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Is it a Sign or a Symbol?

In 2004, I began drawing images from my dreams. It wasn’t that I decided to do this, it was more like the images insisted that I draw them. As I drew, my thinking mind quieted and another intelligence began to speak. More images emerged and with them, a deeper understanding of myself and my inner and outer dilemmas. I began to see patterns and belief structures that limited me. The images felt alive, like living beings assisting me along my path. I didn’t understand what was happening but I knew it held value. I showed these drawings to a mentor and she said, “these are symbols”.

What is a Symbol?

When I look back at these drawings, some of them continue to engage me – I feel stirred, awake and curious. These images are what Jung would call Symbols. They are images that are undefinable, evocative, alive. They are without conclusion. They have an archetypal core, so there is something familiar or accessible about them, but they are not confined to a definition or description.

When an image becomes limited in its meaning, when it becomes defined, it loses its numinous quality. A sort of deadening sets in. It is no longer a Symbol, but has become a Sign. A Sign is an image whose meaning is limited. For example, when I am driving and come upon a red octagonal shape on a pole, with the shapes S-T-O-P painted in white, I understand this as a sign to stop my car and allow other cars to proceed. It’s meaning is unambiguous.

Dreams speak in symbols, but if we are too quick to interpret them, they lose their aliveness. The same thing an happen by turning to a Dream Dictionary to look up the “meaning”. People, objects, places and even words in dreams are most valuably approached as a Symbol whose meaning is not static. By keeping curiosity open, by allowing multiple meanings and associations, we can expand our consciousness and gain guidance from symbols, even years after they originally appear.

If you are interested in learning more about symbols, check my page on “Upcoming Workshops”.

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