Rick Ney, the author of this article, has been living and working in Armenia since 1992, in education, humanitarian aid and development. Rick wrote the first guide book to Armenia in the post Soviet era and the first multi-media complete guide to any country, TourArmenia. Writings include the first articles out of the Soviet Union about astral and archeological monuments in Armenia dating back 9000 BC.
Rick and his team at TourArmenia continue to add information about the country to their 600 page web site at www.TaCentral.com.
Sacred Geometry Spiritual Structures in Armenian Architecture
Armenia, located in the Caucasian Mountains on the Black Sea between Russia and Turkey, contains some of the most significant cultural examples of sacred geometry. In the same way as a piece of powerful music can rearrange the psyche, so too can a building, especially one constructed according to certain rules. In order to get your head around this, you have to abandon the idea of there being a world "out there" and a world "in here". The connection between the external and internal is a structured commingling of energies, which have a vibrational and geometrical element. Like throwing a pebble in a pond, this pool of energy can be made to vibrate according to the intent of the architects and masons originating the symbolic structure.
If you can bear to remember your geometry classes, you will find that the origins of mathematics and how it was used by the ancients to construct their cities and temples has not changed that much over time, it has just become more complex (and has fueled the success of hand calculators). The essentials remain the same: a circle, a square, a rectangle, and the myriad permutations of those forms.
Exactly where geometry came from we are not sure, but the source has moved a little East of where people used to think it came from. From Classical Greece, where it received its most philosophic and poetic applications (and from where Western cultures inherited it), geometry's origins moved first to Egypt and Mesopotamia, and then to the Armenian plateau, where the earliest known cities are located. For without geometry, you cannot build anything, and its knowledge was key to survival, and believed to be a key to unlocking the secrets of the universe.
Almost literally, geometry meant contact with the gods. It was considered a way of imitating the structure where the sun (probably the first god) and the moon (probably the second god) governed the natural order – early man believed if he could "map" the universe, he would be able to predict the whims of gods, who sent punishing droughts, floods and pestilence on the land around him.
Geometry was also a fundamental tool for making things by hand. Without it, you simply can't. You may not be aware of it, but when you shape any object, you are following the laws of geometry, which is based on an even older skill – that of measures, or counting. In the ancient world, this knowledge was considered magic, and as magic, it was kept in the realm of religion, in the realm of priests, a carefully guarded secret which was passed on only to the elect. As the image of the structure of the universe, geometry was a symbolic system for understanding how it worked, including astronomy.
Ancestral Armenians and "StoneHenge"
Ancestral Armenians had a refined knowledge of astronomy and were able to predict astral events to an accurate degree. The oldest known observatories in the world are in Armenia. One is called Karahundj. "Kara" means "of stone" or "stones", and "henge" has no specific meaning in English, it either is a forerunner of "hung" or is borrowed from an old Indo-European root. Like Stonehenge, 'Karahundj' is easily defined in the first part, but the second is up to theory. 'Hundj' may be an early version of 'pundj', meaning 'bouquet', or it might be related to 'hunchuin', which means 'voice'.
Other henges – there are many throughout Europe – have the ending "-nish" or "-nich", which in Armenian means "sign". Consistent among all of them is the first sound "Kar" or "Kal", which means stone.
Possibly erected as early as 4200 BCE, Karahundj and the ca. 2800 BCE observatory at Metsamor allowed Ancestral Armenians to develop geometry to such a level they could measure distances, latitudes and longitudes, envision the world as round, and were predicting solar and lunar eclipses about 1000 years before the Egyptians began doing the same. The fortress cities and temples that have been excavated in Armenia (some going back as far as 7000 years) show a remarkable awareness of using sacred numbers and geometry in constructing sacred buildings, using a complex system of squares, rectangles, circles, polygons with intersecting patterns.
Sacred numbers are numbers that have special symbolic meanings. Their importance is rooted in mystical belief--if you used these numbers in measuring, or follow them on certain dates and in combinations, you were appeasing the gods, and affirming yourself as a member of their metaphysical family.
This list is by no means complete, but it will give you an idea of what to look for when you see the monuments in Armenia. By counting out the steps, sizes, and shapes with these numbers in mind, you will be unlocking the secrets of Sacred Architecture in Armenia, from its earliest time through the Middle Ages. Sacred numbers should not be thought of as mere proportional ratios in creating beautiful buildings. They were rooted in a profound belief in the will of a god to bring order into the universe. They were not thought of as human invention, but part of the laws of the universe which humans were blessed in using.
This number represents unity. Since it is part of all numbers it represents the ideal symbol of deity. It is the origin, the elementary.
Polarity and rupture. It is the coming apart of unity--yin yang, good and evil, man and woman, the realm of opposites.
The holiest of all numbers, it is still a part of our unconscious thinking. The triangle, the habitual use of threes in listing things, even the classic comic technique of repeating something 3 times, with the 3rd repetition altered slightly to make the punch line. In religion, the highest deities are in threes: Babylon had Anu, Bel and Ena;; India had Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva; Greco-Roman Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, and the Christian Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The number four was associated with basic divisions of matter and space:; the four cardinal points, the four humors of the body, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, the four rivers of paradise, the four cardinal virtues, the four winds, the four seasons, the four main prophets and the four evangelists.
The number five consists of two unequal parts, 2 and 3. The diversity brings evil and misfortune. The five symbolizes the individual (one who defies the natural order and is punished), the five fingers on the hand, the pentagram.
God created the world in six days. Six is the sum of 3+3 or 1+2+3. Therefore it is perfect. Christ was crucified on the sixth day of the week, and he died in the sixth hour of the day.
From earliest times this number was associated with celestial beings and spiritual forces; seven days in a week, the seven known planets (including the sun and the moon); the 7 evil spirits, the seven levels of a ziggurat (astral tower built by the Babylonians – the most famous being the Tower of Babel); according to St. Augustine, seven symbolized the perfection of God--he created the world and rested on the seventh day; Christian life is ordered by seven: seven capital sins, seven virtues, seven sacraments.
The first number after seven, the symbol of life, the new life after baptism (both in pagan and Christian times). In Christian belief, the resurrection of Christ happens on the eighth day. The octagon is the favoured form for the baptismal font.
The result of 3x3, nine represents an even greater holiness found in three.
According to St. Augustine, this number signifies perfection, because it is the sum of 3+7. It is found in the ten commandments, consisting of 3 laws pertaining to the love of God, and seven to the love of one's neighbour. In Hebraic liturgy it can be found in the ten shores of Egypt, the ten ropes of the tent of the tabernacle, the height of the cherubs in the temple and the ten horns of the apocalyptic beast. Ten is the round and perfect number that forms the basis of the decimal system and is the universal number for the Pythagoreans.
This number formed the basis of the Sumerian and Babylonian numerical system. It holds the twelve signs of the zodiac, the twelve months of the year, the twelve hours of the day. It was significant in Jewish religion: the twelve gates of paradise, the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve bronze calves. In Christianity: the twelve apostles, the twelve stars around the head of the apocalyptic woman, etc.
[Part 2 of this article identifies some of the specific shapes used in Sacred Geometry and explores some remarkable examples of what might be described as "intentional architecture" in Armenia.]