At a superficial reading, Iamblichus wrote a “Life of Pythagoras”, putting nothing more than anecdotes. Among these, the legend of the golden thigh reveals much more than notions for ancient navigators and travelers. And Pythagoras’ secret thigh wounds make the detail even more significant for an alchemist.
The mentioned story wants that Abari, an erudite Scythian priest of Apollo, came to Sicily to visit Pythagoras. In a sign of his devotion, the old man 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 by 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.
I’m here 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 the same piece of anatomy, something essential might be hidden inside it. Pythagoras was known by the epithet of “Hyperborean Apollo” precisely because of his thigh. And we know that Hyperboreans were called “People of the Thigh” by the Greeks. So a connection between the north and the thigh appears mythologically credible.
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 the alchemical 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 his 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’s 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, the ineffable river streaming from the stars, was named after him (3).
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?
We know that Secret Fire/Mercurius is greatly affected by the northern sky. Which, at this point, can be called Mercurius Sideribus. The daring act of a mortal stands for the alchemist’s capability to attract and gather the Mercurius Sideribus, or make a magnet, without being a Mercurius/Magnet itself (4). The shield of Achilles itself, described in great detail by Homer, appears to be a map of the northern sky. We will insist on this South-North axis, life-death-rebirth, later on; now let us state once more how it represents a system of alchemical “magnets”: Mercurius is said to be attracted by astronomical north, and the earthly Mercurius of the Philosophers attract vice versa, the northern area of the sky.
Some interpretations of the Iamblichus anecdote about Pythagoras showing his thigh to the old Scythian priest claim that 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 Pythagoras shows the thigh, he would instead reveal the secret of his golden number and its countless applications.
But we can find many mythological examples in which thighs are dealt with without apparent mathematical implications. For example, 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 the sky. But Dionysus is not the only case in the worldwide 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.
There are even older examples in Akkadian mythology: 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’s rescue, snatches and rips up a bull’s thigh and genital organ, and throws the pieces to Ishtar, who, humiliated and defeated, returns to her sky. As we will see in the coming post, Ishtar stands for our white and luminous Mercurius; the bull symbolizes the hidden forces connecting earth and sky. Gilgamesh and Enkidu are human heroes searching for immortality;
Again, we have plenty of hints to research the topic in ancient Egypt. The scarab goddess Khepera is born by her mother’s thigh and soon begins to follow the Sun. In Alchemy, no one would be amazed by a little star (Mercurius) being enhanced by the northern stars and then following the Sun. According to Revelation, even 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 into as many regions as there are limbs in man. Headset to the south of all, right shoulder to the southeast, left shoulder to the 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.”
The Egyptians had a very wide and sophisticated astronomical mythology. In the great temple of Hathor at Denderah, the artist who painted the ceiling illustration displays 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”.
In the ceiling of the Seti I burial temple, we can see the figure of a man plowing a bull. Man and bull together form the Ursa Major, and this time the thighs containing Dubhe and Merak stars are those of the plowing man.
Using the Ursa Major thigh to point at Polaris quickly was as ancient as effective. Nowadays, we acknowledge this best-known asterism in northern skies as the “Big Dipper”, which is very easy to recognize.
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 toward Polaris and the North Celestial Pole. These two stars together are the Great Bear’s thigh.