On of the basic human characteristics is the ability to attach a symbolic meaning to an object or an action. Conscience, and the ability to rationalize has given the human race a specific need for communication on every level. Communicating thru speech isn’t as important as we make it out to be, scientist agreeing that more than 80 per cent of communication is non-verbal. So what is the rest: it is mainly body language but at it’s very core it is all about symbolism and symbolic gestures. Symbolism is basically a form of boiling down certain characteristics and attributing them to one specific object or gesture. So…let’s see some symbolism examples in order to get a clearer understanding of the concept.
1. Lion. Symbolism has been around from the first signs of human consciousness. In many African tribes today we can see that power fertility or other basic human characteristics are symbolized by specific creatures. Chieftains of tribes will always try to show their power thru symbolism, by decorating themselves with claws, coats, or teeth from the most majestic and imposing creatures like the lion. In literature, the lion is called the king of the jungle, and in almost every culture, it is a symbol of power and strength.
2. The dove. The dove is the universal symbol for peace. A white dove carrying an olive branch has retained this symbolism of peace from the Old Testament story of Noah’s Ark. Since then, this symbol has crossed over into other cultures as well, so now, a white dove is generally recognized as an international sign of peace. As far as symbolism examples go, this is one of the most recognizable.
3. Fox. Many of the first symbols that humans used were almost invariably related to key characteristics of animals. As lion was a sign of power, and the white dove a symbol for peace, so the fox became a symbol for cunningness. Although it is most times referred to as a character defect, the symbol of the fox can be in some cases, such as military strategy one of the most important attributes you can adorn on somebody.
4. Fire. In addition to animals, natural phenomenon’s are often used as symbols of a certain state of mind or of a spiritual experience. Probably from its first discovery fire was a symbol for damnation. Fire is essential to our survival and in many cultures especially Eastern cultures, fire is seen as one of the basic elements that make up life. In Western philosophy however has attributed the symbol of Hell to fire. This is a clear example which shows us that religion in this case Christianity has a big role in how we perceive the World.
5. Cupid’s arrow. One of the most unlikely symbols for love has become the arrow. The myth of Cupid who strikes people with his arrow who then fall in love has become so widespread and so embedded in popular culture that if you show anyone a picture of a heart with an arrow through it they will automatically recognize it as a symbol for love. It is one of the most well known symbolism examples.
6. The Body and Blood of Christ. This is one of the most important symbols in any Christian religion. It refers to the change that occurs in the Eucharist to the substance of the wheat bread and the grape wine which transforms into the substance of the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ. This symbol has been extracted directly from passages in the Bible, and the act of transforming the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is called transbutination.
7. The Raven. In almost all cultures, the raven is the sign of death. This symbol can probably be traced back to the characteristics of this bird. It is a scavenger, so it feeds mostly on dead animals, and that is where probably the first associations between ravens and death have appeared. Also the raven has intensely black feathers which also help with the association to the color of death. Not least of all, ravens have an extremely long lifespan, one of the longest in the natural world, which help maintain the illusion that they are immortal as death is. All of these attributes that the raven has in real life have made it a perfect symbol, for decades now, for death.
Symbols are a very important aspect of our lives and we are surrounded by symbolism examples wherever we look. Symbolism in art is probably the most important aspect of any masterpiece, because it is through symbols that artists manage to transmit whatever emotion they want to the viewer. The ability to recognize symbols is unique to human kind, and to some extent we can definitely argue that it is what makes us human.