Cirlot on deserts
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
A Dictionary of Symbols – J E Cirlot
Desert has a profound and clear cut symbolism. Berthelot observes that the Biblical prophets, in order to counter the agrarian religions based on fertility rites, never ceased to describe theirs as the purest religion of the Israelites 'when they were in the wilderness'.
This confirms the specific symbolism of the desert as the most propitious place for divine revelation, for which reason it has been said that 'monotheism is the religion of the desert'. This is because the desert, insofar as it is in a way a negative landscape, is the realm of abstraction located outside the sphere of existence, susceptible only to things transcendent.
Furthermore, the desert is the domain of the sun, not as the creator of energy upon earth but as a pure celestial radiance, blinding in its manifestation.
Again, if water is associated with the ideas of birth and physical fertility, it is also opposed to the concept of the everlasting spirit; and indeed, moisture has always been regarded as a symbol of moral corruption. On the other hand, burning drought is the climate par excellence of pure, ascetic spirituality – of the consuming of the body for the salvation of the soul.
Tradition provides further corroboration of this symbolism; for the Hebrews, captivity in Egypt was a life held in opprobrium, and to go out into the desert was to 'go out from Egypt'.
Finally let us point to the emblematic relationship of the desert with the lion, which is a sun symbol, verifying what we have said about the solar symbolism of the desert