Universal Symbols.

by Claudia Madrazo

Symbolism has the virtue of containing, within a few conventional words, the ideas from several eras and the dreams of one culture. It enriches our imagination and guides us to levels where thought does not require words.Lin Yü-t’ang, Chinese author and philosopher.

What significance do we accord Venus and Mars today? What does the Sun represent to us, besides the fact that it is a star? It seems that we are increasingly becoming more self-absorbed and that our gaze is channeled less and less toward the marvels that surround us. Why, when people used to look at the Sun, the Moon and the Stars did they find symbols that explained the essence of the Universe? What is going on there? What are we missing out on? Today, when we look at the sky, the only things we find are gas formations that affect our planet. Somehow, we become embroiled in a series of cold, scientific explanations because we cannot see beyond the merely physical.
Consequently, our relationship with the objects and the people around us becomes more and more distant and superficial with each passing day. Upon interpreting the universe as only an accumulation of matter and energy we lose the possibility of establishing an intimate relationship with it. We are deviating from the sense of reality, from the way the material world constantly exerts its influence on us, even when we don’t realize it, because we form part of a whole from which we cannot be separated and which in many ways makes us what we are.

Creators of symbols
Specialists like Carl Gustav Jung have developed theories on the importance of symbols in our lives. Ever since childhood we create our own symbols and we become familiar with community symbols that determine our way of thinking, feeling and perceiving the world. Thought and language are comprised of symbols. A deep personal understanding of everything that surrounds us is a way of knowing ourselves as well.
Symbolism is a more direct form of communicating with and understanding the world, since human beings refer to symbols when attempting to explain their own presence in this world. Therefore, symbolism is one of the oldest forms of expression in the world, a universal language that transcends the boundaries of verbal communication. A symbol is that which, through its nature and appearance, reflects or represents something much more profound. For example, tongues of fire can symbolize the sun, heat, power, divinity or creative energy. In fact, everything that surrounds us is a potential symbol, including the cosmos itself.

Understanding the world
The complexity of symbols has increased throughout the centuries; their significance changes according to each cultural context. Because some of the problems that concerned humanity since ancient times remain more or less the same, they continue to serve as subjects for symbolization. Among them are fertility —both of the earth and that of the human race— birth, life and death. Some of the principal elements most frequently used as symbols are the following:

Hands. They can express blessings, protection, justice and authority. Some healers work through the mere contact of their hands and we say “lend a hand” when we help someone. Two people holding hands are a symbol of love and affection.
Heart. It is the classic symbol of love, although it also represents sincerity and compassion. A heart split in half symbolizes pain or a great loss.
Numbers. Many of them are regarded as sacred or bearers of a secret code. For example, in some cultures, the number seven represents the union of the divinity (three) with the earth (four.) Each phase of the moon lasts seven days, and there are seven days of the week.
Labyrinth. In some Eastern and Western cultures, labyrinths denote the path leading to the truth. Others are more complicated and enigmatic because their paths are constantly branching off. This type of labyrinth often appears in dreams and stands for indecision. It is more difficult to leave than to enter them, because only the sages can find their secret code.
Knot. It symbolizes the inner essence of each person. The knot serves to bind, but it also maintains the promise of liberation. It can also signify protection.
Bread. Symbolizes nourishment for the body and the soul.
The cow. In many cultures, it represents the mother of the gods, the giver of life, which is not unusual in view of the extraordinary properties contained in the milk they provide.

In a world invaded by images, messages and information transmitted through so many different communications media, we, the inhabitants of the earth, are drifting farther and farther away from our human essence and from our noblest virtues, from our potential. Our relation with the environment, both cosmic-natural as well as artificial, has become superficial and mechanical. Our relationships tend to be strictly material in nature. Therefore, in order to understand each person’s surroundings, we must try to find whatever has a special significance for us. What do your surroundings mean to you, what do they represent and what do they make you feel and think about?

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Symbols and you
The world of dreams is a fascinating, mysterious interplay of symbols. Dreams are a reflection of our inner world, of our fantasies and fears. Learning to remember and observe them allows us to start deciphering our dreams.
• Think about whatever surrounds you. Is there something which inexplicably induces particular feelings of attraction or rejection? Example: trees, windows or cats.
• How much do you remember of your dreams? When you wake, before you actually get out of bed, make an effort to remember what you dreamed. You will discover that in time, you will remember more and more about them.
• Compare the objects that provoke these special feelings with those that appear in your dreams. Make a list of your personal symbols.
• Can you identify some object, place or situation that is repeated?
• Reflect upon what it means to you.