• Erin

The Vesica Piscis in Christian Iconography and The World

First, a shout out to Nate Craddock for his work on The Christ-Addled Cosmos. At some point, I hope to delve into a deeper series exploring some of the commonalities shared between the Christian and Astrological traditions, but for today I’ll do a brief commentary on the vesica piscis in The World card in tarot and the common usage of the mandorla, or nimbus, in iconography.

The vesica piscis is the shape formed by the intersection of two circles. Recall the Venn diagram. The vesica piscis is that portion of the two circles which overlaps, highlighting the merging or shared space between two separate disks.

The mandorla, specifically, is the name for the almond-shaped aureola that surrounds a figure, usually the Christ or Virgin Mary, within Christian iconography. It, too, bares the same characteristic shape as the vesica piscis. Sometimes the image contains the symbols of alpha and omega, the beginning and end of the alphabet and thus representing that which is infinite or simultaneously embodying and lacking both a finite beginning and ending.

If we look closer at The Christ in Majesty icon, we can see that an encircled figure is surrounded by four winged creatures: a bull, a lion, an eagle and a man. These are said to represent the four archangels or the four books of the Gospel. But why were these creatures in particular chosen to represent the angels and sages?

The question becomes even more striking when looking at The World card in the Rider Waite tradition. Depicted here is the dancing figure encircled by a wreath in the shape of a vesica piscis, also surrounded by four creatures: a bull, a lion, an eagle and a man.

Taking it a step further, if we look at the fixed, or solid, zodia for each of the seasons, we have Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius. Fixed (solid) signs represent those which uphold the stability and qualities of each of the seasons. It is the time between equinoxes and solstices when the quality of light or dark is steadily maintained.

Taurus is often depicted by the Bull and represents the element of earth and the season of spring (in the Northern hemisphere). Leo is often depicted by the Lion and represents the element of fire and the season of summer. While we usually think of Scorpio as the Scorpion, it is also associated with the Eagle and the Phoenix. Scorpio represents the element of water and the season of fall. Finally, Aquarius is the Water-bearer and is often depicted by means of a youth for its association with the story of Ganymede. Aquarius represents the element of air and the season of winter.

What else lies in the intersection of the Venn diagram, or vesica piscis, between seemingly disparate realms of thought?

In peace & love,


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