Lighting the Bonfire of Your Imagination: by Dia Calhoun (Smack Dab in the Imagination)

We have survived the longest night of the year—again. Many people still light bonfires on Winter Solstice night. Bring greens in the house to encourage the sun to return. Light candles. Put lights on the evergreen trees. They’re waiting upon the darkness.

This is an act of the imagination. Imagination and the symbol generating capacity of the psyche are inextricably related in a way I’m still trying to understand. Someone postulated that it wasn’t an opposable thumb, and therefore tool-making ability, that led to human development, but our capacity to make symbols. I think that capacity emerged from our visual, pre-verbal experiencing of the world. I see a tree, though I have no word for it. It has fruit. Limbs I can climb to escape a predator. Without words, I see the tree and come to associate it with food and safety. This was the arising of symbolic thinking.

In the spirit of the bonfires burning to wait upon the dark last night, we can also set a fire to light our imaginations. I’ve been a writer since the second grade, but only in the last four years have my imaginative abilities truly taken flight. And I know why. I began to record and watch my dreams.

Dreams arise out of the dark, out of that pre-verbal symbol making place in our psyche. Dreams are pure metaphor. Gob-smackingly original. As I watched my dreams and saw over time how the symbols and metaphors developed, my ability to think metaphorically grew exponentially. It was set on fire. I was exercising the fundamental “muscle” where all writing arises from—all poetry, fairy tales, myth, and story. 

I am perpetually awed at the abundance and richness going on way down deep. How much I had missed before I began paying attention. Dreams and myth are hard to understand—at first. The language of symbol and metaphor is really a foreign language to our conscious, rational minds. Like any foreign language, it has to be learned. If any artist, any person, takes the time to learn this language, to wait upon the long dark night, I promise that your imagination will blaze bonfire bright. 

“If you wait upon the silence, it is not silent. 
And when you wait upon the darkness, it is luminous.” 
--CG Jung. Collected Works Volume 17


  1. I was just reading a piece on the "art of reading." It's true--unpacking dreams, myth, symbols, and metaphor is a skill that has to be learned, but oh, what it opens up...


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