Circle of Ash: Protector of the Innocent?

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. (Common utterance during the ritual ash-marking of Ash Wednesday; origin: Genesis 3:19)

The mark of Ash Wednesday

courtesy of abc television
Ashes as protection–courtesy of abc television

Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Ezekiel 9:5

I’ve been thinking about the protective circle of ash used to guard against the Smoke Monster.  First, I wonder what particular type of ash has these supernatural powers. What material do they burn in order to create special ashes? (Some have speculated that it is volcanic ash.)

The first reference that comes to mind is Ash Wednesday, day one of Lent in the Christian tradition. The ashes used to mark the foreheads of those attending an Ash Wednesday service come from the palm fronds of the previous Palm Sunday.  Celebrated one week before Easter, Palm Sunday marks the day Jesus returns from the desert. Clearly, here is an example of ash made sacred. It is handled with special care–ritually burned, blessed and stored for almost a year. Is this tradition somehow reflected in Lost?

In the Catholic Church, Lent is a time for repentance, and the ashes, placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross, represent the brevity of life and inevitability of death.  “Remember, man, that dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.” (Genesis 3:19)  Ashes are a symbol of sorrow and penitence, so why do we see them used as a source of protection in Lost? To answer this question, I turn to the Book of Ezekiel.

The following passage makes me wonder if the sign of the cross, which was initially used on public penitents, was taken from this story.

Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark (an X or T-like figure)* on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” To the others he said, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were in front of the temple. Then he said to them, “Defile the temple and fill the courts with the slain. Go!” So they went out and began killing throughout the city. (Ezekiel 9: 3-7)

*Ezekial 9:4 — in the original language “put a mark” on read as “taw a taw.” Taw is an X or a cross-like figure.

The protective mark here is not necessarily of ashes, but it prefigures the cross of Ash Sunday, a much later development in the history of the Church. Together, the notion of sacramental ashes and the story of God’s premeditated slaughter, imply that ashes have the power to mark the innocent and spare them from the wrath of God.

Here is another passage from the Old Testament that might shed some light on the tradition of ashes imbued with holy power.

“And all the Israelite men, women and children who lived in Jerusalem prostrated themselves in front of the temple building, with ashes strewn on their heads, displaying their sackcloth covering before the Lord” (Judith 4:11)

courtesy abc television

Reading the season premiere through this biblical lens, we would cast the Smoke Monster in the role of God and the inhabitants as a population of sinners and strays on the one hand, and faithful believers on the other.

I’m sure there are other sacred traditions in which ashes are a central part. Does anyone know of a significant story (religious or not) in which ash is a prominent image?

Lostpedia has this to say about the possible meaning of the ash:

Note that in a large amount of lore, salt and dust- like substances are placed in circular form around places such as homes to ward off or keep out certain things or beings.

I’ll have to examine this “large amount of lore” and see what I can find…

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2 Responses to “Circle of Ash: Protector of the Innocent?”

  1. The Lighthouse of Alexandria aslo known as the Pharos of Alexandria in
    greek o was a tower built between 280 and 247 on the BC Island.

  2. Golf Course San Bernardino…

    […]Circle of Ash: Protector of the Innocent? « Lost: A Transmedia Story[…]…

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