The halo: A symbol that spread around the world

Buddha is shown with a halo in images around the world, such as in this Cambodian temple fresco (Credit: Alamy)

Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Greek mythology are usually regarded as utterly distinct religions, largely defined by their differences. But if you just look at them, you will see a symbol that connects them all – the halo.

This aura around a holy figure’s head expresses their glory or divinity and can be seen in art across the world. There are many variants, including rayed haloes (like that on the Statue of Liberty) and flaming haloes (which feature in some Islamic Ottoman, Mughal and Persian art), but the most distinctive and ubiquitous is the circular disc halo.

Why was this symbol invented? It has been conjectured that it could have originally been a type of crown motif. Alternatively, it may have been a symbol of a divine aura emanating from the mind of a deity. Perhaps it was a simple decorative embellishment. One amusing proposal was that it derived from protective plates fixed to statues of gods to protect their heads from bird droppings.

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@peepso_user_75(Kate Hendrickson)
I wonder what other symbols have crossed cultures that then connect them?
1 year ago
@peepso_user_31(Denise Durak)
I think of symbols like Sun, Moon, Star, Light, Trees, Water, and different birds, and a heart .. all universal and probably have some very similar cultural meanings.
@peepso_user_31(Denise Durak)
@peepso_user_75(Kate Hendrickson) So, that's not what you asked or you didn't ask what you meant? I do think the halo is curious in that appears in so many cultures and has some similar meanings. Although so do stars and moons?? But I still curious what you meant. maybe you could rephrase the question?
@peepso_user_75(Kate Hendrickson)
@peepso_user_31(Denise Gonyea Durak) Yes. The question stands. You mentioned really good examples. I was just stating that I thought the halo was more specific because we don't think of it as being as universal as the examples you put forth. The halos are obviously present when you look but not necessarily discussed as often or if all as the other symbols.
1 year ago