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Many of the Wisdom Traditions that make up the perennial philosophy have at the core of their iconography, psychology, and cosmology a complex system of correspondences. For example the Five Tathagata Buddhas of Tibetan Buddhism, each with their own colour, mudra, state of consciousness, symbolic animal, and so on; or the elaborate Golden Dawn system of Correspondences that form an integral part of the Hermetic Kabbalistic system.

But useful (indeed essential) as these corerspondences may be for practitioners and students of that esoteric or wisdom tradition, they don't match easily, and sometimes not even at all, with other systems of correspondence.

I found this out first hand when some years back I tried to work out a universal system of mandalic correspondences. I discovered that while there were some links between the attributes asosciated with the Tibetan Buddhist Tathagata Buddhas, and those of the Chinese Taoist and Neoconfucian theory of WuXing (Five States of Change), there was much less similarity between the Hermetic Western and Chinese Taoist systems. This is despite their similarities in terms of practice (Western Occultism, Indian and Tibetan Tantra, and Chinese Alchemical and Village (Shamanic) Taosm have various elements in common - visualisation, deities, mantras, power centers etc). It simply wasn't possible to reconcile the different systems. When I mentioned this to a friend who was a follower of Crowleyan magick and a member of the OTO he indicated he'd had the same results, and said that each system has to be understood seperately, on its own terms, without borrowing or combining the symbolisim of other systems. This is a "postmodernist" approach, which would seem justified here.

There is no way to get around this fact: the perennial philosophy, so good at describing in broad sweeps the structure of reality, simply doesn't work at this fine detail scale. Whatever example is used, it is the same story, provided there is no borrowing to give the appearance of universality (e.g. the Indio-Tibetan and Chinese Taoist cosmologies had obviously borrowed from each other - e.g. both associate Earth with the colour yellow - which is not surprising in view of the geographical proximity). There is a strong generic similarity between the Chinese Five States of Change with the traditional Graeco-Islamo-Western Four Elements and Humours in that both associate specific seasons, physiologies, psychological types, and even physical organs with specific fundamental types. But although there is similarity in principle, it differs in detail - different elements, different colours, different psychological and physiological attributes and so on. There are similar problems when attempting to match both Western and Chinese correspondences with Navaho or Hopi or Mesoamerican ones, or those of various indiginous tribal peoples, and so on.

The reason for these differences are simple. For the most part these correspondences really are arbitrary. Or rather, they are the result of a thoughtform that has built up around each wisdom tradition. The thoughtform is real, so when you are studying and practicing that tradition, the correspondences hacve a real effect. But this pertains to a created structure (the thoughtform, built up by thousands of practioners over many generations), not to a universal, cosmic and cosmological principle that "this is how the universe is".

This is not to deny that in some occasions there may be actual descriptions of some aspect or other of reality, but these tend to be hidden in the "noise" of that-philosophy-only correspondences, and are revealed only by hints that are difficult or impossible to distinguish from arbirtrary coincidences.

But what is ubiquitous and obvious in all these instances is the mandala (as Jung discovered) of archetypes, with the implication that a limited number of universals serve as prototypes or precursors of all phenomenal things in existence. Moreover, there is a sort of sympathy between all phenomena that derive from the same universal, which is the basis of all magical correspondence.

I would suggest such a sympathy, in those instances where it does exist, comes about because all the symnpathetic items participate in the same universal - they have the same root or origin so to speak.

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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 20 August 2004, last modified 29 August