The Book of Symbols: Writing Archetypes

A page from The Book of Symbols


I’ve blogged about writing from visual prompts before, but I wanted to mention The Book of Symbols in particular. It is quite literally a feast for your eyes. Put together by Jungian scholars at the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism (ARAS), this is no dry book of academic theory. The first clue is that it is published by Taschen, a publishing house known for beautifully designed art books.

Carl Jung believed that were universal patterns and images that reside in what he called the collective unconscious. These images are given particular expression within individual cultures. According to the Wikipedia entry:

“Strictly speaking, Jungian archetypes refer to nuclear underlying forms … which emerge images and motifs such as the mother, the child, the trickster and the flood amongst others. It is history, culture and personal context that shape these manifest representations giving them their specific content.”

Joseph Campbell‘s idea of myth grew out of Jung’s theories and  method of dream interpretation. Campbell went on to develop his own theory of the monomyth, known among us writers as The Hero’s Journey.

What I love so much about this book is that you don’t have to buy into the idea of a collective unconscious or even The Hero’s Journey for it to inspire countless stories, worlds and characters.  According to the Wall Street Journal’s article, the people who put the book together were less concerned with theory, than with simply exploring our cultural touchstones through images and short evocative essays. 

“The specifics of Jung’s work do not figure prominently in the book’s collection of images and essays, which fans out to include references to poems, plays and tales from history and myth. The four-page section labeled “Bird,” for instance, features an ancient Native American sculpture, a 17th-century Iranian painting, a remark by Emily Dickinson and a quotation from a 1980s animal-facts book.”

Every image in this book suggests a multitude of stories. The essays dilate the meanings of events that are woven so tightly into the fabric of our everyday lives as to seem mundane, for example, see the entries for “Dawn” or “Wind.”

This book isn’t an argument, simply a set of observations, which is what makes it such a good tool for creative endeavors. Check out this book if you can and then, with the words of Carl Jung in mind, go make something!

“Trust that which gives you meaning and accept it as your guide.”

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