Sign of the Cross

In the early days of the Jesus cult movement that rose in Rome, the symbol adopted by the cult was of two arced lines that suggested the form of a fish.  This was felt to be appropriate, for the Age of Pisces had begun in 60 BCE, and the astrological significance seemed to designate for man the opening of a buoyant, more fluid expansion of spirit.  The torturous crucifixion of Jesus at some unknown date 90 years later was not, in the early years of that cult, the featured element drawn upon; the intended feature of the cult was the teachings attributed to Jesus, which taught respect for each other.  The arced lines suggesting a fish was retained until around the third century CE timeframe, at which time wily men began to heavily manipulate anxious believers (usually of the lower classes) for secular power.

The choice of those later men to concentrate on the sacrifice of a life for the good of the people was not a new proposal.  The god Adonis of the Phoenicians and Tammuz of the Babylonians, among many others, were once honored yearly for their bringing the renewal of life out of apparent nothingness.  The Babylonian mysteries used as their central symbol the mythic Tau, a simple T-form to represent Tammuz, the god (nature) who was resurrected each spring.  Those who were initiated into the mysteries were marked upon their forehead with water in the sign of the mystic Tau as a promise of new life.  So the cross symbol, or Tau, had a long-established history of the cross implying salvation of life.  There was, as well, with the cross a subliminal sexual suggestion which reinforced the implication of new life, for the vertical line intersecting the horizontal line represented the male organ of generation in union with the female.  In other words, the T-cross represented the supportive energy framework and renewal process as well as the ecstasy of that energizing exchange.

The use of the Tau-cross in many cultures, such as the Egyptian, made the acceptance of the cross tolerable to the second generation of Jesus cultists.  The Tau-cross was already in wide use as a sacred emblem throughout the ancient western world, not necessarily as an object of worship in itself but as an emblem of the power that gives forth with life.  Thus the cross was often referred to as the “tree of life,” and it was not uncommon to depict the cross with leaves and blossoms, sometimes even fruit springing from it.  In this way the sharp right angles of the stark straight-line form, which are not common in nature, was embraced and rendered productive by nature.

The early “fathers” of the Jesus cult had concentrated primarily on converting the disgruntled Jews, but as the first century closed the cult leaders began to move away from the teachings ascribed to Jesus and threw their attention upon the gross suffering, pain and death of the “savior.”  The switch in direction did not exactly veer far from the Jewish tendency to think of themselves as the world’s greatest sufferers, however.  Thus suffering became established early on as a badge of merit for the Jesus cult members, and the Roman implement of torture was thus destined to be elevated as a status symbol for soul salvation.

For early Jesus cult leaders such as Ignatius of Antioch, one of the so-called “Apostolic Fathers,” in the general timeframe c. 100-107, the promoting of the glory in suffering and pain enabled him to charge converts with fanaticism of such intensity that they actually became hateful toward everyone else’s faith.  This is a fact of history that has been consistently kept smothered down by the organized faith business.  In that fanaticism the early “Christians” thus morphed into a threat to the stability of the Roman Empire that the founders of the cult had hoped would lessen discord with the Jews!  By the second century CE mounting distrust of that cult began to disturb emperors and the public.  The fanatic cultists gloried in their assumed salvation, some even rushing into the gladiatorial arenas to be sport for the lions.

By the late first century CE, Jesus cult centers were beginning to spread across Italy, then to Greece, Asia Minor and North Africa.  It should be noted, however, that in Rome and the Asiatic provinces as late as 222 CE the favored symbol of the Jesus cult was still that of two arced lines in the likeness of a fish.  It is related by Tertullian (230 CE, Latin ecclesiastical writer, De Corona Militis) that the place of worship at Carthage was “infected” with the Pagan symbol—meaning the Crux Ansata, the sign of life.  The cross emblem first used by cult members in Egypt thus had absolutely nothing to do with the alleged crucifixion of the cult’s central figure.  Gradually the Crux Ansata was shorn of its handle to become the simple Tau cross, and in that form it was first employed on the sepulchers of cult members.  What this means is that the Tau cross symbol professed a belief in a continuance of life, not a gross reminder of a savior’s torture and death allegedly endured for the sake of cult-member salvation.

But the fish emblem was a difficult image to stamp out, and even in 361 CE, Jesus was still being referred to as “Ichthys,” Greek, meaning “fish.”  A fact that has been ignored is that in the Talmud the rabbinical Messiah is called Dag, the fish.  The representation as fish was therefore from much older Pagan wisdom and represented the Life Principle within the primal “waters” (energies) of Creation.  This wisdom was worldwide.  The Hindus, for example, symbolized the first Avatar of Vishnu as half-fish, half man; the Greeks honored Phoebus, their fish/man; the Chaldeans adored their fish/man Oannes (Ea or En-ki) who dwelt in the nether sea.  In all these cultures their fish-associated gods represented the Life Principle within Creation’s activity.  The Jesus cult, however, labored to disassociate their savior figure from Pagan teachings of scientific principles of Creation in favor of a corporate-like faith system in which they held CEO status.

The use of the cross in the later Pauline-type “Christian” observances seem, as noted, to have first appeared in the early Egyptian sect, spreading into the Egyptian regions and back to Rome.  The Jesus cult gradually took over the cross as it own, and just as the Vestal Virgins of Pagan Rome wore crosses suspended from their necklaces, so too did that custom arise among the cult members.  Later in time this became a required ornament of the Catholic priests and nuns. The simple fish emblem was certainly more in keeping with the early teachings credited to Jesus, and by Gospel account Jesus chose simple fishermen as his first apostles.  And Jesus is credited with feeding the multitude with two fishes (the sign of Pisces) and five loaves of bread.  In Matthew 12:40 Jesus likens himself to the fish-man Jonah when foretelling his exit from mortal existence.  Tellingly, to this day the pope wears the Fishermen’s Ring, not a ring depicting a crucifix.  This seems to suggest that the “fathers” of the developing church chose to identify with harsher interpretations of “gospels” that, like Hebrew scriptures, were rich in judgment passing and apocalyptic threats.  Thus the peace-suggestive fish emblem was replaced by a material-minded priesthood with the symbol of the Roman implement of torture and death.  However, that harsh image of god’s “only begotten son” sent to agonize upon the cross could also inflict upon the subconscious mind of believers a suggestion of godly indifference.

Of all emblems used for the highly organized religions of the world, the cross emblem selected to designate Christian belief is a form that is not found in nature, nor is such rigidity representative of the lavish diversity of matter and life forms that are found throughout creation.

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