Throughout history, human beings have regarded the circle or mandala with awe. From the time of birth, children have a special preoccupation with round toys. As adolescents and adults, we pay homage to the circle in ball games and sports in which the round object plays a central role. We are enchanted by the full moon, even as we are moved to draw, paint, sculpt or dance in circles. We construct circular buildings for warmth and insulation.
The circular shape symbolizes the coming together of Shiva and Shakti, the masculine and the feminine, the yin and the yang. Tibetan monks spend many days laboriously creating the perfect mandala while working to achieve the ultimate concentration, focus, peace of mind and equanimity, enriching their inner and outer worlds with beauty, and most of all, striving for wholeness or attaining to Tao, the ultimate union with the Beloved. In the spiritual realm, the circle is the mystic center in which All is united. In psychological language, the circle is a symbol of the higher Self, the totality of the human psyche in all its multifaceted dark, light and brilliant aspects, including the relationship of humans with nature in its wholeness.
If the circle holds such a central place in our conscious universe and collective unconscious, then the pearl takes a special place at its heart. From an archetypal viewpoint, the pearl image evokes a pure, precious, wholesome treasure hard to attain, hidden in the dark depths of unconscious waters of the Goddess of the sea. In its rich fullness, warm inner glow, mesmerizing exterior wholeness, smooth silky skin and shimmering luster, the pearl seems to be the goal of creation itself: the union of soul and spirit; the inner marriage between the spirit and the world soul, the anima mundi, represented by Sophia – the Great Goddess of wisdom who co-created the world with the universal God image.
The pearl symbolizes the mystical center of the psyche which spiritualizes matter, sublimates base instincts and transfigures the elements. In relation to the world oyster which receives dewy pregnancy from the sky, the pearl also signifies the soul in relation to the body or matter. Every pearl is unique (unio); when brought together with other pearls, they form a mystical union (‘unio mystica’).
Christians believe in “the Pearl of great price” as the Kingdom of Heaven (Mathew 13, 46). In the esoteric wisdom of the Gospel of Mathew, “neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” (Mathew 7,6) Similarly, in the Gospel of Thomas, the quest for the pearl as a symbol of Christ signifies the search for redemption from the initial fall. It represents the appreciable manifestation of Christ in cosmos.
Pearls grow in Paradise (with regard to “growing” stones, refer to Genesis 2,12). They promote conjugal bliss and purity.
In the famous “Hymn of the Pearl”, the pearl is regarded as a symbol of spiritual birth and enlightenment. The twelve gates of the New Jerusalem (Heaven) are twelve pearls. While in the Song of Solomon, it is sung: “I am black but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem.”
The black pearl represents the prime matter (prima materia) or the dark alchemical state of nigredo which encompasses depression, sorrow, grief, withdrawal from society or “the Fall,” before the occurrence of the hidden rebirth into a transformed being. For at the end of every dark state, there is a rainbow of all the colours which only the Creator can see. Likewise, the dark skin of the black pearl glistens with a myriad of radiant iridescent colors which only the Black Pearl Goddess can see and create.
The black pearl can also be viewed as a symbol that although our innocence may have been lost, the knowledge of life that we have gleaned - the knowledge of ourselves and God - is deeply meaningful.
Muslims refer to the pearl as the human soul, or the conjunction of fire and water. The Koran speaks of the pearl as one of the great rewards found in Paradise. There, the blessed faithful who have achieved a high spiritual station through transformation of the personality and sublimation of egocentricity are said to be enclosed in a pearl, each with his own houri. Contrary to the simplistic popular misconception that a houri is a beautiful woman awaiting a virtuous man in paradise, she symbolizes everyman’s soul image, promising reunion between the individuated human being and his divine Soul.
Similarly, Dante equates a planet in which a blessed soul manifests itself, to a pearl.
Much like Plato’s idea of the originally complete spherical human being, the pearl is the ideal image of human perfection in its beginning and its desired goal of evolution. As a hermaphroditic creation which is initially born masculine and evolves into feminine, the pearl is the ultimate representation of completeness.
The largest recorded pearl was originally called "the Pearl of Allah” due to the image of a turbaned man on the pearl. But since its discovery in 1943 by a diver near the island of Palawan in the Philippines, its name has been changed to the “Pearl of Lao-Tze,” apparently because Lao-Tze, the famed Taoist philosopher, first had his own image, as well as the images of Buddah and Confucious carved on an amulet as a symbol of peace and unity between the various ideological worldviews. The pearl grew in size as it was successively placed in larger clams throughout the ages. This precious unique pearl boasts a diameter of 238 mm (more than 9 inches), a weight of 6.4 kilograms (over 14 lbs.) or 1,280 carats, and a value in excess of $60 million. It is currently locked in a bank vault in Colorado and has unfortunately been linked with intrigue and murder mystery. However, its current owners name it the "Pearl of Peace."
Indeed, the threaded pearl necklace signifies unification of diversity in continuity. As a symbol of unified multiplicity, the pearl necklace is a significant attribute of the fertility goddess. As a rosary, it represents the link between the Universal Spirit world and the individual. As a cosmic symbol of ties and bonds between unity and multiplicity, it manifests the integration of fragmented elements of the psyche in the oneness of the greater personality, as well as the spiritual relationship between two or more individuals. Since it is worn around the neck, which is astrologically associated with sexuality, the necklace also possesses an erotic link or bond. On a ring, the pearl is a manifestation of supreme grace.
As a lunar symbol, the pearl is universally linked to water and the feminine. Born of water, it comes from the union of the shell, the universal sexual symbolism, with a grain of sand or other nucleus irritant resting in her soft interior body, causing the shell to secrete luminous layers of protective coating around her lodger known as nacre from which the pearl is born. Similar to the fetus, the pearl is blessed with generative powers of creation.
It takes an external irritant to cause enough disturbance in the oyster’s wellbeing, for it to grow into its full potential in the form of a pearl. Psychologically speaking, it is the trials and tribulations of life that create enough of a crisis situation to cause our attention to turn inward. Through facing adversity, we are encouraged or forced to take whatever steps are necessary to heal our soft and vulnerable hidden aspects, invisible to the outer world.
Without the night, there is no day, without sorrow there is no joy, just as without darkness, there is no light. To become whole, it is crucial for us to hold the tension of the opposites and learn how to relate to both, without identifying with either extreme. Here, in the symbolic world of the pearl, there is no right or wrong, no "either or," but "both-and"…. As the great Persian Sufi poet and spiritual guide, Mowlana Jellalud’din Rumi says, “Out beyond all ideas of rightness and wrongness, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
© Ramona Shashaani
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