Literally “image writing,” iconography is the visual language of spirits. Some, although not all, spirits have specific visual images used to identify them. Attributes are incorporated into iconography.
* A giant wearing a shirt that’s too small and holding a massive club is the Dagda.
* A woman’s body sporting three faces, each pointed in a different direction, is Hekate.
* A beautiful, naked woman emerging from a huge scallop shell is Aphrodite.
Iconography may involve any kind of visual image: paintings, statues, postcards, and so forth. The point is that it is visual.
The concept of iconography—images used to portray and identify spirits—is shared by all spiritual traditions except for the very few that completely reject imagery.
Images may reference myths, legends, or history. They convey information regarding a spirit’s nature or identify a spirit’s specific powers. In eras when masses of people were illiterate, iconography served to identify spirits. No need to read words. You took a look at the picture and you knew who it depicted.
There is a chicken-and-egg quality to iconography. Does iconography reflect how spirits have historically appeared to people in dreams, visions, or apparitions? Or is it that spirits, knowing what people expect to see, match their appearances to iconography so that they are more easily recognized? In either event, familiarize yourself with the iconography of spirits with whom you wish to interact. Spirits with very specific iconography will likely appear in that guise or will at least somehow reference that iconography to make recognition easier.
Iconography can evolve. Inuit sea spirit Sedna is now frequently depicted as a mermaid but previously she was always depicted with legs. Iconography can also be tricky: those for whom an image is extremely familiar may assume that everyone looking at that image sees the same thing and identifies the same spirit, but, in fact, this is not so.