Why a Classic Pagan Symbol Became a Symbol of Christmas

     The symbols we use to process life go deeper than the traditions that come from them. The archetypes go deeper than tradition and even language as a whole because language came from an effort to express what we perceived as symbols. When looking at myth, religion and even personal dreams, it is best to see them through the symbols rooted in the deepest parts of us and not in cultural portrayals of them.   The symbolism of the modern Christian Christmas scene for example doesn’t make any sense otherwise.
     “But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves.” Exodus 34:13
A nativity set and a Christmas tree are more like an alter/image and a grove than anything positively described in in the Bible. Does this mean it is bad? Or is it just archetypal language that has meaning to everyone Christian or not?
     There are two main symbols which seem to be the most fundamental language of our thoughts, feelings and dreams. There is a dichotomy of logic and love described as yin and yang, masculine and feminine, sky father and mother earth, heaven and hell, mind and heart, intellect and intuition, light and dark, high and low.

     These two aspects of life are fundamentally different and even different in the way that they are different, and it takes a third thing to bridge the gap between them, symbolically a snake, rod or branch. Combining these symbols looks something like this:

     What is interesting to me as I have tried to trace down the origin of this symbol, that it seems to have come up all around the world, and even in very isolated cultures. Even more interesting, this symbol shows up commonly in dreams and in psychedelic experience in such a meaningful way. My interest in tracking the origin of this symbol comes from dreaming it myself. I have yet to find the exact one I dreamed, but after seeing all the different variations I started to really see what it represented.
     The question, “who am I?” is a very difficult one because who would guess that we aren’t our mind or our heart, that we instead are an observer/operator above both? How can this be? How can we not be our mind or our heart?
     Do you like all of your thoughts? If not, then why do you think them? And if you are your thoughts then how could you not like yourself? The same questions can be asked about your feelings. Do you like all your feelings?
     Do you have to obey to your thoughts or feelings? Do you even have to listen to them? The answer is “no,” which is a really weird thing. What are we then?
     We are an intermediary between our heart and our mind, which like branches grow towards light and roots grow toward water, we grow toward truth and meaning or love. Just like any garden however, weeds can grow, which just as the tree we planted grow towards the water and light. So then, what is the difference?
     A fool-proof way to tell a real diamond from a fake one is to try and scratch it. I fool-proof way to test truth is to test it and see if it can break. There is an idea that shows up from everything from ancient alchemy to Christianity. In alchemy there is a phrase “in sterquiliniis invenitur” which means “in filth/darkness it shall be found” meaning that the answer you are looking for is where you least want to look. Christ phrased it as, “drinking the bitter cup,” or rather the dregs, which are the impurities that settle at the bottom of wine, the twigs and dirt carried over from the process. It is also the old testament idea which paints the personal transformation similar to the alchemical process of “Solve et coagula: Dissolve/melt and reconstitute.” Isaiah 48:10 says, “I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”
     “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” 1 Corinthians 3:13 “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;” 2 Corinthians 4:17
    An example of truth being revealed by fire is finding out who our true friends are when hard times come. In our darkest day, when we look around at who is standing by us, that is a good sign of who we can probably trust most. Of all the trees that in the summer have leaves, it is the symbol of the evergreen tree that shows us which tree has the greatest capacity to sustain life even in the darkest, coldest times.
    The symbolism of King Arthur and the sword and the stone, is that when we find a part of us that can pull the sword of truth out of the rock of memories, we should make that part king.

     This is the symbolism of the winter solstice, which is that on the darkest day of the year, when we find the tree that still thrives, we light a candle and place it on top of it. The light of truth comes after the darkest day, not suddenly, but day after day as the world turns on its axis. Although every spring ultimately leads to winter, it is not the same winter. Every truth we find will be tested to the breaking-point, but that tragedy will lead to a deeper grasp of truth.
     One truth I have found is that the same part of us that sees symbols and intuits their truth is in all of us, and if we step back and look at the symbols someone else has found, maybe we will see how they are the same. If there really wasn’t some core of human nature in every human that was capable of sensing truth, there would be no point in trying to share or argue over it. Finding similarities in other’s beliefs validates more your own than trying to discredit them, because odds are better than everyone is partially right and describing it differently than that everyone but you is completely wrong.


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