Symbols are a powerful influence in our lives. We attach all sorts of significance to all sorts of things. Dates, animals, places, numbers, food, gestures, rituals… The list is endless. It has been said that the use (and misuse) of symbols is what defines us from the rest of the the animal realm.
Symbols carry meaning for us. Part of the reason that they are so powerful is that symbols can bypass our critical judgement. We see (or hear) the symbol and accept the meaning without having to appraise it’s relevance to us personally, or to weigh the value of the meaning implied by the symbol. The red light on a traffic signal means ‘stop’, we all know this without question (whether we act on it or not is another matter); a flag at half-mast, an eighteenth birthday, a fire alarm….
Symbols and symbolic acts carry layers of meaning and reference. It’s impossible to fully plumb all the inferences, nor should we. Symbols exist as a kind of shorthand to save us the trouble of constant analysis and interpretation.
Another factor in the efficacy of symbols is that we don’t have to accept or believe in them to be affected by them. We have just passed through the most symbol-laden moments in the year and – albeit that many of them have commercial undertones – whatever our faith or inclinations, those symbols will have affected us.
Happy New Year.
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