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The Shape of Your Heart
With every visit to the beach, my little one collects heart shaped pebbles to bring home as love gifts for me, her mom. These rock hearts make me smile and help create a warm feeling deep inside my soul, but at the end of the day they are just peculiarly shaped rocks. It's that heart shape that does it though - twirls and swirls representing love and passion the world over – how did that happen? Why that specific shape? Theories abound and the jury is still out, but certainly a few interesting possibilities exist.
Head or Heart?
While it is now common knowledge that the brain is our center of thought and emotion, the ancients believed differently. They understood the human heart to be the life-source of passion and feeling. Perhaps the regular or irregular heart-beat was responsible for this. One theory about the origin of the heart symbol is that it stems from the shape of the physical human heart. Although lacking somewhat in similarity it is possible that without current day mod-coms, and even good lighting for that matter, medical scholars of old, handed their insights down to scribes who captured a somewhat creative record...enhanced further by a touch of imaginative editing.....and you get the picture right?
Another line of thought is that cattle hearts had a strong influence. Possibly these were viewed more regularly than human hearts by the common man, and are apparently closer in representation to our heart shaped symbol than the human heart is.
Enter - The Love Seed
An enticing possibility from a story telling perspective comes from the shores of North Africa where around 600 BCE a group of Greeks developed a settlement known as Cyrene. Not long after, these Cyrenean's discovered an amazing wild herb growing in their area - known as the Silphium plant. This plant had many useful properties. Its healing powers were diverse covering snake-bites to belly aches, and it also became a part of every respectable Cyrenean cooks herb collection. But its main claim to fame was its use as an aphrodisiac and extremely reliable form of contraceptive.
The Cyrenean's grew wealthy from the bountiful properties of the Silphium plant, the fame of which spread far and wide - even reaching the shores of India. So relevant was the plant to the economy that a picture of the seed of the Silphium ended up on the coinage of the time, and the shape of the Silphium seed? A perfect heart.
As wonderful as this herb was it did have a down side. Silphium didn't take kindly to control and like love at times, took a path of its own. It refused to grow anywhere but in the wilds of particular parts of the North African coast line and did not grow prolifically as one would expect from a wild herb. By the end of the first century, sadly due to over-use, greed and lack of planning, the Siphium plant was officially extinct. But the legend of the Silphium seed lives on to continue to contribute to the Shape of Our Heart....
Read more about the history of the heart and Cyrenean society here: