Knowledge of the Symbol by Pietro Negri

(From Introduction to Magic: Rituals and Practical Techniques for the Magus) by Julius Evola and The UR Group {Including works by Arturo Reghini, Giulio Parese, Ercole Quadrelli, and Gustave Meyrink}

Part 1

According to Dante (Convivium, II, 1), ” texts can be understood and expounded according to four senses”: the literal sense; the allegorical sense, which Dante says, “is a truth concealed behind a beautiful lie’; the moral sense; and the anagogical sense. The anagogical sense occurs when “reading in a spiritual way a scriptural passage, which in its literal meaning and in the things being signified points toward the things of eternal glory”; in other words, it is the innermost meaning of a text that, even when it has a literal sense, deals with topics of a spiritual nature. This latter sense must be clearly distinguished from the allegorical and moral senses, which in comparison with the anagogical sense, at least from a spiritual point of view, have a secondary importance. In my opinion, the anagogical interpretation of the Divine Comedy still needs to be undertaken.

Dante calls this anagogical sense “super-sense.” αν-αγωγη (an-agogy) means “to lead” or “to carry upwards,” or “to elevate.” Moreover, when employed as a technical naval term, it designates the act of weighing anchor and sailing away. Metaphorically speaking, when it is referred to spiritual topics, anagogy therefore indicates spiritual elevation or a rising up from the earth. In the symbolism of “navigators,” it designates leaving that “earth” or terra firma to which human beings are tenaciously anchored, in order to hoist the sails and to find a strong current, heading toward the open sea.

Dante was referring to the writing of “poets,” although the distinction of the four senses may undoubtedly be applied to sacred and initiatic writings and to any means of expression and representation of spiritual facts and doctrines. According to this distinction, the “super-sense” in every type of symbolism is always the anagogical sense. The full understanding of symbols consists in the perception of the anagogical sense concealed in them; if anagogically understood and employed, they may even contribute to spiritual elevation. In this sense, symbols are endowed with an anagogic virtue.

Naturally, not all symbols are endowed with such virtue. By extension, sometimes the name “symbols” is given to mere characters and emblems that have almost exclusively the value of representation. Thus the symbols of mathematics and chemistry do not possess, as such, this anagogic virtue. It is possible in these domains to attribute the same sense to very different symbols. For instance, algebraic multiplication may indifferently be indicated with the symbol of a cross or a dot. But the word “symbol,” in its more proper meaning, has a very precise and complex meaning, as we can easily see from its etymological analysis.

In Greek, the term συμ-βολη (sym-bolé) designates the act of joining, putting together; the related term συμ-βολον (sym-bolon) indicates agreement, and thus the sign, or mark. Both of these words consist of two elements: first the prefix συμ (syn; in Latin cum) merely indicates conjunction, while the latter designates and specifies the character of this conjunction. Βολη (bolé) and βολοζ (bolos) indicate the act of throwing. They are terms connected to the verb βαλλο (ballo), meaning “to throw,” “to strike,” “to cast.” The verb and the analogous term συμ-βολον (sym-bolon; “symbol”) designate the act of reunion, while the synthesis (συν-θεσισ [syn-thesis; in Latin compositio]) indicates the result of the action. The dynamic character of the symbol is opposed to the static, immanent character of synthesis. In regard to the effect of the action, the verb συμ-βαλλω (sym-ballo; “to reunite”) is opposed to the verb δια-βαλλω (dia-ballo; “to separate, to oppose”); correspondingly, the συμβολον (symbolon) is the opposite of the “devil” (δια-βολοσ [dia-bolos; “transversal, adversary”]). The attribution of dynamic and magical virtues to symbols in order to overcome diabolical opposition and adversities is philogically obvious. And just as the symbol leads to a synthesis, its opposite, the “devil,” is what leads to the opposite of synthesis, namely to analysis: in fact αναλυσιζ (ana-lysis) is solution, breaking down, dissolution, death.

In a way, the dynamic virtue of symbols is opposed to every analysis, and it acts as the instrument and as the means of arriving at synthesis. Just as in discursive knowledge one arrives at the thesis conceptually, in a logical way, starting from a hypothesis, likewise in the initiatic endogeny it is possible to arrive at a synthesis by employing the dynamic virtue of symbols, in a magical way, starting from the original human condition. These mere etymological considerations already allow us to see how in higher knowledge symbols have a corresponding role to that played by concepts in discursive knowledge. The correspondences between symbols (συνβολοι) on the one hand, and concepts (con-ceptus, con-cipio) and syllogisms ( συν-λογιξοναι [syn-logixonai; “to com-pute”], on the other hand, is a perfect one. In Logic, the syllogism unites the word (λογοσ, logos) with the thought ([i.e., the act of “pondering,” Latin pensare] from pondus = “weight”; to ponderate means to weigh), and leads in a discursive manner to consideration and to measurement (mensura from mens, mind, connected to mensis, month, and thus to the moon, which does not have its own light but a reflected one, or reflection). The symbol in the magical science or in the pure and purifying science of the Magi (Persian majidan, “purifying,” through fire) works with the (bolé), the irradiation, the projection, the fulguration. The word of logic corresponds to the operation, or the action of magic, just as the “Great Work” of the Hermetic and Masonic tradition corresponds to the philosophical discourse.

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  • No more fatuous chimera has ever infested the brain than that you can control opinions by law or direct belief by statute, and no more pernicious sentiment ever tormented the heart than the barbarous desire to do so. The field of inquiry should remain open, and the right of debate must be regarded as a sacred right.


    - William E. Borah