Category Archives: chalice well

What is the Vesica Piscis?

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I love the way an isolated incident can send my imagination along a journey of thought that is seemingly random; yet leads on to other unplanned connections.

Whilst I mostly write about grief and the grieving process, this post begins completely off topic, but it does eventually arrive there!

I recently wrote of visiting the gardens at RHS Wisley to see the tropical butterflies. Whilst we were there, Linda and I took the opportunity to walk round the gardens, as we usually do. We approached one of the ornamental lakes and saw that a small crowd had gathered and the people were watching something. It turned out that there were three men in waders at the edge of the lake, netting the carp that live in the water.

Now these are very lucky fish indeed! – for they live a life of luxury, free from predators and well fed by the many visitors to the gardens (even though the intended recipients of the food are the waterfowl that also reside on the lake). It was interesting to see that the usual British reserve disappeared as people were captivated with what the men were doing. We learned that they were culling the carp as the success of the lake’s environment had made it overcrowded, and some of the fish would be rehomed in other water courses within the gardens.

It was fascinating the see the vitality and strength of the fish as they thrashed around in the nets. In the water they glide along, cruising around slowly and apparently lazily; rising to the surface to grab a tasty morsel. In the nets, their muscular strength was evident in their movements, and their silvery scales were beautiful in the sunlight, the reflection creating kaleidoscopic rainbows. The men handled the fish with skill, lifting them only briefly, before placing them in a holding net or allowing them to slip back into their watery home.

It looked like random choice, but in fact was well considered.

The whole event detained us for just a few minutes, but afterwards I thought about just how important is the place of the humble fish. From the little minnow to the valuable koi, fish are significant and hold symbolic meanings of adaptability, determination, and the flow of life.

It could be said that the travails of fish, for example the leap of wild salmon, echo the trials and tribulations of the human condition. Salmon swim from the sea way up river to calmer water to spawn, and nothing will stop them from reaching their goal – not even a waterfall. They persevere, the entire journey swum against the current, until they make it to the top.

The attributes of perseverance and triumph over adversity are well illustrated by fish and man alike. In Chinese culture, the Koi is revered and stands for many things. Because of its fortitude in swimming against the tide, the carp has become a symbol of good fortune, prosperity, luck, masculinity, courage, strength of character, determination, perseverance, ambition, independence and individualism. In addition, the koi is tied to the yin yang symbol, with the black and white tear drops of the symbol said to be two representations of koi, one male and one female. The symmetry of the symbol reflects the perfect balance of positive and negative.

My train of thought’s next station was the symbolism of the Vesica Piscis, about which I have learned a little, as it is an important symbol at one of my favourite places to visit, Chalice Well Gardens in Glastonbury, Somerset.

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The Vesica Piscis is an ancient sacred symbol of two interlocking circles where the circumference of one circle goes through the centre of another identical circle. The almond shaped centre of the image is called a ‘mandorla’ – Latin for almond. The mandorla is also seen as a grail or chalice (hence another connection with Chalice Well).

The cover of the ancient well in the gardens was donated by a Glastonbury archaeologist, Frederick Bligh Bond in 1919 and features a wrought iron Vesica Piscis, with a lance passing through it.

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The design is repeated again at the Chalice Well pool at the foot of the gardens, where the spring meanders before eventually passing underground.

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I had no idea the Christian fish symbol is derived from this ancient representation. The word ‘fish’ translates into Greek as ‘ichthys’ which is an apparent acronym for ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour’.

fishThe space where the circles interlock (the fish) is said to be sacred and it lends itself in imagery to be a good starting point for prayer, contemplation or meditation. It is also regarded as a doorway or portal between worlds, and symbolises the intersection between the heavens and the material plane.

Powerful stuff for a small, simple symbol!

Now I can say that fish aid me in my grieving process on a variety of levels….How is that for a great leap from the start of the piece!

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