Peacocks are beautiful aren’t they. I have recently had one tattooed on my leg as there is so much symbolism that surrounds them, they are vain and showy, but also deemed as royalty and a protector because of the association with with Hera from Greek mythology. When I saw this picture I was obviously drawn to it because of the two symbols which I love… Peacocks and skulls, but how little I knew how deep the peacocks role was in religious circles before starting this article.
Luke Hillestad, is a man of few words on his own website, so telling you much about the artist is going to be something severely lacking, his own biography is this…
“Luke Hillestad is a kitsch painter in the tradition of the Ancient Greek painter Apelles. He is a student of Odd Nerdrum and lives in St Paul, Minnesota. His work aims towards the primal beauty of humans at their most noble, with narratives that revolve around archetypal themes.”
I did manage to find a video of him talking about his work, where he explains that he is part of the Kitch movement, which strives to bring art work done in the style of past masters to people at affordable prices, and this piece certainly shows his skills.
I am quite aware that in this tiny piece of blurb it indicates that Hillestad paints in the tradition of Ancient Greek artists, so initially I thought (with my Greek geek hat on) that this too could link to the Goddess Hera, and her divine role in the myths, but I swiftly changed my mind, as the title is “Mitra”. I would be correct to say that Mitra or Mithra is something within Greek and Roman mythology, but this was bought over from Indo-Iranian stories, therefore I went knowledge hunting.
In the painting you can see a white peacock, sat on a pile of skulls. The peacocks crest looks almost like a halo, and there appears to be a spotlight or heavenly glow emanating on to the back wall and down the pile of skulls. As your eyes follow the peacock tail down there seems to be a ting of red light, cast across the bottom few skulls and on to the white plumage. At the very bottom of the pile of skulls small flowers are growing, they pop up through the skulls. The flowers look a little like embers as they catch the light from both sources.
For me, this painting looks as though it is linked to stories of the Peacock angel. Now this might seem a little of a far stretch at first, but the more I have researched the more I feel it fits for me.
The word Mitra can also be written as Mithra – and spans through several different religions, but with little relevance to the peacock…or so I thought, until I stumbled across the meaning of Mithra in Iranian terms. Here Mithra is a divinity which is “truth-speaking, … with a thousand ears, … with ten thousand eyes, high, with full knowledge, strong, sleepless, and ever awake.” (Yasht 10.7). As preserver of covenants, Mithra is also protector and keeper of all aspects of interpersonal relationships, such as friendship and love.
From here I found stories of the Peacock angel and the beliefs of the Yazidi, which echo the thought of the divinity Mithra. The Yazidi believe that they are the primordial faith, though they have come under fire for being Satan worshipers, but looking at the stories, I think that this is a far stretch to the imagination. The Yazidi are a mixture of faiths that we know now, and it would seem that this accusation could be a bit of a misnomer due to lack of understanding of the faith. Either way I find the story interesting and relevant to this piece of art.
When the universe was created, it was a heaving mass. God in his wisdom, created a mystical bird to sit on the universe, much like a giant cosmic egg. As the egg hatched – the galaxies and stars fell into place. God sent the mystical bird to Earth to be the incarnate of the divine lord – his eyes and ears, he told that bird that he was God on Earth and the leader of the angels, he was called Tawsi Melek. God then put 6 other birds to the Earth – making 7 angels in total. All the birds were peacocks, and each were a different colour as though they made a rainbow. Twasi Melek was initially blue as the primordial colour which symbolises birth.
God then asked the 6 peacocks to create Adam, so from dust and mud they created man, each then giving him a sense, such as sight, hearing, taste…
Then Twasi Melek then breathed life in to Adam. God requested that the angels bow to Adam, the 6 did, but then Twasi Melek refused. When asked why, he responded that, if he was the incarnate of God on Earth, and has breathed life in to this being, why should he then bow to it?
This is where it gets a little hazy, as God then cast out Twasi Melek from the Garden of Eden, and he became a fallen angel within the fires of Hell. The peacock was remorseful of his actions and cried for 7000 years and filled 7 large jars with its tears. The tears where then used to put out the fires of Hell, and god saw that Twasi Melek was sorry and he was welcomed back into the Garden of Eden.
Now there are variations on this story, some, God commends Twasi Melek for not bowing and he is never cast out of the Garden, but this is where the rumors of Satanic worship come from – as some feel that the worship of Twasi Melek is likened to the worship of Lucifer who was cast out by God. It seems irrelevant that he was also welcomed back on showing remorse.
There are also other symbolic references to peacocks, in many religions, in that they are regarded as guardians of the entrance to what ever heaven or final destination that you believe in. It was also said that their flesh didn’t rot after they died, almost making them in an eternal slumber rather than death. There is also the very obvious symbolism of the 10000 eyes in their tails, leading us back to the earlier quote that the peacock was God’s eyes and ears on Earth.
The Yazidi faith is a bit like a tightrope walk between Islam and Christianity as the stories seem to cross paths, there are quite big chunks I have skipped out of this explanation, otherwise I would still be writing this post by Christmas, but you can see how the stories interweave. With this in mind, this brings me to the skulls in the picture. I hadn’t realised that there is a story behind a cross which has a skull at the bottom of it. It is thought that when Jesus was crucified, that this happened on the same spot that Adam was buried, therefore when the blood of Jesus ran down the cross is ran to the remains of Adam to wash away the original sin of mankind.
There is also something here around how the Islamic state have moved into this area of Iran in 2014, forcing the Kurdish Yazidi to either convert their religion or die. Many fleeing to avoid persecution. This is a shift from their previous state, where it was a melting pot of religions who lived together fairly peacefully.
With all of this in mind, lets look back at the painting. I see the white peacock as the image of Twasi Melek, the emanation of God on Earth, the red light and ember like flowers, the remnants of Hell, the pile of skulls, mankind that has had their sins washed away and sit within the divine light. This could also be a political indicator to the current state of convert or die.
To me, the peacock is now white, as it is representative of God on Earth, white being the heavenly colour, and lets face it, if it was blue, you wouldn’t think it was anything different than a normal peacock.
On the surface, this painting seems a beautifully executed simplistic piece, but it is soaked with meaning and this is something I truly admire in Hillestad’s work. He is a master at bringing together a theme and portraying the crux of the story in a way in which it is not exceedingly obvious.
If you want to see more of Hillestad’s work, you can find it here, this particular piece is from the “Lore” range.
If you want to read more about the Peacock Angel you can find out about it here as there is a lot more detail that will give you a wider understanding of this interesting faith.
What do you see in “Mitra” ? Why not tell me in the comments? Like this post? Why not share it?
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