Speaking in Symbols

Learning the language of the subconcious

Archive for the tag “symbols”

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.

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Dragonfly

While still reeling from the realization that my subconscious can lie to me, an image came to me with a great deal of force. The image was clearly that of a dragonfly, but it was a crude drawing, almost like a petroglyph.

crude dragonflyThe colors in the dragonfly I saw were reds and oranges. I haven’t payed much attention to color in the past; I haven’t seen much need to pay attention to color.  The black horse and the brown butterfly I wrote about recently have really been the only archetypes that have come to me where the color mattered. The fact that my dragonfly is red and orange, then, becomes an important part of decoding it’s meaning.

Red and orange are both warm colors, associated with energy and power. Red also symbolizes passion, love and desire, while orange represents balance, enthusiasm and warmth.

Female green darter at rest. Image courtesy Wikipedia commons.

Female green darter at rest. Image courtesy Wikipedia commons.

The dragonfly itself is full of symbolic meaning. It is a creature that lives in two worlds–the water and the air–and is indicative of change.  Like a caterpillar that turns into a butterfly, a dragonfly naiad is unrecognizable when compared to the adult.

Dragonflies have a symbolic connection to the spiritual realm. Because they feed on mosquitoes, the are found around water, and many Native American traditions say that the dragonfly is indicative of pure water. They are also an invitation to look deeper, to peer into that water as it were, and to be wary of self-created illusions. This makes sense, then that the image of a dragonfly came to me while I was thinking about the man in my dreams who deceived me about what symbolizes me.

A dragonfly rests with it’s wings outstretched, which, to me, bears a resemblance to a double-barred cross.  I was mildly surprised to discover, then that in early and medieval Christian tradition, the dragonfly was considered a creature of the devil, one that would weigh souls down so they couldn’t go to heaven, or who would stitch the eyes and mouths of misbehaving children closed.  This, too, speaks to me. Dragonflies are beautiful, helpful insects, but they were maligned and unfairly castigated by humans for centuries.  The dragonfly then reaches back to the idea that maybe some of the things I’m feeling and experiencing aren’t so much bad, as misunderstood. This is comforting to me.

I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of the symbolism concerning color and dragonflies with this post. And, like all other posts on this blog, I’ve just talked about the symbolic meanings that are significant to me–someone else who saw or feels connected to a red dragonfly might have a completely different interpretation. I think that’s part of the reason why I love symbol work so much.

 

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.

 

 

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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