashes back and forth as it combines and separates, kills and regenerates. It moves as Fohat and the sons of the Sons of Fohat, through the Forty-Nine Forts, until it is 'grounded' in the earth. But it does not die. It merely rests before it is recharged and expressed in new forms.

 Basic to spiritual science is the axiom that all contains and is electricity from the nettle that stings to the lightning that kills. From the spark in the pebble to the blood in the body, the vital energy of the Maruts, of Dadhyanc and Dadhira the Dawn Horse, ceaselessly manifests. They are the hosts of Fohat and electricity is his work. Animal magnetism and hypnotism are based upon Fohatic (intra-cosmic) electricity, while Fohat himself is "the synthetic motor power of all the imprisoned life-forces and the medium between the Absolute and conditioned Force". Thus he is a link, the Agent of the Law like Manas, between the divine monad and the physical body. He is the representative of the Manasaputras, who are the collective Mahat, the designation of Indra in the Rig Veda before he was dragged down through his marriage, before his fiery essence had acquired all the sheaths of the seven times seven planes of manifestation. The knots of the planets and stars, as well as the brief lightning-flash, involve the world-stuff which we see with our physical eyes. But the channels of Fohat are everywhere like those which course through the sky before the interaction with a discharge-point causes a flash. He is the link and Logoic parent of his messenger-hosts who, like the Maruts, are sons of heaven and earth. As such, in addition to being the allies of Indra, they are called the Sons of Shiva, the Maha-Yogi, the great ascetic in whom is centered the highest perfection of austere penance and abstract meditation.

 There is an ancient and close connection between several of these high gods, for in the Rig Veda, where Rudra is the name given for Shiva, the same is also given as a name for Agni, who is so closely linked with Indra. It is Shiva, however, who symbolizes the supreme ascetic and who holds the lightning trident over his head. It is upon Shiva's head that the waters of the Ganga fell, and it was Shiva who released the sacred flow from Gomuck Cave (the Cow's Mouth) which provided the source of life for the early Fifth Race. The bolt of Indra discharged through the power of soma is symbolized by the crescent moon on Shiva's brow, by the serpent whom he controls and by the flame that kindles from his hand. In this manner the name of Maruts, as sons of Shiva, is given in occult parlance to Nirmanakayas (the Egos of great Adepts who have passed away). They are those protectors of mankind who are past all illusion and who, having nodevachan, remain invisible on earth. Thus they are fully realized sons of heaven and earth and of the patron yogi whose Third Eye of flashing penetration must be mystically acquired by every Adept. These Marut-Kumaras, these Shining Lights who control all thought and speech, obtained emancipation in Rounds and Races before our own, in each of which they either chose liberation or renounced it and were subsequently born repeatedly "in that character (thus filling their own places)". As Sons of Shiva, they adopted his trident and learnt in ages past to emulate his mental and magnetic concentration so as to form a perfect point that gathered together all their life-energies in one vivid spark of devotion. Thus like the tree or the Empire State Building, they originated the current that served to draw down the lightning-flash of Truth and destroyed for all time the darkness of ignorance and illusion.

 Thus were the Great Ones initiated. Thus can any individual be initiated in any age and gather together the Fohatic impulses coursing through the vestures into a point of pure concentrated Buddhi-Manas. Anyone can, through intense meditation upon these ancient mysteries, discover the synthetic power that lies concealed within the forces operating in one's nature and bring it to the flashing point that rests between the eyes. There within is the Rain-cloud Cow, there is the Bright Stall and there also is the Encloser of the Waters, the dread foe Vritra coiled, damming up the fiery flow of Akasa. See this clearly within yourself and fasten your unwavering eye upon the Bright Stall. Fasten your eye and drink of the soma-juice that pours forth from the imprisoned cows to your hungry mind and soul. Receive the power of its cold fire and let it burst forth as a lightning weapon in your hand. Then strike at the heart of Vritra! Leave him no breath of life and let the fire of Fohat pour through the forty-nine gates of your being. Let the divine Will of the Logos fill you and shine forth from you as you live and act to dissipate the darkness of this world.