Speaking in Symbols

Learning the language of the subconcious

Archive for the category “symbols”

Suicide as Symbol

I’ve been spending a lot of time, lately, trying to be more cognizant of the symbols around me, especially those that show up in dreams. I’ve mentioned my depression before, and it seems that when it rears it’s ugly head, doing anything, especially something that might lead to getting better, becomes difficult to the point of being impossible.

I’d like to state, that, despite being in a dark place, and despite the symbols of death and suicide that I’m going to examine in this post, I am not currently suicidal. I have been, as recently as January, but right now, I am not seeking my own death.

If you are, suicidal or otherwise considering hurting yourself, please get help. There’s the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, as well as numerous local helplines. If you’re the religious type, talk to your pastor. And, in the very worst case scenario, go to the emergency room. I know how dark and scary it is standing on that brink, but I also know that it can and will get better.

I’m also still hanging out at my parent’s house as I write this post, so I don’t have access to the books that I use to look up symbolism. I’m going off of what I wrote in my art/symbol journal. I’d also like to reiterate that when I talk about symbols, I’m bringing up what they mean to me–in no way am I writing a comprehensive symbol encyclopedia.

A few weeks ago, I had one of those dreams that is so powerful, it stays with you. In this dream, I have broken in to the school where my mom used to teach. I’ve gone there with the intention of hanging myself. I went first to her classroom, and, using her key, let myself in. I stand in the middle of the room for a while just breathing in the scent. I want to remember the way it smelled.

I then go to another wing of the school, and break into a random classroom, this time, picking the lock. Once there, I stood on a desk and looped a rope through the drop ceiling, and hanged myself.

Searching out the symbols in this dream have been difficult, naturally. It makes me wonder why my subconscious can’t be giving me rainbows and puppies and unicorns, but it is what it is.

astral-tarot-hanged-manI kept coming back to the tarot when looking for these symbols–specifically, the Hanged Man, and the Death card. Now, I’ve tried tarot, but the cards just don’t “speak” to me–and I’m slightly jealous of those who can read and understand the cards. If you are such a person, and see that I’ve missed something in my interpretations, please let me know in the comments. All that I’ve written here comes courtesy of Google.

Anyway, Suicide by hanging.  Suicide is the act of ultimate despair. It’s forcing and ending by taking matters into your own hands. In the western world, it’s wildly perceived as the ultimate sin, while in the east, it’s more of a mixed bag. Hanging is a disgraceful way of dying, especially in places that execute criminals on the gallows. It’s also one that’s very easy to arrange. You can walk into any hardware store or sporting goods store and buy rope with no background checks or waiting period.

The Hanged Man of the tarot is hanging from the World Tree, like Odin seeking wisdom. He symbolises suspended action, feeling of being stuck, and sacrificing for a higher goal.

tollundman4

While researching symbolism of hanging, Tollund Man came to mind. This man lived and died in the 4th Century BCE in Denmark. Now, Tollund Man probably died by strangulation, not hanging, but the noose was left around his neck.

I don’t know if I have a genetic connection to Tollund Man, but I do know I have Danish ancestry, and it’s likely my ancestors worshiped in the same manner as those who sacrificed Tollund Man. (I am interested in learning about Pre-Roman Europe, especially the religion, but, alas, there’s just not that much information.) We can speculate as to why Tollund Man, and the other bog bodies were sacrificed, but, unfortunately, if there is a definitive answer, I could not find it. Tollund Man for me represents family, however distant, and the religious traditions that I don’t believe in anymore. He also becomes a symbol of mysticism, in that I don’t know why he was sacrificed, what god or gods the people were trying to appease (or even if he was a criminal or prisoner of war, rather than a religious sacrifice). He, and the culture he comes from, represents a lost knowledge, something for which there are currently not answers.

DeathFor all the negative imagery, death, in the Tarot, at least, is a positive thing. It represents change, endings, the old giving way to the new.  I don’t know if I’ve talked about soil on this blog or not, but I know I’ve mentioned it with my therapist. The individual bits of soil–manure, dust, rotted leaves and other organic matter–are vile things, but when they are combined together, they create something beautiful and useful. Without death, not only would the world be over-crowded, but nothing new could grow.

In the modern, Western world we are removed from death, while for the generations before us, death was simply a part of life. So death, for me, becomes a symbol of knowledge lost.

800px-Standard-lock-keyThe other powerful image in this dream is that of a key. I let myself into the school, I didn’t break in to the school, and it wasn’t my intent to cause property damage–I didn’t want to harm anything but myself.

In this light, the key represents being in charge of my own destiny, controlling what the change is I need to make in my life. A key can open or close, lock or unlock. Keys are associated with 5f22683e4576b147cb783984111263c4Janus, whom I’ve written about before. The image of a two-faced person, especially when the two faces represent opposites, has been a reoccurring symbol for me, and one that I’ve adopted to represent myself.  I especially like this particular image, where the balance is between male and female figures.

As I was looking over these symbols and images in my art journal, I realized that they are all about being stagnant, standing still, and stopping, as well as being indicators of change. This flat out scare me. I tend to get comfortable in my ruts, and being forced out of them, even when it’s for my own good, is always a painful experience.

I mentioned in my last post that I’d been getting a lot of images about death and change, and this is only a small sampling of those symbols. I don’t know if the change I’m being asked to make is related to my recent medication change, or if there’s still something else that I need to do.

 

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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.

The Ethereal Nature of Symbols

I recently found myself in Kansas City, a very cool town by any account, and one made cooler by  the fact that my sister lives there.  While most of my trip involved hanging out at her house, I did make a point to visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which has a very nice collection, and the added benefit of being free to the public.

Kerry James Marshall, American, b. 1955, b. Birmingham, AL Memento #5, 2003

Kerry James Marshall, American, b. 1955, b. Birmingham, AL
Memento #5, 2003

There is a piece in the Nelson that stops me dead in my tracks every time I see it–Memento #5 by Kerry James Marshall.  Part of the amazing power of this painting is its size, it’s 9’x13′ of unstretched canvas. Part of it is the shiny factor, the little rectangles covering the image are glitter, but mostly, this is as very powerful image.

This painting is full of symbols, some very unambiguous. And since I won’t be able to explain Marshall’s intent sufficiently, this is the write-up the Nelson has of this work:

“Memento #5 is the final painting in Chicago-based artist Kerry James Marshall’s Memento series, a five-part elegy to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The monochromatic painting on unstretched canvas depicts a black angel standing at the center of a living room and facing outward. Solemnly, the figure draws closed a glittery, silver curtain, symbolically concluding a decade of peaceful civil disobedience, courageous marches, visionary speeches, righteous legislation, explosive riots and tragic deaths. Behind the angel, at left and right, are the faces of four assassinated leaders: President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Each year of the tumultous decade is counted out between the glitter strands, and fragments of the word “Remember” are also visible. At the bottom of the painting, Marshall has written, “What a Time. What a Time.”

Except that’s not what I see.

I mean, I see the angel, the images of the Kennedy’s, Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. I see the years, I see the text, and I certainly see the artist’s intent.

What I don’t see is a curtain. When I look at this painting, I see bars, like to a jail cell–and rather than pulling them closed, in my mind, the angel is bending them apart. Rather than being an elegy mourning the end of the civil rights movement, it’s a reminder, 50 years on, about how much more work there still is to do.

Which brings me back to the topic of symbols.

One of the things that I love about art is that the painting you see isn’t necessarily the painting the artist saw. The symbols morph and change for each person. Good art (and literature and music) has as many interpretations as it does viewers–and no one interpretation is better than any other.

“The dagger represents you completely”

A few nights ago, I had a dream. I dreamed I was at a seance (for lack of a better term). I was in a small room dominated by a large table, with many people gathered around. The walls were covered with pictures, plates, and other tchotchkes. The table was covered in a cloth, with many random images painted onto the fabric. The table was also bisected with a line of ash.

The man leading the séance (or whatever it was) instructed us to gather as closely around the table as we could, but to be careful not to touch the line of ash. He began by talking to a young man a bit to my right. As he pointed out symbols on the wall and on the table-cloth that represented the young man, his thoughts, feelings and desires, I unconsciously leaned forward to listen, resting my arms on the table, and disturbed the line of ash.

Pre-Roman Iberian iron dagger forged between the middle of the 5th century BCE and the 3rd century BCE. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Pre-Roman Iberian iron dagger  Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The man turned to me and called me by name–which startled me, because most people mispronounce my name the first time around. He said that I should not have been able to touch the ash, and that in doing so, proved that I had a great potential. He then pointed to an image of a knife on the tablecloth. He said “The dagger represents you completely.”

This dream, especially this line from the dream, have been subject to a great deal of scrutiny and confusion since that time.

A dagger is a weapon, pure and simple. It is designed to stab and slash–it is not a tool for, say working with food or skinning an animal.  It is ancient, with daggers being found from the neolithic era.

It is also a very masculine, aggressive symbol.  It represents conquer and aggression.  Everything about a dagger speaks of aggression, of force, and power. It is a tool of betrayal–to be an effective weapon, the wielder of a dagger has to be close to his victim.

In short, I couldn’t find much of anything to reconcile the dagger as a symbol for myself.

A few days of pondering this dream, and the thought came to me “What makes you think he was telling the truth?”

Huh.

I’ve been dealing with major depressive disorder for over 20 years now. That voice inside that’s telling me that I’m not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough, not ANYTHING enough is very familiar to me, and I’m still learning to control it. The thing about that voice is that logically, I know it’s a product of my brain not processing chemicals correctly. Emotionally, it’s really hard to ignore.

By realizing the man in my dreams was a liar, it puts a face to my depression (which would be infinitely more useful if I could remember his face). It also shifts the important symbolism of that dream away from the dagger, and onto other elements–the ash, perhaps, or the fish and rice that played a role in a different part of the dream.

In speaking about depth psychology to my therapist, she said that learning these symbols is like learning the language of the soul. Different symbols, different images will have different meanings to different people. While books and websites like the ones i use as reference materials are helpful, I’m really the only one who can interpret what my soul is saying, and what my personal symbols are.

And that includes characters from my dreams.

 

Stairs

While I have begun to notice and documents the symbols that pop up in my life, I don’t believe in signs or omens. A big part of me wants there to be a mystical side of life, but I have a hard time accepting that the universe really cares about what we do in our day to day lives.

That being said, I firmly believe in the subconscious. I think our bodies, and our minds know what is best for us–it’s just that we don’t always know how to listen. A big part of the work I’m doing with my therapist, and with this blog, is learning how to speak the language of the mind. It’s too bad that occasionally the mind has to use the body to get it’s point across.

I live in a 3rd floor walk up with exterior, concrete stairs. I’ve lived in my home for about six years. I am up and down those stairs at least three times a day, and can count the number of times I’ve tripped on them on one hand. That is, until today. I’ve tripped on my stairs twice within the last 36 hours.

Yesterday,  I tripped going up the stairs, I discounted it as simply wearing bad shoes and being in too much of a hurry. I also happened to have a little dog under my arm, and I considered the giant bruise on my knee a small price to pay, as long as Lulu was unharmed.

Flip flops. Not even once.

Flip flops. Not even once.

I didn’t think much of it.

This morning, I was chasing a dog (Lulu again–I wonder if she’s jealous that Max has become an archetype, but she hasn’t.) and I stepped wrong on the last step, spraining my ankle and going down hard. I didn’t hit my head, but the pain in my ankle, and in my bruised knees (the bruise from yesterday was freshened up, and it got a friend on the other knee) was bad enough, I thought I was going to pass out. Thankfully, I didn’t, and was able to collect myself enough to hobble through my morning appointments, and safely make it back upstairs where I could rest, ice, elevate and compress my hurt ankle. Oh, and figure out exactly how many ibuprofen I could take before overdosing, then taking exactly ONE LESS. (kidding. kind of.)

Maybe it’s because one of the appointments I had this morning was with my therapist that had me thinking of these accidents in the frame of the subconscious. I know that accidents happen, and that stairs are dangerous. But at the same time, it seemed odd that I should have two accidents on the stairs within two days of each other. The first didn’t cause the second–the first bruise hurt, but it didn’t affect my walking in any way. The second spill was caused because I wasn’t paying attention to where my foot was on the step, and I wasn’t balanced enough to keep upright. If the brain sends messages though dreams, random thoughts, images that pop into the mind and the like, then why not in the footing on familiar stairs?

With that in mind I started researching the symbolism of stairs and tripping. What I saw made me laugh.  From Dream Moods: *

“To dream that you slip or trip on the stairs signify your lack of self confidence or conviction in the pursuit of some endeavor. If you slip going up the stairs, then it means that you are moving too fast toward attaining your goals. If you slip going down the stairs, then it suggests that you are moving too quickly in delving into your subconscious. You may not be quite ready to confront your subconscious or repressed thoughts.”

Other sources had similar things to say, going up means you are successfully obtaining a goal, going down represents the hidden, and the subconscious. Tripping and falling is symbolic of being held up–not necessarily stopped. Tripping and falling are humbling acts, and happen when we get ahead of ourselves, or seek to usurp power.

This actually makes perfect sense to me. When it comes to intellectual projects, I tend to dive in head first, without checking the depth of the water, or even if I know how to swim. I get overwhelmed easily, and become doubtful of my ability to see things through. Interpreting the symbols that come into my life has been no exception, and it makes a lot of sense that my mind is trying to tell me to slow down, that I may not be ready for what I find.

Also that I need new shoes.

 

 

*Symbols are symbols, as far as I’m concerned. If they pop up in a dream, day dream, free write, meditative session, or on my shins, as in this case, the meaning doesn’t change.

 

 

Winds

Even though I’ve not been at this for very long, I’ve had several experiences where my subconscious brain sends me an image, feeling or intuition that completely takes me by surprise. I’ve learned not to ignore these archetypes, they tend to be important, even if their meaning isn’t intuitively obvious.

windThis image is one that took me completely by surprise. What came to mind was a the figure of a human–probably a woman–moving quickly through a dark forest. She was wrapped, and draped, in a sheer, white fabric that trailed behind her.

The image of wings that morphed into a set of lungs also came to me during the meditative session which gave me this image. I didn’t connect the two, at first, but it didn’t take long to bring them together. The instinct I got about this image (after the “what was THAT?!” moment had passed) was that it represented the wind.  And while I explored other explanations, like ghost or spirit, wind seems to fit the best.

WindmillWind is all about air, movement and travel. Wind is created from conflict, when two bodies of air of different temperatures collide. In the past, we harnessed the wind to power great sailing ships, and to grind our grain. Today, wind is created with the movement of airplanes, and we use it to generate electricity. It is an element of power, though unseen. It is a harbinger of change, like the winds that come before a thunderstorm, or Mary Poppins promising to stay only until the wind changes. Likewise, it can also foretell disaster–the phrase “an ill wind” comes to mind. We saying someone who doesn’t know what their talking about is “full of hot air”. Am I expressing doubts about this blog?

bullyIn her archetype cards, Caroline Myss connected an image of wind to the archetype of bully. This has never been an archetypal trait that I’ve associated with myself, though, the artwork has always given me reason to pause as I go though the deck, and the more I think about it, the more convinced I become that the archetype of the bully is being brought forward, if not to center stage.

If I am being a bully, it is towards myself. I’m not sure if it is the nature of human beings, or only those of us with chronic depression, but I know that I say and do things to myself that I would never dream of saying or doing to another person. By connecting the bully to the image of the woman in the woods, I find myself being reminded to be more gentle and kind to myself.

ForestThe setting of the original image seems important, too. Dark and forest are both feminine attributes, that represent what is hidden, what it unseen. For me, darkness is empty and void, but the forest is full of life.  Forests are places of mystery and magic, the setting of many fairy tales and European legends.

Forests represent the unconscious mind. Adding the darkness to that intensifies the symbolism for me. There is something in my subconscious that needs to be swept up, like Dorothy in a tornado. Something is changing, something needful.

 

 

Shadow monsters

As I’m learning about symbols, one of the things that I find fascinating is the division of masculine and feminine symbols and principles. On the masculine side, there tends to be things like the sun, the sky, light, inflation and stability, while on the feminine side, there are things like the moon, the earth, shadow and darkness, depression and chaos.

The feminist in me gets indignant over the idea that the masculine symbols tend to be positive, and the feminine symbols tend to be negative, and she is ready to go on a long rant about the patriarchal society–but I’ll save that for another blog.

There is a reason I’m bringing this up here, I promise.

 

Shadow monstersIt’s been about a week since this image came to me, and I began my research on it, so the details of what I was doing were a little fuzzy.

The details may be hard to see, but these three monsters are shadows cast by little people down at the bottom. I tried to make it look like the shadow was going across the floor, then up a wall, but I’m not sure how well I succeeded–this was also one of my first attempts at using oil pastels, so things aren’t as crisp and clear as I would like.

Artistic criticism aside, the more I study this image, the more interesting it gets.  My first impression was that the shadow monsters represent something hidden, some personal secret. Whatever is casting this shadow is completely overwhelming the people.  I saw this as an image of fear.

Looking at this image logically (a masculine trait), I can see that there is nothing to the monsters. They are just shadows, and shadows can’t hurt you. But when I bring emotion (a feminine trait) into the picture, I see fear and anxiety, and am reminded of a child who cannot sleep because he is frightened of the shadows in his room. No matter how logically you explain that there is nothing in the closet, nothing under the bed, and the scary shapes are the same things he sees during the day, it does nothing to comfort him.

I spoke in my last post, “Of Kings and Slaves“, of needing to find balance, and I think this image speaks of that. The shadow, the feminine, is overwhelming and scary, and masculine logic does nothing to ease the fear. By increasing the light, the masculine, the shadow monsters become stronger, more terrifying. Changing the angle of the light will diminish them, but it will not cause them to go away.

In speaking with my therapist, I came up with two ways to vanquish the monsters.light within our heart One, is to give each of the little people a light source, an internal light.  Doing this would allow each of the individuals to chase away the darkness in the shadow. For me, this inner light source is representative of God, spirituality, and self esteem. This is also the masculine way of doing things. By bringing additional light in additional places, it becomes a fight with the monsters. If I put the symbolism of spirituality aside, and  simply focus on the masculine method, this can be terribly destructive–think of the sun in a cloudless sky during the midst of a drought, for instance, or the destruction that is wrought by an out-of-control fire.

The light is good, certainly, but it is not the only way, and not necessarily the best way.

Tiers-of-night-sky_FullyM_001The second way to vanquish the shadow monsters would be to remove the light–without a light, no shadow can be cast. This would be a more traditionally feminine approach, It would involve figuring out the anxiety that the shadow monsters represent, and come to an understanding of a) why that situation would make me anxious, and b) coming to accept the anxiety as part of my life.

When this solution was first put to me, it seemed, well, scary. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. I’ve spent more than 20 years fighting depression, maybe it’s time to listen to what it has to say. Besides, there is a great deal of beauty that can only be seen in the dark–as one who tries to star-gaze in an overly-lit neighborhood, I can certainly attest to that fact.  Still, too much shadow is also harmful, it leads to destruction through cold, rather than heat. And, without light, nothing can grow.

Whether I face these monsters in the light or in the shadow, there needs to be a balance reached. Combining the masculine and feminine methods will not destroy the monsters, but neither alone provides the answers for everything.

Of Kings and Slaves

I have had two figures that have been reoccurring in my dreams recently, the figure of a king, and the figure of a slave.  Thoughking and slave their appearance change, they always show up together, and I have an innate knowledge that they are the same person.

While trying to figure out the best way to represent the sameness and the difference between the king and the slave, drawing them as a Janus, or bifrons, figure made the most sense.

Janus was the ancient Roman god of beginnings and transitions. He was often depicted as having two faces, because he could see into the future, and into the past.  To  me a Janus figure represents a dual nature, in this case, the extremes of power–an all powerful king, and a lowly slave.

 

The image of a king is one of power and responsibility. He holds the wealth of nations, he isking card the ultimate authority.  He is the decision-maker, and the results of his (and other’s) decision rest firmly on his shoulders.  He is a masculine power. He is the closest thing to a god on the earth.

In further exploring the symbolism of the king, the Arthurian legend of the Fisher King came to mind. The Fisher King was the last in a long line charged with protecting the grail. He was wounded in the leg or groin, and his health was reflected in the well-being of his kingdom–upon receiving the crippling wound, his kingdom became an uninhabitable wasteland.  The health then of the king archetype is a reflection of my mental health.  Unfortunately, determining the well-being of my king has proven to be a difficult task.

There is a great deal of anxiety attached to the image of the king for me.  For all the good, benevolent and compassionate deeds he preforms, he is also a stubborn, proud tyrant. I have a flowchart in my art journal under the entry for king;  anxiety<–tyranny–>discipline.  The way that the tyranny of my inner king is directed, if it is towards anxiety or discipline, has a profound impact on my mental well-being.

 

 

slaveIf I look at the slave that always accompanies my king, I see a puppet, a tool, a thing to be used. Even though the slave in my dreams is always male, the archetype of the slave is a female power, and as I was exploring the symbolism of the slave, it became natural to write about it with female pronouns.

The slave is more flexible and adaptable than the king. Her road is a tough one, but it is also the path of least resistance. She knows she will never “get ahead” in life, and she’s content with this.  Her existence is based solely on serving others, she is the epitome of humility.

In a way, I found more freedom in the slave image than in the king image. The slave doesn’t have to make the tough decisions, and she doesn’t take responsibility for her mistakes. But this is a trade-off for a comfortable life.  She has traded comfort for ease. She also believes that her worth comes solely from what she does.

I spoke to my sister on the phone while I was researching the characteristics of the slave. We were talking about some of the causes that I am passionate about (victims rights, feminism, education, etc). I expressed a wish to be able to do more, and she said “You don’t have to save everyone”. This struck a deep chord in me. I don’t think the slave knows that she doesn’t have to save everyone except herself.  She doesn’t see herself as worth saving.

 

The most important thing about these archetypes is that they always appear together. I never see the king without the Balanceslave, and I never see the slave without the king. They are one and the same.  There is a balance to be made between these two extremes.

I think that everyone has a dual nature, that we all have our extremes. The idea that I need to find my center, find my balance is one that has been overwhelming to me lately, mostly because I don’t know how I’m out of balance, I don’t know what side of the scale is lacking, so to speak.

Perhaps it isn’t so much that I’m out of balance, but the things that I’m using to find my balance is off–it does no good to counter the arrogance of a king with the fatalism of a slave, for instance.

The combination of the king and the slave also bring to mind the Christian God, with the kingly representation of God the Father, and the lowly Jesus of Nazareth. It is possible that I am being told to become closer to God, I don’t think that is the whole of the message.

I have worked on decoding the meaning of the king and the slave for a long time now, and I don’t think that I’m anywhere near having it all figured out.

Tough and Tender

A few days ago, someone I’m friends with on Facebook posted a quote that starts out “We have enough women who are tough, we need more women who are tender” (The actual quote doesn’t matter, but if you’re interested, you can find the quote, and the talk it was taken from, here.) My response to this quote started out “sometimes a woman has to be tough to protect her tender heart.”

As I wrote my reply, and thought about a tough exterior to protect a tender interior, lychee fruit came to mind.

Lychee

For those who are botanically and culinarily deprived, the lychee is a fruit native to south-east Asia. About the size of a plum, it has a leathery skin that protects an milky, almost opalescent flesh. It’s smell has been described as “perfume-like”, and the taste is incredibly sweet and delicate.

I also happen to be allergic to lychee. The one time I’ve eaten it, my throat started to swell up. For me, lychee is quite literally a forbidden fruit.  So why had my mind placed it at the heart?

The lychee was a symbol for love, beauty, well-being, and sensuality in ancient China. (source). The syllables li-zhi (an alternative spelling/pronunciation of lychee) can also mean to produce money, and to have an heir (especially a son). Li is also a homonym for li, which means intelligent or clever (source).

Love, beauty, well-being, sensuality, children, and intelligence all make sense placed at thelychee heart heart.  But the problem of my allergy keeps coming to the surface–I don’t think I’d ever heard of these symbols before researching this image of a lychee placed at the heart, so I don’t know how much my subconscious was utilizing them. It is true that I have avoided becoming romantically involved with another person. I identify as asexual, bi-romantic (meaning I don’t want sex, but I’m aesthetically and emotionally drawn to both men and women). Along with my sexual orientation, my personality is such  that it would be very easy for me to become a victim in an abusive relationship. To protect myself from this, I have avoided getting involved in romantic relationships.

Perhaps, then my subconscious was linking the good qualities I knew about the lychee–it’s fragrance, it’s taste, it’s beautiful flesh–to the world of relationships. On one level, I know they are good, but on another level, I’m afraid of getting hurt, so I don’t pursue them.

Anna Lee Merritt "Eve"Western tradition and philosophy doesn’t have anything to say (that I could find) about lychee, but it does have much to say about forbidden fruit. The lychee is a desirable fruit, and one that is forbidden to me. (if I eat it I would surely die. Especially if I didn’t have any Benadryl or an Epi-pen handy.) The tree that Eve ate from, which resulted in her and Adam being expelled from the Garden of Eden, was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, often referred to simply as “The Tree of Knowledge”.

I had put a forbidden fruit at my heart.

I am a Mormon, though not a very active one. I grew up in a tradition that says that Eve’s actions were good and noble and necessary for mankind’s spiritual development, and eternal progress. With this background, a forbidden fruit at the heart isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and when I change the name from “forbidden fruit” to “knowledge”, then it becomes a very good thing indeed.

I have a personal symbol. Something of a crest. It is an open book, overlaying a heart. I Book heartuse it to mean “wisdom”, and it has come to represent both me and my journey to overcome depression.

Breaking this symbol up, the book represents knowledge, and the heart compassionate and wise application of that knowledge. This, to me, is wisdom. Knowledge of good and evil makes this combination an even more potent symbol of wisdom.

So, then, it makes sense that my subconscious would put a forbidden fruit, fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, at the heart. It then becomes a reminder to be wise, especially when choosing between the good and the evil.

The wonderful thing about symbols is that they can mean more than one thing. So, in this case, the image of a lychee used as symbol for the heart can be a kick in the pants to me about my relationships, or lack thereof, and a reminder to be wise.  Ignoring my allergies, the leathery, ugly exterior covering a sweet and beautiful flesh is a reminder to look beyond the exterior into another person’s heart. And maybe a reminder to look more tenderly at my own.

 

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