I would like to give you some information on how symbols may be used in mystical exercises and how the symbol may serve as an instrument in the technique of initiation. The aim of all initiation is the integration of an entity’s personality and the elevation of consciousness. There are techniques that assist an integration and elevation of consciousness and how it may be facilitated. At all times since humankind has been on the planet the symbol has served as a powerful tool in that technique. Consider it now from that viewpoint.
The subconscious mind, when permitted to speak through the personality, will express itself in the language of symbols during dreams, visions, or psychic experiences. Such symbols will always emerge spontaneously and unannounced. Usually they will appear quietly, almost casually; at other times, they erupt into consciousness with great force. Most of them are enigmatical and possess multiple meanings. This is one of the many ways the Higher Self has of getting information through to the conscious mind.
These images or symbols must be extensively contemplated, their hidden meaning deciphered, until their concealed message has been comprehended and understood.
But the converse aspect of the situation is of importance also. Inasmuch as the symbol is the language of the subconscious mind, it is also the language which this mind can understand and by means of which it may be reached. Thus, symbols may affect the subconscious mind and arouse it into activity. When used in this manner, the symbol may serve as a powerful tool to stimulate the subconscious mind. Sometimes information will come into the subjective mind, which seems to lie between the subconscious and conscious minds, and this information can then be retrieved through the process of meditation.
It follows that a consideration of the use of symbols in meditation has two aspects: first, the action of symbols upon the subjective mind; second, the proper assimilation of those symbols, which emerge from the subjective or subconscious mind.
Consider the first. It is well known that symbols may be used to awaken realizations that lie dormant within the subjective mind. A Neophyte of the ancient mystical initiation was provided with a symbol and required to contemplate it in solitude, in silence. During a state of contemplation, the objective mind of the candidate was subdued and the subjective mind made receptive to inconiing impressions. Contemplation of the symbol exerted an influence upon the subjective mind through association and suggestion.
Inasmuch as the subjective mind reasons deductively only, the chain of associations awakened by the symbol through resonance stirs into action certain forces, and may arouse ideas or realizations that have lain dormant for several incarnations.
However, in order to unfold, and this is of great importance in modern day meditative training, the seeds of such realization must already have been sown, perhaps in previous incarnations.
Barren soil cannot give growth to rich fruit. Symbols can only reawaken that which is lying asleep. For every mind there will exist certain symbols that will not evoke any response. When this occurs, the effect of a symbol is not that of reawakening, it is the beginning of a new acquaintanceship. In this event, the symbol—so to speak—sows the seeds which may take some time to mature.
Those meditators who have trouble perceiving the required symbols in meditation are therefore asked to consider that they may have to ponder the given symbol for a longer period of time to allow resonance to build and the mind to accept the new information.
A powerful ancient traditional method of permitting a symbol to penetrate required the meditator to draw or paint a prescribed set of symbols with most painstaking care, and to do so in color. This activity forced the symbol to impress itself profoundly upon the subjective mind, and drew it into active participation. In ancient times symbols were also painted upon temple walls or were made part of the architecture. Intensive contemplation upon a symbol enables it to become effective. The ancient mystical philosophers knew this well.
By following the Ancient Wisdom, the method to be used in order to make a given symbol effective should now be patently obvious. First, the student should draw and colour the relevant symbol or symbolss, and do so with most painstaking care, so that the meaning may be absorbed during that preparation time. The symbols thus prepared must then be contemplated: Only ponder one symbol at a time until each symbol has activated.
The student must assume a borderline state or an altered state, simultaneously opening his mind to the power of the symbol. He must be patient. He must permit the symbol to speak to his inner self. Such exercises when faithfully pursued will reap their ultimate reward. Meditation will not be hurried, regardless of whether the student thinks that the symbol should appear rapidly or not.
Next, consider the second aspect of the usefulness of symbols; namely, the permitting of symbols to arise from the subjective mind or even the subconscious mind. The technique of properly accomplishing this is the subject matter of much deeper esoteric instruction which will not be elaborated upon here, except to add a few comments.
All students of mysticism know that during what is known as a borderline state, or an altered state of consciousness, the subjective mind will reveal its symbolic messages as visions or as psychic experiences. Such symbolic messages generally belong to two classes; their nature may be impersonal and reveal a universal law or cosmic truth, or a universal symbol that has been instructed by the teacher of meditation. Or, on the other hand, they may emerge to convey a personal message, relevant to the student's psychic development, for the purpose of guidance.
In each and every case the symbolical message will be cryptic, and it must be deciphered through extensive meditation and contemplation. When finally the symbol has been properly understood and assimilated, then it must be made to react upon the subjective mind and evoke from it a subsequent message.
Permitting the subjective mind to speak, interpreting its symbolical message, and finally allowing the symbol to react upon the subjective mind, results in a state of harmonious cooperation between man's two minds, resulting in an expansion of consciousness and a state of happiness.
The ability of any particular symbol to evoke a response depends largely upon the mental attitude and spiritual maturity of the observer. Any sign may transform into a symbol, provided its observer is in a receptive state of mind. Of this important fact the mystical philosophers were fully aware. The traditional ceremonies of initiation contain elaborate formulae for the express purpose of placing the Neophyte into a receptive state of mind during which the proffered signs could undergo a psychological metamorphosis into mystical symbols.
Only a mind possessed of a firm conviction that life possesses a deeper meaning than that exhibited by external appearances can be receptive to such stimulation. To such a mind, the physical world is like a cloak that covers a hidden treasure. A candidate for esoteric initiation must undergo extensive training to open his mind to this fundamental realization. On the other hand, the mind of one to whom appearance is reality, and to whom there is no distinction between shadow and substance, will be insensitive to the power of the symbol. A mind that functions rationally only will receive only intellectual stimulation from a symbol. The symbol, if sufficiently arresting, may evoke an intellectual or an aesthetic response, if it stimulates at all.
It follows that a given symbol may induce different reactions: it may appear alive to one person, it may be dead to another. Its influence will depend upon the onlooker's attitude toward life. But even then the symbol will evoke no response if there are no seeds that can unfold and mature.
The effectiveness of a symbol depends also upon its universality. Certain symbols seem to affect practically everyone. They contain a basic common denominator, essentially unconscious. They represent a universal human experience, an experience shared and comprehended alike by everyone, formulated in a most evolved, differentiated expression.
A mystical symbol is a living symbol. Symbols are fundamental tools in practical mysticism. The subjective mind speaks in symbols; symbols speak to the subjective mind. The proper use of the symbol facilitates a cooperation between man's two minds and enables him to attain a state of balance or perfect harmony.
Contemplation and meditation, when applied to symbols, serve a dual purpose. a) they permit the symbols to emerge and b) they permit them to act within provided a receptive attitude is maintained in an altered state of consciousness.
NB Tarot Image from "Wheel of the Year" Tarot Deck from Tarotopia.