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Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Ladders to heaven..

The labyrinth is a path into the Underworld.

Both Ariadne and Persephone have links with Dionysos (Διόνυσος).

Ariadne the Cretan priestess is either married or murdered by Dionysos- depending on whether this is the Naxos myth, or the story told by Homer in the Odyssey.

Both Ariadne and Persephone help others go to the Otherworld.

Ariadne gives Theseus the means to face death and survive, to enter and leave the labyrinth without being destroyed by the bull headed horror hidden within the darkness.

Images of Yama come to mind...

Persephone (the Eleusinian mysteries) does the same for the initiates; as they danced at Eleusis so they will follow Dionysos, his dance leads them onwards to the Elysian feilds.

They do not have to fear death.

In British mythology the Otherworld is a mirror world.
Glastonbury as the glass castle should have a labyrinthine path to its summit.

One steps through the mirror worlds by accident. You may turn a corner and suddenly things are different. When you finally get back, a thousand years has passed.

But there isn't really a Persephone or Ariadne to help you. Try as I might, I can't find any convincing similarities between the lady taken by the Kur (Queen of the Underworld, Ereshkigal)  or the Lady of the Mountain (Ninhursag), or the Mother of the Wild things, let alone Persephone in the fragments of British mythology we think we have (since no one seems sure that what we do have is authentic!).

We all have folk tales of princesses requiring the help of a noble knight, thanks to the brothers Grimm and these may, just may recall Dionysos saving his mom! But I see a prosaic stripping off of arcane and esoteric meanings which renders this a world in which woman or treasure are equivalent motivations for entering Roland's dark towers.

But we do have labyrinths in Britain.

The labyrinth goes nowhere, it is Caer Droia, the spining castle:
Caer Sidi- the spin of the multiverse.
It is eternity and rebirth,
a philosophical paradox.

The labyrinth begins with a cross.
When I construct one, the cross comes first, it is the wall between the way  in and the way out.

Follow the black lines on the image, not the white.

And the labyrinth is also a meander.

Carl Kerenyi follows the meander back to Militos and so begins the confusion between labyrinths and ladders. He describes an inscription dated to C2 B.C which  connects the word labyrinthos to a structure found in two stairwells, one on either side of the entrance to the great hall of the temple of Apollo at Didyma.

Excavations revealed that the ceilings above the staircases were decorated with meander pattens.

The archaeologist Paul Wolters had proved to his own satisfaction at least, that the meander was used as a symbolic representation of the labyrinth as in this image of Dionysos and Ariadne.

Carl Kerenyi notes that the staircases at the temple of Apollo at  Didyma were spiral, winding up and down. The stairs assume significance.

No one asks what has Apollo got to do with the Underworld?

Jacob- the Book of Genesis (28:10–19)- had dreamt of a ladder:
And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!
But going back to the Mesopotamian myths, a ladder or stairs isn't usually the way down into the Underworld.

In the Amana [1400/1500 BC] version of the Nergal and Ereshkigal myth, Namtar has to ascend from the Sumerian Underworld, up to the gods to stand in Erishkigal's stead at the great feast. But the story doesn't give a description of how he makes the journey, no stair or ladder is thought worthy of mention.

In the story, The Descent of Inanna, again no ladder or stairs in either earlier or latter versions. Inanna takes 'The road'  the road that leads one way...

When Enkidu goes down into the Underworld, no ladder; he is seized and made to take the road 'where travelling is one way'.

Gilgamesh took the path of the sun to get to the Otherworld.
A tunnel.

Etana must fly up on the back of an eagle.

Finally, a latter version of the Nergal and Ereshkigal story [C7 BC] mentions a long stairway leading from heaven, downwards.

Another ladder reference comes from W.K.C Guthrie, he says there is a vase showing Thracian women murdering Orpheus, and that the women have a ladder and a kid tattoos.

Unfortunately he doesn't say which vase the image is to be found on.
Using Google, I see little goats, but no ladders on Greek vases.

Does the V symbol represent a ladder?
There are Egyptian V shaped amulets representing 'lucky' flies.

There is some evidence in this article to show that the little goat tattoo may stand to represent the Goddesses wild things, the undomesticated animals.

K. Jettmar, 'Ethnological Research in Dardistan' 1958 noted that 'prehistoric' (?) stamp seals found in the mountains of Luristan show 'a master of animals', a demon with animal horns. The Haramosh valley is in Northern Pakistan, but judge for yourself how relevant such accounts are when trying to understand images and stories...

The goddess Murkum who was worshipped by all the women of the Haramosh valley. 'She helped in delivery and protected mother and child; yet she was also the chief owner of all ibexes and wild goats denoted by the collective term of mayaro. Therefore she was venerated by hunters, too, who brought her horns'.

Jettmar describes a sanctuary of Murkum, which was still in use, as lying almost three thousand metres above sea-level just in front of the Haramosh; this was 'no accident as the mountain was considered the proper home of the Murkum. On the steep slope there is an altar built of boulders dominated by a cliff as big as a house with a juniper tree growing beside it. Next to it is a spring. Below the altar crude benches of stone were erected for the annual meeting of the women. Nut-trees grow between them. Even they are considered holy and no branches were ever broken off.'

In the rites performed at the annual meeting of the women at the sanctuary, the goddess was to send the sacrifice, a she-ibex. A male priest is said to have participated in the ceremony by performing a dance and by killing the ibex and dividing it up. The ministry of this priest 'is now abolished but women anxious about the welfare of their families still come to the altar table and put leaves of juniper between the boulders.'

The Orphic password- 'A kid I fell into the milk'...

The ladder isn't a labyrinth, you can't dance on it. Aristophanes describes Dionysus leading the dance of the Eleusinian initiates through the Underworld.

The labyrinth is an experience.

And the ladder is almost a meander pattern.
Sometimes that is close enough.

W.K.C Guthrie says that the Egyptians had a ladder symbol, but doesn't explain what he means.

Sir Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge translates something as ladders, many times in The Book of the dead: the papyrus of Ani (in the British Museum)

And Wiki quotes this:
Hail, daughter of Anubis, above the hatches of heaven,
Comrade of Thoth, above the ladder's rails,
Open Unas's path, let Unas pass!
But, more relevantly  Dan Brian Brown in a 1923 book called 'The Wisdom of the Ancient Egyptians' wrote:
The Ladder is a symbol of Horus, and was worn [as an amulet in ancient Egypt] to secure his assistance in overcoming and surmounting difficulties in the material world, as well as to form a connection with the heaven world, or land of light.
Nice idea, fits in with medieval, or Rosicrucian  iconography, but it wasn't originally an Egyptian idea, nor do I see Horus.

I have seen Egyptian pictures of ladders, but not as a way to heaven. The ladders have Ashurbanipal's Assyrian army using them to storm the walls!

The C6 AD ladder to the Heavens (left) is clearly influenced by this C7 BC image (right).

Egypt was defeated by the Assyrians in 667 BCE and as a consequence, Assyrian gods were added to the Egyptian Pantheon.

The Assyrians regarded Ashur as their chief god- Ashur was the same as Marduk (again being economical with what I say) and Ashur's symbol is the tree.

A lot of people call it the tree of life,

Originally, in the oldest story the tree could be said to represent kingship: the Huluppu-tree. [LINK]

There is a connection between thrones and what wood they are made of, hinted at in the Nergal myth, and it seems very complicated. But the first throne, according to The Huluppu-tree myth,  was made by Gilgamesh for Inanna.

It is probable that the tree and ruler image began because the kings embodies the hero status of Gilgamesh, as latter Carthaginian kings linked themselves to Heracles.

Meanwhile Ashur floats above the tree like the sun. His winged appearance makes people think of Ezekiel and the Merkabah- the fiery chariot.

Somewhere and sometime the realm of the gods stopped being a terrifying place, too cool for humans. The idea of enlightenment, becoming god-like began to be conceived of as possible...

Ashur is sun-like, he is in the place of Shamash- the all seeing eye. As Marduk (Ashur) set the stars in their place, and as each star is a domain of a god, Ashur I guess can be where ever he pleases.

Back on the ground the bird headed being is not Ashur, but nevertheless this image has been misinterpreted as Horus and ladder...

Ultimatly it looks as if the tree becomes the Cabala....a diagram showing the equilibrium of power radiating from god (I think that is what Cabala is...). Would you call it 'a ladder to the stars'...from Egypt and 'the Hermetica' to the Pythagoreans, to Judaism, to the Neoplatonists, finally trickling down to modern Wicca via books on alchemy and astrology.

The ideas that were developed in Babylon were never destroyed, with its people or walls. For instance, the 360 degrees of the circle and 60 minutes to each hour.
The significance of the Tree is seen in the ancient world among Assyrians and Egyptians. Jews later on inherited the concept of the Tree, apparently from Babylon, slightly modified it and formed Sacred Teachings of Kabbalah, a Jewish mysticism which means, "Ghabel Alahah", in English, "Accept God/Receiving".
But the labyrinth was never really a ladder to the stars, and I can't help but think that the Greeks were barbarians compared to the Assyrians at the time wine and its god Dionysos, came to Athens; those golden tablets and promises of immortality,  the so called 'Orphic' teachings were an attempt to understand the esoteric tradition represented by that tree...

Possibly    :)