The Shape of the Heavens
“No hell below us, above us only sky.” John Lennon
In this article we explore the design of Lichfield Cathedral, in the UK, and how it may help us begin to understand what we mean when we talk of ‘the shape of heaven’, and how this affects the ‘needs of the earth’. For us as individuals, the practical application of this discussion considers why meditation, physical self-care and taking responsibility for our emotional wellbeing are important for spiritual growth.
In the book of Genesis we are told that God (the Hebrew word used in Genesis 1:1 is Elohim, a plural word) created the “heavens and the earth”. We are traditionally taught that God is in heaven, conducting the world from above, but Genesis 1:1, taken literally, gives a different perspective. It is as if, instead, He is central to the heavens and the earth, acting as a balance, mirror or reflection between the two. In Hassidism it is believed that God is concealed in all things, throughout the universe. The Hebrew word for the world and universe is Olam, עוֹלָם (also meaning eternity, space, existence, cosmos, macrocosm, creation), and has its origin in the verb ‘to be concealed’. The import of this is that God is concealed throughout the universe, for all of us to see.
Heaven then may rather be a template or ideal plan, and by coming to know God perhaps we can focus more clearly on this plan? Is it that the earth becomes sanctified or spiritualised through us in this way? Is His plan to bring the heavens and the earth into alignment through us rather than just be controlled directly by Him? The great spiritual leaders act as lenses through which we focus on ourselves, Him, our relationships and this plan.
Metaphorically we often see the idea of man seeking this ‘central position’ in diverse faiths and cultures: Adam and Eve begin in the centre of the Garden; Moses reveals the Torah from part way down Mount Sinai; Jesus often preached from part way up a hill, most famously the ‘Sermon on the Mount’; the Prophet Muhammed received his first revelation from the angel Gabriel (Jibril) part way up Jabal al-Nour (Arabic: ‘Mountain of the Light”) in the Cave of Hira; after achieving nirvana the Buddha’s first teaching was ‘The Middle Way’ as part of the noble eightfold path. Lichfield Cathedral is built halfway up a sandstone hill.
We also commonly have a view of heaven as if it is above us, in the sky. This is because a translation of the Hebrew word ‘shamayim’ (again a plural word), is translated as heaven(s), but it can also mean ‘sky’ or ‘firmament’. Shamayim is a construst of the word ‘sham’, from an extinct Semitic language, Akkadian, meaning ‘sky’ or ‘lofty’, and the Hebrew word for water ‘mayim’ (spelt in Hebrew mem-yod-mem). The author speculates that the Crossing of Lichfield Cathedral, amongst many things, can represent the Hebrew letter mem (see below).
The construction of the world by the Hebrew letters
“Somewhere in that ancient mystic trinity, You get three as a magic number” Song. Robert L Dorough, American Broadcasting Music, Inc
There is a belief that God created the world and the universe by using the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (and the numbers therein), beginning with the 2nd letter ‘Beit’, meaning ‘house’. This is also the first letter of the Torah as in ‘Beresheet’, meaning ‘In the beginning …’ The Hebrew alphabet is likely handed down to us from ancient Egypt, where the Hebrew alphabet evolved from the Egyptian hieroglyphs. We are also told that nobody has seen God and lived, so He must remain hidden, like the Egyptian God Amun-Ra, the ‘hidden one’. The Quran also begins with the Arabic letter for ‘B’ as in ‘Bismillah …’, meaning ‘In the name of Allah’.
This is the function of angels, to provide a link between man and God, they are His messengers. God’s chief angel is Metatron, who is known as the celestial scribe, and has 36 wings. Though he is not directly referenced in scriptures he is found in related Jewish and Islamic texts as Ezra or Uzair respectively. He is also found in modern popular culture including: the writer played by Curtis Armstrong in the TV series “Supernatural”; the voice of God played by Alan Rickman in the movie ‘Dogma’; as an angel played by Derek Jacobi in the 2019 adaptation of the Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman book ‘Good Omens’ with Michael Sheen (as an angel) and David Tennant (as a demon).
Metatron is often represented geometrically as a combination of all 5 of the Platonic solids (above), these being the only regular polytopes that can exist in 3 dimensional space. In an abstract mathematical sense Metatron is therefore seen as a ‘gateway’ to higher dimensions. Mathematics tells us that in higher dimensions only 3 regular polytopes can exist, these being: n-cubes, simplexes (tetrahedron), and orthoplex (octahedron). This is one of the many reasons why, “three is a magic number”. The only exception to this rule is in the 4th dimension where 6 polytopes can exist. More on this when we discuss Ezekiel’s vision of heaven.
The name ‘Metatron’ may have its origin in two Greek words, ‘after’ (meta) and ‘throne’ (thronos), which taken together becomes “one who serves behind the throne” or “one who occupies the throne next to the throne of glory”. You can see the geometry of Metatron’s cube which is projected onto tracery of the ceiling vaults of Lichfield Cathedral, as if each vault segment is its own ‘throne’. Combining these ideas we can see the Hebrew letters laid out in the ceiling vaults of the Cathedral (below). You can see in this plan that the letter ‘mem’, the central letter of the Hebrew alphabet, also falls onto the Crossing of the Cathedral.
The Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters
“It’s not about you …” The Ancient One to Stephen Strange, Dr Strange (the movie), Marvel Entertainment LLC
Figuratively then, the Crossing is the point ‘from’ where God created the heavens and the earth. At this central point “the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters” (Genesis 1:2), here seen in part symbolically in the webbed feet (symbolising water) of the brass eagle lectern (for fire) of the Cathedral (below). Eagles naturally do not have webbed feet.
The heavens are to the east of the Cathedral (here to the right), in the Choir and Lady Chapel, and the earth (to the left) is in the Nave and west facade. This is why the clergy and choir conduct their business in the east and the public attend westerly to them.
The waters of the Crossing are metaphorically like the mind that reflects that which to the east of the Cathedral (the heavens) and projected to the west (the earth). The word ‘Nave’ has its etymology in the Latin for ‘ship’. The Transept behaves like the wheels of the chariot, the sail of the boat (and perhaps the tiller), the passage of time as it applies to the movement caused by will, the place the ‘whirling motion’ as creation is maintained.
This is the ship that is our self, as we ride the waves of our mind, which in turn is affected by the Choir and the Lady Chapel. The calmer the waters, the clearer the projection of the heavens on earth. The mind is most calm when we care for our emotional wellbeing, and in turn pay attention to our physical wellbeing. The better our health, the healthier our mind. Meditation is an important part of this self-care, but wider self-care, kindness to ourselves and others is also important.
We discuss later the symbolism of the Choir and Lady Chapel as the ladder Jacob sees in his dream, a ladder that angels use to ascend and descend, moving information from man to God and back again. We speculate on how angels encode this information in light of current science in physics, such as relativity, string and loop quantum theories, and the technology of quantum computing science. We examine the vision of heaven that Ezekiel sees, and the underlying geometry of these angels. We also look at this model of a ship and compare it to a model of a chariot the the Cathedral also sees. These speculations all have practical applications to our wellbeing and spirituality.
Dr Nick Stafford
Excerpt from ‘Eye of Heaven. Lichfield Cathedral a Theory of Everything’, published by Unicordia Forest Publishing UK.
All ideas expressed are purely speculative and no claim is made to any truth by the author.
Image of Muslim pilgrims at the Cave of Hira, with thanks to Saudipics
All other photography by the author