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A religious symbol is an iconic representation intended to represent a specific religion, or a specific concept within a given religion.
Religious symbols have been used in the military in many different countries, such as the United States military chaplain symbols. Similarly, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs emblems for headstones and markers recognise 57 symbols (including a number of symbols expressing non-religiosity).
Symbols representing a specific religion
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|Religious tradition||Name||Symbol||Origin||Notes and references|
|Baha'i||Nine-pointed star||According to the Abjad system of Isopsephy, the word Bahá' has a numerical equivalence of 9, and thus there is frequent use of the number 9 in Bahá'í symbols. It was recognized as a grave marker by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs in 2005.|
|Buddhism||Wheel of Dharma||The Wheel has been used as a symbol for the concept of Dharma since at least the 3rd century BC. It represents Gautama Buddha's teaching of the path to Nirvana. It is incorporated in the emblems of Sri Lanka and Mongolia. It has been defined as representing Buddhism as a religious tradition as one of the United States military chaplain symbols in 1990.|
|Christianity||Christian cross||32 AD||The Christian cross has traditionally been a symbol representing Christianity or Christendom as a whole. The Christian cross was in use from the time of early Christianity, but it remained less prominent than competing symbols (Ichthys, Staurogram, Alpha and Omega, Christogram, Labarum, etc.) until the medieval Crusades. Early Christianity had use for such symbols due to the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, as the symbol allowed inconspicuous identification of one Christian to another.|
|Druidism||Triple spiral||As a Celtic symbol, it is used by various eclectic or syncretic traditions such as Neopaganism.|
|Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The||Angel Moroni||1844||The Angel Moroni is an important figure in the theology of the Latter Day Saint movement, and is featured prominently in Mormon architecture and art. An angel with trumpet motif was first used as the weather vane for the 1844 Nauvoo Temple, and starting with the 1892 Salt Lake Temple, most LDS temples feature an Angel Moroni statue, including the rebuilt 2002 Nauvoo Illinois Temple.|
|Community of Christ||A child with the lamb and lion||1874||The lamb and lion have been used informally in Community of Christ since the Latter Day Saints' "Kirtland" period. Its original formal iteration, prominently featuring the lion, the lamb, and child, along with the motto Peace, was designed by Joseph Smith III, Jason W. Briggs, and Elijah Banta, and approved in the denomination's General Conference in 1874.|
|Hinduism||Om||The syllable "om" or "aum" is first described as all-encompassing mystical entity in the Upanishads. Hindus believe that as creation began, the divine, all-encompassing consciousness took the form of the first and original vibration manifesting as sound "OM". Before creation began it was "Shunyākāsha", the emptiness or the void. The vibration of "OM" symbolises the manifestation of God in form ("sāguna brahman"). "OM" is the reflection of the absolute reality, it is said to be "Adi Anadi", without beginning or the end and embracing all that exists. The mantra "OM" is the name of God, the vibration of the Supreme. When taken letter by letter, A-U-M represents the divine energy (Shakti) united in its three elementary aspects: Bhrahma Shakti (creation), Vishnu Shakti (preservation) and Shiva Shakti (liberation, and/or destruction).|
|Islam||Star and crescent||1900s||The star and crescent symbol was used as the flag of the Ottoman Empire from 1844. It was only gradually associated with Islam, in particular due to its ubiquitous use in the decorations of Ottoman mosques in the late 19th century. It was only occasionally adopted as an emblem of Islamic organisations, such as the All-India Muslim League in 1940 (later becoming the Flag of Pakistan), and the US American Nation of Islam in the 1970s.|
|Islam||Islamic calligraphy||The strong tradition of aniconism in Islam prevented the development of symbols for the religion until recently (other than single-coloured flags, see Green in Islam, Black Standard). The lack of a symbol representing Islam as a religion paired with the desire to come up with national flags for the newly formed Islamist states of the 1970s led to the adoption of written text expressing core concepts in such flags: the shahada in the flag of Saudi Arabia (1973). The Flag of Iraq (2008) and the Flag of Iran (1979) has the takbir.|
|Jainism||Jain emblem||1974||An emblem representing Jainism was introduced in 1974. The hand with a wheel on the palm symbolises Ahimsa.|
|Javanism||Cakra Bhawana||Cakra (meaning "wheel, circle") is psychic-energy centers, an Bhawana (meaning "earth, universe"). Since prehistoric times the tribes of the Indonesian Archipelago often revered earth and nature spirits as a life giving mother, a female deity of nature. Cakra Bhawana is form representing a earth, centers of earth, and four mountain. in Javanism: earth is the mother and sky is the father.|
|Javanism||Hyang||The Javanism Calligraphy Hyang is an unseen spiritual entity that has supernatural power in ancient Indonesian mythology. This spirit can be either divine or ancestral. The reverence for this spiritual entity can be found in Sunda Wiwitan, Kejawen, and Balinese Hinduism. In the modern Indonesian this term tends to be associated with gods, devata, or God.|
|Judaism||Star of David||17th century CE||Jewish flags featuring hexagrams alongside other devices appear from as early as the 14th or 15th century CE. Use of the Star of David as representing the Jewish community is first recorded in Vienna in the 17th century CE.|
|Kemetism||Eye of Horus||A symbol from Ancient Egyptian religion symbolizing protection, royal power, and good health, as well as the god Horus.|
|Mithraic mysteries||Tauroctony||2nd century CE||Mithraism is notable for its extensive use of graphical symbols, mostly associated with astrological interpretations. The central symbol is the scene of Mithras slaying the bull; Mithras could also be symbolized in simplified form by representing a Phrygian cap.|
|Norse polytheism||Mjölnir||9th century CE||During the gradual Christianization of Scandinavia, from roughly 900 to 1100 CE, there was a fashion of wearing Thor's Hammer pendants, apparently in imitation of the Cross pendants worn by Christians. These pendants have been revived since the 1970s in Germanic Neopaganism.|
|Pythagoreanism||Tetractys||6th century BCE||The tetractys is a triangular figure of four rows adding up to the number ten, which ancient Pythagoreans regarded as the "perfect number". Pythagoras himself was credited with having devised the tetractys and it was regarded as being of utmost holiness. Iamblichus, in his Life of Pythagoras, states that the tetractys was "so admirable, and so divinised by those who understood [it]," that Pythagoras's students would swear oaths by it.|
|Roman imperial cult||Radiant crown||2nd century CE||Long used as symbol for Sun gods, the crown became the symbol of the divine status of the Roman Emperor, identified with Sol Invictus, around the 2nd century CE. The concept gave rise to the royal crowns familiar throughout the European Middle Ages.|
|Satanism||Sigil of Baphomet||1960s||The Sigil of Baphomet is the official insignium of LaVeyan Satanism and the Church of Satan. The Sigil was derived from an older symbol that appeared in the 1897 book "La Clef de la Magie Noire". This symbol was for a time used by the Church of Satan during its formative years. During the writing of Twoja Stara Bible, it was decided that a unique version of the symbol should be rendered to be identified exclusively with the Church of Satan. The complete graphic now known as the Sigil of Baphomet, named such for the first time in Anton LaVey's The Satanic Rituals, first appeared on the cover of The Satanic Mass LP in 1968 and later on the cover of The Satanic Bible in 1969. The symbol is copyrighted by the Church.|
|Shinto||Torii||A traditional Japanese gate most commonly found at the entrance of or within a Shinto shrine, where it symbolically marks the transition from the profane to sacred; two uprights and two crossbars denoting the separation. Their first appearance in Japan can be reliably pinpointed to at least the mid-Heian period.|
|Sikhism||Khanda||1920||A graphical representation of the Sikh slogan Deg Tegh Fateh (1765), adopted by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee in 1920.|
|Taoism||Taijitu||1800s||The modern "yin and yang symbol" develops into its current shape in the 17th century, based on earlier (Song era) diagrams. It is occasionally used as representing Taoism in Western literature by the late 19th century.|
|Thelema||Unicursal hexagram||1904||In Aleister Crowley's Thelema, the hexagram is usually depicted with a five-petalled flower in the centre which symbolizes a pentacle. The symbol itself is the equivalent of the ancient Egyptian Ankh, or the Rosicrucian's Rosy Cross; which represents the microcosmic forces (the pentacle, representation of the pentagram with 5 elements, the Pentagrammaton, YHSVH or Yahshuah) interweave with the macro-cosmic forces (the hexagram, the representation of the planetary or heavenly cosmic forces, the divine).|
|Unitarian Universalism||Flaming chalice||1960s||Originates as a logo drawn for the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee in 1940; adapted to represent Unitarian Universalism in 1962; recognized by the US Department for Veteran Affairs in 2006.|
|Various, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism||Swastika||Swastika comes from Sanskrit (Devanagari: स्वस्तिक), and denotes "conducive to well being or auspicious". In Hinduism, the clockwise symbol is called swastika symbolizing surya (sun), prosperity, and good luck, while the counterclockwise symbol is called sauvastika symbolizing night or tantric aspects of Kali. In Jainism, a swastika is the symbol for Suparshvanatha – the 7th of 24 Tirthankaras (spiritual teachers and saviours), while in Buddhism it symbolizes the auspicious footprints of the Buddha.|
|Wicca||Pentagram||1960||The pentacle or pentagram has a long history as a symbol used in alchemy and western occultism; it was adopted as a symbol in Wicca in c. the 1960s. There was a campaign to recognize it as a symbol representing Wicca as a religion on US veteran headstones since the late 1990s, and the symbol was recognized for use on such headstones in 2007.|
|Zoroastrianism||Faravahar||The symbol is currently thought to represent a Fravashi (approximately a guardian angel). It is regarded as a national icon in Iran, as well as a symbol among Zoroastrians. It symbolizes good thoughts, good words, and good deeds - the basic tenets and principles of Zoroastrianism.|
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Traditional African religions
In many Traditional African religions, there are no graphical or pictorial symbols representing the actual religion or faith. Each tradition however, has symbolisms which are religious or spiritual in nature. Some of these may be graphical, numerological (as in Serer numerology - see Serer creation myth) or a combination of both. However, these graphical images do not represent the actual faith, but elements within the faith. The very nature of African art stem from "their themes of symbolism, functionalism and utilitarianism" hence why African art is multi-functional. In the traditional African belief system, Africans draw from their various artistic traditions as sources of inspiration. "These images have religio-metaphysical themes, which serve as the focal point of power, which links the African’s physical world to his beliefs on his essence and existence. Indeed the African art reflect images of ancestral spirits, and pantheons of indigenous gods and goddesses."
|Traditional African religions||Name||Symbol||Notes and references|
|Akan religion||Gye Nyame||The Adinkra symbol representing the omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and immortality of Nyame (the Akan sky god).|
|Serer religion |
(a ƭat Roog)
|Yoonir||Yoonir is a religious symbolism in the traditional faith of the Serer people. It symbolizes the universe as well as the Serer people. In the Serer worldview, it represents good fortune and destiny and was used by Serer illiterates to sign their names. The peak of the star represents the Deity Roog. The other four points represent the cardinal points of the Universe. The crossing of the lines pinpoints the axis of the Universe, that all energies pass. The top point is "the point of departure and conclusion, the origin and the end".|
|Mbot||The mbot is the symbol of the Ndut rite of passage (a circumcision rite) that every Serer male must go through. The female equivalent is Ndom (the tattooing of the gums). It is in Ndut classical teachings where Serer boys get to learn about themselves, the importance of teamwork, good citizenship and the secrets and mysteries of the universe.|
|Yoruba religion||Veve of Ogoun||Ogun is an Orisha in the traditional religious beliefs of the Yoruba. The primary symbol of Ogun is iron.|
Other examples of religious symbolism
- Ayyavazhi symbolism
- Buddhist symbolism
- Christian symbolism
- Jewish symbolism
- Symbolism in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- Smith, Peter (2000), "greatest name", A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith, Oxford: Oneworld Publications, pp. 167–168, ISBN 1-85168-184-1
- Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda, The hidden power in humans, Ibera Verlag, page 15., ISBN 3-85052-197-4
- Bruhn, Siglind (2005). The Musical Order of the Universe: Kepler, Hesse, and Hindemith. Interfaces Series. Hillsdale, New York: Pendragon Press. pp. 65–66. ISBN 978-1-57647-117-3.
- Riedweg, Christoph (2005) . Pythagoras: His Life, Teachings, and Influence. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-8014-7452-1.
- Iamblichus, Vit. Pyth., 29
- Lewis 2001, pp. 20–21.
- Lewis 2001b, p. 21.
- Wiccan Pentacles at Arlington, and Why Litigation Was Necessary January 31, 2012 By Jason Pitzl-Waters
- Omatseye, B. O. J; Emeriewen, Kingsley Osevwiyo, An Appraisal of Religious Art and Symbolic Beliefs in the Traditional African Context (p. 529-544) [in] African Research Review, p. 529-30  (International Association of African Researchers and Reviewers (IAARR) )
- Asante, Molefi Kete, Mazama, Ama, Encyclopedia of African Religion, Volume 1, SAGE (2009), p. 39, ISBN 9781412936361 
- Omatseye, B. O. J; Emeriewen, Kingsley Osevwiyo, An Appraisal of Religious Art and Symbolic Beliefs in the Traditional African Context (p. 529-544) [in] African Research Review, p. 531  (International Association of African Researchers and Reviewers (IAARR) )
- Madiya, Clémentine Faïk-Nzuji, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Canadian Centre for Folk Culture Studies, International Centre for African Language, Literature and Tradition, (Louvain, Belgium), p. 27, 155, ISBN 0-660-15965-1
- Gravrand, Henry, La civilisation sereer, vol. II : Pangool, Nouvelles éditions africaines, Dakar (1990), p. 20-21, ISBN 2-7236-1055-1
- Dione, Salif, L’appel du Ndut ou l’initiation des garçons seereer, Dakar, Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire / Enda-Editions (2004), p. 46-7, 148, 159 ISBN 92 9130 047 0
- Gravrand, Henry, La civilisation sereer, vol. II : Pangool, Nouvelles éditions africaines, Dakar (1990), p. 98-100, ISBN 2-7236-1055-1
- Baer, Hans A. (1998). William H. Swatos Jr, ed. "Symbols", in Encyclopedia of Religion and Society. Walnut Creek, CA, USA: Hartford Seminary, AltaMira Press. p. 504. ISBN 0761989560. Retrieved 31 October 2008.
- Media related to Religious symbol at Wikimedia Commons
- Religious symbols and their meanings
- United States Veteran's Administration approved religious symbols for graves