The Feminine Symbolism of Vessels


Our relationships with nature and matter are closely connected to our relationships with our bodies. In certain orthodox religious circles, love for God as remote masculine spirit has gone hand in hand with physical self-loathing. For example, Moses Maimonides, the greatest Jewish medieval philosopher, was merely stating a commonly held belief when he said that “all philosophers are agreed that the inferior world, of earthly corruption and degeneration, is ruled by the natural virtues and influences of the more refined celestial spheres.” Likewise, St. Augustine considered his body to be the major source of his spiritual problems and sufferings.

This attitude is an obstacle to the fullest development of our spirituality. In Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore writes:

“Spiritual life does not truly advance by being separated either from the soul or from its intimacy with life. God, as well as man, is fulfilled when God humbles himself to take on human flesh. The theological doctrine of incarnation suggests that God validates human imperfection as having mysterious…value. Our depressions, jealousies, narcissism, and failures are not at odds with the spiritual life. Indeed, they are essential to it….The ultimate marriage of spirit and soul, animus and anima, is the wedding of heaven and earth…”

Vessels are classic symbols of feminine matter. Of the many vessels symbolizing feminine containment, one that is particularly dear to Christians is the chalice or grail, the highest level of spiritual development and heavenly and earthly happiness. The female body is a vessel which receives sperm and produces eggs. A womb is a vessel within a vessel, the cradle of life that receives, holds, nurtures, and protects a growing embryo. A breast is a vessel which creates and dispenses milk. A skull is a vessel containing the brain, itself a vessel teeming with creative potential. In Christianity, Mary is a vessel for new spiritual life.

Another vessel-like symbol is the tower. A tower’s elevated position links it to heaven; its impenetrability to virginity; its vertical aspect to the human figure; its roundness to the womb; its containment to creative new life. Hence, towers that are closed and windowless were once emblematic of the Virgin Mary. In early Christian times a tower was often used to suggest the sacred walled city, another feminine symbol. The Herder Symbol Dictionary notes that a tower with a light is a lighthouse, which has long been a symbol “of the eternal goal toward which the ship of life [is] steered across the waves of this existence.” Its light suggests Sophia, the divine spark of life within us.

For Jung, too, the tower was a feminine symbol with sacred meaning. In his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he describes the stone tower he built at Bollingen, a small town on the upper shores of Lake Zurich, and writes that it “represented for me the maternal hearth.” He wrote,

“From the beginning I felt the Tower as in some way a place of maturation — a maternal womb or a maternal figure in which I could become what I was, what I am and will be. It gave me a feeling as if I were being reborn in stone.”

Vessels accept, contain, protect and preserve the birth/death/rebirth cycle of life at both the physical and metaphysical levels. Our planet Earth is a living vessel whose life cycles mirror the soul-making processes of psychological and spiritual transformation. The matter (L. mater) of which our bodies are composed is our mother, teacher, partner and guide on the spiritual journey. For that, it deserves our everlasting gratitude. How do you honor and thank your mother/body for nurturing the life of your soul?

Photo Credit:  “Chalice” by Barbara Sorensen

Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, IncEbook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords,and Diesel Ebooks 

Join 1,660 other subscribers


10 Responses

  1. Thank you. In the past week I created a piece of artwork with a gourd for a friend. The symbolism for me was loud, expressing my love and feeling of containment for that love that I feel, -a nurturing feeling of holding, of giving safe space to this other being, -unconditionally. This feeling lead me to enter “vessels as symbol” to google, and I saw this beautiful blog about vessels, put out today! Thanks for the validation.

    1. Hi Jordan,
      You’re very welcome. Your lovely story illustrates a very real and powerful spiritual law. When we honor what is meaningful to us in our inner lives by pursuing this meaning in the outer world, we see that meaningful coincidences like these happen all the time. Perhaps you already know that Carl Jung called this phenomenon synchronicity. I’m so thrilled to know that by honoring what was meaningful to me in this blog, something I wrote validated and affirmed you! Thank you for stopping by.

  2. Hi Jean. I loved this blog. I too have had synchronocity. After competing my studies in Visual Arts 25 years ago, I have returned to university to do an honours year..and I have been worked conceptually with exactly this. The representation of the vessel as a container for spirit..and the body as a vessel for the container of spirit. Reading this has created even further awareness, and has validated my thinking. Thankyou, and would like to stay in touch and hear more. Warm regards, Karen

    1. Hi Karen. I love it. Another synchronicity around the theme of vessels. I think that the phenomenon of synchronicity itself is a “feminine” way of perceiving and experiencing our lives. I don’t mean women, of course; I mean the feminine side in each of us that can see beyond the external, literal, historical and factual aspects of life that we associate with the masculine principle. The feminine is the part of us that can look within, take our inner promptings seriously, and create personal meaning for ourselves by noticing relationships between our inner and outer worlds. Your returning to school would indicate that you are moving in this direction, and as you say, this synchronicity simply affirms and validates an important step in your life. I’m so glad you’ve found my blog and I hope to hear more from you too! Best, Jeanie

  3. Oh Good morning , tears flowing~~~ just as the two artist above I too was wondering why I’m being drawn to vases. Last Sunday a fellow artist told me the whole story about the miracle of the Virgin of Guadalupe.I was deeply moved but when she said “vessel ” well it struck me deeply which led me here .My path is healing from a narcissist mother and my deep inner feelings of disconnection with humans and my own body issues . Nature is where I feel nurtured whole.Thank you Jeanie ….and Jordan and Karen too …happy creating !

    1. Hello, Debora. I’m very glad you found your way here by listening to where your energy wants to go. Just as Nature is naturally nurturing to us, so our true inner Nature, i.e. our instincts and emotions, just naturally guide us to our healing, individuality and creativity. Half the battle is over when we learn how to listen and honor what we hear our bodies saying, because this is what keeps us on the path. I wish you continuing nurturing, healing and creating. And thank you very much for your visit today. Jeanie

  4. Hi jean. I recently came across your blog while searching for meanings of vessels. I have had a connection to them for over ten years spiritually through art. My first series transformed average vessels into feminine figures who always seemed to be pregnant. The next series was a hive theme. I was very taken with it’s connection to the womb. I am presently working on actual ancient looking containers and your words on this connection was something I haven’t been able to verbalize but you express it so well. I don’t know if you will receive this for it is years later but I’m happy I stumbled across your site and will continue to follow your writings. 😊🙏

    1. Hi Carolyn,

      I received your message and am so pleased to know that my post inspired you. Thank you very much for letting me know. It was very kind of you. Love, Jeanie

Leave a Reply to Debora D'Angelo Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Posts

Joy and Sorrow

” I have been in sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountains wrapped in rainbows, with

Read More »
%d bloggers like this: