Two great systems of symbols in myths and fairy tales

Mar 07, 2021

You can think of symbols as being the language of Hermes, the language of the messenger of the gods.

It is a wonderful thing to understand the symbology of the myths, and to interpret the symbology of fairytales, legends, folktales, and so on.

There are two great systems of symbology and understanding those and the relationship between them is, a big insight into the way that symbols work.

Illustrations shows the sugar and biscuit house Hansel and Gretel find in the forest. What do these symbols show? 

Natural Universe

The first great system of symbology is the natural universe. The universe that we find around us made of the trees, the sky, the stars, the mountains, the sun, the moon, all the natural parts of the universe.

This natural universe is part of  the great creation, not arising by accident and therefore showing in their own way and in all the various details, aspects of the divinity that lies at their root and their cause.

So to look at the great symbology of the unfolding of things in time and across space, from the starry realms right down to the smallest and the least of the insects, the animals under the sea, the animals walk in the earth and, and of course human beings, is to penetrate into the mysteries of the divine source from which they spring.

All Art

There’s a second system of symbology, which is probably the one that we tend to think of first. That is of course, everything that men and women make. So everything that is part of art, everything that is part of artifice or made by an artisan or constructed in some way.

Anything that is part of the artificial order and will also have symbolic significance. Sometimes the symbolism simply conventional.

We decide in Greece, for example you flick a switch up to be on. In England you switch a switch down to be on! So whether the switches up or down is a matter of choice.  It is decided by convention.

In the Frog Prince there is the symbol of the Linden tree, the water and the frog (all natural symbols in their essence) and the well and gold ball (and the status as 'princess') that are all artificial or conventional symbols. Each proves deeply meaningful.

The seasons unfold, and we pass from the quiet time and nature of winter and through, into the thrusting forth of life in spring, and then the stillness of the heat of summer, and then into the fecundity and, and prolificness of autumn, the arrival of fruit, before going back into winter, again. All that’s natural.

That's according to where you are on the globe and how it's turning and its relationship with the sun, but It is deeply meaningful in the same way as morning, noon, evening and night are deeply meaningful. And in both cases, religions weave their ritual and symbology and understanding, in relationship to those natural phenomenon.

So to understand symbols, it's very useful, therefore to understand the two systems:

  • natural symbology, the simpler things like mountains and moon and trees
  • artificial symbology, which includes everything made as well as words, languages and pictures and in the way number is used.