What does a symbol mean
A symbol is a sign of something. The sign stands for a meaning that in itself has nothing to do with the sign. A picture, on the other hand, shows what it stands for.
Symbols only mean something because people learned the meaning. It is as if people agreed among themselves what a symbol means, what thing it is connected to. A symbol can stand for something from the right world or for a feeling or for a thought.
The term comes from a Greek word that means distinctive mark or characteristic. Today the word is used for very different meanings. A symbol is, for example, the cross as a sign for Christianity or a scale for the law or a judgment. Flags and coats of arms are symbols for countries.
The writing also works with symbols: letters are symbolic signs. Which letter stands for which sound is only because people have learned it. Ultimately, this also applies to language itself: it is not naturally given which sound sequence, i.e. which word, which meaning should have.
What else can a symbol be?
Not only signs can have a symbolic effect, but also objects. In many associations, courts or parliaments, the chairman has a hammer. When something has been decided, the chairman hits the table with the hammer. The hammer is a symbol of power: after the hammer blow, the topic is no longer discussed because everything has been decided. Turn to the next topic. So it's not about driving a nail.
If you do something that symbolically means something, it is also called a ritual. In ritual you say or do something in a certain way. This is dictated by the culture, as is the meaning. Rituals are, for example, the Lord's Supper, weddings or the way in which one greets one another.
It is part of the ritual of a wedding in Europe that the bride and groom say yes to each other and kiss each other. In doing so, they emphasize that they want to marry voluntarily and that they love one another. That would not be necessary for the marriage itself: for the state, both are married by signing a certificate and having witnesses present.
A triangle in a church: It can stand as a symbol for the Trinity, i.e. for God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Swastikas on an old Roman mosaic: For some cultures the swastika had no meaning at all, while others thought of the sun, for example. Most people today think of the National Socialists.
This symbol is actually a pictogram. It indicates a location that is accessible for people in wheelchairs.
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