Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Where’s Waldo Mary?

When I was a kid, I would sometimes lay in the grass, look up at the sky, and imagine things in the clouds. Turtles, snails, trains, people I knew… they were all up there. Yep, to a kid gazing into the clouds, the whole of existence slowly unfurls in puffy white and gray splendor against an agate blue backdrop.

The Greeks and Romans looked up and saw the abode of the Olympians, towering over us and providing the live-giving rains. The Norse looked up and saw the brains of the evil god Ymir, who was slaughtered by Odin and whose corpse was used to create the world. The Hebrews saw the clouds as a dwelling place for Yahweh, and the later Christians would add that Jesus ascended into the clouds, to one day return from them in order to bring about the end of the world.

When presented with a random splatter of ink, the mind has a tendency to arrange the meaningless drivel our eyes see into an image we can use and recognize. The human mind yearns to make connections, linking new experiences to memories. Religion would like nothing more than for these connections to have a mystical impact upon us.

Recognizing religious symbols and figures in the random stains of everyday life is a huge hobby for some Christians in America. Consider this video of a stain caused by minerals from water accumulating on the side of a baptismal font:

Now, I’m not suggesting the church stop people from believing this, or even to make any sort of statement on the occurrence. This sort of “miracle” is so common, I think it would be ridiculous (and mentally unhealthy) for atheists to get worked up over it. Sometimes people recognize the religious even in the irreverent:

Divine mandate of the sanctity of condoms? We can only hope…

So what else has Mary been seen in? What about the famed “Grilled Cheese Sandwich” Mary:

You like turtles? Apparently Mary is hanging out on the belly of one:

She even left some evidence for us rock-sifting science geeks. Check out the middle of this geode:

And tree-hugging hippies are not left out, either:

This next one should not count, since it is a tattoo, but I had to include it because in this one, the part of Mary is played by Michael Jackson:

Some would say it’s Janet, but I know better.

My question is this: since the images are so vague, why would one assume it’s Mary, the mother of Jesus? Why isn’t it Artemis, the hunter goddess of the moon? Why not Isis, the mother of Horus and the provider of salvation for all who seek it? Why make an idol out of Mary, when it’s equally blasphemous to claim it’s any number of people or gods?


  1. Looks more like Janet to me. :)

  2. Are you serious? Look at those man-hands... dead give-away.

  3. different people may see different things and may see them at different times depending on their different moods. On the whole though, I think only a very small minority of Christians claim to see the miracle images like you have described and the ones who do probably just have very active imaginations. Also, some of them may just like to call themselves Christians and are essentially delusional or seeking attention.

  4. Why not Mary? People's minds see faces and human shapes in everything. People also like to feel like they belong -- how is it that these two ideas wouldn't overlap? If you look for Mary, you will see her! If you look for owl shapes, you will find them!

  5. Well, that's why I tried to use language like "some Christians," since "most Christians" don't even go to church, let alone look for religious symbols in the mundane.

    Ella: If only I had such luck when looking for intelligence.

  6. Ginx-

    A great book to read about the way that the Bible appropriated Pagan and Egyptian mythology is The Pagan Christ by Tom Harpur. It is pretty goo.

  7. You can ask my wife the futility of suggesting books to me. I like source material and drawing my own weird conclusions. The only thing extra-mythological research can add is cultural and historical context, which I get from other sources.

    The best source for seeing how Christianity borrowed its theology is the New Testament and the works of Platonists, Neoplatonists and Stoics which people like Paul would have been very familiar with.

  8. Yes, there is that too. The Greeks borrowed from the Egyptians, etc.... It was all a cycle. And, yet, people still take it literally on all grounds. Le sigh.

  9. The Egyptians likely borrowed and expounded upon the ideas of others, as they did with their architecture. I'm relatively sure they didn't even build the Sphinx, and there is definitive evidence that the face was chiseled much later (one will notice the proportions are all off, but if one imagines a lion's head over top of it...). There's even evidence ideas from India may have spread to Greece.

    History got lost in the revisions, I'm afraid.


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