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OVEN OR FURNACE
A tree sacred to Jupiter and Cybele, standing for strength and long life. Hercules' club, according to legend, was made of oak . Its consecration to Jupiter may derive from the ancient belief that the oak tree attracts the lightning more than any other. The oak had this symbolic and allegorical meaning throughout the Aryan cultures of Russia, Germany, Greece and Scandinavia . Like all trees, it represents a world-axis.
In ancient rites connected with the founding of temples, the king would make the round of the site, an oar in his hand. Virgil mentions this ceremony in connexion with the rebuilding of Troy. It is a symbol of creative thought and the Word, the source of all action .
A symbol of the sun-ray, by virtue of its shape. Because of its substance, it is bound up with the general symbolism of stone. It is further related to the myths of solar ascension and of light as the 'penetrating spirit', in consequence of its upright position and the pyramidal point in which it terminates.
The symbolism of objects varies with the kind of object in question. But, broadly speaking, every object consists of a material structure with certain unconscious elements adhering to it
The fact that these forgotten or repressed constituents should reappear in a new medium—the object—enables the spirit to accept them in a form different from the original. Utensils in particular are possessed of a mystic force which helps to strengthen the intensity and the rhythm of human volition. Thus, Schneider maintains that such instruments fulfil a triple role: they are cultural instruments, instruments of labour and finally reflections of the harmonious soul of the universe. The drinking-vessel, for instance, is a sacrificial vessel and also a drum. The blow-pipe is both a flute and a magic whistle, etc. .
Such ideas as these, concerned with the primitive notion of an object, have lately been resuscitated by artistic movements such as Dadaism and surrealism. By depicting objects in common use as if they were works of art, Marcel Duchamp removed them from the context of their merely utilitarian function (their only function according to Western ways of thinking) and showed them in the light of their true essence, since that essence is revealed only in their uselessness freed from the necessity to serve some useful purpose. He showed that it was possible to see in a bottle-stand, for instance, the very mystic structure that governed the Gothic spires rising in the form of a cage, or the lamps in Islamic mosques with their multiple, descending hoops; and that all the foregoing are related to the hollow pyramid of the Primitives a symbol of the 'conjunction' of earth—or the mother—with fire— or the spirit, and also to the artificial mountain and the geometric temple.
The form of the object, then, fulfils an essential role in determining the symbolism; thus, all those symbols which take the form of a twin bell, with the upper bell placed upside down on the lower—for example, the twin drum or the hour-glass—are closely related to the corresponding graphic symbol: the letter X, or the cross of St. Andrew symbolic of the intercommunication between the Upper and the Lower Worlds. Objects that are simple in form and function usually correspond either to the active or to the passive groups; in other words, they represent either the contents or the receptacle. For instance: the lance (which is made to pierce) and the cup or chalice (whose sole function is to contain).
The parallel between this classification and the division of the sexes is selfevident; but to limit the symbolic relevance of a given object to this sexual implication is to mutilate seriously its true symbolism. The 'conjunction' of the feminine and masculine principles within a complex object, specially if this object is—as in the case of a machine —endowed with movement, enables us to carry the sexual parallel a stage further and to characterize it as a kind of secularized lingam. The 'objects of symbolic function' of the surrealists were nothing but the practical illustration of this allusive reality, strengthened by the fetishistic character of the objects illustrated in their compositions. It was Lautreamont in Les Chants de Maldoror who best described this shifting of the symbolic significance of objects towards their generic grouping in his remark: 'beautiful as the chance-finding of an umbrella and a sewing-machine on a dissecting table'.
As always, a symbol of integration such as this can be taken either on the cosmic plane or at the existential and sexual level. In the latter case, the umbrella would be a merely phallic representation, the machine would stand for the cteis, and the dissection-table would be an illustration of the bed. On the cosmic plane, the umbrella is the cosmic serpent, the machine is the jaguar, and the table is the universe. At the same time, objects owe part of their significance to their origins: objects fallen from heaven, such as aerolites and meteorites for example, partake of the sacred character of Uranus and constitute a symbol of the power of the celestial deities . Submarine objects, on the other hand, possess a viscous and abysmal quality betokening their irrational nature and their aptness for the expression of all that is base and unconscious.
Sacred objects are so by virtue of their associations—as in the case of attributes or emblems for instance, or their origins—such as the legendary palladium of Troy, the Salian shields of Rome, the Hebrew Ark of the Covenant, etc. . To come back now to the broadest of generalizations, alongside their specific symbolism deriving from their form, function, character, origin, colour and so on, objects in themselves are always symbols of the world: that is, they are particular expressions of a material order which expounds both the blind irrational force of continuity and the structural pattern defining the object as opposed to the subject.
Finally we would mention that an elaborate application of the theory of correspondences would demonstrate the serial structure of objects and suggest a way of reconciling their 'character' with the principles governing the two essential prototypes of the serial arrangement of the universe: that based upon the number seven, or the planetary prototype; and twelve, or the zodiacal model. The incomplete character of such forms of symbolic expression has been apparent to man since the earliest times, and for this reason the attempt was made to discover objects which could be invested with great symbolic power by means of the combination and juxtaposition of various ingredients, which were usually 'noble' in character, but were occasionally bizarre or even base—as was the case, for example, with the alchemic preparation known as 'prime matter'. The aim was to endow the object with all the powers inherent in the several planes of cosmic reality. An example of a 'complete object' of this kind is the sword in the Grail legend: its pommel was a precious stone of many colours, each colour representing a particular virtue; its haft was composed of the bones of strange beasts.
According to Piobb, the Graeco-Roman conception of the ocean encompassing the earth was a graphic representation of the current of energy induced by the terrestrial globe . Setting aside its grandeur, the two most essential aspects of the ocean are its ceaseless movement and the formlessness of its waters. It is a symbol, therefore, of dynamic forces and of transitional states between the stable (or solids) and the formless (air or gas).
The ocean as a whole, as opposed to the concept of the drop of water, is a symbol of universal life as opposed to the particular . It is regarded traditionally as the source of the generation of all life , and science has confirmed that life did in fact begin in the sea . Zimmer observes that the ocean is 'immense illogic'—a vast expanse dreaming its own dreams and asleep in its own reality, yet containing within itself the seeds of its antitheses.
The island is the opponent of the ocean and symbolic of the metaphysical point of irradiating force . In keeping with the general symbolism of water, both fresh and salt, the ocean stands for the sum of all the possibilities of one plane of existence. Having regard to its characteristics, one may deduce whether these potentialities are positive or germinant or negative destructive . The ocean, then, denotes an ambivalent situation. As the begetter of monsters, it is the abysmal abode par excellence, the chaotic source which still brings forth base entities ill-fitted to life in its aerial and superior forms. Consequently, aquatic monsters represent a cosmic or psychological situation at a lower level than land-monsters; this is why sirens and tritons denote a sub-animal order.
The power of salt water to destroy the higher forms of land-life means that it is also a symbol of sterility, so confirming the ambivalent nature of the ocean—its contradictory dynamism . The ocean is also to be found as a symbol of woman or the mother in both her benevolent and her terrible aspects . As Frobenius comments in Das Zeitalter des Sonnengottes: 'If the blood-red sunrise is interpreted as the "birth" of an astral body, then two questions arise: Who is the father? And how did the mother come to conceive? And since she, like the fish, is a sea-symbol, and since our premiss is that the sun plunges into the sea and yet is born in it, the answer must be that the sea previously swallowed up the old sun and the appearance of a "new sun" confirms that she has been fecundated. The symbolism here coincides with that of Isis whose twin lunar horns embrace the sun.'
This appearance of the sun and its disappearance back into the deeps of the ocean confirm that the 'Lower Waters' signify the abyss out of which forms arise to unfold their potentialities within existence. Thus, the ocean is equated also with the collective unconscious, out of which arises the sun of the spirit . The stormy sea, as a poetic image or a dream, is a sign of an analogous state in the lower depths of the affective unconscious. A translucent calm, on the other hand, denotes a state of contemplative serenity.
It has the same significance as the dragon-whale myth . As a decorative motif it appears most frequently in Cretan art. It is related to the spider's web and the spiral, both being symbolic of the mystic Centre and of the unfolding of creation. It has also been credited with a merely existential significance .
The origins of the ogre, a common feature in legend and folklore, go back to Saturn, who would devour his children as soon as Cybele gave them birth . If the core of the Saturn-myth is the idea that destruction is the inevitable outcome of creation since creation takes place in time, then the ogre seems to be a personification of the 'Terrible Father'. Henri Dontenville derives the word 'ogre' from the definition of the Latin poet Ennius: Pluto latine est Dis Pater, alit Orcum vocant. Orcus was the lord of the underworld, with his mother Orca, and both are characterized by the Saturnian practice of eating little children . It is beyond doubt that these legends are also closely bound up with other ancient myths founded upon the most savage aspects of pre-human life and that, like other kinds of legend, they serve the cathartic function of issuing a warning.
This is the name given to the Cyclops in the folklore of Northern Spain. According to Caro Baroja, the Ojancanu is regarded as a giant with red hair and therefore Satanic, tall and stout, with one bright and evil-looking eye. If two eyes are an expression of normality, and three denote the superhuman as in the case of Shiva, a single eye is a clear allusion to what is base. The Cyclops-myth appears in different versions throughout Europe and Asia Minor, but it is not known in the Far East . The Ojancanu is, in sum, a symbol of the evil and destructive forces behind the primary or regressive side of Man.
In the Cabala, the Old Man is the symbol of the occult principle like the holy or silver palace. In the modern study of symbols, the Old Man is regarded as the personification of the age-old wisdom of humanity, or of the collective unconscious. The Old Men (Elders) of the Apocalypse are the twelve prophets and the twelve apostles. The 'Ancient of Days' is a similar symbol, sometimes identified with the creative principle, the cabbalistic Ain-Soph and the Atum of Egyptian religion . According to Jung, the Old Man, particularly when invested with special powers or prestige, is the symbol of the Dana' personality, i.e. the spirituality of the personality which emerges when consciousness is overburdened with clarified, apprehended and assimilated matter welling up from the unconscious .
A symbol of peace, consecrated by the Romans to Jupiter and Minerva. It carries the same symbolic significance in many oriental and European countries .
To quote Pausanias (X, 16, 2): 'What the inhabitants of Delphi call omphalos is made of white stone and is considered to be at the centre of the earth', and Pindar, in one of his odes, confirms this opinion. It is, then, one of the many symbols of the cosmic 'Centre' where intercommunication between the three worlds of man, of the dead, and of the gods, is effected . W. H. Roscher according to Rene Guenon collected a number of documents in a work entitled Omphalos (1913) which prove that this symbol was in existence among the most diverse of races. By locating it in one particular spot, man made of it a sacred zone around the 'centre of the world'.
The material image of the Omphalos the 'navel' in Greek was known as the Bethel, which was made of stone and shaped like a pilaster. It has been suggested that the menhir may have had a similar significance. Another image of the omphalos may have been the ovoid stone as it sometimes appears in Greek designs encircled by a snake or serpent. In all these images we can descry the attempt to express the sexual principles of the cosmos: the pilaster is related to the masculine and active factor, the Egg of the World is connected with the feminine principle, and the egg encircled by the serpent suggests the synthesis of both principles in the lingam. More abstract and therefore spiritually superior ways of depicting this 'Centre' at once cosmic, temporal and spatial, physical and metaphysical are to be found in China: the hole in the middle of the disk of jade known as pi, for instance, where the centre is identified as the non-being of mystic Nothingness, or the quadrangular pyramid rising up in the centre of each feudal domain where each face of the pyramid corresponds to one of the cardinal points and the summit represents the centre. These pyramids were also known in Ireland, according to J. Loth in his Brehon Laws .
The number one is equivalent to the 'Centre', to the nonmanifest point, to the creative power or the 'unmoved mover'. Plotinus equates one with moral purpose, and multiplicity with evil—a distinction which is in complete accord with symbolist doctrine.
Symbolic of the activity of a corporate whole. This is the idea behind Schneider's remark that when the high and the low orchestras that is, heaven and earth perform the counterpoint of the cosmos, these two antithetical voices are 'descanting'. But when one of the voices imposes its own rhythm upon the other, then that voice is 'enchanting' its opponent .
Orgies, characterized by drunkenness, sexual licence, excesses of all kinds and occasional transvestism, always correspond to a 'call to chaos' as a result of a weakening of the will to accept the norm in the ordinary way. Hence, as Eliade has pointed out, the orgy is a cosmogonic equivalent of Chaos and of supreme, ultimate fulfilment, as well as of the eternal moment and of timelessness. The Roman Saturnalia—whose origins go back to prehistoric times—or Carnival were expressions of the orgiastic urge. In these uninhibited festivities the tendency is to 'confuse forms' by means of the inversion of the social pattern, the juxtaposition of opposites and the unleashing of the passions—even in their destructive capacity. All this is a means not so much towards pleasure as to bring about the dissolution of the world in a momentary disruption— although the moment seems definitive while the orgy lasts—of the reality-principle, alongside the corresponding restoration of the primigenial illud tempos .
In Islamic thought, orientation is the materialization of intent. The Orient, since it is the point where the sun rises, symbolizes illumination and the fount of life; to turn towards the east is to turn in spirit towards this spiritual focal point of light. Orientation plays its due part in rites and ceremonies all over the world, particularly in those to do with the founding of temples and cities. The orientation of Graeco-Latin temples and mediaeval churches was inspired by the same idea . However, not all mystic orientations take the east as their point of reference: there is an alternative point in the geography of the sky, symbolic of the 'hole' in space-time and of the 'unmoved mover'—and that is the North Star. The Etruscans located the abode of the gods in the north, and hence their soothsayers, when about to speak, would turn to face the south—that is, they would take up a position which identified them, ideologically, with the gods .
To face the north is to pose a question. To turn westwards is to prepare to die, because it is in the watery deeps of the west that the sun ends its journey. The notion of orientation, taken in conjunction with the concept of space as a three-dimensional whole, plays a powerful part in the symbolic organization of space. The human anatomy itself, with its quasi-rectangular, symmetrical and bilateral pattern, in distinguishing between the front and the back thereby designates two corresponding points of orientation. The natural position of the arms and shoulders completes this quadrangular scheme—a symbolic pattern which, interpreted according to strictly anthropological and empirical criteria, would perhaps provide us with the key to the original conception of orientation as quaternary on the surface but septenary three-dimensionally embracing north, south, east and west, together with the zenith, the nadir and the centre. Also closely linked with the symbolism of the cardinal points and orientation are the gestures and movements of the body, as symbolic expressions of the will applying itself in one direction or another. All attitudes of concentration denote the enshrining of the 'Centre' within the heart.
This is a symbol of cosmic activity, of development in space and of the 'way out of chaos' chaos being denoted by blind matter . Ornamentation by virtue of graduated motifs— its progressive reconciliation with order—signifies the gradual stages in this evolutive development of the universe. The principal elements in ornamentation are the spiral, the sigma, the cross, waves, the zigzag; these are discussed in their appropriate place. Some of the basic principles behind these ornamental motifs concern graphic and spatial symbolisms. Negatively speaking, the art of ornamentation is opposed to figurative art, particularly when the ornaments are geometric forms or stylizations of plants. 'Beware of representation, whether it be of the Lord or of man, and paint nothing except trees, flowers and inanimate objects'; so spoke Mohammed according to the oral traditions or Hadith.
For Moslems, consequently, art is a kind of aid to meditation, or a sort of mandala —indefinite and interminable and opening out onto the infinite, or a form of language composed of spiritual signs, or handwriting; but it can never be a mere reflection of the world of existence. In Islamic ornamentation—which we may regard as one of the basic prototypes—the essential constituents are as follows: plaits, foliage, polygons, arabesques, inscriptions, the twenty-eight letters of the alphabet, five or six stylized flowers such as the hyacinth, the tulip, the eglantine, the peach-blossom, certain of the fabulous animals and the seven smalts in heraldry.
Patterns such as these are blended into a vast symbolic network reminiscent of polyphonic music and the aspiration towards the harmony of infinity . In figurative ornamentation—Romanesque for instance—every item represented possesses its own symbolic sense, while the pattern as a whole constitutes a veritable symbolic syntax.
This symbol appears principally among the Gnostics and is depicted as a dragon, snake or serpent biting its own tail. In the broadest sense, it is symbolic of time and of the continuity of life . It sometimes bears the caption Hen to pan—'The One, the All', as in the Codex Marcianus, for instance, of the 2nd century A.D. It has also been explained as the union between the chthonian principle as represented by the serpent and the celestial principle as signified by the bird a synthesis which can also be applied to the dragon. Ruland contends that this proves that it is a variant of the symbol for Mercury—the duplex god. In some versions of the Ouroboros, the body is half light and half dark, alluding in this way to the successive counterbalancing of opposing principles as illustrated in the Chinese Yang-Yin symbol for instance . Evola asserts that it represents the dissolution of the body, or the universal serpent which to quote the Gnostic saying 'passes through all things'.
Poison, the viper and the universal solvent are all symbols of the undifferentiated—of the 'unchanging law' which moves through all things, linking them by a common bond. Both the dragon and the bull are symbolic antagonists of the solar hero. The ouroboros biting its own tail is symbolic of self-fecundation, or the primitive idea of a self-sufficient Nature—a Nature, that is, which, a la Nietzsche, continually returns, within a cyclic pattern, to its own beginning. There is a Venetian manuscript on alchemy which depicts the Ouroboros with its body half-black symbolizing earth and night and half-white (denoting heaven and light).
Oven or Furnace
A mother-symbol. The alchemists' crucible is symbolic of the body, and the alembic is expressive of the vas Hermetis . But it has a further significance as a symbol of pure, spiritual gestation; it is in this sense that the glowing furnace makes its appearance in so many alchemic treatises, such as Michael Maier and the Museum Hermeticum (1678).
In India, birds, reptiles and all oviparous beings receive the name of 'twice born'. With this in mind we can conclude that the laying of the egg is equivalent to the birth of man, and the breaking out from the egg symbolizes his second birth or initiation .
In the Egyptian system of hieroglyphs, the owl symbolizes death, night, cold and passivity. It also pertains to the realm of the dead sun, that is, of the sun which has set below the horizon and which is crossing the lake or sea of darkness .
Broadly speaking, the ox is a symbol of the cosmic forces . In Egypt and in India, a more specialized symbolism was evolved for the ox, contrasting it with the lion on the one hand and with the bull on the other. For obvious reasons it became a symbol of sacrifice, suffering, patience and labour. In Greece and in Rome it was regarded as an attribute of agriculture and of foundationlaying and so, by extension, was the yoke. Roman generals who had been granted the honour of a triumph would sacrifice white oxen to the Capitoline Jupiter as part of the ceremony . In Herrad of Landsberg's Hortus Deliciarum, the moon's chariot is drawn by oxen , which points to the emasculated character of the animal . In mediaeval emblems, the ox is frequently found symbolizing patience, submissiveness and the spirit of self-sacrifice . Very often the ox-head, without its body, is shown with one of the following signs between its horns: a crown, a snake coiled round a staff, a chalice, a circle, a cross, a fleur-de-lis, a crescent moon or the Gothic 'R' standing for Regeneratio . The ox because of its connexion with the moon is also a symbol of darkness and night in contrast to the lion, which is a solar animal .