Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily Three Types of Symbolism Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein One of the tools most useful in interpreting art and literature is symbolism. The three types of symbolism we encounter in analyzing literature, dreams, or even our life experiences are archetypal, conventional, and personal symbolism. Archetypal symbols are the universal roles everyone must eventually play out in the act of consciousness integration.  E.g., the roles Carl G. Jung named (see notes below) as a part of the greater SELF; the roles Dr. Carol Pearson has named as part of the Hero’s Journey (cited below as applied to the story of Oedipus Rex); the roles of the Greater Arcana of the Tarot cards, the roles played by the gods and goddesses of the Greek and Roman pantheons, etc. Conventional symbols are those symbols we encounter that have different interpretations depending on the cultural context.  For example, the ankh, which in Egypt was a cross with an oval on top of it, was sacred to the mother goddess Isis.  In Greece and Rome a similar symbol in which the oval had become a circle was used as a symbol for Aphrodite and Venus.  The same symbol in the modern world is used to represent the female in biology. Personal symbols are those that change from author to author or dreamer to dreamer; my interpretation of a dog in a dream may be different from that of my neighbor, especially if I interpret dogs as representing bad attitudes and my neighbor sees them as symbols of protection. Jung’s definition of a true symbol is one that cannot be plumbed to its depths, i.e., a true symbol has layers and layers of meaning, and one will never get to the bottom of those meanings.  An example of this kind of symbolism is a story about a Jewish man in a little shtetl in Europe, who had a complex dream he felt he needed help in interpreting.  So he took his dream to 23 rabbis for help with the interpretation.  Each rabbi gave him a different interpretation of his dream.  And over the course of the next year all 23 interpretations proved correct.  Jung might therefore say that the man’s dream contained true symbols.