How Are Symbols Used in the Rastafarian Worship?

by Rachael DeBrouse

Rastafarianism began as a response in Jamaica to colonial control and slavery, which continued to bind the people to poverty and degradation even after they were freed. Rather than accepting this plight, Rastafarians believe that the people of Africa are the descendants of the Tribe of Judah referred to in the Bible, the chosen people of God who will rise again. Rastafarians focus on regaining the strength of the African people in order to fight what they call Babylonian control, and to return to the land of Zion, which they believe is in Ethiopia. The symbols and symbolic practices within the religion are a reflection of these beliefs.

Colors

The colors associated with the Rastafarian religion -- red, green, gold, and black -- have a multitude of meanings. The Ethiopian flag is red, gold and green, so the use of these colors represents the peoples' allegiance to Africa and a return to their Ethiopian homeland. Red is representative of the blood spilt in the name of freedom, particularly of slaves brought over during the colonial period. Green symbolizes Jamaica and its vegetation, which holds an important place in the practice of the religion. Gold is the wealth of Ethiopia, as well as hope and faith. Black is the color of African skin and is considered a color of holiness. The colors are displayed prominently on houses, temples, vehicles and clothing to create unity among the believers.

Lion

The lion is connected to Haile Selassie, a prior emperor of Ethiopia who the Rastafarians worship as the Messiah or God incarnate. Rastafarians believe that Selassie’s lineage can be traced back to the Tribe of Judah, which used the lion as a symbol, and he is often called the “Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” They believe that colonialism destroyed African identity, thus disrupting their self-identity. When people embrace the traits of a lion, such as self-confidence and assertiveness, they reclaim their African identity and strength. Lions are displayed in the same manner as the Rastafarian colors, and statues of them often guard homes. They are also a very common motif within reggae music.

Dreadlocks

Dreadlocks are an extremely prominent symbol of Rastafarianism and are meant to represent the denial of Babylonian, or white, ideals of beauty and the rejection of Jesus, who they believe had blond hair. They are reminiscent of the lion's mane, further reinforcing qualities of the lion while they also embrace pride in African appearance. Dreadlocks are considered the natural state of African hair when it is left to grow as God intended. Dreadlocks are also used in religious practice and are said to be a link to Jah, known as Yahweh or Jehovah in other religions. When dreadlocks are shaken it is believed that they become a receptor for earthforce, a mystical power of the universe.

Food and Ganja

Rastafarians believe that natural food, herbs and ganja (marijuana) symbolize the ability of man to be sustained by God's creations and a rejection of forced modernity. Rastafarians are committed to a natural lifestyle based on the idea that the earth brings forth all good things that should be used in their natural state as intended by Jah. While they typically stick to a vegetarian diet, small fish are sometimes consumed, but large fish are believed to represent the establishment and are avoided. Herbs are often used in the religion for the purpose of healing, as all things are organic and should stay so. The use of technology defies organic principles and embraces modern society, so it is shunned. Ganja is of great importance to the Rastafarians and they use it in religious practice as a source of illumination. It allows people to create and celebrate a communal atmosphere as they access the transcendental. Rastafarians believe that ganja was created by God for the use of humanity and the illegality of it is yet another form of Babylonian control.

About the Author

Rachael DeBrouse graduated with honors from Christopher Newport University where she obtained a B.A. in English, writing concentration, and a minor in philosophy and religious studies. She has been studying religion and spirituality independently and in academic environments since high school.

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