In Search of Symbols And What They Mean.
September 27, 2013
Name a symbol that has been used for over 3,000 years by many cultures to represent life, sun, power, strength, and good luck.
No, it’s not a four leaf clover.
Here’s a hint. It’s one of many variations of a cross, and the name we use for it in Western cultures comes from the Sanskrit. The first syllable of the Sanskrit word means “good” and the second means, “to be.”
In a recent interview with author Joyce Yarrow, we inquired about her inspiration for analogies. She explained that her experience as a poet proved invaluable when she began writing fiction. Ms Yarrow, “In poetry, you always evoke things, you don’t say things so directly. You evoke reality with images that represent things…” Poetry and allusion, along with subconscious awareness of ideograms and deeper meanings are integral to symbolism.
Taschen Publishing released a collection of essays and images (17,000) on November 25, 2010, written by The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism . The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images is a handsome volume of over eight hundred thumb-indexed pages with five colored ribbon book marks. Essays are typically one or two pages in length and are illustrated with photographs of relevant images. According to editor, Kathleen Martin, the combination of monographs and images will “open up a symbol, telling something about what its intrinsic qualities evoke. A symbol mysteriously unites disparities.” Connections. Metaphors. Poetry. C. G. Jung’s influence is seen throughout the exploration of mythological, ritualistic, and symbolic images from around the world and all through recorded history.
Writers delve into themes and discuss the universal impact of the connections shared by all life. The five points of a star are represented by the categories of symbols: Creation and Cosmos, Plant World, Animal World, Human World and Spirit World. As with any collection, especially a topic with such a wealth of examples, choices must be made. My South Louisiana heritage led me to seek out the fleur de lis and any reference to voodoo. Alas, the essay on flowers did not mention the logo of the New Orleans Saints nor was it in the index. Voodoo was mentioned in the article on “cross roads,” which was also the only reference to the cross.
An interesting and currently relevant topic covered was “vampires.” The writer addressed the vulnerability of humans to the consuming nature of desire. A photo of Bela Logusi with a waiting victim along with a 19th century Munch lithograph suitably supported the text. [A team of writers provided the commentary, hence the credit to the association as the author.]
The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images is an invaluable resource for researchers, art lovers and thinkers. Historians and art history buffs will enjoy the thought provoking essays and the images they accompany.
As mentioned earlier, poetry, comparisons and connections abound along with changing uses of ancient symbols. In Sanskrit, “sv” (pronounced “su) means “good or well” and “asti” means “to be”.
In 1920, this word (with suffix “ka” an intensifying modifier) was adopted by a political movement. Most culturally literate Westerners will be familiar with the “svastika” or “swastika”.
The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images gets an enthusiastic “buy” recommendation along with a warning. Enjoy studying symbols, signs, metaphors and poetry but remember; they may not mean the same thing today as they did in the beginning.