Religious Symbols

Introduction

Symbols are objects, gestures, images, written words, or specific marks that are used to signify a wider set of connection either through by alliance, semblance, or convention.

There are various categories of symbols both in the secular and religious domain all of which bear similar or different meanings depending on their global reach. In general, symbols are classified into religious and secular symbols each of which has a precise and global meaning. Symbols are therefore easy to recognize but one needs to associate with the symbolized ideology in order to understand the meaning of the symbol.

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The evolution of society has led to the association of the like-minded individuals who ideologically have the tendency to relate to similar individuals while secluding others who are perceived as different. Consequently, each like minded group creates symbols that will allow for visual or audio association without necessarily any verbal communication consequently forming a subliminal connection.

Secular symbols

These are symbols that have no spiritual significance and rather are associated with more worldly oriented activities and societies. Unlike religious symbols that are normally primordial and have been passed through several generations, secular symbols are created on a regular basis and are prone to alteration.

Atheist, Cult, Sect and Denomination symbols

These are symbols used to represent religious groups that do not share a single, generally accepted, current definition of religion. Such groups usually have teachings bordering a certain religion but are either too strict or relaxed in their practices. Other are symbols used to represent groups that do not believe in God Since their ideology is not widely embraced, they use certain symbols to identify their members (Ellwood 45).

Such symbols include piercing of the upper part of the ear, certain rings, and tattoos among other symbols. Most atheist symbols usually have a cosmic pattern and often integrate the letter A in their design (Ellwood 45). Examples include the invincible pink unicorn, American atheist logo and the endorsed atheist symbol.

Military symbols

Military symbols are used to identify members of the military units of specific forces of a given country. Different military units such as the armed forces, marines, navy, rangers as well as the air force have different symbols on their uniform badges to identify them. The symbols are such as; crossing rifles, artillery, crossing swords or specific colors (Ellwood 45).

In addition, different ranks in the military have different badges on their uniform and on the berets and crowns. Such symbols include eagles, purple hearts, colored badges and metallic stars. There is also the use of body language and gestures such as the salute which is also considered to be a symbol (Ellwood 46).

National symbols

These are symbols used to identify any given country in the world and are unique to the given country. Other symbols are used to identify certain physical features on a map of a specific geographical region and are universally recognized apart from those used by the military for intelligence purposes.

Roads are usually illustrated as lines, churches as a cross and bridges as double lines across a water body (Ellwood 46).Flags are a colored representation of a country’s values and history and the colors are usually symbolic of a past experience or valuable resource (Ellwood 49).

National anthems are songs sung to the praise of a nation which are symbolic of a nation’s aspirations for its citizens and are intended to integrate patriotism and loyalty to one’s nation. In addition, certain international organizations have flags to represent the values of the organizations for instance the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the World Food Program all have flags to assert their commitment to perform certain duties (Ellwood 50).

Political symbols

These are the most widely used and diverse symbols because they exist in almost every nation that has political parties where each party bears a unique political symbol.

Through out history however, there have been a number of political symbols that have become prominent and greatly influential to modern day politics. Such symbols include the communism symbol of a crossing hammer and sickle inside a red five sided star, the swastika, the anarchism symbol of a letter A inside a circle, fascist symbol among others (Ellwood 48).

Currency symbols

Major international traded currencies are represented by symbols in order to allow easier identification. Currencies such as $ for the dollar, ? for the yen, ? for the British pound and ˆ for the euro. All international currencies have unique symbols that make the currency corresponding to the symbol easily identifiable (Ellwood 49).

Trademarks and logos

These symbols are used to identify the products from a specific organization or company. These symbols are therefore synonymous to that company and the use of the symbol on other products is illegal. The most commonly known trademark is the MacDonald’s fast food chain letter M. Others include the Nike tick logo, Mercedes Benz three sided star, and the Nokia tune among others.

Countries can also be allocated symbols for instance Australia as a kangaroo, New Zealand as a kiwi, Canada as a conifer leaf and Ireland as a clover (Ellwood 46).

Religious symbols

Religious symbols are used to represent a large group of individuals who are committed to a certain faith and the symbols are usually considered sacred and holy. The most commonly known Christian symbol is the cross or the crucifix which is used to represent the object on which Jesus was crucified hence redeeming believers from the burden of sin. Other Christian churches also use scented candles, rose water, sacrament and wine as a symbol of their commitment to Christ.

Other Christian symbols include the peace dove also referred to as “shalom”, six sided Star of David, the Huguenot cross among others (Ellwood 52). Similar to Christianity, Islam has unique symbols that are only identified by members of that faith. The most common is the crescent moon which is used as a prayer guide and also as a seasonal indicator to Islamic prayer routines (Ellwood 53).

There is also the sun which is used to show the time of prayer and also a seasonal pattern indicator for prayer programs. Of all religions, Hinduism can be said to have the highest number of sub-denominations enclosed within the Hindu religion. Different groups of people from different parts of Asia depending on their geographical location, tribe and culture have different religious symbols (Ellwood 53).

The most common is the cow which is considered to be sacred. There are other subgroups that also hold sacred other animals such as mice, certain species of birds and cats (Ellwood 54). There are however religious symbols such as the Ramayana, which is a legendary half man being, which is generally accepted among the Hindu community as a heavenly warrior who guards member of the Hindu faith.

Conclusion

Symbols are the simplest form of communication and have therefore been used by societies since ancient times. The Roman Empire for instance had symbols to represent the king and the symbols authenticated any document in the name of the king. The pope also has a symbolic ring which is an illustration of his divine clout. Modern societies have adopted numerous symbols as societies get more disintegrated in terms of interests.

Young adults in Metropolitan low to mid income societies in particular have the propensity to form gangs and the only way such gangs identify each other is through symbols such as hand gestures, dress code and tattoos. Professional practitioners such as doctors, lawyers, engineers and other occupations such as police, firefighters, construction all have symbols to either identify one as a member of an occupational group or identify rank within the group.

Doctors in hospitals have conventionally worn a white overcoat and a stethoscope round the neck while nurses have white or blue uniform. Engineers on the other hand can be differentiated from construction workers at a site through the color of helmets.

It can also be seen that Religious symbols are more conventional and have existed for a long period of time since they have been passed down through generations. Secular symbols are easily generated and are therefore constantly emerging and evolving in synchrony with society.

In addition, religious symbols are more consistent in intent and are considered to be numerous in comparison to secular symbols since there are numerous religions and each religion has several symbols. Symbols are important in society since they simplify the means individuals associate and integrate.

Works Cited

Ellwood, Robert. Introducing Religion from Inside and Outside, (3rded). New York: Prentice Hall, 1993. Print.

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