Serving the ideals of the Rosicrucian Movement

Commentaries on the Secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians of the 16th and 17th Centuries

This diagram has 3 circles and therefore the ultimate issue is THREENESS. There are:

  • 3 pillars on the Tree of Life; Mercy, Severity and Grace.
  • 3 vehicles of human consciousness; body, soul and spirit.
  • 3 vehicles of God’s manifestation; Jesus, Christ and Logos.
  • 3 orientations to God in the Great Work; knowledge, love and sacrificial action.
  • 3 persons of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • 3 principles of alchemy; Mercury, Sulfur and Salt.
  • 3 Mother Letters of kabala; Alef, Mem and Shin.

No doubt, other trinities can be identified. For the moment, let us tabulate what we have in order to grasp the underlying pattern and then relate it to the diagram:

Tree of Life Human vehicles God’s vehicles Orientations Persons of God Alchemy Kabala
Severity Body Jesus Sacrifice Son Salt Mem
Mercy Soul Christ To Love Father Sulfur Shin
Grace Spirit Logos To Know H. Spirit Mercury Alef


It is now clear enough that in terms of the Great Work, this diagram is fundamentally about the way in which we orient ourselves to God. This is apparent from the stages of the Great Work:

  1. At the level of Action, in our body, we perform the 12 Disciplines.
  2. At the level of Formation, through our soul, we reconcile the 7 Pairs of Opposites.
  3. At the level of Creation, by our spirit, we align to God by 3 Orientations.
  4. At the level of Emanation, our Divine spark unites with God.

When we function consciously in our vehicle of manifestation the spirit, we orientate to God either through knowledge, love or sacrificial action. We can only do this if we have first performed the Disciplines and reconciled the Opposites. However before we can successfully complete the first two stages of the Work, we need to understand the third stage in order to see everything in its proper context. Is this paradoxical? Good, that means we are making progress. Let us therefore begin at the level of Creation, with THREENESS and consider the diagram. We see 3 circles and if we look closely, we realise that one interpenetrates the other, from the Above to the Below. It goes like this:

Behind the top circle

However before we consider the top circle, we must look behind it. What hide there, are principles so difficult to grasp, that they cannot be drawn as a diagram, they can only be named. We are dealing with the Uncreated Eternity and the Unfathomable Primum Mobile.

What does it mean to say that eternity is uncreated? This is essentially a concept to do with time. The Primum Mobile is Latin and means the "first swirlings". To say it is unfathomable, is to make a comment about space. Fundamentally, we are dealing with an ontological "time and space", before the time and space that we perceive, was created. Interestingly, we are dealing with exactly the same concept as the Big Bang of quantum physics. According to physics, before the Big Bang, there was neither time nor space as we know them. There was only the quantum vacuum. An ontologically different "time" and "space". The time and space that we actually perceive, are a product of the Big Bang. Thus if we understand the 3 circles as interpenetrating each other, the centre of the top circle emerges as a Big Bang from the Uncreated and the Unfathomable, alternate ways of naming the quantum vacuum.

Kabalistically, this is the level of reality Emanation. Its principle is unity with God. In human terms this is our Divine spark in fully conscious self-realisation of that unity. Our spark is not a vehicle of consciousness; it is consciousness.

Top circle

This is the smallest in size and the least complex in form. In human terms it is the vehicle of consciousness we know as spirit and in God’s terms it is his vehicle of manifestation the Holy Spirit. How do we know? In the centre is a small circle with the tetragrammaton in Hebrew, God’s Name, IHVH. This is the equivalent of our Divine spark. From the Name there is an outpouring of light with the Latin word fiat, which is a clear reference to God’s command
fiat lux ("let there be light"). The 3 Persons appear in this outpouring as Father, Son and Holy Ghost. So the unity at the level of Emanation, begins its differentiation at the level of Creation into the THREENESS that is fundamental to this level.

In his true being, God is symbolised by the number 1. However the fullness of his being, as understood by us, is symbolised by the number 10. Around the perimeter of the circle are nine winged cherubs with a tenth that opens up in order to manifest its nature. There are 10 cherubs because they are not just pretty decorations; they point to the One who is, 10 = 1 + 0 = 1. In human terms, our vehicle of consciousness the spirit, emerges out of unity with a three-fold nature. Please refer to the above table to see the correlations with the number 3. For our purposes the important point is that when we function with full awareness at the level of spirit, we are actively orienting ourselves to God. There are 3 Orientations:

  • To God via the left pillar of Severity on the Tree of Life; the way of knowledge. This is best understood by the Greek word gnosis, which refers to much more than left brain intellect. It means a direct grasping of truth which the Buddhists call the "suchness" of things and which Plato would have called truth "in itself". It takes the 12 Disciplines and the 7 Reconciliation of the Pairs of Opposites, before we can have this kind of knowledge. How else can we know God?
  • To God via the right pillar of Mercy on the Tree of Life; the way of love. How little we understand this. Again the Greek will guide us, with the word agape. This is a deep spiritual love that is far beyond the shallow sentimentality that we experience in our ordinary lives. Is this hard to grasp? It should be. We can only understand this kind of love when we experience the dark night of the soul.
  • To God via the middle pillar of Grace on the Tree of Life; the way of sacrificial action. This is the hardest of all to grasp precisely because we think we understand it the best. Not so. Consider Christ. With full knowledge of what he was doing and with deep love, he acted by offering himself for crucifixion as a living sacrifice. To get a full appreciation of what he did, he sacrificed:
    -  His vehicle of manifestation we call Jesus; corresponding to our body.
    -  His vehicle of manifestation we call Christ; corresponding to our soul.
    -  His vehicle of manifestation we call Logos; corresponding to our spirit.

Who was He who did this? In truth it was God in manifestation. Do we even now understand his sacrificial action? Is this paradoxical and mysterious? It should be.

Middle circle

The tenth cherub appears as a circle containing a hexagram with wings. From it, emanates the middle circle that we understand to be the vehicle of consciousness that we call our soul. How do we know this? The hexagram contains 7 points: 6 corners plus the centre. In the Great Work, the number 7 represents the soul because the form of the soul is in the chakras and there are 7 of them. At the centre of the hexagram is the symbol of the sun which equivalent to our heart chakra. That is the metaphysical centre of our soul.

The hexagram is at the centre of three circles, once more emphasising THREENESS. Thus the soul is not a separate entity, it must be seen in its proper context as one of three vehicles of consciousness functioning together as a unified whole. On the left of the three circles is the alchemical symbol for Sulfur and on the right, the symbol for Mercury. Underneath are the alchemical words Prima Materia and two more very small hexagrams. Beneath that, are the two outstretched wings with the slightly larger hexagrams at their tips. We are immediately reminded of the statement in the Fama Fraternitatis, "beneath the shadow of thy wings, IHVH". What does all this mean?

First, there is the repetition of the principle of polarity: two alchemical symbols, two pairs of hexagrams, two alchemical words, two wings. This is precisely correct because the reconciliation of the 7 Pairs of Opposites (or polarities) happens in the vehicle of consciousness we refer to as the soul; right here. Secondly, Sulfur symbolises the soul and Mercury symbolises the spirit. At this point, we are indeed studying the relationship between soul and spirit. Thirdly, the hexagram with its two interlaced triangles, accurately conveys that very relationship. Fourthly, beneath the "shadow" of the wings on the diagram, is a further circle with a triangle within it. We can infer that the central circle is in fact, the tiny symbol of the sun that is at the centre of the hexagram flanked by the two wings. The central circle is the "opened up" version of the sun symbol. Let us follow this through:

  • The central circle has four smaller circles at its circumference. They are the familiar alchemical elements: Ignis (Fire), Aqua (Water), Terra (Earth), Aer (Air). Their placement is unusual in that although they are in the proper order, they begin with Fire on top instead of Air. If they are rotated to the right by 90° , then they are in the right order and also correctly oriented. Why are they like this? Does each of us have a soul that is disoriented and which has to be corrected?
  • The four elemental circles form a cross and that gives us the process that we must put into action, integration at the soul level. But what is there to integrate?
  • Inside the elemental circle is a triangle also composed of circles. Six circles. Now the large hexagram above, becomes clearer. The six circles of the triangle are the six points of the hexagram "opened up". The elemental circle is the "opened up" version of the space around the hexagram.
  • At the three corners of the triangle are three small circles representing the alchemical principles of Salt, Sulfur and Mercury. Thus all three vehicles of consciousness are now being considered, body, soul and spirit. In the centre of the triangle the alchemical principles are mirrored by the principle of polarity (sun/ moon) and its integration into a symbiotic relationship by the Tinctur. The central circle with its four smaller circles and triangle, gives us this formula:
    4 + 3 = 7

The 4 elemental circles plus the 3 corners of the triangle (3 alchemical principles) gives us 7 chakras. Our chakras are in a relationship that we have not considered before. They are the structure of our vehicle of consciousness the soul and we must give them close attention. We can think of the chakras like this:

Crown Mercury
Brow Sulfur
Throat Salt
Heart Air
Navel Fire
Sacral Water
Base Earth

The top 3 chakras are qualitatively different from the bottom 4 chakras. The top 3 are masculine and the bottom 4 are feminine. The 4 feminine elemental circles contain within them like a womb, the masculine triangle. The point is in the numbers and the secret is their combination in all possible permutations: 3 x 4 = 12. This is the number of signs of the zodiac and it is also the number of our last vehicle of consciousness, the body. Before we go there, let us note that inside the total circle but outside the central circle, there are astrological and alchemical words and symbols, in apparent chaotic confusion. This is the appearance created by the way in which we live. But at the heart of chaos, there is law and order in the functioning of our chakras. If we understand this, we can take charge of our lives.

Fundamentally, this circle is the metaphysical place where we reconcile the 7 Pairs of Opposites.

Bottom circle

The most obvious point about this circle is that it is surrounded by the 12 signs of the zodiac. Less obvious but more important, in the centre there is a small black circle with a hexagram (and other symbols) inside it. This is the middle circle "opening up" into the bottom circle. The main issue is that the 3 vehicles of consciousness interpenetrate each other.

Let us consider the outer edge and the 12 signs of the zodiac. Do you notice anything strange? They appear to be a mirror image of the normal way in which they are portrayed. Why? We are an image of the kosmos and the kosmos is an image of God. We are an image of the image. It is like looking into a mirror. When we do that, we do not see reality. We see an illusion. Does this describe our daily lives? After all, the bottom circle symbolises our vehicle of consciousness the body and it functions on sense perceptions. Why is this important? Imagine a sound. It appears to happen "out there". Something does happen and it creates vibrations in the air. These are translated into mechanical action by the ear drums. This mechanical action is then translated into electro/chemical impulses that go to the brain. At the appropriate brain centre they are translated into sound and it is projected so as to appear as if it is "out there". Let us look at it this way:

External event Þ vibrations Þ mechanical action Þ electro/chemical Þ sound.

The arrows represent the translations. There are four different changes in order for sound to be heard. Are we therefore hearing something real? Are we perceiving reality directly through our sense of hearing? We cannot be; there are too many translations. Our body through its senses does not perceive reality. It only perceives the illusion. To grasp reality, we must go back through the vehicles of consciousness, from body to soul and spirit, and then to the Divine spark that is our true nature.

Let us continue with the bottom circle. Inside the zodiac, we find the planetary spheres from Saturn on the outside to the Moon on the inside. This is the metaphysical place of the ascent of the soul through the spheres. This is a different process from the Reconciliation of the 7 Pairs of Opposites. The Reconciliation is a process of healing and integration that must precede the ascent of the soul. In fact before the Reconciliation process, must come the process of this vehicle of consciousness, the 12 Spiritual Disciplines. This is a topic on its own.

Beneath the planetary spheres are the sub-lunar spheres of the 4 alchemical elements, Fire, Air, Water, Earth. These are the basic constituents of our nature. In the centre is the black circle with the hexagram of the soul and the 16 rays of light. These are the combinations of the elements, 4 x 4 =16.


What does all this mean? At the macrocosmic level we have God, IHVH, emanating the kosmos by 3 vehicles of manifestation shown as the 3 circles. At the microcosmic level we have our Divine spark controlling its 3 vehicles of consciousness. The relationship between them is that the kosmos is a reflection of God and we are a reflection of the kosmos.

The hidden issues are that we need to heal and integrate our 3 vehicles of consciousness, so that we can engage in the ascent of the soul (as an integrated entity) up through the planetary spheres. The reason for that is to give us the gnosis that overcomes death and gives salvation. So how do we heal and integrate? By the 12 Spiritual Disciplines, the Reconciliation of the 7 Pairs of Opposites and the 3 Orientations to God. Some clues to this process are provided by the Emerald Tablet of Hermes and the Mons Philosophorum.  In fact, the whole doctrine is contained in the Secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians. All we have to do, is to examine those symbols with wisdom and understanding.