Sound Archetypes

Origins of Sound  Archetypes

Origins of sound archetypes go back to the Paleolithic period when all humans were hunter-gatherers. In this long period humans were closer to nature and their understanding of the “sacred” was very different from the current understanding of the sacred in the western culture. The sacred concepts in the form of ancestor spirits, first hunter spirit or the animal spirits were part of their daily lives and dreams. They communicated with these spirits in their dreams. Their self-consciousness and intellect were not as developed but their minds processed the symbols much better than us. They were myth-makers; they needed myths to survive and to understand the world around them. As part of the myth-making process, they communicated through symbols.

When humans were no longer hunter-gatherers, when writing was being invented around 6 thousand years ago, symbols were still very powerful. The Egyptian hieroglyphs, Sumerian cuneiform, Chinese pictograms are products of this symbolic mental propensity developed during the Paleolithic period. It is interesting that Autistic children exhibit this Paleolithic human propensity today. Autistic children lack language but most of them exhibit special intelligence about symbols. Most autistic children have very developed visual processing powers. This is a reminder to us that in the Paleolithic period the symbols and mythic thinking were more important than linguistic thinking. We see the same propensity among mathematicians and theoretical physicists. When they are in deep mathematical thought which is the purest form of symbolic thinking they experience difficulties with language.

The sound archetypes are similar to sacred symbols and equally powerful.  Let me mention few powerful symbols then it will be even more striking to claim that sound archetypes are as powerful. The most important visual symbol from the Paleolithic period is the cross/swastika. The cross symbol in its many versions can be seen in all cultures that have connections to Asia. When you visit Japanese temples and see swastikas everywhere you feel a little strange because of the stigma attached to the symbol in the western world. The Egyptian Neteru were worshipped in the Neolithic times but their representation with animal or bird heads indicate their Paleolithic origins. The ritual dances of the American Indians originated in Paleolithic times and their sacred concepts are also represented by birds and animals. Another powerful concept from the Paleolithic period is the Sky God. The central Asian sky invoked greatness in the minds of the Paleolithic humans. During the last ice age the sun/fire emerged as a sacred symbol because of the darkness and coldness of the northern Europe. The sacred concept sun/fire was carried to Anatolia, Persia and central Asia during the climate forced migrations of the ice-age. The hunter-gatherers, on the coastal route out of Africa reaching the shores of India and Australia, discovered their spirituality in a different way. They had kundalini experiences and that was the beginning of their spiritual tradition known as Tantra today.

The sound archetypes were imprinted in ancestor brains by the shamanistic rituals of chanting and dancing. We all carry remnants of these imprints in our genes and in our collective mind. Chanting and dancing still have powerful effects on humans. Kiirtan is a modern version of the sacred dances of the Paleolithic times. The Sufi dances are the same way. Rhythmic repetitions of certain sounds take us to our beginnings. Basically we are reaching the deeper layers of our brain, the parts of the brain that deal with raw emotions and even deeper layers, the so-called primitive brain where involuntary body functions are performed. The sound archetypes are to be found at this layer of the brain and in the corresponding layers of the mind which is the collective mind of our species.


In the new phase of human development the signs and symbols are being de-constructed and de-naturalized. This is necessary because the oral traditions are dying. The original insights and knowledge need to be decoded and transferred into written form for preservation. There is also hope that this process of decoding will lead to further insights and to new levels of understanding.

The business of Semiotics is to decode and denaturalize the signs. Decoding of the sound archetypes should be done in a Semiotic framework. Certain root sounds carry hidden information of ancient spiritual insights and they have special meanings in the context of Cosmology. These sounds have power over human beings. The influence is very subtle. The effect is small in force but great in power. The prolonged application of the small force results in a powerful effect.

Pioneers of Semiotics were Linguists. This created the impression that Semiotics was a branch of Linguistics. Semiotics is actually much broader than Linguistics. Semiotics is concerned with the study of symbols/signs in a wide variety of contexts. The subject of mathematical symbols should be a field in Semiotics. Scripts such as Egyptian Hieroglyphic, Sumer, Japanese, Chinese, Cyrillic, Greek, Roman alphabets should be interesting subjects in Semiotics.  Brand names and logos are studied in Semiotics. But the overwhelming majority of Semiotic studies are done in the context of Linguistics. The branch of Linguistics known as Phonosemantics is the study of sound symbols in languages. The intersection of Phonosemantics and Semiotics is a neglected area.

It is possible to extend the Semiotic framework to spiritual philosophy. A synthesis of Semiotics, Phonosemantics and spiritual philosophy will be a major advance that would qualify as a branch in Intuitional Science. There are many discoveries to be made in this field. The particular area of interest is the sound archetypes or acoustic roots which are also known as Biija Mantras in Indian spiritual traditions. Acoustic roots carry the seeds of spiritual philosophy. They should be examined in a Semiotic framework.

Sound Symbolism or Phonosemantics

The linguistic concept of sound symbolism is connected to sound archetypes. The basic assumption in Linguistics is that the sound-meaning pairs are arbitrary except in the case of sound symbols. Due to their unusual and controversial status the sound symbols have been neglected in Linguistics.

The idea that certain sounds have universal meanings is not new. In Plato’s Cratylus dialogue, Socrates argues with Hermogenes: “All objects have sound and figure and many have color…But the art of naming does not appear to be concerned with imitations of this kind. The arts which have to do with them are music and drawing. Again, is there not an essence of each thing just as there is color and sound? And is there not an essence of color and sound as well as anything else?” Socrates’ insight is very close to Shrii Shrii Anandamurti’s insight: “Every vibration in this universe has colour and sound. Every vibration also represents a particular idea, and hence each idea has a vibrational sound and vibrational colour [1].”

These great teachers imply that it is possible to refer to one aspect of the “reality” by using the other aspect. We can refer to the “idea” by using the “sound” for example. Shrii Shrii Anandamurti is reminding us that the connection is very deep, in the sense that the creation of the “idea” will bring “sound” and “color” into existence. In other words the “vibrational expression” will manifest as “idea”, “sound’” and “color” simultaneously. Shrii Shrii Anandamurti uses “sound” and “color” in the abstract sense obviously, pointing to different aspects of the “vibrational expression” in the most general sense.

What Socrates calls a “thing” is a “vibration” in Shrii Shrii Anandamurti’s explanation. Modern Physics discovered that “things” such as atoms, electrons, protons, quarks, and all other subatomic particles are actually vibrating fields of energy. The new theories in Modern Physics are taking this “vibrating field of energy” concept to a different level by theorizing that elementary particles are actually “vibrating strings” and “vibrating membranes” of the fabric of the universe. The “sound” and “color” (different aspects of the ripple in the fabric of the universe) are not so strange to a modern Physicist. What is the “sound” of an electron? What is the “color” of an electron? Physicists will object to the description of the physical reality in those terms but if I say that “color” is the frequency of the electro-magnetic radiation emitted by the electron when it jumps from one discrete level in the atom to another level or when the electron accelerates in a magnetic field the physicist will not object to the use of “color” in this context. Similarly if I say that the “sound” is the Schrodinger-wave associated with the electron the physicist will not object to the use of “sound” in this context either. What is strange to a physicist is electron having an “idea”.  The physicist will understand that what is actually meant by the “idea” is the quantum numbers associated with the electron such as spin, charge and family number.

The very possibility that certain sounds represent universal ideas forms the basis of Phonosemantics. The approach of Phonosemantics is empirical not theoretical. In other words, Phonosemantics makes observations about the occurrences of sound symbols in languages without going into Metaphysics. This is the right approach. Let Phonosemantics do its job and let Intuitional Scientists do their job by constructing the metaphysics of sound archetypes. The Intuitional Scientist will advance the metaphysics one more step and pass the baton to the physicist. It is important to clarify that sound archetypes constitute a small subset of the sound symbols found in a language. Phonosemantics studies all of them.

Margaret Magnus wrote a book called “Gods of the Word: Archetypes in the Consonants [2].” Her book is a good place to start to learn about Phonosemantics. Another source is a collection of scholarly papers published under the title “Sound Symbolism [3].” The “Overview of the Phonosemantics Literature” [4] by Margaret Magnus is an excellent source.

Primary Sound Archetypes in Near-Eastern Cultures

The primary sound archetypes in the Near-Eastern cultures are YA, HU and RA. Once you start recognizing these sound archetypes in Egyptian, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish and Persian you see how deeply ingrained are the concepts represented by YA, HU and RA in the consciousness of the Near-Eastern peoples. The YA archetype has a wider penetration in the languages of the world including Sanskrit. I encourage people to study the sound archetypes in their own languages and report the findings.

In ancient pre-history YA most probably referred to a personality. Then it was understood as the force protecting and promoting life on Earth. In historic times YA was elevated to the creator of physical universe then to the creator of all Cosmos. In India YA as Biija Mantra “A” referred to Creation. Philosophically speaking, YA refers to the Creative Principle of Cosmic Consciousness.

One of the common threads in the wisdom traditions of the world is the special place of the concept of Divine Word. In this context, the sound archetype HU is particularly fascinating. It permeates the spiritual traditions of Near-Eastern cultures. One can also find many examples of HU in the Indo-European languages and in the Celtic culture. HU represents the Vibrational Expression of Cosmic Consciousness.

RA is the sound archetype symbolizing the light in many languages. In Sanskrit RA is the acoustic root of fire. In the ancient Egyptian mythology RA represented an aspect of divinity that can be described as Divine Light. The Sun was a symbol of this aspect of divinity.


YA: Cosmic Creative Principle, Creator, Father

HU: Cosmic Vibrational Expression, Cosmic Life, Divine Word, Divine Sound, Mother, Holy Spirit

RA: Cosmic Mind, Divine Light


There is much more to be said about the sound archetypes YA, HU and RA. Please see my other articles on these for more detailed description [5][6][7].

[1] Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, “Vibration Form and Colour”, Subhasita Samgraha, Part 3, Ananda Marga Publications
[2] Margaret Magnus, Gods of the Word, Thomas Jefferson University Press, Kirksville, Missouri (1999) ISBN 0-943549-52-3
[3] L. Hinton, J.Nichols, J.J.Ohala Eds., Sound Symbolism, Cambridge University Press (1994) ISBN 0-521-45219-8
[4] Margaret Magnus, Overview of the Phonosemantics Literature,
[5] Suresh Emre, “Sound Archetype: YA
[6] Suresh Emre, “Sound Archetype: HU
[7] Suresh Emre, “Sound Archetype: RA

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