A Thunderous Epiphany: How Symbols Are Created

“Symbols throw us across a spiritual abyss. When contemplating a sacred work of art, it may feel as if a great divide separated us from the Holy hidden in images. Then, our vision expands, and the image becomes transparent to its transcendent source. We are thrown together with the Sacred in a fleeting moment of epiphany…

The expressions just used were not ill-chosen. If we take the time to trace the etymology of the word ‘symbol’ through its Attic Greek antecedent, symbolé, we discover that it means literally to throw (balló) two things together (sym).

What symbols throw together, essentially, are sacred and mundane experiences, making them one.

The process of symbolization occurs by overwhelming necessity: the mind, over-awed and frightened by a profound and soul-shattering experience of the Sacred, desperately seeks those objects which can, by virtue of their structure, contain such a momentous outpouring of the Divine – which is threatening otherwise to blast apart the very vessel into which it is being poured. At such a moment, an object is sought for its power to appropriately contain the awesome appearance of the Numinosum, and so, a symbol is created.

In the earliest ages of mankind, the Sacred was experienced in this way – as a thunderous epiphany that led per force to the creation of a symbol. Then, a series of symbols were strung together by ancient myth, with certain Threshold Images at their nadir, to become our hieratic works of art. And, as we survey the many masterpieces of ars sacrum created over the course of history, we find that most offer us symbolic doorways, constructed by the visionary artists of old, as images to enter through, and then left behind for succeeding generations to attempt in crossing.

The symbols of the past are not totally outdated, antiquated and useless; they resonate still with unseen powers. Yet, it is only by bringing our own lives, preoccupied with its present conflicts and needs, to these eternal symbols, that the forms forgotten by time may thus be enlivened, and our own lives may be transformed thereby – informed once more by their ancient inhering power.”

L. Caruana, Enter Through the Image: The Ancient Image Language of Myth, Art and Dreams, Recluse Publishing 2009, pp. 111 and 128

Vasily Kafanov, "Dreamer", via http://kafanov.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/m6.jpg

Vasily Kafanov, “Dreamer”, via http://kafanov.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/m6.jpg

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18 Responses to A Thunderous Epiphany: How Symbols Are Created

  1. As always, Monika, thank you for enlightening this reader re: symbols. It seems in their complexity lies some degree of simplicy — for the trained and educated eye/mind. 🙂

  2. jupiterbeings says:

    Symbols ; the gateway to the sacred and divine. All your posts are resonating Monika. Bless.

  3. Thank you, Monika. In a conversation with my friend Bradley last night, who is also an astrologer who explores soul, I remarked that I had been “throwing” myself “into” things. He said this phrase of throwing myself into things stood out to him as an unconscious sort of statement revealing a deep soul pattern, or window into my karma or pivotal past life issues. I had been thinking what this could mean for me, and your selection of this beautiful quote has illuminated this phrase of throwing together into an epiphany for me. I love this idea you share here, that “it is only by bringing our own lives, preoccupied with its present conflicts and needs, to these eternal symbols, that the forms forgotten by time may thus be enlivened, and our own lives may be transformed thereby – informed once more by their ancient inhering power.” love, Gray

  4. Symbolism remains the only way we can approach expressing the Ineffable. Great post, Monika.

  5. enlightening – symbols are powerful always – take the Hindu Swastika – the epitome of glory grace and enlightenment – then invert it to serve a Nazi purpose – and you have the holocaust.

  6. “In the earliest ages of mankind, the Sacred was experienced in this way – as a thunderous epiphany that led per force to the creation of a symbol. Then, a series of symbols were strung together by ancient myth, with certain Threshold Images at their nadir, to become our hieratic works of art.”

    LOVE that quote! Great post Monika.

  7. Pingback: A Thunderous Epiphany: How Symbols Are Created | lampmagician

  8. I just love this quotation. It reminds me very much of Mircea Eliade’s “The Sacred and the Profane”, a wonderful book I’d recommend to everyone who loves symbolism and itsw place in the human story. And the image is amazing. Thank you, Monika.

    • I also loved that book by Eliade. I remember I spent the summer 2001 in the library reading Jung alternating with Eliade… Happy times. 🙂 Thank you.
      The image is by a brilliant Russian artist.

  9. Monica I can not tell you how important this posting is at this time for me. Sometimes we are doing things half seeing and instinctually. The understanding actually comes from outside ourselves, like a laser pointer. The fullness of the reality at the other end of the laser pointer is just as important. Thank you so very much.

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