A Little Bit of Symbols: An Introduction to Symbolism - Henry Reed (2016)
Chapter 12. THE SUN’S TAIL WAGS THE WIND: SYMBOLS AND OBJECTIVE REALITY
There is wisdom at work in the creation of symbols. It seems to be a wisdom that wishes to convey itself, to become known as the source of the symbols—a wise source seeking recognition. Such was the conclusion of that influential Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. In his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he tells many fascinating stories from his life’s work to help us gain a sense of some very challenging ideas.
Dr. Jung’s own mysterious dreams, from childhood on, prodded him to wonder about the source of such bizarre ideas and images. Scholarly studies of mythology and ancient texts presented the good doctor with the same question—what was the source of the ideas in these stories? He also recognized similar themes in his patients’ dreams, hallucinations, and artwork. These so-called subjective expressions appeared to Jung’s seasoned mind as symbolic statements regarding the person’s spiritual predicament. Rather than see the patient’s symptomatology as a derangement of the mind, Jung saw it as an opening of the mind. A crisis created an opportunity in which a larger intelligence might speak—symbolically. Heeding the message brought about healing.
Symbolism was a key factor in Jung’s discoveries. The controversial story of the “Solar Phallus Man,” is perhaps the most dramatic example. Dr. Jung described it as important evidence for the existence of universal memory, or the collective unconscious. As Dr. Jung tells the story, he was just beginning his clinical practice, working at a hospital in Zürich, Switzerland. He confronted a wide range of patients, but there was one in particular who made quite an impression. It was someone who had a special “vision” to share. This was a man whose appearance and demeanor would not suggest anything exceptional, but nevertheless he had something very special he wanted folks to see. He was grabbing Dr. Jung by the collar and pointing at the window. “Look! Can you see it?!” the man insisted.
Dr. Jung looked out at the sky while the man described a long tail-like penis descending from the sun, waving back and forth. He asked Dr. Jung to move his head back and forth so he could see this tail and watch it move. The man explained that by wagging its tail, the sun was creating the wind. Dr. Jung didn’t know what to think at the time, not being able to see the tail himself. He remained suspicious that there was something behind such a vision. It was years later before he got his answer.
The patient was, by then, deceased, and Jung was fully immersed in his scholarly research developing his theory of the collective unconscious and the archetypal nature of symbolism. Jung came across something newly translated, previously unknown to him. It was an ancient document about an initiation rite in a cult of Roman times. It described how the initiate, by moving his head from side to side, would see the sun’s phallus waving back and forth, creating the wind. Jung immediately remembered his patient back at the Zürich hospital who had insisted, insisted, that he look at the sky.
The content of the patient’s vision could not have come from something he had seen, heard of, or read about. No such accessible information was available. It had to come from within, from a universal memory, or collective unconscious. Dr. Jung later found further evidence for the more universal existence of this sun-tail theme. It was in an obscure Christian text describing a tube coming down from the sun to disappear under the dress of the Virgin Mother, showing how she was impregnated by the Holy Spirit.
At first Dr. Jung looked at the symbolism emerging from this supposed collective unconscious as being primarily a far-memory phenomenon. Over time, however, he realized there was a creative aspect at work in the unconscious mind of humanity. So he later called his discovery the “Objective Psyche.” Today we’d call this same idea the “transpersonal mind,” or “Mind at Large.” Such terms represent the premise that the mind exists, on its own, without a brain to generate it. We do not “have a mind” of our own; instead we are embedded in Mind at Large, and it has us in the grip of its dynamic structure. It’s hard to imagine, but Einstein discovered and proved that space is not empty. Space is a force field that affects the physical realm. Similarly, the mind has its own prior and independent existence, and it shapes how we experience what we think of as reality. Over time, Dr. Jung’s research led him to propose that there is a story brewing within a universal mind. One aspect of this story concerns the evolution of consciousness and our individual relationship to the whole. Another concerns living in the relationship between matter and meaning, or nature and spirit.
In the case of the “Solar Phallus Man” story, we can see such a relationship in the discovery, through our space probes, of solar wind. It was about a year after Dr. Jung’s death that news began to arrive from the Mariner spacecraft about the steady flow of energy particles streaming off the sun in waves. As more data was collected, this same solar wind became the prime suspect in explaining why comets’ tails point away from the sun and appear to wave in that “wind.” Both the ancient initiation rite and the patient’s hallucination pointed to something that was physically real. As the voice of the Objective Psyche, whether expressed in a vision, an hallucination, a religious ritual, or art, the symbolism reflects truths of experience, encountered both inwardly and externally.
Having the same source within the Mind-of-God, physical nature, and spiritual meaning mirror one another. The link appears in moments of meaningful coincidence. Dr. Jung created the term synchronicity to refer to this principle. It doesn’t operate on the basis of a chain of cause-and-effect events, but rather through the coexistence of significantly meaningful events. Symbolism is the language that connects the inner and outer to make the meaningful connection. Following such connections is a form of research for enlightenment in its own right, as we’ll see.
SOME SYMBOLS TO SAMPLE
Solar activity affects life on Earth.
Is the sun the center of it all?
Atomic activity mirrors the planets.
The sun is the center of our lives.
SOME SYMBOLS TO SAMPLE
The holy mother
An omen of things to come
Where do ideas come from?
She who makes it happen