My Favorite Symbols

     Symbols are more powerful than words and they are analyzed and processed in a different part of the brain than is writing.  A professor once required us to present the findings from required readings in the form of an image.  I was terrible at it–the worst in class–and it was torture to me, but I must admit that it was an excellent pedagogical tactic because it made me think deeply about the material and to invent clever (or, in my case, not-so-clever) ways to communicate ideas and data.

      These are some of my favorite symbols.  Some I appreciate for their aesthetic value, others for what they represent.  

       If you would like to learn more about the differences between symbol and the written word (and much, much more), I highly recommend The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image, by Leonard Shlain.  Dr. Shlain is a polymath and an excellent writer.  I was not persuaded by all of his arguments, but the book is impressive and fun to read, and, like Battle Cry of Freedom, it will educate you and improve your understanding of the world.  

       (I wrote a paper once about the use of symbols in 20th Century totalitarian movements.  The research fascinated me.)

     The Fasces, a bound bundle of rods and an axe.  It is Etruscan in origin and symbolizes the power of the magistrate and strength in unity (a single rod is easy to break; a bundle of rods less so).   Like the sun cross, it was appropriated by the fascists, but less successfully, and you can still spot fasces in post offices, court houses, and even congress (the Founding Fathers took inspiration from the Roman Republic).   

   Next: the Ouroboros, a snake (or dragon) eating its own tail.  It is a truly ancient symbol of perpetuity and the universe, going back to at least the 14th Century B.C.  The Ouroboros was found in the tomb of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun.  It later became a symbol for alchemy.  Personally, I think it would be good for a wedding ring or a slave bracelet.  My Secret Job business card features an Ouroboros beneath an eagle.  

    The symbol of the Freelancer’s Union is fantastic!  I love it and I love reading their ads in the subway.  I wanted to join the Freelancer’s Union as an “entertainer” in order to get health insurance (oh God, do I need health insurance), but I was worried that if I was injured and filed a significant claim with the insurance and they investigated it, they’d use the fact that I am a sex worker to deny me coverage.  “Dominatrix” is not an accepted freelance profession, although tutor is…but I don’t make enough money tutoring to qualify.  

    The Polish Eagle, which is beautiful.  America uses eagles as symbols, too, but all our eagles look hard and ready to kick ass.  The Polish Eagle is prettier. 

     Finally, I like the Compass Star (or Compass Rose).  If I was to get a tattoo, I’d get a compass rose on my foot or in between my shoulder blades, because I need direction.  

2 thoughts on “My Favorite Symbols”

  1. The Ouroboros is fascinating because it could also stand for a recursive procedure, a powerful tool used in some programming languages. It’s basically a procedure that invokes itself in order to solve certain intensive problems that require a lot of processing.

    It’s also interesting because, as Chomsky and others have pointed out, human language is recursive, which is why human languages consist of an infinite set of sentences made with a finite lexicon and a finite number of syntactic rules.

    Sorry. A bit geeky, I know.

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