Speaking in Symbols

Learning the language of the subconcious

Archive for the category “nature”

Sh*t Ain’t Worthless

Note: This post is about excrement. The title is the only place I will censor myself, either in talking about the act or the stuff. If this is a topic that you are squeamish about, I suggest either finding one of my other lovely posts, or moving on to another blog. 


There are images that get stuck in my head. These are the themes I use to write these post, and the images I explore with my therapist. Sometimes, the symbolism behind the images are so complex and overwhelming that I shelf them permanently (for instance, a while ago I had a dream about a snake with a broken back that was still alive and functioning as if nothing was wrong), other times, the image sticks in my mind, and insists that I examine them in great detail. The image of shit has definitely been the latter. About a month ago, I was feeling extremely depressed. I was stuck in a cycle of negative self talk, and what I kept saying to myself was “I’m a worthless piece of shit”. In my depression, I was invoking the image of shit as a substance that is to be extruded, flushed down the toilet, and forgotten. In the middle of the cycle, the image, first, of a dung beetle, then of a rich, well fertilized field came to mind, along with the phrase “shit ain’t worthless.”

The image page from my art journal documenting this event.

The image page from my art journal documenting this event.

Now, beyond the modern, western squeamishness about bodily functions, the symbolism of shit has been difficult for me to research, mostly because there is so much of it (both shit and literature on it). Not to mention the various words used to describe the substance–shit, excrement, feces, scat, poo, etc. Where to even start? I talked to my therapist about this…constipation, for lack of a better word, and we explored some of the symbolism together. Even with help on the research, I felt like I could only really explore the imagery that came to me during that bad episode.

The reason I colored the dung ball in the first picture to the left  yellow is to invoke the sun. I don’t know much about Ancient Egyptian mythology, but I know that some of their legends states that the sun is rolled across the sky by a scarab, or dung beetle. Taking this to the logical conclusion, this would make the sun a giant ball of shit.  This…makes a surprising amount of symbolic sense to me. I don’t know how much animal dung Egyptian farmers used on their fields–I know they depended on the flooding of the Nile to refresh nutrients. But, to have feces in the sky and feces on the ground nourishing the plants that are needed to sustain life has a beautiful symmetry to it.

The second image, that of soil, is one that re-occurs in my life. I live on the third floor, so what gardening I can do is restricted to pots and containers. I love the feel of soil, though. I love the rich darkness of it, I love the smell. I love the promise of new life, of nourishment and beauty.

Soil, though, is an interesting thing. If you break down the bits that go into making a good soil, you’d end up with shit, rotting plant matter, and dust. None of these on their own are very pleasant but combining them turns them into something magical.  Soil becomes the heart of alchemy to me–it’s a substance that consists of horrible, noxious things but is in itself beautiful.

When I was discussing this with my therapist, she asked me what I wanted to do with it. (And that’s the million dollar question, right?) I talked about taking this shit, the foulness in my life and turning it into something good. My therapist then asked where I thought I was in that process. When she did, I remembered an incident.

My grandfather and two of my uncles are farmers, and live in a tiny village about 50 miles from the town I did most of my growing up in. Every year or two, we would go to one of their farms and get a truck load of manure to bring back to dig into our vegetable garden and flower beds. The year my sister was 16, she went by herself to pick up the manure, and our cousin overloaded the truck. She had a hard time driving home, and kept fishtailing because of the heavy load. She made it home safely, but was shaken by the incident (and more than a little upset at the cousin).

I feel like that’s where I am right now, is halfway home with a truck load of foul shit. It’s heavy enough that I can’t go as fast as I want and stay safe, but going slowly is a painful experience. I have to cling to the idea that when I get where I’m going (and I’m not sure where I’m going) that I’ll be able to turn it into something beautiful.

Until then, I’ll imagine a scarab taking my load of shit from me, forming it into a ball, and rolling it across the sky as the sun.


Crickets and Cockroaches

Recently, my anxiety has been out of control. I’ve had a hard time even leaving the house. My parents, in their wisdom, had me come spend some time at their house, and got me a doctors appointment to talk about the medication I’m on. In short, the doctor became the third diagnostician to say “bipolar” about me, and prescribed lithium–which, so far, has the side effect of planting a Nirvana earworm in my head whenever I even look at my pill bottle.

So, with that rather long and personal introduction, the night before my doctors appointment, I saw a black insect scurrying about the bedroom. It looked to me like a cockroach. I saw it again the next night, this time, with less scurrying , and I realized that it was a cricket.

Both the cockroach and the cricket have potent symbolism attached to them. I found it interesting that they are visually similar, and have nearly identical diets, but they are regarded so differently–as a personal note, I had no problem scooping up a cricket and depositing her on a plant outside, where a cockroach is to be killed on site.

cockroachCockroaches are, well, unpleasant. They are indicative of death, decay and filth. The naturalist in me can admire them for their tenacity and adaptability, but there’s something about them that is just…gross. They symbolize a desire to pull back from the world, to focus on survival. While Kafka never uses the word “cockroach”, the symbolism of cockroaches speak very strongly to his “The Metamorphosis“. The character of Gregor Samsa is often depicted as a cockroach or a cockroach-like creature in the art surrounding the story (as an aside, I once had a literature teacher who was a native of Germany. She would be appalled to see me write “Samsa” and “cockroach” in the same sentence.)

cricketWhile I was able to find some positive symbolism of cockroaches, I couldn’t shake the feeling of disgust and loathing surrounding them. Crickets, on the other hand, seem much more positive.  The cricket’s song is a staple of summer nights, and is something I consider comforting to hear. A cricket in the house symbolizes luck or fortune to come in some cultures (a token I destroyed by ushering my guest out the door). The character of Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio (at least the Disney version) and Chester Cricket from “The Cricket in Times Square” bring an air of cunning and wisdom to the cricket archetype.

The most striking thing to me about my visitor was that before my medication change, I thought it was a cockroach. After, I saw that it was really a cricket. The symbols around me lately have been urging a change, while being vague about what needed to change. I’ve been getting a lot of death symbols–a category where the cockroach fits nicely–and the non-death symbols all pointed towards movement, as does the cricket’s hopping form of locomotion.

I’m not faithful or conceited enough to think that God or the universe or whatever drops signs into my lap. I do, however, believe that my subconscious causes me to notice things in a timely manner. I can’t fathom the cockroach-turned-cricket as anything other than a coincidence, but I’m glad that it happened. And I hope that as my new medication starts to kick in, the world will be filled with more crickets, and fewer cockroaches.

After the Fire

This weekend, I spent some time exploring the Tintic Mountains of Central Utah with my dad.  In our wanderings, we came across a small stream (Though, that it was flowing in it in mid-October said that it was a pretty significant water soucre) that followed the road for a ways. Eventually, we came to a meadow full of shrubs and grasses, much greener than one would expect for this time of year. This meadow was punctuated by the skeletons of juniper trees that had died in a fire a few years back.

As we were driving through this meadow, I said “This is a pretty area. Or was, before the fire came through”.

Dad thought about this for a second. “It’s probably the fire that made it pretty.” He said. “Those junipers would have taken up all the water that let the other plants survive.”


Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

It didn’t take me long to figure out that he was right. I love the pinyon-juniper forests that cover much of my part of the world, but the trees don’t leave much for flowers and grasses. You’ll see sagebrush and rabbit brush abutting the juniper forests, or an occasional tree in the middle of the sagebrush range, but the two don’t play nicely together. Juniper and pinyon generally don’t allow for other plants to grow in their soil. When you’re in a juniper woods, you really could be anywhere in the west.

I didn’t get a picture of the meadow we saw. I wish I had. I just didn’t realize that it would be the archetype that would stick in my mind.

I’ve been thinking about the classical elements–earth, fire, water, and air–all week. I’ve been drawn to the figure of the Earth Mother, and have started–and discarded–several posts about water. My post “Winds” fits the air category. I would never have thought, then, that it would be fire that got me out of my blogging slump.

I am terrified of fire.  I can handle, say, cooking on a gas stove, or being around a lit candle, but not much more. Even campfires make me nervous. This fear has mellowed over the years, but it was especially bad when I was a child. I couldn’t watch a TV show that had a fire in it after dark. The yearly wildfires that sweep through the Intermountain West were terrifying to me.  My first full-blown panic attack came at the age of 12, during one of these wildfires, when my family was the last vehicle let through on a road before the firefighters shut it down. Even writing about it, I’m starting to hyperventilate.

My point is, I can, and do, connect to earth, air, and water. Fire is something that is to be avoided, if at all possible. Fire is not my friend.

Plants regrow among trees burned in the 1988 Yellowstone fires. (Photo courtesy Daniel Tinker - See more at: http://wyofile.com/kelsey-dayton/burned-areas-from-1988-yellowstone-fires-aid-research/#sthash.i4KVSVNu.dpuf)

Plants regrow among trees burned in the 1988 Yellowstone fires. (Photo courtesy Daniel Tinker – See more here

And yet…

The image to the right was taken after the massive wildfires that swept through Yellowstone National Park in 1988. I was seven, at the time, and can remember seeing (or thinking I was seeing) the smoke from the Yellowstone Fires a state and a half away.

As destructive as they were, the Yellowstone Fires turned out to be very important to researchers because of their size. Yellowstone became a laboratory in how nature heals itself after the devastation of a fire.  And how nature heals itself after a fire is pretty amazing.

When fire comes though, it destroys the trees, but it also clears away for new growth. In Yellowstone, for instance, wildflowers were abundant in the years following the fire.  Fire clears the clutter, so to speak, while leaving the ground unharmed. Fire resets areas the way nothing else can, and the results become a matter of point of view.  Yes, the trees are gone, but they have opened the way for new plants, and new ecosystems.

When I look at my psyche, I see something incredibly dense and crowded. The thought patterns and habits I have are not especially healthy. And yet, clearing them out, setting fire to them, as it were, is incredibly scary to me. I think the image of the meadow I saw, as well as remembering the years after the 1988 fire are telling me that I do need to make these changes. And when I do, the results will be beautiful.

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