Life is neither linear nor circular; indeed, probably the best image we can use to describe it is the Spiral. Everyone comes upon situations they have met before, but they themselves will have changed since the last encounter. This has been noted by many mystics, and expressed in such symbols as the Kabbala, wherein the Tree of Life is repeated four times with the highest sphere of each successive tree becoming the lowest of the next in line.
It is useful to divide a curve of the Spiral into fifteen steps, consisting of three turns through the five elements, each at a progressively more developed level. Once all fifteen have been traversed, the cycle begins again, but (hopefully) on a higher plane. This parallels the idea (expressed in 'Johfra Astrology') that the twelve signs of the Western zodiac are generated by three turns through the four Western elements.
The Fifteen Steps formed by the Five Elements passing through each of the three Triplicities form the fundamental units of the Spiral system. They correspond roughly to the twelve signs of the Zodiac, and each step can act as a suit when the Spiral is regarded as a Tarot deck, or a sequence in an I Ching substitute. Below is a table listing the fifteen steps by concept, which is followed by a short description of each step (preceded by the Unknown); this information is enough to generate the systems described in parts III and IV.
Because of the links with the realm of computers, where the use of base sixteen is standard practice, the numbering of the Fifteen is given in hexadecimal notation, which uses the letters A to F to represent digits for the (decimal) numbers 10 to 15. The Unknown is given the initial or final digit in the sequence: 0.
|0. The Unknown (the Ghost)
Life is never totally predictable; something always happens to disturb any illusions of total order which may develop. There is also, of course, the mystery of what happens at the end. This inevitable uncertainty is represented in the Spiral by the figure of the Ghost, a 'wild card' in an otherwise ordered system, similar in principle to the Joker of the standard pack of playing cards.
The Ghost holds a special place in the Spiral system, for it is the card that brings an element of randomness to the system; and yet at the same time it brings the number of 'Capital' concepts to sixteen, and the total number of concepts in the I Ching clone to 256 — two very important numbers in the realm of computers. It thus has twin functions of Order and Disorder, a curious situation which fits nicely with the ideas it embodies. Furthermore, in spite of being a very ancient image it links the system firmly with the modern world; but then, if Life is a spiral, so may be Time, and links between the 'ancient' and the 'modern' should come as no surprise.
|1. Power (the Torch)
The first thing to manifest when the Universe began was raw energy, the primal power of Chaos. This undirected force is represented by the first step, Torches — the image being of a burning brand rather than anything more advanced. It is the most 'male' step, corresponding to the Pillar of Mercy (strength) in the Tree of Life; to the trigram Ch'ien, the Creative Heavenly Force; and to the astrological sign of Aries. Among other things, it signifies enthusiasm.
|2. Form (the Ring)
It was not long before the effects of Law made themselves felt, in the order implicit in matter. The second step, indicated by an unadorned gold ring, represents this basic order. It is the most 'female' step, related to the Kabbalistic Pillar of Severity (form); to the trigram K'un, the Receptive Earth-Mother; and to the astrological sign of Taurus. It signifies harmony, and material things — the gold ring also symbolising the primitive status created by wealth.
|3. Intellect (the Scalpel)
With the advent of Humanity came the onslaught of intelligence. Balanced precariously between the forces of Chaos and Order, the human mind evolved analytically, tending to break things down in order to classify them — the 'dissecting intellect', as shown in the symbol of the Scalpel which reveals details but destroys the whole in the process. This process was particularly prominent in the West, which developed an Orderly (scientific) mind but a Chaotic society (centred on the Individual), whereas in the East it was society which was Ordered (based on the State) and the mind which was Chaotic (mystical). These are, of course, gross generalisations.
The step is one of intellectual choice, uncontaminated by such matters as compassion. It relates to the dualism of Gemini and the mystery of K'an the Abysmal, and is almost as much a symbol of conflict as of intelligence.
|4. Experience (the Cornucopia)
One cannot live without changes of emotion; the mind exists within a body, and events affect both the 'higher' and 'lower' selves; it is part of the dualism which makes us what we are. Life often provides an over-abundance of experience, though the opposite is often worse — and the concept of the Cornucopia, literally the 'Horn of Plenty', is generally regarded as a positive image. Nevertheless, we must be wary of over-indulging ourselves. The step corresponds to the collecting aspects of Cancer, and to Tui, the Joyous. It is very much personal rather than shared experience.
|5. Image (the Mirror)
As humans grow, they become no longer content just to undergo experiences passively, nor simply to analyse the outside world — rather, they develop a need to look inward, to build up an image of self. Hence the idea of the Mirror, which shows someone what they look like — but not quite as others see them. The step relates to the egocentricism of Leo, and to the meditative stillness of Ken, both aspects of the inwardly directed 'search for self'.
|6. Enterprise (the Lever)
With the Lever, we begin the second 'turn' through the Five. Here the raw energy of the first step is directed, hence the image of the Lever — 'applied force'. The step relates to the growth of Chen the arousing, and generally to endeavour.
|7. Status (the Crown)
The second step of 'having' refers to status, hence the obvious symbol of the Crown, representing material status. All the earth signs are very much in touch with the earth, and so the step also relates to the 'animal' symbol of status, fertility — and so is linked to this aspect of Virgo.
|8. Balance (the Scales)
The second 'thinking' step stands at the precise centre of the cycle, and so becomes a natural candidate for the concept of Balance, represented by Scales. As we pass through the signs, the emphasis is initially placed on pure 'self', but gradually changes through the states of 'self in relation to others' and 'self and others combined' until it finishes with 'self as part of a whole'. Self remains throughout since the main thrust of the spiral is as a development of the individual — though on higher 'rings', if the development takes on a spiritual aspect, the role of Self is much reduced. When we reach the Scales, we have passed through the first two of these four states, and the sheer intellect of the Scalpel is now tempered by concern for others. It relates closely to the astrological sign Libra, and to the gently penetrating trigram Sun.
|9. Emotion (the Flask)
The Emotion here is less internalised than the emotionally-orientated Experience of the previous 'feeling' step, concentrating on 'mutual' feelings such as friendship rather than 'individual' ones like desire. It thus coincides very poorly with Scorpio, with its emphasis on the libido, though it is working in a nearby locale. The image of the Flask pictures the subject as a container for emotions, those feelings freely flowing in and out; liquid left too long in a flask will go stale, and this must not happen with the emotions.
|A. Expression (the Masks)
The first step of 'being' concerned the subject's search for self; the second relates how the subject expresses that self to others. Thus the Masks of Tragedy and Comedy are once again natural symbols, the actor choosing what to reveal to their audience yet often displaying something subtly different. The step has ties with the clarity and illumination of Li, the clinging.
|B. Idealism (the Rocket)
The power of the first step was directed in the sixth, but at what? Is the path you have taken the one you really want to follow? Hard work is no good if it does not lead you towards your ideal — hence the image of the rocket, shooting into the sky; it will do no good if its aim is not true. For this reason, many prefer the image of the arrow, which also ties the step even more closely to the sign of Saggitarius, but I have settled on the Rocket as this can travel so high that it escapes the pull of the earth whereas the arrow is doomed to fall eventually. It is the first step of the third 'turn', fire in resolution.
|C. Volition (the Wheel)
In some sense, the ultimate form of status is power — not the energy of the 'doing' steps but possession of the ability to do these things. Volition, the ability to exercise your will, is expressed here in the image of the Wheel, one of the simplest inventions yet capable of so much. An alternative image is the shield, providing a link with the violence so often utilised in the exercise of will. The step ties to the 'realising potential' of Capricorn, and it is a natural successor to the Idealism of the previous step.
|D. Humanism (the Pen)
The mind having become balanced as well as analytical in the earlier 'thought' steps, and the ability to succeed having been implanted under the image of the Wheel, there is a natural inclination to dispense this knowledge and insight to the rest of the world — hence the symbol of the Pen, and the link with the ultimate Humanist, Aquarius, who pours the waters of his knowledge onto the earth.
|E. Morality (the Grail)
What Humanists lack, if indeed they lack anything, is concern for matters beyond the human. This concern arises from an extension of the mutual feelings of the ninth step, and as the emotional capacity opens out into more spiritual realms the Flask too opens out and is transformed into the Grail. It relates to the liberating, and even the self-sacrificing, aspects of Pisces.
|F. Synthesis (the Lamp)
So we come to the final step, Being in Resolution. The inner self as seen in the Mirror is reconciled with the Mask that you display to the outside world, incorporating all the aspects of self so that only here may that self actually disappear — if indeed that was the aim. The step relates to the Piscean aspects of synthesis and resolution. The image of the Lamp guides the subject through the spiral, along the path; and yet, more often than not, upon arrival, you discover that what you took to be a Lamp marking the end of the path merely lights a further stretch. It is time once again to take up the Torch and venture forth — and indeed what better Torch could there be than the Lamp?
This page originally found at http://www.elvwood.org/Mysticism/FifteenSteps.html
Last updated: 14 March 2002