Interpreting Sallustius: Part III
Chapter Four of Sallustius’s treatise, On the Gods and the Worlds, starts out with a straightforward assertion; he claims there are five types of fables – myths.
The treatise reads thusly:
Of fables, some are theological, others physical, others animistic, (or belonging to soul,) material, and lastly, others mixed from these.
The five types of myths then are
Sallustius then states:
Fables are theological which employ nothing corporeal but speculate the very essences of the gods; such as the fable which asserts that Saturn devoured his children; for it obscurely intimates the nature of an intellectual god, since every intellect retuns to itself.
This is interesting, as it suggests that what a god consumes that god already contains and is. This also suggests the gods are forces because there is a metaphorical level implicit in the story of Saturn consuming his children – by consuming them, he reclaims his own intellect, which in turn reflects his nature as an intellectual god.
At this level of myth, the gods are not seen as having physical forms but being pure essence, pure force, and the myths of the gods reveal information about their individual essences.
But we speculate fables physically when we speak concerning the energies of the gods about the world; as when considering Saturn the same as Time, and calling the parts of time the children of the universe, we assert that the children are devoured by their parents.
Basically, when we equate the gods to particular universal forces at work in the world, we are interpreting myth physically. Saturn – or Khronos – as Time. Loki or Prometheus as Fire. Hela or Hades as Death. Gaia or Njord as Earth. These are physical forces at work in the universe.
A deep perusal of the myths of any pantheon will reveal the forces each of the gods holds within them, which of the forces they control. Gods share dominion over different forces, else it would not be possible for both Prometheus and Loki to be Fire. What is most fascinating is that they are both Fire, but they are each Fire in a different way than the other – that might be something worth reflecting on.
Sallustius then says:
But we employ fables in an animistic mode when we contemplate the energies of the soul; because the intellections of our souls, though by a discursive energy they proceed into other things, yet abide in their parents.
Essentially, what the myths tell us about ourselves tells us more about the gods and the essence of the gods. This is another way to phrase that secret mystery – if you cannot find what you seek within, you will never find it without. This is that same mystery, wrapped in a different coat.
This is also the old maxim, as above, so below. The macrocosm and the microcosm reflect each other, so studying our own psyches reveals more to us about the psyches of the gods and studying the gods reveals more to us about ourselves.
This level of myth might be considered the beginning level for occult practitioners, as the evolution of self is the primary goal for most ceremonial magicians.
Moving on to the next level of myth, Sallustius says:
Lastly, fables are material, such as the Egyptians employ, considering and calling corporeal natures divinities; such as Isis, earth; Osiris, humidity; Typhon, heat; or again, denominating Saturn, water; Adonis, fruists; and Bacchus, wine. And indeed, to assert that these are dedicated to the gods, in the same manner as herbs, stones, and animals, is the part of wise men; but to call them gods is alone the province of mad men; unless we speak in the same manner as when, from established custom, we call the orb of the Sun and its rays the Sun itself.
Put concisely, Isis is the earth, but the earth itself is not a god. Osiris may be humidity, but humidity is not a god. Typhon may be heat, but heat is not a god.
In other words, this would be Sallustius’s answers to those who call archetypes gods. The gods can be archetypes – as in, Loki can be the trickster – but the archetypes cannot be a god. Therefore, Trickster is not a god but a construct that a god can embody when they choose to do so.
It’s interesting to see that Sallustius had an answer to the question only recently posed by archetypalists in the last twenty years back in the days of ancient Greece. He called those who would refer to the Sun itself as a god “mad men,” so it seems fairly clear that he would have no love for those who prefer to follow the Jungian style of polytheism many archetypalists of today adhere to.
Moving on to the final level of myth, Sallustius states:
But we may perceive the mixed kind of fables, as well in many other particular, as in the fable which relates, that Discord at a banquet of the gods threw a golden apple, and that a dispute about it arising among the goddesses, they were sent by Jupiter to take the judgment of Paris, who, charmed with the beauty of Venus, gave her the apple in preference to the rest.
For in this fable the banquet denotes the supermundane powers of the gods; and on this account they subsist in conjunction with each other; but the golden apple denotes the world, which, on account of its composition from contrary natures, is not improperly said to be thrown by Discord, or strife. But again, since different gifts are imparted to the world by different gods, they appear to contest with each for the apple. And a soul living according to sense, (for this is Paris) not perceiving other powers in the universe, asserts that the contended apple subsists alone through the beauty of Venus.
This is a great example of a mixed myth, and Sallustius does an excellent job of explaining it.
Discord throws a golden apple that causes a fight among the goddesses, resulting in them being brought before Jupiter for judgment. Jupiter turns the case over to Paris, who declares that Venus holds the ownership of the apple.
If the banquet represents the supermundane powers of the gods, and the apple the world, then the fight the goddesses are having is over which of the gods can be said to give the gift of the world. It is not as simple as fighting over an apple.
None of the myths are simple. All of them are heavy and laden with meaning. That is why it is so important that we read each and every myth carefully and several times, analyzing it further with each read.
The secrets of the gods are hidden in the myths – all we have to do is open our minds to the incredible richness of possibility in their interpretations.
*Note: While there are 21 chapters in the treatise, the first 3 chapters are the ones I find most relevant, so this particular series ends here. I highly suggest that those who are interested in reading further read the rest of the treatise for themselves, as it is free online.
Sallustius. “On the Gods and the World.”