As Above, so Below – of Eagles, Sound & Numbers
Four days into the new year, I went for my usual early morning walk. It was a refreshing 15 degrees at 7:15 a.m. While approaching Fox River, I looked up in a tree by the water to see 3 big birds sitting in the early morning sun. Thinking that due to the season these cannot be turkey vultures, I realized that before me were 3 large eagles. After my initial: “Holy cow…these are…eagles”, I watched as they departed, to then fly up and down along the river. One of them, a bald eagle, swooped down what seemed to me very casually, and picked up a fish swimming just beneath the surface of the water.
This rather magnificent spectacle left an indelible impression on me, which to no surprise also gave me plenty of food for reflection and introspection. What struck me most was their majestic presence as well as ease and distinction with which these large magnificent birds were moving through the sky. Many years back I photographed the detail section of a canyon wall at Antelope Canyon in AZ, a natural cathederal of magnificent beauty and wonder. With a bit imagination you can see a bird of prey in the photograph, with its wings spread. Birds are the embodiment of both, the human and the divine spirit – a symbolism suggested by their lightness and rapidity, the soaring freedom of their flight, and their mediation between earth and sky. In many traditions birds and feathers are considered to be messengers of the Gods.
The above photograph which I called “The Passage” was featured in my book “Inspirationals”, and I remembered what I had written about 16 years ago to accompany the image:
“The Passage – Passing through the challenging “crevices” of life…, it is my choice to be in the darkness or to progress into the light. Nature shows me that birds are carried effortlessly by the wind without knowing their destination. Why must I cling to the notion of having to know the outcome at all times? By giving up control over a myriad of life’s situations and their outcomes, I spread my wings and let life’s currents carry me to unknown heights.”
This advice seemed very apropos considering that we were just a few days into a new year. Two days later in a very similar setting I was greeted by 5 eagles, of which 3 were sitting in a 250 + year old oak along the river. Two weeks later my sister lost her year long battle with a rare form of cancer and moved on to bigger adventures.
While reading in “The Complete Dictionary of Symbols” as well as “The Book of Symbols” it became clear that as the supreme master of the air, the eagle is one of the most unambiguous and universal of all symbols, embodying as it does the power, speed and perception of the animal world at its peak, together with majesty, domination, victory, valor, inspiration and spiritual aspiration. Soaring toward the sun, the eagle seemed a creature capable of carrying souls to heaven.
From the time of cradle civilizations, the greatness of the eagle has inspired comparison to the sun, and to supernal deities of lightning and storms, earthly rulers and imperial nations. It is hard not to be awed by the sight of an eagle perched at the summit. The sound of their wings, spanning 6 to 8 feet, is like the rushing of mighty winds or the clapping of thunder. The Ogallala Sioux felt the presence of the Great Spirit in the eagle because it soars higher than any other bird and in the sacred form of the circle.
Largest of the hawks, the eagle with its strong feet and great, curved talons is an aggressive predator, a quality that we have made an ambivalent part of its symbolism. In alchemy, the eagle is portrayed as the ascension of the spirit from the prima materia, a way of describing how, when understanding separates from the chaos of emotion, it takes wing and can easily disappear into the ether.
The alchemists believed that ascent must be answered by the opposite, which means that our loftiest illuminations must descend into integrated embodiment and be applied. Thus, inspired by the sea-eagle that dives from the sunstruck sky into ocean or river and re-emerges, the mythical eagle of spirit was imagined to fly into the sun’s fire, almost burning itself up, only to plunge into the deep waters of swelling life, and reemerge in phoenixlike self-renewal.
And as for the numbers, well, three representing synthesis, reunion, resolution, creativity, versatility, omniscience, birth and growth – the most positive number not only in symbolism but in religious thought, mythology, legend and folklore where the tradition of “third time lucky” is very old.
Three was the number of harmony for Pythagoras, completeness for Aristotle, having an end as well as a beginning and middle. In other traditions including Daoism, three symbolized strength because it implied a central element. Politically, three was the first number to make possible executive action by a majority, as in the Roman triumvirates. In China, it was the auspicious number symbolizing sanctity, loyalty, respect and refinement. In Hinduism, it is the number of sounds in the mystic word Om, expressing the ternary rhythm of the whole cosmos and of divinity. Three is, significantly, the smallest number of a family unit or tribe. It symbolized the individual body soul and spirit. The graphic symbol of three, amongst others, is the triangle.
Five is regarded as the “human number” – often represented graphically by a man whose head and outstretched limbs form a five pointed star, or geometrically by the pentagram, also called pentacle, drawn with lines crossing to the five points. Apart from its emblematic association with the human microcosm (and the hand itself), the number five was an important symbol of totality in Chinese, Japanese, Celtic and other traditions which included the center as a 5th direction of space.
Other associations are with love, health, sensuality, meditation, analysis, criticism, strength, integration, organic growth and the heart. According to Pythagorean mysticism, five, like seven, was a holistic number, marrying three (heaven) with the terrestrial two, and was fundamental both in nature and in art. It was linked generally in the classical world with Aphrodite. The association with love and sex may be based on the combination of the male number three with the female number two.
With regard to the relationship of these two numbers and sound or music, according to Dr. John Beaulieu and his wonderful book “Human Tuning”, the interval of a Perfect Fifth, C and G, is the interval of ideal nervous system tuning.
The Perfect Fifth brings all parts of ourselves into a unified harmony. We intuitively know we are in tune because we are 100% involved and simultaneously relaxed and everything seems to go our way. The ideal nervous system pitch, a place where there is just the right amount of tension, is called “being in tune”.
The “perfect” in Perfect Fifth refers to the harmonious sound which unifies opposites. The Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, referred to the Perfect Fifth as the sound of universal harmony between the forces of Yin and Yang. In India, the Perfect Fifth is believed to create a sound through which Shiva, the masculine principle, calls Shakti, the feminine principle, to the dance of life. The Alchemists called the Perfect Fifth “crux ansata”, and considered it to be a transition point where matter crossed over into spirit. The “crux ansata” is also called the “anak” by the Egyptians who thought of it as a still point where the earth ends and our ascension into spirit begins. For them, the number five was the perfect combination of even (2) and odd (3) representing the unity of spirit and earth.
The interval of the third, C and E, is the Fire of life. The third builds an internal fire that motivates and moves us towards our goals. The interval of the third warms us and resonates with our fire of accomplishment. When we are down and we need to focus on something that we want, the interval of a third will wake us up. The fire illuminates our goal and burns the inner fuel that drives us to take action.
Combined, 3 and 5 is 8 – the octave starts with C and ends with the same note, C, eight notes higher. The octave contains the 8 notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, which make up the Western musical scale. However, the space of the octave is much larger than eight notes and contains an in finite number of possibilities and divisions. The Greeks called the octave diapason which means ”through all”.
The octave represents the beginning and ending of a complete cycle. The cycle of an octave is important to modern science as well as the psychology of consciousness. When the Buddha obtained illumination under the Bodhi tree, he announced the Noble Eightfold Path of enlightenment. Patanjali, the great Indian sage, created the eight “limbs” of yoga necessary for union with the divine. In these spiritual systems, one begins with Earth, which is analogous to the lower tone of the octave and progresses through the eight stages to enlightenment represented by the higher note of the octave. The lower and higher tones of the octave represent the polarization of opposites – the Alpha and Omega, moon and sun, male and female, Yin and Yang, mother and father. The Emerald Tablet of Hermes, one of the oldest Alchemical texts, can be summarized by the statement: “As Above, so Below.”
The photographs for this blog were provided by Marian Kraus Photography, a Chicago area based professional architectural and fine art photographer. Marian furthermore creates pictures with sound and facilitates sound immersions and sonic excursions with large gongs and singing bowls. You can find out more here.