The Theosophical Forum – March 1936



This subject was treated in special reference to Christianity in Lucifer for Nov. 1935, and is resumed here as part of our series on symbolism. The sign of the Cross has been very potent in Christianity, but rather as a glyph than a symbol; which means, according to the distinction made in The Secret Doctrine (I, 66) a conventional sign, used to bring to mind the ideas which it stands for; whereas a symbol is not arbitrary or conventional, but sums up in its very form certain occult principles. It is the actual correspondence, among figures, of some universal law, too profound and inclusive to be conveyed in language. The Cross is essentially two straight lines of equal length crossing one another at right angles, but has variants, each expressing some particular shade of meaning.

The initial stages of cosmogenesis or the birth of worlds are symbolized by certain simple geometric figures, of which we have already spoken of one, in the last issue. This was the circle, which by itself represents the primordial abyss of Chaos. Within this there appears a central point, the first germ of all that is to become manifest; it is like the germinal speck in an egg — Nature repeats everywhere the same original process, and the egg is a very pregnant emblem of cosmogenesis. This Primordial Point is the First Logos, or Word, and includes in itself both the positive and negative, or active and passive, sides of manifestation, which two have not yet become differentiated from each other. Thus it is sometimes called androgyne or double-sexed; but in using the words 'male' and 'female' in these connexions, we must be careful not to give a physiological sense to them, as they have about as much to do with that as have the terms dextro- and laevo- in chemistry, or positive and negative in physics.

The next stage in Cosmogenesis is represented by the same Circle with a horizontal diameter crossing it. This signifies a divine immaculate Mother-Nature within the all-embracing infinitude. When the horizontal line is crossed by a vertical one, we have the symbol of Father-Nature added, and the two together form the Mundane Cross and stand for the manifested universe. This duality of Spirit and Matter, Force and Form, Energy and Inertia, etc., pervades the universe, not only in the planes of objectivity, but also subjectively, in our mind, in our feelings; and on the highest plane of all these two intersecting lines may stand for the Divine Thought acting in the Divine Mind. It is impossible to give more than a sketchy and introductory explanation here of these pregnant symbols, but the reader may be referred to the opening pages of The Secret Doctrine, where these diagrams will be found, as well as to many other parts of that work.

The Cross is found in a widespread trinity of symbols — Circle, Crescent, Cross, which denote Spirit, Mind, and Matter respectively. The three combine in the symbol of Mercury, denoting a man, with the Crescent for his brain, the Circle for his Heart, and the Cross for his organs — Head, Heart, and Hands, as we may say. Development in biology shows the extrusion of polar elements from the central nucleus, whether in the germ cell or in the seed which sends shoots up into the air and down into the earth. Various combinations of these three symbols make the symbols of planets, and we find them again on standards, as the Star and Crescent of Islam, the Cross of Christianity, and the Sun of Japan. The Circle is the Sun, the Crescent the Moon.

The most interesting meaning of the Cross is its connexion with Crucifixion. It signifies the 'Word made Flesh,' the incarnation of Divinity. And so it stands for the Christ, the Divine Self of every man, which is said to have been crucified on the Cross of Matter, or to have taken up the Cross — that is, worldly life — in order to redeem the animal nature of man. Paul in his Epistles dwells much on the idea of the Christ being crucified in us. This is the real sacrifice; for the God is exiled thereby and has to undergo the tribulations of mortal incarnation; but the sacrifice is made in the spirit of Love, and a reluctant sacrifice is no sacrifice at all. The universal and ancient truth of the redemption of the flesh by the indwelling God has been turned theologically into a special atonement made by a special son of God at a particular place and time; and the sacred allegory found in the Gospels has been taken to refer to an actual execution. But this idea loses force when we find that many other religions besides Christianity have the same story of a crucified Christ. Some confusion may be caused by the fact that Paul uses the word crucifixion sometimes to mean sacrificing: he speaks of crucifying the flesh, but here he is evidently using the word in a different sense from his use of it in speaking of Christ being crucified in us. The Cross in Christianity has descended from a symbol into a mere glyph: its significance is lost, and it remains a reminder, a banner.

We spoke above of the need for avoiding a gross interpretation of symbolism, but this has actually often been done, and a word of comment is required. In degenerate times, there has always been a degradation of symbolism. The two lines of the Cross represent the male and female creative potencies, which on the highest plane are the Divine Thought in the Divine Mind. But, owing to universal analogy, the same symbol may also illustrate the active and passive natural forces in physical organisms; and so we find cults for the deification of the procreative powers. These powers are innocent natural functions when confined to their proper use; but if deified, we get licentious cults, and in this way the Cross may acquire a sinister meaning.

The Cross has other forms besides the equal-armed or 'Greek Cross'; the form adopted in Christianity is sufficiently familiar, and has perhaps been chosen from confusion with the Roman method of execution. Sometimes the crossbar touches the top of the upright, forming the Tau. Each of these variants emphasizes some particular meaning, and it would require many articles to go fully into all. When six squares are arranged so that three are horizontal and four perpendicular, we get a figure like the Latin Cross and representing the six faces of an opened-out cube. If a Cross is inscribed in a Circle, the segments of the lines are in geometrical proportion, and the ratio between the arms in various cases may suggest mathematical keys. An alternative to the Tau or the Cross is the Tree, found in Genesis as the Tree of Life, in the Norse Yggdrasil and the Indian Asvattha Tree. It denotes material Nature, and round it is often twined a Serpent, denoting the life-forces operating in cyclic path through the planes of Matter. When the arms of the Greek Cross are bent at the ends, we get the Svastika, the bends being intended to convey the idea that the Cross is rotating like a wheel. This indicates the eternal motion of the elements and shows how equilibrium is attained by maintaining a neutral center amid continual changes.

Thus we have touched the high lights in this profound subject, and may conclude with the hope that this will lead to further study.

The Theosophical Forum