Sebastiano Ricci: “Fighting between the Centaurs and the Lapiths” (1715)
Next to the Rosicrucian Lodge that I have mentioned earlier, there is a triple portal carved in the black stone of Promontorio, rich in friezes dating back to the same period. Of this one we have a precise date: 1493. As Elena Bono herself points out in her article “The architectural face of Chiavari” (1978, published in the “Acts of the International Historical Conference for the VIII Centenary of the urbanization of Chiavari”) the two historical residences of Chiavari can be related to each other, especially for the symbolic value of the representations. The house has the historical name of “Casa Garibaldi” and, about 300 years later, Giuseppe Garibaldi’s father was born in Chiavari.
Casa Garibaldi: the two portals and the main door. Further on, beyond the arch that can be seen on the left of the photo there is the facade of the Rosicrucian Lodge.
The sequence of the friezes suggests a reading according to the solar motion, therefore from left to right with respect to the orientation. It’s divided into three portals:
First portal: in which the centauromachy is represented, that is the battle between centaurs and lapiths, surrounded by two blacksmiths. It was the entrance to the stables of the palace;
Second portal: in which a harvest is depicted, surrounded by two figures carrying a cornucopia. It was the entrance to the palace cellar;
Third portal: which depicts a Madonna enthroned with the Child in her arms, surrounded by four saints. It was the entrance to the upper floors of the palace. The frieze shows the date 1493.
The three portals correspond to as many phases:
First phase: of the animal struggle (nigredo), in which the indomitable lower ego, which lives in animal blood, is overcome by the higher ego;
Second phase: of the vegetable production (albedo) in which the animal blood is now purified in the sap of the vegetable which therefore bears fruit without any craving;
Third phase: of the nativity, which can correspond to the rubedo in which the soul is purified (the Divine Sophia) and is finally ready to welcome the spirit into matter, the child.
Let’s go now and see the symbolism of the three phases.
The First Portal: the Centauromachy
Apollo injected his solar power into the nymph Stilbe, daughter of the river Penaeus, and she had two twins: Centaur and Lapith, whose destiny was as opposite as it was bound. Centaur was a monstrous being who lived free with his herds of horses. Lapith had an athletic physique and became a warrior. The bloodlines that descended from the twins were destined to collide. Centaur, mating with mares, generated the half equine and half human lineage of centaurs. Lapith gave birth to a lineage of warriors, kings and seers of Thessaly. In particular, Piritoo was born from the union of Dia and Zeus in the form of a stallion. From the celestial forces of Zeus derives in fact the ability of the Lapiths to tame horses and ride them, having invented the bite of the bridle.
At the Piritoo’s wedding are also invited the centaur cousins. During the celebrations, however, the centaurs get drunk, living in nature they are not accustomed to wine, which is a human product. The lust of the centaurs, represented by their equine body, takes over and Eurythion attacks and rapes Hippodamia, whose name means “she who tames horses”. The battle between centaurs and lapiths breaks out, the centauromachy, in which the Athenian hero Theseus, Piritoo’s best friend, also takes part. With the help of the hero, the lapiths win and the centaurs are driven out of Thessaly. In Euritione, as a punishment, the nose and ears are cut off.
In this imagination offered by Greek mythology, we have a dualism:
Centaur: represents the animal instinct (astral body) able to infuse the lust in the human body and give it movement towards an end. The half of a horse is in fact the inferior one;
Lapith: represents the human reason (nous, that is the rational soul) able to harness the ancestral animal instincts aimed at satisfying the lust in a higher ideal.
In regard to this, we must remember that the Ego, working through the astral body, extracts the triple soul:
the sentient soul united with the astral body;
the rational soul, in relation to the etheric body, which acts as a direct support to the Ego;
the conscious soul, in relation to the physical body, and united to the Spiritual Self.
In the context of centauromachy, we witness the evolution of dualism and its resolution:
Eurytion: it represents the craving that comes from moving away from the mitigating forces of the ego. In fact, the abuse of wine splits human and animal nature, making the animal dream consciousness prevail over the waking consciousness of the human being;
Pirithous and Hippodamia: their marriage represents the union of reason (the possibility of taming animal nature) with the realization of reason itself (“she who tames horses”);
Theseus: already winner of the Minotaur, represents the ego that comes to the aid of the rational soul to save the marriage between reason (Piritoo) and the realization of the reason itself (Hippodamia). In order for the work of the rational soul to be fruitful, it must be “saved” by the ego.
You can relate this struggle to the work of the black, the nigredo. For the layman to become a disciple it is necessary that he abandons his astral ego, which is a luciferic concretion of his astral body, in favor of the Ego. The Minotaur, who is killed by Theseus, represents man when his animal ego reaches the peak of his involution: the human head, which is the sum of the creative forces of the Spiritual Hierarchies, regresses in the head of the Bull, the animal symbol of the luciferic forces.
The bull is, in itself, an animal of great and pure astral force, completely externalized, capable of a real meditation during digestion. Its inverse is the bird, the dove, which appears in the astral world as a form of the bull itself as it is linked to the Holy Spirit. Its link with the spiritual world was already noticed by the ancient Indians with the great mother Gaumata and her cult of sacred cows. Later in the third Egyptian era with the god Apis, the lunar bull god, then merged with the solar god Osiris in Serapis. Since that was the Age of Bull, his cult reached the highest degree. However, at its end it entered the Age of Aries, the fourth Greek-Roman age, and the image of the Bull killed by the solar god Mithra was born, anticipating the descent of Christ into the body of Jesus of Nazareth. In the Age of Aries comes the Lamb of God.
As you can easily guess, the myth of the centaurmachy is linked to the myth of the Minotaur through the heroic action of Theseus: he first kills the Minotaur then defeats the centaurs. We can see in this imaginative succession the struggle of man against the luciferic forces that still inhabited the human soul, keeping it at the animal stage in evolution (the third metamorphosis in cosmic evolution, the Ancient Moon and its recapitulations). First in the sphere of the head, as Minotaur (sentient soul), and then in the sphere of the limbs, as centaur (rational soul).
The labyrinth, representation of the physical brain, is the seat of selfish thinking, represented by the Minotaur’s bullhead. Ariadne’s thread represents the meaning that the Ego must seek to get out of the labyrinth created by the tautological and illusory thinking of Lucifer, red is both the color of the Ego and that of Lucifer in the astral world. Theseus kills the Minotaur thus saving the man’s thought, and then defeats the centaurs thus saving the man’s will, his direct relationship with the physical world. The passage from the third Egyptian era to the fourth Greco-Roman one recapitulates the evolution of civilization, the passage from the animal dream consciousness of the Ancient Moon to the dawning of waking consciousness in the first half of the present Earth.
In a similar way it happens in the recapitulation at the level of the passage from the Lemuric Era to the Atlantic Era: humanity in the second half of the Lemuric Era received the Ego as substance of the Elohim, from the sacrifice of their own Ego. The ego lifted the man to the upright posture, made his blood warm. At the same time, the Luciferic spirits, left behind in the Ancient Moon and now in the form of serpentiform animals, were attracted by the new possibilities offered by the astral body of man. There, they tempted him by animalizing the astral body of the human being. Until then, the human astral body had evolved by expelling the astral forms, which were then taken up by animals, and they were thus materializing in the course of the history of evolution on Earth. Lucifer instead made them re-emerge inside the astral body in the form of animal cravings. The abuse of willpower driven by Lucifer’s lust was responsible for the fire catastrophe that ended the Lemur Era.
At the turn of the Atlantic Era, man takes on a form increasingly similar to the present one, being composed of the four bodies (physical, etheric, astral, ego) as well as the first astral egos. Therefore, the inferior personality was born, opposed to the superior individuality. The ego, as a wreck of the luciferic action, was used as a tool by the black magicians of Atlantis to abuse the forces of vegetation, linked to the etheric body, and leading to the end of the Atlantean civilization in the water with the Universal Flood.
There is a parallelism between the succession of civilizations and the evolution of the triple soul:
Third Egyptian era (Age of Taurus): development of the sentient soul, that is, the Taurus;
Fourth Greco-Roman era (Age of Aries): development of the rational soul, that is, the lamb;
Fifth post-Atlantic era (Age of Pisces): development of the conscious soul.
Thus, when the Greeks turned their gaze to the Cretan civilization, they saw the Minotaur, a relict of the previous Egyptian era that acts as a force now involutive. The Cretan bull-headed monster, in order to be kept alive, needed the sacrifices of seven virgins (the seven constituents of man). It had to be killed by the new soul forces evolved in the womb of Greek civilization, the rational soul.
When the disciple enters the nigredo, the mystical death, takes place through the struggle between the astral ego (or personality) and the higher Ego that overlooks the astral body; just as in Greek era the Greeks looked to the cult of the bull on Crete. The dead image of this struggle is symbolized by the splitting of animal nature from human nature: the animal lives as such but must be split from the human being, he needs the ego to take the reins of the astral body. For this reason in the centauromachy the lapiths, thanks to the celestial forces given by Zeus and the hero Theseus, win over the centaurs, taming them.
The Second Portal: the Harvest
After the animal phase, which we have compared to the alchemical nigredo as the death of the astral ego, we now come to the vegetable phase. The symbolic motif changes completely as well as the character of the figures, and we have the following contrasts:
In the first frieze the characters are adults and guerrillas, while in the second they become children and peaceful. Their features are similar to cherubs, an aspect that indicates edenic innocence;
In the first frieze the element of relentless battle between instinct and reason, lust and freedom emerges powerfully, in the second frieze harmony and collaboration for the common good reign. The result of this serenity is the grape harvest;
In the first frieze, blacksmiths produced weapons for war, in the second, children produce wine: which it is the cause of the discord between centaurs and lapiths. The consumption of wine creates excess, but not the effort to produce it which on the contrary unites children in heavenly harmony. Children are pure and therefore do not need to drink the wine they produce, theirs is “spirit of-wine”( “spirito di-vino”);
While in the first portal the characters face each other chaotically in three pairs of humans against the centaurs, in the second frieze all the characters tend towards the child in the center, immersed in the basin where the pressing is taking place.
It is precisely the central character that recalls a second mythological tale, with a very high esoteric meaning: the myth of Dionysus Zagreus, the central god of the Greek cult of the Mysteries of Orpheus. In ancient Rome, in fact, he is assimilated to Bacchus, whose death occurs through the pressing of grapes in vats and the resurrection as winemaking. Again, his characteristics repeat on a lower level those of Phanes, the god of manifestation: the first personified god of Orphic cosmogony, emerged from the cosmic egg, dividing the upper vault of the sky from the lower vault of the earth, placing himself with his body in the center, touching the sky with his horned head, and the earth with goat’s hooves, like the Roman satyrs. We can therefore say that Dionysus Zagreus, polarizes between the beginning and the end of the Greek era, in which he reveals himself “upwards” at the foundation of Greek civilization as Phanes with the cosmogonic mysteries; and “downwards” at the end of the Greek era, i.e. in Romanity, as Bacchus with the mysteries of intoxication.
Let’s now see the initiatory myth of Dionysus Zagreus. Zeus decided to hand over his kingdom to his beloved son, Zagreus, although he was only a child. He was a beautiful child, the head adorned with crescent horns. He was his secret son, had by Persephone, whom he had fertilized in the form of a snake (according to another version, by the human Semele). The Titans learned of the hereditary plan of the hated father of the gods, decided to spy on Hera, the legitimate wife, so as to use her jealousy for Zeus for their personal revenge. Thus Hera, unleashed her anger and sent the Titans to kill the child: so the ancient gods painted their faces white and brought magical gifts to little Zagreus: a mirror, apples, a ball, dice, pinecone, rhombus, wool, puppets and a spinning top. They put these toys into action to attract and draw the divine child out of his hiding place, far from the eyes of the other gods affiliated with Zeus who had sworn to protect him. The physical senses of little Zagreus were thus awakened from the world of the gods (soul) to that of the titans (elementary matter).
In the cosmic egg the coils of the serpent Uroboros, from the original circle, are divided into four circles, or the four worlds, and then into seven circles, or the orbits of the planets.
When Zagreus realized the evil intentions of the Titans, he mutated into all the animals he knew until, transformed into a bull, he was found So, once exposed, the Titans cut it into seven pieces, which were cooked: afterwards they celebrated death with a banquet. At that point Athena appeared among the Titans and snatched from their clutches the still beating heart of the future god-king. Apollo buried the other body parts on Mount Parnassus. Athena brought the living heart to her father Zeus who, recognizing it as the heart of the beloved, threw his thunderbolt on the Titans, reducing them to ashes. At that point Zeus wanted to give life to his son: according to one version, he swallowed his heart and incubated it until he was reborn from his thigh; according to another version Zeus took the ashes of the Titans and together with the heart of Zagreus made animals, birds and human beings as well as the body for his son who was finally reborn with the name of Dionysus.
Let’s see now the scientific-spiritual interpretation. Zeus turning into a serpent means that the Spirit penetrates as knowledge (snake) into the depths of the Underworld, where Persephone resides, or alternatively into the human world, symbolized by Semele.
According to the myth, Dionysus was born three times, the “Trigonos”:
From the belly of the mortal mother Semele or from the chthonic goddess Persephone;
From the thigh of the king of the gods, Zeus;
From the incinerated bones of the Titans.
Esoterically, Dionysus represents the first passage of the ego, bearer of consciousness, through three different worlds of Earth and Man. So the myth, as a whole, represents the descent of the ego from the spiritual world to the physical world. The initiates of ancient Greece knew the occult correspondence of the gods to the subtle bodies of man and this then reverberated in the soul of the ancient Greek in this way:
Dionysus for the ancient Greek represented the ego in the spiritual world, protected in the womb of the gods, before the fall into the world of the Titans, that is, the physical world;
The birth through Zeus indicated the feeling that the Greek addressed to the ancient group soul of humanity in the astral world, Zeus being the macrocosmic astral body;
The Great Mother (Persephone or Semele), represented for the ancient Greek the etheric body of the Earth in the etheric world, its mortality or cyclicity, in the case of Persephone, indicates the cycle of incarnations;
The Titans represented instead the physical body and the physical world, with the descent of the ego into the “prison” of the different bodies. The bone is the most physical part of the physical body, similar to the mineral. The dismemberment then leads back to recomposition and resurrection beyond death, in a new unity, which in the meantime has experienced consciousness and morality.
When Zagreus is attracted to the Titans, his very being that was “one” ends up becoming “many”, seven in this case. The fact that changing into a bull is fatal to him is once again a sign that the Egyptian cultural era had already given way to the Greek one. The era of Aries, that is, the descent into the physical plane of the Lamb of God, was therefore foretold. The nine gifts of the Titans represent the illusion of the fragmentation of the physical world with respect to the spiritual world, where Zagreus was hidden and protected by the gods. Nine is the number of man’s occult bodies, and it is no coincidence that from the ashes of the Titans both the human being and Dionysus are born, and it is only with the third birth that the god is united to all human beings: human beings participate in the divine nature of Dionysus with the spirit and the material nature of the Titans with the body.
The seven pieces of Dionysus’ body are obviously the planets, which materialize in the physical world, represented by the elemental powers of the ancient Titans. The heart is the soul of the world, the Sun. In this way, Dionysus is like the Adam Kadmon, whose four bodies correspond to the four worlds, who will be reborn in the future forming a new Adam Kadmon but fully conscious of himself (metamorphosis of the Future Jupiter). Therefore, like Osiris and Mithra, he is a forerunner of Christ and as such has both characteristics of the solar cycle and of vegetation, that is, of the Ether World.
Adam Kadmon: formed by the tetragrammaton, Yod of Fire (Atziluth), He of Air (Beriah), Vau of Water (Yetzirah) and He of Earth (Assiah).
We can even do a cabalistic comparison. We have to imagine, from the macrocosmic Yod of Adam Kadmon, falling a smaller Yod as a sharper drop of the whole, which from Atziluth (Upper Devachan) fell through Briah (Lower Devachan), then Yetzirah (Astral World) and finally into Hesse (Physical World), thus becoming an individual microcosmic man. But his penetration continues: within the Heart of Hesse (Hesseh-Gashmi), to the center of the Earth (the Titans), where the supreme good clashes with the supreme evil and the fall is reversed. From the descent into matter to the resurrection in the etheric world (Zeus) of the Yetzirah and astral of Beriah and finally of the thought of Atziluth by reconstituting the Adam Kadmon, this time full of the divine Ego that evolved within humanity: in the Future Jupiter will therefore be the new Adam the future God of Vulcan. This is risen Zagreus, Dionysus Zagreus.
The epiphany of Dionysus, in the processions dedicated to him, was the Mask of Dionysus, worn by those who took upon themselves the God-Ego: in this way the microcosmic Ego is mirrored in the macrocosmic Ego and vice versa, providing a meeting point between the micro and macrocosm, the same point at which the reversal would take place between the lower Ego falling towards the center of the cosmos and the upper Ego rising towards the periphery of the cosmos.
The Third Portal: the Madonna and Child
So here we come to the third and final phase, which culminates with the portal of the house itself and thus the human element, following the animal element of the first door (the horse stable) and the vegetable element of the second (the wine cellar). Here then is the divine world that meets the human world. The figures of the frieze have been identified by Elena Bono as:
The Madonna and Child is the central couple, placed above the opening of the two doors;
On the left is John the Baptist, the saint of the summer solstice;
On the right is John the Evangelist, the saint of the winter solstice;
On the far left is Antonio Abate with the tamed devil in tow;
On the far right is the franciscan Bernardine of Siena represented by the orifice of the monogram IHS and the book and the date 1493.
We can therefore see a certain solar symbolism in the couple of the two Johns gathered around the solar child Jesus:
John the Baptist (Moon): baptizes with water, he is the last lunar initiate of the soul. It is the closure of the past;
John the Evangelist (Sun): heralds the baptism of fire, he is the first solar initiate of the spirit. It is the opening of the future.
In parallel, the two solstices mark the passage of the sun at the ends of the ecliptic:
Summer Solstice: sign of Cancer (sign ruled by the Moon), i.e. the passage from an old cycle to a new cycle (the symbol of the cosmic spiral) – i.e. the Alpha, the Jakin column of descending evolution in matter. It indicates the descent into the Underworld because in summer the Earth has its cycle of exhalation of the spirits of nature, matter blooms while the spirit diminishes;
Winter Solstice: sign of Capricorn, i.e. the passage from the material to the spiritual plane (the duality of the animal of the sign) – i.e. Omega, the Boaz column of ascending evolution in the spirit. It indicates the ascent to Paradise: since in winter the Earth has its cycle of inhalation by the spirits of nature, the spirit grows while matter diminishes.
He must grow and I must decrease.
John the Baptist says referring to Christ (in John 3,30) , precisely because of the relationship between the winter solstice and the descent of the Sun-Christ in the vehicles of Jesus of Nazareth at the moment of baptism in the Jordan.
John the Baptist represents the last prophet and the closing of the dominion of the Old Testament law, the dominion of the Eloah of the Moon Jehovah. John the Evangelist is the last apostle to be added, replacing the Scorpio of Judah with his Eagle. He is the writer of the most spiritual gospel, that of the Church of John (Freemasonry, Gnosis) and of the last book of the New Testament, the Revelation, which more than any other exalts the nature of the incarnate of the Word and at the same time the solar nature of the Eloah Christ. Since John the Baptist closes the past, while John the Evangelist opens the future; there is also a particular fusion of the two Johns, forming the Christian equivalent of Janus Two-Faced. At the center, there is the eternal present of the future carrying Christ, Jesus. Parallel to this, the two solstices mark the passage of the sun at the extremities of the ecliptic.
The Madonna is therefore the Great Mother, the substance of the Earth united to the Moon (as it was in the first half of the Lemuric Era), while the child is the Sun that returns to the womb of the Great Mother (as it was until the first half of the Hyperborean Era) to redeem the divine archetype sunk into matter, which risks involution towards the powers of the obstacle (Lucifer and Arimane). He returns to the Earth, reborn through the purification of the astral body and the etheric body to the depths of the physical body. He descends to save man from the risks of animalisation in the astral and from those of vegetalisation in the etheric, so that the miracle of virgin conception is accomplished: Mary-Sofia becomes the door through which the original forces of the creation of the second Adam can act directly in the matter that risks decaying.
On the left, Antonio Abate shows a demon on a leash, the luciferic spirits (which infest the astral) of lust are tamed by the Child. On the right, Bernardino da Siena shows the Sun (the etheric center) with IHS inscribed, prefiguring the Solar Spirit Christ who will descend into the child at the time of the baptism of the Jordan. Note, below the frieze, two cupids (angels of the Cherubini choir) standing guard over the Earthly Paradise. The two cupids overlook:
The eagle (or Phoenix) on the left: initiation or rebirth in spirit;
A flower on the right: the blossoming of the soul that tends from vegetable to animal, being fertilized by the forces of spiritual fire.
Finally, as you can see from the photos of the portal itself, the door is inclined: this is not a design error, but a symbol frequently found in buildings with an initiatory vocation. The straight line that ceases to be such is the sign of contact with the spiritual world. To enter through the door, originally, meant to submit oneself to an estrangement for which one was provoked to bow one’s head, as a sign of humility and reverence towards the Mysteries. “One step in knowledge, three steps in morality” recommended Rudolf Steiner, antidote to the luciferic distortions of esoteric knowledge. The floor beyond the entrance threshold is black and white chequered, both as is the Ligurian tradition, but also as is the Masonic tradition, symbolically representing the dualism of all dichotomies: good-bad, light-shadow, Lucifer-Ahriman, that the initiate must overcome finding the invisible tertium non datur, which must be found not in the physical world but in the spiritual one. The third is also the first, he is the Christ. But such a quest requires sacrifice which few are willing to make. For the Threshold is narrow and uncomfortable to cross, for such is the path that leads to the understanding of the Mysteries of the initiates.
Narrow is the door and narrow is the way that leads to life, and how few are those who find it! – Matthew 7:14.
Three Times the Great Work
The founder of the anitca Egyptian civilization was Thoth, called by the Greeks Hermes Trismegistus, which means “three times great”, he was the father of alchemy, which takes its name from Egypt itself “Kemet”, the black earth of the Nile. This being three times great meant that Manu Hermes had completed the Great Alchemical Work three times: once for the animal part, once for the vegetable part and finally once for the mineral part.
So here is the end of the circle, we have brought the noble spiritual symbolism of these three portals back to the Egyptian and Greek roots. This combination and at the same time evolution of spiritual images is typical of alchemy, in particular of the Rosa + Croce for the explicit reference to the child Jesus. In fact, scrolling through the three portals, from left (placed in the East) to right (placed in the West), the symbology evolves both historically and alchemically:
From the Greek era with the representation of the centaurmachy, the animal world;
To the Roman one depicting Bacchus, the plant world;
To conclude with the Christian one in which there is the Madonna and Child, the mineral world.
Interpreting the complex of alchemic symbolism according to the science of the spirit, we can say that:
The first portal is in relation to the astral (animal) body and its transformation into the Spiritual Self;
The second portal is in relation to the etheric (vegetable) body and its transformation into the Vital Spirit (the wine spirit);
The third portal is in relation to the physical body (mineral) and its transformation into Man-Spirit. The Virgin is the purified astral body in which the child, the spirit, is born.
What has been said is for me a continuous thanks to the spiritual intuition of Elena Bono whose poetic soul was the first to grasp the initiatory depth of the symbolism of the Lodge of Roses+Crosses. With a few simple words, the poetess, has managed to synthesize everything, but just everything, what I have told you so far. now with the words of Elena Bono:
The triple door, in short, could be seen as a go from war to peace and heavenly glory. Or from the world of hyle, of crude matter, troubled by struggles with the spirit, visited by the Numi: Vulcan, the god of homo faber and Bacchus, or Dionysus Zagreus with his mysteries and painful and joyful (the passion of the vegetable Nume trampled in vats, which then becomes the passion of the god torn by the Titans but resurgent) a going, I was saying, towards the sphere where the transhumanized matter and embodied spirit are an identity, which is the true goal of the Great Alchemical Work.