The Theosophical Forum – February 1936



As was said in the Introduction, a symbol sums up in a single picture a meaning which can appear to the mind only as a number of separate meanings; it is beyond the power of the ordinary mind, but not beyond the power of human Intelligence, to visualize the entire meaning at once; hence we must see it in a series of separate pictures, much as we might get an idea of the shape of a crystal by looking at its various aspects separately. This is of course true of the particular symbol under consideration — the circle. Considered as a line it is infinite, so that it represents endless duration. It can be regarded either as a figure contained by one single line, or as a polygon with an infinite number of sides; which indicates that the One and the Many are extremes which meet. The circle seems to enunciate the proverb, 'Extremes meet.' So it denotes cyclic motion; in virtue of which, continued movement from a point will bring us back to the same point again. So it stands for the repetition of cycles, the course of evolution, resurrection and rebirth, birth after death, death after birth. Of course, as we know, it can be elaborated into the spiral (helix), and this again into still more involved curves, so that we may thus obtain a completer picture, though not so concise and radical a one.

The circle denotes unity, especially as compared with the line, triangle, and square. It cannot be divided into similar parts, or built up out of similar parts. The number One is at the same time the least and the greatest of numbers. It heads the series of odd numbers, and also the series of powers of Two; so that it is neither male nor female in symbology. It is the first principle, number one, in any hierarchy; it is the First Cause. We see it again in the symbol of the Sun, and the Sun itself is also a symbol; it is the radiating center of our solar system and is typical of other suns which the universe contains.

In the geometrical symbolism found at the beginning of The Secret Doctrine, the circle is the first figure. The very root of all cannot be represented by any figure at all, as it is boundless and formless, and the tabula rasa or clean slate is the best we can do in the way of representation. When on this we draw a circle we have the symbol of Space, sometimes called the container of all, or better, the root of all, the common parent. For Space is not emptiness, it is utter fulness; it is that from which all springs. Its characteristic is unity, and by virtue of its unity it is all-comprehending. A variant of the circle is the Serpent, which is represented with its tail in its mouth, denoting the union of beginning and end, or rather the absence of beginning and end. But the Serpent has other meanings, as will be seen later.

Motion, eternal ceaseless vibration, is said to be inherent in the nature of things; together with Infinite Space and Infinte Duration, it is a primary postulate which can neither be conceived nor excluded from the mind. This Motion is essentially circular, therefore vibratory; or it is essentially vibratory, therefore circular. A pendulum with its motion unrestricted, vibrates in ellipses, which vary from the straight line to the circle, as extremes; a circular motion can be compounded of, or resolved into, two mutually perpendicular rectilinear motions. A pendulum whose bob describes a circle will throw on the wall a shadow which vibrates to and fro in harmonic motion. We thus see the connexion between vibrations and circular motion; and this is shown in symbolism by the cross within the circle.

The great problem of squaring the circle means knowing how to accommodate life in the world of limitations with the limitless life at its root. The corresponding mathematical problem is also capable of solution, though it remains insoluble as long as the greater problem is unsolved.

The circle denotes Space, which is not an empty container but the mother of all things. This aspect is also represented by the symbol of the egg, circular in form, productive in function. The egg is more exactly an ellipsoid, whose plane figure is an ellipse; a derivative of the circle, wherein duality begins to supervene over unity. In solid form the circle becomes the sphere, whose surface is a boundless plain. The circumference of the circle stands for zero; it contains no parts, and is divided into one part when a point is taken in it. Thus we obtain the finite line, which is the symbol of the number 1.

What impresses one most in these Theosophical studies is the marvelous unity of thought that prevails throughout. The Theosophist does not (or should not) keep his religion and his science in separate compartments, each pining for the loss of its partner; his deepest devotional feelings are illuminated by knowledge, and his studies made sacred by his understanding of their meaning. Heart and Head unite in one and are not at war. The meaning of these sacred symbols should enter deeply into our heart, and not be left as a barren and interesting pursuit. Our life here seems all ends and beginnings because our view is so contracted that we cannot discern the unity and wholeness. Here we are reminded of that spiritual Sun, which, universal, has its focus in every heart of man — man the world in miniature, a solar system of planets in rhythmic motions attendant upon their Lord; and we may rise in thought to a forgetfulness of our petty limitations. Through such a symbol illumination may come, so that we may re-enter our humble world renewed and strengthened for the duties we perform. Know that thou art a Sun, whose function is to illumine all, not to expect benefits. Thus man will rise to his true dignity, fearing neither God nor Devil. Man is deathless, infinite, in his essence; nor is the quality of that essence beyond his reach. At any moment of our life / am immortal, eternal; "end and beginning are dreams."

The Theosophical Forum