I am beginning my symbolic journey through the twelve Zodiac signs as depicted by Johfra Bosschart. At the beginning of Spring I am contemplating the Aries painting. The twelve Zodiac paintings by Johfra are contemplative symbols, showing the highest, most sublime and purest expression of the energies of Zodiac signs. They are “doorways in the mind for spiritual awakening,” as Caruana wrote. I find these images fascinating and strongly evocative of the power of symbols. Translating them into words will not do them justice and that’s why it is important to remember that they are meant to be contemplated on first and foremost.
Aries. The sheer energy, speed, passion and desire are striking and palpable without any symbolic knowledge. A warrior, riding a ram (none other than a famous ram from the myth of the Argonauts), is taking the plunge, blindly and innocently. He certainly did not look before he leapt; with no expectations, he was simply driven by raw and blind impulse. This is an image of sheer speed. The warrior is completely oblivious to his surroundings.
The figure of a blind woman appears to be quite significant. I am certainly drawn to look at her. Acording to Johfra himself, this is Avidya (ignorance), whose blindfold represents her lack of experience of life. But to me she is more than that. She is hope and trust in new beginnings, the feelings which always come with the Spring. It is important to remember that the twelve Zodiac paintings are interconnected, no sign can be interpreted separately from the others. It is clear to me that the woman has emerged from the twelfth house of Pisces (the collective unconscious – hence the blindfold as a symbol of unconscious knowledge and a torch symbolizing illumination). The warrior is inspired by her inward vision, and his heroism has roots in collective heroic stories shared by all humanity. She is his Anima, as Jung would want it, i.e. his feminine part or the guide to his divine self.
Ram is a popular symbol of innocence. In his Dictionary of Symbols, Cirlot notes that the Latin word agnus (ram) is closely related to the Greek agnos, meaning unknown. Also agnus and agni (fire in Sanskrit) are closely related. An innocent ram makes a headfirst leap into the unknown. Babies are usually born head first, which is a clear Arian symbol of a new life emerging from the unconscious. The sign Aries rules the head, it cannot be any other way.
Let us look closer at the Martian warrior. He is not a destroyer because his sword remains in its sheath. Instead, he bears the fire of passion and enthusiasm. As a pioneer, he leads the way to the new. He is wearing a red cape, red being the colour of Aries symbolizing its activity. The emblem on his shield is an angry beast, Phobos – the god of fear (son of the Greek war god Ares), often depicted with a lion-like head.
The Magician on the left (the first trump of Major Arcana) has a closed door behind him, which is inscribed with twelve stars (signs of the Zodiac). His red cloak radiates life force, majesty and authority. He symbolizes source activity and creative powers, being a master of the four elements. He is pointing a staff (the element of fire) towards the sky as a sign of higher consciousness and inspiration from the divine while his left hand (left meaning unconscious) points to the earth, the realm of manifestation. With that gesture he directs cosmic powers down to the earth. He uses his will to master the four elements. He is the creator commencing his grand opus. He stands at the gate to the twelve stages of human development through the Zodiac.
The basilisk, a legendary guardian of treasures whose look brings death, sits on a rock. It is an ancient icon of fear. It could also be a salamander, the spirit of fire.
From a holistic viewpoint, fire is the dominant element of the painting. Fire brings life and warmth but also destruction. The basic truth about grand symbols and archetypes is that they are always contradictory in nature. The warrior epitomizes the physical energy of fire, the magician its spiritual aspect. The smoke from the volcanoes in the distance signifies fertility on the one hand (the land near volcanoes is often very fertile) and destruction on the other. The volcano itself is yet another symbol of the prime power of nature and a furnace where the four elements of fire, water, air and earth connect and transmute. A volcanic eruption is also a depiction of a process in which great powers and forces act in its depths for a long time before they explode suddenly and spectacularly. This explosion marks a transition from a passive sign of Pisces, a sign of gestation and hidden possibilities, into the active realm of Arian manifestation.
The frame of the painting is iron, representative of the planet Mars, ruler of Aries. Iron is an essential mineral for plants and animals but too much of it can be extremely toxic. Once again the dual nature of the archetype, the light and the shadow, are shown here.
The official sign of Aries is represented in the red pentagon at the bottom of the painting. The four elements plus ether (spirit) are brought in one in this structure. It is yet another symbol of the manifestation of the divine in physical matter. Aries marks a threshold from the unmanifested to the manifested. In numerology, the number five has competitive, dynamic and chaotic vibrations. How interesting that the American headquarters of the Department of Defense should be also thus shaped. The god of war must have had his hand in it.