What are symbols? The medium through which we see and create our worlds.
Symbols channel energy into form.
The universe and all that lies within it are symbols, including ourselves.
Thinking is a scion of feeling, one of the senses, a metaphorical, symbolic realm filled with the vibrant colors of awareness, the smells of memory, the voices of inspiration, the touch of knowledge, and the light of clarity.
We humans are stones, apparently hard and unchangeable, but in reality slowly transforming, able to be molded and shaped, gradually breaking up into soil as we nourish the earth, the water, and the air.
Jacob used a stone as a pillow during sleep and set it up afterwards as a standing pillar to remind us that we are creatures of the earth, nourished by our mother, linked to heaven, going up and down a stone staircase, as we integrate female and male, above and below, inside and outside, earth and heaven.
Just as Jacob, we are here to immerse ourselves in life’s ups and downs: stones breaking up and reshaping themselves as we point our inner selves heavenward and earthward to remind us of our home straight ahead, with our authentic being, now expanded to include the ever shifting kaleidoscope of life made whole.
Dreams are raw acts of creation, just as when the Source created the universe in the first six days of Genesis. Dreams show we are made in God’s image.
See my talk: Laurence H. Kant, “Reassessing the Interpretation of Ancient Symbols,” Hellenistic Judaism Section Panel on Erwin Goodenough, American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, Anaheim, November, 1989: This piece deals with symbol interpretation and the early Jewish interpretation of symbols, particularly the menorah: © 1989, Laurence H. Kant, All rights reserved: MenorahTalk1
This is a summary of my view of how a symbol conveys its meanings.
“In the Same Place” by C.P. Cavafy (1863-1933): my translation
Surroundings of home, cafes, a neighborhood,
that I have seen and walked through year after year.
I gave you form amid joy and amid sorrows:
with so many incidents, so many details.
And you have transmuted into a feeling for me.
Στον ίδιο χώρο
Οικίας περιβάλλον, κέντρων, συνοικίας
που βλέπω κι όπου περπατώ· χρόνια και χρόνια.
Σε δημιούργησα μες σε χαρά και μες σε λύπες:
με τόσα περιστατικά, με τόσα πράγματα.
Κ’ αισθηματοποιήθηκες ολόκληρο, για μένα.
See my talk: Laurence H. Kant, “Fish and Fishing Symbolism in the Synoptic Gospels,” Synoptic Gospels Section, American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, Chicago, November, 1994: © 1994, Laurence H. Kant, All rights reserved: FishNTTalk1
Here is my dissertation: Laurence H. Kant, “The Interpretation of Religious Symbols in the Graeco-Roman World: A Case Study of Early Christian Fish Symbolism” (3 vols): Yale University, 1993. Please note that the pagination in the PDF files, though close, is not exactly the same as in my original dissertation (due to formatting issues).
I originally intended this as part of a comparative study of ancient symbols, including the menorah for Jews. Given the length of the project, this was not practical. However, I regard my dissertation as comparative project whose goal is to understand the nature of religious symbolism.
There are many things that I would now change, including writing style. Of note is the Avercius (Abercius) inscription text, which has several errors; for a correct edition, see above. I also wish that I had included a section on the use of fish and fishing symbolism in the gospels. If interested, take a look at the text of a talk I gave on this topic in “Essays and Talks” in “Larry Kant.”
I have also somewhat changed my views of Freud and Jung. I always appreciated them, but my dissertation is more critical of them than I would be now.
Neal Boortz says that people have a right to be angry and use whatever imagery they wish as long as they do not resort to violence. Of course, there is no legal question here. Free speech is guaranteed by the first amendment to the US Constitution. But is it wise to use such imagery? I’m angry about many things in our culture and politics, but I would try not to use imagery that others can misinterpret or take literally. When we talk about targeting a political opponent with gun imagery, or taking second amendment remedies if we lose at the ballot box, or publicly describing our opponents as evil, unamerican, or alien, or musing or joking about assassinating politicians we don’t like, we have crossed the moral line.
Further, metaphors and symbols are not simply colorful ways of speaking, but the core elements of communication and expression which human beings use to articulate ideas and give voice to feeling. They express our most deeply held worldviews and values. When we use them, we are tapping into powerful currents of visceral emotion. By using war and combat imagery, we are not merely offering persuasive rhetoric, but we are appealing at a visceral level to a deep need for aggression that is latent in all us and part of the biological memory of our species. It is not surprising or unexpected that there are those who would take the metaphor literally, because the distance from violent language to violent action is not all that great.
The vast majority of us would not do so, but there are those who are disturbed or unbalanced who could well do so. Now no one has responsibility for this assassination attempt and mass murder except for Jared Lee Loughner. But what we say and do influences others, both directly and indirectly. Whatever Loughner’s particular motivations, it is unlikely that he would have acted in this way without living in a culture of violence, including violent language and symbolism.
Whether or not Loughner listened to particular radio shows, belonged to specific groups, or was conservative or liberal is not the most important factor here. What matters is that the language we use sets a tone that affects the behavior of others, especially the mentally ill and disturbed. Those of us who speak and write in public venues have a great responsibility because others are watching us and following us. Gabby Giffords understood the violent context in which she worked and many (including her) have rightly noted that “words have consequences.” Indeed they do, because they are not “merely” words, but images and symbols that connect to primal, archetypal emotions.
It is not a question of assigning blame to the right or left or to any group, but rather of understanding the context in which our politics take place. There is a sense that it is legitimate to dehumanize others by using violent metaphors about them. Those on all sides of the political spectrum have done this. We don’t need to aggravate the hostile climate further by focusing on individuals who have made poor use of language and imagery, but we simply must ask them to stop doing it.
Let’s find other words and symbolism to express our anger and frustration.
Feeling is the basis for all thought. The heart is the foundation on which the mind is built.
How metaphors affect our behavior.
When we’re lost in the woods, we can use a compass or follow a stream. When we’re lost in our lives, we can use the intuition of our gut and heart through which our true self and the Source speak.
Both the waking world and dream world are real. The question is: How do we interpret them?
Symbols give form to our reality.
Symbols not only represent things, they create them.
Who are the Temple priests? Those who light the Temple menorah. The only way to drive out darkness is with light. (Num 8.1-3)
Breath + words = creation (Gen 1)
Gen 28:12: Why do the angels first go up the ladder and then down it in Jacob’s dream? Because some of us are the angels.
Thinking is a part of feeling.
Symbol: life condensed into an image.
What is Jacob’s ladder? A gateway opening from one dimension to another. (Gen 28.12)
Jacob’s ladder:going up-going down; inhaling-exhaling; holding-letting go; receiving-giving; living-dying (Gen 28.12).
Symbols do not merely bestow meaning; they are the vehicles through which meaning exists.
Symbols are the path to meaning. They help makes us human. They allow us to connect to one another and to the universe.
Symbols express the core of who we are.
When we walk through a familiar building, our home or workplace, we are also exploring the pathways of our unconscious and of the Source.
Symbols are the vehicles through which we experience life. Daily activity gives us the illusion that events are tangible and symbols are codes. Dreams allow us to see symbols as they are: the force that channels energy into form.
Symbols express feeling at the most profound levels. If we do not interpret symbols, we are not fully in touch with our feelings. Without symbols, history describes people as automatons, stick figures empty of life.
Under waking anesthesia, life moves as a dream does. Time contracts. Moments take on greater meaning. Events do not flow from one to another, but from symbol to symbol, forming a poem and a painting.
Twisting subterranean hallways where symbols merge with life as we know it. A dream showing us the way.
Words are kindling for the fire that melts meaning into our being.
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