In this section, you will discover how ancient civilizations looked at the heart. You will also discover those things which have been passed along by these cultures to our generation, and you will also find that their view of the heart was strikingly similar to our own.
All of the ancient cultures shared one trait in common in how they perceived the heart. They thought that the heart was the center of emotion. The Egyptians, for instance, thought the heart to be the most important organ. They would embalm bodies by removing the organs and placing them in ceramic containers to be buried with the body. However, the heart would be the only organ left in the body. They felt the heart played an important role in the afterlife. As legend has it, if the heart (representing conscience) weighs less than the feather (representing truth) then the person will be allowed to live in the afterlife. The Egyptians thought the heart generated thought and emotion. They had no conception of the mind (brain).
Along with the Egyptians, the ancient Greeks thought the soul was associated with the heart as well. In the Iliad, Homer described Patroclus plunging a spear into Sarpedon’s heart:
From the wide wound gushes out a stream of blood,
And the soul issued in the purple flood.
The Greeks found that the heart was even more firm than the liver, and therefore, they interpreted this to mean that it had great significance in the human life. Aristotle proposed the theory that emotion came from the heart, while Plato thought it came from the brain.
The word, lev (meaning “heart” in Hebrew) is found 190 times in the Jewish bible. It is always understood that emotional and spiritual behavior is associated with the heart. In Christianity, the heart represents the place of divine love. The heart of Christ is the center of divine love, not his brain. We know that the heart is a muscle that pumps blood throughout our body, and there is no scientific evidence to back up that it contains any powers of emotion. However, we as a society continue to speak of the heart as if it does control our emotions. We do this because we have been doing it for thousands and thousands of years. It is a tradition that will never die. Sherwin B. Nuland explains this in The Mysteries Within:
Even in the face of science, the human mind has difficulty letting go of patterns of thought imprinted during civilization’s earliest days. Sometimes, the reluctance is deliberate and enriching, as in the many metaphoric attributes of the heart. And sometimes the holding fast to ancient ways lies deep below the level of human consciousness. Like the neuroses that originate from early childhood perceptions, the transmitted effects of memory--shrouded as their origins may be--never leave our collective thinking; like individuals, cultures are made of memories, both the known and the hidden. (The Mysteries Within, Nuland 195)
If ancient civilizations have taught us anything about the heart, they have taught us that it is much more than just an organ that pumps blood. The heart is a symbol for the magic living inside of us that won’t accept rationality, only imagination.