Occult Symbolism
derived from symbolism in literature and the ancient world





Greek Mythology

The Bible

John Senior

Joseph Warren Beach

Joseph Campbell









    3. Everything Moves, Breathes, Corresponds
romantic French poet Gérard De Nerval

”Tout vit, tout agî, tout se corresponde."

This idea occurred to romantic French poet Gérard De Nerval and was soon taken up by Arthur Rimbaud (in spirit anyway), and eventually all the symbolist poets of the 1880's and 90's. All this in spite of Nerval's pet lobster and eventual suicide. Nerval was one of the first writers to revive and include Tarot and Astrology symbols in his work. He, like other artists of his time understood how symbols work, that is, learned it from occult symbolism. That a symbol could move, breathe, and have connections to everyone and everything in the universe was not taken seriously by anyone save artists, poets and weirdoes. It's like telling you that black is white, up is down and pigs will fly. Oh well, they're just symbols, a collection of crazy ideas put together to sell books and newspapers spouting manifestos. It took fifty years for these artists to find their true audience in the late 40's U. S. beat generation. My friend Shann says: We weren't dopers, we were intellectuals.
 To me the disrespect of symbols and symbolism is like spitting on the US flag. What say you of that symbol? In our brave tolerant new world we respect all symbols of authority, of religion, of gender, of childhood, and artistic cultural origin. Okay so they all spit in a pot and then you drink it, the Queen of England did. And smiled. That is beyond tolerance. That is duty and holding fast to the idea that a tolerant, modern thinking society of free individuals will frown on nothing held sacred or in esteem by rational people of another culture.
  When you explore the lotus symbol of Zen you can find yourself at rest within it or it at rest within you. As for meaning its petals continually grow in new, refreshed, reinvented from an old idea to an up-to-date one. This is how the symbol operates. The behavior of a symbol is based on its behavior in nature. Plants grow new leaves, new petals, new roots. The sun always returns day after day - that's how it operates. Sharks teeth re-grow, row after row - think of the potential for this metaphor.

 The moving, breathing parts of poetry and all art forms come from the use of symbolism. Without it creation is just an exercise. The metaphor has many moving parts, a metaphier and a metaphorand, newer language refers to these parts as tenor, vehicle and ground as well as many sub-referenced particles which create a landscape of symbolism. It can become your own made up world or a new take on reality. The renewing lotus petals can also become as nightmarish as the shark's teeth, growing in row after row. One metaphor can lead you to another, down a very long road or leave you there tired and dusty.

Here is the typical put-down of the creative process that we call a metaphor. (You gotta wonder who writes this stuff?) Noun 1. metaphor - a figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote, in order to suggest a similarity, figure of speech, trope, image, figure - language used in a figurative or non-literal sense, dead metaphor, frozen metaphor - a metaphor that has occurred so often that it has become a new meaning of the expression (e.g., `he is a snake' may once have been a metaphor but after years of use it has died and become a new sense of the word `snake') mixed metaphor - a combination of two or more metaphors that together produce a ridiculous effect synesthetic metaphor - a metaphor that exploits a similarity between experiences in different sense modalities.

Figure of speech is itself a metaphor. Non-literal means it cannot be taken literally - which is half the value of a metaphor because it can be taken at face value as well as in its higher function which is literary. There are no dead metaphors, tired maybe, they can all be revived. Snake is a bad example - people still worship them. Mixed metaphors are comedic and do not imply that the speaker is suffering from synesthesia, a rare medical disorder sometimes linked to creative people whom society would like to lock up in mental wards. This is the kind of bias a writer of artistic vision has to deal with - if it isn't literal, he's crazy. A butterbean on toast. Aristotle's metaphor is an eye for resemblance.

The best way to describe the mechanics of metaphor is the example: arm of the sea. Arm is something we identify as us, primary, the sea is more of a mystery. Familiarizing the less familiar, or animating it, changes our understanding of what is communicated. It touches us personally. Since day one people have searched for a cosmic connection. We look for a link to the vast creation around us. A body is not enough, a vessel of permanence is preferred. Where is my soul, my ka, my destiny?

Symbol, myth and metaphor as Joseph Campbell says contain truth but not in the form of 'what really happened'. Vis, we wouldn't describe it that way today. It's easy to come down on the near side of myth and excuse it away as 'never happened'. But there are devotees of myths of local color such as John Henry, Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan who see the larger truth and are not mislead by the fantasy - mainly because the local sensibilities that created the myths in the first place are still respected, revered and perpetuated. In fact, they are still there. This is how ancestors operate.

What makes a good symbol or metaphor? One of my best songwriter friends said: A good song will walk through fire, a bad one you can't drag through crap. The same is true of most elemental things including symbols. For me as a writer a good symbol is one that you can alter without difficulty in order to fit your creations, revivable no matter how archaic or misused, old hat or having dissimilar associations. What I find most intriguing and joyful are the associations one can make by crossing disciplines. Having many hobbies, interests and professions I know how to do that. A physicist once described the sound of a sailboat to me as a mighty resolution of seemingly irreconcilable forces. The love of surf, sea and physics lead to a metaphor.

Earth, air, fire, and water; what is that all about? Is it relevant? An earth symbol behaves like earth, it shifts, rumbles, acts and cracks like brick or stone, reveals jewels and precious minerals, gold and silver. Its volcanism buries us. Geology moves across the face of the earth and changes over time. Earth symbols are physical, as unique or as common as dirt. These are the valuables as well as the dust we leave behind. Air is everywhere, part of breath, part of living. It moves as gently as clouds as stormy as typhoons, yet it fills our words and poets put their breath into our mouths. Air is a symbol of intellect and mental processes, yet, it will wear you down.

Fiery spirit, inspiration, creation belching forth in red hot fury. Lions on August afternoons, summer sunshiny bright with growing vines, fruit, and abundance. But, not without the rain. Powerful waters of heaven and the abyss. Ocean that rings the world, changeable, eroding, building up and tearing down, the outflow, the tide of fury, the tide pool of fingerlings. Our emotions are reflected it its shimmer. We see ourselves caught in a placid surface effect. It is our emotional mirror, a mothering cradle of creation, a home deep and sheltering. These symbols are totally ageless.