History and culture has created many symbols of wisdom, so there is lack of choice for the person who seeks a personal wisdom symbol.
However, what exactly is wisdom? The concept of wisdom is particularly vague and is often confused with intelligence and knowledge.
Knowledge is the accumulation of facts and information through learning and experience.
Intelligence, on the other hand, is the ability to apply that knowledge, to problem-solve, adapt to new situations, and learn from experience.
Wisdom goes a step further; it involves the profound understanding of life, gained through experience and reflection, enabling us to make sound judgments and decisions.
Thus, Wisdom is not just about knowing or applying, but understanding the bigger picture and the deeper implications of our actions and experiences.
With that being said, below are the most powerful 35 symbols of wisdom.
Wisdom: In many cultures, scrolls are seen as symbols of wisdom as they were traditionally used to store written knowledge and teachings. The ancient scholars and philosophers often recorded their wisdom in scroll format. Prophets too were said to have recorded their prophecies in scrolls.
Time: Scrolls, especially ancient ones, also symbolize the passage of time. They carry historical significance, showing a timeline of thoughts, cultures, and civilizations.
Secrets: Scrolls are often seen as symbols of hidden knowledge or secrets. They’re often depicted as being unrolled to reveal something important or mysterious.
Wisdom: A ring can symbolize wisdom in its circular design, representing the cycle of life and learning, the idea that every end is a new beginning, and every experience contributes to growth and understanding. The wisdom of the Israelite King Solomon was said to have come from a magical ring he wore.
Eternity: Due to its circular shape with no beginning or end, a ring often represents eternity or eternal love in many cultures, especially when used in weddings.
Unity: Rings also symbolize unity and commitment, as in the case of a wedding ring, it signifies the bond and promises between two individuals.
Wisdom: Gold is as a symbol of wisdom due to its unchanging and incorruptible nature. This is akin to wisdom which remains valuable and true throughout ages.
Purity: Gold is often associated with purity, as it does not corrode or tarnish. In a spiritual sense, it can represent purity of the soul or heart.
Wealth: One of the most common symbolisms of gold is wealth and prosperity due to its material value. It’s often sought after for its rarity and worth.
Wisdom: In many cultures, a serpent or snake represents wisdom. For example, in Greek mythology, the serpent was seen as a wise creature. Even in the Bible, the serpent was depicted as cunning and intelligent.
Transformation: Serpents, due to their shedding skin, are often symbols of transformation, rebirth, and renewal.
Danger: Serpents also symbolize danger or threats due to their venomous nature in many species.
Wisdom: The Sphinx, a mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human, often represents wisdom in mythology. In ancient Egypt, it was seen as a guardian of knowledge and secrets.
Mystery: The Sphinx is a symbol of mystery, mainly due to the famous riddle of the Sphinx in Greek mythology, and the still-unresolved secrets of the Great Sphinx of Giza.
Strength: The body of a lion signifies strength, courage, and power. This creature was revered in ancient times, often used to symbolize royalty and might, particularly in ancient Middle Eastern kingdoms.
Wisdom: Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare, is perhaps the most potent Western symbol of wisdom, particularly wisdom gained through experience, insight, and understanding.
Courage: Athena was also the goddess of courage and heroism, and was often associated with brave heroes and competent strategy in warfare.
Craftsmanship: Athena is known as the patron of various arts and crafts, in particular shipbuilding, navigation and in some cases even medicine.
Wisdom: In Greek mythology, the goddess Athena, who was the goddess of wisdom, was often depicted with an owl. This came from the belief that owls had inner light or a special inner vision, allowing them to see even in the dark. This was taken metaphorically to represent the enlightened ones who can see the ‘truth’ beyond appearances, and the ability to see what is hidden to others.
Patience: Owls are usually quiet and peaceful. They patiently observe their surroundings and wait for the right moment to act – much like the revered wise individuals who are known to speak less, listen more, and act wisely.
The Number 21
Wisdom: The number 21 is symbolically linked to wisdom due to its biblical and numerological significance.
As per the Old Testament, it embodies perfection (as a product of seven, the number of divinity, multiplied by three, a number representing completeness) and is connected to the twenty-one attributes of wisdom.
In Tarot, 21 represents the World, the last numbered major arcanum, symbolizing fulfillment, completeness, and the attainment of a goal, reinforcing its association with maturity and wisdom.
Luck: The number 21 is often associated with luck, particularly in gambling contexts, such as the card game “21” or blackjack.
Wisdom: Underneath the mask of fun and entertainment, the Jester’s role was to spread truth and wisdom. They used humor to convey truths and lessons, often being the only ones who can speak truth to power without consequence.
Foolishness: Jesters are commonly associated with foolishness or folly, being characters who entertain through jokes, tricks, and antics.
Freedom: Jesters often symbolize freedom and spontaneity as they are unbound by societal conventions and expectations, living life on their own terms.
Wisdom: The wise shepherd guides and protect their flock, showing deep understanding and care. This wisdom is practical and grounded, often associated with the wisdom of the earth and nature.
Guidance: Shepherds are commonly seen as symbols of guidance and leadership. They lead their flocks to safety and ensure their wellbeing.
Protection: The shepherd’s role is also one of protection, making this a symbol of safety, care, and guardianship.
Wisdom: Salt symbolizes wisdom through its ability to transform and enhance, much like wisdom can turn bitter experiences into valuable learning and elevate our understanding of life. The use of salt in cooking requires knowing when there’s too little or too much, and can be compared to the power of wisdom to find balance in all things.
Preservation: Salt is traditionally associated with preservation and longevity because of its use in preserving food.
Purity: In many cultures, salt is also a symbol of purity, as it comes from the sea and is used in purification rituals. Christian exorcism rituals often use salt as a way to cast out demons.
Wisdom: In Celtic mythology, the salmon is often seen as a symbol of wisdom and knowledge. This comes from stories of the “Salmon of Knowledge” that gained wisdom by consuming the nuts of a sacred hazel tree. Later on, the Irish folk hero Fionn MacCumhaill accidentally ate the Salmon of Knowledge and gained its wisdom for himself.
Determination: Salmon are often associated with determination and persistence due to their yearly migration upstream. They face harsh currents and obstacles to reach their spawning grounds.
Transformation: The life cycle of a salmon, from egg to adult fish, is a powerful symbol of growth, change, and transformation.
Power, Wisdom but also Tyranny: The lion is a solar symbol of overpowering brightness, a mighty ruler and “King of the Beasts”. However, the lion is burdened by having defects almost as strong as its virtues.
The lion embodies the positive symbols of power, wisdom and justice, but also great pride and arrogance. Left unchecked, a lion’s pride can turn him into the father, the master and the monarch seduced by his own power, transforming into the cruel tyrant. All the while however, the lion thinks he is the benevolent leader. The lion is thus as easy to admire as he is to despise, and so the lion symbolism wavers between these two extremes.
Wisdom: Among certain African cultures such as the Bambara, the hyena is recognized as a symbol of knowledge and wisdom. Its hunting ability and senses allowed it to “see into the future” and predict where its prey would go next, an essential quality of knowledge and wisdom. Its strong jaws were capable of breaking bones, symbolizing the wisdom to penetrate complex truths and gain understanding.
But the hyena was still a savage, mortal animal. Its knowledge was great, but also simple and crude compared to a god’s divine wisdom. For the Bambara, the hyena was a reminder that earthly knowledge, despite its value, pales in contrast to divine wisdom.
Initiation: In the religious order of some African cultures, the hyena was seen as a starting point for enlightenment. Before one could learn the divine wisdom, they first had to master the knowledge of the earthly realm. Thus, to be a hyena meant both mastery over the physical realm, but initiation into the spiritual one.
Wisdom: Druids, as spiritual leaders and learned individuals in Celtic societies, were seen as wellsprings of wisdom. The term druid likely comes from the combination of two roots “dru” and “vid”, which meant strength and wisdom respectively, and were represented by oak and mistletoe in the druidic alphabet.
Druids thus meant mistletoe and oak, wisdom joined with strength, or priestly authority backed by political power. They were reputed to possess vast knowledge of nature, philosophy, and the spiritual realm.
Connection with Nature: Druids are often associated with a deep and intrinsic connection to nature, seen as custodians of the natural world and its balance.
Spirituality: Given their role as religious leaders, Druids are symbolic of spirituality and mysticism, often seen as intermediaries between the spiritual realm and the physical world.
Wisdom: The famous Oracle of Delphi derived its name from the word “delphini”, meaning dolphin. According to legend, the god Apollo arrived at Delphi by riding a dolphin. Because the dolphin was associated with Apollo and the prophets of Delphi, the dolphin came to symbolize wisdom, prudence and divination for the ancient Greeks.
Voyage: In Greek art and mythology, dolphins were companions of sailors on their journeys and kept them company in safe journeys, but were also around if the sailors and ships sank to the bottom of the sea. Dolphins thus symbolized journeys and travels, whether in life or the afterlife.
Wisdom: Diamonds are translucent, bright, incorruptible and possess a hardness that makes them almost impossible to destroy. Because of these qualities, numerous authors and philosophers have used the diamond as a metaphor to describe wisdom itself.
Eternity: Diamonds are often seen as symbols of eternity and indestructibility, given their strength and durability.
Purity: The clarity and colorlessness of diamonds also make them a symbol of purity and innocence.
Wisdom: The cube, with its equal sides and angles, symbolizes balance and proportion, which are seen as aspects of wisdom. The cube thus represents the wisdom of knowing and maintaining balance in life.
Stability: Cubes represent stability and foundational strength, because their very shape makes them difficult to topple or unbalance.
Equality: Because all of its sides are equal, a cube symbolizes equality and fairness.
Wisdom: Books are quintessential symbols of wisdom and knowledge, as they contain and transmit information, stories, and lessons.
Learning: Books symbolize learning and education, representing the acquisition of knowledge over time.
Secrets: Throughout history, many books were deemed dangerous, and so ended up being banned or censored. In this context, the banned book has come to represent dangerous secrets that can upend society and turn it on its head.
Wisdom: In Buddhism, a bodhisattva is a person on the path towards spiritual awakening (bodhi) or Buddhahood. As such, a bodhisattva symbolizes wisdom, particularly the wisdom of understanding the nature of reality and the path to enlightenment.
Compassion: A bodhisattva is also a symbol of compassion and self-sacrifice, as they postpone their own enlightenment to help others.
Enlightenment: The bodhisattva represents not just obtain wisdom, but also the journey of obtaining wisdom. In this case, the bodhisattva symbolizes both the journey and the destination.
Wisdom: Honey is a common symbol for wisdom in many cultures. The ancient Norse believed Odin acquired his wisdom from drinking mystical honey mead. For this reason, the Norse often incorporated honey mead into their religious feasts as a way to foretell the future. The Celts used honey in a similar fashion.
In Buddhism, the state of Nirvana was often compared to the sweetness of honey.
Ancient Greeks and other Mediterranean peoples thought honey to be divine. For example, ambrosia, the drink Greek gods consumed to obtain immortality, is believed by some scholars to be a particular type of honey.
Finally, bees make honey through a process of nectar collection and transformation, which can be seen as a metaphor for the acquisition of wisdom.
Prosperity: Given its value and its association with bees (which are often seen as symbols of industriousness), honey can symbolize abundance and prosperity.
The Old Man
Wisdom: The old man often symbolizes wisdom in many cultures and literature, representing the accumulation of knowledge and experience gathered over a lifetime of struggle.
Time: Particularly in arts and literate, the old man is used to represent the passage of time, symbolizing the later stages of life. Thus, the old man acts as a warning to the viewer: “this is what you will become, do what you can with the time you have been given.”
Tradition: The old man often symbolizes tradition and the old ways, representing established customs and conventional wisdom.
Nurturing: As a universal symbol, the mother almost always represents nurturing, care, and compassion, reflective of the maternal bond.
Creation: The mother symbolizes creation and birth, given her role in bringing life into the world.
Wisdom: The mother figure can embody wisdom, specifically the kind tied to life-giving, nurturing, and maintaining balance within the family and society.
Wisdom: Keys often symbolize wisdom or knowledge, as they provide access to things that are hidden or unknown, much like wisdom illuminates the path to understanding.
Access: Keys are also symbols of access or freedom, since they have the power to unlock doors and reveal new paths.
Authority: Keys can represent authority or control, especially over domains that they can unlock.
Wisdom: In ancient Egyptian culture, the Ibis bird was associated with Thoth, the god of wisdom, and thus the bird came to symbolize wisdom and knowledge.
Communication: The Ibis, due to its association with Thoth who was also a god of writing and communication, symbolizes effective communication and expression.
Transition: The Ibis is a migratory bird and thus represents transitions or changes in life.
Wisdom in Commerce: The caduceus is a staff encircled by two serpents, sometimes with wings on top. It was an item most strongly associated with Hermes, the Greek god of travels and commerce. As such, the caduceus symbolizes wisdom, but a very particular type of wisdom: that required to make good business deals and smartly use one’s money to make more money.
Healing: In modern times, the caduceus has been adopted as a symbol of medicine and healing, although this association is technically a misattribution (the Rod of Asclepius, not the Caduceus, was the traditional symbol of medicine).
Lamp and Light
Wisdom: In nearly every religion, light belongs to the supreme deity. It is the light of the supreme deity that allows everything to be perceived and learned.
Thus, the lamp becomes a potent symbol of wisdom because it can illuminate the unknown, allowing the user to learn the world. More importantly however, the lamp forges a divine connection between the lamp holder and the lamp holder.
Wisdom: In many cultures, beards are associated with wisdom, often seen as a sign of maturity and life experience.
Nearly every supreme deity of every religion is depicted wearing a beard: Zeus, Poseidon, Indra as well as God in both Jewish and Christian tradition.
Beards, like wisdom, can only be grown with the passage of time and events. Thus, beards in many cultures are considered a sign of wisdom and maturity, and to shave one’s beard means that the wisdom accumulated was the wrong one. In this situation, the process of growing a new beard means relearning life, but this time in the correct fashion.
Masculinity: Because beards can only be grown by adult men, they have come to be associated with masculinity.
Authority: A beard can symbolize authority or high status, as it often did in ancient societies where beards were considered a sign of honor. In Ancient Egypt, Queens would wear decorative beards as a sign that their power was equal to that of male kings.
Lakes and springs have often been used as symbols of wisdom in various cultures due to their depth and ability to reflect one’s image, qualities that symbolize deep understanding and self-reflection. Water bodies are also sources of life, representing the nurturing aspect of wisdom that supports growth and development.
Norse mythology talks of Mimir’s Well, also known as the Well of Wisdom. Mimir, the guardian of the well, was renowned for his knowledge and wisdom. His well was located beneath one of the roots of Yggdrasil, the world tree, which connected the nine worlds.
Odin, the chief of the Norse gods, had to sacrifice one of his eyes for a drink from the well to gain its wisdom and understanding. This story emphasizes the sacrifices that one must make to obtain wisdom.
The Lady of the Lake from Arthurian legend is another example. She is a mystical figure who lives in a lake and is associated with high wisdom, magic, and authority. She is the one who gives Arthur his sword, Excalibur, and also raises the knight Lancelot, teaching him wisdom and the ways of chivalry.
The lake’s reflective surface can be seen as a symbol of self-reflection, introspection, and understanding, key elements of wisdom. The depth of the lake can also signify the depth of wisdom, hinting at the vastness of knowledge that lies beneath the water’s surface.
Trees have often been associated with wisdom across cultures due to their deep roots, expansive branches, and longevity, qualities which metaphorically resonate with concepts of wisdom such as stability, connection, growth, and timelessness.
In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil, the World Tree, connects the nine realms of existence. It symbolizes the universe and how every being and every object is interconnected.
The three roots of Yggdrasil extend to wells that are associated with different aspects of wisdom: the Well of Urd, representing fate and destiny; the Well of Mimir, representing knowledge and wisdom; and the spring of Hvergelmir, representing source of all rivers and creation.
Yggdrasil embodies a wisdom that is deeply rooted, expansive, and interconnected, and suggests that understanding the universe requires delving into the depths (the roots) and aspiring to the heavens (the branches).
In Biblical tradition, the Tree of Knowledge, present in the Garden of Eden, is another example. The fruit of this tree gave Adam and Eve the knowledge of good and evil, which was their first profound understanding about the world, despite the severe consequences of their actions.
The tree symbolizes the duality of wisdom: the power of knowledge and the potential for misusing it. It underscores that wisdom involves moral understanding, and accepting the responsibility that comes with knowledge.
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