Category Archives: symbolism

The Hermetic Museum – Alchemy & Mysticism * Alexander Roob (isbn 382288653X)

This is really a magnificent collection of ‘occult art’. If you like what you see in the occult art section of the artpages of Sententia, you definately have to get this book. It counts over 700 pages and is stuffed with Hermetic, Kabbalistic, philosophical, religious, occult and mystic art, forming a wonderfull overview of pieces full of symbolism. From well known artists such as Athanasius Kircher and William Blake, to title pages of ancient occult works and magical diagrams.
Roob managed to divide the book in sections, so the pieces are not in order of artist. These sections are explained and elucidated and most pieces are explained as well.

Between the pictures and accompanying them, you will also read many quotes from alchemical texts, explanations and history.

The Sun, symbol of power and life * Madanjeet Singh (editor) (isbn 0810938383 * 1993)

On our last trip to Seattle two months ago we went to Bainbridge Island for a day. As soon as we came to the village I noticed this beautiful, but big and heavy book about the sun-cults of the world. Of course I bought it, but I had to carry it around the the rest of the day, and of course back to the Netherlands. I found the Yule-time a good period to read about the cult of the sun and the book proved to be worth the effort. Like I said, it is big and heavy. Also it has a lot of images. The book is a compilation of articles or essays of a variety of writers. Singh wrote the lenghty introduction. This is a 137 page text with no division in chapters or paragraphs and with a totally overwhelming amount of information. The writer wanted to use so many images that the further you get into the text, the further away the images are that are referred to. The introduction is highly informative but a tiring read.
The rest of the articles are shorter and deal with specific cultures. You get articles about the sun in Japanese art, in Japansese Buddhist culture, in Chinese culture, South Asia, Indonesia, Central Asia, Zoroastrianism, Byzantine and Russian art, Slavic cultures, Greek art and culture, the sun gods of ancient Europe, the sun in traditional French culture, Egypt, Africa, the sun gods of South America in three articles.

Obviously the sun cult was and is universal and you can perfectly compare the different forms of it with the loads of images, examples and explanations of this magnificent book.

Symbolen, de taal van kunst en liturgie * Alfred C. Bronswijk (isbn 9023901479 * 1987)

I realise that I give you a hard time when reviewing so many books that I got secondhand myself. Many interesting titles are no longer in print and also second hand books are usually much cheaper. Especially when buying secondhand from the internet, the books often look like new. This time I was looking for a book about symbolism in churches. I ran into a nice Belgian website about this and this book is in their bibliography. Through antiqbook.com I quickly found a second hand copy of the 1997 fourth printing which proved to be (as good as) new. “Symbols, the language of art and liturgy” proved to be both what I was looking for and not. It is only a small and thin booklet (180 pages) and it indeed contains quite a lot of symbols used in texts and art, but not necessarily in churches. Only a part of the wide range of symbols is spoken about of course and each symbol is mostly spoken about shortly. Only here and there the writer refers to the prechristian source of a symbol. The booklet is not exactly what I was looking for, but certainly a good start. It is fairly easy to look something up quickly and the most important things seem to be there.

The King Of The World * René Guénon (2004)

le roi du monde 1927

This is one of the earlier books by Guénon and a thin one too. Only just over 100 pages and I read it in not even two hours. This may be due to the fact that I read an unpublished Dutch translation, but also it seems to me that this book is written in a much easier style than for example The Reign Of Quanity & The Sign Of Times. This book may be a good first title to read of this famous French “traditionalist”. Guéon starts with mentioning books by Ferdinand Ossendowski and Saint-Yves d’Alveydre which speak about the subterranean kingdom called Agarttha and the ‘king of the world’ ruling it. This is the starting point of 12 chapters with comparative symbology about for example “Shekinah and Metatron”, the Grail, “Melki-Tsedeq”, Luz, “The Omphalos and Sacred Stones”, to work towards “names and symbolic representations of spiritual centers” and “location of spiritual centers”. The King Of The World doesn’t have the negative tone of other of Guénon’s works, but also not the frequent and clear referrals to ‘the crisis of the modern world’ and the ‘sophia perennis’, but of course, these are also present. So in my opinion with this short book you will get a nice idea (and maybe even a ‘light version’) of what the writings of Guénon are about. Informative, written from a very distinct starting point and with information from a wide variety of religions and traditions.
(14/4/06 -4-)
Read quotes of Guénon here.
2004 sophia perennis * isbn 0900588543

Art And Symbols Of The Occult * James Wasserman (isbn 0892814152)

Amazon.com made it seem like this is some encyclopedia for occult symbolism, but that is not really the case. A large (almost A4) and thin (128 pages) book with not really symbols but more ‘occult art’. Extremely beautifully done though, mostly with full-colour pages and explaining texts of Wasserman. A very nice page-through book, but quite expensive and not what you are looking for when you want more of an encyclopedia like myself, but still a great book.

Dictionary of Symbols * Jack Tresidder (isbn 081181470X)

I am sure there are hundreds of these kinds of book, but having one on your bookshell is actually very handy. This book of Tresidder isn’t very large or thick, but it does cover a whole range of symbols that come from religions, mythology, literature and art. The best part of this book is the index, but for some reason this index isn’t exhaustive… Still you can find a lot of symbols here, with quite clear (and if needed lengthy) explanations to fresh up your memory or to have a peek when you are not familiar with a certain symbol.
Of course there are always things that you don’t find a this book, but I think it would take an encyclopedia to be able to explain the largest parts of the symbols used.
Still this is very handy -as said- and you can use this book to look up symbols from the east, the west, afrika, native America, Egypt, Sumeria, etc., etc.

Die Geheime Symbole Der Frauen * Barbara G. Walker (isbn 3896311778)

“Lexikon der weiblichen Spiritualität” is the subtitle for this book. I know, very suggestive, but actually this is quite a bit in the direction of the symbol-book that I have been looking for. Not ‘just’ an encyclopedia like “Van Anima Tot Zeus” or “Lexikon Der Symbolen”, but more with simpel symbols with explanations. Different crosses and mostly 2D symbols. Also German expressions which are sometimes rather funny. Oh yes, it is in German, but who gives a damn with these German bookprices? I got it for E 7,- and that for 725 pages!

Heraldisch Vademecum * H.K. Nagtegaal (isbn 9027488495)

For quite a while I had been looking for a book explaining heraldic symbology and at last, here is one in Dutch. “Heraldic Vademecum” (an encyclopedia so to say) first has a long glossary explaining descriptions of what you can see on weapons and seals and then many small images with colours, backgrounds, share-outs, positioning and of course images like crosses, animals, armery, etc. Not entirely the explanations that I was looking for. There are no explanations of the different symbols, but more in the vein of “when you see a lion in the bottom-right corner, this should be noted” and “a lion is an animal that is used a lot in Dutch heraldry”. Some extra information would be helpfull, but this is better than nothing.

Knaurs Lexikon Der Symbole * Hans Biedermanss (isbn 3828941532)

Unbelievable, the differences in prices between my own country and Germany. I got a similar book in the Netherlands with an original price of E 66,-. Here we have a symbol-encyclopedia in German, but than with over 600 images under which several beautiful in colour and all that for the unbelievable price of E 12,-!! The best part of this book is that there is an index with the names, but also an index with all images in small, so very easy to look when you know what a symbol looks like but nothing more! In German of course, but who gives a damn with these prices?

Symbols Of Sacred Science * René Guénon (2004)

symboles fondamentaux de la science sacrée 1961

This is a book that was published post-mortem, containing 75 articles in four different periodicals between the years 1926 and 1950. I ran into this book on the internet when I was writing an article and because yet another ‘Traditionalist clue’ came to me, an interest to deep into this current deeper was awoken within me. This book by Guénon is no easy read. To start with this is the first book of Guénon that I read. Maybe a Crisis Of The Modern World may have been a better starter, but things just didn’t go that way. The book opens with a magnificent article The Reform Of The Modern Mentality from which I quote opening my article about Traditionalism. Then follow a great many chapters explaining symbols, but this sounds a bit different from what you may expect. A few chapter-titles to illustrate what I mean: “The Sacred Heart and the Legend of the Holy Grail”, “The Language of the Birds”, “The Guardians of the Holy Land”, “Some Aspects of the Symbolism of the Fish”, “The Solstitial Gates” and “The Roots of Plants”. A ‘symbol’ can be a theme from mythology, a character in a story, a ‘visual symbol’ such as the Swastika, etc. Guénon really pierces through the surface of superficial explanations giving information of a whole lot of traditions, comparing, cross-referring and putting them against the other. The writer seems to suppose that the writers of the periodicals are well-informed in different traditions, giving Islamic or Hindu terms without (much) explanation. Fortunately I didn’t run into anything that I really never heard about, but I can imagine that people who haven’t different religions and traditions much, may need some kind of reference. Two points of comment about the book is that there could have been more images. Guénon often describes a symbol, but I would have been easier to just show it. Further there are many and lenghty notes which really do not help the well-readedness. Other than that, the English is clear, but Guénon had a very peculiar way of putting things, which undoubtely broke the minds of the translations often. Symbols Of Sacred Science is a book that keeps being of use. Many symbolisms come back in different chapters. This reduces the value of the book for reference purposes a bit maybe, but on the other hand, it becomes a bit of a learning book to get in ‘the Traditionalist way of thinking’. The publisher Fons Vitae has many more translations of Guénon (and also of other Traditionalist writers). This title is supposedly Guenon’s most important symbolism book, while Symbols Of Sacred Science is his most important metaphysical book.
(18/3/06 -4-)
Read quotes of Guénon here.

sophia perennis 2004 * isbn 0900588772