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Symbol Speak • The Power of Symbolism in Personal Transformation

Symbols are a Spiritual Language

Original post date: December 2014

Hilma af Klint, Altarpiece, 2015

Symbols are a Spiritual Language

Symbols are an integral part of the human experience. It is an archetypal language with many distinct cultural dialects, but is also universal and innately within each of us, spanning across cultures and time, touching us all in similar ways. They speak to us powerfully whether we are cognizant of this or not, affecting our intellectual, emotional, and spiritual bodies in both positive and potentially negative ways.

Most of us, most of the time, are not cognizant. We pass through the days with very little awareness of our inner and outer landscapes. We reside mostly in the mind, cultivating just enough awareness to (usually) avoid crashing into another car while driving to work or to successfully butter the toast rather than the cell phone.

The possibility for major advances in spiritual development at this level of functioning is slim. This persistent low level of consciousness also makes us vulnerable. In this half-asleep state, the potential is there to unknowingly assimilate a symbol's power in ways that work against our best interests.

Most of us have heard about how clever marketing schemes play on our desires and insecurities. Playing on our low-level of awareness, the expertly crafted symbols embedded within advertisements tell us that our desires will be met and our emotional insecurities will be alleviated if we buy their product. In reality, all it does is perpetuate our feelings of lack by diverting us from knowing our true nature.

However, when we make the effort to become cognizant, we are able to recognize and acknowledge the power of symbols, opening ourselves the spiritual renewal they offer. Through study and mindful interaction, they act as allies, helping us to become more self-aware, opening the veil that separates us from the sacred. They reveal the path of personal and spiritual development.

Just as elaborate advertising campaigns have been deployed to work contrary to our true nature, vast symbolic spiritual systems have been created over the millennia by brilliant and benevolent individuals, acting as a map to our liberation. They are designed to direct us. They have been shared as an act of the utmost love and service. What greater gift can be offered than to show us the way to free ourselves from our ignorance and suffering? These great individuals are many and have been adding to the cache of wisdom over the centuries.

The symbolic systems that have been formulated are countless. But some of the more elaborate and most well-known to us in the West are alchemy, astrology, Kabbalah, and the tarot. However, because of the current emphasis on materiality and rationalism, these systems have been tossed into the cultural wastebasket. It is time for us to pick them up, dust them off, and place them back on the pedestal where they belong. It is time to restore their dignity. Their role in our culture is to teach higher metaphysical truths, something rationalism alone cannot offer.

We need to commit ourselves to learning these systems in order for them to have a positive influence on the ways in which we think and conduct ourselves. This is how they will become dignified again. Because they are designs for spiritual growth, we cannot expect the meanings to reveal themselves to us with ease. It takes effort. It takes time, dedication, and persistence. It requires daily interactions with the images. They need our devotion. But as long as we make the commitment to learning them, these systems will continue to grow alongside us. As we use them as an aid in our evolution, we give back to them, adding to the cache of their depth and vastness.

frantisek-Kupka -The-First-Step-symbolism
Fantisek Kupka, The First Step

Symbols Connect Us to Higher Levels of Reality

There is a difference between understanding and knowing. An intellectual understanding of reality arrives through the study of information. This involves thought – using the mind to formulate an idea about the nature of reality. Sometimes the thoughts are our own. Sometimes we adopt the ideas of others. While this is a powerful way of coming to high levels of understanding, it falls short if we are searching for wisdom.

We finish reading a book and we think we have learned something about the subject at hand. And we have. However, the understanding we receive from a book is linear. It fills up the dimension of space that we already occupy. It can greatly expand our knowledge but will always fall short in giving us a visceral understanding of how it participates in the greater architecture that connects the inner with the outer, the higher with the lower, and so forth.

Symbols are the connecting portals between these worlds. They are gateways we cross to be able to encounter different dimensions of reality. Therefore, they are natural consciousness expanders. We can work with a symbol in this dimension and it will say something about our inner experience. It can connect our inner experience with a higher version of itself. It opens the doors and shows us the way.

The clever advertisers use this technology to identify us with the inferior versions of ourselves. They connect us to our fears and desires, banking on our impulse to disassociate from the discomfort it creates. It is perverting the sacred technology and using it against ourselves. Symbols are gateways to both the highest and lowest realms. Others who wish to subvert the sacred operate similarly.


Symbols direct us to the eternal wisdom that is beyond materiality. The mind's scope is limited because it cannot fully intellectually comprehend where it has never been.

Hilma af Klint, The Swan, No. 14

Pick a System of Study

This is why it is so fruitful to study a comprehensive spiritual system that incorporates symbols. It gives life meaning. It wakes us from our sleep, expanding our understanding beyond the confines of materiality. We begin to trust that the world is much greater than it seems because we come into direct contact with this greatness. The intellect alone will always fall short of this. It connects us with the higher, more subtle levels of reality that are beyond our intellectual comprehension. It does this through direct experience.

The way to make symbols work positively for us is to begin incorporating them into our daily practice. Use them as talismans imbued with power. Uncover their multidimensional meanings. Choosing to study a discipline such as alchemy, astrology, Kabbalah, and tarot, or to commit to oneself to a religion or any other sort of sacred science is like leaping into the rabbit hole. We step inside because we have reached the point where we are aspiring for something beyond ourselves, beyond the limitations of this reality. But what we may not fully realize as we take that initial step is that it is an initiation into a journey with no end in sight. It is a lifelong journey of self-discovery. It has the power to bring peace to our lives. If we treat them with proper reverence they will transport us from the mundane to the sacred.

The Circle and the Dot
Shada McKenzie

Astrologer and Tarot Reader based in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

She offers consultations, one-on-one mentorships, and classes at all levels.


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