What is Symbolism and How are Symbols Used?

At its core, symbolism is the use of symbols to represent an idea, convey a message, or express valuable wisdom and information that is difficult to interpret. Symbols can take the form of images, objects, gestures, numbers, colors, or even words that carry a deeper meaning beyond their literal interpretation, which can be limiting. They serve as a bridge between the visible and the invisible, allowing us to communicate complex concepts.

Symbols are often used in literature, art, religion, science, business, and everyday life. We see them as we drive down the road, as we scroll social media, and within almost all that we do to some degree. This is because symbols help us to communicate without even speaking or ever meeting at all.

Branding is generally a picture of something that you may recognize as a logo for someone’s business, organization, community, etc. This could range anywhere from McDonald’s to Tesla. It could also be something like an animal that represents one’s country or culture. For example, the bald eagle represents the United States.

To learn more about Archetypes, click here.

Perhaps the most interesting type of symbol is something called an archetype. An Archetypal image is a symbol that is deeply embedded in the collective consciousness. This means that we understand the symbol or have an idea of what it is collectively and without having to learn it. Some good examples of archetypes are images involving death, a mother, or lovers.

The use of symbolism is not a recent phenomenon. It has been an integral part of human culture for thousands of years. Ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Mayans, used symbols extensively in their art, architecture, and religious practices. These symbols served as a way to communicate complex ideas, convey cultural beliefs, and establish a sense of identity among groups.

Symbols can be and have been passed down from generation to generation, through languages and cultures, and still be recognized. For example, think about the symbols for male and female restrooms or the universally understood symbol for peace. These symbols allow us to communicate across language barriers and cultural differences.

An abstract symbol is a picture or piece of creative art, a geometrical shape, or a certain set of images used together to form a larger idea; which has a deeper meaning. An example of this is an Ankh, often found in Egyptian mythology. An ankh is a cross with an oval on the top, representing the soul’s migration from the physical body after death into the afterlife.

Symbols can also extend beyond images alone and include numbers, colors, and even sounds. Music is read by the use of symbols that indicate a sharp note or a minor note. Meanwhile, other symbols, like the clef, indicate specific desired pitches.

Around the world, certain numbers are either revered or thought of as something to fear. In Chinese culture, the number eight is considered lucky, symbolizing wealth and prosperity. For many major cities in the United States, most tall buildings do not have a level thirteen due to the belief that it is unlucky. The number seven, however, is lucky in the USA and a triple seven often indicates winning loads of money.

Colors, too, hold symbolic significance. This can often be seen in Colorology and Yoga. Red usually symbolizes passion, danger, blood, or the physical world. Blue is often associated with calmness, melancholy, and ease of expression. Green may be envy, money, the heart, love, and emotional matters.

There is a more psychological way to use symbols and this is based on personal perception. For example, Psychologists sometimes use ink blots that have multiple interpretations available. However, what that patient sees reveals what’s often hidden from them consciously and held in their subconscious.

When you look at a picture and interpret it based on a personal perception, it can tell us more about our state of mind. More specifically, it can point to what we’re unaware of occurring inside of our own psyche, which can motivate our actions and reactions without us previously knowing why.

For example, seeing a snake rather than a baseball bat could mean that this particular individual is likely experiencing a type of transformation internally and is in a period of spending more time alone. If they were to see a baseball bat, it may indicate more physical activity, a competitive personality, and a possibility of pent-up energy.

From Within the Labyrinth,


  1. “Symbolism” – Encyclopedia Britannica
  2. “Symbolism in Literature” – Literary Devices
  3. “Symbolism in Art” – The Art Story
  4. “Symbolism in Religion” – World Religions
  5. “Symbols and Signs” – Ancient History Encyclopedia
  6. “Symbolism in Ancient Civilizations” – Ancient Origins

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