Fundamentals of Symbolism 

By Hamilton Reed Armstrong

As understood from a traditional Roman Catholic perspective **


This essay was inspired by, and written in critical response to, the popular PBS television series, The Transformation of Myth Through Time by the openly apostate Roman Catholic, Joseph Campbell


“I will espouse you to me for right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the Lord.” Hosea 2: 21-22



Man's interest in symbols, it would appear, is as old as his existence. Hieroglyphs and the various alphabets of man, for example, are visual signs or conventional symbols that convey meaning by evoking words, which in turn evoke objects, events and ideas. Musical and mathematical notations are symbols that convey specific meaning as well. There are also conventional symbols, invented by man, such as the dove of peace, the anchor of hope or the flags of nations that may become universal through verbal explanation. Again there are secret symbols which men use to convey allegiance to a certain ideology that they wish to hide from the profane. It is supposed that the "fish" drawings done by early Christians in the Catacombs of Rome were such sort of symbol. This essay is not concerned with  any of these. There is, according to psychologists, yet another set of symbols that deal with man's fundamental view of himself, the cosmos, and God.

These symbols come to the surface in the varying poetic insights and myths of mankind. Myths, it must be understood, are not “fantasies” invented by man, but a     pre or proto -conscious glimpse of reality. Regarding myth and imagination, C. S. Lewis, in his The Pilgrims Regress, puts these words in the mouth of the Creator, “ [Myth] is, “… of My inventing, this is the  veil under which I have chosen to appear even from the first until now. For this end I made your senses and for this end your imagination, that you might see My face and live.” 1 Given the effects of Original Sin, however, man’s mythic understanding has become blurred and confused and can only be truly set straight according to the Salvific Mystery of the Judeo→ Christian Revelation. 

Referring to the Book of Genesis, H.H. John Paul II,  in his weekly Catechesis on Human Love, reminded us that ,   “Myths are a privileged source of these experiences [described in Genesis] because, in a sense, they are about those experiences of the mystery of the origins of our identity. Myths articulate the religious sense, the most fundamental of our levels of consciousness, the awareness of our contingency as creatures.” He goes on to quote Paul Ricoeur: "The myth is something other than an explanation of the world, of its history and its destiny. It expresses in terms of the world, indeed of what is beyond the world, or of a second world, the understanding that man has of himself through relation with the fundamental and the limit of his existence.... It expresses in an objective language the understanding that man has of his dependence in regard to what lies at the limit and at the origin of his world."  In particular, this analysis of "original anthropological experiences" allows us to discover "the very structure of human identity in the dimensions of the mystery of creation, and, at the same time, in the perspective of the mystery of redemption" (CHL, 9/19/79).

Catholic scholar Father Martin C. Darcy S.J. in his book, The Meaning and Matter of History, also recognized that poetic insight and myth ought not to be dismissed. He affirmed that myths were not mere fiction but more like reality as lived through the imagination. [emphasis added] He stated that "... It (myth) is a manner of describing what lies behind the dry facts as noted by the perceiving mind, and it is the recurrent way in all civilizations for giving expression to the innate hopes and desires of man, and his sense of the past. Poetry and myth, therefore, are enlisted by the philosopher of history to describe the truth he is seeking. Perhaps even more pertinent to the philosopher of history is the view now widely held that the human experience can be presented through types of symbols and images. There is a mysterious analogy which runs through the varying levels of human experience, of which the simplest examples are 'left and right', high and low', 'up and down'. Material symbols serve for spiritual realities, and so the psychologists tell us, there are fundamental symbols which contain a wealth of meaning, so that when they appear in religious or poetic form in other civilizations the historian is initiated into the ideas and in to the ritual of behavior of the people who use them." 2

These fundamental analogies of "right – left" and "up-down" spoken of by Fr. D’Arcy, may be represented as in the diagram below.



                                                                                                                                    Top – Above - Up

Left -Beginning - Right – End            (Time)

                                                                                                                                    Bottom – Below- Down

 It is difficult to say with certitude how these symbols function, but it would appear that they operate at an unconscious, or pre-rational level. However they work, such pioneering authorities, as Edward Sapir, Mircea Eliade, Carl Jung, and Claude Lévi-Strauss believe that by identifying these visual patterns one may obtain valuable insights into the lives of both individuals and cultures. While these authors agree upon the existence of these spatial structures, their conclusions regarding them are often conflictive and confuse more than clarify their true meaning. Without delving too deeply into any erroneous conclusions, I should like to reassemble the known facts into a cohesive overview that will show the similarities and, most importantly, the differences between the spatial symbols of Christianity, especially Catholicism, and all other belief systems. Given the reigning confusion, this appears at first glance to be a daunting task, but as Claude Lévi-Strauss rightly pointed out, " The symbols of man are infinite in their complexity, but simple in their rules." 3

It should be stated from the beginning that these rules, referred to by Lévi-Strauss, govern archetypal expressions of the "self," its individuation, and reciprocity and are not to be confused with the symbolic theories of Sigmund Freud which deal with erotic desire and repression.4

According to J.A. Laponce of the University of British Columbia, the dot or the point is the grapheme of the first order for all men. It establishes identity. The line as the point's extension in space follows this fundamental mark. According to Laponce, developing these notations leads to the idea of lines that separate, direct, or establish a boundary. 5 The finger painting, to the left, by a five year old boy serves as an example of this proto symbol. In it we see the primordial dot, painted in jewel like red, surrounded by circles emanating outward. The dot signifies the "self", or organizing principle of this individual child while the rings establish the distinct layers of protection and containment. 6 Whereas it may be presumed that the child had no conscious intention of manifesting his psychic individuality in producing this image, the same configuration is seen, consciously rendered in the 1957 painting by Afred Jensens, on the right. This picture is titled, "My Oneness Universal Color" and subtitled "Self Identity" - Self Integration."

Historically, this configuration, the dot surrounded by one or more circles, would indeed appear to be the most ancient and perennial of all human symbols. It appears as a recurring motif in the monuments of all civilizations. The image to the left is of one of many Neolithic (3000 BC) cult symbols unearthed in Northern Spain. Shown below are similar configurations to be found elsewhere around the world. While there are no written records as to the exact meaning of the ancient European, American or Australian symbolic representations, in the East, this symbol is amply explained. It is the classic Mandala, a circle or circles surrounding a point or dot known as the Bindu which represents the point of union between the individual self and the divine self.7




Australian Aboriginal

North America Indian (California)

Indian (Buddhist)

Indian (Hindu)

Tibetan (Tantric)


The phenomenon represented by the Mandala, ie., the union of the individual consciousness with the divine reality at the core of its being, is fundamental to Oriental philosophy, especially the Vedanta that evolved from the ancient Upanishads. The Vedanta teaches: "1 ) that man's real nature is divine. If, in this universe, there is any underlying Reality, a Godhead, then the Godhead must be omnipresent, If the Godhead is omnipresent, it must be within each one of us and within every creature and object. Therefore man in his true nature is God. 2 ) That it is the aim of man's life on earth to unfold and manifest his Godhead, which is eternally existent within him. But hidden." 8


However, just as early man's intuitive awareness of the sacred nature of life and all reality may have led to an identification of his own consciousness with that of some intuited divine source, there has also existed, along with this conceptual unity, a sense of duality. This duality is largely defined in terms of male and female principles and attributes. In the East it comes down to us in written form through the Tao-te Ching (way of nature) of the legendary master Lau-Tzù, and in the West via the Pythagorian Table of Opposites passed down through Aristotle. . See Appendix 1

Tao-te Ching

Yang - ----Yin

Male -- --Female

Active ----Passive

Light ------Dark

Creative --Receptive

Time------ Space

Spirit------ Nature

Good ------Evil


Table of opposites


Right --------Left

Light-------- Dark

Limited -----Unlimited

Rest-------- Motion

Straight---- Curved

Good-------- Evil



 The earliest depictions of this Male -Female polarity , for which we have no written explanation, seem to have obvious generative and gender connotations The prehistoric "Crick stones" from Great Britain and the "Grand Alix" from Guatemala shown below are clearly based on male and female sexual organs, while the reconstructed view of the Avesbury circle, again in Great Britain and "Tara" mound in Ireland, present the dual principles more stylistically (the small circle with the dot or mound being male and the small circle with an even smaller circle being female). It is, thus a generally held hypothesis, that the cyclical regeneration of nature influenced primitive (fallen) man producing an awe of sexuality, and the birth, growth, death, and rebirth cycle that he observed around him. Based on such figurines as the "Willendorf Venus, (to the right) "Marija Gimbutas in her 1974 study The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe proposed that, before the first Indo-European herdsmen arrived with their patriarchal gods, the Neolithic farming peoples of Europe did indeed base their religion on "Mother Earth" with the concomitant cyclical and sexual connotations. The emphasis on the enlarged belly and breasts of this figurine coupled with the lack of a face - imago dei - or rational guiding principle would reinforce this hypothesis

"Crick stones"

"Grand Alix"


"Tara" mound


Another expression of cosmic duality is the general attribution of masculinity to the sun ( El Sol m.) and femininity to the      moon (la Luna f.) As explained in Appendix # one, this dyadic presentation of the greater and lesser lights has prevailed from prehistoric times up to our present day. The figure to the far left from the Paleolithic (approx.30,000 BC) shows faceless “Woman” holding the crescent moon presumably symbolic of the force behind the changing tides and her menstrual cycle. While the ancient Greeks worshipped Apollo as the unique deity representing the sun (m), they divided the identity of the Moon (f) in to three personifications tied to the cyclical nature of the luminary. Artemis (Diana), Apollo’s twin sister, (above) whose symbol was the crescent represented the perpetual virginal state, Selene, the oldest definition among the Greeks, represented the full moon and maternity, while Hecate, was seen as hag, the waning or dark side of the moon tied to witchcraft and sorcery. The illustration to the right is from an Alchemical text of the 17th century depicting the “mystical marriage of the sun and moon to bring forth the “New Humanity.” (Alchemy, with its concomitant symbolism, will be discussed in Part Two of this essay)

The same duality was apparently expressed in early languages. According to linguistic scholar, Alexander Humez, virtually all Indo-European languages, in the beginning, emphasized the "dual," as a distinct from the "singular and the "plural.’ This duality, it may be presumed, was based on the male and female attributes of living creatures and projected into the existing cosmos. It may be added that this division continues in many, if not most Languages today. "Male" words tend to be aspirate, breathing out, such as Father ( Pater Latin, Greek, Abba Hebrew) or Spirit ( Spiritus L.atin, Pneuma Greek, Ruah Hebrew) and "female" words tend toward labial, sounds formed by the lips, such as Mother, based on the original Indo-European phoneme "Ma," signifying the "totality of the feminine or earthly principle" (Mater, materia, matrix Latin) etc.  

While this polarity or division into male and female cosmic forces may, indeed, be based on observed sexual differentiation and fertility as described above, or, as proposed by Claud Lévi-Strauss, an invented binary framework by which the individual or group can make choices as to what is desirable or undesirable, the ubiquitous manifestation of the same symbols and sounds leads to the premise that they likely have a meaning of universal dimensions. This is even more apparent when they appear in a sublimated form. For example, when they are shown as either two antagonistic forces represented as snakes or dragons placed left and right in eternal battle for dominance, (as seen in the Native American shield on the right or the Chinese drumhead on the left) or as the union of these two opposing forces as seen in the awe inspiring solar and lunar eclipses as mentioned above, or in human artifacts such as the Caduceus. 10


The Caduceus is among the oldest symbols of man, going back to at least to Sumerian times. The example at the left is taken from the sacrificial cup of King Gudea of Lagesh (c.2600 BC). It is also seen at the entrance of ancient Hindu temples and is the basis of Kundelini, Serpent force Yoga. It is, again, the attribute of the Greco –Roman god Hermes/Mercury and is, of course used as the symbol of modern day medical practice. In all of these instances it is a symbol of fusion of opposites involved in the process of healing and wholeness.



Another example of unification of opposites is the classic T’ai chi image of equal black and white yin – yang hemispheres separated by a sine curve within a circle. Within the black and white hemispheres is a dot of the opposing color. According to the prevailing wisdom these opposite markings designate the inclusion of a small part of each of the opposing forces included in its counterpart. One might well counter that this symbolic statement might refer to the innate attraction of one for the other. The T’ai-chi image is ubiquitous throughout the East and has re-emerged in the West as a fundamental “New Age” symbol. It represents the embodiment of the ancient notion of the Tao that both the Yin and the Yang are emanations of the undivided One – to be ultimately bound together in harmony with the leveling of all distinctions in the end. 11



 Yet another symbolic manifestation of the fusion of opposites is the depiction of two or more intertwined triangles within the same enclosed circle. This symbol, the hexagram, known to many as the “Seal of Solomon” or “Magen David” is, once again, of most ancient origin. The authoritative Jewish Scholar Gersholm Scholem points out that this symbol was used, “From as early as the bronze age –possibly as an ornament and possibly as a magic sign – in many civilizations and in regions as far apart as Mesopotamia and Britain.” It is found as a sacred symbol in temples from Mayan ruins in Mexico and Guatemala to Nepal and Tibet. This symbol, it should be noted, had no religious significance in ancient Israel although, again according to Gershom Scholem, the Talmud recounts the legend that the hexagram was inscribed at some period in Solomon’s ring or seal as a sign of his dominion over the demons. (Git. 68a-b) 12 The actual use of the Hexagram in the Jewish community dates to the Middle Ages when it entered in as a sign of the then spreading Kabbalistic mystical movement. This symbol, the intertwining of the two triangles, according to J.E. Cirlot, is a graphic a depiction of the mingling of fire(m) and water(f) in the human soul.13 In the esoteric world of Tantric Hinduism and Buddhism, the union of the two triangles is seen as the symbolic sexual union of the divine male, Siva and the divine female sakti cosmic principles. This concept of cosmic union flows into the mystical Jewish Kabbbala where it is referred to as Zivug ha Kadosh, the sacred coupling between the male and female attributes of God.14 Combining the various interpretations, the common denominator is that the visual statement of the hexagram, or “seal of Solomon” refers to a conjunction of opposites, a marriage of heavenly (above) and earthly (below) spirits in both the individual and the cosmos.

We have seen thus far that the symbols, - the dot, the circle or circles, the Mandala, the two serpents, the T’ai-chi, and the hexagram, are among the most fundamental graphic images used by man. Are there any overall conclusions to be drawn from them regarding the human condition? First off, the use of the dot and circle as a symbol of identity shows that reflective self-awareness is present in all human beings from early childhood in all cultures and all locations. No other species uses this or, for that matter, any other symbolic statement of identity. Second, The use of the same symbol, the dot and circle to depict a unique divine presence shows the universal belief in such a being or presence. Third, Virtually all cultures view reality in a dyadic fashion based on an overall male-female polarity. Fourth, symbolic representations such as serpents or dragons in opposition demonstrate a universal awareness of antagonistic or complementary elements in the cosmos that in some way are related to a quadratic relationship between male and female (right and left) and the heavens and earth (up and down). Fifth, There appear in all ancient cultures symbolic manifestations of a desire to resolve these opposites and that the Caduceus, the T’ai-chi, and the hexagram are manifestations of this universal desire. As Dostoevsky mused in “The Grand Inquisitor”: “This craving for a community of worship...and for a universal unity the misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time.”

 The overall commonality of symbolic structures among all peoples has, indeed, led many writers on the subject of symbolism, e.g., Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Campbell, among a host of others, to posit the theory that all the religions of man are variations of the same primal aspirations to identity, transcendence and wholeness. While man’s aspirations appear symbolically similar, their resolution is another matter. The Judeo → Christian tradition, for example, uses a parallel symbolic system, raised however, to higher level by the revelation of a God who is wholly other. [Deus] est re et efinitiv mundo distinctus, et super omnia quae praeter ipssum sunt ineffabiliter excelsus – [God] is essentially a reality other than the world and ineffably superior to all that possibly could be.15 This, as we shall see, provides a unique vision of man and his destiny with its own symbolic structures, especially within the artworks of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy,

Before looking at the continuation and change to these basic symbols by revealed religion, there is one more ubiquitous symbol to be discussed, the Labyrinth.

The labyrinth or spiral maze is as old and ubiquitous as any of the above mentioned symbols. At the left is a prehistoric British “turf Maze.” At the right, are three intertwining spirals on the wall of the Neolithic gravesite at New Grange, Ireland.16 There are vestiges of these symbolic figures found throughout Great Britain and Europe as well as North and South America. According to Jung, it is a symbol both of the unconscious and the inward journey, as well as the underworld. As the latter, it is mentioned in Virgil’s, Aenead as inscribed at the gateway to Hades. The best known description of a labyrinth or maze, however, with a clear insight into its meaning, is found in the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. According to the legend invented by the Attic Greeks, Pasiphae, the wife of King Minos of Crete, under a spell, became enamored of a huge black bull sent as a gift by Poseidon, Lord of the deep. The result of this unnatural lust was the Minotaur, a loathsome and furious beast with a bulls head and human body. So loathsome was the beast, in fact, that it had to be hidden away in a special place from which there could be no escape. This was, of course, the Cretan Labyrinth. The Greeks knew of the ruins of Crete and knew of the affinity for bulls and the loose morals of the Cretans as depicted in the artwork left behind of this ruined civilization that vanished without trace. 17

The mytho-poetic or imaginative mind, of these early Greeks with their incipient awakening of discursive reason, somehow grasped that what lay at the center of the labyrinth or inward journey was to be feared. They intuitively understood that the inner drives of sex and violence was the lair of the beast and that only with intelligence, valor, and pure love could one escape it in tact. Thus the story of Theseus, the noble Athenian, with the unselfish aid of Ariadne, King Minos Daughter, overcame the Minotaur and escaped with his life. The Medieval builders of the Christian Middle Ages understood the symbolism as well. Circular labyrinths or mazes were traced on the floors of the great cathedrals. No, the faithful did not walk to the center of these mazes to gain insights and mystic experiences as some of our modern priests and priestesses avow. The labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral was placed over the ancient shrine to the earth goddess Belthane and beneath the West Rose window dedicated to Mary the Mother of God. The same window that Henry Adams had labeled in his Mount Saint Michel and Chartres, , “Our Lady’s promise of Salvation.” At the center of the labyrinth at Chartres there once was a stone with an inscription that read, “This stone represents the Cretan’s Labyrinth. Those who enter cannot leave unless they be helped, like Theseus by Ariadne’s thread.” It was obvious to the medieval Catholic mind that constructed this configuration, that to escape death, the demon and doom at the center, one needed the help of Mary. It should also be noted that priests would assign as a penance after confession of ones sins that the penitent crawl on his knees out from the center of a labyrinth while reciting certain prayers. Here we see the same symbol, the labyrinth, used by both pagan and Christian alike. The symbol itself is universal, but the meaning is reversed. For the pagan and New Ager alike, one must seek experience at the mystic center, yet for the Christian one must seek the “other” outside of the maze and ones self.


The primordial symbol of revealed religion that can be traced to its origins in the Hebrew Bible is the twin pillars Jachin and Boaz that stood on the porch of Solomon’s Temple. Jachin is seen on the left and Boaz to the right of the illustration. However, seen from within the sanctuary where the glory of God (Kavod) dwells, the order is reversed and their placement may be referred to as “stage right” and “stage left” thus maintaining the universal right-left polarity explained above. (This reversal takes place in viewing icons and pictures as well, as the action within a picture is in a mirror image to the viewer.) Little has been said of these pillars in orthodox literature, however, esoteric and occult sources as well as the Freemasons have written copiously on the subject. Virtually all these sources concur in that these two pillars fall symbolically within the fore mentioned table of opposites as representing the male and female principles within nature. 18 The male principle, Almighty Father, for the Jew and the Christian, however, as stated above, is outside and above nature. Thus Jachin, translated “he has established” (stage right) represents the active transcendental male (Deus m.) Creator, and Boaz, “In his strength”(stage left) represents the receptive female (Materia f.) creation. See: Appendix 2

The dyadic nature of the relationship between the Deity and His creation is actually reflected in the Hebrew letter “he”, ח the symbol for “He Who Is,” in contrast to the monistic mandala Eastern symbol for the unity of being seen above.



These same free standing pillars were absorbed by early Christianity and used in the same symbolic context as seen in the picture at the left of the 3rd Century Catacomb of St. Callixtus, the burial site of the early Popes as well as in central picture below showing a contemporary model depicting the original tomb of St. Peter. In the iconography of the Eastern, or Byzantine Church, shown to the right of this page, these pillars often take the form of towers. The golden tower seen at “stage right” in the Slavic icon, The Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost, thus represents the active Creator, while the silver tower seen at “stage left” represents the receptive creation. The Holy Spirit descends between the two towers from above (the spiritual realm) onto Mary, central archetype, model, and exemplar of the Church, (new creation) surrounded by the Apostles below (earthly realm). 19





 A further example of this Creator – Creation, Male – Female polarity is show in the icon from Crete of the Philoxenia representing Abraham and Sarah visited by the three strangers seen below to the right. This type of icon is also known in the Byzantine Church as the Old Testament Trinity and is known to many in its more famous rendition by the Russian master Anton Rubylev. Rubylev’s version, however, lacks much of the symbolism of this Cretan version.

According to the Eastern tradition, the entire composition is placed in a golden setting signifying that the picture represents an eternal theme. Here again we see the golden tower “stage right” representing the Creator and the silver tower “stage left” representing the creation. If one observes closely, the golden tower “opens” on to the male, Abraham, while the silver tower is sealed over the woman, the infertile Sarah, whose head is covered and hand concealed. Trees representing life grow from their respective heads towards each other: from Sarah a single trunk, and from Abraham a double trunk to signify the line of Ishmael born of the slave girl, and the line of Isaac to be born of Sarah. The three seated “angels” are displayed with their right hands displaying three fingers identifying them with the Tri-une Deity. They also carry in their left hands, rods (the male symbol “baton de commandemant”) of equal length representing their equal authority. The three angelic strangers, according to tradition, represent a manifestation of the Trinity of God. (possibly, Micha-el = who is like God, reminiscent of the Father; Gabri-el = messenger of God, reminiscent of the Word; and Rapha-el = healing of God, reminiscent of the Holy Spirit.). In continuing symbolism, The angel on the “stage left” creation side has his feet on a square form below representing the earth as “God’s foot stool.” Both Abraham and Sarah bring equal offerings (bowls) to the angels seated below at table as again representing equal dignity. The table is square, a symbol of the material creation with its four corners, four winds and four elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water). The sacred meal which they are seen sharing is, presumably, representative of both the Jewish Passover and the Christian Eucharist.

From a Christian perspective, however, the traditional Ukrainian Catholic icon shown to the left depicting the Annunciation holds the full meaning of the Creator and Creation towers or pillars. At the moment of the Annunciation, the golden tower, stage right, is joined to the silver tower, stage left by a shawl to symbolize a mystical marriage between God and His chosen people the Jews. Mary, the Rose of Sion, receives the “Word” and thus reversing Eve’s fall becomes the mother of the New Creation.- the Church. “No longer shall men call thee forsaken, or thy land desolate; thou shall be called my beloved and thy land a home... Gladly as a man takes home the maiden of his choice...Gladly the Lord shall greet thee as the bridegroom his bride.” (Isaiah 62: 4,5) .20

 The details of this great mystery are visually presented in this icon as well. Beneath the golden tower, the Angel Gabriel, messenger of God, extends his right hand displaying three fingers while in his left hand he carries a rod, baton de commandemant, topped with three balls. He thus approaches Mary showing that he bears a message from the Triune God. Mary holds up her right hand to inform the angel that she “knows not man” (the stage right “masculine” pillar within the silver “creation” tower) . The Holy Spirit descends from above to overshadow her as she receives the Divine Child in her womb. In fulfillment of the Scriptures and the aspiration of all humanity, the Creator and creation were definitively joined in a unique manner in the person of Jesus Christ at this precise moment. In her left hand Mary holds a spindle of thread, reminiscent of Ariadne, that will lead souls to salvation. Here, visually depicted is the great mystery pondered by both the Eastern and Western Fathers, The identity of Mary, as typos, and the Church. “Mother Earth it was that bore all flesh, and was accursed. But for the sake of the flesh that is the Church incorruptible, this fleshly earth blessed from the beginning, for Mary was the Mother Earth that brought the Church to birth.” St Ephram the Syrian “: So Mary and the Church are two, yet one single mother, two virgins and yet one. Each is a mother, each is a virgin. Both bore to God the Father a child unblemished. The one, without sin, gave birth to Christ’s body, the other restored his body through the power of remission of sins. Both are Mother of Christ, but neither can bring Him to birth without the other.” St. Augustin, 21


The divine hierogamos or nuptial between God and His Creation may be schematically presented as in either of the following diagrams. To the left is the Byzantine model where the two towers representing God and His creation are joined by the marriage shawl to produce the new Adam, Jesus Christ, True God and true man. To the right is the more familiar Western monogram depicting the two realms of Creator and creation joined in the cross. This union was prefigured in the first Passover when the Hebrew people were commanded to smear the two upright posts as well as the lintel with the blood of the slain “Lamb” to ensure their escape. (Exodus 12:7)

 In Western art many of the symbols of iconography are reduced or omitted for aesthetic reasons as well as for psychological reasons, as the Western Church placed fuller emphasis on the word rather than the image in its catechesis. The fundamental right – left, up – down polarity, however, remained intact as seen in the following examples of early Renaissance art. 

In these three paintings by Fra Amgelico, Felippo Lippi, and Mausolino Da Pancale, respectively, the right – left orientation of the realm of Grace (divine life) and the realm of nature is maintained


 The male – female analogy continues in the New Testament. Jesus Christ is the bridegroom (Matt. 9:16, Mark 2:19, John 3:29) and the Church his spotless bride. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, cleansing her in the bath of water by means of the word; ...For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery – I mean in reference to Christ and the Church.” (Ephesians 2: 25 – 27, 31-32) This mystery was touched upon by both the Eastern and Western Church Fathers as well. St Ambrose states clearly that, “The husband is Christ, the wife is the Church, a bride for her love, a virgin for her unsullied purity.” *** St. Cyprian of Carthage said, “He can no longer have God as his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.” Clement of Alexandria spoke of “The spiritual body which is Church” and Tertulian distinguished between the “spiritual body of Christ, as the Church, and the “carnal body of Christ” as man. The actual term “Mystical body of Christ” in reference to the Church as distinguished from the “natural Body of Christ” was first used by William of Auxerre (died 1231) and was promulgated as solemn definition, by Pope Boniface VIII in his Bull Unam Sanctam which states unequivocally: “There is only one Catholic Church, and that one apostolic... Thus the spouse proclaims in the Canticle, ‘One is my dove: my perfect one is but one. She is the only one of her mother, the chosen one of her that bore her.’ Now this chosen one represents the one Mystical Body whose head is Christ, and Christ’s head is God.” While extolling the intimacy of union between Christ and His members in the Mystical Body, it is imperative to see the radical difference between this intimacy and substantial union. This doctrine is fundamental to the Catholic Faith and was forcefully defended by Pope Pius XII in his Encyclical Mystici Corporis in 1943. .22 Incorporation into the Mystical Body is through baptism –the cleansing bath of water- and faith in the word. The most perfect and intimate union between the Bridegroom and the bride is in the sacrament of the Eucharist wherein the actual carnal body, blood, soul, and Divinity of Christ is consumed by the faithful. “He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” (John 6: 54) At this moment the active male Christ becomes “one flesh” with the passive human person that is a member of the Mystical Body, Holy Mother Church so that,”...we may come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled Himself to partake of our humanity.” (Offertory prayer of the R. C. Mass)

An interesting and recurrent theme in both Eastern and Western symbolic iconography is the Crucifixion with generally anthropomorphic sun and moon symbols placed upper stage right and left.

Byzantine Crucifix

Romanesque Crucifix

The iconography of the Byzantine crucifix is, as always the more complete. At the top, outside the frame of the cosmos, resides the Eternal Father who blesses the scene below. Within the cosmic scene at the top, stage right and stage left respectively, flanking the two grieving angels, as stated,  are the “male” sun and the “female” moon. This schematic placement follows the pagan or pre-Christian understanding of the cosmos as we have seen. There is an interesting innovation, however, in this and virtually all depictions of the Crucifixion that show the reversal of the natural order within the New Dispensation. Mary is to Christ’s right and St. John to His left. In the Byzantine icon above, however, we see not only Mary but, three women to Christ’s right, and St. John and the Centurion to his left. The message, I believe, is made clear by the two instruments of torment standing immediately beside the cross. Stage right is the distinctively male spear and stage left is the distinctively feminine cup. The cosmic order has not been annulled but raised to a new meaning. Mary (Church f.) is given by Christ the active authority by the words, “Mother behold thy son,” then to the disciple, Behold thy mother” (John 19: 26,27) Mary (Church) thus receives the authority of the Father over the Centurion (civil order m.). The Romanesque Crucifixion above, although painted more crudely, follows the same formula as the Byzantine archetype even to include the skull at the bottom signifying Christ’s triumph over death.

 Another way of showing this same analogy of the supernatural order superseding the natural and forming a new creation is seen in many medieval and early Renaissance triptychs. In this case the cosmic active Male and receptive Female of the created order are represented on the outer panels by the two rock escarpments behind a man and a woman respectively, and the Mystery of Salvation, with its reversal, within the central panel. Such is the case in the Crucifixion scene painted Perugino now housed in the National Gallery in Washington, DC. A schematic presentation of this iconographic message would appear as similar to the “mongram’ of Jesus – I H S –made famous by St. Bernardino of Sienna in the 14th century and used to this day by the Jesuits and others. A sixteenth century block print of the “monogram” is represented below to the left. The outer I and S represent the active Creator and receptive Creation respectively. The two bars of the H represent the active and passive joined in a new creation, the Church, brought about by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.



The two paintings shown below, the top section of Jan Van Eyk’s 1432 Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, (left) and Hugo Van der Goes Portinari Altarpiece, (right) show the same distribution In the first instance Adam (M) stands stage right and Eve(F) stage left according to the natural order of creation. In the center panel according to the new dispensation of grace, the order is reversed with the Blessed Virgin Mary at the right hand of the Father and St. John to his left. In the second example, as in the case of Perugino, it is simply male figures with – spear and rock (m) – that stand stage right and women backed by – vegetation (f) – that represent the natural order while the adoration of the Christ with Mary stage right and the shepherds stage left. (Behind the Virgin, stage right is a pillar representing God the Father and a footless St. Joseph as foster father.)


  There are, in fact, myriad visual presentations of the Mystery of Salvation that follow the basic formulas presented above. To emphasize this fact I should like to show three more examples: one taken from the Byzantine or Eastern tradition, and the other two from the Western Catholic tradition.

The first is a fresco from the Church of the Savior of Chora in Constantinople. Painted between 1313 – 1330, it is labeled at the top Anastasis or Resurrection. This painting is often described as the “harrowing of Hell” or “descent into Limbo,” but as the title clearly states, it depicts the resurrection of the dead at the end of time. Two rock escarpments converge over the scene. These shapes, as seen above, ( just as the pillars or towers) represent the active Divine principle and the passive creation finally converging over the Savior. Christ is at the center dressed in priestly white. He is surrounded by a mandorla, almendra mistica or truncated intersection of two circles, indicating His two natures, Divine and human. With his right hand He raises Adam, the archetypal man (stage right) and with His left hand he raises Eve, Mother of all the living. Both Adam and Eve lurch precariously over the yawning chasm that opens before them. Eve’s cape points downward toward the infernal regions, the realm of death justly deserved by humanity through the offense of Original Sin. The Gates of Hell at Our Lords feet burst asunder as Satan and his fetters are plunged into the pit.


The second picture is from an illuminated manuscript titled the Très Riche Hueres of Jean Duc de Berry, painted by the Limbourg brothers between 1413 – 1446. It is obviously a vision of Hell and would appear to be the bottom half of the Byzantine paining described above. Here the same rock escarpments converge at the end of time as the souls of the damned fall into the flame issuing forth from the demon’s mouth.

The final piece in this section is Fra Angelico’s fresco of the Last Judgment painted c. 1440 and presently displayed in the Museum of San Marco in Florence.

The case of Fra Angelico is somewhat unique. Not only is he universally recognized as a painter of genius, he has also been raised by the Roman Catholic Church to the title of Blessed, one step below canonization as a Saint. Naturally graced with great talent and imbued with a supernatural vision he may well be called the quintessential “Catholic artist.” It is therefore worthy of note that he follows the universal up – down, right – left symbolism in his painting. See Appendix # 1 esp. Myth of Er

In this painting of the resurrection and judgment on the last day, Christ comes down from Heaven above riding the clouds surrounded by His angels and already risen saints. As in the Byzantine Anastasis, He is framed in the mandorla symbolic of His two natures. Below, the earthly tombs are opened and the dead rise to judgment, as the angels blow their trumpets. The blessed, from all ranks and walks of life, stand on the Lord’s right (our left) and are led upward to the gates of paradise (by angels as St. Dominic and St. Thomas look on in joy. The damned, on the Lord’s left (our right), are led downward by demons. (Mathew 25: 31-33) The scenes over the entrance of the pit (bottom corner, stage right) represent the bolgia (levels) of Hell described by Dante in his Inferno where appropriate torments are meted out for the Seven Capital Sins.




Thus to recapitulate, we have seen thus far how the universal symbols of man originate in the innate understanding of his own identity, his sense of the divine, the division or rupture inherent within the original creation, and his desire for unity and wholeness. We have further seen how the achievement of this unity and wholeness is fulfilled in the incarnate person of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, and the establishment of the Church as His bride as a new creation. In the birth of this “new creation,” Holy Mother Church espoused to Christ, as foretold by the Prophets, lies the hope of union with God and Eternal Life. At the beginning of the “old creation,” as related in Genesis, Eve was born from the side of Adam, so the Fathers tell us, the Church was born from the side of Christ on the cross and the Mystery of Salvation fulfilled “ Here the second Adam with bowed head slept upon the cross, thence a wife might be formed of him, flowing from his side while he slept.!” (St Augustine, cit. Ionn. Evang., 120, 2)


 Shown to the left of the page is the 14th century Flemish painting from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Madrid, Spain. It visually presents this great mystery of Faith with amazing precision. The picture is divided in two by the figure of Christ crucified. To His left above the crossbar is an image of Eve handing a skull to Adam, symbolizing the entrance of death into the world via “Original Sin.” As all are affected by this single act of disobedience – in quo omnes pecaverunt – death, via the sword coming from the crossbar to Our Lord’s left, spreads its tendrils downward to dominate the entire “stage left” of the painting. The central symbol in this panel is the skull or death’s head through which the Serpent holding the Apple (sin) crawls. The “Old Law” with its animal sacrifices, seen at the bottom stage left, can not overcome death, and its adherents are blind to the true nature of Jesus, the heavenly Messiah. The unique sacrifice of Christ breaks the reign of death – the hammer breaking the skull at the foot of the cross. On Christ’s upper right, opposite to the depiction of Eve presenting death to Adam, Mary, the New Eve, hands a sacred Host, source of Eternal Life, to Peter, the first Pope. On this side, “stage right,” the tendrils wrap downward, through the blessing hand of Jesus, to surround the Church. Mary, as archetype and symbol of the Church of the “New Covenant,” receives the vivifying blood from Christ’s side in the chalice as she stands in triumph holding the golden banner of life as opposed to the broken (blood) red banner of death representing the “Old Covenant.” At Mary’s feet is the glorified slain lamb, holding the Book of Life, while steadfastly looking at the sacrificial victim of the old law, as if to say, “Behold the true Lamb of God.” It is accomplished, the gates of heaven are now open – as shown by the key at the top of the cross. Just as Mary was assumed bodily into heaven, so the Church, of which she is “pledge and earnest,” will be joined, body and soul, to the Bridegroom at the right hand of the Father at the end of time. 22



The final example of this first section is that of “The Woman” of the Apocalypse as depicted in the miraculous image of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe from Mexico, imprinted on the tilma of Blessed Juan Diego in 1531,. “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed in the sun, and the moon was under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” Apoc. 12:1

Traditionally this image has been seen to reflect first Israel, God’s chosen bride as proclaimed by Isaiah as explained above in the text, to which the Fathers added the symbolic reference to both Mary and the Church. St. Augustine explained the vision as follows: “The woman of Revelation represents the Virgin Mary, who chastely gave birth to our chaste head, and is therefore a symbol of the Church. And as Mary, after giving birth to a son remained a virgin so also the Church has in every age given birth to the members of Christ, without ever losing her virginity.”  To this testimony the medieval theologian Alcuin added: “The Woman clothed with the sun is the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was overshadowed by the power of the Most High. But in her we can also understand the race of men that is the Church, who is not called “woman” to suggest weakness, but on the contrary because of her strength in daily bringing to birth new peoples to build up the Body of Christ. The Church, then, is “clothed with the sun” according to word of Scripture: “As many of you as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27 ), for Christ is “ the sun of justice” (Malachai 4:2 and the “brightness of eternal light” (Wisdom 7:26)”

St. Methodius, apostle to the Slavs, describes the vision thus: “ Indeed this she, our Mother, the great woman in heaven. This is the heavenly archetype, greater than all her children. This is the Church and all her children, born through baptism in all parts of the world, die on earth but rise again and hasten to join their mother. Mark now her progress majestic, the Lady exalted in wonderful splendor, spotless and, and pure bright as the stars of the sky. For she has been clothed by Him, whose essence is light everlasting.” 23

The visual message of this image is striking in that it contains the universal symbols of fallen humanity raised to a new supernatural meaning. First we have seen how man from earliest times related the feminine crescent moon to the sign of a virgin. In this case it is not part of a cyclical eventuality – virgin, mother, hag – but of a heavenly supernatural reality – the perpetual virginity of both Mary and the Church. The “Woman” – Mary , Church – is encompassed, if not eclipsed, by the sun, the masculine principle of life giving light. In this case, however, it is not the natural light of the visible sun, but the everlasting light of Sanctifying Grace supplied by the tri-une God, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit that both covers and fills the “Chosen Bride,” first Israel then Mary and the Church.

Though not depicted in the miraculous image of Guadalupe, the heavenly vision of Mary/Church of the Apocalypse wears a crown of twelve stars. Again, fallen man dimly saw the significance both the stars and numbers. The Babylonians, counting the twelve months or “moons” of the year divided the starry heavens into the Sidereal Zodiac of 12 zones. The Children of Israel were divided into 12 tribes. Our Lord chose 12 Apostles and it is precisely these, now “heavenly inhabitants,” destined to rule over the 12 tribes of Israel, which form the crown of Our Lady/Holy Mother Church.



Whereas authors such as Joseph Campbell as well as some virulent Protestant critics have tried to show that the acknowledged use of universal symbolism by the Catholic Church shows that it is but one more of a variety of “pagan” religions, it has been the premise of this study to show quite the opposite. “Paganism” while having a dim understanding of “Paradise Lost,” is simply the default  religion of Fallen Man. Having lost intimate contact with the Creator and not recognizing Him from the contemplation of his works:

 “Instead they have pointed us to fire, or wind, … To the wheeling   stars, or sun and moon and Made               gods of them. …

       [M]en imparted to stocks and stones the incommunicable name   of God.  Nor were they content  with these false notions of God’s nature; living in a world besieged by doubt, the misnamed its innumerable disorders a state of peace. Peace amidst their rites of child murder, their dark mysteries, and vigils consecrated to frenzy.” Wisdom 13, 15


Beginning, as shown, with God’s revelation to the Jews, the Almighty Father has broken the chain of cyclical death with its concomitant “Paganism” and instituted a wholly new creation, the Church, espoused to His unique Son, the incarnate Word. This new creation, the Church (as is Mary the archetype and emblem thereof) is mediatrix of all the graces necessary to gain eternal life – the end for which man was originally created.



Symbolically, the wholeness sought by suffering humanity as seen in this introduction to universal symbols is completely fulfilled in the Catholic Church under the See of St. Peter reflected in the Papal seal illustrated above: the two crossed keys of (heavenly) gold,  oro m.and (earthly) silver, plata f. under the stewardship of Peter.


In the light of the “nuptial” image of the Church as bride of Christ, found in the Old Testament, the Gospels, St. Paul  and the Apocalypse as developed in this essay, I offer the following personal reflection on this most awesome mystery  according to St. Augustine’s threefold model of  “prefiguration,” “configuration,” and final “fulfillment.”

 “Not only does the Old Testament as a whole prefigure the New, but equally the coming of Christ in the flesh and in the Church prefigures the Parousia,” 24.



At the Fall, our first parents, and through them all humanity - in quo omnes  peccaverunt  (Romans 5:12) lost friendship and intimacy with God. Man became a slave to Satan, sin, and death. Salvation from this situation was, however, promised. A covenant was to be established between God and man and there was to be a woman who would provide a son who would smash the Serpent’s head and break Satan’s claim over humanity.


This covenant was first proposed to Abraham the Chaldean  whom God approached with a “test” to set in motion the reversal of Adam’s sin. “Are you willing to sacrifice your only son, Isaac, to Me.” Abraham trusted and hoped against hope, and God accepted Abraham’s faith. The Covenant was established and God would, in fact, sacrifice his only son to reestablish the bond between man and God. (Hebrews11:1-23) The children of Abraham, the Jewish people, became thus, the natural forerunners of God’s kingdom on earth. This terestial kingdom would eventually extend from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great Euphrates and have as its capital Jerusalem. This city, “foundation of peace,” was ruled at the time of Abraham by a mysterious “righteous king” Melchizadek who offered to him bread and wine. This was, however, but in anticipation of what would inevitably follow when the true “heavenly king” instituted the Eucharist, as the earthly covenant was but a “prefiguration” of the spiritual kingdom that was to follow.


The “Old Testament” is filled with accounts of this prefiguration set in motion by Abraham. At the first “Passover” a spotless lamb was sacrificially slaughtered and eaten. The people were to be girded and shod as on pilgrimage, according to God’s command. The blood of the lamb was smeared on the wood of posts and lintel of the doorways through which they would set fourth on their journey. This ritual slaying of the lamb continued right up to the slaying of the true “Lamb of God,” Jesus Christ,  (John. 1:29) and the sprinkling of his blood on the wood of the cross, doorway to heaven.  Blood and water flowed from His, the new Adam’s side and the Church, his bride, was born just as Eve had been brought forth from the side of the old earthly Adam. This bride, the Church, is a “New Creation” the supernatural configuration of the Kingdom of God on earth.


 Just as God espoused Israel as his Bride as recounted by the Prophets Hosea, 2:19-20 Isaiah, 62:4-5, Ezekiel 16: 8-14, and Jeremiah 3:14 to bring forth the Messiah, the “New Adam,” born of Mary, the spotless virgin, Rose of Zion, so Christ, the Bridegroom will espouse his bride, the Church, a mystical union not to be fully fulfilled until the end of time


At the time of the first Passover, the Children of Israel, under the leadership of Moses, passed miraculously without drowning, via the Red Sea, out of Egypt, the land of sorcery and oppression on their journey to the Promised Land, just as Christians would in the future pass through the waters of Baptism to reach the Heavenly Kingdom, not just as children of Abraham, which through Jesus they are, but as the adopted children of God.


50 days after the Passover, Moses, from the top of Mount Sinai, was given the “Old Law” of justice from on high. 50 days after the “New Passover,” Christ’s Crucifixion, the disciples and Mary, archetype of the whole Church, assembled in the upper room as the Holy Spirit descended from on high to infuse the “New Law” of God’s atonement and salvation into their hearts.  Moses died just before the Jewish people were to enter into the Promised Land. His body was buried and has yet to be found but remains on this earth. Jesus died to open the doorway, smeared with His blood, to the Heavenly Kingdom. His body was buried but has never been found as He ascended, body, soul, and divinity into heaven. Likewise, Mary, Christ’s mother and ours, died – slept in the Lord - but no trace of her body has been found. As prototype and emblem of the Church, Mary was assumed, body and soul, by God to heaven as pledge and anticipation of the final resurrection and the Kingdom to come.


Midway between Abraham and Jesus, David, root and prefiguration of the Christ, ruled from Jerusalem as earthly king over an earthly kingdom. Jesus eternally rules from heaven, via the Holy Father and the Hierarchy, over the Church, His bride,  the supernatural configuration of his kingdom on earth. Incorporation into this spiritual yet physically present kingdom is achieved sacramentally via Baptism and participation in the Eucharist, the actual bond of union with Him via the consumption of his very body, blood, soul and divinity. 


It has been suggested that the prophetic promise of David in the Psalms, “The throne of your fathers your sons will inherit, you will make them princes throughout the lands.” (Psalm 45: 17,18) may be applied to Christendom, as embodied in the spiritual and temporal power (millennium) of the Roman Catholic Church as it flourished in its glory from the imperial crowning of Charlemagne by the Pope in 800 AD to the self crowning of Napoleon, embodying  the revolutionary new cult of man, when he seized the imperial crown (a copy of the original) in 1804. Since this time, it certainly appears that the temporal power of the Church (Christendom) has, and will, alas, continue to diminish and ultimately disappear as set forth in the Catechism of the Catholic Church  


“The Church will not enter into the glory of the Kingdom except through this latter Easter, in which it will follow the Lord in his death and Resurrection. Hence the Kingdom will not be fulfilled through the historical triumph of the church on an ascending path, but through a victory of God over the last unleashing of evil that will cause the Bride [ the Heavenly Jerusalem] to descend from heaven…after the last cosmic upheaval of this world that passes.” ( CCC 677)


The fulfillment, then, of God’s kingdom will not come until “heavens and earth have passed away” and the final judgment of all souls with “the sheep set apart from the goats.” a transformed new order of creation will be established as the Bridegroom, Christ, as in Solomon’s Song of Songs, is united with his bride as the heavenly Jerusalem, the Church Triumphant, safely under the mantle of Mary, descends. In this heavenly kingdom to come there will be no longer either pain nor suffering. There will be neither Temple nor sacrifice, nor will there be sun nor moon, God himself will be the Light, and the slain Lamb will rule eternally from His throne.. (Apocalypse 21)



H. R. A.

The second part of this treatise will deal with the same symbols and their subtle (and not so subtle) variations from the Renaissance to the present.


Second Part



End Notes

 ** Within the Roman Catholic tradition, the natural order of reality is studied and understood within its own context. The supernatural order, that is to say, Revelation does not abrogate what is understood of the natural order, but builds on and adds to it. This study will be based on the evidence of symbolic manifestation existing in the natural order and how these symbols are transformed in accordance with revealed truths.


 1) C.S. Lewis, The Pilgrims Regress (New York: Bantam Books, 1981) p.176

 2) Martin C. D'arcy, The Meaning and Matter of History (New York: The Noonday Press, 1967) p.68  See also, for example: Edward Sapir, Language: An Introduction to the Study Of Speech (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1921); and his "symbolism article in the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (New York: Macmillan, 1934); Mircea Eliade, Traite d'histoire des religions (Paris, Payot, 1949); Mircea Eliade, Images et symbols, essai sur le symbolism magico religieux (Paris: Gallimard, 1952); Mircea Eliade, Mythes, reves et mystères (Paris: Galliard, 1957); Georges Poullet, Les metmophoses du cercle (Paris: Pion, 1961);Carl Gustav Jung,, Psychology and Religion: West and East (English trans., Princeton University Press: 1958); Psyche and Symbol (New York: Double-Anchor, © Bollingen Foundation Inc.. 1958); Man and His Symbols (London: Aldous Books, 1964); Analytical Psychology (New York, Random House, 1968); Joseph Campbell The Hero With A Thousand Faces (New York: MJF Books, © Bollingen Foundation, 1949); The Mythic Image (Princeton University Press, 1974); Transformations of Myth Through Time (New York: Harper & Row, 1990)

 3) Claude Levi Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked, Introduction to a science of Mythology, Volume one. Chicago; Chicago University Press, 1983) Overture. See also Claude Levi Strauss, Structural Anthropology, Vol. 2 (University of Chicago Press: 1983) 37-42 .

4) While many of the insights of Sigmund Freud regarding the workings of "subconscious" mental processes are valid and of interest, his basic premise regarding the Oedipal origins of neurosis in a repressed racial memory of sexual pleasure/guilt and repression is pure invention. There is simply no anthropological evidence for the primal tribe that killed and devoured the patriarch and incestually possessed the mother. By his own admission he developed this theory because of his perception of " the vain efforts of human beings threatened with disaster and the necessity of resignation" and "ones own impotence before the will of the gods" which he would not accept. Cit. Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud, 1938 Edition, p. 103. Psychologically speaking, a far more intellectually satisfying natural understanding in keeping with Dr. Freud's own position of primal conflict is found in Hesiod,s Theogony vss. 50-80 where Gaia (Mother Earth) induces her children, esp. Kronos (time) to rebel against the Patriarchal Ouranus, (Sky God) who "wickedly" refused to allowed them to see the light.

5) J.A. Laponce, Spatial Archetypes and Political Perception, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 69, 1975

6) H. L. von Franz, The Process of Individuation; Aniela Jaffe, Symbolism in the Visuaal Arts in Man and His Symbols ed. C.G. Jung (New York: Doubleday, 1964) pp. 160-162, 240-241. The ubiquitous nature of this symbolic configuration used by children as a means of expressing self identity is confirmed by twenty years personal experience teaching elementary school art. It is most often seen as a doodle done while daydreaming and often appears during times of stress for an emotionally immature or self-absorbed child.(I have such images in my own files) One such child who was suffering anxiety over his poor academic performance, home life, and uncertainty over self worth, drew such a figure during class and subsequently tried to destroy the drawing in self-destructive rage by poking holes in it repeatedly with his pencil.

7) See: Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1959) pp. 20 - 36. Also: J.E Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols (New York: Philosophical Library, 1983) pp. 199-203

8) Swami Bhasyananda, in Vivekananda (Chenai: [Inidia] Swami Jyotirmayanda, 2000) p.131




This concept of the essentially divine nature of man entered the Western philosophical tradition along with its symbolism via such neoplatonists as Plotinus, and Proclus and from the writings of Hermes-Trismagisus. It was the latter who is credited with the formula, "Deus est sphaera infinita cuijus centrum est ubique nusquam circumferentiae"(God is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere but whose circumference is nowhere). It is the central doctrine of the "Gnosticism" that battled against Early Christianity. According to A.J. Fustigiere, the pessimist Gnostics, e.g. the Manechians, believed that the world was impregnated with evil and must be avoided through asceticism and purification, while the optimist Gnostics held that world was filled with divinity and therefore all was permissible. It flowered in Renaissance circles around Marcilio Ficino, Pico dela Mirandola , and Giordano Bruno. (To be discussed in Part II of this treatise) In modern times it was espoused by the American Transcendalists, Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman who came under the influence of the Vedic master Swami Jogut Sangooly 

10) The serpent or dragon symbolism is of ancient origin. These figures (d r a k o n t o s , draconis, for either one in Greek and Latin) represent the "life force." According to Cirlot "If all symbols are really functions of things imbued with energy, the serpent or snake is, by analogy, symbolic of energy itself - of force pure and simple." J.E. Cirlot A Dictionary of Symbols (New York: Philosophical Library, 1983) p. 285. It is seen frequently in Mesopotamian, Cretan, and Greek art, usually as paired opposites representing masculine and feminine energies according to the near universal formula expressed in various tables of opposites. See:-appendix-one- (below) As to the Caduceus, see: Cirlot. 35 -37




11) Lao Tzu, The Way of Life Tao te Ching R.B. Blakney, Trans.(New York: New America Library,955) p. 37 This is not to be confused with the 6th century writings of Confucius who also used the word Tao (way) to describe a system that is in many ways similar to the Western concept of Natural Law.

12)Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah (New York: Dorset Press, 1974) pp. 362-68

13) ibid. J.E cirlot, p. 351

14) ibid. Gershom Scholem, p.194

15) Const. Dei Filius, Vatican I cap. I, ca 1-4. This is the official Roman Catholic dogmatic statement regarding this matter as formulated at the First Vatican Council.

This does not preclude God's active presence in the created order. While St. Thomas Aquinas states that. " is impossible for God to enter into the composition of anything, either as formal or material principle." (ST, 1,3,8), he goes on to say that, "God is in all things, not indeed, as part of their essence, nor as an accident, but as agent is present to that on which it acts immediately, and reaches it by its power; hence it is proved in [Aristotle] vii. That the thing moved and mover must exist together."



16) The depiction of the spiral symbol shown to the left was drawn by an eight-year-old boy in a highly emotional state after listening to a concert of African drum rhythms (observed by this author). This would confirm the near universal psychological hypothesis that this symbol has visceral connotations. The spiral or labyrinth as a symbol of involution, has been associated with the "feminine" principle from the Stone age to the present as seen in the schematic "woman" shown below to the left by Marija Gimbutas "language of the Goddess" (Harper&Row) and the etching by Pablo Picasso to the right. According to Clare Tuffy, chief guide of New Grange, at the Winter Solstice, a shaft of sunlight covers the three spirals representative of the triple Goddess and fecundates the land for the following year. Historically, at least in the majority of traditions, (see: appendix # 1 below) the sun and sunlight have represented the "masculine" principle. Thus the "sun symbol" generally represents the masculine sky god and the "spiral" the feminine earth mother. It is the work of religion, [or in primitive religions, the shaman ] to unite these two opposites.(coincidetia opsitorum) There is ample evidence from primitive religions of gender transforming rituals to bring this androgynous union about. See: Elémire Zola, The Androgyne (New York: Crossroad, 1981) The figure shown directly below represents an aboriginal shaman holding a shield wherein is depicted symbolically this fusion of the male and female principles.

Stone age schematic, Marija Gimbutas.


Prehistoric petroglyph, Bryce Canyon, Utah

Picasso -woman-



 17) For a resume of the original details of the story of Pasiphae, Theseus, and the Minotaur see: Mark Morford & Robert Lenardon, Classical Mythology (New York: Longman, 1977)

 18) While Biblical scholar John L. McKenzie, S. J. affirms the basic translation of Jachin and Boaz as variants of "He will establish" and "in strength" respectively, he refrains from further commentary save that "many scholars believe that they must have had some symbolic cosmological significance." John L. McKenzie, S.J. Dictionary of the Bible (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co., 1965) p. 774

According to Occultist, Thomas Troward, cited in Eden Gray's A complete Guide to the Tarot (New York: Bantam Books, 11th printing, 1982). The two pillars (Jachin & Boaz) "contain the key to the entire Bible and to the whole order of Nature, and as emblems of the two great principles (male & female) that are the pillars of the universe, they fitly stood at the threshold of that temple which was designed to symbolize the mysteries of Being...). Abert Pike in his Morals and Dogma of Free Masonry (Charleston: A\ M\ 5680) p.849, "...the Ineffable Name, and dividing it, it becomes bi-sexual ...and discloses its meaning ...The highest of which the Columns Jachin and Boaz are the symbol. 'In the image of Deity,' we are told, 'God created the Man; Male and Female.'" (this concept alluded to by Pike will be discussed within the text in the second part of this treatise - Symbolism II, From the Renaissance to the Present -

19) In the Traditional Mass, prior to changes made after Vatican II, there were two positions reminiscent of Jachin and Boaz designated for the reading of Scripture, the so called, Gospel side, and Epistle side. The Gospel, the life of Our Lord (m. active) was always read stage right of the central tabernacle, and the Epistles, the life of the Church (f. receptive) from stage left.

 20) See also for example: The Song of Solomon, Hosea 2:19-20, Jeremiah 3:14, Ezekiel 16:8-14 etc. For a thorough treatment of this topic, see: La metfora esponsal en els Profets by Teresa Sola, (I – II) Revista Catalana de Teologia XXVIII/1-2. (Barcelona: 1992)


.21) Both these quotes are taken from, Our Lady and the Church by Fr. Hugo Rahner, S.J.( Zaccheus, Bethesda, MD: 2004) pp.xi, xii. This book is fundamental to the understanding of this mystery as understood from the time of the early Fathers up through Pope Pius XII

Continuing below are some more recent  commentaries on the subject:

CCC, 511. "The Virgin Mary "cooperated through free faith and obedience in human salvation" (LG 56). She uttered her yes "in the name of all human nature" (STh III,30, 1). By her obedience she became the new Eve, mother of all the living." 

According to Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., " In the act of redemption, this Creator-creation relationship is raised to a new order. That nothingness out of which all creation came is raised to the level of personality in Mary, whose virginity and whose "nothingness" express the perfection of all material creation raised to the personal. God speaks a second word - a word of grace and redemption - not this time into the void of non-being, but into the personal emptiness, the receptivity of the purest virgin. Mary, who is symbol of all creation, becomes at that moment the symbol of the Church as bride of Christ. God becomes man and specifically male, not arbitrarily, but because God so created the real symbolic world of man and woman precisely to provide for Himself a language in which He can speak to us. The male Christ therefore represents and is the presence of God the Father (whose perfect image He is) in the midst of maternal creation and maternal Church, which is Mary." The Mediation of Mary in the Church. Rev. Joseph Fessio, S.J., from his book, The Church and Women (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989,) p. 184. Hans Urs von Balthasar continuing the analogy refers to Mary as "Mater, Materia, Matrix" (Mother, Matter and Pure Womb) from which God can fashion whatever he will." Elucidations, "The Marian Principle"(London: SPCK, 1975) p.68

22) From these and the following quote of Ildephonsus of Toledo) from Fr. Rahner’s book, Our Lady and the Church, ( p. 53) " There is the Virgin Mary, in whose womb is signified as by pledge or earnest the whole Church: and we believe most firmly that thus the Church remains securely and forever united to God," it may be speculatively deduced that the Catholic doctrine of the Assumption of Mary, body and soul, to Heaven, is a pledge and earnest of the spiritual and physical resurrection of the entire Mystical Body-living in Sanctifying Grace-, ie., the Church, at the end of time.)


 23) "For some... failing to distinguish as the should the precise and proper meaning of the terms the physical body, the social body, and the mystical Body, arrive at a distorted idea of unity. They make the Divine Redeemer and the members of the Church coalesce in one physical person...But Catholic faith and the writings of the holy Fathers reject such false teaching as impious and sacrilegious; and to the Apostle of the Gentiles it is equally abhorrent, for although he brings Christ and His Mystical Body into a wonderfully intimate union, he nevertheless distinguishes one from the other as Bridegroom from Bride," Pius XII Mystici Corporis, Art. 86. For a clear exposition of the problems which arise from a misinterpretation of this doctrine, see, Father John Hardon, S.J. The Mystical Body of Christ, The Catholic Faith magazine, Inter Mirifica 1997


24) Daniélou, J,  From Shadow to Reality, Studies in the Biblical Typology of the Fathers (London: 1960) p.277



Appendix One

The dyadic nature of imaginative expression

Male/Female - Right/Left - Up/Down

Unlike other Indo-European languages ( Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, Italian, German, Russian etc. ), the English language differentiates masculine and feminine only as regards procreative ability in plants and animals. All inanimate objects are relegated, in English, to the genderless class of neuter. This fact, unfortunately, makes it more difficult for an English speaking audience to grasp the "poetic" or unconscious proclivity of human beings, especially but not exclusively children and primitive peoples, to animate the surrounding world with anthropomorphic male and female projections.

Writing in 1905, Edison Best was one of the first anthropologists to observe critically the universal propensity of primitive man to attribute gender to all beings in the universe including inanimate objects, and the division of all reality into two immense classes which are identifiable as male and female. Discussing the Maori of New Zealand, Best quoted their expressions, tama tane, "male side" to designate virility and creative force, and tama wahine, "female side" to designate corresponding passivity. This cosmic distinction, for the Maori, rests on a primordial religious understanding of good and evil in which maleness and femaleness are the basic constituents. The Maori religion, according to Best, considers the male sacred and the female profane. The woman, for the Maori, is the source from whom all evils (including sorcery) come to man. 1

According to another pioneer in the field, T.O Beidelman, the Kagurus people of Tanzania offer a classic example of this same dialectic. Sedentary cultivators of the land, the Kagurus live in scattered settlements. They believe that their tribe originated in the West associated with the moon, and that they are traveling Eastward toward the sun, the direction of the outside world. When the Kaguru march to new settlements, lines are formed with the men on the right and the women on the left. The spatial alignment is so sacred that it is re-enacted in both procreation and death, the man lying on the right and the woman on the left in both instances. This duality is taken to an extreme that the left side of the body is presumed to be feminine and inherited from the mother, and the right side, male and inherited from the father. Purity, strength, power and life are considered to reside on the right; pollution, weakness and death are on the left. 2

Beidelman reported also on the Meru tribe of Kenya. Although the Meru extoled the "left hand" of their revolutionary leader against Christian colonization, they divide the male and female, both individually and collectively, along what appears to be a near universal understanding of dyadic Male-Female polarity: 3

Right North White clan Day Sun Man Superior

Left South Black clan Night Moon Woman-child Inferior

A similar dichotomy appears among the Zuni Indians of the American South West. The Zuni personify the left and right sides of the body as two distinct brother gods, the former passive and reflective and the latter active and impulsive. As pacifists, the Zuni extolled the former. 4

One of the largest surviving indigenous societies of the New World, the Mapuche of Chile, divide the principle categories as follows: 5

Right-------- Man--------- Good-------Life --------- Day --------Shaman -----Afterlife -----(good)spirits- Sun---------White -------Dominant ---Above ------Mapuche----

 Left --------- Woman-child- Evil-----------Death---------Night--------- Sorcerer -----Underworld --(evil)spirits ---Moon --------Black --------Subordinate--below --------(Other)-------


The evidence of this intuited dialectical polarity is virtually inexhaustible from ancient to modern times and extends across the entire globe. Not only do we find the masculine/feminine duality in North and South America and Africa, but in Australia and Asia as well. In the ancient Vedic (Indian) legend, the dominant male Mitra (the sun) impregnates the passive female Varuna (the moon). Even the Chinese, who reverse polarity at times, divide the cosmos into male and female forces of Yang and Yin. Very early depictions of the dual principle show a brother and sister, Fou-Hi and Niu-Koua whose bodies are entwined in incestuous union (primal androgyne); the male head on the right and female on the left. The woman holds in her right hand a compass for making circles, while the man holds in his left hand a set square for making angles 6

Dialectical symbolism continues into Western Civilization with the Greeks, in the works of Parmenedes, Pythagoras and Plato. Even the encyclopedic Aristotle, who based his philosophy on the categories of observed phenomena, presumed "Right," "Above" and "In Front" to be starting points and superior according to the Pythagorian table of opposites 7

Right --Straight Light-- Good -Up----

Left --Curved Dark--Evil -- Down


The intuitive placement of a dominant male deity in the sky above and the dismal abode of the dead below apparently conforms to a near universal construct. This does not, however, mean that there are no exceptions. According to Human Relations Area Files prepared in 1977 by UNESCO, of the sixty examples where sufficient data was available, fifty three cultures placed the dominant divinity above, three valued up and down equally, and only four favored down over up.


According, for example, to the classical Greek Cosmogony as initially propounded by Hesiod, Ouranos, the male sky god is above the female goddess, Gaia, Mother Earth. From the union of these two primitive cosmic principals come the Titans, or primal forces of nature. The union of the primal forces Chronos (m) time with Rhea(f) feminine charm produces Zeus and Hera, the king and queen of the anthropomorphic gods, and through them Ares the god of war and Aphrodite the goddess of carnal love. The union of these two produces Harmonia, harmony, this latter considered an illicit union that would eventually lead to universal frenzy and chaos. By contrast, the union of the primal forces Chronos, time and Phoibe, brilliance, produce ultimately Apollo the brilliant sun god and Artemis the cool reflective moon goddess and through them, poetic inspiration. As can be seen, the mythopoetic understanding of the Greeks, starting from Oyranos and Gaia, works itself out methodically in the standard up-down, right-left, male-female dyadic reciprocity or zyzygy


A final pre - Christian example of this right/left, up/down analogy of paired opposites is presented by Plato's Myth of Er which concerns the plight of the dead souls. When the shades of the fallen arrive at the plain of judgment they are confronted by judges who must decide whether they merit the "right hand" road of the just "upward" or the "left hand" road of the ignoble "downward." The just place a placard listing their virtues in front while the ignoble carry a placard of their misdeeds behind. Interestingly, neither the just nor the ignoble receive eternal judgment as they are reborn every aeon or thousand years. The journey of the human soul, according to Plato, follows an endless cycle of reincarnations according to the eternal "figure eight," 8 the cosmic "Lemniscate" or "infinity" symbol. 8

In conclusion, it would appear that for whatever reason, the unconscious or intuitive understanding of human nature considers : 1) the right hand side to be male, dominant and usually superior, and 2) places the Male principle above as active and dominant over the passive (or sometimes hostile) Female principle below. Any change in this configuration generally reflects a psychological or religious deviation from the norm.9





End Notes to Appendix One

1. Robert Hertz "The Pre-eminence of the Right Hand" (1909) in Right & Left, essays on dual symbolic classification edited, by Rodney Needham, (University of Chicago Press, 1973) p. 9. This is the seminal work on this subject to which most other authors refer.

2. J. A. Laponce Left and Right, The Topography of Political Perception (University of Toronto Press, 1981) p. 29

3. ibid. pp. 29 -30

4. ibid. p. 18

5. Louis C. Faron, (1962) "Symbolic Values among the Mapuche of Chile" in Right & Left ed. R. Needham, pp. 192 -94

6. Marcel Granet (1933) "Right and Left in China" in Right & Left R. Needham p. 56

7. ibid J.A p.31

8. Plato, The Republic, Trans. F. Cornford (Oxford University Press, 1945) pp. 350 - 359

9. J.A. Laponce, "Political Community, Legitimacy and Discrimination" British Journal of Political Science, 4 (June 1974). 125-126. See also: Robert Hertz, La prééminence de la main droite: êtudes sur la polarité religieuse, translation by Rodney Needham (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1973) pp74-87





Appendix Two



The Man Woman Relationship

By Rev. Joseph Fessio, S.J., from his book, The Church and Women (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989,) p. 184; quoted with permission


In creating the natural world and in particular in creating human brings male and female, God had in view both his ultimate intention of divinization or elevation of mankind and also the salvation of a fallen mankind through the Incarnation. Thus among the many meanings of the distinction of sexes, saints and theologians throughout the entire tradition of the Church have discerned an important symbolic or representative Function which men and women fulfill in their very being.

Sexual differentiation is manifested in what biologists call the reproductive system. And although this difference extends into every cell in the human body, it is expressed most obviously and visibly in the physical differentiation between men and women. But it would be a lapse into metaphysical dualism to think that these differences were merely physical or biological. By the principle of the Incarnation, in which the invisible is intimately united with and expressive of the spiritual, these physiological differences are a manifestation of a mysterious' but profound spiritual complementarity between men and women. Difficult as it is to describe this complementarity in adequate language, it may be seen from the vantage point of the marital act, or by the reproductive act, as characterized by equal dignity and equally active participation but diversity of role.

The woman is active in receiving from outside of her that which comes from the man and nourishing within her the new life which is the fruit of their union. The man is active in giving what is interior to him into the womb of the woman. For this reason, even though both man and woman come from the creative act of a God who contains eminently all the perfections of all his creatures, woman has been created by God to represent what she and her male helpmate are by nature, i.e., creatures who receive all of their being from the creating God. And man has been created by God to represent what he and the woman are not: the creating God who gives being to nothingness, who speaks his word into the receiving void. He speaks and material creation (Materia = Mater) is. This does not imply any difference in dignity be between man and composite, woman as creatures of God. But it does express a difference in roles intended by God so that the human which cannot live or communicate without material symbols, would have this symbolic representation drawn from the highest of God's creatures to help those creatures grasp in their proper form of knowledge the relationship between God and his creation.

Mediation of Mary -- Church

In the act of redemption, this Creator-creation relationship is raised to a new order. That nothingness out of which all creation came is raised to the level of personality in Mary, whose virginity and whose "nothingness" express the perfection of all material creation raised to the personal. God speaks a second word -- a word of grace and redemption --not this time into the void of non-being, but into the personal emptiness, the receptivity of the purest Virgin. Mary, who is the symbol of all creation, becomes at that moment the symbol of the Church as Bride of Christ. God becomes man and specifically male, not arbitrarily, but because God has so created the real-symbolic world of men and women precisely to provide for Himself a language in which He can speak to us. The male Christ therefore represents and is the presence of God the Father (whose perfect image He is) in the midst of the maternal creation and maternal church which is Mary. "


St. Ambrose (Esposizione del Vangelo Secondo Luca) : Opera Esegetica X/II Milan-Rome: 1978, p289. 

 St. Ambrose goes on to say in, Le Vergini "Holy Church is immaculate in her spousal union: fruitful in giving birth, she is a virgin through her chastity, yet she is a mother of the children she conceives . Thus we are born from a virgin who has conceived, not by a human act but through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are therefore born of a virgin, not in physical travail but amid rejoicing of angels. A virgin nourishes us, not with the milk of her body, but with what the Apostles talks about when he speaks of having breast fed the weak state of the adolescent people of God

"What married woman has more children than holy Church? She is virgin through the holiness she receives in the sacraments and she is mother of peoples. Her fertility is also attested by scripture which says: "For the children of the desolate one will be more than children of she who is married' (Isaiah 54:1 cf. Gal. 4:27); our mother has no husband but she has a bridegroom, for both the Church in the peoples and the soul in individuals --imune from any kind of infidelity, fruitful in the life of the spirit -- not without modesty, espouse the Word of God as their eternal Bridegroom" (I, 31: SAEMO 14/1, pp. 132-133).

 Return to Home Page

 Back to Home Page