Carl Jung once wrote, “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.” Over the centuries, rivers have taken a vital position in our stories, artwork and mythologies. Rivers are a symbol of fertility, giving water to the soil so that it brings forth life and nourishment. Yet, the water is in constant movement, forging a pathway through harsh landscapes marked by boulders to exultantly merge with the ocean, the waters of creation. Rivers represent life and the passage of time; a beginning and end.
The Greeks embraced a magnificent mythology that included five main rivers, representing the emotions associated with the journey of transition. The famed Styx, named after the goddess Styx, is said to have circled the underworld seven times, outlining the border between earth and the underworld. Achilles, as an infant, was dipped into the dark waters by his mother who wanted to ensure his immortality. Alas, she held him by the heel, the one spot that left him vulnerable to poisoned arrow of Paris, during the Trojan war.
The Acheron is known as the river of pain. According to Euripides, Charon, the Ferryman waits patiently to transport the dead across the river to Hades. The Lethe River is connected to Lethe, the goddess of forgetfulness and oblivion. It is said that it flowed around the cave of Hypnos and through the underworld. Woe betide any who drank from its waters for they would lose all memory. However, ancient Greeks who believed in reincarnation said it was to erase all memory of a previous life so as to begin anew.
According to Plato, the Phlegethon known as the river of fire, led to the depths of Tartarus, thought to be as far below Hades as the earth is below the sky. And the last is Cocytus or the river of wailing, that flows into the river Acheron.
These five rivers are evidence that the ancient Greeks had a belief that our journey continued beyond our mortal existence. They were the symbols used “to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.”
“All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy. What right have we then to depreciate imagination.”