Last night, I was interviewed by a local anthropologist. She has interviewed a lot of the locals here. Originally, her plan was to write a small book introducing those of us who are guest lecturers for her classes. The book may be published as a textbook with a very limited production. As part of the interview, the author asked me what symbols are and how they are used.
My answer was that each symbol represents a specific idea of cosmic reality. Symbols link the practitioner to that reality that he or she might explore and possibly manipulate what is found there.
The more I practice magick the more I realize that symbols are keys. Like all keys, they only open certain locks. Unlike keys, however, another factor is in play beyond the key and lock themselves. That factor is the subjective perception of the symbol held by the magician.
I can cite a personal example of that.
Many years ago, I called upon a spirit of Jupiter. I perceived that this particular area of the cosmos conveyed wealth, along with the benevolence of those in power. I was offered wealth, which I declined. Over the next few months, various people in power befriended me. This was a direct result of working with Jupiter and my understanding of that realm.
Now, my perspective is more along the lines of cosmic memory. This allows us to remember past lessons – to recall who we are on a deeper level than we are aware of in our normal state. It doesn't matter if my new perception is correct. What does matter is that the new perspective will interact with the symbol of Jupiter that I would use if I contacted it again. It will take me to a place related to both my idea and to Jupiter. If my idea is off the mark, I will wind up in a place that is very tangential to Jupiter. However, I would wager that I could find an analogy to that sphere.
There is one more factor here -- alignment. The more you align yourself with the symbol the deeper the interaction. This alignment can be enhanced by conjuring the spirit or spirits aligned with the symbol, studying any lore associated with it, meditation on that lore or specific aspects of it, conjuring spirits that have some affiliation with the symbol in question (for instance, I learned a great deal about the tarot pips from Enochian conjurations), affirmations, gratitude (when things happen in life that can be associated with that force or symbol), prayer and a host of other things that can likely be explored.