Living Heritage of Sri Lanka

The Triple Druid Precinct[1]

René Guénon

In Atlantis (July-August 1928), M. Paul Le Cour drew attention to a strange symbol drawn on a druidical stone, discovered about 1800 at Suèvres (Loir-et-Cher). This had previously been studied by M.E.C. Florance, president of the Society of Natural History and Anthropology, of Loir-et-Cher, who thought that the place where the stone was found could have been the site of the annual reunion of the Druids, situated, according to Caesar, in the confines of the country of the Carnutes.[2] His attention was attracted by the fact that the same sign was found on a Romano-GaIIic ocu list's seal, discovered about 1870 at Villefranche-sur-Cher (loir-et-Cher); and he propounded the theory that what it represented could be a sacred triple enclosure. This symbol is, in fact, formed by three concentric squares connected by four lines at right angles. (Fig. I.)

TripleDruid fig 1
Figure 1.

Just when the article appeared in Atlantis, M. Florance was told of the same symbol engraved on the huge foundation stone of a buttress at the church of Sainte-Gemme (Loir-et-Cher); this stone seemed to have an origin older than the church and which might even also go back to the Druids. Apart from this, it seems certain that, like many other Celtic symbols, and notably that of the wheel, this figure remained in use up to the Middle Ages, since M. Charbonneau-Lassay has placed it amongst the "graffiti" of the keep of Chinon,[3] jointly with another no less ancient, formed of eight radials surrounded by a square (Fig. 2) which is to be found on the sacred stone of Kermaria, studied by M.J. Loth,[4] and to which allusion has already been made elsewhere.[5] M. Le Cour states that the symbol of the triple square is found also in Rome, in the cloister of San-Paolo, dating from the thirteenth century, and that it was known also in antiquity by others than the Celts, since he himself had found it several times at the Acropolis at Athens, on the paving of the Parthenon and of the Erechtheum.

TripleDruid fig 2
Figure 2.

The interpretation of the symbol under discussion, as making up a triple enclosure, seems to us correct. In this context M. Le Cour established a connection with what Plato said, when he spoke of the metropolis of Atlantis, describing the palace of Poseidon as built at the centre of three concentric rings linked by canals, thus making a figure analogous to the one in question, but circular instead of square.

Now, what can be the significance of these three circles? It appears at once to be concerned with the three degrees of initiation, so that its entirety wou1d, as it were, be the image of the druidical hierarchy; and the fact that the same figure is found elsewhere than among the Celts indicates that there were, in other traditional forms, hierarchies built on the same model, which is perfectly normal. Moreover, division of initiation into three grades is the most frequent and, we might say, fundamental arrangement; in fact, by comparison, all others merely represent subdivisions or more or less complicated developments. What gave us this idea was that we formerly knew of documents which, in certain masonic systems of the high grades, clearly described these grades as successive circles drawn round a central point;[6] certainly these documents are far less ancient than the monuments referred to, but one can nevertheless find in them an echo of much more ancient traditions, and, at all events, they furnish us, in the circumstances, with a point of departure for interesting comparisons.

It should be noted that the interpretation which we put forward is thus in no way incompatible with certain others, such as that envisaged by M. Le Cour, referring to the three enclosures to the three circles of existence established in Celtic tradition; these three circles, which are found in another form in Christianity, are, moreover, the same thing as the "three worlds" of Hindu tradition. In this tradition, moreover, the celestial circles are sometimes depicted as so many concentric enclosures surrounding the Meru, that is to say, the sacred Mountain symbolizing the "Pole" or the "Axis of the World," and here again is a most remarkable concordance. Far from being mutually exclusive, the two interpretations harmonise perfectly, and it can even be said that, in a certain sense, they coincide, for, if it is a matter of genuine initiation, its degrees correspond to so many states of being, and these are the states which, in all traditions, are depicted as so many different worlds, for it must be clearly understood that the "locality" has only a purely symbolical character. We have already explained, in connection with Dante, that the heavens are actually "spiritual hierarchies," that is to say, degrees of initiation;[7] and it goes without saying that, at the same time, they are related to the degrees of universal existence, for, as we have said,[8] by virtue of the constitutive analogy of the Macrocosm and the Microcosm, the initiatic process exactly reproduces the cosmological process. We add that, in a general way, the characteristic of every truly initiatic interpretation is never to be exclusive, but, on the contrary, to include synthetically in itself all other possible interpretations; moreover, this is why symbolism, with its manifold and superimposed meanings, is the normal means of expression of all true initiatic teaching. [German Swami's note: "See p. 147-148"]

From this explanation, the meaning of the four lines arranged in the form of a cross and connecting the three enclosures, becomes perfectly clear: they are channels by which the teaching of the traditional doctrine is communicated from on high downwards, starting from the supreme level which is its depository, and is distributed hierarchically to other levels. The central part of the figure thus corresponds to the "fountain of learning" spoken of by Dante and the "Fidele d'Amore,"[9] and the cruciform arrangement of the four channels rising from it shows these to be identical with the four rivers of Pardes.

In this connection it should be noted that there is an important shade of difference between the circular and square forms of the figure of the three enclosures: they are connected, respectively, with the symbolisms of the earthly Paradise and of the heavenly Jerusalem, in accordance with what we have explained in Le Roi du Monde (ch. XI) and in L'Esoterisme de Dante (ch. VIII). Indeed, there is always an analogy and correspondence between the beginning and end of any cycle, but at the end the circle is replaced by the square, and this indicates the realization of that which the Hermeticists symbolically designated as "squaring the circle":[10] the sphere, which represents the development of possibilities through the expansion of the primordial and central point, changes into a cube when this development is accomplished and final equilibrium is achieved for the cycle under consideration.[11]

In order more especially to apply these considerations to the question occupying us at the moment, we must point out that the circular form represents the point of departure of a tradition, which is certainly the case where Atlantis is concerned,[12] and the square form its terminal point, corresponding to the constitution of a secondary traditional form. In the first case, the centre of the figure will thus be the source of the doctrine, while in the second it will be more correctly the reservoir, spiritual authority having here, above all, a function of conservation; but, naturally, the symbolism of the "fountain of learning" applies to both cases.[13]

TripleDruid fig 3
Figure 3.

From the viewpoint of numerical symbolism, it should also be pointed out that the combination of the three squares forms the duodenary. Arranged differently (Fig. 3), these three squares, to which four lines in the form of a cross are again added, constitute the figure in accordance with which the ancient astrologers inscribed the Zodiac;[14] moreover, this figure was regarded as that of the heavenly Jerusalem, with its twelve gates, three on each side, and here there is an obvious connection with the meaning just indicated of the square. Undoubtedly there are many other comparisons possible, but we think that these few notes, even if incomplete, help to throw some light on the mysterious subject of the triple Druidic enclosure.[15]

End Notes

[1] Translated from Le Voile d'Isis, June 1929.

[2] Caesar writes: in finibus Cornutum; the interpretation seems to be open to some doubt, since fines does not always mean "confines" but often refers to the country itself. Again it does not seem that anything has been found at Suèvres relating to the Omphalos, which in the Mediolanon or Medionemeton of Gaul, according to the custom of the Celts, should be indicated by a standing stone.

[3] "Le Coeur rayonnant du donjon de Chinon."

[4] "L"Omphalos' chez les Celtes," in the Revue des Etudes anciennes, July-September 1915.

[5] Le Roi du Monde, ch. XI ‘L"Omphalos,' symbole du Centre,' in Regnabit, June 1926. (The article quoted here was again taken up by the author in Le Roi du Monde in the chapter referred to, but without certain details concerning the stone in question and this is the reason for recalling it again here. Here is the passage which should be remembered:

"A remarkable example of the representation of the Omphalos is the sacred stone of Kermaria, near Pont-‘Abbé (Finistère), the general shape of which is a regular cone, rounded at the top. On the lower part is a sinuous line, which could not but be a stylised form of the serpent (...); the summit is surrounded by a Greek key-pattern. On one of the faces is a swastika; and the presence of this sign, of which, incidentally, the Greek key-pattern is a derivation, should suffice to confirm, in as clear a manner as possible, the significance of this strange monument. On another face is yet another symbol, no less interesting; it is a figure of eight radials surrounded by a square instead of a circle like the wheel; this figure is thus comparable with the British flag, which must similarly be of Celtic origin. What is most strange is that this sign of the sacred stone of Kermaria is to be found exactly reproduced in several examples in the graffiti of the keep of Chinon (. . .) and, in the same graffiti, the eight radial figure is to be seen again on the oval shield held by a kneeling person. (Note: This shield clearly recalls the wheel with eight radii, just as that of the allegorical figure of Albion, which has the same form, recalls the wheel of six spokes, as we have already pointed out.) This sign must have played quite an important part in the symbolism of the Templars. (Note: Moreover, the same figure has been preserved even up to modern Masonry, but there it is only regarded as the ‘key to numbers,' and it is shown that it is possible, in fact, to break it down in such a way as to obtain all the Arabic numerals in a more or less schematised form.) For, ‘it is also found in the ancient tornmanderies of the Temple; it is equally to be seen on the heraldic insignia on a large escutcheon at the head of a funerary statue of a thirteenth century Templar from the Commandery of Roche-en-Cloué (Vienne) and on a carved stone in the Commandery of Mauleon, near Chātillon-surSèvre (Deux-Sèvres),' (Charbonneau-Lassay, Le Coeur rayonnant du donjon de Chinon,' p. 16.) This last diagram is, properly speaking, of a wheel; and here is but another example amongst many others, of the continuity of the Celtic traditions throughout the entire Middle Ages. We have omitted to say earlier in relation to this symbol that one of the chief meanings of the number 8 is ‘justice' or ‘balance,' which ideas, as we have shown, relate directly to that of the Centre (it is also known what importance the Pythagoreans attached to the Ogdoad).")

[6] M. Le Cour observes that the central point is conspicuous on most of the figures he has seen at the Acropolis at Athens.

[7] L'Esoterisme de Dante, ch. II.

[8] Esoterisme de Dante, ch. VI.

[9] ‘Le Voile d'lsis. February 1929.

[10] "This squaring cannot be brought about in the "growth" or even in the movement of the cycle, since it expresses the fixation resulting from "transition to the limit"; and, all cyclic movement being properly indefinite, the limit cannot be reached by traversing successively and analytically all the points corresponding to each moment of the development of the manifestation.

[11] Here it would be easy to make a comparison with the masonic symbol of the "cubic stone," which equally corresponds to the idea of achievement and perfection, that is to say, to the realiation of the plenitude of the possibilities implied by a certain state.

[12] Moreover, it should be stressed that the Atlantean tradition is not, however, the primordial tradition for the present Manvantara, and that it is itself only secondary in respect of the Hyperborean tradition; it can only be taken relatively as a point of departure in that which concerns a particular period which is merely one of the subdivisions of the Manvantara.

[13] The other figure reproduced above (Fig. 2) often appears in circular form: it is, thus, one of the most usual variations of the wheel, and this eight-spoked wheel is in some respects equivalent to the eight-petalled lotus, especially in oriental traditions, just as the six-spoked wheel is equivalent to the six-petalled lily (see our articles on "Le Chrisme et le Coeur dans lea anciennes marques corporatives" and on "L'idée du Centre dans es traditions antiques" in Regnabit, November 1929, and May 1926).

[14] The four cruciform lines are then placed diagonally in relation to the two outermost squares, and the space between them is divided into twelve equal right angled triangles.

[15]  (Complementary to this article we add here the following review by René Guénon in Le Voile d'Isis, July 1929:

"In Atlantis (April 21) M. Paul Le Cour pursued his researches on the symbol of the three kreunets; he reproduced a strange document, unfortunately without indication of origin, from the work of Canon Edme Thomas, on the Cathedral of Autun, and which is claimed as representing the Gallic city of the Aedui. In the same article some of M. Charbonneau-Lassay's reflections are quoted, which say that he would not be surprised if the Christians had made of this symbol a picture of the heavenly Jerusalem. In the article which we here devoted to this question last month, we ourselves precisely pointed out some connections of the same import, and recalled that another arrangement of the three squares constituted one of the most usual representations of the heavenly Jerusalem. We are glad to draw attention to this concordance, which causes no surprise, since it has often happened previously that we and M. Charbonneau-Lassay have come to the same conclusions, independently and by different routes, on many points concerning symbolism.")