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Home > Books & Reviews > Pagan > Ancient Pagan Symbols Search

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Book Review:
Ancient Pagan Symbols

Author: Elisabeth Goldsmith
Trade Paperback, 220 pages
Publisher: Ibis Press
Publication date: 2003
List: US$18.95
ISBN: 0892540729
Price & More Info: Click Here

This book (and its companion Sacred Symbols in Art) has been around for nearly eighty years. It is concerned with symbolism from the Middle and Far East and, due to the early date of original publication (1929) predates many of the more common conceptions of New Age interpretations.

The perceptions of the past, and the language used to express the perceptions will seem (at the least) impolite or (at the worst) downright denigrating to modern readers (e.g. "...later still these ceremonies...degenerated into wild orgies as notorious as they are indecent." Page 20), Still, the book offers some insights into the widespread nature of some of the symbols as well as into the attitudes prevalent before the current age.

The symbols discussed in this book are not just the expected ones like the pentagram, the circle, the triangle and so on; but include the lotus, the tree of life, the cross, Chinese trigrams, and more. Although this is a small book (only 41/2" by 6 ") it contains a wealth of information and speculation. It may take some effort to overcome the obvious bias and preconceptions of the author, but the effort will be well worth it.

This is another of those books I occasionally get for review which I do not recommend for the person who is new to the study of Paganism, nor does it belong in the library of the average Witch. It could prove to invaluable in the coven library, or in the library of one who intends to be teaching symbolism. Even after all my years of experience I found interesting new lines of thought.

One serious failing, in my opinion, is the lack of a bibliography. Although it would, undoubtedly, be difficult to obtain copies of the works used for reference, it would (at least) make it possible ton track down original sources for some of the illustrations and quotes.

A great number of the references are to images drawn from Near, Middle, and Far Eastern traditions, with a corresponding de-emphasis on Western imagery. This will be of benefit to those who follow traditions other than the more common Wiccan or Druidic paths.

The arrangement of the illustrations throughout this book leaves a lot to be desired. Illustrations are frequently unrelated to the topic(s) on the page where they appear. While that is a bit disappointing, the sheer number of line drawings, and the variety of topics they illustrate make this an interesting book to read through.

The final 57 pages of text comprise an alphabetical listing of "Some General Symbols and Symbolic Figures Found in Early Art." For many readers, this will be the most valuable part of the book, since it is the easiest place to find basic information.

Reviewed by Mike Gleason

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