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Love And Will
Meditation And Recollection
Self-adjustment
The First Form Of Contemplation
The Mystical Life
The Preparation Of The Mystic
The Second Form Of Contemplation
The Third Form Of Contemplation
The World Of Reality
What Is Mysticism?
Anaximenes And The Air
Animism, Ancient And Modern
Brooks And Streams
Development And Discipline Of Intuition
Earth, Mountains, And Plains
Fire And The Sun
Heracleitus And The Cosmic Fire
Introductory
Light And Darkness
Man And Nature
Mystic Intuition And Reason
Mystic Receptivity
Mythology
Nature Mysticism And The Race
Nature Not Symbolic
Nature, And The Absolute
Poetry And Nature Mysticism
Pragmatic
Rivers And Death
Rivers And Life
Seasons, Vegetation, Animals
Springs And Wells
Still Waters
Thales
The Beautiful And The Ugly
The Charge Of Anthropomorphism
The Expanse Of Heaven--colour
The Immanent Idea
The Moon--a Special Problem
The Ocean
The Waters Under The Earth
Will And Consciousness In Nature
Winds And Clouds



The Waters Under The Earth








We have found that the constant movement and change
manifested in the circulation of the waters of the globe
impressed the mind of Thales and largely determined the course
of his speculation. When his great successor, Heracleitus,
passed from water to fire, in his search for the _Welt-stoff_, he
by no means became insensible to the mystic appeal of running
water. "All things are flowing." Such was the ancient expression
of the universal flux; and it is plainly based on the analogy of a
stream. If Heracleitus was not its author, at any rate it became
his favourite simile. "We cannot step" (he said) "into the same
river twice, for fresh and ever fresh waters are constantly
pouring into it." And yet, in a sense, though the waters change,
the river remains. Hence the statement assumed a form more

paradoxical and mystical--"We step into the same river, and we
do not step into it; we are, and we are not."

Moving water, then, has the power of stimulating emotion and
prompting intuition; and this power is manifested in exceptional
degree when the source from which the water issues, and the
goal to which it flows, are unknown. These conditions are best
satisfied in the case of streams that flow in volume through
subterranean caverns. The darkness contributes its element of
undefined dread, and the hollow rumblings make the darkness
to be felt. What more calculated to fill the mind of the child of
nature with a sense of life and will behind the phenomena? The
weird reverberations are interpreted by him as significant
utterances of mighty, unseen powers, and the caves and chasms
are invested with the awe due to entrances into the gloomy
regions where reign the monarchs of the dead.

True, it may be said, for the child of nature. But are such
experiences possible for the modern mind? Yes, if we can
pierce through the varied disguises which the intuitional
material assumes as times and manners change. Coleridge, for
instance, is thrown into a deep sleep by an anodyne. His
imagination takes wings to itself; images rise up before him,
and, without conscious effort, find verbal equivalents. The
enduring substance of the vision is embodied in the fragment,
"Kubla Khan," the glamour of which depends chiefly on the
mystical appeal of subterranean waters. We are transported to
where

"Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man,
Down to a sunless sea."

These three lines make a deeper impression than any others in
the poem, and form its main theme.

Nor is the feeling of the supernatural unrecognised. Spirits are
near with prophetic promptings. From a deep chasm the sacred
river throws up a mighty fountain, and for a short space
wanders through wood and dale, only to plunge again into its
measureless caverns, and sink in tumult to a lifeless ocean:

"And mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war."

Thus when Coleridge's imagination was set free, the mode of
feeling declared itself which had persisted down the ages to the
present. The primitive experience is there in its essentials,
enriched by the aesthetic and intellectual gains of the
intervening centuries. Doubtless there is a living idea, or rather
a group of living ideas, behind the phenomena of subterranean
waters.

Wordsworth has described a more personal experience which
chimes in with all that has been said.

"Through a rift
Not distant from the shore on which we stood,
A fixed, abysmal, gloomy, breathing place--
Mounted the roar of waters, torrents, streams
Innumerable, roaring with one voice!
Heard over earth and sea, and, in that hour,
For so it seemed, felt by the starry heavens."

If the modern poet could be thus affected, how much more the
primitive man who looked down on water falling into chasms,
or rushing through their depths. It was natural that such
experiences should find expression in his systems of
mythology. The general form they assume is that of springs and
rivers in the underworld, the best known of which appear in the
Graeco-Roman conceptions of Hades. Homer makes Circe
direct Odysseus thus. He is to beach his ship by deep-eddying
Oceanus, in the gloomy Cimmerian land. "But go thyself
to the dank house of Hades. Thereby into Acheron flow
Pyriphlegethon and Cocytus, a branch of the water of the Styx,
and there is a rock and the meeting of the two roaring waters."

Such were the materials which, with many additions and
modifications, developed into the Hades of Virgil's sixth
AEneid, with its lakes, and swamps and dismal streams. The
subterranean waters figured also in the Greek mysteries, and are
elaborated with much detail in Plato's great Phaedo Myth--in all
these cases with increasing fullness of mystical meaning. In the
popular mind they were incrusted with layers of incongruous
notions and crude superstitions. But, as Plato, for one, so clearly
saw, there is always at their core a group of intuitions which
have their bearing on the deepest problems of human life, and
are capable of moulding spiritual concepts.

Still more obviously suffused with mystic meaning and
influence are the Teutonic myths concerning the waters of the
underworld. The central notion is that of Yggdrasil, the tree of
the universe--the tree of time and life. Its boughs stretched up
into heaven; its topmost branch overshadowed Walhalla, the
hall of the heroes. Its three roots reach down into the
dark regions beneath the earth; they pierce through three
subterranean fountains, and hold together the universal structure
in their mighty clasp. These three roots stretch in a line from
north to south. The northernmost overarches the Hvergelmer
fountain with its ice-cold waters. The middle one overarches
Mimur's well with its stores of creative force. The southernmost
overarches Urd's well with its warmer flow. They are gnawed
down below by the dragon Nidhoegg and innumerable worms;
but water from the fountain of Urd keeps the world-ash ever
green.

Hvergelmer is the mother fountain of all the rivers of the world--
below, on the surface of the earth, and in the heaven above.
From this vast reservoir issue all the waters, and thither they
return. On their outward journey they are sucked up and lifted
aloft by the northern root of the world tree, and there blend into
the sap which supplies the tree with its imperishable strength
and life. Rising through the trunk, they spread out into the
branches and evaporate from its crown. In the upper region,
thus attained, is a huge reservoir, the thunder-cloud, which
receives the liquid and pours it forth again in two diverse
streams. The one is the stream of fire-mist, the lightning, which
with its "terror-gleam" flows as a barrier round Asgard, the
home of the gods; the other falls in fructifying shower upon the
earth, to return to its original source in the underworld. The
famous maelstrom is the storm-centre, so to speak, of the
down-tending flood. The fountain Hvergelmer may therefore be
regarded as embodying impressions made on the Teuton mind
by the physical forces of the universe in the grand activities of
their eternal circulation. But their source was hidden.

The southernmost well has the warmer water of the sunny
climes--the fountain of Urd. The Norns, the three sisters who
made known the decrees of fate, come out of the unknown
distance, enveloped in a dark veil, to the world tree, and
sprinkle it daily with water from this fountain, that its foliage
may be ever green and vigorous. Urd is the eldest of the three,
and gazes thoughtfully into the past; Werdandi gazes at the
present; and Skuld gazes into the future. For out of the past and
present is the future born. The fountain of Urd may be regarded
as the embodiment of impressions of a spiritual force which
upholds and renews the universe.

Mimur, the king of the lower world, is the warder of the central
fountain, and round its waters are ranged his golden halls. The
fountain itself is seven times overlaid with gold, and above it
the holy tree spreads its sheltering branches. It is the source of
the precious liquid, the mead, which belongs to Mimur alone,
and rises from an unknown depth to water the central root. In its
purity, it gives the gods their wisdom and power. But the mead
which rises in the sap is not entirely pure; it is mixed with the
liquids from the other fountains. Thus earth is not like heaven.
Nevertheless, though thus diluted, it is a fructifying blessing to
whomsoever may obtain it. Around it grow delightful beds of
reeds and bulrushes; and bordering it are the Glittering Fields,
in which grow flowers that never fade and harvests that are
never reaped; in which grow also the seeds of poetry. In short,
Mimur's well is the source of inspiration and creative power.

These Teutonic notions of the waters under the earth have been
dwelt upon somewhat fully, partly because they are not so well
known as the classical myths--partly because they present such
a decided contrast to the classical myths--but mainly because of
their wealth of mystic suggestiveness. Let it not be thought that
they form a group of elaborate symbols--were that the case their
interest for the natural mystic would be vastly decreased. They
are almost wholly the spontaneous product of the mythopoeic
faculty; they were genuinely believed as presentations of
realities. They are primitive intuitions embodied to form a
primitive philosophy of life. They glow with mystic insight.
Under the forms of subterranean fountains that well forth life,
physical, aesthetic, spiritual, is mirrored the life of the universe,
which wells from unknown depths, and returns to the deeps
from which it emanated. And inasmuch as these ideas were
largely suggested by the circulation of the waters of the globe, the
Teutonic child of nature joins hands with the nature-philosopher
Thales. The Reality is ultimately the same for both; the
substance of the universe is living movement.

Yet another type of the mystic influence of subterranean
watercourses will serve to illustrate the deepening processes to
which all concrete forms, derived from intuitions, must be
subjected. Near to Banias in Northern Palestine, at the base of
an extensive cup-shaped mound, afar from human habitations,
is one of the two chief sources of the Jordan. The rushing waters
pour out of the ground in sufficient volume to form at once a
river. The roar and tumult are strikingly impressive. Peters, on
whose description of the place I have largely drawn, presumes
that this was the site of an ancient temple of Dan. The worship
at this temple was of the primitive sort, "such as was befitting
the worship of the God who exhibited himself in such nature
forces." We are therefore carried back to the mythological
stage, for which the gushing forth, in volume, of subterranean
waters was a manifestation of the life in, or behind, the natural
phenomenon, and roused a peculiar kind of emotion.

We are carried on to a much more advanced stage when we
come to the feelings represented in the 42nd Psalm. Peters
argues that this Psalm, which so vividly describes the roaring of
the waters was, "in its original form, a liturgical hymn sung at
the great autumnal festival by worshippers at this shrine, where
served, according to tradition, the descendants of Moses." On
this supposition how pregnant with historical import become the
well-known words: "One deep calleth another because of the
noise of the water-pipes; all thy waves and billows are gone
over me." It is no mere analogy or symbol that is here employed
(though such elements may be mingled in the complex whole)
but an intuition yearning to express itself that life's burden
would be lightened if the secret of the gushing waters could be
read.

And it is thus that we arrive at the fundamental intuition
common to the various modes of experience just reviewed. The
subterranean waters spring from an unknown source, or fall into
an unknown abyss. In both cases there is a sense of having
reached the limits of the knowable, combined with a sense of
inexhaustible power. The beyond is vague and insubstantial, but
it is instinct with life and purpose. Man's spirit may shrink
before the unknown--but he fills the empty regions with forms
and objects which rob them of much of their strangeness and
aloofness, and bring them within the range of his hopes and
fears. There, as here (he feels), there must be interpenetration
of spirit by spirit.





Next: Springs And Wells

Previous: Thales



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