Symbolism and symbols
The Lord of the Rings, an epic by R. R. Tolkien, has permeated the entire world, first as a book and later in its film adaptation. The central theme of his drama: a ring that has such power that it decides whether the power of good or the power of evil rules over the world. A book that is as widely read as R. R. Tolkien’s must have a certain amount of truth. However bizarre and out of touch with the present the story may seem, it strikes such a spontaneous and immediate resonance that it obviously addresses something we classify as “actual”, deeply hidden in our unconscious.
The ring in Tolkien’s epic is the most extreme example imaginable of the claim that an object can be linked to a force, to an abstract value or principle, and can actually have an effect on us or our surroundings. We all have the tendency to see a material object as a symbol for something very specific, to ascribe to it a symbolic power and to derive from it a security, a confidence, hope or the power of success. Whether we have a talisman that protects us, whether it is our wedding rings that express their function as a symbol of a bond with another person, or whether it is the flag of a nation to which we feel we belong and which we hoist in our garden.
A Nobel watch, like hardly any other object, is a symbol and a mediator. It stands for something we identify with or that excites us. Whether it’s golf or tennis tournaments, car racing, diving, flying, etc., a high-quality watch is always a symbol and ambassador of a certain social class. A high-quality watch always presents itself as a symbol and ambassador of a certain social class, an activity or an abstract concept. By wearing a particular watch, we try to get a little closer to that particular aspect of life that excites us.
With a Niveau élevé, this aspect is the philosophy, the search for alternatives, the focus on the essential. Since the clock stands for work on oneself, symbolism is doubly important. Normally, the effect of the symbolic character of a clock is only passive. With Niveau élevé, however, we go one step further. We want to work actively with the different symbols of the clock.
For this, however, one would need either an understanding of the mechanism of the symbolism, or at least some knowledge of a technique for actively using the symbols. So what is a symbol in its structure beyond the boundary of the visible? What is the mechanism by which it works?
First of all, of course, one thinks of the psychological effect. Belief in the power of the symbol gives us confidence and courage, which in turn strengthens our ability to act. Someone who approaches a project with good courage probably has a better chance of mastering it than someone who is anxious, hesitant or even does not believe in the possibility of success. Of course, the purely psychological explanation of the phenomenon has some truth to it. But symbols are used in such a variety and systematic way, especially in religion, that one has to suspect that there must be other mechanisms at work here than just the psychological ones.
There is the beautiful story of a scientist who is caught by a friend putting a horseshoe over his front door. When his friend asks him if he believes that a horseshoe above the door brings good luck, he says: “Of course not! When asked why he puts it on then, he replies, “Because I’ve been told it helps even if you don’t believe in it.”
We do not even want to discuss the question of whether a symbol can have any effect at all, or whether this is all just superstition. In a world where the fitter displaces the weaker, symbols and their use, but above all religions with all their rituals and symbolism, could never have lasted for thousands of years if all that was just a waste of time and energy. If one could not draw any real value from symbols for oneself and one’s actions, then working with them would be a disadvantage, and as such the “symbolists” would have long since been displaced by the “enlightened”.
A good proof of the factuality of a content of symbols resting in themselves, and also a good approach for illuminating their essence, lies in the work of C.G. Jung, especially in relation to the archetype theory and the collective unconscious. Here it becomes clear that certain symbols, analogies and patterns are shared by all human beings in their subconscious, without the symbolism of these semi-hidden worlds being shaped or “created” by each individual in their own psychology. There are quite obviously realms behind or beyond the visible world that have a real structure completely independent of the individual psyche, that are actually “there”, so to speak. Worlds of which we are not aware and which we therefore call “unconscious” or “subconscious”. The term “subconscious” is here once again a striking proof of the arrogance of the superficiality of man. To automatically regard realms or worlds to which we do not find conscious access as subordinate to the obvious world is typical of the human being who sees himself, his knowledge and his world as the centre of the multiverse and declassifies everything that takes place outside the visible realm as secondary and meaningless.
So if we start from clearly existing symbols which, without being individually marked, appear universally in dream analysis, psychoanalysis, etc., and are representative of certain inner constellations, then these symbols are obviously a kind of paths or signposts of the psychological worlds which connect us with very specific “psychological places”. Let’s try not to see these worlds of the psyche from the perspective that these are worlds attached to us, so to speak, worlds that exist for us and because of us. Man’s inability to accept that there is also something that was not created for us is quite astonishing.
Let us assume that there is not only this one universe, which is structured by space and time, but that there are also other forms of structuring, i.e. not the “space-time” structure. This means that any other structuring, i.e. any “non-space-time structure” is a realm that exists in itself, but is invisible to us who live in the space-time structure. For we can only grasp things that have a spatial and temporal existence.
Each of these areas would then be its own universe, but not structured in space-time. Whether these universes are also as infinitely large and vast as our three-dimensional space-time universe is a question that is not admissible. After all, “big” or “small” are spatial terms. The other universes are neither large nor small, since they are not spatially organised.
Quite obviously, feelings are parts of such an “other-structured” world. Feelings are not structured according to the natural laws of this three-dimensional space-time universe. They cannot be grasped with the instruments of our structuring, they are not made up of three-dimensional, material elements. They are not subject to gravity, they have no weight, no spatial extension, etc. Feelings are therefore elements of a universe of feelings to which our consciousness has a certain access, but only a very limited one that can only grasp a very small section of this universe.
Each individual human being, and also the animal, thus comes into contact with very specific, clearly defined elements, for us “feelings”, via their consciousness. The individual feelings are very precisely developed. Joy, fear, jealousy are always exactly the same sentiment, whether for an Australian aborigine, a Chinese banker or a llama in the South American Andes.
The spiritual world would then also be an independent world at rest in itself, whose only access for us is through our consciousness, just like the world of physical sensations.
If we consider the “psychological” worlds, as worlds existing in themselves, independent of us humans, in which we move with our consciousness, then symbols obviously have two functions for us in these worlds. Symbols are first of all a form of expression within the structuring of our material world, but they lead to certain “places” or “phenomena” in the worlds beyond. A symbol, e.g. a circle, a triangle, light, uphill-downhill, etc., are elements of this world. But they stand for abstract concepts, that is, for elements of other worlds, such as perfection, harmony, progress, good or evil, etc. The first function of a symbol is therefore a kind of translator function of an abstract concept or state into a form that is recognisable in the material world.
The second function would then be that there is a connection between the symbol and the “abstract something” that stands behind the symbol. The symbol thus leads us to the abstract place in that “other world” where the origin for the symbol lies. It leads us to the constellation “progress”, to the feeling of love, to courage or prudence, or whatever the symbol embodies.
Yet there are quite obviously already existing symbols that, as C.G. Jung describes in his work on the Archetypal Unconscious, exist completely independently of us. But there is also the possibility to create your own symbols. If, for example, we “condition” a certain object, i.e. concentrate on the fact that this object should always remind us of something very 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 function of remembrance.
It would be interesting to find out whether the “creation” of a symbol, i.e. the mental linking of a certain form with a certain concept, leaves such clear traces in the abstract worlds that a sensitive person who does not know the meaning of the symbol can make the connection to the given meaning. So, for example, if a symbol from ancient Egyptian mythology, which perhaps for several thousand years represented a particular deity, that is, an aspect of the abstract worlds, is now presented to a wise Indian or Chinese monk who is so advanced in his consciousness that he is aware of this aspect that the deity embodied, can this monk assign the ancient symbol to the abstract aspect or not?
But regardless of whether symbols only create their link between an abstract concept and a material recognisable form quite individually, or whether this link then exists quite objectively in the abstract worlds, it is clear that we can also create a symbol for ourselves with an intention, which then reminds us of our intention whenever our gaze falls on it.
The closer the symbol is in its physical structure to the target point of symbolism, the better it can fulfil the task set for it. Even a completely random object can be conditioned. But if we draw on a pre-existing symbolism, then of course the symbolic power increases.
In the watches of Niveau élevé we have a symbolism of “turning around” the attitude to time. The movement of the hands, the flow of time and events, is put in the background, the division of time, the constant, the system, the “evaluating”, and thus we ourselves, are brought to the fore and placed above the events. This is a perfect symbol for what we want to achieve: that we banish our fixation on the problems and limitations of everyday life, on transient events, on external circumstances, from the foreground of our consciousness and place them in the background. We want to be in our own “self” in our “now-consciousness”. From this position of unencumbered self-being, we can then approach our outer processes according to our own will and decision.
Time, our life, is thus spent from a different position. We are ourselves, no longer our everyday life. We do not spend a life in which we ourselves do not appear at all, or at best are in the background, but we are in the uppermost position.
If we now take a symbol for this change of our perspective on board our life and decide to actively use this symbol, to actively work on this aspect of ourselves, then admittedly the decision to take this step is itself already a conditioning of the symbol. But the more energy we put into conditioning, the more perfectly it will work, the more powerful it will become. Therefore, when we look at our watch, we should not only understand the symbol of our new attitude and remind ourselves of our resolution. We should actively make an inner effort each time to feel that vastness and joy that is above the day’s events. We should perhaps even feel a little schadenfreude. We should enjoy the fact that we have found a way to cheat the compulsion, that we trick the problems and escape their effect, that we go through our everyday life from a position of self and inner freedom. Perhaps we are also more effective in our problem solving. The usual mechanism of motivating problem solving runs through chaining to the fear of the negative consequences of the problem. If we manage to break through this enslavement and act from a free self, from free will, as an intentional challenge, so to speak, we do not lose ourselves and are masters of the situation. A skill either increases or decreases with each day. We should ensure that the ability to be ourselves increases with each passing day.