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The protective symbolic universe

A new approach to symbolism: 

The concept of the "Symbolic Protective Universe"...

Classically and for common understanding the symbol is an image, tool or object to which a human group attributes a moral value and which is supposed to constitute an element of common language intended to bring together those who refer to it, generally with the aim of making them better both humanly and morally and socially.

Most religions, the various esoteric movements and political movements thus use a number of symbols that may be their own or common to them.  This is also the case for Masonic obediences.

The use of symbols is generally intended to exalt moral values, to promote social cohesion and peace.

This classical reading of the use of symbols, however, deserves a critical examination.

How can it be explained that the use of symbolism does not prevent the persistence of perverse attitudes, inter-personal conflicts or even armed conflicts and violence of all kinds?

And yet over the centuries, throughout human history and even today, in our world which is in many ways so materialistic, human beings have always needed and resorted to the use of symbols for which they show a genuine attachment.

To try to explain this apparent contradiction, we must refer to another approach to symbolism that could be called the concept of the Symbolic Protective Universe.

This reflection draws on the knowledge accumulated in the professional practice of caregivers. It is also influenced by contacts with other cultures.

In order to explain this topic, I will deal with it successively:

-the use of the symbol and the irruption of symbolic thought in the psychological functioning of human thought;

-the main symbols of protection;

-the concept of the protective symbolic universe.

I - The recourse to the symbol and the irruption of symbolic thought in the psychological functioning of human thought 

In his book "La formation du symbole chez l'enfant" written in 1945, Jean Piaget describes this decisive moment in a child's cognitive development when this capacity for symbolization appears. Piaget studied the different stages of child development and postulates that the first imaginary realizations take place from the age of two; but one could date the process earlier by referring to the mirror stage described by Henri Wallon in the 1920s and theorized by Jacques Lacan in 1936, where the child between 6 and 12 months of age becomes aware of his or her image. In fact the process is very progressive throughout childhood where certain constructions of the imaginary made of images, colours and sounds become fixed. It seems that this ability to use symbolic thinking is the main differentiation between human beings and animals.

The symbol implies the representation of an absent object; in order for the child to have access to the symbolic game, he must be able to use the representation of the absent object.

The symbol induces a comparison between a given element and an imagined element that produces a fictitious representation; the child takes pleasure in it when it has begun to differentiate itself from its mother.

The pampered and loved young child finds emotional security first near the mother's womb and then in the arms of the father. In the experience of early childhood, the first feeling of insecurity is born as a result of the maternal estrangement resulting from the obligations of daily life; everything happens as if the child accepts this maternal estrangement by compensating for it through the use of symbolic thought and the emergence of maternal symbols that will be his own; the same will be true of paternal estrangement.

These two pillars of the child's emotional security, maternal and paternal attachments, are thus perpetuated in spite of the physical distance by symbolic images with similar content. These symbolic images do not remain virtual, confined to the unconscious; they are found in the subject's environment in the form of artistic images, photographs, decorative objects or even religious objects.

For example, works have highlighted that the sun and the house were the two symbolic images most often found: the sun symbolizing a paternal image and the house a maternal image.

For children who are victims of a disturbed relationship with the mother, the father or both, all situations are possible: from the creation of a maternal or paternal substitute to feelings of abandonment and emotionally unstable situations; the construction of symbolic images ensuring emotional security will be permanently disturbed even if compensatory processes may take over.

To remain on the subject of this board, it is clear that there is a strong link between the ability to use symbolic thinking and the constant search for emotional security, which alone allows the child to build himself as an adult. This need varies according to each person's personal history; this protection is naturally ensured by the use of maternal and paternal symbols when these have been incorporated into the child's symbolic thinking.

For the child, existing and growing up will only be beneficial and joyful if he feels emotionally secure with the parental pillars. This process is based on the child's ability to construct a reassuring imagination; it does this by appropriating images that are of two types: either the representation of real objects or the creation of images that have no relation to reality. In these images, which may be static or moving, shapes and colours are meaningful.

Children's adjustment and learning difficulties refer to the psychological imprints left by experiences of emotional separation and the inability to appropriate the symbolic substitutes corresponding to the parental pillars.  

In conclusion to this first part, it is clearly established:

that symbolic thought appears from childhood and is an essential component of human thought

that this symbolic thought is intimately related to the emotional balance of the adult in the making

that the use of symbols is permanent, universal and linked to the emotional security of the individual

that one of the major themes in the use of symbolic thinking is the need for protection.

II - The main symbols of protection :

They are very numerous and are most of the time used unconsciously; they make it possible to protect oneself from emotional insecurity, even if only in a punctual way, during anxiety or anguish attacks linked to painfully felt loneliness. They are integrated into their cultural and/or religious environment.

Believers or unbelievers: to each his own symbol!

1/ The umbrella and the parasol :

The first uses of the umbrella as a symbol, go back to the first Egyptians for whom this object made with art using papyrus and peacock feathers represented the goddess Nut, goddess of the skies whose body formed a kind of bridge over the earth; the shadow formed by one of these umbrellas was sacred and only the nobles could enjoy it.

If the umbrella is a solar symbol, the umbrella is generally associated with the shadow, with turning in on oneself, and symbolizes the need for protection and the fear of reality.

In Asia, the umbrella is a royal symbol assimilated to celestial power: the canopy represents the sky, its handle the cosmic axis with which the sovereign identifies himself.

Assimilated to the parasol, the Muslim canopy is related to Paradise.

2/ The horseshoe :

It has become a classic good luck charm whose origin dates back to the Roman Empire: it is said that this function is only possible if it is hand forged and has seven holes.

3/ The gargoyles:

Architectural objects used to evacuate water from the roofs of churches from the 12th century, they are powerful symbols of protection, a source of inspiration for operative masons; gargoyles were the guardians of Good and by extension of churches; their terrifying aspect reminded the non-Christian heretic that divine protection was already on the building; the legend tells that gargoyles howled as soon as Evil approached whether it was visible or invisible.

4/ Ivy :

Symbol of protection for women with its evergreen foliage, symbol of eternity.

5/ The number 7:

It would provide protection against death. It is very present in the Koran.

6/ The mantle:

Whether it is windy, rainy or snowy, the coat provides the necessary protection to face the bad weather; in dreams it represents the emotional security of friends or family.

7/ Breasts :

Women's udders are the symbols of maternity; associated with the oral stage, the breasts represent the place of refuge and protection that constitutes the maternal bosom where the child will naturally come to nestle, hence the name of tits.

8/ The colour Blue :

Divine colour, it conveys the notions of immortality, inaccessibility, the marvellous.

9/ The colour green:

Colour of harmony, regeneration and hope.

10/ The Khamsa or hand of God:

It is one of the rare symbols used by Christians, Muslims (especially Shiites) and Jews alike.

11/ Dedicated protection symbols: These are various media for which a player acting as a medium assigns a symbolic content aimed at conferring on it a power of protection.

a) Talismans or amulets: these are very simple objects, of various materials, on which symbols are engraved: the most commonly used seems to be the pentagram, and which act as a good-luck charm or protection against evil spirits.

b) Pentacles: if the talismans are more personal, the pentacles are more anonymous; the best known are the pentacles using the caduceus of Mercury or the Swastika which in white magic symbolizes the image of longevity.

c) The gri-gri: Generally speaking, as Paul Hazoume writes, "The gri-gri is a symbol that faith makes effective"; it is worn on oneself, can be placed in a precise place; in animist thought its action can be beneficial or evil.

In Catholic religious practice, Mother Mary and certain saints are very often evoked to seek protection.

In Islam, the sadness and anguish caused by emotional loneliness is interpreted as the work of Satan; protection is sought by reciting a sura; in this case it is clear that it is the written word that is the symbol of protection.

12/ Symbols of protection in Masonic lodges :

As we are at the Ist degree, let us limit ourselves to the essential:

The first symbolic image which marks the new initiate and which conditions the good development of a Masonic lodge is without doubt the personality of the VM who has all the attributes of the paternal image.

In the first degree, the VM is a living symbol that cannot fail to refer us to our own personal history and to the symbolic paternal image that we have within us. This is, in my opinion, one of the difficulties to overcome in order to ensure the proper functioning of a lodge.

The apron and the gloves are also symbols of protection while also symbolizing other values.

The roofer is also a living symbol; he is the one who protects us during our work.

For each one of us, our godfather is, normally, our natural protector.

The Masonic lodge itself is often perceived by the applicants as a symbol of protection.

III - The concept of a symbolic protective universe.

The study of symbolism is a fascinating activity that refers to many approaches depending on whether one is atheist, agnostic, non-practising religious, mystical or sectarian.

I wanted to use an objective psychological approach that would allow us to understand our attraction to symbols and also to see their use in a more rational way.

After analyzing the process that leads each of us to have recourse to symbols, and after having evoked the symbols used to reinforce our need for protection, let us approach the concept of the protective symbolic universe.

This concept stems directly from my medical practice in that it was a question for me of better treating a certain number of psychopathologies which, while not strictly speaking diseases, caused discomfort and suffering not apparently justified by particular living conditions.

Of course, in the childhood of these patients, we often found the notion of emotional insecurity, ruptures and even abandonment. By comparing these experiences with those of people less concerned by the symptoms of emotional insecurity, it is possible to realize that psychological traumas experienced in early childhood can compromise the development of symbolic maternal and/or paternal images and thus make these individuals much more vulnerable to the problem of emotional insecurity.

My conviction was that it was as if these individuals had not been able to appropriate the paternal and/or maternal symbolic images that constitute an effective protective symbolic universe, so that they were easily destabilized by a sometimes minimal modification of their environment. 

Globalizing the reflection, it seemed to me that each of us had appropriated during our childhood a certain number of symbolic images, some of which could be linked to the emergence of symbolic thought producing symbolic substitutes to the parental pillars ; these images were, generally unconsciously, incorporated into our environment in a very real way; it is all of these representations that constitute what I call our protective symbolic universe; of course it is very personal even if they are cultural symbols because their emotional content is naturally unique because of its relationship to the subject's experience. The paternal and maternal symbolic images that constitute the protective symbolic universe play their beneficial role by being constantly present in one form or another in the subject's immediate environment.

This reflection has three main consequences:

Well-being and adaptability are directly linked to an effective protective symbolic universe that is present in the subject's environment;

a contrario, ill-being and emotional insecurity can be understood as the consequence of an ineffective protective symbolic universe.

In this eventuality of an ineffective protective symbolic universe, it is possible to try to improve it by accompanying the subject in a reappropriation of symbols intended to bring him a more relevant protective symbolic universe. This can be done through the use of a particular psychotherapy, an adaptation of art therapy.

In addition and to return to the questions of the introduction, it is clear that, in an approach that could be called secular, the true function of symbolism is first of all to put us in relation with a very intimate process linked to our affects. The function of communication and the function of exaltation of moral values seem to me to be conditioned in the end by overcoming the affective problem.

Finally, contrary to what is often stated in these places, it seems to me that the attraction for the use of symbols is first of all a psychological demand! 

Does this mean that it is illusory to expect from the use of symbolic language in lodges and elsewhere an improvement in social relations, an improvement in peace and social cohesion? I am not far from thinking so.

If Freemasonry wants to learn a methodology of self-knowledge, it cannot overlook the psychological prerequisites indispensable to the implementation of this learning; the knowledge and evaluation of our protective symbolic universes in the intimacy of our initiatory research could allow us :

-on the one hand, to make better use of symbols to better protect ourselves...

-and on the other hand facilitate other uses of symbolism in our work of self-knowledge.

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