One Hundred Eyes Picture

Afterwork: Contrast, sharpen, and Hue & Saturation.

Indianapolis Zoo, Indianapolis, Indiana

The peacock is known as the bird with one hundred eyes. The eye-like patterns in its tail cause it to represent the stars, the universe, the sun, the moon, and the vault of heaven. To Christians this bird's many eyes are symbols of omniscience, the all-seeing God, and the all-seeing Church.

Christ is portrayed as a Lamb with seven eyes "which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth" (Rev 5:6). The peacock's "eyes" also symbolize the beatific vision (i.e. the direct perception and knowledge of God as He truly is, enjoyed by angels, Christ, and the saints in heaven).

Greeks and Romans considered this bird sacred to Hera (a.k.a. Juno) and kept peacocks in her temple. According to their mythologies, Hera created the peacock from the eyes of her one hundred-eyed guard, Argus. There are two versions of this myth. In one, the jealous Hera sets Argus to guard Zeus's secret lover, Io, whom he has disguised as a heifer in a vain attempt to protect her from his wife's wrath. Eventually, Zeus has Argus killed and Hera rewards the faithful guard by turning him into a peacock. In another version of this story, Argos falls asleep on the job and Hera plucks out every one of his eyes and sets them in the peacock's tail. Needless to say, Hera was quite the zealous protectress of marriage and the home.

Peacocks may still be found in Indian temples. Many Hindu gods such as Lakshmi, Brahma, and Kama are portrayed riding upon peacocks. In China and Japan, the peacock is sacred to the goddesses of mercy, Kwan-yin and Kwannon. The peacock is a symbol of such compassion and empathy that it is thought to die of grief at the passing of its mate. However, one Moslem legend states that the peacock was the gatekeeper of Paradise until the day he swallowed the Devil and snuck him in.

In modern times the peacock's strutting and feather displaying has become a symbol of pride, arrogance, and vanity. During the Baroque period, the peacock often appeared at the Tenth Station of the Cross where Jesus was stripped to expiate our sin of vanity.

According to Sufi legend the original Spirit was created in the shape of a peacock. When it saw itself in the mirror of the Divine Essence it was so overwhelmed by the beauty it saw therein that great drops of sweat flew from its body. It was taught that from these drops all other living creatures were formed.

Both Hindus and Early Christians believed that the proud peacock was offended by its ugly feet. So much so, that he would stop in his vain strutting and shriek angrily whenever he caught a glimpse of this blemish in his otherwise beautiful and dignified appearance. The lesson learned from the peacock in early bestiaries was that Christians ought also to lament and hate their own spiritual imperfections. According to Hindu tradition, the peacock's voice was like that of the devil; his walk like that of a thief, and his feathers like those of an angel. The cherubim are believed to have peacock feathers in their wings.

Like many solar symbols, the peacock is an emblem of resurrection, immortality, and the incorruptible soul. These symbolic associations were strengthened by the belief that peacock flesh was not subject to spoilage and that when peacocks molted, their old feathers were replaced by ever more beautiful ones. Peacocks, their fans, and feathers are seen in heraldry, on tombs, and in Christian and pagan art as symbols of the actual process of glorification (the exchanging of the earthly body for the incorruptible one) and apotheosis (the deification of a person).

Peacocks often play the role of the mythical phoenix in religious art. They are sometimes seen drinking from Eucharistic chalices or near the Tree of Life. Because of their association with the Tree of Life, peacock thrones were popular in ancient Babylon and Persia. Because Heliopolis is the city where the phoenix was said to build its rejuvenating funeral pyre, the peacock has become a substitutional emblem of that city. St. Barbara has a peacock feather as one of her attributes because she was born in Heliopolis.

The peacock's restless activity at the approach of a storm has caused it to become a symbol of rain. At one time peacocks were sacrificed to bring on rain and to make people, animals, and the land fertile. The Chinese believed the peacock's glance could impregnate a woman.

The peacock is a destroyer of snakes and was believed to swallow their venom. It then used the poisons it swallowed to create its colorful plumage. It was therefore a symbol of transmutation. Its blood was believed to chase away evil spirits. Its feathers and meat were thought to cure snakebite and sickness. The Hindu god, Skanda, was depicted riding a snake-killing peacock. Skanda used poisons to create a magical elixir of immortality. The snakes his peacock killed symbolized earthly attachments.

The peacock is a symbol of beauty, prosperity, royalty, love, compassion, the soul, and peace. It was sacred in China and India. It symbolized the Buddhist Wheel of Life and the Ming dynasty. In Europe, its cry and its feathers were considered bad omens.

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