“The essential meaning of the crown is derived from that of the head, with which it is linked—unlike the hat—not in a utilitarian but in a strictly emblematic manner. By reference to level-symbolism, we may conclude that the crown does not merely surmount the top of the body (and of the human being as a whole), but rises above it and therefore symbolizes, in the broadest and deepest sense, the very idea of pre-eminence. That is why a superlatively successful achievement is spoken of as a ‘crowning achievement’. Hence the crown is the visible sign of success, of ‘crowning’, whose significance reaches beyond the act to the person who performed it.

The metal crown, the diadem and the crown of rays of light, are symbols of light and of spiritual enlightenment. In some books of alchemy there are illustrations showing the planetary spirits receiving their crown—that is, their light—from the hands of their king—that is, the sun. The light they received from him is not equal in intensity but graded, as it were, in hierarchies, corresponding to the grades of nobility ranging from the king down to the baron. Books on alchemy also stress the affirmative and sublimating sense of the crown. In Margarita pretiosa, the six base metals are first shown as slaves, with their uncovered heads bowed low towards the feet of the ‘king’ (that is, gold); but, after their transmutation, they are depicted wearing crowns on their heads. This ‘transmutation’ is a symbol of spiritual evolution whose decisive characteristic is the victory of the higher principle over the base principle of the instincts. That is why Jung concludes that the radiant crown is the symbol par excellence of reaching the highest goal of evolution: for he who conquers himself wins the crown of eternal life.”

Source: J.E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, p. 72


[Hearts tuned to a dead channel are harder than stones.]

“…the mineral world is viewed as the lowest form of creation. It takes outside force to move or change a stone; we throw one and it remains inert. There are many expressions in our language that reflect this lowly aspect of the stone. We say that someone is stupid, or blind or deaf as a stone. Stone lacks sensation or feeling, and we accuse someone of having a heart of stone. When Medusa, in Greek myth, turns someone into a stone, its psychological meaning is that he or she regresses to a less conscious state. Our worst fear freezes us into stone, robbing us of our ability to act.

We are fascinated by the dense nature of stone that refuses us access. In her poem “Conversations with a Stone,” Wislawa Szymborska writes:

I knock at the stone’s front door.

‘It’s only me, let me come in.’

‘I don’t have a door,’ says the stone.”

Source: The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism, The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images, p. 104

And yet, after all this, your hearts hardened and became like stones, or even harder: for, behold, there are stones from which streams gush forth; and, behold, there are some from which, when they are cleft, water issues; and, behold, there are some that fall down for awe of God. And God is not unmindful of what you do!

The allusion to water in the above Qur’anic verse is noteworthy. Although the significance of water manifests itself differently in different religions and beliefs, water is a universal symbol of purity, renewal, and life. It has a central place in the practices and rituals of many traditions. Not only does water purify one externally and spiritually, but it also prepares one to come into the presence of one’s focus of worship. For the Muslim, for example, ablutions performed correctly and with sincere intention purify the soul from the pollution of sin and it is as if one has been given a new will, a new life.

Because all life comes from water, the ancients regarded water as a symbol of “the universal congress of potentialities, the fons et origo, which precedes all form and all creation. Immersion in water signifies a return to the pre-formal state, with a sense of death and annihilation on the one hand, but of rebirth and regeneration on the other.” In India, water is generally regarded as the “preserver of life, circulating throughout the whole of nature, in the form of rain, sap, milk, and blood.”

In light of the above verse, it behooves us, therefore, to ask ourselves this: Are our hearts better than stones? For from the stone—emblem of rigidity, hardness, and coarseness—we can see “streams gush forth” and “when they are cleft, water issues.” Yet, the water of Truth—that which brings life, restores, and purifies—cannot even penetrate a heart that is as hard as stone. Even harder. That heart is so hard and inaccessible, so cold and unyielding, that it is “unaffected by heavenly things” and “slow to credit the words of God.” The stony heart, “hardened by sin, and confirmed in it; destitute of spiritual life and motion; senseless and stupid, stubborn and inflexible; on which no impressions are made; and which remains hard and impenitent” is, essentially, dead.

Sources: Taken from Qur’an (Surah ‘The Cow’, 2:74); J.E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, pp.364-5; Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible and Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Biblehttp://bible.cc/ezekiel/36-26.htm

[“Time is the magnitude of motion when the size of its earlier and later are brought together in the mind.”]

This Japanese Zen calligraphic drawing beautifully shows ‘creation’ through the simple progression from the absolute unity of the circle, through the triangle (with three points forming a qualitative transition from the pure, abstract elements of point and line to the tangible, measurable state called a surface) symbolizing the passage between the transcendent and the manifest realms, to the manifest form of the square (representing materialization).

[Unity and Multiplicity]

“From both the metaphysical and natural points of view it is false to say that in order to arrive at two, you take two ones and put them together. One only need look at the way in which a living cell becomes two. For One by definition is singular, it is Unity, therefore all-inclusive. There cannot be two Ones. Unity, as the perfect symbol for God, divides itself from within itself, thus creating Two: the creator unity and the created multiplicity.

Unity creates by dividing itself, and this can be symbolized geometrically in several different ways, depending upon how the original Unity is graphically represented. Unity can be appropriately represented as a circle, but the very incommensurability of the circle indicates that this figure belongs to a level of symbols beyond reasoning and measure. Unity can be restated as the Square, which, with its perfect symmetry, also represents wholeness, and yields to comprehensible measure. In geometrical philosophy the circle is the symbol of unmanifest Unity, while the square represents Unity poised, as it were, for manifestation. The square represents the four primary orientations, north, south, east and west, which make space comprehensible, and it is formed by two pairs of perfectly equal yet oppositional linear elements, thus graphically fulfilling the description of universal Nature found in Taoist and other ancient philosophies.

The square (above) represents the earth held in fourfold embrace by the circular vault of the sky and hence subject to the ever-flowing wheel of time. When the incessant movement of the universe, depicted by the circle, yields to comprehensible order, one finds the square. The square then presupposes the circle and results from it. The relationship of form and movement, space and time, is evoked by the mandala.”

Source: Robert Lawlor, Sacred Geometry: Philosophy and Practice, pp. 16, 23

[What is Sufism?]

“[I]n answer to the question ‘What is Sufism?’: From time to time a Revelation ‘flows’ like a great tidal wave from the Ocean of Infinitude to the shores of our finite world; and Sufism is the vocation and the discipline and the science of plunging into the ebb of one of these waves and being drawn back with it to its Eternal and Infinite Source.

‘From time to time’: this is a simplification which calls for a commentary; for since there is no common measure between the origin of such a wave and its destination, its temporality is bound to partake, mysteriously, of the Eternal, just as its finiteness is bound to partake of the Infinite. Being temporal, it must first reach this world at a certain moment in history; but that moment will in a sense escape from time. Better than a thousand months is how the Islamic Revelation describes the night of its own advent. There must also be an end which corresponds to the beginning; but that end will be too remote to be humanly foreseeable. Divine institutions are made for ever. Another imprint of the Eternal Present upon it will be that it is always flowing and always ebbing in the sense that it has, virtually, both a flow and an ebb for every individual that comes within its scope.

There is only one water, but no two Revelations are outwardly the same. Each wave has its own characteristics according to its destination, that is, the particular needs of time and place towards which and in response to which it has providentially been made to flow. These needs, which include all kinds of ethnic receptivities and aptitudes such as vary from people to people, may be likened to the cavities and hollows which lie in the path of the wave. The vast majority of believers are exclusively concerned with the water which the wave deposits in these receptacles and which constitutes the formal aspect of the religion.

Mystics on the other hand—and Sufism is a kind of mysticism—are by definition concerned above all with ‘the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven’; and it would therefore be true to say, in pursuance of our image, that the mystic is one who is incomparably more preoccupied by the ebbing wave than by the water which it has left behind. He has none the less need of this residue like the rest of his community—need, that is, of the outward forms of his religion which concern the human individual as such. For if it be asked what is it in the mystic that can ebb with the ebbing wave, part of the answer will be: not his body and not his soul. The body cannot ebb until the Resurrection, which is the first stage of the reabsorption of the body—and with it the whole material state into the higher states of being. As to the soul; it has to wait until the death of the body. Until then, though immortal, it is imprisoned in the world of mortality. At the death of Ghazali, the great eleventh-century Sufi, a poem which he had written in his last illness was found beneath his head. In it are the lines:

A bird I am: this body was my cage

But I have flown leaving it as a token.

Other great Sufis also have said what amounts to the same—but they have also made it clear in their writing or speaking or living—and this is, for us, the measure of their greatness that something in them had already ebbed before death despite the ‘cage’, something incomparably more important than anything that has to wait for death to set it free.

What is drawn back by spiritual realisation towards the Source might be called the centre of consciousness. The Ocean is within as well as without; and the path of the mystics is a gradual awakening as it were ‘backwards’ in the direction of the root of one’s being, a remembrance of the Supreme Self which infinitely transcends the human ego and which is none other than the Deep towards which the wave ebbs.

What is drawn back by spiritual realisation towards the Source might be called the centre of consciousness. The Ocean is within as well as without; and the path of the mystics is a gradual awakening as it were ‘backwards’ in the direction of the root of one’s being, a remembrance of the Supreme Self which infinitely transcends the human· ego and which is none other than the Deep towards which the wave ebbs.

To use a very different image which will help to complete the first, let us liken this world to a garden—or more precisely, to a nursery garden, for there is nothing in it that has not been planted there with a view to its being eventually transplanted elsewhere. The central part of the garden is allotted to trees of a particularly noble kind, though relatively small and growing in earthenware pots; but as we look at them, all our attention is caught by one that is incomparably finer than any of the others, which it far excels in luxuriance and vigour of growth. The cause is not naked to the eye, but we know at once what has happened, without the need for any investigation: the tree has somehow been able to strike root deep into the earth through the base of its receptacle.

The trees are souls, and that tree of trees is one who, as the Hindus say, has been ‘liberated in life’, one who has realised what the Sufis term ‘the Supreme Station;’ and Sufism is a way and a means of striking a root through the ‘narrow gate’ in the depth of the soul out into the domain of the pure arid unimprisonable Spirit which itself opens out on to the Divinity. The full-grown Sufi is thus conscious of being, like other men, a prisoner in the world of forms, but unlike them he is also conscious of being free, with a freedom which incomparably outweighs his imprisonment. He may therefore be said to have two centres of consciousness, one human and one Divine, and he may speak now from one and now from the other, which accounts for certain apparent contradictions.”

Source: Martin Lings, What is Sufism?, pp.11-14


“Mirror is a reflective container whose source of power is light. Our English word ‘mirror’ comes from the Latin mirari, to wonder or marvel at. The wonderous nature of the mirror is how it draws our imagination into its seeming depths, the sense that beyond the mirror image of our immediate reality might be seen something entirely different. In Lewis Carroll’s famous story, the world of dreams lies ‘through the Looking-glass.’ Personifying the unconscious and its compelling capacity to reflect the unknown and potential, alchemy attributed to its figure Sulfur, the possession of ‘a mirror in which the whole world is to be seen. Whosoever looks into this mirror, can see and learn therein the parts of the wisdom of the whole World…’ (CW 14:137, n 108). At the same time, the more destructive aspects of the unconscious, like consuming appetites and ‘lunatic’ tendencies, were projected on the changeable and cyclically dark Luna, ‘the great poisonous mirror of nature.’ Yet as the illuminating speculum or ‘looking-glass,’ Luna could also mediate self-knowledge and the face she showed was affected by the receptiveness or resistance of the adept to the insights she offered.

What do we see when we look in a mirror? To ‘reflect’ means to bend back or around, suggesting a linking. Attuned mirroring of the infant and young child contributes to the bringing of their substance into being. Derangements in mirroring have been associated with pathological narcissism, borderline states and chronic depression. In the Greek legend of Narcissus, the youth, divinely spellbound by his own reflection, wastes away. Two twentieth-century women, Virginia Woolf and Freud’s patient, Anna O, testified to the traumatic experience of seeing a beast or monster in their looking glass—projections, perhaps, of the distorting effects of mental illness. Everyday, we confront mirrors in the reactions of others to our behavior. Saint Paul saw the mirror as an analogue to our experience of the divine here and now as opposed to the afterlife: ‘For now we see in a glass darkly, but then face to face’ (1 Cor. 13:12). Schopenhauer, however, compared the human intellect to a mirror. In its magical aspect, the mirror is a trickster’s tool, an implement of illusion, often making us appear as more, or less, than we are. But the mirror as an emblem of our capacity to reflect is also an instrument of salvation. In the myth of Perseus, it is only by looking at the reflected image of what is too dangerous to absorb directly, that the hero is able to slay the snake-headed Medusa.”

Source: The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism, The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images, pp.590, 592

World and Heart as Mirror

“The attributes of the complete human being are the attributes of God appropriately reflected in human nature. God has innumerable qualities, ninety-nine of which are mentioned in the Qur’an. Some of these are the everyday attributes of a human being: seeing, hearing, speech, will, life, awareness. The Sufi recognizes that these qualities are reflected through the human being from the Absolute Being. Becoming completely human is being able to reflect more and more of the divine qualities in everyday life.

The world is viewed as the mirror of divine qualities, the site of their manifestation. The human heart is even more so a site of their manifestation.”

Source: Kabir Helminski, The Knowing Heart: A Sufi Path of Transformation, p.22

“…in the process of purification that culminates in illumination, both St John and the Sufis polish the mirror of their soul to the point where it is so burnished that it can reflect the light of God: ‘the mirror [of the] heart has been so polished with divers classes of mortification. . . whose effect is the polishing that must be accomplished so that the forms of mystical realities can manifest themselves with all their brightness in the heart.’ These words are from Abu al-Mawahib al-Shadhali…but the image is repeated over and over by Rumi, Ibn ‘Ata’Allah, Ibn Arabi, Al-Ghazzali, and even the ancient Bistami (d. 874), Hakim Tirmidhi (d. 898), and Hasan Basri (d. 728). St John sounds like them all, and his soul, ‘through the brightness that comes supernaturally,’ becomes a ‘bright mirror’ (N II: 24:4; VO 459).”

Source: http://www.allamaiqbal.com/publications/journals/review/apr98/3.htm


Ibn Arabi on Man as mirror of God, God as Mirror of the World:

“…the most important metaphor used by Ibn Arabi to depict the relation between God, the world and man in particular, remains that of the mirror. Ibn Arabi did not invent the symbol of the mirror, but he resorted to it to clarify the nature of the relation between God and His creatures. A real mirror reflects the image of the person looking at it. In the same way, symbolically, a mirror reflects ideas. When we say, figuratively, that a poet is the mirror of his age, or that one person is the mirror of another, we mean by that, that the poet or the person has been able to capture the characteristic image of his age or of the other person, and show it to people. Perhaps if Ibn Arabi had lived in our time, he would have made use of the screen, and used it as a symbol. For the screen has an amazing ability to receive and transmit images. Within this framework, we may say [that]:

(i) Man is a double mirror, being the isthmus between God and the world. One face is the mirror of the Divine Names, while the other is the mirror of the cosmic names. [or, on the one side stands the Absolute and on the other side, creation. The latter is like a mirror, sign, signifier, or image, but in all cases but a reflection or shadow of the Real.]

(ii) Man is the mirror of God, and God is the mirror of man. They are two mirrors, each reflecting the other. God is the mirror of man, with man seeing himself in the Divine mirror. And man is the mirror of God because he reflects His Names back to Him.

The following are some of Ibn Arabi’s texts which describe these two mirrors.

(a) Man as mirror of God

The texts of Ibn Arabi successively describe the world as a mirror, and the mirror means the place which accepts the image of a thing and not the thing itself. Thus, the mirror is at the same time a deception, for the image of a person in a mirror is the person himself, while being quite other. In the same way, there is in the mirror nothing of the reflected person. He says: ‘The world […] is the mirror of God. The people of Knowledge (‘arifun) see there only the image of God.’

(b) God as Mirror of the World

The traveller exerts himself that his Lord may be unveiled to him, but at the end of his spiritual retreat, what is unveiled to him is his own truth, and he sees his own image in the mirror of God. This is reminiscent of the final arrival of Fariduddin Attar’s birds and their vision of the Simurgh. Regarding the fact that God is the mirror of the world, Ibn Arabi says: ‘God is the mirror of the world. They [the creatures] see in this mirror only their own images.'”

Source: http://www.ibnarabisociety.org/articles/unityofbeing.html


Hiroshige’s wood-block image depicts the whirlpools at Awa, their gentle involutions centered at the foreground of an expansive landscape, suggesting transition amid seeming impermanence. It is a meditative and tranquil image of whirlpools, the forceful currents brought about by an interaction of rising and falling tides. Carrying associations similar to those of the spiral, these currents are symbolically depicted in relation to the center, unaffected by the impelling forces that surround it. When coastal and ocean bottom configurations are both narrow and deep, however, a whirlpool may exhibit a fearsome downdraft, changing its aspect. The vortex produced by these currents can appear to create an aperture, falling away into immeasurable depths, sucking all things into the void and then disgorging them again. For this reason, the whirlpool is often personified as a monstrous force. In Homer’s The Odyssey, the whirlpool Charybdis swallows the sea down in the “yawning maw” of its funnel, exposing the black sand at the bottom of the abyss, and then vomits it back up “like a cauldron seething over intense fire” (Homer, 217), suggesting what it still might be for consciousness to be caught in the maelstrom energies of psyche.

Many nautical myths combine the benign and violent aspects of the whirlpool, allowing the chaotic maelstrom (from Dutch for “whirling stream”) to function as an initiation, and the center of the vortex to reveal a vision normally hidden from human perceptions. In eleventh century Teutonic myth, sailors entered a maelstrom that opened up onto an island of giants, their hidden gold temporarily ungaurded (Rydberg, 320). In the same sense, whirlpools suggest portals to other worlds and times, and in many literary representations, there is a sustained moment where the observer is witness to the underworld. A Cherokee myth details the adventures of two tribesman on a canoe at the mouth of Suck Creek. One was seized by a fish and never seen again. The other was saved after he “reached the narrowest circle of the maelstrom.” Here the water opens and as if looking down through the roof beam of a house, he can see at the bottom of the river a great company, which beckons him, but before they can seize him the swift current catches him up out of their reach (Mooney,340). In another story, the abyss has a different aspect (and the depths of psyche can feel equally ambivalent): Edgar Allen Poe’s “Descent int the Maelstrom” is based on the whirlpools located near the Lofoten Islands off the coast of Norway. Poe describes a state of calm intelligibility at the heart of the funnel, a transition from dread to hope, discovering in the gulf a “narrow and tottering bridge which…is the only pathway between Time and Eternity.”

Source: The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism, The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images, p.46