Category Archives: Symbols Series

Symbols {172} ~ The Bishop Fish

The Bishop Fish is a sea creature that looks like a monk with a shaved head. It has a fish-shaped body with scales, a large fin, and its fins resemble claws. It also has a large skull-like head that resembles the miter of a bishop. The legend says that a Bishop Fish was captured in the 1400s by some fisherman and was given to the Polish king. The king kept the fish in captivity. A group of Catholic Bishops requested an audience with the fish. The Bishop Fish communicated to the bishops with gestures that it wanted to be released back into the ocean. The bishops talked to the king and convinced him to release the fish. Upon release, the Bishop Fish gave the bishops the sign of the cross before swimming out to sea. Other Bishop Fish have purportedly been captured but unfortunately, they perished.

According to legend Bishop Fish have the ability to trap a fisherman’s boat in a storm. They enclose the boat in their large fins and hold it captive. The Bishop Fish can find out where the daughter of the fisherman lives. It then takes the daughter and feasts upon her and absorbs her energy. When the Bishop Fish is done eating it releases the ship and the weather clears up.

Symbols {171} ~ Apsaras

Apsaras are feminine shape-shifting spirits of the waters and clouds. They were first water nymphs that were born in the churning ocean. They are found in Hindu, Buddhist, and Asian mythology. Apsaras are often wedded to Gandharvas, heavenly beings from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Apsaras are known to seduce men and gods and dance in the halls of the gods. They were created to pleasure heroes and the gods. Apsaras are linked to good fortune with gaming and gambling. They are also associated with fertility. Some people have compared them to angels from Christianity and muses from Greek mythology.

There are two kinds of apsaras, the worldly or Laukika, and the divine, or Daivika. There are ten total Daivika and thirty-four Laukika. It is believed that when a warrior dies an elephant uses his tusks to throw them into the arms of the Apsaras waiting in heaven. Jealous wives of the soldiers have thrown their bodies on their husband’s funeral pyre to prevent them from meeting the Apsara in heaven. They have been found in many different pieces of literature including the Rigveda, a Vedic Sanskrit collection of hymns which mentions apsaras as does the Natya Shastra, a Sanskrit work about the performing arts. The Mahabharata, a Sanskrit epic also talks about apsaras. Urvashi is one of the divine apsaras that appears in the Rigveda. Her lover was Pururavas, a king of the lunar race. The Rigveda has a hymn dedicated to Urvashi and Pururavas. The Natya Shastra lists many different apsaras.

In the Mahabharata, there are numerous lists of apsaras. Usually, these lists show which apsaras are dancing for the court. Urvashi is mentioned in this text. Urvashi was a dancer in the court where Arjuna, a mortal prince, was visiting his father. Arjuna caught Urvashi’s eye and she tried to seduce him. Arjuna avoided her seduction and Urvashi cursed him to be a eunuch for one year. Tilottama was another divine apsaras who was mentioned in the Mahabharata. She saved the world from Upasunda and Sunda who were brothers. They had almost managed to take over the world when Tiilottama was ordered to cause a rift between them. Tilottama went down to earth and met the two brothers. They both fell instantly in love with Tilottama and ended up killing each other out of love from Tilottama. Another story from the Mahabharata talks about the apsaras Menaka. She was sent to earth by Indra, a guardian deity, who was concerned about Viswamitra who was an ascetic. Viswamitra was creating great energy in the world by practicing his asceticism. Indra sent Menaka down to distract Viswamitra and save the world. As she was approaching Viswamitra, Vayu the wind god blew off her robe. Viswamitra was so overcome by her beauty that they had sex over and over. Because of this coupling, the world was saved.

Apsaras are also found on the stone walls of the Angkorian temples of Cambodia. These temples date back to the 9th century. Apsaras are pictured dancing or ready to dance. These pictures have inspired a dance called the Apsara Dance that the Royal Ballet of Cambodia created in the twentieth century. The dancers narrate religious stories and classical myths with their dance.

In the Malay language, they use the term bidadari to describe apsaras. They are fairies who have magical powers. These apsaras dance in Indra’s heaven. They are celestial maidens to Indra. Indra would send his apsaras to earth to prevent mortals from becoming too engrossed in religious practices. Bali was influenced by the Malay traditions and they have divine maidens in their dances. When Islam was adopted the apsaras became the houri of the Islamic traditions. Houri were the divine maidens of the Islamic culture and when Islam was adopted by Bali the apsaras became holy wives to those who had led a sin-free and holy life on earth.

Temples on the island of Java from the eighth century have depictions of apsaras as do many Buddhist temples in the area from the ninth century. There are also apsaras in the art of the Indic culture dating back to 500 A.D. Apsaras are also found on frescos from 5th century India and Sri Lanka.

Symbols {170} ~ The Uluru

The Uluru or Ayers Rock is the symbol of Australia. It also symbolizes Indigenous land rights. The Uluru is a large natural sandstone formation in the center of Australia and it plays a part in the Aboriginal Dreamtime story. The Aboriginal people believe Uluru was created in the beginning of time by the ten ancestors. The Aborigines believed that the Uluru is one of the original creations from their ancestors and there are many petroglyphs found on the large rock devoted to Dreamtime. By touching the rock Aboriginal people believe that they can communicate with their ancestors and Dreamtime.

Dreamtime is the Aboriginal creation story. With the beginning of Dreamtime came existence, knowledge, and laws. Dreamtime is still continuing today. It is called Dreaming. The world before the Dreamtime was flat and dark. The ancient ancestors broke through the crust of the earth and formed the world as we know it today. The Uluru monument is proof that they broke through the earth and created the natural formations.

The Uluru monument is a sacred site to the Aboriginal people and there are several Dreaming trails present in the area. The monument has been used for ceremonial rites of passage for over 10.000 years. It was originally named Uluru by local Aboriginal tribes. In 1872 a surveyor named it Ayers Rock. In 2002 it was renamed Ulury/Ayers Rock to acknowledge the original Aboriginal name.

Uluru is now a national park where Aboriginal people come and perform ceremonies. The general public is allowed into the park but they are discouraged from climbing Uluru. There are many signs around the park letting the general population know that this is a sacred area for Aboriginal people.

Symbols {169} ~ Rosary

The rosary has a deep history. Before being used as prayer beads in the Catholic church, there were Buddhist rosary beads or mala, that first appeared in the 8th century B.C. Theses mala beads were used to help with meditation in the Buddhist religion. The Hindus also used mala beads when praying. The Hindu female deity Hakini Shakti was depicted with prayer beads. These beads symbolized focus and meditation while using them for prayers. They were used in a guided meditation to help count Chakras. Traditionally there were 108 mala beads on a strand. The king of Malabar was found by Marco Polo using prayer beads in the thirteenth century.

The use of mala beads most likely influenced the creator of the rosary. Early Christian monks who wandered around Egypt and lived the life of hermits developed prayer beads. They used these beads to help keep track of their prayers. In 1214 St. Dominic was said to have had a vision where he saw the Virgin Mary and was given the Rosary. Until the 20th century, the Rosary represented the fifty Hail Mary prayers. The Rosary was officially used in the church starting in 1569. During the 16th through the 20th century, there were fifteen mysteries. Each mystery represented a decade. The mysteries are divided into joyful, sorrowful, and glorious. The mysteries themselves are meditations on different times in the life of Jesus. The joyful focus on the early life, the sorrowful on the life of Jesus up until he was crucified, and the glorious are focused beyond the crucifixion. In the 20th century, the Fatima prayer was added at the end of each mystery. Pope John Paul II added an optional mystery in 2002. It was called the luminous mystery, or mystery of light. This mystery included the Baptism of Jesus, the Wedding in Cana, the proclamation of the kingdom of God, the Transfiguration, and the Institution of the Eucharist. George Preca wrote the mystery of light in 1957 but it was not commonly used until after 2002.

The rosary is used to remedy the hardships of life, temptations, and severe trials. It is a weapon against evil. After confession, a priest may prescribe a rosary in order for a person to come back to Christ through meditation. People can either pray all fifteen mysteries at once or pray one mystery each day. When to pray what mystery is determined by the Catholic church and varies day by day.

A rosary consists of one large bead followed by ten small beads for a total of fifty-nine beads. Each smaller bead represents a step in a mystery while the larger bead is designated for the Lord’s prayer. There is also a cross on the rosary symbolizing Christ. Because of the persecution of the Irish Catholics in the 16th and 17th centuries, smaller ten bead rosary beads were produced that could easily be hidden. They would also use nails or a rooster instead of the cross to help keep the rosary from being noticed. Rosaries can be made from stone, gems, wood, plastic or any other material. Rosaries have also been found as rings in the 15th century. They were usually given to and worn by nuns. Rosary bracelets and cards have also been developed and used. Today you can find rosaries hanging in cars to identify the owner as Catholic.

Symbols {168} ~ Makara

In the Hindu culture, the Makara is a sea creature that is legendary. It is depicted as half land and half sea animal. Ganga the river goddess and Varuna the sea god use the Makara as a vahana, or vehicle. Ancient Indian Vedic describe the Makara as the water monster upon which Varuna rode.

The Makara has been depicted in many ways. It has had the head of an elephant, crocodile, deer, stag and more and the tail of a fish, snake, or seal. Sometimes it is depicted with a floral or peacock tail. The river goddess rides a form of Makara that has the head of a crocodile and the body of a fish. She bestows water, the seed of life to everyone. The crocodile represents intellect when facing problems. Intellect trumps fear and people move to their highest form. A crocodile will leave its eggs after birth. This symbolizes destiny. You are left to swim your whole life while facing your fears. Varuda, the sea god is a punisher of sinful unremorseful people. He rides a crocodile Makara also.

The gods and goddesses Chandi, Vishnu, Shiva, and Surya have all been depicted wearing earrings in the shape of Makara.

In Sri Lanka, the Makara is a symbol of a dragon. It is considered a symbol of self-sufficiency and prosperity. The Makara symbol can be found on the entrances to temples in Sri Lanka, the Hindu and Buddhist temples, and other religious structures.

Makara is also the symbol for Capricorn in astrology. Capricorns are always moving forward and climbing upward to achieve their goals. Capricorn is depicted as a sea-goat with the body of a goat and the tail of a fish. They are a symbol of earth and water combined.

Symbols {167} ~ The Peregrine Falcon

The Peregrine falcon is a powerful bird of prey with keen eyesight. Humans have used falcons to hunt with since 800 B.C. They were used by Native Americans and were considered a symbol of celestial power and ferocity. They buried high-status members of their tribes with falcons and other birds of prey. They were also used by royalty in Western Europe to hunt.

The Peregrine falcon is the mascot of Bowling Green State University and is the official city bird of Chicago. The Peregrine falcon is on the Iowa quarter. It is also the national symbol for the United Arab Emirates.

The Shaheen falcon is on the Pakistan Air Force shield. The Shaheens Green shirts is the nickname for the Pakistan Cricket Team.

The Egyptian God Horus was often depicted as a falcon or having a falcon head. Ra and Sokar are also considered falcon gods. Ancient Egyptians also believed the falcon was the king of the air.

In Viking mythology, Freya, wife of Odin, would change into a falcon to become a fast bird of prey.

In Native American culture, the falcon was thought to live in the Upperworld with the stars, sun, and moon. They were believed to be able to move between the Upperworld and Earth and were considered messengers of the gods. They believed that falcons ruled the Upperworld.

Symbols {166} ~ Falcon

The Peregrine falcon is a powerful bird of prey with keen eyesight. Humans have used falcons to hunt with since 800 B.C. They were used by Native Americans and were considered a symbol of celestial power and ferocity. They buried high-status members of their tribes with falcons and other birds of prey. They were also used by royalty in Western Europe to hunt.

The Peregrine falcon is the mascot of Bowling Green State University and is the official city bird of Chicago. The Peregrine falcon is on the Iowa quarter. It is also the national symbol for the United Arab Emirates.

The Shaheen falcon is on the Pakistan Air Force shield. The Shaheens Green shirts is the nickname for the Pakistan Cricket Team.

The Egyptian God Horus was often depicted as a falcon or having a falcon head. Ra and Sokar are also considered falcon gods. Ancient Egyptians also believed the falcon was the king of the air.

In Viking mythology, Freya, wife of Odin, would change into a falcon to become a fast bird of prey.

In Native American culture, the falcon was thought to live in the Upperworld with the stars, sun, and moon. They were believed to be able to move between the Upperworld and Earth and were considered messengers of the gods. They believed that falcons ruled the Upperworld.

Symbols {165} ~ Blue Jays

Blue jays are symbolic to Native Americans. They are considered air animal totems. Blue jays have brilliant blue wings and a white breast. The blue feathers of the blue jay against the blue sky represent a double clarity and a clear inner vision. They are fearless and will do anything to protect their home and family. Because blue jays prefer to nest in oaks and fir trees they are associated with endurance, strength, and longevity, just like the trees. Blue jays are naturally curious birds and will pick up anything shiny or interesting to them. Blue jays have also been known to mimic other birds and even humans.

In Native American folklore, they play tricksters and are fearless. They help humans in a roundabout, clever way.

Today there are sports teams named after the blue jay. In baseball, there are the Toronto Blue Jays, high school basketball and football teams, and more. The blue jay symbol has also been used for businesses and phone cases. Johns Hopkins offers a Green Blue Jay Award for team members who are committed to sustainability and have shown actions to help with conservation.

Symbols {164} ~ The Condor

The condor was considered one of the most sacred birds that tied the earth and heaven together. The condor is considered the king of the skies and he carries the dead to the underworld. Condors represented the gods of the air to the Incas and they believed that condors carried prayers and received answers from the gods. Native Americans believe that the condor represents goodness, justice, leadership, and wisdom – the four values. The condor was believed to be able to spread its great wings to gather clouds and fertilize the land with rainwater.

The condor plays a part in the Eagle Condor prophecy which states that the people would be divided. Some would follow the eagle, and some would follow the condor. They would live apart and then reunite. When they reunited the eagle would almost destroy the condor, but not quite. They would separate again. Later they would meet again and join as one in unity.

The Andes people believed the condor was a sacred bird. When the Spanish overtook them, the condor became a symbol of freedom and peace. Peruvians considered the condor to be a symbol of the Thunderbird because of their large wingspan.

Today, condors symbolize conservation and thankfulness. They eat the carrion and this symbolizes renewal. We should use what nature gives us wisely. Condors only have one mate and they both are devoted to their babies. They have mastered the Air Element and are a symbol of riding the changing currents in our lives. Native American healers wear condor feathers in their healing rituals.

The condor is the national bird of Columbia, Chili, Bolivia, Argentina, Peru, and Ecuador and appears on their national coat of arms.

Condor

Symbols {163} ~ Quito

Qitou, also called earth spirits, are guardians of tombs in China. They are clay figures that are sometimes glazed. They were popular during the Tang Dynasty from the 7th to the 10th centuries. The main reason Qitou are outside of the tombs is to keep bad influences out of the tombs and to keep the spirits inside the tomb so they do not wander the earth. They are found in pairs outside the tombs. Spirits who want to wander the Earth have encountered difficulty on their way to the afterlife.

The Qitou take the shape of elaborate and heightened animal forms. They can have different heads and wings coming out of their legs. They have also been depicted with human heads on an animal body. All of them usually have flames or crests and horns. The flames may be a representation of the dragon, which is a highly regarded symbol. Dragons symbolize strength, power, and eternal life. Qitou representing lions generally have exaggerated manes with flames and wings. Lions are a symbol of protection in Chinese culture.

The semi-human Qitou have enlarged and longer ears. The elongated ears may date back to the Buddha. The Buddha was born wealthy and his ears stretched from the gold and silver earring he wore. When he gave up his jewelry and other possessions his ears remained long. The bare, elongated earlobes are a sign of spiritual enlightenment.