The Symbolism of the Fish

Robert Clarke is the author of The Four Gold Keys and An Order Out of Time. His exceptional life has led him — via tens of thousands of dreams and consequent study of their meaning — to an understanding of the way dreams express our lives that is absolutely critical to our times, and nearly absolutely unsuspected.

Robert, who lives in England, has dreamed that Western civilization’s spiritual rebirth will begin (is beginning?) in the United States. One can only hope so!

The Symbolism of the Fish

by Robert Clarke

I recently wrote about a star being a symbol of the Self through the unconscious in the world’s myths, including the Star of Bethlehem with Christ. This is the Self in cosmic, higher spirit aspect, sometimes as Divine Son or Logos. But from the opposite, lower angle, as a content from the soul depths the Self often has the symbol of a fish, sometimes as Son of the Earth Spirit/World Soul. Christ in this aspect is thus the Ichthys (Greek “fish”) and indeed, the fish was the first symbol of Christ, even before the cross.
In the first high culture we know of, Sumeria, Enki was “The Sublime Fish” and “The Fish with Seven Fins”, called the latter to express the Self with his seven constituent parts. Enki was a saviour and helper of mankind, and the appearance of such a figure in world mythology invariably means the raising of mankind out of the mire and a blossoming of culture. Even atheistic scholars admit that Western civilisation was forged by the advent of Christianity.

In Babylonia, Enki was known as Ea, depicted as part man, part fish, as was his later form to the Greeks, Oannes the Man-Fish. Oannes had seven companions, called the Annedoti, to express his sevenfoldness, and we find Jonah in the Old Testament as another form of him. Jonah spends three nights in the belly of a fish (the Self) which then qualifies him to go and save the people of Nineveh, which he does. He is therefore a saviour.
In Egypt, the divine Son, Horus, was the An fish, called “The Fish in the Form of a Man”. As he came with water he was also known as “The Fish of the Inundation”. In later times the Greek Bacchus had the symbol of the fish, and long before Christ the Jews awaited the Messiah whose symbol was the fish, called the “Dag”. The Philistine fish-god, Dagon, was originally Assyrian, and his name may derive from the contraction of “Dag” and “Oan” (Ea, Oa, Oannes).
The Self is often sevenfold in mythology, and Nu in Egypt with seven companions, forming “The Company of Eight Gods” is one of the earliest forms recorded. But Nu was the personification of the Nun, the spiritual waters, and the symbol of the Nun was the fish. Noah is a version of Nu, and like Nu has seven companions with him in the Ark. The first incarnation of the Hindu god, Vishnu, was as the Matsya fish, connected with the seven Rishi gods. (I wonder if “Vishnu” is derived from “Fish-Nu”?) When Christ is at the Sea of Tiberias he cooks fish for seven disciple fishermen who are in a boat. As St. Augustine says, Christ himself is the fish to be eaten, i.e. assimilated.” A modern version is the seven Nommo gods of the Dogon people of West Africa, these gods coming down from Sirius, or rather Sirius B. Robert Temple had a world bestseller claiming that the Nommo gods are aliens, but the leader is said to be a Saviour-Fish, and so it is obviously an example of the Self with the Seven Powers.
We find the fish symbol in medieval alchemy where it has to be edible, i.e. can be assimilated, and also in the Holy Grail legends where it is next to the Grail on the Grail altar. Here again the fish represents the lower aspect of the Self, with the Grail representing the cosmic aspect. The Grail King, whose kingdom is a Waste Land where nothing will grow, is also the Fisher King, because he spends his time fishing. He is actually fishing for the Saviour-Fish, the Self in the collective unconscious, which will bring fructification and a blossoming to the Waste Land.
Most Grail quests are only partially successful, but that of Galahad is a resounding success. When he finds the Grail a divine child appears with fire, and then the child fades to be replaced by Christ. This is the ultimate Grail quest with the Self manifesting as Christ, and it is a fact that the whole of Europe, which had become very unstable and disturbed at that time, suddenly blossomed forth into what has been called the greatest age of the spirit that Western civilisation has ever seen.
In modern times, Jung tells of a patient of his, a young woman, who dreamt of a fish that was gold on top and silver underneath, expressing, Jung explains, the male/female sides of the Self. The young woman then saw, among other things, the sun rising up over the horizon, the symbol of the Self in several cultures, and sometimes even God. She also saw a “wise old man” that told her that above and below are really one. This is obviously part of an individuation processes that the young woman must have been undergoing.
A woman I know dreamt of a great Mother-Fish giving birth to seven crocodiles while seven upright goldfish looked on. This repeats the goddess Neith in Egypt, who, though being one of the mothers of “The Golden Horus”, very early gave birth to seven crocodiles. (In Egypt the crocodile was considered a type of fish, at least, in certain myths.) My godson, knowing nothing of myths or depth psychology at the time, dreamt of a fish that then became seven fishes, while I personally have dreamt of a special fish several times, including the Ichthys, after which Christ himself appeared in a following dream. The fish symbol, dating back to very early man, is as alive as ever as an archetypal content of the collective unconscious and during the inner processes may appear at any time signifying the Self, in either positive or negative aspect. A pleasant fish would have positive connotations, while an ugly, dangerous one would point to the dark side of the Self.

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