Horst Nitz May 18th, 2013 03:47 PM

Symbolic Behavior
Hi Benjamin,

you suggested fun – lets get started then. However, twelve associations are beyond my strength. This is as far as I am getting:

Total (in order): Bed, Earth, Cosiness, Comfort, Harmony, Chaos, Passion, Fleas

Detail (just one): Creepy Crawlies

Function or Purpose:
As an underlay for sitting / sleeping
Getting rid of last year’s surplus wool
Doing what one has to do / the way of live



Horst Nitz May 21st, 2013 01:43 PM

Hi there,

over to some core considerations. It seems to me that the paradigm of a collective unconsciousness as a source of universally shared symbols rests in the idea of parallel evolution of more or less all mankind and, simplifying, a shared ‘genetic’ memory of such anxious experiences, that necessitated their burial in the unconscious. However, for the last ten thousand or so years and under the condition of ever more complex social environments, the hold that evolution had on our species, has increasingly become amended by influences from a social environment. Or in other words, mankind has emerged from the paleolithic hunter-gatherer existence with the capacity for (symbolic) verbal interaction. From then on, under the conditions of more or less permanently settled complex communities, further progress and successful survival of such entities depended very much on their ability for symbolic behaviour, i.e. the fostering of a sense of shared identity and belonging - in summary, a symbolic culture that includes the creation of a joint cosmos. This has been called 'the revolution of the symbols' by Frenchman Jaques Cauvin. In the course of the Neolithic period agricultural food production and animal husbandry should have provided the material basis for a weaving culture to emerge, the ideal prerequisite for the establishment and distribution of a shared cosmos and its symbols in a pre-literal society.

The lead that social and environmental processes outcomes facilitated by man have taken over such that were shaped by evolutionary process, shows in the perception of the Arizona Whale-Kangaroo kip-image (Kihlstrom J F, 2006):


The three hundred years that passed since the arrival in Australia of European newcomers are negligible in terms of evolution.

It follows that the interpretation of (suspected) symbols varies with the cultural and social context of the interpreter. The tools used to this end, and the epistemology behind them are part of the context; a culturally neutral assessment becomes a fiction and for a psychodynamic interpretation of past symbols in rugs this could mean trouble.


Horst Nitz

Steve Price May 21st, 2013 05:09 PM


Originally Posted by Horst Nitz (Post 14159)
The tools used to this end, and the epistemology behind them are part of the context; a culturally neutral assessment becomes a fiction and for a psychodynamic interpretation of past symbols in rugs this could mean trouble.

Could mean trouble? I don't see how it could be overcome, and have lost friends by saying so.


Steve Price

Unregistered May 22nd, 2013 06:19 PM

After reading the interesting article about Jungs archetypical design in Freuds couch blanket (rug): can anybody help to find the article about freuds couch and its "underwear", I mean this naked couch body without rugs and other covers.(foto) I need it for commenting the restauration timberwork in London Freud museum.


(not native speaker) sorry

Benjamin Tholen May 26th, 2013 09:36 AM

Dear Horst, Steve and all,

Been away for a few days, so sorry for the late reply.
I see the point in Horsts last post and agree with it. Learned and inherited, concious and unconcious influences on the intepretation of a specific symbol are so strongly interwoven, that the chance that we will "see" the same meaning, that was "meant" by its creator may be strongly limited - if not void.

In fact, as mentioned before, we should not expect to be able to look at a symbol and see its "original" meaning, (as if this was something precicely defined). I think the idea of archteypes should be much more understood as a form of "grammar" - in a way that humanethologist Eibel- Eibsfeld uses the term.
In his book on archetypes obrist draws an interesting parallel between jungian ideas and the concepts of linguist noam chomsky, whos research was focused on what he called "Kompetenz": the inherited knowlegde that enables us to learn and use language at all, a kind of "grammar" in the broader sense, inherited structures of pattern recognition, and matching.

He also mentions that the research in humaethologie discoverd certain signals of communication between mother and the newbornchild that are understood by the mother intuitivley without her concious knowledge of why she reacted to them the way she did and claims that this kind of knowledge is inerhited and provides the basis for whatever forms of communication we have developed later.

I guess that in the end the "learned" and the "inherited" elements in the way we interpret a motiv are so strongley interwoven that it is very hard to say whatever dominates, in fact one - the learned - is build upon the other - the inherited - but obviously the individual reactions on a certain motive may, as an outcome, differ greately.

yet this may not always be the case. I guess that there are parts of inormation that are predominantly percived unconciously?
If the idea of archetypes should be of any use I think we have to look at it in a very basic way, colours, contrasts, dymanics between shapes and so on.

Yet, I think it is important to acknowledge that next to the concious stream of explicit information that shapes a culture and its forms of expression, there are other factors, unconcious ones, inherited ones - especially if we speak about works of art?

My basic suggestion was just that if we assume that such an inherited "grammar" of visual communication exits it may lead to similar motifs reapearing in a similar media (rugs) created by people who share a lot of the same living circumstances and cultural ideas, without a continous stream of concious tradition or "copying" the actual motif - what most of the hypothesis I read in rug literature is based on?


ps. I will try to ad something to the fun later ;)
pps: There should be dozens of pictures of the couch online but Im not sure if anyone has ever seen it without the rugs on it;)

Steve Price May 26th, 2013 11:15 AM

Hi Benjamin

There are plenty of examples of animals responding instinctively to all sorts of sensory stimuli, including visual. These are usually easily explained as evolutionarily acquired. Many birds, for example, will avoid going near a balloon with two circles (eyes) painted on it. They don't have to learn this; it's hardwired in their brains.

It's reasonable to believe that we're hardwired to interpret certain forms in particular ways; the fact that something like this - :) - is immediately interpreted as a smiling face (it's just a circle containing two dots and an arc) is probably evidence of that. It gets pretty tricky going much beyond that, though, and I'm pretty sure this isn't what Jung had in mind.


Steve Price

Horst Nitz June 19th, 2013 03:25 PM

Hi Steve, Benjamin

yes, Steve, that must feel bitter. However, among the pros at least, it is my impression, the position fights of 30 or 40 years ago have calmed down. One has settled for an understanding, that one is cruising in different waters, even when on a same course, each party as gracefully as can.

Amateurs, seeking answers in psychodynamic approaches that they cannot find within their own discipline, run the risk of interpreting wildly; partly out of excitement with their new tool, but also for the want of skilled restraint in interpretations as it comes with formal training and clinical experience. Mellaart gives us an example of such interpretations. Some of the walls of the mudbrick houses at Catal Hyk bear protrusions with central openings that are female breasts to him. Melhaart also reports several objects that protrude from the openings – the ‘nipples’: fox teeth, small wild animal skulls, beaks of vultures or a fragment from the jar of a boar. The assumed association of woman with vulture and wild beasts was expanded and became an association of woman with death: the live-creating power as a presentiment of death. This view seems to have been widely shared by colleagues at the time.

Similarly, art-historian Bruno Barbatti as I understand him, interprets the familiar diamond or rhombus with hooks attached as a vulva, the hooks being stylized arms and legs stretched away from it. In terms of their psychoanalytic background, both scientists must count as amateurs.

Sorry for being so late with my response.



Horst Nitz June 29th, 2013 05:30 PM

Hi all,

in the course of the Palaeolithic, in my model, mankind ‘mastered’ the mechanism of evolution by organising themselves in increasingly larger social communities and the founding of cultures. Symbols and religions probably were core mechanisms in the process of social bonding, the development of identity and belonging (to a group / culture). When weaving was invented, the Palaeolithic period probably was almost over. When symbols first appeared on woollen weavings, we probably are deep in the Neolithic; we can reasonably assume that these symbols are more closely associated with their context culture than with the pool of supposed archetypes.

Can we assess symbols in rugs that belong to a long gone culture? It seems difficult enough to assess contemporary issues if we assume they are spouted from the unconscious. The TAT (Thematic Apperceptation Test) is a possible tool. The proband is prompted by the interviewer to look at various images and talk about the one(s) that he or she considers personally meaningful. This is followed by interpretation. As you can see, the test is firmly embedded in a western culture and its unaware application in a rug producing Oriental context might cause embarassment. Please, judge for yourselves:

Next time I'll introduce to you a possible 'adjusted' alternative.



Horst Nitz June 30th, 2013 03:24 AM

Hi all,

in 1976/77 I had joined a team that was doing research on ‚Role Change in Anatolian Village Communities in Response to Work-Immigration to Europe’ with emphasis on gender roles. We were confronted with the obstacle of many of the issues we were interested in having been inaccessible behind the etiquette barrier – them being ‘ayip’ (rude / embarrassing) to address. In this sense and in consequence resembling the unconscious /r archetypical barrier. First year we went by a catalogue of questions and got many polite and meaningless answers that fall into the social desirability category. Then I suggested we try redrawings along the TAT line and use them as a template for semi-structured interviews. This worked much better, since now the villagers were talking about what they saw in those pictures that mattered to them. We had bypassed the ‘ayip’ issue:

It is all so long ago, but I think we got most lively responses when we used the `women smoking in public` picture.



Benjamin Tholen July 14th, 2013 07:04 AM

Late response

Originally Posted by Steve Price (Post 14185)

It's reasonable to believe that we're hardwired to interpret certain forms in particular ways; the fact that something like this - :) - is immediately interpreted as a smiling face (it's just a circle containing two dots and an arc) is probably evidence of that. It gets pretty tricky going much beyond that, though, and I'm pretty sure this isn't what Jung had in mind.

Well, it may be basically not so much more than that, as far as our topic is concerned.
Yet, as mentioned before, Archteypes in Jungian terms, are unconcious (and inherited) psychic structures that manfiest themselfs, mostly during dreams, in the concious as archteypical pictures. To do so the artchtype draws on the content of the dreamers learned visual experience. So what appears in one dream as a ladder, may be an elevator in another dream, based on the dreamers experience. So in fact it is not the specific picture that is archetypical but it has a qualtiy to it, that makes it suitable to represent a sepecific archetype.

Now this clearly shows the limitations of the concept, in so far, as obviously no such thing as a purely archtypical picture extits that would remain unchnaged and precicely the same over a long period of time and diffrent cultures. In fact most of the time what was asymbol has been turned into a sign and the sign was than copied, becoming a building block of a visula tradition. My suggestion, that ocacionally similar motifs may reappear out of the unconicious without an unbroken stream of concious tradition, will surely be the expetion, yet I still believe it might happen and should be concidered.

Looking at horsts interesting expeirence about the TAT test, I would like to remark that there are diffrent levels of meaning in these pictures, some of wich are culturally specific, while others may be "inherited" / "hardwired" as vor example the position of two people in a room, facing each other, or not, looking up or down, certain facial expressions and so on...

Things maybe more obvious if we talk about colors instead of shapes.
Sometimes we read about the emaning of colors in rugs. Now while there are certain meaning that are clearly culturally specific (green being the color of the prophet for example) I dont think I need to read about the meaning of the color red, I "understand" it instinctively. The individual reaction may be diffrent, still I would say there is a universal aspect to the emotions that relate to different tempratures of light. (we would have to be specific here as a blueish red will have a diffrent impact than a yellowish).
So while I am not saying that our percepition of color and our emotional reaction to it isnt influeneced by our personal and cultural experience, I am sure that there is an intuitve, hardwired reaction to it, maybe not a specific meaning, but a kind of grammar.

I would also assume that as certain learned experiences (fo example a specific motif) can become unconcious, they may also reapear without being aware of there actual source, yet to say that these experiences could also be inherited, become part of an epigenetic heritage, is a disscussion that is ongoing elswhere, but I know to little about it.

Genaerally, I am very aware of that I am speculating wild here without proper basis of knowledge, yet it is helpfull to me to see the problematic issues about this being addressed, and I hope its ok to do so, because I have to admit that I alway trust my inutition about something, and try to express it, hoping that during the discussion here the ideas will get boiled down to a point where what is sound, remains...

thanks a lot to everyone involved for the input!

best regards

Horst Nitz July 23rd, 2013 05:04 PM

Hi Benjamin and all,

I aimed at demonstrating that an assessment of covert processes like attitudes, values, fears and desires is possible in an rug producing environment, even if ‘ayip’ or ‘sub-conscious’ or’ archetypical.’ Hopefully, this was successful.

But I see other obstacles in the way of an accurate assessment. Many symbols in rugs and especially in flat-weaves appear to stand in a very old tradition, some going back to the Neolithic period. The tradition string of these early religious symbols has probably been interrupted more than once in its course, with eventual ‘repair’ leading to reinterpretation and meaning-change. Today, the many superficial names in use for motifs can be understood as indicating this process. The original meaning being lost and probably filled up with new content, one wonders how little some forms could have changed over centuries and millennia.

Benjamin, the forms that you are apparently thinking of as ‘archetypical’, in my understanding are zoomorphic (in other cases floral) transformations or auxiliary forms of previously abstract symbols that have helped generations of weavers to a memorable form they can reproduce and pass on, of something that once had a specific meaning that had faded out of collective memory long before. Perhaps this comes somewhat near to the idea of an archetype.

Thanks for bringing up this interesting topic.

Bye for the moment,


Horst Nitz August 20th, 2013 11:18 PM

Hi Benjamin,

this seams to linger forever and it teases me to return once again.

Undoubtedly, many rugs have a tribal background. However, as discussions show here very often, when ruggies say ‘tribal’ they address the aesthetic qualities of a given textile or its Anmutung rather than that they are focussing on its embeddedness in a cultural and ethnographic sense. And possibly, this is the interface at which the two different approaches, your ‘archetypical’ and the more familiar ‘tribal’ meet their shared subject: somewhat in the mist and on tribal grounds.

Best wishes,


Benjamin Tholen September 22nd, 2013 07:42 PM

Tribal fog
Dear Horst,

In the mist and on tribal grounds, is a good hint, because In the mist is where I cant see, have no control.
The main misunderstanding regarding my approach during this salon may actually have been, that I should have tried to look in the opposite direction of all ethnolgical or arthistorical research: Not focussing on the continuity within an cultural tradition, but on the discontinius, the broken lines, the failure to communicate or reproduce a tradtional idea, or motif.
The archetypical, or more generally subconcious aspect of a motif may become much more obvious where ever the continuity, where ever tradtition is broken- unintentionally. Where failure occurs.
Where something happens "accidentaly" beyond the will and concious control of the weaver. When a flower changes to an animal and vice versa. (I assume that this may have happend a lot of time in both directions).

Actually once a motif has become part of a tradtion, it may have already lost a lot of its "expressiveness" in these terms, scale paper then finally kills it.

Now there is no artisitc expression without concious intention and the attempt to master your craft as good as you can, but this quest for perfection has to ultimately fail, to keep things alive.
How much failure we appreciate, we can take, where we draw the border between chaos and order, is personal taste (and personality), but while the struggle for perfection is interesting to look at, its victory is death in terms of artistic value, to me.

Beyond the specific meaning of archetypes, my intention was to discuss the influence of the subconcious on the creation as well as the appretiation of textile works of art. The archetype is a side aspect of this, an element of continuity maybe, in the seemingly accidental, rooted in the "instinctive" part of our mind.

Dear horst, thanks for sharing your ideas, that I appreciated very much!

Best regards

Benjamin Tholen October 23rd, 2013 06:21 PM

Tafkap ;)
Sign vs Symbol.

This may be key. My - promised - last attempt on clarification:

Horst claims, reasonably, that at the time where motifs were woven into rugs for the first time, the cultural influences on these shapes were already completly dominating any possible instincitve/archetypical influence.
I dont think that the cultural meaning extinquishes the archetipical. Any specific motiv can have meaning on both levels at the same time. As a sign and as a symbol. Concious and subconcious. Problem is, as Horsts Example of the whal-aroo shows, both levels are strongley interwoven.
There is interaction between these levels of meaning, yet they can even be contradictionary.
As Jung says, during a dream the archetype will manifest itself in a form that is dependend ont the dreamers personal as well as cultural mindset.

I just read opies tribal rugs book, namely his theories on animal head pillars and so on. While I love the book for other reasons I dont follow his ideas about authenticity and origins of motivs.
For example I have a mid 20th century bakthirai bag where the animal-latch-hooks still have horns and eyes. Does that mean its closer to the tradition than my kazak rug of twice the age? I dont think so.
I think the animalhead quality of latchhooks has been forgotten and reinvented while playing around with the forms for many, many times.

Next, If we see a doubleheaded figure in a rug pattern it may be interesting to look for doubleheaded monsters in folk tale, but after all its origin may not be the idea of this or that specific animal, but symmetrie itself?
This is the universal part of the language: Symmetrie, repetition, rythm, contrast, color. This is where I can hope to understand the meaning of an ancient nomadic weaving, without much concious knowledge of its cultural context.

And If not? Even my misunderstanding of the woven language may still lead to a meaningfull result. While this result may not be of much use to ethnological research,( after all, by its very nature it cant be precise, just as a metaphor cant be exact,) I strongly believe that its significant. But of what?

For the same reasons opies suggestion that urban influences in tribal weavings are reducing their "authenticity" seems misleading to me. Style and anmutung can be authentic, not a certain motiv by itself. Ikea blankets can have tribal motivs closer to their"origin" in ancient bronce works, than my bachtiari bag, but they rarely have the style, the spirit, the "Anmutung" of an ancient tribal piece.
All these qualities are, to my understanding, percieved subconciously at first.

I may have begun my approach on archetypes from the wrong starting point, after all I would prefer to speak of archetypical qualitys to a motif, or pattern, or color combination, rather then an archetype as a specific motif.

Kind regards