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The Meanings of Common Religious Signs and Symbols

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I have been independently studying world religions for over six years as a personal hobby. I am currently pursuing a BA in Religion.

common-religious-symbols-what-do-they-mean

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 in confusion. 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!

common-religious-symbols-what-do-they-mean

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."

common-religious-symbols-what-do-they-mean

The Ichthys (Fish)

This is another common symbol of Christianity. Many Christians 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."

common-religious-symbols-what-do-they-mean

The Star and Crescent

The Star and Crescent is recognized as a symbol of 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 Islam.

common-religious-symbols-what-do-they-mean

"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.

common-religious-symbols-what-do-they-mean

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.

common-religious-symbols-what-do-they-mean

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, commemorating 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.

common-religious-symbols-what-do-they-mean

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.

common-religious-symbols-what-do-they-mean

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 it was used for various other purposes dating as far back as the Paleolithic Era. The Swastika was most commonly used to symbolize good luck.

common-religious-symbols-what-do-they-mean

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, 12, 24, or 31 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.

common-religious-symbols-what-do-they-mean

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 of a single God. The Chakkar represents that God has no beginning or end. The two kirpans represent God's spiritual authority and political power. The entire symbol is meant to represent God as a whole.

common-religious-symbols-what-do-they-mean

The Yin and Yang

The Yin and 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.

common-religious-symbols-what-do-they-mean

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.

common-religious-symbols-what-do-they-mean

The Ahimsa Hand

The Ahimsa Hand is a common symbol of Jainism, a religion born in India that is 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.

common-religious-symbols-what-do-they-mean

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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nat on June 17, 2020:

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Big chingus on February 14, 2019:

The Swastika is also a symbol in Navajo culture.

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Unknown on November 14, 2018:

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somEone on May 22, 2018:

thanks this helped me a lot !!! I have exams all week and this helped loads for RE I will definitely tell me fiends to use this website . however of the star of crescent there was a little mistake that I noticed it is that I should be of but you

put if thanks anyway !!! wish me luck :/

shonnasmiththank on May 08, 2018:

THANK YOU FOR YOUR INFORMATION.

Santosh Sawant on November 28, 2017:

Thank You. For information.

Kallol Das on October 30, 2017:

Thank You!! For letting us know in details about all these known but unknown Holy Signs!!

lgn on October 01, 2017:

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mmmannucheril2@gmail.com on July 02, 2017:

Whole Deeds & words of Yeshua, are from the Father

“Word” means verbally communicating the message about God’s love through Yeshua. “Deed” a legal document that is signed and delivered, especially one regarding the ownership of property or legal rights. It means showing God’s love through practical acts of service and mercy. "For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own, John 6:38 KJV. Perhaps the greatest of Christian acts are those we never hear about. They are deeds done quietly, spontaneously, anonymously, without expectation of recognition or compensation. When we place Yeshua the christ, is first in our lives. The Holy Ghost will guide our decisions and give us the strength to avoid temptations. “For thus were all the true believers of Christ, who belonged to the Assembly of God, called by those who did not belong to the Assembly. Our words and deeds arise from our thoughts. Nevertheless, Yeshua christ word and deeds are not from his own but that came all from the Father in heaven. “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. (John 14:10KJV). “And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth.” John 8:50 KJV."I am come in my Father's name, JOHN 5:43 KJV. “But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.” (John 10:38, KJV). “Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” John 10:36 KJV Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Philippians 4:8 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life, (John 6:63 KJV). Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. (Matthew 24:35KJV). And, whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Yeshua, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. Colossians. 3:17 KJV. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. (John 12:48 KJV). Yeshua Christ is the one true notification. After Jesus’ death on the cross, he received the same body, which is invisible, a body from God the Father. Jesus was buried and he rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures. After that, he witnessed at first publicly “Cephas” who was the supernatant of priest of Jew, then of the twelve. And, he was seen above five hundred brethren at once (1st Corinthians 15:4-6). Whole word from the christ that complete came from the LORD God! Therefore, the Earth and sky might have changes while what word and deed come from the christ be there and have no changes that word will be judge you! The time is at hand

Khadija on June 05, 2017:

Thank you so much as the symbols helped me a lot.

jeff on May 17, 2017:

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billy bob joe on May 01, 2017:

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geremy groven on March 28, 2017:

oh yes very nice

Injamam Mazumder on November 15, 2016:

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

Bruce on October 07, 2016:

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.

joe on August 31, 2016:

kinda helped

Geoffrey Rono on June 26, 2016:

a good site to learn symbols of different religious faiths

Shaloo Walia from India on October 19, 2015:

interesting hub!

ayub on June 09, 2015:

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

George on May 19, 2015:

What is dog spelt backwoods ...

God

Bob on January 13, 2015:

This is a good website for religious people

taina frater on December 10, 2014:

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

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on June 05, 2014:

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

Mina on April 22, 2014:

Very good network in finding answers I love it

TMApsey (author) from Wisconsin, USA on April 15, 2014:

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.

Chitra on April 13, 2014:

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?

The Logician from now on on March 12, 2014:

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. http://www.myfrienddebbie.com/article_master.php?i...

http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/False%20Religions/W...

Diane Spina on January 27, 2014:

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.

N.B on September 12, 2013:

very informative...

Hubert Warpit on July 15, 2013:

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

lorraine reece on April 16, 2013:

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

TMApsey (author) from Wisconsin, USA on April 30, 2012:

Glad to hear that!

ichirani on April 30, 2012:

this really healped me in my reaserch

Ishwaryaa Dhandapani from Chennai, India on March 07, 2012:

A knowledgeable hub on all symbols of all important religions.

Thanks for SHARING. Rated it Interesting. Voted up.

Trsmd from India on February 10, 2012:

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

TMApsey (author) from Wisconsin, USA on August 05, 2011:

You're welcome! It was a pleasure!

JS Matthew from Massachusetts, USA on August 05, 2011:

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

JSMatthew~

Nat6 from Oregon on August 05, 2011:

Very informative hub, voted up!