Rene Geunon (1886-1951), Fundamental Symbols: The Universal Language of Sacred Science.
Compiled & edited, Michel Valsan. Translation, Alvin Moore, Jr. Revised & edited, Martin Lings (French publication: Gallimard, 1962; first English translation, 1995; revised edition: Quinta Essentia, UK). All that exists in whatever mode this may be, necessarily participates in universal principles, and nothing exists except by participation in these principles, which are the eternal and immutable essences contained in the permanent actuality of the Divine Intellect. Consequently, it can be said that all things, however contingent they may be in themselves, express or represent these principles in their own way and according to the order of existence, for otherwise they would be purely and simply nothingness. Thus, from one order to another, all things are linked together and correspond, to come together in total and universal harmony, for harmony is nothing other than the reflection of principial unity in the manifested world; and it is this correspondence which is the veritable basis for symbolism. The Symbolism of the Forms of the Cosmos 31. The Cave and the Labyrinth 1. In a recent book [Cumean Gates, a Reference of the Sixth Aeneid to Initiation Patterns, Oxford, 1936], W. F. Jackson Knight brings to light some interesting research of which the starting point is the sixth book of the Aeneid, where the gates to the cave of the Cumean Sibyl are described. Why are the Cretan Labyrinth and its history described on these gates? The author refuses to see it as a more or less pointless digression, as we have some who go no further than modern ‘literary’ conceptions. On the contrary, he considers that this passage must have a real symbolic value, since it is based on the close relationship between the labyrinth and the cave, both of which are connected with the same idea of a subterranean journey. According to the interpretation he gives of certain facts which, though pertaining to very different times and regions, are all in agreement, this idea had been originally linked to funerary rites and afterwards, in virtue of a certain analogy, had been transferred to initiatic rites. ...we must first express some reservations as to his understanding of what initiation actually is. In fact, he seems to look on it merely as a product of ‘human thought’ endowed with a sort of vitality which assures it a kind of permanence through the ages, even if it sometimes exists only in a latent state. After all we have said on this subject, there is no need for us to point out yet again how inadequate such a conception is, above all in that it fails to take into account the ‘suprahuman’ elements which are, precisely, what constitute the essential. We will insist only on this: the idea of subsistence in a latent state brings up the hypothesis of conservation in a ‘collective unconscious’ borrowed from certain recent psychological theories. Whatever one may think of these, the application that is made of them here shows a complete failure to recognize the necessity of the initiatic ‘chain’, that is, of a genuine unbroken transmission. It is true that there is another issue that must not be confused with this: it has happened sometimes that things of a strictly initiatic order have found expression through individualities who were in no way conscious of their true significance.... But on the one hand this in no way affects the reality of the initiation itself; and, on the other, Virgil cannot possibly be thought of in this way: he, just like Dante, gives us indications that are much too precise and too obviously conscious to leave us in any doubt that he must have had some initiatic affiliation.
in the Christian symbolism of the Nativity. moreover. while on the 2
. as symbol. as in the case of the labyrinth. Let it be noted. namely that the cave must be a complete whole and contain in itself the representation of heaven as well as of earth. quite as clearly as in other traditions. . To return now to the relationships between the funerary cave and the initiatic cave. in the ritual itself. and which in no way concerns the body which it has left behind in quitting the terrestrial life. which it truly is. we are still only at what leads up to initiation.. In fact. but this. In that sense. in fact or symbolically. as far as the cave and the subterranean journey are concerned. But at the point beyond which it cannot go. that death and birth are after all two aspects of one same change of state. the cave would be. far from being considered as a death.prior to sunrise according to each of the four Gospel stories]. symbolism in action. and not at initiation itself. for it goes without saying that one must not generalise too widely.. is only one side of its complex symbolism. he [Knight] cannot help but realise that the initiatic cave is represented above all as an image of the world. The truth is that. 5. the same symbolic description can be applied equally well to what happens to the being in either case. but it becomes perfectly comprehensible when we know that it is in reality a question of the various phases passed through by the being in the course of a navigation that is truly ‘beyond the grave’. as for initiation itself. there. followed by the ‘descent into Hell’. and the passage from one state to another is always considered as having to be effected in darkness [in this vein note that the Christ resurrection occurs in a ‘cave’ -. Now the place of this birth is still the cave. even though these relationships certainly exist. and it is outside the cave that darkness reigns.the tomb-.. the answer is that on the one hand the cave. the same thing as the journey in the subterranean world to which the cave gives access. far from being a place of darkness. 4. it is not a question of something that is necessarily common to all initiatic forms without exception. the identification of the one with the other as to their symbolism represents only half the truth at most. already involves the author in great difficulties when he is faced by the fact that the subterranean journey is almost always followed by a journey in the open air.2. though strictly true. even exoterically. that even from the funerary perspective alone. and by reason of the analogy existing between death in the ordinary sense of the word and the initiatic death of which we have spoken elsewhere. at least when it is there that the initiation is accomplished. This would indeed be inconceivable if it were only a question of a vivid description of a ritual inhumation. and that. On the other hand. strictly speaking. insofar as it is justified. as well as like a passage from darkness to light. the initiatic cave is illuminated from within. the profane world naturally being likened to the ‘outer darkness’ and the ‘second birth’ being at the same time an ‘illumination’. The same thing is to be seen. however. which many traditions represent as a navigation.. 3.. but his hypothesis prevents him from drawing the obvious conclusion. the very place of the passage. of course. there is only a preparation for initiation in death to the profane world. the idea of deriving the symbolism from the ritual. more precisely. it is on the contrary like a ‘second birth’. lies the reason for the assimilation question. and it is obvious that the cave as birthplace cannot have the same meaning as the cave as the place of death or burial. instead of seeing on the contrary. is complementary to the mountain. It may be noted. which is. so as to at least reconcile with each other these different and even apparently opposed aspects. moreover. If it be asked why the cave is considered in this way from the initiatic point of view.
.. but also against hostile psychic influences. and it is easy to conceive that when the labyrinth actually served as a means of access to certain sanctuaries.. access to a certain place into which not everyone must be allowed to penetrate indiscriminately. This. all things necessarily start from the principle or from what is closest to it. Only those who are qualified will be able to pass through it to the end. 6. were subject to rules which derived essentially from ‘sacred science’ and which in consequence were far from answering only to ‘utilitarian’ ends.. a reversal which moreover conforms to modern conceptions.. a strictly ritual and traditional status. and which it is quite illegitimate to attribute to ancient civilisations.something other is involved than what modern ‘tacticians’ would see: we have simply to remember that this ‘labytinthine’ mode of defense was used not only against human enemies. contrary to what some have thought. This is actually a reversal of the normal relationships. In the case in question. to descend from there to more and more contingent applications... . is only the outermost meaning of 3
. the labyrinth as a means of defense or protection has various uses outside the initiatic domain. In other words. Also involved is the idea of ‘travel’. where each of the symbolic trials is designated as a ‘journey’. in this respect. failing which those who study the vestiges of ancient civilisations will never be able to understand the true meaning and purpose of what they record. But it is an error to believe that in such cases the purely profane usage came first and subsequently suggested the idea of ritual use.other hand the symbolism of the cave is closely related to that of the heart. in the sense in which it is comparable to the trials themselves.. its ‘tactical’ use at the entrance to certain ancient cities and other fortified places. the choice of their location. like everything else. it could be planned so as to enable the corresponding rites to be accomplished in the very course of passage. The origin of the name labyrinth is rather obscure and has been the subject of much discussion. . But there is more to it than this: the founding of cities. but rather that both names derive from the same ancient word designating ‘stone’ (root la. so that etymologically the labyrinth could. .. Indeed. Moreover. which brings to mind. to go along one of these was considered a ‘substitute’ for pilgrimage to the Holy Land. it is nothing other than the image of a spiritual centre. it is very necessary to take them into account. It is immediately obvious that a ‘selection’ is involved here.What we are concerned with here is directly related to the representation of spiritual centres.the labyrinths marked out in the past on the pavement of certain churches. 8. in the sense that it permits or forbids... while the others will be prevented from entering or will go astray along the path. Another equivalent symbolism is that of ‘pilgrimage’. The course of the labyrinth is therefore. if the point at which the path ends represents a place reserved for the ‘elect’.for example. at least in the exclusively material sense currently given to this word. 7. even for what has now come to be called the domain of ‘ordinary life’ but which had then.. The labyrinth. which clearly indicates that it must have had in itself a ritual value. and even these are never considered from the profane point of view which is. as is still the case in Masonry.. however. in every strictly traditional civilisation. and the plan according to which they were built. it seems that it is not directly connected with the name labrys (the double edged Cretan axe). for example.has a double function... as the case may be. that place is indeed a ‘Holy Land’ in the initiatic sense of this expression. In fact. No matter how completely strange these things may be to the mentality of our contemporaries.be nothing other than an edifice of the type of construction called ‘Cyclopean’. whence laos in Greek and lapis in Latin). which is closely related to initiation.only the result of degeneration whereby the awareness of their attachment to the principle has been lost. but to these only. a representation of the initiatic trials.. as is every place of initiation.
. in the interval between the
Prehistoric caves were probably not habitations. can be nothing more than the way that leads to it. With this reservation there is none the less one reason to believe that originally at least the labyrinth must have been specifically connected with the initiatic cave: at the outset. A more precise study of the period this relates to. corresponds to the notion of the central point. that is only an accidental element. site of the preceding trials. It is therefore within the traditional forms of the period in question and in respect of certain ‘occultation’ of knowledge that the cave would have come to be recognised as a symbol of spiritual centres and subsequently as a place of initiation. as well as the obstacle that bars the unqualified profane from approaching it. coiled around it and ending finally with it. This. The cave and the labyrinth would have begun. it is nevertheless important not to confuse them especially when. naturally or artificially. This brings us back to the cave which is. It should be noted also that when the same cave is the place of both initiatic death and of ‘second birth’.. Jackson Knight has at least some perception of this. again....
1 10 11 Another such example of deterrent is that of the ‘labyrinthine’ figures traced on walls in ancient Greece in order to prevent malefic influences from gaining access to the house. If we consider the labyrinth in connection with the cave. reflecting all states without exception.. of which the legend of Deucalion gives us the best known example. for whatever the relationships of the cave and the labyrinth. and which agrees equally well with the equivalent symbolism of the heart. understood in the sense we have just indicated. then in the complex thus formed the cave is at the innermost central point.11 and Aeneas.makes it equally suitable for the approaches to any place of initiation.. the point of communication with all the higher and lower states. macrocosmically as well as microcosmically. Though it may have been so in certain cases. while he stops at the entrance to ponder these designs.. otherwise.. both the one and the other seem to have belonged to the same traditional forms.this is not a characteristic common to all traditional forms. therefore.. which is. Let us also remember that at Cumae the labyrinth was depicted on the gates as if this representation was somehow a substitute for the labyrinth itself. in a deeper sense.. But on the other hand. those pertaining to the age of the ‘men of stone’ to which we have just alluded. but also to supra-terrestrial domains. but sanctuaries of the ‘men of stone’. 9. the equation of the cave roof with the Heavens would be absolutely incomprehensible. in relation to ‘baetyls’ or to thunderbolts (identified precisely with the stone axe or labrys) and which has also many other aspects. Only thus can the cave be.the name which. we are concerned more particularly with the initiatic cave. it must be considered as giving access not only to subterranean or ‘infernal’ regions.the complete image of the world. could in fact be said to pass through the labyrinth mentally if not bodily. which corresponds perfectly with the idea of the spiritual centre.would undoubtedly enable us to give a meaning to the so-called ‘stone age’ quite different from that which is attributed to it by the prehistorians. is bound up with the entire body of stone symbolism which we have mentioned before. insofar as it is hollowed out of rock.. as is commonly believed.. and the purpose of the labyrinth. to any sanctuary intended for the ‘mysteries’ and not for public rites. even though they may not have invariably remained so in all later forms. as here. the labyrinth. 10.and cannot enter into its actual definition. It is in fact quite obvious that if the cave is the place where the initiation itself is accomplished.. by being closely united. On the other hand it does not seem that this mode of access had always been exclusively reserved for sanctuaries situated in caves or symbolically equated with them for. if it is in the cave itself. for he alludes to ‘men born from stone’ (let it be noted in passing that this explains the Greek word laos). belongs to the same symbolism.10 but there is no reason to suppose that the labyrinth itself necessarily had likewise to be hollowed out of rock.
of a world. given such a relationship. but it is used also of the internal cavity of the heart. which explains the initiatic function of the cave as spiritual centre. the heart is essentially a symbol of the centre. a hidden or ‘covered’ place. which in reality is identical with Brahma itself. gup. or the pyramid which is its equivalent. whence gupta which applies to everything of a secret character.perfectly applies. that is. at least in a relative sense. and maybe better. These ideas are related to the centre insofar as it is considered as the most inward and consequently the most hidden point. is figured on the contrary by an upThere is a whole branch of Buddhism which focusses on the tathagata-gharba. analogously. but that symbolic connection itself calls at this point for a fuller explanation.∗ This is the equivalent of the Greek kruptos that gives the word ‘crypt’. and this same figure also stands for the cave. mandala. Also. it is to be noted that this hiddenness or secrecy which characterises spiritual centres or their figurative representation implies that the traditional truth itself is no longer accessible in all its fullness to all men [sic] equally. we must be well on our guard against considering that descent as represented by the passage through the labyrinth. that the same meaning should be likewise attached to the cave. At the same time. presence of the ray of the divine in us. whereas the mountain. clearly with a reference back again to the Ghyu or secret or hidden root you mention.
32.. It represents the ‘outer darkness’.. and consequently of the heart itself. the ‘temples without doors’ of Far Eastern initiation). whether the standpoint be microcosmic or macrocosmic. inaccessible to the profane. Maybe the best is a book cited some time back on the web called "Sublime Science" by Maitreya. and then it still remains to be seen what this passage corresponds to in reality.. as does another similar root. everything that is not externally manifested. The ‘cave of the heart’ is a well known traditional expression.
. but hard to get into. For the moment we will simply point out in this respect that the diagram of the heart is a down-pointing triangle (the ‘triangle of the heart’ is yet another traditional expression)..initiatic death and the ‘second birth’. which is the sign of a period of ‘obscuration’. also called Ghyu-Lama in Tibetan. Avery. which is synonymous with cave. that the ‘descent into Hell’ is accomplished. whether it be the centre of a being or. This ‘cave of the heart’ is the vital centre in which resides not only jivatma but also unconditioned Atma. and always regarded as an image of the centre. On the other hand. and of which such a passage is the exact expression. to which we have already referred. The Sanskrit word guha generally designates a cave. meaning ‘to cover’ or ‘conceal’ or ‘hide’. Peace. whether the access to it be barred by a ‘labyrinthine’ structure or in any other way (as for example. The word guha is derived from the root guh. but that is a point to which we shall have to come back to more fully in studying the relationships between the mountain and the cave. The Heart and the Cave We have already mentioned the close relationship between the symbolism of the cave and that of the heart. It is therefore natural. In fact. is my personal favorite "Matrix of Mystery" (which seems an excellent translation of gharba) and deals with the tantric approach to the gharba and matrix.. This makes it possible to ‘place’ such a symbolism in the course of the march of the cyclic process. insofar as both are taken as symbols of the centre. and to which the state of ‘errancy’. either in itself or insofar as it is symbolised by the disposition of the place where the initiation is accomplished. they refer also to the initiatic secret.
. literally as well as symbolically.the place enclosed within the mountain. as indeed it is..
. ..... this shows that we have here a relationship that is inverse.. the cave [is]. and also in a certain sense complementary.pointing triangle.