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orante oggi

Since there are various dispositions of the body, the preferred one consists in raising the hands and raising the eyes, because in this way the body introduces into the prayer the qualities that belong to the soul “(Origene, Peri Euchès).

Analyzing the typology of the archaic gesture, I have been able to identify the three basic gestures to which correspond three specific ways of cosmological approach: the gesture of Cosmic Man, that of Universal Man and of Chthonic Man. These are gestural archetypes that can be found (with a small number of exceptions) in every human culture, in every time and in every place. During the Christian mass even today the priest raises his arms towards the sky repeating the gesture of the Cosmic Man. The image of Cosmic Man is represented throughout the time frame that goes back from the Middle Ages to Antiquity and Prehistory, up to the oldest anthropomorphic representations of Upper Paleolithic (16,000 years BC). Assuming this position, the man identifies himself with the axis-mundi; while his feet touch the earth and his arms rise to heaven he exercises the function of cosmic mediator, in order to draw on the energy of the universe to make it available, through the rite, to the various needs of man.

St Porchaire Poitiers

Church of Saint Porchaire, (Amiens, 11th century). Psalm 62, 5 says: “So I will bless you as long as I live, in your name I will lift up my hands”. This gesture is a sign of prayer, supplication, intercession, openness, availability. For many centuries, the people joined the priest in the same gesture.

According to Arturo Schwarz, the gesture of the Cosmic Man is the allegorical expression of the reconciliation between the masculine (heaven) and feminine (the earth) principle. It is also the mediator of their contradictions and translates into figurative terms the universal aspiration to immortality, evoked by the recurring solar and lunar cycle (Schwarz, 1979). Even in the Vedic culture, when the shaman reaches the top of the sacrificial pole, the cosmic axis that connects heaven and earth, he raises his arms and shouts: “I have reached the sky, I am immortal” (Eliade) In the archaic tradition the man who assumes this position abandons his limited nature and his attitude of dependence on the gods and turns into an autonomous, immortal entity, capable of exerting a magical and direct control over natural events.

luine foto

Bronze age Adorant from rock nr. 49 of Luine ( Valcamonica). “Assuming the position of the odorant, the individual identifies himself with the axis mundi.” His feet touch the ground, his arms are raised to the sky, he turns into a mediator of their opposition (A. Schwarz).

In a more recent phase in the history of spirituality, sacred texts and myths tell stories in which the gesture of the Cosmic Man has lost his autonomy and turns into a prayer addressed to the spirits and superior deities who occupy a high position , for example the heights or the sky, in order to request their intervention in the mediation with the natural world. Two interesting examples are provided by the Bible. In Isaiah, 1:15, God, offended by the errors of the people, says: “When you lift your hands, I look away, you multiply your prayers, I do not listen”. In another case (Exodus, 17) God offers exceptional help to man: “Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.


In Egyptian religion, the gesture of adorant is part of the cosmogonic tale. “In the classic scene of the creation of the world, the god of the atmosphere Shu separates Nut, the goddess of the sky, from the reclining figure of Geb, god of the earth and Nut’s brother-groom. Shu supports Nut with his arms raised and performs its function of axis-mundi separating and connecting at the same time the Sky and the Earth. The Kha, like the ipsilon, has here the function and meaning of support of the sky “.


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