Category Archives: Symbols

Symbols: The Two

One is self-contained. One can remain static, sufficient unto itself.

Then, something breaks it into two.

Do you see how, suddenly, there is tremendous energy?

Oneness has a self-less character. There is the one, this-ness in the midst of the chaos, but there is not a sense of self-consciousness. The one is the state of being.

With two, there is self, and other.

Two-ness implies consciousness: there has to be a self to perceive not-self. Perhaps this is why so many images and symbols of the two are human figures. We can also see this aspect of the two in the young child, experimenting with boundaries: what is me, and what is the world?


The Greeks perceived that duality fosters movement: their god Janus ruled over doorways, gates, and transitions of all kinds. Ovid described Janus as arising out of the formlessness of the one:

The ancients called me Chaos (since I am of the first world):
Note the long ages past of which I shall tell.
The clear air, and the three other elements,
Fire, water, earth, were heaped together as one.
When, through the discord of its components,
The mass dissolved, and scattered to new regions,
Flame found the heights: air took a lower place,
While earth and sea sank to the furthest depth.
Then I, who was a shapeless mass, a ball,
Took on the appearance, and noble limbs of a god.
Even now, a small sign of my once confused state,
My front and back appear just the same.

The Hebrews described the creation of the world in terms of separation into dyads. First God created Heaven and Earth, then Day and Night, then the dry land and the seas.

The fish symbol of the vesica piscis that we saw in relation to the one is also a representation of the two, the spirit incarnated into matter, God and Man joined together.

In the spirit of joining, we of may then think of Adam and Eve. In the likeness of God, male and female.

And from this sacred beginning, the two move toward the sacred marriage. From one into two, and the two become one. As if the one and the two are in flux, creating and recreating each other. From individuation to unification.

When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter the Kingdom.
Gospel of Thomas, 22

But, the two can also represent an opposition, an unharmonious coupling. We can talk of the Ego or Light, and the Shadow side. The Doppelgänger, the Mephistophelian double.

Fairy tales are always a rich source of symbolism. In “Rumpelstiltskin,” the greedy, wizened little man is a symbolic double, and only in naming him (coming to consciousness) can the miller’s young daughter gain control of him.

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Symbols: The One

We are in the primordial void. There is only darkness. There is no form.

In fact, there is no us, because there is no separation.

Then, out of the void comes light. A round, self-contained shape. The monad.

Now there is above and below, inner and outer, this and not-this. But as of yet, no beginning and no end.

From this simple round shape comes all life. The egg.

So many cultures explain the creation with a World Egg. From the Finnish Kalevala:

One egg’s lower half transformed
And became the earth below,
And its upper half transmuted
And became the sky above;
From the yolk the sun was made,
Light of day to shine upon us;
From the white the moon was formed,
Light of night to gleam above us;
All the colored brighter bits
Rose to be the stars of heaven
And the darker crumbs changed into
Clouds and cloudlets in the sky.

In the beginning was perfection. Enclosed and safe, with limitless potential.

The egg reminds us of its source, the womb. An enclosure, a space where creation occurs outside of our normal vision, a mystery unable to be directly apprehended.

We ponder the source of the beginning, the egg: the mother. The fertile one, our first love. The first power over us.

Paleolithic people created mother images bursting with ripeness, seemingly made of eggs herself in her rounded forms. Her fecund power was evident. And from there it is no leap to a moon mother, that other round, white egg form:

The egg, the breast: powerful images of life and nourishment. In Ephesus, these combined with bee images to suggest a veritable land of milk and honey:

Today people still worship the mother, the Goddess, in her myriad forms. From the moon and the egg we can easily connect through the waters of the womb to the waters of the sea. The Yoruban Yemaya shows us the way, with her sacred cowry shells.

And, with her waters and her shells, we find the fishes. Another source of life, containing masses of eggs bursting with life. From the one, comes two, and then more and more. Even our modern understanding of cell division is a reflection of this truth.

Is it any wonder that so many depictions of Christ have him within the vesica piscis, the womb shape that also harkens to the fish?

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Symbols I

As I mentioned the other day, I’ve been reading John Crowley’s Aegypt (now called The Solitudes). Even after many moves where piles of books had to be sold or given away, the books in this series have always stayed with me.

They are so full, you see. Full of symbols, full of twists and turns, full of arcane references. Real historical personages from the Renaissance like Hermetic philosopher and mathematician John Dee and cosmologist and occultist Giordano Bruno appear alongside William Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I as well as Crowley’s fictional characters.

In this first book in the tetralogy, one important group of symbols is the signs of the zodiac, particularly in relation to Christianity and the falling away of paganism. In a conversation with the main character, Pierce, someone describes the precession of the equinoxes:

“Astronomically speaking pretty soon, a coupled hundred years or so–the sun will begin to rise in the sign of Aquarius. Thus the end of the Piscean Age, that started two-thousand-odd years ago, and the beginning of the Age of Aquarius.”

Two thousand years ago, the Piscean age, the world shifts from B.C. to A.D. Jesus. And Jesus was a fish.

Oh. “Oh,” said Pierce.

“Always precedes, you see,” Earl said dreamily. “Precedes. Before Pisces was Aries the ram, and before that Taurus the bull, and so on.”

Moses had ram’s horns, who overthrew the golden bull-calf. And then comes Jesus the fish, two thousand years on, new heaven and new earth, and shepherd Pan flees from the mountainsides. And now the world watched and waited for the man with the water jug. (1)

Now, Rudolf Steiner had a lot to say about astrology, and Christianity, and the evolution of human civilization and consciousness and how they are all related. He believed that certain civilizations represent the pinnacle or exemplum of each age, and that these civilizations also represent the stages of human consciousness, both on a macro level of human evolution, and on the micro level of individual development through life (this is partly why the stories of certain cultures are included in the curricula for specific ages in Waldorf methods):

The advance of civilizations is also connected with the progression of the sun from one constellation to the other….

At the time when the sun rose in the constellation of Cancer the ancient Vedic culture of the Indians, the culture of the Rishis reached its highest point. The Rishis, those still half-divine beings, were the teachers of men….

The second cultural epoch is named the constellation of the Twins. At that time the dual nature of the world was understood, the opposing forces of the world, Ormuzd and Ahriman, Good and Evil. Thus the Persians also speak of the Twins.

The third cultural epoch is that of the Sumerians in Asia Minor and of the Egyptians. The constellation of the Bull corresponds to this epoch. This is why in Asia the Bull was venerated and in Egypt, Apis….

The fourth culture is that of the Ram, or Lamb; Christ stands in the sign of the Ram, or Lamb; hence he calls himself the Lamb of God.

As fifth culture the external materialistic civilization follows, in the constellation of the Fishes. This developed principally from the 12th century onwards and reached its climax about the year 1800.

In the constellation of the Water-Man in the future, the new Christianity will be proclaimed. ‘Water-Man’ is also the one who will bring it, he who has already been here: John the Baptist. (2)

So, what are we to do with all this? Are these merely coincidences, or artifacts of the human desire to make sense of the world? Or are these symbols representations of some deeper meaning, some illimitable truth? There are so many symbols in Christianity: the cross, the fishes, the lamb. Do we simply pick the one that fits our current system, or is the fish truly the “right” one for what Jesus represents cosmically?

And what can we make of the Age of Aquarius, the Water-bearer? Does he already appear in one of our greatest books?

Jesus sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” (3)

I think I’ll do a few more posts on symbols…gives me a chance to plunder more awesome online medieval art!

(1) John Crowley, Aegypt, Bantam Books, 1987.
(2) Rudolf Steiner, Foundations of Esotericism, Lecture 8, Berlin, October 3, 190
(3) Mark 14:12-15

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