In the last article we discovered how many creations myths include the icon of a serpent which divided the polarities – an idea inspired by the constellation Draco spinning over the north pole. In this article, I want to focus on the philosophy of expansion and retraction – how religious traditions portrayed the “fall” with holy icons and symbols, and how they developed theories of salvation as a means to return to the original unity.
This topic is very difficult to discuss because it assumes that symbols have hidden layers of meaning, and that I alone of all people know what the real meaning is. I’ve come to appreciate the symbolic interpretation of common religious symbols because of my studies of esoteric philosophy. Most religious traditions have a history of mysticism and also a caste system – members could progress up the levels of spirituality, and the motifs and imagery of the religion was revealed to them piece by piece. While many modern religions have lost track of the metaphoric interpretations of their own symbols, the writings of certain philosophers, mystics and spiritualists, can help us explore the original meaning of these symbols.
In nearly all early cosmology theories, the universe began as a single point and expanded downwards into the physical world. (This is also the “Big Bang” theory, which has matured little in the 2,000 since Plato.) The transition from above to below, and the process of going back up, is the secret principle underlying all religious symbols. For example, as demonstrated in Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, the primal symbols for Man and Woman are both triangles, one pointed up and the other pointed down. The one pointing up is the masculine energy, positively charged, pointing upwards towards unification. The one pointing down is the feminine energy, negatively charged, pointing downwards. (Incidentally – this isn’t to signify that “females” are lowly, to be dominated by males. Each human being, regardless of sex, is a product of this balanced system and is ruled by both energies.)
Together, the two triangles form a magical symbol, the Seal or Star of Soloman – which represents the unified universe in much the same way as the Yin-Yang symbol does. While the six-pointed star symbolizes balance and completion, a five-pointed star shows movement. The pentacle has 4 points for the 4 elements, wind, water, fire and air, with a 5 point for spirit. Pointed upwards it is a holy symbol, aimed at restitution, but pointed downwards it becomes a symbol of evil – sometimes exaggerated with the image of the demon “baphomet”, which can be formed from an inverted pentacle. Strictly speaking, there is nothing satanic about the physical world, other than the obvious drawbacks of sickness and death – but the process of dividing and separating was seen as sullying the pure, clean original substance. (Much like smashing a diamond into pieces. You end up with equal amounts of diamond, but the little pieces are worthless. The value was in the unified gem.)
Rather than a specific mastermind ruling the underworld, Satan is a composite character whose images reflect the process of expansion and separation. We can see this more clearly by contrasting two of the cards from A. E. Waite’s Tarot deck.
The Devil is crowned by an inverted pentacle, which seems to cut his horns in two which then curve down – demonstrating both the separation, and the downward expansion, of the polar energies. In case we missed the point, his head is also an inverted triangle, and he is even pointing a torch downwards to signify the fall of the Logos, or divine spark. (Many myths have a hero who “stole fire” from the gods and gave it to humanity). The male and female are separate, naked and in chains, signifying their helplessness to their physical desires. They are also horned and tailed, (governed by their animal senses), and gazing downwards.
The Lovers card, on the other hand, demonstrates the restoration. There is a large triangle, (the mountain,) in the middle of the card pointing up. The woman represents the fallen Sophia. She is next to a snake in a tree. As we will see in a few moments, a snake winding around a pole always symbolizes spiritual awakening. The man on the right has his own tree – but it is almost barren. There are exactly 12 leaves, hinting that, until the restoration, he is still stuck beneath the 12 Zodiac signs, and subject to Time and Death. They are both looking up, at the large welcoming angel and dazzling sun.
I give this lengthy interpretation of the Tarot cards because it helps to see the same pattern in less obvious symbols. Take, for example, the upright cross. Ancient philosophers used the cross to represent the physical world, which they believed had four directions and was made of four elements. It also, however, demonstrated the path between heaven and hell (vertical bar) and the process of time in the physical world (horizontal bar.) An upright cross places the horizontal bar up high, showing the restoration.
This is why it is the symbol of Jesus – who, as the Logos or First Born Son very literally is the bridge between heaven and earth. In most paintings of the crucifixion, there are two criminals crucified with him. One is looking up, and the other is looking down. (In the Bible – Jesus tells only one that he will go up to heaven.) Jesus is in the middle of the two – the animating principle, or consciousness, which fell from the original unity and which we need to get back up. However, Jesus wasn’t the first to use this cross – it was also the symbol of Mithras. Like Christians, the followers of Mithras used to have a ritual meal with flat bread imbued with the power of this cross.
Of course, rather than a symbol of the crucifixion, the sword of Mithras was supposed to commemorate his act of slaying the zodiacal Bull of Taurus. It is easy to play up differences and claim the cross and the sword are only alike in appearance, but they have precisely the same function. Mithras slew the sacred bull (initiating the age of Taurus), and his followers were cleaned of their sins through its blood. Jesus slew the sacred lamb (initiating the age of Aries) and his followers were cleaned of their sins through its blood. In a fascinatingly prophetic passage, Jesus even says, “Do you think I came to bring peace? I tell you, I came not to bring peace but the sword.” The modern peace symbol is actually a picture of an inverted cross with broken arms – showing the defeat of Christianity, but more importantly, the process of downwards expansion. The “sword” Jesus mentions is probably the opposite, a vertical cross. (Although, the true opposite of the peace symbol would look like Poseidon’s trident, another ancient symbol of magic.)
Incidentally, the inverted cross has always been associated with the apostle Peter. It was said that he chose to be crucified upside down out of respect for Christ, however, there is a more logical reason. Peter was singled out by Jesus to represent humanity as a whole. He was even renamed Cephas, or “the rock”, to make this symbolism more concrete. It is no surprise that, while Jesus symbolizes the higher power of the logos and is represented by an upright cross, Peter represents fallen humanity and is represented by an inverted cross.
An elaboration of the cross is the anchor symbol. This ancient magical icon is a representation of the created universe, including the fall and the division of polarities. Pictures of anchors are more common in early Christian art and architecture than crosses. The anchor shows the trinity (the top point is sometimes a loop, to show the eternal unity), the descent, and then the two polarities which are divided. Many anchor symbols are drawn with either a snake, or a rope winding up it, to show the process back up to the top.
If you look again at the Lovers card above you will see that, if you combined the two trees, the entire picture would also form an anchor. This symbolism is common in Christian iconography and church paintings. In the following picture from Oregon’s Portland Grotto, the bird or Holy Spirit is on top, then the Father and Son, holding a crown out to Mary, who is descending down below them. At her feet are two angels, a male and female. Around her head are 12 stars – the Zodiac. Until the restoration, she is bound within the limits of time. I’ve overlaid the anchor symbol to show how precisely the scene was laid out. The other picture below is a mystical symbol, depicting the anchor as a kind of fishing hook, cast back up to the cross from the heart of the world.
The Tree of Life
Jesus calls himself the “Tree of Life”, referring to Genesis and the gospel story. There were two trees in the Garden, the Tree of Life (eternity, unity) and the Tree of Knowledge (self-consciousness, division, time, death.) Once Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge, God took the Tree of Life away from them, afraid that they would live forever and become gods themselves. Of course, if Jesus really is the Tree of Life, it means that God has changed his mind about the whole garden thing and decided to let us have the tree after all.
The symbol of the tree is not limited to Christianity – it was often seen as bridge between heaven and earth, with its roots in the ground and its leaves in the air. Many other deities are associated with a sacred tree, including Attis, Buddha and Krishna.
As we mentioned before, the process of restoration, of going back up and uniting the polarities, is always represented by a snake climbing up a pole. In India meditation is practiced with the aim of releasing the Kundalini energy, often described as the serpentine energy located at the base of the spine. It is believed that the seven Chakras must be opened, in order, and then the Kundalini can connect with the universal energy located at the crown of the head.
When the lower spiritual self unites with the universal Spirit, a person experiences ‘enlightenment’, which is the absolution of opposites, the end of death and time. It is often described as being one with everything. The Biblical book of Revelations records a similar spiritual process, which it claims that the 7 seals from the book of life are opened the world will come to an end.
The Jewish Kabala uses the symbol of the “Tree of Life” as a guide or plan for spiritual purification. In some images, the 10 points of the tree are connected with a snake, showing the proper order. The symbol of a snake climbing a pole is known as “The Staff of Aesculapius.” A similar symbol is “The Caduceus”, which has wings at the top of the pole. While the snake represents the physical world and its rise towards redemption, the heavenly world is usually represented by a bird. (The snake lives in the ground under the roots of the tree, the bird lives in its branches – the tree represents the path or bridge between the two.) Therefore, another symbol representing the union of heaven and earth is a bird and a snake together. Many modern health organization continue to use either the Staff of Aesculapius of The Caduceus in their Logo, because of their ancient associations with healing.
The Number 7
The snakes in both these symbols often cross the poles exactly 7 times. In the ancient world, it was believed that the Sophia fell through 7 heavens before getting stuck in our universe, and that when we return, we will also have to pass through these 7 heavens. The number 7 is not merely an arbitrary choice – the Pythagoreans in particular believed that the universe was built on musical principles. There were 7 known planets, each with its each own frequency. (There are 7 notes on a scale, the 8th note in an octave is just the beginning of a new chord.) White light can also be divided into the seven colors of the spectrum.
In Asia, there is a story about the goddess Nuwa creating the rainbow. Nuwa is often shown a creature with woman’s torso and a serpent’s body. She is almost identical in form and function to the serpent in the Garden of Eden – through the descent and separation of the tail (feminine) part of the original unity, the universe was split into 7 layers. Yahweh in the Old Testament, makes his the rainbow a symbol of his covenant with Israel – reaffirming the practical implications of the covenant: The uniting of the 12 tribes into one kingdom.
We find the number 7 in many myths. In the story of Hercules, the Hydra he kills has seven heads. When Buddha reached enlightenment, a seven-headed cobra spread its hood over him to protect him from the rain. When Jesus met Mary, he cast out 7 demons. And when Snow White gets lost in the woods, she meets 7 dwarves. You might think, “Bah! A coincidence – Snow White can have nothing to do with ancient mystic symbolism.” Actually, most “fairy tales” were actually stories used to preserve mythological wisdom that was being lost under the persecution of the Catholic Church. Snow White is a very clear and obvious reference to a universal and ancient story of love between Sophia and the Logos.
Snow White pines for a prince she’s never met, but knows intuitively. She gets lost in the woods, but meets the 7 dwarves. (The 7 planets, who have to go to work every day and are only around at night.) She eats a poisonous apple and falls into a deep sleep. (A fruit or apple is often the root of “death”, just like in the Garden of Eden.”) But, when the charming prince comes and kisses her, they go off to live happily ever after. Originally, the story was told about Sophia. Later, she was transformed into “The Holy Mother Church.” When Jesus (the Logos) comes down and we reunite with him, we will live forever. The early Church had an extra sacrament called “The Wedding Chamber”, which was an explicit sexual/metaphysical union with our higher and lower selves.
All these stories suggest that the fallen spark has to get past the seven layers of the fallen world, before reuniting with the universal Logos. Certain institutions were set up in the Greek and Roman world to teach this kind of transformative spirituality. Because of their secrecy and levels of initiation, they were called the “Mystery” schools. In the next article, I will explore some of the early beliefs of these schools and prove that Christianity, from its earliest stages, was one of them.
The articles in this section are part of a 50,000 word treatise on the historical Jesus and Christ Myth Theory, dealing with Christian history, the mystical significance of Christian symbols, and the mistaken belief that Jesus Christ was a historical person. You can download the entire collection for free as a PDF file ebook by clicking here!