Symbols - What does heaven look like
The symbolism of the pearl is complex, although all the different facets are not at odds with one another.
In a generic sense, a pearl is, as Mircea Eliade once said 'born of the water', meaning born of Spirit [water being the closest vibrational level to earth] , so at its most basic level a pearl represents the spiritual world, made manifest in the physical world, but it does have more specific meanings.
Pearl symbolism can be traced back to prehistory. The symbolism is also one recognised worldwide. The pearl is one of the ‘eight common emblems of Chinese tradition’, for example and Moslems use the pearl as a general symbol of the spiritual world. Taoist temples in southern China and Taiwan often feature a ‘flaming pearl’ on the roofs between two dragons, as well as on the hairpin of a Celestial Master. Queen Elizabeth I [and II] used pearls and their symbolism. The symbolism is used in the Bible:
45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:
46 Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
At one time pearls and shells had spiritual significance everywhere; but bit by bit their use took on a literal meaning until people even believed that pearls dissolved in ‘wine’ somehow gave you immortality. As we shall see they may represent the immortal part of a person, but they can’t give you anything quaffed in wine! Wine of course has its own spiritual symbolism.
Spirit input - Wisdom
There is also a connection in this context with the spiritual path. Much of the work that is undertaken during the spiritual path is concerned with ‘growing the pearl’ - improving our wisdom of the spiritual world. Thus there is the idea of a small seed being implanted in a shell – and then as understanding and wisdom grows of the spiritual world, the pearl grows. We become more wise.
Higher spirit in a body
The second use is the idea of the pearl as symbolic of the Higher spirit. Lao-tse said for example 'Hence the chosen one wears coarse garments, but in his breast he hides a precious pearl’.
The Higher spirit is captured by a ‘shell’ – this can represent Form in its most generic sense, or one aspect of Form - the body, thus the Higher spirit imprisoned by the body. [The Higher spirit can also be symbolically represented as a diamond, both of course are precious]. Apart from the fact that a pearl is beautiful, it is also a surprise object when found in such a knobbly shell!
The oyster’s shell hides the pearl from view, much as our bodies hide any indication we have spirit at all let alone a Higher spirit.
Higher spirit in the Egg
But, by extension the oyster with its shell is also symbolic of the Egg .
The shell this time is just Form in general. This symbolism is not at odds with the overall symbolism. The oyster itself is not dissimilar in appearance to the egg, with a hard outer coating and a ‘soft interior’, the soft interior being the source of life. So the symbolism is rather good – a Higher spirit nestled amidst the soft yolky interior of the Egg. None of this odd symbolism clashes, although it is clearly a bit abstruse.
Femininity and the feminine
The pearl represents spirit input and spirit input is classified as cooling and feminine. It also looks like the moon another potent symbol – see Sun and Moon. Spirit input and the Moon are both classed symbolically as ‘feminine’, so for women pearls took on a particularly important role – a pearl also symbolises femininity.
One last additional symbolism is to be found in their use in tombs. One can often find both men and women covered in pearls in tombs. Here another symbolism is being invoked. The Moon is the path of reincarnation, so a person wearing pearls in a tomb is expressing the wish that they want to go to ‘the Moon ‘ [again see Sun and Moon for an explanation] or as Mircea Eliade says “it regenerated the dead by placing them within a cosmic rhythm which is supremely cyclic, involving (in the pattern of the moon's phases) birth, life, death, rebirth”.
The Pearl – translated by Bill Stanton
Pearl, to delight a prince's day,
Flawlessly set in gold so fair
In all the East, I dare to say,
I have not found one to compare.
So round, so radiant in array,
So small, so smooth her contours were,
Wherever I judged jewels gay
I set her worth as truly rare.
I lost her in a garden where
Through grass she fell to earthen plot;
Wounded by love beyond repair
I mourn that pearl without a spot.
Since from that spot it fled that day
I waited oft, in hope to see
What once could drive my gloom away
And charge my very soul with glee;
But heavy on my heart it lay
And filled my breast with misery.
Yet no song ever seemed so gay
As that quiet hour let steal to me
Though in my heart one thought ran free,
Her fresh face wrapped in earthly clot;
Earth, you have marred her purity,
My secret pearl without a spot.
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- Atharvaveda - IV 10 The Pearl and its Shell bestowing long life and prosperity #015858
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- Shabistari, Mahmud - The Gulshan-i raz - The sea is being and speech its shore #001486
- Shakespeare, William - King Richard III Act IV #003527
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- The Secret of the Golden Flower - 03 Turning the Light around and keeping to the Centre #016491
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