by G.R.S.Mead

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Chapter Contents
  The Scope of the Essay   
  The Materials
  The Mythological Orpheus   
  Orpheus, a Generic Name
  The Derivation of the Name   
  The Orphic Dialect
  Pelasgic, Etrurian, or Aeolian
  The “Fable” of the Aeolians
  The Receding Date of Orpheus    
  Caste in the Days of Orpheus
  The Beginnings of Orphic History
  Homer and Hesiod  
  The Pythagoreans and Neo-pythagoreans
  The Neo-platonists  
  General Conclusion
  The Logia
  Secret Works     
  List of Works
  All that is Left to Us   
  Orpheus” the Inventor
  Orpheus the “Magician” 
  The Opinions of the Kabalists  


  Orphic Symbolism
  Clemens Alexandrinus on Symbolism
  Some striking Instances of Orphic Symbolism
  The One God
  The Monadology of Orpheus
  Chart of the Orphic Theogony
  The Orders of the Divine Powers
  The Triads  
  The Primordial Triad
  The Noëtic Triad   
  The Noëtic-Noëric Triad
  The Noëric Triad
  The Supercosmic Triad   
  The Liberated Order    
  The Cosmic Order   
  Chart of the Chaldaen Theogony 
  A Key to the Multiplicity of the Powers
  The Gods and their Shaktis
  Table of the Elements and Spheres
  The Two Creations
  The Trinity
  The Quaternary   
  On Nature and Emanation
  Cyclic Periods and Pralaya




[Page 9] WHO has not heard the romantic legend of Orpheus and Eurydice ? The polished verse of Virgil, in his Georgics (iv.452-527), has immortalized the story, told by 'Caerulean Proteus' (ibid., 388). But few know the importance that mythical Orpheus plays in Grecian legends, nor the many arts and sciences attributed to him by fond posterity. Orpheus was the father of the pan-hellenic faith, the great theologer, the man who brought to Greece the sacred rites of secret worship and taught the mysteries of nature and of God. To him the Greeks confessed they owed religion, the arts, the sciences both sacred and profane; and, therefore, in dealing with the subject I have proposed to myself in this essay, it will be necessary to treat of a theology' which was first mystically and symbolically promulgated by Orpheus, afterwards disseminated enigmatically through images by Pythagoras, and in the last place scientifically unfolded by Plato and his genuine disciples' (T. Taylor's translation of Proclus ' On the Theology of Plato, Introduction i) ; or to use the words of Proclus, the last great master of Neoplatonism, ‘all the theology of the Greeks comes from Orphic mystagogy', that is to say, initiation into the mysteries (Lobeck, Aglaophamus, page 723). Not only did the learned of the Pagan world ascribe the sacred science to the same source but also the instructed of the Christian fathers (ibid., p. 466).It must not however, be supposed that Orpheus was regarded as [Page 10] the 'inventor' of theology but rather as the transmitter of the science of divine things to the Grecian world, or even as the reformer of an existing cult that, even in the early times before the legendary Trojan era, had already fallen into decay. The well-informed among the ancients recognized a common basis in the inner rites of the then existing religions, and even the least mystical of writers admit a 'common bond of discipline', as, for instance, Lobeck, who demonstrates that the ideas of the Egyptians, Chaldaens, Orphics and Pythagoreans were derived from a common source (ibid., page 946).


Seeing, then, that any essay on the legendary personality of Orpheus might legitimately take into its scope the whole theology and mythology of the Greeks, it is evident that the present attempt, which only aims at sketching a rough outline of the subject, will be more exercised in curtailing than in expanding the mass of heterogeneous information that could be gathered together. No human being could do full justice to the task, for even the courage of the most stout-hearted German encyclopaedist would quail before the libraries of volumes dealing directly or indirectly with the general subject. Of books dealing directly with Orpheus and the Orphics, however, there is no great number, and of these the only one of my acquaintance that treats the subject with genuine sympathy is the small volume of Thomas Taylor, The Mystical Hymns of Orpheus.

For many quotations from classical writers I am indebted to the encyclopaedic volumes of Chr. Augustus Lobeck, Aglaophamus, sive de Theologiae Mysticae Graecorum Causis, but only for the quotations, not for the opinions on them. With regard to the Mysteries themselves, I shall speak but incidentally [Page 11] in this essay, as that all important subject must be left for greater leisure and knowledge than are mine at present.


At the end of the essay the reader will find a Bibliography, many of the books in which I have searched through with but poor reward; there is, to my knowledge, no other bibliography on the subject, and the present attempt only mentions the most important works. Not, however, that works bearing directly on Orpheus are by any means numerous, as D. de Sales laments in the early years of the century in his Mémoire:

‘ A few texts scattered among the writers of antiquity and of the middle ages, a feeble notice of Fabricius, six pages of Memoirs of an Academy, the Epigenes of Eschenbach, and the Orpheôs 'Apanta of Gesner – there, in last analysis, you have all the really elementary materials on Orpheus' (Histoire d' Homère et d'Orphée, page 2I).
Since then, besides the work of Lobeck, but little of a satisfactory nature has been done; little on the Continent, nothing in England, as may be easily seen by referring to the best classical dictionaries and encyclopaedias, the articles in which on this subject are hardly worth the paper on which they are printed.

From antiquity we have no text of a Life of Orpheus. D. de Sales says, that if we are to believe Olympiodorus, Herodotus, the father of Grecian history, wrote a Life of Orpheus, but that this work could no longer be found at the end of the Alexandrine cycle (op. cit., p. 3). As his authority, he quotes Photius (Bibliotheca, cod., 80), but I am unable to find the passage in my copy of Photius (1653). That there were several Lives known to the ancients is not improbable, and Constantin [Page 12] Lascaris in the first volume of his Marmor Taurinensis (1743), containing a description of a marble in the Turin Museum, supposed to represent the death of Orpheus, adds the Greek text and Latin translation of a MS. which appears to be based upon these missing works. How little was known on the subject during the scholastic period may be gleaned from the fact that the huge Thesaurus Graecarum Antiquitatum of Gronovius (1695), consisting of no less than eighty-five volumes, contains nothing on the subject.

In spite of this, the legend of Orpheus, as stated by the writer in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica (9th ed., art. 'Orpheus') persisted throughout the middle ages and was finally 'transformed into the likeness of a northern fairy tale', and a rich store of materials for working out the tale may be found in the catalogue of the British Museum under 'Orpheus'.

'In English mediaeval literature it appears in three some-what different versions: Sir Orpheo, a “Lay of Brittany” printed from the Harleian MS. in Ritson's Ancient Metrical Romances, vol. ii; Orpheo and Heurodis from the Auchinleck MS. in David Laing's Select Remains of the Ancient Popular Poetry of Scotland; and Kyng Orfew from the Ashmolean MS. in Halliwell's llIustrations of Fairy Mythology (Shakespeare Soc., !842). The poems bear trace of French influence.'

Surely a legend so wide-spread and so persistent must have had a vigorous life to start with, and that this was the case I hope to show in the following pages. [Page 13]




IT would be too tedious to recite here the various glosses of the Orphic legend, or to enter into a critical examination of its history. On the whole the legend has been preserved with sufficient fidelity in the recitals of the poets and the works of mythographers, and the general outlines of it are sketched as follows by P. Decharme in his Mythologie de la Grèce Antique (pages 616 sq.).

Orpheus was son of Oeagrus, King of Thrace, and Calliope, one of the Muses. He was the first poet and first inspired singer, and his whole life is the history of the results of divine harmony, Lord of the seven-stringed lyre, all men flocked to hear him, and wild beasts lay peacefully at his feet; trees and stones were not unmoved at the music of his heavenly instrument. The denizens of the unseen world and the princes of Hades rejoiced at the tones of his harp. Companion of the Argonauts in their famous expedition, the good ship Argo glides gently over the peaceful sea at the will of his magic strains; the fearsome moving rocks of the Symplegades, that threatened Argo with destruction, were held motionless; the dragon Colchis that watched the golden fleece was plunged in sleep profound.

His master was Apollo; Apollo taught him the lyre. Rising in the night he would climb the heights of Pangaeus to be the first to greet the glorious god of day.

But great grief was in store for the singer of Apollo. His [Page 14] beloved wife Eurydice, while fleeing from the importunities of Aristaeus, was bitten by a serpent hidden in the grass. In vain the desperate husband strove to assuage the pain of his beloved, and the hills of Thrace resounded with his tunefull plaints. ...Eurydice is dead. ...In mad distraction he determines to follow her even to Hades, and there so charms the king of death that Eurydice is permitted to return to earth once more – but on one condition – Orpheus must not look back. And now they had almost recrossed the bounds of death, when at the very last step, so great is his anxiety to see whether his dear wife is still behind him, that he turns to gaze, and Eurydice is instantly reft from his sight (Virgil, Geor., iv.499):

'ex oculis subito ceu fumus in auras commixtus tenues, fugit diversa;'
'quick from his eyes she fled in every way, like smoke in gentle zephyr disappearing.'

The death of Orpheus is variously recounted. Either he died of grief for the second loss of Eurydice, or was killed by the infuriated Bacchanals, or consumed by the lightning of Zeus for revealing the sacred mysteries to mortals. After his death the Muses collected his torn members and buried them. His head and lyre were carried by the waves to Lesbos.


Such is the bare outline of the romantic Orphic Legend. That Orpheus ever existed as one particular person is highly improbable; that Orpheus was the living symbol that marked the birth of theology and science and art in Greece, is in keeping with the general method of mythology, and relieves us from the many absurd hypotheses that historians have devised to reconcile the irreconcilable.[Page 15]

Orpheus was to the Greeks what Veda Vyâsa was to the Hindus, Enoch to the Ethiopians, and Hermes to the Egyptians. He was the great compiler of sacred scriptures: he invented nothing, he handed on. Orpheus, Veda Vyâsa, Enoch, Hermes and others, are generic names. Veda Vyâsa means the 'Veda-arranger'. It is said that the hieroglyphical treatise on the famous Columns of Hermes or Seth, which Joseph affirms were still existing in his time (De Mirville, Pneumatologie, iii.70 ), was the source of the sacred science of ancient Khem, and that Orpheus, Hesiod, Pythagoras and Plato took therefrom the elements of their theology. There was a number of Hermes, the greatest being called Trismegistus, the 'thrice greatest', because he spoke of the 'three greatest' powers that 'veiled the one Divinity' ( Chron. Alexand., p. 47). We also learn from the MS. of Lascaris (Mar. Taurin., 'Prolegg, in Orph.', p. 98) that there were no less than six Orpheis known to antiquity.

Ficinus (De Immort. Anim., XVII.i.386) traces what the Hindus call the Guruparamparâ chain, or succession of teachers as follows:

'In things pertaining to theology there were in former times six great teachers expounding similar doctrines. The first was Zoroaster, the chief of the Magi; the second Hermes Trismegistus, the head of the Egyptian priesthood; Orpheus succeeded Hermes; Aglaophamus was initiated into the sacred mysteries of Orpheus; Pythagoras was initiated into theology by Aglaophamus; and Plato by Pythagoras. Plato summed up the whole of their wisdom in his Letters.'


Although Orpheus is commonly reported to have been a Thracian, there is no certainty in the matter, and this uncertainty [Page 16] has given licence to the most fantastic derivations of his name, put forward by experienced and amateur philoIogers to bolster up their own pet theories. The name Orpheus is derived from the Egyptian, Hebrew, Phoenician, Assyrian, Arabic, Persian or Sanskrit, according to the taste or inventive faculty of the philological apologist. Professor Max Müller, in order to support the solar myth theory, derives the name from 'Ribhu' or' Arbhu', of the Rig Veda, an epithet of Indra; Indra being said to be one of the names of the Sun (cf. Comparative Mythology). The name is also traced to the Alp or Elf of Teutonic folklore. Larcher says that Orpheus was an Egyptian; or, or oros standing for Horus, and phe or pho in Coptic signifying 'to engender' (Trad. d'Hérod., ii.266, n.). And no doubt there will be writers who will 'prove' that the name Orpheus is from radicals in Chinese, Esquimaux, Maya, or even Volapük ! There is very little that cannot be proved or disproved by such philology.


It is, however, interesting to note that the original Hymns were written in a very ancient dialect. Clavier supposes that it was only after the Homeric poets had accustomed Grecian ears to a smoother tongue that the original dialect of these sacred Hymns was altered (Hist. des Premiers Temps de la Grèce, i.85 ; quoted by Rolle, Recherches sur le Culte de Bacchus, iii, 21 ). Jamblichus says that the Hymns were originally written in the Doric dialect (De Vitâ Pythag., xxxiv), but Diodorus Siculus (iii.66) simply uses the word 'archaic' ἀρχαϊκὣἣ: τᾒτε διαλέκτῳ καἰ τοἳϛ γράμμασι χρησάμενοϛ. What the particular dialect was, it is difficult to say; the learned among the ancients who busied themselves about such matters, said that the names of the gods and the most sacred things were from the 'language of the gods' (cf. Proclus, [Page 17] Com. in Polit., p. 397; Com. in Crat., p. 38; Com. in Tim., ii.84; also Gregory Naz., Or., iii.99, and Maximus Tyrius, vi.86).This is most clearly set forth by Jamblichus (De Mysteriis, vii.4) :

For it was the gods who taught the sacred nations ....... the whole of their sacred dialect. They who learned the first names concerning the gods, mingled them with their own tongue. ..and handed them down to us.'


Thomas Taylor (The Mystical Hymns of Orpheus, p. xli) asserts that the letters referred to in the words of Diodorus Siculus, which I have quoted above, were Pelasgic, and adds in a note, 'these letters are the old Etrurian or Eolian, and are perhaps more ancient than the Cadmian or Ionic'. The interesting point is that this agrees with the conclusions of a number of writers, among others J. F. Gail (Recherches sur la Nature du Culte de Bacchus en Grèce, p. 3), that the poems of Orpheus date back to Pelasgic Greece, to the days of legend, to pre-historic times. Taylor speaks of these letters being Etrurian; if that be so, they may have belonged to the alphabet of that great nation which came from the West, beyond the Pillars of Hercules, and subdued ‘Africa within the Straits as far as Egypt, and Europe as far as Tyrrhenia (Etruria)', as Plato tells us in the Critias (sec. iii). This nation came from the Atlantic Ocean, from an archipelago consisting of an 'island larger than Africa and Asia put together' and 'many other smaller ones'. The Africa and Asia of Solon's time were not of the present dimensions, but consisted of Africa as known to the Egyptians and our present Asia Minor – a sufficiently large territory , however, even at that. [Page 18]

What the language of 'Orpheus' was I must, therefore, leave to more capable philologists than myself.


Taylor, however, says that the Pelasgic letters were 'the old Etrurian or Eolian', but whether he connects the old Etruscans with the Aeolians, or simply puts an alternative, is not clear. In either case it is interesting to refer to the suggestion put forward in the series of articles in the old numbers of The Theosophist, entitled 'Some Enquiries suggested by Esoteric Buddhism , (see Five Years of Theosophy, pp. 209 sq.). These articles speak of the 'old' Greeks and Romans as being 'remnants of the Atlanteans', and define the attribute 'old' as referring to 'the eponymous ancestors (as they are called by Europeans) of the Aeolians, Dorians and Ionians'. Now this Atlantis of Plato, that may for convenience be called Poseidonis, was submerged some 13,000 years ago, according to the priests of Saïs, but 'a number of small islands scattered around Poseidonis had been vacated, in consequence of earthquakes, long before the final catastrophe ...... Tradition says that one of the small tribes (the Aeolians) who had become islanders after emigrating from far northern countries, had to leave their home again for fear of a deluge ...... . Frightened by the frequent earthquakes and the visible approach of the cataclysm, this tribe is said to have filled a flotilla of arks , to have sailed from beyond the Pillars of Hercules, and, sailing along the coasts, after several years of travel, to have landed on the shores of the Aegean Sea in the land of Pyrrha (now Thessaly), to which they gave the name of Aeolia ....... All along the coasts of Spain, France, and Italy the AEolians often halted, and the memory of their “magical feats” still survives among the descendants of the old Massilians, of the tribes of the later [Page 19] Carthago Nova, and the seaports of Etruria and Syracuse.' The writer then goes on to enquire what was the language of the Atlantean Aeolians (page 212.), and finally speaks of it as a 'sacred hieratic or sacerdotal language' (page 214).


This fabled immigration of the Aeolians fits in well with the Orphic Argonautica and opens up a most fruitful field of enquiry in the pre-historic Hellenic period. Moreover, it pushes back the date of Orpheus and his times many cycles of years and widens out the scope of Pelasgic speculations. Who were these Pelasgians who are said to be the 'autochthones', when the legendary Inachus, Cecrops, Cadmus, Danaus and Deucalion, are fabled to have led their colonies from Phoenicia and elsewhere into the land of Hellas? If we are to believe Plato, these Pelasgi were the degenerate descendants of a great race that once had its capital in Attica, and was the successful opponent of the Atlantic empire in its palmy days. Of these men, he says (Critias, sec. iv), 'the names are preserved; though their deeds have become extinct through the death of those that handed them down and the lapse of time'. For 'the race that survived were a set of unlettered mountaineers, who had heard the names only of the (once) ruling people of the land, but very little of their deeds'. These names they gave to their children and so handed them down.


At the time of the Great War women had equal rights with men (Critias, loc. cit.).

'The figure and image of the goddess [ Athene ] shows that at that time both men and women entered in common on [Page 20] the pursuits of war; a proof that all animals that consort together, females as well as males, have a natural ability to pursue in common every suitable virtue.'

This once great nation was divided into castes, or tribes ἔθνη viz., those 'engaged in crafts and culture of the soil' (Vaishyas), and the 'warrior' caste τὸ μάχιμον which received nothing from the rest of the citizens but a sufficiency of food and requisites for training. These (Kshatriyas) were set apart by 'divine men' ὑπ̓ ἀνδρὣν θεἱω who were the real rulers. In other words the government was that of an adept priesthood (the true Brâhmans).

What was the language of these 'divine men' ? Who can say ? But I fear that I have wandered far in pursuing this interesting clue, and will conclude the present part of my subject by endorsing the words of Münter (Comment. Antiq., page 42): 'it is evident that the language of the gods, according to the view of the ancients, was the archaic speech of living men.' And Arnobius (Contra Gentes, iv.29) tells us that the 'gods were once men' (deos homines fuisse). And for some similar reason it is that the Hindus call the character in which their ancient sacred books are written, the Devanâgâri or 'alphabet of the gods'.


From the above it may be easily seen that it is hopeless, in the present state of our information, to attempt to treat the legend of Orpheus from a historical point of view, in the ordinary acceptation of the term. We only approach the historical period when we descend to the times of Homer, though indeed even then we have not entirely reached it. The Stemma, or line of descent, of the Gens Orphica, places ten generations of poets, or schools of poets, between Orpheus and Homer, as may be seen from Charax (apud [Page 21] Suid., sub voc. 'Homerus') and Proclus (Vit. Hom., in Bib. Vet. Ut. et Art., i.8).


Homer, or the Homeric School, however, does not mention Orpheus by name, but Clemens Alexandrinus (Strom., vi.738) affirms that he took many things from Orpheus, and Taylor, translating from the Scholia of Proclus on the Cratylus of Plato, shows how and why Homer does not venture on the loftier flight of Orpheus, and so also with regard to Hesiod (Myst. Hymns of Orpheus, pages. 184-185). From all of which we gather that the original poems of Orpheus are lost in the night of time.

We are further informed that the substance of these poems was preserved by various translations into the then vernacular; that there were various collections and recensions of them made by various poets, philosophers, and schools.


The first to undertake the task was Pherecydes (Suidas, sub voc.). Pherecydes is said to have been the master of Pythagoras, and to have obtained his knowledge from the secret books of the Phoenicians (Smith's Dict. of Gr. and Rom. Biog. and Mythol., sub voc.). He is further stated to have been the pupil of the Chaldaeans and Egyptians (Joseph., c. Apion., p. 1034, e; Cedrenus, i.94, b; Theodorus Melitenista,Proam. in Astron., c. 12). The most important subject he treated of, was the doctrine of metempsychosis and the immortality of the soul (Suidas, and Cicero, Tusc., i.16), and this he set forth in his great prose work Theologia, generally known as the 'Seven Adyta' Έπτά - μνχοϛ. He is said to have been the first who used prose for such a subject. From all of which it appears that Pherecydes, by his training and knowledge, [Page 22] was a very fit person to undertake so important a task, and it is further an additional proof of the mystical nature of the Orphic Scriptures.


Onomacritus is the next known editor of Orpheus in antiquity. His date is given generally as 520-485 B.C., but if we are to believe Clemens Alexandrinus (Strom., i.332) and Tatian (Adv. Graec., 62), he must be put back as far as 580 B.C. It would be too tedious to recount here the long controversy as to the precise relation of Onomacritus to the Orphic writings. Some have even gone so far as to say that he 'invented' them. We learn, however, that Onomacritus was rather a priest than a poet, who collected all the ancient writings he could in support of the mystic theology of the Greeks. Hence he has always been looked upon as one of the chief leaders of the Orphic theology and the Orphic societies (Smith, op. cit., sub voc.). Onomacritus is said to have been instructed by the priests of Delphi (Müller, Prolegg. Mythol., p. 309),and Pausanius(viii.37) states that he was the 'founder' of Dionysian rites. But there is nothing very certain in all this, and the controversy can be infinitely prolonged. Other editors are mentioned, such as Brontius, Cercops, Zopyrus, Prodicus, Theognetus, and Persinus (Lobeck, op. cit., 347 and 350 ), but of these nothing of importance is known.


N. Fréret (Mém. de I' Acad., xxiii.261) states that after the dispersal of the Pythagorean School in Magna Graecia, at the end of the sixth century B.C., the surviving disciples attached themselves to the Orphic Communities. The School of [Page 23] Pythagoras had become suspected by the civil power, and those members who survived the persecution, following as they did a peculiar discipline and a life apart from men, could only find refuge among the adherents of a cult with an inner doctrine, and this they found in the so-called Bacchic Communities. There they could follow out that life of self-discipline and abnegation which Plato calls the Orphic Life.This for a time vitalized the sacred tradition, which was gradually growing fainter and fainter, and in the days of Plato (De Legg., ii) fell into much disrepute. Then it was that Plato intellectualized it as being the only way to preserve it from further profanation. Thus it is that Plato in Greece did for the theology of Orpheus what Shankarâchârya in India did for the theosophy of the Upanishads. So it continued until the days when the spiritual forces were seething in the chaldron of the first centuries of the Christian era.


For it is to the Neoplatonists of these centuries that we owe most of our information as to the inner meanings of the Orphic theology; and, indeed, scepticism enthroned in high places dismisses the whole matter blandly by informing us that this School of Later Platonists not only wrote the interpretation of the Theology, but the original poems themselves! We respectfully bow before the brilliancy of scepticism's imagination, but even were we dazzled by it, would have to admit that the successors of Plotinus were, even so, very wonderful people.

Suidas tells us that about the end of the first century A.D., Charax, priest of Pergamus, wrote a 'Synthesis of the Logia of Orpheus, Pythagoras, and Plato' ονμφωνία Όρφέωϛ, Πνθαγόρον καἰ Πλάτωνοϛ περἰ τἁ λόγια also that Damascius, the Syrian, the last of the Neoplatonists, who lived at the [Page 24] end of the fifth and the beginning of the sixth century, wrote on the same subject.

Marinus (Vit. Proc., xx) also tells us that the Lycian Proclus, surnamed the Platonic Successor Διάοδοχοϛ Πλατωνικόϛ who was born A.D. 412., so loved these hymns that he had them recited to him in his dying moments. Proclus' master, Syrianus, also, as Suidas relates, composed a 'Synthesis of Orpheus, Pythagoras, and Plato'. Both master and pupil wrote 'Commentaries on the Orphic Theology', and Syrianus also wrote 'Readings in Orpheus' Όρφικαὶ Συνουσίαι but not one of these valuable works, unfortunately, has come down to us (cf. Bode, Orpheus Poetarum Graecorum Antiquissimus, p. 38; Proclus in Plat. Tim. 2., Fabric. i.142.; Eschenbach, Epig. praef. Ouwaroff, De Myst. Eleus., p. 57).

Hierocles, the Alexandrian, who also lived about the middle of the fifth century, wrote a Synthesis of the Logia (
Photius, Bibl., ccxxiv).

Asclepiades Mendes, an Egyptian theologist, attempted the same task in a work called 'Synthesis of all Theologies' (τὣν θεολογιὣν άπασὣνἡ σνμφωνία, Suidas, sub voc. 'Heraïscus' ; generally known as τὰ θεολογούμενα cf.Suetonius in Aug. c. 94).

Such synthetic treatises were numerous enough in those days, but all have been lost. The efforts to restore the universal traditional wisdom (Pammythosophia) failed, and the work that had been done was destroyed and burned, not without the accompaniment of much cursing. Thus it is that I we read the record of the work of some now unknown theosophist Aristocrites, preserved in the following anathema: 'I anathematize also the book of Aristocrites, which , he calls Theosophy, in which he attempts to show that Judaism and Hellenism, and Christianism and Manichaism are one and the same doctrine' (from the 'Cursing of the Manichaeans', Cotelerius ad Clement. Recog., iv. 544). [Page 25]

Photius also (Bibl., clxx ) tells us of an anonymous Constantinopolitan of the seventh century, who made a synthesis of the theosophical teachings of the Greeks, Persians, Thracians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Chaldaeans, and Romans, and endeavoured to show their agreement with Christianity; at which Lobeck (op. cit., page 346) can do no better than sneer.


We, therefore, conclude that Orpheus is not a 'historical' personage in the accepted sense of the term; that the tracing of the origins of the Orphic writings, though opening up many interesting questions, is a matter of great difficulty; that, in spite of this, the persistent tradition of the mythical founder of Grecian theology, and the great honour in which Orpheus was held by so many generations and by the highest intellects of antiquity, are all-sufficient proofs that that theology came from a venerable and archaic source; that this source is such as a student of comparative religion and theosophy would naturally expect; and that, therefore, the opinion of Aristotle that 'Orpheus never existed’ does not come to us as a shock, but rather as a confirmation of the truth of our contention from the point of view of a careful and critical intellect. We admit the truth of Aristotle's opinion as stated by Cicero (De Nat. Deorum, i.38), though this sentence cannot be traced in the known texts of the famous Stageirite, but limit the phrase 'Orpheum poetam docet Aristoteles numquam fuisse' to the sense of a historically known poet, such as, for instance, Pindar. In brief, the Orphic Origins are lost in the night of Time. [Page 26]




I HAVE already in the last chapter spoken of several Syntheses or Symphonies of the Logia of the great teachers of classical antiquity. Now a Logion is a 'great saying', and it has precisely the same meaning as Mahâ-vâkyam, the technical term applied to the twelve great mystical utterances of the Upanishads, such as 'That art Thou,' etc. These Logia , were universally recognized as words of wisdom, and were the most sacred legacies of the sages to humanity. They were collected together and formed the most precious 'deposits', διαθκαι of the various nations, the same term being also given to the Christian Bible.

Thus Herodotus calls Onomacritus a 'depository of oracles' διαθέτην χρησμὣν the word carrying the meaning of 'one who arranges', corresponding to the term Vyâsa in Sanskrit. These collections of Logia were then generally called 'deposits', the word also bearing the meaning of 'testaments' as containing the divine will or dispensation.The same word is used by Strabo (x.482.) of the Laws of Lycurgus, and ecclesiastical writers refer to the canonical books as ἐνδιαθετοι (Eusebius, Chron., p. 99 a). Hence it is that the commentators or arrangers of these scriptures are called διαθέται, the name applied by Herodotus to Onomacritus. Grotius declares that the term δαθήκη was applied by the Orphics and Pythagoreans to such sacred laws (cf. Jablonski, ii.397). [Page 27]

These collections were also called Sacred Utterances, Ίεροἰ Λόγοι and Clemens Alexandrinus refers to one such saying of Orpheus as that 'truly sacred utterance' τòν őντως ίερòν λόγον -Lobeck, op. Cit., p. 714).


Such books were very carefully guarded and were the secret scriptures or bibles of many states. Cicero (De Div., i.44) speaks of such a Bible of the Veii. The Athenians, in the time of the kings, possessed a similar Bible of Logia (Herodotus, V.90), and Dinarchus (Or. c. Demost. 91. 20) tells us that the safety of the state depended on this secret scripture ὰπορρήτουϛ διαθήκαϛ. These occult sayings ἁπόθετα ἕπη are further called by Suidas (sub voc.) 'withdrawn volumes' βιβλία ὰνκεχωρηκότα that is to say, books withdrawn from public perusal, or in other words, apocryphal, hidden or secret ἀπόκρυφα. And not only was this the case with the ancient writings themselves, but also with the commentaries upon them, and by degrees with everything referring to them, until finally we find Themistius, the Rhetorician, in the fourth century, speaking of that 'mass of archaic wisdom not open to the public or in general circulation, but scarce and occult’ στîφοϛ ἁρχαίϛ σοφίαϛ οὐ κοινἣς οὐδε ἐν μέσῳ κυλινδουμένηϛ ἀλλὰ σπανίου καὶ ἀποθέτου — Themist, Or., iv.60.

To the same class of writing we must undoubtedly refer the most precious of the Orphic scriptures, especially as we find that the Hymns were used in the Mysteries. But besides these there was a host of works on various and widely differing subjects, generally referred to Orpheus, of the majority of which we only possess the titles. The following list of such works is taken from Lobeck (op. cit., pp. 361-410). [Page 28]


1. Amocopia (Άμοκοπία) : a title of unknown meaning. Perhaps it signifies the' Art of the Good Shepherd' (Άμνοσκοπία ἀμνὸϛ) meaning ‘a lamb,’and σκοπία ‘watching’; or it may mean 'divination by sheep'.

2. The Argolid (Άργολικά) : probably an epic poem.

3. The Argonauts (Άργοναυτικά): the famous Argonautic Expedition.

4. The Laws of the Stars (Άστρονομικά).

5. The Bacchic Rites (Βακχικά).

6. On Plants (Περὶ Βοταων).

7. Agriculture (Γεωπονικά): especially dealing with the influence of the moon. See no.11.

8. The Deposits (Διαθκαι): see under heading 'Logia'.

9. The Net (Δίκτυον ) : see no. 28.

10. Twin Natures ( Διφυἣ ).

11. The Twelve Year Cycles (Δωδεκαετηρίδεϛ);  Works and Days (Έργα καὶ Ημέραι ), the appropriate days for planting, etc; and The Calendar (Έφημερίδεϛ).

Such works were usually referred to under the general title ' Agriculture' (περὶ γεωργίαϛ); nor were they mere treatise on farming, but dealt with nature-workings and the alchemy of the unseen forces of the world-envelope. Thus the famous Book of Nabathaean Agriculture dealt with the worship of the Babylonians. This book is stated by the Arabic translator — (A.D. 904), Abû -Bekr A'hmed ben 'Ali ben Wa'hschîjah el Kâsdani, or the Chaldaean, to have been written in Nabathaean or ancient Chaldaic, to have consisted of nine volumes, and to have been compiled by three sages, between the first and last of whom elapsed no less than 18,000 years. (See Chwolsohn's Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus, 2. vols., 8vo, Petersburg, 1856, ii.705.) This book dealt not only with [Page 29] agriculture but with religious worship, magical rites and invocations, the occult powers of herbs and plants, etc. (See Lucifer, xiii.381, art, 'Ssabians and Ssabianism'.) Moreover we should recollect that the great hero in the Eleusinian Mysteries was Triptolemus (Pliny, Hist. Nat., vii.56; Callimachus, Hymn, in Cererem, 22.; Virgil, Georg., i.19), who was fabled to have taught mankind 'agriculture', in other words all the arts and sciences. He was the first priest of the Great Mother, to whom she imparted all her mysteries. Triptolemus is generally represented as mounted on a winged car drawn by serpents (Élite Céramographique, iii.48-68 ; Gerhard, Auserles. Vasenbilder, tab. 41 sq.). This is evidently a mythological reminiscence of the 'divine men' who taught primitive humanity all its arts and sciences.

12. The Epigrams (Έπιγράμματα).

13. The Theogony (Θεογονία) : the degrees of the divine emanation, or the genealogy of the divine powers.

14. The Enthronings of the Great Mother (Θρονισμοὶ Μητρὣοι): this refers to the mystic rite known as 'Incathedration', which Dion Chrysostom mentions (Or., xii.387). The adepts (οἱ τελοντεϛ) enthroned the candidate (τὸνμυούμενον) and circled round him in a mystic dance. In the same passage Dion speaks of the accompaniment of strange mystic sounds and alternations of light and darkness — (πολλὣν δὲ ἀκοὑοντα τοιούτων, Φων ὣν σκότουϛ τε και φωτὸϛ ἐνάλλαξ αὐτῳ φαινομένων ). It was no doubt a ceremony representing cosmic phenomena and their application to spiritual development, the candidate representing the sun and the enactors of the drama representing the planets; or in other words the glorification of the conquering sun, or perfected aspirant, by the subordinate powers. Proclus, in Plat. Theol. (vi. 13), speaking of the order to which the Corybantic powers [Page 30] belonged, writes: Plato, being persuaded by the mysteries, and by what is performed in them, indicates concerning these unpolluted Gods........ In the Euthydemus he makes mention of the collocation on a throne, which is performed in the Corybantic mysteries.

15. Incensing (Θυηπολικό).

16. The Sacred Sayings (Ίεροὶ Λόγοι): see under 'Logia'.

17 and 18. The Sacred Vestiture (Ιεροστολικά), and  The Rite of the Girdle (Καταζ ωστικόν): candidates on their initiation were invested with a band or cord. This reminds us of the Brahmanical thread and Pârsi kusti. It may also have reference to the symbolical draping of the temple statues.

19. The Descent into Hades (Κατάβασιϛ ἐϛ Άιδου ) :

20. The Earth-Regions (Κλίσειϛ Κοσμικαί) : Astrologers assigned seven regions or 'climates' (climata, κλίσειϛ) to the Earth. It has been suggested, however, that the proper reading is Κτίσειϛ Κοσμκαί which would make the work treat of 'The Building of the Kosmos'.

21. The Corybantics (Κορυβαντικά): probably having reference to the 'enthronings' and the myth of the Corybantes, who guarded the cradle of the young Bacchus with circle dances and musical sounds.

22. The Cup (Κρατήρ): this was also the title of one of the Hermetic works. It is the Cup offered by the Deity to the souls, from which they drink the wine of wisdom. This may be compared with the symbology of the Grail Legend, and will be treated of later on. It also refers to the World-Soul.

23. On Precious Stones (Λιθικά): the nature and engraving of precious stones as talismans.

24. On Myth-making (Μυθοποιϊα): that is to say, the art and rules of the making of myths or sacred narratives. [Page 31]

25. Temple-Building (Νεωτευκτικά): this reminds us of the famous 'canon of proportion' known to the temple-architects of antiquity, but difficult now to discover (cf. M. Vitruvius Pollio, De Architectura, ix).

26. The Art of Names (Όνομαστικά): treating of the names of the gods and their interpretation.

27. The Orphic Oaths (Όρκοι Όρφικοί): the oaths or pledges taken in the Mysteries.

28. The Veil (Πέπλοϛ): in the public processions of the Panathenaea this famous mystic Veil or Web (cf. no.9) was borne aloft like the sail of a galley, but this was only the symbol. Mystically it signified the Veil of the Universe studded with stars, the many-coloured Veil of Nature (cf. Philo, De Som., i, p. 92., vol. v, Pfeiff. — τὸ παμποίκιλον ὕφασμα, τουτονὶ τὸν κόσμον ). This was the famous Veil of Isis, that no 'mortal' had raised, for that Veil was the Spiritual Vesture of the man himself, and to raise it he had to transcend the limits of individuality, break the bonds of death, and so become immortal. Eschenbach (p. 5 I) is also quite correct in referring this to the famous Net of Vulcan in which Mars and Venus were taken, and the gods (cosmic powers) laughed in high Olympus. Aristotle, quoting the Orphic writings, speaks of the 'animal born in the webs of the net' (De Gen. Anim.,II.i.613, c). Photius (clxxxv) tells us that the book of Dionysius Aegeensis, entitled Netting (Δικτακά), treated of the generation of mortals. And Plato himself (Tim., p. 1079, F) likens the intertwining of the nerves, veins and arteries, to the 'net work of a basket' or a bird cage. Johannes Protospatharius (Hes. Opp., V.777 says that: 'Homer calls Nature a woman, weaving a web with purple threads ( our bodies with crimson fluids [lit. blood]), or a marble loom (our bones).' And Hippolytus (De [Page 32] Antichr., iii.6, Fabr.) speaks of the 'warp and woof, the flesh woven by the spirit'. But all these are only the lower correspondences of the real Web of Destiny, which resides in the spiritual nature itself.

29. On Earthquakes (Περὶ Σεισμών).

30. The Sphere (Σθαϊρα).

31. Songs of Deliverance (Σωτήρια).

32. The Mystic Rites (Τελεταί): see no. 34.

33 .The Triads (Τριαγμοί).

34. The Hymns (Υμνοι): these Hymns were used in the Mysteries, as may be seen from the following arguments, which I have summarized from Taylor's introduction to The Mystical Hymns of Orpheus (pp. xxxiv-xxxix).

Lycomedes says that these Hymns were used in the sacred rites pertaining to Ceres, i.e., the Eleusinia, an honour not accorded to the Homeric hymns, although the latter were the more elegant. And this is borne out by Pausanias (Attica, xxxvii), who, stating 'that it is not lawful to ascribe the invention of beans to Ceres,’ remarks: 'he who has been initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries, or has read the poems called Orphic, will know what I mean.' Porphyry (De Abstinentia, iv) tells us that beans were forbidden in the Eleusinia. Again, Suidas informs us that the word τελετῄ signifies a mystic sacrifice, the greatest and most venerable of all. This word, or its cognates, occurs in nearly every Hymn, and Proclus (in Plat. Theol. and in Comm. in Alcibiad.), whenever he speaks of the Eleusinia, calls them the most holy 'Teletai' (ἁγιὡταται τελετ
αί) . In fact, the Thryllitian MS. calls the Hymns 'Teletai', and Scaliger remarks that they contain nothing but such invocations as were used in the Mysteries. Moreover, Demosthenes (Or. c. Aristogit.) speaks of 'Orpheus, our instructor in most holy Teletai'. Further, it is evident from several of the Hymns that the rites enjoined in them were [Page 33] performed at night. Now the lesser mysteries, or those in which the drama of the rape of Proserpine was enacted, were performed at night, and Sallust (De Deis et Mundo, iv) informs us that this drama represented the 'descent of souls' – which mystic descent is said by Plato in the Republic (Bk. x) to take place at midnight. From all of which I think it may be fairly concluded 'that these Hymns not only pertained to the Mysteries, but that they were used in the celebration of the Eleusinian, which, by way of eminence (κατ̓ἐξοχὴν ) were called The Mysteries, without any other note of distinction'. And I may further add that this disposes entirely of the theory that the Orphics had nothing to do with the Eleusinia proper.

35. The Physics ( Φυσικά): not in our sense of the word. 'Those who investigated the hidden powers, laws and sympathies of Nature were called Physici' (qui occultas rerum naturalium vires rationesque et sympathias scrutantur, physici dici solent. -Lobeck, op. cit., page 753).

36. The Oracles (Χρησμοί).

37. Oomancy (Ώοσκοπικά) : divination by means of the eggs of certain birds. The white of the egg was used by the clairvoyant priest as a mirror of futurity.


Such are the titles of the works classed under the vague heading 'Orphic'. Nearly all are known by their title only, not a line of their texts remains, and scholars busy themselves with ascribing even such scraps of the flotsam and jetsam from the great wrecks of antiquity to some slightly known or entirely obscure writer who compiled a work (also now lost) with a somewhat similar title. The texts that do remain may be found in any Orphei Opera Omnia, as, for instance, of Gesner, and consist of simply the Argonautica, Hymni, Libellus [Page 34] de Lapidibus and some Fragmenta, on all of which the brains of scholasticism have been employed more to prove external illegitimacy than internal consanguinity. The Argonautica (not to be confounded with the well-known poem by Apollonius Rhodius) contain 1,373 verses; the Hymns are generally given as eighty-six in number, nearly all being very short; the Lithica consist of a 'proem' of ninety lines, a 'hypothesis' of seventy-nine, and descriptions of twenty stones, varying from 129 to four lines. The real Hymns of the Mysteries (whether we possess correct translations of the actual Hymns in those now remaining is extremely doubtful) were guarded with great secrecy (sub sancti silentii sacramento commendata mystis — Gesner in Prolegg., p. xxvii). Suidas says that the Lithica were included in the 'Teletai', that is to say, had to do with the same rites, and we are told that such talismans are without efficacy if not properly 'consecrated'. Students of the Kabalah of the Jews and Chaldaeans, and of the Mantravidyâ of the Hindus, will then very easily comprehend the connection between the 'hymns' and 'engraving' of talismans, and it may be further deduced, if it were not immediately apparent, that the Hymns were of the same nature as the Mantras of the Rig Veda.


From a consideration of the titles and nature of the book ascribed to Orpheus, it is not surprising to find him spoken of as the 'inventor' of all the arts and sciences, and the father of civilization. He was the poet, the interpreter of the fates, the master of the healing art and the inaugurator of mystic ritual. He, therefore, invented the measures of sacred verse, he was the teacher of Mantravidya; he discovered the alphabet, was the maker of hieroglyphics and symbols; he wrote down the prophecies and oracles, and devised the means of [Page 35] purifying the soul and the body; he was the high priest of all mystic rites, the king-initiator. What matter of surprise, then, is it that all such attainments and such powers were summed up in the one word 'magic'.


As Apuleius (Apol., 1.326) says: 'They who study providence in human affairs with greater care [than others] and approach the divine powers (deos) with greater frequency, are vulgarly called magicians (Magos), as were of old Epimenides and Orpheus, and Pythagoras and Ostanes.' And Apollonius (Epp., xvi.390) says that the 'followers of Orpheus should be called magicians (μάγουϛ)'. Pausanias (vi.2.0) further cites an Egyptian opinion that 'Orpheus was skilled in magic', and Dio, Maximus, Heraclides, Quintilian and Macrobius, say that it was not the wild beasts that were charmed, so much as that men of wild and unruly nature were brought back to a milder form of life by Orpheus. Euripides (Cyclop., 639) speaks of the 'spell of Orpheus' ( ἐπῳδὴ Όρφικὴ ) which the Satyrs desired to possess. It is a power that works of its own will, like the 'thunder-bolt', and reminds us of Thor's Hammer, the Miölnir, symbolized in the East by the Svastika , svastikaand recalls the Âgneyâstra, the 'fire weapons', or magic powers, spoken of in the Purânas and Râmâyana (see Wilson's Specimens of the Hindu Theatre, i.297; and The Dream of Râvan, pp. 120-137). These Astras or 'supernatural weapons' were the higher powers of that art of which the lowest effects are seen in ‘hypnotic suggestion', etc., and the science is known in Sanskrit as Astra-vidyâ


It will not be out of place to record here the opinions of [Page 36] three learned Kabalists on Orpheus. First, then, let us summon Picus Mirandulanus into court (Opp., p. 106, ed. Basil.):

'Although it is not permitted us to publicly explain the secrets of magic, which we in the first place extracted from the Hymns of Orpheus, nevertheless it will be of advantage to indicate their nature by hints drawn from the leading ideas of his aphorisms, in order to engage the attention of contemplative minds. The names of the gods, of whom Orpheus sings, are not the titles of deceiving demons but the designations of divine virtues. Just as the Psalms of David are admirably designed for the 'work' of the Kabalah, so are the Hymns of Orpheus for natural magic. The number of the Hymns of Orpheus [ ? 88] is the same as the number by which the three-fold deity created the aeon, numerated under the form of the Pythagorean quaternary. He who does not know perfectly how to intellectualize sensible properties by the method of occult analogy, will never arrive at the real meaning of the Hymns of Orpheus. The Curetes of Orpheus are the same as the powers of Dionysius. The Orphic Typhon is the same as the Zamael of the Kabalah. The Night of Orpheus is the En Suph of the Kabalah', etc.

And we may add that the Pseudo-Dionysius, whose works were the source of mediaeval Christian mysticism, and were held in the greatest reverence by Thomas Aquinas, Tauler and Meister Eckhart, were copied from the order of the divine hierarchies as set forth by Plotinus, Jamblichus, and Proclus, who all, through Plato and Pythagoras, based themselves on Orpheus.

Next Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim writes as follows in his Philosophia Occulta (II.lviii.203):

'The names of celestial souls are many and diverse on account of their manifold powers and virtues with regard to lower objects. Hence have they been allotted the diverse [Page 37] names which the ancients used in their hymns and invocations. In this connection we make remark that every soul of this kind is said, according to the Orphic theology, to have a double virtue, polarized into an intellectual and a vivifying nature. Thus we find in the heavenly spheres the Cribronian Bacchus ( Λικνίτηϛ) and the muse Calliope, and in the heaven of [fixed] stars Picionius (Περικιόνιοϛ) and Urania. In the heaven of Saturn, Amphietus and Polyhymnia; in the heaven of Jupiter, Sabasius and Terpsichore; in the heaven of Mars, Bassarius and Clio,' etc.
Finally Athanasius Kircher, in his explanation of the Isiaic Tablet, writes as follows (Oed. Ae., iii.I23):
‘All this, Orpheus correctly and graphically described: 'Holy Lady, many-named, sceptre bearer of the famous pole, thou, who holdest the midmost throne of all; Lord, who from the Bear holdest the seals of the nine!' And Hecataeus, quoted by Clemens Alexandrinus, tells us that the polar plane was, among the Egyptians, indicated by an ennead [ or hierarchy of nine], and Psellus that the all-embracing power of the Bear rules with nine holy seals.'
From these opinions we learn that those who had a knowledge of occult nature took a totally different view of the Orphic Hymns and writings from the mere scholiast, philologer or archaeologist. It is further interesting to note that Picus refers to the Psalms as having certain magical properties; in other words, the Psalms were originally Songs of Initiation and invocations, like the Mantras of the Rig Veda. I was recently told at Rome by a learned priest, that a musician had just re-discovered the ancient rhythm (called by the Hindus Svara) of the Psalms, that although this was known to have existed in antiquity, no scholar had been able to discover it, but that musical genius had at last come to the help of the incapacity of scholarship. Moreover, that [Page 38] the old bulls of the Pope had a certain rhythm, and without this rhythm none were genuine. That is to say that the Pope when speaking ex cathedra was supposed to be under a certain afflatus or inspiration. [Page 39]




TAYLOR says that the Grecian theology was first 'mystically and symbolically' promulgated by Orpheus, and so at once goes to the root of the whole matter. To understand that theology, therefore, we must treat it from the point of view of mysticism and symbolism, for no other method is capable of extracting its meaning. Moreover, in this we only follow the methods and opinions of its own adepts, for, as Proclus says: 'The whole theology of the Greeks is the child of Orphic mystagogy; Pythagoras being first taught the “orgies” of the gods ['orgies' signifying 'burstings forth' or 'emanations', from [ὀργάω ] by Aglaophemus, and next Plato receiving the perfect science concerning such things from the Pythagorean and Orphic writings' (quoted by Lobeck, page 723; who unfortunately gives no reference, and so far I have not been able to discover the passage in Proclus).

These symbolical Orphic fables have for ages baffled the intelligence of rationalistic literalists, and shocked the prudery of ecclesiastics who, erroneously regarding the Jewish myths as actual realities, have fallen into the same error with regard to the fables of Orpheus. Nonnus states the simple fact in saying (Expos. in II Invect, c. xvii, 526):   'Orpheus describes the series of powers, and the modes, energizings and powers of being, by means of fabulous symbols; and these fables he composes not without shameful [Page 40] obscenity'. This 'shameful obscenity' refers to the stories of rape, incest, dismemberment, etc., of the Gods, so familiar to us in Grecian mythology; all of which things would be highly improper, if recited of men or anthropomorphic entities, but which are at once removed from such a gross interpretation, when understood as symbolical representations of the emanations of divine and lesser powers, and the interactions of occult natures. It is contrary to the most elementary ideas of justice to ascribe thoughts and intentions to the ancient makers of these myths, which only exist in the prurient minds and ignorant misconceptions of posterity.

Thus we find Proclus (Theol., I. iv 9) writing, 'the Orphic method aimed at revealing divine things by means of symbols, a method common to all writers of divine lore (θεομυθίαϛ and Plutarch (De Pyth. Orac., xviii), 'formerly the wisdom-lovers exposed their doctrines and teachings in poetical fictions, as, for example, Orpheus and Hesiod and Parmenides'; and Julian, the so-called apostate (Or., vii.215 b), 'many of the philosophers and theologists were myth-makers, as Orpheus', etc.
In the same Oration (217), he continues, 'concerning the myths of the Mysteries which Orpheus handed down to us, in the very things which in these myths are most incongruous, he drew nearest the truth. For just in proportion as the enigma is more paradoxical and wonderful, so does he warn us to distrust the appearance, and seek for the hidden meaning'. Philostratus also (Heroic., ii.693) asserts that, in reading the disputes among the Gods in the Iliad, we must remember that the poet 'was philosophizing in the Orphic manner'; and Plutarch (De Daedal., Frag. IX., i.754) tells us that the most ancient philosophers have covered up their teachings in a lattice-work of fables and symbols, especially instancing the Orphic writings and the Phrygian myths — 'that ancient natural science both [Page 41] among the Greeks and foreigners was for the most part hidden in myths – an occult and mysterious theology containing an enigmatical and hidden meaning — is clear from the Orphic poems and the Egyptian and Phrygian treatises'.


These myths were not only set forth in verse and prose, but were also represented pictorially and in sculpture in the Adyta of the temples. And though it can be argued that in a pure state of society , in which the nature and interaction of divine and lesser powers could be taught, such myths and symbols could be understood without damage to morals, nevertheless, in a degenerate age, when the meaning of these symbols was forgotten, grave dangers arose, and the insanity of phallicism inoculated its virus into the community. Of such symbolical pictures and sculptures we hear of a number in antiquity, and even today they are to be found in Hindu temples. Against such abuses the Christian fathers, ignorant of the original intent, and seeing only the evil effect (an effect due to the impure minds of the populace of their day and not to the devisers of the myths) arrayed themselves. They especially instanced a picture of Zeus and Hera in the temple of Samos, which Chrysippus, the Stoic, long before their time, in the third century B.C., had already explained as representing the reception of the divine intellections (σπερματικοὺϛ λόγουϛ ) by primordial matter for the creation of the universe, 'for matter is Hera and deity is Zeus'. (Cf. Clemens, Homil., V. xviii.667, and Origen, Contra Celsum, IV. xlviii. 540, ed. Spencer.) And Eustathius (ad.Dion V. I) quotes an Orphic fragment which speaks of 'the circle of tireless glorious-streaming Ocean, which pouring round Earth clasps her within the embraces of his circling eddies' — [Page 42] where Ocean represents the demiurgic Zeus and Earth his consort Hera.

And so we find Proclus (in Polit., p. 388) writing 'all that Homer says of the intercourse of Zeus and Hera is stated theologically', that is to say symbolically and mystically. And again (in Parm., ii.2.14, Cousin, vol. iv): 'Theologists symbolize these things by means of sacred marriages”. In brief the interaction of Divine causation is mystically called marriage. And when they see this interaction taking place among elements of the same kind, they call it the marriage” of Hera and Zeus, of Heaven and Earth, of Cronus and Rhea; but when between lower and higher, they call it the marriage of Zeus and Demeter; and when of superior with inferior they designate it the marriage of Zeus and Core.'


The statues in the Mysteries were also of a symbolical character, and Zosimus (V.41), in the fifth century, when relating the sack of Rome by Alaric, king of the Visigoths, laments that, 'the statues consecrated by the holy mysteries, with the downfall of these mysteries, were soulless, and without efficacy'. The consecration of such statues and symbols pertained to the art of theurgy, which may throw some light on 'idol-worship'. And Proclus tells us (in Crat., p. 2.8) that, 'the adepts placed such “organs” in sympathetic relation with the gods, and held them (e.g., the shuttle, the sceptre and the key) as symbols of the divine powers'. And Taylor, referring to the same passage of Proclus, writes (Myst. Hymn., page 52., n.): 'Initiators into the Mysteries, in order that sensibles might sympathize with the Gods, employed the shuttle as a signature of separating, a cup of vivific, a sceptre of ruling and a key of guardian power. Hence Pluto, as guardian [Page 43] of the earth, is here said to be the keeper of the earth's keys.' Perhaps students of the Tarot may trace the signatures of the four suits in the above symbols.

Into such statues it was believed that a 'soul' or 'divine power' entered, the technical term for such 'immixture' or 'insinuation' (εἴσκρισιϛ) being the same as that employed for the reincarnation of the soul into a body. This may be compared to the Hindu theory of Â-vesha and Â-veshana, which the western dictionaries explain as 'possession by devils', and the pandits as the taking possession of a body by a soul, either that pertaining to the body, or that of another person.


The following quotations, from the Fifth Book of the Stromateis, or 'Miscellanies', of Clement of Alexandria, will throw some light on the symbolical method of the ancients, and are all the more interesting as the Church father brought them forward in an apology of the Christian scriptures which, he said, were of a like nature. I use the translation of the Rev. William Wilson, as found in Vol. XII of The Antenicene Christian Library, as I have no text of Clement handy. Thus he writes:’ “ Many rod-bearers there are, but few Bacchi”, according to Plato' (cap. iii). That is to say, there are many candidates, but few reach to real Initiation, and this Clement compares with the saying: 'Many are called, but few chosen'. Then he continues (cap. iv): 'Wherefore, in accordance with the method of concealment, the truly sacred Word, truly divine and most necessary for us, deposited in the shrine of truth, was by the Egyptians indicated by what were called among them adyta, and by the Hebrews by the veil. Only the consecrated – that is, those devoted to God, circumcised in the desires of the passions for the sake of love to that which is alone divine – were allowed access to them. For [Page 44] Plato also thought it not lawful for “the impure to touch the pure”.

'Thence the prophecies and oracles are spoken in enigmas, and the mysteries are not exhibited incontinently to all and sundry, but only after certain purifications and previous instructions.'

Thus he cites the various styles of writing practised among the learned of the Egyptians: (i) the epistolographic; (ii) the hieratic which the sacred scribes practise; and finally (iii) the hieroglyphic, divided into two modes, (a) literal and (b) symbolic, which is further described as being of three kinds. 'One kind speaks literally by imitation, and another writes as it were figuratively, and another is quite allegorical, using certain enigmas'.

'All then, in a word, who have spoken of divine things, both Barbarians and Greeks, have veiled the first principles of things, and delivered the truth in enigmas, and symbols, and allegories, and metaphors, and such like tropes.'

Later on he instances Orpheus as follows: 'Now wisdom, hard to hunt, is the treasure of God's unfailing riches. But those, taught in theology by those prophets, the poets, philosophize much by way of a hidden sense. I mean Orpheus, Linus, Masaeus, Homer and Hesiod, and those in this fashion wise. The persuasive style of poetry is for them a veil for the many'.
The second paragraph of this horribly inelegant translation is to be explained by the fantastic theory of several of the fathers, that the ancient poets of Greece copied from the Hebrew prophets, and Pythagoras and Plato from Moses!

And though Clement does not adduce much towards the spiritual interpretation of the Orphic writings, he instances an example of natural interpretation as follows (cap. vii) : 'Does not Epigenes, in his book on the Poetry of Orpheus, say [Page 45] that by the “curved rods” is meant ploughs; and by the “warp”, the furrows; and the “woof” is a figurative expression for the seed; and that the “tears” of Zeus signify a shower; and that the “parts” are, again, the phases of the moon, the thirtieth day, and the fifteenth, and the new moon, and that Orpheus accordingly calls them “white-robed”, as being parts of the light ?

'Myriads on myriads of enigmatical utterances by both poets and philosophers are to be found; and there are also whole books which present the mind of the writer veiled, as that of Heraclitus On Nature, who on this very account is called “Obscure”. Similar to this book is the Theology of Pherecydes of Samos.' And so also the work of Euphorion, the Causes of Callimachus and the Alexandra of Lycophron.

'Thus also Plato, in his book On the Soul, says that the charioteer and the horse that ran off – the irrational part, which is divided in two, into anger and concupiscence – fall down; and so the myth intimates that it was through the licentiousness of the steeds that Phaëthon was thrown out'.

After adducing many examples the famous Alexandrian continues (cap. ix):

'But, as appears, I have, in my eagerness to establish my point, insensibly gone beyond what is requisite. For life would fail me to adduce the multitude of those who philosophize in a symbolical manner. For the sake, then, of memory and brevity, and of attracting to the truth, such as the scriptures of the Barbarian philosophy.

'For only to those who often approach them, and have given them a trial by faith and in their whole life, will they supply the real philosophy and the true theology......
'They say that Hipparchus, the Pythagorean, being guilty of writing the tenets of Pythagoras in plain language, was [Page 46] expelled from the school, and a pillar raised for him as if he had been dead. Wherefore also in the Barbarian philosophy they call those 'dead' who have fallen away from the dogmas, and have placed the mind in subjection to the carnal passions.

'It was not only the Pythagoreans and Plato, then, that concealed many things; but the Epicureans too say that they have things that may not be uttered, and do not allow all to peruse those writings. The Stoics also say that by the first Zeno things were written which they do not readily allow disciples to read without their first giving proof whether or not they are genuine philosophers. And the disciples of Aristotle say that some of their treatises are esoteric, and others common and exoteric. Further, those who instituted the mysteries, being philosophers, buried their doctrines in myths, so as not to be obvious to all. Did they then, by veiling human opinions, prevent the ignorant from handling them; and was it not more beneficial for the holy and blessed contemplation of realities to be concealed ? But it was not only the tenets of the Barbarian philosophy, or the Pythagorean myths, but even these myths in Plato (in the Republic, that of Hero [? Er] the Armenian; and in the Gorgias, that of Aeacus and Rhadamanthus; and in the Phaedo, that of Tartarus; and in the Protagoras, that of Prometheus and Epimetheus; and besides these, that of the wars between the Atlantini and the Athenians in the Atlanticum [or Cristias] are to be expounded allegorically, not absolutely in all their expressions, but in those which express the general sense.All these we shall find indicated by symbols under the veil of allegory. Also the association of Pythagoras, and the two-fold intercourse with the associates which designates the majority, hearers (ἀκουσματικὶο), and the others that have a genuine attachment to philosophy, disciples (μαθεματικοὶ), [Page 47] yet signified that something was spoken to the multitude, and something concealed from them'.

From all of this it is amply apparent that the method of allegory and symbol was the rule of the ancient Theologists, and that, if we refuse to admit their method, and endeavour to confine their meaning to the mere literal superficial sense, we shall not only miss their whole intent, but do the greatest possible violence to the best they have bequeathed to us.


It will be interesting here to adduce one or two instances of this Orphic symbolical method, such as the 'swallowing', 'incest', and 'marriage' of the Gods. In his Scholia on the Cratylus of Plato, Proclus writes:

'Orpheus says with divinely inspired mouth, Jupiter swallows his progenitor Phanes, embosoms all his powers, and becomes all things intellectually which Phanes is intelligibly.' (Taylor, Myst. Hym., p.180.) The precise meaning of which will become apparent when we come to treat of the various orders of powers.

And again, in his Commentaries on the Timaeus, Proclus writes (iv.267):

'Orpheus gave the Deity the name of the Manifestor (Φάνητα – Phanes) because he brought into manifestation ( ὡϛἐκφαίνοντα) the noëtic monads ......... He also called him the Key of the Mind....... On him the demiurgic power [Zeus, Jupiter] depends; that is to say, as Plato explains it, that this power turns towards the self-subsistent life [Phanes] and, to use the words of Orpheus, “leaps upon” and “swallows” it, at the bidding of “Night”.'

And this is further explained (ii.99) in the sentence: [Page 48]

'Zeus [the demiurgic power] becomes one with him [Phanes, the Manifestor, the “Third Logos”] in the midst of “Night”, and, filled [with his essence] becomes the noëtic world in the noëric order.'

I have ventured to use the terms 'noëtic' and 'noëric' as less liable to misinterpretation than the usual translations 'intelligible' and 'intellectual' ; for 'intellectual' conveys to the ordinary mind a higher sense than 'intelligible', whereas 'noëtic,' the equivalent of 'intelligible', is of superior dignity, in platonic terminology, to 'noëric'.

And so Orpheus sings:

'Thus, then, he [Zeus] swallowed the might of the First-born [Phanes], and held within his hollow belly the frame of all; with his members he mingled the power and might of God.”'

In proof of this he cites six fragments of Orpheus, further revealing the nature of the demiurgic power, and its place in the order of emanation, as set forth by his master Syrianus in his treatise, entitled Orphic Lectures. He further states in his Commentaries on the Timaeus
(V.313), 'the whole demiurgic activity of the gods has its end in rebirth (παλιγγενενσίαν )’ – a subject that will be dealt with at length later on. Here it is only necessary to remark that the 'swallowing' of Phanes by Zeus has its direct correspondence in the re-incarnation of a human soul.

The Emperor Julian (ap. Cyrill., ii.44, B, ed. Spanh.) also writes:

'The Greeks were myth-makers, for they said that Cronus swallowed his sons, and vomited them forth again, and they speak of incestuous marriages. For Zeus was husband of his mother, and then became husband of the daughter he had begotten by his mother as wife, and then after once coupling with her gave her to another.' [Page 49]

Again Proclus, in this Commentary on the Cratylus (Taylor Myst. Hymn., p. 188), writes:

'Ocean is said to have married Tethys, and Jupiter Juno, and the like, as establishing a communion with her, conformably to the generation of subordinate natures. For an according co-arrangement of the Gods, and a connascent co-operation in their productions, is called by theologists marriage.
But this term 'marriage' can only be applied to the noëric and demiurgic order and not to the noëtic. Therefore, in his Commentaries on the Timae
us (v.293), he writes:
'So he calls “Earth” the first “wife”, and her union with “Heaven” the first “marriage”. But the term “marriage” cannot be applied to the noëric concourse of “Light” [Phanes] and “Night”.'
And so also with regard to slaughter and quarrels, when applied to the Gods, all must be taken in an allegorical fashion; 'for slaughter, when applied to the Gods, signifies a segregation from secondary, and a conversion to primary natures' (Taylor, Myst. Hymn., p. 91, n.).

Instances of a like nature could be numerously multiplied, but enough has been said to give the reader an idea of the nature of our task, and further examples will be adduced as the treatment of the subject permits.


If there is one doctrine more insisted on than any other in the Orphic theology, it is that all the deific orders and powers are but aspects of the One. It is entirely unnecessary to enter here into a consideration of the comparative merits of monotheism and polytheism. Both are true as facts, both are false as exclusive theories. Nor was the doctrine above enunciated peculiar to the Orphics; it was the common [Page 50] opinion of all the better instructed of antiquity. All men worshipped that aspect or those aspects of the One Deity, which were appropriate to their understanding and suited to their religious needs. Thus we have worship of every kind, from the praying wheel to the highest Samâdhi, from the eikon and household image to the at-one-ment of supernal ecstasy. And yet God is One.

In order that this statement, which cannot be challenged by the educated, may recommend itself to those of less information, I shall here set down a few quotations out of a very large number.

In speaking of the Orphic theology, Taylor writes ( Myst. Hymn., xxv) :

'The peculiarity ............ of this theology, and [that] in which its transcendency consists is this, that it does not consider the highest God to be simply the principle of beings, but the principle of principles, i.e., of deiform processions from itself, all which are eternally rooted in the unfathomable depths of the immensely great source of their existence, and of which they may be called super-essential ramifications, and super-luminous blossoms' ”.

It is quite true that the quaint diction of Taylor is likely to offend those who are not trained in Neoplatonic terminology, and that minds deeply steeped in materialism will be repelled by the sublime metaphysics of mystical religion, but the blame should lie rather with the poverty of our language in fitting expressions than with one who had no fit materials to build with.

Just as the Eastern disciple, in his mystic exercises, gradually removes all attributes from the concept of Deity, and blends into the essence of the Divine, so did the Orphic student and Neoplatonist approach the contemplation of the Divine by a method of elimination. Thus Simplicius (in [Page 51] Epictet.), one of the victims of the Justinian persecution, and one of the group of seven brilliant intellects which crowned the line of the Later Platonists, writes as follows:

'It is requisite that he who ascends to the principle of things should investigate whether it is possible there can be anything better than the supposed principle; and if something more excellent is found, the same enquiry should again be made respecting that, till we arrive at the highest conceptions, than which we have no longer any more venerable.

'Nor should we stop in our ascent till we find this to be the case. For there is no occasion to fear that our progression will be through an unsubstantial void, by conceiving something about the first principles which is greater than and surpasses their nature. For it is not possible for our conceptions to take such a mighty leap as to equal, and much less to pass beyond the dignity of the first principles of things.'

On which Taylor again quaintly but justly remarks:

'If it is not possible, therefore, to form any ideas equal to the dignity of the immediate progeny of the ineffable, i.e., of the first principles of things, how much less can our conceptions reach the principle of these principles, who is concealed in the superluminous darkness of occultly initiating silence.'
So clearly was it the case that the 'Heathen' possessed in its fulness the idea of the 'One God', that the Church fathers were put to great shifts to explain it away. For instance, Justin Martyr, in keeping with his absurd theory of 'plagiarism by anticipation', asserts that Orpheus, Homer, and Solon, had visited Egypt and become saturated with the Mosaic books (Cohort. ad Graec., 15, c; xv.77, Grab.). To  this end he cites several Orphic fragments, among them the remarkable Hymn, 'I will speak it forth to the initiate; close the doors, ye profane,' etc.,'and the famous couplet: [Page 52] 'Zeus, Hades, Helios, Dionysus, are one; one God in all.'

Cyril in his onslaught on Julian, the Emperor Neoplatonist (Contra Jul., i.25), quotes the same passage to the same end. In this connection see Thomas Taylor's Arguments of the
  Emperor Julian against the Christians (1809), translated from the Greek fragments preserved by Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria. This small volume of ninety-eight pages was 'privately printed at the expense of Mr. Meredith, who destroyed, for fear of persecution, the entire impression with the exception of five or six copies which he had given away. For one of these copies he in vain offered £100.' The present writer is the fortunate possessor of one of those copies.

Aristobulus (c.180 B.C.), the Jew, whose crack-brained theory was that the whole of Grecian philosophy was taken from the books of Moses, quoted by Eusebius (Praep. Ev., xii. 12, p. 664), cites the longest fragment of Orpheus referred to, to show that he taught 'the God over all'.

Clemens Alexandrinus, in his Cohortatio ad Grae
cos (vii.63), calls this lengthy fragment, 'I will speak it forth', a 'palinode of truth'. Now a palinode is a 'recantation', and the learned father would have his readers believe that Orpheus recanted the whole of his theology in favour of this one monotheistic tenet – which suggestion is both misleading and absurd.

Didymus, head of the Catechetical School of Alexandria in the fourth century, in his treatise De Trinitate, cites the opinion of the Greeks on One God, quoting from some now unknown poets, 'There is one God, the highest king of all,' etc.; 'Of his own will God supports all things, the immortal,' etc.; 'The source and fountain of life,' etc. (op. cit., III.ii.322, 323; xxi.402, et alibi).

And so also in the Sibylline Oracles we read (i.25) : 'There is one God, who sends the rain, and the winds', etc. And another Oracle, preserved by Eusebius (Praep. Ev, III. xv . [Page 53] 125, d), asserts in answer to the question, who was Apollo, that he is 'Helios, Horus, Osiris, King Dionysus, Apollo, the dispenser of seasons and times, of winds and showers, handling the reins of the dawn and star-spangled night, lord of the stars and their shining; fire that never dies'.

Julian again (Or., iv .245, c) in speaking of altars in Cyprus raised in common to Zeus, Helios and Apollo, quotes the verse: 'Zeus, Hades, Helios, Serapis, all are one'.

Socrates again, in his Ecclesiastical History (iii.23), records an oracle which identifies Attis, Adonis and Dionysus.

Natalis Comes (II. vi.150) cites the verses: 'Pluto, Persephone, Demeter, Cypris, the Loves, the Tritons, Nereus, Tethys and Poseidon, Hermes and Hephaestus, far-famed Pan, Zeus and Hera, Artemis, and far-working Apollo — all are one God.'

Ausonius (Ep. xxviii) quotes another oracle: 'I am the Osiris of Egypt, the Phanaces of the Mysians, Bacchus among the living, with the dead Aïdoneus, fire-born, two-horned, titan-slaying Dionysus.'

And Nonnus (Dionys., xl.400) sings of: 'Star-robed Hercules, king of fire, world-leader, called Belus on the Euphrates, in Libya Ammon, Apis on the Nile, in Arabia Cronus, Zeus in Assyria.'

These and many more passages could be cited to show that names were of little moment to the theologists of antiquity, who were all profoundly convinced that 'Brahman is one, no second'. Thus Malela and Cedrenus (Lobeck, op.cit., 479) in speaking of the orders of the Orphic Gods, declare that all these powers are the 'single power and single might of the only God, whom no one sees'.

Simplicius (Phys. Ausc., ii.74, b) declares that Plato in the Laws asserts that 'God is all things'; and Macrobius (Sat., i.23) further states that 'the [intellectual] sun is all things', [Page 54] that is to say, the sun as a 'wholeness' (ὁλότηϛ), and to that end he quotes Orpheus, who apostrophizes the sun as 'all-producer, thou All of golden-light and ever-changing colours'.

Fischer in his notes on Plato's Critias (viii. 189) quotes an anonymous verse, which is by some attributed to Orpheus: 'There is one God. There is one co-existence with God — Truth.'

And Jamblichus, or whoever was the writer of the De Mysteriis (llI. xix), asserts that 'God is all things, is able to effect all things, and fills all things with himself, and is alone worthy of sedulous attention, esteem, the energy of reason and felicitous honour'; on which Taylor comments that 'God is all things causally, and is able to effect all things. He likewise does produce all things, yet not by himself alone, but in conjunction with those divine powers which continually germinate, as it were, from him, as from a perennial root. Not that he is in want of these powers to the efficiency of his productive energy, but the universe requires their co-operation, in order to the distinct subsistence of its various parts and different forms.' (Taylor's Jamblichus On the Mysteries, p. 166, n.)

From the above it is plainly evident that the tenet of the One God was not only not peculiar to Judaism, but that the ideas of the instructed heathen on the subject were more elevated than the tribal ideas of the Old Testament. But this is explainable by the fact that the God and gods of the populace were adapted to popular comprehension, whereas the more elevated ideas on Deity were reserved for those who were fit to receive them. Thus it was that the doctrine of One God was included in those 'mystic utterances' (μυστικοὶ λόγοι) the full explanation of which was for many years kept secret; and perhaps wisely so, for the partial [Page 55] publication of the tr
uth has led to that rivalry, oppression and exclusiveness, which have marked the fanatical path of those religionists who have sought to impose their limited individual view of Deity on the rest of the world.


Another important point to bear in mind in studying the Orphic theology, is that the whole system is fundamentally a monadology, and if this is not clearly seized, much difficulty will be experienced in fitting the parts into the whole.

The first writer who drew attention to this important tenet in modem times was Thomas Taylor, and so far as I know, no scholar has added to his researches. I shall therefore append here the most important passages in his books on this subject, advising my readers to carefully think out what he says, and this not in a material but in a mystic manner.

'Another and still more appropriate cause may be assigned of each of the celestial Gods being called by the appellation of so many other deities, which is this, that, according to the Orphic theology, each of the planets is fixed in a luminous ethereal sphere called a ὁλότηϛ , or wholeness, [ 'Each of these spheres is called a wholeness, because it contains a multitude of partial “animals” co-ordinate with it.'] because it is a part with a total subsistence, and is analogous to the sphere of the fixed stars [cf. Somnium Scipionis , with Macrobius' Commentaries]. In consequence of this analogy, each of these planetary spheres contains a multitude of Gods, who are the satellites of the leading divinity of the sphere, and subsist conformably to his characteristics.' (Myst. Hymn., p. xxviii.)
These 'wholenesses', therefore, are something totally different from the physical planets, which are simply their symbols [Page 56] in the starry vault. Their hierarchies have each their appropriate dominant 'colour', and also their sub-colours contained in the dominant. The whole has to do with the 'radiant egg' or 'envelope' of the mystic universe, which has its correspondence in man. This is the basis of real astrology,the knowledge of which has been lost.

And again:

'In each of the celestial spheres, the whole sphere has the relation of a monad, but the cosmocrators ( or planets) are the leaders of the multitude in each. For in each a number analogous to the choir of the fixed stars subsists with appropriate circulations.' (Proclus on Timaeus, ii.270, where the theory is much further developed.)

Here we have the idea of every monad being a mirror of every other monad in the universe, and having the power of giving to and receiving from every other monad. The monad, as monad, is the 'same', or Self; the cosmocrators, or 'planets', in each are characterized as the 'other'. The perfect number is ten. The triad contains the intellectual hypostases; the hebdomad the formative or demiurgic powers.

From this it follows that each of these 'planets', or 'spheres', contains its appropriate powers, which are the same in the various spheres, and only differ from each other by having a predominance of the characteristic of any particular sphere. As Taylor says:

'From this sublime theory it follows that every sphere contains a Jupiter, Neptune, Vulcan, Vesta, Minerva, Mars, Ceres, Juno, Diana, Mercury, Venus, Apollo, in short every deity, each sphere conferring on these Gods the peculiar characteristic of its nature; so that, for instance, in the Sun they all possess a solar property, in the Moon a lunar one, and so of the rest.' (Myst. Hymn., p. xxxii.) [Page 57]

And so in his explanation of terms prefixed to his translation of Proclus On the Theology of Plato (p.1xxx). he defines the monad in divine natures as 'that which contains distinct, but at the same time profoundly-united multitude, and which produces a multitude exquisitely united to itself. But in the sensible universe, the first monad is the world itself, which comprehends in itself all the multitude of which it is the cause (in conjunction with the cause of all). The second monad is the inerratic sphere. In the third place, the spheres of the planets succeed, each of which is also a monad, comprehending an appropriate multitude. And in the fourth and last place are the spheres of the elements, which are in a similar manner monads. All these monads likewise are denominated ὁλότητεϛ, wholenesses, and have a perpetual subsistence.

Taylor reproduces this passage from a note in his Theoretic Arithmetic (page 5), printed four years previously to his translation of Proclus on The Theology of Plato. He bases his definition principally on Proclus and Damascius.

Seeing also that man is a mirror of the universe, man contains all these powers in himself potentially. If it were not so, the possibility of the attainment of wisdom and final union with the Divine would be an empty dream. What these 'powers' are may be seen from the following outline of Orphic Theogony.[Pages 58-59-60]

Orpheus Page 58


Orpheus Page 59


Chapter 5



IN order to understand the Ladder of the Powers and the emanation of the hierarchies of Hellenic theology, it is necessary to study the matter by the light of the perfected intellect and mystic insight of the great Neoplatonic revival, and by the help of the karmic links which united it to its Orphic source.

Thus Maximus Tyrius writes: ‘You will see one according law and assertion in all the earth, that there is one God, the king and father of all things, and many gods, sons of God, ruling together with him.' (The Dissertations of Maximus Tyrius, trans. by Thomas Taylor, i.5.)

And Aristotle remarks (Metaph., XII. viii) : ‘Our ancestors and men of great antiquity have left us a tradition, involved in fable, that the first essences are gods, and that the Divinity comprehends the whole of nature. The rest indeed is fabulously introduced, for the purpose of persuading the multitude, enforcing the laws and benefiting human life. For they ascribe to the first essences a human form, and speak of them as resembling other animals [living beings], and assert other things similar and consequent to these. But if among these assertions, anyone separating the rest, retains only the first, viz., that they considered the first essences to be gods, he will think it to be divinely said; and it may be probably inferred that as every art and philosophy has been invented as [Page 61] often as possible, and has again perished, these opinions also of the ancients have been preserved as relics to the present time. Of the opinions of our fathers, therefore, and men of the highest antiquity, thus much only is manifest to us'.

The above passage shows clearly that Aristotle believed in the growth and decay of many civilizations before his own time and also in the persistent tradition of religion through them all.

Taylor sums up the emanation of primal principles or monads, setting forth the septenary order of primal essences as follows (Proclus on the Theol. of Plato, pp. x, xi); 'According to this theology, therefore, from the immense principle of principles, in which all things causally subsist, absorbed in super essential light, and involved in unfathomable depths, a beauteous progeny of principles proceed, all largely partaking of the ineffable, all stamped with the occult characters of Deity, all possessing an overflowing fulness of good. From these dazzling summits, these ineffable blossoms, these divine propagations, being, life, intellect, soul, nature,
And body depend: monads suspended from unities, deified nature proceeding from deities'.

These are the roots and summits of the manifested Universe; each a monad from which all of its kind proceed; all beings proceeding from the one Being, etc., and all bodies from the 'vital and luminous' Body of the Universe.
Thus we have a septenary scale:

1.The Ineffable
  2. Being  
  3. Life  

[Page 62] Here we have a monad and two triads, which may very well be symbolized by the two interlaced triangles with the point in the centre.

The order is further subdivided into Triads. Thus we get (in The Select Works of Plotinus, Taylor, Introd., p. lxxi; Bohn's ed.) :


1. Primordial

2. Noetic ( θεοὶ νοητοὶ )
3. Noëtic and also Noëric ( νοητοὶ καὶ νοεροὶ )
4. Noëric ( νοεροὶ )

5. Supercosmic ( ύπερκόσμιοι )
6. Liberated or Supercelestial ( ἀπόλυτοι ἢ ὑπερουράνιοι )
7. Cosmic ( ἐγκόιοι ).

The numbers are only put for convenience and have no virtue or dignity in themselves; 2, 3, and 4, constitute the Supersensible World (Sansk, Arûpa Loka), while 5, 6, and 7, constitute the Sensible World (Sansk. Rûpa Loka). Each Triad is constituted according to three hypostases: (a) Hyparxis (or Father), (b) Power (or Mother), and (c) Mind (or Son). Zeus, the Demiurgic or Manifested Logos (the Brahmâ or Ishvara of the system) is the 'Mind' of the Noëric Triad, and thus, the Monad or Arche (Source) of all below. Therefore, to put it mathematically and neoplatonically:

The Demiurge : Sensible World :: The One : Supersensible World.

The hypostases underlying each Triad subsist as (a) Being, (b) Life, and (c) Intelligence; and so also with regard to the first triad of orders (2, 3 and 4). Being 'abides', Life 'proceeds', and Intelligence 'returns' or 'converts'. These are the preservative, creative, and regenerative (or destructive) powers of the Hindu Trimurti, or Vishnu, Brahmâ and [Page 63] Shiva. The Noëtic Order, therefore, must principally subsist as to Being; the Noëtic and Noëric, as to Life; and the Noëric as to Intelligence — the keynotes of the three supersensible orders being respectively permanent Being, permanent Life, and permanent Intelligence. But each order in its turn is likewise triple, and thus the Noeric is termed 'triply convertive'. But to proceed more to detail.


This Triad is beyond our present human conception, and is the reflection of that 'thrice-unknown darkness' which is the veil of the Ineffable. As Taylor says (Myst. Hymns of Orph., p. xxiv): ' According to the theology of Orpheus, all things originate from an immense principle, to which through the imbecility and poverty of human conception we give a name, though it is perfectly ineffable, and in the reverential language of the Egyptians is a thrice-unknown darkness, in the contemplation of which all knowledge is refunded into ignorance.'

For as Damascius writes (On First Principles): 'Of the first principle the Egyptians said nothing, but celebrated it as a darkness beyond all intellectual conception, a thrice-unknown darkness (σκότοϛ ἄγνωστον τρίϛ τουτο ἐπιφημίξοντεϛ).'

For indeed 'clouds and darkness are about Him', the brilliancy of the primal veil being too strong even for spiritual sight. Thus it is 'darkness', but darkness transcending the strongest light of intellect. The first Triad, which is manifestable to intellect, is but a reflection of, or substitute for, the Unmanifestable, and its hypostases are: (a) The Good, which is superessential; (b) Soul (the World-Soul), which is a self-motive essence; and (c) Intellect (or the Mind), which is an impartible, immovable essence. But we are still in the region of transcendent ideality, or rather of that which [Page 64] transcends all ideals. The matter is one of great difficulty, and will be dealt with at length only when the present writer attempts an essay on the Theosophy of Proclus. Let us now pass on to


The type underlying the triadic hypostases is what Plato calls (a) Bound, (b) Infinity, (c) Mixed; these being posterior to The One or The Good. Now this Mixed is also called Being (Proclus' Theol. of Plato, Taylor, p. lix), or rather the Triad Bound, Infinity, and Mixed subsist in Being or Life (ibid., i.179). Now the Mixture requires three things, Beauty, Truth, and Symmetry (ibid., 176), and all these are found in the Vestibule of The Good (ibid., 177, but subsist primarily as to Symmetry (ibid., 180). This mixture, then, is the ideal Kosmos or Order (Symmetry) of the Universe.

Each Triad of the Noëtic order is in its turn triadic, and Bound, Infinity and Mixed are the first Triad; (a) Bound is the same with Hyparxis, Father and Essence; (b) Infinity with Power; and (c) Mixed with Noëtic (or Intelligible) Life, the first and highest order of Gods; or, in other words, the essential characteristics of the trinity are (a) to be or to abide, (b) to live, and (c) to energize intellectually.

But, says Proclus in his Scholia (On the Cratylus of Plato, op. cit., add. notes, p. iii): 'Of the intelligible [noëtic] Gods the first genera, which are conjoined with the one itself, and are called occult, have much of the unknown and ineffable. For that which is perfectly apparent and effable cannot be conjoined with the perfectly ineffable, but it is requisite that the progression if intelligible [the Noëtic Order], should be terminated in this order, in which there is the first effable [the prototype of the Third or Manifested Logos] , and that which is called by proper names. For the first forms are there, and [Page 65] the intellectual nature of intelligibles there shines forth to the view.'

This is the third triad of the Noëtic Order; the ‘intellectual nature of intelligibles' meaning that the third triad has in it the nature of the Mind or Intelligence, the root of the Noëric Order, whereas the first and second triad are emanated severally according to Hyparxis and Power — the three severally corresponding to Father, Mother and Son.

Proclus then continues: 'But all the natures prior to this being silent and occult, are only known by intelligence. Hence the whole of the telestic art energizing theurgically ascends as far as to this order.' That is to say, that these orders belong to the contemplation of the higher Mind ('intelligence') alone. Man must be at one with the Mind if he would know these ineffable orders. And even to ascend to the last of the Noëtic Order requires the practice of theurgy, the equivalent of the Yoga-art of Indian mystics. Ishvara, the Logos, is only to be known in Ecstasis or Samâdhi.

And so of this third triad or Logos, Proclus writes (ibid.): 'Orpheus also says that this is first called by a name by the other Gods: for the light proceeding from it [Fohat in Northern Buddhism, Daivi-prakriti with the Vedântins] is known to and denominated by the intellectual [ noëric ] orders. But he [Orpheus] thus speaks, “Metis bearing the seed of the Gods, whom the Gods above lofty Olympus call the illustrious Phanes Protogonus”.

With regard to this Light, or Life (the active power of Deity), Proclus quotes the Oracle in which the Powers exhort us 'To understand the fore-running form of light', and thus explains it: 'For subsisting on high without form, it becomes invested with form through its progression; and there being established occultly and uniformly, it becomes apparent to us through motion, from the Gods themselves; [Page 66] possessing indeed an efficacious energy, through a divine cause, but becoming figured through the essence by which it is received.'

It would be difficult to find a clearer statement with regard to this sublime cosmogony. But as Taylor admirably remarks in his Introduction to the Parmenides of Plato (Plato's Works, vol. iii): 'He then who is able, by opening the greatest eye of the soul, to see that perfectly which subsists without distinction, will behold the simplicity of the intelligible [noëtic] triad, subsisting in a manner so transcendent as to be apprehended only by a super-intellectual energy, and a deific union of the perceiver with this most arcane object of perception. But since in our present state it is impossible to behold an object so astonishingly lucid with a perfect and steady vision, we must be content, as Damascius well observes [see Excerpta a Damascio, a Wolfio, p. 232.], with a far-distant, scarcely attainable, and most obscure glimpse; or with difficulty apprehending a trace of this light, like a sudden coruscation bursting on our sight.'

Those are the 'flashes' of illumination spoken of by Plotinus, the lightning glances of 'Shiva's Eye'. This illumination is sometimes referred to as the opening of the 'third eye', which is said to have its 'physical basis' in the pineal gland, now atrophied in the vast majority of mankind.

If then we would obtain such a sight we must 'open the greatest eye of the soul', says Taylor (ibid.), 'and entreat this all-comprehending deity to approach: for then, preceded by an adorned Beauty, silently walking on the extremities of her shining feet, he will suddenly from his awful sanctuary rise to our view'.

But even then what human words can reveal the vision what phrases can tell how the One becomes Many, how the [Page 67] Unity becomes Multiplicity ? For to use a Pythagorean phrase, this transcendent object is 'void of number'. As Damascius says (ibid., p. 228): ' And since this is the case, we should consider whether it is proper to call this [the Noëtic Triad] which belongs to it [the Ineffable] [a] simplicity (ἁπλότηϛ ) [b] something else, multiplicity ( πολλότηϛ ), and [c] something besides this, universality (παντότηϛ ). For that which is intelligible [noëtic] is one, many, all, that we may triply explain a nature which is one. But how can one nature be one and many? Because many is the infinite power of the one. But how can it be one and all? Because all is the every way extended energy of the one. Nor yet is it to be called an energy, as if it was an extension of power to that which is external; nor power, as an extension of hyparxis abiding within; but again, it is necessary to call them three instead of one for one appellation, as we have often testified is by no means sufficient for an explanation of this order.And are all things here [in the Noëtic Triad] indistinct? But how can this be easy to understand ? For we have said that there are three principles consequent to each other: viz., father power, and paternal intellect. But these in reality are neither one nor three nor one and at the same time three. But it is necessary that we should explain these by names and conceptions of this kind, through our penury in what is adapted to their nature, or rather through our desire of expressing something proper on the occasion. For as we denominate this triad one, and many, and all, and father, power, and paternal intellect, and again bound, infinite and mixed – so likewise we call it a monad, and the indefinite duad, and a triad, and a paternal nature composed from both these. And as in consequence of purifying our conceptions we reject the former appellations, as incapable of harmonizing with the things themselves, we should likewise reject the latter on the same account.' [Page 68]

In brief, all words fall miserably short of the reality; the understanding of these highest realms is reserved for seers and prophets; philologers and sophists are without these precincts. Nor was the Noëtic Triad a fiction of the later Platonists, for the same Damascius (On First Principles, see Wolfi Ancedot. Graec., iii.252) traces it back to Orpheus as follows: 'The theology contained in the Orphic rhapsodies concerning the intelligible [noëtic] Gods is as follows: Time is symbolically placed for the one principle of the universe; but Aether and Chaos for the two posterior to this one; and Being, simply considered, is represented under the symbol of an Egg. And this is the first triad of the intelligible [noëtic] Gods. But for the perfection of the second triad, they establish either a conceiving or a conceived Egg as a God, or a white garment, or a cloud; because from these Phanes leaps forth into light. For indeed they philosophize variously concerning the middle triad. But Phanes here represents intellect. But conceiving him over and above this, as father and power, contributes nothing to Orpheus. But they call the third triad Metis as intellect, Ericapaeus as power, and Phanes as father. But sometimes the middle triad is considered according to the three-shaped God, while conceived in the Egg; for the middle always represents each of the extremes, as in this instance, where the Egg and the three-shaped God subsist together. And here you may perceive that the Egg is that which is united; but that the three-shaped and really multiform God is the separating and discriminating cause of that which is intelligible. Likewise the middle triad subsists according to the Egg, as yet united; but the third according to the God who separated and distributes the whole intelligible order.'

Damascius tells us that this was the 'common and familiar Orphic theology'. We therefore get the following diagram [Page 69] of the Noëtic Triad, according to the Orphics, classified according to Father (F.), Power (P.), and Intellect (I.).


Unaging Time, the First Principle, produces
The Noëtic Triad



(f.) Aether
(p.) Chaos
(i.) Egg
(P.) (f.) Egg containing The Triple God
(I.) (f.) Phanes
(p.) Ericapaeus
(i.) Metis

Damascius further tells us in the same place that, according to Hieronymus and Hellanicus, the Orphic theogony described the third principle symbolically as being 'a Dragon naturally endowed with the heads of a Bull and a Lion, but in the middle having the countenance of the God himself'.This Power was portrayed with golden wings and denominated Time and Hercules. It was the Karmic Ruler of the Universe, for 'Necessity resides with him, which is the same as Nature, and incorporeal Adrastia, which is extended throughout the universe, whose limits she binds in amicable conjunction'. This fourfold Power corresponds to the Lipika of the Stanzas of Dzyan. It is sufficient here to point to the vision of Ezekiel and the 'four living creatures'. 'They four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side; and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle. Thus were their faces: [Page 70] and their wings were stretched upwards; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies' (i. 10, I I ). Later on we shall return to this interesting symbolism.

Thus Phanes (the 'Manifestor') is called the' Animal Itself' (Proclus, Theology of Plato, VI. xvi), and also the Fore-father of the Demiurge, for, as we shall see later on, Zeus (the demiurge) is the last Power of the Noëric Triad, and as such the last Power of the Supersensible World; whereas Saturn (his Father) is the first Power of the Noëric Triad, the paternal monad, who is the son of Phanes (the third Power of the Noëtic Triad) — Phanes evolving Saturn by means of the intermediate Triad, that acts as Power or Mother to the Paternal or Noëric Triad. We now come to the middle Triad of the Supersensible World, the Noëtic and at the same time Noëric Triad, which depends from Phanes as its Monad or Arche.


This is by far the most difficult Triad to deal with, for it partakes both of the Noëtic and Noëric Triad, and yet is neither. As Damascius remarks of the Orphic theologians, 'indeed they philosophize variously concerning the middle triad'. Its dominant characteristic is that it subsists according to Life or Power.

As Proclus tells us (Theol. Plat., IV. iii; Taylor, i.231: 'In the intelligible and at the same time intellectual [i.e., the noëtic-noëric] order, each triad has essence, life and intellect; one indeed intelligibly and at the same time intellectually, but more intelligibly, so far as it is in continuity with the first intelligibles; the other intellectually and intelligibly, but more intellectually, because it is proximately carried in intellectuals; and another according to an equal part, as it [Page 71] comprehends in itself both the peculiarities. Hence the first triad, that we may speak of each, was in intelligibles [the noëtic order] bound, infinity, and essence; for essence was that which was primarily mixed. But here [in the noëtic-noëric order] the first triad is essence, life and intellect, with appropriate unities.'

It would be too long to follow out this interesting subject in the present place, and so we must reserve it for another occasion.

Each member of the Triad is, in its turn, triadic. The first subsists according to essence, life and intellect. The second subsists according to infinity, or infinite power, for the power of the cause which is generative of being, is infinity (loc. cit., p. 167).Thus its characteristic is intelligible life, 'the proceeding' (loc. cit., p. 182). It is further said to be 'parturient with multitude and the origin of separation' (loc. cit., p. 181 ). The third subsists according to intelligible intellect. It is said to be 'all perfect' and 'folds into light in itself, intelligible multitude and form' (ibid.). It 'converts the intelligible end to the beginning and converts the order in itself', therefore it is called 'the returning' (loc. cit., p. 182).

The Orphic Uranus, or Heaven, is placed in this Order, for Proclus tells us that: 'Plato himself in the Cratylus , following the Orphic theologies, calls the father indeed of Jupiter [the Demiurge], Saturn, but of Saturn, Heaven' (loc. cit., IV. v). Uranus is the Mind or Intellect of this order. Thus Phanes is the Forefather, or Great-Grandfather; Uranus the Grand-father; and Saturn, the Father of the Demiurge, who is, in his turn, the 'Father of all' ; the two latter belonging to the Noëric Order.

Now there are certain spheres or firmaments pertaining to this Triad. Thus the ‘Arch' which separates the Noëtic Order from the Noëtic-Noëric Order is called the 'Supercelestial [Page 72] Place', the 'Plain of Truth', or the 'Kingdom of Adrastia' ( op. cit., IV. iv).
 Whereas the 'Celestial Arch' or 'Heaven' is in the midst of the Triad; and the basis or firmament which separates this Order from the Noëric Order is called the 'Subcelestial Arch'. (See Taylor's 'Concise Exposition of Chaldaic Dogmas according to Psellus', in his Collectanea, of articles in the European and Monthly Magazines, p. 39, note).

This Plain of Truth is referred to by Maximus of Tyre in the following beautiful passage (Dissertation I, 'What God is according to Plato'):

'This is indeed the enigma of the Syracusian poet (Epicharmus ),

'Tis mind alone that sees and hears”.
'How, therefore, does intellect see, and how does it hear? If with an erect and robust soul it surveys that incorruptible light, and is not involved in darkness, nor depressed to earth, but closing the ears, and turning from the sight, and the other senses, converts itself to itself. If forgetting terrene lamentations and sighs, pleasure and glory, honour and dishonour, it commits the guidance of itself to true reason and robust love, reason pointing out the road, and presiding love, by persuasion and bland allurements, alleviating the labours of the journey. But to intellect approaching thither and departing from things below, whatever presents itself is clear, and perfectly splendid, and is a prelude to the nature of divinity, and in its progression, indeed, it hears the nature of God, but having arrived thither, it sees him. The end, however, of this journey is not Heaven, nor the bodies it contains (though these indeed are beautiful and divine, as being the accurate and genuine progeny of divinity, and harmonizing with that which is most beautiful), but it is requisite to pass even beyond these, till we arrive at [Page 73] the Supercelestial Place, the Plain of Truth, and the serenity which is there;

“Nor clouds, nor rain, nor winter there are found,
“But a white splendour spreads its radiance round”.
(Odyss., iv.566; vi.43, sq.)

'Where no corporeal passion disturbs the miserable soul, and hurls her from contemplation by its uproar and tumult.'

Plutarch in his Morals ('On the Cessation of Oracles', xxii) recounts a conversation which one of his friends had with a certain mysterious stranger (see my article 'Plutarch's Yogi', Lucifer, ix.296), who spoke of a certain symbolical triangle as follows: 'The area of the triangle is the common hearth of all, and is called the Plain of Truth, in which the logoi and ideas and paradigms of all things which have been and which shall be, lie immovable; and the Eternity [lit., aeon] being round them [sci., the ideas], Time flows down upon the world like a stream. And the sight and contemplation of these things is possible for the souls of [ ordinary] men only once in ten thousand years [i.e., at the end of a certain cycle], should they have lived a virtuous life.
And the highest of our initiations here below is only the dream of that true vision and initiation; and the discourses [sci., delivered in the mysteries] have been carefully devised to awaken the memory of the sublime things there above, or else are to no purpose'.

But we must leave this deeply interesting theme and turn our attention to


The peculiarity of the Triad is that each member is subdivided into a hebdomad or septenary. The Triad consists primarily of Father (F.), Mother or Power (P.), and Son or Intellect (I.), viz. : [Page74]      

(F.) Cronus
(P.) Rhea
(I. ) Zeus
— that is to say, of (a) a noëtic paternal monad, constituting seven such monads; (b) a monad of life, constituting seven vivific monads; and (c) of a monad of intellect, constituting seven demiurgic monads.

But conjoined with Rhea there is another triad called the Curetic or Unpolluted Triad, for their Powers are pure and virgin according to their name (from κόροϛ = virgin), each of the triad being also hebdomadic. These may be compared to the Kumâras of Hindu mythology (the word kumâra also signifying virgin), who were also seven in number. The permutations and combinations are worked out by Proclus (Theol. of Plato, V.ii) and the final result comes to seven septenaries or forty-nine – the forty-nine 'Fires' of The Secret Doctrine.

As Proclus says (Theology of Plato, V .iii) : 'Plato, following Orpheus, calls the inflexible and undefiled triad of the intellectual [ noëric] Gods Curetic, as is evident from what the Athenian guest says in the Laws, celebrating the armed sports of the Curetes, and their rhythmical dance. For Orpheus represents the Curetes, who are three, as the guards of Jupiter [Zeus]. And the sacred laws of the Cretans, and all the Grecian theology, refer a pure and undefiled life and energy to this order. For τό κόρον, to koron, indicates nothing else than the pure and incorruptible. Hence we have before said that the mighty Saturn [Cronus], as being essentially united to the cause of undefiled purity, is a pure intellect.The paternal Gods [Cronus, Rhea, Zeus] therefore are three, and the undefiled Gods [the Curetes] also are three. Hence it remains that we should survey the seventh monad.'

This 'seventh monad' is, however, not named, for it has [Page 75] to do with the mystery of the 'fabulous exections' (i.e., ex-sections or 'cuttings off', dismemberment), for Plato thought 'that such like narrations should always be concealed in silence, that the arcane truth of them should be surveyed, and that they are indicative of mystic conceptions, because these things are not fit for young men to hear'. This seventh monad is called the 'separative deity' and has to do with what has been called the 'Secret of Satan'. But Plato 'assents to such opinions being narrated to those who are able to penetrate into the mystic truth, and investigate the concealed meaning of fables, and admits the separation of wholes whether (mythologists) are willing to denominate them exections for the purpose of concealment, or in whatever other way they may think fit to call them'.

And there we must leave the subject for the present. The Goddess Rhea stands between her father and husband Saturn, and her son and husband, Jupiter. She is 'the stable and united cause of all intellectuals, and the principle and original monad, abiding in herself, unfolding into light all intellectual multitude, and again convolving it into herself and embosoming her progeny' (Ioc. cit., xi). She is therefore said to stand in the midst between the two fathers (Saturn and Jupiter) 'one of which collects, but the other divides intellectual multitude' (ibid.). This symbolized the polarizing force of the Third Logos, the fohatic action of the creative energy.

The noëric Curetic triad depends on the Mother Rhea, who is then called Core (the Virgin Mother). And her reflection in the next order is Minerva clad in the breastplate of righteousness, just as are the Curetes.

Of Jupiter the Demiurge it would be too long to speak in this place, for it would be necessary to analyse the Timaeus of Plato, and, more important still, Proclus' Scholia on the [Page 76] Timaeus, a task which must be postponed until we treat of the Theosophy of the Greeks according to Proclus. Jupiter is the Demiurge or last monad of the Noëric Order and so of the Supersensible World; he is the 'father of Gods and men'.


This is again triadically subdivided. Thus we get (a) a paternal or ruling triad, (b) a vivific triad, and (c) a convertive triad, or:

(a) Jupiter - Celestial Jupiter
Neptune - Marine Jupiter
Pluto - Suberranean Jupiter
(b) Coric or Virginal Diana The Corbybantic Triad
Coric or Virginal Proserpine
Coric or Virginal Minerva
(c) Apollo
The Triple Sun
Divine or Superessential Light
Intellectual Light (Truth)
Sensible Light

The last triad is called the Apolliniacal triad, and for further details the reader is referred to Proclus (Theol. of Plato, Taylor, ii.43, 44).

The first triad is referred to as the 'Sons of Saturn' and they all 'energize demiurgically'.

'With respect to the allotment and distribution of them, in the first place it is according to the whole universe, the first of them producing essences, the second lives and generations, and the third administering formal divisions. And the first indeed establishing in the one demiurgus all things that thence proceed; but the second calling all things into progression; and the third converting all things to itself. In the [Page 77] second place, the allotment and division of them are according to the parts of the universe. For the first of them adorns the inerratic sphere, and the circulation of it; but the second governs the planetary region, and perfects the multiform, efficacious, and prolific motions in it; and the last administers the sublunary region, and intellectually perfects the terrestrial world' (loc. cit., p. 34).

These are correspondences to the Supercelestial, Celestial and Subcelestial Regions in the Supersensible World, and will be mentioned again later on.

Thus much for the paternal or ruling triad of the Super-cosmic or Supermundane Order. Next, and in the midst, we have the vivific triad, consisting of three zoogonic monads, divided in their turn according to hyparxis, power and vivific intellect, and named respectively Coric Diana, Coric Proserpine, and Coric Minerva.

Of these three Proserpine is pre-eminently designated Core, and attached to her, as the Curetes are attached to Rhea, is a triple order of Corybantes (from κόρον = purity).
And Proclus referring to this order (loc. cit., p. 49), says: 'The mystic tradition of Orpheus makes mention of these more clearly. And Plato being persuaded by the mysteries, and by what is performed in them, indicates concerning these unpolluted Gods. And in the Laws indeed he reminds us of the inflation of the pipe by the Corybantes, which represses every inordinate and tumultuous motion. But in the Euthydemus, he makes mention of the collocation on a throne, which is performed in the Corybantic mysteries, just as in other dialogues he makes mention of the Curetic Order, speaking of the armed sports of the Curetes. For they are said to surround and to dance round the demiurgus of wholes, when he was unfolded into light from Rhea. In the intellectual Gods [the noëric order], therefore, the first [Page 78] Curetic order is allotted its hypostasis. But the order of the Corybantes which precedes Core (i.e., Proserpine), and guards her on all sides, as the theology says, is analogous [in the supercosmic order] to the Curetes in the intellectual [noëric] order.'

Last in order comes the Apolliniacal Triad; the physical sun or rather 'sensible light' being the last member of the triad.

This Supercosmic Order is also called Assimilative, the reason for which is set forth by Proclus (Ioc. cit., p. 52.) as follows: 'Everything which is assimilative, imparts the communication of similitude, and of communion with paradigms, to all the beings that are assimilated by it. Together with the similar, however, it produces and commingles the dissimilar; since in the images (of the similar) the genus of similitude is not naturally adapted to be present, separate from its contrary. If, therefore, this order of Gods assimilates sensibles to intellectuals [i.e., the Sensible World to the Noëric Order of the Supersensible World], and produces all things posterior to itself according to an imitation of causes, it is indeed the first effective cause of similitude to natures posterior to itself.'

For some such reasons as the above the Supercosmic or Supermundane Order was called the Assimilative. We are also told by Proclus in the same Book that they were designated Principalities ( Άρχαὶ ), the identical term used by Paul and Dionysius; Archangels and Angels corresponding to the two following Orders, viz., the Liberated and Cosmic ( or Mundane) Gods. We next, therefore, pass to the Liberated Order.


This Order is also called Supercelestial and is conformed [Page 79] according to the dodecad. It is curious to remark how the orders are enumerated. First 3, then 7; the 7 being a summation, assimilation or juxtaposition of wholes, something intellectual or mânasic (3 +4=7). Whereas among sensibles we come to multiplication, and division into parts, and generation, and so have 12. (3 x 4= 12 ).

Thus Proclus (op. cit., VI. xviii) tells us that: 'Plato apprehended that the number of the dodecad is adapted to the liberated Gods, as being all-perfect, composed from the first numbers, and completed from things perfect; and he comprehends in this measure all the progressions of these Gods. For he refers all the genera and peculiarities of them to the dodecad, and defines them according to it.. But again dividing the dodecad into two monads and one decad, he suspends all (mundane natures) from the two monads but delivers to us each of these energizing on the monad posterior to itself, according to its own hyparxis.. And one of these monads indeed he calls Jovian, but he denominates the other Vesta. He likewise makes mention of other more partial principalities [than the assimilative or supercosmic principalities), and which give completion to the aforesaid decad, such as those of Apollo, Mars and Venus. And he suspends, indeed, the prophetic form of life from the Apolliniacal principality; but the amatory from the principality of Venus; and the divisive from that of Mars; for hence the most total and first genera of lives are derived; just as when he [Plato] introduces into the world souls recently fashioned, he says that some preside over one, and others over another form of life. And it appears to me, that as Timaeus makes the division of souls at one time supermundane, but at another mundane, for he distributes souls equal in number to the stars, and disseminates one into the moon, another into the earth, and others into other instruments of time; after the [Page 80] same manner also Socrates prearranges twofold rulers and leaders of them; proximately indeed the mundane Gods, but in a still higher rank than these, the liberated Gods.'

I shall not apologize for the many lengthy quotations which I am weaving into the present essay, for I desire to clearly set forth, first, the opinions of the Greeks themselves on their own religion; and secondly to place within ordinary reach information that is at present hidden in rare and costly books, which but few libraries contain.

From the above passages, therefore, we see that the Liberated Order is not fully set forth. It is a dodecad, but only five of its members are given. We shall, however, shortly see that the next Order, the Cosmic or Mundane, also consists of a dodecad and that all its members are named. It is, therefore, almost certain that we must find the prototypes of the Mundane Gods in the Liberated Order. As far as our definite information goes, however, the Liberated Gods are divided as follows:


Jovian Monad
Vestan Monad
The Decad
Completed by
Apollo or The Prophetic Life
Mars or The Divisive Life
Venus or The Amatory Life

   The Stemma of the Gods is completed by the Mundane Gods or:


This is again a dodecad and consists of four triads as follows (see Proclus, op. cit., VI. xxii, and Taylor, Myst. Hymn. Orph., pp. xxxiii, and 171 note). [Page 81]   

Fabricative Triad:    Jupiter  Neptune Vulcan
Defensive Triad:Vesta Minerva Mars
Vivific Triad:Ceres Juno      Diana
Harmonic Triad: Mercury Venus


Fabrication as applied to the first triad is explained as 'procession', and the last triad is also called 'elevating' or 'anagogic'.

These various Powers will be referred to later on; all that is at present attempted is to present the reader with a chart, that will enable him to steer a straighter course in the sea of Grecian mythology than he may have previously supposed possible. It would be possible to give the correspondences between this scheme of hierarchies and those of other religions, but the task would be too long for the present essay. I shall, however, trespass on my readers', patience so far as to append the Chaldaic scheme, for the following reason. In The Theosophist for January, 1882 (Vol. III, No.4) appeared some valuable notes written down by H. P. Blavatsky, entitled 'Notes on some Âryan-Arhat Esoteric Tenets' (See A Modern Panarion, pp. 475-480), in which the tenets set forth in such books as Esoteric Buddhism and The Secret Doctrine are referred to as the' Aryan - Chaldaeo - Tibetan' doctrine.

Elsewhere these teachings are referred to as 'Pre-Vedic “Buddhism” '. Now as the Chaldaic scheme is shown by Taylor to be identical with the Orphic, and the ancient Chaldaic is stated to be closely related to the Pre-Vedic tradition by the informant of H. P. Blavatsky, it is evident that the doctrine set forth under the title 'Esoteric Buddhism' far antedate historical Buddhism and pertain to the most ancient forebears of the Aryan race, and that Orpheus in all probability got his information from these sources. [Pages 82,83,84]

Chaldean Theogony

Orphic Theogony

As H. P. Blavatsky writes (loc. cit. ) : 'There is reason to call the Trans-Himâlayan esoteric doctrine Chaldaeo-Tibetan. And, when we remember that the Vedas came – agreeably to all traditions – from the Mansarovara Lake in Tibet, and the Brâhmans themselves from the far north, we are justified in looking on the esoteric doctrines of every people who once had or still have them, as having proceeded from one and the same source, and to thus call it the “Aryan - Chaldaeo - Tibetan” doctrine, or Universal Wisdom Religion.'

And now for a long quotation from Taylor, entitled 'A Concise Exposition of Chaldaic Dogmas by Psellus' (Collectanea, pp. 38-43).

'They assert that there are seven corporeal worlds, one empyrean and the first; after this, three ethereal, and then three material worlds, [ 'These are the inerratic sphere, the seven planetary spheres, and the sublunary region.'] the last of which is said to be terrestrial, and the hater of life: and this is the sublunary place, containing likewise in itself matter, which they call a profundity. They are of opinion, that there is one principle of things; and this they celebrate as the one, and the good. ['So Plato.'] After this, they venerate a certain paternal profundity, [ 'This is called, by the Platonists, the intelligible [noëtic] triad; and is celebrated by Plato in the Philebus, under the names of bound, infinite, and the mixed; and likewise of symmetry, truth, and beauty, which triad, he says, is seated in the vestibule of the Good.'] — consisting of three triads; but each triad contains father, power, and intellect. After this is the intelligible Inyx, ['The Inyx, Synoches, and Teletarchae, of the Chaldaens compose that divine order, which is called, by the Platonists, the intelligible, and, at the same time, intellectual order [ the noëtic-noëric order] ; and is celebrated by Plato in the Phaedrus, under the names of the supercelestial place, heaven, and the subcelestial arch.']) then the Synoches, of which one is empyrean, the other ethereal, and the third material. The Teletarchae follow the Synoches. [Page 85] After these succeed the fontal fathers,[ 'The fontal fathers compose the intellectual (noëric] triad of the Greeks, and are Saturn, Rhea and Jupiter.' ] who are also called Cosmagogi, or leaders of the world. Of these, the first is called once beyond, the second is Hecate, and the third is twice
beyond. After these are the three Amilicti [ 'The three Amilicti are the same with the unpolluted triad or Curetes of the Greeks. Observe, that a fontal subsistence means a subsistence according to cause' ] ; and last of all, the Upezokus. They likewise venerate a fontal triad of faith, truth, and love. They assert that there is a ruling sun from a solar fountain, and an archangelic sun; that there is a fountain of sense, a fontal judgment, a thundering fountain [sound], a dioptric [that which lends assistance to vision] fountain [colour], and a fountain of characters, seated in unknown impressions. And, again, that there are fontal summits of Apollo, Osiris and Hermes. They likewise assert that there are material fountains of centres and elements; that there is a zone of dreams, and a fontal soul. [This fontal plane reminds us of the Vedantic Kâranopâdhi or plane of causal limitation.]

'After the fountains, they say the principles [ 'These principles are the same with the Platonic supermundane order of Gods'. ] succeed: for fountains are superior to principles. But of the vivific [ 'The vivific triad consists, according to the Greek Theologists, of Diana, Proserpine, and Minerva.'] principles, the summit is called Hecate, the middle, ruling soul, and the extremity, ruling virtue. They have likewise azonic Hecatae, such as the Chaldaic Triecdotis, Comas, and Ecklustike.But the azonic [ 'The azonic Gods are the same with the liberated order of the Greek Theologists, or that order which is immediately situated above the mundane Gods.'] Gods, according to them, are Serapis , Bacchus, the series of Osiris, and of Apollo. [Psellus is here giving the equivalent names in other systems – names more familiar to the Greeks than the Chaldaic originals. ] These Gods are called azonic, because they rule without restraint [Page 86] over the zones, and are established above the apparent Gods.
But the zonic Gods are those which revolve round the celestial zones, and rule over sublunary affairs, but not with the same unrestrained energy, as the azonic. For the Chaldaens consider the zonic order as divine; as distributing the parts of the sensible world; and as begirdling the allotments about the material regions.

The inerratic circle succeeds the zones, and comprehends the seven spheres in which the stars [planets] are placed. According to them, likewise, there are two solar worlds; one which is subservient to the ethereal profundity; the other zonaic, being one of the seven spheres.

'Of human souls, they establish a twofold fontal cause; viz., the paternal intellect,[ 'The Jupiter of the Greeks, the artificer of the universe.'] and the fontal soul ['Called by the Greeks, Juno.'] : and they consider partial ['That is, such souls as ours.' ] souls, as proceeding from the fontal, according to the will of the father [the Pitri-Devatâ]. Souls of this kind, however, possess a self-begotten, a self-vital essence: for they are not like alter-motive natures. Indeed, since according to the Oracle, a partial soul is a portion of divine fire, a splendid fire, and a paternal conception, it must be an immaterial and self-subsistent essence: for everything divine is of this kind; and of this the soul is a portion. They assert too, that all things are contained in each soul [ monadology]; but that in each there is an unknown characteristic of an effable and ineffable impression. They are of opinion, that the soul often descends into the world [reincarnation ] through many causes; either through the defluxion of its wings, [ 'So Plato: see my translation of the Phaedrus.'] or through the paternal will. [That is, through Karma, either (a) because there is not strength to escape from the things of sense, or (b) because the father-soul [Page 87] (Higher Ego) sends its son (Lower Ego) back to earth to reap the karmic results of its deeds.]
They believe the world to be eternal, as likewise the periods of the stars. [This is the idea of manvantaric eternity.] They multifariously distribute Hades, at one time calling it the leader of a terrane allotment, and at another the sublunary region. Sometimes they denominate it the most inward of the ethereal and material worlds; at another time,[ 'Hades is with great propriety, thus called: for the rational, when giving itself up to the dominion of the irrational soul, may be truly said to be situated in Hades, or obscurity.'] irrational soul. In this, they place the rational soul, not essentially, but according to habitude, when it sympathizes with, and energizes according to partial reason. [Hades therefore embraces the kâmalokic and devachanic sphere of the Esoteric Philosophy — Hades simply meaning the “Unseen” (sensible) World].......

'With respect to these dogmas, many of them are adopted by Plato [ 'Indeed, he who has penetrated the profundity of Plato's doctrines, will find that they perfectly accord with these Chaldaic dogmas; as is everywhere copiously shown by Proclus.'] and Aristotle; but Plotinus, Porphyry, Jamblichus, Proclus, and their disciples, adopt the whole of them, and admit them without hesitation, as doctrines of a divine origin'.

Michael Constantinus Psellus lived in the eleventh century, was called the Prince of Philosophers ( φιλοσόφων ὓπατος), and was the most learned and voluminous writer of his age. The Chaldaean Oracles are not to be considered merely in their Greek dress, but pertain to a genuine Chaldaic tradition. As Taylor says (op. cit., p. 35):

'That they are of Chaldaic origin and were not forged by Christians of any denomination, as has been asserted by some superficial writers is demonstrably evident from the following considerations: in the first place, John Picus, Earl of Mirandula [the famous Kabalist], in a letter to Ficinus, [Page 88] informs him that he was in possession of the Oracles or Zoroaster in the Chaldaean tongue, with a commentary on them, by certain Chaldaean wise men.' He also adduces the commentaries of the Neoplatonists upon these Oracles, who certainly were not friendly to Christianity. It is all the more probable that the Oracles they commented upon were genuine, seeing that they exposed the forgeries of a number of false revelations ascribed to Zoroaster 'by many Christians and heretics who had abandoned the ancient philosophy'. The ascription of these Oracles to Zoroaster in the Chaldaean MS. of Picus is exceedingly interesting as it brings the old Avesta religion (so strongly resembling the old Vedic system), into line with the Aryan - Chaldaeo - Tibetan doctrine.

I do not flatter myself that any but a very few readers will take a vital interest in the difficult exposition attempted in this chapter. There are, however, a few who will be struck with the startling resemblances between the Orphic and Chaldaic traditions of Theogony and the Cosmogenesis of the Stanzas of Dzyan. These students will at once see the common basis of the three traditions, and will admit that the establishment of this point is well worth the labour expended. Here we have simply the exoteric traditions. The 'under-meaning' ( ὑπόνοια ) has never been fully revealed; and this not because of any jealous exclusiveness, but simply because no human language can paint the inconceivably rapid transmutations of primal vital processes. Moreover, it is absolutely impossible to convey to one who is not possessed of spiritual sight, phenomena and noumena that have never fallen under his observation.

Having thus presented the reader with an Outline of the traditional Orphic Theogony, we will proceed to fill in a few details. [Page 89]

Chapter 6

Some Cosmogonical Details


IF we imagine to ourselves the seven colours of the spectrum, the result of the breaking up of a ray of pure sunlight by means of a triangular prism; and if we further imagine each of these seven rays being split up into seven subdivisions, resembling the seven parent rays, but each ray retaining its dominant tint in all its seven subdivisions — then we shall obtain a clue that will aid us in grasping the intricacies of the permutations and combinations of Nature-Powers. As this is a most important subject and as, without a thorough grasp of the theory, the Orphic Theogony and Cosmogony would remain an unintelligible chaos, I append a most valuable passage from Proclus' Comment on the Timaeus, Book IV (Taylor, ii.281, 282):

'Each of the planets [ ? “planetary chains”] is a whole world, comprehending in itself many divine genera, invisible to us. Of all these, however, the visible star has the government. And in this, the fixed stars differ from those in the planetary spheres, that the former [the fixed stars] have one monad [the sphere of fixed stars], which is the wholeness of them; but that in each of the latter [planetary spheres] there are
invisible stars [“globes”], which revolve together with their spheres; so that in each, there is both the wholeness, and a leader [the “planetary”] which is allotted an exempt transcendency. For the planets being secondary to the fixed stars, [Page 90] require a twofold prefecture, the one more total, but the other more partial. But that in each of these, there is a multitude co-ordinate with each, you may infer from the extremes. For if the inerratic sphere [of fixed stars] has a multitude co-ordinate with itself, and earth is the wholeness of terrestrial, in the same manner as the inerratic sphere is of celestial animals [the “sacred animals” — the stars being ensouled], it is necessary that each [intermediate] wholeness, should entirely possess certain partial animals [“globes” or “wheels”] co-ordinate with itself; through which also they are said to be wholenesses. The intermediate natures, however, are concealed from our sense [are invisible], the extremes [the spheres of fixed stars (or suns) and visible planets] being manifest; one of them through its transcendently luminous essence, and the other through its alliance to us. If likewise, partial souls [“globes”] are disseminated about them, some about the sun [the substitute of an invisible planet], and others about the moon [also a substitute], and others about each of the rest [the visible planets], and prior to souls, daemons [daimones] give completion to the herds of which they are the leaders, it is evidently well said that each of the spheres is a world; theologists also teaching us these things when they say that there are Gods [cosmocratores, cosmagogi] in each prior to daemons, some of which are under the government of others. Thus, for instance, they assert concerning our mistress the Moon, that the Goddess Hecate is contained in her, and also Diana. Thus too, in speaking of the sovereign Sun, and the Gods that are there, they celebrate Bacchus as being there,

“The Sun's assessor, who with watchful eye surveys

“The sacred pole”.

'They likewise celebrate the Jupiter who is there, Osiris, the Pan, and others of which the books of theologists and [Page 91] theurgists are full; from all which it is evident that each of the planets is truly said to be the leader of many Gods, who give completion to its peculiar circulation.'

On this luminous commentary of Proclus, Taylor appends an excellent note, which I have already twice partially referred to, but which I now give in full to impress the theory upon the mind of the reader.

'From this extraordinary passage, we may perceive at one view why the Sun in the Orphic hymns is called Jupiter, why Apollo is called Pan, and Bacchus the Sun; why the Moon seems to be the same with Rhea, Ceres, Proserpine, Juno, Venus, etc., and in short why any one divinity is celebrated with the names and epithets of so many of the rest. For from this sublime theory it follows that every sphere contains a Jupiter, Neptune, Vulcan, Vesta, Minerva, Mars, Ceres, Juno, Diana, Mercury, Venus, Apollo, and in short every deity, each sphere at the same time conferring on these Gods the peculiar characteristic of its nature; so that for instance in the Sun they all possess a solar property, in the Moon a lunar one, and so of the rest. From this theory too we may perceive the truth of that divine saying of the ancients, that all things are full of Gods; for more particular orders proceed from such as are more general, the mundane from the super-mundane, and the sublunary from the celestial: while earth becomes the general receptacle of the illuminations of all the Gods. “Hence”, as Proclus shortly after observes, “there is a terrestrial Ceres, Vesta, and Isis, as likewise a terrestrial Jupiter and a terrestrial Hermes, established about the one divinity of the Earth; just as a multitude of celestial Gods proceeds about the divinity of the heavens. For there are progressions of all the celestial Gods into the Earth; and Earth contains all things, in an earthly manner, which Heaven comprehends celestially. Hence we speak of a [Page 92] terrestrial Bacchus and a terrestrial Apollo, who bestows the all-various streams of water [psychic influence] with which the earth abounds, and openings prophetic of futurity”. And if to all this we only add, that all the other mundane Gods subsist in the twelve above mentioned, and that the first triad of these is demiurgic or fabricative, viz., Jupiter, Neptune, Vulcan; the second, Vesta, Minerva, Mars, defensive; the third, Ceres, Juno, Diana, vivific; and the fourth, Mercury, Venus, Apollo, elevating and harmonic: I say, if we unite this with the preceding theory, there is nothing in the ancient theology that will not appear admirably sublime and beautifully connected, accurate in all its parts, scientific and divine.'

Another important point to remember is the androgynous nature of the Powers, symbolized as male-female. This was probably the subject of the Orphic work which I have called, in the list of works, Twin-Natures. It represents the polarity or polarizing force of the Powers, and corresponds to the Shaktis (powers or female aspects) of Hindu mythology. These twin aspects correspond to Mind and Soul, and are explained by Taylor in a note on Hymn IX addressed to the Moon (Myst. Hymns, pp. 26, 27):

'Ficinus, On the Theology of Plato (iv.128), has the following remarkable passage, most probably derived from some MS. Commentary of Proclus, or some other of the latter Platonists; for unfortunately he does not acquaint us with the source of his information. [It was evidently the same as that from which Cornelius Agrippa drew his information; see Chapter III, “The Opinions of the Kabalists”. ] “The professors (says he) of the Orphic theology consider a twofold power in souls, and in the celestial orbs; the one consisting [Page 93] in knowledge, the other in vivifying and governing the orb with which that power is connected. Thus in the orb of the earth, they call the gnostic power Pluto, but the other Proserpine. In water they denominate the former power Ocean, and the latter Tethys. In air, that thundering Jove, and this Juno. In fire, that Phanes, and this Aurora. In the soul of the lunar sphere, they call the gnostic power Liknitan Bacchus, the other Thalia. In the sphere of Mercury, that Bacchus Silenus, this Euterpe. In the orb of Venus, that Lysius Bacchus, this Erato. In the sphere of the Sun, that Trietericus Bacchus, this Melpomene. In the orb of Mars, that Bassareus Bacchus, this Clio. In the sphere of Jupiter, that Sebazius, this Terpsichore. In the orb of Saturn, that Amphietus, this Polymnia. In the eighth sphere, that Pericionius, this Urania. But in the soul of the world they call the gnostic power Bacchus Eribromius, but the animating power Calliope. From all which the Orphic theologists infer, that the particular epithets of Bacchus are compared with those of the Muses, for the purpose of informing us that the powers of the Muses are, as it were, intoxicated with the nectar of divine knowledge; and in order that we may consider the nine Muses, and nine Bacchuses, revolving round one Apollo, that is about the splendour of one invisible Sun”. The greater part of this passage is preserved by Gyraldus in his Syntagma de Musis, and by Natales Comes in his Mythology, but without mentioning the original author. As in each of the celestial spheres, therefore, the soul of the ruling deity is of the female, and the intellect is of the male characteristic, it is by no means wonderful that the Moon is called in this hymn “female and male”.'

The above information is of exceeding great interest as will be seen by casting the eye over the table overleaf.

Now, who were the Muses ? Their numbers are given [Page 94]

Spheres Gods and Shaktis

variously as three, seven, and nine. They are generally said to be the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, Remembrance, or Memory (Hes., Theog., 52., etc., 915 ; Hom., II., ii.491, Od., i.10; Apollod., i.3, § I); whereas others call them the daughters of Uranus, Heaven, and Gaea, Earth (Schol. ad Pind. Nem., iii.I6; Paus. ix.29, § 2.; Diod., iv.7; Arnob., Adv.Gent., iii.37). That is to say, that the Muses were the powers of remembrance or reminiscence of knowledge previously enjoyed by the soul in past births. Thus they were called Mneiae) Remembrances (Plat. Sympos., ix.14). They were also said to be daughters of Uranus and Gaea, for such knowledge or experience can only be obtained by Heaven and Earth 'kissing each other', that is by reincarnation. They are [Page 95] always connected with Apollo, the God of inspiration, who holds in his hand the seven-stringed lyre over each of the strings of which one of the Muses presides. Thus Apollo is called the Leader of the Choir of the Muses — Μουσαγέτηϛ (Diod., i.18).

The rôles commonly assigned to these are as follows:

I. Calliope, the Muse of epic poetry;
2. Clio, the Muse of history;
3. Euterpe, the Muse of lyric poetry;
4. Melpomene, the Muse of tragedy;
5. Terpsichore, the Muse of choral dance and song;
6. Erato, the Muse of amatory poetry;
7. Polymnia or Polyhymnia, the Muse of the sublime hymn;
8. Urania, the Muse of astronomy;
9. Thalia, the Muse of comedy.

It is curious to remark the legend which tells us that the Seirens, having ventured upon a contest of song with the nine sisters, were deprived of the feathers of their wings, which the Muses subsequently wore as an ornament (Eustath. ad Hom., p. 85; Hirt, Mythol. Bilderb., p. 203 sq.). This reminds us of the contest of the Devas and Asuras over the senses, in the Upanishads. The Asuras 'pierced' each of the senses with 'imperfection', so that a man when he sees, sees both pleasant and unpleasant things, etc. The Seirens are the allurements of the opened psychic senses, the Muses are the beneficent and healthy use of the same powers. It is, therefore, not surprising to hear that Orpheus was son of Calliope, for Calliope is the Shakti of the World-Soul, and Orpheus was, therefore, fully illumined by the greatest of the Muses.

The name Muse (μοὓσα ; μάουσα from μά
ειν, to 'strive after', etc.,) is 'referred to the emotion or passion, the “fine frenzy”, implied in the verb in the usual sense “strive after” (μεμαώϛ, excited), and in its derivatives, among which are counted μαίνεσθαι, be in a frenzy, μανία, frenzy, madness, [Page 96] μάντιϛ – , a seer, prophet, etc.' (The Century Dictionary, sub voc.) We prefer the word 'inspiration' instead of 'frenzy' and 'madness'; the seers, prophets, poets, sages, and philosophers, and great geniuses of the world, are not 'mad' except for materialists.

Nor should it surprise the reader to find Phanes located among the material Orbs or Spheres. This Phanes is the manifested material light, which has Aurora, the Dawn, for spouse, and not the invisible Phanes, noëtic or 'intelligible' Light, which has Night for consort.


Another idea to bear in mind, in studying Orphic cosmogony, is that there are two creations, one intellectual or ideal, and the other sensible or material. This idea is common to almost all the great religions, and is especially worked out in the Hindu Purânas. These creations are, in Platonic language, called: (a) the creation of wholes, and (b) the creation of parts. The first Fathers of wholes subsist in the Noëtic Order, where is placed the ideal Paternal Cause; this proceeds through the Noëric Order to the Demiurgus, the last of the Order, Zeus, Jupiter, the 'Father of Gods and men'; whereas those Powers superior to Jupiter are 'Gods of Gods'. The King of the first creation, 'according to Orpheus, is called by the blessed immortals who dwell on lofty Olympus, Phanes Protogonus [the First-born]'. (See the Scholia of Proclus on the Cratylus of Plato; Taylor, Myst. Hymns, p. 166.) Olympus is the Celestial Arch in the Noëtic-noëric Order (see Chart), and is the same as the Mount Meru of the Hindus.

And so, in his turn, 'the demiurgic Zeus establishes two Diacosms, one the celestial, and the other the sub-celestial; for which cause the theologist [Orpheus] says that his sceptre is [Page 97] four and twenty measures, since he rules over two dodecads’. (Proclus in Crat., p. 57; quoted by Lobeck, op. cit., p. 517.) And so also in his commentary on the Timaeus (ii.137), he says: 'Phanes establishes two triads, and Zeus two dodecads.’

And Kircher (Prodrom. Copt., pp. 173 and 275) shows plainly the idea with regard to the Egyptians in the words: 'Heaven above, heaven below; stars above, stars below; all that is above, thus also below; understand this and be blessed.’— ( Οὐρανὸϛ ἄνω, οὐρανὸϛ κάτω, ἄστρατρα ἄνω, ἄστρα κάτω,πἃν ὃ ἄνωτοτοὐ κάτω.)

The distinction between the Sensible and Supersensible World, and between the material and intellectual creations, must never be absent from the mind in studying Grecian Theosophy.

The subject of the Triads is also one of great interest, for it has to do with.


A glance at the Chart of the Powers will show how this idea runs through the whole system. It is sufficient here, however, to point out the correspondences between the Trinity of (a) Being, (b) Life, and (c) Intellect, with (a) the Purusha, or Âtman proper, or Self, (b) the Shânta Âtman, or Self of Peace, and (c) the Mahân Âtman or Great Self, of the Kathopanishad (ValIi iii, Adhyâya i); he who is at one with the Mahân Âtman being called Mahâtmâ, or Great Soul. Proclus, moreover, in his Commentary on the First Alcibiades of Plato, tells us, that in the Noëtic Order the three hypostases are The Good, The Wise, The Beautiful. And that in the Noëtic-noëric Order, the three are Faith, Truth and Love. 'Love supernally descends from intelligibles to mundane concerns, calling all things upward to divine Beauty. Truth, also, proceeds through all things, illuminating [Page 98] all things with knowledge. And lastly, Faith proceeds through the universe, establishing all things with transcendent union in Good. Hence the (Chaldaean Oracles assert, “that all things are governed by and abide in these”. And, on this account, they order Theurgists [Yogîs ] to conjoin themselves to Divinity through this triad.' (See Taylor, Myst. Hymns, page 118.) It is curious to remark that the three requisites for the student of Brahma-vidyâ or Yoga-vidyâ (Union with the Divine, in the Upanishads), are Shraddhâ (Faith), Tapas (purification or Contemplation on Truth) and Brahma-charya (Service of the Supreme or Action for Love of Deity); or, in other words, Faith, Practice and Discipline.

he above will give the reader some insight into the ethical side of this great system. Now there are pre-eminently three Fathers or Kings in the system (see Proclus on the Cratylus of Plato) viz., (a) Uranus who is of the connective (preservative) order, (b) Saturn who is of the Titanic (destructive) order, and (c) Jupiter who is of the demiurgic (creative) order. Above all is the Great Forefather Phanes (the Intellectual Prajâpati). But the subject can be worked out infinitely, and so we must hurry on to


Hermias writes (in Phaedr.., page 137), 'Phanes is a tetrad, as Orpheus says, “with four eyes gazing on every side” '. Proclus (in Tim., V.291), gives the Holy Four as Phanes, Nox, Uranus and Saturn; and in the same book (V.303) he quotes the strange phrase, from some ancient source, 'Phanes whom the blessed ones called the First-born' ( ὅν τε Φάνητα πρωτόγονον μάκαρεϛ κάλεον). The 'blessed ones' must surely mean the ancient Sages or Masters; but this is by the [Page 99] way. This is the Quaternary in the Super-sensible World, the primary creation; but in the secondary, in the Sensible World Proclus also tells us (Comment. on Crat. ; Taylor, Myst. Hymns, p. 171) : 'The Demiurgus simply imparts to all things life (a) divine, (b) intellectual, (c) psychical, and (d) that which is divisible about bodies.' And then he adds most wisely: 'No one, however, should think that the Gods in their generations of secondary natures, are diminished; or that they sustain a division of their proper essence in giving subsistence to things subordinate; or that they expose their progeny to the view, externally to themselves, in the same manner as the causes of mortal offspring. ...Nay, but abiding in themselves, they produce by their very essence posterior natures, comprehend on all sides their progeny, and supernally perfect the productions and energies of their offspring.'

Their essence is no more diminished than the flame of a lamp, from which innumerable lamps may be lighted.

Proclus (ibid., p. 175) also speaks of four intellects or minds: (a) intelligible and occult intellect ( νοὓϛ νοητὀϛ ), (b) that which unfolds into light ( ἐκφαντορικὸϛ νοὓϛ
), (c) that which connectedly contains ( συνεκτικὸϛ νονὓϛ), (d) that which imparts perfection ( τελεσιουργ ὸϛ νοὓϛ); or in other words, (a) Phanes; (b) Uranus, Heaven; (c) Celestial Earth, or Prime Matter; and (d) the Sub-Celestial Arch.

So also Rhea, Intelligent Life, is the Mother of the fourfold Life, divine, intellectual, psychical and mundane. The consideration of the Trinity and Quaternary naturally brings us to the Septenary. Of this, however, we have little to say in the present place, as the subject has to be taken up at greater length when treating of Apollo's Seven-stringed Lyre. The hebdomads link on to the triads and tetrads as follows: 'Heaven produces twofold monads, and triads and [Page 100] hebdomads equal in number to the monads,' the 'twice-seven' of the Stanzas of Dzyan. And thus the forty-nine Powers of the Noëric Order are generated.


In completing our sketch of some of the principal characteristics of Orphic Cosmogony, we must not forget to say a word on Nature, a word which bears a meaning of a very distinct character, differing widely from the loose and empty term in our modern vocabularies. Proclus (in Tim., p. 4), informs us that Nature is the last of the demiurgic causes of the Sensible World; that is to say, he speaks of invisible Nature, or the subtle or psychic body of the gross envelope of the World. This Body is full of productive forms and forces, through which all mundane existences are governed. She proceeds from the vivific Goddess Rhea. Through her ‘the most inanimate beings participate of a certain soul'. Thus in the Xth Hymn, Orpheus speaks of her 'turning the swift traces of her feet with a swift whirling'. She depends on Rhea through Minerva, the intellectual power of the zoogonic triad. Hence we learn that, according to the Orphic theology, Minerva 'fashioned the variegated veil of Nature from that wisdom and virtue of which she is the presiding deity'.Thus it is that Simplicius tells us (Comment. Arist. Phys., ii): 'That one of the conceptions which we form of Nature is, that it is the character of everything, and that in consequence of this, we employ the name of it in all things, and do not refuse to say the nature of souls, of intellect, and even of deity itself.' All of which is excellently explained by Taylor (Myst. Hymns, pp. 29-31), who in this connection lucidly describes the nature of emanation as follows: ' All the Gods, according to this theology, though they proceed by an ἄρρητοϛ ἔκφανσιϛ or ineffable unfolding into light from the [Page 101] first principle of things, yet at the same time are αὐτοτελεἳϛ ὑποστάσειϛ , or self-perfect, and self-produced essences.'


To conclude this chapter, it is necessary to refer to the idea of Cycles in the Orphic system. The doctrine of alternate manifestations and re-absorptions (Manvantaras and Pralayas) of the Universe is plainly set forth, as may be seen from Le Grand (Dissert. Crit. et Phil., p. 103) : 'To more clearly explain that septenary referred to by Ficus of Mirandula in his conclusion on the Orphic doctrine of the world, you should be informed that “the world-engine will come to an end at the termination of the sixth age”. At the end of the last two thousand years cycle, and in the seventh, the world will come to an end. ...Orpheus calls these cycles Ages, in a prophecy which Plato refers to, “After the sixth age, the material cosmos will be burnt up”.

And Eusebius (Praep. Ev.,XIII. .xii.688) has preserved the following verses of Linus: 'When the seventh light comes, the omnipotent Father begins to dissolve all things, but for the good there is a seventh light also. For there is a seven-fold origin for all things', etc..

And Proclus (ad Hes. Opp., 156), speaking of the ages or races, says: 'The third race perished by the flood; and then arose a sacred race of demigods that lasted for seven or even eight races,’  ( τὸ τρίτον γένοϛ ἐξέλιπε διὰ τοὓ κατακλυσμοὓ υετὰ δὲ παρἣλθε ἱερὸν τὸ τϖν ἡυιθέων ἀρκέσαν ἐπὶ ἑπτὰ ἢ καὶ ὀκτὼ γενεάϛ.)
Here we have clear evidence of the widespread tradition of the alternate destruction of the world by water and fire; also the destruction of the' Atlanteans' by the great flood, and the salvation of the 'divine race' which 'lasted and will last till the end of the Cycle. But it is time to bring this chapter to a conclusion. [Page 102]


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