Ethiopian crosses are possibly the most interesting crosses on earth. Each one looks completely different. No two are made the same. This is a rare rule in ornament – especially religious one. There is an interesting story in African history behind it. Through tradition the precedent of variation has been preserved, allowing artisans to take liberty with the shapes and patterns of their choosing. Creative license with the cross is rare in all modern formulations of Christianity, where the symbol, particularly the Roman cross, has a standardized form. One of the marked interests in Ethiopian designs is the use of all these ancient forms – the simple plus sign, the solar one, the stellar cross, the circle with cross or the rotating cross.
European missionaries brought Christianity to many parts of Africa but this was not the case with Ethiopia. The kingdom was probably the second country to embrace the Christian faith. There is evidence that Christianity thrived in Ethiopia even in the 1st century (pretty extraordinary!). However historians are unable to agree when the cross was adopted as the primary emblem of Christianity.
A very interesting distinction about the Ethiopian cross that sets it apart from the rest of the modern Christian world: the cross is an object of worship in itself, and has texts devoted to it that did not survive elsewhere, considering it a symbol in its own way alive, and able to grant the power of life and healing. In the world beyond Ethiopia, the cross lost all of its feminine, life-giving associations long ago, becoming something we are more likely to find familiar today, a memorial symbol of an execution, referring to new life for a single historic personage in the distant past, rather that a broad conceptual emblem. For most of the Christian world today, the cross symbolizes the crucifixion story, but is no longer seen as a force of life in itself as frequently.
Despite this symbol’s character, Ethiopia did not escape any better the demotion of the goddess and the feminine in general that clearly defines the more recent religions – especially in the essential removal of women as people of leadership, which was – let’s be honest! – never particularly universal. But in some way, the cross there has retained a mothering, feminine presence, as a living symbol, in terms of the interwoven, multicultural history it displays.
And that’s why The Wild Rabbit House still worships it!