The World of Symbols: Introduction
Pictures and images surround us every day, competing for our attention. They tell us about things we could have, do, and avoid. From road signs to computer icons they tell us what we need to know. Logos for businesses convey more than just the name – we understand the type of product or service it offers just from the picture; the golden arches of MacDonald’s are recognized worldwide. Our flag is the symbol of our country. Alphabets are made of symbols that when placed in a certain order, convey information. Pictorial symbols are constructed of shapes and colors that when placed in certain formations convey information. Symbols help us navigate our world.
Symbolism is the art of creating images that abstract concepts, or represent large amounts of information. For example, a heart scratched into a tree means someone is loved, the use of a bird within a symbol can represent the connection between the earthly and the heavenly, or a wolf in sheep’s clothing warns of deception.
Symbology is the process of placing images in proper historic context to decode them. Ancient civilizations that did not “write” passed on information orally in mythologies accompanied by symbols. The use and meaning of a symbol can change as cultures are combined by the course of events, and as generations pass. We find the same or similar images across the globe; they have migrated from place to place with the cultures that use them over many thousands of years. The study of these symbols from ancient civilizations has become a science. Asking who, what, when, where, why, and how helps establish historic context when decoding symbols. Knowing when and where a symbol was used is the first step in extracting their meaning.
One symbol from antiquity still used today is the Double Eagle, which symbolizes Yesterday and Tomorrow, although, like most classic symbols, this emblem is now layered with meanings. This regal image is found in the heraldry of monarchies and Czars throughout Europe. Egyptians used hieroglyphs depicting lions (and other animals) facing East and West to symbolize past and future.
“Our understanding of today rests upon the foundation of our understanding of yesterday.” Understanding symbolism leads to better appreciation of yourself and others. If you are on a quest for enlightenment, deciphering symbols can help you grasp concepts which words cannot express, and become aware of the intelligence and industry of our ancestors. Most classic symbols have roots in astronomical notations of prehistoric cultures that watched the sun and stars, and recorded their movements. They symbolized concepts like yesterday and today, and events like sunrise and sunset, seasons, and years. These ancient images are the ancestors and roots of many symbols still used today.
Article and artwork © 2011 by Michelle Snyder, author of Symbology: Decoding Classic Images, available at Amazon. Her website is www.whiteknightstudio.com.