I have been meditating on sacred symbols a lot lately.

Symbols serve important functions in many cultures. In Understanding Folk Religion the authors write:

“Nondiscursive signs do not refer to things directly – they point towards things that cannot be expressed in ordinary words. They go beyond the limits of discursive language to speak indirectly about the ‘unspeakable.’ They often refer to ideas, emotions and motivations that transcend ordinary immediate human experiences.”

“Nondiscursive symbols deal with the ambiguities, uncertainties and mysteries of life compared with sense experiences, which are immediate and rationally analysed. They are concerned less with naturalistic realities known through the senses than hidden ones known by looking below the surface of things. For example, in medieval art, Jesus often had a halo around his head to show his inner holiness and deity.”

“At the heart of nondiscursive symbols is analogy and metaphor.”

Yet a strange symbolic illiteracy pervades contemporary evangelicalism. I can only put it down to a residual iconoclasm, a fear of idolatry, but if we are serious about incarnating into our visual media saturated culture we need to get over it. We can use words in an idolatrous fashion too but that doesn’t stop evangelicals from writing. Advertisers get it. Pagans get it. If we want to communicate the gospel we need to get it as well.

In line with this I have been pondering how we can engage with and express Christian spirituality more symbolically. Obviously a significant focus area for me is visual meditations and poetic expression but I have also been thinking about ritual application. Our ancient heritage is rich with symbol, yet does a critically contextual approach require us to be limited by the imaginations of the ancients? I tend to think not.

One area I question is the solar symbolism of Roman Christianity. How much of this do we owe to the influence of Mithraism and Sol Invictus in the ancient world? In an age where the moon goddess and feminine spirituality is in ascendancy could we not do with a little more symbolic balance? After all, the Bible states God is creator of the sky, sea and earth, not the sky alone. Jesus was birthed by a woman who stood with the moon at her feet according to the Book of Revelation. Is it possible we can use solar-lunar symbolism to express the good news? I think we can in two ways:

Firstly, in alchemy, the chemical wedding of sol-luna gives birth to the quintessence; the philosopher’s stone that turns lead into gold and brings eternal life. Is this not a perfect metaphor for the incarnation, the wedding of humanity and divinity in the golden one who brings us eternal life?

jesus-Sun-and-Moon

Secondly, I turn to the metaphor of the eclipse, of the moon swallowing the sun in the sky, with the sun’s corona shining beyond the darkness. In this I also see a potent metaphor for the crucifixion-resurrection event, of Jesus’ divinity being swallowed by his humanity yet shining forth. Consider also that the gospels recount darkness falling upon the land in the hour of Jesus’ death.

eclipse

If we recognize the moon as a symbol for immanence and the sun as a symbol for transcendence, both of which are aspects of the Christian God, I think we have a much better chance of communicating what the good news actually means to subcultures in the west that perceive solar imagery as fundamentally unbalanced. We need to be clear that we have no need for a Goddess in our Spirituality – not because we deny the immanent-feminine principle – but because our deity incorporates both transcendant-masculine and immanent-feminine principles in harmony. Both male and female, sun and moon, are representative of our Creator.

This is just one of the approaches I am exploring in visual meditations at the moment but I’d be interested in your responses.

One thought on “Meditations on Sol and Luna

  1. Yes, I love the idea of more varied visuals.
    Even if we come up with images now and in the future, they will be drawing on the archetypes that have been handed down to us from the past. And I think this is as it should be. Not because they are more true or more approved by God, but because they already have the emotional clout. Inventing new symbols would be interesting (and I’ve already tried that) but they just sit there. There’s no traction. They only aquire meaning and power over time.
    And the funny thing is, even evangelicals who hate the idea of icons and such buy Christian products that have compelling images on them; books, curriculum packages, music, etc. In my icon collection is a tiny cut out of the Holy Family that was generated by one of the big curriculum houses. Deep concentration is given to the creation of those images so that they will evoke feelings in us. It could be said that the commercial graphic artist hired by Chirstian pubs are the iconographers of our day.
    I wonder if part of the reason the Goddess is portrayed as a drinking cup in one particuluar pseudo-christian myth is because we no longer require an actual woman to carry the idea of the incarnation forward.
    In any case, good point about the Goddess image. I was pokin’ around in one of my favorite shops here in town last week, and they had a statuette of the Black Madonna. It drew me in. Partly because it looked like it was carved out of a piece of charcoal – it was so black – and partly because of the little booklet that came with it. It said that this image has been around long before the Christian story at the site of Chartres Cathedral.
    Like Jesus, I suspect that she was the last Eve. She is now the Mother of all the Truly Living. I think this is much more important a focus than her being the Mother of God. And I think the whole thing with Mary Magdalen is simple redundancy. She is not needed to join God and Humanity. It’s already done. But it was done with another Mary. It’s not as if a real woman was not needed at all. God could have skipped the female thing entirely and simply inhabitted a newborn infant. Some tell the story that way anyway. But He didn’t. He bothered this poor girl with a highly irregular and rude imposition! TOTALLY UNNECCESARY!! But that’s how it went down.
    I think the Church’s inability to make one decision about how to relate to her speaks to our confusion about what to do about the Goddess issue. All arguments end in hairsplitting. And so I must conclude that we still fundamentally don’t get it.
    One of the things I’ve gotten while looking at different versions of the Tarot art and reading their interpretations is that the intense mystery around the Goddess has to do with her relationship to everything else. The more you try to nail her down and get an objective idea of what she is, the more she eludes you. We nailed down the God, but not the Goddess. She seems to be a sort of qualifyer. A catalyst.
    How do you show this?

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