Symbols for Wisdom

4 Natural Symbols for Wisdom

If you’re looking for ways to reinforce the concept of wisdom in your life, perhaps you might want to incorporate symbols for wisdom in your life.  There are specific icons that various cultures around the world have long-held sacred symbols for wisdom.  For instance, the ibis is a bird sacred to Thoth, the ancient Egyptian god of knowledge and wisdom. By association, the ibis is often considered a symbol of wisdom.

A Few Words About Wisdom

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t always have to be smart in order to be wise. In fact, smart people and wise people are often at odds. To explain the situation perfectly, a common analogy is often used: “To be smart is to know that a tomato is a fruit. To be wise is to realize that it does not belong in a fruit salad, even though it is a fruit”.

Wisdom is also considered the main condition of getting older. Because no matter how smart you are, nothing beats living in the real world for a few decades. It’s true, smart people have a mind that is good at recognizing patterns, and a natural ability to analyze intellectual concepts.

For example, why would Plato be a much better writer and philosopher than a guy you can find at Expert Writing websites and colleges? Well, Plato traveled the world and saw kings and tyrants fall. He also fought against the elements, other people, and his own shortcomings. In essence, he might have had a ton more life experience than most.

“No one was ever wise by chance.”

~Seneca

History and Symbols for Wisdom

By the time modernity came around better definitions were put into place regarding the technicalities of so-called wisdom.  However, these are still rather confining.  There is still the gift of history, age, culture, mythology, and more that helps define deep wisdom.

To this day, our roots go back to the ancient world when we seek meaning and knowledge. So, so let’s look at a few symbols for wisdom based on ancient legends, lore, and cultural understanding. 

Ravens and Aspects of Wisdom

Symbols for Wisdom - Raven
Symbols for Wisdom – Raven

Ravens are considered symbols of wisdom in many Native American myths (depending upon the tribe), as well as ancient European legends. The most famous examples are Odin’s ravens Huginn and Muninn

In general, birds are often used by cultures across the planet to symbolize wisdom and spirituality. But why is that? 

Well, let’s get the obvious part out of the way first: Ravens are some of the most intelligent animals. They are often seen avoiding traps, tricking predators, using tools, building nests, making complex social structures, etc. They are also extraordinary communicators.

Also, ravens and crows can live for a long time (comparative to most animals). This triggers in the human mind that wisdom often comes from age and living a long life.

From a more spiritual perspective, people often can’t see the forest for the trees. Living your daily life on the ground means you often get bogged down by minute details that don’t really matter in the long run. Overall, a grounded creature’s perspective is very narrow. However, a raven is believed to have a more expansive view. Because it is a creature of the sky, some cultures even believed ravens have a celestial vision.

From the air, perspective changes. This is why we have the expression “from a bird’s eye view”. Even the practice of meditation sometimes requires the person to visualize that he is flying above the world. 

Some problems and challenges are so large that you can’t see them entirely if you’re up close. By flying, you can see the whole scenario. You can also glimpse paths that were previously hidden, and keep a distance from harmful things. 

Flight is an enlightening experience. So, it’s no wonder the raven that is smart, long-lasting, and travels the sky is associated with wisdom. In this light, the raven sees the “big picture” and is hence one among many natural symbols for wisdom.

Oaks as Symbols of Wisdom

Symbols for Wisdom - Oak
Symbols for Wisdom – Oak

Back in pre-industrial history, most people lived in villages. If your village had an oak, odds are that your grandfather also played around that tree. Sure, there are things like mountains that last for millions of years. But when it comes to living creatures, nothing beats the oak’s lifespan. 

Here we see that essence of longevity is linked to wisdom. This ability to be around for generations explains why many people associate it with wisdom.

In addition, oaks are a good landmark. Before GPS and cellphones, community members might ask, “Where should we meet?” To which the answer might have often been, “Next to the old oak.” because it was a prominent feature.   Many town councils, weddings, picnics, and social events were held under the shade of these trees. 

There are many ancient people who believe trees absorb memories and wisdom because of all these communal events and energy revolving around oak trees.  As an absorber of information, memory, and energy, oaks are common symbols of wisdom.

A great ancient and historical example of the oak as a symbol of wisdom is found within the ancient Celtic tree Ogham, which honors the oak as a chieftain among trees.  It was considered one of the most powerful, wise figures in life, and was often consulted by druids as an oracle and a source of knowledge and creativity.

Owls as Wise Icons

Symbols for Wisdom - Owl
Symbols for Wisdom – Owl

As mentioned, many birds are viewed by our ancestors as symbols for wisdom.  As with ravens, owls are gifted with high intelligence and have an ability to soar over the world and see the bigger, broader picture.

But what makes owls special? Well, first, they have large eyes, which were often viewed as a window into the soul, and an indicator of soulful wisdom.  Large eyes equate to a belief that owls are “all-seeing” and “all-knowing” 

Furthermore, these are creatures that can see, sense, and efficiently hunt in the dark. Being able to deftly maneuver through the darkness in ancient thinking is a powerful trait of wisdom.  In this instance, the owl is a symbol of wisdom in terms of sensing, feeling, and using highly developed intuition to move through the realm of shadow with confidence.

Snakes – Unlikely, But Still Symbols for Wisdom

Symbols for Wisdom - Snake
Symbols for Wisdom – Snake

For many, the image of snakes might invoke fear or even terror.  While that’s understandable, there have been countless accounts that proclaim the snake as a symbol of wisdom. 

Some animistic cultures even go as far as to worship them as deities. Ever since humans have walked the Earth, there have always been serpent cults. These are organizations that herald the snake as a beautiful creature capable of imparting wisdom to its members.

That might seem a bit excessive in the modern world, but what made snakes symbolic of wisdom in ancient times? You might think serpents don’t actually do much thinking. It’s likely it derives wisdom from the source of instinct.  This is a good assessment, and that’s why the snake is symbolic of instinctual wisdom. It’s also a reminder to trust your instincts, senses, and intuition.

Thinking hunters such as mammals need to be taught to hunt, yet even a baby snake knows what to do as soon as it hatches.  That is natural wisdom born from instinct and the use of sensory perception at its best.

Most predominantly, snakes are extremely clever and resourceful.  This is their biggest claim to fame in terms of being symbols of wisdom.  They move surreptitiously and have a way of getting what they need without detection.  If you’ve ever had to employ strategy to gain an advantage without calling attention to yourself, this might be an aspect of wisdom in your life.

The ancients also looked at the way snakes get around. They have muscles so strong and dense that they glide on any surface. Slithering is definitely a unique way of moving. Similar to the birds that seem above everything, slithering makes snakes look like they are levitating or gliding above any surface. 

Also, when threatened and ready to strike, snakes move around and bob their heads. They look like they are thinking and assessing an angle of attack. This way of moving coupled with their eyes and profiles cause them to almost seem hypnotic. Their rhythm looks completely alien.  But in truth, our ancients observed this behavior as employing strategy.  A snake’s strike is a combination of strategy, patience, and cunning.  Thus, they were often considered sacred symbols for wisdom in ancient cultures.

Conclusion About Symbols for Wisdom

Abstractions are hard to consider and pin down. Vague ideas such as honor, courage, and wisdom do not have a physical form, a weight, or a smell. So, in order to better understand them, our ancestors were prompted to project these traits on creatures and elements in nature that appear to possess these qualities. 

At the end of the day, there are millions of inspirations in the natural world that represent knowledge. These are just a few clear examples of how certain symbols for wisdom have been adopted in ancient cultures to really define and galvanize mature intellect. Whether you choose one of these or adopt one of your own symbols for wisdom is your choice.  As always, thanks for reading.


Author Bio: Laura C. Fields is the type of person who likes to learn about learning. While most of her work focuses more on Mercury News articles and online essay site reviews, she often analyzes anything related to academia. She worked on pieces related to the impact of lockdowns, pedagogy, and history.

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