Archetype, stars, trigrams and time vortex on a Chinese bronze mirror

Round bronze mirror backs invited decoration in Babylonia, Egypt, China, Greece and Arabia (see a rare Islamic disc in Stoneprint Journal 5). The popular theme of seasons, hours and cosmic time, is ironically timeless. Some Eastern cast bronze mirror backs show a central river turtle within four seasonal macro-constellations: spring turtle, summer cheetah, autumn phoenix, winter antelope; which are within eight I Ching (Jee Jing) trigrams in the sequence of a Magic Square of Nine (generating eight totals of 15); placed within 24 hours pictograms. This Chinese mirror includes a date corresponding to AD 758. The five central animals express an archetypal cycle by using some limbs to compensate for lack of eyes, typical of minimalist works. The trigrams and pictograms seem randomly spaced, but they extend the seasonal axes, slightly vortexed clockwise, into three concentric archetypal cycles. The artist had subconsciously moved his seasonal framework from Age Aries to Age Pisces. A similar time-frame vortex precession update appears in the Egyptian Dendera round zodiac (Furter 2014. See an extract on one of my three websites).

The eight trigrams, or eight combinations of two principles in groups of three, were the semi-conscious structuralist, symbolic and ‘correspondence theory’ basis of cultural crafts and philosophy in eastern Asia, perhaps starting in Vietnam, later surviving in official and popular divination crafts in China. Then, as now, the underlying archetypal structure remained subconscious. Revelation of the archetypal model since 2014 is useful to the human sciences and to popular culture, but artists, architects, ritualists and other crafters could not use it, since only nature and pre-occupied minds enable the intricate eye -hand -mind co-ordination necessary to express the meaning of meaning itself. Some Japanese authors thought the eight trigrams were inspired by Shinto artefacts, such as the round bronze Okitsu Mirror, among ten Shinto treasures now at Ise Shrine in Japan. Three of the eight trigrams have optional features that are shared by two adjacent types, thus expressing two types each, raising the total of types from eight to twelve, the minimum required to express an archetypal cycle. This kind of compaction is typical of minimalist artworks (as in this bronze mirror cast), myths, icons, rituals and pantheons (see Stonerpint Journal 5: Culture code in seals and ring stamps). No amount of conscious or symbolic manipulation could compact or unfold the core content of culture with the elegance of subconscious inspiration.

This table uses the blueprint model of structuralist anthropology (Furter 2014, 2016, 2019) to demonstrate how eastern trigrams express the archetypal types and sequence in their lines, names, directions, and animals (noting archetypal features in brackets). The sequence could be read in either direction. Seasons run contra hours and precession. The sequence could start at spring or summer. This list follows the convention to start with three lines or Heaven, as the principle of active change or flux, where energy informs matter, or archetype informs expressions via embodiment and organisation, or physis and dighe (see Furter 2016: Stonerpint, Philosophy chapter). Trigram or hexagram lines are traditionally named Heaven or Earth, written as –or- -, 1or0, or 1or2, as used here.

Typ Tri Name  (feature) Dir Animal    (feature):

11p 111 Heaven(polar)   NW DeerDouble (womb11)

10  112 Lake  (balance) W  TurtlSnake (reptile)

09  222 Earth (gravity) SW Phoenix    (light)

06  121 Fire  (fire)    S  ________   (_____)

04p 211 Wind  (path)    SE Sparrow    (bird)

03  122 Thundr(spring)  E  Dragon     (dragon)

15g 221 Mount (gate)    NE Tiger      (‘dog’)

13c 212 Water (work/mix) N ?crab?     (shell)
Eastern bronze mirror cast back. Central turtle; four seasonal macro-constellation animals; eight I Ching trigrams in sequence of Magic Square of Nine (that generates totals or 15); 24 hours pictograms (AD 758. Drawing after Zoi Kotitsa. New Zealand private collection. Archetype labels, axial grid and vortex by E Furter).

This post simplifies the structuralist analysis format by noting main character features in text, and indicating archetypal features by their archetypal number in brackets. For example, instead of noting a ‘type 6 sacrificial (sacrifice) fire (fire)’, the format now notes ‘type 6 fire (6) for sacrifice (6)’. The known optional recurrent features in cultural media are listed in the paper Blueprint (Furter 2019. See Researchgate or http://www.edmondfurter.wordpress.com).

Type Label; Character and archetypal features (type numbers):

1 Builder; Pictogram horizontal line ‘One’.

2 Builder; Turtle shell with supposed trigrams or ‘book’ (2). Pictogram cross + ‘two’ or ‘cluster’ (2).

2c Basket; A pictogram.

3 Queen; Turtle left claw as ‘dragon’ (3), sacrificed (3) for divination as ‘school’ (3) to calculate the current change. Trigram 122 Thunder or spring (2>3) as Dragon (3). Pictogram three lines, ‘Three’ (3).

4 King; Womb (11v4) of antelope buck. Trigram 211 Wind or bellows of a kiln (4). Animal Sparrow bird (4). Pictogram ribs? (off the grid, probably a spring marker, see ‘Age’ below); and Pictogram identical (4) to 5a.

5a Priest; Pictogram  identical to 4p.

5b Priest; Antelolpe (5) heart (13v5) hyper-active (5).

5c Basket Tail; A Pictogram.

6 Exile; Antelope horned (6), tongue out as sacrifice (6), near (6) the axial centre. Trigram 121 Fire (6) for sacrifice (6).

7 ChildA; Phoenix tail unfolding (7), eyeless (7).

7g Gal.Centre; Pictogram of many lines or junctures (7g).

8 Healer; Pictogram prop or pillar (8).

9 Healer; Phoenix of light (9), wing up (10). Trigram 222 Earth or gravity (9).

9c Basket Lid; Pictogram disc (9c).

10 Teacher; Phoenix as guard (10), ‘metal’ (10), ecology (10), wing or up (10). Trigram 112 Lake. Pictogram ‘arms’ (10).

11 Womb; Womb (11) of cheetah. Trigram 111 Heaven, Force or Law (11). Pictogram crops (11), axis to its base or womb (11. See polar types below).

13 Heart; Heart (13) of cheetah felid (13,14).

13c Basket Head; Trigram 212 Water as active (13) and mixed (14), direction North (polar13c). Pictogram double container (13c) or oracle (13c).

14 Mixer; Cheetah felid (13,14) as fast as time (14). Trigram 212 Water mixed (14). Pictogram ‘4’-shape or ‘mix’ (14).

15 Maker; Turtle reptile (15) as ‘bag’ (15), right claw, rampant (15). Pictogram H-shape as doubled (15).

15g Gal.Gate; Trigram 221 Mountain as barrier (15g). Pictogram ladder-shape or juncture (15g).

Most pictograms are omitted here, requiring more study to check against known archetypal features.

Axis; Unmarked as usual.

4p Gal.S.Pole; Antelope horn-tips as ‘joints’ (4p). Trigram 211 Wind or ‘path’ (4p). Pictogram identical (4) to 5a.

11p Gal.Pole; Central turtle’s right claw limb-joint (11p). Trigram 111 Heaven or polar (11p). Pictogram triple cross junctures (11p). The horizontal plane of the design confirms the two p-markers.

Summer; Central turtle’s tail base limb-joint (polar), or two other options.

Winter; Central turtle’s left wrist limb-joint (polar). The likely seasonal markers are near the vertical plane of the design.

Age: The summer marker is on axis 15 or Gemini, thus spring and the cultural time-frame in Age Pisces, contemporary with the work. The extra pictogram between axes 3-4 may be act as an additional spring marker. Most works express the time-frame or transition prior to the work, as this work does. Structuralist features of expression are universal, and subconscious to artists, architects, builders, crafters and members of any culture.

General themes in this Chinese cosmic mirror back are revealed by extra features of these axes:

Axis 2v9 Builder v Healer, typical of twisted posture (here of the phoenix, and roundel frame inviting rotation), cluster (three concentric cycles), book (inscription and correspondences), or maze (concentric frames); opposite disc (the mirror itself), smelt (bronze), or trance (mirror reflection and circular loops).

Axis 3v10 Queen v Teacher, of dragons (two turtles), sacrifice (turtle plaque oracles), or queen (mirrors were elite); opposite metal (bronze), disc (mirror), school (text), or carousel (roundel).

Axis 6v14 Exile v Mixer, of sacrifice (turtle plaque divination), or double-head (mirror reflection, and front-back); opposite time (seasons and hours), or transform (time).

Axis 4pV11p Gal. S. Pole v Gal. Pole, of junctures (trigrams, three cycles, and central turtle).

These general themes indicate that East Asian tradition, as this artist, use some of the most ambiguous recurrent features

  • See more miniature artworks, and semi-consciouis cosmology correspondences, in Furter 2018: Stoneprint Journal 5, Culture code in seals and ring stamps (Lulu.com. $14 plus postage).
  • Edition 5 includes a rare Islamic mirror, Greek jewel engravings, a Greek Cycladic salt pan calendar, Mesopotamian and Indian Harappan, Indus and Egyptian trade seals, Egyptian and Assyrian cylinder seals, and Romanian Vinca tablets.

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