Friday, 30 April 2010

The Spiral

The Spiral is one of the most ancient symbols, which appears again and again since prehistoric times in various cultures, spread all over spacetime. Those ancient people noticed the spiral pattern in the world around them,  in the form of a snail, in the spiral growth of trees, in the movement of the Sun. They intuitively knew that the spiral was the basic symbol of evolution and expansion, but also of death and doom, thus they started painting it on murals or carving it on wood and rock, in an attempt to venerate the archetypical motif that surrounded them in numerous forms. 
The Spiral of the Goddess: One of the most popular symbols of the Celts , the Spiral or the Triple Spiral (Triskelion) became the symbol of the Goddess and of the threefold nature of the Divine. It was related with femininity and with the three stages of womanhood: Maiden, Mother, Crone. Another interpretation would be that of  the three realms of the material world: Land, Sea and Sky. Numerous variations of the spiral are found in paganistic and neopaganistic representations. Today, with the revival of paganistic religions, spirals are a common theme in jewelery, clothes and paintings.
The Spiral of Time: The Spiral signifies infinity, nature's cycles, the alternation of seasons (spirals were often used as solar calendars) and of cosmic cycles in eternity. In a few words, it is a symbol of Time. Time was born along with the universe. Its dimension is inseparable from the three dimensions of space. The big bang theory suggests that the universe was born from a tiny single point with infinite energy. When that point exploded, it gradually created the reality that we see around us, which is ever-expanding, like a spiral. If this expansion lead to perfection or to chaos, nobody can tell. And since we are all made of stars, as Moby rightly noted in his song, we can understand why some symbols talk directly to us,  in a molecular level and the vibrations of their thundering meanings can reach the depths of our psyche.

The Labyrinth: In a spiral we can see the image of a labyrinth. The labyrinth is an allegory of the spiritual journey , from the outer world towards inner silence or God,  like Dante's Inferno and the Minoan Labyrinth.  A descent to the unknown aspects of the soul. As we move along the curves of the spiral and through its twist and turns, which represent various trials, what happens is that we come face to face with the same things in life, but each time from a different angle.But nobody can guarantee that the journey leads  always towards enlightment. An expanding spiral eventually ends up in chaos, like the Tower of Babel. The dead ends of the labyrinth can become discouraging, dazzling and overwhelming and many times we find ourselves back where we started or even worse, trapped, with no sense of direction. 
The Spiral and the Serpent: We can't help but notice the similarity between spirals and serpents. Serpents were widely worshipped in ancient times. The dragons and nagas in China and India, the minoan serpent Goddess in Greece, the nordic  Jormungandrthe feathered serpent  Quetzalcoatl of the Aztects , the rainbow serpent in Australia, the python cult in Africa and so many others. Among them, the famous greek - egyptian Ouroboros: the serpent that eats its own tail, symbolizing rebirth through self-death, immortality, the cycle  and the totality of existence, Jung's cosmic force. There's a very rich tradition that refers to serpent cults, sometimes seen as benevolent, other times seen as evil, like the serpent of the Bible. The serpent often guards something of  great value, a treasure or a power that must not end up in the wrong hands, like kundalini or the tree of knowledge in Eden. In alchemy the spiral symbolizes the cyclical functions of nature, the androgyne, the caduceus. Even the Yin/Yang symbol, the swastika, the greek meander, are  variations of or elaborated spirals. 

The minoan Spiral: In ancient Greece, the spiral was associated with the bull, which symbolized fertility (bull's head and horns look similar to ovaries). We often see spirals on  amphoras or murals, as it was a very common decorative pattern. The interconnected spirals often symbolized water and the sea. Another interpretation of the interconnected spiral is that of the equinoctial points. 
The hypnotic Spiral: Hypnotists use  the pattern of a spinning spiral  to induce trance states. The  repetitive image causes the noise of the conscious mind to subside and makes it more receptive. We regularly see the spiral as the most distinct symbol of hypnotism.
The spiral expresses itself in numerous forms in nature: horns, shells, plants, galaxies, even in the DNA.  
Birth, death, expansion, chaos, symmetry, eternity, infinity, renewal, the constant flux of things are some of  the notions that spirals communicate to us, as they appear in a vast array of manifestations in the microcosmic and the macrocosmic level since time immemorial.  Perhaps, the recurring pattern of the spiral holds a key to the understanding not only of the universe and but also of our soul.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

The Hierarchy: a personal story about the existence of God

I've been an atheist for many years. I had never delved deep into the subject anyway, be- cause the lack of concrete proof about the existence of God always turn me off. I've been a person who needed rational explanations above all and I still am to a degree. I knew that I couldn't believe in God if there was no tangible evidence to support my faith. During that time, there have been moments when I asked the help of God, as we all do, but I did so probably because I was taught to , whenever things got really nasty. Prayer is a way to recognize our inability to deal with things we can't change. When we hope that something or someone  beyond ourselves can take care of our troubles.

Several years passed and then one day something happened. An insignificant event actually, but it did cause a train of thought that led me to believe that a "God" of some kind must exist. It was a summer day and I was sitting in the garden enjoying the last drops of sunlight. Ants were coming and going on the ground and around my feet, collecting food for the winter. If I moved my foot a bit, they changed course to avoid the "obstacle". Nothing unusual. It was obvious though: ants were aware of my presence, they knew I was there, yet they were not capable of understanding what they saw. They knew there was something  blocking their way, but what kind of creature that was, those ants would never be able to realize. And then I thought about other life forms and how they perceive each other. My cats for example, know me, they obviously understand that I take care of them. They trust me enough to let me pet them and play with them. Yet they will never be able to read this blog, they will never understand my intellect or that I'm a human and what a human is. It became quite clear for me:  there's a hierarchy in Nature, not only strenght-wise, but consciousness-wise also. Nobody can deny that. All living creatures have a certain degree of perception of the world around them. And if there's one thing that we could call a manifestation of God, that's Nature.  In that sense, believing that we humans have the highest degree of consciousness seemed ludicrous. We  are creatures that still have a long way to go before we understand the mechanisms and wonders of the world around us. Let alone the function of the universe or what the reality that surrounds us is all about or even our own minds. Think about the vastness of the cosmos and how we are ants ourselves in front of this magnificence. Not because we are small while it's big, but because its complexity (or simpicity) is way beyond our understanding. We can try to understand and that we do for millenia, but what if our intellect is not enough? Would those ants ever be able to recognize me as a human , no matter how hard they tried? My guess is that they wouldn't, even if they spent an eternity on this endeavor. Will we ever be able to answer the eternal question? Putting aside our innate arrogance that makes us think we can explain everything, we should consider the fact the we may never be able to give an answer, as an ant would never be able to understand nuclear fusion (and I have the feeling that the analogy ant - nuclear fusion falls short of the analogy human - God).

I still haven't an unshakable proof that there's a supreme Being, still the clues I have point to the fact that if there is such a Being (If I can call it a being), it must be something extremely incomprehensible for us. My logic (yes, that again) tells me that since in Nature there's this kind of order, we humans with our limited perspective can't be the summit of it. There must be beings way above us and then other beings above them also and so on.  Where does it end? Does it end anyway?

After that small  incident, a realization started growing in me, a notion that perhaps we must accept the fact that we don't know, because we can't understand and we never will. Even if the evidence is all around us.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Mirror - Is it really Me?

I chose the mirror as the first symbol to examine, because of its obvious connotat -ions with self image. For ages mirror was the symbol of (self) knowledge. "Γνώθι σαυτόν", to know yourself, an esoteric alchemical process of inner transformation and purification. One cannot advance in his spiritual evolution, if certain psychological issues  are not addressed, if self is not confronted in its light and shadow. Looking at the mirror, you see your reflection as it is, no lies, no tricks.The clean, flat mirror, is a symbol of clarity and truth.

Mirrors symbolize portals to other dimensions as they are used in divination (scrying) -a variation would be the crystal ball- and that made them very popular tools for magical practices. They are considered to be a doorway to the subconscious mind, to the soul (vampires have  no soul, thus nothing is reflected when they gaze at their mirror image). Scrying would reveal information about a person, about self or future events. Alice in her second adventure "Through the Looking - Glass, and What Alice Found There", uses a mirror as a portal that leads her in a world of opposites, in a distorted reality. The same happens to Christine in the Phantom of the Opera, when she follows the phantom through a mirror. A dive into the subconscious mind, where the hidden aspects of ourselves lie.
A distorting or cracked mirror symbolizes confusion, lies and Illusion. It becomes the emblem of self-deception or even insanity. Those of you who share my weakness for vampire stories and computer games, would be familiar with the logo of the Malkavian clan (Vampire the Masquerade), the cracked mirror, which points out their specific characteristic: dementia. Another negative symbolism of the mirror is that of loss and misfortune. It is said, that if a mirror breaks, you get seven years of bad luck. A fogged mirror symbolizes lack of clarity.

A less popular symbolism of the mirror is that of reproduction. It makes a copy of the person or object reflected on it. Some say that if you see a mirror in your dream, it means the urge to reproduct. I wouldn't want to go too far into dream interpretation, as I believe it is different for every person, but I must admit I accept the power that universal symbols may have in the collective subconsciousness. Thus, I would be more inclined to believe that a mirror in a dream signifies aspects of the self rather than reproduction. But as I said, the symbolism of such a dream is up to you to decipher. 
Mirrors have always been the ultimate symbol of vanity. A very popular example is given by the story of Narcissus, who used the surface of a pond as a mirror (there's a strong connection between mirrors and the element of water. Water reflects an image like a mirror does. Water is considered a passive element, connected with emotions and femininity and so do mirrors). Narcissus fell in love with himself and not being able to take his eyes off his image, he died from exhaustion, enchanted by the ever fleeting, untouchable reflection of his own face. But if we look at it from another angle, we could give another interpretation to the story of Narcissus: while I imagine him, staring at the hypnotic water, in a trancelike state, I can't help thinking about the meditative tones of his activity. Maybe he was just fortunate, because what he found looking at the mirror-like water, was nice and comforting, to the degree that everything else around him ceased to matter. Confronting your own self is not always a comfortable thing to do. In the extreme, one can get too absorbed in Self contemplation, for good or ill. Looking for the inner truth, one can withdraw from society literally (i.e. becoming a monk) or metaphorically (becoming a loner, an introvert), which can be seen as a kind of death, a sacrifice of the self for the self. So we could say, that some people, once they see themselves in the "mirror", they are doomed to "die" for this, either because the image is unbearably terrifying or because it's shockingly unexpected, in a good or bad way. When Narcissus' mother asked the oracle about her son's destiny, the oracle answered that he would live a long life as long as he never came to know himself. Not everyone is ready  to look deep inside the mirror.The evil queen in Snow White's fairy tale, owns a magical mirror that can answer any question. The queen used to ask the mirror "who's the fairest in all land?" and the mirror, that couldn't lie, always told her that she was the fairest of them all. But the same brutal honesty forced the  mirror to tell the truth, when Snow White became fairer than the queen. It showed her the truth that she could not take and which eventually led to her doom. 

Venus (Aphrodite), the goddess of love and beauty, is often associated with mirrors. She is frequently depicted looking at a mirror, especially in Renaissance art. The mirror is often held in front of her by Cupid (Eros). In many cases, it's the others that feed our vanity and pride or they just show us who we really are, they are holding the mirror for us. Or they become mirrors themselves. They send back at us the images of their traits, which are also our traits. At times we don't like what we see. 

A mirror always reflects an image in reverse, no matter how accurate the representation is, it's always the wrong way round.

Who's looking at you from the mirror?

The Self Image

I guess that many of you know, that the human brain, whenever it sees an image - don't be fooled into thinking that it's the eyes that see-, fills up the details of that image by its own accord, as indicated by previous experience. It does this for the sake of economy, for saving valuable energy. Thinking about this function of our brain, I came to realize, that we paint the mental picture of who we are -our personality-  in the same way. The image we have for ourselves, is a collection of memories and past experiences, hardly ever questioned or explored on a deeper level, in reference to their validity and meaning. The features of our personality often consist in the impressions made by certain events of our life, i.e. the praise of our teacher at the elementary school, the offense of our schoolmate, the betrayal of a loved one, the time we pushed our limits, etc and the consequent reactions caused by them. Those reactions determine who we believe we are and we tend to regenerate them whenever we come across to similar situations or people in our everyday life. But what If we tried to break that vicious circle of mechanical reactions? many of them are pointless and void and they lead to negative situations rather than creative solutions.

I invite you to notice how each one of us adopts various attitudes, depending on the person or situation we have in front of us. We act in a certain way when we are in the presence of our parents, in another way when we are with our friends and yet differently when we talk to our boss. We change masks and roles all the time and we do this with extreme ease, almost mechanically. I'm not saying that this is necessarily bad, on the contrary it can be very convenient,  but it becomes a problem when it happens without any awareness - which is the case of most of us. How conscious can we be in our interactions with others if this chameleon behaviour happens so automatically? At times, we slip even deeper into unconsciousness and we get stuck in one or two of those roles and we act according to what we think the proper reactions for that role should be (or rather we don't even think about them, we just act without any awareness).

Think about it for a moment and see how many of our (re)actions happen without any sense of logic or purpose. They happen just because we are used to reproduce them for many many years. They are those actions that give us an identity, a sense of self. The problem lies in the fact that many of those attitudes derive not from our own, conscious choices, but from the need to live up to the expectations of other people, be it our parents, our friends, the society in general. Trying to eliminate what we consider to be a  negative aspect of the self can be very hard, as we soon realize that the Image has become an entity in itself, who will struggle to stay alive, no matter how malicious or destructive it may be.

Our reluctance to redetermine ourselves while life and situations shift around us and our attachment to that rigid sense of who we are,  is the source of many personal disasters and dramas. And the ultimate (self) hypnosis.