Occult Symbolism
derived from symbolism in literature and the ancient world





Greek Mythology

The Bible

John Senior

Joseph Warren Beach

Joseph Campbell

MIDI Handel









Abraxas, Lord of Light and Dark

Don't dis the 'symbols gone wild' video. ( Ron Thos. Smith at work)

The god Abraxas appears in this quote from Hermann Hesse's novel, Damien: 
"The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born must destroy a world. The bird flies to God. That God's name is Abraxas"

If you pursue this symbol you may find many roads radiating into nothingness. Although Greco-Roman tokens, amulets and stones bear the symbol of Abraxas, the origin cannot be clearly traced and may well be a symbol similar to Hermetic symbols made up in the well intentioned 2nd century magus' work, the Corpus Hermeticum. Reviver of Neo-Platonism, Marsilio Ficino, first translated a copy into Latin in the late 15th century and believed it to be genuine. Scholars have since pointed out the several bad and historically inaccurate attempts at forging an ancient Greek document. Many fortunate and valuable ideas in the work relate the world order of a time before the Christian era. It attempts to say that pagans anticipated and predicted the coming of a messiah, but in the tradition of thrice-born deities. More importantly it preserves a way of life few scribes or magi wrote about. Also named in the Hermetic opus was the lord of light and dark.

Some Tarot experts have tried to tie this Pan like deity to the Magician card, the Devil card and to a lord of the universe in the Monist tradition. Never-the-less the chicken and the egg symbol hardly need much explanation. Which came first may cause debate amongst paleobiologists, but the rooster headed Abraxas is more likely pure fiction even though the symbol is a strong one with philosophical uses even more profound than Hesse's.

One must understand that in this pre-Christian period, Greek, Roman, even in the Holy land, it was believed that anyone, king or beggar, could become a god. But, after the Christian era began such ideas were deemed to be immoral pagan nonsense. A god was JUST A SYMBOL. All the while saying that, some clerics must have sensed the danger that such an idea was harmful to their regime and that ANY symbol would have the power to move people to extraordinary feats of military might against them. The symbol that motivated Genghis Kahn's massive mobile blood drive for instance was nothing more than a pile of rocks located in Kahn's hometown of Kharakharum, you can pronounce it, hara-haroom'. It doesn't take much, the symbol doesn't need special effects, the fable or the underlying belief is motive enough. Desperate people who are worried about survival concoct gods, demons and delusions enough to satisfy their making it alright in their heads to hack hallelujah across continents.

My friend Ron, shown above, is one of the late boomer, intuitives who uses no pencil, needs no story boarding, conducts no extensive online research, and produces symbolist vid-shoot performances that have all the numinous Babylonian, Sumerian, snake-rock, whipster, chicken-head Abraxas take-offs you'd ever want to see in one show, only he will tell you that, yes, he is "fascinated by occult symbolism", but admittedly knows little about it.  Let's hear it for the accidental Abraxas!

The new symbolism is as much based on fear as was in ancient times, i.e. fear of being zapped by an omniscient god vs. being melted in the classroom while squatting under a desk (duck and cover). Either fear could cause stress disorders, breakdown, and hallucinations. But, if a chicken head god could allay your fears and save you, so be it. As someone I loved once said, "What ever you think will work probably will. That thought alone saved me from the DT's and helped me to be alcohol free for 18 years. The ancient soldier carried his Abraxas amulet into battle to reinforce his bravery.

The New Symbolism

  Radioactivity  Radioactivity  radiowave 
Biohazard  Warning  High voltage  Chemical warfare  A typical laser warning symbol  Warning for optical radiation, symbol D-W009 according to German standard DIN 4844-2 

Modern 21st century symbols have light and dark features and pack more symbolism than your typical pedestrian road symbols. It's hard to imagine what sort of places would post such dire warnings. The exclamation has all the arm waving of Will Robinson's robot but without the clothes dryer hoses and gyros going around in its head.  Radiation - we all know that one - means death, the kind of death where you are unaware that you are already dead. The red one - ionizing radiation - destroys skin. Non ionizing - will make you sick or crazy. Biohazard - again we all know that one, means anything from microbial illness to a possible end time pandemic, you'll need a suit. The yellow warning is the new computer version, in this case, much more like the Lost in Space robot. Electricity - laundry static to high tension voltage. Chemical weapons - don't touch the core, don't open this can. Laser - blindness. And, finally - optical radiation or any nebulous form of non-lethal electronic radiation - anything from cell phones to TV's, radar and microwaves which only kill you after a few years.

The light and dark radiation of the cosmos is all around and forms a lethal handshake with the forces that create us and that destroy us. Without both we could never have come to exist. We are the ultimate omelet of egg symbols, rooster head Abraxas sees the irony of creation and destruction, one a mirror side of the other. Whether we indeed fly to him is unknown, but operation of the symbol works for other myths and stories, promises an after life somewhere in a domestic barnyard world or in some other winged, peachy-sky world above the clouds.

The irony of the good / although bad is the main feature of symbols great and small. It is the dominant theme of human mortality, a defining characteristic we all share and cannot escape. The above symbols are not like the Death Tarot card - they are not communicating the poetry of death, they define death in the real world. It is the poetry of a symbol that makes it work. The poetry of radiation, biohazard, and leaking microwave energies, even cosmic radiation from infinity and beyond have not found a suitable medium except Sci-Fi and Horror, though some interesting attempts have been make with Star Trek, various foreign and independent films. There was even an attempt to write Sci-Fi in poetic styles in Britain, and by U.S. poets inventing Scifiku, Science fiction Haiku. Through the Worm Hole has its triumphs. Worms,
however, are born hungry and make fruit go bad. This Sci / Fi borderline could redefine every symbol in the book.

Snakes (love-hate horror objects) have semi luminous qualities also, aside from daring danger to bite, they symbolize the moon, shedding its shadow, the body consuming itself, communication with the underworld and the dead, and the milky way galaxy, a squirt of milk across the heavens snaking like a river amongst the stars, birth and death on the same lick of flaming liquid ejecta from Hera's breast. The pantheon of immortals reads almost like a sadomasochistic nightmare and just the sort of medium for today's new imagery of computer glimpses into the inner worlds of creative minds. What the modern critics once called the "holy cows" of bucolic painters can now come home to renew the space-like symbols of tomorrow. The space era of the 20th century was loaded with the names of Greek and Roman gods, air symbols, Gemini and Aquarius, not always pronounced correctly, but an awakening newness that spread interest like wildfire. (I wondered then if Gem'ini cricket was going up too)

Star Trek may have overplayed that device and easily may have worn out the meaning and power of those symbols for a generation, but history, if observed and literature if not thrown on the burning book pile*, will keep them in a ready state for another round of usefulness. These are some of the most daunting authority figures the world has ever produced, Jupiter, Juno, Mercury, Prometheus, Odysseus, Thor, Vishnu, world makers and world shakers, life-giving life-taking, they have piqued the imagination of generations and will no doubt continue as long as symbols are renewed, and given modern meaning. (* the burning book pile has been replaced by the out of print pile)

We have been living in a world of conspicuous newness and modernization since the end of WWII and to the point that we are now post modern because new is never quite new enough. Once the "awe and mystery that stretches from the inner mind to the outer limits" is gone or passť we seem to crave more and better, newer, sharper images of newness until the very idea of age and oldness is erased or hidden.  Mankind has usually ignored and built over the archaic until the old become modern again, until old is IN. The Renaissance is ongoing, Archeology is still digging, discovering how modern we always were.

Like the dire electro-magnetic symbols we have an approach-avoid reaction, curious but threatening, they interest the student of life as well as the generations that did not grow up with such threats. If you learned to duck and cover, but at the same time admire your radium wristwatch while quivering in the dark, you know the ambiguity of newness and frightening authority hovering above you which you have no control over. To throw these symbols around as humor and spoof may ease much tension in the world, but until there are rational people controlling these technologies that threaten to wipe us out, there may be a requirement for real literature and real poets to meet these threats head on. Planet of the Apes and Thunderdome (especially the Ape God and the Tell of Cap't. Walker) almost get you there, but the poetry is more like A Boy and his Dog. Who's for dinner?