So, trying to lay things out as logically as possible, I think the place we should start is here:
This is the Egyptian hieroglyph for the constellation Sirius. It consists of an obelisk (pyramid), dome, and star. You don't have to be an art history major to recognize that we are exposed to these symbols today constantly. To understand the origins and significance of these symbols and their usage then we must understand what they meant to the Egyptians and how this meaning has translated itself across time and cultures through art, language, and architecture.
In ancient Egypt, Sirius was associated with the god Osiris. Osiris was the child of father Horus and mother Isis.
This is a depiction of the family of Osiris. Osiris on a lapis lazuli pillar in the middle, flanked by Horus on the left and Isis on the right. The father of this trinity is associated with the obelisk (a supposed phallic symbol), the mother with the dome, and the child with the star. An interesting aspect of this father/mother/son trilogy is the seeming interchangeability of the father and son. Also worth noting is that Osiris was considered Isis' brother. This element of interchangeability will come into play later.
So the question we are left with at this point is why are these particular symbols associated with father, mother, and child? Another question that I will hypothesize about later is whether these symbols and the father/mother/child trinity actually originated in Egypt, but for now we will try to understand the associations with the symbols.
Let's start out with the obelisk. On to dictionary.com:
/ˈɒbəlɪsk/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [ob-uh-lisk] Show IPA
1. a tapering, four-sided shaft of stone, usually monolithic and having a pyramidal apex.
2. something resembling such a shaft.
3. an obelus.
4. Printing. dagger (def. 2).
An interesting side note that I discovered while looking up the definition for obelisk is the word's association with the word dagger.
- 6 dictionary results
/ˈdægər/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [dag-er] Show IPA
1. a short, swordlike weapon with a pointed blade and a handle, used for stabbing.
2. Also called obelisk. Printing. a mark (†) used esp. for references.
Funny thing about this relation between obelisk and dagger is that it plays directly into the direction I had planned to go with this entry. It's great when things sync up like this!
Encyclopedia at dictionary.com
short stabbing knife, ostensibly the diminutive of the sword, though in ancient and medieval times the distinction between a long dagger and a short sword was often obscure. From approximately 1300 the European dagger was consistently differentiated from the sword; in the 16th century a school of fencing developed in which a specially designed dagger with a large guard was held in the left hand and used for parrying.
If the phallic nature of a sword/dagger/obelisk is not immediately apparent based on the shape and function then let's do a quick definition exercise here. Question: where does one keep their sword/dagger when not in use? In their scabbard of course! What is a scabbard? Back to dictionary.com:
Word Origin & History
1297, from Anglo-Fr. *escauberc "sheath, vagina" (13c.), probably from Frank. *skar "blade" (cf. O.H.G. scar "scissors, blade, sword") + *berg- "protect" (cf. O.H.G. bergan "to protect").
In other words, one keeps a dagger inside a scabbard; of course there won't be any little daggers and scabbards running around nine months later! Sorry, bad joke but I couldn't resist. In other words, the obelisk is meant to be a representation of the male anatomy, and every instance of an obelisk in architecture and art is meant to signify this. Now onto the story of Osiris and Isis according to Plutarch to help solidify this symbolic association. I've personally read Plutarch's account and it is really long and wordy so I'm just going to post a summary from wiki:
The cult of Osiris (who was a god chiefly of regeneration and re-bir
If interested you can read Plutarch's words here:
For whatever reason the most significant part of Plutarch's story, in this context, was left out of the wiki summary so here it is:
Of the parts of Osiris's body the only one which Isis did not find was the male member, for the reason that this had been at once tossed into the river, and the lepidotus, the sea-bream, and the pike had fed upon it; and it is from these very fishes the Egyptians are most scrupulous in abstaining. But Isis made a replica of the member to take its place, and consecrated the phallus, in honour of which the Egyptians even at the pr
It is starting to become apparent where this story is going and what is significant about it in regards to the obelisk as phallic emblem. According to Diodorus:
According to Wikipedia, for that's worth, "
Next I think we will take on the dome as feminine signifier...