Ritual Objects

Throughout human history, certain symbols and physical objects have been used in ritual and art to represent spiritual ideas. Many of these physical and artistic metaphors are still being used in modern religions and are powerful symbols for spiritual development. They often appear spontaneously in dreams and visions.

Any object becomes sacred when it is used consciously for the proper reasons on an altar. The following list suggests items you might wish to use. However, any object that has meaning for you is just as appropriate.

Ankh: A life symbol of a cross with a loop on top, the ankh was used by the ancient Egyptians to represent eternal life and resurrection. The crook or crozier, also known as the Shepherd's Cross, is a similar symbol. The Egyptian god Osiris, in his role as Shepherd of Souls, carried a crook, as did the Greek Hermes. Use it to represent divine guidance and spiritual seeking.
Arrows: This emblem signifies divine intervention of both healing and killing power. To the Balkan god Perun, the arrow denoted lightning, long a symbol of illumination. A symbol of the god Apollo, the arrow also represents supreme power and the sun's fertile rays. Mars, Tyr, and Mithra were also associated with the arrow. Use the arrow to symbolize the direct path you plan to take.
Basket: A sign of fertility, passion, and birth, a basket of ivy in ancient Greece symbolized the Bacchanalian mysteries of Dionysus. In ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, it represented the wholeness of divinity. Ceremonies to the Egyptian goddess Isis and the Greek Artemis featured sacred baskets. Place a basket on your altar to symbolize gathering what you need in life.
Bowl: A symbol of the universal womb, the bowl represents both nurturing and giving. Use it to hold special stones or paper requests.
Box: With a lid, this is a female symbol connected with the subconscious mind and the unknown. A box without a lid represents life or gifts coming to you; it represents the universal womb. As with the basket and bowl, you can place in the box requests written on pieces of paper or jewelry that you wish to empower.
Breasts: Breasts symbolize the source of life power and life-giving fluids from the Great Mother. Some of the earliest sacred images were little models of two breasts with a stem that could be pushed into the ground, thus holding the image on an altar or personal hearth. Breasts represent everyday material needs being met.
Bridge: Traditionally, the bridge is a link between heaven and earth, or between the subconscious and conscious minds. Bifrost was the astral bridge that spanned the heavens between Asgard and Midgard in Norse myth, while for the Israelites the bridge symbolized the Covenant between God and His people. An image of a bridge can represent the bridging of differences, making a transition from one cycle of life to another, or moving to a higher plane of consciousness.
Bridle: This is a symbol of control over the physical body and the emotional things that would motivate a person to react without clear thinking.
Caduceus: Most people are familiar with the wand with two entwined serpents as the emblem of the Greek god Hermes and healing. However, this emblem existed long before the Greeks used it. The Sumerian goddess Inanna is shown holding the caduceus as she stands under the Tree of Life. The double-headed snake was one of the emblems of Ningishzide, a healer god who was one of Ishtar's lovers. The caduceus is also found on stone tablets in India, in paintings by Native Americans, and in Aztec art. To the Romans, it was a symbol of moral equilibrium, while to Buddhists it represented the axis of the world with the kundalini of the chakras entwined about it.
Candles: Lighted candles symbolize personal spiritual enlightenment.
Cauldron: Long a holy object, the cauldron represents the belly-vessel of rebirth and transformation. It was associated with many goddesses, one of whom was the Celtic Cerridwen. Use a small cauldron to symbolize the churning, primordial matter from which you can draw energy to manifest your desires.
Cave: A womb symbol of the Goddess, the cave represents that which is concealed, something incubating, or the entrance to the subconscious mind.
Chalice, cup: Similar to the cauldron, the chalice has several meanings. Its primary meaning is rebirth and illumination. However, a filled chalice represents the bounty of life coming to you from a higher power, while an empty chalice is the receptacle for offerings. To rid yourself of negative emotions and feelings, gently blow into an empty cup, mentally emptying yourself of your problems. Then, turn the cup upside down on the altar. This symbolizes your turning your problems over to a higher power to be solved and transformed.
Child: The image of a child symbolizes the future with its potential as yet unrealized, the deeply hidden treasure in the mystic center of each human, or the beginning of a new cycle.
Circle: An ancient symbol, the circle represents the return from multiples to unity, from time to timelessness, from body-obsessed consciousness to the spiritually centered subconscious. Jung calls the circle the ultimate state of Oneness, for it has no beginning and no end. Engravings of circles and cups can be seen in Paleolithic caves and Neolithic graves. The Gnostics used a drawing of a snake with its tail in its mouth to represent the circle; this symbol was called the ouroboros and it represented the cycles of time, life, the universe, death, and rebirth. The Native Americans made and still make circular medicine wheels. Permanent circles often marked holy places and sacred sites, such as Stonehenge and the Chinese Temple of Heaven. To several ancient cultures, the black circle represented the sun god during his nightly passage through the Underworld. Sometimes, instead of the sun god, it symbolized his dark twin brother, a secret, very wise god who held knowledge about all worlds. Modern Wiccans and magicians draw a circle about their ritual area to symbolize protection from negative astral forces and to represent moving beyond the material world's vibrations.
Clover or trefoil: Long before Christianity arose, the clover, or any three-leafed plant, was an emblem of the Triple Goddess; among Christians, it became the symbol of the Trinity. All trinity symbols date back to the time of the Goddess religions when they represented the Maiden, Mother, and Crone aspects of the Goddess. As far back as the civilization in the Indus Valley (c. 2500-1700 B.C.E.), the trefoil emblem signified a triple deity.
Cobweb: Associated with the Fate goddesses and weaving, the cobweb is the spiral shape of the creative matrix that leads inward to the center where matter is destroyed before being reformed. Minerva, Athena, and Spider Woman are associated with spiders and cobwebs.
Column, tree, ladder, obelisk: Symbolic of the connection between heaven and earth, or gods and mortals, this emblem has been pictured as a ladder, column, World Tree, sacred mountain, obelisk of the sun god, or tent pole of the shamans. It is much the same symbol as the bridge. When in pairs, the columns signify the balancing of opposing forces.
Cornucopia: This horn of plenty, usually filled with fruits and vegetables, symbolizes strength, abundance, and prosperity.
Crescent: The crescent is a lunar and Goddess symbol. It represents the world of changing forms that goes through a cycle to repeat itself endlessly.
Cromlech: Whether part of a circle of monolithic stones or standing alone, a cromlech stands for fertility, health, and spiritual enlightenment. A cromlech is an arrangement of stones, consisting of a cap stone on top of surrounding stones.
Cross: Now a Christian symbol, the cross is actually a very ancient symbol, meaning much the same as the column. However, the crosspiece of this emblem signifies the balance of the four elements. The cross was associated with the Phoenician goddess Astarte, the Greek deities Artemis and Aphrodite, and the Aztec goddess of rain.
Crown: In cultures as far apart as India and northern Europe, the crown symbolized the sacred marriage between the Goddess and Her consort. This emblem signifies light, achievement, success, and spiritual enlightenment.
Cube: The three-dimensional equivalent of the square, this symbol represents the material world of the four elements. It is also associated with stability. A box with a lid can be a cube into which you place your requests on slips of paper.
Curl, loop, rope: As with the knot, this emblem means binding and unbinding, especially in a magickal or spiritual sense.
Curtain, veil: The veil represents the ethereal door between the worlds of matter and spirit. Seven veils were associated with the goddesses Ishtar and Isis.
Dice: These represent gambling with the Fates; taking chances.
Disk: A sun emblem, the disk symbolizes matter in a state of transformation. Associated with the sun, the disk also signifies celestial perfection.
Door, gate, portal: Any door signifies the entrance to the path leading to spirit, an initiation, or the opening of a new talent or way of life. In addition, the door represents the ability to pass from the earth to the astral plane, from one cycle of life to another, or to another level of spiritual knowledge. Similar to circles, doors also symbolize a separation of the physical and the sacred, signaling to the subconscious mind that a mindset transition must be made. The two-faced Roman god Janus, deity of the past and the future, ruled over doorways of all kinds. Altars were frequently placed near doors in ancient Greece, Rome, Assyria, and Mexico.
Drum: This instrument symbolizes divine ecstasy in ritual. In Africa, the drum is associated with the heart, while other cultures that practice any form of shamanism believe it is a mediator between earth and heaven.
Dwarf: The personification of forces that remain outside the realm of consciousness, this figure represents the guardian of the threshold between the conscious and sub conscious minds, and the guardian who protects us from being exposed to more than we can understand or assimilate.
Ear of corn: Associated with many harvest deities, including Ceres and Demeter; an ear of corn represents the disintegration of life followed by rebirth. It also symbolizes the germination and growth of ideas. Maize or grains of corn represent prosperity and fertility.
Egg: Eggs dyed red were an important part of early Goddess worship and ritual, especially in spring. In ancient Egypt, the hieroglyph of an egg represented the potential seed of rebirth. Several creation myths tell the story of the World Egg. This symbol signifies immortality and the potential for life renewal.
Eye: Thousands of statues of the Eye Goddess have been excavated from third-millennium Sumer, where this aspect of the Goddess was very sacred. In Egypt, the eye was associated primarily with the god Horus. The eye is associated with intelligence, spiritual light, intuition, and truth that cannot be hidden. It also represents judgment by the Goddess.
Fan: Femininity, intuition, and change. The fan is an emblem of the Chinese deity Chung-Li Chuan, one of the Eight Chinese Immortals.
Feather, plume: In Egypt, the feather of truth was associated with the goddess Maat. It represents faith, contemplation, and reincarnating souls. Many goddesses, including Juno, were associated with feathers, which represent change.
Flower: Flowers are usually connected with spring and rebirth or renewal.
Fountain: The main portion of the fountain is associated in a minor way with the World Tree, while the flowing water represents the life force within all things. The fountain symbolizes blessings, wisdom, purification, renewal, and comfort arising from the Divine Center.
Geode: A womb symbol similar to the cave.
Globe, sphere: Representing the world soul and the human soul, the globe or sphere symbolizes wholeness. If it is depicted with wings, it represents spiritual evolution.
Goblet: The same as the chalice and cauldron.
Grain, wheat, corn: This emblem represents life and the sustaining of it, and the harvest.
Grapes: Associated with such gods as Dionysus, grapes represent fertility and sacrifice.
Hand: Hand-prints are among the first symbols found in ancient, sacred Paleolithic caves. There, red marks of individual hands are found among wavy lines for water and crescent-shaped horns of fertility. In the shrines of matriarchal Catal Huyuk in seventh-millennium Anatolia, hand-prints, along with butterflies, bees, and the heads of bulls, decorate the walls. In Catal Huyuk, the hand probably represented the hand of the Goddess and action or manifestation, while in ancient Egypt, when combined with an eye, it signified clairvoyant action. In present Islamic cultures, the hand is still sacred and symbolizes protection, power, and strength.
Harp: Similar to the World Tree or mystic ladder, the harp is another symbol of the bridge between heaven and earth.
Heart: The ancient Egyptians believed that thoughts and morals arose from the heart, the center of physical life and a symbol of eternity. Thus, this symbol represents moral judgment, and pure, true love.
Hexagram or six-pointed star: The six-pointed star is composed of two overlapping triangles oriented in opposite directions, and is found around the world. It is also known as the Seal of Solomon, David's Shield, or the Star of David (in Judaism). The hexagram represents the combination of male and female.
Honey: To the Greek Orphists, honey was a symbol of wisdom. In India, it symbolizes the higher self.
Horns: Originally a fertility and lunar symbol, to early cultures horns also represented strength, power, and prosperity. The Egyptian hieroglyph of the horn signified elevation, prestige, and glory. The word horned may be derived from the Assyro-Babylonian garnu or the Phoenician words geren, quarnuim, or kerenos. The horned Apollo Karnaios resembles the horned Celtic god Cernunnos.
Horseshoe: Originally a symbol of the Goddess, the horseshoe represents the ending of one cycle and the beginning of another.
Hourglass: This emblem symbolizes the cycle and connection between the upper (spiritual) and lower (physical) worlds; creation and destruction.
Jar, urn: Long a sacred object in many cultures, a pot or jar represents the universal womb of the Goddess and the Oneness that proceeds from the Great Mother. It symbolizes the potential for transforming anything placed inside it. In China, the jar represents good luck. Isis was frequently portrayed with a jar about her neck, just as the Hindu goddess Kali was shown with pots and jars. Many sacred ceremonies involved the use of water jars to signify the presence of the deities. These ceremonies included the Osirian Mysteries of Egypt, the Babylonian rites of the god Nabu, the Cabirian Mysteries for Demeter and Cabirius, and the Greek festival of Anthesteria for Dionysus.
Keys: This symbol is associated with many deities from a variety of cultures. Hecate and Persephone held the keys to the Underworld and the universe. Athena was said to control the key to the city of Athens. The Babylonian god Marduk is said to have made the keys to heaven and hell that only Ishtar could use. In Rome, women in labor were given keys to hold for an easy childbirth. The Egyptian god Serapis was believed to have the keys to both the earth and the sea. Ancient spiritual mysteries speak of keys as the symbol of knowledge, a task to be performed, or a successful quest or spiritual journey. Keys are still used as a symbol of warding off evil spirits, and represent the means of solving a mystery or performing a task. They are also symbolic of locking and unlocking, or binding and loosening.
Knife: While the sword symbolizes spiritual heights, the knife represents vengeance, death, and sacrifices; it also alludes to the means to end a cycle.
Knot: The knot has two meanings: unity, stopping progress, or binding up energies when it is tied, but also releasing energy when untied. It is closely associated with weaving and the woven web of life. This symbol, with its weaving connotations, was connected with the Greet Fate goddesses and the Norse Norns. In ancient Egypt, Isis was said to loosen or bind the knot of life, while Hathor wore a menat, the knotted headband or necklace. All the Egyptian holy mysteries were called "she-knots". The knot can be found in the Egyptian circle of eternity, the look of the ankh, and the cartouche that circles the name of a pharaoh. Priestesses of the Goddess in Crete wore a knot of hair at the back of their heads and hung a knot of cloth at the entrance to the shrines. In Rome, it was forbidden for anyone to wear anything knotted or tied within the precinct of Juno, who was the goddess of childbirth; knots were thought to cause a difficult birth. Muslims will not wear knots when they take their pilgrimage to Mecca. According to rabbinical law, Jews are not to tie knots on the Sabbath. One of the Chinese emblems of good luck is the Buddhist "endless knot" of longevity. Among the Celts, the knot was a protective device to trap negative or evil energies. Tie knots in string or yarn to bind up negative energy. Or use intricate drawings of knotwork to release energy when it is needed.
Labyrinth: The labyrinth takes its name from the ancient Minoan labrys, or double ax. However, the idea and use of the labyrinth in drawings goes back much further than Crete. Such designs are found on the walls of Paleolithic caves, where the ritual participants had to crawl through narrow openings and transverse narrow passageways to reach the sacred center of the cave itself. This symbol represents the spiritual path leading back to the Divine Center, and regeneration through the Goddess by the process of initiative rebirth. Focus on a drawing of a labyrinth while tracing the path with your finger. This will draw you toward the spiritual center of your being.
Labrys, double ax: A Goddess and moon symbol widely used in Minoan Crete, the labrys was sacred as a ritual tool. It was also a sacred image of the Amazons, who used it both in battle and as a ritual tool. It symbolizes the renewing of the life cycle and the soul through sacrifice, or death and regeneration.
Lamp: This emblem symbolizes spiritual intelligence and enlightenment. The Hermit of the tarot cards is shown holding a lamp or lantern, denoting his offering of guidance and higher instruction. Deities associated with the lamp were Juno Lucina and Diana Lucifera.
Leaf: To the Chinese, the leaf means happiness.
Mask: In ancient times, the mask was worn during Mystery rituals to signify the spiritual metamorphosis conferred by the rite itself. This emblem represents secrecy, hidden meanings, and shape-shifting.
Mirror: A Goddess and moon symbol whose meanings include revealing the truth, intuition and the psychic realm, and the imagination. Mirrors were also known as soul-catchers or soul-carriers; Celtic women were buried with their mirrors that they believed carried their souls.
Moon: Originally a symbol of many goddesses and a few gods, the moon later came to symbolize the rhythm of life and the universe, the passage of time, and the power of rebirth. The moon represents creation, ripeness, cycles of life, spiritual disciplines, and initiations.
Necklace: At one time a sexual symbol of the completeness of the Goddess, the threaded, beaded necklace later came to mean the unity of diversity, or the continuity of the past lives of a human. The goddesses Freyja and Ishtar wore special necklaces.
Nest: This symbol represents the foundation or beginning of a life, event, or path.
Oar: This mundane object represents action, controlling the direction life is taking, and stability within an unstable situation.
Obelisk: Primarily a symbol of ancient Egypt, the obelisk was an emblem of the sun god and considered to be a solidified ray of the sun. Physically, it was a slender, four-sided, tapering column that could be hundreds of feet high. Obelisks frequently stood beside the doors of temples. The door to the temple of the goddess Astarte at Byblos was flanked by a pair of obelisks.
Palace, castle: This emblem represents the sacred place within, or the Divine Center.
Papyri, book: Whether a rolled scroll or a bound book, this symbol means knowledge and an unfolding of the Akashic Records. These Records are a spiritual compilation of all the lives of every person.
Peach: To the Asians, the peach symbolizes immortality.
Pearl: Considered one of the eight Chinese emblems, the pearl signifies the sacred center. To Muslims, it represents heaven or paradise.
Pentacle, pentagram: A pentacle is a five-pointed star, once the symbol of all things feminine and the great Earth Mother. In Egyptian hieroglyphs, it means to "rise up" or "cause to arise", and it was associated with both Isis and Nephthys. The pentacle was also a symbol of the Babylonian Ishtar and the Celtic Morrigan. To the Gnostics, it represented the sacred number five, while for Pythagoreans it meant harmony of the body and mind. The five-pointed star was also associated with the Virgin Mary in her aspect of Stella Maris (Star of the Sea). This symbol represents the repulsion of evil, or protection.
Pine cone: A product of the pine tree, which symbolizes immortality, the cone represents psychic oneness. It was one of the symbols of both Astarte in ancient Byblos and the sacrificed savior Attis. The sacred wand of Dionysus, called the thyrsus, was tipped with a pine cone, as was that of the Roman Bacchus.
Plait, braid: Long associated with rope and knots, the braid represents the intertwining of relationships or creative matter.
Pomegranate: The Greek Underworld goddess Persephone was linked with the pomegranate, thus giving it the meaning of the dead lying in sleep before rebirth. Deities associated with this fruit were Persephone, Dionysus, Adonis, Attis, and the Crone aspect of the Goddess.
Pumpkin: An emblem of Li Tieh-Kuai, one of the Chinese Immortals, the pumpkin represents a link between two worlds. It can also mean an upheaval in the usual order.
Pyramid: Similar in meaning to the triangle, the pyramid is actually a hollow mountain. It symbolizes rebirth, regeneration, and creation.
Rainbow: Similar to the bridge, ladder, and obelisk, the rainbow represents the connection between the earth and the sky, or the mundane world and the sacred. The Greek goddess Iris carried messages from the gods to humans on this celestial bridge. In the Middle East, the rainbow symbolized the veils of Ishtar and, in the Far East, the illusive veils of Maya. Among the Pueblo and Navajo Indians, the rainbow was known as the road of the spirits and gods.
Ring: Similar to the circle, the ring represents continuity and wholeness. When associated with the Fates, it symbolizes the eternally repeated cycles of time.
Scales: First seen in Chaldean carvings, the scales symbolize justice, cause and effect, and the divine assessment of a life. Deities associated with this emblem were Maat and Astraea.
Scepter: Related to the magick wand, the thunderbolt, the phallus, and Thor's hammer, the scepter represents fertility, purification, and the ability and willpower to make changes.
Scissors: A symbol of both life and death, scissors were associated with the Fates and other deities who ruled over the length of life.
Scythe: Connected with the god Saturn and with the moon, the scythe represents reaping the harvest, or the harvest when the life-path is finished.
Sheaf, bundle: Related to knots, the sheaf symbolizes unification and strength, but also limitation because of the binding.
Shell: To Chinese Buddhists, the shell is one of the eight emblems of good luck. It is related to the moon, the sea, and all sea deities. The spiral form of the shell represents the life force moving toward the sacred center.
Shield: Protection, identity.
Ship: The journey through physical life, or the inner, spiritual journey.
Sieve: Sorting out, purifying, discarding the useless.
Spiral: Connected with both the snake and the labyrinth, the spiral is an ancient sacred symbol. Spirals appear on Paleolithic sacred sites and objects and represent the awesome powers of death and rebirth, a process Pagans and Zirceans believe is held only by the Goddess. The spiral signifies the unfolding of potent, creative energy.
Square: Symbolic of the four elements, the square represents order and direction. It is considered to be of feminine nature with strong connections to the earth. Egyptian hieroglyphs use the square to mean achievement. Carl Jung believed this symbol signified the unachieved state of inner unity. The square represents definition, stability, and firmness.
Staff: Support, authority.
Star: To many cultures, the star signified the dead; in Judaism it is believed that each star has a guardian angel. The Aztecs said that stars were the regenerated spirits of fallen or sacrificed warriors. The star symbolizes spirit shining in the darkness of the labyrinth and a beacon to guide the pilgrim on the journey through the subconscious.
Swastika: Although not likely to appeal to most people today, this symbol had a long history of deep, spiritual meaning before it was perverted by the Nazis. The name actually comes from the Sanskrit words su, "good", and asti, "being". Connected with both the sun and the moon, it signifies movement and regenerative power.
Sword: Strength, defense.
Thunderbolts: Celestial fire, illumination, chance, destiny; associated with Zeus, Jupiter, Shiva, Pyerun, and Thor.
Tower: Rising above the physical; ascent of the spirit.
Triangle: This was an early symbol of the feminine principle. In Paleolithic times, skulls were often buried under triangular rocks, representing the Goddess's power of rebirth. For the Pythagoreans, the Greek letter delta (a triangle) symbolized cosmic birth. The triangle was associated with the Hindu goddess Durga, the Celtic Triple Goddess, the Greek Moerae, the Nordic Norns, and the triple Roman Fortunae. The triangle symbolizes body, mind, and spirit, and therefore represents the Triple Goddess.
Trumpet: Fame and glory; warning; Elements of Fire and Air.
Vase: An ancient symbol of repose, life, and fertility, vases with breasts have been dated back to the sixth millennium B.C.E. During rituals, these breast-vases were filled with a liquid that was sprinkled through the nipples onto the offering and worshipers. The Chinese goddess Kuan Yin often holds a vase in one hand.
Water: Primal matter, universal possibilities.
Wheel: The wheel differs from the circle in that it has spokes that divide it. To the Romans, the wheel was an emblem of the goddess Fortuna, who ruled the fate or changing fortunes of humans. The wheel of the Hindu goddess Kali is the wheel of karma. The Buddhists call the wheel the Holy Wheel of Life, while the Celts used an eight-spoked wheel to represent their sacred year with its eight sacred festivals. Today, the wheel is commonly seen as one of the Major Arcana cards in tarot decks, where it represents the changing cycles of fortune. Frequently, the wheel is a solar symbol and connected with sun gods. It signifies spiritual advancement or regression, and the progression of karma, which is payment of good and evil done in a life.
Wings: In many ancient carvings and drawings, wings denoted the divine and were added to figures of deities or sacred objects. Wings represent ideas, thoughts, spirituality, imagination, mobility, and enlightenment.
Ying/Yang Symbol: This Asian symbol is a circle divided into half-white and half-black by a curving S. It represents perfect balance.

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