Symbols can be psychological triggers. Most powerful spiritual symbols trigger fear and other powerful emotions. They use these strong emotions used to control people, that’s why you need to learn about them.
“This is an important point about symbols: they do not refer to historical events; they refer through historical events to spiritual or psychological principles…” — Joseph Campbell
Symbols Are Cognitive Links
Most people think of symbols as innocent objects. But symbols represent words and concepts. Words create pictures within the mind, which connect to memories and fears in the subconscious. Many famous stories contain the same central themes related to our primal psyche.
You’ll find the same themes in religions and popular stories, and they often contain the same cognitive triggers or links that activate fear or anger. Both of these emotions are powerful motivators.
You are likely familiar with themes of these stories because they resonate with us. Here are the characteristics of these stories which connect with us on a subliminal level. First, the story has a hero, a focal point, they are special, either physically or spiritually, or both. Second, this hero then battles an evil foe. And against the odds, the hero wins. You will identify with this character personally because of the metaphors of their background and struggles.
The time and place are different, and the story’s characters change names, but the underlying themes are the same. The above elements of this typology are found in the central theme in the New Testament, with Jesus as the champion. (1) And, it’s also the same typology we find in Star Wars with Luke Skywalker. We see the same theme in The Avatar and Harry Potter.
Look closely at the elements of the stories. It’s the same theme, just different characters, and we want to hear the story again and again. What you don’t realize is that these stories also hide the story’s object in the symbols that trigger fear and other subliminal messages.
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder. Fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won. The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” — Joseph Campbell (2)
These associations work in the background below the conscious level of awareness. The cognitive links work behind our level of conscious awareness. Thus, they are ripe for exploitation.
Anyone with knowledge and access and the ability can use these triggers to manipulate their thinking. This is why you need to learn your psychological triggers and how to break unhealthy patterns of thought associated them. Plus, you can help others to see them and break their power.
The Most Powerful Spiritual Symbols Are Links
Words Become Images
As an experiment, look at the images above, symbols of the most popular religions. Do any of these characters trigger fear or anger? What about resentment? If they cause any emotional reaction, that’s a sign of the emotional connection, either positive or negative.
A symbol or typology can contain layers of meaning. The symbol can convey several messages simultaneously. It can elicit emotions like pride, honor, and dignity while also conveying anger or fear. These emotions are evidence of a dynamic link. People can use these links to manipulate by using these symbols.
“When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.” ― Jiddu Krishnamurti
As mentioned earlier, words create images within the mind. However, the same term can create different images for different people. For example, if someone says apple, one person might think of the fruit on a tree. For another person, the word apple creates the image of a large corporation that sells computers. Therefore, controlling the meaning of the image or brand is so important.
Many cultures memorialize the symbolism and triggers in ritual the labyrinth is an example of how to make the symbolism memorable by making it physical. These complexes are used to signify and stress the importance of rites of passage. Making it through the maze successfully marks the completion of a significant trial or benchmark.
The benchmark or trial are part of a collective story that has power to shape values and behaviors. What affects the collective meaning of an object? It all starts with our worldview. Many things influence our worldview. However, the most significant influence comes from the dominant cultural narrative in our lives. It’s the worldview that governs our thoughts and values, and it depends on two things—first, the exposure time to the programming and the level of integration in your life.
For instance, people expose themselves to large amounts of unconscious programming by leaving the TV on in the background. It is especially true for news or religious programming because it is primarily propaganda. The more often you hear something, the more likely you will accept it. These types of programming distort thinking. Most of the time, we don’t know it’s happening.
The integration level increases as people engage in actions that reinforce this programming. For example, you hear an advertisement for a product and then buy it. So, the more exposure to the programming, the more likely people follow through.
Words and graphic designs paint a picture of the connections to our thought patterns, values, beliefs, memories, and dreams. It’s all tied together; the most powerful spiritual symbols unlock psychological links. These links are the secret levers that create thought chains. And this is how it is possible to manipulate thinking by triggering these levers. Get the picture?
Leverage Brand and the Cognitive Links to Trigger Fear
The basis of advertising is creating a problem and then providing a profitable solution. For instance, “Mr. Clean,” the cleaning product showed a dirty floor that only its cleaning solution could solve. This model comes directly from Western religion. Create the problem, an afterlife in hell, and then offer the solution, heaven.
The discovery of how symbols access our core thinking processes is the key. So, by controlling the story, you can also control the person. If you can reach critical mass acceptance of this message, you can persuade large groups. In this way, it’s possible to leverage the brand so that people suspend common sense and logical reasoning. They will accept any message from the source controlling their values and beliefs.
Choosing a symbol with the most significant ability to manipulate requires two things. First, the graphic representation needs a powerful psychological tie to a primal instinct like fear or anger. Second, it’s easy to recognize and copy. These traits make brand recognition possible. For example, look at the icons of the world’s largest religions.
The cross is the brand of Christianity. Islam uses the crescent moon and star as a brand. And the Star of David, a six-pointed star, is the brand of Judaism. These are symbols as psychological principles that communicate multiple messages.
The Symbols that Trigger Fear
The power of the symbol to trigger or manipulate thinking depends on the level of indoctrination, belief in the typology and symbols. Therefore, religions focus on storytelling with symbolism. Stories can contain several symbols and the constant repetition of these powerful themes bonds the person to the belief system. This bonding often extends to the authority figures of the system. Once assimilation is complete, followers will adopt almost any ideas that the leaders want. They can mobilize people to act out in ways that defy logic and basic moral instinct.
“Half the people in the world think that the metaphors of their religious traditions are facts. And the other half contends that they are not facts at all. As a result, we have people who consider themselves believers because they accept metaphors as facts. And we have others who classify themselves as atheists because they think religious metaphors are lies.” — Joseph Campbell
So, it is an error to mistake metaphors for facts. Religious mythologies purposely misuse metaphors, treating them as fact. So, it is a mistake to discount metaphors as powerless word pictures. Metaphors and analogies are typologies that are psychological triggers. People can use these triggers to program almost anything.
“Everything that happens in the Old Testament is a type or adumbration of something that happens in the New Testament, and the whole subject is therefore called typology, though it is a typology in a special sense.” — Northrop Frye
“You believe in a book that has talking animals, wizards, witches, demons, sticks turning into snakes, burning bushes, food falling from the sky, people walking on water, and all sorts of magical, absurd and primitive stories, and you say that we are the ones that need help?” ― Mark Twain
The most potent psychological principles center on the things that make us afraid enough to trigger our fight, flight, or freeze reaction. What connects these images to the psyche is the trigger layers of programming. The most powerful spiritual symbols unlock multiple layers and multiple triggers. These drivers come from four primary sources:
3) Primal mind
If you learn about your fears, you can deal with how they affect you and keeping others from misusing them. It’s the best way to overcome the tactic of group hypnosis or groupthink manipulation. So, learning to face your fears becomes a gateway to freethinking. Any of these fears can lead you to an existential crisis known as the “night of the soul.”
The Enneagram Personality Profile is a powerful tool for learning about the default mechanisms of our Ego. It is a written test that helps you understand your personality and instincts. Each of the nine core personality types has a specific fear trigger.
1) Type one fears corruption or being defective.
2) Personality type twos fear rejection or abandonment.
3) Threes fear not being successful or even seen as worthlessness.
4) Type fours fear being just average and not unique.
5) Fives fear incompetence.
6) The Type Six fear lacks loyalty and support.
7) Type sevens fear missing out on something.
8) Eights fear not being in control.
9) Type nines fear the loss of connection.
“When men think and believe in one set of symbols and act in ways which are contrary to their professed and conscious ideas, confusion and insincerity are bound to result.” — John Dewey
There are three basic instinctual types in the Enneagram system. They each have corresponding fears. These core fears are:
- Those with self-preservation fear the loss of things they consider essential.
- The “social stack” has a general fear of rejection.
- Passion or sexual dominant stack fear a dull existence or missing something exciting.
Fears of our Primal Mind
Our monkey brain houses our autonomic nervous system. The control center regulates much of our body’s unconscious activities, including heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, and eye pupil response. These primal brain activities are something we share with many creatures.
Groupthink manipulation enables linking beliefs and values to our fight, flight, or freeze response. One accomplishes this by creating a Scapegoat that can be blamed. They become the focal point and outlet for negative emotions, like fear and anger. These triggers are powerful motivators that override our moral compass and rational thinking. See Cultural Fears below.
The fears of the dominant culture are the home of religious belief. They center on the following main issues:
- Fear of Death
- Fear of Afterlife
- Loss of loved ones
- Lack of material necessities (food, water, shelter)
- Health issues
- Bias and prejudice of religious belief (God), ethnic, race, and gender
These fears and insecurities provide opportunities to create customers.
“Religious people claim that it’s just the fundamentalists of each religion that cause problems. But there’s got to be something wrong with the religion itself if those who strictly adhere to its most fundamental principles are violent bigots and sexists.” — David G. McAfee
It’s important to remember that religions exist to make generational customers. If you are a follower of one of the major religions, chances are you underwent indoctrination as a child. The cognitive links of your faith are a part of your cultural narrative. It is this programming that is the fear trigger. Fear is behind anger. It’s what propels ordinary people to act with violence. The motivation comes from the programming embedded in the symbols. These are the psychological tools of Western theology.
The example for this article is the Hamsa, which is a symbol we see in many cultures. Judaism calls it the hand of Miriam, the sister of Moses. Christianity calls it the hand of Mother Mary. In Islam, it is the hand of Fatima, Muhammad’s daughter. The origins of this symbol go back to ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. In these cultures, the Hamsa is used as protection against evil spells, explicitly pointing to The Evil Eye. (3)
The “All-Seeing Eye” is one of the key themes here. You can find this symbol in many cultures. Christians call it The Eye of Providence. However, it originates before recorded history. Some say it comes from Egypt and the Eye of Horus. (4)
There are several secondary symbols here as well—for instance, the rainbow, spiral, and the dots around the perimeter, and the hand. The meaning for these will depend on the cultural context. The rainbow is an excellent example of how meaning changes based on cultural context. The definition differs depending on who is using it.
The main message of the Hamsa is that spiritual awakening is available to everyone. It’s an invitation for people of all backgrounds to blossom spiritually. Depending upon your worldview, you may see a different message. Please let us know how you relate to this symbol.
Preparing for Research
Above all, this exercise is an excellent tool for developing our awareness. On the surface, it seems like an analytical exercise. However, this is serious inner work. This exercise will show you how symbols affect your thinking and values. Sorting out these connections may take more than one session.
Preparation is key to getting the best results. First, use a spiritual journal to record your findings. It’s a good practice to record as you go along. Your research may show you essential connections to other things like dreams or habitual thought patterns.
Second, brush up on logical reasoning and the scientific process. It will ground you in the process of the practice.
The Enneagram Of Personality
Next, familiarize yourself with the Enneagram Personality Profile. You must go beyond just knowing your personality type, tri-type, and instinctual stack. Learn about the different triads and dynamic variations. Dig into the fears and motivators that are a part of your psyche. This system can yield important insights if you know enough to recognize them. The more you know, the better.
If this is your first venture into symbolism, pick one outside your religion. It’s best to avoid encountering any idea that will trigger your fight, flight, or freeze reaction, which causes the mental condition of cognitive dissonance. If this happens, your research session is over. For this reason, choose a neutral symbol or topic.
Use Emotional Checks
Anytime you engage in spiritual research, we recommend using emotional checks. It’s a process to help you stay as unbiased as possible. It helps you control the things that trigger fear.
Emotional checks will reduce stress and increase the accuracy of our research. So, think of it as a safety net. It will catch us when we fall into emotional distress. When we face ideas conflicting with our current opinion, it creates a dilemma. We instinctively react to protect our sacred ground. You don’t want to research while in a state of distress.
Last but not least, you can find several historical origins for your research at a public library. Keep in mind some authors are biased. So, be sure to check the accuracy of the source. The subject of symbolism will refer to texts known as Bestiaries. We’ll discuss these in more detail below.
Exercise Connecting Symbols to Psychological Principles
You can do this exercise on your own. But this exercise works best with a partner—ideally, someone on the same quest. Find someone you can talk with openly without filtering your answers. Be sure to jot down your discoveries in your journal. Things may come up that don’t seem important until after you’ve had time to ponder your answers.
1) First, find several sources. Use different authors and publishers. Using diverse resources will help you develop the best overall meaning. It will show a general historical significance for the symbol. Bestiaries are rich sources for this type of data (see below for information about this source).
2) Next, use the Enneagram Personality Profile. Find your personality type and instinctual stack. Then, find the connections between historical meaning and your fears.
3) Last, use the repeating question exercise to explore your fears. The goal is to drill down below the superficial answers. You want to find the connections between symbols and your fear triggers. Examples of repeating questions include, “tell me how this fear shows up?” It’s important to realize we tend to give superficial answers first. But, by repeating the question, you’ll eventually get down to the truth about the fear. You might spend 5 minutes on just one question to get to the root. So, be patient.
These three steps are serious “inner work.” But, if you use them, they will show you truths about your nature. Some books that will help you on this quest include:
- The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Mythology, David Kravitz, 1975
- Bulfinch’s Mythology, Illustrated Edition, Thomas Bulfinch 1978 Edition
- An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols, J. C. Cooper, 1987
- The Catholic Encyclopedia and International Work (1907)
You can trace the meaning of almost every symbol to the ancient texts known as Bestiaries. (5) Their availability varies. These contain the root associations for animals, plants, and rocks. Similarly, these texts include fictional creatures or anthropomorphic beings. You can find the links to many superstitions of Western theology. Sometimes they show how the meaning changed. After all, no one knows the exact origin of oral traditions.
In the Middle Ages, the Bestiaries became popular as curiosities and because of this, private collectors saved many of these works from mass book burning events. At the time, Christians were burning any books they deemed as evil or demonic.
The Catholic Encyclopedia
The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic history and Christianity. It’s a reference text for internal Church use, so it reveals some interesting facts not meant for public disclosure. The 1907 version is enlightening. Volumes 13 and 14 of the 15 volume set discuss where the Church got it’s symbols, doctrines and dogma.
Understanding the power of symbols helps us recognize how they trigger our emotions and what we can do to prevent this from happening. We learn words are symbols that may have several levels of meaning. Some words, characters, and logos are powerful cognitive links. And, the study of symbols can reveal the motives behind the image. For example, the typologies of rebirth and resurrection are potent symbols in our culture. They are the motives that sell afterlife beliefs.
(1) The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Mythology, David Kravitz, 1975: ttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4397462-the-dictionary-of-greek-roman-mythology
(2) Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hero_with_a_Thousand_Faces
(3) Bulfinch’s Mythology, Illustrated Edition, Thomas Bulfinch 1978 Edition: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulfinch%27s_Mythology
(4) An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols, J. C. Cooper, 1987: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/211588.Illustrated_Encyclopaedia_of_Traditional_Symbols
(5) Bestiary: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bestiary