KEYS AND LOCKS
The Swedish artist Sven Ljungberg was, among other things, headmaster for the Academy of Fine Arts, created quite a number of monumental frescoes and mosaics, designed Nobel Prize diplomas, was a friend of several famous authors and illustrated their books. Even he shared much of his time between Stockholm and San Benedetto del Tronto, a small Italian town where he died in 2010, Ljungberg remained loyal to his birthplace – the small boring town of Ljungby, nor so far from where I spent my childhood. All through his life Ljungberg depicted his Ljungby in numerous paintings and woodcuts and he also wrote about it in a variety of autobiographical books, filled with anecdotes and reflections.
Recently I read one of those – Iakttagelser, Observations, written in 1994. Since I also find my roots in a somewhat boring small town and occasionally live in a house outside it, as well as I spend a lot of my time in Italy, I have in Ljungberg's books found some parallels to my own life. While reading Iakttagelser I came across an anecdote that I reproduce in its entirety. It is typical of Ljungberg's storytelling and made me remember a similar key loss of mine:
The Lost Car Key
Turns off the car engine and hurries into the house to make a call. A few minutes later I return to the car. But what happened to the key? It is not in the car and not in the house. I search the few meters between the house and the car, though without finding any key. I carefully raked the lawn – nothing. The key remained lost. How come? Are the little devils tormenting me again, those who run away with odd socks and other items that never are found again? Finally, I began to wonder if the magpie had stolen it. She has her nest high up on the fifth floor of the bird-cherry tree, the top nest. The four below it are abandoned.
It is quite high up so my ladder could not reach it, though I had to get there. I climbed past the lower nests and finally managed to reach my goal, and look … there in the nest was my car key.
As far back as I can remember I have had problems with keys. Both my parents were working and as a kid I was what was then called a key child, meaning that I, like most of my friends, did not attend kindergarten and instead had a house key dangling in a string from around my neck, while I was playing in the yard. It wasn't as dramatic as it may sound, my mother did during my childhood most of the time work half-time and my father worked at nights, so he was for the most part of the day at home. I don't remember how old I was when I became allowed to roam about freely, though what I remember from my childhood I ran in and out of home until I started school at the age of seven.
Since then, I have misplaced, forgotten and lost a countless number of keys, which often has caused great concern and a lot of embarrassment. It is not only concrete keys to houses, flats, mailboxes, cars, bicycles, and cabinets that I have misplaced and lost, but also ”mental” keys such as all these irritating passwords for bank and credit cards, computors, a variety of appliances and the numbers and passwords to the entire plethora of apps and sites that increasingly occupy our existence.
It gets worse with each passing year and on top of that my memory is obviously weakening. Every time I leave a house, or flat, I check if I have the car- or bicycle key, the house key, the office key and I do not know what else I have to bring with me – mobile phone, wallet or laptop. Almost always I am forgetting one or two of those essential items and have to return to search in the key cabinet, on different tables, in sofas and beds. Where did I put that important key? Where did I forget it? In the storage room, in the office, in the car? Has it fallen out of a hole in a pocket? Maybe it has been stolen? Is it left in a lock somewhere? Locksmiths have broken up locks for me, the car has been towed, my bike stolen, all because I have dropped or left a key in some unknown place. Currently, I have misplaced the key to the basement storage and to a cabinet in our house in Bjärnum, which even the locksmith was unable to unlock
Keys are everywhere, concrete as well as mental – there are key persons, key issues, key positions and keynote speakers. Fortresses and cities are keys to countries and territories; Gibraltar is the key to the Mediterranean, Älvsborg´s fortress to Sweden and the town of Rodrigo to Spain. Keys are found on pianos, computors and typewriters. In music we have major and minor keys and someone like me who likes to sing, generally do it out of key. A key is used close and open. It is one of the few English words whith an unkown origin.
Gods know everything, They can withhold their knowledge from humankind, but also give away parts of it – they are key keepers. The Indian Ganesha, god of wisdom with an elephant head, is worshipped for his capacity to remove obstacles and help students and scientists to solve their tasks and problems. Of course, Ganesha often holds a key in one of his many hands. The key to wisdom and success.
The Roman, double-faced god Janus; god of entrance and exit, of youth and old age, beginning and end, and accordingly also ruler of birth and death, was also depicted with a key in one hand.
The Vodun deity Legba, an old, crippled character, generally leaning on a crutch or cane, is guarding the threshold of Guinea, the abode of lwas, gods and spirits, and always summoned by the beginning of a vodun session, when the lwas are invited and asked to mount their chwals, horses. i.e. possessing people so the lwas may convey their messages and manifest themselves among their believers.
Since I most of the time live in Rome, where the Vatican and Pope are a constant presence, I am of course constantly reminded of the power of keys. Not least because the Pope's coat of arms appears everywhere in the city and then generally includes the Keys of Saint Peter.
According to the Bible, Jesus once asked his apostles:
“But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied,“Blesed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
On these sentences (Matthew 16:15-20) the Vatican finds its cornerstone, they are the prerequisite for the Pope's power, the reason to why he holds the keys of Saint Peter in his firm grip and to why they are included in the Vatican's coat of arms. The Pope has received Saint Peter’s keys through the apostolic succession. Each time one of Jesus disciples died, he was replaced by a new apostle, a chain of consecrations that has continued from Jesus's time up until the present day. However, if this really can be the case is probably a matter of faith.
The apostles who succeeded Simon Peter became keepers of his keys, not in any tangible form, but symbolically. That Peter had received these celestial from Jesus meant that he had been chosen as Heaven’s gatekeeper. From there on Simon Peter’s and his descendants´ task has been to protect Jesus's doctrine and decide who should be worthy of belonging to the true faith - the Roman Catholic Church, Eccelsia Catholica Romana, one of the world's largest and oldest organizations, which has played a crucial role in the development of the Western world ... and still has a major influence. According to the apostolic succession, the Pope, the ”Father” residing in Rome, is the true heir of Saint Peter and keeper of the keys to Heaven and Earth. A fact indicating that Matthew 16:15-20 ought to be scrutinized in accordance with a proper and comprehensive exegesis.
I became fascinated by exegetics when I several years ago studied theology. The word originates from the Greek exetikos, ”to draw out”, ”explain”, and it involves a methodical use of knowledge of linguistics, ideologies, customs and behaviour, etc. from a specific historical/cultural context, as well as other writings, to try to figure out the original meaning/intention of a written text. Through such a process, an exegete tries to identify interpretive keys that may be used to open up as many aspects as possible of a written passage. Modern philosophers and linguists/literary scholars, for example Jacques Derrida, used the related concept of deconstruction. Derrida's project consisted in demonstrating that all thought systems are fraught with cracks and contradictions. Something I find unusually important when it comes to dealing with all those claims and allegations which constantly is making noise all around us. All this rubbish that on a daily basis is poured over us, especially through the internet.
Fundamentalists spread misconceptions and lies based on what they have read or heard somewhere. Misinformation originating from statistics and complicated surveys that have not been properly understood, but still rendered to be quite enough for creating definite notions about this or that and uncontrollably spread among friends and acquaintances, and most damaging of all – on the internet. It is quite easy to agree with the Italian author and philosopher Umberto Eco when he claims that:
Social media gives legions of idiots the right to speak when they once only spoke at a bar after a glass of wine, without harming the community … but now they have the dame right to speak as a Nobel Pize winner. It´s the invasion of the idiots.Social media gives legions of idiots the right to speak when they once only spoke at a bar after a glass of wine, without harming the community … but now they have the same right to speak as a Nobel Pize winner. It´s the invasion of the idiots.
Maybe I am one of those idiots, though I generally hesitate about divulging wild speculations and misconceptions. There is already more than enough of such stuff on the web. We are fed with simplified accounts of experiments and research results originally published by serious medical journals, prestigious giants like The Lancet, The British Medical Journal or The New England Journal of Medicine, which worldwide are read by scientists and medical doctors. There are at least 300 other serious and internationally distributed, medical journals considered to be fundamental when it comes to disseminating new knowledge in the medical field.
Discoveries and inventions are reported in articles that have been carefully peer reviewed by expert committees and published in scientific/technical journals such as Wired Magazine, Computor World or MIT Technology Review devoted to specialized knowledge and key investigations, i.e. research that opens up, provides the keys to new insights and understanding. Research that aims at formulating new problems, develop solutions and find a practical application for the obtained results.
The problem is that research is presented in written form, which is read and interpreted by a lot of people, who do not always understand what has been stated in the often complicated research articles, or who have agenda of their own – a political, ideological or religious belief that makes them pick those raisins out of the cake which fit their own purposes and then publish their stories without presenting the whole picture, or they might due to their ideological and unfocused spectacles be spreading outright lies.
This is especially true within the religious camp, where opinions and convictions are not based on science, but on faith and where written texts often have an overwhelming importance. This is especially true of so-called scriptural religions, which consider one (or maybe two) sacred, canonical scripture to have the supreme authority over their belifes. Accordingly, fanatical adherents may motivate all their opinions, convictions and actions by referring to such a ”holy writ”.
There are several scriptural religions, like Christianity which bases its religion on the Bible, Islam on the Qur´an, Judaism on the Torah and Tanakh, Sikhism on Guru Granth Sahib, Mormons on the Book of Mormon, Taosim on Daozang, Hinduism on the Vedas, Bahgadavita and the Upanishads, Buddhism on Tripitaka and the Mahayana Sutras and a plethora of other religions and sects which have found the word of God and absolute truth in a variety of scriptures, which they strongly believe in and which laws and regulations, preferably those which they themselves picked out, everyone else has to follow .
A firm believer´s Holy Scripture contains all the keys such a fundamentalist needs for living a ”righteous” life. It contains the ultimate truth about everything. Since all fundamentalists base their beliefs on scriptures, the foundations of their faith and meaning of life may be found there. To get a profound understanding of how these texts came about, who wrote them and how their author(s) may have thought, exegesis may prove to be an important key for unlooking the origin to even the most apparently incomprehensive conviction. A method that may prove to be important especially in these times when scatter-brained fanatics and madcaps are spreading their harmful opinions all across the web to support their often insane and extremely dangerous views based on badly digested reading fruits gathered from sacred writings, rumours, or misunderstood scientific reports.
Some of my interest in exegetics probably originated from the fact that it I began to study History of Religions just after I had finished my military service as radio telegraphist. As a soldier I had with the help of a telegraph key and the Morse code sent encrypted messages to far-away recipients. To interpret the encrypted messages and the various orders I received over my radio receiver I used a cipher key, which only unauthorized personell had access to.
Let me return to Matthew 16:15-20. Each single sentence of the Bible has been scrutinized by a multitude of exegetes and for each section there are several interpretations. What follows is a rush job just to illustrate the pleasure I find in burying myself in Bible quotes, actually I tend to delve into anything I find interesting or memorable.
Like a radio telegraphist an exegete has to determine who is the sender and who is the receiver. Who was Matthew? Nobody knows. It was certainly not the one of Jesus's disciples who went by that name, sometimes also called Levi, and who when he was called by Jesus to become one of his disciples worked as tax collector in Capernaum, the small town where Jesus lived after leaving his family home. It is more likely that the author, which was very common at the time when the gospel was written, was a devout Christian who used Saint Matthew's name to give his story greater credibility and power. This is just as common today as it was in those days. It is enough to take a look online to see what Einstein, Gandhi, Kafka or Garcia Marquéz have said and written, although they have actually not said or written all of those wonderful quotes, poems and musings which are imposed upon them.
A careful analysis of the language in the Gospel of Matthew establishes that it was written in quite good Greek. Furthermore, several of its accounted traditions and linguistic expressions can be traced to a Greek-speaking Jewish environment. The author seems to have been active in an ambience characterized by perceptions of Jews who had become convinced of the correctness of Jesus's doctrine and considered it as their task to first convince other Jews about its correctness and that they ought to accept Jesus as the Messiah and join their congregation, only after that would the Gentiles be converted.
Various textual passages and later mentions of the Gospel of Matthew indicate that it was written at the earliest in the late 60s CE, probably within a Judaeo-Christian congregation with its centre in the Hellenistic town of Antioch, or possibly in another Syrian city. The Gospel of Matthew thus appears to have been written for and within a Greek-speaking congregation of Christian Jews. Something that might explain some contents of Matthew 16:15-20.
Simon Barjona (Jonah's son) answers the question Jesus has asked by stating that he considers him to be the Messiah, a Greek rendering of a Hebrew word meaning anointed with oil. In ancient Israel, a monarch was consecrated to his office by anointing his head with sacred oil – olive oil scented with sweet cinnamon, myrrh (a kind of resin), kaneh bosom (extracted from the aromatic leaves of Acorus calamus, a water plant) and cassia (the aromatic bark of a tree, Cinnamomum).
Among other passages in the Tanakh (the Old Testament), the Gospel of Matthew refers the Messianic idea to a dream vision of the prophet Daniel:
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.´He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14).
It is a vision like this and/or similar Bible passages which Jesus may refer to when he states that Peter did not get his idea of Him as being the Messiah from a person in ”flesh and blood” but from Jesus's father in Heaven, which might have meant that Simon Peter had read God's words about the Messiah in the Tanakh, or had a vision.
By carefully studying the many passages in the gospels and in Paul's letters where Jesus appeared to bring forth the Messianic idea, one may discern the influence of various Jewish views about this figure. Perceptions that are not perfectly harmonized with each other and therefore makes it quite unclear what Jesus really meant when he described himself as the Messiah.
How the Jews at the time assumed the awaited Messiah would be like is a somewhat thorny issue. The fascinating German-Israeli philosopher and historian Gershom Scholem devoted several in-depth studies to Jewish messianism, pointing to a constant tension between what he called a restorative messianism and an utopian messianism. With the former Scholem indicated a belief that the expected Messiah would be a leader reforming and renewing Judaism by restoring, preserving, and further developing the Law, i.e. the Jewish religion. According to such thinking, the Messiah would be a representative of Halakha, a word that may be translated as "to behave", or more literally "how to walk". Another branch of Jewish messianism was far more radical and grew stronger during times of persecution and social unrest. Within this utopian messianism it was expected that the Messiah would be more of a spiritual being that would overthrow and perhaps even condemn and judge the old, evil world and create a new world order characterized by peace and prosperity.
The Bible's portrayal of Jesus as the Messiah includes the notion that he will be a religious leader in King David's succession, something Matthew emphasized by presenting Jesus's pedigree by the beginning of his gospel, thus proving that Jesus directly descended from King David.
Saint Matthew also emphasize a view first asserted by the prophet Isaiah, namely, that it would emerge a leader whom Isaiah called Ebed Yahweh, the Lord's Servant, who through vicarious suffering would re-establish the disturbed relations between God and his Chosen People (Genesis 17:7). Isaiah's idea of whom the Messiah would be differed from the common nationalistic Messiah expectations. Isaiah’s Ebed Yahweh would not carry out his God-given mission with force and weapons, but instead through innocent, self-denying suffering and thus make the People of Israel understand that each one of them had to humble him/herself by submitting to God’s omnipotence. Only then could a reconciliation take place between Yahweh and his people.
By Matthew, we also find a notion that was common during Jesus's lifetime and which he often referred to by calling himself Son of Man. This Messiah personage was, in spite of the denomination, more of a heavenly entity than a real man. The prevailing idea was that the Son of Man remained hidden with God, awaiting to fulfil his mission, which would be to judge, and even condemn, the unjust while saving and rewarding the righteous. A thought expressed by the prophet Daniel. However, it appears as if Jesus generally emphasized forgiveness and non-violence, instead of fighting and condemning his enemies. However, this does not prevent Matthew from occasionally stating that Jesus, as the Messiah, actually would distinguish between believers and unbelievers, and that the latter would be severely punished.
After Peter declared he believed that Jesus really was the Messiah, Jesus stated that Peter would be the rock on which he was going to build his church. Jesus uses the Greek word Petros, which probably is a Greek rendering of Kepha, which in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, means ”stone” or ”rock”. As a description of what Jesus is to build on this rock, the English translation uses the word ”church”, originating from the Greek kyriakon ”that which belongs to the Lord”, implicitly ”the house of the Lord”. However, the Greek original writes ekklēsia, congregation, and the word does thus not refer to a building but rather to Jesus's future followers – those who would believe in him and his message. Since Jesus speaks of ”my” congregation, it cannot be the Greek ekklēsia, which by the Greek-speaking Jews at the time was used as a designation for Beni Ysra'el, the Children of Israel, i.e. the Jewish people. Assuming that Matthew was active in a Judaeo-Christian environment in Antioch, a Christian ekklēsia had at that time already been established.
When Jesus then speaks of the gates of the kingdom of Hades he appears to mean the power and strength of that Kingdom, instead of some concrete gates. However, his use of the word ”gates” may indicate that Jesus conceived the Kingdom of Hades as a concrete place. Towered gates were the focal points of a city's fortifications. Notice that Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of Hades and about Hell. By Matthew, the Kingdom of Hades may be likened Sheól a place below the earth where Jews assumed the spirits of the deceased would gather and endure a rather sad, shadowy existence. If Matthew had been referring to Hell, he would probably have used the Greek word Àbyssos, the Abyss, a place corresponding to the Hebrew Gehénna, a place where sinners were punished after their death. There are some passages in the New Testament which suggest that sinners confined to the Àbyssos are doomed to stay there forever. The Kingdom of Hades, on the other hand, is a temporary place of residence. The souls that have ended up there will finally be liberated – saved.
That Peter was given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven meant that he was appointed to be Christ’s house steward, i.e. someone with the authority to decide whether someone would belong to his household, or if someone should be denied access. Keys are symbols of access to both a house and a city. Already in Jesus's time, when a representative of a besieged city handed over the ”keys of the town” it meant that it had given up all resistance. As in Velázquez's famous painting where the Dutch, under Justinus of Nassau, hand over the keys to the strong border fortress Breda to the commander of the Spanish army, Ambrogio Spinola.
That Jesus gives Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, would according to Jewish belief mean that he gave his disciple both legislative and remissive powers. Something that is expressed through the words "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." In the New Testament, the Kingdom of Heaven seems to be equivalent to the concept of the Kingdom of God and according to Jesus it would thus not be a concrete place, a State, or a nation, such as the liberated Israel which most Jews of his times expected that the Messiah would establish. Jesus´s Kingdom of God was rather a spiritual realm that already existed ”in the midst of” us, but it was nevertheless not ”of this world”. Theologians have often argued that the expression ”in the midst of you” would mean ”within you” or something similar. Disagreement arises from the fact that the preposition in the basic text can have several meanings and nuances. It is unclear how this Kingdom was supposed to be established, or whether it already existed. Jesus points out that it is a spiritual realm where one gains access through faith and where the ”greatest” become servants of others.
At one point in the Gospel of Luke, he claims:
The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst (Luke 17:20-21).
We once had an Ethiopian neighbour, a kind and deeply religious lady. She gave us an Abyssinian, hand-held processional cross. It is quite beautiful and now lies beside me here on the desk. The lady told me that no two such crosses are the same.
As I now look at that cross, I realize that it is shaped both as a cross and a key and it makes me think that it was perhaps something like that Jesus meant when he stated that the Kingdom of God is within us. Through his message and sacrificial death, which was preceded by agony, abandonment, and suffering, Jesus did probably, through his own pain and death, try to make us realize that it is a personal paragon that opens us to a doctrine, a faith. The word that becomes flesh and allows us to ”inscribe the Law in our hearts.” The cross, symbolizing the death of Jesus, thus becomes a key that opens up our interior to His message. As one Jesuit once told me in El Progreso, a wretched town in Honduras: ”This death that makes us live.”
Jesus prohibiting his disciples to tell anyone about him being the Messiah also reminds me of my time as a telegraphist and the coded messages I received and interpreted. Perhaps Jesus's message that he really was the Son of God actually was encrypted at the time he uttered it. His intention was maybe to hide this information from unauthorized persons until the right time came to reveal it, additionally he could have been worried that it for the time being run the risk of not being correctly received, interpreted and transmitted and thus could be used against him.
In a way he was right to be cautious, the Christian message has been corrupted and mishandled time and time again. Jesus’s words and behaviour have occasionally been interpreted and used in the worst possible manner – often in support of idiots and oppressors who, on the basis of hopelessly distorted views and malicious script interpretations, have silenced their fellow human beings, torturing and killing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Keys turn up one last time in one of the Bible's most despicable books – the Book of Revelation, which also seems to be the one that is most vividly appreciated by fundamentalists and especially those who generally ignore the forgiving spirit of Jesus and instead revel in how their enemies will be tormented and hopefully meet an even worse fate than death.
In the Book of Revelation, it is an angel, not Simon Peter, who shows up with a key and in the usual incomprehensible manner of this strange book locks up the Devil in his Hell. The specified periods of time he has to remain locked up have inspired a number of sectarians, not the least Jehovah's Witnesses, to repeatedly prophesy of an imminent Apocalypse, which nevertheless did not take place at the expected dates:
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nationsanymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. (Rev 20: 1-3)
Let us leave this apocalyptic madness and return to the Keys of Saint Peter. Since the Pope's power rests on the belief that Jesus gave Peter and his successors power over his congregation, manifested through the symbolic keys, they have a prominent place in the Vatican's coat of arms. The latest version of the coat of arms, from 1927, presents a golden key crossing a silver one. The keys are bound together by a with a red braid symbolizing the blood that Jesus shed for us and connects all true Christians through the mystery of the Eucharist. Furthermore, the braid symbolizes the blood martyrs have spilled to keep the faith alive. The golden key opens the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven, while the silver key locks them for the sinners. However, the keys may also symbolize the Pope's mandate to unlock and reveal the Christian dogma and keep out heretics who do not accept and follow it, i.e. the Pope's power, granted to him as God's representative on earth, to forgive and condemn. It is also said that while the golden key is the key of the Kingdom of Heaven, the silver one is the key to the world. The keys may also symbolize Urbi et Orbe (Latin ”for the city”, i.e. Rome, and the world), a description of the pope's divine assignment as bishop of Rome and head of the Universal Church.
The keys are big, looking heavy and solid, thereby indicating the heavy burden and responsibility that rests on the Pope´s shoulders as God's steward and keeper of His keys. In the book of the prophet Isaiah it is said that God placed the keys of the House of David on Eliakim's shoulders, an indication of the fact that in ancient Israel keys to town gates, temples and palaces, were often cumbersome and carried in a rope slung over one shoulder. Michelangelo painted a picture of Eliakim just under the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, where he sits looking grumpy. He was the house manager and finance minister under Hezekiah, Israel's thirteenth king.
Keys turn up everywhere in the Bible and it was common for Jewish mothers to be given a key to clutch tightly during their labour pains, thereby facilitating the child's arrival into the world
Similarly can a West African woman while giving birth grasp her so-called akua´ba doll. The effigy got its name from a certain Akua who was mocked for not having any children. She made a wooden doll she hoped would make her fertile. Akua carried the doll on her back as African mothers do with their infants, see and behold – she finally gave birth to a beautiful daughter. Since that day women wishing for a child may carry such akua'bas on their backs and when they come home in the evening they may place their akua'bas on an altar and offer them drinks and fruits.
It has often been pointed out that akua´bas seem to be reminiscent of the ancient Egyptian sign of life, Ankh, which was often worn as an amulet and also placed in tombs and coffins. Several Egyptologists claim that the hieroglyphic Ankh is similar to an ancient Egyptian sandal. However, how a sandal could become a sign for life is beyond my understanding. I find it much more likely that the Ankh character, it is also a hieroglyph, as a few have argued represents a stylized uterus with an egg, definitely a more credible fertility symbol than a sandal. The Ankh sign is also commonly called a Nile Key and is then associated with the most powerful source of life of them all in Ancient Egypt – the Nile, which with its life-giving water fertilize the fields and guarantee the welfare of Egypt.
It is often speculated wildly and incorrectly around signs and symbols. For example, it is common to hear that the so-called Venus Mirror, commonly used as a sign of femininity, also is a stylized uterus, or an image of a key. Could be, but it is more likely that the character is based on the Greek letter phi, which as capital letter is written as Φ and as minuscule φ. Phi is the initial letter to Phosphoros, the Morning Star, i.e. the planet Venus. The ancient Greeks did not consider the planet Venus to be a female entity, it was rather male and had two forms of appearance – as Phosphoros and Hesperos, the Evening Star. Later on, alchemists came to link Venus with copper and it was then that φ became ♀. It was the classicist, philologist and philosopher Joseph Justus Scaliger (1540-1609) who definitely put the sign in connection with femininity and called it the Venus Mirror and it was the Swedish botanist Carl von Linné who in 1751 began using ♀ to indicate the female gender of different species.
Keys have in many religions been been connected with women's fertility, not the least in Ancient Egypt, where locks and keys appear to have been invented. Egyptian locks were generally made of wood and the keys of metal. The key's entry into the lock, which thus opened up to what was hiding in a chamber, made already the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians associate locks and keys with intercourse.
Keys have in many religions been connected with women's fertility, not the least in Ancient Egypt, where locks and keys appear to have been invented. Egyptian locks were generally made of wood and their keys of metal. The key's entry into the lock, which then opens up to what is hiding in the chambers, made already the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians associate locks and keys with intercourse.
Key allegories were linked to a kind of sacred intercourse, which in the History of Religions has come to be denoted by the Greek term hieros gamos, sacred marriage. The most well-known hieros gamos ceremonies took place in Ancient Mesopotamia and originated from a rite which meant that Sumerian kings copulated with Inanna's high priestess. Inanna was one of several extremely powerful Middle Eastern goddesses and considered to be the divinity of love, beauty, sex, war, justice, and political power.
Ghostbusters, a success movie from 1984, makes fun of this ritual, as well as it jokes with allusions about the sexual connection between key and lock and beliefs that certain rituals may open a gateway to other unknown dimensions.
The attractive, female musician Dana Barret and the awkward accountant Louis Tully are neighbours in an apartmant that actually is a supernatural temple masquerading as a New York skyscraper. The temple is intended to be the mighty and extremely malevolent Sumerian god Gozer's gateway to earth, but to be born into this world, Gozer must make use of the sexual association between two demon-possessed humans. To that end, the accountant Tully becomes possessed by Vinz Clotho, Gozer's key master and the musician Dana by Zuul, Gozer's gatekeeper. It will be the The Ghostbusters´ task to prevent Clothos and Zuul's ruinous association.
Women have often been assumed to hide the wealth of life within their bodies, but to provide humanity with life, strength and satisfaction women ha to be ”unlocked” and it has been argued that like treasure chests they require keys to open up, a male tool is required for a woman to be able to produce life and give away the riches she carries within her.
By the Baman people in Mali, the locks for storehouses are designed as women.
Keys have often been considered to be indicative of female control and power, of their life-creating abilities and up-keep of life inside and around their homes.
When a Viking chieftain embarked on a forays or business trips he ceremoniously handed over the keys to home and storage house to his wife. Viking women often wore jewellery in the form of keys, presumably to demonstrate their female authority, several such adornments have been found in women’s tombs, while deceased men generally were provided with more warlike jewellery, like miniature Thor hammers.
Female, Christian saints, like Saint Petronella, Saint Geniève, Paris's patroness, and Saint Martha, Maria Magdalen's domestically inclined sister, are generally depicted with a key.
Even noble ladies have, throughout the ages, been portrayed with keys, which indicate their dignity as mistresses of homes and properties.
Children are often fascinated by keys. Finding a key means it fits into a keyhole somewhere, maybe to the lock in a door leading to a mysterious abode, or maybe it opens up a box filled with treasures or thrilling secrets. When I was a kid it was quite common for little girls to keep diaries which they closed with locks and keys to their innermost thoughts and sensitive secrets. Of course, I was curious about what could be hidden in my sisters' diaries, but they had carefully hidden away their keys. Many stories tell about how someone finds a key that leads to another world, or to a solution to a problem. After falling into the rabbit hole, Alice ends up in a corridor with a multitude of doors, all locked.
Suddenly she came upon a little three-legged table, all made of solid glass; there was nothing on it except a tiny golden key, and Alice’s first idea was that this might belong to one of the doors of the hall; but, alas! either the locks were too large, or the key was too small, but at any rate it would not open any of them. However, on the second time round, she came upon a low curtain she had not noticed before, and behind it was a little door about fifteen inches high: she tried the little golden key in the lock, and to her great delight it fitted!
Women and girls' handling of keys have quite frequently been interpreted negatively, as when Pandora with a key opened the shrine in which all the world's misery was contained. Hesiod wrote that after Prometheus had stolen the fire from the gods and given it to the human, the Gods wanted to be avenged by spreading misery to the ungrateful human creeps. Accordingly, they gave a large, sealed kylix, drinking vessel, to Prometheus's brother Epimetheus. Prometheus had in the meantime been chained in a mountain in the Caucasus, where his constantly reborn liver was hacked by an eagle, or a vulture. As is often the case of ancient, misogyny myths, it was a woman who brought misery into the world. Epimetheus's inquisitive wife, Pandora, broke the seal from the kylix and thus allowed sickness, death and other unspecified misery enter into the world.
In later times, however, Pandora has generally been provided with a key, while Epimetheus´s kylix has been transformed into a box. The reason for this is Erasmus Adagia from 1508 in which he collected a large number of Greek and Latin proverbs, commenting them through stories and anecdotes. The Latin proverb Malo accepto stultus sapit, having had something bad happen, the fool grows wise, Erasmus exemplified with a story about how Epimetheus, whose name means Aftermath, was given a key by the gods to open the unfortunate box. In the general consciousness of the people, Epimetheus was soon replaced by Pandora, but the box and its key remained the same.
Locked chests and keys are often signs of stinginess and greed (avaritia) a deadly sin, or as Jesus explained:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-23)
In Hieronymos Bosch's visions of Hell we are confronted with misers tormented by their keys of greed.
However, keys might also be a sign of love. Something that Evert Taube, a troubadou who is extremely popular in his homeland, certainly had in mind when he entitled a volume compiling sixty of his songs Hjärtats nyckel heter sång, Song is the Name of the Key to the Heart.
In that context, I come to think of Juan Luis Guerra's swinging and brilliant La Llave de mi corazon, in which a poor man from Ciudad Nueva, a legendary quarter in Santo Domingo, calls up a radio station where a certain Doctor Luis provides ”marital advice”. He dials the number 305 594 1185 and when the doctor answers wonders the in lovesick, but slightly awkward youngster, in his dominicanyork, the mixed language between English and Spanish that Dominicans who have been working in the U.S. often speaks:
Hey Doc, le llama por una amiga que conci en un web site,
le pido que me dé solución
pues tiene la llave de mi corazón.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Yo soy de Ciuad Nueva, y ella es
de San Pedro Macoris, you know,
tierra de peloteros, where Sammy Sosa lives.
Le gusta beber jugos de papaya con anís
y narrar telenovelas, but love is blind as you can see.
Le pido que me dé solución
pues tiene la llave de mi corazón.
Hey Doc, I'm calling you for a friend I met on a website,
I ask you to give me some advice
because she has the key to my heart.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
I am from Ciuad Nueva, and she is
from San Pedro Macoris, you know,
the land of baseball, where Sammy Sosa lives.
She likes to drink papaya juices with anise
and narrate the soap operas, but love is blind as you can see.
I ask you to give me a solution
because she has the key to my heart.
Enjoy the music video on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxWexyncaTs
I am quite familiar with the song´s setting since we have lived in Santo Domingo for several years and still have a second home in Juan Dolio, not far from San Pedro de Macoris, home to the great Dominican baseball heroes. Baseball is the national sport of the Dominican Republic, just as is in the U.S., several of the players in the U.S. major leagues, like Sammy Sosa, have been or are Dominicans.
As I stated above, locks and keys have connotations to love and eroticism. It has become a kind of fashion, yes … almost an obsession with couples in love to attach locks to railings and fences after the 2004 French film Pont des Arts.
In many parts of the world , fences and bridge railings have collapsed soem the weight of attached locks. In June 2015, the Paris municipality banned the attachment of locks at the Pont des Arts and removed those who were there at that timee – more then 700,000 locks with the amassed weight of twenty fullgrown elephants.
In romances from the Middle Ages and onwards, the gift of a key from a lady to a prospective lover has been regarded as an unfailing invitation to lovemaking.
In European court culture it was considered extremely honourful to be considered worthy of taking care of the key to a prince's or princess's private chambers. Not as a love token but as an official sign that the person who earned such an honour had the full confidence of his prince. An example of this is the English title Groom of the Stole. It was awarded to the second highest official in an English royal household, just below that of Chamberlain. Under Queen Anne's reign, the title could also be given to a woman, though Queen Victoria later changed the female position to Mistress of the Robes. The male office was abolished in 1901 by King Edward VII.
The origin of the title is somewhat peculiar. In the later Middle Ages, The Groom of the Stool was a male caretaker who within the household of an English monarch had the task of assisting the King during his visits to the toilet. Among the tasks of the Groom was to clean the royal end, as well as providing bowl, water and towels. The Groom of the Stool would also monitor the King's diet, keep a record of his bowel movements and the texture of the royal stools. Furthermore, he acted as intermediary between the king and the court physician. Below is a toilet seat from Hampton Court, the 1650s.
To give a key to someone, often in the form of a pendant on a necklace or bracelet, is generally considered as a token of love and may of course also have erotic allusions, as in Gustave Doré's illustration of Perrault's tale Bluebeard where the perverted villain gives a key to his young bride. It turns out to be leading to a chamber where he stores the corpses his former and slaughtered wives.
Instead of being an invitation to sin, as the story of Bluebeard suggests, locks and keys may on the contrary be connected with rampant jealousy and a sense of ownership of women, as the legendary chastity belts said to have been used by crusaders when they set out to liberate Jerusalem and wanted to feel assured that their remaining wives did not commit adultery. However, it has turned out to be an unfounded myth and no such chastity belts have been found.
Now, let me leave myths about locks and keys aside and return to my personal key losses, especially the one I came to think about when I read Sven Ljungberg's little anecdote. It was one of those winters before climate change hit the part of Sweden where I grew up and there was still plenty of snow around our home in Bjärnum. We had celebrated Christmas there and was preparing us to take the car to Kastrup’s airport to catch a flight to ... I do not remember if it was to Rome or Santo Domingo. Christmas' celebrations had been joyful and very pleasing, the girls had had a lot of fun in the snow and among other things we had made a magnificent snowman.
Everything was packed and we were ready to leave in good time to reach Denmark and the airport. Then ... PANIC! I could not find the car key! At first, I searched everywhere, without telling and worrying about the family. I searched in the beds, easy chairs and sofas, in the toilet, in the outhouses, in the guest house, the carport, down by the lake, in the rowing boat. My worries got worse and as the clock ticked on I had to inform the others that I could not find the car key. They did not have the time to scold me, but immediately took part in my feverish search. By that time, I had realized that the night before I had been going back and forth between the house and the carport, busying myself with packing in the luggage, checking if the motor started after being cold below zero for several days and night. Furthermore, I had helped the girls to make the huge snowman.
I rushed into the house and checked my working pants. Well ... quite right there were a holes in one of the pockets, the key must have fallen out into the snow. Most likely, it happened somewhere between the house and the carport, though that is a fairly large area, at least during keyhunting and it had snowed abundantly during the night. Now the whole family was digging around in the snow and I started calling the car rental company in Malmö. There might be a spare key there, no ... the office was closed for the Christmas holidays. The rental car had to be handed over at Kastrup Airport outside Copenhagen, but they would only receive the car and could not help me with the key issue. However, the rental car office in Oslo was open for business and I called them wondering if they might have a phone number to some towing or key service in the Hässleholms-Kristianstad area. No, they had not have that. Desperately I called a several numbers to close-by companies and workshops that might be helpful. Everything was closed. All I could do was try to order a taxi and leave the rental car where it stood while I in Rome or Santo Domingo had to try to figure out some future solution. However, due to the holiday season all taxis were busy serving other clients
Now my wife had come up with the idea of pouring boiling water to melt the snow and it would more easier to serach for the key, though there were not enough boiling water and a lot of snow. The hours passed, the minutes and the seconds. I glanced at the snowman. Yesterday, we must have rolled in the key into the big snow balls we had used to build him. He was big and handsome and my youngest daughter was saddened when I raised the snow shovel to cut him to pieces. At that very moment, my wife cried out aloud – she had found the key!
Now we have to hurry. We made it just in time for check-in.
Bargna, Ivan (2006) L´Arte Africana. Florens: E-ducation. Brewer, Ebenezer Cobham (1970) Brewer´s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, revised by Ivor H. Evans. London: Cassell. Carroll, Lewis (1994) Alice´s Adventures in Wonderland. London: Penguin/Puffin Books. Nicoletti, Gianluca (2015) ”Umberto Eco: Con i social parola a legioni di imbescelli”. La Stampa, junio 11. Panofsky, Dora and Erwin (1956) Pandora´s Box - The Changing Aspects of a Mythical Symbol. New York: Pantheon Books. Ronnberg, Ami och Kathleen Martin (eds.) The Book of Symbols: Reflections On Archetypical Images. Köln: Taschen.Scholem, Gershom (1971) The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality. New York: Schocken Books.