Category Archives: Greek

Teachings from Greek Mythology.

The wound of the Fisher King

One of the most intriguing characters in any mythology is that of the Fisher King in the Grail Traditions who is wounded in the thigh.

The usual interpretation is that the wound to the “thigh” is a euphemism for castration; the Fisher King is impotent. He suffers a loss of vitality and the ability to reproduce. This has merit as an interpretation but I think it narrows the teaching to an over specific extent.

If we reconsider this mythology in connection with the mythology of Dionysus, perhaps, the wound is to the thigh and has deeper meanings.

Dionysus was born of from the union of a god (Zeus) and a mortal (Semele).

So he is a link between the worlds of the human and the divine. In the context of Arthurian mythology, parallels could be drawn between Dionysus and Merlin which opens up a whole new direction of thought and meditation.

Dionysus was “twice born”.

In my mind, this has links to a character in Welsh mythology that also has connections with Merlin. Zeus rescued Dionysus from the womb of Semele and placed him in his own thigh. The oddness of this is not easy to understand and for the purpose of this piece, it is not necessary to understand but only recognise the common aspect of a wound to the thigh.

Dionysus could be said to represent nature or the natural aspect of human psychology. The instinctual, the intuitive and the creative. He represents spontaneity, the ability to experience joy. The celebration of connection with our heart and nature. In this respect he is an aspect of The Green Man.

So, is this the full meaning of the wound?

When we lose touch with our intuitive selves or our ability to live spontaneously. If we forget how to experience the joy and wonder in life or repress our creative energies, our connection with the natural, the instinctual and intuitive.

By becoming stuck in our old habits and modes of living, in doing what is expected of us rather than what our heart, gently, guides us to do.

Perhaps then, we discover that we are living in the Wasteland where nothing has nurture to grow and all lies arid; the dust of our lost hopes, forgotten dreams and once burning desires that we have stopped remembering, finding ourselves bogged down in the routine and the lives imposed upon us.

It is at that point that we need to remember the cause of the thigh-wound. It is the spirit of Dionysus, nurtured by our higher-self, the loss of which is the cause of stagnation as we suffer the loss of all he represents.

The Grail Knight is expected to ask the question.

“Who does the Grail serve?”

Is the answer or, at least, an answer; Dionysus.

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Into the Labyrinth

Theseus and the Minotaur is another mythological teaching that can be interpreted in varied ways. I have to admit that I had written this piece a few weeks ago but lost my draft copy. In writing it again I seem to have posed more questions than answers.
One interpretation could be to see the Labyrinth as representing the subconscious, or unconscious, mind and the Minotaur, our Shadow or dark aspect which has to be overcome.

 
What is the Minotaur seeking to destroy?

One answer could be Youth.

 

As a result of a plague sent upon Athens, the Athenians send seven maidens and seven young men, each year, as sacrifice to Minos. This represents the killing of Youth on the orders of an older King; a situation that creates a few thoughts to contemplate.
On the third year of this tribute being paid, Theseus intervenes.

 
How is the Minotaur defeated?

 
The hero Theseus is helped by the King’s daughter, Ariadne. The feminine aspect of our psyche is accessed to allow safe passage into and out from the labyrinth of our sub-conscious. The integration of the feminine into the psyche of the male hero allows him to defeat the shadow, the bestial, untamed side of himself, maintaining balance and health between opposites.
There are other interesting dynamics at play within this tale. It is Ariadne’s father, Minos, who creates the Labyrinth and demands the sacrifices, yet she helps to put a stop to it. Later, Theseus’ inaction leads to the death of his father. He also takes Ariadne with him but soon abandons her. She is consoled by Dionysus; another interesting layer if we consider what Dionysus represents and think about the Maenads. It is almost as if in the same way that the hero, Theseus, has had to tame his wildman nature, the quest of the heroine is to be introduced to wildness, to her inner wild, untamed aspect, to integrate that part of herself into an organised and, up to that point, controlled psyche.
Theseus eventually is killed by being thrown into the sea. The element of water is, traditionally, linked with emotion.

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mythological integrity

The trend of The BBC to take mythological themes and warp them into some strange mix of adventure and soap opera continues with Atlantis on Saturday nights. These types of series’, which include Merlin and Robin Hood seem to take the bare bones of an established mythology and mix them up, throwing in odd historical characters, most of whom had nothing to do with the original mythology and creating new characters and storylines that have little to do with the original stories.

Being too fussy?

Maybe, I am but as T.S Eliot once made comments about the poetical tradition along the lines of; if you write poetry on certain themes or subject matter, it not only adds to the stream of previous poets and their work, it changes it. This is true of mythology too.

Now, I do not want or expect mythological teachings to be a stagnant unchanging entity. Each generation reads, digests and, I suppose, has the right to add to the story, but that comes with the sort of responsibility Eliot comments upon in regard to poetry. Personally, I think the way these mythologies are handled by some contemporary scriptwriters is irresponsible, in respect to the way they treat the original and twist it out of shape. The latest version of Robin Hood was little more han a third rate pantomime, Merlin altered the context and storyline as well as falling into the usual traps with regard to the female characters.

This is not adding to an existing mythology in an enriching way, it is changing it totally. It is nothing more than taking well known names from tradition and hanging a soap opera on them.

Perhaps, the counter argument is that relationships, soap opera dynamics, lack of regard for the preciousness of mythological story, etc, do, in fact, represent our times and it is these things that we are compelled to add to the tradition. Personally, these tales mean more to me and I feel they should be treated with more respect.

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Diana/Artemis and Actaeon

In brief:
Actaeon, while out hunting, sees the virgin huntress goddess Diana/Artemis bathing naked. As punishment she changes him into a stag and he is ripped to pieces by his own hounds.
variants:
1-The goddess throws a deer skin over him with the same outcome.
2-he brags about seeing the goddess naked and is punished for doing so.
Interpretation
A person filled with lust, desire or misdirected/mishandled sexual energy (stag) is torn apart from within.
Taking this a stage further, we could say that any desire, or lust, for something unattainable or unavailable causes us to tear ourselves apart psychologically. An unfulfilled longing, lust or desire that can not be resolved or satisfied will, eventually, destroy us. We internalise that which we “hunt” (stag) and are torn apart as a result of not being able to satisfy the desire (hounds).

be careful lest, like Actaeon, thou too perish miserably, torn to pieces by
                                                the ban-hounds of thine own passions.

from “She” by H. Rider Haggard.

Read in this way the mythological story  contains an almost Buddhist concept of desire being the cause of suffering.

A deeper, more Jungian interpretation would be to read it as the male psyche being made aware of, and confronting, the inner feminine aspect of his nature, unclothed and as nature intended. If psychologically or spiritually unprepared for this bare revelation the male risks having his male identity (stag) torn apart by his own conflicting thoughts, feelings or self-perception; by his own beliefs (hounds) concerning his self-identity. Perhaps, ultimately, it is an initiation all men must go through. This confrontation and acknowledgement of the inner feminine aspect of his nature: to risk being torn apart and reformed into something new and, thereby, gaining a more integrated and balanced inner persona. In our society, a modern Actaeon is conditioned to, either, hide his eyes and turn away in shame, or leer lewdly at the goddess and only perceive her nakedness in an overtly sexual way. Too timid to gaze directly upon the revealed nature of what the goddess really represents, lest he be ripped asunder. In being unable to approach the naked goddess correctly he never receives the wisdom and growth that exists within the opportunity presented to him.

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