Symbolism and symbols

J.R.R. Tolkein’s epic novel, The Lord of the Rings, thrilled the whole world, first as a book and later in its film adaptation. The central theme of this dramatic story is a ring that has such power that it can decide whether the power of Good or the power of Evil rules the world. A book like Tolkein’s, which casts such wide circles, must contain a certain level of truth. However whimsical and out of touch the story might appear, it has such spontaneous and direct resonance that it clearly responds to something that we classify as “actual” that we have buried deep down in our unconscious.
The ring in Tolkein’s epic story is the most extreme conceivable example of the proposition that an object can be linked with a force, an abstract value or a principle and can actually exert an effect on us or our environment. We all have this tendency to view a material object as a symbol of something quite specific, to assign it a symbolic power and then derive from this a certainty, a confidence, a hope or the force of a success. We might have a talisman that protects us. We have wedding rings that act as a symbol of our tie to another person. Our nation has a flag that makes us feel a part of that nation to such an extent that we fly the flag in our garden.
A luxury watch, like practically no other object, is a symbol and a mediator. It stands for something with which we identify or that inspires us. This may be golf or tennis tournaments, motor racing, diving or flying. A high quality watch always appears as a symbol and ambassador of a certain stratum of society, an activity or an abstract concept. By wearing a certain wristwatch, we attempt to move closer to this special aspect of life which inspires us.
With a Niveau élevé, this aspect is the philosophy, the searching for alternatives or the focussing on the essential. And since the watch in itself represents the work, the symbolism is doubly important. In normal circumstances, the symbolic nature of a watch only has a passive effect. With the Niveau élevé, however, we go one step further. We want to actively work with the various symbols of the watch.
To do this, we either need an understanding of the mechanism of the symbolism or at least a certain knowledge of a technique that allows us to actively use the symbols.  So what is a symbol in terms of its structure beyond the bounds of the visible? What is the mechanism with which it acts?
Of course, our first thought turns to the psychological effect. The belief in the power of the symbol gives us confidence and courage. This, in turn, reinforces our capacity to act. A man who cheerfully launches into a project probably has a better chance of achieving it than someone who is timorous, delays or doesn’t even believe that success is possible. Of course, this purely psychological explanation of the phenomenon carries a certain truth. But symbols are used in such variety and so systematically, particularly in religion, that we must presume there are other mechanisms at work here than just the purely psychological.
There is a nice tale about a scientist who was caught by a friend as he was in the process of fixing a horseshoe over his front door. When his friend asked whether he believed that a horseshoe over the door brings good luck, he said, “Of course not!”  When asked why he was putting it up, he responded, “Because someone told me that it helps even if you don’t believe in it.”
Let us not get into a debate as to whether a symbol can actually develop an effect or whether this is simply superstition. In a world of the survival of the fittest, symbols and their usage (particularly the religions with all their rituals and symbolism) would never have survived across millennia if they were merely a waste of time and energy. If people had not been able to derive real value for themselves and their actions from symbols, then the work would have been a disadvantage and, as such, the “symbolists” would have been deposed by the “enlightened” long ago.
Good evidence for the actuality of the intrinsic content of symbols, and a good starting point for shining a light on their essence, can be found in the work of C.G. Jung, particularly in relation to his theory of archetypes and the collective unconscious. He clearly shows that certain symbols, analogies and patterns are shared by all people in their subconscious without the symbolism of these semi-concealed worlds having to be shaped or “created” in their own psychology. Quite evidently there are regions beneath or on the other side of the visible world that have a real structure that is entirely independent of the individual psyche. These “are actually there”, as it were. Worlds that are unknown to us, so we describe them as the “unconscious” or “subconscious”. This term “subconscious” is yet more striking evidence of the arrogance of Man’s superficiality. Regions or worlds to which we have no conscious access are automatically viewed as subordinate to the visible world. It is typical of Man who regards his knowledge and his world as the centre of the Multiverse and downgrades everything that takes place outside the visible sphere to merely secondary and insignificant.
If we extend beyond clearly existing symbols which, without being individually shaped, appear universally in dream analysis, psychoanalysis, etc. and represent certain inner configurations, then these symbols are clearly a type of path or signpost in the psychological world that links us to very specific “psychological places”. We should not attempt to view these worlds from the perspective that they are worlds affiliated to us – worlds that exist for us and against us. Man’s inability to accept that there might be something that wasn’t created for us is quite astonishing.
Let us assume that this universe, structured in space and time, is not the only universe and that there are forms other than the “space-time” structure. This means that any other structuring, i.e. any “non-space-time structure”, is a region that exists in itself, but is invisible to us as we live in the space-time structure. We are only able to perceive those things that have a spatial and temporal existence.
Any such region would then be its own universe, but it wouldn’t be structured in terms of space and time. Whether these universes are also as infinitely large and extensive as our three-dimensional space-time universe is an invalid question because “large” and “small” are spatial concepts. The other universes are neither large nor small as they are not spatially organised.
Clearly feelings are parts of such an “otherwise-structured” world. Feelings are not structured according to the natural laws of this three-dimensional space-time universe. They cannot be detected with the instruments of our structuring; they are not made of three-dimensional, material elements. They are not subject to gravity, they have no weight, no spatial extent, etc. Feelings are therefore elements from a feelings universe to which our consciousness has some access. This access is very limited, however, as we can only detect a very small segment of this universe.
Each individual person (and indeed animal) thus comes, via his consciousness, into contact with quite specific and clearly defined elements – which are “feelings” for us. The individual feelings are very precisely formed or developed. Joy, fear or envy are always exactly the same sentiments, regardless of whether they are felt by an Australian aborigine, a Chinese banker or a llama in the South-American Andes.
The mental world, as well, would be a self-contained independent world to which we only have access through our consciousness, just like the world of physical sensations.
If we regard the “psychological” worlds as self-contained worlds that are independent of us as people and in which we move with our consciousness, then symbols clearly have two different functions for us in these worlds. Symbols are firstly a form of expression within the structuring of our material world which, however, lead to certain “places” or “phenomena” in the other worlds. A symbol, such as a circle, triangle, light, uphill / downhill, etc., is an element of this world. There are also symbols for abstract concepts, i.e. elements of other worlds, such as perfection, harmony, progress, good or evil, etc. The first function of a symbol is to act as a sort of translator function which turns an abstract concept or state into a form that can be recognised in the material world.
The second function would then be to establish a connection between the symbol and the “abstract something” behind the symbol. The symbol thus leads us to the abstract place in that “other world” that contains the origin for the symbol. It leads us into the “progress” configuration, to the feeling of love, to courage or prudence, or to whatever the symbol embodies.
There are quite clearly existing symbols which exist entirely independently of us, as described by Jung in his work on the Archetypical Unconscious. But we are also able to create our own symbols. For example, if we “condition” or concentrate on a certain object so that we will always remember this object by something quite specific then, if we have concentrated hard enough, the object will become a symbol for what we want to remember and will actually perform its memory-jogging function.
It would be interesting to discover whether the “creation” of a symbol, i.e. the mental linking of a certain form with a certain concept, leaves such clear tracks behind it in the abstract worlds that a sensitive person who doesn’t actually know what the symbol signifies will be able to establish the connection to that significance. If, for example, a symbol from ancient Egyptian mythology which represented a specific deity for perhaps several thousand years, making it an aspect of the abstract worlds, were to be presented to a wise Indian or Chinese monk who is so far advanced in his consciousness that he is conscious of this aspect which embodied the deity. Would this monk be able to assign the ancient symbol to the abstract aspect?
Regardless of whether symbols only create their link from an abstract concept to a materially recognisable form individually or whether this connection then exists entirely objectively in the abstract worlds, it is clear that we are also able with an intention to create a symbol which then reminds us of our intention whenever our glance falls upon it.
The closer the symbol is in its physical structure is to the target of the symbolism, the better it can perform the task assigned to it. Even a totally randomly-selected object can be conditioned, but when we draw upon an existing symbolism, the symbolic power naturally increases.
In the Niveau élevé watches we have the symbolism of the “reversal” of our attitude to time. The movement of the hands, the flow of time and happening is placed in the background. The division of time, the constant, the system, the “thing to be evaluated” and thus ourselves are pulled into the foreground and set above the happening. This is a perfect symbol for what we would like to achieve. It says that we are banishing our fixation on the problems and limitations of daily routine, on what has happened in the past, on external circumstances from the foreground of our consciousness and pushing it into the background. We want to be in our own “Self” in our “Now Consciousness”. Starting from this position of the unstressed Self-Being we can then approach our outer course of action according to our own will and decisions.
Time, and so our lives, are thus moved out of another position. We are ourselves and no longer our daily routine. We are not living lives in which we don’t even feature or perhaps melt into the background; we are in the topmost position.
If we now take a symbol of this transformation of our perspective on board in our lives and resolve to actively use this symbol and actively work on this aspect of ourselves, the very decision to take this step is of itself a conditioning of the symbol. The more energy we put into the conditioning, the more perfectly it will work and the more powerful it will be. For this reason, when we glance at our watch, we should not only recognise the symbol of our new attitude and remember our intention: every time we should actively endeavour internally to perceive the vastness and joy that lies behind everyday happenings. We should perhaps even feel a little Schadenfreude. We should enjoy the fact that we have found a way to outwit the compulsion, to outsmart the problems and run through our daily routine from a position of the self and inner freedom. Perhaps this will even make us overcome our problems more effectively. The usual mechanism for motivating ourselves to solve problems involves leveraging the fear of the negative consequences of the problem. If we succeed in breaking free from this enslavement and acting from a free Self, from free will, as a challenge we are pleased to accept, as it were, we will not lose ourselves and will master the situation. This is an ability that improves or declines with every day that passes. We should make sure that this ability to be ourselves improves every day.