top of page

Stepping in to the Image - an exploration of engaging with symbols and motifs.

“Images know something we don’t.”

Marie Louise Von Franz

I am a great fan of Carl Jung for his head and heart approach to human psychology. We might call him an academic mystic. A man who used his intelligence to gather information and his reason to explain it. Yet he also used both his heart and soul to explore and understand it. Not only did he work with his clients to learn about and heal their neuroses but he also diligently explored his own psyche for his own wellbeing and brought forth a body of work that serves as a comprehensive initial map to the inner world of the human mind.

He said…

“I must feed my soul lest she breeds dragons and devils in the heart.”

His beautifully illustrated and profoundly moving Red Book is an exploration of his own psyche, yet in it he is also exploring the world of the collective human unconscious bringing back from his journeys there symbols that many of us can relate to.

“Why is myself a desert? I have lived too much of myself in men and events. The scorching sun of the intellect, the burning thoughts of rationality leave no rest. The wealth of the soul exists in images, and everything to come was already in images.”

Carl Jung

Images float up from our unconscious to communicate with the conscious something it is necessary for us to know at that time, they are speaking in soul language.

The German Mystic and Philosopher Miester Ekhart said

“When the soul wants to experience something she throws out an image in front of her and steps into the image.”

What a beautiful image this is in itself! When we dream of an image - a god or goddess, an animal, a plant, a symbol, even a scenario, this is our unconscious bringing our attention to messages contained therein. If we see a symbol or image in a piece of art, a poem, a photograph, some jewellery, in a song or a story, or indeed in any other place, and are drawn to it, often in a way that is almost too difficult to explain, it is not of the intellect, this is our soul speaking to us. It is asking us to ‘step into’ the image.

There are many ways to step into an image, some lighter, some deeper.

You might buy that painting that caught your breath in your throat and put it on your wall or carry a smaller copy on your person. You might look at it each morning when you wake up and each night before you go to bed. If it has a character or characters in it you might ‘converse’ with them.

You might wear a symbol as a piece of jewellery and take it on journeys with you. You might meditate on or with the image. I like to read textured jewellery with my finger tips. So when i remove it at night i might sit with it and let my mind wonder and my fingers run over the textures. You might find music that celebrates and brings to you the feeling of this image and tune into what that brings up in your body, you might even move to that music and see where else it takes you.

You might find poetry that navigates and questions the world of that image and let it converse with your soul.

These are intuitive ways to step into the image, another way is to explore it with your intellect, and this is no less magical. I have found it is best to combine the two. You might research the images history, explore how other people have used it, talk about it with your friends and family and explore their interpretations.

Each of these are valid ways of stepping into the image.

As a sacred artist i explore images in all of these ways at different times. The simple act of repeatedly drawing an image or making it deepens my understanding. Sitting and holding a piece, turning it over in my hands and feeling it deepens my understanding, as do peoples reflections on living and journeying with pieces i create.

As artists we may be the archeologists of symbols from our own psyches, seeing the edge of something we may dig and scrape to free it and bring it into the light. Something emerges for us and we reflect it in our art, which then enlivens the image, brings it back in the foreground of cultural contemplation. We journey with images, dance with them, reframe them, add to them or expand their meaning.

There are many artists who have worked repeatedly with a particular image, creating a dialogue between themselves and the image that others can witness and then join in with, this dialogue again enlivens the image. At times this dialogue takes on a life of its own. It is taken into the collective and becomes a reflection of what the culture is contemplating or even grappling with. Art in this way can serve as a reflection, a melting pot merging ideas and a hot house for growth.

Georgia O’Keefe repeatedly painted flowers and layered landscapes in soft strokes and gently blended colours, many feminists art observers and critics saw in her work the female genitals expressed in the flowery folds, yet the artist herself says that she did not intend such an expression. If you listen to, or read, her talking about her work, she is interested in form and colour in nature and that is it. She also painted many bones and there was speculation as to whether these represented death in her work, yet again she says for her there is no such connection. This is an example of how others can see symbolism in the work of an artist that the artist did not intend, but it is a refection of the observers mind more than the artists. In the case of how her flower paintings were seen at the time there was an emergence of ‘goddess art’, depictions of the female body in relation to the earth, society - women especially - were hungry to see this image expressed and so saw it where there artist did not intend it. This is an example of how an artist can be engaged in conversation with an image, for Georgia it was the flower, and expressed this in her art, yet the observers see something else. There is no right or wrong here, just an interesting expression of how we connect to images, her paintings have opened up discussion of this image, they took on a life of their own once entering the public domain, and expressed to others extra layers on top of what the artists had seen herself.

In Rumi's work he uses the repeated motif of wine and drunkenness. No doubt most of us realise that Rumi was not an alcoholic, but using this image to describe how it felt to be absorbed in ecstatic relationship to the divine. The wine is the divine or in his terms the Beloved - God. The drunkenness is the experience of being present with, or perhaps more accurately being filled with the love of the Beloved, to look upon beauty, to feel love flowing through you. If you’d like to experience Rumis poetry read by some delicious voices i recommend this…

In exploring this image in his poetry i have no doubt that it took him deeper into it. His ecstatic poetry is like a feed back loop that intoxicates the reader who then breaths their intoxicated breath back into the poems themselves.

Now to mention a lesser known, but no less brilliant, artist Carolina Arevalo who’s work focusses on the natural world in beautiful detail. Her paintings are full of circles like planets, plants and creatures in minute detail and always in the shading and enveloping shapes are flowing lines of dots and eyes. She says of her use of this motif of dots and eyes that she sees the world as alive and full of energy and that the eyes express the consciousness of all things. If you’d like to see some of her work and hear her speak for her self in her lovely lilting accent please do watch this video…

Now lastly to myself, no doubt you see many repeated motifs in my creations, but the most potent for me is the Snake and the Ouroboros. Snakes have, for me, layer upon layer of meaning, as does the circle. The symbol of the snake came to me first in many dreams, i was then bitten by a snake in waking life, and had the snake come to me in other forms as stories, poems, sounds and pieces of information connected to the actual life of snakes. I could not deny that i had to consciously step into the image, and i am glad i did for it is the richest symbol i connect to and i have since learnt that it also has many associations back into history that correlate with my own experiences.

If you seek a connection to snake that is embodied and grounded in ritual practice and craft perhaps consider my online courses exploring snake...

Or if you feel inclined comment below about an image that has invited you to step into it.

80 views0 comments


bottom of page