I love symbolism so much. I spent years buying books and diving deeply into the subject almost obsessively.
I found a way to ‘flip a switch’ in my mind to where I started looking at everything differently and it constituted a massive leap in my understanding and spiritual growth. It’s great because anyone can do it, you just have to start.
A few years ago, I kind of entered this weird place where all the information I was cramming into my mind settled into a profound simplicity. Then, I just stopped studying the subject for a long time.
I’m not sure I’ll ever study it that intensely again but I’m glad I did; I regret nothing.
I learned that finality has no place in symbolism. If God wants to say one thing, he will say it clearly. When he wants to say endless things, he uses symbols.
If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire.
If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.Matthew 18:8-9 NASB
This week we have been studying Matthew 18 in Come Follow Me and I have had a few discussions with family members about these verses and the weight of the implications that Christ is getting at here are very challenging.
Imagine for a moment cutting off your own hand or foot; imagine plucking out one of your eyes. Can you imagine the pain and the horror? Think of how losing a key part of your body will affect the rest of your life.Read Full Post
“Symbolism exists precisely for the purpose of conveying to the imagination what the intellect is not ready for.”
– Walter Hooper, ed., The Collected Letters of CS Lewis, Vol. II (San Francisco, 2004), 565
My good friend Rick N. sent this quote my way via the @CSLewisDaily twitter feed. This quote is new to me and I think it is wonderful for how well it captures the essence of what symbolism can do. It reminds me a lot of this post where I shared a story about how I answered my 4-year old’s question with a sign instead of the literal answer which unfortunately would have been incomprehensible to her.
I also love how this quote includes imagination in the equation. Sometimes we may only consider symbolism and the potential meanings while forgetting the role imagination plays in helping us explore the possibilities. I feel as if I have discovered a hidden door in a familiar room and I am thrilled to see what awaits on the other side.
Zeal isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I think it tends to amplify our actions whether they are misguided or on point. Sometimes we can focus too much on the letter that we miss the spirit, or the weightier matters. Those are some the lessons reflected on in this great video from the Messages of Christ YouTube Channel.
Thanks to my friend Richard Nobbe for bringing this video to my attention. It’s a bit dated in many aspects but the information is very good, and I geek out on just about anything that has to do with symbolism.
“Every man who lived on the earth was entitled to a seer stone, and should have one, but they are kept from them in consequence of their wickedness, and most of those who do find one make evil use of it.” (Brigham Young’s journal, as quoted in Latter-day Millennial Star, 26:118,119)
“…no man can look in the them [the Interpreters] except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and should perish.” (Mosiah 8:13)
Interesting that we carry around these little black bricks made of plastic, metal, and glass in our pockets that illuminate and permit us to gaze upon them to reveal a multitude of things. If all earthly things are echoes of the heavenly, then perhaps having this technology provides an additional area of proving for us mortals.
Given our current ‘miraculous’ technological privileges, what do we seek after, what do we look for?
Would our motives be any different if it was heavenly technology?
There is a lot of repetition in religious life from rituals to ordinances, practices, and even scripture reading.
Let’s take scriptures as an example and I’ll let you think about how the metaphor applies to other things. First, imagine you are looking into a mirror, what do you see? Well, you see yourself of course, your face is backwards but that’s you. If you come back five minutes later, there is your face once again, but maybe you notice something new, an out of place hair, a blemish, or perhaps something stuck in your teeth. Other than that, everything else seems just as it was.
The mirror itself doesn’t change, if you come back 5 minutes later or 50 years later, it will continue to reflect as it did before. The purpose of the mirror is not to change, but to enable observation. They enable us to perceive things in a unique way and to review changes over time. The mirror reveals new things, but those new things do not come from the mirror, they are already there, we just lacked the ability to perceive them.Read Full Post
The following is a post created from a talk I gave in church this morning.
There is an idea in thermodynamics that everything in the universe eventually moves from order to disorder. The Book of Mormon is a window into how this happens in the lives of individuals and civilizations. Around 385 A.D., the bodies of tens of thousands of men, women, and children, lay strewn across the land as an entire nation went extinct save for a few.
Mormon, on of the last surviving leaders beheld this scene and cried out in anguish: “O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you! Behold, if ye had not done this, ye would not have fallen. But behold, ye are fallen, and I mourn your loss. O ye fair sons and daughters, ye fathers and mothers, ye husbands and wives, ye fair ones, how is it that ye could have fallen! But behold, ye are gone, and my sorrows cannot bring your return. (Mormon 6:17-20)
They had fallen, and they did so together, as one.Read Full Post
This is a cool video from the Messages of Christ YouTube channel where the garments of the high priest are explored in their connection to Jesus Christ. This guy made this whole thing from scratch which is pretty cool.
A fun idea about how adults, youth, and kids can learn about symbolism and temples with a sketchbook and LDS Symbol Cards.
Junior Ganymede had a great post about Lehi’s Vision and the people pointing the fingers. The post author had been out with the missionaries and the woman they were teaching had some insights that were expounded upon, here’s a small snippet:
Read Full Post
The fingers are being pointed to single out people for mockery. But she also saw it as a way of shifting responsibility. I think she is right.
The pointing finger is the finger that assigns responsibility. When it points to mock, it is designating the scapegoat. If the scapegoat is not explicitly given the blame, then the role of the scapegoat is to validate the existence of the inner circle by creating someone who is not part of the inner circle. And in an inner circle, by nature, questions of responsibility do not arise. One is not judged on merit but on membership.
The great and spacious building is key to understanding the modern structure (the Cathedral, That Hideous Strength, the Clerisy, the New Class, the Polygon, etc.). It explains its relationship to status. It highlights its divorce from reality, its existence in a purely social and symbolic world.
Understanding that the modern structure is a way of shifting blame and avoiding responsibility is also a valuable insight. It explains the victim sweepstakes and the grievance mongering. (A spiritually degenerative pursuit, obviously).
This quote brilliantly sums up a critically important key to understanding symbols.
“One explanation of a symbol that has been given does not preclude someone else seeing beyond that. Symbols were intended to expand our freedom of expression and feelings, not limit them. In suggesting some meanings associated with the symbols on the Salt Lake Temple, it need not be supposed that this constitutes the final word on the matter. Finality robs symbols of their meaning.” – Joseph Fielding McConkie, Symbols of Our Faith, 32
A few weeks ago, I was trying to leave my wife a love note on the fridge with some of the magnetic letters that were scattered everywhere. I quickly realized how limited my ability to express myself would be as I only had one of each letter.
Although I did manage to put some kind of crude message together, imagine trying to write a novel or something! Letters of the alphabet are symbols, and while the letters of the English alphabet don’t have meanings in and of themselves like Hebrew letters do, their real ability to communicate shines when they are combined with other letters to make words and sentences.
As you can see by the photo below, having only 26 letters to work with severely limits one’s capacity to communicate.
If we think of symbols like letters of the alphabet that form words and sentences, then we are expanding our capacity to be taught by the Spirit.
One of the things that worried me about creating my Symbol Cards and ldsSymbols.com was inadvertantly establishing some kind of authoritative guide that led people to exclude any meanings that didn’t appear in my resources. I didn’t want people to think that the meanings I shared were the only meanings or that some meanings were “better” or “more correct” than others.
I felt like the projects were worthwhile as long as people understood that they represented a starting point, a place to document certain potential meanings that appear to be consistently used in scripture, culture, mathematics, biology, astronomy, etc. I think I need to do a better job at expressing that because it cannot be stated enough.
What do you think?
- Has symbolism been a tough subject for you to understand?
- Does McConkie’s quote resonate with your experience or help you see things in a new light?
- What other qualities about symbolism do you feel are important to take note of?
Picture in your mind’s eye a beautiful stained glass window where light from the sun passes through a collection of colored panes that transform the light into something wonderful.
Church is like the window and we are like those colored panes.
When we come together, the light of Christ shines through the window we create out of everyone’s collective “stained glass,” beautiful only to those have eyes to see.
A recent post on Junior Ganymede mentions the ritual bath called a mikveh where Jews practiced ritual immersions in pools of water. The parallels to Christian baptism (which means to dip or immerse) are many. In both rituals the purpose of the immersion is a symbolic cleansing or refreshing. Anciently, immersion in a mikveh was required for those converting to Judaism.
Today, these are the modern cases in which a mikveh is used:
- by Jewish women to achieve ritual purity after menstruation or childbirth;
- by Jewish men to achieve ritual purity (see details below);
- as part of a traditional procedure for conversion to Judaism;
- to immerse newly acquired utensils used in serving and eating food.
The Wikipedia article I’ve been referencing here cites a source that says “The existence of a mikveh is considered so important in Orthodox Judaism that an Orthodox community is required to construct a mikveh before building a synagogue, and must go to the extreme of selling Torah scrolls or even a synagogue if necessary, to provide funding for the construction.” (Berlin, Meshib Dabar, 2:45)
These ritual immersions can happen many times throughout the year for many reasons. It was a powerful physical reminder of keeping oneself clean. Early Latter-day Saints practiced baptism in a similar manner by getting rebaptized prior to new covenants and ordinances and even for health reasons. Rebaptisms were done away with shortly before the 20th century.Read Full Post
I was looking at this picture of the Salt Lake Temple the other day and had a thought. Typically, the “all-seeing eye” of God is depicted within a triangle and not an oval. This version also has a veil-like curtain that looks like it is being removed from the eye.
That’s when I wondered if this is isn’t depicting God’s eye at all, but man’s. God would not need to have a veil removed from his eyes. Does he even perceive us through a veil or it is just that our vision is obscured by one? I think it’s the latter of the two.
I think this symbol is depicting an experience that the temple has been constructed to facilitate.
There’s the matter of these 28 sun-like rays emanating from the oval that I’d like to address next.
I saw two sets of a 28-pointed star in the celestial room of a particular temple one evening a few years ago. No joke, the very next morning I was reading A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe by Michael S. Schneider and saw this 28-pointed star made up of 4 overlapping 7-pointed stars that looked exactly like the one in the temple, minus the 12 circles:Read Full Post
I created LDS Symbol Cards but didn’t really do much in the way of providing instructions. I thought I’d put together a little video that explains their origins and how I use them personally. Even if you don’t have any cards, but still like symbolism, there are some cool little nuggets in there. If you have ordered some LDS Symbol Cards in the past, I’d love to hear any personal insights or ways that you use them in the comments below.
If you bought some cards, I’d really appreciate a review over here.
I have not yet seen the film The Tree of Life although the title alone draws my interest. This particular sequence depicts the creation in a manner that is very similar to the creation sequence in the presentation of the LDS temple endowment. In both instances, we see the earth being organized and life appearing.
In this Hollywood version, we see the process of evolution being depicted and I realize that some people might have a problem with that. Personally, I do not have any problems with evolution being part of the creation process (that’s a whole other subject) but if you do, I invite you to focus on the symbolism, the principles and overall beauty of the story being told here and the surprising little gem towards the end.
At 12 minutes in you have this really powerful and thought-provoking scene that seems to be symbolically depicting the first act of grace or mercy where one dinosaur decides to not kill another one that is evidently injured or dying. What makes the scene striking is how such a thing does not fit within the law of the jungle.
In a creative twist, showing an act of mercy coming from a dinosaur rather than a human is making a bold statement. It is unexpected and makes the principle stand out even more.
It is a moment where compassion, this sense of caring and love enters the scene of creation for the first time. Like the temple video, I think we can pause on being literalistic and appreciate the principles being symbolically illustrated. Indeed, if we are to be instructed by symbolic teaching at all, we must suspend literalism and learn to view things from many facets.
All in all, I absolutely love this entire sequence and was quite amazed to find something of this nature coming out of Hollywood.
“Philosophy [nature] is written in that great book which ever is before our eyes – I mean the universe – but we cannot understand it if we do not first learn the language and grasp the symbols in which it is written. The book is written in mathematical language, and the symbols are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without whose help it is impossible to comprehend a single word of it; without which one wanders in vain through a dark labyrinth.” – Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)
If you cannot understand nature and the universe without understanding the language of symbols, how can you hope to understand something much simpler like temples, scripture, or gospel teachings? How many feel like they wander in vain through a dark labyrinth?
The study of symbols is unfortunately ignored by many; consequently much thought and meditation, much observation and appreciation, and much enlightenment never happens. Symbols echo the underlying structure of matter and reality. I believe that the foundational principles of all existence, and how the whole functions can be explained in the numbers 1 through 9. I know that may sound like a bold statement but it is actually pretty simple to explain. I’ll have to write about that sometime.
My own personal understanding has been immensely impacted by devoting time to the study of symbols and archetypes. I see everything through a new lens, a lens where everything is important and has meaning and purpose. This in and of itself doesn’t change you, knowledge is essential, but putting it into practical use beyond self-serving intellectual stimulation is the challenge of life.
Here are a few of my favorite resources for those interested in learning more:
A friend of mine was interested in the symbolism of the beehive and bees so I sent him this article.
We were talking about John the Baptist and how he ate locusts and honey and what that might have meant. Then some lights started going on and I thought of something I hadn’t considered before. I haven’t thought this whole thing through yet, but here are some of my initial ideas.
Throughout the scriptures, we see teaching through contrast and complimentary opposition. Themes of chaos/disorder/cursings are juxtaposed with themes of creation/order/blessings. For an example, look up the word “otherwise” as it is used in the Book of Mormon. That’s a great keyword to see where these contrasting themes are presented, here are a few examples:Read Full Post