Most everyone is familiar with the Egyptian Sphinx at Giza, towering over the sandy landscape, facing the rising sun. Its animal form, the lion, has long been a symbol associated with the sun. The Giza sphinx is carved out of bedrock and is the largest single-stone sculpted statue in the world. Perhaps as long as ago ca. 9000 BC the great sculpture was part of a megalithic observatory. Four thousand years later, two pillars were placed in front of the sculpted monument to facilitate measuring the movement of stars and planets. An Egyptian Pharaoh had the sphinx’s head re-carved in his own image. For the Egyptians, sphinx statues represent kings or gods and are usually male; they are symbol of divine sovereignty.
The sphinx symbol has its origin in ancient astronomical observation. With a lion’s body and a woman’s head, this symbol suggests the relationship between Leo and Virgo. These two constellations appear together at the point where the sun’s path crosses the equator at the autumnal equinox. The sphinx symbolizes this time of year, both during the Great Year (26,000 year cycle) and the solar year (12 month cycle). This even was symbolized using the body of Leo and the head of Virgo (much nicer looking than the other way around, don't you think?)
Greek sphinx statues are usually depicted as a winged lion with a woman's head, or a woman with the paws and claws of a lion, a serpent's tail, and eagle’s wings. This feminine sphinx is usually seated upright, rather than horizontal, as the Giza Sphinx is. These are majestic and magical beasts; some are guardians, and some are dangerous. They represent sacred and secret knowledge. Variations of the sphinx are found in all parts of the ancient world, both sculpted and imaged. The watchful beast wards off evil, especially at temple entrances; sphinxes with animal heads or bodies often line the approaches to temples.
|Oedipus and the Sphinx|
In art from ancient Greece the sphinx is a common motif, usually depicted winged and crowned; with wings, they symbolize transition to higher consciousness. In South India the sphinx is known as purushamriga meaning human-beast. It is found depicted in temples and palaces where it serves as protection from evil. At one temple in India two of these guardians sit on either side of the grand doorway, guarding the entrance. They are the divine beings, warding off evil and removing sins. They smile mysteriously. One is male, one is female; they have been seated side by side for many centuries.
In contemporary symbolism this fabulous creature symbolizes mystery, power, royal dignity, vigilance, strength, secrecy, silence, inscrutability, and the riddle of the Universe; also, divine and human wisdom, discernment, and temperance. Sounds just like what my cat thinks of himself.
About Symbologist Michelle Snyder
Michelle earned her post-graduate degree at the University of Wales. She is an author, columnist, publisher, artist, and teacher. Her artwork, inspired by her love of symbolism and folklore, has appeared in galleries from Massachusetts to California. Michelle is co-owner of White Knight Studio with her husband Jay Robert.
Books by Michelle, available at Amazon:
Symbology ReVision: Unlocking Secret Knowledge
Symbology: Hidden in Plain Sight
Symbology: My Art and Symbols
Symbology: My Art and Symbols
Symbology: Fairy Tales Uncovered
Symbology: Decoding Classic Images
Symbology: World of Symbols