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Wearing Your Symbol about Your Neck

It's been a week and a half since I posted? This whole summer thing is wreaking havoc on my blog schedule. (The beach is such a homey place, though... I just can't stay away! Thank goodness for review books that are portable "work" that isn't on my laptop.) The big news is that Serenity Adventures won an Origins Award this weekend! I'm really thrilled -- the competition was very stiff, I thought -- and I wish a huge congrats to editor Jamie Chambers and the other contributors. Good work team!

I've been pondering a number of posts since I was last here, and the one that's been sticking with me is similar to a post I wrote after coming home from Greece and Turkey last year, about alignment. I suspect I recalibrate my spiritual life a little bit every time I come back from a study tour, because I always learn something about myself while I'm away. Sometimes I learn even more when I come back.

When I first went to England as a student on the Myth in Stone tour in 2000, Mark Vecchio advised me that if I wanted to buy a cross necklace for myself, I should look in Glastonbury. At the time, I wasn't a cross-wearer. I'd been a Christian all my life (raised United Methodist, which is what I am still, though I don't currently have a home church), but I didn't wear the symbol. In part, it was an effort to go incognito. In my four years at Simon's Rock, I'd learned that wearing a symbol meant people would have expectations before they new you -- they'd associate everything they already had in their minds about what that symbol meant and put up barriers before you said word one. For many of my peers in college, their first association with Christianity was being judgmental; hypocrisy followed pretty closely behind. That fast judgment is certainly true of more than college students: when I lived in Detroit, I had the fun of watching a couple of friends realize that Christians didn't have to be "stupid"; before, they'd always assumed it was a religion for the ignorant.

So I wasn't terribly interested in wearing a cross at that moment in my life. I've gone back and forth on this, because I do have a family cross that I wear on occasion. In that case, it is a symbol of the religion, but also a symbol of family. It was worn by women before me, so there's a connection there that's more than faith. At this point in my life, I'm less concerned about those first impressions than I used to be, and so I don't have any objections to wearing the symbol of my religion, but I still don't feel particularly drawn to wear it every day.

On this Myth in Stone tour, I thought, well, maybe I just don't feel drawn to wear a cross daily because I don't have the right one. I'd be returning to Glastonbury, so I might as well look around and see if a cross particularly resonated with me. So I paused and looked at the Celtic crosses in the different shops, waiting for one to just seem right. (I had found an enamel cross I particularly liked in Ireland, but foolishly didn't buy it, thinking, "Oh, I don't need to spend the money." I've regretted it since. I was looking for that same feeling to strike me again.) You may guess at this point in the story that I did not come home with a cross necklace. You'd be correct. Nothing called out to me and wanted to be worn.

Instead, a necklace that I'd owned before I began the trip, one that I wore nearly every day I was there, reestablished itself as my proper daily wear. A few years before I got married, I was looking for jewelry that would remind me of Glastonbury. I thought I'd particularly like something that showed the Vesica Piscis (the design I use as an icon whenever I'm talking about British mythology) or something with the image of the Tor. On a small Web site called Celtic Attic, I found a little bronze pendant of St. Michael's tower atop Glastonbury Tor, with radiant lines coming out from the tower to the circle that shaped the pendant. It looks a little like a Catholic medal -- it's obviously a design that's intended to evoke a religious significance. At the time, there were only two of the piece left at the shop, and I hemmed and hawed over whether I should spend the money. I asked the advice of two friends (one of them my current husband), who agreed -- I didn't have the money to spend. I saw two days later that the pendant had sold, and I mourned a little, realizing I had wanted it quite a bit, and my mistake had been in not buying it when I saw it. (You'd think I'd have learned from this experience, but alas, I do continue to make the same mistake sometimes.) Luckily for me, my sneaky now-husband, in advising me not to purchase it, had bought it for me, so that Christmas, I got Glastonbury Tor, all wrapped up in a tiny box.

I've never seen a piece like this pendant since, and every time I wear it to Glastonbury, people (usually pilgrims like me) know it for what it is immediately -- and then say that more of them ought to be made! The more I wore it while I was in England, the more I thought about St. Michael, who seems to be both a destroyer and a redeemer. In the chapel at St. Michael's Mount, there's a sculpture of St. Michael, reaching one hand out to a defeated Satan while he holds his sword like a cross above his head. It seems to suggest that the only way to defeat Lucifer is to redeem him, to bring him back into the fold. Like Apollo, Michael kills or defeats a serpent, and there's a moment of union between the warrior and the serpent when the spear or sword pierces its side. In Apollo's case, the serpent grants him the powers of prophecy -- he becomes like her by having defeated her. With Michael, it's harder to say what that moment entails, but the comparison between the two stories is intriguing to me.

Glastonbury Tor itself is said to be a hill which, entered, is the gateway to the Otherword/Underworld. It may have a labyrinth both across its surface and inside the hill. (There is archaelogical evidence for the former and legend for the latter.) St. Michael's Tower serves as a capstone, something that keeps the energy within the hill (fairy or otherwise) from running wild, but also directs that same energy to the heavens. The Tor and the tower are a unity of forces: the pagan and the Christian, the feminine (hills are often thought to be feminine) and the masculine (the tower symbolism here is obvious), chaos and order. That sense of balance appeals to me (I'm a good Libra, after all.)

So, now that I'm home, my daily-wear necklace is once again St. Michael's Tower on Glastonbury Tor. While it's not recognizable at first glance, it does symbolize some of the complexities of my faith while reflecting my Christianity -- St. Michael's Tower was part of a monastery before the dissolution of the Catholic church in England by Henry VIII. It also carries memories of my relationship before I was married (and my sneaky husband's gift-buying savvy) and of the trips to England when I've worn it, both my tour with my sister in 2003 and this most recent journey. It is clearly just an artistically done piece of bronze that is also a symbol. But a symbol becomes its meaning, rather than just the sum of its parts.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 1st, 2009 07:14 pm (UTC)
As I've had to ask my conservative Catholic friends more than once, which is the greater victory: Tossing Satan into Hell, where he can brood defiantly for eternity--or seeing Satan kneeling at the feet of the Most High, confessing his error and begging forgiveness?

There's an interesting book I've been meaning to recommend: Outward Signs, by Canon Edward N. West (Walker, 1989) which is a catalog of Christian symbols, including every species of cross I have ever seen or heard of. When I first read the book, I deliberately paid attention to the symbols that triggered a resonance with me; among the crosses, the only two were the Celtic cross and the cross pommy, which is the cross generally associated with St. Michael. In my meditations since, I've had the insight that the cross pommy represents the struggle against evil, and the Celtic cross universal redemption. Seen another way, one represents the journey, and the other the journey's end.

I keep a small Celtic pectoral cross, given to me by my bishop when we belonged to an Old Catholic parish in Phoenix, and wear it on religious occasions. I've never seen a pendant of the cross pommy, but I'm watching for it, and someday the two will hang side by side.

Jul. 1st, 2009 07:47 pm (UTC)
Oh! Doing some quick research, the cross pommy has associations with the apple (that's one representation for the bulb on each side), which of course sends my brain straight back to Avalon:

Glastonbury = Avalon = The Isle of Apples
Glastonbury Tor -> St. Michael's Tower -> Cross pommy


I love your ideas on that pairing, and the concept of the two hanging together is just beautiful.
Jul. 2nd, 2009 02:15 am (UTC)
Did you ever read Diane Duane's Young Wizards series? It has a heavy Christian overtone to its magic system (the bad guy is essentially Lucifer, the good guys are essentially God & the angels) but ultimately it keeps going back to the idea of the ultimate triumph being the redemption of "Lucifer".
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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