An Annotated & Illustrated Collection of Worldwide Links to Mythologies,
Fairy Tales & Folklore, Sacred Arts & Sacred Traditions
by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.

Common Themes, East & West:

Symbols, Signs, & Runes

Copyright © 2000 Eesti Rahva Muuseum
(Estonian National Museum -- see below)
This is "Sign as Symbol," an exhibit from the Estonian National Museum on the role and development of symbols in Estonian art.  There is hypertext taking you to fascinating data on spirals, circles, rectangles, pentagrams, swastikas (don't miss this one!), and other such patterns.
Presented by the University of Michigan's Fantasy & Science Fiction Website is this terrific "Dictionary of Symbolism":
This symbolism dictionary endeavors to provide some possible cultural significances of various symbols, and suggest ways in which those symbols may have been used in context. Most symbols are not code signals, like traffic lights, where red means stop and green means go, but part of a complex language in which green can mean jealousy or fertility or even both, depending on context. It is up to each of us to explore works of art sensitively, and decide for ourselves how the symbols in each work function.  This website is offered as an aid in that enriching activity.
The site gives alphabetical access and also has several search engines.  It delights me to know that such a site exists.
This is, a marvelous resource.  I'll let them tell you about themselves -- then go and enjoy exploring it: -- the world's largest online encyclopedia of graphic symbols! contains more than 2,500 Western signs, arranged into 54 groups according to their graphic characteristics. In 1,600 articles their histories, uses, and meanings are thoroughly discussed. The signs range from ideograms carved in mammoth teeth by Cro-Magnon men, to hobo signs and subway graffiti.
Again from the University of Michigan is "Symbols in Teutonic Mythology."  The page covers  nearly 3 dozen entries, from "Apple" to "Wolf."
Also from the University of Michigan comes "Symbols in Richard Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung":
The compilation of symbols...relies predominantly on information contained within William O. Cord's several volume set of phenomenally researched and concisely written books entitled The Teutonic Mythology of Richard Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung.

Four ancient cross-cultural Swastikas from:
Norway; Christianity; India; England
(Adapted from the Estonian National Museum site -- see above)
From Jennifer Rosenberg, the 20th History guide at comes this excellent "History of the Swastika":
The swastika is an ancient symbol. Dating back 3,000 years, the swastika predates the ancient Egyptian symbol, the Ankh.  Approximately 3,000 years ago (1000 BCE), the swastika was commonly used; swastikas have been found on many artifacts such as pottery and coins dating from ancient Troy....
One of things I especially like about this page is that, for those new to the conscious experience of the emotional power of symbols, she lays out a carefully delineated series of images, taking a reader through them step by step.
From the Tribune of India comes a careful, well researched article, "The mystique of Swastika" by Shiv Darshanlal Sharma:
A SURVEY of literature reveals that the Swastika symbol is generally referred to as the gamma-like cross by western scholars because it can be resolved into four gammas joined at right angles. It is perhaps one of the most ancient symbols associated with the sun....
Sharma covers both the symbol's cross-cultural history and mythological depths.
The Holocaust/Genocide Project sponsors An End to Intolerance (AETI), an annual, international student-produced magazine.  This page features an essay by one of the student-contributors: "Nazi Swastika or Ancient Symbol? Time to Learn the Difference" by Chirag Badlani.  The essay is both wise and touching in its depiction of a young girl whose culture still reveres the swastika as a sacred symbol of life.   After tracing some of the history of this ancient symbol, she concludes:
...The swastika existed as a symbol of good fortune thousands of years before the Nazis even existed. The symbol is to many cultures an important one, representing their history and beliefs. The Nazis, by taking the swastika, annihilated the significance of the ancient symbol. Today, the swastika is to most people a symbol of evil, a symbol of demise, and a symbol of ruination. It is extremely depressing to find that although the swastika is a symbol of life, and symbol of joy, it has been made a symbol of evil, something the people of the ancient world never intended it to be.

Ancient Greek swastika designs,
including the famous tetraskele on either side
(Adapted from the Estonian National Museum site -- see above)
This well-written and lucid site on Nazi Germany's use of the swastika comes from the Holocaust Teacher Resource Center. The page is called "The Swastika: A Sign of Good Luck Becomes a Symbol of Evil":
The swastika is a very old symbol with use widespread throughout the world. Sometimes referred to as a “Gammadion," "Hakenkreuz” or a "Flyfot,” it traditionally had been a sign of good fortune and well being.  The word “swastika” is derived from the Sanskrit “su” meaning “well” and “asti” meaning “being.” It also is considered to be a representation of the sun and is associated with the worship of Aryan sun gods. It is a symbol in both Jainism and Buddhism, as well as a Nordic runic emblem and a Navajo sign....
This is "The Swastika and the Nazis," an intriguing excerpt from a book by Servando González.  The author describes a wide range of crosscultural swastikas and then makes a strong argument for rescuing this symbol from Nazi contamination:
...The time is ripe to redeem this beautiful and enigmatic symbol, taking it from under Nazi control. We must bring it back to the illustrious place it deserves among other similar symbols in the long history of mankind.
Pentacles: upright and inverted
(Adapted from the Estonian National Museum site -- see above)

Among other much misunderstood symbols are pentacles & pentagrams.  This essay by  B.A. Robinson, sponsored by Religious, provides a fine discussion of the history, lore, and contemporary politics of these 5-pointed symbols.  On one ancient association with the pentagram, for example:
...Kore's sacred fruit is the apple. When an apple is cut through its equator, both halves will reveal a near-perfect pentagram shape at the core, with each point on the star containing a seed. Many Wiccans, other Neopagans and Roma (Gypsies) continue to cut apples in this way. The Roma refer to the core as the Star of Knowledge....

Ogham Letters spelling out "Alphabet" -- i.e., beth luis nion
Dr. Curtis Clark (see  below)
From OBOD (the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids) comes this intelligent introduction to "Druid Tree Lore and the Ogham [akin to Nordic runes]."
Dr. Curtis Clark not only teaches at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, he also maintains a huge website of medieval and renaissance music called the Internet Renaissance Band (I gratefully use a number of his terrific midis on my site). Among his other interests are the Celtic ogham:
An alphabet of twenty-five characters used for stone and wood inscriptions in Celtic Ireland and Britain....
This page is his very brief introduction to ogham.
Again from Curtis Clark is "The Ogham Alphabet with variant names of the letters, and names of the associated plants."  The page is beautifully laid out with a clear chart of letters.
"Exploring the Origins of the Celtic Ogham" is the title of Clark's balanced and carefully researched essay.  It includes maps plus a discussion of Robert Graves' theories.  Clark unravels the evidence like a detective.
Here, Curtis Clark provides "Truetype Fonts" for Celtic ogham, Elder futhark, Linear B, as well as other ancient alphabets and arcane scripts.
Finally, this is from -- a page for The Alphabet Versus the Goddess : The Conflict Between Word and Image by Leonard Shlain.   I should mention that I don't intend to take the time to read this book; what I've seen of it irritates me -- I vastly prefer David Abram's magical The Spell of the Sensuous, which is better conceived and infinitely better written.  However, so many of my students cite Shlain -- and his title is more on track with this page, so in a weak-minded moment I'm including it.  For those interested, here's David Abram's page (P.S. I get no kickbacks on either from <smile>):

Menu of Common Themes, East & West:

Animal Guides
Creation Myths
Crones & Sages
Dragons & Serpents
Earth Goddesses & Gods
Floods, Storms, Rainbows, & Other Weather Wonders
Food: Sacrality & Lore
Green Men
Landscape: Sacrality & Lore   (Mountains, Wells, Springs, Pools, Lakes, Caves, Labyrinths, Spiral Mounds, Crop Circles, Stone Circles, Feng Shui)
Nature Spirits of the World
Rituals of Puberty
Sacred Theatre, Dance & Ritual
Sky Goddesses & Gods
Star Lore & Astrology
Symbols, Signs, & Runes:
Time(Calendars, Clocks, Natural Temporal Cycles, Attitudes toward Time, & Millennium Issues)
Trees & Plant Lore
Tricksters, Clowns, Magicians, Jesters & Fools
Weather-Working: An experimental, on-going ritual in cyberspace
Weaving Arts & Lore(Cosmic Webs, Spinning, Spindles, Clothing)

Down to Geographical Regions: Africa


If you have comments or suggestions,
you will find my email address near the bottom of my Home page.

This page created with Netscape Gold 3.01.
Technical assistance: William Weeks
Text and layout copyright © 2000 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.

Page Created 2-3 October 2000
Latest Updates: 13 October 2000.
21 February 2009: Minor updates in image-placement and email address; no time to check links.