The Symbolic Power of Home
Suburbia is fundamentally linked with the symbolism of “home”. And the symbolic reality of Home runs incredibly deep in the human psyche.
In the western world, one of the greatest and most profound tributes to the depth and power of this symbolism is found in Homer’s Odyssey. In that great poem, the hero Odysseus struggles through overwhelming difficulties and trials, motivated above all else by his desire to return to his home, Ithaca, and his wife Penelope and son Telemachus. The wily and resourceful hero succeeds in his quest, only after many years, and much loss and sorrow, and returns home, where he finally encounters his wife again.
Then Ulysses in his turn melted, and wept as he clasped his dear and faithful wife to his bosom. As the sight of land is welcome to men who are swimming towards the shore, when Neptune has wrecked their ship with the fury of his winds and waves- a few alone reach the land, and these, covered with brine, are thankful when they find themselves on firm ground and out of danger- even so was her husband welcome to her as she looked upon him, and she could not tear her two fair arms from about his neck. [Homer, trans. Samuel Butler, The Odyssey, Book XXIII]
Why is home so laden with emotion? In part the answer stems from the need for humans to have a place to belong, to have a “secure base”, as attachment theory calls it. It is essential for most if not all humans to have a place that is “theirs”, and where they feel safe and secure. Part of the compelling power of suburbia is its promise to be such a safe, secure, even maternal place for families and individuals who accept its embrace.
But, in dreams the house / home is also often a symbol of the unity of the whole personality — and this is where confusion can enter the picture. Where the appearance of the symbol of the home may presage a need to find a greater and more inclusive wholeness in the personality, we may over-literalize, and put all our energies into finding or creating the perfect external house or home. It can be incredibly easy to put all our energies into making our material environment everything that we and those around us might want it to be. Thus our outer home/house can become our identity, and relieve us of the inner impetus to relate to the fullness of who we are, as embodied in Home as a symbol of the Self.
Now, there is nothing at all wrong with my seeking to have a nice home, bringing improvements to it, making it an expression of my unique personality and generally enjoying where I live! But in doing that, we cannot afford to lose sight of the needs of the larger personality, which the acquisition of a house will not meet. The Home can easily become a a fetish, a response to competitve pressure to find value and justification in the terms of the styles and standards of the community, the collective, when what a person really needs is to ascertain the needs and imperatives of the deep Self.
How should I relate to my physical home, while I look for the psychological home within myself? What unacknowledged realities in my self do I need to “come home to”? Do I know my “inner house”? Are there unexplored rooms, and perhaps even whole wings, exotic and new, that beckon to me in my dream life and imagination?
Where is home?