Read an Excerpt
Introduction to the
Sacred Geometry Oracle
We live in a time of great transitions. After three centuries in which the Western world has been dominated by the ideology of science, more and more people are taking a hard look at the legacy of the Scientific Revolution, with its dream of a world totally subjected to human reason and its promise of limitless power through technology. The dream and the promise measure up poorly against the hard realities of a spiritually empty, esthetically debased, culturally impoverished, and environmentally devastated world.
In the last fifty years, in response to these concerns, teachings concerning mysticism, magic, divination, and inner development have come out of the shadows to play an ever more prominent role in modern life. These ancient traditions have proven themselves quite capable of handling the complexities of a postmodern worldmore capable, indeed, than many approaches that carry the seal of official scientific approval.
In the modern renaissance of traditional wisdom, though, the ancient art of sacred geometry has played a surprisingly small role. At a time when the basic ideas of traditional wisdom are becoming ever more widely known, when everything from astrology to Zen has a ready and increasingly knowledgeable audience, very few people have even encountered sacred geometry.
Much of the problem is simply a matter of how sacred geometry has been presented in modern times. Memories of boring math classes make the whole idea of sacred geometry seem cold, abstract, and difficult to those who have never experienced it, and getting past this barrier has been a slow and difficult process.
Witha few stellar exceptions, too, most of the very small handful of recent books on sacred geometry fall short as useful introductions to the art. On the one hand, these books betray a limited and sometimes inaccurate knowledge of the traditional lore. On the other, many of them have a habit of mixing sacred geometry together with a dizzying assortment of speculations about lost continents, ancient astronauts, conspiracy theories, and the like. While I don't intend to pass judgment on such ideas, or to deny them merit on their own terms, it's fair to say that they don't have much to do with traditional sacred geometry; muddling them together with geometrical studies has caused far more confusion than clarity, and done some damage to sacred geometry's reputation besides.
Despite its importance, then, sacred geometry remains the most neglected of the Western world's wisdom teachings. This is particularly unfortunate at the present time, for it has things to offer that our modern world desperately needs. It was by way of sacred geometry that ancient architects, artists, designers, and builders created structures and works of art that still astonish the viewer by their beauty, their practicality, and their harmonious relationship to their surroundings. It was by way of sacred geometry that the spiritual and the practical sides of life were woven together seamlessly in the everyday environments of city, town, workplace, and home. In an age when our cities are drowned in soulless ugliness, and our lives are surrounded by objects designed for mechanical efficiency without any human qualities whatsoever, the insights of sacred geometry have much to offer us even on a practical level.
Understanding Sacred Geometry
Our culture's forgetfulness of sacred geometry extends so far that many people have never heard of it, and some of those who know the term use it in ways the traditional sacred geometers of the past would hardly recognize. Thus, a few paragraphs on matters of definition may be useful here.
The English word "geometry" comes from the Greek geometria, literally "earth measurement" (from ge, "earth," and metron, "measure"). This points back to the ancient origins of geometry, when the art was used to lay out patterns on the earth in order to measure fields and establish the ground plans for sacred structures.
At that time, all geometry was sacred, for two reasons. On the one hand, the Earth itself was understood as a living and holy being, and those who measured it and patterned it recognized their responsibility as mediators between the Earth and the people. Historically we can find echoes of this attitude in the sacred status of boundary stones, in rituals performed at the founding of a city or the building of a temple, and in many other traditions that have endured from the distant past. This attitude had much to do with the origins of feng shui in China, and of similar systems, far less well-known, in the Western world and elsewhere.
On the other hand, it was recognized early on that geometry itself offered pathways into the subtle realm of meaning and spirit that we call sacred. The play of geometric form obeys laws that unfold from the nature of experienced reality itself, laws that are not subject to human whims or prejudices. Mastery of those laws provided knowledgeable individuals with tools to reshape the world, both on a physical levelfor geometry was the foundation of much of ancient architecture and technologyand on subtler levels as well.
Out of this recognition of the sacred possibilities of geometry, an extraordinary tradition of wisdom took shape. It was expressed in many different forms in the cultures that treasured it; the forgotten geometers who planned and built the mighty stone circles of northwestern Europe no doubt understood geometry in very different ways from the temple priests of Egypt, the initiates of the Pythagorean Brotherhood of ancient Greece, the Taoist sages of China, or the master builders of medieval Europe. Their work varied equally; it takes different methods and somewhat different skills to trace out the design of a stone circle, to erect a Gothic cathedral, to work out the proportions of a Renaissance painting, or to teach a new initiate to apply geometrical principles of balance and harmony to his or her own daily life.
Still, a common thread of insight runs through all of these expressions of the sacred geometry tradition. All of them recognized the need to join geometric theory with its expression in practice. All of them knew how to fuse spirit, form, and matter into unity through the practice of their art. All of them recognized that beauty and meaning come from the presence of the living spirit in form and matter, and all of them saw clearly that this comes through the creative mind from beyond, not from the individual ego and its manipulations.
These insights, however, did not remain central to geometric practice. As societies grew more complex and human activities more specialized, the practical side of geometry grew away from its roots in the living spirit. This was a slow process, and by no means a continuous one. While there are records of purely practical geometry from ancient Egyptian times, there were still times and places thereafter when the practical and spiritual sides of geometry were reunited, giving rise to soaring works of human genius, such as the temples of classical Greece and the Gothic cathedrals of medieval Europe.
Only with the end of the Renaissance and the coming of the Scientific Revolution did the break become total. It's not an accident that the term "sacred geometry" came into being after this point. Only when the main current of geometry in the West lost the last of its connections to the sacred was it necessary to create a new phrase, "sacred geometry," to refer to what all geometry had once been.
We can define sacred geometry, then, as the art of using geometric forms as a gateway to the knowledge and presence of the living spirit. If your only contact with geometry has been with the sort that's taught in public schools, in other words, the approach on which the Sacred Geometry Oracle is based may seem pretty strange. The emblems and exercises in this book, and in other books of traditional sacred geometry, have nothing to do with proving theorems or calculating the sides of triangles! Instead, sacred geometry is about opening up the self to the experience of geometric form, recognizing the presence of underlying laws in the play of form, and learning to understand the universe in a different and deeper way.
Geometry was only one of a group of ancient arts with the same broad purpose and approach, and most of the cultures that made use of sacred geometry drew on these other arts as well. In the Western world, from Greek times to the end of the Renaissance, these arts were united as the quadrivium or "Four Ways" of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.
All of these, it has to be remembered, were studied and practiced as sacred disciplines. Nowadays, we might use different names to better communicate what the branches of the quadrivium were about: numerology, the spiritual science of number; sacred geometry, the spiritual science of form; harmonics, which embraces not only the inner dimensions of music, but also the whole realm of relationship and proportion; and calendrics, the spiritual science of the cycles of time. All these interact in complex ways; some of those interactions will be explored later on in this book.
The Sacred Geometry Oracle
The book and deck you hold in your hands are an introduction to this ancient tradition, designed to be used as a way of divinationthat is, as a means of tapping into the subtle patterns of existence to gain insight into past, present, and future events. Sacred geometry has ancient connections with the realm of prophecy and divination, reaching back to the prehistoric stone circles where priests and priestesses watched the skies for portents.
Turning traditional wisdom into a set of divining cards is not a new idea. An old legend claims that the tarot deck came into being when priests of an ancient civilization sought ways to transmit their spiritual teachings to the future. Whether or not this is historically true, the idea seems worth trying!
The Oracle consists of thirty-three cards, each bearing an important diagram from the lore of traditional sacred geometry. These diagrams have meanings of their own, and those meanings can readily be related to the events and situations of everyday life. When we get to the point, run around in circles, work at cross-purposes, or go off on a tangent, we're already interpreting our lives in geometric terms. The same sort of awareness can be turned to the subtle and communicative designs of sacred geometry, making them into symbols thatlike the runes, the cards of the tarot deck, the figures of geomancy, or the hexagrams of the I Chingserve as a bridge between intuitive awareness and the world of our experience.
The thirty-three cards of the Oracle are divided into three circles of eleven cards each. These circles are stages in a path of initiation, and those who wish to understand the Oracle at a deeper level, through the exercises and meditations included in this book, may find that path opening up before them. Understood in their fullness, the cards are gateways that lead in many directions.
Each of the cards has a name, a number, an image or diagram, a pair of keywords, and a pair of divinatory meanings. The name on each card is the title of the diagram on the card in traditional sacred geometry, and the number is simply a way of putting the cards in their proper numerical order.
The image or diagram on each card is a geometric construction that expresses the essential principle of the card. At one level, this can simply be used as a visual image, as a way of remembering the card, and as an anchor for its meanings. At a deeper level, those who take the time to learn what the construction is and what it represents will find that the diagram itself has much in the way of guidance to offer.
Each card also has two keywords, one upright, one reversed, which are for use in divination. In some card-based oracles, upright cards are given positive meanings, and reversed ones are given negative ones. This sort of approach seems unnecessarily limiting, since every event has its positive and negative sides, and the most difficult experiences often present us with the richest opportunities for growth and healing.
In the Sacred Geometry Oracle, the upright or reversed positions of the cards symbolize situations and events that are more comfortable, on the one hand, or more challenging, on the other, and the keywords reflect this. It's important to keep in mind that a reading with many reversed cards isn't "bad"; it simply means that the querent (the person for whom the reading is done) faces a series of challengesor, to say the same thing in different words, a series of opportunities.
The divinatory meanings for the cards are given in the following pages, and expand on the upright and reversed keywords in various ways. The meanings are given under two headings. The first focuses on the card as symbol and metaphor, relating the meanings of the card to the traditions of sacred geometry. The second, more practically oriented, gives common ways in which the card may be interpreted in actual divinations. Some people find one way of talking about meanings more useful, some prefer the other. You may find it valuable to refer to both, especially in the early stages of learning to use the Oracle.
It should always be kept in mind that the meanings given here aren't hard and fast rules for interpretation. Rather, they're suggestions and hints meant to spur your own intuitive abilities and guide you to a personal sense of the meaning of each card. Eventually, if you work with the Oracle and pay attention to the messages it gives you, you'll develop your own understanding of the cards, and this is exactly as it should be. Staying rigidly fixated on the literal meaning of the texts that follow is like trying to jump off a diving board and hang onto it at the same time, and the best advice is the same in either case: let go!
Each card also comes with a geometric exercise, which is included in the pages that follow. The prospect of actually doing sacred geometryrather than just reading about it, thinking about it, or looking at diagrams that make use of itwill fascinate some people and frighten others. For the sake of the latter group, it should be said first off that you don't have to do the exercises in order to use the Oracle for divination.
On the other hand, if you do decide to attempt the exercises, the result will be a much deeper comprehension of the cards, as well as a good basic introduction to the practice of traditional sacred geometry itself. If you intend to study sacred geometry on its own terms, rather than simply using the Oracle for divination, carrying out the exercises is essential. Trying to learn sacred geometry without drawing diagrams in the traditional way is like trying to become a musician without ever picking up an instrument.
The basic toolkit of the geometer consists of a pen or pencil, a straightedge or ruler, and a compassthe geometer's kind, not the sort you use to find out where north is (the sort you probably used in school, with a little yellow pencil that clips to one side, is fine). You can get all of these in the school supplies section of your local drugstore for a few dollars. These three things, along with a supply of unlined paper, will be all you'll need for most of the geometric exercises given here. A few other things will be useful in certain exercises:
a length of string;
several pushpins, the sort used to hold things up on
graph paper, preferably with small squares (around G'
heavy paper or light poster board;
a craft knife, or a sharp pair of scissors.
Armed with these simple and inexpensive tools, you'll be ready to tackle any of the constructions in this book.
Since we live in an age of computers, some readers may want to do the exercises onscreen with a graphics program. While this is one possible way to go about it, it misses much of the point and most of the value that's to be gained by doing the exercises by hand, with real paper and physical tools. The subtle interplay of mind, hand, pen, and paper is an important aspect of the learning process. To be learned on any level but a shallow, intellectual one, the patterns of sacred geometry need to be embodiedliterally, made part of your bodyby the process of carrying out the exercises of the art. It's by approaching each exercise as a moving meditation, a sacred dance of pen and paper, that the inner reaches of sacred geometry are reached.
This brings up another point, and an important one, about these exercises. It's valuable to do the exercises once, but if you want to go beyond the most basic level of studying sacred geometry, they should be done many times, until the patterns take shape on the paper with practiced ease. The patterns of traditional sacred geometry do not teach all their lessons at once. It takes patience, persistence, and steady work to give those lessons room to unfold within you.
Each of the cards also has a meditation associated with it. Again, as with the geometric exercise, it should be said right at the beginning that you don't need to do the meditations to used the Sacred Geometry Oracle for divinationbut again, as with the exercises, those who venture into this phase of the system will be rewarded by deeper insights into the cards, as well as a solid introduction to the practice of Western meditation.
It's not often realized that the Western world has meditation traditions of its own, and that these are different from the systems of India, eastern Asia, and other parts of the world. There are many similaritiesthe human mind is much the same everywherebut one central difference.
This lies in the attitudes of these different systems toward the thinking mind. In the East, most systems of meditation teach the student to stop the thinking process altogether, by repeating mantras (special patterns of spoken sound), constructing complex symbolic visualizations, or concentrating on thought-stopping paradoxes such as the koans of Zen.
In Western mystical traditions, by contrast, the approach that's more common is to train and reorient the thinking mind, not merely to shut it down. Ever since the time of Pythagoras, if not before, Western mystics and sages have recognized that the mind need not be the enemy of the spirit if it's brought into harmony with itself, with the larger human self of which it forms a part, and with the cosmos as a whole. The rational can be a vehicle for the spiritual: this is the premise (and the promise) of most Western mystical paths, and particularly of those in which sacred geometry has flourished.
In the thirty-three meditations that follow, then, the crucial skill you'll be learning is the ability to think in a meditative way. Like everything else, this takes practice, and you'll find that the more often you do the meditations, the more skill you'll develop in doing this. While the meditations given here are basic onesthe heights of meditation lead far beyond what can usefully be covered in an elementary book like this onesteadfast and regular practice can take you a long way. Don't assume that one session spent on a given meditation, or for that matter ten sessions, will reveal everything that the subject of the meditation has to teach!
There are certain preliminaries that will be used all through the meditations in this book. Start by sitting down and finding a stable, comfortable position. If you want to use one of the cross-legged postures standard in Asian meditative traditions, and have the flexibility to do it comfortably, do so. If not, find a chair with a plain, cushionless seat. Sit far enough forward on it that your back isn't resting against the back of the chair. Your feet should be flat on the floor, and feet and knees should be touching; your thighs should be parallel to the floor, and your lower legs vertical from knee to ankle. Straighten your back without stiffening it, and hold your head upright, as though you were balancing something on it. Your hands should rest palms-down on your thighs, and your elbows should be against your sides. This is the standard Western posture for meditation.
Once you've settled into your position, consciously relax each part of your body, starting with your feet and moving step by step up to the top of your head. Then spend a few minutes paying conscious attention to your breath, breathing in and out slowly, evenly, and fully.
If you wish, a traditional breathing exercise called the Fourfold Breath can be used here. Breathe slowly in while counting mentally from one to four; hold your breath in, while counting from one to four; breathe out, counting from one to four; and hold the breath out, with the lungs empty, while counting from one to four, and repeat. The counts should all be at the same pace, and the breath should be held in or out with the muscles of the chest and diaphragm, not by closing the throat, which can lead to health problems.
After you've paid attention to your breathing for perhaps five minutes, turn your attention to the subject of the meditation. Each of the meditations given in this book will give you specific instructions for how to go on from there. In every case, though, keep your mind focused on the subject, and if it straysas it will, especially at firstbring it gently back to the subject. When you're done, pay attention to your breathing again for a minute or so to help yourself make the transition back to more ordinary kinds of awareness.
Finally, it's a standard part of the work of meditation to write down a brief description of each practice session immediately after it's over. The date, the time, the length of the session, the subject on which you were meditating, and any results or conclusions you may have reached should be included. A diary or practice journal kept in this way will give you a valuable tool to track your progress over time.