Walls That Don’t Surround: The Story of Two
In Hay Riad, Rabat, there is a street that has new government buildings, including the wedge-shaped Institute for Amizigh Culture. At the end of this street is a gateway, an arched transition. I cannot read the Arabic mixed with the geometric ornament on the gate’s façade. But I know what the doorway represents. It calls attention to the action of coming and going, one and two, moving between the square (worldly) and circular (perfect).
Arched doorways are all over the place in Morocco. “Moroccans sure like walls.” an American tourist commented as we drove through Fes to tour the Merinid tombs, “They have walls that don’t have anything inside; that don’t surround anything!” His observation is accurate. But where there is a wall there is a doorway, and it is the doorway that matters.
Arched doorways in Morocco and the walls that hold them straight are found in homes, gardens, mosques, and even intersections. The door may guard nothing more than the momentary flow of traffic, but they always draw attention to the transition from interior to exterior, from public to private, or from one to many, such as when a street meets a roundabout.
An understanding of the story of the numbers one and two provides insight into the symbolism of the arched doorway and its use in Morocco and other cultures.
It takes two to create. Male and female; individual and society; point and line; a need left unfulfilled; a passion seeking expression. It takes some form of duality, conflict, or tension to spark-up the energy needed to combat life’s inertia with creation or creation’s attempt. It takes two circles to form the
Man and Woman
In Darija, the Arabic dialect spoken in Morocco, the word for two is juj, which means pair and husband. That Moroccans use the word juj for two as opposed to the standard Arabic word for two, ithinin, speaks to the ancient roots of Moroccan design traditions. Sumerians, one of the earliest human civilizations and one of the early inventors of language, saw the number two as male. Sumerians didn’t have numbers as we know them, rather language and numbers were the same. They used the terms woman (one), man (two), and many to describe quantity. There is a rationale to this impractical approach to numbers, which was provided later by Greek philosophers.
The ancient Greeks called one, the Sumerian woman/mother, the Monad, which represents unity, perfection, and wholeness. The physcial expression of the Monad, written in the sand by ancient geometers, is a dot, which expanded becomes a circle (this is where the design part begins). The circle, using the geometers’ tool the compass or a string attached to a stick anchored in the sand, is the parent of all other shapes, just as one is the parent of all other numbers. But it is a parent that only recreates itself. For when a number is multiplied or divided by one, it remains the same (1x1x1…x1=1). In this way, one is the common denominator of the universe.
For creation to take place, the Monad needs another. But one can only recreate itself. This means that one, physically expressed as a circle, needs another circle. Consequently, creation in the world of geometric design begins with two circles overlapping like a dividing cell, a configuration known as the vesica piscis (Latin for “bladder of the fish”). It is also called mandorla, which means almond in Italian. In Moroccan, the corresponding shape is also called almond, luz, and is used in constructing geometric designs.
The vesica piscis is also a yonic symbol in Indian culture and can be interpreted as an opening womb associated with virgin birth. The vesica piscis is a geometric construct that gives birth to other shapes and numbers.
Within the two overlapping circles of the vesica piscis, there are born two points that connect to form a line. This new line is the physcial expression of the number two, juj, pair, husband. Called Dyad by the ancient Greeks and seen as an element of chaos, two, the line, creates both a boundary and a link. It rests between the one (Monad, perfection, mother) and the many (3, 4, 5…and all those numbers represent), so that it pulls towards perfection and wholeness and also towards multiplicity and the unknown.
The ancient Greeks considered the Monad and Dyad the parents of numbers, not actual numbers themselves, similar to the way the Sumerians saw numbers as man, woman, and many. The Greeks added a reasonable explination to the idea of parent numbers. The physical representations of one and two, the dot and the line, are only one dimensional, mere concepts. As explained by Michael Schneider in his book Beginners Guide to Constructing the Universe
Nobody can hold a true point or line in his hand. Likewise, no one or two points or angles will create any actual form by themselves. But an ongoing interplay beginning with a point and line is all that is required to construct the world’s geometric patterns.
Through the expression of one and two, the woman/mother and man/father, we get a pair juj, but not a new creation. The vesica piscis gives us a visual of a line poking the insides of a delicately opening circle (hint, hint). Ultimately, new creation comes from this pairing, be it a new shape from point and line or new life from woman and man. The archway is a reminder of transitioning from one, wholeness, simplicity, the safety of life behind the womb, to the infinite many that comes with a pairing, juj and the creative urge the pairing of male and female represents. Or, it can be seen as a funnel that takes us from the world of the many back to the world of the One, which is the particular meaning of the arched doorway used on mosques, churches and other sacred buildings. The archway in the above photo funnels two lanes of traffic into one.
Bravo for reading this far! As a reward, the following diagram, which is worth way more than a thousand of my words. The following has been extracted from Schneider’s book, shows how a vesica piscis is used to create an arched doorway. (At least now you have an appreciation for what the vesica piscis represents).
In constructing the doorway, the almond-shape made by the vescia piscis is squared off as it meets the ground. In nubmer symbolism four, which is visualized as a square, represents the earth. So, the structure and shape of the archway is also a meeting of the heavenly, perfect circle, the creative tension of its pairing, and the meeting of the divine creative energy with the square earth.
To learn more about numbers and their role in creation, I highly recommend Schneider’s book, Beginners Guide to Constructing the Universe. It is a dense read, I am only up to the number four, but I find it hard to write about the subject of numbers and their connection to our lives without quoting him directly. It seem he has said everything and said it well. The book changed the way I view math, philosophy, life, doorways to intersections, and walls that surround nothing.
Also, if you enjoy any of the content on this site, please visit a sponsored link or leave a comment to help me justify the time I spend writing. Thanks!