Monday, June 25, 2012
The Lost Language of Symbols
The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious
Archetypes are those pre-existent forms of behavior, apprehension and perception of experience and reaction that make us human.14 Similar to our instinctual knowledge, they help us shape and meet life in a 'human' way. But we can only perceive archetypes through their archetypal images, for they themselves are unknowable. Archetypes are not inherited images, but inherent psychic structures responsible for the production of those images.15 These archetypal images in turn give rise to the myths, dreams and stories of individuals and cultures. Jung believed that these transpersonal patterns of images are not located within human beings, but rather human beings are located in and subject to the intentions of the archetypes.
Our personal psychology is just a thin skin, a ripple on the ocean of collective psychology. The powerful factor, the factor which changes our whole life, which changes the surface of our known world, which makes history, is collective psychology, and collective psychology moves according to laws entirely different from those of our consciousness. The archetypes are the great decisive forces, they bring about the real events, and not our personal reasoning and practical intellect. … The archetypal images decide the fate of man.16
It is through the psyche that we have direct contact to the archetypes, the basic patterns of human behavior. Another way to say this is that each person has a spark of divinity within, called soul, which is made in the image and likeness of God/Goddess and which shapes our humanity, for good or ill. This spark of divinity within each person pursues aims and intentions that are beyond our ego control, intent on achieving optimum health and well-being. This sacred ‘other’ within us sends us information through dreams, visions and fantasies to help the ego come into balance with the larger forces of the collective unconscious.
The Lost Language of Symbols: A Language of Meaning
What we have lost with the repression of the imagination is our understanding of symbolic language. Because imagination has been repressed, it is easier to manipulate it and us, because the symbols retain their power, even when we are unconscious of it. A symbol always points beyond itself to something unknown. It is a bridge between the unconscious and consciousness, for, although the meaning of a symbol can never be exhausted, it is the best way to represent the unknown reality that is trying to be expressed by the unconscious. Symbolic language speaks of such intangibles as feelings, moods, values and ideas that cannot be rationally understood and explained.
It is a language women prefer, even though it has led us to be called incomprehensible. It is a language of deepening, a language that wakes things up within us, and gives us an experience of our own depths. It is the very voice of Lady Wisdom, for it is the way we learn of and relate to the ways of the cosmos.
This is the education that our people have been denied. This is the knowledge that can bring the healing of the passions of matter, for the symbols and the stories connect us to the patterns which make us human, the patterns which can take us past the stuck places or the hurdles in our lives and onto the next part of our journey into life. These archetypal images contain and focus our energies and help us tame the passions that would keep us unconscious of the meaning of our lives.
And yet, our Western educational system does not teach us how to work with the imagination, or even how to think about and understand our place in the Universe. We no longer look to Nature - Earth's cycles and laws - for an understanding of our own human nature, for the rational mind has preempted that knowledge for itself. We are not taught about the patterns of human behavior or the necessity of suffering for growth in consciousness.
Modern education shunts people into an economic structure. Our children are often not trained in the gifts of creativity and imagination that are their birthright, for these talents are not valued by the corporate entities that run the world. The most amazing gap in our education has to do with the very thing all human beings desire most: we do not teach our people how to be in relationship, either with Self or an Other. The very thing we want the most is the biggest mystery to us, for though Love will always remain a divine mystery, we could learn to become vessels for the power of this mystery. And so we perpetuate the misery and the unconsciousness of our people.
It is time to give service to our community and to our nation because it is only in this way that we can know what we value. We need guiding images to contain and express the energies of our people. We are divided within ourselves: we say we value honesty and truth, yet our politicians are dishonest, our bankers commit fraud, and we admire power and wealth over simplicity, humility and individuality. The story of the Tower of Babel comes to mind: we are all talking gibberish and can no longer understand each other. We are divided within and without. We have forgotten how to be simple and direct or how to attune ourselves to the spirit of life. Most often, we seem to be enfolded in the arms of the Angel of Death, and we would rather stay with a known dis-ease than struggle with the unknown in life.
The only way to meet Death is to face it. If we are to come through this chaotic time into a new birth, we must reclaim the use of our imaginations, so we can give birth to new images that will describe our new experience of life and the world. This coincides with a return of Feminine Spirit, for the Goddess is the Birther and the Great Transformer. The East calls her Maya of the 10,000 Faces. When we meet and name those 10,000 faces, we will finally understand the voice of Lady Wisdom, who is the Spirit in Nature, both the world's nature and our human nature. And we can only come to that place with a loving heart, otherwise we will continue to misunderstand and misuse the power of images. The poet Rainer Marie Rilke understood feminine spirit, women and symbols.
For there is a boundary to looking.
And the world that is looked at so deeply
wants to flourish in love.
Work of the eyes is done, now
go and do heart-work
on all the images imprisoned within you;
for you overpowered them:
but even now you don't know them.
Learn, inner man, to look on your inner woman,
the one attained for a thousand
natures, the merely attained but
not yet beloved form.17
Like the famous storyteller, Scheherazade, I hope the images and stories I tell you will keep you wondering about what is coming next. I want to "shower your right-brain with images", as the Christian theologian Matthew Fox once said at a workshop. Perhaps some image will speak so strongly to you that you will follow it to a new place and a new wisdom. The power of the imagination must be respected and understood, so we can make choices that are honorable and life-giving. With the proper use of the imagination, we can create a new reality.
The story of Scheherazade is a wonderful example of the power of stories and images to transform consciousness. Although safe because she was the daughter of the Sultan's Vizier, she made a free choice to try to change her world. Through her bravery and cunning and storytelling ability, she saved the women of her kingdom. And she saved her man. What's better than that!
We live in a society that is mythologically and imaginally illiterate, where mistrust and misunderstanding of the imagination has led to a psychic wasteland. We have lost touch with our collective stories that shape a world of hope and aspiration. Hollywood has polluted our psyches as we have polluted our world. We need to clean out and clean up our collective psyche. We need to re-mythologize our world and come up with creative solutions if we are to birth a new world and evolve to a new level of human consciousness.
The Cosmic Story of Our Times
That is why it is important to look at the End Time stories that are influencing our very masculine, Christian Western society in these turbulent times. Once we know the story, we can enter into it and understand it from the inside. So far, we have seen how our culture uses force and antagonism, a very masculine way of dealing with differences, to solve 'problems'. What can a more feminine wisdom, which is inclusive and synergistic, bring to the global table?
The most important issue women are pondering today is the question of our spiritual purpose. Women want to know what Spirit wants them to do with their lives. We have to look in our hearts and remember what we love the most and then go do it! The Woman Clothed with the Sun can help us understand our life's purpose. She helps us incarnate the Sacred and She has a part to play in the transformation of our individual and cultural lives. She is Lady Wisdom. And She calls us to service.
To return to a feminine sensibility, we need to be telling stories, sharing images and dreams, seeing what myths can bring about a transformation of consciousness. Images hold power. They are transformers. We can let the media shape our images for greed and misuse of power, or we can let new mythologies be born within each of us. These new mythologies can transform each of us and they can transform the world. It is time for us to re-learn symbolic language. It is our mother tongue. That is why symbols affect us so deeply; they imprint us in the womb with the genetic code of our being human.
Symbols hold power and can cause great evil if they are twisted by a person, a nation or a corporation for personal power. The Nazis used the ancient, world-wide symbol of life, good luck, happiness and blessings, the swastika, to elevate their political agenda. But when we learn the language of symbols, we are taken into a deeper understanding of what it means to be human, for symbols contain the wisdom of our genetic code. And out of this deeper sight, we can imagine and create a future that will serve the best in us.
Learn to understand symbolic, imaginal language so you can contribute your vision to these transformative times. As you read this book, enjoy the stories and information, and use these examples to learn the language of the psyche. Do not be afraid to step into an image or a story. Wander around, take on each character, go on the adventure, dive into an image and watch the story unfold. What does the story bring up for you? How does it answer your questions about life?
A story is like water
that you heat for your bath.
It takes messages between the fire
and your skin. It lets them meet,
and it cleans you!
Very few can sit down
in the middle of the fire itself
like a salamander or Abraham.
We need intermediaries.
A feeling of fullness comes,
but usually it takes some bread
to bring it.
Beauty surrounds us,
but usually we need to be walking
in a garden to know it.
The body itself is a screen
to shield and partially reveal
the light that's blazing
inside your presence.
Water, stories, the body,
all the things we do, are mediums
that hide and show what's hidden.
and enjoy this being washed
with a secret we sometimes know,
and then not.18
What images and stories have influenced you? Make a list of them and see if they are still an important source of inspiration for you. If not, dig deep and find some new stories you can center your life around.