general terms, philosophy is the expression of a thought that is interlocked
with others, the entire ensemble constituting conceptual schemata that
issue in an idea of life, the world, and man-schemata generating a vision
of the cosmos, a cosmogony. This synthesis of images does not necessarily
have to have a linear, logical development in the rationalistic sense of
the words. The discourse of human thought manifests itself in various ways.
Among archaic peoples, who doubtless are closer to their origins, it is
expressed by way of associative units related through analogies, with a
basis in the very nature of things, and it crystallizes in symbols, myths,
and rites. Through these, reality is learned in direct, intuitive fashion,
by contrast with the "logical" artifice that presents them in an indirect,
Current philosophy has forgotten its actual roots, and refers only to dehumanized speculations, and abstract, classificatory, "systems" that are completely divorced from reality. It regards reality as an object to be dealt with in an intellectual way-something that must pass through the analysis of the mind before attaining to existential status.
On the contrary, the philosophy of primitive peoples is maintained in a far more developed state of purity, and of communication between the universe and man (macro/microcosm). It therefore occasions a fuller understanding of things, and consequently a broader knowledge of the various planes that constitute reality. This sort of Philosophy is perennial and universal, and corresponds to a traditional, unanimous cosmovision that has prevailed in all places and times, since nature follows constant laws of causality, number, space/time, and so on.
The rationalist attitude, however (which issues in the material view), is the "official" one today, and it denominates its counterpart, disparagingly, as "prelogical." There is even a certain confusion with regard to the term, "primitive." All of the great civilizations, in their origin, have been primitive, and their maturation is only the development of their potential. Now, if one wished to use this word to denote an uncivilized, uncultivated, ignorant, narrow-minded person, it would be better applied to an inhabitant of today's large cities than to a member of an archaic community.
The archaic, traditional peoples have basically used symbol as a way of communication. This establishes an ongoing relationship between the sign and the thing symbolized. All cognitions are expressed symbolically, since these peoples' sacred symbols manifest the energies they represent, and whose mediators they are, in a real and true fashion. Symbol is magical by virtue of the analogy binding it indestructibly (and identifying it) with that which it is symbolizing. Among these symbols, of extraordinary magical and sacred importance are the numbers and the geometrical figures. Every primitive or archaic society has known these, and has used them to symbolize the cosmos and its energies, by virtue of which these numbers and geometrical figures have possessed the invisible energies to which they themselves bore witness, in perfect correspondence with their visible characteristics.
Two of these geometrical symbols are very much to the fore in the indigenous societies. We mean the circle and the square (and their derivatives), the latter standing in close relationship with the number four, the cosmogonic number present in every manifestation (as well as with the number five, the possibility of the supracosmic and nonmanifest). As for the circle, let us hear Black Elk, the celebrated native sage, direct heir of the tradition of the North American plains:
The power of the universe acts ever by way of circles, and all things tend ever to be round. In ancient days, when we were a happy, strong people, we received our power from the hoop of the nation, which was holy, and while the circle remained complete, the people flourished. . . .
The Flowering Tree was the living center of the circle, and it was nourished by the life of the cycle of the four directions. . . .
Whatever is done by the power of the universe, it is done in the form of a circle.
This symbolical identity among various traditions contains
nothing surprising or accidental. These universal, unanimous symbols are
actually and genuinely related to the weft of the cosmos, constituting
its structure, and are alive in the inmost being of the human person, as
well as in the "collective unconscious," or "genius of the species." The
metaphysical concept of quaternity is found in dynamic, open fashion in
the form of a cross inscribed in a circumference, and in a static, closed
way in the quadrangle. This quaternity, which refers to the directions
of space, to the periods of time, to the "colors" of any manifestation,
and to the processual stages of the latter, is, as we have said, the common
conceptual element that permitted the fusion of the indigenous cultures
with those of the Europeans after the discovery.
The development of a quaternary entity begins at a center of radiation, attains its proper limits, and returns by the same pathways to its origin, perpetually irrigating and revitalizing its structure. The quaternity, then, is a sum of indispensable, magic and sacred, intervals-an interlacing of horizontal and vertical energies that express themselves analogously through the forms of the circle and the quadrangle. The quaternity likewise has the capacity to organize and maintain social and individual life-that is, existence-precisely by virtue of its category of symbol, which therefore suits it for emulating and re-creating the energy of the cosmos that it itself represents.
Four is likewise the quadrangular foundation plane of the Precolumbian pyramid, one of the most typical monuments of the ancient American tradition. Here, scaled "landings," from larger to smaller, are superimposed on one another. This figure indicates a gradual ascent, of course, or a hierarchized vertical division. This becomes evident if we notice that these constructions were temples, and that the most exalted social hierarchs, the sages and priests, lived in them, and officiated there. The plane of the Precolumbian pyramid is constituted of quadrangles within quadrangles, or by a central quadrangle contained by others.
This image is customarily found, among various peoples, in a circular form, as well, from the center to the periphery, and shapes both the model of social organization, and that of the city-state, in which the priest-emperor, dwelling at the center-or better, at the axis that connects earth and heaven-structures and hierarchizes his realm. Four routes communicate the interior with the exterior. These routes are represented by the four stairways that join summit and base in Precolumbian pyramids.
As to the spiral and the double spiral, found everywhere in the Americas, as well as in the extracontinental cultures, let us observe that this variation of the figure of the circle denotes, in the plane, an emergence from repetition, from relapse, and, accordingly, manifests an evolution to other, more exalted planes, as does the Babylonian ziggurat , or, as we have just seen, the Precolumbian pyramid. The latter, however, is quadrangular, while its Babylonian mounts are circular. Both, nevertheless, are representations of the "Axis" and the summit.
There is also an inward-turning spiral, besides the outward-turning one. And both are joined in the sign of the double spiral, whose coils wind endlessly. Corresponding to the upper, aerial spiral is another, lower, underground one. Both are united by the quadrangular plane of the base, and the upper is reflected in the lower as on the surface of the waters. The two are mutually analogous, but are mutually inverted, as well, as day vis-à-vis night. This indigenous conception, in which the heavens or steps are nine in number, is in perfect agreement with Western and medieval tradition, the Greek gnostics, the Hebrew cabala, the Arabic cosmogony, Ptolomy's thought, and Dante's Divine Comedy.
It is curious, of course, and surprising, that the Europeans could have had a cosmogony that was identical with that of the Indians, and yet have failed to notice that same cosmogony when it was so obvious in certain monumental symbols that could scarcely be overlooked-monuments that, to boot, were temples-just as it should have been obvious in the orally transmitted Precolumbian cosmology, in which nine, or thirteen, heavens are cited expressly. 1 It is even more curious that this has not been brought out until the present, with complete information available on the subject, both in studies done on the Precolumbian Tradition, and in those carried out on the Philosophy and Culture of the West.
However, the fact of the correspondence of certain ideas, especially in rites and religious ceremonies, did become clear for certain priests and friars, who pointed to analogies, and supposed that the natives had already been evangelized (especially by the apostle Thomas), or had cultural origins identical with their own (both being branches of the Jewish stock). Further, we have the classic and other references present in the work of certain chroniclers.
Accordingly, the spiral is a symbol of descent-and-ascent, and a means of communication between the underground level, the earthly, and the heavenly, a route traversed in every initiation, and in every genesis (that of the day, the month, the year, and so forth), in each of which one must die to one stage in order to be born to another, once more regenerating the cosmic process from which derive the various processes in which even the stars, gods of the earth, and the underworld participate.
Americanist Fernando Ortiz has written a hefty tome on the spiral, in which he has identified it in various cultures-by way of comparative religions, in nature, and so on. For a number of reasons, this work of research and erudition is valuable. However, it links the symbol of the spiral exclusively with the hurricane (especially the tropical cyclones), and with the winds in general. But, quite the opposite of what Ortiz holds, it is not the spiral that symbolizes the hurricane, it is the hurricane that symbolizes the spiral. After all, the spiral symbolically manifests, besides the things that we have already indicated, an archetypal concept present in all creation: that of a centripetal energy and a centrifugal force coexisting in every organism, and exemplified as well by whirlwinds, cyclones, tornados (or beneficent/malignant deities of the wind), among a multitude of other objects and phenomena. 2
The "Grecian steps," which all but identify Precolumbian cultures, are clearly akin to the Greek meanders, and are variations of the spirals, helixes, and circular waves that represent a continuous whole, without beginning or end, and usually appearing interlaced and forming chains, or framing plane images with an identical signification. 3
The same occurs with the swastika , which is primarily a symbol of the pole, and of the alternating movements produced around it. However, these symbols also possess other, complementary significations, related to the shape of the cosmos, of which we cannot here treat extensively. As for the symbolism of the cross, we shall say only that it is the internal structure of the Precolumbian cosmology, although this fact had forthwith to be concealed, denied, and ignored by European Christianity.
Another interesting thing, which merits emphasis, is the "coincidence" in the idea of Universal Creation by the intermediary of the word, or Verbum, which is attested by Christian and American texts: Genesis, the Gospel of John, Chilam Balam of Chumayel, Popol Vuh, Codex Vaticanus, and so on. This last point may well seem to us to be more profound than the observation of analogous sacraments, such as baptism, confession, communion (and obviously holy order), pointed out by various chroniclers as being the property of the aborigines, and already indicated in these pages.
Also receiving a great deal of attention, as we have said, is the knowledge demonstrated by the natives concerning the flood, and especially the existence of virgins who have given birth to saving, civilizing heroes, as well as concerning the presence of a Father and a Son-of a supreme God and a man god.
It would appear, however, that, lost in minute differences-such as whether the Indians wore shoes or not, went half-naked, let their hair grow, painted their faces or bodies, or were frightened of horses and surprised at nearly everything (indeed they were ingenuous, and hence were mistakenly taken to be unintelligent)-the discoverers were unwilling or unable to notice the extreme similarity of certain key concepts of theirs with those of the conquered. The Indians, logically enough, in their condition as vanquished, must immediately adapt to the circumstances imposed by the invader, practically without any Spaniard taking the slightest interest in the native world except to draw profit from it: the soldiers, gold and wealth; the priests, converts and faithful. Meantime the red race molded itself to the European culture of the age, in order to survive, and professed the Catholic faith for the purpose of preserving their own rites. At once they made the cross a banner, the Virgin Mary the virgin earth and passive energies, and the saints their gods, continuing to practice their sacraments in Christianized form, and now performing many of their ceremonies as members of the church. The whites, meanwhile, only adopted certain indigenous foods, and enough native words as to be able to claim identity as Americans.
But let us not be guilty of an error in judgment: the majority of the Christians of our day believe in a historical, personal, supremely superstitious god, just as did the protagonists of the Conquista. The aggravating element here is that, with regard to the Precolumbian, or comparative religions, without going further, a great deal has been researched and learned between the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries and now. Hence we ought not to be shocked. We have already observed, above, that Christians are ignorant of their esoterism, and that the existence of the Perennial Philosophy is almost unknown in the world. Nor is it known that the universe has a model, a plan, that its knowledge is cosmogony (or cosmology), and that, thanks to its archetypal structure, this science has been known by all peoples. Again, the fact is unknown that the human phenomenon is ever the same-that it is a matter of one and the same man, be that being's clothing ever so different, his or her forms ever so countless and names ever so different, on history's reiterative scroll. And therefore human beings' cycles are alike, their needs the same, their institutions similar, their religions analogous, and their God identical, despite the impressive variety of the various cultural forms-their kaleidoscopic ways.
Only in eras of darkening and destruction do we human beings forget these things. This is our situation today. Our days are signed by the end of a cycle, whose decline took critical, vertiginous form with the end of the Middle Ages, shaping the "Modern Era"-precisely the era of the birth of today's sciences and their offspring, contemporary man, with his ignorant conceptions, that stand in stark opposition to the Unanimous, Universal Cosmogony, the Perennial Philosophy. Let us observe that it is in this same era that the Precolumbian Tradition has succumbed.
|1||In this last case, the four of the base are added to the nine of the air, with the nine of the underground always intact. The sum is always 9 + 4 + 9 = 22.|
|2||See Fernando Ortíz, El Huracán (Mexico City: F.C.E., 1947); see also Jill Purce, The Mystical Spiral (London: Thames and Hudson, 1974).|
|3||See Hermann Beyer, Mito y Simbolismo en el México Antiguo , vol. 10 , Sociedad Alemana Mexicanista, México 1965.|