Homer tells us that the Trojan War was fought to win back Helen of Troy, who was rightfully Helen, Queen of Sparta. The war lasted ten long years and almost ended in an inconclusive stalemate, with both the Greeks and the Trojans suffering heavy losses, including their respective heroes Achilles and Hector. The war hovers between history and mythic storytelling: a twilight conflict written centuries after the events. In our terms, Homer was writing a historical novel, but he was also creating something which still speaks to us: something which, long centuries later, our instincts respond to on the deepest level.
Helen of Troy remains historically elusive, and perhaps for this reason she gathers in strength in our minds. More than a woman or even a queen, she has come to represent the ultimate in feminine beauty, and therefore the ultimate prize that men wish to conquer. Men will go to war to win her, will sacrifice much to possess her. As Womankind she is the guardian of the deepest feminine secrets, the source from which the elixir flows that completes the unity of man’s separation from himself. If he can conquer that secret then the alchemical wedding can be celebrated.
As a conquest whose battleground lies not at the walls of Troy but within ourselves, it is the conquest of separation and the regaining of a unity which has been lost. It is not a battle of the sexes, but a battle for us all. Whether man or woman, we are confronted with this struggle. But this conquest has a darker side. Where it goes wrong is when we are no longer content with mere conquest, but seek as well to have power over what we have conquered, to possess rather than to assimilate and accept. This is when, instead of unity, conflict and further separation follow.
It is the woman, the eternal Helen, who is the holder of the secret of things. Approach her, surrender to her, and we become co-participants in the secret: the secret of the elixir of life, when soul embraces spirit. But as soon as our ‘man’ side reaches for power, as soon as the soul tries to possess Helen as the feminine spirit, we batter ourselves against the walls of Troy in the folly of a needless war.
There is a secret story of Helen not told by Homer: a story of the ancient mystery schools. This story has Helen seeking the safety of a sanctuary in Egypt, while the wayward Trojan prince Paris actually kidnaps and takes to Troy a phantom double created by magic whom he believes to be the real Helen. This story as well has its inner truth. For the man who strives after power in place of unity, the woman makes herself invisible. It is this phantom Helen, more ghost than substance, whom he ends up having power over and taking possession of, while the real Helen, the Helen who could so easily be his, the Helen of peerless beauty, remains hidden from his sight.