It has been a very busy week and while I really haven’t had much opportunity to keep up with current events, I did notice this entry in The Wild Hunt announcing the addition of Thor’s Hammer to the official list of images approved for use on U.S. Veteran headstones. It seems that there was never any official announcement of this long overdue addition. My guess is that the department of Veteran’s Affairs is trying to avoid another round of horrified right-wing media pronouncements that the military is being corrupted by liberal weirdos and satanic cults.
Eh, give ‘em time.
In any case, as pleased as I was to hear that Asatru veterans will finally be properly honored alongside their brethren of more mainstream religions, the news got me thinking about the concept of the “holy symbol”.
It is a popular fiction to think of ourselves as being very different from our primitive ancestors. We live in a world of carefully designed signs and logos. An entire graphic arts industry has grown up around the simple notion of communicating as much about a thing as possible in as simple and elegant a fashion as possible.
Road signs and warning labels impart information vital to our very survival in easy to read symbols. Glance at your smart phone and there are rows of easy to understand symbols what will open the way to various functions and content at a touch.
We’re so damn smart. Except of course that we’ve been using logos to identify ourselves to one another for millennia. There’s nothing new, or particularly advanced about modern logo design.
In fact, the rules of good logo design have not changed a bit in over 4,000 years. An effective logo should be clean, simple and recognizable at a distance. It should have visual impact while still imparting important information about the thing being labeled. A good design will utilize a minimum of verbiage and work well in black and white.
I worked under the very same criteria as the designers of Egyptian hieroglyphics when I worked as a graphic artist. One wonders if the ancients ever had to pitch to a client, or had the credit for their work stolen by a lazy art director.
I often read or hear of my fellow pagans and polytheists wearing their holy symbols under their clothes to keep their religion private. They purchase a piece of jewelry that identifies them as a certain faith and then hide it on their person.
This seems like a strange choice to me. What purpose is your holy symbol serving?
Is there a chance that you will forget what you believe and you want the symbol there to remind you? “Hey, check it out! I’m wearing a Star of David. I must be Jewish.”
If you are killed in an accident, will your pendant help identify you to the authorities? “Hmmm…, the killer took his wallet but he appears to have been Bahá’í. Better call the local temple.”
Are you perhaps worried about an impending vampire attack. (Oh sure, popular media likes to suggest that only a cross repels vampires but in the last few years things have begun to open up a bit. Check out the first season of the BBC show Being Human to see George Sands holding vampires at bay with a Star of David. Or there is always that moment in Practical Magic when the evil spirit of Jimmy Angelov is disincorporated by faith, manifest through a silver star.)
No, the whole point of a holy symbol is to identify you, in particular, to others of your kind.
If we are fighting for the right to have the emblems of our faith placed on the headstones of our fallen servicemen and women, shouldn’t we be willing to wear them in our daily lives. You know, where people can actually see them.
This is not to say we can’t wear them for those other reasons: Personal reminders, Postmortem identification, In case of vampires. These are all perfectly valid reasons to wear a holy symbol secreted away where no one can see.
And still, the artist in me cringes at the thought of such wonderful (and often timeless) design work, hidden from view.
Besides, I can’t really describe the warm feeling I get whenever I look up from my work to see a pentacle or a hammer hanging around someones neck after days of looking at a sea of little gold crosses. It’s easy to feel alone and overwhelmed in a world where the vast majority of people have very different beliefs than our own. I could wear a symbol under my shirt but it would be little more than a lump of metal at the end of a chain, reminding me of nothing, identifying me as nothing, protecting me from nothing.
When I see you wearing the symbol of your faith, even if that faith is not exactly the same as my own, THAT is when I am reminded of who I am. That is when I feel a sense of identity. That is when I feel protected from all the energy vampires who want to drain me dry.
I wonder if you don’t experience the same feelings?
Oh, and has anyone checked to see if atheists are more likely to die of unexplained blood loss? Just, you know, wondering.