The Whale

Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


THE WHALE


There Leviathan
Hugest of living creatures, on the deep
Stretch'd like a promontory sleeps or swims.
And seems a moving land, and at his gills
Draws in, and at his trunk spouts out a sea.

John Milton

 Black clouds scudding in tendrilled bands before an alabaster moon, phosphorescent tracks scintillating over the inky deep, and a great dark shape looms out of the waves to starboard bow. A great dark shape arches like a gliding island on the sea, only to disappear silently into a world unknown to those destined merely to skim its surface and prey upon the outward forms of its mystery. Long furrows curl away from the iridescence of the leviathan's wake, ploughing to the edge of the visible world, carrying along the dreaming eye of the watcher on the bow. If he is a mariner of imagination, whose sense of wonder has not been dissipated in the noise of idle chatter, he may feel himself drawn in mind and soul along the troughs of that wake. He may shiver with the oncoming rush of the sea as, communing thus with the whale, he is enclosed by its cold darkness and sinks into its depths. Or he may remain in consciousness at his watch and ponder the true nature of this largest of all living creatures, who slips through the world's oceans so effortlessly and swims so deeply through its hidden places. In a floating kingdom of darkness where forms appear only momentarily on the lip of chaos, the whale is at home, with a form so great as to suggest the swirling formlessness in which it bathes, consumes and spews forth. It is a symbol of the deep itself, of the world encompassed by chaos wherein life meets its dissolution in death.

 The idea of the whale as 'the Encompasser', a symbol of the world and the grave, is a complex notion linking multiple meanings associated with death, initiation and rebirth as well as a more vague conception of dread and evil. Watching the great, dark curve of its only partially revealed immensity, a mariner or even a casual sojourner upon the deep may indeed experience intimations of all these conditions. This would not be surprising if one conceded that somewhere in the depth of the human psyche lies an awareness of the regenerative power of the ocean and its sidereal archetype, the 'water' of cosmic space. The notion of an engulfing grave is merely the other side of the same coin, symbolically rendering the belly of the whale as the place of death and rebirth, whilst the emergence from its mouth signifies initiation and resurrection. The biblical tale of Jonah, and the old story conveying how a swallowed hero built a fire in the belly of a whale in order to cause it to spew him out, are examples of this. That the latter story is found in traditions as widespread as the Indo-European and the Polynesian suggests a very old and complex pattern of ideas shared in the collective consciousness of the human race.

 In the Semitic tradition Jonah was the fifth of the lesser prophets of Israel, going back to around the eighth century B.C. In seeking to avoid the Lord's command that he tell the people of Nineveh that their city was to be destroyed, Jonah sailed off on a merchant ship. A storm arose, threatening the vessel, and Jonah, thinking it a divine chastisement for his disobedience, advised the crew to save themselves by throwing him overboard. It was when they finally consented to do this that Jonah was swallowed by the whale, in whose stomach he resided for three days before being vomited up onto a beach. Instead of stressing the importance of the whale in relation to the three days of initiation, Christian tradition has tended to focus almost entirely upon its monstrous and fearful aspects. The idea of the abyss or of chaos being full of potential regeneration gradually became replaced by a deep-seated dread of dissolution, loss of form and loss of identity. As the agent of chaos in this physicallized sense, the whale came to be seen as a monster to be struggled against, escaped from or vanquished.

 From the depths of the sea came whales like islands, and the hideous Leviathans rising up on the sand with crocodiles twenty cubits in length. Man is before the sea like a child before a Leviathan's lair.

Old Testament

 In its guise of sea monster, huge ship or even the devil whose jaws form the gates of hell, the leviathan persisted in its character of container and encompasser. Its identification with the crocodile resulted from an awkwardness in the translation of the idea of Makara or the goat-fish into some sort of recognizable animal. Egyptian lore contributed to this confusion with its reference to scaly features and other characteristics associated with dragons, but the central identity of the leviathan lies in the combined attributes of a land-going but aquatic creature, a mammal of the sea who symbolically spans the terrestrial and watery astral realms. Thus the sea gods Poseidon and Neptune had as their vehicle a giant dolphin, a member of the same cetacean family as the whale. In the ancient Vedic tradition the god of the waters was Varuna, the Lord of the Laws of Nature, who established the heavens and the earths which dwell within him. His name, coming from the Sanskrit root var, means 'to cover' or 'encompass', and his vahan is identified with Makara, the goat-fish, or a counterpart to the cetacean vehicle of the Mediterranean and oceanic worlds. Varuna himself, however, is much more than a counterpart to the Graeco-Roman marine gods, for he is the oldest of Vedic deities and reigns over the Waters of Space or Akasha. In his role of ruler and container of worlds, Varuna is well represented in the symbolism of the whale, who, like the deity, encompasses the terrestrial and celestial, death and regeneration, within its vast form. While the whale (like the dolphin) can be associated with the generation of gods who overbrood the world's oceans, it also possesses an essential nature which is directly expressive of a loftier deity, Varuna.

 He maketh a path to shine after him; one would think the deep to be hoary.

Job 41:32

 In the Hellenic tradition the true counterpart to Varuna is Ouranos who, like the older Vedic god, was degraded and caused to fall into generation. For Varuna, this fall involved an impartation of the mysteries to the sage Vasishtha, a positive-seeming result. But Varuna-Ouranos strove to confine his 'children' by Aditi-Gaia as they were born so as to forestall generation. Aditi, however, is rightly called the Devamatri, from whose cosmic matrix all the suns and planets of our system were made manifest. Hesiod's Theogony tells us how Ouranos (Varuna) personifies all the creative powers in and of chaos, which eventually enabled the ancestral spirits of the human race to evolve primordial men from themselves. This potential power was precipitated into the realm of expression by Kronos, who mutilated his father, cutting away a part of him from the whole and thus initiating generation in time. In suffering this, Ouranos was rendered apparently impotent in time and relegated to a cosmic rulership whose effects are difficult to trace in the sequential realm of the manifest world. In the Vedic tradition the attributes ascribed to Varuna impart to his character a moral elevation and sanctity far surpassing that attributed to any other Vedic deity. Nonetheless, he too suffered a progressive displacement in the minds of later races and was relegated to a relatively impotent and rather vague upper strata of Hindu theogony, much like the Greek Ouranos whose name simply means 'sky'.

 The mysteries of Varuna-Ouranos are more complex than these simple ideas would indicate and can be related in a powerfully suggestive manner to the little-known planet which came to be called (almost by accident) Uranus. Before attempting to investigate such correspondences, it is of primary importance to examine more closely the animal whose nature and symbolism link them all together and who, in its own right, remains for man largely a mystery. For centuries the Greeks called the whale by the name of κητος (ketos), which bears reference both to a sea monster and to the abyss or chaos in which it swims. Aristotle accurately described it as a viviparous, lung-possessing mammal, which drily rational observation did not dissuade centuries of writers from persisting in referring to the whale as a fish. At the beginning of the Christian era Pliny described the Physeter (whirlpool) that rose up like a column higher than the sails of ships and spouted water to sink them. He also noted the balaenas who came along the coast of Spain to breed. Centuries later the Norwegian Kongespeiler in A.D. 1250 depicted how sailors were afraid of the North Atlantic right whale, and a contemporary document, the Speculum Regale, described killer whales near Iceland which had teeth like dogs, peaceful baleen whales and fierce sperm and narwhals. Early Nordic sailors would not mention their names at sea for fear of danger and deprived anyone who did of food, even though they recognized as friends the baleen whales who drove the herring into the fishermen's nets.

 The term 'whale' bears no relation to the Greek ketos, which is the source of the generic zoological name of Cetus. It comes instead from the Old Norse hvalr, which is an etymological relation of both 'wheel' and 'to wallow'. In the Old High German it became wal and in Old English hwael, referring more to the circular motion of its arching and rolling progress through the sea than to its monstrous size. Unknown to even the oldest of these latter-day namers, the earliest cetaceans, which developed eventually into the toothed whales and dolphins, or odontoceies, evolved nearly forty-five million years ago during the Eocene epoch. Out of this line emerged the archaeocetes who, twenty-five million years ago, sported a ball and socket joint whereby the femur articulated with the pelvis and may have possessed tibia vestiges as well, pointing clearly to an earlier terrestrial development. This is borne out in various ways by the characteristics of the modern whale, the odontocetes finding their nearest relatives among mammalian carnivores, the mysticetes (baleen whales) finding theirs among the even-toed ungulates such as the cow, the sheep and the camel, whose blood protein structure they share. Interestingly, the foetuses of mysticetes often have teeth which disappear with the appearance of the baleen. In the embryo stage the rudimentary hind legs of all whales are initially apparent, as are the nostrils at the end of the nose which gradually migrate to the top of the head. The embryonic flippers develop like normal mammal limbs with a wrist and five fingers. The wrist disappears as the foetus grows and the digits become encased in a stiff but elastic integument, with the joint at the shoulder its only movable part.

 Like carnivores on land, the odontocetes hunt larger prey, one at a time, while the mysticetes feed wholesale from shallow level pastures, using two or three hundred flat plates set around the edge of the upper jaw and hanging from it like an enormous, hairy screen measuring, in some cases, thirteen feet in length. A great 'field' of krill (plankton) will be plowed through by the baleen whale, who simply drops its lower jaw, opening a screened cave capable of trapping enormous masses of food at a time. To obtain even a crude idea of the size of whales, one might bear in mind that the blue whale, measuring one hundred feet in length, will weigh an amount equivalent to four brontosauruses or thirty elephants or two hundred cows - that is to say, one hundred and thirty tons. Such large whales are simply the biggest by far of all the animals that have ever lived on this planet. An elephant weighing three to six tons would balance in a scale with the tongue of some Cetis, while the humpback whale swimming in warm Bermudan waters regularly gives a free ride to over a thousand pounds of barnacles and other parasites clustered on its head and sides. Nineteenth-century sperm whales were recorded at up to ninety-three feet with jawbones twenty-three feet long. The sight of such an aroused mass churning across the waves at a good twenty knots must have been terrifying indeed, especially when, because of being hunted so intensively, they were sometimes goaded into dramatically aggressive behaviour.

 When the baleen whale lowers its underjaw while swimming through a shoal of krill, the pleated crop which covers half the length of its underbelly swells out as several tons of water are taken in. When the crop contracts, the solid food remains caught in the baleen strainer while the floods of water are ejected out of the whale's mouth. The whale then swallows the krill whole, taking it into the first of three stomachs, where it will join several tons of food taken in during the months spent in twenty-four-hour grazing near the Arctic or Antarctic seas. All whales swallow their food whole, even the odontocetes, who use their teeth only to seize their prey. There is no chewing or biting - just a gulp. Whether vast seas of small shrimp-sized animals or a giant squid forty feet long taken by a sperm whale at the end of a terrible struggle thirty-five hundred feet beneath the surface of the deep, all the whale's food is swallowed whole. Offering remarkable evidence of this, and of the killer whale's voracious appetite, were the contents found in the stomach of a twenty-four-foot killer, which included the adult carcasses of thirteen porpoises and fourteen seals. Had they gone through the entire digestive cycle they would have been pulverized by the powerful muscular wall of the first stomach (or second, in the case of the mysticetes) and passed on, finally, to the last, where the digestive juices do their work prior to elimination. A poignant example of swallowed evidence was found in the shape of a man who, in 1947, fell into the sea only to be swallowed by a large sperm whale. Like Jonah, he was not chewed up, but he did not manage to emerge alive after three days. His chest was crushed and it was thought that he had probably died even as he was swallowed.

 The aorta of a whale is larger in the bore than the main pipe of the water works at London Bridge, and the water roaring in its passage through that pipe is inferior in impetus and velocity to the blood gushing from the whale's heart.

Natural Theology
William Paley

 Some years ago two bold men, breathing a mixture of helium and oxygen in the hope of preventing bends, descended one thousand feet in a diving bell near an island off the California coast. Down they went to the greatest depth ever attempted without protective diving suits. When the bell was hoisted up, one man revived to tell what he knew of the story. The other was dying. The sperm whale, diving thirty-five hundred feet or more, experiences much greater pressures but possesses (along with other whales) a remarkably complex circulatory system which ensures pressurization of all the vital parts. The whale's retia mirabitia ('wondrous network'), the parts of the vascular system subdivided into plexuses of vessels, are remarkable for their profusion. Typically, a whale comes to the surface in a quick succession of blowing and inhaling, with shallow dives in between before diving deeply. It can remain under water for up to a half hour (up to two hours in the case of the sperm whale). It is believed that oxygen is stored in the myoglobin within the muscles (which function anaerobically during the dive), while the retia mirabilia act as a shunt ensuring that the brain is adequately supplied during the whole period of submergence. If one could imagine an immeasurably vast body encompassing the world from its airy heights to its watery depths, having complete communication to and from all points, one would of necessity construct in the mind an analogous wondrous network capable of regulating and diffusing the life-giving fluid on a scale unparalleled in lesser forms. In the whale this is writ small, and yet in so great and complex a design as to powerfully suggest the larger idea and lend credence to the feeling man has often had that the whale is somehow connected with another world, that its behaviour and intelligence cannot be explained in simple evolutionary terms.

 The great sperm whales with their calls, the baleens with their trills (the low frequencies enabling the location of food, the high for communication), all manifest a lively display of intelligence not yet understood by man. Recording around sixty to seventy-five feet below the surface off Bermuda, a technician found that early in the evening there were only a few sounds, as the humpbacks seemed to be slowly tuning up. Then one began to 'sing' and soon creaking and mews and whoops filled the water all around, a polyphonic choir of sounds. One night several whales surfaced near the sound technician's small boat. They watched him as he sat in the dark with his lights and wires and dials. They came very close and began to make little squeaking noises, like mice. The technician became convinced they were talking about him. Alternating voices certainly do suggest some sort of talking, as does the diversity of modulation recorded during these remarkable sessions. Sometimes there was a group sounding like children reciting a lesson, but the little mouse squeaks were heard again when the whales discovered the main boat of the expedition and other small craft associated with it. Their curiosity brought them back continually, but when a little calf began affectionately rubbing itself against the side of the main boat, its mother smartly pushed it away, spanking it with her flippers several times.

 Unlike primates and even certain birds who sometimes use rudimentary tools to capture food, whales have not been thought to manipulate any sort of extension of their mouths or flippers to achieve such ends. But huge finbacks visiting along the Mexican coast surrounded a motorboat advancing slowly into a lagoon. They escorted it on both sides until the water in front of them began to boil with shoals of tiny fish, and it became apparent that the finbacks were using the sound of the boat's engine to round them up! The men in the boat had arrived there not more than twenty minutes before and were thus almost immediately put to work by these eighty-five-foot managers. Possessing marvellous hearing which picks up a very great range of sounds, including ultrasonic vibrations measured up to one hundred and fifty-three kilocycles (as compared to the human range, which falls between fifteen and twenty kilocycles), the whale experiences and expresses much of its intelligence through this sense. This would appear to be a development compensating for its poor senses of smell and sight, though it does have an excellent sense of taste and enjoys touching and rubbing. More than one whale-lover has been delighted by the presentation at the side of their vessel of a friendly, if monstrous, nose which invited patting and stroking of its barnacle-encrusted surface.

 Though near-sighted (except for killer whales who have good vision), the whale's eyes are beautiful and full of life. Because of their blind spot they are careful of a diver in the water in front of them, becoming aware of him through the use of their powers of sonar. Those few divers who have actually dared to swim around and alongside a whale in the sea have remarked about its eyes, saying that "the look that a whale gives you is very different from that of a shark. A shark only glances at you. It passes with the appearance of not having seen you at all. But the whale's look is quite open. He doesn't look at you out of the corner of his eye." Though a man swimming around a whale would be like a fly buzzing around a man, slightly annoying perhaps, still whales are interested and watch divers. One diver off Bermuda said that a particular humpback came to visit him regularly while he was working on a certain job. But when they wish, they can lose a diver in ten seconds by one swish of the tail or dive straight down and vanish in a wink. No one yet understands enough about the behaviour of whales, or the complexities of their powers of intelligence and communication, to be able to predict when or why they will do such things. The more predictable patterns have to do with conception, birth and growth cycles and the vast migrations made by pods or schools of various species each year. California gray whales follow a route of five thousand miles, extending from the Bering Straits, where they feed on vast shoals of krill during the summer, to the lagoons along the Baja California peninsula, where they gather in the thousands to give birth or to mate in alternating years. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries witnessed the decimation of the great schools of Greenland and Biscayan right whales in the Atlantic and the extinction of the gray whales which used to migrate on the western side of the Pacific from Kamchatka to the South China Sea. As a result of ruthless whaling methods, other species have been extinguished or endangered, but the migration trails continue to be followed by the survivors in marvellously regular lines, those in the Northern Hemisphere travelling from the Arctic to the equator and back, those in the Southern following a similar course in reverse.

 There seem to be two basic populations of baleen whales belonging to each hemisphere, with minimal mixing between them around the equatorial belt of the globe. Sperm whales and other odontocetes seem to travel more ubiquitously from forty degrees North to forty degrees South, with occasionally aggressive older sperm bulls roaming about on their own for years. Mysticetes, like the gray whale, have lasting ties, the mother being assisted at birth by an 'auntie' who helps mind the calf well into its maturity. The act of mating for these enormous animals, being extremely difficult, also elicits assistance. Grays regularly move in pods of three (or multiples of three), so that while one male attempts to couple with his mate, a second lies across them in an effort to stabilize their buoyant, rolling bodies. Those who have witnessed this strangely moving spectacle have been deeply touched and sometimes entertained by frolicking dolphins who seem to take special joy in the occasion. Of no lesser joy, of course, is the birth of a fifteen- to twenty-ton infant who is flippered aloft by its mother for a first breath of air. One of the most remarkable instances attesting to the strong emotional ties between mothers and offspring was recorded on film when a baby humpback was liberated from a cable in which it had become badly entangled. A diver worked diligently attempting to cut the cable which was cruelly wound in and through the bruised mouth of the calf, while its mother waited a short distance off from the boat. Several hours of work were required, and even after the last binding twist of cable was cut, the youngster seemed unable to move. Desperately, the diver tugged at a loose piece that dangled from the calf s firmly closed mouth. With its removal the infant began to swim and was joined immediately by its mother, who rolled and flapped her long white flippers in the air. Together, mother and calf, they rolled and cavorted and showed every expression imaginable of relief and joy at their reunion.

 Occupants of a motorboat off Baja California observed a gray whale twelve feet below, slowly moving upward. Turning on her side, she looked at them with what appeared to be a flicker of interest. She moved herself higher for a closer inspection and slipped her left flipper under the boat, raising it three feet out of the water before suddenly removing her flipper and letting it fall back to the surface with a splash. In another instance men followed a sperm whale, zig-zagging around it in an inflatable motorboat, hoping to confuse its sensitive hearing with the noise. The giant seemed paralysed. It did not dive or attempt to put on speed. Suddenly, there was a monstrous movement in the water and the launch was observed, together with its occupants and equipment, to be thrown up in the air like toys. The whale had simply grown tired of the noise and with one casual twist of its tail had gotten rid of it. He could have easily crushed the boat with his tail or mouth but he gave a measured, though effective, response instead. Such well moderated and almost thoughtful responses seem not to have been found significant by sailors of earlier centuries. Whalers of more modern times have kept alive the tales of peril and aggression, particularly regarding the sperm whale which, as the most sought-after prize of the early nineteenth century, took on many of the biblical allusions to an evil monster who operated as a devilish scourge upon the seas. There were some notorious sperm bulls known far and wide by names like Timor Tim or Don Miguel (off Chile), New Zealand Jack or the infamous Mocha Dick, whose adventures were avidly followed for thirty-nine years and who served as a model for Herman Melville's great white whale. Old bulls who had been often harpooned or maddened by the chase would sometimes jump straight out of the water to lash out with their tails or ram a large ship broadside with their massive heads. One sent the whaler Union to the bottom in 1807, the Essex in 1821 and the Ann Alexander was sunk in a few minutes in 1851. In 1902 the Kathleen was sunk in minutes and a fishing launch with all aboard went down off Sydney in 1963 as a result of an attack by a sperm bull.

 This high and mighty God-like dignity inherent in the brow is so immensely amplified, that gazing on it... you feel the Deity and the dread powers more forcefully than beholding any other object in living nature.

Herman Melville

 In 1957 a white (albino) sperm whale was killed off the coast of Japan. But the modern day cachalots cannot compare to the ninety-foot giants of Mocha Dick's time. Nor does man now tend to possess the vivid and deeply felt sense of the presence of good and evil in the world as in earlier centuries. In Melville's masterly tale, Captain Ahab represents an obsessive focal point for the eternal struggle between what man believes to be good and evil incarnate. To him, Moby Dick, the great white whale, represents the beast, the devil in the flesh who threatens chaos, madness and annihilation. Ahab struggles to preserve order but abandons himself to inhumanity and obsession in his monomaniacal pursuit of this formidable leviathan. In his last glimmering of humaneness he looks to his mate, Starbuck, as to his soul and cries, "Oh Starbuck; let me look into a human eye ..." To which Starbuck answers, "Oh Noble Soul - after all, let us fly these deadly waters!" But Ahab responds, sinking again into the fatalistic clutches of his obsession, "What is it that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing . .. ?" It was truth, but with malice in it, that he saw in the white whale. In the throes of an eternal anguish he saw all that demonizes and torments and reduces conscious life into chaos in the form of Moby Dick. And chaos it was that he entered, killed in his own attempt to kill the whale, borne down into the endless deep lashed to the body of a ghostly, colourless, form-obliterating and form-dissolving monster. For Ahab, the godlike dignity and dread powers of the sperm whale became a titanic force which swept him out of the world, beyond all recognizable signs of good and evil, to a shapeless, timeless realm where human fears and longings are but unborn bubbles in a limitless sea.

Varuna, King of hallowed might,
Sustaineth erect the Tree's stem in the baseless region.
Its rays, whose root is high above, stream downward.
Deep may they sink within us and be hidden.
King Varuna hath made a spacious pathway,
A pathway for the Sun wherein to travel.
Where no way was he made him set his footstep,
And warned afar whate'er afflicts the Spirit.

Rig Veda XXIV:7-8

 Varuna the Encompasser, witness to men's falsehoods, upholder of heavens and earths, knows the secret pathways of ships and other leviathans. The Secret Doctrine speaks of Varuna-Ouranos as a Host which ruled over the Second Race before Kronos-Saturn ruled over the Third and Zeus-Neptune over the Fourth. The Second Race over which Varuna-Ouranos reigned was the Sweat Born, produced by the Sons of Yoga unconsciously, through asexual budding. It is said to have been endowed by the Preservers, called the Rakshasas or demons who devour. According to the Bhagavata Purana, Brahma once transformed himself into the body of night, which the Rakshasas (actually Yogis and Initiates) wished to devour. Brahma called out to them, "Do not devour me, spare me." The occult interpretation of this lies in the identification of the body of night with ignorance, but also with silence and secrecy. The Yogis (representing spiritual man) are bound to dispel ignorance by devouring it, but they are also bound to preserve the sacred and silent Truth from profanation. In the whale one can readily see an analogue to the Host or Rakshasas, who wish to devour every form but maintain the lines or pathways in both hemispheres "for the Sun [of Truth or the Law] wherein to travel". Each generation of whales maintains the same ancient course, as if they had (each particular species) a built-in magnetic compass and were annually re-establishing longitudinal lines of force around the globe. One is reminded of the retia mirabilia, which pressurizes and balances all parts of the whale's body as it dives through the ocean's deep, like the earth swimming through the chaos of space.

 The Second Race manifested the first primitive spark of intelligence. Endowed with incarnate gods (Asuras and Kumaras, who were loath to create), it remained ethereal. But duality intervened. Prakriti (Aditi or Gaia) conceived their great potency, causing their all-encompassing wholeness to be destroyed by the resultant generation. In the Greek myth the generative part of the father was cut away by Kronos so that the host (Varuna-Ouranos) was separated from the progressively sexual modes of creation. This remoteness from physical procreation is poignantly reflected in the difficulty experienced by the whale in mating. Indeed, such an awkward and exhaustive repetition of attempts is required to ensure successful conception that one cannot help but consider the nature of the intelligence which persists in operating through the form of the whale. Is their sojourn here on earth part of a great sacrificial process wherein the Host associated with laws pertaining to our deepest ancestral nature continues to exert its influence? When thinking man took his place in the physical world over eighteen million years ago, these Cetacea were already evolved, already equipped with the bodily parts which would have, had they remained upon land, brought them into the mainstream of mammalian development leading to biological man. Instead, they adapted to (entered once again, perhaps) the realm of the ocean, the astral sea surrounding our globe. There, hunted and cursed, scarred and covered with the weight of barnacles, they have assumed (like the planet Uranus) a retrograde action in the evolutionary scheme of things and a horizontal position in regard to their axis or spine.

 The mysterious planet Uranus got its name through what was almost a fluke (if the pun may be permitted). Though its discoverer, William Herschel, deemed it fitting to name the planet after King George III, the name was not popular. Other names were proposed but it was Uranus which immediately caught on and for reasons scientific and, no doubt, occult became the name by which the world knows it. Whatever the forces working to bring about this appellation might have been, Uranus possesses several remarkable characteristics of great interest when correlated with the symbolism associated with Varuna-Ouranos and the whale. It appears to march to a different tune from the other planets of our system. Its axis is tipped over, lying almost in a horizontal position relative to the axes of the other planets, whilst its north and south magnetic poles represent almost an exact inversion of the earth's north and south geographic poles.

 Recently twentieth-century man was afforded a close-up glimpse of the Blue Giant, with its retrograde motion and its mysterious coal-black rings. It is believed that the unusual motion and position of Uranus, as well as the presence of its many retrograde satellites, are due to a terrific 'war' or explosion which not only ripped away great chunks of the planet but tipped it over and set it off in its peculiarly renegade pattern. This, of course, is strongly reminiscent of the dismemberment of Ouranos by Kronos and is also echoed in the whale's adaptation to a swimming position in the sea.

 Uranus, unlike Mercury, Venus, Jupiter or Saturn, is not in direct astral and psychic communication with mankind on this globe. According to arcane traditions, it is a guardian of another (unseen) septenary chain of globes within our system. It does not depend upon the physical sun like the other planets, receiving so little of its light and hearkening to a different axis of influence. Like the whale on earth serving as the vehicle on the physical plane for the Host known as Varuna-Ouranos, so too Uranus acts as a witness and vahan in our solar system for an unseen ancestral Host. Covered with a deep electrically charged ocean which is heavily laced with sal ammoniac, it represents an environment not only symbolic of the waters of chaos, but chemically suited to act as a solvent, a dissolving sublimate capable of releasing the 'soul' or quicksilver of substances. As the medieval alchemists knew, sal ammoniac dissolves the existing order of things, not to merely 'devour' them or render them chaotic but to release a more refined and essential Truth.

So fire with water to compare,
The ocean serves on high,
Up-spouted by the whale in air,
To express unwieldy joy.

William Cowper

 Taking in gigantic draughts of the ocean and letting them out again, the whale plows its way along the sea lanes, participating on an unmatched scale in the business of alchemizing lower forms of life. Like Jonah passing three days within its belly, the triple stomach of the whale processes its food and converts it into a larger and more mysterious pattern. There is no way of knowing now how the complex ecosystem of the entire globe would be affected if whales were to disappear from its oceans. Nor is there any way we could anticipate how their absence would affect the spiritual and magnetic climate of life here. Their intelligence would indeed seem to come from afar, and man will be able to understand something about it only when he begins to be prompted by deeper vibrations within his own spiritual memory. In contemplating the life and history and all the rich symbolism associated with the whale, one moves closer to releasing such memories. The whale embodies the powers of regeneration immanent in the cosmic waters and floating unborn in the chaos of our minds. If we sense in its existence the wondrous network that binds us to the intelligence of the One Law, the wholeness of manifest life, its sojourn in this world will not have been in vain. Into the jaws of that meditation, Jonah, motivated by the fearless desire to save his fellows, entered to spend the required period before resurrection. In the fabled belly of the beast the new spiritual life is born, not to those who, like Ahab, mistake the necessary dissolution for evil and take it on as a foe, but to the patient watcher on the bow, the silent one who is willing to devour every form that ignorance takes within himself, whilst ever preserving and witnessing the Divine Immutable Law of Truth.

A mariner on the bow one night
Looked up to see the stars,
He glimpsed a line of golden light
Bound earthward from afar.
The Light dispersed upon the waves,
It marked a phosphor trail,
And where it led he strained his gaze
To see a breaching whale.