Religious symbolism

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Religious symbolism provides an additional means to communicate the underlying message of a religion via symbols, apart from communication by words. Jesus in Mathew 13:13 says, "The reason I use parables in talking to them is that they look, but do not see, and they listen, but do not hear or understand." Symbolism, like parables, clarifies a message to make its meaning more accessible to the mind. It is the use of symbols, including archetypes, acts, artwork, events, or natural phenomena, by a religion.[citation needed] Religions view religious texts, rituals, and works of art as symbols of compelling ideas or ideals.[citation needed] Symbols help create a resonant mythos expressing the moral values of the society or the teachings of the religion.[1] Religious symbols typically differ from other symbols in that they define our relationship with the truth. The sun is among the more commonly used religious symbols.[2]

Popular religious symbols


The Sun holds our solar system together. It provides life-giving heat and energy to the earth.[3] The North American Plains Indians used to honor the sun with the unifying Sun Dance. [4]

In the Baha'i faith the sun is the symbol of truth. For believers, the truth is the word of God as communicated through the dispensations. The sun effects plants, animals, the wind, the ocean and every other symbol on earth. The sun is used as a source of stability during stormy, windy weather. It is the most reliable object in the sky.[5] However, it is often obstructed by clouds.[6]


Clouds start to form when evaporated water reaches a high enough altitude. At that point, the cool air causes the water vapor to stick to other elements in the atmosphere. Thus, the water becomes more visible as a cloud.[7] In religious symbolism, those clouds are important because they block the sun. The obstruction of the sun is undesirable. However, clouds can be removed to reveal the truth. Thus, they are often used as a symbol of hope.[8]


Western pop music has a history of using rain as a metaphors which are often similar to the ones used in religious documents. In 1959 Buddy Holly released the song "Raining in My Heart", which related the rain to other symbols such as the sun, sky and clouds.[9]

In the Baha'i faith, rain represents the ambiguous relationship that people have with the truth. The rain can be cold and harsh, but is the only way to clear away the clouds. Thus, the rain is often depicted as a positive thing that waters the metaphoric garden of God.[10]


In popular culture, the wind has been used as a symbol of hardship. The Santa Ana winds in California have influenced numerous works of literature. The book Less Than Zero, the Beach Boys' song "Keepin' the Summer Alive", and the TV series Weeds all make use of the Santa Ana winds as a symbolic tool.[11][12]

As a religious symbol, the wind has an effect on almost every other religious symbol, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad, but always difficult to control. The wind is used to teach believers how to handle adversity. In most cases, religious adherents are encouraged to stay focused on the sun, while seeking sanctuary with religious followers around the world.[13]


In pop culture, roots almost always refer to the origins of something. One of the most famous examples is the 1977 TV miniseries Roots. The story follows an African abductee as he is forced to become part of the American slave trade.[14] In the Zac Brown Band's song "Roots", roots are used to symbolize origins. The song contains the lyrics "My roots always keep me grounded / Roots remind me where I'm from".[15]

In religion, the symbol of the root is almost always used in conjunction with the sun, and all parts of the tree. Believers are encouraged to plant their ideological seeds in a place where the roots can sprout and the leaves can receive sunlight. This is the only way for the tree to bear fruit. In this case, the sun represents the truth of the word of God.[16]


Many of the earliest uses of the symbol of the branch are specific to olive branches. In ancient Greece, the olive branch was used as a symbol of peace and victory. In the story of Noah's Ark, a dove returned to the ark carrying an olive branch, and Noah knew then that the floods had receded. In this case, the branch was used as a sign of hope.[17] In 1855 the army engineer who was assigned to put a dome on the capital building in Washington wrote the following message to the sculptor: "We have America in the pediment. Victories and Liberties are rather pagan emblems, but a Liberty, I fear, is the best we can get." To spite the engineer's aversion to the pagan symbolism, the sculptor Thomas Crawford presented an initial proposal that would have placed an olive branch on the statue of an eagle. The olive branch was not included in the finished sculpture.[clarification needed][18]

In the Baha'i faith, a branch is used to demonstrate the need for unity. A branch can be fruitful and productive. A branch should always prioritize the overall health of the tree. Diseased branches should be removed from the tree in order to keep it healthy.[19]

See also


  1. ^ Pascal Boyer, "Cognitive Aspects of Religious Symbolism", Cambridge University Press, 1993
  2. ^ Charles Black, "The Use of Religious Symbolism in Art and Culture", Multi Fest, February, 2, 2016
  3. ^ "The Sun", National Geographic
  4. ^ "Sun Dance", Encyclopedia Britannica
  5. ^ Charles Black, "The Symbolism of the Sun", Multi Fest, December 12, 2017
  6. ^ Charles Black, "The Symbolism of Clouds", Multi Fest, December 12, 2017
  7. ^ "What are Clouds?", NASA, December 19, 2017
  8. ^ Charles Black, "The Symbolism of Clouds", Multi Fest, December 12, 2017
  9. ^ David Hinckley, "Why Buddy Holly Should Not Fade Away — and Won’t", Huffington Post, December 6, 2017
  10. ^ Charles Black, "The Symbolism of Rain", Multi Fest, January 9, 2018
  11. ^ Lucy Blodgett, [1], Huffington Post, December 1, 2011
  12. ^ Brittany Taylor, "10 Best Pop Culture Shout-Outs to the Santa Ana Winds", LA Weekly, October 26, 2012
  13. ^ Charles Black, "The Symbolism of the Wind", Multi Fest, December 12, 2017
  14. ^ Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, "Roots: The Most Important TV Series Ever", BBC, June 2, 2016
  15. ^ Brittney McKenna, "Hear Zac Brown Band Celebrate Their History in New Song 'Roots'", Rolling Stone, May 3, 2017
  16. ^ Charles Black, "The Symbolism of a Tree's Roots", Multi Fest, December 31, 2017
  17. ^ Carol Kuruvilla, "The Surprisingly Spiritual Meanings Behind Some Of The Emojis On Your Phone", Huffington Post, February 4, 2016
  18. ^ Lily Rothman, "The Surprisingly Complicated Symbolism of the Freedom Statue Mentioned in Trump's State of the Union", Time Magazine, January 31, 2018
  19. ^ Charles Black, "The Symbol of a Trees Branch", Multi Fest, December 31, 2017

External links

  • MultiFest Interactive Resource
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