Oct 102012
 

As for Orpheus’ head: after being attacked by a jealous Lemnian serpent (which Apollo at once changed into a stone) it was laid to rest in a cave at Antissa, sacred to Dionysus.

There it prophesised day and night until Apollo, finding that his oracles at Delphi, Gryneium and Clarus where deserted, came and stood over the head crying: ‘Cease from interference in my business; I have borne long enough with you and your singing!’ Thereupon the head fell silent.

Orpheus’ lyre had likewise drifted to Lesbos and been laid up in a temple of Apollo, at whose intercession, and that of the Muses, the Lyre was placed in Heaven as a constellation.

Some gave a wholly different account of how Orpheus died: they say that Zeus killed him with a thunderbolt for divulging divine secrets. He had, indeed, instituted the Mysteries of Apollo in Thrace; those of Hecate in Aegina; and those of Subterrene Demeter at Sparta.

Orpheus’ singing head recalls that of the decapitated Alder-god Bran which, according to the Mabinogion, sang sweetly on the rock at Harlech in North Wales; a fable, perhaps, of the funerary pipes made from alder-bark. Thus the name Orpheus, if it stands for ophruoeis, ‘on the river bank’, may be a title of Bran’s Greek counterpart, Phoroneus, or Cronus, and refer to the alders ‘growing on the banks of’ the Peneius and other rivers.

The name of Orpheus’ father, Oeagrus (‘of the wold sorb’ apple’), points to the same cult, since the sorb-apple (French = alisier) and the alder (Spanish = aliso) both bear the name of the pre-Hellenic River-goddess Halys, or Alys, or Elis, Queen of the Elysian Islands, where Phoroneus, Cronus and Orpheus went after death. Aornum is Avernus, an Italic variant of the Celtic Avalon (‘apple-tree island’)

Orpheus is said by Diodorus of Siculus to have used the old thirteen-consonant alphabet; and the legend is that he made the trees move and charmed wild beasts apparently refers to its sequence of seasonal trees and symbolic animals. As sacred king he was struck by a thunderbolt – that is, killed with a double-axe – in an oak grove at the summer solstice, and then dismembered by the Maenads of the bull cult, like Zagreus’ or of the stag cult, like Actaeon; the Maenads, in fact, represented the Muses.

In Classical Greece the practice of tattooing was confined to Thracians, and in a vase-painting of Orpheus’ murder a Maenad has a small stag tattooed on her forearm. This Orpheus did not come in conflict with the cult of Dionysus; he was Dionysus, and he played the rude alderpipe, not the civilised lyre. Thus Proclus writes: ‘Orpheus,  because he was the principal in the Dionysian rites, is said to have suffered the same fate as the god’ and Apollodorus credits him with having invented the Mysteries of Dionysus.

The Greek Myths, Robert Graves

 

Feb 272011
 

The racial soul of Hibernia has very ancient roots that include a slumbering magical knowledge and contacts with primeval forces beyond those that effect the mainland of Britain and the continent of Europe…[a] unique blend of cultural currents from immense antiquity, allied to the Graeco-Celtic stream, is what produced the great power of the Druids in Ireland…The contribution of the earlier Atlantean cultures was of an extremely well focused power of the imagination, which, in short, amounted to a magical power.

This immensely strong, deliberately magically built, group soul of the remote past, mingled with the concrete mind contacts of ancient Greece, and the allied aesthetic ability, has produced an Irish group soul that is stronger than most others in the world apart perhaps from the Jewish – which also derives from immense antiquity in another way. The Celtic druidism of Ireland reached its peak long before that of the rest of Britain and Gaul, and it was originally from Ireland that the British and Gallic druids drew their teaching and wisdom.

The great problems which later beset Ireland over the centuries derive from a combination of these early great strengths. Because of the diversity of the contending currents within a group soul, there has ever been a tendency to internal dissension, exacerbated by the other races and religious authorities that have tried to interfere. This flared to a crisis at the time of the restimulation of the group soul of the British Isles that brought about the reformulation of the Arthurian legends in the twelfth century.

The conflict of contending forces has also operated, and still operates, upon the religious level. Through the missionary genius of St Patrick, the Irish Christian church formed a nucleus of Celtic Christianity that inspired and informed the West independently of Rome through the Dark Ages, just as in former times the Irish Druids had been a centre of religious and cultural influence.

Although a Christianized form of Druidism lingered on, and indeed, like the Hermetic tradition, formed a link between pagan and Christian spirituality, this role of leadership was not without its cost. Had the new wine been introduced more slowly, as occurred in the rest of Europe, much conflict and suffering might have been avoided. Many of the highly magically trained Irish druids migrated to Wales, France and Brittany whence we have a rich vein of ancient tradition, much of it manifesting as the Arthurian legends.

The time may not be long before the racial soul of Ireland enters a new phase, manages to synthesize its deep conflicting roots and to work more freely with other nations of the west. The whole trend of Ireland in the past has been to esoteric teaching and knowledge, and a renewal of this, as pioneered by Yeats and Lady Gregory, may have more importance than political and commercial initiatives. It is a little premature to summarily dismiss this resurgence as a literary fad of ‘the Celtic twilight’.

Gareth Knight, The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend