3 inescapable esoteric symbols
Rodin said, "Man has never invented anything new, he has only discovered things." If it's true to say that certain symbols were created by man for a specific purpose, it's equally true to say that everything is inspired in one way or another by the natural world around us, by the forms of nature, plants, animals, the elements.
All of life is symbol. Depending on the symbols we encounter around us, observe and understand, we transform ourselves. Certain forces, certain states of consciousness that affect us in particular, shape our behavior, our way of thinking and our entire existence. They shape our consciousness and our unconscious, transmitting certain inner keys and enabling us to open the doors along the path of initiation. Certain esoteric traditions are well aware of these mechanisms and use them to trigger certain processes in the individuals who perform their ceremonies.
We have dedicated a multitude of articles to symbols. If you'd like to know more about some of them, I invite you to search the blog.
The truth is, the quest to understand the meaning of a symbol is as much a personal journey of discovery as it is a collective one.
I hope you'll venture into this article with that spirit of exploration!
What is a symbol in spirituality?
Is it possible to formulate a definition of a symbol? The answer is rather mixed, and would be highly reductive in any case. Any attempt at definition is doomed to failure, and we're going to try to get closer and closer to the meaning of the symbol for our deepest life, in its restorative or balancing functions and initiatory potential.
A symbol represents something other than what it is. The word "symbol" comes from the Greek symballein, "to join" or "to conceal a meaning".
Symbols lie at the interface between the conscious and the unconscious, between light and darkness, between order and chaos, between day and night, between reason and instinct.
Sigmund Freud, Pierre Janet and Joseph Breur made important discoveries in neurology. They found that neurotic symptoms have a symbolic meaning; like dreams, they are a mode of expression of our unconscious mind. These symptoms are the manifestation of dissociated areas of our consciousness.
Hence the importance of dream analysis, and the creation and development of psychoanalytical techniques. The work of Freud and his school consisted in finding fundamental laws and patterns in this vast and complicated subject.
C. G. Jung (1875-1961), the Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology, modified Freud's concepts. Dream content is symbolic. Dreams depend on the dreamer and can only be interpreted with the help of the dreamer, who is responsible for providing the context for the dream images. But there are dreams that include non-individual elements. We know from the discovery of engraved stones that our ancestors have been representing symbols for millennia.
For C.G. Jung, symbols are not only the language of the unconscious, but also of the occult. The term occult, coming from the Latin occultus, hidden, therefore refers to the knowledge of what is hidden.
People have used symbols to communicate ideas. Symbols help to convey and understand higher truths veiled from ordinary consciousness.
Esoteric symbols or occult symbols?
What's the difference, if any?
Let's go back to the etymology of the 2 words.
Esotericism (from the Greek esoterikos and esoteros: "inner") describes the transmission of knowledge (or gnosis) through initiation. This means that only initiates (members of a school, lodge or brotherhood) can receive instruction and gain access to the mysteries. The aim of these masters is to help their "pupils" gradually open up to reality and truth.
Occultism (from the Latin occultus: "hidden, secret") is the practice of the secret sciences, but without using the initiatory method. Knowledge can be transmitted through books, conferences, virtual communities or informal encounters.
Esotericism and occultism are two very similar, even synonymous terms, referring to the existence of secret or hidden knowledge. It is spiritual, metaphysical, even mystical knowledge.
To gain access to this knowledge requires the possession of certain "keys", handed down by various traditions, organizations or awakened individuals. It also requires a major personal effort to access new levels of consciousness.
This knowledge relates to the great cosmic laws; it touches on cosmology (the formation and structuring of the universe) and ontology (who am I?). Rather than an accumulation of knowledge, it invites us to undergo a profound transformation in order to find the light within ourselves. So we're talking about an intimate process.
Why do we need to ask ourselves what these 2 words mean?
Well, if you want to understand what an esoteric symbol is, it's important.
In fact, I usually do a lot of research before writing an article, and all too often I come across a multitude of websites all telling you exactly the same thing. It lacks originality and, above all, thought. That's not what we're about.
And to top it all off, to write this article, I bought the "Bible of Esoteric Symbols". Big disillusionment... because in this book you'll find werewolves, dragons, mermaids, butterflies, cupids, black cats, phalluses, long hair, spring water and other nonsense, with a few annotations about the lotus, the ouroboros and the hexagram. A book full of banalities. Avoid.
As the saying goes, the clothes don't make the man.
The initiatory and magical power of symbol
The esoteric symbol is the tool that facilitates the discovery of the world of the unconscious, and thus opens the way to the development of the personality, the enlargement of the ego and the passage to the self.
Esoteric symbols are therefore:
- means of deciphering;
- means of knowledge;
- means of communication.
The term magic comes from the Persian magos, describing a priest in ancient Babylon, Assyria and later the Persian Empire. From this root, the Greeks derived the words magikos (magic) and magikê technê (magical arts or art of the magi).
Magical practices were common in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia. Access to this knowledge and these rituals was reserved for those initiated into the mysteries of magic. Over the centuries, this restricted access led to the development of esoteric groups, who in turn limited knowledge of their secrets to those able to pass the difficult rites of passage.
Initiates understood magical and esoteric symbols, while to the outside world these remained mysterious and, in most cases, frightening.
Knowledge of symbols gives access to magical and esoteric knowledge that some still use today. Alchemy, astrology, ceremonial magic and witchcraft all have their own esoteric symbols.
The hidden meanings of symbols
Symbols are mankind's oldest form of communication. In fact, it could be said that all forms of communication are in some way symbolic. To understand symbols solely as tools of communication and control is to grasp only a small fragment.
Among the oldest forms of writing, ideograms - literal representations of an idea - are easily identifiable. Most of the time, however, they are too complex for everyday communication, hence the invention of alphabets. Both convey an idea to their user and are types of symbol. But symbols are much more than this basic understanding. It is these deeper, often hidden or secret meanings that have led to centuries of study into the nature and use of symbols.
While the civilizations of the classical world founded and maintained a host of mystery schools for the exploration and perpetuation of the various expressions of secret knowledge, much of this knowledge was lost after the collapse of the Roman Empire, only to be rediscovered during the Renaissance.
The occult sciences of astrology, alchemy, ritual magic and Kabbalah present some of the most notable examples of meaning hidden in symbols. By necessity and tradition, they have often existed in semi-secrecy down the centuries.
To understand the symbols associated with the occult sciences, it is important to explore the context in which they have existed in concert, and the sometimes highly hostile political and ecclesiastical environments that have led to them being shrouded in mystery, making them even more esoteric.
The use of symbols has enabled this concealment of ancient wisdom and the means to experience it directly on an individual level.
To explore the use of symbols is to plunge into the depths of one's being and observe the practical and well-conceived manipulation of the powers of the human mind, especially those of memory and imagination.
A thousand years of use
Some symbols can be traced back to ancient civilizations, where people used them both to communicate and to represent the world in which they lived and died. They had developed systems for studying the sun, moon and stars, as well as sophisticated cosmogonies to explain the origin of the universe.
Living in a mysterious and unpredictable world, they had built up a pantheon of archetypal gods and goddesses. They sought their protection and blessing, and through them accessed the ineffable, those divine truths and realizations beyond the limitations of the ordinary human mind.
I'm thinking in particular of one of the world's most ancient civilizations, the Egyptians, whose symbols still resonate powerfully today, with the Ankh cross or the eye of Horus, for example.
Confronted with a vast, bewildering universe, our ancestors saw mysterious patterns in the heavens and the natural world long before religion or science gave them meaning, perspective and significance.
The survival of occult symbolism through successive eras of faith and reason shows its enduring reach and power, as well as the deep human need for the comfort it can offer.
We interact with the world through symbols when we want to know the weather, we look not at the sky but at the numbers on a screen, when we communicate with others we often prefer to send a text message or, increasingly, emoticons. According to some neuroscientists, it's this facility with signs, symbols, letters and numbers that makes us truly human, rather than the ability to use language and tools, which other animals also possess.
Thanks to the invention and manipulation of abstract symbols, only human beings have the unique ability to make associations that are intuitive and at odds with logic, enabling them to apprehend and, ultimately, control and transform the world.
With the invention of writing, invocations, charms and rituals were written down to be passed on or transformed into talismans to protect or curse the living and the dead. For most of history, occult knowledge was considered too precious and dangerous to be shared by all, so it was encoded in secret alphabets of signs and symbols that only the initiated could understand. These mysterious symbols have survived to this day, intriguing, charming, reassuring and entertaining.
Every symbol lends itself to multiple interpretations, all of which are true and coherent, either at different levels, or in similar or complementary fields. Interpretations are not mutually exclusive. As a result, symbolism offers a language that is far less limited than ordinary language. It lends itself as much to the expression of messages from unconscious life as it does to the formulation of metaphysical concepts, mythical relationships and initiatory teachings.
Because of its ambivalent nature, the symbol gains in depth what it loses in precision.
The role of initiatory teachings is to lead progressively and cautiously from the level of dream symbols (which are experienced) to the level of cultural symbols (which are learned) to that of universal symbols, which are discovered or recreated.
Symbols live on: they have their birth, their childhood, their adolescence, their maturity. The ultimate meaning of certain symbols is only revealed when they reach maturity, i.e. when we consider their function in the most complex operations of the mind.
The symbol: from the limited to the unlimited
To arrive at the central point, the center of the world, is to have arrived at the starting point of the Cosmos, at the beginning of time, i.e., to have abolished time.
As with other symbolic figures, the approach to the symbolism of the mandala (which means "centered drawing") can be taken from the macrocosm, and then transposed analogically to the various domains of the microcosm.
The mandala symbol seems to fit well with this concept of archetype. When perceived at the conscious level, it presents itself in a form whose basic structure is always the same. It's as if, in certain circumstances, consciousness calls upon the mandala model as a projection of an unknown but prescient psychic state.
The perfect mandala figure rarely appears in dreams, but dreams often bring imperfect images that seem to herald the mandala. The mandala thus appears as a symbol of the self. It is an external representation of ourselves. That's why you're drawn to esoteric symbols. They help us remember what we're meant to be, what we're meant to strive for in our lives.
My top 3 esoteric symbols
The symbols I'm going to introduce to you are timeless symbols found in most esoteric currents. They reveal profound truths about ourselves and the world around us, and show us the way to the true man - woman - we are meant to be.
The Pentagram and the Hexagram together constitute the totality of the universe, as they represent the microcosm and the macrocosm combined.
For me, they are two indispensable symbols in your spiritual journey.
I've written an article on each of these symbols. To find out more, I invite you to read them on the blog.
1- The Pentagram (right) or the Pentacle
It's possible that the Pentagram was discovered through ancient astronomical research in the Tigris-Euphrates region around 6,000 years ago. Archaeologists have found pottery fragments with the symbol, dating back 4,000 years, but it was Pythagoras who really brought the five-pointed star to the prominent position it occupies today.
If an apple is cut in half on its "equator", the seed pattern is revealed, a perfect five-pointed star or pentagram. The implications of this hidden magic symbol are far-reaching. Five, composed of the feminine number 2 and the masculine number 3, is the number of harmony, the union of opposites. It's also the number of humanity, because of the five endpoints of the human body.
When Eve gave Adam the apple of knowledge in the Garden of Eden, she wasn't just offering him a piece of fruit, but a powerful symbol of wisdom.
Eating the fruit containing the pentagram brought about a profound awakening for Adam and Eve. Not only did they become aware of their own sexual nature, but they realized that they could make their own choices.
Not only is the pentagram a symbol of power, it is imbued with real power.
The omnipresence of this sign cannot be stressed enough. It is associated not only with pagan practice, but also with Christian mysticism, Druidism, magic, sacred geometry, alchemy and Kabbalah; and it is an important symbol in Freemasonry, where it is called the "flaming star".
In fact, all esoteric traditions have spoken of and used this symbol.
One example of its use was as a secret symbol by which Pythagorean followers could recognize each other since, as Adam had discovered, it was the key to higher knowledge.
Pythagoras maintained that 5 was the number of man, due to both the division of the soul and the body into five parts each. In addition, the five points of the pentagram represented the elements: earth, air, fire, water and psyche, or ether in Eastern tradition.
Followers would describe the sign of the pentagram on themselves in exactly the same way as pagans, who use it as a sign of protection, in much the same way as Christians use the Latin cross.
Pythagoreans accompanied this with a greeting of "good health", as another hidden meaning in the pentagram is that the initials of the five elements represented by each of the points were an anagram of the name of the goddess of healing, Hygiea.
In Kabbalah, the pentagram represents the five higher sephiroth on the Tree of Life, whose qualities are justice, mercy, wisdom, understanding and transcendent splendor.
In the Tradition of Light, incarnated through Peter Deunov, Michael Aivanhov and others, the pentagram represents the five senses of man, which are linked to five virtues: love, wisdom, truth, magic and mutual support. The 5 branches of the Pentagram represent man's 5 senses, which are linked to 5 virtues: love, wisdom, truth, magic and mutual support.
The pentacle is a powerful symbol of protection used in white magic, pointing upwards. It is used to combat black magic and the forces of evil. The pentacle is also used as a talisman to ward off evil energies.
2- The Hexagram
Also known as the Star of David or Magen David, the Seal of Solomon is a hexagram, a symbol whose outward simplicity conceals a complex, multi-layered inner meaning. There are several versions of the Seal of Solomon, but in its most basic form, it consists of two interlocking equilateral triangles, forming a six-pointed star.
The simplest way to understand many symbols is simply to look closely at their components and see what they look like. The upward-pointing triangle looks like a flame, and that's exactly what it represents. In its most elementary form, this triangle is the elemental symbol of fire. Western Tradition, Eastern Tradition, the Kabbalah, alchemy - all are in agreement. There is also agreement on the other triangle, which balances on its point; it represents water.
Fire is the male element and water the female. The inverted triangle is also the symbolic representation of the yoni. In India, the hexagram is called the Shatkona and represents the energies of Shiva and Kali locked in a constant embrace.
Imagine that the star is cut down the middle. On the left side is the air element, and on the right is Earth. In addition, the qualities of fire and water are represented: hot and dry, wet and cold. Already, this simple symbol takes on a different dimension as the star becomes a map of opposing forces that combine to form all living things, and is the symbolic embodiment of the expression "what's above is like what's below".
In alchemy, the Star of David recalls the seven planets and the seven base metals. At the top is silver/Moon, then around the points of the star in a clockwise direction are copper/Venus, mercury/Mercury, lead/Saturn, tin/Jupiter and iron/Mars. In the central space, also called the quintessence, is gold/Sun. Sometimes, the seal will recognize this central space with a dot or the tau symbol.
Alchemists are fond of concealing their symbols in one way or another, and sometimes the star is disguised as a six-petal flower. For example, it is hidden in the curious alchemical tome, the Mutus Liber; as its name suggests, this "silent book" has no words, but consists of a series of images describing the process of making the philosopher's stone, the main ingredient of the elixir of life. Elsewhere, the star is hidden like a flower in the center of the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth and even in the American dollar, itself a seething mass of hidden secret symbols.
This incredibly versatile symbol is called the Seal of Solomon because, according to history, it appeared on a magic signet ring belonging to King Solomon. Supposedly, the ring gave him the power to understand the language of birds and animals and to evoke spirits to make his bid.
Once used to ward off evil, to keep the forces of evil and darkness at bay, in modern times Solomon's seal is used as a symbol of magic and power by Western occultism.
It has long been used as a symbol of protection.
3- The Swastika
For many people, the Swastika has become sinister since its adoption by Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime. They mistakenly believed it to be the symbol of a pure Aryan race. In fact, the Swastika is a very ancient solar symbol, dating back to Neolithic times, revered in many cultures and found in many different forms, including as a sacred symbol in the sand paintings of the Navaho Indians.
It is one of the few symbols with an almost universal meaning, significance and distribution, and its spread extends across India and Northern Europe to Central America and East Asia. The name comes from the Sanskrit word "swasti", meaning "well-being" or "be it so".
Looking at the constituent parts of the Swastika, the first thing to notice is that the shape of the four arms resembles a wheel. Like a wheel, the Swastika can turn in either direction. Officially, if the arms point clockwise (deosil), then it symbolizes the Sun, the masculine principle, the overt; if it points counter-clockwise (or widdershins) then it resembles the Moon, the feminine principle, the secret.
In this case, the Swastika is sometimes called the "sauvastika". However, there is generally no differentiation in the direction of the Swastika that can be discerned from its use as a religious symbol, and it's certainly not the case - despite popular belief - that the left-facing Swastika is somehow "evil" or that it was the only Swastika employed by the Nazis. For the Hopi Indians, the clockwise Swastika represents the Earth and the "inverted" one, the Sun.
(In reality, the Swastika reveals a teaching about the wheel of the sun. The teachings on the wheel of the sun show us that man is trapped in a hypnotic wheel whose symbol is that of the swastika, the Swastika.
The Buddhists called this moving cross the wheel of samsara, the wheel of illusion and lies, the wheel of karma and bad destiny. Samsara is the law of matter, of the darkness of the body, which holds the soul and consciousness prisoner to appearances.
But there is another wheel, which turns in the direction of the elevation of man and the earth towards a higher world; this is the wheel of Dharma, which designates the law of Spirit, of Light, which leads towards the rebirth of the soul and its fusion with Spirit.
The Wheel of Dharma is the wheel of good destiny, spun by the Buddha and all the great Masters of the Tradition of Light.
It comes from the wisdom of the ancients. It represents the two universal principles of masculine and feminine, yin and yang: man and woman who unite and become androgynous, i.e. creators through thought, feeling, will and deed. And through their actions, they bring love, goodness and dignity, or else stupidity, destruction and nothingness.
Adolf Hitler didn't choose this symbol by chance: he and certain great Nazi initiates had esoteric knowledge of its powers.
The sun cross was taken as a symbol by the black initiatic current of the Nazis after Hitler read a book on Madame Blavatsky's Masters. It was obviously not the knowledge associated with this cross that he was looking for, but the power associated with it, a power that enables him to rule peoples and enchain beings.
It may come as a shock that such a symbol was used by such dark powers, but it' s always the most powerful symbols that attract dark forces (this is also the case for the Pentagram).
A final word
Human beings have always strived to understand the world and find answers to the fundamental questions of existence, in order to control their fate in a dangerous and uncertain world.
Sacred geometry has always occupied a special place in mysticism. In the beginning, priests who studied the heavens to understand the influence of the stars on mankind kept this knowledge secret, hence its mystical associations. Now a symbolic system, geometry included astronomy and astrology.
Sacred geometry incorporates shapes and numbers to create harmonious structures that can unite humans and the cosmos.
Geometric symbols represent man's desire to understand the universe and to reproduce it symbolically.
The symbol deserves to be lived and experienced from within in order to apprehend it in its full dimension.
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Symboles occultes, Éditions Dervy
La voie symbolique, Éditions maçonniques de France
La roue du soleil, Éditions Essenia