Symbols and the Mithal

One of the most mysterious and generative parts of the Mithal and the Field is the symbol. A symbol is an image that carries meaning. It must be distinguished from an ordinary image in consciousness. It is special. Our mental functioning is a steady stream of images, day and night. The images succeed each other, each following on the other, like pearls on a string. Our mind is rarely quiet and without imagery. The mind-stream is incessant, sometimes relentless. We are intimately familiar with images moving through our mind. Ordinarily, our mind works with signs. A Sign is a term of art. It signifies an experience where one image stands for and represents another. For instance, the cross is universally recognized to stand for Christianity. Signs are simple equivalents, a kind of shorthand reference. They are the ordinary way our mind works to order and understand our experience. They are not symbols.

Occasionally, however, an image appears that has a special quality, completely unlike the other images. It is numinous, lit up. It seems special and mysterious and potent. It is compelling and luminous. It has some kind of strange, magnetic, attractive power that demands our attention and interest. It has the power to sustain itself, becoming part of our consciousness for days, and occasionally for a lifetime. This is the symbol. It can come either during waking or sleeping, but it is particularly associated with dreaming. Jungian psychology pays close attention to dreams and their symbols, searching in them for developments in the organism that are beyond the conscious mind. Symbols are images that carry deep and occasionally profound meaning, although we may, at the moment, have no notion of what that meaning might be. If we note it and give it some attention, we may be able to parse out the meaning. It may, however, be complex, and difficult or impossible to unravel. Meaning is encoded into the symbol, into the very interstices of the visual image. And, the symbol may mean more than one thing. Symbols possess the uncanny power to embody multiple meanings simultaneously, all of them equally true. The surface meaning, the first meaning discerned, may be only a covering for more information at deeper levels.

Science now distinguishes man from the animals by calling him the “symbol-making animal.” No other animal is thought to possess this ability. Formerly, science considered man to be the “tool-making animal.” Then, it was discovered that chimpanzees use long blades of grass to stick down into termite mounds and pull up a snack. Since the practice was clearly a use of tools, the scientists had to find another definition of man to distinguish his uniqueness.

The origin of symbols is shadowed and mysterious. They reside deep in the Mithal, and deep within the Field. They appear at their own leisure. A true symbol rises up of its own accord. It cannot be conjured up on demand. Symbols are, in a sense, acts of grace. When they arrive in consciousness, they come trailing intimations of a deeper, unseen order of reality. They also track the individual’s personal evolution, the evolution of the soul. They carry a sense of profound truth, a glimpse of deep truth beyond the chaos of street consciousness.

Symbols are deeply personal. The information that they encode usually relates only to the individual receiving the symbol. It arises out of their unique personal history. Dictionaries of symbols and their respective meanings are useless, because the same image as a symbol can mean very different things to different people, depending on their experience. Occasionally, however, a powerful symbol may move out and affect the wider culture. The death of Princess Diana is an example. She functioned as a symbol to many people, probably for many different reasons, and her death impacted individuals all across the world. At the cultural level, symbols can be an extremely potent force. The mythical symbols of the Teutonic gods and the Aryan Superman were powerfully used by Hitler to bind the German people together to follow his program.

Symbols sometimes constellate, or cluster. In this phenomenon, an evoked symbol is joined by a second, somehow linked to and connected to the first. Then, a third and fourth may arrive and join the group, until the person has an aggregation of symbols grouped together, all inter-related, all relating to the same information. Each member of the group will hold a different facet of the truth. Altogether, the cluster is formidable. It can carry a great deal of information, and can be redolent with depth and meaning. Authors know this process. Much fine literature arises out of the clustering of symbols. Mystical schools may be born out of this process, as well as the creation of business enterprises and other institutions.

Our interaction with symbols can add dimensions to our lives. Arriving from another realm of reality, the Mithal and the Field, they appear as travelers from a distant land, capable of energizing, inspiring  and expanding our possibilities. Since we cannot call them up on demand, our job is to wait expectantly, like a “cat at the mouse-hole,” and recognize them when they appear. They are a great gift to us.

They can arise from anywhere. They can be triggered by the title of a book in a bookstore, a chance remark of a friend, or an item in the morning newspaper. They can be recognized by a sudden tiny jolt to the system, a sudden sense of alertness that signals that we need to slow down and pay close attention to this experience. They arrive and announce themselves by compelling our attention in a special way. They have much to reveal to us, but to receive their gifts we must attend to them and give them our focus. As the Jungians have noted, they can represent significant signposts and generate crucial transitions in the unfolding of our personal evolution. They originate deeply in the Field, and show up in our consciousness with the potential to bring real change. We should be aware of their power.


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