About Incubation

06.15.2021

“…In short, the Daughters of the Sun have come along to fetch him (Parmenides, in the prolog of his poem) from the world of the living and take him right back where they belong. This is no journey from confusion to clarity; from darkness into light. On the contrary, the journey Parmenides is describing is exactly the opposite. He is travelling straight into the ultimate night that no human being could possibly survive without divine protection. He is being taken to the heart of the underworld, the world of the dead.

But then there is a question that has to be asked: a very basic question. What did it mean for a real flesh and blood person in ancient Greece-not some mythical or legendary figure-to make a journey consciously, deliberately, knowingly into another world? And in particular: how could such a person go down or claim to go down to the world of the dead while still alive, touch the powers that live there, learn from them, and then come back to the world of the living?

The answer is extremely simple. There was a specific and established technique among various groups of people for making the journey to the world of the dead; for dying before you died. It involved isolating yourself in a dark place, lying down in complete stillness, staying motionless for hours or days. First the body would go silent, then eventually the mind. And this stillness is what gave access to another world a world of utter paradox; to a totally different state of awareness. Sometimes it was referred to as like a dream but not a dream, as really a third type of consciousness quite different from either waking or sleeping.

There used to be a whole technical language associated with the procedure; an entire mythical geography. And there was a name that the Greeks, and then the Romans, gave to this technique. They called it incubation.”

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“…As for the god Apollo: just like Parmenides the man, he has been converted into what he was not. He has been made into the god of reason, all brightness and straightforwardness and clarity and light. To be sure, he was very closely connected in Greek myth with the sun-and especially with the Daughters of the Sun who were so important for Parmenides.

But we can still see just why.

It was because Apollo’s home, like the place called home by the Daughters of the Sun, is at the furthest edges of existence: in the most distant north where east and west are one, near where the heavens plunge into the underworld, and the sun sinks into the depths of night. Particularly in Anatolia and southern Italy he was well known for his links with incubation and darkness, with the middle of the night, with the underworld and the caves that lead there. And he had the most intimate and mysterious of ties with the goddess of the underworld and queen of death whose home is guarded by Justice where it stands, just beyond the gates of Night and Day, right next to the chasm of Tartarus and the Mansions of Night: Persephone.

She is the goddess who greets initiates when they manage to make their way down to her by warmly reaching out to them with her right hand; who accepts them, welcomes them to her home, with a kindness that defies all human logic; who was often referred to with the most deliberate vagueness as ‘the goddess’ whom it’s best not to name.

And Apollo himself was the god of a clarity only found buried deep in riddles, in ambiguous oracles, impossible enigmas-a clarity so elusive but so precious that it was something people had to be prepared to risk their lives for.”

Source: Peter Kingsley, ‘Reality’, pages 30-31-43. / Image: Incubation sleep: Asclepius, attended by Hygiea, treats a sleeping woman. Votive relief, 4 th century BC. Piraeus Museum.

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