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Symbolism of Popular Culture

Linear Stages in Cycles

The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.

The Rock

Cycles are composed of opposite duality symbols at their beginning and end. Within this cyclic duality are a number of stages from the beginning of the cycle to the end of the cycle. These stages are sequences in that they follow each other in an orderly, continuous manner. They represent a series without gaps. Every cycle is composed of a number of sequences which do not change. Sequences are incremental movements between duality symbols. When you have a cycle, you also have a sequence.

For example, the daily cycle of movement between the dualities of night and day has the following sequences in it: dawn, morning, noon, afternoon, twilight and night. The longer yearly cycle contains the sequence of spring, summer, fall and winter.

While the dualities composing the beginning and endings of cycles are archetypal symbols (such as night and day, unconsciousness and consciousness, feminine and masculine), the sequences within cycles may also be archetypes. Current research indicates commonalties between sequences in many different cycles from natural cycles such psychological and astrological to cultural cycles such as religion, mythology and literature. There is a growing amount of evidence that there is a specific number of key sequences and this number is common to all sequences.

The Hidden Message Of Symbolism

Much of Carl Jung's final years were spent exploring the sequence of symbols within cycles. This may not be readily apparent in books like Mysterium Coniunctionis, Aion and Answer To Job with subjects such as alchemy, the archetype of the self and the Christian Archetype. However, again we need to look to the distinction between content and context. The content of these books is about these symbolic subjects but it is the context of their appearance, the cycles and specifically the sequence within cycles that may be the real but little understood message of these final works of Jung.

In providing a symbolic perspective on sequences, the late work of Jung itself takes on an almost cyclic quality with its return to the cyclic sequential themes first explored in the famous Symbols of Transformation.

In approaching these works, the common belief (even among Jungians) is that they are about types of symbols. But the real meaning of them, and I believe what their lasting contribution will be, is about the order of appearance of symbols within cycles, the sequence of symbols. Symbols "dress for the occasion" wearing the particular "clothing" of the period when they appear. But the sequence of the appearance of symbols does not change. In looking at symbolism from this perspective, startling similarities between sequential linear progressions are discovered.

It may prove to one of the great ironies of intellectual investigation that in exploring the work of one of the key thinkers of modern times that we have brought our western content analysis to the table rather than a contextual analysis. Jung's final work appears to us in disguise in this way. Ultimately it does not concern what symbols are about but rather when they are about. We may have been looking in the wrong place all along for archetypes. The archetype is the order itself rather than the symbols within this order.

Taking this approach, we begin to steer away from what appears and towards the number of appearances. We began to return to the number concerns of the early Greek philosophers and a new understanding of them. The key integers are our primary target. The number one is that original feminine state of unconscious unity. The number two symbolizes duality, masculine and feminine and the dynamics of opposites. It is the major archetype of cyclic movement.

A sequence must have three or more stages in it because two stages constitutes a cyclic duality. It is the number three, four, five and higher that we are interested in when we look at sequences. Jung placed great importance on four and what he termed the quaternio in his late book Aion. These stages within cycles was the real topic of debate among the ancient philosophers. It is the Holy Grail, the container, the context, of the perennial philosophy.

There are very few books which take the approach that the archetype is really within the number itself. Western culture in many respects is caught in a type of "trance of content" towards all of its increasing number of objects. Contentual symbols as we define these objects. The trance on individual objects fixes ones attention so that the number of objects and their order of appearance is out of the "light" of attention and lurking within the shadows. Like the tricks of the magician, the magic is not hidden but simply outside of the light of consciousness.

One of the few investigators today to realize the archetype in number itself, and lay the groundwork for a sequential perspective of symbolism is mathematician (and magician) Robin Robertson in his Jungian Archetypes. Particularly in the final chapter of his book titled "Number As Archetype."

There are a number of places that offer clues to the search for this sequential "Holy Grail." They are not hidden but rather all around us in the "shadows" and outside our western content focused gaze.

Sequences Of Symbolic Systems

One of the key places to search for sequential patterns is within the various symbolic systems, both cultural and natural. Cultural divisions and the symbol systems they create are based around the natural divisions and cycles of nature. These systems are in effect sub-languages of symbolism which have their own internal logic to them. If there is a commonality of division within these systems and within the natural divisions there is a good argument that we found an archetypal division number.

One of the key concerns is whether there is a commonality between the number of sequences within these systems. Are symbolic systems based around three sequences within the cycles? Or is four the key number of sequences? Or perhaps five? Sequence and the symbolic system of numbers go hand-in-hand in that key numbers in symbolic systems represent stages within the cycle of the particular system. Defining the key number of sequences common to all systems is difficult because it depends on the importance placed on certain elements within the cycles. For example, symbolism considers twelve a key number for the yearly sequence since it relates to the twelve hours of the day, and the months of the year. However, within the twelve months is the seasons are represented by the number four. Is twelve or is four the key sequential number for annual cycles?

But even outside consideration of annual cycles, four and twelve have great symbolic important. Much of the research identifying stages of psychic or historical evolution center around four stages as we will show in the following materials. But twelve has been a sacred number relating to such things as the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve apostles of Christ, the twelve signs of the Zodiac, the twelve labros of Hercules and the twelve Olympian Gods and Godesses of Greek mythology.

We will explore the number of divisions in the following section on sequential correspondences found through the research of important pioneers in the study of symbolism and historical works of literature. The number of stages in sequence are found in these which are part of symbolic systems. One can identify a number of key symbolic systems:

  • Numberology
  • Calendar
  • Astrology
  • Shapes
  • Colors
  • Music (scales, harmony)
  • Alchemy
  • Freemasonry
  • Religious
  • Mythology
  • Divination
  • Heraldic Emblems
  • International Signs
  • Genres

This group does not represent all symbolic systems but covers most of the prominent ones. In virtually all of the systems above, there are a number of elements which make up the basic parts of each system.

For instance, one can say that there are the basic colors such as red, blue, yellow and green; basic shapes such as a square, circle and a triangle; basic musical notes (at least in the western system) of the eight note scale; basic dramatic genres of comedy, romance, tragedy and satire and basic integers usually regarded as the first five numbers.

But are the elements of the symbolic systems also steps in a sequence between the two opposing dualities of the particular system? It seems to be the case with color in the sense that all color can be represented on a spectrum with the various colors changing in relationship to length of light waves. The same applies to musical notes and vibrations which show a sequential progression.

In addition to the possibility of sequential progressions within key symbolic systems, there is also the interesting concept of correspondences between the various symbolic systems. Consider the correspondence between seasons and colors. Each season has traditionally been symbolized by a particular color. The dualities of color between Summer and Winter is between white and black, or light and darkness. Within this overall duality, summer also is symbolized by yellow and gold and winter by gray, fall by orange and red and spring by green. Is there a sequential archetype of appearance of these colors within the world moving between the basic dualities of white to black, gold to gray?

The same type of symbolic correspondence analysis can be applied to other symbolic systems above. In his highly influential Anatomy of Criticism, literary critic Northrup Frye suggests a correlation between the four key literary genres and the various seasons. In Frye's schema, the four key drama genres of comedy, romance, tragedy and satire are related to the seasons of spring, summer, fall and winter. Apart from the contentual categorization of dramatic genres, the real question concerns whether their appearance is related to symbolic sequence.

A good argument can be advanced that dramatic genres relate to the linear stages of the progression of an individual life, certainly a basic archetype within mankind. Viewed in this way, childhood is related to the comedy genre, youth to the romance genre, adulthood to the tragedy genre and old age to the satire genre. The same sequential order was often recognized by Jung in the daily cycles with dawn representing childhood, morning representing youth, noon adulthood and afternoon old age.

In a broad manner, we can find new symbolic meaning in the progression of the basic few numbers. One is the beginning of the sequence and splits into two and then develops to three. As we have pointed out, associated with one is unconsciousness and femininity, with two the development in the child of consciousness and ego from unconsciousness and with three the separation from the mother.

Sequences in symbolic systems is a vast topic which has had little exploration. Here we simply want to suggest that while much research needs to be done in this area, the fruits of any labors will be bountiful for both the researcher and culture as a whole.

Sequential Correspondences

The sequential correspondences found in symbol systems is also found in a number of other areas such as mythology, religion, philosophy and literature. Certainly it is a primary concern of Jung in the afternoon years of his life. Here we will briefly touch on a few of these but the reader should be aware that these are only to spark a different perspective and help shift into more of a contextual analysis from a contentual one. Once again, we need to remember Marshall McLuhan's statement "medium is the message" was really about symbolic context. Medium is context. And message is content.One of Joseph Campbell's key insights was the discovery of this sequential pattern common to heros in literature and mythology. However, it was more in the province of others to suggest that Campbell's hero was symbolically consciousness of mankind. In this sense, the hero of stories and mythologies is really the emerging consciousness of the both the individual and culture. Sequence is therefore given a psychological and historical dimension and the journey of the hero becomes both an ontology and phylogeny.

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