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Dictionary of SymbolsAmazon Co UK

Carl G Liungman. W W Norton, New York 1994. ISBN 0 39331236 4 US$18.99

WE IN ULSTER can hardly escape symbolism. Our gable walls are daubed with murals and graffiti. Flags or one hue or another hang from lampposts and private homes. Kerbstones are decorated, depending on the complexion of the area, in Red, White and Blue or Green, White and Orange. Symbols are certainly important here. However, this is not unique to Ulster. 

In fact, signs, symbols, emblems and logos have been used for thousands of years to convey all kinds of meanings. These can be both tangible and abstract. Until now, no-one has ever managed to compile a dictionary of symbols. The author, from Malmö in Sweden, has now accomplished this task with this unique reference book. He has included a number of thoughtful introductory articles on signs and meanings, basic structures of symbols and a number of essays on astrological symbols, the sign of the Cross in Western ideography, alchemical signs and those of North American Indians.

A fascinating essay on the ‘ideographic struggle in Europe during the 1930s’ explains how the Nazis adopted the ancient swastika symbol and made it their own. Signs and symbols can change meaning. History or context can change meanings. Despite its recorded 5,000-year history, the swastika has since the 1930s been identified solely with Hitler’s Germany. The $ sign on a banknote or on a political poster, or in the eyes of Donald Duck in a cartoon mean different things. The plus sign in 1+1 means something different from the same + sign on one end of a torch battery.

The symbols are grouped into 54 different sections. The author has provided a helpful graphical search index to make the task of finding the symbol you want. And, yes, Ulster Nation’s symbol, the Crinon Knot or triquetra appears on page 360.

David Kerr

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