A STUDY IN GRAPHIC SYMBOLISM
A true Symbol is that which represents the abstract idea or reality for which it stands. Through the operation of the Law of Expression every real idea by its inherent dynamic force perpetually moulds matter into vehicles for its expression and since this is so, every visible and manifested object is an expression, however partial and imperfect, of an abstract idea. All visible, concrete, and objective things may thus be considered from the point of view of symbology; and everything which is seen may be looked upon as a symbol of that which is unseen.
Man, when in an unawakened or unenlightened condition, is content to enjoy the physical universe without endeavouring to understand and interpret it, but when at length he begins to exercise his real manhood and use the intellectual faculties which distinguish him from the lower animals, then, whether consciously or unconsciously, he begins the study of the Science of Symbols.
Since all things are symbols, and since behind the changing manifested universe, with its processes of growth and decay, there are the immutable, unchanging, and perfect Ideas, or Archetypes of the Ideal or Noumenal World, it is possible for the human intellect, when fully trained, to pass from the concrete and visible thing to the abstract and invisible idea behind it. Thus, real symbols become a kind of language of ideas, expressing, to him who knows how to read them, whole vistas of truth, ever becoming more profound in significance the more they are reflected upon, and supplying new applications of the ancient maxim "As above, so below."
Symbols are of two kinds, Natural and Artificial. All the animals, plants, minerals, the orbs in space, day and night, sunrise and sunset, the very atmosphere itself and the myriad lives which exist in it are symbolical; they express, to the mind that can read them, the Thoughts of God "which the Demiurge hath written in the Worlds of Form."
But since man has the power to read and interpret the stupendous system of symbols which constitutes the objective Cosmos, he has also the power to rearrange natural objects, or to mould natural substances into new forms, and thus give them a new symbolical significance. This constitutes Artificial Symbolism in the strict sense.
All true art is symbolical. Art which is merely naturalistic or representative, which merely copies Nature without interpreting its mysteries, is unworthy of man's powers, for the function of the Artist is to lift up Nature by revealing the Divine Meaning which is to be found even in the simplest of natural objects.
From the human point of view symbols may be classified as Universal or Arbitrary. Universal Symbols are more or less self-evident and immutable in their basic significance. Arbitrary Symbols are conventional and subject to modification. They depend more upon the special meaning given to them by some one people or class, or at some particular period. Human Symbols are not necessarily arbitrary, for the whole problem of the artist is to produce a work which will appeal to all humanity for all time, which will appeal both by its revelation and by its mystery, to make, in a word, a perfect and universal symbol. Of Universal Symbols numbers and geometrical forms are a good example; for instance, the number three, or the triangle, which reveals the root triplicity manifested by all existing things.
Among the classifications of symbols the quaternary one is most useful.
(2) Sound Symbols.
(3) Symbols of Colour, Odour, and Taste.
(4) Symbols of Motion.
Graphic Symbolism belongs principally to the division of Form, though Colour also enters into it. In this connection Socrates' definition of Form is significant - "that which always accompanies colour."
To consider in detail the symbolism of the cover of our quarterly, the design represents the Shrine of Universal Wisdom; that is, the Wisdom which includes the knowledge of the basic and all-embracing First Principles: of God, of the Cosmos, and of Man.
The three main elements of the design are the Encircled Triangle, the Ankh, and the larger Circle and Square.
The Encircled Triangle is the most perfect formal symbol of God which can be devised.
The Circle symbolizes God as the Infinite, Beginningless and Endless, All-embracing, Perfect, and Eternal.
The dark circle represents the Divine Immanence, the Ultimate Mystery dwelling within all things; and the light circle the Divine Transcendence, the Dazzling Radiance of the Divine Light which floods the Universe. The two together give the Transcendental-Immanence.
The Triangle represents the Three Primal Attributes or Predicates of the Infinite One, as The Good, The True, and The Beautiful, or they could be taken as the Divine Love, Wisdom, and Power; and here again the dark triangle stands for the Intrinsic, Inner, or Unmanifested Aspect and the light triangle for the Extrinsic, Outer, or Manifested Aspect, so that the complete symbol gives the seven primary aspects of contemplating the Divine, as The Immanent One, as The Transcendent One, and as the Transcendental-Immanent One, as the Unmanifested One, as the Manifested One, and as The Unmanifested and-at-the-same-time Manifested One, and last as the Infinite One prior to all predicates and intellectual differentiations.
A true symbol of the Cosmos must take into consideration its two-fold aspect, subjective and objective, intelligible and sensible, ideal and actual.
The three-fold Outer Circle represents the Subjective, Noumenal, and Ideal Cosmos which is eternal and unchanging, subsisting for ever in the Divine Mind as the totality of the Divine Ideas or Archetypes.
Its three circles represent the three Cosmic First Principles - Being, Life, and Intelligence - to which all the secondary principles of the Ideal Cosmos and all the entities and things of the Actual Cosmos are related.
The Seven Rays in each of the four quarters symbolize the Sevenfold Creative Power of the Third Logos or Demiurgus, the Powers of the Seven Amiliktoi of the Chaldean System, the Seven Archons, and the Seven Spirits before the Throne, reflected in the Cosmos with its Seven Worlds, Seven Planets, the Sevenfold Elements, the Sevenfold Spectrum, the Seven Basic Notes of the Cosmic Scale, and in many other septenary principles.
The Outer Square symbolizes the manifested and objective Cosmos, which is often spoken of mystically as a city foursquare. The Number Four pertains to manifestation and expression; all existing things are fourfold in some sense. The rectangle also symbolizes the equilibration of the fourfold forces which are the support of the Universe.
The top and base have seven divisions, each of which is three-fold, for the Manifested Cosmos reflects in all its existences the Sevenfold Creative Fire of the Subjective Cosmos, and each single aspect of this Fire may again be divided into three.
Or again, the two longer sides have each eight three-fold divisions, which, taken with the top and bottom as complete wholes, make up ten, the number of integrality and complete-ness, which is embraced by the two great extremities.
The four lines of the base represent the Four Elements which are the foundation of all corporeal things, while above them the seven waves represent the Seven Kingdoms of the Universe in generation, or Samsara, Abred, "moist" and fluctuating Nature, the Sea of Generation in whose waves the perfect image of the Subjective Cosmos is unstably mirrored, and which reflects in Time the, "flowing image of Eternity." From the waves of this restless ocean man rises, like the bloom of the lotus through the waters of the Nile, and at last unfolds the blossom of his intellect, the Flower of the Fire, in the serenity of the Ideal Cosmos, the contemplation of which is Nirvana.
The five-fold stars in the Four Quarters might stand for the four elements above referred to together with the fifth, ether, or in the Druidic terminology "nwyvre," which is the foundation and interpenetrator of the whole manifested universe and all that it contains.
Or they might symbolize the "five centres" of the Chaldean System "whence the life-bearing fire descends even to the hylic channels."
Lastly we have the Ankh or Crux Ansata, one of the most profound and beautiful of the Egyptian symbols. It has many meanings, and there are many different methods of interpreting its symbology. One of the most usual is to take it as the symbol of Life, but this by no means exhausts its significance.
In the design given it stands for the principle of Man, Archetypal Man, Divine-Human, who holds "the blessed station of the midst," midway, in a mystical sense, between the Cosmos and God, and is the link, as it were, between these two Principles.
The Ankh may be considered as a Circle and a Tau, and from this point of view the Circle represents the subjective nature of man and the Tau his objective nature. Or by dividing the Tau into its horizontal and vertical elements we arrive, by including the Circle, at the basic threefold division of the human principles, Spirit, Soul, and Body. The Tau considered alone, stands for the fundamental triadic nature of the faculties of man, Heart, Mind, Will; rational, doxastic, instinctual; aesthetic, moral, and illative. All these principles apply both to Archetypal and to Individual Man.
The inside outline of the Ankh could be taken to represent he potential nature of Man, and the outside his actual nature; while the extensions of the horizontal arm, when this is taken as corresponding to the principle of Soul in the basic threefold division, represent the extensions of man's faculties which are due to the attribute of self-consciousness, which distinguishes him from the creatures of the Cosmos. Thus he is not only conscious of external objects and ideas, but has the faculty of reflecting upon these, of thinking of himself as distinct from them, and of recombining them as means for his own self expression. He not only is, but knows that he is, for he can both look inward into his own Soul and outward at his reflection in Nature.
Thus the whole Symbol can be taken to represent, in detail and as a whole, the Divine with Its Three Primary Principles, the Abiding, the Proceeding and the Returning, as Immanent in Man and in the Cosmos, while these two Principles are manifestations or expressions of the Divine Powers. Man dwells in the Cosmos, and it depends entirely upon his degree of awakenment whether he is conscious only of a small part of the objective Cosmos, or whether he opens us eyes to the vision of the Integral Macrocosm, subjective and objective, ideal and actual.
The Divine Light, immanent in Man, symbolized by the encircled Triangle in the centre of the Ankh, is the power by which Man ascends in consciousness from the depths to the heights, from the Ocean of Samsara, or the Sea of Generation, to the Archetypal Realm and the Immutable Kingdom of Nous; for though his feet tread upon earth and his earthly part dwells in the waters of generation, his head is among the stars, and when his Soul does indeed become the Shrine of the Integral Wisdom he reaches his full stature as a complete Microcosm of the Macrocosm and the Image of God.
© The Fintry Trust 2001