Symbols In Our Brains

Ndebele Mural

We think in symbols. We say “Life is a journey,” Zach’s been on a rough road,” She’s reached the top.”

We know we don’t mean those things literally, yet we instantly perceive more from the symbol than we do, say, from a long list of troubles Zach has had on his ‘rough road.’ We communicate in symbols. Letters are symbols. A flag is a symbol, so is a cross, or a hammer and sickle.

Symbols are powerful. One artist set up a display that compelled the viewer to walk on an American flag. A huge protest broke out about desecrating the symbol. Try setting a flag on fire in public and see what happens.

The Ndbele (N. Debelly) tribe in Africa were mad when the Boers (Dutch) came in and starting building farms on their land, so they attacked the Boers. Spears don’t beat guns, no matter how brave the spear-wielder, so the defeated Ndebele went underground. They started painting symbols all over their houses and surrounding walls. The Boers thought it was just decoration, but it was secret messages.


For example, most of us know the fish symbol as a secret message between persecuted Christians. Fish in Greek is ICTHUS-an acronym for Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior.

Let’s say an Ndebele wanted to say, “Meet me at the river, bring your spear.” They could say that in colorful symbols and the Boers will be none the wiser. Meet me (two hands joined/By the river-three wavy lines)/bring your spear=spear head.) We made a Ndebele mural yesterday at the Suwannee River Studio, and in the middle of our work, Mac asked, “Wait a minute, what time should we meet by the river?” I answered, “You tell me, Mac. What symbol can we use for “sundown?” “Easy, a curved earth with a circle sinking behind it,” he answered. Bingo.

We aren’t fighting Boers, so we didn’t make the river mural. We are fighting our occasional arrogance, however, so our’s says,” God is smarter than you are,” with ‘smarter’ repeated because guess what? God is LOT smarter than I am!

God is smarter smarter than you are

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