Fabulous Symbol Book Recommendations

Symbol books are evocative and illuminating treasure-houses of images and their meanings, an essential component of my working library. Whether you find them in your dreams, works of art you enjoy, or your own creative output, they are guides to the world of archetype and image. I find that it helps to look up and read about a symbol from a poem or a dream in all of my symbol books. I pulled some books from the shelf to show you the best ones.

One of my favorites begins with this quotation from the mystic Meister Eckhart: “When the soul wants to experience something she throws out an image in front of her and then steps into it.”


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The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images has for its cover image this stunning Native American hand that seems to be made of mica. The hand is the symbol for Hasta, one of the 27 Nakshatras or birth stars in Vedic astrology. The book is full of such images and well-written, thoughtful essays on archetypal images. I’m so happy to have this beautiful book with four colored ribbon bookmarks in my library and refer to it often.

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J.C. Cooper’s An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols is another reliable reference that I have consulted for many years.

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Here’s a page in its alphabetical “B” section that mentions bees, barley, and baptism, among other topics:

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Likewise, Cirlot’s A Dictionary of Symbols is a must with its very helpful text, even though there are fewer illustrations. It's very complete. The symbolism given for the parakeet includes references to Egypt and Persia, among other cultures:

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Biederman’s Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons & the Meanings Behind Them is also a treat. The entry for "temple" refers to Mesopopamia, Akkadia, Greece, Christianity, the mystic Jakob Bohme, freemasonry, and Judaism. 

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I also like Hall’s Illustrated Dictionary of Symbols in Eastern and Western Art , which is organized not by the alphabet but by abstract signs, animals, artefacts, earth and sky, human body and dress, plants, and what he strangely calls collectives.

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 My much-appreciated The Herder Symbol Dictionary is the most compact paperback of this list. It seems to be out of print but is a gem that I keep referring to. Here is the edition I found on Amazon: 

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Happy dreaming, contemplating, and creating!