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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 ]
The breathing cosmos

Because any description of the Absolute must be limited, we are able to reveal it only by using symbols, which cut directly through all the layers and windings of our consciousness

There is no space here to do more than touch on the profundity of these symbols; but they will be referred to throughout. Each is unity, either as the point or circle. Since a symbol cuts through all levels and therefore dimensions, they must also be visualized in three dimensions: each circle as a sphere.

The function of symbolism is to go beyond the 'limitation of the fragment' and link the different 'parts' of the whole, or alternatively the worlds in which these parts manifest: these worlds are successive windings of the spiral. Each symbol is a link on the same frequency with the world above, a vertical bridge between objects within the same 'cosmic rhythm' on different planes of reality. In other words, each symbol links up with its 'correspondence' on thc next spire. On a flat spiral, each point of intersection between a radius and the successive windings would be the successive manifestation of a symbol, traced through the respective worlds from the densest to the subtlest level of cosmic manifestation. We, like Plato's prisoners in the cave, can see merely the shadows of the images of the real objects, which themselves arc only the manifestation of the Ideas and Archetypes (or Immutable Essences). In other words, even the ,originals', let alone the physical manifestations of nature, are but symbols of the metaphysical realities; and even these last, by virtue of their multiplicity, arc but 'parts' of the One Essence.

lt follows, therefore, that all manifestation, or all that we experience, is symbolic, and that 'the whole of existence is a continuum which is ordered in itself. lt has no manifest
appearance and thus cannot be observed immediately by sense perceptions, but its inherent dynamism manifests in images whose structure participates in that of the continuum' (Wang-Fu Chih).

lt is significant that, while the simple two-dimensional spiral is one of the most ancient symbols for eternity, it does not ever seem to have been a symbol for the Absolute. This is because it is not a whole; it can, by its very nature, never be complete.

The implication here is that all our conceptions of the Absolute must be more than unlimited extension: they must contain. In all traditions God is seen as containing everything within himself. All manifestation extends from, and yet is contained within, the point, to which it also returns.

So, while the two-dimensional spiral starts in infinity and extends to infinity, passing through all the intermediary coils of manifestation in time and the relative world, it is only symbolic of the spherical vortex. This, one of the most ancient symbols known to man, is most familiar as the Yin Yang sign; and, although this was restricted to the Far East, the spherical vortex existed in the West possibly even earlier. Certainly it is found as the double spirals carved by Megalithic man.

When the flat double spiral is moved up into three dimensions, it has its origin and end in the opposite poles of a central axis: the central infinity, or axis of consciousness.

The spiral has actually returned by winding on to its source. Its 'end' is not a second and therefore relativating infinity, as implied by the single spiral. The duplication of the One is simply the One looking at itself, and in so doing becoming subject and object: this is the duality by which all is known.

Keeping this dual picture in mind, we now have a third element: relation. This distance between subject and object is knowledge; hence, in Japanese, the word meaning 'to understand' (ivakarn) literally means 'to be divided'. On the Cabbalistic Tree of Life this space is actually called Knowledge, or Daat, and is the invisible point on the central axis between the Crown (Kether), I AM, and Truth (Tepheret), I AM. lt is understood as the link: Eheieh asher Ehieh: 'I AM (subject) that I AM (object).' This third principle is the mirror of consciousness by which pure Being looks at itself.

In the Islamic tradition it is said: ,I was a hidden treasure and I loved to be known, so I created the world.' On the spherical vortex, the hidden treasure is the point of origin. In order for the One to be known - for there to be consciousness of the treasure by the treasure - the world was created. The cycles of becoming, the rounds of existence, spiral on and reveal their source by the creation of a vantage point: from its own opposite pole the source may view and hence be conscious of itself. The separation of heaven and earth gave the light of consciousness by which all is seen and which all is seen and known.

This cyclic becoming appears in mythology as the protecting serpent or dragon which coils around the World Tree or Mountain - the central axis, the Axis Mundi.

This dragon is also the world of illusion, the coils of manifestation, which the hero must destroy on his quest for truth, for the treasure, the incorruptible diamond of the Self at the still pomt in the midst of things.

This theme recurs in a more or less explicit form in most traditions: the world materializes and man spiritualizes along the same spiral. lt is the breathing of the cosmos.

With the exhalation the spirit contracts, creates, and involves or winds into matter; this is the creation of the world by the breath of God. With the inhalation, matter expands and evolves or unwinds into spirit. Man is the heart and microcosmic controller of this pulse. By becoming conscious he is inhaling - effecting the return breath.

We breathe in only to breathe out; this is true of the universe no less than of man, who was created in the same image. This is why the life of each person is conceived, in so many mystical, religious, and mythological systems, as the conscious unwinding of the original coils of manifestation.

Looked at on a single spiral, the path to consciousness has to be seen as a return along the same path; on the spherical vortex, the return is a continuation. At the point of maximum contraction, the expansion begins.

The alternating phases are described by the Cabbala. As each individual spirals down the Tree of Life, he involves into matter, being conceived in Daat and born in Malkuth or Kingdom; he thus brings heaven down to earth at the moment of birth, at which point the process is reversed, and through life he spirals back up the Tree, evolving or aspiring into spirit. He takes earth back to heaven, remembering in consciousness his original path. Indeed, all recognition, all knowledge of life, is a conscious remembering of the pre-conscious knowledge of the involving path.

The idea of unwinding was familiar to W. B. Yeats, who wrote:

Unwinding is the inhalation or expansion of the great breath. lt is also the returning of the original impulse: the curling round on itself of the natural world, from the planetary orbits to the mushroom, from the recurrence of our experiences to the circulation of our subtle energies.

     Jaunting, journeying
     To his own dayspring
     He unpacks the loaded pern
     Knowledge he shall unwind
     Through victories of the mind.


lt is for this reason that conscious breathing plays such an important role in every form of meditation. Man is echoing the cosmic rhythms, the eternal creation and dissolution of the universe. This also accounts for the importance of the word and breath in so many cosmogenies, and, by extension, the idea of the creation of the world through the naming of things and the letters of the alphabet; this appears in the Cabbalistic, Arabic and Hindu traditions.

In Islam the breath is the 'Divine Exhalation', the manifestation of the Creative, the feminine principle of the One, analogous with the Hindu goddess Sakti. Manifested through this creative breath are the Divine Archetypes or names in the twenty-eight letters of the Arabic alphabet. The alternating breath of 'continuous creation' are the origin of the Sufi ritual, the dhikr. This is the invocatory 'remembrance' of the original Divine act, in accordance with the saying of the Prophet: 'He who does not vibrate at the remembrance of the Friend, has no friend.' The pulsating breath and rhythmic invocation of the sacred Names culminates (as in the whirling of the Dervishes) in cosmic movements and vibrations of the whole body. With each outward breath the Divine Principle is manifest. lt is returned ,back to the Divine Essence at every moment on the phase of contraction, and remanifest and externalized in that of expansion' (S. H. Nasr, Three Muslim Sages). Every moment of existence is thus integrated into its transcendent origin.

These alternating phases correspond to those of the waxing and waning moon; according to the Sufi mystic Ibn 'Arabi, her twenty-eight phases correspond to the letters of the Arabic alphabet, the forms of which are themselves traditionally derived from the lunar shapes. Moreover, since the letters are also phonetic, their form, sound and inner meaning as Divine names (or lines of force, or causes of the universe) are closely related.

The moon, whose cyclic rhythm we may not only watch by night but readily perceive through our emotions, has provided man with many associations for his awareness of the spiral, not least in its relationship to the rhythm and spiral flow of the water which constitutes the greater part of our physical bodies.

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




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