Whether we have ever wondered or not, the symbols are a part of our lives. From our dreams at night (as well as the day). Ads we see in the morning on the way to work. The red stop light to the garments we dress (with ornaments) and the cars we drive, and even the language itself. The influence of the symbols is constant throughout our lives.
There are several different categories of symbols. We will talk about them a little later, but first, what exactly is a symbol?
A quick definition, in the general sense, a symbol is an object or an image that represents something else. Think of the red light that means “stop”, or for example a state flag.
Often we are connected with a symbol so close because of what it represents for us. But we never think that most of our symbols are ours. The same goes for the words, and it is perhaps easier to explain the subject now using language as an example. If I pick up a pen and say, “This is not a pen”, you may think I’m stupid or crazy. But here we can see something that is true of most symbols. Their meaning is based on our agreement with them (we all agree, for example, that a red light means “stop”).
And secondly. We have said that “a picture is worth a thousand words”, and anyone who uses images or symbols effectively, advertisers, storytellers, and teachers, all know this truth. We can we show more, faster with just a powerful image than with consecutive words.
A symbol is a concentrated form of communication. From the way our mind is built, we understand the message more, sooner and we can say it right away with an image as opposed to spoken language. The attitude of a person or his physical gestures can communicate more with us to a conscious or sub-conscious level than what he expresses in words.
This brings us to the second point. Images or symbols work and affect a deeper, pre-verbal level, whether or not we understand it.
We are influenced by the images we are surrounded by, or the ones we carry in our minds. For good or for worse, images affect our emotions and how we experience the world. They can also form our values. For example: in advertising, politics or education, our culture carries images of what we should be, how we should live life, images that are told (consistently) that they represent ‘success’ or happiness.
When we become more aware of the power of symbols, we can choose the values we want to focus on. Also, with what ideas we want to fill our minds. Of course, this is not easy because, as we have said before, the images act on a deeper level (sub-consciousness), and in modern society, the symbols are everywhere around us.
If we think about images of religious traditions, friends and family pictures, at best, these images can be encouraging. Inspirational. Transformative. Motivating or healing.
Moreover, the rational mind is engaged with symbols. They have the power to touch emotions and ignite the will to act.
Unfortunately, images can also be used to deceive or negatively affect people, and this is when they misuse it. Misuse of symbols can be something of devastating power. In fact, the power of symbols is greatly underestimated. Otherwise, why should there be so much carelessness in using them?
Some images may be too negative. In other words, “non-harmonious with human nature”. For example violent images. Exposure to them can cause numbness, indifference, or discomfort to the viewer. Especially when viewing is repeated over time. It is not necessary to gather “scientific studies” to prove this. Surveying experiences over the years are a sufficient argument.
Symbols represent ideas.
These ideas can be positive affirmations, or they can create ignorance or desire in people. They may be misleading. We can give some examples.
The reason why advertising and politics are so diabolical is that they are not based on real values. For example, “Buy this product and you will be happy or successful (and display the image of a happy person),” like they are really interested in the happiness of the people. But they are most likely interested in your money. They use every method they can to influence you in order to buy their products.
Politicians, too, would not be long staged if they would tell people their true motives which are usually wealth and power. And they use images all the time. Images that spur our fears, or our worst instincts. If you need a clear example of the negative use of images, look at politics and listen to politicians. Look at the story in modern times and you will understand what I mean. For example, when people are deceived to go to war, this is done mainly through the power of symbols and not by chance.
As a society, we should ask to take great care with the use of images to be used with care and in the proper way. If they fall into the wrong hands, as we see it today, misuse of symbols can cause incalculable damage.
To go a little further.
There are several different categories of symbols. On the one hand, they are the new images that are being produced today. I mean modern portraits of pictures representing social movements. Such as the photos of the fall of the Berlin Wall or photos of various protests.
Then there are what can be called ‘national symbols’. Images that have a great sense of a special place. National symbols can represent a political movement, or a special virtue, such as courage, or unity. They can have a great or small lifespan and the longer they are present the more powerful they can be. This is a key point to consider if we want to use images effectively. Like the old words, sometimes the old symbols have more power to create an effect.
So there are some images that are as old as humanity itself and are known everywhere and their meaning is recognized in every place and time. (For example, the sun is a universal symbol of life. The Tree of Life is found in many different cultures, and a smile is recognized everywhere as happiness. Different gestures or facial expressions can be seen as universal).
Universal symbols are like a “golden standard” in terms of their value.
Their meaning and values for human beings are constant.
I have tried to bring a correct definition of the word “archetype” and I have come to the conclusion.
An archetype is an aspect of the universal spirit, which can be represented by an image. (for example archetypes of power, or wisdom).
The universal spirit is our nature itself to us at a certain level of depth. Deeper than the spiritual state, or the personality and deeper than the culture or time in which we live.
Just as one aspect of someone’s personality can be expressed through a symbol. A strong body, a thoughtful person or a considerate listener can also be represented by an image.
For example, when in a person’s life comes a time of withdrawal from external activity to do some internal exploration (in himself), to find the deeper truths, we can say that the searching archetype is awake in the life of this person. We can say that it has entered the path of seeking answers about existential truth and other enigmas.
When we look at our lives, we must be able to see what archetypes or what main universal forces have emerged or are operating in our lives. Having a set of symbols that represent aspects of our universal spirit can help us in this way. This can be a religion, a story or mythology, or a thinking system. These can greatly help us to understand what is happening in our lives.
Another interesting aspect of archetypal symbols is that they can be used consciously. When we focus on an image or idea, we can awaken that quality in our lives. For example, we may meditate on a symbol of love, or patience, with the goal of cultivating that quality in our minds and feelings.
Reading or listening to a story can have the same effect and it can be resolved consciously. And then the virtues that history represents can develop in us.
We can say that a symbol is a manifestation of a state of consciousness. And that a sequence of images, such as telling a story, can also be a symbol. Meditating on a symbol can create in us the same state of consciousness as the source of the symbol. We can notice this in our lives. Whatever we experience affects our emotional life.
Try it and see.
Find an image you like. Such as the image of strength, endurance, or healing, and put it in front of you for a while. Or maybe you can leave it in a visible place to see it from time to time throughout the day. Bring the positive image to mind whenever you can. And see what effect it will have.
The idea that image meditation can awaken a necessary quality to bring about balance or to strengthen a quality in itself is as old as belief itself. This has always been a part of religion and social education.
We have the power and the tools needed to shape our lives. Perhaps not as much as we want, but at least to go in the direction we want for ourselves and our world.