The cross is probably the most widely occurring of simple symbolic figures. It was found in many cultures long before the Christians adopted it as their symbol and turned it, as a certain hymn puts it, into "a symbol of suffering and shame". At this point in the suffering and shameful history of humanity, a better understanding of the esoteric symbolism of the cross is sorely needed.
At first glance, the cross represents spatial orientation the intersection of vertical (above/below) and horizontal (right/left) axes bringing together multiple dualities into a single whole. The man standing vertically on the ground is reminiscent of the figure "1". As he looks around him, he sees whatever appears on his plane as far as his unobstructed horizon allows. The taller he is, the more he can see.
The human form, naturally standing and walking erect, also has the ability to extend its arms and so, for better or worse, influence its environment in the three dimensions of space. The Celtic Cross, which places a circle around the point of intersection of the vertical and horizontal components, reminds us that there should be voluntary limits to our individual actions consonant with our understanding of what we are doing and the possible effects of these actions.
The "limbs" of the cross suggest a quaternity reminiscent of: the square; the four seasons; the four points of the compass; and the Hebrew Tetragrammaton the four letters Yod, He, Vau, and He which make up the name of God. Many other associations with the number four occur to us as we consider different aspects of our world.
The point of intersection at the centre of the cross represents one's personal standpoint. When included in the count, it suggests the number five: the pentad, the quincunx, and the quintessence that is, the chief, purest, or best part of anything. This point constitutes our personal "self".
The sense of sight is our principal means of perceiving spatial extent. Yet we see only the surfaces of things such as the surface of the Earth on which we stand. In general, we have no direct knowledge of what is enclosed by a surface; our senses of touch, hearing, smell, and taste only give us hints of the interior properties of the objects whose surfaces we see. Even when we break things up and look at the bits through microscopes, we still see only the surfaces of the bits.
With one exception, we have no access to "things in themselves". The single exception is our own "self" which we cannot see but can get to know "from the inside" through our invisible psychic feelings, desires, emotions, thoughts, and convictions. In this context, our physical senses may be represented by the horizontal arm of the cross, and our psychic sensibility by the vertical.
When we really think about it, we discover that all we can know about anything, including ourselves, are our ideas about it. The totality of our individual ideas make up our individual "worlds". For all our various ideas to be brought into agreement with each other, they must "come together" at the centre of our individual cross: otherwise, we shall lack personal integrity and "be at odds with ourselves".
Before all our individual "worlds" can completely agree with each other, we must have achieved a consensus in which every consenting individual has attained personal integrity and has become convinced of the existence of a single "Universe" in which all our individual "worlds" are organic co-operative components. Otherwise, we shall always "be at cross-purposes". It may be said that the concept of oneness with the Universe constitutes the sole basis for ultimate truth.
In this connection the horizontal arm of the cross represents the limited visible world and the vertical represents the relatively unlimited invisible world.
In Chapter XII of Tertium Organum, P D Ouspensky describes three orders of phenomena: physical, biological, and psychic.
Pursuing our analogy, we may say that the horizontal arm of the cross represents physical phenomena, and the vertical represents biological phenomena or life. On the next level of symbolism, the horizontal arm can represent phenomena in general and the vertical can represent psychic or noumenal understanding of phenomena.
If we assume that every living creature possesses some kind of psyche or "soul", we distinguish between "higher" and "lower" forms of life not only on the basis of their physical complexity or method of reproduction but primarily on the basis of whatever we can surmise or deduce about the noumenal quality of their consciousness as described by Ouspensky in Chapter XIII of Tertium Organum. As we have no objective means of measuring consciousness, we can continue our discussion only on the subjective basis of our experience of consciousness in ourselves and what we can discern or deduce about conscious behaviour in animals and other members of our own species.
Thus in all cases, the horizontal arm of the cross represents the relatively limited aspects of our experiential life whereas the vertical reminds us that we can consciously look upwards without encountering any obvious obstruction to our inner sight.
The higher we go, whether by climbing to the top of a hill or ascending in a spacecraft, the further we can see and the better we can understand the space-time relationships between the apparently disparate components of our local part of the Universe. In imagination, we can place ourselves at any point in the Universe and get a better impression of the scale of our puny little lives on Earth compared with that of the Great Universe of which we are a minuscule part.
The higher the level of our consciousness, the wider can be our horizon of understanding. This is symbolised by the level of the horizontal arm on our personal cross. A small bar at the bottom of the cross (as in the figure "1") represents a low "animal" consciousness and a correspondingly restricted horizon of understanding. As we make efforts to raise the level of our consciousness, the horizontal arm of the cross rises and lengthens; our horizon of understanding extends, and we raise the quality of our humanity.
If we take the sign of the cross as our personal symbol, it is a constant reminder that our aim in life is to become the best that we can be. If and when we succeed, the cross becomes like the letter "T" with the horizontal bar at the top. The ancient Egyptians placed a circle on top of the "T" to form the Ankh. This suggests that when we have reached the top of the ascent possible for human beings, a new "super-human" world may open up for our consciousness. This optimistic and hopeful thought helps us to keep striving, and the sense of satisfaction we feel when we have solved particular problems or overcome specific difficulties assures us that our labours are not in vain.