Category Archives: symbolism

Pictish-Mithraism – Norman Penny (2017)

For many, many years there has been the website Pictish-Mithraism.com. In 2010 the author commented on a Mithraic article of mine. In 2013 when I wrote about Pictish symbols I wrote:

So far I have found only one brave attempt to interpret the Pictish symbols. This is immediately a rather uncommon interpretation though. The website is called “Pictish Mithraism” which also tells you in what direction the interpretations go. The author argues against several of the standing hypothesis, both the symbolic and the historic ones. The biggest merit of the website is that the author categorises the symbols and tells his readers how he came to his interpretations.

I have the idea that I knew that Penny was working on turning his website into a book, but I am not sure. When in Scotland in September 2018 I ran into the little book. What I wrote about the website also goes for the book. It is still the only attempt that I know to explain the symbols and the author does that by grouping the symbols. Penny helps even those who do not agree with his hypothesis. I must say that after these years, I still find the hypothesis daring and interesting, but little convincing. The book does add something to the hypothesis that I do not remember from the website though.

The idea is that the Romans brought Mithraism into what nowadays is Scotland. Before the partial withdrawal the Romans settled much further North than what would later be the Hadrian’s and Antonine walls. Penny suggests that there, in Aberdeenshire, Romans who were “pensioned off” with a piece a land, stayed and turned their Mithraic beliefs into “Pictisch Mithraism” which spread from there. read more

Rondom De Korenschoof * various authors (2006)

A while ago I ran into a small Dutch publisher that I did not yet know. It seems that “De Steensplinter” (‘the stone splinter’) did not start as a Masonic publishing house, but when I looked at the catalogue, many titles are Masonic. I got myself two titles about symbolism, one (reviewed earlier) not specifically Masonic, the present one is. That is to say: is in basis.

“Rondom de korenschoof” means ‘around the sheaf of corn’. The book was published by a Masonic lodge called “De Korenschoof” for their 50th aniversary. It was written by 4 authors and does not only speak about the symbolism of corn in Freemasonry, but the authors widened their subject to “nature and plant-symbolism in Freemasonry”. This resulted in an interesting little book (192 pages).

The book starts with general information about symbolism and rituals. After this short introduction by K. Verhoeff, A.M. van Harten takes over to say a few things about ‘nature religions, ancient myths and plant symbolism’. The author writes about Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, the Romans and ends with Mithras and Attis; of course there is special attention for grain symbolism.
P. Stam follows with an essay about ‘plant symbolism in some world religions’. This is a nice, short text about plants, their fruits and products made of the plants and/or the fruits in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The following text was the main reason to buy this book. ‘Grain in folk-belief in North-Western Europe’ by, again, A.M. van Harten. North-Western Europe and Freemasonry, would that be a modern-day version of Farwerck? Yes and no. No, mainly because the author seems to have forgotten (or ignored) the work of Frans Farwerck who was not only a Freemason, but also wrote extensively about folk-belief in North-Western Europe. Instead, Van Harten uses Melly Uyldert when he gives information about the Germanic peoples (so it cannot have been the choices during WWII to choose his source). With all respect to the late Uyldert, but she was not exactly a scholar. Farwerck would have made a more logical and certainly better source. Having said that, I know not all information in this essay is very accurate. Nonetheless it makes a nice read about sowing, harvesting, grain, straw, sheafs left on the field, corn-spirits, folk-art, festivities, etc. A text about subjects that I read of before, but this time from another kind of source.
The same author then writes about ‘plant symbolism and Freemasonry’. Again he uses sources that I wonder if they were the best choice, but here Van Harten seems to be better in place. This chapter is pretty detailed speaking about well-known Masonic plant symbols, but also about much lesser well-known. The chapter also deals with two very specific Rites, so this essay may be mostly interesting for people with an interest in Freemasonry. read more

Gekruiste Benen * Henry MacGillavry (2000/2013)

I ran into this book ‘by accident’ and was mostly caught by the subtitle which is (translated) “a study of the functioning of symbols”. However there is indeed information about symbolism in general, the little book (100 pages) is mostly about the symbolism from the title: crossed legs.

The author was born in 1908, this book was first published when he was 92. This slightly revised reprint was printed a year after MacGillavry passed away, at the age of 104! MacGillavry was a Freemason and however he did publish books (at the same publisher) about Masonic subjects, “Gekruiste Benen” is not one of those.
The author starts by mentioning earlier investigations into the subject, but the present title mostly continues with the works of Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781), A. MacLaine Pont (1883-1955), W. Kat and… Frans Farwerck! Initially the author mentions Farwerck only briefly, later he goes into more details about Farwerck’s theories which he posed in an article in the periodical Nehalennia of 1959 about the same subject. A nice surprise.

MacGillavry refers to his named predecesors on the subject and decided to not use a massive amount of images like Farwerck usually does, but to stick to a few good examples. These are printed in not-smashing quality in the book (a few in colour in the reprint). There are many, many examples of people depicted with their legs crossed (while standing, sitting or laying) both from ancient history and more recently on paintings. The author treats different theories such as that these images refer to the God of Sleep (Hypnos) and/or the God of Death (Thanatos), to a border-crossing (Kat) or to a Cosmic cycle (Farwerck), but since none of these theories can be used at all known images, the author comes to the conclusion that they refer more generally to a transition. This idea does not rule out the other theories. read more

The Symbolism Of The Cross * René Guénon (1931/1962)

Again a compilation of lectures and articles by René Guénon compiled in a book. Originally this book was published under the title Le Symbolisme De La Croix in 1931. The first English translation was published in 1962, but I have the fourth revised edition of 2001. I actually bought this thin book (150 pages) waiting for another book of Guénon that took longer to get. I liked the idea of a book by Guénon about symbolism rather than his more ‘philosophical’ works and that also makes this book a step up the other one that by now is in my possession as well.
It is quite amazing how deep the author went into the symbolism of the cross. The book is not just about the symbol, but Guénon writes about directions of space, opposites, states of being, the serpent and what not. You get the idea, this book is not about a sign made up of two stripes, but about a symbol. Especially in the first half of the book this is very intesting and in general Guénon sheds light on sides of the symbol that I would have never thought of. This is not a book to learn about Guénon, his ideas and Traditionalism, but it does form an aspect of the matter the man dealt with of course.
2001 Sophia Perennis, isbn 0900588659

Pagan Symbols Of The Picts * Stuart McHardy (2013)

I ran into this book when I was looking into the Pictish symbols. I bought and read it in Scotland. The title is promising. McHardy is a Scotsman himself and wrote several books about the Picts. While reading the book, I get the idea that he is an’interested layman’ rather than a ‘specialist’. McHardy’s book has pros and cons. What is good about the book is that McHardy dares to defy some of the standard scholarly hypotheses. It still seems as if everybody thinks that peoples can be told about by looking at the language they spoke, but things are not that easy. Take the discussion about Celts and Germans in my own country (Netherlands), the same goes for ancient Scotland. There lived Gaelic, Pict and Norse people, all similar, but different and probably there was a lot of contact between the different groups, marriages even. It it too simple to just talk about Celts and Picts. Then there is the leading idea that the Picts came from Ireland, but the author suggests that the Picts are actually the indigenous people of a part of what is nowadays Scotland, or perhaps they were (partly) immigrants from Scandinavia. In any case, they suddenly ‘disappeared’, suggesting that they merged with the (incomming) Gaelic peoples.
Having said that, the author takes another route to interpret the Pictish stones than what I read thus far. He sets out to search for the pagan religion of the Picts and see the stones in that perspective. In that search, McHardy looks around in Welsh, Irish, broader Celtic, Scandinavian, etc. mythology to find meanings for the symbols. What is good about this approach is that he looks at every symbol and does not (like other authors, including myself) leave out the animals and hunting scenes. On the other hand, the author goes at length explaining symbols that are hardly found, but about which he found a lot of information. Also the book contains too many easy conclusions. New (to me), but not worked out very well is the suggestion that many of the animals (especially those when there is only a head) are animal disguises. Had McHardy combined this with the notion that Picts are called Picts (by the Romans) because they painted their bodies, there would have been an easy bridge to Männerbünde which in that regard may suggest a direction for the enigmatic geometrical symbols. What I do like in this book, is that McHardy does not look at Pictish art as a separate phenomenon, rather a continuation of what was already present. The double discs could be linked with the prehistoric rock carvings of spirals (for which the author has an interesting explanation). Then again, with his purely ‘religious’ approach, McHardy has no sight for ‘mystery’ and thus the Z-rod is a lightning bolt for example. His suggestion for the ‘crescent and V-rod’ is interesting though: the three phases of the moon, since the crescent-moon is divided in three parts by the V-rod.
So, perhaps not a great book with the ultimate answers, but certainly a few paths to think along further.
2013 Luath Press, isbn 1908373148
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Bouwen en Betekenis * Paul Corbey (2008 fama * isbn 9789072032225)

Bouwen en BetekenisA few weeks ago I was looking for some information on the website of the Dutch Grand East of Freemasonry. However I did not find what I was looking for, my eye fell on a new book title “Building and Meaning”. That could be interesting, a masonic book about building symbolism, so I ordered a copy. Contrary to what I expected, but book is not about symbolism of ornaments on buildings, such as my article about that subject, but about modern symbology of the “built surroundings”. What does a building look stately, the fact that nowadays you can often see what a building is for (living, office, school, etc.) or how an architect makes a building (un)fit in it’s surroundings. In the course of the book the writer shows the building process, how things differ in the Netherlands from other countries, trends in architecture and he tells us a bit about some buildings, especially during the guided tour through Den Haag. Here and there he makes the link to the Work in the Lodge, but I have the idea that he has rather progressive ideas on what Freemasonry is. The book is not a bad read and indeed Corbey displays how the use of symbolism changed during the centuries, but “Bouwen en Betekenis” was not quite what I expected; too modern, too little esotericism (or however you want to call it).

Initiation & Spiritual Realization * René Guénon (2004)

initiation et réalisation spirituelle 1952

On his deathbed, Guénon gave instructions for a compilation of articles that together would form a good supplement to the book Aperçus sur l’Initiation (Perspective on Initiation). That book was the first that I read of Guénon and is it one of the most difficult and most difficult to read. Now none of Guénon’s book are easy to read and I have also often said that Guénon is very good at saying what is not ‘it’, the preface of Initiation & Spiritual Realization promises a more practical and in depth book. Very promising indeed! I can tell you, this book still is no guideline or manual for those wanting to walk the path of “initiation and spiritual realization”, Guénon remained Guénon. On the other hand, it is also true that of all his books (that I have read so far), this is the most practical book and is also the one book in which the writer vaguely hints towards what ‘it’ is. You will read about gurus and upagurus, tue and false spiritual teachers, iniatic affiliation, the sacred and the profane, the initiatic degrees, the necessity of traditional exotericism and much, much more. There are 32 chapters/essays (in 208 pages). In most texts Guénon (further) explains very specific concepts that are misunderstood. Still, you really have to read between the lines to make the information of practical use. In this book Guénon does dive into the deep and the reader that is ready for it, will probably find this his most ‘workable’ book. I would advice to no start with this book if you never read Guénon though. The Crisis of the Modern World is a better starter, maybe The King of the World and then perhaps a book such as this one.
(28/4/07 -4-)
Read quotes of Guénon here.
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Volksgebruik en Zinnebeeld * Karl Theodor Weigel (1943 / 2006 werkgroep Hagal)

Werkgroep Hagal is a Flemish Asatru organisation that here publishes its first book. “folkpractice and symbolism” is a collection of five articles published in the periodical Hamer (“hammer”) in the year 1943. Like other books that I reviewed, this little work is about how folk practices and symbols relate to the ancient Germanic faith. Weigel takes the reader on a tour through the year and has some nice information and images that I hadn’t yet seen. The text is translated in Dutch, but there are also German publications of the man. If you like similar works of Farwerck, Logghe or Wirth, the few euros that have to be spent on this publications are worth it. <30/3/07><4>

The Door In The Sky * Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy (1997 princeton university press * isbn 0691017476)

Another compilation of texts by A.K. Coomaraswamy compiled and introduced by his son Rama Coomaraswamy. This time “on myth and meaning”. Like in the other book there are very interesting articles and articles which are just a nice read. Coomaraswamy tends to write too lengthy and treading too many sidepaths sometimes. The introduction by Rama Coomaraswamy is again a nice one. Also the opening article “Myth And Mind” is magnificent. Towards the end there is an article “Literary Symbolism” which is also a great read. For the rest there is a lot about Coomaraswamy’s pet topic, modern ‘art’ in comparison to traditional art.
Coomaraswamy was a traditionalist with an oriental background, but he studied so much Eastern and Western literature that he makes a lot of cross-references which is highly interesting. Not the easiest literature, but a must-read if you are interested in the traditionalist worldview, comperative religions and symbolism.
(21/2/07 -3-)
Read quotes of Coomaraswamy here.

Die Symbolhistorische Methode & Allmuter * Herman Wirth Roeper (2004 die goden)

However the republisher has Die Symbolhistorische Methode as “Band 2” of the Schriftenreihe: aus Forschung und Erfahrung, I advise to read Allmutter first. I haven’t been able to find out when these booklets were first published, but Herman Wirth lived from 1885 to 1981. Recently a Dutch book was published about the man who was born in the Netherlands, but who moved to Germany. Since Wirth met Himmler and became head of the Ahnenerbe, he is one of those ‘forbidden’ writers. I only heard about the man, read the article in Tyr volume 2 and then I noticed that the German mailorder Nordwelt Versand has these two small booklets. The symbolhistoric method is a 22 page guide through Wirth’s ideas on symbolism and the “Ur”-culture from which the Western cultures sprang. He explains symbolism that he found in rock-carvings, painted animal skins, etc. compares them and points out a line of how he came to his conclusions. However I don’t always follow the man, it is nice to read his theories on the evolution of symbols and the explanations he gives to them. Other ‘symbologists’ such as Farwerck or Logghe surely got some light from this Dutch/German writer. Allmother has about 75 pages with much more symbols and this time also a lot of photos and images. The booklets are very cheap, so a nice introduction into an interesting thinker.