The Cross: Its Origin and Significance (No. 39)
(Edition 3.0 19940625-19991203) Audio
This paper deals with the origin of the cross in history and examines the significance of the cross in human pre-Christian worship. The use of the cross symbol by the Church is examined as is the development of the form in religious symbolism. The relationship of the cross to the second commandment is also examined.
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The Cross: Its Origin and Significance
Bronze Age and Celt
The Enclosed Sun Cross
The Ankh Cross
The Ankh or Handled Cross
The Ankh in the Mysteries
The Ankh and the Resurrection
The Tau Cross
The Gammate Cross
The Cross in Christianity
Mark of the Cross
The Mystery Systems
The Basic System in the East
Extended Cross Symbols
The Crucifixion and Symbols
Shamanism and The World Pole
The Adoption of the Tree
Crosses and Trees
Drury (Dictionary of Mysticism and the Occult) defines the cross as:
An ancient pre-Christian symbol interpreted by some occultists as uniting the male phallus (vertical bar) and the female vagina (horizontal bar). It is also a symbol of the four directions and a powerful weapon against evil.
Berry (Encyclopaedia Heraldica) mentions 385 different crosses. Most are purely decorative or of heraldic significance (ERE, art. Cross, Vol. 4, pp. 324 ff). There are 9 types of crosses which have religious symbolism. These are:
The Greek or equilateral cross;
the so-called Latin cross (crux immissa or capitata) with the lower limb longer than the three others;
the Tau shaped cross (potencée or commissa);
the handled cross (crux ansata);
the St Andrews cross (crux decussata);
the Gammate cross;
the Maltese or rayed cross;
the Lorraine cross with double or triple traverse;
the cross mounted on steps (perronnée).
The cross has become associated with Christianity. It was not, however, an early Christian symbol and, indeed, the Sabbath-keeping Churches have traditionally been iconoclastic and have abhorred the use of the cross symbol as pagan. Indeed, some of the Sabbath-keeping Christians have been martyred for their opposition to the use of crosses in Christian symbolism. The Vandals were iconoclastic Subordinationists who destroyed the idols revered in Greece and Rome.
The Paulicians were iconoclasts as were all the Sabbatati who were associated with or descended from them.
The Paulicians always objected to their rivals worship of the Cross (Armenian, Chazus); therefore the term Chazitzarii, Chazinzarians (Staurolatræ) seems to denote no small sect, but the Established Church of Armenia as viewed by the Paulicians (Whitley ERE, art. Sects, p. 319).
This iconoclastic sentiment went with the Sabbatati throughout Europe. Peter of Bruys taught for some twenty years in the south of France against the excesses of the clergy, and specifically against the use of the cross. The Church authorities wrote against the practice thus:
In your parts the people are re-baptized, the churches profaned, the altars overthrown, crosses burned; on the very day of our Lord’s passion meat is publicly eaten, priests are scourged, monks imprisoned and compelled by terrors and tortures to marry (Whitley, ibid., p. 321; cf. A H Newman Manual of Church History, Philadelphia, 1900, 1. 560).
This prohibition against crosses (as well as the practice of adult baptism) continues in Sabbath-keeping Churches of God to the present. The cross symbol is most ancient and has a number of mystical meanings.
The Greek or equilateral cross is so simple in design that it was used to represent the most basic concepts of flight, armaments and fire production implements. Above all, generally, it was used to represent radiation or space (although, at times, its use was merely ornamental).
[T]he equilateral cross was adopted by the Chaldæo-Assyrians as the symbol of the sky and of its god Anu.
The same people represented the sun and its eight regions by a circle from which eight rays proceeded. By coupling these rays in pairs there was produced the radiated cross which the King of Assyria wore suspended round his neck like the cross worn by a Commander in our orders of knighthood (ERE, ibid., pp. 324-325).
The Assyrian kings were noted by Layard.
The statues of Kings Asurnazirpal and Sansirauman, now in the British Museum, have cruciform jewels about the neck (Layard Monuments of Nineveh, II, pl. IV) (Cath. Encyc., art. Cross, Vol. IV, p. 518).
The cross also appeared among the western Phoenicians.
Cruciform earrings have been found by Father Delattre in Punic tombs at Carthage (ibid.).
The cross has a meaning associated with sun worship. Schliemann has noted the presence of the cross on pottery and whorls of the Troad (the region about Troy) (ERE, ibid., p. 325). It is alternated with the rayed disc and at times the two emblems appear in juxtaposition (ibid.)
The association with Apollo and the sun cults is noted, where Apollo’s sceptre assumes at times the form of a cross (cf. coin of Gallienus reproduced in Victor Duruy’s Hist. des Romains, Paris, 1885, Vol. VIII, p. 42, ERE, ibid.).
The cross is associated with Castor and Pollux on the coin of Caracalla (ibid.).
The Indians used the equilateral cross alternating with a rayed disc. Cunningham (Bhilsa Topes, 1854, pl. xxxi) reproduces an ancient coin where the branches of the cross terminate in arrowheads.
The cross occurred naturally at the forkings of roads and thus became an object of veneration. The Avesta has the formula:
We sacrifice ... at the forkings of the highways and to the meeting of the roads (SBE, xxxi (1887) 291). In ancient India they were not to be deified or obstructed (ibid., xxii (1884) 182, xxxiii. (1889) 158, ERE, Vol. 4, art. Cross-Roads, pp. 330 ff).
The divinities in time became associated with the demonic activities that they were intended to ward off (ibid.).
Bronze Age and Celt
During the bronze age, especially amongst the Gauls, the cross appears frequently on pottery, jewels and coins (G de Mortillet La Signe de le Croix avant le christianisme, Paris, 1866, pp. 44 ff). D’Alviella (ERE, ibid.) considers this emblem to be clearly solar. A statuette of a Gaulish deity, Sucellus, discovered in France in Côte d’Or has a tunic covered all over in crosses. He holds a mallet which symbolises the thunderbolt and a jar or olla in the other hand (see Renel Religions de la Gaul avant le christianisme, Paris, 1906, pp. 252-257).
The cross is found also in Mexico, Peru and significantly in Central America. There they allude to the four winds which are the source of rain. In pre-Columbian America, it was a wind rose. Thus, among the Toltecs, it symbolised the god, Tialoc, who dispensed the celestial waters (see A Réville Religions du Mexique, Paris, 1885, p. 91 & Eng. tr.). Réville holds the Mexican cross to be the tree of fecundity or the tree of life. In the ruins of Palenqué, a bas-relief has been found:
representing persons in the act of adoration before a cross on which rests a fantastic bird, more or less resembling a parrot (ERE, op. cit., p. 325).
D’Alviella says of this that:
Perhaps this was the symbol of the god Quetzalcoatl (the feathered serpent), who himself also according to Réville, stands for a god of the wind (op. cit., p. 82, see also Thomas Wilson The Swastika, 1896, pp. 933 ff. Spence (Cross (American)) notes the use of the world tree which appears here as it does in shamanism generally, ibid., p. 330).
The Dakotas also used the cross to represent the four winds (ERE, ibid., fig. 8) and as such this appears to have been a symbol of shamanism. The American cross may have assumed a solar or stellar character from shells found in the mounds of New Mexico (ibid., figs. 9 & 10; see also Spence, ibid.).
The early symbolism of the cross was expressed in the Chinese ideogram of the word for earth which is an equilateral cross within a square. D’Alviella quotes Samuel Beal (Indian Antiquary, 1880, p. 67) that:
there is found in China even the dictum ‘God fashioned the earth in the form of a cross’
and goes on to note the curious analogous symbolism in the writings of the theologian Jerome on the cross:
(Com in Marcum) what is it but the form of the world in its four directions? [Ipsa species crucis, quid est nisi forma quadrata mundi?]. The east is represented by the top, the north by the right limb (looking from the cross), the south by the left, the west by the lower portion (ERE, op. cit., p. 326).
It is unlikely that the Chinese ideogram was borrowed directly into Christianity in Jerome’s structure but, rather, it is more probable that the shamanism involved in the Chinese structure had penetrated all the systems.
The Enclosed Sun Cross
David Talbot (The Saturn Myth, Doubleday, NY, 1980) notes in Chapter 6 The Enclosed Sun Cross, the sign as occurring in many nations from Egypt through the Middle East to India and China; from Crete to Scandinavia; from Alaska to South America.
The enclosed sun cross appears to represent the four rivers of paradise. The Bible refers to this as the river which went out from Eden and parted into four heads. Tradition has it that the four rivers flowed in opposite directions. The tradition is found among the Navaho Indian narration of the Age of Beginnings. This tradition is also found in the story of the Chinese Paradise of Kwen-lun. The four rivers also appear in the Hindu Rig Veda, and the Vishnu Purana identifies the four streams as the paradise of Brahma at the world summit. They, too, flow in four directions (Talbot, ibid.). This story is found among the Iranian myths concerning the central font of Ardi Sura, and is the Sea of Life of the Siberian Kalmuks. The Mandaeans of Iraq maintain the same tradition as Genesis; as the Babylonians also spoke of the Land of the Four Rivers.
The home of the Greek goddess Calypso, in the navel of the sea, also had the central fountain from which four streams emanated in opposite directions.
The Scandinavian Edda speaks of the origin of the world’s waters in the spring Hvergelmir in the land of the gods. The Slavs had them originate from the magic stone Alatuir in the island paradise of Bonyan. Talbot notes that Brinton finds the four mystic rivers among the Sioux, Aztecs and Maya as Fornander discovered them in Polynesian myth (Talbot, p. 121).
Few, if any, of the nations possessing the memory can point to any geographical source of the imagery. Thus, when the Babylonians invoke Ishtar as Lady, Queen of the land of the Four Rivers of Erech, or when the Egyptian text at Dendera celebrate the four Niles at Elephantine, the imagery is of an ancient mythology with no actual reality in the geography surrounding them. Talbot holds that the reason for the disparity between the mythical and terrestrial landscapes is that the four rivers flowed, not on our earth, but through the four quarters of the polar "homeland" (Talbot, p. 121). Talbot (ibid.) holds that for every dominant myth there are corresponding signs. The sign of the four rivers is the sun cross and the enclosed sun cross,
the latter sign illuminating the former by showing that the four streams belong to the primeval enclosure. Issuing from the polar center (i.e., the central sun), the four rivers flow to the four corners of Saturn’s Earth (emphasis added).
Thus, the concept embodied in the Genesis story (Gen. 2:10), whilst having a specific geography attributed to the four rivers, also represents a basic theme of the rivers of living water which flowed from the central source which was God through His morning star which at that time was Satan.
Thus, the central source which supplied the lands of Africa as well as the Tigris and Euphrates had a spiritual significance which has been attributed to the Babylonian religious system down to Ishtar and on to the Egyptians as well as throughout the world via shamanism as it was developed from the central system. The Babylonian system was, in essence, Animism (see Budge Babylonian Life and History, 2nd ed., London, 1925).
Thus to the ancients, the four corners of the world had a specific cosmological meaning which referred not to geography but to the map of the celestial kingdom. Talbot quotes O’Neill as one of the few scholars to recognise this quality of the mythical "four corners".
It results from any full study of the myths symbolism and nomenclature of the Four Quarters that these directions were viewed in the strict orthodoxy of heavens mythology, not as the NSEW of every spot whatever, but four heaven-divisions spread out around the "pole".
The sun-cross ... as the symbol of the four quarters, belongs to the central sun. In sacred cosmography the central position of the sun god often becomes the "fifth" direction. To understand such language, it is convenient to think of the mythical "directions" (or arms of the cross) as motions or flows of energy. From the great god the elements of life flow in four directions. The god himself, who embodies all the elements, is "firm," "steadfast," or "resting"; his fifth motion is that of rotation while standing in one place.
The "directions" can also be conceived as regions: the central (fifth) region and the four quarters spaced around it.
This is why the Pythagoreans regarded the number five as a representative of the fixed world axis. The Pythagorean idea clearly corresponds with the older Hindu symbolism of the directions. In addition to the standard four directions, Hindu doctrine knows a fifth, called the "fixed direction" the polar center (Talbot, pp. 122-123).
Talbot also identifies this idea with China and also in Mexican Nahuatl symbolism with five as the number of the centre (ibid.).
Thus, we are dealing with a very serious form of idolatry in the symbolism of the cross as a representation here of sun worship.
It must also be recalled that this process of the four divisions of the celestial system is represented not only by the division of Israel into the four groups of three tribes around the tabernacle as typified by Numbers 10. It must also be understood that the very symbols used to denote these tribes, such as the Bull (of Ephraim), the Lion (of Judah), the Serpent/Eagle (of Dan) and the Aquarian Man of Reuben, are themselves representative of the divisional symbols of the Covering Cherubs of God’s Government, represented in Revelation 4:7-9. These Lion-headed, Bull-headed, Eagle-headed and Man-headed creatures are the four archangels, the Seraphim or Covering Cherubs of God’s Government. Thus, by the appropriation of the symbolism to sun worship, we are seeking to transfer the centrality of the authority of God the Father to the Man-headed Cherub who was Azazel, now Satan. The sun cross is, thus, the symbol of the rebellion. This cross symbolism is then transferred into various aspects of idolatry and is then imported into Christianity with further idolatrous consequence.
The Ankh Cross
The Ankh or Handled Cross
The handled cross (or cross potencée) is in the form of a T produced by suppressing the upper limb of the Latin cross (which we have seen in the sun symbols derived from the Chaldeo-Assyrian systems). The sign is attributed magical virtue even today. This sign, called the Tau cross from the Greek letter tau, derives from the veneration of the Egyptians from their pre-historic days to the handled cross or key of life which is a cross potencée surmounted by a handle forming the symbol known as an Ankh (see ERE, fig. 11).
The Ankh is seen, from most ancient monuments, in the hand of a god, priest or king (D’Alviella, ibid.) and with the goddess Sekhet (Cath. Encyc., Vol. IV, p. 518).
Budge notes the names of the serpents which guarded the corridors in the kingdom of the god Seker. These are nine in number which equates with the gods of the shamanic ascent. Of these, the first, third and ninth derive their names from the use of Ankh. Ankh is the second hieroglyph for Narti-ankh-em-sen-f the first named serpent, or the first for Ankh-em-fentu and Ankh-em-beu-mit for the third and ninth serpents (see Budge The Book of the Dead, Arkana, London, xcv f).
The Ankh in the Mysteries
The symbolism of the Ankh as a key to life is not confined to the Egyptians and appears with the Romans in the god Janus as the opener. The precursor to this appears to have been the Phrygian goddess Cybele who was linked by the Greeks with the mother goddess Rhea.
Cybele’s priests known as Corybantes and her worshippers offered her passionate and intense homage bewailing the death of her lover Attis with solemn ceremonies, chanting and prayers, and then indulging in frenzy, jubilation, and song to herald his spiritual rebirth (Drury, loc. cit., p. 54). Thus the symbolism, particularly of the keys and control of death and rebirth, was easily transferred to Christianity.
The observation of the keys in the Aeon theology (see Ulansey The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, Oxford, 1989) indicates that it is of wide dispersion in the orient and has a symbolism that is not yet fully understood.
The Ankh and the Resurrection
Archaeologists last century (and until even now) were divided on the symbolism of the Ankh. It was held to be:
A Nilometer (Plucke);
the key of a canal lock (Zoega);
a jar upon an altar (Ungarelli);
a degenerate form of the winged globe (Layard);
a phallus (Jablonski); and
an Egyptian loin cloth (Sayce).
In the tomb paintings, it appears to be employed by the divinities to awaken the dead to a new life. The 12th dynasty bas-relief shows the goddess Anukit holding the extremity of the Ankh to the nostrils of the king Usertesen III:
I give thee life, stability, purity, like Ra, eternally.
Elsewhere ,the Ankh symbolises life, living (cf. Coemans Manuel de langue égyptienne, Ghent, 1887, Pt. 1, p. 46, D’Alviella, op. cit.).
The handled cross thus signifies the resurrection and its use precedes Christianity. The allocation of the keyed or handled cross is thus indicative of the authority, entities or system to raise the dead. D’Alviella holds that from Egypt it became a magic or propitiatory sign which spread to the Phoenicians and to the whole Semitic world.
Its presence has been noted on bas-reliefs, tombs, pottery, jewels, coins, from Sardinia to Susiana, along the shore of Africa, in Phrygia, Palestine, and Mesopotamia. Upon monuments of Phœnician or Hittite origin it is held in the hands of kings or priests, as with the Egyptians and is associated with the tree of life and the lotus flower. Its extreme symbolical importance led the peoples who borrowed it from the Egyptians to combine it with such emblems of their own as presented an analogous form or suggested a cognate idea. Thus the Phœnicians derived from it a mixed emblem, in which the handled cross is grafted upon the cone representing the goddess Astarte or Tanit, ‘she who gives life’ (see fig. 12).
The Greeks anthropomorphosed it so as to reproduce the features of their goddess of life - Aphrodite, Harmonia, Artemis of Ephesus etc. (see fig. 13) (D’Alviella, op. cit., p. 326).
There is no doubt that the use of the cross associated with the symbols of the resurrection and new life are hopelessly intermingled with the theology of the ancients.
The Tau Cross
The Gauls came to use the Tau or T cross to stand for the hammer of Thor who was not only an engine of destruction but, as with a storm, an instrument of life and fecundity. With the Egyptians, the two headed mallet became, in the hieroglyphs, the Latin cross with the meaning of crusher or avenger (see de Harlez Le Culte de la croix avant le christianisme, La Science catholique, 15 Feb 1890, p. 163).
D’Alviella states that in Egypt there have been found a whole series of signs which mark the transition from a handled cross or cross ansata to the chi-ro or monogram of Christ.
D’Alviella (op. cit.) states that:
The handled cross or a similar sign is met with also in India and also in America, where it is found engraved on monuments in the ruins of Palenqué, as well as on pieces of pottery recovered from the mounds.
In a Maya manuscript two persons appear to be in the act of adoration before a tree which affects the form T, and where a parrot-like bird has taken the place of the upper arm of the cross (see fig. 16) (D’Alviella, ibid.).
The Gammate Cross
The Gammate cross or swastika is, despite its apparently complicated form, next to the equilateral cross, the most widely diffused throughout antiquity. D’Alviella states it to exist in Hissarlik (the site of Ancient Troy) from the second or burnt city (op. cit., p. 327) and on the womb of a female idol (also common to the goddess Athis (Cath. Encyc., art. Cross, Vol. IV, p. 517)). It appears on Hittite monuments (ibid.; cf. The Monuments of the Hittites in Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, VII. 2, p. 259) and on Galatian and Bythnian monuments (Guillame and Perrot Exploration archéologique de la Galatie et de la Bythnie, Atlas, pl. IX, Cath. Encyc., ibid.).
The Gammate cross occurs from the second period of Greek ceramics and is on the ancient vases of Athens, Rhodes and Cyprus (D’Alviella, ibid.). It is on coins of Lycia and Gaza in Palestine (Cath. Encyc., op. cit.). It accompanies the image of the Persian Artemis on a vase of Thera. It adorns the vulva of an Asiatic goddess (ibid.). It appears on earthenware vessels in Cyprus (Cath. Encyc., op. cit.). It originally represents as a flying bird at Athens and Mycenae (Cath. Encyc., op. cit.). It also appears on the breast of Apollo standing upon a quadriga (cf. Goblet d’Alviella The Migration of Symbols, London, 1894, pl. i. (vase in Vienna)).
The swastika appears on Hellenistic coins in both Greece and the Mediterranean and on funeral vases in North Italy (ibid.) and most frequent in Etruria and in urns in Capanna di Corneto, Bolsena, and Vetulonia and a Samnite tomb of Capua (Cath. Encyc., op cit.). The sign is found on Pompeian mosaics, Italo-Grecians vases, and coins of Syracuse of Sicily. The Catholic Encyclopedia states it is unknown in Assyria, Phoenicia and Egypt.
The Gammate cross appears on jewels and weapons of Gallic, German and Scandinavian peoples (D’Alviella op. cit.).
It appears on rock carvings in Sweden, on some Celtic stones in Scotland and on Celtic stones found in the County of Norfolk, England (Cath. Encyc., op. cit.). On those of the Caucasus, it goes back to the Bronze age.
[W]ith the wheel and the thunderbolt it adorns the votive altars of the Gallico-Roman period, from Aquitane to Great Britain (D’Alviella, ibid.).
It extended into Africa with Roman pagans.
The swastika appears in an epitaph on a pagan tombstone of Tebessa in Roman Africa (Annuaire de la Société de Constantine, 1858-59, 205,87), on a mosaic of the ignispicium (Ennio Quirino Visconti, Opere varie, ed. Milan, I, 141, sqq.) and on a Greek votive inscription in Porto. In this last inscription the swastika is imperfect in form and resembles a Phoenician letter (Cath. Encyc., op. cit.).
On a Hittite monument in Lycaonia, it appears on the border of a robe of a person offering sacrifice (ibid.).
In India, it is named swastika (from swas or well and asti, it is) when the limbs are turned to the right and sauvastika when they are turned to the left. It appears there on silver ingots and the coins that replaced them. It is employed extensively within Buddhism, especially on the Buddhapada or bas-relief footprints of Buddha in the Stupa of Amaravati.
It appears extensively in Buddhism in China and Japan, being pre-eminent on the pedestals of the statues of Buddha and the Bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism. The Mahayana structure may well derive from the shamanic influence. In China, the swastika conveys plurality, abundance and long life (Wilson The Swastika, p. 799). In Japan, it represents 10,000 and, therefore, abundance and prosperity (D’Alviella quoting BSAL, 1881, p. 191).
The Empress Wu (684-704) of the Tang dynasty decreed its use as a sign for the sun (Yang y Yu, Wilson, ibid., pl. 2).
Hinduism uses the sign on account books and on the threshold of their houses on certain occasions.
The swastika, representing the male principle or the god Ganesa, is distinguished from the sauvastika, representing the female principle and the goddess Kali (Birdwood Old Records of the India Office, London, 1891, p. x f, D’Alviella, ibid.). The swastika in an extended sense stands for the sun in its diurnal course, for light and life; the second for night and destruction. The Jains have the swastika as the emblem for the seventh of their twenty four saints or Tirthankaras (Colebrooke On the Jainas Asiatic Researches, Calcutta, 1788-1836, p. 308).
The Gammate cross appears on bronze articles among the Ashanti in Africa and also in Paraguay, Costa Rica and Yucatan. In the Maya city of Mayapan, the cross appears with an image of a solar disc on a stone slab exactly as it appears in Gaul, Italy, Asia Minor, East India. It appears among crosses engraved in shell and copper in North America and is used by the Pueblo for decoration. The Gammate cross is used as a good omen except where the suavastika is used. The most ancient places of its use are Hissarlik and the terramares of North Italy – although D’Alviella allows that it may have been borrowed from the valley of the Danube during the Bronze Age (ibid.). From here, it is allowed to have spread to the west and to China and Japan in the east. The spread to America may have occurred in the influences indicated by Gordon (Before Columbus).
The Cross in Christianity
Mark of the Cross
The spread of the symbol of the cross into Christianity developed much as the Trinity and the record occurs with the same writer, Tertullian (de Corona 3). He asserted that at every step the Christians marked their foreheads with a little sign of the cross. The usage referred to by Tertullian drew the charge of idolatry.
The Coptic church adopted the Ankh as the emblem of the cross (Gayet and de Mortillet; cf. Cath. Encyc., art. Cross, Vol. IV, p. 518).
it is plain that the great mass of Christians attached a magical value to this sign.
At all events they used it as a form of exorcism, a means of warding off unclean spirits. One of the most ancient portable crosses, found in a Christian tomb at Rome, bears the inscription Crux est vita mihi; mors, inimice, tibi (The cross is life to me; death, O enemy [the devil], to thee). Soon the cross came to work miracles of itself. People went the length of marking cattle with it to protect them from disease (op. cit., p. 328).
Didron, the Roman Catholic archaeologist, asserted that the cross was more than a figure of Christ:
it is in iconography, Christ himself or his symbol.
Thus a legend has been created around it as if it were a living being; thus it has been made the hero of an epopee germinating in the Apocrypha; growing in the Golden Legend; unfolding and completing itself in the works of sculpture and painting from the 14th to the 16th century (Histoire de Dieu, 1843, p. 351, D’Alviella, ibid.).
Roman Catholic writers admit that the cross has become the object of a veritable cult. Didron states:
The cross has received a worship similar if not equal to that of Christ; this sacred wood is adored almost equally with God himself (ibid.).
Strangely enough, the early Christians, in spite of the importance they attached to the cross refrained from reproducing it in their iconography.
During the first three centuries, with possibly the single exception of an equilateral cross cut on a sepulchral inscription (assigned by de Rossi to the end of the 2nd or beginning of the 3rd centuries), D’Alviella states the cross of Christ to be invariably dissimulated under the form of an object which recalls its image: a trident, an anchor, a ship with rigging or under the forms of the cross already employed by other cults (emphasis added, D’Alviella, ibid.). The argument is difficult to resist that the cross was introduced to the Christian system from the Mystery cults along with the other forms of worship which gradually took over Christianity and which had no part of the early church.
These forms, such as Sunday worship and the festivals of Easter and Christmas, came from the Sun cults (see Bacchiocchi From Sabbath to Sunday, Rome, 1977). The symbol of chi-ro was in use at the close of the third century. The Latin cross appears on certain coins of Constantine which appeared with symbols of Mars and Apollo on the same coins. The symbols of the cross and chi-ro were suppressed by Julian. But after this time, the symbol appeared upon coins and even upon the Imperial diadem (D’Alviella, op. cit., p. 329).
The Mystery Systems
Tracing the influences of the Mystery systems is not all that difficult. The influence of the Hyperborean Celts should not be underestimated. The temple legend of Delos connects the worship of Apollo with the Hyperboreans who were thought of as living on the banks of the Danube (Burnet Early Greek Philosophy, 4th ed., Black, London, 1958, pp. 81 ff). Ulansey (op. cit.) has identified the many Mithras temples in this area and the links between the Danubian and Aegean civilisations were many. The connection of Pythagoras with Delos is noted and the spread of his system to Italy commenced with his school. The northern religion spread in the Dionysian form in Thrace and this was more influential than the Delian (Burnet, ibid.). From this system came the ecstatic forms.
The Hyperborean Celts allegedly had a triad or threefold system of gods (Lucan Pharsal. 1:444) named Teutates, Taranis and Esus (which could have formed the etymological basis for the Greek iesous) (see ERE, art. Celts, pp. 280 ff).
Trees were revered in the shamanic systems and the birch was sacred to the northern shamans. The cult of tree worship existed in the Celts. The cult of the oak formed the Celtic image of Zeus (Max. Tyr. Diss., viii, 8), and had a sacrosanct character (Pliny HN, xvi.44; cf. ERE, ibid., p. 295).
The oak was held to embody the spirit of vegetation and was cut down for the annual solstice fires which magically aided the sun (ibid.). In Ireland, the ash and yew rather than the oak were venerated (Stokes R Cel., i, 259) and certain trees called bile were associated with kings and were too sacred to be cut down or burnt (Stokes xv, 420 etc., ERE, ibid.). The Irish Milesian alphabet, the Bobelloth or Beith-Luis-Nion has only 18 letters which of themselves are representative of the sacred trees in a specific order. The Druids gave the alphabet to the people based on their cosmological view. The letters in romanised form with the Irish names first (the latin names in brackets) and the English last are:
B: Beith (Betulla) or Birch;
L: Luis (Ornus) or Wild Ash;
F: Fearn (Alnus) or Alder;
S: Suil (Salix) or Willow;
N: Nion (Fraxinus) or Ash;
H: Huath (Oxiacanthus) or White thorn;
D: Duir (Ilex) or Oak;
T: Timne (not explained);
C: Coll (Corylus) or Hazel;
M: Muin (Vitis) or Vine;
G: Gort (Hedera) or Ivy;
P: Peth-boc (not explained);
R: Ruis (Sambucus) or Elder;
A: Ailm (Abies) or Fir Tree;
O: Onn (Genista) or Broom;
U: Ur (Erix or Erica) or Heath;
E: Egdhadh (Tremula) or Aspen;
I: Idho (Taxus) or Yew.
The fifth letter nion was the third in ancient times and the characters have degenerated (cf. O’Flaherty Ogygia, Pt. 3, cap. 30) (MacGeoghegan and Mitchell History of Ireland, Sadlier, New York, 1868, p. 40).
This would, in effect, relocate the alder to the month assigned to its religious significance by the Mystery cults and the Hyperboreans as noted below. The Druids were also noted not to commit their Mysteries to writing but Caesar says, for public acts, they made use of Greek characters (Bel. Gal. and MacGeoghegan, ibid., pp. 39 & fn. 42). The Greeks to which the Irish were exposed were the ancient Greeks referred to by Camden as the Græci Vetustissimi (Brit,. p. 20 in MacGeoghegan, p. 42). The modern Greeks (cf. Herodotus) and the Romans (Polybius) were not acquainted with Britain (ibid.).
MacGeoghegan holds that the Druids came into Spain from Egypt with the Gadelians and they followed the Milesians into Ireland from whence they spread themselves subsequently into Britain, Gaul and other countries of Europe (p. 42). The confinement of the Druids (or Magi as they were called) to this avenue may be correct in that the Danubian route had similar but some distinctive aspects of the Mysteries. The Milesian alphabet is akin to Hebrew rather than Greek in that each letter stands for a substantive – in the Irish case, only for trees.
In the Hebrew, it is general in that Aleph signifies a guide or conductor, Beth a house etc. The general extent of the Phoenicians, whose language was Punic and a variant of Hebrew together with the Canaanitic form of the Milesian alphabet, more closely resembles the Egyptian hieroglyphic, which might support a Phoenician base rather than a Greek. Thus, the composition of the Magi, Egyptian and Phoenician influences would explain the coincidental symbolism.
The Druids also used a form of writing termed Oghum-crev and Oghum-coll which resembled the branches of trees, particularly the Hazel (cf. Ware’s Antiquities, MacGeoghegan, op. cit., p. 40). This was done to conceal certain records from the masses.
The association of tree cults with ancestor worship and with animist forms generally is noted by the ERE at page 295 and the naming of tribes after trees. The German (?) Celts have a lofty oak as the image of Zeus which may have been rudely shaped as one of the images of gods referred to by Lucan (Pharsal., iii.412 ff; cf. ERE, p. 301). These pillar stones and images were revered as images of the dead (ibid.), probably stemming from shamanism. The mallet and cup which became identified as the tau cross is identified as the symbols (of creative power and plenty) borne by Dispater, the wheel of the sun-god, the cornucopia and torque carried by Cernunnos (ibid.).
Other symbols occur on images, altars, coins, etc.; but their meaning is doubtful, and in many instances they are not purely Celtic, but of world-wide occurrence. These include the swastika and triskele (perhaps sun symbols), single and concentric circles (sometimes with rays), crosses, and a curious S figure. The circles and crosses are often incised on bronze images of Dispater, the S occurs on coins, and nine of these S symbols hang from a ring carried by the god with the wheel. Various explanations of this figure have been given; the most probable is that which recognises it as a thunderbolt (ERE, ibid., pp. 301-302).
The wheel is most probably the wheel of rebirth which formed the basis of the transmigration system of the Hyperboreans and which originally prompted the rise of philosophy in opposition to it or as a means of escape from the wheel.
The doctrine of transmigration of souls was observed among the Druids by Caesar (vi. 14, 19). Diodorus (v. 28) and Valerius Maximus (ii. 6, 10) connect the Druidic doctrine of immortality with the teaching of Pythagoras. The Druidic doctrine shows no trace of the Pythagorean expiatory transmigration (ERE, op. cit., p. 302). Both taught immortality that was in fact of a bodily kind, i.e. that the soul passed from body to body. Thus the soul manifested itself in bodily form. The Pythagorean system appears to be a development on this primary Druidic form. The ERE considers that Caesar’s quote may be a mistranslation of a Greek original.
The Druidic doctrine probably resembled the ancient Vedic idea that the soul received its old body complete and glorified in another region. Bodily existence in another region is mentioned by Lucan...(Pharsal., i. 456 f) Timagenes (ap. Amm. Marc. xv.9), Strabo (IV. iv), and Mela (iii.2) speak only of the immortality of the soul; but Mela’s passage suggests bodily existence also, as it speaks of debts passed on to the next world (ERE, art. Celts, p. 302).
The concepts of debt passed on became a variant of the Vedic system and was present in Greece from at least the second century before the birth of Christ. The later transmigration system was probably a refinement of the original. The Celts continued to influence Greek thought from the north.
The transmigration of souls and their existence in the bodies of the dead was the factor which caused them to rise from the grave, particularly on All Saints’ eve. Many of the customs associated with the cross are aimed at limiting the occurrence or the power of these spirits of the dead. The incidence of such activity is identified particularly with cross roads and with particular deities. The incidence of boundary stones at roadsides and the fact that roads often marked boundaries appears to have assisted the establishment of the belief in demonic and spirit activity at cross roads. This concept was extant even through Melanesia and Polynesia (see Brown Melanesians and Polynesians, 1910, p. 339, art. Cross-Roads op. cit., p. 332). The divinities at cross roads often took on aspects of the evil powers they were supposed to provide protection from, as was the case with the goddess Hecate.
The triad became associated with the cross in the form of the rituals which entered Greece from the Celts and Germans associated with the cult of the goddess Hecate. The symbolism of the worship of divinities at cross roads was worldwide.
The Basic System in the East
In India, the cross roads were the abode of sinister gods, especially Rudra, who was propitiated at a yearly festival of the dead by a sacrifice of cakes, the offering to Rudra Tryambaka, for the deliverance of descendants from his power (Satapatha Brahmana, SBE, xii, 1882, 408, 438). Thus the festival of baking cakes has parallels into India. The cross roads are also the halting place of the Agnis (ibid., p. 439). Mantras are said to Rudra at paths and cross roads (ERE, ibid.). The propitiation of lesser divinities also happens such as the propitiation of Nirriti goddess of destruction, and also of the Raksasas (or the giants).
In Japan, phallic symbols (chimata-no-kami or road-fork-gods) were set up on roads and worshipped at cross roads and waysides.
The symbols were said to have been produced by the articles thrown down by Izanagi in his flight from Hades, or at his purification (ERE, Vol. II, p. 700b). Other phallic symbols (sahi-no-kami or preventive deities) were worshipped at roads and cross roads, becoming a popular cult of protectors of travellers who were the object of divination, prayer and worship prior to journeys. This system of cult worship was the basis for the establishment of the shrines and deities under the different titles and guises met with in religious systems worldwide. It is based on the doctrine of the soul and the propitiation of animist deities and the objects associated with them. Regardless of the form of the cult it is shamanism.
The phallic origin of these gods and the:
well-known property ascribed to the sexual organs as warders off of evil spirits, their protective powers against demoniac and pestilential influences, and their ultimate position as gods of travellers recall the position of the Greek’s Hermes and the Hermæ (cf. p. 333b).
The Teutons held a yearly procession of their god or goddess, either Frey, Nerthus, Holda, Berchta, etc., round each district for the purpose of promoting fertility (Tac. Germ. 40; Grimm, 213,251,268,275). The later traditions seem to attribute the wandering host as demoniac. The divinity no longer repelled but was subject to these influences.
On the other hand, it is not impossible that offerings were laid at cross-roads for the divinities to partake of in their aerial wanderings, as in the case of Hecate (ERE, op. cit., p. 333).
Hecate in Greek mythology had magical powers and took different forms. As a lunar goddess she was identified with Artemis, and as a goddess of the underworld she was closely associated with Persephone. She had a frightening appearance with snakes in her hair and was attended by howling dogs. Sacrifices to her were made in the annual festivals on the island of Aegina and magicians and witches sought her aid (Drury, loc. cit., p. 113).
The worship of Hecate came into Greece from the North. Her images stood at cross roads, as probably did other Teutonic deities.
This is suggested by traces of a cult to gods or ghosts of the dead at cross-roads (the haunt of souls) anathematized by the Church. Prayers, offerings and the consumption of such offerings, votive offerings (vota; pedum similtudines quas per bivia ponunt), and the ritual lightings of candles and torches at cross-ways (bivia, trivia) are all forbidden, and the prohibitions probably apply to Celtic as well as to Teutonic custom (S. Eligius and Burchard, in Grimm, 1738,1744; de la Saussaye Religion of the Teutons, Boston, 1902, p. 290; cf. ERE, op. cit., p. 333).
The prohibition by the church of sitting on a bull’s hide to consult the future is indicative of the custom of sacrifice there (ibid.). The custom of sacrifice at cross-roads resulted in the 14th century witch trials at Ossory (incl. Alice Kyteler; cf. ERE, ibid.).
Hecate as Hecate trioditis was associated with the Mystery cults; Apollo in Thrace, Demeter at Sparta, and Hecate at Aegina. The divulgence of the Mysteries by Orpheus resulted in his death (Pausanius: ix.30.3; ii.30.2; iii.14.5).
The Elysian Mysteries derive from the cult of the alder tree (French sorb-apple = alisier; Spanish alder = aliso). Orpheus’ father Oeagrus means of the wild sorb apple. If Orpheus stands for ophruoeis or on the river bank, then it may be a title for the Greek Phoroneus or Cronus and refer to the alders growing on the Peneius and other rivers. Thus the alder, and hence the two entities, appear to be names for the pre-Hellenic river goddess Halys, Alys or Elis, queen of the Elysian islands where Phoroneus, Cronus, and Orpheus went after death.
Orpheus’s singing head is similar to the myth of the decapitated Alder-god Bran who (according to the Mabinogion) sang sweetly on the rock at Harlech in Wales.
Orpheus has monuments in Zone in Thrace and the Orphic dances are based here. Orpheus was associated with the sun god Apollo and became part of the Dionysian cult.
The cultic island of Aornum is Avernus, an Italic variant of the Celtic Avalon or Apple tree island (Graves The Greek Myths, Vol. 1, pp. 113-114). Thus the cult has Celtic interrelationship and the names for a series of deities are, in fact, synonymous. The legend of Orpheus is held to be a variant of the Mithraic Mysteries. Because, when Dionysius invaded Macedonia or Thrace, Orpheus did not pay due homage to him but officiated as priest of the sun-god Helius who he named Apollo, Dionysius set the Maenads (who represented the Muses) upon him in Deium in Macedonia. They burst into the temple and first murdered their husbands and then killed Orpheus. Orpheus was held to be slain with the double headed axe which symbolised the thunderbolt. He was slain and then dismembered by the Maenads (at the behest of Dionysius) in an oak grove (Graves, Vol. 1, quoting Diodorus Siculus, p. 114) at the summer solstice. The Maenads were held to be of the bull cult, like Zagreus (see Graves, 30.a) or of the stag cult like Acteons (see Graves, 22.i). Graves says:
This Orpheus did not come into conflict with the cult of Dionysius; he was Dionysius, and he played the rude alder-pipe, not the civilized lyre. Thus Proclus’ (Commentary on Plato’s Politics, p. 398) writes[:] Orpheus because he was the principal in the Dionysian rites, is said to have suffered the same fate as the god.
and Appolodorus (i.3.2) credits him with having invented the Mysteries of Dionysius (Graves, 28.2).
The Milesian legend of the death of Tighernmas, slaughtered on All Saints Day for the worship of Crom Cruadh (MacGeoghegen, p. 63), has a similarity of type. MacGeoghegan alleges this to be for the introduction of idolatry to the Milesians, who until then, as descendants of the Gadelians in Spain, were Monotheist (the Iberes were Thobelites (Josephus A of J, VI.1)). They had worshipped the One True God (allegedly from exposure to a pre-exodus Israel). The Tuatha De Danaan, in Ireland before them, had worshipped sun, moon and sometimes the plough. But under the Druids, the Milesians began to worship Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Apollo, sun, moon and wind as well as mountain forest and river gods (MacGeoghegan, p. 63).
Thus the complex was of a shamanistic base with sun worship and the middle-eastern cosmology superimposed upon them, seemingly from an Egyptian base.
Graves holds that the novel worship of the sun as All-father seems to have been brought to the northern Aegean by the fugitive priesthood of the monotheistic Akhenaton, in the fourteenth century BCE and grafted upon the local cults; hence, Orpheus’ alleged visit to Egypt. Records of this faith are found in Sophocles (Fragments 523 and 1017) where the sun is referred to as ‘the eldest flame, dear to the Thracian horsemen’, and as ‘the sire of the gods, and father of all things’.
Grave states that the cult was bloodily suppressed but that:
later Orphic priests, who wore Egyptian costume, called the demi-god whose raw bull’s flesh they ate ‘Dionysius’, and reserved the name Apollo for the immortal Sun: distinguishing Dionysius the god of the senses from Apollo the god of the intellect (ibid., 28.3).
The descent of Orpheus into Tartarus, which biblically is the pit reserved only for the rebel angelic Host (2Peter 2:4), is again of significance in the identification of the central theme of the Mystery cults and the nature of the Tauroctony or the bull slaying. Orpheus’ music on his descent into Tartarus had charmed the snake goddess Hecate or Agriope (savage face) into giving special privileges to all spirits (ghosts) initiated into the Orphic Mysteries. The descent of Dionysius into Tartarus in search of his mother Semele (Graves, 27.k) is mirrored by Orpheus, Dionysius’ priest.
Graves says the Greek alder cult was suppressed in very early times, yet vestiges of it remain in classical literature: alders enclose the death-island of the witch goddess Circe (Homer Odyssey, vv. 64 and 239) and she also had a willow grove cemetery at Colchis (Appollonius Rhodius, iii 220) (see Graves, 152.b) and, according to Virgil, the sisters of Phaëthon were metamorphosed into an alder thicket.
The calendar is divided into a sacral tree sequence. The alder month is the fourth of the sequence and the willow month, associated with water magic and sacred to the goddess Helice (willow, Graves, 44.1) follows it (Graves, 28.5).
The river Helicon (from Helice) curves around Parnassus and is sacred to the Muses – the Triple Mountain-goddess of inspiration.
Hence Orpheus was shown in a temple painting at Delphi (Pausanius,: x.30.3) leaning against a willow tree and touching its branches (Graves ibid.).
Thus, we are dealing with an interrelated Mystery common to the Celts and the Greeks under different names. The ancient religious system involves the propitiation of demons under a triple goddess symbolism within a Mystery cult of sun-worship involving a tauroctony akin to that of Mithras where it is most prolific. The location along the Danube and Rhine systems of Mithras temples is found in Ulansey The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries (p. 5, pl. 1.2). The identification of the same structure within the Perseus myths gives an idea of the extent of the system. The identification of the Mysteries and their meaning will be evident from the work on Mysticism.
The symbolism that arose from the cults was that of the cross, and the incidence of the propitiation of Hecate (Artemis, Rhea or the Mother Goddess) and Hermes at cross-roads was aimed specifically at the control of spirits of the dead. These images were called ekataia and frequently represented the goddess in triple form. As Hecate enodia she was the help of travellers (schol. ad Theocr., ii.12, ERE, p. 333). As goddess of the dead spirits and demons, she caused them to appear on earth, associated with her baying hounds like the Teutonic Holda.
In this character she was Hecate trimorphos, malicious and dangerous. The triple form of the goddess arises because she had images looking down each of the ways or roads but the triune symbolism is much more ancient than any localised development would allow.
The god emerging from a tree is interlinked with the very basis of shamanism and animist practice and goes back to a fundamental understood myth.
In addition to offerings being made to her images there, Hecate was consulted for divination. Monthly offerings called suppers of Hecate (Ekates deipna) were made by the wealthy. They included cakes set with candles, fish, eggs, cheese, honey etc. and were often consumed by the poor. This practice was widespread throughout Europe and the church attempted to suppress the cults. The rites resembled the rites of riddance at cross-roads which were purification rites called oxuthumia (see ERE, ibid. for text refs.) not usually associated with a deity. Thus Hecate came to acquire this function.
An aetiological myth told how Hecate, as a newly born infant, was exposed at a cross way, but rescued and brought up by shepherds (scol. on Lycophron, 1180). This probably points to an actual custom of exposure at cross roads (found also in Chaldea), made use of to explain Hecate’s connexion with them (ERE, ibid.).
The custom being found in Chaldea is more likely to explain the commonality of origin in that the movement of the tribes up the Danube from Chaldea would have seen the custom entrenched in the north, then enter Greece from that source. The Mystery cults and the doctrine of transmigration and the soul also entered from that source.
The practise of doing homage at cross-roads was also attributed to Hermes and the practice of placing stones at cross-roads to ward off demons resulted in the collection of stones with a pillar, later being shaped into the Hermae – thus, the sign post of later times. Originally the phallus was a prominent object upon them (Herod., ii. 51). As in the case of the Hakataia, these Hermae often had several heads. Theophrastus (Characters) describes the pious man pouring oil on the sacred stones or Hermae, falling on his knees and saying a prayer before continuing on (cf. Aryan Religion, Vol. 2, p. 36).
Christianity replaced the divine images at cross-ways by crucifixes or images and shrines of the Madonna. At the latter, especially, flowers and candles are offered and prayers said exactly as in the case of the Hermae and the Hekataia (Trede, Das Heidenthum in der röm. Kirche, Gotha, 1891, iv, 205,208; ERE, ibid.).
Trede, however, makes a serious error which is not considered in the text. We have seen that the symbolism of the cross was from the first seen as a phallic structure with a female cross bar used in animism. The Madonna was not ever a symbol of the early Church but was derived from the Mother Goddess cults in the east.
The fact of the matter is that the cross derived not from Christianity, being then used at the cross-roads, but rather the phallic cross was tidied up so as to conform to Christian mores and left with the mother goddess figures of Hecate etc. which was relabelled the Madonna.
The figures are thus subject to the objections and prohibitions concerning the erection of the Asherah. The Asherah is itself a phallus (see Companion Bible, Appendix 42 Asherah). The cross would then be itself an Asherah. It could be either a living tree with the top cut off and the stump fashioned (Deut. 16:21) (hence the German custom) or carved and set in the ground (Isa. 17:8; 1Kings 14:15, 16:33). It could be made of wood (Judges 6:26) or stone. Its shape is indicated in 1Kings 15:13 and 2Chronicles 15:16 as an abominable image (see RSV). Exodus 34:13 (the first occurrence of Asherah) indicates they could be cut down. Micah 5:14 uses the concept plucked up. Deuteronomy 12:3 says they are burnt. 2Chronicles 34:4 says the images etc. were cut down and broken in pieces – thus they could be of wood or stone. Progression from wood to stone may be as indicated herein. The coupling with mazzeroth or stone pillars (RSV, rendered images KJV) connected with Baal worship indicates such development in the sun cults. The Asherah could not have been a grove as 2Kings 17:10 prohibits their erection under any green tree, which appears to be the common place of erection from the tree cults.
Associated with Ashtoreth, Astarte or Easter as Mother, the Asherah are distinguished from her, becoming the phallic and active Baal, symbolised as an anointed stone block. Such stone blocks were found in the Temple of Ashtoreth at Paphos. The stone blocks are also found in Babylonia, Syria, Palestine and Arabia. The Ka’abah at Mecca was originally a pagan structure built to house such images. The Asherah became formalised in architecture as two pillars of stone that stood before every Phoenician temple and were termed the pillars of the sun. They are thus akin to the sun system described herein.
Extended Cross Symbols
The use of the cross symbol is also found in the shamanistic rites in Africa. The propitiation of the spirits of the dead and the concepts of transmigration are common throughout most tribal systems. The systems of worship appear to progress in some cases from animism and ancestor worship to polytheism (see ERE, Bantu etc., Vol. 2, pp. 358 ff). In east central Africa (Macdonald Africana, 1882, i.215, ERE, Vol. 4, p. 334), divination is carried out at cross roads by means of roots crossed on the blade of a knife forming a Lorraine cross. The stillness of the roots answer the questions regarding direction.
The Babylonians also used the system of divination at cross-roads using the various systems, i.e. arrows, teraphim (hence saint’s images) and liver (Ezek. 21:21). The process of divination at cross-roads in Germany occurred at Christmas and New Year, by means of listening.
The seekers heard or saw what was to befall them during the year. The spirits conveying by sound and sight the coming events (see also Grimm, 113, 1812, 1819). This practice, called tsuji-ura, was also used as far east as Japan where a stick, representing the god Kunado, was placed at the cross-roads, and the words and sounds were interpreted; some times from the responses of the first or third passers-by (Aston 340, see ERE, p. 334). The Persians also sat at cross-roads and applied such comments to oneself in divination (J Atkinson Women of Persia, 1832, p. 11, ERE, ibid.).
In India, cross-roads were viewed as unlucky places and employed as such in divination (Oldenberg, 510, ERE, ibid.). However the Grhya Sutra, recommends the lighting of a fire there, offering rice and repeated charms as a means of obtaining gold, companions or a long life (SBE, xxix. 431; xxx. 119,124,125) (or ridding disease, at a stake in N. India). Pushan, the sun, is held to watch over the ways and so a charm for the recovery of lost property which includes the placing of 21 pebbles at a cross-way (reminiscent of the Hermae) is found in the Arthaveda (SBE, xlii. 159,542; ERE, ibid.). The association of the sun cults with the cross and cross-roads extends throughout Asia, Europe, Africa and America.
The balances for ordeals were also erected either in temples or at cross-roads which was considered the favourite abode of Dharmaraja, the god of justice, when he appears on earth. Thus, the law of the Dharma or of transmigratory penalty is associated with them. The symbol of the upright balance is thus also a cross. Among the Teutons magical spells for raining tempests were cast at cross-roads (Vigfusson-Powell Corpus Poet. Boreale, Oxford, 1883, i. 413).
The cessation of rain in Kumaon was obtained by the erection of a harrow perpendicularly or placement of objects of agriculture deified until the rain is ashamed to fall on them (ERE, op. cit.).
Similarly, objects from cross-ways are held to be imbued with the magic of the site. Seven pebbles from the meeting of three ways is a charm against the evil eye (Campbell Spirit Basis of Belief and Custom, Bombay, 1885, p. 208; ERE, op. cit.).
A custom in Naples has the wife rid a husband of a mistress by the recitation of an incantation with a pebble under the left and right armpit and between the chest and breasts at three cross-ways respectively in turn.
The view of the demoniac origin of disease underlies the concepts involved and the forced re-embodiment of the disease by the spirit is sought.
The association with sacred fire or agni is found in the Arthaveda (SBE, xlii, 32, 519; ERE, op. cit). This can extend to fatigue as with the Guatemala Indians who rub their legs with grass moistened with spit and place it under a stone on the pile (Frazer Golden Bough, loc. cit., iii. 4; ERE, op. cit.).
The association of the number three and rice cakes is also found in an ancient Hindu charm which seeks to transmit the evil either to a demon or to another individual (SBE, ibid., 163,473; ERE, op. cit.).
The rites of riddance extend generally. At Nijegorod, the Siberian plague is kept off by stakes driven into the ground at cross-ways (Ralston Songs, 395; ERE, op. cit.).
The cross-ways represented in shamanic ritual the convergence of the four winds, although the trivia may be an objection.
The cult of the four winds represented by cross-ways was expressed ultimately by the Incas who had four princes of the blood royal stand in the great square with lance and mantle until a messenger ran down from the temple of the sun, telling them that the sun ordered them to drive evil from the city.
They separated and ran down the four roads to the four quarters of the world. Relays of runners received the lances from them and finally set them up at a boundary, which the evils might not pass (Garc. de la Vega Royal Comment., 1869-1871), ii, 228; Rites and Laws of the Yncas, Hakluyt Soc., 1873, pp. 20 ff; cf. Vol. Iii, p. 308b; ERE, op. cit.).
The Roman peasant propitiated Mars around his lands. Suffering was thought to be induced by the demons and, hence, Fever (Febris) was worshipped in Rome as a goddess (G Wissowa Rel. u. kult. der Römer, Munich, 1902, p. 197) – hence, sickness was the result of evil or possession. Hence, the concept that sickness is the equivalent of sin is a concept of shamanism. Wünsch (ERE, art. Cross-roads (Roman), p. 336) holds that, as the evil spirits were banished from the lands by Mars, they occupied the roads that surrounded them and the cross-roads were the points of concentration of demons. The wrong decisions taken there were ascribed to the demons (Ovid Fasti, v.3; Mincius Felix Octavius, xvi.3; Roscher Vol. i.p, 1890; Wünsch, ibid.). The cross-way was also the site of the object of the fetish worshipper (Tibbullus, I.1.11.f.). The Roman goddess Trivia (from three ways; trivial is derived from the concept of their common usage) although mentioned from the time of Ennius in Latin poetry was not indigenous.
She was in reality the Hecate Trioditis of Greek mythology, and, like the trivium was of triple form (Usener, loc.cit., pp. 167 f, 338 f; Wünsch, ibid.).
The food offerings attracted the dogs and, hence, her association with dogs. The cross on Easter buns probably derives from this rite. The introduction of these non-Roman deities seemed to coincide with the introduction of the Mysteries so that:
In the Imperial period we find quite a system of goddesses of the cross-way, all of non-Roman origin, and for the most part linked together in groups as Biviæ, Triviæ, Quadriviæ, especially in upper Germany. They were apparently indigenous to that region and their cult forced its way thence into Lower Germany and the countries about the Danube (M Ihm, in Roscher, iv.1 ff). In some districts we find also male deities of the cross-way (CIL xii.5621 [Gaul]:...Wünsch, op. cit.).
The assertion that they intruded from Upper Germany south may not be valid. The map of the Mithras systems in Ulansey, loc. cit., shows that the Mysteries were heavily distributed along the Danube and the Rhine.
These rivers were the heaviest points of concentration. Thus, the newer excavations are demonstrating an extensive complex of mythology, which in effect took over the religious systems of the south, including Christianity, with its influence and symbolism. The symbolism is Indo-Aryan and shamanic. That we are dealing with a branch of the Mysteries in public form is attested to by the fact:
In many cases the dedication was made in fulfilment of a vow, and the donors were mostly soldiers (Wünsch, op. cit.).
As is well known, the religion of the army was Mithraism and it was enmeshed in the Mysteries even in its operations.
The genuine Roman deities were latterly assigned the tutelage of the cross-roads. They were known as the Lares compitales and were worshipped at the place (Varro de Ling. Lat., vi. 25; G Wissowa, in Pauly-Wissowa, iv. 792 ff). Cicero (de. Lege. Agr., i.7) explicitly distinguishes between compitum and trivium – thus, there is a distinction in the worship. Wünsch says the Lares were worshipped as guardians of the soil (op. cit.). Thus they were patrons of field boundaries and only later became associated with the cross-roads and then the gods of roads in general. (Saint Christopher is a representation of this concept.) The shrines of the Lares became set up at cross-roads and they bore the name compita (Persius, iv, 28). Offering sacrifices and lighting candles was extant until the Middle Ages (Caspari Kirchenhist. Anecdota, Christiana, 1883, i.172, Wünsch, op. cit.). Trede notes the shrines exist today as patron saints throughout Europe (Wünsch, ibid.).
The Crucifixion and Symbols
In the use of the crucifixion in symbolism, we are presented with concepts that are involuntary and loaded in terms of the philosophical concepts conveyed. The definition of cross offered by Drury above is paralleled in Christian usage: according to Cirlot (Dictionary of Symbols, Crucifixion, p. 73):
The horizontal limb corresponds to the passive principle, that is, to the world of phenomena. The vertical limb denotes the active principle, that is, the transcendent world of spiritual evolution. The sun and moon are the cosmic representatives of this dualism, echoed also in the symmetrical placing of the beloved disciple and the Holy Mother (of opposite sexes) who stand also respectively, for the outcome and the antecedent of the life and work of Jesus, and hence for the future and the past. The two thieves represent binary symmetry on the moral plane, that is, the two potential attitudes between which man must choose: penitence leading to salvation and prevarication leading to damnation.
Thus, the artistic symbolism has meaning that Christians would probably not wish to adopt. Jung’s conclusions concerning the psychology of shapes considers that opposites are symbolised by a cross which itself signifies inner urges with the circle signifying the rising above those urges (Cirlot, p. 128).
The cross is thus not a transcendent symbol. Zollinger shows:
the eternal cyclic laws of the sun’s orbit or the polar rotation of the earth gave rise to the swastika, the division of the increate into different forms inspired the Chinese Yang-Yin sign, the manifest world inspired the horizontal line, the ‘Centre’ of the cross, and finally how the union of the three principles as represented by the signs for the Sun, the Moon and the cross originated the graphic symbol known as the emblem of Hermes.
Concerning the symbolism of crosses, of which the varieties are numerous, we shall confine ourselves to indicating that they depend upon the shape of their arms and the ‘rhythmic direction’ which these arms suggest (as in centrifugal, centripetal, neutral or rotary crosses). The symbols for planets and many other marks which cannot be reduced to a simple geometric figure or explained as a combination of simple component elements, but which disclose a certain complexity of pattern, may nevertheless be interpreted with the help of the principles enumerated above. To give just one example: In alchemy, the sign for ‘antimony’, representing the intellectual ‘soul’ alive with all its virtues and faculties, is a cross placed upon a circle; the sign for ‘green’, denoting the vegetative ‘soul’ or the physiological world, is a cross inscribed within a circle; the sign for Venus, corresponding to instinctive behaviour or the base urges, is a cross placed below a circle. In short there is nothing arbitrary about graphic symbolism: every thing obeys a system which develops out of a single and expands into more complex forms in which shape, rhythm, quantity, position, order and direction all help to explain and define the pattern (Cirlot, loc. cit., pp. 131-132).
Thus every cross used in symbolism has a specific meaning not associated with Christianity within which those symbols are used. The cross is of itself a symbol of love expressed as a duality in which the two antagonistic elements are reconciled:
Thus, the Indian lingam, the Chinese Yang-yin, or even the Cross, where the upright beam is the world-axis and the cross-beam the world of phenomena. They are, in other words, symbols of conjunction ... uniting them in the mystic ‘centre’, the unvarying mean of Far Eastern philosophy (Cirlot, ibid., p. 194).
Shamanism and The World Pole
The Adoption of the Tree
Hence, the world axis of shamanism has intruded into the alleged primary symbolism of Christianity. The love here spoken of is Maya as opposed to Lilith, illusion balanced by the serpent (Cirlot, ibid.). The centre tree, the upright of the cross, which is the axis mundi or world pole of shamanism had intruded into all the Mystery cults (from whence it penetrated Christianity on the same far too coincidental time scale as the other customs). The adoption of sacred trees also entered the rites of associated tribes. The groups took specific trees which became associated with or sacred to the god or cult.
Thus the oak was sacred to the Celts, the ash to the Scandinavians, the lime-tree to the Germans, the fig-tree to India. The association between the trees and gods were with: Attis and the pine; Osiris and the cedar; Jupiter and the oak; Apollo and the laurel etc. (Cirlot, op. cit., p. 347).
The tree itself stands for inexhaustible life and is, therefore, a symbol of immortality. Eliade considers that:
the concept of ‘life without death’ stands, ontologically speaking, for ‘absolute reality’ and, consequently the tree becomes a symbol for this absolute reality, that is of the centre of the world (Cirlot, notes, ibid., p. 347 see also Eliade Shamanism and Frazer The Golden Bough).
Crosses and Trees
The association of the cross and trees appears to derive from shamanic practice. Frazer The Golden Bough, Volume 2, page 38 notes the practice of cutting crosses on the stumps of felled trees. The Germans do this while the tree is falling, believing that this enables the spirit of the tree to live upon the stump.
This practice is most ancient and stems from the Indo-Aryan concepts of the deity emerging from the tree which are found in most shamanic systems, even the more isolated Australian aborigine.
Crosses made of rowan-tree wood were tied to the tails of cattle with scarlet thread in the Scottish Highlands. The custom derives from May Day celebrations which long precede Christianity. The rowan-tree was used for protection on Beltane eve, the night before May Day (Frazer, ibid., p. 53).
The same tree association with wood and the cross extends throughout the Celts. The cross is a protection against witchcraft (see Frazer, ibid., 9:267, 2:54,331,335-336,339; 9:160, 162 sq., 165); protecting cattle against evil spirits (2:342); and is painted with tar as a charm against ghosts and vampires (9:153). The belief in transmigration was central to the Celts. This concept penetrated the Greeks. The Athenians also chewed buckthorn and painted the doors of the houses with pitch in the festival of the Anthesteria (9:153). In Bosnia, the peasant women use hawthorn in their headcloth to protect against vampires (ibid.). Likewise, the Bulgarians use crosses of pitch to keep out vampires (ibid.). The practice is extensive and tied to transmigration and the soul doctrine.
It is of significance that the extensive alleged relics of the cross are held to be of pine (Cath. Encyc., op. cit., p. 520). The pine is sacred to Attis, lover of Cybele and, hence, the Mysteries.
In Christian symbolism, the cross is often depicted as the Tree of Life. According to Rabanaus Maurus (Allegoriæ in Sacram Scripturam) it also symbolises human nature. Cirlot holds that:
The complex symbolism of the cross neither denies nor supplants the historical meaning in Christianity. But in addition to ... the realities of Christianity there are two other essential factors; that of the symbolism of the Cross as such and that of the crucifixion (Cirlot, loc. cit., pp. 68 ff).
But Cirlot mistakes what is Christian in his assessment. He considers that:
Like the Tree of Life, the cross stands for the ‘world-axis’. Placed in the mystic Centre of the cosmos, it becomes the bridge or ladder by means of which the soul may reach God. There are some versions which depict the cross with seven steps, comparable with the cosmic trees which symbolise the seven heavens. The cross consequently, affirms the primary relationship between the two worlds of the celestial and the earthly (Cirlot, ibid., p. 69).
This explanation is in fact the correct explanation for the symbolism of the cross but it has nothing to do with Christianity. It is pure shamanism and denotes the seven (or more) shamanic ascents which are noted by Eliade in Shamanism and which are taken further in Mysticism.
As noted, the seven ascents of shamanism penetrated Judaism in Merkabah Mysticism (cf. Aryeh Kaplan Meditation and Kabbalah, 1982). The shamanic ascents are predicated on the existence of the soul which transmigrates within shamanic and subsidiary systems including all systems of Liberation Theology such as Hinduism and the Buddhist structures. It was prevalent among the Magi or Druids of the Celts and thus was readily adopted into Christianity by those people.
The non-Christian concept of the soul is examined in Cox Creation: From Anthropomorphic Theology to Theomorphic Anthropology, 1990, UNE.
The crucifixion of living persons was not practised among the Hebrews. Capital punishment among them consisted of being stoned to death (Cath. Encyc., loc. cit.). The cross was introduced with and by the Romans for those who could not prove their Roman citizenship, later on being reserved for thieves and malefactors (Josephus A of J, XX. vi. 2; Bell. Jud. II. xii. 6; XIV,9; V.XI, 1). The Greeks rarely made use of it.
It is mentioned by Demosthenes (c Mid.) and by Plato (Rep. II, 5; also Gorgias). The stake and the gibbet were more common, the criminal being suspended on them or bound to them but not nailed (Cath. Encyc., op. cit.).
The distinction made between the stake and the gibbet on the one hand and the cross on the other is to appropriate to Christianity the symbol which was of such importance in pagan symbolism. The fact is that crucifixion, which was an ancient form of punishment, was on a tree which was not distinguished in shape and the simple stake was called a cross or crux. The stake was probably the unhappy tree (arbor infelix) of Cicero (Pro Rabir., iii sqq (Cath. Encyc., op. cit.)) and referred to by Livy in the condemnation of Horatius, noted also by Justus Lipsius (De Cruce. I, ii, 5; cf. Tertullian Apol., VIII, xvi; and Martyrol. Paphnut. 25 Sept; noted in Cath. Encyc., ibid.).
Certain it is, at any rate, that the cross originally consisted of a simple vertical pole, sharpened at its upper end (Cath. Encyc., op. cit.).
Psalm 22:16 indicates Christ was to be nailed to the cross.
Zechariah 12:10 indicates the final cause of death was to be by piercing. It is impossible to tell with any certainty whether the cross used to crucify Christ was a simple stake or contained a cross bar because the term was general to both.
Nor, indeed, does it matter, save that the symbolism above was transferred from the cults and had to be legitimised.
Ezekiel 9:4 was appealed to by Jerome and others, in that the letter Tau was held to be indicative of those who sighed and cried, i.e. (cf. Cath. Encyc., op. cit.) Jerome held Ezekiel 9:4 to say:
Mark Tau upon the foreheads of the men that sigh.
The Hebrew says: mark a mark (i.e. Tâv, mark or signature). The LXX renders the text (here Romanised) as:
kai dos semeion epi ta metõpa tõn katastenaxontõn
Semeion is used for distinguishing mark or sign in Matthew 26:48; Luke 2:12; 2Thessolonians 3:17, and of future events (Matt. 16:3) and signs (Matt. 24:3) and of the Messiah’s coming (Matt. 24:30). It was used of circumcision at Romans 4:11 and of the tokens of an apostle at 2Corinthians 12:12. Jerome’s rendering appears conjectural, confusing Hebrew with Greek.
The reconstructions are however clearly a posteriori and are of no significance to Christianity other than the legitimisation of syncretic symbol. The symbolism extended to both the Tau and the Immissa because of the sign placed above Christ’s head (Matt. 27:37; Lk. 23:38; Jn. 19:19).
The authority of Iranæus is sought being the closest in lineage to the apostles. In Adv. Hær. II, xxiv, he says that:
the very form of the cross too had five extremities,
However, he makes the assertion in the context of the Æons and their hierarchy. The comment relates to refuting the symbolism adopted concerning them from the alleged hierarchy and in this case the structure of five. He makes no comment as to the authority. He is saying, in effect, that you can make numerical significance out of anything. The playing of these mathematical games derives from the mathematical sequences in the structure of the Bible. He uses a cross as an example. The cross in his day had undergone refinements and he no doubt used the structure with which he was familiar.
The fifth piece or extremity was a centre piece (habitus) in the middle on which the victim, (in the later times and by extension) Christ, sat. Nonnus confirms that Christ was crucified on a quadrilateral cross (eis doru tetrapleuron). The support board was termed a horn by Justin who likened it to the horn of a rhinoceros (Cath. Encyc., op. cit., p. 520). The wooden support usually depicted for the feet almost certainly never existed, being first mentioned by Gregory of Tours (De Gloriâ Martyrum, vi). The Catholic Encyclopedia (ibid.) holds that Cyprian, Theodoret and Rufinus hint at its existence.
The importance of the cross is a post-Nicene position and the symbol has become an object of worship in its own right as the Catholic Encyclopedia notes from pages 529 ff. The legislation elevating the symbol is an artefact of the Athanasians after the Council of Constantinople (c. 381).
A law of Theodosius and of Valentinian III (Cod. Justin., I, tit. vii) forbade under the gravest penalties any painting, carving, or engraving of the cross on pavements, so that this august sign of our salvation might not be trodden under foot. This law was revised by the Trullan Council (A.D. 691) canon lxxii (p. 530).
According to Cyril of Alexandria (Contra Julian, vi), Julian prohibited the adoration of the cross and engraving of the cross over doorways and tracing on foreheads (Cath. Encyc., op. cit.).
The iconoclastic emperors, Leo the Isaurian, Constantine Capronymous, Leo IV, Nicephorus, Michael II and Theophilus seemed to have made exception in the case of the cross, engraving it on their coins (cf. Banduri Numism. Imperat. Rom., II; Cath. Encyc., op. cit.). The use of the cross as a logo by iconoclasts, in deference to the second commandment and in place of a graven image, is a far cry from legitimising its use in worship. The use merely demonstrates how far the symbol had penetrated by their time.
The second Council of Nicea (787), held for the purpose of reforming abuses and ending the disputes of iconoclasm,
defined that the veneration of the faithful was due ‘of the precious and vivifying cross’ as well as to images or representations of Christ, of the Blessed Virgin, and of the saints (Cath. Encyc., op. cit.).
The Council held that the cult of the Latria belongs to the divine nature alone. Thus, the objects were accorded a form of worship which is not that held to be accorded to the divine nature. But asserting that the worship of the images of mortals is acceptable is contrary to the explicit teaching of the Bible.
The concept that the images could be imbued with the divine nature is intellectually absurd. Prayer, even to the spirit of a dead saint, which is a term extended to all of the elect, is not only non-biblical but such a concept demonstrates a complete misapprehension of the biblical teaching concerning the resurrections. The adherent, in effect, would be asked to pray to the idea/ideatum which has returned to God, perhaps under custody of Christ, awaiting the resurrection. The entity itself knows nothing. The concept is absurd within Christianity and can only derive from the animist cosmology of the Mystery cults. Such misunderstanding compounded the errors of Nicea I and Constantinople I. It completely misapprehended the biblical teaching on the divine nature which is possessed by all of the elect.
Thus the symbolism had turned full circle and the images of the Mysteries had taken over Christianity and become the foci of worship.
From above, the use of the cross is philosophically objectionable within Christianity – not just on those grounds, but also because the concepts above, which are logically predicated upon God and are the direct prerogative of God, are in this symbolism attributed to Christ as they were to the gods of the Mysteries. The resurrection occurs as an act of God’s authority. God alone is immortal (1Tim. 6:16). Christ exercised obedient authority, laying his life down and taking it up on that authority (Jn. 10:18). Christ, he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all of one (KJV) origin (enos pantes) (Heb. 2:11 RSV). The use of the term enos pantes means that they are of one, wholly, in all respects, in every way (Thayers). The NIV seeks to mitigate this text by translating it as of the same family.
God alone is to be worshipped and the object of prayer (Lk. 4:8; Jn. 4:23; Rev. 19:10; 22:9). The cross has become a symbol of itself in the same way that the image set up by Moses (Num. 21:8-9) became an image of itself and would be thus idolatrous.
From above, the symbolism which surrounds the cross and the art works and forms is of itself loaded with concepts which have been transported into Christian worship. The concepts are derived from the most ancient forms of worship which have been transported or diffused throughout the nations and tribes. The identification of the origins and the interconnected relationships are made in the sections above. The cross as imagery is not a harmless tool or decoration.
The attribution of the cross and of Christ as an image and object of prayer is a breach of the second commandment.
The concept or doctrine imputes the ultimate sin to Christ of making himself equal with God, which the Bible holds he was not (Jn. 14:28, Phil. 2:6). Such concepts were not used in the first two centuries of the Church and indeed were viewed as idolatry. Many of our people were martyred for refusing to accept crosses as symbols of their faith.