Before words, there were symbols. Symbols arise from our Source. We and our world are resplendent with symbols. Our clothes, art, the colors and objects in our homes and where we work and play, the people we love and admire, everything in the natural world — all this has symbolic meaning for us. We do not create the symbols that move us and cannot control how we feel about them. They are real and alive in us and in the world. Like the archetypes we associate them with, symbols can transform our lives. If we trust the meaning and insights they evoke we can grow toward fulfillment.
In Jungian psychology, the Self is your god-image, the energy that compels you to seek a more conscious, enlightened way of being. Your ego often rejects its guidance but it never gives up. In its aspect as Dream Mother it reveals itself in symbols and actions based on six basic attributes: wholeness, centrality, unity, love, pattern, and the life-giving force. See if you can see any of them in this exquisite painting by Toronto artist, Steven McCabe. I’m thrilled that it’s featured in my new book, The Soul’s Twins.
Wholeness: Jung associated wholeness with circles and quaternity, or four-ness. There are four directions, four elements (wind, earth, fire, and water), and four winds. Rooms have four walls, there are four cardinal virtues, and mandalas have four sections. Humanity has four basic ways of experiencing life: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Whenever a circular object (coin, table, bowl, sphere) or four-ness (four people, four flowers, four sides to a frame, the numeral 4) appear in a dream, I consider their implications for my journey into wholeness.
Centrality: The Self is the well of energy at your psyche’s center from which every psycho-spiritual event, including symbols, springs. It is often represented by things with centers; for example, the heart (a vital central organ), a circle with a dot in the center (the hole in a Chinese jade disk opens to heaven), and ancient symbols for the center of the world, including a cosmic tree (Jung saw the vertically growing form of a palm tree as a symbol of the soul) or sacred mountain.
Unity: Since the Self’s creative energy is renewed by the ongoing tension between your masculine and feminine life forces, it is often symbolized by a union of opposites: pairs of things like a Couple, reciprocal actions, the Divine Androgyne with attributes of both genders, twins, crosses, two interlocking circles, the hexagram or double triangle, the yin-yang symbol, weddings, wedding rings, sex, bridges, and images of the unity in multiplicity like a pearl necklace or mandala.
Love: Spirit’s primary characteristic is love. As your god-image, the Self can be represented in dreams via symbols like hearts, roses, doves, apples, maple leaves, and people engaged in loving actions like sex, nursing a baby, kissing, forgiving, helping, healing, gift-giving, or sacrificing. When your dream ego feels and demonstrates love for others, or when others make you feel loved, you can acquire insights about your capacity for love and the Self’s love for you.
Pattern: Since we think of God as the creator and sustainer of the underlying patterns that support life, the Self is suggested by patterned walkways, mosaics, lattices, mathematical arrays, music, webs, grids, the Diamond Net of Indra, holograms, intricate geometric gardens, mandalas, jewelry, and so on.
Life-Giving Force: All symbols or acts of insemination, creativity, initiation, birth, growth (unusually wise babies and children, seedlings, buds, green plants), transformation (butterflies), or movement and change (a snake shedding its skin, the double-stranded DNA spiral, spinning wheels, walking through a doorway into an unknown realm), refer to the miracle of your life and the psychological and spiritual forces that awaken and sustain you.
If you don’t understand the power of symbols, you can easily be overwhelmed by the archetypal energies they carry. Where the ego is powerless in the face of an archetype, the god-image is honored. This takes the heat off the ego. The ancient Greeks didn’t know why they fell passionately in love. They found reassuring answers in the god Eros with his bow and arrow, and Aphrodite with her magic belt. When they were overwhelmed with fear, the sight of a vulture flying overhead might have inspired them to make a sacrifice to Ares, pick up their swords and shields, grab their flaming torches, and set off in their chariots.
Jung said the gods have become our diseases. He meant that many people still cling to rigid old god-images of power, punishment, and retribution. When they feel afraid and powerless, old Ares can infect them like a virus. Someone waves a flag with a divisive symbol on it, and off we go to war, whether in the streets of our town or a foreign country. That’s why we need self-knowledge, especially in these frightening and turbulent times.
Practice being aware of how and when symbols move you. If you find some that elicit fear or prejudice, choose to refrain from acting out with antisocial behavior founded on religious beliefs or other biases. This is how you can make a positive difference. Pay attention to your dreams tonight. If you have one that features the Self, I hope you’ll share it here.
Note: If you didn’t receive my first newsletter in May, scroll to the bottom of this page to sign up. On August first you’ll receive the next one with my latest news about The Soul’s Twins.
Image Credits: Word from Symbol/Symbol from Source, with gratitude to the artist, Steven McCabe.
Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Watch for her new book, The Soul’s Twins, to be launched by Schiffer Publishing this October.
Thank you Jeanie, a lovely reminder of the value of symbols and their often hidden meaning/s and how they can change and grow into something larger if we don’t define it too soon. And as you say what a flag can evoke and the need to not re-act immediately to it. To sit with it and wonder about its power to create such feeling. McCabe’s painting is lovely and very evocative.
Thank you, Susan. Our reactions to symbols are so automatic that we’re usually unconscious of them and their powerful hold on us. That’s why dreamwork is so important: exploring our associations to the symbols that show up makes the symbol come alive in our consciousness. Once we’re aware of it we can choose how to react to it. I think this is the fundamental purpose and contribution of dreams to our lives. As our unconscious selves become more accessible, we acquire more balance and wisdom in our waking lives.
Steven’s painting is evocative, isn’t it! The first time I saw it, it captivated my imagination and drew me in with the power of some dreams. The colors and symbols obviously touch something deeply unconscious in me. I bought it as a birthday present to myself a few years ago and it hangs next to my desk. Every time I look at it I feel a comforting surge of familiarity and wonder. It’s like a beautiful dream made manifest….
Jeanie- How timely this message is. I am sending it to all three of my children because they are deeply moved by the events of our times. The only advice I have been able to give them is to know themselves and to deeply trust their own instincts. But, comprehending the power of the symbol is a new, vital level to this humble advice.
Once again, thank you for following your heart and writing such inspirational words for us humans!
We humans need all the help we can get! We seem to be making a royal mess of things. If “Know yourself and trust your instincts” was the only advice you ever gave your kids, it would almost be enough!
If you don’t mind a little shameless self-promotion, I’m thinking they might really like The Soul’s Twins. Maybe you can give them a copy for Christmas. I’ll be happy to sign them for you! 🙂 They won’t be out until Oct. 28 but you can pre-order copies on Amazon now at: https://www.amazon.com/Souls-Twins-Emancipate-Masculine-Archetypes/dp/0764360604
My twin 18 year-old grandsons have developed a sudden interest in my books now and I think it may be for the same reason: the very troubling events of our times are all a result of our psycho-spiritual ignorance and immaturity. The Soul’s Twins is totally relevant for the simple reason that thinking psychologically and living spiritually is the only way we can heal ourselves and the world. I’m seeing a lot of interest in this concept now and my book is about how to do that.
Thank you for writing, Cindy.
As always, a rich and insightful post. Thank you. As I read, I’m reminded of the symbolic images found in caves, painted tens of thousands of years ago … either in darkness or by firelight, who knows?! But the longing to sketch onto the walls and ceilings of these caves was so great, that I stand in admiration each time I hear of new paintings being discovered.
If your readers haven’t already got themselves a copy of “The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images” by Taschen, they’re in for a treat! For me it is THE book on symbols.
And on that symbolic note, I don’t know if you’ve seen the mesmerising and relaxing hour long, 10 year time-lapse video of the sun released by NASA last week? It’s totally amazing! A truly hypnotic, magnificent symbol … the only thing standing between life and death on this beautiful planet of ours. No wonder we dwell on a planet of sun worshippers. It’s vital!
Love and blessings,
Thank you, Deborah.
I’m fascinated by the ancient symbols in caves too. In fact, I think that haunting orange head near the top on the right side of Steven’s painting above was one of the things that drew me to it. It reminds me of the sorcerer in the cave of Les-Trois-Freres in France. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cave_of_the_Trois-Frères It’s so neat that you thought about prehistoric cave art as you were reading this post. That’s a great example of the unconscious power of images!
I heartily second your recommendation of Taschen’s “The Book of Symbols….” My daughter gave it to me for Christmas some years ago and it’s always been by my desk since. I use it often for dreamwork and writing.
Thanks also for suggesting NASA’s time-lapse video of the sun. I haven’t heard anything about it and will look for it today. The sun and moon are the two primary symbols I use in The Soul’s Twins to represent the masculine and feminine drives of the psyche. Both are essential to life on earth as we know it. As without, so within.
We’ve entered the mythopoeic realm with this conversation, haven’t we? Nothing new there. It’s a language we’re both conversant with. 🙂
I hope you’re having a lovely and healthy summer.
Hmm, Steven’s amazing painting certainly arouses “Shamanic” feelings in me!
Thank you so much Jeanie for mentioning the Cave of the Trois-Freres. I’ve just read (Wikipedia) that a 59 cm phallus was also discovered painted on the wall there … one that follows the contours of the walls themselves. It’s incredible to think of that symbolic phallus entering those dark, womb-like walls and fertilising the pregnant darkness within. Wow!
Re: The Soul’s Twins, I’m counting down the days now till Oct 28th, can’t wait!
This painting communicates with my inner Shaman too!
Your mention of my book has just given me a great idea. I’ll probably have to do virtual launches for it, so I’ll be sure to let you and my other readers know when and where when the time comes. It might be tricky figuring out a good time that works for me and those of you ‘across the pond’ … but I’ll see what I can do. Wouldn’t it be fun to meet “virtually” in person? 🙂
Hmm, a “virtual book launch” what a great (and creative!) idea during these socially distanced times.
Well, you know what they say about necessity…..it truly is the mother of invention. 🙂