How the Sun-God Was Born
from The Adorers of Dionysus
by James Morgan Pryse
Now the birth of the Lord Dionysos was on this wise. When Semele, the mortal bride of Zeus, was found with child, his immortal consort, Hera, being jealous, assumed the form of Beroe, the aged nurse of Semele, and instigated the mortal bride to persuade the Father to appear to her in his full glory as King of the Immortals. So Semele, with feminine guile, gained from Zeus the promise that he would grant a favor that she would ask, and he confirmed his promise by the dread oath of the river Styx. Thereupon Semele made her request. But when the Father came to her in all his splendor, arrayed in his vesture of light, even as the blaze of lightning, Semele was consumed by the celestial fire thereof, and in dying the mortal mother gave birth to the immortal Dionysos. Then the Father caught up from the deathless fire his Son, thus bom untimely, and with golden clasps secured him in his thigh, making thereof a masculine womb, whence in due time the infant was bom again. Therefore was Dionysos called also the Twiceborn. And the learned Euripides records that the divine babe was baptized in the fountain of Dirke. Then Hermes took the Son of Zeus and Semele to a far country, that he might be safe from the wrath of Hera, and there the child grew and waxed strong, becoming full of wisdom; and Euripides says of him that he is the mightiest of the Gods and has precedence in the banquets of the Blessed Immortals.
In modern works on mythology, especially the more superficial ones written for the general public, emphasis is always laid upon the fact that Dionysos, better known as Bacchus, was the God of Wine, and that drunken orgies were a feature of his worship by the ignorant rabble. But scholarly and unprejudiced writers lay emphasis upon the more important facts that Dionysos was the God of the Prophets, or Seers, wine being only a symbol of spiritual exaltation, and that the Mysteries (orgia) of Dionysos constituted the real religion of Greece, pure and free from superstition, having nothing in common with the beliefs and practices of the exoteric mob. On the authority of Euripides and others it is known that the true followers of Dionysos were forbidden to drink wine or eat meat. For eating the flesh of slain animals and poisoning the brain with alcohol are not conducive to spiritual wisdom.
Dionysos, whose name signifies "Judge of Man," is the Spiritual Self of man, which is not incarnated, but overshadows, so to say, the reincarnating, Psychic Self, and passes judgment upon it after each of its lives on earth. Thus man is only imperfectly incarnated; the perfect incarnation can take place only when he has become one with his Spiritual Self, and thereafter he need incarnate no more. Now, the Free Father can not reach or influence the incarnated man save throuch the subtile psychic energies, and these are latent until the man has purified his lower nature. Kadmos personifies the individual who has performed this first work in spiritual regeneration, and his daughters represent these psychic forces, Semele being the daughter favored by Zeus and giving birth to the Sun-God. The name Semele is akin to Caia, and signifies the primordial Earth, the AEther, and not the element Earth which is its final differentiation. In Zeus, the Life-God, are synthesized the five "lifebreaths," the highest of which, his "full glory" in which he appears to Semele, is "the Breath that goes upward to immortality." The latter, in conjunction with the element aether, becomes the mystic "ray" of psychic light which illumines the brain during, a certain state of spiritual exaltation, energizing the sacred "third eye," known to physiologists as the pineal gland. The latter is the organ of spiritual vision; but it is also much more than that. In this myth it fiaures as the "thigh" of Zeus, which Euripides also terms a "male womb." For the word "thigh" is used here, as in Genesis xxvi. 2, and elsewhere in ancient writings, for the generative centre. The myth here admits of two parallel lines of interpretation, one that has to do with the spiritual illumination of the intellect, and one that deals with the gestation and birth of the "solar body," the deathless form which takes the place of the mortal body when the perfected man frees it from the round of physical rebirths. The glory of Kadmos follows the former line of interpretation, inasmuch as he failed in the work of regeneration, even after glimpsing the Light from the East; but, since the two subjects are inseparably connected, it becomes necessary to inquire into the meaning of the "solar" rebirth, or birth of the Sun-God.
According to Greek mythology the Universe itself, and all beings and things in it, from the highest Gods to the least of creatures, are "born"; and birth is not the beginning of that which is born, but is its issuance from one world into another, either higher or lower, as the case may be. Thus by physical birth the soul of a man returns from the subjective world to the objective. His objective body, the physical, and his subjective or subtile body, the psychic, are both mortal, and he therefore keeps passing back and forth between these two worlds. When the soul, purified by the discipline of its many earth lives, evolves a body composed of the primordial substance and the pure "solar fire," it is bom in the spiritual world, and is free from the cycle of reincarnation. It is by the action of the subtile psychic elements and energies, the mystic "fires," that this spiritual, immortal body is formed, and the sacred brain-centre is its matrix. It may seem strange that the functions of vision and gestation are ascribed to the same organ. However, the sense of sight and the mental faculty of visualizing, or producing subjective images are closely associated. A sculptor, for instance, must visualize a form before he can model it in the clay. Further, the pineal gland and the generative centre are directly correlated physiologically; and it is for this reason that spiritual regeneration is absolutely impossible apart from celibacy. All the organs of sensation and of action in the body have their corresponding governing centres in the brain, but in reverse order, so that the mental man is, as it were, inverted.
Hera, the jealous wife of Zeus, is the lower World-Soul; and Beroe, the venerable nurse of Semele, is Gaia, Earth, the divine primordial Substance, mythologically the Bride of Heaven, Ouranos. By impersonating her spiritual archetype, Hera brings about the death of Semele and the untimely birth of the Son of Zeus. Thus it is signified that the man Kadmos, having, by means of the mystic "ray" awakened the inner senses, and thereby entered into the psychic realm, was deceived into thinking that he had attained to the spiritual world. By this delusion his further progress was arrested; yet he had reached a point in the steep uphill path where none can stop with safety, but must either climb sturdily upward or slip back and fall. So Kadmos ingloriously fell. The dauntless courage that had so far sustained him degenerated into vainglory, his righteousness shrivelled to self-righteousness, and the crowning virtue of holiness was unattained. The braggart Aktaion and the bigot Pentheus personify respectively the vainglory and self-righteousness of Kadmos; while Dionysos, the Son of Zeus. was taken away by Hermes to a far country, whereby it is signified that the Spiritual Self can not manifest itself in man until he has made himself pure and holy.