Bradford Graves

Omphalos and Lapis Manalis

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Omphalos and Lapis Manalis


A stone linking us with the earth and heavens; shaped like a

dome and found all over the earth, it is the naval stone,

omphalos. Its name is derived from the stone found at the

Temple of Apollo at Delphi, Greece. "It is the identification of

The Great Earth Mother with stone." 9

The Great Mother is the identification in the psyche of the

feminine and has often taken on symbolic form in the

material of stone - mountain, cave, pillar, and rock.

The stone's identification with the naval must be also taken

in a symbolic understanding as our own navel; at one time

was our individual connection with the cosmos. For the

uterus, the mother-body, even the naval-cord, are all parts

having continuous existence outside the ego and are

symbols of dependency; while the naval itself remains part

of the individual himself as the sole mark of the original

connection. The naval was also regarded as the seat of the

soul by reason of its proximity to vital organs.

The importance of the omphalos was in the shift of man's relationship to earth from a celestial

geography to one of terrestrial, the earth became humanized by aid of the omphalos stone. *10 The

omphalos was first the naval of one's own country and only later became abstracted into the earth. It

began as an individualizing of one's relationship to earth.

As the sacred symbol of bringing the heavens down to the earth, the omphalos were located at peak

sites.11 The highest points in land elevation became the sacred spots in this union.

In contrast to this lay out of the peak-naval, which led to the erection of religious, sacred buildings on

mountain tops, we have the lapis manalis - soul stone. In town-building, the town was built around a

center called the mundus. This center was a tomb-like, circular pit called fossa, the lower part of which

was sacred for the spirits of the dead and gods of the under world. The pit was closed with a flat round

stone called the lapis manalis. 12

Here, perhaps, we can interpret the building of towns on the low land as a profane activity, while the

temple, symbolizing heavenly spiritualism, was erected on the highlands.

Maybe here also is an understanding of the myth in the building of the Tower of Babel. The center of

commerce in the form of an insolent sky scraper being built to stand in the place of the most sacred,

the omphalos.

The Marble Omphalos from Delphi

A description: In their cone shape they are rounded and not pointed. They are cut from a larger block

and that remaining mass becomes a base, an anchor. They have an erratic, snake-like form in relief

covering the stone - a naval cord?

They may be considered phallic in shape, resembling the lingam in Tantric art, with the snake-like

projections thought as similar to the flashes on lingams, the female separating energy. The egg may

be closer in form. There are lingams in similar egg shape with the snake kundalini coiled about it.

Louise Bourgeois, a contemporary sculptor, makes sculptures that are based on the same form as

the omphalos. "Sometimes I am totally concerned with the female shapes - clusters of breasts like

clouds - but often I merge the imagery - phallic breasts, male and female, active and passive. We are

all vulnerable in some way, and we are all male-female." 13

The omphalos, combines heaven and earth, also combines the physical and natural world.

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* It is interesting to note an opposite view found in the Popul Vuh - ancient books of the Mayans. The

change of animals into stone was a change of religion, the Mayans abandoning the old animal cult for the

worship of the heavenly bodies.

9. Neumann, Erich. The Great Mother. New York: Pantheon Books, 1955. p. 260

10. Rank, Otto. Art and Artist. New York: Agathon Press, 1968. p. 192

13. Bourgeois, Louise. New York Magazine. New York: February 11, 1974. p. 56


A Legacy Carved in Stone



Taking the Side of Things

Omphalos and Lapis Manalis



The Stones of Camus

Twentieth Century Stone Sculpture

Richardson 's Original Monster Rock


Robert Smithson

The Moon Gets its Rocks off on Earth

In Praise of Limestone

Essay by Laura Welikson








Brad's Writings 

Selected Essays