This blog’s title is taken from an ancient Christian mystical text, telling the story of a young child’s adventures…
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When Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden, they lose their garments of Light and have to make their way in the world wearing garments of skin. There is a very popular saying going around… You’ve got skin in the game. This expression means you have something to lose if you don’t focus your attention on completing the task in hand; if you fail to keep your eye on the goal. The ‘skin’ is often money, or some other valuable asset you don’t want to relinquish.
In a previous blog, I mentioned how the Hebrew word ‘light’ has the same sound as the word ‘skin’. In an English transliteration, they would both be written as or. But, in Hebrew, the two words are spelled differently – the first letter in ‘light’ is aleph, in the word ‘skin’ it is ayin. Just one tiny change and we move from the ‘light’ to something much denser – the ‘skin’, an earthly garment for all living human beings. So, now I would like to introduce a new expression I just invented:
You’ve got Light in the game!
Light is your most valuable asset
There is an ancient Christian mystical allegory called The Robe of Glory that describes how a child is sent by his parents to retrieve a pearl that is guarded by a terrible sea serpent.
When I was a little child
And dwelling in my kingdom, in my Father’s house,
And in the wealth and the glories
Of my nurturers had my pleasure,
From the East, our home,
My parents, having equipped me, sent me forth.
This story is reminiscent of the myth of Jason, who sets off on a quest to claim a valuable, magical Golden Fleece, guarded by a never-sleeping dragon. It also describes the same journey we find in Plato’s description of our Soul leaving its Divine home. The English poet William Wordsworth (1770–1850) echoes this theme of exile when he says:
trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
In The Robe of Light, when the child leaves the heavenly kingdom, he is given a large load, although it can be easily carried. This treasury contains gold, silver, rubies and agate, but also ‘adamant which can crush iron’.
I associate this last stone with the idea that, when we enter the gravity of physical life ,we are loaded with the ability to get engaged with the Saturnine potential for living as humans. But this very same potential can become unyielding and stubborn, leaving us with a feeling of separation from the Divine Light that was shining through our other precious gifts.
This traveller sets off on the journey with valuable assets for trading in the world. The whole allegory is based on the idea of an expedition to acquire a gift, for which you can exchange the possessions – perhaps your talents – that you bring with you.
The precious metals and stones that have been included in the portfolio all reflect light, but in diminishing capacity. Gold is the exemplar of light-reflecting treasure, adamant is hardy, but dense, reflecting no light at all.
Now comes the tough bit. The parents gave the child this rich dowry but, on the other hand, they…
…took from me the bright robe
Which in their love they had wrought for me,
And my purple toga,
Which was measured and woven to my stature.
Now the traveller no longer owns what was available before the journey began – a bright robe and a purple toga that had been designed to fit perfectly. Purple is a royal colour, much used in sacred ritual. The garments that were held back were Soul vestments. They are reminiscent of the High Priest’s garments and the precious stones may be an echo of that idea – certain stones were associated with wisdom and knowledge. The child carries the gems, but the robe and the toga are hidden from sight. However, they will not be entirely erased from memory.
Your Soul commitment
And they made compact with me
And wrote it in my heart
So that it should not be forgotten.
The Divine parents in this tale made a promise that has been inscribed in the child’s heart. In the same way, the narrative for your journey has been ‘compacted’ in your deep memory. After all, you wrote it for yourself in the first place.
Like the traveller in the allegory, or in any great heroic story, it is your task is to find the ‘Pearl’ or the ‘Golden Fleece’ – or the ‘Holy Grail’, or the ‘Philosopher’s Stone’. Whatever metaphor you choose, the treasure is ‘Wisdom’ and, when you find it, you will retrieve your Soul’s ‘Robe of Glory’. In other parables this is described as a ‘wedding garment’. You need it in order to get into the heavenly feast!
When the king came in to see the guests he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment. And he saith unto him ‘Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?’
— Matthew 22:11-12
The wretched interloper in Jesus’s parable is not only excluded, he is cast into outer darkness. Jesus was certainly only calling those to dine with him if they had ‘light in the game’. You don’t need to be a Christian to take this metaphor on board. The wedding garment as a robe of ‘light’ represents clarity of mind, integrity of heart and commitment to Love. On the other hand, ‘outer darkness’ includes ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ – by which we can understand a feeling of chaos, anxiety, fear and stress that gives rise to negative emotions and challenging events.
Challenging the serpent
Every heroic tale includes the protagonist challenging some kind of monster. We meet Grendel in the Old English Beowulf tale. This monster is a descendant of Cain, who commits the first murder, in the biblical Book of Genesis. There’s Satan in the Christian Book of Revelation, in which Archangel Michael skewers the Lord of Darkness – much like St. George slays the dragon in British mythology. The Greek hero Jason also has to deal with a dragon – although he gets magical help from the priestess Medea, so he can put the scaly guardian of the Golden Fleece to sleep. Even the dear little hobbit, Frodo Baggins, has to face Smaug, who sits on a pile of gold that includes a magic ring.
The encounter with the monster is a metaphor. On the path to self-realisation every traveller has to deal with the challenges presented by what Carl Jung called ‘the shadow’. The poet William Blake uses the word ‘spectre’. Shadow, spectre, demon, serpent – whatever. Every great mystic records encounters that challenge their very sense of self. The Buddha meets demons while he meditates under the Bodhi tree. During the few days between his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus ‘harrows hell’. The mystical descriptions of these inner battles are often couched in really dramatic and scary language.
In The Robe of Glory the traveller has to steal the pearl from the sea-serpent. Then he will regain his bright robe and become ‘heir to the kingdom’. Along his journey, he is accompanied by a fellow traveller, but when he eats heavy food in a foreign land he falls into a deep sleep and forgets the mission. However, the heavenly parents are watching over him and they get into action! All the nobles in the heavenly kingdom sign a letter urging him to wake up and arise from his slumber. He must remember who he is – a son of the king.
Fly like an eagle
The reminder arrives for the traveller in the guise of an eagle that alights beside him. The rustling of wings wakes him and his ‘free soul longs for its natural state’. Now he is empowered to charm the serpent by repeating the name of the king, his Father, and the queen, his Mother. This part of the story reminds me of the way we can use a zera, or a mantra, as our technique for releasing ourselves from the ‘mind-forged manacles’, as William Blake described the inhibiting habits of our mind. Those mental ‘manacles’ are the serpent.
Our hero snatches the pearl, then takes off his dirty clothes before focussing on the journey home. The heavenly message plays another crucial role – as he sets off, the traveller finds the letter on the road, shining a light to guide him.
The most beautiful resolution in this mystical story describes the grown man being amazed, on his return, to discover how bright the robe was that he had recovered. He recounts that he was a young child when he left and had not remembered the brightness. We are treated to a stunning description of variegated bright colours:
With gold and beryls
And rubies and agates
And sardonyxes… skilfully worked… with diamond clasps
The most significant moment in the story is when he tells us:
The garment seemed to me like a mirror of myself,
I saw in it my whole self…
And the ‘treasurers’, who returned the garment to him:
I saw in like manner.
The whole journey has been a quest for the inner glory of the traveller’s Soul: a round trip from Heaven, via Earth and back to Heaven. This is a mystical, inner journey – when we meet our own Soul and recognise who we truly are for the first time, we don’t need to leave our earthly life. Our transfiguration is the discovery of our forgotten pearl. Then, coming ‘home’, but still present in this world, the mystic sees her own true light – and the light of all the people around her.
I am extremely grateful for the inspired commentaries in John Davidson’s The Robe of Glory, published by Element, 1992.
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