A dictionary of symbols.

by Juan Eduardo Cirlot

Book, 1962



Call number

BF1623.S9 C513


Publisher Unknown


Humans, it's said, are symbolizing animals. At every stage of civilization, people have relied on symbolic expression, and advances in science and technology have only increased our dependence on symbols. The language of symbols is considered a science, and this informative volume offers an indispensable tool in the study of symbology. It can be used as a reference or simply browsed for pleasure. Many of its entries - those on architecture, mandala, numbers, serpent, water, and zodiac, for example - can be read as independent essays. The vitality of symbology has never been greater: An essential part of the ancient arts of the Orient and of the Western medieval traditions, symbolism underwent a 20th-century revival with the study of the unconscious, both directly in the field of dreams, visions, and psychoanalysis, and indirectly in art and poetry. A wide audience awaits the assistance of this dictionary in elucidating the symbolic worlds encountered in both the arts and the history of ideas.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member MarionII
LOVE this book! As it is compiled by a poet, the references encompass art, language, philosophy and mystical subjects giving it dimensions lacking in other symbology reference works. One of my favourites!! :)
LibraryThing member chumofchance
An interesting book just to peruse through at random.
LibraryThing member astrologerjenny
Endlessly fascinating. Kind of a bible for me.
LibraryThing member Sylak
The basic aim of this book is as a central reference point for symbological research. A quick 'look up' for those interested in the unconscious nature of dreams and other forms of psycho-analyses.
It is also a fantastic source book for the artist. Illustrators and writers such as Robert Richard
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Hieronimus Ph.D. (Author of Inside the Yellow Submarine) who have used it in their work to add sub-layer of meaning as a 'mise en abîme'.
Jimmy Hendrix was fascinated by this book!

You should not overlook the Index at the back, which does not show main entries in the Dictionary itself but acts more like a cross reference.

I will just point out that the book is not overly generous with illustrations, but there are diagrams to show the differences between some simple symbols - mostly variations of geometric shapes, as well as a smattering of wood-cuts throughout. There are, however, 28 black & white photographic plates in two sections of the book mainly concerned with depicting religious masonry and Roman to 15th-century works of art, which are quite nice.

Also, some of the entries do seem naively obvious:

Fossil Broadly, its symbolic significance corresponds to that of the stone, but, because of its ambivilent character, it embraces the concepts of time and eternity, life and death, the evolution of species, and their petrifaction.

But, many are far less so. Such as:

Shoes symbolising the female sex organ, and quoting the implication within the story of *Cinderella!

Now, I know what you must be thinking; what is the 'foot' in that case?
According to this book it is mainly to do with the soul (even though we all know what they say about men with big feet!).

Jokes aside, I don't think there is a better book on the market, even today, on this area of symbolism in cultural anthropology.

*I guess what they were hinting at was that Prince Charming was no more than a foot fetishist with an O.C.D. ;)


Review of the 1971 second edition (of which I own a 1973 reprint) which incorporates extensive revisions from the first edition of 1962.
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