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Daily Theosophy Glossary – Z

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Daily Theosophy Glossary


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Zagreus, Zagreus-Dionysos

(Greek) Dionysos was an earlier name for Bacchus. The mythos concerning Zagreus belongs to the cycle of teachings of the Orphic Mysteries rather than to mythology, so no references occur in the writings for the people, such as Homer and Hesiod. The references that have come down to our day occur principally in the manuscripts of the ancient Greek dramatists, poets, and in other ancient fragments.

As cosmic evolution was taught in the Orphic Mysteries by allegory, so was the evolution of the individual soul or microcosm, centering in the mythos of Zagreus, later Zagreus-Dionysos, the Greek savior, which the Greek Dionysian Mysteries sought to unfold in dramatic and veiled or symbolic literary form. “Dionysos is one with Osiris, with Krishna, and with Buddha (the heavenly wise), and with the coming (tenth) Avatar, the glorified Spiritual Christos . . .” (SD 2:420).

Zagreus has three distinct meanings: 1) the mighty hunter (the pilgrim-soul, hunting for the truth, its aeonic pilgrimage back to divinity); 2) he that takes many captives (the Lord of the Dead); and 3) the restorer or regenerator (King of the Reborn or initiates). Zagreus (later Bacchus or Iacchos) is the divine Son, the third of the Orphic Trinity, the other two being Zeus the Demiurge or divine All-father, and Demeter-Kore, the earth goddess in her twofold aspect as the divine Mother and the mortal maid.

The mythos relates that Zagreus, a favored son of Zeus, aroused the wrath of Hera, who plotted his destruction. First she released the dethroned titans from Tartaros to slay the newborn babe. They induced the child to give up the scepter and apple for the false toys which they held before him: a thyrsos or Bacchic wand (symbol of matter and rebirth into material life), a giddy spinning top, and a mirror (maya or illusion). As the child was gazing at himself in the mirror, they seized him, tore his body into seven or fourteen pieces (as in the Egyptian Mystery tale of Osiris); boiled and roasted and then devoured them. Discovered in this enormity by Zeus, the titans were blasted with his thunderbolt and from their ashes sprang the human race.

The titans with their false gifts symbolize the pursuing energies of the personal, material life, which enchain and delude the soul. They are earth powers which lead the soul from the path by the lure of things of sense. The dismembered body is first boiled in water — symbol of the astral world; then roasted, “as gold is tried by fire,” symbol of suffering and purification and the reascent of the victorious soul to bliss.

Apollo or the Muses, at the command of Zeus, gathered the scattered fragments and interred them near the Omphalos (navel of the earth) at Delphi. The coffin was inscribed: “Here lies dead, the body of Dionysos, son of Semele,” as the Zagreus myth was known only to those initiated into the Orphic Mysteries; and the Semele myth was popularly known. The exoteric myth represents the divine Son as the son of Zeus by the mortal maid Semele, Demeter-Kore in the guise of a mortal woman, to whom the still beating heart of Zagreus was entrusted when he was slain, that she might become its mother-guardian.

Hera, however, poisoned the mind of Semele with suspicion when the new-forming body of Zagreus within her reached the seventh month of gestation, and Semele impelled Zeus to reveal himself to her in his true form, whereupon the mortal body of Semele was destroyed by the divine fire. The holy babe was saved from death by Zeus, who sewed the child up in his own thigh until “the life that formerly was Zagreus, was reborn as Dionysos,” the risen Savior, at Easter (the spring equinox), while as Zagreus he had been born at Semele’s death at the winter solstice. Here we see the myth’s solar significance.

The nymphs of Mount Nysa reared him safely in a cave, and when he reached manhood, Hera forced him to wander over the earth. He overcame all opposition and was successful in establishing Mystery schools wherever he went. After his triumph in the world of men, Dionysos descended into the underworld and led forth his mother, now rechristened as Semele-Thyone (Semele the Inspired), to take her place among the Olympian divinities as the divine mother and radiant queen, and later, with Dionysos, to ascend to heaven.

Zagreus as Dionysos is known as the god of many names, most of which refer to his twofold character as the suffering mortal Zagreus, and the immortal or reborn god-man. Many titles also refer to him as the mystic savior. He is the All-potent, the Permanent, the Life-blood of the World, the majesty in the forest, in fruit, in the hum of the bee, in the flowing of the stream, etc., the earth in its changes — the list runs on indefinitely, and is strikingly similar to the passage in which Krishna, the Hindu avatara, instructs Arjuna how he shall know him completely: “I am the taste in water, the light in the sun and moon,” etc. (BG ch 7).

The philosophers, dramatists, and historians who held the Dionysian mythos to be purely allegorical and symbolic take in the great names of antiquity, including Plato, Pythagoras, all the Neoplatonists, the greatest historians, and a few of the early Christian Fathers, notably Clement of Alexandria; Eusebius, Tertullian, Justin, and Augustine, also write of it.

The exoteric literature of Orphism is scanty, while the esoteric teachings were never committed to writing. Outside of the Orphic Tablets and Orphic Hymns, no original material has been discovered to date. Scholars judging from the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, have held that the Eleusinian Mystery-drama was based solely on the story of Persephone; but later researches indicate that, under the influence of Epimenides and Onomakritos, both deep students of Orphism, the Orphic Mystery tale of Zagreus-Dionysos was incorporated in the Eleusian ritual, the divine son Iacchos becoming thus identified with the Orphic god-man, Zagreus-Dionysos.

Cosmically this highly esoteric story refers to the cosmic Logos building the universe and becoming thereby not only its inspiriting and invigorating soul, but likewise the divinity guiding manifestation from Chaos to complete fullness of evolutionary grandeur; and in the case of mankind, the legend refers to the origin, peregrinations, and destiny of the human monad, itself a spiritual consciousness-center, from unself-consciousness as a god-spark, through the wanderings of destiny until becoming a fully self-conscious god. The key to the symbolism of Zagreus-Dionysos is given by Plato in the Cratylus: “The Spirit within us is the true image of Dionysos. He therefore who acts erroneously in regard to It . . . sins against Dionysos Himself,” i.e., the inner god, the divinity in man. The legend thus contains not only past cosmic as well as human history, but contains as a prophecy what will come to pass in the distant future.



(Pahlavi) [from Old Persian zend commentary, interpretation + aba-ta the law] The writings of the religion of the Parsis, still used by them as the basis of their faith. The Parsis themselves call this collection of documents the Avesta; Zend was principally used by the Parsis to denote the Pahlavi translations and commentaries on the Avesta.

Zenith One of six cardinal points, the others being the four points of the compass and the nadir; these are symbolized by the number six and by the svastika. They are not fixed points, but directions relative to a central point which represents the observer.


(Greek) Chief of the manifested gods of the Greek pantheon, represented in poetic and mythologic story as throned in the heavens, gathering the clouds and refreshing the earth with rains and winds, also sending storms and lightning, his chief weapon being the thunderbolt with which he strikes those who work against his will.

Zeus, in the conception of the ancient Greek philosophers who nearly all were initiate-thinkers, was not the highest god. It was because all public mention of the cosmic hierarch was forbidden that Homer omitted to mention this first principle, and even the secondary, the Chaos and Aether of Orpheus and Hesiod, commencing his cosmogony with Night, which Zeus reverences — Night here being equivalent to the Hindu pradhānaprakṛti.

Zeus was not always portrayed as the ineffable cosmic principle, as in the dramas of Aeschylus, especially in his trilogy on Prometheus. “In the case of Prometheus, Zeus represents the Host of the primeval progenitors, of the pitar, the ‘Fathers’ who created man senseless and without any mind; while the divine Titan stands for the Spiritual creators, the devas who ‘fell’ into generation. The former are spiritually lower, but physically stronger, than the ‘Prometheans’: therefore, the latter are shown conquered. ‘The lower Host, whose work the Titan spoiled and thus defeated the plans of Zeus,’ was on this earth in its own sphere and plane of action; whereas, the superior Host was an exile from Heaven, who had got entangled in the meshes of matter. They (the inferior ‘Host’) were masters of all the Cosmic and lower titanic forces; the higher Titan possessed only the intellectual and spiritual fire. This drama of the struggle of Prometheus with the Olympic tyrant and despot, sensual Zeus, one sees enacted daily within our actual mankind: the lower passions chain the higher aspirations to the rock of matter, to generate in many a case the vulture of sorrow, pain, and repentance” (SD 2:421-2). This inferior host is the various classes of the lunar pitṛs; whereas the higher host, collectively represented by Prometheus, is the aggregate of the agniṣvāttapitṛs or agnidhyānis.

Again, “between Zeus, the abstract deity of Grecian thought, and the Olympic Zeus, there was an abyss. . . . Zeus was the human soul and nothing more, whenever shown yielding to his lower passions, — the jealous God, revengeful and cruel in its egotism or I-am-ness” (SD 2:419). In another aspect Zeus is the deity of the fourth root-race, while his father, Kronos, represents the third root-race.

Some of the deities in the Greek pantheon were often represented in a hermaphrodite aspect, thus Zeus is occasionally depicted with female breasts; while one of the Orphic hymns, which was sung during the Mysteries, says: “Zeus is a male, Zeus is an immortal maid.”

The Latin Jupiter was equivalent to the Greek Zeus, so that the following citation refers to both deities: “The four-fold Jupiter, as the four-faced Brahmā — the aerial, the fulgurant, the terrestrial, and the marine god — the lord and master of the four elements, may stand as a representative for the great cosmic gods of every nation. While passing power over the fire to Hephaistos-Vulcan, over the sea, to Poseidon-Neptune, and over the Earth, to Pluto-Aidoneus — the aerial Jove was all these; for Æther, from the first, had pre-eminence over, and was the synthesis of, all the elements” (SD 1:464).

Zeus, as the Father of the Gods, was Aether itself, and hence by the Greeks was sometimes called Zeus-Zen, precisely as the Latin races called Jupiter Pater Aether (father ether).



Zodiac [from Greek zodiakos kyklos circle of animals] The zone extending on both sides of the ecliptic, with a total width of about 16 degrees, so as to include the apparent paths of the planets and moon. It is divided into twelve equal parts or signs, which are counted from the position of the vernal equinoctial point. The position of this point recedes westward along the ecliptic at the rate of about 50” of arc per year. The Hindus call this the fixed zodiac, giving the name of movable zodiac to the zodiacal constellations. The ancient figure for the length of a precessional cycle is 25,920 years, also the length of an important racial unit in human evolution.

“A simple calculation will show that at this rate the constellation Taurus (Heb. Alph) was in the first sign of the zodiac at the beginning of the Kali Yuga, and consequently the Equinoctial point fell therein. At this time, also, Leo was in the summer solstice, Scorpio in the autumnal Equinox, and Aquarius in the winter solstice; and these facts form the astronomical key to half the religious mysteries of the world — the Christian scheme included” (TG 387).

The zodiac is found everywhere among the civilized nations, such as the Chaldeans, Hindus, Egyptians, Chinese, and in Job (said to be the oldest book in the Bible); but its antiquity is lost in the night of time. The zodiac may briefly be described as a book on evolution in twelve chapters, and as such its applications and correspondences are innumerable. Time is marked by the passage of the planets through its signs, by their conjunctions in various positions, and by the movement of the nodes and apsides of planets; so that the whole course of cycles large and small can be calculated and the past and future read by those who understand. The twelve divisions of the ecliptic or fixed zodiac have the same names and significance as the zodiacal constellations. They may be applied to cycles in history, such as the Messianic cycle, to races of mankind, and to the human constitution, mental and physical. When applied to the globes of the earth planetary chain — using the esoteric computation of a twelvefold system — the rectors of the houses of the zodiac have each predominance over one globe of the earth-chain. [For mere details relating to the Globes see Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary (ETG) under ‘Zodiac’]

Zohar, Sepher haz-Zohar

[Hebrew] Zohar, Sēfer Hazzohar [from the verbal root zāhar light, to be bright, to shine] Book of the light; the principal work or compendium of the Qabbalists, forming with the Book of Creation (Sepher Yetsirah) the main canon of the Qabbalah. It is written largely in Chaldean interspersed with Hebrew, and is in the main a running commentary on the Pentateuch. Interwoven are a number of highly significant sections or books scattered apparently at random through the volumes: sometimes incorporated as parallel columns to the text, at other times as separate portions.

These auxiliary books, so casually appended to the text as we now have it, are considered by Qabbalists to be the chief contribution of the Zohar. The following form the bulk of the Zoharic writings outside of the commentary itself, as found in present editions, though in one or two editions a few additional fragments of minor importance are included:

1. Tosephta’ (Additions or supplements);

2. Heichaloth (Mansions, Abodes) usually enumerated as seven, describing the structure of the upper and lower realms;

3. Sithrei Torah (Mysteries or Secrets of the Law [Pentateuch]) describing the evolution of the Sephiroth;

4. Midrash Han-Ne‘elam (The Hidden Interpretation), deducing esoteric doctrine from the narratives in the Pentateuch;

5. Ra‘ya’ Meheimna’ (The Faithful Shepherd), recording discussions between Moses the faithful shepherd, the prophet Elijah, and Rabbi Shim‘on ben Yohai (the reputed compiler of the Zohar);

6. Razei deRazin (Secrets of Secrets), a treatise on physiognomy and higher psychology;

7. Saba’ deMishpatim (The Aged in Decisions, Judgments), the Aged One or Scholar is Elijah who discourses with Yohai on the doctrine of metempsychosis;

8. Siphra’ di-Tseni‘utha’ (The Book of the Mysteries), discourses on cosmogony and demonology;

9. Ha-’Idra’ Rabba’ Qaddisha’ (The Great Holy Assembly), discourses of Rabbi Yohai to his disciples on the form of the deity and on pneumatology;

10. Yenoqa’ (The Youth), discourses on the mysteries of ablutions by a young man of such high talent that he was thought to be of superhuman origin;

11. Ha-’Irda’ Zuta’ Qaddisha’ (The Lesser Holy Assembly), discourses on the Sephiroth to six disciples.

The Zohar was compiled by Rabbi Simeon Ben-Iochai, and completed by his son Rabbi Eleazar, and his secretary Rabbi Abba. “But voluminous as is the work, and containing as it does the main points of the secret and oral tradition, it still does not embrace it all. It is well known that this venerable kabalist [Simeon] never imparted the most important points of his doctrine otherwise than orally, and to a very limited number of friends and disciples, including his only son. Therefore, without the final initiation into the Mercaba the study of the Kabala will be ever incomplete, . . . Since the death of Simeon Ben-Iochai this hidden doctrine has remained an inviolate secret for the outside worlds” (IU 2:348-9).

The Zohar contains the universal wisdom or theosophy of the ages. Nevertheless it “teaches practical occultism more than any other work on that subject; not as it is translated though, and commented upon by its various critics, but with the secret signs on its margins. These signs contain the hidden instructions, apart form the metaphysical interpretations and apparent absurdities . . .” (IU 2:350). The present “approximation of the Zohar was written by Moses de Leon in the 13th century. “Mistaken is he who accepts the Kabalistic works of to-day, and the interpretations of the Zohar by the Rabbis, for the genuine Kabalistic lore of old! For no more to-day than in the day of Frederick von Schelling does the Kabala accessible to Europe and America, contain much more than ‘ruins and fragments, much distorted remnants still of that primitive system which is the key to all religious systems’ . . . The oldest system and the Chaldean Kabala were identical. The latest renderings of the Zohar are those of the Synagogue in the early centuries — i.e., the Thorah, dogmatic and uncompromising” (SD 2:461-2).

The Zohar has been widely studied by European mystical and other scholars for centuries past, and many speculations have been made by these scholars as to its age, some affirming with perfect truth that the roots or origins of the Qabbalah go back into the very night of time and are probably to be traced to now unknown originals in ancient Chaldea, while others points out that in several places the Zohar mentions facts of history that have taken place in Europe after the beginning of the Christian era, such as the Crusades, and the mentioning of the Massoretic vowel points which came into use at the time of the Rabbi Mocha, 570 AD, the mention of a comet which can be proved by the context to have appeared in 1264, etc. Moses de Leon was probably the first to edit or give to the world the volume of the Zohar as we now have it considered as a whole. We thus have a work of progressive compilation, the form in which it has reached our hands showing the labor of several, if not many, minds since the beginning of the Christian era, but which nevertheless in its typically Chaldean thought and manner of envisioning religious and philosophical principles prove it to have come down from an unknown time in Chaldean history. (From: ETG)

Zoroaster, Zarathustra, Zarathushtra (Avestan) Zaradusht, Zartosht (Persian) [from Avestan zarat yellow or old + ushtra he who bears light, the intellect in the act of cognition] He who bears the ancient light; the great teacher and lawgiver of ancient Persia in the Avesta, founder of the Mazdean religion, preserved by the modern Parsis.

“Founder of the religion variously called Mazdaism, Magism, Parseeism, Fire-Worship, and Zoroastrianism. The age of the last Zoroaster (for it is a generic name) is not known, and perhaps for that very reason. Zanthus of Lydia, the earliest Greek writer who mentions this great lawgiver and religious reformer, places him about six hundred years before the Trojan War. But where is the historian who can now tell when the latter took place? Aristotle and also Eudoxus assign him a date of no less than 6,000 years before the days of Plato, and Aristotle was not one to make a statement without a good reason for it. Berosus makes him a king of Babylon some 2,200 years b.c.; but then, how can one tell what were the original figures of Berosus, before his MSS. passed through the hands of Eusebius, whose fingers were so deft at altering figures, whether in Egyptian synchronistic tables or in Chaldean chronology? Haug refers Zoroaster to at least 1,000 years b.c.; and Bunsen . . . finds that Zarathustra Spitama lived under the King Vistaspa about 3,000 years b.c., and describes him as ‘one of the mightiest intellects and one of the greatest men of all time. . . . the Occult records claim to have the correct dates of each of the thirteen Zoroasters mentioned in the Dabistan. Their doctrines, and especially those of the last (divine) Zoroaster, spread from Bactria to the Medes; thence, under the name of Magism, incorporated by the Adept-Astronomers in Chaldea, they greatly influenced the mystic teachings of the Mosaic doctrines, even before, perhaps, they had culminated into what is now known as the modern religion of the Parsis. Like Manu and Vyasa in India, Zarathustra is a generic name for great reformers and law-givers. The hierarchy began with the divine Zarathustra in the Vendidad, and ended with the great, but mortal man, bearing that title, and now lost to history. . . . the last Zoroaster was the founder of the Fire-temple of Azareksh, many ages before the historical era. Had not Alexander destroyed so many sacred and precious works of the Mazdeans, truth and philosophy would have been more inclined to agree with history, in bestowing upon that Greek Vandal the title of ‘the Great’ ” (TG 384-5).

Zoroaster, the son of Pourushaspa, is said to be the same as Br Abrahm (Abraham) who brought down the holy fire which had no smoke and could not injure because it had no burnable substance. He divided this fire into ten parts and placed each in a different location.

Also, the first created, the abstract light, active mind.