Speaking in Symbols

Learning the language of the subconcious

Archive for the tag “archetype”

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.

Advertisements

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

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.

The Sow, the Horse, and the Butterfly, pt 1

During a recent meditative session, I had the image of a sow, a black horse, and a brown butterfly come to mind in succession.  I’ve found all of these images fascinating, though I’ve had a hard time coming up with a connection. Perhaps they are all symbols that I need to consider individually.

For several days now, I have also tried to combine all three images into one big blog post, with little success. I’ve made a decision, then, to write separate posts for each animal.

The Sow

sow1The pig is a creature of extremes. Depending on the culture, the pig is a symbol of wealth, fertility, and abundance, or one of filth, sloth and greed.

The image I saw was one of a sow, a mother pig. As I considered the sow, I think of her motherhood, and the fierce way that she protects her piglets. I have heard of hunters trapped by mother boars who were protecting their piglets.

The dichotomy continues, though. Pigs are omnivores, and  not particularly picky about what they eat. Sows will eat their young during lean times–making the sow the best and worse of mothers.

The sow was sacred to Demeter, the Greek Goddess of fertility, grains, the harvest, and marriage.

The sow differs from the image of the horse and butterfly, in that she is the epitome of domesticity. Her power comes from her staying close to the farm.  She is homely, and unloved.

I have come to love the poem “St Francis and the Sow” By Galway Kinnell

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

 

A warrior and a guardian

I had a powerful dream last night.

Please forgive me as  I share a few details; I know how tedious hearing other people’s dreams are.

I dreamed that I was in the US Army. I was working with a group of men and women to fulfill a mission. Sometime during this mission, I got trapped between two delivery trucks, and was being crushed to death.

Now, I am severely claustrophobic, and this was one of the most terrifying dreams I have had in a long time. I don’t know how I was reacting in the real world, but I must have been showing some distress, because my dog, Max, started nipping at my fingers, causing me to wake up. This is not normal Max behavior.

Female soldier. Photo by US Army Sargent Scott J. Tant.  Image from ImgurThe image of being a soldier was powerful to me, and it resolved something I’d been working on for several weeks now. I’d been feeling the archetype of the warrior trying to come forward, but I couldn’t put a face to her. I felt like she was a holdover from my High School days, but I was trying to form her into a Buffy/Xena/Cheesy Fantasy Novel type of warrior, because these were the things I enjoyed in High School.

When I was in high school, I also very briefly, considered joining the army.

The image of a female soldier feels much more stable than that of a Xena or Buffy type. She is real, not an actor performing a script. This image that I found for this archetype fits perfectly with my feelings about the warrior archetype that has been trying to emerge. She is a warrior, yes, but she is more than that. The little Afghan girl in this picture shows the soldier to be a caregiver, not just a protector.

I had also been seeking an archetypal image for a guide, though I wasn’t really sure why. The archetype of a seeker has always appealed to me, and has been an image I’ve applied to myself for a long time.  In my mind, a seeker is one who explores off the beaten path, someone who is looking for answers where most people don’t see questions. To a seeker, the journey is far more important than the destination.

Gaurdian maxWhen Max woke me from my bad dream, I realized that I had misinterpreted my need. A guide does more than show the way, a guide protects from harm. This is a responsibility that Max takes very seriously in the waking world–he considers it his duty to protect me, and my other dog, Lulu, from dangers such as other dogs, strange men, people on bicycles, skateboards, and the ever-present danger of things moving on the TV and computer.

Okay, he’s not great in the protection front. But it’s not his fault he’s a 15 pound shih tzu.

But, I can now take the image of Max, and turn him into the archetype for a guardian, a part of my psyche that will show up when I’m treading in dangerous waters.  This, I feel, will be more useful in my journey than having someone show me a path.

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.

 

 

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.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: