The Dance of Shiva: A Reinterpretation

Reflecting further on this notion of the “four cities” introduced in the previous post, I was led back to a reconsideration of the Dance of Shiva, the representation of which has intrigued and enchanted generations.

Dance of the Nataraj

In the previous post, we recounted the tale of the “four cities”, and that these “cities” align with the fourfold human, as traditionally imagined as a being of “mind, body, soul, and spirit” — the multiform or fourfold human also understood in the Upanishads as “the fourfold Atman”. And as I’ve suggested, too, the city you belong to, of which you are a citizen, is the expression of the bent, bias, or predilection of your nature towards mind, body, soul, or spirit. So, we could describe these, also, as “the Four Commonwealths”.

Furthermore, these four predilections of the fourfold human were conceived by the Greeks as having affinities with the four classical elements or essences of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water — the element of Earth, being the body nature, the element of Air being the spiritual nature, the element of Fire being the mental nature, and the element of water being the soul nature. Although doing a brief search for this has not so far been fruitful, it also suggests that what the Greeks conceived as “the Four Ages of Man” were ages also in which one of these elements/essences was the hegemonic element. Moreover, the Four Ages of Man conceived by the Greeks map pretty well to the “Yugas” of Hinduism, as well as to the life-cycles of civilisations conceived by Oswald Spengler along the lines of the four “seasons”.

So, this fourfold or quadrilateral pattern is quite repetitive, and we find this as well in the four arms of Shiva, which seem to gesture towards the four classical elements also. In one hand, the Earth element is symbolised by the drum. In the other hand, Shiva holds the Fire element. One hand gestures towards the element of Air, raised aloft, and the other hand gestures towards the element of Water, symbolised by its wavy motion. All four classical elements would seem to be represented, then, in Shiva’s Dance.

Shiva himself, though, is quite Androgynous, reflecting the state of the original Cosmic Androgyne, and we witness Shiva’s four arms weaving or dancing the cosmos into its four elements, four seasons, and four aspects (time past and future, spaces inner and outer). This would imply that our “four cities” are also four aspects of the fourfold Atman.

We have also mentioned previously, the peculiar affinity Shiva’s image presents in relation to contemporary cosmology, which recognises the four fundamental cosmic forces of gravity, electro-magnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces, and also current speculations about how these forces might relate to the so-called “Anthropic Principle” and “the initial singularity”. This seems to be exactly what is configured in the image and meaning of Shiva’s Dance.

So, our “four cities” would also appear to have a correspondence with the four arms of Shiva, and the elements towards which they gesture, or even conjure up, which also have affinties with the four human natures we vaguely refer to as mind, body, soul, and spirit.

Moreover, there is quite a good deal of similarities between Blake’s “Albion” — the fourfold Albion — dancing his “dance of Eternal Death” and Shiva’s Dance, and which Blake also calls “the Universal Humanity”. So, we may take it too that what Jean Gebser also means by the “pre-existing pattern” he detected in the evolution of the four consciousness structures is also represented in Shiva’s Dance.

There is also, in this case, an evident affinity between this representation of Shiva and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” and quadrilateral logic, since the four arms of Shiva would be represented, too, in the four arms of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”, as being the directions or dimensions of consciousness he calls subjective, objective (as the spaces), trajective, and prejective (as the times), and that this also has an explicit affinity with Blake’s “four Zoas” and “fourfold vision”.

As such, Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” and grammatical method should be properly considered as a major contribution towards that “universal way of looking at things” anticipated by Gebser, too, since it unites so much previously not seen as the same — including why we think of ourselves as divided between body, mind, soul, and spirit, or why antiquity conceived of the “four Ages of Man” and reality as composed of the four classical elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.

And these elements, in turn, also correspond to the major systems of the body involved in homeostasis — Earth and the metabolic system, Air and the respiratory system, Fire, and the nervous system, and Water and the circulatory system.

19 responses to “The Dance of Shiva: A Reinterpretation”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    It’s considered the hallmark of a very good theory when it reveals as connected matters previously not seen as connected at all, or as being quite disconnected, in fact. This is also the essence of Kuhn’s idea of paradigm shift.

    Rosenstock-Huessy’s grammatical method is, I think then, an example of a major paradigm shift — what he called himself a “metanoia” or “New Mind”

    • Scott Preston says :

      Can’t omit to mention Iain McGilchrist’s neurodynamic theories as well in this regard, which revealed as connected matters also previously thought to have no connection with one another at all.

      Hallmark of a very good theory.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    I should have mentioned, too, that many of the attributes of Shiva are also represented in the ancient Western image of Aeon (or Aion), which so intrigued Carl Jung as an image of “the Self”. it is quite an intriguing image to be sure

    • Scott Preston says :

      One thing I might mention about “Aeon” that is of interest in relation to Nietzsche. The totem animals of Zarathustra are the Eagle and the Serpent. These are the most pronounced attributes of Aeon, too — the serpent entwining his body and his eagle wings. And, of course, the lion symbol also occurs frequently in Zarathustra as well, particularly in the passage on the “Three Transformations” or three metamorphoses of the spirit.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    Interesting! What I have been discussing all along is called the “Tetramorph”. Had no idea that term even existed until a few moments ago. A Tetramorph is not only Shiva and Aion, it is the zoomorphic forms of the Christian Four Evangelists and the form of Blake’s fourfold “Albion”. All are images of the Integral Self.

      • Scott Preston says :

        “Tetramorph”! I’ve had a very good day today. I’ve been talking about the “Tetramorph” all these years and didn’t even know it.

        • Scott Preston says :

          In effect, if we take these images of Shiva, of Albion, of Christ, of Aion, of the Atman, etc as images of “the integral Self”, then the integral Self is a Tetramorph. And that’s what is represented in the mandala and in Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” and Gebser’s “four structures of consciousness”. The human is multiform being, and lives in four modes of being as mind, body, soul, and spirit, because a human being is a tetramorph.

          Love this word.

  4. Scott Preston says :

    “The association of the four living creatures with the four evangelists originated with Irenaeus in the 2nd century. The interpretation of each creature has varied through church history. The most common interpretation, first laid out by Victorinus and adopted by Jerome, St Gregory, and the Book of Kells is that the man is Matthew, the lion Mark, the ox Luke, and the eagle John. The creatures of the tetramorph, just like the four gospels of the Evangelists, represent four facets of Christ. ”

  5. Scott Preston says :

    “Truth to the friend. Lies to the foe”. If this old saying describes the condition of war and civil war, many states today are in already in a state of low-level civil war which may well intensify into high-level states of civil war.

  6. Scott Preston says :

    Four is described as “the cosmic number”. This is said to be because of a peculiarity of the English language.

    But in the book Deciphering the Cosmic Number: The Strange Friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung, it’s not principally because of a peculiarity of English that four is considered the cosmic number. There may be other reasons why four is thought of as “the cosmic number” than the coincidence that it is the only number whose number of letters exactly match its value.

  7. Scott Preston says :

    There are various ways of presenting what is called “the four ways of knowing”, but here is one I found on the internet about Zen Buddhism’s “four ways of knowing” entitled Hakuin on Kensho: The Four Ways of Knowing. I also have a book specifically entitled The Four Ways of Knowing, which is not Zen, but which I haven’t yet opened.

  8. Scott Preston says :

    I also have a book by Walter Wiora entitled The Four Ages of Music, which is a history of the world’s music. I’m just about to dive into it to see how this pattern emerges in the history of music.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Interesting. Promising opening. Wiora considers his book on The Four Ages of Music to be a contribution to “universal history” — exactly the thing Rosenstock-Huessy was pursuing.

  9. InfiniteWarrior says :

    And the “fifth element”? Akasha? (I’m most intrigued that Akasha’s “main characteristic is Shabda (sound),” if that translation is, indeed, correct.)

    BTB: Interesting to note the introduction of “quintessence” in modern cosmological theory.

  10. Scott Preston says :

    Here is fourfold vision as explained by Neville Goddard in a 1968 lecture I just came across.

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