January 15, 2017

The Significance of the Lyre

Hermes was to have been born at dawn and by mid-day was playing a lyre, an instrument he designed and constructed that day. This myth appears to contradict the concept of linear time while also retaining an affirmation to the quick wittedness, deceptive speed and cunningness associated with Hermes the communicator. 

Hermes was born in a cave high in the mountains, a mythical cave located on Earth which was said to be the hiding place of his mother Maia. Hermes’ beginning originated in the purity of a heavenly realm “absolutely divine and free from the ills that belong to men.”

Myths and legends abound concerning Hermes’ later adventures and about how he was raised and cared for after he stole away from his cradle and swaddling clothes. One of those stories focused upon Hermes’ invention and construction of the lyre from boxwood, a tortoise shell, oxen hide, sheep gut, and the horns of a goat. 

According to Homer, Hermes had met a tortoise while in pursuit of Apollo’s oxen, implying that his idea for the lyre actually originated while in quest of a different goal. Hermes' original intent was diverted by his delight in the unique and hidden beauty of the mountain tortoise. Symbolically it was at the beginning of Hermes journey into the margins that exist between the realms of virtual spirit (Olympus) and virtual matter (Earth/Nature).

Hermes’ idea for the lyre was triggered by his captivation and enchantment with the movements of the tortoise along with the beauty of its shell. An “endless delight”, according to Homer, implies that Hermes was fascinated with both the physical characteristics of the tortoise and certain qualities unseen in other animals. Far from being simply an observation, Hermes' encounter with the tortoise was an emotional event that spurred his intuition into believing that their meeting was more than just an enchanting experience, but actually an omen from the gods.

One cannot escape the realization that the creative act is the result of a particular mental sensitivity and purpose precipitated by an emotional and meaningful attraction and/or desire.  Hermes’ experience also illustrates that ideas seem to appear out of nowhere and launched by qualities (designs) never before recognized for their beauty and purposefulness. 

Hermes and the construction of the lyre

Enchanted with the tortoise Hermes wondered how this creature came to gather such a power and attractiveness that engulfed his heart and stirred his desires. These inquiries, including his own emotional response to them, surprised Hermes because he thought such magnificence was found solely in heaven.  In his desire to possess and control this power Hermes lured the tortoise with trickery into becoming an integral part of his own being.

“But I will take and carry you within: you shall help me and I will do you no disgrace ...”

In true representation of mind’s inherent craftiness, Hermes had fallen victim to his own desires and deception in attempting to convince the tortoise that it would be protecting its own interests/beauty from “mischievous witchcraft” if it would merely be “consumed” by Hermes. The tortoise was promised it would “make the sweetest song” by sacrificing its graces into becoming an instrument of the gods through the power of Hermes, i.e. the mind. In other words the mind, in wake of material awareness and relative form, would be of service to both heaven and earth if it allowed itself to be influenced by the imaginative designs of a higher consciousness symbolized in the heartfelt message of Hermes.

Without resistance Hermes gutted the tortoise and cut off its legs with a metal bar, most likely created for him by Hephaestus. Ever so quickly Hermes' idea, stemming from the material beauty of the tortoise, continued to perpetuate his own intentions. Experiencing relative "matter" in the image of the tortoise’s shell, “… glorious Hermes planned both thought and deed at once". In fulfilling his desire for designing an agent that could be used to inspire his own imagination, the lyre also became a powerful instrument in humanities search for harmony between the spheres. Hermes' intentions and desires became self fulfilling. Hermes had designed an instrument whose medium was consubstantial with that of the gods. 

Hermes found himself in the midst of a process where the relationship linking meaning (desire) and purpose (mind) became immortalized. Such a symbolic undertaking possessed the most appropriate ingredients necessary to create the most accomplished imaginings in the shape of form, geometry, situations, realities and imaginings necessary for a measured expansion in awareness. All holographic formations are products of this unique relationship, a means that perpetuates the design process by embracing and expanding greater communications between divergent elements.

More ideas surrounding and supporting Hermes’ concept entered into his awareness while the lyre gradually began to take shape as he “ … cut stalks of reed to measure and fix them … stretched ox hide all over it … put in the horns and fitted a cross-piece … and stretched seven strings of sheep-gut.” Each element contributed to a fabrication of the original concept Hermes had first desired, imagined and then made manifest into the form of the lyre.
Ref: Homeric Hymn 4 Hermes (trans. Evelyn-White) Greek epic C7th 4th B.C.

The Lyre: Ancient Origins

The most ancient findings surrounding the concept of a lyre stem from before the Bronze Age (400-3200BC) and may have evolved from ancient harps.

“The fundamental difference between a lyre and a harp, is that in a harp, the strings enter directly into the hollow body of the instrument, whereas on a lyre, the strings pass over a bridge, which transmits the vibrations of the strings to the body of the instrument – just as on a modern guitar.”
Michael Levy

The first examples of the lyre were discovered at the ancient Sumerian city of Ur (2025-1738 BC) in ancient Mesopotamia, yet according to Greek mythology the lyre was a musical instrument created by Hermes. In reference to design, the lyre is a tool of transformation meant to correspond with the symphonic tones/frequencies of a vibratory universe. Non-linear, complex and masculine in qualities (Yang) the lyre is an instrument of creativity. The lyre is an instrument of service in the transformation of certain frequencies into audible sounds and vibratory impressions. The lyre gave every musician the ability to interpret what was silently heard and felt as a flowing reverberation stemming from the intimate relationship between the Source, the All, the Tao, etc. and the individual psyche.
Design, at first, appears to be lost in this translation while the symbolism that surrounds the personification of Hermes steps aside and is magically lost during the process of manifestation. The lyre symbolizes energy/light and information in a state of transformation, a transmission that cannot be seen but only felt with Hermes performing as messenger and translator through the skill of the musician. In this manner Hermes also symbolizes the Observer Effect where in quantum mechanics the meaning of a scientific event weighs heavily upon subjective interpretation. 

Lyrics, which are words/symbols unto themselves, are the products of a lyricist; abstract and sometimes unintelligible utterances filled with artistic and subjective meaning as the musician “sings to the lyre”, e.g. poems, songs, stories. In essence, the lyre symbolizes a design event. Design is an instrument of change that epitomizes a creative and eventful process made manifest by and through a symphony of subjective experiences.

Design is omnipresent and recognized symbolically by the blueprints and “forms” that result from its transformative efforts. Design represents an all-encompassing universal instrument of correspondences that are endowed with the capacity to cross-fields of consciousness. Design has the capacity to enter the unknown through qualities attributable to Hermes and through the many symbolic instruments/systems invented for the transformation and translation of light, energy and information, e.g. science, poetry, art, mathematics, dance, language, music, architecture, etc.

The Principle of Correspondence
"As above, so below; as below, so above."--The Kybalion.
This Principle embodies the truth that there is always a Correspondence between the laws and phenomena of the various planes of Being and Life. The old Hermetic axiom ran in these words: "As above, so below; as below, so above." And the grasping of this Principle gives one the means of solving many a dark paradox, and hidden secret of Nature. There are planes beyond our knowing, but when we apply the Principle of Correspondence to them we are able to understand much that would otherwise be unknowable to us. This Principle is of universal application and manifestation, on the various planes of the material, mental, and spiritual universe--it is a Universal Law. The ancient Hermetists considered this Principle as one of the most important mental instruments by which man was able to pry aside the obstacles, which hid from view the Unknown. Its use even tore aside the Veil of Isis to the extent that a glimpse of the face of the goddess might be caught. Just as a knowledge of the Principles of Geometry enables man to measure distant suns and their movements, while seated in his observatory, so a knowledge of the Principle of Correspondence enables Man to reason intelligently from the Known to the Unknown. Studying the monad, he understands the archangel.

“The classical authors could not agree about the number of strings on the original lyre: three, four, or seven were proposed … This disagreement about the number of strings probably stems from different mythological roots for the lyre as symbol. The interpretation of the four string lyre of Mercury is given by Macrobius, who says that the strings symbolically represented the four seasons of the year.”

Each string creates a bridge between the known and the unknown; each representing a frequency, a vibration, a quality and an impression, a numeric theory that, according to legend, was investigated mathematically in the Pythagorean school. Concerning the number of strings, each lyre varied in design. Typically there were three, four, seven and sometimes ten strings, each representing certain patterns of frequency (sound) considered appropriate in the design of the instrument i.e. meaning and purpose of the communication. 

Edited: 01.11.2017, 03.05.2018, 07.15.2019, 10.29.2019

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