Rest Stop (Sunday) … what’s in a symbol?

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double rainbow Aug 2013 (credit: blog author)

12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; 13 I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. 14 It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, 15 and I will remember My covenant. (Genesis)

Just yesterday, following a brief rain fall, a double rainbow appeared in the sky!  It was a very brilliant, colorful, and complete bow.  A special rainbow since you don’t always see a full rainbow, let alone a double full rainbow in which you could distinctly discern each color of each bow.  Unfortunately I did not take a picture of that rainbow, so I included the picture above which I took last year.  As beautiful as the bow in the picture is, it pales in comparison to the rainbow of last night.

As I stared at that perfect creation of nature my mind flowed to many thoughts and feelings, one of which was to wonder what others thought about when they saw this rainbow.  Did they even notice it?  What emotion did it trigger?  It’s amazing that no matter how old I am, the first snow of the season makes me feel like a kid; and the sight of a perfect rainbow causes me to pause and wonder what it all means.  Do sights in nature give you pause?  Why?

Symbols are all around us.  Street signs are now devoid of words in exchange for a shape, color and picture; icons are replacing text in computing and technology; emoticons replace our need to find just that right word to express our feelings.  It seems to me that as time progresses our means of communicating is morphing into pictures and symbols and not the usage of traditional words.  I’m not saying this in a sense of regret, just stating that symbols, in ours and almost all cultures, are important to the members of a society, and if you wish to get along in society you need to understand and embrace it’s symbols.

Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), world recognized scholar of mythology, in an interview in 1985 stated: “I’m calling a symbol a sign that points past itself to a ground of meaning and being that is one with the consciousness of the beholder.”  In other words, a symbol is something which holds meaning to each of us individually (a myth holds meaning to the society as a whole).  I have been fascinated with symbol and myth since my early years in college as I began to realize how often we turn to objects to give us meaning.  Our early ancestors, when they didn’t understand the world around them, assigned meaning to objects or events to understand them. 

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friendship ring (credit: unknown)

Even today, in our “modern” age, we continue to assign meaning to objects, such as a ring.  These objects are symbols with meaning, meant to express emotion or concepts in a simple way.  This is one of the reasons the first snow fall symbolizes the joy of childhood for me.

Yesterday, as I watched that rainbow, I realized that there is much in this world which is greater than ourselves.  We are small in comparison to our universe; but, in our symbols, we become large to those who understand their meaning.  I may be small in comparison to the universe, but in comparison to the people who love me, I am large, just as they are large in my part of the universe.

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Time to Meditate (stock photo)

I encourage all of us to find those symbols which are important to you and cherish them.  Spend some time meditating on the world around you and begin to notice all the symbols.  Name them, embrace their meaning, feel their meaning, cherish their meaning as they help you to understand who you are in this vast universe.

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Email:  bloglifesjourney(at)gmail(dot)com


10 thoughts on “Rest Stop (Sunday) … what’s in a symbol?

  1. The ring posted above symbolizes marriages and deep commitment when worn a certain way as well in the Irish tradition


      1. The claddaugh ring has nothing simple in it’s symbolism. In Ireland that ring promotes a message of deep feelings within oneself. It can either be a symbol of true friendship, love or commitment or all three which ultimately is the key to successful unions. It seems these elements are most forgotten in certain westernized cultures. It is refreshing that such important symbols are still used and acknowledged. One ring is believed to symbolize one partner rather then one different meaning which is the beauty of such an item. In the USA you have one ring to symbolize engagement and one for marriage. The Irish ring has one ring worn different ways. You choose one person and have them prevail all those meanings within you through one symbolic item. Such a special symbol for a very special person. Thank you for incorporating other cultures in your writings. Well done and written to the author of this blog.


  2. Thanks for the thoughtful and inspiring article. It reminds me about what symbols are and what they are not. The Russian semanticist Korzybski is quoted as saying “the map is not the territory.” (anyone driving with a GPS learns that or ends up going the wrong way on one-way street or into a river!)
    The symbol of something is not that thing.
    The third Commandment refers to this.
    Last week, I went to a Hanamatsuri festival at a nearby Buddhist temple. One of the speakers described how the statue of Buddha on the altar is not for people to bow down before the Buddha. Instead, the statue represents things as they are. So, it’s a reminder for all to stay awake and honor reality.
    I find it amazing how symbols can mean such different things to different people.


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