My Religious Symbol


When I was in high-school I invented a new religion with some school friends. This was its symbol. We called it ‘phionism’. It was primarily a metaphysics of ethics, using Hook’s law (that the force in a spring is proportional to its compression or extension) as an analogy about why it is so hard to be ‘good’. It was terribly unsophisticated, but it was my first attempt at recreational religion building (yes I was a bit of a religion geek even at 14).

I forgot it for more than 20 years, but recently I have re-adpoted it, There are a bunch of reasons why it carries semiotic weight for me now:

  1. The most obvious and most facile: it is a greek letter. I like greek.
  2. It is the first letter of (and has often been used to symbolise) philosophy. Though I don’t pretend to have any real competence in academic philosophy, the word itself is a greek compound meaning “love of knowledge”. That sits very well with me!
  3. It has two components: The round circle to me represents the world, the real world, the objective world (it is kind-of O shaped, for Objective). The world that we can glimpse through careful study and analysis. The universal reality that we share in common. The vertical line represents me as an individual, (it is I shaped for Individual, and resembles a standing figure). This is the subjective world of my experiences, my feelings, my experiences, the bounds of my life, even (though I hate to use the word because of its unhelpful overtones) my spirituality. I see the world through this twin lens, and I try to value each equally. I’ll say more on this in future posts…
  4. It is a Celtic cross with the cross bar removed, a symbol of the cultural and regional (i.e. Wales) connection I have with Christianity, but the fundamental disruption in my understanding of religion that means I cannot accept the existence of the Christian savior. This meaning signifies that any religious understanding or spiritual experience I have stands relative to my understanding of Christianity, since that has hegemony over my culture, my theological grammar, and my study of religion.
  5. It reminds me of that first foray into religious creativity I had when a teenager. I remember my mum ridiculing my invention and my naivity in thinking I could even try. It reminds me that anyone can try, at 4, 14, 40, or 104. Building your own understanding of your religious experience seems to me to be a woefully under-used basic right. This symbol reminds me to exercise that right.

Are there particular symbols that you feel drawn to invest with your own meanings?


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6 responses to “My Religious Symbol

  1. Sabio

    That was fun !
    Dude, our minds seem to wrestle with reality using similar tools. I have a symbol that is central to my “spirituality” too. I wrote about it when I began my blog. See my post on “En”.

    [Edit by Ian: the post Sabio is referring to is ]

  2. BTW, Ian, I must make a confession.
    When I saw the image for your post in my RSS reader, I was all set to pounce on your post. I thought, “Oh no ! Don’t tell me that one of my scholarly heros was suckered into a mathematical myth”

    I was so relieved to see you did not go into the beauty and mystery of the Golden Ratio (Phi). BTW, Mario Livio did a good book to discuss that number and the fake mathematical mysticism surrounding it. I am so glad you did not add those myth to the symbol for your spirituality !


  3. that was cool. i’m working on a mandala that may sum it up.. but the cross pretty much does the job. sorta… not really.. but kinda…?

  4. Ian

    @sabio – Glad you enjoyed it! Yes I’m always bemused about the hoopla around the golden ratio. Not that it isn’t a neat number. On the theme of a previous article, it is an irrational number constructable with compass and straight edge 🙂 Anyway, that’s a lower case phi….

    You put a link in to your article. But I think it got stripped. I’ll try to restore it.

    @luke – Mandala? Interesting. I can totally see how the cross functions in that way. As I’ve said before, I think most Christians imbue the cross, and the person of Jesus it represents, with plenty of their own meanings and personality.

  5. Sabio

    @ Ian
    Laughing Out Loud ! –> “Anyway, that’s a lower case phi ….”
    Only a greek geek would catch that ! Many greek letters change a lot between upper and lower, wouldn’t you know it that “phi” doesn’t and snagged me !

    Here is the link to my post on “EN”.

    @ Luke
    Given your creativity.
    Given your posts against atonement theology.
    Given your so much more, I am surprised you would put the cross as a symbol in your mandala. I get Ian’s use culturally. I did a bit of a post to question the use of the cross. Just wanted to put in my 2 cents before your mandala is complete.

  6. I just did a report on the mandala and the concept of it and some like Carl Jung state it’s a universal symbol. for christians, the cross would be it as a reversal of death and triumph of life or the symbol of a vertical and horizontal covenant or the idea of the practical merged with the transcendent. many theologies, many different meanings. given my view right now, i’m going with the latter rather than the former… although strangely, i’m warming to the idea of atonement… and it’s freak’n me out!

    my mandala will not be a cross exactly, but something other. i’m still in the process of drawing and creating it. i’ll post it once i return from a short break. new atonement post up btw, love to get both of your thoughts on it.

    oh, and you guys don’t believe in the magical super-awesome numerology conspiracy theories?!?!??! yer nuts! Dan Brown has SOOOO got it right in his books… *bleh. 😉

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