My latest book, Rediscovered Rituals of English Freemasonry, due out in the autumn, uses the tesseract symbol on the cover. There are a number of reasons why I chose this image for the new book, so I thought I would discuss the history and meaning of this highly spiritual symbol.
The tesseract is a four dimensional hypercube consisting of eight cubic cells that can be unfolded to form a cross, an image that can be seen in Salvador Dali’s 1954 painting Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus), comparable to the way that a cube can be unfolded into six squares. The term tesseract was first used by British mathematician Charles Howard Hinton in 1888, who presented his ideas to the Washington Philosophical Society in 1902 before publishing his book The Fourth Dimension two years later. In his book, Hinton presented diagrams of cubic cells, instructing how they could be mentally assembled into a tesseract, explaining that ‘the higher world is four-dimensional’ and ‘within space are given the conceptions of point and line, line and plane, which really involve the relation of space to a higher space’.1 Thus the four dimensional tesseract is inaccessible to the mind, just like the concept of God is incomprehensible to humans, the unfolding of the tesseract into a cross allows us to comprehend a three dimensional image of it, akin to comprehending Christ as a human form of God.
Hinton’s ideas influenced an OTO ritual decades later, which similarly constructed the tesseract line by line, to reconstruct the universe by the magician, while reciting a number of Hebrew letters. Hinton’s work was certainly an influence on English Freemason and occult author Dudley Wright, who delved deep into the more spiritual aspects of Hinton’s ideas, the tesseract being seen as a way to access an alternative reality, Wright publishing his own work in 1906 entitled The Fourth Dimension. Wright was attracted to spiritualism and theosophy, researching various religions, eventually converting to Islam in 1915. He became a Freemason in 1912, being initiated into Eccleston Lodge No. 1624, was Exalted into the Royal Arch and joined a Mark lodge. Wright was a colleague of Arthur Edward Waite, both having contributed to the Occult Review, and also worked on the editorial team of the Builder, bringing him into the sphere of US based Masonic author Joseph Fort Newton.2
Theosophist Alexander Horne also discussed the more mystical properties of the tesseract in his book Theosophy and the Fourth Dimension, which was published in 1928. Horne lectured regularly to lodges of the Theosophical Society on various subjects, specifically in the San Francisco area, publishing a variety of works with the Theosophical Press and in journals such as World Theosophy. As an editor, he had worked on Blavatsky’s Alchemy and the Secret Doctrine, but it was his work on the fourth dimension that Horne is better known, his diagrams of the tesseract and mystical views on the topic still influencing writers and mathematicians today.3
1. See Charles Howard Hinton, The Fourth Dimension, (London: George Allen & Co., 1912), pp.2-3.
2. See John Belton and Simon Mayers, ‘The Life and Works of Dudley Wright’, Heredom, 23, (2015), pp.11-53.
3. See Alexander Horne, Theosophy and the Fourth Dimension, (Theosophical Press, 1928), and for an examination of the visual aspect of the tesseract in a geometrical context see John Barnes, Gems of Geometry, (London: Springer, 2012), pp.85-86.