The Skull on the Tomb, The Rose on the Cross
Guest Post by Hayward Gladwin
“Hayward perseveres in the search for Truth. His determination and dedication for the quest is something to greatly admire. It is a privilege to be able to share part of his journey and findings here.”
I stated the above in the foreword of a previous article written by Hayward. I can say I feel ever stronger with those remarks as he continues to offer impressive perspectives, thoughts, and possible answers for subjects which have captivated minds all over the world. He skillfully conveys his research and I am sure you will be intrigued by his latest ideas below.
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The Skull on the Tomb, The Rose on the Cross
(Part II of: A Demon, a Stone and the Aspirant)by Hayward Gladwin
In the esoteric mysteries, there are often many interweaving and compound symbols that elude the effort to grasp their clear meaning. Across several traditions, different visual symbols might even convey similar messages, often when they appear not to. Previously, we saw how visual references were given to create a path for others to follow, such as in the works of Guercino or Poussin. We also saw how these artists made reference to an initiation of inner discovery through motifs such as rough and finished cubical stones, while pointing to a further completion of the earthly state of the human condition to where it existed prior to “the fall.” In this article, we will look at some of the symbols which refer to the elements involved with doing so. Using these as stepping stones, we will see how these symbols point to discoveries lying even further beyond.
Pickup up where we last left off –with Poussins tomb in his Shepherds of Arcadia– if we focus our attention at just one of the myriad symbols contained within the painting (Poussin was most certainly a master), we can continue from there. Earlier, we noted how the shepherd in blue kneeling at the tomb reveals two important letters, “RC”.
Lets take a closer look at the potential significance of these letters.
Starting with the “R”, which is actually the point where his finger touches the tomb, I would like to contribute to the discussion of its meaning by bringing together some references of the “R” from different sources.
Firstly, let us look at the Maranatha book cover, specifically at the title:
If one takes notice, rather than seeing a Latin “R”, we see the pigpen symbol of the “R” instead. Which tells us that we are looking at the substitution of symbols. Of course, it is also interesting that the pigpen “R” is legible as a Latin “R”, since they look similar in form, but perhaps even more interesting is in seeing how the pigpen “R” looks like a reversed Hebrew notation for the letter “R”, or “ר“. In fact, if we were trace the origin of the Latin “R” to its roots, we are actually brought back to its origins in the Hebrew/Semitic character, which at some point in time became flipped horizontally in its orientation. Additionally, it has often been theorized that the ancient Semitic letter “ר” derived its shape from of the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for “head”, as the Hebraic term was applied to it since its meaning was similar. And, so we learn, that in Hebrew, as well as in ancient Phoenician, “Resh” is the word for “head”.
If we then were to take a look at the Greek letter for “R”, which is “P” (Rho), we see what appears to be the immediate predecessor to the Latin “R” and the direct descendent of the Phoenecian ” “, This is another Semitic character given the title of “Resh”. The Phoenician letter basically looks like a reversed “P”. It is quite revealing then to follow the chain of evolution of this letter from its source to its more modern form. Ultimately, the argument here is the link between the letter “R”, the Semitic word “Resh”, and its symbolic relationship to the “head”.
The full implication of this will be made clear shortly.
Next, let us consider a passage from the Maranatha companion book; wherein Duncan speaks of the significance of Golgotha (“the place of the skull”) in reference to the second version of the Arcadian Shepherds painted by Poussin. Here, he mentions that although not visibly depicted, there is the implication of a skull found on top of the tomb, much in the same way that there is one visibly present in the first. Thus, if you look at the first version of Shepherds of Arcadia, there is clearly a skull placed on top of the tomb that the Shepherds and Shepherdess are visiting, but in the second version, there doesn’t appear to be one.
The anecdote could refer to, as some have speculated, the shape of the mountain painted above the tomb (and it could be very well true that Poussin painted Pech Cardou in reference to it containing something mysterious in relation to our subject), but since the “R” is so blatantly highlighted by the blue Shepherd, I am more inclined in leaning towards the “R” being the skull, or “head” as it were. This interpretation becomes reinforced by the prominence of the letter that immediately follows it, which is a “C”. Together, they become “RC”.
What it is the significance of “RC”?
Now, the fact that we see in Poussin’s painting two prominent letters which could potentially signify the village where a bulk of the mysteries in Maranatha are centralized is quite intriguing to begin with. (That would be Rennes les Chateau.) There is however further significance to be gleaned from these letters; a significance which brings together both the skull and the tomb symbolically. It becomes apparent when seeing the letters highlighted in such an obvious fashion that a reference to the Rosicrucians emerges; of relating to the tomb of Christian Rozenkruez and the characteristic symbol of their fraternity, namely, the Rose Cross.
Of course there are some who would consider this insubstantial in proving that Nicolas Poussin was involved with the Rosicrucians, although in history he is found living precisely at the time of their emergence in Europe and France. And yet it is also difficult to ignore the very words of the founders of the Fraternity of the Rose Cross themselves, whom in their original manifesto stated in their fifth rule that: “the letters ‘R.C.’ should be their seal, mark, and character from that time onward.”
Many of us, even over several lifetimes, may not come close to understanding the full breadth of wisdom held by the Rosicrucians, but we should at least be familiar with their enduring presence in relation to the mysteries throughout history. They were, arguably, single-handedly responsible for ushering in a new, modern era for esoteric wisdom throughout Europe during the middle of the second millennium. To their credit includes the works The Fame of the Brotherhood of RC, The Confession of the Brotherhood of RCas well as (to broadly speculate) the works of Shakespeare, whom few have recently theorized, somewhat convincingly I might add, that he was just a literary guise of Francis Bacon.
But rather than divulging further into these histories, let us return our focus now on the symbols of the Rose Cross and the Skull on the Tomb.
As we have already put together, the “R” relates to the “head”, and yet possibly also the skull on the tomb. And since the letter is also the “R” of the Rose Cross, it is thus also the Rose. Therefore, through association, the Skull and the Rose are interchangeable. And, if we accept that the Skull is the Rose, then what does that make of the “C”? The “C” would of course be the “Cross” of the Rose Cross, but would this also make it analogous the tomb that the Rose rests on top of? It would seem that this is exactly where the symbols are leading.
As we had seen in Guercino’s The Arcadian Shepherds, it was a Skull on top of a rough, cubical stone that we discovered as relating to the Masonic concept of the Ashlar. The Rough Ashlar was found to be synonymous with the image of Asmodeus, King of Earth, also known as Rex Mundi, King of Terrors. The rough stone, as Rex Mundi, represents the qualities and aspects of original Earth; the limited state of which we find ourselves in as physically-bound creatures (beasts). Similar in fashion to the dwellers of Plato’s cave, our vision and awareness in the Earthly realm is limited to what we see almost like shadows displayed on the wall; as mere images separated from their source. Thus, the tomb of Earth can be looked at as somewhat of a prison, containing us and isolating us from greater reality. The boundary of physicality hence keeps us somewhat dull and trapped in ignorance.
However, as a tomb, its purpose is also to house what formerly existed and what enshrouds its remains (we are not necessarily speaking of bones kept in a casket here.) Therefore, and however appearing to be somewhat contradictory, the tomb is also the Ark, (or “Arc”), the Holy of Holies, and the Tomb of Christian Rosenkreutz. Thus as the old dictum states: “Visit the Interior Parts of the Earth; by Rectification Thou Shalt Find the Hidden Stone”. (V.I.T.R.I.O.L.- in Latin). The Earth is, as many teachers have pointed out, our physicality. It is also the element associated with the cardinal direction of North, and as we have heard elsewhere, “Gold comes from the North”. Therefore, our “Gold” or treasure, is there to be found within our own “Earth”.
And then finally, the tomb of Earth is also the Cross. Its symbol is the perfect balance of the four elements: Fire, Water, Air and Earth. The equal arm cross within a circle has long been known as the astrological symbol of Earth, with four equal quarters. And as we will see in a moment, when it is combined with the symbol of the Rose (or the “head”) it creates the symbol of the Rose Cross.
“More is shouldered than the Tau for those that know.”
The Greek letter of Tau has, in its stylized form, often been described as looking like a person wearing a monk’s robe with arms extended outward. If we look at this shape as an anthropomorphic symbol, the shoulders would be on the straight horizontal. “To shoulder” is another way of saying “to bear” and the most obvious thing a pair of shoulders would bear in my mind, is a head.
Thus we arrive with this:
The “Crux Ansata”, the “Ankh”, the “Key of Life”. Also, with a short extended line beneath the circle, it is the symbol of Venus. Another name it could be given is the “Rose Cross”. The symbol of the rose has been commonly attributed to different goddesses, including Isis, and particularly to those associated with the properties of love, such as Aphrodite or Venus. Additionally, most common wild Roses have five petals, which is a number also significant to Venus and the pentagram. Therefore it is no coincidence that the symbol of Venus is also associated with the Rose Cross.
If we were to take the symbol of Venus and place it over the Kabbalah tree of life, such as is given as example by Israel Regardie, we see that the symbol touches each of the Sephiroth. The implication is that an initiation into the symbol of Venus, the symbol of love, embraces the whole tree.
Or, to look at it from another angle, if we consider the Chi Rho symbol we find something quite similar, although it might not appear to be so at first. Remember the following clue: “X does not just mark the spot, crosses can lead the way also.” And in this case, instead of the cross with a circle above we have an “X” (Greek: Chi) with a “P” (“Greek: Rho) above it. Here might be a good time to say, “In Hoc Signo Vinces.” It might also be of interest to point out that the Greek “Tau” (T) is derived from the Phoenician “Tav” (X), thus the relationship between the cross and the X for our purposes is even more intricately connected.
We can perhaps also see how the Rho appears like the profile of a head. A head above an “X” (Chi). Which brings us back to the Phonecian and Hebrew “Resh”. And in this sense, there is another symbol that we should consider, the Skull and Crossbones, or the Jolly Roger, which is quite literally a skull, or head, on top of an “X”. Two thigh bones represent the major portions of the lower body, in contact with the Earth, that provide us both motion and stability. The Skull is as the same as the Rho, or Rose.
And now to bring it all full circle: The rough stone Ashlar is the rough state of a person, as we saw, associated with Asmodeus/Azazel/Devil. The perfected Ashlar is the perfected individual in balance of the four elements; the four elements which are attainable in Earth. The balance of the four elements is also symbolized as the Cross of Earth. The stone/Earth is also the tomb, which could be associated with the tomb of Christian Rosenkreutz and the Ark, wherein illumination or treasure is to be found within. (The term Ark refers to either a vessel, a coffin, or the curved part of a circle). On top of the cross, which is the balance of the four elements, is the appearance of the Skull.
In Guercino’s first version of Et in Arcadia Ego, instead of a skull on a tomb it was Apollo flaying the Asmodeus-like character of Marsyas. And so, if Marsyas was the rough Ashlar, or the tomb, this would then equate the remaining symbol of the Skull with Apollo. And when we look at the symbol of Apollo, which is the Sun, we see a circle with a dot in the center, which remarkably is similar to the Rose above the Cross in the Crux Ansata, and is also associated with the central sphere of the Tree.
Thus, the Sun is the Rose, and is the Skull, which has risen above the Cross. It is the Head which has risen above the Four Elements, for those who have passed through the initiation of each element in succession; through Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. To gain further insight into the meaning of this symbol, I would suggest to look at references to heads and beheadings in the Bible and in other sources.
For example, one of the major motifs of beheading comes from John the Baptist, who was decapitated by Herod. Common depictions of the head of St. John shows it being held on a platter. Interestingly, of the many things that the Grail has been discussed as being, it has been described as a platter. If one were to look back to the tree at where the Rose encircles the top six Sephiroth, if we look at its center point, where the head would be found on the platter, it reveals the location of a hidden Sphere, known as Da’at. This Sephirah, it has been said, does not appear until one has fully understood all the others on the tree first.. Uncannily, it would seem, in terms of the symbolism we are discussing relating to the head, Da’at in Hebrew means “Knowledge”.
But of course it doesn’t end here. The four elements also correspond to four planes (or bodies) of existence that govern the tree. As was mentioned in the previous article, St. John represents Water, while the position of Christ is at the center plane of the tree, beneath Water, in the plane which relates to Air. The first plane, which is above Water, is of Fire, and the bottom, where we begin our journey, is of Earth. (See the example of the symbol of Venus side by side with the Tree above to visualize the separations of the planes).
There are unique qualities to each of the four elements that shed light on how they relate to each of the four planes, or bodies, that also make up the entirety of our own “trees”. Through experience, and over time, we will begin to see the relations between the elements and the planes and how they are involved with the ascent back “up” the tree.
To make sure we see: there are 4 elements, 4 planes (bodies), and 6 Sephiroth at the top of the tree touched by the circle. To do a little backtracking, 6 Sephiroth can also be found by moving the circle downward a step, placing Tiphareth (placement of Sun) in the center, rather than Da’at. From this position, we are at the center of the six classically-known planets, if we were to look at it from this perspective:
Thus here we find a hexagram –or star of David– at the center. Now, wasn’t it David who cut off the head of the giant, Goliath and the one who later brought his head to Jerusalem? Is there a connection between Goliath and Golgotha?
So in closing, at the place of the skull, it was the skull of Adam, the first “Man”, that was the prize which Melchizedek buried in the serpent’s den. For it was there where the serpent’s head also was crushed, beneath the hill where Christ was later Crucified. Adam’s was the first skull, that which was of humanity prior to the fall, and yet it is also to be found in Earth. For us, this is the place to begin, and yet as for the ineffable, (the Most High) it is the place where “his” emanation ends. For this reason, although they may have been some who considered it to be “terribilis”, it was never considered –by those who knew– to be anything less than glorious; and therefore, to be exalted, above every head.
Copyright 2014 by Hayward Gladwin
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