Symbolic idolisation



The experience of the spirit is world-wide. Those who have experienced it have left as a legacy to civilisation a roadmap which will assist anyone who is interested in following the path to the spirit. No symbolic roadmap has escaped idolisation – dogmatisation; the symbols have become a dead letter. Modernity was built upon disdain for the transcendental and exorcised any concern with symbols; in the place of God it put the state and the power of analytical thought to organise and standardise. This model of life is being crushed.

As regards its very promising field, modernity, in spite of the great contribution of its technical progress, has handed down a planet which is not sustainable. As regards the human soul, it is obvious that it has been ravaged by a loss of meaning in life. Interest in the soul and its symbols is returning at a mass level without the fears and misunderstandings of the past. (Solon editorial team)

The problem of the idolised dominance of the symbol over what is symbolised is an old one. There has always been the problem of the deviation of a correct attitude towards the spirit and its symbols. The non-instrumental approach to symbols, in the past, and the gradual imposition of their dogmatic interpretation (see, for example, the Holy Inquisition) led to a disregard for their meaning. The systemic crises of the materialistic model of our civilisation make clear to a great host of people the magnitude of the damage. Institutions and state organisation are not sufficient to give meaning to the life of man. Interest in his soul and the symbolic roadmap to it is recurring with greater maturity than was the case in the past.

Any excessive emphasis on symbolism degrades the signified and its meaning and, in the end, robs the signifier itself of value in an idolised fixation. This is what happened with the teaching of Christ, in spite of any attempts by St Paul to cure tendencies towards fundamentalism.

In our own age, a more mature attitude towards the symbols of the spirit is now possible. We are no longer possessed by the fear that the sanctity of the transcendental is lost through the physicality of life.[i] The cohesiveness of the transcendental and the natural is based on the principle of creation ‘in the image and likeness’. The line from the spirit to matter is characterized by the transformational cohesiveness of being in the sense of synthesis.

In approaching this question from a psychological perspective, the psychologist Carl Jung put it as follows:

Myths are, first of all, manifestations which reflect the nature of the soul.[ii]

The iconoclasm of the Reformation, however, literally created a schism in the bastions of the icons, and then they collapsed, one after the other. They were called into question because they conflicted with awakening reason. Apart from that, people had long forgotten their meaning.[iii]

The question of what original experience is expressed by the symbol remained unanswered.[iv]

What is now required is that we should read with insight the meaning, the significance, and the light of the symbols which depict archetypes. It would be a mistake to turn the symbols of the spirit into idols. The chasm between man and the meaning of his life is not bridged by the conversion of the symbols of archetypes into static forms. What is needed is the employment of symbolism to achieve an experiential approach to the world of concept. Symbols are encoded heritages and their spiritual decoding makes up for the transcendental deficit.

We are now in a position to begin – on a much larger scale than ever before – the adventure of insight. We are speaking here of the journey of the “systematic cultivation of attention which gives the spirit to itself”, as the philosopher Henri Bergson described it.[v] On this journey, while the spirit seeks again its self through insight, it summons up its energies in a transformational and balancing way to deal with its creative expression through the intellect.

This is the road to liberation, to indwelling divinity or spirituality, and, through that, to synthesis; it is the road to real recognition and faith in Fatherhood, and is clearly symbolised in the life of Christ with his movement towards the Father, with the revelation of his unity with Him, but also the supplicatory presence which counterbalances inspirationally dualist synthesis or unity, and shows it forth as a communion of soul and spirit. At the same time, in the narrative of the Resurrection, a fundamental symbolic necessity is suggested by the words “touch me not”, by reason of the non-consummation of identification with the Father.

Touch as a sense symbolises the idolisation of inspiration or its entrenchment in a form. We are speaking of the recognition of the soul and of the deceptiveness of the form, and the distinction – detachment which permits the spiritual principle creative motility in meeting an evolutionary need in the field of form. This means the limitation of the cancelling out of the idol-based fixation of symbols and forms.

It is imperative that the spirit should retain its non-idolised or intangible character, its genuine wisdom veiled in its transcendental and abstract nature. The spirit in no circumstances must become an idol and so give rise to the sense of separateness between spirit and matter – and this is what is suggested in the concept of the Fatherhood of divinity.

Outline of the positions of the text

  • Our cultural heritage has many symbols – myths which are encoded inheritances of the roadmap for the spirit.
  • Their spiritual decoding makes up for the transcendental deficit.
  • Any excessive emphasis on symbolism degrades the signified and its meaning.
  • The desideratum is the employment of symbolism in order to achieve an experiential approach to the world of concept and meaning.
  • Insight decodes symbols and summons up the energies of the spirit, balancing its creative expression by means of the intellect.

This text forms part of the essay ‘Fear in the face of Time or fear in the face of Creation and Evolution‘.

[i] Zisis, Yiannis, Citizen or ‘Yogi’? Old & New Age series.
[ii] Jung, Carl, The Integration of the Personality [Greek version], Spageiria publications, p. 74.
[iii] Ibid., p. 81.
[iv] Ibid., p. 84.
[v] Bergson, Henri, 1962, Introduction to Philosophy [Greek edition], Diphros publications, p. 60.

Would it not be preferable, then, to call a function which is not, of course, what we normally call ‘intellect’ by another name? We say that it is insight. It represents the attention which the spirit gives to itself while it is tied down to matter, which is its object. This complementary attention can be cultivated methodically and be developed. Thus a science of the spirit will be constituted, a real metaphysics, which will define the spirit in a positive way instead of simply denying, as regards the spirit, everything we know about matter. Thus, by entrusting insight – as a science now – with the knowledge of the spirit, we are not withdrawing anything from the intellect, because we maintain that metaphysics which was a task of pure intellect excluded time, that from that moment it denied the spirit, or defined it by denials; this totally negative knowledge of the spirit we gladly leave to the intellect if the intellect insists on keeping it; we simply maintain that there is also some other knowledge.

Yiannis Zisis, writer

(Photograph by Yiannis Zisis)