SHAPE OR FORM
SHEAF OR BUNDLE
SHIP OF FOOLS
As the Sun is the light of the spirit, so shadow is the negative 'double' of the body, or the image of its evil and base side. Among primitive peoples, the notion that the shadow is the alter ego or soul is firmly established, it is also reflected in the folklore and literature of some advanced cultures . As Frazer has noted, the primitive often regards his shadow, or his reflection in water or in a mirror, as his soul or as a vital part of himself . 'Shadow' is the term given by Jung to the primitive and instinctive side of the individual.
Shape or Form
Certain branches of science, such as the Psychology of Form, Isomorphism and Morphology, have arrived at conclusions which coincide with those of traditional symbolism.
The most comprehensive and valid definition of the significance of form is that which appears in the legendary Tabula Smaragdina: 'What is above is like what is below', which Goethe confirmed and bettered by adding: 'What is within'—the idea—'is also without'—form. Hence, Paul Guillaume has been able to declare that 'the terms of shape, structure and organization pertain not only to the language of biology (that is, forms) but also to psychology (that is, thought or ideas) . . .' and that 'isomorphism, propounding a theory of form which revives the ancient tradition of parallelism (or magic analogy), refuses to draw a dividing line between spirit and time'.
This observation is rounded off with the observation that 'shapes correspond, in our perception and thought, to comparable forms in the nervous processes'; hence, what is circular is equivalent both to the circle and to the cyclic, and the square is identical with things quaternary and also with the number four , so that form takes its place as the 'intermediary between spirit and matter' . In the broadest sense, then, we may conclude that a preference for
regular shapes indicates 'regulated' or well-ordered sentiments whereas irregular forms suggest 'unregulated' sentiments.
Oval shapes are related to things biomorphic; cubes with the artificial
and the constructional; simple shapes with what is straightforward; and complex shapes with what is complicated. The same applies to rhythms, structures and compositions. There are other general principles too, such as that which equates symmetry with equilibrium and with the static; asymmetry with dynamism absolute regularity and, likewise, absolute irregularity with chaos, in so far as they are both expressions of the undifferentiated: differentiation is brought about by ritual, that is, by the organization of regularized irregularity.
Examples of morphological analyses may be taken over and applied to the symbolic; to take one example: in the phenomenon of growth, the circular or irradiating form signifies, in symbolic terms the regular force of diffusion, the existence of a centre as the 'Origin', and a
uniform pattern of resistance.
These laws are equally true of the spirit. Forms which, within a given system or group, are different one from the other may be ordered in a series or in a scale (or within orders of analogies and correspondences). so, the trapezium, the rectangle, the square, the circle represent a series which progresses from irregularity to regularity, a series which could equally well apply to moral evolution. Jung touches upon this question, commenting that the square, as the minimal composite number (symbolizing a situation), represents the pluralist or inner state of the man who is not yet at one with himself. And yet the square is superior to the trapezium, just as the trapezium is superior to the trapezoid. The octagon is the 'intervening figure' (or the intermediary) between the square and the circle. It is unnecessary to emphasize that the meaning of a symbol varies from plane to plane, notably on the psychological and cosmic planes.
So, for example, from the psychological point of view, the triangle, in its natural position with the apex uppermost, when placed between the square and the circle, is expressive of communication. But, objectively speaking, these three figures symbolize the relationship (represented by the triangle) between earth (the square) and heaven (the circle, the wheel, or rose-window); this explains why these are the essential symbols of so many Cistercian and Gothic facades. Another law to be taken into account is that forms explain objects, and objects forms; that is to say, the symbolic meaning of a being or figure is usually confirmed and emphasized by the significance of its shape, the converse also being true. Gothic spires are related to the pyramid, therefore the pyramid is related to Gothic spires.
In India, geometric forms have the following cosmic implications:
The sphere is associated with the ether or heaven; the crescent with air; the pyramid, fire; the cube, earth . The analysis of the symbolism of geometric shapes has been carried to excess by some writers—Piobb among them. Star, for example, proposes the following correspondences: the sphere, intellectual life, pure thought, and abstraction; the cone, a synthesis of all other shapes and a symbol for psychic wholeness; the cylinder, material thoughts and the mechanistic intellect . In general, flat shapes have a more spiritual character than shapes with bulk, but the latter are linked more closely with the macrocosmos. It is unnecessary to emphasize that, in the symbolism of shape—even when three-dimensional—the diagrammatic cross-section or groundplan is of the essence.
Thus, to take the cathedral as an example, the figure of the cross, that is, of the ground-plan, takes precedence over the temple/mountain symbolism deriving from the irregularly ascending pyramid-shape without neutralizing its effect. Another factor of importance is number-symbolism: for example, two towers, over and above the inherent symbolism of towers, of prisms and cylinders, embrace a meaning which springs from their duality. For this reason, most religious edifices shun the number two (since it implies conflict) and turn to the number three (implying resolution, quite apart from the fact that it is the image of the Trinity), and the two bell-towers of the facade are completed by the cimborrio above the transept. The circle and the square stand for limitlessness and limitation respectively.
In Egyptian hieroglyphics, a determinative sign defining the concept of limitation .
Sheaf or Bundle
Eliade points out that the Latinfascis sheaf or bundle and fascia band, sash, or bandage are related to fascinum fascination or evil-doing; they are words which fall within the vast symbolic group composed of bindings, knots, bows, plaits, ropes and cords, all of which allude to 'being tied to' existence . But this is to explain only the negative side of the symbol. Like most symbols, it tends to ambivalence, and in the positive sense, the sheaf symbolizes unification, integration and strength.
One of the eight emblems of good luck in Chinese Buddhism, found in allegories about royalty, and also a sign for a prosperous journey . This favourable implication is the result of the shell's association with water, the source of fertility. According to Eliade, shells are also related to the moon and to Woman. Pearl-symbolism also is very closely linked with the shell. The mythic birth of Aphrodite from a shell is of obvious relevance . in Schneider's view, the shell is the mystic symbol of the prosperity of one generation rising out of the death of the preceding generation . In all probability, its favourable meaning is—as in the case of the well and the bottle—a consequence of the thirsty traveller or pilgrim linking the shell in his mind with the presence of water; this would explain its significance in mediaeval allegories.
The title given to the lunar god Tammuz or Thammuz as the shepherd of the 'flocks' of the stars. According to Krappe, this idea is closely bound up with the passion of Tammuz as Adonis for Aphrodite or Ishtar, because of the relationship between the phases of the moon and dismemberment . The shepherd is also the conductor of souls to the Land of the Dead—the psychopomp, and a symbol of supreme power, since flocks are representative of the cosmic forces.
The symbolic significance of the shield amounts to a simple transposition of its defensive function to the spiritual plane. The fact that coats-of-arms were generally emblazoned upon shields yields an additional meaning which may be interpreted as implying that the knight defends himself by displaying his identity and invoking it in the hour of peril.
On coins, a ship ploughing through the seas is emblematic of joy and happiness . But the most profound significance of navigation is that implied by Pompey the Great in his remark: 'Living is not necessary, but navigation is.' By this he meant that existence is split up into two fundamental structures: living, which he understood as living for or in oneself, and sailing or navigating, by which he understood living in order to transcend—or what Nietzsche from his pessimistic angle called 'living in order to disappear'. The Odyssey is, basically, nothing but a navigation-myth in the sense of victory over the two essential perils of all sailing: destruction or the triumph of the ocean—corresponding to the unconscious and withdrawal regression or stagnation. Yet Homer reserves the end of the periplus of Odysseus for a triumphant but affectionate 'return' to his wife, his hearth and home.
This is a mystic idea analogous to the mystery of the 'fall' of the soul into the material plane of existence by the process of involution and to the necessity of its returning to the starting-point evolution—a mystery which has been expounded by Platonic idealism and by Plotinus in particular. This law of the returning soul corresponds to the belief in the concept of a 'closed' universe like that of the Eternal Return or the conception of all phenomena as a cyclic organization. Navigation, as envisaged in any philosophy of the absolute, would deny even the hero his triumphant return to the homeland and would make of him a perpetual explorer of oceans, under endless skies. But to come back to the symbolism of the ship, every vessel corresponds to a constellation . The ship-symbol has been related to the holy island, in so far as both are differentiated from the amorphous and hostile sea.
If the waters of the oceans are symbolic of the unconscious, they also can allude to the dull roar of the outside world. The notion that it is essential first to learn to sail the sea of the passions in order to reach the Mountain of Salvation is the same as the idea mentioned earlier in connexion with the perils of exploring the oceans. For this reason Guenon suggests that 'the attainment of the Great Peace is depicted in the form of sailing the seas'; hence, in Christian symbolism, the ship represents the Church . Some of the less clearly defined aspects of the symbolism of the ship—comparable here with the small boat and the carriage—are related to symbols of the human body and of all physical bodies or vehicles; in addition to this, there is a cosmic implication deriving from the age-old comparison between the sun and the moon on the one hand, and, on the other, two ships floating upon the celestial ocean. The solar ship frequently appears on Egyptian monuments. In Assyrian art, too, ships shaped like cups are clearly solar in character; this cup-shape narrows down still further the scope of the meaning .
Another meaning, sometimes quite independent of the foregoing, derives not so much from the idea of the ship as such but rather from the notion of sailing; this is the symbolism of the Ship-of-Death. Hence, many primitive peoples place ships on the end of a pole or on the roof of a house. On occasion, it is the roof itself of the temple or house which is made to resemble a ship. Always the implication is the desire to transcend existence—to travel through space to the other worlds. All these forms, then, represent the axis valley-mountain, or the symbolism of verticality and the idea of height. An obvious association here is with all the symbols for the world-axis. The mast in the centre of the vessel gives expression to the idea of the Cosmic Tree incorporated within the symbolism of the Ship-of-Death or 'Ship of Transcendence' .
Ship of Fools
This symbol is fairly common in mediaeval iconography and is related to the Biblical 'foolish virgins'. It expresses the idea of 'sailing' as an end in itself, as opposed to the true sense of 'sailing', which is transition, evolution and salvation, or safe arrival at the haven. Hence, illustrations of stultifera navis usually showed a naked woman, a wine-glass and other allusions to terrestrial desires. The Ship of Fools is, then, a parallel symbol to that of the Accursed Hunter.
According to Swedenborg, shoes symbolize the 'lowly nature', in the sense both of the humble and the despicable . Shoes are also a symbol of the female sex organ and may have this implication in the story of Cinderella. For the ancients, they were a sign denoting liberty.
In the Egyptian system of hieroglyphs, the sign representing a cribble or sieve symbolizes the means of selecting the particular forces needed to reach a required synthesis. The deepest significance of this symbol alludes—like all alchemic experiments—to work carried out upon oneself. The concepts here involved fall within the ambit of the Greek maxim 'know thyself', but the criterion is concerned more with action than with speculation . To sieve is to purify and to perfect, to garner the useful, and to discard the useless.
The S-shape, both vertical and horizontal, together with all its derived forms known generically in the art of ornamentation as scrolls, symbolize relationship and movement or the underlying rhythm of apparently continuous motion. As Ortiz has noted, sigmoid signs, like the spiral, have been utilized as symbols of the wind, but they are more properly related to the whirlwind or whirlpool.
The double, symmetrical spiral like the Ionic volute may, according to a suggestion of Breuil, be a stylized image of the bull's horns. The curved swastika is composed of two intersecting sigmas . A different, wider and deeper implication of the sigma closely connected, however, with the symbolism of the whirlwind and the hurricane as a synthesis of the Elements and as the supreme cosmic 'moment' is afforded by Schneider's suggestion that the sigma, especially in its vertical position, is a representation of the stream winding its way down the mountain-side and so constituting a characteristic symbol of the valley-mountain axis or earthheaven, or, in other words, the hieros gamos. He further suggests that this S-shape seems to be formed by one waning moon plus another waxing: the symbbls for the two alternating phases of the evolutive and involutive processes which govern the sacrificial relationship of earth and heaven. He believes that this is the explanation of the frequency of the sigma in primitive ornamentation .
A symbolic figure which usually takes one of two main forms: as a bird-woman or as a fish-woman. The sirens in Greek mythology were supposed to be daughters of the river Achelous by the nymph Calliope; and Ceres turned them into birds. They inhabited mountainous places. Legend attributed to them a song of such sweetness they could entice the wayfarer, only to devour him. Latterly, the myth arose of sirens with fish-tails whose haunts lvere rocky islands and cliffs and who behaved in the same manner as did their sisters inhabiting the Element of air. The siren-myth is one of the most indestructible of all myths; among some marine peoples it has persisted even into the present day . Material concerning these sirens is to be found in Aristotle, Pliny, Ovid, Hyginus, the Physiologus nd century A.D. and mediaeval bestiaries. Dating from before the 10th century are the two-tailed sirens on the tympanum of the chapel of St. Michael d'Aiguilhe at Le Puy, and the siren-birds at Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire. These and the French viperfairies—as exemplified by Melusina in particular—are complex figures and we are not satisfied that a merely literal interpretation is the right one.
They may well be representations of the inferior forces in woman, or of woman as the inferior, as in the case of lamias; or they could also be symbolic of the corrupt imagination enticed towards base ends or towards the primitive strata of life; or of the torment of desire leading to self-destruction, for their abnormal bodies cannot satisfy the passions that are aroused by their enchanting music and by their beauty of face and bosom.
It seems that they are largely symbols of the 'temptations' scattered along the path of life or of symbolic navigation impeding the evolution of the spirit by bewitchment, beguiling it into remaining on the magic island; or, in other words, causing its premature death. The twin-tailed siren a fine example of which may be seen on a capital in the apse of San Cugat monastery can be explained psychologically as a simple amalgamation: the two legs of woman applied to the single tail of the fish giving the twin-tail of the womanfish; but it may also be interpreted symbolically by reference to the profound significance of the Gemini.
It seems to us that the twin tail is an infernal replica of the classical attitude of adoration in which both arms are raised—an attitude characteristic, for example, of the Cretan statuettes of priestesses.
Given that the sea is the lower abyss and an image of the unconscious, then the twin fish-tail pertaining to the sea, must express a duality or conflict within the watery deeps. Wirth maintains that the siren is quite simply a symbol of woman, and that woman is a true incarnation of the spirit of the earth, as opposed to the man, who is the son of heaven. He expresses his concept of transmigration as follows: 'Life entices the souls of those deprived of it. why does the other world not retain once and for all those spiritual entities that aspire towards reincarnation?
The daughters of men ensnare the sons of heaven with their beauty, dragging them irresistibly down. The spell thus cast is attributed to the siren whose song so captivates the listener that he falls into the ocean' of the lower waters and of nascent forms 'teeming with multitudinous life. This temptress owes her powers to the changing forms governed by the moon, the crescent of which shines upon her forehead' Plates XXIII and XXIV.
In the majority of allegories and emblems it is the personification of death. In alchemy it is a symbol of the colour black and of the putrefaction or 'disjunction' of the component elements.
Skin is associated with the ideas of birth and rebirth. In the Egyptian system of hieroglyphs there is a determinative sign comprising three skins knotted together, signifying 'to be born'; it comes into the composition of words such as 'to engender', 'to bring up', 'child', 'to form'. The amulet which the Egyptians used to present to the newly-born comprised, like the hieroglyph, three animal pelts which were attached to a solar globe.
The number of the skins here refers to the essentially threefold nature of the human being—the body, the soul and the spirit—while the globe denotes his incorporation into the All. The symbolism of skin is borne out by the rite known as 'the passage through the skin' which pharaohs and priests used to carry out in order to rejuvenate themselves; this rite was later replaced by a simulacrum, and then latterly it became just a panther's tail which kings wore knotted round their waist. This notion that an individual may assume the characteristics of an animal, with its totemic implications, also comes into skinsymbolism . There is a basic analogy here with the sacrificial rite once practised by the priests of pre-Columbian Mexico in which human victims were clad in skins; similarly with the wearing of skins by the bearers of the Signum in Roman legions.
Broadly speaking, it is an emblem of the mortality of man, as in the literary examples of Hamlet and Faust. However, like the snail's shell, it is in truth 'what survives' of the living being once its body has been destroyed. It therefore comes to acquire significance as a receptacle for life and for thought, it is with this symbolic meaning that it figures in books on alchemy, where it is represented as the receptacle used in the processes of transmutation . A great many forms of superstition, ritual and—indeed—of cannibalism, are derived from this idea.
on the one hand she may be regarded as a symbol of the anima in the Jungian sense. On the other she symbolizes, rather than the unconscious proper, the ancestral images which lie dormant in the unconscious, waiting to be stimulated into action. As Loeffler points out, in fairy-tales and legends princesses lie dreaming in their palaces, like memories and intuitions deep down in our unconscious. The princesses in their palaces, though not always asleep, are invariably outside the world of action, so that every sleeping, or otherwise secluded, princess stands for a passive potential .
The sign denoting the slug—sometimes also interpreted as a small snake—symbolizes the male seed, the Origin of life, the silent tendency of darkness to move towards light; this concept is well expressed in Chapter 17 of the Book of the Dead .
The antithesis of mud, since mud combines the Elements of earth and water, whereas smoke corresponds to air and fire. There are some folklore traditions which attribute a beneficent power to smoke, which is supposed to possess the magic ability to ward off the misfortunes that beset men, animals and plants . on the other hand, the column of smoke is a symbol of the valley-mountain antithesis, that is, of the relationship between earth and heaven, pointing out the path through fire to salvation 1. According to Geber, the alchemist, smoke symbolizes the soul leaving the body.
In Egyptian hieroglyphics the snail is associated with the action of the microcosmic spiral upon matter . Modern scientific research in morphology tends to verify this intuition, not only in this particular case but also in all cases where the spiral scheme appears in nature.
Like the giant and the magician, he is a personification of the Terrible Father, of the 'evil demiurge' of the Gnostics, prefigured in Saturn .
In India, the sound of Krishna's flute is the magical cause of the birth of the world. The pre-Hellenic maternal goddesses are depicted holding lyres, and with the same significance . There are other traditional doctrines which hold that sound was the first of all things to be created, and that which gave rise to all others, commencing with light, or, alternatively, with air and fire. An instance of this is the lament quoted in the Poimandres of Hermes Trismegistos .
In a manner of speaking, space is an intermediate zone between the cosmos and chaos. Taken as the realm of all that is possible, it is chaotic; regarded as the region in which all forms and structures have their existence, it is cosmic. Space soon came to be associated with time, and this association proved one of the ways of coming to grips with the recalcitrant nature of space. Another— and the most important—was the concept of space as a three-part organization based upon its three dimensions.
Each dimension has two possible directions of movement, implying the possibility of two poles or two contexts. To the six points achieved in this way, there was added a seventh: the centre; and space thus became a logical structure. The symbolisms of level and of orientation were finally brought to bear in order to complete the exegesis. The three dimensions of space are illustrated by means of a three-dimensional cross, whose arms are oriented along these six spatial directions, made up of the four points of the compass plus the two points of the zenith and the nadir.
According to Rene Guenon, this symbolism— because of its structural character—is identical with that of the Sacred Palace or the inner palace of the Cabala, located at the centre-point from which the six directions radiate. In the threedimensional cross, the zenith and the nadir correspond to the top and the bottom, the front and back to East and West, the right and left to the South and North. The upright axis is the polar axis, the North-South axis is the solstitial line, the East-West the equinoctial. The significance of the vertical or level-symbolism concerns the analogy between the high and the good, the low and the inferior. The Hindu doctrine of the three gunas—sattva height, superiority, rajas intermediate zone of the world of appearances, or ambivalence and tamas inferiority, or darkness—is in itself sufficient to explain the meaning of the symbolism of level up and down the vertical axis.
It is, in consequence, the intermediate plane of the four directional cross that which incorporates the cardinal points and which implies the square which represents the world of appearances. Taking next the East-West axis, traditional orientation-symbolism associates the East—being the point of sunrise—with spiritual illumination; and the West—the point where the sun sets—with death and darkness. Passing next to the North-South axis, there is no one definite interpretation. In many oriental cultures, the zenith coincides with the mystic 'Hole' through which transition and transcendence are effected, that is, the path from the world of manifestation spatial and temporal to that of eternity. But it has also been identified with the centre of the three-dimensional cross, taken as the heart of space. Reduced to two dimensions—those of the contrasting horizontal and vertical arms—the cross comes to represent harmony between extension associated with width and exaltation with height.
The horizontal arm concerns the implications of a given gradation or moment in an individual's existence, and the vertical pertains to moral elevation . William of Saint-Thierry, describing the seven gradations of the soul, observes that it ascends these steps in order to reach the celestial life . If we seek an interpretation which will justify the four points of the horizontal plane's being reduced to two the left and right, we can find a basis for it in Jung's assertion that the rear part coincides with the unconscious and the front with the manifest or consciousness; and since the left also can be equated with the unconscious and the right with consciousness, the rear then becomes equivalent to the left and the front to the right . Other equivalents are: left side with the past, the sinister, the repressed, involution, the abnormal and the illegitimate; the right side with the future, the felicitous, openness, evolution, the normal and the legitimate .
In all this, there is an apparent contradiction with the corresponding numbersymbolisms: Paneth observes that, in most cultures, the uneven numbers are considered to be masculine and the even numbers to be feminine. Since the left side is the zone of origin and the right that of the outcome, the corresponding number-symbolisms would seem to be one the uneven or masculine number for the left side that is, the past and two the even or feminine number for the right side the subsequent or outcome. The solution is to be found in the fact that the number one unity never corresponds to the plane of the manifest world or to spatial reality: it is the symbol of the centre, but not in the sense of occupying any situation in space which might imply a sequel.
Hence we must conclude that two is the number corresponding to the left side and three is that related to the right. Guenon explains the way in which the cosmic order conforms with all this in a lucid exposition of the relevant Hindu doctrines to the effect that the right hand zone is the solar region; the left-hand the lunar. 'In the aspect of this symbolism which refers to the temporal condition, the Sun and the right eye correspond to the future, the Moon and the left eye to the past; the frontal eye corresponds to the present which, from the point of view of the manifested, is but an imperceptible moment, comparable to the geometrical point without dimensions in the spatial order; that is why a single look from the third eye destroys all manifestation which is expressed symbolically by saying that it reduces everything to ashes, and that is also why it is not represented by any bodily organ; but when one rises above this contingent point of view, the present is seen to contain all reality just as the point carries within itself all the possibilities of space, and when succession is transmuted into simultaneity, all things abide in the "eternal present", so that the apparent destruction is truly a "transformation" ' .
Now, the seven aspects that define space have been regarded as the origin of all septenary groups, and in particular of the seven planets, the seven colours and the seven kinds of landscape . Hence Luc Benoist can assert that the Christian Church, by building on earth a mighty, three-dimensional cross of stone, has created for the entire world the co-ordinate lines of a supernatural geometry. Benoist then quotes Clement of Alexandria as saying that the six directions of space symbolize—or are equivalent to—the simultaneous and eternal presence of the six days of the Creation, and that the seventh day of rest signifies the return to the centre and the beginning . Once the cosmic sense of spatial symbolism has been demonstrated, it is simple to deduce its psychological applications. And once the static laws have been determined, it is easy to grasp the dynamic implications, always bearing in mind the symbolism of orientation.
Here, we must point out that the swastika—a solar and polar symbol—implies a movement from right to left, like the apparent movement of the sun; and that Clotho—one of the Parcae—spins her 'wheel of destiny' in the same direction, that is, the opposite way to existence, so destroying it. Right-handedness is characteristic of all symbols of natural life ; hence, in the Egyptian system of hieroglyphs, to enter is to go towards the right and to go out is to go towards the left ; orienting these hieroglyphs, we have the right corresponding with the rise and the left with the setting of the sun. Similarly, the right side takes on an extra implication of birth and life, while the left side acquires an association with death . Another consequence, apparent in allegories and emblems, is that the right side corresponds to the higher virtues— if one may put it that way—such as compassion, and the left side to justice.
All of the above conclusions are logical deductions drawn from the study of oriental tradition, supported by the findings of experimental psychology. But they are conclusions which have also been verified by anthropologists and sociologists in their studies of the habits of diverse peoples.
Ania Teillard, for example, has collated a mass of facts; she quotes J. J. Bachofen as asserting (in his Mutterrecht and Urreligion and Grabersymbolik der Alten)that, in the important and very common equation 'right hand=masculinity', the left hand harbours magic powers and the right hand the force of reason, and also that in matriarchal societies one always finds the idea of superiority attributed to the left side, and conversely. To turn to the left is to look back upon the past, the unconscious, implying introversion; to turn to the right is to look upon the outside world, implying action and extraversion. At the same time, ethnologists are agreed that during the first stage of any period of sunworship, the right side becomes pre-eminent, whereas in lunar cults it is the left side which prevails . In paintings, reliefs and other artistic creations of man, the left side is characterized by a more vivid projection of the self that is, by identification and the right side is more extravert.