An illustrated encyclopaedia of traditional symbols

J.C. Cooper

Introduction, page 8

“Symbolism is basic to the human mind: to ignore it is suffer a serious deficiency: it is fundamental to thinking, and the perfect symbol should satisfy every aspect of man – his spirit, intellect and emotions. All religious rites have a symbolic significance and quality without the understanding of which they become empty and superstitious. In ceremonial there is a wide symbolism of attitude and posture, such as the mudras and postures of supplication or submission of direction assumed in prayer and worship. of sound and movement – all profoundly meaningful and interwoven in the fabric of human nature and needs. As Dean Inge says of symbols: “Indifference to them is not, as many have supposed Mircea Eliade sees in the recovery of symbolism the chance to rescue modern man from his cultural provincialism and, above all, from his historical and existentialist relativism. 

The pattern adopted in this encyclopaedia is first to present the generalized or universal acceptance of the interpretation of a symbol, then to particularize its diverse application in varying traditions, cultural and geographic. Where no tradition is specified it is indicative of an accepted meaning wherever that particular symbol occurs.  Finally, no encyclopaedia of symbolism can ever hope to be complete, the symbol is living and ever expanding.”

Man, page 102 

“Cosmic man is the microcosm, a reflection of the macrocosm and the elements, with the body representing the earth; the heat of the body, fire; the blood, water; the breath, the air. The masculine principle is symbolized by the sun and the heavens in most traditions, with Teutonic and Oceanic exceptions, and by all that is phallic, piercing, penetrating, upright, and associated with heat e.g. the sun, sword, spear, lance, arrow, dart, spade, plough, ship’s prow, pillar, pole, cone, obelisk, fire, flame, torch, also the linga, the shakta and yang forces, etc. In Amerindian symbolism the male principle is represented by the white eagle feather. In Taoism man is the central and mediating power.”