Friday, June 28, 2013

The enneagram in ancient art



 While the enneagram itself was hidden from mankind for thousands of years, we can glean some inferences as to just how long ago it was originally discovered and used in esotericism by taking a look at some of the imagery from the earliest cultures we know of.

Below is a picture of an Achaemenian  seal, sixth century BC, showing "Gilgamesh" holding two winged lions or griffins in symmetrically flanking position. (The next 4 images, and the image of three-centered work, are taken from Thomas McEvilley's The Shape of Ancient Thought, a book you absolutely should not be without, at the low, low kindle or price of $3.03! This work is also available at a very low price in the apple bookstore for iPad.)


 Here's another version, this one from Mohenjo Daro,  a city in the Indus River Valley civilizations which is probably approximately 5000 — and perhaps even more — years old.


A Sumerian seal impression yield similar imagery.


Yet another example from Mohenjo-Daro gives us a yogi in the lotus position, flanked by two sets of forces marked by the elemental serpents who curl over them.



 Another fascinating variation on this heraldic device, used in a somewhat different form to depict a  highly elaborated chakra diagram, is found on the walls of the Northwest palace of Ashurnasirpal at Nimrud (present day Iraq,) circa 859 B.C.


This type of imagery is still with us today.


This typical heraldic motif, which we recognize in innumerable variations up through present time, clearly originated in ancient esoteric schools. The original meaning, which is easier to see in the early variations, specifically shows a human being — often interpreted as a hero, or a king — standing between two forces.

Understanding this interpretation is especially important, because it specifically relates to the inner work that Jeanne de Salzmann brought to her pupils during the 20th century as she deepened and broadened the understanding of the "forgotten" work Gurdjieff originally introduced to the West. The symbol shows a human being between two sets of forces, acting as the intermediary. Even more important, the  interaction between the human being in the arms of the animals indicates an interplay of forces; this, also, as a particular aspect of inner work that de Salzmann often mentions in her notes.

It's entirely appropriate to understand the figure standing between the griffins as a hero, but it's equally important to understand that he represents a Yogi: an individual who has dedicated their inner life to the mastery of the path of the Yogi.

When I first encountered this image, the lines of force and the way they were arranged struck me. A few minutes later, I was looking at the following image rendered in Photoshop. 




  The image not only shows the law of three in action; its geometrical construction clearly follows the law, and the arms and legs of the figures map out the relationship of forces depicted in the enneagram. It is, furthermore, a direct illustration of the principle of standing between the higher and the lower, as is necessary in inner work. As such, images of this kind serve as a form of objective art: they embody an esoteric language that can only be understood by initiates, but have a broad appeal to those with no such ideas. In this manner, images of this kind can be passed down for centuries without the essential information being destroyed.

It turns out that the bas-relief from the palace of Nimrud is equally interesting when the enneagram is laid over it.


In both cases, it appears that an underlying structure related to Gurdjieff's diagram exists. Even more interesting, in this diagram, the positions occupied by the conscious shocks are represented by small buckets, or vessels, that is to say, containers for receiving something.

This image bears a direct relationship to a remarkable seal from a 4,000 year old Mesopotamian seal:


The figure on the right hand side bears a serpent on their head, unambiguously symbolizing the movement of higher energy from the top of the head down the spine; due to the repeat of the cylinder, the image is effectively bracketed by intertwined serpents, the traditional ancient emblem of kundalini forces. 

Most important, however, is the vessel the right-hand figure holds in one hand; identical to the vessels held by the figures from Nimrud, it clearly indicates that the person holding it is to be understood as a receiver of higher energies

This particular seal shows three-centered work, with the three centers well defined by individual characteristics. (The first two are intellectual center, indicated by the elaborate costume, and moving center, marked by its wordlessly graphic simplicity. Our right hand "kundalini yogi" represents emotional center, now open to a feeling quality of a higher nature.) Intellect and moving center hold hands, symbolizing the need for the mind-body connection, and subtly referring to a connection with sensation. These three centers are the servants of a higher authority, under planetary, or astral, influences. For me, it seems hard to imagine how a clearer or more concise illustration of Gurdjieff's fundamental principles could be achieved.

Another example of the enneagram concealed within an artistic symbol comes to light much later, during the Northern renaissance in the art of Hieronymus Bosch: The mysterious magus on the right side of the central panel neatly summarizes the positions of the notes, and shock, on the diagram. The indications are that the school Bosch studied in must have been familiar with the diagram, or a version of it.



The implications are that unrecognized understandings from esoteric schools have been influencing art for many thousands of years. There are traces everywhere; one simply needs to know where to look.


One final note. Webb's contention (see The Harmonious Circle) that Gurdjieff's enneagram is somehow derived from Kirchner's 17th century images is, in my eyes, nothing short of ludicrous. A contention of this nature can only be offered by those who don't understand the diagram properly, and who consequently believe that somehow all esoteric works are created equal. 

I'll have more to say on that in my upcoming book on the enneagram and inner work, which focuses on absolutely practical understandings of the diagram in relation to our inner search for Being.

 For now, let's just note that the enneagram depicts principles and interactions that can't in any way be conveyed by Kirchener's sadly static sets of triads, or the Tree of Life. 


May your soul be filled with light.









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