Saturday, January 23, 2010

In-ies and Out-ies...

Before we can really get started analyzing the symbolism present around us it's necessary to understand which symbols are significant to this conversation and which are not. I'll be the first to admit that it is easy, in this context, for one's imagination and paranoia to run away with them so we need to have some type of grounding to solidify our understanding and validate said paranoia in relation to symbols and agendas.

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

  /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


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

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-birth) had a particularly strong interest toward the concept of immortality. Plutarch recounts one version of the myth surrounding the cult in which Set (Osiris' brother) fooled Osiris into getting into a box, which he then shut, had sealed with lead, and threw into the Nile (sarcophagi were based on the box in this myth). Osiris' wife, Isis, searched for his remains until she finally found him embedded in a tree trunk, which was holding up the roof of a palace in Byblos on the Phoenician coast. She managed to remove the coffin and open it, but Osiris was already dead. She used a spell she had learned from her father and brought him back to life so he could impregnate her. Afterwards he died again and she hid his body in the desert. Months later, she gave birth to Horus. While she was raising him, Set was hunting one night and came across the body of Osiris. Enraged, he tore the body into fourteen pieces and scattered them throughout the land. Isis gathered up all the parts of the body, less the phallus (which was eaten by a fish) and bandaged them together for a proper burial. The gods were impressed by the devotion of Isis and resurrected Osiris as the god of the underworld. Because of his death and resurrection, Osiris is associated with the flooding and retreating of the Nile and thus with the crops along the Nile valley.

If interested you can read Plutarch's words here:*/A.html

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:

The traditional result of Osiris's dismemberment is that there are many so‑called tombs of Osiris in Egypt; for Isis held a funeral for each part when she had found it. Others deny this and assert that she caused effigies of him to be made and these she distributed among the several cities, pretending that she was giving them his body, in order that he might receive divine honours in a greater number of cities, band also that, if Typhon should succeed in overpowering Horus, he might despair of ever finding the true tomb when so many were pointed out to him, all of them called the tomb of Osiris.

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
esent day celebrate a festival.

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:

Now the parts of the body of Osiris which were found were honoured with burial, they say, in the manner described above, but the privates, according to them, were thrown by Typhon into the Nile because no one of his accomplices was willing to take them. Yet Isis thought them as worthy of divine honours as the other parts, for, fashioning a likeness of them, she set it up in the temples, commanded that it be honoured, and made it the object of the highest regard and reverence in the rites and sacrifices accorded to the god. 7 Consequently the Greeks too, inasmuch as they received from Egypt the celebrations of the orgies and the festivals connected with Dionysus, honour this member in both the mysteries and the initiatory rites and sacrifices of this god, giving it the name "phallus."*.html#22.6

According to Wikipedia, for that's worth, "
Obelisks were prominent in the architecture of the ancient Egyptians, who placed them in pairs at the entrance of temples." I don't think it would be a big leap of faith for us to assume that the replicas of Osiris' manhood that were placed at temples to signify his worship were none other than Obelisks. So now the question I'm asking myself is why the hell do we find these Obelisks everywhere around the world?! There are Obelisks in London, New York, Rome (Vatican City of all places!) and even the Washington Monument is an Obelisk meant to recognize the Father of the United States. I think the plot just got thicker ;)

Next I think we will take on the dome as feminine signifier...

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