Ancient Symbols and Their Meanings
Symbols from Ancient Times Used in Modern Times
Symbols have so much significance in our lives. Because symbols are such an ingrained part of our lives, most people don't even realize how many symbols they see and experience on a daily basis. All of these symbols have ancient origins but in today's modern society, most of these symbols might have lost their true meaning. And then again, symbols can be perceived in different ways, depending on the person and their culture. Symbolism is truly a subjective matter.
From hundreds of companies' logos, to television shows, to religious text, to engravings on gravestones, we run into these ancient symbols anywhere and everywhere. So why not dig into the true origins of these ancient signs...these ancient messages? Let's explore the origins of the cross, spirals, knots, and more. We might then realize the importance of these symbols to our ancestors' lives and to our lives.
The Ouroboros is an ancient symbol that can be found across continents in various ancient cultures. It is a symbol of a dragon, a snake or sometimes a worm that is coiled into a perfect circle in order to eat its own tail. While this sounds disturbing, this symbolism holds great power and meaning to many people. From the Vikings to the Celts, ancient European cultures engraved this symbol into the sides of graves, stone monuments, caves, pottery, shields, and more. In fact, the Ouroboros is associated with the Viking hero (now commemorated in the Vikings show on the History channel) Ragnar Lothbrok.
Not only is the Ouroboros found in European history, it was also prominent in an even older civilization...Ancient Egypt. Researchers and historians say that this sacred symbol originated in Egypt and spread to Europe at a later time. The first known use of the Ouroboros (that we know of) comes from Tutankhamun's tomb...in in the Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld. To the Egyptians, it is believed the Ouroboros represented eternity and the idea that the Universe recreates itself after and within destruction.
Other cultures have myths of creator gods in the form of snakes that ate their own tails. This symbol is often closely related to the Caduceus, which is the symbol of two snakes entwined. The Caduceus is a symbol of modern western medicine, and is used in the Blue Cross Blue Shield logo.
The Ouroboros was used long after the ancient celts and egyptians disappeared by alchemists and gnostics. It can still be seen in use today in various texts and architecture. If the Ouroboros is a representation of eternal life and of recreation, perhaps it is also showing us that from destruction comes renewal.
One ancient symbol that can be seen in nature is the spiral. The spiral symbolizes growth and expansion. It can also symbolize the never ending cycle of the soul...winding its way along an eternal path. If we look in nature, we can find spirals on snail shells, nautilus shells, certain animals' horns, and even entire galaxies of stars.
To the Ancient Celts, the spiral was used in architecture, on jewelry, on clothing and more. The Celts tended to use the spiral in their elaborate knots and also more famously within the triskele. The triskele is a three spiraled symbol that is thought to have represented immortal movement...meaning that everything is constantly in action. This idea differs from culture to culture, as the triskele has been used not only by the Celts but also by other European peoples. The triskele is even older than we can imagine, predating the Celts arrival in Ireland in Neolithic times.
Today, people that are a part of the New Age movement, say that the spiral represents the human soul's evolution along with the Universe. If you are to look at a nautilus shell, you will see that it starts out as one small compartment and continues to grow, adding new compartments onto the first until it has created a perfect geometrical spiral. Nature creates some magnificent things.
The ankh has been said by modern Christians to be a mockery of the cross. While this might seem to be the case, it is in fact historically incorrect. The ankh was used by Ancient Egyptians long before Jesus was ever born. It has been used for thousands of years, since the ancient times. The ankh can be seen on the sides of temples, on pyramid walls, on pottery, and on pieces of papyrus from ancient times and on Egyptians items that are still produced today. Some people use it as a part of fashion statements on pieces of jewelry and t-shirts, etc. But what does the ankh mean? What can its ancient representation mean for us today in these modern times?
The ankh is an ancient symbol that is believed to have meant eternal life. It is a symbol that also combines the male and female parts. Quite often it is depicted as being held in the hand of a god or a pharaoh and in this nature is also called the "key of life". This symbol is probably seen the most out of the ancient Egyptians' symbols. Other cultures and religions have used the ankh including the Greeks, Minoans, and the Coptic Christians in later times.
Eyes are the "window to the soul", or so the saying goes. Most of us look at someone directly in the eye when talking, or at least we're taught that we should. What is so captivating about a pair of eyes? And why were eyes used in ancient times as powerful symbols?
The Eye of Horus
The Eye of Horus was seen in ancient times in (you guessed it) Ancient Egypt. It has also been called the Eye of Ra and Wadjet. This symbol was a very protective one, often used to ward off evil or what was known as the "evil eye". It was thought to be the right eye of Horus, a falcon-headed sky god who was thought to be a great protector and healer in ancient times. To put this eye symbol on a sarcophagus imbued the person within with a speedy and safe passage to the other-side after death.
The Hamsa or Eye of Fatima
The Hamsa is a symbol that has been used by various cultures throughout the Middle East for thousands of years. The symbol is seen as a hand most often with an eye in the middle of the palm. There is some speculation that the Hamsa has a direct connection to the Eye of Horus. The purpose in the Hamsa is to (again) ward off the evil eye. In Israel they had the same symbol but called it the Hand of Miriam. Perhaps the idea was that the hand could block the view of any kind of evil that might set its sights on women, children or otherwise. Now you can find the Hamsa and/or Eye of Fatima on articles of clothing, on necklaces hanging in gas stations, and all over the internet in one form or another.
The All-Seeing Eye
Also known as the Eye of Providence, this symbol is a more modern approach to the previous ancient symbols. It can be seen on the back of the United States dollar bill, a triangle engulfing an eye and surrounded by beams of light. This was thought to represent the All-Seeing Eye of God...a symbol of protection and seeing through to the truth. Unfortunately, the representation of this symbol has been distorted with the rise of conspiracy theories like that of the Illuminati theory. Conspiracy theorists say that an evil force uses the All-Seeing Eye as their symbol, and so therefore it is no longer a sign of good. To this I would reply that symbols are completely subjective.
The Pentagram has a rather negative connotation to it in Western society. This is because of its modern use in the Occult and by the infamous late Anton Lavey (founder of the Satanic Church). The Pentagram used in Wicca is a symbol that represents the five elements - earth, air, fire, water, and spirit (this is usually seen as a five pointed start with a circle around it). The Satanic Church uses the Pentagram as a symbol copied from the Sigil of Baphomet, while Thelemites also use the symbol to represent quite a few things brought into religious limelight by Aleister Crowley.
But the Pentagram is much older than the Thelemites and the Satanists. The five-pointed star was used by the early Christians to represent the five wounds of Christ. It also represented the five senses or the five joys that Mary had of Jesus. But in addition to the early Christians using the Pentagram, the Chinese used the Pentagram to represent their five elements involving medicine and wellbeing. Pentagrams can be seen on other ancient cultures' religious objects and temples dating back centuries.
The Pentagram can be used in all manner of representation involving spirituality, the earth, and protection.
Symbolism is Subjective
We see symbols everywhere we go these days. Most of us don't even realize that we are looking at symbols until confronted with the fact. The use of symbols today has morphed dramatically from the use in ancient times. Symbols carried with them power and force in ancient times, mostly that of a spiritual nature. While in modern times symbols are used for power, just another kind of power - mostly financial (i.e. company logos, images, etc).
While modern religions still use symbolism, the true power behind the symbols seems to have been lost to some. Truly, the power behind any and all symbols is subjective. This means that each of us define what each symbol means and what type of power there is behind it.
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© 2014 Nicole Canfield