Nigel Pennick is a British author of The Pagan Book of Days in addition to numerous articles and artistic illustrations focused on pagan subjects. He has lectured extensively on sacred geometry, the spirit of place, spiritual arts and crafts, and labyrinths.

This is an encyclopedia-style book that provides an in-depth analysis on symbols. It is heavily illustrated with woodcuts, drawings, and photographs. Dozens of ancient symbols are explored and their layers of meaning examined. Pennick also scrutinizes symbols and glyphs that have been “hijacked” for advertising, political movements, and social causes. I have many, many books on symbols and none include anything close to this type of analysis. It is a highly unique contribution to this particular area of study.

The book begins with an introductory essay that gives an overview of the history of the human use of symbols. Part I “Traditional Glyphs, Signs, Sigils, and Symbols in Practice” helps to define the differences between these different images. Pennick gives special focus to how the runes have been used and abused in modern use. The subject shifts to how modern civilization uses signs, symbols and sigils in a variety of ways, and how the ancient covert meanings leak through into modern consciousness.

Part II “A Box of Glyphs” provides an analysis of thirty-nine different glyphs and their related variations. Perhaps this would best be described as “symbol/glyph families.” Standard symbols include glyphs for the sun, stars, moon, and heart; with flowers like the rose and fleur-de-lis that appear in heraldic devices and in Dutch hexen signs. More unusual symbols include woven patterns, knots, the cosmic egg, and various beasts. There is a section on house and craftsmen's marks that evolved through the medieval period and still have some modern applications.

This is fascinating stuff! Pennick's survey shows how humans use symbols and glyphs as a sort of cognitive shorthand for extremely complex ideas and concepts. We tend to take them for granted because they're so pervasive and familiar. This book is an excellent overview of the topic – well-written, candid, and highly insightful. The illustrations include a number of photos of British houses with pargeted (decorated) exteriors, something that will be a delightful discovery for non-British readers. There are many valuable and insightful tidbits of trivia related to these glyphs and symbols included.

The Book of Primal Signs demonstrates an immense amount of effort and research into a subject that’s pervasive yet unconscious. Pennick offers a substantial and broad overview into how the use of symbols infiltrates and impacts daily life. People are bombarded with meaningful symbols every day, yet see them without really “seeing.” The extent of daily saturation with these images is mind-bending.

This book is highly recommended to researchers and students of the occult as an immensely valuable survey of symbols from an author with sophisticated spiritual insights and an invaluable multi-disciplinary approach to his subject. Kudos!

~review by Elizabeth Hazel

Author: Nigel Pennick
Destiny Books, 2014
240 pg, $16.95