The Transfiguration. Russia. 17th century
The Transfiguration of Jesus is one of the most transcendent, yet bizarrely neglected, events ever recorded in myth or sacred tradition. Perhaps this is because it sounds mystical in the extreme, even preposterous, like the story of a genie out of a bottle.
Midway through his ministry, Jesus took three disciples and slipped off secretly to a high mountain on the borderland between the human and Divine. He had something to show them.
Suddenly, says Mark, Jesus becomes radiant, his clothing shining white as light. He glistens. Elijah and Moses materialize beside Jesus, perhaps shimmering or translucent like him. They discuss events to come in Jerusalem. Through terrified eyes the disciples see a cloud envelop the men with a brilliant haze and then the prophet and the lawgiver disappear. Jesus returns to normal human form and they walk back down the mountain.
Peter reflecting on this extraordinary event many years later recalls `We were eye-witnesses of his sovereign majesty'.
Matthew and Mark called it “The Transfiguration” or “The Metamorphosis.”
The word transfigured comes from the Greek verb 'metamorphoo', meaning “changed in form” or “transformed.” It’s the source of our English word metamorphosis. It is a change of form: like a caterpillar into a butterfly or a tadpole into a frog. They go through a metamorphosis, a change of their forms.
In the case of the transfiguration of Jesus, the term refers to his transformation or shape-shifting into a shining cosmic man, a light being, and back into flesh.
Transfiguration. Germany 17th century
Apart from being taught in the Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter universe, the Transfiguration is utterly neglected in the prudent and plastic West, which predominantly worships images of the bloodied and tortured Jesus (and plastic Pammys), rather than an image of transcendence.
However, in the mystical East of the first six centuries AD (and later, magnificently, the 14-17th century), astonishingly energetic and elegantly beautiful Transfiguration icons of a levitating Jesus with rays of light beaming from his body entranced the imagination. These masterpieces were considered a visual counterpart to the gospels and were revered as holy. The one communicates religious truth through words, the other through visible forms and symbols. Both equally are modes of revelation.
In the magical-alchemical imagination of the icon makers these images were designed to be actual doors to another world. Our world and "the spiritual world" are opened to each other through the icon. They were specially created to enable a visceral encounter with a holy being or to make present a spiritual energy. They are a form of 'visual alchemy' that can help us in our Transfiguration (if that is your path).
Nothing in art can compare, save perhaps for the complimentary Tibetan depictions of the Great Perfection that portray a lama shifting the frequency of their body and transforming (by dissolving) into a spinning vortex called the Rainbow Body. They are engaging and instructive to believers and nonbelievers alike. They take us beyond the threshold, through…
In Transfiguration images Jesus is portrayed in front of an open gate, sometimes filled with stars, and composed of various geometric shapes, such as almond-shaped mandorlas (vesica piscis) or stars.
Alternately, the gate is composed of concentric rings indicating ‘depth’ or ‘dimension’, and also vibration. (Today, we use the terms ‘stargate’ and ‘wormhole’ to denote such holes in space-time.)
Strangely, the New Testament says nothing about these rings or the opening of a (star) gateway. So, why are they there? Some propose the rings symbolize the Voice (‘frequency’, ‘vibration’) that came from the mysterious so-called ‘cloud’ that appeared at the Transfiguration.
Looking carefully, however, Transfiguration icons are actually maps that portray a two-step process, a transformative journey.
As I discuss in my DVD The Light Body Effect, first (following the Tibetan model), Jesus unwinds or spins the human rig into a higher frequency. This ‘light body’ is described in every sacred tradition. In Judeo-Christianity it is symbolized by the shiny, seamless white clothing known as the pala or ‘miracle’ garment in the Book of Kings’ story of Elijah and his ascension in the whirlwind. It’s woven of supramental threads of light.
With his light body wound up Jesus then rips open a hole in the fabric of space-time, a stargate.
Viewed this way, the opening of the gate is inferred by the story. It assumes prior knowledge of the understanding that Jesus was able to metamorphose and ‘toggle’ between the worlds. He appeared repeatedly after his resurrection to the disciples, especially Mary Magdalene, giving detailed instructions for safe passage through the dimensions. (In fact, this is the difference between traditional Christianity and the Gnostics. The New Testament contains the words of the living Jesus. Jesus taught the Gnostics while in his resurrected or light body form.)
Transfiguration. Russia. 17th century
The almond-shaped gate or mandorla is shown in icons of Transfiguration from Constantinople c. 1200 (left) and in Kabbalistic art (right)
When the icons were made alchemy was the normal way of interacting with the world. Everything was viewed as in the process of transmutation or changing into something else – like the acorn into the oak – simultaneously unraveling and being reborn. Everything was transmutable, including the human body, which was viewed as a ‘pupal’ form of an ascended spiritual being, usually symbolized by the butterfly (earlier by the phoenix). All that was required to effect the transmutation was the Philosopher’s Stone (= the pure tone or ring of the gate). This (S)tone causes the body to emit or secrete an elixir - the Secretion of the Ages - that purifies the body, transfiguring it to light.
This is the key benefit of the Transfiguration icons. These images were designed not just to help the early Christians to teach about the Transfiguration through pretty pictures, but also to encourage them to re-shape their lives in accordance with the hope or expectation of transforming into light (something our culture does not support).
Unfortunately, in the seventh century Byzantine Emperor Leo III banned icons (726-729) in response to criticism from adherents of the new religion of Islam who proclaimed that icon/doors were false idols (more later).
In recent years there has been a sort of "rediscovery" of icons by Western Christians. This is concurrent with modern science’s increasing awareness that stargates and wormholes permeate the universe.
Transfiguration. Greek. 14th century
Transfiguration. Novgorod. 15th century
Before the Renaissance and Reformation, holy images were treated not as "art" but as objects of veneration, which possessed codes of the tangible presence of the Holy realm.
In this way, a Transfiguration icon is the same as a computer icon and a highway sign. It is concentrated information that symbolizes or points to something beyond itself. When we click on a computer icon it opens into a phenomenal inner world of enormous potential called a program, a set of coded instructions that enables one to do work. The program’s icon is not the program, but it symbolizes it and opens the way to it.
Strange as it may sound to our sensibilities, this is how devotees used icons to do the Great Work, the alchemy of the soul.
First, one would click on the icon in their imagination. With full focused attention (or devotion) they’d enter the slipstream of the fast-moving Jesus in the icon. Feel it right, and it might raise one’s vibration and literally start a rush of chemicals in your bloodstream (at least according to a new neuroscience theory we will discuss momentarily). Absorb and become the energy of the Transfigured Jesus, draft in his wake, and one might open a gate to the cosmic realm right here on earth.
The materials of the image become a channel or a bridge, a gate (‘babel’) between two worlds. In fact, to an Orthodox Christian the images are a medium through which the energy of the Transfiguration moment can be channeled, like a two-way mirror. Devotees could enter the cosmic realm through the icon.
The concept of the mirror explains the technology of icons. The word icon comes from the Greek eikon, and means “image.” In the New Testament, the Greek word “image” also means “likeness” and “portrait.” Another term we might use is “projection.” The Old and New Testament’s use the word “image” to describe all of us being in the image of the God who made us (Gen. 1:26, Matt. 22:20, Col. 1:15). We are mirror images or icons of our creator.
When used as a verb the word mirror means ‘to send back’ or ‘form an image of’, ‘image’, ‘reflect’. To mirror is also to reflect (and reflection produces insight or enlightenment).
A mirror does not create images it only transmits them. In a similar way, icons function as transmission devices. They are ‘stations’, ‘channels’ or transmitters of the energy of a flashy being and a higher vibration (voice or sound), the ‘ring’ of the Transfiguration that crosses time and space. Their message (programming, code) is designed to operate within the human bio-computer (transfiguration system).
Also called a looking glass, a mirror is more than a communications tool.
Just as Alice ponders what the world is like on the other side of a mirror, and to her surprise, is able to pass through to experience the parallel world, a person who became adept at mirroring Jesus’s experience of Transfiguration could reflect this process in their own body (itself an icon or mirror image of the Creator).
“I saw our Lord fastened upon the cross coming down towards me and surrounding me with a marvelous light...Then there came down from the holes of his blessed wounds five bloody beams, which were directed towards the same parts of my body: to my hands, feet, and heart.”
This was how, according to legend, Saint Catherine of Siena described receiving the stigmata wounds of Jesus upon the cross. She was praying before an icon, the image transmitted the marks as beams of light reflected in her body.
Stigmatization of Saint Catherine of Siena, about 1630. Rutilio Manetti
We know from research in psychoneuroimmunology that feelings of helplessness weaken immune function but a sense of empowerment strengthens it. Redefining how we describe events with labels that promote helplessness to those that trigger empowerment, can take a fearful reaction and inspire an ordinary person to perform extraordinary deeds.
So says Dr. Mario Martinez, who studied Stigmatics for the Vatican. He has shown that a woman in California exhibited the Stigmata marks after obsessively reading about the Crucifixion.
As he discovered, the Medieval Stigmatics showed wounds on the palm of their hands because all the paintings (which were based on cultural beliefs) showed Jesus’ wounds on the palm. Then, science showed that Roman crucifixion specialists bypassed the main artery and hit a nerve in the wrist to ensure maximum agony (that lasted for days). More recent Stigmatics show the wounds in the wrist, because of cultural beliefs.
Martinez’s theory of Biocognition says we have a personal bio-informational field which has horizons that can be expanded. If you expand by interacting with the horizons of Jesus, then you’ll identify with his suffering or his love. If it is with his suffering – and this is very rare – you may experience the occurrence of Stigmata.
If you identify with the path of love, you experience healing or special abilities to do things or just convey a sense of love.
Taken to the extreme, through this process you could transfigure into a cosmic being.
It could be as simple as monkey see, monkey do.
More than other primates, neuroscientists believe, humans are hard-wired for imitation.
The discovery of mirror neurons in the frontal lobes of macaque monkeys and their implications for human brain evolution is one of the most important findings of neuroscience in the late 20th century, says celebrated neuroscientist Dr. V.S. Ramachandran. Mirror neurons are active when the monkeys perform certain tasks, but they also fire when the monkeys watch someone else perform the same specific task. There is evidence that a similar observation/action matching system exists in humans.
Imitation learning via this cluster of neurons, says Ramachandran, holds the key to understanding many enigmatic aspects of human evolution, including our “great leap” in our ability to use the wetware between our ears.
Brain researchers at UCLA found that cells in the human anterior cingulate, which normally fire when you poke the patient with a needle ("pain neurons"), will also fire when the patient watches another patient being poked. The mirror neurons, it would seem, dissolve the barrier between self and others. Ramachandran calls them "empathy neurons" or "Dalai Llama neurons" because they demonstrated the interconnectedness of all things (even dimensions).
When we apply this science to the Transfiguration icons it suggests a remarkable spiritual technology is active. The Transfiguration icon is a (non religious) spiritual invitation for us to mirror Jesus’s transformation, to activate our latent potential, and to become enlightened ones, simply by using our imagination and reflecting what we see.
So, how come images of Transfiguration aren’t plastered everywhere?
As Linette Martin discusses in Sacred Doorways, the era during which the practice of icons was at its height in the Byzantine world was a time of grave military crisis and domestic (especially economic) instability. The Byzantine Empire was threatened by Persia (Iran), by steppe nomads (terrorists?), and by the final blow, the new power of Islam, a religion begun in 622 AD with the flight of the prophet Muhammed.
For Muslims, to make a realistic picture of Muhammed was forbidden, because it implied that the craftsman was God, and God is the only image-maker.
To make an image of ‘Christ’ was wrong to Muslims because they did not believe in the Incarnation (the bodily materialization of a cosmic being) as adopted by the Church at the Councils of Nicea in 325 and Chalcdedon in 451, though Jesus was acknowledged as Prophet Jesus.
With Islam’s rapid spread throughout the Levant and North Africa between 622 and 722, Christianity lost valuable turf. In response to the new religion, the Christian emperors might have chosen to invoke the supernatural or cosmic powers or energies of the icons. They might have ‘pushed’ the argument between Christianity and Islam over the Incarnation and the cosmic realm and promoted icons of this nature, especially of the Transfiguration.
Instead, Emperor Leo III ordered icons to be banned. To him the Byzantines were guilty of idolatry. He drew a sharp contrast between image free Islam and icon worshipping Christians.
In effect, by standing against icons, they were standing with people who denied the reality of the Incarnation and the cosmic realm.
With one imperial decision the destruction of sacred art began.
Gradually, the Church took control of this practice and no longer taught that an icon was a door to another realm. In fact, to think this is potentially dangerous.
With today’s world experiencing many of the same conflicts as Leo’s world perhaps it’s time to correct his mistake by reopening the door of the icons and rediscovering the alchemy of the soul.
For more please see my DVD presentation The Light Body Effect.