Posts Tagged ‘Symbolism’

Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  78                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 79

Today’s Mileage: 5                                              Total Trip Mileage: 661

Holidays and Holy Days on December 27:

Zarathosht Diso Zoroastrian anniversary of the death of Prophet Zarathustra.

Ashura – An Islamic one day fast. The Shia observance is based on the martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad’s Grandson, Husayn ibn Ali,  martyred on this date in 683/684 AD at the battle of Karbala.  Sunni observance is in recognition of Moses fasting in gratitude to Allah/God for liberation from oppression.


It feels good to ride the bike this morning!  The sun is rising on a crisp and clear morning and I have begun to “work off” all the joyful celebration which went straight to my midsection.  I would like to apologize to my Zoroastrian friends, as their holiday is actually celebrated on December 26, but was included today because of an oversight yesterday.

Kwanzaa celebrant lighting the kinara candles.

Today I want to speak about the history and significance of Kwanzaa.  I suspect that it is a greatly misunderstood movement and celebration.  Its creation and purpose raise some intriguing questions about the importance of not always relying solely on “old traditions” but the role and significance that new traditions can play in community building and healing “ a people’s wounds.”  I will have more to say about the issue of creating new traditions in a future posting.

Dr. Karenga

Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa in 1966. After the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Dr. Karenga searched for ways to bring African-Americans together as a community. He founded US, a cultural organization, and started to research African “first fruit” (harvest) celebrations. Dr. Karenga combined aspects of several different harvest celebrations, such as those of the Ashanti and those of the Zulu, to form the basis of Kwanzaa.

The celebration spans seven days with each day focusing on an important principle or virtue that helps to strengthen the community.  The festivities include gift giving and close with a feast.  Each day one candle is ignited on the kinara; the black, red and green candles represent the African colors.

A stylized Kinara!

A Kwanzaa celebrant blogged about her experience this way: “We talked about the 7 days that we celebrate for Kwanzaa and what the names of the days mean. The order you wouldlight the candles in are the black one is the first day. It is called Ujamaa which means Cooperative Economics. The second day is the farthest candle on the left called Umoja which means Unity. The next one on the 3rd day is on the farthest one to the right which is called Imani, which means Faith. The next one is the one right next to Umoja which is called Kujichagulia which means Self-determination. Then next is Kuumba the green candle right next to Imani, which stands for Creativity. The next one is the red one right next to Ujamaa it is called Ujima which means Collective Work and Responsibility. The last but not least is the green candle next to Ujamaa and it is Nia which means Purpose.”

Kwanzaa stamp!

At the Dallas Kwanzaa celebration the speaker, Iyamode Sobande, explained the holiday’s history: “Kwanzaa is patterned after the agricultural celebrations at the end of harvest time,” she said. “So we use this as an end-of-the-year gathering time.” After her speech everyone chanted the phrase “Harambee,” which means “Let’s pull together,” before repeating each of the seven Kwanzaa principles. Safisha Hill, another speaker at the Dallas gathering noted that Kwanzaa is often misunderstood: “Most people think that Kwanzaa is black Christmas. It’s not a religious holiday. It is important we celebrate Kwanzaa, as it teaches principles that bring the family and the community together.”

In order to find common ground between the world’s cultures and religions we need to understand and embrace the positive and joyful meaning of celebrations like Kwanzaa!  You don’t have to be African to repeat the Swahili phrase, Habari Gani, which is used by many who celebrate Kwanzaa. Its literal interpretation is “What’s the news?”

Sharing the “news” of joys and sorrows is an important step in seeing the “humanity” of all people and building bridges between individuals, faiths, cultural communities and nations.

For more information on Kwanzaa please visit its official site at: www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org. Thanks to the website www.interfaithcalandar.org for information on the holidays and holy days.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 48                             Consecutive Days Blogging: 49

Today’s Mileage:  10                                        Total Trip Mileage: 419


Holidays and Holy Days on November 26:

Waqf al ArafaIslamic observance day during Hajj when pilgrims pray for forgiveness and mercy.

Day of the CovenantBaha’i celebration of the covenant given in the last will and testament of Baha’u’llah

Holidays and Holy Days on November 27:

Eid al-AdhaIslamic Feast of Sacrifice. The most important feast of Islam. It concludes the Hajj and is a three-day festival recalling Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to Allah.


I hope that everyone has recovered from the Thanksgiving Day feasting!  I would like to start off by apologizing to my Muslim and Baha’i friends for failing to note the significant Holy Days associated with yesterday.  I was preoccupied with getting my posting up so my mother could see it as she visited my sister’s gathering.  I would also like to ask everyone to hold the Hajj pilgrims in your prayers. There has been severe flooding in Saudi Arabia and a many pilgrims have died.

As I ride the bike today and note the mileage and calorie count climb, I am reminded of the simple truth about journeys. One might take a break to replenish supplies and energy, but then you have to get back on the road or risk being overwhelmed with the urge to sit “just a little while longer.”  It felt good to indulge in a feast of celebration but it feels good to return to my bike and the pilgrimage.

I decided to use today’s posting to address an issue I left unfinished from the beginning of this journey.  What the meaning and significance of my Pilgrim Symbol?  During this holiday season I am sure there have been a number of shocked and puzzled individuals who have goggled the term” Pilgrim” expecting to see hats with buckles and the Mayflower.  Instead they found this strange, reclined humanlike figure surrounded by a multitude of foreign symbols. I know this is the case as this aspect of my Blog site is the most consistently reviewed by outside searches! Perhaps it’s time I reveal the meaning of the symbols I used to create the image. 

The Human Form:

1)      Reclining human form – this is representative of the stationary aspect of my journey and the fact that my bike is one you recline into rather than sit perched on the seat.

2)      The contrasting halves to the human form – this is representative of the dualistic experience we often have of our physical body.  It is the source of pleasure (light) and pain (dark), we often celebrate it as the vehicle on our journey but then curse it for the desires associated with it.  The whole mind/body or physical/spirit dilemma is wrapped up in this dualism.

3)      The Yin Yang symbol – this is the Chinese symbol pointing to the illusion of dualism, that they are forces locked into an eternal spinning dance.  In addition, within each region is the seed of the other.  If you look close enough at Life you will find that Death often prepared the way for it. The purpose of this symbol is to pull the viewer out of this illusion to see both as part of a process. Reality is about the dance between life and death, between good and evil, it transcends these dualities. This insight represents an important part of my intellectual philosophy which is why it comprises the figures’ head.

The Wheel: literally represents the wheel of my bike, but is full of symbolic meaning. 

4)      Ouroboros: The snake grasping it’s tail – is a symbol in many early faiths for the cyclical nature of things; the eternal return as cycles that begin anew as soon as they end, like a day or the seasons. The importance of seeing our journey as a series of cycles embedded within each other represents a personal insight that helps me to “keep things in perspective.”

5)      The Zen Circle – represents the entire universe in a single, perfect stroke.  Although simple, it is difficult to paint successfully and thus must be done with a clear mind focused on the task. This reminds me to always strive for mindfulness!

6)      The Buddhist Eight Spoked Wheel – one of the early symbols of Buddhism, it represents the Eight Fold Path, the path towards Enlightment.  Each spoke represents one of the “right” forms of wisdom, ethical conduct and moral development. My youngest son was quick to point out to me that some of the spokes do not touch the outer part of the wheel.  I noted that this indicates that I fall short of following the dictates of all of the spokes.

7)      The Compass Points – are represented by the horizontal and vertical spokes embedded within the circle. A reminder to always check our “bearings,” to look up from our path to ensure that we still on the desired path and not lost.

8)      The Quadrants of a Mandala – the horizontal and vertical spokes also divide the circle into quarters. The teaching Mandala of the eastern faiths (i.e. The Buddhist Wheel of Life) typically has as a structure of a circle divided into four components. This reminds me that parts of the cycles of life may look and feel significantly different, but if you step back, you will see them as part of the whole.

      The Staff: my actual staff is not nearly so straight, but sturdy and bent like the back of an old man.

9)      The Walking Stick – pilgrims throughout the world are often seen with a staff as they prod along on their journey.  As a hiker I can attest to the usefulness of a walking stick; to test the ground before us, to lean on and to anchor us as we climb up and down the ridges and peak along the path.  One of my artist endeavors are Taoist Walking Sticks, wall hangings made from sticks, roots, bones, seeds and feathers.  I find these things on my hikes and nature walks.

A Taoist Wlaking Stick by StationaryPilgrim

A Taoist Walking Stick by StationayPilgrim

10)  Grasping the Staff – the reclining figure holds the staff as a reminder that we can’t make this journey alone, we need support at times, whether that be in the form of words of guidance, encouragement or just a hug to lighten the emotional load.

11)  The Cross – the universal symbol of Christianity.  A symbol of sacrificial love and redemption, a reminder of the “devotional” path to the divine.  For me personally it is also a reminder of my Christian roots, the years of Catholic education continue to form a part of my supportive foundations.

12)  The Prayer Flag Banner – I have talked before about the use of prayer flags in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.  This is a reminder that we carry with us the needs and struggles of those we love know and meet along our path; that every step we take, all of our actions serve to “flutter” the prayer flag, sending these offerings of praise and prayers of request to “the heavens.” Whether in good or difficult times, we should remember those we carry with us.

       The Top of the Staff: The source of illumination and direction

13)  The Chalice and Flame – the symbol for my Unitarian Universalist faith.  Holding high the light of pluralism, love, understanding and acceptance. For me this represents the shared communal knowledge that helps to light my way.

14)  The Godhead – one of the most sacred symbols of Hinduism is the Sacred Om.  It represents not only the sacred sound (mantra), but is a visual symbol of the various states of consciousness (waking, sleeping, dreaming and God consciousness).  In the upper part of the symbol is a small point (consciousness of God) that is separated from the other forms of consciousness.  The consciousness of God is not found outside of us, although it maybe perceived as being outside, but deep within us.  However, our realization of this fact is blocked by or identification with our body and ego. Placed at the top of the staff, it is a reminder of the mystical knowledge and experience that continues to fuel my journey and provide an inner source of light.

15)  Neptune’s Trident or Hindu Trihsula – one viewer noted that the upper portion of the staff appeared to be a trident; a water symbol and representative of creativity.  I hadn’t seen this till she pointed it out, highlighting that symbolic images are always interpreted through the viewers’ eyes and experiences.  In the Hindu faith, this is symbolic of the irresistible force of transcendental reality and of the three powers: Will, Action and Wisdom.  I cannot look at the image now without seeing the trident, representative perhaps of my Zodiac water sign (Pisces) and my expanding creativity.

       Background Features: I did not include these features initially but added them as I began the Pilgrimage recognizing them as important to the process of the journey.

16)  The Disappearing Tracks – the tire and staff tracks; we should travel through life aware of the marks we leave of our passage.  I believe the most important traces are not great monuments, but are how we touch others, hopefully in positive loving ways. Also, I think it goes without saying, we should not leave any road kill (victims) along our path!

17)  The Sky, Mountains, and Water – one of the defining features of Taoism is its use of nature to illustrate the lessons and process of life. An openness and admiration of nature (the growth/beauty and death/ugliness) allows the messages and insights to come to us, and promote the possibility of Nature Mystical Experience.

18)   The Road or Pathway – we are all on a path, heading somewhere.  Some people like a populated path, other prefer one “less travelled.” Some people want a mapped out path, others prefer to make their own. Some people choose the smoothest they can find, others like to “mountain bike” it.  Existentialists believe that we must find our own meaning or purpose in life, that meaning defines our path.  Being a teacher, parent, artist, lover, blogger gives my life meaning. Our meaning has to conform to life’s challenges, like growing old, but it is largely a matter of choice! We choose our path and we can always choose to change it!

One last note before I leave this discussion, concerning the difference between signs and symbols.  Generally speaking signs are denotive, they represent an object or direction. Like a wheelchair figure on the handicap sign or the “danger” message of the skull and cross bones.  Where as symbols are more connotive, they are meant to arouse emotions and maybe representative of something else. Like a swastika, which is a Hindu sign of peace that now evokes a sense of “evil” in the western world. Some signs and symbols have a universal quality and have meaning easily recognized by different cultures, others are unique and a person must “learn” the meaning of the sign or the appropriate emotions and ideas associated with a symbol.

My Pilgrim’s Symbol is meant to be connotive and arouse emotions and thoughts in the viewer.  You may see what I had intended, or as represented by the trident example, you might see things I had not intended.  Are you wrong and I’m right?  No!  I believe that useful symbols allow a person to see what they need to see, present them with some lesson/thought for them to process.  I would only ask the viewer to take an open approach to the experience of the symbol.  If you see more meanings then I noted these are potentially useful personal insights!  If you pull back in horror or out of rejection, these are potentially insightful personal reactions!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  13                            Consecutive Days Blogging: 14

Today’s Mileage:  10                                          Total Trip Mileage: 132


     I’d like to start off by thanking everyone who visited the Pilgrimage Site yesterday.  The number of visits far exceeded the level of any previous day.  I hope your visit was rewarding!  As we head north out of Key Largo we are traveling up the center of the Key which puts us some distance from the beach.  As such I figured this might be a good day to touch on a topic I was unable to work into the earlier postings. 

n of k Largo1

     I had an interesting interaction with one of my students who is writing a paper about my Blog for her Journalism class.  I showed her the Pilgrim’s Symbol (see tab at the top of the page) and told her there was obvious symbolism, subtle symbolism and some very esoteric symbolism embedded in the image.  She pointed to an area and said “Yeah I see  the Muslim symbol!”  I saw what she meant, however that was not what I intended it to be.  She quickly responded “Oh I’m sorry!”  I told her there was no need to apologize. I expect people to see things in the image that I do not see. 

SP SYMBOL-col2b   

  This is the power of symbolism.  No matter how much you attempt to make something clear and concise, what another person sees might be very different from what you intended.  I created the image and loaded it with various levels of symbolism.  I’m sure others will discover things in the image which were not part of my plan.

     There are religions that make heavy use of symbols or icons and those that make very little use of symbols and in fact may view them with suspicion.  This leaves me with the question: when does a symbol or icon become an idol?  I suspect that it is not the characteristics of the image that determine the answer, but the viewpoint and beliefs of the viewer.

     Perhaps because I was raised as a Catholic and surrounded by statues, the stations of the cross and of course the stained glass windows that often abound with symbols of faith, I am comfortable with symbols. I see them playing an important role in the integration of an individual’s or group’s belief system. They can be teaching tools or exercises for personal healing.

     Symbols are an important remnant of human’s pre-literate history. To the masses of illiterate people, symbols were still the most powerful way of transferring concepts of dogma.  A symbol is worth a thousand words. In addition, as noted by Dan Brown (“Da Vinci Code,” “Lost Symbol”), symbols played a role in conveying secrets, and acted as maps to hidden rituals.

     My symbolic image was not created to convey any sense of dogma or absolute truth. Certainly it does not include any hidden or secret meaning. It is my personal crest representative of my world view and philosophy.  The symbolism speaks to concepts I currently embrace or have embraced in my past. 

     Quite obviously, the figure in the reclined position with the wheel at it’s feet is symbolic of my virtual journey as a stationary pilgrim.  The other symbols speak to ideas and beliefs that guide and direct this journey forward down the road. Don’t apologize for anything you see or don’t see in the image.  I suggest you approach it as you would any personal journey. Let meaning unfold for you as a process of discovery.

sunset from card sound by kenalub

A special thanks to the photographers associated with Panramio for the beautiful scenes from along the roadside.

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