Symbols are used in Wicca for various purposes: simplifying anything that is written in your Book of Shadows, marking initiation degrees, expressing beliefs, ideas while some symbols are integrated into whole writing systems (for example runes, the Theban alphabet etc.).
We mustn't forget the symbols of the God and Goddess, of course. The most popular symbol of the Goddess is the triple moon which reflects the three aspects of the Goddess: the Maiden, Mother and Crone. The Maiden's symbol is the waxing moon (on the left), the Mother is represented by the full moon (in the middle) and the Crone by the waning moon (on the right). The moon itself is intimately connected to women (the menstrual and moon cycle last equally as long, usually 28 days). The second, also quite popular, symbol of the Goddess is, what we could call, the universal figure of the woman (we will refer to her as the fertile woman), who is depicted as having wide hips (and sometimes breasts). A spiral can (but doesn't necessarily have to) be drawn somewhere on her body. Breasts and hips are emphasized as symbols of femininity (hips=child-bearing, fertility; breasts=feeding the child), while the symbol is another symbol of life (and thus fertility, once again). There are two types of spirals; one which turns clockwise (so beginning from the center and turning towards the right) and which is, again, a reference to reincarnation (i.e. rebirth), while the other one turns anti-clockwise (beginning in the center and turning towards the left) and symbolizes spirituality.
The main symbol of the God is similar to the zodiac sign of the Taurus; a circle with a crescent moon on top. This is, more precisely said, the symbol of the Horned God in which the circle represents the face/head and the crescent moon his horns. I have talked about the Horned God in several occasions, but let me just briefly return to him. Namely, the Horned God is one of the two aspects the God has (the other one is the Green God who reigns during the summer and spring). He got his name because of the many horned animals that used to be hunted down during the autumn and winter months which he governed. When it was cold, people couldn't just survive on plants, so they hunted animals for meat but also fur for clothes and bones for weapons/jewelry etc.
Symbols of the elements are also very important. There are several alternatives, so I will just give you a few here :)
Fire is symbolized by a triangle pointing upward (associate it with how a flame looks). Water, as the opposite of fire, is symbolized by a downward-facing triangle. Earth is represented by a downward-facing triangle with a line in the middle (think of someone pointing downward, toward the earth) and the symbol of air (the opposite element of earth) is an upward-facing triangle with a line through it.
|Yoni (originally doesn't have|
the Goddess symbol inside it)
mportant fertility symbols would the
A phallic symbol is anything that is long and erect (i.e. that stands upright). Because of this, the sword, athamé and wand are symbols of male fertility in Wicca (you will surely use one of these three tools in your rituals if not possibly two). Complementary to this, the "female" tools in the Craft are objects which are used for holding things (i.e. in which objects can be "inserted") such as bowls, the chalice, etc. You will surely keep bowls for salt and water on your altar during rituals. Water is a female symbol (just recall the importance of amniotic fluid for any child in the womb), while salt symbolizes the masculine as well as cleansing (remember that sperm is also white). When this salt and water are mixed together, they are used for cleansing and consecrating objects (as well as marking the circle).
Of course, I mustn't forget to mention the beautiful symbol of the circle, which has quite a few meanings. The circle has always been thought of as the perfect shape, along with the square. It is a symbol of eternity, cycles and harmony. In Wicca, it symbolizes eternal life, reincarnation (which is also symbolized by the spiral), the cycles of life, annual cycles (the transition of the seasons) and the Wheel of the Year (the eight Sabbats). The wheel symbol is a variation of the circle on which you may come across. The circle is very important in Wicca because it is used in every ritual. Namely, the shape of the circle is drawn/made on the ground when creating the sacred space for any ritual. It is first drawn with the athamé/sward/wand and then it is needed to walk along it with the elements. I won't talk about this any longer, but you can find a detailed description in a previous post entitle "Ritual form".
While reading some rituals, you may come across the term "the Goddess pose/Isis pose". This pose is usually used when invoking the Goddess so you may see it in some variations of the Charge of the Goddess. The pose looks something like this: your feet are set apart and your hands are up (parallel to the earth) with your elbows bent upwards. There are other variations, but the only thing that will usually vary is the depth of your leg-spread (how bent your knees will be bent and how far apart your legs will be). You may already be familiar with this pose if you have ever done yoga.
Since I mentioned Isis, I have to also mention Osiris. The Osiris pose/God pose also exists. It was named after the well-known pose that Osiris is always (or most commonly) depicted in art. The pose looks something like this: your feet are together (on slightly apart) and your hands are lifted up to your breasts (or sometimes simply relaxed at your sides), bent in the elbows with the wrists crossed so that your hands touch your shoulders. Of course, not every individual or even tradition will use these names or even incorporate these poses into their works, but I thought I needed to mention them :)
You will also come across the terms widdershins and deosil. They are objects/tools, but rather directions in which you can move inside the circle. To go deosil means to walk clockwise (so from the center point and towards your right). This direction is usually used for everything, though some may use it only to open the circle (with the athamé and elements), when cleansing something etc. Widdershins is anticlockwise (from the center towards the left) and some people will prefer to walk in this direction when closing the circle. I prefer to go deosil all the time (including when closing the circle). There have been many debates on this topic and in one of them, I came across the claim that by going widdershins (which is usually done when banishing or simply getting rid of anything), you can "deconsecrate" or "contaminate" what you have consecrated and cleansed. It's up to you how you will work. Feel free to research this topic in detail and give me your opinion :D
Other symbols include various knots, but I would only like to mention two of them: the triquetra and Brighid's cross.
The triquetra is a variation of the triangle which symbolizes the three aspects of the Goddess in Wicca (the Maiden, Mother and Crone), or the three earthly domains (land, sea and sky) or simply the Mind, Body and Spirit. It is originally a Celtic symbol which cannot be precisely dated, but what can be said for sure is that it is the simplest of all the Celtic knots. It is often used for protection. There are, once again, variations of this symbol, but the difference is mainly in the length of the "arms", and you will often come across a circle connecting the three arms symbolizing eternity.
The aforementioned Brighid's cross is an Irish symbol which is made out of natural materials (usually out of reeds or straw). It is made up of a square-shaped center, whose arms stretch out in four directions (the straw is sort of spirally entwined in the center). Christians adopted this symbol because Brighid/Brigid/Brigit was originally a Pagan fertility goddess as well as the patron of poets, healers, blacksmiths, craftsmen and workers. She is celebrated on 2 February as the bringer of spring. It is believed that this symbol also brings protection and it is therefore often put up in houses in hopes of protecting them from fires or other evils. The myth associated with St. Brighid (the Christian saint) goes as follows: St. Brigid went to help an old man on his deathbed, and this old man was a Pagan by faith (not a Christian!). She talked to help and tried to ease his pain during his last moments. It wasn't until she started weaving this knot out of straw (which she found on the floor) and explained its meaning to the man that the man's pains eased down a bit after which he decided he wanted to be baptized and thus converted to Catholicism. In any case, it is an interesting story :)
Another cross that deserves mentioning is the solar cross. It is very similar to the symbol of the Wheel of the Year. Basically, it is a Greek cross (one all arms equal in length) inside a circle. The four points in which the arms of the cross touch the circle represent the two solstices and two equinoxes. It is pretty clear that it symbolizes the annual cycle and is very Sun-oriented.
A less familiar symbol is the Witch's sign, which is made up of a square with a straight line through its center (horizontally placed) and an x shape which overlaps this line. These three lines together make up a monogram the Roman numeral for the number thirteen (XIII), which is thought to be the ideal number of coven members.
One of my favorite symbols is the Tree of Life (also called the World Tree). This concept is accepted in many religions and belief systems nowadays, but it is thought to originate from the Celts. We know that the Druids worshiped trees, and especially the oak (a very powerful and tall tree). When looking at these trees from the earth, it seems as though are touching the heavens, thus connecting heaven and earth, and this is precisely what the Tree of Life symbolizes (this connection). It is usually depicted as a tree whose branches are mirrored to resemble its roots. It can often be found in a circle, but it can also stand alone.
Once again, this symbol also has its variations just as all the previous symbols do. It's enough to just google them and you'll see how many interpretations there are, but they will all basically be the same. I emphasized some more important symbols in this post and gave your short descriptions and their meanings. But before finishing this post, I would also like to note that certain writing systems also have an important symbolical meaning. All of them developed over a longer period of time, of course, but two which are of greater importance in Wicca are the runic alphabet and the Theban alphabet.
The runic alphabet is a Germanic writing system which developed in the 2nd/1st century BC. Runes were used for divining, but also for writing. Nowadays, they are thought to be very practical because of their appearance (they are all made up of various combinations of straight lines for which you don't need artistic talent to be able to write). Because of these straight lines, they are easy to engrave into objects, and you can also write them pretty fast. The oldest form of the runic alphabet is the Elder Futhark which has remained, until this day, the most commonly used runic system of writing. You can expect a separate post which will deal with runes in the near future since I have taken a special liking to them but also because there really is a lot to write about :)
The Theban alphabet is quite a bit younger than runes and dates back to the 16th century. It is slightly more complicated to write and is used rarely, but it has also become accepted in Wicca and some other Neopagan religions.
Of course, these aren't the only two questions which can be used. Some people prefer to use some form of the Elvish alphabet (which has recently also become popular probably because of Tolkien and his infamous trilogy Lord of the Rings) or perhaps a form of Enochian. Others, on the other hands, decide to make up their own writing system :) Keep in mind that all of these strange alphabets are used for coding something, but they also gain magical strength in the process because you need more time to write anything down in any of these alphabets than you would normally (that is assuming that you don't write in this alphabet every day). And as I emphasized in my previous posts (if you remember), the more time and energy you put into something, the more powerful it is (be it an object, an action or a writing system like in this example).
There are many more symbols which I could talk to you about; about the symbolical role of separate parts of the ritual, the symbols of the Sabbats and Esbats, meanings of certain traditions, planets and zodiac signs etc. but I think that this is enough for now :) If you want to find out more, feel free to research this subject on your own :D but if you want to hear more from me, feel free to contact me via e-mail or comment and I will gladly expand this topic.
Until next time. Yours,