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Symbols have played a vital role from time immemorial. The ancients used symbols as a way to express themselves in various ways. The prehistoric man carved his life experiences on the cave walls, least expecting them to be found after tens of thousands of years.
An article published on OpenCulture mentions: “While burrowing deep underground to make cave paintings of animals, early humans as far back as 40,000 years ago also developed a system of signs that is remarkably consistent across and between continents. Genevieve Von Petzinger (paleoanthropologist) spent years cataloguing these symbols in Europe, visiting ’52 caves’… She discovered 32 signs found all over the continent, carved and painted over a very long period of time. ‘For tens of thousands of years,’ Frank Jacobs (writer at Big Thinks points out, ‘Our ancestors seem to have been curiously consistent with the symbols they used.”
Symbols, in a sense, are like humans. They have many sides to them and can be interpreted in numerous ways. They may have one meaning on the surface but may denote something completely different when you dive beneath. Symbols serve us as a reminder that what cannot be expressed through words can be easily conveyed through signs, figures and images.
What is a Symbol?
From ancient cave paintings to modern-day logos and websites, symbols provide the artistry richness that very few art forms can produce. Famous symbols such as the Cross and Ying Yang have gone on to become legendary symbols, while the heart and the peace signs have gone on to become popular symbols. But, what really is a symbol?
“A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, signifies, or is understood as representing an idea, object, or relationship. Symbols allow people to go beyond what is known or seen by creating linkages between otherwise very different concepts and experience,” says Wikipedia.
A symbol can be anything you want it to be while retaining its original meaning. A symbol can represent music, sounds, images, ideas and beliefs. For example, a red heart symbolizes love and passion, while a red hexagon on a poll tells us to stop!
Symbols may be divided into three forms: Isomorphic, comparative and ideological. The three can be further divided into subsections. Isomorphic symbols are those that adapt to the cultural environment of a place; for example, bowing or joining hands to greet someone, or wearing a black dress to mourn a person’s death.
Comparative symbols are those that answer opposite sets of beliefs such as good or bad, superior or inferior and so on. Ideological symbols are those that represent religious, political or certain complex sets of ideas.
Symbol Stories (list of symbols and meaning)
Symbols have been the bedrock of visual storytelling for thousands of years. From ancient cave artists to filmmakers to modern-day vloggers, storytellers have infused symbols in their stories to communicate varied emotions.
Let us take a look at five interesting symbols used by storytellers to enhance their narratives.
Rain is a powerful symbol used by poets, dramatists and visual artists to portray the sense of sadness and depression. Storytellers realized that the elements of nature that caused emotions to shift in a matter of minutes can be as powerful when used in a story’s narrative. Apart from creating a melancholy mood, rain is also used to depict free spirit and rejuvenation.
The symbolic meaning of fire varies from culture to culture. In certain traditions, it may symbolize rage and destruction, and in others, it can portray the metamorphosis of character and rebirth.
While creating content, you must understand how fire can make your narrative rich. The whole point of integrating a symbol into a story is to make it appear nourished
Few symbols or images are as inauspicious as the raven. Let us look into the last verse of the poem, The Raven, where Edgar Allen Poe creates amazing imageries, he writes:
“And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!”
Owls have been associated with wisdom, spirituality and the keeper of secret knowledge. The Native Americans believe that the bird symbolizes death and the afterlife.
The Lakota tribe believes that owls are related to the spirits of the dead. Medieval Europeans believed that owls were actually wizards in disguise.
The red rose is associated with love and romance. The incredibly popular symbol has been used extensively in films, literature and arts. However, the rose symbolizes other meanings as well. In Christianity, the rose is used to symbolize the Virgin Mary. The 15th-century English civil wars are known as the Wars of the Roses.
Storytellers, from the dawn of time, have used symbols to reinforce their thoughts and ideas. From Egyptian hieroglyphs to modern-day logos, symbols have been an irreplaceable part of storytelling.
Apart from the above, there are other popular symbols that are widely used by graphic designers and advertisers to convey an array of emotions. Let us take a look at some popular symbols and their meanings.
The life-giving energy of the sun is of paramount importance for the survival of the human race and every other species on the planet. The importance of the sun was well understood by the ancients as they developed many symbols highlighting the importance of the life-giving star.
The sun is among the most important symbols today as it represents life, positivity, energy, confidence and joy. One of the most revered symbols, the sun is used by designers to portray ambition, superiority, power, ethics and confidence.
With the advent of solar energy, brands can now dream of a sustainable future with zero carbon emissions.
Just like the sun represents life, the crescent moon represents cycles of birth and fertility. The moon symbolizes woman and motherhood. Not only does the moon affect our mood, but it also represents enlightenment.
The Native Americans believe that the moon is the protector of the earth. They also tracked time by counting one new moon to the next. The lunar cycle played an extremely crucial role for the Native Americans as it not only helped them tell time but also keep track of the seasons.
Designers and marketers use the crescent moon for merchandise, such as perfumes, accessories, beauty products and articles used at night.
Modern culture depicts heat as a symbol of romantic love. The heart has been extensively used in films, literature and music to portray passion, love and emotion.
Here is a song by Sting titled “Shape of My Heart.”
The song is a great example of how the heart has been used to create various images. Let’s look at the hook of the song:
“I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that’s not the shape of my heart”
Apart from its usage in popular culture, the heart symbol is used by advertisers to depict safety, physical and mental healing; love and protection.
Most symbols we’ve discussed so far have their origins sometime in the distant past, but the peace sign is among the rare breed of modern symbols. Initially designed for an anti-nuclear campaign in the 1950s, the logo became an instant hit with activists and peace groups from all over the world. The logo came to be known as the “peace symbol.” The symbol was widely used by a whole generation who stood for peace and a war-free world.
Today, the peace sign has gone on to become one of the coolest symbols in the world. The peace symbol may be found in logos, banners, t-shirts and everything related to peace.
The All-Seeing Eye
The All-Seeing Eye of God or the Eye of Providence is a symbol that has a multi-layered meaning. The symbol indicates the watchful eyes of God. The three sides of the pyramid represent the holy trinity and the light indicates glory.
The US symbol of state has also been a hot topic for conspiracy theorists. An article published on BBC mentions:
“In truth, it’s an uncanny and frankly odd choice for a US symbol of state. The disembodied eye strongly conveys the sense of a prying authoritarian Big Brother. In combination with the pyramid beneath it, we have emblems suggesting an ancient esoteric cult…”
Symbols from the past are generally open to various interpretations. One symbol usually carries multiple meanings and often, contradictory ones too! No other symbol has been widely misunderstood as much as the Pentagram. Some believe that it is associated with good and others believe that Pentagram symbolizes evil.
Time to break the myth! The Pentagram represents the five elements, namely Air, Water, Fire, Earth and Spirit. The circle around it symbolizes pure energy that supports and connects the five elements.
The pentagram symbol is used by certain religious sects to protect themselves from evil forces.
Fact: The flags of Ethiopia and Morocco feature a pentagram.
Swastika – a symbol of purity, goodness, cleanliness, time and a new beginning—has been in use in the orient from ancient times.
An article published on BBC mentions the following: “In his book The Swastika: Symbol Beyond Redemption? US graphic design writer Steven Heller shows how it was enthusiastically adopted in the west as an architectural motif, on advertising and product design. ‘Coca-Cola used it. Carlsberg used it on their beer bottle. The Boy Scouts adopted it and the Girl’s Club of America called their magazine Swastika. They would even send out swastika badges to their young readers as a prize for selling copies of the magazine,’ he says.”
Yin Yang represents duality or two opposing forces required for creation. The two opposites remain in harmony for the smooth functioning of the creation.
The chart below shows what Yin and Yang symbolize.
|Even numbers||Odd numbers|
The Yin Yang symbol is interesting in many aspects, but chiefly because of the black and the white dots present in the white and black spaces. The dots represent the seed of life or the interconnectedness of the entire creation.
Cross is one of the most important and iconic symbols of the modern world. Once the most inhuman form of execution, today stands for love, hope and everlasting life.
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners (Roman 5:8)
The Cross is a reminder that God always loves and protects his followers.
Symbols for ages have been man’s mode of communication. Signs and symbols say what spoken words fail to express. At DesignBro (https://designbro.com/), we combine symbols, shapes and colors to create something unique for your brand. From Packaging Designs to Logos to Brand Identity Designs, we bring you agency-quality designs at freelance prices.
Symbols for ages have been man’s mode of communication. Signs and symbols say what spoken words fail to express. At DesignBro, we combine symbols, shapes and colors to create something unique for your brand. From Packaging Designs to Logos to Brand Identity Designs, we bring you agency-quality designs at freelance prices.
Business Development Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the Media and Digital marketing sector, Passionate about innovation and bringing the future into new business solutions.
All our subscribers stay ahead of the game with exclusive content and updates. Join the community!