A recent photo posted to Twitter — of a dog’s image in a piece of wood — gets me to thinking: Why is almost always Jesus (or sometimes his mom) and dogs (or sometimes other animals) that show up in inanimate objects, i.e. inside wood, on grilled cheeses, in potato chips, Cheetos, peirogies, tortillas or cinnamon buns?
There are exceptions to the Jesus and dogs rule — potatoes that look like George Washington, chicken nuggets that resemble Abraham Lincoln — but even then it’s commonly what we cherish most (such as beloved presidents) that we think we see.
Chris Blundell recently posted the image at the top of this post on his Twitter page.
There, it was quickly joined by more reader submitted photos of dogs in wood:
I won’t sink to pointing out what dog spelled backwards is, but I’ll say this:
If Jesus showed up on my grilled cheese, I’d eat it anyway. If there was a dog visible in my wood paneling, on the other hand, I wouldn’t paint over it.
With the rise of social media, we’re seeing much more of this type of thing.
But it has always gone on — so much so that there are names for it.
Pareidolia is seeing (or hearing) something significant in a random image or sound. The word is derived from the Greek words para, meaning something faulty, and the noun eidōlon, meaning image, form or shape.
Sightings of spiritual or religious images in objects are called simulacra.
Those are the most famous, and the most often reported — the faces and or bodies of Jesus or the Virgin Mary having been perceived, by both believers and non-believers, in toast, frying pans, grilled cheese sandwiches, the facade of buildings, firewood, rocks, tortillas, cinnamon buns, pretzels and more.
By the way, that grilled cheese Virgin Mary, seen directly above (some people thought the image more closely resembled Bernadette Peters) went on to sell on eBay in 2004 for $28,000.
Jesus, too, has been seen in grilled cheese sandwiches, including this one — though when I look at it, I see a dog. (Then again, I’m the guy who spent countless hours during my year-long road trip with Ace, looking for the image of dogs in kudzu.)
It’s really nothing to be ashamed of, this spotting of things within other things. To the contrary, I think those who spot them, while they might not be blessed with eternal life, are blessed with an active imagination. They are able to look at clouds and see something else entirely.
Leonardo da Vinci wrote about pareidolia, saying this: “If you look at any walls spotted with various stains or with a mixture of different kinds of stones, if you are about to invent some scene you will be able to see in it a resemblance to various different landscapes adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys, and various groups of hills.”
Georgia O’Keefe used it in her paintings of flowers, embedding hidden images that more often than not left us feeling guilty for having dirty minds.
Psychologists used it with their Rorschach tests, which had us interpret random inkblots that more often than not left us feeling guilty for having dirty minds.
Then again, we tend to see in random objects the things we long for, the things that make us happy.
There are exceptions to that as well. Some hated and feared faces have been spotted in objects over the years — with Satan being the most common.
But far more often we see something that soothes us, like dogs, something that gives us hope, like dogs, something that makes us smile, like dogs.
So, if you’re seeing things within things, don’t rush to a shrink. Don’t join a pareidolia support group. Instead, celebrate and savor your pareidolia — whether it be through pieces of wood, your morning toast or with those fluffy white clouds dancing like … you name it … across a deep blue sky.
(Photos: Twitter, Wikipedia, Imgur)