2 ways to understand and utilize symbolism for personal growth and understanding.
The world of sign and symbol has always been a rich one. Almost everyone has heard the cliché, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. A large area of the human brain is dedicated to processing visual information and a lot happens between the eyes, thalamus, and the cerebral cortex to translate what is seen to what is actually perceived. Click here for a complete description of this process. https://www.brainhq.com/brain-resources/brain-facts-myths/how-vision-works
Though wise words caution us to believe none of what we hear and half of what we see, that half of what is seen is often symbolic in nature. Through visual means, we can wordlessly communicate complex systems, processes and concepts:
The diagram you use to put your newly purchased furniture together, the map you followed to your friend’s house, road signs along the way, and the house number of the final destination are all done via sign and symbolic recognition. There are even icons and brand tags on your vehicle, smartphone and clothing. It would seem that every corner of our lives, public or private, has some visual cue or other.
Many signs and symbols have been skillfully employed by the architects of consumerism and commerce in sometimes less than noble ways. Shapes can communicate direction, organization or disarray, or even specific ideas. Colors may communicate difference or likeness, emotion, clarity or distortion etc. Much time and many dollars have been spent to test what seems to put a person in the mood to accept certain information imprints to whatever end, usually with an eye on monetary exchange.
Beyond commercial uses, the fact is that visual information is very important to humankind. In times of distress or adrenaline dump, if cardio-pulmonary systems are kept below a certain rate, our visual perception is heightened along with other predictable sensory distortions. The human visual nature once was much more expanded and used in a sensory awareness pattern that first sees gross movement before detail. Many of you have instinctually used this pattern while moving across the street, or any other landscape for that matter. For our ancestors especially, or anyone still living as a human animal to this day, detail was and is a secondary but still important phase usually used to identify safe path from pitfall, friend/foe , predadtor/prey , poison from food and to utilize various tools and materials.
Our technology and lifestyles have changed a lot over the ages but our basic equipment has not. Although some of our tendencies have left some of our sense abilities to atrophy from underuse, we still seek for meaning and measure in the grand tapestry, and the quest for ultimate understanding to the meaning of our lives.
Though not all people would consider themselves “visual” we all respond in some way to images. Whether in movies, photographs or art, it has ever been the province of artists and seers to comb the collective mythos and express aspects of the inner reflection to the public. The recent and sustained popularity of books like “The DaVinci Code” and others from author Dan Brown and the mainstream acceptance of Tattooing as an acceptable and meaningful art form seem to at least cast a long glance in that direction.
These type of considerations are particularly interesting to us here at The Sacred Serpent because of the deep impact the use of symbols can have upon our understandings and perceptions of our multi-faceted experiential realities and how we utilize them for our own personal development. This can go in two directions – that which we project and that which is absorbed.
The first way to understand symbolic language is to begin seeing symbols as a modular tool. “Modular” refers to something that is composed of units or segments that allow ease of construction, arrangement, that are scalable and can be used alone or combined with others to create different functions in concept or design, both individually and as a whole. Symbols can contain multiple layers of meaning and the meaning will vary according to arrangement/proportion/ perception etc.
Take this Enso circle for instance; Its perfection or lack thereof may say something in particular, how it was executed with a particular instrument. Some may recognize it as the basis of a particular philosophy or cosmology. We can imagine that it marks some kind of boundary.. perhaps something within.. but also that there is a separation from that which is outside.. part of the utility of the line.
Adding a cross in the center draws us into the former conclusion, that there is something important about what is inside of the circle. Now it is a different symbol entirely. There are at least 3 modes or concepts at work here, that of the circle itself, what it inside the circle and what the circle (and cross) separate. More may be discovered or superimposed.
Looking at any symbol or set of signs gives us clues to the “occult” or hidden meanings that we may extract meaning from in a sequential manner.
Consider this downward pointing triangle and bindu. What qualities and feelings does it evoke? Close your eyes for a moment and let it hover in your minds eye.
The second way of symbolic understanding is that symbols tell a story. Stories are powerful teaching tools that create relative associations. Effective teaching almost always uses some kind of narrative. These narratives capture one of the most important evolutionary faculties of the human organism – Imagination. Mythology, or as my friend Dr. Robert Svoboda differentiates, living myth – is one of the most potent tools we can use to impart teachings and lessons that can be reflected upon from many different perspectives. Each perspective adds a facet of the whole experience. It also is suggested that ALL the characters in the story are in fact YOU. That you should be able to see yourself in all roles and perspectives provided is a part of the experience that can be revisited repeatedly. This can be extended especially to the characters that you find repulsive or inconsequential, if one is to reach deeply or explore completely. Looking deeper is something many of us forget to do. The opportunity presents itself readily with potent metaphors and some interesting characters.. Take this short tale adapted from another of my mentors who is said to possess mythical skills of perception and awareness:
The story of the daemon and the hair: Once there was a young magician, a conjurer. He discovered that possessed the will, desire and skill to call to him a spirit who would do his bidding. Since he was inclined to study various arcane manuscripts, he thought he might like some help with the mundane daily chores of keeping a household, which caused him somewhat repeated annoyance. He thought that he might yet penetrate the deepest mysteries of life if he could just alleviate himself of these shallow worldly burdens.
Now, why this smart fellow had never married or gotten a human companion of any sort to share the load, I’ll never know.. but nevertheless, he was successful in his evocation and he soon had a very able helper to which he delegated all his usual chores.
From keeping the garden, making meals, doing the dishes to keeping wood split and the hearth warm with a cozy fire, his new friend was fast to catch on. All too fast it would seem. In only a few short days, his conjured help was completing all the chores as fast as he could delegate them. The spirit needed constant guidance and direction. The mage had hardly got into the important chapter of one of his dusty tomes when he was interrupted yet again by his eager assistant.
As the weeks rolled by he found himself losing sleep and unable to come up with enough of a list for his aide to attend. The jobs were getting accomplished at increasing speeds yet he was miserable. Depression weighed upon him as he had not been able to make any headway in his pertinent studies.
As time neared the second month of his full-blown fiasco, the magician threw up his hands in despair and resignation.
“I must go see my master,” he cried, “For I cannot continue this travesty!”
As the magician packed and made his way along the highway to see his teacher the ever-diligent helper continually begged his attention to tell him what job he must now do. So exasperated was the mage that he told his attendant to go back home and cut another cord of wood for the fire as the season was just beginning to turn. The job was done before the magician made it to front gate of his master, some miles up the road. Upon seeing the unsettled state of his friend, the master asked what the trouble was.
After sending his attendant to clean and tidy his travel clothes, the magician explained his self-imposed torment.
When he had finished his tale, the master laughed and shook his head.
“ Did I not warn you about such things?” he said, rhetorically. The wise teacher reached behind his confounded friend and plucked a single curly hair from his head.
“Ouch!” cried the magician, and he puzzled as the master held the hair up for him to see.
“Hand this to your companion” said the master. The young mage’s face turned from wonder to indignation..
“What is my daemon supposed to do with that!?” he cried.
“Have your friend straighten this hair” He said. The young mage began to protest but the teacher held up his hand and turned away, offering nothing more.
With nothing else to try, the magician relayed the task and handed the hair to his subordinate.
The spirit pulled the hair straight between his fingers, and was about to announce completion of the simple job when he stopped short. The hair had retracted as soon as he let go of it. Quiet and less assured of success this time, he pulled it straight again. Hesitantly he let go and watched it spring back into a coil. As this puzzling picture went on for the entire walk back home, the young magician remained amazed and thankful for this new spate of quietude.
As night descended and he curled up in his bed, having not been interrupted for many hours now, the conjured spirit could be seen in the anteroom, repeatedly stretching something out between his fingers.
So ends the brief tale of the Daemon and the Hair.
While the above parable illustrates some deep truths about the mind and the pitfalls of having instant gratification of desires (to name just a couple), there are three main characters, or models. The Spirit or Daemon (which only means spirit, borrowed from ancient Greek), the young Mage, and the Master. Also present and important is the symbol of the hair and the method which it represents, which is a formulae for stilling the mind and creating the conditions of stillness from which meditation arises. More on that in another post..
The primary operative symbols here are the Daemon and the Hair itself.. The Demon is the untrained mind and its propensity to careen from one thing to the next, never ceasing and always scratching at the door. The conscious mind is that part of ourselves that calculates and searches for information.
The hair represents the mind’s need for discipline and training. The more experienced magician or Master, shows how simple and present the tools are that one may utilize if the wisdom is there to see it. How much more peaceful and productive is a calm and focused mind?
While this was a fanciful story, it illustrates some interesting points. We each have a personal mythology – the story that we continue adding to until our corporeal forms have run their course and return to the elements from which they came. By experience, experimentation and analyses, we at TSS strive to live and actively create symbols and designs that can be acted upon as tools to support the a personal evolution into the great mystery of being… your own unique expression of Self, Symbol and Archetypal Myth.
Symbolize and Harmonize to Realize.