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Ancient Pagan Symbols
by Elizabeth Goldsmith




This book is a reprint of a 1929 book.  It is a small paperback book, 6.5 X 4.5 inches.

This book covers some of the origins of a few of the symbols we use in our Pagan religions.   Descriptions include the elements, tree of life, sun, moon and wheels and other images we use for representation.

The author covers many different mythologies: Babylonian, Egyptian, Roman, Christian and Chinese to name a few.  She explores some of the stories associated with some of the symbols, while also quoting some already established associations by authors like Fraser,  Jung and Lajard, to name a few.   

Pictured are some of the symbols from various art pieces and there is a very interesting chapter called “Some General Symbols and Symbolic Figures Found in Early Art”, which lists such symbols as “Adonis” and other Gods and Goddesses as well as other articles such as “Gazelle”.    

All of this is rather interesting, but I found the book to be lacking in many aspects.  First of all, a book on symbols should contain more than just ‘forty-eight images”, many of which are works of art and only a few are actual line drawings of the symbols.   The author also discusses much more than forty-eight images, and many of them, if you are not familiar with them, will leave you lost for an association.  Then there are the pictured symbols which are part of a larger work, and it can become difficult to separate the symbols if you are unfamiliar with them.

Many of the ‘symbols’ are actually Deities in our pantheons.  While the associations are good, Ms. Goldsmith discusses them from the aspect that they are merely representations of ideas, not Deities.  Ms. Goldsmith’s previous works includes a book on Sacred Images in Art, so this is not surprising.

While the author does use footnotes where she quotes other authors, there is no bibliography for her research.  There is a table of contents and an index for quick reference.  

There is much reference to Chinese and Buddhist material in this book, as well as Christian symbolism.   While the ‘official dictionary” meaning of Pagan is “one who is not Christian, Jewish or Moslem”, those who are Chinese are not necessarily Pagan, and Christianity is definitely not Pagan.  There are other ethnic, cultural and religious lines crossed in this book, so the title of this book should have been reviewed before it was reprinted and should read “Ancient Symbols”, and the word “Pagan” should have been left out.    While it may have been acceptable at the time the book was written, it is outdated and needs to be revised.

The book contains a preface by the author dated 1929 and also mentions she was born in 1860, so there is material that reads as dated as the book is.

While there may be interesting contents to this book, it is not a good choice.  The book that should have been revised, meaning the research should be updated, a bibliography should have been added to show where the material was adapted from and should have been re- illustrated to include visuals of the symbols discussed.

Reviewed by Boudica