illustrated by Will Hobbs
What is a halo? Well, according to my sources (known as Wikipedia.org), “A halo is an optical phenomenon that appears near or around the Sun or Moon, and sometimes near other strong light sources such as street lights. There are many types of optical halos, but they are mostly caused by ice crystals in cold cirrus clouds located high in the upper troposphere. The particular shape and orientation of the crystals is responsible for the type of halo observed. Light is reflected and refracted by the ice crystals and may split up into colors because of dispersion, similarly to the rainbow.” Let’s face it, although cool, that’s not what any of us think of when we’re asked “What is a halo?”
It’s that gold circle that floats above an angel’s head, duh. However, let’s take a little time to explore how it got there.
If you take a little time to think about it, you’ll realize you’ve seen haloes other places besides atop an angel’s head. Haloes were originally depicted as flat discs behind an individuals head, not floating above like these days. A flat golden disc is a sun, right? You got it, the Egyptian sun god Ra and Mithras, an ancient pre-Christianity sun god, both are depicted with haloes. So here you have a bunch of pre-Christianity/pagan deities running around with haloes, what’s an emerging religion to do?
That’s right, get themselves some haloes. Pagans, including Buddhists and Hindus, worship deities with haloes, so haloes must be part of their divinity. Once determined that a halo symbolizes sanctity, divinity, and light, all kinds of folks were getting them: Jesus, Mary, saints, popes, emperors, anyone who needs to be shown with the glow of the divine, including angels.
That, combined with a trend towards more realistic details in art, created the floating rings of light above the head.
By the way, when the whole body is surrounded in a glowing aura, for example as Jesus is often depicted, that’s not a halo, it’s a mandorla. Many people associate this full body halo as an indication of power, divine or otherwise. Like this, for example…..
See, he’s got the “glow”. Perhaps he’s got his chi working. Although technically that wasn’t a true mandorla. Mandorlas are almond shaped. But I think you’ll agree that was more fun!
If you have a little time, the Wikipedia entry about haloes is an interesting look at religion influencing art influencing religion. Here’s the link.
And for those of you who suddenly find yourself thinking, I should totally watch the movie “The Last Dragon” (where the clip above came from), let me remind you why that’s not really necessary.
Must navigate away from page…..