It is the
role of symbols to give a meaning to the life of man.
human behavior is based on symbolism. Language, for instance, is made up of
words that are symbols for objects, actions, etc. Human beings use word symbols
even when thinking silently. Complete lack of symbolism would make true thinking
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For him who does not believe in signs, there is no way to
live in the world.
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Signs and Symbols
Signs generically denote an existence or
presence of something not immediately evident or obvious. This allows for a
whole range of forms, each having their own discriminatory use; for example a
road-sign may indicate a hidden danger. Signs are mostly indicators or pointers
while symbols are representations. The ritual will use both but it is the symbol
that is the most prevalent. The spiritual ritual requires the use of symbols
extensively, because of its inherent transcendental and metaphysical nature.
Symbols are anything that represents something
else either by association, resemblance, or convention. Quite simply, they are
allegorical storage units. Symbols are used and shared in order for us to
communicate and construct an archetype of the ambiguous and the abstract.
Symbols are multi-interpretive, therefore, to avoid misunderstanding, the symbol
needs to be in context and the partaker needs to have a working knowledge of
this context. It is very important that what is attempted to be shared with the
"symbol" is what is perceived conclusively. When successful, the
symbol, itself, becomes a ritual.
What does this aniconic ideogram mean to you? What do you perceive as the
Something to contemplate ...
If you had to design or choose a symbol to represent
"truth," what would it be?
It can get a bit confusing, so here are a few terms that one may see
when dealing with symbols.
Semiotics- is the theory and study
of signs and symbols, especially as elements of language or other systems of
communication, and comprising semantics, syntactics, and pragmatics.*
Icon- is any picture, image or
representation. Iconic icons are those that have some perceivable likeness to
what they denote while aniconic icons don't.
Ideogram- is a graphic symbol that
represents an abstract idea or concept.
a picture or icon representing a word or idea, for example a hieroglyph.
Logogram- is a symbol representing a
word without expressing or limited to its specific pronunciation or spelling.
For example: 5 can mean fem, cinco, cinq, or vijf.
Sigils- are signs or images that are
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
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cool! INFJs aren't about identifying pre-existing symbols so much
as creating new symbols -- latching onto things and endowing them with
meaning. Sometimes these images are ways of accessing introverted
iNtuition. (Sometimes they wear out -- so symbols require frequent renewal.)
realm, there is a intriguing mandala called the Shri-Yanta Mandala.
It is supposed to facilitate use of one's intuition.
what it looks like. Notice how it sucks you into its center and
"aims" you toward a future? It's a cool effect!
like the abbreviated version too. It only features the centerpiece.
This is a
nifty way to focus your concentration and get lost in your mind, if you need
help doing that. It seems mandalas are an interesting tool for jump-starting Ni. (I say more about
mandala work below.)
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has a beginning -- both in time and in space. This beginning is the ‘starting
point,' and from one point, before the next beginning, all is unknown,
everything is possible. We create symmetrical patterns and expect repetition but
within the mandala are both difference and sameness, movement and stillness.
Each point is both the beginning and the end.
is to be experienced from the precise center, a pure point beyond space and
time. This point is the present moment, infinite and eternal.
is designed to draw the mind in from the general surroundings to the base,
toward the center of the dome and then lead one’s gaze upwards to the apex, to
the point. This is the development of two spiritual activities:
These two qualities are developed in the practice of meditation and
contemplation -- aspiring to the letting go and transcendence of worldly
concepts and all views of one’s self.
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Following is a provocative article about symbols until I get around
to writing my own:
Dealing With Symbols
is a symbol? It depends upon whom you ask. In our society, symbols are viewed
with disdain. Someone is likely to say, "It's only a symbol," and by
this he or she means that you should disregard it. But what is a symbol? Why
should we disregard it? A symbol is a concrete object that makes
present an invisible Reality. Do we wish to disregard invisible Realities? Let's
explore the question before reaching a decision.
are the "stuff" that dreams are made of. Erich Fromm, the
psychologist, points out that "all myths and all dreams have one thing in
common, they are all 'written' in the same language, symbolic language."
What, then, is symbolic language? Fromm continues:
language is a language in which inner experiences, feelings and thoughts are
expressed as if they were sensory experiences, events in the outer world....It
is the one universal language the human race has ever developed, the same for
all cultures and throughout history (The Forgotten Language).
point can be put in this way. Our experiences of concrete objects in the world
outside can, and often do, become metaphors through which we experience the
invisible realities of the human soul or psyche.
are dreams and myths related? A dream is a private myth. A myth is a social
dream. The Greek word myth means "a telling word," a language picture
by which we tell about our experiences of invisible realities. We do not create
these pictures. They arise out of our Unconscious, that part of the universal
human mind that we all share, according to Carl G. Jung. When such a language
picture is discovered and shared within a community as a way of picturing what
Reality is, we call it a myth. When such a language picture occurs only to the
individual, we call it a dream. In either case it is governed by the laws of
symbolic language. We can extend this comparison even more. A myth reveals the
deep and hidden structures of the universe in which we live to a community. A
dream reveals the deep and hidden structures of the universe as we experience
them personally in our psyche or soul.
must not be confused with signs. Signs, like the red octagon mounted on
a post beside the highway, are created by social agreement. Governments
throughout the U.S. decided that all states would use the red octagon as a
shorthand message to drivers telling them to come to a full stop. If you live
outside the U.S., the red octagon would either have another meaning or no
meaning at all. Fromm calls such a sign a conventional symbol.
A sign stands for a rationally stated set of instructions which you must learn
before the sign is meaningful.
are innately understood through the action of the psyche or soul regardless of
the culture one lives in. They have universal "meaning" because the
life and structure of the human psyche are the same in all times and in all
cultures, just as all people have the five senses of taste, touch, smell,
hearing, and seeing. If we elect to neglect symbols, we are choosing to neglect
our souls. We are choosing to live as self-mutilated humans. Would any of us go
through life with a clothes pin on our nose?! Or, with our right hand tied
behind our back? Yet, modern men in overwhelming numbers have chosen to ignore
the soul (psyche) and focus entirely on the life of the body in relation to the
outside world. Ancient man, and people living in traditional cultures today,
would find us to be very strange creatures. Traditional man fears loss of soul
as acutely as moderns fear loss of bodily life.
a sign, the Christian cross has a meaning that must be learned. But let us
consider the cross as a universal symbol. We will discover levels of
"meaning" that cannot be taught must be experienced through the powers
of the soul (psyche).
the "cross (+)." As a sign it says, by cultural agreement,
perform addition on the two numbers it connects, i.e., 5+4. It may also be
experienced as a symbol, which speaks to us of the experience of
wholeness and healing, something we feel or intuit; it may prompt us to consider
the way in which all parts of the universe form a connected whole so that the
outer and the inner aspects of Space and the past, present and future aspects of
Time interpenetrate. This would take the form of a Cross of Reality:
TIME Past _________+__________ Future
consider that Christianity identifies this experience of wholeness with the
concrete object, the Roman cross used for executions, on which Jesus died.
Suddenly, it is clear that we have moved well beyond the region of signs. We are
contemplating the claim that the physical cross on which Jesus died makes
present the invisible Reality of Heaven, Earth, and Hades coming together in his
body to form a new pattern of wholeness and healing.
makes this amazing observation:
a phenomenon of the physical world can be the adequate expression of an inner
experience, that the world of things can be a symbol of the world of the maid,
is not surprising. We all know that our bodies express our minds... Indeed, the
body is a symbol -- not an allegory -- of the mind. Deeply and genuinely felt emotion,
and even any genuinely felt thought, is expressed in our whole organism. In the
case of the universal symbol, we find the same connection between mental and
physical experience. Certain physical phenomena suggest by their very nature
certain emotional and mental experiences, and we express emotional experiences
in the language of physical experiences, that is to say, symbolically. (17)
discipline known as the History of Religion has shown that virtually every
object in the outside world has at one time or another functioned as an metaphor
through which man has communicated the inner life of the soul (psyche).
are not thoughts. We must not "think" about them. Symbols evoke
sensory and feeling responses. Consider this word picture "water." Ask
yourself, what do I feel on the surface of my skin when I imagine water? What do
I hear? What taste does the image of water leave in my mouth? What smell comes
to mind? What associations do I notice hovering around the fringes of my
awareness? These are the questions we must ask if we wish to respond fully and
consciously to symbols. Now that you have contemplated water, try this:
"cool, clear water." Ask the same questions? How does your experience
answers are as follows. My skin feels lighter as if supported. It feels cool. I
can feel reassuring undulations as if I am floating. I can smell the sea and
hear the gentle roar of the waves breaking on shore. Hawaiian music wafts on the
air. It is warm and peaceful. If I contemplate the "cool" water, the
sense of well-being intensifies. I can hear the incomplete but reassuring
popular song from my childhood sung by a male singer but all I can make out is
the phrase "cool, clear water." Healing, wholeness, peace, unity with
nature, the womb are terms that come to mind. But there is another side. I start
to move on writing; I see the image of drowning flash across my vision. Darkness
falls, waves churn and roar, fear and death suggest themselves. Water is clearly
a multi-valent symbol. The sensations, feelings, and associations evoked change
with the context that I find. Water is life, at the beach on vacation and I am
re-created. Water is death in the storm at sea and I am destroyed. Water
suggests the mystery of death and rebirth.
this biblical passage as an example. A Samaritan woman comes to the well and
finds Jesus. "He said to her, 'Give me a drink.'" (John 4:7). The
woman focuses her attention on the fact that Jewish men don't speak to Samaritan
women. She thinks to herself, "Why is this guy acting so abnormally?"
Jesus' reply, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to
you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you
living water" (Jn 4:10).
the associations: "water... gift of God... Jesus... living water." We
have just considered our feelings about "water." Ask each of your five
senses how it responds to "gift," to "gift of God," and to
"living water." My associations with "gift" are:
joy, excitement, jumping up and down as a child in front of the Christmas tree,
security, carols, and Happy Birthday Song, smells of cake and fir trees, the
taste of Lane Cake and gingerbread men, Julie Andrews in Sound of Music
singing "My Favorite Things."
associations with "living water" are:
rebirth, healing, forgiveness, energy, the womb, sweetness, pine needles,
tingling, hugging a friend whom I haven't seen in a long time.
interpretation am I to make of the scene in the Gospel of John? I am struck
first by the reality that one must be thirsty before one feels the need to
drink. The woman stands in the presence of the Word made flesh, the instrument
through whom God created the world, but she feels no need of communion, no need
of a spiritual draught. The door to ultimate wholeness could be opened and unity
with God achieved but the woman never notices. She is preoccupied with social
conventions and provincial prejudices. A sadness pervades this scene of missed
opportunity. I am forced to ask myself, "Has this happened to me, to the
world I live in? Is the dark state of the world as portrayed on the evening
news, all because we stand in the presence of the Word made flesh among us in
the form of the Stranger or in the form of our Enemy and ask limited and
limiting questions about who and what we are?
question that often troubles modern people is this, "What if there never
was a woman at the well?" Would the "meaning" of this passage
really change? The longing for Life and not Death is real. The promise of water
and satisfied spiritual thirst is real. Christian saints have testified through
the centuries that through Jesus they found rebirth, peace, joy, renewal. Their
testimony is real. The point is this. Historical questions, by and large, have
to do with our experience of the outside world as experienced by thinkers who
try to sort out what objectively happened as opposed to what people imagined.
This is a valuable and worthy task. It helps us to recognize the difference
between objects and situations as facts and those same objects and facts when
they function as metaphors to express the life of the soul (psyche). Myths,
dreams, fairy tales, and stories of all sorts speak to us of the life of the
soul, but they give us very little information about the factual status of the
physical world. They are of little value to historians but of immense value to
those who seek spiritual guidance.
summary, remember that symbols are concrete objects that make present invisible
realities experienced by the soul (psyche), like "truth,"
"love," "justice," "evil," "God," and many others. We
must interpret symbols by asking ourselves what we sense in response to them.
What do I smell, taste, feel, see, or hear? What associations hover in the
background of my consciousness as I contemplate the symbol?
-by Charles T. Davis
* * *
In a symbol lies concealment or revelation."
* * *
additional symbols as topics?:
knots, representing individuation, and how we naturally "spiral"
through our life
(link to kaleidoscopes)
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