Essays Featured — 18 June 2017

The halo is a universal symbol, having been depicted in various art forms for millenia. Marc has a look at the history and what Osho says about it.

aura of outer bodies

“If you come to understand the vibrations of the third body you will begin to have a unique experience. Then you will be able to tell directly on seeing a person what vibrations surround him. Because you are not aware of your own vibrations it is not possible for you to recognize those of another person; otherwise, the vibrations emanating from the third body are gathered around every person’s head.

“The halo depicted in pictures of Buddha, Mahavira, Rama and Krishna is the aura seen around their heads. These have special colours which have been detected. If you have the right experience of the third body you will begin to see these colours. When you begin to see these colours, you will see not only your own but those of others as well.

“In fact, the deeper we begin to see ourselves, the deeper we begin to see inside others also – to the same extent. Because we know only our own physical body we know only the physical bodies of others. The day we come to know our own etheric body we will begin to be aware of the etheric bodies in others.”

Osho, In Search of the Miraculous Vol 2, Ch 7 (excerpt, translated from Hindi)

A halo (from the Greek hálōs) is also known as a nimbus, aureole, glory, or gloriole – it is depicted in the fine arts as a crown of light rays, circle or disk of light that surrounds a person usually depicted in a religious painting. Halos have been used in the iconography of many religions to indicate holy or sacred figures, and have at various periods in history also been used in images of rulers or heroes.

Agni, Ra, Jehangir

In the sacred art of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity, among other religions, sacred persons may be depicted with a halo in the form of a circular glow, or, as in Asian art, as flames surrounding the head or around the whole body. The form of the full body encircling halo is called a mandorla, the Italian word for almond.

Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad

In Chinese and Japanese Buddhist art, the halo has also been used since the earliest periods when depicting the image of Amitabha Buddha and others. Tibetan Buddhism uses halos and aureoles of many types, drawing from both Indian and Chinese traditions, extensively in statues and Thangka paintings of Buddhist saints such as Milarepa, Padmasambhava and other deities.

Milarepa, Padmasambhava, a Tibetan tanka

Different coloured halos have specific meanings: orange for monks, green for the Buddha and other more elevated beings, and commonly figures have both a halo for the head and another circular one for the body; the two often intersecting somewhere around the head or neck. Often thin lines of gold radiate outwards or inwards from the rim of the halo, and sometimes a whole halo is made up of these.

Halos may be shown in almost any colour or combination of colours, but are most often depicted as golden, yellow, or white – when representing light – or red, when representing flames.

Elaborate halos and especially aureoles also appear in Hindu sculpture, where they tend to develop into architectural frames in which the original idea can be sometimes difficult to recognise. Theravada Buddhism and Jainism did not use the halo for many centuries, but later adopted it, though less thoroughly than other religious groups.

Nataraj, Durga, Mahavir

Going even further back in history, Sumerian religious literature frequently speaks of melam (loaned into Akkadian as melammu), a “brilliant, visible glamour which is exuded by gods, heroes, sometimes by kings, and also by temples of great holiness and by [the] gods’ symbols and emblems.”

Emperor Ardashir, Mary with Jesus, The Saint

By the 19th century halos became rare in (Western) mainstream art, although retained in iconic and popular images, and sometimes used as a medievalising effect. In popular graphic culture, a simple ring has become the predominant representation of a halo since at least the late 19th century, as seen for example in the logo for the Simon Templar (‘The Saint’) series of novels and other adaptations. The halo has thus morphed into a very plain depiction and simplified meaning for a vibrational and spiritual phenomenon.

MarcBhagawatiEssay by Marc and Bhagawati
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