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Barbara Biziou

Sacred Symbols
by Barbara Biziou

"Nature is a temple where, from living pillars,
Confused words are sometimes allowed to escape;
Here man passes, through forests of symbols,
Which watch him with looks of recognition"
--Charles Baudelaire

Symbols are the symbolic language of the soul. Carl Jung theorized that we are able to go beyond the artificial barriers imposed by language to speak directly to our unconscious. These symbols and images allow us to become time travelers as we connect to our past as well as connect to other nations and religions.

The Joy of Ritual by Barbara Biziou

Jung recognized that the universal symbols common to many world religions are archetypal products of humankind’s natural religious function. Two of the most important universal symbolic images that he studied were the circle, or mandala--a symbol of unity and eternity--and the cosmic tree, which can be regarded both as a symbol of the self, or as a cosmic axis linking the underworld, earth and heavens.

Some other cosmic symbols are:

Seed: potential of life
Dot: Supreme Being
Sun: male principal
Moon: female principal
Square: earth
Spiral: cosmic force
Wheel: solar power
Square: manifestation, foundation
Rainbow: a bridge between earth and spirit, the celestial serpent, the highest state of spiritual attainment before enlightenment.
Cross: cosmic axis, union of Earth and spirit, union of Opposites, spiritual union, sacrifice
Star of David: the downward –pointed triangle-the solar masculine principle-life. The upward pointing triangle-the lunar, feminine principle.
The Interlocking Triangles: as above, so below.
Egg: source of life
Water: unconscious, the feminine, the Great Mother, birth, purification
Fire: transmutation, purification, power, passion, illumination, and inspiration
Air: breath, thought, communication, and intellect
Earth: The Great Mother, fertility, nourishment, physical body, foundation, solidity
Cosmic Mountain: creation of the world
Ying/Yang Circle: represents opposition and synergy to the Taoists
AUM: the Hindu sacred syllable, the essence of all sounds
The Ankh: the ancient Egyptian sign of life, which seems to prefigure the Christian cross

Sacred symbols contain cosmic beliefs and therefore can be used as powerful tools in our own spirit journey. By honoring them we gain access to enormous resources which we then can use in our personal and collective rituals and spiritual practices.

As Clare Gibson in Sacred Symbols (Saraband Inc.) so elegantly writes, "Because sacred thought involves the intangible and supernatural, it cannot help but be expressed symbolically. The primary function of a symbol is to express a concept by employing a means of visual shorthand A symbol has many advantages over the written or spoken word: it transcends the barriers of language; its message can be instantly registered and absorbed; and most importantly in terms of the sacred, it encourages a mystical or metaphysical reaction in achieving a closer communion with the sacred. Symbols are powerful and complex forms of communication despite their graphic simplicity."

"In any kind of inner work, whether it be in dreams, meditation, contemplation, guided imagery, or creative visualizations, symbols appear to us as signposts or keys and they function as containers, revealers, or concealers of meaning to enable us to penetrate deeper into the mystery of life." --Angeles Arien, The Tarot Handbook (Arcus Publishing Co).

Symbolism in the Tarot

According to Angeles Arien "the tarot is a symbolic map of consciousness.

Here are some of her interpretations of the Major Arcana or the twenty-two universal principles or laws:

The Fool: one who walks without fear
The Magician: the communicator
The High Priestess: the independent self-knower
The Empress: the nurturer, comforter, beautifier
The Emperor: the pioneer, builder, doer, visionary
The Hierophant: The teacher, counselor, and consultant
The Lovers: synthesizer of dualities, polarities and oppositions
The Chariot: the generator, motivator, and traveler
The Adjustment/Justice: the mediator, adjuster, and arbitrator
The Hermit: the mediator, philosopher, sage, wise man
The Wheel of Fortune: abundance prosperity, fortune
Strength: passion, awareness, and aliveness
The Hanged Man: the transformer
Death/Rebirth: releaser, eliminator, and expander
Art/Temperance: the creator, the alchemist
The Devil: the joker, worker, and stabilizer
The Tower: restoer, healer, and renovator
The Star: self-confident,self-esteem
The Moon: the chooser, the romantic
The Sun: the originator,co-creator
Judgment: the analyst, evaluator, and seer
The Universe: the completion, the initiator

Animal Symbolism

Many cultures have traditionally used animals as symbolism. Native people often view animals as teachers, as each represents a beneficial quality that can help strengthen and educate a person. Once we understand each animal’s essence--the specific gifts and strengths the creature represents--we can then incorporate a particular animal into a ritual and ask its guidance.

For further information see Animal Medicine Cards (Jamie Sams and David Carsson, Bear and Company).

Bear: introspection, incubating ideas and bring them to fruition, cultivating power and support
Beaver: architecture and building, teaches structure, problem solving, and the ability to work with others
Butterfly: transformation, moving forward, trusting life to support you
Cat: independence, playfulness, caution, and gracefulness
Crow: intuition, justice
Deer: gentleness, peace
Dog: loyalty, guardian, and protector
Dolphin: power of play, unconditional love, the ability to release stored emotions through breath
Dove: peace, calm, and simplicity
Eagle: ability to see above the mundane, clarity, vision, and connection to the divine
Fox: confidence, cunning, and independence
Frog: connection to water rituals, a cleansing of spirit, body and mind, easing change
Horse: power, dependability
Hummingbird: joy, celebration life, and the ability to feel emotionally "lighter"
Lion: leadership, action, assists one in moving through fear
Owl: wisdom, clairvoyance, and clarity of thought
Peacock: wholeness, authority of self, and the expression of one’s own beauty
Rabbit: creativity helps one face fear
Raccoon: unmasking the truth helps one accept hidden aspects of the self, the ability to play many roles in life
Snake: sexuality, psychic energy, death and rebirth, immortality
Spider: integration, inner connection, and creativity
Swan: ability to see one’s own beauty and goodness
Tiger: confidence, spontaneity, and strength
Turtle: connection with earth grounding helps one slow down and focus on the present
Wolf: teaching, the ability to establish healthy boundaries, encourages friendship and sense of community

Our ancestors express themselves to us in the sacred symbols of our cultures and religions. For example, my grandfather, being Cherokee, comes to me when I light a cigar and call his name. He appears in the clothes and age when I most needed him in my childhood. I know he is near me when I smell cigar smoke for no obvious reason.

Coyote: people mistakenly dismiss coyote as a trickster, but he is much more than a trickster. Through humor, coyote brings together opposing cultures worldviews and people who think that they are enemies. By making them laugh at themselves and each other, they can see how silly their differences appear to the spirits and animals. Coyote embodies the fool. --Lewis Mehl Madrona, Coyote Medicine (Fireside). 

(Barbara Biziou and Lewis Mehl Madrona will be facilitating a weekend retreat in August on "The Wisdom of the Ancestors.")

The Joy of Family Rituals by Barbara Biziou

Crystals as Symbols:

A crystal is an earth element--a mineral or gemstone. Both ancient cultures and modern science have utilized the mysterious qualities of crystals, which have the ability to receive and transmit energy.

Amber: balance
Amethyst: spiritual awareness, transmutation, healing
Aquamarine: purification, healing, calming
Bloodstone: courage, physical energy
Calcite: balance, peaceful meditation
Carnelian: sex, self-esteem, creativity
Copper: purification, inspiring love, making peace
Fluorite: healing, releasing unwanted energies
Gold: courage, self-awareness, self-confidence, wealth, and virtue
Hematite: encouraging willpowr, concentration
Herkimer Diamond: dream recall
Jade: fertility, wisdom, and tranquility
Lapis Lazuli: communication, healing
Malachite: protection, money
Moonstone: love, psychic awareness, feminine principle
Nickel: youth, beauty, growth, and adaptation
Obsidian: inner growth, psychic development
Opal: passion, love, and emotional expression
Pearl: purity, integrity, focus, wisdom
Quartz: change, focus
Red Jasper: compassion
Rhodolite: love
Rose Quartz: love, compassion
Silver: fertility, nourishment, and growth
Tiger’s Eye: empowerment, willpower, courage, and clarity
Tin; flexibility
Topaz: new beginnings
Tourmaline: healing, balance
Turquoise: balance, friendship, positive thinking

For further information see Love is in the Earth by A. Melody (Earth Love Publishing House).

Symbolic images can communicate an essence of their meaning even to people from different cultures and religious faiths. For example, walking the labyrinth has become a popular event although few realize that they are re-enacting a symbolic Christian pilgrimage or the route that Theseus took to kill the minotaur, half-bull, half-human beast, that King Minos is supposed to have kept at the heart of a labyrinth in ancient Crete. One can appreciate the beauty of the gardens of the Taj Mahal without being of the Islamic tradition which views these gardens as images of paradise containing cypress trees, symbolizing death, and fruit trees, symbolizing life.

In Japanese Zen Buddhism, gardens are made to symbolize the whole of creation, while many use this symbolism in rituals to celebrate Mother Earth.

Sacred Herbs and Flowers:

For thousands of year, we have used flowers and herbs to symbolize the power of earth. Here are a few:

Basil: clarity, prosperity
Bay Leaf: protection
Bamboo: good fortune
Daffodil: new beginnings
Iris: love
Lotus: rebirth
Parsley: protection
Rose: love
Tobacco: fertility
Sage: purification
Rosemary: loyalty, friendship
Thyme: courage, health
Ylang-Ylang: sexual energy

Food and Drink

Food, itself, can be used symbolically. Many cultures offer food on altars, believing that it will give sustenance to the deities as well as to their ancestors. Hindus and Buddhists share this belief, and Hindus often use fruit as an offering. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, an apple, symbolizing nature, is dipped in honey to bring sweetness into the coming year. Native Americans use corn or cornmeal to signify the abundance of a harvest. And when a family moves into a new home, friends often bring bread, sugar, and salt, signifying nourishment, sweetness and purification.

We can use food to represent where we live, where we came from, and its meaning to our loved ones and us. In America, everyone expects cake on his or her birthday, while children associate chocolate bunnies with Easter, turkey with Thanksgiving, candy canes with Christmas.

Bread: earth, harvest, and abundance
Cake: celebration, sweetness
Citrus Fruits: joy, vitality
Corn: earth, harvest, and abundance
Grains: earth, harvest, and abundance
Hot spices: sexuality, creativity
Mangoes: sensuality
Pomegranate: rebirth, abundance
Salt: purification
Seeds and sprouts: new potential
Wine: celebration, bounty, creation of new life (red wine: feminine power-white wine-masculine power)

Feel free to use any symbols that have meaning to you and your family.

 © Copyright 2002 Barbara Biziou.  All Rights Reserved. 

Barbara Biziou
Barbara Biziou, America's foremost ritual expert, teaches us how to restore ritual to its rightful place as food for the soul. Through practical, easy to use ritual recipes that are powerful and inspiring, Barbara teaches people how to effect remarkable changes in their lives. Since 1981 she has traveled the globe, showing individuals and companies how to incorporate spirituality into their hectic lifestyles. Whether you're releasing fear, creating a new career, bringing deeper meaning to a family or community gathering, or celebrating life's passages, her books, The Joys of Everyday Ritual and The Joy of Family Rituals, are like wise best friends that can reconnect you to your heart and soul.

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