Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Everything is two-fold; everything has two poles; everything has its pairs of opposites; equal and unequal are the same thing. Contrasting things are identical in their nature and differ only in degree; extremities touch each other; all truths are only half truths; all contradictions can be brought into harmony with one another.
THE LAW of polarity is the foundation of Hermetic philosophy. Many human errors could be avoided if this law were better understood. Humanity's path traverses a realm where polarities must be tackled. The goal of the path is the overcoming of polarity.
“What is it that in the morning walks on four legs, at midday on two legs, and in the evening on three legs?” Thus ran the riddle of the Sphinx. Death and annihilation awaited the person who could not solve it. Oedipus knew the answer: man. As a baby he crawls on all fours, in the midday of his life he walks on two legs, and in his old age he uses a stick as his third leg.
But this is only the exoteric answer to the question. It would hardly have been appropriate to impose the death penalty for failure to answer a joke question. In fact the riddle deals with the main stages of human path. Failure to master these is literally fatal. Four has been since very ancient times a symbol for matter, which can be seen as the cross of humanity. Through tackling the physical and material realm, which is the beginning of evolution (morning), man can learn to understand polarity, which is symbolized by the number two (midday). But only when the polarity is resolved by means of a third does man arrive, in the evening, at completeness. Only the person who fulfills this task will gain eternal life.
The law of polarity seems at first too simple and too obvious to make it worth our while examining it more closely. Everything that man perceives in the world of appearances and everything that he can imagine reveals itself in two poles. It is impossible for man to imagine a unity outside polarity. In terms of numerological symbolism this means that the number one is not imaginable as long as the number two has not yet been created. One presupposes two.
This can more easily be followed in terms of geometry. The geometrical symbol for one is the point. A point takes up no space, nor does it have extension – otherwise it would not be a point but a sphere or a disk. A point has no dimension. And this means that it cannot be imagined by the human mind, for any visual conception of a point always involves dimension, however small. This unity therefore cannot be grasped by the human mind.
Human consciousness obeys the laws of polarity. Hence we have plus and minus, man and woman, electric and magnetic poles, acid and alkali, sharp and flat, good and evil, light and dark. The list can be extended indefinitely, for every concept has its counter-pole. Such pairs of concepts we call contrasts, and we are accustomed, when dealing with them in a tangible way, to think in terms of “either... or”. We always know how to arrange phenomena into pairs. Something is either large or small, light or dark, good or bad. We believe that these contrasting pairs exclude one another – and herein lies our mistake.
Reality consists of unities, which nonetheless reveal themselves to human consciousness only as polarities. We cannot perceive unity as a unity. But from this we should not deduce that it does not exist. The perception of polarity presupposes the existence of unity. Two can only exist as a consequence of one. We always see unity only in two aspects, which appear to us as contrasting. But these very contrasts form a unity and are dependent on one another.