Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Symbols and Meanings - Good and Bad

A talisman (from Arabic طلسم Tilasm, ultimately from Greek telesma or from the Greek word "telein" which means "to initiate into the mysteries") is an amulet or other object considered to possess supernatural or magical powers that are placed on the object by an outside force. It's an inanimate object that one makes animate. In magic a talisman is endowed with magical properties or magical force with a specific nature. It could be a sentimental object or souvenir of some kind that when looked at years later evokes a certain emotional response. (from Wikipedia).

I’ve always been interested in symbols. It’s been a way of communication forever and you can’t look at art for very long and not run into symbolism. It’s in the earliest of work all the way through to the latest. I’d nearly forgotten how interesting I had found it all until I started to work with delinquents for the State of Michigan. I was a novice, to say the least that anyone could say, but an observant one.

There were forty youth split into groups of ten who were not in general to have conversations with one another. Yet, while observing them in close proximity you could see they were having conversations –non verbal and hand signals full of meanings and so much more – with their forbidden peers, without much interference from our rules.

The reason was simple to me. Unless I could recognize the hand signals, tattoos, position of the clothing the kids were wearing it would be like the staff could easily be caught up in something potentially dangerous, let alone embarrassing. We wanted to make sure who was running the funny farm so we quickly moved to split up into groups where we could cull from them what ‘this and that meant”.

Take as an example the first picture. Neptune's trident, absolutlely. But in the hands of the kids and gangs it's called a fork. You are either forks up or forks down. You have to think of it as akin to the Lions or Rotary. Difficult jump right? Needs an chart but here is an easy way - Think Baseball. All baseball is the same (gangs), divided into leagues American/National, (forks up/ down - folks/people, and other modifiers), then divided further by names (Bloods/Crips/ and so on, and then further by symbols and so on. Makes sense now? Trust me, it's hard to follow.

The three pronged pitchfork portion on top of the Neptune symbol represents a trident, commonly thought to represent Neptune, the god of the waters (Poseidon in Greek if you prefer).
Not so commonly known is the trident of the Neptune symbol also represents the threefold essences of nature. Empirically speaking this threefold essence is comprised of: Becoming, Being, Passing away.

The kids wear their gang symbols as protection (talimans) from other gangs - as identifiers of who and what they are. There are thousands of them. There are millions of symbols historically. I've attached some drawings so you can see the differences. See the tridents.

Trust me, it was not unlike taking a long study course on Religion at a local college – it felt the very same way. Churches also make their territory known by things they leave out or mark. And most of the symbolism is meant to confer some of the same rules.

Symbolism as a study is a very interesting. It can be used in your paintings and on your work. And in some neighborhoods it might even help to keep you from being hassled by certain gangs – or not. I'm not sure if it's the imagery you want for your work but you have to agree it is interesting. I mean who doesn't like a crystal or look at the pryamid on their dollar bill?

If you want to check some symbolism that might work in what you are creating I’ve included some links This is not a comprehensive look by any means, I have book after book on this topic But, here are a few on-line resources You might want to check out for yourself so you can get a start in this incredible field you can incorporate into your work. And, if you want to look up more I find that Googling “meaning of symbolism” it brings up a ton of possible sites to find your answers. Here are a few good ones I found:

Ancient Meanings
Religious Symbols
Gangs r Us
Gangs and their Origins

Tomorrow I will show you some talismans I am working on. They’re not quite as grand as my Sirevaag Tailsman but they are going to look great. They are in the component stage and I hope to have a few of them listed on Etsy in a week or two. Then you designers can figure what would make these new ones complete.

Now this - Well, it's a tattoo. Cracks me up - - - the first time I saw it I told all the kids I didn't know why anyone but my husband would want my initials carved on their arm. I thought the poor child would puke as he screamed at me in protest. He yelled and finally screams "You dumb Bi*$ch, it stands for Satan's Diciples". I told him with sly grin on my face, "Yes, I know!"


Janel said...

I think symbols are a great way to expand creativity. Loved your comments about the SD tattoo!

Sharon Driscoll said...

Those poor kids - I don't know how they put up with me for 23 years. One thing for sure - it increased my smart a_ _ quotient by about 100% and I learned to be quick on the delivery. It shocked even me sometimes. LOL

Roberta said...

Thanks for the interesting links.

Sharon Driscoll said...

Hi Roberta - You are very welcome. It's kind of fun to work a symbol or two into some of your work.

Maneki said...

Symbolism is so very interesting and inspiring, but sometimes also tricky. For example, as a Scandinavian I find the bronze and viking age interesting, a dynamic time in history, and therefore I like symbols from that time. But in the early 90's you had to be a little careful to wear the most common symbol, the Tor's hammer pendant, as it was prolifically used by neo-nazis and rasists. Now it's become more generally accepted that others wear it too, especially since the rasism subsided after some years, but back then it was not always something you wanted others to know you wore.

Runes can also be tricky. Not only did the Nazis used them, making e.g.the s rune somewhat tainted (especially when adopted by the neo-nazis). There are a few known trollrunor, runes used in magic (not the usual futhark that began being used in divination in the 20th century and have very little to do with how runes were used in the viking age). They look very nice, but again: you have to be careful when picking which one to use as a new neo-nazi/rasist youth organisation uses one of the most known trollruna as their symbol... They see it as a symbol of power for their war against muslims and dark-skinned immigrants.

And reclaiming symbols from such groups are really hard as many people know very little of the original symbolism and context. It'll be very long before westeners see anything but a nazi symbol in the swastika for example.

So one must be careful sometimes when choosing what symbols to use as people might get the wrong idea about what they are ment to represent.