Among the sea-gods of the ancients there was a trine of Divinities who succeeded one another as monarchs of the briny deep, viz.: Pontus, Oceanos, and Poseidon. Pontus, whose name signifies "the deep," (compare fundus, bottom, and profundus, deep), is said to have been an elder brother of Ouranos, and
seems to represent the first state of the Celestial Church, which was a state relatively simple and natural. He was succeeded by Oceanos, the first-born son of Ouranos, who was one of the most amiable of the Titans, and who, in the first great world-war, sided with Zeus and the Olympian gods against Chronos and his "saturnine'' crew. As the first-born of the Titans he represents the first posterity of the Most Ancient Church in its decline, who were in a state still relatively good and honest. And it may be that he represented also those in the Most Ancient Church who remained in a state of simple good and who afterwards united with the new Ancient Church. However this may be, Oceanos seems to have cheerfully yielded the trident to his nephew, Poseidon, with whom afterwards his personality merges into one.
In Poseidon we find again a sea-god as the first-born of his generation, a fact which is surely significant, indicating that in the Ancient Church, as in every general dispensation or individual regeneration, the first state was one of simplicity, a faith formed from the appearances of spiritual truth in the natural sense of the Word. But in order to appreciate this, it is necessary to understand the significance of the Sea, of which Poseidon, or Neptune as the Romans called him, was the presiding genius.
As Zeus, the god of the highest atmospheres, represents celestial truth, so Poseidon represents truth of the spiritual-natural degree, that is, spiritual truth accommodated to the natural apprehension of man. All collections of water, whether in the form of fountains, rivers, or lakes, correspond to the collection of truth in the natural mind of man, or of the Church in general, Thus fountains and wells correspond to the inmost perception of truth in the natural mind; rivers, to the leading principle or doctrines of truth; and lakes,—especially the greatest of all lakes, the universal ocean,—correspond to the complex or great est collection of all truth, which is the all-receiving, all-embracing Word of God as it exists in the natural world.
When, with these teachings in mind, we stand on the shore of the limitless ocean, we are impressed anew with reverential awe at the majesty, the all-embracing infinity, the unmeasured profundity, the irrestible force of that Word of God, of which the ocean is the mighty symbol. When reading the Word we find ourselves in the presence of the Infinite and Eternal—arcana within arcana, depth beneath depth; we cannot fathom the fulness of its meaning, but everywhere we perceive the voice of our Maker like the gentle murmur of the waves or the breaking of mighty billows. "The voice of the Lord is upon the waters. The God of Glory thundereth; the Lord is upon many waters.'' (Ps. 29:3.)
As we are able to see only the surface of the ocean, so, in this world, we necessarily can grasp for the most part only the surface-meaning of the Divine Word, that is, its literal sense. But as the surface of the sea is broken by the waves which reveal its nearest depths, so our understanding of the sense of the dead letter is vivified by the genuine truths which continually appear even in the natural sense. On the other hand, as the sea lends itself to destructive storms as well as to useful navigation, so the fallacious appearances in the literal understanding of the Word, when moved by the influx of evil affections may easily lead to false reasonings, doubts and spiritual controversies, in which faith will perish unless its doctrinal ships be built of the stout, safe beams of spiritual rational truths. "The tumult of the sea and of the waves," (Ps. 65:7), signifies the disputings and ratiocinations of those who are beneath the heavens, and who are natural and sensuous." (A. E. 706.)
To the Ancients these correspondences were well-known, and therefore they pictured to themselves the Divine Truth in the natural sense of their Word, as Jehovah sitting upon the Sea; or as David sang: '' Thy way is in the Sea, and Thy path in many waters," (Ps. 77:19). And later on they named this conception of God, Poseidon, or Neptune, whom finally they worshiped as a distinct divinity, the great God of the waters.
Like Zeus, Poseidon is represented as strong and majestic of aspect, wearing a crown of sea-weeds, holding in his hand the trident or three-pronged sceptre. Seated beside his wife Amphitrite, in a chariot made of glistening sea-shells, he is drawn over the waters by fiery steeds, and in his wake follows a host of trumpeting Tritons and Nereids, graceful sea-nymphs, gamboling dolphins and other creatures of the sea.
The trident, being a sceptre, signifies the power of Divine Truth, but being the sceptre of Poseidon, and having three prongs, it signifies the power of Divine Truth in the ultimates of the Word, in which the three degrees of truth, celestial, spiritual, and natural, are together simultaneously, each powerful, each rational and "pointed." He who runs may read the symbol.
As the eagle with Zeus, and the peacock with Hera, so the horse is always and especially associated with Poseidon, and he himself even bore the surname of ''Horse-Poseidon." He is said to have created the first horse by striking the ground with the trident, in the same manner as he produced the fountain on the acropolis of Athens. The winged steed, Pegasus, was also produced by him. The modern interpreters confess that "it is difficult to give a reason for this connection of Neptune with the horse,'' especially in view of the well-known aversion of sailors to the use of this animal; various reasons are given, as that the horse was first introduced on board a ship, into Greece, or that the horse is on land what the ship is at sea. But the Writings of the New Church explain that
As Poseidon, therefore, represents the Divine Truth in the natural sense of the "Word in general, so his chariot signifies the Doctrine by which this Truth is conveyed, and his horses the understanding of the Word in the letter. The same is signified in the prophet who says of Jehovah; "Thou didst walk with thine horses through the Sea, through the heap of great waters.'' (Hab. 3:15.)
The wife of Poseidon, beautiful Amphitrite, whose "graceful green hair encircles all the earth,'' is said by some to personify "the calm and sunlit aspect of the sea;" to others she signifies the shore which everywhere embraces the ocean, but to us she stands rather for the love of the Word in general, as her handmaids, the water nymphs,—Oceanides, Nereides, Naiads, etc.— certainly signify the affections of the truths of the Word.
The only son of Poseidon and Amphitrite was named Triton, who always precedes his father as trumpeter and herald, and whose body is depicted as half man and half fish,—a very ancient conception which ranges all the way from the Babylonian Oannes, the Assyrian Nin, the Philistine Dagon, to the Northern mermen and mermaids. As to Dagon we are told that his image was "devised like a man above and a fish beneath, because a man signifies intelligence, and a fish, knowledge, and these make one." (D.S.S. 23.)
Nereus, or Proteus, was another divinity of the sea. He was mild and peaceful, distinguished for his wisdom and love of justice, and moreover enjoyed the gift of prophecy and could assume any shape he chose. He was known as "the old man of the sea," and his name may be compared with the Hebrew nahar, river. The simple but genuine wisdom of life, derived from the letter of the Word, suggests itself as his significance.