History of cosmograms

For thousands of years, cosmic charts have guided people in spiritual worship and city planning. These geometric diagrams are maps to situate humans in the universe. On a deeper level, they can directly affect our physical and mental state. [1] One particular cosmogram that appears in cultures around the world is the mandala. In Sanskrit ‘manda’ is essence/seat/mind and ‘la’ is a circle. It translates as ‘every being is a mandala’ and that we are surrounded by nature and in essence we are nature. [2]

The Buddhist mandala is used as a meditative tool to help monks unify with the divine. Their cosmograms are in the form of a circle inside a square that represents the microcosm of individual awareness and the macrocosm of cosmic energy.[3] By concentrating on the mandala’s forms and colors, the monks go beyond individual ego and reach a supreme consciousness or enlightenment. [ figure 1 ]

Chinese cosmologists have used a numeric mandala called a Ho-T’u or Yellow River map for divinity purposes. [ figure 3] They, too, saw it as a blueprint for a primordial arrangement of the universe.[4]  Its 55 black and white spots arranged in a circle are mystical number combinations representing the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. It is a representation of the 8 trigrams of the Taoist fortune-telling book, the I Ching. Its circular form represents the heavens, while its complementary diagram, the Lo Shu square, represents Earth. To read someone’s fortune, a shaman drew each diagram on a board and ran a stick through the middle of both of them to spin them around. A shaman would observe what point the two boards intersected. This point represented where heaven (ordered nature) and earth (subjective chance) would meet.[5] This ancient numerical mandala has been reduced to a good luck charm for the secular popular Chinese like a horseshoe or hamsa. [6]

The Tantric Hindus used the Sri Yantra cosmogram as a spiritual gateway; gazing at the nine interlocked triangles, they enter into philosophical contemplation.[7] They believe that the Sri Yantra consists of harmonic patterns that resonate through their proportions and invoke inter-connectedness through an invisible exchange. This may seem far-fetched to rational ears. However, it aligns with Western psychoanalysis and the concept of the unconscious.

Psychoanalyst Carl Jung used the mandala as a psychological healing tool. For Jung, the mandala is a metaphysical symbol of the unconscious. He had his patients draw mandalas to identify emotional disorders. [8]  He described mandalas as psychological expressions of the total Self beyond individual ego. The ‘squaring of the circle’ symbolizes the opus alchemical since it breaks down the original chaotic unity into the four elements and then combines them again in a higher unity. Unity is represented by a circle and the four elements by a square.[9]

In the Indian Rigveda, a mandala refers to a chapter in a collection of hymns. Some believe it is a direct reference to a round of songs that were chanted in Vedic ceremonies.[10] If color and shapes are translated into music, it is plausible that music composition could serve as an audio mandala.

Other mandala cosmograms include the Aztec sunstones, the Mayan tzolk’in wheel, the Aboriginal tjuringa stone, the Hindu Vastu-Purusha mandala, Navajo mandalas, Persian Shamseh, and the Catholic stained-glass rose windows. [ figure 2 ] Read more on the spiral cosmogram.

[1] Denise Patry Leidy, and Robert A. F. Thurman, Mandala: the architecture of enlightenment ( London: Thames and Hudson, 1998),130.

[2] Leidy, and Thurman, Mandala: the architecture of enlightenment, 143.

[3] Leidy, and Thurman, Mandala: the architecture of enlightenment, 130.

[4] Marie-Louise von Franz, Time: rhythm and repose (London: Thames and Hudson, 1997), 12.

[5] Marie-Louise von Franz, Andrea Dykes, and Marie-Louise von Franz. Number and time reflections leading towards a unification of depth psychology and physics (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1974), 241

[6] Michael Saso, “What Is the “Ho-T’u?” History of Religions 17, (February 01, 1978): 399-416.

[7] Lawlor, Robert, Sacred geometry philosophy and practice (London: Thames and Hudson, 1989), 8.

[8] Carl Jung, Herbert Read, Michael Fordham, and Gerhard Adler, The collected works of C. G. Jung (NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1983), 96-99.

[9] Jung, The collected works of C. G. Jung, 124.

[10] Stanley Krippner, “The Role Played by Mandalas in Navajo and Tibetan Rituals,” Anthropology of Consciousness 8, no. 1 (1997): 22-31.