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A symbol has no direct connection with the thing it refers to. ... that results if one plots the movement of Venus as seen from earth in the Zodiac. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Symbols

  • Definition
  • Shared understandings about the meaning of
    certain words, attributes, or objects.
  • Characteristics
  • Displacement
  • Our ability to understand that a certain symbol
    means a certain thing.
  • Arbitrary
  • A symbol has no direct connection with the thing
    it refers to. Meaning is a construction of the
    human mind.
  • Openness
  • Our ability to create and use symbols as we see

Circle with dot
  • Egypt
  • The Sun, Ra
  • Greek philosophy of the Monad
  • The First, the seed, the essence, the builder the
    foundation. All is one, there are no fundamental
    divisions. A unified set of laws govern nature.
  • Contrast to dualism, i.e. yin yang 2
    underlying, opposing powers incorporating and
    governing reality.
  • Pythagoreans
  • From the Monad came the Dyad (2-powers) from it
    numbers from numbers, points then lines (2
    dimensional entities), then 3 dimensional
    entities, celestial bodies (stars/planets),
    culminating in the four elements of earth, air,
    water and fire from which the rest of the world
    is built.
  • Flatland (1884) Edwin Abbott Abbott

  • Earliest examples 800-600 B.C.E.
  • Antiquity symbol for Jewish Kingdom.
  • Star/shield of David. Symbol for Jewish faith.
  • Alchemy symbol in middle ages representing the
    combination of fire and water
  • Alchemy A practical science concerned with the
    art of transforming elements and compounds, and a
    religious-philiosophical system resting on the
    idea of the existence of a substance called the
    philosophers stone which could change base
    elements into more precious substances (i.e.
  • Other alchemy symbols Ouroboros
  • Represents same thing as Indian yoga (unity),
    Chinese yin-yang, Christian ascendance to God,
    Buddhist Nirvanna, etc.

  • A type of Pentagram (5-sided figure)
  • Probably discovered as a result of astronomical
    research in ancient Mesopotamia (4,000 BCE) It
    is the structure that results if one plots the
    movement of Venus as seen from earth in the
  • The goddess Venus (Ishtar) from the ancient
    Mesopotamians appeared both as the Morning
    (battle/hunting) and Evening (beauty/fertility)
  • Pythagorean mysticism
  • Numbers/values constitute the true nature of
    things. Can know God through mathematics.
  • Symbolizes the human being and mathematical
  • Christianity
  • 5 wounds of Christ, 5 senses
  • Islam
  • Used in the Morning Star and Crescent to denote
    the Islamic faith.
  • 5 points of star represent 5 pillars of Islam
    (the profession of faith, the prayer, giving a
    portion of ones income to the poor, fasting
    during Ramadan and the pilgrimage to Mecca
  • Judaism
  • Official seal of the city of Jerusalem during
    300-150 BCE.
  • Satanism
  • Inverted star, symbolizing the rejection of
    Christian Holy Trinity.
  • Wiccan/Neopagan
  • Symbol of Wiccan faith. Represents 4 elements
    and the Spirit.

Sacred Art
  • Formed from a myriad of religious symbols.
  • Ex Cathedral
  • Not art for arts sake (i.e. not based on
    creative urges of the artist). Rather art as a
    collection of symbols meant to convey a specific
    religious message.
  • Ex
  • Byzantine and Egyptian religious art
  • Does not mean that these artists were incapable
    of drawing a more fluid/natural body. Needed
    this structure to convey the correct meaning.
    Art in this case is a symbol. To change the
    style of the symbol would be to change the

Sacred art and sacred space
  • The Sarcophagus of Lord Pakal (book)
  • The symbols combined create a passageway through
    which Pakal passes to reach the Underworld and
    then be resurrected as a God.
  • Psychoduct A passageway for Pakals spirit to
    pass from his Tomb to the Temple during rituals.
    Made of brick and running along the stairway
  • Egyptian spacetime
  • With its orientation to the heavens, sacred space
    in Egyptian architecture represents a dimension
    where heavenly time reigns (a sort of space time
    mix). To build a sacred space was to establish
    not only a spatial but also a temporal link with
    the heavens it was a realization of eternity. In
    the Old Kingdom all the construction work done by
    the state concentrated on the pyramid as the
    epitome of sacred space a structure built for
    the king to touch and enter into eternity.
  • The Tomb of Knum-Hotep (Beni-Hassan, Egypt)
  • An elaborate example of a Psychoduct

  • The separation of the color spectrum is cultural
    and arbitrary.
  • Whos to say where red ends and yellow begins?
    Why do we have orange? Why not have a million
    different color names? Why not have only,
    perhaps, 3?
  • The Yoruba of Nigeria (Guinea Coast) distinguish
    only these 3 colors Funfun (cool colors white,
    silver, pale gray) Associated with wisdom and
    respect. Pupa (red, pink, orange, deep yellow)
    Passion and pride. Dudu (black, blue, purple,
    green dark browns, red-brown) Cool, dark, warm.
  • The colors on the crown are both hot and cool.
    This is necessary to symbolize the wisdom of a
    king to bring harmony and balance to the

  • Navaho Turquoise blue is the ideal blue
  • Blue is the color of celestial and earthly
    attainment, of peace, of happiness, and success,
    of vegetable sustenance.
  • Ancient Egypt Faience (a fired, man-made
    substance of crushed quartz and silica mixed with
    a bit of lime, ash and copper). Also a Turquoise
  • A semi-precious material, beloved by the gods and
    goddesses. Suitable offerings to the Pharaoh and

Time as Symbol
  • We organize our lives around seconds, minutes,
    hours, days, weeks, months, years, etc.
  • Time is also arbitrary! Why 7 days in a week?
    Why not 5 or 16? Our week of 7 days is a
    non-physical symbol that stands for a particular
    period of time.
  • Ritual usually goes hand in hand with time.
  • Today Religious rituals that are practiced on a
    specific day of the week/day of the month/day of
    the year?
  • Examples?
  • Periodic Rituals
  • Mayan calendar
  • Egyptian calendar

Time cont.
  • Chronotope A timescale unique to a certain
  • history, time and reality are social constructs
    and symbolic forms that undergo specific shapings
    and weighings in every culture and in every age.
    (p. 17).
  • history is not a universal, uniform frame within
    which each culture develops in its own different
    way, but rather a product of culture, a cultural
  • Our (Western) time A linear Chronotope.
  • Augustine of Hippo (354-440 CE Christian Bishop
    philosopher) Christs death on the cross was the
    irreducibly unique and irreversible event that,
    for the believer, creates a newly linear time.
    While the heathens wander around in circles ( a
    calendar, punctuated by the rhythms of mornings,
    noons, and evenings, births and deaths, repeating
    themselves over and over again indefinitely.)
    Christians move toward the consummation
    represented by redemption. (linear time)
  • Rites cyclicalize time by observing regulations
    to the letter and by ensuring that each ritual
    celebration corresponds exactly with the
    preceding ones. The model for such cyclical
    congruence is the cosmos, with its orbital
    recurrence of astronomical, meteorological, and
    seasonal cycles. Hence the generation of
    cyclical time within society serves to harmonize
    the human order of things with the cosmic.
  • Mircea Eliade (1949 Le Mythe de Léternel
    retour) mythical thinking constructs time as
    circular, and experiences all events as the
    recurrence of primordial patterns ancient
    cultures typically froze out change through the
    ritual cyclicalization of time, whereas (our)
    historical thinking constructs time as a line or
    path of an arrow, along which events are
    experienced as breach, innovation and change.
  • Levi-Strauss Linear time serves to consolidate
    power and sociopolitical identity it goes hand
    in hand with statehood and a written culture.

  • Canonization a ban on variation.
  • Ex The Old Kingdom in Egypt (3000 BCE) is the
    epoch that developed the style and repertoire of
    Egyptian formal idioms. By reverting to these
    forms, the later epochs canonized them, elevating
    style to the status of canon. Canonization,
    then, is the institutionalization of permanence,
    a strategy for foiling time, and hence one of the
    most favored cultural techniques for constructing
    a specific chronotope

Music as Symbol
  • Music as a symbol used to get across the desired
    meaning of a ritual
  • Music can be used to teach, express/affect
    emotional states, produce altered states of
    consciousness, to please/contact supernatural
  • Membraneophones, Cordophones, Aerophones,
  • Ex Sistrum/clappers (Egypt)
  • Since music is symbolic, it is interwoven in the
    learned traditions of a culture.
  • Meaning Music that uses pitch, tone, speed,
    cadence, beat to convey and emotion (like
    happiness) in a culture not your own, may not
    necessarily evoke in you feelings of joy. The
    reverse is also naturally true.
  • In order to bridge the music symbolism gap
    between cultures, some artists are employing
    syncretism (fusion of elements from 2 diff.
    cultures) to help convey meaning.
  • Ex Missa Luba (Catholic mass traditional
    tribal instruments/rhythm from Kongo tribe o/t
    Democratic Republic of Congo
  • http//
  • Ex Loreena McKennitt (traditional Celtic
    mythology modern instruments/synthesizers
    occasional Christian elements)
  • Mummers Dance
  • http//

Dance as Symbol
  • Many traditional religions use dance as a symbol
    to create meaning
  • Ex Vodou
  • http//
  • Ex Whirling Dervishes
  • http//
  • Ex Pueblo Eagle Dance
  • http//

Additional terms
  • Kiva Usually, an underground ceremonial
    chamber. Used by the Tewa (Pueblo Native
    Americans) before they emerge to perform sacred
    dances. (pp 73-75)
  • Totemism A special relationship between an
    animal (or plant/feature of the environment) and
    an individual/group of individuals
    assigned/formed during the period of creation.
    (See pp. 69-71 Aboriginee groups-)
  • Totem A symbol/emblem (animal/plant/environmenta
    l feature usually) that stands for a certain
    social unit (a person/group)
  • Examples in Western Culture Mascots/ What
    animal do you most identify with?