The visual motif of the spiral is one of the oldest and most enigmatic sacred images known. It is, in fact, among the very earliest examples of human creative expression, first appearing some 24,000 years ago. As millennia passed, this curious image found its way into the spiritual iconography of nearly every society in the ancient world: from Ireland to Japan, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. We see the sacred spiral in the totemic carvings of the Haida, the vast ground drawings of the Nazca, the megalithic monuments of western Europe, the classical architecture of the Mediterranean, Arabic calligraphy, Persian carpets, yogic diagrams from India, decorative Chinese porcelain, and Shinto rock gardens. It's ubiquity endures to our modern day, where we see at least some examples of it in literally every category of thing that has been decorated by man.
The spiral has a universal appeal, and this fact is a sure indication of some mysterious resonance with the human psyche. What does the spiral mean to us? Its early association with the Mother Goddess (it is often found with, or on, small stone carvings of the Goddess ) suggests some kind of connection to the mysterious and miraculous process of life which is embodied in the Feminine - the door through which life enters this world. But why a spiral and not some other image? Anthropologists are still unsure about the origin of its use, but there are speculations:
1) It echos the shape of animal viscera. Perhaps these early hunters saw the shapes found within living beings, and formalized this "animating force" as a spiral.
2) In an abstract sense, it is indicative of time. For early people, the passage of things was always around and around: day becomes night becomes day; the seasons come and go, but always return once again; lives come into being, and go out of being, but there is always new life coming into being.
A circle - movement revolving back on itself - is a common, and useful, symbol for time. But a circle - tracing the same arc again and again - is a static thing and doesn't really describe how we perceive time. We remember what happened last year, and the year before that; those past tracings of the arc are not erased by new tracings. The seasons come back upon themselves as they do, but all the ancient seasons are somehow still here...inside the new season. The cyclical rotations of time seem to wind around all the previous cycles, on an infinite journey to...whenever, or wherever, time is going.
So perhaps the first people saw in the dynamic movement of a spiral, the image of time: time being understood by them as that direction of events that brings into being all things, beckons out of being all things, and then regenerates new being again. Just like the moon that comes into and goes out of being, but is always reborn again; just like the plant which dies, but in the dying yields a seed to be planted in the womb of the earth for regeneration - a source of nourishment for our regeneration. It was this regenerative aspect of the spiral of time that suggested the association with the Feminine.
3) It is an early Mandala, or meditative aid. The spiral certainly has a meditative quality. The ancient Eurasian variety of these early spirals had three interesting qualities: they were all associated with the Goddess, they often had seven winds or cycles, and they usually possessed a pronounced dot to mark "the center."
The winding passage to the center - sometimes called the "labyrinth motif" - is a prominent theme in sacred stories everywhere. In the concrete sense, the labyrinth spiral is like the caves in which early people lived. Those caves - sanctuaries from predators and ice-age weather - must have been revered, holy places. It is quite likely that the only peace and rest those early humans ever knew was found in the mysterious, winding recesses of those precious caves. It was there that food was prepared and eaten, there that clothes were made, there that the forces of nature were honored in ritual, there that new human life was brought into the world. Paleolithic man lived in the womb of the Mother Earth Goddess: caves of regeneration and transformation.
But there is another, abstract sense of the labyrinth spiral that is important. It is evocative of the bewildering choices we must make to find our way in the world "out there", and the equally bewildering choices we must make to find our way "in here" - in the tangled maze of our own inscrutable psyches. And the "Mystical Center" (known by many names - Axis Mundi, Immovable Spot, World Tree, Cosmic Pillar, etc.) is understood to represent a still and silent place (or state of being); it is the motionless heart, the focal nucleus around which spirals the whirling hurricane of space and time. It is the source from which all things come, and to which they endeavor to return for regeneration. The Mandala Spiral is a symbolic representation of a spiritual journey to a place beyond the visible world...
The Symbolism of the Serpent
There is another ancient symbol as old in the human imagination as the spiral: the serpent. And like the sacred images of the Goddess and the spiral, the serpent has found its way into every spiritual tradition in the world. (There are islands in Oceania which possess no snakes, and thus no serpents in their traditions; curiously, they are replaced by the best local approximation: eels.)
The symbolism of the serpent operates at several levels, but perhaps the most obvious characteristic of the snake to ancient peoples was its curious ability to shed its skin. From the dried and cracking grey husk of its former self, the snake emerges moist, colorful, youthful, revived...regenerated. It is known that on certain occasions the emerging snake will actually consume the skin he leaves behind - it is an excellent source of protein. What an extraordinary image that is: the old and withered is transformed into the young and vigorous by the act of consuming itself. This image is known as the Ouroboros - the self-consuming serpent.
In this way the serpent is exactly akin to Life itself: lives perpetually come into being, they consume and are eventually consumed, and from this process of consumption new lives come again into being. Nature regenerates itself by a perpetual act of self-consumption. So the serpent is a symbol of the primal, regenerating energy of nature; a suggestion of the sex and violence nature requires for such regeneration; a reminder of our own instinctual need to participate in this Eternal Ritual of regeneration.
The old world (still alive in the beliefs of the East) and the new world (characterized by the Christian West) have differing views on the serpent. What one thinks of the serpent (the primal, regenerating energy of nature) depends upon what one thinks of nature.
Civilization provides an isolating barrier between us and the harsh realities of the world outside. The old world was far more intimate with nature than we. To know Nature was survival: they knew it, honored it, feared it. Any other philosophy was inconceivable - and suicidal. The primal, regenerating energy of nature was, to them, Divine Power incarnate in the animals, in the plants, in the soil of the earth, in the swirling wind of the sky, in the swirling water of the rivers. Nature was a sacred, life-bestowing Goddess, and we can scarcely imagine the magnitude of love early people felt for Her, and the cyclical periodicity of Her Will: something begins, endures briefly, and ends...only to begin again in new form. This is the Wheel of Time. It is the annual flood or monsoon, the rotation of the seasons, alternating night and day, the phases of the moon, the rhythm of a woman and its relation to birth and new life. It is the sun spiraling around the galaxy, the galaxy spiraling around the universe, and the universe spiraling around the Infinite Creatress who sustains it all through the aeons.
The dominance of this "Cycles of Nature" religion lasted for thousands of years, until an early Jew (tradition identifies this man as Abraham) imagined an alternative view of time, and consequently, of nature and divinity. What if time doesn't go around and around, with things rising and falling, only to rise and fall again? What if the apparent cycles are actually contained within a larger linear motion of time? Time is not a wheel, but a direction the wheel is traveling: this is the Arrow of Time.
The world-shaking import of this idea can hardly be overstated, for it is now the philosophy of the entire modern world; the world which it - and it alone - invented. Abraham's revolutionary idea is basically this: If the consumptive phase of the cycle is not inevitable, then perhaps we have the capacity - through discipline, effort, and piety - to change our destinies. Perhaps our fate is not in the hands of nature, but is, rather, our own to determine. So if nature is not in control of us, and we are now in control of it, then divinity cannot reside in nature. Divinity must reside external to nature, external to space and time, in a transcendent domain. Through aspiration and achievement we might share in the glory of this Transcendent Paradise. And we will achieve our objectives by the conquest and subordination of that which is between us and the Place of God: nature.
And so, in the western tradition, the serpent became the architect of The Fall - primal nature luring us from the transcendent domain into the immanent. But that's another archetype, for another essay...
We should not quickly dismiss these ancient reckonings of things. There is no question that we know more about the mechanics of the world than they did, but even now we seek to find meaning and purpose in things. Meaning and purpose are spiritual questions, and every living faith on earth has its origins in a time well before recorded history. Christianity is an extension of Judaism, Judaism is an extension (in motif if not philosophy) of Mesopotamian spirituality, and the origins of Sumerian and Babylonian belief disappear into the impenetrable mists of distant antiquity.
Right or wrong, by virtue of our indefatigable persistence in spiritual longing, we remain intimately connected to the paleolithic shamans who invented this uniquely human quest. It is only the material component of the human experience that has changed in the last 24,000 years; the ethereal dimension of life is no different: The ancient reckoning of the mysterium tremendum, is our reckoning too...
As I indicated earlier, there are many dimensions to serpent symbolism, most of which are not germane to this essay. I have just one final observation to offer on the serpent: when snakes rest, they coil up into a spiral.
A few words on the Symbolism of the Dove
Along with the Goddess, the spiral, and the serpent, there is one final element found on the earliest examples of human expression: the bird.
Early people must have looked skyward and wondered: "All things here are pain and suffering; all things here are challenge and strife; all things here are change and flow. Yet the stars do not change; if there is a quiet place of sanctuary from the violence of the world, surely it is there. If only I could be there, flying on the wind like a bird, up into the starry womb of night. I know I could find safety and refuge there. I know I could find peace..."
The bird is an obvious symbol for liberation; a breaking of the shackles that bind us to the sorrows of life. Wings are the vehicle by which we might transcend this world, and attain new vistas, in new dimensions of existence. In time, the bird most often chosen to represent this longing came to be a white dove. White is the color of all light together, all the colors of the rainbow singing in one sublime symphony of Celestial Glory. White is undivided and undistorted by the colors of nature. It is purity, serenity, Divinity.
The ubiquity of this image in the modern world clearly demonstrates the enduring power of this symbol in the human imagination.
A Brief History of how these symbols came together...
22,000 B.C. - In the region that would one day become known as Landes, in France, a paleolithic hunter carves a beautiful little head of a woman, known as the "Head of Goddess." This is believed to be the very earliest example of purely decorative object-making - the first piece of art.
20,000 B.C. - The practice of sculpting stylized women has spread across Western Europe. One sculpture (known as the "Goddess of Laussel" - also from France) shows an obviously pregnant woman standing. In her left hand she holds a crescent moon, upon which are incised thirteen notches. (Thirteen is the number of days the moon waxes to full, and the number of days it wanes to new. With the addition of the three days of new moon, one achieves the duration of one lunar month: 29 days.) With her right hand she gestures to her swollen belly, demonstrating a knowledge of the association between the lunar cycle and a woman's reproductive cycle - of the association between the self-recreating moon and the self-recreating womb of life.
18,000 B.C. - Sculptures of the Goddess start to appear in Eastern Europe. The famous "Goddess of Willendorf" is carved in Austria. This profoundly pregnant female figure has upon her head seven circles - six concentric rings around a single central nodule. This is, perhaps, the first appearance of what could be called the "Six around One" motif.
16,000 B.C. - Hunters on the planes of Siberia build a sacred site and decorate it with at least twenty Goddess figurines. With these figurines are small carved plaques. On one side is a seven-whorled spiral; on the other, three undulating serpents - two of which possess seven curves. In the millennia that follow, the spiral motif moves directly onto the little Goddess figures that feature so prominently in the sacred rituals spreading across the entire Eurasian land mass.
4500 B.C. - The Goddess of Life, Death, and Regeneration is first represented in neolithic Crete. She is shown standing straight, arms apart; in each hand She holds an undulating serpent.
3000 B.C. - With the invention of writing come the first stories of the Goddess, and the first names: Isis, Ishtar, Asherah, Cybele, Inanna...
2500 B.C. - Small bronze plaques start to appear in Mesopotamia, upon which is seen the Tree of Life - the motionless axis of the revolving universe. The Tree has seven branches. On either side are two Deities - one Masculine (the active, positive, pushing out force) and one Feminine (the passive, negative, pulling in force). And framing the composition are two serpents, each with seven nodal points, or bends.
2000 B.C. - A ceremonial cup of bronze is made for the King of Lagash, one of the most important cities in ancient Sumer - the birthplace of civilization. For the first time the image of the undulating serpents, and the image of the spiral come together in one image: two intertwining serpents wind around the Axis Mundi, and cross at seven nodal points - Six around One. This new icon is soon associated with the God who cures all illness. This same image appears simultaneously in India.
1200 B.C. - The Feathered Serpent - Master of Life, Death, and Regeneration - appears in Olmec civilization. This image evolves over the next 2000 years of Central American history to become, in Aztec civilization, two feathered serpents winding around a vertical axis - again with seven nodal points.
1000 B.C. - With the addition of wings at the top of the World Axis, the image of intertwining serpents is adopted by Greece, and subsequently, the entire classical world: Rome, Europe, the Middle East, Egypt, and North Africa. It is known as the Caduceus, the Staff of Hermes/Mercury: guide of souls to the underworld, and messenger of the knowledge of Eternal Life.
200 B.C. - The Yoga Sutras appear in India, and the teachings therein spread across the sub-continent and into China and Japan. The spiritual philosophy in these sacred books is called Kundalini Yoga - coiled serpent power. Kundalini describes, in elaborate detail, a subtle substance of body - in addition to the gross substance of flesh and bone - that coils around the spine in two separate "filaments". These two filaments - one of feminine Yin energy and one of masculine Yang energy - cross at seven nodal points, or energy bundles, which are known as Chakras. Three lower chakras represent a "penetrating" energy, three higher chakras represent a "receiving" energy, and these 6 chakras are balanced by a mediating "heart" chakra between them - Six around One. The objective of the yogi is to awaken the "primal serpent energy" dormant in the base of the spine, and bring it up - employing a complex process of meditations - through the seven successive Chakras to achieve spiritual enlightenment and knowledge of eternal life.
1600 A.D. In Europe, one complete rotation of a spiral helix becomes the symbol for infinity and eternity. It is quickly adopted by mathematicians, alchemists, tarot readers, Qabbalists, Rosicrucians, Masons, and other esoteric disciplines.
1800 A.D. The medical profession adopts the Caduceus - and the closely related single-twining-serpent symbol of the Staff of Aesculapius - as its official emblem. This paleolithic symbol of health and well-being, of nature and eternity, of life and regeneration, is universally recognized as the definitive choice.
1953 A.D. At a medical lab in the United States, Nobel Laureates James Watson and Francis Crick discover the structure of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), the fundamental molecular building blocks of all life on earth: the spiraling double helix is not a symbol of Life and Regeneration, it IS Life and Regeneration. Furthermore, DNA consists of four primary nitrogenous bases (adenine, guanine, thymine, cytosine), a sugar (2-deoxy-D-ribose), and phosphoric acid. That is, DNA is composed of six molecules, which are joined by the essential seventh component - a single, axial spine of hydrogen bonds - into a spiralling molecule of stupifyingly vast genetic potential - a potential that is perhaps infinite, like the symbol it so resembles. Six around One. And in silhouette profile, the DNA molecule looks very much like an undulating serpent...
The Lunar Connection
There seems to be a tendency in nature to subdivide wholes into four parts. The are four Cardinal Directions, which corresponds, not only to our own anatomy (front and back, left and right), but to the geometric reality of life on a two-dimensional plane such as the kind we experience on the surface of the earth. There are Four Seasons, which corresponds to four - and only four - nodal points generated by the tilt of the earth's axis, and its revolution around the sun: Spring equinox (literally, equal night) - day and night are of equal duration; Summer solstice (literally, sun stops) - day of longest duration when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky (in Northern hemisphere); Autumn equinox - day and night are again of equal duration; Winter solstice - night of longest duration when the sun reaches its lowest point in the sky. The ancients saw four kinds of phenomena which they called the Four Elements: earth, water, air, and fire. This corresponds perfectly with the scientific reckoning of the Four States of Matter: solid (base matter), liquid (super-heated solid), gas (super-heated liquid), and plasma (super-heated gas). The ancients saw four personality types which they called the Four Temperaments: sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, and melancholic. This corresponds perfectly with the modern medical reckoning of the Four Functions of Psyche (one of which will be dominant): sensation, intellect, emotion, and intuition.
Such divisions into four are not artificial, but real aspects of the world. It is, no doubt, because of this prevalent "fourness" in nature that we have chosen on many occasions to manufacture somewhat arbitrary four part divisions of a whole. Think of four-fold divisions like the four times of day: morning, afternoon, evening, and night; or the four periods of life: childhood, youth, maturity, and old age.
The first cycle understood by man was of course day and night, but at the dawn of the paleolithic era (22,000 B.C.), an awareness of the lunar cycle is demonstrated by the first appearance of lunar tabulation on little sculptures of the Goddess. In some pivotal moment in that distant epoch, a simple hunter had what must have been the world's first genuinely religious experience: "The regenerative cycle of the moon, and the regenerative cycle of the woman are of equal duration. The two are connected, somehow the same... as though the moon was a Divine Woman - a Goddess of Regeneration."
Just as a year consists of four seasons, the lunar cycle consists of Four Phases: coming into being (first quarter), being (full moon), going out of being (last quarter), not being (new moon). And the length of each phase? Seven days.
Mysterious Number 7
Babylonian Ziggurats had seven steps, as did the Temple of Solomon. The angle of the Great Pyramid is that of a seven-sided polygon. Rome was built on seven hills. The Tree of Life has seven branches, Six around One trunk that is the axis of the universe. The ancient symbol of the Trinity, Borromean Rings (three rings which mutually interlock precisely through their centers), has seven sections - Six around One in the center. There are seven stars in the celestial crown of the Virgin Mary, like the seven rays of Justice that shine from the head of Liberty. In Persia there were seven gates that lead to Glory of Mithras. Ishtar in Babylon and Isis in Egypt both passed through seven gates in the underworld to effect the resurrections of their slain husband-deities. Buddha seeks salvation for seven years before circling the Bodhi Tree seven times, thereby achieving enlightenment. The world Mountain has seven sides, each one facing one of the seven continents. In Tibet and Japan, the souls of the dead are said to tarry for 7 x 7 days before departing to distant, unknown realms. The constellation Ursa Major (the Big Dipper), by which early navigators found the north star - and thus their way home - consists of seven stars.
The ancients had a different, less-informed view of the structure of our solar-system. Their geocentric view reckoned seven worlds revolving around the earth: Mercury, Venus, Luna, Sol, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. We now know of course that they were entirely mistaken - nine planets, revolve around the sun - but this celestial appearance of seven was of enormous significance. From this perception of Seven Celestial Spheres came the idea of Seven Heavens (six outer heavens with the creator God in the center), and our reckoning of the week (six days of work around the Sabbath). Six around One.
There are Seven Pillars of Wisdom, seven Wonders of the Ancient world, seven circumambulations around the Ka'ba in Mecca, seven Liberal Arts, etc., etc., etc... This is but a tiny sampling of the available list; surely there is no more venerated number than seven. But what is the origin of our fascination with this number? Numerology and Sacred Geometry are endeavors most arcane; much of it is quite arbitrary, and therefore not relevant to an investigation into the biology of spiritual insight. But are there genuine examples of religious intuition that have been subsequently validated by scientific inquiry? Are all our "lucky seven" inclinations - the most ubiquitous sacred number - really just a function of the seven day phase of the Moon? Or is there something else at work here...something biological?
There are six colors in the spectrum, and in union they generate the master seventh color, white. Six around One. There are seven tones in one octave of the diatonic musical scale (do-re-me...), and when the Pythagorean "spiral of fifths" (a method of dividing a musical string in successive 1/3 - 2/3 steps, by which the musical scale was first discovered) is extended for seven octaves, the full chromatic scale of twelve tones is revealed. We have five senses. And while the taste of a fine Bordeaux, the smell forest meadow, or the touch of a woman's breast may all be sublime, we do not call such expressions of perfection art. It is only through the senses of sight and sound that we experience art. And all the art we shall ever see or hear is a product of these two seven-fold realities: the spectrum of light and the octave of sound.
It is the mathematical and geometric properties of seven that are perhaps the most interesting. The ancients believed there were only 10 numbers (as does our modern decimal system, for that matter); everything else is a mere repetition of the "true" numbers, but at a higher plane. And they knew that polygons of number contained within the "dekad" could be constructed with only three simple geometers tools: stylus, compass, and straightedge. By using the geometry of the Vesica Pisces ( two equal circles which pass through each others' centers), the triangle (angle - 120 degrees), square (angle - 90 degrees), pentagon (angle - 72 degrees), hexagon (angle - 60 degrees), octagon (angle - 45 degrees), nonagon (angle - 40 degrees), and decagon (angle - 36 degrees), could all be drafted with perfect precision without protractor measurement of any kind. The conspicuous exception was the heptagon. The angle that specifies its construction is 51.42857142857... This infinitely repeating decimal means that only an approximation of this polygon is possible; it cannot exist with precision in the real world. Its infinite quality places it external to the world, in the transcendent domain of idea.
This Six around One motif is also our own personal experience of the 3-dimensional universe in which we live, a cosmos consisting of seven domains: six directions (up, down, forward, backward, left, right - as defined by three and only three coordinates at right angles to each other) and the center...where one stands and observes the world beyond. And this is a reflection of a simple geometric, and thus eternal, Truth: six circles of equal size arranged in a perfect circle exactly circumscribe a seventh circle of equal size in the center. The center circle functions like the master template for the six-fold, external domains beyond. The center is simultaneously the circumference, and the circumference is made in the image of the center...
The Seven-Year Cycle
It is said that the cycle of events in a human life runs 7 years, in accord with the duration of time nature requires to replace every atomic particle in the human body. (This is apparently true: by the end of a seven year cycle, every electron and proton in your body has been replaced by another particle, and nothing of your former self remains; even the brain is entirely remade, and so where is the "me" that lives behind my eyes, if it is not in the material of which I am composed?) Each new 7-year period of life will present different challenges than the preceding one. I'm certain that many lives are not in accord with this mysterious 7-year cycle.
Are such seven-fold reckonings real, or are they manufactured by the mind? Many of the interesting properties of seven would have been well known in Greco-Roman times, but, as I have shown, adoration of seven is older by at least 20,000 years. Paleolithic hunters could not have known any of the mathematically mystical qualities of seven - and yet they did. How? And how could they sense that the regeneration of life was in some way connected to the spiral - the same spiral that was revealed only in my parents lifetime to be the structure of DNA - the six around one molecule that is the regeneration of life?
There are those who will dismiss this extraordinary symphony of meaningful concords as coincidence; perhaps that helps them to sleep at night, untroubled by the bewildering mysteries of life, consciousness, and being. But these concords are not coincidence; the magnitude and symmetry of the alignments is too great to be mere chance. They represent, in fact, what would be a statistically impossible coincidence. There is some other mechanism at work here - a rare and poorly understood mechanism of the mind.
That paleolithic shaman "saw" something; a real-world thing apprehensible by the mind, but invisible to himself, and unknown to everyone else. He didn't have words to explain his vision to his contemporaries, or the benefit of scientific literacy to explain his vision in a language that would make sense in our modern technological world; so he used the only tool of communication available to him: he drew a picture and said, "What I see is like this image I have carved on this rock."
There are modern equivalents to this kind of magical insight: Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, Heisenberg, and many others in the field of science, all had a sudden apprehension of a profound truth about the cosmos. But their "visions" were easily translated into the universal language of mathematics, and thus easily communicated to the many people conversant in that lexicon. The same cannot be said of all visions apparently, and thus we cannot easily confirm their veracity. But surely it is the same mechanism of mind that apprehends these numinous truths? If Einstein could venture out into the dreamscape and retrieve a little morsel of information like "gravity bends space," why couldn't our ancient hunter have done the same? I think he did. And not only did he retrieve that information, he invented a language to communicate it: we call it symbolism.
There are approximately one billion Christians in the world today, most of whom believe - in one form or another - that Christ was resurrected from the dead. This is an audacious claim. No one alive today ever met Christ. The four men who wrote about his life (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), never met Christ - the Gospels were written almost one hundred years after his death. These men never even met someone who met Christ. St. Paul - the first Christian missionary, whose efforts literally invented the Church - never met Christ, although he does claim to have met the apostle Peter. (But Paul could be a bit of a crank: he also claimed that women should shave their heads - I Corinthians 11:3-10.) So here we have this spectacular historical event (it is claimed), and no one who saw it wrote it down, or even talked to someone who wrote it down. If we were talking about anything else, the whole claim would be summarily dismissed without further discussion. And yet, one billion people believe this happened. Why?
These special insights into the True nature of things are surpassingly rare. Apparently only very few are capable of this "meta-vision" (literally, to see beyond). But when a True vision is retrieved, it is recognized by many people as a True vision - even if they have not had the vision themselves. A visionary returns to the world from "parts elsewhere", shares the vision, and we accept it. We also "see" something in the symbolic language by which the vision is shared - we too can apprehend the Truth. So this meta-vision is a faculty possessed by most - if not all - of us, but in a latent, dormant form. What if we could utilize that 90% of our brains that neuroscience tells us is not used; what if we could awaken this sleeping part of our consciousness. What Truth would we see, if we could focus our six senses to the contemplation of the Numinous One in the center?
What is the nature of Truth?
We hear truth on the evening news each night: a politician retires to a Wall Street law firm and seven-figure salary, a labor union wants higher salaries for the rank-and-file, someone famous dies, two tribes - indistinguishable to everyone else in the world - consume themselves in a ritual bloodbath of mutual suicide, the local sports franchise loses game because they didn't play together as a team. This form of information that is received passively - by television, newspapers, word-of-mouth, or whatever - is historic truth. We should demand much more from Truth than such banality.
But there is another view of Truth: the view of the artist, the writer, the philosopher. Dante's Divine Comedy is Truth. Shakespeare's Hamlet is Truth. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is Truth (although I personally prefer the Sixth). Michelangelo's David is Truth. David's Death of Marat is Truth. Did Elliot's Wasteland actually happen? Is Coppola's Apocalypse Now a literal document of an actual experience? And if not, are these men liars?
But are not observations of the world such as the kind mentioned above more True than the evening news? Will they not speak to people across generations and geography? Is it the sexual perversity of the political class, or the sublime vision of William Blake that makes humanity greater than it was before? It's not that what happened on Wall Street yesterday is meaningless; but what meaning we ascribe today to yesterday's events will differ substantially from what meaning we ascribe ten years hence to yesterday's events. The dynamic universe obligates us to interpret past events relative to our immediate circumstances; truth, like everything in the Dominions of Chaos, is a pliable and evanescent quality. The Domain of Virgin Seven is something else entirely - something absolute...
This seemingly nebulous form of information can be more potent, more poignant, and in some ways more important, than mere historic truth because it requires the active participation of the recipient to become manifest. This is Poetic Truth. Where rote fact tells us where we have gone, creative inspiration tells us where we must now go. To paraphrase a famous saying: History is easy; Poetry is hard. And poetry is not only hard, it is beautiful...
What is the nature of Beauty?
Flowers bloom in the gentle golden light shining upon the morning meadow mist...and soon die. But that quality which they briefly possess endures. A blossom is a cloak Beauty fleetingly wears. Who is She, and where does She go, when the adornment falls away?
At the level of gross matter, the blossom is nothing more than a stationary carbon organism seeking to entice the complicity of a mobile carbon organism (bees and moths, etc.) - by employing the compelling qualities (like color and smell) of complex organic compounds - in its efforts to fornicate with another stationary carbon organism, and thereby perpetuate itself. When we see the glory of the meadow in summer, we say that it is beautiful. And we think this beauty is highly evanescent: the winter will come and all beauty in this meadow will die. So the winter comes, and the gross matter of every blossom perishes. When we revisit the meadow in the Spring, we say that the beauty has returned. We understand that not even a single flower from the previous season survived, and yet it is exactly the same quality which the new meadow now possesses. Indeed She has returned, but where has She been during the long months of Winter sleep?
There is a well-known riddle: If a tree fall in the forest, does anybody hear? And despite all the argument on this question, the answer is simply this: the falling tree creates a physical disturbance as it falls, and this disturbance creates ripples of differential air pressure which radiate away from the epicenter at about 700 miles per hour. These ripples are sound waves. But sound waves are not sound. Sound is the perception of sound waves. Sound is a quality we bring to the falling tree. But in the case of sound, any perceiver in the forest will do: racoon, bear, or sparrow. The same is not true for beauty. The bee cannot perceive the beauty of the blossom; it sees only a satiation of its biological imperative to feed. Beauty is a quality we - highly sentient and conscious beings - bring to the blossom. She requires our participation to exist in the phenomenal universe. There is meaning of cosmic import in this fact: of all the species on earth, only we are capable of recognizing such extraordinary patterns (seemingly separate elements bound by an ordered relation into a mysterious unity) which are woven into the fabric of natural laws, and subsequently into the nature generated by these laws. What possible function can such patterns serve? We must concede that such patterns are implausibly superfluous without the possibility of discovery and recognition. Beauty unseen...isn't. The universe may seem capricious, but it is never superfluous. Why then pattern, if it was not intended - from the instant of its creation - to be seen and understood for what it is: an invitation.
She does not move; She waits eternally to be discovered...