In the Sacred Heart image in Christian iconography Jesus opens his cloak to reveal his heart, which is floating outside his chest. It has a crown of thorns and a crucifix on top with some little flames licking about the cross. It is not the weirdness of disembodied hovering heart that constitutes my interest in this common religious image though, but the rays of light that are coming from behind it.
As in the image above there are many fruit boxes with similarly radiant lines, usually emerging from behind a hill, a text, or a piece of fruit. It is undoubtedly – at least in the hill scenes – a solar radiance. My view is that the sun is also the source of the light coming from behind Jesus’s hovering heart. I am pretty sure that the maker of this picture would disagree. The church would not endorse this notion either, and would probably say that the light is a divine light, the light of the Lord. I argue that God and the sun are the same thing. The purpose of this entry is to hypothesise that the imagery of fruit boxes and religious iconography are linked. It is my view that fruit boxes re-appropriate the the use of solar imagery from religion and as a consequence align themselves with paganism. The reason I say ‘re-appropriate’ is because Christianity adopted the sun as a symbolic device from paganism and what the fruit box is doing in using solar imagery is rescuing it back. The fruit box designer may not be cognisant of these heroics but in an image-saturated society that has emerged from western, religious, picture-making traditions, and where unconscious references to ideas are probably made as often as conscious ones, I don’t think it is a stretch to make an iconographic link from paganism, to Christianity, and back to paganism via the fruit box.
When Saint Patrick went and ‘liberated’ the Irish from paganism and allegedly banished all the snakes, he also very cleverly usurped the pagan sites of worship and made them Christian. This sort of thing had been happening elsewhere in the world for a while and the process was to an extent what we in modern times call a re-branding exercise; take a sacred site or date and replace it with a new identity.
The Christians ‘adopted’ many things from the Pagans. The sun was a consideration for instance in terms of the orientation of its buildings and earth works. In Ireland many graves have an east-west axis in accordance with the rising and setting sun. Many churches themselves share this axis, and often will align with the sunrise on Christmas, which happens to be very close to the winter solstice (funnily enough the birth of Christ aligns with the birth of pagan solar calendar. Coincidence? Nah).
Alignment in this regard is a direct appropriation from paganism. Newgrange in Ireland (image below) is a monument built for the winter solstice, although it was probably used for other celebrations as well. Its construction pre-dates the pyramids, although compared with the pyramids of Giza it is a mere mound. The monument is round in shape and appears to be an augmentation of the hill it sits on. There is a pathway or corridor that leads to a chamber beneath the centre of the hill. As with many Druid monuments, like Stonehenge, there are stones in the structure that have come from great distances away, probably transported there by river. The sun rises in a particular trajectory on December the 20th and at about 8:20 AM it shines through an aperture in the side of the hill and down a corridor to the chamber, which is illuminated briefly. The effect is supposedly amazing. So much so that there is a lottery to get in there for the solstice. When Claire and I visited the site we entered the chamber, which was pretty small, and the guide activated a simulation of the light that occurs on the solstice (only after mentioning that it is “much better with the real sun”). Personally I’d prefer to win the Oz lotto. I think the chances are actually slightly better than winning access to the chamber for the solstice. And it would probably be cloudy anyway.
When we look at things like halos and and sacred hearts what we are looking at is the co-opting of the sun, as the giver of life, into Christian iconography in order to give those figures the aura of the sun. The sun was deployed as device of the church in language as well. “I am the Light of the world” Jesus once said (John 8:12). Basically I take this to mean that Jesus was saying he was the sun. It wasn’t long before people were replacing sun with son, and all of a sudden he was the Son of God. The sun (not the son) is the reason that there is life. People have known that for a long time before they even understood that the sun was. There are countless examples in the Bible of ‘light’ being used to describe God or Jesus (et al). It is a throwback to paganism’s relationship with natural forces, most importantly the sun. The sun is god, god is the sun. Unlike Christianity however, paganism didn’t need words to describe the power of the great burning mass. It is self-evident – you just need to look at it.
To me this represents the fundamental difference between a religion like Christianity and paganism. The former enacted a removal of spiritual forces from the physical realm, away from things that you can see and touch, something the latter held as fundamental to worship. Religion turned spirituality from an earthly thing into an idea.
I like to think of the fruit box’s appropriation of solar imagery as the reunification of agriculture with paganism’s praise of the elements. As they are so connected to their land and the influence that the elements have on it, farmers feel the need to be kind to nature because they are usually the first ones that are affected by it. They have to be kind to it so it is kind to them. Farmers are working the same field (no pun intended) that the pagans were working in; their life was the land and the land was their life. Just like in all those Christian icons and fruit boxes, the source of the light is the sun, and the light of the sun is the source.