beach with cliffs banner

Symbols: Reflections of the Creating Archetype

Symbols and symbol systems are the technology by which meaning is conveyed. For the human species, language is a complex symbol system, developed over millennia. Even before auditory symbols in the form of words became meaningful, the formation of visual signals and signs became codified with meaning. Later the image itself became a vehicle for meaning beyond just the object it depicted; it's value extended to metaphorical meaning through the property of identification or parallel ideas, e.g. a cave is like a shelter is like a womb is like a bowl can be like a tomb. Many images of things now, over years of civilization and cultural associations have become polyvalent, each with many meanings, e.g. the rabbit can mean: fertility, magical powers, sexuality, long life through relationship to the moon, quantity to the detriment of quality. A lasting symbol will have the propensity to associate the macrocosm with the microcosm, so that a tree may be a particular tree to a person, but also relate to the universal symbol of the Tree of Life.

Because our ability to decode visual cues preceded our development of language by a long shot, symbols in dreams and around us in our lives tap into deep archetypal structures more readily than words. This proximity to the early influences in our evolution gives symbols a vital energetic impetus for acting as transformative devices in our lives. When they appear in dreams or as synchronistic events in our lives, symbols offer opportunities to learn about ourselves at more depth, to help us through crises, or to assist us in problem-solving. An example of the latter is the dream of Auguste Kekulé in 1865 that gave him the idea for describing the structure of the benzene molecule. His dream included an image of the ancient symbol of the Ourobouros. Jung quoted in Stevens says: “[the symbol] is an expression of natural, biological intent, part of the autonomous developmental principle operating throughout life, which [is] called individuation.” (77)

Symbols carrying new meaning for the archetypal dynamic in our conscious lives cannot be consciously invented or specified by conventional understandings. The symbol-forming function in dreams and in the synchronistic world exhibits very creative and innovative perceptions that in turn, may be applied to the conscious world of living. Stevens, in ‘Ariadne’s Clue’ describes it as: “[It is] the best possible formulation of a relatively unknown thing, which cannot for that reason be more clearly or characteristically represented.” (12) He refers to Jung: “That a symbol signifies, in Jung’s phrase, something more and other than itself which eludes our present knowledge is what endows it with fascination and power.” (13)

What would the world be like if our contemporary societies acknowledged the wisdom available to them in dreams and even older myths, fairytales and folklore, and added that understanding to a progressive development of civilization? Stevens aptly describes the versatility and advantage of symbols as informing tools:

“… symbols can combine many disparate elements into a unitary expression, while numerous words are needed to deal with one thought at a time. Symbols tolerate paradox and can combine contradictory ideas; words are about one thing or another. Symbols make intimations; words explain. Like music composition, symbolic forms are psychologically more athletic than words; they leap across national barriers.” (29)

I would include words of poetry as more symbolic than explanatory, however.

Symbols arise spontaneously in dreams as ‘custom-designed’ for the individual who is dreaming, and often this is in response to a need in the individual for guidance, support or solution in the course of his/her life. What peace of mind and body could we achieve if we allowed ourselves to be informed by our dreams? How amazing is it that the Great Impetus to Life actually communicates to each of us individually through the dream process and through ‘serendipity’ or synchronistic happenings? We are never alone!