THE EMBLEM or THE SEAL of the Theosophical Society is composed of a number of symbols, all of them having been used from ancient times to express profound spiritual and philosophical concepts about humanity and the universe. They may be found in a variety of forms in the great religions of the world and their universality is further shown by their appearance in widely separated cultures. Each symbol, studied separately, will yield a wealth of understanding, but none of them can be interpreted with a narrow precision. Taken together as in the Society’s seal, they represent a unity of meaning, suggesting a vast evolutionary scheme embracing the whole of nature, physical and spiritual. Study and contemplation of the emblem as well as its several component symbols will lead the serious student to an awareness of some of the deepest mysteries of existence. A few brief suggestions may be helpful to the enquirer looking at the seal for the first time.
THE SERPENT is the timeless symbol of the highest spiritual Wisdom. Swallowing its tail, it is a symbol of regeneration. It is the selfborn, the circle of infinite wisdom, life and immortality. The circle itself is an ancient symbol of eternity and represents the Absolute, the unmanifested universe containing the potentials of all form. As representative of the infinite sphere, the “world egg” of archaic cosmology, this symbol is found in every world religion and philosophy.
Circle. There are several “Circles” with mystic adjectives attached to them. Thus we have: (1) the “Decussated or Perfect Circle” of Plato, who shows it decussated in the form of the letter X; (2) the “Circle-dance” of the Amazons, around a Priapic image, the same as the dance of the Gopis around the Sun (Krishna), the shepherdesses representing the signs of the Zodiac; (3) the “Circle of Necessity” of 3,000 years of the Egyptians and of the Occultists, the duration of the cycle between rebirths or reincarnations being from 1,000 to 3,000 years on the average.
Serpent, swallowing its tail or Ouroboros. The simile of an egg also expresses the fact taught in Occultism that the primordial form of everything manifested, from atom to globe, from human being to angel, is spheroidal, the sphere having been with all nations the emblem of eternity and infinity—a serpent swallowing its tail. To realize the meaning, however, the sphere must be thought of as seen from its centre. The field of vision or of thought is like a sphere whose radii proceed from one’s self in every direction, and extend out into space, opening up boundless vistas all around. It is the symbolical circle of Pascal and the Kabalists, “whose centre is everywhere and circumference nowhere,” a conception which enters into the compound idea of this emblem.
The “Mundane Egg” is, perhaps, one of the most universally adopted symbols, highly suggestive as it is, equally in the spiritual, physiological, and cosmological sense. Therefore, it is found in every world-theogony, where it is largely associated with the serpent symbol; the latter being everywhere, in philosophy as in religious symbolism, an emblem of eternity, infinitude, regeneration, and rejuvenation, as well as of wisdom. (See Part II, The Secret Doctrine, “Tree and Serpent and Crocodile Worship.”) The mystery of apparent self-generation and evolution through its own creative power repeating in miniature the process of Cosmic evolution in the egg, both being due to heat and moisture under the efflux of the unseen creative spirit, justified fully the selection of this graphic symbol. The “Virgin Egg” is the microcosmic symbol of the macrocosmic prototype—the “Virgin Mother”—Chaos or the Primeval Deep. The male Creator (under whatever name) springs forth from the Virgin female, the immaculate root fructified by the Ray. Who, if versed in astronomy and natural sciences, can fail to see its suggestiveness? Cosmos as receptive Nature is an Egg fructified—yet left immaculate; once regarded as boundless, it could have no other representation than a spheroid. The Golden Egg was surrounded by seven natural elements (ether, fire, air, water), “four ready, three secret.”
The serpent is a sacred symbol, the basis of Python and Pythagoras (Gr.). The most famous of mystic philosophers, born at Samos, about 586 B.C. He seems to have travelled all over the world, and to have culled his philosophy from the various systems to which he had access. Thus, he studied the esoteric sciences with the Brachmanes of India, and astronomy and astrology in Chaldea and Egypt. He is known to this day in the former country under the name of Yavanâchârya (“Ionian teacher”). After returning he settled in Crotona, in Magna Grecia, where he established a college to which very soon resorted all the best intellects of the civilised centres. His father was one Mnesarchus of Samos, and was a man of noble birth and learning. It was Pythagoras who was the first to teach the heliocentric system, and who was the greatest proficient in geometry of his century. It was he also who created the word “philosopher”, composed of two words meaning a “lover of wisdom”—philo-sophos. More especially, meaning, the “Wisdom of Love”. As the greatest mathematician, geometer and astronomer of historical antiquity, and also the highest of the metaphysicians and scholars, Pythagoras has won imperishable fame. He taught reincarnation as it is professed in India and much else of the Secret Wisdom.
A variant of the serpent is Pythia or Pythoness (Gr.). On the authority of Iamblichus, Plutarch and others, a Pythia was a priestess chosen among the sensitives of the poorer classes, and placed in a temple where oracular powers were exercised. There she had a room secluded from all but the chief Hierophant and Seer, and once admitted, was, like a nun, lost to the world. Sitting on a tripod of brass placed over a fissure in the ground, through which arose intoxicating vapours, these subterranean exhalations, penetrating her whole system, produced the prophetic mania, in which abnormal state she delivered oracles. Aristophanes in “Væstas” I., reg. 28, calls the Pythia ventrilogua vates or the “ventriloquial prophetess”, on account of her stomach-voice. The ancients placed the soul of the human being (the lower Manas) or its personal self-consciousness, in the pit of their stomach. We find in the fourth verse of the second Nâbhânedishta hymn of the Brahmans: “Hear, O sons of the gods, one who speaks through his name (nâbhâ), for he hails you in your dwellings!“ This is a modern somnambulic phenomenon. The navel was regarded in antiquity as “the circle of the sun”, the seat of divine internal light. Therefore was the oracle of Apollo at Delphi, the city of Delphus, the womb or abdomen—while the seat of the temple was called the omphalos, navel. As well-known, a number of mesmerized subjects can read letters, hear, smell and see through that part of their body. In India there exists to this day a belief (also among the Parsis) that adepts have flames in their navels, which enlighten for them all darkness and unveil the spiritual world. It is called with the Zoroastrians the lamp of Deshtur or the “High Priest,”; and the light or radiance of the Dikshita (the initiate) with the Hindus.
Nâga (Sk.), Literally “Serpent”. The name in the Indian Pantheon of the Serpent or Dragon Spirits, and of the inhabitants of Pâtâla, hell. But as Pâtâla means the antipodes, and was the name given to America by the ancients, who knew and visited that continent before Europe had ever heard of it, the term is probably akin to the Mexican Nagals the (now) sorcerers and medicine men and women. The Nagas are the Burmese Nats, serpent-gods, or “dragon demons”.
In Esotericism, however, and as already stated, this is a nick-name for the “wise ones” or adepts. In China and Tibet, the “Dragons” are regarded as the titulary deities of the world, and of various spots on the earth, and the word is explained as meaning adepts, yogis, and narjols. The term has simply reference to their great knowledge and wisdom. This is also proven in the ancient Sûtras and Buddha’s biographies. The Nâga is ever a wise person, endowed with extraordinary magic powers, in South and Central America as in India, in Chaldea as also in ancient Egypt. In China the “worship” of the Nâgas was widespread, and it has become still more pronounced since Nâgârjuna (the “great Nâga”, the “great adept” literally), the fourteenth Buddhist patriarch, visited China. The “Nâgas” are regarded by the Celestials as “the tutelary Spirits or gods of the five regions or the four points of the compass and the centre, as the guardians of the five lakes and four oceans” (Eitel). This, traced to its origin and translated esoterically, means that the five continents and their five root-races (streams of consciousness) had always been under the guardianship of “terrestrial deities”, i.e., Wise Adepts. The tradition that Nâgas washed Gautama Buddha at his birth, protected him and guarded the relics of his body when dead, points again to the Nagas being only wise ones, Arhats, and no monsters or Dragons. This is also corroborated by the innumerable stories of the conversion of Nagas to Buddhism. The Nâga of a lake in a forest near Râjagriha and many other “Dragons” were thus converted by Buddha to the good Law.
THE INTERLACED TRIANGLES, one (lighter) pointing upwards and the other (darker) pointing downwards, symbolise the descent of spirit into matter and its reemergence from the confining limits of form. They also suggest the constant conflict between the light and dark forces in nature as well as the inseparable unity of spirit and matter. When depicted within the circle of the serpent, the figure represents the universe and the manifestation of Deity in time and space. The three lines and three angles of each of the two triangles may remind us of the triple aspects of spirit: existence, consciousness and bliss, and the three aspects of matter: mobility, resistance and rhythm. The glyph can also be seen as the sixpointed star, embracing spiritual and physical consciousness and viewed by the Pythagoreans as the symbol of creation.
Sign of Vishnu; Solomon's Seal. The symbolical double triangle, adopted by the T.S. and by many Theosophists. Why it should be called “Solomon’s Seal” is a mystery, unless it came to Europe from Iran, where many stories are told about that mythical personage and the magic seal used by him to catch the djins and imprison them in old bottles. But this seal or double triangle is also called in India the “Sign of Vishnu”, and may be seen on the houses in every village as a talisman against evil. The triangle was sacred and used as a religious sign in the far East ages before Pythagoras proclaimed it to be the first of the geometrical figures, as well as the most mysterious. It is found on pyramid and obelisk, and is pregnant with occult meaning, as are, in fact, all triangles. Thus the pentagram is the triple triangle—the six-pointed being the hexalp ha. The way a triangle points determines its meaning. If upwards, it means the male element and divine fire; downwards, the female and the waters of matter; upright, but with a bar across the top, air and astral light; downwards, with a bar—the earth or gross matter, etc., etc. When a Greek Christian priest in blessing holds his two fingers and thumb together, he simply makes the magic—by the power of the triangle or “trinity”.
IN THE CENTRE of the seal is the ANKH or CRUX ANSATA, an ancient Egyptian symbol of resurrection. It is composed of the Tau or T-shaped cross surmounted by a small circle and is often seen in Egyptian statuary and in wall and tomb paintings where it is depicted as being held in the hand. The Tau symbolises matter or the world of form; the small circle above it represents spirit or life. With the circle marking the position of the head, it represents the mystic cube unfolded to form the Latin cross, symbol of spirit descended into matter and crucified thereon, but risen from death and resting triumphant on the arms of the conquered slayer. So it may be said that the figure of the interlaced triangles enclosing the ankh represents the human triumphant and the divine triumphant in the human. As the cross of life, the ankh then becomes a symbol of resurrection and immortality.
Ankh; Crux Andata; Calvary Cross. This form of cross does not date from Christianity. It was known and used for mystical purposes, thousands of years before our era. It formed part and parcel of the various Rituals, in Egypt and Greece, in Babylon and India, as well as in China, Mexico, and Peru. It is a cosmic, as well as a physiological (or phallic) symbol. That it existed among all the “heathen” nations is testified to by Tertullian. “How doth the Athenian Minerva differ from the body of a cross?” he queries. “The origin of your gods is derived from figures moulded on a cross. All those rows of images on your standards are the appendages of crosses; those hangings on your banners are the robes of crosses.” And the fiery champion was right. The tau or T is the most ancient of all forms, and the cross or the tat (q.v.) as ancient: The crux ansata, the cross with a handle, is in the hands of almost every god, including Baal and the Phœnician Astarte. The croix cramponnée is the Indian Szoastica. It has been exhumed from the lowest foundations of the ancient site of Troy, and it appears on Etruscan and Chaldean relics of antiquity. As Mrs. Jamieson shows: “The ankh of Egypt was the crutch of St. Anthony and the cross of St. Philip. The Labarum of Constantine . . was an emblem long before, in Etruria. Osiris had the Labarum for his sign; Horns appears sometimes with the long Latin cross. The Greek pectoral cross is Egyptian. It was called by the Fathers ‘the devil’s invention before Christ’. The crux ansata is upon the old coins of Tarsus, as the Maltese upon the breast of an Assyrian king. The cross of Calvary, so common in Europe, occurs on the breasts of mummies. It was suspended round the necks of sacred Serpents in Egypt. Strange Asiatic tribes bringing tribute in Egypt are noticed with garments studded with crosses, and Sir Gardner Wilkinson dates this picture B.C., 1500.” Finally, “Typhon, the Evil One, is chained by a cross!” (Eg. Belief and Mod. Thought).
The crux ansata was the foremost symbol in the Egyptian Masonry instituted by Count Cagliostro, and Masons must have indeed forgotten the primitive significance of their highest symbols, if some of their authorities still insist that the crux ansata is only a combination of the cteis (or yoni) and phallus (or lingham). Far from this. The handle or ansa had a double significance, but never a phallic one; as an attribute of Isis it was the mundane circle; as a symbol of law on the breast of a mummy it was that of immortality, of an endless and beginningless eternity, that which descends upon and grows out of the plane of material nature, the horizontal feminine line, surmounting the vertical male line the fructifying male principle in nature or spirit. Without the handle the crux ansata became the tau T, which, left by itself, is an androgyne symbol, and becomes purely phallic or sexual only when it takes the shape +.
THE SWASTIKA, placed in the emblem at the head of the serpent, is one of the numerous forms in which the symbol of the cross is found. It is the fiery cross, with arms of whirling flame revolving clockwise to represent the tremendous energies of nature incessantly creating and dissolving the forms through which the evolutionary process takes place. In religions which recognise three aspects of Deity, the swastika is associated with the Third Person of the Trinity, who is at once the Creator and the Destroyer: Shiva in Hinduism and the Holy Ghost in Christianity. Applied to humanity, the figure may show the human as the link between heaven and earth, one “hand” pointing toward heaven or spirit and the other toward earth or matter.
Flaming Cross or Svastika (Sk.). In popular notions, it is the Jaina cross, or the “four-footed” cross (croix cramponnée). In Masonic teachings, “the most ancient Order of the Brotherhood of the Mystic Cross” is said to have been founded by Fohi, 1,027 B.C., and introduced into China fifty-two years later, consisting of the three degrees. In Esoteric Philosophy, the most mystic and ancient diagram. It is “the originator of the fire by friction, and of the ‘Forty-nine Fires’.” Its symbol was stamped on Buddha’s heart, and therefore called the “Heart’s Seal”'. It is laid on the breasts of departed Initiates after their death; and it is mentioned with the greatest respect in the Indian epic, the Râmâyana. Engraved on every rock, temple and prehistoric building of India, and wherever Buddhists have left their landmarks; it is also found in China, Tibet and Siam, and among the ancient Germanic nations as Thor's Hammer. As described by Eitel in his Hand-Book of Chinese Buddhism; (1) it is “found among Bonpas and Buddhists”; (2) it is “one of the sixty-five figures of the Sripâda”; (3) it is “the symbol of esoteric Buddhism”; (4) “the special mark of all deities worshipped by the Lotus School of China”. Finally, and in Occultism, it is as sacred as the Pythagorean tetraktys, of which it is indeed the double symbol.
ABOVE THE SEAL, in Sanskrit characters, is the sacred word of Hinduism, AUM or OM, a word of profound significance. It may be said to stand for the creative Word or Logos, the ineffable Reality which is the source of all existence. We are reminded of the statement: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Om is a word of power and should be uttered only with the greatest reverence.
Om or Aum (Sk.). A mystic syllable, the most solemn of all words in India. It is “an invocation, a benediction, an affirmation and a promise”; and it is so sacred, as to be indeed the word at low breath of occult, primitive masonry. No one must be near when the syllable is pronounced for a purpose. This word is usually placed at the beginning of sacred Scriptures, and is prefixed to prayers. It is a compound of three letters a, u, m, which, in the popular belief, are typical of the three Vedas, also of three gods—A (Agni) Y (Varuna) and M (Maruts) or Fire, Water and Air. In esoteric philosophy these are the three sacred fires, or the “triple fire” in the Universe and Man, besides many other things. Occultly, this “triple fire” represents the highest Tetraktys also, as it is typified by the Agni named Abhimânim and his transformation into his three sons, Pâvana, Pavamâna and Suchi, “who drinks up water”, i.e., destroys material desires. This monosyllable is called Udgîtta, and is sacred with both Brahmins and Buddhists.
Arthur M Coon suggests “the Sanskrit word AUM passed from India into Egypt. There the spelling was slightly changed—the AUM becoming AMN. This name was applied to the Hidden God—the Illimitable, the ultimate, the Eternal God of Light ‘Amen-Ra’. This Word, as well as something of its divine significance, was in time appropriated by the Hebrews, and ‘O-MN’ pronounced ‘O-mein’ became the sacred oath or invocation to the ‘Hidden God’. This same word changed to ‘AMEN’ is to this day used at the end of every Christian hymn and to close, as with the seal of Truth, every prayer.”
Around the seal appears the MOTTO of the Theosophical Society: ‘THERE IS NO RELIGION HIGHER THAN TRUTH’. Truth is the quest of every theosophist, whatever his or her faith, and every great religion reflects in some measure the light of the one eternal and spiritual wisdom. Each points a way toward the realisation of Truth.
THE WHOLE SEAL speaks to an inner perception, to the intuition and to the heart, calling forth the divine in each individual who contemplates it. In its totality, it represents a synthesis of great cosmic principles operating through involutionary and evolutionary cycles, bringing us all, in the fullness of time, to the realisation of our divine nature.
SATYÂT NÂSTI PARO DHARMAH
There is no Religion higher than Truth