SYMBOLS, MYTHS, AND RITES
We must make certain specifications with regard to what the symbol is for Symbology, and accordingly, what this science studies and expresses, as well as offer an idea of what an ensemble of symbols in action is. By ensemble of symbols in action, we mean the world of symbol as it is experienced by a traditional or primitive society, a society in which symbol as well as myth, and especially rite (which encompasses the totality of a people's daily activities) are still flourishing. In such a society, symbols are understood in their essential meaning as direct connection with the sacred, and not as convention, allegory, or metaphor, not as something vague and exterior to the being. For traditional, primitive societies, the symbol-and every expression or manifestation, whether macrocosmic or microcosmic, is symbolical-constitutes a real sign, or ensemble of living signs fused and related with one another through the plurality of their significates, shaping a revealing language or ciphered code of their own, through which they also cohere with the society in which they are manifested.
This is owing to the fact that symbol, like myth or rite, is the bridge between a reality that is sensible, perceptible, and cognizable at first glance, and the mystery of its authentic, concealed nature, which is its origin. After all, symbol, myth, and rite are an expression that reveals itself in their manifestation, and effectively establish the bond between the known and the unknown, between a level of reality that is ordinarily perceived and the invisible principles that have occasioned it. At the same time, this bond constitutes their raison d'être as such, to which they attest in their transformation into vehicles. This immediately endows them with a sacred character-one of taboo, if you will-in their capacity as a direct expression of the principles, forces, and original energies of which they are the messengers. 1
It goes without saying that the notion of symbol held in contemporary society is very different. This is due to the fact that symbol is no longer known, or is employed as a simple convention, and in some cases scarcely endowed with a substitutive value; or else as something probable, used as a synonym for what might perhaps come to be-that is, for something allegorical and incomplete that would need a rational translation and logical or analytic interpretation in order to be understood. This comes down to saying that it is no longer taken unequivocally as the emissary of an energy and force, but is confronted as an object independent of its medium, an object that must be considered empirically in the laboratory of the mind. Such is the discomfiture and diffidence that it arouses. Of course, it also very frequently occurs-almost as the norm-that symbols are not even noticed, or simply are ignored, as if they did not actually exist because we do not notice or consume them, or as if they had no value because they are unknown and their significates are ignored.
This is owing to the fact of a society like ours, pridefully desacralized, which has sundered its connection with origins and the idea of a level superior to simple matter, or to physical, empirical verification-a society that refuses to accept symbols (except, on occasion, in their most elementary psychological aspects). Symbol, as mediator between two realities-or levels of reality-is deprived of meaning in a schema of this kind, and its understanding is limited to the version that makes of it an obscure, nearly meaningless sign indicative only of something equally nonsignifying or relative. Then the world becomes a gray mass, a horizontal multiplication of undefined gestures performed in mechanical fashion, almost without our intending them, and saying nothing to anyone, on account of the self-censorship imposed on us by the formation bestowed by today's society. In function of these models of thought, everything remains outside of us, and is foreign to us, since the symbolical path of communication has been interrupted.
Now symbols, myths, and rites present themselves as different from ourselves, static objects to which we attribute determinate formal or exterior, exclusively literal and quantitative, characteristics. Thus we deny their generative potential, their identity as dynamic subjects-in other words, their raison d'être. Now, logically enough, they seem to us false and improbable, as open to change as labels, or as passé-we suppose, in our ignorance-as the observation of the cycles of the moon, sun, and stars, and everything on which antiquity relied, in the "dark ages" before progress had been invented.
Something stands between us and symbol today, just as between us and reality. Individualism has separated us from our context to the point that there is constantly a space between what is and ourselves, between being and otherness. This space guarantees to us moderns the idea that we possess a "personality," with which we identify, and which thus makes us strangers to ourselves and our context by obliging us to accept this way of seeing. This view of ours is altogether committed to the conditioning in which we are born and live-and as whose accomplices we act, since it is no one but ourselves who keep these values imposed on the field of our consciousness.
The result of this separation is distress and desire, solitude and disintegration. After all, the cohesion guaranteed by symbols, their mediating function, goes unacknowledged, has been forgotten, or, still worse, is twisted by our current understanding, which shows us the reality of the world as external and hostile, as foreign as it is indifferent. It becomes something as cold, distant, and empty of content as ourselves, while it is actually a matter of a universe perfectly integrated in the harmony of its parts and correspondences, and not a reality expressing itself as fragmentary. The universe is a gigantic organism, which includes ourselves in the sanguine torrent of its cosmic life, but which we are accustomed to contemplate as an atrocious or curious thing, failing to relate it immediately to ourselves-or perhaps, in the best of cases, seeing it as something agreeable when observed from a bit of a distance.
For Symbology, symbol, myth, and rite actively testify, on the sensible level, to the energies that have given them shape. Accordingly, there must be a very precise correlativity between symbol (and myth and rite) and what it manifests, without which it would express nothing. This correspondence between idea and form (understanding the latter term not in the scholastic sense, but in its current meaning), between essence and substance, nonmanifestation and manifestation, makes of symbol the precise unit for tightly binding together two opposed natures, which, in the symbolic body-as dynamic subject and static object-find their complementarity. On the other hand, it is well said that the lesser is the symbol of the greater, and not vice versa-a specification referring especially to the possibility of an exact comprehension of the thought of a traditional society-the Precolumbian-that acknowledges the symbol as the universal language that has been able to fecundate it and give it life. In this sense, symbols have created societies, and not societies their symbols (not to forget their mutual interaction), since they are woven into the very weft of life and man.
From a certain standpoint, there is nothing outside of the symbol-as neither is there anything outside the cosmos-inasmuch as symbol expresses the totality of the possible; all things are meaningful, and reflect the unmanifested by way of the manifested. Accordingly, one must not invent symbols and myths. They are already given, they are eternal, and they reveal themselves to man, or better, in man. Human beings in themselves symbolize the cosmos "in little," on a reduced scale, (not to pretend that the macrocosm is specifically symbolizing him). Civilizing, revealing, and saving heroes like Quetzalcóatl or Viracocha are not human beings who, as such, and thanks to their merits, have been deified or transformed into stars. On the contrary, they are gods or stars who-like men-have fallen from the firmament, and must traverse the lower world and die by self-sacrifice, in order to be reborn to their true identity and occupy their authentic place in heaven, which of course is their origin.
For the Precolumbian cultures, this universal rite is exemplified in the vault of heaven, especially by the Sun, the Moon, and Venus-but by all of the other stars, and by their cycles of appearance and disappearance, death and resurrection. Upon these cycles depend the earth and the human being, and in these cycles the American cultures have seen the highest manifestation of the models or universal and eternal archetypes upon which they have founded their cosmogony. The laws of analogy and correspondence are based on the interrelation of a lesser, known level, with a greater, unknown one. The known symbolizes the unknown one, and the latter can never be a symbol of the former.
A traditional and/or archaic society adopts the viewpoint of unity, and makes it its own. From the one, all things emanate: life, sustenance and culture. Modern society, meanwhile, embraces the standpoint of multiplicity-that of a fragmented, self-sufficient individuality which progresses indefinitely through the play of its dialectic. The first focus is synthetic, the second analytic. The traditional tends toward simultaneity, the concentric view, while the other tends toward succession, toward the immense trifle. The modern perspective is constructed by way of the logic of rationalism; contrariwise, antiquity ordered its vision of the world by means of analogy and its mechanisms of association. Here the correspondence among phenomena, beings, and things is natural, inasmuch as they symbolize distinct aspects of the universal principles that have generated them. There is nothing coincidental in this kind of world, for everything acquires its meaning in the whole, and man reveres a superior will that reveals itself analogically within his conscience. And it is in virtue of this complementarity that all things, phenomena and beings, seek one another and correspond, attract and reject, but not exclude, one another. They are at war or they live in peace, but they have a harmonious meaning that imitates the rhythm of the universal inhalation and exhalation.
The elements of kinship among things are evident, then; things vibrate at the same frequency, and have been generated by a single matrix; shapes, colors, and all possible qualities or differentiations are but modalities of a single wave subject to identical principles expressed in the totality of the cosmic concert. Like attracts like, and fuses and joins with it. And opposites do not eliminate one another, as there is a point of common equilibrium-which is neither the one nor the other, neither this nor that-where all things coincide, to return once more to a state of opposition and then to join once more in complementarity. This does not cancel individual responsibility, since it is within the heart of the human being-as protagonist of the cosmic drama-and not elsewhere that this fact is produced, as well as understood and grasped, and accordingly it is in that heart that contradictions are reconciled. In a certain sense, all life is dependent on this man, who thus becomes aware of his being, and his true responsibility as intermediary symbol between earth and heaven. Then, and in this light, the things that surround him will be sacralized, and he himself will emulate the qualities of the gods-will enflesh the universal principles with which he synchronizes in simultaneity.
In such a society, things do not occur in linear fashion, in a foreseeable manner. Every day is the first day of creation, and everything is so alive that any thing can occur at any moment. The human being does not imagine or project what will come, but constantly experiences the eternity of the present. For Precolumbian thought, the cosmos and life are being created at this very moment. They are not a historical fact, and they actively participate in their generation. True, existence seen in this way is a risk, and doubtless an ongoing adventure. And so it is not strange that it is conceived as a moment of passage and a locus of transformation, like a dream from which one must awaken. Time has not occurred before, nor will it occur after, because it is always occurring, is constantly present, and embraces the totality of space, where it always expresses itself as something supernatural: charged with constructive and destructive energies represented by numina and sacred numbers, as we observe in the Mesoamerican calendars. Movement, which is an image of immobility, is the visible trace of time in its self-manifestation, and it is thanks to this trace that we can accede to the eternity of its repose. And it is by way of analogies, which bind symbols, myths, and rites with their uncreated origin, that human beings can play their role and fulfill their destiny in relation to the laws and structures of the cosmogonic model which we will now consider.
1 From this point forward, when we refer to symbol, we must also understand myth and rite, since, from our perspective, the three are identical, and perform exactly the same revelatory function. Myth, which of course is symbolical, manifests an exemplar deed, which, as such, organizes the life of those who believe and trust in it. Furthermore, it constitutes their integral belief, and accordingly, institutes their trust, since, in any traditional society, myth is the very manifestation of truth at the human level. Rites are symbols in action, and express in a direct way the beliefs and the cosmogony that the mythical histories likewise transmit. These three complementary manifestations reveal the most profound secrets of life, the cosmos, and being. They mold all of the possible images of traditional man, and thereby the latter's identity.