Golden Thigh Pythagoras did not reveal more than notions for ancient navigators and travelers. While alchemists would be interested in his secret thigh wounds.
I’m here really referring to that part of the human leg between the hip and the knee which may seem so hermetically inconsequential. But if the same Pythagoras granted the honor of his attention to a thigh, something essential might be hidden inside.
Iamblichus wrote a “Life of Pythagoras” putting apparently nothing more than anecdotes, but from some of them something interesting may be squeezed: Abari, an erudite scythian priest of Apollo, came to Sicily to visit Pythagoras. The old man, in sign of his devotion, gifted his host with the golden arrow he used to make his way through rivers, ponds and bogs. Pythagoras too applied an exquisite courtesy to his guest showing him his golden thigh. This outlandish exchange of good manners may cause us to feel confused, but back at that time, this was not the case for those eager to find the right polar star in a dark sky. In fact Pythagoras was called “Hyperborean Apollo” precisely because of that. Furthermore Hyperboreans were called “People of the Thigh” by Greeks. So a connection between north and thigh begins to appear credible. But why Apollo, or our Perfect Red Sulphur, is tied with the legendary inhabitants of the extreme north? May be because our Perfect Red Sulphur has something to do with the extreme north? And if Sulphur does also Mercurius cannot abstain from, since Sulphur is just a Mercurius more “earthed”. Thus, to put it simply, Secret Fire/Mercurius is greatly affected by the northern sky.
Occasionally, on moonless nights, I step on my roof and love to close my eyes trying to head to the north star, Polaris. But I do not claim Mercurius does the same. Among the few hermetic authors willing to reveal some hints on the topic, Cyliani is perhaps the only one to mention it with is full name, and without paraphrases, when he writes about the Mercurius Nymph being a dropping of the Pole Star. Philalethes veils and unveils it when dealing with the Magnets (1). Fulcanelli, from time to time, seems to deal with it (2), but in Fulcanelli style of course, that’s to say telling the contrary some pages later. Nevertheless nowadays many alchemists seem to give just a metaphoric significance to the north star. Not Pythagoras, in fact the ineffable river streaming from the stars was named after him (3).
Some interpretations of the Iamblichus anecdote about Pythagoras showing a thigh to the old scythian priest, claim the latin term for thigh, coxa or haunch, has to be considered as the sectio aurea (golden section) of the entire leg to the heel. Consequently when the greek mathematician shows the thigh he would instead reveal the secret of his golden number together with its countless applications. Too much sophisticate, indeed, to be alchemically so relevant. As a matter of fact we can find plenty of mythological examples in which thighs are dealt without apparent mathematical implications.
Ishtar falls in love with Gilgamesh and asks him to marry her. He refuses, so she gets the infuriated celestial bull against him. But Enkidu comes to Gilgamesh rescue, snatches and rips up a bull’s thigh and his genital organ and throw the pieces to Ishtar who, humiliated and defeated, returns to her sky. As we will see in a next post, Ishtar stands for our white and luminous Mercurius, the bull is a symbol for the hidden forces connecting earth and sky. Gilgamesh and Enkidu are the human eroes searching for immortality, the thigh points at a certain northern sky star or constellation, so Mercurius Sideribus is involved, and genital organ of the animal symbolizes the Sulphur from the Stars. Finally the daring act of a mortal stands for the alchemist capability to attract and gather the Mercurius Sideribus, or making a magnet, without being a Mercurius/Magnet itself (4).
Greek mythology tells of Dionysus who was removed from the uterus of his burning dying mother Semele and continued his embryonal development sewn and carried inside the thigh of his father Zeus, whereby he adsorbed divine and formidable sap until the day set for his birth. It is to this double birth that Dionysus owed the title Dithyrambos. We will see in a coming post that Dionysus stands for Mercurius and Zeus is the shining God of sky. But Dionysus is not the only case in the world wide mythology of a Mercurius God or Goddess to be born, or re-born, from a divine or celestial thigh. According to Dioscorides there were special amulets to hasten parturition when applied to thighs.
But it is again in ancient Egypt that we have plenty of hints to research on the topic. The scarab goddess Khepera is being born by her mother’s thigh and soon begins to follow the Sun. In Alchemy no one would be amazed of a little star (Mercurius) being enhanced by the northern stars and then following the Sun. According to Revelation, Christ has a word of power written on his ‘thigh”.
At this point astronomical implications become apparent: in “Kore Kosmou” Isis says: The universe, like a human being, is portioned out into as many regions as there are limbs in man. Head set to the south of all, right shoulder to southeast, left shoulder to southwest; feet below the Bear, right foot beneath its tail, left under its head; thighs beneath those that succeed the Bear; waist beneath the middle stars.”
Francesco Borri, the italian alchemist friend of Christina of Sweden, narrates of a jealous nymph in love with an unfaithful mortal who later she had killed, but before she wanted to show to the traitor’s friends the most beautiful thigh in the sky: how could that man prefer a terrestrial thigh to the celestial one? Nevertheless, nowadays, too many alchemists seem to prefer the first one.
The Egyptians had a very wide and sophisticate astronomical mythology. In the great temple of Hathor at Denderah the artist who painted the ceiling illustration puts on display the first rays of the risen sun, Re or Horus (the Sun god) defeating the polar stars of Draconis and the Ursa Major also known as the Plough. The sunbeam or spear is pointed directly at the group of stars which we today call the Ursa Major or the Plough, but which the Egyptians called the “Thigh” or alternately the “Haunch of the Bull”.
The use of the Ursa Major thigh to easily point at Polaris is as very ancient as effective. Nowadays we acknowledge this best known asterism in northern skies as the “Big Dipper”, which is very easy to recognize. Enlarging the image on the right we can recognize Dubhe, the alpha star of the dipper’s parent constellation Ursa Major, as the luminous point at the upper right. Together with beta star Merak below, the two form a line pointing the way to Polaris and the North Celestial Pole. These two stars together are the Great Bear’s thigh. The formation was apparent from astronomical cartography till twelfth century, as we can see in the image on the top of the page and the particular below, taken from a very ancient edition of Aratus codex NLW-MS-735C where Dubhe and Merak form a thigh pointing a line to the head of Ursa Minor.
Sadly this is not the case of the more recent sky maps, since painters and astronomers seem to have lost the ancient knowledge turning the two bears on their axis, to make what in ancient times was the thigh to be now an out of place tail. In fact we know that bears have quite no tail and a very long necked head. I could provide dozens of this kind of errors, I could say that quite all the painters from renaissance to nineteenth century felt in the same gap. The first image below is a sixteenth century edition of the same Aratus by Hyginus, but the wrong bear had been already taken as a model. The same inaccurate bear model also appears in other maps.