The cross is one of the most well-known symbols in history. For most people, it immediately evokes images of Christianity and Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. For Christians, it represents the sacrifice Jesus made to save humanity from sin. However, the cross has also held significant meaning beyond religion throughout history. Different cultures have imbued the cross with their own symbolism, and it has been used for purposes ranging from protection to fashion.
The Egyptian ankh, for example, was a cross with a loop on top that symbolized eternal life. In Hinduism, the cross-like swastika represents good fortune and well-being. Meanwhile, pre-Christian pagans in Europe carved crosses onto their homes and farm animals to ward off evil spirits. In fashion, the crucifix has become an emblem for numerous subcultures, from goth to punk to streetwear. Clearly, the cross holds far more meaning than its association with Christianity.
So, whether you’re religious or not, it’s worth understanding the deeper cultural significance of the cross. It’s fascinating to see how different people and societies have interpreted and utilized this powerful symbol throughout history. The cross may forever be associated with Christianity, but it’s clear that its meaning is far from one-dimensional.
Cross Symbolism in Ancient Cultures
The cross has been a symbol of religious and spiritual significance across many cultures around the world. While it is most commonly associated with Christianity, the symbol has been used for various purposes and meanings. Its history and meaning in ancient cultures vary widely, and its symbolism is often determined by the context and cultural significance of the era. In this article, we’ll explore the cross symbolism in ancient cultures.
Cross Symbolism in Ancient Civilizations
- Egypt: In ancient Egypt, the cross symbol was called Ankh, meaning ‘eternal life.’ It represented the union of divine and mortal life and was reputed to have protective powers and to confer strength and vigor to those who wore it. The Ankh was used in various religious ceremonies and was associated with goddesses and gods linked to the life-giving power of the sun.
- Babylon: The Babylonians used the solar cross as a symbol to represent their god Marduk. It was a circular cross with its four branches slightly curved, alluding to the four compass points of the wind. The Babylonians believed that Marduk would bring their earlier gods to heel and bring stability to the kingdom’s political and social life.
- Greek: The Greek cross is one of the earliest and most widely recognized and has an even distribution of length and breadth. The Greek cross represents balance and symbolizes the four elements: earth, wind, fire, and water.
Cross Symbolism in Native American Cultures
The cross has played a significant role in Native American cultures. Here are a few examples of its symbolism.
- Apache: The Apache use a cross symbol in its War God’s shrine. It is positioned in the center and represents the divine direction of the god’s anger.
- Navajo: The Navajo symbol for the cross stands for “a place for the spirit.” The four arms of the cross represent the four cardinal directions.
- Pueblo: The Pueblo people associate the cross with the sacred number four. It symbolizes the four world directions: north, south, east, and west.
Cross Symbolism in Asian Cultures
The cross has also had a significant role in Asian cultures like China and Japan, where it has its unique meaning and significance.
|China||In China, the cross symbol is called the Shou, which means longevity. It is drawn in such a way that the four arms are equal and represent peace, love, wealth, and longevity.|
|Japan||In Japan, the cross symbol represents a sign of separation between the secular world and otherworldly matters. It also stands for the number ten thousand, signifying infinite or divine.|
Throughout history, the cross has played a vital role in many ancient cultures, bestowing power, protection, and enduring significance. The different cultures associated different meanings with the cross, revealing the varying richness of the symbol’s representation.
Cross Symbolism in Wicca and Neo-Paganism
Wicca and Neo-Paganism are both spiritual practices that revolve around nature, the elements, and the worship of multiple deities. They have their own unique interpretations of the cross symbol, incorporating it into their magical practices, rituals, and beliefs.
- In Wicca, the cross is often represented as the crossed wand or crossed swords symbol, which is used during magical workings and spellcasting. The crossed wand represents the elements of air and fire, while the crossed swords represent the elements of earth and water, all working together in harmony.
- For Neo-Pagans, the cross symbol is often associated with the four elements and their corresponding directions. The cross-quarter days, which are celebrated in Neo-Paganism, align with the four elements and their directions on the Wheel of the Year.
- Some Wiccans and Neo-Pagans also use the Celtic Cross, which is a cross with a circle around the intersection, as a symbol of the four elements and their corresponding directions. The circle represents the unification of all elements and their energies.
In both Wicca and Neo-Paganism, the cross symbolizes the balance and harmony of nature and the elements, as well as the interconnectedness of all things in the universe.
The Four Elements and the Cross Symbol
For Wiccans and Neo-Pagans, the cross symbol is deeply connected to the four elements: air, fire, water, and earth. Each element has its own unique energy and corresponds to a specific direction: east (air), south (fire), west (water), and north (earth).
The crossed wand and crossed swords are both symbols of the four elements and their energies working together in harmony. The wand represents air and fire, which are both energetic and active elements, while the swords represent water and earth, which are both stabilizing and grounding elements. By using these symbols during magical workings and spellcasting, Wiccans can harness the power of the elements to manifest their intentions.
|Air||East||Athame (ritual knife)|
|Water||West||Cup or Chalice|
|Earth||North||Pentacle (a flat disk or tile inscribed with a pentagram)|
Neo-Pagans also use the cross symbol to represent the four elements and their corresponding directions, which are celebrated during the cross-quarter days on the Wheel of the Year. These days mark the midpoint between the two solstices and the two equinoxes and align with the changing seasons.
Overall, the cross symbol in Wicca and Neo-Paganism signifies the interconnectedness and balance of the elements in the natural world, which is at the core of these spiritual practices.
Cross Symbolism in Hinduism and Buddhism
While the cross is commonly associated with Christianity, it also holds significant symbolism in other religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism.
One of the most prominent representations of the cross in Hinduism is the swastika, which is different from the Nazi symbolism it has come to be associated with during modern times. In Hinduism, the swastika is a symbol of luck and fortune, representing the joining of the physical and spiritual worlds. It is also seen as a symbol of the sun, good health, and well-being. The swastika can be found in many Hindu temples, drawn or carved into walls, ceilings, and floors as a way to symbolize the auspiciousness of the space.
- In Buddhism, the cross is known as the dharmachakra, or the Wheel of Dharma. It is comprised of eight spokes which represent the Eightfold Path, the core teachings of Buddhism. These eight spokes indicate the stages of spiritual development, with each stage leading closer to achieving enlightenment.
- Another prominent symbol of the cross in Buddhism is the stupa, which is a mound-like structure used to house relics or serve as a place for meditation. The stupa symbolizes the path to enlightenment and the physical and spiritual aspects of Buddhism.
- The Tibetan Buddhist prayer flag is another example of the cross symbolism. The prayer flag is a rectangular piece of colored cloth with prayers written on it. These flags are hung in high places such as mountaintops or rooftops and are meant to spread compassion, peace, and wisdom in the wind. The rectangular shape of the prayer flag is considered to represent the cross, while the five colors on the flag each represent a different element: blue symbolizes space, white symbolizes air, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes water, and yellow symbolizes earth.
The cross in Hinduism and Buddhism is not associated with death or sacrifice like it is in Christianity, but rather with spirituality and enlightenment. It is seen as a symbol for the union of the physical and spiritual worlds, reminding us of the interconnectedness of all things.
Overall, the cross holds deep significance in different religions, and while it may be interpreted differently, the common thread is its representation of unity and balance.
|Hinduism||The Swastika symbolizes luck, fortune, and the joining of the physical and spiritual worlds.|
|Buddhism||The Dharmachakra (Wheel of Dharma) symbolizes the Eightfold Path and the Stupa is a monument for meditation and the path to enlightenment.|
The cross in religion is not limited to Christianity, but rather has different meanings that are unique to the traditions where it is found. Regardless of these differences, the cross is a universal symbol of spirituality, unity, and connection.
Cross Symbolism in Islam
The cross is a symbol that has been used in various cultures and religions apart from Christianity. In Islam, the cross has a significant symbolic meaning, although it is not used as religious iconography. Here are some of the ways the cross symbolizes various aspects of Islam:
Number 4 Significance
In Islam, the number four is significant and can be symbolized by a cross, referred to as “Al-Tawassul” or “Al-Muqaddasah.” The cross has four equal arms and represents the four corners of the Earth, the four elements, the four seasons, and the four angels who uphold the Throne of Allah. It is also associated with the four Sunnis schools of law which are the Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki, and Hanbali.
- The four corners of the Earth: The cross symbolizes the entire world and all its inhabitants, and how Islamic faith is for all people regardless of their cultural or geographic orientations.
- The four elements: The cross symbolizes earth, water, fire, and air.
- The four seasons: The cross symbolizes the four seasons of the year.
- The four angels who uphold the Throne of Allah: The cross symbolizes the four archangels who hold Allah’s divine throne, which signifies the ultimate authority of Allah.
- The four Sunni schools of law: The cross represents the four distinct schools of legal thought within Sunni Islam and symbolizes unity among diverse religious interpretations.
Overall, the cross is a powerful symbol of unity and balance in Islam. Its use accentuates the profound meaning of faith and the hope of global harmony.
Cross Symbolism in Judaism
When it comes to cross symbolism in Judaism, some may be surprised to learn that the Star of David is often considered a form of cross. The six-pointed star is made up of two overlapping triangles, forming a shape that resembles a cross with four arms of equal length. This symbol has been used in Jewish tradition for centuries, and it holds many important meanings.
- Unity: One interpretation of the Star of David as a cross is that it represents the unity of God and humanity. The vertical line is said to represent the divine realm, while the horizontal line represents the earthly realm. When they intersect, as they do in the center of the star, they create a point of connection between the two.
- Balance: Another interpretation is that the star represents balance and harmony. The two triangles are said to represent opposing forces, such as earth and sky, or fire and water. When they are balanced in the center of the star, it symbolizes the balance of these forces in the universe.
- Protection: In Jewish tradition, the Star of David has also been used as a symbol of protection. It is believed to ward off evil spirits and protect those who wear or display it.
Another significant form of cross symbol in Judaism is the T-shaped Tau cross. This symbol is formed by the Hebrew letter Tav, which has a shape similar to a capital letter T. This letter is said to represent truth and perfection, and it has been used as a symbol of the covenant between God and Israel.
In addition to these forms of cross symbolism, there are also many other symbols and images in Jewish tradition that hold deep spiritual meaning. These include the menorah, the mezuzah, and the Hamsa hand, among others.
|Menorah||Ancient Jewish symbol representing the burning bush from the Book of Exodus|
|Mezuzah||Small box containing parchment with Hebrew verses from the Torah, placed on doorposts of Jewish homes|
|Hamsa Hand||Symbol of protection and good luck, often used in Jewish and Muslim cultures|
Overall, cross symbolism in Judaism is rich and varied, encompassing a wide range of symbols and images that hold deep spiritual meaning. Whether it is the Star of David, the Tau cross, or any of the other symbols used in the tradition, each one is a powerful reminder of the divine presence and the enduring strength of Jewish faith.
Cross Symbolism in Native American Cultures
Crosses are a heavy religious symbol in the Christian faith, but it’s important to remember that they also carry significant meaning in other cultures and religions. Native American cultures, for example, have their own interpretations of the cross symbol.
The Native American cross is often associated with the number six, representing the six cardinal directions: north, south, east, west, up, and down. It’s believed that all things in the universe move in these directions, and thus, the cross symbolizes the harmony and balance between these forces.
- North represents wisdom and purity
- South represents growth and new beginnings
- East represents strength and the rising sun
- West represents introspection and the setting sun
- Up represents spirituality and divinity
- Down represents the physical world and grounding
The six directions also relate to the six seasons in Native American culture. Unlike the Western calendar with four seasons, Native Americans recognize the transitional periods between each season: early spring, late spring, early summer, late summer, early winter, and late winter. The cross symbolizes the connection between these seasons and the balance between them.
Additionally, the cross is often used in Native American art and décor as a symbol of protection and a way to ward off evil spirits. It’s not uncommon to see the cross symbol painted on teepees, clothing, and even as body paint in ceremonial rituals.
|Native American Tribe||Cross Symbolism|
|Navajo||The cross is a symbol of the sacred mountain and represents the four cardinal directions.|
|Hopi||The cross symbolizes the four winds and the four ages of life.|
|Pueblo||The cross represents the four seasons and the four directions.|
The cross symbol holds significant meaning in Native American cultures, representing balance, protection, and a connection to the natural world.
Cross Symbolism in African Traditional Religions
While the cross is most commonly associated with Christianity, its symbolism extends beyond this religion. In African traditional religions, the cross holds significant meaning and is used in various rituals, rites, and traditions.
The Number 7
In African traditional religions, the number 7 is heavily associated with the cross. This is because the cross is often represented as a central point with six points surrounding it, creating a seven-pointed structure. The number 7 is considered a sacred number and represents completeness, wholeness, and perfection. In this context, the seven-pointed cross symbolizes a complete and perfect connection between the earthly and spiritual worlds.
- The seven-pointed cross can also represent the seven days of creation, as well as the seven chakras in the human body.
- In some African cultures, the seven-pointed cross is used in divination rituals. The diviner will throw the cross onto the ground and interpret how it falls to gain insight into future events.
- Some African tribes also use the seven-pointed cross as a protective talisman, believing that it can ward off evil spirits and negative energies.
Aside from its association with the number 7, the cross holds other meanings in African traditional religions:
The X-shaped cross, also known as the St. Andrew’s Cross or saltire, is commonly used in West and Central African cultures, especially among the Akan and Ewe people. This cross is often seen as a symbol of unity and reconciliation, as it represents the coming together of two opposing forces. In some cultures, the X-shaped cross is also used in funerals to symbolize a person’s journey to the afterlife.
The cross can also symbolize the four cardinal directions and the elements associated with them. The vertical line of the cross represents the axis between heaven and earth, while the horizontal line represents the relationships between all living beings. The meeting point of the lines signifies the unity of all things.
|Igbo||The cross represents the masculine and feminine forces and their reconciliation.|
|Dogon||The cross represents a connection between the earthly and spiritual worlds, as well as the four elements and the four seasons.|
|Ashanti||The cross represents the intertwining of life and death, as well as the different stages of life.|
Overall, the cross holds deep symbolism and cultural significance in African traditional religions, representing everything from unity and reconciliation to protection and divination.
Cross Symbolism in Alchemy
Alchemy is a branch of science that originated in Ancient Egypt and developed throughout the Islamic Golden Age. It sought to transform base metals into gold and discover the elixir of life. However, alchemists also used symbols like the cross to represent various spiritual, philosophical, and psychological concepts. Here’s a closer look at what the cross symbolizes in alchemy:
The Number 8
In alchemy, the cross is often associated with the number 8. This is because the number 8 represents infinity and the timeless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Alchemists believed that the universe was cyclical and that everything was interconnected. The cross symbolized the eternal nature of the universe and the interconnectedness of all beings.
Moreover, the number 8 was also associated with the four elements – air, earth, fire, and water – and the four qualities – hot, cold, dry, and moist. When combined, they form the eight archetypes of creation, which can be represented by the cross.
- North represents earth and coldness
- South represents fire and heat
- East represents air and moisture
- West represents water and dryness
- Northwest represents earth and dryness
- Northeast represents air and coldness
- Southeast represents fire and dryness
- Southwest represents water and coldness
The cross, therefore, represents the interplay between the four elements and four qualities to create the eight archetypes of creation. This concept can be seen in various cultures and religions, from the Hindu yugas to the Chinese bagua. The cross symbolizes the eternal nature of creation and the interconnectedness of all things, leading to a deeper understanding of the world and our place in it.
Cross Symbolism in Freemasonry
The cross is a symbol that has been used in various cultures and religions throughout history, and it has many different meanings. In Freemasonry, the cross symbolizes many things, including the number nine.
- The number nine is significant in Freemasonry because there are nine degrees in the York Rite and the Scottish Rite.
- The number nine is also associated with completion and perfection because it is the last single-digit number, and it is three times three, which represents the trinity.
- In some interpretations, the number nine is also associated with wisdom, as it is believed to be the highest number reached by the ancient Greeks and is therefore considered the limit of human knowledge.
The cross is also used in a variety of ways in Freemasonry, depending on the context and the specific degree. Here are a few examples:
In the first degree of Freemasonry, the cross is used to symbolize the moral principles on which the society is founded. The candidate is asked to reflect on the virtues of the cross — temperance, justice, fortitude and prudence — and to consider how they relate to his own life.
In the Royal Arch degree, the cross is used to symbolize the four elements — earth, air, fire, and water — and their interconnection. It is also used to represent the four cardinal virtues — prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice — and the four evangelists — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Finally, in some interpretations, the cross is used to symbolize the journey of life and death. It represents the idea that life is a journey from the physical world to the spiritual world, and that the cross can help guide us on that journey. The four points of the cross represent the four stages of life, while the center represents the spiritual realm.
|Earth||The material world and physical existence|
|Air||The breath of life and the spiritual world|
|Fire||The transformative power of change and purification|
|Water||The life force, emotions, and intuition|
Overall, the cross is a symbol that has many different meanings and interpretations in Freemasonry, and it is used in a variety of ways depending on the context. Its symbolism is deeply rooted in the history and traditions of the society, and it continues to be an important part of its teachings and practices.
Cross Symbolism in Contemporary Art and Fashion
The cross has been a powerful symbol for centuries and its significance extends beyond Christianity. In contemporary art and fashion, the cross symbolizes various things like fashion trends, social movements, cultural statements, and political affiliations.
Ten Meanings of the Cross Symbol
- Unity: The cross is a common symbol in various cultures, and it represents unity, bringing people together irrespective of their differences.
- Strength: The cross is a sturdy and durable symbol, and it often represents the strength to overcome problems or challenges.
- Balance: The cross is a geometrical shape representing balance and symmetry in design.
- Protection: The cross symbolizes protection, safeguard from evil, and spiritual aggression.
- Love: The cross not only represents the love of Christ, but it also symbolizes the love between two people and the unity in their commitment to each other.
- Spirituality: The cross serves as a religious and spiritual symbol, representing the connection between a believer and their God.
- Creativity: In contemporary art, the cross is a symbol of creativity and originality, used to create art with a new message or communicate a unique perspective about culture or society.
- Elegance: The cross is also a symbol of elegance and sophistication in fashion, used to create timeless and classic jewelry designs that stand the test of time.
- Remembrance: The cross symbolizes remembrance and commemorates a significant event or memory like the death of a loved one.
- Fashion: The cross has become a popular fashion trend, worn as a fashion accessory or printed on clothing to make a fashion statement.
Cross Symbolism in Contemporary Art
The cross has been a popular and recurring element in contemporary art, used in different ways to create impactful and thought-provoking artworks. In contemporary art, the cross symbolizes various things like spirituality, death, hope, and salvation. A few notable artists that use the cross as an art motif or symbol include:
- Andy Warhol: The American artist popularized the use of the cross in his works, and they typically represented religious devotion and devotion to celebrity culture.
- Anselm Kiefer: The German painter employs a unique approach to using the cross in his works by layering textural materials like straw, ash, wood, or lead onto his canvas to create multidimensional compositions that touch on history, religion, and humanity’s struggles.
- Cecily Brown: The British painter uses the cross in her works to evoke contrasting emotions like joy, lust, and violence, creating intricate and colorful compositions that blur the lines between abstraction, figuration, and symbolism.
Cross Symbolism in Contemporary Fashion
The cross has become a popular fashion trend and commonly used in contemporary fashion to create timeless, elegant, and sophisticated pieces. Cross jewelry, in particular, has remained a favorite among fashion enthusiasts due to its versatility, style, and religious significance. Popular cross jewelry designs include:
|Cross Jewelry Design||Description||Material|
|Cross Pendant Necklaces||Classic and simple necklaces featuring a small or large cross pendant at the center.||Gold, silver, or stainless steel|
|Cross Hoop Earrings||Stylish hoop earrings with a cross attachment or delicate cross engravings.||Gold or silver|
|Cross Bracelets||Charming bracelets featuring miniature crosses integrated into the design.||Leather, stainless steel, or silver|
The cross symbol is continually evolving, and as contemporary art and fashion continue to evolve, we can expect to see new interpretations of the cross symbol emerge.
What Does a Cross Symbolize Besides Christianity?
Q: What does a cross symbolize in Egyptian culture?
A: In ancient Egypt, the ankh cross was a symbol of life and fertility, often depicted alongside gods and pharaohs. It was believed to balance energy and bring harmony to life.
Q: What does a cross symbolize in Celtic culture?
A: The Celtic cross, often seen in Ireland and Scotland, represented the meeting of the divine and mortal worlds. It also symbolized the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water, and the four directions of north, south, east, and west.
Q: What does a cross symbolize in Native American culture?
A: The Native American cross represents the four directions and the four stages of life: birth, youth, adulthood, and death. It also symbolizes the center of creation and the interconnectedness of all living beings.
Q: What does a cross symbolize in Hindu culture?
A: The Hindu swastika cross represents good luck, prosperity, and well-being. It is also a symbol of the god Ganesha, who is worshipped for removing obstacles and bringing fortune.
Q: What does a cross symbolize in Buddhism?
A: The Buddhist dharma wheel cross represents the teachings of Buddha and the path to enlightenment. It sometimes includes additional symbols, such as the lotus flower and the eight-spoked wheel.
Q: What does a cross symbolize in astrology?
A: The cross is a symbol of the zodiac, representing the four elements and the solstices and equinoxes. It also symbolizes the intersection of the material and spiritual worlds.
Q: What does a cross symbolize in modern culture?
A: The cross is often used as a symbol of remembrance or mourning, as in war memorials or cemeteries. It is also used in fashion and jewelry design as a decorative element.
Thank you for taking the time to read about the many ways the cross is used as a symbol beyond Christianity. Whether it represents life, the elements, or the divine, the cross has a rich cultural history and continues to be a powerful symbol in our modern world. Please visit us again for more insightful articles on a variety of topics.