You [Yahweh] have placed eternity in the heart of man. 

(Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Be it the psyche, the unconscious, the spirit, the Self – there is an innate hunger in the heart of man to connect with that which lies beyond him, that which can bring meaning to his life on this Earth. Mythology, religion, primitive tribal passages, art, literature from all ages, past and present, bemoan this illusive allure and herald its adventure. The insightful words cited above are attributed to King Solomon who reigned in Israel circa 970 to 931 BC. Said “eternity in the heart of man,” Solomon referred to a realm of the unknown, of mystery and possibly transcendence; realms that the undernourished soul longs to savor but cannot contain nor define. Symbol and metaphor help bridge this distance as they help to make the unconscious conscious.  Archetypal imagination can give access to this alluring other-worldliness. In the words of James Hollis: “the longing for eternity and the limits of finitude is our dilemma, the conscious suffering of which is also what most marks our species. It is the symbolic capacity, which defines us uniquely. The images which arise out of the depths - be they the burning bush of biblical imagery, the complaint of the body, or the dream we dream at night, link us to that throbbing, insistent hum which is the sound of the eternal.” [1] The language of symbol and metaphor, of myth and archetypal imagination calls forward the human soul into this mystery.

In ancient Greece, the symbolon (from which we get the word symbol) was a piece of pottery inscribed and then broken into two pieces, which were given to the ambassadors of two allied city-states as a record and link to their alliance. Symbol, therefore, came to mean a joining of contraries; and further, a representation, visual or conceptual, of that which is unseen and invisible.  According to the theologian, Paul Tillich, a symbol always "points beyond itself" to something that is unquantifiable and mysterious.

While in symbol the object is used as a substitution for the subject and has meaning in context only from it's association with the subject, metaphors are comparisons between two seemingly dissimilar things. The ancients thought that metaphor carried you beyond the meaning of words. Based on the Latin, meta "beyond" + pherein "to carry", the Greek word implies "to carry beyond, to transfer." A metaphor can “carry over” to that which lies beyond one’s powers to understand or control.

The language of symbol, metaphor, and myth honor the magic in the unexplainable “beyond” while eschewing reduction to fixed explanations. As Dennis Slattery suggests, ideologies are “mythology cadaver-ized” into empty containers.  The language of metaphor and symbol opens up the imagination instead of encapsulating it to a prescribed, already-digested understanding. The human ego tends toward converting that which is infinite into nicely packaged artifacts it can control, thereby, de-mystifying it. I am reminded of the account found in the Old Testament Book of Exodus where YHWH refused to define himself to Moses apart from metaphor and imagery:

“Lord, show me your glory,” Moses pleaded.

"My glory you cannot see and live.

I will let my glory pass before you."

It was through the reflection or numinous image of YHWH that Moses was able to experience the archetype of the divine, though not directly.

The language of symbol and metaphor and archetypal imagination has become instructive in my life as I have begun to take careful notice of my nighttime dreams. I have been surprised to see how much my unconscious reveals to me through my dreams in symbolic form. I was stunned when I read Jung’s explanation of the alchemical aspect of psychoanalysis when weeks earlier I had dreamt of the image of a blacksmith (myself) working with fire on a metal shaped heart. I had to ask how this archetypal image from the collective unconscious managed to invade the secret sleep life of a foreign-born Cuban who knew near nothing about blacksmithing nor the alchemical process! Symbol and metaphor are not bound by country of origin, nor previously acquired knowledge or experience. The dream’s archetypal image provided an opening of numinous quality into my personal unconscious; and not until afterwards, did I understand its message, which brought transformation of consciousness. 

She cradled the hammered, fired piece
In her darkened blacksmith hands.

She didn’t handle this artifact as she did other metal works.
This one seemed fragile, yet solid.
Delicate, yet strong.
It bore marks of endurance, scars of being tossed,
Yet the Metal Artist Redeemer saw treasure under dross.

By hammering: Re-planed
By fire: Re-shaped
Its mixtures, Re-fined
Its essence, Re-made

(Lourdes, 2012)

(Lourdes, 2012, ink)

(Lourdes, 2012, ink)

A wonderful thing happens when I re-read the above poem and re-visit the accompanying illustration: I reconnect with the impact and meaning that the dream made on me that very night. Through the image, I re-encounter the numinous energy brought via the dream. Deep inside I am freshly comforted that this alchemical process of transformation is being carried out with loving hands for a redemptive purpose. Perhaps this is what Jung was referring to when he wrote about archetypal imagination as a “transcendent function” which links the conscious world with unconscious Mystery.

The psyche with all its complexities and depth, is forever drawn into the transcendent unknown, into the unconscious world. The language of symbol and metaphor with its archetypal imagination enables us to approximate this other-worldliness by providing a bridge that leads from one world to the other and by its power to hold numinous transformative energy in its images.