In this article we will look at the symbolic life cycle of a plant related to the Flower of Life. The symbolism always boils down to processes of transformation.
Remember, all in the universe is processes. One could say that all processes are processes of transformation and the purpose of life is to transform.
As Keith Critchlow writes, “The conditions that govern the growth of any plant are similar to the conditions that govern anything in existence.”
We will also explore Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s concept of plant growth and transformation from his The Metamorphosis of Plants from 1790.
Before we begin it would be helpful to familiarize yourself with the parts of a flowering plant (angiosperm).
Angiosperms are flowering plants that produce seeds enclosed within a carpel. They are a large group consisting of almost 300,000 known species.
The parts of flowering plants include the:
- The pistil is the female reproductive part of a flower. It is centrally located, and typically consists of a swollen base, the ovary, which contains the potential seeds, or ovules; a stalk, called a style, arising from the ovary, and a pollen-receptive tip, the stigma, variously shaped and often sticky.
- Apocarpous – a flower that contains separate pistils (carpels)
- Syncarpous – a flower that has a single pistil with two or more united carpels.
- Stamens are the male reproductive part of a flower. They produce pollen in terminal sac-like structures called anthers. The number of stamens is usually the same as the number of petals. Stamens consist of a long slender stalk, the filament, with the anthers at the tip.
- Some stamens are similar to leaves, with anthers at or near the margins.
- Small secretory structures called nectaries are often found at the base of the stamens.
- Corolla (petals)
- The corolla consists of all the petals of a flower. The petals are usually colorful.
- Calyx (sepals)
- The calyx consists of all the sepals. The sepals are usually green like the stem and leaves.
- The number of petals is usually the same as the number of sepals in angiosperms.
- Stem leaves
- A leaf is an organ of a vascular plant and is the principal lateral appendage of the stem.
- The leaves and stem together form the shoot.
- Leaves are generally, but not always, green.
- Cotyledons are ‘seed leaves’ – the primary leaf in the embryo of higher plants.
- The root is the organ of a plant that typically lies below the surface of the soil. It is the non-leaf, non-nodes bearing parts of the plants body.
Keith Critchlow writes in The Hidden Geometry of Flowers, that plants have “four distinguishing functions: roots, root stalk, light–synthesizing leaves and flowering.
These follow the Socratic hierarchy of consciousness, which is eikasia or conjecture; pistis or belief; dianoeia or thinking objectively; and finally noesis or reaching permanent truths.”
The Metamorphosis of Plants
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was a brilliant German writer and statesman. His body of work includes poetry, prose, verse dramas, memoirs, four novels, literary and aesthetic criticism, and treatises on botany, anatomy and color.
Goethe was fascinated by the growth and evolution of plants and yearned to discover “some simple unity among the great variety of vegetation, an original or archetypal plant – an Urpflanze.”1
This archetypal plant lies beyond the empirically visible, touchable, smellable, classifiable plant, “undergirding and guiding the formation and transformation of the material shapes we see on the stem.”2
The Urpflanze, From Goethe’s Metamorphosis of Plants
His work takes us back into the archetypal realm that we discuss many times in Cosmic Core – Plato’s realm of pure ideals or the realm of time/space. This is the metaphysical source realm, the dynamic inward archetypal realm which we can conceive as a vibrant field of formative forces, from which all blossoms forth. The realm of ideals speaks in the language of geometry and simple polarity.
“This dimension is necessary to account for both the apparent oneness in the great multitude of different plants [or life forms in general] and for the similarity of structure [geometry] in the different parts of a single plant [or again, life forms in general].”3
This metaphysical archetypal realm is the same realm that Jeremy Naydler referred to in The Future of the Ancient World when he gave examples of this invisible but omnipresent realm that we meet in our everyday lives.
He wrote, “In the case of the perennials, all that is left in winter are a few muddy roots or tubers; in the case of the annuals some tiny seeds. That is all that remains in physical, external space. The rest is gone – it is actually nowhere. But it is from this ‘nowhere’ that the plants return in the spring, once more unfolding into locational space, once more taking on externally perceptible form. One of the reasons why it is such a joy to greet the plants again when they reappear in the spring or summer is precisely because they reappear miraculously from ‘nowhere’.
The plants are nature’s shamans, constantly passing out of ‘locational’ space and then back into it again. They are travelers between worlds, repeatedly going through death and rebirth…In the overall cycle of their existence they are more ‘nowhere’ than they are ‘somewhere’, and this is a very remarkable thing to contemplate!”
In our extensive series of physics articles we continued to come back to the concept that everything in the universe oscillates back and forth from space/time to time/space, or the visible physical reality to the invisible metaphysical reality. This oscillation forms standing waves. The standing waves are geometric in nature and they are what physical matter precipitates upon. They are the invisible framework or architectural plans of physical reality.
This oscillation involves two forces – the only two forces in nature according to Walter Russell. These forces are the inward centripetal force of gravity or contraction, and the outward centrifugal force of radiation, or expansion.
Goethe found that there were two aspects to this ordered but productive power: intensification and polarity.
Intensification is “’a state of ever-striving ascent’ toward greater complexity or perfection, toward the fullest possible expression in physical, empirical phenomena of the potential inherent in the underlying idea.”3
This is the concept of consciousness striving to fulfill its highest potential for the greatest good. This is also called value fulfillment.
Polarity involves the ‘dynamic and creative interplay of opposites’ – the alternating forces of expansion and contraction.
This striving for a highest expression as well as the alternating forces was described by Goethe as “a universal impulse ascending ‘as on a spiritual ladder.’”3
“For Goethe, the integrity and rising intensity of the inner impulse, the creativity of which sometimes issues in complexities of form far beyond the needs of mere survival, gives natural things a degree of autonomy and a measure of intrinsic value. They, and nature in toto, are destined not for particular – and particularly anthropocentric – ends, but rather are striving for the internal satisfaction of wholeness.”4
Goethe found there were six stages in this polar process that involves the expansion and contraction of a singular ‘organ’ of the plant.
Goethe says that “it came to me in a flash that in the organ of the plant which we are accustomed to call the leaf lies the true Proteus who can hide or reveal himself in all vegetal forms. From first to last, the plant is nothing but leaf, which is so inseparable from the future germ that one cannot think of one without the other.”5
In The Metamorphosis of Plants Goethe tries to make it clear that the various plant parts that developed in sequence are intrinsically identical despite their manifold differences in outer form.
“We first noted an expansion from the seed to the fullest development of the stem leaf; then we saw the calyx (sepals) appear through a contraction, the flower corolla (petals) through an expansion, and the reproductive parts (stamens and pistil) through a contraction…the greatest expansion occurring in the fruit, and the greatest contraction in the seed. In these six steps nature steadfastly does its eternal work of propagating vegetation by two genders.”6
That is, Goethe is proposing that the petals of a flower could be considered as transformations of the leaves of the same plant. The flower petals are new colored and transformed leaves. The bougainvillea pictured below is a perfect example.
The Poinsettia is another great example of this:
“A stamen (male part) is a contracted petal or, with equal justification, a petal is a stamen in a state of expansion.
A sepal is a contracted stem leaf with a certain degree of refinement, or a stem leaf is a sepal expanded…
Seen here a sepal is a contracted leaf…or a leaf is a septal expanded.
The stem is a contracted flower and fruit, and the flower and fruit are an expanded stem.”7 The banana tree is a clear example of this:
Leaves contract to form a stem. The stem expands into flower and fruit.
Goethe also notes that he has been discussing the growth of annual plants. However, “our approach is readily applicable to longer-lived plants, for a bud opening on the oldest tree may be considered an annual plant even though it develops on a long-existent stem and may itself last for a longer time.”8
He is referring to the fractal growth of trees, when the term fractal was not yet coined.
To review, his six part process involves:
- Expansion from the seed in stem leaves
- Leaves are expanded seeds.
- Stems are simply compacted leaves – see the banana tree for an obvious example.
- Contraction from stem leaves into the sepals of the calyx
- Sepals are contracted leaves.
- Expansion from sepals into petals (corolla)
- Petals are expanded leaves.
- See the Poinsettia or bougainvillea for an obvious example of flower petals as different colored leaves.
- Contraction from petals into pistil and stamens
- Pistils and stamens are contracted leaves.
- Expansion from reproductive organs into fruit
- Fruits are expanded leaves/pistils/stamens.
- Contraction from fruit into seed
- Seeds are contracted fruits.
Goethe’s six part process process of plant growth and transformation is especially interesting when we look at the germ of life pattern which is six circles around one. The germ of life expands to form the seed of life, then the flower of life, then the tree of life. The germ in this case is the singular ‘organ’ or leaf of Goethe’s explanation as the leaf and germ are “so inseparable…that one cannot think of one without the other.”
“Goethe’s perception takes at face value what the flower is actually doing – that is, using its powers of creating two-dimensional features to perform a ‘new’ and different function from the photosynthesis of the leaf, and by doing so creates its own reproductive system. The leaves literally ‘flower’!”9
Geometry of the Plant Life Cycle
“What we find when investigating the geometry of the life cycle of a flower is that it describes or creates a ‘flow’ from point-seed to flower bud, and then through a spherical unfolding.”10
Geometry is an essential condition of existence and so has the value of connecting flowers to all other natural objects – representing as it does the universal order of space. This unfolds inevitably from a point to a line to a solid.”
The point: seed Geometric Point/Bindi/Singularity/Wormhole/the Monad
The line: shoot Line from Point to Point/Action/the Dyad
The plane: leaf & petal Equilateral Triangle/Harmony/the Triad
The solid: flower & fruit Tetrahedron/Nature/the Tetrad
Keith Critchlow writes, “From the point (seed), the line (as shoots from the seed) grows both upward and downward. From the light-seeking upper stem arise the planar leaves, and finally beyond these the flowering form delineates a ‘solid’ or three-dimensional field of action.”
Critchlow then adds, “The life span of a flowering plant follows a rhythm from season to season until it is ‘reborn’, usually about a year later although there are many variations…What becomes apparent to even the most elementary study is that a plant embodies and responds to rhythms…This once again confirms that organisms pulsate rhythmically. Life is rhythmic. Our heartbeat most emphatically confirms this.”
Geometry of the Plant Life Cycle – Symbolism with the Flower of Life
Now we will take a look at the plant life cycle and its symbolic aspect related to the Flower of Life pattern. We discuss the Flower of Life in detail in Article 65.
The Flower of Life is one of the quintessential patterns in sacred geometry. It is symbolic of not only the individual growth of organisms in the universe, but the creation and evolution of the Universe itself.
In the case of the germ, seed, flower, fruit and tree – this process represents a continuous fractal-holographic growth pattern. For within the germ of each plant lies the plant in full. But not only that, each plant that came before it as well lies within the germ, and each plant that will come from the germ also lies within it. It is a multidimensional structure that contains the whole, and the past, present and future of its unbroken lineage.
Everything in physical reality is built upon a fractal-holographic pattern where the whole is present in each of the parts, no matter how small.
It starts with six-circles around one. This seven-part process mirrors the seven stages in the geometry and behavior of a flowering plant that Keith Critchlow discusses in The Hidden Geometry of Flowers.
These Seven Stages are:
- The seed: as the point of departure.
- The first shoot: as the line of development.
- The stalk and the root ‘shoot’: as extended life lines.
- The first leaves plus roots: as the unfolded plane of flatness
- The first bud of flowers + leaves + roots: as the point of solidity of the flower which will be housing the next generation. (The flower bud is a new ‘point’ of departure.)
- The unfolding flower + leaves + shoots: as the fulfilling sphere of display and celebration of flowering.
- The developed fruit and seeds + leaves + roots: as the consolidating sphere containing multiple seeds or points within the solidity of the seed pod.
Jeremy Naydler asks, “Where, in fact, does a plant begin and end? Where should we place its boundaries? Doesn’t each plant have qualities of soul that its outward form does indeed reflect? And isn’t the onus on us to attend to these qualities with no less diligence than we, in our scientific age, have attended to its physical attributes.”
Now we will see the geometric symbolism of this process:
- Germ of Life
- A germ, in this context, is a portion of an organism capable of developing into a new one or part of one, such as the embryo in a plant seed.
- Seed of Life
- A seed, of course, is a flowering plant’s unit of reproduction, capable of developing into another such plant.
- Flower of Life
- A flower is the seed-bearing part of a plant, consisting of reproductive organs (stamens and carpels) that are typically surrounded by a brightly colored corolla (petals) and a green calyx (sepals).
- Fruit of Life
- A fruit is a sweet and fleshy product of an organism that contains seeds. In the plant sense, fruits can be eaten as food – giving nourishment and perpetuating life.
- Tree of Life
- In the botanical sense, a tree is a woody perennial plant, typically having a single stem or trunk growing to a considerable height and bearing lateral branches at some distance from the ground.
- In the symbolic sense, a tree is the path of growth that an organism takes. This growth implies physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual growth.
The Tree is a metaphor for the mind and the various layers of the mind:
- The Deepest Roots: The Cosmic Mind (Infinite or All-Mind)
- Mid-level Roots: The Archetypical Mind (Galactic Mind)
- Shallow Roots: Planetary Mind (Akashic)
- Base of Trunk: Racial Mind (Group or Tribe)
- Lower Trunk: Individual Unconscious Mind
- Higher Trunk: Individual Inner Ego
- Lower Branches: Individual Subconscious
- Higher Branches: Individual Conscious Mind
- Leaves: Individual Outer Ego
- Flower/Fruits: Our thoughts, beliefs, actions, intentions, behaviors, creative products…etc. This refers to everything we put out in the world on a mental, emotional, spiritual and physical level.
As Keith Critchlow writes, “The mind is a wilderness until it is harnessed.”
We discuss the symbolic Tree of Life, from the Kabbalistic tradition, in Articles 6 & 78. This tree of life not only represents the spiritual evolution of each individual life form (the transformational journey of the Soul – a returning and reuniting with Unity), but also the spiritual creation, growth and evolution of the universe as a whole.
In a fractal-holographic universe, not only the structure of life is fractal-holographic, but also the processes. This is a key point.
As Goethe wrote in Faust, “My friend, all theory is grey and the golden tree of life is green.”
Goethe writes, “If I look at the created object, inquire into its creation, and follow this process back as far as I can, I will find a series of steps. Since these are not actually seen together before me, I must visualize them in my memory so that they form a certain ideal whole.
At first I will tend to think in terms of steps, but nature leaves no gaps, and thus, in the end, I will have to see this progression of uninterrupted activity as a whole.”
Inherent within the symbolic processes of plant growth are the following principles and physical factors:
- Gravity resistance – the impulse of life towards light.
- Insect interactions – cooperation of fertilization for plants and nourishment for insects
- Fragrance and perfume production
- Animal and human welfare – health & medicine
- Animal and human nourishment – service & sacrifice; universal interdependence
In this article we examined Goethe’s The Metamorphosis of Plants and the Flower of Life pattern.
Goethe believed that “spirit and matter, soul and body, thought and extension…are the necessary twin ingredients of the universe, and will forever be.”11
He found that we “must employ both sensory and intuitive perception, ‘in constant and spirited harmony’.
Goethe’s scientific approach, as well as the study of sacred geometry, “seeks the higher goal of an illuminating knowledge from within. This way of knowing – from the inside – is rooted ultimately in a harmony or identity between the human spirit and the informing spirit of nature, wherein speaks one spirit to the other.”12
Goethe, like Baruch Spinoza, proposed that “nature can be conceived in two ways – as creative power and as created product.”
They each worked to see nature complete and unified as both creator and creation.
The way to uncover the simplicity of the ‘secret law’ Goethe said, is to ‘gaze on them as they grow.
“Goethe boldly believed that ‘through an intuitive perception of eternally creative nature we may become worthy of participating spiritually in its creative processes.”13
- Miller, Gordon, The Metamorphosis of Plants, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the MIT Press, 2009
- Critchlow, Keith, The Hidden Geometry of Flowers: Living Rhythms, Form and Number, Floris Books, 2011
- Miller, Gordon, The Metamorphosis of Plants, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the MIT Press, 2009