The Caduceus is the traditional symbol of Hermes, who was said to carry it in both Greek and Egyptian mythology. It depicts two snakes winding around a winged staff. This ancient symbol is often confused with the Rod of Asclepius, which is used as a symbol of medicine.
The Caduceus represents the planet Mercury and is used to represent an individual’s own primal life force energy. The snakes, represent Kundalini energy (one masculine and one feminine). As the snakes rise and intertwine as person is filled wth life energy and opens the wings of new life.
This Egyptian symbol represents eternal life and provides magical protection, also represents the regeneration of life through water. Many other wisdom traditions use this symbol with some variation in the vertical and horizontal cross. Often the loop at the top is used to represent holy water circulating the body.
The concept of a sacred tree, also known as the Tree of Life, can be found in creation myths from all over the world. The Tree of Life has been spotted in art, architecture, and iconography from different cultures.
The Tree of Life is a symbol of unity, representing the idea that all life on earth is connected: though we may branch out in various directions, each of us is part of something bigger. It honors the diversity of creation while celebrating our shared origins. It is no wonder the Tree of Life is regarded as a timeless, legendary icon.
The figure of Weeping Buddha shows Buddha hunched over, covering his face with his hands. His image is based on the legend of a soldier who inadvertently vanquishes his only son in battle. Realizing what he had done, the soldier – who is none other than Weeping Buddha – began crying in shame.
Weeping Buddha is said to be weeping for all the suffering in the world. It is also said that if we touch his back, he will take away our grief and troubles. In return, he bestows peace and provides the strength we need to live a good life.
The Sri Yantra is the most revered of all yantras, or mystical diagrams. It consists of nine interlocking triangles surrounded by two circles of lotus petals. In the middle is a dot, or bindu, which symbolizes the place from which all creation emerges. Its four upright triangles represent male energy, or Shiva, while the five downward facing triangles represent female energy, Shakti. Together, they represent all of the cosmos and the union of its forces.
The Sri Yantra is said to contain the path to enlightenment. Its geometry is so profound, that meditating on its patterns is said to inspire divine wisdom and a sense of oneness. For this reason, the Sri Yantra is considered a powerful tool for spiritual growth.
Mudras are sacred hand gestures and expressions of inner wisdom. Each mudra represents a different action or form of energy. In meditation, mudras help maintain focus, allowing the meditator to channel a specific energy for their practice.
Mudras are also a common feature of Eastern art, as various figures and deities are often shown gesturing with a specific mudra. In fact, mudras are some of the most distinguishing characteristics, helping the viewer better understand the meaning behind a specific statue or image.
Thumb and forefinger touch to create a circle
A gesture of instruction, wisdom, and intellect, this mudra represents transmission of knowledge. The mudra’s circle also represents the perfection of dharma.
Right palm faces outward, fingers are straight
A gesture of protection, reassurance, and comfort, this mudra means “no fear.”
The fingers of the right hand touch the ground
A gesture of determination and steadfastness, this mudra represents the strength necessary to overcome temptation.
Spotted in paintings and statues, skulls feature prominently in Eastern iconography. In both Buddhism and Hinduism wrathful deities are often depicted wearing necklaces of human skulls known as munda malas. In Tibetan Buddhism, certain tantric rituals require the use of vessels made from human skulls. These are known as Kapalas and were traditionally used to make offerings to the gods.
In Tibetan Buddhism, skulls represent bliss, the limits of human knowledge, and the Buddhist concept of emptiness, or the idea that nothing has an inherent essence. Denoting death, skulls are also a reminder of impermanence and life’s malleable nature. Because nothing is fixed and all is fleeting, one sees a skull and is reminded to embrace empathy: live today, for tomorrow is not guaranteed.
Greatly revered across different Buddhist traditions, Kuan Yin is an example of the “sacred feminine”. Also known as Kwan Yin and Guan Yin, Kuan Yin first appeared in Chinese scriptures around 400 CE. She is believed to be the female manifestation of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
Depicted as an ethereally lovely Goddess, Kuan Yin is a symbol of unconditional love, kindness, and mercy. She shields and cares for the sick, the unwanted, the unlucky, and the poor. As one who protects women and children, she is also linked to fertility. Followers turn to her in times of need, fear, or misfortune. With just a glance at her graceful countenance, you too may find her to be a source of calm and comfort.
Yin and yang represents masculine and feminine, light and dark, and the law of polarity. It’s been around since before the third century B.C. in China, and the idea of opposing forces has echoed in many cultures and schools of thought since. Ultimately, yin and yang demonstrate balance and the inherent harmony of nature.