July 8, 2012

Why Fish Is Ancient Symbol of Christianity

Often without realizing it, we pass our lives in the world of interlaced, interconnected and merging symbols that can suddenly outstand in a very meaningful way. We rarely think about ancient symbols as powerful things that resemble a case with a secret in it. Not the Pandora's box, from which all kinds of troubles popped out, but rather a musical box or Christmas box for presents: under the same cover there are tons of thrilling meanings, wonderful and exciting combinations. Symbols like water, cross, tree or fish are so familiar to our eyes that their interconnection does not occur to us.
To begin with, fish is one of the most ancient symbols of fertility, life that is newly born and cherished. These silent creatures are inhabitants of water, element, liquid examining everything, as Plato said. Water is liquid resemblance of light, blood circulation, the very life inside the womb of the body of flesh, in opposition to the dryness and stillness of death.
The Jews have an expression “Torah waters” meaning life-making waters of the sacred law, heritage of previous generations. For Buddhists, the flow of water symbolizes material world, and that is why the expression “passing through the stream” means overcoming illusions in order to get out to the shore and become enlightened. Also, in Buddhism, there are initial waters, from which the stem of the great lotus flower grows, which is the world’s axis. For Christians, one of the sacred vocations of water is to be the bridge between a man and a new life: a plunge in water symbolically means death and resurrection.

This is why one of the multiple symbols of Christ is a spring. It is the very spring that flows from under the Tree of Life in Paradise, the living water. It is this very spring that is mentioned in the Gospel of John: “…whosoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” 

Water is the sign of renewal and purity. But it is also the symbol of deep subconsciousness, its mysteries and obscurity. Probably, this hypostasis of it has something in common with the Chinese idea of the Moon element yin, the initial chaos, the black tortoise. Like any ancient symbol, water is ambivalent. It has two faces.
This is where fish come from. As they say, fish survive after a flood. In Roman catacombs of the 2nd century on the walls there is a picture of a cross and an anchor, surrounded by two fish. You can see Greek words “fish of the living” over it. In Greek, the word “fish” also had another meaning – “Christ the Savior.” Images of fish often accompany images of a cross. Often, instead of fish, you can see dolphins – the kingly and joyful companions in chaos and disastrous depths, symbols of Christ the Savior. Pierced with a trident or attached to an anchor dolphin is the symbol of crucifixion.
The cross was considered a shameful instrument of execution and could diminish the value of Christ’s teaching. That is why it was replaced by an anchor and sometimes by a fish. The symbol of cross has also more than one meaning. It is related to the symbol of Tree of Life, from under which the spring of living water flows. This is how the sacred cycle comes to an end. 
Bread and wine
So, fish is the symbol of Christ, His torture, His resurrection and freedom from illusions of life, and that of prosperity. In catacombs of early Christians on the walls you can see an image of fish carrying a basket full of loaves and a bottle of red wine: this is how they depicted Christ with Holy Communion at that time. Actually, wine, bread and fish make part of a meal in different religions. Fish sacrifice was made when they worshipped Moon goddesses and all the gods of the underworld. Friday is the day of goddesses Ishtar, Venus and Isis, and is the day of the week to eat fish dishes: thus the fruitful power of underwater inhabitants penetrates the body and the bosom.
Together with Coming of Christ who made fishermen “men catchers”, citizens of earth also became “small fishes.” Thus fish became personification of those who are born to eternal life by plunging into the waters of font. This is why during first years of Christianity people wore on their neck glass, stone or nacre fish – what later on became body crosses. Fish is the prevailing symbol of the Gospel: Christ multiplies fish in order to feed the hungry, takes care of the richness of the take, mentions fish in his parables, and eats fish with his disciples after His resurrection.
One can say that fish becomes symbol of a secret freedom, complicity in new spiritual knowledge, crossing of a spring, leading to enlightenment. Speaking of the other, dark side of fish, it’s good to remember that stinginess, greed, indifference and sensual coldness, according to myths and legends, are also “qualities” of fish. It looks like in Christ’s love they transform in their opposites: generosity of heart, prosperity, tenderness and Eros – creative life of body and soul.
The Biblical tradition teaches us that the Second Advent will take place when Saturn and Jupiter meet together in the Zodiac sign of Pisces – fish. Messiah will get the fish and will share it with the righteous during a feast at the End of Times.
Goldfish, ducks, black turtle
For Buddhists, fish symbolizes freedom from limitations. Those in nirvana have no obstacles: they are free to choose any direction, like fish in water. The Chinese believe that the nature of fish and birds is similar: they come from eggs and become inhabitants of the elements unusual for any other creatures.
Some kinds of fish, as the Chinese say, turn into birds: they need to master a new element - that of a flight.

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