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Tuesday, March 14th, 2006

Time Event
1:42a
Another one bites the dust ...
As readers of this space who have been paying way too much attention and/or taking notes will no doubt recall, I typically will "juggle" 2-3 books at a time ... in terms of things finding their way to my "read" bookshelves, this ideally provides a constant stream of completed books, although from time to time it means that there will be a flurry of reviews after a long gap. This week appears to be one of the latter cases, and since I'm just starting two new (fairly lengthy) books, it may be another big gap (unless one of the new ones reads faster than it looks going in) before the next set.

Anyway, following up on Sacred Architecture is another "similar" book that I was pretty much reading concurrently, David Fontana's The Secret Language of Symbols : A Visual Key to Symbols and Their Meanings. Frankly, I did not have high expectations for this book, as it had all the "newage" cues of being the equivalent of a "decipher your dreams" sort of book. I was, however, quite surprised at the breadth it achieved, if not the depth (which could hardly be more than it is, given the number of subjects covered in under 200 pages with tons of illustrations).

As I've noted in other posts, I frequently find that I'm the only person to have various books in my LibraryThing catalog and I was a bit surprised to find that this was owned by quite a few people over there. I think that is a tribute to The Secret Language of Symbols being quite a nice little over-view of its subject. It has a very logical structure, moving from discussing symbolism in terms of its effects and usage to the main part of the books which is a look at symbols in nearly 50 different categories. The book then closes with a look at various symbol systems, ranging from alchemical symbology to that of the I-Ching. Again, none of these subjects are dwelt on with a great deal of detail, but the book does weave a vast lot of things into a rather coherent structure.

One thing I found fascinating was the proposition that the "minor arcana" of the Tarot (what evolved into the standard playing cards of today) originated with teaching images from India, with the various suits having their roots in the "weapons of Vishnu" which represented the different "paths to the divine" (Karma, Bhakti, Gnana, and Raja Yogas) symbolized by the disc, lotus, club, and conch. Here too, this is only sketched out, but there are all sorts of interesting tidbits like this strewn throughout the book, all begging for further reading.

Over-all, I think this would be a very useful book for almost anybody to have ... for those familiar with the subject, it offers gems like this, and to folks who haven't looked at these sort of things it provides a very handy exposition of many different sorts of symbols and systems. Unlike many of the books I've been going through, this one is still in print, and so would be available in a store near you (although Amazon has it at 35% off of cover, and has used copies at under five bucks). Aside from being a useful reference it's also a "picture book" featuring hundreds of illustrations ... so I'd think it would be an appealing addition to anyone's library!


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