The Power of Signs, Symbols, and Sigils

“Signs and symbols rule the world, not words nor laws” – Confucius

Signs and symbols are found everywhere, serving as useful visual shortcuts representing ideas, concepts, warnings, or orders that can be assimilated by the onlooker in an instant. Signs and symbols are thus used to communicate important information in a succinct manner.

What if however, the one viewing a sign or symbol is incapable of interpreting it correctly? In such circumstances does the sign or symbol still represent that which was intended? One example to consider is a speed limit sign. A speed limit sign carries the same weight of law and the associated threat of resource-removal to any driver that exceeds the stated speed limit, regardless of whether the symbolism in question is understood or not; in the eyes of the law ignorance is no excuse and it can therefore be argued that, in the same way, neither is ignorance of the connection between a symbol and the implied consequence of any transgression.

Again, a ‘Beware of the Dog’ sign communicates a threat to the health and well-being resources of the reader of the sign, regardless of whether the connection between the three symbols ‘D’, ‘O’ and ‘G’ in combination, and the animal in question is understood or not. A lack of understanding on the part of the reader of the sign does nothing to change the reality of their situation and the threat at hand.

Thus, a sign or symbol can be used to communicate not only a law or threat, but also the consequences of a failure to take appropriate measures. Symbols, then, are utilised by those in power to communicate their superior power over the less powerful, as well as the consequences should the less powerful party fail to do that which the more powerful party ‘would have them do’. The powerful party determines that which is and is not punishable behaviour, the resources to be removed as a consequence of the transgressor’s transgression, and the symbols used to communicate all of this information. The more powerful party leverages resources already under their control in order to make this known, placing symbols in locations, for example, as reminders not only of the behaviour required but also of the very existence of the more powerful party to which the observer now finds themselves subject. In summary, a sign or symbol effectively represents the scarce resource of knowledge, knowledge obtainable only through the correct interpretation of the sign or symbol in question.    

A further question to consider is, where a sign or symbol provides an indication of the intention of one party to extract resources from another, does that intention apply regardless of whether the party observing the sign or symbol possesses the requisite knowledge with which to interpret it correctly, namely the implied intention of the more powerful party, the very existence of that more powerful party, and the potential threat to resources held?

The English word education is derived from the Greek word edukos meaning ‘to draw forth from within’. In Ancient Greece it was understood that the purpose of education was to bring forth into consciousness those things already present within an individual’s subconscious. Specifically, it was understood that there exists intrinsically within each individual the requisite raw ingredients with which to provide a basic understanding of both the individual themselves and the external world. However, it was also understood that for such an understanding to be brought forth into an individual’s conscious awareness, an investment of both time and effort, facilitated by external guidance, would be required. Carl Jung was a proponent of the concept of the collective unconscious – namely that there exists across humanity irrespective of time and culture, an innate understanding of certain universal ideas and principals the expression of which can often be observed in archetypal myths, imagery, and symbolism. The typical individual of today, distracted by the trappings of modern life, remains uneducated about this part of themselves and about their share in the collective unconscious. Such an individual is destined to remain ignorant of the collective unconscious and of the importance placed upon it by those who communicate at this level. Thus, while the imagery and symbolism associated with the collective conscious might be familiar to an individual on a subconscious level it will, due to a lack of education, fail to penetrate their consciousness.   

In occult1 practice sigil magic uses a particular type of sign called a sigil. Sigils are used to communicate to a target’s subconscious the intention of a subsequent spell or act, with the objective of opening up that individual or group to its power. From a Jungian perspective the subconscious can be viewed as a back door means of eliciting acceptance and acquiescence to certain ideas and outcomes, even those ideas and outcomes detrimental to a target’s own interests. Specifically, such acceptance can be achieved through the commandeering and manipulation of the signs and symbols associated with the collective unconscious. However, due to the lack of education in such matters, the meaning behind sigils, along with with their connection to the collective unconscious, are obscure to the vast majority of observers although, as the principal is understood to apply, this does not in fact matter. Within such a system an individual is held responsible for the extent of his or her own ignorance wherein the esoteric meaning of a sigil is understood by the one who educates himself. A lack of willingness to so do is interpreted as a choice made by the individual to remain ignorant and, therefore, to expose himself to the consequences of that choice.

To be educated in such matters is to reduce the power differential between the proponent and the viewer of signs and symbols used in this way. An imbalance in the scarce resource of knowledge is thus reduced as both the intentions and existence (in many cases) of the more powerful party are thereby exposed. However, the more powerful party typically seeks to avoid such exposure by means of the deliberate obscuring of the true meaning of the sigil, and so a sigil is usually presented as possessing an exoteric meaning used to conceal its true esoteric meaning, along with the intention and power of the party behind it.

Ultimately, the power imbalance resulting from the unequal distribution of the scarce resource of knowledge is most effectively achieved through a deliberate strategy of secrecy. The use of secrecy as a means of exerting power is so widespread so as to be barely noticeable, however it forms the very bedrock upon which are built all forms of corporate power, political power, education, religious bureaucracies, familial relationships, and interpersonal relationships.

To understand the true meaning of a sigil is to diffuse it of its power. Knowledge of the connection between the symbol and the power behind it enables the individual to better evaluate the situation in which he finds himself and, as such, to be better placed to select the course of action that will minimise his exposure to the loss of resources held. This can be considered akin to a driver lifting his foot from the accelerator in order to avoid falling foul of the consequences of breaking the speed limit, of which his understanding of the speed limit sign and the power behind it, has made him aware.

1 ‘occult’ means hidden


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