Dane Rudhyar

The Cross formed by the horizon and the meridian the axes of consciousness and power has given rise to varied interpretations at several levels of meaning, When we are dealing with the Sabian symbols and their interpretation in terms of cyclic process, we have to give a somewhat special but highly significant meaning to the two ends of the axis of consciousness.

Consciousness results from activity, even if we have to realize that the character of this activity, in its creative aspect, depends upon a prior, but transcendent aspect of consciousness. Symbolically speaking, the process of germination that is the starting point of activity in the vegetable kingdom brings out what is latent in the seed. Every action can be said to come out of some kind of seed; at the highest metaphysical level the universal seed is Space.*

*During periods of existential cosmic "manifestation," Space is extended in many dimensions because there are a great many levels of cosmic activity. But in terms of "non-manifestation," Space can be said to have withdrawn inward in the dimensionless mathematical point.

Universal space has often been symbolized by an ocean, an infinite ocean of potentiality. In the Sabian set of symbols, the emergence of activity and therefore of consciousness, as consciousness is implied in this activity is represented by the Aries 1 symbol, because Aries 1 represents the beginning of a cycle of activity. A new form of existence is emerging, surrounded by the karma of the past (the seal embracing the woman). In the subsequent symbols we see this activity gaining objectivity (2), gaining a deep intuition of its wholeness (3), achieving a feeling for the polarized energies on which it depends in order to operate (4), and revealing a latent capacity to transcend its nature (5, the triangle with wings). This emergence leads to a condition in which the creative impulse, after having passed through many maturing experiences, finds itself essentialized in the full revelation of the archetypal Seed-form that had called it into being for a particular purpose.

This archetypal form is symbolized by the perfect "butterfly" of the Libra 1 symbol. The form is perfect. The conscious mind, on the basis of the revelation of the archetype, is able to participate in a group as an equal among equals, because it has had the "vision" of its inherent archetypal perfection. For the American Indian, to have a vision of one's archetype (or totem) is an essential phase of the process at the end of which a boy is able to assume the responsibilities of manhood. As one medicine man stated: "A man who has not had his Vision does not know what his place in the world is. How can he live, then?" In the zodiac, Libra has little to do with "balance" a most superficial interpretation of the symbol of the Scales but it refers to the realization of one's value in terms of one's place and function in a larger community. Whether the community is small or large, it represents a "greater Whole" within which the conscious person can and indeed must operate. In Libra to individual learns the basis on which such an operation can significantly proceed.

Interpreted in this way, the relationship between the symbols for Aries 1 and Libra 1 can theoretically be applied to that between any two opposite symbols or phases of the cyclic process. In many instances, however, it is not easy to establish the meaning of such a relationship on this primary basis. The situation is usually elucidated by introducing the second axial relationship; that is, by studying the two symbols which are in square aspect with those being considered. In the cycle of the year the solstitial degrees. Cancer 1 and Capricorn 1, are in cross-relationship to the equinoctial degrees, Aries 1 and Libra 1.

The equinoctial phases of the year cycle represent the principle of consciousness because the two interacting energies (Yang-Yin, or Day-force and Night-force) being of equal strength, the power principle is neutralized. At the solstices of summer and winter one force, being almost totally dominant, normally makes a great show of power. The two primary types of power are (1) the power to be effectively what one is as a particular form of existence, and (2) the power to use what one is within a "greater whole" in which one is called upon to function. Thus, Cancer 1 (sailors raising a new flag) stabilizes with fully available Yang power and determination the form of life and consciousness that emerged at Aries 1. On the other hand, Capricorn 1 pictures an "Indian chief" able to use social processes to make concrete and acceptable to his community the vision he had of his essential being. At this Capricorn stage we see public and official power in action.

The four-fold sequence linking the equinoctial and solstitial symbols is clear, and it stands as the prototype* of all similar quaternary or cruciform relationships between the 360 phases of the cyclic process and their symbols. The first degree symbols of the four "fixed" signs can be interpreted as follows: The "clear mountain stream" of Taurus 1 refers to the initial phase of the planetary cycle of water, seen from the level of life in the biosphere which depends on available water. When the mountain stream becomes the large river, men can build cities on its banks; today the rapid descent of the water to the plains can be used to produce electrical power. In the same way human beings are able to "dam" their life energies and transmute them into mind-power. That power is focused in the head (cf. the symbol for Leo 1). The Scorpio 1 symbol shows people who perhaps have lived close to the land they have cultivated becoming fascinated by the big city. Clear at its source, life has become the ever-flowing interaction of men participating in the daily rhythm of city living, with its poisons as well as its cultural achievements. The stabilized and relatively permanent power of culture is then evoked by the symbol for Aquarius 1 (a California mission).

*A "prototype" is the first and basic concrete manifestation of an archetype. One might say it is a projection of the archetypal idea into earth substance as an "Exemplar."

The four "mutable" signs of the zodiac can be seen related in a still more significant manner by the symbols for their first degrees, which strike the keynote of their respective periods in the cycle. Gemini 1 (A glass-bottomed boat reveals undersea wonders.) shows the nascent individual consciousness expanding through contact with the vast amount of knowledge gathered by mankind and now inherent in the collective Unconscious as well as embodied in millions of books. The symbol for Virgo 1 (a portrait) reveals, on the one hand, how mental activity leaves its mark upon and individualizes a face, and on the other, the creative power of a mind trained to discern and reproduce the salient characteristics of any living being or situation.

The contact with the accumulation of collective values which constitute the substratum of a culture (Gemini 1) leads to the type of activity which in our world of conflicts is necessary to preserve and expand a "culture-whole" a way of life and its great Images, a way implied in Sagittarius 1. Lastly, society, which has been sustained by those who have risked their lives in upholding its standards, expresses its health and vitality through the complex rituals of the marketplace (Pisces 1).

If we divide the circle of wholeness geometrically by 4, we obtain the square, a figure whose symbolic meaning is stability, solidity and resistance to change. At the social level it is the bourgeois, the "square." Number 4 refers basically to the material world. In the universally emphasized seven-year cycle, the fourth year represents the bottom of the cycle. The first three years refer to the descent of spirit into matter (or of the Idea into Concrete form) and the last three to the gradual evolution and refinement of the form and the spiritualization or dematerialization of the consciousness which at the beginning of the fourth year had become identified with the form and the energies of matter. The fourth year is therefore the turning point of the seven-year cycle. The consciousness now imbedded in a material form can either descend deeper into matter and lose altogether the spiritual momentum of the initial cyclic impulse, or it may progressively free itself from the pull of material energies and ascend to the "omega state" of conscious and individualized spiritual fulfillment.

Occult traditions everywhere refer to the present stage in the large cycle of our planet's existence and of mankind-as-a-whole as the fourth stage. It is the "fourth world," or according to theosophy, the "fourth Round." Numerologically speaking, the Vibration 4 dominates the collective consciousness of everything belonging strictly to the Earth's biosphere, the realm of life (using the term life in its strictest sense as the power that draws together, organizes, sustains and multiplies a collection of material units). From the point of view of the ascending process of development and the eventual spiritualization of human consciousness, the "Great Work" to use an alchemical term is the raising of the Vibration 4 to the level of the 5.

In its broadest sense this "raising" process is what is really meant by "civilization" that is, civilization as a process of transformation of unconscious biological drives into the conscious and individualized structures of a mind pervaded by the "Light" of the spirit (the "Supermind," in Sri Aurobindo's terminology). When fully in control of a mind organized into a self-perpetuating system (a superphysical and superbiological organism), this spiritual Light takes the place that Life and its energies had occupied at the level of the biosphere, i.e. within physical bodies.

Such a Light has substance and power; it pervades the subtle and more spiritualized realm of mind-activity (Sri Aurobindo's "overmind"). The Light is esoterically symbolized by the Number 6, while Mind, as a form of activity which can, yet need not, become independent of biological impulses, answers to the Vibration g. At the present stage of the evolution of mankind as a life-species, the Vibration 4 is dominant; yet the Vibration g of mental activity has been strongly developing for some 2500 years (since about 600 B.C.). Unfortunately, at this first stage of its development as a potentially autonomous mode of operation, the mind remains closely attached to, and influenced or controlled by, the biological needs and emotional drives of the body. It acts as what has been called the "lower mind," placing itself at the service of biological imperatives which, translated into psychic states (hunger, sex, aggressiveness, possessiveness, will to power, ambition, etc.), permeate most mental activities. The result is our present Western civilization with its monstrous cities, its holocausts and its ever-increasing perversions and psychoses.

Trying to separate himself from these bio-psychic emotional drives. Western man has glorified and overemphasized what he calls "Reason" and the intellectual and analytical power of the mind. He has idealized objectivity, at least in theory. But by trying to emphasize the mind alone no "vital" or "spiritual" results can be obtained that stand the test of time or avoid becoming the tool of forces operating in terms of material entropy.

The five-pointed star is the symbol of Mind as a mode of universal activity. The star can either point upward or downward. It is the symbol of Man; and a man can evolve his consciousness in the direction of Light (i.e. Spirit), or follow the path of "devolution" and be drawn eventually to the realm of unconscious absorption in undifferentiated matter, the "humus" which will feed the growth of seeds in a future cycle.

Symbolically stated, the issue is whether the emergent Number g will remain attached to the vibration (Number 4) of the biosphere and of generic mankind, or will become not only sensitive to, but eventually an operative agent for, the universal Love and Light represented by Number 6. This is the crucial issue. It is a cosmic issue which, one may assume, is to be met on every planet in which Man exists in one form or another as the focal point for Mind. The five-pointed star symbolizes this issue; it points to the character of the forces operating at the mental level. I must stress that the activity of Mind includes far more than what we today call "intellect"; neither should it be equated with intelligence per se that is to say, the faculty inherent in all living organisms, but in a much more evolved form in human beings, which allows them to adapt to, make the best of, and eventually control the environment, whether natural or socio-cultural.

Number 5 is a very special number, even from the point of view of arithmetic, a fact which has been discussed by several scientists. It is of particular interest to the biologist because five-fold structures appear in nature at least on our planet only when living forms have evolved. It is not found in crystals but it is featured in the growth of many plants, the disposition of leaves and the shape of flowers. Human anatomy also particularly displays this pentarhythmic type of structuring. It is as if the most advanced forms of life in nature were being prepared to become the foundations upon which the activity of mind could be developed.

We certainly cannot understand, and much less experience, what pentarhythmic patterns in the vegetable kingdom may support in terms of consciousness, but plants are essentially working with light; their chlorophyll captures the energy of the sun's rays and thus produces food for the animal kingdom and for man. At last in a symbolic sense, the man whose mind has become attuned to a supernal form of the Universal Light is also capturing Light-energy to feed the consciousness of men operating almost exclusively at the level of Vibration 4 - All great, inspired works of philosophy, religion, art and literature can be considered instances of a transcendent type of photosynthesis. They bring down the 6 into the 5 of the mass-mentality of any culture.

If we return now to the Sabian symbols we will find that those which, beginning with Aries 1, are singled out through a pentarhythmic process (the dividing of the whole zodiacal circle into five) form a five-fold sequence which is remarkably significant. These five symbols for degrees 72 apart are as follows:

ARIES 1: A woman just risen from the sea. A seal is embracing her.

GEMINI 13: A famous pianist giving a concert performance.

LEO 25: A large camel is seen crossing a vast and forbidding desert.

SCORPIO 7: Deep-sea divers.

CAPRICORN 19: A five-year-old child carrying a bag filled with groceries.

In order to understand how they refer to the mental processes in their essential nature we must "pierce through" the superficialities of the allegorical scenes and uncover the symbols' archetypal implications. We are dealing here with a cyclic process, and with five characteristic phases of it; we might also say we are dealing with a type of activity that implies five types of operation.

The first (Aries 1) is the emergence from the unconscious and compulsive tides of the biosphere. There had been previous and in a sense preliminary evolutionary emergences which led to regressive developments (the seal), but now with the human species we see outlined before our vision the Star of Victory, the magic Pentacle of the human mind.

The second step or principle of operation brings to us the picture of a man who has been individualized to the extent that he can successfully perform a social role that is, he is able to help human beings to feel intensely, even though they might be leading routine or uninspired lives. He can help them to vibrate at a new speed of emotional response, and perhaps to become more sensitive to a more spiritual type of inspiration.

The third step or principle refers to the quality of self-reliance and independence from an always hostile and spiritually barren environment. This correlates with the most important aspect of the process of individualization of consciousness, a process requiring a mind able to demonstrate self-sufficiency and endurance under all adverse circumstances. The fourth step can be most significantly understood by relating it to the first. What the mind emerged from and left behind has to be courageously faced in terms of consciousness.

The individualized mind must dare to return to the realm of compulsive life-tides and instinctual biological urges, and to extract from it an individual meaning. Without this, the conscious individualized mind, which is ruled by the ego, must always lack deep, vital and powerful foundations. Mind should emerge from the compulsions of life, but once formed and self-reliant it must return to objectively face and assimilate the contents of the depths of the Unconscious.

The fifth stage is symbolized by an apparently trivial scene. We are confronted with a five-year-old child, who is proving herself and asserting her innate potential of being by performing an act of service, and by assuming a role ahead of the normal evolution of the mass of human beings. This is a very good symbol for the often-mentioned "Path of discipleship." The person who can tread this path successfully must have reached stage 5 of his development as an individual i.e. he or she must have developed a self-reliant and courageous mind. This person has become truly an "apprentice." He learns how to perform the alchemical Great Work, which in a sense means the transformation of the raw materials of the biosphere into the assimilatable stuff of knowledge. From this assimilated knowledge will rise wisdom, which in turn will become the foundation for a new emergence at a higher level of consciousness.

We should note that the second symbol (Gemini 13) and the fifth (Capricorn 19) refer to what one might call social roles. The first of these means that once the individual mind has emerged from the collective mentality of its culture it has to prove itself by demonstrating its capacity to move and inspire others. It does this, however, in terms of the ego (as a "virtuoso," often dramatizing himself on a public stage). Moreover, the cultural material he uses (i.e. the compositions he performs) is not his own. The performance often implies or suggests an act of ego-glorification.

This is a necessary phase, but sooner or later it leads to a period of spiritual barrenness which is a test of both self-reliance and the determination to persist, using only whatever one possesses within oneself (the camel crossing the desert). Another kind of test follows. Deep-sea diving originally demanded that the diver develop a masterful control of the breath; this degree symbol might be related to certain forms of yoga practice, or to the Tantric approach to the process of spiritualization of basic forms of human bondage, such as sex and hunger.

The fifth and last principle is that of utterly dedicated and efficient service the service of one's spiritual family, group or guru. The ego-dramatics of the "virtuoso performance" are left behind. The ego has been cleansed by harsh trials and tempered by the fire and heat of the desert sun; it is now filled with the assimilated contents of the psychic and biospheric depths. It has begun to vibrate to the 5 (i.e. a five-year-old child). The individual may experience the Star of Victory within his heart.

It is popular today to speak of "creativity" and of having a creative mind. What this means is the capacity to give form to raw and undifferentiated materials or to transform what has already been given a particular shape or structure. It is this capacity that operates in terms of five different types of activity. Above, by relating the symbols of a five-pointed star pattern beginning with the first degree of Aries, I presented the basic prototype of all such processes just as the relationship between the four cardinal points of the zodiac establishes a prototype theoretically applicable to all similar quaternary relationships between zodiacal degrees and their symbols. The Cross and the Star are geometric archetypes that can give a general meaning to all existential processes operating according to the Vibrations 4 and 5. Any degree of the zodiac can thus become the head of a Cross, or the upper point of a Star and, I might add, of the Star's negative reversed form.

This concept can be applied to the interpretation of every basic astrological factor in a birth chart, and theoretically to any complex cyclic activity. In practice, however, such applications are often more confusing than revealing, for they demand the skill to interpret symbols in terms of their innermost essence of meaning. The Sabian symbols are certainly not totally adequate for some refined types of analysis. Nevertheless, there is a way in which the pentarhythmic pattern can be very significantly applied in interpreting these symbols, and I have made use of it in Part Two when dividing the symbols into seventy-two sections, each containing five degrees.

This procedure was originally used by Marc Jones, but I do not believe he saw certain features common to all these five-degree sequences. Moreover, I cannot quite agree with his characterization of physical, social and spiritual for the succession of three five-degree sequences; the examples he gives on page 146 of Sabian Symbols in Astrology do not seem to me at all convincing. The characterizations I have used are: actional, emotional-cultural and individual-mental. The difference in terms is not essential. Besides it is not always easy to find convincing reasons why a symbol refers more to the actional than to the emotional-cultural or the individual-mental. Indeed, I have had some doubt as to the validity of establishing these three levels of activity, but in a great many instances the practice seems significant.

What, however, is very evident is the five-fold rhythm revealed in every one of the seventy-two sequences. Particularly significant are the contrast between the first and the second beat of the rhythm, and the character of the fourth beat. The third and fifth symbols are often more difficult to fit into a general category. Nevertheless, each of the five steps of the process can be made to correspond to a phase of development related to a fundamental principle operating in every sequence.

Moreover, it should always be kept in mind that the whole set of symbols deals with the universal Principle of Transformation, and that in these seventy-two five-degree sequences we deal primarily with the operation of such a principle at the three levels of the human personality. The process is directional and teleological. It goes somewhere or if negative it falls away from the dimly envisioned goal.

1. The symbol for the first degree of the five-fold sequence suggests an evolutionary purpose or the essential character of a new phase of activity. I will discuss here the sequence which begins with Cancer 16 (cf. p. 120) because it is one that is not easy to interpret. In Cancer 1 we saw the individual opting for a change of allegiance, which implied a new set of values. At the second half of the zodiacal sign such a decision requires implementation. "Decision" (seventh scene) requires the "Consolidation" (eighth scene) of the position taken. Fundamentally all reliable forms of consolidation are internal: the individual himself must become stable and well integrated thus the mandala symbol of Cancer 16.

2. Then the "God-seed" within (the mandala of individual selfhood) germinates. Action follows meditation. The energy that was inwardly oriented in the first step is now directed outward. This is the Principle of Contrast. The second degree of all five-fold sequences presents in some way a contrast with the first. This is not, however, to say that it expresses the "antithesis" to a stated "thesis," as we find in the usual dialectical process, which contain three stages. We are here dealing with a different type of dialectic, which operates in five stages a type which, according to Count von Durkheim, has a definite place in Zen Buddhism.*

*l outlined the concept of a pentarhythmic type of process in terms of socio-political organization in a memorandum sent in 1026 to Colonel Wetherill, then president of the Philadelphia Art Alliance. While in Paris in 1962, I heard Durkheim give a splendid lecture on Zen, in which he mentioned "la dialectique & cinq temps."

3. The symbol for the third degree of the sequence refers to the need to "feed" any germinal activity. In a sense it means relating what has been started to its environment, or to some larger frame of reference. For instance, the Aries 3 symbol relates the emergent individual (Aries 1) to a wider field which he visualizes in his own image a micro- to macrocosm relationship, or the imaging of God in man's image. In another sense, it suggests a kind of reconciliation between the two contrasting phases that came before. The subjective factor is now becoming involved in the objective world, and this leads to specific results, which of course take different forms in every sequence. One could speak here of the Principle of Sustainment, which implies some sort of interaction between the new development and what can support it in the greater Whole of which it has become a part.

4. The fourth stage always defines or at least evokes a certain type of method, procedure or technique which can be used to make the process work effectively. In this sequence the symbol for Cancer 19 pictures A priest performing a marriage ceremony. Meditating on a mandala should reveal the possibility of integrating two polarized forces; in the mandala of the year (the zodiac), the Day-force and Night-force are constantly active, one waxing in strength as the other wanes. The consciousness seeking integration and the consolidation of its individualized character must be ready to perform a mystic marriage which will provide a field for the relatively permanent interpenetration of the polarized life energies. We see the beginning of such a process in the symbol for Aries 4. In Taurus 4 the rainbow symbolizes a way of uniting the sky and the Earth. In the Cancer 4 symbol we find another way of dealing with the outcome of one's acts the method of "rationalization." The Cancer 9 symbol presents a variation on the theme of union between the self and some other attractive element of experience (i.e. the desire to possess and assimilate knowledge). Cancer 14 introduces a more transcendent approach: the consciousness seeks, beyond the relativity of ever-elusive truths, the absoluteness of a wisdom that has forgotten what it knew, as it faces the ever-hidden Source of all knowing.

What is at work at this fourth stage of the five-fold sequence is the Principle of Effective Self-expression but here "self" can mean any form of integration, from the most possessive ego to the universal Self. In many instances a technique is suggested that will enable the mind to deal constructively with the new issues implied in the first stage.

5. Theoretically this phase brings to a new dimension, potency or level of consciousness the developments related to the four preceding stages. It usually suggests the workings of a Principle of Transformation, and here we witness the prelude to a new cycle or level of activity. In the symbol for Cancer 20, the serenading gondoliers represent the ritualization of a social process of integration of two human polarities. The pattern of a particular culture and Venice, built on the sea, is quite significant brings social solidity and effectiveness to the search for integrating action. We shall see the same type of symbol, but more socialized and ritualized, as we reach the "emotional-cultural" level (Cancer 21) the operatic prima donna. In some instances, transformation requires the exaggeration of certain traits, which by compensation leads to a new level of experience.


Every five-fold sequence of degree symbols could be analyzed in a similar manner. Some of them, like the sequences for the sign Pisces, outline a clear and at times dramatic story; others require a more penetrating interpretation. It should be evident that when a symbol is interpreted in terms of the place it occupies in several types of relationships with other symbols, each type will demand a slight change of emphasis in the interpretation. This should not affect the fundamental meaning of the symbol.


An Astrological Mandala