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Symbols, Signs and Signets
By Ernst Lehner
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1950 Ernst Lehner
All rights reserved.
BEHIND THE veil of Time, primitive man has left a record of himself in symbols he created ages before he learned to write. Just as a child piles up sticks and stones to represent concepts for which he has not yet learned words, so mankind in its childhood built cairns and marked trees in its first efforts of self-expression.
A newcomer in a world in which all other creatures, and Nature herself, were his enemies, man soon enlisted his ability to leave a record of himself in his fight for survival. To his family and tribe the record became a guide to good hunting and better living, a warning against danger, a chart of progress. The disc which represented the sun became, by association, the source of warmth and life. More powerful and more dependable than man it became endowed in man's unfolding imagination with the properties of divinity. The arc representing the moon which unaccountably waxed and waned assumed powers of mysteries it has not completely lost to this day.
Man's rising ability to express himself quickly found-or created-a symbol for each basic concept and occurrence. Because he was still a stranger in a largely hostile and inexplicable world man was both delighted and terrified by his own powers of representation. These twin emotions, hope and fear, which governed his days and disturbed his nights instigated him to create signs and symbols which represented not only physical facts, but all the fancies and supernatural powers he associated with them. Whether they were animate or inanimate made little difference; in his early days man ascribed animism to all things.
Consequently it was inevitable that certain signs and symbols acquired properties of mysticism and magic. The fact that the very ability to inscribe symbols was given to only a few men made their translation into magic that much easier; and this ability gave its owners automatic power over their fellow-men. They could invoke gods and demons; and their amulets, scrolls, sigils, prayer-sticks, masks and other symbol-creating paraphernalia became not only their badges of office but the objects of devotion of the faithful.
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Because the symbols man has created are almost as multiple and various as man himself neither this nor any other book can honestly pretend to be a complete or exhaustive encyclopedia of such insignia. If, however, it serves the reader as a practical handbook and visual guide through the transformation of simple marks and signs into such elaborate and artistic forms of expression as the emblem, the crest, the coat of arms, etc., it will have served its fundamental purpose. For in the record of these transformations lies the history of all human thought.
Excerpted from Symbols, Signs and Signets by Ernst Lehner. Copyright © 1950 Ernst Lehner. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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