At the heart of symbolism

The nature of space and time

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The spatial orientation

Just as day and night, space and time are inseparable, for they are linked to the movement of astral bodies. As far as one goes back in time, man always found his bearings with the help of the sun and stars:

  1. At daylight, man finds his way according to the position of the sun. The vertical of the observation place rises up to the zenith where the sun at its culmination projects a shadow on the horizon showing the southern direction. The observer can thus find his bearings along the four compass points. They draw with the vertical a three-dimensional cross related to the solar orientation.
  2. At night, man finds his way according to the position of the polar star and stars accomplishing an apparent revolution around the celestial pole axis situated at the vertical of the equator plane. The incline of this axis on the horizon gives the northern direction. The four compass points of the equator plane form with the pole axis another three-dimensional cross related to the polar orientation.

The solar orientation takes the axis of the observer into consideration whereas the polar one is linked to the axis of the Cosmos. Consequently, it is natural to associate the first orientation to the individual or microcosm and the second to the Cosmos or macrocosm (for more details, see the orientation and tradition).

The three-dimensional cross is a symbol of all the space of the being and Cosmos. It depicts the full spreading, at once horizontal and vertical, of space:

  1. Any horizontal plan corresponds to the deployment of the indefinite multitude of modes associated with an existence state. Its intersection with the vertical represents the centre of this state, the balance point between antagonisms figured by symmetrical points of the plan relatively to the centre.
  2. All points of the vertical depict the indefinite multitude of the centres of all states of existence represented by horizontal plans.

It follows that the centre of the being or Cosmos, the Centre of all centres of existence states is not localizable; it is beyond the visible space and symbolizes the Principle at the source of all manifested beings and things. Nevertheless, it is usual to consider the centre of the three-dimensional cross as representative of the centre of the being or Cosmos from the manifestation standpoint (for more details, see the rainbow colours).

Let us note that the three-dimensional crosses associated with the being and Cosmos have the horizontal east-west axis in common. This aspect does nothing but underline the natural harmony existing between the being and the Cosmos. And it is not by chance if this axis joining light and darkness is privileged in the construction of the sacred structures, which can be oriented according to two directions:

  1. The east-west direction linking daylight to night darkness as in the Temple of Solomon or the Lodge of the (Ancient and Accepted) Scottish Masonic Rite. This axis refers to the polar orientation.
  2. The west-east direction connecting night darkness to daylight as in the Romanesque Basilica, the Gothic Cathedral or the Lodge of the Scottish and French Masonic Rites. This axis is associated with the solar orientation.

The polar and solar orientations are linked to the apparent cyclic movements of the stars in general and sun in particular. These daily cycles are in line with the longer cycles of the seasons, astral bodies and more generally Cosmos.

The Hindu doctrine of cosmic cycles

The world results from the constant expansion of the primeval Point, symbol of the Principle at the source of everything. The process of the development of the world, according to a state or a state series, is represented by a cycle or a cycle series. A cycle does not close on itself for the world cannot go through the same state twice during its development. There is no “eternal return”, the end of the cycle of a series coincides with the beginning of the following cycle.

A Kalpa represents the complete development of a world or a state of the universal Existence. It characterizes the “chronological” form under which the doctrine of the cycles is manifested.

The Kalpa associated with our world is subdivided into two series of seven cycles or Manvantaras (eras of Manu, the principle that gives each cycle its Law or Dharma):

  1. The six last Manvantaras and the present Manvantara;
  2. The seven Manvantaras to come.

The present Manvantara is subdivided into four Yugas (Ages). Each of them is characterized by a degeneracy in comparison with the preceding one. Indeed, any development process gradually moves us away from the primeval Principle and progressively gets us closer to the substantial world. This degeneracy of the Ages is linked to a decrease of their length. For a global length of the present Manvantara assessed to 10, the lengths of the different Ages are spaced out as follows:

  1. Satya-yuga or Golden Age (4);
  2. Treta-yuga or Silver Age (3);
  3. Dwapara-yuga or Bronze Age (2);
  4. Kali-yuga or Iron Age (1).

The length of the present Manvantara (10) is broken up according to:

10 = 4 + 3 + 2 + 1

The four AgesThis is the formula of the (Pythagorean) tetraktys read in the opposite direction. The number 10 symbolizes the beginning of a new denary cycle following the preceding cycle.

The decreasing length of the cycles generates a time contraction giving the impression to live more quickly than before. In fact, time is not passing quicker, only phenomena are passing faster within time. Moreover, this time contraction slows down the spatial expansion of the world. Towards the end of the Kali-yuga or last Age, the length tends towards the limit 0 corresponding to the end of the spatial expansion. In other words, time tends towards a unique instant; time changes nature and becomes space. The world attains the vision of the perfect simultaneity in the present instant. The passage from the continuous time to the discontinuous instant implies a jump into eternity associated with the restoration of the primeval state, which is nothing but the reflection in the world of the immutable Principle. After this moment of return to the source, time and world expansion start again at the dawn of a new Manvantara.


  • René Guénon:
  • “The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times”. Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2002;
  • Notably, chapters 4, 5 and 23 respectively entitled “Spatial Quantity and Qualified Space”, “The Qualitative Determinations of Time” and “Time changed into Space”.
  • “Traditional Forms and Cosmic Cycles”. Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2003;
  • In particular, the first chapter entitled “Some Remarks on the Doctrine of Cosmic Cycles”.