Symbolism actually began as the earliest form of writing - in pictures that illustrated the concept of the writer. For a better understanding of this please Google the Sumerian and Egyptian civilizations and look at their cunniform writing and hieroglyphics.
In the 1980s I had the opportunity to visit and to climb most of the Mayan Temples in Mexico and Central America. Images of the snake were everywhere on their petraglyphs. In fact, all ancient peoples reveared the snake as holy and regenerative. The snake is ever "re-born" as it sheds its skin. When resting it will often curl up into a figure eight which is the symbol for immortality.
Before Christianity lamblasted the poor snake and made it stand for evil, it was the symbol for all spiritual rebirth and also the symbol for woman - who gave birth to all; hence Mother Earth. "Hail Mother Mary, MOTHER of God" (used in the Catholic rosary - so obviously she existed before god) and so forth.
The snake also symbolized great wisdom - this is evident as all ancient rulers had staffs that were shaped like snakes - Aaron's Rod actually turned into a snake.
The discovery of carvings on a snake-shaped rock along with 70,000-year-old spearheads iin Africa has dramatically pushed back the earliest evidence for ritual behavior, or what could be called religion. The finding, which researchers have yet to formally publish, comes from a cave hidden in the Tsodilo Hills of Botswana, a mecca of sorts for the local people, who call it the Mountain of the Gods.
"It's very big news," says Sheila Coulson, an archaeologist at the University of Oslo in Norway and leader of the study. Prior to the discovery, researchers had identified signs of ritual practice going back at most 40,000 years from sites in Europe.
Researchers believe that anatomically modern humans emerged from East Africa perhaps 120,000 years ago. "The difficulty was always this incredible time lag between that occurrence and any more complex aspect of (please scroll down on the left) the culture other than just
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basic survival," Coulson says. Although some carved ornaments and wall markings from another African site are as old as the new find, they seem to have had no obvious ritual significance.
A chief of the local San people invited Coulson and her colleagues to study the cave in Tsodilo Hills. They were unprepared for what they found when they entered: a six-meter-long rock that bore a striking resemblance to a snake, including a mouthlike gash at the end. "My first words I remember saying are, 'My god what is that?'" Coulson says. "I'd never seen anything like it."
Hundreds of small notches, widely spaced in some places and closer together in others, covered the rock. Entrants to the cave apparently made these markings to enhance the snake illusion by creating the impression of scales and movement [see picture below]. "When flickering light hits it, it very much looks like the snake is flexing," Coulson says. Snakes feature prominently in the traditions and the mythology of the San, sometimes called the Bushmen.
When you cut an apple in half you will find that it contains five points - a pentagram or star - which actually symbolizes life. The head is at the top with two arms further down and two legs at the bottom - exactly as Leonardo da Vinci's drawing of the universal human. (below left)
We have all heard and used the expression, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." This expression is based on a very old superstition, and is one of many associated with apples. You have probably also held an apple in one hand and twisted the stem while reciting the alphabet to ascertain the initial of that "special someone" - the apple of our eye. Most grandmothers today have had happy feet and sung along with the Andrews Sisters "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me." In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, we are moved by the gracious and dignified austerity of Hester Prynne's declaration that "A is for Apple." There is a very long tradition of prediction and divination with apples. A great many of them, of course, are associated with love and relationships.
Apples were once considered to be the food of the gods. Apples and apple trees are symbolic of the guarantee of immortality in Irish tradition, and the apple tree is universally esteemed as a holy tree. The expression "apple of the eye" has biblical origins, and means the pupil of the eye and something or someone that is very precious and in need of protection. (Deuteronomy 32:10, Proverbs 7:2, Lamentations 2:18, Zechariah 2:8)
Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings. (Psalm 17:8)
Carl Jung interpreted the apple as a symbol of life. Apples were also sacred to the goddess Venus and symbolized her; she "was worshipped on one half of the apple as the evening star Hesper...and as Lucifer, son of morning, on the other."
I have always loved Symbolism and feel that if we try to understand the many symbols that are used within our culture we will have a much better grasp of the meaning implied.