12 Protection Symbols and Their Symbolism
Protection Symbols have been an important – if not crucial – aspect of culture since the dawn of humanity.
First cave drawings featured simplified representations of animals, and in time, some of these became signs that gained deeper meaning and carried a message. Maybe even a message from beyond? Symbols, especially protection symbols, were, and still are, a way of communication and transcendence, a tool for nurturing the spirit of individuals and groups alike.
All of this may sound a bit confusing, right? How can such a simple graphic have many various layers of meaning?
But first, have you ever wondered what a symbol actually is?
Let’s find out.
What is a Symbol?
According to the Oxford dictionary, a symbol is “a mark or character used as a conventional representation of an object, function, or process.”
And true – most of the symbols that surround us are used practically and hold no spiritual value.
For example, the letter “S” that symbolizes Sulphur in the Periodic table of elements is just that – a letter that stands for and represents this particular chemical element.
The Deeper Meaning Of Symbols
The definition of a symbol sounds pretty bland compared to the everyday weight of the word for many people. Since human culture goes way beyond the strictly material world, many symbols have much more profound meaning and significance.
The most obvious and typical examples are the dominant religious symbols – the Christian cross, the Jewish Star of David, the Islamic Crescent moon, the Buddist Lotus, the Hindu Om.
As you know from day-to-day experience, personal or observed, these symbols are a source of comfort and protection for billions of people worldwide. Thus, we can also classify them as protection symbols.
However, these are just some of the spiritual protection symbols that have occurred throughout human history. Did you know that there are many more protection symbols, stemming from various cultures, philosophies, and belief systems?
Today, we will explore some of the most significant and intriguing protection symbols originating from all around the globe.
How did protection symbols evolve?
Life on Earth is full of dualities. We have light and darkness, night and day, life and death; good and evil, safety and danger. Humans have always strived to empower themselves and their fellow groups from the negative life outcomes, “the dark side.”
Empowerment means to gain power – the power to control our circumstances, survive in the face of danger, conquer enemies, and be confident of victory. However, in a world full of challenges and forces much stronger than us, sometimes our confidence and spirit sink. Once that happens, we lose both mental and physical strength. We become lost and faithless, and therefore much more susceptible to adverse outcomes.
From the spiritual point of view, the purpose of protection symbols is to call on a higher deity to protect us. From the psychological standpoint, the purpose of protection symbols is to anchor the human consciousness and prevent the spirit from sinking.
Protection symbols also draw their power from the fact that they have been around for millennia. Therefore, utilizing these symbols becomes the means of calling on higher forces to protect us and to call on our ancestral strengths.
Protection Symbol List
Now, follow me on a journey to explore some of the most well-known protection symbols, their meaning, and their origins.
To avoid giving one symbol a greater significance over the other – as the importance of particular signs can be quite a divisive issue – I will sort them in alphabetical order.
Origin: Ancient Egyptian
Ankh is one of the most well-known symbols of Ancient Egypt. In their writing and art, it represented life, and thus, it became widely known as a symbol of life itself. The Egyptian pharaohs were commonly represented holding an ankh, signifying their divine power over all life.
Ankh was commonly painted along with two other signs – the Was and the Djed. Their trinity represented the concept of “all life, power, and stability.”
Because of its superficial resemblance to a Christian cross, Ankh is also known as “the Egyptian cross” in the west, we could debate if its characterization as “a cross” is correct. Ankh is also viewed as a key – “a key of life.”
The horizontal and the vertical bar of the Ankh are thought to symbolize the feminine and masculine energy, respectively. The loop is considered to be the rising sun, as the sun was one of the main focuses of Ancient Egyptian spirituality.
Over the years, Ankh’s use spread across several cultures. Coptic Christians adapted the original Ankh into their cross symbol called crux ansata.
In broader Western culture, the Ankh has been popular since the 1960s and has been incorporated into Neopagan religions. It is depicted in the goth subculture and sometimes as the symbol of African cultural identity.
As an amulet or a charm, the Ankh represents immortality and is supposed to bring good fortune.
Origin: Native American, Indo-European
Strong or dangerous animals had been used as protection & strength symbols across various cultures. And indeed, bears are among the most powerful land animals on Earth.
Wherever they live and roam, bears have always made a great impression among human cultures that shared their habitats. Large, strong, intelligent, and sometimes dangerous, bears evoked a sense of power and fearlessness. That is especially true for the American grizzly.
The European brown bear is commonly encountered and represented in European folklore and is a major national symbol in Russia. Still, it was the American grizzly bear that became a globally recognized protective symbol, due to its sacred status among many Native American tribes.
Because of its strength and the ability to keep fighting even when gravely wounded, the bear was thought to possess great magical powers. That is why many tribes wore the bear’s body parts as amulets, in a belief that the carrier will be granted invincibility, special spiritual powers, and superb health.
Zunis people created stone talismans with carved bears to bring good luck and protection.
Today, the bear symbolizes courage, physical strength, leadership, and protection. Feelings of bear protection and loyalty are largely evoked by the protectiveness of the mother bear towards her cubs. Although amulets from bear body parts are thankfully rare in contemporary times and most bear species are protected in their native ranges, bears or bear tracks are very present as tattoos and pendants.
Celtic Shield Knot
Celts had a vast variety of knot symbols, used both as decoration and a symbol of higher values and realities. One of the oldest and the most well-known ones is the Shield Knot.
As the name suggests, the Celtic shield knot symbolizes protection and has been used on various wearable items to ward off danger, harm, and evil spirits. It was prominent on warrior’s shields, not only to protect but to attract divine blessing to that particular person in the battle.
Shield knot has various iterations, but one key distinction makes it stand apart from other knot ornaments. No matter how stylized, the shield knot always has four corners.
We can find similar symbols in other cultures – specifically Mesopotamian, Norse, Buddhist, and Christian (the last one is adopted from the Celtic culture).
Since battlefields are less common today than in the times of ancient Celts (luckily!), in contemporary times, the shield knot is also known as the symbol of love, unity, and commitment in various relationships – familial, friendly, or romantic. The endless loop in the middle represents a love that is infinite and everlasting, and the knot itself represents the strength of the bond.
Origin: Indo-European / west Asian
Commonly associated with Christianity, the cross is actually an ancient symbol, present in many cultures before Christianity’s development. It was a powerful religious pagan symbol in pre-Christian Europe and western Asia, often with a distinctly male connotation. The effigy of a man hanging on a cross was used in fields for the protection of crops.
There is a sound reason why the cross has been such a powerful symbol for so long. The horizontal and the vertical lines that intersect in or near the middle are a perfect analogy of the earthly, material Life (horizontal plane) and the upper, spiritual, cosmic realm (vertical plane). The intersection represents the center of the world, where earthly and divine merge.
Cross became a symbol of Christianity in the 4th century AD, after Emperor Constantine abolished persecution of Christians and crucifixion as a form of punishment. For Christians, the cross stands for salvation through Christ, faith, and redemption and for accepting suffering and death in the name of faith. The cross symbol is used in many Christian rituals to ward off evil and give one protection in God.
Because of its two-millennia use in Christianity, but also due to popular culture, the cross is one of the most well-known protection symbols in the west. It is used by the faithful to ward off the greatest evils – even the devil himself. Fiction often depicts a cross being used against demons, demonic possession, vampires, and other archetypal forces of darkness.
There are many iterations of this symbol. Some examples include:
- Arrowhead cross
- Celtic cross
- Two-barred or Patriarchal cross
- Maltese cross
- Andrew’s Cross or Saltire
- Tau Cross
Most of these cross variants are more or less connected with Christianity. However, the solar cross or sun cross should be considered separately, as it is one of the oldest religious symbols in the world – dating back to Bronze Age Europe. I should also mention that its resemblance to the Celtic cross is merely superficial, although the two are often used interchangeably – and wrongly so.
Flower Of Life
Here is something for all the math lovers out there. One of the most mysterious and ancient symbols on our list, The Flower of Life, appears seemingly independently across various cultures. The earliest record is found on the steps of the palace of King Ashurbanipal, the king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, and has been dated to 645 BC. However, some claim that the symbol dates back to the Sumerians.
Flower of Life is highly geometrical and is a fine – and perhaps the first – example of sacred geometry. It is made up of overlapping, concentric geometric circles – most commonly 7, 13, or 19 of them – that are said to represent patterns of creation. All of the interlocking rings have their own significance, and many other symbols, such as the Kabbalah’s Tree of Life, stem from the Flower of Life.
The Flower of Life is a symbol of creation, the connection between all living beings, and points that all life stems from one source. It also represents the mathematical order of life.
Hamsa (Hand of Fatima)
Origin: Мiddle East
Hamsa is also known as “The Hand of The Goddess” and as the “Hand of Miriam” in North Africa. In the Middle East, it has been used as a symbol of protection, first and foremost through warding off ‘evil eyes’ and their negative influences. With its somewhat creepy, staring eye, Hamsa prevents malevolent stares and harmful energies from having any impact on you or on your home.
Hamsa usually comes as an amulet – a hand with an eye (usually a blue one) in the middle of the palm. Charms in the shape of a round, stylized blue eye – traditionally made of glass – are also commonly encountered, and they also represent Hamsa.
We can find the first versions of protective hand symbols in Ancient Mesopotamia, where it represented the right hand of Inanna, the Mesopotamian goddess of love, justice, and war. Other sources claim its true source is in the symbol of the Phoenician goddess Tanit.
Since then, this symbol has infiltrated other religions and cultures. The Hand of Fatima (or Miriam) is its Arabic and Berber interpretation, and it shares its origin with other hand symbols such as Hand of Venus (Ancient Rome), Hand of Mary (Christianity), and a common sacred hand-symbol found in Judaism.
The symbol is still very widely used today – the Middle Eastern markets are teeming with various interpretations of Hamsa. The amulet is usually hung in the home or worn on the body in the form of a pendant. Other jewelry, like bracelets with numerous blue eye-shaped beads or rings with a single blue eye, are representations of Hamsa.
Helm Of Awe
Not such a common symbol, but still a very interesting one. Why? Well, you’ve seen that many other protection symbols feature smooth lines, complexity and, overall, look very harmonious and calming. However, with its eight spiked tridents, this ancient Nordic symbol seems to visually scream “Back off, stay away, don’t even think about it!” to the forces of evil.
That is what Helm of Awe, or the Helm of Terror, was literally meant to do. Its aggressiveness is hoped to deter all hostile forces but also to symbolize hardening and concentration due to its impeccable symmetry.
In Norse mythology, the Helm of Awe is worn by the dragon Fafnir. According to the legend, the dragon’s invincibility was much related to this symbol.
Many people don’t know the difference between a labyrinth and a maze. There is only one entry in and one exit in a labyrinth, with one path leading you through the labyrinth center and then out.
Because of that, a labyrinth makes for a much better symbol of a life journey of a human being out. You enter, make the right choices, reach the high point, the grounding point – the middle – and then move towards a peaceful exit.
Native Americans used it precisely in this manner to symbolize the transition from this world to the next one. However, the labyrinth seems to have many magical properties attached to it, including the protective ones, against various threats.
Nordic people, especially the Sámis (or Lapps) and their shepherds, have used labyrinths for protection against wolves and wolverines. Interestingly, there are indications that the symbol was also employed as a remedy for mental illnesses.
Origin: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism
Stemming from East Asian religious systems, Om is the foundation of Hinduism, where it is considered “the very first sound of the Universe.”
Beyond the Far East, Om became a popular spiritual symbol across the world, especially thanks to the New Age movement. The elegant Om sign has a lot of meaning packed into it, especially for a symbol that looks like a single letter.
Here is the simplified explanation of Om. When said out loud, Om sounds like ‘Aum’. Each letter pronounced has its meaning. ‘A’ stands for creation, ‘U’ for Manifestation, and ‘M’ for destruction. Because of its three-part meaning, Om is often considered the equivalent of a Holy Trinity.
Om bracelets and charms are intended to protect against evil spirits, misfortunes, and enemies. Its calming presence helps the wearer navigate through life’s storms.
If you want to get an Om tattoo, which is very common these days, make sure you are placing it respectfully. Although leg, feet, and lower back tattoos are very popular, in some cultures like Hinduism, body parts below the waistline are seen as impure. Therefore, wearing a sacred symbol of a particular culture in an impure spot could be insulting.
Origin: Ancient Egypt
It doesn’t stop to amaze me how ancient people were able to recognize the importance of a certain celestial body, natural occurrence, or a creature to their lives, even without the proper science we have today.
In real life, the sacred Egyptian scarabs is a dung beetle. Its activity of digging in poo balls fertilizes and aerates the soil, making it fertile. Making the scarab a mythical servant (or rather an iteration) of the sun god Khepri, who rolls the sun across the sky, makes perfect metaphorical sense. A new day rises, sun radiates, matter and energy circulate – Life thrives.
Given the significance, it is no wonder that the scarab beetle was a beloved symbol in ancient Egypt, used in the form of depictions, amulets, pendants, and seals, all with a protective connotation.
Ancient Egyptians particularly employed Sacred Scarab’s protection was in the wake of death – the beetle god was believed to help the newly departed on their journey to the underworld. The Egyptians believed that the gods ask the deceased various intricate questions on their journey to the afterlife. The priests would often tell the answers to various supposed questions to a beetle amulet and then put it beside the ear of the deceased, so it could whisper the answer when the time comes.
Star of David
Origin: Middle East
Mostly perceived as the symbol of Judaism, the Star of David (also known as the Hexagram Of Solomon) is actually an even older symbol. Before becoming strongly associated with Judaism, it was used in various Middle Eastern cultures, including the Arabic culture, and old Christian churches as an ornament.
A hexagram contains and merges two triangles. Each triangle, pointing in opposite directions, is interpreted to depict the opposites of life and the universe that still join to create harmony.
Named after King Solomon, who was masterful in controlling disobedient spirits, the Jewish hexagram signifies God’s rule that extends in six directions – north, south, east, west, up, and down. Thereby it saves the symbol bearer from the forces of darkness which may lurk in any corner of the world.
Origin: Ancient Greece, Europe
These days, wreaths are mostly displayed as decoration, especially during the Christmas holidays. However, its origin and meaning spread much further into the past – into the times when hanging a wreath on one’s door had a strongly protective connotation.
Wreaths originated from Ancient Greece – or that is where their use had been first documented at least. In Greece, the wreath used to be a sacred symbol associated with harvest gods such as Dionysus and Helios. And indeed, harvest wreaths are found in ancient cultures across Europe.
The act of hanging a wreath over a doorstep protected the family – most significantly, against crop failure and various epidemics or plagues.
Beside the harvest and the practical protective meaning, wreaths also had an afterlife-related symbolism – that is why they are featured on tombstones. The wreath’s circle represents the circle of eternal life, of which death and birth are both essential parts.
As you have certainly been able to deduce while reading, protection symbols have been with us since the beginning of civilization. They are the embodiment of both human and divine power, of defiance, hope, and vitality. It is safe to conclude that, despite the progress of science and technology, these ancient symbols will remain with us and continue to empower people across the world.
I hope that this article has shed some new light on the most famous protection signs such as the Cross and the Star of David and introduce you to some less known ancient ones, like the Labyrinth or the Flower of Life. And maybe, just maybe, you have recognized your personal protection sign – the one that reflects your spirit and lies closest to your heart.
What is your favourite protection symbol? Do you wear it on your body, and how do you think it affects your well-being? Let us know in the comments.