If you have watched the movie 'Angels and Demons' then you are probably keen on understanding the meaning of symbols and symbolism! The film is based on an enthralling journey of deciphering symbols, either by association or by resemblance. Normally, the signs are material objects but they may also be written signs used to represent something invisible. It is believed that words, phrases or a description illustrate a deeper meaning than physical entities, so much that even language is a system of spoken and written symbols by which we communicate. Alfred North Whitehead once said, 'Symbolism is no mere idle, fancy or corrupt degeneration; it is inherent in the very texture of human life'. The use of symbols has been employed since ancient times by various groups of people in the fields of art, literature, science, mathematics, religion, philosophy, dream interpretation, health etc. History shows that everything can assume symbolic significance, including natural objects such as the wind or fire, man-made things like houses or boats and even, abstract forms such as triangles or numbers. In short, symbols have the ability to be used for practical purposes via theoretical or conceptual means. To satisfy the curiosity within you, read on to find out the different examples of symbols and where they are used!
Examples Of Symbolism
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you say symbolism in dreams? Today's generation would definitely relate it to the movie 'Inception'. The analysis and interpretation of dreams has become quite a rage, owing to the various dimensions that it opens out to. A small fragment of the visualization, such as a person, scenery, relationship, activity or event, is sufficient to figure out the association that it has with various hidden meanings. For example, when recorded and remembered correctly, if a person envisions abandonment in the dream then it is supposed to signify leaving behind past feelings. Someone once said that dreams are ways of 'transferring symbols from one consciousness to another and meet parts of ourselves that we never considered possible'. Dream analysis is said to be one of the most progressive types of symbolism study or semiotics.
The Meaning Of Art
It is not surprising to watch art lovers stare at paintings or sketches for hours together! This is all because the artist includes a range of symbols in an abstract form to convey an emotion or a message. Different artists have different techniques, but what results from the piece of work is entirely up to the mind of the observer. Consider a painting which shows the shadow of an individual i.e. an art work in the form of 'light' and 'dark' shades. This can be understood as a dualistic and divided mind that a single person can possess, underneath his superficial self. Simple lighting and colours are effective in symbolizing certain hidden meanings and deeper feelings. Paintings with mathematical representations of the x and y axis are symbolic of symmetry and working in harmony with nature.
One of the best examples of symbolism was demonstrated by William Shakespeare in the tragedy, Julius Caesar. He placed several symbolic events, objects and people in this piece of literature as words were not able to describe the implications. For instance, the 'crown', a symbolic representation of power and Rome, was tagged to Caesar's ambitious nature and authority which he would claim after becoming the emperor. Another one was 'Calphurnia's dream' which was significant of Caesar's death and ungratefulness. These phrases/symbols have been pointed out so that the readers create an image in their mind that simple words could not express.
Literary works such as Animal Farm, The Lord of the Flies, Harry Potter and the Wizard of Oz have plenty of allusions to places, events and people depicted in the form of symbols.
Short Stories For Kids
Kids love the use of metaphors, similes, alliterations and imagery as it broadens their imagination and indirectly symbolizes something without the use of the actual meaning. Take for instance, a story written by Oscar Wilde called "The Happy Prince". An excerpt reads: "High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt. He was very much admired indeed. He is as beautiful as a weathercock..." This paragraph gathers unfamiliar subjects and blends it into a vivid story, with the use of symbolism.
The use of text, images, procedures and actual physical objects to convey a certain idea or belief is said to be called religious symbolism. It is obvious to assume that the representation of the 'cross' is associated to Christianity. It has been established, since times immemorial, that certain symbols are related to specific religions. For people around the world, events such as baptism, bread and wine and the Holy Communion are symbolic of Christianity. Others include the dove (significant of the Holy Spirit) or the sacrificial lamb (symbolic to Christ's death). These are symbols which words and sentences themselves cannot represent correctly. Similarly, the Star of David is used to Judaism and the faith of its followers while the colour green embellished with a nascent moon and star symbolizes Islam. Hindu religion is symbolized with the word "Om" written in Sanskrit while fire is said to represent Zoroastrianism.
Contextual use of colours is known to be of prime significance when it comes to symbolism. But the use of these shades, tints and hues are dependent on the location and the occasion. For example, 'red, blue and white' are ideally meant to convey anything American as these colours are represented on the flag. Individually they stand as: red for valour, blue for vigilance, perseverance and justice and white for purity and innocence. The significance of these is slightly different from that in Asian countries where white is considered the colour of mourning as well as of peace and red symbolizes happiness and prosperity. In places such as India, the colour 'saffron' is considered sacred and stands for courage and sacrifice, white represents truth and peace while green represents abundance and happiness.
As mentioned above, symbolism has become an important part of our lives as it is used to depict hidden emotions, feelings and expressions in the form of text, colours, signs, phrases etc. Hope these examples have given you a fair idea on how to decode the meaning of symbols!