HEAD, HEART, HAND, AND EYE: THE HUMAN AS SYMBOL OF WORLD - A Little Bit of Symbols: An Introduction to Symbolism - Henry Reed

A Little Bit of Symbols: An Introduction to Symbolism - Henry Reed (2016)


The entire world, including the human beings in it, is a creation born from images in the mind of the Creator, Mind-of-God. This idea is another one of the Hermetic principles mentioned in The Kybalion. Everything bears the “maker’s mark.” As a mirror of the Creator, the world is quite immense. On the other hand, the human being provides a perfect mirror. As the Bible expresses the Hermetic principle of correspondence, “God created man in His own image.” The study of the human would reveal truths about the universe and its Creator.

Imagine, then, a human being standing up, legs spread, feet firmly planted, arms raised from the side. Make a few leaps of thought. What experience within suggests something about the world “out there”? How is the human a mirror of creation?

There’s a feeling of aliveness inside, for example, that renders the aliveness outside quite apparent. What makes for the sense of aliveness we feel inside ourselves? The awareness of movement, breathing. Something or someone is initiating movement, and that makes for life. It is easy to feel one’s way into the idea of the breath being a reflection of the wind, an animating spirit. Breathing it all in creates a sense of oneness, of participation in the creative force of life.

What else can we feel inside? We can sense our pulse, the heat of the blood, the heart being the central furnace and pump of this energy. It is just like the sun, then, that shines its heat down upon us. This heat is some kind of fuel source, just as the sun is. The heart is in the center of the body, joins Heaven and Earth, and thus exists as the center of the cross.

One of the symbolic dimensions of the Aztec-Mayan religious life was the worship of the sun and its feeding through the sacrifice of the heart. The energy of the heart was sacrificed to feed the sun. The meeting of heart and sun occurred at the center of the cross formed by the pyramid’s floor plan at every level, up to the very top, closest to heaven. The intersection of Heaven and Earth occurred there as an energy exchange between heart and sun.

One of the ironies of history is imagined in Spanish author Salvador de Madariaga’s beautiful novel The Heart of Jade. When Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés met with Aztec emperor Montezuma in Mexico, they both saw crosses and hearts in one another’s insignias and displays. Although the Spaniards wished to annihilate the heathens, they were unaware of how much pagan heritage they as Christians had themselves. The symbolism in the Christian insignia expressed intuitive feelings of love and faith that were also present in the worldview of the ancient Mexicans they were destroying.

Part of the heart’s symbolic power is how it can bring together opposites. Not just linking Heaven and Earth, spirit and matter, Christians and pagans, but also love and hate, joy and sorrow, near and far. Consider the image found on cigar box labels as well as spiritual objects of Jesus with His heart exposed, dripping with blood yet sprouting flowers or flames from the wound. Can there be life-giving creativity in suffering?

While the sun and the wind are essential to life, as are the heart and lungs, it is the pattern of relationships among the elements of creation that forms creation. Shake hands with the world. We use our hands to touch, to handle, to communicate, to make signs, and to hurt others. We use our hands perhaps more than any other part of the body, and so they have more symbolic functions than other body parts. Prehistoric cave paintings testify to the popularity of the handprint signature.

One of the more common hand symbols is the hamsa, which is an image of the right hand, open and upside down, as if it were a hand from above. Thus it symbolizes such suggestive themes as protection, good luck, being chosen, etc. Hands are something we have two of, as we have two arms, two legs, two feet, two eyes, and two ears. One can be dominant over the other, and in life sometimes we have to allow the other to have expression. We notice that there’s a right-handed way and a left-handed way, and we can also find balance between our hands. Many hand gestures are expressing symbolically, suggestive of certain experiences.

I can ask myself, “When something happens to me, how do I usually handle it? Do I feel I had a hand in it? Do I keep my hands behind my back or do I take a hands-on approach? On the other hand, how do I like to be handled myself?”

Sometimes the hand has an eye in it, which adds an extra element of drama. Add an eye and we have a particularly watchful guide and protector. On the other hand, an all-seeing eye can evoke a bit of concern, of paranoia, about the “evil eye.”

An interesting thought experiment is to imagine a special video camera recording our every moment, including both our internal experiences and external actions. Most folks are uncomfortable with such a prospect. Upon reflection, the source of the discomfort has to do with self-judgment. Recall the story of the apple bite in Eden, which had the psychedelic effect of thrusting Adam and Eve into awareness of self as distinct from other, the separation that we call self-consciousness. With separation comes the knowledge of good and evil—in other words, judgment.

Thus the all-seeing eye becomes a mirror—am I accepting or judging? The eye in the pyramid on the back of the dollar suggests an awareness that has been a constant witness to the development and products of humanity. Is it a silent witness or a judge?

A cartoon rendering of planet Earth with a face on it gives the impression of the planet as a living being. In Villa Hermosa, Mexico, there are giant heads sitting on the ground. These ancient Olmec sculptures appear as if emerging from Earth. Later expression of this same theme has the head of the Mayan god Kukulkan (“Feathered Serpent”) emerging from the mouth of the snake. In each case, the head is suggestive of consciousness, as if being evolved and born out of the unconscious Earth. We might also interpret them as suggesting that the world was sprouting consciousness in the form of humans.


We can see it in your hand.


I’m getting a head of myself.

Don’t put it in your mouth.


I gotta hand it to you.

Love spoken here

To know in your heart

Protected from evil