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The Mystic Spiral : Journey of the Soul

by Jill Purce


[ Flow, form and symbol ] [ The evolutionary spiral ] [ The breathing cosmos ] [ The two eternities ]
Flow, form and symbol

Like all existence on the descending scale of realities, the spiral is a symbol. lt denotes eternity, since it may go on for ever. But because we necessarily conceive infinity in our own, and therefore finite, terms, we are forced to limit the limitless. lt is only by imposing limits that we can make infinity accessible to us. Thus, in practice, the spiral will end; on paper, in two dimensions, we have in this space-time world to stop drawing it.

The universe and man's consciousness (the macrocosm and the microcosm) consist in a continuum and a dynamic whole; this can be expressed by the spiral when, instead of ending, it is drawn either round a sphere or a doughnut ring, so that it joins up with itself by spiralling through its own middle. This symbol, which is perpetually turning in on itself expanding and contracting, has an interchangeable centre and circumference, and has neither beginning nor end: it will be referred to here as the spherical vortex. The perpetual inturning of the spherical vortex has analogies in nature with a stable form of flow created by the movement of air and water. This form, observed by blowing a smoke-ring or letting a drop of milk fall into water that has been allowed to settle, is called by scientists the vortex ring.



Within the totality of the universal continuum, we are limited by space-time to successive and analytic observations of its parts. These parts, the transient formations of nature's perpetual motion - although never perfect - seem to us to approximate to an ideal. In so far as the archetypal flow and growth form assumed by the mushroom, the embryo and the brain embody a forward impulse which turns back on itself, they demonstrate exactly the forming of a vortex ring.

Many formations in nature, although both constituted and caused by dissimilar phenomena, are not only similar to look at, but have identical mathematical descriptions. This would suggest that together they form a higher overall order outside that limited by our concept of linear cause and effect. The spiral movement which creates a centre and a 'whole' is also that which - combined with gravitational contraction creates the solar systems, their suns and planets. The galaxies too are probably created by the inward spiralling of interstellar gas. These are the macrocosmic movements and cycles, mirrored in man the microcosm, which provide him with his model for all things cyclic, from sleep and emotions to time itself. The same vortical laws govern the movements of water, which composes nearly three-quarters of our physical bodies.

Water is the pure, potential and unformed matrix from which all life takes its being. Consequently, the characteristics of its vortical flow, its ephemeral but changeless configurations, remain in all things as a testimony of their origin. lt is from the involution of the unformed waters that the egg crystallizes by the turning in on itself of energy, of matter, or of consciousness; and all these are one and the same.

This order, reverberating down into the microscopic and subatomic levels, both structures and reflects our consciousness. The full significance of organization, which was obviously known to the Greeks since their word kosmos means 'order', is again being demonstrated by the physicists, who say that matter actually consists in its own movement and organization. Similarly, the growth of human consciousness is the continuous refining of its own organization, the ordering of its individual microcosm.

Although this process is built into the structure and is inherent in the natural evolution of man, it is one which can be facilitated and hastened with the aid of maps and guides. These maps are the mythological and religious systems which have been evolved by previous travelers, pioneers of the Way. Such a refining is alchemy, the transmutation of the natural man of the base metals into the spiritual man of pure gold, by repeated breaking down and building up (solve et coagula).

The following pages describe these maps and the ways in which man has understood the spiral of his own awareness. This spiral is not one, but many, which together constitute a spiral of multiple dimensions, in which each winding is also a complete spiral and each spiral just a winding. Furthermore, we are the spiral and all the spirals within. We need, above all, to become familiar with the nature of its movement, and consciously to make its laws our laws, like Edgar Allan Poe's sailor, who, by careful observation as he sank into the maelstrom, understood the nature of the vortex and was carried up by the spiral that had sucked him down.

The simple two-dimensional spiral has a number of remarkable properties. lt both comes from and returns to its source; it is a continuum whose ends are opposite and yet the same; and it demonstrates the cycles of change within the continuum and the alternation of the polarities within each cycle. lt embodies the principles of expansion and contraction, through changes in velocity, and the potential for simultaneous movement in either direction towards its two extremities. On the spherical vortex these extremities, the centre and periphery, flow into each other; essentially, they are interchangeable.

In the relative world - that of time, space and their corollary, motion - the potential of movement in either direction manifests as choice; hence, in three dimensions, the spiral may be imagined either as the aspiring upward spiral or as the downward vortex. The spiral is inherently asymmetrical, and any choice of direction along the vertical axis also determines a right- or left-handed path: the choice of travelling with or against the sun. That the latter, widdershins or ,sinister' direction has the associations it does is an indication of man's dose relationship with the movement of the beavens: it is said to be the entropic, unwinding movement from order into chaos, or, according to C. G. Jung, away from the conscious and towards the unconscious. By virtue of this important asymmetry the spiral can be superimposed on its mate of opposite-handedness only by turning it through another spatial dimension: a flat spiral must be lifted out of the page through three dimensions, or a spiral of three dimensions moved through four, and so on.

Direction is thus an indication of the dimension, and in traditional thought the 'world', through which the spiral turns. Since our world is predominantly right-handed, the world above is thought to be ,left-handed', a passage through another dimension being implied. According to the Jewish mystical tradition, the Cabbala, there are four worlds, all of which exist negatively beyond their positive existence. Not until one is outside the relative world of space and time is there an end to the possibility of rotating an asymmetric figure through the next dimension in space to coincide with its reflection.

The universal spherical vortex is perhaps the most complete symbol by which we can map our cosmic journey. As William Blake wrote in his poem 'Milton':

The nature of infinity is this: That everything has its
Own vortex, and when once a traveller thro' Eternity
Has pass'd that Vortex, he perceives it roll backward behind
His path, into a globe itself unfolding like a sun.
Thus is the heaven a vortex pass'd already, and the earth
A vortex not yet pass'd by the traveller thro' Eternity.

[ Flow, form and symbol ] [ The evolutionary spiral ] [ The breathing cosmos ] [ The two eternities ]




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