Connecting to this weeks tree teaching is the Sphinx.
Fittingly you will find this weeks’ exploration of world stories that connect us to the sacred ends with questions rather than answers, as is the way with the Sphinx.
Where in the World?
A sphinx was a mythical creature, with the head of a human and the body of a lion. Sphinxes appeared in Egyptian and Greek mythology and the two cultures considerably influenced each other. Similar creatures appear throughout South and South-East Asia
About the Egyptian Sphinx
The earliest sphinx statue found is made from the native bedrock in the desert sands by the great pyramids at Giza, Egypt and is approximately 4500 years old. No one knows what the original name for this deity was but it is referred to circa 1500 B.C.E. as Hor-em-akht - Horus in the Horizon, Bw-How Place of Horus and also as Ra-horakhty, Ra of Two Horizons. The name sphinx originates a couple of thousand years later with the Greeks.
More than a thousand years after this Sphinx was created, Thutmosis IV had a dream in which the Sphinx told him he would be king if he cleared the way to the site so cleared the sand away from the monument building mud brick walls to keep back the sands. He then established the cult of Hor-em-akhet, or “Horus in the Horizon.”
This male Sphinx faces due east, with a small temple between its paws.
On the March and September equinoxes each year, the sun sets along the south side of the Khafre pyramid on a line extending along the right side of the Sphinx and aligned with the east-west axis of the Sphinx Temple. The September equinox is the time the river Nile floods bringing new life.
Under the sphinx a secret doorway was discovered to an underground temple. Remnants of red pigment have been found on the statue suggesting it was painted red. It is seen as a symbol of royalty and the sun.
About The Greek Sphinx
Only one sphinx was considered to exist in Greek mythology and it was female. Apart from the human head and the body of the lion, she also had the wings of an eagle and the tail of a serpent. According to the myth, she dwelt outside the city of Thebes, and asked a riddle to all travellers, in order to let them pass. The riddle she asked is a famous one; which is the creature that has one voice, but has four feet in the morning, two feet in the afternoon, and three feet at night? Anyone who struggled to answer was devoured. Oedipus however, manages to answer correctly; he replies "the man", who crawls on all fours as a baby, walks on two as an adult, and needs a walking cane when old.
There was a second riddle following the first; "There are two sisters; one gives birth to the other, who in turn gives birth to the first. Who are they?" The correct answer is "day and night". These two words are both feminine in the Greek language.
After Oedipus correctly answered both questions, the Sphinx killed herself, either by throwing herself off the rock on which she rested, or by eating herself.
The ending seems to be a story in which the ancient Greeks transitioned from old religious practices, represented by the Sphinx, to new ones and the establishment of the Olympian deities, represented by Oedipus.
The Nature of the Sphinx
The Sphinx represents challenge. It reminds us changes in perspective, transition and transformation. Not only this but it connects us intimately with both the living and the dead. In Greek myth the female sphinx asks questions to identify everyday occurrences but which are posited in such a way as to throw the recipient off balance when they are shown in a new light. So, what is it that should be seemingly obvious that we are not seeing?
The Sphinx is also an intrinsic landscape teaching through sense of place. Why is it that we humans surrounded by nature who are an intrinsic part of the ecosystem seem not to ‘see’ or acknowledge it? How can we re-present nature so that we can begin to really understand and acknowledge it?
The Sphinx as Landscape Teaching
In Egypt the Sphinx is aligned with the equinox, the times of equal day and night, light and dark. What does this have to say about balance in our lives? How can we bring balance back into our interactions with nature? You cannot have one without the other just as humans cannot live in a vacuum without a healthy environment.
The flooding Nile brings new life with the waters at the autumn equinox that the Sphinx is aligned to. Can we learn to appreciate the life giving properties of water? The Sphinx is quarried from a rocky outcrop. The image is a direct response by humans to the spirit of time and place. What time and place do we respond to? What do we ‘see’ in the landscape around us and what messages does the land hold for us?
Despite being one of the biggest and most enduring monuments in the world the Sphinx shows signs of erosion from wind, water and time. Even the greatest of us must succumb to nature. How can we work with the sense of, and actuality, of our own mortality?
Facing East with a temple underground beneath its paws the Sphinx looks to the light, the birthplace where it arises each morning, yet its temple is a descent into the ground and darkness. Just as it celebrates the equinoxes it seems to be presenting us with a reiteration of balance between opposites. What opposites do we need to reconcile and how can the natural world help us?
Here too the Sphinx is the guardian to the underworld, to death, the gatekeeper to prevent the living from straying into deaths’ territory. Perhaps this is the warning of the Sphinx to look into the true nature of the world or risk destruction …certainly a lesson for our times, is it not?
To return to the Greek myth, what strikes me about this story is the location of the Sphinx outside the city. In other words, outside of the human community. It is in liminal space between human civilisation and the countryside. We are challenged when we journey from one space into the next. It is the threshold , or place of change, where challenges arise. Here the messages seems’ to be that nature, the wild world, requires us to be ‘looser’, more poetic, less fixed in our thinking. The land asks us to look beyond mere observation to a deeper witnessing and understanding.
Day and night are such an ingrained part of our experience of life that we scarcely notice, yet the question invites us to consider the wonder of it by its phrasing. We are invited to take note of this phenomena and witness the transformation that takes place. To help us do this the myth posits the question in human terms by speaking of two sisters. Where is the wonder and beauty in what we see as mundane?
Humans as Wild Nature
The natural world is one of change and transformation and our survival is dependent upon how we navigate it both literally and mentally. When we stop seeing ‘just’ day and night and instead the birth of light from the dark, and dark from light, we witness nature as a way of beauty. We are asked to let go of our preconceived ideas and see things afresh. Hanging on to old thought patterns causes suffering and we get devoured instead of continuing the journey. When we stop labelling a day as a rainy one and instead look for the jewels within then we see the beauty of life.
Where will the Story of the Sphinx Take You?
The tablet Thutmosis IV had telling of the dream he had that he placed between the paws of the Sphinx is in fact made from the door lintel from one of his forefathers’ pyramids. An interesting archaeological fact that plays on the idea of doorways, transformation and also of using the ancestors, our forefathers, as a marker point. What can we learn from ancient history (as Thutmosis IV did) to help us move forwards into the future? What does our indigenous heritage have to teach us? How can we use our ancestors’ wisdom as the firm lintel above our heads to step into a more sustainable future?
The Sphinx is a composite creature with a human head, reminding us of our innate animal nature. What steps can we tale to reconnect within to our wild soul as a creature of wild world? How can we use this knowledge to reconnect with and heal nature?
To repeat the opening to this weeks’ tree teaching: Beauty or ugliness. Taking responsibility for our own experience. What do you see?
Transforming the World from mundanity to Beauty
If you would like to help transform mundanity into beauty beholding the jewel with fresh eyes through these ancient stories and the beings that inhabit them, AST is planting and protecting trees across the world healing the land, supporting communities of plants, people and other animals and their history and culture creating our 'Green and Growing Communitree'. In protecting the land and its' beings we protect these stories and in return these stories share their living wisdom with us.
Amanda Claire x
PS. Take a look at the AST (Ancient and Sacred Trees) shop, AST is Free to join and always will be. Soon there will be a paid tree planting and protection membership scheme too that will also be introduced in which you will be able to plant and protect trees throughout the year while connecting on a deeper level with the natural world.
Got some thoughts about what you would like as member rewards or what you would like to see courses in? Let me know by sending a message via the site. x