Reminders of Thought and Life

From the entry on “Bird” in Cirlot’s A Dictionary of Symbols:

Every winged being is symbolic of spiritualization. The bird, according to Jung, is a beneficent animal representing spirits or angels, supernatural aid, thoughts and flights of fancy. Hindu tradition has it that birds represent the higher states of being. To quote a passage from the Upanishads: ‘Two birds, inseparable companions, inhabit the same tree; the first eats of the fruit of the tree, the second regards it but does not eat. The first bird is Jivâtmâ, and the second is Atmâ or pure knowledge, free and unconditioned; and when they are joined inseparably, then the one is indistinguishable from the other except in an illusory sense’. This interpretation of the bird as symbolic of the soul is very commonly found in folklore all over the world. (J. E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, Jack Sage translation, Second Edition, London: Routledge, 1971, pp. 26-7)

Humanity is in descent. What can this mean other than that man has become heavy? He besotted himself for so long that his soul, finally too waterlogged to lift its own weight, let alone to rise, is sinking firmly into the earth. At last the wet souls will flood the soil, which is to say they will turn our garden into mud, mire, useless terrain in which nothing will grow, and from which nothing healthy can emerge. Only a long, barren period of exposure to the sun will restore our natural dryness, our spiritual origins as a rareness ready for sparks, combustible lightness. 

The few of us who still remember that life is fire, and human thought air seeking to rarefy itself into ether, have little recourse amid this lifeless flood but to keep remembering what they want us to forget, and to keep trusting that the sun will do its work, inexorably, as it has done in the wake of every great flood before. The sun will dry, till the mud becomes dust, the dust swirls upward in the wind, and at last something properly human rediscovers its natural but almost never-seen home — in the air, reaching toward the ether.

Until then, as always, but never more so than in such heavy, sinking times as these, we rely on the universal symbol of our aspiration, our visionary embers of a lost past and invisible future, the birds.

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