At the heart of symbolism

Heart, world and being's centre

(Detailed page)


The heart receptacle

The heart resides within the being as the cave in the hollow of the mountain. Now, if the mountain is generally represented by a triangle pointing upwards (Δ), the heart and the cave are symbolized by a triangle pointing downwards (∇). Represented in this way, the heart suggests a receptacle not only able to take the form of a cave, but also of a vase or a cup.

The cave at the heart of the mountain

Located in the hollow of the mountain visible from anywhere, the cave is a hidden place inaccessible to profanes and reserved for initiated beings only.

The cave is a representation of the cosmic world (macrocosm) where the ground symbolizes Earth and the vault Heaven. The physical being that enters into the cave will go through two more births besides the physical one:

  • A birth of psychical order to become a true human being, that means centred within himself;
  • A birth of spiritual order to come to be a total being, i.e. centred in the world.

Mountain and caveIf the first birth takes place in the cave, the second corresponds to a way out of the cave, of the cosmic world, alongside a vertical axis linking the initiated being to the summit of the mountain and beyond.

The “cavity of the heart” is made in the image of the cave where the initiated being receives the influences of the world beyond. Moreover, it is not by chance that the “cavity of the heart” and the cavity of the mountain have the same Sanskrit root guha.

The heart is usually considered as the centre of life. If it is unquestionably true in the physical and physiological order, it is equally true in a superior order. In the Hindu tradition for instance, the heart is not only the residence of the living soul (jivatma), but also of the manifestation of the Principle at the source of everything, of the “Self” (Atma) in life (jiva). In other words, the supra-human remains asleep in the heart of the human being. The heart symbolizes the Union, in the sense of the word Yoga, of the human with the supra-human, the individual with the universal.

Consequently, any manifestation order potentially contains the development possibilities in the superior order. In the world of the individual (microcosm), the physic warms up the psychic, the psychic the spiritual and the spiritual the world beyond, the non-manifested world. This also holds true for the cosmic world (macrocosm).

If the World Egg constitutes the germ of the world manifestation, the cave or the “cavity of the heart” represents the matrix of the development of all possibilities of the being. Nevertheless, the heart conceals these possibilities at a potential state only and it is up to the being himself to make them alive.

The sealed vase in the Egyptian tradition

In the Egyptian tradition, the mountain could only be represented by the pyramid and the cave or the “cavity of the heart” by the inner chamber situated at the vertical of the summit of the structure.

The inner chamber preserved the place devoted to the initiation to the mysteries from the curious eyes. The accomplishment of the rites was the concern of an organization, guardian of a knowledge going back to the primeval tradition of non human origin. The realization of the “little mysteries” allowed the initiated being as well as the qualified profane to fully attain the human being states; the access to the “great mysteries” was only reserved to the initiated beings able to discover the supra-human states.

The access to the supra-human states opened the heart of the initiated being to the knowledge of the Principle at the source of everything. A knowledge dozing in the being's heart at a potential, virtual state.

The hieroglyph representing the heart was a sealed vase (Sealed vase). The vase was full or empty depending on the way it was observed:

  • For the uninitiated, the vase could only be full of (manifested) things;
  • For the initiated, the vase was empty (of any manifestation), but full (of non-manifested).

The vase was sealed to place its content out of profanes' eyes and make it accessible to initiated beings only. The discovery of the initiatic “secret” stands beyond appearances and its major feature consists in its inalienability.

Judgment of the deadThe heart played an essential role in the Egyptian tradition: it was the centre of life, will and understanding within each being. Mummified, the body kept the heart as single organ. At the time of the judgment of the dead, the god Anubis checked, while the god of the dead Osiris looked on, if the heart of the defunct was lighter than the feather of the Maat, i.e. the Rule governing the cosmic world. It was a matter to make sure that the heart was freed from the earthly gravities to reach the atmosphere lightness and, especially, the imponderable celestial clarity.

Thanks to the initiation rites, the beings were able to apply to the individual (microcosm) level the rules ensuring the smooth running of the cosmic world (macrocosm). Thus, the initiated being became answerable for the harmony between the world beyond and the world below. The most important was not to fight the evil forces here below, but to initiate the beings to the mysteries of the world beyond. The ancient Egyptians had understood that in order to improve the society, it was firstly necessary to improve oneself.

The cup in the quest of the Holy Grail

The quest of the Holy Grail is sufficiently known not to be mentioned here in its totality. The legend, going back to the 12th century, is a Christian written adaptation, the traces of which date back to the Celtic oral tradition.

Holy GrailThe Holy Grail is the cup that would have been firstly used for the celebration of the Holy Last Supper and then to collect Christ's blood at his crucifixion. Joseph of Arimathea presented the cup of the last supper to the flank of Jesus on the cross. The cup symbolizes the Heart of Christ from which gushed the “immortality fountain”. In some representations, the cup itself rests on a stem crossed by three rings symbolizing the manifestation of the three worlds (terrestrial, intermediary and celestial) and the three orders (physical, psychic and spiritual) associated with the being. It is an image of the Principle, of the One or God at the origin of the cosmic world.

According to the legend, the cup was cut by the angels in the emerald which fell from Lucifer's forehead at the time of his fall into hell.

This stone echoes the third eye of Shiva.Third eye This central eye that sees everything in the eternal present is associated with the Principle, the Unity at the origin of the dualistic manifestation of the world symbolized by the binocular vision.

Then, the Grail was confided to Adam in the Garden of Eden. It was his turn to lose it after having been turned out of the Garden of Eden. During his fall, Adam abandoned his heavenly nature, his centred, unified state, to discover his ordinary condition of a divided being that only saw the world through the angle of duality.

It follows that the possessor of the Grail was also the guardian of the primeval tradition. Its loss inevitably led to the fall, the remoteness from the Centre symbolized by the Garden of Eden or the summit of the mountain. Its transmission, on the other hand, was associated with the tradition and the reintegration into the original state.

Afterwards, the cup was successively transmitted before ending up in the hands of Christ. At Jesus's death, it was carried by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus to the Breton's country where the famous epic of King Arthur and Knights of the Round Table began. After many events, the Grail was raised to Heaven where it rediscovered its original place. That also meant that the primeval tradition under its manifested form was lost or concealed for beings. Nevertheless, it is still present in the Heart of Christ and, at a potential state, in the heart of beings who are thirsty for the knowledge collected at the source.

The blazing heart

The heart is an image of the World Centre from which everything radiates. It represents the World in its unified state where things and beings are not dissociated. It symbolizes the universal Intelligence (from the Latin Intellegere meaning taking together) that governs the World. During the passage from the universal to the individual, from the World to the being, Intelligence produces consciousness. Although originating in the Principle, consciousness is restricted to the individual sphere and can not be extended to the universal one. It follows that beings will only be able to seize the meaning of Intelligence by going back to the original source. They will then reestablish the communication with the “World Heart” proper to the edenic state.

The faculties of universal and individual knowledge are respectively Intelligence and reason. The first one results from the heart, the second from the brain. And the heart is at the Sun what the brain is at the Moon:

  • As the Sun, the celestial fire, the heart irradiates light and warmth. Intelligence is beyond reason, a light source without warmth. Do we not speak of the cold reason ? It is also beyond feelings, source of warmth without light. Do we not say that love is blind ? Indeed, true Love is as far away from feelings as Intelligence is from reason. Feelings vary with mood, time, positions etc. Love, for its part, remains intangible. It is not only a matter of loving the other, even were he God, as oneself, but to be oneself Love.
  • In the same way that the Moon that does nothing but reflect the Sun light, the reason is only a pale individual reflection of the universal Intelligence. Does the cerebral activity not consist in reflection ? Intelligence sends the being beyond himself, reflection does nothing but send him back to himself. The current triumph of the individual and reason alone leads to the negation of any supra-individual order and cuts the being from the access to the true Intelligence, the only one that actually governs the World.

Reason alone considerably reduces the field of vision of the being. Analyses, classifications and too seldom syntheses alone obscure more than illuminate the global view and too often lead to a narrow-mindedness rarely reached in History. Indeed, everything is opposing intelligible and rational knowledge, even if they complement each other from a broader perspective:

  • The knowledge of the heart corresponds to the intuitive and direct perception of the intelligible Light proper to the spiritual domain;
  • The knowledge of the mind is limited to the thought in a discursive and reflected mode, only perceiving the ordinary light, which is characteristic of the material domain.

The blazing heartThe blazing heart radiates at once light and warmth, Intelligence and Love. These radiances respectively correspond to two initiatory paths of the Hindu tradition: the way of the Brahmans and the way of the Kshatriyas. Nevertheless, both ways are only one in reality. Indeed, they constitute two stages of a single axial path linking Earth and Heaven, the cosmos and the Principle, the image of which is lying inside the world and being's heart.


  • René Guénon:
  • “Symbols of Sacred Science”, Sophia Perennis Publisher 2004;
  • Notably, chapters 30 on “The Heart and the Cave”, 69 on “Radiating Heart and Flaming Heart”, 70 on “Heart and brain”, 72 on “The All-Seeing Eye” and, more generally, all chapters devoted to the heart symbolism.
  • “The King of the World”, Sophia Perennis Publisher 2001;
  • In particular, chapter 5 related to “The symbolism of the Grail”.