Sacred Tools for Modern Times #3 — The Art and Science of Sacred Geometry
This series of stories explores all aspects of the spiritual journey. A journey that transcends rites, rituals, ceremonies, trinkets for sale, and all of the other elements of formal religious dogma.
Q. I heard the term sacred geometry. I asked my math teacher about it and they said they had never heard the term before. Do you have any insight into this concept?
A. Sacred geometry ascribes sacred or symbolic meanings to certain geometric proportions and shapes. It is deeply connected with the idea that some original object of faith, deity supreme being, creator, or First Cause is the geometer of the world. The geometry and form used in the design and construction of religious structures (altars, prayer wheels, and houses of worship), as well as trinkets (Bracelets, prayer beads, etc.), have often been considered sacred.
Of course, before we speak of sacred geometry it may be helpful to explore the nature of what it means for something to be sacred?
For most of us, for something to be sacred it needs to represent, be dedicated to, or set apart for the service or worship of the divine; inspires awe or reverence among believers; or is considered worthy of spiritual respect or devotion. People often speak of something being a “sacred artifact” or “venerated and blessed”. We may even speak of a place being “sacred ground”.
The belief that a supreme being created the universe according to a geometric plan has ancient origins. Plutarch an important Greek philosopher and priest at the Temple of Apollo attributed the belief to Plato, writing that “Plato said God geometrizes continually” (Convivialium disputationum, liber 8,2). In modern times, the mathematician Gauss adapted this quote, saying “God arithmetizes”.
As late as the 16th century Johannes Kepler, a German astronomer, and mathematician and a key figure in the 17th-century scientific revolution expressed a belief in the geometric underpinnings of the cosmos.
The roots of sacred geometry can be found in the study of nature, and the mathematical principles at work therein.
Great thinkers were in awe of how the development of plants and animals might easily be related to geometry; one of the most reference examples, the chambered nautilus, a marine mollusk that grows at a constant rate so that its shell forms a logarithmic spiral to accommodate that growth without changing shape. Also, there is the honeybee that constructs hexagonal cells to hold their honey. These and other correspondences are sometimes interpreted in terms of sacred geometry and considered to be further proof of the natural significance of geometric forms.
Superficially thinking critics who are quick to judgment can say sacred geometry is just a bunch of pseudo logical esoteric crap. In a sense, they may be correct in some ways and definitely off base in other
We all have a tendency for cognitive biases of all types, and it is likely that some folks will have a tendency to place a geometric diagram over virtually any image of a human-created structure, or a natural object. They will find some lines intersecting the image and decide it is definitely based on sacred geometry.
Of course many will tell you that the greatest art is sacred, and it seems that a number of artists, whose work will take your breath away used geometric principles to create the work. More subtly, the paintings of Johannes Vermeer, and more obviously the mathematically inspired woodcuts of Maurits Cornelis (MC) Escher.
His work features mathematical objects and operations including impossible objects, explorations of infinity, explorations of reflection, symmetry, truncated and stellated polyhedra, hyperbolic geometry, and tessellations. Although Escher believed he had no mathematical ability, he interacted with some of the greatest mathematicians of the day including Roger Penrose, and the acclaimed crystallographer Freidrich Haag, In addition, Escher conducted his own research into tessellation — a tiling of a flat surface by the covering of a plane using one or more geometric shapes, called tiles, with no overlaps and no gaps. In mathematics, tessellations can be generalized to higher dimensions and a variety of geometries. A periodic tiling has a repeating pattern. Escher, like many of the great early theorists in sacred geometry, drew inspiration from nature, making studies of lichens, plants, landscapes, and insects, all of which he used as details in his artworks.
Escher’s art has become became well known among students and research scientists, in the study of mathematics, pattern language, and the Biophilia hypothesis.
So what are we to make of all this? Well, if there is something that is sacred we must ask what it is. Clearly, we are emotionally and spiritually affected by our environment. Whether it is some special energy forces that enable us to harmonize with our surrounding environment or something else we are certainly influenced by forms and shapes. Chinese Feng shui, Western Environmental Psychology, lightening design, interior design, and architectural design all show this to be so. Geometric shapes have been shown to affect the behavior of animals in captivity as well as inmates in mental institutions.
Though I have no “scientific proof” my intuition tells me that there are things in the world that are sacred and that there are “invisible forces” that bind the universe, earth, and humanity together, through what the Chinese call qi.
If the concept of sacred geometry interests you, I recommend you explore concepts such as Pattern Language, the work of the American architect, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor, and futurist, R. Buckminster Fuller, and the artwork of M.C. Escher.
If you are an innovative thinker I also recommend the PBS interviews “The Power of Myth” with the anthropologist Joseph Campbell, and read Douglas Hofstadter’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach.
Author: My name is Lewis Harrison. I am a practical philosopher and independent scholar in the area of Essential Taoism, practical philosophy, Eastern thought, personal improvement, and problem-solving
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