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'Real' vs. 'Nonhistorical, Intuitive' Meanings

To: alt.magick,alt.tarot,alt.magick.tyagi
From: (R Brzustowicz)
Subject: Re: 'Real' vs. 'Nonhistorical, Intuitive' Meanings (was Re: Dog in The Fool card?)
Date: 20 May 1997 17:53:25 GMT

In article <>, Bob O'Neill   wrote:
>>... the images on the historical Tarot trumps have strong
>> connections with those of the emblem tradition.  (To call them "symbols"
>> is I think less useful than to call them "emblems.")
>> R Brzustowicz (
>I find it helpful to draw a distinction between a sign and a symbol
>A sign has an assigned meaning (green light = "go")
>A symbol has meaning that is more intuitive or archetypic (cubic =
>Emblem is a new term for me - is it a thrid category, or a combination
>of signs and symbols?

The distinction sign/symbol is useful enouh when dealing with relatively
simple situations (though the definition of "symbol" in the distinction is
not anywhere near as stable as that of "sign" -- one major point of the
distinction being to say that a "symbol" is *not* a "sign").

An emblem is not a simple object (like "+" or "-", or like a crucifix or a
cave).  It is a scene or tableau, in which objects with both conventional
and "symbolic" meanings are arranged in a pattern that can be read
according to some set of conventions.  (An icon could be regardec as a
special case of this; a coat of arms could also be seen as emblematic.)

In the emblem book tradition, the image was usually accompanied by a
title, by a verse, and by a text.  (_Atalanta Fugiens_ is a great example
of this, by the way.)  In a very strict sense, one might want to take
"emblem" to refer only to images occuring in emblem books.

I would prefer to use the word "emblem" (and its adjective, "emblematic")
in a broader sense, to refer to images constituted from arrays of signs
(and symbols) according to conventions (explicit, or implicit but
eventually specifiable) that allow them to be "read".

The problem with sticking only to "sign" and "symbol" is that one has
nothing between the conventional, determinate sign and the "everything
else" vaguely indicated by the word symbol.

"Emblem" provides a category that can include icons, heraldric devices,
tangkas, devotional pictures, memory images, and other similar items.

R Brzustowicz (

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