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The Meaning of Common Religious Signs and Symbols

Updated on April 18, 2016

You see religious signs and symbols everywhere, from churches, synagogues and mosques, to television, bumper stickers and web sites. You may be familiar with some of these religious signs and symbols, while others make you scratch your head and go, "Huh?". These symbols have a meaning to those who use them, but what are those meanings? Why these particular symbols?

I'm about to take you on a brief tour of the most commonly used religious signs and symbols, and what they mean to those who use them. I hope you enjoy it!

The Christian Cross

The cross is the most common symbol of Christianity. You see them all over the place. The cross symbolizes Christianity as a religion, as well as the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Another form of the cross you might see is the crucifix, which will include a figure of Jesus, nailed to the cross through both hands and feet, usually with a crown of thorns on his head and a placard with the letters INRI, which is a Latin acronym for the phrase, "Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews."

The Ichthys (Fish)

This is another common symbol of Christianity. Many Christains display this on the back bumper of their vehicles. The ichthys is actually the ancient Greek word for "fish." The ichthys commonly contains the Greek letters, ΙΧΘΥΣ , which mean, "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior." The fish is a symbol of Christianity for several reasons. Many of the Apostles were fisherman, Jesus performed many miracles involving fish, and the most popular reason, in Matthew 4:19, Jesus says, "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." The ichthys symbolizes the Christian's mission to spread the "good news".

The Star and Crescent

The Star and Crescent is recognized as a symbol if the Islamic faith. This symbol, however, is older and was originally used by the people of Central Asia and Siberia as a symbol of their sky gods. The Star and Crescent were adopted as a symbol of Islam during the Ottoman Empire, when the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453. The city of Constantinople had been using this symbol as, in honor of the Goddess Diana. When the Turks took over, they had stolen their flag and symbol as well, claiming it for the Islam.

"Allah" in Arabic

This one is pretty straight forward. This is the Arabic word for "Allah," Allah is the one deity of the Islamic faith.

The Star of David

The Star of David is a common symbol of the Jewish faith. The two interlocking triangles represent to tribes of Judah and Benjamin. It is believed that this was the symbol of the line of David, and the star was represented on David's shield, though this has not been proven.

The Menorah

The Menorah is another common symbol of Judaism. A menorah is a nine-branched candelabrum, used in the celebration of Hanukkah. The menorah made its first appearance in the book of Exodus, when God revealed its design to Moses. The original menorah was made from a single piece of gold and had only seven branches. It was used as a light for the temple. Today's menorah has nine branches, comemorating a miraculous event during the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. The Jews only had enough oil to light the temple for one day, but somehow, it lasted eight days, allowing them enough light to finish their work.

Om or Aum

The Om, or Aum, is a very important symbol of the Hindu religion. It is a mantra, uttered by many Hindus at the start of every day, and commonly written in the head of letters. Om, or Aum is made up of three Sanskrit letters, a, u and m. The syllables come together to make the sound, Om, meaning Brahman, the supreme God of Hinduism.

The Swastika

People usually think of the Swastika as the symbol of the Nazi regime during World War II, but the Swastika is actually a Hindu religious symbol, and for various other purposes, dating as far back as the Paleolithic Era. The Swastika was most commonly used to symbolize good luck.

The Wheel of Dharma

The Wheel of Dharma, also called the Dharmachakra, is a common symbol of the Buddhist philosophy. The Wheel can have eight, twelve, twenty-four, or thirty-one spokes. The circle represents the perfection of the teachings of dharma. The spokes represent different teachings, rules or laws of Buddhism, depending on the number of spokes. The hub symbolizes discipline, and the rim mindfulness, or samadhi, which holds everything together.

The Khanda

The Khanda is the symbol of Sikhism. The Khanda is made up of three important symbols; the double edged sword, a circle (the Chakkar), and two crossed kirpans (curved swords). The double edged sword represents the belief on a single God. The Chakkar represents that God has no beginning or end. The two kirpans represent God's spiritual authority and his political power. The entire symbol is meant to represent God as a whole.

The Yin and Yang

The Yin an Yang is a commonly used symbol of Asian philosophy. It symbolizes perfect harmonic balance. Neither side can exist without the other, as in nature, there would not be light without dark, good without evil, male without female, etc.

The Torii Gate

The Torii Gate is a symbol of the Shito religion. The symbol of the Torii Gate represents the transition between our world and the world of the gods. A physical Torii Gate usually marks the entrance to a sacred Shinto shrine. By passing through the Torii Gate, you pass from the profane, to the sacred place.

The Ahimsa Hand

The Ahimsa Hand is a common symbol of Jainism, a religion born in India, known for non-violence. The Jains believe that all life is sacred, some go to extreme measures to avoid even stepping on a bug!This symbol represents the Jains vow of ahimsa (non-violence). The wheel in the palm represents dharma (see The Dharma Wheel), and in the center of the wheel rests the word, ahimsa.

The Baha'i Nine Pointed Star

The Nine Pointed Star is the symbol of the Baha'i Faith. The number nine is very significant to the Baha'is for numerous reasons, ranging from numerology to patterns in their theology, and the architecture of their temples.


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    • Nat6 profile image

      Nat6 5 years ago from Oregon

      Very informative hub, voted up!

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Thank you so much for explaining the symbols! I really got a lot out of this! Thanks for sharing.


    • TMApsey profile image

      TMApsey 5 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      You're welcome! It was a pleasure!

    • Trsmd profile image

      Trsmd 5 years ago from India

      Even though each religion is having theirmown symbol, all are searching for one..peace or their own form. thanks for SHARING :)

    • ishwaryaa22 profile image

      Ishwaryaa Dhandapani 5 years ago from Chennai, India

      A knowledgeable hub on all symbols of all important religions.

      Thanks for SHARING. Rated it Interesting. Voted up.

    • profile image

      ichirani 4 years ago

      this really healped me in my reaserch

    • TMApsey profile image

      TMApsey 4 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Glad to hear that!

    • profile image

      lorraine reece 3 years ago

      this really helped me with my GSI or is it GSI i do not know what its called bout at least it did

      thank you for ShArInG

    • profile image

      Hubert Warpit 3 years ago

      thanks for the stmbols, really identify the different religion in the world.

    • profile image

      N.B 3 years ago

      very informative...

    • profile image

      Diane Spina 3 years ago

      My understanding of the Menorah is that it is the main lampstand for in the Temple going back to the time of the Tabernacle and Solomon's Temple, the Chanukia is a separate lampstand especially to celebrate the Festival of Chanuka in celebration of the miracle of the one day supply of special oil lasting for 8 days. The ninth candle being the "shamash" or the lighting candle to light the other candles.

    • tsadjatko profile image

      TSAD 3 years ago from maybe (the guy or girl) next door

      An interesting hub page, I learned something! - one symbol you didn't include however which you might consider adding is the peace symbol which represents an upside down cross with the arms broken (also part of the satanic ritual where a new member blasphemes God and breaks the arms of an upside down cross after which they all engage in orgy) To some the symbol actually means man will make his own peace without God.

      The peace symbol is very old. The fifth and final Roman emperor of the Julio-Caludian dynasty, Nero (37-68 AD), is remembered in history for persecuting Christians. Nero’s rule was so wicked he even had his mother executed. The first Roman-Jewish War (66-70 AD) started during his reign, and today the term “Nero Cross” is the symbol of the “Broken Jew” or “broken cross.” Anti-religious and satanic groups use the “Nero Cross” to symbolize everything opposite of Christianity.

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      Chitra 2 years ago

      I would like to know if incense in the shape of religious symbols may be burned? Is it allowed emotionally not hurting anybody's sentiments?

    • TMApsey profile image

      TMApsey 2 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      I suppose that would have to be at your discretion, and the discretion of those in whose presence you would burn it. Personally, I see no harm in burning incense in the shape of a religious symbol, but some may take offense to it.

    • profile image

      Mina 2 years ago

      Very good network in finding answers I love it

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Fascinating stuff. I really enjoy the historical study of religion.

    • profile image

      taina frater 2 years ago

      thank have a quiz and its really helping me out with the amazing info

    • profile image

      Bob 2 years ago

      This is a good website for religious people

    • profile image

      George 22 months ago

      What is dog spelt backwoods ...


    • profile image

      ayub 21 months ago

      excellent site with concise information on many religious symbols. just to mention ,,,Allah is the name of the GOD , in islam. please corect it.

    • swalia profile image

      Shaloo Walia 17 months ago

      interesting hub!

    • profile image

      Geoffrey Rono 9 months ago

      a good site to learn symbols of different religious faiths

    • profile image

      joe 6 months ago

      kinda helped

    • profile image

      Bruce 5 months ago

      Thanks for this simple reference.

      Just a small typo correction: you have misspelled Shinto (missing the n) in the first sentence about the Torii Gate.

      I would also suggest you add the Bahai lotus, an Eastern Orthodox cross, mention Toaism in the Yin/Yang symbol, and perhaps the sun itself as one of most ancient religious symbols. Also, the medicine wheel of the first nations/aboriginal people of North America.

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      Injamam Mazumder 4 months ago

      i am a student of the department of world religions and culture, university of Dhaka. i am highly benefited by this useful illustration of the meaning of the symbols.. thanks you

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