“It is said in the book concerning the fortunate discovery that at the arctic pole there is a high magnetic rock, thirty-three German miles in circumference. A surging sea surrounds this rock, as if the water were discharged downward from a vase through an opening.”
— Johannes Ruysch
The conception of the north pole as a black magnetic mountain surrounded by a circular continent divided by four powerful rivers is quite old (maybe even going back to the first men), but was perhaps first somewhat extensively described in a lost fourteenth century book called the Inventio Fortunata (it is of course possible that there are earlier more extensive descriptions which were not written down, or if written down, completely lost to time). The first summary of this book is also lost, but luckily it was so influential that all the maps made in the following centuries feature this conception of the north pole. Here we will not make any claims about the corporeal appearance of the current North Pole, but rather try to apprehend the symbolic meaning of its features as described by the ancients and medievals.
To begin with the rock itself, it is obvious that it symbolises the Prime Matter. Its colour (or rather absolute lack of colour) symbolises its (relative) indistinctness, its location is the “centre of the earth” (or by extension an ‘entrance’ into the centre of the earth), the fact that it is a rock connects it with the baetyls, which were also centres of the earth (e.g. the Omphalos). Its ‘magnetic’ properties represent the ability to ‘attract’ and ‘repel’ all things from itself, as it is the mother of all things. Lastly it is described as being 33 (German or French (this confusion perhaps indicating that it is not supposed to be taken entirely literally)) miles in circumference. This number is obviously quite the symbolic one (cf. the age at which our Lord perished, highest Masonic grade), 3 being the number of Heaven, 33 the Heaven of Heavens.
Now, if the Rupes Nigra then represents the Materia Prima, what then to say of what surrounds it? It is said to be surrounded by a surging sea, a whirlpool destroying all that are not worthy to enter into the centre. It is said that 4000 people entered here but never returned. Four being the number of manifestation, it could be said that 4000 represents the entirety of manifestation (1000 (or sometimes 10000) representing entirety or a whole collection), and that thus only those who have entirely transcended the manifested may enter unto the black rock (it is said the number of people who went in and returned was 8, representing Justice or the ‘Coincidentia oppositorum’ (which coincidentally takes place in the Materia Prima)). This ‘surging sea’ is then the ‘Guardian of Paradise’, who must be defeated before the Eden might be entered. Connected with this are also the four rivers, both present in the medieval north pole and in the ancient conception of Paradise. In fact, Eden is also often described as circular, with four rivers forming a cross through its centre, at which stands the Tree of Life. Could it be possible that the ancient Hebrews were describing the North Pole as their ancient homeland? Perhaps, but such things we might never know, so let us stick to what we do know, namely its symbolic meaning.
The North Pole then represents Paradise, the original home of all, to which we pray to return.