Friday, July 17, 2009

Sweet is the harbour, but Death is the ferryman, Part One

Charon and Hades.

Ferryman across the River Styx, and Lord of the Underworld.

Charon, as with so many ancient figures of deepest importance, has a name that is shrouded in mystery. Ever eager to explain their borrowings as native invention, the Hellenes (ancient "Greeks" although since they could sport natural red or blonde hair they weren't quite the same race as today's Greek) played word games to make a Hellenic meaning for Charon, such as "keen eyed", "grey-eyed" or even through puns "swift to anger" or "relentless".

In point of fact it is most likely a word or proper noun at least based on one of the two great sources of "inspiration" for Greek culture, Egypt or Mesopotamia.

Why does that matter? It matters for the same reason that the obscuring of Akhenaten as Oedipus matters- it hides not just a distant origin but also the true mythic meanings invested in the story.

If Charon is from Egypt or Mesopotamia, it means the River Styx is also from Egypt or Mesopotamia, mutandem mutandis. In the same way that everything that confuses about Thebes in the Oedipus "myth" (history) falls into place when EGYPTIAN Thebes is understood as what is meant.

Charon is universally treated as a disgusting older male being with a long unkempt beard and a dirty ragged attire bound with a belt. Greasy, filthy, almost a vagabond figure, but with glowing or burning eyes. Not, one would imagine, the most pleasant of entities.

If Charon really does come from, let's say, Egypt, then logically he will be associated with other "borrowings" from Egypt... And such is the case. Charon is linked not just to the Styx and to Hades but importantly also to Hermes, the "messenger of the gods" who, just like Apollo the "sun god" is rarely if ever associated particularly with his supposed primary attribute. Hermes is most often associated with thieves, magic, crossroads and secrecy. He is also linked to Charon and Hades. Thus we might see a trinity-

Hermes (closest to the outer world of the living)

Charon (lurker on the threshold)

Hades (ruler of the underworld)

If the name Charon is too obscure, Hermes at least might be better identified amongst the Egyptian "gods". I put the word "gods" in quotes because what is most often translated as "god" in ancient Egyptian (as for the race, see my comments about the Greeks- Rameses II had natural red hair) would be better translated as the much less loaded term "wonder worker". Hermes has already been traced into Egypt and almost into the Bible for that matter.

Hermes as Thoth?

And Charon- as the mouth of hell or the mouth of the otherworld? Is that why charon has an unkempt beard / pubic hair patch? Is that why he is greasy or food-stained? Is Charon an opening, or "Chao?"

And then there is Hades.


by Micha F. Lindemans
Hades is the lord of the dead and ruler of the nether world, which is referred to as the domain of Hades or, by transference, as Hades alone. He is the son of Cronus and Rhea. When the three sons of Cronus divided the world among each other, Hades was given the underworld, while his brothers Zeus and Poseidon took the upperworld and the sea respectively. For a while Hades ruled the underworld together with Persephone, whom he had abducted from the upperworld, but Zeus ordered him to release Persephone back into the care of her mother Demeter. However, before she left he gave her a pomegranate and when she ate of it, it bound her to the underworld forever.


Hades sits on a throne made of ebony, and carries a scepter. He also has a helmet, given to him by the Cyclopes, which can make him invisible. Hades rules the dead, assisted by various (demonic) helpers, such as Thanatos and Hypnos, the ferryman Charon, and the hound Cerberus. Many heroes from Greek mythology have descended into the underworld, either to question the shades or trying to free them. Although Hades does not allow his subjects to leave his domain, on several occasions he has granted permission, such as when Orpheus requested the return of his beloved Eurydice.

Hades possesses the riches of the earth, and is thus referred to as 'the Rich One'. Possibly also because -- as Sophocles writes -- 'the gloomy Hades enriches himself with our sighs and our tears'. Of all the gods, Hades is the one who is liked the least and even the gods themselves have an aversion of him. People avoided speaking his name lest they attracted his unwanted attention. With their faces averted they sacrificed black sheep, whose blood they let drip into pits, and when they prayed to him, they would bang their hands on the ground. The narcissus and the cypress are sacred to him.

Other names include Clymenus ('notorious'), Eubuleus ('well-guessing') and Polydegmon ('who receives many').

The name "Hades" apparently means the unseen, based on nothing stronger than that the context of the name infers this meaning to it. In other words, the name is supposed to be in a perpetual state of tautology, in the same way that the proper name Caesar came to be itself a word meaning king. Hail King Caesar indeed.

If we drop the H in Hades as an aspirant and leave it standing as Ades, and keep in mind that the -es ending is a local linguistic flourish, we have the name Ad for the ruler of the dead, which is not a light year away from various Celtic names beginning with the all important A letter and all referring to the Lord of the Underworld. Might it be one of the earliest of all human words for anything? Might this truly be a syllable in the primaeval mother language, based on the onomatopoeia of someone's terminal cry of fright or agony? "AAaaahhhh" ??

As a footnote to this first part, if you want to see a textbook (literally) example of not only idea theft but also pointless obfuscatory persiflage to disguise a lack of deeper understanding, look up the word MYTHEME on wikipedia.