History of the Human Heart: From Prized Jewel to Mechanical Pump


When considering the heart, the most central organ of our life and feeling, we can feel ourselves to be in the best of company with Leonanrdo da Vinci. ‘How shall one describe the heart without filling a whole book?’

In this age of heart attacks, high blood pressure, heart transplants and ‘heartlessness’, it is vital that we learn more about our vital organs and how to preserve the heart on an emotional, physical and spiritual level. Throughout literature, fairytales, myths, legends, folklore and sayings, there is no organ that plays a more significant role than the heart. Proverbially it can be ‘broken’ or you can have it in your ‘mouth’ or ‘wear it on your sleeve’; you can find something ‘heartwarming’ or ‘coldhearted’.

The French word for heart ‘coeur’ gives us in English the word ‘courage’. In both French and English, the heart is referred to in connection with memory: ‘Learning by heart’ or ‘apprendre par coeur’. The resilience of the heart’s activity exceeds all conceptions. On average the human heart beats around 100,000 times per day, and in a lifetime of 70 years almost three billion times. On a daily basis it has to accomplish a task corresponding to pulling a ten-litre barrel up a tower 200 meters high.

In Eygptian wisdom the heart is seen as the seat of memory, conscience and the sense for destiny. The reverse of the effect on our heart of shock, deep feelings or trauma is that organic changes to the heart can also influence our soul life in a lasting way. The heart is the first organ to developing about the third week of pregnancy, out the embryo. It gradually migrates downward and inward, initially coming to lie just under the brain’s position. This proves how closely the brain and heart belong together. Anatomists regards this as indicative of a person moving from the ‘beyond’ into his or her bodily ’presence’, the centre of their I AM embodiment.

For us to as human’s living in a fast paced modern world, it’s crucial that we shed the mechanistic model of the heart and its functions in favour of a living, plant-like model that requires nourishment and care. As a soul organ, at the centre of our breast, the heart is the site for a plethora of feelings and emotions - such as constriction, grief, fear, through to psychological armouring, but also when the heart is treated gently and with tenderness, the capacity for feelings of love, joy, expansion and warmth. We are all familiar with what it feels like for our heart to ‘jump for joy’ or ‘pounds’ with nervousness.

As a spiritual organ the heart is the centre of our authentic self and the chamber of our conscience, and intuitively felt truth. ‘The heart has its reasons that the mind does not know’ { Blaise Pascal }. As ‘the voice of conscience’ and as the focus of our sense of destiny and the centre of sincere feelings, the heart has always had a special place in art and poetry.

From the seventeenth century onwards the ‘mechanism of the heart’ made headway over Europe, and the dominance of the cool head over the warm heart was established. In official accounts it was soon being said that, ‘formerly we inclined to the heart as the sun, as king or queen even, but we find if we look properly that it is nothing more than a muscle’. From this point on the heart was decoupled from the soul as a technical pump, ending as a medical problem in heart transplants, pacemaker implants, transplanted pig hearts and the construction of an artificial heart. In modern intensive medicine the human heart has been demoted as the organ of life. Doctors and nurses are required to regard a ‘brain-dead’ person with rosy cheeks and a beating heart as a corpse, and to treat them as such.

However due to current issues relating to lack of movement, stress, and obesity, the heart as the ‘seat of the soul’ is regaining increasing importance in recent times. Anxiety, ambition, competitive thinking, suppression of feelings, poverty or emotions, cold heartedness and also loneliness and social isolation are known to affect the health and vitality of the heart, as do joy, sympathy, openness, love and warmth.

It seems that the deconstruction of the patriarchy has been marked poignantly with the unfolding petals of the heart. The logical left brain masculine template is being recreated by the loving right brain warmth of the feminine. The ‘Golden Age’ or ‘Age of Aquarius’ will be led by the openness of the feminine heart that seeks to restore a peaceful and loving vibration here on planet earth.