Writers’ Resources: Symbols and Symbolism

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“In every grain of sand and there lies hidden the soil of a star.” – Arthur Machen


Chevalier, J., A. Gheerbrant, & J. Buchanan-Brown (trans.). (1996). The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. London: Penguin Books.

Nazedar, A. (2010). The Illustrated Signs & Symbols Sourcebook: An A to Z Compendium of Over 1000 Designs. London: Harper Collins Publishers.

Tresidder, J. (ed.). (2004). The Complete Dictionary of Symbols in Myth, Art and Literature. London: Duncan Baird Publishers.

The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols

At over 1 000 pages, this is definitely the most comprehensive book of symbols and symbolism I own. Penguin doesn’t disappoint with this dictionary J. Buchanan-Brown translated. Symbols are each given a thorough treatment and copious examples are given throughout the book. With such wide-ranging entries like aircraft and cuttle-fish, you are sure to find whatever you are looking for in this handy and important volume.

The Illustrated Signs & Symbols Sourcebook

The illustrations in this volume makes it especially handy as a reference guide, whether you are just starting out or need to refresh your memory. Through simple illustrations Nazedar is able to give the reader a treasure-trove of information. For ease of use the book is divided into

  • Signs & Symbols of Magic & Mystery
  • A World of Hidden Secrets
  • Fauna
  • Flora
  • Flowers of the Underworld
  • Sacred Geometry & Places of Pilgrimage
  • Numbers
  • Sacred Sounds, Secret Sounds
  • The Body As a Sacred Map
  • Rites, Rituals, Customs & Observances
  • The Nature of the Divine

This handy and hefty volume also contains a lovely list of further reading suggestions.

The Complete Dictionary of Symbols in Myth, Art and Literature

The Complete Dictionary of Symbols in Myth, Art and Literature is a treasure-trove of information and I often turn to it when researching. It is also one of the books I use most in my “Folklore and Myth Thursdays” posts. The books boasts more than 2 000 entries and “feature panels” throughout covers specific themes and subjects like the sun, the seasons, and the virtues and vices. It further contains almost 300 illustrations.

The dictionary covers “classical and other mythologies, Biblical themes and the world of traditional symbols from cultures worldwide … [it has] … comprehensive entries on individual animals, plants, objects, attributes, gods, goddesses, supernatural creatures, heroes, heroines, mythical episodes, prophets, saints, miracles, and many other topics”.

By Carin Marais

Bibliophile, writer of speculative fiction, non-fiction, and maybe-fiction, language practitioner, doer of stuff.

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