01/06/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Constable Robinson. 508 page illustrated small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78033-126-3.
check out website: www.constablerobinson.com
I always take note when Constable Robinson release unusual books in their Mammoth selection because these can carry knowledge and reference that is useful for research in our genre and at a price that doesn't burn the bank account. 'The Mammoth Book Of Lost Symbols' by Nadia Julien is no exception to this rule. The sub-title to this book is 'A Guide To The Language Of Symbolism' which in short order is a concise encyclopaedia looking at symbols across the world and what they mean. As such, they also look at what the same symbols mean to different people and cultures without making any prejudgement as to what they mean is true or not. That's more like an open call to your own interpretation. For myself, I do note that humans like and see patterns in anything, whether it's good or bad luck and any other meaning, even before facts reveal a different interpretation. Vestiges of this exist today with people's interest in their horoscopes, showing that the deep root of such things is still an underlying current. As astrology is included in this book, not all of this material is lost although interestingly, little has come along to replace this symbolism neither and is more revealing about the human psyche.
To give a summary of everything in this book would be an impossible task, so I'll hit on a few of the things I've learnt that I didn't know before.
The Catholic Pope's finery is designed to make him a living representative of the universe. Royalty wear cloaks or capes at coronations as a symbol of heaven. The reason why mummys' bandages are white is because it is to show the delivery of a pure soul to heaven. The Decanate entry is interesting as it points out the thirty-six divisions of the zodiac, which are further divided into three to give the classic twelve, the symbols of which come from the first division of each third. Cabbalists indicate that the devil's real name is Jehovah spelt backwards. Although Julien doesn't say this, that means old Nick is actually Havohaj and no, I don't know how to say it.
Muslims see the dog as a repellent animal and an enemy of god. Rather contradictory as dogs are seen as helpers by other cultures. Ear piercing is seen as being engaged and sailors have both ears pierced to show they are married to the sea.
A slightly more risqué point under the Earth entry points out that the current swear word 'fuck' in old English agriculture term to literally plough a furrow. The symbolism here shouldn't escape anyone in its reinterpretation.
Likewise, with the Fish entry, apart from being a symbol of fertility and good luck across many cultures, no one seems to have noticed symbolically, it looks like the symbol for eternity, which oddly isn't covered.
One thing I spotted in the Hexagram entry was that the names of the individual sixty-four hexagrams all appear to be used as Chinese surnames which looks useful if you ever want to create an oriental name. With the entry on Trigam, there are a further eight names that would serve a similar purpose. Something I didn't know was that in China, children aren't given their final names until the age of ten so it reflects their character.
Under Metal, alchemists believed that their seven metals came from a single source but only gold was perfect. Thinking about that, it does make me wonder how they thought that impure lead could be turned into gold.
Oranges are a good luck fruit, especially on the 2nd of January, but don't eat bitter Seville oranges cos they'll bring you bad luck.
Something that is demonstrated with an illustration with the Pentagram entry is a representation of the face of the goat-headed devil as well as the shape of a human. I would guess that anything that can fit all the corners of a pentagram would qualify in that case.
When it comes to the Seasons, the Arabs and Greeks once only had three, Northern people only had two. The Greeks were the first to add autumn. Maybe they spotted the leaves falling. Under the 'Six' entry, the Persians' Avesta indicates that the universe was created in six periods, which if you add up the individual numbers equals the number of days in a year.
These are only a sampling. There really is a lot more information distilled from many different sources in this book which makes this a handy resource tool for anyone's shelf. Discovering so many common denominators across so many cultures tends to tell more about how similar humans' mindsets work than saying we are vastly different. An engaging and some symbolic read.
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