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Friday, December 14, 2012

Sacred Symbols

  In my experience many pagans have a sacred symbol that represents their belief, if only to them. These symbols may be somewhat mainstream, like the pentacle, or less well known, like the irminsul, but they all serve as a touchstone of the religion or beliefs the person holds.
Assorted religious jewelry, bronze, at Pandora's Box, Norwich CT
   This past summer the Huffington Post site asked the question What religious jewelry do you wear and why? and asked for readers to submit pictures of their religious jewelry with stories explaining why that symbol was significant to them. After much thought I submitted what might seem an unlikely image, coming from me -
with a short note saying that I have had this pentacle for over 20 years and that to me it represents the interconnection of all things. The picture and explanation appeared in the slideshow accompanying the main article.
    After submitting it I questioned whether it was the right choice; should I have gone with a triskele instead to represent Irish paganism and Druidism? Should I have used an image of my Thor's Hammer to represent Heathenry? Both of these images are very significant to me, and each has a special meaning. The triskele is something that I feel I earned by going through the fostering process with my Druid Order and symbolizes the connection to sea, earth, and sky; the Hammer was a gift from my Kindred sister and reminds me of my connection to the Gods. So why, I asked myself, did I choose as I had? In the end I believe that I picked the symbol I did because it was the first symbol I ever connected to, the first image that was more than just decoration. I bought this necklace with money I saved up babysitting and I wore it every day through high school. It saw me through some very difficult times, and did indeed always remind me that all things are connected. After I moved beyond the religion that it is commonly used to represent I still wore it sometimes for that feeling of connection. In short this pentacle ceased being a piece of jewelry that stood for one faith and became a personal emblem to me of my own inner strength and the comfort I found in something that kept me from feeling all alone even when in many ways I was. Even though I don't wear it often anymore it is still special to me.
    I have a beautiful Thor's Hammer that I wear, and I have a triskele - each is important to me and holds a special meaning. Each symbolizes my faith in different ways. But there is a connection to my first religious pendant that has endured even through changes in spirituality. It's just a simple piece of silver, shaped like a star within a circle, but it is one of the most precious things I own, because to me it will always be a representation of that ineffable connection to the things that matter to me.
  Of course I also have a hammer that I wear as well. The Thor's Hammer appeared historically around a thousand years ago, likely to give heathens something to wear besides the Christian Cross. In modern contexts the Thor's Hammer, or Mjolnir, is a symbol of those who follow the Norse Gods, as well as symbolizing protection and fertility (Thor's Hammer, it's said, was used to bless marriages by being placed in the lap of the bride). Mine is a very modern design and was a gift. Heathens can also use the irmunsul, a Germanic world tree image, as a symbol, or the valknot a triple interlaced triangle design often associated with Odin (the word valknut means knot of the slain and since one of Odin's names was Valfadr it does seem to be a logical connection; there is a joke in modern heathenry that the valknut is the "insert spear here" symbol)
I also often wear a triskele or a tree to symbolize Irish Paganism or Druidism. Both of these are modern symbols, not having been used historically to represent a pagan faith that we know of, but are great representations of those faiths for modern practitioners. The triskele is seen in ancient Irish art, although its true origins are debated; some believe it was adapted off of the Norse valknut, while others think it is an older Celtic symbol. I also tend to favor wearing a tree emblem as it represents Druidism to me and also encompasses the concept of the bile (sacred tree or pole) and world tree. In this way the tree symbolizes both sides of my faith, the Irish and the Norse.
one of the tree pendants I sometimes wear

another tree pendant I sometimes wear 

 It's worth noting that I have gotten tattoos of the symbols I find important including the Thor's Hammer, Valknut, and Triskele, so in some ways wearing them as jewelry is redundant, but I still like the jewelry. In a world and culture were what symbols we wear around our necks are often a subtle - or sometimes not-so-subtle - way to declare our faith publically I tend to appraoch wearing mine as a matter of pride in my spirituality.
  I tend to choose the symbol I wear based on what I feel most in tune with that particular day, and my spirituality being what it is I often wear more than one symbol at a time. What sacred symbols do you wear? What makes that symbol special to you?

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