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Symbols, Totems, and their meanings

Symbols are images or concepts that represent something greater the symbol itself. A symbol is something we use as a stand-in for words, ideas, emotions, and/or events.

I use symbols every day in my design work. Before inserting them my pendulums and jewelry, I research the symbol's meanings, origins and history. Most symbols, especially ancient ones, have multiple meanings, though certainly not all are covered here in these brief descriptions.

Because there's a lot of information on this page, I've broken things into five main categories:
1. Shapes and Objects, 2. Platonic Solids, 3. Nature, 4. Spiritual and/or Mythological, 5. Animals.

Symbols have energy. Use them well.

1. Shapes and Objects

Caduceus A winged staff with two snakes wrapped around it, the Caduceus began as an ancient astrological symbol of commerce. It also represented the Greek god Hermes. It is generally known in modern times as the symbol for medicine, though it represents several other concepts as well, such as unified understanding and balanced polarity. Because it sheds its skin, the snake is a symbol of renewal - and healing. In the Caduceus, the intertwined snakes are also seen as symbolic of the DNA helix and the kundalini - the spiral ascension of the soul's energy through the body's central chakras.
Celtic Knot The endless nature of a Celtic knot symbolizes an infinite, connected path. This symbol, which can take a variety of knotted forms, can also represent a commitment, promise, or vow.
Chalice The Chalice, a footed cup, symbolizes communion, sharing, forgiveness, and reconciliation. It also represents a vessel for spiritual life. The chalice is sometimes used as a symbol for the womb and is therefore associated with fertility. In Tarot, chalices (also called "cups") represent deep feelings, emotions, relationships, intuition, imagination, intimacy, attunement, compassion, love, and sensitivity.
Circle The circle symbolizes eternity, infinity, and the cycles of life and nature.
Claddagh Claddagh is a traditional Irish motif that consists of two hands holding a heart with a crown on top. It means "With this crown, I give my loyalty, with these hands, I offer my service, and with this heart, I give my love." It symbolizes friendship, love, and loyalty.
Crown A Crown is the symbol for royalty, superiority, loyalty, power and authority.
Heart The heart is symbol for the soul and for love. It represents sincerity, compassion, charity and mercy.
  Hot Air Balloon Hot Air Balloon represents voyage and a quest for spiritual knowledge. This motif also symbolizes the notion of “rising above” practical matters - and letting go of fear and caution, to seek out more lofty pursuits.
Key Keys are practical, everyday items we all relate to on some level as they provide access to things or areas secured by locks. As a symbol, a key represents the opening or discovering of that which is hidden, secret, or guarded. This motif is often used to represent the process of accessing or uncovering spiritual knowledge and/or wisdom. Keys are also associated with the concept of freedom, initiation rites and ceremonies.
Labyrinth A labyrinth is a unicursal path taken for the development of the soul. It's a symbol for wholeness, spiritual growth, emergence, connection to the source, evolution, initiation, and eternal freedom. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has only one entrance and no branches. The entrance is also the exit. The labyrinth is a metaphor for one's journey into the inner self and back, bringing forth hidden truths in the process..
Lamp/Lantern The Lantern represents enlightenment, intelligence, awareness, truth, wisdom, spirit, faith, vigilance and life.
Peace Sign Said to be first created in 1958 by a British artist, the "Peace Sign" was originally used as an emblem for the "Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament". Soon after it was adopted by peace activists in the United States and has since become recognized as a symbol for promotion of a non- violent option to resolving our troubles.
Pentacle
The Pentacle is a circle around a 5 point star. It both contains and protects. The circle, which symbolizes eternity, infinity, and the cycles of life and nature, touches all five points of the star within, demonstrating that spirit, earth, air, water and fire are all connected. In the Tarot, the pentacle is a symbol of earthly matters, health, money, home, but it also relates to peace, faith, charity, abundance, equality, generosity, reciprocity, trust, responsibility, groundedness and determination.
Scales The Scales symbolize balance, equality, justice, and impartiality. Scales are also a common motif used to represent justice and/or legal matters.
Spiral A Spiral is a symbol for movement, progress, healing, direction, momentum, centering, expansion, awareness, connection, and cosmic energy.
Square Squares represent balance, foundation, structure, stability and dependability.
Star - 5 point
Pentagram
A 5 Point Star is a geometric symbol that has a vast array of meanings associated with it. In the Middle Ages, the 5 point star was known as the “Wizard's Star” and was used to represent the mysteries of the Universe. In modern culture it's often used as a symbol of fame and/or good fortune.
Star - 6 point The 6 point star is also known as the Star of David. It is associated with Judaism. The six points represent the six aspects of God: love, mercy, wisdom, majesty, power, and justice.
  Star - 7 point
Septagram
The Septagram, a 7 point star, also known as a Faery or Elven Star, represents a gateway to the higher self. Its points are symbolic of 7 directions: North, South, East, West, Above, Below, and Within.
Star - 8 point
Octagram
The Octagram, an 8 point star, is an ancient symbol, known as the Star of Venus, the Star of Ishtar (an ancient Babylonian goddess of love, war, fertility, and sexuality), and the Star of Laskshmi (a Hindu goddess of wealth).
Sword The Sword is a symbol for leadership, decisiveness, power, and authority. In Tarot, swords represent intellect, analysis, logic, truth, clarity, integrity, justice, and responsibility.
  Tower The Tower represents the material self and the life we construct to protect and elevate our material existence. The tower can also symbolize isolation as well as one’s desire to achieve great heights. In the Tarot, the tower represents sudden and/or dramatic change. It is the very thing that change throws itself upon, smashing the artifice of security that the tower represents.
Triangle The Triangle represents creativity, proportion, integration, manifestation, and culmination. It also stands for a number of trinities: Power-intellect-love, waxing-waning-full, mind-body-soul, maiden-mother-crone, past-present-future, Father-Son-Holy Ghost, life-death-rebirth, mother-father-child. Pointed up, the triangle symbolizes male energy, the sun, mountains, and "up". Pointed down, the triangle symbolizes female energy, the moon, caves, and "down".
Triquetra The Triquetra is an ancient symbol that, like the triangle represents a variety of trinities: Power-intellect-love, waxing-waning-full, mind-body-soul, maiden-mother-crone, past-present-future, Father-Son-Holy Ghost, life-death-rebirth, mother-father-child.
Triskele A Triple Spiral or “Triskele” is an ancient symbol that represents personal growth, spiritual expansion and creativity, as well as fertility, gestation, and fruition. The Triskele is also a symbol for the triads of mind-body-spirit and past-present-future.
  Trumpet/Horn A Trumpet or Horn is a symbol of awakening. It alerts you to a higher calling, drawing you out of stagnant complacency. The horn represents clarity, divine intervention and the voice of the higher self’s inner calling. It’s also a symbol for the Archangel Gabriel who inspires and motivates us to overcome fear and procrastination.
Wheel The Wheel represents motion, change, mobility, fate, destiny, and luck (good or bad). It is a symbol for the cyclical nature of life and for a natural flow of energy.
Winged Heart The heart is symbol for the soul and for love. It represents sincerity, compassion, charity and mercy. Wings symbolize high aspirations, freedom, elevation, divinity,
achievement of a higher state of being, bravery, as well as angels and fairies. Putting these together, we have the Winged Heart, which symbolizes the freedom to love, feel, and courageously rise above the mundane to achieve one's full potential. It's a symbol for joyful optimism and a free spirit.
  Well
(also Wishing Well)
The well is a symbol for great depth and mystery - for reaching into the deep recesses of the earth and retrieving pure, life-sustaining water, itself a symbol for purification, transformation, and higher wisdom. The act of dropping the bucket into the well and raising its bounty back up to the surface is a metaphor for life - using a trusted path to the inner core to retrieve hidden truths and deep wisdom, sustenance for the soul's journey to enlightenment.
Yin-Yang Yin-Yang is the universal symbol for divine balance. This symbol represents the two great opposite but complementary forces at work in the cosmos. Yin is the female principle. It is cold, dark, receptive, soft, small and still. Yang is the male principle. It is bright, active, upward, hot, creative, and strong. The shape of the ying and yang sections of the symbol give a sense of the continuous movement of these two energies, yin to yang and yang to yin. This movement is seen as the cause of all creation. 

2. Platonic Solids

The foundation of Sacred Geometry, these five solids were believed to be the building blocks of everything in the Universe. To the ancient Greeks,they symbolize fire, earth, air, spirit (or ether) and water.

Tetrahedron  
Hexahedron  
Octahedron The Octahedron is associated with the element of air. It has 12 edges, which naturally correspond to the 12 zodiac signs. In divination, the octahedron creates a careful balance between multiple forces and fosters diplomacy, grace and a willingness to learn. This self-reflecting shape - two pyramids connected at the base - moves one into the higher frequency of reflection, compassion and healing. By working with the Octahedron, we can attune to the more spiritual nature the higher self.
Dodecahedron  
Icosahedron The Icosahedron is associated with the element of water. It carries in it the secret language of the Universe and acts as a matrix for transmuting etheric and physical properties through the fluidity of nature.

3. Nature

Apple The apple represents a thirst for knowledge and is a symbol of life, love, joyousness, truth, peace, fertility, immortality, and luxury. It also represents totality, unity, and wholeness. To offer an apple is a declaration of love. The apple can also symbolize earthly desires, temptation, and the indulgence of such. In modern times, an apple is also used as a symbol for good health and/or a healthy diet.
Earth/World The outline of the planet Earth represents home, balance, wholeness, and a deep sense of belonging. It's also associated with ancient Roman goddess Fortuna, ruler of fortunes, success, abundance and achievement.
Feather The feather is a symbol of "ascension". Ancient Egyptians believed that the worthiness of one's soul (and its ability to ascend) could be determined by comparing the weight of a feather to the weight of one's heart at death. Native American chiefs wore feathers to symbolize their communication with the divine and to signify celestial wisdom. Ancient Druids wore feathers to summon the sky gods and obtain celestial knowledge.
Fire Fire is the symbol for the powers of change and purification. It represents passion, creative force, ignition, conversion, and transformative power. To go "through the fire" is to be lifted out of limitation.
Leaf (unspecified variety) The leaf is a symbol for nature, regeneration, rejuvenation, healing, and growth.
Lightning The Lightning bolt is a symbol of divine power and bold, energetic action.
Lotus The Lotus is a symbol of transcendence, beauty, purity, enlightenment, and rebirth. The lotus grows from its muddy roots, up through the water, to blossom above
the surface where it absorbs sunlight. This is a metaphor for the soul's journey and the human condition. We rise from the mud of materialism, through the waters of experience, to unfold in the warmth of the sun (enlightenment), unmuddied by our messy beginnings.
Maple Leaf It's not just the national symbol for Canada - in China and Japan, the Maple Leaf is the symbol for lovers. In North America, the Maple leaf is associated with fertility, the fruit of physical love (babies) - by way of the stork, a bird that's known to knit Maple branches into its nest. The Maple leaf is also an emblem for the nectar of lovers - delicious, sweet Maple syrup, which represents the sweetness of love.
Moon As a symbol, the Moon represents intuition, mystery, illusion, instinct, psychic force, and unseen power. In the Tarot, the moon can represent these same traits, in addition to inner conflict, nameless apprehension, confusion or a need for introspection. The moon is associated with feminine energy.
Four Leaf Clover
(Shamrock)
The four leaf clover is a traditional Irish symbol that represents good luck. It is often confused with a Shamrock, which only has three leaves (most of the time). The fourth leaf is on a clover is rare thing, so it is considered lucky to find one.

The Shamrock, which traditionally has 3 leaves, represents classic trinities: mind-body-soul, maiden-mother-crone, past-present-future, Father-Son-Holy Ghost, life-death-rebirth, mother-father-child, as well as "Faith-Hope-Love". When a Shamrock is shown to have 4 leaves instead of three, the fourth leaf is a symbol of God's grace or good luck - depending on your point of view.
Snowflake Heaven kisses the earth with each snowflake, a symbol of individuality, purity, and perfection.
Sun The Sun represents life, cosmic power, strength, joy, energy, rejuvenation, opportunity, new beginnings, and light. The sun is also a symbol for "the self". In the Tarot, the sun can represent freedom, awareness, success, accomplishment and triumphant renewal. The sun is associated with masculine energy.

Tree of Life The Tree of Life is a universal symbol recognized by a vast array of cultures and traditions. It symbolizes wisdom, protection, strength, abundance, connection to earth, fertility, beauty, longevity and redemption. A powerful symbol for growth and development, the Tree of Life is also regarded as the life-giving source that provides shelter, sustenance and nourishment for the soul's journey to enlightenment.
Water Water is a symbol for deeper meaning, purification, transformation, higher wisdom, renewal, reflection, intuition, and life.

4. Spiritual and/or Mythological

Angel The word “angel” is derived from the Greek word “angelos”, which means “messengers”. Angels come in many forms, and can be protectors, messengers, or healers. In general, angels symbolize love, protection, guidance, faith, courage, compassion, purity and illumination. Because angels are not hindered by the boundaries between the spiritual and material worlds, they are ideally suited to deliver messages about peace, balance, healing, forgiveness, inspiration, tranquility, divine wisdom, joy, and love. In Tarot, an Angel represents a messenger with important information from the divine.
Ankh The Ankh is an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol that means "life" or "to live" - as well as "afterlife". It is regarded as a symbol for a key to the great mysteries of the universe. It's shape is derived from the union of two shapes: the round sun (the loop) as it kisses the earth's horizon (the horizontal line below the loop). The opening in the top of the Ankh is said to be a "portal" through which one can discover a shifted consciousness.
Celtic Cross Traditionally speaking, the ancient Celtic Cross represents an intersection where divine energies converge. It symbolizes transition, balance, faith, and ascension. This motif - that of a haloed cross, is also widely recognized as a religious symbol for Christianity.
Cross The cross symbolizes the crucifixion of Christ, or more generally, the Christian faith.
  Dragon A guardian and protector, the Dragon symbolizes courage, strength, and good fortune as it embodies primordial power.
Eye(s) of Horus
(Udjat, Wadjet)
Legend tells how Horus, ancient Egyptian deity known as the "god of the sky", lost his left eye when it was plucked out and destroyed in a bloody battle with another deity, Seth (god of the desert, disorder and violence) and then later magically reconstructed and returned to him by Thoth (god of knowledge and wisdom). Horus later offered the reconstructed eye to his dead father, sun god Osiris, in a partially successful attempt to resurrect him from the dead. This reconstructed, sacred eye, is known as the "Eye of Horus", also called an "udjat"or "wadjet", and is a symbol for sacrifice, healing, restoration, protection, and illumination.

The "Eyes of Horus" (both eyes together) represent the two illuminating orbs of the sky - the sun and the moon. Horus's right eye (the sun) represents concrete information, numbers, language, analytical thinking, and masculine energy. The left eye (the moon, which, due to injury and subsequent reconstruction, emanates a dimmer light than the right eye), represents abstract ideas, aesthetic notions, feelings, intuition, and feminine energy. The "Eyes of Horus" symbolize the unification of opposing energies - a balance of the influences of the sun and the moon, male and female, yin and yang. In this balance, Horus brings forth strength, vision, illumination, and spiritual connection.
  Hamsa An ancient symbol, the "Hamsa Hand" crosses over several religious and cultural boundaries. Over many centuries, it has become a known universal symbol of protection. It protects against the "evil eye", a term that represents a broad range of negativity - including our own internal fears. The hand often has an eye in its center to ward off evil; this eye, also a symbol for protection. Hamsa is also known as the Hand of Fatima, Hand of Miriam, and Hand of Mary.
  Isis Known as "Goddess Queen of Egypt", Isis began her life as a mortal, became a queen and was deified after her death. Best known as sister and wife of Egyptian god Osiris and mother of Horus, Isis is also recognized as the Egyptian's version of Eve, mother of all humankind. In this role, Isis is referred to as the "Earth-Mother" goddess. She is the goddess of rebirth, the complete woman, giver of life, healer, and "one who is all". Isis is a powerful advocate for women and children and the protector of loving relationships and marriage vows. Her wisdom helps manifest change and strengthens ancestral bonds. She promotes transformation and loving use of personal power. Her broad powerful wings represent protection and immortality - and the sun she holds above her head shows us her intimate connection to vitality, power, and fertility.
  Kokopelli Though there are many variations of Kokopelli in several cultures, he is primarily recognized as a southwestern Native American deity associated with fertility, marriage, agriculture, rain, and the spirit of music. He is a playful trickster who dances and plays a flute as he bring change to those he visits. Among the Hopi, Kokopelli takes part in rituals relating to marriage and he carries unborn children on his back that he distributes to women. Kokopelli is also associated with the fertility of game animals and is often depicted with animal companions such as rams and deer as well as sun-bathing animals like snakes, lizards and insects. As an agricultural deity, Kokopelli's flute playing chases away the Winter and brings about Spring. Many tribes associate Kokopelli with rain. Some say he carries seeds and babies on his back.
  Mercury Mercury is an ancient Roman god that symbolizes financial gain, commerce, eloquence, messages and communication.
Mermaid Mermaids are mysterious, perceptive, alluring, and independent. Unfettered by the human tendency to over analyze everything, these enchanting, instinctive, and elusive beings have tremendous wisdom at their disposal. The mermaid symbolizes love, beauty, femininity, independence, mystery, untamed emotion, seduction, sensuality, and enchantment.
Om (Aum) The word "Om" or "Aum" in Sanskrit means "sacred" and is said to be at the core of all creation. This symbol represents past, present, and future all at once - as well as any
and all aspects that exist outside of these three views of time. If the whole universe is made up of vibrating, pulsating energy - then Om is the humming sound of this
cosmic energy. Om is regarded as the original creative sound from which the entire universe was manifested.
  Pele Pele, Hawaiian Goddess of Volcanoes and Fire, is a dynamic Divine Feminine force. She sets fire to the falsehood that women are weak. Pele is beautiful, capable, powerful, dignified and full of productivity and vitality. She embodies the glowing essence of eternal and profound love. Pele is also known as "She Who Shapes the Sacred Land", and is deeply connected to both the earth and the moon. She is the expression and embodiment of divine creative power and carries within her the flame of passion and the fire of purpose. She reminds us that when we honor our true self we are unstoppable. And through her sometimes misunderstood destructive powers, Pele has the power to clear away that which no longer serves us, providing a path for the natural the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
  Pegasus Pegasus, a divine winged horse from Greek mythology, represents power, glory, mobility, and accomplishment. Its four legs symbolize grounded stability, its muscular body represents physical power, and its wings symbolize high aspirations.
  Stupa A Stupa is an ancient Buddhist spiritual monument, a spired, stacked dome atop a square foundation, used as a sacred place for meditation or prayer. The Stupa is a symbol for Buddha's holy mind, also called "Dharmakaya" and it represents the essence of the universe, the unity of all things and beings beyond existence and non-existence, the "spiritual body" or "truth body" of all Buddhas.
  Unicorn A highly spiritual essence, the Unicorn symbolizes magic, miracles, purity, innocence, and enchantment - as well as wisdom, integrity, truth, and harmony found through insight and understanding.

5. Animals

Bird (generic) A bird is a symbol for the soul. It also represents the connection between heaven and earth.
Butterfly The Butterfly is a symbol of grace, growth, elegance, soul, resurrection, transition, and transformation. This humble creature starts out as an egg, becomes a caterpillar, and then a pupa (also known as the chrysalis), and finally a winged butterfly - all in one short lifetime. Accepting change can be tough for any of us, especially when "change" is not even of our own choice. The butterfly accepts it with grace and elegance, embracing its inevitable transformation, turning it into a positive.
Cat Cats are resourceful creatures that represent clear perception, intuition, agility, and independence. They also symbolize change, flexibility, and adaptability - as well as curiosity, patience, intelligence, mystery, secrets, and psychic power. Cat energy reminds us to listen in our inner voice and to trust that when taking a leap of faith, we will land on our feet.
  Crab The crab is a fascinating creature. Nimble and fearless, it's at home in ever-shifting tides. As a totem, the crab represents emotional intensity and powerful intuition. It's the symbol for Cancer (June 21 - July 22), an astrological sign ruled by the Moon - and the crab is a symbol for the Moon itself. 
  Crane The Crane is symbolically associated with longevity, health, happiness, wisdom and good luck.
Dolphin A creature of both air and water, the dolphin is a highly intelligent mammal that lives in the sea, dwelling in two worlds at the same time. It represents harmony, duality, balance - yin and yang. Dolphins are vocal animals that use sound to connect to others. They are very protective beings and will rescue those in trouble. Dolphins are very communicative, intuitive and telepathic. They teach us to use our voice, our breath, our mind and our heart. They teach us to not fear the unfamiliar, to find the joy in life, and to play!
Dove The Dove represents unconditional love, peace, grace, devotion, promise, hope, ascension, purity, tenderness, sacrifice, spirituality and divine connection. The dove is also considered to be a heavenly messenger - an emissary of divine wisdom. When carrying an olive branch, the dove ("peace dove") represents an offering of peace and goodwill.
Dragonfly The Dragonfly represents transformation, maturity and enlightenment. Connecting to the power of color, the dragonfly allows you to see and reach for those things you truly want in life. Dragonfly energy can help you find the joy that lies beyond illusion.
Eagle The Eagle is a symbol of transcendence, strength, courage, freedom and spiritual connection.
  Frog The Frog symbolizes metamorphosis and taking a new direction in life. Frogs also represent good luck and abundance.
  Lion The Lion is a symbol of strength, power, wisdom, courage, leadership, loyalty, honor, control, dignity, and sound judgment.
  Nautilus The Nautilus is a symbol of growth, change, discovery, innovation, renewal, continuity, and connectedness. An expression of nature's perfection, the ancient Nautilus is a tropical sea creature that lives in a multi-chambered, spiral shell. It is one example of a "logarithmic spiral" or "growth spiral" - a curve that can be defined by a mathematical logarithm. Throughout life as it grows, the Nautilus creates new, wider, larger chambers to dwell in, each one perfectly proportioned. A lifeline connects its first chamber to its last. Rooms that have been outgrown are left behind - but not forgotten.
  Owl The Owl is a mystical symbol that represents the power to reveal that which is hidden. It also represents clairvoyance, prophecy, wisdom, the moon and the night. Owl energy fosters the ability to extract secrets and detect subtleties that others don't see.
Sea horse The Sea horse is a symbol of serenity and self acceptance.
Turtle/Tortoise The turtle symbolizes shelter, heaven and earth, feminine energy, mother earth, order, creation, stability, and longevity. A turtle's shell symbolizes heaven and its underside, earth. Turtle energy is grounding, patient, and mature. It encourages perseverance and honors longevity. Carrying its dwelling on its back, turtle is at home wherever it goes. Turtles remind us that the way to heaven is through the earth and to honor our deep connection to nature.
  Whale/Whale Tail Whale energy reconnects us to our innate creative and intuitive energies, showing us talents we've forgotten about or haven't been aware existed. They remind us to tap into hidden levels of our mind so that we can remember our past and heal its wounds. The whale’s tail symbolizes power, protection, speed, good fortune, mystery, and sensitivity.

Humpback Whales are well known for their beautiful “song” - a specific pattern of vocalizations that’s sung only by males. This song morphs on an annual basis, but in spite of its changing nature, somehow all whales know what the current version of the song is and how to sing it. Using a type of sonar called echo-location, whales navigate and communicate with each other across vast distances. They help us understand the sacred power of water and the importance of taking time to listen.
Wolf Known as "The Path Finder", the Wolf is a trusted, loyal guide who will help you find your way through life's sometimes difficult twists and turns. She is a teacher, a communicator, and a patient, disciplined problem solver.