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Cross Symbols - What Do They Mean?

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Cross Symbols - What Do They Mean?
Cross Symbols - What Do They Mean?
© Dixie Allan

Crosses symbolize spirituality and healing. The four points of a cross represent self, nature, wisdom, and higher power or being. Crosses suggest transition, balance, faith, unity, temperance, hope, and life. They represent relationships and and a need for connection to something.

The cross is one of the earliest and most widely used Christian symbols. In the most broad sense it symbolizes the religion of Christianity. More specifically, it represents and memorializes Christ's death. There are a variety of crosses, some with specific symbolic meaning and others that have simply become culturally associated with certain groups.

The simplest and most common Christian cross is the Latin cross. It may not have come into use until the 2nd or 3rd century.

The empty cross, usually favored by Protestants, reminds Christians of the resurrection, while the crucifix, with the body of Jesus on it, favored by Catholic and Orthodox churches, is a reminder of Christ's sacrifice.

The Greek cross, with arms of equal length, is the most ancient cross. The cross of Calvary or Graded Cross has three steps leading up to it, which can represent the hill of calvary or faith, hope, and love.

The papal cross is the official symbol of the papacy, and may be used only by the Pope. The three bars of the cross most likely represent the three realms of the Pope's authority: the church, the world, and heaven.

The baptismal cross has eight points, symbolizing regeneration. It is formed by combining the Greek cross with the Greek letter chi (X), the first letter of "Christ" in Greek.

The budded cross is a common form of the cross. Its trefoils represent the Trinity.

The triumphant cross with the orb represents Christs' reign over the world. It is often shown atop Christ's scepter in Christian art.

An inverted cross is the cross of St. Peter, who, according to tradition, was crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to die the same way Christ did. It also symbolizes humility because of the story of Peter. The inverted cross has more recently been appropriated by Satanists as a symbol meant to oppose or invert Christianity.

The symbolism of the Celtic cross (especially the equal-armed cross in which each protrusion is equidistant from the center) is indicative of the human desire to know and experience the unfolding mystery of life. We could say that mystery unfolds in a four-fold pattern in which the arms of the cross offer four ways to ascension, an invitation to objectively know Self, Nature, Wisdom and God.

The Celtic cross meaning can also represent navigation. You can look to the cross as a symbolic compass. A few forms of navigation the Celtic cross offers are:

  • Spiritual navigation: When we find ourselves tossed by the tumultuous seas of life, the symbolic attributes of the cross can re-center our focus and move our thoughts in the right direction. By affirming the symbolic meanings of the cross, we set our spirit on solid ground.
  • Cyclical navigation: The Celtic cross meaning also deals with the transition of the seasons, and even mark the four Celtic fire festivals (Samhain, Imbolc, Beltain, Lughnasadh). These were massively profound events for the Celt as they defined a clear mark of transition. These distinct time delineations would provide stability in an otherwise uncertain and transitional world. Each festival prompted specific activities associated with the time of year in which they fell. The Celtic cross may well have been a reminder of the transition of time and the transitory nature of our lives.
  • Time navigation: Not only could the Celtic cross mark the four seasons (punctuated by the Celtic fire festivals), but the cross could also delineate day and night. If we consider the horizontal bar of the cross as a literal horizon, the top half would symbolize sunrise, and the lower half sunset.

I have only scratched the surface of the meaning of a cross in a symbol. The cross is, by far and wide, one of the most prevalent shapes seen in symbols. I hope by reading this you will be inspired to delve further into the meaning of symbols. It is, after all, a part of our history.

To learn more about shapes in symbols, read the article The Basic Shapes of Symbols

To learn more about circles in symbols, read the article Circle Symbols - What Do They Mean?

To learn about color symbology, read Color Symbology.

To learn more about symbols, read the article Symbology - The Study of Signs and Symbols.

To find symbol clip art, go to Signs and Symbols.

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