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The fascinating topic of the analogy of the human body with the cosmos overlaps a number of cultures, older and newer; and I believe it possible to treat this matter comparatively by way of an underlying symbolic continuum-the human body itself. Much is written on these matters; and that I use certain works is due to the happy circumstance that they are in my personal library and so facilitate the present study. In addition, some of my own published writings on the Buddhist Tantras bear upon the topic. I propose to deal with the topic in four parts: first the problem; second the way in which the matter is developed in India and in Greek cosmology; third the views of sixteenth-century Europe; and, finally, geometry and number symbolism relating to man.

In the West many persons are aware of the problem entailed in the biblical text that "God created man in his own image," for we recognize that man is limited. Is God therefore also limited? The theological reply, of course, is that God is not limited. How then is man an image of God? In India the problem arose with the Upanisadic text, "Thou are that" (tat tvam asi), implying that man in his phenomenal self is
? 1982 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0018-2710/83/ 2202-0005$0 1.00

History of Religions


equivalent to the Lord of the universe. But Sankara, the celebrated founder of the Advaita Vedanta, in his commentary on the Vedanta Sutras pointed out that if this atman (self) that is one with the Brahman were the self of man, then man would have made the mountains and rivers; but he did not; it was the Lord who made them.' Then why did the Upanisad say, "Thou art that," and say that this atman in the heart is one with the Brahman (spirit of the universe)? Turning to Greek cosmology, Plato's Philebus pushes the analogy through Socrates. He voices the thesis that the elements in man's body are derived from elements in the body of the cosmos; whatever man has, the cosmos must also have; and Socrates asks, "Whence can a human body have received its soul, if the body of the universe does not possess a soul?"2 Now, that tradition agrees, man is different from the universe because, aside from the attributed immortal part, he dies and his body is dissolved back into the elements. We cannot say that the universe, aside from the attributed immortal part, dies and its elements dissolve into something else. Modern physics has encountered a related problem. That is, Einstein's theory of relativity is more and more confirmed for the very large, the realm of the certain; and quantum mechanics, disagreeing with relativity, is regarded as correct for the very small, the realm of the possible and probable.3 But there is no unified theory that works for both. Are there, in fact, two universes with mutually incompatible rules, although mysteriously they have much in common? The problem is stated in terms of distance when man is considered as a microcosm in astrological terms. The commonest challenge to astrology is that it does not demonstrate how the planets, being so far away, can influence the body and mind in the way that astrology claims they do, in asserting that the twelve zodiacal signs affect different parts of the body. But that is the same challenge that was made to Newton when he announced his principle of gravity, claiming that the sun and moon, exerting gravity on the equatorial bulge of the earth, produce the phenomenon of the precession of the axis of the earth. For, his opponent asked, by what medium was this so-called gravity transmitted?
I The Veddnta Sitras of Bddardyana with the Commentary by Sankara, trans. George Thibaut, pt. 2 (New York: Dover Publications, 1962), p. 97. 2 David E. Hahm, The Origins of Stoic Cosmology (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1977), p. 138. 3 A fine statement of this is given by Erwin Schrodinger, What Is Life? The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; New York: Macmillan, 1946), chap. 4, "The Quantum-Mechanical Evidence," showing the connection with life, what I call the "possible and probable," while it is the nonliving that is "certain."


The Human Body as Microcosm


It seems proper first to mention some maxims about the microcosmmacrocosm pair from several traditions. The most celebrated maxim is taken from the ancient hermetic Emerald Table: "The thing that is on high is like the thing that is below."4 So if one knows man, one knows the universe; and vice versa. A Sanskrit text in the area of Buddhist tantra contains the line: yatha bdhyam tatha 'dhydtmam iti ("As without, so within"). As an example from this type of literature, those designs called mandalas are conceived in the mind, and their reflected image is drawn outside in conformity.5 One implication of the hermetic axiom is that the macrocosm is reached or understood by going upward; hence, in the human body, one moves toward the head or face. The Indian axiom represents the situation that prevailed from the Upanisadic period, when it was held that truth is reached by going within, especially within the heart. The Indians also had a system wherein the upper was better than the lower. The sages of India frequently employed systematic analogies, starting in their Vedas, preeminently in the celebrated Purusa hymn.6 The word "purusa" means "person"-here the cosmic person. The hymn says: "When the gods performed a sacrifice with Purusa the oblation, its melted butter was Spring, the fuel was Summer, the oblation was Autumn." Also, "the Brahman was his mouth, his two arms made the warrior, his two thighs what is the Vaisya [merchant class]. From his two feet the Siudrawas born." Again, "the moon was born from his mind; from his eye the sun was born." And so on. Before evaluating some of these remarks, let us note the Orphic verses frequently cited by the Neoplatonists: "Zeus is first and last, one royal body, containing fire, water, earth, and air, night and day, Metis and Eros. The sky is his head, the stars his hair, the sun and moon his eyes, the air his intelligence [nous], whereby he hears and marks all things."7 The Indian myth is noteworthy for containing a sliding scale of values for relating parts of the great person to the four castes or classes of India, the Brahmin class getting the best part-the head, or, rather, the mouthpiece-that class being the spokesman for the gods. The warriors, later called the Ksatriya, or ruling class, were lower down, the two arms. One slides down to the thighs for the
4 See Grillot de Givry, Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy, trans. J. Courtenay Locke ([New York:] Frederick Publications, 1954), p. 240. 5 A. Wayman, Yoga of the Guhyasamajatantra (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1977), p. 62. 6 Rg Veda 10.90. 7 Francis M. Cornford, Plato's Cosmology (New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1957), p. 55.

History of Religions


merchant class, which handles money; and the lowest class, the Sidra, downtrodden, is allotted the feet. But when the Upanisads of India were composed, an opposition arose to the sliding scale. The heart was selected as the location of the great self (atman), said to be one with the spirit of the world, the Brahman. Still later, Patanijali's Yogasutras taught that the navel was the central place.8 The head continued to be the chief of the five members (including the arms and feet) in Buddhist works; and the Indian practice of bowing the head to the feet of the honored person implies that his feet (the lowest part) are as good as the head (the highest part) of the disciple. The human body was considered in India an assemblage of "members" (ariga), and this word "member" (aniga) came to be used for the body itself. Barkan points out that when we use the word "members"in the sense of persons with a defined role in a group, we do not see legs and arms, and yet these bodily members were the source of the idea by metaphorical extension.9 While the sliding scale of excellence continued in India, the rival systems would gradually bring about a viewpoint that the individual parts, or members, were of equal value. This may have happened after the Greek form of the zodiac was introduced into India around the beginning of our era. The astrological manual Brhatjdtaka of Varahamihira (ca. A.D. 600) has the theory of the Kalapurusa (Time Person) who is made up of the twelve zodiacal signs. This means the "tropical year" defined by return to seasonal characteristics-say, the equinox or solstice-rather than by return to a fixed point in the sky. In this treatise, the signs govern respectively twelve parts of the human body, just as is shown in the illustration (Kalendrier des Bergiers) of the sixteenth-century European counterpart.1?This is a theory that a temporal order is translatable into a spatial ordering. In the illustration, the spatial ordering is indicated by the French word convenance (or an old spelling, covenance), of which more later. The Upanisad called Mdndukya allows the cosmic person to have generalized states of man's consciousness (i.e., waking, dream, dreamless sleep, and a theoretical fourth state). The Brahmopanisad, one of the Samnyasa Upanisads, later than the early Upanisads but preceding
8 Yoga-sutras 3.30: "[By the yogi's concentration called samyama] on the navelcircle, [comes] the knowledge of the arrangement of the body." 9 Leonard Barkan, Nature's Work of Art: The Human Body as Image of the World (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1977), p. 65. 10Greco-Roman astrology is the source both of the Indian conception of the time person (Brhatjataka, chap. 1, verse 4) and of the Western counterpart in Kalendrier des Bergiers; see also A. Bouche-Leclerq, L'Astrologie grecque (Paris, 1899; reprint ed., Brussels, 1963), p. 319.


The Human Body as Microcosm

the tantric literature of India, also translates those states into corporeal places, teaching that the Purusa has the waking state in the navel, sleep (i.e., dream) in the neck (or throat), dreamless sleep in the heart, and the fourth, Turiya, in the head. In a tantric passage, the union of the white male and red female elements takes place in the
head. "

Turning to Plato's Timaeus, Cornford summarizes: "The visible universe is a living creature, having soul (psyche) in body and reason (nous) in soul.... Man is also composed of reason, soul, and body; but his body will be dissolved back into the elements, and the two lower parts of his soul are also mortal. Only the divine reason in him is imperishable. There is thus a contrast between macrocosm and microcosm, but also an analogy, which runs through the discourse."12 Onians shows that this psyche was located by the Greeks principally in the head.13 One takes an oath by nodding one's head. Also, the goddess Praxidike ("exacter of justice"-an epithet of Persephone), who was represented by just a head sticking out of the ground, was sworn to with nodding of the head;14 she was associated with the sign of Gemini,'s governing the shoulders and arms. Onians notes that to throw the head back in refusal would mean a withdrawal of the psyche.16 Since the psyche is the life-soul, the genital organsconsidered autonomous, independent of the will-were regarded as the organs of the psyche.17 Hence in ithyphallic representation of Hermes, the sculptor depicts just the Hermes head and the erect phallus as though on a monolithic slab.18 Furthermore, Onians, appealing to the Timaeus of Plato, states that the part of the psyche that survives death is in the head, and this is called the daimon; while the mortal part of the soul (psyche) partaking of such qualities as courage "resides in the chest above the diaphragm [i.e., where the lungs and heart are] and the baser or appetitive part between the diaphragm and the navel."19This explains the terminology, "the two
12 Cornford, p. 38.

1 Wayman, p. 66.

13Richard Broxton Onians, The Origins of European Thought about the Body, the Mind, the Soul, the World, Time, and Fate (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1954), p. 95. 14 Ibid., p. 138. 15 Praxidike is the name of the third decanate of Gemini in the list attributed to Kosmas of Jerusalem; see Wilhelm Gundel, Dekane und Dekan-Sternbilder (1936), p. 81. 16 Onians, pp. 109-lOn.
17 Ibid., p. 146n.

C. G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy (New York: Pantheon Books, 1953), p. 126, fig. 63. 19Onians, pp. 118-19.

History of Religions


lower parts of the soul." Notice that this also involves the sliding scale of excellence, with the best part, immortal, in the head, and two lower parts of the psyche above and below the diaphragm. But how are we to understand the analogy of the cosmos to man? Hahm claims that Zeno, although starting his cosmology with Aristotle, had to turn to Plato to implement the Stoic idea of "the cosmos as a living, ensouled animal":20 "Plato had made a selfmoving world-soul responsible for all movement in the cosmos."2' Aristotle rejected this theory; but Theophrastus, disagreeing with Aristotle, "argued that if the heavenly bodies are capable of desire, they must also possess soul and therefore psychic movement or change."22 This is reminiscent of the Creation Hymn of the Rgveda, where "desire," firstborn, is the bond of existence in nonexistence.23 Burkert mentions Plato's theory that circular motion is the kind of movement closest to nous (divine reason).24 Cornford, analyzing the Timaeus, asserts that the world-soul "consists of certain intermediate kinds of Existence, Sameness, and Difference." Again, "on the principle that like knows like, the composition of the World-Soul out of three elements, Existence, Sameness, and Difference, enables it both to know unchangeable real objects and to have true beliefs about changing things of the lower order of existence,"25 God made the self-moving soul prior to the body;26the "bodily" belongs to the perceptible lower order of existence which is "always becoming, but never has real being."27Now, while the worldsoul and all individual souls consist of existence, sameness, and difference, it should be recognized that by "existence" is meant that motion exists.28 Hence the self-moving nature of soul is its existence. Then the soul can make judgments about "same" and "different" because it is itself the same and the different29 since like knows like. This terminology of the "same" and the "different" goes with Plato's theory of the world of pregenetic ideas. Thus, a phenomenon or an object in the created world is an imitation of a form or idea. Sukla points out that all imitations, whether accurate or inaccurate,
20 21


24 Walter Burkert, Weisheit und Wissenschaft: Studien zu Pythagoras, Philolaos und Platon, trans. Edwin L. Minar, Jr., as Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972), p. 326. 25 Cornford, pp. 57-58. 26 Ibid.,p. 59. 27 Ibid.,p. 62. 28 Ibid.,pp. 62-63. 29 Ibid., p. 65.

Ibid. Rg Veda 10.129.

Hahm, pp. 136-83 (see n. 2 above). Ibid., p. 139.


The Human Body as Microcosm

are inferior to their original, the pregenetic form. However, a correct imitation necessarily involves the knowledge of the original. It is the soul that has this knowledge, that is, knowledge of the Same and the Different.30 Correct imitation is essential to Plato's theory of beauty. On this point Herbert Read cites Plato's Phaedrus. Anyone who "beholds in any godlike face or form a successful copy of original beauty, first of
all feels a shuddering chill ... as he continues to gaze, he is inspired Afterwards follow the natural results of with a reverential awe....

his chill, a sudden change, a sweating and glow of unwonted heat. For he has received through his eyes the emanation of beauty, and
has been warmed thereby, and his native plumage is watered ... for

in old time the soul was entirely feathered."3' Of course, for Plato the soul is the bird-soul, self-moving.32 In Egypt, too, there is the representation of the soul as a human-headed bird.33In India, a Vedic hymn refers to two birds,34which the later Upanisadic period interpreted as a higher and lower self.35 Presumably these are the two kinds of minds (manas) alluded to in the AnugTta part of the Mahdbhdrata; but in contrast to Plato's self-moving soul, the AnugTta takes the higher mind as the stationary (sthdvara) one, which is the mind of the lord Prajapati, while the lower mind is the moving (jangama) one.36This may pertain to yoga, which attempts to restrain the movement of the mind. On the other hand, the Buddhist genesis story holds that the men of the first eon had a body made of mind (manomaya); they were self-luminous, fed on joy, and went where they wished;37 this Buddhist account appears more compatible with Plato's theory of soul. The Upanisadic texts of India placed the immortal soul, called dtman, in the heart, where Plato placed a mortal part of the psyche, possessing a special attribute of courage; while, as we saw, Plato
30 Ananta Charana Sukla, The Concept of Imitation in Greek and Indian Aesthetics (Calcutta: Rupa & Co., 1977), p. 61. 31 Herbert Read, Icon and Idea (New York: Schocken Books, 1965), pp. 84-85. 32Jane Ellen Harrison, Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion (Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1962), has a number of references to birds; and especially to the bird-robe of the Egyptian goddess Isis-Nephthys, pp. 110-11. 33 See E. A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic (New York: Dover Publications, n.d.), p. 115. 34 Rg Veda 1.164.20. 35Hence Vasudeva S. Agrawala's interpretation of the verse in his The Thousandsyllabled Speech, I, Vision in Long Darkness (Varanasi, 1963), pp. 74-76. 36 See the discussion of this matter in A. Wayman, "The Significance of Mantras, from the Veda down to Buddhist Tantric Practice," Indologica Taurinensia 3-4 (Turin, 1975-76 [1977]): 483-97, esp. 484. 37 See A. Wayman, The Buddhist Tantras (New York: Samuel Weiser, 1973), chap. 3, "Buddhist Genesis and the Tantric Tradition."

History of Religions


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FIG. 1.-Page from Kalendrier des Bergiers, French A.D. 1500. (Courtesy New York Public Library, Spencer Collection.)


The Human Body as Microcosm

assigned the immortal part of the psyche, the daimon, or the nous (divine reason), to the head. Although this atman-placement is the one most commonly known in India, an alternate tradition, less often recognized, appears in the Sanatsujadtya(of the Mahabharata): "Some say otherwise, to wit, Yama is death, who dwells in the self (atman), who is the immortal pure life." The comment by the Indian author Sankara shows that the reference is to the heart.38 This alternate Indian tradition, placing in the heart a kind of clock-measure of life length-amounting to a death prophecy-accords more closely with the Greek theory which places there a mortal portion of the soul.

Early in the sixteenth century, the Kalendrier des Bergiers appeared in a number of editions in France, especially around A.D. 1520,39the year after Leonardo da Vinci died in Italy. Bergier means "shepherd" and in Old French came to designate a foolish person; the title thus suggests a club or society calling itself the "simple-minded shepherds." But shepherds are well known to have watched the stars at night while tending their flocks; and the title of the work Poemander, attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, seems to mean "shepherd of men." Thus the "shepherds" may have been amateur astronomers or astrologers. In analyzing this work, it will be useful to refer to four kinds of similitudes current in Western culture up through the end of the sixteenth century, which are "convenience," "emulation," "analogy," and "sympathy."40 1. The first kind of similitude, "convenience," is the convenance (or covenance) mentioned in the astrological text Kalendrier des Bergiers. It is the convenient juxtaposition of the twelve zodiacal spheres of influence in the body, as in figure 1. Their assigned adjacency or propinquity in space renders the human body a microcosm. This is a frequent design in nature-the packing together of like forms, such as the kernels of corn on the cob or the units of honeycombs. In the zodiac it takes the forms of equal measure. 2. The second kind of similitude is also a sort of "convenience," namely, "emulation," able to operate at a distance. This is shown in
38 SanatsujatTya, with Sankara's and NTlakantha'scommentaries, Haridas Sanskrit Series (Benares, 1924), 1st adhydya, verse 6a-b, with Sankara's comment at p. 18. 39 Bibliographical information for this work, Le Grant Kalendrier et compost des Bergiers avecq leur Astrologie, etc., appears in the catalogs of the U.S. Library of Congress. My copy is the reprint, without date or explanatory introduction, by Editions Siloe, Paris. 40 Michel Foucault, Les Mots et les choses, trans. as The Order of Things (New York: Vintage Books, 1973), pp. 17 ff.

History of Religions


the illustration by the face, two arms with hands holding flower stems, and the two feet with ten toes. The face is said to emulate or imitate the sky without proximity to the sky. According to Enel's French cabbalistic work, man is the reflection of the sky (astrological correspondences); the ideal man is the reflection of angelic qualities; the "finished" man is the image of God at the end of the "sixth
day. ,41

3. The third kind of similitude is "analogy." Foucault gives the example, "the seven orifices in his head are to his face what the seven planets are to the sky."42 Below I shall furnish more illustrations of this "analogy." 4. The fourth similitude is called "sympathy," which moves irresistibly toward identity with the same (recall Plato's "same" and "different"). It is counterbalanced by the force of antipathy, which preserves the "different." The "sympathy-antipathy" pair maintains the integrity of the first three kinds of similitude. Thus, for the twelve zodiacal influences in the body, the pair keeps them close together ("sympathy") and keeps them distinctly apart ("antipathy"). Frances Yates cites a passage from the sixteenth-century philosopher Giordano Bruno which sheds light on the concept of sympathy: "All things of nature and in nature, like soldiers in an army, follow leaders assigned to them.... This Anaxagoras knew very well but Father Aristotle
could not attain to it ... with his impossible and fictitious logical

segregations of the truth of things."43 Apparently this theory of similitudes is essentially anti-Aristotelian. The term "signatures" in connection with the four kinds of similitudes needs explanation.44 If indeed there are these various kinds of similitude, there must be some way to know them. It was held that nature makes each object knowable by "signs." According to Jacob Boehme, the sixteenth-century Protestant mystic, when the other similitude enters into one's own similitude, then one understands by the signature-one's innate genuine form.45 That is to say, one finds the same thing in oneself, a duplicate of the other; and then one understands. As Boehme says of the "same" in his early book, Aurora, "Understand it magically: For it is a mirror, looking-glass, or similitude of
Enel, Trilogie de la rota ou roue celeste (Lyon: Paul Derain, n.d.), p. 301. Foucault, p. 22. 43 Frances A. Yates, The Art of Memory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), p. 252. 44Foucault, pp. 25-30. 45 Jacob Boehme, The Signature of All Things, Everyman's Library, no. 569 (reprint ed., New York, 1934), chap. 1, pp. 9-12.



The Human Body as Microcosm

the eternal 'world'."46Ghyka cites the Pythagorean precept from the Hieros Logos: "You will know, as far as it is allowed to a mortal, that Nature is from all points of view similar to itself."47 This precept assumes nature to be isotropic (identical everywhere) and disregards its asymmetric side, necessary for the growth and decay of living organisms. The Mahayana Buddhists also talked often about the vision of sameness (samata) of all natures (dharma) in their Gan.davyuha scripture, and in the sixth stage of the Ten-Stage Scripture (called in Sanskrit Dasabhimika-satra), a vision of all the different things somehow the same. Sartre illustrates this with an anecdote about the time when he came to a popular cafe late for his appointment with a certain Pierre. As Sartre looked about anxiously, not finding Pierre in the crowded cafe, everyone there was the same-not Pierre!48 So an asymmetric person sees isotropic nature. In other words, it takes a different sort of person to have the vision of sameness. The human-body microcosm in the sixteenth century involves both these systems of rich resemblances and a theory of immanence in terms of these resemblances. Boehme works out the analogy in Aurora pursuant to the biblical precept (Gen. 1:27): "For a similitude or example take man, who is made after the image or similitude of God." Summarizing his analogy in Aurora: (1) The whole body with all its parts signifies heaven and earth. (2) The interior ("hollowness") in man's body signifies the deep between the stars and the earth. Within this interior, the heart is the fire; the blood, together with the liver, is the water; the breath within the windpipe and arteries is the air; and these three elements-fire, water, air-qualify the deep. (3) The flesh, together with the lungs, signifies the earth. (4) The veins mean the powerful outflow from the stars, and are where the stars impress their influence upon men. (5) The entrails signify the consuming of all which is in the power of the stars. (6) The hands signify God's omnipotence, since man makes with his hands what he pleases. (7) The feet signify that near and far are one in God; let his feet take him near or far off-in nature he is neither near nor far off. (8) The head signifies heaven.49 However, when Boehme wrote his masterpiece, Mysterium Magnum, a mystical reinterpretation of the Genesis myth, he advanced beyond what he said in Aurora (which was itself probably a borrowing
Boehme, The Aurora (reprint ed., London: John M. Watkins, 1960), p. 143. Matila Ghyka, The Geometry of Art and Life (New York: Dover Publications, 1977), p. 115. 48 Jean Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness (New York: Philosophical Library, 1956), pp. 9-10. 49 Boehme, Aurora, pp. 56 ff.
46 Jacob

History of Religions


of previous attempts to spell out the details of the human body microcosm). Now he claimed that the biblical text that "God created man in his own image" means creating a twofold body, spiritual and corporeal, and that the spiritual body is the "image," not the corporeal one, which is formed of the four elements and the visible stars.50This is Boehme's solution to the problem I announced in the beginning, the logical difficulty in taking man's physical body to be the image of God. Granted that the physical body can be explained by parts that are analogical to the cosmos as stated in the Aurora, thus constituting a microcosm; yet for Boehme it is not an image of God. As to this spiritual body, Boehme teaches that Adam, before his first fall, was still an "image" of God, his body indestructible, not subject to heat, cold, sickness, accident, or fear. In this condition, the inward man held the outward captive, rendering the outer body as though on fire. Employing the alchemical language of his day, Boehme takes the spiritual body as having a fiery luminosity; and he holds that when this fire goes out, the outer holds the inner captive.5'

The sixteenth century saw a revival of the old Vitruvian plan of theater design as well as of his figure of a man inscribed in a square within a circle.52 Yates mentions that the normal Vitruvian theater had seven gangways which divide the seats and five decorated doors in the back of the stage for the actors to enter and leave.53 These numbers, seven and five, add up to the twelve signs of the circular zodiac, enclosing four inscribed triangles (the trigone) to represent the element trines. These trines, known from Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos, are the 120-degree zodiacal signs for each element among the four elements (e.g., for fire, Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius). This is reflected, in the illustration from Kalendrier des Bergiers, in the word trois. As Rudolf Wittkower writes: "Invigorated by the Christian belief that Man as the image of God embodied the harmonies of the Universe, the Vitruvian figure inscribed in a square and a circle became a symbol of the mathematic sympathy between microcosm and macrocosm. "54 The figures of the human body in microcosm-macrocosm
50 Jacob Boehme, Mysterium Magnum, trans. John Sparrow (London: John M. Watkins, 1965), 15:10-13, pp. 82-83. 51 I have worked this out in my study, "Male, Female, and Androgyne, per Buddhist Tantra, Jacob Boehme, and the Greek and Taoist Mysteries," in Tantric and Taoist Studies in Honour of R. A. Stein (Brussels, 1982), 1:393-432. 52 Yates, pp. 170-71. 53 Ibid., pp. 136-37, 356. 54 Cited by Yates in ibid., p. 359.


The Human Body as Microcosm





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FIG. 2. Macrocosm-microcosm. Robert Fludd, title page, Utriusque cosmi historia. (Courtesy British Library.)

History of Religions


relation most frequently reproduced are those of Robert Fludd (seventeenth century), such as the one in figure 2. In this one, the right foot is in Leo, the left in Libra; the right hand is in Gemini, the left in Capricorn; and the head is at the Pisces-Aries cusp. The five classical planets are said to rule these signs. Thus, for the Pisces-Aries cusp, Jupiter and Mars; for Capricorn, Saturn; for Gemini, Mercury; for Libra, Venus. In addition, Leo is ruled by the Sun; and none of the five members is in Cancer, ruled by the Moon. Fludd shows the Sun and Moon above, along with the other planets, in the macrocosm; man, of course, is in the microcosm. The fact that man has these five chief members, so placed in correspondence, led to the pentagram becoming adopted as the special symbol of man as microcosm. It is reasonable to conclude that Vitruvius alloted five doors for the actors to use as entrances and exits with this pentad of human members in mind. The seven gangways probably symbolized the seven planets. It is noteworthy that all the representations of the Vitruvian man, the problem of "squaring the circle" (such as Leonardo da Vinci's attempt, shown in fig. 3), use the male body. This is not out of squeamishness at depicting the female body, for Clark points out "that forest of nude figures, painted or carved, in stucco, bronze, or stone, which filled every vacant space in the architecture of the sixteenth century."55The reason for the male as the Vitruvian man is, I believe, that the posture of spreading out the legs and arms in the male figure symbolizes surrender of the microcosm to the macrocosm. A female body in such posture would not serve, since it could be construed as surrender to the male and not surrender to the

Now, since the number 5 is accepted as symbolizing man (of course, both male and female), it is clear that while it can be taken as 3 + 2, in our present context it must be taken as 4 + 1, where the two arms and two legs give the number 4, and the head-as the number 1 serves as the fifth. In ancient Greece, according to Burkert, "A girl has four years to herself after she reaches puberty [technically, menarche], and her marriage is to take place in the fifth."57 The symbolism is unmistakable: she marries in the fifth, which among members is the head, where the Greeks put the seed of new life. So, too, in the Buddhist tantras the union of the male and female elements is in the head, although the commonsense view is that such a union takes place with the male and female genitals. Still,
55Kenneth Clark, The Nude (New York: Pantheon Books, 1957), p. 27. 56 C. G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy (see n. 18 above), p. 181, fig. 91, "Anima Mundi," shows a typical representation of the female nude-feet together. See also Ghyka, The Geometry of Art and Life, p. 152, pl. 66, "Harmonic Analysis of a Renaissance Painting." 57 Burkert (see n. 24 above), p. 476.


The Human Body as Microcosm

FIG. 3.-Leonardo Venice.)

da Vinci's Vitruvian man. (Courtesy Academy of

History of Religions


everyone will grant that marriage vows are taken with the head, and this head is imbued with Aries, the beginning of spring, which helps explain why the zodiac begins with Aries. (Yet Schumaker takes Pontano to task for explaining the zodiac as beginning with Aries because it is the time of birth.58) In Robert Fludd's version of Vitruvian man, the head is at the cusp of Pisces-Aries, that is, at the vernal equinox. This spring equinox is also reflected, in the beliefs of the Han Dynasty in China, as the time when the yin (female element) and yang (male element) have intercourse; and Bodde translates, "So by consummating the rite of marriage then, conformity is maintained with the seasons of Heaven."59The Greek marriage was there (head) rather than then (vernal equinox). Pythagorean number symbolism, which was accepted by Plato, assigned the decad, or 10, as the number of the macrocosm, along with a corresponding geometrical shape, the decagon. The microcosm, as was noticed above, has the number 5; its geometrical shape is the pentagon, while the pentagram was adopted as the symbol of man in magical lore.60 The number 10 was not only the sum of the first four integers, 1, 2, 3, 4; but also the ten dots piled up in the four layers of the triangular Pythagorean tetraktys. The Pythagoreans, like the Indians, associated other entities with numbers, but there is no indication of mutual influence. The Indians used conventional terms for numbers, such as mukha (face) for 1, aksi (eyes) for 2, and so on.61 The Pythagoreans, then Plato, took the numbers themselves as symbols; thus 1 is a point, 2 a line, 3 a plane, and 4 a solid. Aristotle reported that 3 is the male number, 4 the female number.62This is not obvious from Burkert's summary from Pythagorean sources, where 3 is the number of the whole, namely, beginning, middle, and end; and where 4 is justice, equal times equal.63 The number that unites the male and female numbers in marriage is not 3 + 4 = 7, but the next natural number, 5. Burkert found an explanation for this 5 as 2 + 3, the first even number with the next odd number,64 which in effect leaves the male with number 3 and replaces the female 4 with 2. But I have found no explanation of the number 5 whereby the female
58 Wayne Schumaker, The Occult Sciences in the Renaissance (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1973), p. 33. 59Derk Bodde, Festivals in Classical China (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975), p. 245.

60Ghyka, pp. 114-15.

Sakaladhikara of Sage Agastya, ed. and trans. into English by V. Gopala lyengar, Tanjore Sarasvati Mahal Series no. 141 (Thanjavur, 1973), appendices, p. 37. 62 Burkert, 429. p.
63 64


Ibid.,p. 467. Ibid.


The Human Body as Microcosm

would keep her number 4 and the male's 3 would be replaced by number 1. Now may 1 try to explain the symbolism of Leonardo da Vinci's "Vitruvian man" as the microcosm-macrocosm. Since the Vitruvian figure is within both a square and a circle, each of these must be treated. Pythagoreanism accepted the circle and the sphere as the most beautiful shapes.65The Timaeus takes the rounded figure as the most perfect one,66and the square is itself an ideal form in Pythagoreanism, where it contrasts with all oblong figures,67 including the rectangle which would have afforded no trouble for inscribing the male figure. According to the Greek Theon, the original arithmetical tetraktys (1, 2, 3, 4) is the series point, line, surface (i.e., triangle), solid (i.e., pyramid). Theon also interpreted the tetraktys by a geometrical progression, whose terms represent the point, line (i.e., linear measure), surface (i.e., square), solid (i.e., cube).68This shows that the third term in the arithmetical progression, the number 3, is the triangle; while the third term in the geometrical progression is the square. Cornford mentions that the best figures are the regular solids that have the equilateral triangle or the square for their faces,69hence gems. For Plato's procedure of building up all the four element solids with two triangles, one primitive triangle is the right-handed scalene triangle (two of them) formed by dropping the perpendicular from any angle of the equilateral triangle; and the other primitive one is the isosceles triangle (two of them) made by a diagonal in a square. So the square in the circle becomes two isosceles triangles. Besides, the foregoing considerations show that both the circle and the square can be interpreted as the macrocosm because they are the ideal forms. Turning to da Vinci's figure, we can observe a consistency with Vitruvian measurements as Panofsky gives them, namely, that the erect body, arms outspread, fits into a square; spreadeagled, it fits into a circle whose center is the navel.70 In contrast, when we draw the diagonal in da Vinci's square, thus making two isosceles triangles, the line passes through the man's genitals at the crotch; the center of the square is the crotch. We may also relate the circle-oriented posture to the square in that the little finger just touches the diagonal and in that the two fingers next to the thumb touch the upper side of
Ibid.,p. 171. Cornford, p. 54 (see n. 7 above). Burkert, p. 51. 68 Cornford, p. 70. 69 Ibid., p. 221. 70 Erwin Panofsky, Meaning in the Visual Arts (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1955), chap. 2, "The History of the Theory of Human Proportions as a Reflection of the History of Styles," p. 67n.

66 67

History of Religions


the square. The bending of the left foot to exhibit its full length goes with its use as a measurement. Vitruvius took the foot as one-sixth of the total body length.71 However, Leonardo's foot seems rather to be one-fourth the distance from the crotch to the foot sole. Recalling Boehme's statement in the Aurora that the feet take one near and far, the left foot, serving as a measure, would symbolize the "near";while the right foot, pointing straight ahead, would symbolize the "far." However, Fludd shows the full length of the right foot. The contrast of navel (circle-oriented) and crotch (square-oriented) may serve as the basis for further comparisons.72 For example, the Buddhist mandala has an outer circle (the "fire mountain") constituting the outer border of the sacred space containing the square palace representing the perfection of man's nature. It is based on the within-without analogy. The circle of the palace radiates out to the bounding circle, so that it constitutes a nave and goes with such a microcosm-macrocosm design as the spreadeagled Vitruvian man. The sixteenth century saw complex writings with loose syncretisms of essentially alien systems, such as the Greek cosmology, the GrecoRoman astrology, alchemical lore, and the biblical orientation of Christendom. As to that century's search for the "why" of life, I know of Boehme's solution, as mentioned, that God created a twofold body, with the spiritual body constituting "his own image," not the corporeal one that the astrologers deal with while claiming influence ("emulation") from the stars and planets far off. The sixteenth century's theories of similitudes disappeared with the new science and its wondrous triumphs ushering in the times of horrors. But perhaps
Ibid., p. 95. This gets us into the realm of speculation, namely, that the circle is solar and the square is lunar in symbolism. That the circle is here the solar one is suggested by Fludd's figure, with members in signs of the classical planets and the right foot in Leo, ruled by the sun, but with no member in Cancer, ruled by the moon. That the square is lunar is easy to show with data from the Orient, but not in Western terms, since the system of twenty-eight asterisms or houses of the moon has not been a feature of Western astrology. That the number 28 is commensurate with a square is shown in C. P. S. Menon, Early Astronomy and Cosmology (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1932), chap. 2, "Rectangular Enclosures," where the formula 82 - 62 = 28 allows for twenty-eight small squares arranged along the sides of a square. See, e.g., Edward H. Schafer, Pacing the Void: T'ang Approaches to the Stars (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1977), p. 81, fig. 2, "The twenty-eight lunar lodgings (from a Turfan tomb roof)," where the "lunar lodgings" are arranged in a square. In contrast, when in India it is desired to combine lunar with solar readings for astrological purposes, the number of asterisms is taken as twenty-seven, because this is commensurate with twelve zodiacal signs, by the equation 12 X 9 = 27 X 4; as in Varahamihira's Brhat Jataka. But ancient India also had the twenty-eight-asterism system for lunar readings independent of apparent solar motion. Thus, this sort of speculation would take the circle with navel as center to be solar oriented and the square with sexual crotch as center to be lunar oriented.
71 72


The Human Body as Microcosm

the microcosm man has always been subject to these times, and that is why he needs a macrocosm as something to pray to. Columbia University

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