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January 03, 2004

images that evoke strong feeling




When you see an American flag, when you see a phallic shape, when you see a swastika, you cannot control your immediate associations. What is it to wrest one's automatic associations away from an image and see it anew? How much do these automatic associations control our perceptions.

How have these symbols been perverted to selfish ends? How are they used to manipulate us?

Of course, there's lots of research on the subliminal influence of imagery, like Joe Camel, a thinly disguised, embedded phallus in a cigarette ad, ostensibly meant to lure innocents (who was that suppposed to lure anyway. men? elderly men? gay men? Certainly not women, though I can't speak for all of us) into smoking Camels.

I think what I'm trying to think about is something different. That warm rush of chauvinism that comes with seeing the American flag. I certainly don't get the same feeling with the Italian flag, pretty as it is, though I'm sure Italians do; the mild embarassment, the tittering, that is evoked by phallic shapes; the old gut roll of horror a swastika gives us.

SYNCHRONICITY ALERT: I just went to the internet to find an image of a swastika , and look who I found, India's swastika god , none other than Ganesha. You can follow my Ganesha trail , but, suffice it to say, that that little elephant has been showing up quite a bit on this blog, lately. To quote from the site: " He is the god that is prayed to at the start of any religious ritual or ceremony, or for that matter at the start of any new enterprise, such as marriage or the beginning of a journey. Being Ganesha's primary symbol, the swastika is thus regarded as the interconnecting point between two realms of being: the outer, mundane world of daily reality, and the inner, timeless realm of soul, myth and magic. " Isn't this a perfect example of transforming an emotional image? What was Hitler up to when he chose the swastika ?

In the copy pasting process, I got more than I expected, so I am including this too. You can skip it if you're bored. You don't even need my permission. I thought the masculine/feminine integration piece was particularly fascinating.

"Wherever you go in India, you'll find the swastika being displayed. It's used by housewives to symbolically guard thresholds and doors, by priests to sanctify ceremonies and offerings, and by businessmen to bless the opening pages of their account books. No ceremony or sacrifice is considered complete without Ganesha's swastika, a symbol which is believed to ward off all types of misfortune.
Ganesha's role of mediator between man and the gods is not unlike the role played by Jesus Christ in Christianity. In fact, there are a great deal of parallels between the two. Both are associated with a cross - the swastika being a 'hooked' cross; and both are sacrificial gods in the sense that they both suffer a physical trauma in the process of becoming the connecting points between man and the gods (or God).

In the mythology surrounding Ganesha, he is decapitated and has his head replaced with that of an elephant, as well as having half his tusk cut off, and his belly accidentally torn open. Similarly, Christ is nailed to a cross and is stabbed in his side with a spear.
Further parallels are that both offer their body fluids to their devotees: the blood of Christ on the one hand, and the musth that exudes from the head glands of Ganesha (a phenomenon observed in bull elephants on heat).

Just as there can be no Christianity without Christ, so there can be no Hinduism without Ganesha. He is nothing less than the axis around which this religion revolves, and the swastika - with its rotating symbolism - is a perfect expression of his essential being. Ganesha and his swastika represent a doorway through which the devotees can enter the realm of the gods, or through which the gods can enter the world of man.

The essence of the swastika - in terms of Ganesha - is that it is essentially a feminine symbol. In the Tantric traditions of India, Ganesha and his swastika are regarded as being symbolic of the yoni (vulva) of the Great Goddess. The elephant ears of Ganesha are likened to the lips of the vulva, his trunk is seen as symbolic of the passageway up to the uterus, and the discharge of musth from the headglands of his elephant head is synonomous with the intoxicating love-juice exuded by the Goddess. The association of the elephant with the vulva is also found in the Kama Sutra , in which a woman with large vulval lips is called a hastini (elephant woman).

The association of the female vulva with Ganesha is underlined by the central myth of this boy-god, namely his role of guardian of the door to his mother's bathroom in which she bathes. The bathroom is of course symbolic of the hidden watery essence of the goddess, with the doorway being the symbolic vaginal entrance into this domain.
In Indian religious thought, the vulva of the Goddess is seen as the doorway into her cosmic body and veneration of her yoni (vulva) is an integral part of Indian religion. The association of the swastika with the vulva is found not only in India, but in many other ancient polytheistic cultures. One of the earliest images of the swastika is one carved over the vulva of an ivory figurine dating back several millenia.

As well as representing the yoni, the swastika is also identified with the Muladhara chakra, the rootchakra at the base of the spine which is ruled by Ganesha and which houses the female Kundalini serpent energy. Meditation on the swastika is a means of awakening the Kundalini energy, enabling it to rise up through the other chakras to finally culminate in a state of ecstatic bliss when it enters the highest chakra.
An image of the Kundalini, the serpent energy that is found in the Muladhara chakra with which Ganesha is identified. The swastika itself can be viewed as two overlaid serpents.

Considering the fact that every day, for thousands of years, hundreds of millions of Indians having been focussing their mental and spiritual energies on the swastika, it is hardly surprising that this symbol exerts such a powerful force-field around itself. "

The drug Soma - which Gordon Wasson has convincingly argued was a hallucinogenic mushroom - was a major formative influence in the early development of Hinduism. Mushroom-like images (known as 'chattra' in India) often appear in association with Ganesha, who is appropriately the deity who connects mankind with the divine. Above, Ganesha is holding what most people would take to be an umbrella, but which is also identical to the thin-stemmed psilocybin mushroom, Panaeolus cyanescens, a highly psychoactive fungus found extensively in India.

But I do digress.

P.S. more information about the sculpture shown is available by contacting me directly.

Posted by Dakota at January 3, 2004 01:30 PM