Skip to main content

Is this book lame or laudable? Read my review and get the inside dope

Dictionary of the Sacred Language of all Scriptures and Myths

G A Gaskell
George Allen & Unwin
Edition / Year
In the section labelled

Dictionary of the Sacred LanguageGaskell's two-ton monster of a book claims "to give the true solution of the age-long problem of the origin, nature and meaning of the Scriptures and Myths which are attached to the various religions of the world". The true solution, you will note, singular. The Labours of Hercules, Moses being given the Ten Commandments, the Upanishads, the deeds of Loki and Thor, are all in Gaskell's mystical vision, aspects of a single whole.

For this to be the case, nothing can mean what it apparently says. Everything must be symbolic of something else. Even a historical personage is subject to this rule, if he has the bad luck to turn up in scripture:


A symbol of the lower principle as the ruler of the lower nature of the soul. It represents the worldly, sordid side of the lower nature in which Spirit is at its lower ebb.

"Then Herod when he saw that he was mocked of the wise man waxed exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the male children that were in Bethlehem". Mat ii. 16.

The anger of the lower principle  when disappointed by the upward trend of the intellectual facilities (wise men) was the expression of the malevolance and ignorance of the animal nature. The seeking to kill out the Christ from the soul is the lower nature's rebellion, and the instinctive fear and hate of what is above itself. The lower principle "slew the innocents," that is, took measures to destroy growth from the germs of virtues and truths, - the spiritual children now born in the soul.

In transforming specifics into wishy-washy theosophical generalities, Gaskell's method sucks the joy and beauty from his subject texts. If the Song of Solomon means much the same as the Gylfaginning, what's the point in reading either? Might as well have done with it and go direct to the works of Max Müller and Madame Blavatsky. Cut out the talking snakes and demi-urges: get your flim-flam neat.

But this same process has another more possibly sinister side to it. Take this:


Symbol of a quality which has an affinity with another quality :- these qualities are "neighbours" to each other.

"Let everyone of us please his neighbour for his good to edification" - Rom. xv 2.

The qualities are enjoined to be helpful to each other in the way of development and progress: for it is the actual that must evoke, or awaken, the potential; there is no other course.

That love your neighbour thing - all just a misunderstanding, see? 

But let us not rush to judgement: there may yet be some value in Gaskell's approach. In a spirit of pure experimentation let us apply it to an untried text, this apparently naive piece of verse:

Jack and Jill went up the hill

To fetch a pail of water

Jack fell down, and broke his crown

And Jill came tumbling after.

Jack, being male, is Man, "a universal symbol of mind in two aspects, higher mind or lower". Jill is Woman, "the emotion-nature of the soul, which is to be transmuted from the astral to the buddhic state". The hill, a height, is "a symbol of the higher planes of manifestation; the buddhic plane, heaven".

Water is "the great symbol of Truth or eternal Reality and source of all manifestation", so the first pair of lines represent how the mind and its attendant emotional self are drawn "up the hill" to a higher state of being. Unfortunately, though, the "mind and emotions being attracted by the desires and sensations of phenomenal existence", Jack descended violently and "broke his crown" - lost his "symbol of supremacy over the lower nature" - and his emotion-nature came tumbling after.

"Up Jack got, and home did trot" - home, "the source of the soul's being". Once there he "went to bed and bound his head with vinegar and brown paper". Bed is "a symbol of a phase of thought or opinion, upon which the ego reposes", Vinegar is a "symbol of the experience of suffering and sorrow". Gaskell does not provide an interpretation for paper, brown or otherwise, though I think it is reasonable to see it as a symbol of the scriptures in their role as the vehicle of Divine Wisdom.

Thus we learn that the nursery rhyme is in fact an allegory of the eternal striving of the self for realization. Should one "fall down" and fail in the quest (as is so often the case), then one will return to the lower planes. Through the vinegar of suffering and the brown paper of wisdom, one readies oneself again to achieve the transcendental pail of water atop the hill of Heaven. (If you have children, I trust you will explain all this to them: they are sure to appreciate it).

Imagine what further landscapes of meaning lurk beneath the superficial coinages of every day! Yes, opening this book will open the mind indeed.


A symbol of the buddhic nature, wisdom and love.


Leave a comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.


Submitted by eyeteeth (not verified) on 07 Oct 2019 - 22:49 Permalink

This reminds me of the "Key to All Mythologies" endlessly labored over by the straitlaced and passionless Mr. Casaubon in George Eliot's Middlemarch. He buries himself alive in this wrongheaded effort while his beautiful young wife pines for the ennobling love she thought she would find in marriage. You won't find it in marriage to this awful nerd, Dorothea! Or any nerd who claims he, and only he, has all the answers.

Submitted by KarmaKarson (not verified) on 12 Aug 2017 - 04:40 Permalink

Is a nursery rhyme considered scripture or a sacred myth? .....

Submitted by Alfred Armstrong on 12 Aug 2017 - 14:27 Permalink

Neither, obviously. I was just showing how Gaskell's approach can be applied to practically any text to elicit its supposed true meaning. What he's saying is ridiculous and arguably dangerous, essentially claiming there is little value to the surface meaning of words. One does not have to literally love one's neighbour, for example, even though that is the plain message of the Biblical text, because that's not the real meaning, according to Gaskell. One can justify anything that way.

Submitted by WhyteByrd (not verified) on 06 Dec 2015 - 00:12 Permalink

I found this to be a useful and succinct analysis and evaluation of Gaskell's Sacred Dictionary - and cleverly concluded - objectively.

Submitted by FrancoisTremblay (not verified) on 29 Dec 2014 - 10:42 Permalink

He's a nut, he's a cocoa-nut! That Gaskell needs therapy! Lie down on the couch.