The Tripod

© 2006, John Opsopaus

This image depicts Apollo’s Tripod standing above the Plain of Truth (Πεδίον Ἀληθείας), which is mentioned in Plato’s Phaedrus (248b).  The Plain of Truth is the place sought by our Souls, who guide their Chariots (their Vehicles, Ὀχήματα) to follow the Gods to this place where the noblest part of their souls may receive the nourishment they need.  There, with the Gods, our Souls feast on all that has True Being.  The Plain of Truth is described in more detail by Plutarch (De defectu oraculorum 22, 422B–C), where he tells the story of Cleombrotus, who wandered the world, seeking the wisdom for a true philosophical religion.  Hea learned about the Plain of Truth from a very holy man by the Persian Gulf, who prophesied to the people but once each year, and spent the rest in communion with Gods, Nymphs, and other Daemons.  Although he was not Greek, this prophet spoke the Doric dialect, chanting it in verse, while from his mouth an aetherial fragrance filled the air.  Now, in the Timaeus (55c–d) Plato had discussed whether there might be just One World (Κόσμος), or an Infinity of them, or only Five (corresponding to the elements), but this holy man said that

the worlds are not infinite in number, nor one, nor five, but One Hundred and Eighty-three, arranged in the form of a Triangle, each side of the Triangle having Sixty Worlds; of the Three left over each is placed at an Angle, and those that are next to one another are in contact and revolve gently as in a Choral Dance.  The inner area of the triangle is the Common Hearth of All (Κοινὴ Ἑστία Πάντων), and is called the Plain of Truth, in which the Logoi (Reasons), the Forms (Εἴδη), and the Paradigms (Παραδείγματα) of all things that Have Been, and that Shall Be, lie immovable; and round about them lies Aiôn (Aeon, Eternity), whence Time (Khronos), like an Ever-flowing Stream, is conveyed to the Worlds. (422B–C)

Only the most virtuous may contemplate this Vision (Theôria), according to the prophet, and even they only once in ten thousand years.  It is a Mystic Initiation, besides which all earthly initatory rites are mere dreams.

On the top of our image is the Golden Tripod of Apollo, signifying the Spiritual Sun, from which Rays emanate to the Plain of Truth, as described by Cleombrotus’ informant.  This Tripod, which corresponds to the Tripod on which sits the Pythia, prophetess of the Delphic Oracle, is the Throne of Truth, for we read in the Korê Kosmou (Virgin of the World, 22) that Horus “the Monarch came, and sitting on the Throne of Truth made answer to their prayers.”  G.R.S. Mead (TGH III, 172–3) remarks, “One is almost tempted to turn the plane triangle into a solid figure, a tetrahedron, and imagine the idea of a world or wheel, at each of the four corners,” an image that is structurally similar to ours.  The upward-pointing triangle is, of course, the alchemical glyph for Fire, and the Tetrahedron is the Platonic Solid associated with elemental Fire, so we must consider the implications of this.

The Plain of Truth is the Hearth (Hestia) of the Universe, from which the fiery Seed Sparks, the Logoi, or Articulated Ideas, descend into the material world, the fluid realm of change and process.  The first is the timeless realm of Being, the second our temporal world of Becoming.  They are separated by Aiôn (Eternity), the Ouroboros Serpent, the unending Cycle of Nature, which translates Eternity into Time.  As Plato (Timaeus, 37d) explains, Time is the moving image of Eternity.

The Plane of Fire contains the Seeds of Matter, which (according to the Stoics) arise from the Primary Fire and are the origins of all things.  Thus Goethe (Faust II.I.v) has Mephistopheles (whose element is Fire) instruct Faust, when he wants to resurrect Helen and Paris, to descend to the grey realm of The Mothers (“Space is nought to Them; Time is less”), there to seek the Tripod of the Mothers, which can bring about the material manifestation of these Archetypal Forms.

A glowing tripod will at last give sign
That you have reached the deepest, nethermost shrine; …
Its incense fumes, by magical arranging,
Henceforth to godly figures must be changing.

Below the Serpent Aiôn lies the physical world of sensory awareness, depicted as a Watery Abyss in a continual flux of Coming-to-be and Passing-away.  All things are grey, murky, and indefinite compared to the crystal clarity of the Plain of Truth.  Thus, in the Sermon of Isis to Horus, the Goddess speaks:

Now as I chance myself to be as though Initiate into the Nature that transcendeth Death, and that my feet have crossed the Plain of Truth, I will explain to thee in detail how it is; and preface this by telling thee that Water is a body void of Reason condensed from many compound things into a Fluid Mass, whereas the Soul is a thing of Individual Nature, Son, and of a Royal Kind, a work of God’s own hands and mind, and of itself led by itself to Mind. (3)

See also G.R.S. Mead’s Thrice Greatest Hermes (Vol. III, pp. 169–73) and Alice Raphael’s Goethe and the Philosophers’ Stone (pp. 144–5).

Digitally executed using Bryce® 5 and Bryce® 6.

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Last updated: 2007-03-25.