I have mentioned before that Emanuel Swedenborg recognized the fact that the spiritual is embodied in Earth through spirals, or, the helix; In True Christianity, he said:
...thought and will could not exist unless there was a similar action and cooperation between life as it inflows and the spiritual organic structure underlying our brain. Life flows from the Lord into that organic structure. Because the organic structure cooperates, it perceives what it is thinking.
This was written in 1771; but in Hieronymus Bosch's painting the Garden of Earthly Delights, completed circa 1500, he depicts the place where heaven and earth interact as a mountain intertwined with birds. The mountain, porous (permeable and receptive to influences that penetrated) has a spiral of birds (heavenly influences) intertwined through it in a spiral. The birds are rising up out of the mountain, representing the idea that spiritual influences are concentrated through manifestation in the material (note the flock of birds flying downward into an aperture in the Earth to the left) and then returned to heaven. The material is, in other words, forms a circulatory system in its interaction with the divine.
As we all know, modern research into the crystalline molecule of DNA has shown that there is indeed a helical structure at the root of everything living; this understanding is embedded deep in the spiritual consciousness of human beings, surfacing and revelation all moments such as Bosch's painting, Swedenborg's teachings (which are intricately interwoven with his unusually prescient scientific understandings) and the dream of the spiral staircase which James Watson cited as part of the process of insight that revealed the structure of DNA as we understand it today.
This understanding, in other words, is embedded deep in the collective unconscious of mankind, that is, the place where the spiritual influence touches the material nature of being.
The double helix represents both an embrace and a relationship. The DNA molecule has to exist in a union in order for life to manifest; yet it has to split apart in order for change to take place. So this tension between separation and union, which is depicted in the enneagram— and in fact forms part of the core understanding of every esoteric system— is fundamental and eternal. It is, in its material form, a representative of the divide between the transcendent and the immanent. Both are part of one thing, and both are necessary.
Anyway, this rather abstract little meditation is hardly what has been on my mind lately, but what with all the excitement about the Hieronymus Bosch show in Den Bosch— which, at the time of this publication, my wife and I will have just visited, if God wills it — the subject of his mountain with the birds and its relationship to the question seemed to deserve a mention.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.