The Great Triad

René Guénon

Hillsdale, NY: Sophia Perennis, 2001
180 pages
ISBN: 0-900588-07-1
Price: $17.95 US
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ISBN: 0-900588-40-3
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Guénon’s The Great Triad was the last book to appear during his lifetime. Even for his regular readers, this book contained largely new material. The author here refers especially to the Chinese tradition, principally in its Taoist form (though touching on Confucianism as well), in which the ‘Great Triad’ is defined as Heaven-Man-Earth. It is as much a cosmological as a metaphysical doctrine that is implied in this ternary of the ‘three worlds’. In spite of its Taoist title, however, the work draws heavily on Hermetic teachings, Hindu and Buddhist metaphysics, and Masonic symbolism, not to mention doctrines from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is also Guénon’s most comprehensive exposition of the science of Alchemy.

The classical Triad of the Chinese tradition is Heaven-Man-Earth. Guénon here places this ternary in the context of universal metaphysics by identifying Heaven with Essence and Earth with Substance, the mediator between them being Man, whose cosmic function is to embody spirit (Heaven) while simultaneously spiritualizing matter (Earth). Exploring Chinese cosmology further, Guénon sheds light on such archetypal polarities as Heaven and Earth, Yin and YangSolve et Coagula, Celestial and Terrestrial Numbers, the Square and the Compass, the Double Spiral, and the Being and the Environment, while pointing to their synthetic unity in terms of ternaries, such as the Three Worlds, Triple Time, Spiritus, Anima, and Corpus, Sulfur, Mercury and Salt, and God, Man, and Nature. Perhaps more completely than in any other work, Guénon demonstrates in The Great Triadhow any integral tradition is both a mirror reflecting universal themes found in all other intact traditions and an entire conceptual cosmos unto itself, unique and incomparable.

Table of Contents

Ternary and Trinity—Different Types of Ternary—Heaven and Earth—Yin and Yang—The Double Spiral—Solve et Coagula—Questions of Orientation—Celestial and Terrestrial Numbers—The Son of Heaven & Earth—Man and the Three Worlds—Spiritus, Anima, Corpus—Sulphur, Mercury, Salt—The Being and its Environment—The Mediator—Between the Square and the Compasses—The Ming T'ang—Wang: The King-Pontiff—True Man and Transcendent Man—Deus, Homo, Natura—Distortions in Modern Philosophy—Providence, Will, Destiny—Triple Time—The Cosmic Wheel—The Triatna—The City of Willows—The Middle Way


If during the last century or so there has been even some slight revival of awareness in the Western world of what is meant by metaphysics and metaphysical tradition, the credit for it must go above all to Guénon. At a time when the confusion into which modern Western thought had fallen was such that it threatened to obliterate the few remaining traces of genuine spiritual knowledge from the minds and hearts of his contemporaries, Guénon, virtually single-handed, took it upon himself to reaffirm the values and principles which, he recognized, constitute the only sound basis for the living of a human life with dignity and purpose or for the formation of a civilization worthy of the name.
Philip SherrardChristianity: Lineaments of a Sacred Tradition

Guénon is an unsurpassed master of the science of symbolism.
Martin LingsThe Eleventh Hour

About the Author

René Guénon (1886–1951) was one of the great luminaries of the twentieth century, whose critique of the modern world has stood fast against the shifting sands of intellectual fashion. His extensive writings, now finally available in English, are a providential treasure-trove for the modern seeker: while pointing ceaselessly to the perennial wisdom found in past cultures ranging from the Shamanistic to the Indian and Chinese, the Hellenic and Judaic, the Christian and Islamic, and including also Alchemy, Hermeticism, and other esoteric currents, they direct the reader also to the deepest level of religious praxis, emphasizing the need for affiliation with a revealed tradition even while acknowledging the final identity of all spiritual paths as they approach the summit of spiritual realization. His greatest contributions are a blindingly lucid exposition of the principles of orthodoxy and traditional metaphysics, an uncompromising critique of the deviation of modernism, and a breath-taking view of the polyvalence of traditional symbols. Implicit in these three genres, as in all Guénon's writing, is the need for personal affiliation with an orthodox tradition as a precondition for a bona fide spiritual practice that might lead, at least in principle, to the intellectual intuition of which he speaks. Little known in the English-speaking world till the recent appearance of his Collected Works in translation, Guénon has nevertheless long been recognized as a veritable criterion of truth by a vanguard of remarkable writers who evince that rare combination: intellectuality and spirituality. Regarded by leading scholars as the first truly authentic interpreter of many Eastern doctrines in the West, Guénon never tired, in face of the seemingly inexorable process of dissolution in the twentieth century, of pointing to the transcendent unity of all religious faiths and the abiding Truth that contains them all.