Christine Strelan - Between the Covers

The Illustrated Book of Signs and Symbols

Miranda Bruce-Mitford

Dorling-Kindersley 1996

You might think modern life has become utterly devoid of meaning and that our material existence is shallow and lacking in resonance. Miranda Bruce-Mitford disagrees. Shes a whizz at finding layers of significance everywhere. That box isnt just a receptacle for the Weet-Bix, it symbolises the unconscious, and when opened, it may unleash a storm of devastation, disease and death upon the world. Wow! All this at breakfast!

At my place, candles mean low solar power, but Bruce-Mitford says they represent the individual soul and the flame that lights the darkness of ignorance. Oh boy! Everyday life is now fraught with meaning. A snail placed on a piece of slate by a girl will write the name of her husband-to-be, while parsley is slow to germinate because its roots grow all the way down to the devil. Obviously. Onions symbolise the cosmos and immortality and are particularly effective against the dangerous influence of the moon. My sanity feels safer already.

The supernatural stuff is even better. The Celtic horned god Cernunnos has a pet serpent with a rams head, denoting fertility. The Phoenix drinks only dew, and the Man in the Moon is stuck there because he was nailed up to atone for his sins. Page 29 reveals the bizarre Bishop Fish, capable of genuflecting with its little fins.

Bruce-Mitfords book is packed with fascinating information, showing how superstition, religion and tradition have imbued particular images with power and meaning. She includes icons of the major religions and contrasts the cultural differences between them: theres the Christian Wheel of Martyrdom, the Buddhist Wheel of Dharma and the Hindu Wheel of Chakra. The plentiful illustrations and clear format make it easy to use as a reference, or just for browsing.

It can answer questions like: Why are churches shaped that way? Where do national flags come from? Which gemstone can stem nosebleeds?

And it might make you think twice about painting your kitchen yellow, a colour which symbolises deceit, betrayal, envy, disgrace, cowardice and treachery.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.


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