THE GREAT MONAD, or the Great Beginning, or the Great Extreme, or the Great Vacuum, or Yin and Yang, or "Heaven," is one of the old, mysterious figures of Earth. It represents all the pairs of opposites that we know--Light and Darkness, life and death, death and re-birth, heat and cold, good and evil, subtle and gross, male-female
in Nature, or the great principles Yin and Yang. It is One yet All Things, the great hermaphrodite--"the indivisible monad, of itself generating itself, and out of this were formed all things." It looks like a shell, it looks like an ear; it looks like a tadpole, an embryo, a whirlpool,
FIGURE 61. The Great Monad.
(From Dragon, Image and Demon; H. C. Du Bose, 1887.)
a claw, a comma, two eyes, strange Moon upon the Sun. It looks perhaps like the Universe itself before the creation of Heaven and Earth. It is the epitome of all the "egg-shaped" figures of Earth. It is animated Chaos, primordial Air dividing into two Airs to generate a multiplied cosmos, for they have the power to make and transmute all things. It is the Ovum Mundi--Egg of the World.
It is never a life or a birth symbol merely; it is always associated with the idea of primal causal cosmic energy. The Japanese mitsu tomoe is a variation of the Great Monad of the Chinese; instead of the two-comma-shaped figure, its "commas" are three.
"The Great Extreme," says the Chinese philosopher Choo-tzse, writing of this ancient symbol, "moved and generated the Light; having moved to the utmost, it rested, and resting, generated the Darkness. . . .
"The Great Extreme resembles a root which sprouts upwards,
FIGURE 62. The Mitsu Tomoe of the Japanese.
(From Internationales Archiv für Ethnographie; Bd. IX (1896), S. 265.)
and divides into branches, and which also divides and produces blossoms and leaves, generating unceasingly. When the fruit is formed, then, it contains inside, the seed of endless generations, which generates and springs forth. This is the Infinite Great Extreme, which never ceases altogether, but only when the fruit is perfected it ceases to generate for a while. . . .
"In the beginning Heaven and Earth were just Light and Dark Air. This one Air revolved grinding round and round. When it ground quickly much sediment was compressed, which, having no means of exit, coagulated and
formed the Earth in the centre. The subtle portion of the Air then became Heaven, and the Sun, Moon, and Stars which unceasingly revolve on the outside. The Earth is in the centre, and is motionless, it is not below the centre.
The Earth is the sediment of the Air; and hence it is said that the light and pure Air became Heaven; the heavy and muddy Air became Earth." 1
Here is a series of Chinese diagrams (Fig. 63) illustrating the process of the Creation of the universe from the beginning--the whole infinite mass of Primordial Air when in Chaos. This is represented by the black disc (e), the Ovum Mundi or "Mind" of the universe, inherent in which, even in its mingled state, is the Divine Reason. In (f) is shown the separation of the Primordial Air into two Airs, the division of Subtile from Gross, of Light from Darkness. This is the beginning of all things, from which sprang the First God, All Light (a), called Reason, Fate, the Immovable Mover, or the Infinite. From this First God came the Second God, or Light, and the Demon-god or Darkness (b), which, say the Chinese, represent Mind or the two-fold Soul, contained within the body of the visible world (c). To represent the complete being of the animated cosmos the three circles or globes are placed like three bodies, one within the other (d); this is sometimes called the Three-fold Air. The Great Extreme is represented in another form in the upper half of the lower right-hand figure, whose inner circle represents the First God inherent in all things, with the Light and Dark Airs alternating unceasingly. From this ceaseless alternation
are generated the Five Elements whose Chinese terms differ considerably from those we have been using--namely,
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FIGURE 63. Chinese Conception of the Creation.
(From Confucian Cosmogony; Thomas M’Clatchie, Shanghai, 1874.)
earth, water, fire, air, and ether. For the first one, they say, is termed water, and by some is called black. The
second is fire, and by some is termed red. The third is called wood and is therefore termed green. The fourth is called metal and is white. The fifth is called earth, and is presumed to be yellow.
Besides the Great Monad and its associated diagrams, the Chinese had yet another series of diagrams by which, they asserted, it was possible to account for all the changes and transmutations within the forces of Nature. These are the Eight Diagrams of Fuh-he, which, according to him and his disciples, manifest the Mind of Heaven and Earth, whose only purpose is to generate--that is, to change and to transmute. "That which proceeds gradually," they said, "is transmutation [like the growth of a tree]. That which is united in one and is incomprehensible is God. Transmutation is each thing succeeding in order." They tried to explain this further by saying: "That which when at Rest cannot Move, and when in Motion cannot Rest is Matter;. that which Moves yet moves not, Rests yet rests not, is God." They said, too, that the "thirty-six palaces"--the number of units that make up the Eight Diagrams--are no more than merely the strokes of the Light and the Darkness.
Each set of three lines (Fig. 64) represents the three powers, Heaven, Earth, and Man, and represents also the exact force exerted by each one in each of the eight combinations. The three undivided lines, for instance, indicate the tireless strength of Heaven, the three divided lines, the divided Earth. Beginning at the top and going to the left, the triads are supposed to read: river or running
water, Heaven, wind, Earth, Sun, lake or dormant water, mountain, thunder. The centre of this mirror is said to
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FIGURE 64. The Chinese Zodiac. From a Mirror of the Tang Dynasty.
(From Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1835, Vol. II.)
represent the Sun, surrounded by four constellations, which are in turn encircled by the Eight Diagrams, and these again by the Chinese Zodiac, or Yellow Path of the Sun, with its twelve animal signs--the Mouse, Cow, Tiger,
[paragraph continues] Rabbit, Dragon, Serpent, Horse, Ram, Ape, Hen, Dog, and Pig.
THE FIVE FIGURES OF EARTH as the Mundane Egg, given in Plates XXIX, pl30, and XXXI, are all of them different, yet all of them the same, and they range in time and region from ancient Egypt to seventeenth-century England. The idea of the "Ophis et Ovum Mundanum" (PlateXXIX, B) is not to be traced to its source; it is found everywhere, in the open or secret traditions of all races--this concept of the great World Serpent warming, guarding, hatching, sometimes feasting on the Earth Egg. The "Deus Luna" () is one of the old attempts, in varying forms and with more interpretations, to link the great triad of heavenly bodies, Sun, Moon, and Earth, into a figure symbolic of the whole universe. Here the Mundane Egg is held in its fiery vase very much as an acorn is held in its cup. It is guarded by the Moon, which, as a "great white bird," was supposed to rest at night upon the Earth; "like a goose," said the Egyptians, "brooding over her egg."
The third figure (Plate XXIX, C), as much a World Mountain as a World Egg, is asserted by Flammarion to represent the world-concept of Edrisi, an Arabian geographer of the eleventh century, "who, with many others, considered the Earth to be like an egg with one-half plunged into the water." This is identical with the figure illustrating the "Theory of Two Centres" (Fig. 54). It
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PLATE XXIX. A. Deus Lunus. B. Ophis et Ovum Mundanum.
(From Ancient Mythology; Jacob Bryant, 1774, Vol. Il)
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PLATE XXIX. C. Earth as a floating Egg.
(From Flammarion's Astronomical Myths. 1877)
is also a modern religious rendering of the Northern hemisphere, with Jerusalem and Palestine at the apex of the world.
The last two figures bring us back again to Thomas Burnet and his Theory of the Earth, which emphatically was the theory that it is almost literally, certainly by every analogy, the Mundane Egg.
"There is another thing in Antiquity," said this great English Platonist, "relating to the form and construction of the Earth, which is very remarkable, and hath obtained throughout all learned Nations and Ages. And that is the comparison or resemblance of the Earth to an Egg. And this is not so much for its external figure, though that be true too, as for the inward composition of it; consisting of several Orbs, one including another, and in that order, as to answer the several elementary Regions on which the new-made Earth was constituted. For if we admit for the Yolk a Central fire . . . and suppose the Figure of the Earth Oval, and a little extended towards the Poles . . . those two bodies do very naturally represent one another, as in this Scheme, which represents the interiour faces of both, a divided Egg, or Earth. Where, as the two inmost Regions (A. B.) represent the Yolk and the Membrane that lies next above it; so the Exteriour Region of the Earth (D.) is as the Shell of the Egg, and the Abysse (C.) under it as the White that lies under the Shell. And considering that this notion of the Mundane Egg, or that the World was Oviform, hath been the sence and language of all Antiquity, Latins, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, and others, I thought it worthy our notice in this place."
The unknown author of De Imago Mundi had, it happens, compared not the Earth but the Universe itself to a ball, or an Egg. In his scheme, the shell corresponded to the upper heavens; the white to the upper air; the yolk to the lower air; and the pinguidinis gutta, or drop of grease in the centre, to the Earth. And, even earlier than these, the Venerable Bede had written (in the sixth century A.D.): "The Earth is an element placed in the middle of the world, as the yolk in the middle of an egg; around it is the water, like the white surrounding the yolk; outside that is the air, like the membrane of the egg; and around all is the fire, which closes it in as the shell does. . . . The ocean, which surrounds it by its waves as far as the horizon, divides it into two parts, the upper of which is inhabited by us, while the lower is inhabited by our antipodes; although not one of them can come to us, nor one of us to them." These three analogies are developed differently, but Burnet's figure of the "divided egg" will serve to illustrate all of them (Plate XXX).
Having divided his Earth-egg to show the order of arrangement of its inner parts, Burnet then closed it up, to represent it entire, with only a reminder of the great abyss under it (Plate XXXI), on which his whole theory of the Deluge and the dissolution of the Earth rested. Either the great abyss opened (which he doubted), "or the frame of the Earth broke and fell down into the Great Abysse." In the latter case, there would be two effects. This "smooth Earth" in which were the first scenes of the world and the first generations of mankind, which had the beauty of youth and not a wrinkle, scar or fracture in
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PLATE XXX. ''A DIVIDED EGG, OR EARTH.''
(From The Theory of the Earth; Thomas Burnet, 1697)
all its body, no Rocks or Mountains, no hollow Caves nor gaping Chanels," would be first submerged during the agitation of the abyss by the violent fall of the Earth into it. Then, when the flood had subsided, "you would see," said he, "the true image of the present Earth in the ruines of the first" (Fig. 34 and Plate XIV). He compared his "smooth" or primal Earth to an Æolipile or hollow sphere filled with water, which the heat of fire rarefies and turns into vapours and winds. "The Sun here is as the Fire," he said, "and the exteriour Earth is as the Shell of the Æolipile, and the Abysse as the Water within it. . . . So we see all Vapours and Exhalations enclos’d within the Earth, and agitated there, strive to break out, and often shake the ground with their attempts to get loose. And in the comparison we used of an Æolipile, if the mouth of it be stopt that gives the vent, the Water rarefied will burst the Vessel with its force. And the resemblance of the Earth to an Egg, which we used before, holds also in this respect, for when it heats before the Fire, the moisture and Air within being rarefied, makes it often burst the Shell. And I do the more willingly mention this last comparison, because I observe that some of the Ancients, when they speak of the doctrine of the Mundane Egg, say that after a certain period of time it was broken."
Another cosmogony worked out along this same analogy is that of the Gnostics, a group that flourished during the first two centuries of the Christian era, who are said to be the descendants in wisdom of other groups far removed. But the Gnostic group was really an aggregation of groups who combined the Christian teachings with a gnosis or
higher knowledge through which the inner meaning of Christianity was revealed. Their doctrines were akin to those of Pythagoras, the higher Egyptian, Indian and Chinese teachers, and to those of the Essenes who for centuries before the Christian era had dwelt apart on the shores of the Dead Sea. They strove after the knowledge of God; wisdom was their goal, and the life of man on Earth their study. For gnosis, in the words of Theodotus, is the knowledge of what we were, what we have become, where we were, into what place we have been thrown; whither we are hastening, whence we are redeemed; what is birth, and what is re-birth." Their scheme of the universe has come down to us through "the diagram of Celsus," who called it the diagram of the Ophites, a sect of the Gnostics, with whose beliefs he was most familiar.
In the beginning, said the Gnostics, was the Trinity, Light, Spirit, and Darkness, all intermingled; and from the striving of the Darkness to retain the Light and Spirit, and so to imprison life sparks in matter, and from the striving of Light and Spirit against the power of Darkness, the first great form was produced, Heaven and Earth, symbolised by the World Egg in the womb of the universe. This World Egg was represented as a circle with a serpent twined several times around it, signifying the mysterious force which first set into separating, light-producing motion the mingled Light and Darkness of the Great Monad. The great serpent, they believed, was not the Great Tempter, but the form through which Divine Will and Divine Reason incessantly moved and manifested.
The diagram itself is divided into two great regions, the
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PLATE XXXI. ''THE WHOLE EARTH IS AN EGG''
(From The Theory of the Earth; Thomas Burnet, 1697)
upper and the lower, separated from each other by the thick black line called Gehenna or Tartarus. The upper region belonged to the supreme Intelligences; it was the world of the Æons, or the Pleroma of the Gnostics--the World of Light. Here was perfect harmony, the state of ideal fulness or perfection.
The lower region is divided into two groups, one of ten, the other of seven, spheres, each group of spheres being enclosed within a sphere, and the two separated from each other by the band of Lower Air. The circle enclosing the seven spheres is labelled Leviathan, and represents the Soul of the World, as the body represents the spirit that dwells in it. For it chanced that, one day, the Universal Mother, brooding over the Waters, let a "Drop of Light" fall downwards into chaotic matter, and this was called Sophia, or Wisdom, the World Mother. The waters of the Æther being then set in motion, formed a body for Sophia, called the Heaven-sphere. Whereupon Sophia, freeing herself, rose upwards to the Middle Region, below her Mother who was herself the bounding line of the Ideal Universe. Sophia had herself produced Ialdabaoth (child of Chaos, and also identified with Saturn), who in his turn produced a son, and so on, until there were seven in all, the Formative powers of the phenomenal world.
The second group of spheres within a sphere is labelled Behemoth--it is the terrestrial world. Its lower seven spheres carry within them the signatures of seven great animals, and, without, the names of seven angels. The higher three spheres bear only interrogation marks, but they are supposed to belong to Ialdabaoth, the ruler of terrestrial affairs, or perhaps to Sophia herself.
Concerning the signatures of animals inscribed within the seven lower spheres and their relation to the seven angels named outside, Celsus says that the first, a goat, "was shaped like a lion," and was a part of Michael the Lion-like. The second in descending order was a bull--or Suriel, the Bull-like; the third was "an amphibious sort of animal and one that hissed frightfully"--Raphael the Serpent-like; the fourth had the form of an eagle--Gabriel, the Eagle-like; the fifth had the countenance of a bear--Thauthabaoth, the Bear-like; the sixth had the face of, a dog--or Erataoth; "the seventh had the countenance of an ass and was named Thaphabaoth or Onoel."
Might any soul succeed in escaping through these seven spheres and the three empty globes or circles, he must then pass "the fence of wickedness," or "gates" subjected to the world of ruling spirits called Leviathan. Beginning with the lowest, he passed to what was called Ialdabaoth, then to Iao, to Sabaoth, to Astaphæus ruler of the third gate, to Alœus governor of the second, and to Horæus, keeper of the first. Celsus calls this world of Leviathan "circles upon circles."
The Gnostics are famous for their strange symbolic figures. They believed in a Watcher of the World, a Mind that perceived, and they often represented this See-er of the World as a human body pierced with eyes. The extraordinary frontispiece to Riccioli's Almagestum Novum (Plate XXXII) is by no means a Gnostic picture, but its left-hand figure is a perfect delineation of the myriad-eyed Watcher of the universe.
Almagestum Novum appeared at just the time when the whole universe had been turned, so to say, inside out
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FIGURE 65. Gnostic Diagram of the Universe.
(From Histoire critique du Gnosticisme; Jacques Matter, 1826, Vol. III, Plate I, D.)
half inside out, at least. For the Ptolemaic system of the universe, by which we know that theory which places the Earth at the centre, with the rest of the heavenly bodies revolving about it, had but lately fallen. Copernicus, after many years of hesitancy, had at last dared, in 1543, to publish his De revolutionibus, which declared the Sun to be at the centre of our world. Eighteen years later Riccioli's Almagestum Novum was published; and this little time-scheme lends even more interest to its remarkable frontispiece. For between the "'Watcher of the World" and the "Starry One," the two great systems of the universe hang in the balance, one with the Earth, the other with the Sun, in the centre of Space. The first disc is inscribed with the new Copernican system; the second with the ancient Egyptian. At the goddess's feet lies the system known as Ptolemy's. In one hand she holds the Balance, in the other an armillary sphere. In the upper left-hand corner winged beings float, bearing orbs associated with Light; in the upper right-hand corner move the bearers of those heavenly bodies which bring Light into Darkness--the Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, and the flying serpent of the skies.
148:1 Confucian Cosmogony. Thomas M’Clatchie, Shanghai, 1874.