Ancient Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism
by Thomas Inman, M.D. (1874)
Pagan and Christian symbolism
Fig. 1 represents an Assyrian priest worshipping by presentation of the thumb, which had a peculiar signification. Sometimes the forefinger is pointed instead, and in both cases the male is symbolised. It is taken from a plate illustrating a paper by E. C. Ravenshaw, Esq., in Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, vol. xvi., p. 114. Amongst the Hebrews, and probably all the Shemitic tribes, bohen, the thumb, and ezba, the finger, were euphemisms. They are so in some parts of Europe to the present day.§ The hand thus presented to the grove resembles a part of the Buddhist cross, and the shank of a key, whose signification is described in a subsequent page.
Fig. 2 is a Buddhist emblem; the two fishes forming the circle represent the mystic yoni, the sacti of Mahadeva, while the triad above them represents the mystic trinity, the triune father, Siva, Bel, or Asher, united with Anu and Hea. From Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, vol. xviii., p. 892, plate ii.
Fig. 3 is a very remarkable production. It originally belonged to Mons. Lajard, and is described by him in his second Memoire, entitled Recherches sur le Culte, les Symboles, les Attributs, et les Monumens Figurés de Vénus (Paris, 1837), in pages 32, et seq., and figured in plate I., fig. 1. The real age of the gem and its origin are not known, but the subject leads that author to believe it to be of late Babylonian workmanship. The stone is a white agate, shaped like a cone, and the cutting is on its lower face. The shape of this gem indicates its dedication to Venus. The central figures represent the androgyne deity, Baalim, Astaroth, Elohim, Jupiter genetrix, or the bearded Venus Mylitta. On the left side of the cutting we notice an erect serpent, whose rayed head makes us recognise the solar emblem, and its mundane representative, mentula arrecta; on a spot opposite to the centre of the male's body we find a lozenge, symbolic of the yoni, whilst opposite to his feet is the amphora, whose mystic signification may readily be recognised; it is meant for Ouranos, or the Sun fructifying Terra, or the earth, by pouring from himself into her.
§ A friend has informed me, for example, that he happened, whilst at Pesth, to look at a gorgeously dressed and handsome young woman. To his astonishment she pointed her thumb precisely in the manner adopted by the Assyrian priests; this surprised the young man still farther, and being, as it were, fascinated, he continued to gaze. The damsel then grasped the thumb by the other hand; thus indicating her profession. My friend, who was wholly inexperienced in the ways of the world, only understood what was meant when he saw my explanation of Fig. 1.
The three stars over the head of the figure, and the inverted triangle on its head, are representations of the mythological four, equivalent to the Egyptian symbol of life (figs. 31, 82). Opposite to the female are the moon, and another serpent, which may be recognised by physiologists as symbolic of tensio clitoridis. In a part corresponding to the diamond, on the left side, is a six-rayed wheel, emblematic, apparently, of the sun. At the female's feet is placed a cup, which is intended to represent the passive element in creation. As such it is analogous to the crescent moon, and is associated in the Roman church with the round wafer, the symbol of the sun; the wafer and cup thus being synonymous with the sun and moon in conjunction. It will be observed that each serpent in the plate is apparently attacked by what we suppose is a dragon. There is some difficulty in understanding the exact idea intended to be conveyed by these; my own opinion is that they symbolise Satan, the old serpent that tempted Eve, viz., fierce lust, Eros, Cupid, or desire, which, both in the male and female, brings about the arrectation which the serpents figure. It is not to be passed by without notice, that the snake which represents the male has the tail so curved as to suggest the idea of the second and third elements of the trinity. Monsieur Lajard takes the dragons to indicate the bad principle in nature, i. e., darkness, night, Ahriman, etc. On the pyramidal portion of the gem the four sides are ornamented by figures—three represent animals remarkable for their salacity, and the fourth represents Bel and Ishtar in conjunction, in a fashion which can be more easily imagined than described in the mother tongue. The learned will find the position assumed in Lucretius, Dê Rerum Naturâ, book iv., lines 1256, seq.
Fig. 4 is also copied from Lajard, plate i., fig. 10. It is the reverse of a bronze coin of Vespasian, struck in the island of Cyprus, and represents the conical stone, under whose form Venus was worshipped at Paphos, of which Tacitus remarks, Hist, ii., c. 8, "the statue bears no resemblance to the human form, but is round, broad at one end and gradually tapering at the other, like a goal. The reason of this is not ascertained." It is remarkable that a male emblem should be said to represent Venus, but the stone was an aerolite, like that which fell at Ephesus, and was said to represent Diana. It is clear that when a meteoric stone falls, the chief priests of the district can say that it is to be taken as a representative of their divinity.
My very ingenious friend, Mr. Newton, suggests that the Venus in question was androgyne; that the cone is a male emblem, within a door, gateway, or delta, thus resembling the Assyrian grove. It is certain that the serpents, the two stars, and the two candelabra, or altars with flame, favour his idea.
Fig. 5 represents the position of the hands assumed by Jewish priests when they give the benediction to their flock. It will be recognised that each hand separately indicates the trinity, whilst the junction of the two indicates the unit. The whole is symbolic of the mystic Arba—the four, i, e., the trinity and unity. One of my informants told me that, being a "cohen" or priest, he had often administered the blessing, and, whilst showing to me this method of benediction, placed his joined hands so that his nose entered the central aperture. On his doing so, I remarked "bene nasatus," and the expression did more to convince him of the probability of my views than anything else.
Fig. 6, modified in one form or another, is the position assumed by the hand and fingers, when Homan and Anglican bishops or other hierarchs give benediction to their people. A similar disposition is to be met with in Indian mythology, when the Creator doubles himself into male and female, so as to be in a position to originate new beings. Whilst the right hand in Plate VII. symbolises the male, the left hand represents the mystic feminine circle. In another plate, which is to be found in Moor's Hindu Pantheon, there is a similar figure, but draped fully, and in that the dress worn by the celestial spouse is covered with groups of spots arranged in triads and groups of four. With regard to the signification of spots, we may notice that they indicated, either by their shape or by their name, the emblem of womankind. A story of Indra, the Hindoo god of the sky, confirms this. He is usually represented as bearing a robe covered with eyes; but the legend runs that, like David, he became enamoured of the wife of another man, who was very beautiful and seen by chance, but her spouse was one whose austere piety made him almost equal to Brahma. The evil design of Indra was both frustrated and punished. The woman escaped, but the god became covered with marks that recalled his offence to mind, for they were pictures of the yoni. These, by the strong intercession of Brahma with the Rishi, were changed by the latter into eyes. This story enables us to recognise clearly the hidden symbolism of the Hindoo and Egyptian eye, the oval representing the female, and the circle the male lodged therein—i.e., the androgyne creator.