Be aware that the images are sized to fit the page. Zoom in on your browser to see them better.

I thought it would be fun for you to see some of this symbolism at work on the two graphic novels I have finished. I am going to post some of the pages and show you how the symbolism is integrated into the imagery.

I have always written stories with heavy symbolism. When I came up with the spiral journey of the spiritual quest, I did a complex correspondence map in order to ground the stories in imagery that would "feel" right to Westerners. My obsession with symbol and meaning in Western mythology and fairy tales led me to write two books and an iPad game about Western magic. I think that much of what we need to give meaning to our spiritual lives was buried badly by the church and kept cropping up, not only in Catholic ritual and art, but in the vast body of superstition and devil worship and witchcraft that has held onto Westerners like a lost pet that can't abandon us. No matter what the church did to try to discourage people from dabbling in all this devil stuff, it only encouraged some of them. Not only were people encouraged, but during the Reformation and the Enlightenment, even more people flocked to the "dark" side, desperate for some sort of spiritual grounding. I think this backfired in a big way and left Westerners orphaned and aware of being rootless, but not knowing why. I have helped in the effort to recover our own spirituality, but to place it in context and to show why it can help anyone to become more spiritual, ethical and disciplined.

I read widely and was impressed most by Campbell, Graves, Frazer and Wilson. Yet I also read hundreds of fairy tales and hundreds of fantasy novels. I did a paper in High School for a study on symbolism in modern fantasy. Even then I was noticing repeating patterns, names, magical tokens, kinds of magic and lore. It appeared to me as if everyone were tapping from the same pool of "stuff." It was very jumbled. I played around with Wicca, where they have tried to rescue some of Western spirituality, but I was put off by the Earth Mother, who felt wrong to me. It was not until I read Jospeph Campbell's Masks of God series that I understood why. I'm guessing that I did not connect with the image of the Mother or the image of the Hero because I was the wrong body type, the wrong mind type, and the wrong personality or heart type. As for many people, my inability to make anything fit led me to create something that explained the problem and made my own spirituality. This is quite common, and Campbell spent an entire book talking about it. Because we were jerked up by the roots in the West and the Church never fit well on our shoulders, even with all the trappings to try to make it work, many many people were free to explore on their own and find a path that led them to peace and enlightenment without relying too heavily on the crutch of the religious props. Catholicism took better hold in the South, where it was carried across the sea, but in the North, people spend long centuries warring over religious issues as if they couldn't quite figure out what was wrong. They just loved those berserks and witches and unicorns and the land of Faerie too much.

Fantasy has become wildly popular. From almost non-existent only a few decades ago, written by a few mythographers who were connected in to the spiriual possibilities, it has entered full blast into the mainstream. Horror has always been attractive to Westerners, but now white magic and the battle between good and evil had another theatre other than the Christian dilemma. Although I enjoyed this kind of fantasy as much as everyone else, I found it boring to write. I did not care about good and evil enough to write about it. It held no passion for me. I found my passion in "wild" magic, which was a way of lumping all of the Western "stuff" into a ghetto. The stuff would show up in all fantasy books, but only as decoration for the bad guys or some wild witch who had to be put back into her rock or cave or bird house in order for chaos to go away. This was way too close to the problems that the Greeks had with trying to make Rhea and her Titans go back into their hell. I found it fascinating.

And so I came up with the four-fold way and my own brand of fantasy which has a rigorous discipline behind it. I talk about that in other articles, but here I just want to show you how one author integrates the "stuff" into a work of art.

Thorn 005

This is page 12 of Thorn. Several things are going on here, so it's a good picture to begin with. This section is the sixth level that Wilson (after Timothy Leary) calls "Neurogenetic Vision." My understanding of this level is that it is level two of the enlightened four levels of the eight and is where many people realize that they are part of a genetic force. They may realize a group of which they are a part, or realize that they are Man, or realize that they are Apes. At this level most of what is going on is the clash of groups where one group is trying to establish dominance in some way. At level two, the matching level in the lower four cycles, the contest is mano a mano, at this level it is genocide. Over and over in this section of the books, I will compare and contrast groups of people, often taking my characters some distance to meet different groups. Teig, the boy here playing in the sand, is a half-breed, so his position is at the intersection of two nations, the Green and the White. The level is marked by the holly tree and the wolf and the moon.

In this spread, the Norns or Fates, seen here as the triple goddess of Girl/Mother/Crone, has decreed that Teig is going to be taken by the Dark Lord, or killed, as seen by the son of the Light, delivering the owl as a message saying, "your soul has been shot down and you belong in the land of the dead." This sets Teig up in oppostion to the Light Son, or makes him Loki or Set, rather than Osiris. In symbolic language, he is not a hero, he is on the dark path. The triple goddess we know here to be in her fate mode because of the distaff and spindle, which were tools of Frigg, who was said to have created the galaxy with them. Frigg is the Norse goddess kin to Athene, a creator goddess and queen of the heavens. Over and over you will see three women and two men who are identical or related in some way.

Thorn 012

There is much in Campbell's books about thresholds. Campbell sees them as the place where the hero goes over into the magical world, or the kingdom of the dead to get the elixir or conquer the dark lord. We see Teig here, obviously stepping over a threshold into a mortuary house to hide from the group of boys. We think that he will gain something here, but, for Teig, it is merely a resting place. We then confirm, spiritually, that he is kin to the dead, or a power of some sort, either a witch or a wizard.

Another spiny or evergreen plant that represents this section, the moon again; but what is the signifigance of the skulls? The Green Nation is represented by a serpent, yet it was once represented by a ram, with its serpentine horns. Over and over the Green Nation will be symbolized by winding serpent or briar like images, like this trail here. Remember the symbol of the nation, which is five and five briar and serpent intertwined. Five skulls, five posts, five comic frames, five yew, etc.

Thorn 016

Here you can see that I'm loading down this picture with groups of five of the Owl People! Here are the evergreens again and another kind of symbol for this section: the silver chalice decorated with dog roses, the flower of this section.

Thorn 018

Wolves and evergreens, five owls, and the greatest Magus in the deck. The Thorn King here has turned Sceta's scrying water into fire, his sign. He is accompanied by fire, brambles, roses and tricks. He lectures Sceta, who is his daughter, but he teases Teig and wants to take him deeper into the Wood, which is the kingdom of owls and magic and darkness. This gives us a real clue as to Teig's status, which is that of talent, or a witch, priest, artist or scientist, or someone with magical powers that need great discipline to not burn out the soul of the novice. We see here again, the image of the eola being burned, a clear sign of what will happen to Teig. Somehow his sould is in danger, not his life or the kingdom.

Thorn 003

Before I go on with Teig's story, here is a spread from Rivenskin. Now you should be getting familiar with the symbols. The client tree of this section is the Rowan and the animal that goes with Rowan is the Lynx. The lynx is here seen in the holly trees. We see other level six symbols: a flock of birds, a herd of deer, the nettle plant, spiny and stinging. A moth is on the plant so we know that night is coming, so the time is the time of level six, evening going into night. Here again are the brothers. In the first picture, Marsyas (no shirt) has shot an arrow into the wood, so we know that he is a warrior or a hero. His brother, although dressed in a light color (it is gold) is the mirror brother, so he must be dark. So, immediately, we know that Korutos is not the light brother who will go into the dark kingdom and rescue the princess and the elixir, but the dark brother, who is already magic. So it may be that Korutos is coming from the magical world and going into a normal world since they are crossing through a threshold in the form of a wood (witness the stream in the first image.)

Thorn 006

You know now all the trees. In this book I do pictures of birds and animals, but they are always in conifers or they are symbols of the level, like the starlings, which are the birds of this level. Here, Korutos is fooling us. He is invoking Niton, the martial god of the Zelosians and shooting his bow, but wait!, he is invoking Niton to send the deer to paradise, which Niton does not do. So he has just set himself up as a kind of trickster. We will see him through the book try to cover up the fact that he is in the ruling caste as a mediator, judge, ambassador, but also as a trickster or thief. You do not know from the pictures, but from the text that Marsyas is from the "adon" caste, or the merchant/farmer caste from which come heroes, and Korutos is "kuros" or from the ruling caste, from which come tricksters, warriors and messengers.

Thorn 030

Back in the other book, this spread is from section five. You will notice now that we are progressing downward in the levels as the protagonist fails to "get" the lesson of the level, the lesson is scaled down a level. This level was named by Wilson in his book, Prometheus Rising psycho-somatic rapture, and is the first of the spiritual levels. It is compatible with level one and has some of the same traits. First off, in this level, we meet with the four-fold man, or the four legs of the chair, or illustrations that the first four levels have integrated and the human has "remembered" that they are a spiritual being, not an animal. Over and over through this section, we find representatives of the first four teachers: the blue first level of bio-survial (oral), the red second level of emotional territoriality (anal), the third level of time binding (verbal), and the fourth level of social morality (sexual.)

The first level is represented here in many ways. The dormouse is hibernating with a nut, the teacher is large with a round face and a round decoration on his head, the instruments are round, the comic sections are round, everything is telling us that this is level one. Except that the tree is the hazel, the tree of the hierophant or the priest/teacher, and the background is a marsh. We should see waterbirds in this section as well as marsh plants, reeds and the salmon, the animal of this level, which we saw on the first page. The constellation is the lapwing, but the constellations are also marks of Teig's trade.

Thorn 037

Here, you can immediately see that we are still at level five, but allt he symbolism in the comic indicates that Teig is facing a level two teacher or challenge. The angular vertical strokes, the fights, the high emotions all indicate that Teig is trying to learn something about emotional dominance and submission or the "fight or flight" lesson so common among young peers. The morning mist tells us the time is also level five as well as the storks, willow and plover.

Thorn 033

This spread is marked by triangular sections and the bird who dominates the level three of verbal time binding, lies, stories, truth and falsehood, the raven. Here three ravens overlap each other to create a fragmenting of reality into dark and light areas of confusing pattern. Although we still see the water birds and trees, the Thorn King has emerged out of the warrior who had emerged out of the teacher of music. He confuses Raol and Teig also looks confused.

Thorn 038

Again, the background is level five, but the triangle areas and the three arguing boys and owls indicate argument, lies, deception, truth, and confusion of the level three lesson that Teig is confronted with. He also is met with his mentor who is a representative of level three herself, Eola Ralt. Although this level denotes intelligence, it more often denotes confusion and arguement as we try to figure out what is really going on and what is illusion. It takes the super-consciousness of level 7, the matching spiritual level to be able to leap out of the swelter of thoughts and do reprogramming.

Thorn 044

I've included this picture to show you the first appearance of the opposing tricker or dark lord to the thorn king, Korutos a Gallanis, here the same age as Teig, who will be the main force for change in the entire series. Note that the two brothers show up and the young Korutos is in white, what we can't see is that Marsyas is in deep gold of high command. They are dressed alike, even carrying similar birds of prey. But notice when Marsyas greets the woman to be the Rose Queen, he is charmed, he is ready to be the hero and win her hand. Teig breaks into this love episode, for he is more interested in technology and knowledge than in love, and it is Korutos who answers him. Korutos, although in white, appears as the dark twin and sets himself up as the dark lord. He is intrigued with Teig because, unlike Marsyas, who just forges ahead for what he wants, Korutos uses people and plays people, the sure mark of a dark lord or a trickster. And it is the dark lord who will see the power of the talent and want to use it, harness it. Here we have the two choices, the thorn king with a mystery, and Korutos with power, both tricksters, both liars and thieves, both truth revealers and seekers, both essential powers for the series.

Thorn 034

Here we see one of the three tokens that were won in Kari Woodengown. Teig is given these tokens so we must look for them again when he needs to "spend" them to get closer to the truth. The four doves and signs of family and mating are all indicative of level four the level of adulthood where most fairy tales stop. Most of childhood is getting past the first three levels to the level of the adult animal. More than just sexual union, level four is society, so you will see images of family and family grouping as well as the mating dance of adulthood.

Thorn 049

Speaking of level four, we drop down in the next section to this level. Notice again the four sided, rigid construction of the page. We also will see evidence of the king trees, the ash and oak and their client trees, the apple and the national tree, which in this book is the thorn and briar and bramble. The fighting boar are the symbol of sexual prowess, as well as the flowers. The bear here is the animal of oak and the boar and stag of the ash. The time now is mid-morning, everything is in bloom, it is Beltaine and the time of fertility, family and plenty. It is the time of election and the change of generation.

Thorn 057

Again, the boar and the ash tree. Here the generation change is literal, overseen by the triple goddess. The new mother is blowing the ram's horn indicating the new reign of the Rose Queen. Teig stands out as the only man in these pictures who is not part of the ceremony. People are sure that he is to be the sacrifice. Remember that the sun and dark kings are sacrificed each to the other. This ceremony does not take because we do not have the king sacrifice to purify the land.

Thorn 065

And down to level three. This section is full of lies, deception, theatre, truth, betrayal, turning things upside-down, trickery, stealing and more associated with the corvid birds, the alder tree and even teasing, irritating weather like wind and smoke. It is afternoon. I have put in the sides of the spread here "clues" in teh forms of tracks. One side are the tracks of a raven, the other of a horse with a dog or a wolf. The layout is triangular and every picture has three ravens in it. The animals are restless and the people look harried and confused.

Thorn 067

We are now in Zelosian territory. You saw that the animals of Teig's people were wandering about, but domesticated. The tents clustered, but looking alike in structure, not in decoration. Here, the animals are obviously slaves, and many of the people are slaves. There is evidence of a strong caste system of four: slaves, priests, warriors and merchants. However, there is something going on. A thorn is blowing over the picture, fox tracks go in a spiral and disapper. The ravens are here.

Teig is approaching a threshold. We see him challenged by a priest to provide the proper credentials, which Sceta has. We know that this is the lair of the dark lord, heavily guarded. Although Sceta has married a Zelosian, she gave up much of her power to enter into this land.

Thorn 072

My decisions about what to draw are enforced by what I want to say on a lower level. Here, I could have drawn a mask of a wolf or a deer, but the fox is the trickster animal of Europe. On the other side are magpie feathers set in a sort of spiral or circular arrangement, obvious and contrived. There are thirteen. Thirteen is unlucky because it is the number of twelve companions of the sacrificial king. It is three of four and the king. Again, we are seeing that evidence points to Teig being the sacrifice or are we?

Inside the dark king's lair, there are the three wise men, arguing. They are ravens, obviously priests or men of learning. We see the candles and writing and maps of the verbal level where mapmaking becomes a way of handling the assimilation of knowledge and words a way to store it. Teig refuses Korutos's temptation, but will he make it out alive? Most talents who enter the dark king's castle get imprisoned.

Thorn 077

Level two. Weather change: although it is afternoon, it is misty and/or raining. The spreads are wide and sweeping, for this is the herbivore level where the vision is horizontal searching for something sticking out in a crowd or a landscape. This is the level at which the winning or exchange of the three tokens takes place. In this level Teig gives up all his tokens in order to win his way to the truth. The landscape is dominated by two kinds of birch and two or three kinds of deer. The effect is of emotional effort, as if the battle to stay alive is crucial, but not yet survial, just war. I wanted to show the effects of war: the stripping of the countryside, the dehumanization of people into weapons or machines, the impersonal nature of it all and the sodding, depressing rain, where only rage will break out. This is an important level in fairy tales and spiritual quests where the initiant must "stip" away all pretenses and all personal effects in order for the truth to emerge. Level three shows the veils, level two strips them down.

Thorn 085

Each section is shorter and often the chapters are shorter and shorter as the spiral tightens and the options go away and the story intensifies down to the central question. The last level is bio-survival. The tree is oak, the animals the bear and the wren. This is a different oak from level four, where it is a king tree, this is the oak of winter, a harbor for animals. Everything freezes at this level and we see hibernating animals or animals trying to survive. We are back to the circles of level one out of the quadrangles, the triangles, the linear divisions of the page to the point. Each page has a circular point to it. For Teig, the central issue is that he cannot leave behind his observatory, and he cannot face the change of it. Will he change, will he undergo the ultimate change of death? He is fighting here for his central beliefs and central passion, which is astronomy and the study of the stars.

Thorn 087

And he fails. He has lost all and it seems obvious from his climbing up to the very top of this edifice of stone, that he will die. In some books the protagonist is actually entombed, but there is always some kind of stone wall or problem or room or tomb. The only escape is death. Teig, being a witch/talent, does not fight, but is killed by accident. The talent may suicide or destroy what was created from their passion, but went wrong because of the abuse of others. Teig does not destroy this edifice for he is only one man, but he leaves it behind.

Thorn 090

Then we get to the really interesting part of the spiritual story, the end open to interpretation. This is essential for the spiritual tale which forces the reader to make a choice. Did Teig die? Or did the owls save him in reality? This is level seven. The book spits the protagonist out of the whirlpool to the level of meta-programming where the initiate understands that all can be changed and re-written. In these books, sometimes this level is expressed as Earth, where Anieth was just a game, and sometimes is it an end that looks like death. Often it is death but the player awakens on Earth. Level seven is light and sky, sunshine and brilliant blue, white and gold in color. It is full of birds and sometimes the focus tree of the book. It appears uplifting, but leaves the choice to reprogram and go onto a different life with the lesson learned from the story up to the reader and the protagonist. Here, Tyllu has always represented the land of the dead ruled by the thorn king. She is a spiritual messenger we know because she is a white bird. Is she taking Teig to the wood or to the other land?

© 2014, A.R. Stone