Greetings of Peace. This blog contains selections from my correspondence and other sources on a variety of subjects related to religion, philosophy, and spirituality. I hope that they may be of benefit to the interested reader. Concerning the title of the blog, read this entry.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Rene Guenon on the Symbolism of the Tarot

Excerpts from the Writings of Rene Guenon Concerning the Symbolism of the Tarot


... the Tarot ... contains vestiges of an undeniably traditional science, whatever may have been its real origin.

- The Reign of Quantity, p. 255

The word " symbol," in its most general sense, can be applied to every formal expression of a doctrine, whether verbal, visual or otherwise ... it provides the support that is best adapted to possibilities of conception that lie beyond the power of words. Indeed symbolism, in which conceptual indefinitude in no wise precludes an absolutely mathematical exactness, thus reconciling apparently contradictory qualities, is, as one might say, the natural language of metaphysic ...

- Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines,  pp. 130-131

Therefore let no one say that symbolism is good only for the common man; it would be true to say the opposite; or better still, symbolism is equally good for all, because it helps everyone to understand the truth in question more or less completely and more or less profoundly, each according to the nature of his intellectual possibilities. It is thus that the highest truths, which would not be communicable or transmissible by any other means, can be communicated up to a certain point when they are, so to speak, incorporated in symbols which will hide them for many,  no doubt, but which will manifest them in all their splendour to the eyes of those who can see.

... The primordial revelation which is, like Creation, a work of the Word, is itself incorporated, so to speak, in symbols which have been transmitted from age to age ever since the origin of humanity ...

- Fundamental Symbols, pp. 13-14, 16

... It goes without saying that in such cases [of attempting to rebuild the Tarot figures], each always includes many of his particular ideas and there is no reason to consider these 'reconstructions' as being worth more or less than others; we think it is much safer to simply refer to ordinary figures, which have been slightly deformed in the course of time and offer a great chance to save a whole more closely to the original symbolism. At bottom, the transmission of Tarot is very comparable to that of 'folklore', if it is not simply a particular case of it, and preservation of the symbols is assured in the same way ...

- Review of Le Tarot

The very conception of 'folklore', as commonly understood, rests on a radically false idea, namely that there are 'popular creations', spontaneous productions of the mass of the people; and one sees immediately the relation­ship between this perception and 'democratic' prejudices. As has been rightly said, 'the profound interest of all so-called popular traditions is the fact that they are not popular in origin'; and we will add that if it is a question of genuinely traditional elements, as is almost always the case, however deformed, diminished or fragmentary they may sometimes be, as well as things having a genuine symbolic value-all that, far from being of popular origin, is not even of human origin. What may be popular is solely the fact of survival, when these elements belong to traditional forms that are now defunct; and in this respect the term folklore takes on a meaning very near that of 'paganism', if we consider only the etymology of the word 'pagan', and not its 'polemical' use as a term of reproach. It is thus that the people conserve, without understanding them, the debris of ancient traditions that sometimes go back to a past too remote to be dated, so that it has to be rele­gated to the obscure domain of 'prehistory'; they thereby fulfil the function of a sort of more or less 'subconscious' collective memory, the content of which has manifestly come from elsewhere. What may seem most surprising is that on closest scrutiny the things so preserved are found to contain, under a more or less veiled form, an abundance of esoteric information, which is, in its essence, precisely what is least popular; and this fact suggests of itself an explanation which may be summed up as follows. When a traditional form is on the point of becoming extinct, its last representatives may deliberately entrust to this aforesaid collective memory what would otherwise be lost beyond recall; that is, in fact, the only means of saving what can, in some measure, be saved. At the same time, the natural incomprehension of the masses is a sufficient guarantee that what has an esoteric character will not be laid bare and profaned, but will remain only as a sort of witness of the past for those who, in later times, will be capable of understanding it.

- Fundamental Symbols, pp. 25-26


(The Fool)

We are thinking especially of certain cases encountered in eastern forms of Christianity where, it is worth noting, mysticism itself has not quite the same meaning as in the west. Indeed 'Eastern Hagiography' has some strange and unusual paths to sanctification, like that of the 'fools in Christ,' whose extravagant gifts are meant to hide their spiritual gifts from the eyes of onlookers under the shocking appearance of madness; or, rather are meant to free them from the bonds of this world in their most intimate and most spiritually troublesome expression, that of the 'social ego.' This appearance of madness can be an effective means, although not the only one, of escaping all indiscreet curiosity as well as any social obligations not really compatible with spiritual development; but it is important to note that this involves assuming an attitude toward the outer world that constitutes a kind of 'defense' against the latter, and not, as with the Quietists, a means that by itself leads to the acquisition of certain inner states. We must add that such a simulation is rather dangerous, for it can easily progress step by step toward genuine madness, especially in the mystic who by definition is never entirely the master of his states; moreover between mere simulation and actual madness there can be numerous degrees of rather marked disequilibrium, and any disequilibrium is necessarily an obstacle which, if it continues to exist, opposes the harmonious and complete development of the higher possibilities of the being.

- Initiation and Spiritual Realization, pp. 136-137

Let us note first of all that the Latin word peregrinus, from which 'pilgrim' comes, means both 'traveler' and 'stranger', and this simple observation already points to some rather curious connections. Among the Companions there are on the one hand, those who qualify as 'wayfarers' and others who as 'strangers', corresponding exactly to the two meanings of peregrinus (meanings also found in the Hebrew gershon), and on the other hand, the symbolic ordeals of initiation are called 'journeys' even in modern 'speculative' Masonry. In many traditions the various initiatic stages are described as stages of a journey, sometimes an ordinary journey, sometimes a voyage, as we have pointed out on other occasions. This symbolism of the journey is perhaps more widespread than that of war, to which we alluded in an earlier article. Moreover, both symbolisms share a certain connection which is sometimes even expressed outwardly in historical facts. We are thinking especially of the close connection during the Middle Agesbetween pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the Crusades. And let us add that even in the most ordinary religious language, earthly life, considered as a time of trials, is often likened to a journey, and even qualified more particularly as a pilgrimage - the celestial world, which is the object of this pilgrimage, also being identified symbolically with the 'Holy Land' or 'Land of the Living'.

One sees by this how complex these things are and how distinctions are to be made among men who appear outwardly identical to the ordinary pilgrims with whom they mingle; and beyond this, sometimes it even happens that initiates who have attained the goal, or even 'adepts', may for special reasons adopt this same guise of 'traveler'.

But to return to pilgrims, we know that their distinctive signs were the scallop shell (so called from Saint-Jacques) and the staff. The latter, which is also closely connected to the walking-stick of the Compagnonnage, is naturally an attribute of the traveler, but it has many other meanings, and perhaps one day we shall devote a special study to this question. As for the scallop shell, it was in certain regions called the 'creusille', a word that must be linked to 'crucible', again recalling the notion of trials, envisaged here more particularly in connection with alchemical symbolism and understood in the sense of 'purification', the Pythagorean catharsis,which was precisely the preparatory phase of initiation.

Since the scallop shell is regarded as a special attribute of St James, we are led to an observation regarding the pilgrimage to Saint James of Compostello [Santiago de Compostela]. The routes formerly fol­lowed by the pilgrims are even today often called 'paths of Saint­ Jacques', but this expression has at the same time quite another application: in the language of the peasants, the 'Way of Saint James' is in fact also the 'Milky Way', and this will perhaps seem less unex­pected if we note that etymologically Compostello means 'starlitfield'. Here we come upon another idea, that of 'celestial voyages', and this moreover in connection with a terrestrial voyage.

But we must limit ourselves here, and shall raise only one final point regarding the expression 'noble travellers' applied to initiates, or at least to some among them, precisely because of their wander­ings. On this point V. de L. Milosz wrote:

Transmitted by oral tradition to initiates of the Middle Ages and of modern times, Noble Traveller is the secret name of ini­tiates of antiquity. The last time that it was pronounced in public was on May 30, 1786, in Paris, at a session of Parliament devoted to the cross-examination of a famous defendant [Cagliostro J, victim of a pamphleteer, Theveneau de Morande. Initiates' wan­derings did not differ from ordinary travels for study except that their itinerary, though apparently haphazard, rigorously coin­cided with the adept's most secret aspirations and gifts. The most illustrious examples of these pilgrimages are offered to us by: Democritus, who was initiated into the secrets of alchemy by Egyptian priests and by Ostanes, the magus, and into Asiatic doctrines during his stays not only in Persia but also, according to some historians, in India as well; Thales, instructed in the temples of Egypt and of Chaldea; and Pythagoras, who visited all the countries known to the ancients (and, very probably, India and China), whose sojourns were distinguished-in Persia by conversations with Zaratas the magus, in Gaul by his coopera­tion with the Druids, and in Italy by his speeches at the Assembly of the Elders of Crotona. To these examples it would be proper to add Paracelsus' stays in France, Austria, Germany, Spain and Portugal, England, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Valachia, Carniola, Dalmatia, Russia and Tur­key, as well as the travels of Nicholas Flamel to Spain where Maistre Canches taught him how to decipher the famous hiero­glyphic figures of the Book of Abraham the Jew.The poet Robert Browning has defined the secret character of these scholarly pil­grimages in a stanza particularly rich in intuition: 'I see my way as birds their trackless way ... In some time, His good time, I shall arrive: He guides me and the bird.' William Meister's years of travel have the same initiatic meaning.

We wanted to reproduce this entire passage despite its length because of the interesting examples it contains. No doubt one could find many others more or less well-known, but these are particularly char­acteristic, even if they do not perhaps belong to the same category as those discussed earlier, and which should not be confused with 'study travels', even when these latter are really initiatic and involve special missions of adepts or even of initiates of a lesser degree.

- Studies in Freemasonry and the Companionnage, pp. 59-63

(The Juggler)

We must now point out that the same thing happens with those producers of 'phenomena' to whom we alluded above, which leads directly to the case of 'jugglers', whose behavior has so often served in all traditional forms as a disguise for initiates of high rank, especially when they had to fulfill some special worldly 'mission.' By juggler we must not understand only a kind of 'conjurer,' in accord with the very restricted meaning given this word by moderns, for from our vantage point the man who exhibits the most authentic psychic 'phenomena' belongs to exactly the same category, the juggler being one who amuses a crowd by accomplishing remarkable things, or even by simply affecting extravagant behavior ... If we should add that the juggler ... is usually a 'wanderer,' it becomes easy to understand the advantages offered by this role when for reasons of simple expediency, or for other much more profound reasons, one wishes to escape the attentions of the profane or to divert it from that of which they should remain ignorant.

- Initiation and Spiritual Realization, p. 139

(The Popess)

Then, when this same warrior caste, reversing the normal relatiqnships of subordination, claims supremacy. its predominance is generally accompanied by that of feminine elements in the symbolism of the traditional form modified by it; and some­times, even, as a consequence of this modification, also by the institution of a feminine form of priesthood, such as that of the Celtic druidesses, for example.

- Fundamental Symbols, p. 117

The various 'ladies' celebrated by the poets attached to the mysterious organization of the Fideli d'Amore from Dante, Guido Cavalcante, and their contemporaries to Boccaccio and Petrarch, are not women who actually lived on this earth but are all, under different names, one and the same symbolic 'Lady,' who represents transcendent Intelligence or Divine Wisdom

- Insights into Christian a Esoterism, p. 33

(The Empress)

'Maya' is the material 'power' (sakti) through which the divine understanding acts; more precisely still it is kriya-sakti, that is 'divine activity', which is iccha-sakti. As such it is inherent in Brahma Himself, or to the Supreme Principle. It is therefore, situated at an incomparably higher level than mere prakrti, and if the latter is also called maya, notable in the Samkhya, this is because it is in reality a reflection of this sakti in the 'cosmological' order. One may, moreover, note here the application of the inverse sense of the analogy, the Supreme Activity reflecting in pure passivity, and the principial 'omnipotence' in the potentiality of the materia prima. Furthermore, maya, by the very fact that it is the divine 'art' that resides in the Principle, is also identified with 'wisdom', sophia, understood, in exactly the same sense as the Judeo-Christian tradition, and as such, is the mother of the avatara [the Theotokos, God-bearer, or Mother of God].

- Studies in Hinduism, p. 86

(The Emperor)

The emperor presides over the 'lesser mysteries', which correspond to the 'Terrestrial Paradise', that is to say the realization of the perfection of the human state ... being accomplished 'according to philosophy' ['with philosophical instructions to temporal happiness'].

- Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power, p. 69

V. LE PAPE (The Pope)

The sovereign pontiff presides over the 'greater mysteries', which concern the 'Celestial Paradise', that is, the realization of supra-human states, joined thus to the human state by the 'pontific' function ... [being accomplished] 'according to revelation ['with revelations to life eternal'].

- Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power, p. 69

(The Lover)

... One must understand by 'Court of Love' a symbolic assemblage presided over by Love itself personified, whereas a 'court of love' is only a human gathering, a sort of tribunal called upon to adjudicate more or less complex cases.

... it is said in this book that the palace of Love rises in the 'center of the universe', and that it has four sides and four gateways; the east gateway is reserved for the god, and the north remains forever closed.

- Insights into Christian Esoterism, pp. 63-65

[Footnote: In the symbolism of archery, the centre of the target likewise has the same significance; without dwelling on this subject here, we will only recall that the arrow Is yet another axial symbol and also one of the most frequent figurations of the 'solar ray'. In certain cases a thread, attached to the arrow, Is shot through the target; this strikingly recalls the Gospel image of the 'eye of the needle', and the symbol of the thread (sutra) Is moreover to be found also In the term sutratma.]

The microcosmic correspondence of this 'solar gateway' is easy to find, especially if we refer to the dome's already mentioned likeness to the human skull. The summit of the dome is the 'crown' of the head, that is, the terminal point of the subtle 'coronal artery' or sushumna, which lies in the direct prolongation of the 'solar ray', also called sushumna, and which is in reality even no more than what might be called, at least virtually, its 'intra-human' axial portion. This point of termination is the orifice called brahma-randhra, by which the spirit of the being on the way to liberation escapes, once the bonds that united it (as jivatma) to the psycho-physical composite have been broken; and it goes without saying that this Way is exclusively reserved for the case of the 'knower' (vidvan), for whom the axis is effectively identified with the seventh ray, and who is then ready to go forth from the cosmos definitively, passing 'beyond the Sun' .

- Fundamental Symbols, p. 184

... sentiment is really only a heat without light; [This is why the ancients represented love as blind.] and one can also find in man a light without heat, that of reason, which is only a reflected illumination, cold like the lunar light which is its symbol. In the order of principles, on the contrary, these two aspects, like all complementaries, meet and are united, for they are constituents of one same essential nature. This is the case, therefore, as regards pure intelligence which belongs to the principial order; and as we have previously indicated, this further confirms that the symbolic radiation under its double form can be integrally related to it. The fire which resides at the centre of the being is indeed both light and heat; but if these two terms are to be 'translated' respectively by intelligence and love, even though fundamentally they are but two inseparable aspects of one and the same thing, it will be necessary to add, in order that this 'translation' be acceptable and legitimate, that the love in question differs from the sentiment that is named love as much as pure intelligence differs from reason.

- Fundamental Symbols, pp. 286

(The Chariot)

We know that the wheel is, in a general way, a symbol of the world, the circumference representing manifestation, which is produced by the irradiation of the centre. This symbolism naturally admits of more or less particularised meanings, for instead of being applied to the whole of universal manifestation, it can be applied also to no more than a certain domain of it. A particularly important example is when two wheels are taken together to denote two different parts of the whole cosmos. This relates to the symbolism of the chariot, so often to be met with in the Hindu tradition...

By reason of this symbolism, the construction of a chariot amounts strictly to the 'artisanal' realisation of a cosmic model, as does the architectural construction of which we have just been speaking. We need hardly recall that it is in virtue of considerations of this order that crafts in a traditional civilisation possess a spiritual value and a truly sacred character, and that it is because of this that they can normally serve as supports for initiation. Moreover, there is an exact parallelism between the two constructions in question, as is to be seen at once from the fact that the fundamental element of the chariot is the axle (aksha, identical with 'axis'), which in this case represents the World Axis and which is thus the equivalent of the central pillar (skambha) of a building to which everything in the whole edifice must be referred. Moreover, it is of little importance, as we have said, whether or not this pillar is represented materially; certain texts have it that the axle of the cosmic chariot is only a 'separative breath' (vyana) which, occupying the intermediate space (antariksha, explained as antaryaksha), maintains Heaven and Earth in their respective 'places', and which, while separating them, also unites them as a bridge (setu) and makes possible the passage from one to the other. The two wheels, which are placed at the extremities of the axle, then in fact represent Heaven and Earth; and the axle extends from one to the other, just as the central pillar reaches from the earth to the summit of the vault. Between these two wheels and supported by the axle is the 'box' (kosha) of the chariot, the flooring of which, from another point of view, also corresponds to the Earth; the body formed by the two sides corresponds to the intermediate space, and the roof corresponds to Heaven.

- Fundamental Symbols, pp. 179


Taking the strict sense of the name 'Melki-Tsedeq', as 'King of Justice', his proper attributes are the same scales and sword that characterize Mikael, 'Angel of Judgement'. In the social structure these emblems represent the administrative and military offices that properly belong to the Kshatriya caste, and which are the two elements of royal power. Hieroglyphically, they compose two characters to form the Arabic and Hebrew root Haq that denotes both 'Justice' and 'Truth' and which served for many ancient races also to denote royalty. 'Haq' is the enabling power of Justice, the equilibrium symbolized by the scales, whereas power is symbolized by the sword, and it is that which truly characterizes royal power. [This significance could be summarized in the following formula: 'force in the service of right' - if modern usage had not misused it to excess by giving it a wholly external meaning.]

- The Lord of the World, p. 35

(The Hermit)

While the being remaining in the unmanifested has accomplished realization solely 'for itself', the one that later 'redescends' ... has from then on, with respect to manifestation, a role that expresses the symbolism of solar 'radiation' by which all things are illuminated.

... With regard to manifestation the being that 'redescends' has a function of which the somewhat exceptional character clearly shows that it does not find itself back in a condition comparable to ordinary beings. This these cases are those of beings one could describe as charged with a 'mission' in the true sense of the word ... proceeding directly from the principial and transcendent order and expressing something of that order in the manifested world. As the 'redescent' presupposes the previous ascent, such a 'mission' presupposes perfect inner realization.

- Initiation and Spiritual Realization, pp. 172-175

(The Wheel of Fortune)

The relationship which exists between the centre and the circumference, or between what they respectively represent, is already indicated clearly enough by the fact that the circumference cannot exist without its centre, while the centre is entirely independent of the circumference. This relationship can be denoted even more precisely and explicitly by the rays issuing from the centre and ending at the circumference. These rays can of course be depicted in a variety of numbers, since they really are indefinitely numerous, as are the points on the circumference which are their extremities. But in fact, for figurations of this kind, numbers that have in themselves a particular symbolic value have always been chosen ... Among the figures which comprise a greater number of rays, we must mention especially the wheels or 'rounds' which most commonly have six or eight radii.  The Celtic "round" which was perpetuated throughout almost all the Middle Ages, is found in both these forms; these same figures, and especially the second, are to be met with very often in oriental lands, especially in Chaldea and Assyria, in India (where the wheel is called chakra) and in Tibet. On the other hand, there is a close kinship between the wheel of six spokes and the chrismon which only differs from it in that the circumference which marks the extremities of the rays is not normally drawn. Now the wheel, instead of being simply a 'solar' sign as is commonly thought in our time, is before all else a symbol of the world, which can be understood without difficulty. In the symbolic language of India, one speaks constantly of the 'wheel of things' or of the 'wheel of life', which corresponds precisely to this signification. There is also the question ofthe 'wheel of the Law', an expression which Buddhism has borrowed, as with many others, from earlier doctrines and which, originally at least, refers especially to cyclic theories. It must be added that the Zodiac is also represented in the form of a wheel, naturally of twelve spokes, and that the name given it in Sanskrit signifies literally 'wheel of signs', according to the primary sense ofthe word rashi which serves to designate the signs ofthe Zodiac.

[Footnote: Let it be noted also that the "wheel of Fortune",  in the symbolism of Western antiquity, is very closely related to the 'wheel of the Law' and also, though it may not seem so evident at first glance, to the zodiacal wheel.] ...

Equilibrium itself moreover is nothing other than the reflection in the manifested order of the absolute immutability of the Principle. To see things under this new relationship, the circumference must be considered as being in motion around its centre which alone does not participate in this movement. The very name of the wheel (rota) immediately evokes the idea of rotation; and this rotation is the figure of the continual change to which all manifested things are subject. In such a movement, there is but one single point that remains fixed and immutable, and this point is the Centre. This brings us back to the cyclic concept we spoke of earlier: the course of any cycle, or the rotation of the circumference, is succession, whether in temporal or some other mode. The fixity of the Centre is the image of Eternity, where all things are present in perfect simultaneity. The circumference can only turn around a fixed centre; likewise, change, which does not suffice unto itself, necessarily supposes a principle which is outside change. This is the 'unmoved mover' of Aristotle which again is represented by the Centre. Thus at the same time, since all that exists, all that changes or moves, has no reality apart from the immutable Principle on which it totally depends, this Principle is that which gives motion its first impulse and also that which, subsequently, governs and directs it, which gives it its law, the conservation of the order of the world being in a way nothing but a prolongation of the creative act. The Principle is, according to a Hindu expression, the 'Internal Co-ordinator' (antaryami), for it directs all things from within, itself residing at the innermost point of all. which is the Centre.

- Fundamental Symbols, pp. 47-50


.. another symbol, the meaning of which relates to the Janua Coeli ... is a 'monster's head' which, in various forms, often more or less conventionalised, is to be found in the most widely different lands
where it has received correspondingly diverse names, such as Kala-mukha and Kirti-mukha in India and T'ao t'ieh in China ...

The T'ao t'ieh, moreover, is really neither a tiger nor a bear, nor is it any other determinate animal, and Hentze describes the composite character of this fantastic mask thus: 'mouth of a carnivore armed with great fangs, horns of a buffalo or of a ram, face and tufts of an owl, wing stumps and claws of a bird of prey, frontal ornament in the form of a cicada'. This figure is very ancient in China, as it is found almost constantly in the bronzes of the Chang dynasty. The common translation of the name T'ao t'ieh, 'glutton' or 'ogre', seems to have been given it only much later; but this appellation is no less exact, for it is indeed a question of a 'devouring' monster. This is also true for its equivalents belonging to other traditions which, even if they do not exhibit so composite a character as the T'ao t'ieh, in any case seem never to be reduced to the representation of a single animal. Thus, in India, it may be a lion (and there, conventionally, it is given the name of Kala especially), or a Makara (symbol of Varuna, which should be kept in mind in view of the considerations which are to follow), or even an eagle, that is to say a Garuda; but under all these forms the essential meaning remains always the same.

As to this meaning, Hentze (in the cited article) sees in the T'ao t'ieh a 'demon of darkness'. This may be true in a certain sense, but on condition of being explained and made more precise, as he has himself done in a subsequent work. This was not at all a 'demon' in the ordinary sense of the word, but rather in the original sense of the Vedic asura, and the darkness in question is in reality the 'higher darkness'; in other words, it is a symbol of the 'Supreme Identity' insofar as it absorbs and sends forth by turns the 'Light of the World'. The T'ao t'ieh and other similar monsters thus correspond to Vritra and to his diverse equivalents, and also to Varuna, by whom the light or the rain is alternately retained or released, an alternation which is that of the involutive and evolutive cycles of universal manifestation. Coomaraswamy has thus rightly said that this face, whatever its diverse appearances, is truly the 'Face of God' which both 'kills and vivifies'. It is not, therefore, exactly a death's head', as Marchal would have it, at least insofar as it is not taken symbol­ically; it is rather, as Coomaraswamy goes on to say, the 'head of Death', that is to say of Mrityu, of whom Kala is also a name.

Kala is strictly 'all-consuming Time'; but by transposition it also designates the very Principle itself insofar as it is 'destroyer', or rather 'transformer' in relation to manifestation which it reduces to the non-manifested state by reabsorbing it, as it were, into itself; this is the most exalted sense in which Death can be understood. It is also assimilated symbolically to the sun, and it is known furthermore that the lion, whose mask (sinha-mukha) it borrows, is more especially a solar symbol. This leads us back to what we explained previously on the subject of the Janua Coeli, and Coomaraswamy recalls in this connection that the Christ who said 'I am the Door', is at the same time the 'Lion of Judah' and the 'Sun of men'. [The 'solar gate' (surya-dvara) is the gate of Deliverance' (mukti-dvara); the gate or door and the mouth (mukha) are equivalent symbols here. The sun, as 'Face of God', is likewise represented by a lion mask on a Christian sarcophagus at Ravenna.] In Byzantine churches, the figure of the Pancrator or of Christ 'in majesty' occupies the central position of the vault, that is to say, that which corresponds precisely to the 'eye' of the dome. Now this, as we have explained elsewhere, represents, at the upper extremity of the World Axis, the gate by which the 'exit from the cosmos' is made.

To return to Kala, an essentially solar significance also belongs to the composite representation known in Java under the name Kala-makara inawhich the features of the lion are combined with those of the Makara, while at the same time, by its Makara aspect, it refers especially to the symbolism of Varuna. Insofar as Varuna is identified with Mrityu or with Yama, the Makara is the crocodile (shishumara or shimshumari) with open jaws, which holds itself 'against the current' representing the one way by which every being must necessarily pass, and which is thus represented as the 'guardian of the gate' which the being must pass through in order to be liberated from the limitative conditions (symbolised also by the pasha of Varuna) that keep him in the domain of contingent and manifested existence. On the other hand, this same Makara is, in the Hindu Zodiac, the sign of Capricorn, that is, the 'gateway of the Gods'.  The Makara therefore, has two apparently opposed aspects, in a sense 'benefic' and 'malefic', which thus correspond to the duality of Mitra and Varuna (united in an indissoluble pair under the dual form Mitravarunau), or of the 'diurnal Sun' and the 'nocturnal Sun', which amounts to saying that, according to the state achieved by the being who presents himself before the Makara, his mouth is for this being either the 'Gate of Deliverance' or the 'jaws of Death'. This last case is that of the ordinary man who, in passing through death, must come back to another state of manifestation, while the first case is that of the being who is 'qualified to pass through the middle of the Sun' by means of the 'seventh ray' because he is already identified with the Sun itself, and to the question, 'who art thou?' which is asked of him when he comes before this gate, he is thus able to respond truly: 'I am Thou'.

- Fundamental Symbols, pp. 242-245

(The Hanged Man)

As long as knowledge is only mental it is a mere 'reflected' knowledge, like that of the shadows seen by the prisoner's in Plato's allegory of the cave, and it is therefore indirect and entirely outward. To pass from the shadow to reality grasped directly in itself is truly to pass from the 'outward' to the 'inward' and also, from the more particular point of view that we adopt here, to pass from virtual to effective initiation. This passage implies the renunciation of the mental, that is, of the entire discursive faculty, which thence forth becomes impotent since it cannot go beyond the limits imposed upon it by its very nature; intellectual intuition alone lies beyond these limits because it does not belong to the order of individual faculties. Using traditional symbolism based on organic correspondences, one can say that the center of consciousness must be transferred from the 'brain' to the 'heart' ... The passage from the 'outward' to the 'inward' is also the passage from multiplicity to unity, or from circumference to center, to the single point from whence the human being, restored to the prerogatives of the 'primordial state', can rise to the higher states and, by the complete realization of his true essence, finally be effectively and actually what he is from all eternity.

- Perspectives on Initiation, pp. 208-209

... The inverted tree is not only a macrocosmic symbol as we have just seen; at times it is also and for the same reasons a microcosmic symbol, that is, a symbol of man. Thus Plato says that 'man is a celestial plant, which means that he is like an inverted tree, of which the roots stretch towards the heavens and the branches below towards the earth'.

- Fundamental Symbols, p. 222

Though we have already spoken of the symbolism of the bridge on different occasions, we will add some further considerations ... par­ticularly a point that shows the close connection of this symbolism with the doctrine of the sutratma. What is involved is the original meaning of the word setu which is the oldest of the different Sanskrit terms for bridge and the only one found in the Rig Veda. This word, derived from the root si, 'to attach', means strictly a bond or a tie; and, in fact, the bridge thrown over a river is indeed what links one bank to the other; but over and above this very general remark there is in addition, in what is implied by this term, something much more precise. The bridge must be thought of as primitively constituted by lines or cords, which are its most orthodox natural model, or by a rope fastened in the same way as these, for example, to trees growing on the two banks, so that the banks are seen to be actually 'attached' to each other by the rope. Since the two banks symbolically represent two different states of the being, it is obvious that the rope plays the same part here as the thread which unites all these states, that is, the sutratma itself. The quality of such a bond, both slender and strong, is also an adequate image of its spiritual nature; and this is why the bridge, which is also assimilated to a ray of light, is often described traditionally as being as narrow as the edge of a sword, or again, if it is made of wood, as formed from a single beam or a single tree trunk. This narrowness brings out the peril of the way in question which, moreover, is the only way possible, but which all do not succeed in tra­versing and which very few indeed can pass over unaided, by their own means, for there is always a certain danger in the passage from one state to another; but this danger relates especially to the double sense, 'benefic' and 'malefic' ,  which the bridge has in common with so many other symbols, and to which we shall have to return shortly.

The two worlds represented by the two shores are, in the most general sense, heaven and earth which at the beginning were united but which were separated by the fact of manifestation, the entire domain of which is then assimilated to a river or to a sea that lies between them. The bridge, there­fore, is the exact equivalent of the axial pillar that links heaven and earth even while holding them apart; and it is because of this meaning that it must be conceived of as essentially vertical like all the other symbols of the 'World Axis'-for example, the axle of the 'cosmic chariot' when its two wheels represent heaven and earth. This establishes also the fundamental identity of the symbolism of the bridge with that of the ladder ... Crossing the bridge is thus nothing other than the passage along the axis which alone truly unites the different states one to another. The bank from which the bridge extends is, in fact, this world, that is, the state in which the being who has to traverse the axis actually is; and the bank to which it ultimately leads, after having passed through the other states of manifestation, is the principial world. One of the two banks is the domain of death, where everything is subject to change, and the other is the domain of immortality.

We recalled just now that the axis both links and separates heaven and earth. Similarly, though the bridge is really the way that unites the two shores and allows the passage from one to the other, it may none the less be, in a sense, like an obstacle placed between them, which brings us once again to its 'perilous' nature. This is itself implied, moreover, in the meaning of the word setu, which is a bond in the two senses in which it can be under­stood: on the one hand, that which connects two things to each other, but also, on the other hand, a fetter in which the being finds itself caught. A rope can serve equally well for either of these two purposes, and the bridge will appear likewise under one or the other aspect, that is, as benefic or malefic, according to whether the being is successful or not in freeing itself from it. It can be noted that the double symbolic sense of the bridge results also from the fact that it can be traversed in the two opposite directions, while nevertheless it must be crossed in only one direction, that going from 'this shore' towards the 'other', any turning back constituting a danger to be avoided, except in the case of the being who, already freed from conditioned existence, can henceforth 'move at will' through all the worlds and for whom such a reversal is moreover only a purely illusory appearance. In every other case but this, the part of a bridge that has already been traversed must normally be 'lost from view' and become as if it no longer existed, just as the symbolic ladder is always regarded as having its feet in the very domain where the climber actually finds himself, the lower part of the ladder disappearing for him insofar as his ascent has been accomplished. So long as the being has not reached the principial world, from which he may re-descend into manifestation without being affected in any way, realisation cannot in fact be accomplished except in an ascending direction; and for anyone who should attach himself to the way for its own sake, thus taking the means for the end, that way would become veritably an obstacle instead of leading him effectively to liberation. This implies that he must continue to destroy the ties that bind him to the stages he has already traversed, until the axis is finally reduced to a single point which contains all and is the centre of the total being.

- Fundamental Symbols, pp. 260-262


Of course the word 'death' must here be taken in its most general sense, according to which we may say that every change of state whatsoever is at once a death and a birth, depending on whether it is considered from one side or the other: death with respect to the antecedent state, birth with respect to the consequent state. Initiation is generally described as a 'second birth', which indeed it is, but this 'second birth' necessarily implies a death to the profane world and follows so to speak as an immediate sequel to it, since these are strictly speaking only the two faces of one and the same change of state.

- Perspectives on Initiation, pp. 172-173

In The Great Triad (ch. 6) with reference to the Ming-Tang and the Tien-ti­ Houei, we have cited a Masonic formula according to which the task of the Masters is 'to diffuse the light and to gather that which is scattered'. In fact, the comparison that we made then bore only upon the first part of this formula. As to the second part, which may seem more enigmatic, it has some remarkable connections in traditional symbolism, nor do we think it would be without interest to make here some observations which could not be included on that other occasion. In order to understand as completely as possible what is involved, it is advisable to refer first of all to the Vedic tradition which is particularly explicit in this respect: 'what has been scattered' is the dismembered body of the primordial Purusha who was divided at the first sacrifice accomplished by the Devas at the beginning, and from whom, by this very division, were born all manifested beings. It is obvious that we have here a symbolic description of the passage from unity to multiplicity, without which there could not in fact be any manifestation whatsoever: and this makes it already clear that the 'gathering of what is scattered', or the reconstitution of Purusha as he was 'before the beginning', if such an expression is permissible, that is, in the state of non-manifestation, is nothing other than the return to principial unity. This Purusha is identical with Prajapati, 'the Lord of beings brought forth', all of whom have issued forth from him and are thus considered in a certain sense as his 'progeny'. He is also Vishvakarma, that is, the 'Grand Architect of the Universe', and, as Vishvakarma, it is he himself who accomplishes the sacrifice while at the same time he is the victim thereof; and if it is said that he is sacrificed by the Devas, this makes no difference in reality, for the Devas are after all nothing other than the 'powers' that he carries within himself.

We have already said, on several occasions, that every ritual sacrifice must be looked on as an image of this first cosmogonic sacrifice; and in every sacrifice, as Ananda Coomaraswamy has remarked, 'the Brahmanas abound with evidence that the victim is a representation ofthe sacrificer himself, or as the texts express it, is the sacrificer himself. In accordance with the universal rule that initiation (diksha) is a death and a rebirth, it is clear that the 'initiate is the oblation' (Taittiriya Samhita 6:1.4), 'the victim is substantially the sacrificer himself (Aitareya Brahmana 2:2). This leads us directly to the Masonic symbolism of the grade of Master, in which the initiated is identified in fact with the victim. Moreover, the relationship of the legend of Hiram with the myth of Osiris has often been emphasised so that, when it comes to 'gathering that which is scattered', we think immediately of Isis gathering together the scattered members of Osiris. Essentially, however, the scattering of the members of Osiris is precisely the same thing as that of the members of Purusha or of Prajapati: these are just two versions of the description of the same cosmogonic process in two different traditional forms. It is true that in the case of Osiris and in that of Hiram, it is no longer a question of a sacrifice, at least not explicitly, but of a murder; but even that does not change anything essentially, for it is really the same thing that is considered under two comple­mentary aspects, as a sacrifice under its 'devic' aspect, and as a murder under its 'asuric' aspect. Suffice it to note this point in passing, for to dwell on it would mean entering into unduly long developments not relevant to the question we are now considering.

Again, in the Hebraic Kabbala-though here it is no longer really a ques­tion of either sacrifice or of murder, but rather a kind of 'disintegration', the consequences of which are, moreover, the same-it was from the fragmenta­tion of the body of Adam Qadmon that the Universe was formed with all the beings that it contains, so that these are like particles of this body, their 'rein­tegration' into unity corresponding to the reconstitution of Adam Qadmon, who is 'Universal Man'; and Purusha, according to one sense of this word, is also 'Man' par excellence. In all this, then, it is always exactly the same thing that is being symbolised. Let us add, before going further, that since the grade of Master represents, virtually at least, the accomplishment of the Lesser Mysteries, what is to be understood in this case is strictly speaking the reintegration at the centre of the human state. But the same symbolism is always applicable to different levels in virtue of the correspondences that exist between them, so that it may be referred either to a given world, or to universal manifestation as a whole; and the reintegration into the 'primordial state', which is also the 'Adamic' state, prefigures as it were the total and final reintegration, even though in reality it is but a step on the way that leads to it.

In the study we cited above, Coomaraswamy said that 'the essential, in the Sacrifice, in the first place is to divide, and in the second place to reunite'. It includes, therefore, the two complementary poles of 'disintegration' and 'reintegration' which constitute the cosmic process in its entirety: Purusha, 'being one, becomes many, and being many, becomes one' ...

In conclusion there is still something to be said about another kind of symbolism, which may seem very different on the surface, but which never­theless has in reality an equivalent significance. This is the reconstitution of a word from its literal elements taken initially in isolation. In order to under­stand this it must be remembered that from a traditional point of view the name of a being is nothing other than the expression of the very essence of this being. The reconstitution of the name, therefore, is symbolically the same thing as the reconstitution of the being itself. The part which letters play in a symbolism like that of the Kabbala with regard to creation or universal manifestation, is also well known; it could be said that manifestation is formed by the separated letters which correspond to the multiplicity of its elements, and that to reunite these letters is to bring it back to its Principle if, that is, this reunion is accomplished in such a way as to reconstitute truly the name of the Principle. From this point of view, 'to gather that which is scattered' is the same thing as 'to find the lost Word' for, in reality and in its most profound sense, this 'lost Word' is nothing other than the name of the 'Great Architect of the Universe' .

- Fundamental Symbols, pp. 204-207


It now becomes clear in what sense the middle term of the Great Triad envisaged by the Far-Eastern tradition should be taken ; the three terms are "Heaven", "Earth", and "Man", with the third playing the part of "mediator" between the other two, uniting their two natures in himself. One may truly say, even of individual man, that he participates in "Heaven" and "Earth", which are identi­fied with Purusha and Prakriti, the two poles of universal manifestation ; but there is nothing here that is peculiar to the case of man, and one may say the same of any manifested being. In order that man may be effectively able to play the part in question in respect of universal Existence, he must have reached the point of situating himself at the centre of all things, in other words he must have attained at least the state of "true man"; even then, he will actually perform that function for one degree of Existence alone, and only in the state of "Divine man" is this possibility realized in its plenti­tude. This is tantamount to saying that the true "mediator",  in whom the union of "Heaven" and "Earth" is fully accomplished by the synthesis of all the states, is Universal Man, who is identical with the Word ...

Again, as "Heaven" and "Earth" are two complementary principles, one active and the other passive, their union can be represented by the figure of the "Androgyne", and this takes us back to what was said earlier in regard to Universal Man. Here again, every manifested being participates in the two principles and this is expressed by the presence of the two terms yang and yin, but in different proportions and always with one or the other predominating ; the perfectly balanced union of the two terms can be realized only in the Primordial State.

- The Symbolism of the Cross, pp. 124-125

(The Devil)

It is appropriate to note in particular here that every change of state must be considered to be accomplished in darkness, which explains the relevance of the symbolism of the color black to our subject; the candidate for initiation must pass through total darkness before reaching 'true light'. It is in this phase of darkness that what is called the 'descent into hell', takes place, of which we have spoken more fully elsewhere; it is one could say, a kind of 'recapitulation' of the antecedent states by which the possibilities relating to the profane state are definitively exhausted in order that the being may thenceforth freely develop the possibilities of a superior order that he bears within himself and the realization of which belongs properly to the initiatic domain.

- Perspectives on Initiation, p. 173

... carnival represents what is still left of festival today in the West ... We may as well give here some definite examples, and we will mention first certain truly strange festivals which were celebrated in the Middle Ages: the 'feast of the ass' where this animal, whose distinctly satanic symbolism is well known in all traditions, was even brought into the very choir of the church where it occupied the place of honour and received the most extraordinary tokens of veneration; also, the 'feast of fools' ,  wherein the lower clergy gave themselves up to the worst improprieties, parodying both the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the liturgy itself. [These 'fools' wore a headdress with long ears, obviously intended to evoke the notion of an ass's head: and this feature is not the least significant from our point of view.] How is it possible to explain that in such a period things whose most evident characteristic is incontestably that of parody and even of sacrilege were not only tolerated but even given an as it were official sanction?

We will also mention the Roman Saturnalia from which, moreover, the modem carnival seems to have been directly derived, though in fact it is no longer anything but a very diminished vestige: during these festivals, the slaves ordered the masters about, and the masters served the slaves. One
then had the image of a truly 'upside down' world, wherein everything was done in reverse of the normal order. Although it is commonly claimed that these festivals were a reminder of the 'golden age',  this interpretation is clearly false; for there is no question here of any kind of 'equality' that could strictly be regarded as representing, insofar as is possible in present conditions, the primordial indifferentiation of social functions. It is a question of the reversal of hierarchies, which is something completely different; and such a reversal constitutes, generally speaking, one of the plainest characteristics of satan­ism. We must therefore see here something that relates much rather to the sinister aspect of Saturn, an aspect which certainly does not pertain to him as god of the 'golden age' but, on the contrary, insofar as he is now no more than the fallen god of a bygone and finished period.

It can be seen by these examples that there is invariably a sinister and even satanic element in such festivals; and it should be noted in particular that this very element is precisely what pleases the mob and excites its gaiety. There is something here, in fact, that is very apt-and even more so than anything else­ to satisfy the tendencies of fallen man, insofar as these tendencies push him to develop the lowest possibilities of his nature. Now it is just in this that the real point of such festivals lies: it is a question of somehow 'channeling' these tend­encies, and of thus making them as inoffensive as possible by giving them an opportunity to manifest themselves, but only during very brief periods and in very well defined circumstances, and by thus enclosing this manifestation within narrow limits which it is not allowed to overstep.

- Fundamental Symbols, pp. 102-103

(The House of God)

In an article published in the special number of Le Voile d'Isis devoted to the Tarot, Auriger, speaking of arcanum XVI, has written: 'It seems that a rela­tionship exists between the hail of stones which surround the thunderstruck Tower and the word Beth-el, dwelling place of the Divine, from which 'baetyl' is derived, a word by which the Semites designated meteorites or 'thunder­ stones'. This connection was suggested by the name 'House of God' given to this arcanum and which is in fact the literal translation of the Hebrew Beth-el. But it seems to us that there is confusion here between several quite different things, and that a restatement of this question might be of interest.

First of all, it is certain that the symbolic function of meteorites or stones fallen from heaven is very important, because these are the 'black stones' that feature in so many different traditions, from the stone which represented Cybele or the 'Great Goddess'  to the stone which is enshrined in the Ka'bah at Mecca and which plays a part in the story of Abraham. At Rome, too, there was the lapis niger, not to mention the sacred shields of the Salians that are said to have been hewn from a meteorite in the time of Numa. These 'black stones' are certainly to be counted as baetyls, that is, stones considered as 'dwelling places of the Divine' or in other words, as the vehicles of certain 'spiritual influences'. But do all baetyls have this provenance? We think not, and in particular, we see nothing to justify the supposition that such was the case with the stone to which Jacob, according to the Genesis account, gave the name of Beth-el, a name applied by extension to the place itself where he had had his vision while his head was resting on the stone.

The baetyl strictly speaking represents the Omphalos, and as such it is a symbol of the Centre of the World, which quite naturally is identified with the 'dwelling place of God'. This stone took different forms, such as, for example, that of a pillar. It is thus that Jacob says: 'And this stone which I have erected as a pillar, shall be the house of God' [Genesis 28:22]. Among the Celtic peoples too, certain menhirs, if not all, had the same significance. The Omphalos could also be represented by a stone of conical shape, like the 'black stone' of Cybele, or egg-shaped. The cone recalled the sacred Moun­tain, symbol of the 'Pole' or of the World Axis; the ovoid form is directly related to another very important symbol, that of the 'World Egg'. In all cases, the baetyl was a 'prophetic stone', a 'stone which speaks',  that is, a stone which yielded oracles, or near to which oracles were given, thanks to the spiritual influences of which it was the vehicle. The example of the Omphalos of Delphi is very characteristic in this respect.

The baetyls are therefore essentially sacred stones, but were not all of celes­tial origin. Nevertheless, it is perhaps true, symbolically at least, that the idea of a 'stone fallen from heaven' could be applied to them in a certain sense. What makes us think so is their relationship with the mysterious luz of the Hebrew tradition. This relationship certainly exists in the case of the 'black stones', which in fact are aeroliths, but it must not be limited to them alone, for it is said in Genesis that the first name of the Beth-el of Jacob was, precisely, Luz. We may even recall at this point that the Grail was said to have been carved from a stone which also had fallen from heaven, and all these cases are very closely related, but we will not dwell any more on this, for fear of being led much too far from our subject.

In fact, whether it is a question of baetyls in general, or of 'black stones' in particular, neither the one nor the other really have anything in common with 'thunderbolts';  and it is on this point in particular that the remark we quoted at the outset is gravely mistaken, with a mistake which can be easily explained. It is indeed tempting to suppose that 'lightning stones' or 'thunder stones' must be stones fallen from heaven, aeroliths, but in reality they are not. We could never have guessed what they are without having learned the truth from the peasants who, through their oral tradition, have retained the memory of it. Moreover, these peasants themselves are mistaken in their interpretation, that is, in their belief that the stones have fallen with the light­ning or that they are lightning itself, which shows that the true sense of the tradition eludes them. They say, in fact, that thunder falls in two ways, 'in fire' or 'in stone'. In the first case it sets fire, while in the second it only shat­ters; but they know the 'thunder stones' very well, and they are mistaken only in attributing to them, because of their name, a celestial origin which they do not have and never had.

The truth is that the 'lightning stones' are stones which symbolise the light­ning. They are nothing other than prehistoric flint axes, just as the 'serpent's egg', the Druid symbol of the World Egg, is in its material form nothing other than the fossil sea-urchin. The stone axe is the stone which shatters and splits, and this is why it represents the lightning bolt. This symbolism, further­ more, goes back to an extremely remote period and it explains the existence of certain axes that archaeologists call 'votive axes', ritual objects that never had a practical use as arms or as implements of any kind. This leads us quite naturally to recall a point that has already been treated: the stone axe of Parashu-Rama and the stone hammer of Thor are really one and the same weapon, and that weapon is, moreover, the symbol of the thunderbolt. This 'thunderbolt' symbolism is thus of Hyperborean origin, which means that it belongs to the most ancient of all the traditions of this cycle of humanity, to what is truly the primal tradition for the present Maha-Yuga.

Also to be noted, on the other hand, is the very important part played by the thunderbolt in Tibetan symbolism. The vajra which represents it is one of the principal insignia of the dignitaries of Lamaism. At the same time the vajra symbolises the masculine principle of universal manifestation, and thus the thunderbolt is associated with the idea of 'divine paternity', an asso­ciation also to be found quite clearly in Western antiquity inasmuch as the thunderbolt is the principal attribute of Zeus Pater or Jupiter, the 'father of gods and men'. Moreover, he destroyed the Titans and the Giants by thunder­ bolts just as Thor and Parashu-Rama destroyed their ' equivalents with weapons of stone.

In connection with this there is, even in the modem West, another parallel which is truly unexpected: Leibniz, in his Monadologie, says that 'all created monads are born, so to speak, by continuous fulgurations of the Divinity from moment to moment'. Thus, in conformity with the traditional data we have just been discussing, he associates the thunderbolt (French foudre, Latin fulgur) with the idea of the production of creatures.

- Fundamental Symbols, pp. 121-123

(The Star)

In this same Hindu tradition the most common name of the Great Bear is sapta-riksha, and the Sanskrit for bear, Riksha, is linguistically identical with the names it is known by in various other languages: the Celtic arth, the Greek arktos, and even the Latin ursus. It may be wondered, however, if that is really the primary meaning of the expression sapta-riksha, or if, in accord­ance with the substitution of which we have just spoken there was not rather a kind of super-position of words etymologically distinct but brought together and even identified by the application of a certain phonetic symbolism. In fact, riksha, generally speaking, is also a star, that is, a 'light' (archis, from the root arch or ruch, 'shine' or 'illuminate'), whereas the sapta-riksha is the symbolic abode of the seven Rishis who, beyond the fact that their name relates to 'vision' and therefore to light, are themselves also the seven 'Lights' by whom the Wisdom of earlier cycles was transmitted to the present cycle ...

- Fundamental Symbols, p. 115

... in Buddhism as in Brah­manism, the 'Pilgrim's Way', represented as a voyage, can be related in three different ways to the symbolic river of life and death. The journey can be accomplished either by going upstream towards the source of the waters, or by crossing over the waters to the other shore, or by going downstream towards the sea.

The first case, that of going upstream, is perhaps the most remarkable in certain respects; for the river must then be conceived as identical with the World Axis. This is the 'celestial river', which descends towards the earth and which, in the Hindu tradition, is designated by such names as Ganga and Saraswati, which are strictly names of certain aspects of the Shakti. In the Hebrew Kabbala this 'river of life' finds its correspondence in the 'chan­nels' of the Sephirothic tree by which the influences of the 'world above' are transmitted to the 'world below', and which are also directly related to the Shekinah which is a near equivalent of the Shakti; and there are also the waters which 'flow upwards', which is an expression of the return towards the celestial source, represented in this case not by the re-ascent of the cur­rent, but by the reversal of direction of the current itself.

It could be noted also that there is here both a resemblance and a difference with regard to the symbolism of the four rivers of the terrestrial Paradise. These flow horizontally on the surface of the earth and not vertically in the axial direction; but their source is at the foot of the Tree of Life which is itself the World Axis, and which is also the Sephirothic tree of the Kabbala. It can be said, therefore, that the celestial influences, descending by the Tree of Life and thus arriving at the centre of the terrestrial world, then spread out in this world along the four rivers; or else, replacing the Tree of Life with the 'celestial river', we can say that upon reaching the earth, the river is divided and flows forth according to the directions of space. In these conditions, the upstream movement can be considered as being achieved in two phases: the first, on the horizontal plane, leads to the centre of the world; the second, starting from this centre, is accomplished vertically along the axis, and it is with this in mind that the first phase is performed. Let us add that these two successive phases, from the initiatic point of view, have their correspondence in the respective domains of the Lesser Mysteries and the Greater Mysteries.

- Fundamental Symbols, pp. 233-234

(The Moon)

... this same sign of Cancer is the domicile of the Moon of which the relation with the Waters is well known and which, like the Waters themselves, represents the passive and plastic principle of manifestation: the sphere of the Moon is in fact the 'world of formation', or the domain of the elaboration of forms in the subtle state, the starting point of individual existence.

- Fundamental Symbols, P. 95

(The Sun)

... a certain relationship that exists between light and rain, inasmuch as both of them symbolise celestial or spiritual influences. This symbolism is obvious as far as light is concerned; as to rain ... it is always a question of the descent of these influences into the terrestrial world, and pointing out that this is in reality the deeper meaning of the very widespread rites which have 'rain-making' as their purpose ... Furthermore, light and rain both have a 'vivifying' power that well represents the action of the influences in ques­tion. The symbolism of dew, closely connected with that of rain by its very nature, is likewise related more especially to the giving of life ...

In very different times and places and even into the Western Middle Ages, the sun has often been represented with two kinds of rays, straight and undulating by turns ... First of all, according to the meaning which may seem the most natural when it is a question of a representation of the sun, the straight line rep­resents light and the undulating line represents heat ...

In connection with the same question, this should be noted: fire and water are two opposed elements, this opposition, moreover, being only the outward appearance of a complementarity; but beyond the domain where these oppositions are affirmed, they must, like all contraries, be joined and somehow united. In the principle itself, of which the sun is a sensible image, they are in a way identified, which justifies even more completely the representation that we have just been studying; and even at levels lower than that of the Principle but corresponding to states of manifestation higher than the corporeal world to which fire and water belong in their 'gross' aspect that gives rise to their opposition, there can still be between them an association equivalent, so to speak, to a relative identity. This is true for the 'upper waters',  the possibilities of supraformal manifestation which, in a certain sense, are symbolically represented by the clouds whence the rain descends upon the earth, and wherein at the same time there is fire in the form of lightning, and it is still the same, in the realm of formal manifestation, for certain possibilities pertaining to the subtle domain ...

To return to the symbolism of the sun, we will only add that the two kinds of rays of which we have spoken are to be found in certain symbolic figu­rations of the heart, and the sun, or what it represents, is in fact considered as the 'Heart of the World',  so much so that here also it is really a question of one and the same thing ...

- Fundamental Symbols, pp. 245-249


There is still another question to be considered, one that is particularly important from an initiatic point of view: we have spoken of the cave as the place of the 'second birth' ;  but between this 'second birth' and the 'third birth' there is an essential distinction to be made that corresponds to the distinction between initiation into the Lesser Mysteries and initiation into the Greater Mysteries. If the third birth is also represented as taking place in a cave, how does the symbolism of the cave adapt itself to this? The second birth, which can be rightly called 'psychic regeneration' ,  takes place in the domain of the subtle possibilities of the human individuality. The third birth, on the contrary, being realised directly in the spiritual order and no longer in the psychic order, gives access to the domain of supra-individual possibilities. The one is thus strictly a 'birth in the cosmos' (to which the birth of the Avatara corresponds in the macrocosmic order), and consequently it is logical that it be represented as taking place entirely within the cave; but the other is a 'birth out of the cosmos', and to this 'exit from the cosmos' (according to the expression of Hermes), there must correspond (in order that the symbolism be complete) a final exit from the cave; for the cave contains only the possibilities included within the cosmos, those possibilities precisely which the initiate must pass beyond in this new phase of the development of his being, of which the 'second birth' was only the starting point.

Certain relationships have naturally to be modified here: the cave becomes once more a 'sepulchre', this time no longer only because it is subterranean, but because the entire cosmos is in a sense the sepulchre from which the being must now come forth. The 'third birth' is necessarily preceded by the 'second death', which is no longer death to the profane world but truly 'death to the cosmos' (and also 'in the cosmos'), and this is why the 'extra-cosmic' birth is always assimilated to a 'resurrection'. In order that this resurrection (which is at the same time the exit from the cave) may take place, it is necessary that the stone which covers the opening of the 'sepulchre' (that is, of the cave itself) be removed. In what follows we will see how this can be represented in certain cases in ritual symbolism.

On the other hand, when what is outside the cave represented only the profane world or the 'outer' darkness, the cave then appeared as the sole illuminated place and, moreover, necessarily illuminated from within, for no light could then come to it from without. Now, since 'extra-cosmic' possibilities have to be taken into account, the cave, despite this illumination, becomes relatively dark in reference, we do not say to whatever is outside it without distinction, but more precisely, to what is above it, beyond its vault, for there indeed is what represents the 'extra-cosmic' domain. In accor­dance with this new point of view, one could then consider this inner illumi­nation as being only the reflection of a light which penetrates through the 'roof of the world; by the 'solar gateway' or 'sun door' which is the 'eye' of the cosmic vault or the upper opening of the cave. In the microcosm this opening corresponds to the Brahma-randhra, that is, to the individual's point of contact with the 'seventh ray' of the spiritual sun, the point which is 'localised' according to organic correspondences, on the crown of the head, and which is also represented by the upper opening of the Hermetic athanor. Let us add, in this connection, that the 'philosophical egg' which manifestly plays the part of the 'World Egg', is enclosed within the athanor, but that the athanor can itself be assimilated to the cosmos in both the macro­cosmic and the microcosmic sense. The cave can thus also be identified symbolically with the 'philosophical egg' and with the athanor according to the particular degree of development in the initiatic process that is being referred to; but in any case the fundamental meaning of the cave will not be altered in any way on that account.

It is also to be noted that this illumination by reflection takes us back to the Platonic image of the cave, in which only shadows are seen, thanks to a light that comes from without; and this light is indeed extra-cosmic, for its source is the 'intelligible Sun'.  The liberation of the prisoners and their exodus from the cave is a 'coming into the daylight' in which they can contemplate directly the reality of which they had hitherto seen merely a reflection. This reality is that of the eternal archetypes, the possibilities contained in the permanent actuality of the immutable Essence.

- Fundamental Symbols, pp. 154-155

(The World)

In this connection it should be noted that between the circular and square forms of the triple precinct figure, there is an important nuance: they relate respectively to the earthly Paradise and the celestial Jerusalem ... There is always analogy and correspondence between the beginning and the end of any cycle; but at the end, the circle is replaced by the square, and this indicates the realisation of what the Herme­tists designated symbolically as the 'squaring of the circle'. The sphere, which represents the development of possibilities by the expansion of the primordial point, is transformed into a cube when this development is completed and when the final equilibrium is attained by the cycle in question.

- Fundamental Symbols, p. 58

We find other interesting information in the meanings of the Arabic word rukn, 'angle' or 'corner'. This word, because it designates the extremities of a thing, that is, its most remote and hence most hidden parts (recondita and abscondita as one might say in Latin) ,  sometimes takes a sense of 'secret' or of 'mystery'; and in this respect, its plural, arkan, is comparable to the Latin arcanum which likewise has this same sense, and which it strikingly resembles; moreover, in the language of the Hermetists at least, the use of the term 'arcane' was certainly influenced directly by the Arabic word in question. Furthermore, rukn also has the meaning of 'base' or 'foundation',  which leads us back to the 'cornerstone' understood as foundation stone. In alchemical terminology, al-arkan, when used without any other specification, are the four elements, that is, the substantial 'bases' of our world, which are thus assimilated to the foundation stones of the four angles of a building, since it is on them in a way that the whole corporeal world (likewise represented by the square) is constructed; and this brings us back directly to the very symbolism which is now our particular theme. In fact, there are not only these four arkan or 'basic' elements, but there is also a fifth rukn, the fifth element or the 'quintessence' (that is, ether). This fifth element is not on the same 'plane' as the others, for it is not simply a basis as they are, but rather the very principle of this world. It will be represented, therefore, as the fifth 'angle' ofthe edifice, which is its summit; and to this 'fifth', which is in reality its 'first', the designation of supreme angle rightly belongs, the angle par excellence or 'angle of angles' (rukn al-arkan), because the multiplicity of the other angles is reduced in it to unity. It may be noted further that the geometric figure obtained by joining these five angles is that of the pyramid with a quadrangular base: the lateral edges of the pyramid emanate from its summit like so many rays, just as the four ordinary elements, which are represented by the lower extremities of these edges, proceed from the fifth and are produced by it; and it is also follow­ing in the direction of these same edges, which we have intentionally compared to rays for this reason (and also in virtue of the 'solar' nature of the point they issue from, according to what we have said about the 'eye' of the dome), that the 'cornerstone' of the summit is reflected in each of the 'foundation stones' of the four angles of the base. Finally, in what has just been said there is the very clear indication of a correlation existing between alchemical symbolism and architectural symbolism, which, moreover, is to be explained by their common cosmological character; and this is yet another important point to which we shall have to return in connection with other parallels of the same order.

- Fundamental Symbols, pp. 191-192



the Holy Grail is the cup which contains the precious blood of Christ and which even holds it twice, having been used first at the Last Supper and then when Joseph of Arimathea collected in it the blood and water which flowed from the wound opened in the Redeemer's side, the wound made by the centurion's lance. In a way, therefore, this cup stands for the Heart of Christ as receptacle of his blood; it takes its place, so to speak, and becomes its symbolic equivalent, and is it not still more remarkable, under these conditions,  that of old the vase had already been an emblem of the heart? Moreover, the cup, under one form or another, plays an important part, as does the heart itself, in many ancient traditions ...

But let us return to the legend in the form in which it has come down to us. What it says of the origin of the Grail is particularly worthy of attention: angels had fashioned the cup from an emerald which dropped from the fore­head of Lucifer at the time of his fall. This emerald recalls in a striking manner the urna, the frontal pearl which in Hindu iconography often takes the place of the third eye of Shiva, representing what may be called the 'sense of eter­nity'. This comparison seems to us more apt than any other to clarify perfectly the symbolism of the Grail; and it shows us yet another relationship with the heart, which is for the Hindu tradition as for so many others (though perhaps even more so in Hinduism) the centre of the integral being and consequently the organ to which the 'sense of eternity' must be directly attached. The legend goes on to say that the Grail was entrusted to Adam in the earthly Paradise but that at the time of his fall, Adam in tum lost it as he could not carry it with him when he was driven out from Eden; and that is also made very clear by the meaning we have just indicated. Man, separated from his original Centre by his own fault, finds himself henceforth confined to the temporal sphere; he can no longer regain the single point from which all things are contemplated from the aspect of eternity. The terrestrial Paradise was, in fact, the true 'Centre of the World', which is everywhere symbolically assimilated to the Divine Heart; and can it not be said that Adam, as long as he was in Eden, truly lived in the Heart of God?

What follows is more enigmatic: Seth was able to return to the terrestrial Paradise and thus was able to recover the precious vase. Now Seth is one of those who stand for the Redeemer, the more so in that his name expresses the ideas of foundation and stability, and in a way announces the restoration of the primordial order destroyed by the fall of man. Thus there was hence­forth at least a partial restoration, in the sense that Seth and those who after him possessed the Grail were able thereby to establish, somewhere on earth, a spiritual centre which was the image of the lost Paradise. Furthermore the legend does not say where or by whom the Grail was preserved until the time of Christ, or how its transmission was assured; but the admittedly Celtic origin of the legend points to the probability that the Druids had a part in this, and that they must be numbered among the regular maintainers of the Primordial Tradition. In any case, the existence of such a spiritual centre, or even of several centres - simultaneously or successively - cannot be questioned, wherever we may suppose them to have been located. What must be noted is that among other designations, that of 'Heart of the World' is always and everywhere attached to these centres, and that in all traditions the descriptions that relate thereto are based on an identical sym­bolism which it is possible to follow down to the most precise details. Does this not show sufficiently well that the Grail (or that which is thus represented} already had, prior to Christianity and even from all time, the closest of connections with the Divine Heart and with Emmanuel, that is, with the manifestation of the Eternal Word in the bosom of terrestrial humanity, a manifestation which might be virtual or real, according to the times, but which was always present?

After the death of Christ, according to the legend, the Holy Grail was brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Then began to unfold the history and exploits of the Knights of the Round Table, which we cannot follow here. The Round Table was destined to receive the Grail when one of the Knights should have succeeded in winning it and bringing it from Britain to Armorica: and this Table is also probably a very ancient symbol, one of those associated with the idea of the above mentioned spiri­tual centres. The circular form of the Table relates to the 'zodiacal cycle' by the presence around it of twelve principal personages, a particularity which is to be found in the make-up of all the centres in question. That being so, cannot one see in the number of twelve Apostles one sign, among a multitude of others, of the per­fect conformity of Christianity with the Primordial Tradition, to which the name 'prechristianity' is so exactly suited? And on the other hand, in connec­tion with the Round Table, we have noted a strange concordance in the symbolic revelations made to Marie des Vallees, wherein is mentioned a 'round table of jasper which represents the Heart of our Lord', while at the same time there is mention of 'a garden which is the Holy Sacrament of the Altar', and which with its 'four fountains of living water', is mysteriously identified with the Earthly Paradise ...

One of the symbols we wish to speak of is the triangle with the point direc­ted downwards; it is a kind of schematic representation of the sacrificial cup and it is to be found in this sense in certain yantras or geometrical symbols of India. On the other hand, what is very remarkable from our point of view, is that the same figure is also a symbol of the heart, the shape of which it repre­sents in a simplified form. The 'triangle of the heart' is a common expression in the eastern traditions. This leads to another question of interest: the represen­tation of the heart inscribed in a down pointing triangle is in itself altogether legitimate, whether it be a question of the human or of the Divine Heart, and it has, in fact, a considerable significance when it is related to emblems used by certain Christian Hermetic groups in the Middle Ages ...

... we note that the cup in the Tarot cards (the origin of which Is quite mysterious) has been replaced by the heart In ordinary playing cards, which Is another indication of the equivalence of the two symbols.

- Fundamental Symbols, pp. 17-21, 24


In addition, the legend associates other objects with the Grail, and in par­ticular a lance which, in the Christian adaptation, is none other than that of the centurion Longinus; but strange though it may seem, the lance, or one of its equivalents, already existed as a symbol complementary to the cup in ancient traditions. On the other hand, with the Greeks, the lance of Achilles was believed to heal wounds that it had caused; and the Medieval legend attri­butes precisely the same virtue to the lance of the Passion. And this brings to mind another similarity of the same kind: in the myth of Adonis (whose name, moreover, signifies 'the Lord'), when the hero is mortally gored by the tusk of a wild boar (here representing the lance), his blood flowing out onto the earth, gives birth to a flower. Now M. Charbonneau-Lassay has called attention to 'a mould [or press] for altar breads, of the twelfth century, on which is represented blood from the wounds of the Crucified falling in little drops which are transformed into roses, and in a stained glass window of the thirteenth century cathedral of Angers, the divine blood, flowing in rivulets, also spreads out taking the form of roses' ...

The lance, in a vertical position, is one form of the 'World Axis' which is identical with the 'celestial Ray' that we just mentioned; and in this connection, it can be recalled also that the solar ray is frequently assimilated to weapons such as the lance or the arrow, though it would be out of place to dwell on these weapons here. On the other hand, in certain representations, the drops of blood fall from the lance itself into the cup; now these drops of blood, in their principial significance, are an image of the influences emanating from Purusha, which evokes the Vedic symbol of the sacrifice of Purusha at the origin of manifestation.

... As to the various weapons that represent the World Axis,  it should be noted that they are, not always, but very often,  either double-edged or with two points, one at each end. This two-pointedness, as in the case of the vajra to which we shall have to return, must clearly be referred back to the duality of the poles, considered as two extremities of the axis, with all the corre­spondences which this implies and of which we have already spoken else­where. In the case of two-edged weapons, the duality lies actually along the axis, so that we must see here a more direct allusion to the two currents that are represented in another way by the two serpents entwined around the staff or the caduceus. But since these two inverse currents are themselves respectively related to the two poles and the two hemispheres, it is immedi­ately obvious that the two symbolisms come together as being in reality one. Fundamentally, then, it is always a question of a double force, single in essence but with apparently opposite effects in its manifestation, resulting from the polarisation which conditions it, and which also conditions, at different levels, all the degrees and modalities of universal manifestation. [Footnote: This amounts to saying that all cosmic dualities are really only different 'specifications' of the first duality of Purusha and Prakriti; or, in other terms, of the polarization of Being into essence and substance.]

... Besides the meaning of 'thunderbolt', vajra also means 'diamond', which immediately evokes the idea of indivisibility, inalterability and immutability. Immutability is indeed the essential characteristic of the axis around which all things revolve, and which does not itself participate in the revolution. There is yet another very remarkable parallel: Plato describes the World Axis as a luminous axis of diamond which is surrounded by several concentric sheaths of different dimensions and colours, corresponding to the different planetary spheres and moving around the axis. Again, the Buddhist symbol­ism of the diamond throne at the foot of the 'Tree of Wisdom' and at the very centre of the 'wheel of the world', that is, at the one point that always remains immobile, is no less significant in this context. The thunderbolt, as we have already said, is held to represent a twofold power of production and destruction-'power of life and death' might be thought preferable, though if this is understood only in the literal sense, it would be just another particular application of the power in question. Footnote: In connection with our earlier remarks about the respective weapons of Apollo and lndra, It may be noted that like the thunderbolt, the solar ray is also considered as vivifying or deadly as the case may be. Let us also recall that the lance ofthe Grail legend as well as the lance of Achilles, to which we have already compared it in this connection, had the double power of Inflicting wounds and of healing them.] In fact, it is the force which produces all the 'condensations' and 'dissipations' which the Far Eastern tradition attributes to the two complementary principles yin and yang, corresponding to the two phases of the universal 'exhalation' and 'inhalation', and which are known to Hermetic doctrine as 'coagulation' and 'solution'. The double action of this force is symbolised by the two opposing extremities of the vajra considered as a lightning-like weapon, while the diamond clearly represents its single indivisible essence.

- Fundamental Symbols, P. 20, 54-55, 125-127


[Footnote: In another of its meanings, the sword is a symbol of the Word, as we shall see In the next chapter. It should also be noted that according to certain ancient historians, the Scythians repre­sented the Divinity by a sword fixed In the earth on the top of a mound. Thus, since the mound is a mountain in miniature, two symbols of the World Axis are here united.]

... From the traditional point of view, the great value of war is that it symbolises the fight that man has to make against the enemies he carries within himself, that is, against all those internal elements which are contrary to order and to unity. In both cases, moreover, whether it is the outward social order or the inward spiritual order that is involved, warfare must always be conducive to the establishment of equilibrium and harmony (which explains why it is related to justice) and to unifying thereby in a certain measure the multiplicity of elements that are in opposition with each other. This amounts to saying that the normal outcome of war, and in the final analysis the only point of war, is peace (as-salam), which cannot be obtained truly except by submis­ sion (al-islam) to the divine will, putting each element in its right place in order to make them all unite in the conscious realisation of one and the same plan. There is hardly need to mention how, in the Arabic language, these two terms, al-islam and as-salam, are closely related to one another. In the Islamic tradition, these two senses of warfare as well as the real rela­tionship between them, are expressed as clearly as possible by a l:ladith of the Prophet, uttered on return from an expedition against outward enemies: 'We have returned from the lesser holy war to the greater holy war'' ... If outer warfare is thus only the 'lesser holy war', while the inner war is the 'greater holy war', it is because the first has only a secondary importance in relation to the second, of which it is merely an outward image. It therefore goes without saying that in these conditions whatever serves for outer warfare can be taken as symbol of what concerns inner warfare, and this is particularly so in the case of the sword.

... The sword of the khatib symbolises above all the power of the word, as should be obvious to anyone, the more so in that this is a meaning generally attributed to the sword, nor is it alien to the Christian tradition either, as these texts of the Apocalypse show: 'And he had in his right hand seven stars; and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and his countenance was as the sun shining in his strength'. 'And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations ...' The sword issuing from the mouth obviously cannot have any other meaning, especially when the being who is thus described in these two passages is none other than the Word himself, or one of his manifestations. As for the sword's two edges, it represents through them a double power of the Word, creative and destruc­tive, which takes us back precisely to the vajra. In fact, the vajra also symbolises a force which, though one in its essence, is manifested under two aspects that are contrary in appearance though complementary in reality; and these aspects just as they are represented by the two edges of the sword or of other similar weapons, are here represented by the two opposite points of the vajra. This symbolism is moreover valid for all the cosmic forces in their entirety, so that its application to speech is only one particular instance; but it is one which, by reason of the traditional conception of the Word and all that it implies, can itself be taken to symbolise inclusively all the other possible applications. Axial symbolism brings us back to the idea of harmonisation as the goal of holy war, both in its outer and inner meanings, for the axis is the place where all oppositions are reconciled and vanish or, in other words, the place of per­fect equilibrium, which the far Eastern tradition designates as the Invariable Mean. Thus, in this respect, which really corresponds to the most profound point of view, the sword represents not only the means, as its most obvious significance might lead us to conclude, but also the very end to be attained, being in a sense, as to its total meaning, a synthesis of both. We have done no more here than bring together a few remarks on this subject, which could be developed at some length; but we think that such as they are, they will serve well enough to show how far from the truth it is to attribute to the sword no more than a 'material' significance, whether it be in the context of Islam or of any other traditional form.

- Fundamental Symbols, pp. 126, 129-131


It may easily be observed, provided only that one has 'eyes to see', that the ancient coins are literally covered with traditional symbols, often chosen from among those that carry some particularly pro­found meaning; thus for instance it has been observed that among the Celts the symbols figured on the coins can only be explained if they are related to the doctrinal knowledge that belonged to the Druids alone, which implies a direct intervention of the Druids in the monetary domain. There is not the least doubt that the truth in this matter is the same for the other peoples of antiquity as for the Celts, of course after taking account of the modalities peculiar to their respective traditional organizations. This is fully in agreement with the fact of the inexistence of the profane point of view in strictly traditional civilizations: money itself, where it existed at all, could not be the profane thing it came to be later; and if it had been so, how could the intervention of a spiritual authority, which would then obviously have no concern with money, be explained, and how would it be possible to understand that many traditions speak of coinage as of something really charged with a 'spiritual influence', the action of which could not become effective except by means of the symbols that constituted its normal 'support? It may be added that right up to very recent times it was still possible to find a last vestige of this notion in devices of a religious character, which cer­tainly retained no real symbolical value, but were at least something like a recollection of the traditional idea, more or less uncompre­hended thenceforth; but after having been relegated in certain countries to a place round the rim of coins, in the end these devices disappeared completely; indeed there was no longer any reason for them as soon as the coinage represented nothing more than a 'material' and quantitative token.

The control of money by the spiritual authority, in whatever form it may have been exercised, is by no means exclusively con­fined to antiquity, for without going outside the Western world, there is much to indicate that it must have been perpetuated until toward the end of the Middle Ages, that is, for as long as the West­ern world had a traditional civilization. It is impossible to explain in any other way the fact that certain sovereigns were accused at this time of having 'debased the coinage'; since their contemporaries regarded this as a crime on their part, it must be concluded that the sovereigns had not the free disposal of the standard ofthe coinage, and that, in changing it on their'own initiative, they overstepped the recognized rights ofthe temporal power. If that were not the case, such an accusation would have been quite without meaning; the standard of the coinage would only then have had an importance based on convention, and it would not have mattered, broadly speaking, if it had been made of any sort of metal, or of various sorts, or even been replaced by mere paper as it is for the most part today, for this would have been no hindrance to the continuance of exactly the same' material' employment of it. An element of another order must therefore have been involved, and it must have been of a superior order, for unless that had been the case the alteration could not have assumed a character so exceptionally serious as to end in compromising the very stability of the royal power; but the royal power by acting in this way usurped the prerogatives ofthe spiritual authority, which is without any doubt the one authentic source of all legitimacy. In this way the facts, which profane historians seem scarcely to understand, conspire once more to indicate very clearly that the question of money had in the Middle Ages as well as in antiquity aspects quite unknown to the moderns.

What has happened in this case is but an example of a much more general movement, affecting all activities in every department of human existence; all have been gradually divested of any 'sacred' or traditional character, and thereby that existence itself in its entirety has become completely profane and is now at last reduced to the third-rate mediocrity of'ordinary life' as it is found today. At the same time, the example of money clearly shows that this 'profanization' - if any such neologism be allowable - comes about chiefly by the reduction of things to their quantitative aspect alone; indeed, nobody is able any longer to conceive that money can repre­sent anything other than a simple quantity; but, although the case of money is particularly apt in this connection because it has been as it were carried to the extreme of exaggeration, it is very far from being the only case in which a reduction to the quantitative can be seen as contributing to the confining of existence within the limited horizon of the profane point of view. This is sufficiently under­standable after what has been said of the peculiarly quantitative character of modern industry: by continuously surrounding man with the products of that industry, and so to speak never letting him see anything else (except, as in museums for example, in the guise of mere 'curiosities' having no relation with the 'real circumstances' of his life and consequently no effective influence on it), he is really compelled to shut himself up inside the narrow circle of 'ordinary life', as in a prison without escape. In a traditional civilization, on the contrary, each object was at the same time as perfectly fitted as possible to the use for which it was immediately destined and also made so that it could at any moment, and owing to the very fact that real use was being made of it (instead of its being treated more or less as a dead thing as the moderns do with everything that they consider to be a 'work of art), serve as a 'support' for meditation, linking the individual with something other than the mere corpo­real modality, thus helping everyone to elevate himself to a superior state according to the measure of his capacities: what an abyss there is between these two conceptions of human existence!

- The Reign of Quantity, pp. 107-109