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.

[3] https://sites.google.com/a/ufrsd.net/stefaniak/home/intro-to-astronomy/night-myths/stories/aries

[4] http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0104%3Aalphabetic+letter%3DA%3Aentry+group%3D19%3Aentry%3Dammon-bio-1

[5] http://unilibrium.net/siriusourspiritualsun.php

[6] Prayer Salat, Sufi Prayers, Hazrat Inayat Khan, unpublished.

[7] http://www.crystalinks.com/floodingnile.html

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