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The Quest for immortality in the Epic of Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh and the two lions


The Epic of Gilgamesh[1] comes from an age so ancient that it has almost been forgotten. It antedates Homeric epic by at least one and a half thousand years, which makes it over five thousand years old.  Gilgamesh is one of the first human heroes, a historical figure, about which we know, and yet he is so sympathetic and understandable to humanity. Gilgamesh was the King of Uruk, who lived and reigned during the first half of the third millennium. He was fifth in line from the founding of the first dynasty of Uruk (after the flood).  Here is not only a first heroic tale, but evidence of the first spiritual, inner journey ever written.

It is this spiritual aspect which fascinates and which I will be dealing with.

After the death of his beloved friend, Enkidu, who was a ‘natural and wild’ man, Gilgamesh weeps and grieves for him. He realises that he too will die, and this frightens him. In his grief and despair, Gilgamesh resolves to find his forefather, Utnapishtim, whom the gods took after the deluge and gave everlasting life, so that he too can find eternal life.

After long wanderings through the wilderness, living like a poor hunter and wearing the skins of animals, Gilgamesh came to a mountain pass and remembered a time long ago, where he saw lions there. He was afraid and prayed to the moon god, to protect him. When he had prayed he lay down to sleep and dreamed, and waking from his dream, saw lions round him glorying in life. He kills these lions, and scatters them. I feel that this is a vision that Gilgamesh had, on coming out of his dream. There is a hint of some special connection between the lions and the Moon, so that we can perhaps understand that Gilgamesh undergoes a level of initiation: he overcomes that which makes him afraid, in other words, he conquers his fear..  Two lions perhaps represent both the feminine and the masculine aspects of Light and the sun. Lions are often symbolic as guardians of the door, of treasure, or of the Tree of Life. It is a gateway through which Gilgamesh has crossed over into another realm, on his great quest for immortality.

From here, Gilgamesh comes to Mashu, the great twin peaks into which Shamash the sun, was said to descend at nightfall and from which it returns at dawn. The Sumerians thought of the sun as asleep through the night, but the Semites held that he continued his journey in a boat, passing under the earth and over the waters of the underworld, till he came to the eastern mountain, to rise up in the morning with his bride, the Dawn. At the gate of the twin peaks, Scorpion-men stand guard. These scorpions were half man and half dragon, ‘their glory terrifying and their stare striking death into men’. But Gilgamesh shielded his eyes for a moment only, and then took courage and approached. By doing this the ‘scorpion-men’ knew that he was two-thirds god and one third human. I think that this could mean that Gilgamesh was seen by them as a spiritually evolved and wise man. They ask him why he is undertaking his journey and he gives his usual answer, which I will quote here, as it beautifully shows his state of mind, his depression, and his suffering.

“For Enkidu; I loved him dearly, together we endured all kinds of hardships; on his account I have come, for the common lot of man has taken him. I have wept for him day and night, I would not give up his body for burial, I thought my friend would come back because of my weeping. Since he went, my life is nothing; that is why I have travelled here in search of Utnapishtim my father; for men say he has entered the assembly of the god, and has found everlasting life. I have a desire to question him concerning the living and the dead,”[2]

So we see that the situation which has led to Gilgamesh’s quest, is the very human and heart-breaking one of grief and despair, at the death of a loved one. As Sufis we are often told that the heart must break open before we can experience Love and Life, so for Gilgamesh, this is an inner journey of individuation. The man-scorpion told Gilgamesh that no human being had ever made this journey before; that it would be twelve leagues in complete darkness. Twelve leagues is a very, very long time – a whole cycle of time, but Gilgamesh answered that although he goes in sorrow and pain, still he must go on. So the gate of the mountain was opened for him.

Gilgamesh then retraces the sun’s journey through the mountain on foot, and in utter darkness, one league at a time, to come out in the sun’s garden by the shores of Ocean at dawn. This garden was an earthly paradise, like the garden of Eden. Here the sun walks in the early morning and sees Gilgamesh – unkempt and desperate. This was a dark night of the soul for him.

Gilgamesh had deteriorated to the point where he was unrecognisable, wearing animal skins and eating their flesh. He was no longer the great hero and king of his people, but a suffering human being.  He had followed the sun’s road to his rising, through the terrible darkness of the mountain.

He arrives at the garden of the gods; all around him stood bushes bearing gems – lapis lazuli, and carnelian. For thorns and thistles there were haematite and rare stones, agate and pearls from out of the sea. As Gilgamesh walked in this garden by the edge of the sea Shamash saw him and saw that Gilgamesh was dressed in skins of animals and ate their flesh. Shamash was the Sun, the god of wisdom, and the husband and brother of Ishtar, the goddess of love and fertility. Shamash was distressed to see Gilgamesh like this; no mortal man has ever come this way before, nor will again. He tells Gilgamesh that he will never find the life for which he is searching. Gilgamesh replies to glorious Shamash, ‘Now that I have toiled and strayed so far over the wilderness, am I to sleep, and let the earth cover my head for ever? Let my eyes see the sun until they are dazzled with looking. Although I am no better than a dead man, still let me see the light of the sun.’[3]

Gilgamesh having journeyed through the utter darkness of his long night journey, finally sees the sun in all his glory and longs for this light forever – eternal Light. For him the darkness he had travelled through, represented death and he did not want to go there again.

‘In the ancient mystery schools, the mysteries were held to remove the fear of death and to give assurance of the survival of the departed. Those who had been initiated were believed to be happy after death, while others led a dismal life hereafter, clinging to their graves.

The preparatory training for the greater mysteries was very severe. Fasting was undergone, abstinence of all sorts, extremes of heat and cold had to be endured, and the candidates swam through water for days and had to walk through fire. The training often lasted many years. After initiation, in the beginning all was darkness, dread and dismay; then a marvellous Light was seen and shining forms came to meet the initiate. The initiate experienced while on earth the state of the soul dissociated from the body. A Greek writer says, ‘Here all instruction ceases, one beholds the nature of things.’ Apuleius, who had received all the initiations of the mysteries, says, ‘I went to the boundary between life and death, I passed through the four elements, I stood on the threshold of Proserpina, at the time of deepest midnight I saw the sun shine in brightest splendour, I saw the greater and the lesser gods and revered them near at hand. The initiate was said to be received, while living on earth, among the immortal gods, and made as one of them.

Every soul that treads the path of initiation takes his first steps through the darkness; as Ghazali says, ‘The spiritual pursuit is like shooting an arrow through the darkness.’ No doubt as one approaches the goal the light comes; as the Quran says, ‘God is the light of the heavens and of the earth.’ Then, once the sight has become keen, there is no further instruction needed. One gets insight into the hidden laws of nature, all things seem to speak to the seer of their character, nature, and secret. This realization removes the boundary between life and death. One rises above the elements which have formed this mortal abode – the body and mind – for the soul’s experience, when one touches one’s true being, the soul. It is the soul-realized man who stands above all matter, and in this way the spirit gets victory over matter’.[4]

So it is clear that Gilgamesh’s journey has been a great initiation into other realms.  When Gilgamesh comes through the darkness, he finds himself in the Light – in the garden of the gods. It is interesting that Shamash tells Gilgamesh that he is the first to make this great journey, and the story has become known so that others could and have made this journey after Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh could well be the first mystic, that we have a record of. Gilgamesh at this point, has seen the Divine Light – the sun in its brightest splendour.

The garden of the gods is so beautiful and has a similar feeling to it as the white palace or castle in the stories of The Fairy of the Dawn and the Frog Princess. This is a ‘real’ place, known to mystics and sages. I also wonder could the bright stone which Golden Chisel found and chiselled into a stone ram, be one of the precious stones from the garden of the gods?

There is also a lesson here for those of us who have experienced heartbreak and loss. Do we have to go through the twelve leagues of darkness before we come out into the garden of the Sun. Jung has said that we have to go through a depression – not out of it. This is very true.

This journey is to be continued in the next blogs.


[1] Sanders, N.K. Introduction of The Epic of Gilgamesh, Penguin Books, Middlesex, England, 1977

[2] Ibid p98

[3] Ibid P100

[4] Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Gathas, Gatha 2, The Greek Mysteries

The Symbolism of the ‘Stone’ ram, in the story of Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram. Part 2

In this essay, I am attempting to uncover the mystery of the ‘stone ram’ in the story of Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram. In my last post we uncovered the symbolism of the Ram and its way of ‘pointing to’ or leading us to the Water of Life, but why a ‘stone’ ram? In the Epic of Gilgamesh[1], there is made mention of ‘holy stone things’, in Gilgamesh’s quest for immortality. These ‘stone things’ seem to have been the means of propulsion or perhaps boat tackle, which the Ferryman used to cross the fearsome Ocean.

In this great tale, after the death of his beloved friend Enkidu, (a primitive or ‘natural’ man), Gilgamesh is alone and with the realisation of his mortality, becomes afraid of death. He had been a great king, who had achieved much in his lifetime, but now, in grief and fear, he goes on a quest to find immortality. In his distress he remembers his forefather Utnapishtim, who is an earlier version of Noah and who, it was said, found everlasting life, having become a god, after surviving the flood.

The Gilgamesh story takes place in the city of Uruk in Mesopotamia, and goes back some 5,000 years. It is the first story which has ever been recorded. In it, the hero Gilgamesh was King of Uruk and is a historical figure.

Ancient Mesopotamia, lay between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. There ground water or foundation water was believed to be the source of everything, of all creation. The sages at the beginning of creation were thought to be half fish. The Sumerian God Enki was the God of wisdom, whose particular element was the sweet waters bringing life to the land.

The people there relied heavily on the regular spring floods which burst the banks of the rivers annually. Mesopotamia was a cross-roads of the early ancient world, for trade between Egypt, India and China. So the stories, philosophies and religions of these regions, came to China and probably influenced their own understanding of the world. This may well have been the background of the story of Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram. There are some parallels.

After many adventures and travelling as a ‘wild’ man, Gilgamesh comes to a place beside the sea (an in-between place, or a crossing place), where lives Siduri, the woman of the vine, the maker of wine; so here is a connection with the God Dionisius, who was the god of wine, and which we dealt with in the previous post. It was Dionisius, who saw the ram in the desert, and following it, found fresh water.

Siduri sits in the garden at the edge of the sea, with a golden bowl and the golden vats that the gods gave her. The figure of the wine-bearer was still used by medieval Sufi poets for whom it was the symbol of ‘reality revealed’. She is covered with a veil; and from where she sits she sees Gilgamesh coming towards her, wearing animal skins, with ‘the flesh of the gods in his body, but despair in his heart, and his face like the face of one who has made a long journey’[2]. She does not recognise him and thinks he is a criminal. She bars the gate against him, but he calls to her and asks her what she saw that made her bar her gate? He tells her he is the mighty Gilgamesh, and of the mighty feats that he has done in his life, and threatens to break down her door and burst through her gate, if she doesn’t let him in. Siduri then responds and says “If you are Gilgamesh, who have done all these things, why are your cheeks so starved and your face so drawn?”[3]

He tells her of the despair in his heart and the grief for his friend; how he is mortally afraid of his own death. She tells him he too will die, and that he should enjoy the life remaining to him. There is no way of crossing the Ocean, no-one can do that, she tells him.  Only the sun in his glory crosses the ocean.

‘Look at him well, and if it is possible perhaps you will cross the waters with him; but if it is not possible, then you must go back’ Siduri tells him. This woman is clearly a great Teacher, an aspect of the goddess perhaps. She is attempting to guide and help Gilgamesh.

But she does tell Gilgamesh where to find Urshanabi, the ferryman of Utnapishtim.  The holy things of stone are with the ferryman Urshanabi. Urshanabi has fashioned the prow of the boat into a snake – the urnu-snake. Some say that Urshanabi is collecting urnu-snakes in the forest. Note that Urshanabi is the ferryman of Utnapishtim and not of Gilgamesh. This is important for the understanding of what happens.

But when Gilgamesh sees what she has told to him, he is seized with anger. He attacks the ‘Stone Things’ and the urnu-snakes and destroys them all in his rage. Then he goes into the forest and sits down. What is it about the ‘stone things’, and what he saw in the boat, which made Gilgamesh so very angry that he smashed them immediately on sight. Was it fear of the unknown? Was it so terrifying to be faced with something which was sacred, which was powerful and numinous and alien? Was he faced with a new sea-faring technology which he felt threatened by? Did he see something in the boat which made him think that it could not take him across the Ocean?

What these ‘holy things of stone’ are, is a mystery – no-one has yet been able to shed light on their meaning. Some scholars think of them as lodestones (a naturally magnetized mineral used as a compass in the ancient world. This does not explain why punting poles would have substituted for this, as we see, later in the story. A later fragmentary verse suggests that the Stone Things were magical images of some sort.


In the story of Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram[4], the hero, carves his stone ram, from a bright stone, which he found in the dried pond, after meditating in the mountains. This stone ram is the psychopomp which guides and carries our hero to the other realms. This must be fought or worked for in some way. In the story of The Little Humpbacked Horse, Ivan must conquer the ‘demon’ who was flattening the Tsar’s corn every night. This ‘demon’ was a white mare. It is the feminine which must be integrated in some way, so that She then gives the hero his ‘teacher and guide’ his psychopomp – in this case his Little Humpbacked horse. In the story of The Fairy of the dawn, Petru must learn from his old witch teacher, how to manifest his beautiful horse, with which he later fights the dragon, travels through the realms, and wins the sacred water of life.

Gilgamesh encounters his Teacher, Siduri, and she too teaches him about life and death, and the inner journey; where he can find immortality. Urshanabi, the Ferryman and his boat, are the means by which Gilgamesh, can make this journey – in other words, his psychopomp. Urshanabi cannot take Gilgamesh with him:  that journey is Urshanabi’s and he would use his snakes and his stone things to carry him across the Ocean. He can only guide Gilgamesh, on his great journey. The psychopomp is the spiritual guide of a living person’s soul. Gilgamesh must find his own way of propelling and protecting the boat or vehicle on his own quest.


Gilgamesh has encountered a ‘technology’, belief system, or thinking, as symbolised by the ‘stone things’, which is quite foreign and frightening to him. This belongs to Urshanabi who has been making this journey every night. When Gilgamesh ‘sees’ the boat with its winged serpent and the ‘holy stone things, he realises that these were created by Urshanabi himself, for his own journey. He must also realise that these things cannot take him there! They are part of Urshanabi’s culture, psyche and personality – totally alien to Gilgamesh. This is what makes him angry and smashes them. The story says that having done this, he sits down and waits for Urshanabi to come to teach and guide him to make the journey.  In smashing these precious ‘stone things’ he smashes the only means of bringing the boat across the Ocean and of protecting it from the waters of death. We are told that when Urshanabi hears Gilgamesh smashing the ‘stone things’, he beat his head. He is utterly devastated. He knows that he can never make that journey by himself again. He tells Gilgamesh:

“Gilgamesh, your own hands have prevented you from crossing the Ocean; when you destroyed the tackle of the boat you destroyed its safety.”

“Gilgamesh, those things you destroyed, their property is to carry me over the water, to prevent the waters of death from touching me. It was for this reason that I preserved them and the urnu snakes with them”.

In trying to discover and understand the meaning of these stone things, it is striking that in their description of paradise, the writers of the Epic of Gilgamesh, describe this garden as ‘ the garden of the gods; all around him stood bushes bearing gems – lapis lazuli, and carnelian. For thorns and thistles there were haematite and rare stones, agate and pearls from out of the sea.’[5]

Precious stones and their qualities were fundamental to understanding the numinous in those ancient cultures, to this present day. The ‘stone things’ could indeed have been carved figurines, carved in precious stone. We are told in the story of Golden Chisel that the stone was very hard and took a long time to chisel.  To chisel this stone ram, represents the creation of our Ideal of the Divine. It is something, very personal and very difficult, but when it is achieved, the stone ram comes to life for us. It leads us to the fresh spring water of eternal life.

As we saw, in the previous post, there are references to the Ram, which led the way, or pointed the way to fresh spring water, Likewise, with the Zodiac is the symbol of the constellation of Aries.  In ancient times there were thirteen signs of the Zodiac, as there were thirteen lunar months in the year; This thirteenth sign of the Zodiac was Ophiuchus, the Snake Bearer. Perhaps this is what is signified by the serpent prow of the boat which Urshanabi fashioned. At this juncture the Ram was the first constellation, and Ophiuchus was the last.

There is a symbolism in the stones related to Ophiuchus: there is Fluorite, indicating healing on all levels, Black Tourmaline, indicating inner wisdom and transforming negativity, and Tanzanite, relating to phenomena like clairaudience, visions, spiritual connection, and psychic power.

Thus the journey of Gilgamesh is a great journey of the soul, towards healing and Light, as led and guided by Urshanabi in his boat. It is a journey towards healing and an understanding of soul and eternal life.

The parallels with the story of Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram, are extraordinary. At the time when the stone ram came to life, the ram told Golden Chisel that should a stranger ever ‘see’ him, that would be an end to his ‘magic’ – he would no longer be able to bring fresh spring water to the village. Gilgamesh is here the stranger who ‘sees’ the ‘holy stone things’ of Urshanabi (the stone ram of Golden Chisel) and then smashes them. In Golden Chisel, the stone ram was transformed into a heap of rocks, and from these broken pieces, arises a constant spring of fresh water[6]. When the structure of our belief system and spirituality is seen, then it disappears, so that we have direct access, to the Divine One. The water of Life does not have to be fetched every night, but is simply there all the time.

As we will see following blogs, Gilgamesh must create his own ‘ideal’ of the Divine, so that he too can find eternal life.

In the following blogs I will decode three ‘chapters (tablets 10, 11 and 12) from the Epic of Gilgamesh.

  • The Search for Everlasting Life
  • The Story of the Flood
  • The return



[1] Sanders, N.K., The Epic of Gilgamesh, Penguin Books, London, England, 1977

[2] Ibid p 101

[3] Ibid p 101

[4] Daly, Nuria. The Witch as Teacher in Fairy Tales, Balboa Press, 2017 p 209

[5] Sanders, N.K. The Epic of Gilgamesh. P.100

[6] Daly, Nuria. The Witch as teacher in Fairy Tales, Balboa Press, 2017. P 213

The Symbolism of the Ram, in the story of Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram. Part one

The above illustrations, from the tombs of Chinese Tang dynasty,  show that trade and interaction between with Egypt and the west, was well established by this time. The ram symbolised nobility, in the Tang tombs. Imperial Tombs in Tang China, 618-907, by Tonia Eckfeld, RoutledgeCurzon, London, 2005

The wise have given lessons to the world in different forms suited to the evolution of the people at a particular time; the first and most original form of education that the wise gave to the world was symbolical.

One can say that symbology has always served to keep ancient wisdom intact for ages.

There are many thoughts relating to human nature, the nature of life, relating to God and His many attributes, and relating to the spiritual path, that are expressed in symbolism.

There is a great joy in understanding, especially in understanding things that to most people mean nothing. The secret of symbols is revealed to souls who see through life. – it requires intuition, and deeper than that, –  insight –  to read these symbols. To the one to whom symbols speak of their nature and of their secret, each symbol is, in itself, a living manuscript. Symbology is the best means of learning the mysteries of life, and one of the best ways of leaving behind ideas which will be preserved for ages after the Teacher has passed away. It is speaking without speaking, it is writing without writing. The symbol may be said to be an ocean in a drop. [1]

So, we can see that ancient peoples have always expressed their deepest beliefs, their ‘science’ and their technology through stories which explained their world and their gods in a meaningful way. We see this in the fairy tales that I have worked with in The Witch as Teacher in Fairy Tales.

However, there are some symbols which I am coming to realise, possess greater significance and meaning for me and one of these is the symbol of the ‘stone ram’ in the story of Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram. A Han folktale. [2]

There was once a village where there was no fresh water, so the people there did not know the true taste of tea and food. In the village there was a tradition that fresh water would someday burst as a spring from the lips of a stone ram.

This is a strange tradition, and I wondered where it came from and why a stone ram?

Sweet spring water was believed to be the source of all creation. The flooding of the Nile, for instance, was central to life for the ancient Egyptians, who depended upon this for the fertility of their lands.


There are several stories which describe a ram leading Dionysus to find spring water in the desert. Dionysus represents the heart, of ecstasy, and of course Dionysus was the god of wine – of the spirit, but also of death and rebirth, as well as the harvest and fertility.

In Egypt, during the time of Dionysus and his campaigns in Africa, his troops were traveling through a sandy desert; They ran out of water and were worn out struggling through the sands of the desert. A ram appeared before them, rose up in the air and alighted behind a dune. When scouts followed this animal, they came upon a spring of water, but there was no sign of the ram. Dionysus ordered the building of a temple to Zeus Ammon on the site where the spring rose. A likeness of the ram was placed in the temple and the ram was placed in the heavens in a position of great importance. We know this as the constellation of Aries the Ram.

The cult of Aries had its beginning at that time, since its position at the zenith coincided with the rising of Sirius in the east and the flooding of the Nile. The Temple of Amon-Ra at Karnak bore the likeness of the supreme sun-god with the horns of a ram. The road to Karnak was formed from the wings of two granite sphinxes bearing the head of Aries.[3]

Note that Ammon was originally the name of the Greek god Zeus.
The god was represented either in the form of a ram, or as a human being with the head of a ram; but there are some representations in which he appears as a human being wearing only the horns of a ram.

The Milky Way was thought to be the ‘Nile in the Sky’ and so the temple of Amon, was placed in the position of the Ram in the Milky Way so as to replicate ‘ As above, so below.’ The three great pyramids are likewise said to be a reflection of the three stars in Orion’s belt, which incidentally point to Sirius in the night sky.

Herodotus relates a similar story to account for the ram’s head: Heracles wanted to see Zeus, but the latter wished to avoid the meeting; however when Heracles at last gave in to his requests; Zeus cut off the head of a ram, and holding this in front of his own head, having covered the remaining part of his body with the skin of the ram, then appeared before Heracles.
When Dionysus, or according to others, Heracles, went to India and led his army through the deserts of Libya, he was quite exhausted with thirst, and invoked his father, Zeus. Hereupon a ram appeared, which led Heracles to a place where it opened a spring in the sand by scraping the ground with its foot. For this reason, says Servius, Zeus Ammon, whose name is derived from ἄμμος (sand), is represented with the horns of a ram.  There are several other traditions, with various modifications arising from the time and place of their origin; but all agree in representing the ram as the guide and deliverer of the wandering herds or herdsmen in the deserts, either in a direct way, or by giving oracles. Ammon, therefore, who is identical with the ram, is the guide and protector of man and of all his possessions; he stands in the same relation to mankind as the common ram to his flock.[4]

Sirius was revered as the Nile Star, or Star of Isis, by the ancient Egyptians. Its annual appearance just before dawn at the June 21 solstice, heralded the coming rise of the Nile, upon which Egyptian agriculture depended. This particular helical rising is referred to in many temple inscriptions, wherein the star is known as the Divine Sepat, identified as the soul of Isis.

The Story of Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram is a Han fairy tale and it is clear that it had come to China via the trade routes, as it applied to the flooding of the Yellow River, just as it applied to the Nile. The Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) was huge in size, and known for opening its trade with western cultures and opening the Silk Road. The Han’s knowledge of the outside world, philosophy, religion and technology increased. In the Han period Confucianism and Daoism were developed, and Mahayana Buddhism was accepted. So this is the background of our fairy tale – a time the where the culture was open to philosophies, spirituality, and ideas from Egypt and other western cultures.  This story must have come to China via the trade route, from Egypt. The Yellow River, like the Nile, flooded just after the time of the Vernal Equinox, when the Sun was in the constellation of the Ram. Both rivers were the source of water for the peoples, as well as the fertility of the soil after the river flooded.

In the story of Golden Chisel, A talented young stone mason by the name of Golden Chisel, searched long and hard for the ram of the prophecy. He searched in the surrounding hills and mountains. One night, returning home, he noticed a faint glimmer of light over the centre of a dried-up pond to the south of the village.

The next day, he went and began to dig there, penetrating a layer of red clay and a layer of black sand before unearthing a bright stone, the shape of which vaguely resembled a ram.

Golden Chisel took the stone to his workshop and after careful thought, began to carve, blunting his tools on the stone as he made the image of a ram. With the last stroke, completing the fore-hoof, the ram came to life. Filled with gratitude, it offered Golden Chisel gold or silver or whatever he could wish for, but Golden Chisel only wanted fresh water for his village. Although this was more difficult, the ram agreed, but swore Golden Chisel to not reveal the existence of the ram, lest the magic be broken.

Then the ram scampered away to the distant Yellow River, sucked up a bellyful of fresh water and brought it back to fill the pond. Three times a night it made this long journey, and without knowing how it came to be there, the people began to enjoy fresh water.

So here our young stone mason searched for a glimmer of light which symbolised the rising of the Ram. He had to dig through a layer of red clay first. Red represents the sun, as well as the colour of the desert. The ram (Aries) at that time would have heralded the spring equinox. Then he dug through a layer of black sand, before unearthing a bright stone. Black signifies the primordial darkness, the Void, and the darkness of death but in China it represents the North, the feminine, and water. So it seems that the bright stone was found in the ground water of the pond to the south of the village.

Having found the bright stone, Golden Chisel carved it thoughtfully, into what I have described as his Divine Ideal. It is a long and difficult task. He must chisel out all imperfections, all manifestations of the ego as he masters his small self. He creates anew a structure – his belief system, which will guide him to find the water of Life. The Stone Ram becomes the psychopomp – the guide of souls through the inner realms.

After a hundred days, though, something happened:  the ram did not come back at the usual time, and Golden Chisel went to search for it, finding it al last along the path to the Yellow River grievously wounded. The god of the Yellow River had become jealous of the water taken by the ram, and had attacked it, cutting off one hoof.

We could say that the hundred days mentioned in the story, would be the time between the rising of the Ram at the vernal equinox, to its zenith which coincided with the rising of Sirius in the east and the flooding of the Nile, on about the 25th June at that time.

Note that for up to 35 days before and 35 days after our sun conjuncts the star Sirius;  it is hidden by the sun’s glare. The ancient Egyptians refused to bury their dead during the 70 days Sirius was hidden from view because it was believed Sirius was the doorway to the afterlife, and the doorway was thought to be closed during this yearly period.[5]

This would account for the disappearance of the Ram in the story. The belief being that it was unable to return, having been grievously wounded by the jealous god of the Yellow River.

Golden Chisel made a golden hoof for the ram. Then, angry, he vowed to avenge the injury. He took the sun-and-moon talisman that had been passed through his family, and went to confront the god. The god of the Yellow River attacked with various weapons, such as cold and turtle demons, but in the end, was defeated by the power of the talisman. Begging for mercy, he asked Golden Chisel what he wanted, and Golden Chisel and the ram answered as with one voice that they wanted fresh water for the village. The god then took from his mouth a pearl, saying that when the stone ram would hold it in his mouth, fresh water would flow from it forever.

Gold Chisel in his battle with the god of the Yellow River.

If we look at the Egyptian version, mystery schools consider Sirius to be “sun behind the Sun” and, therefore, the true source of our sun’s potency. If our sun’s warmth keeps the physical world alive, Sirius is considered to keep the spiritual world alive. It is the “real light” shining in the East, the spiritual light, whereas the sun illuminates the physical world, which was considered to be a grand illusion. This is a very powerful and moving belief at the core of being.

There is a line of a Sufi prayer:-

‘Let the star of divine light
shining in Thy heart be reflected
in the hearts of Thy devotees.’[6]
Sirius is the ‘Star of the Divine Light, hidden in our souls’. She leads us to the fresh spring water – the water of Life.

The ancient Egyptians knew that once every year the Sun was in line with Sirius. About 5000 years ago, the helical rising of Sirius occurred around June 25. When the Egyptians saw Sirius rising just before the Sun they knew it would soon be the time for the flooding, or inundation of the Nile River, around which Egyptian life was woven.  They depended upon the flooding of the Nile for the fertility of their lands.

It was up to the Egyptian priests, who attended to the calendar, to sight the first rising of Sirius. At the temple of Isis-Hathor, is a beautiful statue of Isis, located at the end of an aisle flanked by large columns. The statue was oriented to the rising of Sirius and priests would place a jewel in the goddess’s forehead so that the light from the returning star would fall on the gemstone. When the Egyptian priests saw the light of Sirius upon this gemstone on the statue of Isis they would announce to the people that the New Year had begun.[7]

It is said that visible light was but the shadow of invisible Light, which is a beautiful concept

It is during the time when Sirius is hidden in the sun, (sun behind Sun), that Golden Chisel engages in great battle with the god of the Yellow river. He uses his Sun and Moon talisman, which has been in his family for generations, to defeat this jealous god. Ancestor worship was something which was revered in and from the time of the Han dynasty.  In effect we could say that Golden Chisel had ‘lost’ his faith when the ram disappeared, and therefore needed to renew his faith and understanding by re-making the ram’s fore foot. But we could also surmise that during the Han period, there were many new faiths and philosophies, competing with one-another, so that he needed to convince the ‘controller’ of the sacred water, that he too has a right to share it. It was only when he convinced the god that the sacred water was there to be shared with all beings that the god took from his own mouth a pearl for the stone ram to hold in its mouth, so that water would flow from it forever.

During the time when Sirius was invisible, (as it was in conjunction with the Sun), our hero Golden Chisel, was able to find the Ram, a heroic and profound deed indeed! This can be seen in the light of a major life’s quest. In overcoming the jealous god and winning the pearl he has achieved his goal. The peal is the symbol of the power of the waters, the essence of the moon and controller of the tides. She represents the life-giving power of the Great Mother. In China, the ‘night-shining pearl’ is the moon, which the dragon of light swallows. It is depicted with dragons as masters of the waters and guardians of treasures. The ‘pearl of perfection’ is, with the dragon, the spiritual essence of the universe, and of the quest for enlightenment.

The god of the Yellow River has been depicted as a dragon by my illustrator and I think she has understood this perfectly.

He refashioned the fore-hoof which was damaged by the jealous god of the Yellow River, making the Ram whole again.  He did this with the ‘gold’ of the sun, so that the ram could again dig for the sacred water in the sand with his fore-hoof.

The belief system of the Egyptians, corresponds very much with our story.

We read:-

Returning to the village at dawn, though, Golden Chisel and the stone ram were sighted by a young cow-herd who was up early, and when the boy called for others to come and see, the ram was instantly transformed into a lifeless heap of stone – from which, nevertheless, flowed a stream of fresh water.

Now with the return of the ram (and Sirius), they were seen again, by those who were up early enough. Golden Chisel had done the inner work, so that the sacred, sweet, spring water flowed for all who could see it. This was true illumination.  The ram was no longer necessary for the enlightened, as the water of life flowed directly to them.

The Egyptian version of the story has profoundly illuminated my understanding of the Golden Chisel tale. It has given the myth a profound depth and meaning and has expanded my  own feeling and knowingness of the inner work.

In the next blog I will deal with the meaning of the stone ram, where here we have delved into the meaning of the ram only.



[1] Hazrat Inayat Khan, Symbology, The Sufi Message Vol. 13

[2] Condensed from Favourite Folktales of China, translated by John Minford, published by Graham Brash (Pte) Ltd., Singapore, 2000.




[6] Prayer Salat, Sufi Prayers, Hazrat Inayat Khan, unpublished.


Universal Worship: Experiencing the Divine

This is the Talk given at a Universal Worship presented by The Interfaith Centre of Melbourne on Sunday 12th November, at the Toorak Uniting Church.

Below are the sacred readings which were read as part of the service.

We all have experience of the Divine, even though we do not always recognise the experience as such. Sufis believe that we are part of the Divine One, and so the Divine is part of all of us; our mind is part of the Mind of God, our heart, within the Heart of God. So to experience the Divine we need to turn inward. As a drop in the ocean of the Divine, how does the drop experience the Ocean?

All the great Beings such as Krishna, Buddha, Zarathushtra, Moses, Jesus, and Mahomed and many others ‘known and unknown to the world’ have had a direct ‘seeing’ of the Divine and this has been described in the readings we have just had. It is almost impossible to describe these experiences, except perhaps in poetry. There are many similarities, and yet some differences, related to the time and culture of the peoples perhaps.

Fire and Light

Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita described the Supreme Personality of the Godhead, as unlimited and full of glaring, brilliant, radiance. It was glaring like the sun and its many faces were rapidly changing. although being faced with a living God is terrifying.  Because Arjuna has been able to experience this, as a human, means that we too can have this knowledge. The experience is not something that can be described – we catch it in a glimpse of the whole universe in the beauty of nature, when we are open to receive it. It is a peak experience, which can guide our whole life.

Zarathushtra too, experienced the Divine (Ahura Mazda) as Fire: – Ahura Mazda’s first thought blazed into myriads of sparks of light. It is interesting that the Ahura Mazda brings with him, his daughter, the Divine Feminine, the enlightened guide, full of love and compassion. Moses too sees God in flames of fire, from within a bush – but it was a fire which did not burn or destroy. This is a mystery!

In the Koran the Light (Nur)  is also spoken of as  being everywhere, neither from the East or West, even though flame touched it not. Again Light without flame.  ‘Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth’, says the Koran. This Light is Nur the Uncreated Light of God. Physical light is but a reflection of the true Light in the world of reality, and that true Light is God. We can only think of God in terms of our phenomenal experience, and in the phenomenal world, light is the purest thing we know. But light is dependent on so many things – energy, space and time. The perfect Light of God is free from any such defects. The lamp is the core of the spiritual Truth, the glass is the transparent medium through which the light passes, but protects the light from moths (low life or motives in man), gusts of wind (passions). So the spiritual Truth has to be filtered through human language or human intelligence to make it intelligible to mankind. Glorious illimitable Light, cannot be described or measured – it illuminates the mind and understanding.

Meditation – turning inward.

It is while Siddharta was sitting under a jambu-tree, pondering life, death, and the evils of decay, while concentrating, that he became free from confusion. All desires vanished from his heart and perfect tranquillity came over him and a deep compassion filled his heart. So we are given the hint that it is by concentrating that we can achieve this state of ecstasy and knowing in ourselves. His inner voice showed him that everything contains its own opposite – where there is heat, there is the possibility of cold, where creatures feel pain there is also the faculty of pleasure.  We must seek the great deathless lake of Nirvana in which to purify ourselves of these opposites and rise above them into unity. If we do not find it, it is not the fault of the lake. It is interesting that Ahura Mazda also brought with him, love and compassion, so these are common to both religions. And Zarathushtra asserts that silent meditative thought is best for mankind.

Known and recognised.

I find it very moving that Moses was called by name by his Lord – he was known. In our own experience of God there is also this deep sense of being known and deeply accepted, even loved. It is as if God is holding out his hands to us. We can communicate with God, Just as Moses did on Mount Sanai. Moses answered, ‘Here I am!’ I think this means that we should respond to the call of God, and let him know we are hearing Him.

Being faced with a living God is terrifying! “Take off your sandals” says the Lord. This is a sign of respect and humility – the ground was made sacred by the Divine Presence, and so it was proper to take off his sandals. Moses was in the presence of the Divine.

When Jesus was baptised by John in the river Jordan, he experienced the Divine directly, as the heaven being torn open and the holy spirit descending on him like a dove. And Jesus heard the voice of the Lord saying “You are my son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” This was a powerful experience of being known, like Moses, and being loved as a son, and of having pleased his Lord by his very being. John had foretold that one would come after him, who would baptise us all with the holy spirit.

All of these prophets were known and named by the One – the Divine, as are we all. The Divine knows each one of us. It is said that if we take one step towards God, then God takes a hundred steps towards us.

In our prayer Salat, we say:-

O Messenger, Christ, Nabi, the Rasul of God!
Thou whose heart constantly reacheth upward;
Thou comest on earth with a message as a dove from above when Dharma decayeth, and speakest the Word that is put into Thy mouth, as the light filleth the crescent moon. —-

All the messengers of God have had a direct experience, often in a time when the social order was in decay – when the world was in chaos. Their understanding of the message of God when taught to his followers, eventually became a religion. But it is this direct experience of the Divine, which speaks to us in the same way, when we understand and accept  the Truth we are being shown.


Experiencing the Divine.

We shall read from the Hindu Scripture

After seeing this universal form, which I have never seen before, I am gladdened, but at the same time my mind is disturbed with fear. Therefore please bestow Your grace upon me and reveal again Your form as the Personality of Godhead, O Lord of lords, O abode of the universe.

The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: My dear Arjuna, happily have I shown you, by My internal potency, this supreme universal form within the material world. No one before you has ever seen this primal form, unlimited and full of glaring effulgence.


We shall read from the Buddhist Scriptures

While the prince was pondering on the problem of evil, he beheld with his mind’s eye under the jambu-tree a lofty figure endowed with majesty, calm and dignified. “Whence comest thou, and who mayest thou be?” asked the prince.

In reply the vision said: “I am a samana. Troubled at the thought of old age, disease, and death I have left my home to seek the path of salvation. All things hasten to decay; only the truth abideth forever. Everything changes, and there is no permanency; yet the words of the Buddhas are immutable. I long for happiness that does not decay; the treasure that will never perish; the life that knows no beginning and no end. Therefore, I have destroyed all worldly thought.

We shall read from the Zoroastrian Scriptures

Then I realised You as Bountiful,
O Mazda Ahura,
When the Good Mind encircled me.
His question was:
“Which party will you claim as your own?”
Zarathushtra replied:
“Henceforth, I will consecrate my homage to your Fire,
And as long as I am able I will meditate upon Your Truth.”

“Therefore grant me Truth whom I invoke.”
Then Ahura Mazda replied:
“I come to you with my daughter,
Armaiti, (full of love and compassion).
Place before us your searching questions
for by that questioning you will gain the Sovereignty
by which you will obtain understanding.


We shall read from the Jewish Scriptures

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought “I will go over and see this strange sight – why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.


We shall read from the Christian Scriptures

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by Jothn in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.


We shall read from the Scripture of Islam.

Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.  His light is like a niche wherein is a lamp, the lamp encased in glass, the glass as if it were a shining star. From a blessed tree the lamp is kindled, whose oil is neither from the East nor West, whose blessed oil would well-nigh shine out, even though flame touched it not!
It is light upon light. Allah guides into this light whom He wills; and Allah sets forth Parables to men, for Allah is the knower of all things.


We read from the Gayan.

In the brightness of day and in the darkness of night what didst Thou not teach me! Thou hast taught me what is meant by wrong and what is called right. Thou hast shown me the hideous face of life, and Thou hast unveiled before me life’s beautiful countenance. Thou hast taught me wisdom out of utter darkness of ignorance. Thou has taught me to think after my thoughtless movements. Thou playest with me, my Beloved Lord and Master, hide and seek! Thou closest mine eyes and Thou dost open them.


Do not hide your Light!


‘Knowledge is the light of life. It is the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot extinguish it. The true light has always been in the world and it illuminates every person born into the world. It was in the world and the world is living  only because it had that light of knowledge within itself, but the world did not hold on to it.
It revealed itself to its own, but its own did not keep it. Only the ones who understood the knowledge, they alone were given the opportunity to become like it, by virtue of their belief in its essence. Those who believed in the fact that life is based in knowledge did not become the sons of the flesh, but became sons of knowledge.’[1] So wrote Tolstoy in his truly insightful book on the gospel.  Jesus said “You are the light for the world, so do not hide your light, but show it to people. After all, having lit a light, no one puts it under a bench, they put it on the table so that it shines for everyone in the room. Likewise, you must not hide your light, but you must show it in your actions, so that people can see that you know the truth. And, seeing your good works, they will come to understand your heavenly father.”[2]

In the fairy tales we have been delving into, the Feminine is constrained into hiding her light. She is ‘enchanted’ into wearing a frog-skin, or she is hidden in the depths of the ocean (of the unconscious). The hero’s quest is to find her, but the Feminine herself has her own quest to make her light shine forth. She must ‘get rid’ of her frog skin, and gain the ‘knowledge’ (enlightenment) to become the Queen she really is.

In a recent discussion on ‘From Lucifer to Satan’, at the Melbourne Jung Society, Lucifer as the Angel of Light, holds our awareness of our beauty, pride and our sense of being special. We have been taught that Lucifer is the fallen angel, but Lucifer is only ‘fallen’ when the ego grabs our concept of beauty and pride within ourselves. The shadow side of Lucifer can be narcissism and inflation – thinking of ourselves as being more important than we are. Lucifer is the light bringer – where the mind splits into opposites, the Light brings together the opposites into unity. Lucifer is in effect, the masculine Venus, or Freya, (Goddesses of Love, Light, and Beauty).

It is so easy for the feminine in the patriarchy to hide herself: to wear the frogskin. We can very often see this in the body language. Hunched over, head down, trying to disappear; to not be noticed. Our gaze is directed to the ground, rather than to the heavens. Raise your gaze, so that the world can see your beautiful eyes. Raise your gaze so that you can see the magnificence of the mountain tops. It is as if we have been enchanted, as it says in the frog princess story. The mind reflects the body and the body reflects the mind. Our training and our practice in the spiritual realm allows us to become aware of our beauty, and to be proud of what we have achieved. As Tolstoy shows us, to show our light in our actions, so that people can see the Truth.

The collective shadow is Satan, who stands as an accuser, tempter, and transgressor. Satan deflates our sense of importance and reminds us that we are frail corruptible flesh. It is Satan who prevents us from shining our Light. But he tempts us to move from austere self-sacrifice to the joy of earthly pleasure. He undermines obedience with a call toward self-reliance and a disregard of laws and conventions.

In his reflection on the life of Jesus, Tolstoy shows us a Jesus who went beyond the laws and conventions of his time, to teach the fulfilment of the eternal law, of the mystery of the other inner realm. Jesus defines his own spiritual laws most beautifully in the Beatitudes.[3] The shadow of Satan is unrestrained selfishness and power over others.

There is a very beautiful quote, by Marianne Williamson, often wrongly attributed to Nelson Mandela:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.’[4]

It is interesting to note that the fathers of both the Princess Vassilisa (in the Frog Princess) and Princess Zezolla (in Cenerentola) can also represent the patriarchy. It is the patriarchy which is not in relationship with the Divine Feminine, and sees the feminine as a young maiden, or virgin. For the feminine to disengage herself from this misunderstanding, is a momentous task and why it is so remarkable that Princess Zezolla achieves this.



[1] Tolstoy, Leo. The life of Jesus. The Gospel in brief. Translated by Dustin Condren. Harper Perennial New York 2011

[2]ibid p 4

[3] ibid p 37

[4] Williamson, Marianne. A Return to Love, HarperCollins, 1996

Trust No-One!

Nawab’s reply to my last blog has really shown the difficulty of the descent into the ashes and the hardship endured for spiritual purposes.

He wrote:- ‘Another way of seeing the death of Zezolla’s mother is: the birth of the independence of the soul, no longer tied to the Source from which we come. Then the descent into the ashes is a perfectly clear picture of every soul’s descent into the world of hard labour and limitation. What makes Zezolla remarkable is that her exile becomes her apprenticeship, and she becomes able to reclaim her royal nature. The ancient Hindus called hardship endured for spiritual purposes ‘tapasya’, meaning purification by fire, and it was the practice of some yogis to go and sit among the cinders of the cremation grounds as a way of mastering themselves.’

The apprenticeship is difficult, and it is a long one. It is not something that can or should be done quickly – it needs patience and Perseverance. The purification by fire is also painful – we see this in the fairy tales we are studying.

The longing for the Divine Sophia or Source which we have ‘lost’ is both painful and yet drives us on the do the Inner Work. The longing that we have for the Divine Source, points us to the Goal of our journey.

When Petru returns from the Fairy of the dawn with the magical water of life, the Goddess warns him:

‘Beware of your life; make friends with no man, do not ride fast, or let the water go out of your hand, believe no one; and flee flattering tongues. Go, take care, for the way is long, the world is bad, and you hold something very precious.’

Having achieved some level of insight or enlightenment, we begin to see the world and the people in it acting and reacting from ego. It reminds me of the old Indian legend where a young man asks his Teacher to show him a clear vision of the world as it is. When the cover was lifted from his eyes, he saw every human being with the face of some animal, except one, the Teacher himself. All these animals are within us, so we recognise them in others. This can cause us to react to these aspects of ourselves in others in a very harsh way. Our task is to master these ‘animals’ by the practices we are given by our Teacher; but it can make the spiritual life a very lonely one. Who can we trust?

The animals which Prince Ivan meets in the story of the Frog Princess, are aspects of himself which he does not like and immediately wants to kill them. We repress the parts of ourselves we do not like or want. Often they are not negative but powerful and fierce, like the ferocious bear. Girls especially, are not encouraged to nurture this in themselves. I certainly repressed this side of myself. Similarly the speedy and tricky hare, although an aspect of the Great Mother, is not honoured. So it is with all the animals that Prince Ivan encounters. But the all animals  beg him to spare them, as they will be useful in his journey later. When we have mastered our inner animals, we no longer fear them and can use them appropriately. We can also have compassion for others who are held captive, or in thrall to them.  These aspects are in control rather than the person. We see this in the addictions and in the violence, which beset us.

We need a Teacher for this work – a Being who knows and understand the path, who has fought his or her own demons, and who can mirror back to us, these ’animal’ aspects of ourselves, and guide us towards mastery. We are given practices, just as Cenerentola was given by the Dove of the fairies, so that slowly, over the years, we can re-claim our royal nature.


From Princess to Queen: the evolution of the Feminine.

In an earlier Blog, I posited the notion that the Princess Zezolla had brought about her own ‘descent’ to the cinders, in the story of Cenerentola.  Her act was similar to the act of burning the frogskin, in the story of the Frog Princess. Zezolla had in fact ‘burned’ her previous life as a princess, to sit amongst the ashes of this life, to quietly work on herself, amongst the cinders.

Someone in a recent workshop, was very disturbed by this and really disliked and resented the princess for, using, manipulating, and even tricking the men in her life, like her father, and even the servant of the King, so as to promote her own evolution.

This caused some interesting discussion in the group and, so I would like address this and  delve more deeply into this topic, as it is in fact very important.

In the opening scene of the story, Princess Zezolla is mourning the death of her beloved mother. Her father the prince adores her and sees the world through her eyes only. This is a telling phrase – for it is not appropriate for a father and a prince to see the world from the vantage of his young daughter, who represents his soul. He no longer has a mature and evolved feminine side or soul.

This would appear to reflect an aspect of the patriarchy which sees the feminine as young, childlike, and virginal. It is not fashionable to be rounded and voluptuous of body; women try to look like young girls, even when they could be grandmothers. This really infantilises the feminine and is open to issues of power and control of the feminine by the masculine.

It reminds me of a male friend who used to smile benignly at my interest in mysticism and the inner life. I was metaphorically patted on the head and told to go out and ‘play’. It was patronising, and the relationship could not sustain this attitude. The patriarchy is afraid of a fully evolved and powerful feminine, like the Goddess Freya, or even Hestia.

So there is something in the Prince (Zezolla’s father) who allowed the glorious feminine side of him to die. In this way Zezolla ‘lost’ her mother. The only thing for her to do was to disallow her father to ‘use’ her in this way, by  projecting his ‘soul’ onto his daughter.

Thus Zezolla persuaded her father the prince, to marry her nurse / governess – this would seem to be an appropriate match for him, given his level of evolution. He was not up to marrying a princess, although a prince should really marry a princess. Perhaps this is also a reflection of the patriarchy.

Zezolla, in truth, has ‘burned’ this part of her life, so that she could be free to develop and evolve in her own way, to become the Queen she really is. This is her way of burning the frog-skin.

All characters in this story are aspects of the one, of Zezolla herself, and so of us all. The feminine must not be seen and related to as a young, innocent girl, to be bought off with trinkets, lovely food and pretty clothes. Neither must the feminine in us be used, like the trophy wife in the Frog Princess story. The frog-skin, in the life of a virgin daughter must be totally disposed of – burned, so that she can sit amongst the ashes or cinders, in the central hearth or heart, as ‘Cenerentola’, totally herself, without pretences, without airs and graces, in mastery of her self, her ego. In this way, by doing her daily practice, which was given to her by her Teacher – The Dove of the Fairies, she becomes Queen and is recognised as such by the young King. Note that she becomes a Queen in her own right and not simply because she has married a King.

The masculine must not be allowed to dominate and control, and take over the process, as the young prince did, in burning his wife’s frog skin, in the story of the Frog Princess.



The Centre of All – in Cenerentola

Robert Johnston has given a beautiful image of the sacred quest by way of describing the Grail Legend. The Grail castle is much like the shining white castles which are talked about in the fairy tales. It is the central sacred place. Contained within is Holy Grail – a goblet which is never empty. When we drink from the Grail cup we experience the ‘water of Life’, enlightenment! We could see the beautiful white castle in the Fairy of the Dawn, as the Grail Castle.

The hero often discovers the Grail Castle in his teens, as a peak experience which cannot really be described. He is not quite ready to answer the Grail question and so must find the Grail castle again in middle age. He will be only be admitted to the Grail Castle when he correctly answers the Grail question: ‘Whom does the Grail Serve?’ The sacred water of life is the goal of so many quests. Johnston has said that men must quest for the Grail castle but women live in it. Thus the quest for soul and the sacred, is quite different for the Feminine.

In the story of Cenerentola, this is evident. The Centre is the central hearth which was in ancient times the shrine of Hestia, the first born of the Olympian gods and goddesses and the chief of the goddesses in ancient times, but now is practically unknown.  In Hestia’s time, every household’s hearth was Hestia’s shrine and the implications of this are fundamental to the understanding of this story.

The symbolism of the hearth should not be overlooked; it becomes the realm of Cenerentola. The central hearth also had a ritualistic focus for government and was served by the most powerful state officials. It was the Centre of All, of everything.

Hestia was the virgin goddess of the hearth, and of architecture and the right ordering of domesticity, the family and the state. It is said that both Apollo and Poseidon vied for her hand in marriage, but for her to choose one over the other would have meant war, so she chose to remain a virgin and serve her brother, Zeus, in his household hearth.

Peace became one of Hestia’s major attributes. Her name means the Essence, the true nature of things. We see that Zezolla’s descent to the hearth and becoming Cenerentola really means that she is now, quietly and unobtrusively in the service of the feminine, of Sophia / Hestia and the inner life and mysteries.

It was Hestia’s traits, not her actions that most defined her, Hestia was gentle, mild, forgiving, peaceful, serene, dignified, calm, secure, stable, welcoming and, above all else, well-centred, the guardian of inmost things. She was non-judgmental and forgiving, her “unconditional love” and calm acceptance inspired the love and trust of others in return.

Dependable and caring, Hestia was always there for others and helped them to manage their lives, which were certainly more exciting than her own. The circle symbolized Hestia as the ‘complete’ goddess, the goddess who was whole, ‘one complete within herself’. Hestia was, not only psychologically ‘centred ‘, but also representing the centre, the centre of the home and family, the city, and even the world itself.

The little date tree is also a symbol of the Centre; its trunk being like the Qutub in the centre of All, the pillar of Wisdom. The date palm, represents the Centre within the Centre. It was here beside her date tree, that Cenerentola did her spiritual practices, and cared for the ‘tree’ itself. Caring for it was part of her practice. Weeding, watering, polishing its leaves – it was a reflection of her inner life, and it was her practice.

The little palm tree at the centre of All, was the Wish-fulfilling tree of the stories, and it is when we are in our own Centre, and centred that we have our deepest wishes and prayers fulfilled.


Why is the Witch so scary? The Wicked Witch vs the Witch as Teacher

I have been asked how come the witch as a Teacher does not appear in most fairy tales. It is a good question. The stories I have used in my book have been carefully chosen as spiritual teaching tales. They are very ancient and seem to have retained their original purpose and meaning, although hidden. The witch or Baba Yaga featured in these stories is a powerful and wise teacher, who must be approached with respect. The Teacher only ‘helps’ when she knows that the seeker is genuine, dedicated and truly on the inner path (the journey of enlightenment).

The Fairy (according to Wikipedia) is a type of mythical being or legendary creature in European folklore, a form of spirit, often described as metaphysical, supernatural, or preternatural. In many ways the fairy and the witch fulfil a similar function in fairy tales. The Dove of the Fairies (in the story of Cenerentola) is a powerful, loving and wise teacher.

In the more modern version of the tale (as Cinderella), the Dove of the Fairies becomes the fairy God-Mother. This is rather misleading, as it gives the impression that to become an evolved ‘Queen’ is just the result of the waving of a magic wand. Cenerentola, in the original story, is given a little date tree which she must nurture and this is her daily practice. As a result of this practice she becomes and is recognised as a Queen. The inner work still has to be done, even though it may seem like magic.

But the scary witch who frightens children is also a powerful archetype, but quite different to the Witch Teacher. There was no doubt in my mind as a five-year-old child, that my heart had been stolen by the wicked witch, and replaced by an icicle, just as in the story my father used to read to me, or should I say, tried to read to me. I just could not bear him telling me this tale (The Blue Pearl by Kathleen Fidler). It was written in the 1940s and was perhaps a manifestation of what happens to the ‘good mother’ in war time.

I find it interesting that in Cenerentola, the good and loving mother had ‘died’, and the step-mother and her daughters became ‘wicked’ in the Cinderella version of the story. In truth, they were not wicked as such but simply not ‘wise’. They were outer directed materialistic women of the world, rather than deeply mystical or spiritual. The step mother did her best, as do our own mothers, but that was not enough for Cenerentola. Perhaps this happens at a certain stage of our childhood, when we realise that our mother is only human, with her own failings. For someone on the inner path, this is not enough, especially when the outer mother has been traumatised or damaged in some way, and we are unable to connect with her.

It was only while writing The Weaving section of my book, that I really understood my mother’s difficult journey and how this impacted on my own. She had been abused and traumatised while escaping Hitler’s Vienna with my Jewish father and must have suffered from PTSD as a result. She was highly anxious and nervous. Children become self-aware at around five years of age, so it no surprise that this is when the wicked witch manifests, as a frightening aspect of mother. At that time, my mother took me through post war Europe (1948) from N. Ireland to Vienna. This was a long and difficult journey – crossing of the Irish Sea, and the English channel, as well as numerous train journeys across borders. My only memory is of dark, cold and fear, waiting on platforms for trains that never seemed to come. My mother must have been terrified, but she felt compelled to visit her much loved sisters and brothers in Vienna. Without my warm and loving father, my mother became the witch who stole my happy heart. These insights have resolved so many things for me and I now feel very sorry for my poor mother, who,  like the step-mother in the story, she did her best for me.

Eventually, after much searching, I found my own Teacher and followed my path. It takes a Witch to master a Witch.


The Centre of All – The Yellow River in Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram

Gold Chisel in his battle with the god of the Yellow River.

The story of Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram, is an ancient Han Chinese fairy tale in which the Yellow River is the source of the sacred water of Life, it is a sacred river, just as the Ganges is the sacred river of India.

In our prayer Pir (to our Teacher) we say:

 Inspirer of my mind, consoler of my heart, healer of my spirit,
Thy presence lifteth me from earth to heaven,
Thy words flow as a sacred river,
Thy thought riseth as a divine spring, —-

The Yellow River as a sacred source can be seen in the words of ‘Pir’, ‘Thy words flow as the sacred river.’ The teachings flow as from a sacred river. This is the water of life.

In the story of Golden Chisel, the hero, is questing for the sacred water, which tradition teaches, will one-day flow from the lips of a stone ram. Golden Chisel did not have a Teacher as in other stories, – there was only the remnant of a tradition or prophecy in the village to guide him. Golden Chisel, our hero, finds a brilliant shining stone, in the dried-up village pond, roughly in the shape of a ram. From this, he chiselled the stone ram of the prophesy. Golden Chisel made an Ideal of God, or in other words, a structure of a belief for himself. This stone ram, when completed, comes alive and speaks to Golden Chisel. Following this the ram agrees to fetch the sacred water from the Yellow River, each night, so that the village has fresh spring water for its spiritual nourishment.

Golden Chisel does not go with the ram, as in other stories, where the steed, usually a horse, guides and carries the hero on his journey. In European fairy tales, the hero, having won his ‘horse’ after a great battle, rides the horse or psychopomp through the inner realms to the Centre, to find the sacred water. The psychopomp can be understood as the internalised teachings and teacher which carried him from one realm to the next, and who guides and teaches him on his journey.

As we have already said, Golden Chisel, does not have a teacher. All that was left for him in the village was an old tradition. He had to chisel the teachings for himself, out of the hard stone of this tradition, until he had created his  ram. He created his own structure of belief –  his own system. So, it was that the stone ram went to fetch the water for the village each and every night, from the Yellow River.

But after a long time, one night, the little stone ram, does not return, from fetching the water. Golden Chisel goes in search of him and finds him lying by the path – his forehoof broken. The jealous God of the Yellow River had attacked and grievously wounded him.

This wounding or loss of self, can be seen as a psychosis or a Spiritual emergency. This can happen when the Kundalini is awakened without preparation and knowledge, or when we venture deep into the Centre without being taught and prepared.

If we understand that we are all One, we are simply drops in the Ocean of Consciousness – we are part of the Divine One. When we dive into this ocean, we need to hold onto our sense of ourselves, our sense of ‘dropness’. If we do not do this, we can lose ourselves, lose our minds.

Without a teacher, Golden Chisel did not know or understand how to approach this sacred territory. There is a way of approaching this task, which must be understood. It is a dangerous quest, as we see in the story of the fairy of the dawn. In that story, the hero is given a tiny flute which he must play, while he is in the sacred realm of the spring, to subdue the beings which reside there. The Centre is guarded by the Fairy of the Dawn, who could be considered as one of the Archangels surrounding the Throne of God – the Centre in that story.  In this story, it is the God of the Yellow River, who guards the Centre, and who has grievously wounded the stone ram. We too can become seriously wounded, when we are not prepared properly for the quest.

Golden Chisel carried the wounded stone ram home and made for him a golden fore-hoof. So, we see that this terrible wounding can he healed – healed with the gold of Divine Light, with the knowledge of the teachings experienced directly. This also is a long process.

But now Golden Chisel is angry and wants to avenge the injury to his ram.

Golden Chisel took the Sun-and-Moon talisman that had been passed down through his family, and confronted the God of the Yellow River. Ancestor worship was prevalent in China, and still is, so this talisman, is a powerful symbol of his spirituality which he has from his family, even in his DNA.

The God of the Yellow River, attacked with various weapons such as cold and the turtle demons. It seems to me that the turtle demons may reflect the problem of the flooding of the Yellow river (see history below). But I also think that he – the ram, is attacked with cold reason and logic, with the head, rather than the heart. It could have represented a great conflict between a new belief system as rediscovered by Colden Chisel, and an older established religion.

The God had no answer when Golden Chisel told him that the sacred water flows for everybody and does not belong to any one God. The jealous God, thus was defeated by the power of the Sun-and-moon talisman, where the sun represents the masculine principle, and the moon the feminine, united together they represent the Divine Light – Nur. It is this Divine Light, which defeated the jealous god. Begging for mercy, the God of the Yellow River asked Golden Chisel what he wanted, and Golden Chisel and the ram answered with one voice that they wanted fresh water for the village. The God then took from his mouth, a pearl, saying that when the stone ram would hold it in his mouth, fresh water would flow from it forever.

However, the ending of this tale seems to be paradoxical. In returning to the village, the stone ram was ‘seen’ by a young cowherd, as a light shooting towards him. He cried out for everyone to look at Golden Chisel riding a stone ram. But when the ram heard this he immediately transformed into a heap of rocks, out of which flowed a limpid, sweet spring, so fulfilling the prophecy.

When we chisel out our Ideal of God, and indeed mend this from time to time, when it gets damaged,  we have constructed an inner structure of understanding the Truth of the world. Once the Light is perceived by the people or parts of ourselves, who are able to see it, like the young cow-herd, then the water constantly flows from the spring pure and sweet without any intermediary.

This water constantly flows from the sacred Centre of All, when we know how to access it.

Some background history:

The Yellow River is known as the “Mother River of China” and “the Cradle of Chinese Civilization”:  its basin is the birthplace of the northern Chinese civilizations and the most prosperous region in early Chinese history.

The Great Flood of China, also known as the “Gun-Yu myth” (Yang:74), was a major flood event that continued for at least two generations, and which resulted in great population displacements among other disasters, such as storms and famine: according to mythological and historical sources. Treated either historically or mythologically, the story of the Great Flood and the heroic attempts of the various human and other characters to control it and to abate the disaster is a narrative fundamental to Chinese culture. It is also one of the main flood motifs in Chinese mythology, and it is a major source of allusion in Classical Chinese poetry. Various divine or heroic persons or beings contributed to control or in some cases worsen the flooding, including the mysterious bird-turtles of the Heavenly Questions of the Chuci. The main river involved according to tradition, was the Yellow River, and one of the keys to the eventual successful efforts to control the flood waters is traditionally the Yellow River Map.

Fu Xi, also known as Paoxi, is still actively worshipped in modern China. Fu Xi was a culture hero credited with his sister Nüwa with repopulating the world in the aftermath of a great flood, as well as with establishing civilization afterwards. Among his inventions was the Yellow River Map, from which he derived the first trigrams which later composed the I Ching. It is interesting that C G Jung wrote the Forward to the I Ching.

Bagua is a main concept in Chinese philosophical thought: eight figures of mythical origin and emblematic significance that are specifically said to be related to the Yellow River Map and the Luoshu Square. The origin of these concepts is prehistorical, and these have evolved into a complex body of literature, some of it more esoteric, and some less so. Derivation of the bagua has been conceived philosophically according to the taiji or other system in which original unity, symbolized by the bottom circle first differentiates into yin and yang symbolized by solid versus dashed lines. Eight possible unique groupings of these lines into three-line sets are possible. These sets of 3 are known as “trigrams”. Each trigram has its own proper name, in Chinese, and is also considered to possess or to symbolize various qualities of the natural, human, or heavenly worlds. Certain traditions suppose that the Yellow River Map and the Luo River Writing reveal all of these things to one who knows how to read them.

Wolfram Eberhard (sub “Square”, 276) says that the River Plan is proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” to be a magic square. He connects it to the mingtang halls of worship, saying that they share a division into 9 fields: these in turn are correlated with the 9 “planets” (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Rahu, and Ketu), introduced from and according to Indian astronomy. Other sources emphasize these points for the Luo River Writing. Another interpretation of the River Diagram has to do with the 5 “elements” (wuxing) and the 5 cardinal directions.[1]





[1]  July 2017