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The wind is air in its active and violent aspects. It represents the spirit, the vital breath of the universe. J.C. Cooper points out that wind represents the power of spirit in sustaining life and holding it together. Hence the symbolic association of wind with cords, ropes and threads. As stated in the Upanishads, "The rope of the wind...The thread is the same as the wind."
It is also the intangible, the transient, the insubstantial and the elusive. Winds serve as messengers of the gods and can indicate the presence of divinity. Cirlot notes that it is held to be the primary Element (of the four elements earth, air, water and fire) by virtue of its connection with the creative breath of exhalation. Jung in Symbols of Transformation points out that in Arabic (and paralleled by the Hebrew) the word ruh signifies both "breath" and "spirit."
The winds, notes Cirlot, were numbered and brought into correspondence with the cardinal points of the Zodiac, so as to bring out their cosmic significance. Fernado Oritz in El Huracan talks about the view of the wind in ancient Egypt and Greece. In these countries, the wind was reckoned to possess certain evil powers. For the Greeks, though, this menancing implication, which they associated with Typhon, was reversed the moment when the fleet of Xerxes was destroyed by a tempest.
Wind has possessed a transcendental aspect in American cultural history. This transcental nature has found an interesting juxtaposition against a hard, material culture. Winds were prevalent in the early prairies of the early American west and songs such as "They Call The Wind Miriah" were about this dominating wind. The title of America's most popular novel is Gone With The Wind. One of the most famous songs of the 60s was Bob Dylan's "Blowing In the Wind." The "answers my friend," Dylan sang, "are blowing in the wind."
In American popular mythology the word wind suggests the collective consciousness of the culture, moving invisible but moving so that you can feel it. No one is sure where it comes from, where it is going, what it brings, how to control it. John Lennon in the famous Playboy interview with David Sheff when asked the question what moved the Beatles says:
"Whatever wind was blowing at the time moved the Beatles...I'm not saying we weren't flags on the top of a ship; but the whole boat was moving. Maybe the Beatle's were in the crow's nest, shouting, 'Land ho,' or something like that, but we were all in the same damn boat."
But this wind is not always invisible or benign as John Steinbeck demonstrates in The Grapes of Wrath.
During the opening passages of The Grapes of Wrath, we are given some of the most powerful passages about wind in modern literature. It is a relentless wind that moves over the earth creating a dust which hides the sun of the day and even the stars of the night. The dust which is made alive by the wind cannot be avoided and seems to have a life of its own. There seems no way to avoid it, even inside:
"Houses were shut tight, and cloth wedged around doors and windows, but the dust came in so thinly that it could not be seen in the air, and it settled like pollen on the chairs and tables, on the dishes. The people brushed it from their shoulders. Little lines of dust lay at the door sills."
When the wind ceases, though, there is a change in the world and people who are inside their houses notice this change.
"The people, lying in their beds, heard the wind stop. They awakened when the rushing wind was gone. They lay quietly and listened deep into the stillness...In the morning the dust hung like fog, and the sun was as red as ripe new blood. All day the dust sifted down through the sky, and the next day it sifted down. An even blanket covered the earth."
It was only when the wind ceased that the people came out of their houses and saw this new world the wind had created. The dust bowl has begun.
(e) Hurricanes & Tornados
At the height of it's activity, wind creates a hurricane. Jung, in Symbols of Transformation, notes that a hurricane is a synthesis and a conjunction of the four Elements and is credited with the power of fecundation and regeneration. He writes that it was taken up in this sense by the alchemists as evidenced in Jamsthaler's Viatorium Spagyricum (1625).
Many graphic symbols owe their origin to the hurricane. This applies to the sigma, the double sigma and the swastika. At the same time, the hurricane has a symbolic meaning of its own.
Fernando Oritz in El Huracan observes that the hurricane, like celestial bodies, has two characteristic motions: rotary and sideways. In its sidewise motion, there is an intermediary point of absolute calm. This is the so-called "eye of the hurricane." For American aborigines, Oritz notes, the hurricane is cosmic synergy since it contains three elements within it (fire or light-rays, air or wind, water or rain) and disturbs the fourth element - earth. It was worshipped as a diety of the winds and waters and also of the heavens.
Hurricanes are seen as deities of the heavens because of the "eye" of the hurricane relates to the persistent oriental celestial symbol of the "hole" in the disc of Chinese jade called Pi, representing heaven. This represents the concept of the zenith as a void through which one may pass out of the world of space and time into spacelessness and timelessness. It therefore has a close relationship with the concepts of time and space and the mystic center where there is no time or space, the mystic "nothingness."
Hurricanes involve violent wind over water. But when hurricanes reach land, they quickly die. A tornado is a the continuation of hurricane symbolism over land rather than over water. Therefore, the places mixed with these two wind phenomena are different. The oceans and the coasts, where the ocean meets land, are the locations of hurricanes.
There is an element of surprise with tornados which is not present with the phenomena of hurricanes. People living in certain coastal regions can expect to have hurricanes every year. Tornados, though, occur in many more places and are more unexpected. Much of the Midwest is subject to tornados each year and they appear and disappear quickly without the two or three day life time of hurricanes.
Just as rain represents the active force of the element water and hurricanes the active force of the element air, lightning is celestial fire as an active force.
Thunder and lightning have a number of symbols associated with them. To the Greeks, they are a symbol of the supreme, creative power. This symbolism is evidenced by the thunderbolt of Parabrahman. Jupiter possesses this attribute, notes J.E. Cirlot in A Dictionary of Symbols by way of emphasizing "his dimiurgic nature." Jupiter's three thunderbolts symbolize chance, destiny and providence - the forces that mold the future. J.C. Cooper remarks in An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols that "Thunder is the voice of the sky gods, with the thunderbolt as their weapon, the destroyer of serpents and spiritual enemies; divine anger; it is also an attribute of monarchs and magicians."
Other symbolism of thunder and lightning is that of a union of the sky and earth. J.C. Cooper terms this "the sacred union of the fecundating sky god and the receptive earth mother." The thunderbolt can also evidence a type of dawn and illumination. In M. Steinon Mertens' L'Occultisme du zodiaque, the author notes that because of this dawn and illumination nature of lightning it has been connected with the first sign of the Zodiac which is symbolic of the spring principle and the initial stage of every cycle.
In many respects fog represents a continuation of cloud symbolism brought down from the heavens and onto earth. Fog finds a common home in certain genres because of its powerful abilities to evoke a particular mood and atmosphere. This mood is paritally one of enclosure and a certain claustrophobia associated with enclosure. Partially the mood is one that breaks up definitions in the world. The horizon between sky and earth is lost, the edges of shapes become blurred. The world takes on the image of a hazy water color painting.
In the late twentieth century, a man-made equivalent of fog is beginning to dominate the environment of our world's major cities. Like fog, smog breaks definitions in the world and pushes down on city dwellers so that many have a feeling of claustrophobia.
The Sun is the light of the spirit and the shadow is the negative "double" of the body, or the image of its evil and base side. In some primitive tribes, J.C. Cooper observes that the shadow can represent the soul of the person. This also relates to witchcraft and spells: care must be taken as to where the shadow falls and one should not pass into another person's shadow.
In Sir James Frazer's famous The Golden Bough, the author notes that the primitive often regarded his shadow, or his reflection in water or a mirror, as his soul or as a vital part of himself. Jung uses the term shadow to connote the primitive and instinctive side of the individual. In the book Shadow And Evil In Fairytales, one of Jung's foremost disciples, Marie-Louise von Franz, elaborates on the concept of shadow:
"In Jungian psychology, we generally define the shadow as the personification of certain aspects of the unconscious personality, which could be added to the ego complex but which, for various reasons, are not."
von Franz concludes that we "might therefore say that the shadow is the dark, unlived, and repressed side of the ego complex."
The shadow is both personal and collective. "All civilizations," notes von Franz, "but especially the Christian, have their own shadow." She gives India as an example of a culture caught in a collective shadow:
"In India, for example, they are far ahead of us in their spiritual and philosophical attitude in general, but their social behavior, to our minds, is shocking. If you walk through the streets of Bengal you will see numbers of people obviously starving to death; they are in extremis, yet no one takes any notice for that is their 'karma,' and people must attend to themselves, to their own salvation; to look after others would only mean being involved in worldly considerations...We (Europeans) would call this plight the shadow of Indian civilization...It could be that the light side is not aware of the dark side, which is so obvious to another civilization."
There needs to be an "onlooker" to help reveal one's shadow - whether that onlooker is another civilization or another person.
Individuals, von Franz points out, can be caught up in collective shadows. "If a person is caught by ambition only when in a group, you could say that it was a collective shadow." This was the case in Germany:
"Sometimes you feel quite all right within but you can come into a group where the devil is loose and get quite disturbed, as happened to some Germans when they went to Nazi meetings. Thinking things over at home, they would be anti-Nazi, but when they went to a meeting something switched and they became, as one man said, 'as though possessed by the devil.' They were temporarily caught by the collective rather than the personal shadow."
This collective devil, von Franz notes, is still personified in the religious system by belief in the devil or evil demons. "The devil himself exemplifies such a personification of a collective shadow."
Interestingly enough, light symbolism plays an important part in shadow symbolism. This is so because of the fact that light is needed to produce shadows. Shadows are formed not from a lack of light, but from an obstruction of light. On a world scale, the solar eclipse offers the greatest symbolism of the shadow creating vast shadows over sections of the earth.
The phenomena has found symbolism in literature through history and most recently in the popular fiction of Stephen King in his novels Gerald's Game and Dolores Claiborne. As Dolores' crisis mounts in Dolores Claiborne, there occurs a total eclipse of the sun. Dolores even envisions the little girl in the striped dress in Gerald's Game who was molested by her father during the eclipse. As Christopher Lehmann-Haupt remarks about Dolores Clairborne, it is "as if King were saying that the blotting out of the sun was caused by the universal suffering of the female sex."
Phenomena associated with the greatest natural changes have often symbolized the dramatic end of one period of history and the beginning of a new period. The symbolism of biblical apocalypse involves cataclysmic events which bring about an end to the world. The most common apocalyptic description involves the prophecy of St. John the Divine from the New Testament. The major form of cataclysmic events involves floods, earthquakes and fires.
The most well-known and common apocalytic symbol is that of a great flood and related in the Bible as the story of Noah and the Great Flood. A flood symbolizes uncontained water which has gone beyond the basic boundary between earth and water. The lunar feminine power of the waters is symbolized by a flood. As it is with other apocalyptic phenomena, floods symbolize the end of one cycle of time and the beginning of a new cycle of time. Therefore, there is the dual symbolism of death and regenerative birth associated with floods. The Bible contains a number of references to floods as apocalyptic devices which start the world over again.
The great flood and other myths of the Atlantis type involving submersion of continents have a close symbolism to baptism. In The Sacred & the Profane, Mircea Eliade points out that these flood mytholgies "have their counterpoint, on the human level, in man's 'second death'...or in the initiatory death through baptism." The immersion symbolized by the flood and baptism, though, does not lead to final extinction or death but rather to a rebirth. As Eliade notes, the immersion in waters is equivalent "to a temporary reincorporation into the indistinct, followed by a new creation, a new life, or a 'new man'...the flood is comparable to baptism."
Earthquakes offer another symbol of cataclysmic phenomena. They have been associated with demons because they come from below the earth. J.E. Cirlot observes that most primitive and astrobiological cultures attribute the cause of the earthquake to a theriomorphic demon. In Japanese mythology the earth is supported by a huge fish, in Sanskrit literature it is supported by a turtle and in North America mythology by a serpent. The earthquake partakes of the general symbolism of all cataclysmic catastrophes - the sudden change in a given process, which may be either for the better or for the worse. On occasion the earthquake is thought to promote fertility. A.H. Krappe in La Genese des mythes notes that basically it is an application of the universal symbolism of sacrifice and of cosmic inversion.
Great fires are also symbolic of cataclysmic events. The most common great fires occur in forests and cities. Some of the greatest city fires of the twentieth century were the Chicago and San Francisco fires and the Tokyo fire during the Second World War. One of the most well-known forest fires was the Montana Mann Gulch fire of 1949.
The cataclysmic symbolism of fire is utilized in a number of literary works. A great city fire serves as a major contextual symbol in the novel To The White Sea by James Dickey. A great forest fire serves as this symbol in the novel Young Men and Fire by Norman MacLean. In To The White Sea an American tail gunner parachutes from his burning B-29 into Tokyo a day before the great fire-bombing of the city. The story involves the young man's escape from the burning hell of Tokyo and his trek north toward the island of Hokkaido, a frozen, desolate sanctuary where he feels his freedom will be assured. The symbolic place context of the story moves from fire to ice. In MacLean's novel Young Men and Fire, the Mann Gulch fire of 1949 kills twelve young firefighters who attempt to battle it. Both novels offer vivid illustrations of how cataclysmic fire can be used as symbolic context to create powerful stories.