36 Courage & Resilience Symbols in Religion, Myth and Art

Like with every type of symbol, there is no single object or being that purely expresses courage and nothing else. Even within the same culture, one object can have multiple different meanings.

The lists below concern themselves with symbols of courage and resilience. However, all of the items in the list express many more symbolic values, not just courage.

Thus, having a clear idea of the full symbolic significance of what each object or living means (or does not mean) can greatly help in understanding the overall context.

Courage Symbols

1.     Lion

A representation of heavenly and solar might, royal authority, strength, courage, knowledge, justice, and protection—but also of brutality, savagery, and death.

The lion is a magnificent personification of the sun, which in the warmest portion of the year travels through the zodiac sign of Leo (July 23–August 23).

A lion eating a bull, horse, or boar symbolizes the balanced opposites of life and death, the sun and moon, summer and winter—a metaphor widespread throughout Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

The wearing of lion skins and stories like Herakles slaying the Nemean lion or Samson ripping one limb from another represent victory over death.

When teaching the Law to a community, the Buddha “roared like the roarings of a lion; this was his lion’s roar” (Anguttaranikaya 5: 32). This reflects the Divine Law’s capacity to shatter and enlighten, as well as its control over space and time.

Overcoming a lion and wearing its skin, like in the myths of Gilgamesh, Samson, Daniel, and Herakles, may be considered proof of extraordinary power and courage.

2.     Sword

It is frequently a symbol of military virtues, particularly male strength and bravery.

The sword is also a symbol of authority and the sun (since it is related to the sun’s flashing, swordlike rays).

In a negative meaning, the sword represents the horrors of battle; the sword is the trait of many war and storm deities.

Because of its sharp blade, it represents decisiveness, the dividing line between good and evil, and the administration of fair justice.

According to the medieval “two-swords” doctrine, one sword represented the king’s or emperor’s worldly authority, while the other weapon symbolized divine power bestowed by God and the Church.

The burning sword that expels Adam and Eve from paradise represents both power and justice.

A sword in its scabbard symbolizes the noble virtues of balance, wisdom, and caution.

3.     Carp

The carp is a sign of bravery and resilience in both China and Japan because of the fact that it is able to swim against the current of a river and even up waterfalls.

The carp is known as the steed of the immortals, owing to its lifespan.

The carp is also a sign of intellectual superiority, and giving a carp to a student is an omen of academic success.

In Japan, unlike other fish that struggle to escape, the carp is said to be peaceful and accepting on the chopping block. This is how mankind should ideally approach their impending deaths.

4.     Spear

While the sword is frequently perceived as divisive, slicing something in two, the spear carries the notion of piercing something’s vitals, penetrating its fundamental core.

The spear, associated with mythological figures such as the Greek goddess Athena and the Irish hero Cuchulainn, represents courage, fury, military spirit, or hunting prowess, but it also represents the culture bearer’s intelligence and inventiveness.

In the Greco-Roman world, the spear was associated with the goddess of wisdom and rationality, Athena. This symbolized the superiority of the intellect over the violent aspects of ourselves, and that this mastery of our savage selves is essential.

Both Roman officers and regular soldiers who showed exceptional bravery or daring were awarded a ceremonial spear.

5.     Boar

A primeval picture of power, bold aggressiveness, and steadfast courage, especially in Northern Europe and the Celtic civilization, where it was the dominant warrior symbol.

It also had religious importance in other places, such as Iran, where it was a sun symbol, and Japan, where the white boar was forbidden to hunters.

The opposite side of boar symbolism is destructive brutality: it was a horrible foe to the Greek hero Herakles as well as the Egyptian sun deity Horus, whose eye was plucked out by Seth in the guise of a black boar.

The boar was a symbol of tyranny and sensuality in Judeo-Christian times.

6.     Leopard

A sign of ferocity, merciless force, courage, pride, and agility.

It was connected with evil in both ancient Egypt and Christian tradition.

It was identified with the deity Seth in Egypt, with priests wearing leopard skins during burial ceremonies to symbolize their capacity to protect the dead from his malicious influence.

The leopard was an aspect of the deity Dionysus (the Roman Bacchus) as creator destroyer in the ancient Greco-Roman world.

The vision of a terrible leopard in Daniel 7:6 and God’s words to Jeremiah that “evildoers can’t change their ways any more than a leopard can change its spots” were the primary reason why leopards had a negative image in Christianity.

As a result, the leopard is associated with Satan, sin, and desire. Nonetheless, the animal represented bravery in European heraldry as well as in China, where it also had lunar symbolism.

The term “leopard” refers to a legendary hybrid of a lion and a pard or panther (a name now applied to the black leopard or, in America, the puma).

7.     Quail

Warmth, ardor, and courage—a symbolism based on the quail’s reddish-brown hue, combativeness, and early arrival in summer from its migratory cycle.

Quails were associated with Delos, the mythological birthplace of the deity Apollo and his sister Artemis.

In both China and ancient Rome, the quail was a symbol of military courage.

The quail, as a bird that flies at night, has been associated with witchcraft in Europe, yet it was seen even then as a generall positive omen.

According to the Bible, God sent a swarm of quails to the Israelites, who relied on the birds for food while fleeing Egypt.

8.     Wolves

Wolves represent fury, cunning, venality, brutality, and wickedness, as well as courage, triumph, and nurturing care.

In many civilizations, the wolf is a well-known predator in myth, folklore, and fairy tales.

Because Christians saw Christ as the Good Shepherd and his followers as his sheep, the predatory wolf became a symbol of Satan and heresy.

The wolf was also connected with rapacity and lechery in Chinese folklore.

In Norse mythology, the colossal wolf Fenrir is a chaos spirit who consumes the sun at the end of the world.

In some cultures, the wolf is a victory symbol and a warrior’s emblem.

For the Romans, seeing a wolf before a battle was considered a good omen because it was sacred to Mars, the god of war.

The positive association it held for Romans comes from the myth of the she-wolf nursing Rome’s fabled founders, Romulus and Remus.

9.     Red

Symbolically, red is the color of life. Its significance is fundamentally linked to the human experience of blood and fire.

In primitive thinking, blood represented life: if blood left the body, it took life with it. At the same time, blood flowing from a wound is a danger sign.

The glow of fire was a great source of comfort and safety for our ancestors, but if it spiraled out of control, it could threaten the tribe’s life. Red draws us in by communicating life, warmth, excitement, and passion, yet it also warns us of danger, demands our attention, and yells “Stop!”

In many cultures, the color red is associated with fire, ardor, courage, and bravery, which can escalate into anger and violence.

In ancient Rome, the color red was associated with conflict and a call to arms. As early as 1600, the red flag was used as a symbol of resistance on European battlefields. Revolutionary activists are now referred to as “reds.”

10. Dog

Affection, friendship, courage, dedication, faithfulness, flattery, inquisitiveness, knowledge, and protection are all qualities that are valued. Also filthy habits, lowliness, and scavenging. Man’s friend who despises cats

In medieval art, a dog placed at the feet of men would symbolize courage and magnanimity.

Crusaders were depicted with their feet on a dog to symbolize how they obeyed the Lord’s banner as faithfully as a dog follows his master’s footsteps.

In mythology, the dog universally symbolizes daybreak (the hound of heaven), is a helper to man when guarding a home or during a hunt, is a destroyer of evil, a guard of the underworld, a hunter, navigator, rescuer, and a smeller-outer.

11. Father

The father, as a symbol of fertility, ownership, dominance, and courage, is an inhibiting and, in psychoanalytic words, a castrating figure.

He represents all figures of authority in school, work, the military, the law, and God himself.

The father’s position is viewed as one that inhibits attempts at independence and wields power that impoverishes, constrains, weakens, renders impotent, and makes obedient.

The father represents consciousness in contrast to intuitive impulse, spontaneous enthusiasm, and the unconscious; he represents the old authoritative order in opposition to the new forces of change.

12. Valkyries

The Amazons have often been compared to these nymphs from Wotan’s (Odin) palace.

As gods’ messengers and army leaders, they escorted heroes to their deaths and then served them beer and mead in Paradise.

They inspired the heroes to combat by instilling love in their hearts and displaying bravery on the frontlines of the battle on horses galloping as fast as the clouds or the storm-wracked seas.

They represent the ecstasy of war and the pleasure of its reward, death and life, and the warrior’s heroism and courage, but also his own death in combat.

They represented the dangers of love by embodying it as a form of combat, with its ups and downs, victories and calamities, life and death.

13. Beard

Manhood, bravery, and knowledge are all represented by this symbol.

Because hair emerges on a young man’s face during puberty, the beard has long been a visual reflection of the transition from boy to man.

The young man’s beard suggests male power, aggression, and the ability to produce children and undertake societal responsibilities, including the ability to bear weaponry.

Indra, Zeus (Jupiter), Poseidon (Neptune), Hephaistos (Vulcan), and other gods, heroes, monarchs, and philosophers have almost always been represented wearing beards. The same can be said for the Jewish and Christian gods.

In Greco-Roman antiquity, bearded adolescents and women who demonstrated courage and intelligence were given fake beards.

Beards may also reveal darker aspects of the male, which can be both unsettling and powerful.

In legend, the wild man is shown with a rough or shaggy beard, implying his animality. Giants, who personify primordial emotions, are sometimes shown with lengthy beards. Thor’s red beard might represent anger, fury, or destructiveness.

Satan was sometimes shown with a black, pointed beard similar to the “unholy” goat’s.

14. Cross of the Maltese

The Maltese cross, often known as the cross of promise, is associated with the Sovereign Ex-territorial State of St. John of Jerusalem, Rhodes, and the Malta Supreme Military Hospital Order.

The cross’s eight points represent the eight virtues of a knight: loyalty, piety, charity, courage, honor, and glory; contempt for death; kindness; and veneration for the church.

This cross can also be found on the seal of the Order of the Knights Templar. The order was founded in 1118 by eight knights who pledged, among other things, to guard pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem in the presence of the patriarch of Jerusalem.

It is also the format for many modern countries’ most prestigious medals.

15. Rooster or cock

It signals the arrival of the morning sun. Many people associate it with the sun and fire because of its shimmering plumage and flaming-red comb (e.g., Syrians, Egyptians, and Greeks).

Because of its intimate link to dawn, it is both a metaphor of light triumphing over darkness and a symbol of vigilance.

In the Far East and ancient art, the cock is a sign of battle, bravery, and daring because of its combative nature.

It also served as a psychopomp (a guide for dead souls) among ancient Germanic tribes as well as Greek nations.

In Christianity, the cock is a resurrection symbol and a promise of Christ’s return on the Day of Judgment.

Because of its prominent position (typically atop church spires), the weathercock, being the first to be touched by the sun’s rays, represents the victory of Christ’s light over the powers of darkness and serves as a reminder to worshippers to pray in the early morning.

Nowadays, the cock frequently represents pride or strutting masculine behavior.

16. The Young Bull

It is a sign of the Sun because of its activity and the Moon because of its fertility, and it also represents power, male (fighting) courage, and wildness.

In ancient Egypt, the fertility deity Apis was worshiped in the guise of a bull, typically with the sun disk between his horns; because he was closely associated with Osiris, he was also a god of death.

The young bull was a particularly important emblem of strength and fertility in ancient Greek and Minoan civilization.

In Iranian mythology, the personification of cosmic fertility takes the shape of a primal bull slaughtered by Mithras, from which all plants and animals sprang.

In India, the deity Shiva is connected with a white bull, which represents repressed or restricted reproductive desires.

Psychoanalysis says that the bull represents the animal forces and sexuality of humans. For example, bullfights show how people try over and over to control their animal instincts.

17. Amber

Amber’s color is connected with the sun’s energy. In ancient China, amber literally meant “tiger spirit,” since amber allegedly formed out of the carcasses of tigers, and thus contained their essence: bravery, strength, agility, etc.

Many mythological divinities cried amber tears; the sisters of Phaeton were changed into crying pine trees as they mourned their brother’s death after impetuously driving his father’s (Helios’) sun chariot.

18. David, King of Israel

The biblical King David is symbolic of many things. He is a representation of physical power and courage, as well as the conqueror of evil and the slayer of the gigantic Goliath.

As Israel’s great leader and savior, he is “anointed by God” (Hebrew: mashiah, messiah) and both a forerunner and ancestor of Christ.

David, the lovely youngest son of Jesse, was a shepherd youth anointed by the prophet Samuel to succeed Saul as King of Israel.

Saul led the Israelite army into battle against the Philistines, whose hero was Goliath, an eight-foot-tall warrior covered in heavy armor.

Goliath challenged the best Israelite warriors to a one-on-one fight, and David agreed to the duel.

David refused Saul’s proposal of armor and faced Goliath with just a sling. He slew the giant with the first stone, then cut off Goliath’s head with the giant’s own sword.

19. Heart

Affection, help, compassion, harmony, advice, bravery, despair, devotion, emotions, generosity, hope, innocence, kindness, life, love, piety, religion, sincerity.

In many cultures, the heart is a symbol of truth, conscience, or moral courage.

The seat of intellect that governs all human activities and the home of animal virtues. The Heart is a force for good or evil, bravery or cowardice.

The victor frequently consumes the heart of a defeated opponent in order to gain the enemy’s vigor and courage and therefore stop him from rising from the dead.

The core or most significant component of things In heraldry, the heart represents honesty. The ancients examined the heart for prophetic readings.

The heart was considered a mysterious organ, the seat of the soul, in most primitive civilizations, and was sacrificed to deities.

20. Herakles

The most famous of all Greek heroes. Herakles (or Hercules, as the Romans called him) was a descendant of Perseus and the product of an affair between Zeus and Alkmene, queen of Tiryns.

He is seen as a symbol of strength, fortitude, and perseverance, and his myth has been seen as an allegory of good triumphing over evil.

Herakles had superhuman strength and is usually shown as a huge, muscled man holding a club and wearing the skin of the Nemean Lion.

Hera drove the hero insane one day, causing Herakles to murder his wife Megara and their three boys.

Herakles served Monarch Eurystheus of Tiryns as penance for twelve years, completing the twelve perilous duties assigned to him by the king and known as the Labors of Herakles.

21. Prometheus

A Titan and the heavenly guardian of humanity Prometheus (“Forethought”) did not oppose Zeus (Jupiter in Roman myth) and the Olympians during their war against Kronos and the Titans, but he despised the Olympians for what they did to his race.

Out of spite towards the Olympian gods or generosity towards humans, he provided mankind with fire against the wishes of Zeus. 

As punishment for the crime, Zeus unleashed the evil contained in Pandora’s box all over the earth and tied Prometheus to a rock on Mount Caucasus.

Every day, an eagle arrived and consumed his liver, and every night, the organ regenerated, ready to be devoured again.

The myth has several interpretations: the courage required to defy the gods; the “fire” of knowledge that distinguishes man from the beasts; and the way Prometheus concluded the Golden Age by imparting insight to humanity.

22. Sun

In most cultures, the Sun is the most common representation of the Supreme God or a manifestation of his omnipotent might; it is also a powerful symbol of creative force.

Even though ancient astronomy was based on the idea that the Earth was the center of the universe, some of the oldest pictures of the sun show it as the heart or center of the universe.

The sun, as a source of heat, signifies life, passion, courage, and endless youth.

It represents wisdom, intelligence, and Truth personified, who, in Western art, sometimes holds a sun in her hand, as the source of light out of darkness. As the brightest celestial body, it is the symbol of monarchy and imperial magnificence.

In most traditions, the sun represents the masculine principle; however, it was feminine in Germany and Japan, as well as for numerous tribes in the Celtic world, Africa, Native America, Oceania, and New Zealand.

23. Eagle

As the supreme ruler of the air domain, the eagle is one of the most unambiguous and universal of all symbols, symbolizing the animal world’s maximum power, speed, and perception, as well as grandeur, dominion, triumph, bravery, courage, inspiration, and spiritual ambition.

It is a trait or characteristic of the most important gods. For example, Zeus’ anger is shown by the eagle pecking at Prometheus’ liver.

The eagle is one of the most ancient and popular symbols of victory; its flight was regarded as an omen of military success in ancient Persia as well as in Rome, where tradition has it that an eagle followed Aeneas from Troy to Italy, after which it was referred to as “the bird of Jove” on Roman banners.

The late Roman and Byzantine empires employed a double-headed eagle symbol to represent the empire’s eastern and western portions.

The eagle became the symbol of later empires that saw themselves as the successors of Rome or Byzantium, such as the Holy Roman, Habsburg, and Russian empires.

In art, the eagle can represent pride.

24. Ruby

In India, Burma, China, and Japan, a ruby is the stone of fortune and happiness (including longevity), as well as ardent love, energy, royalty, and courage.

Its color, which ranged from red to the purple “pigeon’s blood” tint of the most precious rubies, was associated in the ancient world with the violent war deity Ares (in Roman myth, Mars), but also with Kronos (Saturn), who ruled over emotions.

It was claimed to enflame lovers and to shine in the dark. Its characteristic of appearing paler in certain lighting was seen as a warning – of poison or other hazards.

25. Berserker

Warriors from Norse mythology who personified nature’s wilder parts, such as the bear or wolf, in the heat of combat. They were known for their bravery and might.

The term’s etymology is unknown. According to one interpretation, it was the nickname of Starkath and Alfhilde’s grandson, Boerserce (without mail armor), since a Berserker went into combat without armor.

People often use this word to describe a fighter who is brave, angry, and violent.

26. Garlic

Garlic is a very powerful talisman. Used to keep evil spirits away from children and useful against vampires and their harmful magic.

Garlic is also a common charm against disease and used to ward off evil eye. Bullfighters of the Aymara Indians (Bolivia) wear a piece of garlic while in the ring.

It was widely believed among Roman soldiers that eating garlic strengthened their courage and will to fight.

Resilience symbols

27. Shields

Shields are defensive weapons that denote and provide courage and fearlessness to people who wield them while instilling dread and awe in those they are used against.

Dreaming about discovering or clutching a shield is a symbol of satisfaction that one’s foes are annihilated; it is also a symbol of wealth earned through heroism.

Being properly equipped, especially with defensive weapons, inspires bravery and confidence, as well as the courage to attack or do anything.

As a result, the shield is a sign of bravery.

Antiquity’s dream interpreters thought that if a monarch saw a shield in his dream, it represented a strong commander under him against his foes, such a general being the shield of a king.

In Eschylus, the adulteress Clytemnestra is certain that as long as Egisthus, her luminary, burns in her dwelling, he will be her guardian and shield, driving away all dread.

28. Oak

Courage, perseverance, faith, fire, glory, hospitality, honor, independence, longevity, the masculine principle, reward, royalty, stability, strength, victory, and virtue.

One of the earliest ways to tell the future was to read the voice of the supreme god in the rustling of an oak tree’s leaves.

Door (to heaven) and thunderer are synonyms for oak, and it is sacred to the sky or thunder deity in mythology, maybe because it draws lightning more than other trees.

Allah, Balder, Dagda, Heracles, Jehovah, Jupiter, Melkarth, Perkunas, Thor, and Zeus are among those connected with the oak.

It is worshiped as the first tree created, from which the human race arose.

Kings who were descended from sky gods have been crowned under it. Oaths have been taken under it, which is why it’s called the Tree of Witness. Public business has been done under it because it has good qualities, and sacrifices have been made under it.

Because its roots reach deep into the ground and its branches ascend into the skies, it represents a god whose law regulates both the heavenly and underground realms.

29. Necklace

The necklace is an attribute of a goddess in most mythologies and religions, emphasizing her beauty, power to attract, and fertility.

The necklace, like other jewelry, provides protection. The necklace, worn around the neck, protects the important link between the head (thought, psyche, spirit) and the rest of the body.

A pendant manifests its spiritual significance, such as courage, love, and life itself, by covering the heart.

30. Pine Tree

Associated with Confucius and the Taoist immortals, the pine is a frequent motiff among Chinese and Japanese painters and poets.

Because it keeps its green leaves even in the winter, the pine has become a symbol of long life, immortality, constancy, courage, fortitude in adversity, and steadfastness in the face of nature’s blows.

Weathered pines are thought to represent the spirit and wisdom of old age.

The pine tree represents longevity in both the Western and Eastern worlds, as well as fertility, creativity, regeneration, and good fortune.

But the pine tree also brings to mind the suffering, death, and rebirth of vegetation gods and young lovers who are always coming back.

31. Pine Cone

The pinecone, with its many seeds, formed the tip of Dionysus’ thyrsus, or staff. Through Dyonisus, the pine cone was connected to indestructible life, wine cultivation, drunkenness, and eternal regeneration in the outer and inner worlds.

During the Attis festival, a holy pine tree was cut down and carried in a procession. Its branches were decorated with violets to show that death and rebirth are always happening in nature.

The pine tree, like the cedar, was associated with incorruptibility, and so pine cones were planted around Chinese tombs to symbolize this.

32. Jade

A symbol of the infinite potential of the universe, as well as of virtue, power, authority, indestructibility, and eternal life.

Jade is associated with a wide range of values in Chinese culture, including moral purity, justice, truth, courage, resilience, harmony, loyalty, and compassion.

The Jade Emperor is the ultimate god of Chinese heaven, and documents signed with the imperial jade seal were a divine command to his people.

Because of the hardness and durability of nephrite jade (the material used in most Chinese jade carving), people believed that powdered jade might prolong life and that jade amulets could protect the body after death, which explains the abundance of jade artifacts discovered in Chinese tombs.

33. Olive Tree

The olive tree, a native of the Mediterranean, is symbolic of the resiliency, regeneration, and fertility that give rise to and maintain entire civilizations since the olive tree can take root, grow, yield fruit, and survive in the dry, rocky soil typical of the region.

A noteworthy feature of olive trees is that they perpetually renew themselves from their roots.

They regenerate after a fire by sprouting new shoots and may regenerate even if their crowns and trunks rot.

Cultivated olive strains cannot be grown from seed and must instead be grafted onto wild olive trees.

The olive tree was the Tree of Life for the ancient Greeks and Romans, as well as the Biblical Hebrews and Muslims.

For ages, olive oil anointed rulers, holy artifacts for ritual and sacred locations, and lit the lamps of the house and temple.

Those who came to the Asclepian sanctuary of healing at Epidaurus were “crowned with the wreath of the pure olive,” symbolizing the overcoming of destructive powers and rebirth.

34. Thistle

Thistle is a naturally discriminating plant. Its abundant leaves have spiky edges that hurt and rip like little thorns, discouraging touch.

The thistle’s prickliness has come to symbolize self-protection, impenetrability, austerity, and resilience, evoking a barbed yet gentle heart.

The spectacular bloom that crowns the stem, on the other hand, is pleasantly scented and attracts butterflies, insects, bees, and birds.

Farmers have always regarded thistle as a plague—a prolific, intractable weed—and, in popular belief, it is a gift from the devil. Nonetheless, the thistle represents love that survives hardship as well as effort that overcomes difficulties.

Thistle has been linked to the worldly love of Aphrodite and the loving mercy of the Virgin Mary. It is also thought to have healing, cleaning, and longevity powers. 

35. Diamond

The diamond’s extraordinary material properties of hardness, translucence, and brightness have rendered it the foremost symbol of perfection; however, its reputation has not always been favorable.

In Western culture, the diamond is a sign of absolute sovereignty, incorruptibility, resilience, and ultimate truth. It is also used to scare away wild animals, ghosts, sorcerers, and other nighttime terrors.

In France, too, the diamond was considered to dispel wrath and strengthen the bonds of marriage, which led to its being nicknamed the “jewel of reconciliation.”

It is composed of purity, insight, and fidelity… The diamond is a symbol of constancy, strength, and other heroic attributes in the language of symbology.

In Renaissance art, the diamond also represents serenity, courage in the face of hardship, the ability to free the spirit from all fear, character integrity, and good faith.

36. Bamboo

One of the three fortunate winter plants in East Asia, representing resilience, longevity, happiness, and spiritual truth.

Bamboo is connected with the Chinese bodhisattva Guanyin, the goddess of kindness, and its ringed stem is associated with the path to enlightenment; therefore, it can also represent the Buddha.


Resources:

  • A dictionary of symbols by Cirlot, Juan Eduardo
  • A dictionary of symbols by Chevalier, Jean
  • Dictionary of symbols by Chetwynd, Tom
  • A dictionary of dream symbols : with an introduction to dream psychology by Ackroyd, Eric
  • Illustrated dictionary of symbols in eastern and western art by Hall, James
  • Dictionary of symbols and imagery by Vries, Ad de
  • Symbolism : a comprehensive dictionary by Olderr, Steven
  • Dictionary of mythology, folklore and symbols by Jobes, Gertrude
  • The complete dictionary of symbols by Tresidder, Jack
  • The book of symbols : reflections on archetypal images by Ami Ronnberg & Kathleen Martin
  • Man, Myth & Magic by Richard Cavendish

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