Posted here are the first few paragraphs of the Preface to the Secret Doctrine:

PREFACE.

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        THE Author  the writer, rather  feels it necessary to apologse for the long delay which has occurred in the appearance of this work. It has been occasioned by ill-health and the magnitude of the undertaking. Even the two volumes now issued do not complete the scheme, and these do not treat exhaustively of the subjects dealt with in them. A large quantity of material has already been prepared, dealing with the history of occultism as contained in the lives of the great Adepts of the Aryan Race, and showing the bearing of occult philosophy upon the conduct of life, as it is and as it ought to be. Should the present volumes meet with a favourable reception, no effort will be spared to carry out the scheme of the work in its entirety. The third volume is entirely ready; the fourth almost so. 

    This scheme, it must be added, was not in contemplation when the preparation of the work was first announced. As originally announced, it was intended that the "Secret Doctrine" should be an amended and enlarged version of "Isis Unveiled." It was, however, soon found that the explanations which could be added to those already put before the world in the last-named and other works dealing with esoteric science, were such as to require a different method of treatment: and consequently the present volumes do not contain, in all, twenty pages extracted from "Isis Unveiled."

    The author does not feel it necessary to ask the indulgence of her readers and critics for the many defects of literary style, and the imperfect English which may be found in these pages. She is a foreigner, and her knowledge of the language was acquired late in life. The English tongue is employed because it offers the most widely-diffused medium for conveying the truths which it had become her duty to place before the world.

    These truths are in no sense put forward as a revelation; nor does the author claim the position of a revealer of mystic lore, now made public for the first time in the world's history. For what is contained in this work is to be found scattered throughout thousands of volumes embodying the scriptures of the great Asiatic and early European religions, hidden under glyph and symbol, and hitherto left unnoticed because of this veil. What is now attempted is to gather the oldest tenets together and to make of them one harmonious and unbroken whole. The sole advantage which the writer has over her predecessors, is that she need not resort to personal speculations and theories. For this work is a partial statement of what she herself has been taught by more advanced students, supplemented, in a few details only, by the results of her
 own study and observation. The publication of many of the facts herein stated has been rendered necessary by the wild and fanciful speculations in which many Theosophists and students of mysticism have indulged, during the last few years, in their endeavour to, as they imagined, work out a complete system of thought from the few facts previously communicated to them."

 

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The sole advantage which the writer has over her predecessors, is that she need not resort to personal speculations and theories. For this work is a partial statement of what she herself has been taught by more advanced students, supplemented, in a few details only, by the results of her own study and observation.

This part jumps out to me. It really seems to demonstrate the perspective that we are all, including Mahatmas, but students of the doctrine, more or less advanced. This 'ability' to not need to resort to personal speculations and theories seems highly important. As she says, only a few details in the SD actually come from her own study. What does that say about her, about the SD, about our own speculations and theories?

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Yes this is a very interesting point.  It seems to direct our attention to a concept that is probably difficult to grasp in a very new culture like our own.  In places like India and China, for example, it might be part of the culture for teachings, traditions, ideas to be handed down carefully and protectively from generation to generation.  Perhaps this process might be analogous to handing down a precious family heirloom.

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Why is there an emphasis on disavowing the idea of "revelation"?

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You know, this is an interesting one. First thing to consider, I think, is that revelation isn't solely a western idea; the Vedas are recognized also as 'revelation' or "sruti". And, in the SD, HPB says that the Ancient Wisdom first came from "the teachings of higher and exalted beings, who watched over the childhood of Humanity.", essentially a revelation (i.e. wisdom imparted or given). So, it seems to me that it isn't so much the idea of revelation (which seems to have a place in Theosophy, within a certain restricted definition), that is being disavowed, but moreso the idea that the current presentation of theosophy is revelation, which it assuredly is not, as HPB says.

I suppose one danger is associating 'revelation' with the idea of a personal God. Even the 'higher and exalted beings' spoken of in the SD are essentially aspects of our SELF, in the final analysis. So, if anything is disavowed, I suppose it would be the idea that knowledge or wisdom come from outside of us, from something/someone truly separate.

Thoughts?

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Something else occurs to me when it comes to the word "revelation," having to do with expectations that can be attached to such a term. To have something "revealed" seems to suggest that it is completely uncovered or shown; made absolutely plain and clear; it was covered, and now it isn't. And that certainly doesn't seem to be the case with Theosophy. In fact, it doesn't even seem possible, especially when we are talking about someone receiving teachings from another and then passing them on to us. In essence these teachings cannot be willfully "revealed" by anyone. Only words describing them can--or perhaps symbols, depending upon the medium.

How many times can we, as students, read over the same words before the meaning sinks in? They can remain totally obscure to us until a certain crucial point.

How many times can we read words that we think we understand, only to be proven wrong when one day, a totally new level of meaning comes to light?

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The idea I get from this is that HPB wants to distance herself from "new" revelation. As already pointed out here, there has always been the "old" revelation of the great sages, handed down from antiquity. In the East, there is quite a stigma about new revelation, and few people want to be seen as "innovators," either altering the old teachings or coming up with new teachings. Even when great teachers such as Shankaracharya or Tsongkhapa arrive on the scene, their teachings are almost entirely put forward as clarifications of the old teachings They devote many pages of their writings to showing that what they are saying can be found in the old texts, just like HPB did. The "channelings" of new revelations that have proliferated in the West since HPB's time are very much the kind of thing that she attempted to distance herself from by showing that what she brought out can be found in numerous old sources. In doing this, she did what the great majority of the Eastern teachers did.

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This is very interesting.  Knowing about the cultural aspects during HPB’s time when she was writing the doctrine fills in the missing pieces and helps us to understand the bigger picture.   

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Would anyone care to comment on this line in the Preface?

"What is now attempted is to gather the oldest tenets together and to make of them one harmonious and unbroken whole."

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We know that the Ageless Wisdom began as a whole, and evidently fragmented and materialized into the world religions, and is now returning to its pristine condition, or at least as pristine as this age will allow. It is instructive to know that the doctrine is a whole; a living system of thought in which every part is related to every other, the guiding principle of unity leading to a right conceptualization. Harmony between tenets are also indicated. If too much weight is given to certain tenets to the neglect of the others, one quickly finds himself in a sea of confusion, or error, and must eventually retrace his steps.

What glyphs and symbols is she talking about? Is there a glyph or symbol that focuses every tenet of the Secret Doctrine into a single thought?
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What glyphs and symbols is she talking about?

It doesn't seem to me as though she is talking about any particular, concise set of glyphs, but rather the myriad symbols that have been used throughout time to enshrine various sacred principles. In her own statement, she bridges East and West in her reference to them, suggesting that she is talking about symbols the world over. There are many examples that show up virtually worldwide--the swastika, theFlower of Life, the cross and more.

Is there a glyph or symbol that focuses every tenet of the Secret Doctrine into a single thought?

I don't know for sure and cannot point to one, but I know that symbols are vast storehouses of such wisdom. One can go on and on for volumes about the meaning in a single symbol. One can spend a lifetime contemplating one symbol and still come up with new perspectives. This is one of the reasons symbols are so often used.

The Flower of Life comes close, though, as geometrically, it is a "template" of sorts that contains the seed of many, many other forms. All of the platonic solids, the circle, the hexagram, the pentagram, the vesica piscis, the golden spiral--all of them and more can be drawn from the vertices of the circles in this amazing figure.

Why else are symbols ideal vessels for something such as divine wisdom?

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Is there a glyph or symbol that focuses every tenet of the Secret Doctrine into a single thought?

From what I can see, there are two 'sets' of symbols that do seem to encompass at least the core concepts taught in the secret doctrine (though the two sets are, I think, actually the same symbol).

These are:

1) the zodiac. Seems to be a synthesizing symbol, that may contain the whole of the system if fully elaborated on.

2) the series of symbols found on pages 4 and 5 of the proem. (See Daniel's reply below). Those symbols seem to encompass cosmogenesis rather fully - each of the core symbols corresponds directly to a stanza of volume 1 (though the symbols for stanza 1 and 2 are missing; she starts the symbols on stanza 3).

The preface of the Voice of the Silence seems to give an explanation, in a sense, of how the written word can be used to veil symbolic meaning.

HPB also says that a symbol is a "pictorial expression of an idea or a thought." and that "Primordial writing had at first no characters, but a symbol generally stood for a whole phrase or sentence. A symbol is thus a recorded parable, and a parable a spoken symbol." (see Theosophical Glossary)

Interesting statement to consider in relation to the body of religious/philosophical literature of the wisdom tradition. :)

It also seems to me that with the right understanding, one could probable merge all the main symbols of the world theologies into a single system of symbols, since they do all seem to coordinate with one another.

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1) the zodiac. Seems to be a synthesizing symbol, that may contain the whole of the system if fully elaborated on.

Good observation. I would be tempted to include the Tarottrumps--but at that, one could go even further and just offer the Qabbalistic Tree of Life. This one glyph is used to "map out" the relationships between various symbols and ideas, and acts as an over-arching framework for classifying the zodiacal signs and the tarot trumps both, as well as the astrological planets themselves, the deities of the world's mythological systems, and more. In The Secret Doctrine, HPB draws heavily from this symbolic framework. Study of her Secret Doctrine and these attributions are very complimentary to each other.

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Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on September 9, 2012 at 12:10pm
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Would anyone care to venture a definition of the concept of a symbol?

Permalink Reply by Jimmy on September 9, 2012 at 1:40pm
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Everyone knows the well known saying that "a picture is worth a thousand words". Symbols are powerful because many ideas can be related to a single picture, a sort of "master file". Symbols are like icons on your Windows Desktop, behind which stands an enormous amount of information, just "click" on it and an application unfolds. In our case we "click" on our occult symbols through concentration and contemplation.
Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on September 9, 2012 at 8:47pm
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Symbols are also powerful because they affect us on levels other than the conscious level--after all, symbol is also the language of dreams. This is one reason advertising is so effective. In occult work, however, via the concentration and contemplation, we relate with symbol in a way that makes use of the strengths of the subconscious level without subjecting us to the weaknesses inherent in a fully passive relationship with them. An uplifting, virtuous cycle then unfolds as the conscious and unconscious aspects of mind both work together to unfold and develop the meaning of symbol for us.

Permalink Reply by Jimmy on September 10, 2012 at 4:53am
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Some western occultists believe that certain symbols have become a kind of astral entity through repeated use by Initiates and Adepts throughout the millennia, e.g., Hebrew letters, Egyptian god-forms, special geometric shapes and even numbers; so those who use these symbols today benefit from the efforts and energy put into the symbols by others.

Any thoughts about this?
Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on September 10, 2012 at 7:56am
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I've read about this sort of idea often. It offers a good explanation for much of the power of symbols, as well as for the efficacy of many rituals and magickal systems used for spiritual development.

This can be a boon, but also means that one should be careful with such work. A condition known as obsession, very similar to the idea of spirit possession, can occur if one engages with such forces without taking certain precautions meant to keep one grounded. In this way it is easy to begin mistaking the proverbial "map" for the "territory."

Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on September 10, 2012 at 9:58pm
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A quote from Eliphas Levi on the matter:

Those who abdicate the empire of reason and permit their wills to wander in pursuit of reflections in the Astral Light, are subject to alternations of mania and melancholy which have originated all the marvels of demoniacal possession, though it is true, at the same time, that by means of these reflections impure spirits can act upon such souls, make use of them as docile instruments and even habitually torment their organism, wherein they enter and reside by obsession, or embryonically. These kabalistic terms are explained in the Hebrew book of the Revolution of Souls, of which our thirteenth chapter will contain a succinct analysis. It is therefore extremely dangerous to make sport of the Mysteries of Magic; it is above all excessively rash to practise its rites from curiosity, by way of experiment and as if to exploit higher forces. The inquisitive who, without being adepts, busy themselves with evocations or occult magnetism, are like children playing with fire in the neighbourhood of a cask of gunpowder; sooner or later they will fall victims to some terrible explosion.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 15, 2012 at 11:53am
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Just a quote here on the subject of glyphs, symbols and the zodiac. I'm sure many of us are familiar with this, from the preface to the Voice of the Silence:

"The sacerdotal language (Senzar), besides an alphabet of its own, may be rendered in several modes of writing in cypher characters, which partake more of the nature of ideographs than of syllables. Another method (lug, in Tibetan) is to use the numerals and colours, each of which corresponds to a letter of the Tibetan alphabet (thirty simple and seventy-four compound letters) thus forming a complete cryptographic alphabet. When the ideographs are used there is a definite mode of reading the text; as in this case the symbols and signs used in astrology, namely the twelve zodiacal animals and the seven primary colours, each a triplet in shade, i.e. the light, the primary, and the dark—stand for the thirty-three letters of the simple alphabet, for words and sentences. For in this method, the twelve "animals" five times repeated and coupled with the five elements and the seven colours, furnish a whole alphabet composed of sixty sacred letters and twelve signs. ..."

If nothing else, this certainly hints at how much more may be involved in the common symbols we feel so accustomed to.

Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on September 8, 2012 at 11:39am
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Later on, in the Proem, HPB does mention a particular set of glyphs that are used to contain the whole of the Secret Doctrine, though it's not clear whether or not these are the ones she is mentioning here in the Preface:

http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/sd/sd1-0-pr.htm

The first illustration being a plain disc image_il, the second one in the Archaic symbol shows image_il, a disc with a point in it — the first differentiation in the periodical manifestations of the ever-eternal nature, sexless and infinite “Aditi in that” (Rig Veda), the point in the disc, or potential Space within abstract Space. In its third stage the point is transformed into a diameter, thus image_il. It now symbolises a divine immaculate Mother-Nature within the all-embracing absolute Infinitude.

When the diameter line is crossed by a vertical one image_il, it becomes the mundane cross. Humanity has reached its third root-race; it is the sign for the origin of human life to begin. When the circumference disappears and leaves only the image_il it is a sign that the fall of man into matter is accomplished, and the fourth race begins. The Cross within a circle symbolises pure Pantheism; when the Cross was left uninscribed, it became phallic. It had the same and yet other meanings as atau inscribed within a circle image_il or as a “Thor’s hammer,” the Jaina cross, so-called, or simply Svastica within a circle image_il.

By the third symbol — the circle divided in two by the horizontal line of the diameter — the first manifestation of creative (still passive, because feminine) Nature was meant. The first shadowy perception of man connected with procreation is feminine, because man knows his mother more than his father. Hence female deities were more sacred than the male. Nature is therefore feminine, and, to a degree, objective and tangible, and the spirit Principle which fructifies it is concealed. By adding to the circle with the horizontal line in it, a perpendicular line, the tau was formed — image_il — the oldest form of the letter. It was the glyph of the third root-race to the day of its symbolical Fall — i.e., when the separation of sexes by natural evolution took place — when the figure became image_il, the circle, or sexless life modified or separated — a double glyph or symbol. With the races of our Fifth Race it became in symbology the sacr’, and in Hebrew n’cabvah, of the first-formed races;* then it changed into the Egyptian image_il(emblem of life), and still later into the sign of Venus, image_il Then comes the Svastica (Thor’s hammer, or the “Hermetic Cross” now), entirely separated from its Circle, thus becoming purely phallic. The esoteric symbol of Kali Yuga is the five-pointed star reversed, thus image_il — the sign of human sorcery, with its two points (horns) turned heavenward, a position every

Occultist will recognise as one of the “left-hand,” and used in ceremonial magic.*

Permalink Reply by Jimmy on September 9, 2012 at 12:11pm
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With the mention of the Tree of Life, the thought occurred to me that Man is such a universal symbol. The Tree in its entirety is pictured as the very suggestive symbol of the Divine Man, called Adam Kadmon by Kabbalists, a symbolic innovation that forces the the mind to draw a link between Man and the Universe; and I can't think of a single tenet of the Secret Doctrine that can't be found in the glyph of the Tree.

Daniel also mentioned the Tarot. I believe it was Eliphas Levi that worked out a connection between the Tarot Trumps and the Tree, with each Trump corresponding to a "Path" on the Tree, the paths being the connecting links between the various sephiroth. Levi wrote, "As an erudite Kabalistic book... A prisoner devoid of books, had he only a Tarot of which he knew how to make use, could in a few years acquire a universal science, and converse with unequaled doctrine and inexhaustible eloquence." HPB must have known about the Tarot, but to my knowledge she never mentioned it. I wish I knew her thoughts about the subject. However, she may have acknowledged it indirectly through her endorsements of Levi's teachings.
Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 9, 2012 at 12:59pm
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HPB certainly spends a good deal of time on the 'trees of life' - what a wonderful symbol. I her glossary she says:

"A large volume might be written upon these sacred trees of antiquity, the reverence for some of which has survived to this day, without exhausting the subject."

I think you make an important point when you mention Man as a symbol. Seems to me that all symbols are, in fact, but representations of one universal symbol, of which Man is the ultimate manifestation.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on September 9, 2012 at 12:20pm
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Concerning our symbols and glyphs discussion.  HPB has this to say in the six items of cosmogony:

"The Secret Doctrine is the accumulated Wisdom of the Ages, and its cosmogony alone is the most stupendous and elaborate system: e.g., even in the exotericism of the Puranas. But such is the mysterious power of Occult symbolism, that the facts which have actually occupied countless generations of initiated seers and prophets to marshal, to set down and explain, in the bewildering series of evolutionary progress, are all recorded on a few pages of geometrical signs and glyphs."

We are wise to consider the meaning and depth of symbols.

Permalink Reply by Miguel Salinas on September 11, 2012 at 9:39pm
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For what is contained in this work is to be found scattered throughout thousands of volumes embodying the scriptures of the great Asiatic and early European religions, hidden under glyph and symbol, and hitherto left unnoticed because of this veil.

Maybe we are taking the words glyph and symbol too literally. In Symbolism and Ideographs, Volume I- Part II of the SD, HPB says that the holy scriptures of eastern and western religions should not be taken at face-value. These exoteric scriptures are in fact written expressions of pictorial emblems, which are in themselves expressions of a series of symbols. To the "untrained" eye, these written words and symbols can be subject to multi-faceted interpretations, or sometimes misinterpretations. She gives the example that a parable is a spoken symbol - behind the parable is a moral human truth. Such is the reason for the relationship between a master and his student; that is to lift the veil hidden behind these symbols and glyphs and reveal the esoteric truths. The master does this while concealing these truths through symbols to protect those from harm who are not yet ready to hear them. 

HPB goes on to say that even these texts are but grosser interpretations of the old scriptures of the ancients.

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Permalink Reply by Peter on September 12, 2012 at 1:03pm
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Would anyone care to venture a definition of the concept of a symbol?

A symbol is a thing that stands for some other thing - often a simple idea.  The image of a lion is often used to symbolise courage, regal-ness. The lotus is said to be a symbol of the dual creative power in nature.  The serpent symbolises divine Wisdom and Perfection.  Many of our symbols have, over time, become specialised i.e. they have come to represent something specific to the tradition, culture or society that develops them.   However, HPB informs us that there are a number of universal symbols which, when understood correctly, carry the same occult meaning the world over. HPB tells us that the lotus and the serpent are two examples of universal symbols. The boundless circle is another universal symbol:

'The Circle was with every nation the symbol of the Unknown -- "Boundless Space," the abstract garb of an ever present abstraction -- the Incognisable Deity. It represents limitless Time in Eternity.' SD I 113)

and..

"The one circle is divine Unity, from which all proceeds, whither all returns. Its circumference -- a forcibly limited symbol, in view of the limitation of the human mind -- indicates the abstract, ever incognisable PRESENCE, and its plane, the Universal Soul, although the two are one." (SD I 1)

We could say that an emblem is a complex symbol. In other words while the symbol is often used to convey a relatively simple idea, an emblem is used to convey a series of ideas and may contain a number of symbols within it.  The seal of the Theosophical Society, as found on the front cover of the Secret Doctrine, would be a good example of an Emblem as it contains the symbol of the swastika, the serpent swallowing its tail, the two interlaced triangles, the ansated cross (itself an emblem of life) in the centre etc.

Symbols and emblems may convey profound ideas and sacred truths to our mind and intuitive faculty that pages and pages of words could not ever convey.  In the Secret Doctrine HPB helps us to understand the universal meaning of a number of symbols that are scattered across all the major spiritual traditions throughout the world and throughout history.  She also points out many places where the original meaning has become distorted or simply lost.  We can only really understand what this means and HPB wants us to learn by a study of the Secret Doctrine text itself.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on September 12, 2012 at 3:56pm
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Thank you for that Peter.  Since the SD tells us that everything manifest is a representation of something at a more ethereral plane, could we say we live in a world of symbols?

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 13, 2012 at 6:27am
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That's an interesting question, Gerry.

I think we could say we live in a world in which there are symbols, which is not quite the same as saying, 'we live in a world of symbols.'

Not every thing is symbolic in itself.  However, any thing can used as a symbol if there is a quality or characteristic of that thing which might stand for another thing.  For example:

The white roses in my garden are the physical manifestation, not a symbol, of the devic life forces operating behind the scenes.

The single white rose that a lover sends to his sweetheart is sent as a symbol of the purity of his love.

Symbols carry or convey ideas.  Might we say that a symbol - in particular a sacred symbol - conveys (perhaps sometimes IS) a current of ideation?

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on September 13, 2012 at 12:24pm
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Peter, what I had in mind is applying the notion of "As Above, so below" as the foundation of symbols and therefore all of manifestation, each and every element if you will, has symbolical value.  Certainly some symbols have more currency in the minds of men, but could everything manifest have symbolical value in your estimation?

Or is better to confine the idea to specific instances?

Permalink Reply by Jimmy on September 13, 2012 at 2:18pm
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I've heard some metaphysicians argue that the phenomenal world is symbolic and may be interpreted in the same way that one would interpret a dream. I can see the logic in this since the world that is perceived is only a representation of what is really there. However the world as representation does not necessarily equate to the world as symbol, although it could. I haven't completely worked out the matter in my mind. One of the problems that I see is how to interpret those symbols.
Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on September 13, 2012 at 9:02pm
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The white roses in my garden are the physical manifestation, not a symbol, of the devic life forces operating behind the scenes.

The single white rose that a lover sends to his sweetheart is sent as a symbol of the purity of his love

Peter brings up a good point here. There is a difference that stands out between these two examples, and it is this: In the latter example, there is the agency of human consciousness and/or interpretation involved. This suggests that a thing becomes rightly symbolic only once it is perceived as such. In this way, humans are "symbol-makers."

This, in itself, is somewhat symbolic of the role that humanity plays in the cosmos; on a symbolic level, it illustrates that through observing certain phenomena and attributing meaning to them, we are transmuting them in a sense, lifting some aspect of them up into the realm of spirit. It is also said that in a more literal sense, as our own consciousness is transmuted, we begin the work of transmuting/uplifting the very matter of which we are made and with which we come into contact, but this is another subject entirely.

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 14, 2012 at 2:56am
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Gerry, I see your line of thought with regards to analogy - that's a valuable point.

I think all I am saying is that things in the world are not symbols in themselves. Whether we see them or use them as symbols depends on the mind of the perceiver. Of course, much of what we are discussing right now will depend on how we define the term symbol. My own, albeit rather simple definition, is that it is some 'thing' that conveys an idea about some other thing.

What HPB says about symbols is far more important than my thoughts on it. In order to keep messages brief, I've put these in the post which follows.

continued...

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 14, 2012 at 2:59am
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In the SD HPB makes the following points.

The Secret Doctrine, of which she is revealing but a few fragments, is the accumulated Wisdom of the Ages. These facts, gathered and verified over the ages by countless generations of initiated seers, are all recorded by them on just a few pages of symbols (geometrical signs and glyphs). (SD I 272)

HPB says that it is the power of Occult Symbolism that allows for such profound ideas and knowledge to be recorded so succinctly and comprehensively in this way. (SD I 272)

She also refers to this form of symbolism as "sacred symbolism", to which belongs the universal symbols - such as the perfect circle with the point in its centre. (SD I 19)

From the earliest of times down to the present there has been a universal esoteric Mystery language of which symbolism is an intrinsic part. (SD I 310)

There was a time when the Mystery language and its symbols were universal: "all the ancient records were written in a language which was universal and known to all nations alike in days of old, but which is now intelligible only to the few." (see SD I 310)

Those profound truths, once universal, are now scattered in fragments : "scattered throughout thousands of volumes embodying the scriptures of the great Asiatic and early European religions, hidden under glyph and symbol…" (SD Preface)

In her book, The Secret Doctrine, HPB aims to bring those scattered truths, 'hidden under glyph and symbol', back together again in order to make clear and restore the universal nature of The Wisdom Religion and its Mystery language and to make it intelligible to the many rather than 'just the few'.

"What is now attempted is to gather the oldest tenets together and to make of them one harmonious and unbroken whole." (Preface to SD)

(apologies for the length of this post. P.)

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on September 14, 2012 at 10:48am
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Please don't misunderstand, there is no argument here.  As I see it we are merely trying to explore the meaning of the idea of symbols.  Your contributions on that score are excellent and very helpful.  I find it fruitful to think about with you.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 14, 2012 at 12:06pm
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Might we say that a symbol - in particular a sacred symbol - conveys (perhaps sometimes IS) a current of ideation?

This is an intriguing notion. We have ideation imprinted on substance, and thus a manifestation of an idea, which we perceive with our senses as a 'thing' (be it a 3dimensional thing or a 2dimensional representation), and perhaps that thing per se is perceived (inwardly) with our Mind (on its subjective plane) as the symbolic meaning of the thing (i.e. the idea underlying that particular outer manifestation). In this way, perhaps our 'sensing' of the symbolic meaning of a thing is a glimpse (however small) of truer (inner) perception?

Peter, I'd also be curious to hear you expand on what you mean by a symbol being a current of ideation. If you don't mind going further down that rabbit hole ;)

Permalink Reply by Jimmy on September 14, 2012 at 12:27pm
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Jon are you talking about Platonic Forms here? What do you mean by ideas imprinted on substance?
Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 14, 2012 at 1:02pm
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My 'Platonic terminology' isn't up to scratch, so I'm not sure how exact the correlation would be between this and platonic forms... perhaps another member can make an attempt at this connection...

About ideas imprinted on substance. In the SD, HPB speaks of Cosmic Ideation being 'impressed upon' Cosmic Substance, by Fohat. The process would seem to be mirrored on each plane, as the duality of subject-object (or spirit-matter) and the 'link' between the two. (See pages 15-16 of the proem). So my thought here is that an idea or 'ideal form' becomes manifest as a form, and thus the idea is embedded in the form, so to speak. We sense the outer form with our senses, and perhaps we 'sense' the 'ideal form' with our Mind (which arrives in our waking consciousness as symbolic meaning). (?)

Replies to This Discussion

Permalink Reply by Jimmy on September 14, 2012 at 1:34pm
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Daniel and Peter brought out a really good point about the subjectivity of symbolism as it relates to objects of the senses, e.g., a rose for love. Other examples I can think of are wedding rings, Christmas trees & etc. I'm not sure if this is what you mean by sensing the ideal forms as symbols though.
Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 14, 2012 at 1:39pm
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It's interesting, and it seems to me (as Peter mentions) that there may be those symbols that are simply 'man made', so to speak (like the rose), where we attach some meaning to something; but then there does seem to be essential sacred symbols that have a sort of 'universal' meaning - like the circle. The wedding ring seems to me to be simply an extension of the symbolic meaning of the circle or ouroboros, etc. - symbolizing eternity.

It's my suspicion that certain symbols are sacred because their meaning is inherent, built into the very fabric of reality. And perhaps this is where Plato's forms come in?

Permalink Reply by Jimmy on September 14, 2012 at 2:46pm
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Your last message didn't have a reply button so I'll just duplicate your message and my response here:

"It's interesting, and it seems to me (as Peter mentions) that there may be those symbols that are simply 'man made', so to speak (like the rose), where we attach some meaning to something; but then there does seem to be essential sacred symbols that have a sort of 'universal' meaning - like the circle. The wedding ring seems to me to be simply an extension of the symbolic meaning of the circle or ouroboros, etc. - symbolizing eternity.

It's my suspicion that certain symbols are sacred because their meaning is inherent, built into the very fabric of reality. And perhaps this is where Plato's forms come in?"

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Platonic Forms, also called Ideas, are universal forms of which particular things are the "shadows". All horses are modeled after a Universal Horse Form, men after a Universal Man, trees after a Universal tree, circles after a Universal Circle, etc. All Forms are real, perfect, ideal and transcendent. Aristotle modified this doctrine by adding that Forms are immanent, e.g. the Universal Horse is present in each instance of a horse. I believe this is what HPB meant by 'ideal forms' impressed upon cosmic substance.

The shapes that we use as sacred symbols definitely correspond to Ideal Forms, but there must be something else besides the Form that causes them to be sacred. For instance, a circle is not necessarily a sacred symbol. Perhaps this brings us back to the subjective constitution of symbols, in that any sacredness that they have is attributed by us. Or is it something else?
Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 16, 2012 at 2:46pm
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@Jimmy. This is a limitation of Ning... so many comments in a row and the reply button disappears.

Seems that our discussion here (on Platonic forms/ideas) merges into what Peter's talking about here. See my reply with question here, which relates to your comment:

"So my thought here is that an idea or 'ideal form' becomes manifest as a form, and thus the idea is embedded in the form, so to speak."

I'm also interested in something else you said:

"I believe this is what HPB meant by 'ideal forms' impressed upon cosmic substance."

I'd have to agree. It seems to me that these ideas are everlasting, thus it would also seem that the symbolism underlying the idea and the form is also, in a sense everlasting, but also only 'periodically evident', i.e. the symbolism is only recognizable when there is a form manifest.

Might we say that the symbolism is, in a way, the link between the ideal and the form?

(you can answer this question, if you'd like, by replying to the main post, which will get us started as a fresh thread)

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on September 13, 2012 at 12:20pm
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Miguel you make many interesting points here.  Please explain further that you mean by taking the concept of glyph and symbol too literally?

Permalink Reply by Miguel Salinas on September 13, 2012 at 1:49pm
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Maybe a poor choice of words. If symbols, for instance, are exoteric expressions of esoteric truths, then history has shown that these exoteric symbols, and their written expressions as scripture, have been modified over time. Today, one symbol may have many different meanings. I may look at a symbol and have my own interpretation of its meaning. You may look at the same symbol and have a different one. What's more important is the truth behind it. Therefore, we shouldn't take these symbols at face value. 

 

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on September 13, 2012 at 2:22pm
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Precisely.  One might say that the power of a symbol is its capacity to illuminate something currently hidden to the perceiver.  Secondly symbols, as tools of allegorical communication, have the capacity to be aids at many levels.  One gets the feeling that there is an enormous depth of meaning to the very idea of a symbol.

For me, this is what is wonderful about theosophical philosophy, no matter how much one may know about a concept there is unplumbed depth to that same idea when looked at again and again with theosophical eyes, so to speak.

little

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 14, 2012 at 11:11am
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Please don't misunderstand, there is no argument here.

That's very thoughtful of you to make that clarification, Gerry, and thank you for your kind words.  There's no misunderstanding here.

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 15, 2012 at 11:24am
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Peter, I'd also be curious to hear you expand on what you mean by a symbol being a current of ideation. If you don't mind going further down that rabbit hole ...

Jon, while a bit longer than would have liked, below are just a few thoughts I have on the subject and are offered tentatively. So please accept them as such.

A symbol is a thing which embodies a certain idea or ideas.  There must be some property of that thing which relates to the idea(s) it comes to embody otherwise that thing can’t act effectively as the symbol for the idea.  A mouse won’t symbolise strength nor will the triangle symbolise eternity and regeneration, but the elephant and the snake swallowing its tail will symbolise both of these, respectively.

A thing (or an action) takes on the role of a symbol when it has the right property that allows it to be endowed (or filled) with a particular meaning (stream of ideation) by consciousness.  The meaning itself, or ideation, has its source in consciousness not in the thing/object/action that becomes the symbol.  

To put it another way, consciousness is the real source of the symbol - the outer thing just happens to fit the bill, so to speak, and thereby becomes a suitable vehicle of thought/ideation.  

There are two aspects to this.  Consciousness can endow the appropriate thing with a specific meaning so it becomes a symbol.  Likewise, the appropriate thing can awaken a specific meaning that resides in consciousness, albeit only in a latent state up to that point.

Take the single white rose the lover sends to his sweetheart.  He choses it because it has just the right property that symbolises the idea of the purity of his love.  When he sends the rose it is the meaning it represents and holds for him that he wishes it to convey.  The rose both conveys and awakens that meaning in the consciousness of the receiver. She may admire the look and the smell of the rose, but it is the meaning that touches and moves her deeply - at least that is his hope.

In a similar manner, in our studies meaning can both be conveyed to and awakened in us, and we can be touched and moved by the meaning held in those symbols  - especially those that are sacred and have a universal meaning.  A symbol can be said to contain both meaning and energy - to one degree or another.

continued in next post...

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 15, 2012 at 11:32am
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Peter, I'd also be curious to hear you expand on what you mean by a symbol being a current of ideation.

continued from previous reply...

Jon,  Looking at it from another perspective - what is the source of ideation? Ultimately it is the Great Breath: referred to in the Proem as ‘the perpetual motion of the universe’  (SD I 2).   In the early stages of the awakening of the universe it is said:

“… the great Breath assumes the character of precosmic Ideation. It is the fons et origo of force and of all individual consciousness, and supplies the guiding intelligence in the vast scheme of cosmic Evolution.”  (SD I 16)

Later on...

 “Cosmic Ideation focussed in a principle or upadhi (basis) results as the consciousness of the individual Ego. Its manifestation varies with the degree of upadhi, e.g., through that known as Manas it wells up as Mind-Consciousness; through the more finely differentiated fabric (sixth state of matter) of the Buddhi resting on the experience of Manas as its basis - as a stream of spiritual INTUITION."    (SD I 329)

Cosmic Ideation is essentially the collective Dhyanis.  If we take the principle of ‘as above so below’ then we might consider that the symbol making nature of Man’s consciousness corresponds in some form, but to a lesser degree, to the activity of the Dhyanis (collectively the Universal Mind, Mahat). 

As I said at the beginning, the above thoughts are tentative and brief as space does not allow me expand.   However, they might form the basis of the beginning of an further exploration at some stage.  Perhaps a further exploration might include considering if the above throws any light on what HPB means by the ‘the mysterious power of Occult symbolism’:

“But such is the mysterious power of Occult symbolism, that the facts which have actually occupied countless generations of initiated seers and prophets to marshal, to set down and explain, in the bewildering series of evolutionary progress, are all recorded on a few pages of geometrical signs and glyphs.” SD I 272

Once again - apologies for the length. Corrections welcome.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 16, 2012 at 2:38pm
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Thanks Peter. This has really encouraged me to think deeper about this subject!

To put it another way, consciousness is the real source of the symbol - the outer thing just happens to fit the bill, so to speak, and thereby becomes a suitable vehicle of thought/ideation.

...

we might consider that the symbol making nature of Man’s consciousness corresponds in some form, but to a lesser degree, to the activity of the Dhyanis (collectively the Universal Mind, Mahat).

For me this all revolves around a fundamental question I've been asking, which you seem to have addressed in part.

Since theosophical philosophy sees ideas as giving rise to the forms (ideation to manifestation), is it the case that weapply symbolic meaning where it seems fitting, or is it that we simply recognize symbolic meaning that already inherently exists in a thing, so to speak, or perhaps some combination of the two?

To rephrase: does each 'thing' inherently contain certain ideas - i.e. is each 'thing' naturally a symbol of some idea (or ideas) because it was built from them, such that the thing already contains symbolic meaning prior to man recognizing the symbolic meaning in it? Or is symbolic meaning 'created', so to speak, by Man, imbuing some 'thing' with some 'idea'?

For example, the circle. Does the circle inherently contain the idea of eternity, or is it simply that man has chosen to apply that meaning to that 'thing'? Or another one that has interested me... does the serpent somehow inherentlycontain the idea of wisdom, or does it contain that idea (to us) only because we've chosen to apply that meaning to it?

Would love more input on this question.

Permalink Reply by Jimmy on September 16, 2012 at 10:44pm
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Jon wrote: "I'd have to agree. It seems to me that these ideas are everlasting, thus it would also seem that the symbolism underlying the idea and the form is also, in a sense everlasting, but also only 'periodically evident', i.e. the symbolism is only recognizable when there is a form manifest.

Might we say that the symbolism is, in a way, the link between the ideal and the form?"

Well I don't think symbolism underlies the Divine Ideas and their manifestations as forms. If I understand you correctly, you're theorizing that symbolism is inherent or hidden in manifested forms. My understanding is that Divine Ideas are like blueprints that the manifested forms are patterned after. Let me illustrate what I mean: In the animal kingdom these plans may be transmitted via DNA code to the ovum which then uses that information to build the form. The growth process itself may be an example of 'ideation'. However there is no symbolism involved in this scheme. We may observe certain forms in nature, e.g. the sun, moon, stars, a tree; objects that "call up" ideas, but these ideas are productions of the human consciousness, but not necessarily original productions.

Some symbols seem to be embedded in the race-consciousness, and sometimes inexplicably arise into individual consciousness. I'm reading a psychology book along these lines about Uroboros symbols. The book shows a picture drawn by a 5 year old English "working class" girl; she drew a serpent surrounding the world and a boat, and as it turns out, this is an ancient Phoenician Uroboros. So the human subconscious mind may perhaps be the source of the "mysterious power of Occult symbolism". Anyway, I'm leaning toward the opinion that any object that enters within the field of experience is only an object and has no symbolic value in itself. Certain objects do have the power to evoke a response from the subconscious, and we call these symbols. However, the symbolic value is contributed by the consciousness and not by the object.

Replies to This Discussion

Permalink Reply by Daniel Noga on September 17, 2012 at 8:16am
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This is a really interesting discussion about a really interesting question! I may have a few ideas to contribute.

As I read through and ponder these posts, I find myself leaning towards the viewpoint that the meaning of symbols is something human consciousness imbues them with. A certain phenomenon comes to mind.

Earlier in the discussion, Jimmy mentioned certain "godforms" as being among the symbols that accumulate a presence, over time, on the astral plane (or whatever plane it is that they inhabit, depending on the scheme one follows). In Pagan-based traditions, practitioners strive to forge a connection with a deity or deities, and these relationships can become quite deep. The question becomes: Is the deity a real, independently-existing entity? To many, it would seem so; they may receive guidance from the entity via dreams or synchronistic events, or may experience comminiques with the entity during times of meditation. It would seem that these entities are "real" enough.

However, some have pushed the envelope a bit and tried treating fictional characters the same way that classic deities are treated, practicing just as they might with Hathor or Osiris as a focus, and have had very similar results. So here are beings that we acknowledge to be made up, who still manage to accrue a presence and some form of "existence." It would seem that as humans, our creative potential is much greater than we typically think it is.

The lessons to be learned from this are a whole different discussion for a different time, but suffice it to say that this is one of the reasons for the warning I posted earlier by Eliphas Levi.

All of that being said, however, I would posit that nonetheless, there is something inherent in each symbol itself, prior to its being imbued with meaning by humans, to which we respond or latch onto in this process of weaving meaning, and which we build from. Why, for example, have we imbued circles with the meaning that we have, in contrast with that of a triangle or some other symbol? This ties in well with the discussion in Theosophical Tenets about periodicity: There is something inherent in the form of a circle that depicts or suggests cycles, for example, though we may not usually think of those when we look at a triangle.

So it really looks like what goes on is some combination, some synthesis between a symbol's inherent properties and the ideation of humans expanding upon that, developing that into something even greater. It seems that we interact with symbols and that the relationship has always run both ways, even back to the first time a human ever considered a circle.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 17, 2012 at 12:19pm
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So it really looks like what goes on is some combination, some synthesis between a symbol's inherent properties and the ideation of humans expanding upon that, developing that into something even greater.

Your points are very good here Daniel. At the moment, it seems to me as well that there is a combination here. Worth contemplating, certainly.

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 18, 2012 at 3:59am
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Below is a brief summary of some of my tentative thoughts on symbols, which hopefully clarify some earlier comments only briefly referred to relating to cosmic ideation and the Mystery Language. 

A symbol is a thing that conveys an idea about some other thing.

Providing a thing has at least one property that will convey a particular idea, then together with the informing idea that thing can act as a symbol.

Symbols convey meaning. Meaning is a property of consciousness not of form. Therefore it would be reasonable to think that the source and meaning of a symbol is in consciousness not in the form.

In our world Man (human consciousness, manas) can create symbols - consciously and unconsciously. Many of these symbols have been in the collective consciousness of humanity for millennia, remaining quite powerful in their effects - especially those that have been subjected to repeated collective use.  Bear in mind the Master's words:

"… thoughts are things — have tenacity, coherence, and life, — that they are real entities…" (Mahatma Letters to Sinnett, no. 18, Barker Edition)

The extent to which our symbols reflect the divine life or the material life depends on the dual nature of manas - whether it aspires upwards to Buddhi or gravitates downwards to Kama. 

On the principle of 'as above, so below' the symbol making nature of Man may be said to reflect that of the Dhyanis (cosmic consciousness and ideation). Therefore some universal symbols may well have their source in cosmic consciousness, and in their pure or original form may reflect divine ideation, divine knowledge or 'the wisdom of the gods'.

Such meaning or wisdom may arise in human consciousness as spiritual intuition.

“Cosmic Ideation focussed . . . through the more finely differentiated fabric (sixth state of matter) of the Buddhi resting on the experience of Manas as its basis - ["wells up"] as a stream of spiritual INTUITION."  (SD I 329)

Sacred symbols are holders and conveyors of meaning - they are meaning-full. The symbolic language is a MODE OF THOUGHT. See, for example, SD 2 225.  Collectively, symbols ARE the Language of the Mysteries.

Sacred symbols both reveal and conceal. Each has seven keys and each key relates to unlocking a particular the mode of thought.

"There is no purely mythical element in any of the ancient religious texts; but the mode of thought in which they were originally written has to be found out and closely adhered to during the process of interpretation. For, it is either symbolical (archaic mode of thought), emblematical (a later though very ancient mode of thought), parabolical (allegory), hieroglyphical, or again logo-grammical…" (SD 2 225)

The origins of the Mystery Language on our globe is given by HPB as follows:

'"Divine origin" does not mean here a revelation from an anthropomorphic god on a mount amidst thunder and lightning; but, as we understand it, a language and a system of science imparted to the early mankind by a more advanced mankind, so much higher as to be divine in the sight of that infant humanity. By a "mankind," in short, from other spheres; an idea which contains nothing supernatural in it . . . . Who knows, or can tell, what may happen when once the life cycle of this globe is run down and our mother earth herself falls into her last sleep? Who is bold enough to say that the divine Egos of our mankind -- at least the elect out of the multitudes passing on to other spheres -- will not become in their turn the "divine" instructors of a new mankind generated by them on a new globe, called to life and activity by the disembodied "principles" of our Earth? (See Stanza VI., Book I., Part 1.) All this may have been the experience of the PAST, and these strange records lie embedded in the "Mystery language" of the prehistoric ages, the language now called SYMBOLISM.'     (SD 2 309)

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on September 18, 2012 at 12:25pm
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These statements really jumped out to me:

Symbols convey meaning. Meaning is a property of consciousness not of form. Therefore it would be reasonable to think that the source and meaning of a symbol is in consciousness not in the form.

and

some universal symbols may well have their source in cosmic consciousness, and in their pure or original form may reflect divine ideation, divine knowledge or 'the wisdom of the gods'.

Really get a sense of the interplay of consciousness and substance, or subjective and objective in bringing symbols to life. Thanks for sharing... much to ponder over here. :)

p.s. the above 2:225 should read 2:335.

Permalink Reply by Peter on September 18, 2012 at 1:12pm
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Thanks for the correction, Jon.  It should have be 2: 335, just as you say.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on September 19, 2012 at 11:55am
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Concerning the power of symbols, here are few words about a particular symbol, the lotus, that reveals the potency of symbols.  SD vol 1 p.380

The underlying idea in this symbol is very beautiful, and it shows, furthermore, its identical parentage in all the religious systems. Whether in the lotus or water-lily shape it signifies one and the same philosophical idea—namely, the emanation of the objective from the subjective, divine Ideation passing from the abstract into the concrete or visible form.