the numerous symbols appearing in one or other tradition or civilization,
removed from one another in geographical space or historical time and identical
with one another, the symbol of the wheel deserves special attention. The
reason is not only that the symbol of the wheel appears in all known cultures,
but also because its unlimited possibilities, the diversity of the fields
it embraces, and the concentrating activity it exercises in study and indispensable
ordering in any serious investigation.
On the other hand, the relations of every kind to which this symbol is open seem limitlessly numerous, as also its connections with other, equally traditional "pantacula" or small wholes.1 Indeed, while the symbol of the wheel is the expression of movement and multiplicity, it is also the symbol of original immobility, and of synthesis. Just so, it is the symbolic expression of expansion and concentration-of centrifugal energy, which moves from the center to the periphery, and of centripetal energy, which returns to it center, axis, or font and source, to extend itself once more, following a universal law obeyed by the tides of the sea (ebb and flow) and the earth (condensation, expansion)-like the diastole and systole, the inhaling and exhaling, of the human being or the universe, that is, of the microcosmic as of the macrocosmic.
This symbol as well, is the manifestation of that which, being only virtual (the point) generates a space or plane (delimited by the circumference).2 And it is therefore obviously bound up with space and time, and associated or united to any idea of cosmogony and creation. In this same sense, the superficial or external movement of the wheel would be bound up with manifestation, while the virtuality, the immobility of the central point or axis would be connected with the immanifest.3 The special modalities of the symbol of the wheel arise by radiation, or by the "actualization," of the "potentialities" of the central point, which becomes "present" in time, creating a spatial field. We have seen that a point generates a plane, that is, a space. That central point is an axis in tridimensionality. Accordingly, the symbol of the wheel is closely tied to every axial and vertical symbol. And it is the same with all projections of the vertical, that is, with the creation of horizontal planes or spaces articulated through an axis, which they reflect, one of them being the limited perimeter of our world, cycle, or any field defined in relation to the spatio-temporal coordinates.
Among the symbols manifested by verticality, or the axis, we must single out the tree (associated, of course, with life and cyclical generation), the mountain (or rock, as a "miniature" of the mountain), and, as well, the human being. As for this last-such as we find him today-he has extracted his cognitions, his whole culture, from a revealed symbolic model, which is the projection of vertical energy in the creation of a horizontal plane (a civilization, for example) that in its cyclical, rotative movement is reintegrated with its primordial nonbeing. The city, the social system, the temple, the home, objects of daily use, customs, art, legends, myths, artisanry, agriculture, domestic work, as well as religious, civil, or personal rites, or the norms of order, laws, and guidelines of current behavior, have been learned from earlier, traditional civilizations in full process of degradation. These structures, which for centuries constituted the form of social and personal order (structures completely fallen into desuetude today), owed their origin to transmitted myth-the supracosmic, supraindividual and divine, highlighting their sacred origins.
As for other modalities of this "pantaculum," to which we are referring, we shall indicate its identification with the idea of cycle, or space closed upon itself-whether the cycle of the sun in a year, or its apparent movement in a day, or as representing the entire life of a human being (from birth to death), or a historical period of that existence, or in the existence of the world in general (for instance, a century). It is interesting, in this sense, to associate it to the study of movement, calendars, periods tied to agriculture, knowledge of the harmony of the heavens and the earth, and everything concerning the science of rhythms.
Thus the symbol of the wheel is a prototype or model of the archetypal idea that the entire cosmos manifests in every possible way. And in being a model of the cosmos, it could well be qualified as universal, in the broadest acceptation of this term. Therefore our attention is mightily arrested by the fact that being of such a singular importance, it does not receive due notice, although appearing as a fundamental legacy in all traditional forms.
This is due in large part to the fact that, in the eyes of our contemporaries, symbology comes on the scene as a new science, in the historicist sense of the term-inasmuch as the antecedents of this science, as well as its raison d'être, reach back precisely to symbol, that is, to the possibility of all manifestation (current or former) grafted onto the nonhistorical or atemporal origins of any expression. After all, this expression only shapes essential energy through a substantial form. Nevertheless, authors who have been concerned with the themes of symbolics have never been more cited than they are currently. These themes are of passionate interest to investigators today, for in them they see a new opportunity to reach, or manner of reaching, authentic knowledge (not the sum of information, or sterile encyclopedism).
At all events, it will not be superfluous to stress that not even these authors have specifically treated the theme, but have included it in other studies and symbolical disquisitions.4 Nor is it superfluous to emphasize a certain difficulty in the understanding of symbolical language on the part of readers of today unfamiliar with the analogical method and the utilization of synthesis rather than analysis. On the other hand, it is important to emphasize that many of these difficulties are due to the various terminologies or words employed with various acceptations, in this or that context, in one and the same or in different codes. At times these meanings or connotations are completely foreign to the original ones, or even inverted, as is the case with the "literal" or "sentimental" reading of any text, symbol, rite, myth, or legend-or of one's own existence, without going further.
In any case, let us say that symbol is the expression of a hidden energy, manifested through symbolic structure itself. Symbol owes its raison d'être to this energy, since without it nothing would symbolize, nothing would be symbolical. It is the recipient, accordingly, in whitch its proper form is shaped, and the transmitter of an energy that, in shaping it, expresses itself. In this sense, we have said that, in general terms, any expression is symbolical. And the whole manifestation is a symbol of something that is behind, or beyond it. Or better, it is an expression of something immanent in it, or of the concealed, or of what is virtual or potential in its being. There have to be, then, a very well defined correlation, and very precise analogies (even though they be inverted) between the symbolized and the symbol. Thus, these analogies have been taken from the point of view of the symbolized, as active energy that shapes the symbol and is manifested through it, or from the point of view of the symbol, as mediator of an energy and force that transcends it and that it only manifests. Without this correlation, it would be impossible for any symbol, word, or gesture to express anything. Or the result would be a confusion of languages, in which words, gestures, or symbols would lack all meaning-the chaos, the negation of order, the tower of Babel.
In this disorder, symbols5 would have lost their energy, and would not act as transmitters of the idée-force: their connection with the symbolized would have been broken, as they are isolated from their font of life and treated analytically or literally. Nonetheless, in potential form, these symbols preserve the vibration that has formed them, and it is enough that they be re-actualized in order to recover their life-giving mediating labor, and be transformed into the vehicle, or necessary structure, that can carry us beyond themselves to a different plane or level of understanding.
At this point we must promptly dissipate certain misunderstandings. The first is the confusion of allegory with symbol, and the assignment to the latter of a value as something probable or possible, in the "sphere" of "as if." That is, symbol becomes "symbolic" in the degraded version of this term that we have today. It is denied any real, didactic, or acting possibility. Or, and this comes to the same thing, we deny it plainly and simply.6 The second misunderstanding lies in treating it as a thing of the past, something now dead and meaningless. Or it lies in taking what it says as something "passé." Every day of creation is the first, and every symbol today expresses, in its way, an archetypal, universal, simultaneous, and eternal idea. The third misunderstanding is the gross error of confusing symbol with the symbolized, of which idolatry and literalism are good examples.
In similar fashion, it must be emphasized that all traditions have attributed to their symbols and symbolical codes the character of having been revealed, or of suprahuman origin. To this must be added the simultaneous phenomenon that the basic symbols are present in all traditions in a manner manifestly identical, if in their secondary applications, or in their derived and folkloric forms. And so two simple facts ought to be not only a theme for our meditation, but an incentive to a study and understanding of these symbologies and traditions: (a) the astounding identity among the symbolics of all traditions (living or dead); and (b) the fact that all of them assigned to these symbolics a nonhuman, revealed character. We shall be able to approach these symbologies and traditions thanks to the symbolic vehicle taken as the structure of an idea. From this perspective, we should have to visualize symbol as a gesture by which an idée-force is expressed: that is, the archetype in action. We must be able to move from "fire" to "fires," from the synthetic to the multiple. Just so, in the reverse direction, and changing our viewpoint, we must be able to go from the multiple to the synthetic-from numberless fires to archetypal fire.
Specifically, as for the symbol treated in these pages, our interest is to clarify its relation to two complementary energies, which we have called vertical and horizontal, and which can also be designated-by way of analogical transposition-as essential and substantial. The central (vertical) axis connects a chain of worlds, or of planes of (horizontal) manifestation, one of which is our world or our life, in the limitlessly numerous variety of worlds and lives, of cycles within cycles. It goes without saying that the point generating the plane is invisible, as is any point in space. And the axis, which is the raison-d'être of any tridimensional space (for example, in architecture), remains hidden and imperceptible, expressing itself only in reflex form, in the innumerable manifestations to which it gives rise. It is like empty space with respect to walls, columns, structures, and adornments, which constitute its substantial vesture. The same consideration might be applied to universal architecture. It must also be said that this central axis, which connects two or more planes, implicitly carries the idea of movement, as in the case of the wheels of a wagon, a symbolic vehicle (like the horse) expressing the possibility of a journey, a transfer from one point to another point, or the connection of one plane with another plane. The obvious association of this symbol with movement is expressed in different traditions by the idea of a solar chariot, or by the calendaric wheel of a cyclic time, reiterated by its own limitations (in the case of the sun, by its two solstices and two equinoxes). But these are only the very limitations (frame, order) of all that is manifest.
It is thus, then, that the central point on a horizontal plane (or, which comes to the same thing, the vertical axis in three-dimensional space) must be akin to the essential potency of the unlimited, while its manifest expression, that is, its circumference, must be connected with the limitation of the act that molds the periferal or substantial surfaces of the figure.
On the other hand, this inversion, which makes the horizontal a reflection of the vertical, and of any substantial manifestation a projection of essential immanifestation, tells us much about the illusion of all that moves, the relative, what has a beginning and an end, or is subject to cause and effect. By this very fact, it also speaks to us of the reality of that which, being one (the center as projection of the vertical), has no equal. It speaks to us of that which, abiding as immobile (the absolute), is subordinated to no dialectical process.7 At the same time, this schema of the wheel is the model of the cycle. In the life around us, of which we form a constitutive part, everything consists of cycles, which, existing simultaneously, strike relationships with one another, as that of the atom included in the larger cycle of the molecule, and that of the molecule in that of the cell, and the cell in that of the human organism; or as the cycle of the day is included in the greater one of the week, and the latter in that of the month, and the monthly in the year, and so on. Everything that recognizes a beginning and an end, cause and effect, is born and dies limitlessly, while the uncreated, the nondual, is infinite and eternal.
On the plane that is manifested, there is a (centrifugal) energy that moves from the virtual origin to the limit of its possibilities, and that returns to the same original (centripetal) point, thence permanently to continue it journey. These two aspects are also those of dilation or expansion, and contraction or concentration, symbolized respectively by the circle and the square. The two figures-as symbols of a limited space or field-are equivalent. And the circle as well as the square represented, for antiquity, the same symbolical perspective. At times one and the same tradition has utilized preferentially one of these forms, in such or such a period, or the two in conjoint fashion.8 The traditions of the Far East symbolize these two aspects9 by the yin and yang, which act as abiding, equilibrating forces of every cycle and process, whatever it be. In the case of the cycle of the human being, there would also be an ascending energy, related to childhood and youth, and another, descending one, equivalated with maturity and old age. Strictly speaking, this binary division of the cycle is most important, and divides by two our model of the wheel. If the eastern part were to be the ascendant, and the western the descendant, the former, from this viewpoint, would correspond to the symbol of the circle (centrifugal energy), and the second to that of the square (centripetal energy).
But before continuing, we must make it clear that the symbolical model of the wheel is valid not only for a cycle in particular, whatever it be, but as prototype of an archetypal idea, and can be applied to any cycle. Thus, it is a matter of a cycle of cycles, and so on, in indeterminate succession. In this sense, it will not be superfluous to remark that, for antiquity, the idea of the cosmos is one. There are not various worlds or cosmoses, but the sum of all of these worlds or cosmoses, galaxies or limitlessly numerous stars, is what constitutes the idea of cosmos or world, in its broadest acceptation. Therefore there is nothing "outside of" the cosmos. Nor is there anything not subject to the laws of this cosmos, or to its cyclical ordering.10 All civilized peoples of the world have known this, and from their conception of the cosmos have extracted their whole culture. In fixing their own spatial and temporal limits, they have given rise to their city. In creating it, that is, in solidifying or crystallizing it, and in establishing the repeated framework of the agriculture periods, they have found the nourishment necessary for the satisfaction of their basic needs. And the horizontal plane of the world is entirely here and now. And all evasions of evasions are also illusions.
Nevertheless-and according to Paul Eluard's felicitous expression, "There are other worlds, but they are in this one"-we are offered, through the traditional model, the opportunity to escape the reiterative, ever constant movement of the "cosmic wheel" or "wheel of incarnations." After all, the solution, or salvation, is present in immanent form in this same wheel, in hidden fashion, just as, in the seed, we have all of the potentiality of the new tree, and in the egg the origin of the living being.11 Accordingly, cultural ordering, and all of the structures of a civilization, are only the reflex of an invisible center, which is manifested or revealed through those same structures. They are only supports, or symbols, of a much vaster reality, not subject to change. And all that we have just said, with reference to culture and its structures, could be applied to any order, to such and such a living organism; just as any visible object has a fundamental internal structure, thanks to which this object becomes recognizable as such, so also symbols, by which things-which are only symbolical-manifest themselves externally, have to have some internal structure. These structures, of traditional symbols,12 are but ideas, or the interplay of ideas, which they themselves shape with their forms. And so we are inclined to think that the universe has a precise structure, and laws, and the interplay of prototypal modules. That is, the universe would be a model expressing itself symbolically, through numbers and geometrical forms, giving rise to the corresponding sciences.
Actually, every structure has a form. In the case of the warp and woof of fabrics, the fishing or hunting net, we notice the interlacing of the vertical with the horizontal, by means of ligaments or ensembles, forming a network. This symbolical design of order, offered by the square of any plane, could well be expressed too by the very idea of structure. Thus, structure would be that of the house/temple, the city, agriculture, or culture-and the very limits of this quadrilateral (the final frame under the same form), the prototypal idea of a cycle of cycles, or, again, of unity and multiplicity coexisting simultaneously. The fact that a limited number of forms (the quadrille) are framed in a prototypal form (in a square or chessboard), permits the defined game pieces (whether kings or pawns), a limitless quantity of moves and movements. If the whole of the board were to symbolize the cosmos,13 the quadrille form of the board would express an order within that plane or field, perfectly delimited, thanks to which laws (of the game) exist permitting the various pieces to undertake the moves or series of moves proper to them.14 This structure is the expression of a universal order or intelligence, which, remaining secret and invisible, is the prototype of all that can be called order or intelligence. On the other hand, these same laws, expressed in quantitative measures and weights, and defined on the spatio-temporal level, also refer us to an invisible structure of the cosmos. Or to a universal balance and harmony, which shape an articulated language related to another vision of space and time.
|*||This chapter was published in fragmentary form, in two articles, in the literary supplement of the daily, "La Opinión" of Buenos Aires, in 1980.|
|1||The sphere is in tridimensionality that which the circle is in the plane. As we know, the symbol of the wheel is represented graphically as a point and circumference, which latter the point occasions by the radiation of its possibilities. While the central point (or axis, axle) of the wheel remains fixed and immovable, the periphery moves and turns about it.|
|2||It is curious to observe that the central point and the circumference, "which together form the figure of the circle," constitute the astrological emblem of the sun, who is the father of life, which he produces by radiation of his energy to its proper limits.|
|3||In alchemical nomenclature, the point and the circumference, or at times only a circle (symbolized by Uroboros, the serpent that bites its tail), are images of life and its origin, or succession and simultaneity. It is also the symbol of gold understood as king of metals, or symbol of mineral perfection. One must recall that alchemy maintains that the energy of the stars in the heavens is crystallized in that of the minerals, the two being mutually analogous. This is the same as saying that a reciprocity exists between heaven and earth. It is unnecessary to add that these relations are inverted with respect to each other, and that one's perspective or view varies in function of the particular viewpoint taken. The same occurs with the central point and the circumference to which it gives rise. While these terms are complementary, they are nevertheless hierarchized. The highest is the heaven, the lowest is earth. "Man is in awe of the laws of earth, the earth is in awe of the laws of the heaven" (Tao Te Ching, 25). A central point or axis is indispensable for the existence of the circumference or wheel, but not the contrary. There is an interrelation, but also a preeminence with respect to the higher half (heaven or sky) and the lower half (earth) of a sphere.|
|4||Since publishing these articles, the author has become acquainted with the excellent work of Maryvonne Perrot, Le Symbolisme de la roue ("The symbolism of the wheel"), which treats this theme extensively, although from a different (and converging) outlook from our own.|
|5||When we speak of symbols, we also mean myths and rites, legends and sacred texts.|
|6||The same occurs with myth and legend. In current language they have come to be synonymous with "tales."|
|7||The natural expression of the concept which the geometrical point manifests in the plane is arithmetic unity, generator of the whole series or code or field or numerical world. We must likewise explain that arithmetical unity is only an image of metaphysical nonduality. Being the first number, it is also the first determination. The same thing occurs with being, with reference to nonbeing, and both with respect to nonduality. In this sense, the central point, "creator" of space, or, and this is the same thing, the "being" of this horizontal space, is in its turn the reflection of nonbeing, or of vertical immanifestation.|
|8||We may note that the circle has 360 degrees, and that the sum of the four right angles of the rectangle (90 x 4 = 360) is the same. Furthermore, 360 = 3 + 6 + 0 = 9. The number 9 (whose multiples are always reducible to itself) is the number of the cycle. It is also the number of the circumference, which added to the central unity (9 + 1 = 10) gives us the totality of the numerical cycle and of the Pythagorean tetraktys. Likewise, that of the return to the origin (10 = 1 + 0 = 1).|
|9||The centrifugal movement, or that which goes from the center to the periphery, has to do, as we have said, with expansion. This movement must be transposed to the circular plane of the cycle, situating it to the north, giving origin to the circumference and rendering this energy correspondent with the ascendent half of the wheel of the day, that is, with the energy that, emanating from the north, identified with zero hours, reaches the south or midday. The descending portion of the cycle (which goes from south to north, that is, which returns to its original point) is thus related to contraction or centripetal concentration or evening and night. Some cultures, in various places and eras, have divided the cycle in an apparently different manner, which is in direct relation to the raison d'être of those civilizations. Thus, north is not always above, nor is south obligatorily below. Nor is the movement seen necessarily from left to right-that is, clockwise, but is considered in retrograde fashion. These two examples can be found in the Pre-Columbian cultures and those of the Far East.|
|10||One of the most common contemporary errors is that of conceiving an infinite finite. The limitless sum of finites (or cycles) cannot constitute the infinite. The infinite, by definition, is that which is not finite; that which is not subject to finitude. The error in question is the same as that of making of a relative, or of the sum of innumerable relatives (or anecdotes), something absolute.|
|11||The translation of the Sanscrit word chakra is precisely "wheel" or "disc." The openness of the chakras, or their generative expansion, would be linked with the broadening of the plane of consciousness, symbolized by the lotus blossom (which opens in the morning and closes at night). In the West, this blossom would be the rose: in particular the ROSA MUNDI, identical with ROTA MUNDI.|
|12||It may be in order to establish, here, a difference between the signified and the sign. The signified is the essence or universal idea molded (or incarnated) by the sign, which comes to be the form, or vesture, as it were, of the signified, adequate to spatio-temporal relativity. The signified of a sign is what the latter signifies, not its signifying role. The symbolized is what the symbol expresses truly and authentically-its raison-d'être, and not its transmitting capacity. Myth is really the idea expressed in and by the mythic personage, not the computable goings and comings and adventures of heroes and gods. Rite is not only a commemorative ceremony of social meaning, but the correspondence of energies between one plane of reality-or that of consciousness-and another, unknown plane of reality. In imposing on these terms a linear meaning, we degrade them, we render them incomprehensible. The acceptations given to words and things in certain places or during certain eras not only enlighten us as to the mentality of the corresponding societies, but often constitute evident examples of inversion. Unfortunately, at present the significate of the symbol is taken as if this it were its signifying function. The significate of the ancient signa (or miracles) was that of the supernatural revelation, and never the effect that these signa produced among the population. On the one hand, there would be a distinction between natural symbols and precise traditional (initiatory) symbols, the latter being specially designed to strike a direct communication with the principle or beginning. These latter symbols would have a "didactic" function obviously related to teaching and knowledge.|
|13||As we know, the game of chess has astrological origins.|
|14||The notion of unrolling the heavens, that is, of creating the cosmos, or, which is the same thing, the plane or table on which that cosmos is manifested, is in close relationship with the symbol of the drop-curtain, which is opened in the theatrical box (cube) and where an illusory work begins to be represented, with scripts and roles. We refer especially to the marionette theater. We also refer to cinema, in which, by way of an inversion of the optic view, projects onto a plane, the screen, a limitless number of images, anecdotes, or "stories."|