nature's word : musings on sacred geometry

Unity in Culture

Let’s return from our universe-wide example to a perhaps less grandiose example of one – our fine example of the human being.

At left we find depicted two symbolic statues of ways in which one-ness can be, and has been, realized by humankind since the dawning of its collective consciousness. On the left we see The Thinker – a single man literally bent with thought – turning inward on his separate mental realm in intellectual contemplation. Throughout the various ancient Mediterranean cultures it was believed that this turning inward can produce an understanding of oneness through “Gnosis” – the realization of ultimate truth through inborn self-knowledge and inner contemplation. In fact, it is from the word “Gnosis” that the extremely varied and radical Christian Gnostic sects took their name.

On the right we have another example – a representation of an “Awakened” being, one who has removed the barrier that creates the illusion of an individual’s separateness from the environment that surrounds him or her, and realized the greater consciousness that flows through all things (i.e. the universal monad) as a result. Of course, in the tradition which created this statue, the universal monad is referred to as “Buddha-consciousness,” that is but one name of many that different cultures and traditions have named this widespread idea. In what would appear to be in direct opposition to the idea of realization through Gnosis, Buddhism declares that the way to enlightenment (immersion in the greatest unity) is by turning towards the outer world and transcending those parts of one’s consciousness that would interfere with direct relation and understanding of one’s environment.

The sole purpose of meditation in most Buddhist traditions is in no way to close one’s eyes and drift off into the mental realm, but on the contrary is meant as a practice for simply observing what is occurring around one without the internal mental voice interfering. It is for this reason that meditation is referred to as “practicing” – one is practicing paying attention to what is manifesting, whatever that may be.

The two traditions (Gnosis and Buddhism) would seem to contradict one another completely – after all, how can one-ness be realized by two opposing directions of movement? Of course, in reality this causes no true quarrel between the separate, yet related doctrines, because of the very definition of universal unity – no matter where one looks, or how one chooses to approach it, unity can be found by anyone who truly takes the time to look for it.

That is not to say that it is easy to find, especially after we humans have spent so much time convincing ourselves of our separateness and individuality. But, needless to say, these temporary distractions can be overcome if that is truly one’s will, and there are countless traditions that can lead one towards a greater realization. As an example, ancient China produced Taoism, the tradition in which the universal denominator is known as the “Tao.” The Tao is often described as flowing and chaotic, like a river, and it seems that Taoism’s greatest concern is with describing the actual living experience of what it is like to feel the Tao flow through one, as well as how one can evince such an experience. It is to these two points that the following quote serves :

“Look at it but you cannot see it!

Its name is Formless.
Listen to it but you cannot hear it!
Its name is Soundless.
Grasp it but you cannot get it!
Its name in Incorporeal.
These three attributes are unfathomable;
Therefore they fuse into one.
Its upper side is not bright:
Its under side not dim.
Continually the Unnamable moves on,
Until it returns beyond the realm of things.
We call it the formless Form, the imageless Image.
We call it the indefinable and unimaginable.
Confront it and you do not see its face!
Follow it and you do not see its back!
Yet, equipped with this timeless Tao,
You can harness present realities.
To know the origins is initiation into the Tao.”

This quote is taken from one of the most ancient religious manuscripts known on Earth, Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. It is pointing our minds directly towards the idea that if we are to obtain a full and direct vision of the Tao, we must overcome our mind’s limiting need to categorize that which it perceives. It is to this point that the author of this piece barrages our minds with paradox after paradox (particularly lines 9, 10, 13, 15, and 16).

The idea is that once the human consciousness has ceased to differentiate external objects as being irreconcilably separated, he or she is free to cease viewing their own self as irreconcilably separate from the world that surrounds and fills them. At this point, the individual consciousness melds into the sea of the greater all-encompassing consciousness, and the highest wisdom is attained. This insight is regarded as the only true insight possible, with all other being mere illusions created by the duality-based ego.

The Taoist understood very well the aspect of the human consciousness that categorizes and thus divides reality, as can be observed in another of their products, the I Ching. We will delve into the I Ching further in the second chapter, where we will discuss how and why the function of categorizing and delineating is related to the square root of two.

Although it would seem to some that certain Eastern religions are much more attuned to the idea that every human being possesses the capability of experiencing the universal consciousness directly, this idea was known in many Western traditions besides those based in the previously mentioned methods of Gnosis. The importance of individual “enlightenment,” as it is called in Buddhism, was downplayed in the West with the advent of large and politically powerful religious organizations, who saw this idea as more of a threat to the centralized power of the Church than anything else.

But several Western mystic traditions managed to hold on to their systems for propelling an individual to the realization of greater consciousness, and in fact there remain many, albeit small, schools for teaching these methods to the willing student today.

One such ancient tradition, which has been adopted by several later traditions and continues to be widely used today, is the Tarot. The oldest records say that the Tarot originated in ancient Egypt. Since that time it has been adopted by such widespread groups as the Jewish Qabbalists, Christian mystics, several Rosicrucian orders, Wiccans (European pagans), and dozens of New Age groups (mostly groups who create new systems by mixing parts of several traditions together and adding a healthy dose of their own philosophies as well).

All of these organized mystic groups use the Tarot for varying mystical purposes, although the two most common uses seem to be employing it as a fortune telling device and as an astral path-working tool. That one can buy a basic Tarot pack in any major bookstore in the United States should be testament alone to the mystic tool’s popularity with the general populace. This is not to say, of course that all who own a Tarot pack consider it a truly mystical tool, although there can be no doubt that many orders have considered it to be a practical implement for the realization of one-ness with the godhead.

Most traditional tarot packs consists of 78 cards, and are divided into two separate sets – the Minor Arcana of 56 cards, and the Major Arcana, consisting of 22 cards.

The Minor Arcana closely resembles the typical modern pack of cards used for gaming and gambling today, and it is considered historical fact that the Minor Arcana of the tarot most certainly is the origin of our modern deck of cards. During Medieval times, the first tarot decks were brought back to the courts of kings and queens throughout Europe as curiosities from the Middle East. Games developed around the fascinating decks, some of which were made of highly precious materials, and eventually the decks lost all spiritual value and become the profane deck that we are familiar with today.

The Major Arcana, on the other hand, experienced quite the opposite treatment, having been regarded throughout its existence as a specifically mystical tool. In viewing the 22 cards, it is no surprise as to why . Each card depicts scenes wholly constructed of what Jung would call “archetypal” symbols.

Archetypal symbols are those that represent greater parts of our comprehension of the world as human beings. As such, they encompass vast regions of all humans’ understanding and experience, stretching beyond the conscious realms and into our deep subconscious, effecting the very root structure that our perception is based on.

To momentarily digress, it certainly could be said that sacred geometry is nothing more than a doctrine that deals strictly with the archetypal aspects of number. And in fact, in no way coincidentally, we find that the creators of the Tarot attributed a number to each of the cards of the Major Arcana. Interesting to note is that the Qabbalists also attributed a Hebrew letter to each of the cards, and this number-letter correspondence is the basis for Qabbalistic Gematria, wherein Hebrew words that have the same numerical value are considered to be mystically related to one another.

The Tree of Life, pictured at left, is considered by Qabbalists to be a map of the ladder that one can ascend in order to re-unify one’s consciousness with Jehovah, the Godhead. It is believed that there are ten realms, or “Sephiroth” in the Tree (represented as the spheres in the diagram) that are located at the junctures of twenty-two paths (the lines that connect the spheres). Keter or “Crown” when translated to English, is the top-most Sephiroth, and is considered to be the realm of pure spiritual energy – the godhead in its most undiluted form. According to the Qabbalists, as the pure light of the godhead manifests itself, it works through ten stages of dilution, and it is each one of these gradually diluted forms that become the Sephiroth. With each progressive step, the pure energy denigrates more and more, until it finally reaches the lowermost Sephiroth, Malkuth (or “Kingdom”).

Malkuth is considered to be the actual physical universe that we live in and perceive every day while possessing a regular state of consciousness. It is the Qabbalists’ belief that a human can, by astral projection, leave the material realm and enter into each one of the Sephiroth, gradually working his or her way back up the ladder towards Ain Soph – the pure light of God.

Note that ten, the number of Sephiroth in the Tree of Life’s cycle of creation, is directly linked to our number one, being considered the same value, but greater by one cycle or revolution.

Most relevant to our current discussion is the fact that each one of the twenty two paths in the Tree of Life is corresponded to each one of the Major Arcana tarot cards, and as mentioned, each card is intrinsically related to a number.

If we are to believe the texts, the Qabbalist literally use the card that represents the path he or she wishes to ascend by as a doorway for their consciousness. The Qabbalist meditates on the card’s imagery until he or she reaches the point at which they can astrally project into the scene that the card depicts – the symbolism in the image being believed to be directly relevant to the actual content of the particular path that the card is related to. The practitioner can only access those paths that are connected to the Sephiroth with which he or she is familiar, and by working their way from Sephiroth to Sephiroth more paths become available.

The act of astral projection, it is believed, takes the Qabbalist to various realms of consciousness (one for each path) which in some way overlay this world, wherein they are required to pass certain trials and tribulations – tests of their wisdom and power.

If all of the trials are passed with success, the practitioner gains access to the Sephiroth located at the path’s far end. Each Sephiroth is an endpoint as well as a starting point, a realm unto itself that the mystic travels in and comes to know intimately. From there, he or she may venture on to the trials of those paths that lead out of the Sephiroth and up the tree towards Keter and reunification with the Godhead. Eventually the practitioner completes their ascension after all 22 paths/cards, as well as the ten Sephiroth that link them, have been worked through. Many claim, however, that climbing the entire Tree of Life does not end one’s ascension, however, as it is believed that four such Trees are stacked one atop the other, and all four Trees, each of twenty two paths, must be climbed before the journey is complete.

For many this will be hard to take. I myself cannot testify to the truth or lack there of in the above described method, besides to say that I have had a few experiences that make it impossible for me to doubt it completely. No matter what, I can witness truthfully that there is an enormous body of literature, both ancient and contemporary, that is based in describing the technique discussed herein. Some of this collection of knowledge includes tomes that describe each individual path and its associated astral realm, complete with the denizens which live there, all with uncanny detail. Others offer personal accounts of what an individual has experienced in his or her experimentation with other aspects of the Qabbalah, and much of it is as challenging to our regular modes of thought as is the above description.

One individual well known in certain circles for his Qabbalistic prowess was Paul Foster Case, founder of a Western mystic order known as “The Builders of the Adytum,” which is still extant today.” His Book of Tokens is an instructive commentary on the Tarot, and describes through poetry what can only be a very called a very intimate relationship with this mystical tool.

The first and last cards of the Major Arcana are considered to be related to the idea of one, with the first card, “The Fool,” representing the original unity (comparable to our earlier example of the embryo), and the final card, “The Universe,” representing the re-unified unity (to continue our example, the fully matured human being who has realized enlightenment). Case’s poem describing the Fool, and thus the original unity and the number one, begins as follows:

“I am,
Without beginning, without end,
Older than night or day,
Younger than the babe new-born,
Brighter than light,
Darker than darkness,
Beyond all things and creatures,
Yet fixed in the heart of every one.”

He continues on, but let us look at the simple and direct language of this poem and remember the words of Lao Tzu. Is it mere coincidence that much of the same language arises in two authors’ works who were separated by thousands of years and an entire globe, not to mention the enormous differences between ancient Chinese culture and modern European culture? It seems doubtful, to say the least.

The archetypes of number transcend language, cultural boundaries, and temporal understanding. It is for this very reason that sacred geometry has survived since humans gained awareness of it thousands and thousands of years ago.

One can, as already stated, observe the above quotes and figures with an austere intellectual eye, and gain a type of understanding of the meanings within the number one, but that understanding would be severely limited. If we wish to understand the most true meaning of this number, or of any other number discussed in this text, we must take the time to try to find those numbers’ relevance in our own lives. There is no other way to gain an in-depth understanding of these subjects. To do otherwise results in what has been called the “armchair philosopher” syndrome by some, and “spiritual materialism” by others.

These terms refer to a state of being wherein a person can intellectually grasp those lessons that he or she has burned into their mind by continual studying, yet no fundamental change has occurred in their perception of their own life. It is the need to understand one’s role in one’s own life which sacred geometry and all other truly spiritual traditions address. Those who use this type of knowledge to feed their unquenchable need to bolster the ego, and feel better than one’s peers due to their acquisition of spiritual knowledge (as if that is something which could be owned), or to lay down any one law to be considered ultimate and unquestionable, have missed the point completely. Apply these ideas to what you see around and within you. Let the connections form of their own accord, acknowledge them, and then continue to watch and learn. In this way, we become the eyes of unity observing unity, monad within monad, and thus come to the most true understanding of all.

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