My daughter loves Chinese Zodiac signs and when she meets a new friend, she likes to find out what animal she is – a goat, a pig, a rat? She was born in the year of the pig, which she loves, because in China, many people try to have babies that year. Pigs are often fortunate and successful, it is said. It is a sign that symbolizes good fortune, wealth, kindness and generosity.  She has all these qualities.

She teases me because I am a rooster, and roosters are known to be bossy and vain. I am both of these things, but like most people, I like to think of myself as good.  So I try to spin it toward the better expressions of these qualities – I am a good planner and strategist, and I also like making things beautiful. I guess we can all do that with symbols, and that is one of the amazing things about symbols.  They can hold different meanings, even while the meanings are culturally fixed.

This is why children love symbolic stories, because they have both very simple and very complex meanings. This morning my kids (with no prompting from me, I swear!) were linking the elements – earth, fire, water, wood – to the Ninjago characters. This is one of the reasons these legos and the kids’ show are so popular. Kids can hold the simple storyline, even while they explore however much more complexity they are ready for.

My kids and I recently read the story of Reynard the fox and the rooster. The one we read is an adaptation of the old French folktale – one of many told about Reynard (his English name) in Le Roman de Renart (Pierre de Saint-Cloud c.1170).  It also was adapted by Chaucer as one of the Canterbury Tales.  There are many versions of this story for kids and it is worth checking out.  I used to think it was a story about being vain, and it is often explained that way, because at first, the rooster is tricked when the fox takes advantage of the rooster’s pride in his beautiful crow. But the rooster gets the fox back with the same trick. And the rooster also dreams of a danger before it happens, and his wife tells him it is nothing and he is being cowardly for believing his dream. I think this is the overlooked part of the rooster symbolism (at least in the European tradition). He is perceptive and has meaningful dreams. His crow ushers in the light, and it is said he brings light to darkness – consciousness to dreams. He articulates those dreams and brings them to light. Because he can perceive the dangers he can protect against them. That is why roosters are often used to decorate homes, as a protective symbol.  See, now the rooster seems pretty cool, doesn’t he?  The magic of symbols.

What symbols are special for you? Which do you want to push away?