Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


If the heart is innocent,
It is equal in weight to Truth.

  In the seventh division of the underworld, in the centre of the hall, stands a great balance surmounted by the symbol of Thoth-Hermes. Beside it stands Moot, the personification of the spirit of justice, observing the scales to see that the pans are balanced and the heart of the deceased uses no trickery. Her feathered hieroglyph, resting in one pan as the symbol of Truth, is weighed against the heart, the seat of intelligence. If Truth and the heart are of equal weight, the doors open before the soul so that it may come to learn the deeper working of the Law, the balance and measurements of the vast action of universal Karma, the causes embodied in the effects, "when Day and Night are weigh'd in Libra's Scales".

 Libra is the sign of equilibrium in the Three Worlds. It is the scale which designates the balance between the solar world and the planetary manifestations, as well as between the spiritual and personal ego of man. Its name changes from the Italian libra to the French balance, the German wage and the Anglo-Saxon pund. The Greeks called it σταθμος (stathmos) or the weight-beam, while another name, λιτρα (litre), made its way into the Sicilian dialect and eventually gave birth to the Roman libra. In all these names for the celestial scales, the standard of weight, measurement and even payment on earth is an echoed reflection of a greater cosmic balance, a justice which oversees all levels of manifestation. If the wages of sin are retribution through karmic law, so the wages of the worthy toiler are payment for the energy, for the days and months and years spent in the service of a larger work. The ignorant man asks only for what is due to him from the world; the wise man seeks the greater balance within himself.

 Within the heart of the wise man lies the inner harmony which balances the conscious and unconscious self, the world of good and evil, the sublimation of Virgo and the desire of Scorpio. Within the heart lies the wisdom of the higher mind. In the judgement scene depicted in the Papyrus of Ani, the soul is weighed against the symbol of Moot, the female counterpart of Thoth and personification of the higher mind. The soul is weighed against the symbol of absolute truth and perfection rather than against relative goodness. The soul enters the gate that leads to conscious self-mastery where cosmic justice is gradually understood through the intelligent harmonizing of the inner and outer nature. Man naturally seeks to do justice, but he succeeds only when he has gained knowledge of himself.

 In Sanskrit, Libra is Tula, the emblem of Nara, the earthly Adam or Man. That man can find universal balance and justice within himself rests upon the fact that he is the axial point of all evolving life, the pivot through which matter-bound spirit begins to consciously rise towards self-conscious godhood. In this fundamental and awesome reality lies the germ of that deepest sense of responsibility which alone is compatible with a knowledge of true justice. Archetypally, the germ finds the conditions it needs in the seventh stage of the zodiacal wheel, and its initial growth marks the commencement of the second cycle of six signs which affect the evolution of individuality. Perhaps this is why the Greeks called Libra the 'tongue of balance' and associated it with both speech and the number five, which falls midway between one and nine. How the seven could become five may be explained by the classical idea that the first two signs were preparatory and therefore not counted. The Greeks thought that Libra, correlated with the number five, depicted the harmony established by Venus between the sun and the moon. They arrived at this assumption by adding the moon of Cancer, the second sign in this numerical order, to the sun of Leo, the third sign. This they interpreted as harmonizing personality and individuality. They believed this necessary balancing had already taken place on a cosmic scale, as is borne out by the words of Homer: "The Eternal Father hung His golden scales aloft", to which Milton much later added, "Yet seen betwixt Astraea and the Scorpion sign. . . ."

 It is often said that Libra was designated when the constellation was on the equinox and so equilibrated day and night. Indeed, one of the Latin names for Libra was jugun, indicating the autumnal equinox. Just as night and day balance one another in the universe, so also life and death hang in equipoise, forever counteracting, forever interlacing the dual forces that form the substratum of manifestation. The Babylonians believed that the judgement of souls in relation to future lives and states after death took place in the autumn, the time when causes set in motion were gathered in and weighed against the karmic curve of the soul and effects were dispersed through its reincarnating vestures. The rhythmic action of cause and effect echoes the cosmic pulsation of the universal heart, the centrifugal and centripetal forces operating throughout the cosmos. At the heart of these out-breathing and in-breathing currents, man stands in the balance. Perhaps it is the heightened awareness of this critical position that causes individuals born under the influence of Libra to be unduly sensitive to the equilibrium of circumstances in their lives. Seeking balance, harmony, peace and fair play, they seem to personify temporary compromise in human interaction and, while at times appearing timid and indecisive, they may be influenced by a vaster sense of justice than is indicated in any particular context. A number of famous lawyers have been born under the sign of Libra, indicating their concern for justice as well as an ability to weigh both sides of a question. The strong relationship that Libra has with the planet Venus tends to reinforce this concern for harmony and equilibrium and serves to unite a love of beauty for its own sake with the concept of justice in the sense of universal law and goodness itself. A Libran seduced by illusory forms of evanescent beauty or engulfed in indecisive eclecticism parading as tolerance has focussed his or her concern for harmony and justice upon a limited material field. Such a category mistake results from a lack of the sense of cosmic balance.

 According to archaic Euphratean symbology, the glyph of Libra - - designated the top of an ancient altar which was located next to Scorpio in their zodiac. They associated this with the Holy Mound of Tul-Ku which was a tower, like that of Babel, which symbolized speech and was surmounted by an altar. This latter feature reflected the fact that several stars in the constellation of Libra described in their juxtaposition to one another a celestial altar which they called Toshritu or Holy Altar, the name also given to the seventh month of their year. The Akkadians, relating Libra to the Scorpion, depicted the glyph as a sun disk or a censer clutched within its outstretched claw. The censer was the vessel that held the lighted incense of sacrificial oblation. The sun disk was a solar lamp burning in the vessel, a φαρος or pharos, such as the great lamp of the lighthouse of Alexandria which served as a representation of the zodiacal altar. The light upon this beacon-altar was symbolic of the Word in the world of appearances, reminding us of the relationship of Libra to Venus-Lucifer, who is also said to be identical with Aditi and Vach.

 The Egyptians called the glyph of Libra Khu and believed that it represented the horizon with the disk of the sun rising behind it. They also interpreted it as depicting Isis on the verge of giving birth to Horus. But whatever the vessel, be it the altar of the horizon or the womb of Isis, it is linked with the manifestation of light in the world. Libra was depicted by Pythagoras and the ancients in terms of light. Both the light and the vessel are suggested by the glyph, and perhaps this relationship between the Logoic source, the manifest flame and the vessel which contains it is enshrined in the central balance symbolized by the scale of Libra. The vessel or censer contains the incense which is kept burning by the flame and the sacrificial smoke of that fire awakens the light of the higher god. It is for this reason that incense purifies and helps the devotee maintain his equilibrium while attempting to move forward along the path of spiritual awakening.

 The act of worshipping at the altar is vividly portrayed in the Hindu representation of Libra or Tula, which depicts a man bending upon one knee and holding in his hand a scales. Tula is also symbolic of fire, indicating the altar blaze tended by the disciple who would balance the forces within and without in his efforts to maintain its flame. The posture of worship requires a bowing of the lower nature before the light of the higher, a balanced bending wherein the back gracefully curves in inward recognition of the divine. Perhaps the fact that Libra is believed to rule the country of India as well as the lumbar region of the human back indicates something of the nature of this sacred posture. It may even be wondered if those who suffer from pride and the resulting lack of resiliency tend to suffer from maladies afflicting the back. The bending upon one leg and the balancing of the scales seems to suggest both obeisance and a willing preparation to rise up and join the Higher Self. The illustration captures the balanced moment, marking the presence of both attitudes, far different from the proud posture of a Leo or the fluctuating positions of Gemini.

 According to Hindu calculations, Tula is numerologically equivalent to the number thirty-six, which stands for the thirty-six tatvams born out of ignorance or avidya. T. Subba Row explains that Jivatma can be said to differ from Paramatma in being encased within these thirty-six tatvams which prepare the way in which the heavenly man becomes human as we know him. Tula is also associated with vedana, the seventh nidana, which brings into action the influence of the higher mind upon the senses and their relations with external objects. It illuminates the lower nature with the light of knowledge typified by this stage of development. In Buddhist teachings vedana is translated as 'feeling' or 'sensations', although feelings in the seventh nidana are conditioned not by way of simultaneity but as the result of karma. In the nidana of vijnana, associated with Gemini, the neophyte stood within the temple precincts and received the light. In that zodiacal stage, "the darkened veil of Avidya is withdrawn and the soul perceives the outer world". In the seventh stage, related to vedana, "the light is more fully revealed as the neophyte stands before the Holy Altar on which burns the inextinguishable lamp of the Spirit", and as a result of the fuller revelation, the onus of choice rests more heavily upon the human soul in the sign of Libra.

 The tatvams symbolized by Tula are derived from TAT, or that which is the essential being of a thing. Tattva means 'thatness', while TAT plus tvam or 'That' and 'you' blend in the dictum, "That thou art." In Sankhya philosophy there are twenty-five tatvams or fundamental principles through which the Divine becomes human. They are the powers that lie behind the feelings and sensations associated with vedana. First there is avyakta the unmanifest; Buddhi, the perceptive faculty; and ahankara, the perception of Self, followed by the five tanmatras or rudimentary elements of sound, touch, sight, taste and smell. These are followed by the five mahabhutas which are derived from the tanmatras. They are aether, air, fire, water and earth. It is interesting to recall that sound precedes aether just as sparsa or touch precedes air. These mahabhutas are followed by the five organs or senses of perception, each of which is ruled by a deva related to the mahabhutas. Finally, the karmendriyani or organs of action permit the expression of these channelled powers. The voice, the hand, the foot, the anus and the generative organs permit the enactment of creation from Brahman downwards as Hamsa, the Swan in Time, slowly comes into existence. If thirty-six tatvams are identified, the number divides into multiples of twelve related to the triad or nine relative to the Tetraktys, whereas twenty-five signifies a fivefold pentagram, the symbol of man. The triad and the Tetraktys when fused become numerically seven, the prime irreducible number which marks the phase of Libra. Seven expresses diversity in complex unity and signifies a wealth of completed scales or cycles and corresponds to the six directions in space with the centre as seventh. It is represented by the cross and the sword which is the symbol of pain. Perhaps it is this pain which is referred to in the bhava chakra where the nidana vedana is represented by a picture of an arrow piercing the eye. The awakened perceptions and the consciousness of sensations in Libra bring the soul to the threshold of incarnation. The pain is analogous to what one feels as the world begins to impinge upon one when awakened from a sweet cosmic sleep into the perplexing awareness of being imprisoned in time and ensnared in the space of one's body. The arrow in the eye is the pain of the imminent loss of spiritual vision which awaits the soul, the clouding of the Third Eye. It is the concomitant anguish of the macrocosm becoming the microcosm. It is also the creative suffering which marks the condition of a person who stands in the balance seeking to reverse the tide, ready to crucify his or her lower nature and take firmly in hand the sword of spiritual striving.

Tula is the emblem of Nara, the immortal soul, the individualized incarnation of spirit prior to eighteen million years ago. Nara is the original Eternal Man as a unit reflection of the overbrooding macrocosmic potential. The human soul is now endowed with perceptive powers which allow it to weigh in the balance of the higher mind the experiences of the phenomenal world. The immortal soul in close communion with the Divine is Nara-Narayana, for it is Narayana (man-wheel or cycle) which is the divinity that becomes manifest in man. As a title of Vishnu, Narayana is the primordial aspect of Holy Spirit moving upon the waters of creation. "In esoteric symbology it stands for the primeval manifestation of the life-principle spreading in infinite space." Lakshmi-Narayana or the incarnation of God in man is the sacred inauguration of the pivotal union of spirit and matter. Nara as the original Eternal Man is manifested in Great Beings such as Hermes, Enoch, Osiris and Krishna. They are 'Metatrons' between soul and body, the "Eternal Spirits which redeem flesh by the regeneration of flesh below, and soul by the regeneration above, where humanity walks once more with God." Their position in evolution can be studied in terms of the unfolding signs of the zodiac which are related to Parabrahm, Pranava or the Word, the Androgyne, the Tetragram, Jivatma-Narayana, Sakti-Maya and Nara. This is followed by Vishnu expanding, the nine Prajapatis, the incarnating Kumaras, the mastery of the lokas and the synthesis of the elements. The work of the Metatrons is poised between these descending and ascending qualities of the zodiac, the harmonization and transcendence of which is dependent upon a conscious assumption of their sublime pivotal position. This is what the Divine Incarnations represent and it exemplifies the supreme compassion of the exalted Bodhisattvas who renounce nirvana in order to continue their sacred communion with human souls who are bound to the wheel of change.

 The mythical Libra-Hermes-Enoch stands at the critical juncture where the physical man overshadows the spiritual. Like Nataraja he portrays a swastika: one arm points to heaven signifying boundless regeneration, the other points to earth signifying endless generation. "The visible but the manifestation of the invisible; the man of dust abandoned to dust, the man of spirit reborn in spirit." Thus finite man is the son of Infinite God.

 Libra is the eternal equilibrium between the macrocosm and its reflected microcosm. It marks the beginning of the separation of Virgo and Scorpio, the emergence of the Second Adam from the androgynous Adam Kadmon through the fall of pure Virgo into the generation of Scorpio, which took place at the time of the separation of the sexes. When the one androgynous sign became two, a secret sign was placed between them the name of which was known only to Initiates but which was later called Libra.

 Libra's propinquity to Virgo is significant, for the scales are held in the hand of the Virgin and she is often depicted as a personification of Justice standing with sword and scales. Gandhi had Virgo rising with the sun and moon in Libra, which perhaps indicates his creative ability to sympathize with opposing points of view and his uncanny sense of wisdom in action which enabled him to realize the deepest hopes of many concerning social justice and spiritual concord. The relationship between Libra and Scorpio is suggested in pictograms of Chaldean or Baby Ionian origin which show Libra as the lamp either held by the Scorpion's claw or as the claw itself.

 While Libra's relationship to Scorpio is double-edged, it is clearly the exaltation of Saturn, the planet of righteousness, which in retrogradation "does not wander away making loops to the north and south, as the other planets do, but remains sternly at the same distance from the ecliptic". In an analogous position to Libra, Saturn is like the bridge between higher and lower manas, the Great Sifter who exacts the payment of karmic debts. One can see Venus as divine grace and Saturn as divine justice, each on either side of the scales. The human soul watched over by Venus and increasingly confined by separative existence, turns inward to find the unlimited and is pulled through desire (Scorpio) toward the Great Sifter, Saturn. It is this Bringer of Old Age who strips away the layers of maya, but he does so through the costly temptations of Scorpio. The desire for wholeness and harmony, if externalized, will either expand out through seeds of generation or seek to ingest the whole through acquisition or gluttony. If intemalized, it will seek the balanced scales within, weighing with equal measure joy and sorrow, knowing that "all that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity", and that the purpose of life is to learn persistently to see through and transcend the pairs of opposites. Within self-conscious man alone lies the potential power to harmonize the inner and the outer nature. The yogi harmonizes his Self with the outer world, through the performance of vijnana yajna or sacrifice by developing wise compassion and thoughtful consideration towards other beings. Thus refining the mental, astral and physical vestures, it causes the micro-centres of consciousness to reflect their macrocosmic sources. In this way the Self is harmonized with the tatvams and their presiding intelligences, and the yogi becomes a creative agent in helping on the work of cosmic evolution. To do this requires controlled exercise of free will which can only come from a man who perceives mind and consciousness both within and outside himself.

 Macrobius surmised that Venus appeared in Libra at creation, and that she bound together couples under the beam of marriage, beautifully suggesting the harmonizing of the inner and outer of Virgo and Scorpio. Thus the yoke of balance upheld the scales which could reunite the severed earthly Adam and cause the divided tongues of men to become once more the One Word of Venus-Lucifer, the Giver of Light to the world. To express the pure Light of Truth, the innocence of non-separativeness must be won, and to attain this lofty state the developing disciple must accept all of the limitations of his own past karma with unfailing equanimity. If he perceives the profound justice of his own circumstances he will be able to learn the lessons that they have to teach him, and in this way he will come to discover the intricate ways of karma in the world of effects. Through this spiritual wisdom the pilgrim-soul comes to understand the hidden meaning of that Law which rests in equipoise at the centre of all manifested existence. By effortlessly exemplifying this balance within himself, the Magus-Teacher mirrors within his whole being Nara-Narayana, the sacred and blissful communion of the human with the Divine Soul. The secret heart is equal in weight to the supernal Truth of Brahma Vach, the Word of God, the Voice of the Silence.

Hermes, October 1977