A mandorla is an ancient symbol that is largely unrecognized in the Western world today. The shape, also known as vesica piscis, the Vessel of the Fish, occurs when two circles overlap to form an almond shape in the middle; hence, the name mandorla, which means “almond nut” in Italian. In Hinduism this shape is called the yoni, a stylized vulva used in religious art and as a maternity charm to celebrate and invoke the Great Mother’s creative, life-giving fertility.
Although the mandorla shares the symbolism of the mandala, the Hindu term for a circle, the two also have separate meanings. Whereas the mandala is a soul-symbol used as a meditative aid to encourage the spirit to move forward along its path of evolution from the biological to the spiritual, the mandorla represents the key to bringing this evolution about.
Mandorlas have carried powerful sacred overtones from earliest times. For example, the virgin birth of the god Attis was conceived by a magic almond. Early Christians used the shape as a secret symbol to represent their belief that Jesus was the coming together of heaven and earth. In medieval Christian art it framed the figures of saints, the virgin Mary, and Christ, usually to suggest the aureole of light that surrounds the whole body of holy persons, but sometimes piously (with an unintentional double entendre) interpreted as a gateway to heaven. A twelfth-century panel in the Chartres Cathedral shows “Christ of the Apocalypse” within a mandorla. Alchemists and Christian mystics redefined the mandorla as the arcs of two great circles, the left one for female matter, and the right for male spirit.
As symbols of the interactions and interdependence of opposing worlds and forces, the two separate mandalas which must meet and merge to form the mandorla represent the sacred divide between spirit and matter, masculine and feminine, self and other. The space wherein these apparently irreconcilable opposites overlap is an image of hope for our torn world, a healing place where we can reconcile our struggles with life and each other.
In Owning Your Own Shadow, noted Jungian analyst Robert Johnson wrote, “The mandorla begins the healing of the split. The overlap generally is very tiny at first, only a sliver of a new moon, but it is a beginning. As time passes, the greater the overlap, the greater and more complete is the healing. The mandorla binds together that which was torn apart and made unwhole-unholy. It is considered the most profound religious experience one can have in life.” p. 102-3
The overlapping space between two souls is a place of growing self-awareness, acceptance, connection, and union. It is the communion table where God and human, self and other, ego and Self meet. It is a sanctuary wherein we connect with others to find refuge from the terrors of life. It is a womb of poetry, story and ritual where the boundaries between left-brained logos and right-brained mythos disappear, old life is refreshed, and new life is nurtured and protected. Above all, it is a threshold from which healing new life for ourselves and our world emerges.
The gorgeous art on this post is by my dear friend, Cicero Greathouse. I invite you to visit his site and click on the link “works on paper” to see his magnificent mandorlas. Perhaps you can pick out the one(s) which will grace the cover of my next book, “Healing the Sacred Divide.”
Love the post and the Mandoria is gorgeous. Ann Kennedy
Thank you, Ann. It is, beautiful, isn’t it? Jeanie
Great post, Jeanie!
When my first husband was sick, a very spiritual medical doctor told him to draw concentric circles, much like the mandoria, to help with grounding and stress relief.
I vote for either mandoria V (posted here) and/or mandoria III from Cicero Greathouse’s gallery for the cover of your next book.
Thank you for sharing this about your husband’s doctor’s advice. I’ve never heard of that before, but it triggers a huge “Aha,” in me. For most of my adult life, whenever I’ve been sitting in a group situation where I was stressed or impatient but couldn’t get up and walk around without being horribly rude and totally inappropriate, I’ve had a habit of doodling rows upon rows of overlapping circles, from one side of a piece of paper to the other, like a long slinky that just keeps rolling. It never hit me until this moment that I must have unconsciously been trying to relieve stress and that I somehow intuited the exact right symbol to do it!! Wow. Thank you again for that! And for your vote!!!
Have I ever mentioned how much I love writing this blog and hearing from dear readers like you who so often make my day?
Jeanie, missing you both. Enjoyed the Blog. Went through my travel paintings and can’t find the book but either I have painted this in both finger paint and watercolor or beer bottles, what a strange connection, however great company to be connected to. Love the Kids.
Missing you too. I appreciate your stopping by and taking the time to make this connection. If you ever find your painting, I’d love to see it!
It is a gorgeous cover for a book, but nevertheless it reminds me very much of the symbol on the Lindbergh kidnapping ransom notes. I wonder what that might indicate about the kidnapper, psychologically!
I didn’t know that. How interesting! Did you know that the swastica is a very ancient and positive symbol which was once associated with the supreme deity and its action on the universe? It doesn’t surprise me to think that Hitler had a God complex! The criminal mind will always find a way to distort archetypal forces for its own purposes. Actually, come to think of it, you see a lot of that going on in politics too…..
Those who don’t understand the power of the unconscious will always be vulnerable to manipulation.
And like Hitler, Bruno Hauptmann, the convicted kidnapper, was a German who had fought in WWI only to face extreme poverty following the war. I can hardly fathom the damage to the psyche all of those young German men sustained (making ripe ground for WWII, of course.) When Hauptmann arrived in America, he seemed to be obsessed with Lindbergh, whom the press & public had transformed into an American God. Perhaps, in Hauptmann’s mind, to take Lindbergh’s son was a form of retribution. I think that was one thing that really troubled the prosecution: motive.
I’m 45, and only now feel I’m beginning to understand politics at all. Jonathan Haidt’s writings have helped. He says politics IS religion.
Thanks for your reply. I look forward to spending some time here “catching up.”
Hi Leah, I bet you’re right about Hauptmann: destroy the god’s son, destroy all the power and might he stands for! I’d agree about politics being religion and would add that to understand psychology is to understand both. And the place to begin is with oneself. I was your age when I began to study Jungian psychology and use it to gain self-knowledge. That’s when the “Aha’s!” about the hidden motives of our social foundations began pouring in. Thanks for visiting and joining in. I look forward to hearing more from you. Jeanie
Jeanie, I did not know there was a such a thing as a mandorla. You have alerted me to a sacred symbol that is well worth my time ecploring deeper. I am going to pass this on to a friend that I think would be interested. Thanks, Janice
I just bought a pair of earrings today with this symbol I’m so glad I found your blog..it has the perfect meaning for me and the times we are in. Thank you!M
Hello Maria. I’m so glad you found my blog too. Thanks for letting me know this post spoke to you. As you may have guessed, the mandorla symbol has the perfect meaning for me too! Holiday blessings, Jeanie
About 6 years ago I woke in the middle of the night, I couldn’t move and I felt like something was sucking the life out of me. I felt such dread and sorrow, like when my dog died when I was a child. It was a little bit like when your mind wakes up and your body is still asleep, but this was different in the way I was feeling such sorrow. So I started screaming out in my mind for help and protection over and over again until the feeling passed and I could move. I laid there for ages frightened to go back to sleep, but eventually managed to drift back off. When I woke in the morning and opened my eyes I seen these two interlocked rings floating above my bedroom door, they looked like they were made of what I call snow (when the TV channel goes off) and they slowly faded out.
I felt like these rings protected me through the night from what ever was attacking my soul. I didn’t get on the net and look these up until last year, to tell the truth I wasn’t expecting to find anything, but came across the Mandoria Realm.
I haven’t seen them since and I haven’t had anymore night attacks either ( and I don’t want to).
So what I took away with me from what I read…was I got healing for my soul.
Thank you for sharing this gripping story, Cheryl. That must have been terrifying! I would agree with the meaning you found in this experience, and if it happened to me I would think my soul was sending me the mandorla image as a personally meaningful guiding symbol to follow on my path to growth and wholeness. My blessings to you on your healing journey. Jeanie
Thank you for reaching out. When back on computer…and not my phone…:) I’ll join your blog. Yea!! Hello.
So glad, in the chaotic time our house is going through (completely rewiring a 1924 house….) I finally got to your site and signed up. J.
Thank you. I’ll get in touch.
Thank you for your illuminating article. It helped me get a fuller picture.
From my experience, the mandorla (or yoni) surrounding a divine figure is a sign of the union of the sun and moon, both the process and the state of its completion.
The process might include the ongoing experience of the oneness of the central energy channel (sushumna), from bottom to top, with the bright light in the middle of the head.
The completed (finished, perfect, purna) yogi stands suspended in the air inside the mandorla. She/he is in union with all that is. The beginning at least of this experience might be the entire body and the universe being of one whole made up of uncounted golden divine light/love particles.
You may find this book of interest:
Hi Catherine. Thanks for writing. Yes, I see the mandorla as the union of the sun and moon, masculine and feminine, etc. It’s a symbol that’s meaningful at so many levels with so many images: always suggesting the third creative force of oneness that comes into being when opposites are individuated and integrated. And thank you for the book link. I’ll check it out! Blessings, Jeanie