Tuesday, January 02, 2007
2006 Archives: Jesus out on a limb
To paraphrase Lisa Simpson: It's not that I don't have a spiritual side. I just find it hard to believe that Jesus was transfigured onto a moth hanging on a melaleuca branch in my yard.
June 19, 2006: I was walking down the driveway when I noticed this plume moth on the melaleuca tree. I grabbed the camera and took a series of shots for later examination, evaluation and hopefully identification. There are 150 plus species of plume moths in North America believe it or not, but thanks to information from other bug nuts on the internet, I concluded this is probably the geranium plume moth. If so this could be the mother (or father) or future mother (or father) of caterpillars that will eat and roll up the leaves of my geraniums and other ornamental plants in the garden. Grrrr. Then I noticed it: there was a familiar figure in the ventral photo of the moth. I looks like the Ascending Jesus I remember seeing long ago on a holy card while having a minor asthma attack in church. The part that appears to be Jesus' legs, bent slightly at the knees, is the ventral surface of the moth's abdomen. The upstretched arms are the moth's rolled up wings, and Jesus' face is the ventral surface of the moth's thorax where the legs attach. OK, some people have said it looks more like the angel Gabriel, but once I "saw" Jesus, I couldn't not see him there on the moth. My unbiased perception had been co-opted by the cementing of the real, however non-significant image/pattern on the moth to a stored mental image fraught with cultural significance.
Pareidolia is defined as a kind of perception where a person sees faces or figures in random presentations like wood grain, clouds, smoke, tortillas, etc. It is less kindly defined as the misperception of ambiguous stimuli and willful interpretation into something specific or even significant.
Many pareidolia are of religious figures like Jesus. Even though no one knows for sure what he looked like, people are always "seeing" Jesus on stuff like shower windows, rocks, French toast or panini, their bedroom ceiling, and now insects. I suppose this could be because reality (represented by trees, bugs, water stains on asphalt parking lots, patterns of light as it dances through old glass, wood-grained doors, etc) is not Significant enough, and the human mind does crave significance. Religion, whether truly believed or culturally practiced, is laden with significance. Belief in believing in Jesus on a Moth can seem to give one's mundane existence special enchanted qualities. And so, many people do become enchanted by pareidolia, whether by true belief in the apparition as a manifestation of the divine or the longing to believe in such a belief.
I hadn't posted this Jesus image before now because I suspected if I properly marketed the thing, I could make big bucks with it on eBay. Hmmmm maybe not; so I've decided to post it and let you decide: Is it more significant that one individual of one species of one genus of one order of insect was found on a small arromatic tree in midsummer; that its human observer happened to have an image memory that matched a pattern on the moth's body; that the observer photographed it and let the moth go on its way to mate, procreate, to die somewhere unmarked in the garden; that the observer would use the wonder of digital technology to share this oddity of observation with the whole wide world; that some people would find this wondrous; that other would be amused; and others still offended or perhaps bored; that the whole schmeer is added to the vast store of recorded human thought and observation, for what it's worth OR that god has deigned to embed the image of his son on the underside of a not too impressive moth?
And furthermore: Do all geranium plume moths carry the imprint of Jesus on their undersides?