The following is based on our own research:
There are many ancient symbols that recur through the ages. One of these symbols, the heart, means different things to different people. Just how did the stylized heart shape become the icon for love and the human soul?
Let's look a bit at the history of the heart shape.
Sister Mary Alacoque had an Inspired Vision
The Catholic Church believes the Sacred Heart symbol originated with Saint Margaret Marie Alacoque's vision in the late 17th century. They say Saint Margaret saw a heart shape in her vision with a crown of thorns encircling it.
There is even older evidence of the heart symbol in Christian culture. Centuries earlier than Saint Alacoque, the heart symbol was incorporated in a number of stained glass windows and cloister decorations. Basically the heart symbol, in Christian iconography, represented the soul of Jesus. The Centurion who pierced Jesus' heart at the crucifixion with a lance was the first reference to the sacred heart in the scriptures in John 19:34.
Looking further back in human history, the Egyptian Ab, or Ib, "heart soul", bears a remarkable resemblance to the stained glass iconographs found in the Christian structures. The story of the Ab was that one of the Egyptian's seven souls came directly from the mother's heart, in the form of a drop of holy lunar blood and at conception would descend to the womb and take the shape of her child.
To Ancient Egyptians, it was the heart and not the brain that was the seat of emotion, thought, will and intention. In Egyptian religion, the heart was the key to the afterlife. It was thought to survive death, and be the container of all the good or ills of a person. The heart was thought to be examined by Anubis and other deities during the Weighing of the Heart ceremony. If the heart weighed more than the feather of Maat, it was immediately consumed by the monster Ammit.
Ancient African Origins:
Perhaps, by far the most interesting explanation for the heart symbol is it’s link to erotic love – and the story found in the ruins of a classical city in North Africa.
In the 7th century BC, in the city-state of Cyrene, there was a valuable plant called Silphium. The commercial trade of this species of fennel made Cyrene one of the richest cities in Africa until the founding of Alexandria. It was so popular that it was traded to extinction. We only now are beginning to understand why the Silphium plant was so coveted and why it was harvested to into non-existence.
Silphium, a form of fennel, grew only in the small, upland zones surrounding the city of Cyrene. Cyrene was a popular seaport on the Mediterranean shore of Africa. Trade based on this giant fennel was of great commercial importance to Cyrene. What was so unique about this plant?
"Cultural bias and societal hubris have long clouded the vision of scholars, rendering most unwilling to even consider - never mind acknowledge - that ancient cultures possessed the means and the knowledge to do what until very recently was beyond the capabilities of "modern" medicine. As a result, for centuries scholars dismissed ancient accounts of certain plants that provided an effective means of birth control."
"Silphium has left its mark in modern society in a way that has not previously been recognized. Have you ever wondered why the human heart - the repository and the embodiment of romantic love - is always drawn stylized instead of in the natural shape of the human heart organ? The answer is rooted in the ancient function of Silphium! And the connection between this artistic convention and Silphium is found in the coinage of Cyrene, which features a seed pod of the revered plant."
1. Emilio N Favority and Kurt Baty. The Celator, Vol 9, No.2
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