Sacred Space & the Generative Order

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Illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible; illustrated by Gerard Hoet and others, and published by P. de Hondt in The Hague; image courtesy Bizzell Bible Collection, University of Oklahoma Libraries. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

Although scant archaeological evidence of Soloman’s Temple has been found, its probable design can be formulated from accounts in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles. Its layout was based on the portable, tent-like tabernacle carried through the desert by the children of Israel en route to settling in the promised land of what is now Israel and the West Bank. Both structures contained an inner sanctum called the Holy of Holies connected to a slightly larger room called the Holy Place. Outside the Holy Place was the Outer Court and around that was the wider encampment or the city:

And Moses reared up the tabernacle, and fastened his sockets, and set up the boards thereof, and put in the bars thereof, and reared up his pillars. And he spread abroad the tent over the tabernacle, and put the covering of the tent above upon it; “ Exodus 40:17–19.

The Ark of the Covenant was placed in the Holy of Holies, and when this was done, some kind of energy would fill the whole tabernacle, described as a cloud by day and a fire by night. A similar phenomenon occurred when the Ark was brought into the Holy of Holies of Solomon’s more permanent stone temple. A cloud of energy or presence filled the temple — as if everything came alive. And again, this is a metaphor for our own experience. When the ark of consciousness is charged and working as it is designed to, within the holy of holies of our interior awareness, it energizes the holy place of our bodies, and the outer court of our close-in world of home and family as well as influencing the wider encampment of our social networks and community. Like the ark, our consciousness is the focus that gives meaning to the world around us. The fire and the cloud symbolize the energy of being and its atmosphere mediated through the ark of consciousness. The fire or spirit shows up at night, we know it directly when we sleep; when we are awake, we experience it more indirectly through the cloud of our own presence. We don’t always realize how potent this cloud or atmosphere of presence is. Sometimes, we experience it relative to other people. Think about going to a friend’s home when they are away. The rooms, their belongings are all sitting there, evocative of their owner yet empty, waiting. The energizing focus of the person is not there. We feel this more intensely after some one dies. His or her home, their clothes, books, momentoes, sit there rather plaintively, suddenly shorn of their relevance.

The design of both the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple made the invisible visible through symbol and shape. The Ark of the Covenant placed within the nesting spaces of the Holy of Holies, Holy Place and Outer Court. This design was a symbolic representation of a spiritual reality. And the aim of these structures — like all other ancient temples and cathedrals — was to call to remembrance that spiritual reality in those who entered them.

In the previous chapter, I used the ‘vesica piscis’ shape to explore the Ark of the Covenant as a symbol of our consciousness. And just as the Ark of the Covenant was the centerpiece of the Israelites ancient temple, so the ‘vesica piscis’ as a geometrical shape is a central element of many other ancient temples and cathedrals, being incorporated into their ground plans or other aspects of spatial and decorative design. The reasons for this are both geometric and symbolic. The architecture of these structures is based upon the fundamental geometric building blocks known as ‘sacred geometry’. And the shapes of sacred geometry are derived by first drawing the ‘vesica piscis’ and creating the straight line that is the fundamental ‘unit of measure’:

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Medieval Chartres Cathedral is one of the most extraordinary examples of the literal and symbolical use of the ‘vesica piscis’ and sacred geometry in its layout and design:

“ … the geometry of the entire building is derived from a circle. Its floor plan is contained within the proportions of a vesica. … the centre point of the vesica sits at the very centre of the building so that the North and South doors … are exactly positioned. The windows also conform to this shape. The great Belle Verrière window, for example, which depicts the Madonna and Child, sits perfectly within a vesica and thus perfectly within the floor plan of the cathedral, with every significant point in the design of the window corresponding to key positions in the geometry of the rest of the building. Christ’s head sits over the Madonna’s heart. As Professor Critchlow has shown, the infant Christ’s throat, from which the entire Christian tradition was eventually spoken, falls at the very centre of the vesica and therefore at the very heart of the building.”

from “Harmony: a New Way of Looking at Our World’ by His Royal HIghness Prince Charles

The traditions of sacred geometry reach back into classical times and beyond, as many neolithic sites show evidence of this same knowledge. The stone circle at Castlerigg, North Yorkshire for instance, uses a slightly elliptical ‘vesica piscis’ shape in its layout. Some Freemasons speculate that the Israelites’ ancient tabernacle and temple themselves were also founded on the ‘vesica piscis’ shape, as well as having the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies.

In Essay 13 I described how if we draw many concentric circles around the centers of the two primary circles of the ‘vesica piscis’, a web or network of shapes is created, whose patterns encode the square roots that enable the mathematical proportions of these shapes to be generated. By enshrining the ‘vesica piscis’ in their shape and design, these buildings represented the expansion of the fundamental unit of measure into the harmonious and generative shapes of sacred geometry. They were sacred because their architecture literally embodied the relationship of meaning, which is the union between inner and outer, spirit and form. They were not concerned with the physical space as an expression of mathematical harmony, but as an expression of the function of consciousness itself. The generative order of wholeness that is created when consciousness joins the worlds. The perfect reflection in the material world of the spiritual. The architecture was a language, a language that expressed the nature of wholeness itself, wholeness that is always experienced as meaningful relationship. Chartres Cathedral is an embodiment of the spatial and visual harmonics created by this language.

And this embodiment in physical space of these harmonics is what the builders and designers were aiming for. This is why we don’t have to be students of ancient architecture or advanced mathematics to appreciate their effects when we visit these places. We enter these ‘temples’ in order to connect again with the inner space of ourselves. The architecture of ritual space embodies the architecture of our own consciousness and helps draw us back again into relationship with the higher order of identity.

Sacred space is not limited to churches and ancient temples or any other structures overtly dedicated to spiritual matters. Many other places and objects have the ability to draw us back into relationship with our deeper self. Often the natural world in some shape or form will have this healing impact on us. Whatever form it takes, sacred space can draw us back into the relationship with our deeper self, which is also the experience of meaningfulness. It is in the space between, created by the separated out aspects of one thing, through which the flow of life can move. Sacred space or nature can act upon our consciousness like a ritual, so that we re-discover and re-inhabit our own ‘temple’, with the ark of consciousness at its center. And then, in the same way that every angle and curve and arching space of an ancient temple expresses the harmony of the fundamental unit of measure — which is also the fundamental unit of meaning and of relationship — so our every thought and perception and action begins to partake of this same quality. We experience the true generativity of our consciousness, which is also to remember our own identity as a creator, some one who can bring new meaning into the world.

Written by

British/American poet and writer who draws on archetype to explore our identity. Author ‘Coherent Self, Coherent World.’

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