ymbols and ymbolism

2.  Encyclopedias & Dictionaries of Symbols, Signs, and Myths

Encyclopedias   -   Dictionaries   -   Bibliographies:  Categorical - Encyclopedias - Dictionaries   -   Glossary
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General sources  Encyclopedic sources:  Most writings on symbols and myths are specific to a class of symbol or even a specific myth or symbol. However, when needing to interpret a symbol, mythic or otherwise, a person needs to go to a reference-style work.  There are several good sources, ranging from a "dictionary" of symbols or myths to multi-volume sets.   Some of these sources of information are specifically for myths, mythology, literature, religions, or other fields. A few are specifically for symbols, although most of these sources cover the symbol only from the graphic artist's standpoint. Down one section

  Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough (Macmillan, 1911-1915; originally published 1890), in 12 volumes plus "Aftermath" volume, was one of the first efforts to collect and organize the range of primitive myths and folk beliefs across the world.  This standard of objective study relating similar beliefs has long been the source of choice when seeking similarities between cultures, and attempting to penetrate the meanings of those rites and symbols.  It was originally intended to be a single volume on the relation of magic to kingship, but gradually developed into a far-flung examination of primitive beliefs, especially of European peasants, as a means of getting to the original beliefs of Indo-Europeans.  (Please note that Sir James Frazer refers to Aryans, which was the term then used for the cultures we now lump into Indo-Europeans.)  Today many denigrate Frazer, as much due to interpretation of his writings as to his own philosophy concerning the spread of myths and their interpretations.  Nonetheless, this remains one of the greatest compilation of myths and folk legends ever assembled, and thus it remains one of the standard sources for mythic information. 

 

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Dictionaries & Small Encyclopedias

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 Dictionary sources:  There are dictionaries of symbolism and mythic concepts; there are dictionaries of myth and mythology; a few editors have even attempted to organize graphic symbols by alphabetical labels or obvious categories.  These are usually limited to specific fields, rather than the whole potential collection of symbols or mythology, although some dream interpretation books may attempt the whole.  A few people with typesetting backgrounds have attempted to categorize the most important or the most basic symbols--or emblems--in their fields.  Other editors have arranged dictionaries or encyclopedias on myths and/or symbols that relate to a specific concept.  Following are a few of the more basic dictionaries and one-volume encyclopedias. Top of page

General symbols dictionaries
Mythology dictionaries
Specialized symbols dictionaries

General symbol dictionaries: 

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  Although called an encyclopedia, J. C. Cooper's An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols (London:  Thames & Hudson, 1978), 208pp., is more a dictionary with encyclopedia-length articles, as well as many illustrations.  The "Introduction" begins by stating, "The study of symbolism is not mere erudition; it concerns man's knowledge of himself." (Illustrated, 7)  Indeed, Cooper's introduction to the book forms an excellent introduction for anyone who does not understand what symbolism is all about.  The individual articles, arranged alphabetically without an index, describe the graphic symbols (where appropriate) and describe the meaning or meanings and how they have changed, as well as how the meaning varies from place to place.   

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  The quite useful Dictionary of Symbolism (1992) by Hans Biedermann, a translation and slight abridgement of his Knaurs Lexikon der Symbole (1989), covers both symbolic concepts and graphics from a wide range geographically.  Indeed, each entry gives the general concepts and broad or universal meanings, followed by the uses and/or significance for individual cultures.  In his introduction, Biedermann deals forthrightly with the question of "Why study symbols, anyway?" by describing the two different attitudes with which people approach the subject (although the English translation is peculiar.)  (Dictionary of Symbolism, vii)  While both editions include a graphical and verbal index, the English edition has a very limited, general bibliography (4 pages.)  The German edition has a more extensive, categorized bibliography (26 pages), including a number of English language books (some in German translation) and German books that have English translations (e.g., Adrian Frutiger, Signs and Symbols) which are left out of the English edition.  For instance, the English edition leaves out, surprisingly, Sir James Frazer's Golden Bough, a seminal work in mythology and symbolism.  The English bibliography also includes some esoteric-sounding German sources, presumably because they are referenced within the text. 

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  Librarian Steven Olderr has put together two complementary dictionaries for students of symbolism and meaning.  SymbolismA Comprehensive Dictionary.  (Jefferson, NC:  McFarland, 1986.  153 pp.; 0-89950-187-7 (hdbk); 0-7864-2127-4 (pbk, 2005)) provides a detailed examination of possible symbolic terms and a terse definition (or definitions) of each term's meaning.  The book is easy to use, in part due to its heavy use of cross-references from alternate spellings as well as alternate terms.  Further, within each basic entry various special contexts are listed after the main term, along with the meanings of the term within each context.  Although I found some gaps in its "comprehensive" coverage, it still is one of the most useful sources for quick reference to meanings, especially given the contextual definitions found within the main definition.  However, one must take the author at his word that this dictionary is aimed at helping those interpreting art and literature to find meanings therein.  The second dictionary, Reverse Symbolism DicitonarySymbols Listed by Subject.  (Jefferson, NC:  McFarland, 1992.  181 pp.; 0-89950-561-9,) is even more basic, albeit more of a unique publication.  In this dictionary (of which there is to be a paperback edition in 2005) the user looks up a meaning and symbols and signs (as well as allusions, emblems, and attributes) are listed, often with contexts given within parentheses.  Indeed, Olderr is one of the few authors or editors who specify in the beginning a series of terms that they will use and how the terms will be used.  The author does include a 7-item, annotated bibliography in the front of the dictionary, as well as referring readers wishing to extend their research to check with the librarian at their local library for that library's particular materials.

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  In their collection of recent graphics, The Dictionary of Graphic Images (NY:  St. Martin's Press, 1990), Philip Thompson and Peter Davenport present what they call "graphic clichés," images that have been repeated until they are familiar.  "In our use of the word as applied to the graphic language we do not intend a derogatory tone.  We suggest that its overuse is its greatest virtue for then we can assume a wide area of common acceptance."  (Thompson & Davenport, Dictionary, vii)  Arranged alphabetically by topic, each image has a brief caption followed by the country, year, and person/organization responsible.  There are some, limited, one-directional cross-references.  (For instance, under "X-Ray" there is an image with a heart; the image's caption gives a cross-reference to "Heart," but under "Heart" there is no reference back to the image with its x-ray showing a heart.)  After each topic heading, the authors also describe what the topic item represents, e.g., Thumbtacks represent plotting, military planning, an element in pin-ups (cross-reference), and "an unofficial symbol for designers."  (Dictionary, 232)  This is an exceptional collection of twentieth century symbolic and signifying graphics. 

  Arnold Whittick, in his Symbols, Signs and their Meaning and Uses in Design, 2nd ed. (1971) creates an encyclopedia of the graphic sign, with a dictionary taking up the second half of the volume. 

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Categorical Bibliography of Dictionaries:

    **Index:    * Art dicitonaries * Heraldry dicitonaries * Literature dictionaries * Mythology dictionaries *

Top of pageGeneral art dictionaries: 

  Apostolos-Cappadona, DianeDictionary of Christian Art.  New York:  Continuum, 1994.  376pp., 0-8264-0779-X.  symbtext.gif: Source with graphics and text  BV150.A66 1994. 

  Carr-Gomm, SarahThe Dictionary of Symbols in Western Art.  New York:  Facts on File, 1995.  240pp., 0-8160-3301-3; 0-8169-3326-9.    symbtext.gif: Source with graphics and text N7740.C29 1995.

  Cirlot, J. E. (Juan Eduardo).  A Dictionary of Symbols, 2nd ed.  Translated by Jack Sage from Diccionario de Simbolos Tradicionales.  New York:  Philosophical Library, 1971.  419 pp.; 0-8022-2083-5  symbtext.gif: Source with graphics and text  [HK252].

  Ferguson, GeorgeSigns & Symbols in Christian Art.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 1954; paperback, 1961.  192 pp. + 112 plates; 0-19-501432-4.symbtext.gif: Source with graphics and text  [PP219] N7830.F37 1961b.

  Hall, JamesDictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art, Second Edition.  Boulder, CO:  Westview Books, 2008.  364pp., 978-0-8133-4393-8.  symbtext.gif: Source with graphics and text  N7560.H34 2008.

  Sill, Gertrude GraceA Handbook of Symbols in Christian Art  New York:  Collier Bks, 1975.  241 pp.;0-02-000850-3.  symbtext.gif: Source with graphics and text  [PO206] N8010.S54.

Top of pageHeraldry dictionaries: 

  Elvin, Charles NortonA Dictionary of Heraldry.  London:  Heraldry Today, 1969; reprint of 1889 original.  47 plates + 135pp.  symbtext.gif: Source with graphics and text  CR13.E4 1969. 

Top of pageGeneral literature dictionaries  

  Abraham, LyndyA Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery.  New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2001.  249 pp.  PN56.A44A27 2001. 

  Ferber, MichaelA Dictionary of Literary Symbols.  New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1999.  263 pp, 0-521-59128-7.  PN56.S9F47 1999. 

  Leeming, David Adams and Drowne, Kathleen MorganEncyclopedia of Allegorical Literature.  Santa Barbara:  ABC-Clio, 1996.  326 pp., 0-87436-781-6.  PR56.A5L44 1996. 

  Zimbaro, Valerie P.  Encyclopedia of Apocalyptic Literature.  Santa Barabar, CA:  ABC-Clio, 1996.  400 pp., 0-87436-823-5.  PN56.A69Z56 1996. 

General mythology dictionaries: 
  (
Go to geographically/culturally sorted dictionaries of mythology)  (Go to topical dictionaries of mythology)

  Cotterell, ArthurA Dictionary of World Mythology.  New York:  Perigee Books, 1982 (papaerback); New York:  Putnam, 1979.  256 pp.; 0-399-50619-5  symbtext.gif: Source with graphics and text  [PK106] BL303.C66 1982   A small but very broad dictionary of world mythologies.  After the introduction, "The Meaning of Myth," the dictionary entries are arranged geographically into seven categories, then alphabetically within each geographical category.  Includes a limited bibliography separated by the same geographical categories and a very limited index, primarily by proper names, with no subject indexing, unfortunately.

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Geographically/culturally specific mythology dictionaries: 

- Africa - America, North - America, South - Asia (excluding Middle East) - Australia, Indonesian archipelago, & Pacific -
- Europe - Middle East (including the Levant & ancient Egypt) -

Dictionaries of African mythology: 
  (
Go to geographically sorted dictionaries of mythology)

Dictionaries of North American mythology: 
  (
Go to geographically sorted dictionaries of mythology)

Dictionaries of Central & South American mythology: 
  (
Go to geographically sorted dictionaries of mythology)

Dictionaries of Asian mythology: 
      (For the
Middle East region, see it specifically.)
  (Go to geographically sorted dictionaries of mythology)

  Bhattacharyya, Narendra NathA Dictionary of Indian Mythology.  New Delhi:  Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 2001,  326pp., 81-215-0862-2.  BL1105.B43 2001. 

  Dallapiccola, Anna L.  Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend.  London:  Thames & Hudson, 2002.  224pp., 0-500-51088-1.  symbtext.gif: Source with graphics and text  BL1105.D34 2002. 

Dictionaries of mythology from Australia, Pacific islands, & the Indoneasian archipelago: 
  (
Go to geographically sorted dictionaries of mythology)

  Craig, Robert D.  Dictionary of Polynesian Mythology.  New York:  Greenwood Press, 1989.  409pp., 0-313-25890-2.  BL2620.P6C7. 

Dictionaries of European mythology: 
  (
Go to geographically sorted dictionaries of mythology)

      ]Dictionaries of European mythology:  General:

  Evans, BergenDictionary of MythologyMainly Classical.  New York:  Laurel Editions, Dell, 1973; Originally published Lincoln, NE  : Centennial Press, 1970.  333 pp.  [PE003] BL303.E9. 

  Sykes, Egerton; Kendall, Alan, rev.  Who's Who in Non-Classical Mythology, revised ed.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 1993.  235 pp., 0-19-521032-8.  BL303.S9 1993. 

      (British - SeeCeltic & British)

      ]Dictionaries of European mythology:  Celtic & British:

  Arrowsmith, Nancy, with Moorse, George.  A Field Guide to the Little People.  New York:  Hill and Wang, 1977.  296 pp.; 0-8090-4450-1.  symbtext.gif: Source with graphics and text  [HK83]

  Ellis, Peter BerresfordDictionary of Celtic Mythology.  Santa Barbara, CA:  ABC Clio, 1992.  232pp., 0-87436-609-7.  BL900.E45 1992. 

  Ellis, Peter BerresfordA Dictionary of Irish Mythology.  Santa Barbara, CA:  ABC Clio, 1989; originally published, London:  Constable and Co, 1987.  240pp., 0-87436-553-8.  BL980.I7E45 1989. 

  Lacy, Norris J., ed.  The New Arthurian Encyclopedia.  New York:  Garland Publishing, Inc., 1991.  577pp., 0-8240-4377-4.  DA152.5.A7N48 1991.  

      ]Dictionaries of European mythology:  Classical (Greek & Roman):

  Bell, Robert E.  Dictionary of Classical MythologySymbols, Attributes & Associations.  Santa Barbara, CA:  ABC-Clio, 1982.  390pp., 0-87436-305-5.  BL715.B44. 

  ______________Place-Names in Classical MythologyGreece.  Santa Barbara, CA:  ABC Clio, 1989.  350pp., 0-87436-507-4.  DF14.B45 1988. 

  ______________Women of Classical MythologyA Biographical Dictionary.  Santa Barbara, CA:  ABC-Clio, 1991.  462pp., 0-87436-581-3.  BL715.B445 1991. 

  Grimal, Pierre, ed.  The Dictionary of Classical Mythology, translated from Dictionnaire de la Mythologie Greque et Romaine (Paris:  Presses Universitaire de France, 1951) by A. R. Maxwell-Hyslop.  Oxford:  Blackwell, 1986.  603pp., 0-631-13209-0.  symbtext.gif: Source with graphics and text  BL715.G173 1986. 

  Stapleton, MichaelA Dictionary of Greek and Roman Mythology.  New York:  Bell Publishing, 1978; originally published by The Manlyn Publishing Group, Ltd., 1978.  224 pp., 0-517-26281-9.  [HK110] BL715.S7 1978b. 

  Stoneman, RichardGreek MythologyAn Encyclopedia of Myth and Legend.  London:  Aquarian Press, 1991.  192pp., 0-850030.  BL715.S76 1991. 

      (Greek - SeeClassical)

      ]Dictionaries of European mythology:  Norse/Scandinavian:

  Lindow, JohnHandbook of Norse Mythology.  Santa Barabara, CA:  ABC Clio, 2001; also published as a paperback under the title:  Norse MythologyA Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2002.  365pp., hardback = 1576072177; paperback = 0-19-515382-0.  BL860.L56 2001. 

  Orchard, AndyCassell's Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend.  London:  Cassell, 2002; original edition published in UK in 1997.  494pp., 0-304-36385-5.  BL860.O73 2002. 

      (Roman - SeeClassical)

      (Russian - SeeSlavic)

      ]Dictionaries of European mythology:  Slavic:

  Dixon-Kennedy, MikeEncyclopedia of Russian & Slavic Myth and Legend.  Santa Barbara, CA:  ABC Clio, 1998.  375pp., 1-57607-063-8.  symbtext.gif: Source with graphics and text  BL930.D58 1998. 

Dictionaries of Middle East mythology, including the Levant and ancient Egypt: 
  (
Go to geographically sorted dictionaries of mythology)

Topical Dictionaries of Mythology:
  (Return to Mythology Dictionaries heading)

  Andrews, TamraLegends of the Earth, Sea, and SkyAn Encyclopedia of Nature Myths.  Santa Barbara, CA:  ABC-Clio, 1998.  322pp., 0=87436-936-0.  symbtext.gif: Source with graphics and text  BL435.A53 1998. 

  Cooper, J. CSymbolic and Mythological Animals.  London:  Aquarian/Thorsons, 1992.  267pp., 1-85538-118-4.  symbtext.gif: Source with graphics and text  GR820.C66 1992. 

  Hart, GeorgeA Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses.  London:  Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.  229pp., 0-7102-0167-2, pbk, 0-7102-0965-7, hbk.  symbtext.gif: Source with graphics and text  BL2450.G6H37 1986. 

  Leeming, David Adams and Drowne, Kathleen MorganEncyclopedia of Allegorical Literature.  Santa Barbara:  ABC-Clio, 1996.  326 pp., 0-87436-781-6.  PR56.A5L44 1996. 

  Leeming, David Adams with Leeming, Margaret AdamsEncyclopedia of Creation Myths.  Santa Barbara, CA:  ABC-Clio, 1994.  330pp., 0-87436-739-5.  symbtext.gif: Source with graphics and text  BL325.C7L44 1994. 

  Walker, BarbaraThe Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects.  San Francisco:  Harper & Row, 1988.  563 pp.; 0-06-250992-5.  symbtext.gif: Source with graphics and text  CB475.W45 1988.

 

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Other specialized symbol dictionaries: 

 

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Bibliography: Encyclopedias

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Bibliography: Dictionaries & Small Encyclopedias

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Content Last Updated :  
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