The Omphalos and the Ever-Present Origin
Some of you probably know of the Greek term omphalos. It means “navel”. As such, it is considered a sacred place, the site where the divine creative or sustaining energy, or inspiration, inflows into the cosmos to sustain it. The omphalos is the source and root, the site of origination or even Genesis. For the ancient Greeks, the Temple of Apollo at Delphi was not only erected over what was believed to be the omphalos, but which continued to function as the omphalos itself. The Greeks continued to make pilgrimages to the Delphic Oracle to learn wisdom or the divine will.
This omphalos corresponds to what we call “the vital centre”, the heart of the cosmos. In some ways, this ancient conception of the “navel” as point of the influx of divine energy into the cosmos has been now also been assigned to “black holes” or “white holes” in astrophysics.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
In the Islamic universe, the Ka’aba in Mecca serves as the omphalos. In old Christian maps of the world, the omphalos was located either at Eden with its four rivers, or at Jerusalem or sometimes Rome, and these sites were depicted as the vital centre of the cosmos, the creative and inspiring source or root of its being. These maps are mandalas, actually, for in mandalas, too, the centre of the mandala is the omphalos. The old medieval maps weren’t all that interested in depicting geography so much as the soul itself. Or we might say, that they made no distinction between the soul and the world.
The Navajo omphalos is a cave somewhere in the desert of the southwest United States, from which all beings emerged into daylight. In Blake’s “fourfold vision” depicted in the last post, the omphalos is depicted as a cosmic “egg”, and in the Dance of Shiva (Nataraj), Shiva himself is the omphalos — the vital centre, the organising centre, the pulsating heart of the world.
Greek mythology has it, in one story anyway, that Zeus sent two eagles in opposite directions, and where they met was the centre of the cosmos — the omphalos.
The two eagles flying in opposite directions are the twin axes of time and space in Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”. The centre of the Cross of Reality is the omphalos, the vital centre, and this corresponds to what Jean Gebser has called “the ever-present origin”. The ever-present origin as “vital centre” is, in effect, just another term for the omphalos.
When the Hermetic Wisdom states that “God is a circle whose centre is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere”, this statement means that the omphalos is everywhere and in no place in particular. The statement is also an objection to what the Wikipedia article refers to as omphalos syndrome “the misguided belief that a place of geopolitical power and currency is the most important place in the world”. which is, in effect, what we call “idolatry” or “narcissism”, chauvinism or jingoism, bigotry and fanaticism.
Indra’s Net is a depiction of the Hermetic Wisdom in which the omphalos (and the Logos) is everywhere.
As is the “Jewel in the Lotus”
This accounts for the strange paradox of the human. You are far more than you know, but much less than you believe. We are the intersection of everything and nothing. “Everything” because we are the omphalos and therefore the vital centre. “Nothing” because the omphalos is everywhere anyway, and therefore no individual is unique or indispensable in that respect.
Also, when the New Testament states that “the body is the temple of the living God” or “the Kingdom of Heaven is within you”, it is saying that you yourselves are this omphalos. When William Blake states that every creature carries its Universe around with it, that “all that lives is Holy” (which is practically everything for Blake), or that every creature is itself a “boundless Universe”, he is saying that the omphalos is within you, as “the You of you”.
The Logos of Heraclitus is, in effect, the omphalos by another name. The omphalos is what is also called “the Source”.
When Rumi writes in his poem about the inner depths of the soul as “The Well” and how the “fantasies of phenomena” go there to fill their jars and leave, he is locating the omphalos — the Holy of Holies and the inner sanctum — as something inside the human being itself.
The Ka’aba in Mecca is also a symbol of the omphalos. It is also a mandala and an image of the fourfold human. This is known, however, only to a few “initiates” you might say. The four corners of the Ka’aba have special significance and specific names, being
Ruknu ‘l-Aswad – south east corner where the Hajar al-Aswad is located.
Ruknu ‘l-`Iraqi – ‘the `Iraqi corner’
Ruknu sh’-Shami – ‘the Levantine corner’
Ruknu ‘l-Yamani – ‘the Yemeni corner’
These cardinal points correspond to the four rivers that fed the Garden of Eden, the four arms of Shiva, the “Guardians of the Four Directions” of Buddhism, the four directions of the Sioux Sacred Hoop, the four arms of Rosenstock’s “cross of reality”. It is, in that sense, symbolic form as omphalos. It is both unique in its expression, but also not unique since it shares in the same characteristics as other sacred symbols of the omphalos. It is also a spiritual map of the fourfold human. The Ka’aba is a representation of the vital centre, but not the vital centre itself. That is in the human form, and the Ka’aba is a representation or map of the human form. One doesn’t confuse the map with the territory.
Nonetheless, some Muslim fundamentalists would insist on it being taken literally as the geographic and “true” centre of the cosmos, which is idolatry and narcissism. It confuses the map with the territory. This belongs to that “omphalos syndrome” mentioned in the Wikipedia article. That literalist understanding does not enhance the significance or meaning of the Ka’aba. It diminishes it, rather. The true meaning and validity of the Ka’aba is revealed in its universality only when it is witnessed in relation to other sacred symbols of the omphalos and the fourfold vision, and not as exclusionary or dismissive of them, which is spiritual arrogance.
The truth that “God is a circle whose centre is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere” is the truth of all these sacred symbols of the omphalos and the fourfold vision. The “ever-present origin” is everywhere at once and nowhere in particular. The universality of these sacred symbols of the fourfold is proof enough of that. The problem is, to penetrate their meaning with clear and sober-minded insight, which we might call “Sufi Knowledge” or “Buddha Mind” or “Christ Consciousness”, or satori, and by many other names. True “globalism” will only happen when all these symbols are seen to point to one and the same meaning — one source or origin, called the omphalos, and one shared human destiny, which is “the fourfold vision”.