Speaking in Symbols

Learning the language of the subconcious

Archive for the tag “symbolism”

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.

Eye, aye, I.

It’s been how long since I’ve blogged? Ahem.

Without going into too many details, the past few months have been challenging. Between family drama, having a nervous breakdown (I’m better now, thanks!) my computer giving up the ghost and not being able to replace it until I got a tax return…

Well, I’m back now.

I don’t really have reoccurring dreams. What I have is reoccurring dream settings. Not long ago, I found myself in one of these settings, an old Mormon pioneer Tabernacle.

So, for my non-Utah readers, let me explain. Temples and tabernacles are both places of worship, but the temple is only for members of the Church who meet certain moral requirements, like attending church regularly, not Blogdrinking  coffee or tea, and paying tithing. Tabernacles are meeting halls, similar to cathedrals, where anyone can come in. Often times, the doors of the tabernacles are open to the community at large, and host things like graduation, concerts, and inter-faith worship services.

Some of these tabernacles feature the Eye of Providence, or the all-seeing eye of God . This picture is from the St. George, Utah, tabernacle. The tabernacle in my dream also has an eye, and in this particular instance, the eye seemed to be the most important thing.

After this dream, I began to see eyes EVERYWHERE. I don’t mean in people and animals, I mean in graffiti, random shapes in nature, jewelry, etc. Every time I saw a circle or an oval with something in the middle, it became an eye. I picked  up new book, and in the first paragraph, the author describes being in the Pantheon in Rome, and looking out the Oculus at the sky.  Clearly this is a symbol I need to pay attention to.

As I pondered on eyes, the word itself struck me–namely, the three English homophones for eye. There’s eye, like the ocular organ, that allows us to see. There is I, as in myself, and there is aye, as in yes.

220px-Blue_eyes

Humans are primarily visual creatures. While the other senses are important, we generally observe our world through our eyes. And as such, the eye has taken on a mystical element. We have such expressions as “the eye is the window to the soul”. We say a clairvoyant has a “third eye”, and those who wish to do us harm cast an evil eye on us–the charms in the picture to the right are to ward off such evil.

So eyes equal sight, as well as magical powers. For me, it became a realization that I needed to really look, to see.

But what do I need to see. I. I need to see myself. I need to examine the “I”, the me. The eye symbolism was telling me how I needed to do it too–aye. Yes. Positive.

The symbols of the eye that were popping out all over the place are telling me that I need to see myself in a positive light.

This isn’t an easy thing to do. But it is important, and it is a thing that I’m working on.

Roads

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler,long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost, 1920

Two Roads Diverged in Yellow Wood by Eric Vondy. Link

Two Roads Diverged in Yellow Wood by Eric Vondy. Link

This poem has been running through my head all day. I saw my therapist this morning, and we talked vocation.  Basically, I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. And referring back to the incomparable Mr. Frost, my heart is telling me to forget both roads and a random deer trail. My head doesn’t think this is such a good idea.

In terms of symbolism, roads and crossroads are universal enough that it kinda seems silly to be writing about them. But, this is the imagery that has been following me around today, so here goes.

 Roads and paths are all about movement. It is common for us to speak of our “path in life”. Roads indicate direction in our journeys, be they physical, spiritual or emotional. They also give us a way to gauge our movement.

Roads are indicative of a correct way, a way of safety and security. I love to spend time exploring the desert with my dad. One of the things that he taught me is that all roads go somewhere–even if it’s an old mine or an abandoned shepherds camp. Further, dirt tracks will eventually link on to a graded road, and graded roads lead to blacktop. Once you reach blacktop, finding your way back to civilization is a piece of cake. So it would follow, that in my emotional journey, the best way is to stay on the beaten path.

Except that’s not me.

Copyright 2003, Caroline Myss

Copyright 2003, Caroline Myss

I’ve talked about being a seeker in the past. This part of me wants to forge my own path, to seek vistas and horizons that are not commonly seen. I want to explore freely, and find my own way–and yet I’m scared to do so.

Two roads diverged–one is a safer, but duller path. The other is more exciting, but also more dangerous. And so very rarely are choices between just one or the other.

In The Book of Symbols, “Road” is listed as part of the human world, in the section of movement and expression. “Crossroad” is listed as part of the spirit world, in the section for rituals and symbols.  Crossroads carry a heavier metaphysical weight than simple roads do. Crossroads are by nature liminal, they exists between worlds.  In some traditions, a person can meet the devil at a crossroads to make a deal with him.

Crossroads represent a choice, both in the physical realm and in the spiritual.  These choices are not to be made lightly–as Frost’s traveler says “I doubted if I should ever come back”.

The fear of making a wrong decision is intense. The only thing I know is that not making one will be a worse mistake than choosing the wrong path.

The Sow, the Horse, and the Butterfly, Pt 3

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 Butterfly:

Niagra Brown ButterflyFinding a link between the sow and the horse proved to be a fairly easy task. The butterfly, though, seems to carry the same weight, metaphorically speaking, as the two larger animals. Finding a link between all three has proven much more difficult.

Taken individually, the butterfly is fascinating. The life-cycle of a butterfly speaks of change and rebirth. Caterpillars my be comfortable and content the way they are, but until they pupate and then emerge as butterflies, they do not reach their full potential. For many cultures, butterflies represent the souls of the departed. It is seen as a keeper of the faith,

When the image of the butterfly came to me along side the images of the horse and the sow, it was vague and undefined. The following night, I dreamed I was examining the butterfly in detail. This is where the color brown came from, as well as the pattern on it wings.

scan0001In the morning, I used the highly sophisticated method of typing “brown butterfly with eyespots” into Google, then browsing the images. I didn’t find it, so I drew it as best I could (oil pastels again. I’m still working on precision with them).

Having a clearer vision of the butterfly certainly helps decipher it’s meaning. The brown color is reminiscent of the earth, as is the sow.  The shape of the eyespot  is called a circumpoint, and is an ancient symbol of the sun across many cultures. The horse is also strongly associated with the sun.

The curcumpoint is also a symbol for wholeness, and the spark of the divine. This is something that I’d discussed with my therapist earlier as being something I need to work on.

Every once in a while, I’ll see a butterfly that has been attacked by a bird, and is missing a portion of wing. Unbalanced in this way, the butterfly is made unable to fly, and is doomed to die shortly.

Balance is quickly becoming a theme of this blog, and of the work I’m doing with my therapist. It seems natural, then, that the color of earth and the symbol of the sun on the butterfly’s wings speak to that balance. These two factors also make the butterfly a linking characteristic between the sow and the horse.

There’s a little bit more, I think.  The sow and the horse are both earthbound creatures, while the butterfly lives a more carefree existence.  The butterfly is a reminder to enjoy life, with all it’s ups and downs.

 

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.

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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