Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


Hoar-frost and hail and blight spring from the excesses and disorders of this element of love, which to know in relation to the revolutions of the heavenly bodies and the seasons of the year is termed astronomy. Furthermore, all sacrifices and the whole province of divination, which is the art of communion between gods and men - these I say are concerned only with the preservation of the good and the cure of the evil love.

The Symposium

 The honey bee brings down the nectar of the gods and only its barbed sting reminds us of its relation to the scorpion which has been its symbolic antithesis from ancient times. The sweeter agent of growth is sharply contrasted with that dread creature whose sting can deliver death and whose grasping claws seem to threaten even the celestial bodies. The flow of love through the spatial spheres is arrested in the sign of the Scorpion and its force explodes in outbursts of starry matter, in fiery emissions of cosmic seed.

 The constellation of Scorpio lies in that region of the sky where many brilliant temporary stars have appeared. The violent activity in this part of the heavens undoubtedly led the ancients to attribute to Scorpio a malevolent force, and the immensity and brilliance of the great red star Antares possibly encouraged them to emphasize the influence of the warlike planet of Mars. Antares lies in the direction of the centre of our galaxy and has been known for millennia as the heart of the great Scorpion. It is several hundred times the sun's diameter and thousands of times more luminous; its throbbing reddish body radiates out a fiery aura about which whirls a vast and intricate nebular cloud. The constellation near Antares is the only group of stars forming a curve which bends back upon itself, thus actually describing a scorpion shape. Its explosive nature was echoed in the Euphratean names Bilu-sha-ziri, the Lord of the Seed, and Dar-Lugal, the King of Lightning, or Luga Tudda, the Lusty King. In the Akkadian lunar zodiac, Scorpio was called Girtab, the Seizer and Stinger, and the ideograph 'Gir' was rendered as a blade, a sting or a pointed tail and meant either 'to strike' or 'lightning'. The relationship of the striking of lightning to the idea of the Lord of the Seed is echoed elsewhere in the world. Even in recent times the Hopi have enacted a mystery play wherein the fertilizing of the corn maiden is symbolically accompanied by lightning shafts dropped down upon an altar. There are suggestions in Middle Eastern cultures that a being might strike himself, as it were, and in the twelfth century B.C. the Babylonians carved boundary stones depicting men with scorpion tails, stinging themselves.

 At one time Scorpio was believed to arch across a far greater portion of the heavenly vault than is allotted to it now, and its influence upon the neighbouring signs was recorded. The Scorpion's relation to the centaur-like archer of Sagittarius inspired the Babylonians to depict the latter with a scorpion's body or with the scorpion shown under the horse's belly. Some show the archer's arrow aimed at the scorpion's heart, while others graphically indicate the grasping claws reaching around the membrum virile of the archer's horse. The relationship of Scorpio and Libra is complicated by the fact that in esoteric tradition Libra is said to have been inserted in the midst of Virgo-Scorpio, which once comprised a single sign - the sixth of ten celestial centres of influence. This would have placed Sagittarius in the seventh position, which suggests that the creation linked with this sign is in some sense completed by the seventh stage of evolution, but due to the separation of Virgo and Scorpio, it actually appears only in the ninth stage. There is a striking analogy in human conception, a process which is completed at seven months though the conclusion of nine months is required for the visible appearance of the new life. Sabean astrological doctrine guarded the teaching that within the double sign of Virgo-Scorpio was hidden the explanation of "the gradual transformation of the world from its spiritual and subjective into the 'two-sexed' sublunary state". Perhaps in this lies a clue which may suggest the mysterious gestation inherent in the process of foetal development between the seventh and ninth month.

 Hindu tradition teaches that Virgo or Kanya represents the energies of shakti while Scorpio or Vriscikam symbolizes the universe expanded just prior to its coming into material existence. Between these two is Libra or Tula which paves the way to Nara, the earthly Adam. The Vishnu Purana speaks of the Seventh Creation as that of man while the Eighth is called a 'blind' and refers to a purely mental process leading to the cognition of the Ninth Creation - that of the Kumaras - wherein the fruits of the labours of those Dhyanis who incarnated within the senseless shells of the first two Root Races was realized, culminating in the creation of self-conscious divine men. The signs of Virgo-Libra-Scorpio are critically important in attempting to understand this great mystery, for in them the potentials that slumber in Leo become distinct and separate elements, a necessary condition for manifested creation. Thus the necessary separation of Virgo-Libra-Scorpio results in manifestation and generation, while the union of the three brings about the destruction of the phenomenal universe.

 From Aries through Libra the creative life-force has been operating externally. In Scorpio it becomes indrawn to form a reservoir of energy for the soul's later efforts. The motive power of evolution is Fohat, which ever works in an undulating motion - a creative dialectic between the latent and the active, the ascending and the descending. Its hieroglyphic symbol is that of a serpent, and is illustrated in varying forms in the glyphs for Taurus where the energy is latent, Leo where it is activated, Scorpio where it is fully awake, and, ultimately, Aquarius where its duality is transcended. In Scorpio this serpent is poised and ready to strike, and with its awakening, Fohat compels and must be brought under control. Legends abound of heroes who have conquered this serpent just as Hercules slew the nine-headed hydra of Hernae and Saint George slew the dragon. In Scorpio the serpent begins to uncoil in man and stretch up through the wheels or chakras corresponding to the various plexuses of the body until it finally reaches the Third Eye of Shiva, wherein man recovers his sense of the eternal.

 From the solar plexus, the vital force is awakened when stung by the dagger of desire, and by ascending to the realm of the higher mind, it can help to heal the wound inflicted by itself.

 In the zodiac, Vriscikam or Scorpio is placed opposite Pranava the Word, for the universe of thought, Vishnu or that which is expanded, unfolds downward from Pranava. The expansion of the primitive germ into the universe is said to be possible only because the tattvams associated with Tula are interposed between the Jivatma of Leo and the maya of Virgo. This separation between the Lion and the Virgin leads to the drowsy state called svapnavastha, associated with Vishnu. "The dreamy state is induced through the instrumentality of the Tatvams," The Ego, having ceased to experience the limitlessness of sushupti, is drawn back into the realm of the subtle interplay of feelings and sensations that mark the period of sleep just prior to its waking to the utter limitation of physical space and time.

When woman issues from the rib of the second Adam the pure Virgo is separated, and falling 'into generation', or the downward cycle, becomes Scorpio, emblem of sin and matter.

 In Scorpio the separated self has become a well-defined centre enclosed by a wall. It marks the soul's objectification of the self under the aegis of conceptual consciousness. This separation is epitomized in the division of the sexes which accentuates 'the Fall' of unified spirit into the diversity of matter. Scorpio corresponds to that period in man's collective life "which lies under the threat of death11, for the Fire of Fohat awakened is far more dangerous than flames that may burn the flesh. The ignorant man, foolishly pursuing his desires, is apt unknowingly to commit the error of Phaethon whose desire to drive his father's solar chariot plunged him to his death. The impatient son grabbed the reins of power and the uncontrolled car scorched the earth in its course. Perhaps the greatest threat of death is that inherent in duality itself and in the downward generation that resulted in the separation of the sexes. Speaking of this mystically, it may be said that the dualism of religion is theoretically superficial. In actual fact, there is always something extra - a third term which prevents the two opposing terms from cancelling each other out, forcing both these principles to yield, to function alternately and not simultaneously. This third term seems to encourage the persistence of the dual state and it certainly serves to keep the twin currents (ascending and descending) of alchemical solution and coagulation in perpetual rotation.

 The constellation of Scorpio is said to be in the negative house of Mars, which represents the creative undulatory force in nature. Ancient astrologers claimed that Scorpio was the birthplace of fiery Mars, a close association which merits attention. H.P.BIavatsky depicted Mars as "the lord of birth and death, of generation and destruction, of ploughing, of building, of sculpture or stone cutting, of architecture. ... He was the primeval principle, disintegrating into the modification of the two opposites for production." Mars intensifies in Aries and holds the birthplace of the day just as he holds the place of its death which is Scorpio. In the positive martial sign of Aries lies the beginning of the separative process, whereas its culminating phase lies in Scorpio.

 Scorpio's double-edged nature seems to have been reflected in the early translations of cuneiform texts where it was termed the Double Sword or 'the place where one bows down'. This latter is reminiscent of Libra depicted as a man bowing while balanced upon one knee. It also suggests the curved tail of the scorpion arching over its back, and perhaps the prospect of the lightning strike of this fiery sting encourages true humility in the attempt to control the good and evil potential of the mighty forces of Vriscikam. That this may be trying for those whose natal position places them under the fierce influence of this sign is borne out in the nature of the characteristics which it tends to manifest. Where many ancient Roman astrologers stressed the destructive and even treacherous nature of Scorpio, Firmicus suggested a more balanced approach. He recognized the tendency toward temerity and impetuosity while at the same time he pointed to the spontaneous generosity and stout-heartedness that accompany the tempestuous desires which sometimes bedevil the native of Scorpio.

 The central propensity of Scorpio is desire manifesting as a riotous energy which rules the native and propels him to rush into action. To the unrestrained Scorpio, nothing is too much trouble. There is no point in hesitation, shirking or temporizing. He will plunge into a task for its own sake, treating work as a natural expression of overflowing energy. The individual impelled by this massive force may bring to life an abundant generosity which cannot be sustained without this energy. He is not held back by caution for himself, although he can appear selfish through a lack of consideration for the timidities or susceptibilities of others. This lack of compromise and tact, the tendency to run roughshod over things and to overdo without any sense of limit, well typifies the negative and dangerous aspect of this energetic nature. Radical interference is almost an irresistible and sometimes fatal temptation to the native faced with a tiresome situation. He would rather bring the house down with him than suffer what he imagines to be hypocrisy, and he can easily be the agent through which powerfully destructive forces may work, resulting in his tragic downfall.

Trishna, that thirst which makes the living drink
Deeper and deeper of the false salt waves
Whereon they float, pleasures, ambitions, wealth,
Praise, fame, or domination, conquest, love,
Rich meats and robes, and fair abodes and pride
Of ancient lives, and lust of days, and strife
To live, and sins that flow from strife, some sweet,
Some bitter.

 In Buddhist iconography the nidana trishna is depicted as a woman offering a drink to a seated man. This thirst arises out of the kamic sensations and feelings of vedana which are produced through the senses and through consciousness. This hunger or craving for activity, excitement, this feverish unsatisfied longing, is tanha, the flame of desire that ensures generation and rebirth. With trishna begins the karma-bhava or the generation of karma in the present life, when passive feeling becomes active desire, and sensation becomes craving, for in the separated sign of Scorpio lies "the degradation of the whole universe in its course of evolution downward from the subjective to the objective". Said the Buddha:

What, O Monks, is the origin of suffering? It is that craving which gives rise to ever fresh rebirth and bound up with pleasure and lust, now here, now there, finds ever fresh delight.

 As Aristophanes said in the Symposium, "Hoar-frost and hail and blight spring from the excesses and disorders of this element of love", and it is with the activation of desire that good and evil love manifest, laying the ground for the battlefield of spiritual life. This is fought through the complexities of human relation, for "all human problems are of relationship, and all relationships are symbolized in the zodiac". Scorpio dramatizes this truth especially, for the greatest desires and difficulties arise from the seeming separation that subsists between man and woman. Plato taught of a time when man was one whole spherical being which craved not itself but rested content in its completeness. It came to pass that this being divided into halves, each becoming separated from the other, each doomed to suffer longing and discontent while searching for its other half. It is this anguished state of consciousness that Scorpio represents when men and women seek the lesser eros. In the Timaeus Plato spoke of the sexes as living as if independent from the beings that experience them, and that their union reflects the greatest initiatory truths which transcended the laws of biology ~ a sort of dialectic in psycho-transference, in Jungian language. The gleam of desire in restless eyes is lit by the same fire that at the highest level brings down into manifestation the electrical energy of creation.

 The artificial antagonism that exists between the sexes is aggravated by alternating waves of craving and pain which envelop all earthbound love and ensure its inevitable frustration. Craving is born in the longing for a completeness which can never be found externally in the world, while pain is the child of an ancient wound brought about by the apparent loss of one's wholeness. The loss is that of Virgo falling from purity, from her celestial seat upon the lap of her lion-king. Her loss is suggested also in the separation of Scorpio, for he is like the progeny that resulted after she was plucked from Adam's side, the biblical Cain who was cast out of paradise. Each half of the once whole sphere looks for its other half. Each sex looks to the other and in so doing, blames the other for its sense of loss, its incompleteness. While men and women crave one another in this faltering and futile manner, they simultaneously blame one another for being the painful reminder of their own lack of wholeness, their loss of the innocence that is synonymous with the radiant purity of oneness. Human history is marred with the silent or noisy rebuke that men and women show each other. If the claws of the celestial Scorpion are under the influence of Venus desiring union, its tail is totally under the influence of Mars and carries the poisonous thorn concealed beneath the rose.

Horus saith: 'O my serpent Khet, thou Mighty Fire, from whose mouth cometh forth this flame which is in my Eye, whose undulations are guarded by my children, open thy mouth. . . . The fire which is in this serpent shall come forth, and shall blaze against these enemies whensoever Horus decreeth that it shall do so.'

 This serpentine force fashioned the universe, creating man within it, and man in his turn can use this force for creation. This fohatic force can destroy the forces that bind down the soul in matter but only if man will overcome craving. The conquering of trishna within the battlefield of the human heart requires the transmutation of the energy of desire, which must find coherence in a secret place secluded from the outward arenas of human existence. The alchemists knew this well and held Scorpio in high regard, for they understood that only when the sun was in this sign could iron be transmuted into gold. In man this transmutation must be brought about in consciousness but without disdaining the physical temple and its activities. The Buddhist seeks to do this through sacramental exercises which involve the harnessing of the energy of desire as well as the emotions for spiritual purposes. This is seen to be critical because of the fact that the greater part of the total energy available to the personality is dammed up within lower channels. The sacraments which must take place in the mind are believed to be efficacious because they reflect the transcendental reality of interpenetration. It is known that man can experience this expansion of reality through a profound alchemical transmutation within his vestures. He can learn to engender within himself the vivrta form of the Bodhichitta (Wisdom-Heart) instead of the grosser vital essence which, if dissipated, binds him to the realm of sense perceptions. The higher spiritual energies can never be released if their transmutation is short-circuited through lower avenues of expression.

 In this tradition the whole world is said to be divided into a passive mental 'womb-element' and an active material 'diamond-element', or into infinite combinations of wisdom and compassion, prajna and upaya. They represent the converging currents flowing within the individual, and their perfect detached balance alone releases the highest fohatic energy. The pure reflection of prajnopaya at the individual level is extremely difficult to realize, and the attempt to achieve it through external manipulations is detrimental and even dangerous. The magical power of sacramental exercises lies in the fact that they must be carried out mentally with a concentration of feeling which involves the sublimation of emotion by means of meditation upon the transcendental significance of the act of communion, the concordant unity of wisdom and compassion, prajnopaya. The central problem of the spiritual life is dynamic. It is not only a matter of theoretical understanding but also one of practical exercises in directing psychic energy. This latter is essentially the energy of cosmic desire, and everyday emotion is an exaggerated and wasteful way of expressing it. What the Buddhist seeks to do through sacramental exercises, and what other spiritual disciplines foster through varied psychological and devotional methods is to facilitate the concentration and sublimation of feeling in the heart and a subsequent conservation and re-direction of emotional expenditure of energy.

 Apep, the evil serpent of human passions, was conquered by Osiris and bound down in the underworld. There the soul said to this vanquished foe, "The Scorpion has hurt thy mouth", and the Scorpion is "the worm that never dies". Curiously, this reflects the double nature of Scorpio and affirms its role as that which stings and electrifies consciousness, awakening the soul to the task at hand. Fohat is indrawn in Scorpio and released in Sagittarius, and if desire is gathered up into the higher centres, the enclosing wall of the separated self can be shattered by the lightning strike of Uranus, the Scorpion's powerful sting. The volcanic force of Uranus, the Breaker of Bonds, is especially strong in Scorpio, and when indrawn and conserved within this sign, can release a power which may burst the strongest personal fortification. This mysterious force is the usable material of alchemical transmutation, and its subtle refinement within the lotus chakras of the human temple can tap the reservoir of the Wisdom-Heart and activate the Eye of Wisdom, the Eye of Shiva. The electrifying currents, when unleashed, must be mastered much as the undulating serpent is made an obedient servant and held securely beneath Shiva's foot. If the Archer's arrow does not succeed in penetrating the heart of Scorpio, then the Scorpion's claws may succeed in dragging down the Archer into the mire of sensation.

 The second tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh depicts the creation of Ea-Bani, who corresponds to Taurus and who became a wise counsel and friend of Gilgamesh, the hero-soul. At the end of the eighth tablet, corresponding to Scorpio, Ea-Bani is shown meeting his death, and Gilgamesh, "smitten with sickness", journeys henceforth alone to the land beyond 'the Waters of Death1. The theme of this story is echoed in the later Mithraic tradition where Mithra slays the bull and Scorpio is shown seizing its genitalia in its claws. This powerful and poignant symbolism represents the fall of pure Akashic energy (Taurus), which initially pervades and accompanies the emerging soul, but which in its lower astral aspect (Virgo's fall) is pulled down into generation (Scorpio) and dies. It is from the urge to avoid this death that the soul struggles on to the Eternal City lying at the hub of the zodiacal wheel. The unfoldment of this awesome process is suggested in the Stanzas of Dzyan depicting the long process of anthropogenesis. They reveal glimpses of the great forces marshalled by the gods of the zodiac, and the desire to comprehend them may itself be said to spring from the energy conserved in Scorpio. The destruction that flows from the restless force of desire brings sorrow in abundance, but the man who seizes the flame of trishna and stores its fiery liquid within his heart, creates in himself a sacred altar which may attract others in search of a deific vision. It is solely in the Wisdom-Heart that the radiant knowledge of prajna and the "skilful means of bringing people to enlightenment" - upaya - can be joined in perfect interpenetration. merging mind and matter, theory and practice, into a pure and contented wholeness. In this way trishna can be quenched, tanha may be stilled, and the insane longings of human existence seen for what they truly are. When this is calmly completed, man may proceed with the sacred task of preserving the pure love, the compassionate ray that springs upward from Bodhichitta and illumines the whole world.