Heinrich Zimmer: Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization

Heinrich Zimmer was the father of contemporary mythology. He had a great impact on Joseph Campbell. If you want to know more about mythology as a manifestation of energy, this is the book for you to read.

This Mindfunda is a book review of:
Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilazation written by Heinrich Zimmer. Edited by Joseph Campbell, a republication by Princeton University Press.


Heinrich Zimmer
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Heinrich Zimmer, German had a great impact on Joseph Campbell. Campbell was a student of Zimmer. In 1940, long before Bill Moyers made his last name into something more than a can of convenient tomato soup.

heinrich Zimmer


Heinrich Zimmer in America

Heinrich Zimmer was German by birth and moved to America in 1940. Because he had written a critical article about American Indologists, he was not welcome. In the classes he taught at the Columbia university he only had a few students. The notes from those classes have been edited by Campbell in this book, originally published in 1946.


heinrich zimmer
Heinrich Zimmer


Joseph Campbell had the good taste to appreciate Heinrich Zimmer’s new visions on mythology. Interpreting gods as energies was ground breaking at that time.

The difference between mythology of the East and mythology of the West, one of the key points of Campbell’s mythological insights, originated from the thoughts of Zimmer.

On the darker side: it led to an endless devaluation of Western thought as being “material”, almost “diabolical” while the Eastern thought was idealized. Every person in the East was thought of as a philosopher, while the Western civilization was seen as greedy and ignorant.

In the seventies it led to a hippy culture of meditating people. Unfortunately, even though their intentions were good, the world is still an uncomfortable place from time to time.

Heinrich Zimmer: Indian Mythology

Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization tells the story about how energy transforms and shapes everything, but is never lost. The Wheel of Rebirth spins round and round in a never-ending cycle…

heinrich zimmer
Wheel of Rebirth

This thought is still inherent to the Western way dreams are interpreted. Usually every dream symbol is interpreted as a manifestation of the Self. A symbol is the energy of the dreamer that manifests in multiple forms.

“The maya of the gods is their power to assume different shapes by displaying at will various aspects of their subtle essence”But the gods are themselves the productions of the greater maya: the spontaneous self-transformation of an originally undifferentiated, all generating divine Substance” (page 25).


Heinrich Zimmer

It was exactly this interpretation of myth as a manifestation of energy that attracted Campbell’s attention.

Heinrich Zimmer: Symbols

Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization contains a wealth of information about symbols, just as the title would suggest to the potential buyer. You will not be disappointed.

The book is filled with information about animals like snakes, serpents, elephants (did you know that according to Indian lore, the first elephants had wings?) and birds. The Garuda, born at the beginning of time, flaps its mythological wings.

Heinrich Zimmer
The Garuda

The book will tell you about Shakti and Shiva as symbols for the inner duality. It will explain the three-fold manifestation of Indra: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Maintainer and Shiva the Destroyer all constitute the wheel of life.

I just loved the fact that there even is a God(dess) dreaming up the Universe in Indian mythology, just like in Norse Mythology. I remember how much fun I had meeting this Goddess in the Lucid dream of my online Norse Mythology course (I might write a blog about that dream soon).

If you are into dreams and mythology, you are going to appreciate this book, there is no doubt about it.

A definite Go if you are looking for a good book that will add even more depth to your knowledge of mythology and symbols.


M. H. Case (editor) July 14, 2014: Heinrich Zimmer: Coming into His Own   Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.


What is Mindfunda about?

My name is Susanne van Doorn, I am a Dutch psychologist, blogger and author. I have been working with psychology, dreams and mythology ever since I finished my study in psychology at Tilburg University. I made this independent site to share insights, and recent scientific articles about the brain, dreams, and mythology for use in your personal life.

This posting is categorised as Mythofunda:
“Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths” Joseph Campbell used to say. This part of Mindfunda shows you how your personal mythology can create peace in your life.

Read more about Mindfunda here, or visit our Courses Page.

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    2 thoughts on “Heinrich Zimmer: Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization”

    1. Elaine Mansfield
      Subject: Heinrich Zimmer

      Message Body:
      Thank you. I haven’t seen the book by Case about Zimmer. If I weren’t so far behind in reading, I’d promise to get it.

      Yes, we hippies had good intentions and thought we would change the world with sisterhood, brotherhood, and love. Like everything else in this life, results were mixed–and by the late 1960s, love was fusing with violence. Joseph Campbell introduced many of us to Eastern thought through Zimmer, but I came to Eastern traditions through the philosopher Paul Brunton who wasn’t much interested in mythology. It took me a few more years to realize that I was.

      My women’s mythology class that’s been meeting for 25 years is settling into our next depth study on Hindu Goddesses and Gods with a focus on Southern Indian Parvati and Shiva. We’re also fascinated by Ardhanarishvara, the androgenous, half male, half female form of Shiva. Knowing our pace and the way we dig deeply, paint, dance, dream, etc., this will all take a few years.

      1. Thank you for your comment Elaine. Because of a change in the structure of the blog, you usually sent your comments to me by way of email. I shall try to change it.
        I would definitely love to take part in a mythology group like yours. It would be thrilling for me. I understand that you also share mythological dreams together? That must be so enriching for
        the soul. I ope you will write something about t on your excellent blog

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