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The Traditional Idea of Thanksgiving Has Become a Modern Battle of Symbols

John Fraim


I’ve been studying and writing about the world of symbols and symbolism most of my life. It’s interesting that I’ve found that people of the West focus on symbols, those objects throughout history that have been catalogued in so many coffee table books. The subject of huge dictionaries of symbols. On the other hand, I discovered people of the East focus not symbolism (the movement and dynamics of symbols through time). on the symbol object but rather on the symbol’s context and its movement of this symbol in this context. I wrote about this great duality of the world right after 9/11 in my book Battle of Symbols: Global Dynamics of Advertising, Entertainment and Media. The manuscript was completed around Thanksgiving of 2002 and I think of it almost 20 years later on this Thanksgiving day.

I was living in the Valley of the Moon in Sonoma County after I finished the manuscript and sent it off to Daimon Verlag, the largest publisher of Jungian related materials in the world. I was contacted by Robert Hinshaw, the Publisher not long after I sent the manuscript of Battle of Symbols to him. He loved the book and was excited to publish it. By chance, he was coming to America in just a month and attending a Jungian conference in San Francisco. He said he could drive up to my home so we could sign the contract for the book and maybe have dinner together. 

It was that time of year in the Valley of the Moon – early spring – when much of the Valley was covered in bright yellow mustard flowers. The winter rains had let up and one saw the Valley of the Moon in its grandest beauty. I called Robert when he arrived at the conference in San Francisco and suggested we have dinner in Glen Ellen at this little restaurant right next to the creek that ran through Glen Ellen. A few doors from it was the Jack London Saloon and a steady crowd of regulars. 

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Glen Ellen is a small town pushed against the western side of the mountains creating the Valley of the Moon. Jack London lived in the town while he was writing some of his most famous fiction. There is the romance of his life that I imagine still fires some modern imaginations. It did mine at this time and I’d made many drives to Glen Ellen during my years living just ten miles north in the North part of the Valley of the Moon, just a few miles out of Santa Rosa. 

I remember driving down Warner Springs Road, from Highway 12 that ran through the Valley of the Moon. I drove south on 12 from my home in the northern part of the Valley of the Moon and turned to go down Warner Springs Road a little after Kenwood. This road ran into the winding hills of the western part of the Valley of the Moon. It was the most gorgeous road I had ever been on. (And, this wasn’t my first “road” eo, as they say. Sorry.) It wound through overhanging trees as it was going through a great tunnel. Past small horse farms. Unique homes, buried away in the serenity of Sonoma County. Who were these people i thought to myself each time I travelled down Warner Springs Road. 

Anyway, the shadows were long when I drove down Warner Springs Road that evening in 2002 to have dinner with Robert Hinshaw, Publisher at Daimon Verlag and sign a contract to have my book on symbols and symbolism published by the great Jungian publisher in the world. At 418 pages, it was not a short book but one that so perfectly stated all I felt at this time in my life, right after the 9/11 events and a trip to California Disneyland, the book was started at my place in the Valley of the Moon. 

Battle of Symbols was completed in a little under three months. The writing was almost constant through September, October, and November of 2001 in creating the manuscript. It was interesting as it was very close to the time it had taken me to write an earlier book about the musician John Coltrane titled Spirit Catcher: The Life and Art of John Coltrane in 1980. Now, a little more than 20 years later, I have written another book in the same amount of time. 

So much for Battle was pulled from these years of the early Internet. So much came together in my mind at this time. I was writing all over the place for various magazines and publications. Many Jungian sites but also many on business sites and media sites. 

* * *

My wife and kids at home, I met with Daimon Verlag Publisher Robert Hinshaw in Glen Ellen that evening. Robert brought a copy of the manuscript that was typed up perfectly and ready to be transferred to their printers. I excitedly went through the manuscript over the candlelight of our table at the restaurant. It had the photos taken by my Czechoslovakian daughter-in-law’s grandfather who was a famous Czech photographer. The manuscript was impressive and I’m not sure when I’ve ever been prouder with myself at something I’ve created.

We talked about many common interests during dinner that night. I signed the contract for the book when Robert brought it out from his briefcase. We parted saying we need to connect again. (Which we have.) The book was published in 2003 to several great reviews from academics. 

More than anything else, I would characterize Battle of Symbols as representing an acknowledgement in my life of the grand intersection of the world into Eastern and Western cultures. More than anything else, the grandest division today of global peoples one might think of. 

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In the book, a constant theme was that the global east and west are much like those who identify as Democrats or Republicans, Liberals or Conservatives, Socialists or Individualists. In America, as my book Battle argued, we all live under the unique founding of a nation under the intersectional clash of two opposition symbols, creating a new alchemical symbolic form of a new nation. 

The ideas stated in Battle still apply today. In fact, more than ever.

More than anything else, Battle was a book about symbolism or the dynamics of symbols, never covered by western observers. It’s statement of the grand power dynamic of our world and nation related to symbols, nothing has better stated than overall ideology. I was so proud of this book. It had come so much just by itself without any coaching on my part. 

Battle was sent out to several people and received great reviews. One was from the Director of the Monterey Institute for Navy Strategy.  There were reviews from professors of communications. Media scholars and Jungian analysts. 

* * *

I felt good about the book. It was designed well and was with the right publisher. It stated those months of insight that had been given to me and let me put down in words. It was a special time of creation for me. Or through me. It’s difficult to know for sure.

One of the things one needs to believe – if they are to believe in the cycles of symbolism rather than the coincidental movement into the future like a bumper car in a carnival – is in the idea of duality. A basic law of symbol duality is that symbols move through repeating cycles between dualities represented in symbols of such as feminine and masculine, east and west, Democrat and Republican, collectivism and freedom.

The American holiday of Thanksgiving embodies this duality. Thanksgiving has traditionally been a day when Americans expressed their gratitude for food and substenance in the new continent. It began as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. In America it is an annual national holiday marked by religious observances and a traditional meal including turkey. The holiday commemorates a harvest festival celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621. Traditioanlly, it has represented a day when gratitude is expressed by Americans.

The First Thanksgiving

However, in recent years this traditional meaning of Thanksgiving has come to represent a devisive symbol composed of two relationships to the idea of gratitude. The traditional idea of Thanksgiving continues with those who still give thanks and gratitude for life. The opposing idea of Thanksgiving is made of those who do not give gratitude or thanks for life. Those who believe in Thanksgiving and those who don’t believe in Thanksgiving is one of the great fault lines in America at this time in our history. This division is evidenced by a number of articles and views during Thanksgiving of 2021, the second Thanksgiving of the pandemic when the nation is greatly divided. For example, an article in the publication Campus Reform discusses those who do not give gratitude for Thanksgiving. The revisioning of Thanksgiving is discussed in an article from The New York Times titled “The Horrible History of Thanksgiving.” The two views join many arguing for a new assessment of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving used to be a unifying symbol in America. But now it has become one representing division between those who can still give thanks and those who can no longer give thanks. This represents the duality symbols of the modern American Thanksgiving.


Battle of Symbols.

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