With regard to western mystery traditions, someone asked the group: why do we start by studying symbols?
I answered “because it trains your brain to think differently.” In truth, learning how to speak the language of symbols trains your consciousness to think differently. All other parts of the brain (and body!!) ALREADY communicate symbolically. Words are a learned construct, but symbolic thought is native.
In that metaphysics class I took in 1991, in response to a query I relayed that thought without words is entirely possible – but after a lifetime of learning to communicate with words, that we then have to re-learn how to think without words. My exercise was to watch the sunset and think specific ideas without using words. That was a much harder exercise than I expected, but when it was finally mastered … oh, boy. The world opened up!
So when going into a Western Hermetic practice, learning about the elements, astrology, the Tree of Life, etc, is all about learning to master the symbolic language. Unfortunately, for most people it stays here, at the surface level with words in our brains. When a symbolic language has “sunk in” and you can say something like “she’s so earth” and that statement has a visceral feeling and set of concepts attached to it, that’s when the language has gone deeper.
But I had a thought while listening to this. It’s great and wonderful to adopt a set of symbols which have been in active use for thousands of years, but what about the internally meaningful symbolic language that we already speak? Why learn a second language without recognizing that we already speak a language? By this, I mean dreams. My brain has a rather rich set of symbols that it uses to attempt to communicate with me. As soon as I’ve finally figured out one symbol, it’s like the subconscious breaths a sigh of relief and starts upping the details.
I likened this process to the subconscious playing a game of charades with the conscious mind. “3 words, first word….” I got it! “next word” …. Oh.
In this beginner level, so far I’m seeing nothing about learning your own symbolic language, about learning how to listen first. Instead I hear a lot of words which translate to “control the outcome by stuffing the conscious agenda down the subconscious’ throat until we get what we want.” … Of course that is NOT how it’s stated, at all. But in order to be a fully conscious person I first have to listen to my own symbol set and learn to read them. For example, I’ve studied astrology for decades and speak the language quite fluently. So much so that it does speak to me when I look at charts. But my subconscious has never once used that symbol set to communicate with me in dreams… Ok. I take that back. I had a dream about a kitten being backed into a corner and harassed by a crab and scorpion — which knowing that cats are me, I was able to realize the crab and scorpion were my Cancer and Scorpio ex-in-laws. But that’s it. Just one dream, and the symbols were used to convey identity.
So what is your personal symbolic language? I’ve learned that mine is very animal centric. Not particularly surprising since I love animals so. What was surprising is that different animals are used to represent different levels of myself.
PotI’s Truncated Dream Lexicon:
Cat or kittens are my waking self, more specifically my concept of myself. Until I figured this out, all the cats in my dreams were sick, dying, mangy or otherwise unhealthy. Once I realized what was being shown to me, I was able to address it. The representation then immediately changed to healthy cats, but now they are adults or babies in varying degrees.
Dragons are often my spiritual self. The most dramatic dream was of an earth dragon trapped half-in half-out of the ground. It caught my attention, then scooped up a cat and deliberately crushed the cat to death in front of my face. The message was clear – if my spiritual self remained stuck in a half-birthed condition, the waking self will suffer. Well I addressed that one and now the dragons fly free in the sky in my dreams, present but not an actor.
Horses are very, very common in my dreams and when I finally realized that they represented my raw emotional self, that was a major turning point. They stopped being left to die in train cars to being willing to carry me to safety when I needed it. One even tried repeatedly to kill me by running at me, so I had to learn to deal with him in a constructive rather than combative way. He is now my ally when I need rage to see me through something.
Hamsters and rats are the other common dream animals, and I haven’t yet figured out what they mean but I know that they too represent some aspect of myself. I used to raise hamsters and think rats are awesome, so I know it’s positive. … It suddenly occurred to me that hamsters are solitary and rats are communal. Perhaps they are different aspects of my social self?
Here’s a non-animal one. Houses change their meaning depending on the circumstance. If I dream of a house that is being broken into or I have to defend, that’s literally a warning from my immune system that the body is under attack. I’ve successfully used this warning system to minimize or bypass many health issues. I’ve even used these dreams to track down and destroy issues, waking up on the mend. Sweet! But houses under construction usually mean something in my psyche is changing. Where the construction is and the scope of it can tell me what is happening to my internal landscape. Lastly, when I go to attics or basements in dreams, this is an attempt to call my attention to hidden aspects of myself which haven’t yet come to light but I’m ready or need to find them.
PotI’s Interpretation Approach:
Robert Moss loves the phrase “if it were my dream, I’d interpret it as…”. I’ve tried that. Doesn’t really work for me. I tend to say something like “have you thought about X interpretation?” or “do you think it might mean Y?”. I try to never say “Oh clearly it means L” because your dream lexicon is YOURS. That said, if I hear something come up repeatedly, that means something. I’ll call that out, and then try rephrasing the dream without specifics. One recent example: So an underground conduit needed repair and that’s when you discovered it was full of coyote puppies?
Once it’s rephrased like that, essentially distilled, often a meaning will just leap out at me. While it can be much easier to do that with other people’s dreams, every now and then I can do with my own and it’s very much a forehead smack moment. Duh!
So yes, study symbolism. It’s the language of the mind and the spirit. But in the study, include your own symbol set. I maintain that your subconscious will be far more likely to work with you (conscious self) if it sees that you’re willing to work with it too. Indeed, that’s what opens the doorway to random flashes of insight!
About the Featured Image: It’s a scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, where Richard Dreyfus’ character uses potatoes to try to unlock a subconscious hidden message.