Art and Practice as Symbol

Symbols. As long as man has been around he has been fascinated with symbols. Early cave drawing are often full of them. Indeed, priests, medicine men, shamen, and others have spoken through symbols throughout history. The alchemists, magi, and philosophers were all about symbols and their meanings. They searched for the connections between all things, both the seen, and the unseen.
A symbol can never be fully interpreted. It can only be experienced. 
P. D. Ouspensky (1878-1947), The One And The Many (PARABOLA magazine, Fall 1999)

P. D. Ouspensky 

“The study of symbols, their construction and meaning, formed a very important part of the preparation of receiving objective knowledge and it was in itself a test because a literal or formal understanding of symbols at once made it impossible to receive any further knowledge…” Ibid

The Ritual of Symbols

Spiritual practice is often full of symbols and symbolism. Whatever art you do is most likely full of symbols. For myself, the Gong is very symbolic: it is the circle unbroken, the earth, the Sun, the planets. It also represents totality, wholeness, perfection, and the infinite.

And then there is the hammer, which was often used by the gods in mythology (think of Thor). We can have the hammer that strikes the metal to shape the Gong.

Photo courtesy of Paiste AG

There is also the mallet striking the Gong. Where the mallet strikes can represent the point. The point is a beginning, potential, possibility. The point at the center of a circle is representative of the Sun.


Paiste Planet Sun Gong: self referencing-a point within a circle, within a point within a circle.

All Gongs that are round can be seen a the symbol of a point within a circle, the circle alone, or the point alone. The Gong can also be seen as a Mandala (the word, Mandala, literally means wheel or circle). 




The Gong, within its stand, can be taken as representing squaring the circle, which was a favorite symbol of Alchemists, representing the impossible: to construct geometrically a square equal in area to the given circle.





All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. - Oscar Wilde, from, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wild

Surface and symbol—there's often more than meets the eye and ear.  For what it's worth, I have always put symbols, clues, and references in my work, both writing & music (and anything else I do). I have been doing this since the early 1970s. And these will lead you beneath the surface if you are so inclined to follow…


What symbols do you use in your practice?

~ MB






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