STRING OR CORD
A material symbol of the valley-mountain axis, comparable with steps, the cross and the artificial stake. The post has the same symbolic sense, largely because it stands erect. A burnt stick represents death and wisdom .
Stone is a symbol of being, of cohesion and harmonious reconciliation with self. The hardness and durability of stone have always impressed men, suggesting to them the antithesis to biological things subject to the laws of change, decay and death, as well as the antithesis to dust, sand and stone splinters, as aspects of disintegration. The stone when whole symbolized unity and strength; when shattered it signified dismemberment, psychic disintegration, infirmity, death and annihilation. Stones fallen from heaven served to explain the origin of life. In volcanic eruptions, air turned to fire, fire became 'water' and 'water' changed to stone; hence stone constitutes the first solid form of the creative rhythm —the sculpture of essential movement, and the petrified music of creation.
The mythic and religious significance is only one step removed from this basic symbolic sense, a step which was taken by the immense majority of peoples during the animistic era. Meteorites, in particular, came in for worship; the most celebrated are the Kaaba meteorite in Mecca and the Black Stone of Pessinus, an aniconic image of the Phrygian Great Mother taken to Rome during the last of the Punic Wars Here is a description of the Mohammedans' stone, taken from Marques-Riviere: 'Inside the Kaaba, which is nothing more than a dark hall, there are three columns holding up the roof which has a number of silver and gold lamps hanging down from it.
The floor is of marble tiles. In the eastern corner, some five feet above floor-level, not far from the door, is the famous black stone (al hadjar alaswad) sealed off, composed of three great sections.... In colour it is reddish black with red and yellow patches; in appearance it recalls lava or basalt' . Among the stones venerated by the ancients, we must not overlook the Greek omphaloi; Guenon maintains that they are really bethels, a word derived from the Hebrew Beith-EI (or the House of God, related to the biblical 'And this stone which r have set for a pillar, shall be God's House' Genesis xxviii, 2, even though its sense is magic and not architectonic .
There are numerous legends dealing with stones: the so-called Abadir which Saturn devoured, mistaking it for Jupiter; or the stones of Deucalion and Pyrrha; or those in the myth of Medusa the Gorgon ; or that which contained Mithras until his birth .
There are other stones in folktales, but these seem to be invested with rather more modest powers: the Lapis linens, for example, as it was called by the Romans, which was supposed to be able to prophesy by changing its colour; or the Irish stone Lia-Fail, associated with coronations . As for the philosophers' stone in alchemy, it represents the 'conjunction' of opposites, or the integration of the conscious self with the feminine or unconscious side or in other words, the fixing of volatile elements; it is, then, a symbol of the All . As Jung rightly says, the alchemists approached their task obliquely—they did not seek the divine in matter but tried to 'produce' it by means of a lengthy process of purification and transmutation . According to Evola, the touchstone is symbolic of the body, since it is 'fixed', as opposed to the 'wandering' characteristic of thought, the spirits and desires.
But only the resuscitated body—in which 'two will be one'—can correspond to the philosophers' stone. Evola points out that, for the alchemist, 'between eternal birth, reintegration, and the discovery of the philosophers' stone, there is no difference whatsoever'.
Often called a 'cromlech', and popularly known as 'the giant's circle'. Diodorus Siculus had in mind the great stonecircle of Stonehenge when he referred to the existence, on an island off Gaul 'as big as Sicily', of 'the circular temple of Apollo' where the Hyperboreans sang the praises of god-the-sun. The sun-symbolism connected with the stone-circle is obvious . It also partakes of circle-symbolism that is, of the cyclic process, Oneness and perfection, of disk-symbolism representing the sun, and of stonesymbolism or, in the eyes of most primitive peoples, theophany— a manifestation of the divine which they associated with fertilitycults. Often standing in the midst of the circle of monoliths is the 'hyrmensul' or sun-stone.
This bird, dedicated to Juno by the Romans, was a symbol of filial piety. It is also an emblem of the traveller . In the allegory of 'Great Wisdom', two storks are shown facing each other and flying within a circle formed by the figure of a snake .
The myth of the creative storm or creative intercourse between the Elements is universal: among the Nordic peoples it appears in connexion with Thor, in Assyrio-Babylonian mythology with Bel, in the Germanic with Donar, in the Greek with Zeus, among the Slavs with Peroun, and so on . The storm, like everything else that occurs in heaven or descends therefrom, has a sacred quality about it.
In myths, legends, folktales and in literature as a whole, the 'stranger' is frequently 'the one destined to replace' the reigning power in a country or locality. He stands for the possibility of unseen change, for the future made present, or for mutation in general. Frazer tells us how Lityerses, a son of King Midas, was wont to challenge people to a reaping match, and if he vanquished them he used to thrash them; but one day he met with a stranger who, proving himself to be a stronger reaper, slew him .
The eleventh enigma of the Tarot pack. The image shows a queen who, without apparent effort, overcomes a lion, holding his jaws wide open. The allusion to the Zodiac is clear enough—Leo vanquished by Virgo—and the subject finds its mythological counterpart in Hercules overcome by Omphale. Wirth points to a highly interesting detail in the allegory: the queen does not slay the lion, but clasps it to her bosom having stunned it with her club, signifying that one must not despise the inferior, but master it and put it to good use. There is an echo here of the alchemists' belief that what is base must not—and indeed cannot—be destroyed, it must be transmuted into what is superior. In the affirmative sense, this enigma symbolizes the triumph of intelligence over brutality; in the negative, it denotes insensibility and fury .
String or Cord
All types of string, cord or rope are forms of binding, and this forms the basis of their symbolic meaning. It is what lies behind the sacred cord worn by all high-caste Hindus. The Jabala-Upanishad makes it clear that the sacred cord is the external symbol of the Sutrdtma, or the spiritual thread binding together all things in existence, as the thread of a necklace binds together all the pearls . This is an idea of such clarity that expressions of it are to be found everywhere. The cords worn by soldiers and by officials, sashes and bows, braid and stripes, are all nothing but emblems of cohesion and binding, although in a form referring to a particular social status. In our view, this and no other is the significance of the neck-tie, despite the Freudian tendency to interpret it as a phallic symbol.
The A subterranean spring or lake in Greek mythology —corresponding to the underground sea in Egyptian belief— which the sun crosses every night. By analogy, therefore, the lower waters of the Styx pertain to death, just as every sunrise points to resurrection .
Symbolic of the desire for positive action, and of vital heat . In the complex symbolism of alchemy, sulphur represents one of the stages of the evolution of matter and of the psyche.
According to Rene Alleau, the various stages, from the lowest toy the highest, can be classified as follows: prior elements, denoting the inherent possibilities of the cosmos, or of man prime matter, or the elementary organization of inherent possibilities, equivalent perhaps to the unconscious, or the instincts; mercury, or the first purification, feelings, imagination, the dominant female principle sulphur, or more profound purification, reason and intuition, the
male principle; and the Great Work, or transcendence.
In theogony, the Sun represents the moment surpassing all others in the succession of celestial dynasties when the heroic principle shines at its brightest. Thus, after Uranus, Saturn and Jupiter, comes Helios Apollo. On occasion, the Sun appears as the direct son and heir of the god of heaven, and Krappe notes that he inherits one of the most notable and moral of the attributes of this deity: he sees all and, in consequence, knows all. In India, as Surya, it is the eye of Varuna, in Persia, it is the eye of Ahuramazda, in Greece, as Helios, the eye of Zeus or of Uranus, in Egypt it is the eye of Ra, and in Islam, of Allah . With his 'youthful' and filial characteristic, the Sun is associated with the hero, as opposed to the father, who connotes the heavens, although the two sun and sky are sometimes equated. Hence, the weapon of heaven is the net the pattern of the stars or the power of binding, while the hero is armed with the sword symbolically associated with fire. And it is for this reason that heroes are promoted to solar eminence and even identified with the Sun itself. In a given period of history and at a certain cultural level, the solar cult is the predominant if not the only one.
Frazer, however, as Eliade has noted, brought out the divergencies of the solar elements in the sacred rites of Africa of
Australia and Oceania as a whole, and of North and South America The cult of the Sun reached an advanced stage of development only in the New World, and—most advanced of all—in Mexico and Peru. Eliade concludes that, since these were the only countries in
pre-Columbian America to evolve a viable political system, it may be concluded that there is a parallel between predominantly solar cults and 'historical' forms of human existence.
We must not over look the fact that Rome, the most powerful political force of Antiquity, and the originator of the historical sense, upheld solar hierophany, which, during the Empire, dominated all other cults in the form of Mithraic ritual . An heroic and courageous force
creative and guiding—this is the core of solar symbolism it may actually come to constitute a religion complete in itself, as is shown by the 'heresy' of Ikhnaton in the 18th dynasty of Egypt; here the hymns to the sun are, setting aside their profound Iyrical interest expressions of theories about the beneficent activity of the king of astral bodies.
The sun on the horizon had long served the Egyptians of the Ancient Empire as a means of defining 'brightness' or 'splendour'. They were also forcibly struck by the analogy between the daily disappearance of the Sun and the winter solstice . At the same time, there was, for the primitive, astrobiological mind, an essential connexion between the Sun and Moon, analogous to that between heaven and earth. It is well known that, for the vast majority of peoples, the sky is symbolic of the active principle related to the masculine sex and to the spirit, while the earth symbolizes the passive principle cognate with the feminine sex and with matter; these equations, nevertheless, are occasionally transposed.
And the same thing happens with the Sun and Moon: solar 'passion', so to speak, with its heroic and fierce character, clearly had to be assimilated to the masculine principle, and the pale and delicate nature of lunar light, with its connexion with the waters of the ocean and the rhythm of woman, obviously had to be classified as feminine. These equations are certainly not constant; but the exceptions do not invalidate the essential truth of this symbolism.
Even physically speaking, the Moon merely fulfils the passive role of reflecting the light which the Sun actively diffuses. Many primitive tribes hold that the eyes of heaven are the Sun and the Moon located on either side of the 'world-axis', and there are prehistoric drawings and engravings which may be interpreted after this fashion. Eliade notes that, for the Pigmies and Bushmen, the sun is the eye of the supreme god.
The Samoyeds see the Sun and the Moon as the eyes of heaven, the Sun being the good eye, and the Moon the evil eye one can see here an unequivocal instance of the symbolism of dualism expanded by the assimilation of that of moral polarity. The idea of the invincible character of the sun is reinforced by the belief that whereas the Moon must suffer fragmentation since it wanes before it can reach its monthly stage of three-day disappearance, the Sun does not need to die in order to descend into hell; it can reach the ocean or the lake of the Lower Waters and cross it without being dissolved. Hence, the death of the Sun necessarily implies the idea of resurrection and actually comes to be regarded as a death which is not a true death. For this reason, too, ancestorworship is associated with the cult of the sun, in order to offer the symbolic promise of protection and salvation.
Megalithic monuments are based upon the amalgamation of these two cults . Thus, the broadest and most authentic interpretation sees the sun as the cosmic reductio of the masculine force, and the Moon of the feminine . This implies that the active faculties of reflexion, good judgement or will power are solar, while the passive qualities imagination, sentiment and perception are feminine, with intuition possibly androgynous . The 'correspondences' of the Sun are chiefly gold, among the metals, and, of the colours, yellow.
Alchemists regarded it as 'gold prepared for the work' or 'philosophical sulphur', as opposed to the Moon and mercury the metal, which is lunar . Another alchemic concept, that of the Sol in homine or the invisible essence of the celestial Sun which nourishes the inborn fire of Man , iS an early pointer to the way the astral body has latterly been interpreted by psychoanalysts, narrowing its meaning down to that of heat or energy, equivalent to the fire of life and the libido. Hence Jung's point that the Sun is, in truth, a symbol of the source of life and of the ultimate wholeness of man . But here there is probably some inexactitude, for totality is in fact uniquely symbolized by the 'conjunction' of the Sun and the Moon, as king and queen, brother and sister . In some folklore-traditions, the urge to allude in some way to the supreme good, which, by definition, is incapable of definition, is met by the saying 'to join the Sun and the Moon'.
Now, having established the principal terms of solar symbolism— as an heroic image Sol invictus, Sol salutis, Sol iustitiae , as the divine eye, the active principle and the source of life and energy— let us come back to the dualism of the Sun as regards its hidden passage—its 'Night Sea-Crossing'—symbolic of immanence like the colour black and also of sin, occultation and expiation. In the Rigveda—Eliade reminds us—the Sun is ambivalent: on the one hand it is 'resplendent' and on the other it is 'black' or invisible, in which case it is associated with chthonian and funereal animals such as the horse and the serpent . Alchemists took up this image of the Sol niger to symbolize 'prime matter', or the unconscious in its base, 'unworked' state. In other words, the Sun is then at the nadir, in the depths out of which it must, slowly and painfully, ascend towards its zenith.
This inevitable ascent does not relate to its daily journey, although this is used as an image, and hence it is symbolized by the transmutation of prime matter into gold, passing through the white and red stages, like the Sun itself in its orbit. Of undoubted interest, as an indication of the intensity of man's attitude towards the Sun, is the reference by Tacitus and Strabo to the 'sound' made by the Sun as it rises in the East and drowns in the oceans of the West. The sudden disappearance of the Sun below the horizon is related to the sudden death of heroes such as Samson, Hercules and Siegfried .
The nineteenth enigma of the Tarot pack. The allegory shows the disk of the astral king surrounded by alternating straight and flamelike rays, golden and red, symbolizing the twofold activity of the Sun in giving out warmth and light. Beneath the Sun, from which a golden spray is falling, are a young couple in a green field, and in the background there is a wall. This couple symbolize the Gemini under the beneficial influence of spiritual light. The Sun is the astral body of immutable constancy, and hence it reveals the reality of things—not their changing aspects as the Moon does. It is related to purification and tribulation, the sole purpose of which is to render transparent the opaque crust of the senses so that they may perceive the higher truths. But the Sun, apart from providing light and heat, is the source of supreme riches, and this is symbolized, in the allegory, by the golden drops which, as in the myth of Danae, rain down upon the human couple. On the positive side, this enigma symbolizes glory, spirituality and illumination. On the negative side, it stands for vanity or an idealism incompatible with reality
A solar symbol, an emblem of authority and dignity, and one of the eight allegories of good fortune in Chinese Buddhism . It incorporates the symbolic concepts of irradiation and protection.
In certain Babylonian rites, the zeros gamos was represented by an act of erotic consummation between a priestess of Ishtar and a slave, who was afterwards put to death. This was not an act of cruelty, but the inevitable consequence which attended the act of the slave, as the shadow pursues the body. For if he had been left alive, the remainder of his existence would have been a living death, since he had experienced contact with the Superior. The same may be said of Lazarus; and this is the meaning of the myth of Semele, consumed by the fiery radiance of Jupiter whom she sought to see in all his true and essential glory. The superior destroys— burns up—the inferior.
But, for this very reason, the recipient of any such token of the supra-normal who is not destroyed by the gift but proves himself capable of retaining it, establishes thereby his own comparable superiority. Hence, anything of value surpassing the ordinary and the commonplace is a sign of special favour and a symbol of absolute transcendence. He who dares to desire the superior, thereby invites comparison with it; if he succeeds in entering into the domain of this superiority and withstands it, then he is invested with it, but should he prove unworthy then he must needs be destroyed. Every limiting situation, every extreme trial—such as placing one's hand in boiling water, for instance— denotes this same idea. The knight conquered and devoured by the dragon is thereby proved inferior. Only the knight capable of vanquishing the dragon is worthy to confront it. Aspiring to the hand of the 'princess' is another expression of the same idea. As Plato observes in the Republic: 'All great things are fraught with danger.'
In heraldic or decorative compositions, human, animal or fabulous beings that support the coat of arms or the central figure or element. These supporters, nearly always two in number, one on either side, symbolize those base forces which, once If hostile and aggressive, have been obliged to become the servants and S defenders of the central element, symbolizing the victorious power Plate XXVII.
A bird sacred to Isis and to Venus , and an allegory of spring. The poet Becquer makes use of this symbol to convey the pathos and the inexorable nature of time, drawing analogies with other symbols.
A symbol of great complexity. The dedication of the swan to Apollo, as the god of music, arose out of the mythic belief that it would sing sweetly when on the point of death . The red swan is a symbol of the sun . But almost all meanings are concerned with the white swan, sacred to Venus, which is why Bachelard suggests that in poetry and literature it is an image of naked woman, of chaste nudity and immaculate whiteness. But Bachelard finds an even deeper significance: hermaphroditism, since in its movement and certainly in its long phallic neck it is masculine yet in its rounded, silky body it is feminine. In sum, then, the swan always points to the complete satisfaction of a desire, the swan-song being a particular allusion to desire which brings about its own death .
This ambivalent significance of the swan was also well known to the alchemists, who compared it with 'philosophical Mercury' , the mystic Centre and the union of opposites, an interpretation entirely in accord with its archetypal implications . Now, in Schneider's view, the swan, by virtue of its relationship with the harp and the sacrificial serpent, also pertains to the funeral-pyre, because the essential symbols of the mystic journey to the other world apart from the death-ship are the swan and the harp. This would afford another explanation of the mysterious song of the dying swan. The swan also has a bearing upon the peacock, although the situation is reversed. The swan harp relationship, corresponding to the axis water/fire, denotes melancholy and passion, self-sacrifice, and the
way of tragic art and martyrdom. Conversely the peacock/lute relationships linked with earth/air, is possibly a representation of logical thought .
As Jacques de Morgan has shown in L'Humanite prehistorique, if it was the horse that pulled the Sun-god's chariot by day, it was the swan that hauled his bark over the waters by night. The relevance to this myth of the Lohengrin legend is self-evident.
This graphic symbol is to be found in almost every ancient and primitive cult all over the world—in Christian catacombs, in Britain, Ireland, Mycenae and Gascony; among the Etruscans, the Hindus, the Celts and the Germanic peoples; in central Asia as well as in pre-Columbian America. The implications of the swastika are very wide, for it is a synthesis of two symbols of independent force: the Greek cross with arms of equal length and the cross with four arms appearing to rotate in the same direction.
The tetraskelion, or swastika with four arms at right angles, is also called the gammadion because it can be formed by joining up four. gamma letters. According to Ludwig Muller, the swastika, during the Iron Age, represented the supreme deity . For Mackenzie, it is associated with agriculture and with the points of the compass.
Colley March sees the swastika as a specific sign denoting rotation about an axis. There are in fact two swastikas: the right-handed Swastika and the left-handed Swavastika . The shape of the swastika has been interpreted as a solar wheel with rays and feet sketched in at the extremities .
By the Middle Ages, the most general interpretation was that it symbolized movement and the power of the sun ; but, at the same time, it was seen as an obvious symbol of the quaternary, in the particular sense of the 'configuration of a movement split up into four parts', related to the poles and the four cardinal directions . The latter view is one held by Rene Guenon, for whom the swastika is the 'sign of the pole'. Since it is widely accepted that the pole and the zenith coincide with the mystic Centre, it follows, then, that the swastika would signify the action of the Origin upon the universe . Schneider has suggested a very different meaning: that the swastika is the symbol of the succession of the generations, and that the hooks on the ends of its arms are the ships of life, or, put another way, the different stages of life .
The sword is in essence composed of a blade and a guard; it is therefore a symbol of 'conjunction', especially when, in the Middle Ages, it takes on the form of a cross. Among many primitive peoples it was the object of much veneration. The Scythians used to make an annual sacrifice of several horses to the blade of a sword, which they conceived as a god of war. Similarly, the Romans believed that iron, because of its association with Mars, was capable of warding off evil spirits . The belief still persists in Scotland .
Founders of cities, in the ancient Che-King tales of China, wear swords . As a religious symbol, it is still in use as part of the ceremonial dress of oriental bishops. Its primary symbolic meaning , however, is of a wound and the power to wound, and hence of liberty and strength. Schneider has shown that, in megalithic Culture, the sword is the counterpart of the distaff, which is the feminine symbol of the continuity of life.
The sword and the distaff symbolize, respectively, death and fertility—the two opposites which constitute the basic symbolism of the mountain Schneider suggests that in the animal world the equivalents are the phallic fish and the frog . Furthermore, given the cosmic sense of sacrifice that is, the inversion of the implied realities of the terrestrial and the celestial orders, the sword is then seen as a symbol of physical extermination and psychic decision , as well as of the spirit and the word of God, the latter being a particularly common symbol during the Middle Ages . In this connexion, Bayley draws attention to the interesting relationship between the English words sword and word.
There can be no doubt that there is a sociological factor in sword-symbolism, Since the sword is an
instrument proper to the knight, who is the defender of the forces of light against the forces of darkness. But the fact is that in rites at the dawning of history and in folklore even today, the sword plays a similar spiritual role, with the magic power to fight off the dark powers personified in the 'malevolent dead', which is why it always figures in apotropaic dances. When it appears in association with fire and flames—which correspond to it in shape and resplendence—it symbolizes purification.
Schneider bears this out with his comment that whereas purification goes with fire and the sword, punishment goes with the lash and the club . In alchemy, the sword is a symbol for purifying fire. The golden sword—Chrysaor in Greek mythology—is a symbol for supreme spiritualization . The Western type of sword, with its straight blade, is, by virtue of its shape, a solar and masculine symbol. The Oriental sword, being curved, is lunar and feminine. Here one must recall the general meaning of weapons, which is the antithesis of the monster.
The sword, because of its implication of 'physical extermination', must be a symbol of spiritual evolution, just as the tree is of involution;
that is, the tree stands for the development of life within matter and activity.
This dualism between the spirit on the one hand and life on the other was resolved by Ludwig Klages, for his part, by opting for life, but Novalis has well expressed the contrary opinion with his observation that 'life is an infirmity of the spirit'.
It is a duality which is well illustrated by the opposing characteristics of wood which is feminine and metal. If the tree corresponds to the process of proliferation, then the sword represents the inverse. Atleast Conrad Dinckmut's Seelen Wurzgarten Ulm, 148, like many other similar works, has a 15th-century illustration of Christ with a branch or a tree on the left side of his face, whereas symmetrically opposite there is a sword.
This association of the sword with the tree is of great antiquity: we ourselves have seen a prehistoric Germanic relief depicting two figures, one being feminine and bearing a branch, the other masculine, with a sword. One may also see here an allegory of War and Peace; certainly the mediaeval illustration may allude to the olive branch, but there is nothing of this in the Germanic relief. Evola maintains that the sword is related to Mars, but with additional vertical—and horizontal— symbolisms, alluding, that is, to life and death.
It is also linked with steel as a symbol of the transcendent toughness of the all-conquering spirit. To quote from Emilio Sobejano, Swords of Spain, in Arte Espanol, XXI 95: 'Among the Germanic races, as Livy observed, the sword was at no time very common; on the contrary, it served as a symbol befitting high command and the loftiest rank; one only has to think of the dignity and pomp which characterized the institution of the Comes Spatharius, created by the Emperor Gordian the Younger around the year 247.... The sword is almost exclusively the prerogative of high dignitaries.
There is an Arabic tradition to the effect that it was the Hebrews who invented the sword, and that the place where it was first made—a tragic sign of how the idea first came into the world—was mount Casium, on the outskirts of Damascus, which was to become famous throughout Islam on account of its steel, and where, according to the ancient belief, Cain slew his brother. There, by an accident of fate, settled the first artificers of the newly invented weapon.
' The sword of fire bears testimony to the intrinsic relationship between the symbols of the sword, steel or iron, Mars and fire, all of which have a 'common rhythm'. on the other hand, it emphasizes the heat of the flame and the coldness of the bare metal; hence, the sword of fire is a symbol implying an ambivalent synthesis, like the volcano gelat et ardet, and also a symbol of the weapon which severs Paradise the realm of the fire of love from earth the world of affliction..
A figure of antiquity, which reappears in mediaeval literature and iconography, symbolizing the intuiting of higher truths and prophetic powers.
This is equivalent to achievement, crowning triumph and supreme equipoise as in the caduceus, the reliefs of Naksh-i-rustam, and in heraldic shields