Radical Soul
Radical Soul
The Subconscious Made Conscious with Addie Hirschten

The Subconscious Made Conscious with Addie Hirschten

Interview with artist and author Addie Hirschten

A friend and artist Addie Hirschten recently released her first book, The Alchemy of Symbols: How to Use the Power of Images to Transform Your Life. The book is about living an intentional life filled with symbols: noticing how symbols affect you and paying attention to how the universe may be speaking to you through them, and/or how you also may be speaking to yourself. Addie asks the reader (and podcast listener) to consider what symbols you surround yourself with and why.

Addie’s been interested in symbology for a long time, keeping a dream journal in college to investigate the themes that arose from her subconscious. But it was around her thirtieth birthday, during what Addie describes as a midlife crisis, that symbols became particularly important.

“It was a realization that I had not been honest with myself.  And that scared the crap out of me,” Addie explained.

She tells us what led to this crisis in our interview. But the result was a mission to find ways to better know herself.  “I really wanted to get to my unconscious mind and my inner thoughts and feelings so that I could, I wouldn't be surprised by myself  in the future that I would, I would know  who I am and what I am.” And so she started investigating the symbols around her.

We encounter symbols everywhere we go whether we recognize them as symbols or not. As I write this, I’m sitting at a Panera Bread, and I can see an exit sign, a man wearing a cowboy hat, an Under Armour logo on a kid’s sweatshirt, and a yellow wet floor stand with an exclamation point.

Then there’s my bright pink hardcase shell on my laptop that I chose as a way of intentionally claiming my femininity. There are my tattoos, all hidden under my clothes, but all symbols (my scarlet A, a tiger, a dove, a unicorn, and others) that I’ve chosen to carry with me and sometimes display to the world whether folks understand their significance or not. There’s also the pain in my back which is my body telling me that I spend too much time sitting. Is that a symbol? I think Addie would say it is.

Illustration from The Alchemy of Symbols

Symbology is just another tool to work with. It can be part of our self-care toolbox, as well as help us in our work to decondition from and challenge mainstream culture. A way to better understand what messages we absorb and what we choose to own.

What follows are a couple of questions and a suggested practice to start working with symbols in new ways from our conversation.

What patterns are showing up in your life?

Addie has a saying, “Where there is a pattern, there is truth.” Looking for repeating themes, behaviors, and so on can show you something true about your reality. For instance, a theme that keeps showing up in your dreams may be your subconscious trying to tell you something.

Intentionally looking for patterns can be a way of making what was subconscious, conscious. Ways that your thinking has been influenced by mainstream culture. Truth that your body knows, but your mind hasn’t caught on yet.

What do you need more of in your life?

If you’re struggling with big questions about what you should do with your life or what you need to invest more time and energy in, Addie recommends looking around you for answers.

She quotes Carl Jung, who said, “A man's destiny is marked out for him by symbols.” This destiny doesn’t need to be divinely appointed. It can be as simple as understanding what’s the most authentic and what feels good.

“When you look at what you have created — and it doesn't have to be this literal in that you've made the art — but what have you surrounded yourself with? What draws you in?  This is showing something very important about you.”

Practice: Choose a symbol for the year

If you’re interested in working with symbols in a new way, Addie has an assignment for you. She recommends you choose a symbol for the year:

This can represent what you want to embody in the year; what you want to step into. For the next week, look around you to the pictures in your house, the images you see in the subway car, whatever it is, and then write down on a piece of paper that symbol and the reason why you selected that one image.

Want to share your symbol? Respond to this email, and I’ll share it in the Substack chat!

About the guest

Addie Hirschten, is a visionary painter, public speaker, and host of the Studio Alchemy Podcast. She teaches creativity classes from her studio in Indianapolis, Indiana. Learn more at studioalchemy.art.

Books mentioned on the podcast

Radical Soul Book Club

We’ll be talking about The New Saints by Lama Rod Owens for Radical Soul’s inaugural online book club on January 29. Even if you don’t get a chance to read the entire book, I hope you’ll join us!


Want to read ahead? See the full 2024 book club calendar.

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Radical Soul
Radical Soul
Formerly Left-Handed Journeys. Interviews with radical souls about their spiritual journeys, especially centering the stories of queer folks and sex workers.
This podcast is part of the larger Radical Soul brand which centers justice, strives to help others heal from religious trauma, and rejects white and Christian supremacy.
Want to be featured? Email jera@jerabrown.com.