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The Mandorla Symbol

by
Jean Raffa

A mandorla is an ancient symbol that is largely unrecognized in the


Western world today. The shape, also known as vesica piscis, the Vessel of
the Fish, occurs when two circles overlap to form an almond shape in the
middle; hence, the name mandorla, which means almond nut in Italian.
In Hinduism this shape is called the yoni, a stylized vulva used in religious
art and as a maternity charm to celebrate and invoke the Great Mothers
creative, life-giving fertility.
Although the mandorla shares the symbolism of the mandala, the Hindu
term for a circle, the two also have separate meanings. Whereas the
mandala is a soul-symbol used as a meditative aid to encourage the spirit to
move forward along its path of evolution from the biological to the
spiritual, the mandorla represents the key to bringing this evolution about.

Mandorlas have carried powerful sacred overtones from earliest times. For
example, the virgin birth of the god Attis was conceived by a magic
almond. Early Christians used the shape as a secret symbol to represent
their belief that Jesus was the coming together of heaven and earth. In
medieval Christian art it framed the figures of saints, the virgin Mary, and
Christ, usually to suggest the aureole of light that surrounds the whole body
of holy persons, but sometimes piously (with an unintentional double
entendre) interpreted as a gateway to heaven. A twelfth-century panel in
the Chartres Cathedral shows Christ of the Apocalypse within a
mandorla. Alchemists and Christian mystics redefined the mandorla as the
arcs of two great circles, the left one for female matter, and the right for
male spirit.
As symbols of the interactions and interdependence of opposing worlds and
forces, the two separate mandalas which must meet and merge to form the
mandorla represent the sacred divide between spirit and matter, masculine
and feminine, self and other. The space wherein these apparently
irreconcilable opposites overlap is an image of hope for our torn world, a
healing place where we can reconcile our struggles with life and each other.
In his article, Mandorla: Ancient Symbol of Wholeness, Brien Jensen
writes, The mandorla begins the healing of the split. The overlap generally
is very thin at first, only a sliver of a new moon, but it is a beginning. As
time passes, the greater the overlap, the greater and more complete is the
healing. The mandorla binds together that which was torn apart and made
unwhole-unholy. It is considered the most profound religious experience
one can have in life.
The overlapping space between two souls is a place of growing selfawareness, acceptance, connection, and union. It is the communion table
where God and human, self and other, ego and Self meet. It is a sanctuary
wherein we connect with others to find refuge from the terrors of life. It is a
womb of poetry, story and ritual where the boundaries between left-brained
logos and right-brained mythos disappear, old life is refreshed, and new life
is nurtured and protected. Above all, it is a threshold from which healing
new life for ourselves and our world emerges.
The gorgeous art on this post is by my dear friend, Cicero Greathouse. I
invite you to visit his site and click on the link works on paper to see his
magnificent mandorlas. Perhaps you can pick out the one(s) which will
grace the cover of my next book, Healing the Sacred Divide.