Pine Cone, Symbol of Enlightenment

Why is the pine cone revered as a symbol by so many and diverse cultures from ancient times to now, and what does it mean? In Vatican City, Rome, Italy, there is an ancient bronze statue not of Jesus, nor Moses, nor Mary, but of a four meter tall pine cone, flanked by peacocks.

Vatican City, Rome, Italy

Temples in the ancient city of Angkor Wat in modern day Cambodia are crowned with huge pine cone shapes.

Ancient city of Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Mexico’s Aztec goddess Chicomcoatl is depicted presenting pines cones as gifts.

chicomcoatl, Aztec goddess of maize

The staff of the ancient Egyptian god Osiris is crowned with a pine cone, as is the center point of the trident staff of the Hindu Shiva, and the Christian Papal Tiara (crown) worn by successive Popes is shaped like a pine cone, Buddha is often depicted wearing a pointed pine cone cap or crown.

staff of Osiris

Q. Why is the pine cone revered as a symbol by so many and diverse cultures from ancient times to now, and what does it mean?

A. Pine cones, pineapple scales, peacock feathers and flower blooms are all examples of natures fractal patterns. Fractal patterns begin again at the end, ending again where they begin, like infinity. Similar patterns occur in flowers. This symbolism adopted by early civilizations was trying to represent eternity, a beginning without end, never-ending spiritual progression, a world without end. More abut fractals and mental health here (Link, Psychology Today article) Modern theory points to a natural reaction between the human eye, fractals and the pineal gland in the human brain. How did ancient peoples make this connection?

sunflower in full bloom

Archaeological study points to the pine cone representing enlightenment, hence its symbolism connected to religious leaders, or ancient gods, also of the pine cone being at the top of a staff (spine) or summit (mountain) that is closer to the eternal of nature. Typically, benevolent leaders were said to be endowed with enlightenment.

Attaining Enlightenment

“Enlightenment” implies a removal of a burden, a relief of what weighs us down, what holds us back. Enlightenment implies a moving away from darkness toward light, a lightness of being, or what we could be, if were better characters. But attaining enlightenment suggests an object in the future, separate from ourselves, sets up craving, desire, disappointment and frustration. Modern research points to ages old meditation and mindfulness as a source of enlightenment.

I have discovered in myself and others that enlightenment accumulates gradually, until enough of it causes conscious inner recognition. Then, like the pine cone that only opens to disperse its seed when conditions are exactly right, does enlightenment manifest itself, often as a conscious awareness, a still point, a place of diminished suffering.

If there is a “secret sauce”, a way to be happy regardless of external conditions, then it is how meditation and mindfulness cultivate conditions, like the pine cone opening to disperse, that are exactly right.

Some talk of a “path to enlightenment”, indeed I have used the phrase myself as catchy Blog title, but this implies a start/finish. Really, enlightenment is being able to focus on where you always are, sharpening your base level of concentration to what is relevant to you, your community, and the world. More on the naming of the pineal (pine-al) gland in the human brain, pineal as the third eye, and human reasoning in a future Post.

Wishing peace and abundance to all. Rob