The perennialists all agree that the basic cycle of humanity goes through four ages or generations of general decline.1Divided into 10 units of time. These four sub-cycles each have their own decline as well. According to Guénon and Evola, the Hindu tradition preserves the most fully developed version of the concept, though most major traditions or mythologies preserve the idea in some version. All traditions agree that we are currently in the last of the four ages, and have been for thousands of years.
The author Hesiod is the earliest Greek source, recording around 700 BC. He uses the metal naming system, naming Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Iron. He adds a short ‘Heroic’ Age right before the current one to account for the Greek heroes, which is clearly not part of the ancestral scheme. The metal names also appear in the Book of Daniël, associated with four successive kingdoms, with the first being the most glorious.
The Hindu system of the Yugas.
It is important to understand that the ‘cycle’ in this context is not strictly temporal.
In the most general sense of the term, a cycle must be considered as representing the process of development of some state of manifestation, or, in the case of minor cycles, of one of the more or less restricted and specialized modalities of that state.2Guénon, Some Remarks on the Doctrine of Cosmic Cycles
As with any manifestation, the cycle in this sense of the word is something that descends from the unseen world into the material world, and as it unfolds, it progressively solidifies into time and matter. The part of the cycle that is earliest, is thus least removed from its metaphysical origin (and furthest away from us), and shares more characteristics with its divine source. This moving from eternity to time and matter is why the cycle increases in materiality and speed as it unfolds.
We allude here especially to the “chronological” form under which the doctrine of cycles is presented: since a Kalpa represents the total development of a world, that is to say of a state or degree of universal Existence, it is obvious that one cannot speak literally about its duration, computed according to some temporal measure, unless this duration relates to a state of which time is one of the determining conditions, as in our world. Everywhere else, this duration and the succession that it implies can have only a purely symbolic value and must be transposed analogically, for temporal succession is then only an image, both logical and ontological, of an “extra-temporal” series of causes and effects. On the other hand, since human language cannot directly express any condition other than those of our own state, such a symbolism is by that very fact sufficiently justified and must be regarded as perfectly natural and normal.
- 1Divided into 10 units of time.
- 2Guénon, Some Remarks on the Doctrine of Cosmic Cycles