As without, so within
early 15c., “creed, summary, religious belief,” from Late Latin symbolum “creed, token, mark,” from Greek symbolon “token, watchword, sign by which one infers; ticket, a permit, license” (the word was applied c.250 by Cyprian of Carthage to the Apostles’ Creed, on the notion of the “mark” that distinguishes Christians from pagans), literally “that which is thrown or cast together,” from assimilated form of syn- “together” (see syn-) + bole “a throwing, a casting, the stroke of a missile, bolt, beam,” from bol-, nominative stem of ballein “to throw”
Symbols are simple – they are the essence of a thing, an object, an idea, a reality.
Yet they are infinitely complex because of the whole of life, of human experience, of existence that they contain.
The symbol is simple, but the associations, resonances and depths contained in the symbol are never ending.
A symbol is something charged with energy, with power, subjective psychological significance
Symbols are magical images, realities
Symbols stand for something, but as opposed to a sign which stands for something concrete, physical. A symbol stands for something formless, the essential form of a thing, the archetype. A symbol represents a formless Idea, this idea is the ineffable, a universal truth or aspect of reality. A symbol also can have many and various associations with completely different meaning and significance.
A sign is known, while a symbol remains forever impenetrable.
Symbols are archetypal – we experience it so much in our life, in our Mythos, in our art, the human experience that it becomes a pattern, a focus of energy, meaning, association on an object/idea
Symbols reveal the infinite depth and meaning of one simple object, they reveal meanings which cannot be expressed in words, in thought -meanings which can only be experienced in the living interaction with the image itself and alone.
Symbols are the language of the poet, they are the medium of the poet. Letters themselves are meaningless, just signs; but when organized into an order, into words with symbolic significance the words become living. They become transparent and go beyond words. Through the use of symbols the poet can use words, language to launch the reader beyond words, language, thought. Through symbolism a poet gives you the EXPERIENCE of something, makes it real, alive, present in your experience, makes you feel it in your gut, existentially, in your very being.
The interaction of symbols in the container of a narrative is the lifeblood of a Mythos.
Symbols render a simple story infinitely deep, infinitely resonant, a universality, a mystery, an eternal
Symbols are the language of dreams and the key to interpreting them.
The symbol is the basis upon which all of our knowledge rests, they are the basis for all human understanding. They are the containers and the vehicles upon which we learn to make sense of the world and ourselves.
The fundamental necessity of symbols in our life began with our beginnings. In the womb and as a baby, the mother came to represent Home, security, wholeness, safety.
And as a species, the use and fascination with symbols is one of the most important aspects of our growth beyond the animal. We began to be entranced by certain symbols which we perceived to be expressions and representations of fundamental truths and realities. We saw cosmic harmony and the fabric of existence itself in symbols.
Symbols are inherently subjective. They will effect different people in slightly different ways according to a persons past and the their experience and associations. However, as the human being is fundamentally the same and we partake in a collective Mythos, symbols will have archetypal identities across cultures.
In his essay The Symbol without Meaning Joseph Campbell defines the symbol as an energy evoking, and directing, agent.
- “a symbol, like everything else, shows a double aspect. We must distinguish, therefore between the ‘sense’ and the ‘meaning’ of the symbol. It seems to me perfectly clear that all the great and little symbolical systems of the past functioned simultaneously on three levels: the corporeal of waking consciousness, the spiritual of dream, and the ineffable of the absolutely unknowable. The term ‘meaning’ can refer only to the first two but these, today, are in the charge of science – which is the province as we have said, not of symbols but of signs. The ineffable, the absolutely unknowable, can be only sensed. It is the province of art which is not ‘expression’ merely, or even primarily, but a quest for, and formulation of, experience evoking, energy-waking images: yielding what Sir Herbert Read has aptly termed a ‘sensuous apprehension of being’.
Heinrich Zimmer gives a concise overview of the nature, and perennial relevance, of symbols.
- “Concepts and words are symbols, just as visions, rituals, and images are; so too are the manners and customs of daily life. Through all of these a transcendent reality is mirrored. They are so many metaphors reflecting and implying something which, though thus variously expressed, is ineffable, though thus rendered multiform, remains inscrutable. Symbols hold the mind to truth but are not themselves the truth, hence it is delusory to borrow them. Each civilization, every age, must bring forth its own.”