Thursday, December 2, 2010

Surrounded by Symbols

This season, more than the rest of the year, is more laden with evocative symbols than any other time.

How familiar are we with evergreen trees, holly wreaths, mistletoe? What about the New Year's symbols of the baby and the grim reaper? The witch at Halloween? The cornucopia at Thanksgiving?

We speak in this shorthand all the time. We know that a red diagonal line through anything means no. We know that thumbs up means yes. We know that a person who opens their arms is welcoming us and one who crosses their arms is not. We know that a colon and a half parenthesis is a smile. :)

Symbols have been part of our lives since before we had fully formed language. Primal ones that we have found, like the ancient cave paintings, are as emotive as many more finely drawn paintings, and carry a powerful amount of energy in a few spare lines.

There are systems to symbols, and some, like the runes or the I Ching hexagrams have an interesting way of fitting together and interlocking visually.

Others, like the system of tarot, have a way of interlocking conceptually, and although they are visual in themselves, they cannot be as compact as abstract forms like runes, or the hexagrams of the I Ching.

Some symbols are so emotionally charged that their mere appearance sends chills or rushes of joy, depending on the sign, without anyone saying anything or any accompanying literature.

Obviously, some symbols are references to ancient beliefs and feelings and some are purely modern inventions of convenience which may or may not last. With some symbols we have near universal agreement, but with others not.

We bring our own interpretations to symbols as well as recognizing traditional meanings. This is why two people can look at the same picture and have two very different experiences of it.

And this is also why this is such an emotional time of year for so many people. We are surrounded by symbols and they can convey a host of messages to us faster than we can digest them.

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