Religious Symbolism - Squaring the Circle

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Brian Johnston
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Religious Symbolism - Squaring the Circle

Post by Brian Johnston » 23 Jul 2009, 13:58

jcl wrote: However, based on other research I've done here's a few things to think about in context of this:

There's quite a lot of evidence (read Temple and Cosmos by Hugh Nibley) that the symbols, framework, ceremonial clothing and such are quite universal having been used in various forms of worship around the world and throughout various time periods.
If only more members knew ... People wouldn't have as big of a shock/problem maybe. We also would have far more people understanding the symbolic nature and metaphors presented in the ceremonies. Our modern day culture has drifted far far away from appreciation of symbolic ceremony. We are too technician-oriented, too literal, and too materialistic (meaning steeped in the tangible, mechanical world, I don’t mean just greedy).

We are presented with one of the oldest spiritual puzzles known to human kind, in both the ceremony itself and what we carry around with us. The process known as "squaring the circle" is over 4,000 years old, and is one of the most valuable symbolic exercises admired by the greatest philosophical/religious minds ever born (I admire them at least, hehe).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Squaring_the_circle

The basic puzzle is this: Using only a square, a compass and a straight edge with a writing stick [pay attention to the symbols!], create a square with the same circumference or area as a given circle. You can not measure it numerically (with a ruler). It all has to be done with the 4 unmarked tools listed above.

It's a geometry puzzle with meanings, here are some basic interpretations:

Right-Angled Square - represents logic and law.
Compass - represents feeling and intuition.
Straight Edge - represents precision, exactness, a division between opposites (good/evil, dark/light, etc.).
Writing Stick - represents our desire, our appetites, what we hunger for, that which makes action (like drawing)

A square shape is symbolic of many things - the earth, physical world, the tangible, the rational, our body, our intellect.

A circle shape is symbolic of many things - the heavens, spiritual world, the intangible, the irrational (which is a very real part of our reality), our spirit, our heart and emotions.

The puzzle asks the initiate to reconcile the circle with the square, and through that process grow and attain enlightenment. Can you reconcile the mind and the heart? Can you reconcile heaven and earth? Can you reconcile perfectly your intellect with your emotions? your spirit and your body? Can you bring all these into perfect balance? That is the ultimate goal of a human seeking after the divine.

It is said that all truth (a square) can be circumscribed (a circle) into one great whole.

If you are familiar with this material, how has it affected your relationship to our Church? If you are not aware of this type of material, does it help? Does it make any sense?

I think a real problem comes up when the only version new people are given is the stuff in the temple will get you past the guards at the pearly gates, in only a very literal sense. It's almost like all the symbolism is ignored as fluff. I think it is the actual meat.

This is only the tip on the iceberg of what is out there that ties in things from all ages and cultures into what we focus on today. It gave me a strong strong sense of connection to great seekers of meaning in humanity throughout our planet's history.
"It's strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone." -John O'Donohue, Anam Cara, speaking of experiencing life.

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spacious maze
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Re: Temple Symbolism - Squaring the Circle

Post by spacious maze » 23 Jul 2009, 15:37

Valoel wrote:I think a real problem comes up when the only version new people are given is the stuff in the temple will get you past the guards at the pearly gates, in only a very literal sense. It's almost like all the symbolism is ignored as fluff. I think it is the actual meat.
I agree. I was talking to my older brother about the literalness of some of the temple stuff, and he noted that certain college fraternities have some of the exact same gestures to acknowledge their own fraternal membership. So maybe it's just the endowed and the frat boys that get past (with the exception of any of them being amputee victims), or these things may have a more symbolic nod towards a very long tradition of human and spiritual prosperity. I'm with Valoel that these things may tie into a greater fellowship with human history.

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jcl
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Re: Religious Symbolism - Squaring the Circle

Post by jcl » 23 Jul 2009, 23:00

This is a fascinating topic leading me to want to go re-read Temple and Cosmos :)
Valoel wrote:It's almost like all the symbolism is ignored as fluff. I think it is the actual meat.
I totally agree. I think it's part of the degeneration of our society. Look at how TV spoon feeds everyone on how to think. People don't think about symbols anymore. I chose after being freaked out by the Temple to study symbolism and it's ancient roots to see if I could make sense of it all (I nearly left the Church). This has helped me immensely. I think another problem we have in the church is we forget "Truth" is everywhere, not just in the temple. I can't tell you how many times I've been reading something and stop and tell my wife "this is so what the temple is talking about."
Valoel wrote:Compass - represents feeling and intuition.
I'd say feeling and intuition could also be called in more Mormon vernacular such things as the Liahona, the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, or the Light of Christ.
Valoel wrote:If you are familiar with this material, how has it affected your relationship to our Church? If you are not aware of this type of material, does it help? Does it make any sense?
Some of what you said was new to me but much of the ideas were things I had stumbled upon outside the context of Masonry. I see the worship dramas presented throughout this world's history (our temple included) as tying deeply into this symbolism and how we fit into the universe. For me, I tie all of this into a sort of Jung/Joseph Campbel idea of the Collective Unconscious/Story Archetypes. Why do all the best selling books/movies/etc. have so much in common with each other and if you boil it down with the religious drama presented in temple worship? (for example Good vs Evil) That's where I see the archetypes/collective uncouncious coming in.

The more you start looking, the more you start seeing what we practice in temple worship being a huge part of all society/media (while certainly not everything and definately in bits and pieces). I'd love to say more but the other thoughts on my mind right now aren't appropriate for this place.

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Brian Johnston
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Re: Religious Symbolism - Squaring the Circle

Post by Brian Johnston » 24 Jul 2009, 07:12

Seeing a similar macro theme in so many other places throughout history made me see our temple ceremony as the current preservation and presentation of a series of deeply metaphorical and metaphysical "truths."

To me, that is evidence of "truthiness," that so many people keep coming to it over and over from different cultural contexts. These are people that I resonate with, like fellow travelers in other ages that were desperately compelled to seek these things as part of their divine maturation and enlightenment.

God calls to us. It is like a faint song or a lighthouse beacon. Joseph was someone in the 19th century that caught a glimpse, enough that he was able to create a teaching method and preserve it. It's the Mormon version of this grand universal call.

So I think it is very very (t)rue, even if I am not attached 100% to it being (T)rue.
"It's strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone." -John O'Donohue, Anam Cara, speaking of experiencing life.

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Re: Religious Symbolism - Squaring the Circle

Post by just me » 25 Jul 2009, 18:15

Do you think that once the rituals stop leading people to enlightenment that they should be revamped?
Sometimes I feel like we are going to have to change and find new things since myth and ritual are so misunderstood by people today. So many get stuck in them instead of transcending them.

I dunno. Things make so much more sense to me, now that I am not bound to the literal.
Most of us, sooner or later, find that at critical points in our lives we must strike out on our own to make a path where none exists.~Elaine Pagels

Ultimately, you are the path-the path begins and ends with you.~Stephan Bodian

He who think he knows, doesn’t know: He who knows he doesn’t know, knows.~Sanskrit proverb

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Re: Religious Symbolism - Squaring the Circle

Post by hawkgrrrl » 26 Jul 2009, 11:56

First of all, thanks Valoel for posting this. I appreciate anything that adds enlightenment to the symbolic components of religion. I have often said that the temple has become enigmatic in a way I don't believe was intended as if tribal knowledge was lost over time or become meaningless.

There is an episode of the original Star Trek series in which they find a group of people speaking "holy words" that they no longer understand, and they are too holy to question or talk about. Kirk realizes they are reciting the preamble to the United States constitution, and he finally explains to them what the words mean. Rather than making it less holy, he shows them that the words and meaning are holy as well, but because they misunderstood the words, they were not living in a democracy. Their actions contradicted their holy words. That's the risk when you don't understand the true meaning, and you elevate a misunderstanding.

It's something I sometimes think of as I contemplate the significance of our own religious symbols in Mormonism. So many people reduce these things to a literal meaning, which leads toward a life of outward action over inward reflection. The square overtakes the circle. People of our era are simply not very symbolic, but I also believe this is part of the phase of life one is in. Unfortunately, it's easy to get stuck in literalism. And literalist dogma may be the milk that comes before meat. It seems that when the meat is served, many do not have the stomach for it.

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