Thought human history, strength was one of the most coveted virtues. After all, pure physical strength promised survival, not just for the individual but for the entire community. Defense from the enemy, the success of the hunt, and, later, agricultural work, the ability to build a supreme shelter – all of that resided on the hopes of great strength.
Later, as civilization developed, people expanded the definition of strength into the psychological, spiritual, and emotional arena. Stories of people who endured great suffering for the greater good – even if it was “just” an idea – have shaped our collective consciousness.
For both kinds of strength, it was common for the people to rely on deities to give them strength which is beyond this world.
Considering all of these facts, it is no wonder that the history of civilization is filled with signs and symbols that signalize or summon great strength.
What symbols are those?
Shortly, you’ll find out – just find the strength to keep reading.
For easer navigation, I have divided the symbols into three categories – animalistic symbols, plant symbols, and abstract symbols.
One thing connects them – all are pretty mighty.
Animalistic symbols of strength
Many real-life animals are exceptionally strong. Just think of a lion who can take down a fiercely strong prey animal such as a zebra. A wolf, who can keep on running for dozens, even hundreds of miles. A horse who can gallop with great endurance, but also kick so hard that it can kill its beastly stalker. Not to mention a bear, who can do almost anything, plus climb trees!
Many mythological animal creatures are even stronger. Besides their physical strength, they have supernatural abilities like breathing fire and rising from the ashes.
Because of the close interaction of early humans with the animal world, people created artwork but also hunted and ate strong animals in hopes that the strength of their spirit will be passed onto them. On the other hand, others had a taboo about killing some strong creatures because they feared enraging them and turning their strength against their tribe.
That’s why there have been lots of animal symbolism that are associated with strengths. Let’s look at some animals and mythological creatures that have become symbols of strength during the long course of human history.
Bear is a symbol of strength in many cultures worldwide – probably because different species are present in the entire Palearctic, from North America and Antarctica, across Europe, to Asia.
Besides its sheer size and muscle power, a bear will often stand on two legs when scouting the territory or reaching for food. This has especially fascinated many of our ancestors as they saw a bear as somehow similar to ourselves; thus, in ancient stories, bears commonly have human characteristics and are often regarded as a person.
Of all its given attributes, the bear is most famous for its strength, courage, and also often cleverness. Although the bear is essentially a brute, there is a certain amount of wisdom attributed to bears, because people observed how versatile and clever they are in their search for food.
Finally, a female bear is a powerful symbol of motherhood because momma bears are caring mothers, known for their ferocity when defending their cubs – both against hunters and other larger bears. In fact, you have probably heard the term “momma bear” attributed to dedicated and no-nonsense mothers, especially if you live in the US.
The bear is commonly seen as a totem among Native American tribes. In some cultures, killing a bear is taboo, while in others, there is a belief that eating its flesh will give the hunter an otherworldly amount of strength. That is possibly the reason why many warriors decorated themselves with bear fur – besides the practical reason that it is dense and warm.
Similar to the bear, you don’t need a special explanation of why a lion would be considered a symbol of strength. This powerful animal is pure muscle. Its physical strength, large claws and teeth, bravery, and speed make it a highly powerful predator.
Female lions are fiercely loyal to the pack, hardworking hunters, and courageous mothers. Males are less pack-oriented but are known for their constant struggle for dominance. Their disposition and royal look earned them the title “the king of beasts.”
This is why the lion has easily become a symbol of strength in many cultures, especially among royalty, and in competitive areas such as sports. For example, numerous football/soccer clubs have lions on their logos.
However, the lion is not just about physicality. In Buddhism, the lion has a significant role because Buddha is often pictured seated upon a lion that symbolizes strength, consistency, and wisdom, bringing this powerful animal into the realm of spiritual symbols.
Did you know?
Although we mostly connect lions with the image of a broad African savannah, in the antique times and before, both the African lion and Asiatic lion had a much broader range – from Europe to the southern tip of Africa and from West Africa to India. So, the lion is not a symbol “imported” from Africa. Still, due to their former presence across the Middle East and in other big civilization cradles such as Greece and India, it is actually a native symbol across a vast territory.
Now, we dive – or rather fly – into the realm of mythical creatures. The dragon is a famous power symbol, especially in East Asia. Besides power, the Asian or Chinese Dragon also signifies strength and good luck. During the times of Imperial China, the Emperor commonly used the dragon symbol to represent his imperial power and strength. Calling someone a dragon, or being born in a year of the Dragon, is a special honor.
In the west, the dragon often takes a role of a malevolent creature. Still, its strength remains undoubted. In many Indo-European fairy tales, the dragon is often the strongest enemy a hero can conquer.
Is there a greater expression of strength than beating death and being able to be reborn? That is exactly what Phoenix, another mystical flying creature, can do.
The Phoenix is a mythical bird that originates from Greek mythology. It is able to burst into flames and subsequently rise from its own ashes. Because of these attributes, the phoenix is seen as a symbol of invincibility and larger-than-life strength.
A symbol of strength, perseverance, and overcoming difficulties, the Phoenix is often used by people and organizations as a sign of overcoming a personal struggle, winning your own war – against injustice, disability, or a life-threatening illness.
The phrase “to rise from the ashes” is inspired precisely by the Phoenix. We could develop it further: one could say that a message that the symbol carries is: “I will rise again in all my might, despite the doom brought upon me”.
Since Greece is a naturally wildfire-prone area, Phoenix was likely inspired by an observation made by ancient Greeks on nature regenerating itself after the major fires.
Plant Symbols of Strength
Although we perceive plants as passive and helpless, they have plenty of tricks up their sleeve that help them survive and thrive. Over the millennia, people have noticed some extraordinary plant abilities and have turned them into symbols of strength.
The Oak Tree
When you see an old oak tree in all its might, the reason why it is considered a symbol of strength is self-explanatory. An English oak (Quercus robur) can reach a height of 30-40 feet. The white oak (Quercus alba) is even taller – up to 80–100 feet! What is more, the oak roots commonly expand below the ground as much as the canopy expands towards the sky, practically doubling its overall size.
The deep root system makes an oak highly resilient and almost impossible to knock over – and people noticed this a long time ago.
Also, oakwood is especially hard and dense and thus highly regarded in the trade. People have noticed the strength of oak wood and have eagerly used it to build homes and furniture since ancient times.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, an oak tree can live for hundreds of years, and in special cases live to be a thousand years old.
All reasons listed above make the oak tree an obvious symbol of strength and longevity, earning it a sacred place in Indo-European mythology.
Unlike oak, a flower – especially one as beautiful and delicate as a lotus flower – is rarely perceived as a sturdy and resilient life form. Quite the opposite – blooms are often regarded as beautiful but gentle, frail, and transient.
However, in the East, and especially in Buddhist traditions, the Lotus flower is still considered a symbol of strength and courage – and for a good reason. Lotus flower grows and thrives in muddy and dark waters, with its stalk rising from the very murky bottom and reaching for the surface and the sunlight. That is why lotus is an analogy for perseverance and keeping the beauty of life despite all its difficulties.
In this manner, Lotus Flower is somewhat analogous to the Greek Phoenix, although it manages to prove its point with more elegance and less drama.
Abstract and Classic symbols of Strenght
Now we’ll look at some examples of graphically stylized and abstract symbols of strength from across the world.
The Ailm is a cross-like symbol originating from the Celtic culture and stands for strength and power.
The Ailm consists of a circled cross and is actually derived from the letter “A” of the Celtic alphabet. However, the word itself means “silver fir” or “conifer” in general.
These trees adapted to survive adverse conditions such as harsh winters and are thus perceived as highly resilient for their continuous growth and not needing to go dormant with the change of seasons. That is why the Ailm is a symbol of endurance and stability.
Dwennimmen, ‘Ram’s horns’ (Africa)
‘Dwennimmen’ is a symmetrical African symbol that actually depicts – and translates to – ‘Ram’s horns. As you now probably realize yourself, the symbol is a stylistic depiction of fighting two rams, butting heads. They represent courage, protection, strength, standing up for yourself, and the right causes.
Dwennimmen is a part of the group called Adinkra or Asante symbols that originate from Ghana’s Asante ethnic group. There are over 120 of them, and they depict messages related to life, ancient wisdom, folk tales, and traditional practices.
Due to their universal messages and fine design, Adinkra symbols such as Dwennimmen remain used to this day as ornaments in various craftwork – fabrics, pottery, metal objects, jewelry, tattoo design, and others.
Mjolnir – Thor’s Hammer (Norse)
Thor is a Norse god of thunder and one of the mightiest deities in the Norse pantheon. He protects the main tribe of the gods called the Aesir from non-friendly giants from other realms. Mjolnir is the hammer Thor and his primary physical weapon. Its main role is to harness the power of lightning.
Mjolnir is one of the most recognizable symbols coming from Norse mythology; therefore, its significance and meaning are multi-fold. However, one aspect of Mjolnir certainly is its symbolism regarding power and protection, which lastly translates to strength. After all, it is a hammer that controls lighting, wielded but one of the most powerful Norse gods. What could beat that?
In the world of symbols, the ones symbolizing strength are especially interesting for the fact that quite often, just by looking at them, you can see what they’re all about.
From lions to dragons, from bears to phoenix birds, you can feel the strong energy of these creatures just by glancing at them. We can say the same even about some abstract symbols like Mjolnir is the hammer of Thor.
The symbols of strength carry a powerful message about the endurance and perseverance of the human body, mind, spirit, but also of life itself. When you feel drained and drowned, you can lean into these symbols to pick up some of their wise, ancient strength. I feel empowered just by writing about them!
What is your favorite symbol of strength, and why? Feel free to post a comment and get the conversation going!