Symbol-Sets

I woke up today thinking about sets of symbols, and how these sets seem to claim so much of our ways of looking at the world.  This makes sense: the world is an infinitely complex place, so it helps to break it down into subsets that we can more fully grasp.  Why try to comprehend in detail the zillions of elements that comprise our lives, when we can first start out by simply dividing all of those elements into, say, two vast categories in binary fashion…two categories that are each represented by a major symbol for ease of reference and recollection…two categories like Yin and Yang, for instance…

Dividing existence into a manageable number of symbol-sets helps us to comprehend it...
Dividing existence into manageable symbol-sets helps us to comprehend it…

Once we have those two categories in place, then instead of trying in vain to get a handle on every single distinct element of existence — which is obviously an impossibility for us — we can instead get down the major characteristics of each of the two categories…and once we’ve accomplished that, we can at least determine which of the two categories a given element belongs to when we encounter it.  And even though we won’t necessarily know and have memorized every factoid associated with that element, we’ll at least have a lot of information about it within our reach simply because we know which of the two categories it’s a part of, and we’ll know that the traits intrinsic to any member of that category do apply.

Here’s a more specific example…  Say someone you know wants to introduce you to an acquaintance of theirs.  This someone that you know can’t possibly know every single detail there is to know about this acquaintance, and even if they did, there’s no way they could get that across to you…but what if they at least said to you that the acquaintance is definitely more a Yang type than a Yin type.  In one fell swoop, they’re telling you that on the whole, the acquaintance is generally more likely to come across as more active than passive…more extroverted than introverted…more “warm” than “cool”…more “positive” than “negative”…

This is a huge benefit to this practice of breaking existence down into component sets of symbols: this ability to then communicate huge amounts of information via a sort of symbolic shorthand.

Reducing existence into a finite number of puzzle-pieces we can grasp leads to far greater efficiency in understanding the world around us...
Reducing existence into a finite number of puzzle-pieces we can grasp leads to far greater efficiency in understanding the world around us…

Using just two categories — such as Yin and Yang — will only get us so far, though.  Binary thought has its merits, but it also has its limits.  Consider sex/gender realities, and try to apply a binary breakdown: that would mean reducing life into the female and the male.  But wait…where does that leave the hermaphroditic individual, say, who has traits of both…?  Or what about the transgendered individual who might be en route from one sex/gender type to the other but hasn’t yet completed the trip entirely, or who maybe has no intention of ever doing so…?  Doesn’t binary thought seem to disenfranchise such individuals?  Doesn’t binary thought prove kind of flawed all of a sudden…?

So the next logical step might be to add new categories, and/or to turn to different sets of symbols that are geared toward greater numbers of such categories.  Occult thought is rife with many, many such symbol-sets…

Beyond Yin/Yang, you don’t have to travel very far before arriving at symbol-sets with only a slightly greater number of categories: how about the four classic elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water?

Four symbols in the set, to Yin/Yang's two...but is this then twice as helpful...?
Four symbols in the set, to Yin/Yang’s two…but is this then twice as helpful…?

We can keep going, too…

If you’re drawn to Runes, for instance, the Elder Futhark — the earliest Runic symbol-set used for Divination and magic by the wandering, seafaring Germanic peoples of northern Europe quite a few centuries back — consists of 24 symbols in total.

The Elder Futhark: 24 Runes, or Symbols, that together capture all of existence...
The Elder Futhark: 24 Runes, or Symbols, that together capture all of existence…

Now we have a lot more to memorize — 24 Runes takes up more mental storage space than just remembering the gists of, say, Yin and Yang — but each Symbol comes packed with more specificity.  We can press further onward in this direction, too…

The I Ching — the classic Chinese Book of Changes — offers us 64 Hexagrams ( = Symbols) with which to peer through at the Cosmos.

Tarot goes as far as 78 cards ( = Symbols) for use in similar ways.

And then there are symbol-sets designed for combination usage.  Consider Astrology: here we have no less than three distinct subsets of symbols — Planets, Signs, and Houses — that are combined together in a person’s birth chart.  These may seem relatively modest in size when taken as three distinct sub-categories, as there are only 10 Planets, 12 Signs, and 12 Houses…but once you start mixing and matching them (“Ah, so you have Saturn in Cancer in the First House…”), the floodgates are flung wide open: 10 Planets x 12 Signs x 12 Houses = 1,440 possible combinations thereof!  Now that’s a lot to keep track of!

Planets, Signs, Houses...keeping track of all of this starts to become a full-time gig...
Planets, Signs, Houses…keeping track of all of this starts to become a full-time gig…

So we’re each of us then kind of obliged to determine just which symbol-sets work best for us as individuals.  We need sets that enable us to understand the world with the efficiency mentioned earlier, but we’ll also each of us have an upper ceiling on just how many individual symbols we can effectively keep track of.  Beyond a certain point, we’ll no longer be able to keep all the mental plates spinning, and they’ll come crashing to the floors of our minds, leaving us as befuddled as if we’d had no symbol-sets to work with in the first place.

So that’s Idea #1 for this post: consider contemplating symbol-sets, and which ones might prove most beneficial for you to adopt (I love symbols, and this is a never-ending exercise for me, personally…).

And here’s Idea #2…  Get hypothetical with me for a moment, if you will, and pretend that you don’t have that upper ceiling on how many symbols you can retain in detail.  Pretend with me that you have unlimited and flawless mental storage capacity, and unlimited and flawless retrieval ability.  Then say that you reduce all of existence down to not just two primary symbols…not just four…not just 24, or 64, or 78, or even 1,440…  Say you can reduce existence down to billions of such symbols, each one incredibly detailed, a fractal work of art in its specificity, but that you can still instantly understand and make use of any such symbol…  Can you imagine such a thing…?

Okay, so Idea #2 is that if there’s some Creator-Being that encompasses all, a conscious Oneness of which we’re each a component part…then maybe that Creator-Being is the Symbol-Set that is all of Existence, and each of us is one glorious individual Symbol within that Set…

Are we each a Rune in some Divinity's cosmic Alphabet...?
Are we each a Rune in some Divinity’s cosmic Alphabet…?

I like that notion: each of us is a Symbol, an Archetype, a Mythic Figure, with a place in the greater Whole.  Our own mortal minds maybe can’t grasp that much highly individualized meaning, but I can easily see that some Higher Consciousness might.  And if that’s so, then the question is: what Symbol, what Archetype, what Mythic Figure are you…?

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