Another fun one this week, although it might make a few of you think I’m trying to start my own cult. (Well, I am kinda tired of being poor…)
In his 1957 book “Symbols of Faith”, American theologian Paul Tillich wrote: “Man’s ultimate concern must be expressed symbolically, because symbolic language alone is able to express the ultimate.” From there he described six properties of symbols which distinguish them from mere signs. They are:
1. Symbols point beyond themselves to something else. (Well, so do signs.)
2. Symbols (unlike signs) participate in the reality of that to which they point.
3. Symbols open up levels of reality which are otherwise closed to us.
4. Symbols also open up dimensions and elements of the soul.
5. Symbols cannot be produced intentionally; they grow from the individual or collective unconscious.
6. Symbols cannot be invented: like living beings, they grow and they die.
So my question for this week concerns the power of symbols. Furthermore, as I read Tillich’s discussion here, I was particularly intrigued by his use of national flags as the example which makes his point. In his description of the second property of symbols, he says:
The flag participates in the power and dignity of the nation for which it stands. Therefore, it cannot be replaced except after an historic catastrophe that changes the reality of the nation which it symbolizes…
So I’m also curious to ask about your views on the power of flags as symbols for our most ultimate spiritual ideas, and our most important social commitments. A community, a government, even a nation, not just an individual, asserts its presence with a flag in a political as well as existential sense. The flag also carries the implicit presence of that nation’s history, origin, priorities, laws, political structures, and so on. Thus whenever I travel in Europe, the sight of a Canadian flag in someone’s apartment window, or on another traveler’s backpack, always makes me happy. I find myself glad of the sign that a member of my ‘tribe’, so to speak, is nearby.
Some of the first pagan rituals I ever attended began when someone raised a flag on a tall pole near the ritual circle. In that case, it was a personal flag designed by the event organiser. But it made me feel as if I had landed at a place were some very specific (if not precisely or analytically expressed) values were in play: values, in that case, more or less consistent with the Charge of the Goddess. There was also numerous smaller flags in a myriad of colours, resembling Tibetan prayer flags, attached to nearby trees and attached to ropes between them. On those smaller flags were short proverbs written, or the symbols of various branches of the pagan movement: pentacles, triple moons, triskeles, ankhs, awen, the four elements, Sanskrit letters, astrological signs, pictures of animals and plants, pictures of deities and heroes, icons of agricultural tools, and so on, all with wonderful colours.
So for many years afterwards, I would fantasize about a flag for my own spiritual path (ever-changing as it was at the time), or for Druidry, or for the whole Pagan movement. Do you have a flag or a special symbol for your ideas and values, or the ideas and values of your group, coven, grove, local community, path or tradition? If you were in the position to design one for the whole pagan movement, what would it look like?
We’ve already seen one in that wonderful and notorious 1973 film which depicts a reconstructionist pagan community in full swing. It looked like this:
Although it may seem silly, I’m rather fond of this flag. I think some variation of it (a white field with a yellow / red / orange sun in the centre, outlined with a thin black line, and perhaps with a smiling face) would be my suggestion for a flag for the whole movement.
For many years in my dreams I regularly saw two symbols, sometimes as objects in the dream-world, sometimes as banners, heraldic crests, tapestries, kilt tartans, and (yes) flags. Here they are:
At one time I was involved in creating a Druidic networking association for druids in Ireland, and I gave these symbols to that group. But that group is now long since defunct, and the people involved gave the symbol back to me. Any suggestions about what I should do with them, or what they might mean?