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SUN DISC TO CRUCIFIX

THE CROSS

A short illustrated history

Ian McNeil Cooke

 

A4 paperback format of 156 pages including 37 full pages of black and white line illustrations and many individual line drawings.

 

CONTENTS OF THIS PAGE

INTRODUCTION

THE PAGAN CROSS

Sun Disc

Neolithic

Bronze Age

Iron Age

The Middle East

Tau Cross

Ankh Cross

Swastika

THE CHRISTIAN CROSS

Chi Rho Cross

Latin Cross and Crucifix

Paganism in Christianity

Phallic Cross

Crossroads and Market Crosses

West Cornwall

 

 

 

13th century French cleric wearing a swastika emblazoned stole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

About few things, perhaps, of a religious character, have more erroneous notions prevailed, than the symbol of the Cross. This ornament, of every possible descrip­tion­, carved in wood or stone or worked in various kinds of metals, precious or base, meets us every­where in the world, either as an adornment to the person or as a conspicuous feature in ecclesiastical­ architecture, and there is a pretty general impres­sion afloat that it is of Christian origin and belongs exclusively to that religion.  Nothing, however, could be more fallacious, and nothing more calculated to impart wrong ideas of religious history, for the world abounds in monuments of a cruciform character, which existed ages before the first proclamation of Christian doctrine anywhere.

[Quoted from Page 61 - PHALLICISM: A Description of the Worship of LINGAM-YONI in Various Parts of the World, and in Different Ages: with an Account of Ancient and Modern Crosses particularly of the CRUX ANSATA (or handled cross), and other Symbols connected with the Mysteries of Sex Worship Privately printed in London 1889; Author anonymous].

Bronze Age rock carving from the island of Bornholm, Denmark.

The equal-armed cross is usually thought of today as being an exclusive Christian symbol but the sign has a history going back at least to the Neolithic period some 6000 years ago.  The cross is found in a variety of designs and in all sorts of situations around the world and at all periods of human activity, but this short investigation into its genesis, development, use and history is largely confined to the cultures of Europe and the eastern Mediterranean.

A major difficulty when discussing the cross is that the word is applied to so many different types of image, so obscuring what shape is actually meant by the writer.  In addition the translation of ancient texts, sometimes through several different languages, can further alter the original intended meaning of a word.  Unless otherwise stated I use the word cross to mean an equal-armed cross of the type known as Greek, whereby the four arms are at approximate right angles to each other: where it is unclear from references as to what type of cross is intended I have written the word as ‘cross’.  The term sun-disc is used to describe the cross within a circle prior to use of the wheel in Europe c.1500bc, while wheel-cross is used to describe the four, six or eight-armed cross within a circle after that time.

Clay whorls c.2nd millennium excavated during the 1870's at the ancient city complex of Troy.

 

 

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THE PAGAN CROSS

ORIGIN

The origin of the cross as an abstract image is lost in the mists of prehistory although it is possible to put forward some suggestions as to its genesis and intended symbolism.  It is known that standing stones frequently replaced upright wooden pillars as ritual objects in prehistoric societies, and a vertical ‘totem pole’ or sacred tree will cast shadows made by the rising and setting sun at its two most important annual ‘turning points’ - the midsummer solstice when there are maximum hours of daylight which thereafter begin slowly to decrease, and at the midwinter solstice when hours of daylight are at a minimum but shortly begin to lengthen.  These shadows will form a cross-shape on the ground, the angle of intersection of the arms of the cross depending on the latitude of the observer: near the equator the arms move closer to the horizontal position, while nearer the polar regions they will be closer to the vertical.  In north-western Europe the ‘shadow’ arms are at approxi­mate right-angles to each other.

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SUN DISC

Romano-Celtic stone altar dedicated to Jupiter from Cologne, Germany. The inscription reads IVPITER OPTIMVS MAXIMVS.

The circular shape of the sun emphasises the ever recurring cyclical nature of the seasons and the origin of the sun-disc, or cross within a circle, may have arisen from this: the four-armed cross representing shadows cast by the rising and setting sun at the two solstices, and the six-armed cross created by addition of the equinoctial sunrise and sunset shadows.

The revolving motion of the star-studded heavens and the semi-circular movement of the sun and moon across the sky must obviously have been closely observed long before invention of the wheel.  Hence the adoration of the disc and, later, the turning wheel, as well as circular dances and circular monuments do not just relate to the sun but to the whole heavens.

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NEOLITHIC

Ground plan of the Neolithic complex known as Cairn T at Loughcrew, Ireland. The passage is aligned towards the equinoctial sunrise.

The simple equal-armed cross is one of the nine primary geometric forms (i.e. those forms which combine to create all other shapes) found in nearly 400 examples of Irish megalithic rock-art so far discovered, all of which are associated with astronomically orientated passage mounds some 5-6000 years old.  The cross is the third most common primary, being used in 34% of all known designs, and is usually combined with the circle - the commonest primary - to make apparent solar, lunar or stellar symbols which seem to refer specifically to the four or eight major directions.

Crosses are also found on Neolithic pottery, usually marked on the base, and it has been suggested that the four arms of the cross, which can evolve into 4 or 8-armed ‘turning’ swastikas, represent the four phases of the moon - waxing, full, waning and dark (the stage when new life lies invisible in the earth and the womb).  There is abundant evidence from ritual pottery items found in eastern Europe, some of which are over 6000 years old, that various cross shapes were used to decorate artefacts associated with veneration of the goddess.  What exactly was their significance we shall probably never know but, what does seem certain, is that the cross was one of many abstract symbols having some religious meaning.

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BRONZE AGE

Scandinavian Bronze Age solar-boat rock carvings at Bohüslan, Sweden.

From the early Bronze Age onwards there was a marked increase in solar imagery as the sun came to be seen as the dominant supernatural force in perceptions of human beings living in temperate (non-Mediterranean) Europe.  This was clearly associated with the discovery that metal could be extracted from colourful and apparently useless stones through the action of fire and heat.  As with all other kinds of ancient activity the processes of obtaining metals was embued with esoteric symbolism.  Fire is an earthly imitation of the sun: bronze, fire and the sun were united in the mundane and the sacred by the polished metal reflecting light from its reddish-gold surface.

The newly discovered spoked wheel became a symbol of the sun in its own right.  But not only does the wheel revolve in imitation of the apparent movement of the solar disc across the heavens, but, as it moves over the ground it makes a rumbling noise mimicking the roll of thunder heralding rain from an overcast sky; hence the wheel became symbolic of the sky as well as the sun.

As time progressed representations of the sun became more varied with the addition of anthropomorphic imagery.  As well as the horse, late Bronze Age solar imagery was closely allied with other sexually virile, aggressive and prestigious animals - the stag, boar and bull in particular: the rayed shape and renewable antlers of the stag having especially potent links with the sun.

The solar wheel cross and the phallus.

Left: Rock carving, Carmonica Valley, Italy.

Right: Rock carving, Slänge, Sweden.

The religion of the Scandinavian Bronze Age was dominated by worship of the sun in which there was a shift of emphasis, about half way through, from accentuating the visible glory of the sun to stressing the invisible period of its disappearance.  The principal symbol of this worship was the disc or circle, often enclosing a cross, which could represent both the sun itself or the wheeled chariot in which it was transported.

Now, for the first time, the symbol of the sun is undeniably linked with the procreative power of the human male.  The overwhelming majority of figures associated with this cult are depicted as blatantly ithyphallic men and this, surely, signifies the fertility aspect of the sun’s warmth and light.  The sun-disc may also be attached to the phallus or a ‘sun man’ may be shown copulating  with a female figure, or even an animal.

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IRON AGE

Coin of the British chieftain Cunobeline with a sun disc.

Arrival of the Iron Age into north-west Europe c.600bc and closer cultural and trading links with Greek and Roman civilisations led to the beginnings of a monetary system, accompanied by the gradual introduction of figurative clay and stone religious imagery with inscriptions - often in a mixture of Greek and Latin letters.  For the first time these artefacts demonstrate unequivocal links between the cross and the spoked wheel with the sun and sky, thus giving additional weight to the earlier supposition that similar symbols in pre-literate cultures occupying the same geographical regions probably had the same meaning.  And, as with the Neolithic and Bronze Age, the cross is associated on Iron Age artefacts with other solar symbols - concentric circles of various descriptions, radiate petalled flowers and swastikas.

Wheeled vehicles were often buried with their Celtic owners, the wheels frequently being detached from grave wagons and ranged along the walls of the burial chamber.  Ritual vehicles were used to transport deities across country in sacred journeys “that sanctified and cleansed the land”, and deities were themselves sometimes portrayed with wheels on their feet.  The classical sun god was, of course, regularly shown driving, or being driven, across the sky in a wheeled chariot pulled by horses.

Iron Age British coin of the Southern Belgae.

British native coinage, probably begun about the time of Caesar’s temporary invasions of the mid-first century bc, continued for some three quarters of a century after the demise of Gaulish independence until Roman legions and Roman law decided otherwise.  Coins show a broad similarity with Gaul.  The ubiquitous wheel-cross was a popular motif amongst most tribes, at least in the southern part of Britain, and were usually associated with moons, trees or ferns, armed warriors, horses and horse-drawn chariots: images seemingly emphasising the regenerative and protective powers of the sun.

All the visual evidence from images and inscriptions show that the ‘cross’, and in particular the spoked wheel and swastika, was a widespread solar sky symbol in western Europe immediately prior to the arrival of Christians, and would, eventually, prove to facilitate the transition from paganism to the new faith.

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THE MIDDLE EAST

Macedonian coin c.500-454BC that has the name Alexander I set around a square cross motif.

Literate societies of the Middle East are the first to give us incontestable links between the cross and the sun, and, as long ago as the 15th century bc Assyrian and Babylonian kings wore the Maltese cross within a circle as the symbol of the sun god.  On a 9th century bc stone relief of the Babylonian god Shamash the divine human figure is associated with a four-pointed star-like image inside a disc with interspersed wavy lines: an accompanying inscription reads “the image of the sun, the great lord who dwells in the temple”.  In the British Museum there is a larger than life size stone sculpture, taken from the temple of Nabu in Nimrud, which depicts King Shamash-Adad V (823-811bc) with a large Maltese cross hanging from a cord around his neck as a symbol of the sun god.

A large statue of the Assyrian King Shamash-Adad V (c.820BC) has this type of cross hanging around his neck. Now in the British Museum exhibit WA118892.

Early coins of the eastern Mediterranean, where European coinage began, had a single-sided image created by punching the back of the soft gold or silver into a hollow dye.  These punch marks were at first very irregularly shaped, but, as technical and artistic skills improved, so did they became more regular in form to more effectively drive the metal into the dye.  Some of these punches created a raised cross made by its four squares, and, on at least two examples, the punch was swastika-shaped.  Mid-6th century bc  coins of the Greek city-state of Thebes show a sun-disc on the reverse: this was the letter theta, first letter of the city used as a mint mark to denote its origin.

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TAU CROSS

Christ is often depicted as having been crucified on a Tau Cross as in this late 15th century image.

A cross known as the Tau, after its shape like the letter T, would appear to have a far greater phallic significance than the equal-armed cross of prehistoric times.  The Tau was known as the ‘cross’ of the Old Testament, supposed to be the mark made by faithful Israelites to distinguish them from those of their kinsfolk who had lapsed into paganism.

In ancient Egypt the Tau was used, along with a type of hammer-headed cross and the swastika, to mark sacred water jars and, in a country where the erect phallus was everywhere in evidence as a religious icon, the “unclothed privy member” was shown in symbolic form by the Tau, denoting testicles and penis - a purely masculine sign of life.

But it has been suggested that the Tau may have developed from the axe - a widespread and ancient symbol of the sun god - which may itself have evolved into a hammer, possibly connected with the growth in importance of the smith in later Iron Age times.  The act of hammering white-hot ingots of metal into functional or sacred artefacts was in itself an act of creation with a phallic implication.

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ANKH CROSS

Pharaoh being showered by two deities with the ankh and the ? symbols of eternal life and purity.

The Ankh is a symbol of eternal life held by gods and goddesses of Egypt as a mark of their divinity.  It has been likened to the orb of the sun with the long vertical arm representing its rays at midday and the shorter horizontal arms those at dawn and dusk, and that, as a sign of life and regeneration, it has a phallic connotation.

The origin of the Ankh has been ascribed to a combination of the male Tau and the female oval representing unity of the sexual organs, but, although this explanation makes sense in the light of its symbolism, the Reverend Baring-Gould considered the phallic theory “monstrous and devoid of evidence”.  The origin of the Ankh is lost in prehistory but was spread, presumably from Egypt, to many cultures of western Asia and even beyond.  The Ankh is often described in books as a handled Tau cross but, although the loop is used as a handle when the symbol is being held, it also appears just as frequently on its own as indicative of the life force.  The shape of the Ankh can be likened to a stylised crucifixion with head, outstretched arms, and vertical body and legs: it was adopted by early Egyptian Christians as their ‘cross’.

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SWASTIKA

Swastika motifs from many hundreds of prehistoric clay items excavated during the 1870's at Troy.

The first known European examples are on early Bronze Age pottery dated to about 3000bc from Anatolia (modern central Turkey).  A lead female idol was discovered at Troy in 1871 with its vulva marked by a swastika, along with many pottery items covered in swastikas and crosses described as belonging to the great god who controls the sky and the weather.  The sign is found in Greek culture during all its periods up to Classical times and appears on a multitude of items dating from the Bronze and Iron Ages in Celtic and Nordic cultures.

Although the swastika was previously often shown together with obvious solar symbols, such as radiate and concentric circles, it is during Romano-Celtic times that the association of swastika with the sun and sky becomes incontestable.

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THE CHRISTIAN CROSS

A very early representation of the Crucifixion in which only the two thieves are bound to the stauros. The sun and moon are placed either side of Christ who stands in an attitude of prayer.

Evolution of Christian symbolism owes as much to changing social and political events within the Roman Empire as it did to religious ideology.  For the first three hundred years Christians were subjected to sporadic violence, public disapproval and ridicule; all of which periodically coalesced in widespread persecution authorised by Imperial degree.  In early centuries Christians had no images or idols of their god whom they could worship and were accused of being atheists: lack of images struck at the heart of Roman pagan religiousness where honour of the gods to avert potential anger was basic to belief.  Since natural and man-made calamities were accounted for by a lack of proper reverence to ‘the gods’ by ‘the people’, Christians could easily be made scapegoats for any misfortune.

Heresies, rival churches, and absorption of pagan belief and ritual were combated by bringing acceptable ideas into the mainstream Church but excommunicating those groups or individuals considered to be too outrageous.  Non-conformity always remained a thorn in the side of ‘official’ Christianity.

The emperor’s conversion to Christianity and his favouritism towards it led to a rapid increase in Church wealth and influence.  This new respectability and access to centres of power led to a stream of ambitious men and women becoming ‘believers’ in order to further personal careers and family fortunes.  Consequently there was a watering down of genuine faith, accompanied by a greater influx of pagan ideas and practices which both loosened the severe morality of early times, and altered Christian forms of worship from the simplistic to the lavish.  The Church was not long in showing off its new privileged position, riches and power.

The contradictory trend to this fanaticism was that, as paganism declined, at least in the urban areas which were mainly in the central and Eastern Empire (the mainly rural West remained a bastion of paganism for many centuries), there was growing adoption of pagan mythology and religious practice into the Church whereby ‘converted’ pagans were able to continue worship and ritual familiar to their ancestral beliefs.  It is against this background that the evolution of the Chi-Rho symbol to the equal-armed cross, the Latin Cross, and the Crucifix, should be considered.

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CHI-RHO CROSS

The Chi Rho standard on a coin of Emperor Constantine (The Great) c.AD320 glorifying the power of the army.

From an unknown time a symbol consisting of a combination of the Greek letters X (chi) and P (rho) was in common usage to express the idea of usefulness or good, and was employed by readers and scribes to mark suitable passages on pagan papyri.  During early Christian times, and for centuries before, Greek was the lingua franca of the eastern Mediterranean and the language commonly used by Christians, most of whom lived in that region.  The Greek word for Christ (Christos) is CRISTOS and the first two letters came to signify his name as a sort of secret code: it was the first abstract symbol of the Christian faith.

Constantine realised the political benefits to be derived from having Christian communities as allies in conjunction with his military strength of 100,000 energetic and aggressive Britons, Gauls and barbarians.  His final showdown for overall power in the Western Empire was against a superior force of Romans, Italians, Tuscans, Carthaginians and Sicilians under Emperor Maxentius.

The Chi-Rho was marked on the shields of Constantine’s soldiers and a resounding victory was won against all the odds.  Despite being a brilliant general Constantine explained his success as being due to intervention by the God of the Christians.

Constantine was a shrewd and calculating politician who employed all available physical and spiritual means to keep himself in power, and would not have been averse to twisting a natural phenomena to his advantage.  The ‘sun-dog’ effect and cloud shapes in conjunction with sunlight can produce unusual effects, and knowledge of Christian imagery could easily be used to give meaning to an apparent cross-shape in the sky - it is known that there was at least one Christian bishop who accompanied Constantine’s entourage in his campaign against Maxentius.  It is clear however that the emperor had challenged the Christian god to an ordeal by battle and that God kept his pledge.  Yet the cross does not appear on a single known example of surviving coinage or art made during the reign of Constantine.

It is worth noting that the most commonly employed pagan emblem used to symbolise the sun throughout much of western Europe at that time was the spoked wheel, and that these usually had four or six spokes making it almost identical to the Chi-Rho apart from the ‘blob’ on the top.  It was a powerful symbol of protection which would be well-known to the soldiers of Constantine’s army, nearly all of whom came from cultures familiar with this popular solar sky symbol, and it is interesting that the emperor should have had his vision of Christianity made manifest by the sun: Christ became just one more sun god amongst many.

The pagan solar wheel cross transformed into the Christian Chi Rho symbol.

Early Christians, faced with persecution and continuously confronted with the cruel and horrific punishment of criminals by crucifixion, looked for comfort and love through the power of Jesus rather than being reminded of his suffering as a human being.  It took generations after the legalisation of Christianity for the stigma of the cross as an instrument of punishment to be removed.

The Chi-Rho Christogram, in common with other Christian symbols, underwent a gradual process of evolution which may have been induced by political motives as much as by religion.  The sign stood as a shorthand symbol for the name and person of Christ but the cross was ‘extricated from the Christogram to direct special attention to the sacrifice and death of Jesus for mankind.’

The Christogram began its metamorphosis towards the cross by the replacement of the X with a horizontal bar across the stem of the P.  The next step was the ‘implosion’ of the top of the P to become a small hook shape at the top of the stem - the ends of the ‘cross’ usually expanded to take the shape of the Roman letter X.  This letter form appears on both pagan and Christian coinage as the final letter of the word pax (peace) - perhaps the Christian motif was deliberately given this shape to emphasise the ‘peace’ expected after victory over barbarian tribes, and the elimination of flourishing pagan cults.

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THE LATIN CROSS AND THE CRUCIFIX

The mixture of the Chi Rho Cross and equal-armed 'Greek' Cross on the way to being transformed into the 'Latin' Cross. Coin of Emperor Olybrius (AD472) who reigned for only six months. The inscription reads SALVS MVNDI  - Saviour of the World.

Devotion to the Cross was stimulated by discovery of the True Cross in Jerusalem during the early 4th century by the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine.  Whether true or not, the legend of its discovery makes a good story and was widely believed in during medieval times.

The Latin cross hardly figures in surviving European pagan artforms as a separate image and seems to be a distinctly Christian symbol.

The actual mode of the supposed Crucifixion of Christ was obviously unknown. Many images show him hung from a Y-shaped cross (furca) or T-shaped cross (tau) as well as the more commonplace Latin Cross. Image dated to 1248 from the Chapel of San Silvestro in Rome.

It makes its decisive appearance about the middle of the 5th century after which it becomes more and more common on coinage, though other forms of Christian cross do not disappear altogether.  A glance through the coinage of emperors from the 4th to the 7th centuries show a bewildering variety of symbols indicating a Christian belief: the Chi-Rho, Greek cross and Latin cross in various styles, frequently associated with pagan deities.  The longer lower arm of the cross is often elongated still further to make a standard some six feet in length which may be associated with the goddess Victory or Roma, and which supplants earlier forms of military standard.  The Chi-Rho had previously been shown as surmounting a military standard and some coins show this sign replaced by a St.Andrews Cross on top of a long staff.  Whether this had any specific Christian significance is unclear.

“During the first five centuries Christians felt an unconquerable repugnance to the representation of the Saviour of the world nailed to an instrument of punishment.”

Crucifixion was used as a death penalty by various ancient nations and was one of several methods of capital punishment decreed by Athenian State law. The cross - stauros - comprised of two wooden beams with the horizontal arm placed slightly below the top of the upright beam to form a T-shape: the malefactor was hung naked from the vertical stake to which his feet were fixed with nails, the hands being nailed to each side of the transverse bar - sometimes the victim was bound to the ‘cross’ to prolong the agony with a lingering death from thirst and hunger.  Forlong writes that the stauros was used to fasten down men who were to be flayed or disemboweled, and that, up until ad65 the crux was only known as an instrument of torture to thrust through the body of one on the stauros.  He writes that the Roman furca was like a Y, similar to the Druidic sacred tree, and considered that Jesus was probably crucified on a ‘cross’ of this shape since Jews never used a cross for punishments: he goes on to emphasise that both Y and T were highly phallic - “more especially with a dead man hung thereon”.

The original Greek of the New Testament described Christ as being executed on a stauros - a straight piece of wood erected in the ground on which a cross-bar was usually fixed.  The term cross was not applied to the Cross of Christ until the time of Justin Martyr (mid-2nd century) when early translators of the Gospels into Latin used crux to describe death by crucifixion.  The stauros was commonly erected as a permanent feature at Roman execution sites and it is probable that, if the story of the Crucifixion is historically true, Christ only carried the cross-bar as it was the practice under Roman law for criminals to carry their own ‘cross’ to the place of execution.  But Christian art would adhere to the strict letter of the Latin translation of New Testament texts.

It is interesting that many early images of the Crucifixion show a decided lack of suffering: the body is alive, upright, arms extended straight, no nails or wounds are shown, no crown of thorns, and the figure is normally fully clothed. “A God young and beautiful, hanging without compulsion or pain.” The perfect ideal of a voluntary sacrifice whereby the divine triumphs over human death.  Although Langdon suggested that Jesus was invariably shown alive on the cross until about the 12th century, there is a 9th century crucifix belonging to the son of Charlemagne showing the figure as being dead.

Christ 'The King' shown as being alive on the cross.

Early crucifixes tended to be symbolical rather than realistic.  It was not until medieval asceticism took hold in the Christian mind that the crucifix was altered to show more bodily pain - a trend seized upon by later artists to show off their skills in depicting facial expression and knowledge of anatomy.

Christian art depicting the Crucifixion shows the ‘cross’ in such a wide variety of forms that it is clear the actual instrument of Christ’s death was not known, and that the precise form used in Roman execution procedure had either been forgotten or was not compatible with the shape of the Cross sanctioned by the Church as a representation of the Saviour.

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PAGANISM IN CHRISTIANITY

The Transfiguration of Christ depicted on a wheel-cross placed on a Vessica Pisces, so joining male and female pagan symbolism. 12th century painted glass at Chartres Cathedral, France.

Transition from paganism to Christianity was, in general, at least in western Europe, one of very gradual assimilation rather than a sudden traumatic break.  Pagan images, rituals, sacred sites, symbols and even deities were all subtly adapted to Christian use wherever possible.  Where this could not be done, or where the natives stubbornly held to their ancestral beliefs, the full weight of the Roman Church was brought to bear.  Where the relevant pagan people lived in a Christian State then the whole repressive arm of the law could be activated to force an end to disapproved of, or politically dangerous, forms of worship.

The blond hair and pale face of the Greek deity Zeus, revered as the Father of All the Gods for 1000 years throughout the eastern Mediterranean, was taken as the human image of the Palestinian Jew, Jesus; while many of the attributes and iconography of the Great Goddess Artemis (Diana of Ephesus) were adopted in ad431 for The God-bearer - Virgin Mary.

The Passion of the King of the Jews on a wooden ‘tree’ reflects almost exactly the mythologies of dying and resurrection pagan solar gods of vegetation - Osiris, Adonis, Attis, Dionysus, Bacchus - rebirth after crucifixion taking place in the spring to mirror rebirth of the natural world after the darkness of winter.

That the rural population continued ancestral pagan practices is proved by the large number of Church and Royal decrees issued to prohibit them, especially between the 5th and 11th centuries.  Worship of all kinds of tree and wood, stones, fountains (wells), the lighting of torches, fire, the sun and the moon were all forbidden.  The Council of Nantes c.ad658 exhorted the clergy to dig up and hide “those stones which in remote and woody places are still worshipped”.  An earlier Council held at Tours in ad567 threatened to excommunicate anyone found worshipping idols or stones, so showing that many nominal converts must have been involved in pagan rituals - a non-Christian could hardly be excommunicated.

The Tau became the symbol of the Egyptian Saint Anthony and has been discovered in a Christian context on inscriptions at the Great Oasis at Mount Sinai in the area of the Red Sea: it was at one time “very general in this part of the East”.  In Scandinavia little 9th century soapstone moulds were found for the simultaneous casting of the Cross of Christ and the Hammer of Thor so that both could be worn at once.  This sign also decorated garments of Cistercian monks during the Middle Ages and its application was popular in images of the Crucifixion during the Middle Ages - so maintaining association with the pagan sky/sun god

In Christian literature Jesus is continually referred to in terms of light and the sun, and is perceived as virtually interchangeable with Sol Invictus and pagan deities of annual resurrection.

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THE PHALLIC CROSS

 

This extraordinary golden cross depicts four phalli with a circle of female pudenda around the four testicles in the centre. It was designed to be suspended from the neck and is thought to have been intended for someone of high rank. Found at San Agata di Goti, Naples, Italy, during the early 19th century.

Phallic significance of the Tau and the Ankh has already been noted but there is evidence that the cross itself also had a similar connotation.  The earliest unambiguous images of a connection between the phallus and the equal-armed cross come from Scandinavian and Italian Bronze Age rock cut figures, and the erect penis was commonly used in religions of early Mediterranean and West Asian civilisations to show the procreative and protective properties of various deities.

An ancient cross discovered in Malta was formed by four huge phalli carved out of the solid granite with the testicles at the outer end of the ‘arms’.  The adjacent island of Gozo “had numerous other examples similarly formed” which were believed to be the work of Phoenician colonists during the first millennium bc.  Yet more phallic crosses “in the same grossly conspicuous manner” are known from Etruscan and Pompeian cultures on the Italian mainland.  The anonymous author of the above information suggests that centuries later the Knights of St John, when they finally settled on Malta, changed the phallic cross into four triangles meeting point downwards.

But a type of boundary stone used in ancient Greece did take on an unambiguous phallic significance.  The monument was known as a herm from its later association with the god Hermes, and, in its most primitive state, was just a simple heap of stones: it was customary for passers-by to throw another stone onto the pile as an offering - later on large square or triangular upright stones took the place of these heaps.  Hermae were used as landmarks placed on estate boundaries and along public roads, usually at cross-roads and junctions.  These markers were treated with great reverence and presented with offerings and garlanded with flowers, usually hung from a transverse bar placed just below the head to make a cross-like shape.

Although elusive and difficult to unearth there is concrete evidence of links between the cross and the phallus in classical pagan civilisations, a link which was to continue into Christian art and mythology not only in the image of various types of cross with their symbolism of protection and renewal (fertility), but in the adoration of phallic pagan deities disguised as ‘saints’ - Cosmo, Damiano, Foutin, Guerlichon, Gilles, Rene, Regn, Arnaud, Guignole - figures associated with phallic rituals designed to give fertility, health or just ‘good luck’.  Many of these ceremonies were carried out in churches under auspices of the resident priest as recently as the early 19th century.

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CROSSROADS AND MARKET CROSSES

As already described, representations of pagan gods of fertility and protection  - hermae and termini - were placed where roads, paths or fields met or crossed each other.  It was customary for the buyers and sellers of animals, especially of those destined for sacrifice, to go to ‘sacred’ crossroads where markets were habitually established as being symbolic of the heavenly spot around which the universe revolved.  This practice was carried into the Christian era when stone crosses of varying design were placed at similar locations; many became known as wayside crosses or market crosses.

But the pagan association of crossroads with worship also meant that Christians considered them to be places of witchcraft, ghosts and demons.  Suicides, who were denied a Christian burial unless they had been certified as being mad, were buried at crossroads, usually at night and with a stake through the body to prevent it rising again: this practice continued until an act of Parliament in 1823 forbade crossroad burial.  Both divination and healing rituals were performed at crossroads where gallows were also erected - possibly in a belief that the condemned person could gain redemption by being executed at a cross in imitation of the Crucifixion?.  It seems that the Church attempted to offset some of the ‘evil’ associated with crossroads by building churches there and by erecting Christian crosses.

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WEST CORNWALL

West Cornwall has about 10,000 years of (pre)history: some 8,500 years are pagan and only 1500 Christian.  The region therefore has, like most long inhabited places, a far longer tradition of non-Christian religions than many would care to recognise or accept.

‘Celtic’ Christianity was, like other localised forms of Christianity, an amalgam with indigenous pagan beliefs and ritual which gave to it its own distinctive character.  Society after the departure of the Romans was still tribal (i.e. there was no overall national authority) and, as such, organisation of the Church reflected this tribal structure with its own fiercely independent local characteristics.  Up until the building of the railway into West Cornwall during the first half of the 19th century the best means of communication to and from the area was by sea, so continuing centuries-old links with Gaul and Ireland rather than with ‘up-country’ Britain.

Local Cornish crosses are of four main types of cross, all of which have their own variations.

Slab crosses are the simplest type and consist of a rough piece of granite with a cross cut in relief.

Wheel-crosses form the largest number and are fairly evenly distributed throughout the County more numerous towards the far west, although this could be the result of differing rates of destruction.

There are a number of four and three-holed crosses, many enriched with bosses, a figure, and interlaced knotwork.

The Latin cross is not very common and most examples occur in the Parish of Paul where the port of Mousehole is situated.

Richard Courtney of Penzance maintained that the wheel-headed cross was derived from an amalgamation of the cone or pillar representing the male Godhead, with the circle or holed stone representing the female deity of creation; so strengthening the power of each as well as emphasising their interdependence in a single image of linga and yoni.  These ‘idols’ were later made into Christian monuments, first by cutting a simple cross into the stone (as was done to pagan standing stones) and later by chipping away the stone to leave a cross standing out in relief.  Others, he suggested, were altered by cutting the circular head into a Latin cross or by sinking triangular ovals into the head to make a cross shape.  Certainly in India the combination of stone lingam set in, or on, a stone yoni base was originally intended to represent the spirit of Siva with the power to satisfy a yearning for children (i.e. fertility) but later, when property became equally coveted, the stones symbolised protection of property and produce of the fields as well as wealth and commercial traffic.

But a type of boundary stone used in ancient Greece did take on an unambiguous phallic significance.  The monument was known as a herm from its later association with the god Hermes, and, in its most primitive state, was just a simple heap of stones: it was customary for passers-by to throw another stone onto the pile as an offering - later on large square or triangular upright stones took the place of these heaps.  Hermae were used as landmarks placed on estate boundaries and along public roads, usually at cross-roads and junctions.  These markers were treated with great reverence and presented with offerings and garlanded with flowers, usually hung from a transverse bar placed just below the head to make a cross-like shape.

Both the Greek hermae and the Roman terminus have many conceptual similarities with Christian wayside crosses, and the pagan practice of leaving alms for the poor at the foot of boundary stones continues into modern times with gifts occasionally being placed by wayside crosses.

It is possible then, bearing in mind all the other pagan antecedents to the cross, and the use of boundary stones, that the wheel-headed cross of West Cornwall was intended to be a protective fertility monument having only a superficial Christian significance - later on this type of cross was superseded by the less ambiguous Christian symbol of the Latin cross.

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