A Summary of Pythagorean Theology

Part II: Goddesses

© 2002, John Opsopaus


  1. The Indefinite Dyad
  2. The Mother of the Gods
  3. Isis and Osiris
  4. Psychê as Mediator
  5. The Wedding
  6. The Goddess of the Cosmic Tree
  7. The Dragon in the Waters
  8. Hekate
  9. The Platonic Cross
  10. The Moon
  11. Other Goddesses

The Indefinite Dyad

Pythagoreans identify the Monad with the Male Principle and the Dyad with the Female Principle, at all levels of Being. The Monad is relatively easy to understand: He is the principle of Unity and Constancy. The Dyad, however, is more complex. First, She is the Other; if there were only the Monad, there would be no Other; thus She governs Separation. Therefore, Syrianus (fl. 431 CE, died c.437), Proclus' teacher, identified the Monad and the Dyad with Love (Philia) and Strife (Neikos), the two principal forces in the universe according to Empedocles (for more on them, see "Fire" in Opsopaus, AGEDE). The Dyad is called the Goal, because She is that to which the Monad proceeds, and She is also called Daring and Change, for She corresponds to Procession in the triad Abiding - Proceeding - Reverting. However, because She also carries the Beginning to the End, She is the Mediator as well as the Separator.

The Dyad is the number Two, but the Female Principle is a transcendent form of Two called the Indefinite Dyad, where "Indefinite" must be understood to mean indeterminate, unlimited, boundless, and infinite, all of which are relevant to the Indefinite Dyad. First I will focus on Her property of being Unlimited or Indeterminate, which makes Her the opposite of the Monad, who is the principle of Limit, Determination, and Definition. Thus the Monad and Indefinite Dyad are the Principles of Limit (Peras) and the Unlimited (Apeiria), who operate at all levels of Being, but in a different way at each level.

At the most fundamental level, the Monad is the Primordial One and the Indefinite Dyad is Primordial Matter, because Prima Materia is the indeterminate, formless, quality-less foundation of all being; She is Sub-stance -- She who stands underneath. Like the One, Primordial Matter is ineffable, obscure, dark; therefore They are both called Abyss. Thus, the Goddess of Matter is also called Silence (Sigê), because Silence must precede the Word, the in-forming Logos, embodying the Ideas of the Craftsman (see below, on the World Soul). Her role as Mediator between the Father of the Gods and the Demiurge is confirmed by the Chaldean Oracles (fr. 50):

between the Fathers is Hekate's Center borne.

(Here the Female Principle is called "Hekate," which is pronounced "heh-KAH-tay" in ancient Greek.) Primordial Matter is much deeper, more profound, than the matter studied by contemporary physics. Hers is Potential Corporeality, not a "stuff," but the unlimited Power to Be.

One of the most common names of the Female Principle is Dynamis, which means Power and Potential. This is the aspect of the Indefinite Dyad in which She is Unlimited, Unbounded, and Infinite, for Hers is the Infinite Potential to Be. She is Potentiality at all levels of Being, for She dares the Monad to Proceed and Become. She is more powerful than the One, which is something, for She is the limitless power to be anything; She is all possibilities.

Therefore She is also the prolific, generative source of all creation. She is Multiplying, for without Her the Monad would be just One; She leads the Monad to proceed into fruitful plurality and substantial manifestation. Thus, on the lower levels of Being She is called Life-Giving (Zôogonos), which brings us to our next topic.

The Mother of the Gods

As remarked above, the Dyad, by bringing multiplicity to the One, creates the plurality of Unities (Henads), who are the Gods. Thus Rhea becomes the Mother of the Gods by substantiating multiple images of the Father, Kronos.

The ancient Pythagoreans called Rhea "The Ever-Flowing" (To Aenaon) and connected Her name with Rheô (to Flow) and Rhoê (Flux, Flow, Stream), a derivation confirmed by modern linguistics, which traces them all to the Indo-European root sreu- (to flow). This is because Primary Matter is fluid, for it has no determinate boundaries, within or without; Matter is ever changing, always in flux.

Another word correctly derived by the ancients from this root is rhythmos, which means Rhythm, but also recurring motion, measured motion, and time. This is because the Indefinite Dyad creates Otherness, and therefore all the oppositions governed by Kronos and Rhea: Unity/Multiplicity, Light/Dark, Male/Female, and many others. Whenever there is a tension between opposites there will arise an oscillation between them, a cyclic approach to One then the Other. Therefore, Rhea transforms measureless Eternity (Aiôn) into determinate Time (Khronos), symbolized by the cyclic alternation of Light and Dark. (By creating Time, She also creates Space.) Further, Rhea governs all cyclic processes, on Earth and in Heaven; She creates the Universe as a Harmonia of opposites. (See Opsopaus, "Lib. Oct. Mut." for universal structures in the tension of opposites.)

However, Rhea Herself exists outside of Time, and thus She governs Motionless Motion. This is because She is concerned only with cyclic change, and therefore with the numerical ratios among the rhythms of these changes; She governs their Harmonic Relations. (In modern scientific terminology, we could say that She oversees the "frequency domain" rather than the "time domain," which is the province of Hera, Her daughter.)

The ancients also connected rhythmos to arithmos (Number), but modern linguists trace arithmos to a different Indo-European root, rê(i)- (to reason, count), from which we also get such words as reason, rational, ratio, rate, and rhyme. Nevertheless, the ancient connection informs us about how Pythagoreans understand Rhea's responsibility for Number. This is natural, for the Indefinite Dyad is the principle of Plurality itself, which separates one thing from another, but also of the Matter that allows one thing to be different from another, by substantiating multiple instances of a Form.

Rhea governs the levels of Being above the Intellect (see Proclus' Seven Levels of Reality, below), which explains why a total grasp of Number is beyond our intellectual abilities. (Modern mathematics addresses only an impoverished shadow of Number.) The properties of Number fall into two classes, corresponding to the two phases of Emanation: Procession and Reversion. For Number comprises both the Power to Generate everything but also the Power to Unify everything. In particular, Number discriminates the holistic thought of Kronos into the distinct Ideas, the articulate Logos, of Zeus. But also, by Reversion, Number redirects and reunifies the Ideas toward the One.

This leads us to the important concept Noêsis, which is usually translated Intellection, but is better understood as a process of holistic intuition, especially at this level, which is prior to Time, and therefore prior to sequential thought. Rhea, as Mediator, is the intellective (or noetic) process connecting the Divine Intellect (Zeus) at the next lower level, with the object of His intellection, Pure Being (the Monad), at the next higher.

But Rhea's domain is also the level of Life, and therefore Proclus says, "Life is Intellection" (Zôê Noêsis). On the one hand, this means that Life is fundamentally identical to holistic Intuition. On the other, it means that the Ideas are themselves living Archetypes (not static concepts). The Chaldean Oracles (fr. 56) tell us,

Of Blessed Noerics Rhea is the Source and Stream;
for, first in Power, in Wombs Ineffable all things
receiving, on The All She pours this whirling brood.

(The "Noerics" are Archetypes living in the intuiting Divine Mind, and may be identified with the Gods.)

The etymological connection between Mother and Matter is well-known, but it is worthwhile to look at it more closely. The Indo-European root mâter (mother) is the origin of our word Mother, as well as the cognate Greek and Latin words (Mêtêr, Mater). The latter is the source of Matrix, which originally meant a mother of any species, and by extension the Womb or anything else in which something originates, develops, is nourished, or is contained. Matrix, in turn, is the root of Matter and Material, which referred originally to an originating, nourishing, or sustaining substance. I will have more to say about Mother, Matrix, and Matter below.

We have seen that the Mother is the Life-Giving Goddess, the source of Ever-Flowing Matter. Therefore She provides the Quantities (cf. Number) of Matter needed for the sustenance of everything in creation. She is the Goddess of the Primordial, Life-Giving, All-Sustaining Earth. Demeter's name means Earth Mother (Dê-Mêtêr, from Dê, an alternative form of Gê or Gaia). Pherekydes calls Her Khthoniê, which means "She of the Earth"; it is an epithet of Underworld as well as Earth Goddesses (rightly seen, They are hardly different, for creation is sustained from within the Body of the Earth Goddess). Indeed, Demeter and Persephone are called "The Khthoniai," and Khthôn is a name of the Earth Goddess. Her special realm is dark Tartarus, which stands opposite to shining Olympus, ruled by Kronos. Tartarus is the hidden region of dark Primordial Matter, the Foundation of Existence. The Black, Dark, Obscure Earth (Khthôn or Gaia Melaina) was proverbial in ancient Greek.

The Father and the Mother, having become Two, now must dance to Rhea's Rhythm. And this dance will bring Them together again, for the Father has Lust (Orexis) for the Mother's Body, and She desires to reproduce His Form. Through Their Conjunction, the Monad is divided by the Dyad, and Matter is unified by the One. From Them come the Creator and Creatrix of the Material World. Thus the First Generation, Kronos and Rhea, yields to the Second, Zeus and Hera. Indeed, after the Wedding, according to Pherekydes, Khthoniê is replaced by Gaia, the Goddess of the Earth as we know it, but that is our next topic.


Isis and Osiris

Plutarch, who was High Priest at Delphi, presents these ideas in his book Isis and Osiris, which was written for the Priestess Clea. Osiris and Isis are the Craftsman and the Nurse, the Creators of the world. Their Son, Horus, is the God of the material world, the organized cosmos. Osiris thinks the Ideas that give Form to the world, but Isis is the Mediator without whom they could not become embodied or substantiated.

We know from the myth that Osiris is torn apart (for the physical world continually renews itself). The Ideas still exist in His Soul, but they are transcendent and cannot directly order our world. However, the Ideas exist also in His Body, where they are immanent. Therefore Isis unites with Osiris' Body, for She desires His Formative Seed and wants to materialize It in Her Body. When She becomes pregnant, She becomes the World Soul, the Principle of Nature (Phusis), and Nature is dependent on Her. As the Chaldean Oracles (fr. 54) state:

and on the Goddess' back is Boundless Nature hung.

Nature's name, Phusis, comes from phuô, which means to beget, to produce, or to be something or other "by nature."

Still the world is not yet material, but only potentially material, for Nature is the principle of order in the world, but not the material world itself. This order becomes manifest in Matter only when Isis gives birth to Horus. Thus is Primal Matter organized by the Articulated Ideas, the Logos, of the Demiurge through the mediation of the World Soul. In this way we get Proclus' Seven Levels of Reality: Unity (Aiôn), Being (Kronos), Life (Rhea), Mind (Osiris), Soul (Isis), Nature (Pregnant Isis), and Body (Horus).


Psychê as Mediator

Soul (Psychê), the principle of Animate Life, is the Mediator between Mind and Body, on both the Microcosmic and Macrocosmic levels; therefore the World Soul is the source of individual souls. She is the bridge between the Ideas and Matter, for the Ideas are transcendent, outside of time and space, and cannot be effective unless they are brought into manifestation. The Goddess Herself speaks in the Oracles (fr. 53):

          ... after the Paternal Thoughts,
I, Psyche, dwell, ensouling with My warmth The All.

She is ideally suited to this task, for the Pythagoreans say that soul is "Number moving itself." This motion takes place through the powers of Sameness and Otherness (a lower level image of the Monad and Dyad), for change presupposes that one Same thing becomes Other (or Different). (Apollo and Artemis are the Olympians responsible for Sameness and Otherness, according to Plethon; in the heavens, the Sun is always the same, but the Moon waxes and wanes.) Therefore, the World Soul mediates between Eternity and Time, bringing the Ideas into manifestation in both time and space.

She numbers the Harmonies that determine the motions of the Celestial Bodies (the "Music of the Spheres"), but also of all cyclic processes in Nature. From Limit come the measures of these motions, from the Unlimited comes the perpetual change of Nature. Hers is the perpetual motion of Life, for although individual lives (bioi) end, Life (Zôê) is eternal. Thus the Oracles (fr. 96):

for Psyche, by the Father's Power a Radiant Fire,
remains immortal, and She is Mistress of Life,
and holds Full-measures of the Kosmos' many Wombs.

In particular, Ideas "move themselves" in discursive reasoning, which is a function of the Soul (as opposed to the intuiting Mind, or Nous). More generally, the World Soul is also called Wisdom (Sophia) and Thought (Ennoia).

Since the World Soul brings the Ideas into space, the entire world is infused with Soul. Therefore She establishes Cosmic Sympathy (Sympatheia), which unites The All into One; hence the alchemical maxim, "The All is One" (Hen to Pan). This Sympathy is the foundation of magic, and thus it is not surprising that Isis and Hekate (see below) are Goddesses of Magic. As Plotinus (IV.4.40) says,

"But how shall we explain the enchantments (goêteias) of Magic? By Sympathy and by the fact that there is a natural Harmony between things that are similar, and an Opposition between those that are unlike. ... And the real Magic in The All is the Love in it along with the Strife. This [Love] is the first Mage and Enchanter; it was when men observed Love's Magic that they started using charms and spells on one another." (adapted from translations of Kingsley and others)

We may say that Eros (Love) motivates the desire of Psychê (Soul) to manifest the World. This is well known from the story "Cupid and Psyche," which is part of the Metamorphoses (or Golden Ass) by Apuleius, the Pythagorean philosopher, mage, and initiate of the Mysteries of Isis and Osiris. Psyche is the one who, in pursuit of Her Love, descends into the Underworld at the behest of the Great Mother, and who is in turn raised to Olympus by Love.


The Wedding

The Father and Mother of the Gods, Kronos and Rhea, the Titanic Regents, engender the Olympian Regents, Zeus and Hera, who are wed. Zeus and Hera are emanations of Kronos and Rhea, and so we may take them to be children of the Titans or transformed versions of Them, as we like. Therefore, we may find the same name being applied to Gods in different stages of emanation, that is, at different points in a Chain of Procession (Seira). (Hence, we sometimes find the names Rhea and Hekate reversed in the Chaldean Oracles.)

For example, according to Orphic scripture, Rhea takes on the form of a Serpent in a Cave and bids Zeus to come to Her. He (taking the role of Kronos) mates with Her, and She bears Demeter, the Earth Mother. Demeter recapitulates Rhea's actions with Zeus, and from Their union Persephone is born. Finally, according to Orphic myth, Persephone mates with Zeus (in which we see also His role as Underworld God) and bears Him Dionysus.

Pherekydes gives the names Zas and Khthoniê to the first Gods after the God of Unending Time. She is the Dark Queen of Tartarus, the Goddess of chaotic Primordial Matter; He the King of Olympus, who hurls transforming Lightning Bolts. But marriage domesticates Them. Acting as Divine Craftsman, Zas weaves a wedding gift, the "Gift for the Unveiling" (Anakaluptêrion), a Variegated Robe (Pharos), which is adorned with the ordered world (the Cosmos, for Kosmos means good order, arrangement, adornment). After it has covered the bed on Their wedding night, He wraps it around Khthoniê, and thus She becomes Gaia, the Goddess of the living Earth. (A lost Orphic scripture is called The Robe.)

Through Their union the Womb of the World Soul is impregnated by the Ideas of the Demiurge, and She gives birth to the rotating Planetary Spheres (Kosmoi), which hide the fiery simplicity of the One, but yet connect us to It; in the words of the Chaldean Oracles (fr. 34):

from thence the birth of Variegated Matter leaps;
thence sweeping Lightning-Storm obscures the Flower of Fire,
in Coils of Kosmoi leaping; for from thence all things
begin to stretch forth, down below, the wondrous beams.

The "Coils" (Koilômata) may be translated as the Hollows or Womb of the World Soul (but see also "Fire" in Opsopaus, AGEDE).


The Goddess of the Cosmic Tree

By being enwrapped in the Variegated Robe, Khthoniê also becomes the Winged Oak (Huptopteros Drus), which is the Cosmic Tree; Her Roots are in the Underworld and Her Crown is in the Heavens; therefore She mediates Heaven and Earth. Her Sandal is Tartarus, the bottomless chasm, the dark depths of Matter. (See "Water" in Opsopaus, AGEDE, for more on Khthoniê's Robe and Tree, and see "Fire" for Hekate's Sandal.)

We have already considered the etymological connection between Mother and Matter, but there is more to say about it. Matrix, as noted, refers to a mother of any species, but also to a Parent Tree; it is also the Substance out of which anything grows, and the Womb (literally or figuratively), which nurtures it. Further, the original meaning of Materia (which is derived from Matrix) is Wood (the Substance out of which grows the Tree), and by extension the Substance of any physical object, that is, Matter. Similarly, the root meaning of Greek Hylê (Matter) is Wood. Ancient etymologists connected hylê with Latin sylva (i.e., silva = wood, forest), since Greek often has an "h" where Latin has an "s" (compare Indo-European sreu- with Greek Rhea, rheô, etc., discussed above). Although modern linguists reject this connection, it illustrates the ancient association between Matter and Wood. Wood is symbolic of Living Matter.

Materia also means food and nourishment, which reminds us that the Cosmic Tree is also the Tree of Life. She draws up the Sap of Life, the Waters of the Abyss, into Her Roots, and conveys it upward to Her Crown, from which Ambrosial Dew drips down like honey to feed immortal souls. Amidst Her Roots is the Outflow (Ekroê), the Ambrosial Spring, sought by Orphic initiates. The Goddess of the Tree is the Nurse who nurtures souls from Her Ambrosial Breast. (See "Water" in Opsopaus, AGEDE, for more on the Waters of Life.)

There are many myths in which Zeus (or another God) weds Hera, Persephone, or another chthonic or vegetation Goddess in the form of a Tree, and the Goddess of the Tree was worshipped under many different names in ancient Greece and around the Mediterranean. For example, Artemis was called Orthia, the Upright Goddess, when She was worshipped as a Tree or Pillar representing the Cosmic Axis.

Although it is not well-known, Helenê (that is, the Helen of the Trojan War, Queen of Sparta) is also a Tree Goddess; She had temples at Sparta and many other places. In particular, at Sparta there was a Holy Plane Tree sacred to Her, which was garlanded and anointed with oil. She was represented also as a Pillar Goddess (rather like the Caryatid Maidens on the Acropolis) and was worshipped as "Helen of the Tree" (Dendritis) at Rhodes. Helen was born of Zeus and Leda (that is, the Goddess Lada, "the Lady"), Herself a daughter of Oceanus (on whom, see below), as told in the myth "Leda and the Swan." (The Swan is the bird of Apollo, who is hardly distinguishable from Zeus in this context; see "Gods".) She emerged from a blue Egg, which may represent the Celestial Sphere, or Heaven and Earth before they were separated.

Her brothers are the Twin Dioskouroi (the "Lads of Zeus": Dios Kouroi), Castor and Pollux. According to different accounts, They were born either from the same Egg as Helen, or from a different Egg born by Leda. They wore caps shaped like half-eggshells representing the Celestial Hemispheres (or Heaven and Earth), since Their stars are never above the horizon at the same time. The Twins are the Faithful Servants of the Great Goddess, the Mother of the Gods, whether She is called Rhea, Kybele, or another name. For example, the Dioskouroi rescued the adolescent Helen after Theseus abducted Her when She was a dancer in the Spartan temple of Artemis Orthia (who is hardly distinguishable from Helen). They are often shown standing on either side of a Goddess, such as Helen, Isis, Artemis, Astarte, Aphrodite, Hekate, Kybele or Demeter; often She is a Lunar Goddess. Often also She is a Goddess of fertility and material generation (corresponding to the third of Dumézil's three functions; Kronos and Zeus correspond to the first two).

Castor was mortal but Pollux is immortal. Therefore, Helen's connection with Castor and Pollux may be compared with Isis' relation to the Body and Soul of Osiris. If Helen shared the Egg with the Dioskouroi, then that would compare with Isis and Osiris sharing the Womb of the Mother Goddess Nut. Osiris was killed when he was trapped in a casket around which a tamarisk tree grew; Castor was killed while he was hiding in an Oak Tree (or perhaps each brother was in a tree). Immortal Pollux was so grieved by His brother's death that He petitioned Zeus that the Twins might share mortality and immortality through a cyclic death and rebirth, as Osiris is cyclically torn apart and rejuvenated by Isis.

Simon the Mage, the Gnostic holy man slandered in the Bible (Acts 8.9-24), adopted as his Soror Mystica (Mystic Sister) a courtesan named Helen, whom he believed to be a reincarnation of Helen of Troy. Therefore he called her the All-Mother, Being, and Wisdom; and he called himself Great Power of Zeus. Eventually his disciples raised statues to them, in which they were represented with the attributes of Zeus and Athena (as Goddess of Wisdom). Although Simon's claims might seem the height of hubris, they nevertheless illustrate his knowledge of the Craftsman and His Mystic Sister.

In Alchemy the Great Work recreates the act of cosmic creation. The Wisdom is provided by the Wise Old Man, identified with Saturn (Kronos) or Father Time (Khronos), also called Altus (High, Noble, Deep, Secret, Ancient); he has the Ideas, but cannot bring them into manifestation. This is accomplished by the Alchemist (Craftsman) in cooperation with his Mystic Sister; a conjunction of the male and female powers is necessary to complete the Work. (For more, see Opsopaus, PT, 129-30.)

The Goddess of the Tree is seen often with a Crater, a Bowl out of which She pours the Divine Nectar. (See "Fire" in Opsopaus, AGEDE on the special significance of the Crater; one of the Hermetic texts (C.H. IV) is called The Crater, as was a lost Orphic scripture.) Further, Isis is represented as a Tree with a breast from which Horus sucks, and at festivals of Isis at Corinth, milk was poured from a breast-shaped golden Bowl. Also, it is written that at a temple of Athena, Helen dedicated an electrum Bowl shaped to the exact measure of Her breast. Finally, when Telemachos, during his rite of passage, visited Menelaos and Helen (who correspond to the Demiurge and His Spouse), They gave him a Crater and a Robe (Pharos). (Menelaos was deified by Helen and transported bodily into Elysium; in later days the pair were worshipped as Deities. His name means to Abide or Remain [Menô] and People or Host [Laos].)

The Crater is frequently shown as the recumbent Horns of the Moon, which is certainly appropriate to this Goddess. (Helen, Isis, Hekate, Artemis, and even Hera may wear the Lunar Horns.) However, the Crescent Moon also symbolizes that She is a Source of Illumination, and so She may be represented also by a Star or Torch (especially appropriate to Hekate; see below and "Fire" in Opsopaus, AGEDE). (Some mythologists have traced Helenê and Selênê (Moon) - and even Luna - to the same root, helê, referring to illumination; the evidence is inconclusive. The name Helenê was given to the Sacred Basket carried in certain festivals of Artemis; the word can also mean Torch.)

Of course the Trojan saga has the structure of an initiation: separation, liminal period (trials), and reintegration. Pythagoreans associate Ilion (Troy) with Hylê (Matter) and interpret the Trojan War as an allegory for the seduction and entrapment of the Soul (Helen) by Matter (Trojan Paris), and Her rescue and return home to Her birthplace and to the House of the Mind (Menelaos). Also, I should recall Penelope, who awaits Crafty Odysseus, and sits by her Wedding Bed, which is a part of the Tree at the center of the palace, where she weaves and unweaves perpetually a Robe, a Winding Sheet. She waits while Odysseus seeks. Pythagoreans read the Odyssey as an allegory for the spiritual journey, as will be discussed in Part V.

Finally, I should mention the story of Rhea Silvia and her Twin sons Romulus and Remus. "Silvia" is from Silva (forest), which, as we have already seen, refers to Wood and Matter. She was also called Rhea Ilia because she was supposed to come from Ilium (Troy). She was raped by Mars in His Sacred grove, and therefore gave birth to the Twins by a kind of virgin birth. They were set adrift in a cradle (a symbolic Arc), and later washed ashore under a Sacred Fig Tree. Because they were suckled (by the She-Wolf) under this Tree, it was called the Ruminal Fig (Ficus Ruminalis) or Rumina, from Ruma, which mean Teat or Nipple; Rumina is also a Goddess of Suckling. As would be expected of such Twins of the Sacred Tree, Remus died (descended to the Underworld), but Romulus became immortal and ascended to Heaven.


The Dragon in the Waters

Since the Tree is the Cosmic Axis, the Spindle of Necessity (Anankês Atraktos), She is also the Matrix of Destiny, and therefore the prophet (mantis), "healer-seer" (iatromantis, "shaman"), and inspired poet (entheos poiêtês) all come to the Tree of Knowledge desiring Wisdom (Sophia). They read Destiny in the fall of Her Leaves. However, neither this Wisdom nor the Fruit of the Cosmic Tree are easy to win, for the Tree is surrounded by Primordial Waters and guarded by a Serpent or Dragon.

The Waters and the Tree represent the unindividualized Power of Universal Life (Zôê), associated with the Great Mother (Rhea, Aphrodite, Demeter). These Titanic forces are conquered and superceded by the Demiurge and His Mystic Sister, who, by means of Soul, bring Universal Life into manifestation in space and time, thus giving birth to Individual Life (Bios), which dwells beside Death (Persephone, Isis, Psyche). The Waters are the path of souls into incarnation, but also the Way to immortality.

The Greeks said that the Primordial Waters, which define the boundaries of our existence, were ruled by Tethys and Okeanos (Oceanus); She is invoked as the Mother and He as the Origin of the Gods and all the World. Strife separated Them and They ceased from mating; thus ended the process of primary manifestation, thereby keeping the World in finite bounds.

Typically the Dragon is a hybrid: human (often female) above and a snake or fish below, rather like a mermaid. Such a being combines human time-bound consciousness with the eternal, unconscious Power of Life.

There are many mythological accounts of the Serpent and the Tree. For example, Mother Earth gives Zeus and Hera an Unveiling Gift, a Tree bearing Golden Apples, which is planted in the West, in the dark regions beyond Okeanos, where Atlas stretches between Earth and Heaven. This is the Garden of the Hesperides, a triad of Goddesses akin to Mermaids or Sirens, who lure mortals to secret rites and initiations by Their enchanting music. They are named for Hesperos, the Evening Star, which is sacred to Aphrodite, who is sometimes credited with creating the Golden Apples. The Hesperides tend the Tree and its Golden Apples, but Hera also has it guarded by the Dragon Ladôn, born of Gaia, who lies hid in the dark Hollows of Earth.

In the well known tales of Heracles, one of his Labors was to fetch some of the Apples of the Hesperides, but stories differ as to whether he got them by force, slaying the Dragon, or with the cooperation of the Hesperides. Thus one may obtain the Fruit by either conquering the Dragon or by recruiting the assistance of the Tree Spirit. (Although it may seem surprising, Pythagoreans, Stoics, and other Greek philosophers take Heracles as the ideal spiritual hero; this is because they understand his Labors allegorically as the spiritual exercises and trials that led to his eventual deification. See also Opsopaus, AGEDE, "Fire," for more on Heracles and Heroization.)

Apollo slew (or otherwise conquered) the Dragoness of Delphi, born of Gaia, who was coiled around the Laurel Tree at the World Navel there. This Dragon is often called the Pythôn, but this is not correct, according to the oldest sources. At Delphi dwelt the Dragon Typhôn (born of Gaia and Tartarus) as well as the Dragoness Delphynê, whose name comes from the same archaic root delph- (Womb) as Delphi itself. Apollo slew the Dragoness, but the Dragon still guards the Omphalos, the Navel Stone marking the Cosmic Axis. The Holy Power of the Sun caused the Body of the Dragoness to Putrefy (Pythô) - that is, the Sun reduced it alchemically to Prime Matter - and from this event Delphi received its old name, Pythô. As a consequence, the Dragon is now named Pythôn and the Delphic Prophetess is called the Pythia. Apollo was required to atone for His deed for one Great Year (eight mortal years), during which He was exiled from Delphi.

Pythagoras' name is also traced to Pythian Apollo. When his parents were visiting Delphi, the Pythia prophesied that his mother would bear a holy man; Apollonius of Tyana said the Pythian Himself sired the child. In any case, Pythagoras certainly belonged to the Procession or Lineage (Seira) of Apollo. Henceforth his mother called herself Pythais and named the unborn child Pythagoras.

When Kadmos (whose name recalls Kosmos) had come to the place where he was to found Thebes, he needed Water for a sacrifice, but when he approached the Spring of Ares, he found a giant Dragon guarding it. (Many vase paintings show the Dragon rearing over a woman, presumably the Spirit of the Spring, perhaps Harmonia, who sits beside it.) He slew the Dragon and, under divine guidance, sowed its teeth, which sprouted into men called the Sown Ones (Spartoi) or the Golden-Helmed Seed. (We may see in this the sowing of the Seminal Ideas into Mother Earth.) In atonement for slaying the Dragon, Kadmos was required to serve Ares for a Great Year (as Apollo had been for slaying the Delphic Dragoness). After repaying his debt, he was wed to Harmonia, the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares (Love and Strife, the Primal Forces that mix and separate the Four Elements, according to Empedocles). Harmonia, in ancient Greek, means the binding together of two different things into a seamless whole, and so She is the great Mediator; She is a Goddess, who also appears as a Serpent. As Unveiling Gifts Kadmos gave Her a Robe and a Necklace. Kadmos and Harmonia were the parents of Semele, the deified mother of Dionysos. (See Opsopaus, AGEDE, "Fire," for more on Love, Strife, and Harmonia.)

Such stories are common, of course. For example, Theseus won his bride Ariadne (a Goddess closely connected with Persephone "Most Pure," Ariagnê) by slaying the Minotaur (born of the Bull from the Sea, and Pasiphaê, daughter of the Sun), who dwelt in the Coils of the Labyrinth (see Opsopaus, "Rit. Lab." esp. nn.140-3). So also Perseus slew the Dragon from the Sea and released Andromeda, his future bride, from the Pillar to which she was bound.



Hekate has a special role in the Chaldean Oracles as the principal Goddess involved in magical and spiritual practices, for She is the World Soul. As such, She is the one who mediates between the Empyrean Realm, where the Gods reside, and our world; conversely She is the one who leads our way back to the Gods through Theurgy and other spiritual practices.

The Demiurge and Hekate together create the Aetherial Realm where the Celestial Bodies (the Fixed Stars and Planets) reside. Since the Celestial Bodies are material, and Hekate must mediate between Them and the Olympian Gods (who are immaterial), She is the Goddess at the lowest point of the Empyrean Realm, simultaneously separating and connecting the Aetherial and Empyrean orders. In other terms, She is the Mediator between Zeus, the Transmundane Sun, who rules the Olympian Gods, and the Mundane Sun (Helios, Sol), who rules the Celestial Bodies. She also keeps them apart,

for as a Girdling Mental Membrane She divides
the First and Other Fire, hastening to mix,

as the Chaldean Oracles (fr. 6) say. (The word here translated "Mental" is Noeric, referring to holistic Intuition.) This Girdling Membrane (Hymên) enwraps the material world to which She gives birth. In another Chaldean fragment (38) the Goddess Herself places Her fiery Girdle at the lower extremity of the Noetic Realm:

The Father's Thoughts are these, and then's My winding Fire.

This "(en)wrapping" or "twisting" of Her Girdle also suggests Her Serpents, on which, more below.

The Womb of Hekate captures the Father's Ideas and births them, through the Fiery Membrane, into the material world. Thus in the Chaldean Oracles (fr. 32, ll. 2-3) we may see an allusion to the Demiurge, who

      ... is a Worker, Giver of Life-Bringing Fire,
and fills the Womb Life-Giving of Hekate…

(The gender, in Greek, of "Worker" and "Giver" is feminine, suggesting a Goddess, but the sense seems to require the Demiurge.)

The Oracles (fr. 35) also reveal that She is an emanation from the One as well as the means to His further emanation:

for from Him leap the Thunderbolts Implacable
and Lightning-Storm-receiving Wombs of Radiant Light
of Father-born Hekate, and Girdling Flower of Fire,
and mighty Spirit from beyond the Fiery Poles.

(This divine Spirit (Pneuma) is Hekate in Her role as World Soul.)


The Platonic Cross

In the Timaeus (36B-E), Plato tells us that the World Soul has the form of the Greek letter X (chi), and Proclus says that an X has been placed at the heart of every individual as an image of the World Soul. This X has a very special form, for it represents the way that the World Soul brings the Ideas into manifestation in space and time in the Celestial Realm. The two lines meet at 23.5 degrees and represent the Circle of the Same (ho Tautou Kyklos) and the Circle of the Other (ho Thaterou Kyklos), which are, respectively, under the guardianship of Apollo and Artemis (as mentioned above) and correspond to the motions of the mind and the vital soul.

The Circle of the Same is horizontal and outside the other; it corresponds to the Celestial Equator and rotates to the Right, from East to West, like the daily movements of the heavens through the Houses of the Zodiac and around the Spindle of Necessity (Anankês Atraktos). This is called the Inerratic (Aplanês, Non-Wandering, Fixed, Unerring) Sphere, which by its alternation of Day and Night, according to Plato, teaches us "the lesson of One and Two." That is, this motion is regular, and is governed by the processes of pure thought. This Circle is the Girdle (Zôstêr, Zona).

The Circle of the Other is diagonal and inside the other; it represents the Ecliptic (the Zodiacal Circle) and rotates to the Left, from West to East, like the slow movements of the planets through the Signs of the Zodiac. The motion is irregular (in fact, split into seven wandering motions) and is subject to nonrational judgements, beliefs, and feelings, especially those associated with the body (for the Aetherial Realm is the Bodily Vehicle of the World Soul). These are called the Erratic (Planêtai, Wandering, Unstable) Spheres, although their motion is lawful. However, of all the Planets, the Circle of the Other is most closely connected with the Sun, for it is the motion of the Sun that determines the yearly cycles of growth and decay that characterize mortal Life. (The Moon, of course, also exhibits cyclic change, but monthly cycles are not so closely connected with Life.) This Circle is the Sword Belt (Telamôn, Balteus).

When combined, the two motions create the Helix, which is a symbol of Aiôn (Eternity), the Unity preceding the opposites, Sameness and Otherness. The stars spiral though the heavens like a Snake, Hekate's Serpent, which represents the World Soul and is symbolized by Her encircling Girdle.

Our commonality with the World Soul, symbolized by the X placed on our hearts, may be represented by the Sign of the Platonic Cross (the Crux Platonica or Littera X Platonica): In one form the hand is passed diagonally from right to left and then horizontally from left to right A downward diagonal corresponds to facing toward Libra so the Gate of the Moon, in the Northern sign of Cancer, through which souls descend into incarnation, is on your right, and the Gate of the Sun, in the Southern Sign of Capricorn, though which souls ascend to Heaven, is on your left; this is the passage from birth to death. This is the normal position of the Greek Sword Belt (Telamôn). An upward diagonal corresponds to facing in the opposite direction, toward Aries; this is the passage from death to rebirth. This is often the position of the Roman Sword Belt (Balteus), which was, however, sometimes worn like the Greek.

Here is another form of the X: Place your right arm diagonally across your chest, with your fingers spread above your heart. This is the Way of the Slant, and places the Gate of the Moon at your Heart, for they are both associated with the Soul. The spread fingers represent the division of the Circle of the Other into the seven Planetary bands. (If you are bothered by the fact that you don't have seven fingers, you can make instead the ancient finger sign for seven: bend the pinky in two and keep the other fingers and thumb extended.) As you cross you chest say, "By Sun and Moon." Now place you left arm horizontally along your diaphragm, across your right arm, with its fist on your right upper arm. This is the Way of the Side, and places your fist, representing the daily motion of the Fixed Stars, near the Gate of the Sun. As you make the outer line of the Cross, say "From Night to Day."

The X or Crux Decussata (Divided Cross) is rich in symbolism. It represents any Mediator creating a marriage of opposites, including Heaven and Earth, Sameness and Otherness, etc., joined in perfect Balance and Harmony. It is the initial letter of Khronos {XRONOS} and Khthoniê {XQONIH}, the Primordial Father and Mother, and thus unites Them. The X cuts as well as joins. The Romans marked boundaries with X, and so it also marks the boundary (Hekate's Girdling Membrane) separating and uniting the Mental and material realms. The X (sesh) hieroglyph means to divide or multiply, and therefore also symbolizes union (by the polarity of meanings typical of symbols).

We may also compare the X to the Tiet Knot on the Girdle of Isis, which represents Life and Immortality. It is placed on the neck of the deceased and protects the Body of Osiris. Tied, the Knot represents the union of body and soul in mortal life. Untied, it represents immortality attained by freeing the immortal soul from the mortal soul and body. The Knot cannot be severed (as Alexander cut the Gordian Knot), or immortality will be forfeit, but must be carefully untied (as in certain Tantric practices). Thus, the Egyptian Book of the Dead exhorts us, "Untie the Knots of Nephthys!"


The Moon

Although Hekate resides in the Empyrium, She is, of course, especially associated with the Moon. This is because the Moon is the nearest Celestial Body, and therefore the Mediator between the ("sublunary") world of mortals and the Celestial Realm and those above it, that is, in Chaldean terms, between the material world, on the one hand, and the Aetherial and Empyrean Worlds, on the other. (We have already seen that the World Soul is identified with many Lunar Goddesses.)

Because Hekate is the World Soul, She oversees the incarnation of individual souls and their fate after death. Plutarch says the Moon is the location of Hekate's Hidden Place (Mukhos), where we go when we die. There we enter the uterus-shaped Infernal Coils (Koilômata). Those who have more time to spend on Earth go to the dark side of the Moon to await reincarnation; those who have achieved enlightenment, pass by way of the light side to the Elysian Fields in the Sphere of the Sun. (See "Fire" in Opsopaus, AGEDE, for more on the progress of the soul.)

Because of Hekate's mediating role, She also rules the Daimones and other Mediating Beings (called Iunges, Connectors, and Initiators in the Chaldean Oracles). I will defer Their discussion to Part V, in the discussion of Theurgy.


Other Goddesses

A brief mention must suffice for the other Goddesses of Pythagoreanism. If one supposes that Kronos and Rhea did not become Zeus and Hera, but gave birth to Them, then one may wonder what became of the Titanic Regents. One answer is suggested by Plethon's statement that Tartarus, where the Titans dwell, is ruled by Kronos and Aphrodite (Herself a Titanic Mother Goddess). Since They dwell in the depths of Matter, They are responsible (along with the other Titans) for producing mortal creatures, such as humans. Kronos is Time (Khronos) and Aphrodite brings Eternity into the mortal world through the perpetuation of Forms (Species) in a succession of Bodies (Corpora).

In this creation the Titans cooperate with "the Young Gods," the Celestial Beings (who are also material, it will be recalled), under the leadership of the Sun; from the Celestials we inherit planetary and astral influences, for They attach our souls to our bodies. The Sun gives mortal creatures their Form, the Moon gives them Matter. The Titans rule the mortal parts of our nature, that is, the body (sôma) and vital soul (psychê), but the Celestials rule the immortal part, the mind (nous). (They are similarly responsible for the ensouling of the Terrestrial Daimones.)

In the context of modern science, it may seem naive or superstitious to treat the Celestial Bodies as living beings, so it worth exploring this notion. According to Pythagorean doctrine, anything that is self-moving is living and has a soul, among which the ancients included the Celestial Bodies. We, however, explain their motions by Newton's laws of motion and gravitation. To us, the planets and stars are not higher beings, but lower, merely lumps of rock or hot gas moving according to mechanical laws. However, this view stems from modern science's limited understanding of reality, and to appreciate the Pythagorean view, we must see Celestial Bodies as symbolic entities. Certainly, the Celestials have physical bodies (as do we) obeying the laws of physics, but they also have an existence in the world of Ideas (as do we), where They are numinous and divine, for They are symbols of divine perfection and providence. They exhibit for our wonder and admiration the perfection of luminous spirits, each following Its own path, yet all a part of a single divine movement, like a well orchestrated dance.

Therefore Pythagoreans say that each of our souls has a corresponding Star, a Celestial of which each soul is the image and to whose Procession it belongs, a Star to which one's Nous (immortal soul) returns between incarnations. When you are born, your Nous departs from your Star and acquires characters from each of the Planets as it descends through Their Spheres; on death, these characters are given back to the Planets as your Nous returns to your Star.

Besides Hera, other Goddesses in Olympus are, according to Plethon, Artemis, Athena, Dione, Hestia, and Tethys. As Tartarean Goddesses he lists Aphrodite, Demeter, and Korê (Persephone). In general the Goddesses provide Matter to complement the Form that comes from the Gods, and are especially associated with the mediate Procession (Power, Life, Mother) phase in each Triad of Emanation (Abiding, Proceeding, Reverting).

Continue to Part III

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