Omo dei

looking for the center, part 3

written by Mark Brown

prepared for html by Eric Spierings


Whether or not you believe in the reality of Publius and the enigma (I do), and whether or not you are "religious" in the usual sense (I am not), I think this material is very significant. It might provide a starting point to a better understanding of TDB and PULSE artwork.

Not long ago, Justin Davis (jdavis@accessamer.com) of the email Publius-Concern posted to alt.music.pink-floyd about what I see as perhaps the closest thing yet to an overall symbolic construct in The Division Bell.

The omo, symbolic of mankind, consists of an "M" drawn with smooth curves to represent the shape of the human face, with the curves being the brows of the eyes. Both of the curves contain an "O" to represent the eyes, and the central vertical line is the nose. Thus, OMO is spelled by the drawing and the word was used as a multiple symbol in Dante's text.

The omo-Dei, God-in-man, adds the letters DEI to the figure. The bottom of the central line of the nose is crossed by a semicircle with its ends even with the bottom of the nose. That split curve makes the nostrils and a sideways "E". Each ear is a "D", much like on the heads in the Marooned art, and the "I" is centered sideways under the nose to make a straight mouth.

This sucker is hard to find in reference books, I can tell you! I found an omo, but have only read descriptions of the omo-Dei. However, it seems quite possible that it might have been in the mind of the designer of the paired-heads art in TDB, and picturing the sculptured heads with churches between their mouths certainly might support this notion. It is also consonant with my old idea that using monkey art in the album might hint that monks could provide a key to understanding TDB symbolism.

Without delving too deeply into it at this time, I see the cover of the TDB booklet, with heads as a "divided omo-Dei", as perhaps symbolic of our communication being impeded because we've forgotten the concept that we are linked by the divinity within each of us.

As difficult as this was to notice in TDB, a possible overall symbolic construct was much easier to find in the cover of PULSE. It may shed further light on interpretation of TDB with respect to the concept of omo-Dei.

The PULSE cover art seems to be an extraordinarily beautiful rendition of a mandala, which in very simple terms can be defined as a graphic meditation device. The form of a mandala is one of what Carl Jung referred to as archetypal symbols because it's so common in disparate cultures as to be considered universal symbolism that arises from the main thing shared by all of the human cultures -- whatever is essential in the physical and non-physical human form. You might wish to think of archetypal symbols as something that arise as a universal product of human creativity because they are "hard-wired" by evolution into the human brain. You may wish to call the essence of humanity by the name omo-Dei or something more comfortable instead.

This line of thought was inspired by a series on public television in the 80s, some of which I saved on videotape. It was presented by Bill Moyers, a Southern Baptist minister and journalist who served the White House as an appointee of President Lyndon Johnson. Bill Moyers conducted many interviews with Joseph W. Campbell (died 1987), an eminent scholar who studied the remarkable similarity of mythology and symbolism throughout many human cultures since ancient times. (He was victimized by cruel zealots who perceived his ideas as anti-Theist. They wrongly accused him of being anti-Semitic.) A prominent popular- culture student of Campbell's work is film director George Lucas. His Star Wars trilogy -- commonly perceived as a mere "space-Western" -- was actually conceived of in terms of some of the universal myths, the heroic sagas explained by Campbell. Lucas and Campbell were friends, and these interviews, titled collectively on television and in print as The Power of Myth, were mostly done at Lucas's famous Skywalker Ranch in the last years of Campbell's life.

My thinking about mandalas was also inspired by my exposure to the psychedelic-mystic-cosmic-Eastern subculture of the '60s and '70s, which I am grateful and lucky to have survived more or less intact.

Some information below has been gleaned from the 1972 book Mandala by Jose and Miriam Arguelles, ISBN 0-87773-033-4. Also see the work of Carl Jung (whose work is *not* universally accepted and which I have not yet seen), and various books on art, weaving, craft designs, etc.

The mandala is most famous as a thing to be contemplated by Hindus and Bhuddists during meditation, but it's found as an independently developed cultural artform/device in the pre-Columbian Americas (the sand paintings as a healing device in the North American Southwest and the Aztec circular calendars, for example) and elsewhere. Some medieval art such as the Lantern, the octagonal stained-glass skylight in Ely Cathedral, is a prime example. It's found in human artifacts not always thought of as purely artistic: Stonehenge, old military fortifications, circular labyrinths.

It became an archetypal, universal form because it is found all around. Natural patterns inspire mandalas and can be considered as mandala elements. This specifically and emphatically includes the Sun and the iris and pupil of the human eye. Spiral galaxies, atomic diagrams and diffraction patterns, snow and mineral crystals, spiral shells of aquatic life -- all of these have the form of a mandala.

In Tantric disciplines of Hinduism and Bhuddism, contemplation of a mandala, specific hand motions, and singing of a mantra -- a word or phrase such as the Om (or Aum) are all combined as methods to enter an enlightened plane of existence -- Nirvana. It is not a place, it is in the "center" of each of us, and that eternal center links us all in cosmic unity, outside of time.

In these ways of thought, the emphasis is not on a personalized God who is the creative source, a being who is separate from his creation. Rather, the meaning represented by the very limiting word "God" is the expression of all being. As Richard Buckminster Fuller expressed it, "God is a verb." Whereas Western man might worship God, Eastern man might celebrate becoming linked into a divine unity. Where Western man sees himself as created in God's image -- omo-Dei -- Eastern man sees divinity in the process of linking his essence, his center, into the one center of existence. (This is my non-expert understanding of it, achieved more by "osmosis" than by any sort of rigorous study.)

Joseph Campbell said, "The word religion means 'religio', 'linking back'. If we say it is the one life in both of us, then my separate life has been linked to the one life, 'religio', linked back. This has become symbolized in the images of religion, which represent that connecting link."

From the mandala's various manifestations we can derive three basic properties:

  1. a center
  2. symmetry
  3. cardinal points

The first principle is constant; the latter two vary according to the particular mandala. Symmetry can be bilateral or dynamic -- rigid and well-defined, or absolutely fluid. The cardinal points may be precise in number or infinite or non-existant as in a circle. Mandala is a Sanskrit word which has the literal meaning of circle and center. It's common to see a circle with cardinal points defined by a square.

Once again, let me borrow Joseph W. Campbell's words to describe the use of the mandala and the meaning of "the center". He'd been a a runner at Columbia University in his youth, and he knew the center not only in the non-physical sense but also in the way that champion athletes know it -- a quiet place within which is outside of time and from which springs action. Think of the quiet place as the center of the hub of a rotating wheel -- the central, one-dimensional point does not move, but is linked to the surrounding motion in space-time.

JWC: In working out a mandala for yourself, you draw a circle and then 
think of the different impulse systems and value systems in your life.  
Then you compose them and try to find out where your center is.  Making 
a mandala is a discipline for pulling all those scattered aspects of 
of your life together, for finding a center and ordering yourself to 
it.  You try to coordinate your circle with the universal circle.

BM: To be at the center?

JWC: At the center, yes.  [...]

BM: There is one theory that the Holy Grail represented the center of 
perfect harmony, the search for perfection, for totality and unity.

JWC:  There are a number of sources for the Holy Grail.  One is 
that there is a cauldron of plenty [...] down in the depths of the 
unconscious.  [....] This cauldron is the inexhaustible source, the 
center, the bubbling spring from which all life proceeds.
(Notice a possible grail shape between the mouths of the heads in the Poles Apart art, which overall makes a pretty good omo-Dei. --mb)
[....]

BM:  Eliot speaks about the still point of the turning world, where 
motion and stasis are together, the hub where the movement of time and 
the stillness of eternity are together.

JWC: That's the inexhaustible center that is represented by the Grail.  

[....]

JWC:  The peak experience refers to actual moments of your life when 
you experience your relationship to the the harmony of being.

[....]

JWC:  The aesthetic experience is a simple beholding of the object.  
[....] This is the essential, aesthetic factor -- rhythm, the 
harmonious rhythm of relationships.  And when a fortunate rhythm has 
been struck by the artist, you experience a radiance.  You are held 
in aesthetic arrest.  

[....]

JWC:  The word "sym-bol" itself means two things put together.  One 
person has only half, the other the other half, and then they come 
together.  Recognition comes from putting the ring together, the 
completed circle. 
[Which is the symbolism of a wedding ring, the Pope's ring, etc.]

Okay, let's get this discussion back closer to PULSE.

From the book Mandala: "Buckminster Fuller's concept of synergy [the idea that the whole of a system is greater than the sum of its component parts, as in 'a coordinated group of researchers may find more than its members can find individually'...] can apply to the Mandala. [...] the more integrated a whole may be, the more is its capacity for growth and change enlarged. To be whole is to be healed and to be self-healing [....] The purpose of individual Mandalas is to establish a sense of harmony within, so that the individual may turn himself outward with greater selflessness [...] the purpose of the group Mandala is to achieve this through a network of individuals functioning as an organic whole."

So, perhaps PULSE art is symbolically pulling the fans together.

Ralph Metzner and Timothy Leary said in the book Mandala: "As the mandala is a depiction of the structure of the eye, the center of the mandala corresponds to the foveal 'blind spot' [where the optic nerve joins the retina ...] by going 'out' through the center, you are going 'in' to the brain."

"Now there's a look in your eyes / Like black holes in the sky".
                                              -- Waters

"Why did we tell you then
You were always the golden boy then
And that you'd never lose that light in your eyes"
                                       -- Gilmour/Samson/Laird-Clowes
Both of these lyrics seem somewhat coincidental to the image of the central pupil of the PULSE art. Good evidence suggests that they are both about Syd Barrett. However, Syd got "lost in thought and lost in time" on his way to the center, so I'm not sure if Gilmour's lyric only refers to Syd. For him, taking a lyric out of context from "One Slip" might be more appropriate:

"One slip, and down the hole we fall" -- to be crushed out of 
existance by gravity.
As for PULSE, instead of Syd's black holes/eyes, think of the imagery of 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, with David Bowman being drawn through a "black hole" in the alien monolith near Jupiter, and "finding his center" to become the Star-Child.

In the Mandala, we continually proceed from and return to the one source -- the center of being. Out from the pupil and back.

Mark Brown