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Chapter 3

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University of Winnipeg
Jane Leverick

Religious Symbols 05/10/2013 4:31:00 PM What is a Symbol?  We see an apple, we know what it is by shape, colour and smell; so do many nonhumans  Only humans can make a blue triangle stand for an apple; newcomers would not know, but we would tell them and then they would understand; animals could also be trained that a blue triangle stands for apple, but humans create the symbol and train the animal o This is displacement – the ability to use symbols to refer to things and activities that are remote form the user Arbitrary symbol – as long as there is a shared understanding, we can use symbols to communicate instead of real objects; we can also create new symbols, like names  Symbols can also represent things that are more complex, such as emotions/philosophical concepts -> Joseph Church  Symbols do not have to be physical objects; language is a system of symbols -> why is apple named apple? No reason; arbitrary Religious Symbols  Religious rituals centre on manipulation and presence of symbols  Ex. Hinduism: statue of god Brahma, bathed with milk and strung with flowers  Ex. Hopi masks of American Southwest or Dogon masks of South Africa  Ex. Torah -> symbol meant to be read (Jewish ritual) The Swastika  Symbol that stands for complex ideas and carries emotional resonance o Nazi symbol, 1919 -> feelings of dread/anger o Japanese Buddhist symbol representing abundance o Origins in Nordic mythology o Reverse is called sauvastika; stands for darkness/suffering o Navaho art; represents Whirling Log (canoe built by gods) The Pentagram  Term comes from Greek pente, meaning 5 and gamma  Can refer to any 5-sided figure but is most commonly used to refer to 5-point star (pentacle)  Originated as symbol of a pagan goddess; her sacred fruit was apple (cut in half 5-point seeded star)  Associated with Hebrew scriptures as a symbol of the Torah (5 books of Pentateuch)  Associated with early Christian ideology of 5 wounds of Christ + star that prophesized Jesus  Pentagram associated with evil after the Witchcraze (referred to as th “witch’s foot” ; stronger evil connotations after 20 century Satanists adopted it (inverted with goat’s head in middle)  Adopted by Wiccans (Neo-pagan, nature based, polytheistic, good) o Earth, air, water, fire spirit OR 4 directions and spirit Christian Symbols  Cross is the most associated symbol of Christianity; many versions, Roman cross most used today o Criticism, as cross has roots with pagan ideology (esp. Tau) o Roman catholic: crucifixion scenes o Protestant: no body on cross (Christ has risen, not on cross) o United Methodist: cross with dual flames behind it o Orthodox: 3 arms (inscription, arms, footrest)  Fish symbol: important early Christian symbol o Why a fish? Greek word for fish is icthus, an acrostic (first letter of each word form a word)  Iesous Christos Theou Uiou Soter (Jesus Christ of God the Son the Saviour)  When Christians were small and persecuted, the fish would be a password (draw one line in the sand, other person completed it if they were Christian) o Darwin fish: inversed with feet + word darwin Sacred Art The Sarcophagus of Lord Pakal  Art is used to supplement religious text  Ex. Ancient Maya of Southern Mexico (Meso-America culture area) o 1949, Alberto Ruiz (archaeologist) working on “temple of inscriptions” at Palenque site; temple built on top of pyramid (common), floor covered in paving stones (uncommon) -> one stone with plugs (to be lowered) o Ruiz uncovered a hidden staircase, looked for religious objects, found sarcophagus in 1952  Thought to be Hanab-Pakal (Pakal the Great, Lord Shield), greatest king of Palenque (died aug 31 683, 80 y.o; ruled 67 years)  Lid 12x7 feet -> intricate carvings that we cannot fully identify (if we were Mayan aristocrats then we would be able to, and would have gone to religious services) o Examining the symbols!  Sacred territory due to floating background (bones, shells, flowers, beads) + white bone snake (skull split and spread out; jaws represent the portal between world of living/dead (Xibalba)  Cosmic tree -> central axis of the world; 3 parts, underworld, middle world, upper world  Pakal is shown descending into Xibalba, and he will undergo trials, then be resurrected as a god  There is a psychoduct leading alongside the staircase, through which Pakal’s spirit will move from the tomb to the sanctuary so priests can do their rituals  Blood-related symbols on sarcophagus + platters for blood-letting rituals (pierced penis with stingray barb, + consort pierce tongue and pass thorned string through; blood drippings on bark would then be burned, the smoke being offering to the gods) The Meaning of Colour  Colours have cultural meanings; American brides wear white, but not in all other cultures; Chinese wear red, and white may be associated with death  7 basic colour terms of English: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, pink, black, white, grey  colour spectrum is divided into arbitrary categories labelled by linguistic forms; industrial society languages tend to have more basic colours, instead of specialized ones o Navaho: ideal blue is turquoise, and has celestial/religious importance o Yoruba Colour terminology: Nigeria, Guinea Coast culture area; 3 basic colour terms -> funfun (white/silver/pale grey), pupa ( red/pink/orange/deep yellow), dudu ( black/purple/dark green/brown/dark grey)  Colours evoke emotions: feeling blue, green with envy, etc. -> Yoruba associate funfun with coolness/age/wisdom, pupa with hotness, dudu with darkness and warmth  Supernatural world (orishna = supernatural beings) is also associated with colours: Obatala (king) is funfun, Sango (thunder/lightning) is pupa, Ossosi (hunting) is dudu Sacred Self, Space, and Time  Symbols are used to create sacred realities: supernatural worlds, sacred spaces, sacred divisions of time, and interpretations of self Symbolic Alterations to the Human Body  People have cultural images of themselves, an expression of anthropocentrism (separating humans from the animal world) and ethnocentrism (distinguishing one society from others); or distinguishing one segment of society from another (gender, age, social groups) -> changes to human bodies are done to conform to the cultural images  Clothing can be a simple change in appearance to conform to cultural images; white coat/stethoscope for doctor, clerical collar for priest, blue jeans/tshirt for students; body colour can also be a change in appearance (from body paint for ritual to makeup) Permanent Alterations of the Human Body  Infibulation (piercing) -> for fashion or to rebel against mainstream  Tattooing: found in many traditional societies; way of marking social identity or membership in a particular social category (i.e., religious practitioner) o Origins in America/Europe: James Cooke 18 th century; all sailors were tattooed when staying in Tahiti (Tahitian word ta- tu meaning mark or strike) o In societies that wear little/no clothing, tattooing/infibulation marks social tank (same as clothing)  Cicatrisation/scarification; plugs in ears; branding; lower lip stretching  Teeth resemble animal teeth to some cultures, so they are knocked out, blackened, or filed into shapes  Skeletons can be altered; easier when bones are still growing; i.e., food binding in China  Karen Padaung of northern Thailand: concentric rings on neck to appear elongated (no stretching, just pushed down into clavicle)  Corsetry + head binding to shape Mayan high class babies Body Modification in Religious Practice  In small-scale societies, body modifications are generally tied with religious practice; i.e., circumcision in Judaism/Islam o Commanded in religious text; physically and permanently marks an individual as a member of a particular religious group o Marked to identify someone as becoming a religious specialist; initiation o Americans drawn to tattoos for religious/mortuary reasons or new-age subcultures  Ex. Maasai (East Africa) men are circumsized when coming of age - > painful (b
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