In numerology, which is an occult system based on numbers, numbers are not merely quantitative, but also depict symbolic qualities. The number 5 symbolizes the whole, for example, as in marriage, where the hieros gamos (the number of marriage, 5) is the combination of the feminine number 2, and the masculine number 3.
The lion is another traditional symbol, which carries many varied meanings. Macrobius said that lions were representative of the earth, “Mother of the Gods.” Pairs of lions are the “master of double strength,” the guardians of doors, gates and treasure. Lions even guard the Tree of Life.
According to one tradition lions were supposed to sleep with their eyes open, demonstrating vigilance, spiritual watchfulness and endurance.
Lions watch over graves, too.
Five lions of stone are carved into a tombstone in Bois-de-Vaux Cemetery. Guardians of the grave. The tombstone itself is white stone. I’m not sure what kind. It is flat and smooth, with a lintel around the top – very Classical, very Greek. The initial impression is one of Napoleonic splendor. The five golden lions adorn the upper quarter of the stone as if the stone were the shield of a knight, and the lions a family crest.
The lions shield the person in the grave. She was one of the wild things, and truly unique.
Bois-de-Vaux Cemetery sits in Lausanne, Vaud, Switzerland. Playground of the rich and famous, it is an elegant city. Next to her, though, the city’s elegance is vicarious at best. For in her case, the term elegant is tautological. She defined elegance for the world. And then gave it to them.
Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel reposes in the grave. I chose the word ‘repose’ with care, as it connotes panache. And surely Coco Chanel does not ‘lie’ in her grave; nor rest, nor reside. She reposes with grace and style, always with style.
In the beginning, though, her life was not so fashionable. Illegitimately born, she was the daughter of Albert Chanel and Jeanne Devolle. Her mother died when Coco was twelve years old. Soon after that, her father abandoned the six children he had sired. Coco was sent to an orphanage, the Catholic monastery of Aubazine. There she was trained as a seamstress, which would allow her to earn a living at subsistence level. In fact, it was a condemnation to drudgery, a kind of living Hell on earth.
In life a moment arrives when one must choose. Everything is reduced to one single point. The course of one’s life hangs in the balance. Coco chose ascendancy over drudgery. She became a courtesan, which is a fancy way of saying she became a professional mistress to wealthy and generous men. There was no future in being a courtesan. No prospect of marriage because no self-respecting male would divorce his wife, disengaging himself from proper society and its cultural mores, to marry a nonentity of low reputation. And no single male of substance would risk ostracism.
So Coco Chanel’s choice was between poverty and social exile. She did not choose poverty.
While the courtesan of Etienne Balsan, heir to a textile fortune, she fell in love with Arthur Capel. Everyone called him “Boy.” Boy Capel. In later years, Coco Chanel made it quite clear that she had only loved once in her life. The man she loved was Boy Capel. She had many lovers, but only one love.
Capel, though, remained a product of his class and heritage. He could not bring himself to marry Chanel, who was not an aristocrat by breeding. Boy Capel married another woman, but still kept Chanel on the side as his mistress. Coco Chanel was twenty-six years old when Boy Capel died in an automobile accident. Devestated by Boy Capel’s death, Chanel went into withdrawal for months. Finally, she rebounded, but cataclysm had come into her life, and like the plague it infected her with a brooding harshness and an intensified, frantic search for happiness.
With Boy Capel’s financial backing, she opened the House of Chanel, a millenery shop. She gave her ‘house’ the stylish name of Chanel Modes. Initially, she created and sewed by hand hats. Her hats were simple and quixotic in design. They appealed to young actresses, celebrities, the moneyed elite.