~ Jasper says…
The Light of the World (1853–54) is an allegorical painting by William Holman Hunt representing the figure of Jesus preparing to knock on an overgrown and long-unopened door, illustrating Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me”. According to Hunt: “I painted the picture with what I thought, unworthy though I was, to be by Divine command, and not simply as a good Subject.” The door in the painting has no handle, and can therefore be opened only from the inside, representing “the obstinately shut mind”. Hunt, 50 years after painting it, felt he had to explain the symbolism.
The original, painted at night in a makeshift hut at Worcester Park Farm in Surrey, is now in a side room off the large chapel at Keble College, Oxford. Toward the end of his life, Hunt painted a life-size version, which was hung in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, after a world tour where the picture drew large crowds. Due to Hunt’s increasing infirmity, he was assisted in the completion of this version by English painter Edward Robert Hughes. This painting inspired much popular devotion in the late Victorian period and inspired several musical works, including Sir Arthur Sullivan’s 1873 oratorio The Light of the World.
Associations between light and divinity make any form of lamp or torch symbolically protective. Lanthorns and other enclosed lights had particular emblematic meaning because of their role in combating the perils of the night outdoors.
In China, magic lanterns have been used for centuries in festivals to ward off evil spirits of misfortune.
Some early cultures appear to have used masks of animals they hunted in the belief that this would enable them to capture the animals’ spirits and prevent harm being caused. Others chose powerful animals as totemic protective symbols and wore imitative masks of them in shamanic ritual and dance to scare off enemies, human or supernatural. The festival masks that are still used in Asian lion and dragon dances have protective rather than aggresive meaning.
Other ways of masking the face or body could also acquire protective symbolism. Hence the aura of the legendary cloak that confers invisibility on the heroes of Celtic and Teutonic myths.
The nun’s veil symbolizes protection as well as separation from the ordinary world. The custom of wearing it may derive from the veils worn by consecrated virgins in temples of the ancient world.
The idea that knots could block evil led to them becoming symbols of protection in Islam, where complex knot designs are sometimes found carved into the walls of palaces. Knotting a beard was thought to frustrate demons. The same symbolism may explain why, in northern Europe, superstitious fishermen used the knots in handkerchiefs – apparently to block bad weather.
In topology, a branch of mathematics, the trefoil knot is the simplest example of a nontrivial knot. The trefoil can be obtained by joining together the two loose ends of a common overhand knot, resulting in a knotted loop. As the simplest knot, the trefoil is fundamental to the study of mathematical knot theory, which has diverse applications in topology, geometry, physics, chemistry and magic. The trefoil knot is named after the three-leaf clover (or trefoil) plant.
Making the sign of the cross by touching the forehead, breast and each shoulder was originally a symbol of Christian faith and a gesture of benediction or conclusion to prayer. But its superstitious use to ward of bad luck or invoke good luck became so popular that the Church, particularly the Protestant Church, later tried to discourage it.
The same gesture was already in use among Jewish worshippers before the birth of Jesus, when it imitated the T-shape of the magnificent temple built 29-9BCE in Jerusalem by Herod the Great.
Various hand gestures have also been used historically to represent the Sign of the Cross.
The protective symbolism of the crescent or horned moon which appears widely in Egyptian iconography as well as in Islamic art, appears to be the origin of the horseshoe’s popularity as a charm against evil and ill fortune. For good luck, the horns must point upward so that the horseshoe forms a containing shape. Superstitious sailors believe nailing a horseshoe to the mast will help their vessel avoid storms. Britain’s Admiral Nelson’s ship Victory is said to have sailed into battle with a horseshoe nailed to the mast.
The horseshoe is presented as a talisman in The True Legend of St. Dunstan and the Devil; Showing how the Horse-Shoe came to be a Charm against Witchcraft, written in 1871 by Edward G. Flight, with illustrations by George Cruikshank and engravings by John Thompson.