ॐ Om, this sacred symbol can be found in a multitude of religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Sikhism, and can be found on the seal of the Theosophical Society. OM is symbolic of the sound that was present during the creation of the Universe. Just as the Gospel of John states, “In the beginning was The Word,” so does the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali state that OM is not just the sound of creation but in fact “God’s voice is OM.” OM can be found at the beginning and end of many chants, mantras, and prayers, in fact it is commonly believed that the chanting of OM can allow a practitioner to experience a unity with the All. In Hinduism, where this Sanskrit symbol originated, OM is possibly the most important spiritual symbol and is symbolic of the connection between the Atman (eternal self) and Brahman (ultimate reality/universal divinity). This famous syllable was first mentioned in the philosophical Hindu texts of the Upanishads, where it states that OM is a tool for meditation and claimed to aid a person in realizing universal oneness, the essence of life, and Self-knowledge. In Buddhism OM maintains a similar meaning and is highly regarded in the esoteric schools as being sacred and holy. Thanks in large part to the American counterculture of the 1960’s, OM is now a widely recognized symbol associated spirituality and the mystical East; people now sport the symbol in a variety of different forms such as t-shirt designs, jewelry, tattoos, and art in general.
Dating back to the Mesopotamian God Ningishzida, the caduceus, a symbol of two serpents entwined around a staff is believed to date back to 3,000 BCE – 4,000 BCE. The caduceus is associated with Hermes Trismegistus in Greco-Egyptian mythology, Hermes in Greek mythology, and Mercury in Roman mythology. The word caduceus comes from the Greek κηρύκειον, menaing “herald’s staff.” This symbol has had many different meanings and uses over the years including but not limited to a symbol of commerce, power, authority, supernatural forces, the uniting of opposites, the World Axis, and an important tool for all magicians. Hermes was the messenger of the gods, the go-between figure, and was associated with language, magic, commerce, athletics, the crossing of boundaries, and was a psychpomp for the souls of the dead. As I have mentioned before, snakes are typically a symbol of wisdom and are fitting symbols for a wisdom deity like Hermes. Wings, like birds, are associated with divinity and fly between the Heavens and the Earth just as Hermes travels between the mortal and the divine realms. Mercury, the Roman depiction of Hermes, is seen with wings on both his feet and head, symbolizing his cunning ability to think and move as fast as a bird can fly. A more spiritually esoteric interpretation of the caduceus can see this as symbolic of the rising of kundalini energy and the shamanic ascent up the World Tree, leading to personal enlightenment. Once a shaman ascends the axis mundi of the world they are said to experience flights of ecstasy, which would also make the wings on the caduceus an appropriate symbol of shamanic flight. The entwining of the snakes can be seen as representing the helical structure of the DNA, the concept of infinity, and the unification of male and female energies. In addition to Greece and Rome, the caduceus can be found in Babylon, Egypt, and India all with similar meanings. However, due to its misuse by the US Army Medical Corps in 1902, now the caduceus is commonly seen as the symbol for the medical field in the United States despite its mix up with the similar looking Rod of Asclepius; a Greek god associated with healing and medicine.
The Eyes of the Buddha
These penetrating little eyes are known as the Wisdom Eyes of the Buddha and can be found atop Buddhist shrines and stupas all over Asia. The Eyes of the Buddha are usually placed on every side of a Buddhist stupa, signifying Buddha’s omnipotence and ability to watch over all four corners of the Earth. Above the Wisdom Eyes is placed a bindhu (dot) on the forehead where the third eye is located, symbolizing Buddha’s spiritual wisdom and enlightenment. The three eyes of the Buddha remind practitioners to have exterior and interior vision, two eyes look out onto the world and one eye peers into the interior world. The squiggle underneath the eyes that looks like a question mark is also significant. This is actually the Sanskrit character for the number 1, and symbolizes the non-duality and unity of all things. There is also another aspect of the Eyes of the Buddha that is rarely mentioned, the concept of darshan. Darshan comes from the Sanskrit दर्शन and means “to see” or “vision.” Darshan has many different meanings and usages, but one I find significant is the idea of both seeing and being seen by a deity. Hindus believe that when they are giving thanks and worshiping at the feet of an idol, they are both seeing a physical representation of the god but also the god is able to see them through the image. Considering the Indian origins of Buddhism and the extreme popularity of the Eyes of the Buddha in Nepal, I believe that darshan is being exemplified by the fact that we see the Buddha and the Buddha sees us. Today, the Wisdom Eyes of the Buddha are so prevalent and popular in Nepal that it has been adopted as the default symbol of the country itself.
The Roman God Janus
Most deities have counterparts that can be found in other religious traditions, however the Roman two-faced Janus is a fairly unique god that is not easily found in other mythologies. Janus’ two faces allow him to peer both into the future as well as the past. Janus is the god of doorways and gates; he is said to always carry a key that locks and unlocks the boundaries he guards. Full body depictions show him carrying a stick or staff to drive away anyone who is not worthy to move through his doorways. Being the “God of Gates,” Janus is by extension also the ruler of arrivals, departures, communication, and the time of transition. He is often titled the “God of Beginnings and Endings,” which often refer back to his relationship to times of war and peace. In fact the doors to the Temple of Janus “Janus Geminus” stayed open in time of war and closed during times of peace. The month of January is most likely named after him; positioning Janus so he can look back onto the previous year as well as forward to the new one. It is also said that the word “janitor” originates from Janus, symbolizing an earthly ruler of doorways and corridors. Despite there being few counterparts to Janus there are some. In Sumerian and Babylonian art a two faced deity does appear repeatedly. In Hinduism, Brahma is depicted with two or four faces symbolizing his ability to see through space-time; Svetovid, a Slavic god is also presented with four faces. Janus, the two-faced God of Beginnings, who can see both past and future, is not just a unique figure in Roman mythology, but in World mythology.
The Vitruvian Man
In 1490 Leonardo da Vinci combined art, mathematics, and science to draw what he believed to be the ideal proportions of the human male body and has been famously dubbed the Vitruvian Man. The Vitruvian Man attains its name because Leonardo drew and theorized about human proportions based on the geometry written by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius in his treatise “De architectura.” Also known as the “Canon of Proportions” or less popular the “Proportions of Man,” this drawing has been used as a symbol for the essential symmetry of the human body as well as the Universe as a whole. Notice that like the Philospher’s Stone and many other alchemical and magical works, Leonardo uses the circle and the square, symbolizing the macro and microcosm, the material world and spirit, or man and the universe. Though certainly not expressed in these terms, Leonardo understood the world to be a series of fractal patterns repeating themselves at variant levels and size. Essentially he was a proponent of the Hermetic adage, As above, so below,” and believed that working on the human body was analogous to working on the Universe itself. Leonardo articulates man as the microcosm in this quote found in his notes, “By the ancients man has been called the world in miniature; and certainly this name is well bestowed, because, inasmuch as man is composed of earth, water, air and fire, his body resembles that of the earth.” Despite initially only seeing two poses, the Vitruvian Man was actually designed by da Vinci to contain sixteen various combinations and poses within it. Today the original Vitruvian Man is kept under lock and key at the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice, and is occasionally on display for the public.
The All Seeing Eye
Deeply entrenched in conspiracy theories about a New World Order, the Illuminati, its relationship to Masonry, or its purpose on the Great Seal of the United States, the All Seeing Eye is one of the most mysterious and misunderstood symbols of the modern time. Typically set within a triangle, the eye is usually surrounded by rays of light and is sometimes set atop an unfinished pyramid. Also referred to as the “Eye of Providence,” its believed the eye symbolizes the ever-watchful presence of God and the triangle surrounding the eye is symbolic of the Christian Trinity. Interestingly, this Christian based symbol did not appear in Masonry until 1797, despite having been suggested for the seal in 1776 and not actually used until 1782. Due to the symbols relationship to Freemasonry, Alchemy, and its appearance on the Great Seal, many conspiracy theorists have claimed the eye to be the powerful esoteric symbol of the infamous Illuminati – a sinister Catholic backed secret society founded by Adam Weishaupt in Europe on May 1, 1776. The All Seeing Eye is said to have found its inspiration from the Egyptian Eye of Horus. However, many mythologies have described God as an “eye in the sky” or an omnipotent “eternal eye,” such as ancient Near Eastern traditions, Egypt, India, Greece, Christianity, as well as in Meso and South America. Spiritualist have tried to take back the all seeing eye as a symbol for the pineal gland, and they refer back to these ancient traditions where the single eye of God was often associated with the third eye of man. Today the All Seeing Eye can be found on University seals, corporate logos, government agencies, coats of arms, as well as a prominent motif in spiritual artwork.
The Flammarion Engraving
The Flammarion Engraving is an iconic wood engraving by an unknown artist and first appeared in the French astronomer Camille Flammarion’s book in 1888, “L'atmosphère: météorologie populaire” (The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology). Having been an apprentice to an engraver by the age of twelve, it is possible that Flammarion himself drew this particular engraving since he was known to have done so on other works. In 1957 astronomer Ernest Zinner claimed that the Flammarion Engraving actually dated back to the German Renaissance, however once Camille’s book was deemed the original source he was proved otherwise. The decorative boarder is the key clue that gave away that this piece was not medieval; it’s only by cropping this image that it can be confused as an older piece. The Flammarion Engraving depicts a man, wearing a long robe and holding a staff, who is on all fours and peering beyond the starry firmament. He discovers a world beyond the world, and lays witness to the infinitude and complexity of the machinery of heaven. The ophanim – a wheel within a wheel – at the top left corner is a symbolic reference to the visionary experience of Ezekiel when he saw God’s chariot. What exactly an ophanim is can be tricky, conflating sources have described them the protectors of God’s throne, the wheels of God’s throne, and being God’s throne themselves. This engraving is now seen by people using it in reference to subjects like Alchemy, Hermeticism, Astrology, Astronomy, Cosmological Studies, and Renaissance Magic.
The Horned Shaman
Also known as the “dancing sorcerer,” this very ancient symbol was first discovered on the cave walls of Ariege, France and date beyond 13,000 BCE. Not much is really known about the horned shaman or deity since its use predates literary sources. However, many scholars do believe that the cult of the “dancing sorcerer, shaman, or magician” was in fact the precursor to the horned god Cernunnos of Celtic mythology. The image above is a depiction of Cernunnos and can be found on the Gundestrup Cauldron on display at the National Museum of Denmark. Cernunnos is a horned god in Celtic polytheism and was considered the god of fertility, life, animals, wealth, and the underworld. Cernunnos is often depicted sitting cross-legged, surrounded by animals, with a torc in his right hand (a metal bracelet worn in the Iorn Age and represented high status for Celts), and holding a snake by the head in his left hand. Like the horned shaman, Cernunnos is a sort of master of animals. Considering that most cave art is primarily of animals, its believed that the horned shaman must have occupied a very high position in the cults that drew these depictions since he is the central image among a whole host of animals. Again, due to how old the depictions of the horned shaman are there is little we actually know for certain regarding the cultural significance of this figure.
The Fleur de Lis
Seen regularly on coats of arms, heraldry shields, churches, or even on the helmets of the New Orleans Saints, the Fleur de Lis is a stylized lily and has recorded use dating back to Mesopotamia. The use of this symbol can be found in Ancient Egypt, Rome, the Dogon tribe of Africa, on the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, and in modern Christianity. The literal translation of fleur de lis is the “flower of the lily,” and it has been used to symbolize purity. In a Christian context, this symbol has often been associated with the dove as well as representative of the Virgin Mary. The fleur de lis is displayed as a prominent symbol at Rennes le Chateau as well as in the Church of Mary Magdalene. Obvious by its name, the fleur de lys has strong ties to France where it has been used in religious, political, dynastic, and artistic contexts. The fleur de lis is the central symbol of the French coat of arms as well as on city shields like in Florence, Italy (Florentine Lily). Today this symbol can be seen in a variety of different places and is typically used for its aesthetic pleasure in addition to being symbolic of France or French culture itself.
Referred to as the “Thrice-Great Hermes,” Hermes Trismegistus is the purported author of the Hermetic Corpus, a series of books that form the literary basis of Hermeticism. Hermes Trismegistus is a syncretic representation of the Egyptian god Thoth and the Greek god Hermes. Greeks in Hellenistic Egypt recognized an equivalence between Hermes and Thoth, thereby even the Temple of Thoth in Khemnu, Egypt was called Hermopolis by the Greeks. Both Thoth and Hermes were wisdom deities and were associated with writing, magic, and language. At the turn of the Common Era, Hermes Trismegistus attained the status as the patron of astrology and alchemy; that is why I have often mentioned Hermes in my “symbols of the day” due to his relationship to alchemy and the belief that he is the father of the magical arts. It must be mentioned that the majority of Greeks and Romans did not equate Hermes Trismegistus and the Greek god Hermes as the same figure. There are multiple examples in the works of Cicero that differentiate these two figures. However the Thrice-Great Hermes attained a major revival during the middle ages and particularly during the European Renaissance. Based on the writings of Plato and Clement of Alexandria, Hermes was credited with tens of thousands of writings that were of immense antiquity and were thought to reside in Egypt. Therefore, during the Ranaissance when the Hermetic Corpus was discovered within caves in Syria and begun translation, Marsilio Ficino (the translator) thought he was translating the oldest philosopher in human history. It was not until Isaac Casaubon successfully argued that based on some of the word choices the Hermetic Corpus must actually be dated to the Hellenistic period. Despite his fall during the Renaissance, the Thrice-Great Hermes has reattained a status of veneration by modern occultists and the timeless wisdom found in his writings is viewed with a new appreciation by spiritual seekers.
For the Ancient Egyptians, the Ba was the symbolic representation of the soul and took the form of a bird with a human head. The Ba of a person was said to be able to travel to Heaven with the Gods and could stay as long as the body was intact. Technically, the living soul in Egyptian ontology was composed of five different parts, the Jb (heart), Sheut (shadow), Ren (name), Ka (vital spark), and the Ba (personality). However, the reason most consider the Ba symbolic of the soul itself is because the Egyptians believed that the unique aspect or quality of the individual – what we might call their personality – was a central component of the individual that was carried into the afterlife. It is only the Ba and the Ka (life force/vital spark) of a person that carries on after death and reunites with each other. The Egyptian conception of Ba is different from the Greco-Judaic-Christian-Islamic conception of the soul. In fact when Christianity spread through Egypt they chose to use the Greek term “psyche” (ψυχή) instead of the use of Ba. The concept of the Greek psyche is a totally nonphysical aspect of the individual and no longer has any physical needs or desires. However, for the Egyptians, the Ba is better understood as another mode of being; the Ba is the nonphysical componet of the individual that could nourish itself from food offerings, when the gods would intervene in the affairs of humans it was their Ba that was at work, always returning to the mummy it was the Ba that participated in life outside the tomb. The Ba is the individual but existing in a nonphysical form and therefore may have desires for reverence, food, or copulation. The practice of mummifying the dead and the Egyptian conception of the soul are inextricably linked. For if the mummy was mutilated or destroyed the same fate was to happen to the person’s Ba. Like in so many other examples, the Ba is also depicted as a bird which cross-culturally is symbolic of a person's soul.
Etymologically rooted in the Breton, Cornish, and Welsh word for “inspiration,” Awen is a Druidic symbol for the flowing inspiration of creative people, typically poets, musicians, and soothsayers. The first written use of the word was recorded in a 796 CE Latin text “Historia Brittonum” (History of the Britons), where it refers to the muse of poetic inspiration in addition to other texts where the Awen is indicated as a source of instinctive knowledge. The symbol is fairly simple, consisting of three convergent rays, leading a path towards a high point of three dots while surrounded by three circles. The three lines have multiple meanings and for some are said to represent balance; one interpretation is that the outside lines are symbolic of man and woman, while the central line is the balance of both. Another and more popular meaning is to see the Awen as a symbol of the three rays of light. Three is a very sacred number not just in Druidry, but in British and Celtic culture in general. The three rays of light could then be seen as symbolic of many different trinities; we have the three divisions of the self: mind, body, and soul/spirit. We have the three realms we inhabit: land, sea, and sky (or underworld, middle world, and upper world). There are the three stages of studying Druidry: the bard, the ovate, and the druid. Also the three things that illuminate darkness: nature, knowledge, and truth (or love, wisdom, and truth). The Awen is not just inspiration, but inspiration of truth: the understanding truth, the love of truth, and the maintaining of truth. The three circles surrounding the image symbolize the cyclical and timeless nature of these trinities, as well as the three circles of creation. Thanks to Neo-Druidism adopting the Awen as its official emblem, this symbol has had a bit of a modern resurgence as an icon for tattoos, jewelry, and clothing.
The Maneki-Neko or Beckoning Cat
Found all over China and Japan, the cute little Maneki-Neko or beckoning cat is a symbol of prosperity and good luck which is why you most often see it in restaurants, shops, and offices. The beckoning cat is commonly a calico Japanese Bobtail and comes in different colors and can signify different meanings; white is typically the color but if the cat is red it is believed to protect from illness while the black one is said to ward off evil. Also which paw is raised symbolizes another meaning; if the right paw is up the cat will bring money and happiness, if the left paw is raised it will attract new customers to a business. A cat with both paws up is the jackpot, prosperity, good luck, and bringing in new clients. There are many stories regarding the origins of the beckoning cat but the one with the Buddhist temple is my favorite and most popular. The story goes that the beckoning cat can be traced back to a small Buddhist temple in Tokyo. This temple particularly was a lonely place, the impoverished priest of the temple would often share what little food he had with his cat. Legend has it that one night a few samurai were traveling lead by a guy named Ii Naotaka. Just as they were passing near the temple a horrendous storm began and the men huddled around a tree to take shelter. Naotaka then saw the priest’s cat with one paw raised as if it was beckoning him. The samurai began to follow the cat and just a moment later the tree they were taking shelter under was struck by lightening. Thankful to the cat, the wealthy Naotaka became friends with the poor priest, donated land for rice fields and crops to the temple, and this once lonely and impoverished temple became very prosperous. Upon the cats death it is believed the first statue of maneki-neko was made in his honor so no one would forget him.
The Iʼitoi or Man In the Maze
The Man In the Maze is a symbol that represents the cosmology of the O'odham peoples. The Tohono O'odham Nation is located in Arizona and is the second largest Native American land holding in the United States. For the O’odham Nation, the world was created by a mischievous god that lives in a cave beneath the sacred Baboquivari Mountain on the O’odham reservation. According to legend the ancestors of the O’odham peoples (the Hohokam) were created by this god that dwells in the center of the earth and were given a series of commandments on how to remain in balance with the world. The man in the maze depicts a person standing before a labyrinth design which symbolizes the experiences and choices an individual makes through the journey of life. The middle of the maze symbolizes the dreams and goals of a person, and once those are fulfilled that person has the chance to look back on those choices made before the Sun God greets them and passes them into the next world. Today this symbol is often seen on basketry and jewelry made by the O’odham peoples and is symbolic of Southwestern Native American culture in general.
Having etymological roots to the Egyptian concepts of “ka” and “ba,” the merkabah is a spiritual light vehicle that unites both spirit and body; mer means light, ka means spirit, and ba means body. The Merkabah is often associated with the Kabbalistic tradition, and is described as the mystical chariot of God that allows a person to ascend and descend into various dimensions. The origins of the Merkabah come from Ezekiel’s visionary experience of God’s chariot as described in Ezekiel Chapter 1. As the Merkabah descends upon him, Ezekiel lists the various beings that he sees within the Merkabah (man, lion, ox, and eagle) and claims that it is driven by the “likeness of man.” Due to the esoteric relationship between the sefirots from the Tree of Life and the merkabah, this symbol is more intricate and complex than most realize. However, there is also deep meaning in regards to the geometry of the merkabah, all five platonic solids can be seen contained within its structure. Christian mysticism has certainly been influenced by the Jewish conceptions of the merkabah. Referencing the beings Ezekiel saw in his vision, Christianity often uses the man, lion, ox, and eagle to symbolize the four evangelists. In addition to being an important object of meditative contemplation, the merkabah is still understood as the light vehicle of the individual by modern spiritualists.
The Griffin is an ancient mythological creature that is a hybrid animal with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion, with the head, wings, and front talons of an eagle. The Griffin can be found in Assyrian, Phoenician, Persian, Ancient Egyptian, Ancient Grecian, and Ancient Indian cultures. For our ancestors, the lion was considered the king of the beats and the eagle king of the birds, therefore the Griffin, king of all creatures, was believed to be extremely powerful and majestic. Cross culturally Griffins are known as guardians of treasure, knowledge, or even the gods themselves. In the play “Prometheus Bound,” Aeschylus refers to them as the “sharp toothed hounds of Zeus that do not bark.” Being that the Griffin is a composite of an aerial bird and a terrestrial beast, Christ himself was symbolized by the Griffin in Medieval Europe and can be found atop many Churches. The Valley Life Sciences Building on the campus of UC Berkeley is surrounded by Griffins who guard the entrances and knowledge to the various subjects taught inside. Griffins can be found on heraldry worldwide; in Crete they were the guardians of the throne rooms and in central Asia they were the protectors of sacred gems and gold. Typically the ears are erect symbolizing attentiveness, the body of a lion symbolizes courage, the eagle eyes stood for vision, and the beak represented the Griffin’s tenacity. In fact the hippogriff in Harry Potter is the offspring of a Griffin and a horse. In modern times the Griffin can be seen as school mascots in the case of the College of William and Mary, video games like Warcraft, movies like The Chronicles of Narnia, the Coat of Arms of Crimea, and likely atop some of the more important buildings in your city.
First introduced by the famous Heremticist, botanist, and medical physician Paracelsus, Gnome comes from the Renaissance Latin word “gnomus” and means “earth-dweller.” Paracelsus described these beings as earth-dwelling spirits or elementals, and he most likely derived the concept from ancient myths depicting dwarves as living under mountains or in the earth guarding mines and underground treasures. As the rise of alchemical and magical practice grew during the Renaissance so did the legends of gnomes. They appear in 19th century stories like “Twice-Told Tales” by Nathaniel Hawthorne where gnomes are a sort of antithesis to fairies; again in William Cullen Bryant's "Little People of the Snow” as well as Franz Hartmann’s “Among the Gnomes: An Occult Tale of Adventure in the Untersberg.” However, it was 19th century fairy-tales that the term gnome started to generally become associated with a little person and losing their strict association to Earth spirits or dwelling underground. In the “The Father of Christmas Letters,” J. R. R. Tolkien presents gnomes as helpful creatures from Norway that go to the North Pole to help Father Christmas and his elves. Gnomes also have an interesting relationship to mushrooms, particularly the psychoactive amanita muscaria. A quick image search on Google would show just how many depictions of gnomes have them in association with psychedelic mushrooms. Terence McKenna, the famous psychonaut, philosopher, and botanist often described the beings he encountered on deep psychedelic experiences on DMT and mushrooms as gnome, or elf like creatures. Today, most people’s encounters with gnomes are in gardens where their image was appropriated from the fairy-tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” after WWII.
The Enso belongs to Japanese Zen Buddhism and represents the moment the mind is free to let the body create. This uninhibited brush stroke originates from the minimalism of Japanese aesthetics, the Enso symbolizes unity, absolute enlightenment, elegance, eternity, the void (nothing), the universe, and the perfect meditative state. The Enso is typically drawn by a calligrapher and is done in a single stroke. Some Enso circles will be closed – symbolizing perfection – while others will have a break in it – symbolizing the concept wabi-sabi, the beauty of imperfection. Within Zen Buddhism drawing the Enso is a spiritual practice that some practitioners do every day; one is not to alter the Enso once drawn for it is believed to be a reflection of the person who drew it. You will notice the Chinese character inside of the Enso I chose today, this is the character for Zen. In Chinese that simplified character is pronounced “chan” (禅), which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word “dhyāna” (ध्यान) and translates as “absorption” or “meditative state.” The Enso is the most iconic symbol of Zen Buddhism particularly and can be seen on clothing, tattoos, and corporate logos in modern times.
The Rub el Hizb or Al-Quds Star
The symbol I chose today is the Al-Quds Star, an Islamic symbol that was adapted from the Rub el Hizb and can be found on many emblems and Islamic flags. The Rub el Hizb is composed of two symmetrical squares with one turned at a 45-degree angle and laid on top of each other with usually a circle in the middle. “Rub” means one fourth in Arabic and “Hizb” means group or party. The Quran is divided into 60 hizb and this symbol determines every quarter hizb to help facilitate the recitation of the Quran. The Rub el Hizb is also the marker for the end of a chapter in Arabic calligraphy. The Al-Quds Star (symbol above) is symbolic of the octagonal floor-plan of the Umayyad Dome of the Rock shrine. This symbol is very similar to the Hindu Star of Lakshmi and is now very popular as jewelry as well as the logo to the Al-Quds Bank.
The Seed of Life
This instantly recognizable pattern is the Seed of Life and is a symbol of creation composed of six circles drawn around a central seventh. It is the basis for its bigger versions the Flower of Life, Egg of Life, Fruit of Life, and Tree of Life. The Seed of Life is not just a beautiful geometric pattern, but in more recent times has been shown to be the same geometric structure cells form after the egg has been fertilized and meiosis and mitosis begins during embryological development. Interestingly, the Seed of Life has been a symbol of creation long before we knew its fractal pattern pertaining to cellular division. The Seed of Life is very ancient and symbolized the seven days of creation/days of the week, the seven visible planets, the seven colors of the rainbow, the seven chakras, and the seven musical notes. The number seven itself can be found in about every religious tradition and is a number associated with the full completion of creation. Within the structure of the Seed of Life many different and important geometrical structures can be found including the Platonic solids, the golden mean, as well as phi and pi ratios. This symbol is not just important to the historical traditions in which it can be found, but the Seed of Life actually represents the fractal patterning of life, nature, the universe, and possibly consciousness itself.
The Swastika and Sauwastika
The Swastika is a very ancient religious symbol dating back to about 11,000 years ago and is believed to have originated on the Indian subcontinent before spreading to East and South Asia. The term “swastika” actually comes from Sanskrit (स्वस्तिक) and indicates an object as “lucky or auspicious.” Our ancestors that crossed the land bridge from Asia into the Americas are theorized to have brought the swastika with them and therefore explaining the symbols presence in Aztec and Mayan cultures. The swastika is a solar symbol in its earliest use and represented the revolving sun for Zoroastrians in Persia. It was often associated with healing, good health, good luck, and prosperity. Once you see the swastika as a solar cross, literally the cross of the zodiac, you can then see that the tails or arms are dragging behind this clockwise and counterclockwise spinning symbol. The elbows of the Swastika indicate which direction it is spinning in. Notice the one I chose today on the Buddha’s chest is spinning clockwise. This clockwise spinning swastika is sometimes referred to as the “sauwastika,” and is most common in Aztec, Buddhist, Greco-Roman, Mayan, and East Asian traditions. The counterclockwise swastika, is most common in Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, and was appropriated most famously by Nazi Germany. Because the swastika is believed to have been created by the Aryan people of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, and Germans and many other Europeans thought of themselves as decedents of the Aryan race, Hitler used the swastika to legitimate the racial significance of the Aryans as well as to galvanize support for his purification of the German people. Nazi appropriation has stigmatized the swastika to a point most are not aware of its archaic and essentially global use. Today, the clockwise rotating swastika is used in China as a symbol for vegetarian food (solar symbol), and more generally is making a slow comeback in regards to its ancient spiritual origins.
This week I am in the Riviera Maya on the Yucatán Peninsula and will be focusing on Mayan symbols. Literally translated as “feathered serpent,” Kukulkan has his origins with the Maya during the Classic Period (250-900 CE) and was then known as Waxaklahun Ubah Kan. Kukulkan has many similarities with the deity Q'uq'umatz of the K'iche' people along with Quetzalcoatl of Aztec mythology. Originally centered in Chichen Itza, the cult of Kukulkan/Quetzalcoatl was the first Mesoamerican religion to transcend linguistic and ethnic divisions and established peaceful trading among people of very different backgrounds. In Yucatán, references to Kukulkan have been difficult to distinguish between the deity and a historical person who bore his same name. The historical person named Kukulkan is believed to have been a priest or ruler at Chichen Itza and first appeared around the 10th century. The temple to Kukulkan in Chichen Itza, was used during solar festivals at the time of the spring and fall equinoxes. The shadow cast by the sun during the equinoxes creates the illusion that the nine steps of the pyramid, the northern stairway, and the stone serpent head appear to be a massive serpent (Kukulkan) descending down the pyramid. Kukulkan is the deity that presided over the sacrificial offerings. Outside of Chichen Itza, there are temples dedicated to Kukulkan in Uxmal and Mayapan.
The Jaguar God
Mayan culture is replete with various Jaguar Gods. The jaguar is a symbol of power and was one of the most fierce animals ancient people living in Central and South America would come face to face with. Therefore it is no wonder that this particular animal would play such in important role in the mythology and culture of the Mayans as well as the Aztecs. The Jaguar God of Terrestrial Fire and War, the “God of the Night Sun” is an interesting myth which depicts him as the Jaguar God of the Underworld and is the other half to the sun god of the day, Kinich Ahau. When Kinich Ahau sets for the night, it was believed that he then took the form of the Jaguar God as he journeyed through the underworld. Being that the Jaguar God is also the God of War, it is not surprising that we find his face on the front of Mayan war shields. God L, another Jaguar God, is possibly one of the oldest Mayan deities and is also described as the God of the Underworld. There is even in between figures, not exactly a deity, but would be more considered a jaguar protector or transformer; these myths relate to the Water Lily Jaguar as well as the myth of the male child with the ears and tail of jaguar, and the ability to assume features of the Jaguar God of Terrestrial Fire and War. Since being here in Mexico, I have seen how the Jaguar is an extremely popular symbol found on t-shirts and art here local as well as Mexico generally.
Tulum, one of the last built and inhabited Mayan cities, is a walled pre-Columbian Mayan city serving as the main port of Cobá. Tulum is situated along the Caribbean side of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexican state Quintana Roo. Between the 13th and 15th centuries Tulum was at its height as a Mayan city however it only survived for about 70 years after the Spanish began occupying Mexico. This site was formerly known as “Zama” which is Mayan for “City of Dawn” due to the fact it was built to face the rising sun. Tulum’s sea entrance is guarded by the Templo Dios del Viento (Temple of the God of Wind) and is one of the most iconic features of Tulum. The photo used today was taken from my trip to Tulum and is of the Temple of the Wind God. Among the more interesting structures is the Temple of the Frescoes and was used as an observatory for tracking the movements of the Sun. The Mayan “Diving or Desceding God” (most likely a Venus deity) decorates the façade of the temple as well over the entrance to the western wall. Tulum is one the most well preserved coastal Mayan cities and is now a very popular tourist destination.
The Aztec and Maya Calendar
Infamous for their astronomical knowledge and precision, the Aztec and Maya calendar is a system of calendars used in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and is still in use by modern communities in places such as Guatemala, Veracruz, Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico. New Age theories regarding December 21, 2012 and its relation to the ending of the 5,126-year-long cycle of the Maya Calendar greatly popularized its accuracy and used it as symbolic of a predicted global spiritual transformation. The Maya calendar is one of the most iconic items of the Maya civilization and dates back to the 5th century BCE but could possibly be older. Many similarities can be found between the Maya and other Mesoamerican calendars from traditions such as the Aztecs, Mixtecs, Olmecs, and the Zapotecs. According to the myths of the Maya, the deity Itzamna is attributed with providing the knowledge of the calendar system to the ancestors of the Maya as well as writing in general. The Tzolk'in is a term scholars use to describe the Maya Sacred Round or 260-day calendar. The Tzolk'in is combined with the Haab', a 365 day solar calendar, and forms the synchronized cycle lasting 52 Haab'. Though different terms are used for the Aztec calendar, the mechanism and counting system are basically the same. In fact, the picture that I chose today is of the Aztec calendar. This calendar is very complex and intricate, much more so than I can give credence to here. Similar to the Egyptian pyramids, the Maya calendar strikes a deep chord within us because it is proof that our ancestors possessed information that we still find baffling in the modern world.
The Lion of Judah
Not only an iconic symbol of the Rastafarian faith, the Lion of Judah is symbolic of the blessing Jacob gave to his fourth son Judah as found in the Book of Genesis. In regards to Rastafarianism, the Lion of Judah is also the title given to the former emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie; followers literally worship Selassie as an incarnated God. He was and is believed to be the messianic figure that will lead Africans back to their homeland and into freedom. Christians also refer to Jesus as the Lion of Judah which can be found in the Book of Revelation. The Ethiopian people are unique due to the fact they have traditionally seen themselves as direct descendants from the tribe of Dan and Judah, and therefore believe in a direct lineage of Kings that stretch back to King David. Before its association with Rastafarianism the Lion of Judah was synonymous with Judaism, in fact Jerusalem, the capital of the Kingdom of Judah, included the lion on its Emblem of Jerusalem. For Rastafarianism the Lion of Judah is symbolic of strength, kingship, as well as pride in African sovereignty. It is typically displayed on the Ethiopian flag, holding a staff with a waving Ethiopian banner as well as the King’s crown on its head. Today the colors green, red, and yellow are instantly recognizable as related to Rastafarianism and cannabis use, but fewer recognize its deep symbolic connection to Ethiopia and Judeo-Christian mythology.
The Sigil of Ameth
Also referred to as the “Seal of Truth of God” (ameth in Hebrew means truth), was a magical diagram from the late Middles Ages and is composed of two circles, one central pentagram, three heptagons, and is labeled with the names of the angels as well as various names of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God, Yahweh. According to the “Liber Juratus,” one of the oldest sources regarding the Sigil of Ameth, this sigil possessed great magical power and would allow the initiated magician to have dominion over all creatures except Archangels and God himself. This symbol is now commonly associated with the infamous English magician John Dee, who had claimed to see this sigil in a vision which he believed was brought to him by angels. The Sigil of Ameth predates John Dee by about three centuries however the sigil was central to and often still associated with the Enochian magic performed by John Dee and Edward Kelly. When composing a sigil it is thought that drawing the image without a break or without lifting the pen from the paper allows for any sigil to have more efficacy. Notice then that the central pentagram as well as the larger seven-pointed star have no obvious break in them and appear seamless; this is a common technique when creating powerful sigils and can be seen in many examples outside of the Sigil of Ameth. Though these names are not in English the sigil does name all seven of God's angels Cafziel, Satquiel, Amael, Raphael, Anael, Michael, Gabriel; a giveaway in English that these names are of Old Testament Jewish messengers is the fact that their names end in “el.” EL, or Elohim (plural name) is one of the many names of God and also marks the names of his seven angELs. This symbol is typically fully understood only by the initiated or an adept but is generally associated with magic, occultism, John Dee, and by the ignorant seen as Satanic.