Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


So saying, grey-eyed Athene departed to Olympus where, they say, is the seat of the Gods established for ever. It is not shaken by winds nor ever -wet with rain and the snow comes not nigh; but the clear air spreads without a cloud, and the white light floats over it. There the blessed Gods take their pleasure for all their days.


 Shrouding this cloudless summit are wreaths of mists which often conceal its light from the world below. The stone-grey flanks of its precipitous contours fall with an ominous severity into the rocky planes of Macedonia and the thunderous voice of Zeus gathers with the clouds and reverberates along their declivity. In ancient times, as today, the anxious shepherd clutches at his scattered flock, windblown and crying beneath the echoing blast, and races down the rugged slopes to shelter. The electrified air opens out to distant groves of gnarled olive trees and the huddled flock stumbles before the pursuing shadow which rushes to eclipse the lighted horizon. The gate of clouds kept by the Goddesses of the Hours and Seasons has opened to permit a celestial passage to the earth or to receive back to that lofty abode any one of the deities summoned to attend upon the awesome Father of the Gods. Neither time nor disbelief has removed the manifest power of his thunder, and Olympus bears witness, now as then, to the overbrooding presence of immortality and the fearful promise of limitless power.

 It is not a very high mountain - less than ten thousand feet - and yet the drama of its bald upthrust facade suggests that unyielding,unapproachable mystery that can only be equated with great solitary height. Its peak does indeed tend to emerge out of low-lying clouds, and it overlooks the Vale of Tempe on the border of Macedonia and Thessaly. It is part of a northern spur off the longitudinal Pindus Range that protrudes eastwardly and is composed of detached fragments of an ancient crust block. When the great folded ranges of the Alps and Himalayas rose up in the Tertiary Period, they did so against a resistant central nucleus of hard crystalline rocks. This extremely hard mass of igneous material, ranging from granite to peridotite, is far older than the folded material representing most of the Old World Ranges, and its upthrust is due to either block faulting or an extrusion of molten material. Given the height of Olympus, its igneous composition is likely the result of a great upward faulting involving a horst block of the old Plutonic mass. The ancient Greeks may have conceived of Olympus as the seat of the gods because of its height, but they may also have intuited something about its magnetic qualities and its antique source. They may have sensed that it represented the substance of another age breaking up into the cerulean sky of the classical world.

 Homer called Olympus the seat of the gods, but he distinguished it from heaven. The richly eclectic Secret Doctrine likens it, however, to Indra's swarga (heaven) on Mount Meru, as well as the paradise promised by Mohammed to the faithful. It is suggested that Olympus, Meru and Kaph are those mountains to the north with which the worshipper aligns himself in prayer. Meru is the abode of Brahma and Vishnu and is described as "passing through the middle of the earth-globe and protruding on either side". At its apex are the gods, while demons cluster in the abyss of its nether end. Just as these gods ascended and descended periodically from the summit of Olympus, so the zodiacal gods are said to pass through the North Pole of the earth (Mem) to the South Pole of heaven. In regard to Olympus, classical literature is replete with references to the passage of the gods between 'heaven' and earth. The Homeric Hymn to Apollo describes how that god in his Pythian aspect descended from the immortal abode and made his way through northern and central Greece to discover the proper spot for his oracle at Crisa under snow-capped Parnassus. During the siege of Ilium, in response to his Trojan priest, Phoebus Apollo "came down from the peaks of Olympus, angered in his heart, wearing on his shoulders his bow and closed quiver". When Persephone was abducted by Hades and taken to the underworld, Demeter, her mother, vowed she would nevermore set foot on Olympus or let the corn grow above the ground on earth. When it was agreed that Persephone could spend a good part of the year with her mother, they both repaired to dwell in bliss with the gods. Similarly, Dionysus and Orpheus descended into Hades to retrieve their loved ones and passed at other times to the gates of Zeus. The spanning of the Three Worlds in the Hellenic myths echoes the movement of the zodiacal gods and suggests a mirroring or a series of levels of interpretation one might use in probing the symbolism of Olympus and its pantheon of immortals.

 Did the Father of the Gods always make his home on Olympus? There are other lesser heights elsewhere in Greece that bear this name, and one of the principal places of 'the Cloud Gatherer's' worship was Olympia, where famed athletes competed upon lowland tracks in his honour. The sanctuary there goes back to the beginning of the Iron Age, its Doric structures reaching their fullest grandeur in that which housed the colossal chryselephantine statue of Zeus, considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. With this anthropomorphization, the significance of the Olympian summit may appear diminished and almost arbitrary, despite the fact that many classical writers attributed deep spiritual meaning to merely looking upon this sublime representation. But the Greeks wavered not in identifying the gods as Olympian and conceived of Apollo and Hermes, whose legends and places of worship were widespread, as children of Olympus. It is said that when they disputed the issue of the theft of the heavenly cows, they went to their father on top of fragrant Olympus, "for there the scales of justice lay ready for both of them". It was there that, after hearing Hermes sing, Apollo graciously allowed: "I follow the Olympian Muses who delight in dancing, the swelling beat of music and the lovely tune of flutes, yet never have I been as thrilled by such clever delights as these."

 Though the Classical Age of Greece coincided with the rise of Zoroaster in the Middle East, Buddha in India and Confucius in China, Zeus and Apollo came down from the north to Olympus, Dodona and Olympia in earlier times. After the fall of the Minoan culture, the great centres of Mother Goddess worship shifted to mainland Greece, only to be eclipsed by a dominating patriarchy of charioteering Achaeans whom Homer described as blonde. These were 'the Zeus-born kings' who completely changed the face of Greece after the fourteenth century B.C. and led their Mycenaean hordes onto the battlefield of Troy. Theirs were the mountain gods typical of Indo-European peoples, and it is probably significant that the Olympian deities did not claim to have created the world. They conquered it. Whereas the worship of the Mother Goddess was and continued to be the foundation of the Mysteries, the Olympian gods were approached in a rational though anthropomorphic fashion. This distinction has laid the basis for the modern theory that Olympus was patriarchal, with an emphasis upon the individual and heroic deeds due to the warlike, migratory conditions of the Achaeans and later Dorians. Theories explaining religious beliefs in terms of after-the-fact rationalizations predominate among educated people today. Nor is it surprising that they do so, for with the dual focus upon rational thought and anthropomorphization that marked the Age of Zeus, the stage was set for two thousand years of increasing concretization of the sacred and the subsequent reaction of Western materialistic science. We can see such theories as a reflection of a trend in consciousness which was heralded by the rude ascendancy of forceful masculine gods over the mysteries of greater nature embodied in the Mother. Zeus and Hera maintained a stormy and jealous relationship, bearing little if any resemblance to the great gods and their shaktis of India or even to the Egyptian deities and their female counterparts. Upon closer examination, the Olympian pantheon begins to reveal incongruities and misalliances that suggest a patchwork which may reflect more than just the accidental overlappings of history. There may be reflected, instead, the gaps and separations of consciousness from its mystical origin.

 The nature of Zeus and the rise of the Olympians illustrate this critical point. His name is thought to be derived from the Indo-European Djeus, a sky god, and it means 'bright' as well as 'dark sky'. In the occult tradition he is said to be the son of Kala ( Kronos) and Mother Earth (Rhea) and is androgynous as well as born in time. In his highest aspect he was reverentially heralded by Aeschylus, who said: "When I ponder upon all things, I can conjecture naught but Zeus to fit the need, if the burden of vanity is in very truth to be cast from the soul." In his anthropomorphic aspect we see him enamoured with numerous beings, including the beautiful youth Ganymedes whom he carried away to Olympus where he was made cup-bearer of the gods. Throughout the descriptions of his loftiest and most earthy aspects, reference to his immense manifest power is consistent and beautifully typified in the words of Homer, who wrote:

The Son of Kronos spoke, and nodded with his darkish brows, and immortal locks fell forward from the lord's deathless head, and he made great Olympus tremble.

The Iliad

 Hesiod, in his Theogony, told how the gods were born and how, in the beginning, they took possession of many-folded Olympus. First there was Chaos and then Earth, whose broad breast provided a seat forever unshaken for the Olympian immortals. Chaos, whose origins are inexplicable, was considered to be the yawning gap between Heaven and Earth. Out of this came light and darkness which accompanied the wedding of Earth and Ouranos (Uranus), 'the Starry Heaven'. It is said that Ouranos covered Earth on all sides so that she might be an unshaken seat for the gods. Their progeny were Giants and Titans, some of whom (the Cyclopes) Ouranos cast into Tartarus. Earth caused her Titan sons to turn against their father because of this, and it is thus that Kronos became ruler. Fearing a second patricide, Kronos (Chronos or Time) devoured all his offspring until Zeus cleverly eluded and rose up to wage war against him. It was in this way that the stage was set for the great battle between the Titans and the generation of Zeus. Hesiod described how "wide heaven trembled and groaned, and high Olympus was shaken from its base by the onslaught of the Immortals". Earth roared with flame, the ocean boiled and unspeakable heat possessed Chaos. Winds and lightning bolts carried the noise and shouts, and the terrifying clamour of fearful strife continued until, at last, the Titans were expelled from Olympus and banished to Tartarus. Down they went for nine days and nights as far from the surface of the earth as the earth is to heaven. There three brazen walls were built around them and Giants placed to guard them.

 In the generations of the Greek gods we have a mythical hint of what is spelt out more clearly in the occult tradition of the East. Ouranos or Uranus is said to have ruled the Second Root Race on this globe and the continent that supported that ethereal phase of evolution. This is followed by the Third Root Race, in the course of which the fire of divine light was 'stolen' from the gods and brought into the realms of mortality and time. During these Lemurian times the Titans, who were the Dhyams and Kabiri, sacrificed of their Mahatic essence under the rule of Kronos or Time, who is also Saturn, 'Bringer of Old Age'. Poseidon then commenced the rule of the Fourth Atlantean Race in his role of Narayana floating upon the waters. But after the great upheaval marking the shift of the old continents and the rising of Atlantis, it was Zeus who played the active role of vanquishing his father and setting up the rule of forces that characterized this megalithic and anthropomorphic age. Kronos as Saturn symbolizes the fall into time and form, and he devours his children as time consumes, ultimately, all form. The rebellion of Zeus against this signifies an assertion of immortality in form, the fear of Saturn and physical death and a greater all-round identification of consciousness with worldly vestures. It follows logically that men, during and after the Age of Zeus, would make every effort to maintain forms of all sorts, from thought-patterns to ritual behaviour to interrelationships and concrete objects.

 Zeus thus can be seen as the counterpart of the Vedic Brihaspati who, as Jupiter (Zeus), was the prototype of exoteric ritual and the priest-sacrificer of the gods. The Great War in Heaven took place between his forces and those gods representing the pararational and esoteric wisdom of Buddhi. But the Hindu scheme involves immense ages of development from a First Root Race, about which little can be said, through the fall of spirit into matter, and on to the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Races - all of which seem to be condensed and distorted in the Greek cosmogony. In his Works and Days Hesiod describes a golden race of men who lived as gods without toil or trouble or old age. These, he said, were then covered over by earth and yet inhabit the earth as holy spirits, warding off evil and wandering about clothed in air. Then, he wrote, the Olympian gods made a second race of silver who were like skilled and arrogant children and who were also covered over by earth to become blessed. Zeus then is named as one of the Olympians who created a third race of bronze who pursued the painful and violent deeds of Ares, were terrible and mighty, died by their own hand and went to the darkness of Hades. Zeus then created a fourth race of heroic demigods and a fifth race of iron. Hesiod says, "Oh, would that I were not a part of the fifth generation of men but had been born before or had been born later." They are described as never ceasing their toil and woe. Harmony is absent and children dishonour parents and do not respect the gods. They will fight each other and might will be confused with justice and there will be no shame. Aidos and Nemesis (modesty and righteousness) will then forsake mankind and go in their beautiful forms to Olympus among the company of the gods.

 The great shifts of Hellenic gods from one generation to the next, by their description, ought to relate to changes accompanying the waxing of new Root Races. The races created by the Olympians, however, are compressed into little more than the reign of Zeus, despite the fact that they describe a whole spectrum of beings from holy and ethereal immortals to earthly and unrighteous mortals. Perhaps the broader zodiacal scheme transmitted from the Hindus through the Egyptians had been imperfectly blended with the dwarfed Atlanto-Aryan conceptions of the Achaeans and Dorians. In this cosmological blending the gods not only visited the earth as personalities, but heroes and demigods were sometimes accepted among the immortals. It is said that Herakles ascended to Olympus from his funeral pyre in the form of an eagle, the bird sacred to Zeus. In the case of the twins Kastor and Polydeuces (Pollux), when the former was slain Polydeukes prayed to Zeus to be reunited with his brother and received permission to live with him alternately on Olympus and in Hades. Combining this ease of movement between worlds with the notion that Olympus stood as a seat for celestial activity long before the time of Zeus, the Titans and even Eurynome, the personification of the 'wide-ruling' element of moisture, one begins to acquire a developing picture of a very ancient symbol which, despite the distortion of cycles, has as many tiers of interpretation as striations upon its multilevelled granite facade.

 The Achaean Greeks regarded the tetrad as the root and principle of all things, since it was the number of elements which gave birth to all visible and invisible created things. This is profoundly linked with their recognition of the Olympian symbol and the teaching that the intelligible world proceeds out of the divine mind in the following manner:

"The Tetraktis reflecting upon its own essence, the first unit, productrix of all things, and on its own beginning, saith thus; Once one, twice two, immediately ariseth a tetrad, having on its top the highest unit, and becomes a Pyramis, whose base is a plain tetrad, answerable to a superficies, upon which the radiant light of the divine unity produceth the form of incorporeal fire, by reason of the descent of Juno (matter) to inferior things. Hence ariseth essential light, not burning but illuminating. This is the creation of the middle world, which the Hebrews call the Supreme, the world of the (their) deity. It is termed Olympus, entirely light, and replete with separate forms, where is the seat of the immortal gods, 'deum domus alta,' whose top is UNITY, its wall trinity, and its superficies quaternity". (Reuchlin, Cabala, p. 689)

The Secret Doctrine

 We see in this quotation from a study on the Kabbalah that the focus upon the tetrad bereft of the trinity amounts to a concentration upon the plane of corporeal manifestation. The form of incorporeal fire is carried by the Akashic mother (Juno or Hera) downward, and if Zeus represents the quaternary forces of the elements in the world, then one can only interpret their marriage as the descent of Juno into inferior things. If, however, one traces the Olympian genealogy back through Zeus to his father and grandsire Ouranos, it becomes possible to move up along the triadic faces of the pyramid-mountain through the increasingly ethereal vestures of the mother to that god which represents the three merged in One, the Tetraktis, which reflects the first divine Unity. If the Olympian deities are seen in this comprehensive sense, then they could be likened to the Second Logos or Demiurge who, locked within the mountain, perceives the ideal forms buried in Eternal Ideation and moves them to unfold like a thousand lotus petals curving away from the cone-shaped bud that contains them all. This lotus represents the productive power of nature through the agency of fire and water and grows out of Vishnu's navel as Padma, springing up out of the waves during the churning of the sea of milk - as a mountain rising out of the sea.

 This lotus-mountain is the navel of the world called Meru (Sveta Dwipa), the land of the gods who rule under the auspices of their chiefs, who are 'the Spirits of this Planet'. It is the Imperishable Sacred Land which is the seed-place of all the lesser ages of this global cycle. The poignancy and haunting appeal of Classical Greece lies precisely in the fact that the religious foundations of much of the rich and heroic mythology represent the fragmented remains of a once great theogony possessed by wiser beings of a bygone age. This, however, does not diminish the symbolic role of Olympus as a witness of many stages of growth of the sacred tree which has its seed in Meru. If Meru was represented in the Fourth Race by Atlas, then perhaps we can see Olympus as the seat of a recapitulation of that and previous periods in the Fourth Sub-Race of the Fifth Race. "Sub-races guided by Karmic law or destiny repeat unconsciously the first steps of their respective mother-races." There is, however, a mystery in the case of Olympus, which is suggested by the fact that it is a fault-block mountain composed of igneous material representing an older stratum than that ordinarily supporting the activities of the Fifth Race. The uniqueness of this in the Old World (unlike the New World) points to a transitional role which could be interpreted as witnessing the pilgrimage of the soul out of the East into the growing shadows of the nadir point of the Fourth Round of this globe. Perhaps the fiery igneous material corresponds to the flaming creation of the middle world spoken of in the Kabbalah, while its hardened and cold form rising above the sedimentary planes and surrounding hills epitomizes the concretization of the Spirit of Fire and all its thunderous progeny.

He who understands the age of Dhruva who measures 9090 mortal years, will understand the times of the pralayas, the final destiny of nations, O Lanoo.

 The Great War in Heaven, which tells of Venus-Lucifer who helps Soma-Budha (Hermes) in the struggle against Brihaspati, traces allegorically the biography of all the planets by the history of their gods and rulers. Just so is the work of those at the seed-place functioning directly under the rule of the Planetary Spirits mirrored in the activity of Lucifer and all the Titanic Kabiri or Dioskouroi. Originally these included all the Kabiri (Demeter, Hades, Prometheus, etc.) but with the Greeks they came to be consolidated in the persons of Kastor and Polydeukes. They have to do with the two poles and are credited with the invention of fire, which causes them to be called Agni-Putra in the Vedic tradition. Acting as agents of the greater cosmic cycles, they generate and regulate the seasons guiding the impulse of the seed in life and death through all the Three Worlds. As the Dioskouroi Twins, they symbolize the dual man. They are living and dying - each in turn - every alternate day. They also symbolize the Third Race and its transformation from the animal man to the god man with an animal body. To put this more archetypally, they are representative of the Titan-Kabiri who are the personified Sacred Flames. As one of them, Prometheus is said to have taken up some earth and made man in the image of God. Not content with this, he robbed the Elohim of the mystery of creative fire, for which he was struck down by Kronos (Time) and delivered to Zeus, the creator of blind mankind.

Titan! to whose immortal eyes
the sufferings of mortality,
Seen in their sad reality,
Were not as things that gods despise.

Lord Byron

 The relationship of the Agni-Putras to Divine Fire is reflected in the symbolism of the poles and the dual man. The upper-active and lower-passive poles are storehouses of cosmic and terrestrial electricity or fire. These are the upper and lower regions of Meru and the electrical and magnetic charges in the earth are keyed through this master 'gland' which determines the synchronization of cycles affecting the globe. It is these 'fires' which have the power to "instantaneously make the earth fluidic without melting it", causing immense and violent displacements - causing the upthrust of Olympus. The fiery Titan who undermined the plans of Zeus in fact eclipsed the work of the Lunar Pitar who, however, was the master of all the cosmic and lower forces and was therefore stronger (in the world) than the higher Titans who possessed only the spiritual and intellectual fire. One is struck once again with the wide variety of levels of divine and semi-divine expressions in the Olympian pantheon. Occultism teaches that "The knowledge how to discern among these seven forms the one that is meant, belonged at all times to the Initiates, whose earliest predecessors had created this symbolical and allegorical system."

 It behooves us, therefore, to understand the predecessors of Zeus in the same way that we must understand the relationship between Olympus and Meru in an effort to mount the fiery peak of immortality. Terrestrial children with clay feet cannot scale any Olympus and expect to enter heaven. Instead, the lower quaternary of the pyramid must build for itself a wall from the trinity in order to reach any unified point whatever. Everyone ends up in Hades at death where he may find the Elysian fields of heaven or the Tartarus of hell. The only exceptions are those like Herakles who make of themselves divinities and join the gods who radiate their eternal light over Olympus. To do this one must, like lo, flee as the soul before the passions of a desire-filled god. Then, eventually, will Kronos swallow the anthropomorphic usurper and no longer be deceived. The nectar of immortality poured by the Aquarian Ganymedes will be released from the stronghold of Zeus and fill the minds of those who are ready to see beyond form and can tear down the brazen wall that contains the Titanic flame of the soul. The offspring of these strivings, representing the unity of spiritual and physical powers, will rise up as Dionysus against the false father. They will fulfil the prophecy of Prometheus who directed lo to leave Europe and wander to highest Caucasus and thence eastward to the River Ethiop (Indus) whose source is on Mount Kailas. In this way will the pyramid-mountain of Olympus be traced back to its invisible overbrooding seed and the heroism of the Hellenic demigods be converted - through the wandering mother - to the fiery courage needed by the pilgrim soul who would destroy the barrier of time and form that lies between the cave of his heart and its source.

This huddled flock
Bends and runs before the blast,
Stumbling beneath the Olympian brow.
O shepherd, raise thy head,
And see the light above the clouds!