41. Tetradic florilegia

Beginning and end: Creation and Apocalypse

Beginning and end (of the area of visible visibility in a communication) has always intrigued humanity, because these markers provide the first and the last strongholds of security in the world of oppositional thinking: the definition of a boundary is a mirror of the position of an observer in a communication. The statement that the world emerged some 4500 million years ago, like the modern scientists suggest, or was created by God on the 22nd of October in the year 4004 BC, at six o’clock at night (like the Irish bishop James Ussher of Armagh calculated around 1650) is – above all – a matter of interpretation of facts in the light of a certain kind of visibility. Dante gave his position as a dual thinker away when he opened his ‘Inferno‘ with the strophe:

.                                      On the middle of the road of our life, I found

.                                      myself in a dark wood, because I lost

.                                      the Right Way.

He started halfway, in the dark, because he had lost the right way: his vision was built on opposites. The choice of the moment of creation determines the trajectory of further development as a fact. This trajectory does not only influence the past, but also the present the moment in which the observer defines the moment of creation – and the future. Fixing the moment of formation is therefore, not an act free of obligations, but it establishes the values of the communication and the position of the observer therein. It is a telltale moment in time.

The creation mythology is, from this point of view, a source of information, in particular, as a pointer to the type of division thinking in which the mythical past emerged. The Christian creation-myth of Adam and Eve, for example, with its details written in the book Genesis, was clearly conceived in a dualistic environment. The identity of the human being was of crucial importance. The expulsion from Paradise implied also the creation of two different worlds: a perfect and forbidden one and an imperfect one to which mankind is condemned.

In other traditions, like the classical Greek or the Kabbalah, the stages in the process of visibility are fourfold:

————————-  1.  origination

————————-  2.  creation

————————-  3.  formation

————————- 4.  expression

The Celtic creation-myth was also born in tetradic thinking. Geoffrey of Monmouth gave around 1150 – in his ‘Vita Merlini’ (The Life of Merlin) an overview of the creation (TATLOCK, 1943)(fig. 272).


Fig. 272 – The creation in the Celtic (Welsh/Breton) tradition, as described in the ‘Vita Merlini‘ of Geoffrey of Monmouth (around 1150). The fourfold creation has three phases:
1. the four elements or powers are created by the godhead; 2. the repetition of this primary creation in the world of the stars and the planets; finally 3. the creation of the four elements, four winds and the four zones of the earth. In: STEWART  (1989).

The ‘creation vision’ consisted of seven stages (STEWART, 1989; p. 106): 1. The four elements are produced from nothing; 2. They are joined in harmony by the creator; 3. Heaven is adorned with stars and surrounds the creation; 4. Air is created below the stars, as a medium for day and night; 5. The sea girds the land in four circles, and with its turning of tides generates: 6. The four winds; 7. The earth is made as a foundation and is divided into five zones.

Four elements (or powers), generated by the godhead, are echoed in the world of stars and planets. They generate, in a cyclic process, again four elements and the four zones on the earth. Every circle is connected by a fifth, spiritual element, which interconnect the circles. This pattern is found in all creations. The spiritual order is formed by the angels, spirits, demons and humanity, completed by birds, fishes, animals and snakes.

This tetradic presentation has a firm relationship with the symbolism of the wheel of life, which can be found in many versions in mythological creation stories (fig. 273). The wheel is a reference to cyclicity and recurrence, and provides a (fourfold) world view in time and place. ‘What is eternal,’ said Aristotle, ‘is circular, and what is circular is eternal.’ The interpretations of the direction of the four spokes of the wheel are as follows:

  DIRECTION                    ELEMENT                CYCLIC TIME                      LINIAR TIME

        east                                      air                    spring       morning                 beginning      birth

        south                                   fire                  summer    afternoon               growth           youth

        west                                   water                autumn     evening                  flowering       adult

        north                                 earth                 winter        night                      decline          old age

It should be noticed that this interpretation does not comply with the ‘quadralectic’ vision based on types (stages) of ‘visibility’ (fire – air – earth – water).


Fig. 273 – The ‘Ogham wheel of Roigne Roscadach’ is given in the ‘Book of Ballymote‘ (AD 1390; fol. 170r), as an example of the practical use of the wheel of life.  This scale does not show the Ogam script proper, but is more likely a magical attribute, that was employed to give magical powers to the owner, or could be utilized in divination, to determine the future, or the will of the gods or the nature of events (FELL, 1993).

Creation remained a favorite theme in the Middle Ages, in particular, because the lower forms of division thinking have an affinity with the delimitation and boundaries. The ‘Hamilton Bible’ (Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett 78 E 3) of the mid-fourteenth century gave an example of the creation-myth from the Neapolitan school. A group of miniaturists, working at the court of Anjou in Naples around this period, showed Byzantine influences (HEIMANN, 1938/39). Father and Son have a Janis-face with nimbus, completed by the Holy Spirit with wings (fig. 274).


Fig. 274 – The creation of the world depicted in eight scenes. Naples, between 1350 and 1365. From the Hamilton Bible in Berlin.  In the upper row on the left is a cosmic scene, showing a primordial stage of the world, followed in the second picture by the creation of the four elements. The third and fourth scenes demonstrate the creation of man (Adam and Eve). The lower row depicts the temptation in paradise and the expulsion, followed by the need to work and finally the killing of Abel by his brother Cain. In: HEIMANN (1938/1939).

A growing interest in the creation story can be noticed around the year 1700 in the European cultural history, as already been mentioned in the discussion of the four monarchies (Gold, silver, bronze and iron). The French scholar Pierre Daniel Huet (1630 – 1721) was referred to as an authority, while Samuel Bochart (‘Geographia Sacra’ (Leiden, 1692; fig. 275) had been studying the subject some ten years earlier. He, in turn, was preceded by Thomas Burnet – who published his ‘Sacred Theory of the Earth’ in 1684, later followed by the ‘Archaeologia Philosophica‘ (London, 1728). Their common interest was the search for the actual geographical position of the (Biblical) paradise: a scientific conformation of that position would only strengthen the firmness of their Christian belief.


Fig. 275 – An example of the many maps where paradise is positioned in Mesopotamia, east of Babylon. This one is by Samuel Bochart (1599 – 1667) in his ‘Geographia Sacra’ (Leiden, 1692). This work of outstanding scholarship was originally published in 1646 and earned him a great reputation. Queen Christina of Sweden invited him to her court in 1652, where he went accompanied by Pierre-Daniel Huet (1630 – 1721). The latter became an authority on Bible matters in his own right, worked at the court of the French king Louis XIV and was ordained as a priest in 1674. The geographical position of the earthly paradise is situated at the confluence of Euphrates and Tigris. The four rivers (Euphrates, Tigris, Phison and Gichon) transfer the ‘paradisus terrestris’, where Adam and Eve are visible as small figures. The ‘Garden of Eden’ is an island (Eden Insula) in de Tigris, just north of the paradise. From: BOCHART, Samuel (1692). Geographia Sacra, Leiden. In: FRÄNGSMYR  (1983).

Thomas Burnet knew his aim (expressed in chapter IV of ‘The Theory of the Earth’): ‘Earth and Mankind had an Original and were not from eternity.’ He detached himself from the ideas of Aristotle, who saw the earth and humanity as eternal, without explicit beginning and end.

Aristotle, as the Greek interpreter of a fully developed philosophical tetradic system, did not find sympathy in the growing Rationalistic setting of the eighteenth century in Europe, where scientists were frantically searching for limitations and boundaries to cast their knowledge in unambiguity. The interest in the creation-myth was a clear example of this search, inspired by the idea to find proof of an actual beginning. It was not realized at the time, that this quest for the foundation was a call for visibility of man itself. A cry for identity.

FELL, Barry (1993). The Ogam scales of the Book of Ballymote. pp. 87ff in: ESOP. The Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers. Vol. 22.

FRÄNGSMYR, Tore (Ed.) (1983). Linnaeus. The Man and His Work. University of California Press, Berkeley/London. ISBN 0-520-04568-8

HEIMANN, Adelheid (1938/1939). Trinitas Creator Mundi. Journal of the Warburg Institute,  Vol. 2, pp. 42 – 52, 1938 – 1939. The Warburg Institute, London.

STEWART, R.J. (1989). The Elements of Creation Myth. Element Books Limited. Longmead, Shaftesbury, Dorset. ISBN 1-85230-106-6

TATLOCK, I.S.P. (1943). Geoffrey of Monmouths’ Vita Morlini. Speculum. A Journal of Medieval Studies, 18 (1943).

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