The Fetters Of Fire And The Direction of the Dead – Agni-Rudra (And Ambika) Anchoring At The Cross-Paths[Of Goddesses, Gods, and Ghosts at the Crossroads – A Comparative Indo-European Exploration – Extract 4]

Let’s take a look at some relevant scripture. Which, handily, we’ve already quoted above. But, to refresh our (collective) (unconscious or) memory:

“7 Having removed all (the cakes from the potsherds) into one dish, and taken a fire-brand from the Dakshina-fire, he walks aside towards the North—for that is the region of that God—and offers. He offers on a road,—for on roads that God roves; he offers on a cross-road,—for the cross-road, indeed, is known to be His (Rudra’s) favourite haunt. This is why he offers on a cross-road.”
[SBr, II 6 2 7, Eggeling translation]

Now, straightaway we see something vitally important – the saliency of Fire in proceedings. And not just any fire – but rather, a burning brand taken from the ‘Dakshina-fire’. That is to say, the Southern ‘Hearth’ of the ritual space … the Direction of the Realm of the Dead. Which, if you direct your attention a few lines up, you shall see my pointed notation viz. ‘Cremation Pyre’ coming once again ‘to light’. In one sense, this helps to explain the ‘transverse’ characteristic to the Crossroads offering – as the officiant is walking with this Fire, from the Entryway to the Realm of the Dead (in terms of the Ritual Space being a ‘Mesocosmic’ Resonancy for the Universe At Large), up to the North point of the Ritual Space, which is the Direction of Rudra. They are walking along the South-to-North axis, and therefore directly crossing the East-to-West one which is the Sun’s more direct pathway across the Skies.

We might also feasibly entertain the notion that the bringing forth of Fire from the Direction of the Dead – an implicit resonancy, as previously discussed, with that of the Cremation Pyre … produces an air of the Cremation Ground itself; particularly when this flame is brought to the North – the Direction of Rudra. After all, ‘There’s No Place Like Homa’ – and by drawing together these two diametrically opposed (yet fundamentally congruent) directions and their essences, one produces just the conditions (metaphysically speaking) to ‘resonate’ the environs where Rudra (and His Wife) are so frequently to be comfortably found within. 

The Crossroads, in other words, is not a demesne for particular Deifics simply because it is a Crossroads – but also because the environs can be felt to overtly resemble other situations wherein the Gods should preferentially choose to inhabit, which express something vitally important as to Them and Their Nature. Rudra (and Devi in these relevant Forms) has His Cremation Grounds, Agni has His place of ‘connexion’ (see subsequent remarks), and Hekate … well, where Three Worlds are Joined, become One (and we shall be encountering an Axis Mundi ‘resonance’ also in due course).  

But we can go further. Much further.

In the Taittiriya Brahmana’s presentation of this same ritual, we find the Catuspatha described as the ‘Padbisa’ or ‘Padvisa’ of Agni. ‘Pada’, as in ‘Foot’, ‘Bisa’ or ‘Visa’ to refer to a ‘Staking’ (or ‘Fastening’). That is to say, the ‘Fetter’, ‘Binding’ or ‘Peg’ to the Fire – where it is Fixed. That’s vital. 

When I began to ponder this in earnest, it seemed to me that the place where one ought find the ‘Foot’ to the ‘Fire’, would be the place where it was ignited. Say, by rubbing together two sticks. Two sticks crossed over. In much the same fashion as our Crossroad should prove to be in earnest. 

As it turned out, the sage Angiras had been thinking upon similar lines when I had asked him – and we both proved to be on the money when the Agamic literature then confirmed this rendering to be apt. Angiras then went rather further in bringing to bear additional ritualine conceptry.

To quote his brief overview: “There is a link between araNis & Agni’s birth. A link between catuSpatha & making offerings for a new born child in the gRhyasUtra. And also a link between the tryambaka offering and the protection of the unborn child.” Which we mention for reasons that ought appear rather immediately obvious in light of Artemis, and Her well-known childbirth and protection-of-the-infant potency. This would go beyond the ordinary invocation of Agni for ritual purposes precisely due to that Crossroads conceptry – and we would surmise that it is precisely the ‘liminal’ status of the Crossroads that renders it appropriate here. The Soul, after all, the Child, is coming into this world from somewhere else (via a Mother – both Divine as well as human). Just as, at the other extreme – death – the Soul, the Body, is leaving this world to go somewhere else, and ultimately into the arms of a Mother. And yes, yes the physical ‘place’ where yon newborn enters the world via is rather expressly identified with the Sacral Flame [see, for instance, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad VI 2 13]. ‘In Between’ these two stages, we are perhaps unsurprised to find that there are also some ‘Marriage’ salient dimensions to be considered, too (c.f., for instance, Bharadvaja Srauta Sutra VIII 22 10, Kashikar translation; inter various alia). That, after all, is most certainly a ‘crossing over’ – as well as an ‘intersecting’ of paths. Albeit, one should hope, of the two-into-one variety, rather than the mere temporary overlapping of such with two paths in and two paths then out again subsequent. 

We must also, however, also hasten to mention that whilst people do leave this world via such liminal spheres (and their accompanying Southern Flames) … ‘Death Is Not The End’ – nor is the passage entirely ‘one way’. And we are, therefore, unsurprised to observe that in addition to departing through such intersections (via death) or returning in relation to such (via birth), there are also figures that, whilst dead, are (become) ‘un-departed’ at such places. Just as we should expect – this is, after all, the place favoured by the Lord and Lady of the GHOST DIVISION (which, for those yet to encounter it – is my general short-hand term to refer to the BhutaGana, Wild Hunt, and other such often-sepulchral Honour-Guards and Retinues of the Sky Father and Goddess … for reasons that ought be readily, hauntingly apparent). We shall be meeting some of these Darkened (yet Radiant) figures also, in due course ! 

One prominent occurrence in relation to the above comes to us from the Manava Grihya Sutra [reportedly MGS. ii. 9. 1-8.] – the much-commented-upon form of the Astaka (‘Eighth’ – for the dating in the relevant part of the month upon which it is to be carried out) observance and its following Anvastakya. Occurrent at the Crossroads (where else?), it features offerings rendered both to those Pitrs (‘Fathers’) aforementioned, in the East as well as , per Keith’s interpretation of ‘stribhyah’, to the Wives of the Pitrs in the West. In addition to this, we also find offerings being made to the Matrikas. And, as it happens, a rather pointed emphasis upon bloodied sacrifice as an essential ingredient to proceedings (although this is ameliorated elsewhere to providing sustenance to a Cow, rather than killing and carving up an animal for the sustenance of various (ostensibly human) passers-by upon the Crossroads). 

It would be tempting to ponder whether this situation of the Ancestors being, in a sense, ‘present to receive’ Offerings of sustenance (in a manner rather different to our modern Sraddha rites) – might be exactly why the ritual in question enjoins that one feed those people coming and going upon the Crossroads. It is, perhaps, a ‘resonancy’ for the subsequent feeding of the Ancestor-Spirits Who are Themselves ‘coming and going’ upon the (metaphysical, cosmological) ‘Crossroads’ to which the site is ‘keyed’. After all, if we think about it – what is Crossing the River which separates the Realm of the Living from that of the Dead, other than crossing one’s own path over another route of  transportation. 

Yet if the Crossroads can provide a ‘meeting point’, a ‘congregation’ place, and an area where figures (or other elements) formerly ‘lost’ are able to come back together, be reunited with their (be-)loved ones, and otherwise ‘re-appear’ … the Crossroads can also be utilized for the opposite purpose, as well. That is to say – for the ‘departure’ of elements baleful, or the outright banishments of elements malefic. 

As it happens, that is the actual purpose, in part , of the Tryambakah rite [SBr II 6 2] aforementioned. To quote, once more, from the Eggeling translation:

“17 Having then packed them [the sacrificial cakes] into two net-work baskets and tied them to the two ends of either a bamboo staff or the beam of a balance, he steps aside towards the North; and if he meets with a tree or a stake or a bamboo or an ant-hill, he fastens them thereon, with the text (Vāj. S. III, 61), ‘These, O Rudra, are Thy provisions; therewith depart beyond the Mūjavats!’–(supplied) with provisions people indeed set out on a journey: hence he thereby dismisses Him supplied with provisions whithersoever He is bound. Now in this case His Journey is beyond the Mūjavats: hence he says, ‘Depart beyond the Mūjavats!’–‘with Thy Bow Unstrung and muffled up–,’ whereby he means to say, ‘Depart Propitious [‘Shiva’], not injuring us;’ ‘Clad in a Skin,’–whereby he lulls Him to sleep; for while sleeping He Injures no one: hence he says, ‘Clad in a skin.'”

The Mujavats appear to be a mountainous locale considerably to the North (whether Geographically or Cosmologically – it is both, and not strictly important in directly specific terms for our purposes herein), and hailed prominently for its Soma elsewhere in the Vedic sphere of texts. Rudra is, after all, a God of the Mountains (and of Soma), a Wanderer, of the North cardinal direction, and (projectile-) pointedly associated with rather baleful occurrences when He is not propitiated – or when His Attention and Presence has been incautiously drawn.

This part to the Tryambakah observance, therefore, seeks to ensure that Rudra is propitiated – not only with the offerings made earlier in the course of the Rite (and it is interesting that other translations and/or other iterations of the ritual instead identify the key sacrificial creature as a ‘Mouse’ or ‘Rat’ rather than the ‘Mole’ singled out in Eggeling’s Shatapatha Brahmana effort – interesting, I say, due to Apollo Smintheus and His rodential linkages), but also with adequate provisions to be able to go on His Wandering Way and not run out. Which would cause Him to , we may surmise, become rather less than beneficent (a state succinctly portmanteau’d in modern parlance as being ‘Hangry’ … low blood-sugar etc. with hunger contributing to irritability and Anger) – and potentially inclined to double back toward civilization. 

He has been Invoked, He has been Worshipped – and now He goes on His Way, via the Crossroads, to head a-Wandering – and the shadow of His baleful potency in its loka-lized potentiality to ‘dissipate’ to the four corners , the four quarters, the four directions (of the Crossroads) accordingly. 

In similar fashion, the Asvalayana Grihyasutra (IV, 6, 1-18) sets out the following for post-Funerary conceptry:

“Before sunrise they should carry their fire together with its ashes and its receptacle to the South, reciting the hemistich :
“I send far away the flesh-devouring Agni” (R.V. X, 16, 9).
Having thrown down that fire at a cross-road or somewhere else, they walk round it three times, with their left sides turned towards it, beating their left thighs with their left hands.
Then they return home without looking back ; take a bath ; have their hair, beard, the hair of their bodies, and nails cut off ; and provide themselves with new jars, pots, vessels for rinsing the mouth,
At the time of the Agnihotra the performer of the rite kindles a new fire by the attrition of two new kindling-sticks, reciting the hemistich:
“Here may this other Jatavedas, the Knowing One, bear the Offerings to the Gods” (R.V. X, 16, 9).
Keeping that fire burning, they sit till the silence of night, repeating the tales of the long-lived ones, and listening to the stories of auspicious contents, Itihasas and Puranas […]”[Translation presented in Ram’s Kalpasutras] 

Now, to explicate but briefly upon what is going on there – the ‘Flesh-Devouring’ (‘Kravyada’) ‘facing’ to Agni has been justly invoked for the Cremation Pyre … however as He is a baleful and ‘tarnishing’ form of the Great Luminous God, He cannot remain – having done His Sacred & Solemn Duty, He must be (as with Rudra) sent upon His Way. (Interestingly, the final stage before the participants themselves depart for home – “they walk round it three times, with their left sides turned towards it, beating their left thighs with their left hands” resembles rather strongly that portion of SBr II 6 2 (line 12) “They then walk thrice round the altar not sun-wise, beating their left thighs (with the right hand)” which accompanies Rudra’s departure, and the invocation of the famed MahaMrityunjaya (‘Triumphing over Death’) liturgy; the conceptual resonancy almost suggests itself … )

This having been done (via transport to a Crossroads … in the direction of the South), the participants involved carry out appropriate personal-cleansings – the Bath, the cutting off of Hair (where ‘Sin’ builds up), and rinsing out also their Mouths (which have Invoked), and procuring new ritual utensils likewise. The ‘Illuminating’ Agni is then invoked – same God, different ‘Facing’ – and propitiated in the appropriate fashion following this, also. At a different ‘cross-roads’ – those of the kindling-sticks, we have so frequently aforementioned. 

We mention this as a rather more … overt presentation of the understandings we are herein advancing. Wherein a God is not truly ‘banished’, as it might first appear – and most definitely not in the sense of something undesired and malefic (in the sense of ‘maleficarum’ – a curse or a demon). But rather, a necessary (if baleful) figure that is in respectful fashion engaged with, and when Their role is completed, They are not cast out also of our Hearts as we would with something actually malevolent. 

Whilst we are discussing funerary rites – a further point of interest concerns the injunction of the Jaimini Grihyasutra (II, 5) – which prescribes that the bones resultant from a cremation be carried past “a cross-road, or a big tree, or a river”. Following which, “he should bury the urn at a fordable place in the river.” We mention this not only due to the obvious point – wherein a ‘cross-road’ of a certain kind is where the human remains wind up, which is where a River (a Way) is able to be Forded (Crossed) … just as is so frequently encountered in Indo-European Metempsychosis. But also because the situation demands that one go to and through, past a cross-roads in the more conventional sense (or some other semi-cognate structure of similar multi-planar and ‘crossable’ resonancy – a ‘big tree’, a ‘river’) bearing such a grim cargo. One goes, in other words, through the cross-roads to the ‘other end’ of a conduit established therefrom. The terrestrial, mortal-remains equivalent to a Psychopomp for the dearly departed figure in question. 

We further raise it due to the saliency of the Tree in connexion to all of this, as well – a situation seeminly resonant with that reported in SBr II 6 2 17, wherein the ritualist is enjoined, when making the offering of provisions to Rudra: “[…] he steps aside towards the North; and if he meets with a tree or a stake […] he fastens them thereon, with the text (Vāj. S. III, 61), ‘These, O Rudra, are Thy provisions; therewith depart beyond the Mūjavats!'”. North, there, as it is Rudra’s Direction – and the one that Rudra shall be departing in. But a Tree … it is not mentioned there merely because it is ‘convenient’ as a fastening-place. It is mentioned there as the sacrifice is fastened to it – as a direct and deliberate ‘resonancy’ for the Sacrificial Post, the Sthambha of Vedic rites. Something which, surprise surprise, is also what the later-prominent ShivLing becomes – the ShivLing, if memory serves, having such an equivalency articulated in commentary; and given the facility for Trees to be utilized as ShivLings (as with the seeming coterminity of Trees and Irminsuls in the Germanic sphere), quite ‘triangulable’ in this regard, too. We shall be meeting the Tree again when we come to consider the Matrika clades domiciled likewise – but suffice to say that just as Yggdrasil is the ‘Crossroads of the Cosmos’ in Nordic myth, it should appear that the Tree can likewise form such a ‘Crossing’ point (a miniature Mountain, after all) for our ritualine purposes here, likewise. Certainly, the two major ‘roads’ for ritual observance via the Conduit of Agni are made of ‘wood’ – those kindling-sticks rubbed to produce the Flame’s Sure Foundation. 

In terms of the situation of a ‘ShivLing’ style sacral post or representation at the Crossroads, we might also ponder the placement of relevant devotional elements of not only Hekate / Trivia or the Lares (Compitales) – but also of Hermes and Apollo. In the case of Hekate and Trivia, or the Lares – statues or other ‘iconic’ presentation appears to have been prominent at such sites. In the case of Hermes (particularly as Hermes Strophaios – ‘At The Hinge’; not to be confused with the perhaps apt ‘Strophalos’ that is Hekate’s Wheel) we would predict pillars or posts – a feature also shared with Apollo Agyieus  ( : ‘Of the Street’ – or, for that matter, ‘Gate’; Macrobius [Saturnalia I 9 6] noting for the Greeks this particular Aspect formed a dvandva with Diana / Trivia – Apollo covering the streets inside the city and civilization (‘Agyiai’ – ‘Within The Enclosure’), His Sister encompassing those roads beyond; although given both Hermes and Apollo are also hailed as ‘Thyraios’ (‘The Outlander’, ‘The Foreigner’ – although also interpreted as ‘of the Door’), it must be evident that Her Brother ‘wandered’, Too in the Wilds Beyond, in earnest.).

This notion of ‘sending away’ something finds a more ‘pure’ expression in other areas – with certain ‘negative energies’, afflictions both supernatural and mundane, and even otherwise intractable physical maladies (viz. ‘Kshetriya’) all being held to be removable (‘paapmano vinidhayah’) via appropriate ritual enactions at the Crossroads. As we have said – the multiple directions from the single point provides ample scope for the force in question to ‘leave’ (potentially to ‘Get Lost!’, in the colloquial sense of a forceful injunction against continued presence somewhere at shouted and threatening volume and tenor). Not least if these are borne away by other denizens of the Crossroads that are metaphysically potent to be able to do such things; and/or as they are able to be sent off extra-planarly to spaces beyond the mere physical one via the more permeable ‘barriers’ between worlds to be found therein. Curse or worrisome Energy comes from ‘The Other Side’, via the Astral, etc. ? Well then – best to send it back the way it came. And where better to do this than, well, There. 

However, it must be underscored that such ‘Banishment’ operations are very different from the earlier cited situation of Rudra being farewelled – and not simply because one doesn’t tend to send a metaphysical malediction off with a pack-lunch for the occasion (although it is, of course, bound up with that particular fact and its absence as applies the genuine Maleficarum being sent beyond). With Rudra – He is, first, Invoked, and then directly offered to. We Want Him to come around – both in that specific ritualine context, as well as more generally. He is, after all, not just a God, but a vital and seriously positive figure in His potencies (when He Chooses to bestow from such – c.f the requests made elsewhere in the liturgy of SBr II 6 2 and its correlate-cognate cousins in other texts, including the finding of husbands for young women (c.f verses 14-15), the wealth, prosperity, and material abundance which is His to Give (c.f. verse 11), and the Happiness encountered due to the favouring approval of His Wife, Ambika (verse 13) – as well as, of course, exactly those connotations we ought expect where ‘Tryambaka’ is invoked, given the Mrityunjaya Mantra’s purpose and intended meanings).

In other words – We are not ‘Banishing’ Rudra .. how could we? All the Worlds are as His Dominion – and the Mythos is littered with the wrecks and ruination of those who had tried to forcibly keep Him Out, interfering with His Due. Instead, we are simply ensuring that He is able to adequately go upon His Way, following our deliberately intentional calling out to Him in the first place to come amongst us from out there in the great Wilds of both Astral and Physical topography. Til Next Time.  

There is quite a lot more we can and probably should detail about various ‘Crossroad’ operations of a Roudran saliency that we had encountered in the course of our delvings – yet I think that we ought move even further into the ‘core’ of our thematic approach, and more truly address the ‘why’ element afore we can begin to contemplate any further ‘hows’ resultant therefrom. 

Thus concludes the fourth excerpt from our full-length piece:

One thought on “The Fetters Of Fire And The Direction of the Dead – Agni-Rudra (And Ambika) Anchoring At The Cross-Paths[Of Goddesses, Gods, and Ghosts at the Crossroads – A Comparative Indo-European Exploration – Extract 4]

  1. Pingback: The Fetters Of Fire And The Direction of the Dead – Agni-Rudra (And Ambika) Anchoring At The Cross-Paths[Of Goddesses, Gods, and Ghosts at the Crossroads – A Comparative Indo-European Exploration – Extract 4] – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alche

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