"In Wonders We Sail, Questing for the Answers in Veil"

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Symbol Systems and Occult Systems

In the extraordinary richness and complexity of symbol systems such as the Tarot, Astrology and the Kabbalah, we see human creativity at full stretch. However, we can also detect something much deeper than this. The fascination of symbol systems is that they resonate with fundamental aspects of our own nature, speaking to us of shared wisdom whose truths we recognize but can never quite put into words. It seems probable that symbols systems were visualized by people who were in closer contact with profound realities than we are today.

A symbol system is nothing less than a symbolic map of reality. It represents the topography of the mental and emotional realm that reveals itself to the inner eye. And just as a city cannot be properly appreciated unless we allow ourselves the time and space to study it in its every detail, so too a symbol system can only reveal its full meaning if we acquaint ourselves with all its aspects. Each symbol in the system has meaning not only in its own right, but also in relationship to the other symbols. As with a piece of complex orchestral music, the whole is much more than the sum of its individual parts. 

The Greco-Armenian mystic and philosopher, George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (1872-1949), suggested that we are like people living in beautiful houses who never venture out of the basement. The mind is indeed analogous to a beautiful house, and unless we explore those parts of it that lie outside everyday thinking then, in a very real sense, we remain strangers to ourselves. The study of a symbol system can provide a key to a better understanding of our own minds and enable us to live more fully within them. 

Those wishing to orientate themselves on the spiritual map that a symbol system provides usually find that one system exerts a greater pull than a the rest. In part, this is the result of cultural factors, but individual temperament also plays a role. To someone who is artistic, or has a highly developed visual sense, a system that uses pictures (such as the Tarot) may appeal the most. A person for whom the body is paramount over the intellect may lean toward a system focused upon the body's energy centers (such as the Eastern yogic system). In addition, certain symbol systems make greater demands on their students than others. For example, initiation into some of the occult systems is a lengthy process, in which the inner truths that magical symbols represent are revealed piecemeal to the student, to protect him or her from the psychological damage that a sudden release of psychic energy could cause. Similarly, alchemical symbols are deliberately cryptic in order to test the resolve and motivation of the seeker.

A New Synthesis.

All the great symbol systems attempt to reflect paradoxical truths about the ultimate reality in terms far removed from the commonsensical language of every day. They communicate in a specialized idiom of their own, because plain language is inadequate to penetrate below the surface of things, however efficient it may be for mundane concerns. Worn thin by overuse, our common tongue cannot illuminate the deepest realities. Rational logic, similarly, is incapable of unveiling for us the most important kinds of knowledge. In the modern age, we must learn to recapture instinctive, pre-scientific truths - the ancient beliefs that spiritual symbol systems have handed on to us.

Patient study of a chosen system will refresh our minds not least by suggesting an alternative way of looking at the world. Of course, it would be folly to turn our back on the discoveries of science. But in the 1990s science is becoming less certain of itself, and with the development of new fields such as quantum mechanics we are beginning to regain the old sense of mystery. Quantum theory argues that we can know the position of a particle, and we can know its momentum, but we cannot know both: our viewpoint limits understanding. The theories of Einstein, who astounded us by insisting that space is curved, and was able to prove it, now seem perfectly orthodox, even quaint, to those versed in the modern mysteries of science. 

The world is moving toward a synthesis of disciplines, one science informing another, until the traditional distinctions of knowledge become dissolved. We must hope that past and present wisdom, material and spiritual disciplines, will support each other in the same way, the past throwing a deep-reaching spiritual light upon the present - as it does already for many of those who have unravelled the complexities of traditional symbolism and deciphered the hidden meanings contained therein.

Vishnu as Macrocosm

Depiction of man as macrocosm,occur in numerous symbol system.In this Indian painting (above),the best-loved and the most human of Vishnu's avatars, Krishna is shown as a symbol of the world.Containing me,animals and the heavens in his body.Four-armed Krishna hold his attributes - the discus,conch,lotus flower and club.

Occult Systems

Magical Diagram : In this diagram from Cornelius Agrippa's De Occulta  Philosophia, a 16th-century occult text,Man is surrounded by four magical symbols - the eye,staff,snake and shield.

The word "occult", which arouses suspicion in many minds, means merely "hidden". An occult system is a system of wisdom which its practitioners feel must be kept secret. The common thread that unites the many different systems of occult belief is their use of symbolic devices to bring about a profound change in consciousness, which allows the adept to discover truths about his or her own nature, and about reality itself.

The origins of Western occultism can be traced back to the texts of the Hermetica, which date from the 1st-3rd century AD. These works take the form of dialogues between deities, often including the Greek god Hermes Trismegistus. They enshrine a number of concepts that emerge later in the history of the occult, such as the duality of matter and spirit, and the idea that salvation can be achieved through knowledge rather than faith. The Hermetica views mankind as an immortal spirit trapped in a mortal body, from which we are able to achieve liberation, and thus union with God, by understanding his own true nature. Also recorded in these texts is an account of how the ancients brought their gods to life from statues by assembling the emblems of the gods around the statues and intoning secret words revealed to them by the deities concerned. 

The grimoires, the magical "recipe books" of the Middle Ages (the most famous of which is the Key of Solomon), set out a system in which self-knowledge, and therefore full spiritual evolution, could be attained by the use of symbols to invoke spirits. Having put on his vestments and assembled his magical weapons, the practitioner drew on the ground a complex symbol-Solomon's Triangle- (a type of Western mandala) which represented his body, mind and soul, and alongside it a second triangular shape. The spirit was then summoned into the triangle and confronted by the magician: if he failed to subdue it, the spirit would enter the mandala and destroy him. This process may be interpreted in a psycho-spiritual context, with the spirits representing facets of the magician himself, which must be conquered and understood in order to develop a fully integrated personality. 

Solomon's Triangle
(Please click on the image to know profoundly on this subject)

Later occult systems, such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (founded in London in 1887), were strongly influenced by the theories of Eliphas Levi (see below). In common with many other systems, there were seven levels of initiation - Neophyte, Zelator, Theoricus, Practicus, Philosophus, Adeptus Minor, and Adeptus Major. A practitioner at the highest level had three tasks - divination, evocation and invocation. In each of these tasks, symbolism played an essential part. When practicing divination, the adept would use symbolic systems such as the Tarot or I-Ching (will explain in later posts). When practising evocation, he would surround himself with symbols of the god (or the part of his own consciousness) with which he wished to make contact. Over a period of days these symbols would put the adept in an appropriate state of consciousness. At the right moment, through appropriate rituals, he would invoke the deity and whatever powers he possessed.

The Rosy Cross

The occult system of Rosicrucianism emerged in 17th-century Germany with the publication of a pamphlet entitled The Fama and Fraternity of the Meritorious Order of the Rosy Cross. Its alleged author, the possibly fictitious German nobleman Christian Rosycross, is held to have founded a mystical fraternity, whose occult practices and beliefs were closely associated with Alchemy and the Kabbalah. The symbol with which Rosicrucianism is most closely associated is the rose placed between the arms of a cross, representing the unfolding of spiritual realities within. The arms of the cross bear the four Hebraic letters of the Tetragrammaton.

Magical Script

The English occultist and mathematician John Dee (who served as astrologer in the court of Elizabeth I) attempted to relate magical symbols to Pythagorean geometry and mathematical proportions. The philosophy behind his magical script was later adopted by a number of secret fraternities.

The Magic of Eliphas Levi

Born in 1810, Eliphas Levi turned his back on a calling to the priesthood and spent years practising ritual magic. One of the greatest theoreticians of the occult, Levi formulated three fundamental and highly influential occult doctrines. The Law of Correspondence stated that man was a "little universe" of which every part corresponded exactly with a part of the greater universe. The Dogma of High Magic stated that the human will was capable of achieving anything, if properly trained and focused. The Astral Light was held by Levi to be an invisible force permeating the universe. Shown in this engraving from Levi's Transcendental Magic are the magician's tools - lamp, rod, dagger and sword. 

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