Swedenborg and the legendary Piasa Bird

I live about a half-hour’s drive from the city of Alton, Illinois. On the nearby bluffs, overlooking the Mississippi River is an ancient petroglyph created by American Indians. This ancient artwork depicts a bloodthirsty dragon-type creature. The Beast’s gaze is quite threatening-looking. I have driven by this fearsome creature many times.

Piasa Bird

Piasa Bird near Alton, Illinois

This ancient dragon is called the “Piasa Bird” (pronounced Pie-a-saw). The first European explorers on the scene believed that this artwork was too advanced to be the work of “savages” since it required challenging engineering know-how to produce its intricate design 50 feet up the side of a sheer cliff.

What does the Piasa Bird have to do with the 18th century theologian, Emanuel Swedenborg? This winged beast is said to have lived before white men came into the area and prehistoric mastodons still roamed the land. Swedenborg claimed that prehistoric humans possessed a universal symbolic language that formed the basis of their knowledge and spiritual culture. He wrote volumes of works explaining how to decode this universal symbolism.

As someone who has studied Swedenborg for over 35 years, I tend to apply his insights whenever I come across ancient artwork—like the Piasa Bird— to see if it holds up. Better yet, the Piasa Bird comes with a spectacular legend. And even though there are various versions of the story, certain symbols stand out as verifying Swedenborg’s claim that this symbolic language was given to humans all over the globe many thousands of years ago—from God!

So allow me to interpret the legend of the Piasa Bird from a purely psycho-spiritual interpretation of its fanciful elements.

Dragons represent an accumulation of false thinking from evil principles—those opposed to God’s principles (which can take on a large and frightening form). This is evidenced by the fact that the Piasa Bird came out of the “western” sky. Ancient worshippers turned to the east (and the rising sun) to worship God—the origin of good and truth. The “west” represents the opposite—the source of falsity and hatred. This same universal symbolism explains the following ancient passage in God’s Holy Word:

They shall fear the name of Jehovah from the west, and His glory from the east (Isaiah 59:19).

This symbolic interpretation is given further credibility by the fact that the Piasa Bird flew above the “Father of the great waters.”  Spiritually speaking, “flying” means an elevated point of view. In this case a monstrous creature flying over the “Father” of such waters (the progenitor of truth) represents a worldview that puts itself above God’s sacred knowledge.

Some have interpreted the word “Piasa” to mean “devourer of men” or “bird of evil.” Evil and its derivative false assumptions can definitely consume the hearts and minds of mortal men—leading to their spiritual deaths. So the Piasa Bird represented an attack by evil and falsity upon the Indian tribe (congregation) and the quality of the spiritual attributes of their hearts and minds.

A “chief” represents the central love of God’s (the Great Spirit’s) message and teachings. In this legend the Indian chief Outoga asks the help of the Great Spirit to defeat the Dragon. The chief receives the divine answer (spiritual strategy to combat evil) in a dream (foresight and divine revelation).

The plan requires the chief to use himself to lure in the Piasa Dragon. Evil and falsity will naturally attack its central opposition. Six warriors shooting six arrows at the Beast signifies the succession of steps in spiritual combat by which goodness and truth take aim at evil and falsity. Arrows represent spiritual principles sharpened to the point by which they have the power to penetrate and persuade. That the special arrows used by the Indian warriors were said to be poisoned, simply augments the spiritual concept that God’s truth (or Great Spirit’s) is like poison to the forces of evil—no matter how formidable.

So deep psychological and spiritual messages were contained in such ancient methods of storytelling.

We know that God’s Holy Word came to us from remote times. Swedenborg claimed all its stories, both Historical and Prophetical, contain similar symbolic meanings hidden within their literal sense.

The Lord God is currently reintroducing this sacred language to the world.



About thegodguy

EDWARD F. SYLVIA, M.T.S. Philosopher/Theologian Edward F. Sylvia attended the School of Visual Arts in New York and received his Master of Theological Studies at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA and a Certificate of Swedenborgian Studies from the Swedenborgian House of Studies. He is a member of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (C.T.N.S.) and the Swedenborg Scientific Association (S.S.A.). Award-winning author of "Sermon From the Compost Pile: Seven Steps Toward Creating An Inner Garden" and "Proving God," which fulfills a continuing vision that God’s fingerprints of love can be found everywhere in the manifest universe. His most recent book, "Swedenborg & Gurdjieff: The Missing Links" is an edgy collection of anti-intuitive essays for personal transformation that challenges and inspires. He has been a student of the ideas of both Emanuel Swedenborg and George I. Gurdjieff for over thirty years. Read more about TheGodGuy, his books and his ideas at http://www.staircasepress.com
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6 Responses to Swedenborg and the legendary Piasa Bird

  1. Carla says:

    I’m with you and find using this ancient language as a lens for interpretation usually holds up better (integrity/ honor for peoples, culture AND scientific data) than the explanations (so called “educated guesses”) that anthropologists, archeologists offer. The yielding story inevitably lends itself to a more coherent history without contradicting their data or other discoveries. I’m showing it to my indigenous elder friends as a demonstration of what the language can reveal. i find the same is true for reading texts or textiles, dreams or prophesy as well as images on stone. Universal indeed and available to all.

  2. Carla says:

    being politically correct though, i’d have to say that the Mercy of the Great Spirit or the One God is so non-condemnatory as to make makes the “west” and “south” rather than being evil or bad in itself merely always just seem somewhere else: As in “where ever you go there you are…” or as in super-positioning and non-locality.

    The ancient language is fluid enough to match the influx, afflux and efflux of the created universe – In other words, it allows for a coming-into-being and allows for distortion and uncertainty – ie everything that is not the thing itself may be merely an “appearance of truth” or call it what you may at the other end of the spectrum: …”falsity” … “illusion” -i.e. the now moment is as yet unfinished/ incomplete/ mutable and the future is just a healed past and so time is navigable, changeable, fluid, and open to the effects of spiritual regeneration. I think all the pictographs and ancient architecture is trying to communicate that everything in the universe is holistic; part and parcel of that hologram DivineHuman / Great Spirit ~ that we are together in in this, that we are distinctly one and “egizo”~ already but not yet healed – that what we do matters, has an effect on outcome for us as individuals, for humanity, and for the planet. you don’t have to post this. i’m just thinking out loud- communicating some thoughts (half-baked perhaps but articulating them is helpful)

  3. thegodguy says:

    Dear Carla,

    Thanks for your positive response! Let me know what your indigenous friends think of the blog post.

    I know that some American Indian traditions hold a belief that they are the progeny of a more ancient (and superior) race. I suspect this represents surviving information about a “Most Ancient Church” that was passed down through many, many generations and described by Swedenborg in his theological writings.

    Spiritually yours,

  4. thegodguy says:

    Dear Carla,

    I decided to post your second response because it shows that you have given extra thought to the topic (which is what I try to stir up in my readers).

    I hope I made it clear that “west” symbolically represents a spiritual quality rather than suggest that a particular quadrant of the earth breeds only “bad” things – like dragons. Your comments about “non-locality” are concepts that need their own special set up, which I have done in some previous blogs, as well as in my upcoming book “Proving God.”

    The purpose of this blog is to share new ideas with readers who are unfamiliar with Swedenborg’s unique theology (and science). Your second response will make much more sense to those already well versed in Swedenborgian concepts. I suspect a only a handful of Swedenborgians follow this blog.

    Appreciate your thinking “out loud.”

    Spiritually yours,

  5. The painting of the Piasa Bird is not ancient, nor accurate. The original “ancient petroglyph” was destroyed in the 1800s during rock quarrying. It had no wings, but did have horns, a bearded head, and a long tail. I came across it during my hunt for a similar Pre-Columbian painting that appeared in Archaeology Magazine about 40 years ago. It is amazingly similar to the South American “head-eating” bird. Associated with the North American Thunder Bird, there is a possible misinterpretation of a UFO sighting with the heads of aliens astronauts looking out the window at the frightened savages below. You can see a painting based on the South American version (created by memory) at http://www.cathetel.com/alien_healing.htm

  6. thegodguy says:

    Dear David,

    Thank you for the additional info. I am well aware that the Piasa Bird near where I live is a reproduction. I am more concerned with the symbolism behind the story. Ancient creatures with mixed features were used to represent certain qualities of the human heart and spirit. The Piasa Bird, whether it had wings or not, represents a type of “Dragon.” The appearance of such a beast represents a negative change within the spiritual quality of a community.

    According to scientist.theologian Emanuel Swedenborg this symbolic language was universally known in our remote past. That is why similar artwork and petroglyphs are found all around the world.

    Thanks again!

    Spiritually yours,

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