For someone following a spiritual path there are many times that questions regarding symbolism arise. Dreams and meditations are obvious ones, along with the discovery of symbols in obscure books and manuscripts. Then there are the less obvious symbols and symbolism, occurring in ordinary everyday events, or the people within those situations.
The inevitable question is, what does it mean? What does it symbolise? And how do I find out?
Dream symbols have often been dealt with in books that collect together hundreds or even thousands of symbols and attempt to ascribe meaning to them. Likewise there are various resources for common (and less common) occult and mythological symbols. These may all be useful, but they seldom have much in the way of personal symbolism – what it means to the individual.
Before delving in to personal meanings, it is worth noting that symbols and signs can be viewed, from an occult perspective, from many different levels. This is especially true of everyday events. The dog barking next door may well be just that, a mundane experience of a bored dog barking. That is one level – a mundane explanation that the dog is bored.
The random encounter we have with someone scary along a darkly lit street may just be a random encounter with a less civilised human, but on a slightly deeper, more esoteric level, it may well be a manifestation of our shadow side – and something we can learn from.
Other events in our lives may even be viewed from a mythological perspective.
It is therefore possible to view symbols on more than one level at a time, if we choose to do so.
On a personal level, the meaning of a symbol may be very personal to us. It may be very different to the meanings ascribed in books or the interpretations of other people. It isn’t so much that our meanings are right or wrong when compared to the alternative meanings. It simply means that our own personal interpretation, and whatever we can learn from it is different and personal to us.
There is plenty of merit in working with our own interpretation of symbolism. It allows us the opportunity to work intuitively, rather than analytically. It allows us to work with the personalised dimension of a symbol (or symbolic event), as well as explore other interpretations. This gives the framework for seeing similarities and differences in the interpretations and perhaps drawing even more conclusions.
If we rely primarily on our own interpretation then we are not risking putting our faith in someone else’s beliefs, as we have no real way to know that they are right (especially if they try to claim that we are wrong). We can accept and work with their version of things, as well as our own, which allows two separate levels to explore. It has to be kept in mind that it isn’t the symbol itself that is so important, but what is actually symbolises – and especially what it means for us. It is our personal journey that is the most important, and it is essential that we know how to read the signs and symbols for ourselves, and not rely on other people or entities. Keep in mind the old saying about not being able to see the woods for the trees.
To explore the personal interpretation of a symbol we may already have some kind of idea what it means to us. We may have some kind of vague or strong feeling surrounding it. We may feel we just ‘know’ what it means for us, perhaps as many experiences where the symbol or symbolism has occurred.
If we have no idea, or want clarity on the meaning, then an easy way is to use some light meditative practice. This can be as easy as closing your eyes, and imagining the symbol, and ‘reading’ anything we can from the symbol. So, perhaps it was the dog barking. With eyes closed you imagine the dog barking, and allow an image to form of this bored dog yapping away. Perhaps a word comes to you… lonely. That is one part of the symbol – there may be more. Depending on what we want to do, we may stick with what comes first, or we may look for more symbolism. It is often considered that whatever arises first is the most important, and should therefore be worked with. As a personal meaning, we would instant start applying the meaning in our own lives. So – “lonely” – how does that fit in my life? When do I feel lonely? When have I felt lonely? How does it feel when I’m lonely?
If you have the ability to draw the symbol, especially if it is fairly simple in design, another method can be employed. On a small square or rectangle of card (approximately the size of a playing card or tarot card) the image is drawn or painted. Sitting or lying comfortably, look intently upon the image for a few minutes, or as long as you feel is necessary to imprint the image upon your mind. While staring at the symbol you may also concentrate on your breathing, and imagine breathing in and assimilating the image as you inhale. When you feel ready, close your eyes. If you have stared for a sufficient period of time you will see a glowing version of the symbol (probably in inverse form) before your eyes. You can work with the symbol from here in various ways, talking to it, willing it to reveal its secrets to you. Or you can imagine that the symbol is a doorway, or inscribed on a doorway, that you can pass through, and use it as a gateway through which you can journey into a magical realm to explore the symbol in depth. This technique is known by various names, including pathworking (originally this was exploring the paths between the Sephiroth on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life), astral projection, shamanic journeying, or conscious dreaming. It is a very powerful way of exploring symbols, and can be done with Tarot cards, Runes or letters of the Hebrew or Enochian alphabets, Tattva cards, or anything else you choose.
Remember, with either technique, the most important factor is your own intuitive wisdom. Feelings and sensations can be far more revealing than thoughts. To become proficient at discovering the personal meanings of symbols takes time and practice, and skill and wisdom to avoid reading too much into a symbol that is actually more straight forward, or ascribing meaning that isn’t there. The symbol is there for you to learn from, and the meaning you decipher is right for you. It isn’t necessarily going to make sense to other people, as it is personal, intuitive, and not necessarily a rational or intellectual process – it is ultimately creative and holistic!
It can be useful to keep a journal when doing work with symbolism, and keep notes on all your experiences relating to each symbol. This can allow you to see recurring themes in your waking life, or in dreams and meditations.
X != X.