The square is an expression of quaternary; firmness, stability, honesty, integrity. “Be square with me.” “He’s a square.” An image of organization and construction. It’s like a brick; it refers to matter, earth, and rationality. It’s an old image of the order and stability of the world. It has four elements, four seasons four stages of life, the four corners of the earth… so it’s an image of God manifesting in matter, in creation. It may also represent, I think, death; fixed, as opposed to the dynamic circle of life and movement. Because the square has limits it represents form, and permanence, and stability.
The circle is often an image of the sun, of heaven, and perfection, and of the Self in its more impersonal aspects. It corresponds to an ultimate state of oneness, whereas the square, I think, more represents the plurality of man, without any inner unity. And the Tai Chi, of course, says there’s always something of the masculine in the feminine, and something of the feminine in the masculine, and so on. The circle is also an image of time in the sense of cyclicality, recurrence, birth and death, infinity, eternity, also of time - because it has no beginning and no end - time enclosing space. Timelessness, no beginning and no end, and also of spacelessness since it has no above and no below.
So you see why circle and squares were ancient images of divinity. As the sun, the circle, was masculine, but as the soul it was feminine and maternal. So the circle in fact can be both, sometimes, depending on the context. The dream picture also has a sun/moon image, see that crescent at the bottom is a moon. Jung says whenever an unconscious content becomes conscious this is the equivalent of a coniunctio; solis et lunae, an equivalent of a sun/moon conjunction. So this is constantly, many different ways imaging the coming together of these different aspects of consciousness, emphasizing the masculine and the feminine, the eternal and the temporal, the spiritual and the physical, in all these different images.
Squaring the circle, which is what happens here, is an alchemical preoccupation about the relationship between the circle, which is a cosmic symbol of heaven, and the earth, imaged as a square. It’s an image of how you unite the opposites into a higher synthesis, where the opposites don’t opposite anymore, where they now synthetically somehow a unity. Their idea was to obtain unity of the spiritual life and the material world. For Pythagoras the circle itself was an image of the soul, and, in the hermetic tradition, the alchemical tradition, that square with the circle in the middle was an image of the Anima Mundi, the Soul of the World. To have an image of the soul, the soul of the person, and the soul of the world... you see how many superimposed images of apparent opposites joined together in an attempt at synthesis. It’s a profound mandala of the joining of all these opposites.
Jung also wrote about this squared circle as being an image of salt in the alchemical literature. It’s a double totality symbol; the circle represents non-differentiated wholeness, and the square discriminated wholeness. In alchemy one meaning of salt was soul, used by the alchemist to mean soul; understanding and wisdom, and relationships if the salt has lost its savor, and so on. So, it means relationship, understanding, and soul. Christ sometimes in the Christian tradition is spoken of as the salt of wisdom, that which makes wisdom, and so on.
The triangle is an implicit triangle, it’s missing on this side. There’s clearly an implicit triangle. You see there’s a figure missing… on the man’s left side there’s a missing figure, and guess who belongs there. The base of the triangle is between what should be the two human figures. The triangle in alchemy was an image of man, it was an image of soul, body, and spirit. A triangle in a circle is an image of forms held within the circle of eternity.
When it’s pointing upwards in alchemy it was an image of fire going up; an image of ascent, and the urge to get up from below. A circle within a triangle within a square, if you can imagine that, is an image of the relationship; the triangle between the square and heaven as a circle, how those things are brought together. So that, I think, is reflected here as well. If you finish the triangle I think you’d put the dreamer’s head down there, and finish the triangle, and then you’d have an image of the relationship between humanity at the bottom and divinity at the top. That, of course, is what is called in Jungian psychology the “ego-Self axis.”
Continued in part 8.
Jungian Views on Aging, by Lionel Corbett