An American Mystagogue

The Pools of Lethe and Mnemosyne, Psychic Symbolism



The River of Lethe

THE consort I invoke of Jove divine,
Source of the holy, sweetly-speaking Nine;

Free from th’ oblivion of the fallen mind,
By whom the soul with intellect is join’d:
Reason’s increase, and thought to thee belong, 
All-powerful, pleasant, vigilant, and strong:
‘Tis thine, to waken from lethargic rest
All thoughts deposited within the breast;
And nought neglecting, vigorous to excite
The mental eye from dark oblivion’s night. 
Come, blessed power, thy mystic’s mem’ry wake
To holy rites, and Lethe’s fetters break.

~ Orphic Hymn To Mnemosyne, Titaness of Memory

                               Something interesting I came across, while perusing the webs for information on the Greek goddess/titaness Mnemosyne, from whom the word mnemonic takes it root from. I realized a certain combination of archetypal figures in the Greek mythology that I found most interesting given my particular fascination with Lucid Dreaming.

I’ve always been fascinated by lucid dreaming, specifically what is known as W.I.L.D’s or “Wake Initiated Lucid Dreaming”. For those of you who don’t know what lucid dreaming, or W.I.L.D’s are, information on them are available widely on the internet. I was entranced from the very first time I had achieved one, when I was on my adventure walking around America a couple of years ago, specifically sleeping in a tent in the industrial district of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The ability for the human brain to induce a state akin to what most people only dream of with ‘virtual reality’ without the use of consumed oneirogens struck me as quite interesting, and potentially very useful.

However, even though I have had a handful of successes with W.I.L.D’s, I faced and still face the same issues that most people do when attempting them; how to stay conscious while tricking my body into falling asleep and engaging sleep paralysis so that I could, all pomp and facade aside, hallucinate lucidly. It was for this reason that I had endeavored to create my own, unique mnemonic mantra to help me focus before attempting to W.I.L.D, which served me with much success with the few attempts I used it. The chant essentially centered around beseeching the Force of Memory, who I chose to personify as Mnemosyne, and others including Hypnos, and his three brother/sons the Oneiro. This led me to a fascination with the Greek titaness specifically, and I soon began delving into research about her from an almost information-magpie perspective.

Of course, my human brain kept telling me to go along with a theme, and I started doing research on Mnemosyne it branched into Hypnos, and the Oneiroi (from where the term oneironaut stems from). However, something was missing. While chanting mantras that called upon the archetypal Forces that these Greek daimon/gods represented to induce mindfulness was helpful, I hadn’t begun to focus on the main culprit of my failures; the Oblivion of unmindful, unconscious sleep that would sneak upon me and whisk me hours into the future, with no dreams lucid or otherwise to report on.

It wasn’t until later however that I stumbled across the perfect symbol for the dreaded “Oblivion” point that so many people reach when they hit what is called ‘dead sleep’ or ‘blacking out’; the River Lethe. According to Greek myth, Lethe was a river in Hades, one of five, that (according to different accounts) either went through or around the poppy surrounded cave where Hypnos slept in Hades, guarded by his brothers/sons the Oneiroi; the river which  caused forgetfulness and unmindfulness in whomever drank from its waters and whose burbling sound lulled Hypnos and whomever heard it asleep.  I came to refer to the ‘black out’ period of sleep as ‘drinking from Lethe”. When my mind would ramble on automatically, I would think of this as the ‘burbling of the river”. I figured if a river for forgetfulness was in the way between my goal and I, that invoking the Force of Reminiscence through (somewhat ironically) mnemonic chanting would be the way to go.

Recently I found an interesting if completely reasonable connection between Mnemosyne and Lethe; the initiates of certain mystical orders (perhaps related to the Orphic cult poetry) were told that when they died, they should not drink from the river of Lethe, but rather from the pool of Mnemosyne, so that they could retain their memories. It should come as no surprise that Memory should be used to combat Forgetfulness, but this helped further cement the entire mnemonic endeavor of my own. My research now tightly wound together with my own mnemonic incantations in my mind.

The Greeks certainly knew how to map the mindscape.

~ Seth Moris