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The Active Eye in Architecture
Sir George Trevelyan

First published in 1977 by The Wrekin Trust
This book is out-of-print, available only on this website
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10  The Spiritual Springs of Architecture


This last chapter is avowed speculation. It is written for those who feel, as I do, that the great arts of man are symbols of the Spirit. Those who believe there is no Reality beyond the plane of matter would do well to stop reading here, if indeed they have tolerated the argument thus far. The basic thesis of the book holds good whatever viewpoint you take towards the eternal verities.

We have been led to the view that the pillar in all its astonishing metamorphoses represents a life principle working upon dead substance. Now we are drawn to a further question. Where does the column come from? What indeed are the springs of architecture? The one question leads to the other. Modern knowledge of the supersensible worlds points to the strong likelihood that there are many planes of consciousness, that the earth plane on which we now live is but the lowest, heaviest, darkest density, and that when the soul and spirit of man are released from the body at so-called ‘death’ they move on to a subtler light-filled plane where much wider experience is possible. Birth is truly seen as the entry into the severe restrictions of the body and the five senses, which can only filter ‘small and broken sounds’ through to us. With these senses tuned in only to the slow vibratory rate of earth substance and the world of gravity, we are wholly incapable of seeing the spiritual worlds which surround us with thronging and surging life but on a much higher wavelength. Hence, through the atrophying of the organs of perception which brought vision and knowledge to earlier epochs, we come to deny the very existence of higher planes of creative life and consciousness from which we descend at birth and to which we, as spiritual beings, really belong, returning when our sojourn on earth is completed.

Now if for the sake of the argument this view of the continuity of consciousness and identity beyond death can be accepted, let us see where it leads us for our present subject of architecture. The planes of light, entered after death, are also our place of sojourn in sleep and in deep meditation. The soul (or, to be precise, the ‘ego’ and the ‘astral’ body) leave the physical and etheric bodies on the bed in sleep and move up to the higher worlds. The experiences of the spiritual world are of course entirely forgotten on waking since we have no organs developed to record them consciously. The seers and adepts of our time have, however, shown that continuity of consciousness can be attained and these soul journeys in sleep can be a major source for modern spiritual science and research into knowledge of the higher worlds. In meditation the developed imagination can see picture images which reflect the true experiences on those planes.

It is a frequent experience in meditation that temple forms are seen. The soul has moved into a world of light and is surrounded by spiritual beings. It comes perhaps, in adoration, before an altar which stands in a circular chamber surrounded by noble columns, or it is with a throng of other souls in a great temple chamber. The pillars have themselves the marvellous quality of being lit from within, the marble shining with its own radiance. Often the imagination will show that we are surrounded by great angelic beings protecting the sanctuary. The columns here are Beings belonging clearly to a yet higher level of spiritual evolution in that they have come down to give protection to the struggling and aspiring souls.

Imagination is a much misunderstood word. It has been degraded to meaning mere fantasy. In truth it is the first stage of initiation into higher knowledge and is the ability to see spiritual reality in picture form.

To all with any experience of imaginative vision, architecture appears as a major feature of these higher planes. There the substance of building is living light. Since light is ultimately Divine Being, it is clear that the very stuff of the celestial columns is of the angelic world. The great craft on the higher planes will be the shaping of light-substance by thought.

Now we begin to see why the column, representing Being, is the major form. It is the image of inner experience on the tremendous planes of light. The great architects of the Renaissance were frequently men of deep religious experience but of an oceanic kind. They were men of cosmic vision. We must also remember that in sleep the architect, as a soul being, makes the nightly voyage into the realms where the celestial architecture of light can be experienced. He comes back to earth with the shadowed recollection of mighty structures. He has been among the ‘buildings’ of which the great columns literally are angelic figures, radiant with the light of Helios, the spiritual sun. Hence is implanted in the soul the urge to repeat something of these forms in the architecture of earth. It is a true inner drive related to reality that compels him to work with pillars and pilasters.

Thus our great temples are to be seen as pale reflection of the splendour of architecture on higher planes. Gothic, Classic or Renaissance, the architects are striving to represent in some small way the fantastic scale and wonder of the buildings they have genuinely experienced in sleep or meditation. It is not necessary that they should actually remember the experience, though some might admit to it. It is well established that the super-conscious and subconscious faculties of man are closely in touch and therefore the seeds of heavenly experience and recollection might well fructify in the rising of creative inspiration. Man in creation is indeed a channel for the spirit and it may well be that higher powers therefore use him to give to mankind some faint image of the splendour of the worlds of light. In the field of painting, John Martin (1759-1854) gives us the vision of heavenly architecture. His colossal imaginations of the columned terraces of Babylon and Nineveh are the earthly counterpart of celestial architecture. To him the possibility of structures of light on higher planes was an obvious reality. We can too lightly say that Martin ‘simply imagined’ it, implying that he invented what he would like to have seen. What if he really glimpsed the truth, that

Ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity.


We must grasp the concept that it is possible in apparently empty space for there to be interpenetrating realms on different vibratory rates in which ‘substance’ will, relatively, be experienced as solid as we know it here. We must of course appreciate that ‘higher’ planes means not spacially distant but of higher frequency. These spheres interpenetrate everywhere but each is wholly invisible to the inhabitants of another, unless special faculties have been developed. The denizens of each plane will experience mountains and trees, buildings and lakes as positively as we do on earth. ‘Space’ may thus prove to be filled with structures and landscapes, and therefore architecture of incomparable beauty may extend tier upon tier into eternity. Visionary art and literature have always known it. The Book of Revelation describes the New Jerusalem as a City built out of Light. It is described as standing four square with four great gates of pearl and streets of gold. This is interesting in the light of what we have seen about the cube. Here is the Heavenly Cube, counterpart to the earth cube which we found to be the basic structure in bringing architecture to earth. In heraldry the blazon for the Cross of Jerusalem, the coat of arms of the Holy City, reads ‘Argent, a cross potent quadrate at the centre', or a cross with the four square symbol at the centre, gold upon a silver field, the one time when the basic rule of heraldry is broken and two shining metals are placed on each other. Here they are meant to dazzle in the splendour of Light representing, ‘the heavenly city the New Jerusalem adorned as a bride...'

With new eyes now we can look at the great Hellenistic temple of Apollo at Didyma near Ephesus, (332-150BC) now no more than fabulous foundations and ruins, never finished because of its colossal scale, but conceived as the temple to end all temples, the ultimate in columnar architecture. The sanctuary is protected by an approach of 50 vast Ionic columns each 64 feet tall and ranged ten abreast in five ranks before the cela. See them now as celestial beings, warrior angels marshalled to defend the approach to that point where the God might descend to earth, for the cela and its secret inner chamber where the great statue stands is for no less a purpose. We must enter into this Greek belief that here actually the God was able to touch down on earth. To create such a point and protect it was the purpose of the temple and thus no one but the initiate priests might enter the Holy of Holies. In purpose it was quite unlike the Gothic temple, into which worshippers thronged to be lifted to the spirit. Thus the architects endeavoured to represent the eternal truth of the perfect angelic beings defending the approaches to the holy place. That the Didyma temple was never physically finished is immaterial. In idea it is reality and truth. The perfected columns are there in IDEA and indeed exist in structures of spiritual light on some higher supersensible plane. The builders struggled to represent the great vision in marble. In this sense, Imagination must see perfected column as the primary factor, there from the beginning. Human endeavour, without consciously realizing it, was led step by step to evolve a form ever approaching nearer to the archetype.

Here then is an answer to the original question ‘What is a column?’. It is not just a form invented by architects and worked out by a particular style, but is a representation of an archetype of spiritual perfection, experienced as reality on some inner level of the architect’s consciousness. Thus earthly architecture at its most splendid is seen as a pale and partial reflection of the glories of architecture on the celestial planes, which we may expect to experience after the great transition into Light which we call ‘death’. Thus architecture speaks direct to the soul as a symbol of the supreme hope. The prospect for lovers of architecture is indeed tremendous and gives an added spur to our studies. The cultivation of an appreciation of architecture while we are on this lowly place of earth may therefore turn out to be of infinite importance for our spiritual progress on the endless way.


Baroque Coda
Now we must look at that extraordinary architectural expression in the South German and Austrian Baroque and Rococo. This is highly relevant to our theme. To many this style appears at first sight to be violently overdecorated and extravagantly exaggerated as an architectural form. But let us look at it in the light of what we have been thinking.

First we have to recognize its historical setting and overcome any Protestant prejudice! It was avowedly a weapon of the Counter-Reformation. The plan of campaign was to sway the peasants and townsfolk by sacred drama, playing upon the senses so that the soul should be exalted. Thus architectural form, glory of colour, splendour of painting, grandeur of music should be the setting for the greatest of all dramatic acts, the Eucharist. The worshipper was to be lifted through the artistic experience on to higher levels of consciousness and given a visible demonstration of the reality of the invisible worlds. The experience was to be one of glory and of joy.

Thus note first that in the main structure of the church, the pure circle of the Renaissance centralized church gives way to the oval. The circle, as we saw, has a perfection and therefore finality as an expression of spiritual life. Stretch it into an oval and new energy is released. It is given a direction – up to the Altar where the Mass is being celebrated. Entering the west door the eye is led dramatically to this focal point of the Sacred Drama. Colour, light, form and decoration, sound and incense all serve this end. Everything is symbolic, playing not on the cold intellect but the sensitivity and imagination.

Thus the eye is drawn to the altar with a convergence that sweeps the congregation as a group consciousness into the mystery of the Mass. Then upward through a huge picture portraying whatever the legend may be behind the dedication of the church. Always it will elevate the consciousness and draw the eye upward until it moves over into the architectural forms above the great columns. Here everything is in motion. Gravity-bound forms dissolve and come alive. The pillars have remained link features between gravity and ‘levity’, but the abacus above the capital becomes plastic and mobile, the architrave begins to melt into curves and fantastic forms, the very arches can break up into wave forms and cease to have any apparent relation to physical structure. Sculptured Beings appear, crowding angels, cherubs holding back the heavy curtains. Drama plays through the forms. High above the altar there may be a radiant golden sun form and the eye will be drawn through into depths of light often achieved with incredible technical ingenuity. The use of light from windows, sometimes direct, sometimes hidden, will intensify the experience.

So the eye moves up to the ceiling and beyond the point where architecture ceases and the heavenly realms are revealed. Before we entered the church we had looked up into the depth of the blue sky. Inside we look, as through a magic aperture, into the seven spheres which Dante explored. We move over in consciousness into the higher vibrational experience. The theme may be some drama such as the apotheosis of a saint. We see figures seated upon clouds or floating up into etheric space. Level upon level of greater light is conveyed to us until the eye moves through into the golden Empyrean where Our Lord may be seated upon the rainbow bridge or the Cross be redeemed in radiant glory.

Now, I repeat, we must lift clear of any prejudice that this is mere Catholic propaganda of the Counter Reformation. In the present time of dawn of a New Age, the ageless wisdom reawakens and we rediscover that the Universe is a Living Whole, shot through with Creative Being and Divine Intelligence, and that we are integrally part of this Unity of Life.

Thus the painted Baroque ceiling gives us through the eye the very experience which is bursting upon our new under standing. This is the age of space exploration, but not only through satellites round the moon. Parallel with that, the imaginative understanding begins to explore into expanded realms of consciousness. It is discovered that by entering within ourselves and creating the focal point of inner stillness we may move through into the higher worlds. In Blake’s words:

To open the eternal worlds
To open the immortal eye of man
Inwards into the realms of thought
Into eternity
Ever expanding in the Bosom of God
The human imagination
.’

This is the Baroque experience innerly achieved in mediation. There have been moments in our conferences and gatherings dedicated to the new understanding of the Spirit, when a group experience has been achieved in meditation and then the sensitives and clairvoyants in the party have described how, to their vision, the whole ceiling of the chamber disappeared in light and a thronging of angelic beings became visible. This is the Baroque experience which Zimmerman and Balthazar Neumann strove to fix in painting and colour and the glint of gold, while the soul was lifted by the august triumph of Bach on the great organ. Thus we must learn to overcome a first reaction against the apparently exaggerated forms and allow the consciousness to melt beyond structure into the realms of pure free living colour and being. The Baroque may serve to draw us through into the realms of the archetypes of creative expression.

May we be privileged through imaginative vision to use the optical experience of architecture as a gateway to the higher worlds of being and vision. Even while sojourning in this Temple of the Spirit, our own mortal body, may we be allowed to get some glimpse of the glory of the Structures of Light which are the essence of Architecture in the subtler planes. The entry is through the sacred void within ourselves. The key is not only meditation, but active and imaginative looking at the forms which the Muse of Architecture has given us through the builders of the great styles, if we can but dissolve their frozen forms and get them again alive and moving as they were on the plane of the Archetypes.

Now if you have enjoyed this book, I urge you to go forth and LOOK and may your seeing be rewarding. There is no end to the exploration.


End of book. Return to Thoughts and Beliefs index

This way! Click me and I'll take you to the next page!
The Active Eye in Architecture
Sir George Trevelyan

First published in 1977 by The Wrekin Trust
This book is out-of-print, available only on this website
Next page
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Start of the book
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© Copyright Sir George Trevelyan and estate, 1977. This book may be downloaded and printed on paper in single copies for personal use and study only, in a spirit of fair play and without financial transaction. .