Symbolism of Home #2: The Image of the House & Our Inner Being
As we saw in Part 1 of this series, the image of the house, and the symbolism of home pervade our society, and have very deep roots in our own being. What does this mean for our wholeness and healing?
In this post, we explore how that deep inner connection relates to our deep needs and anxieties, and to our journey to ourselves.
Image of the House in Dream and Imagination
Gaston Bachelard, a French thinker who has so influenced architects, social thinkers and psychologists, writes extensively on the image of the house:
On whatever theoretical horizon we examine it, the house image would appear to have become the topography of our intimate being.
Our intimate being, which is to say, our dreams and imagination. So, what does that mean for those of us who live, say, in a place like suburban Oakville, where so much energy goes into the creation of the individual family home?
Bachelard looks carefully at how we experience houses and homes. He tells us that a house “has both unity and complexity”, meaning that as a psychological reality a house has not only floors, ceilings and walls, but is also made out of memories and experiences. He points out that each room stirs its own particular set of sensations, but still is part of a complete, unified experience of living in a home. Objects in the home are not dead, soulless things: for us, they’re full of our experience of them accumulated over time, and full of rich meaning.
For Bachelard, the house is not abstract, but is about how we inhabit our fundamental life space. In the midst of all the ambiguities, chances and changes of life, the house is about “how we take root, day after day, in a ‘corner of the world’.” These insights are profoundly important for /a-midlife-transition.
Container for Soul
Bachelard uses the metaphor of a mollusk to shed light on the image of the house as a symbolic and lived reality. The mollusk has a hard outer shell, which Bachelard would compare to the walls and solid exterior of the house. Inside the shell is the soft, tender living creature, akin to “soul”, the important, lived inner reality of our lives where we are intimate with ourselves and others. This image of the house as the container for our souls connects strongly with Jungian case studies, which is deeply focused on the inner experience of each of us as unique human beings.
The house, in dreams or imagination, symbolizes the richness of inner human life. The houses we live in are full of all the reality of colourful, intimate family and individual life. To be in our house in imagination or in dream often symbolizes inner space where we connect with the deepest, most personal and most precious parts of our subjective lives. Symbolically, to be in a good solid house is to connect with those realities in a living way, while keeping safe from psychological threat.
Perhaps that’s why the image of the house is so important in our time. As Leonard Cohen tells us, in this time the “blizzard of the world” pushes into us so much through our work demands, mass and social media, and the forces of mass marketing and advertising. “Holding on to ourselves” becomes a matter of vital importance.
Working to Build the House of the Self
The image of the house symbolizes the individual self. Our failure to give our unique individual self its due leads to a deep insecurity and sense of anxiety that many experience in our time. For a sense of security, meaning and vocation, we need a “house” firmly founded on a deep awareness of who we actually, subjectively are.
The work of /a-midlife-transition focuses on the deep inner life of the individual person, striving to forge a lasting and resilient sense of identity grounded in the Self.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst