How to Tell Demons from Deities!

It’s a cold and cruel day, February 1855 in the Exe Estuary in South DevonEngland. Villagers awaken to terrifying sight. Instead of a fine smooth coat of fresh snow, they discover evidence that something ungoldy passed, defiling the the road with its malevolent hoof-like marks. The sinister steps were scattered for almost a 100 miles–an impossible distance for any known human or animal. Many believed the unholy tracks to be those of Satan himself.

This spooky piece of history got me to thinking about the symbolism of footprints. There is no doubt that footprints indicate existence; they serve as reminder of a being’s presence. Of course, the being who makes them doesn’t always have to be malignant. In Hinduism and Buddhism, footprints signify the divine presence, usually Vishnu. Not only do they indicate omnipresence, but they also represent the path the deity has taken; so, spiritual trackers can discern the path to enlightenment.

In Buddhism, the story goes that just before his death, the Buddha left an imprint of his foot on a stone near Kusinara, as a reminder of his presence on earth.

Buddhist revere the footprint symbolism, decorating the prints with other signs for the Seven Appearances:

  1. Fish
    Within Buddhism the fish symbolize living beings who practice the dharma. Such beings do NOT fear drowning in the ocean of suffering; they can freely swim through any waters.
  2. Swastika
    In Sanskrit, swastika means “conducive to well-being”. In the Buddhist tradition, the swastika symbolizes the feet or footprints of the Buddha and is often used to mark the beginning of texts.
  3. The Lotus
    The Lotus (padma) is a very important symbol in India and of Buddhism. In brief, it refers to the complete purification of body, speech and mind, and the blossoming of wholesome deeds in liberation.
  4. Conch Shell
    The shell serves as a horn; it symbolizes the deep, far reaching and melodious sound of the teachings, which is suitable for all disciples at it awakens them from the slumber of ignorance to accomplish all beings’ welfare.
  5. Treasure Vase
    The vase signifies the inexhaustible riches available in the Buddhist teachings, but also symbolises long life, wealth, prosperity and all the benefits of this world.
  6. The Eight Spoke Wheel 
    The wheel conjures the story of Brahma descending from heaven and asking the Buddha to teach the Eight Fold Way. The Buddha is known as the Wheel-Turner: he who sets a new cycle of teachings in motion and in consequence changes the course of destiny.
  7. Triple Gem
    The core of Buddhism is made up of the three pillars: the Buddha, the Dharma (his teachings) and the Sangha (those who practice). Without someone who sought the way, without the teachings to show the way, without a spiritual community to explore the way, it would be as if the Buddha never existed and ignorance and suffering would reign.
With all this deep symbolism surrounding a mere footprint and as one who often walks the earth without shoes, I am forced to ask myself, “What Kind of Prints am I Making?” I am pleased that my foot steps aren’t the generic marks of Nike, Adidas, or any of the other faceless shoe companies. The traces I leave behind when I walk, run or hike, for good or evil, come from my own skin.
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