It is very common to hear people complain that their decision to follow the spiritual path has not resulted in the peace, contentment, harmony, and confidence they expected. In fact, they lament, their circumstances, problems, relationships, health, finances - everything, it seems - starts to deteriorate and problems arise where there were no problems before. The very foundations of their lives begin to crumble - their beliefs are challenged, their relationships are strained, their emotions which were once reasonably stable become uncontrollable, their thoughts torment them so that they sometimes fear losing their sanity, and they may even become physically ill. Their initial certainty that they made the right decision to step onto the path is severely challenged and they begin to doubt both the path and themselves.
There is a spark of good news to comfort us in this dismal scene - it is completely normal.
As we stand between the two great lines of force of Libra - the soul on the one hand, and the personality on the other - we glimpse the light ahead and join with the Prodigal Son in the Gospel of Luke to declare with conviction and relief, "I will arise and return to my father". In Christ's parable, once the son makes the decision to return home, we cut to the final scene of the joyous reunion and celebration. The Christ, perhaps strategically, did not mention the trials and tribulations of the return journey and the only hint we have that it may have not been easy was that it was described as "long". A more likely reason that He did not fill in the gaps for us could be because He knew we would discover the details for ourselves as the story of the Prodigal Son is our own story of the Path of Return.
It is in Scorpio, the sign of the disciple that the Prodigal Son makes the decision to return home, described in esoteric literature as "reversing the wheel". Knowing what we do about the battleground of Scorpio and the trials of discipleship, we can safely conclude that the son's journey was one of death and pain on the one hand, and purification and transmutation on the other.
Scorpio is said to be the mystery sign of the zodiac. It is symbolised by the scorpion which carries the string of death in its tail as well as an eagle which can fly closer to the sun than any other bird. This indicates that we can use Scorpio energies either to sink to the depths or soar to great spiritual heights; the choice is ours.
Another symbol of Scorpio is the phoenix, the mythical bird that never dies, representing death and resurrection, rebirth and immortality. Like all archetypes, the phoenix exists in various forms and countries all around the world. It is part of myths, legends, and fairy tales, always in close connection with gods and leaders, either as their symbol or a god itself. Although it was given different names and used in different times for various purposes, there are some features that are always similar, including its red plumage (speaking of Mars, Scorpio's esoteric ruling planet), its multi-coloured tail (the seven rays), and its golden neck (reaching to heaven).
When it feels its death coming, the phoenix builds a nest of aromatic wood and spices (including frankincense symbolising evocative aspiration and myrrh symbolising death) on top of a mountain, sets it on fire, and is consumed in the flames. As it dies it sings an exquisitely melodious song that is so enchanting that even the great sun god Apollo pauses from his activities to listen in admiration. Three days later it is reborn and proceeds to embalm the ashes of its predecessor in an egg of myrrh and takes it to Heliopolis (in the Greek version) to deposit it on the altar of the sun-god as a sacrificial offering.
A beautiful description of the Scorpio experience is described in the chapter entitled Becoming the Phoenix in Normandi Ellis' fine rendering of one of the oldest and greatest classics of Western spirituality, The Egyptian Book of the Dead.
I flew straight out of heaven, a mad bird full of secrets….My mind is fire, my soul fire. The cobra wakes and spits fire in my eyes. I rise through ochre smoke into black air enclosed in a shower of stars. I am what I have made. I am the seed of every god, beautiful as evening, hard as light. I am the last four days of yesterday, four screams from the edges of earth- beauty, terror, truth, madness-the phoenix on his pyre.
In a willow I made my nest of flowers and snakes, sandalwood and myrrh. I am waiting for eternity. I will live forever in the fire spun from my own wings. I'll suffer bums that burn to heal. I destroy and create myself like the sun that rises burning from the east and dies burning in the west. To know the fire, I become the fire. I am power. I am light. I am forever. On earth and in heaven I am. This is my body, my work. This is my deliverance.
The heat of transformation is unbearable, yet change is necessary. It bums up the useless, the diseased. Time is a cool liquid; it flows away like a river. We shall see no end of it.
Generation after generation, I create myself. It is never easy. Long nights I waited, lost in myself, considering the stars. I wage a battle against darkness, against my own ignorance, my resistance to change, my sentimental love for my own folly. Perfection is a difficult task. I lose and find my way over again. One task done gives rise to others……here is no end to becoming. I live forever striving for perfection. I praise the moment I die in fire for the veils of illusion burn with me. I see how hard we strive for truth, and once attained, how easily we forget it. I hold that fire as long as I can. My nose fills with the smell of seared flesh, the acrid smoke of death, so that years from now I might look on that scar and remember how it was to hold the light, how it was to die and come again radiant as light walking on sand.
I change and change again, generation after generation. I find anguish then peace.
I am satisfied with my birth and the fate to which it led me. I do not regret the discomforts and tenors of my mortality any more than I regret the company of angels. I have entered fire. I become invisible; yet I breathe in the flow of sun, in the eyes of children, in the light that animates the white cliffs at dawn. I am the god in the world in everything, even in darkness. If you have not seen me there, you have not looked. I am the fire that bums you, that burns in you. To live is to die a thousand deaths, but there is only one fire, one eternity. 1
Of course, every disciple has seen the phoenix because they are the phoenix, constantly putting to death all that stops them from reaching the fullness of the sun of consciousness they will aim for in Sagittarius and achieve in Capricorn.
Alice Bailey tells us that "the tests in Scorpio and the activity of Mars are potent to arouse the entire lower nature and bring about its final rebellion and last stand of the personality against the soul. The whole man is then engaged in the battle between the highly developed personality or form nature and the soul which seeks to be the ultimate controlling factor". 2 Besides Mars, this process is governed by the Fourth Ray of Harmony through Conflict which gives the disciple the opportunity to transmute the opposites which rage within and cause so much misery and suffering in an alchemical process where the base metal of the lower nature is transformed into the pure gold of spirit. Disciples learn that their external conditions can never be mastered until discordant or opposing forces within themselves have been brought into harmony and once this has occurred the mystery of Scorpio will be revealed and as Corinne Heline describes in her book Mystery of the Christos, the triumphant and illumined disciple can declare, "I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world". 3
Interestingly, one ancient glyph for Scorpio was a skeleton with an open grave (speaking of death of the personality) spanned by a rainbow and it is said that as the phoenix flies off into the sun, a dazzling rainbow appears in the skies. The rainbow symbolism not only speaks of immortality and the promise of good things to come but it also reminds us of the primary task of disciples to build their Rainbow Bridge or antahkarana, the link between the personality and the soul, and later the monad. The Path of Discipleship is not a set of spiritual formulas or codes of conduct such as that prescribed by the churches and it is certainly not something external to us. Rather, the Path is quite literally within and it is built by disciples in their spinal cords as the purifying fire of transmutation is activated at the base of their spine and over many lifetimes begins to ascend in order to unite with a corresponding spiritual fire from above, until at last the two fires meet and the entire body is filled with light. Christ spoke of this in the Prodigal Son parable when He said, "but while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him". As we endure the pain and suffering of discipleship, we can take comfort from the certainty that the Father is not just passively watching but is proactively rushing towards us, even if we do not see Him because of the obstacles that are temporarily blocking our way.
In mythology, Pluto the exoteric ruler of Scorpio, is the god of the underworld, the Roman Hades, and stories abound of men and women on the heroes' path having to travel there to fulfil a mission of some kind. Without exception, their ordeal results in transformation and growth, not only for themselves but for the world. The necessity to venture into the darkness of the underworld is an important point for all disciples to consider. Should living in the light be our only spiritual goal? Is it all that is required? Perhaps the ancient myths warn us that there are as many ways to be lost in the light as in the dark and the lesson of Scorpio is that we scorn the darkness at our peril.
This principle is poignantly expressed in the Sumerian myth about the goddess Inanna and her sister, Ereshkigal.
Inanna was the Queen of Light who brought many gifts to her people, including agriculture and irrigation, weaving, astronomy, and mathematics. But when she arrived the people banished her elder sister, Ereshkigal, formerly the earth goddess responsible for the fertility of the grain, into the Underworld or Dark City. They also captured and killed Ereshkigal's consort, the Bull of Heaven, who was responsible for the thunderstorms that brought rain to earth. Inanna was so enamoured of, and preoccupied with, her own glory and light that she did nothing to protect her sister and her consort.
But eventually she could no longer ignore Ereshkigal's cries of mourning and she resolved to travel to the Underworld to attend the funeral of the Bull of Heaven (whose assassination had caused crop failure and famine in the land) and to be reunited with her sister. Before she commenced her journey she asked her trusted companion, Ninshubur, to seek help for her if she did not return within three days.
At each of the seven gates of the Underworld, Inanna was obliged to divest herself of some aspect of her glory (speaking of the seven initiations). Finally, after passing the last gate she was taken into Ereshkigal's inner chamber who, consumed with fury and grief at her abandonment and jealous of Inanna's status in the Upper World, took her revenge and slaughtered her sister hanging her corpse on a peg in the Underworld.
After three days, Ninshubur travelled to the sacred temples in search of her friend only to be rebuffed twice and told that no one returned from the Dark City. Finally, she beseeched the God of Wisdom, Enki, to assist her and he obliged by fashioning tiny spirit-helpers from the dirt under his fingernails. These spirits slipped into the Dark City and expressed their compassion for Ereshkigal, crying with her and comforting her in her agony.
When she found she is not alone in her suffering, Ereshkigal's heart softened and she offered a reward to those who grieved with her. Their request that Inanna be released was granted and she was reborn and the sisters of light and dark were reunited with Inanna taking to herself the dark, powerful, and knowing eye of Ereshkigal. Finally, the once despised Ereshkigal received her rightful homage with the people declaring, "Holy Ereshkigal, great is your renown".
And where do we see Inanna now? Stretched across the sky in her multi-coloured garment every time we see a rainbow.
The light of consciousness that becomes more and more brilliant as we progress on the path inevitably casts a shadow, just as sunlight casts a shadow in the natural world. For every thing that consciousness enlightens, it darkens something else. We tend to see light as good and dark as bad and Jung's psychological shadow as the repository of human evil. Even the struggle with our Dwellers on the Threshold, the struggle of Scorpio, is portrayed as the ultimate battle between good and evil and the war of all wars is the war within ourselves. But the light and shadow of consciousness are not good or bad in themselves: they are simply aspects of the one life which must be united. Our dark side has tremendous potential for good as well as ill, and shining the light on our dark soil will reveal a fertile richness that will bear much fruit if we are able to withstand the agonies of the harvesting process.
In A Treatise on Cosmic Fire, Alice Bailey tells us that on the Path of Discipleship the aspirant to the Mysteries must become "a student of that divine alchemy which will result in a knowledge of how to transmute the lower force into the higher, of how to transfer his consciousness into the higher vehicles, and of how to manipulate energy currents so that his own nature is transformed." 4 We are further told that transmutation is "the method whereby...the energy of the three lower centres is carried up into the three higher centres (head, heart and throat)... This transmuting process goes forward under the pressure of daily life experience, under the magnetic effect of soul contact, and as the inevitable result of evolution itself." 5
It is clear that we cannot stand in the brilliant light while neglecting the unfolding of our mysterious dark root. The Sumerians discovered that in banishing Ereshkigal to the underworld, they threw away their creative source and ability to manifest life. So, too, do disciples perish if they ignore the needs of their dark side to be brought into the light through a process of transmutation.
After banishing Ereshkigal and killing the Bull of Heaven, the Sumerians went into a state of crisis but everyone, including Inanna, was too busy celebrating their glory to notice. Indeed, Inanna did nothing to save her abandoned sister and neglected her, just as disciples might be tempted to neglect their dark side by becoming absorbed in their own light. Once Inanna decided to proceed into the underworld she was stripped of everything she owned until she arrived naked, only to be literally hung out to dry on a peg until she became a corpse, speaking of the crucifixion of all that held her back. This scene should make anyone pause if they believe that the light of the soul is a means of escaping the necessity of facing our demons. Rather it is the light of the soul which enables us to enter the darkness and prevail. This is the fiery battle of Scorpio, and like Inanna, like the phoenix, and like the Christ, we must be stripped of everything we have before we can achieve the fullness of life that is our sacred destiny.
It is with compassion for oneself that the disciple transmutes the darkness, just as it was compassion in the form of the spirits made of dirt which sympathised and cried with Ereshkigal that broke down her hatred. How often in our lives does a little act of kindness come just at the time when we thought we could not endure anything else? Perhaps it is at the hands of a friend like Ninshubur and we see it not. How often does a seemingly inconsequential act of love produce tears which cleanse and heal and reveal the light within our darkness?
It is said that the tears of a phoenix have healing properties. Indeed, Harry Potter was cured on at least three occasions in the Harry Potter books by the application of the tears of Fawkes, the phoenix owned by Professor Dumbledore. It is quite believable that this would be true of not only a magical and majestic bird that dies in the flames only to be reborn again but also of a disciple who has emerged from the fiery battle and severe testing and trials on the path of return to the father. It is as we are broken open that our tears pour forth and if they are tears of release, they have the potential not only to heal ourselves but to heal the world as we aspire to the noble work of becoming a world server in Aquarius. And as we weep, our soul sounds forth a wondrously beautiful note as it rises up out of the ashes of all that we have destroyed so it could be set free to soar towards the sun. One can well imagine the gods pausing from their activity to listen and watch in wonder at this triumphant Olympian scene.