At the heart of symbolism

The moon crescent

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Night and day

Representative of the passage from obscurity (new moon) to clarity (full moon) and vice versa, the crescent may be brought closer to the night and day cycle.

The night can take on various aspects according to the point of view considered:

  • On the physical and psychical plan, night represents: darkness, absence of light; the obscurity period only lightened by the lunar reflection of the sunlight; the time of absence of noise, sleep and dreams; the sensation test of cold, anguishes, interrogations and doubts.
  • On the symbolic plan, the night constitutes the reverse reflection of the day. The peak point of the day, the noon sun, finds its image in the night apogee, the midnight sun. The visible, white light is transformed into the invisible, black light. The variety of the daytime and manifestation world opens up the night world and the unity of the undifferentiated Principle. The external world is mirrored into the internal world.

Simultaneously within and beyond day, night represents the absence of light and its undifferentiated Principle, which is developing:

  • On the plan of the Cosmos (or macrocosm) while crossing successively three worlds (celestial, intermediary and terrestrial).
  • At the level of the individual (or microcosm) according to three orders of realization (spiritual, psychical and physical). Note that the psyche or soul constitutes with the body the human being or the individual. Beyond the human or individual states rise the supra-human states coming under the manifested as well as the non-manifested.

As a result of the undifferentiated Principle, source of all possibilities, the human being can only return towards his supra-human origin while climbing back up the main preceding steps:

The access gates to the different worldsAttaining the true light, the internal light goes through a series of obscure and luminous periods, of deaths to certain states of being and re-births into other states of a higher order. These changes of state are punctuated by three births (physical, psychical and spiritual). The first two belong to the individual human nature and to the Moon Sphere whereas the last refers to the supra-human order and the spiritual Sun domain. Consequently, two ways are offered to the being concerned by his fate:

  • The lunar way opening either on the human states only or on the spiritual or supra-human states distinctive to the cosmic world according to the spiritual degree achieved.
  • The solar way, the direct way giving access from the deepest cosmic night to the only true sun, the spiritual Sun of the supra-cosmic or non-manifested world.

These two ways use different gates opening or closing to certain states whether the being attains the superior state reverts back to other human states and that, independently of the traditional form considered.

The Moon, symbol of the Hindu tradition

Ganesh, God of Knowledge, symbolizes the cosmic and extra cosmic world. His head, endowed with a broken tusk, represents the non-manifested unity whereas his body depicts the dualistic perception of the manifestation.

Lunar symbolism of GaneshIn his lunar symbolism, the God is groomed with a crescent and holds an axe of a similar form in one of his hands. The instrument handle depicts the Axis of the Universe, the communication channel between the different worlds. Its blade that splits, breaks and generates sparks symbolizes the lightning, result of the interactions between clouds carrying water. It is a matter of Upper or celestial Waters associated with the supra-human states compared to the lower or terrestrial Waters, representing the human states only and distinctive to the Lunar sphere.

Ganesh rules over either the passage from lower towards Upper Waters or the way back to the lower Waters in accordance with the path followed: the “Path of the Gods” (dêva-yana) or the “Path of the Ancestors” (pitri-yana). Two ways summarized in these words by the Bhagavadgita: “Fire, light, day, increasing moon, ascent semester of the sun towards North” are the luminous signs leading to Brahma; “smoke, night, decreasing moon, descent semester of the sun towards South” are the dark signs of the way back to the Moon Sphere”. These two clear and obscure ways lead respectively to the non-manifested without any return and to the return to the manifested.

Made in the image of Ganesh, Janus rules over the being's fate in the Roman and Christian traditions.

The moon crescent, a Roman and Christian symbol

Janus, the Master of the two gatesEndowed with a double face, Janus is the gate guardian opening up the past and the future. The past represents the way back to the human states; the future, the way out from the human to the supra-human states. According to the way (solar or lunar) followed, the being will have to go through one or two gates to reach the supra-human states:

  • In Janus solar symbolism, the gate “Janua Coeli” opens up the extra cosmic world, the spiritual Sun, the midnight Sun, the non-manifested. This is the most difficult way, the narrow door, the eye of the needle according to the Gospels: “I say it for you again, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Saint Matthew XIX.24).
  • In his lunar symbolism (Janus-Jana), two gates “Janua Coeli” and “Janua Inferni” respectively open up the cosmic Heaven and the Lunar sphere, on the supra-human states belonging to the cosmic sphere and the human states. According to his degree of spirituality, the being will have access to the supra-human states or be sent back to the human states.

The Virgin Mary on a moon crescent (Albrecht Dürer)Jana or Diana, often represented groomed with a crescent, is nothing but the feminine aspect of Janus. This picture can notably be found in the Christian iconography where the feet of the Virgin Mary rest on a moon crescent. Its horizontal layout evokes a small boat moving on the waters in two directions, towards the past or the future. It symbolizes the passage from one bank to the other, from a being's state to another one of higher order. It also depicts the walk on the lower Waters of the being having reached the Upper Water states, a symbol common to number of traditions other than Christian, Muslim notably.

The crescent, symbol of Islam

Muslim religious life is subjected to the lunar computes while the rhythms of the solar calendar rule the secular life. The appearance of the crescent in the ninth lunar month opens the Ramadan's fast which ends with the same crescent coming up with the following moon.

During the first phase of Ramadan associated with the waxing moon, the being is growing according to the image of the astral body brightness. At the full moon, the being can either leave the Lunar sphere forever or go back to obscurity during the second phase in relation to the waning moon.

Going out of the Lunar sphere means to leave definitively the apparent light for the true clarity. In fact, the Moon does nothing but reflect the sunlight and attaining the full light goes through a final way out of the Lunar sphere.

If the being cannot leave the Lunar sphere, he is condemned to remain in it and to rediscover the obscurity from which he comes. This is the case of those who must go through other states of the individual manifestation before claiming to gain access to supra-human states

Achieving, on the contrary, the fullness of the human potential means to leave forever the Lunar sphere, a release sign of the individual condition, to attain the supra-individual state sphere. The being, who got rid of the world restricted to the body and the psyche, has rejoined the world of the Spirit to become a true spiritual being.

The three cosmic worlds and the extra cosmic worldSuch are the two ways symbolized by the waxing Moon and the waning Moon. Two perceptible ways on the dome summit of the Mosques overhung with a crescent as well as on the flag drawings of Muslim countries. It is sufficient to observe the dome or the flag from every angle to realize it. For more details, see the symbolism of the flags carrying a crescent.

When three superimposed globes, overhung with a crescent, appear on the dome summit, they respectively represent the three cosmic worlds (Earth, Atmosphere and Heaven) and the extra cosmic world of the divine Majesty. The vertical stem supporting the whole symbolizes the Axis of the Universe. It is identical to the stupa axis of the Buddhist tradition.

The stupa overhung with a crescent, symbol of Buddhism

The stupa symbol composed of four geometrical figuresOriginally constructed to shelter the relics of the Buddha or his disciples, the stupa also contains a universal symbol.

The stupa, indeed, is often depicted as an image made up of four geometrical figures associated with the four elements piled up on top of each other according to their degree of density: square (Earth), circle (Water), triangle (Fire) and crescent (Air).

The element Air, symbolized by the crescent, comes in the form of a receptacle destined to receive a sacred deposit. This aspect is even reinforced when the crescent takes a horizontal shape (Horizontal crescent) and looks like a half moon (Half horizontal moon), which assimilates it to a bowl.

In the Buddhist tradition, the bowl is destined to receive the fifth element that contains all the others in an undifferentiated state, in a principial state, namely Ether. In a descending movement, the Ether is manifested through the appearance of the four elements; in an ascending movement, the four elements are resorbed into their principial state, into unity.

Now, while turning around the stupa, the waxing moon () becomes the waning moon () and vice versa. That suggests that the stupa symbolizes both ascending and descending movements. Result of the descending way from the unity state to his manifestation, the ordinary human being can only look for the lost unity while walking in the footsteps of the being without steps, the Buddha.


  • René Guénon:
  • “Symbols of Sacred Science”. Sophia Perennis Publisher 2004;
  • Notably, chapter 58 devoted to Janua Coeli.
  • “Man and his Becoming according to the Vedanta”. Sophia Perennis Publisher 2001;
  • Especially, chapter 21 on the “divine voyage”.