At the heart of symbolism

Games, images of the world


Showing his hand

Games are human activities fitting well defined rules and implying one or more players. Originally, they were another matter than simple recreation. Nevertheless, even under their current playful form, they preserve certain aspects of their sacred original character.

In the old times, games could be use as support to magic and divination practices. However, they more often constituted a social rite relating beings to the Cosmos and Gods; they were used to maintain the cohesion of the society and the harmony of the beings with the world of Gods. When they trusted luck, games did not necessarily try to express the impenetrable character of the divine Will; they simply could evoke the free interplay of manifested forms.

Whether they trust luck or not, games take on many symbolic aspects, which have been forgotten a long time ago. Through three contemporary examples, we will see in which respect games constitute images of the world:

1. In the example of the ordinary card game, four players are generally gathered around a square table representing Earth. They symbolically occupy the position of the four compass points and play clockwise or according to the apparent movement of the sun during its diurnal cycle. This correspondence between Earth and Heaven reflects the being's harmony with the Cosmos, the centre of which is occupied by the sun. The game partners correspond to N-S and E-W axes and they both associate light (S and E) to obscurity (N and W). Consequently, the player arrangement does not rely on an opposition, notably between light and obscurity, but on the complementarity at the root of the terrestrial world representation where there is no light without obscurity or obscurity without light.

2. We rediscover this aspect in games based on a diagram. It is mostly a matter of strategic games, warlike or not, implying two players. Chess offer the most familiar example. The colours of pieces and chessboard squares are totally reversed for both players. Consequently, the game does not consist in a confrontation between black and white, but between black on a black or white square and white on a white or black square. There again, the complementarity between both colours goes well beyond their simple opposition. As in the image of the yin-yang symbol, there is yin (black) in yang (white) and yang (white) in yin (black). The game consists in surpassing the opposition characteristic of duality to rejoin the complementarity proper to unity. In this sense, it is a matter of an initiatory progression.

The clock3. In the variant of the hopscotch game known in France as “the clock”, the child draws on the ground a circle divided into 12 time sectors that rejoin at the centre where a smaller circle represents the “Paradise”. In order to play, he launches a marker in the first sector and hops while pushing the marker from sector to sector till the Paradise. The 12 sectors evoke the belt of the Zodiac signs enveloping the Cosmos. Jumping from one sector to another symbolizes the passage from a state of consciousness to a higher state before attaining the ultimate state of full consciousness, the heavenly state of the centred or unified being. The representation of the world and its initiatory progression resembles here, the journey in the labyrinth and the marker path to Ariadne's thread.

These examples alone show how much the opposition between opponents masks the complementarity of the various facets of the world and beings. Well Playing matters more than winning. The real player becomes aware of the whole scope of the game, the winner aims at the result only:

Let every game's end find you still upon the battling line; for when the Great One Scorer comes to write against your name, he marks - not that you won or lost - but how you played the Game.

(Grantland Rice, end of the poem Alumnus Football)