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THE GOLDEN THREAD: WISDOM OF THE ANCIENTS
THE GRAMMAR OF HARMONY
The Westernized view (for us "North-western") that now dominates so much of the world, has become detached, in Prince Charles' view, from its important anchors. He thereby starts to consider the most important elements of what he has called "the grammar of harmony" as it was understood by the ancient civilizations. It framed the entire understanding of life. This is necessary in order to provide a wide enough context for a graphic illustration of how harmony works, how the language of patterns which are found throughout nature fit together and hold the fabric of the material world together. Finally, he explores the spectacular examples of sacred art and architecture, particularly, during the Golden Age of Islam, including the profound insight their rediscovery of the grammar of harmony attained.
Prince Charles unravels, as such, a portrait of these that lie at the very heart of life itself and give shape to things. They are all too easily forgotten in our technically sophisticated, totally mechanized world. Every culture of the past has understood their importance and has used them to underpin the structure of the most important sacred buildings and many secular ones too. These principles also inform their religious symbolism and open up a clear experience of a deeply anchored view of the cosmos and of humanity's spiritual role within creation. Art and architecture, music and poetry, then, are the means of doing this because they come from the heart rather than from the head.
ANCIENT EGYPTIAN FOUNDATION CULTURE
The great architects of the past did not study nature's patterns simply because they found them pretty; they knew them to be the very patterns of life. By studying the interconnected relationship between growth and order in the universe, the ancients were also exploring what lies at the very core of life – the elements that make it sacred. The journey that the transmission of these shared insights takes through human history twists and turns, for Prince Charles, like a golden thread. At some periods in history it falls into decline in one culture only to be kept alive in another. So, for example, it is not odd to conclude that we have the Ancient Greeks to thanks for the Islamic patterning that adorns every great Mosque from Cordoba to Delhi, just as we have Islamic culture to thank for the precise geometry of every Gothic cathedral, from the South of France to York, whose towers soar into the sky.
The culture and thinking of Ancient Egypt, meanwhile, that flourished 5,000 years ago could be called, for Prince Charles, a foundation culture. Many aspects of our "Western" culture have their deepest roots in the land that clings to the banks of the River Nile. From that thin strip of fertility in North Africa arose much more than reeds and wheat. It is a source of our mythology and religious symbolism, our astronomy, geometry and mathematics, even the shape of many letters. They are all distant echoes of an outlook that defined a people whose life revolved completely around the ebb and flow of the mighty Nile. Egyptians, moreover, would surely have been haunted by the wilderness and extinction that lay beyond their fertile land and they would have been in no doubt that their lives hinged entirely on the benevolence of the river.
Once every year it would flood the plain to swamp the land with a vital cloud of black soil. The Egyptians called this black gold khem; this is where we get the word "alchemy" from, and our modern word "chemistry". Khem was a magical substance without which not a single thing would grow. The river, in fact, did not just bond the Ancient Egyptians to its cycles from a practical point of view; it also framed their outlook and their imagination. Their river's cycle was woven into their mythology so that their gods became symbols of the perennial struggle between the harsh forces of decay and those of benevolent renewal. Just think of the Egyptian god Osiris, the hero sacrificed in a brutal execution at the turn of a year, who then miraculously rose from the dead to be put back together so that he could redeem the world with life's vital force.
It is through the transmission then, for Prince Charles and his environmental colleagues, not just from one generation to the next, but from one culture to another, that the essential patterning in life is understood. It is a patterning that comes from a careful study of how nature's balance depends upon the limits that "contain" her unity and coherence. Coherence is another way of describing harmony, and the Egyptians understood how harmony worked. So much of the symbolism in their art and architecture demonstrates that they held harmony to be a supreme and vital state. So much so that their most important deity was considered to be the goddess of harmony.
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