There’s an incredible variety of symbols that represent wisdom. We can learn about wisdom from ancient cultures that thrived for centuries, and symbols for wisdom are all around us. Whether out of curiosity or to use them in writing, composing songs, or making movies, it’s important to know the ancient and modern symbolic meaning. Here we introduce you to some of the most important symbols for wisdom in different cultures.
What Exactly Are Symbols
A symbol is an image that represents an idea, belief, or concept. The word “symbol” comes from Greek and means “to throw together.”
A symbol can be something as simple as a letter of the alphabet or something as complex as a picture. Symbols are used in many different cultures to communicate complex ideas to people. They can also represent emotions, feelings, or experiences. Symbols can be literal or figurative. For example, the dove is a symbol of peace. The dove isn’t peace itself, it’s just an object that stands for peace.
In ancient cultures, symbols were often used to represent beliefs and concepts. The meaning of the symbol can vary from culture to culture and from person to person. This is also true for symbols of wisdom.
What Exactly is Wisdom
Wisdom has been sought since ancient times. The word itself comes from the Proto-Germanic root wīsaz, meaning “wise.” It’s the ability to know what’s true or right and to discern what’s false or wrong.
Symbols for Wisdom in Ancient Cultures
Many of the world’s oldest civilizations and religions have their own symbols for wisdom. These symbols were used to represent knowledge and intelligence.
You’ll often find them on structures like temples and pyramids, but also on paintings and statues. Also on amulets and talismans. So they found their way into everyday life as well as rituals and ceremonies.
Often they also stood for virtues such as truth, honesty, justice, compassion, courage, peace, and perseverance.
The ancient Egyptians had the Eye of Horus, also known as the Eye of Ra. This symbol is represented by an eye with a curved line underneath. The eye is a symbol of protection and it’s believed that wearing the symbol protects from evil forces.
Odin was the Norse or Viking god of wisdom and learning. He was also associated with war, magic, poetry, and death. In Norse mythology, he’s depicted as an old man with long white hair carrying a spear called Gungnir. Odin had only one eye because he sacrificed his other eye for greater knowledge.
The Celts used animal symbols to represent wisdom and intelligence. For example, the salmon was a sacred symbol of wisdom – the wisest of all the animals was the salmon of Llyn Llyw – while the raven stood for power and prophecy.
In China and Japan, the crane is a symbol of wisdom because cranes are considered long-lived animals that are noted for their vigilance.
Ancient Greece and Rome
Athena (Minerva or Pallas in the Roman world) was associated with wisdom, but she was often depicted holding a snake or usually an owl. In Greek mythology, Athena was the goddess of wisdom, strategy, war, and crafts. She was also known as Pallas Athena because she protected the city of Athens.
The Little Owl of Athena
Today, the owl is a common symbol of wisdom. One that has ancient beginnings.
In ancient Greece, the owl was the emblem of Athens and its patron goddess Athena. The Athenian tetradrachm (coin) bore her image on one side and her owl on the other.
According to myth, Athena’s owl enabled her to see her blind side so she could see the whole truth.
Salvation or Disaster?
The Romans, on the other hand, believed that the call of an owl heralded impending death and disaster. Even that it could bring about a shipwreck.
The Owl is a Powerful Symbol
It’s not just ancient Greece. Owls are a popular symbol of wisdom in many different cultures around the world, from the Native Americans of North America all the way down to Harry Potter’s beloved and intelligent owl Hedwig. Owls are often considered messengers of the spirit world and wise beings that can see things hidden from others because they have the gift of night vision.
Because of its nocturnal nature, the owl is also a symbol of darkness, mystery, and death – depending on which culture you’re in. The owl is also a symbol of the night, representing hidden knowledge, and of the unseen.
As a nocturnal hunter, the owl is associated with protection: another very interesting association with wisdom.
The collective name for owls is unusual but revealing: ‘a wisdom of owls!’
Trees as Symbols of Wisdom
From the ancient Greeks and Romans to Native Americans and Africans, trees have been a symbol of strength, love, endurance, patience, loyalty, and more.
The tree isn’t only a symbol of life, but also of traditional wisdom. It’s an icon of unity because it branches out in different directions like family members. There are few symbols that can match the power of a tree when it comes to having an aura of wisdom around someone. A tree is a symbol of comprehensive knowledge that can be used in all areas of life.
The olive branch has long been a symbol of peace, but it’s also associated with wisdom.
Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war, was declared the victor over Poseidon when Athena’s olive tree of wisdom surpassed Poseidon’s well of seawater as a gift. Even in the first Olympic Games, the athletes were massaged with olive oil to give them Athena’s power, strength, and wisdom.
In Christian iconography, the tree represents God, while the fruit of the tree symbolizes wisdom.
Adinkra symbols are symbols that originated in West Africa.
Many Ghanaians incorporate Adinkra symbols into their daily lives and activities. You can see them on colorful fabrics worn during festivals and important occasions, as well as traditional rituals.
Adinkra symbols originally came from the Akan people of Ghana and the Ivory Coast in West Africa, specifically the Ashanti people. These people used adinkra to express important aspects of their society, such as history, philosophy, morals, religious beliefs, and social values.
Today, Adinkra symbols are used in a variety of crafts that are common throughout Ghana. They’re carved into wood, drawn on walls and pottery, etched into metal or stone, made into patterns for batik fabrics, and even drawn on the sides of buildings.
Wisdom Conveyed by Adinkra Symbols
Adinkra symbols have meanings that convey traditional wisdom, philosophical concepts, or aspects of life or the environment.
Each symbol has a specific meaning. The particular meaning of an Adinkra symbol is determined by its appearance and orientation, as well as by other symbols with which it may be combined.
The most common Adinkra symbols include:
- Sankofa (“Go back and get it”) – is a symbol of learning from the past. It represents a mythical bird with its head turned back.
- Nyame dua (“God’s tree”) – represents God’s presence and protection. It depicts a palm tree whose roots are firmly anchored in the ground, while the branches reach for the sky.
Akan Sayings Connected to Andrika Symbols
- Ananse Ntontan (“the spider’s web”) is a symbol of wisdom, creativity, and complexity.
- Odo Nnyew Fie Kwan (“love never loses its way home”)
- Mate Masie (“I understand”)
In African mythology, the turtle is often a symbol of wisdom and knowledge. Living more than 100 years, turtles remind people of the elderly and wise.
The turtle symbolizes the ability to think before you act. This means that you think carefully about your decisions, seek the advice of your elders, and then make decisions that are best for everyone involved.
Tao Symbolism of Wisdom
The Tao is found in Chinese writing and is considered a symbol of the universe. It’s also associated with the yin-yang balance of opposites and life force.
Roots That Date Back to the Ancient Era
Taoism has shaped and influenced Chinese culture for thousands of years
One of the most famous symbols of Taoism is the Yin and Yang symbol.
The Yin and Yang symbol represents the two sides of balance in nature, its duality. In terms of Chinese Tao, this symbol represents a way to achieve balance or harmony with nature and the universe.
The Goddess Guanyin
The icons of Chinese culture represent wisdom and knowledge.
The Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin, is one of the most famous goddesses in Chinese mythology. She’s usually depicted with a flowing robe and holds a willow branch and a jar of pure water, representing compassion and wisdom.
Divine Symbols of Wisdom
The Lotus as a Symbol of Wisdom
The lotus flower is a symbol of wisdom in the philosophy of Buddhism.
In order for it to grow into a beautiful flower, the lotus seed must be planted in muddy water.
The Wheel of Dharma
The Wheel of Dharma or Dharmachakra is one of the oldest symbols of Buddhism. It represents the teachings of the Buddha, which are said to have been set in motion by him and which are still carried on today by his followers and disciples.
Thus, the wheel symbolizes mindfulness, teaching, and wisdom.
Hebrew Symbols of Wisdom: The Aleph
The Aleph is associated with divine wisdom and knowledge. It’s used in Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism and is considered a symbol of the beginning and creation.
The Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and the symbol for many things in Judaism, including:
- Master or Creator
- School or Teacher
Creatures as Symbols of Wisdom
In ancient cultures, animals always had meaning. They represented different meanings and abilities that a person could have. Ancient civilizations often chose these animals to represent their gods.
There are three main animals that are considered symbols of wisdom: Owls, Crows, and Snakes. We’ve already looked at the owls, above (The Owl of Athena).
But there are others, as we’ll discover below.
Crows and Ravens
Although different birds, crows, and ravens are often mistaken one for other. So…
In many cultures, crows are associated with dark omens and death, while others associate the bird with magic, prophecy, and knowledge.
In Celtic cultures, the crow is considered a trickster, able to change its shape at will. The Celts believed that the crow could move between worlds and serve as a messenger for people to communicate with spirits.
In Native American tradition, the crow symbolizes sacred law and divination. As a bird that is able to talk, it is referred to as one of the wisest birds. Some Native American people consider the crow as a sacred bird that brought fire down from heaven. Others see the crow as a highly intelligent trickster.
In Native American tradition, both the golden eagle and the bald eagle are sacred creatures. The eagles represent spiritual guidance and clarity of truth. In other words, great wisdom.
Tribes used eagle feathers and bones at council meetings and ceremonies, and in the Sunbringer myth, an eagle spreads its wings to show the sun, then closes them to bring darkness.
In the Norse sagas, a falcon sits between the eyes of an eagle in the world tree Yggdrasill. In Old Norse, the falcon is called Veðrfoelnir, and the eagle is nameless. Some historians suggest that the falcon embodies the wisdom and knowledge of the eagle.
Serpents as Symbols of Wisdom
In many different cultures, snakes are symbols of many things: eternity, death, rebirth (because they shed their skin), cunning, fertility, and creativity. The serpent is also a symbol of wisdom.
In Western mythology and literature, snakes are one of the most important symbols. In the Bible, they represent temptation and evil, while in Greek mythology they’re a symbol of healing, as they can shed their skin once a year and reappear.
Snakes were sacred to the god of healing, Asclepius, who carried a staff with a snake wrapped around it. The myth is that a snake whispered secret knowledge to Asclepius after he acted kindly.
The symbol of staff and snake is used today in ambulances, doctors’ offices, and hospitals.
It’s noteworthy that the Minoan (principally Crete) Snake Goddess as depicted in figurines brandishes a serpent in each hand – in what has been seen as an allusion to her wisdom.
In ancient Egypt, the cobra-headed goddess Renenutet, who appeared with the body of a woman and the head of a cobra, was associated with fertility and harvest. She was also considered a royal mother figure who prepared kings from an early age for their destiny as rulers.
The Aztec god Quetzalcoatl (“feathered serpent”) was revered as the founder of the Aztec priesthood and source of wisdom.
Even the Bible refers to the wisdom of snakes:
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.The Bible, King James Version
Deer are known to be gentle, peaceful, and quiet animals. They’re also very graceful and quick in their movements. In many cultures, deer are considered symbols of longevity and peace.
A symbol of spiritual authority, the deer is also used as a symbol of wisdom, as it’s the ability to listen to its higher self. Because they have such a sensitive sense of smell, sight, and hearing, deer are associated with intuition and inner knowledge.
A Native American Lenape legend says that the sighting of two white deer was an omen that indigenous peoples would join together to guide the world with higher spiritual wisdom.
Objects as Symbols of Wisdom
The book represents knowledge, the thirst for learning and understanding. Books are often associated with intelligence, education, and culture.
For thousands of years, the book has been a symbol of knowledge, wisdom, and learning. Books help us gain wisdom and knowledge. The first books were written on stone tablets or clay tablets in 4000 BC! The codex or book format replaced the scroll and made it possible to store larger amounts of text in a portable format.
The book can represent sacred or religious texts, such as the Bible or the Koran. It can symbolize important documents, such as the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. The book symbol is also associated with Freemasonry and other secret societies, where it can have occult or esoteric meanings.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, books often symbolize ancient wisdom and secrets hidden from ordinary people; some people are considered worthy to read them (e.g., monks or priests), and others aren’t.
Solomon’s knot (sometimes called Solomon’s seal) is a motif used since ancient times and across cultures.
It depicts two interlinked loops, some in a rectangle shape and sometimes rounded, and is found in many religious buildings as a symbol of immortality and eternity.
Because of the Biblical monarch’s reputation for wisdom and knowledge, Solomon’s knot is used as a symbol of wisdom. For example, the Powell Library at UCLA in California has a central Dome of Wisdom bordered by Solomon’s knots.
The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life refers to the archetype of a sacred tree that connects all of creation, found in many cultures worldwide. It is seen as a fundamental source of knowledge and wisdom and is sometimes connected with the Elixir of Life and the Philosopher’s Stone.
In the Book of Proverbs there is a direct reference to the tree:
Wisdom] is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her, and happy [is every one] that retaineth herBook of Proverbs
In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil was a giant ash tree that supposedly connected all nine worlds and was home to many gods and beings. According to legend, Odin sacrificed himself by hanging on a branch of Yggdrasil to gain knowledge of the runes (which are a source of Norse wisdom).
The labyrinth is an ancient symbol of wholeness. It represents a journey into the unknown, where you must find your way through twists and turns before you find what you’ve been searching for – the center where it all comes together.
With its single circuitous path to the center, it’s a symbol of a journey to wisdom.
Water is another item that represents wisdom, as it’s used in many cultures around the world to represent the source of life on earth. Water purifies, rejuvenates, and quenches the thirst for knowledge, making it an important symbol of wisdom in cultures around the world.
It represents clarity, life, and movement. Water has no color and no taste; it takes on the properties of what surrounds it.
In Vedic Hindu literature, water is a symbol of wisdom because it’s essential to life and knowledge and is the source of all life:
As pure water poured into pure water remains unchanged, so is the ego of an illuminated thinker.
The Color of Wisdom
Colors have different meanings and associations for different people.
Blue is the color of the sky and the sea. It’s often associated with depth and stability. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, and the sky.
Blue is a symbol of eternal things and infinity. In some spiritual traditions, this color is associated with the divine. The color blue has been used throughout time in many cultures as a symbol of power, intellect, and stability.
In China, yellow is the color of glory, happiness, and wisdom and symbolizes the center of the world. Because of the color’s association with light, it is seen as a wisdom color outside of China also.
Symbols Can Help You Understand Difficult Concepts
Sometimes you need some symbols to help you understand difficult concepts. Symbols are often used to represent ideas. They can take the form of a picture or a word and are useful for many reasons. One reason for using symbols is that they help you understand complex topics more easily.
For example, imagine that you’re trying to explain a difficult idea from the history of science. You could describe it in very long paragraphs with lots of details. Another way would be to draw a small picture or use a sentence with a symbol that represents your idea.
Symbols Have Distinct Meanings and Can Help Us Learn More About Ourselves
It’s comforting to know that we’re not alone when we struggle with learning, finding ourselves, and taking up new hobbies. It’s also nice to learn that different symbols can represent different qualities. And why not take a cue from the animals themselves and dig a little deeper to find out how each symbol relates to its animal counterpart?
How Writers Can Use Symbols of Wisdom
Symbols are objects, signs, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. Like metaphors, symbols can be used to make connections between otherwise unrelated ideas or to add layers of meaning to an idea.
The use of symbols offers an author the opportunity to summarize complex ideas in a single image. Rather than spelling out a concept in detail to describe how it’s difficult and time-consuming, a writer can instead use a symbol like an hourglass that conveys the same meaning more quickly and efficiently.
Symbols make writing more sophisticated by adding layers of meaning that help readers make connections between people, places, things, and events.
Symbols can also be used in literature to convey messages. For example, the apple often represents knowledge or temptation.
Symbols of Wisdom Can Have Hidden Messages
Symbols are often used to convey hidden messages. Symbols are a complex means of communication that can often have multiple levels of meaning.
Symbols allow people to go beyond what’s known or seen by making connections between otherwise very different concepts and experiences.
Symbols of wisdom can be used to show the value of wisdom and what it can do for you. Symbols can be used to remind us of the importance of wisdom.
Wisdom is like a hidden message from the universe. Wisdom works in mysterious ways to help you when you need it most. Symbols are a powerful way to convey wisdom and knowledge.
Symbols are a great way to convey the deeper meaning behind a message and give it more impact. Symbols can also be used to show the value of wisdom and what it can do for you.
How Symbols Impact Our Subconscious Mind
Most of us don’t realize how powerful symbols can be in communicating with the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind doesn’t process words. It processes images and symbols. That’s why we remember dreams in terms of images and pictures, not words.
Symbols can be very effective tools to communicate with the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind doesn’t interpret language in the same way as the conscious mind. Therefore, symbols can be used to bypass the logical part of the brain and deliver a message directly to the subconscious mind.
Wisdom is a symbol of truth. It’s not the truth, but it represents the truth. It represents truth in the sense that it’s a means to understand and interpret truth. A wise person is one who’s access to the truth and uses it as a basis for making decisions about his or her life.
The use of symbols for wisdom isn’t limited to Egypt and other ancient civilizations; they’re still used today.
Symbols are especially powerful because they can represent ideas visually and thus trigger emotional responses. They can convey ideas that would otherwise require many words, and have been used for thousands of years to express wisdom and teach lessons about life.