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Are Gargoyles Plumbing or Powerful Protector?

We have recently acquired a gargoyle from some friends who were downsizing and needed a new perch for Gomorrah.

Originally gargoyles were simply decorative pieces of plumbing designed to keep roof water from eroding the walls of a building. Since the drain water often gurgled through the “throat” of the beast they picked up the name gargoyle from the French gargouille meaning throat.

Over time other meanings became attached to the grotesque forms. They were said to guard those in their care by frightening off evil or harmful spirits. And, as such, their presence grew from being only a piece of the irrigation system to that of a symbol.

Symbols are different from signs. Symbols part-take of the reality to which they point. Expensive sports cars point to and partake in a life of wealth that contains a sense of adventure or risk.

Those red hexagonal markers that tell automobiles to STOP participate in the system of law and order that governs chaos on the roads. They are not simply pointers.

Our new garden guest Gomorrah led me to wonder From where does the power of symbols come?

The stop signal clearly derives its power from the legal system.

But other things?

What about Dreamcatchers? Now commercialized and, according to some, misused by non-First Nations what about the original intent of the Ojibwe people where the spider shaped webs were thought to filter out bad dreams to only allow good thoughts to enter the mind?

Or churches? Or crosses?

Mark Green tells the story of overhearing some teenage girls shopping for crosses in a drugstore to wear as jewellery. Says one to the others, “Did you know you can get them with a little guy on them as well?” Not quite a holy explanation.

The conventional view is that things “acquire” their holiness or power because of our actions. They have been consecrated, set aside, prayed over, blessed and so come to be regarded as sacred until the time they are decommissioned.

For most things this explanation makes sense; however as our world increasingly allows room for more mysterious wrinkles I wonder. Not all things are of our making.

Some moments, some times, perhaps even some things seem to carry a vibe, an energy, just a little bit beyond a capture by words.

I wonder if our gargoyle will be one of those or settle into being just another garden ornament.

I am curious about people’s experience with symbols.

What things carry power for you either because of the good they represent or the fear against which they protect?

2 Comments

  1. I am a curious person so I am intrigued by symbols, what they are, why they are and how meaning got attached for me and for others.

    But I have a certain resistance to “the power” of symbols. In reflecting, I think it comes from more than one place.
    First, my observation in the wider world of the controversies we get into over the symbol, its meaning and whether it is good or bad. Like the cross. Like the confederate flag. etc. I often wonder if the polarization is really about the symbol. Or something else. I find myself wanting the symbol out of the way so the conversation could focus on relationships directly.
    Second, if I attach fear or a sense of protection to a symbol, it doesn’t enhance my connection with God; it kind of distorts my vulnerability and source of power. I guess this need I have to resist is an admission of the power of symbols!

    1. Thanks Carol.

      Re: “I find myself wanting the symbol out of the way”
      I guess that’s part of the mystery of symbols. In many ways they are just a “thing,” but they are also so attached to what they symbolize that they are somehow “part” of that reality as well. I think you are correct though that, many times, we prefer not to engage the larger issues by focusing too intently upon the symbol part of the conversation.

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