The distinction between “purpose” and “meaning” has recently been called into question, and through the contemplation of this comparison, much insight has been found embedded within the connective channel of exchange between these two interwoven concepts. While they share general themes in relation, certain nuances showcase different dimensions, and these diverging angles can be metaphysically analyzed to metaphorically translate in ways that highlight the behavioral variances to how these words are designed and can be applied. While everyone has some notion as to what exactly these terms entail, a Dictionary.com search yields the following base, literal definitions from which to begin:
1. the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.
2. an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal.
3. determination; resoluteness.
4. the subject in hand; the point at issue.
5. practical result, effect, or advantage:
to act to good purpose.
verb-(used with object), purposed, purposing.
6. to set as an aim, intention, or goal for oneself.
7. to intend; design.
8. to resolve (to do something):
He purposed to change his way of life radically.
verb (used without object), purposed, purposing.
9. to have a purpose.
10. on purpose, by design; intentionally:
How could you do such a thing on purpose?
11. to the purpose, relevant; to the point:
Her objections were not to the purpose.
1. what is intended to be, or actually is, expressed or indicated; signification; import:
the three meanings of a word.
2. the end, purpose, or significance of something: What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of this intrusion?
1. the nonlinguistic cultural correlate, reference, or denotation of a linguistic form; expression.
2. linguistic content
4. intentioned (usually used in combination):
She's a well-meaning person.
5. full of significance; expressive:
a meaning look.
Right away, the shared idea of intent poured forth from something, and the end to which it unfolds, is a conspicuously common thread. The variable potential for intention to take is something that both words make use of too. It’s also interesting to note that while both words can function as a noun, only purpose functions as a verb. However, the word “mean” can also be looked into in order to see an action-oriented approach with:
verb (used with object), meant, meaning
1. to have in mind as one's purpose or intention; intend:
I meant to compliment you on your work.
2. to intend for a particular purpose, destination, etc.:
They were meant for each other.
3. to intend to express or indicate:
What do you mean by “liberal”?
4. to have as its sense or signification; signify:
The word “freedom” means many things to many people.
5. to bring, cause, or produce as a result:
This bonus means that we can take a trip to Florida.
6. to have (certain intentions) toward a person:
He didn't mean you any harm.
7. to have the value of; assume the importance of:
Money means everything to them. She means the world to him.
verb (used without object), meant, meaning
8. to be minded or disposed; have intentions:
Beware, she means ill, despite her solicitous manner.
9. mean well, to have good intentions; try to be kind or helpful:
Her constant queries about your health must be tiresome, but I'm sure she means well.
Curiously, by curving “meaning” to work like a verb, it morphs to become synonymous with “purpose,” as that word is referenced in the definition of “mean,” in addition to the original connection of intent, intending, and intention.
First off, the finding that the word purpose has more innate function as a verb than meaning is quite telling on its own. From that conclusion, purpose seems to partake more from the yang/active archetype, while meaning will imply more of what’s yin/passive. Purpose refers to aim, the end result, and goal of something. From that symbolism, the idea and image of an arrow directed towards a target destination can be conjured. Humorously, when inquiring into something’s purpose, one may even ask, “What’s the POINT?” and the figurative image of an arrow is then embedded into the question. This primal, archetypal shape can also be found incorporated into the astrological glyphs of Mars, Scorpio, and Sagittarius. In Mars, the upward arrow is pointed towards its impassioned pursuit. For Scorpio, the arrow implies the tail of the scorpion, while also affirming Mars’ partial domain in that sign, with the aim here penetrating downward, into the depths of the unknown to dredge up the light from the dark. Finally, for Sagittarius, the arrow is directly representative of the literal arrow shot by the symbolic, centaur archer. In this sign, the Aim is towards the largest, most consolidating, all-encompassing inclusion of Truth. The arrow here is set on the heights of philosophical understanding and spiritual aspiration. Additionally, Mars is also the hierarchical ruler for Sagittarius, signifying that while Jupiter’s expansive diffusion is able to spread open the realms of contemplative consideration for this energy, its ultimate pursuit is best applied with the one-pointed, laser-like focus represented by the impetus of Mars. Also of interesting note here, Earth as the esoteric ruler of Sagittarius, as well as the fact that earthly Capricorn follows it in cyclic sequence around the zodiac’s wheel, reminds consciousness of the end result target of physical manifestation, or energy enacted into form, being the sought goal behind the purpose’s aim, and it is from where the arrow strikes that meaning is made.
To contrast, meaning is much more comfortable existing as a noun, passively partaking from the yin polarity. Words mentioned in its definitive association include: signification, significance, import, importance, content. All of these other nouns also suggest the basic “stuff” or essence of which something is made. It’s what something’s composed of, but with an emphasis on some sort of information or message relayed by its design. It’s the “substance” of value that can be extracted from its composition. All of these form-related connotations that are usually intrinsic to a noun, give meaning an earthy flavor to its existence. This will soon be contrasted with the fiery activity animating purpose. From there, as purpose linked in with Mars, meaning can also link into Venus and all of her domains. Prior to that though, there’s another side to the root word of meaning, mean, to be explored. The mathematical definition is:
1. the middle point, state, or course between limits or extremes
3. another term for taking the average from a set of values
This definition opens up a whole new, metaphorically relevant, dimension to the word meaning! So often, a person will ask “What is the meaning of __________?” This portends to the signification of whatever is called into question. When one is interpreting signs, of any nature, consideration is given to all the known facts regarding it, which are then synthesized into a holistic approximation of its essential nature. Basically, the meaning is derived from the average, or mean, of all known qualitative information. Again, the meaning reflects what something is comprised of, acknowledged to whatever degree the constituting ingredients can be known.
If one considers the context of a story, when someone asks, “What did it mean?” they are referring to the message conveyed by themes that were active. From an astrological experience, when a chart is regarded with respect to the meaning of anything, it would also seem that an intuitively interpretive reading of that “story” observes the active themes represented to assess the messages that may transpire from its signature. However, just as a story can have many themes and messages, multiple interpretations, and a host of extractable meanings, so can a chart, an event, a person, and item, or anything—all uniquely valid! It could even be gathered that the different meanings arrived at could be the result of having differently aimed purposes behind each inquiry.
Before exploring the variable malleability of both words, let’s deconstruct another level of purpose also. The prefix “pur” suggests putting something forward, forth, before, and for. All of this seems to affirm and verify its active nature, as already discussed. The second half of the word, “pose,” is then in reference to how something is shaped, molded, positioned, constructed, created, designed, etc. Together, the combination reiterates a foundation embedded in this word that is about how something is intended and set in motion towards some aim. It is some activity driven towards a desired result. With that in mind, the word meaning can then also be viewed as the reverse engineering of purpose, in that from whatever the content and composition of something are, an analytical examination is done to conclude the origin and impetus that resulted in the product, or the meaning behind what was produced. Purpose is the energy focused towards a concretization, and meaning is the reflective link to some animating ideal that’s stored within some substance’s composure.
With that established, the idea that both meaning and purpose can vary infinitely among different concepts can be considered. One person, place, event, or thing can be intended for multiple purposes and can have many meanings extracted from its existence. Let’s explore some random, general, mundane examples:
(purposes)-to inform of law violation, generate revenue, curtail disorder
(meanings)-time lapse, ignorance, negligence, carelessness
(purposes)-personal defense, hunt food, attack enemy, signal event, memorialize occasion
(meanings)-power, security, protection, violence
(purposes)-eat vegetation, feed snakes, have babies
(meanings)-lucky, fertility, quick, good eyesight, innocent, garden nuisance
4 Leaf Clover
(purposes)-convert light into chlorophyll, convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, grow, flower
(meanings)-luck, Irish, leprechauns, St. Patrick’s Day, the number 4
These random examples don’t even begin to cover the gamut of what can be conceived to be all the possible meanings and purposes to even just these concrete examples. Basically, any intent that something can willfully be positioned towards entails some purpose to it, and any significance that can be ascribed to something comprises a potential meaning for it. There really is a lot of wiggle room to how the terms can be applied.
While the active and passive relationship to the words has been explored, as well as the potential for both to have an array of applications for any given terms, let’s return to the astrologically archetypal layers than can also be pulled out in translation. So with Mars representing the active/yang aspect of purpose, we can then investigate how Venus stands up as an ambassador for the concept of meaning. To begin, as the mundane ruler of Taurus, the earthy, form-based level of solid existence and substance is immediately implied, opposite the boiling waters of Mars in Scorpio. On another axis, Mars in Aries, representative of the alive and active will set in motion towards the fulfillment of any desire sought, is opposite Venus in her other mundane domain, Libra. In the sign of the scales, the concept of some compromise and balance, with a meeting in the middle, conjures the connotation to meaning that correlates with the average of all parts across both sides of whatever can be examined. The meaning of Venus here finds beauty in the harmonious moderation, and it’s the ideal concept of Beauty that will continue to permeate the theme of meaning overall. To consider Venus’ other ruler positions, its esoteric domain of Gemini suggests the variability and versatility of meanings possible, while the goal again being to strike a balance of moderation between the contrasting agents. As hierarchical ruler of Capricorn, it can be assessed that the overall ambition and goal for divine authority to erect in form is ultimately a sense of this Beauty and harmony on the physical plane, reflective of the invisible pinnacle behind all creation. The ultimate value is then Beauty in its highest sense of the word, and when anything is looked into at its fullest, Beauty becomes all that can be seen.
Typically, when purpose and meaning are contemplated, it’s not done with regards to a parking ticket, gun, rabbit, 4 leaf clover, etc. It’s usually considered with regards to the abstract, existential dimension of life. More often, people question what is the meaning or purpose to a significant event, a significant relationship, their life as a whole, or even life in general. For these levels of conscious inquiry, astrological reflection can be quite handy. As part of a process, each sign’s energy has a purpose in the cycle, and anything related to each sign can act as a meaningful significator of the urge for that purpose to enact. Similarly, each of the planets can be thought to have a particular purpose to the action of their energy, leaving a wake of meaning to be extracted from the events they catalyze. Furthermore, the same event, relationships, or life experience can be interpreted to have varying purpose and meaning according to the observer. Each analysis depends on the coordination of knowledge and vantage point one has pertaining to whatever’s in question. As such, if something can be observed through a variable lens of interpretation, it can also be willfully channeled with varying intention to effect in varying results. In short, any purpose can be aimed, and any meaning can be ascertained. Let’s consider some hypothetical events and the possible meanings and purposes that could potentially be ascribed to each from a higher perspective:
Losing a job
(purpose)-transform business arrangement, inspire to find a better fit, take some time for self
(meaning)-inefficiency, toxic job environment, new opportunity coming
(purpose)-raise children, memorialize dedication in relationship, consolidate assets, merge families, secure partnership
(meaning)-cooperation, love, commitment, compromise
Having a car wreck
(purpose)-teach lesson to be more careful, prompt one to fix vehicle
(meaning)-going too fast/wreckless, bad equipment
Let’s also consider the possible purposes and meanings behind a few astrological symbols:
(purpose)-to energize, to move forward
(meaning) masculine, military, combat, competition
(purpose)-to attract, to harmonize, to beautify
(meaning)-feminine, partners, money, value
(purpose)-to expand, to enlarge, to allow grace and ease
(meaning)-luck, abundance, travel, philosophical teacher
(purpose)-to test, to limit, to discipline, to master
(meaning)-authorities, father, old age, restrictions, career, karma
(purpose)-to shine, to enjoy, to put on stage, to show off
(meaning) kings, creativity, children, gambling, drama, dance
(purpose)-to invent, to revolutionize, to hope, to gather in collective
(meaning) scientists, accidents, spontaneous happenings, reversals, groups, astrology, friends
However, while there’s an infinite range of possibility to enact and extract for both sides of any scenario, the concept of taking all the known variables into account and finding their moderate average, or mean, is still a key to gauging the highest level of Truth to any purpose or meaning, according to thematic accuracy for its nature. (For example, while there is probably some scenario where a kitten could mean danger, such is not the most innate value to be recognized there.) As such, all possible purposes and meanings could then be argued to curve towards some ideal archetype after which their precipitations are then modeled. One possible way to approach an approximation of this ideal can be seen by distilling them down to the yang and yin nature, each perfected in its own regard, and Mars and Venus do an excellent job for conveying this polarity.
If the active energy, aim, and intent to purpose can be symbolized through Mars, then the overarching ideal that any and all purposes would originate from would have something to do with thriving and living life to its fullest with forward momentum. The purpose is propelled towards whatever desire is sparked into life. Different individuals, times, events, etc. will call for different energy, but purpose seems intrinsically related to the invigoration of life to beget more life. On the other hand, the passive, substance and value to the meaning of something can be symbolized via Venus, and the overarching ideal is then that any and all meanings would conglomerate to be akin to the concept of harmonious Beauty and enrichment. The meaning within whatever is examined is eventually rooted in displaying the Beauty of life. Even when erring purposes take detours that yield less desirable results, the meaning behind what transpires in those events is designed to encourage better aim, with better purpose, so that the fruits of future actions will be more pleasing in appearance. Until such a point, the infinite variability of life provides the buffet of purposes and meanings through which consciousness can sift until it settles upon whatever brand of experience is found most worth engaging.
In closing, purpose and meaning are two ends of an inherently connected concept, yet differing in expression. Both call into consideration how something is intended, whether seen through the animating influence or the existent value. Regardless of the viewpoint taken, the themes embedded into their definition’s design continue to kaleidoscopically unfold along whatever channels of interpretation one is able to employ, eventually consolidating into universal accord with the symphony of One whole, from which All life lovingly partakes.