Key to the Sacred Pattern

17 December 2010

Viewing Symbols in Context

Earlier this week, I saw a post from a noted esoteric author on Facebook.  The post was a picture of an Egyptian revival tomb in New York and the author posed the question of if the tomb was a replica of the Scottish Rite Temple in Washington, DC.  I didn't see the similarities of the two structures myself, but it make me think of a trap everyone who studies esoterica faces at times.  How do we accurately interpret symbols in unlikely places?  It's easy to fall into the mindset that there is only one specific answer to the interpretation of that symbol.

Take a look at the photo below and ask yourself what does this particular sign mean and why is the person making it?

After you have your answer in mind, analyze why you responded the way you did.  Now take a look at this picture and ask yourself the same question.  What does this symbol now mean to you? 

The picture was taken from the Wiki article on "hook 'em horns" and the football scene was blacked out in the first one.  For those not familiar with college football, University of Texas fans will throw up the "hook 'em horns" sign to show their support for the team.  The sign mirrors the longhorn cattle logo of the University of Texas. 

The difference in the interpretation of the two pictures is simply the context in which the sign is made.  Since there are a number of interpretations of raising the pinky and index finger, it's impossible to definitively tell what the sign means without its proper context.  If the sign was made in the context of the below picture, we would assume the person was simply trashing to heavy metal music and not supporting a football team.

The point of this exercise can be extended to any form of symbolism we decide to examine.  If the object of our study is a building, one cannot assume that the symbols we see ingrained in the building have a specific meaning.   One cannot also assume that a symbol has any meaning at all.  The architect might simply have thought the design was visually pleasing and never meant it to have an esoteric significance.

The first question one must ask is not what the symbol means, but who placed the symbol there.  What do we know about the person who placed the symbol there?  What is their background?  What motivation, if any, did they have to place this particular symbol there?  Only then can one start to unravel the true meaning of any symbol.  The due diligence of contextual interpretation can be applied to paintings, buildings, or anywhere else in the world we find a symbol.

In the world of esoteric studies, there are enough blind alleys one can spent their time on without automatically jumping to erroneous conclusions.  There is plenty of hidden meanings out there without one attaching unnecessary symbolic baggage to your analysis.   I hope this saves someone out there some time and mental shoe-leather...

15 December 2010

The Darker Side of Christmas

Lurking in the shadows of the neighbor's twinkling Christmas lawn lights is the darker side of the Yule tide.  One rarely associates the holiday season with the ghouls and specters that cavort during Halloween, but in many traditions around the world Christmas does have a dark side.  Aside from the specters in Dickens's A Christmas Carol, the threat of a lump of coal from Santa, and Chevy Chase's Holiday Vacation; American traditions have been insulated from the horror show of Christmas traditions around the world.  Here are just some of stories of Christmas evil that will make you glad that shipping Aunt Tillie's sweater is high on your list of holiday stressors. 

A Tender Norwegian Christmas

Santa riding a goat...
Besides eating lye treated cod during the Holiday season, the Norwegians have a number of frightful Christmas traditions.  The foremost being that of the Julebukk, or the Christmas goat.  Traditions centering around, Julebukk are thought to have come from Thor being depicted as being transported on a sleigh pulled by two goats.  In pre-Christian Norway, during winter celebrations someone dressed as Julebukk and carrying a goat head would burst on to the scene.  Julebukk would then symbolically die and be reborn later that evening.  Another variation in some areas was disguising one's self as a goat and going to their neighbor's homes.  The game was to figure out who was behind the scary goat head.

The tradition was Christianized by turning Julebukk in to a demonic figure.  The demonizing of Julebukk must have given the children one too many nightmares and the use of Julebukk was forbidden by the Church during the Middle Ages.  The ban on Julebukk might have fostered the thought that on Christmas Eve witches and other evil spirits come out of the woodwork and looking for brooms to ride.  To thwart the spirit world, brooms are hidden on Christmas Eve and guns or fireworks are shot off to spook the incorporeal from invading one's home.  Some forms of the Julebukk tradition exist today as more of a door to door caroling event.  Julebukk also makes an appearance on modern Norwegian Christmas trees in the form of straw goats.

Krampus is Comin' to Town

The goat motif extends from Scandinavia to Germany, Austria and some Slavic countries.  There Santa has something of an evil twin brother by the name of Krampus.  Often depicted as a demonic horned goatish creature, Krampus accompanies Santa on his Christmas gift runs.  If a child has been on the super naughty list Krampus will beat them with chains or a switch.  For the semi-naughty, Krampus will just scare the child into being on the nice list for next year.  This particular tradition was born out of the legend that the devil would accompany Santa.  Being the embodiment of all that is good, Santa is able to shackle the devil as his slave on Christmas Eve. 

Much like Julebukk, the Krampus tradition has morphed into something much different in modern times.  Winter celebrations dedicated to the Krampus legends have now turned into a costumed bacchanalia.  On Krampusnacht (Night of Krampus usually on 5 or 6 December) boozing Krampi wander the streets looking for naughty women to spank and other such mischief to get into.  

Whipping Up Some Christmas Cheer

Le Père Fouettard
The French have yet another evil companion to Saint Nick, Le Père Fouettard (the whipping father).  Like our previous examples, Le Père Fouettard has been bound to ride shotgun in Santa's sleigh for his misdeeds.  Said to have been an innkeeper, Le Père Fouettard and his wife planned skullduggery for three wealthy young men who spent the night in their inn.  The pair drugged the lads, stole their money, and then slit their throats.  To cover up their crimes, the boys are cut into pieces and placed into a barrel of stew meat.  Luckily for our three lads, Saint Nicholas was led to the inn by a vision.  There Saint Nick confronts Le Père Fouettard and raises the young men from the dead. 

To punish Le Père Fouettard for his crimes, Santa forced the murdering innkeeper to accompany him on the Christmas gift giving spree.  Predictably, our whipping father punishes the wicked as Santa rewards the good children.  I'm sure in the back of poor French children's minds, Le Père Fouettard's justice will get out of hand and turn them into stew meat.

The mixing of Halloween and Christmas traditions seemed far-fetched to Americans when Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas was released.  Turns out Burton was just following much older traditions than Americans were accustomed to.  This Christmas Eve if you hear something rustling around your tree, make sure you're on Santa's good list.  If you're not, who knows what spirit of Christmas evil you've conjured up!

13 December 2010

Historians Discover Letters and Numbers in Mona Lisa's Eyes

This news story is bound to keep those da Vinci theorists up for the next few nights.  Yahoo News reported early this morning that historians have actually found tiny numbers and symbols painted in the eyes of the Mona Lisa.  The article states that the new found aspect of the Mona Lisa cannot be seen by the naked eye, but can be clearly seen with a magnifying glass.

Here are the details from that article:

"In the right eye appear to be the letters LV which could well stand for his name Leonardo Da Vinci while in the left eye there are also symbols but they are not as defined.  It is very difficult to make them out clearly but they appear to be the letters CE or it could be the letter B - you have to remember the picture is almost 500 years old so it is not as sharp and clear as when first painted.  While in the arch of the bridge in the background the number 72 can be seen or it could be an L and the number 2."

The discovery was made after members of Italy's National Committee for Cultural Heritage magnified high resolution photos of the Mona Lisa.  Why this group had undertook magnifying areas of the painting is not made clear in the article.  This might also put to rest the theories that the real Mona Lisa wasn't returned to the Louvre after the painting's theft in 1911.

I'll be doing some digging to try and find some high resolution images of the Mona Lisa on line today.  It is possible that we might be able to see what's in the Mona Lisa's eyes using the same method as the original researchers.  I can guarantee that the image that is posted with this article is no where near the resolution needed for such an analysis.

What else did da Vinci hide in the Mona Lisa and other paintings?  I'm sure there will be a lot of folks getting out their magnifying glasses in the next few days.

09 December 2010

Glastonbury Thorn Tree Vandalized

Reports are coming in from England that the Holy Thorn Tree was vandalized sometime during the night of 8-9 Dec 2010.  The once vibrant tree was reduced to a man sized stump.  Avon and Summerset police have launched an investigation into the crime, but have no leads or motives as of yet. 

The Holy Thorn or Glastonbury Thorn Tree has long attracted thousands of pilgrims each Christmas season.  Legend holds that the original common Hawthorn tree was planted by Joseph of Arimathea.  Joseph is said to have fled Palestine with the Holy Grail after the death of Jesus.  Joseph relocated to southern England where he may have had interests in tin mining.  On a hill outside of Glastonbury, a travel weary Joseph stuck his walking stick into the ground while taking a rest.  The staff immediately took root and blossomed into a thorn tree that stood for over a thousand years.

The longevity of the original Glastonbury Thorn was not its only miraculous property.  The tree bloomed twice a year.  Hawthorn trees usually bloom in the spring, but the Glastonbury Thorn would bloom in the wintertime around Christmas.  As early as the 1500's, there were reports of the tree blooming on the pre-Gregorian calendar celebration of Christmas on January 5th

The story of the Glastonbury Thorn then takes a turn reminiscent of last night's events.  The original Glastonbury Thorn tree was chopped down.  Legend and history account two ways this might have happened.  One is that a Puritan cut the tree down because the tree incited thoughts of magic and superstition.  For the Puritan's trouble, as the tree fell a splinter pieced his eyes and blinded him.  Another version of the felling of the original thorn tree was that one of Oliver Cromwell's soldiers cut the tree down in 1653.

A number of cuttings from the original tree were replanted by Glastonbury residents.  Along with a public site for the replanted tree, a number of secret locations were chosen by residents for replanting.  The second Glastonbury Thorn did flourish and reports from 1752 indicate it still bloomed at Christmas time.  That year, after the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, the tree bloomed on December 24th.  Over the years there have been a number of accounts of the tree blooming during the Christmas season, if not on Christmas Eve or Day itself.  That particular tree died of natural causes in 1991 and was replanted using cuttings the year after.  The tree that was vandalized last night could be said to have been the grandson/daughter of Joseph's tree.

Over the years, the Glastonbury Thorn has attracted thousands of pilgrims.  One of which was author John Steinbeck.  In a letter to Thomas Mallory scholar Eugene Vinaver, Steinbeck mentions that he sent a cutting of the thorn tree to Vinaver.  In 1901 another cutting of the Glastonbury Thorn was sent to the Bishop of Washington to be planted at the National Cathedral.   That tree is also said to bloom at Christmas time as well.

Another long standing tradition surrounding the Glastonbury Thorn is that a small branch of the thorn tree is sent to England's reigning monarch.  It was after such a ceremony last night that the Holy Thorn tree was vandalized.  Whatever the statement the vandals wished to make by their actions were tied to the timing of the attack.