When there is a need to convey a concept, it is useful to have a visual representation of that concept, such as a symbol. Even in this prosaic age, there are many reasons why Symbols can be more effective at transmitting meaning than plain statements. Symbols often have cultural and psychological relevance; they are not hindered by dialect or grammar, and can convey the same or at least similar meanings to people of different languages or with a limited grasp of language.
In addition to being an effective substitute for dialogue, symbols can carry emotion. They can bypass the human filters of logic and reason, acting directly upon portions of the mind that are not wholly conscious. Where symbols are really necessary, however, is in the representation of paradoxes and mysteries, concepts that defy plain explanation, and at this task, symbols excel.
Freemasonry is, among other things, the practice of using symbols for instructional purposes. In the entered apprentice degree alone, a newly obligated mason is presented with no less than 40 distinct symbols. By the time he completes his master mason degree, the meanings of over 100 emblems have been at least partially explained to him. As we are well aware, most of these images allude to a set of ideals and principles. They speak of fidelity, maintaining one's integrity, keeping silence and other noble lessons. The symbols themselves serve as instructional tools and pictorial reminders of these various teachings. One symbol in particular that has attracted the keen interest of modern Masonic scholars is the circumpunct, or point within a circle.
As Entered Apprentices, we are taught that it signifies control of the passions and are given a brief and rather unadorned description of its application. Its greater significance is not approached in any detail, however, and further light on the matter is left to our own search and erudition. In various sources of literature one can find that the circled dot has been used to represent concepts both ancient and modern. It seems to appear in every cultural sphere on earth, though its meaning varies slightly between different places and different ages.
In Albert Pike's "Morals and Dogma," we read "…it is a common Egyptian sign for the Sun and Osiris, and is still used as the astronomical sign of the great luminary. In the Kabala, the point is Yodh, the creative energy of God, irradiating with light the circular space which God, the universal light, left vacant, wherein to create the worlds, by withdrawing His substance of Light back on all sides from one point."
In addition to the Sun and Osiris, there is evidence that Ancient Egyptians Astronomers used the circumscribed point as a symbol for the precession of the equinoxes, a mystery at that time kept secret to all but the elect. The very ages of The Earth are defined by a Great Equinoctial Year, also called a Platonic year, approximately 25,920 revolutions of the Earth around the Sun. In that time, the polar axis of The Earth traces a circular journey to Al Deramin, Deneb, Vega and Alpha Draconis before returning to alignment with Polaris. Carl Jung, a Swiss Psychiatrist considered to be the founder of analytical psychology, wrote much about the significance of emblems he called "Mandalas" which he regarded as representations of the unconscious self.
"Mandala" is a Sanskrit word meaning "circle." In his 1944 book "Psychology and Alchemy," Jung describes Mandalas as "all concentrically arranged figures, round or square patterns with a center and radial or spherical arrangements." A point within a circle of course, is a Mandala in itsmost basic form. Jung believed that their symbolic nature was useful in helping one "to access progressively deeper levels of the unconscious… and experience a mystical sense of oneness with the ultimate unity from which the cosmos in all its manifold forms arises."
Jung was not unique in the view that circular images are psychological and spiritual expressions of the individual. "Enso" is a Japanese word meaning "circle." Enso are calligraphic paintings, held as sacred symbols in Zen Buddhism. They appear with and without central points. It is believed by Zen practitioners that only a person who is "one in mind and spirit" is capable of producing a true Enso, and that the character of the artist is revealed in them.
To alchemists, the circled dot represented Gold, a metal sacred to the sun. In alchemy the circumscribed point also embodies the important philosophical principal of the "one thing," the "Materia Prima" or first material, which is the foundational substance from which the alchemists believed all other things were created. This is alluded to in writings from The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus: "As all things came into being by the contemplation of One, So all things arose from this One thing, By a single act of creative adaptation" This idea finds its roots with the Pythagoreans, who referred to the point within a circle as the "Monad," derived from the Greek words "monas," meaning "unit" or "monos," meaning "alone."
The Greek philosophers referred to the Monad by various names: "The First," "The Seed," "The Builder," and "The Foundation." Monism is the view that all is one and that a unified set of laws govern all nature, which is an idea that figures prominently into the Fellowcraft Degree lecture. In his 1564 work, "The Hieroglyphic Monad," The English mystic John Dee provides a similar interpretation of the point and circle thus: "Neither the circle without the line, nor the line without the point, can be artificially produced. It is, therefore, by virtue of the point and the Monad that all things commence to emerge in principle. " According to the Greek Philosopher Diogenes Laertius: "The principle of all things is the monad or unit; arising from this monad the undefined dyad or two serves as material substratum to the monad, which is cause…"
From the dyad, we derive the "vesica piscis" or "fishes bladder," a symbol which has been often identified with The Christ and which should be readily recognizable to all Rosicrucians.
Laertius continues: "From the monad and the undefined dyad spring numbers; from numbers, points; from points, lines; from lines, plane figures; from plane figures, solid figures; from solid figures, sensible bodies, the elements of which are four, fire, water, earth and air; " This is the realm of sacred geometry and the very core of alchemy, that in and of the one thing, all things find their source. This hails back to Jewish mysticism and The Kabbalah, which teaches that God opened a circular void within himself to leave a place for creation. This is called in Hebrew "tzimtzum" which means "contraction." At the center of this contraction is the manifestation of God's creative force, symbolized by the point, or alternatively, the Hebrew letter "yodh."
The letters of the Hebrew Alphabet each have a numerical and symbolic equivalent. The letter Yodh, which corresponds to the English letters I or Y, has a numerical equivalent of 10, a number significant to creation. Contrast this with Proverbs 8:22 and 8:30: "22 The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; 30 Then I was beside Him, as a master workman; And I was daily His delight, Rejoicing always before Him." We find references also in the New Testament: "1 In the beginning was the Word: and the Word was with God: and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made." What are the key words in these verses? The Master Workman, The Beginning, The Maker, The First… all are terms associated with creation; all are also associated with the Monad.
How should we, as modern Rosicrucian scholars and freemasons, interpret the mystery of the circumscribed point? Is it an emblem of morality and nothing more, or is it perhaps a representation of the original creative essence giving form and substance to all things? I leave it to your own search and erudition, with the advice to consider the words of German Mystic Jakob Böhme: