(Review) The Book of Symbols

“I brought together all creatures, birds, beasts, reptiles, all trees and plants, usages and appearances, that are found in all tropical regions, and assembled them together in China and Indostan. From kindred feelings, I soon brought Egypt and all her gods under the same law. I was stared at, hooted at, grinned at, chattered at, by monkeys, by paroquets, by cockatoos. I ran into pagodas: and was fixed, for centuries, at the summit, or in secret rooms; I was the idol; I was the priest; I was worshiped; I was sacrificed. I fled from the wrath of Brahma through all the forests of Asia: Vishnu hated me. Siva laid wait for me. I came suddenly upon Isis and Osiris. I had done a deed, they said, which the ibis and the crocodile trembled at. I was buried, for a thousand years, in stone coffins, with mummies and sphinxes, in narrow chambers at the heart of eternal pyramids. I was kissed, with cancerous kisses, by crocodiles; and laid, confounded with all unutterable slimy things, amongst reeds and Nilotic mud.”

— Thomas De Quincey, “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater” (1821)


“The Book of Symbols” is something I simply assumed every creative had on their shelf. This week it was pointed out to me that that might not be the case. If not, you really ought to look into it.

800 pages of art and short essays, like encyclopedia entries, on the archetypes of thought organized into five categories — the cosmos, the human world, the spirit world, the plant world, and the animal world — each with its own colored ribbon affixed to the spine for handy bookmarking.

I can’t imagine doing half of what I do without it. Besides being a handy reference, I use it as a kind of text-based tarot, flipping pages randomly and reading the entries.

It’s a tad pricey, but you get what you pay for.


cover image by Edward Gorey, from his tarot