Doing what seems impossible – part 2

In ancient times, the oracle of Delphi was known for its wise counsel and riddles. Above the entrance to the temple it read, "Man know thyself.”

Doing what seems impossible – part 2

(Return to part 1)

The meaning of this was not so much to know yourself as to know yourself as a human being. So the statement read in full: ‘Man know thyself in true proportion [1]. What could have been meant by that addition?


For this, the Greek philosopher and writer Plutarch harks back to the Trinity, which dominated Egypt’s religious way of thinking for centuries. He writes:

The most perfect and also the most divine consists of three principles, namely spirit, matter and the product of their mutual union. The Egyptians likened the structure of the universe to a right-angled triangle, whose upright side represented the number 3, the recumbent side the number 4 and the oblique side the number 5. The upright side as the symbol of the male principle, Osiris; the base as the symbol of the female, Isis; and the oblique side as the symbol of that which is born from the union of the two others, the child Horus. [2]

Horus can then be seen as the divine man, the sacred earth or the beauty in nature. The Egyptian right-angled triangle of Osiris, Isis and Horus is still known as Pythagoras’ theorem: a2+b2=c2. The practical application, to determine a right angle when plotting buildings, remained in use, the spiritual origin however, the trinity of a spiritual principle alongside a material principle that could come to union, yes, that would be even the most perfect, was forgotten.

According to Plato there is an absolute beauty ideal which is not dependent on fashions or habits. This ideal of beauty became known as the sectio divina, the holy or divine relation. Nowadays we speak of ‘the golden ratio’.

Mathematically it can be seen as a line segment divided into two. A large segment and a small segment.

Now a very special division can be noticed, where the ratio of the smallest to the largest piece is the same as the ratio of the largest piece to the whole, a : b = b : (a + b).

So there is ‘a certain point’ on that line segment that divides two unequal pieces in such a way that the ratio of the smaller piece to the larger piece is the same as the larger piece relates to the whole. In that point you find “the golden ratio”. It is expressed by the Greek letter phi, not to be confused with pi.

The golden ratio in nature touches us. The form of a sea star on the beach, a flower or a butterfly can emotionally move us. The golden ratio was applied during the construction of the largest Gothic cathedrals and in many paintings and art works. It is still a familiar and important aspect in art. We daily touch it with our hands: our formats of paper match the golden ratio. But what has it to say to me, in my life?

Love descended and wrote the truth and secrets also on the outside of things, as a help, so that through these letters man might lift himself up again to the spirit of things,

writes Karl von Eckhartshausen. What is the secret of my life?

The golden ratio is also described as a series of numbers that gets bigger and bigger by adding the last two numbers together. It is the series of numbers known as the Fibonacci sequence. These numbers reflect the idea: as above, so below. It starts from the number 1. One is the unmentionable and it is indivisible. One pours down its inspiration or luminosity: 1, 1. Thus the series is created: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55… and the one of the beginning is imparted in all the numbers. These consecutive numbers can be recognized in pine cones, seed motifs, the arrangement of rose petals and branches of trees or the dimensions of our bodies. Is it not incredibly miraculous that the juxtaposed numbers, when divided on top of each other, whether it is 5:8 or 13:21 or 610:987, all arrive at phi or at the number 0.6180339887.. an irrational number with an infinite series of numbers after the decimal point? This number is also more accurately represented by half of (the root of 5 minus 1) or so the formula ½ (V5-1). Here I see the number 5 showing up. It puzzles me. Is this the same 5 as the 5 in the Egyptian rectangular triangle? How special then is the number 5! The root from 5 in the golden ratio has to do with the number 5 of Horus; they complement each other. The golden ratio tries to approach the true relationship of spirit and matter. Phi, the infinite number is the sign of beauty that transcends the earthly. Beauty carries a mystery, something divine, a spark of spirit in matter.

Making a proper composition with only two things, spirit and matter, without a third thing, is an impossibility. For there has to be a binder in the center that aggregates the two.

Of all binders this is now the best, which unites both itself and the connected terms as completely as possible,

I read in Plato’s Timaios. The binding agent is the soul, the substance is love. The soul reveals the secret of life. The sphere of the soul interprets the beautiful and the true.

I see how the spiral of the nautilus shell or of a fossil ammonite grows in the harmonic proportion of the golden ratio from within. The spirals of sunflower seeds draw my eye to the center of the sunflower. Indeed, the number of spirals turning inward consists of numbers of the Fibonacci series.

The soul is connected to the number five. The fifth element, the quinta essentia, from which it is also said that God applied to construct the universe with twelve regular pentagons, the platonic body, the so-called dodecaheder. It is the five-pointed star that stands to shine above the birth cave of Jesus – still as the light of lights for all who long for it. It is the epitome of beauty found in the form of a pentagram. We say holy pentagram. Sacred or holy because all the line segments intersect according to the divine proportion. The pentagram, symbol of the soul that can raise a new man, from earthly man.

Where is the center of gravity of my life? To what extent am I matter-oriented? To what extent spiritual? How does my daily reality relate to my spiritual reality and both to the all-encompassing spirit of life? What lives in my soul? Do I know, do I fathom the true relationship between spirit and matter? Is it possible in my life to somewhat approach that mysterious and harmonious balance between the great, the small and the whole, between body, soul and spirit?

In Hermes’ “Ode to the pentagram” I read:

O radiant five-pointed star, protective symbol of the eternal within me, who banishes the lower forces from my soul and liberates me: shine in me! [3]

Man, know yourself in true proportion. Make the point, which is the soul, ‘the point’ in your life. Strive and continue to strive for beauty, for all that is real, fine, noble, harmonious, clean, unselfish and peaceful.



[1] Hemenway, Priya, The Secret Code: The Mysterious Formula That Rules Art, Nature, and Science,  Taschen GmbH 2008

[2] Snijders, C.J., & Gout, M., De gulden snede [The Golden Ratio], Synthese, 2008

[3] Pentagram 1979, number 1 and 2019, number 4

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Date: August 14, 2023
Author: Ankie Hettema-Pieterse (Netherlands)
Photo: Giula May on Unsplash

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