In this famous Greek myth, Prometheus steals fire from the gods as an act of compassion for humanity. For this defiance against the authority of Zeus, Prometheus is banished and chained to a rock on a remote island. Each day his liver is ravaged by an eagle but, due to his immortality, is regenerated by night. There are many versions of the myth, but the central theme evident in each recounting of the tale is the misuse of power and terrible consequences thereafter of ‘playing with fire’.
A similarity can also be seen between the myth of Prometheus and the creation myth of the Garden of Eden. In the Gnostic tradition, the snake or serpent was attributed to Sophia the goddess of wisdom and not Satan as the bible says. Likewise Prometheus, although prone to cunning and trickery, was the bridge between the mortal and immortal realms, and the catalyst for the advancement of the human race. In both myths the incipient stirrings of the higher knowledge and creative inspiration that would see human beings emerge to become sovereigns of the earth is aided by the intervention of the gods.
Myth is the most reliable source of truth in which to perceive the reality of existence. This is because the power of original myth operates in the present without reference to the past. Even to glimpse this opens up a completely new perspective of life on earth. Prometheus chained to the hardness of rock represents the body of humankind bound to the consequences of a loveless existence instigated by the force and corruption in matter. The shackles symbolise the attachment to time which would externalise as the impulse to enslave others against their will.
The eagle at the pinnacle of humanity is the pure intelligence of our cosmic origins. At the world octave, the eagle is symbolic of the ruling classes, dictators and political tyrants who tear at the liver of the weak and exploit the vulnerable for absolute control of the masses. It appears a hopeless situation – and it is while the struggle for retribution rages on. However, the liver is the only human organ able to regenerate itself, and is symbolic of the innate power of the human spirit to rise up from suppression and begin anew. Prometheus knew he had only to wait and undergo his ordeal with courage and fortitude for the moment of freedom to come.
Whether Zeus showed mercy or not is uncertain; but Prometheus was eventually freed by Hercules, the hero of Greek mythology. In the period that followed, the gods gradually disappeared over the horizon of time. They could only appear once at the dawning of humanity and were unable to retain their presence in the hazy psyche of developing Homo sapiens. However, as human beings became aware of their own incredible creative intelligence, the indelible impressions of the antics of the gods and their lust for power over others became an ever-increasing burden. Every civilisation has been the endeavour to create a vision of the gods as a way of life on earth. But as history shows, all attempts to realise this ideal have failed. Apart from a few relics, all that remains are the ruins and dust of forgotten dreams.
The price to be paid for defying the gods was the opening of Pandora’s Box and the subsequent release of all the ills of the world. This was the revenge on Prometheus by Zeus who, in creating Pandora as the first woman, ensured that humankind would never rest for long on earth. But Prometheus had the gift of foresight and knew what Zeus would do. Chained to his rock, he watched as the world was created and degenerated in time through the ravages of war and chaos – just as we’re able to do today in watching the daily news bulletins. The world is the backdrop to the drama of life, and man and woman the players on the screen.
Each of us who are willing must be purified by the spiritual fire back to the original state of being. This is the transformation of self, the greatest agony on earth. Liberation comes at the moment of greatest despair; and yet it’s through this ordeal that the only true authority which resides within the individual can be realised. The mythic truth is that Prometheus is really you and me. How long each of us is bound to the rock of the world is determined by the surrender to our purification within the integrity of the whole.