Twelve Symbols of the World Religions in their Integral Relationto Each Other and to the Common World in Which We All Must Live
Leonardo da Vinci’s Veridical Man: A Symbol of the Universal Human and of the Spirit of the Renaissance Humanist
Symbols constitute a visual “language” older and more primal than abstract words. Their meanings and values are polysemic and multivalient. They are not reducible to any single idea or concept. Symbols are holistic. They speak a relational language in which both-and is more profound than either-or. They speak a dialectical and paradoxical language in which plurality and multiplicity are combined unity and integration. They synthesize the convergent and divergent sensibilities, the analytical and the synthetic, encompassing “the one and the many.” Symbols speak a language of “sacred geometry” in the sense that their spatial relations suggest a harmoneous balance of complementary elements that are necessary to the greater whole. They suggest the presence of “prepositional relationships” in which the protean and polymorphic “Totality of the Real” is located everywhere – before and after, above and below, far and near, beyond and within.
Symbols point beyond themselves to an Infinite Dimension, Ineffable Mystery and even an Inconsolable Longing that is be awakened by the wonder of the cosmos and the beauty of nature. It may be evoked in the great works of music, poetry, literature and the arts. It seems to call to us with beyond the horizon of the common quotidian world. It may fill us with what C.S. Lewis called “an unconsolable longing for something that nothing in this world can satisfy.” We may take our revenge upon this longing by calling it “nostalgia”, “romanticism” or “adolescence”, but there it is just the same. Universal Symbols, like the Great Myths, speak to us in a language older and more primal than words. It is fashionable in our secular age to pretend that we have “outgrown” the language of Symbols and Myths. We have not outgrown them; we only create new one, or old ones in new garments. The Transcendental Symbols and Great Myths that permeate all the cultures of the world may just be idle fantasies and illusions. Or they may be inklings of an Infinite Realm beyond our human limitations in the natural world that we have only dimly perceived. As such they may turn out to be “the truest index of our real situation” in fleeting and contingent world where we never feel quite at home, and where “dying into the oblivion of the void” leaves us in nihilistic despair.
To lose our vital human link to the primordial language of Transcendental Symbols and the Great Myth in exchange for the later historically developed languages of critical reason and scientific analysis may be a unnecessary trade-off. What if the languages of symbols, myths, philosophy and science could all have a seat at the table of knowledge, a voice in the council of wisdom, and a contribution to the Ecology of Being in all our relations? What if a recovery of the language of the Transcendental Symbols and the Great Myths, alongside our philosophy and science, could heal us of our epistemological impoverishment and nurture our starving souls?