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Under symbolism one refers to system or repertoire of symbols , that is, sensible or imaginable signifiers (Things, things, actions, events), where an addition-setting of a particular culture, community or artistic or poetic expressive person about the sensible thing Importance is given.

The term symbolism is used particularly for symbol systems in the field of religion and mythology , art , poetry and psychology , while symbol systems that primarily serve practical communication in everyday life, such as writing systems and scientific or musical notation systems , traffic signs or identifying signs in the field of Fashion and advertising speaks of symbols in a broader sense (in the meaning of signs ), but their system or repertoire is usually not referred to as symbolism.

Depending on the context, the same bearer of meaning can assume meaning both in a symbol system for practical communication and in a symbolism in the narrower sense, such as B. the Greek letter Tau (Τ), which on the one hand represents a certain phonetic value in the Greek script and, when used alphanumerically, a numerical value (300) derived from the position in the alphabet, but on the other hand in the context of Christian letter symbolism by means of its visual shape as a figure of the cross Christ is interpreted or related to other religious contents based on its numerical value.

When we speak of the symbolism of a certain bearer of meaning (e.g. the symbolism of the tree) or a whole class of bearers of meaning (e.g. plant symbolism, color symbolism), it is their special character (symbolic character) and / or the spectrum of them Meanings (symbolic content) meant within a certain symbol system.

Religious symbolism

Religious symbolism can be divided into “ theologically dogmatic ” or general esoteric symbolism. In 1832 Johann Adam Möhler introduced the term “symbolism” (derived from the Greek “symbolon” ​​as a denomination of the creed ) for the representation of the doctrinal similarities and the doctrinal differences between the denominations . From then on, denominational studies were also referred to as "symbolism".

Esoteric symbolism

General esoteric symbolism is valid regardless of culture, creed and time. Its elements are either figurative or only glyphic or geometric and can therefore be found everywhere in a similar form. This is especially true for the most elementary symbols such as point, circle, cross, triangle, stars of all kinds and of course the sun. Certain letters and numbers also have a strong symbolic character. This is especially true in the Jewish Kabbalah, and therefore also in the architectural ornamentation of the Christian West since the Middle Ages. Many figurative symbols come from the theogony and mythology of the respective cultural area, others from the so-called universal tradition in their development since prehistory and from Babylon (Sumer) to Egypt, Greece and Rome, which, however, also exist in ancient America (pre-Inca, pre -maya-, pre-Columbian culture) finds its counterparts. From the world creation myths to theogony and anthropogony to the doctrines of redemption there are numerous equivalents all over the world and in every epoch of humanity. Special families of symbols have been used in alchemy, heraldry and Gnostic tradition since the 2nd century BC. Developed.


  • P. Martin: Le Symbolisme ésotérique actuel, au quotidien, dans le langage et pour l'auto-initiation. - Basel, Edition Oriflamme, 2011. - German edition: Esoteric symbolism today, in everyday life, language and self-initiation.
  • Fulcanelli: Le Mystère des Cathédrales. Paris, J.-J. Pauvert, 1926. - German: The mystery of the cathedrals and the esoteric interpretation of the hermetic symbols of the Great Work.
  • Jacobus de Voragine : Legenda Aurea (Christian or Christianized saints legends of the Middle Ages); - numerous editions.
  • Countless dictionary of symbols.
  • Frédéric Portal : Des couleurs symboliques dans l'antiquité, le moyen age, et les temps modern . Paris 1857 ( digitized ).
  • Joh. Paul Reinhard: Complete heraldic art ... for the use of his lectures published by * JPR, Nuremberg, Lochner, 1747. - With the heraldic terms in German, French and Latin.

Color symbolism

Death symbolism

Main article: Death symbolism