The quincunx is an object, an image, that has long exerted a fascination over me. It is not an uncommon symbol—after all it appears on one of the faces of every die

the national flag of Portugal

Then, yesterday, the symbol again sprang into my mind in the context of the novella I am writing (Matryoshka) and I went to wikipedia to explore it a little—only to find the ‘Portuguese shield” staring at me… I was actually a tad stunned, since I’m not aware of having ever consciously noticed that those quincunxes were there—that they were at the heart of the flag of my country of birth. (Interestingly, the quincunx here apparently represents the five wounds of Christ that he received on the cross – those on his feet, his hands and the lance in his side…)

Then I recalled that I had chosen the quincunx as the armorial sigil for the gatehouses that give access to each of the five radial roads that issue from the Wheel, a marketplace in the City at the Gates, in my Stone Dance books. Now you may say that it is obvious to choose this symbol to represent five things. However, considering that Osrakum in some ways represents Portugal—or at least the Portugal of my childhood—in my ‘auto-mythological’ understanding of the Stone Dance, that the entrance should be marked with the quincunx seems to me suggestive

The more I learn of the way the unconscious acts in us, the more amazed I become. It is as if each one of us, bobbing along in our little personal rowing boat in the full light of consciousness, is shadowed in the deep waters beneath us, by an immense shape sliding in the depths of our hidden mind

Posted by Ricardo

writer and blogger

16 Replies to “Quincunx”

  1. Hello Ricardo,

    Usually, the number 5 is considered “the number” of Portugal, for a lot of reasons.

    One of the dates, for the “foundation” of the kingdom of Portugal, is 5 of October of 1143.
    The famous battle of Ourique, where Afonso Henriques defeated 5 mourish lords or kings, is the reason for the 5 shields in the coat of arms.
    Inicially the white dots were more than five, than with time, they became 5, to make a good pattern with the shields (and of course,the five wounds of Christ).
    The myth of the Fifth Empire, often comes associated with Portugal (see D. Dinis and the Empire of the Holy Spirit, also Padre António Vieira, Fernando Pessoa or Bandarra), being the sucessor of others (for example, sumeria, judeia, greece and rome) – initiating, therefore, the globalization of an amalgamation of those percusors).
    Initally, one of the symbols, present in the portuguese coins, where the 5 point star, a symbol still used in the military (in Portugal and Brasil).
    The bar code of a Portuguese product, starts with the number 5.

    So as you can see, it’s normal for you to associate that number with Portugal.

    I hope this was usefull.

    Sorry for the english.



    1. fascinating, Manuel—I didn’t know any of that! Muito obrigado 🙂


  2. This makes me think of something I once read (essay not novel) by Ursula Le Guin in which she points out that some culture or (I can’t remember whether invented or real) thinks in terms for an extra dimension – as well as up down etc. there is also inwards. If you think in terms of going inwards not towards the subject from outside but from the surface part of the mind inwards into the hidden depths it occurs to me that this inward dimension will be as vast and unending as the outward directions – I didn’t think of that at the time but your post has sparked off that train of thought. What we normally call our self or identity is really the boundary or surface between inside and outsidem, and you can travel as far or further inwards in various ways as out – and meet with things both strange and familiar, or both at the same time. (This felt like a discovery when I thought about it 10 mins ago but now that I think about it again it feels as if I must have heard it or something similar elsewhere. Sorry to bore people!)


    1. I don’t imagine you’re boring anyone :O) I love Ursula Le Guin and for the same sort of reasons as you quote… I couldn’t agree more with your comments – it seems to me that the human psyche is like a ‘sun’, that we have a tendency to collapse due to our own internal gravity, and resist such a collapse through burning fiercely from within – that our personality is then the boundary between these competing forces… (I’ve not really explained this very well – it is an undeveloped intuition, but I hope it makes some kind of sense to you…)


      1. Wow, you’ve pinched one of my own images, one that I had thought must be unique to me … One of the weird things about the inward dimension of course is that it is in a peculiar way common or shared – different, but not completely separate, for everyone. Stars are for me a good illustration of how opposing (better, complementary) forces can be needed to make something exist or function properly. A rather cruder one might be a nuclear reactor, which needs both graphite rods and cadmium ones to be of any use. Our culture is too ready to see things in either/or, good/bad terms when it should be seeing things more in both/and terms. And then we (collectively) moan that we are characterised more by conflict than harmony! No surprise there. I guess I have a bit of an axe to grind here, as an introvert in a world that takes extroverts as the norm (and ideal), a gay in a world that prefers straights, etc. We need both if we are not to explode (or collapse).


        1. *grin* I have become increasingly aware of how so much of what we consider original, is being independently originated by other people… there is a philosopher (Popov, I think) who explains that many ‘new’ ideas are imminent, that many minds almost simultaneously come up with them… Though, in this case, you yourself are showing another way to an explanation – Jung’s archetypes – as you say (and Jung says): the inner direction is in some way shared – according to Jung, in this direction we all reach our ‘collective unconscious’… Coincidentally, I am currently reading a book seeking to explain this conflict and co-operation of opposites, of opposing forces – through an understanding of the separation between our brain hemispheres. Most fascinating – once I have finished it, II shall probably review the book and some of its ideas here…


          1. I’ll look forward to that – and also to the appearance of Matryoshka!


  3. The history of the evolution of the Portuguese flag is quite complex! A link to my essay, in fact a revision of a paper delivered way back in 2002 can be found on blog below the large photo of the statue of Browne, just scroll deep down. Sorry unable to provide a link, perhaps you can here. Thanks for your interest. Now to explore your writings a little more!


    1. the evolution of the Portuguese flag mirrors the complexity of what I know of the history of Portugal itself… a bizarre history involving Celts, Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Arabs and Moors… then the adventures into Africa and the Far East…

      I strode manfully into your blog and hunted down this link… this is what you meant, isn’t it? Must say that skimming through your blog we seem to share many interests, from Cyrus to Oroborus… Interests? Perhaps obsessions…? *grin*


  4. By simultaneous i just mean a flurry or spate of posts occurring on the quincunx within a few days of each other.No self-deception or confusing cause and effect there, but perhaps a good example of collective unconscious synchronicity.

    Your suggestion of arms and legs or face-features seems extremely plausible from an early basic recognition pattern; perhaps this was also unconsciously the root of Pythagoras’s coining the term for from his pyramid of ten dots, the tetkratys representing the universe, the quincunx representing man can be discerned.

    A reader’s comment’s thread is not the place to explain why the Quincunx represents the stone! i will however (as my 2002 online essay on alchemy and Browne explains) state that there’s a strong connection between Browne and Jung.


    1. perhaps it is merely that god chose to speak to you through his prophets…… :OP

      I had seen the tetcractys before but not realized it’s significance – nor its link with Pythagoras… I’ve taken the liberty of putting in a link to wiki… I can see that the quincunx is standing at its centre rather like the Vitruvian Man…

      rather curious about this essay of yours… and I’m sure I will not be the only one… please supply a link to it here…


  5. Amusingly no less than three bloggers have posted on this word in the last few days.

    Here in Norwich UK the hermetic philosopher Sir Thomas Browne wrote a whole discourse upon the quincunx pattern in art and nature. C.G. Jung defines its as a symbol of the philosopher’s stone, so a good symbolic pattern as armour for a novel! As you say, these things are embedded subconsciously.

    But i did not know about the five wounds of Christ symbolism, v. interesting, what’s your source there, please?


    1. rather bizarre that simultaneous blogging… that said, it is only simultaneous because you have linked them together, no?

      interested to learn about Browne and especially Jung – I wonder why it symbolizes the philosopher’s stone… Thinking about it, I wonder if it doesn’t somehow characterize a core conception of four legged animals – the head omitted – and, perhaps, even the human face – eyes, nose and the corners of the mouth (I can imagine that this could lie at the core of the very basic pattern recognition first performed by a baby) – if this latter in particular were so, it would explain why it was subconsciously fundamental…

      My source for this is wikipedia here, in the section explaining the Portuguese shield… that seems to have come from here… the word used there is “chagas”, that my Portuguese dictionary translates as being a medical term for ‘wounds’… perhaps there is someone Portuguese out there who can confirm this for us…?


      1. Hi Ricardo !

        Just to let you know that your suggestion of the Quincunx resembling Vitruvian man as famously depicted by Da Vinci is actually alluded to in ‘The Garden of Cyrus.’-

        ‘To omit the phantastical Quincunx in Plato of the first Hermaphrodite or double man, united at the Loynes, which Jupiter after divided’

        So an inspired perception of yours!


        1. strangely enough, when researching for a Persian book I intend to write, I came across The Garden of Cyrus and was somewhat intrigued and baffled by it – unsure what it was – but finally turning away from it, deciding from its date that it could not be relevant…


      2. I do confirm the reference. 🙂


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