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~ Pentagrams, Crucifixes and Other Symbols ~

Many of the 'founding fathers' of the USA were Freemasons. The five pointed star, the Pentagram, was an important symbol to them. And so this symbol infuses the US iconography, notable examples are the Great Seal on US currency, on the US flag, and even in the geometry of Washington, DC, wherein the White House is situated in an apex of a great pentagram, clearly seen from satellite photos and road maps. Interestingly, the center of the US Department of Defense is shaped in a pentagram and named the "Pentagon."

"Blazing star" is another term for the pentagram. It has historical ties to Pythagorean symbolism and philosophy as well as mathematics. In the face of many who propose a connection between the ancient roots of the pentagram and modern Satanism is the historical fact that the reversed star, with a downward pointing pentacle, did not appear until the middle 20th century. Reaching back into history will also reveal a use of the pentagram by medieval Christian Kabbalahs as a symbol of the incarnation of Christ from divinity into humanity. It is also used to depict the Star of Bethlehem.

Yes, the prominent users of the pentagram are Wiccan, Neopagan, and Satanic groups. Yet many connections exist to Christianity, preceding the cross. The star can be drawn with one continuous movement without lifting your pen from the paper, starting with the Alpha and ending with the Omega. Jesus proclaimed He is the Alpha and Omega, encompassing all. Yahweh, the primary name of God, written by the Jews as YHVH, transliterates easily into YHShVH or Yheshua, the Hebrew name for Jesus. The Hebrew letter Shin (Sh) was a symbol of fire and spirit, pointing to the Pentecost. Our Scriptures are abundant with connections to the pentagram, as well as are the religious traditions of India, Egypt, China, Central America, in the Babylonian sketches and in the caves of Neolithic dwellers.

The next symbol appearing on the Christian landscape (made significant by St. Augustine) was that of the fish and the play on words: IXOYE, which spells "fish" (Ichthus) in Greek but was an acronym for Iesous (I or Jesus) Christos (X or Christ) Teou (O or God) Uios (Y or Son) Soter (E or Savior.) The early Church Fathers regarded this anagram and symbol to pertain to both the Redeemer and the redeemed. Clement of Alexandria describes the Christ as the "Fisher of men that are saved, who with his sweet life catches the pure fish out of the hostile flood in the sea of iniquity." Tertullian explained, "We little fishes, as Jesus Christ is our great Fish, begin our life in the water, and can only be safe by continuing in the water ... that is if we are faithful to our baptismal covenant, and preserve the grace there received." One of the most striking features of the recent archeological find of what may be the oldest Christian church (in Megiddo, Israel) are the exquisitely preserved mosaics of the Ichthus.

Later came the symbol of the cross, generally depicted with the crucified body of Jesus on it. Fifteen hundred years later, the Protestant reformation decided we "don't worship a dead Christ" (which is true) and the reformist churches kept the cross sans Body of Christ. OK, but today one can go into many churches and see no art, yet alone a cross. St. Paul and the other fathers of our universal church wrote explicitly about remembering, contemplating and gazing upon the crucified Christ. A physical image or a mental one amounts to the same thing. I carry mental images of my loved ones wherever I go. I also delight in pulling out a photo image to gaze upon, not in worship but in a loving embrace. Don't we treasure those? Don't we keep them in a safe and honored place? When I gaze upon our crucified Christ in love and gratitude, I visualize Him on the cross. The Scriptures are clear that His redemptive sacrifice cannot be separated from the cross. 

Yes, a cross without anyone hanging on it may be an indication of the risen Christ. But an empty cross also takes away from us a powerful snapshot of the redemptive sacrifice. Would it not be absurd to attend a funeral wake and peer into an empty casket? "Where is my loved one?" "Well, she/he is not there because she/he is in heaven." "I know that, but when I peer into this casket, I want to see the body of my loved one. I know the spirit is beyond this realm. But I need to see the body, the shell that reminds me of the immortal spirit with whom I will one day be reunited."

Let us be filled with a multiplicity of images! Jesus on the cross; Jesus off the cross; Jesus in the tomb; Jesus out of the tomb; Jesus appearing to His incredulous disciples; Jesus ascending into heaven; Jesus promising us that His Spirit will be with us forever, that it is best He go to the Father so He can infuse us with the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. These are markers of His journey of love, and ours with Him.

Images translate into experiences and ground them as well as elevate them. The splendid sacred imagery of the Christmas season invokes all our senses, from the smells and sounds to the physical depictions. Let us contemplate them and thus be reminded of the realities behind and in them.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
~ Education, Research and Advocacy
   in the Christian Faith ~

Spiritual Resource Services  © December 1, 2005

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