MYSTERY SYMBOLISM IN THE TEMPEST

by

Mather Walker

 

 

In the "Advancement of Learning" Bacon made one of those very revealing statements that have fallen on deaf ears except for those very rare people like W.F.C. Wigston, who had a deep, intuitive appreciation of his work. The statement was as follows : 

"To me it seemeth best to keep way,
With Antiquity usque ad aras."

"usque ad aras" means "even to the altars", and clearly points to his interest in the Mysteries, because this is where drama and religion met "at the altars" in antiquity. Wigston also picks up on Bacon's interest and affinity with the teachings of The Magi,-the wisdom of Persia. In the symbolism in The Tempest this comes through very clearly. In developing the background on the Mysteries I referred to the eternally opposing pair: Ahura-Mazda, and Ahriman, in the Mysteries of Mithra, from the teaching of the Magi in ancient Persia. Ahura-Mazda, the Creator, was the God of Light and Good, while his adversary, Ahriman, also known as the Serpent, was the God of Darkness and Evil. From each of these came forth six principles, or gods; from Ahura-Mazda principles of Light and Good; from Ahriman principles of Darkness and Evil. These opposing forces of Light and Darkness entered into all of universal nature so that their strife created an eternal war in nature, a war which would rage from the beginning until the end of creation, and there was a reference in ancient sources to, "The Eternal War of Eleusis." 

The entire play is designed to show the war in all of universal nature, created by the eternal strife between the opposing forces of Light and Darkness. In "The Secret of The Shakespeare Plays" I referred to an experience I had in an altered state of consciousness where I was able to be aware of the entire play in one perception and saw that there was a unity to it, yet at the same time it was made up of a great many opposing entities, the two basic being light and darkness, and all the other arising from the strife and struggle between those two. Since the Play allegorizes the Mysteries it took place at the equinoxes, the point of balance between the struggle of light and darkness in their annual cycle. The play ended at six in the afternoon, the point of balance between the struggle of light and darkness in their daily cycle. The play took place just at the end of Prospero's 12 year rule of the island, and marked the point of balance between the struggle of light (Prospero), and darkness (Sycorax and Caliban). The characters in the play are very clearly delineated to show the six principles from Ahura-Mazda of Light and Good, and the six opposing principles from Ahriman of Darkness and Evil :

Light and Good Darkness and Evil
 

1. Prospero 7. Alonso
2. Gonzalo 8. Antonio
3. Ferdinand 9. Sebastian
4. Miranda 10. Trinculo
5. Ariel 11. Caliban
6. Adrian/Francisco 12. Stephano

(Adrian and Francisco are listed together in the First Folio). So, in the play we see portrayed the constant struggle between these opposing principles. Ariel and Caliban are two creatures of nature, the native inhabitants of the island. They are two alike by virtue of this fact, but at the same time they are in opposition to each other. Caliban, a creature of darkness, is a deformed monster who crawls upon the ground; Ariel, a creature of light, is a graceful spirit who flies through the air. Miranda and Caliban are two alike by virtue of the fact that they are both students of Prospero. but they are also in opposition to each other. Miranda a creature of light naturally turns the learning to good, while Caliban, a creature of darkness, naturally turns the learning to evil. Gonzalo, a creature of light, is the archetypal "Good" man; while the opposing Antonio, a creature of evil, is the archetypal "Evil" man. These instances exist all through the play. 

The play begins with a tempest. In response to Miranda's question regarding the reason for raising this sea-storm, Prospero says, "I find my zenith doth depend on a most auspicious star." The Mysteries were celebrated at the equinoxes, which were supposed to bring about great tempests. More specifically, the celebration of the Mysteries followed the rising of that most auspicious and famous star: Arcturus. In Stellar Theology and Masonic Astronomy, Robert Hewitt Brown says of Arcturus,

"Arcturus is also frequently alluded to by Virgil in the first book of the 'Georgics'. The rising and setting of this star was supposed to portent great tempests. In the time of Virgil it rose about the middle of September." 

A great deal of the Western Mystery Tradition had to do with the descent of the soul into the under world, the sphere of earthly existence. The Chaldeans, The Egyptians, Plato, and after him, the Neoplatonic writers, all dealt with this theme. Synesius, Bishop of Ptolemais, describing the descent of the soul said : 

"...When first it comes down to earth, it embarks
on this animal spirit as on a boat, and through
it, is brought into contact with matter."

And the boat upon which the souls are found at the beginning of the play clearly had to do with this allegory, for the author had gone to great pains to point out that the passengers of the boat were to be considered as souls. In the short space of thirty lines they are three times referred to as souls. But, in addition to this, the allegory was indicated by the Tempest which began the play. The souls in their celestial dwelling were supposed to be serene and passionless, and the passions which afflicted them, as they descended into the lower world were often compared to a tempest which beset the soul.  

That this tempest represented these passions, was indicated by the apparent misprint at the beginning of the play. The Boatswain said: 

"Heigh my hearts, cheerely, cheerely my harts:" 

The close pairing of the variance in spelling intimated intention and the meaning of "harts" was described by the Duke, in the Twelfth Night, when he said : 

".....when mine eyes did see Olivia first,
Methought she purged the air of pestilence!
That instant was I turned into a hart,
And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,
E'er since pursue me."

This interpretation, of the beginning of the action as the descent of souls, was further supported by the situation of Ferdinand when he came ashore. Ariel sanging came to him, having taken to himself the form of a nymph, and inviting him by song to join in the dance of the nymphs. Bacon in his study on PAN had pointed out that the nymphs represented the souls, and this had been brought out also in De Antro Nympharum(Concerning the Cave of The Nymphs) Porphyry demonstrated that the mymphs in the cave symbolized the souls who had entered into the dark sphere of matter. 

So likewise, from my background on the Mysteries, note the passage referring to the dance of the Mystae and of the fifty daughters of Nereus in the sea, which is also reflected by the dance of Ariel and the Nymphs. 

For those mystae judged "good", they were conducted on along the rising tract of the Rharian plain, and into the high walls of stone, which enclosed the court and temples of Eleusis. At the famous "laughless rock", where Demeter had sat beside the sacred well, they were given small round vessels which they carried on their heads as they were led in a circle dance around the sacred well. They sang a chorus as they circled the sacred well, and soon the vessels on their heads, fanned by the motion, began to give off light, so that the reflection in the sea below, made it appear as if the stars were dancing in accompaniment with them. 

In a chorus of his tragedy ION, Euripides made the sea and sky reply to the dance of the throng arriving at Eleusis along the Sacred Way for the Mystery Night : 

The starry ether of Zeus takes up the dance, the moon
goddess dances, and with her the fifty daughters of Nereus
dance in the sea in the eddies of the ever flowing
streams, so honoring the daughter with the golden crown
and the holy Mother... 

It must be remembered also that the soul was not only descending into its age long sojourn in the world. It was descending into time, because on the celestial plane time did not exist. The title of the play is particularly appropriate to this symbolism. The word tempest derives from the Latin tempestas with the termination dropped. The basic meaning has to do with time; a limited time or period, a portion, point or space in time, a season or period. It has often been noted that the time element is given peculiar emphasis in the play. This element is an intrinsic part of the symbolism relating to the descent of soul into the world and into time. 

The lightning and thunder lashes the storm tossed ship. Ariel describing the event to Prospero says,

"Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin, I flamed amazement: Sometimes I'ld divide, and burn in many places; on the topmast, the yards and bowsprit, would I flame distinctly, then meet and join. Jove's lightnings, the precursors O' the dreadful thunderclaps... Then all afire with me : the king's son, Ferdinand, with hair up-staring,-then like reeds, leap'd; cried,
"Hell is empty, and all the devils are here."

The passengers abandon ship, leaping overboard, and the ship is placed at rest in the harbor with the mariners stowed below deck in an entranced sleep.

John A. Weisse describes the ritual of the Eleusinia :

"Soon the thunder rolled, lightning flashed, strange and
fearful objects appeared, and the place seemed to shake
and be on fire, hideous spectres glided through the
building moaning and sighing, frightful noises and howlings
were heard."

In the Mysteries the initiate was placed in a deathlike sleep for a period of three days while his subtle body left his physical body, and wandered the after world. The ship represents the body and, with the mariners entranced below decks the entranced state of the initiate is represented. The passengers who leave the body, symbolize the suble body leaving the physical body. The play covers three hours which symbolize the three day period, however, Bacon manages to get the three day period in also, for it is on the third day that Ariel brings the ship back to the fleet from which he first separated it.

It should be noted that in his symbolism Bacon shows a knowledge which goes beyond that which any study of the information regarding the Mysteries from antiquity could have given him. He shows a knowledge of the actual experiences undergone by the person who is leaving his physical body. Such information is available in contemporary times through the account of Oliver Fox, who first spontaneously experienced the process, and later developed to the point where he could achieve it consciously. His description given in his book,"Astral Projection", is as follows :

 

"There may also be flashes of light, apparitions,
and (almost certainly) terrifying noises...the
pale golden light increases to a blaze of glory
and a veritable inferno of strange sounds assails
his ears...If the attempt succeeds, he will have
the extraordinary sensation of passing through
the door in his brain, and hearing it "click"
behind him; but he will not seem to be out of
his body yet. It will appear to him that his
fluidic self has again subsided within his
physical body; but the terrifying sounds and
apparations are no more, and the room is evenly
illuminated by the pale golden radiance. There
is a blessed sense of calm after storm..."
 

A peculiar instrument was used in the Mysteries. It is known now as the Rhombos. In contemporary times in England it has been called "The Bull Roarer." In ancient times the device was known as the Konos. It made an eerie, although unearthly sound. While wandering in the darkness, surrounded by strange sights, the sound made by the Konos must have had a considerable effect on the Mystae. It began low, with a kind of sharp humming tone, thrilling through a whirring noise, and growing steadily louder until it become a sort of fluttering, windy roar. In the play we have the following : 

Seb. Whiles we stood here securing your repose,
Even now, we heard a hollow burst of bellowing.
Like bulls, or rather lions; did it not wake you?
It struck mine ear most terribly.

 Ant. O,'twas a din to fright a monster's ear.
To make an earthquake: sure, it was
the roar of a whole herd of lions.

Gon. I heard a humming,
And that a strange one, too,
while did awake me.
 

In the background on the Mysteries I have described how the mystae were divided into three groups. Thus in The Tempest there are three streams of action, or three groupings of characters. The first is that dealing with Ferdinand, the second The King's party, and the third Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo. 

The three parties were composed of those who were judged evil; those who were judged good; and the majority, somewhere in between. For the evil the way led now to the left and downward, i.e. from the ridge of the plain down to the shore around the bay. For the good the way led on upward to the Temples of Eleusis, and for the many, they lingered there wandering in the darkness of the Rharian Plain. 

Those judged evil were conducted from the ridge of the plain down to the shore around the bay, and back along the curve of the shore until they came to the Lakes of Rheitos. There they were placed with the numbers of the evil doers, buried up to their necks in the swampy water. Later, after they had been in the water for a suitable time, they were allowed to continue on their way. Then they next heard in the distance the baying of hounds. These sounds came closer and closer, until finally they saw spectral forms of the hounds, and were hunted about by them Ariel charmed Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano so that they followed him to the point where he says : 

" At last I left them I' the filthy mantled pool beyond your cell,
There dancing up to the chins, that the foul lake
O'erstunk their feet."

Then later we are given the stage direction of "a noise of hunters heard. Enter divers Spirits in shape of dog and hounds, hunting them [Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano] about, Prospero and Ariel setting them on." And Prospero says,

"Let them be hunted soundly." 

The King's party represented the many who were neither good nor evil, and who lingered there wandering on the darkness of the Rharian plain. We note this description of the wandering of the King's part. Gonzalo says: "By'r larkin, I can go no further sir; My old bones ache: here's a maze trod indeed, through forthrights and meanders!" A passage from Stobaeus describing the Mysteries says:

"The first stage is nothing but errors and uncertainties, laborious wanderings..."

In the background on the Mysteries I have given some idea of this wandering that the Mystae had to undergo.

Ferdinand who goes directly to the cell of Prospero represents the good who goes directly to the temple of Eleusis. 

The play deals with two periods of 12 years. For the first 12, Ariel is a prisoner in the pine tree. For the second 12, he is controlled by Prospero. After that he is free. In the Phoenician Mysteries the neophyte was imprisoned in a pine tree. In the Mysteries, in general, there was depicted a descent through the rings of the planets, followed by an ascent. In this descent the soul passed through the 12 signs of the zodiac, and repassed through these during the ascent. Having accomplished this the soul was free. 

The imprisonment in the pine tree symbolized the imprisonment in the physical body. The pine tree is particularly representative of this symbolism since the major glands in the body are shaped like a pine cone. Thus, we have the pineal gland, the penis, and the heart which, although it doesn't derive its name from its shape still has the pine cone shape.

The passage through the 12 signs of the zodiac is an implicit content of the Mysteries. The 12 labors of Hercules represented this, and probably also the 12 days of Er in the underworld which was related by Plato. However, the symbolism is set forth most clearly in the Tibetan Book of Alice Ann Bailey, "Esoteric Astrology" where she describes how the soul in its cycle of incarnations passes through the zodiacal circle from Pisces to Aries, and then reverses the process passing back from Aries to Pisces.  

I have described the Temple Sleep, which the Mystae had to undergo, in the background on the Mysteries. Two sleeps are described. The Temple Sleep, which was for the purpose of purification, and the deathlike state of the more advanced initiation where the soul leaves the body for three days. I have already noted the symbolism at the beginning of the play as referring to the deathlike state where the soul leaves the body. In order to express both in the symbolism of the play, Bacon takes the deathlike state as the beginning point of a separate stream of symbolism. The temple sleep is symbolized later in the play. Whereas Ferdinand does not require purification but proceeds directly to the cell of Prospero, the wanderers in the King's party require purification. Thus the symbolism shows them as seized by an inexplicable sleepiness. Gonzalo says,

"Will you laugh me asleep, for I am very heavy?"

Alonzo says,

"What, all so soon asleep."

Then Alonzo falls asleep, and Sebastian says,

"What a strange drowsiness oppresses them!"

and Antonio replies,

"It is the quality o' the climate."

Ever since Warburton it has been recognized that the sixth book of the Aeneid represents the Mysteries. In that book, when Aeneas crosses the infernal river, he is told by Charon: "This is the place of Ghosts, of Sleep, and drowsy Night." Dante also, in recounting this trip over the water says,

"Down-dropped, as one with sudden slumber seized."

and goes on to explain that what caused this was the conquering of his senses by a loud shaking of the earth and the flash of lightning." And Antonio says a few lines later,

"They fell together all, as by consent; They dropped, as by a thunder-stroke."  

There is much more detail in the symbolism of The Tempest (there is the communion meal of the King's party, the masque, or epoptic vision of Ferdinand) and so on and on. But more than enough has been given to demonstrate the Mystery symbolism in The Tempest, so I will now proceed to the light "A", the operation of Bacon's discovery device in determining the "form" of some related aspect of future knowledge.

 

THE ASPECT OF KNOWLEDGE RELATED TO THE FUTURE

 

How can we be sure that the aspect of future knowledge in The Tempest deals with The Advancement of Learning? For one thing, as the Mysteries were the depository of all learning in antiquity, the Advancement of Learning deals with all knowledge in the future, so the aspects are related. For another, the allegory is very plain. The device of the sailing voyage of discovery was equated with learning by Bacon. We see it on the title page of the "Great Instauration." it appears frequently in the Advancement. It is the theme of the New Atlantis. The Masculine Birth of Time says,

"In fact had not political conditions and prospects put an end to these mental voyages, another coast of error would have been visited by those mariners. For the island of truth is lapped by a mighty ocean in which many intellects will still be wrecked by the gales of illusion."

It is no coincidence that in The Tempest (first in the folio of Bacon's unacknowledged works) there was such a close resemblance to both the first and last among his acknowledged works. The play paints a lively allegory of the Ship of Discovery sailing forth to arrive at a strange island (surely the island of truth) wherein is the Magus, symbol of human learning in complete control of nature. 

We also have the symbolic setting of the Play. It has two faces - one looking toward ancient knowledge, and one toward future knowledge. In The Tempest, as in each of the plays, Bacon embodied both the old world of received knowledge (symbolized by the Mediterranean - the center of the ancient world), and the New World of the Sciences (symbolized by the new world - America). But in The Tempest, unlike the other plays, the drama is actually set in the Mediterranean, and actually also, enters into the New World. In the amazing system of correspondences Bacon set up in the system of his Intellectual Globe, the New World of the Sciences had to be discovered by a sailing voyage of discovery, (just as America had been), and this voyage had to utilize his Intellectual Compass which corresponded on the Intellectual Globe to the mariners compass on the physical globe. Therefore, the setting of The Tempest was both within the Mediterranean Sea, and in the New World, far west of the Mediterranean Sea and Gates of Hercules, at the same time! Hallet Smith says, in his The Tempest as Kaleidoscope :

"The 'uninhabited island,' as the Folio calls it, which is the scene of The Tempest, is apparently somewhere in the Mediterranean, since the shipwrecked characters in the play were en route from Tunis to Italy. Yet the imagery of the play and some of the descriptive detail concerning the island strongly suggest the New World across the Atlantic."

  In its symbolic setting in the Old World of received knowledge The Tempest is an amazingly comprehensive allegory of the Ancient Mysteries, but at the same time it has an amazingly comprehensive allegory of The Advancement of Learning. Since I have covered this allegory, and the allegory of the operation of the discovery device in detail in "The Secret of The Shakespeare Plays" I will not add to the length of this article.

 

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