What is the Symbol of the Quincunx?

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A Quincunx (pronounced – kwin-kunks) is a geometric pattern with five dots arranged in the shape of a cross. Four of these dots are situated in the corners to form a square or rectangle, and the fifth dot is placed in the middle.

From ancient times, the Quincunx has symbolized an orderly and organized universe. The structure of the Quincunx reflects stability and is free from chaos and confusion. The quincunx can be found almost everywhere, in playing dice, buildings, maps, computer graphics, and orchards, to name a few.

In this article, we will be exploring the origins of the Quincunx, its significance in religion, symbolic meanings, and its appearance in literature.

Origins of the Quincunx

quincunx symbol meaning

Ancient Rome

The symbol of the Quincunx was first used in the Roman Republic, around the time of the Second Punic War. It was etched in bronze coins to denote the value of a coin. The worth of the coin was determined and indicated by an arrangement and pattern of five dots, and the Quincunx was valued as 5/12 of a libra (a type of Roman currency.)

Europe

The term Quincux was first used in English to determine the value of currency. In the 1500’s, the Quincux was used to refer to 5/12 of a pound. In the 1600’s, the Quincux was used to indicate geometrical structures and patterns, especially for the planting of orchards. In astrology, the first use of Quincux is in 1647, when German astronomer Kepler uses the term to point to 5/12 of a circle.

Senegal

In West Africa, particularly in Senegal, the Quincux has been considered a religious symbol in pagan belief systems. In Senegal, it was believed that the cross shape radiated a spiritual energy. After Islam became a prominent religion in Senegal, the Quincux was said to represent the light of Allah. The pattern of the Quincux was engraved on amulets and purses for protection to the wearer.

Cambodia

angkor wat quincunx
Angkor Wat

The famous Angkor Wat temple is modelled after the Quincunx. The Hindu’s in Cambodia believed in cosmological and mythological elements. Mount Meru, a mythological mountain was thought to be at the very centre of the universe.

The Cambodians concretized this belief in the architectural design of the Angkor Wat temple, a stone model of the cosmic world. The centre of the temple symbolizes Mount Meru, and its five towers reflect the peaks of the mountain. The outer wall of the temple is said to be the borders of the world, and the moat is seen as the oceans. This architectural design resembling the structure of the Quincunx, can also be found in many Hindu temples in South India.

Symbolic Meanings of The Quincunx

Quincunx meaning and symbolism

Over time, the Quincunx has acquired several symbolic meanings, making it a highly meaningful symbol.  

  • Alchemy Symbol

Ancient alchemy practices have made use of the Quincunx symbol. Alchemists discovered the Quincunx in the atomic structure of all the metals that they used. The symbol was believed to give structure, shape, and form to the metals.  

  • Symbol of Enlightenment

The fifth dot that is situated in the middle of the Quincunx is believed to be a symbol of spirituality, enlightenment, and higher understanding. An individual must go through all the four dots in order to reach the fifth, which stands for the highest state of wisdom.

  • Symbol of The Five Senses

Some people believe that the five points within a Quincunx reflects the five human senses of smell, hearing, touch, taste and sight.

  • Symbol in Astrology

Quincunx, also called the inconjunct, is a significant symbol in astrology. This term refers to a 150-degree aspect between two planets and is a useful marker to understand and examine the solar system.

  • Symbol of Energy

There is this belief that the fifth dot within a Quincunx represents an individual in society. The four dots are a higher spiritual energy encircling and protecting the individual in the centre.

  • Symbol of Recognition

The Romani a nomadic tribe in Europe, have the practice of etching the Quincunx onto their skins. This serves as a means for them to recognize each other and find their kith and kin.

  • Symbol of Wholesomeness

The Quincunx represents the belief that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This philosophical notion was first put forth by Aristotle and can be seen in the modern concept of synergy.

How the Quincunx Is Used Today

Quincunx flag of Solomon islands
Flag of Solomon Islands

The Quincunx symbol can be found all around us in the most ordinary of objects.

  • Buildings

Quincunx designs can be found in many designs, including the churches of Italy and Rome. The Quincunx design was embedded within a stonework design known as the cosmatesque or cosmati. The Khmer’s, a group of people in Asia, made use of the Quincunx design in their temples. For instance, the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia is arranged in a Quincunx shape to represent the five peaks of Mount Meru

  • Computers

Quincunxes are used in modern computer graphics as a pattern for multi-sample anti-aliasing.

  • Baseball Field

The Quincunx design can be found on all baseball fields. The bases represent the four dots, and the pitcher’s mound stands as the centre dot.

  • Flags

The Solomon Island has the Quincunx symbol on its flag. The five stars in the flag stands for the five major islands. The Republic of Yucatan also has a symbol of the Quincunx on its flag. Here, the five stars stands for the different districts of the republic.

  • Shields

The Quincunx pattern can be found on battle shields. There are four emblems carved into the corners of the shield, and one in the middle.

  • Rockets

The Saturn V rocket built by the North American Aviation had a Quincunx pattern in five of its engines.

Quincunx and Literature

The Quincunx has been mentioned and described in several novels and essays.

A Novel: The “Quincunx” is an epic, mystery novel written by Charles Palliser. The pattern of the Quincunx appears in the structure of the novel, which is divided into five parts and five chapters.  The Quincunx also appears in the battle shields described in the novel.

A Short Story: The term Quincunx appears in a short story titled “Grace” by James Joyce, the famous Irish novelist. Joyce uses the term to refer to the seating arrangement of five men in a church, which symbolizes the cross, and the wounds suffered by Christ.

An Essay: In the essay titled “Frontiers of Writing”, Séamus Heaney, the Irish poet states that Irelands five provinces form a Quincunx.

A Philosophical Discourse: Thomas Browne, the English physician, in his discourse titled the “Garden of Cyrus”, attempts to prove that the Quincunx pattern can be found everywhere. He believes that the Quincunx is one of God’s greatest designs.

In Brief

The Quincunx design is omnipresent and has a wide range of symbolic meanings. It appears in architecture, artwork, literature and a range of items and designs.

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