Whoosh! Issue 31 - April 1999

IAXS project #590
By Virginia Carper
Copyright © 1998 held by author
2279 words

Introduction (01)
Christian Icons (02-03)
Major Christian Iconography In The Bitter Suite (04-07)
Icons And Xena (08-12)
Icons And Joxer (13-15)
Icons And Ares (16-17)
Icons And Gabrielle (18-25)
Conclusion (26)
Suggested Art Works

Christian Iconography in THE BITTER SUITE


[1] Although the staging and costuming of THE BITTER SUITE (58/312) is based on the Tarot, there is a Christian subtext in the episode. What are these icons, and how do they relate to Xena and Gabrielle?

Christian Icons

"Icons are in colors what the Scriptures are in words: witness to the Incarnation, the fact that God has come among us as a person whom we can see, touch and hear, to offer us the new life and begin the new creation."
   -- 7th Ecumenical Council in Nicea, 787 AD.

[2] Christian icons are visual symbols that come from a rich tradition of signs and gestures. The symbols were once used to explain the scriptures to worshipers who were illiterate. They also gave expression to the sacred mysteries. One of the more famous icons that many people today recognize is the Hodigitria (the Signpost): Mary, Mother of God and the Christ Child. However, there are lesser known ones, such as the scallop shell of St. James, which represents his missionary travels to Spain.

[3] In addition, a Christian icon can symbolize more than one thing. For example, the tower can represent St. Barbara unless it is a Tower of Ivory, then the tower represents the Virgin Mary. The context of the picture determines the subject.

Major Christian Iconography In THE BITTER SUITE

Don't you just hate it when the sand gets in your shorts?
On the beach in THE BITTER SUITE.

[4] Water: Xena and Gabrielle enter and leave Illusia through water. When they are the most enraged at each other, they accidently plunge into the water. Then Callisto rescues Xena and introduces her to Illusia. Callisto chants, "Absorb thyself in this great sea of the waters of life... And having lost thyself, then thou shalt find thyself again..." [Note 01] Later, when Xena and Gabrielle confess their misdeeds, they pass through a waterfall, and they are reunited in the surf of a beach. In Roman Catholic doctrine, water washes away past sins and offers rebirth to the penitent.

[5] The Tower: The building that is struck by lightning resembles the church of Hagia Sophia of Constantinople (Istanbul). The rounded roofs and the layout are the same. Xena and Gabrielle enter this sacred building, where they start their process of reconciliation.

[6] The Judgement: The graves open and the dead rise up. Xena and Gabrielle are trapped in Illusia's Hell, which is governed by Dahak, who could be the Beast of the Apocalypse. The Revelation of St. John describes the Apocalypse as follows: the stars fall and the abyss opens. Then the Angel of the Abyss comes to save the redeemed ones from the Beast [Note 02]. Solan becomes that Angel when he creates Illusia to save Gabrielle and his mother in order to have them reconcile, despite Dahak's machinations.

[7] The Lovers On The Beach: After a long journey, Saint Anthony of the Desert embraces Saint Paul of Thebes. Among the lonely places of the earth, both men live the life of religious hermits. They fast and commune only with God. Then in a vision, St. Anthony learns of St. Paul. In his search for the saint, St. Anthony endures an arduous trek through mountains, wilderness, and rocky roads. At long last, the two souls meet and clasp each other in relief and joy. After their travails, Xena and Gabrielle find each other on the beach and embrace.

Icons And Xena

But can you buy a vowel?

Callisto spins the wheel.

[8] In Illusia, Callisto confronts Xena with the Wheel of Fortune, created from Xena's chakram. The wheel and the symbols on the wheel are Christian icons. The wheel turns, and with its turning, Xena's fate is determined by God.

[9] The Wheel Of Fortune: The wheel turns lifting the lucky ones who ascend on one side as the recently lucky fall off the other. In the Medieval Christian context, the wheel represents the precariousness of life.

[10] Symbols On The Wheel: Bull, Eagle, Lion, Man (Gabrielle): These four icons together (usually presented with wings) are the Four Evangelists - St. Luke, St. John, St. Mark and St. Matthew. In St. John's Revelation [Note 03], the winged man shows the saint these beasts surrounding the Throne of God. Three of the beasts are from the Old Testament Prophet Ezekiel's vision of the wheel of fire [Note 04].

[11] The Snake: "Surrender serenity, suffer sweet misery. Sin seeks its cursed abysssss," sings the snake to Xena [Note 05]. Satan, the Deceiver, is often represented by the snake. It is also associated with St. John, who is often portrayed holding a cup with a snake inside. Once, he drank poison intended for two prisoners, but he survived for the cup contained the Blood of Christ.

[12] The Two Beasts: In one of his visions, the Old Testament Prophet Daniel saw several beasts, which Bible scholars have interpreted to be ancient empires. The standing man represents Babylon, which symbolizes hedonism. To entice Xena to give up her Spartan ways, he sings, "Oh, Xena, with death there is always rebirth". The winged man-goat is Greece. With his song: "Come see with a vision denied you on earth", the man-goat urges Xena to become the Conqueror of Greece [Note 06].

Icons And Joxer

What kind of car did you park with us ma'am?

Joxer too has many roles.

[13] Joxer represents Everyman. In this aspect, he is similar to St. Peter, one of Christ's disciples and a fisherman known for his temper. Christ renamed Simon Peter (Petrus) because he reminded Christ of a rock. Both Joxer and St. Peter share rocklike characteristics - stubbornness, persistence, and 'density'. Like Joxer, St. Peter was well intentioned but often failed at what he attempted to do. However, Christ gave the Keys of the Kingdom to him, because St. Peter had experienced firsthand Christ's mercy and forgiveness [Note 07]. St. Peter is often depicted with St. Paul since the two represent the two branches of Christendom - Jew and Gentile. Joxer is usually pictured with Gabrielle, as one of the two sides of Xena's redemption - deeds and words.

[14] The Hanged Man: Joxer hangs upside down from a tree branch, falls, and then gets up to sing a song to Gabrielle. (At his martyrdom, St. Peter was crucified upside down.) As Joxer bends over to retrieve his lute, a bright light shines on a nearby boulder.

[15] The Hermit: The desert saints lived by themselves in the harshest landscapes. Since they took a vow of poverty, these saints had the barest of necessities. Many just owned one garment - usually, a hooded brown robe. Joxer, in his role as Xena's friend, is similar to St. Francis of Assisi, who calmed a wolf ravaging the city of Gubbio. Standing over Gabrielle's body, Joxer is also St. John the Baptist announcing the coming judgement, and calling Xena to repent.

Icons And Ares

[16] The God of War represents temporal power. When they built churches, many rulers included their likeness with the icons of Christ and the Saints. The mosaics of Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos and his wife, Zoe, are near the images of Christ in the Church of Hagia Sophia. The Empress Theodora has a prominent mosaic in the Church of San Vitale (Ravenna, Italy).

[17] The Emperor: Ares wanted Gabrielle dead, and, in this role, he represented Herod Antipas of Judea. In their search of the Christ Child, the Three Kings came to Herod. After they left, King Herod ordered the deaths of all children under two years old because he feared the loss of his throne to this usurper [Note 08]. The murders of these young children became known as the Massacre of the Holy Innocents.

Icons And Gabrielle

But those li'l munchkins are just so CUTE!

Gabrielle comes home to Weirdsville.

[18] Gabrielle represents two icons - the desert saint and the Madonna. As a saint, she suffers the tribulations of Xena, who represents the demons of hell. Prior to THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), there were depictions of Gabrielle that were similar to the Blessed Mother. They occurred in THE DELIVERER (50/304) and GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305) [Note 09].

[19] Desert Saint: In the Amazon Compound, Gabrielle undergoes self-purification. While she fasts, Callisto appears to her. Callisto exhorts Gabrielle to blame Xena for the loss of her innocence and her daughter Hope.

[20] To punish their bodies for harboring evil desires, many saints practiced extreme forms of bodily abuse. To atone for their sins, they fasted and whipped themselves. During fasts, demons often came to torment these saints.

[21] Devils often attacked St. Anthony of the Desert, and left him lying half dead in the dirt. Xena dragged Gabrielle through the Amazon Compound to a cliff, where she planned to kill her. At the cliff's edge, Gabrielle faced Xena and screamed, "I hate you!" She stood firm in the face of a demonic Xena.

[22] Many saints are shown with the object of their martyrdom - St. Paul with a sword, St. Catherine with a wheel. St. Lucy is shown being dragged by oxen led by her angry husband. Through God's intervention, however, St. Lucy survives her husband's attempt to kill her. Likewise, Gabrielle is dragged behind a horse ridden by Xena, but Solan intervenes to prevent his mother from murdering Gabrielle.

[23] The Madonna: When she arrives in Illusia, a naked Gabrielle is surrounded by lush bushes and trees. This part of Illusia represents the Garden of Eden, the home of the First Parents - Adam and Eve. In Roman Catholic doctrine, the Blessed Mother is the Second Eve, who will redeem mankind through her Son.

[24] While in Illusia, Xena kills Gabrielle, whose death scene resembles the Koimesis: the Dormition of the Virgin. Gabrielle lays on a rich carpet, attended by Callisto as the Judge, and Joxer as the Hermit, as well as by Ares and Xena. In the Koimesis, the Virgin Mary lays asleep surrounded by angels and monks, while Her Son looks down from above.

[25] Later Gabrielle appears to Xena as the Queen of Heaven. In St. John's Vision, the Queen of Heaven wears a crown of stars, and is clothed by the sun with the moon at her feet. She is the flawless mirror [Note 10]. Since Xena was the High Priestess of Illusia, Gabrielle becomes her mirror there.


[26] Christian icons permeate THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), giving the episode added meaning beyond the intended Tarot parallels. The underlying spiritual tone gives a sense of soul healing to Xena and Gabrielle's decision to be reconciled. The icons highlight the process of forgiveness, which is fraught with human frailties.


Note 01:
Quoted from Whoosh! Episode Guide: THE BITTER SUITE
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Note 02:
Revelation, Chapter 6, verses 12-17; Chapter 7, verses 1-8, The Jerusalem Bible
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Note 03:
Revelation, Chapter 4, verses 6-8, The Jerusalem Bible
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Note 04:
Ezekiel, Chapter 1, verses 4-28, The Jerusalem Bible. The beasts in both visions have multiple sets of wings.
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Note 05:
Quoted from Whoosh! Episode Guide: THE BITTER SUITE
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Note 06:
Daniel's vision is from Daniel, Chapter 7 and Chapter 8, The Jerusalem Bible.
The quotes are from Whoosh! EPISODE GUIDE: THE BITTER SUITE. Whoosh! identifies the standing man as Anubis, an Egyptian god and the winged man-goat as the Sphinx, an Egyptian icon. However, in my opinion, these two figures are closer to Daniel's visions for Babylon and Greece.
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Note 07:
John, Chapter 21, verses 15-23, The Jerusalem Bible
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Note 08:
Matthew, Chapter 2, verses 13-18, The Jerusalem Bible
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Note 09:
Luke, Chapter 1, verses 30-37, The Jerusalem Bible. These verses contain the Archangel Gabrielle announcing to the Virgin Mary that she is to bear the Son of God. Revelation, Chapter 12, The Jerusalem Bible. These verses highlight the travails of the Queen of Heaven.
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Note 10:
Revelation, Chapter 12, The Jerusalem Bible.
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Suggested Art Works


Stephan Lochner (artist):
   "Sts. Matthew, Catherine of Alexandria, John the Evangelist"
   "Sts. Mark, Barbara, and Luke"

Sasetta (Stefano di Giovanni):
   "St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio"
   "The Meeting of Saint Anthony (of the Desert) and Saint Paul (of Thebes)"

Jan van Eyck
   "The Last Judgement"

Jacobello del Fiore
   "Saint Lucy Resisting Efforts to Move Her"

Joachim Patinir
   "The Temptation of St. Anthony"


Joachim Patinir
   Empress Theodora of Byzantium and attendants (Ravenna: San Vitale)
   Zoe and Constantine IX Monomachos (Constantinople: Hagia Sophia)


The Square Halo And Other Mysteries Of Western Art, Sally Fisher (NY: Abrams, 1995)

Dictionary Of Christian Lore And Legend, J.C.J. Metford (London: Thams and Hudson Ltd., 1983)

Early Christian And Byzantine Art, John Lowden (Phaidon Press, 1997)

(Roman) Catholic Online Saints And Angels

The (Greek) Orthodox Christian Page In America

The Iconography Page (Orthodox)

Whoosh! Episode Guide: THE BITTER SUITE


Virginia Carper Virginia Carper
My goal is to be a garden variety human being. My friends know me as a squirrel. I am, however, a card carrying member of the Squirrel Lovers Club, and do squirrel studies. My family watches XWP for the marvelous things Xena does and for Joxer, the warlord with autism.

My family was a eclectic group of religions - Pentacostal, Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Orthodox, Native American (Abenaki), Unitarian-Universalist, and Deism, with a mixing of atheists. I became Catholic by choice and have discovered the rich heritage of Saints and Icons.
Favorite episode: BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (48/302)
Favorite line: Joxer to Xena and Gabrielle: "A great many people have become allies because of their hatred of me." Xena and Gabrielle nod 'Yes!' BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (48/302)
First episode seen: WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109)
Least favorite episode: Most of the Third Season

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