Throughout human history, symbols have been used to express religious ideologies and convey important social messages. In this article, let’s look at 28 powerful symbols associated with Wisdom, Knowledge and Intelligence.
We will also look at the deeper meaning behind these symbols and their cultural significance.
28 Symbols of wisdom & intelligence
In Norse, Celtic, and Druidic mythology, the Raven is a powerful symbol of wisdom and intelligence. According to Nordic mythology, Odin (the God of War) was always accompanied by two ravens, through which he would gather information about the human world. Muninn and Huginn, the two ravens, represented memory and thought. In Irish Celtic cultures, ravens were closely associated with the Triple Goddess who took the shape of a raven over battlefields.
According to an old Irish proverb, ‘To have the wisdom of a raven’ is to have the supernatural powers of a seer‘.
2. Goddess Saraswati
In Hindu cultures, the Goddess Saraswati is revered as the Goddess of knowledge, wisdom, and the arts. Her symbol is made up of several vertical triangles (as shown in the image below), which represent her vast knowledge of the universe.
In her four hands, she holds four items that represent knowledge:
- Pustaka: Also known as the Book of Knowledge.
- A cup of water: It is believed that drinking from this cup will bring knowledge.
- A musical instrument (Veena): Used to represent the creative arts. Saraswati is frequently depicted sitting on a lotus flower and playing this instrument.
- A garland (Mala): Represents focus, meditation, and contemplation.
The lotus flower has been revered in Eastern cultures for centuries, particularly in Buddhism. It is said that when a lotus flower blooms, it represents a person’s journey to enlightenment, self-awareness, and ultimate knowledge. The flower rises out of the mud which symbolizes adversity and persistence even in the most difficult of circumstances. Enlightenment and wisdom are the ultimate goals which transcend any meaningless attachments to materialistic objects and desires.
Lotus flowers come in a variety of colors, all with their own meanings. However, the white lotus flower is particularly associated with supreme knowledge and mental purity.
4. Goddess Athena
In Ancient Greek mythology, Athena was the revered Goddess of War and Wisdom. According to legend, she often gave her assistance and advice to Greek War heroes including Odysseus, Heracles, and Perseus. In fact, of all the Greek Gods and Goddesses, Athena’s counsel was the most sought after because of her effective war strategies and ability to invent useful tools. She was frequently depicted with an owl on her shoulder or nearby, which is why owls are considered to be a worldwide symbol of wisdom today.
5. Tyet (The Knot of Isis)
The Tyet (also known as the Knot of Isis) was highly regarded as a symbol of knowledge and wisdom In Ancient Egypt, due to its strong association with the Goddess Isis. According to Egyptian mythology, Isis was wiser than a million Gods combined and was well known for her magical powers. Her symbol, the Tyet, looks similar to the Ankh (the Ancient Egyptian symbol for ‘life’) and was often placed into tombs to protect the dead in the afterlife as it was believed to carry the magical words of Isis.
Wolves are revered as ‘teachers’ among North American tribes. They are also strongly associated with death and rebirth as they are believed to guide the dead to the afterlife. As they travel up mountains to get away from people, these incredibly intelligent and social animals were quickly associated with the higher spirit.
In fact, the word for wolf in the Sioux tribes’ Lakota language translates to ‘divine dog.’ If you dream of wolves or see a wolf as your spirit guide, it is usually a reminder to trust your instincts and listen to your inner guidance. For this reason, many people look to wolves for inspiration when faced with difficult decisions.
7. Wisdom eyes
Wisdom eyes are depicted on practically every Buddhist shrine around the world as a representation of Buddha’s ultimate knowledge and omniscience. The eyes typically look out on all four sides of a building to symbolize his all-seeing ability. In Buddhism, there are two kinds of eyes; the inner eyes of wisdom, and the outer materialistic eyes. The wisdom eyes of Buddha are said to encompass both of these types, teaching us that ‘if we are wise, we can see past the material things and see the divine truth’.
8. Feather (Quill)
The quill is a writing implement traditionally made from the moulted flight feathers of swans or geese. They were widely used from the sixth century to write text or create images on parchment or manuscripts. The ability to write was not widespread at the time. So, the quill quickly became a symbol of intelligence, as well as social standing because only the wealthiest families could afford to teach their children to write. Quills are rarely used today, but feathers are still powerful symbols of communication, wisdom, freedom, and creativity throughout the Western world (particularly in Native America).
9. Lapis Lazuli crystal
Lapus Lazuli is a stunning celestial blue crystal that was first used to create Tutankhamun’s death mask in Ancient Egypt. It is known to be a powerful healing stone that can help you achieve spiritual truth and enlightenment. Over the years, this stone has been used to encourage self-awareness, confidence, and morality, earning it the title of the Wisdom Stone. It is also still widely used by faith healers, who believe that the deeper meaning of Lapus Lazuli will be revealed over centuries.
10. Nyansapo (Wisdom Knot)
One of the most sacred Adrinka symbols in Western Africa is the Nyansapo (also known as the Wisdom Knot). It represents a wide range of desired traits such as knowledge, humility, and ingenuity, as well as the idea that ‘a wise person has the capacity to choose the best path to attain a goal.’ The Akan people of Ghana hold this symbol in particular high regard because it is believed to empower one to use wisdom in decision-making.
11. Asters flowers
The Aster is a unique wildflower known for its star-shaped head. According to Greek mythology, these flowers were created from the tears of the Goddess Astraea because she was upset at how few stars there were in the sky. Aster flowers have a variety of meanings but are most commonly known to symbolize love, wisdom, and patience. They come in a variety of colors, including white, mauve, purple, and pink, each with their own distinct attributes. Purple flowers, in particular, are strongly associated with wisdom and royalty, and are the most commonly found variety.
Mountains have fascinated humans for centuries. As mountains seemingly reach the heavens, they are viewed as the ultimate connection to divine wisdom across many cultures. For example, Mount Everest is commonly referred to as the ‘Mother Goddess of the World’. On a personal level, they represent the mental strength and intellect needed to overcome obstacles in our lives. The peak of a mountain is said to represent a state of absolute consciousness and a deep connection with one’s higher self.
Keys are simple objects, yet they are also worldwide symbols of knowledge and success. Keys unlock doors that can lead to new opportunities on a physical, mental, or spiritual level. According to Roman mythology, Janus, the two-faced God of Gates, was able to see into the past and to the future. He was often depicted carrying keys in his left hand and was said to be able to grant success and new opportunities through the impartment of wisdom. Skeleton keys (which can open multiple doors) have been used as talismans and charms for generations all over the world. They are believed to assist you in seeing all the possibilities and solutions needed to make your dreams come true
14. Infinity symbol
The infinity symbol (also known as the lemniscate) is a simple closed figure-eight shape that can be drawn in one continuous movement. It has no beginning and no end. The symbol can be found on multiple Tarot cards including the Magician and the Juggler which serve to remind us of the infinite nature of humanity. Our lives are a never-ending cycle of life, death, and rebirth, as our spirits embark on the quest for ultimate peace and divine wisdom.
15. Oil lamp or candle
Many ancient cultures have associated lamps with wisdom, knowledge, awakening, goodness, purity and divinity. Fire can be destructive in nature but when be used as a light source as in an oil lamp it turns into a positive force that allows for illumination and freedom from ignorance and illusions.
16. Bodhi tree
The Bodhi tree (which is a sacred fig free located in Bodhgaya) is a prominent symbol in Buddhism as it was under this tree that Buddha attained enlightenment. The word ‘Bodhi’ in Sanskrit and Pali languages means ‘awakening’. Buddhists consider this tree the ‘Tree of Enlightenment’ or the ‘Wisdom tree’.
17. Gyan Mudra
In Sanskrit language, the word ‘Gyan’ translates to ‘Wisdom’ or ‘Knowledge’. The Gyan Mudra is a hand gesture that is used during meditation that symbolizes one’s receptivity to learning and wisdom. When you meditate using the Gyan Mudra, you open yourself to the universal truth that you are one with the universe. That You are within the Universe and the Universe is within You.
18. Philosopher’s Stone
The Philosopher’s Stone is a mythical stone that allows alchemists to transform metal into gold or any other desirable substance. The symbol as such illustrates the interplay of the four elements of nature. In a way, the Philosopher’s stone is a metaphor for a wise mind that has the ability to work with any given situation and transmute it into something beautiful.
19. Third Eye Chakra
The Third Eye Chakra is an energy center located between your eyes. Meditating on this Chakra allows you to reach higher states of consciousness. This Chakra symbolizes, wisdom, intuition, consciousness, higher perspectives, inner realms and enlightenment.
Dolphins are highly intelligent animals that represent peace, balance, harmony, loyalty, insight and wisdom. Dolphins are quick learners and have demonstrated traits of self awareness, empathy, innovation, problem-solving, joy and playfulness.
Among other things the Sapphire gemstone symbolizes intuition, insight and spiritual clarity. Sapphires are seen as stones of wisdom, prophecy and divinity.
Elephants are associated with wisdom, good luck, protection, strength, remover of obstacles (including obstacles in the mind) and positive energy. Elephants have the largest brain of any land animal which is also one of the reasons why they are associated with wisdom and knowledge.
23. Lord Ganesha
Lord Ganesha is the Elephant headed Hindu God who is traditionally worshipped before staring any new venture as he helps clear all obstacles paving the path to success and achievement. Just like an elephant clears the trees and obstacles in its way using its innate power, Ganesha clears obstacles in your way as well as in your mind bringing much needed clarity and wisdom.
24. Egyptian Thoth
Thoth is the Egyptian God of the Moon, Realizations, Learning and Writing. In-fact, Thoth is considered the inventor of writing and the creator of languages. Thoth has the head of an ibis bird and holds a papyrus scroll, reed pen and a writing palette. All of these symbols are associated with wisdom, learning and awakening.
Walnuts look a lot like the human brain, with two lobes full of convoluted wrinkles. Walnuts also contain a host of nutrients that can help enhance the functionality of your brain. Not surprisingly, walnuts are associated with intelligence, wisdom, clarity, focus and inspiration.
26. Ibis bird
The ibis is a quiet bird that symbolizes the need to be calm and mindful while you go about your day to day activities. The bird symbolizes balance, adaptability, calmness, mindfulness and wisdom. Ibis was considered a sacred bird in ancient Egyptian society and was associated with wisdom and learning. The bird was worshipped as the God Thoth.
27. Wisdom Teeth
Wisdom teeth appear during the late teen years when a person is considered mentally and physically mature. This is also the reason why they are associated with wisdom.
28. Rosary or Prayer/mala beads
From centuries, Mala Beads (also known as Japa Mala) have been used as a meditation/prayer tool as they help the mind focus. And it is during this focus that one attains higher realizations. This is why mala beads are associated with clarity, higher consciousness, divinity, and wisdom. The mala generally consists of 108 beads which is a holistic number symbolizing the entire universe.
29. Juniper tree/shrub
One of the oldest living trees in the world, Juniper can be found pretty much in every continent throughout the world. This tree has an amazing ability to adapt to circumstances and thrive into beautiful bushes and trees. This is why Juniper trees are a symbol of wisdom.
Everywhere you look, you are likely to find symbols of wisdom and knowledge. They remind us of the true purpose of life which, in many cultures, is spiritual enlightenment. Yet, we can also use them in everyday life to remind us of our goals and encourage us to continue learning. According to a well-known ancient Sanskrit proverb:
“Knowledge is power”.