The word symbol comes from the Greek ‘Symballien,’ meaning things of like nature that are thrown together, a coincidence. This coincidence displays an intentional or unintentional synchronicity, and for the purpose of this exploration can be connected to that which is sacred (from the Latin ‘sacrere’) or even secret (‘secretus ’-to set apart).
We live in a world smothered in symbols. A symbol can be a cautionary signpost, a codex, or a map for clarification. Even the typed letters on this page are symbols used to convey conceptual information. The insignia on a uniform is an aspect of basic symbology.
Basic symbols are used to gather meaning at the normal level of conscious awareness.
Sacred symbology however, taps subconscious, collective unconscious, and perhaps superconscious realms. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung theorized that the conscious mind contains thoughts, emotions, sensory data, and memories. The conscious mind allows us to be functional and maintain our life purpose. This aspect of mind relies on what is can sense, taste, touch, smell, and information it can easily remember.
The unconscious mind is where repressed thoughts, emotions, and memories (often themed around base sexual constructs) are accessed. This is the aspect of mind often targeted in the practice of commercial advertising, as images used here trigger thoughts and emotions that can influence a consumer.
Jung departed from Freud with the conceptions of “collective unconscious” and “super conscious” states. The collective is the part of the unconscious mind that is derived from ancestral memory and experience and is common to all humankind, as distinct from the individual's unconscious. This is the terrain of sacred symbology, as images, archetypes, and aspects of a base collective consciousness are held here.
Jung theorized that our human species is in the early stages of evolutionary growth. With a habitually exaggerated emphasis on the conscious mind — and now experiencing the limits of our present evolution, we are unable to develop further through these (linguistic or left brain) mind states alone. He concluded: “The discovery of the unconscious means an enormous spiritual task, which must be accomplished if we wish to preserve our civilization.” (Letters I, 537)
So we are actively looking at mechanisms to access these personal and collective unconscious states. There is a much greater potential in working with these aspects of mind because there is so much untapped capacity. The conscious mind is like the tip of an iceberg, just a fraction of its form visible above sea level. But below this there is so much volume that must be weighed in order to understand the actual shape of the iceberg. What are the tools we can use to decipher this untapped mental potential?
Many art forms obviously make use of imagery and symbology to provoke access to these deeper states of consciousness. But perhaps access alone (digging up and reflecting unconscious material) is not the only goal of pursuit. Another method may be to access these states in order to engage with them in a way that can help stimulate a form of legitimate liberation. A pathway exists to unwind the unconscious (and perhaps collective conscious) material that limit our ability to experience freedom from the many forms of mental and physical suffering. But we have virtually no chance to unveil and release these deeper limitations (which Jung called complexes) that block higher consciousness — without meditation.
The use of sacred symbols, meditated on with single pointed concentration, can unlock the doors to these hidden realms of mind. This is the practice of activating certain sacred symbols to unlock states of consciousness. The result is that symbols can work to calm the nervous system, shift thought patterns, and transform the energetic and material structures in the body. They also serve as a bridge to connect with the lineage holders of authentic sacred traditions, and this can connect to the aforementioned “super consciousness.” This realm is to connect with primary sources of consciousness that trigger experiences that expand the self identity beyond the limitations of the psychological persona.
This can be activated in normal waking consciousness or even in states of non waking, such as in states of dreaming or non-dreaming sleep. The practice of working on the unconscious via dreaming sleep is called Lucid Dreaming. This is the awareness acquired naturally or with determination to know one is dreaming while actually dreaming. The Tibetan Buddhist practice of dream yoga is also focused upon the process of becoming consciously aware during states of non dreaming sleep, when REM states are not present. The Buddhist master Naropa (9th century) stated that meditation done during sleep is 9x more powerful then ones done during wakings states. This is because of the direct access to unconscious material.
So there are proven pathways available for self or group exploration. Here I present three symbols that have the capacity to unlock the doorways to the shadow realms of mind. I specifically chose symbols that are perhaps commonly known. Although they are readily available in the public domain, they may not be normally understood in a context that renders them useful as keys to the shadowy aspects of mind. We will work to correct that and open the highest potential value of these symbols.
"The Way gave birth to unity,
Unity gave birth to duality,
Duality gave birth to trinity,
Trinity gave birth to the myriad creatures.”
This Taijitu symbol has its roots back to 400 BC with the Naturalists of ancient China. The Yin Yang school and the school of the 5 elements were core philosophies of the group. This school would help form the primary theories of Daoism and also Confucianism, both major forces of influence in Chinese and Asian cultural history. The symbol itself began to flourish about a thousand years ago in imperial China.
To properly contextualize the theory of Yin and Yang we have to start with its origination. Before we have any duality or distinction, we have an undifferentiated wholeness of being. If we think of this symbol as being contained in a space (like a circle), then there is the primordial energy of a non appearance. This is defined as the concept of “Wuji.” Wu means without, not having, nothing, nothingness and Ji means roof, high point, or celestial pole. So we have the highest and more celestial aspects of nothingness.
This is an extremely slippery concept to hold, but it is helpful for me to think of the pure potentiality of things. Because there is nothing that the Wuji truly is, there is nothing that is truly is not. Being formless it can inhabit any form, being empty it can fill any space. We can put a label of what the nothingness is, and still it is not the no-thing itself. From this we also have the concept of “Wu Wei”, or non doing. This is effortless action based in non doing. The goal of spiritual practice is, according to Daoism, the attainment of this purely natural way of behaving, as when the planets revolve around the sun.
To marinate with these almost impossible concepts opens up doorways and clears the palate of the mind, clearing space and clutter. This is a good place to start for our practice of symbology. From this field of Wuji formlessness, the potential for form is seeded. There is a natural arising of appearance, and within that appearance there is duality. Within dual states we have a separation; subject and object, left and right, male and female, light and dark, and Yin and Yang.
Yin is the origin of yang. Yin is the aspect of the feminine, the quiet, the unmoved. It is cold and damp, rooted and firm. It behaves as the moon behaves, appearing in dark quietude. From this relative stillness arises an action. Yang is explosion of heat, motion, expansion, light, and effulgence. Yang behaves as the sun, appearing as bright fire.
The Chinese character for Yin is literally the dark side of a valley. The yang character is the sun soaked side of the valley. Without one you cannot have the other, they are completely interdependent. In the most condensed aspects of yin, yang is born. That is the white spot in the dark. In the most extreme effulgence of yang, yin is born. This is the black dog within the white. This mirroring points to the relativity of yin and yang. An object can be yin compared to another object, but yang compared to something else.
For instance, a young girl is yin compared to a young boy. But in relation to an older woman, she is more yang. Children are generally a greater expression of yang energy, which is why they are wiggly and comparatively hyper active. The chest is yang compared to the feet, but yin compared to the crown of the head. It’s all very relational.
The meditation for this symbol is one I created to help balance the mind and help create a strong foundation for inner work. This will allow us to tap into the unconscious mind with greater ease and efficiency when the time is right. The symbol can be supportive to help deal with issues regarding any imbalance where yin or yang are overacting/deficient.
In Tibetan Buddhist theory, the left and right side of the body have specific inner body channels that are very subtle. Broadly speaking they begin at the nostrils, arch over the skull, and work down the left and right sides of the body until they get to the lower body. When the left side channel is blocked, this is a sign that the body is in a state of pathological attachment. This is when we crave things in such a way that is prevents us from feeling balanced. When the right side channel is blocked, this infers that we are having issues with anger. Here we want to aggressively push things away from us, and it is causing disease in our mind and body.
The symbol itself can help us identify when we are fixating or fighting within our subtle bodies.
- To start with, focus on the breath. Just be aware of which side of the body the breath comes in with greater ease. This can be noticed in the nostrils, the chest, or the abdomen. Don’t try and change anything, just allow your awareness itself to press up against the sensations.
- Focus on the image of the Taijitu. On the inhalation, breath in pure illumination. This can be visualized as a white color, or perhaps like the golden light of the sun. When the natural inhale is complete, allow the breathe to unwind.
- As your body relaxes on the exhale, extinguish the white and let it get very small. Around the shrinking light see yourself surrounded by darkness. You can visualize the darkness as either the nighttime sky, or perhaps of a dark sea at night. Whichever image helps the mind is relax and feel grounded.
- Continue this for many rounds of breathe, continually enlarging and shrinking the white light with the breathe. Imagine that your channels in the body are being balanced and healed by the shifting fluctuations of imagined light.
- To conclude, image the whole symbol. Remind yourself about the interdependence of yin and yang, and try and feel that alive with the body. Feel how the left and right sides of the body are dependent, the two sets of eyes, legs, lungs, fingers, ears, and toes. As you relax even deeper, allow the dual states of being to relax. Feel the marriage of opposites working harmoniously on the body. Allow this heightened perspective to quiet the mind and body.
From the variations of yin and yang we have five different elements that are woven into being. The elements (or phases) are broken down into wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Each element is composed of a different phenomena that make up all of our material, psychological, and spiritual influences. This is a good segue because the symbol of the pentagram also celebrates the expression of five.
Dating back to Europe as far as 8,000 years ago, the pentagram was often associated with the four elements of air, water, fire, and earth. The 5th aspect was related to spirit, and this was the top point of the star. Thus the aspect of spirit (mind) over matter (the four elements). When the Star was reversed it highlighted the material world holding primacy over spirit, and therefore a symbol of the pagan “Horned God” sometimes used in sacred ancient fertility rites. Later on this association was misunderstood as also being related to the Judeo-Christian mark of Satan. This is an example of how a symbol can be seen on a conscious level and interpreted in many different ways based on perspective or cultural bias.
The ancient Romans knew of seven bright objects in the sky: the Sun, the Moon, and the five brightest planets. They named them after their most important gods. Venus, the brightest planet in the night sky, was named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty. This was partly because of her illumination, but also because of the charted course of the planet in relation to the Earth. When properly measured over eight years, Venus travels the perfect shape of a pentagram. It’s a mathematically stunning natural phenomena that gives credence to the concept of Venus’s astral beauty.
With this in mind, the Pythagoreans (580-500 BC) called the pentagram, ύγιεια (Hygieia) ("health;" also the Greek goddess of health, Hygieia), held that the pentagram symbolizes a mathematical perfection which they would soon label as the “Golden Ratio.” The Pythagoreans were named so after Pythagorus, a mathematician who taught his followers to seek out a deeper truth to the natural world. They were eventually driven underground, and possibly used the pentagram to identify themselves to each other, signing letters and communications with the symbol.
This relationship with finding mathematical perfection within nature led to the development of Sacred Geometry. The framework of the Golden Ratio is that the smaller part of any ratio is to the larger part, as the larger part is to the whole. This is easily demonstrated in the spirals of a nautilus shell.
Architects and artists began using this sequence to create ashrams, cathedrals, and masterpieces. Leonardo DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man expresses various proportions that demonstrate evidence of the Golden Ratio within human architecture. If one looks closely at the direction of the arms and legs it’s easy to see the similarity with the pentagram symbol.
Yet the symbol was historically used as a mark of heresy from the Christian churches. As the Roman Church spread through Europe it would seek out pagans and other heretical factions for persecution. It was believed that anyone who was finely attuned to the rhythms of the natural Earth was a threat to purity or perhaps supremacy of the church. Thus the word ‘villain’ comes from villager, or one who lives outside of the strict control the church has in populated areas. The idea of evil witches was in part related to the role that midwives played. A midwife roaming the village often carried a broom as part of a ritual of sweeping a room after a childbirth. When many midwives and herbalists were labeled witches, the broom symbolism stuck.
The relationship with the divine feminine was particularly crucial for the early Gnostics of the church who as seen in such as the gospel of Thomas and of Mary Magdalene. Many of these were found in Nag Hamadi in 1946 and are estimated to have been written around 80 AD. The Gnostics used imagery called a Dyad to symbolize God that reflected both male and female characteristics. It was also in Gnostic scriptures that the female must become male and the male must become female in order to perfect the inner seed of divinity. The Jungian inner archetypes of animus (male) and anima (female) are appropriate parallel concepts.
Mary Magdalene’s legacy during and following the life of Jesus Christ was diminished by the early orthodox church fathers. Mary is depicted in these agnostic texts as having authority and influence as an apostle of Christ. Yet by 400 AD the early churches espoused among other doctrines that God willed only men to have the power to witness and direct the transformation of bread and wine into the flesh and blood of Christ. This is the holiest sacrament in both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. An absolute absence of females from the priest class of these churches renders a severe yin/yang imbalance. It’s no wonder that so many atrocities have taken place in the name of religions like Christianity, beautiful and perfect at the core but co-opted over the centuries by men with severe patriarchal leanings that had no earthly feminine balance. This of course is not unique to Christianity or to Europe.
It has been speculated that underground church groups such as the Knights Templar held aspects of the teachings of Mary Magdalene. That the holy grail could be the symbolic uterus of Mary Magdalene has been in bandied about in pop culture and perhaps there is a evolution to this emerging shift in awareness. It is perhaps timely then to inspect the symbol most often regulated with the female nature, the Pentagram.
- Again balance the breath and relax any tension holding of the chest, diaphragm, or abdomen.
- Focus clearly on the breath as an object to gently place the mind upon. As often the mind gets distracted, replace the attention into the breath.
- Call to mind the image of the pentagram. You can see it in shades of gold, silver, black, or red.
- Draw the image in and imagine it gets placed on the forehead. Sense that you can feel a gentle vibration on the skin of the forehead. When you exhale the breath really try and feel the pentagram.
- Imagine a second image gets pulled into the lower abdomen. When you inhale into the abdomen try and focus all your attention on the image.
- Toggle the mind between the two locations.
- Eventually just focus on one of the images. As the meditation continues it should get more simple. Allow the mind to get quiet.
- Finally when you feel ready to finish, imagine a female hand. Gently place the hand on your forehead (if that’s where the practice focuses) or the abdomen (if you practiced here). This could be the hand of an enlightened female teacher, an fellow angel, or even an earthly focus like a mother or grandmother. Feel that they want to give you all the breath, wisdom, and strength that they have acquired. Accept it as a maternal gift. This concludes the meditation.
This meditation is great for digestive issues, confidence issues, or when someone feels rejected, unloved, or unseen. It regenerates the nourishing energies of the earth element and restores grounding and proper boundaries in relationships.
Also on the Nag Hammadi scriptures were countless images of the Egyptian Ankh. Considering that the town is a Nile river coastal village, this makes sense. This sacred symbol of life was used in ancient Egypt to represent the passage way between life and death. The bottom part of the Ankh is the aspect of human life, balanced with the vertical male line against the the female horizontal. The top part may have represented a Sandler strap, a fish head, or even a symbolic vagina. Because of the female association with Sophia (wisdom) in many mystical branches of religions, the female genitals are representing the gateway into wisdom.
The full shape itself also resembles a Nilometer, an ancient Egyptian tool used to measure the river. Every spring the river would overflow and this would bring countless benefits to the river communities that relied on the river to overflow and propagate the nearby crops. Hence the bottom of the symbol here is analogous to the pathways of the river and the top oval to the overflow of the water (or fishes). The Ankh was a symbol of abundance, transformation, and of the divine rhythms of the earth.
This same shape also happens to represent the planet Venus on the planetary chart. So there is a tying in of all 3 of all of these symbols together. In the elemental chart it is also the symbol of copper, and many Ankhs are created using copper material.
To me the Ankh directly opens up aspects of consciousness that transcend the talking mind. For this reason it may be good to not linger too long on it’s philosophical origins but instead on its current energetic potency.
- Clear the mind of all distractions and mental images. This could take a few minutes, but don’t move on to number two until the mind feels generally shifted. This does not mean we need to have mastery over the thoughts or feeling states, but just that the mind genuinely feels different then it did before the meditation began. Since we began this meditation, there is perhaps an ease or relaxation that is noticeably birthed into being. With a sense of curiosity, see if you can locate it.
- Imagine the Ankh. See it in copper shining before you. Draw it in closer to the forehead with your breath.
- Imagine a diamond on your third eye. This is the area approximately one inch above the top bridge of the nose, in between and above the eyebrows. Then image one inch into the forehead into the skull. This is the third eye.
- Imagine that there is a diamond at this direct point, about the size of an emoji diamond. Breath into this diamond and feel it within.
- Draw the Ankh into the forehead and hang it on the diamond like a nail. The top of Ankh just perfectly rests on the diamond and the image hangs in the third eye.
- Allow the Ankh to further clear the mind. Any abstraction that arises just let it be erased or swallowed by the Ankh. The Ankh is a magnet that obliterates any obstacle to gaining clarity of the mind. Hang for as long as you can with this image.
This meditation is good for accessing clarity of mind, for raising your energy levels, uplifting positivity, and even for clairvoyance. For people who have severe trouble sleeping it can be primarily focused on during morning hours as not to overstimulate the mind. But otherwise this symbol is all excellent for developing a Lucid Dream practice.
To conclude, all of these exercises will connect you to the symbol. The symbol is then familiarized within in order to acclimate a new and higher energy frequency. This can activate inner healing and can stimulate the connection between the inner world and the outer. Once you become the change you want to see in the world, the changes are allowed to start materializing.
You may want to also create your own symbol. Using the principals we covered here and your own activated intuition, this can be an inspiring evolvement of symbol work. As the symbol begins to evolve out your imagination, you will feel greater confidence that your own mind, conscious and unconscious, is not your enemy but useful tool to create the dreams you desire.
Please let me know what you discover!