Occult Symbolism in Meditation
The Facts about Occultism
The word "occult" frightens many people but the word itself simply means "hidden". It does not mean Satanism or black magic, as those are separate subjects. As recently as the past century in Western countries, anything which had the flavor of the occult was considered bad. The primary reason for occult subjects being hidden, is that as the Bible says, "go within to speak to me". Often, our most powerful prayers are those offered from the heart, strictly between us and that whom we're communing with. Meditation, prayer and contemplation are private matters for the most part and though we may find help in group energy, the bottom line is that we must have our dealings on the Spiritual Plane in private.
Secondarily, and what is often promoted by angry occultists, is the history of persecution. Religious differences have tended to isolate those with nonconformist tendencies and it was simply safer to express themselves without publicity. Much of the persecution has lifted and some occultists are coming "out of the closet", only to find that their spiritual practices suffer as a result. In most occult treatises, the practice of solitude is considered to be of prime importance for this reason.
Imagery in Religion
As a child I was introduced to many different religious forms and attended every church available in Northern Florida where I lived. Although some of this was confusing, I took great delight in my exposure to the myriad religious art forms.
In many orthodox religious practices, certain images or symbols are utilized in Spiritual Contemplation, ie., pictures, statues and jewelry or other accessories. Visual representations are extremely helpful in achieving a desired state of mind and if they are personally powerful or beautiful, there is an "entrancing" effect. We can be "uplifted" by inspiring images.
As my religious and philosophical horizons expanded, I discovered more exotic forms of religious visual representations. Good examples of these are the mandalas of the Far East and the Navajo sand paintings of the American west. In my various studies of comparative religions, very few (less than 1%) used no symbolism at all.
As Mr. Spock might say, "I found it fascinating," how often the symbology itself contributed to the conflicts, misunderstandings and general angst between people of different faiths. The psychological pioneer, Carl C. Jung explored this area very well. Essentially, he postulated the presence of a "collective unconscious" within the human species as a whole. Contained within this unconscious were the power symbols or "archetypes" of humanity. Like most of the contents of the unconscious, these representations were emotionally charged and could trigger psychic events.
This is terrifying to the uninformed and quite threatening. There is a subconscious recognition of the power being utilized and it may appear to be a bomb in the hands of the unpredictable. Those who criticize others' forms of symbolism do indeed know what they are talking about. Somewhere within them is this recognition, and not being their chosen symbols, they feel attacked.
Although many orthodox religions only touch lightly on the reasons for including these symbols in worship, occultism addresses the phenomenon first thing. The power of the images is consciously utilized to create the emotional, mental or spiritual atmosphere desired. One is taught the traditional meaning of certain representations and what they may evoke for the individual and then is guided in their use.
Tarot cards are an ancient and classical form of occult contemplation. The images evoke visions or feelings in the reader which she can interpret for her client. A reader will frequently go through a variety of decks as her specific imagery needs change, keeping her readings fresh and powerful. The images are everything and little else is relevant. I have a personal favorite deck which evokes such powerful images for me that I often have to throw it away and buy a new one. The artist was evidently quite "tuned in" but the author is someone I have little respect for, Aleister Crowley. This isn't an unusual conundrum for someone on the path; you use the tools without participating in their creator's reality.
Joseph Campbell did some extraordinary ground breaking work in collecting archetypal images from a wide variety of cultures and making them popularly available. In some of his interviews, he went into great detail about the cultural power of certain symbols and how important they were to human evolution and peace of mind. He also referenced Carl Jung extensively. Mr. Campbell's work has encouraged many people to explore the power of myth and symbolism in their own lives and has made the activity far more socially acceptable.
Alchemical contemplation is unique in comparison to other forms of prayer, contemplation or meditation. There are, of course, some correlations, but I have found a great deal of beauty in the technique. Like most other forms of prayer or meditation, certain evocative images assist the process. What I've found most intriguing is the conscious act of tuning in to a specific image to evoke an inner response.
In alchemy, contemplation of certain images is considered to be an invaluable tool to assist the practitioner. Exquisite images are crafted which have a variety of power symbols integrated into one picture. These may include dragons for power and wisdom, swords for intelligence and skill, water for spirituality, and many more. An atmosphere is created for the individual studying these images that brings up those characteristics from within themselves, thus making it possible to do and be more than they'd previously thought that they could alone.
Often, the alchemist constructs a certain frame of mind for his rituals through contemplation of images. These rituals are also forms of symbolism. Tools such as goblets, daggers, etc., are mostly used to represent a specific purpose, not to physically enact it (it would spoil the tool!).
The reason for occult use of symbolism isn't so very different from the uses in traditional religion. Perhaps where the paths diverge somewhat is in the sticking point of the occultist wanting to get practical about spiritual transformation. However the religions which practice the ritual of Holy Communion are doing nothing less. From the point of view of an outsider, the Communion ritual seems pretty gory.
Practical spirituality is the purpose. Enlightenment, transformation, and making heaven on earth are the bottom line considerations. The ritual, practice and exploration of the spiritual practice that evokes these concepts for you, is the one that works.