Microcosm, Macrocosm and Metacosm

Exploring Titus Burckhardt’s “Mystical Astrology According to Ibn ‘Arabi” continued:

It is the hermetic idea of the macrocosm, the universe, being reflected in man as the microcosm that helped to integrate astrological symbology in Christian and Islamic civilisation. This substantiated the idea of man being created in the image of God.

James Cutsinger in his “Advice to the Serious Seeker” says quite succinctly, “All the levels of the universe, the macrocosm, come about through the radiation or manifestation of God, the metacosm. But all these levels are to be found as well within each human being, who is himself a microcosm or miniature universe.” (p. 48)

Consider a mirror. What do you see when you look into it? The reflection that presents itself is dependant on how well the mirror has been crafted. Even the tiniest flaw will bring a slight distortion. However imperfect, the reflection will hold every detail of the reality which is shown by it. There is one noticeable difference. It has shrunk a dimension. The reflection in a mirror is two-dimensional. The reality it reflects exists in a space with up and down, right and left, forwards and backwards. The mirror is only able to show forwards and backwards in what we could call the mode of magnitude – large is closer, small is farther away. We can say that in the same way man, as microcosm, reflects the universe, less a dimension. So too does the universe, the macrocosm, reflect God, less a dimension. The mode of reality changes. Even though a dimension is lacking that does not mean that it is missing, it is still present in an analogous form. We can call this change in mode the principle of Analogy. That is why “…the symbol is essentially identified with the thing it symbolises…”


11 thoughts on “Microcosm, Macrocosm and Metacosm

  1. I like your consideration of the mirror, it makes pretty clear that you don’t see all dimensions reflected. I put a link on your weblog. Thanks for posting your pieces, I enjoy them 🙂

  2. Dear Miriam,
    I am happy you enjoy the articles at altairastrology! 🙂
    A mirror is a wonderful image for understanding the nature of analogy. Its natural form, a pond or even a puddle, that reflects the sky offers deep insight into what it means to understand astrological “symbology”!
    best wishes,

    PS as you can see I have reciprocated and added your blog to my list.

  3. The Reflection is not the Mirror. We all make this categorical mistake when seeing our reflections in the surface of the universe. While the surface of a mirror is two dimensional, there is no loss of dimension in the reflection, only transformation of axis. Just as regular ol’ mirrors reverse front-back (Not left-right as most think. Why would it not reverse up-down then? How does it know? ) our reflections in the face of time show us turned around, facing off with our own selves. The movements of our own reflections mistaken as the correlated actions of the universe itself. How Grand! How Central! Instead, see the depth of the mirror itself, the reflections are mostly distraction, multiplying our reactions in all directions. Instead, let God spin the world for you, and polish your own surface to reflect that real infinity in each moment.

    • Quite!

      But mirror and reflection are initimately connected. Without a mirror there can be no reflection. Without reflection there is no mirror.

      • Huh? You speak in tautological nonsense! You cannot see the mirror in your own reflection, nor see your own reflection when looking at the mirror. Please, let the moon out of that bucket of water you carry. This metaphor is leaking all over the floor.

      • Dear Randommm:

        And maybe you should read more carefully before jumping to conclusions. Perhaps you should quote the passage that irritates you so much? And even better correct the reasoning?

        Please keep the discussion here respectful and polite. You might be of another opinion, which is your right. But it is my right not to tolerate discussion that doesn’t respect the person addressed, whether that is me or another reader of this weblog.

      • Suppose we had mirrors that only would show our best side, then we would not see the very details we hope to improve. Why even look then?

        My comments mean no disrespect. By spending time here I mean, like you, to bring insight, not dismay. Tho of course dismay may arise when new insight displays our shortcomings, and then we blame the mirror. I do find it amusing that your reply deflects more than reflects, and I have no problem pointing that out. If that is disrespect, then I am on the wrong blog.

        My original comment “The Reflection is not the Mirror” points at a categorical error we often make when seeing ourselves reflected in others, thinking that they are the source of our dismay when in fact, they are simply returning our own energy.

        As Jean Cocteau said “Mirrors should reflect a little before throwing back images.”

        Maybe this could be specialized a bit to be “Bloggers should reflect a little before posting” (negative comments about their audience.) If anything “irritated” me, it was that there seemed to be little in your reply that related to my comment. As you say yourself… “maybe you should read more carefully before jumping to conclusions.”

        (I do so appreciate the lovely recursion of this thread.)

      • Hello randommm,
        Well that is a relief. Yes my reply was defensive as your last comment had, to me, an aggressive note to it and I wanted to clarify before responding further. Of course one normally doesn’t see the mirror in ones reflection. One sees ones reflection in the mirror. The illusion is such, that usually the mirror is forgotten, unless of course you use your mind to reflect on what you see. Then you can say, “I am seeing the mirror’s reflection of me”. What I was saying is that normally you cannot see yourself. You need a mirror to provide a reflection. If you have no reflection then you also don’t have a mirror. So to me mirror and reflection seem to reciprocate each other. Is this thought absurd? By pointing to the reciprocation I thought to have added to your comment and I do think I understood what you were saying. Does one have to comment on a comment? Maybe I should have left the word “but” away. And maybe I should have written more…

        I’ll do that now. A physical mirror provides us with the metaphor. I think you are also speaking of a level of reflection that does not use a physical mirror but yet seeks to mirror an “image” of oneself. And yes, this particular mirror is usually distorted, we tend not to want to see our negative side. But even at this level there is reciprocation between our “mirror” which is our mind and the reflective activity which also is our mind. Our mirror is the past, our reflection on the reflection is our present. And the polishing of the surface to “reflect the real infinity in each moment” is in a sense a future intention to be applied to the present.

  4. I don’t know about the rest of you, but even though my mirror has a 2 dimensional surface, I see a 3 dimensional image. Depth is not seen as objects appearing larger or smaller depending on distance like in a photograph. My eyes focus beyond the surface of the mirror, I look into it, or through it to see things clearly.
    The mirror has the same dimensionality as what it reflects, but the third dimension is not dependent on physical attributes, it is dependent on the mechanics of light and my binocular perception.

    But hey, maybe my mirror is defective.

  5. Hello Osun,
    Well of course human physiology is such that it is possible to “see” depth. Any form of perspective is a projection of three dimensions onto a surface to give the illusion of depth. Do you have a three-dimensional mirror? Likely not. It is probably a common mirror with a reflective surface. Your mirror is not defective but you may have to differentiate between that from which is projected (the three-dimensional object), the projector (the light-source) and the projection (what you see in the mirror). This is why the mirror is often used as a metaphor to describe complex metaphysical concepts.

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