We tend to think of symbols as being strange or mysterious. They are not. They are simply a way to communicate, often at a deeper and richer level than is possible without them.
Without symbols there can be no language. Without language there can be no community. Without community there is no civilization. Because symbols are so basic, we seldom think of them as being what they are or even recognize when we are using them. As you read this page you are taking symbols called letters, combining them to make words and then having those words represent a thought, feeling or object. This experience is not limited to the printed word. Spoken words are also symbols. When I say “apple”, most of us will think of and even see a round, red or green, piece of fruit that has a stem or perhaps a leaf.
Sometimes symbol is so strong that it activates more than one of our senses. For example, for some people when they hear or see the word apple they may or may not think of the fruit but even experience its smell or taste.
It is difficult , if not impossible, for a culture to exist without symbols. Because symbols are so plentiful and powerful they have been used from the earliest times to convey information and divine understanding. In this way, they have acted as the glue that can hold a group together and promote their beliefs and culture.
In the next weeks we will look at some of these symbols that have helped shape our thinking and beliefs, see how they have evolved over time, and explore how time may have changed their meaning – sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. We will also explore ways they can be useful in our lives today.