The older I get, the more I wish I’d taken art history classes. (I actually called my mother up a few months ago to admit this fact to her, having resisted her advice strenuously throughout college. Never let it be said I can’t admit when I’ve been a total moron…)

Does anybody have any good listings of medieval symbolism? I know, it’s complicated and cryptic, but being in the throes of artist block, I’m going to take a page from James Christiansen and try to do some art with actual meaning (or in the case of Christiansen, “So much blatantly meaningful symbolism that you suspect it’s some kind of baroque joke”) and I’d love to be able to incorporate some of the visual symbols involved. Unfortunately, having no grasp of art history–I remember that you put a piece of rotten fruit or a fly in a still life to remind the viewer of mortality, and there my knowledge ends–I don’t know any of ’em. Yes, yes, I could invent my own, I know, I do that all the time anyway, but for once, I’d like something with the weight of years behind it, if only so that I can take something with a rich and venerable symbolic history and put a little hat on it.

Google has largely failed me. I have some lovely bibliographic references to books that aren’t on-line, that offer an encyclopedia of medieval symbolism, which is exactly what I need. I have a list of the meaning of flowers, which is something. I have reaffirmed my loathing for online lists of animal symbolism. Here’s a hint–your list of Traditional Native American symbolism would be a lot more plausible if you didn’t include peacocks and hedgehogs! I’m just barely willing to grant you that peacocks might have been imported long enough ago that, like the horse, they became incorporated into the traditions, an allowance I will make only because the Hopi have a Peacock Kachina (the name of which translates into “sun turkey” which fills me with delight) but the hedgehog is right out.

Also, the problem with all the damn New Age lists is how unrelentingly positive they are. I don’t want animals that symbolize harmony with the earth and surrender to the divine plan and unity with the great goddess. I want animals that symbolize fear and stupidity and pride and a tendency to pick your nose in public.

So, uh…anybody got any links?

Edit: I find myself digging through random lists of heraldry, which is closer to what I’m after. Even if I find nothing of use to me, it’s all worth it for this gem: “Eating a herring in three mouthfuls including the bones with salt was once believed to induce visions of the future.”


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