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Representation – A subtle power for good or ill

Radar is a unique type of representation that helps in war and peace

Radar is a unique type of representation used in war and peace

In the literary and artistic sense, representation refers to depicting a psychological, social, natural, political or spiritual idea or condition through language, music, visual art, multimedia, CGI or dance.

In the sciences, abstract ideas like numbers and their interrelationships are represented through numerals and other symbols.¹

In psychology, Carl Jung argues that representation is essential to the healthy growth of the psyche. For him, the conscious ego is like a control center that, through representation, must express and manage the formidable powers of the archetypes of the collective unconscious. Jung believes it is potentially dangerous to not express unconscious attitudes, tendencies and desires in some socially acceptable way.

One of the classic examples of this danger in today’s news would be pedophile priests. These are mostly gay men, not too spiritually aware nor advanced, who have taken a vow of celibacy. They’ve also pledged themselves to God in an organization that says homosexuality is disordered. For Jung, this would be double trouble, involving

  • the harsh repression of physiological impulses for sex
  • a strange, twisted hypocrisy concerning one’s sexual orientation²

No wonder the US Church, alone, has paid out several billions of dollars in sex abuse lawsuits to victims over the past 65 years.

Postmodern thinkers question to what degree representation actually represents and to what degree it creates or colors something. For them, social power comes into play in describing and defining. Representation does not only denote something. It also connotes meanings. Compare the following two sentences:

He had a distinguished career with an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Oxford.

He read and wrote a lot of stuff that people at a British school for continued learning liked, so they added more letters to his name.

These may denote the same thing but they connote very different meanings. Thus we see the power of representation.

A wealthy couple having breakfast via Wikipedia

A wealthy couple having breakfast via Wikipedia

Sociologists like Pierre Bourdieu say that elites use certain terms, ways of speaking and manners to separate themselves from others, and to remind the “lower classes” of their apparent vulgarity and powerlessness. Choice of clothing has the same effect. And funnily enough, the lower classics often buy cheaper, less fine versions of that expensive “look” in a failed attempt to measure up to their apparently elite superiors. Bourdieu calls these non-economic assets that elites possess cultural capital. From head to toe, inside and out, elites have a lot while the lower classes have far less.³

In anthropology, philosophy and theology, the idea of representation has been broken down into

  • first-order sense data, where human beings create an internal representation of something seemingly “out there”4
  • second-order conceptualizations and images

Within Platonic philosophy and the scholastic theology of the Middle Ages, different questions are raised about the possibility of eternal, unchanging essences or ideas that are imperfectly represented in our everyday, impermanent world of change and decay.

With abstract art, some argue that the personality and personal message of the artist may be entirely absent in the representational message of an artwork. Others say this is impossible—that is, the artist, artwork and viewer always exist in some kind of relationship.

To sum, representation is a fascinating phenomenon. In junior high school I once wrote a paper differentiating mankind from animals on the basis of our ability to make tools. But when I hit university I was introduced to the power of language, symbols and signs. And many argue that this representational aspect of mankind is what makes us truly human. For better or for worse, we live in a largely symbolic universe with diverse meanings.5

¹ Most of us don’t think about it too much. But the concept of number as a discrete, definite unit is not as simple as it might seem. See and

² I have no idea about the causes of hetero- and homosexuality. I am just reporting Jung’s view. Non-abusive instances of gay religious may involve a bewildering confusion or secret dual life concerning one’s sexual orientation. Concerning the first bulleted item, some Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit gives brothers, nuns and priests a supernatural gift of celibacy, lifting them to a higher level of operation and giving them power over their natural desires. In reality, though, I don’t think it’s always that clear cut.

³ This is not to say that the economically poor cannot be highly intelligent nor spiritually rich. But I think some religious people create a stereotype about this based on Luke 6:20. Just because someone is poor does not, imo, mean they always have a rich inner life and good ethics. And by the same token, just because someone is rich does not mean they are always cruel, superficial snobs. This is a silly, superficial view in itself, I think based on a particular interpretation of the New Testament.

I say seemingly “out there” because solipsism suggests we cannot prove the reality of anything beyond our own internal experience. I don’t agree with taking this view but thought I should mention it.

5 I say largely symbolic because some sociologists fall short by saying that we live in a mere symbolic universe. I’m not convinced that religious experience, before the interpretive stage, is symbolic. I believe the Holy Spirit can touch us directly. So part of our experience, provided we’re open to religious experience, can be direct and non-representational.

Related » Active Imagination, Archetypal Image, Roland Barthes, Rudolf Bultmann, Bruce Cockburn, Emile Durkheim, Emic-Etic, Icon, Object, Participation Mystique, Surrealism, Wittgenstein, Yoni

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Status (from classical sociologist Max Weber)

Weber family: ca. 1888. Max Weber (Jr.) on the...

Weber family: ca. 1888. Max Weber (Jr.) on the right. To the left, possibly: Max Weber. Sr, Helene Weber, Max. Jr. two out of three brothers (Alfred, Arthur, Karl), then possibly sisters? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When translated from the work of German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920), status refers to a type of social honor or prestige associated with positions held by, for instance, an esteemed professor, a judge or member of the clergy.

Weber’s account of status belongs within a three part analysis of culture—class, status and party. For Weber, social stratification does not just depend on money. One may enjoy status but not class (economic wealth). Similarly, one may enjoy belonging to a party (having political power) but not necessarily be wealthy (class) or respected (status).

French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu supports unemployed workers in Paris, France on January 16, 1998.

Weber wrote well before Pierre Bourdieu articulated his idea of “cultural capital.” So his triparate analysis was, at the time, quite innovative. Weber also wrote prior to allegations about Roman Catholic pedophile, pornography and money laundering activities that have tainted public perception of the clergy and the Vatican in general. Not to say that illegal/unethical sex and money laundering allegations are specific to Catholicism. But investigations into the possibility that this most hallowed of institutions would repeatedly sully itself in this way has alerted many.

Suffice it to say that the perceived “status” of the Catholic clergy has taken a big hit since the days of Max Weber. Also, many non-Catholic preachers and politicians have been caught with their pants down, as it were.¹

Dr. Daniel Robinson notes that Weber wanted to be objective; but this, for all intents and purposes, is impossible and nobody today would see Weber as being objective.²

¹ Here’s an interesting site that lists how to recognize a fraud pastor »

² See

Related » Caste

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Angela Marie Henriette Dance of Shakti

Shakti is a Sanskrit term for female power, sometimes called “serpent power” because it is said to rise upwards like a serpent through the chakras of the meditating yogi or yogini.

Shakti also denotes a general principle of creative, cosmic energy. When personified it takes the form of a goddess, such as Siva‘s consort Parvati, or Krishna‘s playmate, Radha.

In New Age parlance the term arguably signifies the empowered, aware and holistic woman, as we find with figures like Shakti Gawain. Another meaning is the idea of the Cosmic, Divine or Great Mother.

Related » Kundalini, Tantra, Raja yoga


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Slamming (also Slammin, Slammin’)



Slamming (also Slammin, Slammin’) is a term used by rap artists and hipsters conveying several possibly interrelated meanings:

  • rhythmic verse and music of intense vitality or aggression—slammin’ vibes, slammin’ groove
  • something very good, hot, sexy, cool, happening, etc.
  • some form of power and, perhaps in some instances, spiritual power

The connection between music and power has been known since the dawn of mankind. Some anthropologists believe that the musical bow evolved from the ancient bow and arrow used for hunting and warfare.¹

Piano strings are struck with a “hammer.” And rock and jazz musicians often call the guitar an “axe.” A leading hip-hop artist was MC Hammer.

Serious Slammin'

Serious Slammin’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While the bow, arrow, hammer and axe are used for both aggressive and peaceful purposes, at bottom some notion of power is connoted by all of these terms.

Urban Dictionary adds:

1. adj. Something which is very good.
2. vt. to inject a drug intravenously
1. “Dude, this Lobster Bisque is SLAMMIN”
2. “SLAMMIN dope is not what it used to be.”²

Related » Shamanism, Song




Structure of psyche as a pyramid according to ...

Structure of psyche as a pyramid according to Carl Gustav Jung. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

M. H. Abrams says that a symbol is anything that signifies something else. Abrams also notes the distinction between public and private symbols. The public symbol, such as the cross, is (apparently) understood by everyone in a given culture. The private symbol, such as an obscure poetic allusion, isn’t.

This distinction, however, is open to debate. Not everyone in a given culture interprets the cross in the same way.

In literature a symbol is

a word or phrase that signifies an object or event which in turn signifies something, or suggests a range of reference, beyond itself.¹

In Jungian depth psychology, the symbol is an image that mediates forces from the collective unconscious to ego consciousness. These forces can be healing (the cross image) or destructive (the serpent image).²

Jung believes that symbols arise from the unknowable archetypes but are understood through archetypal images. Archetypes apparently mingle among themselves; likewise, archetypal images are discrete but exhibit similarities. For Jung, psychic energy flows between the collective unconscious and the symbol in a two-way process.

Jungian Erich Neumann says the symbol acts as both as an “energy transformer” and as a “moulder of consciousness.” As an energy transformer the symbol facilitates the ego’s experience of the numinous, arising from the collective unconscious. As a moulder of consciousness, the symbol operates on the level of collective consciousness by contributing to a given culture’s ideology.

Jung believes that the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind are linked, so trying to ignore one in favor of the other is not a good idea. He’s widely quoted from The Undiscovered Self (1958):

You can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return.

Chinese Stamp, 1950. Joseph Stalin and Mao Zed...

Chinese Stamp, 1950. Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong are shaking hands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Along these lines, charismatic political leaders of the mass state cannot avoid being glorified or demonized. This happens through brute force, clever calculation and public fascination and projection. Jung believes, for example, that a placard of Joseph Stalin expresses an archetypal force articulated on the conscious level that both sways and oppresses individuals.

A more contemporary example would be the psychological effect that massive banking towers (symbolizing Big Business) have on the poor and disenfranchised. And in ancient cultures such as Greece, Rome and Egypt, impressive architecture probably had a similar effect on slaves, the exploited, the underprivileged and on less affluent visitors from foreign lands.

No discussion of the symbol would be complete without mentioning semiotics and poststructuralism. These contemporary paths of inquiry might not go into great detail about depth psychology, but they’re important for deconstructing cultural assumptions (see also sign, signifier, signified, denotation, connotation, Foucault, Derrida, Barthes, Bourdieu).

¹ A Glossary of Literary Terms, 2005, p. 320.

² Note, however, that for many the serpent is also healing (see Chakras, Tantra, Kundalini).

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Scriptures AS

Scriptures AS (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Hinduism, tapas is sacred heat or power within the universe. It is a wide-ranging concept, with derivative forms each having special, unique meanings.

According to Walter Kaelber,[11] and others,[15][18][19] in certain translations of ancient Sanskrit documents tapas is interpreted as austerities, penance, asceticism, or mortification; however, this is frequently inadequate because it fails to reflect the context implied, which is of sexual heat or warmth that incubates the birth of life.¹


Related posts » Evil, Power, Siva

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In Hinduism the yoni is often metaphysically described as the female organ of all creation.

Wikipedia sums up this somewhat ambiguous idea quite well:

Yoni (Sanskrit: योनि yoni) is a Sanskrit word with different meanings, most basically “vagina” or “womb”. Its counterpart is the lingam. It is also the divine passage, or sacred temple (cf. lila). The word can cover a range of extended meanings, including: place of birth, source, origin, spring, fountain, place of rest, repository, receptacle, seat, abode, home, lair, nest, stable

In Hindu temple art female genitalia are often emphasized to symbolize the Great Mother’s crucial metaphysical role in giving birth to all that is.

F. A. Marglin notes that, on a more personal scale, the yoni is said to invigorate men through sexual intercourse.

Popular Hindu Indian folk belief maintains that during intercourse vaginal fluids enter the male generative organ, symbolically known as the linga (roughly parallel to the phallus of the Western mythos). This mingling of bodily fluids is believed to give the male his wife’s spiritual power (shakti).

Accordingly, ancient Kings often had several concubines as their divine right—not only for the gratification of lust but also, so the belief goes, for an increase in spiritual power.²

The yoni and, especially, sexual-erotic scenes appearing on Hindu temple engravings are often interpreted by outsiders as an inferior, crass type of spiritual representation. But Hindus (and Jungians) tend to say that those seeing Indian erotic art and sculpture as “low” or “vulgar” are merely projecting their own unresolved shadow contents.

Bộ ngẫu tượng Linga-Yoni Linga-Yoni. Cat Tien ...

Bộ ngẫu tượng Linga-Yoni Linga-Yoni. Cat Tien sanctuary, Lam Dong province, Vietnam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The yoni is sometimes depicted as a triangle with apex facing downwards. V. K. Chari says that

These geometrical figures have symbolic meanings: the triangle with the apex turned upwards (called vahni kona or cone of fire) may represent male energy, the one with the apex turned downwards female energy (yoni), the matrix of creation, and so forth-which the adept are to meditate upon.³

Related Posts » Carl Gustav Jung, Linga, Siva


² F. A. Marglin in The Encyclopedia of Religion. Eliade, Mircea (ed). New York: 1987, Collier Macmillan, Vol. 15, pp. 530-535.

³ V. K. Chari, “Representation in India’s Sacred Images: Objective vs. Metaphysical Reference” in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 65, No. 1, 2002: 52-73, pp. 65-66.