The Crown of Unknowing
© December 2015
Consider the obelisk. It is made of the same stone that the cities of man are made of; but it stands alone amongst the ordinary buildings. What does it represent?
The base is square. It represents Reason, the crown of the animal, which makes the animal human.
The obelisk is solid, hewn as one whole by hard labor from the living rock. It is not hollow like buildings are made, to hide the many sins and crimes committed within them. This means that the obelisk represents something substantial, even though originally conceived by “imagination [which] bodies forth the forms of things unknown…and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Wm. Shakespeare).
It is erected by means of an invention which, no longer needed, has been forgotten. Reaching skyward, the trunk of the column soars high above the ordinary occupations and ideas of man. It represents Gnosis, knowledge of higher things. This is the crown of Man, which makes Man a Seeker.
It narrows gradually toward the top. As idea and image build upon each other, they rise further from the ground, the animal. The passage upward narrows, becomes less easy for merely human Reason to fit.
At a certain height there is a sudden increase of the inward slope. Here is an interval above which instability would prevail. Reason cannot continue without danger. Something other is needed to go further. The column is topped by a short pyramid narrowing to a point. The pyramid is the Crown of Unknowing, which elevates the Seeker above illusory attachment to particular ideas and images, rendering his mind and heart “capable of every form” (The Interpreter of Desires, Ibn Arabi).
The point, a nothingness, casts a shadow on the earth that marks the days and hours. The point itself subsumes all time and represents eternity.
Parallel to the obelisk of Gnosis, nearly indistinguishable from it, stands the obelisk of Religion. At its base are the polytheisms, the pantheisms, the cosmos of the Manifold Gods, with their fantastic stories. Higher there appears an apotheosis, an absolute God who subsumes the gods. A little higher, toward the top, there is One God Alone, the cosmos of monotheism. Approaching the break towards the upper pyramid, God becomes further from Man and his Reason. His nature and Being flee towards incomprehensibility.
The pyramid atop the obelisk of Religion is the miracle of apophasis—the unsaying of God, since God’s name is no longer sayable. Words fail and fall away. Reason and feeling are purified and become one. Man, dying to himself, becomes immortal.