Halo Shapes and Meanings

Who do you know that walks around with a halo over their head? Be honest … is it you? Well, once in my life—long, long ago—it really was me. Rather, I dressed up as an angel. My sister Sharon made me a flowing gown out of old drapes, and as she stitched, her fingers itched, but not as badly as my little eight-year-old body, for the old drapes she used were made out of fiberglass! But I’m not here to put horns on her innocent head. Rather, I want to talk about the halo.

To make mine, we reformed a wire coat hanger into a circle on one end and used the long wire on other end to hook onto my cardboard wings. We then wrapped the halo in white crepe paper, and that was the last time anyone called me an angel. I yelled and scratched all through the night.

Have you ever considered …

If you’ve been to an art museum that houses religious art, you’ve seen haloes hovering over saintly heads. But did you notice the various halo shapes? And did you wonder why the orbs are there?

Haloes — Original Idea

The illumination from within portrayed as emanating light probably began in Asia (Hindu, Buddhist), with Romans and Greeks following suite. It was not until the 4th Century that Christians borrowed and amended the halo to fit their image of piety and holiness (former and latter information taken from Wikipedia–and I might mention, other resources abound, but my intention is to give you a general idea and send you on your way).

Although the word halo is not in Biblical text, the symbolism is likely referenced:

Exodus 34:29 “Moses didn’t realize as he came back down the mountain with the tablets that his face glowed from being in the presence of God.” TLB

Revelation 22:5 “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever.” NIV

What kind of shape are you in?

Speaking allegorically, of course, to the halo.

Different halo shapes have different meanings. Here are a few explanations, but keep in mind that contemporary artists often use artistic license in their endeavors. (Visit my Pinterest page, and the board The Art of Haloes to see one made from a sunflower.)

Square

Placed behind a holy person who at the time of artistic rendering was still alive

Circle

The most common and therefore used for saints, angels, the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ …

Triangle

God the Father, in bodily form or symbolized as a hand emanating from a cloud, may have a triangular halo

Stars

Baroque and beyond, a circle of stars portrays Mary as Queen of the Apocalypse (Revelation 12:1)

Scalloped Bars (or beams that radiate out like a sunburst)

Typically for holy people who have not, at the time of the painting, been canonized as saints

Variations within classic forms

When a cross is evident within the circle, this cruciform represents Christ and/or the Holy Trinity

Whole Body Aura

Usually used for Mary or Christ Jesus, and rarely but occasionally used for saints

For a more in-depth study, I found Alberti’s Window a good resource.

The next time you see religious art with haloes, take note of the style. It may indicate the person or their status. And share your knowledge with others. To do so is surefire proof that you have learned the fine art of Linking Yesterday to Today.

I welcome your comments, especially stories about how you made your own halo. Until next time, be good!

One Response to “Halo Shapes and Meanings”

  1. Donna Smith

    Have you ever heard of William Branham? There’s a photo taken of him in the late 1940s/early 50s with a halo over his head. He moved in healing, signs and wonders, but got way off track and didn’t finish well. That’s why most people haven’t heard of him. Interesting how they did that though. I’ll have to try to remember that next time I see one. 🙂
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