Sword Symbolism in Cultural History
Exploring Sword Symbolism
As an alchemical symbol the sword is a symbol of purification. Here we experience the metaphorical sword cleanly piercing the spiritual soul of man. This symbolic action sacrifices physical bondage to release a path to ethereal (enlightened) freedom.
In Buddhism the sword symbolism deals with discrimination of thought. In this light, swords cut away ignorance.
As a Celtic symbol, the sword is reputed to be associated with Nuada, the first king of Tuatha De Danann. In fact, Nuada’s great sword is considered one of the four Celtic treasures (sword, stone, spear, cauldron). Nuada was associated with the supernatural forces of the underwater realm. Today, archeology reveals many ancient Celtic swords found under water. These may be offerings to Nuada made by ancient Celts honoring their forebear by passing their broadswords into the waters; effectively insuring the power of Nuada runs fiercely through their own tribal veins.
This is a powerful statement as we see Celtic swords were considered as an extension of their beingness. To relinquish such a intensely personal and meaningful object is indeed an honor. Nuada is said to recognize this sacrifice and live long within the hearts of men who recognize his nobility with the sacrificial gesture.
More Sword Symbolism in History and Culture
In Christianity the sword symbolism deals with protection, righteousness, and justice. We see archangel Michael depicted in Christian art holding a sword (also with scales) to reinforce the concept of truth, purity, equanimity, and the justness revealed in the light of Christ. Furthermore, we see the sword (often flaming) blocking the gates of Eden as a sign of protection – only the pure of heart may enter.
In Chinese symbolism dreams of swords indicate birth gender. It is believed that dreaming of a woman drawing a sword from water indicates the birth of a son. Many swords together or dancing swords in a dream indicates the dreamer is experiencing a fear of limitation and or avoiding death issues.
The swords of the Congo tribe in Central Africa are deeply symbolic of transition. Specifically, we see the quillons (crossguard on the hilt) of swords were designed so that one side turns heavenward, the other side turns earthwards. This is said to be symbolic of the powerful connection between sky and earth, and further solidifying the symbolism of life and death.
Further, Iroquois and Shoshone tribe lore indicated the white ring around the red robin’s eye was symbolic of prophetic vision, clarity, and great wisdom. The robin would be called upon during ceremonies when clear understanding was needed, and quality judgments needed to be made.
Sword Symbolism in Dreams
As dream symbols, swords erect the following meanings from the psyche:
Freud would have us believe the sword in our dreams is a phallic symbol. If we indulge this, we can see some validity. Visually, philosophically and energetically the sword shares many similarities to the male organ as well as masculinity and all its manifestations.
Freud isn’t the only one who recognized male gender issues in sword symbolism.
Arthurian studies draw gender correlations between Excalibur representing male (phallic) principles and its insertion into the stone – the stone being symbolic of the female (vaginal) principle.
Sword Meanings According to Male/Female Principles
As a masculine principle, the sword is the:
- The active force
- The driving feature
- The conquering element of existence
The sheath in which the sword is housed is considered the feminine principle representing:
- The passive force
- The protective feature
- The nutritive/supportive element of existence
Symbolic Sword Meaning – Keywords
In the symbolic language of the Tarot, swords represent the realm of the mind, specifically the navigation of thought. Just as the sword is wielded by its master, so too may thoughts be directed by conscious training of the mind. An untrained mind (one that is inexperienced in wielding the power of thought) will face many challenges. These challenges are deftly illustrated in the sword suit of the Tarot. I’ve written thoughts about Tarot sword symbolism and how it dovetails beautifully with the symbolic Tarot.
I hope this article on sword meaning and sword symbolism offered some insights on your symbolic path. As always, thanks so much for reading.
Other Articles of Interest on This Site
Celtic Gods and Goddess Symbols
Celtic gods and goddesses serve as powerful symbols within the Celtic culture. They are representative of a stronger, higher power; they are immortal, yet possess human traits. Learn more about the meanings of Celtic gods and goddesses here.
Celtic Warrior Symbols
Regarding the warrior – the Celtic representation of this attribute would have certainly been created artistically and exhibited proudly. Swords were a big symbol for the Celtic warrior, as were a few other symbols listed on this page. Get info on Celtic warrior symbols here.