De Maconnieke Encyclopedie zoekt
Een ogenblik !
AIR OF THE FOUR ELEMENTS,
ALPHA AND OLMEGA
The symbolism of abandonment has a similar range of reference to that of the 'lost object', and they are both parallel to the symbolism of death and resurrection. To feel abandoned is, essentially, to feel forsaken by the 'god within us', that is, to lose sight of the eternal light in the human spirit. This imparts to the individual's existence a sense of estrangement to which the labyrinth theme is also related.
To quote Oswald Wirth: 'In alchemy, the subject, having undergone nigredo (blackness) followed by death and putrefaction, is subjected to ablution, an operation which makes use of the slow dripping of condensation from the vapours that rise from the carcass when a moderate flame applied externally is alternately raised and lowered in intensity. These continual drops serve to bring about the progressive washing of the material, which changes from black to grey and then gradually to white. The whiteness is an indication of the success of the first part of the Magnum Opus. The adept worker achieves this only by purifying his soul of all that commonly agitates it'. Washing, then, symbolizes the purification not so much of objective and external evil as of subjective and inner evils, which we might call 'private'. It is hardly necessary to add that the latter kind of purification is much more difficult and painful than the former, since what it sets out to destroy is something which is bonded to existence itself with all its vital urges. The principle involved in this alchemic process is that implied in the maxim 'Deny thyself . . .', and an indispensable precept for true moral progress.
In primitive cultures, maimed beings, as well as madmen, were believed to possess supernatural powers the shamans, for example. In primitive magico-religious thinking, the outstanding ability of physically abnormal individuals is not regarded, as it is in modern psychology, as having been developed in compensation for the abnormality, but rather the other way round: the maiming, the abnormality, the tragic destiny were the price the individual had to pay for some inborn extraordinary gift often the gift of prophecy. This belief was universal. In some mythologies, maimed beings are connected with the moon and its phases; there are mythic lunar beings, with only one hand or one foot, who have the magic power to cure disease, bring rain, and so on.
This conception of abnormality is not restricted to animate beings, but applies equally to objects. According to Cola Alberich, abnormal objects have always been considered as particularly useful in warding off malignant influences. Such objects are: stones with embedded fossils; amulets shaped like a six-fingered or a four-fingered hand; double almonds in one shell; unusually shaped grains of corn, etc. There is an interesting parallel to be drawn between the spontaneous interest evinced by Primitive Man in strange or abnormal objects, and the more deliberate, 'poetic' treatment bestowed by surrealists upon such objects as elements in the symbolic process. The belief in the magic powers of abnormal objects is connected with the symbolism of the jester (that is, the inverted king, the sacrificial victim) and with the symbolism of the moon.
Many words and phrases relating to rituals, talismans and pentacles have a symbolic meaning, either in themselves or in the way they are used, which is expressed either phonetically or, more frequently, graphically. This word was in frequent use during the Middle Ages as a magic formula. It is derived from the Hebrew phrase abreq ad habraX meaning 'hurl your thunderbolt even unto death'. It was usually inscribed inside an inverted triangle, or was set out so that it formed a triangle thus:
This magic word has also been related to the Abracax (Abraxas, Abrasax) of the Gnostics. It is in reality one of the names of the sun-god, Mithras .
The abyss in any form has a fascinating dual significance. On the one hand, it is a symbol of depth in general; on the other, a symbol of inferiority. The attraction of the abyss lies in the fact that these two aspects are inextricably linked together. Most ancient or primitive peoples have at one time or another identified certain breaks in the earth's surface or marine depths with the abyss. Among the Celts and other peoples, the abyss was inside mountains; in Ireland, Japan and the South Sea islands, it was at the bottom of seas and lakes; among Mediterranean peoples it was just beyond the horizon; for the Australian aborigines, the Milky Way is the abyss par excellence. The abyss is usually identified with the 'land of the dead', the underworld, and is hence, though not always, associated with the Great Mother and earth-god cults.
The association between the nether world and the bottom of seas or lakes explains many aspects of legends in which palaces or beings emerge from an abyss of water. After King Arthur's death, his sword, thrown into the lake by his command, is caught as it falls and, before being drawn down to the bottom, flourished by a hand which emerges from the waters.
This shrub, which bears white or pink blooms, was considered sacred by the Egyptians, partly, no doubt, because of its dual coloration and also because of the great mystic importance of the white-red principle. In Hermetic doctrine, according to Gerard de Nerval in his Voyage en Orient , it symbolizes the testament of Hiram which teaches that 'one must know how to die in order to live again in eternity'. It occurs with this particular symbolic meaning (that is, the soul and immortality) in Christian art, especially the Romanesque .
The acanthus leaf, a very common ornamental motif in architecture, was, during the Middle Ages, invested with a definite symbolism derived from its two essential characteristics: its growth, and its thorns. The latter is a symbol of solicitude about lowly things. According to Bishop Melito of Sardis, they signify the awareness and the pain of sin. We may mention here that in the Diary of Weininger, there is no difference between guilt and punishment. A more generalized symbolism, alluding perhaps to natural life itself, with its tendency towards regression or at least towards stunting, appears in the Gospels in the parable of the sower (Luke viii, 7), where we read that some of the seed (of spiritual principles and of salvation) fell amongst thorns and was choked. And in the Old Testament (Genesis iii, 18) the Lord tells man that the earth will yield to him thorns and thistles .
Because of his acrobatics, which often involve reversing the normal position of the human body by standing on his hands, the acrobat is a living symbol of inversion or reversal, that is to say, of that need which always arises in time of crisis (personal, social or collective historical crises) to upset and reverse the established order: idealism turns into materialism; meekness into aggressiveness; serenity into tragedy; order disorder, or vice versa. Acrobats are related to other aspects of the circus and, in particular, to the mystery of the Hanged Man in the Tarot pack, which has a similar significance.
In the mystic sense, there is no activity other than spiritual movement towards evolution and salvation; any other form of activity is merely agitation and not true activity. On this point, the West is in full accord with the East, for, according to the doctrine of Yoga, the highest state (sattva), characterized by outward calm, is that of greatest activity (the active subjugation of the lower impulses and their subsequent sublimation).
Thus, it is not surprising that Cesare Ripa, in his conologia, through a process of assimilation with the exalted images of the Archangel St. Michael and of St. George, represents 'Virtuous Action' as a warrior armed in a gilt cuirass, holding a book in one hand and in the other a lance poised ready to be thrust into the head of a huge serpent which he has just vanquished. The head of Vice, crushed under his left foot, completes the allegory. Hence, every struggle or victory on the material plane has its counterpart in the realm of the spirit. Thus, according to Islamic tradition, the 'Holy War' (the struggle against the infidel, depicted with weapons held at the ready) is simply an image of the 'Great Holy War' (the struggle of the faithful against the Powers of Evil).
A symbol of spiritual life which has descended upon earth. A symbol of revelation; of the 'other world' made accessible; and of the heavenly fire in its creative aspect, i.e. as seed. Tradition has it that, just as there are 'upper waters', there is also 'upper fire'. The stars symbolize the unattainable aspect of this fire; aerolites and meteorites are its messengers, and hence they are sometimes associated with angels and other heavenly hierarchies . It must be remembered that the iron first used by man was meteoric (which may account for the common root of the word sidereal and other words beginning with the prefix sidero-). The belief in a symbiotic relationship between the heavenly and the terrestrial worlds lies at the root of the idea of the 'cosmic marriage', a concept with which primitive astrobiological thought sought to explain the analogy, as well as the tangential relationship, between the antithetical worlds of heaven and earth.
The For the purposes of the morphology of symbols, an age is exactly the same as a phase. The lunar 'model' of the four phases (of waxing, fullness, waning and disappearance) has sometimes been reduced to two or three phases, and sometimes increased to five. The phases in the span of human life have undergone similar fluctuations, but in general they are four, with death either omitted or combined with the final phase of old age. The division into four parts quite apart from the importance of its relationship with the four phases of the moon coincides with the solar process and the annual cycle of the seasons as well as with the spatial arrangement of the four points of the compass on the conceptual plane.
The cosmic ages have been applied to the era of human existence, and also to the life of a race or an empire. In Hindu tradition, the Manvantara, also called Maha- Yuga (or the Great Cycle), comprises four yoga or secondary periods, which were said to be the same as the four ages in Greco-Roman antiquity. In India, these same ages are called after four throws in the game of dice: krita, treta, dvapara and kali. In classical times, the ages are associated with the symbolism of metals, giving the 'golden age', 'silver age', 'bronze age' and 'iron age'. The same symbolic pattern which in itself is an interpretation is found in the famous dream of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel ii) as well as in the figure of the 'Old Man of Crete' in Dante's Commedia (Inferno, XIV, 11. 94-120).
Progress from the purest metal to the most malleable from gold to iron implies involution. For this reason René Guénon comments that the successive ages, as they 'moved away from the Beginning', have brought about a gradual materialization. And for this reason, too, William Blake observed that 'Progress is the punishment of God'. so that progress in life in an individual's existence is tantamount to gradual surrender of the golden values of childhood, up to the point in which the process of growing old is terminated by death. The myths concerning the 'Golden Age' find their origin, according to Jung, in an analogy with childhood that period when nature heaps gifts upon the child without any effort on his part, for he gets all he wants.
But in addition, and in a deeper sense, the Golden Age stands for life in unconsciousness, for unawareness of death and of all the problems of existence, for the 'Centre' which precedes time, or which, within the limitations of existence, seems to bear the closest resemblance to paradise. Ignorance of the world of existence creates a kind of golden haze, but with the growing understanding of concepts of duty, the father-principle and rational thinking, the world can again be apprehended . The aims of surrealism are nothing short of reintegrating, as far as is practicable, this state of emotional irrationality characteristic of primigenial peoples.
Its allegorical representation is the figure of a goddess, like Ceres in appearance (with whom it may be identified), but with a plough and a plant bearing its first blossom. Sometimes, the allegorical figure carries a cornucopia full of fruits and flowers, or has both hands leaning on a spade or a hoe. The Zodiac is also included, to indicate the importance of the yearly cycle and the sequence of the seasons and the work that each season implies .
Air of the four Elements,
air and fire are regarded as active and male; water and earth as passive and female. In some elemental cosmogonies, fire is given pride of place and considered the origin of all things, but the more general belief is that air is the primary element. Compression or concentration of air creates heat or fire, from which all forms of life are then derived. Air is essentially related to three sets of ideas: the creative breath of life, and, hence, speech; the stormy wind, connected in many mythologies with the idea of creation; and, finally, space as a medium for movement and for the emergence of life-processes. Light, flight, lightness, as well as scent and smell, are all related to the general symbolism of air .
Gaston Bachelard says that for one of its eminent worshippers, Nietzsche, air was a kind of higher, subtler matter, the very stuff of human freedom. And he adds that the distinguishing characteristic of aerial nature is that it is based on the dynamics of dematerialization. Thoughts, feelings and memories concerning heat and cold, dryness and humidity and, in general, all aspects of climate and atmosphere, are also closely related to the concept of air. According to Nietzsche, air should be cold and aggressive like the air of mountain tops. Bachelard relates scent to memory, and by way of example points to Shelley's characteristic lingering over reminiscences of smell.
The real beginnings of alchemy date back to the first centuries A.D., when it was practised mainly by Greeks and Arabs. Elements from various traditions, including Christian mysticism, were later incorporated. It was essentially a symbolic process involving the endeavour to make gold, regarded as the symbol of illumination and salvation. The four stages of the process were signified by different colours, as follows: black (guilt, origin, latent forces) for 'prime matter' (a symbol of the soul in its original condition); white (minor work, first transmutation, quicksilver); red (sulphur, passion); and, finally, gold.
Piobb analyses the symbolic meaning of the various operations. The first, known as calcination, stood for the 'death of the profane', i.e. the extinction of all interest in life and in the manifest world; the second, putrefaction was a consequence of the first, consisting of the separation of the destroyed remains; solution, the third, denoted the purification of matter; distillation, the fourth, was the 'rain' of purified matter, i.e. of the elements of salvation isolated by the preceding operations; fifthly, conjunction symbolized the joining of opposites (the coincidentia oppositorum, identified by Jung with the close union, in Man, of the male principle of consciousness with the female principle of the unconscious); sublimation, the sixth stage, symbolized the suffering resulting from the mystic detachment from the world and the dedication to spiritual striving. In emblematic designs, this stage is depicted by a wingless creature borne away by a winged being, or sometimes it is represented by the Prometheus myth.
The final stage is philosophic congelation, i.e. the binding together inseparably of the fixed and the volatile principles (the male/invariable with the female/'saved' variable). Alchemical evolution is epitomized, then, in the formulf,Solve et Coagula (that is to say: 'analyse all the elements in yourself, dissolve all that is inferior in you, even though you may brealk in doing so; then, with the strength acquired from the preceding operation, congeal') . In addition to this specific symbolism, alchemy may be seen as the pattern of all other work. It shows that virtues are exercised in every kind of activity, even the humblest, and that the soul is strengthened, and the individual develops. Evo,la (Tradizione Ermetica) writes: 'Our Work is the conversion and change of one being into another being, one thing into another thing, weakness into strength, bodily into spiritual nature....' On the subject of the hermaphrodite, Eugenio d'Ors (Introduccion ,a la vida angélica) writes: 'That which failed to "become two iin one flesh" (love) will succeed in "becoming two in one spirit" (inedividuation).'
Alcohol, or life-water (aqua vitae) is fire-water, i.e. a symbol of the ~coincidentia oppositorum, the conjunction of opposites, where two principles, one of them active, the other passive, come together in a fluid and shifting, creative/destructive relationship. Particularly When burning, alcohol symbolizes one of the great mysteries of Nature; Bachelard aptly says that, when alcohol burns, 'it seems as if the "female" water, losing all shame, frenziedly gives herself to her master, fire' (1, 2).
Trere Traditionally, a symbol of sweetness and delicacy. As it is one off the first trees to blossom, late frosts can destroy its flowers. The precise observation of Nature, constantly practised by primitive man" is the source of this symbolic analogy, as of so many others which might at first seem merely artificial allegories.
Alpha and Olmega
The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, standing, therefore, for the beginning and end of all things. They are very frequently used in this sense in Romanesque art. Because of its shape, allpha is related to the pair of compasses, an attribute of god the creator; while omega is similar to a torch, i.e. to the fire of apocalyptic destruction. Animal figures have also been associated with this symbolism. In the frontispiece of a 12th-century manuscript of Paulus Orosius (Bibl. Laon, 137) alpha and omega appear respectively as a bird and a fish, i.e. the upper and the lower abyss.
A fabulous animal, keeper of the 'Great Secret', according to at 16th-century Italian manuscript which belonged to Count Pierre V. Piobb. It is a symbol which occurs with some frequency in heraldic images, marks and signs. It was known to the Greeks, and it owes its name to the belief that, having a head at both ends, it could move forward or backward with equal ease. Sometimes it iis depicted with the claws of a bird and the pointed wings of a bat. According to Diel, it was probably intended to express thee horror and anguish associated with ambivalent situations. Likte all fabulous animals, it instances the ability of the human mind to reorder aspects of the real world, according to supra-logical laws, blending them into patterns expressive of man's motivating psychic forces.
In the emblems, signs and graphic representations of the early Christians, the anchor always signified salvation and hope. It was often shown upside down, with a star, cross or crescent to denote its mystic nature. The Epistle to the Hebrews says: 'Which hope we have as the anchor of our soul'
A symbol of invisible forces, of the powers ascending and descending between the Source-of-Life and the world of phenomena . Here, as in other cases (such as the Cross), the symbolic fact does not modify the real fact. In alchemy, the angel symbolizes sublimation, i.e. the ascension of a volatile (spiritual) principle, as in the figures of the Viatorium spagyricum. The parallelism between angelic orders and astral worlds has been traced with singular precision by Rudolf Steiner in Les Hiérar,chies spirituelles, following the treatise on the celestial hierarchies by the Pseudo-Dionysius. From the earliest days of culture, angels figure in artistic iconography, and by the 4th millennium B.C. little or no distinction is made between angels and winged deities. Gothic art, in many remarkable images, expresses the protective and sublime aspects of the angel-figure, while the Romanesque tends rather to stress its other-worldly nature.
of the utmost importance in symbolism, both in connexion with their distinguishing features, their movement, shapes and colours, and because of their relationship with man. The origins of animal symbolism are closely linked with totemism and animal worship. The symbolism of any given animal varies according to its position in the symbolic pattern, and to the attitude and context in which it is depicted. Thus t]he frequent symbol of the 'tamed animal' can signify the reversal of those symbolic meanings associated with the same animal when wild. In the struggle between a knight and a wild or fabulous animal one of the most frequent themes in symbolism the knight's victory can consist either in the death or in the taming of the animal. In Chrétien de Troyes' mediaeval romance, Yvain, the hero is assisted by a lion. In the legend of St. George, the conquered dragon serves its conqueror. In the West, some of the earliest references to animal symbolism are found in Aristotle and in Pliny, but the most important source is the treatise Physiologus, written in Alexandria in the 2nd century A.D. Another important contribution was made one or two centuries later by Horapollo, with his two treatises on Hieroglyphica, based on Egyptian symbolism.
From these sources flows a stream of mediaeval animal symbolism which produced such notable bestiaries as that of Philip of Thaun (A.D. 1121), Peter of Picardy and William of Normandy (13th century); or the De Animalibus, attributed to Albertus Magnus; Libre de les besties of Raymond Lull; and Fournival's Bestiaire d'Amour (14th century). The primitives' view of animals, as analysed by Schneider , is mirrored in all these works, namely that while man is an equivocal, 'masked' or complex being, the animal is univocal, for its positive or negative qualities remain ever constant, thus making it possible to classify each animal, once and for all, as belonging to a specific mode of cosmic phenomena. More generally, the different stages of animal evolution, as manifested by the varying degrees of biological complexity, ranging from the insect and the reptile to the mammal, reflect the hierarchy of the instincts. In Assyrian and Persian bas-reliefs, the victory of a higher over a lower animal always stands for the victory of the higher life over the lower instincts.
A similar case is in the characteristic struggle of the eagle with the snake as found in pre-Columbian America. The victory of the lion over the bull usually signifies the victory of Day over Night and, by analogy, Light triumphing over Darkness and Good over Evil. The symbolic classification of animals is often related to that of the four Elements. Animals such as the duck, the frog and the fish, however much they may differ one from the other, are all connected with the idea of water and hence with the concept of the 'primal waters'; consequently, they can stand as symbols of the origin of things and of the powers of rebirth . on the other hand, some animals, such as dragons and snakes, are sometimes assigned to water, sometimes to earth and sometimes even to fire . However, the most generally accepted classification which is also the most fundamentally correct associates aquatic and amphibious animals with water; reptiles with earth; birds with air; and mammals (because they are warm-blooded) with fire.
For the purposes of symbolic art, animals are subdivided into two categories: natural (often in antithetical pairs: toad/frog, owl/eagle, etc.) and fabulous. Within the cosmic order, the latter occupy an intermediate position between the world of fully differentiated beings and the world of formless matter . They may have been suggested by the discovery of skeletons of antediluvian animals, and also by certain beings which, though natural, are ambiguous in appearance (carnivorous plants, sea urchms, flying fish, bats), and thus stand for flux and transformism, and also for purposeful evolution towards new forms. In any event, fabulous animals are powerful instruments of psychological projection. The most important fabulous animals are: chimaera, sphinx, lamia, minotaur, siren, triton, hydra, unicorn, griffin, harpy, winged horse, hippogryph, dragon, etc. In some of these the transmutation is a simple one, and clearly positive in character such as Pegasus' wings (the spiritualization of a lower force) but more often the symbol is a consequence of a more complex and ambiguous process of the irnagination.
The result is a range of highly ambivalent symbols, whose significance is heightened by the ingrained belief in the great powers exercised by such beings as well as in the magic importance of abnormality and deformity. In addition, there are animals which, while hardly or not at all fabulous in appearance, are credited with non-existential or supernatural qualities as the result of a symbolic projection (for example, the pelican, phoenix, salamander). There is a fragment by Callimachus on the Age of Saturn, in which animals have the power of speech (this being a symbol of the Golden Age which preceded the emergence of the intellect Man when the blind forces of Nature, not yet subject to the logos, were endowed with all sorts of extraordinary and exalted qualities). Hebrew and Islamic traditions also include references to 'speaking animals' . Another interesting classification is that of 'lunar animals', embracing all those animals whose life-span includes some kind of cyclic alternation, with periodic appearances and disappearances .
The symbolism of such animals includes, in addition to the animal's specific symbolic significance, a whole range of lunar rneanings. Schneider also mentions a very curious primitive belief: namely, that the voice of those animals which can be said to serve as symbols of heaven is high-pitched if the animal is large (the elephant, for example), but low-pitched if the animal is small (as the bee); while the converse is true of earth-symbol animals. Some animals, in particular the eagle and the lion, seem to embody certain qualities, such as beauty and the fighting spirit, to such an extent that they have come to be universally accepted as the allegorical representations of these qualities. The emblematic animals of Roman signa were: eagle, wolf, bull, horse and wild boar. In symbolism, whenever animals (or any other symbolic elements) are brought together in a system, the order of arrangement is always highly significant, implying either hierarchical precedence or relative position in space. In alchemy, the descending order of precedence is symbolized by different animals, thus: the phoenix (the culmination of the alchemical opus), the unicorn, the lion (the necessary qualities), the dragon (prime matter) . Symbolic groups of animals are usually based on analogical and numerical patterns: the tetramorphs of Western tradition, as found in the Bible, are a fundamental example; another example would be the Chinese series of the four benevolent animals: the unicorn, phoenix, turtle and dragon. The following animals occur particularly in Romanesque art: the peacock, ox, eagle, hare, lion, cock, crane, locust and partridge . Their symbolic meaning is mainly derived from the Scriptures or from patristic tradition, though some meanings, arising from analogy, such as that between cruelty and the leopard, are immediately obvious .
The importance in Christianity of the symbols of the dove, the lamb and the fish is well known. The significance of the attitudes in which symbolic animals are depicted is usually selfevident: the counterbalancing of two identical or two different animals, so common in heraldry, stands for balance (i.e. justice and order, as symbolized for instance by the two snakes of the caduceus); the animals are usually shown supporting a shield or surmounting the crest of a helmet. Jung supports this interpretation with'his observation that the counterbalancing of the lion and the unicorn in Britain's coat of arms stands for the inner stress of balanced opposites finding their equilibrium in the centre. In alchemy, the counterbalancing of the male and the female of the same species (lion/lioness, dog/bitch) signifies the essential contrast between sulphur and mercury, the fixed and the volatile elements. This is also the case when a winged animal is opposed to a wingless one. The ancient interest in animals as vehicles of cosmic meanings, over and above the mere fact of their physical existence, persisted from the earliest beginnings of the Neolithic Age up to as late as 1767, with the publication of such works as Jubile van den Heyligen Macarius.
This treatise describes processions in which each symbolic chariot has a characteristic animal (the peacock, phoenix, pelican, unicorn,' lion, eagle, stag, ostrich, dragon, crocodile, wild boar, goat, swan, winged horse, rhinoceros, tiger and elephant). These same animals, together with many others (such as the duck, donkey, ox, owl, horse, camel, ram, pig, deer, stork, cat, griffin, ibis, leopard, wolf, fly, bear, bird, dove, panther, fish, snake and fox) are those mainly used also as watermarks in papermaking. The use of watermarks, undoubtedly mystical and symbolic in origin, spread throughout the Western world from the end of the 13th century onwards. All the above particular symbolic uses rest on a general symbolism of animals, in which they are related to three main ideas: the animal as a mount (i.e. as a means of transport); as an object of sacrifice; and as an inferior form of life . The appearance of animals in dreams or visions, as in Fuseli's famous painting, expresses an energy still undifferentiated and not yet rationalized, nor yet mastered by the will (in the sense of that which controls the instincts) .
According to Jung, the animal stands for the non-human psyche, for the world of subhuman instincts, and for the unconscious areas of the psyche. The more primitive the animal, the deeper the stratum of which it is an expression. As in all symbolism, the greater the number of objects depicted, the baser and the more primitive is the meaning . Identifying oneself with animals represents integration of the unconscious and sometimes like immersion in the primal waters rejuvenation through bathing in the sources of life itself . It is obvious that, for pre-Christian man (as well as in amoral cults), the animal signifies exaltation rather than opposition. This is clearly seen in the Roman signa, showing eagles and wolves symbolically placed on cubes (the earth) and spheres (heaven, the universe) in order to express the triumphant power of the force of an instinct. With regard to mythic animals, a more extensive treatment of this subject is to be found in the Manual de zoologia fantastica of Borges y Guerrero (Mexico and Buenos Aires, 1957), in which such creatures are characterized as basically symbolic and, in most cases, expressive of 'cosmic terror'.