The Rise and Fall of the Halo
Stories of the renowned saints and mystics always fascinate; the vortex of many colors that surrounded Joseph of Cupertino before he performed his outstanding feats of levitation and teleportation; or the adventures of that paradox of mysteries, Teresa of Avila. She was profoundly mystical, yet an immensely practical reformer of enormous energy, a bastion of orthodoxy, while at the same time under suspicion by the Inquisition who believed her paranormal feats were diabolical in origin. When she came from prayer her fellow workers were frequently dazzled by the blaze of light surrounding her head.
Anyone who ever pokes through the dusty files of history will certainly agree that "things are seldom what they seem," including Teresa of Avila's halo. Many of the most sacred religious practices and symbols often have quite a different origin and explanation than is commonly assumed. While this is certainly true of the halo's history, what is even more interesting is what this phenomenon might now herald for a new stage of awareness in humanity's evolution. I was intrigued to discover well over one hundred parallels between the teachings of the Buddha and the teachings of Jesus five hundred years later, just as I was to discover that the seven sacraments of the Christian Church were all initiation ceremonies of the ancient Egyptian Mystery Schools. What did that tell us: was Jesus or the Buddha a plagiarist? On the contrary, they were both channels of a much more ancient wisdom.
If this is the case with such central matters as the teachings of Jesus or the sacraments of the Church, then what do the levitations of Joseph and the blazing countenance of Teresa tell us? That they were specially favored by God, who was thereby putting his stamp of divine approval on them? Or rather are they not far more likely to be telling us something of ultimate concern about the real nature of God and the true make up of the human being and of this universe in which we float?
The halo has been understood as an artistic device only, and by the nineteenth century it had definitely gone out of fashion with artists who were too embarrassed to portray it any more. But we're still accustomed to think of it as a religious trademark, and in the West, of course, to consider it the very badge of medieval Christian art. But in its origins the halo is neither western, Christian, nor even religious, and most interestingly of all, is probably not an artistic device either.
Haloes began to appear in art long before any religion with which it has been associated had ever assumed recognizable form. At the end of the Greek Dark Ages, twenty nine hundred years ago, Homer's Iliad describes a preternatural light shining around the heads of Greek heroes engaged in murderous combat at the height of pitched battle. But long before Homer, "sun discs" or rays of light appear around the heads of Ra and Hathor in Egyptian art. The Kushan Emperors of northwestern India seem to have been the first to depict themselves with haloes on their coins in the second and third centuries before Christ. And by doing that I think they intended to say far more than that God was on their side.
Later the depiction of haloes becomes quite common in both Japanese and Chinese Buddhist art and eventually appeared frequently in a great variety of Hindu religious literature.
Even when the halo began to be understood in the West as some form of divine radiance that conveyed closeness to divinity, it was probably an import from the Persian Empire and made its way to Rome with the spread of the Mithraic religion. The images of the Roman Emperors, like Alexander before them, began to feature aspects redolent of divinity, including the halo. Initially this was the practice only after they had died and were now judged to have been deified, but it soon came to be used also in the depictions of living Emperors.
It was only long after all of this long history, in the fourth century after Christ, that the halo began to be used by the organization that now claims the image as its own: the Christian Church. It belonged to the movement that more and more accommodated Jesus and Christianity to the traditions, practices and symbols of the mystery religions.
It is hardly surprising that within Christianity a hierarchy of haloes soon began to form. In the beginning only Christ was depicted with a halo and it was meant to represent his divine nature. In the early Christian centuries a considerable body of Christians believed that Christ was born in a state similar to every other human being and that he only acquired the state of being divine as his journey progressed. The Church, in confronting this view in what it called the Nestorian Heresy, defined as an article of its faith that Christ Jesus came into this world with a fully formed divine nature as well as a human nature. Some artistic depictions of Jesus before the Church made this pronouncement did not show him with a halo until after the time of his baptism by John, which was regarded as the most likely stage at which he assumed a divine nature. Those artworks would of course be regarded as seriously heretical by the orthodox believers.l
In medieval art it became customary to represent Persons of the Holy Trinity with a halo within which the figure of a cross was inscribed but God the Father was sometimes depicted with a triangular halo. Lesser mortals had to be satisfied with plain round or spherical haloes. This became the practice in the Middle Ages and later it became usual to depict only the circumference of the halo as a circular line.
For individuals who were revered for their sanctity but who had not yet been formally declared saints, it was usual to depict rays of light emanating from their heads, but no actual halo was added until canonization had taken place.
Sometimes in the early medieval period living people of renown were depicted with square haloes to indicate that, however illustrious they were, they were still alive.
Notorious villains of this world or of the world to come, such as Judas or Satan, were depicted with black solid haloes.
And finally even back in the secular days when haloes began, sometimes the entire body of the person was encased in a halo radiating beyond the physical body. Examples are found where Jesus is depicted with such a full-body halo and also a halo around his head. Where both intersected a vesica piscis was formed which had its own special significance.
By the High Renaissance period most of the major Italian painters had stopped depicting haloes altogether. Part of the reaction against the Protestant Reformation mandated that they be used in Catholic Christian art, but usually the painters tried to comply with this by placing a natural light source behind the subjects head to give the effect of a halo. By the nineteenth century haloes were definitely gone, unless one were striving to give a medieval 'flavor' to a scene. They are now found only in images of popular piety with those bleeding Jesus figures of the Mel Gibson genre.
However, haloes in their origin are neither western, Christian, or even religious, and most interestingly of all, are probably not artistic devices either.
What then does the luminescence around people like Teresa of Avila and Joseph of Cupertino really tell us? It wasn't imagined; those images were included by artists because that is what was actually seen around certain individuals.
But, even if it has ceased to be fashionable in mainline art, how is the luminescence of the halo to be explained and what has it to tell us? In both my book and DVD on the orb phenomenon, I point out that doing nothing but wondering in amazement at the variety of orbs pictures that can appear to us would be as if those physicians who first saw chromosomes in the blood after the invention of the microscope simply continued to look, without taking the knowledge they gained from looking to fight disease and promote health. If my contention is correct that orbs are seen by fluorescence, not by reflected light, is it possible that the different colors of fluouresced light that comes from the orbs really reveal dimensions above this physical one to which the orbs belong?
If so, then as individuals would we also exist right now in those same six planes of the electromagnetic spectrum above us which every high school text book of physics shows, since it is impossible for a lower frequency in the electromagnetic spectrum to exist without a higher one to hold it in place, right back to the source. If all those fabled and legendary beings of folklore and religious traditions really do exist, they would also presumably exist on one of those six planes above the physical that make up the whole gamut of the creation, but that would not make them superior to us, quite the contrary. So for example, if an Archangel is a being who lives on the fifth dimension or plane of reality, we would need to realize that so too do we exist there on that same dimension in another aspect of our makeup which plays its indispensable part in holding this physical aspect of us in being. Hebrews 2:7, quoting Psalm 8, says that God made us "a little less than the angels" but if my hypothesis is true would we not actually be more? Perhaps the effulgence, caused by the reaching of altered states in remarkable individuals of the past, and which was made visible and immortalized in the halo, is the talisman and pledge that we do not live in the kind of universe we thought, but in one that is frequency-based, and, even more important, one that is intensely responsive to thought? Is it possible that the interaction of mind with a frequency-based universe is what opens up access to the other dimensions that make us what we are, and that make up the universe as well? And is the mechanism that produces this what causes the halo?
If so this would be the path along which our emergence into true power and ability within ourselves lies. So if originally the halo was neither western, Christian, or even religious, and was probably not an artistic device either, who would have thought that now understood in a profoundly different way, it might be the herald for us of an enormous and long-forgotten human potential, not too long after we became embarrassed to depict it any more?
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